Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Brother Dear

Joel is here. He arrived safe and sound from India, tired from his hours in transit. I treated him to something from Starbucks before we rode the bus back from town. He arrived a day too early. Or, that is to say, he arrived precisely when he meant to, but I thought he was coming tomorrow. I am so very glad that I had managed to buy groceries during the weekend, as well as put most things in order. I purchased an extra supply of peanut butter and sliced bread, a row of brightly coloured Yakult bottles for old time's sake, and yoghurt, should he miss the lands of Sweden flowing with milk and kefir. Never mind that I had to clean the floors in my room when I got home, rearrange the furniture, wash and tumble two laundry loads, roll out the new carpet runner, tidy up the living room, and finally clean the fish bowl. (Horatio is very happy.) It is all done now, and Joel is tucked into bed with clean sheets and an Enid Blyton pocket book in his hands.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Knitted Gnomes

The Rebel Shang has unleashed her inner grandmother of late and has taken up knitting, particularly knitting gnomes with little detachable hats. She set one of them at the top of her desk to allow them to see the world pass by, and I so happened to be the world passing by that day. I couldn't help but to flick the little thing off the table. He made a fine missile. Excellent projection. Made a beautiful arc across the room and dramatically lost his hat along the way. The Rebel Shang was less than pleased (can't think why) and knelt to pick up the fallen comrade, and shortly thereafter, I received the following email from my Lord and Master. 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel,

It has recently come to my attention that your daughter Sanna has a propensity for bullying. She does not bully everyone, but seems to target those much smaller than herself, who have nothing to defend themselves with other than their tiny cuteness and a pointy hat. Recently it was reported that Sanna deliberately flicked one of these smaller ones, sending it flying across the office and slamming into the cabinet, all the while she was proclaiming, “I am a bully!”

While I understand that some of smaller stature may be a nuisance to some people, they are a vital part of the ICS office community. If this behavior continues, I may be forced to turn Sanna over to the authorities for Gnomicide in the first degree. Please encourage Sanna to treat even our smallest, knitted friends with kindness and respect.


Katie den Hartog
Middle School Assistant Principal

This was the reply:

Dear Ms. Den Hartog,        

     Sanna has a long standing history of violence, and we are well aware of her anti-social tendencies. She deliberately takes great pleasure in flicking knitted gnomes across rooms, particularly in front of their makers to inflict the maximum amount of damage and humiliation. She suffers from rage blackouts and severe narcissistic tendencies, and therefore feels little compassion towards the smaller, yarn-fashioned members of our society.

We would like to say that she is seeing a therapist who is helping her to work through her issues, but she has resisted all forms of rehabilitation. It has been concluded that the bullying has nothing to do with gnomes in general, but rather stems from a deep-rooted obsession with power. We have recently found a psychiatrist who specializes in supremacy obsessions and hope that this latest one just might do the trick.

Thank you for your concern and please keep up apprised of any further troubling developments.


Mr. and Mrs. Gabriel

It's just a thought, but we may perhaps be abusing our school's internal emailing system. 

Dr. Sullivan

Victor has now included Ms. Sullivan, our tall, blonde, apparently evil science teacher. You'd think Master Kelley would do a better job of screening job applicants for the school.

1. Adjacent to the White House stands the Laboratory of the evil scientist Dr. Sullivan.

2. The things she experiments with would appall most people.

3. There was no brake within a mile of her building; it had all burned away from her experiments.

4. Her life's goal was to destroy the (in her opinion) despotic world rulers.

5. She would empower herself with her skills of science.

6. Her biological warfare weapons would rend all humans incoherent as they lost mental power and foamed at the mouth.

7. Nobody would be incredulous of her skills by the time she was finished with the world!

8. Her potion was luminous...

9. After drinking it, she shimmered softly; she was now the supervillain Sciency Guitar Woman!

10. Her mind was teeming with ideas--she could do anything she wanted now!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Kicking Butt and Taking Names

All in a day in the life of Sanna Gabriel.

Problem Solving

The Middle School administration is really pushing for a holistic approach to education. In practicality, this means that the teachers must focus on certain Expected Student Outcomes (ESOs) throughout the year to encourage curricular, interpersonal, and spiritual growth in their daily lives. One of the ESOs is problem solving: we want our students to become independent and critical thinkers, able so solve tall problems in a single bound. (Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a highly-effective student powered through the heavens by the solid and thorough teachings of his academic mentor!)

