End of Spanish Learning Era?

Four long years, Cynthia and I have studied Spanish in Singapore at Las Lilas School.  Over Whatsapp, one classmate mentioned that he is considering to drop our class and join another one.  One that is not as taxing as our advance level.  Another classmate reminded us that she too is leaving because her student visa is expiring.  She needs to go home.  This thought has lingered in my mind for quite some time.  And I have discussed this with Cynthia.  So, I followed the cue and mentioned that we too have decided to end our Spanish studying journey.  One classmate typed in Whatsapp, “Is this the end of an era?”

I suppose the answer is no.  There is no reason not to continue learning, outside a classroom setting.  I feel that, for quite some time, I have hit the plateau.  My passion seems to have deflated a little, when I am not getting as much from the 2 hours lesson as I used to.  There is an increased slowness in trying to comprehend the course materials during the class.  It is like a running marathon.  If you are not fit enough, after a while, you would simply walk and then, stop.  Linguistic ability is never my strength.  Having said that, I am most delighted to make it to this far.

To that, I thank my teachers at Las Lilas.  You are the most cheerful, knowledgeable, patience, and encouraging ones.  I also thank my classmates.  What a fun bunch you are.  And I thank my wife Cynthia for supporting me throughout the journey.  All the real time translation in whispers.  No, I won’t forget.

So what’ next?

Ten weeks ago, at the end of the 10-lesson course, I asked around the table to see if we were continuing.  One said, “What are we going to do if we are not?”  Cynthia and I found it rather amusing.  Indeed, for the last 4 years, every Tuesday we devote 2 hours learning Spanish.  Our dinner has always been a mad rush.  By the time we are home, it is ten o’clock.  This Tuesday, after we bid our farewell to our classmates and to Amelia, our beloved Spanish teacher, Cynthia asked me in private, “What are we going to do on Tuesday?”

I don’t know.  I miss making music.  That seems like eons in the past.  Come to think on it, that question never pops up in my head.  I can always find something else to do.  Enough time we have spent learning Spanish inside a classroom.  It is time to take what we have learned and have fun with the real world.  Watch some Spanish YouTube.  Read some Spanish news.  Chit-chat with Spanish chicas, or chicos.

A Spanish Homework: Un Robo Extraordinario Que Tuvo Lugar En Barcelona

Lately, I have started to enjoy writing in Spanish, thanks to our replacement teacher Gloria.  Three years and more, our class has ground through our weekly Tuesday class.  That is two hours a week and over 300 hours of learning in total.  We must have invested more than S$5,000.  At the end of each lesson, we are often handed some homework that comes straight from the exercise books or handouts.  As an adult learner, this type of homework seems too little, too plain.  Writing assignments on the other hand are more involving, more interesting.

I may not be able to speak for the entire class, but I reckon most of us can’t fully understand what Gloria is asking us to write.  That leaves a lot of room for imagination.  Last week, I wrote a piece called “An Extraordinary Robbery that Took Place in Barcelona” as hinted in my previous blog entry.  Fortunate for me, Cynthia and I have recently visited Barcelona.  And I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of Park Güell.  For those who have not been to Barcelona in Spain, Park Güell is beautiful.  It is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains the works of the famous architect Antoni Gaudí.

A couple of weeks ago, Cynthia nudged me gently and asked, “Where are our photos from our trip to Spain?”  Good question.  I am still working on them.  Although it is more like: I am still waiting for the kick to get me into action, to get me started with the travel journal.  Of all the people who rely on the alarm’s snooze function to get out of the bed every working morning, I thought Cynthia should understand best.  My parents and my sister are often the ones who pressurize me to release the photos on the same day they are taken, with or without touch up.  I am often not comfortable in releasing my raw photos that way.  Even the most beautiful people in the world – which I am sure since you are reading this, you must have a sense of patience and are a lover of art and hence, you must be beautiful – would want to spend some time in private to doll themselves up before stepping out of the front door.  I would.

10 years ago, I worked in the island of Mauritius.  While it is a great place for honeymooners, it can be a rather depressing location for the expats.  It is because the infrastructure in the country as a whole supports the tourist industry more than the community of foreigners who work there.  In our team, Barbara was from Philippines and she would take more than an hour to get ready for an evening party.  And a few of us would wait in the car or at her living room.  Imagine those days without a smart phone or device to kill time, she did drive a few of us crazy.  I remember I was pretty cool about it.  We guys do not need to paint our faces, only need to shave on areas that are to be seen.  And we – at least I – do not have to think too much on what to wear and which accessories to go along with the whole package.  I enjoy looking at beautiful things and beings.  I do appreciate the time some girls pour into the entire dolling up process.  Hence the wait.

Back to the Spanish story, Gloria is kind enough to correct it, scanned it, and sent it back to me via email.  I have struggled quite a fair bit in using the past tenses, as some of you can see.  Our next assignment?  It is going to be a tough one: Culture and Traditions.

