Saturday, October 29

WTH?! Google Disabled My Account Last Night!!!

After getting back from a party with a few colleagues late last night, I sat on my hotel desk & looked up a few blogs I loaded up earlier.
I proceeded to comment on one of them and guess what I found out?
Google bloody disabled my ahkamkoko account!
If you checked out my blog today, you would have received a "Server Not Found" error. WTH?!!!

taken from videogamerrob.wordpress.com
This bird totally gets how I feel.
I had a lot of Carlsberg last night (FOR FREE!!! I've got great friends.) but I was able to muster every last neuron in my brain to stare through the haze & focus on the few words that matter: 'click here to contact us'.

I filled in a form where I had to fill in my google email, a contact email & a short description of what happened. I was mentally flabbergasted so I struggled in 3 sentences expressing my confusion at what happened & told them about this blog that I loved so much of which I have been actively maintaining for 6 LONG YEARS (since 2006)!!

Yeah, alcohol opens me up real easy. I get emotional & sensitive too.

I fell asleep before I could launch an angry bird at Google.
13 hours after that, I received this email.

This is as cordial as you're going to get from a major corporation.
They did not even bother to explain why they shut me down. Well, I'm just thankful that this master of the web has returned my breadcrumb to ease my unsatiable hunger for self-expression.

My Hypothesis: Why Goof-le Disabled My Account
I have a habit of reading blogs once a week.
I load all of them up at once. Then, I proceed to comment on each of them in succession.
This sudden surge of comments in a short frame of time might have ran a few red lights at Google Spam Police.
So they came to arrest my poor innocent account & put him in a cell until daddy here bailed him out.

I have mixed feelings about this.
On one hand, it's good to know that Google are taking measures against those annoying spammers who post comments pretending to be interested in what you're writing about when actually they're advertising some product or website.
On the other, I'm pissed off at being victimised without being compensated in anyway.

Won't leave Blogger though. We've been together so long (longer than Google) & we work well together.
F*ck Google.

Tuesday, October 18

Invigilating PMR @ SMK Kapit

For the past 2 weeks I was at SMK Kapit invigilating the PMR.
I worked with a really great team & an awesome Head Invigilator who took good care of all of us.
I made 2 good friends from SMK Song & took pictures with them.

I recently discovered an imitation of this picture made by a few F3 students from the said school.
They made a joke out of us & called us the 3 idiots but why did they go ahead & reproduce the same shot with similar effects? What does that make them?
A wise man once said imitation is the purest form of flattery. I have to agree. It's very adorable of them. =)

I stayed in Ark Hill Inn in a single room on the first night for RM45/night. Then, I moved into a 3 person room (1 Queen & 1 Single bed) with my 2 friends from SMK Song for RM75/night.
You must be wondering so I'll be direct. Okay, I slept with a married man. But that's it. No hanky panky involved.
The inn was clean, safe & the staff were friendly. However, an annoying stench of cigarette smoke would manage to sneak its way under our wet-toweled door & suffocate us every hour or so. This happened both when I was staying at the top level (single room) & the reception level (3 person room). This did not happen at a friends room in the middle level (double room).
We discovered that it was the staff smoking indoors (in their quarters at the top level & at the reception). This is totally unacceptable. I am not going back to that inn again.

We moved about in vans. You hop on & off it like you would a bus.
Most of the vans in Kapit are unmarked so it's hard to tell whether a van is personal or public transport. However, it never hurts to ask.
Just hail one as you would hail a taxi & it will usually stop if it is available.
The fare for a journey around town is RM1 as was the case for us moving from our lodging to the school. The further you go, the higher the fare but the fare rarely exceeds RM2.

The school was really hospitable.
Mr Kuek, the PK1, met us on our site visit & made us feel comfortable.
The SUP for PMR, Mr Wong, was exceptionally helpful as well. Everything was organised & ready for our arrival. They were also very willing to accommodate our needs & requests.
We were given breakfast & lunch every day. We were also allowed to freely use the school's photocopying & printing facilities. Very generous indeed!

During my visit to schools, I will always try to arrange an informal chat with the best students in the school. I met with the #1 & #2 students (both trial 8As) & discovered that good family background, peer support, personal discipline & ambition is inherent of a student who is excellent academically.
I esp wanted to chat with the best Iban students in the school (both trial 4As). However, they left me hanging & did not honour the meeting. Too bad. I really wanted to learn what it's like for them to come to school & how they managed to succeed in their own way.

