Help Us, Multiplication God!

After leaving school for good (not counting my grad-student years, where I learned nothing about finance..) I went back as a teacher. It’s just an attempt to avoid the dreaded unemployed status, at first. After all, yours truly used to climb up aircraft skeletons to check for metal defects and went down muddy jatropha plantation to look for the next biofuel.
Teaching a bunch of rowdy middle-grade students is not what normal people aspire as a career. Still, now that I’ve left my beloved middle school and its students, turned out I missed my days as physics teacher terribly, more than I did my days as engineer or stock-exchange slave.That’s what you get for being a teacher, you hate the job but you’ll miss the students as soon as you stop being one.
Now there’s a little boy living in my house. My 7-y.o. nephew is a 2nd-grader struggling with his multiplication table. (Tryin’ to remember when the first time I started learning the multiplication. Probably in 2nd grade just like he is right now?) See, grade school is a whole different arena compared to middle school. In my class, kids are expected to have the ability of multiplying integers and rational numbers. My nephew is just about to climb the lowest rung to achieve multiplying numbers 1 to 10 – and school nowadays expect these little kids to master this before going to 3rd grade! If you ask me if I’ve ever multiplied something without using a calculator, I would have said yes, but that situation is most likely few and far between outside school and work in general. Now that there’s a calculator in every tablets and smartphones AND watches (Galaxy Gear, anyone?), would there be any need to memorize numbers?
To make his life easier, we tried the Kumon method – there’s a bunch of shiny overpriced workbooks available out there – and my own hands-on memorization technique (that involves screaming and jumping around!) to motivate my nephew, but so far only few numbers managed to get stuck on his little brain.  Basically, Kumon helps kids get familiar with numbers; at the end of the day, it’s just a drilling technique to memorize these numbers by repetition, not unlike the olden days using tables.
Honestly, it was a miracle he finally succeed in memorizing up to 100 (1X1 through 10X10) in less than a month, I’d have to give him credit for his hard work. Still, I’ve found out recently that half of his class is able to score more than 80% in the last test (his was a mere 71..) There must be something wrong with me and my nef! Help!
Navigating life is hard enough with or without Math. I still want to see my favorite nef grows up to become a paleontologist, and that means he has to survive his Math, and Science, and English, and 6 other subjects in grade school. Now who would dare say being a teacher is noble but only suit hopeless unemployed people? Please, people of all ages, strive to be the best teacher to your kids, and maybe, just maybe, we can cure this world of all diseases..

GoodReads or Bust?

It’s a perfect setting: updating your blog in front of the window while it’s pouring outside. Rainwater cleanse out the cicak (small tropical lizard) droppings outside my bedroom wall. The incoming cool air replace the need of energy-draining A/C inside. But to others who have lost a house or means of transport due to the yearly flooding, they probably would rather say: “Rain, rain, go away, please come back another day.. (or year?)” So while I wait for my CVs to get any notice from some reliable schools (I teach science for middle school, please let me know should you know any vacant teaching position!), I read and update my GoodReads account.

my read shelf:
Virna's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

How to say Goodreads
How to say Goodreads, a photo by PrincessPeach on Flickr.

I wonder if I can change career and become an editor or a writer. Naahh.. as much as I love to read, I still write poorly (this blog is probably a very good example.) While choosing which book is better than the other can be as easy as it sounds, writing a novel, albeit a bad one, would require real talent. So right now I’m just enjoying my presence in GR and some other book review social media sites that keep popping out like mushrooms this season. Booklikes is one of the bunch that I prefer. Another one I’m still tinkering with is Riffle. Wait, there’s a brand new one called Leafmarks – I’ll check it out soon since it’s founded by one of GR’s top reviewer (Emily May.)

Now I don’t intend to leave GR – I’ve spent a lot of my time building my presence there – but I would consider myself a GR refugee should better review site comes along. The reason being:

