Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Part of Your World"

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Obviously the song of the post is from, ahem, the Little Mermaid. Because anyone who still has a soul loves the classic Disney movies!

For some reason I'm in a rather cutesy mood so dug up this picture of a random Chinese baby from last year. Adorable, huh? This little one resides near the famous Longsheng rice terraces in the Guangxi province. The rice terraces (which we nearly didn't get to visit due to the horrific winter in the region) are in an area comprising a few rice terrace regions and villages full of locals dressed like the women in the background. The baby, obviously had no idea what I was trying to do, so her(?) older sister whirled her around to face my camera and then proceeded to hide. You can still see her glove if you look hard enough!

Hmm, is it a little tragic to be dwelling on the past? I'm not really, just nothing I'm doing these days renders up such photogenic picture opportunities...

Thoughts for today:
- Further to my ponderings about the diversity of the world... presumably at one point, if you believe in Pangaea and the migration of the peoples and all that, we were one large community that spread out. So, presumably, as a social and intelligent species, we at one point spoke the same language? (This is pure personal conjecture, I'm fully prepared to accept that I could be 95% wrong!) Which makes it all the more fascinating that the languages are as starkly differing and sounding as, say, Italian and Tagalog. Amazing.

When people ask you the hypothetical question, if you could have any power, talent, wish, etc. I've always thought, while it may not be the *most* intelligent use of a wish, you could do a lot worse than requesting the ability to speak and understand all the languages on the planet. And what language sounds the best? At present, I'm rather partial to the sound of French, but scouring the world for the perfect accent would be a very pleasurable, if lengthy, quest indeed!

- So, I'm trying to start running again. I had a brief foray into it pre Christmas, which was pretty much starting from scratch, and was surprised how comparatively quickly it improves as long as you do it regularly. Of course since then I have done precious little exercise at all, so have a lot of unfitness and excess mass to work off first! Pretty much starting from scratch all over again, but with high aspirations. I figure it's all a matter of motivation, so I intend to attend organised training runs, for example, Niketown in Oxford Circus organise some. I had to miss one this week because a class overran but went on a short circuit with F.H. anyhow, and was just terrible. I'm going to have to put in a lot of work if I want to improve at a reasonable rate! Hopefully I'll set myself an attainable goal soon: something to work towards.

- Have just discovered more MAJOR gaps in the Spotify catalogue, but also a few gems. My gem for today was discovering the Muse HAARP album, which was a live recording of the Wembley gigs in June 2007, one of which I went to. Score!

- With a slight pang of regret, I have realised over the past few days that I have been guilty of one of those sins I thought I would never have committed: judging a book by its cover. Though I do not necessarily place too much weight on first impressions, I do so with the first few meetings and then extrapolate and deign to think I KNOW that person. Poppiecock. I do have fairly good instincts about people, but I have found a couple of instances of being wrong of late, and for that I must readjust my faith in that ability.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Simple As It Should Be"

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I thought I borrow an idea from (oh the shame of it) One Tree Hill, where I pilfer some talented songwriter's title of a song to sum up the content that follows. "Simple as it should be" is a brilliantly chilled-out song by Tristan Prettyman on her album "twentythree". No prizes for guessing her age when she wrote it! With the rise of Spotify, there should be a way to link people so that they can hear the song I'm talking about; wouldn't that be absolutely marvellous?

While I'm on this point, I'm going to briefly wax lyrical about the benefits of Spotify. Now, the interface is far from perfect, and I've not yet been driven to abandon iTunes but what is wonderful about Spotify is that, as long as you do not seek something too obscure (more's the pity really!) then you can try out entire albums and major sections of the back catalogues of artists to whom you've not listened before. I don't mind telling you that I will have to have heard at least three songs from an album and liked them before I consider buying it for real, as opposed to downloading a singular song. Now I can hear it all! I've had Spotify since before the day it became massive in London (the Londonpaper, the free newspaper given out in the afternoons, had a big feature on it the next day!) so, probably a few weeks, but already I've bought two albums off the back of Spotify which I otherwise might not have. Ok, I'm not being paid for this so I'll stop now!

