Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ex Libris Tuttle

  • The Prometheus Project: Trapped by Douglas E. Richards - This is part one of a juvenile three-parter in which two quite bright chldren of quite bright parents find themselves trapped in a multi-dimensional spaceship buried deep underground in rural Pennsylvania. Part 1 is on Kindle, parts 2 and 3 much less so ...
  • The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich - From the guy who wrote the book about the MIT blackjack teams comes the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the basis for the recent movie, told entirely without his participation--or that of the Winklevoss twins. Interesting, well-told, but ultimately unsatisfying, as we really need to hear Zuckerberg's side.
  • Memoirs of an English Governess by Anna Harriet Leonowens - This book speaks to the raptures of imagination that can bring us a well-told story. Not this one, alas, but the magical The King and I musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein that is "derived from" it. How they got their charming tale from this dreary tome is beyond me; though there is a bit of story (i.e., a sequence of events linked by narrative) in the beginning and again at the end, mostly this is an endless description of Thai funerary rituals, coronation procedures and belittling descriptions of ordinary life in the Siam of the 1860s. Unless you really like Thailand (or Broadway musicals), skip it.
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  • Wired and Amped by Douglas E. Richards - Thoroughly imaginative sci-fi thriller combining some of the best of both genres I have read in a long time. Brilliant genetic engineer Kate Miller has developed a treatment that temporarily rewires the brain to achieve almost god-like intellectual abilities; David Desh, ex-special forces operative, is hired to "bring her in" before she can sell off her secret to Islamic terrorists--or so he is led to believe. This series (for I hope there will be more) has a red herring in every chapter and enough double-crosses to keep your head spinning--and the pages turning. Highly recommended.
  • Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane - Vignettes of enormous descriptive power bring the reader into the mid-twentieth century world of Northern Ireland and "The Troubles" as seen through the eyes of an Irish Catholic boy. There is a secret in his family, one that slowly emerges through the short scenes, until revelation of the truth--violent and devastating--leads to his adulthood and independence. Deservedly shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - The second Lisa See book I've read, frankly, Shanghai Girls was better. Still, there is much of interest here for one who loves Asia--mention of numerous traditions, not least the laotong relationship, which pairs up girls for a lifetime, and is stronger than their husband-wife bond; foot binding, a brutal custom that hobbled and even killed Chinese girls into the twentieth century; nu shu, the long-secret "women's writing" which Mao tried to ban during the Cultural Revolution (the suffering of women in Confucian China is a major theme of the novel); and a host of festivals, particularly in the countryside, such as the "Expel the Birds" Festival, held just before planting time, in which poison seed was laid down so that the good seed could be planted without having it stolen. In the midst of all this is the story of Lily and her laotong Snow Flower, told over the course of their lifetimes in nineteenth century Hunan province. I have to say the cultural insights are more engrossing than the plot. Despite that, it's a good book, and I'll read more Lisa See.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Class at My New School

I haven't been thoughtful enough to take pictures of my new school or my new classroom, but I did take a few shots of some fifth graders this week. They were studying the past tense of a set of irregular verbs, and the review activity I did was to give them cards with which to create a story.

There were three categories of cards, and sentences were to be constructed in the format [noun]+[verb]+[object], where the verb was in infinitive and had to be converted into past tense.

They have small size white boards and markers (which I asked for at Youngil but never ended up getting), and worked in their usual groups of three or four. Like so:



Cuties! And the fifth grade seems (after two weeks) to be a particularly good group. Since I bought my new Nikon D5100 for Christmas, the old single body Canon has been kept at school so I can capture the odd moment without having to plan ahead. My young, enthusiastic co-teacher had the idea to display the resulting stories around the room and borrowed enough fresh boards for all four classes' work to be lined up. Here are two examples from the first session (Ted, Amy and Suji are characters in the text):



Without at all meaning to disparage my high school boys, some of these fifth graders did work as good as a mediocre group of them might do. Also, despite the horror stories, teaching has not been a constant battle for attention and appropriate classroom behavior--if left unsupervised, of course they get rowdy, but so far they are obedient, polite and manageable. Except for two of the sixth grade classes ... where the stopwatch may be introduced.

It hasn't all gone swimmingly, as I think the Vice-principal finds it unforgivable that I won't do their "English Festival" one Saturday a month. I am already committed to my public speaking class on many Saturdays, where I make a ton of money and get to interact with the best and brightest from all over the southern district of Seoul. We had the candidate interviews last Saturday, and about 40 of the 70 who finished the vetting process would do quite nicely. But we only keep 20.

From the director of the program, I heard that someone at my new school had called the main office (I suspect the VP) to ask if I could be taken off the public speaking class. When the main office called him, he told them to go jump in a lake. This really burns me. I'm sure you know that I am not all about money--I regularly turn down work because time matters more to me, but I made the exception for this class. And this VP lady tried to take away a package of approx. 3.2 million won, in exchange for 4 Saturday mornings at 25,000 W per hour. Definitely uncool.