Of travelling and writing

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. 🙂



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. 🙂


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.