21.12.01

I wasn't in the mood to write last night, so I'm going to allow myself about half an hour at the computer right now to jot things down before I get on with my day.

The last two afternoons were interesting and also quite strikingly in contrast to each other, as far as my impressions of my new colleagues and new work environment were concerned. Admittedly, my stomach spent most of Wednesday scrunched up in dire anticipation of missing some of the LotR movie, so perhaps that's why I wasn't feeling so hot on my first afternoon with them.

But surely all the corporate-speak had something to do with it too. I understand the importance of planning goals and strategies and so on, but I get a little wiggy when the trainer draws concentric circles with the word "Values" in the innermost circle, followed by "Purpose" in the second, "Mission" in the third and "Strategies" in the fourth, explaining how values are at the core of an organisation's purpose, which together are at the core of its mission, and so on --- but then she goes on to use the words "purpose" and "mission" interchangeably during the discussion that follows as if they are the same thing. That's like me teaching literature and making a distinction between similes and metaphors, but then going ahead to use the two words interchangeably. It's not very convincing, especially to a trainee who was skeptical about such an involved process of goal-setting to begin with.

I'm also a little wary of perfectly good mission statements that get tossed out, in order that the group has to spend half an hour haggling over whether to word something as "an effective and communicative process", "an effective communications process" or "communicate effectively". My god. I damn near screamed at someone then, especially since the time was winding rapidly towards 5 pm by then, but since I'm the only new person, I sat very quietly in my seat instead. I'd already determined before I met my colleagues --- whether prematurely at this workplan retreat or on January 2 --- that I'd be nice and quiet and obliging, and sit and watch a lot before I tried to change anything. I don't want to be the New Person that Thinks She Knows Everything, you know?

What really killed me on Wednesday afternoon, though, was that towards the end of the discussion, someone reacted to another person's suggestion with, "No, that's not true. Blah blah blah --- " but she quickly corrected herself with a knowing look at other people saying, "Oh, I'm not supposed to say 'no', I should say, 'I think that ... ' " and then people laughed. I'm glad people laughed; if they had taken her backpedalling seriously, I would have been in deep fear of my own mental sanity for the next few years. But isn't it such a farce? The corporate 'rule' is that during brainstorming and such, one shouldn't pass ideas on other people's judgements, which is why one shouldn't say 'no' outright to any idea and so on --- but there are things such as bad ideas, and it really depends so much more on the environment for discussion, how comfortable people feel if they make a poorly thought-out suggestion, rather than silly rules like Thou Shalt Not Say, Instinctively, 'No'. I have one simple rule whenever I teach a class: we respect each other's opinions, including the teacher's but especially the students'; we agree to disagree. If seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds can handle that, even when they're discussing controversial issues that mean a lot to them like censorship or religion or homosexuality, I don't see why a bunch of adults can't abide by the same rules.

Okay, so I shall get off my high horse now, because while Wednesday's afternoon's proceedings came close to inspiring a sense of dread in me for my new job, yesterday's were much more fun. For one thing, they were concrete: people talked about the actual projects and nitty-gritty duties that made up their daily routine, and that was at least more understandable to me than waffling around in the land of values-purpose-mission-strategies. Some good stories emerged, too.

And I do have a decent vibe from all these new colleagues. Everyone's been nice and even when they warn me about the workload, it's in a good-natured sense, not in a "I hate my job, I can't wait to get out of here" sense. I've been invited several times to the year-end party at lunchtime on the 31st, so I guess I'll have to go since I honestly don't have plans that day and there's no harm hanging out with folks two days before I officially join them.

What did surprise me was how few ex-teachers were in the group. I suppose I thought the group would be about half ex-teachers, half other staff -- but works out more to a one-quarter representation. Which makes me kinda glad to be here because frankly, it's hard to understand the attitude of school staff (and why in-house newsletters like Contact fail so abysmally) if you haven't taught at all in any Singapore school. I'm not saying I'm going to radically change anyone's attitude towards schools, because there's no doubt that the key boss to please in this new job is the Minister himself, but maybe little things can be changed.

As for what honestly wigged me out? My new boss, the Director of Public Affairs, sounds exactly like an ex-colleague in the way he speaks: syntax, intonation, inflections, everything. It's really strange because I feel like I'm listening to a slightly older clone of my ex-colleague (or my ex-colleague is the clone, or whatever). Another new colleague reminds me of someone in my current school, but I don't really want to say more here because then I'll sound bitchy; the former is a Trekkie though, which might be interesting since there aren't too many of those in Singapore (given the lack of any Trek TV subsequent to ST:TNG being broadcast here).

But what really really bothers me is the excessive communication in acronyms here. I understand that this is a Ministry-wide thing, which is not only alienating for a newcomer, but just --- I dunno --- dehumanizing? Something inside me has never liked acronyms, even though I've grown up surrounded by them and use any number of them in daily life. I know, however, that the rest of the world doesn't communicate in acronyms all the time, and I'd really like to not cut out words from my life. I'm not sure what I can do about this, but we'll see. Meanwhile, here's a whole bunch of acronyms that appeared at the last two afternoons' proceedings:

DPA
ADPR
AD
HR
DM
DB
MOS
GPC
QSM
MCIP
DSP
DSCS

I can't remember any others. A lot of the 'D' ones are just "Director" followed by whatever division they're director of. Hence my boss is DPA --- Director, Public Affairs. I don't get, though, why we can't just call him by his name since he's clearly all right with that. I'm going to have to spend some time studying the nuances of this acronym usage, I guess.

Oh, I left out PAD: Public Affairs Division. That's my new home, with effect from January 2. I think I'd rather say, "Hi, this is Yu-Mei calling from Public Affairs," than "Hi, this is Yu-Mei calling from P-A-D." Dude, saying "P-A-D" only saves you one syllable anyhow.

So that was my last two afternoons at the Carlton Hotel. Now I'm not really wigged anymore, kinda psyched about the new job and learning new things, and relieved that I won't need more than two suits to start out (which means I I just need to snag a pantsuit, and I'll be fine).

Today is gonna be real busy and I should leave soon. Well, not really busy. More like: I have to go down to school, print out some stuff from the school server and pick up my laptop and other materials, so that I can finish up the last few testimonials at home before Christmas. I've been plugging away at them in school, but I don't really have any blocks of daytime time that I can dedicate to spending in school before Christmas, so these last few will have to be written at home. In the afternoon, we're checking into the Marina Mandarin to use our complimentary room --- we've had a hotel membership for several years now, though in the interest of cutting back on our expenses we're not going to renew it next year --- and tonight we're going out with some friends too. Meanwhile, my London friends are back in Singapore and we should establish contact sometime soon.

Okay, my half hour is up. I'm going to post this, and then get on with the day.

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