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. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Luminaries

I have just finished reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Clocking in at a formidable 830 pages, The Luminaries is a large brick of a book that I've put off reading for some time because of its crazy size - it seemed like a book that would require time, focus, and staying at home, because of its obvious lack of portability.

I first heard of this book when it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize, and it was described as something like a murder mystery. When I came across it in the Barnes and Noble discount section what must have been at least more than a year ago, I purchased it with the idea of reading it in some sort of future time, as Man Booker Prize winners are usually worth a read. Earlier this week, as I was casting my eye over the brimming bookshelf after finishing The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch on Kindle (8/10), I thought of finally starting The Luminaries as this was the last week of my Summer break (sort of, Hunter has already started but I'm only taking one class; full time student teaching starts next week), and to clear out the shelf by tackling a very fat book.

Picking up the Luminaries to read, and starting the first few pages, felt intimidating. This was in part due to its size, and also in part due to the page introducing all of the characters, which listed about 20 different names and characters. I was afraid that I'd lose track as I read (I'm thinking about the annoying experience of reading A Hundred Years of Solitude). This did not happen at all, and I think this is because of the skillful way Eleanor Catton wrote her characters. They all came off as being very different people, with their own motivations and ways of doing things, and hence it was easy to follow along as to what was happening.

One thing I really admired, besides the carefully crafted plot, was the usage of two major literary devices (is that even the right term? I haven't been in an academic literature environment since IB more than 10 years ago): the usage of a 19th century writing style, and the use of different timelines. The writing style of the novel reminded me a lot of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, the last 19th century novel I think I've read, and this was very obviously a deliberate choice. The little summaries at the beginning of each chapter were useful in helping me follow along, and the whole omniscient narrator thing helped flesh out the motivations and personalities of each different character. As for the usage of timeline, the novel roughly goes from 'present', to 'past', and finally, 'past to present', and so the novel ends before the 'actual' end of the narrative. This reminded me a lot of the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, one of my favourite books of all time, a writing technique I definitely appreciate.

I'd rate this book 9/10 - only because I'm not sure how the the narrative itself will stay with me.

-----

For the past month and a half, Jon and I were in Singapore, Batam, and St. Louis. I flew first, in the middle of July, and Jon joined me right at the end of July. Before we flew back to the US, we went for a 3 day 2 night stay to Batam with my family. At the end of that Batam trip, we were thoroughly sick of Chinese-style seafood, as my grandparents went totally nuts with ordering seafood. We then came back to NY, and about 2 weeks later we left for St. Louis as Jon had an interview there and I followed him. St. Louis seemed like a decent city, and we had really interesting and good conversations with all the Lyft drivers there - one driver, who was a male Jordanian immigrant, said the city had a huge racism people, another driver, a female tribal member from Oklahoma, talked about how Missouri had the lowest age of marriage in the entire country. We ate Gooey Butter Cake twice and thoroughly enjoyed it, and visited the National Blues Museum.

In the interim, I've been going to an Allergist, to try and figure out my allergy situation. I got both the skin prick test, and have just finished the skin patch test. I've also been cooking, and trying to go to the gym to lose the weight that I gained in Singapore. For the past two days, I also babysat Rudo. I was very happy to see him before student teaching starts next week, as I definitely won't be able to see him then.

It has been a very nice Summer, and I am reluctant to let it end.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Two More Books

Over the past few days I've finished another two books, Relics by Tim Lebbon and Family Life by Akhil Sharma. Relics was a low fiction novel, part one of a trilogy, and centered around a woman trying to find out what happened to her boyfriend. It reminded me a little of Neverwhere because of the whole low fiction setting in London, but that was about it. Overall it was not a bad book, but I don't think it'll be very memorable. I'd rate it 7/10.

Family Life by Akhil Sharma on the other hand, was a much more remarkable novel. The book is about a boy and his family, who live in India and then migrate to the United States. The book however, touches on several other topics beyond a straight forward immigrant narrative: a child's selfish/narrow point of view, having a disabled brother, family dynamics caring for a disabled child, bildungsroman, the Indian immigrant experience in the United States. As a result of these topics, this novel felt definitely relatable to me and my experience and knowledge - having a disabled brother and the strain on self and family, and personally knowing the geographical region (Queens, then NJ) where the narrator lives with his family. For such a slim volume, 218 pages, this book has sucessfully achieved every one of the ambitions it has had. I'd rate it 8.5/10.

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Tonight I leave for a early Wednesday morning flight to Singapore. The airport shuttle is picking me up at 9:45pm. Because I forgot to early check in (though I'm a little confused as I thought I saw elsewhere that I couldn't check in until 24 hours before a flight anyway - which I did), I don't have very good seats on both legs of the flight. I am really not looking forward to being stuck on a plane for the next 24 hours, particularly because the very bad bout of hives that started last weekend has now become very bad eczema on my legs. I don't think I've had such a a bad bout of eczema before, and I worry it will become itchy or irritated during the flight. I've been stressing out over what to wear as a result, and even went to Old Navy over the weekend to try and find clothing solutions. Besides that I've also been worrying in general about what people will think - the patches on my legs are so big and red, that I worry that other people might think I have something infectious, or will merely be disgusted with me. For someone that generally has a middling self-esteem, this eczema flare-up is certainly not doing me any favours.

Fingers crossed that everything goes well for the flight.  

