Friday, December 31, 2004

Un jour de Montréal (A Montreal day)

Today was as good a day in Montreal as it gets in this ridiculous weather. It was a little less frigid than it's been (-10C) and the skies were clear so it was great for walking around, so long as you had your gloves, scarf, hat, boots and wool coat with you... After a lunch of roast chicken and fish and chips at a local supermarket, Loblaws, we took the Metro to Montreal's Museum of Contemporary Art. Smack in the heart of town, the museum is situated within a larger building known as the Place-des-Arts which is essentially the city's premier arts venue. There are a couple of theatres (the Nutcracker was playing at the matinee today), a performing studio, the museum and a wonderful music and books store, Archambault that Jude & I have always liked. As students, we only had to pay $3 for entry into the museum today and it was a nice way to spend the afternoon. They were having an Isaac Julien exhibition which included three of his film installations. They weren't presented in your usual single screen format but split into three adjacent screens, which lent itself to the narrative in a rather provocative way actually. It was interesting I guess, but not really my cup of tea. I guess when it comes to art, I'm still a bit of a purist- if it's not hanging on a wall or displayed on a stand, it takes me a little while to warm to it. I went to a modern German art exhibition once where one of the displays was an open briefcase with a bottle of Maggi seasoning sauce inside. Go figure- I didn't get it then, and I still don't get it now. Give me a Chagall or a Giacometti anyday.

We hung around Archambault for a while after that hoping to find something interesting, which you know we did of course... But we had to keep grabbing stuff off each other, reminding ourselves that on a graduate student budget, over-shopping would be a sin even we couldn't forgive ourselves for (I guess over-shopping is a sin even if we weren't in school...) So as sensible students, we decided to blow the money on something more constructive; we went to watch a movie.

Two blocks east of the Place-des-Arts is Boulevard St. Laurent, a 6 km-long street which starts with Chinatown down south and ends with the Latin Quarter in the north. In between, you can find just about everything- from electronic shops to hip boutiques, the Just For Laughs headquarters to an oxygen bar (yes, they do "serve" pure oxygen- it gives you a real high apparently...). We ended up at the Ex-Centris, a small but very chic movie theatre (read: black marble decor, metallic ornaments, no staff below the age of 25, and a wine bar). We've been dying to watch A Very Long Engagement and where better to watch a French film than in Francophone Canada? The movie was great. Audrey Tatou was luminous as usual (although Jude thinks she only has one expression- that cross between bewilderment and profound adoration) but it was the direction and plot that took my breath away. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is best known for Amelie (which I love) and The City of Lost Children (which I don't; Jude on the other hand loves Delicatessen); but A Very Long Engagement reminds everyone why Jeunet continues to be one of France's beloved directors- he is a great story-teller. He so lovingly weaves the characters and plots together and then uses the cinematography (as well as Angelo Badalamenti's stirring score) to such sumptuous effect that you forget the movie goes on for a good two-half hours. It's like reading a really gripping mystery novel that makes you fall in love with everyone in it. Many say the heart of the film is a love story, but I think it's more accurate to think of it as a tapestry of love stories. In war, love becomes something even more rare, more precious, and so much more in need to be clung on to, whether through vengeance, sacrifice or just sheer hope. Jude and I both think this was very, very well-done and definitely worth a second viewing. Trust us, it's that kind of a movie. Good stuff.

Then what better way to top off a great day than with a good dinner? When one thinks of good food in Montreal, one invariably thinks of smoked meat; and when you think of smoked meat, eveyone knows you go straight to Schwartz's. A Montreal institution for over 70 years, celebrities and dignitaries share seats with the common grocer and policeman in this small Jewish deli. The smoked meat is out-of-this-world delicious and... actually, there isn't an "and"- that's just it, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful smoked meat. People have been known to not just travel all the way to Montreal to eat here, they bring back with them pounds of the conveniently frozen version so they can slowly savor the there's-so-much-fat-in-the-meat-but-who-cares-if-it-clogs-my-arteries goodness of Schwartz's without standing in line in the cold or cramming in with 50 other people in a place made for 30. We once even overheard a guy sitting next to us gloating on his phone to his friend in the States that he was having Schwartz's smoked meat at that moment. Literally gloating. Anyway, Jude and I gratefully wolfed down two portions of smoked meat, a steak, a plate of fries, a bowl of coleslaw and a pickle. And we were happy.

