Thursday, December 27, 2018

Le Delice

Around the corner from my apartment is an old school bakery called La Delice. I used to walk past it all the time on the way to and from the 28th St subway, and inevitably more times than once I'd find myself walking into it without much thought after smelling the baking sugary goodness in the air as I walked on the south side of 27th street. Since August however, the 28th St subway has been closed for renovations, which also meant that I now walk a different route to get to and from the 23rd St subway (as an aside - I really dislike the 23rd St subway because walking to it involves navigating down far more crowded and busy streets; it also has no convenient MacDonalds right by it for sudden french fry cravings). This inevitably resulted in me ending up at La Delice far less. As a substitution I supposed I ended up buying Lloyds Carrot Cake, especially since my student teaching school was a stone's throw away from its East Harlem outpost.

Anyway I didn't give it much thought until today. I was walking back home from Burlington Coat Factory on 23rd St and 6th Ave when I thought to pop by La Delice. I had originally forced myself out of the house for the sake of health (mental and physical) and had embarked on a rather joyless trip to Burlington because I needed to at least walk for a bit. Burlington was very crowded, and the lines were long, and people were angry (I don't know why I still find this surprising about NYC; everyone is always pissed and testy). I ended up finding a small gift for Merlina, and also purchased a bag of Albanese gummy bears as I heard they were supposedly the best tasting gummies around. After spending sufficient time spent standing and out of the house, I walked home and kept thinking about how the fact that I had finished that activity meant I had made it for yet another day - something rather bleak and pessimistic in tone.

Just as I was walking down 26th St, it suddenly occurred to me that I should pay a visit to La Delice, especially since I had originally left the house just over an hour earlier thinking about picking up a sweet treat for Jon. So to La Delice I went, and I selected a slice of white chocolate and chocolate mousse cake, and a chocolate chip cookie. As I went to pay, I looked at the lady serving me and wondered if she was the same assistant that always helps me, but she looked more made up and so I wasn't sure. It wasn't until she handed my change back to me, smiled at me and said, "Welcome back!" that I knew it was her. Walking out, I then started thinking about how it indeed had been a while since I was there. Sometime a few months ago I wandered in to buy macarons, but that had been at least two months ago, especially because I've been so sick. I also thought about how her comment made me feel warm and fuzzy inside - it's always nice to be recognised - and how that comment has definitely made my day.

It's the little things in life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

More Books

I finally finished student teaching last week Wednesday. It was probably the most tiring, health-draining, emotionally exhausting few months I've ever had in my entire existence. Yet at the same time, it was also extremely emotionally rewarding and bittersweet. Since finishing student teaching, my priority has been to try and get well again, as my health has suffered and I'm currently the weakest that I've probably ever been. It also doesn't help that the gym I usually go to is closed for renovations, and so I am also deprived of that activity to help gain my strength back.

Last week I finally finished A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. I had originally started the book over a week ago, when I started teaching the unit on Westward Expansion to the 8th Graders. I ended up being so ill and tired that I couldn't finish the book until after student teaching ended, because all I could do when I got home was nap and hope I didn't get more ill. Anyway, A Plague of Doves turned out to be a very different book from The Round House, which threw me off a little. A Plague of Doves was a lot more nuanced, and read like a study about the overlapping lives of the Native Americans and the white settlers, and their respective descendants. Unlike The Round House where there were clear villains, most of the characters in A Plague of Doves were presented as figures in different shades of grey morality - human and relatable. 