I find listening to students very refreshing. They have a way of seeing things that I have forgotten in my pursuit of my personal goals.
What I've learned speaking to students over the years has helped me understand what is necessary for them to succeed academically & what motivates them.
I'm trying to incorporate this knowledge into my activities with my students & will continuously innovate. You'll be the first to read about my activities on my blog. =)

Food In Kapit
Over the 2 weeks, I've had the opportunity to dine at many establishments in Kapit.Here's my opinion of the food in town!

BAD: Chinese Dinner @ Ah Kau Restaurant
It was the worst & most expensive dinner we had in Kapit. The person taking our order was not hospitable at all. He was grunting & acting impatient while taking our order so the 5 of us only ordered 3 dishes (1 Chicken, 1 Pork & 1 Vege).
All the dishes had one flavour: excessively salty! The meal was so salty & Ajinomoto ridden, I was thirsty for the rest of the night & really uncomfortable.
The portions were large but so was the price tag. The meal with drinks cost us RM75!

BAD: Chicken Rice @ Soon Kit Cafe
I had a craving for good Chicken Rice so I scouted around a bit before stopping by Soon Kit Cafe.
Once I saw the person preparing the dish, I had a feeling it was going to be bad. I was right.
The chicken was dry & tasteless. Totally overcooked.
The rice was too wet. Either that or the rice was of poor quality.
The chilli complementing the chicken was also bland. Not spicy at all. It did not enhance the flavours.

I suspect that this is a case of business owner being successful & then getting lazy/greedy. They decide to leave the stall to an employee who follows instructions but does not care. Thus, the dish ends up bland & unpalatable.

The meal did not cost much though. I cant remember the exact price but I remember that it was around RM5 (drink inc.).

BAD: Orchid Steamed Buns @ Chop Chuong Hin Cafe
I love Chinese steamed buns & one morning I decided to find some in Kapit. I stepped into Chop Chuong Hin directly opposite the wharf.
The atmosphere of the shop was something to take in. It's like stepping into another era. I loved the experience.
There were Chinese cakes available but I did not sample those.

I ordered 2 Orchid Char Siew buns & coffee. Loved the coffee but hated the buns. The dough was good but the filling was disgusting. It was a reddish paste with very little meat & some jellyish thing inside. Next time, I'll go with traditional buttered toast.
Cant remember the cost but it was around RM5 (drink inc).

Orchid buns were once of exceptional quality. They were pricey but you were guaranteed satisfaction. Nowadays, it is still pricey but its ability to satisfy is questionable.
The cafe should switch to locally made buns which may be tastier & cheaper.

AVG: Kampua Noodles @ King Hung Cafe
Every morning we either had buns or kampua.
This was the place we had kampua. The kampua was pretty decent. Nothing to shout about but definitely good enough to merit coming back for several mornings in a week.
Cant remember cost. Around RM5 (drink inc.).

AVG: Baked Buns @ Ung Tong Bakery
This was the place we went to for buns in the morning. They had all sorts of buns; from Mexican buns to Garlic buns; most of them mildly sweet.
I don't like sweet stuff for breakfast so I went for the Garlic Bun & Mexican Bun.
The Garlic Buns were very savoury & had a generous spread of garlic on it. However, the buns did seem overcooked. It was somewhat tough but perhaps this is because it was made to be filling unlike the fluffy carbs common in many modern bakeries.
Cant remember cost. Around RM5 (drink inc.).

AVG: Curry Rice @ Far End Stall @ Open-Air Night Eatery
The Curry Rice from this stall came heavily recommended. Plenty of people have told me about this dish & every time I came around, it was out of stock. However, I managed to catch it one night.
It was a pleasant dish but I've had many curries in my life. I cant help but think that this is (in the words of a curry connoisseur I knew) a very Chinese curry. It's sweet, saucy & mildly spicy.
If you dont have curry very often or if you cant take spicy, you'll love it. If you like Indian curry, you'll hate it. I happen to love Indian curry. So, it's an average curry to me.
Cant remember cost. Around RM8 (drink inc.).

GOOD: Chinese Dinner @ Uncle Cinen Cafe
I'm a very picky eater so when I say this place is good. IT IS GOOOOOOOD!!
This place looks pretty common but the 4 dishes (2 Pork & 2 Vege) we ordered were excellent. Every one of the 5 of us were singing praises as we stuffed our faces.
The service was excellent as well. The owner even came down to chat with us & talk about her town.

The cost? RM50 (drinks inc). CHEAP!!!
Will definitely be coming back for more & recommending it to everyone!

