Feeling Humble, Grateful, in Awe of it All

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Just landed in Thailand,

but still high on this incredible life we’re living.

Working to stay grounded.

Focusing on the purpose of it all.

Remembering much has been given,

and therefore greater works will be required.

Let my voice and spirit utter nothing but praise.

Let my heart be full of the joy that only comes

from The Spirit.

In my humble silence and reflection,

let my work SPEAK for me.

All that I am, all that I’ve done,

all that I have to give,

let it be for Your glory

and the progression of your children.

Asė.

#BlackGirlSpeaks 

 

 

Thinking Ahead

January 20, 2014

Singapore seems like that ambitious overzealous younger sibling desperately trying to crawl out of the shadows of its predecessors. It strives to excel in all areas, especially education. In terms of academics, just from my brief research and observations, Singapore far excels America in mathematics, reading (but, not necessarily comprehension), and knowledge and usage of elevated vocabulary in text. Students in local schools are indoctrinated into a highly competitive, rigorous, and rigid form of instruction from Kindergarten and are already sifted and categorized according to intellectual prowess by Primary 1, which is age seven.

Though I’m told there was a shift in focus from a “survival-driven education” system to an “ability-driven” one, the remnants of the survival instinct are still prevalent.  Students are (still) taught how to receive, respond, and recall quickly in a structured and disciplined environment. They are taught, in fact, required to operate within a very limited scope and set of boundaries. This was initially implemented when Singapore first developed its own economy and autonomy to ensure that graduates would be viable employees and “provide a skilled workforce” for its industrialization program while lowering unemployment; which overall last year was 2%! So, in those regards, it’s working.

On the other hand, because of this focus, there is little if any tolerance for failure or mistakes. Friends of mine here, both local and foreign, complain often about how their children are punished, scolded or “tapped” because they failed to answer a question correctly or hold their pencil properly.  In local schools, many “expat” (expatriate) children are viciously taunted for their lack of grasp of the Chinese language, though English is the official language and the most dominant one used for instruction.  I’m also told that often teachers are not willing to offer additional support or materials to aid in a student’s progression outside of the classroom. They only do what is required of them, no more or less. I have found that this carries over in every facet of service in Singapore. (see upcoming post “Can-Not.”) Though this form of rigidity may be beneficial in terms of the labor force, I have found that it can also be crippling in the aspect of developing the whole person.

ImageMany Singaporeans I’ve observed, especially in the service industry, lack critical and creative thinking skills. I have witnessed evidence of this repeatedly.  Everything must be in order, must follow the rules; no deviation or modification. There is no allowance for thinking quickly on your feet or spontaneity; no concept of thinking outside the box. If there isn’t a box, they will follow the set of instilled instructions and build one. They do not question authority, or anything. “We do things this way. That is all,” a native Singaporean once told me. He was almost offended that I inquired about the reasoning for such structure. 

I’m reminded of a recent Saturday when we went out for breakfast. My husband called ahead to make a reservation, but he was told there was a two-hour wait. I thought this was unusual and decided that we should go anyway.  When we arrived, as I expected, there were dozens of empty tables. The eager host greeted me with the question, “Do you have [a] reservation?” I scrolled the restaurant to bring attention to the abundance of empty seats. He asked again, completely missing the hint. “No, but we can just sit at any one of these empty tables,” I uttered through a patronizing smile.  Image

“These are all reserved,” he quipped.

“These are all reserved? For what time?” 

“12:30.” He leaned in to show me two reservations listed. 

“It’s 11. Pancakes won’t take long. We’re sitting,” I declared before marching to the table. Never in America, would a business turn away business for potential business. 

“If all you people just followed the rules, things would be better in this country,” an irate self-appointed condo security officer reproached when we took an alternative exit from our building. (That sounded familiar.) He became so agitated and disrespectful that my husband had to address him as only he knows how, and later took his picture to report him. There seems to be little room to color outside of the lines, and certainly very little encouragement to draw your own picture. Though controlled, or maybe because of it, the work ethic of many Singaporeans surpasses that of many Americans. In the U.S., people tend to “work smart” using innovation and technology to ease the workload. Here, they work hard.  And, that starts early as well.

Students that I’ve encountered are overburdened with hours of daily homework, extended school days, and private tuition. A little girl, no older than ten, once told me that she didn’t have time to play. “{Here}, you stop playing when you are 3,” she said so certainly that I almost accepted it and felt pity that my two-year-old would be ending her leisurely play in the park very soon. All of them must meet the pressure of excelling on their regular assessments. The results of which determine which track, academic or vocational, they’ll take throughout their educational matriculation.  Their futures are almost predetermined and there is little room for deviation from the structure. Think of “1984,” and “Fahrenheit 451.” According to the Washington Post:

                   “After six years of primary-school education, Singaporean students take a test that determines whether they’ll be placed in a special school for the gifted, a vocational school or a special education program, and another test later determines their             higher-ed options.”

