MANNERS AT THE TABLE

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The worst thing that can happen in a dining experience is if someone acts like a boor at the table. Face it: no one wants to associate with someone who slurps through the soup, makes a sandwich of the dinner roll, or talks to everyone at the table while chewing. It is a complete turn-off, which automatically closes all doors of opportunities.  A pig at the table becomes an unwitting victim of etiquette bullies, who take utmost delight in pointing out the mistakes. I witnessed such an event years ago when I was a still a journalist in Singapore. I was at a dinner function and next to me was an American lady who, I learned, was casually sizing up people based on what they’d do with the dinner roll.

“You know how to eat the roll!” she gushed just as I took a bite of it.

She continued: “You know how to tear it into small pieces and butter them unlike those across the table who cut it in the middle and spread butter.”

Flabbergasted, I just looked at her even after she handed me her name card that said she was some sort of an etiquette expert. I flashed her a wry smile and continued to ignore her the rest of the evening.

That incident is not a nugatory one. It smacks of a high-handed attitude of a know-it-all towards the ignoramuses, and which blatantly ignores context. Dinner buns, after all, are not compulsory in an Asian dining setting.  Asians do observe dining etiquette. Seared into my memory, I pushed for holding a seminar on western dining etiquette for teenagers when I went back to teaching. I felt strongly they must be armed to the teeth when they venture out of their homes and it begins with dining etiquette. It took several tries to finally get it right. There was always something going amiss. For instance, one time the organizer was a drifter who conned us into believing they could hold such a seminar (imagine – they had no cutlery!). The other time the organizer didn’t serve food after the seminar, saying it wasn’t part of the package we paid for (she didn’t tell us it was a separate payment for the food!).

 

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Pak Vino (right) and Pak Cecep how to fold the napkin to wipe the mouth

 

 

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time for the first course – salad

 

But this year everything fell into place with the help of the staff of Aston Imperial Bekasi Hotel & Conference Centre. Under the tutelage of Pak Vino, Food and Beverage manager of the hotel, the grades 7 and 8 students of the Cambridge Preparatory Classes of Global Prestasi School (GPS) were lectured on the dos and don’ts of western dining etiquette. The program included a brief lecture on its history followed by the very detailed rules in, for example, using the cutlery, eating the dinner roll, sipping the soup, using the napkin to wipe the mouth, body posture during eating, the plate codes, when to start eating, proper and improper attire, leaving the table to go to the restroom, behaviour for both men and women, and many more.  The students were immediately tested on what they heard from Pak Vino – they sat through a four-course lunch that included a beef salad as an appetizer, mushroom cappuccino with garlic crouton for soup, chicken cordon bleu as the entrée, and Imperial crispy banana with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

 

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napkins on the lap

 

 

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ready to tuck into the main course

 

 

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waiting for everyone to get served the main course

 

 

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buttering their dinner rolls like a pro

 

 

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helping out to demonstrate how to hold the fork

 

 

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dessert – Imperial crispy banana with vanilla ice cream

 

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the entree – chicken cordon bleu

Prior to the seminar, the students were treated to an inside look at the hotel as they visited the various departments and sections of Aston Imperial. It was a good way to introduce them to the hospitality industry. Who knows? Some of them might end up as executive chef, food and beverage manager, head of housekeeping, executive manager, or general manager of a property in Indonesia or overseas in the not-so-distant future.

It was a sight to behold my students all looking grown up in their formal wear. There was pre-dining etiquette seminar briefing on what to wear and what not to wear. There were a lot of whining and groaning when they heard that sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops were not considered appropriate attire for the seminar. Furthermore, I had to remind the ladies to practice walking in their heels if they intended to wear heels.

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They’re all looking so grown-up.

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a post-seminar picture of grade 7A with their goodie bags and their homeroom adviser, Mayang (second row, extreme left)

The table manners seminar for GPS was held on March 3. The four-hour-plus affair saw the hotel buzzing with activities the moment the parents dropped off their children who went home with goodie bags after. Screams and giggles floated through the lobby when everyone saw what each one was wearing.  But inside the Dynasty meeting room on the second-floor seriousness punctured with episodic laughter reigned as they navigated through the intricacies of following the dining etiquette outlined by Pak Vino. Rounding off the good experience was being told that the students were very well-behaved.

Additional photos by Mayang Anestia

 

 

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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The excruciating caterpillar sting could have been the deal breaker. I was oblivious to the caterpillar; it must have fallen from some trees where the bus parked a distance from the observatory when I was making my way up the bus. I was thrown into a panic when I suddenly felt this warming sensation on my back that spread to the nape and the ears, and then this unbearable itch. To complete the agony, a strip of red rashes covered my neck. Happily, the school’s counselor came prepared with her first aid kit and came to my rescue with minyak tawon (bee oil) to counter the itch.