GOOD: Street Burger @ Front Stall @ Open-Air Night Eatery
I am a big fan of the average Malaysian Street Burger.
It's like finding the perfect chick. There are so many types & shapes out there. One has to patiently search & make mistakes before discovering the perfect one.
I had the Beef Egg Cheese. They did not overdo the butter & the sauces were done just right to give the burger enough flavour & moisture to go down in a pleasureful gulp.
Forgot the price but I think it was RM5+ each. When you're there, check out the different selections & their prices on the menu.

I enjoyed my working visit to Kapit & am looking forward to returning again next month for the SPM invigilation at probably the same school (unconfirmed)!
Will take more pictures & scout for more good food while I'm there for a month! =)

Sunday, October 9

My Views On The System

Let me be the first to admit that I am NOT an expert on the system nor I have spent years studying it by analysing demographics, statistics, stakeholder opinions & whatnot.
I have, however, given the first 3 years of my best years & am still giving to serve in the interiors under this system.
This is purely my opinion & observations. Do not mistake them for credible fact.

Good People Leaving
I am passionate. I work hard. I am idealistic. People like me are pure energy. All we need is direction & focus. We will be the laser that will shine through the darkest moments & cut through the toughest circumstances. We are the ones who can bring change. We are willing to suffer & even die for what we believe in. We are willing to work for you to make a difference.

Sadly, over the years, I have seen many of my kind leave the service. Mostly due to frustration with the system. These people are not half-baked potatoes that give you diarrhoea. Many have found better remuneration & lifestyles outside the system. Mostly because they are good, they know that they are good & they want better. If the good are leaving, who is left behind? How will this affect the quality of the system?

Poor Vetting Of New Recruits
Are we able to bring out the best in students from best buy teachers?
I guess it all starts with the people who are let into the system. I agree that having the best academic results doesn’t automatically make you the best teacher; but it does help because, eventually, just as how you’ve learned to achieve excellent grades, you’ll learn how to be an excellent a teacher.
If we want to develop excellent minds, we need to have excellent mentors. Excellence can only come from discipline & discipline bears fruits in results whether it is academic or co-curricular.

I knew someone who judged recruits solely based on their SPM results. Whatever degree, training or certificate the recruit had did not matter. The SPM results are a reflection of a person’s discipline, excellence & dedication when he was at school & it will also foretell his performance at work. He has never been proven wrong.

We have a very peculiar vetting system where people with the best results do not necessarily get the job. People are said to have been chosen based on merits but it seems that there is some kind of quota system where a certain number from a certain race or from a certain part of the country are recruited regardless of merits. There are also rare occurrences of nepotism where the children of the influential are admitted into select programmes regardless of merits.

I am not against people with poor academic results. I personally have many friends who are weak academically but passionate about improving themselves & becoming a great teacher. I love them with all my heart & are proud to work together with them.
Sadly, I know even more people who are weak academically & professionally yet do nothing about it. They hide behind a loud bark & justify everything they do (and what they don't do) based on how many years they have served. These is the kind of people that should not be let into the system in the first place.

Not Walking The Talk
There is a saying in Sarawak: “Cakap Tak Serupa Bikin” (Talk Not Same As Do). We have a great National Education Philosophy & an even greater challenge to implement it in the lives of every child. Not everybody is able to rise to the occasion & take it on. Some people just want to put up a good show to make people think that they are working towards the goal & achieving it when in fact they are doing something completely different.

That is very common in the system. Many things are done just for show so that they can tell the parents: “See… we did this whole list of programmes so it’s not our fault your child failed. We’ve done all we could.” But have we?
How many times have I had to participate in ridiculously grandiose fancy-named mega-budget programmes that do little to achieve its objectives. I have also witnessed many programmes that sound awesome on paper but failed in execution due to weak planning, half-hearted execution or both.
Sometimes I think that the funds for these PR stunts could be better spent on simple yet significant programmes or simply placed in the hands of capable teachers with a heart for service.

Mismatched Rewards
Steven Covey, the author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, taught in his book ‘The 8th Habit’ that when it comes to rewards, we must water what we want to grow. It basically means that we need to check whether we are actually rewarding the right behaviours in our people & aligning the system to reward our people for doing what is wanted. Bear in mind that it is possible for us to water the weeds & then blame the seeds for not growing.

