Month: November 2007

Christmas lights and comfy shoes


I went to Orchard Road with my family on Sunday evening to see the Christmas light-up, and glad I was that I had chosen to forsake elegance for comfort. We parked at Raffles City, took the train to Orchard MRT station and walked all the way back to Chijmes. Okay I know you guys are great walkers and are looking down your noses at me for making a big deal of the stretch that I walked that day, but in my defence, it WAS a big deal for me! Anyway my heels would have looked better with the dress I wore but my sandals turned out to be a wise choice. We walked slowly, taking in all the beautiful Christmas trees and strings of dazzling lights. The sweat put a slight damper on the experience but you know you can’t get away from that in Singapore. At the first few Christmas trees we stopped, took photographs, laughed and chatted. But after a while the focus moved to getting where we needed to go- DINNER!

At this point I have a confession to make. I cheated. I carried high heeled slippers with me and changed into them when we got to the restaurant. Hey- you can take the woman out of her elegant setting, but you can’t take the elegance out of the woman! Here are some photos from that day.

This is me with Arjun and Rishi. What I love about holidays is how much time I get to spend with the kids. After being at home with them for 10 years before venturing back to work again, I find that they are my favourite people to be with. Sometimes I feel bad when I have to stay back in school knowing they are at home, or when they have a holiday on a particular day and I do not. At those times I wish I had never gone back to work. At the same time, though, I realise that some space is probably a good thing- if not for me then definitely for them. It gives them a chance to make their own mistakes and to learn from them. And it teaches me to develop other areas of my life so that I remember some of the things I used to be good at before my kids came along!


This is the whole family. Mr V is a very important person, because he guides us and watches over us. The whole walk was his idea, and while we cursed him under our breaths (just loud enough for him to hear!) as we sweated our way down Orchard Road, we also gave him credit for the fun we had at the end of the day.


The tree at Ngee Ann City- always my favourite. Big and beautiful- just like me. I pointed out to my children how evenly the decorations were spaced out, and how they followed a particular colour scheme. I ventured to suggest that our tree could look the same at home…


 “That’s stupid!” exclaimed Arjun, who went on to explain to me that while trees on commercial premises had to be all symmetrical and colour coordinated, trees at home were meant to be piled with all kinds of riotously colourful decorations, placed lovingly and enthusiastically by all the important members of the household (the children). What could I say? He was absolutely right. Here is our tree. As enthusiastically as we celebrate Deepavali, we also love the trimmings of Christmas.


Shopping, meeting up with friends- tales from a lady who lunches

shopping2.jpgI had a marvellous time today. Suddenly I found myself completely free. It is not that I had nothing to do, but that I just did not feel like doing what I was supposed to do. Such a liberating experience. My kids were both away the whole day- Arjun was at a Visual Basic course and Rishi was at a robotics competition. So there I was with all this free time. Marks and Spencer’s beckoned, and I heeded the call. I haven’t gone shopping in ages, and my impulse was rewarded with a super sale- I got stuff at half price, I swear! Sure, I know there are sales in other places, but I only shop at M&S because only they have clothes in my size. Everywhere else, all I see are these postage stamp-sized clothes that you guys wear. If I bought those I’d get arrested for indecent exposure!

shopping1.jpgChoosing what to wear was really important. When you go clothes shopping you have to wear clothes that you can get out of and into quickly without messing your hairdo when you are trying on outfits. Oh come on! You all know what I’m talking about. Otherwise the whole process takes twice the time.

lunch1.jpgSo I got togged up and cabbed it to Wheelock Place. (Cab driver was smoking just before I got in- STINK CITY! Why do people smoke? It is such a disgusting habit.) The place was so quiet because it was a weekday. Heaven! I met a friend for lunch in between shopping- she teaches pilates at a studio in Liat Towers which is just around the corner from Wheelock Place. I have known this friend since JC, and we had so much to talk about, because I had not seen her for two years before I met her today. We giggled and gabbed just like in the old days. Only this time it was about husbands and children and work, not lecture notes and cute guys.

lunch2.jpgWe had lunch at Ling Zhi- a Chinese vegetarian restaurant. Very interesting food, with a sophisticated, grown-up kind of taste. Very different from the usual starchy, gluten-laden stuff that we get (in our school canteen!).

shopping3.jpgAfter lunch it was back to shopping, and this is when I really freaked out- well, at least as much as my budget allowed me to. (See all the wonderful values you learn when you read my blog? Always shop within your budget.)

relax.jpgAhhh! This is the life!

