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.

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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.


Friday, July 06, 2018

Perfectionism and procrastination

I'm one of those absurd people who is a closet perfectionist. By this I mean that I typically come across as a very relaxed and chilled out person, especially to people who don't know me that well. This is usually because it's too tiring to care. This also means that for me, the adage, "If you can't do it well, don't do it at all," means I often either end up not attempting to do the aforementioned thing, or  put doing it off as long as possible because it will be tiring/not to my satisfaction and hence eat away at my soul.

Case in point: cleaning the bathroom. It usually takes me ages to do because I really remove every single speck of dust and lost hair follicle, and so I don't do it very often and put it off for a time even when I realize the bathroom is getting dirty. Well, I finally did it today after telling myself several times that I really ought to clean it, and it took me close to 45 minutes and a lot of shed sweat - and the bathroom isn't even that big at all! It's debatable of course whether infrequent cleanings means more effort needs to be exerted during cleaning, but between our combined hair dropping everywhere (and boy do I drop a lot of hair), dust coming in from the open bathroom window, and the inky dark sediment coming from the African Black soap that I've been using for my easily irritated skin, the bathroom gets covered in a light layer of gunk very easily.

It boggles my mind how people with larger families and larger houses keep them clean. I'd probably need to hire a weekly cleaner to help me :/

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A summer cold

Since last week Monday, I've been down with a nasty cold that lingered until now - almost one and a half weeks total. Between the cold and the crazy heat from summer, I not only feel quite out of it mentally, but also feel very lethargic and achey, despite my best efforts to go walking for a few hours since I've been getting better. It's not a very nice feeling at all, both physically and mentally, the recognition that not only has my ability to do things been hampered, but so has my enjoyment.

On another note, for the last week, I finished 3 books: The Waking Land by Callie Bates (7/10), The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley (8.5/10 - I really enjoyed all the historical medieval bits, which I could easily liken to all the historical coursework I've done), and The Magicians by Lev Grossman (7.5/10). I always like to try and read books regularly, to try and counteract the rate at which I acquire them. As it is, my bookshelf is overflowing. Sometimes I deliberately try and start books that I know will have no permanent place in my bookshelf, just so I can make space. The end result however, is that the books that I think I will really enjoy and find meaty are left unread, in favour of fodder that I know I will donate after I've finished reading them.

I've really got to stop buying books - but goodness knows that's my number one weakness.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Beasts of Burden

I've been a longtime fan of comics ever since I discovered Archie comics at a young age, thanks to my Uncle KL. This love has since evolved into a love of graphic novels and other types of more 'mature' comics, and one of my favourite stops in NYC is the Forbidden Planet store by Union Square to browse through the comic titles available there.

Last Saturday after a sashimi/chirashi dinner with Jon at Kotobuki, we ended up at Forbidden Planet on our meandering walk home, and I picked up Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Yesterday I finished the entire comic during the course of the afternoon, and I am now lamenting that I finished the volume and don't have any more of it to read. The book married two of my favourite things: animals, and weird things occurring. The art too is also on point (at least in my opinion - even though I might really like the concept of a comic, the art can kill my enjoyment).

Tomorrow I need to sit for the Educating All Students test, as part of my teaching certification for NY State (officially the long acronym of NYSTCE, something I've mangled multiple times in my memory). I am definitely not prepared at all, mainly because I've been procrastinating and also spoiled by other classmates who say that the test isn't really studiable, because everything is so subjective. This of course gives my kiasu Singaporean ass a type of anxiety, but one that has been tempered by the fact that I seem to have acquired a 'head cold' (as the Americans say), and am feeling at 75% of my usual functioning. I hope I feel better at least during the test tomorrow.