  • Most reviewers listed as ‘Top 100’ (in country listing, not World) just add the books they used to read in the past without contributing a decent paragraph for the reviewed title. And those reviewers who manage to review 200 books in a month – like, SERIOUSLY? As of Jan. 18, 2014, the record-holder is Eddy Allen (Canada) with 1,457 books reviewed this month. In Indonesia, Indah Lestari stays on top by reviewing 200 books. Is it even remotely possible to read and write a proper review of 100 books/week? Even if you’re a book editor, would you be able to do the feat if those are really 100 pop-up picture books?
  • There’s a growing number of authors as well as reviewers who have become victims of cyber-bullying. Bullying does happen in GR! I’ve read my share of negative reviews, but I’d have to draw the line when it comes to bodily threats (even if it’s only described in writing!) and heavy use of foul languages. Badly-written books are open invitation to badly-written reviews – try write a good thoughtful review of a badly-written books and you’ll have my respect..
  • Most teen reviewers (with raging hormones, I presume) generously use words such as: F–k, hell, motherf–r, omg!, you know the rest.. We know that YA books often use SAT words in such a way that one would think you’re reading the classics. Words such as: candor, erudite, abnegation, amity (I’m your fellow Divergent fans!) I wonder, if these reviewers read the book and understand those SAT words, can’t they at least write something legible that should describe their feelings about a particular title? I should blame the Facebook mentality here..
  • There are reviewers whose existence are just extensions of some aspiring writers desperate to have his or her book gain some positive following, no matter how mediocre the work. I’m currently reading an e-book to be reviewed on GR. By the end of p.42, I’ve dreaded giving this author a (justly-deserved) 2-star, since he’s only gotten less than 10 ratings and my review would wreak havoc in his overall ratings (he’s a GR author as well.)

(His book has a 4.5 star rating at the moment, while one of my favorite novel, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, is currently rated a tad below 4.)

  • Books like Twilight and other YA favorites rule the GR constellation.. though there are some true gems (like all Rainbow Rowell’s books!) Can we then inspire some YA readers to infuse much-needed enthusiasm to some ‘adult‘ titles? Give me some inspiration to pick up books by Eugenides, and you’ll get my ‘like’ in your review..

So if you ask me, I’d like to stay on GR, but about time some geniuses create better sites, hopefully ones where I can easily transfer my GR titles, ratings and reviews with a push of a button!

Black rhino
White rhino, a photo by Manuel ROMARÍS on Flickr.

Floods & Sins [Help Manado 2014 Plea]

It’s been raining cats and dogs here in Jakarta – my city taking in the annual new-year-flooding – and people living in flood-prone areas already settle down in emergency shelters. Unfortunately, around the same time came disaster news from my kampong, Manado. Flash floods swept away most of Manado in less than 2 hours, in the middle of the day, and left thousands of people homeless, and some dead. The most tragic event had been the landslide that severed the arterial road of Tomohon-Manado in several locations, causing 5 or so cars traveling along the road under heavy downpours to fall within the cracks.

Just looking at the disaster pictures plastered on the first pages of every major newspapers in Indonesia, I could not help to be a bit apathetic. Last time I visited Manado had been 2 years ago; my mom and dad went there just last Christmas with my nephew. There were signs of environmental neglect in the city of Manado since the areas of Manado beach was open for business. There are now 4 or 5 malls standing only few meters away from the beach line. Obviously the walikotas and bupatis (mayors) never care enough to halt the never-ending construction. Keep in mind that most locals work as civil servant; most entrepreneurial endeavors are done either by Chinese-Manadoneses or those comes from outside North Sulawesi province (e.g. Javanese, Makassar, and the likes.) Mostly low-income PNS (civil servant) would come in droves during lunch hours and sometimes well after, almost everyday, that you’d wonder where that much spending power comes from.
Boulevard-Manado, a photo by izkaiska on Flickr.
Here’s what I’d like the Minahasa people to do;
  • Wake-up!
  • Re-elect city officials and call KPK to investigate further on any fund mishandling during their tenure
  • Stop going to the malls, start taking care of your family crops (clove, coconuts, cashews, you name it..)
  • Encourage your kids to study harder instead of aspiring to be just another TV stars
  • Encourage your college-bound kids to leave for better schools outside Manado so they could think like normal people for once..
  • Pray that when the flood recedes, people would start acting differently instead of going back to business-as-usual

And those Minahasan living in the US – come back and start rebuilding your motherland! With your US education, you can educate your Minahasan brothers and sisters.

Thank you, Youth. Godspeed, 2014!

