Thursday, March 24, 2005

This is making me hungry
One of the good things about Netflix is that I can actually find and then finally watch all those movies I passingly thought looked interesting when I saw a preview for them somewhere, somewhen. Tonight's movie was a prime example, with the added bonus that with Netflix I don't have to go to Blockbuster and have people look at me weird because of the title of the movie. I present to you Woman on Top.

It's not what it sounds like! I swear! It's about cooking! And motion sickness, and Brazil, and a transvestite. Really, it was entertaining. It's not every day you get to have Penelope Cruz tell you to pick only plump, firm tomatoes. (Obviously, she's not the transvestite.)

Lately, though, I've been in a mood to watch thematic movies and read thematic books. I think it comes from all the thinking I've been doing about pulling together diverse class materials. Anyway, last weekend I watched the extremely original (and weird) Japanese food movie, Tampopo, and I have an ongoing, continuously thwarted attempt to watch the Taiwanese Eat, Drink, Man, Woman again. The first one is all about food in general, and making the perfect ramen in particular. The second is all about the power of food within a family, where the dad is a professional chef who has lost his sense of taste. (And he works in the Grand Hotel, where I actually stayed! Finally, I got to see a foreign movie and say, "Hey, I've been there!")

At one point, I made a list of all the food-related movies and books I could think of. I dug it up again, just for you. Feel free to add to the list. I rather doubt it's complete.

Like Water for Chocolate - Mexico (book & movie)
Woman on Top - Brazil-themed (movie)
Chocolat - France-themed (movie)
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman - Taiwan (movie)
Tampopo - Japan (movie)
Kitchen - Japan (book)
Babette's Feast - Denmark? (movie)
Fried Green Tomatoes USA (book & movie)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Odd One Out
It happened. My streak is broken. For the past 6 years, I have spent every odd birthday out of the country. I turned 19 in Taiwan, 21 in Chile, and 23 in Japan, but this year I am stuck here. If it hadn't been a Tuesday, I might have been able to go to Canada at least, but oh well. Maybe it's a sign my jetsetting days are over. Or maybe that I need to switch to even years. Or every third year. Hmmm.

It's very weird to think that I'm 25 now. I don't feel 25. I didn't really feel 24. The last birthday I seem to have registered, according to what I felt like putting down the last time I was asked my age, was 23. I rather enjoyed being 23. 24 didn't have a lot to recommend it. I wonder if 25 will be better, despite its rather irritating beginning of waking me up with a horrible cold that had me so disoriented that I hallucinated calling someone to sub for me this morning before I woke up enough to realize I hadn't actually done it in reality.

Before the cold started, though, I was well enough to appreciate the birthday loot sent me by my parents: 3 Miyazaki DVDs of my very own (NausicaƤ, Porco Rosso, and Princess Mononoke, which means I now own almost the entire collection), and two linguistics/cognition books. Yay! I think I've been trying to put myself mentally back in Japan lately, since I've been watching so much anime and just this week finally started Murakami's Dance, Dance, Dance, which I bought in Japan and never got around to reading. Maybe I was saving it for now. It does make me wonder why the two foreign languages I've studied the most turn out authors with such a preoccupation with magical realism and weirdness, though. I'll report what I think of it when I'm done.

(*cough, cough* In case anyone felt like buying something, I might point to the wishlist over there in the sidebar. *wink*)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I do believe I have well and truly reached the stage of being utterly burned out on my current grad school life. The classes I'm taking this semester even have interesting topics, but I can't muster enough energy to actually be interested. I've just had too many classes in these past two years that I had to take because I had to, and not more than 2 that I actually had any interest in taking outside of them being requirements.

I blame a lot of my ennui on the fact that my assistantship restricts me to taking 9 credits, and those credits must be in my degree field. If I could afford to take classes outside of those 9 credits on my own, I'd probably have enough money that I wouldn't be bothering to be a TA in the first place. Maybe I'm being stubborn, but I refuse to put myself in the position of having student loans, when I have gotten so far in my life without having any at all. But I really do think that my entire quality of life and general outlook on this TESOL program would be vastly improved by just one thing.

I want to be able to take foreign language classes again. Plain and simple.

These two years have been the first in my life without foreign language since 6th grade. Foreign language classes were what got me through high school still sane; second and third languages on the side saw me through my Spanish major by keeping the love fresh; they inspired me to experience everything I have in my life that I consider worthwhile of late; they made me want to go to grad school in the first place; they gave me a direction in life.

Without any access to foreign language classes for two years, I feel like I have lost my direction. There is no one class that can spark my interest enough to get through all the ones I consider mostly pointless. There is nothing reminding me why I thought this was a good idea in the first place. There is no inspiration. All I'm left with is the grim determination to hold on long enough to finish all this busy-work crap that I'm required to do to get my piece of paper and get the hell out.

This is not what I want my life to be.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Miyazaki Themes
Near the end of the year I was living in Japan, one of the television stations started showing one of Miyazaki's movies each weekend. (Relevant post here. Gee, my life was more interesting back then.) Now, I'm gradually watching them all again, but with English subtitles this time. Turns out, I got most of the plots right even without understanding half the words. Go me!

Last night I watched NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Winds, and later, as I was trying to fall asleep, came up with a list of commonly repeated themes throughout almost all of Miyazaki's movies.
Anyway, I heartily encourage people to take advantage of all the newly (US) released Miyazaki movies out there now. His latest movie, Howl's Moving Castle has been out in Japan since November, and I am very jealous that I haven't gotten to see it yet. I hope it gets to the US, and soon.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tolerance for Ambiguity
It struck me recently that one of the skills that would help my students the most with their reading abilities would be if they developed a better tolerance for ambiguity. Many of my higher level students are starting to break out of the incredibly gripping idea that there is one and only one right way to say anything in English, but you must keep in mind that this is only after possibly 6-10 years of study. I am constantly trying to break them of the habit of reaching for their dictionaries whenever they encounter a word they can't recall immediately. They find it very hard to believe that if they just keep reading, they'll probably be able to figure it out from context. A great deal of this is due, I think, to a lack of tolerance for ambiguity.

Perhaps, you might point out, my own skills in this are overly developed and I in turn lack sympathy for my students' plight. However, my skills are honed by doing just what I tell them to do. I read. A lot. I keep reading and decide on a basic meaning for the word on my own, unless it truly makes no sense. I allow things to unfold before freaking out that I didn't understand every single word or phrase in the exact order in which they were presented.

Of course, it has occurred to me that this might in part be due to the fact that the foreign language in which I achieved the greatest reading skill was Spanish. Think for a moment about who two of the best known Spanish-language writers are: Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges, two men not exactly known for the realistic basis of their writings. If ever there were books to make you give up on finding words in dictionaries, Marquez's will do that. Thoughts when reading his work, as I recall, went something like this: "Did that actually say that she watched a fish swim across the wall? *look up key words in dictionary* Yes, yes it really did. What the...? I guess I'll just keep going." Or, alternatively, "Is that even a real word? No, no it's not. What the heck is is supposed to mean?"

Maybe I should try to find some English magical realism for my students. Or maybe that's a bit too cruel. I'll stick with science fiction right now. Or Dr. Seuss.

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