Deepavali celebrations at Mrs V’s house

deepavali2.jpgThis Deepavali was one of the most elaborate ones I have had in the last few years. We had 3 different parties- one for close family friends, another for my ex-students and a third for the rest of our friends. All 3 were simply wonderful because of the friendship and love that surrounded us.

deepavali01.jpg Terence, Chwee Ling, her son Kai Yang, my son Rishi and I enjoyed the sparklers a lot. In fact that is practically the only thing you can do here because firecrackers are banned. I am all for this, because firecrackers are responsible for many deaths in India every Deepavali. But a part of me yearns for the lights and noise of a traditional Indian Deepavali.

deepavali02.jpg  Mrs V & Mr V!

deepavali03.jpg  Here’s the whole family- Rishi, Mr V, Mrs V and Arjun.

I know it looks as if we were the only ones there, but really there were loads of people. You’ll just have to take my word for it! I wish we had a better backdrop than a dreary grey HDB void deck, but it can’t be helped. My house is much prettier in photographs but I don’t dare risk lighting sparklers in it. We do a massive cleanup each time we light sparklers, to avoid messing up the void deck.

If you would like to know more about Deepavali- the stories behind the festival, how it is celebrated in different parts of India and what its true significance is, click on the link below. I urge you to take the chance to find out as much as you can about festivals that are celebrated by various races in Singapore. If we all do this, we might be able to move beyond the mere interracial tolerance that we have now, and achieve true understanding and appreciation.


Enrichment assignment


I have asked all the students in the enrichment group to write an essay answering the question “Should tyrants be left free to tyrannise their own people?” This is by no means an easy question to answer, even after listening to the whole debate (see previous post). I will post the essays here as they come in, and I invite all of you to read them and decide if you agree with them. The prize for first submission goes to Niranjana of 3E5, who must have flown home immediately after the class and banged the essay out on her computer. I could almost smell the ink!

Tyrants should be left free to tyrannise their own people



This is the topic that the enrichment class is dealing with, and they came into contact with it for the first time last Friday. The topic seems to be a slightly ridiculous one, doesn’t it? Tyranny is never a good thing, you say. Of COURSE tyrants should not be left free to tyrannise their own people. But do you notice that the statement is in the passive voice? WHO should leave the tyrants free? Also, what does it mean to leave them free? And if you say that they should not be left free, then what is the alternative course of action, and again, by whom should that course of action be taken? Above all, what should be the accepted definition of a tyrant, and who should decide whether to intervene when he is tyrannising his own people?

Are these questions giving you a headache? Then you will know how the group felt last week. We listened to an audio recording of a debate by Intelligence Squared (for more information on Intelligence Squared, check out the link below), in which 4 eminent people- all widely respected as experts in their respective fields- argued the motion that tyrants should, in fact, be left free to tyrannise their own people.

What is interesting about the IS debates is that unlike our school debates where teachers stand in judgement on the speakers and arbitrarily decide who is the best (you can tell from the words I use that I do not agree with this, because teachers have their own biases regarding any topic, and the audience has no vested interest in how the debate turns out), the IS debates follow the Oxford style of debating, where the audience vote as they come in, and then vote again after all the speakers have put forth their arguments. What typically happens is that there will be a large group that is undecided, and this group shrinks to a very small one by the end of the debate. The topics are usually ones that people are already discussing intensively within their own circles, so they are pretty sure which side they are going to vote on. The undecideds are the ones who will get swayed by the arguments.

The core difference is this: in school debates the decision centres on which team wins. In the IS debates, the decision centres on whether the motion stands or falls, as seen from the way the audience votes. And that is what makes it so exciting. Add to this the very enthusiastic audience participation, and you have a winning formula that any debate-lover would applaud.

The arguments themselves are very persuasive, and you find yourself changing sides as you listen. Before the debate, the votes were as follows:

For: 178

Against: 291

Undecided: 224

After the debate, this was the result:

For: 245

Against: 393

Undecided: 78

Of course with a result like this, the motion was declared to have fallen.

