Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Course evaluations

So I got my course evaluations back on the class I taught in the Fall. They were most affirming :) This is the first time I had the class all to myself, and not just as a teaching assistant, so it was a little scary to think that the evaluations were a reflection of my efforts alone, and I couldn't blame anyone if the numbers looked bad... But they aren't; in fact, out of a 5.00, I scored 4.98 on "Overall, the instructor was an excellent teacher.", 4.78 on "The instructor appeared to have a thorough knowledge of the subject.", and 4.82 on "The instructor seemed well prepared for each class." So that was nice :)

What I was more encouraged by though were not the comments about me so much as the ones about how the class had not only valued them as learners, but also prompted them to think differently about issues of equity and education. Consistently, there were high scores on items like "Students in this course were free to disagree and ask questions.", "I learned to value new viewpoints.", "I was stimulated to discuss related topics outside of class." and "I learned to think critically about difficult issues of diversity." What more can an instructor in multicultural education ask for? As a teacher, two things I've always found most gratifying- whether it's teaching 3 year olds, 17 year olds, or 22 year olds- is that 1) they grow as persons in an awareness of themselves and their abilities; and 2) they take from me a understanding of the subject area which they themselves have conceived on their own.

It's also always great to read the kind affirmations students give in their comments. This one's my favorite because it captures everything I had hoped to achieve with the class (and it also feeds the narcissistic self-validation that's always a small part of this whole teaching endeavor...):
This is honestly the best School of Ed class I've had (and now I'm done with the program). Serene was an excellent teacher- always prepared, always kind, always willing to help. Class discussion was really valuable and helped me engage in the topics and look at other viewpoints. When asked to say what I think, sometimes I can be narrow-minded but discussing with others helped me to see other perspectives and to value other viewpoints.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I've been tagged...

In response to Dave Choi's tag request:

Four jobs I've had:
  • Sandwich maker at Long John Silver
  • Arts journalist
  • English Literature and Theatre teacher
  • Custodian at the School of Public Health

    Four movies I can watch over and over:
  • Chungking Express
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Wings of Desire
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

    Three places I've lived:
  • Singapore
  • Perth, Australia
  • Ann Arbor, MI

    Two TV shows I love:
  • Lost
  • My Name is Earl

    Four places I've vacationed:
  • Montreal, Canada
  • Chang Rai, Thailand
  • Boston, MA
  • NYC

    Four of my favorite dishes:
  • Curry chicken
  • Jap Chae (Korean fried noodles)
  • Tempeh
  • Any kind of noodle in soup

    Four sites I visit daily:
  • New York Times
  • My bloglines site
  • Techbargains.com
  • CTools

    Four places I'd rather be right now:
  • Coast of Western Australia
  • Anywhere interviewing Tori Amos
  • Somewhere in Latin America
  • Anywhere as long as I've graduated

    Four bloggers I'm tagging:
  • Dave
  • Stan
  • Jonas
  • Jeff
  • 年年有余, 步步高升*



    So preparation for Chinese New Year (or whatever can be considered "preparation") began last week when we gave the house a good spring cleaning of sorts- nothing elaborate like decorating the place with pussy willows and red banners for luck of course (which I do miss a little...). Mercifully, the weather was nice & mild yesterday and so we managed to give Ocha a thorough wash. I think we haven't washed the car since November when the weather turned brutal for a month or so, so if I were Ocha, I would have been eternally grateful for the good bath :)

    These cleaning rituals are symbolic of ridding oneself of the remnants of the old year in order to usher in the new year afresh, ready to receive the good luck and blessings with which it comes. Here's a website to check out all the traditional practices associated with the Lunar New Year. Some of them are a little silly (not washing your hair on New Year's Day??!!) but I also grew up with so many of them and there's always something to be said about preserving some element of one's cultural identity.

    Lunar New Year's Eve is supposed to be the time when all the members of the family come together for a meal, and as I imagine my entire extended family feasting on my grandman's heartwarmingly satisfying 8-course dinner, Jude and I had a roast beef dinner of our own. I know, I know, more Thanksgiving than Chinese New Year, but hey, it's just the two of us- at least we didn't just call for pizza! Some of Jude's classmates did get together for a New Year potluck of sorts today though. Everyone brought a little something homecooked and it was nice. None of the symbolic yu sheng, fatt choy, or nian gao like home, but it was good fun just the same :)

    So to everyone who celebrates the Lunar New Year, here's wishing you a joyous Year of the Dog blessed with great prosperity, happiness and longevity!

