Archive for January, 2007

Minor amusement

There were a couple of funy moments in one of my classes last week. The class consists of young elementary students who aren’t too good at English, but they’re all nice kids.

I was trying to illustrate the meaning of ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’, so I wrote on the board ‘2+2=’ and asked the what the answer was. Of course, they said ‘four’; I wrote in the answer. I said, ‘This is easy math’ (it’s easy to slip into American). Then I did the same for – choosing a sum completely at random – 7-3. Again the answer was four, and I pointed out that it was easy. Then I tried 293x313. One of my students, a friendly, lively girl called Janet, said ‘Four’. I was completely taken off-guard and practically doubled up with laughter.

Then as I was spelling dinosaur for them, I said ‘Danielsaur?’ (There’s a student called Daniel.) I wrote it out like that and they thought it was hilarious. And after a moment, their laughter was infectious.

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I’ve seen a number of films recently, but I haven’t posted any reviews so I’m going to do them all at once.

Night at the Museum was pleasant enough. Ben Stiller played the kind of character he always plays – a decent but hapless guy. An interesting casting decision was Ricky Gervais as a Stiller’s boss. Gervais also played a character similar to what he’s known for, but he seemed completely out of place in this mainstream movie. The special effects were central to the film and they worked well. A key scene is where Stiller first encounters a living exhibit – the fossilised tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. The huge creature looms over him menacingly then drops one of its own rib bones in front of him; it turns out it only wants to play catch.

Robin Williams does a good job as Teddy Roosevelt – well, a waxwork image thereof – counselling Stiller to seize the day, but being afraid the woman/waxwork he’s admired from afar for years. Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson entertain as a pair of diorama figures. One of the best moments was when the pharoah emerges from his sarcophagus, covered with dirty bindings and looking like something from a Hammer horror film. Then he tears away the wrappings to reveal a good-looking, young face. He says in a cultured Anglo-Arabian voice, ‘Awfully stuffy in there.’ Stiller’s son says, ‘You can speak English!’ The pharoah explains that he went to Cambridge University; when questioned about this he explains, ‘I was on display in the Archaeology Department.’

Not a challenging film, but it made me happy for an hour or two. Everything works out in the end, as you would expect, and this is the least satisfying part of the the movie. However, I found the journey a little affecting in places.

Casino Royale begins with a pretty stunning chase through a construction site somewhere in the Caribbean, I think. Bond and his quarry climb up on to massive construction cranes and leap from one to the other against a background of a crystalline blue sky. Possibly the highlight of the film, but the rest was very good two.

The movie represents a departure for the Bond franchise – Daniel Craig isn’t as good-looking as his predecessors, there is only one gadget (and no R), the bad guy isn’t a megalomaniac intent on starting a world war, and overall it has a somewhat grittier, more brutal feel than earlier films. Which isn’t a bad thing. The main criticism one could level at the 007 films is that they’re silly – Bond is seemingly indestructible and all-knowing and has a gismo for every occasion. But here, for instance, he gets tortured, is rescued by a mysterious stranger and spends a fair amount of screen-time convalescing.

The film is a prequel and charts the early part of Bond’s career. We have an unprecedented insight into his background, although this is guesswork on the part of his female companion. The 007 job is undoubtedly a tough and dirty one, and to imagine someone with the presence of Roger Moore doing it is just ridiculous. Broken-nosed Craig looks like someone who’s been in the SAS and could act with the coldness required of a 00 agent.

One could argue that with all the changes Casino Royale is no longer a real Bond film. Actually, it’s better.

Eragon is pretty good … apart from the script and the acting. It looks like it ought to be something of the stature of The Lord of the Rings films (and, of course, they are the reason this fantasy novel has been adapted), but the triteness of the dialogue and the mediocrity of the lead actor really let it down. The dragon (who, at one point, flies off as a hatchling and returns a minute later fully grown) is well-animated, especially the way it thumps into the ground when it lands, but the voiceover isn’t Rachel Weiss’s greatest hour. Jeremy Irons lends some quality to it, but he’s only one person; Robert Carlysle and John Malkovich are fine as the villains, too. Another weak point is the plot: it’s just standard fantasy fare: a young hero from an insignificant village becomes the saviour of the world. Despite all its flaws, though, I still somehow liked it. A bit.

Miss Potter is essentially the same film as Finding Neverland, but it’s better. Actually, I went into the film knowing nothing about it other than it was a movie called Miss Potter starring Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. I was pleasantly surprised and often moved by this biopic of Beatrix Potter. The acting was top-quality – I particularly liked McGregor’s nervous determination. Zellweger, as the fund-raising American presence, was very good, her accent impeccable – plummy, with just the right amount of humanity. Special mention must be made of Bill Paterson’s gigantic sideburns – together, almost bigger than his head – which made him look rather Noddy Holder-ish.

There’s a magical realist thread in the film – Potter literally sees her illustrations as living things. Although this doesn’t amount to anything in terms of plot it is a nice touch. It’s just a result of the fact that I’ve spent the last four months living in an urban environment in a foreign country, but I was almost as moved by the shots of the Lake District as I was by the story. Which latter reaches a climax about half an hour from the end. I didn’t feel the last part was anticlimactic, though as I was just admiring the beautiful scenery and the great acting.

Deja Vu is a science fiction cop thriller. Or rather, it’s an cop thriller with science fictional elements. Denzel Washington is given the opportunity to look back four days into the past to try and find the man responsible for blowing up a ferry and killing 500 people. The cop thriller side of things works much better than the sf. Washington gives a fine performance as usual, as an ATF officer with a slightly quirky sense of humour. The rest of the cast is good, too; Val Kilmer is a little under-used, though. The villain, while in some ways just a random psycho, is also well-played – once captured, he gives a speech about destiny that was very effectively delivered: he smiles every now and then as if embarrassed by his own arrogance.

