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Saturday, September 10, 2011

[ACSians] As we approach Sept 11

I am not religious. But I do believe in a divine presence. You might, perhaps, call that presence an angel on your shoulder, or even God.
Or you may believe in fate, destiny, karma.
An email from a childhood friend and fellow journalist reminded me of how I spent my 52nd birthday.
But first a long-winded preamble to explain why I'm posting this at all.
I was in the newsroom of The Straits Times that night ten years ago. We were about three hours from putting the newspaper to bed when we suddenly found ourselves riveted to the TV sets by what we were seeing on CNN.
Minutes later, we began ripping up the pages we had put together, even as we continued to stare in disbelief at the images we were seeing on TV.
After we put the final edition to bed at 4.30am on Sept 12, two colleagues remembered the birthday cake they had stored in the fridge and came up to me with the cake and presents, singing Happy Birthday. It was surreal.
For the next few days, I was on the phone a lot trying to get through to friends in New York to find out if they were safe.
It wasn't till weeks later that I was reminded that much earlier in the year I had planned to be in New York to watch the US Open. (Tennis note: Lleyton Hewitt won the men's final; Venus Williams took the women's title).
It would have been the perfect holiday. The men's final was scheduled for Sept 9 and I would spend Sept 11 celebrating my birthday in the city.
We even got as far as planning all the meals for the day. Dinner was to have been at Le Bernardin; lunch at Carnegie's Deli. The day was to have started at my favourite breakfast place in New York - Windows on the World at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
My travel plans went awry long before midyear. So it wasn't like I had a near miss. But at the time, I was really disappointed that my perfect holiday had fallen through. And that's how I came to be in the office and working for nearly 14 hours straight, on Sept 11, 2001.
Now, here are a few thoughts on the people who did not die on that terrible day 10 years ago. This first time a version of this email surfaced in my inbox was in 2002 or so:
As you may remember, the head of a company survived 9/11  because his son started kindergarten.

Another fellow was alive because it was
his turn to bring donuts.
One woman was late because her
alarm clock didn't go off on time.

Another person who was late to work had been stuck on the NJ Turnpike because of an auto accident.

Another man missed his bus.

One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.

One's car wouldn't start.

One couldn't get a taxi.
The one that struck me was the man who put on a new pair of shoes that morning,
took various means to get to work. But before he got there, he developed
a blister on his foot.
He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. That is why he is alive today.. 
Now when I am:
Stuck in traffic,
Miss an elevator,
Turn back to answer a ringing telephone ...
All the little things that annoy me.
I think to myself,
This is exactly where I am meant to be.
Or if you prefer,
Where God wants me to be
At this very moment..

So, next time your morning seems to be going wrong . . .
You can't seem to find the car keys,
You hit every traffic light,
Don't get mad or frustrated;
It may be just that
God is at work watching over you.
May God continue to bless you
With all those annoying little things
And may you remember their possible purpose.

Pass this on to someone else, if you'd like. There is NO LUCK attached.
If you delete this, it's okay. God's love (or your fate) is not dependent on e-mail!!

(that's the cool part)

Warm regards,

Monday, March 7, 2011

[ACSians] Fw: Fwd: Article by Lee Wei Ling on Ernest Chew


Subject: Fwd: Article by Lee Wei Ling on Ernest Chew
'A' for Uncle Earnest
In Uncle Earnest, I found a tutor who taught me to look beyond textbooks and widened my horizons. -ST

