Saturday, February 26, 2005

"I want to thank the Academy..."

I've done it again- I've NOT watched everything I want to watch in time for the Oscars. We might be able to squeeze in one tomorrow but I don't think we'll find the time to do any more. Besides, some of them haven't even opened here yet (re: The Sea Inside). This New York Times article actually talks about Ann Arbor specifically not getting some of the Oscar movies even though they opened on the coasts before Christmas. The drawback (amongst many others) of living in a Midwestern college town...

Anyway, every year, my best friend and I cast off any semblance of maturity and dignity, and give ourselves in to the mania known as Oscar fever. We've been known to cut classes, take time off work, and basically rework our lives in a way where that 3 hours and 47 minutes is absolutely and totally sacrosanct. Until I started teaching, we even watched it together in her dorm room for four years in a row. The first year we couldn't, we were on the phone throughout the whole ceremony...

So anyway, recently, we decided to put our money where our mouths are and started wagering. There's technically no money involved- last year's wager was a latte and we haven't figured what it'll be this year. But she's a lawyer now, so she can afford to buy me a meal when I go home. Jude of course will have no part in any of this- he belives it's all rigged and that the Oscars is just a self-congratulatory gesture on Hollywood's part to remind itself of its own importance. Bah-hambug!

My predictions range from those I truly believe should win, those who will win but don't deserve to by a long shot, and others who are on my list for no other reason than my attempt at informed clairvoyance- c'mon, how many documentary short subject films do I look like I have time to watch? And was I really paying attention to the sound editing in Spiderman 2??

Best Picture: THE AVIATOR (because it has all the pedigree trappings of a winner, kind of like Chicago over The Hours which is one of the biggest travesties in Hollywood history if you ask me.)
Best Actor: Jamie Foxx
Best Actress: Annette Bening (she should win it from Hilary Swank this year who's an actress, like Renee Zellweger (*snigger*) who's only as good as the script)
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman (hello, it's Morgan Freeman, although until I watched Robin Hood and The Shawshank Redemption, I thought he was just some guy in Electric Company)
Best Supporting Actress: Virginia Madsen (because they have to compensate for Paul Giamatti not getting a nomination and Sideways not winning...)
Best Director: Clint Eastwood
Best Foreign Film: THE SEA INSIDE
Best Original Screenplay: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (need I say more?)
Best Adapted Screenplay: SIDEWAYS
Best Animated Feature: THE INCREDIBLES (favorite character- Edna Mode the designer: "Pull yourself together! *whack whack*)
Best Art Direction: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
Best Cinematography: A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (because of the injustice of it not being nominated for Best Foreign Film which it should have been able to win hands down)
Best Sound: THE AVIATOR
Best Sound Effects Editing: THE INCREDIBLES
Best Editing: THE AVIATOR
Best Original Score: FINDING NEVERLAND
Best Original Song: Learn To Be Lonely (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA)
Best Costume: THE AVIATOR
Best Documentary Feature: BORN INTO BROTHELS
Best Documentary (short subject): THE CHILDREN OF LENINGRADSKY
Best Make-Up: LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
Best Animated Short Film: LORENZO
Best Live Action Short Film: WASP
Best Visual Effects: SPIDER-MAN 2

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Epiphany

Now I know how Tom Cruise felt in Jerry Maguire when he's suddenly struck by this moral epiphany and decides to change his entire philosophy about sports management. I'm not changing careers here don't worry- what it is though is that at this moment, I'm clearer than ever about why I'm doing what I'm doing.

Because I love it.

For the past month, I've been so overwhelmed by my teaching responsibiltiies and class assignments that I'd forgotten about why I decided to come back to school in the first place, the reason why I wasn't content with just a Masters degree and the driving force behind me waking up in the morning and NOT feeling awful about where I am. I'd forgotten to enjoy myself and appreciate the things I'm learning here. I think I've gained more knowledge and grown so much more intellectually here in the past year and a half than I've had throughout my entire education in Singapore. The ideas I've been made to think, the arguments I'd never before conceived of making have quite simply been remarkable considering the kind of student I'd always thought I was. I was never the brilliant one in class and I never felt I had to be. My parents didn't bring me up to be the kind of competitive over-achiever that many Singaporeans tend to be. I did the best I could and got by with decent grades.

But in the past 18 months, I've been challenged as I'd never been before but I've also done better than I'd ever done before. It's like my mind found the perfect environment for itself and before you know it, I was relishing the idea of attending classes, going through the tons of reading even if it meant staying up till three in the morning, and even now with the unbelievable amount of work I have, I still love every bit of what I do. I just have to keep reminding myslef that.