Without a doubt, I thoroughly enjoyed myself today, and I have a satisfied stomach, tired feet and a full heart to show for it. Did all my favorite things, in my favorite city and with my favorite person- what more can a girl ask for? Coffee maybe, and that... well, I'm having it now.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Relief sites on sidebar

Hey all, we've put up a list of sites for those of you who would like to donate to the disaster relief effort. We know how people may have reservations about certain agencies, so we've listed a few and you can choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

Also, although some of you may already be too overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation to want even more information, we've included a few links to news sites that provide particularly good updates on the relief effort, search and recovery information and other related reports. We hope you just do what you can, whether in prayer or in kind.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Please help

The thing about spending a white Christmas in Montreal is that you end up spending alot of time indoors, mostly at home, which is fine for us since our uncle's place is pretty cool and he's got cable (which is always good). But the past couple of days have been a rather unsettling time to be watching TV. The news coming through the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been primarily about the disaster in South Asia.

If you can, please help these people in any way you can. We'll be donating some money to the relief fund and we appeal to those of you who can to please help out too. Doctors Without Borders, the International Red Cross and UNICEF are acccepting donations of any amount, and with the profound extent of the devastation only just surfacing, the affected countires need all the help they can get.

What is so sad is that the countries hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami are also those who were the least prepared for it, in more ways than one. Some of them are extremely poor- and now that the waves have also hit Somalia and some Eastern African nations, this can only get worse- and many of them have no idea how this could have been averted in the first place. South and South-east Asia have not been particularly suceptible to natural disasters, except maybe volcanoes in Indonesia; as a result, we've always thought of ourselves as safe from them. Now that whole coastal areas have been wiped out and cores of national industries gutted (e.g. tourist resorts in Phuket and the Maldives), these already beleagured countries have only years more of financial and infrastructural recovery to look forward to, and we haven't even begun talking about investing money and expertise in early warning systems that could have helped saved thousands of lives.

There is also the human drama behind it all- parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, siblings, cousins, relatives, etc. Familes are being displaced physically and emotionally on a scale I can only imagine, but feel the immense grief of nonetheless.

What is even more worrying are the long-term consequences of this disaster- we're talking contaminated water, faltering sanitation and increased incidences of diseases. If you add search and recovery costs, rebuilding homes, medical services, re-establishing vital infrastructure, this eartquake will cripple economies in a way rivalled only by war. As one of the CBC correspondents said, this could be the single most devastating natural disaster in modern history.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

圣诞快乐

A blessed Christmas to everyone! It's a frigid but sparking day in Montreal today, meaning the sun is shining bright, light is bouncing off all the ice on the buildings and the streets, humidity is at 98% (but with temperature at minus 8C, it isn't anything like 98% humidity in Singapore...), and no snow in sight. We spent Christmas in Chinatown today which was really kind of strange, but with the rest of the city shut until noon tomorrow for Boxing Day sales, this little enclave is the only place anyone can go for any semblance of activity. It's like Chinese New Year in Singapore, except almost no where in Singapore is open over Chinese New Year, even Orchard Road.

To make this an even more surreal Christmas, we're having a 10-course Chinese meal for dinner instead of turkey or ham. Apparently, most people in North America don't believe in eating out over the holidays so the restaurants take the opportunity to close for that one day in a year. The only places open are Chinese ones, ever ready are they to capitalize on what others are willing to give up. Well, they then close for a good week over the Lunar New Year, so this makes up for that I guess.

Peking duck or roast turkey, Jude and I are just glad we're spending Christmas with family. Last year, we were in Florida with his aunt who owns a thoroughbred farm in Ocala and this year here with his uncle. As international students, it's rare to be able to spend holidays with family every year unless we go all the way home, which we can't afford of course, so this a wonderful blessing in itself.

We did call home though and it always aches a little to hear them and feel them so close, yet be so far away. Like so many people, holidays are the worst times for me to be away from home, especially Christmas. It's a big event for my family- shopping for all my cousins, Christmas Eve dinner with my parents and sisters, opening presents at midnight (to jazz Christmas carols and Bailey's on the rocks- don't ask me why...), and the traditional Christmas lunch with the entire family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces and all...). We were supposed to go home this Christmas since Jude hasn't been back in almost a year and a half, but the tickets were just too expensive to make a 10-day trip worth the while. Hopefully we'll wise up enough next year and do what every other foreign student does- buy their year-end plane tickets home in April and save US$600 in the process.