    *May you enjoy a surplus in your fortunes every year, and rise in success with each new endeavor! (Traditional Lunar New Year greeting)

    Thursday, January 26, 2006

    Of robots, dolls and monsters


    Isn't this plush robot absolutely adorable? It's so whimsically delightful, complete with its own little girl inside controlling the one-eyed mechanical man with a red-knobbed lever. I want!! This is the artist's blog and it comes with lots of lovely art links. The doll also reminds me of Sheeta and her robot friend in Laputa. Here's a life-size model of it on top of the Ghibli Museum in Japan.

    I love dolls made of fabirc- there's just something incredibly elemental and comforting about the feel of a cloth toy, even if they are monsters. Jude bought a couple of these darling critters called Uglydolls as Christmas presents last year. Aren't they just the cutest things? My favorite is Wage. He works in a supermarket.

    Of course, not all dolls are created equal in Serene's eyes. I have a very real fear of model dolls- ok, I'm not sure what you call them, but you know the ones which are really stiff (they're either made of plastic, procelain, or even wood), dressed up in real-people clothing and look amazingly life-like? Some of them have eyes which blink too... Yikes, getting the heebie-geebies already. Don't ask me what the root of the phobia is; that's why it's called a phobia- it's irrational.

    Case in point, Steven Soderbergh's new movie Bubble opens tomorrow. Now, apart from the media furor that's been created because of its simultaneous release on big screen, DVD, and cable, it's also a movie about dolls. Well, dollmakers specifically. And a murder. Perfect. Go watch the trailer (or even just look at the poster...), and you'd understand why this girl had her hands over her eyes throughout the 30-second trailer with her heart palpitating wildly, and why if I ever had to choose between being in a room full of snakes and a room full of those dolls (dismembered or otherwise), I'd take the reptiles any day...

    Saturday, January 21, 2006

    What's in a face?

    How hilarious!... Stumbled on this face recognition application where you upload a picture online and they'll match it with a celebrity's. This is what I got with this shot of us:

    I tried other pictures and got an insane variety of results ranging from Bill Gates and Steven Soderbergh for Jude, to Aung San Su Kyi and Jerry Seinfeld (???) for me. Go figure...

    Friday, January 20, 2006

    Epiphany II (albeit with a mini-crisis...)

    So I had another academic/ professional epiphany today- it's seems to be an annual affair, these sudden crystallizations of clarity... Anyways, as part of our professional seminar today, we had a video conference with American Institutes of Research, a research organization which does a lot of work on education and other related fields. It was basically the professor showing us what other options there are after graduation apart from tenure-track professorships. I've never really been inclined to teach at a collegiate level anyway- it just seems a little remote from what I really want to do. And the presenters at AIR made the prospect of being a research analyst/ scientist very alluring. It's not that I want to now go work for them (although they did seem to appreciate very much the research skills with which our school has prepared us- they hire many Michigan alums because our research methodology department is apparently very well regarded, which also happens to be what my Masters was in, Educational Policy and Research Methodology, so that's a good start I suppose.) But more importantly, their presentation got me very excited about the kinds of opportunities there are out there for me to do I want to do- in a nutshell, help kids.

    And this is where the crisis comes in. I'll be done with my coursework by the end of the calendar year, which means I'm going to have to start thinking about my dissertation topic. I told myself I have to figure this out by the end of this semester and today's talk has just stressed me out so much in this regard. Do I want to do a historical analysis of early childhood education/ development because my advisor's an education historian and I love him dearly and want to keep him on my committee, or do I do a methods-based analysis of more contemporary issues which may necessitate that I switch advisors and involve tons of number crunching? What's my topic going to be then? What's my conceptual model going to look like? Can I figure this all out by April? How long is it going to take? What kind of job can I get after that? Here? In Singapore? Anywhere??? See what I mean by crisis??!!

