Monday, June 27, 2011

Relatively Speaking

In case you're wondering, it's not my family photo

I always look forward to seeing my baby nephew whenever he comes to visit. His laughter, tricks and antics never fail to brighten up my day. While I shudder at the thought that this boy will soon been calling me Uncle Isaac when he learns to speak, I can't wait for him to grow up as I am curious to find out what amazing things he will achieve. While I wait in anticipation for that day to come, one of his recent visits made me ponder about family relations.

During a recent visit, my aunt (his grandmother) tried to teach him to call her grandma. On seeing this, my mother remarked that he should call my aunt "Ah Ma" as compared to grandma. Being the liberal that I am, my initial reaction was to scoff at this suggestion as being old-fashioned. But it later led me to muse about the importance of the language in relation to one's culture and its bearing on family ties.

While I do agree that it is important to preserve one's culture through the usage of the language in one way or another, I feel that this would be at the expense of strengthening family ties. In the case of my nephew, he is being brought up in which his mother tongue* is English and to ask him to address all the branches of the family tree in a different language would immediately distance himself from them.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the dialect is confusing as it distinguishes the maternal and paternal branch. It gets worse when it comes to uncles such as myself as I am the maternal cousin of his mother. For those who are wondering how to address an uncle that is the maternal cousin of your mother in Hokkien, it is "biao gu". As an icing on the cake, his father is Hainanese and he would probably have to address his paternal branch in the Hainanese language! Talk about having identity crises!

So for those who were initially unconvinced that one is distanced from one's relatives when forced to address them in the native language to their race, would you approach this uncle if you have to call him "biao gu" (it gets even more complicated if I had siblings which fortunately for my nephew, I don't) or would you do so if you only need to address me as Uncle Isaac?

In this light, one's efforts in preserving one's culture actually leads to the disintegration of the family tree as the child already being distanced by language will not keep in contact with the extended branches. Sooner or later, these extended relatives are acquaintances at best and strangers at worst. 

Having said that, how does one synthesise between preserving one's heritage and keeping the family as close as possible? The best solution I can think of is to teach the child to address relatives in the mother tongue but to train him to be as multi-lingual (in consideration of the child learning mandarin and a dialect) as he grows up and exposing him to facades of his heritage. That way, he will still be in touch with his culture but not at the expense of distancing himself from the extended family.

Do you have similar experiences as you were growing up? For those who are parents, what are your thoughts about this issue? Share them by leaving comments below the post!

* For the purpose of this discussion, mother tongue refers to the dominant language that one learns from birth. While it is a different definition from what the Ministry of Education prescribes, it is important to define it as such due to the multi-lingual make-up of Singapore.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eye-Rolling Cliches

If one were to ask a child to write a short piece about an act of kindness, we all know that there is a possibility of the essay turning out to be the protagonist helping someone to cross the road. The question is, how many of us would roll our eyes as this is the millionth time someone thought about that? Additionally, what is the possibility of that happening in real life? While I used to have such a reaction, recent events have rendered me as the kid who is writing that essay.

As I was on my way to lunch, I saw a plump lady sitting by the bustop and she called me as I walked past her. Lo and behold, I was asked to perform that act that millions of children have written about at least once in their lifetime. Being an eye-rolling cliche, one would expect that one would know exactly what to do.

Yet, what happens next will shock me into a revelation. I felt extremely awkward in helping her as I did not know what best to do (kids please write clearly what the protagonist did and not "he helped her across the road"). Do I hold her arm and guide her across or offer my arm for her to hold onto it for support? Being a strong believer of modesty, I limply offered my arm as she held onto it to get on to the curb. This experience certainly left me feeling empty as I felt that I did not really help her at all.

So what happened here? An act that was meant to help someone became a self-conscious act of deciding what to do. And what was usually regarded as something trivial became a real test for me. It really drove home the point that kindness is not merely performing the act but in being there and ensuring that you are doing all you can to make the life of the other person better.