Anyway, to everyone out there, have a wonderful rest of the year! We have 5 days left to be naughty before we start making ultimately futile New Year resolutions to be good and sensible with our bodies, minds and money; so indulge in those guilty pleasures while you can- double servings of carbohydrates in one meal, a Farrelly brothers movie marathon, pedicure+manicure+ facial in one appointment, and blowing that credit card limit. Go knock yourselves out!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Bonjour!

So here we are sitting at Second Cup, Montreal's own Starbucks on the corner of Rue Guy and Boulevard de Maisonneuve. It's pouring freezing rain outside and there's slush galore- we love Montreal! No seriously though, most of Canada is expecting snow storms over Christmas weekend and there's supposed to be at least 30cm of snow on the way... thank god for the city's subway system and underground shopping.

We just had a Lebanese sandwich and a mug of soy latte for lunch, testimony to the multi-culturalism of this place. The second largest French-speaking city after Paris but also decidedly North American, Montreal is both European and cosmopolitan at the same time, which is one of the biggest reasons why Jude & I enjoy it so much. You see Cambodian merchants in Chinatown speaking English and Chinese students from McGill University- some believe to be the Harvard of Canada- ordering a Belgian confection in French at our favorite boulangerie, Premiere Moisson.

So anyways, we'll update again when we can- for now, we're off to do some Christmas shopping for our uncle. Slush and all...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The land of maple syrup, poutine and smoked meat

Alright guys, Jude & I are off to Canada! We're gonna make a pit stop in Toronto today just to break the journey up and see the city a little, and after that, it'll be 10 glorious days in Montreal! After the craziness of the past 2 months, we can't wait for this break, -19C or not... Jude's uncle has lived in Montreal for the past 20 years and this is Jude's fourth trip there, my third and our second this year alone (go figure that out!). We've been to every nook and cranny- from Chinatown, to the many, many churches (which are apparently more frequented by tourists than worshippers), to galleries, to the historic district, to the ingenious underground city these Quebecois have built so they can shop in comfort in their frigid winter.

We're thinking of going skiing too but we'll see- somehow the prospect of spending our vacation recovering from a sore hamstring and a potential twisted ankle isn't very alluring... Anyways, we'll check in when we can- for its wonderful offerings, the one thing we find frustrating about Montreal is the lack of wireless cafes. Oh well, you win some, you lose some- the things you give up for a good break.

So to everyone- have a HAPPY HOLIDAY- we sure will!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The dirty dozen and one frenchman

We watched Ocean's 12 last night and it was disappointing. I really loved the first one (I haven't watched the original with the Rat Pack but heard it wasn't great...)- thought it was very smart, very funny and very, very entertaining. The sequel just kind of felt a little contrived, like it was trying to hard to be clever but not really succeeding. Even George Clooney and Brad Pitt who had such great chemistry in the first one seem to be posing more than they were acting. There was such a natural ease about their trickery in Ocean's 11, like they were born for those roles; in Ocean 12, they just seemed kind of... I don't know, bored? The plot was an especial let-down. A backpack? C'mon! I have to say though, this was probably the only movie in which I wasn't annoyed by Catherine Zeta-"I-stole-the Oscar-from-Julianne Moore"-Jones. She was surpringly watchable- she owes her hair & fashion stylist so much.

The saving grace of the movie though for me, 2 words: Vincent Cassel. Very delicious- very, especially in that feat of balletic larceny. In his other films, he's always either drugged-out, messed-up, or both. Check out La Haine and Irréversible. One of the bad boys of French cinema, it was refreshing to see him as a debonair multi-millionaire. And can you imagine how gorgeous his kid with Monica Bellucci must be? *Sigh*... there're beautiful people, and then there're beautiful people...