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/11/heres-why-other-countries-beat-the-u-s-in-reading-and-math/

The heavy role of testing actually isn’t so different from that in America, where many students are tracked and even the number of prisons estimated to be built is determined by results from standardized tests administered when students are as young as nine-years-old. Just as in America as well, the disparity in the quality of education is vast, and mainly based on race, income, and resources. Once again, I’m seeing firsthand how the poverty line and color line intersect and merge, and how students are failed before they even start if they were born with an excess of melanin or a lack of pedigree. Here, however, Indian is the new Black, and the Bangladeshi are the “Latinos.” Image

In America, the coined phrase, “school-to-prison pipeline,” describes the most likely path for those who are disadvantaged academically because of their socioeconomic (lack of) status. Because of the extremely high penalties for crime and the lack of tolerance for such, I would say it’s more the “school-to-harsh manual labor” pipeline for those who don’t make the grade in Singapore.

It’s one of the reasons many expats I know enroll their children in international schools, which all have formal names, but are referred to as “The American School” or “The Canadian School.” It’s also one of the main reasons now and here was the opportunity to utilize my educational experience and passion and begin providing private tuition for other students and to open my own educational center for my daughter and other toddlers who like to paint their own canvas.  Visit http://www.isisgenius.com.

(Please post any comments and inquiries directly on the blog so that I can compile them.)

[Read :The Modern American, “Buying Into Prisons and Selling Kids Short.” http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1141&context=tma]

You Can Reach Me By….

Image It was Girl’s Night, the first of the new year. Most of us have made it back from our holiday travels, and we were reuniting at a friend’s house to meet her visiting mom, who could probably successfully pursue a career in standup right now. There was lots of laughter, animated stories, tabloid gossip, the Beyoncé discussion (which I’ll reference in another upcoming post), chicken and waffles, and of course wine. (Wine seems to be the standard ticket of entry for all Singaporean household functions. Maybe it’s more about the status shift rather than the location.) Image

Whenever we get together, I temporarily forget where we are. It just feels normal and like home. It almost feels like college again, but without hotplates and with a much earlier bedtime. Being around the friends we’ve made here has been the greatest gift from moving, you know aside from the change in lifestyle. 

My mom called. I hadn’t been able to reach her all week, so I was delighted and I excused myself for a moment. It was almost like I thought by answering, I was inviting her into the fellowship. We both love entertaining and being in good company. I answered blithely, but quickly became worried. 

She’s been sick; just released from the hospital. Yet, she began the conversation with words of flattery for a new gift I just received from my husband. “It’s so beautiful! You deserve it. I’m so happy for you,” she remarked. You’d think she was speaking of something far more valuable than a material object, but my mom personally enjoys when all of her children are “rewarded” in some way. 

She asked if I was busy, as though I’d ever say “yes” or be too busy to talk (once I’ve actually answered the phone), especially when there’s a 13-hour time difference. Whenever she asks this, whenever she overly expresses her consideration of my time or resources, I know she wants to share something important with me or she needs something, but doesn’t want to ask. I wish she knew by now that she could ask me for anything, except my child, and it’d be hers. She actually has asked for my child. 

After convincing her that I could talk despite my location, she goes on to tell me how there was a quite a scare in her health and she has a condition that puzzles every physician she’s seen. There’s no known cure, but “there’s no Cancer!” For a Cancer survivor, the relief is always in the benign results regardless of any other diagnosis. I listen in silence and consternation because I don’t want my alarm and confusion about why I’m just being informed to interrupt her. I can already hear the reluctance in her voice to tell me, which she only felt obligated to do because she didn’t want me to hear the news from someone else. I thought of my father and siblings who were all instructed NOT to tell me anything. Though, my father did try by including me on a group text that was sent to my previous U.S. based phone number. God bless him for trying. 

After hearing all the details, I was somewhat satisfied that she had access to all she needed to head towards some type of recovery. I spoke calmly and assured her that I could be there if she needed me. I would do whatever she needed me to do. I always had and would. Distance had not changed that. I reiterated how much I wanted to remain included in the important discussions back home. And then,with the gregarious cachinnation in the background, I realized in her efforts to protect me, she was really asserting that I was becoming too far removed. In her mind, I was in a world living a life they hadn’t even imagined, and there was nothing I could do from afar. Any request, even one that would be extremely beneficial to her and inconsequential to me, would not be worth the inconvenience she thought it would cause or the disruption to my seemingly completely carefree and lavish new life. It’s neither, but the display is always best from the window. 

