3 years of preuniversity studies went by very quickly. Surprisingly, one of his best subjects was General Paper… never could he imagine it possible with such weak foundation in English. But he was beginning to like it more and more.

For years he could not understand why he went through 3 years of pre-university. He had opted for two vocational institutes hoping to study either arts or hotel service. Both applications were turned down which left him no choice but to enroll in a pre-university.

Why study preuniversity when there was no hope for university?

Seemingly, nothing significant happened during those three years. Yet he was to find out that those were actually years of preparation. He was going through a season. For what? He would only find out many years later.

It was time finally time for army… another season of preparation was about to begin.

The Spanish word for Seasons is “estaciones”. There’s Primavera (Spring), Verano (Summer), Otoño (Autumn) and finally Invierno (Winter). Hay cuatro estaciones (There are 4 seasons). We all go through seasons.

I remember when I was in Olmue (Chile), we used to have a grape vine right in the middle of the garden. In Spring, it budded and little green leaves started to fill the otherwise lifeless vine, in summer, the leaves were mature and began to show signs of fruit. By autumn, fully grown grapes were already hanging from the vine, inviting passers-by to pluck and enjoy. In fact, that year there were so much grapes that we had grapes practically every day. We had to give them away. The fruit were there for a season and then suddenly started to drop and wither. When winter arrived, it was as if life has been stripped from that vine. It was no longer vibrant but looked dry and lifeless.

I remember there was once I detached a “dry” twig off the leafless brown, dry-looking grape vine. To my surprise, transparent water began dripping steadily off that detachment. It did not stop untill a long while later. I wondered where that water came from and felt sorry for having broken the vine. In fact I got worried thinking that I had harmed the poor vine. Relief came only when I saw it sprouting in the Spring season that followed. I learned a precious lesson from there.

The vine was not dead. It was just recuperating from the bloom and preparing itself for the next season. It was hibernating, conserving all her energy, storing water and minerals so that when Spring arrived, it could sprout and bear fruit again.

Which season are you going through in life now? Is it Primavera? Or Verano? Or Otoño? Or Invierno? Whichever season you are in, lets be like the vine. It despair not. It makes good use of the season (the climate), doing the necessary and in good faith look forward to the next. The Autumn that just passed is not a reason for remorse but a sure sign that there will be another Autumn to come. We can surely learn from the grape vine, even though we may be in winter.


The first miracle

June 20, 2007

GCE ‘O’ Level exam results were finally announced a few minutes ago. He was surrounded by many facial expressions – happy faces, contented faces, sad faces, dissatisfied faces. He walked out of his class and down the familiar school hall to the good old tuckshop where his classmates were. It was full of familiar faces, teachers, uniformed students, the aunties who manned the stalls. He finally found his group in the midst of that emotion-packed school day haunt.

For him, it did not quite matter what his GCE ‘O’ level results were. He did not put much hope in them anyway. His final year exam marks weren’t too encouraging. He managed to save a few subjects but he still failed English. He expected for the worse to happen. He thought, even if he managed to pass some other school subjects, definitely his English would end him nowhere. He might have to repeat his Secondary 4 studies.

It was 10am in the morning. The result was pinned just outside the principal’s office probably the night before. School was opened at 8am but he deliberately left home a bit later so that he will not be too embarrassed by his own marks.

Everyone was pushing their way to see their grades.

“Hey!” he heard one student say, “stop pushing.”

“You saw my marks?” Asked another. “Where is it?”

“WOW, I got 4 A’s!” Exclaimed a student.

He stood from afar, afraid to face his own fear – the fear of yet another failure – yet he knew it was something he could not avoid. His turn finally came.

His eyes followed his finger as it searched carefully for his Exam ID No. and his name.

There. His eyes went immediately to the English marks – C5! He passed! WOW, he could not believe his eyes! He cleared five subjects out of seven and he passed his English! But that was just the beginning of a bigger miracle he was about to witness! No doubt C5 is not much of an achievement for most, but for a less-than-average guy like him who still could not tell the difference between a verb and an adverb, it was quite an achievement. He was overwhelmed.

His steps were light, the young lad was galloping to the tuckshop. Now, he could not wait to tell the rest about it.

‘This is bad. There was only two passes in our class this year.” He heard someone say loudly. He could not believe his ears.

“What? Can you please repeat?” He was doubting what he heard.

“Most of us failed English.” came the reply. “Only two managed to pass their English.”

There were about 30 students in his class that year. Only he and one more student made it to the next grade. Could it be a mistake? Before the result came out, he was still one of the worst performers in class.

Unbelief was the word but it was not a mistake. It was a miracle. It was March, 1984.


