15 December 2014

Pedagogy of the Privileged

Listening to: Zombies, “Summertime.” At Vinyl Decision, a listening lounge in Taipei a few weeks ago, a friend of a friend got on the turntables and put on this band. I went gaga. “Who is this?!” Turns out, I’m 110% a Zombies fan. Fifty years late maybe but I’m on-board now. Currently pumping "She's Not There" on repeat! And while I’m here, try my favorite zombie related track: Dead Man’s Bones, “My Body’s a Zombie For You.” Oh yeah, Ryan Gosling is the lead singer...

So school started a few weeks ago. You know, that Chinese school I’m taking. Voluntarily. Nevermind that my entire childhood was spent cursing the many wasted Saturdays we were forced to attend Chinese school. Nevermind that I also took two years of Mandarin in college. I’m in Taiwan now and ready to begin anew. Without cheating or slacking this time. That’s right, I’m taking classes at National Taiwan Normal University aka Shida and I’m enrolled in the intensive class. Hardcore!

What "intensive" translates to is three hours of class a day, along with an intimidating four hours of homework. Or so the syllabus says. In practice, it’s been more like two hours a day. You know, only a mere two hours. For those who scoff, it’s seriously been legit school. I mean, once you’re in a classroom setting, being quizzed daily and tested weekly, the academic mindset kicks right back in. (I haven’t been in school since reading One World Schoolhouse but I keep thinking about how those principles might apply.) Also, as an indoctrinated model minority, it’s hard to let go of trying to get good/decent grades. Luckily I’ve decided that I don’t care about learning pinyin, I’m just here to learn words, words, and more words. I’ll take a B or B-, thank you very much.

My classmates are mostly from similar backgrounds. We can all understand and speak -- albeit mostly with horrific childish accents -- but none of us can really write that well. It’s mostly ABCs (or close enough), with a Brazilian, an Indonesian, and a Venezuelan thrown in for diversity. It’s a self selecting group of people who are in the arc of their life where they can spend three months dedicated to studying a language. And because my fellow students are invested, that motivates me to stay on top of my shit.

During the first week, my friend and I hopped around trying to find the right class for us to possibly be in together. After crouching by doors and listening in, basically spying on everyone, we decided that what was important, beyond even the stuff being taught, was the vibe the teacher imparted on the classroom and your fellow students. If your classmates were cool, then you were golden. A boring teacher with a room full of people who didn’t participate would make the hours drag on. Luckily, I was placed in the creme de la creme by default so I decided to just stick with the intensive class, after contemplating a move down to regular. So yeah, wish me luck. 加油, 加油!

Here’s the thing about learning Mandarin: It’s just straight memorization. There are no tricks, there’s no alphabet, the radicals only do so much, and there aren’t any cute mnemonics to help you out. It’s just rote and grind and push vocab into your brain. Enter Pleco!

Basically Pleco is a free Chinese to English dictionary but for an add-on of $19.99, it turns into an awesome flash card app. You can organize your cards with touch screen ease and there’s something very satisfying about drawing Chinese characters into your iPhone and testing yourself while on the go. I totally love it and combining just a dash of tech geekery into language learning has made it that much funner. (I’ve tried using Duolingo to learn Spanish, and the gamification helped there too, but only up to a certain point.)

There’s other good flash card apps out there, namely Anki, but Pleco is the only Chinese specific one. And I’ve found that even though there’s no online support -- it’s all iOS or Android -- Pleco's features are superior to what Anki can offer. Also, Waygo is a Chinese, Korean, and Japanese text translator app that uses image recognition to read stuff frighteningly fast. It's mostly effective for menus, and it’s not very accurate sometimes, but overall Waygo is a nice tool to have around. So until an actual Babel fish comes along, back to the iPhones and books!

18 November 2014

Post No Bills

Currently pushing: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist. Yeah, Gay is having a moment right now -- she talks about that in her recent essay, “The Price of Black Ambition.” I’ve been reading Gay’s stuff for awhile, and I’m so excited she’s blowing up. Just Google around for her articles, there’s plenty, and you’ll want to quote so many things. Meanwhile, everyone should read Bad Feminist, everyone! You can start with the titular essay, "Bad Feminist (2012)."

