Friday, 27 September 2013

The Spirit of Education - 21 Sept 2013

My alma mater has started the countdown of its 100th anniversary celebration for next year. Formerly known as P.E.S.S, it's steeped in heritage and one of the oldest schools in KL. 

Started in 1914, it's a missionary school set up to teach English to the children living in the Pudu area. It's wonderful the school now converted the principal bungalow into a heritage gallery giving us insights into the history of our early founders and the rich culture of our school.

I went with Wai Leng, my school mate since Standard 1. We studied in the same place for our primary as well as secondary education. Going back there was like taking a walk down memory lane. Everything looked familiar, there're not much changes except some new buildings. 

The luncheon event was held at the school's grand hall. The stage in the hall, like all the other places there, now looked much smaller -- cos we've grown, no longer seeing it from a child's eyes. Most faces were unfamiliar, but we're all alumni of P.E.S.S. and we shared precious memories of the school. 

This is a special picture spanning 3 generations, batches 1937, 1967 and my great buddy & I from 1987. My greatest gain was a chance meeting with an amazing 91-year old alumni, Mrs Chong from batch 1937. No doubt, she's the oldest alumni in the record - she's almost as old as the school! 

The school at that time was run by one of the founding missionary principals, Ms Josephine Foss. In fact, the road leading to the school is named, 'Jalan Foss' in honour of her. We've never met any of the early founders, but this was sooooo close, a chance to meet a student of Ms Foss. 

She's a remarkable woman indeed. She saw the event in the newspaper, but her grown-up kids discouraged her from coming. She's determined, took a taxi on her own and got a bit lost cos the place, according to her, has changed so much from her memory. She used to take a train to school; there're only about 20 students, and Ms Foss used to bring them swimming every Sunday. She could still remember everything like it's not too long ago, including the stage in the hall where she had played 'Snow White'! She looked around, hopeful to meet someone she once knew, but there wasn't. Instead, she met many, many new friends who shared her fond memory of the school.

What an inspiring spirit!

It's the first time I stepped inside the school after Form Five. We've so many legitimate reasons sometimes: kids are small, house chores not yet done, deadlines at work, kids got their enrichment classes, overseas, not safe to go alone, nobody knows me there, no transport, etc etc. 

I hope that I'll still have a spirit like Mrs Chong as age catches up. She overcame all her obstacles and just followed her heart. She was blessed, and she also blessed those people around her. It was a magical day, just to be with so many alumni from all walks of life. This is the true spirit of education, that education is not just about getting good grades but our attitudes to life-long learning no matter how old you are.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A Date in Saigon - 21 Aug 2013

I don't have a burning desire to visit Vietnam. But I've acquired a taste for Vietnamese coffee so when the opportunity arose, I went with my husband on his short business trip to Ho Chi Minh City recently. It's a great excuse for just the two of us to get away from our work (at least for me) and daily routine. If I were to wait for the 'right time' when nothing else is scheduled, probably I may not go away with him again until my kids are in college!

Maybe "the road to success is paved in coffee" is not an exaggeration. 

Coffee drinking is indeed a culture in Vietnam. You can see coffee cafes everywhere, mainly homegrown brands (Trung Nguyen, Highlands coffee chains) and more recently even Starbucks; kiosks with a few small stools in front of houses or shops; and mobile vendors, moving from place to place with a simple, small basket of flask and cups. 

The Vietnamese drip coffee tastes better with ice cos it's very concentrated and comes with the sweetened condensed milk. I still prefer the non-traditional Vietnamese espresso than the drip coffee.

Even if you're not a coffee lover, HCMC is still good. It's at least 30 years behind Bangkok, so culturally it's more interesting and colourful. I had a wonderful time watching the informal street vending and sidewalk life, admiring the colonial architecture as well as the long, narrow tube houses, enjoying fantastic food with so much fresh herbs and veggies, shopping and haggling prices at the Ben Thanh market, visiting museums, etc. 