But how did the arguments actually go? Luttwak opened with the point that when forces come from  outside to liberate a country from a tyrant, the problem can actually get worse, because the situation is complex, and there are basic cultural differences that make the newly ‘liberated’ people resist any kind of change to the running of their country. Rubin countered by suggesting that intervening in a country does not have to be restricted to the use of force, and given this wider definition of intervention, tyrants must not be left free. The position that Rubin took was that any country with a conscience would have to do its utmost to help the people being tyrannised.

It might interest you at this point to know that Luttwak is an academician who advises the US government, while Rubin was actually a part of the Clinton administration. So while the former is committed by profession to question what the US government is doing, the latter is equally committed by profession to support its principles.

After listening to Rubin, many of you were persuaded to vote against the motion. Then along came Skidelsky, whose elegant argument convinced all those who could understand it to change their minds. At the core of his stand was the belief that adherence to International Law is all the stands in the way of international chaos. The moment one state decides that it is justified in invading another in the absence of any evidence of imminent threat of attack, then that state becomes an aggressor, and it is no longer a question of self defence. Lord Skidelsky’s point was that, given the mess the US made of Iraq,  it is better to let some tyrants go free when they are not breaking International Law than to risk the huge losses incurred when one state invades another. He did make an exception in the case of genocide, but he asserted that the costs of continued tyrany within the bounds of a country should be balanced against the costs of removing the tyrant.

Ian Buruma’s argument hinged on actual examples of revolution with tyrannised countries. In almost all cases, he said, when the US backed the tyrant, the whole country became violently anti-American when the tyrant was deposed (as is bound to happen eventually). Not intervening at all when you are a superpower who obviously has the ability to do so shows that you support the tyrant.

Of course this is only the nutshell version of each argument. There were many supporting details that made the debate a very satisfying one overall.

The other thing I like about this debate is the active role of the Chairperson, who does not act as just a signpost for who goes next, but actually shapes the course of the arguments, especially when it is time for the audience to participate.


Debate Chairman Jonathan Freedland- a columnist for the Guardian newspaper who has written extensively on international relations and the dilemmas of intervention


1st speaker for the Proposition Edward Luttwak- Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Washington, an associate of the F&M Institute of the Japan Ministry of Finance and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations


1st speaker for the Opposition James Rubin- former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs under President Clinton and Chief Spokesman for the State Department. Now a Visiting Professor of International Relations at the LSE


2nd speaker for the Proposition Robert Skidelsky- Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, author of ‘The World after Communism’ and Chairman of the Centre for Global Studies.


2nd speaker for the Opposition Ian Buruma- a political and cultural commentator on Asia and the author of several books including ‘The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West’.

For information about Intelligence Squared, go to

I have put together a set of readings for the enrichment group based on this debate. If you would like to have a look at them, click on the link below.


If you have any comments please do post them. I will be very happy to hear your opinions.

Also, mystery gift for anyone who gives a credible explanation about how the cartoons are related to the topic!

Of enrichment and remedial and falling in between


There has been some confusion ever since I released the bridging programme group lists. I don’t blame you. Let me explain the rationale behind the department’s decision. It does not make sense to get the whole class down, because most of you are doing okay with English. Let’s face it- if over the course of a whole year you did not manage to raise your grade, it is unlikely that this is going to happen over 3 sessions. The idea is to give some intensive help to those who face problems passing the subject. For these people to get the help they need the class needs to be kept small. I guess most of you understand that.

Probably the part that you don’t understand is the one about the enrichment group. There is this misconception that if people are already good at something there is nothing more that needs to be done for them. I believe that if you have an aptitude for something, that aptitude can be developed so that you are given a challenge. Otherwise you stagnate, and sometimes end up performing below your potential. The enrichment group is an experiment I want to try out. We will be working with difficult stuff- the sort of thing you need to be very good in English to handle. Again, for this to work, the group needs to be kept small. These are people who have to hang back in class because I have to pare things down for the majority, or (in some cases), because I am too busy dealing with people who don’t actually want to learn.

Here is my promise to you. If, after the 3 sessions, the feedback from the group is good, and the rest of you would like to try out the same programme after talking to your friends, then I will conduct more of these next year, and anyone who wants to sign up will be free to do so. I believe that everyone should have access to the same resources. But I also believe that the desire to learn should be strong.

Like I always say- if the student is sincere, the teacher will rise to the occasion.