About a year ago, I went to the Emoji Art and Design Show at the Eyebeam in Chelsea. I was only a dabber in emoji up to that point, but wanted to know more. Most of my emoji usage up to that fateful day was limited to sending spouting whale as my sign off, a way to end a text conversation. Basic stuff.

But a developer friend had been wondering how to get new emoji into smartphones -- specifically ethnic emoji -- and after some online research, I learned about the Unicode Consortium and their iron grip on what can become universal emoji. That killed that idea. Yeah, you can make your own emoji app and everything but it’s hard to get people to copy-paste things, or to flip around to special keyboards. Emoji making was not going to be in my future.

Enter: stickers.

Before coming to Taiwan, I had Line and WhatsApp but didn’t really use either. WhatsApp is profoundly ugly, and the UI is a mess so I still don’t use it. However, Line is now like my favorite app. Forget text messaging, being able to sticker everything is one thousand percent better than just using words alongside standard emoji. When we were young, George and I were obsessed with stickers. I mean, who wasn’t? We each had our special binder of stuff, and during our great garage cleanup of 2014 -- mandated by my mom -- we unearthed both of our collections. Puffy stickers, glittery stickers, scratch-and-sniff stickers, Snoopy stickers, rainbow stickers, everything was still right there. Well, fast forward a few decades and here we are, at the pinnacle of human evolution: digital stickers. And better yet, these stickers can be used as emotional shorthand and don't degrade over time. What’s not to like?

My first foray into digital stickers was this summer, via Facebook’s Messenger app. In fact, I specifically downloaded Messenger to sticker. A friend who was working at Facebook introduced us to the power of stickers and we spent the better part of an afternoon having sticker conversations. It was wonderful, and since then I've been pushing stickering on everyone, even going so far as to demand people download Messenger. "It'll change your life!" I said. I say that a lot but this time I really meant it. Here’s a nice primer on emoji and why they're wonderful: “Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji.” Same principles applies to stickers, there’s just more sticker options.

Once I found out you could skin your Line app, I was ready to buy all the stickers. All. The. Stickers. But I had to limit my purchases because you can’t spend all your money on stickers right? Maybe at seven years old but now I’m an adult and I know about fiscal responsibility and the dangers of impulse shopping. (Fact: Line takes in ten million in sticker revenue per month...) Thus I’ve limited myself to one sticker pack a week. And I'm staying within a narrow theme: Hello Kitty, Hangyodon, and then some animal stuff, preferably things you encounter in a forest like foxes or bears.

Also you have to think about sticker utility. A nice looking set is great but you must ask yourself, "When would would I use this?" before purchasing. That's practicality speaking. My greatest find so far has been Herbivore Trio, a collection featuring a chicken, a rabbit, and an elephant. They party together, they dress up like vampires, they puke rainbows, and they browse the Internet on iMacs. This personable threesome is just waiting to be tapped for all situations. My only quibble is that a chicken isn't technically an herbivore, but who’s counting?
Also, don’t overlook Line’s generic stickers, which are very expansive. Their animal collection is next level, as it includes a wide variety of birds, insects, and reptiles. And that doesn’t even include their amazing mammals collection, which have standouts like a meerkat, a pegasus, a corgi, many whales, a purple hippo, and even a Fennec fox. Bravo whoever is charge at Line, bravo! I hope you conquer America soon so when I return I don't ever have to just regular text message again.

06 November 2014

Up, Up With People

Listening to: Klassy, “Sweet Awakening.” Listening to the Bonita Applebaum sample made me queue up the Tribe documentary again. So good! Anyway, Klassy is a Filipino-American from Los Angeles and she’s super smooth. Plus she’s still in high school. Yeah, high school. (via @djphatrick)

So I guess Web 1.0 is back. I mean, so I hear. "The Great Web 1.0 Revival." Either way, I love it, because if that means more confessional-ish personal writing for me to read, I’m in. Susie got me an invite to Ello this past weekend, and then the Gizmodo article put me onto Tilde.Club, where quite a lot of the bloggers I used to read almost fifteen years ago have homes. (Has it really been so long? Yes, for people like bluishorange for example.) The site is aggressively ugly but I guess that’s the point. Anyway, in honor of the great web regression, a mini-blog roll of people I’ve been reading lately. Normally I would say a little blurb about them, but I think a sample post or two will be enough to draw you in, if you're into this type of blog. Which you should be.
And then there's Matt Kulesza, who is out to have coffee with all 1,088 of his Facebook friends. His project, 1000+ Coffees, is exactly the sort of thing I'm into. A long time ago, I had the thought to write little blurbs about all my friends, as character studies, but then that was shelved because you just can't write honest things about friends, otherwise you will soon be friendless. And then where would I be? Oh right, the Internet.