The picture, by the way, is another from about a year ago, from Wenchang, Hainan island again. Wenchang is in the North East of the island just in case you're interested, and a very mini town! I say mini, it's probably as complex a town as Birmingham in terms of roads, but just smaller and more Chinese (go figure). I went to visit a couple of friends, so in that way it was nice, but I can imagine getting very bored with the place very quickly. Anyway, this photo is one I took leaning over their balcony while the sun was setting and I liked the look of the clouds.

My wonderment of the day is at the uniqueness of the human race. Now, there are some six billion of us homo sapiens wondering around the planet. With that many people, you'd think, surely, that there's be some overlap? Someone, somewhere, must be pretty much a dead ringer for you and act in a very similar manner? Not so: if it were to be the case, we would presumably have heard about it by now.

If nothing else, we have a range of countries! Over 200 if I'm right! And races! In a geeky child-like way, I'm quite excited by the fact that even when I'm sleep, there's someone across the world living their life, speaking a completely different language and maybe even wondering about other people in the world too. Even the phenomenon of different languages is pretty cool in itself. I might explore this wonderful idea at a later date, but for now, it will suffice for me to state that it is excellent.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another last year photo and flash back

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A photo from around this time last year, Haikou, China. This is one of the classes I was teaching English to, all of which were 50-something children in number! A daunting prospect, and making it a little harder than expected to keep attention and discipline going, but undoubtedly fulfilling. For the most part, I was accompanied by their original English teachers (that is, native Chinese teachers who learnt English in school and teachers' college). Now, I never understood why they paid the Gap year scheme what was likely a ridiculous sum of money for our services. Fair enough, they want to utilise native English speakers but when the level of English being taught was so basic, their level of English, which was passable at least in my opinion, they would have been more than adequate. When you're teaching them how to say "mango" and "banana" in some of the younger classes, sometimes you can't but wonder if bringing in overpriced native English speakers is overkill.

But some of the classes were unbelievably cute! Little chubby faces and kiddy voices. I also found that the cute ones tended to be the cleverer ones too, or maybe I was just blinded by adorable face. From my observation, the teachers were almost always amazingly friendly, helpful and definitely hideously underpaid. One must take into account the exchange rates and the price of living in that area of China but nonetheless, for the time they put in, some of them while raising children... I felt sorry for them, especially having got to know them and their good hearts. The classrooms were freakin' huge as well. The smaller females teachers incapable of projecting their voices or yelling had little microphone and speaker headsets they used to help. I found it absolutely necessary at times to actually walk around the classroom to ensure that I met all of their eyes, especially when kids at the back were being noisy. They also got very excited when games or points were involved, so I used that fact to keep them involved, adding a competitive angle to half the class so that they remained keen, especially the classes just before or after breaktimes.

Couple of random facts:
- Apparently teaching English is considered a woman's teaching role, in a profession already deemed to be quite feminine, the male teachers more customarily teaching PE or kung fu.
- One of the less friendly teachers introduced me as "Miss Gao" (translation into Mandarin) so many times I couldn't be bothered to interject and correct her after a point. The children like to yell you name and wave at you when you walk through the playground to go home so for ages I had some 120 kids yelling out "Miss Gao" on my way around. That was... weird.
- Being of Chinese heritage but not actually from a 'Chinese' country or with the ability to speak Mandarin was unbelievable to them. One of the cuter questions I got asked to me during my first week was whether I used chopsticks or a knife and fork to eat my food. Bless.

One's essence in writing

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We may never be fully able to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or know what life is like for them, especially if we don't know them personally, but I think blogging as good as it'll get without being bilaterally personal.

