Thoughts from Find me a Singaporean

It’s a day off after a week of work and I decided to spend it at home. While aimlessly scrolling through the posts in my Facebook, I stopped at one about a local programme Find Me A Singaporean. I haven’t watch this show before so I have no idea why today, I stopped at that post and went on to check out their Facebook page. In this travelogue, the host Belinda Lee travels to visit Singaporeans at different corners of the world. These SIngaporeans share about their life away from home as they pursue their dreams and do amazing things abroad. Here are summaries of two of the episodes which I took from their Facebook page:

“Singaporean couple Jason Goh and Wong Poh Lai who moved to Thailand in 1999. In early 2005, they moved to Baan Namkem, a village that was hardest hit by the tsunami in 2004. What started as a short term tsunami relief effort has since evolved into a long term community development project which provide free meals for the children of poor families, a full day school to allow the underprivileged children in the area an access to education and other skill development related courses to the impoverished villagers.”

“Following the path of love, Doreen landed in Stockholm 20 years ago. 20 years later, she has not only built herself a home, and also carved out a successful career in Sweden’s leading clothing label company. Belinda spends midsummer, the most magical time of the Swedish year, with Doreen and her family. Together, they participate in the Swedish Midsummer Festival. Amidst all the songs, dance and fun in summer, Belinda discovers some bonds do not break, no matter where you are.”

I’m really not envious that they can live abroad or of what they are doing. What strikes a chord in me here is their courage to choose the meaningful life they want to live. Meaningful in my opinion isn’t solely about changing the world or helping the poor, sick etc. It’s about loving what we are doing, feeling driven and inspired in the day, feeling happy and accomplished at the end of the day and waking up the next wanting to do everything better. No matter what we do – a teacher, a pastor, a banker, a waiter, an engineer, a stay home mum – we can all live a meaningful life. These amazing people not only found but also chose to live a life which truly matters to them.

Last Sunday, I went on to catch one of their episodes. It is about this 23 year old Raymond who moved to Poland to pursue his interest in Equine therapy (using horses to facilitate therapy and growth) and also to further his music studies at the Warsaw University Chopin Institute of Music. At the same age, I never thought about my life being more than graduating with a good degree and finding a good job. Yet, this young chap has dreamt bigger and is not afraid to seek his dream lifestyle, even if it means relocating to half a globe away alone. His story showed me that there are endless permutations of how we can live our life and that there is no boundary (geographically or mentally) as to how far we can go to pursue what we want.

Friends have been telling me about how lucky I am to be doing what I love now. Don’t be mistaken, you are right! I love what I am doing now, I am happy everyday dolling up ladies and for that, I’m truly thankful. I just believe that being a makeup artist is more than putting on beautiful makeup for people. Am I setting a boundary for myself? Is there a bigger purpose in what I am doing? Is there more to life than what I am seeing and doing now?

People who know what their calling in life is are truly blessed and they never stop inspiring me to find mine one day. When I do, I want to have the courage to follow my dream. I hope you will too. And don’t stop seeking.

4 months in a blink

My last entry was dated a good 4 months ago. Not surprising, since I already have past records that I just can’t sustain a blog for long. My utmost respect for some of my friends make a point to record every event in their life. It’s such a wonderful thing to have all these words and photos to look at and be able to relive all the important moments of their life for many years to come.

Having said that, I know I’m still too lazy to maintain a blog about my daily life. But I will make it a point not to let this blog die. The fact is that I do enjoy reading through all my past entries so I guess this will keep me motivated to pop in and blog once in a while.

The past four months have been really eventful. I started a fashion blog, ftashion with my dear friend Ashley. ftashion is already 10 months old now! Then came my 3 weeks winter holidays with hubby and friends. Karlskrona – Helsinki – Oulu – Stockholm – Kiruna – åre – Karlskrona. Then hubby and I went to Iceland in Jan and Norway in Feb where we finally caught the spectacular Northern light. This ended our grand Europe tour and we prepared ourselves to move home. 1st April, I flew home for the first time in 17 months. Then we spent our next three weeks getting our room ready, unpacking and catching up with families and friends.