Since then, I have also finished two more books, The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo and Strike Your Heart by Amelie Nothomb. The Wild Inside is part of a series of mystery thriller books set in Glacier National Park in Montana, which I enjoy for its unusual setting, and Strike Your Heart is a slim novella that I received as part of sponsoring something on Kickstarter. Clocking in at 135 pages with a medium sized font, I ended up finishing Strike Your Heart in less than 12 hours after picking it up last night, and it definitely stands out as one of the more unusual books that I've read in a long time. A simple and sparsely written prose about the damaging effects of selfish motherhood, Strike Your Heart is able to paint complex portraits of emotions with very little words. It reminded me a little of Edeet Ravel's The Cat.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Accountability

The ultimate number one way to end up with messed up children who don't contribute anything back to society is to never hold them responsible or accountable for anything - the actions they take, the things they say, the decisions that they make as conscious human beings. I don't what else more I can say. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Gilead

This week, I finished reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Although on a level, I could appreciate at artistry that went into crafting this book, on another level I found it hard to relate. It felt very much to me a book that would have better appealed to someone who was either middle aged or male, preferably both. The overall narrative is of the loving yet tumultuous relationships between 4 different sets of fathers and sons - John Ames' father and grandfather, John Ames' father and himself, John Ames and his young son, and John Ames and his namesake godson John Ames Broughton.

While I appreciated that this book was very well done, the narrative didn't quite strike a chord with me. Maybe I needed to read it as an older person, or read it in quieter spaces (e.g. not on a NYC subway). I did however, enjoy the historical details about John Brown and the abolitionist movement in Kansas. Overall, I would give it a 7/10. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

3 Memorable Books

Since student teaching has started, I haven't had much time for reading at all. Still whenever I have the chance, I read. These days I get most of my reading done on the 6 train, as I go to and fro school. Back and forth from my subway stop to the school's subway stop, it's about 15 minutes each, and since I usually get a seat, I am able to read for that time.

So far I've finished a few books this week, but out of these books, 3 stand out (well +1, if you include the sequel to one of the books). These 3 books are Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows (+ the sequel, Crooked Kingdom), Julia Alvarez's Yo!, and Edeet Ravel's The Cat, the latter for which I just finished this morning.

I read Six of Crows early on in student teaching, as the students in 7th Grade were reading that as one of their books for Lit Circles. It turned out to be a very well written and entertaining young adult fantasy book, with some very memorable and well-sketched characters. The moment I finished the last page of Six of Crows (which had been loaned to me by the 7th Grade ELA teacher), I ended up going onto my Kindle and immediately purchasing the sequel, which I then finished over the rest of the weekend. I would describe the plot as a mixture of fantasy Oceans's Eleven, but executed in a way that felt more entertaining and meaningful than The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I had read during the Summer. I would rate these books both 9/10.

Yo! was a book that I had picked up on a whim at Housing Works. I had previously read In the Time of the Butterflies before, and thought it was just OK. I did not feel very impressed with it, although it was obviously a book written during a very important historical period for the Dominican Republic. Yo! has a similar narrative structure to In the Time of the Butterflies, alternating between different narrators. A key difference of course is that Yo! revolves around one person, the titular protagonist Yolanda and her journey through life as an individual. By focusing only on a singular person however, Alvarez managed to flesh out a very human character that is equal parts flawed, confused, and heroine. Though at times bordering on the absurd and silly - I really disliked the part about the stalker and thought the nonsense about her old college professor seemed unrealistic - the book still possess enough artistry to get away with those two low points. I would rate this book 8/10.

Another book picked up on a whim at Housing Works was The Cat. I was - of course - initially attracted by the title of the book, but it proved overall to be a very moving and simple read. Unlike many authors nowadays who can write mountains of text based on the most prosaic of events in their characters lives, Ravel does the opposite and is sparing, almost stingy, with her words. She also breaks up her narrative into short chunks, separated by line breaks. Somehow, even by doing these two things, she still manages to paint a deep and rich world in the reader's mind. One example is this short section: "The leaves are turning. I lower my blinds against the glowing forest, the clear blue sky. I don't want to see what my son can't see." The result is a heartbreaking portrait of a grieving mother trying to navigate a new world without her son, and the cat, Pursie, which is enough to keep her going just long enough for her to find her own momentum to keep moving forward in life. I would rate this book 9/10.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Saturday in Astoria

Yesterday Jon and I had one of those rare, free and spontaneity filled days. He had the idea of taking the NYC Ferry across the East River to Astoria, and for us to visit the Socrates Sculpture Park. Then I had the idea of visiting AbuQir, which Marc had told me about a few months ago. This then made me think of asking Marc and his girlfriend, Amanda out for a beer if they happened to be free, and so I texted him. And with that, we had the bare bones outline of a plan for the day.