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Un Robo Extraordinario Que Tuvo Lugar En Barcelona

Fue Era la mañana del 13 Mayo 2007.  Yo era un detective pobre, sin un coche.  Después rRecibí una llamada telefónica para investigar un robo, salí de la estación de policía y tomé el autobús número 24 a Park Güell.  Fue Era un día caluroso.  El cielo fue era azul y la brisa fue era suave.  Era cómodo para tomar el autobús en Barcelona.  Después de un viaje bastante largo, llegué a Park Güell y me saludaron un mar montón de turistas.

Tomé el Camino del Monumento, se me apresuró apresuré, y anduve en dirección a La Casa.  Había muchos turistas tomando fotos de los monumentos.  En una azotea, una mujer bailó bailaba en público y los vendedores vendieron vendían algunos accesorios.  A veces, el viento levantó levantaba la arena del suelo ycegó cegaba mis ojos.

Cuando llegué a La Casa, fui recibido por una secretaria.  Yo dije: “Hola, buenos días.”

La secretaria dijo: “Buenos días.”  Se vio veía un poco nerviosa.

Me llamo Detective Ham.  Hemos recibido una llamada esta mañana acerca de un robo.”

Sí, sí.  Mi jefe llamó a la policía esta mañana.  Pero él ha salido.  ¿Hay algo que pueda ayudar en lo que pueda ayudarle?”

La secretaria era joven.  Tenía una cara del ángel y la voz del mosquito.  Su cabello fluía como el río y su cuerpo era tan frágil como la rama de un árbol.  Sus ojos se dibujaban mi alma en ella.

Yo dije: “¿Quizá podríamos comenzar con lo que falta?

Ella asintió con la cabeza y me llevó a la segunda planta.  Esta casa era pequeña, llena de los muebles raros diseñados por Gaudí.  La Casa era la casa de Gaudí.  Ahora, era un museo público.  La secretaria me mostró el cuarto de baño y dijo: “¿Puedes ver lo que falta?”

Me detuve y observé.  ¡El asiento del váter había desaparecido!

Yo dije: “¿Sabes quién es estuve robar?”

Ella inclinó la cabeza hacia un lado y dijo: “No lo sabemos.  Es por eso que llamó llamé a la policía.”

Bueno.  Esto era lógico, sin duda.

Una predicción, ¿por favor?”

Ella dudó.  Pude oler su perfume.  Tras un largo silencio, ella dijo: “Podría ser el plomero fontanero que fue estuve ayer.”

¿El fontanero plomero?”

Sí, el fontanero plomero.”

¿Cuál es su nombre?”

Lo siento.  No lo sé.”

¿Dónde vive?”

Ella negó con la cabeza.

Bueno.  ¿Puede describir su cuerpo?  ¿Flaco o gordo?  ¿Alto o bajo?”

Ella tomó un memento momento para pensar y respondió: “Bajo.  Muy bajo.”

¿Como un enano?”

Sí.  Como un enano.  Y él es un poco gordo.”


Ella se rió: “Sí.  Gordito.”

¿Y el color de pelo?”

No sé.  Siempre lleva un sombrero.”

¿Qué pasa con la forma de la cara?”

Su cara es ancho ancha como un jabalí.  Y está sin afeitar.”

Yo seguí: “Decirme más sobre su cara, por favor.”

Él tiene los ojos saltones.  Uno es verde y el otro, azul.  Él tiene una nariz chata que hace ruido raro.  Es difícil describir su boca.  ¿Has visto la película que se llama Shrek?  Él tiene una boca como un ogro.”

¡En serio!  ¿Un ogro?”

Ella se rió: “Me gustaría ayudarte más.  Pero eso es todo lo que sé.”

Le di las gracias, tomé su información de contacto, y salí de La Casa.

Durante unos meses, me peinaba a través de la recorrí Barcelona en buscaba del fontanero plomero y el asiento del váter diseñado por Gaudí.  No tenía tuve suerte.  En medio de mi frustración, me acerqué a la secretaria.  En la víspera de Navidad, nos besamos en la puerta de su casa.  Pero eso fue todo lo que fuimos hicimos.  Ella no me invitó a su casa a tomar el té.  No sabía por qué.

Debido a mi incapacidad para resolver el caso, el 5 enero 2008, mi jefe me dijo que ya no trabajaba en Barcelona.  En su lugar, fui trasladado a Toledo.

En eEse día, quise llamar a la secretaria y decir adiós.  Pero no pude alcanzarla contactarla en su casa.  Pasé por su casa porque quise pasar dejar una nota.  AEn su puerta, de repente, yo quise hacer pis.  Afortunadamente, aunque no había nadie en casa, la puerta no estuvo estaba cerrada.  Me ayudé ayudó a entrar en su casa y me sorprendió gratamente por la decoración de interiores.

Cuando abrí la puerta del baño, me sorprendió lo que vi. He Había encontrado el asiento del váter perdido, diseñado por Gaudí!

A Spanish Homework: Las Cosas Al Azar Sobre La Boca Y La Cabeza, Y Etc.

