Friday, November 21, 2008

Life is not a textbook!

Lately I’ve seen quite a few letters in the newspapers on the standard of education in Malaysia with some readers suggesting that the Education Ministry bring back English-medium schools and some steadfastly holding on to their belief that BM-medium national schools are the way forward.

Mostly the arguments are centered on how disadvantaged our graduates are in the job market after spending more than 12 of their growing years in BM-medium schools as they are unable to converse adequately in the English language, thus making them non-employable especially in big multinational corporations. Nevermind that some of these graduates have national exam scores of 10As and above. The fact is that many, if not most, of them can hardly muster up enough courage to string a sentence in English, let alone hold a conversation with the interviewer. Their command of English is certainly cringe-worthy. However, I do not think that this problem is prevalent only in the BM-medium national schools, as a matter of fact, I think students from Chinese schools face the same problem.

English is not a language that can be learned by the textbook and I think this is where part of the problem lies. Our education system tries to cram in as many subjects in an average school day as possible, which is about 6 hours. As most of the subjects were either taught in only BM or Chinese, that effectively leaves about 30 to 45 minutes each day for English lessons if they’re lucky. On top of that, many of the teachers in the national schools are not well-versed in English either.

In part our educational culture is also to blame. It is no secret that our education system is one that encourages memorizing of texts. I spent 12 years in the national schools and I can attest that we were encouraged to memorize the textbooks. I was lucky in the sense that I had access to a wide range of encyclopedias at home and was encouraged to read. I’ve heard from many people that these days, their children are taught to memorize whole essay samples in school so that they can reproduce them in exams, word for word. I was horrified to say the least and I am even more horrified that some parents seem to think this is perfectly acceptable. Shouldn’t creative writing be encouraged instead? This is but one example of our system. We hear all the time that we should “think out of the box” and yet we encourage our children to “think within the box” by curtailing their creativity. Has anyone ever thought how difficult it must be to “think out of the box” when you spent almost your entire growing years on “thinking within the box”? Do we just expect our children to suddenly start being creative? Unfortunately, after years of going through the grind, it is not surprising that the children forget what creativity means.

What good is it to churn out straight-A students year after year when these students are lacking in so many areas? It is hard to find someone to have an intellectually-stimulating conversation with because many of them do not have the general knowledge required to even start a conversation with! Life is not a textbook. I fear for the children who will eventually discover this fact when they finally leave school.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

KOTO (Know One, Teach One) Restaurant, Hanoi

I've read about KOTO in some websites whilst searching for information on Hanoi and thought that it is quite like Jamie Oliver's 15 where street kids are taught hospitality skills to enable them to have a better chance in life. KOTO Hanoi is supported by KOTO International which is an Australian-based non-profit organization. KOTO graduates are highly sought after by the hospitality industry and many now work in top hotels and restaurants in Hanoi.
So, that brings me to our lunch at KOTO on the first day of our holiday. KOTO is located right across the Van Mieu pagoda on Van Mieu Street. The facade of the restaurant is simple but once you enter it, you'll find that the restaurant is spread over four floors. We were brought to our table on the 3rd floor where photos of past graduates now working in top hotels and restaurants are hung on the walls.On the way up the winding stairs, bricks with names of sponsors and friends of KOTO line the walls.
Our menus were brought to us immediately by a pleasant young lady. After ordering our drinks - sweet fragrant passionfruit juice and mango juice, we ordered an eggplant dip which came on crispy rice crackers.
My hubby ordered Bun Bo (beef vermicelli noodle) because he loves beef. The Bun Bo came in two separate bowls. One bowl with the beef and another with the thin rice vermicelli. We were asked to pour the beef into the rice vermicelli and add the fresh herbs and the fish sauce. After a quick stir, the Bun Bo is ready. The verdict, as expected, was very good! It is unbelievable that such a simple dish can be so immensely satisfying!
I ordered a Bun Cha (grilled pork vermicelli) and Chao Tom (minced prawn with sugar cane) to share. The Bun Cha is quite similar to the Bun Bo with the exception of the grilled pork replacing the beef. The grilled pork is heavenly! It's so delicious and fragrant and the minced pork balls accompanying it is wonderful! I could barely stop popping the grilled pork and pork balls into my mouth.
The Chao Tom is decidedly different from the Thai version. The Vietnamese version came in a bamboo tray filled with condiments such as fresh herbs, sugar cane, rice paper, vermicelli and of course, the minced prawn. We're supposed to wrap all these into the rice paper, roll it up and dip it into the fish sauce. Surprisingly our little girl loves it. The novelty of playing with her food certainly appealed to her and having it taste delicious afterwards was obviously a bonus.
Admittedly, dining at KOTO costs a little more than usual but it's all for a good cause so I'd certainly recommend it. KOTO's address is 59 Van Mieu Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi, Vietnam. Tel : (84-4) 747 0337 or email

Monday, November 17, 2008

Food Adventures in Hanoi - Quan An Ngon

If there’s one thing that I enjoyed most about our holiday in Hanoi, it’s eating all that delicious food! There’s so much to try it’s almost like an adventure in itself!

As I’ve written about in my previous posts on Hanoi, the Quan An Ngon restaurant is my absolute favourite so of course it’s high on my list of places to eat. My family which includes one very picky little girl, were absolutely delighted at the diverse choices available at Quan An Ngon.

We ordered chicken pho (chicken noodle soup), bun bo (beef vermicelli soup), bun cha (grilled pork and vermicelli), nem cua be (fried spring rolls), prawn fritters, young papaya salad, squid salad, mango salad with prawn crackers, fried tofu with fermented shrimp dip, fresh spring rolls, bbq squid, and che (sweet dessert) to share. The food were absolutely sumptious and although they cost more than what I would expect to pay at the street stalls, it’s great to have so many choices at one place. The salad stalls serve some pretty interesting salads. I caught sight of a tray filled with something that looked like bugs, but was told it’s actually baby sparrows. Although I’m keen on trying a lot of different food, I’m drawing a line at this because I’m pregnant and the last thing I want to do is eat babies (although they’re baby birds)! We loved the ambience … it was packed both days we were there. Although I would expect a more touristy-clientele, I was pleasantly surprised to see many locals eating there as well. One downside is the Vietnamese-speaking staff, they are not very well-versed in English. The menus are written in Vietnamese and English but I would really recommend walking around the many stalls to choose your food. If you find something that you like, just ask the staff to write it down on a piece of paper so that you can pass it to the waiter when you return to your table. This way you’ll be able to see what you are ordering. Quan An Ngon is really THE place to go if you want to have a wide variety of Vietnamese street food in one place.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama wins!

What a historic day today is! Today a black man is elected President of the United States of America, something that I think not many people believed they will witness in their lifetime. I'm as excited for America as are the rest of the world.
Obama's victory speech I think transcends every country and culture in the world. It's not just for America. Don't we all hope for the same? For we are all one no matter where we are from.
"This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can,"

Obama Fever

Today is a defining moment in history. I'm rooting for Obama. I really hope he wins. God knows we need someone like him to change the course of history. A win for him will signal the change the world needs so much. At the very least we will have a black man as President, something that our forefathers will never imagine is possible. So much hope placed on one man, isn't it?

I wonder when we will see such changes in our own country?