Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making Japanese paper dolls

After a long absence, I'm back! Been busy making my Japanese paper dolls, teaching, maintaining my daughter's clothing stocks inventory, and trying to create a website ( . This latter one is devoted to selling off my excess Japanese papers (washi, yuzen washi, crepe chiyogami - origami papers, etc), which my Japanese son-law said I wouldn't be able to use in my entire lifetime.

Through my paper dolls posted in my flickr site (www., I have acquired a number of new friends, swapped paper crafts with two of them, found new interesting hobbies and new interesting websites devoted to Japanese paper dolls.

My three favorite girls on the left have flown to Scotland, in exchange for a large, beautiful quilled card created by my friend Janet. I miss them because they are so colorful and cute and they were the favorite of a number of people, including myself.

On the request of Janet again, I made 2 dolls by special request. She wanted a tall doll this time, with a different kind of obi, and another one that is turned to one side, wearing a jacket over an evening wear kimono. Both of them have flown to Scotland and will be used by Janet for her creations, as yet unrevealed to me. Janet is a multi-talented lady, an expert in quilling (been doing it for 20 years), a painter, and a photographer. These are the two dolls I made and sent to her, in exchange for an exquisite quilled polystyrene egg. The 3D appearance of the green obi is evident at the back.

Making the kimono of a paper doll is an enjoyable hobby - just like creating fashion for real people. You start with an idea in your head - a vision of what kind of doll you're going to create and how she would look like. A geisha? A peasant? Somebody from royalty? A shogun or samurai? A girl with her mother on a shrine/temple visit? Next is the choosing of the paper pattern, color, and texture. Which will be the inner robe? The outer robe? The obi? How will the position of the doll be? The last that I do is the hair - the length, the style, the accessories. By positioning the hair, you can create a head that looks forward, is turned sideward, looking up, looking down. One of my favorites is the doll only showing its back (which you glue onto a shikishi board or a greeting card), where you can focus on the hair and the obi. The one below is a greeting card entitled "The First Snowflake".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Doing your thing" behind an umbrella

Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan, is a place like no other. It is a land where almost everybody can sing beautifully, where the best steaks could be had (Mongolian motto seen on a T-shirt for sale in an Ulaan Baatar steakhouse: Grass is for animals, meat is for Mongolians), where vodka forever flows, where the landscape remains flat for miles around.

On my first trip to Mongolia, we had to travel 7 hours by land from Ulaan Baatar (the capital) to Övörkhangai Province, whose livestock was decimated during the previous year's very harsh winter. As we traveled farther from the capital, we noticed that habitation was so sparse and that the land consisted of endless grassland (steppes). Every time you look around, it was the same scenery that you see. Halfway through the travel, we ladies (myself and two from Hong Kong) felt the urge and asked our driver where we could "do our thing". Perhaps the nearest "gher" or gasoline station? What gasoline station? The driver stopped the car at the side of the road and said, "Okay, here you go!" We turned our heads left and right but all we saw was flat, open grassland. There was no "gher" (the typical Mongolian tent), no outhouse, no trees or even a single shrub with which to hide behind. In other words, it was plain open field around us! We said, "Where?" The driver pointed some distance away and said, "There!" What did he mean "There!"? It was still open field! Then he handed us an umbrella.

As we were walking away from the vehicle, we were wondering how to do "it" with all the men smoking or conversing around the vehicle which was parked just a few meters away. We tried walking a bit farther away but, hey, no matter where we went, we were still gonna be exposed! We saw a lamb standing motionless ahead of us and one of us suggested hiding behind the lamb. Yeah, right! As if the lamb will stay motionless until the three of us had "done our thing"! It'll most probably move away while one of us was still squatting.

What to do? Well, we had no recourse but to use the single umbrella as a cover of our behind as we alternated "doing our thing". I was fortunate to have worn a 'salwar kameez' (the South Asian attire) at that time. With its long tunic, it immediately covered my lower half as I stood up.

Not surprisingly, none of us asked for a repeat of the process on the second half of the trip and neither on the way back.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What I like about handkerchiefs

A friend asked me to contribute something to her blog site ( and I wrote a piece on the subject of handkerchiefs. I invite you to check it out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Unorthodox exam

Have you ever taken an exam on a scientific subject in the form of riddles or a song? I haven't, but I designed an exam just like that while still teaching in the university.

I was teaching Plant Taxonomy then and it's not one of your exciting, dynamic subjects, unlike Plant Physiology or Ecology. We were finishing up the course and the students had already studied the different Families of flowering plants. How to make the exam more challenging than the usual Multiple Choice or Fill in the Blanks questions? How to stimulate the students in visualizing processes and structures, in making comparisons so as to deduce relationships, in interpreting definitions?