There isn't really quite a point to this post, just me going off on my stream of consciousness about how excited I am again about being in school. I know it might sound bizarre to many of you but I am. It's with an incredible feeling of exhilaration that I'm writing this. There's so much more ahead of me to learn and gain and I honestly cannot wait. More importantly, I can't wait to use what I learn to help the people who need it most. I keep telling my advisor that I don't want to just end up and education academic, I don't want to lock myself up in some ivory tower of a research university- no matter how prestigous- and lose sight of why I chose this field to begin with. I want to work with disadvantaged children- children in schools, children who can't go to school, work with teachers who work with these children, families of these children, etc. I want to work for an institution that cares about children who don't get the kind of education they deserve, whether it's because of the families they come from or the places in which they live. All this is very liberating because I know that with what I've learnt- whether it's social science statistics, urban demographics, civil justice or something as seemingly obtuse as pedagogical theory- and the knowledge and skills I will continue to gain, there's so much I can do to help them, in a way that was not open to me as a classroom teacher.

So that's my attempt at a personal statement- crystallized on the bus ride home and expectorated in ten minutes. I'm not sure if I'll someday look back at this and wonder what on earth I was thinking of, but for this moment, I'm feeling strangely empowered and very very happy about what I'm doing.

I hope I'll always feel this way.

Monday, February 21, 2005

In the bleak midwinter

We had one of the nicest afternoons in Ann Arbor today; despite the blizzard and ridiculous bucketloads of snow, we spent a warm, satisfying three hours at Eve celebrating a friend's birthday. There was great food, an ambience we one day hope to recreate in a home of our own, free flow of delicious coffee and the company of close friends. It's times like these that make us glad we're in grad school (you would think it's about the stimulating environment and intellectual challenge right? Nope- sorry folks, we're in grad school for the free flowing caffeine and warm home-made biscuits at pretty bistros...)

Jude also went snap-happy with our new digital camera so here are a whole ton of experimental pics. They're of various degrees of clarity, color and composition- some as a result of deliberate design, others by sheer fumbling. We're still learning the different functions of our fancy-schmancy full manual digicam- there're like seven different modes, three color options, and I don't know how many other little things you can fiddle with to tweak the photos. We promise to get a hang of it soon and take some nice shots of Ann Arbor in winter (which can be really pretty sometimes) and hopefully New York as it creeps into early spring.

Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY Chris & Billie!!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

La mala educación

So we just came back from the painfully unnerving but yet very very good Bad Education. I've only watched a couple of Almodovar's movies and like Talk to Her very much (the soundtrack by Caetano Veloso & Alberto Iglesias- who also does the stirring soundtrack for Bad Education- is excellent). Many critics have described the movie as a homage to Hitchcock and the entire film noir genre but that makes Almodovar seem like a mere acolyte and not the unique artist that he is. I haven't watched enough of his films to know when to call a film distinctively Almodovaresque (apart from his asexual obssession with women) but I do know that the combination of style, emotion, kitsch/ camp, imagination and even humor are trademarks that few directors before him, and I doubt many after, have or will exhibit.

Watch the movie for the wonderfully layered plot- it's been a while since someone has used the "play-within-a-play" to such seamless and unexpected effect. If not that, then watch it for Gael Garcia Bernal. Pronounced "GAH-ELL", I personally know at least five women whose knees just give way at the mere echo of that name... But really ladies, after this movie, I doubt you'll be able to take his heterosexuality as a given any more. Honestly.

Goce de la película!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I'm a closet groupie.

"We are not groupies... We're here because of the music. We are band aids."
- Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), "Almost Famous"

Ok, so why am I sitting here in front of my computer instead of being at the Michigan Theatre singing my lungs out with Keane? Because the concert's sold out that's why, and has been for the past 2 weeks. As a dear friend explicitly instructed (and that's putting things mildly), I was to "cast off (my) yoke of work and all that teaching mumbo-jumbo and GOOOOO!" (quote unquote). I suspect it was also a "request" borne out of her regret at catching Franz Ferdinand in Reading instead of Keane at Glastonbury... They're a great band (check out "Somewhere Only We Know", "Everybody's Changing", and "This is the Last Time"- what am I saying?? buy the whole darn album!) They remind me of how I felt when I bought Coldplay's first album- sooooo good. The Coldplay concert was fabulous too, and a double-bill with Travis no less- one of the most amazing three hours of my life. Oh and it was one of the first dates Jude and I had so yes, like I said, amazing...

Anyways, so British bands- I'm beginning to think that the land of fish-and-chips and Harrods produces really awesome bands- think The Beatles, U2, Radiohead, Belle and Sebastian, and of course now Coldplay, Travis and Keane. Now clearly, my music-guru-rabid-downloader-critic of a husband has the last say on these things, but honestly, the Brits just make great music. They're rock-solid lyricists and less formulaic in their arrangements no? Nothing against wonderful American bands like The Pixies, The Shins, and Death Cab for Cutie though- just my two-cents worth.