Then there’s the very early call time of 5 am so as not to get stuck in the infamous Indonesian traffic and miss the queue at the observatory. Booking a taxi would have been convenient but the cab driver couldn’t find my flat so off I went to hail an angkot (a form of public transportation that looks like a mini-van). No such luck. I learned later on that they didn’t ply the road until after 6 from one of my eagle-eyed students who, fortunately, spotted me looking lost and forlorn, and gave me a ride to school.

Caterpillar sting and early call time, surprisingly, didn’t dispel my excitement in being one of the chaperones for the field study of the students of Global Prestasi School (GPS). Whatever you call it – field study or field trip – I have always had a strong predilection for such trips. It’s reminiscent of my old high school’s philosophy of learning by doing which meant not teaching and learning outside of the classroom. GPS has always been a staunch believer in exposing its students to all kinds of teaching methodologies and environments, which is why huge tourist buses parked within the school campus is commonplace. From elementary to senior high students, each GPS student has a treasure trove of field trip memories to last a lifetime.

The field study this year skewered four subjects – science, English (national and Cambridge curriculums), and Indonesian language – that would test the mettle of the students in terms of academic performance and character. Finally, I was free to chaperone, together with 13 of my colleagues and the principal, the grade 8 students from the national and Cambridge Preparatory classes, to two venues in Bandung viz. Bosscha Observatory and Jendela Alam.

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First stop was Bosscha Observatorium, in Lembang, in West Java, which, to my chagrin, was a four-hour road trip from Kalimalang. It was imperative to be on the road by 530am to be able to get to the observatory before 10 am to book tour slots. The observatory, which sits on top of a hill, is a constant pull for visitors in and out of Indonesia for viewing the stars at night during the months of April until October. However, seeing stars has become a matter of luck these days because of the light pollution in the area as well as the presence of hotels and villa. Back in the 1930s, the land around the observatory was devoid of tenants and populated by trees.

Impressive was the word that came to mind when I saw the gargantuan telescope that a fully grown man can hang from.  Called Zeiss double refractor, the telescope is one of the five telescopes housed in the observatory which is hailed as the oldest observatory in the country. It took its inventor Karel Albert Rudolf Bosscha five years to finish constructing the telescope, starting in 1923.

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Next stop was a little more rustic with its gardens, mini zoo, and vegetable patches. Called Jendela Alam (roughly translated as Nature Window), it’s roughly 25 minutes away from the observatory on a day when traffic is smooth, but it takes an hour plus when traffic gets snarled up. It’s what I’d call an open- nature laboratory where students have an up close and personal experience with special tailor-made nature activities.  For the students of GPS, they had three activities to complete namely, constructing a mini terrarium, making telur asin (salted egg), and dissection. Each activity lasted between 30 and 40 minutes. Each activity had its own group of facilitators hence the teacher-chaperones were free to wander around or have coffee with pisang goreng (banana fritters) at the coffee shop called Kedai Alam.

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Classroom learning is de rigueur in the pursuit of knowledge, but learning out of the classroom is a welcome respite from the stifling effects of always staying in the classroom all the time. The surroundings make good points for observation and immediate application of theories by the students. And student interaction is enhanced – bonds are made stronger, mended or forged. As for the teachers, it’s a longed-for, although brief, break from marking papers, writing notes on the board, and pressing the button for the next PPT slide. It was time for them to breathe in a bit of fresh air to clear the mind.

 

  GUARDS ON DUTY

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Target, Santa Clarita

Target is a treasure trove of surprises. I was strolling along the aisles when I chanced upon such as this unlikely alliance between these iconic figurines. I suddenly had a vision of Darth Vader and Leonardo standing guard outside my office at Global Prestasi School. Too bad that they couldn’t fit into my luggage.

YEAR OF THE ROOSTER

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the barongsai at Global Prestasi School

It never grows old no matter what happens or what people say. Every time I hear that the troupe will be coming to Global Prestasi School (GPS) to usher in the Chinese New Year, I am always filled with excitement. The barongsai, as the dragon or lion dance is called in Indonesia, never fails to ignite this child-like enthusiasm in me, banishing morose thoughts temporarily. The moment I hear that they’ve arrived, I’d drop what I’m doing and run to the main grounds of GPS to get a good spot to watch those colourful, swirling dragon-lions.

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one of the dragon-lion prepping for the dance

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This year is my year. According to Chinese astrology, I was born under the year of the rooster and if it’s your animal that is the ruling animal of the year, you are in for one auspicious year. To know that lady luck is your constant companion for a year – she won’t be making her presence greatly known until after 12 years – does one’s spirits more than some good. You feel this overwhelming sense of confidence commingling with positivity which leads to a general sense of well-being. Simply put, a force field of positive energy has been placed around you thus any sad or tragic news thrown your way by fate is met with more gumption than fear.