It is amazing how an eye-rolling cliche made me a child that day...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pieces of Memory: Hero Fountain Pens

Hero fountain pens
In the second feature of Pieces of Memory, we are going back to school to revisit an item that would resonate strongly with those who are born in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Hero fountain pens.

While the children of today are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing their preferred pen for school, the previous generation had to stick with three: Hero, Parker or Sheaffer fountain pens. But more often than not, most children of that time will be using Hero fountain pens as the other brands are rather costly.

Simple, needle-like nib
While we are accustomed to fountain pens with a large and fancy nib, this humble pen has a simple, needle-like nib which is great for writing small and very suitable for school work.

Pump mechanism to draw ink
As for the drawing of ink, this pen adopts a simple pump system in which one presses the plastic tubing repeatedly to pump up the ink into the pen's reservoir. A simple mechanism that is certainly very suitable for children.

Two websites that you need to know
In terms of writing, the pen dispenses ink fairly smoothly and it does not leak as one writes. Of course, it does not provide the scribe with a sense of luxury as compared to the upmarket ones but it serves its function well. Regardless of whether one writes clearly or in cursive, one can do so rather easily. However, the only bone I have to pick is that the pen feels slightly scratchy when one writes. 

Personally, it was a joy to discover what my parents used to write with when they were school children. In the process of using the pen extensively, I began to realise how vastly the education system differs from one generation to the next.

The previous generation certainly emphasised on good penmanship and the need to write consciously; not only in terms of how the words appear but the right choice of words which one uses. This meant that the school work our parents produced would definitely be more thoughtful and well-written as compared to the blind regurgitation that is characteristic of the students of today.

Such ideals certainly extend to the culture and character of that generation. The music, books and perhaps behaviour of people in our parent's generation are generally meaningful, well-chosen and refined; a far cry from the repititive, tuneless and vulgar self-glorification that is inherent in today's culture and philosophy.

For those readers who are interested in buying the pens, they are sold at Mustafa Centre for approximately SGD $1.20. What a steal of a price to own a humble piece of history!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A New Collaboration: Essential Culture

Dear readers,

I have started a new collaboration with my friends on a new blog, Essential Culture. It is a space where people can learn and share with one another on the basics of all things culture. Such a collaboration recognises the need to widen one's horizons and enrich oneself. 

From time to time, I will write a brief on the various new features on this blog so that you will be informed of any updates. If you have a Facebook account, do like our page and share it with your friends. For a start, I have written the first feature about the colours of roses and its meanings so do check that out.

I will still devote time to this blog as this is a platform to document my personal observations so don't worry. As for those who are wondering what to expect of this blog, I will be continuing my series on Pieces of Memory as well as writing my latest purchase from a vintage boutique, By My Old School. So watch this space.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rewarding Consumers With Advertising

Being in a consumerist world, we are constantly bombarded with loads of advertisements and certainly thought that we have seen all that there is to advertising. But I realised I was wrong when I came across an advertising model by EmailCash Pro. The model adopted by EmailCash Pro is based on the idea that the consumer is rewarded on two fronts; monetarily and discovering new services that may be useful to them.  

They are rewarded monetarily as they earn points whenever they view an advertisement sent to their emails for 30 seconds. These points are later converted into monetary value at the end of each month in which they are able to cash out once it reaches a certain threshold. It must be noted that the monetary reward is not a lot if you do it alone. Yet, a small sum can be earned by referring the service to several people as you will earn extra points by doing so. 

Of course, as with all other forms of advertising, consumers are able to find services that will be useful to them. But what makes the EmailCash Pro model arguably more effective is that the monetary reward will motivate the consumers to truly stop and look through the advertisements. And correct me if I am wrong, the first step to any kind of advertising is really to get consumers to stop and stare isn't it?

Having said that, if you would like to find out more about the service or join it, click here. By clicking any of the links in this post and actually signing up for the service, you will be referred by me. I do hope my readers will consider joining the service as it is no harm getting more advertisements through your email while earning a little on the side. It will go a long way to sustaining this blog as the extra points I earned by my referrals will generate more revenue for me.