Of travelling and writing

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Holidaying in Kenting, Taiwan, in March 2015.

Holidays. Vacations. A lot of families would take the opportunity to go for a short break with their children. Some would have already booked a holiday getaway months earlier. I do know that many of the China students from the international school that I was teaching in are back in their own hometown to reunite with their families and to catch up on any festivities they might have missed out on.

While it is always good to take a break, let’s not forget to keep our eyes open – to observe more things, ears pricked – to hear more good things, and minds open – to allow inspiration to course through. I remember when I used to travel overseas as a boy, I always made it a habit to bring a notebook along. Back then, it was all paper and pen. No fancy smartphones or modern gadgetry to take notes. And digital cameras weren’t even in the fashion too.

I picked this habit from a school teacher. And on every new day of travel, I would jot down the date, time, and even the weather. As best as possible, I would chronicle every detail I remembered. It is thus imperative to always immerse yourself in your travels. By immersion, I mean to really be in the moment. Carpe Diem (Seize the day).

Now that we are all bombarded by the influx of modern devices, it is getting increasingly challenging not to take your phone out and snap a photo or record a video and to upload it immediately onto your Facebook or Instagram. You probably would receive instant gratification in the form of likes. But does your photo tell a story?

To quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince: “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

One major point of language learning is to have the capacity to feel. If you snap a picture without feeling anything, your photo is as good as not taken. Captions add details to a photo. Many a time, they complement each other. Based on this reasoning, if you write a diary because you are forced to chronicle each day by writing the mundane – alarm clock rings, wake up, brush teeth, wash face, wear school uniform/dress for work, go to school/office, chances are that it will turn out to be a boring entry.

I encourage my students who are learning English or Chinese to keep a diary or a blog. Through their diary writing, it allows me to peer into their thought patterns, which provide insights on who they are as a person, what they enjoy doing, their relationships with their family members or friends, and so on. I find it very helpful in tailoring how I could teach them. I usually don’t dictate what they should write about, as I want them to write freely. And I will always leave a response after each entry.

Through this way of free writing, students are able to dwell into their own world of thoughts. By confiding in their diary/blog and eventually showing me (as a reader), they give me a good look into their way of life. It is definitely useful as some students may express better through writing instead of speaking. So why should we close such doors?

So back to what we were saying, what’s your vacation story? You are welcome to share any of your travels or happenings with me at anzzon@gmail.com. 🙂

 

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Learning language through music

 

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Learning language through music is both fun and engaging.

How do you keep students engaged in learning a language like Chinese? This is a common problem faced by many parents and teachers here in Singapore. I always tell parents that the fastest way to learn Chinese is to send their kids to China for a good 10 years. They will come back with better Chinese proficiency, and may even pick up a Chinese accent.

While this may be quite an extreme thing to do, I am only making a point here: Environment is a major factor when it comes to learning. There is a Chinese idiom that goes 耳濡目染, which means literally that both the “ears and eyes are influenced and engaged”. Environment has the ability to shape our learning experience. With regards to my earlier point about sending children to China, they may not be going there with a deliberate intention to learn Chinese. However, they are forced to be surrounded by a Chinese environment, to read Chinese billboards, signboards, food and instruction menus, travel directions, and listen to Chinese news once they switch on their television and radio. So here’s my question: How can their level of Chinese proficiency not improve at all? It’s almost impossible.

To put things back to reality, many kids in Singapore find it a chore to master the Chinese language, not to mention having to pore through dense paragraphs in their Chinese comprehension passages. That is why we always hear from them that they find learning language a “headache” to begin with.

For a start, many of these younger generation are brought up in English-speaking modern families, as many of their parents tend to be more English educated. Having said this, there is thus a lack of practice opportunity back at home. Even in schools, many of them tend to converse in English. The only way to tackle this, besides having to go to China, is to keep reading, speaking, listening, and writing. The more exposed one is to the Chinese medium, the better. While requiring kids to read the Chinese newspaper may seem like a paramount task, there are other means to learn. You could watch a Chinese movie for example, and learn through subtitles for understanding. Or you could listen to your favourite Mandarin pop song from Jay Chou and pay attention to the lyrics used.