I was remiss in reminding the world about Encryption Day, Oct 10th. It's the day to change all your passwords! You've never heard of Encryption Day, well maybe beacause I just made it up, and am still waiting for it to catch on... And speaking of useful things, Super Lum has been keeping me up on all things tech, and changed my life with this @@ shortcut as text expander lifehack. Forget eating right and exercising, this one change will actually make you a happier person. Promise.

One of the great mysteries of this year was trying to figure out why Tess Lynch left Grantland, and now we kinda sorta know why. The sad thing is, Emily Yoshida just left too, leading to the dissolution of the Girls in Hoodies podcast. Seriously, this is so sad because Tess, Emily, and Molly Lambert were the only all female pod hosts on Grantland and their chemistry was amazing -- second only to Jacoby and Juliet. I haven’t even listened to the Hoodies' finale because I’m saving it for a special day. A day when I can sit around and laugh and cry, and feel like my friends are leaving me. Yes, it's that serious.

And awhile ago, I ripped through all of Arthur Chu's articles on Daily Beast. He's the former Jeopardy champion that attracted a lot of haters because he "gamed" a game. Anyway, he's smart, interesting, and a new voice on the Asian-American scene, which we always need more of. Just read him.

28 October 2014

Awake, Always

Currently pushing: Celtics “We Are Young and Smart” T-shirt. There’s a lot of stuff I want to recommend but since tonight is the start of the NBA season, there’s no way I can’t highlight the future of the Boston Celtics: first round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Sure, that may signal that Rajon Rondo is on his way out (please no, please no), and while I was stunned on draft day about the pickup of another point guard, I’ve come around to the idea that Smart’s defense and competitive spirit is exactly what Boston needs. Oh and yes, you can bet I drafted Smart in my fantasy league. While it may be another losing season ahead for the Celts, I’m excited for the new blood to jumpstart the rebuilding. Here's Smart and Young, wearing Smart and Young.
A few weeks ago I jaunted to New York for a wedding and the tail end of summer. Actually, summer was all the way over and fall jackets were on full display. It’s been awhile since I only spent a few days in New York so I tried to cram everything in. The second night, I sat around watching Got Soul practice for the wedding dance. Post-college, some of my friends still wanted to dance and so they started Got Soul for a few years. Now they re-rented their old practice room, and even I could feel the electric reunion energy. There probably aren’t a whole lot of wedding dances left in our futures, so this felt like one of the final rides.

Friday, before the wedding, I cruised up to The Whitney to take in the Jeff Koons exhibit. Basically I needed to go to hate-see it. I have strong anti feelings towards Koons work, but since it’s best to take something in before you totally reject it, I went. Verdict? Just like the Slate Cultural Gabfest said, I was impressed by the workmanship, if not necessarily Koons' vision. Some of the pieces, mostly made of aluminum, looked so much like other materials that it was almost impossible not to sneak a touch. I walked right by the inflatable Incredible Hulk organ before doubling back and realizing it was not plastic. My favorite piece of his ended up being this nude woman in a tub with the top half of her head chopped off. In person, the effect was jarring, and I couldn’t stop the mental disconnect and looking for the missing half. Overall, I was more excited about the Edward Hopper stuff tucked away upstairs. There weren’t many actual Hopper paintings but it was still a nice surprise.

The one thing I had to do in New York was watch Kenneth Lonergan’s play, This Is Our Youth. It stars Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson. Cera may bring in the crowds but I was there to see Tavi. She was quietly brilliant in Enough Said last year and I thought she was just as great in her Broadway debut. There was a lot of young Michelle Williams in her performance, but without all the annoying Williams-ness. The Cort Theatre is small enough that almost any seat has a nice view, so go to the cheap seats and watch this thing. And then maybe queue up Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me, which back in 2000 vaulted Laura Linney high up on my "actors/actresses to must-see" list.

