Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Students Blogging on Their Own!
It finally happened! I actually have 3 students continuing to blog on their own. They are my 3 best bloggers from the two semesters that I've used blogs with my class.

First is Hans, from last year's Level 2 class. He sent me a Christmas email, lamenting that he didn't practice his English as much since he went back to Korea, so I replied that he could always keep writing on his blog. Yesterday, he updated it! Check him out at Han's the showtime...

Next is Meg, who I have advertised a lot this semester. She's a grad student in nutrition, and I think she may well skip out of English classes and into academic study next semester. If you read her blog, leave her some comments so she feels encouraged to keep it up. She's one of the best ESL bloggers, or really any kind of blogger, that I know. World Traveler

And third is Takashi, who is unfortunately going back to Japan after this one semester. He has done an amazing job improving his English, and said he actually enjoyed writing his blog, so he plans to keep it up when he returns to Japan. He did note that he'd have to change the title, but right now it's Takashi in America. He's in NY on vacation right now, so he might not write again until he's back in Japan in a week or two, but I'm looking forward to it.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Today was the last day of classes for the semester at the ELC. Whoo-hoo! As a present, I got a little taste of redemption, and perhaps can be persuaded to believe I didn't totally waste my teaching time all semester.

First of all, this morning my students had to present their book reports as the culmination of their 3-week book reading project. They were taken to the bookstore and set free in the mystery section to select any book they wanted to read. Then they had 3 weeks to read the book, while keeping a reading journal to help them remember vocabulary and keep track of the plot. At the end of the project, they had to turn in the journal, a book review, and a reflection paper on what they thought they had learned or gained from the project. Some key quotes from the reflection papers:

"This time skim[ming] is very important skill when reading a novel. At beginning, I think skim[ming is] just don't look those difficult words while you reading, but I was wrong. Skim is choose the words you think is not important and if you didn't know the meaning it won't affect you understanding the whole story."

"I think the most important thing I learn is how to enjoy to read books."

"At the beginning when I started reading my book, I was kind of slow and very hard to concentrates, but after when I read until 50 pages, I felt I am much faster than before, and I also learned a lot new vocabularies."

Then, at the end-of-term party tonight, one of my good students, Takashi, told me that he actually enjoyed keeping his blog this semester and will continue to write on it, (or a new once, since it can't be "Takashi in America" anymore.) He also said that he wants to keep reading English books and would like to be able to ask me for advice about what to read. Yay!

To top it all off, I also got an email from a student from last year, Hans, who wrote:

"When I studied with you, I wrote many essays, and journal. Since back in Korea, it is rarely. I've never written any essay in English. So terrible to me. I reflect on my conduct. Maybe, you are teaching many Korean students. Please tell them. For improving Englsh ability, steady efforts are really important things."

I have had some impact. Hallelujah!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Richard Gere to dansu o shimasen
(I don't dance with Richard Gere. More or less.)

There are some things that just should not be done. One of those things is most definitely this. There is absolutely no excuse for an Americanized, fluffy star-studded version of the excellent Japanese movie Shall We Dansu?

If you compare the two basic movie descriptions, they look similar enough. Bored accountant signs up for ballroom dance lessons when he sees the beautiful instructor. However, that manages to completely miss the point of the original movie. The point was not that the main character was an accountant, it was that he was a Japanese man. The entire movie is an exploration of the constraints on Japanese social behavior. Ballroom dancing was presented as the main character's newfound hobby precisely because it is so odd and practically unheard of in the context of Japanese mainstream society. The main character sneaks around, living a secret life of near-shame, not because he is in love with another woman, but because he is in love with dance, and this is not acceptable.

The impact of the movie, what made it so brilliant and charming, is entirely removed by placing it in an American context. It becomes another light, fluffy chick flick about Richard Gere, everyone's favorite romantic white knight of the silver screen, and this time he's ballroom dancing. How debonaire! *swoon*

Whatever. I heartily encourage everyone else I know to boycott this movie with me and rent the original, with subtitles. It's a better movie, and you'll maybe come away feeling like you know a little bit more about another culture.

Also on the topic of Americans who shouldn't be allowed to mess about with Asian things, today I discovered Hanzi Smatter: Dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture. Much like Engrish.com turned back on the West.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Memorable Meals
My current textbook unit with my MSU class begins with an interesting discussion question. What is your most memorable meal? Note that this is an intriguingly different question from the usual food chapter question, "What is your favorite food?" While of course none of my students interviewed me about my most memorable meal, I've been thinking about it ever since. Honestly, I think it's a good thing none of them asked me, because I can't really think of just one, which would have ruined the whole use of the superlative grammar point. Here are the various memorable meals I've thought of since Tuesday.

Coffee in Mendoza, Argentina. It was the first of three times that Jessica and I went to Mendoza, and our first time out of Chile since we had arrived for our semester abroad. Sure, it was drizzling the whole time we were there, but we were so thrilled to be anywhere but Santiago, we didn't care. The whole city seemed so green, with all those real, live trees actually growing along the streets. On our last day there, we discovered a café that served real coffee, not fakey nasty Nescafe, and we sat there in the tiny café, savoring our coffee, eating our medialunas, and looking out at the gloriously green rain.

Formal dinner in Taiwan. The first day my mom and I were in Taiwan, our hosts took a "scorched earth approach" to jetlag, running us non-stop on a full schedule of tourist activities from our arrival at 6am until about 10pm. The last activity was a 3-hour-long formal dinner. I remember dish after dish being brought to the already extremely full turntable in the middle, and I wondered if it would ever end. I was doing my best to be polite and try everything in front of me, but I was so exhausted I was both losing coordination and starting to feel sick. I remember that the frog leg someone told me to try was all cartilage and I had to spit it out, and the giant slice of yellow fish egg they gave me was so salty I almost gagged. My introduction to "real" Chinese food. (A few days later, while my mom was giving a speech, I took my boxed lunch up the hotel room and taught myself to use chopsticks so well I was depositing all the unwanted individual peanuts out of my food onto my mother's plate at the next meal. The food got better, but not more memorable.)