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Of gravy, gods and genuflection

I've finished my last Masters assignment!! As of 10 minutes ago, with my final Educational Policy paper, I've technically "graduated" with a Masters degree in Education from the University of Michigan. Euphoric? Not really, a little relieved maybe. It's been a great ride and honestly, I don't think I've enjoyed studying as much as I have this one-half years (and this is the closet geek in me talking no less...). Sunday would have been the day of my graduation ceremony but I won't be attending, not as a graduand anyway. Here, they call it Commencement, the day from which you commence the rest of your life with the degree you now hold. It hadn't occured to me that I could have "graduated" on Sunday (kind of) until someone asked me about it a couple of days ago. I guess having another four more years to go dampens the buoyant joy one is supposed to feel at the conferral of a Masters degree. The day I successfully defend my Doctoral dissertation, now that will be an occasion...

Nonetheless, some of our friends will be partaking of that great Michigan tradition known as "walking", i.e. the whole robe-and-mortar-board fanfare. Got me thinking of my students who graduated this year from junior college; these are the students I'd left behind when we came here last year. They were great kids and I would have loved to have been at their graduation in October. If you're reading guys, take a look at a commencement ceremony speech Salman Rushdie gave at Bard College a while back. Be inspired by what he has to say about never looking down, never giving in, and never compromising what you believe is rightfully yours. The education you've earned is the first few things in your life you can legitimately call your own, and you have the power to make that count. Go make it count. Go weave your tapestries and steal the fire.

And to Jason & Stan, happy graduation!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

iJude



Ok, so the thing I put off saying in yesterday's blog was about my surprise for Jude. And you probably guessed it, it's the only thing apart from getting his PhD and winning the lottery that my husband really wants- an iPod. The reason why I wanted to bring it up when I was talking about passive/aggressive behavior was that getting this Christmas present for him truly tested my personal threshold of being "nice". In fact, I wasn't at all. Seriously people, don't try and get between me and Christmas shopping (especially when it's Christmas shopping for my husband)- it's not pretty... To make a long story short, what started out as just using a $100 Amazon.com voucher to offset the price of the 20GB iPod turned into an odyssey of missing packages, rants and raves over the phone, an admittedly unreasonable but miraculously fulfilled request (ok, demand...), and an unexpected holiday bonus. All things said and done, for US$179.99, we now have a 40GB AND a 20GB Apple iPod! I kid you not...

Ok, Jude wants to say something:
I love it, I love it, I love it, and I love my wife!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

McIntyre Drive

I love being at home. Especially when it's billowing snow outside and the temperature's a frigid 13F (for those of you who speak Celsius, a.k.a. the rest of the world, that's -10C). Taking a break from my final statistics project which considering my number-phobic, Math-hating days, is turning out to be miraculously quite fun. But that's another story... Anyways, Jude and I fought hard to get this place; not in the literal sense of swords and clubs, of course but we're talking placards and protests. If you were in Ann Arbor in the summer, you'd have know the huge housing fracas that besieged us. I don't want to belabor the issue but you can read about it here.

That was when I attended my first protest rally (like what grad school exprerience in America is complete without going to some sort of protest right?) and it was awesome. Mums & dads with their kids in strollers, people wearing t-shirts and carrying signs. it was hardly the rabid angry marches we're used to thinking of. I was really quite proud actually. I'd always thought of myself as slightly passive- people always say I'm too "nice" to do anything radical or aggressive, which is just a euphemism for saying I'm boringly placid...(Ok, so there's something I want to say right about here but I can only do that after tomorrow... you'll find out soon enough why...) Anyways, the protest was an extremely liberating experience and something I'll always remember doing I guess. No more boringly placid there...

So now we have a townhouse- more room than two people need actually but it's great coz Jude & I can study without getting into each other's way like we did in the little dinghy we used to call home. What I like most about it apart from the space is that we now have a huge sliding door that opens to a field behind. It gets a little noisy during the Spring to Fall months because of children playing, but in Winter (which of course in this blinking place is 5 months out of the year), it's really nice just watching the snow blanket the whole place. You get the occasional kid and parent sledding down the slope but it's snowing so hard half the time and the wind's blowing so loudly the other that you can't even hear them...

Speaking of winter, holiday movie recommendation: Love Actually. It's not that great a movie, but it has its moments. Two favorite scenes (without spoiling it for anyone): one involving eels, and another where no one is actually talking. Jude doesn't like it very much but I remember watching it in the summer and wishing it was Christmas there and then. It's one of those movies you watch kind of smiling wistfully to yourself and then go, "Yeah right, like that would happen." and then promptly watch it a second time. Good fun.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Return of the killer ex-students

For those of you who actually follow the comments left on our tag-board, you'd realize that lately, we've been getting greetings from people with some very strange names... It seems we've been tracked down by our ex-students who through some conniving genius (which we hope was put to constructive use when they were in school...) have found this blog.