Steven Levitt, co-author of ‘Freakonomics’, reveals consistently that humans respond to incentives. Let me summarise the incentives in the system & basically what behaviours it rewards.
APC or Excellent Performance Award rewards kissing up & pushing down (how ironic).
Yearly Salary Increments & Time-Based Promotion rewards people for staying as long as they can in the system (regardless of performance). Many times I’ve heard people say something to the effect of “Kenapa rajin sangat? Perkhidmatan saya masih panjang lagi.” Do you think that they will work harder when tempoh perkhidmatannya hampir tamat?
Guru Cemerlang rewards those good in creating a pretty, thick & fully-illustrated report-book of what they’ve done for the past 3 years (strange thing is when people come to evaluate you, the first thing they want to see is paperwork).
The unbreakable rice pot rewards, heck, doing whatever you want without consequences (WOO!!)!
Undesirable behaviours that are left unchecked will also serve as an incentive to repeat them & for others to learn them i.e. laziness, apathy, tardiness, plagiarism, cronyism et cetera.

Just as humans will find a way to do as little as possible to milk the system for as many rewards as possible, the reward system needs to evolve & be constantly aligned to reward what it actually wants to reward.
The saddest thing to happen is for a hardworking person who really deserves the recognition & rewards to be bypassed again & again because of his meek personality.
p/s: Thanks for rewarding me with an allowance to work in the interiors! Greatly appreciated!

The Fish Rots From The Head Down
This is the most important thing the system has to do. Make sure that there are capable leaders heading each school. Unfortunately, I have seen people who are about to retire being promoted as some kind of appreciation for years of service. Most of these people merely warm the seat while waiting for retirement. In the 2 or 3 years they are there, someone else could have turned the school around.

Also, there are leaders who abuse their position to make money. Delivering a quality product for a fair price is totally fine. I’m speaking against those who spend school money buying thin air or overcharge the school for commission. All this money could have been used to improve the school.
Yet little or no action is taken until it has become too big to sweep under the carpet. In one case, the person was merely demoted & transferred to another school after making lots of money & spending it openly on smokes, booze, gambling & girls.

No matter how horrible a school is, put in a capable head, give him the support & he will turn the school around. Similarly, place a nincompoop in a good school & watch the school crash & burn. As the saying goes "there are no good schools with a bad head".
The system has to be extra selective about who they place on top. Not everybody who is able to sit through management courses is capable of dealing with tough decisions, teachers or students.
Instead of giving the post away to the oldest applicant or to a friend or to your uncle’s son, give it to the most promising people. Tell them to prepare a personal checklist of what they want to achieve in the school. Give them the necessary support, motivation (both soft & hard), monitor his progress (via multiple sources) & retain accordingly.

Weak heads who are honestly trying, can be given another chance. Those who are not, should be shown back to their old jobs. Only the best can be head. Then only can you expect the best out of every school i.e. the ‘First Class Mentality’ in a ‘competitive & globalised world’ as desired in Vision 2020.

Conclusion
Let me conclude by clarifying that I am not saying that people who stay in the system are bad or the system is bad. We are in a system with an excellent philosophy & overlying principles. Furthermore, everybody can repeat all the ideals required.
However, not everybody is practising it. People are not expected to & those who do are not rewarded.
I’m bringing out the issues so that we can stop the backbiting & finger-pointing, confront the issues in the open, ponder upon it & improve together.

There are many good, honest & talented people still in the system. I have learned a lot from the few of them I have had the privilege of studying under & benefitted greatly. These people are the ones who are working with the system trying to making a difference every day. Kudos to them.
To those who are going to leave the system, I bid you all the best. To those who have decided to stay & risk their sanity, I bid thank you.

Saturday, October 1

English Week 2011 @ SMK Katibas

Hello & welcome to the highlight of my year... The English Week 2011 @ SMK Katibas!
Compliments to the English Language Panel & the English Language Society for bringing an exciting week-long string of activities to the rural school which is SMK Katibas.
Esp to Messrs George, Royston, Chieng, Ida, Hilda, Wesley, Florinoya & Gomez.

During English Week this year, there were the staples of a time capsule, essay writing competition, treasure hunt, spelling bee, crossword puzzle competition &, the highlight of the week, English Night. There were also new additions such as the Opening Night, Sing-A-Long, Indoor Games Competition & Katibas Premier League Futsal Competition.

There were plenty of photos & activities but I'll just highlight the activities that I was directly involved in.