    I was so bothered I thoroughly burnt myself out at the gym. Hard. We're talking 600 calories/hr hard. Think I was going to fall off the elliptical if that's actually possible. I should have run outside today actually, it wasn't that cold and the brisk air might have done me some good- what could be more cathartic than running in 38F weather? I just realized that when I get stressed, I exercise and cook (remember my big pot of chicken-mushroom pasta episode?), which is why tomorrow, I'm baking more cranberry cookies and making a big pot of curry for dinner. Thank god I don't veg out and gouge myself under stress, I don't think my body would ever forgive me.

    I'm sorry if this post has been dreadfully self-absorbed- I just needed to see my thoughts in words, articulate it somehow before I can plan what to do next. I'd better figure this out soon- a girl can only run so fast and bake a finite number of cookies...

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Cranberry Hootycreeks


    Our friends have been most wonderful in telling us that the Christmas present we gave them turned out really scrummy so I figured I should try it out on my own (how embarassing is it when people thank you for a gift you haven't the slightest clue about and which could have been an absolute disaster...). So thankfully, the semester is starting off well (read: only two classes and research this term- my entire physiological system thanks me...) so I took some time off reading today and decided to bake. And also anything to take my mind of the depressing winter weather. Oh my, we're talking gooood cookies man... I'm sure I didn't cream the butter and eggs correctly (without a hand-mixer, I had to whisk them up by hand which meant the result wasn't exactly "fluffy"- tell me this is THE unforgivable deadly baking sin, Wendy) but who cares, the cookies turned out great!

    I couldn't resist popping three into my mouth minutes after they came out of the oven (what have I been saying about Serene Koh's lack of self-control?). Y-U-M-M-Y!! I actually enjoyed the sweet creaminess of the white chocolate which was nicely balanced by the slightly tart cranberries- and this is coming from a person who categorically does not eat white chocolate (excuse me, but that's like saying decaffeinated coffee is acceptable...) We ran out of white sugar so I had to use Splenda instead but trust me, no harm done whatsoever.

    Hmm... I could get used to this baking thing...

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    Vox Humana: New British Honda Civic ad



    I have always been fascinated by sparse music arrangements that utilize one idea: the power of the human voice to translate feelings and emotions in a non-idiomatic form. When thinking about this, a number of artists come to mind: Bjork and Meredith Monk. However, I just came across this Honda ad via Digg. Click on the word "Watch" at the bottom of the webpage. I thought that this was a pretty amazing take at what recreating the experience of driving a car feels like.

    Saturday, January 14, 2006

    Washington D.C.

    So the training seminar went great- it was a little tiring sitting in front of the computer from 8.00-5.00 three days in a row exploring mounds of data, but they were so rich and able to address so many child development issues that you forget the tedium after a while. The training was primarily designed as a methodological seminar to acquaint us with this huge nationally-representative data-set which follows close to 3 million of America's children from birth, but fundamentally, people were there not to discuss things like weightings and standard deviations; I met nursing practitioners, pediatricians, federal research analysts, professors, and other grad students from all over the country who came together in order to explore a whole spectrum of issues to do with children, not just their educational well being, but also their physical and neurological trajectory, and there was even a man there from the U.S. Department of Agriculture looking at the effects of food stamps on the development of disadvantaged kids! It was just wonderfully gratifying to be in the company of so many like-minded people, working in different ways towards the common ideal of improving and sustaining the well-being of all children.

    The only downside of the trip was that I didn't get to see the city much at all. All the museums and galleries are operating on Winter hours right now so they were closed by the time I got out. And it would have been too much of a hike from where I stayed to get to the monuments so the only time I got to see them was on the way to and from the airport. They looked awesome of course, especially lit up at night, but it would have been incredible to have been able to get a close up view. What I did get to see of D.C. though was gorgeous- the really quaint architecture was particularly lovely. So much of the city has been preserved throughout the years so you have these wonderfully pretty buildings that look like that came straight out of a Henry James novel... Jude would love to see the city too, so who knows, we might make a trip there one day just for the fun of it. But don't worry all you people in the Bay Area, you guys get priority of course!

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Can you tell me how to get...