It is rather amazing that the six of us are still studying Spanish at Las Lilas School in Singapore.  The minimum class size is five for us to continue indefinitely.  So far, there is no sign of slowing down.  We are still crawling at snail-breaking speed.  At least I am, albeit the slowest of all.  The school has done something brilliant.  We used to have to take a test every 20 classes we attend.  For us, at our level, the school has done away with that requirement.  So long as we continue to turn up, we can continue to learn Spanish.

Doing away with such a checkpoint has pros and cons.  First, I do not need to study for the sake of having to pass an examination.  How well I score is hardly an indication of how good my Spanish is.  The flip side is that without the need to study for an examination, where then our motivation is going forward?  The function of a test, in my opinion, is to put people of a similar caliber into the same room.  Fortunately, the six of us are pretty passionate about learning the language, although some are doing better than others.  In our class, we have three boys and three girls.  The girls are constantly trashing the boys in all departments.  Such is life.  Girls are born linguists.  Boys are good at, say, changing light bulbs instead.  Or opening jars for that matter.

I cannot speak for the rest.  But my motivation without the rope of examination over my neck is how not to suck too much in class.  It can get rather humiliating at times.  Especially when I am unable to comprehend what the teacher has asked of me.  Or when I fail to articulate my thought without looking worse than a toddler.  Of all the activities, I enjoy doing homework that involves writing the most.  I can take my time to research on the words, lay them out slowly and carefully as one composition.  Cynthia may take half an hour to write what I write in two days.  But that does not bother me at all.

Last week, we have expanded our vocabulary on body parts.  Our homework was to write an essay on the first impression of meeting that someone using the words that we have learned.  I struggled a bit and have decided to write something remotely off topic.  I was half expecting my homework to be rejected by our replacement teacher.  She gives me an impression as someone who teaches by the book. True enough, she frowned after reading the rhyming Spanish title of my work – “The Random Things about Mouth and Head, and Etc.”  And she gestured with genuine shock, “What is this?!”

After the break, her reaction has turned 180-degree.  She called my work a “reflection” and she read sections of it in front of the class.  That was very nice of her.  Although I must say, I was pretty embarrassed by that good gesture.

I will not translate the entire short essay into English.  But I am appending my Spanish homework to the end of this blog entry for my future reference.  To think in English while writing in Spanish is challenging.  For example, to spend money, the verb to use is “gastar”.  To spend time, “pasar” is used instead.  I am still struggling on how to form sentences.  And I am already looking forward to next week’s assignment – an essay I would title as “An Extraordinary Robbery that Took Place in Barcelona”.

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Las Cosas Al Azar Sobre La Boca Y La Cabeza, Y Etc.

1. La Cabeza

Si veo a alguien con una gran cabeza, a menudo pienso que es egoísta.  Pero en serio, las personas con cabezas grandes normalmente son bastante inteligentes.  No quiero decir que las personas con cabezas pequeñas son estúpidas.  Ellos no son tan inteligentes.

2. El Hombro

Si veo a alguien con un hombro ancho, a menudo pienso que es un nadador.  De los cuatro estilos de natación, me gusta nadar a mariposa.  Hay una canción de inglés y se llama “Un hombro para llorar”.  La escuchaba cuando era joven.  Me imaginaba cantando a una chica con el corazón roto.

‘Todo el mundo necesita un hombro para llora… Todo el mundo necesita un amigo con quien confiar…’

3. Las Cejas

Algunas chicas gastan mucho dinero y pasan mucho tiempo para recortar las cejas.  Creo que las cejas buenas realzan la belleza de la cara.  Sin embargo, la belleza está en los ojos de los espectadores.  En el pasado, las chicas se afeitaban las cejas.

No me gusta eso.

4. La Nariz

Tengo una amiga que ha hecho una ‘nariz-trabajo’.  Ella se ve diferente, con una nariz de plástico.  Es casi demasiado perfecto.  ¿Me gustan las chicas con las partes del cuerpo de plástico?


5. Los Labios

¿Cuál es la función de los labios?  A menudo me pregunto.  A las chicas les gustan pintarlos.  Los chicos les encantan besarlos.

6. La Boca

En China, hay un proverbio.  La enfermedad proviene de lo que entre en nuestras bocas.  El desastre proviene de lo que salga de nuestras bocas.  ¿Está de acuerdo?

7. Los Dientes

¿Con qué frecuencia vista a su dentista?  No me gusta visitar a mi dentista.  Él me causa mucho dolor, siempre.

8. Las Orejas

¿Por qué los elefantes tienen las orejas grandes?  ¿Los caracoles tienen las orejas?  ¿Podemos ver las orejas de los pingüinos?  ¿Por qué algunos profesores tiran de las orejas de los estudiantes?  ¿Por qué a algunas chicas les gustan tirar de las orejas de sus novios?

9. La Cara

En la vida real, la cara más adorable es la que está llena de amor y amabilidad y la sonrisa.  En una película, me gusta la cara de Clara Lago.  Ella tiene una cara bonita, y dos ojos grandes.

Tengo dificultades para recordar las caras con nombres.  Nunca puedo recordar los nombres.  Creo que todos deberían llevar una etiqueta con su nombre en la calle.