Shortcuts in life

There are many shortcuts in life. Some are good, some are not.

Some try to make a quick buck through illegal means, that is a bad shortcut – although legality does not guarantee that it will be good. An example is legal gambling – making it legal does not necessarily make it good.

I have tried to cheat in exams during my school years, that was a bad shortcut. I remember climbing up someone’s tree to steal some guavas. From hindsight, that could end me up in a really bad fall and a regret for many years to come.

There are some really good shortcuts too – they are all around us and can be downright inexpensive. If we use them wisely, we will definitely gain from them.


I bought a bicycle some years back. The bicycle cost me around a hundred and fifty dollars. But I have found that expenditure to be one of most worthy investment I have ever made in life.

Here’s why:
1) it saves me money for short journeys – on “Feeder” buses even taxi fares
2) it saves me time waiting for those “Feeder” buses and for having to walk to and fro grocery stalls and errands (heaps of time)
3) it allows me to get more exercise than if I have no bike
4) i can afford to explore more places as a result
5) it is so convenient – no parking problem, no petrol cost, etc.

To date, I have gotten back many times my investment of a hundred and fifty dollars. Many times.

I would recommend getting a bike (and riding it, of course).


Another shortcut I have found to be very, very useful and has yielded good ROI (Return on Investment) is the learning of the Spanish language (or in effect, any second language).

Because of the language, I gained access to many opportunities, employments and experiences. I will elaborate that in the following posts. There is an interesting story behind all this and I promise to tell you the details as you read on.

Whatever we do, have graduated from and wherever we are, learning a second language will only serve to enhance and diversify what we already are doing. Let me explain myself.

Supposing you are a lawyer, you have graduated from the law school. You have a specialised set of skill that you can use to serve the community. The sphere of your professional influence can be expanded by just learning a second or third language. There are many lawyers around us, but how many speaks both English and Spanish? Just because you have an extra set of language skill, you will find that you can do a lot more what you could not do before. You will suddenly be the odd one out, the one sought after, the cream of the crop.

Make sense?

I would definitely recommend learning Spanish (and making good use of it, of course).


Are you happy?

June 14, 2007

This was what was happening to his life.

In school, his lack of confidence bred disinterest. Disinterest bred poor performance. Poor performance further bred disinterest which led to even more wavering marks. It was like a vicious cycle. He tried hard to get out but could not. During his primary school days he was getting mostly average marks for his subjects. His favourite subjects were Arts (where he got to draw and paint) as well as Chinese. Coincidentally, these were the only two subjects he was able to get encouragement from his mom. He would concentrate very hard on school’s art homework to make sure that he got some encouraging remarks from mom – and he did. It seemed to be the only thing he really enjoyed doing. But the rest of the subjects were just borderline marks – even a tutor could not help.

Even though he had a quiet sense of humor, the boy was really not a very happy person outside school. He struggled with his height throughout his growing up years, his complexion during his adolescent years. Having a younger brother who was better than him in almost everything did not help either. He often felt like a born-loser. Agony and anger was building inside him as he fought helplessly against that “fact”. Deep inside he could not accept what he was facing.

Things got worse when he got into Secondary school. His marks plummeted and he was barely making it to the next grade. The English language became a challenge for him too. By the time he reached Secondary Four he saw little hope in getting past the last year of his Secondary school studies – he had already made up his mind to get into one of the Technical Institutes to learn a trade instead of persuing University education. “My family can’t afford it anyway.” He lamented in his heart.

He had just sat for his GCE ‘O’ levels and was just waiting for his results. He would have to get a temporary job while waiting for his results in March. This was the norm. Ever since he turned fourteen, he had been getting vacation jobs to get some pocket money for himself.

It was then that he met his new friend…


Are you happy? You may ask “What is happiness?” Many are searching for happiness yet found them to be very short-lived. Some try to find it in friendships, parties, the company of others, some try to find it in treasures, riches, money, others try to find it in activities, achievements, hobbies, even religion. Many have friends, riches, achievements and religion yet still do not feel happy. How then can we be happy?

Please allow me to share a Spanish word. This word has a very good meaning. Its the word “CONTENTO”.

The word “contento” can be translated literally and correctly as “contented” in English. However, very often you will notice the native using this word to express happiness. When they say “Estoy contento.”, they will definitely say it with a smile. It means literally “I am happy”.

How profound. The Spanish-speaking people equate “contentment” with “happiness”. There are, of course, other commonly used expressions such as “Soy feliz” (I am happy), “Tengo gozo” (I have joy), etc. However, this word “contento” has the most significance to me.