Anson’s Bilingual Classroom aims to induce fun through learning the language. Elements of music, speech and drama are injected into my teaching pedagogy. With a strong passion for these fields, I seek to create constant engagement with the kids. I infuse song learning, for example, through children’s songs (儿歌) and influences like xinyao (新谣). These work particularly well with early learners of the Chinese language – both locals and foreigners alike.

My point is, language learning should be flexible. It should be “out of the box”. While many local schools require a syllabus, the only way to sustain this interest to be a lifelong one takes much more effort than memorising words off the school textbook.

And that is why I have a role to play here.

 

The Songs We Sang: Ruminations and After-thoughts《我们唱着的歌》观后感

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谈到新谣,想必大家都会联想起梁文福、巫启贤、颜黎明等人。就在前几天,我有幸到 Golden Village 戏院观赏《我们唱着的歌》。在去看那部之前,我只是略略知道它是一部有关新谣的记录片。但是,就因为我本身热爱新谣,对新谣辉煌的历史更是十分的好奇,因此我非看不可!

我以前对新谣的了解不深,只知道新谣就是“新加坡的歌谣”罢了。然而,看了《我们唱着的歌》以后,它更是让我对新谣有深一层的认识。虽然我出生在80年代,但真正印象较深刻的时代应该是90年代吧。新谣早在70和80年代就有如雨后春笋般地涌现在本岛的各个角落。在本地当红歌手林俊杰与孙燕姿等人成为家喻户晓的著名人物之前,新谣其实是在当时的南洋大学先“诞生”的。由于新加坡早初的华校生居多,大家熟悉的共同语言便是华语了。早期的南洋诗乐团秉着对华文文学的热忱,常常会在休息时间聚在一起谢谢诗,哼哼歌。

看了这部纪录片,我这才恍然大悟,原来新谣只是纯粹的由很多组热爱音乐与文学的莘莘学子弹弹吉他,唱唱歌而形成的社会风气。想想看当年的文学气息还真是浓郁!戏里还解释新谣是如何通过一关又一关的时代“考验”才到最后能达到炉火纯青的效果,并公诸于世。这种种的考验还包括了如何将新谣从校园传播之校外,甚至到海外国家,让更多人听到新加坡人的心声。再来,70至80年代也见证了英文成为新加坡的通用语。这给当年的华校生带来了巨大的冲击及阻挠。不只是在学校的各个科目必须由英语学习,新谣组织更是遇到一波又一波的威胁。

新谣造就了很多耳熟能详、脍炙人口的歌曲,包括了《细水长流》、《小人物的心声》、《写一首歌给你》、《邂逅》等等。很令人欣慰的是,最近又掀起了一股新谣热潮。从2013年的那部《我的朋友,我的同学,我爱过的一切》到不久前在第八频道播放的《起飞》连续剧,都是以新谣作为背景题材。我认为通过社交媒体的配合,这正是有效地能让更多年轻一代的新加坡人认识新谣。对于这个现象,我感到挺开心的。

新谣体现了一种不向岁月低头的顽强,也教会我执着有时能带来意想不到的惊喜。对与一名从事语文教育者的我,由于本身就特别热衷于音乐,我在课间也穿插了一些新谣歌曲的赏析项目,希望能鼓舞学生,提升他们对华文的兴趣。这语文与音乐间的结合,可说是天衣无缝啊!我怀抱着满满的信心与期盼,要让下一代继续感受到新谣的魅力,将华文文学发扬光大!

 

Just a few nights ago, I managed to catch the docu-film “The Songs We Sang” in a Golden Village theatre. Prior to the movie, I had little knowledge of what to expect. I only knew that it is a movie about xinyao, aka Singapore folk songs. As I am myself intrigued by the xinyao music genre, I am thrilled to catch the show to satisfy my curiosity.

Although I was born in the 80’s, my memory remains more vivid throughout the 90’s. However, xinyao has since incepted in the late 70’s, thanks to the emergence of Chinese schools. Before popular songbirds like JJ Lin and Stefanie Sun became musical icons here, xinyao sprung from Chinese schools, a movement started by Chinese students in Nanyang University’s “Poetry Music Club”. What began as a get-together during recess and after-school breaks to jam and make some music with mere guitars and vocals strummed itself to popularity in the commercial market not so long after.