And just to make an honest comparison, Jude and I might just venture out West this summer to The Coachella Valley Music Festival, a two-day mega-music event held in California every year. I'm not even going to begin to describe the acts that will be appearing- suffice to say we're half-way towards getting our tickets there even if it means Jude having to miss his graduation... Coldplay, Cocteau Twins, Wilco, The Arcade Fire, Keane- enough said... Told you I was a closet groupie.

Since we're on the topic of music, I thought to just give a shout out to some friends of ours: The Observatory are a group of people Jude used to play with back home in Singapore and they're actually going to be opening for a Chicago band called Tortoise when they tour in Singapore- very very exciting... Aside from the fact that Jude knows them, they are really quite good- us groupies adore nothing less than perfection. Another dear friend will also one day join the ranks of musicians with the profound privilege of having groupies- they may not all look like Kate Hudson, but there'll be groupies no less. The first time I heard his music, I was convinced he was just a very meticulous guitar tuner; 20 minutes later, I realized that was part of his performance. But it grows on you- really!- and I'm sure when he releases his first album, many people out there are going to feel the same way too (no, not that he's a great guitar tuner, that his music is wonderful...). Ladies and gentlemen, The Rattling Wall Collection in Dutch.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Light the first light of evening..."

Imagining a contentment so pure it's hard to think of this as a poem about love... Happy Valentine's Day.

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one . . .
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

-Wallace Stevens

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Death of A Good Man

So I found out this morning that Arthur Miller died yesterday. Jude's a huge fan- he went through all of Miller's stuff in his theatre program in undergrad; as for me, I've read enough to admire both his literary brilliance and social/ political convictions. I don't think you have to be an American living in the '50s to understand the political hysteria which motivates The Crucible or Willy Loman's middle-calss ennui in Death of a Salesman. Miller was a U-M alum and visited the university last year. I'm sure that as a playwright and an international literary icon, he will be dearly missed.

"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets."
- Arthur Miller

Thursday, February 10, 2005

新年快乐, 万事如意



Happy Lunar New Year everyone! Just spoke to my family on the phone and am now rolling in agony at missing out on all the pineapple tarts, bah kwa (sweet barbecued pork jerky), love letters and most importantly my mum's Chinese New Year dishes for the second year running. BUT, I'm also secretly grateful since Jude and I haven't ever had to dispense those little "ang pows" that married couples are obliged to give younger members of the family. Let's see, I have 2 sisters, 20 cousins and 6 nephews/ nieces- you go do the math... Advice to soon-to-be-married couples: leave the country six weeks after your wedding and do something overseas that prevents you from going home during Chinese New Years until your bank account is deep enough. You'll miss your family to death, but your pocket will thank you...

We're not doing anything special- it's just not the same here as it is at home- no Chinatown (yes, I do miss the sweaty jostling, the insane traffic, and how we used to tell ourselves every year we would never go there over Chinese New Year, but still do year after year...), no pussy willow, and the weather's a little of a damper; but I did make "bah kut teh" last night- it's a peppery herbal pork broth and very comforting this time of the year. It's not a personal favorite but Jude loves it so that was good. Oh and just for that authentic Oriental touch today, we had Chinese take-out for dinner. Seriously. And this is what my fortune cookie said: "Love is like sweet medicine- wonderful to the last drop." As much as I'm gagging at the terribly misplaced analogy, in the light of imminent Valentine's Day, I shall swallow (pun very much intended) this wise advice as my stomach mourns another year without pineapple tarts...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Therapy

It's been a really long week and on Wednesday, I really thought I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Juggling research, teaching and coursework is turning out to be a little more overwhelming that I'd expected. I'm not complaining- I really do enjoy everything I'm doing and am learning so much in the process. I just wish I could find some time to sit down and figure out exactly 1) how this all fits in my life (or how my life fits in all this to be more precise...), 2) how to do them all and do them well, 3) find some common thread that binds this constellation of things together in a way that makes what I do more coherent and less me zipping around doing a little of everything but not being good at much of anything, and 4) finding time to really enjoy this whole experience instead of feeling so drained every week playing catch-up.

