Thursday, 9 February 2012

Teaching and Taxis

The three and four year olds come in like little round eyed atoms, direction unpredictable. They swarm around me and reach for my nose. 'Why is your nose so big?' they ask in wonder. I can see that I'm going to get this a lot.

The teenagers are more circumspect. 'I like your eyes' a girl tells me 'and your nose'. I tell her that I think it's too big and that the little ones I teach are amazed at how large a nose can be. She laughs.

This has been my first week going into outside schools all over the island. Up until now I've been teaching in the centre to quite small classes - one has only four students. I have been cocooned in airconditioning and low student numbers.

In primary schools there is no airconditioning. There are spinning fans on the ceiling which you have to raise your voice to be heard above. The classes are of 30. In secondary schools there are 40 students per class.

Schools here have two sessions - morning and afternoon. Students don't come for the whole day.  It's either or. The morning session starts between 7.30am and 8am and the afternoon 1pm or 2pm. Imagine what a nightmare this could be for working parents. Arranging lifts and childcare.

One colleague with three children has two daughters who hardly see each other. One needs to get up at about 5am to be in school for 7.15am and the other is in the afternoon session so doesn't get home until after 7pm. By then the morning daughter is about to go to bed.

The first class I teach on Monday morning starts at 7.50am. I got there super early because I was afraid of being late on the first day. I sat in the canteen and watched the student arrive. The canteen is like a mini food court with different stalls selling food to suit the various cultures and religions who co-exist here - Muslim, Indian, Malay, Chinese. (At work in the staff room there are two microwaves. One has a sign on it. 'No pork. No beef.' There's a separate sponge on the kitchen sink in it's own plastic container marked 'for Muslims'.)

Some of the students arrive by bus. This can take as long as two hours. It stops at each student's house to collect them. As they arrive they go to the keypads which are dotted all around and punch in their attendence. Then they all stand in the open courtyard for the raising of the flag ceremony and to sing the national anthem 'Majullah Singapura'. This happens twice a day. For both morning and afternoon sessions. It all feels very different and very the same to the schools I've taught at in the UK.

I am allowed to claim for taxi journeys for some of these school trips. Taxi's in Singapore are cheap. Strictly metered. I think there are laws pertaining. They're usually driven by retired men who are making a bit of extra money. Quite often they are enormous characters.

This week I met the taxi driver who loves Borneo. He spent the entire 20 minute trip telling me I should move there.
'You have to promise that you won't tell anyone else if I tell you how. Promise?' I promised. 'Go to the embassy. It's open every day until 2pm except Fridays. Fill in a form and then they'll contact you.'
I'm not sure why he was quite so secretive. It sounds a fairly obvious proceedure to me.

Then there was the taxi driver who had worked in packaging before he retired. He'd been on a business trip to New York. He told us he found it boring. We were a bit surprised. It turned out he felt that New York was so dangerous that he'd stayed in his hotel room the entire time apart from going to meetings.

One spent the journey talking politics. I found him very difficult to understand. He was talking about the PAP, the party in what is essentially dictatorship and the new found strenght in the opposition.
'Ah, It's all Rojak*' he said.

*Rojak - a Singaporen speciality. It contains fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and cucumber mixed with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce. I haven't tried it yet.

Seen in a school canteen this week

More Inspiring lunch time fodder

These were taken at xmastime. I just haven't got round to putting them up.

From my moustache/french themed birthday party