Having said that, it was not all smooth-sailing for xinyao. Before it became commercialised, It was met with challenges such as the evolving education landscape in Singapore; English was made the lingua franca here, a move after the British colonial rule. Many Chinese students had difficulty trying to switch to the new language, not to mention having to use it as their primary language across other subjects. Also notable in history was the merger between Nanyang University and University of Singapore to form the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1980. Before xinyao caught up with overseas music markets, the challenges it faced were unthinkable.

Still, I’m glad that we have arrived at where we are today. Thanks to local veterans like Liang Wern Fook and Eric Moo, the ripples of xinyao could be felt through later movie/drama productions such as “That Girl in Pinafore” and MediaCorp’s “Crescendo”. I am heartened to know that such productions helped to reach to the younger crowds who probably had little inkling on what the genre is about.

Xinyao is an exemplary case study of perseverance. As an educator who embraces music, I see this as a splendid match between language and music. Hereby, I hope that xinyao could reach more audiences, and that the beauty of Chinese literature could spread on for many years to come!

The Songs We Sang is now showing exclusively at selected Golden Village theatres.

B for Boy. B for Believe.

Not so many years ago, I considered myself an avid writer. Especially when you had too much time on hand. Back in those days, I wrote a lot. I scribbled, I typed and I let my imagination run free. This is one from the small collection of short stories I wrote. It is more of a children’s story. And since it’s now the Christmas season, sharing this couldn’t be more apt. Writing short stories is a good way to encourage creativity. Let me know what you think in the comments below. 🙂

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Boy under barren Xmas tree. Sketch by Anson Ong.

A boy’s Christmas wish came true because of one strong word.

It was Christmas season in a small town in England. It was a season of joy and celebration. The town itself was filled with merry making and the festive mood was getting strong. The grounds of the town were already covered with heaps and layers of thick white snow while the roofs of the cottages were shimmering with milky white snow.

Dan, a homeless boy was shivering as he slept in a cold dark corner of a tunnel. Occasionally he would sneeze and cough as he tried to wrap himself warm. Dressed in a tattered and torn shirt, Dan was cold, lonely and miserable. His family was poor. His dad used to work as a carpenter while his mom sewed clothes to make a living. They led a humble yet fulfilling life. He was the only child. Back then, he would have gathered together with his parents at the small wooden table in their cottage every Christmas Day. He remembered how his mom would cook a bowl of congee for him and also give him a small cupcake as a Christmas gift. He could not be more satisfied and happy to be with his parents. However, he lost them in a war years ago and never got to see them again. He was left all alone and abandoned.

As he was dirty and rugged, the town people advised their children not to go near him. Even the children themselves teased him whenever they saw him, making his life more miserable. He survived on leftovers and those that were dumped in the bins. It was a hard life. Yet, not all people in town were bad. There were a few good souls who would offer him food every now and then. He got to know an old man, Henry, a beggar who lived beside him in the tunnel, and got acquainted to him when he first moved there. Henry looked after him like his own child and shared food with him. Dan depended on him and looked upon him as his own father.

“Son, wake up..” Henry called as he nudged him.

Dan slowly opened his eyes as puffs of vapor came out from his mouth and nose. He turned around and looked at Henry.

“It’s Christmas son, you wouldn’t want to miss this great day would ya?”

Dan smiled and slowly sat up as he stared into the sky which was already velvet dark and dotted with twinkling little stars.

“So sonny, what’s your wish for Christmas?” Henry asked as he rubbed his hands to keep himself warm.

Dan looked up into the sky again. Staring into the myriads of stars, he thought he saw his dad and mom smiling and waving at him.

“I.. I would like my dad and mom back. I miss them..” Dan spoke slowly as tears began to fill his eyes.

“Oh, silly young man, do not cry. Boys don’t cry. You are going to be a man soon.” Henry said as he took him into his own arms and wrapped them around him to keep him warm. “Very soon sonny, you will grow up.”

Back in his workplace, Mr. Santa Clause was reading through the wish list. Squinting through his thinly framed glasses, he scanned through the wishes. Jan Hermione, 11 wants a barbie doll, Kathy Woodsman, 13 wants a new ipod, John Witherspoon, 14 wants a racing toy car… As he pored through the list of wishes, he stopped at a particular one that stood out like a sore thumb. Dan Stewart, 12, wants his dad and mom back. He paused for a while, closed his eyes and flipped through his mind for the whereabouts of Dan Stewart’s parents. Shortly, he opened his eyes and smiled.

