(I just finished ‘polishing’ this entry up this afternoon, as I’d rushed to type it out this morning so there were a lot of grammatical mistakes, points I’d missed. Sorry!)

It is no secret that Asians, when it comes to work and studies, are a competitive bunch. In the US, this is politely referred to as ‘the Asian work ethic’. In Malaysia and Singapore, it is simply called kiasu-ism, which when directly translated, means ‘fear of losing’.

Losing the rat race. Losing opportunities. Losing face. What drives this fear of loss, you ask? I have no freakin’ idea. Maybe it really is in our DNA.

Before coming to the US, Lokes and I had not given the issue very much thought. However, one thing’s for sure: When it comes to our children’s academic development, we will NOT push them to throw themselves off a building if they don’t get the 17As.

When Rae was about two and a half, we sent her to a Montessori school. You can read the guilt in this paragraph, and there is much of it. To my defence, I was a working mom. Also, there were no other types of preschools in Malaysia, schools that focused more on play or social development than academics. The Montessori ones promised to teach them the skills they need to progress in life, things like buttoning their own shirts and listening to instructions. We thought they were sensible life skills to learn, even at two and a half. Well, they are.

Malaysia does not have an established playgroup culture as you do in the US. I knew a few moms in a SAHP group I liked that organised a few, but as I was working, it was hard to get really involved.

More justification: We’d so wanted Rae to make some little friends, and so we looked around for a school that was nearest to us, didn’t cost too much, and enrolled her. She did very well.

Now with Skyler, we are only sending her to preschool at three or closer even to four. This is not by choice since school years here begin in September and you have to have turned a certain age by then. Since Skyler’s birthday is in November, she has to wait a year to start.

Honestly, this has given me more relief than anything else. After all, one of my children will be having HOMEWORK end of this year. That is a very scary thought. Homework at five. Can it be real?

So back to this kiasu-ism. I must confess, that sometimes, I am torn. On one hand, I do not want to raise my children to become emotionally-stunted overachievers. On the other, I don’t want to raise bums. What is middle ground? Can someone tell me?

I don’t foresee sending my girls to KUMON or Salvan (American tuition centers filled with – you got it – mostly Asian children or well-to-do ones!) because, well, for one, I think my girls are pretty darn smart (ahem!), and Lokes and I are relatively skilled learning/teaching opportunists. Bottomline is, I don’t want my children to hate learning. I don’t want to turn them off books and knowledge.

You know, I remember having hated learning until my mom stopped whacking me with a cane to memorise my history facts or times tables. I was almost 13 when she’d announced, “You’re a big girl now. I’m not going to cane you anymore because you should know that if you’re to amount to anything and want to go to college, you will have to do well on your own.”

And with that, she trashed the cane, and even my sis, three years younger than me, got off the hook. A year later, I wrote an essay in school that became the defining moment in my life. It was a story about a man who loved his wife so much, that when she died, he died along with her. It was called Alone. My English teacher – a Mr Leong, I still remember – read it in front of the whole class, and proclaimed that I, Tai Pooi Ling, had promise, and that I was someone to watch out for.

The next year, I got 7As in my SRP.

And 6As for my SPM.

All this because my parents had stopped pushing me.

Moral of the story? Beat your kids to submission before they turn 13.

Okay, I’m kidding. You can stop looking mortified, Americans. Malaysians, you know you need to think of a better way to deal with discipline because seriously, what are you going to do when your child becomes immune to the cane?

Seriously, I was a rebel. I guess I stopped rebelling when there was nothing to rebel against.

And I think there is middle ground. We just need to find it. In the mean time, we will just have to trust our instincts.

ps. I asked my father-in-law yesterday what the point was for people to be so competitive back home when in the end, they’re not even going to study in local unis which is where they have to score all the 50As they need to enter (during the quota days). He said that the kids were not the competitive ones; it’s the parents.


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