I also got the chance to swing by my friend's about-to-open restaurant in Williamsburg. Wait, actually, it's open now. Pam and Jose used to do a pop-up in the same space, but now they've completely remodeled and it's called Semilla (Spanish for "seed"). The food is vegetable forward and as you can see from this link, absolutely stunning. I was going to miss their opening but wanted to see how much the space had transformed, since they'd been working on it for months. Needless to say, the makeover was amazing, and the tiled bathroom has a fun window that lets you peer out into the kitchen.

After my quick visit, I got on a trusty Citibike for one last ride, across the bridge to the Lower East Side, to meet Pam's identical twin -- and equally obsessed food person. She had just returned from a long bike ride and was parked at El Rey Coffee, ordering everything on and off menu, saying hello to friends and strangers alike. For a few hours, it was New York summer again.

The rest of the weekend was filled with some dancing, some puking (not by me), some singing, friend-family dinners, plenty of hanging out, and late night hotel lobby time. It stirred a bit of revival in my heart for New York after my quick exit in July. Still, I couldn't stay since Taiwan Part 2 beckoned and I had a fifteen hour flight to catch. Bye U.S., I'll be back!

07 October 2014

What's Real?

I'm a millionaire!...On the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I’d forgotten that I used to be on this quite a bit back when it started. The name sprung up while I was reading an article about whether or not this company called Fantex will be able to get movie stars to IPO -- similar to last year’s sports people IPOs. Curious, I logged onto hsx.com and took a look at my account. It's amazing this site is still around. I mean, what other services do I even use from 1999-2000? AOL Instant Messenger is about the only other one. Yes, I'm still on AIM, don't laugh.

Anyway, here’s my top ten of people I had major stock in: Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Gosling, Jessica Alba, Keira Knightley, Audrey Tautou, Claire Danes, Steve Buscemi, Hilary Swank, Natalie Portman, and Katie Holmes. Number eleven is Bryce Dallas Howard, whom I was sure was headed for stardom after Lady in the Water and The Village. I guess getting hitched to the M.Night Shyamalan supernova wasn't the best career move. Plus, Jessica Chastain came along and took BDH's looks lane.

"There can only be one!” That’s part of the theory as covered in July’s Grantland podcast about Rom-Com should-have-beens. One of Simmons/Morris/Litman's examples was Elisabeth Shue, who should have at least one classic rom-com to her name right? Sidenote: I just watched Cocktail for the first time a month ago and Elizabeth Shue, Elizabeth Shue!!! Also they said that Robin Wright could've been a rom-com champion, but she didn't want it.
By the way, after we watched What If a few weeks ago, I decided that I need to write a straight up rom-com. Not an indie one, or a mumbly one, or one with a supreme premise, although those are still on my to-do list. But a straight up Hollywood style rom-com with a happy ending and everything. Should be cake right? I was born for this.

Back to HSX. The five people I paid the most for were Sam Mendes ($168.81), Russell Crowe ($136.06), Bryan Singer ($120.95), The Rock ($117.08), and Natalie Portman ($114.72). I don't know what I was thinking. And the movie stars that have lost me the most money over the years? Keira Knightley, Monica Bellucci, Portman, Jennifer Connelly, and Johnny Depp. That’s basically a who’s who of my all-time celebrity Top Ten. I guess I should never invest in real stocks since I'm easily blinded by emotion and can't keep my feelings separate from my money. That and I'm not an actual millionaire.

There’s certainly room for a film-related fantasy game in my life -- I’m on Box Office Mojo way more than any non-industry person ought to be. But so far I can’t find a good one. I gave Summer Movie League a go this past summer, as well as a few other sites that use box office numbers for points, but either the website interfaces were lacking or the game rules were boring. The search continues...

Speaking of fantasy, my friend and I have been doing a bit of FanDuel's weekly football leagues. The fact that it’s real money is a bit scary, but we have hopes that one of our entries will actually come up big. With his King Midas-like gambling touch and my football knowledge, we'll soon be top of the charts. That's the theory anyway. It's been more fun than real fantasy football, that's for sure. This is what happens when you have Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice on your teams. Your fantasy season is over by the second week of September.

A lot of people are (rightfully) quitting football these days. And if it weren't for my long running leagues, I would probably do it too. The NFL represents just about everything I dislike about American culture. And really, fantasy MTV and GoT have brought me so much more joy recently. But who would I be without fantasy football? Would people even recognize me anymore? Would I even recognize myself? These are my existential questions. What are yours?