10. El Pecho

¿Por qué algunos chicos tienen el pelo en el pecho y otros no?  ¿Por qué los gorilas se golpean el pecho?

11. La Espalda

Hay una canción en español que me gusta mucho.  Se llama “Caricias En Tu Espalda” por un grupo llamando Despistaos.  El coro es algo como esto: Dame el tiempo que no te haga falta y prometo invertirlo en caricias en tu espalda.  Es hermoso, ¿no?

12. Las Piernas

Cuando llego tarde a una cita, mi excusa común es: Tengo las piernas cortas.  ¿Y tú?  ¿Cuál es tu excusa común?

13. El Talón

Es importante saber que el talón de Aquiles no era su debilidad.  La flecha se envenenó con la sangre de la Hidra.  Eso fue lo que mató a Aquiles.

14. Los Ojos

De todas las partes del cuerpo, los ojos me gustan más.  De hecho, son las ventanas de nuestras almas.  Puedes saber como es una persona mirando a los ojos.

An Afterthought: El Búho Que No Podía Ulular

Uff.  Finalmente, I have read a story written in Spanish (just yesterday).  Ironically, it is not as Spanish as I would have expected.  It is a story of an owl banished from his own kind and has ended up being lectured by the ghost of Benjamin Franklin together with the rest of the founding fathers of America in ghost forms.  Coincidentally, this entry is published on the US’s Independence Day.  ¡Qué casualidad!

I have always wanted to read stories in Spanish.  Given my level of deficiency (I pondered hard if I shall use ‘proficiency’), I shall realistically start with Spanish books written for the infants or young teens.  But I have seen too much and my mind has long been corrupted by the earthly vices and spices.  These books are simply not as appetizing.  I cannot even bring myself to read “Hairy Porter”.  Since our classmate is so kind to lend us a Spanish book called “El Búho Que No Podía Ulular”, or in English, “The Owl That Could Not Hoot”, I have decided to give it a go.  I was so determined that I would not publish any entry in my website until I have finished with the book.  This explains why you have not heard from me for quite some time.

Fortunately, this book written by Robert Fischer and Beth Kelly is thin.  And it comes with three stories.  That means, even though I have read one story out of three, I felt as though I have achieved something.  Systematically grinding through the vocabulary and the different verb forms was tedious.  Technology is a double edged sword.  The online resources and offline applications have helped me a great deal in finding what each word or even a sentence means in lightning efficiency.  But I do not find myself making an effort to memorize the meaning and the usage.  I end up looking up the same word again and again.  I suppose if I had a Spanish mama, I could always ask “¿qué significa sonreír?” or “¿qué significa suspirar?”  If I was to invent a new technology to help the Spanish learners, I would create a Japanese lookalike Spanish Nanny Robot.  An attractive one no doubt.  I could ask, “¿Qué significa sonreír?” and she would reply, “It is smile, sweetie”.  Or I could ask, “¿Qué significa suspirar?” and she would reply, “It is sigh, sweetie”.  How cool is that?

Back to the story, it starts with an owl that is unable to hoot.  He can say “why” but he cannot say “who” (the hooting sound of an owl).  Because of that, he is asked to leave the habitat.  Soon, he meets a duck that cannot say “cuac” and instead, he says “cuic”.  The two loners, or rather outliners, have then decided to team up and see what the world has to offer.  Their first mission is to study in a university and become a doctor.  Upon realizing that it would take longer than their lifetime to obtain a medical degree, they have decided to embark a journey of searching for the purpose of life.  This involves interviewing random people on the street and finding out what they do for a living.

The owl that can say “why” naturally does most of the talking.  The duck takes note.  After interviewing hundreds of people, they have come to the conclusion that most people do not like their jobs, yet they do not wish to switch.  They do it for the money and the only time they are happy is when they are not working and on vacation.  The duo further concludes that people are happy when they are spending money.  And they observe that most people do not own what they have.  What then should one do with his or her life in order to be happy?  A typical American story, I suppose.

One day, the owl hears a voice that leads them sneaking into a national museum at night.  Inside a gallery where the portraits of the founding fathers are hung, the owl sees something extraordinary.  All of a sudden, the portraits become empty and the founding fathers have materialized in front of the duo’s eyes (?!).  The ghosts of the founding fathers then lecture the duo on how America was originally founded as a place of equality and freedom and how they are disappointed that the America today is all about making and spending money.  I honestly do not see how this is linked to an owl that cannot hoot and a duck that cannot say “cuac”.  At the end of the story, upon hearing the wisdom of the founding fathers, the owl is enlightened.  And he says, “Libre … es lo que soy”, which means “Free, is what I am”.  Perhaps the moral of the story is that we should not see through the lens of social norms on what we are not capable of doing.  Instead, take the opportunity to break out of the mould and be yourself.  We may stand to gain so much more.