How simple, don’t you agree? To be happy is to be contented (with what we have). To be contented IS to be happy. If we are not contented (with what we already have), then no matter what we will have won’t make us happier. It may make us glad for a while but we’ll soon be searching for what we think we must have to be happy.

That was exactly what I learned from that old vagabond. He was a richer man than most executives, then most who stays in well-guarded landed properties. That man had a smile most corporate ladder-climbers and city achievers try to earn. That man, though he had almost nothing had everything. He was a contented man, he was a happy man.

A new beginning

June 12, 2007

The 16 year old woke up in the morning just like any other day, except that there was some kind of a fresh feeling he never felt before – a feeling he could he not put in words. He seemed to be feeling “lighter” than before. The day was to unfold just like any other days, so it seemed.

He was not aware that he had just stepped into a new beginning. Never could he imagine that the new friendship he found the night before was the beginning of something beyond his imagination 🙂

He was an average boy raised up in an average family. Though he often felt below-average in everything – achievements, looks, height, studies, marks, family background. What else could he do but to walk along a path of a less than average man. But no, everything was just about to change…


As we crossed our paths, the old man looked up couteously. I was expecting to find a dull face full of sorrows and sadness. I was to be surprised.

I saw a smile on his face. It was the most genuine, happy smile I could ever remember. It was a smile of contentment – but with what? Judging from his situation then, he should have many a reason to frown instead.

I learned something from the old-timer. We have the right to smile at whatever our situation iwe are in – it is a choice we have to make. We can choose to frown at our troubles or at whatever good we do not yet possess, however, we cannot choose the consequence of that simple choice.

We can choose to smile at whatever situation we find ourselves in. That short encounter kept me pondering. Where did he get his smile from?

The story began in December 1983… the sun had just set a couple of hours ago. A 16 year old boy found himself amongst his peers sitted on one of the back seats of a performance, his eyes tightly closed, as if trying to concentrate.

The speaker continued to speak through the microphone, but he could not hear any of the spoken words. No, he was engaged… in a conversation.

“If you meant what you just said,” he said in a soft voice, “then I really want to be your friend…”

He could not believe his ears. Someone just extended him a friendship he could not resist. That someone just believed in him.

“I believe in you,” his new friend said, “I accept you.” That was the only thing he could remember.

He did not know it then. Never did he imagine that encounter with his new found friend would change his life forever.

That night, he went home as if a changed person. As he laid on his bed, he whispered, “Good night, my friend. Thank you for the friendship.”


We should never belittle the daily encounters we have – no matter how little they may seem.

Whether they are the aunties (housewifes) we meet at the market, or the roadsweeper, or the principal at school, or the old man who happens to smile at us. They may just be (or have) the answer we have been searching for.

I once had an encounter with a man in a foreign land. I was walking towards one direction and saw him coming directly towards mine. He seemed to me to be an old vagabond, and a very dirty one too. Dressed in rags, beard unshaved and carrying loads of what looked like newspapers and plastic bags. With tanned skin, an untidy beard and entangled hair, he had nothing special in him when I saw him from afar, no, everything about him was just so ordinary. But, looks, can be very deceiving.

Our distance drew nearer, I had a better view of that old-timer. He looked 70, badly tanned (perhaps due to over-exposure to the sun), had an untidy beard and entangled hair.

As we were just about to pass each other, the slightly humped old man looked up slowly, as if to acknowledge a passing stranger – something only a gentleman would do, a gesture that may never be found in our generation today. It was then I saw something..

What I saw was beyond my expectation. No, I saw something that changed me.

Let me begin with…

May 30, 2007

How a man rose from anonimity to significance – an extraordinary story.

… a brief introduction of myself.

Hi, my name is Jonathan. I am a Singaporean Chinese.

Thank you for visiting this blog. I have a nice, simple yet extraordinary story to tell, a story about a Chinese man and the Spanish language… it is of course a true story, an unfolding story, a story that I hope will motivate some out there to believe in the impossible, to believe in yourself,…

You may wonder what a Chinese has to do with the Spanish language, I would too, if I were you. But that is what makes my story interesting (at this point, it may already have awaken the cat inside of you – the cat named “Curiosity”).

In the event, I really hope to make some good friends too.

I invite you to be a part of this story… in what way, we will soon find out. So please stay with me 🙂

Hola y bienvenido!

May 30, 2007

That’s Hello and Welcome in Spanish!

Thanks for visiting this blog. I hope you will bookmark it and come back as often as you like. Please feel free to put in your comments. Please feel free to invite your friends to come and read too.

Copyright © 2007 Jonathan Koh. No part of this e-publication may be reproduced or distributed without express permission of the author.