I like the idea of Twitter and initially found it very interesting, but now wonder about its real place in a social networking market including the likes of Facebook. If blogging is like reading someone's diary, Facebook is like leafing through their letters or wallet and Twitter is like poking them every half hour or so and asking "what're you thinking?" Ideally, the way it works is that you check it very regularly throughout the day and you can see what your friends and 'friends' are thinking without actually having to ask. It is the status bar on social networking sites given a free rein to go nuts. It is social networking for those with short attention spans. Who really has the time to check it really often if they're not a student/self-employed or have a really IT-based job? For me personally I don't like that fact that you can't really keep up with it by checking it once or twice a day unlike other forms of media. Have more than a dozen friends who are active on twitter and it soon becomes nigh on impossible. The idea is great, but in practice maybe not the thing for me.

But blogging is so much more free. It gives the writers a blank canvas to work with, and no word restriction. And as said, it is pretty much a diary, or at least as much of a diary as the writers like to share with the world. With all that freedom, people do make the most of it, either with a regular flow of short articles, like a very fleshed out Twitter, or less regular longer posts. Either way, it does resemble a diary, and it is so much easier for readers to map out their thoughts chronologically.

Now for me, I'm rather lazy. Once I get typing it comes out, but it's taking that push to start writing. Also my life is only interesting at times, and for the most part can be rather repetitive and mundane, at least from an outsider's point of view. But nonetheless I do like reading those of others, and by doing so, getting to know people with lives different from my own. It's interesting, maybe a tad voyeuristic, but what aspect of social networking isn't these days?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I really am the most terrible procrastinator

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Exactly what it says on the tin. Let me give you an example of precisely how lazy I am. I have had, since Monday morning, a list on my desk of 7 tasks I need to do, of varying difficulty. I have since then completed precisely half of one. Disgusting isn't it? I have managed in the meantime to watch an entire season of Skins (don't regret that), read the beginnings of two *different* John Grisham books (not as inspiring as I had thought it would be), and spend probably two hours a day on Facebook (*do* regret that. in hindsight I wonder how that's even possibly, the vast majority of my friends are working or doing something interesting/constructive with their lives so there's not that much to monitor!) Despite it now being 2am, I will force myself to do at least 3 of the tasks before bed. After having typed out my thoughts of the day.

- The lives of the kids in Skins are GRIM. Sure they have fun, and they have each other, but sometimes, in fact, a lot of the time it's pretty dark. Now, obviously it's fictional, but as with all the best television programmes (not that I'm particularly classifying it as such for now) there's more than a sliver of truth to be found.
My kudos of the day goes out to psychologists and in particular those for young people. They, more than 'grown ups', I would imagine, feel every lacking element with an acuteness greater than their older counterparts. Whether or not due to melodrama and hyperbole, nonetheless to them, troubled youths around the country are living their own little hells, and with fewer options available to them than to adults. They can't escape, find jobs and move out, clinging on to every outlet they have with the tenacity as they would a liferaft at sea. I won't fool myself into thinking I'll care this much even this time tomorrow, but whenever I remind myself, or find myself in an opportunity to help, I will. Maybe if and when I do become a teacher in later life.

- This time last year I was still in China, though it feels like a shorter time ago. Every day was itself a mini adventure, and I was still enjoying the sensation of meeting and discovering the lives of new people. Although I am not pro active enough to seek this on a current basis, when I am forced into the situation, I really enjoy it. I yearn for that experience and look forward to when I am in a position to replicate it.

- Of particular interest to me, surprisingly to me as well, is the news that Coca Cola has bought a minority share in innocent (lower case intentional) drinks. Now if I seek the silver lining, it's merely a part of the corporate system, a minority share, and will help raise the profile and circulation of these healthier drinks. But I will feel regret if the hand of Coca Cola moves to influencing innocent's perhaps overly cutesy but undoubtedly honourable business plan and mourn the loss of another free spirit in an increasing cynical and bottom-line orientated market economy.