What do I do?

Recently, I’ve had a very frustrating conversation with a narrow-minded person about teaching. Basically, he thinks that tertiary education is more superior than primary education, which I strongly disagree with. I find it amusing how people assume I’d go into tertiary education or go for administrative positions after completing a masters degree. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work another day in your life. I love primary teaching; I know I’m good at primary teaching; and I chose to teach primary (despite the fact that it’s paid less than secondary and tertiary teaching).

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My own class who is now in Form 2

I believe that primary education is more important than secondary and tertiary education because this is the stage where children build a strong foundation in terms of their social skills, interests in learning and independence. I don’t care about their academic results, but I praise them for trying and improving, for sharing and helping others, for being creative and cooperative.

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Other than English, I’ve always enjoyed teaching art

I remembered coming across this quote when I was an undergrad, training to become a teacher. It says, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” At that time, I wasn’t sure what it meant, but then it became clearer to me after I started teaching. Kids won’t remember what you teach them, but they’ll remember how you make them feel. Malala mentioned the teachers who influenced her most in her book: Miss Ulfat who appreciated her and helped her believe in her dreams; and Madam Maryam, who was bright and independent, who had been to college and had a job earning her own wage – everything Malala wanted to be. I am an English teacher but teaching English is not my main job (I’m terrible at explaining grammar rules and to be honest, most of language learning happens outside the classroom). I try to make learning fun for the kids, so that they’d enjoy learning. I tell them my personal stories, in hopes of them understanding that learning English is not just for tests and exams, it’s a skill which allows you to travel and make friends with people form all over the world. I try to instil the habit of reading in them because that is the first step of independent learning.

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Fellow Paulinians. Me with my past students who got into my alma mater

I’ve thought about changing careers but eventually, I realised primary teaching is what I love and what I’m good at. I’m really lucky to wake up to a job offer two weeks after I submitted my thesis. I had plans, but nothing went according to plan. Life always has its own way of surprising me. When I was in despair about my future, I try to believe that God’s plans will always be greater and more beautiful than all my disappointments. I’m excited yet scared to find out where I’ll be teaching next year!

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Graduation gift for my first class of graduates
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Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Dad used to be the best cook at home but I think I’ve kind of surpassed him this summer. Since we no longer have a helper at home, I’ve been doing most of the cooking this summer after I came home. Cooking Chinese dishes takes SOOOoo much more preparation, time and washing up compared to cooking western food; I spend 3 hours in the kitchen every day on average. That’s why I’ve only cooked Chinese food once in the past 10 months while studying in Cambridge.

My dad’s beef noodle soup is one of my favourite, which I think tastes better than those served in restaurants in Taiwan. I was a bit worried at first when he told me to cook beef noodle soup, but it turned out to be easier than I thought. One thing my dad (and many of my friends’ parents) does that annoys me is that he never tells me exactly how much each ingredient to use. He’d only say, “a little bit of this… a little bit of that… You have to taste it. Add more if it’s bland.” So for the recipe that I’m sharing with you below, please forgive me for not specifying how much soy sauce or sugar to add to your stew. Blame my dad!

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Ingredients:
– beef brisket
– 1 tomato
– shallots (a few)
– ginger (size of a thumb?!)
– 1 tablespoon peppercorns
– soy sauce
– dark soy sauce
– rice wine
– sugar (granulated or brown it doesn’t matter)
– salt
– chilli bean sauce (豆瓣醬)/老乾媽 (optional)
– hot water
– rock sugar (冰糖)
– 2 chillies
– 4 star anises
– 4 bay leaves
– 1 scallion
– 1 white radish
– sweet pickled mustard greens (甜酸菜)
– 4 cloves of garlic
– some more ginger
– noodles
– leafy greens (I prefer baby Chinese cabbage)
– coriander (for garnish)

(It’s ridiculous how much stuff you need ay?)

Here’s what to do:
1. Cut the beef brisket into chunks and boil them in a pot till you see some foam floating on top of the water (過水)
2. Cut the shallots in half and slice the ginger. Fry them in a wok with the peppercorns, then add the beef.
3. Season with soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and salt. If you like it spicy, you could add some chilli bean sauce.
4. Fill the wok with hot water and some rock sugar. Throw in two chillies, star anises, bay leaves, scallion and diced tomato.
5. Transfer it to a stewpot and let it braise for 2-3 hours depending on the type/quality of beef you’re using.
6. Cut the white radish into chunks and boil them till you could poke a chopstick through effortlessly. Add them to the stew 15 minutes before you serve.
7. Wash and soak the pickled mustard green. Dice it and fry with chilli, garlic, minced ginger and sugar. (Almost there I swear!)
8. Cook the noodles and leafy greens.
9. Put everything together in a massive bowl and garnish with some coriander. Voilà!