Time Capsule 2011
The support for this year's Time Capsule was better than last year.
More students wrote in & it seems many were really into it & excited about the prospect of writing a letter to future students!
As usual, I instructed the top classes to write a letter while the weaker classes drew a picture with a few English sentences.
I removed the wrapping from my giant whey protein plastic bottle, told the ELS to paint a few words on it & recycled it as the time capsule. The sign board was made by the school handymen & painted by the ELS.

English Week: Sing-A-Long 2011
Those of you who knew me back in Secondary School or Uni will remember me singing with a talented guitarist & totally rocking it out with him. I miss those days & even more so my talented brothers so I wanted to share similar moments with my students. Besides, I think such an activity will be a novel way to indirectly teach them the English language.

The original idea was to train a guitarist & a vocalist to learn several songs & then share it with the school.
I chose simple songs that were easy to sing & learn. They were "Wherever You Will Go" by The Calling, "Sway" by Bic Runga, "You And Me" by Lifehouse & "I Do" by Colbie Caillat.

The guitarist had no problems learning the songs but the vocalist faced serious problems mainly because she was totally unfamiliar with the songs. She had to learn from scratch & at the end of 1 month, she learned 2 out of the 4 songs. So, I came in to do the other 2 songs.
We did this for 2 nights during English Week & the response was so-so. Perhaps the songs we too unfamiliar, non-mainstream pop or just too old.
This was a pilot test for a long-term activity I was planning to start next year but I guess, I will have to experiment some more with more catchy or popular songs.

English Week: Indoor Games Competition 2011
The games featured in this competition were Scrabble, Uno Cards, Chess & Chinese Chess.
Originally, I planned for Monopoly & Jengga too but it was hard for our supplier to source them. Even now, they are still pending delivery.

The response was really good although a lot of students expressed frustration at knowing nothing about the games they were playing & apparently some umpires knew nothing too.
I really wanted to let students learn the games first before actually having them competing but the delivery was pretty late so we jumped straight into the competition.
Next year, I'll definitely let them learn the games first.

English Night 2011
Finally, the grand finale.
This year's English Night had our favourite MCs Caroline & Darryl, Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" played & sung by a student, a "Gee" by SNSD dance, "Standing In The Eyes Of The World" by Ella sung by the English Panel teachers & ELS as well as an "Alice In Wonderland" performance.
I was truly unforgettable. It was also the début of our exquisite brand new stage curtains (thanks to George!).

It was unfortunate that the Form 3 & 5 were not allowed to attend. In my heart, I wanted them to attend because I think this would be a great boost to their impression of the English Language & thus more motivation to study the not-as-dull-as-you-think subject!
Will make the English Week earlier next year & insist on including them.

I told the ELS to dress up & ALL of the girls did! They were so lovely!
However, only the older boys dressed up for that night. It was good to see them cleaned up at least for an evening from the shabby unsightly collared-up style that these boys liked to adopt.
Who does that any more nowadays besides wannabes?

Once again, the drama performance this year was just as impressive as last year. The costumes, props & thought put into it was simply at a higher level than any other drama ever performed in our school & it serves as a wonderful introduction to the newly minted Drama Club of SMK Katibas.
An initiative by Royston Sihas with the wonderful support of Gomez (art), George (language) & Florinoya (dramatisation). Simply splendid!

I was very satisfied with my "Gee" dance production this year.
Some people actually thought that I taught my girls the dances. No, you are mistaken. I found a really talented dancer & made her the leader. I gave her a laptop, a loud speaker & "Gee" videos downloaded from YouTube and told her to find other girls, learn the dance & perform it in 4 months time.
My only input was coming in towards the end & adding some fine touches to their performance. Also, having a large mirror & a video camera to show students their movements was invaluable.

Initially, I had commitment problems with several of the girls but thankfully, they pulled their act together before English Night & put a lot of effort into perfecting their dance. With the amount of my own money invested in such productions, next year, I will choose the dancers myself instead of leaving it to the students to choose their friends.

I was also very doubtful of the costumes I sourced from Bandung, Indonesia. I was worried that the colours were too dull to compliment the bubbly naughty cute "Gee" but the girls made it work. It looked wonderful on stage.
Special thanks to Mdm Junai & Mdm Liba for the hair & make-up.
Next year, I want to produce a boy's dance. If I have the time & the right talent, I'll do a girl's dance too.

There you have it.
A grandiose English Week from a RURAL school in the jungle.
What have you URBAN schools done?
Better? I don't think so...
Rural schools are still the best!

p/s: a video of the English Language Night 2011 is underway! Will post it when it's ready. Might take a few weeks coz I'll be really busy these final months!

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