Barbie Kitty

Speed surfing through the day's headlines and of course CNA produced another entertainment gem. The story was "Barbie gets Hello Kitty makeover".

I was very puzzled. Isn't the idea of a makeover meant to make something immensely prettier than it originally was? Alluding to the whole, "you have the potential la.... you just don't know what to do with yourself" theory. Now, why the fuck would timeless icon Barbie want a Hello Kitty makeover? That's like saying Tyra Banks needs an Ugly Betty makeover.

I propose Hello Kitty get a Barbie makeover and quick too.

Note: The writer does NOT own a Hello Kitty nail clipper and does NOT line his study table with a "cheonged" Hello Kitty tablecloth that is more resemblant of Kaijyu Paradise [if you can even remember what that is]



Water Gods

It was a common thing to hear mums warn kids not to go swimming during the Chinese 7th Month, the Hungry Ghosts month. The theory was that since the ghosts were out to roam, those that died by drowning will return to the original site of death [swimming pool, seashore, reservoir, etc.]. Thus, they'd drag little kids [since ghosts aint that strong to drag down Hulk Hogan unless it's a team effort] back with them to their watery graves.

Logical. As of today, "Little Girl drowns in Sentosa" numbers 12 since January. Someone must be really angering the water gods around here majorly. No, maybe not Calypso a la POTC but probably mighty Trident since his weapon is cooler and he doesn't have dark stained teeth and talk in a Caribbean drawl. I can list the major suspects for you:

1. NEWater. One should never attempt to make drinking water out of waste water. It's not right. And to arrogantly bottle it and market it for the world to steal a snigger is unforgivable.

2. Merlion. The symbol of national pride [patriotism is also something mythical to some of our national servicemen] should never have been moved to it's new site next to the Esplanade. A lion [with a cold fish appendage] has feelings too. It's not right holding free open-air concerts right beside it and expect it not to want to crane it's neck to have a look.

3. Wrath of Mother Nature. It's time to flood out the world. There is no more Moses to part the Red Sea. The Netherlands will soon be awash in water [FYI, lowest point in Rotterdam is 7 metres below sea level, protected only by ingenious dykes, easily disposed off by unpredictable flash floods though]

4. Influx of foreign water devils. With the rise in foreign talent, it is only right that English water devils like the Gindylow [who do the same dragging and drowning] ought to have taken advantage of "globalization" to populate a more temperate region. It's their version of a Caribbean holiday. As Chow Yuen Fatt put it: "Welcome to Singapore"

For further water spirit GK, read HERE.


Gang Exits

So, I was reading in The New Paper, a sorry excuse for a tabloid [If tabloid is defined by size 72 fonts and garish headlines that actually have nothing to do with summarizing the story] about how Malay gang members take great pains to exit their affiliations and erase their past.

Something piqued my interest. Exit techniques to be precise. Now, I've heard and seen huge sums of money being coughed up [If you are in the 369 gang, you might have to pay $369 or with a coupla zeroes after that to gain freedom] and a standard one to one mano a mano mortal kombat with the strongest dude in the group. But, something new was revealed in this article.

These days due to the inherent penetration of video games and creative storylines in almost everything we take up, street hoodlums too have jumped on the bandwagon to come up with brilliant exit strategies.

Solution revealed in this article involved the "member" starting at the 12th floor staircase landing of a HDB block and descending all the way to the 1st whilst fending off attacks from one guy stationed at every subsequent lift landing. This is the ultimate battle royale. A senseless test of fitness and strength [both mental and physical] and stamina. So, one man goes against 12 in quick succession depending on whether he is gridlocked anywhere along the way. You'd think that after the first few guys he'd devise Jackie Chan-like attributes and attempt to jump over the man instead of brawling with him. Or prepare himself adequately with cross trainer Nikes, a tracksuit and a rusty cycle chain.

Staircase Sudoku I'd name it, if they ever called a huge ass meeting to "brand" and "market" this creative practice. It's all about the marketing as the iPod has proven to the world. By the way, the Nintendo Wii is the new age game machine and you'd be a doofus to even think the PS3 is worth more than its weight in aluminium.