Seventeen days going into 2014 and I already got bored waiting for exciting things to happen. Well, if some people mentioned that turning 2/5 of a century is like being 20 all over again, they’re gravely mistaken.
Patient laying in chair at a dental clinic surgery
Patient, a photo by Robert Lang Photography on Flickr.
In my case, about 20 years ago or so I happened to be:
  • 20 kg lighter
  • having less gray hairs
  • a hopeless romantic
  • pursuing a degree
  • starting a new life in a foreign country
  • drinking vodka shots in other people’s houses
  • watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s True Lies with a (German) guy I like
  • spending a lot of time in a library because my life depended on it
  • trying on nail polish at the 24h WalMart in the middle of the night
  • doing a lot of walking (couldn’t afford a car at that time..)
  • an idealist
  • the apple of my mother’s eye
  • a sister of two (2) younger brothers
I should pat myself on the back and said: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” (Attention Virginia Slims, still can’t bring myself to start smoking!) But life has been kind, too. The joy of my youth still could not take away the fact that I, by now, have:
  • an adorable nephew who worship me (plus a chubby niece and an estranged nephew)
  • owned a house
  • earned two degrees
  • collected enough books for a personal library
  • been to Taj Mahal (and the World Trade Ctr before it collapsed)
  • been to a SmashMouth and ThirdEyeBlind concert
  • been courted by a good-looking Kuwaiti (the first Mr. Piston!)
  • had friends who happened to be Thai, Ethiopian, Somali, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Indian (including a former boss)
  • taught middle-school Physics
  • met my high school Physics teacher after I became a Physics teacher
  • a ragtag following of satisfied former students (including one member of the Overtunes!)
  • become a photographer (with a flickr acct..) and an avid reader (with a GoodReads acct..)
  • 3 iPhones, 2 iPods and an Internet connection
  • become a realist
  • a brother who is now in Heaven
And to share my goal before I become a half-centenarian self – I would like to:
  • be an optimist
  • have closer relationship with God
  • be a great aunt and teacher to my nephew Tim
  • speak another language, semi-fluently (either Japanese, Hindi, Arabic or Finnish..)
  • take up diving
  • take landscape shots of at least 10 Indonesian remote beaches
  • go back to graduate school
  • own a business (most probably anything related to education, or probably agriculture.. ha!)
  • own a patch of arable land (growing cashews, melons or grapes..)
  • visit the base of Everest Base Camp
  • have quality time with my best friends
  • go out with a great guy (non-Kuwaiti, thank you very much!)
  • be 20 kg lighter (or 5 kg, whichever comes first..)
Carry On Luggage
Carry On Luggage, a photo by Boy_Wonder on Flickr.
Now let me update my resume again – need another job to feed myself, stat!

The life he lived: Michael [2013]

Rarely did I see my late grandmother smile, but when she did, she wore it elegantly and nobody in my immediate family came near to wearing her smile. Nobody, except my brother Michael, who just passed away last July.

Michael was blessed with the soft feature from my mother’s side, with his thin lips and playful laugh. When he was young, before he went to the US to study and took a part-time job that burned his skin, he used to have that perfect translucent skin – one in which you can see the traces of purplish veins across his chubby cheeks. My nephew Tim, his only son, inherits this beautiful part of him.

My brother’s later life had been such a conundrum to my family. He faced problems with his wife from early on but decided to plow through with such pretense of a marriage because he believed divorce would be a sin in the eyes of God. In happier times, he indulged in his son and daughter; in oft-occurring unhappy times, however, he escaped to the other worlds – online war games and junk food. His body started to show the ravaging effect of a weak heart. When he happened to stay with us, my mom would try to barge in his room to talk to him, but he just locked her out of his life, except those times when he could no longer bear his shortness of breath and nudged my mom to take him to the pharmacy.

My family’s predicament had not been kind to him growing up. We have a strict father – one who didn’t know how to show love to his own children – and he was such a bully to me and Michael. But especially to him. Mom often said it’s because my father hated my grandmother so much. She probably did not approve of my mom’s choice of a husband, so she tried to ‘sabotage‘ her marriage; the only thing my grandmother could not escape from was her devotion to Michael, as he reminded her of her husband. My grandfather and Michael shared the same middle name, Christoffel, and the same built as well. Only that whereas my grandfather had been a very fit adult due to his nature as farmer and headmaster (and during the Indonesian civil war, it had not been easy to eat 3 times a day), my brother was overweight since he was only a little boy. He had to fight obesity and heart disease until the end of his life.