First part of the exam: Still a Fill in the Blanks (relating to classification of fruits), but with a difference. It went like this:

1. The peanut is not a nut. It is a ______________.
2. The pineapple is neither a pine nor an apple. It is a _____________.
3. The coconut is not a nut. It is a __________.

And so on. You get the idea.

Second part of the exam: There is a Filipino folk song entitled "Bahay Kubo" (translation: "Nipa Hut"). Everybody knows this song because it's been taught to us since childhood. The students were asked to identify the Family to which each of the vegetables mentioned in "Bahay Kubo" belong (not necessarily in the order by which they are mentioned in the song). The exam room became filled with the soft (no cheating!) humming of singing students!

Third part of the exam: Instead of "Identify the blah, blah, blah" or a Matching Type test, I "let the different plant parts and processes speak" (personification) and the students identify who was speaking. A plant part became a queen sitting on a throne of green (ovary/fruit), another a traveler who finally settles in one place and finds true love there (the pollen), and so on.

There were other parts; some were standard (so as not to subject everybody to a complete traumatic experience), but those three sets of questions became the "talk of the town".

When the bell rang and the students submitted their test papers and filed out, most were chuckling and obviously enjoyed themselves, some asked where I got the questions, some commented that it's the weirdest exam they have ever had but they liked it. A few had knitted brows and were obviously unhappy (they were not prepared for "that kind" of exam).

In my entire teaching life, that exam stands out in my memory. It took me 2 weeks to perfect the test items, especially in the Identification test where I used personification. And when the test scores were computed, the results were gratifying, not only because the students got the right answers, but because they underwent an entire process of learning as they visualized/simulated, compared and contrasted, deduced, analyzed and made decisions. They might have forgotten the subject of Plant Taxonomy, but those learning skills would forever be with them.

Learning should be fun and an adventure. Subsequently, in my entire career as educator/trainer, I tried to always bear in mind that "We teach people, not subjects."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Going back to my hobbies

Now that I have a lot of time in my hands, I have dusted off the boxes containing my Japanese origami paper dolls, with the intention of continuing where I left off, 9 years ago. I even registered with Flickr's origami group, took photos of the remaining dolls and greeting cards, and uploaded them in my photostream. My origami books are still on the shelves but I have to retrieve all my "washi" papers (my Japanese son-in-law once said I wouldn't be able to use all of them in my entire lifetime) from the storage boxes. And I have to unload the piles of books and training materials sitting on my work table and find a place for them in the other cabinets and shelves.

I have also made acquaintance again with my stamp collection, started when I was still single, way back in the late 60s. Whenever I got new stamps, I just shoved them into this huge box and never had the time to organize them. Now I have the time and even registered in one of the existing stamp exchange networks. I am now being flooded with requests for Thai and Southeast Asian stamps from all over the world!

I have got to prepare for my teaching assignments this month and next, so I have to allocate time for that too. If I'm not careful, I will end up complaining about not having any time, after having celebrated my retirement and saying I have all the time in the world. Oh well! Here I go again!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Had I known that retirement would be enjoyable, I would have retired earlier. No more waking up early, no more meetings, no more "earth-shaking" decisions to be made, no more rushing in airports and living in hotels! I'm free!

After having worked for 40 years of my life, you'd think I would be at a loss as to what to do with all the time that I have now. Not so! Because all the time is MY TIME now and I can do whatever I want to do with it. That is such a liberating feeling.

Of course, I still teach and do consultancies occasionally, but only when I choose to do so. Otherwise, time is spent being quality controller, inventory manager and all-purpose assistant of our youngest daughter (whose on-line wholesale garments business is run from the house), making my origami handicrafts, playing my favorite computer games, communicating with friends, reading, enjoying music, walking around - the possibilities are endless!

After having my last major surgery (multiple bypass) in late 2006, I now look at things in a different light. There is beauty in simple, ordinary things. I have tremendous patience and don't stress easily now. What happened to the hyperactive Teng? She's still there, but the "hyper" has been toned down. You can say, she has mellowed with age. There have been other changes too. Whereas before, exercise was not in my vocabulary, it is now a must, albeit only brisk walking (following my cardiologist's instructions). The downside is that I am not allowed to dance for more than 10 minutes. What a change for the former "Disco Queen"!

Retirement means sitting back, relaxing, enjoying life in general and reminiscing about both the good times and the bad, the "what ifs", past glories and embarassments, far-off relatives and old friends, and chuckling at some of life's ironies. But most of all, doing the things one had postponed to do, when one was busy working, and relishing every minute of the time we spend with our family.