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It was not like I was cowering in fear all throughout the 12 years lady luck was just hovering at the periphery as another animal took centre stage.  Looking back, several years were indeed fraught with tension and grief, but those years galvanised me taking me out of the rut I was in. I was admittedly chary – am still am – but those years prepared me slowly to take on the world again. One can say it prepared me for the year of the rooster, the year I see as the year of splendiferous moments and glorious feelings.

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ON BOARD THE AVENGERS STATION

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Welcome to the world of Tony Stark/Iron Man

Perhaps in a parallel world, I would have made it as an agent of SHIELD and worked closely with the Avengers. Then again, maybe not. The pulchritude of Captain Steve Rogers or tantalizing sassiness of Loki would have had me ogling them and definitely become remiss of my duties, so I just satisfied myself back on Earth with a tour of a facsimile of the Avengers STATION.

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Get to know more about Captain America

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the profile of Steve Rogers is there for all to read

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the iconic uniform of Captain America

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the shield completes the Captain’s uniform

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Tony Stark’s favourite outfit – the Iron Man costume

 

Exhibited at the Annex Hall of the Science Centre in Jurong East, Singapore, it was one fascinating immersive tour even though I didn’t download the Avengers app or “borrowed” the iPod (for S$5). For the tech-oriented exhibit-goers, the app is the ultimate way to fully experience the exhibition as a recruit of SHIELD. Agent Maria Hill was on hand to welcome the new recruits who were visibly excited when I was there during the first weekend of February. Meanwhile, as the new “recruits” fiddled with their phones, logging on to get their credentials, I remained nonchalant and waited for the doors to open. I was antsy to get a bird’s eye-view of the Avengers’ universe through the props, costumes, detailed explanations of the science and personal profiles of the featured Avengers, which included Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Vision, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. Providing balance was the inclusion of the anti-Avengers squad led by God of Mischief Loki and his cohorts Chitauri and the dark elves.  The meticulous details of the costumes, weapons, and profiles were astounding; I felt I was truly transported to another real dimension as I gawped at the “personal” items on display. Each character is three-dimensional with his/her personal history, outfit, choice of weapon, and unparalleled skill.

Zealous Avengers fan or not, Avengers STATION is an experience that would make a visit to Singapore. After all, it isn’t every day that one gets a pass to visit one of the heavily guarded facilities on Earth – Marvel’s Earth, that is. But the exhibition has only a month or so before it folds up. Its last day is on March 05.

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Dare to lift mjolnir?

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the Hulk Buster

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the Tessaract Portal

ARRIVALS

“We just need the blue and white paper. We already cleared customs, so keep your passport,” said this man behind me to a woman he was with.

We were in a queue to exit the Tom Bradley International airport three days before New Year’s Eve. It was moving along well, guided by the constant reminder of a staff to “Move up” and “Keep your passport. You don’t need it. Just prepare your customs card.”

“Don’t look nervous. You should look happy. You’re here,” he continued.

That was when I turned around and saw a Filipino woman – her passport was a dead give away – standing next to an American pushing the luggage trolley while speaking to the woman. Glancing at the woman’s mien, she looked pensive, deep in thought possibly, I surmised, about the reality of her new life in the US confronting her that very minute. She wasn’t a tourist I was very certain about that; I was only holding a passport while she had, aside from her passport, a file with other documents.

His line struck a cord in me. Arrivals can go myriad of ways. She must have been ecstatic at arriving in the US, but that elation must have been wrapped in apprehension at what awaits her new life which, indubitably, would be radically dissimilar from her former life. Everything would be different in all aspects: terrain, language, weather, culture, customs, and routine. She was alone in a way. Living in a new country isn’t always smooth sailing. Aside from battling homesickness, among many things, this feeling of being besieged cocoons an immigrant tightly that if one was to survive in a new world s/he has to steel herself/himself against the odds to succeed. 

My arrival at Los Angeles was nothing to compared to hers. Hers was a permanent relocation while mine was transitory, a promise made to my wonderful man to see him again. Like the Filipino behind me, I was ecstatic, thrilled, elated, but simultaneously anxious to the point of being apprehensive. A lot can happen and change in five months and questions whirled in my head: Does he still feel the same way? Do I still feel the same way? Would this be the beginning of the end? Will we fight? What will we say to each other? Will we get along?

Arrivals aren’t always what people generally perceive them to be. But the outcome can be altered by not overthinking and letting things unfold naturally. Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and a step to embrace my arrival.

Tom Bradley International Airport arrival

SOLITUDE 

The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)