Asado for my parents in Santiago, Chile. When my parents came to visit me in Chile, my host mother decided to make a big dinner for them. It is perhaps the only time I well and truly liked all the food I was served for a meal there. Alvira, the nana, actually made empanadas from scratch, the only authentically Chilean food I liked, and the only time I ever had it in the house. Then my host mother and her boyfriend got the grill going in the backyard and grilled an amazing selection of beef. With the Chilean bread around it, it nearly melted in my mouth. We all sat in the backyard, listening to my host mother's boyfriend talk about his job and the merits of moving to another country, my host mother and her oldest son ocassionally contributing additions or opinions, me ocassionally contributing translation, and everyone involved getting an awful lot out of a conversation that was never fully in one language or another.

Fancy dinner in Hangzhou, China. Who can forget the laughable debacle that was the fancy formal dinner given by Lee's aunt's friend in the formal dining room of her 5-star hotel, with the specially drawn up menu? We foreigners were trying to be on our best behavior, since this woman was being extremely nice to let us stay in her hotel at a very discounted price for our last weekend in the city. Instead, Liz spilled her (mostly full) drink all over my place, only saved by her remembering how to say "Sorry!" in Chinese. I dropped a thin slice of meat directly into my soda, only partly saved by my looking quietly horrified and the fact that not everyone noticed. Marcus got up and walked around the table with one of the serving dishes, serving all the women and being a complete, overblown flirt. It ended up being a "let the funny foreigners entertain us with their bizarre antics" kind of meal. The most memorable food was the sweet red bean dumplings in the shape of tiny birds, rabbits, and hedgehogs.

Soba in Sendai, Japan. Kamiyama-sensei and I had a regular soba restaurant that we frequented whenever we could go out to lunch or dinner. It was a tiny place, as most restaurants in Japan are, with absolutely delicious soba, hot barley tea, and the nicest woman owner who always gave us Y100 coupons for our next visit.

Onsen meal in Fukushima, Japan. I'll let you read the whole blog entry about that one. Maybe this should take the cake as the most memorable meal ever, due to the only-just-barely-dead, still twitching sashimi carp we ate.

I have noticed that all of these memorable meals are in other countries, but that is why they tend to stand out, because they were so unusual. I have many favorite foods, favorite restaurants, and favorite people to eat with, but none of those are really the answer to the question.

Let's see if I can start a new meme. What's your most memorable meal?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Internet Withdrawal
This morning on NPR, I listened to a story, Digital Generations: High-Speed Withdrawal, about a study on people who had agreed to go without internet access for a certain period of time. The whole story was very interesting, hence the link to it above, but what caught my attention the most was the people reporting that they felt more free, like they wasted less time and did more meaningful things, like read books. My first response was to think the same thing, but that's not the whole truth.

First of all, I can't really compare myself completely to the people in the study, because I do still have internet access, just not as much as I used to. When I was in Japan, I got far more involved with being online than I ever was before. The only contact I had with most people from home was IM or email. Oddly enough, I actually talked to some of my friends far, far more than I ever would have had I still been living in the US, because I wouldn't have been online that much. But I was sitting at a desk most of the day with very little to do except stuff on my computer, and maybe it did keep me from studying Japanese and interacting with people as much as I'd originally intended, but I still think it kept me sane.

Then I came back to the US, I lived with a computer science geek who was telecommuting to work every day. We had a fabulously convenient wireless network. I could connect to the internet anywhere: the study, the living room, the bedroom, wherever. I spent hours and hours blogging, looking for teaching materials, reading the news, reading other people's blogs, emailing, IMing. I never actually just sat and watched TV, because I was always on the internet at the same time.

Now, though, I live by myself, and a wireless connection in an apartment with only one computer seems stupid. But the real effect is that I don't use my computer that often if it has to stay in one place. I got very, very used to being able to do other things while on the computer, so sitting down in front of just the computer to check email or blogs or whatever seems almost like a waste of time. Therefore, I just don't do it that much when I'm at home. I'm home much less than I used to be, as well, and I find that when I am home now, I spend most of that time reading books.

The bad thing is, though, that I feel like my personal worldview has shrunk. I used to be far more informed about the world in general. Now, I'm lucky if I notice and actually read a BBC article once a week or so, let alone Salon or anything else. Last year, I actively did very little, but thought and wrote a lot. This year, I'm doing what sometimes seems like too much and thinking too little. I need to find some kind of balance between doing and thinking. Interestingly, my time on the internet seems directly correlated to this. I want to see beyond my own life again. I want to feel like I'm actually aware.

I remember reading a short story somewhere about a man on a humanitarian mission to some tribe in the outback of Africa, intent on bringing those poor, backwards people into the information age by introducing them to the wealth of information available through the internet. None of the people had any questions, though, and eventually he started to question why he had ever thought the internet was so important, why he had had such a need to know the answers to every little question that popped into his head all the time. He thought he was going crazy, but the villagers just nodded and said they'd help him through the withdrawal the same way they'd helped his predecessors. He needed to recover from internet addiction.

While I certainly don't really regret my totally random web searches for inconsequential things, I do miss the interesting tidbits I would pick up and then later find to be relevant. I miss feeling like I actually was able to look beyond my life, my job, my classes, the US. I don't think I was addicted to the internet, but I know it certainly used to play a much bigger part in my life, and I do think that part was mostly beneficial. Maybe I'll find some way to recapture that part.

Today brings a new month, new snow, and hopefully a new leaf.

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