Call me if you need help lol

Moana and Gender Studies

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Many of you might know that my thesis was about Moana, but what’s that got to do with gender? You see, Moana is a “boy story” with a female protagonist that celebrates both her “masculine” and “feminine” qualities – that is what we need to teach children.

Literature, films and cartoons affect how children perceive themselves the same way that social interactions and expectations do. Not only do they shape children’s understanding and acceptance of dominant ideologies, but also reinforce gender stereotype through reproduction.

Children, in spite of their sex, should be raised and encouraged in the same way. Personal qualities should not be categorised as two sets of opposing ideals, and boys and girls should be taught to embrace both their masculinity and femininity. Only then can they fully develop and maximise their potentials.

In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she writes that, “In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female […] The androgynous mind is resonant and porous […] naturally creative, incandescent and undivided”. I see gender as a continuum and that our gender identity can be measured by the levels of masculinity and femininity in us.

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So, those who have a higher level of male sex hormones, reflect less of the traditionally considered feminine traits and perform a rather masculine role – physically, visually and psychologically – the person would be in the blue zone. A child who is biologically female, has a short hairstyle, prefers to wear trousers to dresses and likes insects could be in the light blue and/or light pink territory. The yellowish-lime area represents those who do not consider themselves as masculine or feminine; it is what we usually regard as the grey area – something that is not clearly distinguished. People who are androgynous or ambiguous about their gender would belong to that region. The white corner – which symbolises nil or emptiness – that says agender refers to people who do not identify with any gender.

There is no judgment of right or wrong, good or bad in this diagram; it has more space for diversity. Our gender identity is fluid and keeps evolving as we grow up. Gender is performative; I would dress, walk, sit and talk differently in different contexts. Gender is something one does, not something one is.

Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue too. Men and boys are also imprisoned by gender stereotypes. Policies and laws have to be changed, but there is nothing more important than changing people’s attitudes and mindsets, what we believe and what we value about gender.

As a teacher myself, I have to admit that I have had gender biases which affected my interaction with my students, assessment of their work and classroom management. It is unfair to the pupils and could affect their personal and social development. In creating more gender-neutral, nonrestrictive environments for children, we could help to nurture more heroes and heroines who are not afraid to show their true colours.

Homerton May Ball 2017

May Ball is a ball at the end of the academic year that takes place at any of the colleges. We have it here in Cambridge, and Oxford does it too. It starts around 6-9pm and ends at 5am, with unlimited food and drinks and lots to do. I knew I’ll be going to one and brought a gown from home (planning ahead you know; thank goodness I could still fit in it, given the fact that I bought it two years ago!).

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St. John’s May Ball is renowned world-wide but it’s more about who you go with. As most of my friends are from Homerton, it was an easy decision to make. I unintentionally avoided the queue since I didn’t get back to Cambridge till 9 coming back straight from a holiday in Spain. I didn’t mind getting in late because it’s all night long. There were inflatable ball pit, swing rides, helter skelter, live music performances, dance tutorials, face painting and so much more. I loved the ballroom and latin dance session. They were doing one of my favourite dances – Jive – when we joined. It was the silent disco that kept us up all night! My friends were impressed with my posing skills in the photo booth LOL We Asians are very well trained indeed :p

To be honest, I think I’m too old for unlimited food and drink and party till sunrise. I definitely didn’t make it worth even a quarter of the amount that I’ve paid but that’s not the point; I’ve had an amazing time with my friends and that’s all that matters (though I wish I have a date). At the end of the night, at 5 in the morning, those who made it would take a “survivors’ photo”. You have no idea how overjoyed I was at the thought of shower and hitting the sack!

It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience but I’m so glad that I’m only going to one (I know someone who’s going to 4!). I went to bed at 6.30 this morning and had 6-hour sleep. After “breakfast”, food shop, laundry and Skyping with my family, I took another 3-hour nap at 6; I finally felt better at 11 after a very late dinner. I don’t think I’ll be fully recovered and get back to my normal routine in a couple days. It’s hard to focus and work indoor during May Week with so much fun stuff going on and the weather being so nice outside. However, with my thesis deadline in three weeks’ time, and having been away for a week, I really need to get back to work 😦

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Survivors!