I used to think that I write weird stories.  Those who have read my manuscript for that writing competition would have agreed with me.  But this story is weirder.  If I was to rewrite the story, I would turn this owl that cannot hoot into a hero.  I would bestow some bizarre disasters upon the rest of the owls like the attack of the toxic toads.  And our hero would return to this habitat that rejected him and save the day.  Everyone would worship him and begin to say “why” instead of “who”.  The most beautiful owl in the forest would fall in love with the hero and they would live happily ever after.  Oh, before that.  At the altar, when the priest asks, “Do you take this owl as your lawfully wedded wife?”  Instead of “why?”, our hero would finally able to say “who?”  I think it is darn funny.

Humor aside, there are some good takeaway points from this book that is onto its 40th edition (gasp!).  Below is my favorite.  I too feel that the root of many of our problems today could have been solved by filling our life with love.  That way, we leave no space for fear and hatred.

«Aprendiendo a amarte a ti mismo»’, sonrió Franklin. «Y en la medida en que te ames a ti mismo, podrás amar a tus vecinos, a tus amigos y a todas las demás personas que hay en esta gran nación».

My attempt to translate the above extract is as follows.

“Learning to love yourself,” smiled Franklin. “And as you love yourself, you will love your neighbors, your friends, and the rest of the people in this great nation”.

On a side note, while it is not possible to linguistically memorize what the book teaches, I have noted down all the adverbs that ends with -mente for my future reference: profundamente (profoundly), bruscamente (abruptly), sucesivamente (successively or ‘y así sucesivamente’, which means ‘and so on’), detenidamente (carefully), desesperadamente (desperately), fijamente (attentively), rápidamente (quickly), únicamente (solely or only), tristemente (sadly), apresuradamente (hastily), constantemente (constantly), fríamente (coldly), repentinamente (suddenly), tímidamente (timidly), lentamente (slowly), amablemente (amiably), actualmente (nowadays and not actually!), alegremente (happily), completamente (completely).

Say What? It Is Level Pre-Advanced 1 at Las Lilas School?

Compare to my good Spanish classmate Monster, I am a lot more conservative.  When his colleagues asked him which level he is at after spending close to three years learning the language, he humbly replied, “Intermediate”.  After all these years you are still at intermediate? they would ask.  And he would reply, “Yes, intermediate”.  To be frank, I have no idea how many levels there are, what the next level is going to be.  I feel as though I am still at the elementary level.  Because I am still feeling so very inadequate.

The good news is that Cynthia and I have passed our exam.  My score is not that great, which means I have to study harder.  I treasure wake up calls like this.  We humans are the lazy bunch.  We need a kick every now and then to get us back on track.

Pre-Advanced 1 started with a new teacher Amelia.  Our previous teacher Alejandra is taking a short break and has returned to Spain to deliver a baby.  I think it has something to do with the Spanish culture.  All our teachers so far at Las Lilas School are lively and warm, cheerful and fun loving.  In today’s class, I have put in extra effort trying not to look like a retard (especially when Cynthia was stuck at her week long project management exam preparation course and could not be there to help me answering all the questions).  Otherwise, Amelia would be wondering what Alejandra has been teaching us all these while.

Going up one level has certainly come with added challenges.  Today’s class’s theme was fitness, or vida sana.  No more simple, overused verbs that we have been relying on for close to three years.  We now have to form sentences with more formal verbs.  Such as fruits and vegetables provides vitamins (comer frutas y verduras proporciona vitaminas), enough sleep rests the body (dormir suficientes horas descansa el cuerpo), and drinking too much alcohol damages the liver (beber mucho alchol dañar el hígado).

What else have we learned today?  Grammar, of course.  I was not even shocked by yet another new tense to conjugate, with all its irregularity glory.  It is affirmative imperative (imperativo afirmativo) and negative imperative (imperativo negativo), which is intimately linked to subjunctive (subjuntivo).  In fact, negative imperative takes the form of subjunctive while there are two exceptions for affirmative imperative.  I am still struggling with subjunctive (and the rest of other tenses to be honest).  How in the world do Spanish and Latino people manage to use grammar of such diversity?  Whatever secret they have, I admire their ability to express things around them in such colorful variety.

Some asked: What do you get out of learning Spanish in Singapore?  Unfortunately, I do not have an inspirational answer to that question.  Learning a language works my brain muscle, which I like.  It is a common hobby for Cynthia and I.  Developing a common hobby of any type is good for a couple, mostly.  And I still believe that learning any skill opens up opportunities in the future.

On a more practical note, last night we had non-stop thunderclaps for one good hour followed by heavy rain.  Immediately, I associated the event to one of Prince’s classic “Thunder”.  This morning, I have transfered three of Prince’s albums onto my wireless phone and listened to them in our car.  When the first song from “The Gold Experience” was played, I instantly recognized that the narrator was speaking in Spanish.  It was a pleasant surprise.  Not that I fully understood what “Nuestra presentacion especial comenzara en breve.  Pero antes un mensaje de nuestros auspiciadores” meant.  At least the narration was not that foreign to me, compares to the first time I heard the album in 1995.