That’s a brief summary of what happened in 4 months. And now, I’m recounting these events back in Singapore. I should have an entry dedicated to my Sweden stay. It has been such an awesome stay, I really wouldn’t trade it with anything else. For now, a short entry seems good to get me started and I’ll leave that Sweden entry for another time. See u guys!

Helsinki Day 3

It’s a wetter and gloomier Day 3 in Helsinki. We were really glad that we came prepared with our new jackets which kept us dry and warm in this bad weather.

We explored the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Founded in 1748, Suomenlinna is a bastion fortress of irregular shape that is built on uneven terrain and on separate islands.

Most of the museums and cafes are only opened in Summer and since it was all rainy and cold there, we only visited a few outdoor attractions. The courtyard on the Susisaari island was the main square of the fortress since 1760s. There’s an impressive tomb in the middle of the courtyard and it belongs to Augustin Ehrensvärd the military officer, military architect, artist, creator of the Suomenlinna sea fortress.

The Dry Dock is just beside and below the courtyard. it is one of the world’s oldest dry docks still in use. Nowadays the dock is used to restore old wooden ships.

Despite our short stay at Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, we thought that it’s really beautiful and undeniably a great place to go to learn more about the Finnish history.

Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving Helsinki and heading to Oulu. I’m really very excited about all the visits to the Finnish schools in Oulu!

Helsinki Day 2

Day 2 was still very cold and gloomy. The wind is so strong that for a couple of times, we were blown a few steps off our track. Fortunately for us, it didn’t rain or snow till evening and we already back in the hotel. Armed with just a paper map, we explored Helsinki on foot today. Honestly, I never knew I could read maps until this trip! lol, of course with me as the navigator, we took more time, walked more steps but, but, but we still got to our destinations eventually!

Helsinki Cathedral was our first destination. Completed in 1852, this prominent landmark overlooks the Senate Square. In addition to serving its own congregation, it also hosts major state and university events.

Right opposite the cathedral is the Senate Square and it is the main central square in Helsinki. A St. Thomas Christmas Market is being held at the square now. There are many interesting stalls selling local handmade products like jewelry, breads and wood crafts.

There is an enormous real Christmas tree erected in the middle of the square. I love how the star at the top seemed to be shining brightly against the dark, looming sky.

It probably sounds really unbelievable but these were all the photos I took today. =/ My fingers were too numb from the cold to want to operate the camera. On our way back to the hotel, we took refuge from the cold wind in different shopping centres.

We’ll be heading to the Suomenlinna island tomorrow so stay tune for more updates!

Friends from SG

If you remember, I was just talking about two friends visiting in Nov and the next moment, Nov is almost over, YT is already back in SG and WL has arrived today!

We are so delighted to have friends from SG visiting us and our quaint little town. It was really fun as we brought YT around Karlskrona and had him over at our place for dinners. In a way, this little town has become our second home and it feels good playing host and showing our friends around. I must say that this isn’t the best time to visit Karlskrona – autumn is coming to an end, the trees are all bare now and it’s rainy and gloomy these days. But other than the scenery, I hope that they get to experience and appreciate a different lifestyle, one of a slower, simpler pace and one that we won’t get to experience in SG.

Sew, sewing sewed!

I did quite a bit of sewing these days. I made two felt fruit hairbands for Jen’s girls, a flattened felt lizard bookmark for SH and sewed two items which are going to be birthday gifts for a little friend. It’s fun learning new sewing techniques like different type of hand stitches, free style sewing etc through these little projects. The birthday presents will not be revealed until after the birthday, hoho, so here are photos of the fruit hairbands and felt lizard.