The plot revolves first around a variation on the old time travel idea – and then it becomes a standard example of the old time travel idea, without variation. What will happen if Washington goes back into the past to change history, to prevent the attack from taking place. Well, what happens is that everyone lives happily ever after. The sf ideas don’t quite fit into what is a gritty and effective crime thriller. But I like the fact that it was attempted. Deja Vu is definitely worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite live up to its own amibitions.

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A few trivial issues

I haven’t been posting much recently – I’ve been busy, which is a fact I don’t much like … but I like what I’ve been doing. Right now I’m at a coffe shop at Heogi station waiting for others to arrive – in about an hour.

My roleplaying game is now back up and running. The guy I met in London who was always consistent in taking part has been doing so again; the other chap, who dropped out to deal with other stuff, has said he’s going to start posting again; and the GM and one of the players from my Seoul WHFRPG have joined the campaign (although they haven’t yet joined the other characters – I’m hoping to have them meet up a little way down the line). I feel I’ve been posting in the game less than I should have, especially when other people post everyday, but I’ve contributed quite a lot in the last week or so. And this is time I might ordinarily have used to blog.

I’ve just come from What the Book? in Itaewon where I picked up The Breadwinner and Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis, two young adult books about a girl’s experiences in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan; I also got The Secrets of Jin-Shei by Alma Alexander. The first two novels are the subject of our next bookgroup discussion, the other, the one after that. I haven’t made the swiftest of progress on my current reading material, a book of Korean folk tales, but I always find it harder to read collections of stories or poetry than novels.

My Korean classes are going OK. I’m more or less understanding how sentences are put together. My main problem in class is not recognising some of the words used: when presented with a flashcard of a cinema, say, I have to look through the handouts I’ve been given or my Korean-English dictionary. So I’ve been spending some time copying out words in Hangeul. It hasn’t helped that much.

Over the past few weeks I’ve bought a Monopoly game (from Glasgow, via eBay) and a Scrabble set (from Bandi and Luni’s at the Coex centre). I haven’t actually used them yet. I keep meaning to invite my colleagues and one or two of the other foreign teachers I know, but I never do. I suppose I chicken out of it because I’m afraid they won’t want to.

I think it’s a direct product of the fact that I work with some of these people that I feel myself becoming more and more distant from them and wary of them. I don’t like talking to people at work – for two reasons: it takes time for me to warm into a conversation, so I’d like it to last a decent length of time; if all that’s on offer is a few minutes here and there, I’d rather not bother. Secondly, I don’t like talking in front of an audience. Meaning, that while I don’t mind saying certain things and behaving in a certain way (once warmed up, of course) while with certain people, if there are other people around able to listen in, then I’m just not going to.

This largely isn’t (or doesn’t feel like) a matter of choice – my brain just ceases to function properly in these situations. Shyness is having something to say but being afraid to; much of the time my mind doesn’t offer up anything for to say – I just watch and listen and carry on my internal dialogue.

I think this is also the reason I haven’t spoken to Sue at all in the past couple of weeks, although I can’t honestly say I’m that bothered about it.

It was in relation to my mentioning this last point that a friend recently e-mailed me to say I should have counselling. They said it tactfully, of course. I haven’t actually replied to that, so they probably think I was offended. I suppose this is my response.

Counselling is something I’ve thought about on and off over the years, but it’s something I’ve never had. A few years ago in Runcorn, I had an appointment to see an NHS counsellor, but then I moved to Bath for my degree. Towards the end of my time in London I asked my doctor for a referral to a psychologist to seek a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. Then I moved away from London. (Is there a pattern there, do you think?)

It’s a moot point how useful these things could be, but they certainly couldn’t hurt. They’re things I’m open(-ish) to trying in the future, but it’s a case of having the time, possibly the money, and the direct motivation. I’ve been thinking that I don’t want to settle down in Britain again (and therefore have access to these things) until I can make a living as a writer – and that is certainly some way down the road.

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Roger on masquerading as a college professor, American Dad!

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An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walk into a bar. The landlord says, ‘What is this – a joke?’

Heard this from a fellow waeguk tonight.

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Author unknown.

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Freudian joke

I was having breakfast with my mother recently when I made a Freudian slip. What I meant to say was, ‘Can you pass the butter please?’ but what I actually said was, ‘You fucking bitch, you ruined my life.’

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It was only when I logged out of WordPress a moment ago that I noticed I’d misspelt ‘Previously’ in the title of my last but one post. Instead, I’d typed, ‘Perviously’. Must have been some sort of Freudian slip. Which reminds me of a rather excellent joke …

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Stephen Donaldson was asked recently on his website whether he’d read L Ron Hubbard’s Mission Earth books. His response was:

A reviewer once observed that one of L. Ron Hubbard’s “Mission Earth” books was satirical, and concluded, “It is written with a disdain for syntax so global as to suggest a satire on the very possibility of communication through language.”

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Previously on Amazon.com

I’ve seen some 24 tie-in novels at What the Book in Itaewon, and, while I’ve been tempted to try one, I’ve also been wary of potential literary trash. Well, out of curiosity, I just googled ‘operation hell gate 24 review’ and found a link to Amazon.com not the best source of reviews, but I thought I’d try it. The first couple of user review were quite positive and I was starting to think maybe I’d try it. Then I read:

Having been obligated to read “The Grapes of Wrath” in high school, I cannot honestly say that “Operation Hell Gate” is the least-enjoyable book I’ve ever read. It is, however, the worst-written.

Maybe I won’t, then.

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