In This Deep Pool Of Español

Today included, I have thirteen days to prepare for my upcoming Spanish examination.  Over the years, I have this recurrent dream.  In this dream, I would be inside an examination hall staring at exam questions that I have no clue on how to answer.  And it is always this sense of anxiety that wakes me up.  If I am to trace the root cause of this nightmare, it would likely be pointing to the time period when I was studying for my degree.  You see, in my four years direct master course, I only had three examinations.  In addition, only the last two mattered.  There was no examination at the end of the second year.  In theory, one could be bumping around for three years only to face the brutality of a series of tests in the span of a couple of weeks that determined one’s future.  You can imagine the boiling pressure.  No wonder we have so many pubs within the university perimeter, thanks to student’s syndrome.

How do you study for an examination?  For me, I often start with a timetable, laying out what I need to do on paper.  Systematically work through the activities and assuming that the plan is good (it has to be), everything is going to be OK.  This time is different.  For a start, after close to three years of learning Spanish, I am still hovering at the basic level of hi-how-are-you and my-name-is-so-and-so.  I may have learned a lot along the way.  But language is a skill that if you don’t use it, you don’t have it.  So I am doing some soul searching lately, on the things that I suck when it comes to Spanish.  I am looking beyond this upcoming exam and am looking at where my Spanish learning journey is heading.  I think I have been bumping around for a bit too long.

Our Spanish teacher has a beautiful way to describe the necessity of learning grammar; something to do with the structure of discourse; something to do with the expression of one’s wisdom.  Lately, I have been reading about communicating grammar in a discourse level.  I am no linguist or learning expert.  The jest of it, from what I have internalized, is that learners should interact naturally in a real communication act.  Since Cynthia is also learning Spanish (she is the reason why I am in this deep pool of español), we should use each other as a practice target communicating on topics that we have no idea where they are coming from (versus artificial learning environment whereby we know what is to come).  Why haven’t I thought of that?  I could talk about the monthly S$7 lunch special at my canteen today.  I could talk about the pumpkin soup, assorted German sausages, sauerkraut, potato glatini, salad, black forest cake, and a drink I had today.  I could talk about the friendly patrol attendant I met today, whom was surprised that I know the timing of their shifts.  He would be surprised had he know that I also know besides pumping petrol, he has to clean the kiosks and clean the toilets.  I could talk about this lovely song I heard over the Spanish Internet radio station while I was stuck in the traffic this morning.  I wrote down the lyrics and it went something like “deep inside you cry cry cry, don’t let your hope die die die”.  I could talk about how I love Google because with a mere fragment of lyrics, it tells me that the song is by Oceana and it is called “Cry Cry”.  I could talk about how I am determined to memorize the verb conjugation, to relearn something basic such as numbers, seasons, and days of the week, to practice Spanish using the two textbooks we have bought and have yet used, and to inject some Spanish vibes into my head through the Spanish Internet radio every day from now till March 8.

OK.  It is time to do some serious research on how to say all of the above.  Be right back.

How I Met My Mother (At A Dumpster She Said)

In one Spanish class, our teacher Alejandra posed a question: How did you meet that someone important in your life? For those who have kids at home, you must have been bombarded by soul searching questions like this.  What a way to relive your childhood.  As for me, attending a Spanish class is as close to reflecting on my childhood education as I can get.

My mother often said: I found you in a dumpster. Looking back, that must be one of the most profound things I have come across at that very young age of mine.  A simple statement that encapsulates so many concepts.  I found you in a dumpster creates a disassociation, a resignation, and a diversion to the million possible emotions that went through my mother’s head when I was hopelessly naughty, when life seemed unbearable.  Often, I saw my mother silently staring out of the window in tears for hours.  And all I could say was I am sorry.  I guess back then it was hard for my mother to explain to her son how disappointed she was, how heartbroken she was.  Hence, I found you in a dumpster is a good proxy to sum up all her emotions.

Besides, I as a small kid would probably understand that statement better than her trying to tell me what she was going through.  Looking back, I guess it was also her way to teach me the notion of a two-way love.  Not just from her to me, but also I to her.  When I first conceptualized I found you in a dumpster, I thought it was a cool thing.  Monkey God (from a Chinese legend) came from a piece of worthless stone.  And I, from a dumpster.  But thinking deeper, I realized that the conveyed message was: You are not like me and hence you are not my son. Even as a very small kid, that blew.

I cannot recall how exactly my thinking process went.  I suppose my optimism has imbued in me since young.  All of a sudden, I have a mission in life.  I vowed to prove to my mother that I am indeed her son and I am going to make her proud.  What a long journey that became.  Over the years, my mother has subtly taught me that love is a two-way highway.  I too have to reach out to her.

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser, I am more and more convinced that she could well be saying I found you in a dumpster to herself, especially when the going got rough.  A reminder of how close she was to lose me in a hospital when the doctors and nurses informed her that my chance of survival was slim.  And that it turned out to be a blessing for her even if she has to accept me in whatever condition I was, so long as I live.  In another word, I was indeed lost and found, not in the most glamorous way.

I am not as articulated in Spanish.  The Spanish version of the story is as follows.  Thanks to Alejandra who corrected my grammar.  I think the Spanish tenses are intense.

