Monday, November 22, 2010


Meet TwinSqueaks. Tentatively, this is what they would be known as, until we have figured out who is who. They look so perfectly alike that if you have seen one, you have met the other. Here is one of them. Doesn't she look sweet and innocent?

 Here is another of them. Or...maybe it is the same one. Hm...I can't tell.

The menagerie is growing. We put the cages side by side, and PipSqueak is very curious about them. She keeps coming out to look, with her ears pricked up and nose quivering.

Yes, they were an impulse buy. I have been looking for a Syrian actually, and we met some. There was a pretty grey one, but I just don't feel anything for it. Then there was another wild-haired spitting male Syrian hamster, but it looked more like the Tasmanian devil. We can't imagine having it at home and we wouldn't dare to groom it!

Then suddenly, a dear little face looked out at us from the tank. They are such pretty little things that I wonder how I could have missed them at first! So, the inevitable happened. They are settling down very well and playing actively.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Expert teaching

For all the learned theories of language acquisition we have read in the university, I still find it a mystery. Parents (and early childhood teachers), don't imagine for a moment that we are the ones who get them to understand language. Most of the time when we teach a child words, we focus on nouns - 'cat', 'dog', 'apple'. Sometimes, but rarely, we move on to adjectives - 'happy', 'hungry'. Then, in the gap between our teaching and full speech, the child somehow puts in 'is', 'on', 'to', and other functional words that have no real content. Most mysteriously of all, he develops a sense of personhood and differentiates between 'baby' (in the third person), and 'I', between 'mummy' and 'you'.

How does it happen?

The biggest social hazard of being a language teacher is that parents are always anxious to get tips and tricks from me, as if I have some secret manual that we teachers possess and guard jealously. I declare that there isn't, and everything I know, I am not afraid to reveal in class. Sadly, they are invariably disappointed by my response.

What is the parent to do? I feel that language learning is far more holistic than we dare to admit. We would like to think that if we could force a child to read more and write more, he would improve. But we forget that for every hour he spends reading and writing in Standard English, many more are spent listening and interacting. If a family's lingua franca is Singlish, which is likely to have more influence on him? Basically, if parents want their child to speak well, they have to model good language practices for him. I remember that when I was young, mummy explained to me the logical relationships implied by 'but' and 'because'. And my father taught us 三字经 and 唐诗. Nowadays he still corrects the wrong characters in my Chinese smses. In retrospect, they have probably helped me tremendously in my academic pursuits.

I understand that parents are anxious to give their children a headstart in English, our language of instruction. But I think parents who are less proficient in English are better off speaking to the child in Mandarin instead. Besides, then they can save on Chinese tuition. To my horror, someone once told me that he isn't good in either language. Then...what language does he think in? But that is a cosmic question I can't deal with today.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Grief Ago

I have been thinking of getting another hamster, but the Fat One reminded me that they erm..don't have very long lives, and the traumatic experience would happen again not too far in the future. So, get a dog, she suggested. They last longer, at least ten years.

I say, if one really wants to escape the sadness of losing a pet, get a tortoise. Or an elephant. They are more likely to outlive you.

The regrettable truth is, nothing is permanent on this side of heaven, and we are all cursed to suffer big or small bereavements one day. There isn't any point trying to avoid the inevitable, we just have to learn when it is time to let go. There is a season for everything. A time to be born and a time to die...a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3).

Sometimes I think that our pet ownership gives us a glimpse into Eden, to a time before the Fall, when Man was given dominion over the earth. I suppose it is a little like having all the animals, lions and all, as our pets.

Thank God that we can look forward to a time in our redeemed future when the wolf will live with the lamb...and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all (God's) holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11).

Only then would we be free to love without the pain of parting anymore.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Prayer and Worrying

One very useful tip Pastor gave during sermon is this: to replace worry with prayer. To worry is to constantly talk to yourself about what troubles you. So instead of talking to yourself, talk to God instead. The same faculty that frets can be trained to pray. What a good idea!

I tried doing it, and when I paid more attention to my thoughts, I noticed that I am nearly always worrying! It doesn't matter what I am thinking, or what conscious thoughts I have, somewhere at the back of my mind, looming like a dark shadow, are the things that worry me. They never quite go away, though they don't intrude into my activities or words.

Which means that if I were to follow Pastor's advice, I am going to be praying day and night! beats constant worry, so never mind, I shall just do it anyway.