Ryland sits in my front row in grammar class, and one day he has a black marker streak across one cheek. "Ryland, you've got marker on your face."
"Right there." I point.
He feels the spot and after some consideration, takes out a marker and draws a line on the other cheek.

Problem: solved.

Lantern Festival

I remember the Lantern Festival. My family and I used to meet up with our Singaporean friends, and we children would carry lanterns and light candles and build tiny destructive fires out of leaves, whilst the grown ups at moon cake and burst into fits of loud laughter. Those days are long gone, and apparently lanterns are for children, but that doesn't mean I miss them any less.

 The Rebel Shang, Spencer, and I visited the Chinese Gardens at night, and it was a sight to behold.

 We watched the fireworks from the lake pavilion.

One light makes all the difference. 


We All Must Walk

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. 

- Bilbo, Fellowship of the Ring

Heart to God, Hand to Man

If you didn't know already, I quite like fixing things. I have an untempered affection for power tools and though I know I am certainly outranked by other fix-it goddesses, I am rather content with what I have accomplished so far. The above table was once given to Jackie Owens, our resident Bible teacher, who in turn passed it to me (I suppose she was practicing the gift of giving for future lessons), and I, from my meager store of goodness, gave it a hope and a future. It was originally a rather dull pine colour, covered by a thin coat of yellowing varnish that had been put to the test through the artistic endeavours of five-year-olds armed with crayons, markers, and gum. I had to remedy the situation.

I am Swedish, and I am fundamentally different from the average Singaporean in the sense that I feel a great sense of accomplishment merely looking at an unassembled piece of IKEA furniture. The IKEA store was erected by hardy, practical Swedes who wanted to create an easy way to transport furniture by designing their products to be self-assembled. It is, in fact, their calling card, their mantra, and coincidentally, they also give you that much looked-for opportunity to blast the MacGyver theme song whilst you potter around with screwdriver and wrench, thinking yourself far more handy than you really are.

 From my many years here, I have observed that Singaporeans tend to like their things prepackaged and easily accessible, new and preferably without manual labour; and IKEA has obviously received enough suggestions on the matter to offer its customers the option of on-site assembly by their delivery men. The 'self' is taken out of self-assembly. I am not trying to generalize a people--I am perfectly sure there are those Singaporeans out there who love do-it-yourself jobs and visit hardware stores in their spare time to drool over pincers; but the truth of the matter is that one is hard-pressed to find tool commercials or home improvement material or local bloggers that specialize in baking sweet treats and manhandling power tools. (Perhaps I am not looking in the right direction?)
 Do-It-Yourself has become a mushrooming theme in the Western blogosphere, a topic-of-discussion, generating make-or-bake-it-yourself sites such as Pinterest and Etsy, and bloggers like my friend UnderbaraClara have made their fortunes by standing as titans of try-its, captains of craftiness, faithfully documenting and sharing their fix-it jobs with their online readers.

Singapore does not yet have this same hipster feel for all things vintage. It takes a different approach to things--the West seems to be very interested in keeping the past alive, in looking back in a nostalgic haze to remember the romance of wood-burning stoves and herb gardens and a quiet life in the country--whilst Singapore looks ahead, strives for progress, and even says so outright in its national song: Majulah, Singapura! Onward Singapore! Singapore is so young it has not had much of a rosy past to look back to, and even more so, the vestiges of the good-ole-days are determined by today's climate. Sweden is filled with garage sales, flea markets, and trinket traders selling bits and bobs from the past century at ridiculously low prices. The cool, dry climate is ideal for conservation, and the faithful seeker can always find something old to make new.

Unfortunately, Singapore does not have the climate conditions for such preservation of all things old. Buildings must be repainted, rebuilt; trees and bushes repeatedly manicured to tame their sprawling wildness; and the very fact that things crumble quickly is what, I suspect, has led to the general feeling of "Old is old, new is better." It is a fast-paced society that needs things to be efficient, and stopping to smell the sawdust may not seem like the most effective use of one's time. I have no doubt, however, that the West will influence the East, for good and for bad, and the vintage trend that is currently sweeping the nations and tugging at the heart-strings of all mild-mannered crafters and fixers and doers is bubbling under the surface here too. (Perhaps I find myself terribly uninformed of the DIYers of Singapore, in which case I am deeply regretful of my words.)