La persona más importante en mi vida es mi madre.  Sin ella, yo no existo.  Sé que parece una tontería.  Cuando era joven, mi madre me decía de dónde venía, sobre todo cuando estaba enfadada conmigo.  Ella me decía que me encontró en el contenedor de la basura.   Cada vez que era travieso, me contaba la misma historia.   En el fondo, sé que ella me ama.  La metáfora de que me encontró en un contenedor de basura puede ser cruda.  Pero es un recuerdo constante del dolor que perdura para hacerme lo que soy hoy.

This entry has prompted me to work on a set of photos taken in my 2009 trip to Hong Kong.  My parents, Cynthia, and I have visited this garden.  If I remember correctly, the fossil stones and trees come from China.  My dad used to visit the garden often and he knows where the good spots are for photo taking.  Unfortunately, my photography skill was inadequate (I just bought my dSLR).  And I wish I had the white balancing card with me.  Nevertheless, for memory’s sake, below is a set of photos of the garden.

And another set for my family.

We Played Scrabble In Spanish ~ Jugamos Scrabble En Español

This is like a dream comes true.  After two years and two months of learning Spanish, we are able to play Scrabble, in a Spanish style.  On the last revision lesson before heading to the next module – Higher Intermediate 1 – our teacher Alejandra asked if the four of us wished to try out Scrabble.  And we said sure thing!  Cynthia and I have tried to play Spanish Scrabble using an English set when we were at Fraser’s Hill earlier on this year.  It did not work.  A correct alphabet set is important.  Perhaps we shall import a Spanish set and make it a habit to play Scrabble with our classmates.

In this particular game, we have formed 46 words with a combined score of 408 (lots of room for improvement!).  Needless to say, due to my not-too-fantastic linguistic ability, I got the lowest score – by a mile.  The other three were doing really well!  Nevertheless, I participated in almost all the rounds, with words that I know.  Just that the words that I know are not too … long.  For my readers who are studying Spanish and for my future reference, here is a list of words we used (some words we have repeated).

  1. Al (=a el) – To The
  2. Ama (de casa) – Housewife
  3. Baños – Bathrooms
  4. Caen (~caer) – They Fall
  5. Cerdo – Pork
  6. Cree (~creer) – He or she believes
  7. De – Of
  8. Del (=de el) – Of the
  9. Di (~dar) – I gave
  10. El – The
  11. En – In
  12. Ex – Ex
  13. Fue (~ir) – He or she went
  14. Gas – Gas
  15. Gasa – Bandage
  16. Ha (~haber) – He or she has
  17. Hice (~hacer) – I did
  18. Iba (~ir) – I or he or she had gone
  19. Ir – To go
  20. La – The
  21. Lee (~leer) – He or she reads
  22. Luna – Moon
  23. Mala – Bad
  24. Mi – My
  25. Muchos – A lot
  26. Ocho – Eight
  27. Ojo – Eye
  28. Oye (~oír) – Hey
  29. Ponga (~poner) – To put (subjective for he or she)
  30. Por – For
  31. (Mira de) Reojo – To look obliquely
  32. Rio – River
  33. Sale (~salir) – He or she left
  34. Sepa (~saber) – To know (subjective for I or he or she)
  35. Sepan (~saber) – To know (subjective for they)
  36. Serán (~ser) – They will be
  37. Si – If
  38. Sierra – Mountain range
  39. Sur – South
  40. Ti – You
  41. Tio – Uncle
  42. Van (~ir) – They go
  43. Vez – Time (as in frequency)
  44. Ya – Already

The Story Of A Boatman (La Historia Del Barquero)

This is my latest doodle titled “Boatman And A Girl Together With Other Parties“.  I have not been drawing for quite some time.  Drawing can be therapeutic.  Especially if you have a rough day at work (like mine today).  Each stroke scraps away a little bit of the trouble in your mind.  By the time you are done with your drawing, you would be so detached from the earthy frustration and glad that the time spent not thinking of it has turned into something tangible.  Something that brings a smile to your face.

Some of you may be bored of me going through in detail how I compose my drawings.  If you have been reading on my doodle series, it is the same old symbols and linkages and a picture within a picture.

What inspired this drawing is our recent Spanish class.  We were given a story in Spanish and were tasked to first form our individual opinion and then discussed and debated within the group in order to arrive at a common conclusion.  All in Spanish of course.  What intrigued me, out of this entire exercise, is how differently we think as an individual.  It comes down to our bearings.

The story goes something like this.  A young married girl was neglected by her husband who spent most of his time working.  And she was seduced by another man while her husband was away.  How far did she go?  She had spent a night at her lover’s place on the other side of the river.  In the next morning, she woke up early and planned to reach home before her husband returned from his business trip.  At the bridge, she was hassled by a dangerously looking mad man who refused to let her pass.  Panic, she had decided to take a boat in order to cross the river.  But she had no money with her.  And the boatman refused to take her across if she did not pay in advance.