Back in town, children were singing carols, holding candles on their hands as they walked through the snow. Christmas trees were erected in almost every household and families gathered to have their Christmas feasts. Dan took a walk around the town and was cheered to see the bright decorations on the cottages. As he walked, a little girl walked towards him and handed him a lollypop. Dan smiled and said “Thanks”.

“Danny, wake up..” he heard a familiar voice.

Dan rubbed his eyes and his vision soon became clear. He could not believe his eyes. His mother was right before him, smiling at him. Her hair was combed back into a bun, neat like how she would always look. He turned his head to survey the place. It was unmistakable – he was in the old cottage he had lived.

“Mom!” He cried.

“Why boy, it’s Christmas. You wouldn’t want to miss this day would you?” His mother smiled at him again, giving him a reassuring look this time. “Come out, I have a surprise for you.” She said as she walked out of the room to the living room, her voice sounded like warm honey down a parched throat.

Puzzled, he walked out of his room and was again shocked to see his dad sitting at the wooden table waiting for him. On the table were 3 bowls of congees. Right beside his bowl, he saw a cupcake.

“Merry Christmas son.”

Tears flowed down Dan’s cheeks. He could not believe what was happening.

“Thank you Santa, thanks for making my wish come true. I do believe in miracles now.” He muttered under his breath as he took his seat.

It felt like the best Christmas in a long while.

 

Anson is based in Singapore and can be contacted at 97887232 or email at anzzon@gmail.com for further enquiries.

 

Look here!

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As language learners, we all know that first impression counts. Whether it means saying ‘hello’ to a new acquaintance or writing your first paragraph of your essay, how you introduce yourself (or your voice in writing) matters. In this constantly spinning world that is unfortunately ‘spinning’ faster than ever – thanks to the plethora of information we are exposed to on a daily basis, attention spans are getting shorter and patience is running thinner.

So my first post is all about making a stand. I have been teaching for close to 10 years, starting from my army days. Looking back, it was all about doing another part time “job” to pay the bills and support my entertainment expenses as a fledging young man who is still making sense of my pair of “wings” – my new found sense of freedom. After all, I consider myself a young adult, having moved away from mandatory primary school education and completed both my secondary and Junior College courses.

I turned to teaching as a tutor because I thought it was something I could do. As an Arts major, I have always been inspired by the magic surrounding language and literature. I would find myself dabbling in fields of Arts, drama and music, and am still enlightened by these aspects even till today.

I come from a Mandarin speaking family background and grew up conversing with my folks and siblings in Chinese at home. Of course, the daily Hokkien conversations between my mum and dad added vocabulary to my Hokkien literacy, though I seldom speak the dialect. I am fascinated by the beauty of languages and how they serve their purpose in this world.

Anson’s Bilingual Classroom is founded with a few purposes in mind. While English is our official language in Singapore, I find that a lot of local students are learning it just for their exam grades. In fact, they fail to see that language learning is a lifelong commitment! As such, I hope to help develop their potential by showing them what works and what don’t.

Next, I am proud of my heritage as a Chinese and would like to spread this further. As an educator, I am here to debunk the myths surrounding Chinese learning. A lot of kids grow up hating the language, some even complaining that reading Chinese give them headaches. Many do not know that we are speaking the tongue originating from a fast-rising dragon – China, and that the pervasiveness of the Chinese market is taking the world by storm.

I have had foreign students with no Chinese backgrounds wanting to learn the language. Their parents know best why it is imperative to do so in today’s context. Parents look for me due to my versatility to teach both languages, and more importantly for the foreign students – to be able to explain Chinese terms using English, and vice versa.

My classes are all about engagement and interactivity. I always believe that learning is a two-way process. By injecting fun elements into learning like word games and simple poetry and songwriting, I seek to nurture and inspire the next batch of learners through fun and impressionable exercises.

I am elated to know that many students whom I have taught had managed to achieve their desired grades, and some whom have even gone on to pursue finer things in life. It is my hope to create long-lasting bonds with my students.

There is always a first to everything. The challenge is to make it last. I look forward to inspiring new lives through language usage and appreciation, and welcome any feedback in the process. With that, I hope I have made my stand.

Anson is a full-time language tutor and he can be contacted via email at anzzon@gmail.com or his mobile at 97887232.