I think the most rewarding thing I do right now- but also the most difficult- is teaching. Oh I love doing it, don't get me wrong. I'd thought it would be difficult to get back in the classroom again, and teaching American undergrads at that, but it isn't really. Being a teacher was a huge part of me then and I realized it might always be. There's just something very gratifying about putting a thought in someone's head which wasn't there a moment ago; that you've helped someone create knowledge that until you pointed the way, didn't exist in their mind. And this transcends age- it feels the same teaching little boy Alex about caterpillars and butterflies as it does discussing the inequities of school finance with 20-year old "I-want-to-be-sorority-president" Amanda. Which is why teaching would-be teachers is something I don't take lightly. I'm not teaching a methods class which is more the "how-to"s and "what-to"s of teaching; I do the more intangible things, the "why-to"s: the politics and sociology that surround education. But whatever the case may be, teaching teachers is tricky; it isn't just about teaching, but being very intentional about your teaching. It involves exposing to them the mechanics of MY teaching them so that they know what goes into teaching as a craft. It's like they need to see the invisible parts of teaching, and know that it's not easy, natural, and people are not "born with it." When I taught in Singapore, I tried to make my teaching seem effortless- my students should never know the planning that goes into what I do. To them, I was to be the person who knew it all, who came into class and taught with great ease because she was the consummate teacher.

But when teaching teachers, I have to literally unveil to my students what actually goes into me teaching them- the thinking, the planning, the ordering, the questioning... It may seem invisible, but only if you watch the final process and not the steps involved in that process. In a sense, I have to treat my students now not as students per se but would-be colleagues with whom I should share the rudiments of teaching. Now that's something new I'd never thought about until recently.

So as you can see, I've got a lot on my plate right now, and I haven't even started talking about my advanced statistics class (where I actually have to write programs in UNIX) and the early childhood research I'm doing... But this weekend has been uplifting and destressing in many ways: we had a nice sushi meal yesterday, spent two hours just mindlessly talking with friends over beer and garlic fries last night, our new digital camera finally arrived, the weather was gorgeous today (a.k.a. the sun was shining and I didn't have to spend 15 minutes dressing up to go out); and we just watched Finding Neverland, at which I had a good cry (which is always carthartic on some perverse level). And now, it's back to the drawing board for the coming week. I so need Spring Break...

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

My deadly sin

I've always thought that if I had to admit to one deadly sin, it would be gluttony. I love food too much, which is also why I haven't been able to stay on a diet conscientiously for more than a month. I figured life is too short to deny myself that slice of chocolate cake... That and a complete & utter lack of self-discipline... But lately- no thanks to my online-window-shopping maven of a husband- I'm beginning to think I'm becoming guilty of avarice, maybe convetousness. I dunno, where (or how) does shopping fit in here? Lust? Just check this out...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Gray Whale

I have an 11 year old sister, ok 12- her birthday's in 3 months. (At this age, being told she's 12 means a whole lot- go figure...) So anyway, for Christmas, against my better judgement, I bought her a Simple Plan poster even though my original intention was to get her the full set of Lemony Snicket books (in my not-so-subtle attempt to mold her in my image). Alas, apparently when you're 11 going on 12, books mean very little and Montreal-based punk rock bands mean a whole lot more. So she just received it (that's another story- don't go there) and also unceremoniously broke to me the news that not only did she buy the new Green Day album (she's 11! What does she know about walking the lonely road and the boulevard of broken dreams??!!), she's going to her first rock concert in March- Simple Plan of course...

So here I am, at the ripe old age of 28, suddenly assailed by maternal panic attacks at the prospect of my little girl growing up in a way I hadn't even entertained till a month ago. One moment ago she was a wee thing learning how to use chopsticks and the next, she's swearing undying devotion to some guy wielding drum sticks instead. Man... Jude says I should stop thinking like a mother and more like the sister I really am. I was like her when I was twelve too no? Ok fine, so I thought Tommy Page was God's gift to me and me alone and that New Kids on the Block were the coolest things to come my way since L.A. Gear high-cut sneakers. But I digress... Anyways, the point is that it's just hard seeing her grow up so fast, and without me by her side. That's one of the lousiest things about being here for the next four years- not being at home with my sis. Oh don't get me wrong, she's completely well-adjusted, very sensible and gets wonderful support from my other sister and parents. I just wish I were there too y'know, for what might potentially be the most tumultous years of her life thus far... Be there when she has her first crush (if she hasn't already), hug her when she comes home crying from that dramatic argument we've all had with best friends, defend her when my parents look at the phone bill, tell her what a big mistake it is when she wants to get a perm, ...

And yet, at the heart of every budding teen-queen is always a little girl and that little girl inside thankfully takes a little longer to grow up (I'm not even sure that part of me has grown up yet...) For some, the little girl is brought out by unicorns, for others, it's an unexplainable attachment to cotton-candy. For my sister Samantha, it's whales...

The Gray Whale (by Samantha Koh)
I am a gray whale
swimming in the sea
I just don't know why
people are trying to catch me
I am a living creature
having rights to live
Why must people like poachers
be so selfish
I just want to live
to live a normal life
Why must all these humans
kill me with those big sharp knives.