She then returned to her lover’s home asking for money.  But he refused with no explanation.  As she left her lover’s home, she remembered a bachelor friend of hers living nearby and is in platonic love with her.  When she explained her situation to her friend asking for money and he refused.  Feeling utterly disappointed, the young girl had decided to reason with the mad man.  When she tried to cross the bridge, she was killed by the mad man.

So, in your opinion, of the six characters – the girl, her husband, her lover, the mad man, the boatman, and her friend – who is the most guilty one?  And how would you rank them from the most to the least guilty?

Our class spent much time debating, attempting to arrive at a common ranking order.  It was a fun exercise.  It reminds of one of the law books my sister read.  So full of bizarre scenarios that challenge the readers to decide who the guilty ones are.

For those who are learning Spanish, here is the story in the original text.

Una joven casada, poco atendida por su marido demasiado ocupado en sus negocios, se deja seducir y va a pasar la noche con su amante en una casa situada al otro lado del río.

Para volver a casa al día siguiente, muy temprano, antes de volver su marido que está de viaje, tiene que cruzar un puente, pero un loco haciendo gestos amenazadores le impide el paso.  Corre entonces hacía un hombre que se dedica a pasar gente con su barca.  Se monta, pero el barquero le pide dinero por el viaje.  Ella no tiene dinero y aunque le suplica desesperada, el barquero se niega a pasarla si no le paga por adelantado.

La joven vuelve a casa de su amante y le pide dinero.  Él se niega sin darle explicaciones.

Se acuerda de un amigo soltero que vive en la misma orilla del río y que siempre ha sentido por ella un amor platónico, aunque ella nuca lo ha querido.  La joven le explica su situación y le pide dinero.  Pero su amigo también se niega: se siente totalmente decepcionado.

La chica vuelve a hablar con el loco, pero él no cede y la amenaza otra vez.  Al final la joven decide cruzar el puente.  El loco la mata.

¿Quién es, en tu opinión, más culpable de la muerte de la chica?

Objects In The World Of Spanish, And The Distractions That Entail

Learning a new language makes me feel like a kid once again.  It is long, hard, made of wood, and we use it to write, to sketch, and to paint, what is it?  And my study partner would answer, “Pencil!”, in Spanish.  And it would be my turn to ask, “What is it?”.  “A handkerchief”.  “What is it for?”.  “To wipe nose!”.  So on, and so on.  For the obsessive compulsive me, this exercise is ideal to practice for our upcoming Spanish examination.  Unfortunately Cynthia is far from being an OCD.  And she prefers to watch television instead.

Learning should be fun.  The beauty of a language is not what the words mean but what one can do with them.  To that extend, I love learning expressions.  Every culture has its unique way to express a certain idea.  In English, there is a saying: Every cloud has a silver lining.  I think it is beautiful, though at time of a heavy downpour, I can hardly find any silver lining.  Dark patches all over the sky, that is all I see.  But expressions like this stick to our minds.  In Spanish, the same idea is expressed in a more practical term.  No hay mal que por bien no venga, which roughly translate to good things won’t come when nothing is bad.  Don’t think too hard on the logic involved.  My mind goes into an infinite loop whenever I ponder too hard on the Spanish version of every cloud has a silver lining.

Learning new words, I must say, is hardly possible without dictionaries.  Kids nowadays are so blessed.  The online free ones are even better than some of the paid ones.  By right, I would imagine that with an explosion of readily available online knowledge, kids nowadays should be super kids in no time.  Yes?  One may be awed by the movie Matrix when Neo learns Kung Fu via an instant download from an optical disk.  The 20 years younger version of me back in the nineties would too be awed by the fact that one can learn the overview of Spanish history – or any topic of my choice – with a click of a button at Wikipedia today.  Or to learn how to bake a cake at YouTube.  Perhaps with the explosion of online knowledge comes an explosion of distractions in an equal magnitude.  That may be why our kids are still not the super kids we would have expected.  Or because knowledge is so readily available, we seldom make an effort to memorize.  That would explain why I keep searching the same Spanish word online again and again.  The penalty of not memorizing a word is another click of a button.  Hardly a penalty at all.

Learning objects is more fun that I thought.  Cloth hanger in Spanish is called percha.  Informally speaking, ser una buena percha is an expression that means to have a good figure (for girls).  I suppose if one’s body is good enough to hang clothes, one’s figure must be good?  My favorite one is pañuelo that means handkerchief.  Instead of saying it is a small world, there is a Spanish expression that says the world is a handkerchief (¡el mundo es un pañuelo!).

Learning online could be distracting.  What does a comb use for?  Peinarse.  I looked up the word and was attracted by the poetic usage of the verb comb (peinar).  Las aves peinan las olas depicts the beautiful graphical scene of the birds gently combing through the waves.  And by looking up the meaning of secarse (to dry), I stumbled upon the sentence me sequé las lágrimas (I dried my tears), and was intrigued by the conjugation of the first person past tense of ‘to dry’.  Soon, I am staring at how to express crying one’s heart out in Spanish (llorar a lágrima viva).  I am pretty sure none of these matters for my Spanish examination.  But I think I am too old to study solely for an examination.  Don’t you think?