Tue, Jun 15, 2010
The Straits Times

By Lee Wei Ling
I attended Nanyang primary and secondary schools up to Secondary 4. Chinese was the medium of instruction for all the subjects in these schools.
After Sec 4, I switched to Raffles Institution (RI) in preparation for entering medical school. Much as I was sorry to leave my Nanyang friends, I was relieved of the strain of studying science subjects and mathematics using English textbooks while the teachers taught in Chinese. As I knew I was going to study medicine, I thought I should learn to cope with scientific English while in pre-university.
When I left Nanyang, I was a balanced bilingual student, equally at home in English and Chinese. My mother, a Cambridge-trained lawyer, spoke English to me and corrected any mistakes I made. Hence my command of English was as good as that of my peers in RI. My years in Nanyang had ensured that I was fairly well informed about Chinese history and culture, but I was largely ignorant of the history and culture of the rest of the world.
My first contact with the General Paper (GP) was after my admission to RI. I was warned by my friends in RI that GP was the stumbling block for many a science student. Often the spoiler in a string of straight 'As', it demanded more than a good command of English to do well in.
After my first GP class, I realised that I lacked knowledge in many areas that my Chinese science stream education had not touched on. So for the two years that I was in pre-university at RI, I spent every Wednesday afternoon at my Uncle Earnest's house for tuition.
>> Next: Uncle Earnest
Uncle Earnest
Mr Earnest Lau had married my mother's younger sister. A beloved history teacher at Anglo-Chinese School, he had graduated from Oberlin College, a liberal arts college in Ohio, the United States, then read history at Balliol College, Oxford University.
Tuition lessons with Uncle Earnest were very different from what happened in class. His purpose was not simply to help me pass or score well in the GP exam. His aim was to widen my horizons. If, by the way, I also aced my GP paper, that was to be a bonus.
Each week, he would recommend topics for me to read up on so that we could discuss them the following week. We covered the history of great civilisations as well as current affairs. Our discussions were always interesting and the tuition was fun for both of us.
I not only learnt about countries and events with which my Chinese education had not familiarised me, but more importantly, I also learnt to view a topic or a problem from different angles.
Getting the right answer was not enough. I learnt to question conventional wisdom, and approach each new problem with a fresh mind. I was not worried about making a mistake, nor did I necessarily follow conventional rules. I learnt that any given problem may have more than one solution, each with its pros and cons. My task was to select the best solution, given the circumstances.
Mid-way through our discussion, my aunt, who was a wonderful cook, would produce tea with her homemade lemon chiffon cake, the best I have ever eaten, or a wide variety of kueh-kueh. This was as important a part of my lesson as the learning of facts and concepts. It also gave Uncle Earnest and me a break from our intense discussions.
I always ended each lesson with a sense of satisfaction, for not only had I enjoyed myself, but I had also acquired new concepts. I always looked forward to reading up on the topics Uncle Earnest had set me, and of course looked forward to the next session.
The way GP was taught at RI, I felt I was merely being coached to pass examinations, and that put me off. My seat in class was in the first row. The GP teacher could see me doing non-GP work under her nose. I am grateful she pretended not to notice my disobedience.
Previous <<>> Next: What's the purpose of GP?
What's the purpose of GP?
As I was writing this article, I e-mailed an officer in the Ministry of Education to ask the purpose of making all A-level students take GP. She explained that the purpose of GP was to stimulate critical thinking and foster an ability to express one's views clearly and concisely across a wide variety of subjects as well as to argue a case cogently. While Uncle Earnest did not explicitly state that these were his aims, he achieved them in the most mentally stimulating and enjoyable way.
When the A-level results were announced, I found I had scored an A1 for GP. I was happy to show Uncle Earnest that his teaching had not been in vain. But both he and I knew that the score was less important than the learning process through which he had widened my horizons.
More than 35 years later, I still remember much of my discussions with Uncle Earnest. I also remember with sadness my aunt, who was not only a great baker but also a kind-hearted teacher and subsequently a much-beloved principal of Anglo-Chinese Junior School. She died when I was a fourth-year medical student.
I visited her daily during lunch time when she was warded at the Singapore General Hospital. She stoically put up with the pain and disability her illness caused. She taught me more about life by her actions than any formal course of study could have. I remember to this day those lessons.
I can only wish all our students could be exposed to a teacher like my Uncle Earnest. But teachers like him are rare. My tuition sessions with him took place in 1971 and 1972. The experience I gained with and through him was worth more than any prize I won in the course of my educational career.
I was not competing with others. Instead I was getting a rounded education that would serve me well long after the medals or trophies I won had tarnished.
The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

Recent Activity:


    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    [ACSians] RIP Mr Earnest Lau

    From Linda Lim:

    I am so glad that I met with Mr Lau at his home on Feb. 12 during my previous short visit to Singapore, when I heard he had been ill. We had a "good chat" as he called it in an email afterward, focused on his abiding passion for educating young people. Another ACSian, Hsieh Fu Hua, dropped by at the same time and joined in the conversation.

    Mr. Lau was very much himself then, with the strong voice, sharp intellect and thoughtful insights--as ever. He made a big and lasting impact on many of us in many ways. In recent years I had visited him to write an article on his late mother, who was the first Singaporean to graduate from the University of Michigan, where I work, and to discuss my ACS and MGS reminiscences which (as a historian) he enjoyed and lodged with the Methodist Archives where he worked. He told me he was still writing.

    It was a long time ago that he was in our lives but I will still miss him. His influence -if unrecognized then - is probably one reason for my choosing the academic profession, as he was such a role model and inspiration as scholar and teacher.

    Linda Lim

    Re: [ACSians] Mr Earnest Lau

    And I loved his reddish brown big glasses for his big face....

    Notice he preferred beige and khaki to black , white, dark blue etc... Light colours blended so well with his reddish brown glasses and salt-pepper hair!

    He spoke during school addresses with such authority ( as always) and so much passion about being disciplined (strict, in his terminology) to one's self as a responsibility to God. Loved this! Made/makes so much sense.

    Ernie... You are SO one of a kind... A very special kind. God bless you. You came right and you went right. Rest in peace.

    Sent from my iPad

    From Noor

    [ACSians] Mr Earnest Lau

    From Siri Chutikul

    Earnest Lau was a teacher extraordinaire -  the best History teacher I ever had. His passion and wit instilled a love of learning in his students - the most precious gift a teacher can give a student. Many years later when I walked the tombs of Egypt, it was Mr. Lau that I was thinking of. Ancient History came alive in his classroom. He introduced us to hieroglyphics, the Philistines, the Greeks and their mythology, and more. Who could forget his discourse on Aristotle and Sophocles, Agamemnon and the Trojan War, the Iliad and the Odyssey? Or Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa? The Reischauer-Fairbank book that he assigned is still my bible on China.  It was a privilege to be in his class.  We scaled Olympian heights with him, and now we bid him peace on his last journey.

    Sirilaksana (Chutikul) Khoman

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    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    [ACSians] RIP Mr Earnest Lau - posted by Irene

    Death of an ACS legend

    Mr Lau died this evening (Saturday). He was 84. He'd had a pacemaker implanted on Tuesday. Several of his former students had visited him recently. One of them who telephoned him on Friday to find out how he was after the operation said he told her that he felt "very tired".

    When I unearthed a stack of The Listener years after moving out of my family home, I couldn't help but think of Mr Lau. I had hung on to those magazines figuring that one day I'd get to finish reading them. I can't blame Mr Lau for my packrat habits but he is solely and absolutely responsible for my enduring addiction to the BBC. Forty-plus years down the road and I'm still hooked.

    Thank you, Mr Lau. I'm going to miss you.

    The wake will be held in the Regency Room at the Singapore Casket Company. Services on Sunday (Rev Dr Norman Wong) & Monday (Rev Gabriel Liew). The funeral will take place on Tuesday 8 Mar afternoon at Mandai (time and hall to be announced).