    So guess what I spent the weekend doing? Research. On Sesame Street! Oh the bliss... The new project I'm on from this semester is focused on developing a literacy curriculum targetted at disadvantaged children, and Sesame Street is providing us with clips from the show to incorporate in our lessons. We might even be going to New York sometime this term to watch some of its production.

    Basically, I spent the weekend going through tons of Sesame Street archived clips and materials and developing a set of criteria for what a good clip ought to be like. It was great to say the least- not just revisiting Ernie and Bert and Snuffalopagus (is this even how you spell Snuffy's real name?), but really getting into the whole job of understanding what Sesame Street was originally conceived to do- help underprivileged children learn while they were being left in front of the TV. I mean, the Muppets aren't just there to be cute (although honestly, someone should give Elmo a dose of Ritalin...), they have been intentionally designed to act in ways that not only captivate children, but also to help them develop a sound vocabulary and a sense of language mastery. I had never thought to consider this so carefully before. Analyzing each clip so intensely does take some of the joy out of watching the clips, but still, watching Sesame Street as research? I'm not complaining...

    Anyway, I'm off to D.C. tomorrow for a training seminar. It's fully paid for by the National Center for Educational Statistics and they're putting me up at some swanky hotel in the middle of the city. The last time I was in D.C. was more than 10 years ago and only for a day (it was part of a whirlwind 10-city in two weeks tour where I got chicken pox in Disneyland, but that's another story...); but just my sorry luck, the seminar's from 8.30- 5.00 everyday which means I won't be able to check out any of the museums and galleries... *crap*... But the area I'm staying at is supposed to be pretty trendy so we'll see, I might still be able to see some interesting shops and soak in what I can of D.C.'s sights and sounds.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    JCB song

    [click for website]


    This is courtesy of my best friend who loves me so much as to share with me this delightful song and its equally delightful website. It's written by a dyslexic guy who used to get bullied alot in school and about his dad who would rescue him from school some days and take him in his JCB, a mobile crane (apparently there're loads of them in the UK.) It's a tremendously sweet and moving song about boyhood, imagination, and a father's love. The website is superbly designed- enjoy the illustrations and you can even doodle with a virtual pencil and save your drawing.

    Have fun, and don't cry too hard!


    Well, I'm rumblin' in this JCB.
    I'm 5 years old and my dad's a giant sitting beside me.
    And the engine rattles my bum like berserk
    While we're singin, 'Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to work!'

    My dad's probably had a bloody hard day
    But he's been good fun and bubblin and jokin' away
    And the procession of cars stuck behind
    are gettin all impatient and angry, but we dont mind.

    An' we're holdin up the bypass, oh...
    Me and my dad havin a top laugh, oh-woah...

    I'm sittin on the toolbox, oh...
    And I'm so glad I'm not in school, boss
    So glad I'm not in school

    Oh no...

    And we pull over to let cars past
    And pull off again, speedin by the summer green grass
    And we're like giants up here in our big yellow digger
    Like zoids, or transformers, or maybe even bigger

    And I wanna transform into a Tyrannosaurus Rex!
    And eat up all the bullies and the teachers and their pets
    And I'll tell all my mates that my dad's B.A. Baracus
    Only with a JCB and Bruce Lee's nunchuckas

    And We're holdin up the bypass, Oh...
    Me and my dad havin a top laugh, Oh weh oh

    I'm sittin on the toolbox, Oh...
    And I'm so glad I'm not in school, boss
    So glad I'm not in school

    And we're holdin up the bypass, Oh...
    Me and my dad havin a top laugh, Oh-Weh-Oh
    I'm sittin on the toolbox, Oh...

    And I'm so glad I'm not in school, Boss
    So glad I'm not in school

    Said I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round

    And we're holdin' up the bypass, Weh-Oh

    Me and my dad havin a top laugh, Oh...
    And I'm sittin on the toolbox, oh-oh...

    And I'm so glad I'm not in school, Boss
    So glad I'm not in school

    I said

    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his
    Aw, I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.
    I'm Luke, I'm five, and my dad's Bruce Lee. Drives me round in his JCB.