All this is to say that I recently sanded the varnish off my coffee table and gave it a good, three spanking coats of wood stain, and it is now a beautiful piece of faux teak furniture in my living room. I am not much for crafting. Scrap booking and small-time sewing can die a slow and painful death, but give me a drill bit and a hammer, and I am happy. I like the elemental feel of manual labour (I am rather self-deluded when it comes to my actual skill), and I wax proud at the work of my hands. There is nothing quite so satisfying as knowing that you've taken a cast-off, an old piece of good-for-nothing furniture and made it perfectly serviceable again. It is a bit like salvation, isn't it? 

I bought two rather unattractive metal-plated side tables at the Salvation Army.

I thought to spray paint them gold. They go very nicely with the gold curtain tassels I bought from Spotlight and the golden monkey candelabra I took from the free-stuff-for-free basket in the Parent Teacher Fellowship cottage at school.

I have another job ahead: two cheap, unfinished pine bookshelves from the Salvation Army. Now, where is that can of wood stain? I'm sure I left it here somewhere.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

McMath the Gladiator

Victor has now implicated our history teacher in his story.

1. The crowd was silenced out of deference as the fierce gladiator entered the arena.

2. Unknown to them, however, he had an ineffably daring and outrageous plan.

3. With the help of the lethal Ms. Gabriel, Mr. McMath the gladiator was planning an escape from the arena.

4. So, when everyone looked the other way to salute Caesar who had just stepped up to his podium, Mr. McMath climbed the perpendicular wall in moments and was among the people in the stands.

5. With prodigious skill, he fought his way out of the arena, despite the many guards.

6. Once he was in the streets of Rome, he uttered his battle-cry: "AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!"
Though not greatly profound, this statement scattered the civilians out of his path.

7. Once he reached the meeting point, he realized more than ever his reliance on his mysterious contact Ms. Gabriel, for she would show him the way out of Rome before he could track his own way through the forests to his homeland.

8. After many weeks of traveling, he was welcomed home as chief of his tribe, and he reminisced about the tales of his capture, the games, and his return.

9. The people of his village waxed angrier at the Roman Empire from hearing this story.

10. They thought wistfully of the treasures of Rome, but who knew if the tiny tribe known as the Vandals would ever be strong enough to exact revenge?

Island Style

Bright sunshine

paths that wander

sweet water springs

I miss you already.

I Have a Yak!

Upon my honor as a sailor worth her salt,  I solemnly swear that my student Victor has not been coerced in any form or way to produce sentences of such stuff. I also can neither confirm nor deny their veracity.

1. Gingerly, carefully, Ms. Bandy reached for the diamond upon its pedestal.

2. If she was too rash, the irascible guard dogs would hear the ringing alarms and attack her.

3. Oh! An alarm sounded and the sounds of baying wolfhounds was heard; keeping her composure, Ms. Bandy used karate to lacerate the walls and escaped with the jewel.

4. The rich millionaire lamented the loss of his jewelry.

5. He loathed it when ninjas stole his toys!

6. While meditating, Ms. Gabriel felt a disturbance in the universe and teleported Ms. Bandy to her side through the use of thought waves.

7. Ms. Bandy reitereated the tale of her near capture to the guru Ms. Gabriel.

8. "Your story is veritable, my apprentice," Ms. Gabriel replied, "and therefore you may take a break from your plundering work.

9. However, the millionaire will be very upset, so to escape his vindictive rage, you should lay low awhile.

10. I have but one request for you," continued the bandit guru. "Go and yoke our yaks to the yellow yew trees!"

Monday, 15 October 2012

Bell Work

On most days, I give my students bell work; I put a prompt on the board that is supposed to teach them an element of literature. In this particular case, I asked for properly formatted dialgoe, and to get them started, I wrote the following on the board:

     “Oh, no!” Jeremy gripped his charred homework in his hands. Little pieces of ash fluttered through the air. He turned to see Mike scramble for cover. “Mike, what did you do?”
     Mike managed to get into the study, shut and locked the door and shouted through the keyhole. “I did nothing. Honest!”
     Oh, really?” Jeremy rattled the door handle. “Get out here, you louse!”

Continue the conversation in your journals. What happens?
Mathew let his imagination run wild.