Jon and I took the NYC Ferry to Astoria from the 34th St dock, and it turned out to be a very nice ride. The Ferry was 90% empty, and made stops at LIC and Roosevelt Island, before dropping us off at Astoria. We then walked about 3 minutes to get to Socrates Sculpture Park, which was quite small but filled with people. There were sculptures scattered all around the park, and a mixture of volunteers helping sweep up fallen leaves, and families with small children goofing around. There was a lone market tent open, for Hellgate Farms which turned out to be a local city farm with apiaries on top of buildings in the LIC area. Intrigued, we bought a bottle of spicy ketchup. We ended up spending around 15 minutes in total at the park, and then walked to meet Marc and Amanda at Astoria Bier and Cheese. It was interesting walking through that stretch again, because I used to do observations at a school right by the park, and the area has definitely changed since I was there about a year and a half ago - for starters there were a lot of Japanese places, complete with actual Japanese script.

Astoria Bier and Cheese turned out to be a really cute shop and bar kind of place. We ordered a pretzel with bier cheese, and Jon ordered some sort of beer, and I had a wildberry cider which was really good. After a while Marc and Amanda came, and we ended up hanging out for about an hour. I also bought a spicy prosciutto spread that I saw in the cooler, and a bar of blanxart chocolate (I had it years ago in Spain - and remember it being the best I've ever had - but haven't seen since). Then we walked down the Broadway to catch a bus to Little Egypt, to AbuQir. AbuQir turned out to be packed, and almost exactly like Astoria Seafood, but much more smaller. The food took a while to come because it was very busy, but it was very good. The only regret was that I wish we hadn't ordered so much fried calamari, but instead had smaller portions of everything else.

After AbuQir, I googled 'feta Astoria', because I recalled Irias talking about a place in Astoria that sold several types of feta cheese - her favourite kind. I ended up finding Titan Foods, and we decided to walk there since it was right by the subway anyway. Titan Foods was a cute small Greek specialty supermarket, and we picked up three things: a decadent chocolate cake with almonds, 1/2 pound of Bulgarian feta, and 1 large takeaway carton of fasolada (Greek Bean soup). We then lucked out with the subway, as it came about 4 minutes after we were waiting at the platform; when we passed other stations we saw that the duration for the subsequent trains were about 15 minutes each.

We got off at 23 Street, and then went to PetSmart, which was right by the subway. It was Jon's first time there, and I have to say it was probably the most crowded that I've ever seen the store. We ended up not buying anything because the lines were very long and we didn't want to wait.

By the time we arrived home, I felt utterly exhausted. I ended up sitting on the couch, all zoned out. Jon joined me after a while and we ended up watching a silly and raunchy Korean movie called Love Clinic.

All it all, it was a very satisfying and enjoying moderately adventurous day.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Memories of Student Teaching

I will miss this school when I finally finish student teaching. Although I have never felt more tired, I have also never felt more proud of the hard work that I've been putting in, and the relationships that I have formed with the students and teachers. For many of the students especially, as I never expected to feel such close bonds to them within a short period of time, given that the gulf between cultural backgrounds and experience is so large. Almost everyday I come home with an entertaining story to tell Jon.