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    My father's hometown

    My family history is a bit of a mystery to me and I have long been kept in the dark about many things. One thing that I know for sure is that my paternal grandmother was married to a man in Sumatra, Indonesia. The other that I knew for sure is that she ran away from this man (unheard of during the time!) and fled into Japanese occupied Singapore to be with her family. This was something that I find unthinkable, given that the Japanese were cruel occupiers who were beheading locals that resisted their rule. What makes it even more amazing is that she fled with 4 children in tow. However, this is a digression from what I wanted to write about in this post.

    What I have not known for the longest time, nor did it occur to me to ask, is where exactly in Sumatra did my grandmother and her children flee from? This recent trip back to Singapore served to uncover this little family secret of mine. During one of those lazy afternoons, when my father would be sitting in the living room watching dangdut (Indonesian pop/dance music) music videos, it finally occured to me to ask for the precise location of my paternal roots. I had thought that my father would be evasive with his answer, but instead he plainly said that he came from Pagaralam!

    With this knowledge in hand, I did a little googling to find out more about this place. After all, there is a great possibility that my paternal grandfather remarried and that we would have family there. But that is besides the point. The information I found was strange, fascinating and adds a little bit more mystery to the mythology of my family's past.

    The very first webpage that I found describes this area in Sumatra as such:

    "One of the strangest, most remote and mysterious archaeological sites in all of Southeast Asia is found in the 70-kilometer-long Pasemah Highlands of the Bukit Barisan range in southern Sumatra. Located between Lahat and Pagaralam are 26 sites consisting of carved boulders, chamber tombs and terraced sanctuaries."

    This little bit of information was enough to set me off on a 4 hour long Google expedition of Pagaralam. What I know now of the place can be summarized below:
      It is very remote, and a really tough journey from any international entry point on Sumatra. Check out this photo gallery of the region that I found.
      It resides underneath an active volcanoe called Gunung Dempo (see photo below). This volcanoe belongs to the same chain of seismic activity as Krakatoa and the one that caused the terrible Tsunami last year.


      It is the site of a strange pre-Hindu civilization relics and tombs that is the subject of much archeological speculation. These strange objects take me back to the childhood stories told to me by my grandmother and father. The stories often revolved around that of "invisible forest people" who would kidnap little children if they played hide and seek. And that these children would be fed noodles that made them invisible as well. Look at the photos below, I now know where those stories told to me are coming from.


    I have long held the notion that one day this family history would make a great novel or script. Perhaps this blogpost is a start :)

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Recovery...

    is slow. I'm not sure if it's a because of the jetlag, but I'm still feeling really sluggish. The fever's gone and the throat is healing somewhat I suppose, but have ludicrously developed a cough. Think I drank too much cooling herbal tea to combat the sore thoat. I'm convinced that inundating my system with paracetemol has somehow drugged me out- can't seem to muster the energy to do anything, like put my contact lenses on, or eat, for that matter. Keep gravitating towards the bed all the time. I'm posting now primarily to keep from going to sleep like I did last night at 8pm. Need to regulate that clock.

    And what's with Ann Arbor these days??? I've never seen it so depressing. Rain, fog, slush and everything's just brown and gray, like a page from The Hound of the Baskervilles... The upside is that it isn't frigid like it was this time last year, but with snow and the brisk cold, at least things are bright and pretty even if you are cursing under your breath and wondering why they don't make thermals any warmer... Since we've been back, the city's just been blanketed by a dreary mist of sorts. Maybe that's why I'm not getting any better.

    Alright, think I might just give in to The Almighty Tylenol now- Its powers are far too mighty for this mere mortal to deny...

    I resist no more.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Home

    We're back. Groggy and a little discombobulated from the excruciatingly long flight, but at least we're back on solid ground. Of all the things to happen before a 22-hour long trip, I fell sick on New Year's Day, the day before we left (we gain a day flying East to West). A high fever and an awfully swollen throat. Needless to say, the flight was even more dreadful than usual. My fever has more or less broken now (I think I just need to sleep), but my throat's absolutely killing me. Think I'll need to go to the doctor's tomorrow for a course of antibiotics. Shall post again when I feel better. Until then, I just want to crawl under my blankie and stay there forever...

    Oh, and Happy New Year everyone!