Friday, January 30, 2009

Nursery Rhymes - Harmless? I think NOT. (Part 2)

Ah yes, where was I? Well, I've already given some examples on how nursery rhymes aren't as morally inspiring as many of us think. However, what I've given were merely tidbits, showcasing petty harms. Let's move on now to more destructive and murky rhymes.

How many of us still remember Jack and Jill?

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water

Jack fell down and broke his crown

And Jill came tumbling after

Not only is this gruesome on its own (head injuries, instant death), the roots of this rhyme are just as bad, if not worst. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI of France - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill - (who came tumbling after).

Did that turn your tummy? No, how about this one?

Ring-a-Ring o'Rosies

A Pocket full of Posies

"A-tishoo! A-tishoo!"

We all fall Down!

What does this poem mean? Well, it originated from English history. It was during the Great Plague of London in 1665 (bubonic plague) or even before when the first outbreak of the Plague hit England in the 1300's. The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs (or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. Violent sneezing* (A-tishoo, A-tishoo) was another symptom of the disease. The death rate was over 60% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via water sources.

Fancy that! And here we were holding hands and dancing in a circle to that tune. I have tons more to tell you but I'll just show you this last one. It's the best/worst one and I've saved it for the last.

Mary Mary quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row.

Be perfectly honest with me, how many of you conjure up the image of a pretty girl in a pretty garden with pretty flowers and pretty maids surrounding her? I did. Until of course, I found out this.

The Mary alluded to in this traditional English nursery rhyme is reputed to be Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, who was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and the garden referred to is an allusion to graveyards which were increasing in size with those who dared to continue to adhere to the Protestant faith - Protestant martyrs.

Hold on ladies and gentlemen, there's more. The silver bells and cockle shells referred to in the Nursery Rhyme were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. The 'silver bells' were thumbscrews which crushed the thumb between two hard surfaces by the tightening of a screw. The 'cockleshells' were believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to the genitals!

And guess what?! The "Maids" or Maiden was the original guillotine! Due to problem hacking people heads of with an axe (well, I personally wouldn't stick around to endure 11 blows to my neck to sever it), a mechanical instrument (now known as the guillotine) called the Maiden - shortened to Maids in the Mary Mary Nursery Rhyme was invented.

If you ask me, those nursery rhymes should be bound with red tape and classified as PG-13. Certainly no innocent baby should be subjected to these NURSERY RHYMES fraught with murder, violence and death.

Source from

* Incidentally, when Europe was in the grip of the bubonic plague, the tradition of saying "Bless you" when you sneezed was introduced. After all, one of the first symptoms was a bout of sneezing. People would quickly bless you in case you dropped dead the next minute.

Fascinating, no?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nursery Rhymes - Harmless? I think NOT. (Part 1)

Yes, you got that right. Nursery rhymes are not as harmless as we would like to think. All of us grew up with these being recited to us and many of us still recall singing 3 Blind Mice and Mary, Mary Quite Contrary among many popular others. Sure, we think that by singing and teaching them to youngsters, we teach them language and incorporate some moral values. Yet not many of us have sat down to contemplate what message we are sending through those seemingly innocent rhymes.

True, you must be wondering why the sudden shift into nursery rhymes? Well, I was just thinking about the countless essays I've written about the cause of society's ills known in Bahasa Melayu as 'gejala sosial'. I'm sure we are all very familiar with it (especially school going students). First on the list are the parents, followed by the school, than wagging the finger at the media, peers and of course the individual's lack of moral fibre. It's such a common topic that many of us would just roll our eyes and tend to write it out without paying much attention to what we're penning down. Well, I was pursuing the line of thought that a good deal of who we are has been molded since childhood. And what are we fed daily when we were them icky little boo boos?



After rereading my Big Book of Nursery Rhymes, I have concluded that nursery rhymes are highly violent and totally unsuitable for those under the age of 13. Here are some well-known examples.

Firstly, the famous lullaby.

Hush a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock;

When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Just imagine the scene, this baby was sleeping peacefully on top of a tree ( it was the practice of some Native Americans to place a baby in the branches of a tree allowing the wind to gently rock the child to sleep). And then suddenly, what happens? The baby falls?! The vivid image of a gruesome death lingers in my mind.

What else? How about Humpty Dumpty (who incidentally was not an egg as assumed by the general public but was actually a cannon)?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King's horses, And all the King's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again!

Are we saying to the child then that if you make a mistake, it's too bad for you? And that no one, not even the King himself will get you out of that mess? What utter rubbish.

How about this one?

Hush, little baby, don't say a word

Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird

If that mockingbird don't sing

Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring

What a way to raise a spoilt child. Wail and scream, you might just get a diamond ring.