Economical fried bee hoon

This is our favourite Sunday morning breakfast. Hmm, ok it’s actually a tie with nasi lemak! We used to drag ourselves out very early on Sundays just to have a economical fried bee hoon or nasi lemak breakfast. Ha! This almost looks like what we have in SG, just short of the crispy fried chicken wings and ice cold soya bean drink to complete my meal. Being away from home for too long, I’m easily thrilled when I try to replicate local delights. lol.

Autumn in Sweden

It is probably the most beautiful time of the year now. All around the town, the leaves on the trees have changed colour. Just two weeks ago, everywhere was still green so I was rather surprised by the sudden change to all yellow, red and brown over a week. The autumn foliage is absolutely stunning. But this beautiful sight is very short-lived because most of leaves are falling and some trees are already bald now!

We thought we should quickly have some photos with the beautiful autumn foliage as the backdrop since the weather here is rather erratic and probably before we know it, it’s might start snowing. So last weekend, we took our camera and tripod and did an autumn themed photoshoot for ourselves!

Ha! We have an idea now to do a photo shoot like this for the coming winter and spring season. If we are going home in March, we will miss summer. Then again, it’s summer in SG everyday and we could probably do a summer themed photoshoot when we are back.

We have two friends from SG visiting us in November. And in December, I have planned a Winter Grand Tour as a finale, just in case we are really returning in March. lol. It’s looking very exciting but oh man, I’ll be on the move for over 3 weeks and travel from Karlskrona to Helsinki to Oulu to Stockholm to Kiruna to åre and finally back to Karlskrona. This does look a little oh-my-gawd now. =p

A visit to Karlskrona Montessori

During our free time in the bridal shop, Lotta (aka my colleague/friend) and I would chat a lot about differences between Sweden and Singapore. And one of the heavily discussed topics about the two countries must be the education system. Lotta’s daughter, Saga is studying grade 3 in Karlskrona Montessori and she often shares with me how Saga loves going to school and all the interesting stuffs she does in school. And just two weeks ago, Lotta was very kind to bring me to Saga’s school so that I could see for myself how lessons are like in Swedish schools. The school encourages parents to spend an entire day or two following their children through their lessons to understand what the children are doing in school.

Upon reaching the school, I was greeted by Saga’s best friends but were all too shy to talk to me. lol. Still, they played very good host and led us around the school throughout the day. Lessons started at 8am and the children changed into comfortable home slippers upon arrival. I love this idea! Not only did it keep the floor clean, it made the children feel more at home and more relaxed immediately!

We went up to the second floor to Saga’s third grade classroom and her two teachers were at the door to greet and welcome the children. There are 25 students in her class and this gives an impressive student-to-teacher ratio of 25 to 2 or 12.5 to 1! It is not just in Montessori that they have low student-teacher ratio. In other Swedish public schools, the number of students per teacher per class are capped at 25.

The classroom lights were dimmed and relaxing music was playing in the background. The children gathered around this ‘cozy corner’ of the classroom and excitedly whispered to their friends while waiting for the lesson to start.

The teacher then joined the circle and asked about their day and how they were feeling, basically just chit-chatting with the children. It was a great idea to begin the day making every kid feel relax and happy.

At 8.15am, the 25 students split into two groups of 12 and 13. One group was having a Geometry Math lesson and the other was learning about living things in a Science lesson. Their classroom can be separated into two smaller rooms by the doors in the centre, so they can have two lessons going on concurrently.

During the Science lesson, the students walked around the class looking at pictures and had to decide if they were living things or not. The students gathered back in the circle for a discussion. For every picture, the teacher went round the class and asked every student to state if it was a living thing or non-living thing and explain why. I understood now why they further divided the (already very) small class into smaller groups of 12 and 13 – every child get to speak and share his/her opinion.

The Science lesson ended at 9.15am. From 9.15 to 10.30am, it was ‘free time’ for the students. Honestly, when I heard free time, image of a class with no teacher and children playing a fool, sleeping, screaming, doing nothing etc flashed past. Read: All hell break loose. But what I saw was far from my imagination.