Following up on this "how do I exit a gang [one that doesn't even financially enrich me]" conundrum comes the new avalanche of violence based videos on YouTube. Here, amateur criminals take videos of their bashings and post them coupled with their gang numbers or names as the title header. Meet Singapore's Dumbest Criminals. Why hasn't someone even come up with that programme yet since our nation is probably more wired up with CCTV [some unplugged and fake] than it ever has been before. Right, so people used to beat the fuck outa people and then run, and sometimes never get caught. Now, they show their handsome face to the camera in gloat and glee [Attn: Investigation Officer - CID] and also state their affiliations [Attn: Secret Society Branch - CID]. Brilliant.

I bow down to supreme intelligence. Makes me wish I was smarter.

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The Tuition Game

It is a very interesting industry. The private tuition game. It would have been termed a job or profession if it truly was so, but in all aspects it's a game. A people management game, a discipline game, an effectiveness game and the game of illusions.

Tutors generally come in all shapes and sizes and are usually aware that no other profession coughs up upwards of 20 an hour rates except for entry level professional entities. Rates commanded are based sometimes on seniority, qualifications and pure guesswork.

Typically in descending order:

1. Ex-Teachers, Retirees [of the seasoned, wrinkled variety]

Some are good and then some are real good. This group is aware that a financial supplement to their civil service salary is quite welcome indeed. However, their classroom ideas of discipline and attention span will inevitably translate to the tuition arena. More often than not, they provide extensive knowledge through years of experience and spotting questions; but their students beg their parents to stop the tuition due to the repeat of mainstream nightmares.

2. NIE Trained Teachers [like as if NIE training really matters]

The NIE certification is very very overestimated. Not everyone who graduates from a course there can teach. This is in accordance with friends and friends of friends we've all known who couldn't attract the attention of crows while being a scarecrow even. Still, the tagging of the "NIE" brand is solely for enticing the paymasters, the parents.

3. Undergraduates [Of any field and discipline]

The myriad of undergrads teaching everything from subjects they know to subjects they don't are the main fuel of the industry. Undergrads typically are hungry for money and are exceedingly mobile. It is not uncommon to see an Arts student churning up numbers in A Maths lessons or a Science student professing astute knowledge in History. Whatever you can pitch to land a job.

4. Others [A very wide and encompassing group, usually those that end up spoiling the market]

This group mainly is employed by people who are of the thinking that as long you have cleared that level, you are able to supervise for that level. A very layman's way of terming this would be "If you are Pri 6, you can teach a Pri 5 student". This is where the Poly dudes, ITE dudes and private school students factor in. Why I say they are the market spoilers? Because the most amount of undercutting occurs within this group. Whereas a seasoned teacher will fart at the thought of less than 40/hour and an undergrad at less than 25/hour, this group have been known to offer their services for as little as 10/hour. Very inappropriate if you ask me.

We've assessed the manpower situation that feeds the demand. Now for the creation of demand. Why do people take tuition? A few reasons spring to mind. None of those will be initiated by the actual student. See, parents these days have some vague notion that the longer their kid spends on academics the more his/her grades are gonna grow. Possibly they are also aware that most kids hate school and most teachers are handling 30 odd students at the same time. Not good enough a ratio for personal coaching. So, the reasons would be:

1. My kid is failing the subject
2. My kid needs to improve his grade in the subject [sometimes wishing for an F9 to an A1]
3. My kid seems too free.

Thus, they go thru the motions and go about their various means and resources to procure a tutor. These are:

1. Ask a friend who has employed a tutor before
2. Call up a random agency, possibly the one which has the best advert in the Classifieds
3. Hook up the kid in an already existing group tuition where his friend is enrolled in

There needs to exist a certified code of conduct and market rates for this industry to succeed, something which is highly unlikely in the near future because this is one of the most cut throat areas ever to work at. Not to mention the high turnover rate. Tutors quit and get sacked at whims and fancies. Also, parents are mostly of the false belief that it is a buyer's market. So, instead of being well-informed consumers and sussing out products and evaluations in order to provide for one of the most sacred of all services; education; these parents work on utter randomness. [Brownian motion of smoke particles comes to mind]

Hence, parents go thru a minimum of 3-4 tutors before hitting jackpot. By jackpot, don't be mistaken that it means its a tutor who manages to help the ailing academics of their unfortunate child. Jackpot means a tutor they can stand. See, this industry is fucked up in the way that the person receiving the service is the true victim in all sense. Victimized by his parents because he doesn't have much say in the selection of tutors and victimized by inept tutors who play the double game very well. These tutors take great pains to please their paymasters, the parents. They smile, go "hello auntie, hello uncle, have you eaten", take their seat, spout out 2 hours of nonsense [inclusive 1.5 hours of the kid just doing his exercises] and then leave. None the wiser.