"Oh, man," Jeremy stared at his homework in sadness.
"I'm sorry, but I didn't do anything," Mike exclaimed.
"If you didn't, who did?"
"I don't know. I cam in and saw your homework in ashes. It wasn't me. Would I really do that?"  Mike answered.
Suddenly, from the living room, a green, big light appeared and said, "I am Derrian the education killer. I destroyed your homework to rid you of your school bonds. You're welcome."
With that, it shot through the roof and was never seen again.
"Ah!" Jeremy woke up from his dream, sweating hard. "Whew."
He glanced over and saw his nice, perfect homework, sitting on his desk. Then Jeremy went back to sleep, dreaming of little guys of green. Little did he know, the green light was still watchimg him, waiting for more homework to devour into ashes. Jeremy's puny little mind doesn't know that the homework he thinks he has isn't homework at all.

The heart wants what it wants, I suppose, and this heart does not want homework.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

True Story

"Hi, Horatio!" I greet my pet the moment I set food inside the door.
Horatio bubbles in his bowl and shyly swims behind a leaf, his golden fins flitting behind him.
"Oh, come now," I say. "No need to be so koi."

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Calendar Girl

 Look! The Cat Welfare Society Calendar for 2013 has come out, and my photography is featured! Since I contributed, I received my free copy in the mail today, and though I may be biased, I find it to be a very nice, sturdy-looking calendar with a beautiful collection of pictures. If you want to improve the fate of Singapore street cats by supporting the CWS or just in dire need of a calendar, you can get your own copy here. Oh, the great malady of the human condition! It's only worth something if someone sees it.

Mamma, I'll send you one  by mail.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


This is my new goldfish Horatio, named after Horatio Nelson, the brilliant British naval commander. Do not be fooled by his cheery disposition. Inside this small body beats the heaviest of sorrows. He is the lone survivor of the great Fishbowl Holocaust of 2012. Fifty percent of the population died.

To the Island!

Yuka and I recently took a trip to the Coral Island for a much needed, well deserved holiday. The journey there proved rather tumultuous--we were only told of our imminent departure late the previous evening--and it was marked by delays and a card-eating money machine. Our long, winding bus ride took us through the hazy regions of Malaysia, before we arrived to an empty ferry terminal.

 Ahoy there! Sailing for adventure!

 We arrived at last, safe and sound, and were quickly escorted to our resort by the friendly locals.

A friendly local


One of the best aspects of a holiday is that it takes you far, far away from your norm. Your thoughts no longer spin in the same circles. You are taken out of your everyday pattern, and your thoughts are safely tucked into bed, their sheets pulled gently up to their chins.  There is no need to think about tomorrow. Just the crystal seas, the blue mountains.

She waits.

 In the evening, a storm blew in--a thick, dark cloud of lightning that thundered on the horizon.

 We fell asleep to the sound of rain.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Like Ariel, Without a Voice

I have been so busy for the past few weeks that my hours run into each other and trip over their own feet. There is nary a horizon on this sea of paperwork--my mind feels sluggish, as if dead in the water, sailing aimlessly; perhaps cabin fever is next. It is as if my creativity stands forgotten in a broom closet, where I set it aside for future use. The whole thing is making me feel out of sorts. My friend Natalie tells me she misses my voice in the world. So do I.

Cat Nap

    Mar and the cat

The Saga Continues

I am sitting on my sofa grading vocab sentences, and Victor has written the next chapter of my adventures, in which the other English teacher at my school, Mr. Adams, makes an appearance as my dubious lawyer.

1. The infamous cookie thief, outlaw Miss Gabriel, was brought before the Council of Bakers to be admonished.

2. To aggravate her crimes, the prosecutor produced photos of her eating an entire batch of cookies by herself!

3. Her lawyer, the wise Mr. Adams, was bringing an informality to the situation in his Hawaiian luau t-shirt and shorts.

4. He began his defense, "I believe we must institute a way for cheese cookies to be more defined."

5. "After all, we have never given lavish information on what exactly a cheese cookie is; is there even a single person among you who is able to describe to us this food?"

6. The morale of the Council of Bakers fell as it realized its ignorance; how could someone be imprisoned for stealing something if they didn't even know what it was?

7. Thanks to Mr. Adams oblique methods, Ms. Gabriel was declared not guilty.

8. She would not listen to his self-effacing remarks for her freedom from jail was because of him.

9. As a reward, she gave him enough money to stimulate a five-month extension on his Hawaiian vacation.

10. Subsequently to this court case, Ms. Gabriel is still on the lose today--where will she strike next?

Where indeed?