Every student had done an individual weekly plan at the beginning of the week. When the teacher announced that they were free to do what they want, they looked through their list, chose the task and proceeded to complete the task. This was what Saga did in the 1h 15 minutes of free time:

1) Saga had a discussion with her friends about their school newsletter project.

2) She completed her 3 pages of her Math homework and placed the book in a homework box for the teacher to check.

3) She did 25 multiplication questions, timed herself and recorded the time down on the worksheet.

4) She went to the resource shelf and took a list of 5 Swedish words to learn pronunciation. According to the instruction on the list, she has to practice the words on her own, then repeat the words to a friend and finally to a teacher.

And the impressive thing was that she did everything without any instructions from the teacher! Everyone knew very well the tasks he/she has to complete for the week. There were plenty of lesson resources in the classroom with clear instructions on how to use them. Ha! In case you are wondering if Saga was more well behaved because her mom was there, every kid was so disciplined too! Here’s what the others were doing:

1) Two boys challenging each other in a Math game to learn about addition and subtraction.

2) This girl is learning about subtraction of large numbers in thousands.

3) Some children were at their desk doing their homework.

4) This girl was playing a Math related computer game. (The Macbook belongs to the teacher.)

5) These young ladies were having a break outside their classroom. The children can take a short break anytime during their ‘free time’ and have fruits.

6) Two boys playing name-the-shape game with the teacher.

7) This girl is learning Swedish and the teacher is helping her with her questions.

These different activities were all happening at the same time! It’s so interesting seeing every kid doing different stuffs, yet everything still feels very much in order and control. I’m very impressed with how these young children were so disciplined and were extremely clear of their tasks. They were totally in charge of their own learning. And what’s role of the teacher? They are very clear of every child’s learning progress and ability so they play an important role in charting the learning path and setting goals with each child. During lessons, they facilitate learning and ensure a conducive and supportive learning environment.

From a chat with the teacher, the difficulty and the number of tasks were pegged to their learning abilities. It’s the first time I witness such effective differentiated learning. Every kid was learning at their own pace. Higher ability students who could complete the simpler tasks quicker can proceed to the more challenging tasks. A student who is weaker in Math can spend more time on the Math tasks and start with simpler tasks. There is a set of minimum learning objectives for all the grade 3 students, but how much more and how fast they can learn is unlimited! They encourage a lot of self learning for Math and languages. Science classes consist more of discussions and group projects.

From 10.30 to 11am, it was music lesson for Saga. There were children from grade 0 all the way to grade 9 in the class! The students could decide if they like to join the choir or to stay in the class to do more self learning.

Then we had lunch with the children. After lunch, the children went to the garden for some games with their friends.

From 12 to 1pm, the children had ‘free time’ again to do their work. During my 5 hours in the school, there were 2h 15min of free time in total allocated for the children to do their own learning. In SG, I don’t recall myself not standing in front of the class of older and more mature children giving instructions and teaching for more than 40 min. And yet, in this Swedish school, these 9 year old children could be left learning on their own for over 2 hours.

All the textbooks and stationery were provided by the school. Textbooks are passed down from batch to batch. Pencils, pens, erasers and everything are found in the classroom. That’s little surprise since Swedish pay very high tax, around 33% of their pay goes to social welfares and the social welfare is probably one of the best in the world. The more interesting thing I thought about sharing these common resources is that the children are more civic conscious and they learn to take good care of these textbooks and stationery. After using the stationery or learning resources, the children returned them to the shelves promptly.

This school visit is an eye opener! I would expect that this Montessori school to be slightly different from the Swedish public schools. But I heard from Lotta that the public schools are changing their teaching methods too and they aren’t too different from Montessori. Hopefully, I get to visit a public school in Sweden to see the differences (if any) myself. I’m really not in a good position to do any comparison to a SG school since I have only been teaching in a Secondary school and my primary school experience is way too outdated. I would love to hear from any primary school teachers or parents about how it is like in a SG primary school or SG Montessori!

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