If you think these are bad, wait until I post up these few examples I found. As I did some more in depth research, I was appalled by the fact that many nursery rhymes are seeped with bloodshed and gore.

*Source from

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Dream Once Upon A Time (Part 4 ~ Finale)

That was my last entry in my diary. Well, I can’t write much without my right hand.


The atmosphere was electric. Critics have applauded this amazing and profound musical that has been making its debut around the world.

“A true masterpiece about the heartaches we all go through and the beauty of the human spirit.” Music Monthly

“The genius behind it must be applauded for reminding us that life is a journey, not a destination.” Society of the Disabled

‘Truly astounding! It brought tears to my eyes.” Professor Brown, University of Performing Arts, India.

“And now, presenting the director, composer and script writer of this musical, Madam Phoebe Jehu”.

I walked up the stage, thanked the master of ceremony and paused while looking at my audience.

“The fact that I can even stand here, receiving your applauses is a miracle on its own. 13 years ago, a girl who lost her dream would never imagine that it would be realised in a totally different way. She wanted her music to give hope to those who would listen. But life thought differently. Now, I can stand before you saying that yes, I lost much but I had not lost all.

It was my dream that kept me going. You have to have a dream or you go nowhere.”

Written by Tuen Tze Quan

Copyright reserved

A Dream Once Upon A Time (Part 3)

What tests? Piano tests? But it’s called exams and it’s in August. What is she talking about?

9 July 2005

Dear diary,

I went to see an oncologist today. I was praying very earnestly that it was a mistake and that the doctor will look at us questioningly and correct our mistake. I am not sick!!! I refuse to be sick!!!

If at first I didn’t know what she was, I knew when I saw her front door. It stated, Dr. Salasty, Cancer Specialist. God, oh no, oh no, oh no….

There was a lot of mumbo-jumbo going on in that room. I couldn’t remember what she was talking about. Medical words just zoom across the room. Finally, I couldn’t take it and blurted out, “Just get to the point! What is wrong with me?”

My mum started to cry and my dad looked stony faced. Dr. Salasty took my hands in hers and said, “My dear girl, I wish I didn’t have to tell you this. You are diagnosed with bone cancer”.

I don’t remember anything after that, only that the world went black.

6 September 2005

Dear diary,

Chemotherapy started today. I feel wretchedly sick to my stomach practically all the time. I just feel like dying. I feel so weak nowadays. Dr. Salasty told me that I can’t have visitors because chemotherapy wipes out all my cells in the body, including the good ones. Therefore, I won’t have any white blood cells to defend myself from even the slightest common cold.

Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Was I not kind enough? Of all the people, why did it have to be me? I can’t even cry my misery because I have dehydrated myself out. I want my old life back. I haven’t touched the piano in ages. I miss it….

4 October 2005

Dear diary,

I am still in the hospital. I wish I could be anywhere but here. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to play the piano again. The doctors are so against me going back home. Don’t they realise that music is my life? If they take it away, what will I have left? Even my parents aren’t allowed to visit! What do they want me to do? Die in here???

16 November 2005

Dear diary,

This is so hard for me to say. My eyes are already blurring. Whenever I think of what this will be to me, tears flood my eyes. I cannot do it… but if I don’t, I will die. I was foolish to think that my eyes cannot produce anymore tears. Apparently I still can….

I will take a deep breath…. I want to live! I want to be able to be the best pianist in the world! I want to be able to inspire many through my music, to give them hope! But I cannot have both. I cannot…. I have to choose….

I choose to live.

Therefore, my hand must go….

That was my last entry in my diary. Well, I can’t write much without my right hand.

Written by Tuen Tze Quan

Copyright reserved

A Dream Once Upon A Time (Part 2)

Wiping my tears on the back of my hand, I open the book and read page one.

8 January 2005

Dear diary,

Why is it teachers always give such typical essays on the first English essay? Today’s one was ‘What Your Ambition is’. Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a pianist. I remember when I was still a small girl; I would tell everyone that I will be the greatest pianist the world has ever seen! Now that I am older, I laugh to think I got angry when Auntie Hattie patted me on my head. Normally, ambitions tend to fade as age matures us but in my case, it only gleamed brighter.

26 April 2005

Dear diary,

Sorry for neglecting you for soooooooo many months! I found you under my bed just yesterday and you’re so dirty! But you’ll forgive me right dear? I promise to write more often. After all, I’m now 12. That means I’m a big girl now. =)

27 April 2005

Dear diary,

This sounds funny and probably it is a bad way to start writing to you again but I have to write it down. Something strange happened to me today. I was in my PE lesson when suddenly; my arms began to hurt badly. My teacher told that it was just a cramp. I hope she is right.

22 May 2005

Dear diary,

Mummy and daddy have decided to bring me to the clinic for a check up tomorrow. Ever since I felt pain in my arms, I have been feeling very tired nowadays. All I want to do is just sleep. I am hungry but I have no appetite for food. What is wrong with me?