For instance in these past few days alone:
- Telling students that we need to shove a little bit because tourists were cutting us for the Ellis Island security check, and one of them immediately said, "Stiff shoulders everyone!"
- A student taking coffeemate creamers from the cafe on the Ellis Island ferry, drinking them proclaiming to me that they 'tasted really good and were free!'
- Half-heartedly telling a student to stop feeding the birds when we were eating lunch on Ellis Island. He ignored me, I didn't care, and he kept throwing the bread closer and closer to where he was sitting with another student. Next thing I know they're all screaming and freaking out from 1) watching the seagulls bully the pigeons, 2) from the birds flying too close to them. Finally the other male student who was sitting next to the perpetrator somehow got bird poop on his jacket and sweater, even though no one knows how that happened
- A student telling me that I should be on My Weird Addiction because she always sees me drinking Juice Boxes. Now she calls me Ms. Juice Box
- A Grade 8 class bursting into the Cellino and Barnes song while I'm talking about the Haymarket Affair, because that's what they strongly associate any legal/court cases with

Some of the other more memorable events thus far also include:
- A student giggling like mad to himself because he contoured Margaret Sanger's face on a handout. I didn't even notice what he did until he showed the original to me; his contouring actually looked really good
- Watching students roll down the grassy slopes in central park, after the Grade 7 field trip to the Natural History Museum
- Figuring out how to replace the staples in the Lanier photocopier on the 5th floor

I should really take more pains to record things down, so I can recall them in the future.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Typical Sunday

Things to do today:
1) Laundry
2) Visit Trader Joe's
3) Gym
4) Cook dinner
5) Prepare lunch things for week ahead
6) Grade student work
7) Plan lessons
8) Call my parents

Since student teaching has started, I have never felt more busy or tired. Although I can go home some days at 2:20 pm, right on the dot, I often stay for at least 40 minutes afterwards, if not for hours more. The hours seem to just melt away when I'm in the classroom after hours - there is always more planning, more grading that can be done. Although I am really enjoying myself, finding the experience rewarding and a learning a lot, I feel exhausted. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

First Day of School

Today was the first official day of school, and I ended up going up and down the 5 stories (the Social Studies room is located right on the top-most floor, the 5th) what must have been at least 10 times. Around the 5th time I went up and down, I started wishing that I had invested in a fit bit watch, just to see exactly how much unexpected of a cardio workout I was getting just by doing my 'job' as a student teacher. By 9 am I felt so completely disgusting and sticky all over that I wanted a shower, and by lunch break, I was pretty sure that I could smell myself even though I deliberately wore the strongest, sweat gland clogging-est deodorant that I had.

Just my luck that the first week of school coincides with another wave of heat, and that I picked a school that has 5 stories and no lift. At least the deli next to the school seems pretty good, because the school also lacks a staff fridge for me to bring and store my lunch in.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Pachinko

Earlier today, I finished reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Although seemingly as equally thick a tome at The Luminaries, Pachinko is considerably shorter, clocking in at only 479 pages. Told through a very simplistic third person narrative, this book was nevertheless an easy read that kept me turning the pages. I finished it in just under 36 hours, and Jon kept commenting that I looked very absorbed as I was reading - an apt description of how I felt about the narrative.

Compared to The Luminaries, I felt a lot more drawn in by Pachinko, probably because I was a lot more familiar with the geographic locations - Korea and Japan - and the history behind it. I had also long heard of the burakumin ethnic Koreans in Japan, and the societal discrimination that they have historically faced. Generally, I also enjoy epic narratives that follow the stories of characters over a long duration of time, and Pachinko's narrative fit neatly into this category. I would rate Pachinko 9/10.

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For dinner today Jon and I met with Hannah outside our house, and together we three walked to the West Village to eat at Kish Kash, a restaurant serving Moroccan food. The restaurant's claim to fame is its couscous, which is made in the restaurant by the chef. The food was good, the price reasonable, and the decor pretty. Afterwards, we made a quick stopover in Milk & Cookies bakery to buy some cookies for dessert later, and then walked back home. In total, it was about 4 miles worth of walking, which was great since I had pretty much been sitting all day and reading. The weather was also nice and pleasant, and so, good for walking. In all, it was an enjoyable outing.