I went to Mekong Delta when my husband had to work. It was a full day tour from 8am to 5.30pm, about 1.5 hours by bus to My Tho, followed by rides in a motor boat and a rowboat along the canals as well as a donkey cart ride. The tour included lunch and visits to rice paper making & several others. I joined a reputable local tour agent, The Sinh Tourist and paid only RM30 for this full day tour! Unbelievable. The guide was knowledgeable, and I met many other tourists from all over that I didn't mind the fact that I was on my own.

Truly HCMC is a feast to your eyes and tastebuds and at very affordable prices too. Besides the usual suspect - the beef Pho noodle, I like a Hue's royal dish of stir fried baby clams served with lotsa mint leaves and black sesame rice crackers and Banh Xeo, a kinda savoury pancake with mung bean. I notice that the Vietnamese cuisine uses almost NO dairy and NO wheat flour, which is good news to many of us who have allergies of them. Whenever you eat out in Vietnam, there's always a side dish of raw veggies to go with your main dish. I could recognise some of them like fresh sprouts, mint, basil, chillies, jalapenos but the surprises are shredded banana flower and curly water spinach or kangkong stems!! They really waste nothing!!

Our home experiment of rice paper rolls

Back at home, I'm on a mission to introduce some Vietnamese food to the boys. At first, I was a bit skeptical whether they can accept the bland, oil-less rice paper rolls. We're even more skeptical whether we could wrap them without tearing the wet paper. I must say that the quality of rice papers was very good indeed. We've almost 99% success. 

These were some of our homemade rice paper rolls. I made the dipping sauce using the famous Vietnamese fish sauce and sugar, lime, water, garlic and cili padi. Selecting a good fish sauce is just like picking out a bottle of wine, you need a lesson on how to select from the different brands of fish sauce. Next, I am going to try the Vietnamese pancake, Banh Xeo with my boys!

Crossing the roads is a highlight of visiting any Vietnamese city. People will advise you to keep walking, and above all, don't change your mind! The sheer volume of motorbikes, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, buses etc from both directions is absolutely life-threatening. Walk carefully but purposefully into the flow, and it always works. 

Going against the flow? The organised chaos of the road traffic in HCMC.

No, this is not a Middle-Eastern's head covering for women. This is a typical head cover for the locals, to protect themselves from the UV rays of the hot summer and face mask for the dust pollution.

Yet, crossing the roads is not the only leap-of-faith act. There's other danger lurking in the city. Should you consider a family holiday in Vietnam?? Do your research.

Cycling home after school....

When we returned home, we're pleased to find out that all was well on the domestic front. My brother was a great sitter. The boys have a terrific time of freedom with him. It was like a vacation for them too!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A Splashing Time - 3 Aug 2013

Posting by Xian Wei

I went for an overnight camp in the school with the prefects, librarians and teachers. After all the hard work, the teachers decided for the prefects and librarians to have some fun. 

It was a splashing, splendid camp. This was my favourite group photo. 

BBQ time!!! I did not eat the chicken because I did not want to eat a half-cooked chicken. Actually I helped them to barbecue the chicken.

Reject, reject, reject - burnt chicken wings and marshmallows. Yikes!!!

We were excited building a campfire; we sang our hearts out the scout song: "Ging Gang Gooli" and many others.

"The Egg Crasher"
We have to crack the eggs with our foreheads. If the player hits a raw egg, he/she earns a point. If the player hits a boiled egg (like me), he/she does not get a point. It was surely a messy game. We also played hide-and-seek and paper hunting.

We continued to play dodge ball and volleyball even at midnight.

I slept very late at 2 a.m. Everybody was so tired but a few of us still wanted to stay awake to play board games with our friends.

The next day, we have to hit our friends under the knees with newspaper batons. It was a rough game that the girls didn't like so much.

This was my favourite game. Even the teachers joined us. We had to fill balloons and guns with water to throw to the other team. It was very fun. I have a hard time tying the water balloons. I hardly used the water gun because it was hard to fill. We even shot the teachers with water balloons and guns.

Totally drenched and cold when the wind was blowing to us. I have a magical time with all my friends and teachers.
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