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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

bicycle

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…

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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.