29 December 2014

Stuff I've Been Consuming: Sep - Dec 2014

Here we go, the annual recap of all movies watched and books read. Let’s not bury the lead: I failed fiftyfifty.me again. Somehow I ended up with only twenty-two books read, which is even less than last year’s total. Movies also dropped, from eighty-nine to eighty-seven this year, but who’s counting movies at this point? I knocked out the requisite fifty by July. It's the books that are every year strugg-ling.

Sidenote: How to use hyphens and numbers.

The good news is that this upcoming year’s addition to fiftyfifty.me -- now in its fourth year -- will feature the addition of "buddies," or team ups. So now you can (pre-)call how many movies and books you’ll aim to finish, splitting a total of 200 books/movies between you and a friend. More details about 2015 fiftyfifty.me+BUDDIES at the site, so come join up because it'll be just as fun with a more flexible challenge!

Anyway, while quantity of books was a total bust, there were somewinners. I’ve already talked about Saga, the Vaughan/Staples graphic novel. And then there’s Sister Mischief by Laura Goode, which is a YA novel about four girls in Minnesota who band together to start a queer hip hop group at their religiously conservative school. Yes, read that again.

And not only does Sister Mischief feature a Desi co-lead, with passages about white privilege and the sexuality spectrum, but it also drops references to rap artists that I can’t imagine most YA readers get but which I absolutely loved. (Unless there's a big crossover between Atmosphere or 9th Wonder fans and the YA audience that I don't know about. If you fall into that narrow category, let's be friends?) Either way, I can’t believe Sister Mischief exists. And author Laura Goode also had a film come out this year, Farah Goes Bang, which I have yet to watch because I missed it at all the film festivals. But at this point I'll consume anything Goode puts out there.

I also finally bit the bullet and read one of George R.R. Martin’s books: A Song of Ice and Fire. We went heavy into GoT during Season Four, including buying the board game which I’ve only been fortunate enough to play once. A long flight served as the perfect opportunity to dive into the GoT novels. Verdict: It’s good! As if millions of rabid fans could be wrong. But I just had to know for myself. Because, you know, many times millions of rabid fans are absolutely wrong. I think I’ll stop at the first GoT book though, since I’m already deep enough into the GoT rabbit hole as it is.

Over the summer, I recommended three A books in a row to a new friend: Americanah, The Goldfinch, and The Golem and the Jinni.  Afterwards, this beautiful human gave me the greatest praise I could ask for, "What do you recommend next? I'll read anything you say!" Life peak reached, it's all downhill from here... And even though I recommended Goldfinch and Golem and Jinni, they did fall a little flat for me. The setup in the latter was so great too: a story about the two titular supernatural creatures who meet in turn of the century New York and become semi-soul mates. But ultimately the book petered out. Goldfinch I couldn’t even all the way finish even as I recognized that it was pretty good.

As 2014 is winding down, I’m finishing up Meghan Daum’s Unbreakable, which is captivating. Daum's voice and writing are spectacular and even if I wasn’t already a sucker for essay collections, I would highly recommend it. And again, Bad Feminist, my favorite book of the year and a must-read for everyone.

And although I’m not reading many books, I still tend to read about books, which is almost like the same thing right? Okay maybe not. Here's my new favorite book site, The Oyster Review, which features posts like Choire Sicha's "Everything you ever needed to know about the work of Ursula K. Le Guin and where to start." And here's Electric Literature on "Why 2014 Was the Year of the Essay."

I watched a record tying thirteen movies in August, tied with June 2012. Perhaps next year I’ll really achieve in life and break that record. Dare to dream! Even though I sucked in a ton of films this year, I feel like I missed most of the good stuff. Excepting the Marvel blockbusters that I basically auto-A, my list of recommends boils down to Her, Le Passe, Edge of Tomorrow, 9-Man, Obvious Child, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. Sure, Gone Girl and Boyhood were good too, but I admired the directors and behind-the-scenes more. Also, being in Taiwan, I think I missed a lot of the late arriving stuff like Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Dear White People, The One I Love, Inherent Vice, Citizenfour, and Wild. So there’s some serious catching up to do.

I think my favorite movie of 2014 was Her, which I saw on the fourth day of January, and it wasn't even released this past year. Basically there wasn’t an overwhelming movie that just knocked my socks off in 2014. Maybe Edge of Tomorrow for sheer enjoyment? I pushed that on a lot of people this summer. Guess I’ll just leave movies behind with a recommendation for Arvin Chen’s two Taiwanese rom-coms, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Au Revoir Taipei. Chen is a Taiwanese-American director from the Bay who moved to Taiwan in 2001 and made Au Revoir Taipei despite not being fluent in Mandarin. Like what?! *Insert super jealous eyes* Anyway, here’s Au Revoir Taipei's end credits library dance. Ugh, so cute.

Also, a note about TV shows, even though they aren’t counted in fiftyfifty.me because TV is eminently more consumable than movies or books. (But if you want to do fifyfify+PLUS for TV series, go for it.) This year I was all in on Sherlock S3, the phenomenon that was True Detective, GoT S4, Orange is the New Black S2, and of course, all three seasons of Deadwood, which vaulted into one of my top TV series of all time back in February. There’s a lot of great TV for me to still catch up on, namely The Americans and Transparent, but until I figure out this foreign VPN situation, I’m stuck without my trusty Netflix or HBO Go. Quelle horreur!

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!