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Turner House

Last night in a bout of insomnia (I finally fell asleep around 4:30am), I ended up finishing The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. I had first heard about this book years ago, and had actually pre-ordered it for when it came out on paperback (I really dislike hardbacks, because they're far too big to hold comfortably in my small hands). I had heard it was about a black family in Detroit, and it had won a bunch of awards. Sounded good enough, but also like one of those novels that aren't brain dead, and so I put it off for when I felt mentally engaged enough to deal with the subject matter, which apparently happened to be this week.

Overall the book wasn't as wrenching as The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and the Book of Unknown Americans (God, these long novel titles!), and so was a relatively easy read. Last Summer in my American History class, I chose to review Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis - Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, and so had some degree of familiarity with the problems that plague Detroit, and I found myself continuously thinking of Sugrue's book as I read The Turner House. But beyond history (The Great Migration, Detroit in its industrial heyday, mentions of the 1967 riots, the state of Detroit in 2015, etc.), the book also talked about family dynamics of a big family - the Turner family has 13 children (the closest analogue I could think of was my Mum's family of 7 children, and the associated family dynamics that come with an extended working class family) and gambling addiction.

At the core of most of the stories is, of course, the Turner family home in a now rundown and slightly dangerous part of present day Detroit; at the end of the book the oldest son, Cha-Cha drives to the family house and realises that scrappers have stolen the whole garage to sell for scrap metal - this part made me laugh because of believable and  how ludicrous it was simultaneously. As a bonus I particularly enjoyed reading the Acknowledgements section when I finished the book, and saw that Flournoy credited Sugrue's book for helping her 'establish' Detroit. Academia props!

I liked this book enough, but not as much as the previous two books. I give it 7.5/10. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Immigrant Narratives

I recently finished two books that featured the narratives of immigrants in the United States. As an immigrant myself, there were many things that I found myself relating to about my experience here, and I found the two books to be good reads. The books were The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez and The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. I had bought both books at least a year before, and they've been hanging out on my bookshelf since. I picked them both up randomly, and I can't remember if I them back to back, or if there was a random trashy book that I picked up in between. Such is my vociferous consumption of literature during these summer months.

I enjoyed The Book of Unknown Americans a lot because it talked a fair amount about the American education system, and special education. I particularly enjoyed it because I felt like I knew exactly what was being talked about, like a chance to use the knowledge that I've gleaned from my current course at Hunter College. It also tried to incorporate many different voices of Latinx immigrants from different countries, socio-economic backgrounds, and ages, which I found interesting. I finished reading this book within 24 hours, because of how captivating I found the narrative. I give this book 9/10.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears is the first published book by Dinaw Mengestu. I read his other book, How to Read the Air several years ago, I think when I was in between relationships. I remember that because of his excruciating depiction of the slow, dying intimacy between the couple in that novel, I felt glad to be single. Because of that memory, I was of course drawn to this novel when I saw it on sale at The Strand, but put off reading it for the longest time because I recalled how depressing the other novel I read was, and reading depressing stuff gets tiring, you know. Anyway this book was about a small group of male African immigrants living in D.C.. Besides the obvious theme of immigration, there was also the theme of gentrification, which has been quite a current topic, especially living in a pricey city like NYC. I give this book 8.5/10. 

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Saturday evening, July 2018

Last night Jon and I went out for dinner with his friends. His med school friend Eric came early to hang out with us first, and so we went to a bar opposite Midwinter Kitchen, where we were going to have dinner. Upon reflection, and thinking about how fast the happy hour mimosa hit me ($5!), it was the first time I've drank since a disastrous booze-and-hors-d'oeuvres-only wedding reception I attended a few months ago with Jon (we were told beforehand to drink a lot to help make up the money for the reception rental, and didn't know there was no dinner served until about an hour and a half in; you can use your imagination).

At 6:30pm, we left the bar and went across the road to Midwinter Kitchen to meet the others. I felt a little excited as Jon and I walk past Midwinter Kitchen all the time, but never went in because we were usually en route to somewhere else. So finally after about 2 years of walking past, we were finally entering Midwinter Kitchen. We ended up waiting a little because Nuno had parking issues, and so he and Hannah were delayed. It was fine because the restaurant wasn't crowded at all, which was also nice because we could converse in normal, human, volumes when they finally came. I ordered the chicken, which came out really nice with crisp roasted skin, though it was a little dry on the inside in some parts. Jon and I also ordered a side of roman gnocchi, and when it came out as a slab like a cake, I wasn't super enthusiastic. I had envisioned normal gnocchi, and thought 'roman' was the style of cooking. I tried to hide my disappointment, though of course I probably didn't do a good job with it, and Nuno laughed saying, "She's not happy!". It didn't taste bad, but of course didn't have the texture I was looking forward to with normal gnocchi. Live and learn I suppose.

After dinner we walked over to Momofuku Milk Bar on 2nd Ave and E. 13th, and Jon and I shared a soft serve cereal milk ice cream with cereal topping. It was the first time Eric, Nuno, and Hannah had tried the place, and Nuno looked a little confused and overwhelmed in the packed and tiny store. I vaguely remember my first trip there when I followed Shirin a few years ago, but I don't remember looking at the menu because I didn't want dessert. I probably must have been as confused when I went there with Marina about two years later around 2016. We then started walking up 2nd Avenue, and Eric peeled off around E. 17th to walk to catch the subway at Union Square. Jon and I ended up reaching home around 9pm.

Overall, it was a really enjoyable night. Good conversation, food, and weather.