24 May 2005

Dear diary,

The doctor at the clinic wanted to take a blood sample from me. Well, that’s weird. The needle hurt but I am 12 and don’t cry at the sight of needles. The minute I return home, I rushed to the piano to practice. I have another exam coming up. It will be my grade 4 exam. I want to do well in it. After all, it wouldn’t look good for the greatest pianist in the world to fail her grade 4, right?

22 June 2005

Dear diary,

I feel very troubled. Something terrible has happened. Mom keeps crying all the time. What is wrong with her? She told me that I will have to go for more tests. What tests? Piano tests? But it’s called exams and it’s in August. What is she talking about?

Written by Tuen Tze Quan

Copyright reserved

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Dream Once Upon A Time (Part 1)

This a just a one of the short stories I've written at some point or another. Partly it's to update this blog and well, so that I don't write the same kind of brooding and thoughtful posts all the time. So, enjoy.


I hate waking up. When you’re asleep, reality seems less painful; unconsciousness drifts over the throbbing hurt of life and softens it. It’s the only time where you can be someone who isn’t you. And that’s the ultimate gift I could ever wish for.

Waking up is like returning to a nightmare – my life. I have tried so many times to trick myself into thinking that the day will only get better; there is always a silver lining in a dark cloud. Well guess what?

It never does.


The door bell rings. The mailman greets me with a sheepish smile. He passes me a package and hastily bids me a good day. Humph, I know I didn’t manage to comb my hair yet and my breath probably stinks but there’s no need to act as if I was a primitive gorilla. Anyway, I stared at my package and found it strangely heavy. How intriguing…. I traipse back to the kitchen and began to untie the strings which held the package.

A note fell onto my lap. I pick it up and start reading.

To my beloved daughter,

By the time you read this, I’ll probably be gone. I wish I had many more years to spend with you but well, I guess there were other plans. Don’t grieve for me. Instead, pick up the pieces of your life and start anew. Have faith that God will always be there for you, no matter what. Bear in mind that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see. And don’t give up your dream, no matter how impossible it seems now. You have to have a dream or you go nowhere.

I hope this will remind you of it. And remember, this is only a temporary goodbye. I’ll always be in your heart and you will be in mine. I love you. I wish I could say it for all the times I won’t be here anymore. But you must always know that I love you, I love you, I love you….

Live well, my child.


Wiping my tears on the back of my hand, I open the book and read page one.

Written by Tuen Tze Quan

Copyright reserved

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Carpe Diem

Oh look, the everlasting holidays are ending.


I foresee only 3 reactions to this statement. First, you tear your clothes and moan with sorrow, weeping for the ‘good old days’. Second, you just shrug your shoulders because you have passed the pitfall that is SECONDARY SCHOOL – or just school for the matter. Third, you are ecstatically happy because you have been rotting at home and well, the TV’s no good anyway.

Well, regardless of your reaction, the fact remains the fact. And what is it? School is starting.

It’s time to set those alarms a good hour earlier than the intended time to wake up. Why? So that we can press the snooze button about 14 times and still be on time (this is a personal experience). It’s time to stretch those leg muscles and track a mini mountain every day in the form of 3 flights of stairs (yet another personal experience). It’s time to retreat into our studies and become literally lifeless because of those exam seasons (personal experience, again). And I’m sure you can end endless little quirks about your personal experiences in school.

However, things are a little different for me this year. I’m feeling very nostalgic about going back to school this time. It could be because this is my last year of compulsory schooling (I can legally go out and work next year). It’s my last year of seeing all those familiar faces I’ve grown up with. It’s the last year of wearing the green uniform (and even if I come back for Form Six, at least the prefect uniform is not ALL green). This year is going to be a year of many lasts. And this could be the last year to leave behind something meaningful in my school.

What will I be remembered as when I leave? That’s the question many of us ask whenever we are leaving a season behind and embarking on a new one. Each of us wants to leave behind something, whether big or small, to know whether our lives made a difference in someone else. Basically, leaving a legacy behind. I admit I’m one of them. Just as many lives have touched mine, my prayer is that some way or another God has touched theirs through me.

A new year, a new season. Regardless of who or where you are, it’s a brand new start for each of us. It may feel like another mundane year but sometimes, we have to keep the end in mind. This same date next year, will you be able to look back and say yeah, my life counted for something? Every year is an opportunity for each of us, if you miss it, by golly you missed it. You only get to be this age once. I’m nearing my 17th birthday, and I only get to be 17 once.

Carpe diem my friends, seize the day.*

What will you leave behind this year?

* Inside joke to those who know it – I can totally pronounce it properly this time. It’s car-pay dee-em. Not die-em.