Travelling Solo

Are you the kind of person who would never ever go to a restaurant or the cinema alone and has to be surrounded by people all the time? Or are you the kind of person who needs to introvert in your room to recharge and enjoy solitude a bit too much? I am the latter, more of an extroverted introvert. You might be wondering where this is going, just keep reading.

I don’t remember when my first solo travel was, but I just know I prefer travelling on my own (well, maybe until I find an adventurous soulmate who would do all the crazy stuff with me). I’ve only travelled with friends on a couple trips; it was fun but we had to compromise and it involved lots of planning (pain). There is also the possibility of ruining your friendship when you travel with even your best friends – I’m not kidding! I, am going to persuade you to travel. solo. For at least once, please, in your life, even if the idea scares the shit out of you. Or maybe you’re just uncertain and needed a push. But be careful, cuz it’s addictive.

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Travelling solo is challenging. I hope you have a good sense of direction or could at least read a map, okay don’t fret, there’s something called Google Map – it’ll be your best friend. When you are in a foreign place on your own, it could be exciting or terrifying. There is no one to depend on, you have to figure everything out by yourself: how to get from the airport to city centre when you can’t read the bus schedule, which platform is your train departing from that’s leaving in 8 minutes and the most important, what to order. My advice? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask the waiter what he/she would recommend. Ask the guy in the uniform who looks really bored to take a look at your ticket and direct you to where you need to be. Ask someone who looks like a local how to get to that secret lookout which is not on the map. You’d be surprised how helpful people are.

Travelling solo is not caring. This is my favourite thing about travelling solo! You don’t have to wait for your friend to get ready. You can sleep in and no one would say a thing. You can walk as much as you want without someone complaining that their feet hurt. You can eat whatever and whenever you like. You can stay as long as you want in that art museum. You can read in bed and not go clubbing. Basically, you get to do whatever you want. No compromising. No arguing. Just you (and your book).

Travelling solo is looking inside yourself. It’s a self-discovering journey. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and dislike. You test your limit; you’d be impressed by yourself at the end of each trip and feel like you’ve accomplished something. I often see “travel solo” on lists like “10 things you should do before turning 30” – it’s cliché, but I highly recommend doing it. 😉

Travelling solo is opening yourself up. I always stay in hostels because it’s cheap and I get to meet people alike and make new friends. This is when my extroverted self takes over. Pluck up the courage to talk to the person next to you, ask them how long are they staying, where are they from, where’s next, what have they seen/done or simply what are they drinking. The more you do it, the less awkward it’ll make you feel and it’ll get easier, trust me. I love talking with people from different culture and learn new things. I met a German police officer in Lagos, he was telling me about China lol When I click with someone, I’d suggest to explore the city together or meet for dinner the next day. You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you. 🙂

I can go on forever but I think I’ll stop here. Of course there are downsides, for instance no one to share food with, which means you can’t order a lot or try many different dishes/snacks cuz you can only eat that much. Safety’s another issue. Luckily, I haven’t had any bad experience travelling alone so far cuz I’m always very cautious. I might write another entry about how to travel safely, especially for women. That’s it for now. I hope you’re thinking about doing it! Do it. Do it. Do it.

Porto: City of Azulejos

I’ve never really thought about visiting Portugal until my friend sent me a cork postcard from Porto. My first encounter with Portuguese “culture” a.k.a. food was on a short trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony an hour away from Hong Kong.

I am the laziest traveller cuz I don’t do any research prior to my trip; also because I didn’t have time as I was finishing my essay. I hope you’re not expecting to learn facts or read about Portuguese history in this blog post – cuz that’s what Wikipedia and Wikitravel are for – but there’ll be loads of pretty pictures and food recommendations I promise. Where was I, right, no research, it has its upside because the best way of exploring a city is to get lost in it!

I decided to fly into Porto only because it’s cheaper than flying to Lisbon, which worked very well for me because all the other places that I wanted to see are to the south of Porto. It was all sunny and warm in the UK the day before I left, so as you can imagined, I was a bit bummed when I arrived in cloudy Porto which later started to rain – I was planning on getting a tan 😦 But nothing’s going to ruin my holiday.

I arrived on a Sunday, so most shops are closed. I had my first meal in Café Luso (Praça de Carlos Alberto 92) and tried the traditional “francesinha”. It’s a sandwich layered with bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and gravy served with fries – basically a heart attack lol Personally I didn’t like it, but I love trying local dishes when I travel, then you can tell people whether or not you like it and why.