For such a short life that he lived, all 36 years long, our family failed to see the beautiful heart he possessed. He’d been such a fierce fighter, being persistent when it came to something he’s passionate about. He was a gentle giant of a man – his close friends cherished his generosity and patience toward their friendships. While I did not blame his wife for her shortcomings, I could not help but wonder if things were different, a loving wife would make him lead a happier life, and probably a longer one as well. He left such a hole in our hearts that sometimes we just wonder how little time we had had with him.

Sorry Mike, I believe God always kept you close, and He’d like you to spend eternity with Him rather than seeing you suffer on Earth. He who had created your inmost being, who had knitted you together in our mom’s womb, had called you earlier than he does the rest of your family. It’d be such an honor to see you in one of His mansions, when my time comes. ‘Til then, thank you for the life you gave as remembrance to your gentle presence, and most of all, thank you for the life of your children. When they grow up, I want them to be just like you: fierce and loving life, and most of all, fear God.

Godspeed, Michael Tendean (1977-2013).

angel, a photo by annbananne on Flickr.

A Single Girl’s Reflection

Flickr, a photo by kevin dooley on Flickr.

Last night I ventured out of my comfort zone: paying a visit to Tante Pola (not her real name, of course!); my parents have known them since before I was born, my dad being in the same Naval post as Tante Pola’s husband. I’ve been meaning to drop by just to wish her Merry Christmas – thankful for all her kindness to my family, especially during my late brother’s stay in the hospital and later during his funeral.

Visiting her is something I’ve been dreading – I just could not stand to be in the same room as someone who has the ability of seeing another dimension. I love my 3D view of the world, thank you very much. The Earth is scary enough to live in that I don’t want to bother seeing monsters, except those made by Pixar! Plus, I’m a science teacher, for goodness sake. Every matter is made by God, I agree, but each and every one is made up of atoms, and the atoms are made up of protons, electrons and neutrons! If you want to get further down the quantum physics lane, googling MIT would help..

As soon as I sat down, her words came unleashed like water pouring out of a broken dam. The amount of words-per-minute coming out of her mouth could turn Pinocchio into a heaving breathing little boy! She used to be a stewardess for Garuda, and there were plenty of life experiences thrown out into our conversation. She stated that her ‘ability’ was put into good use since her Garuda career, and the former CEO of Garuda once called her after he learned about her ‘paranormal activities’ during several flights. Now that she’s retired, she resorted to giving free advice to her friends and families. Did I mention that she could ‘see’ the non-Pixar creatures on Earth? Mercifully, when I almost peed on my pants after hearing about her last visit to my house (with a friendly advice of turning on some lights at night at some strategic place, and throwing some salt around some rooms..), some guests arrived to celebrate her grandson’s birthday. Phew!

deep in the forest
deep in the forest, a photo by andrew evans on Flickr.

As the evening wound down, and I was about to leave her house, she started asking me about that ‘dreaded singleton’ questions. It always started with a compliment: how independent I am (aside from the fact that I’m living with my parents!), how smart I am (seriously?), how logical I am (no wonder I teach Physics!), and how serious I am with my teaching job (which I’ve just left). Then she inquired: “Do you want to be (single) like this forever?” Errr.., is that a trick question?

To tell you the truth, I’m only bothered by my singleness on several occasions: 1) when my singleness status is the topic of any conversation, including a job interview; 2) when anyone tries to be a matchmaker to me and the other match-ee; 3) when I find an interesting single (often, younger and occasionally married) man easy to talk to. But I don’t explain these things to Tante Pola – I just don’t see how she would understand my situation. However, she’s quite adamant about her ‘seeing eye’ that at the moment I’m being pursued by 2 men (other than my former students, probably, who lo and behold, heckled me in front of Celebrity Fitness PIM!) and that I’d have to start praying for an end of my singleton era. I’m telling you, she’s like a fairy godmother who, instead of fulfilling my wishes with a single swoosh of her wand, gives me a test with an open-ended question.

It’s not like I don’t want to get married and settle down with a Prince Charming. I’d love to have my own kids, even though they come with their own trials and tribulations. I’d love to wake up to an unshaven guy, and fix him a morning coffee or tea. I’d love to have a discussion over which mutual funds to pick, or why we should support a certain political figure, or what kind of school would be best for our kids. It’s just that, I don’t think at my age I’d ever find someone (who spent his undergrad study in the 90’s and listened to the Dave Matthews Band) who would share the same passion and would accept me just the way I am. Too much of Bridget Jones, I know.. Please help!