The parents are overjoyed when they come across punctual, polite, well mannered and "not in a rush for dough" tutors. They treasure these employees and treat them like part of the family amidst the fact their kid's grades have jumped barely 1/2 a percentage point from 30 to 30.5 still earning him his F9.

Where has the focus gone to? Should the tutors be servicing the student or their parents? Granted, you always keep your salary givers in the best possible relations ever but is that what tutoring is about? I for one believe in results. Result oriented education. My self-coined term and I might make millions out of it. For what do you fork out 5 times what a Macdonald's employee earns to a twiddly thumbed tutor if not for results?

I have a tuition kid and he recently cleared his mid-years. Amazingly, he managed to fail everyone of his subjects except the 2 I am tutoring him in. Funny thing is, he is also getting tutored for all the others save one. So, just by general comparison, who is delivering the results? And then I've also had kids who have a distinct jump in grades after jus the first month under me, but yet the assignment was doomed from the start.

See, in line with the entire "buyer's market" misconception, parents [particularly Yindians] still want to grate their value for money out of you. You cease to be just the tutor in their eyes and evolve into being a full time employee under their directorship. By this I mean, punctuality to the dot [give or take 5 seconds], general appearance, "they can cancel but you don't" theory and the like. Cowboys who are "flexible" in timings and days are non-tolerable but "hello auntie" kids who do zilch for their offspring have their virtues extolled to the high skies.

Where is the orientation to results? I say we need to purge this thinking. Most of youse are probably still employees but might one day get to managerial and employer positions. Don't be a fucking doofus and insist on running military precision disicpline when the work really gets done on time and is done well. Defeats the purpose of good work doesn't it? Case in point, Google. Google's offices do not even look like offices. Holiday chalets or each individual's living room is a better description.

Back to the tuition perspective, it's perhaps wishful thinking that the dynamics change to what the student wants. What days he wants, what times he wants, is he comfortable with you and do his grades pick up. By all means, the next time you come across horror parents who believe you are on their payroll and so go all "Give me 20 push ups soldier" on you, do invite them to sit in on your lesson so they can gain the benefits for what they pay for.

Who are we teaching anyway?

Now, the dynamics is clear isn't it? Which is common in this upside down world we live in. Reminds me of 2 different departments I've worked at. In one, my boss sets me work, and doesn't care where I'm at, what I'm doing as long as some basic requirements are met:

1. I come in to work in the morning.
2. My work is shit-hot. [as opposed to dog-shit, both airforce lingo]
3. My work is on time [most of the time, I deliver a 2 week deadline in 2 working days]

The other department I've worked at was like this:

1. Boss sets me work, gives me 2 weeks. I'm done in 2 days, he's on MC/leave etc.
2. I am bored and have no work to do [not a fault of mine]
3. I become the permanent smoking point fixture.
4. Productivity hours are not counted but "sitting at the table" hours are counted.

This the horror department where no one really cares if work is done [their department standard is replying you only after the 3rd reminder e-mail], but they DO care if they don't see you at your desk from 8 am to 530 pm.

But on the other side, there are parents I'd like to flag up as ideal paymasters. Like this one:

Me: Auntie, I kinda need my money in advance cos I'm running damn tight and I need to pay rent.
She: Eh, why you ask until like that? It's your money you know, you have all the right to demand it. I know how it's like to pull off part time jobs. [Lady in question is a top notch financial agent with a local bank]

Same lady, different day:

Me [to the kid]: Eh, your parents not in today? Damn, thought can get my money.
Kid: Wait I tell them.
She: Sorry, sorry we weren't around. Can I transfer to you early tomorrow morning cos I can't do it now.
Me: Phew. Sure, thanks.

Background of course is that when you start living day to day. You really hope the money that should line your pockets does line it. And when it doesn't, then God help you for the following 1 week that you thought this money would take care of. So, it is advisable not to count your chickens before they hatch. Anything can happen. You can take ill, they can cancel, the world can come to an end. Bottomline is you are 50 bucks poorer at the end of the month.

This is only my personal perspective on the private home tuition market. I've yet to begin my observations on the tuition centre market. Many students [at bargain prices], 1 tutor [at bargain pay] and 1 organization [bargaining everything].