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Porto is rather small, just the way I like it – everything’s within walking distance. Two days is more than enough to do all the touristy things on your checklist: Torre dos Clérigos, Ponte D. Luís I, Igreja de São Francisco (not that impressive imo) and Estação de São Bento (stunning!) to mention a few.

If you’re a book lover and are always drawn to bookstores, Livraria Lello is a must-go. It’s one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world. I’ve been told that it was frequented by J. K. Rowling when she taught English in Porto. It seems to me that everyone’s trying to make money out of Rowling, you know, this and the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh. I wanted to get an English translation of their traditional folktale, but sadly their English section is very limited (and disorganised; I started rearranging the books for half a minute and stopped when I realised what I was doing lol).

My favourite thing about Porto/Portugal is azulejo, their traditional painted tin-glazed ceramic  tilework. You can see them everywhere, less in Lisbon though. Blue is my favourite colour and I gasped a little too loudly when I accidentally found Capela das Almas 😮 São Bento train station is also known for its tiled panels.

Everyone has been to Lisbon, but Porto is so underrated. If you love wine, there are some great wine/port tour that I didn’t have time to do. I don’t think I’ve seen Portuguese wine in shops or on menus (outside Portugal I mean) but they’re really good and cheap! The river is so calming; the alleyways are full of surprises; Portuguese people are very friendly and speak good English (I’m so disappointed with myself for my Portuguese has not improved at all after travelling in Portugal for 10 days). I’m so glad that I’ve decided to see Portugal 🙂 Below are some recommendations:

Best sunset spot/view of the bridge and river: The Gaia Cable Car upper station, Calçada da Serra 143. It’s just right off the bridge on the other side. I didn’t pay to take the cable car, instead I just sat on the edge of the wall. If you’re classier than me, there’s actually a wine bar right next to it.

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Best sandwich shop: A Sandeira, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Terrific lunch deal between noon and 3pm. Limited space though. Closed on Sunday.

Best seafood restaurant: Adega São Nicolau, Travessa São Nicolau 1. Mixed reviews online but I really enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with the view of the river. Good food, good wine and free port with dessert. Must make reservation in advance.

Best hostel: Gallery Hostel, Rue de Miguel Bombarda 222. Hostel in an art gallery, wonderful staff who gave me the most elaborated tour of the city on a map upon arrival, spacious and clean room with comfy beds and nice hot shower. Big breakfast included and also got a rooftop terrace.

More than just hair

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” – Coco Chanel

In summer 2008, after a long day at work, I walked into a hair salon that I’ve never been to and told the hair stylist that I want a change. An hour later, I met up with my family for dinner with my new crop – you should see their faces lol I miss my short hair from time to time, especially when I needed to wash and dry my voluminous hair. That’s the only time I wish I were a guy (ah, and also when I really needed to pee and there’s a massive queue for the ladies and none for the gents).

Long hair is irrefutably feminine. I like it long also cuz there’re so many fun things that I can do with it: ponytail, pig tails, fishtail, plaits, chignon, messy bun – the list goes on and on. For the body’s most versatile raw material, our hair can be cut, plucked, shaved, curled, straightened, braided, greased, bleached, dyed and decorated with pretty accessories. When we were little, my sister and I had a box (or was it two?!) full of hair ties that we’d pick one from every morning. I’d be munching on my piece of toast while auntie combed and tugged at my hair before we rushed off for school.

A change in the way one wears one’s hair can affect the look of the face and alter a mood. It applies to both men and women but I’m not going into men’s hair today. I think a crop makes me look younger and I feel refreshed and energetic. Whereas long flowing hair makes me look more mature, womanly and elegant. Wavy hair is sexy but mine are so dead straight. Often in literature, a deep sense of loss from a romantic male perspective is illustrated when a woman cuts off her hair. In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1906), a hank of hair is a woman’s greatest treasure. If one doesn’t feel that short hair is a tragic feminine loss, the story loses much of the poignant drama. In Little Women (1968), Jo March sells her long thick hair so her mother can travel to her sick father’s bedside. She is not immune to the sense of feminine loss as she sobs in bed at night.

I’ve cropped, permed, dyed mine out of boredom. A woman will often decide to “do something different” with her hair (or do something stupid, like getting a tattoo) after a difficult crisis, for a new way of wearing the hair gives the impression of a new lease of life – does it really? Who are we fooling? Is hair just hair, or is it more than just hair?