I was able to control the tremble of my voice on the phone, but began crying in solitude once we said our goodbyes. I couldn’t help thinking now of all the sacrifices that are made when people take leaps of faith to live outside the norm or outside of their home country. The distance it creates between you and your extended family, the milestones you miss, the family hardships where you can’t readily assist, the exclusion, the absence, the friends who find it too difficult to “keep in touch,” all come with the territory. There is no quick trip home. Packages and money take much longer to arrive when needed right away. Technology doesn’t connect in the way an arm’s embrace does. Image

Awareness of this, makes me all the more appreciative of Girl’s Night and moments like them. We bond over our need to remain tangibly connected to someone. For temporary windows in time, we can just reflect on the greatness of the experience and recreate the type of events home afforded us without dwelling on what it lacks. I said a prayer, rejoined the gathering, picked up my glass ,and tried to forget again.  

The Break

The Break

Sunday December 1, 2013 and Thursday January 9, 2014

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It felt like water breaking.

<Hi, my name is Talitha, and I can be dramatic.>

Though premature, they say it happens around three months, then again at six, this labor was intensive and the birth was full weight. I cried, wept until I was weak and my face and hands were drenched. Only silenced by my daughter’s gentle embrace, as though to say, “It’s ok. It’s all over now.”  I can only remember a few other occasions where this has happened; when I was so overcome with a range of emotions that they just broke through and tears violently flushed me.

I had the breakdown; the question everything, troubles seem to last always, pain comes through the mourning, ‘What the hell am I doing here (with oatmeal in my hair)’ breakdown! And, it paralyzed me. I couldn’t write about it. Hence, no blog posts. I couldn’t talk about it in depth to anyone, and I (still) couldn’t move around it.  I’ve just been moving through it; trying not to let it overshadow the incredible blessing and opportunities of being here with the uncertainty of the same.

For almost a year and half prior to that moment, we were assessing the notion of an international relocation, the shifting of my business, and the impact of uprooting and leaving our support system for a world unknown.  We were in “go” mode for about six months of that time, just moving, selling, packing, making lists, checking them off, & creating more. I was phasing out Black Girl Speaks in the U.S., preparing our daughter, and handling all of the remaining tedious tasks while living in a hotel after my husband moved a month before us. I believed in my husband and supported his ambitions wholeheartedly. I was excited about all this shift would bring. I was ecstatic about creating something new and greater in Asia. I wanted this as much for myself, as I did for him and our family. I was glossy-eyed and in love with the idea of being an expatriate.  And, the first two months proved to be an extended honeymoon of exotic new foods, amusing people, & cultural infusion.

                                                          Then,Image

I woke up one regular Thursday morning with the day’s agenda cycling through my mind as usual. My two-year-old was especially “busy” that morning: running, playing, hiding, throwing and hiding essential household objects. You know, being a toddler. I had just finished cleaning the kitchen to a spotless shine after serving breakfast to my family, while forgetting to eat myself, only to find a mix of oatmeal and Play Doh streaked throughout the house and all over the kibibi’s already-dressed-for-the day body.

 The Day’s Condensed To Do List:

  • -Throw 3 loads in the mini-machine
  • -{Insert: Give her a bath…again.}
  • -Get her dressed…again
  • -Keep her entertained, while I: Prepare snacks, books, toys for the day
  • -Dust every room & all the ceiling fans (face fear of heights)
  • -Vacuum
  • -Mop the floor
  • -Get a shower and get dressed
  •  -Then, teach. (Homeschooling)
  • -Get ready to travel for an hour to Chinese class (question necessity)
  •  -Prepare grocery list in transit
  • -Feed her in transit
  •  -Go grocery shopping
  • -Prepare dinner
  • -Play-date
  • Give her a bath and wash hair

Not one task on the list was directly for me, though my husband would argue that cleaning is a chore of choice because he’s far less concerned about the dust balls that would form a small army otherwise.  This picture was drastically different from the one I painted in my mind. And, certainly not the upgrade in lifestyle I was anticipating and as advertised by the mister. Image

I had idealized being a stay-at-home mom when I was in the states. I realized shortly after moving to Singapore, that I’m that other type of mom. There’s the primarily SAHM that can seemingly juggle it all and finds the majority of her joy and fulfillment in solely serving her family. Even if she works outside of the home, she is completely tied to her family, and only does so to benefit them in some way. That was my mother, and she was/is phenomenal in this role. It used to rattle me to recognize that I’m the type of mom that needs something external to fulfill me….everyday.  (See The Help(er) Part III). 

So, as mentioned, we decided to get the highly recommended help (which has been a necessity in maintaining sanity), but the breakdown was right before (the catalyst for) this decision.  The stress of actually finding assistance did not help my disposition either. My process was not ideal in the least. I’ll have to post separately about that.

In the midst of this emotional typhoon, I’ve met some wonderful people, traveled to some amazing countries, celebrated birthdays of loved ones and wedding anniversaries, started a business, and had more assistant (helper) drama than my share.  It’s been an eventful few months, and I’m finally ready to SPEAK about it. Stay tuned.