Jude & I were teachers in-charge of the school drama club back home and we had some great times with those kids. That's the one thing I love most about teaching- the students. I couldn't be happier now to be free of the administrative shenanigans and school politics but I miss my students a whole lot. I had the great fortune of only having gotten wonderful teenagers to teach, self-inflicted existential angst or otherwise; and even those who really could have reigned in their hormones alot more than they even tried were at the end of the day sweet kids stuck in a wannabe grown-up shell. Jude would beg to differ with me on many of those counts, but then again, he's got a whole ton of baggage about teaching- I don't even want to go there...

So to all our students, Drama or not, we miss you guys. Take care of yourselves and remember what Mr. Yew always says, "It's like planting a seed." (stifled guffaw...)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Here's looking at you kid



I've been meaning to do this for a while: everyone, meet Amelia. This sweetie-pie of a girl is our niece and I think she just turned six months old a couple of weeks ago. Our brother and sister-in-law Joe and Carol are her proud parents and I think it's only right that the world be introduced to such a cutie. She looks like daddy but has mummy's pretty eyes. Yup, and imagine, Jude & I can actually stake some legitimate relational claim to a baby as gorgeous as this!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Drumroll please...

I lost. We more or less unanimously decided that our friend Sarah deserved to win the desert island movie bet. The girl clearly had too much time in her undergrad years to watch all these cool films, and she came up with the most compelling and thoroughly unassailable arguments about why her list was the best. How do you argue with "My husband proposed at Shallow Hal."?... Oh well, she was also nice enough to just ask for a burrito for lunch so no big damage done there.

But they did buy yours truly a bubble tea though for recommending Tombstone of the Fireflies. They were so taken with the picture I posted that they rented the video over Thanksgiving and watched it together. I have to apologize for what became their most depressing Thanksgiving Friday in history. One friend cried into her sweet potato mash...

They thought it was phenomenal (see, told you...) and agreed I deserve some kind of reward. By then, I'd already met my coffee quota for the day (and mind you, it was only three in the afternoon) so I thought bubble tea would be more prudent. Of course in return for the lack of caffeine, my body had to put up with the astronomical sugar content, and the fact that each tapioca pearl is seven calories... Oh well, que sera sera.

So now, on top of the tons of books I want to read, the many movies opening that I need to watch (yes, it's a "need"...), I have to catch up on all the great movies I've missed. Someone tell me again why I'm in grad school?...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Nkosi Johnson



I didn't know yesterday was World Aids Day until I saw the red ribbon on the Google site (you always know what significant day it is from the Google site...) and then listening to NPR last night where Michele Norris was talking about Nkosi Jacobson. He's the little African boy who at the time of his death, was the longest surviving child with AIDS. He was somewhat of a crusader who not only rallied support to fight the epidemic but also fought for greater understanding of the disease and its victims. It was a sobering and profoundly moving hour, listeing not only to Jim Wooten talk about his book, We Are All the Same but more importanly, about the little boy who's at the center of it. You can hear audio clips of him speaking on the NPR site and his small voice speaks so much louder than all the celebrities and AIDS crusaders put together. Speaking to the 2000 International AIDS Conference, he said, “You can't get AIDS by hugging, kissing, holding hands. We are normal. We are human beings. We can walk, we can talk.... We have needs just like everyone else. We are all the same.” This is a dying 12 year-old African boy. I cried.

Ironically, in a world where we pride ourselves for having knowledge and information at the snap of our fingertips, one of the biggest things that stands in the way of battling AIDS is ignorance. Not just ignorance on the part of people who could be at risk, but Ignorance in general. We associate the disease with immorality, crime and lasviciousness, but does that somehow make the victims lesser beings? And what of victims like Nkosi, or the millions of people like him who contract the disease by no fault of their own?

I have no answer to how to battle AIDS, and I can't even say I know what to do to help. But the least we can all do is open our minds and hearts a little to understanding the reality of the epidemic, acknowledge that it is killing thousands of people everyday, and that no, it is not something that is happening in a place far away from you; it's everywhere. Please think of all the Nkosi Johnsons of the world today.