Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Brand New Phase

Work at ALC has ended. All school based ESOL is off. For the short-term I am not going to apply for primary jobs to work at my new "In-company ESOL" project. My hourly wage is handsome and the hours a week I work is growing, and even a new tutoring lead courtesy of Winston has arisen.

So I now have an interesting new professional phase and also time to focus on my languages! How delightful!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Movie Reviews

The two movies I will review today are interestingly poles apart.

First of all, Banana in a Nutshell, the New Zealand made personal documentary of a 'Banana' (an ethnic Chinese person who has lived abroad for much of or all of their lives) and her quest to get her parent's blessing for her desired marriage with a white Kiwi. It was a colourful voyage through the life of another person, with very little held back. It bears the truth that truth sometimes makes the best stories, rather than fiction, a fact that may be spurring the popularity of documentaries. The recorded events are richer than actors could instill and its pertinance never stronger.

The banana in question is an aspiring filmmaker, which allows her to explore her craft at the same time. The composition of the 55-minute film was entertaining and nice devices used to lighten it at times. Being a world premiere, the filmmaker was there to answer questions, along with her long suffering fiance. Some of these really broadened the meaning of the movie, and addressed far more than the film directly alluded to, which was great.

Second of all, A Wayward Cloud, a Cai Mingliang movie, with many of the hallmarks and actors again in for the voyage. This time we follow the reunion of two characters from a previous movie (What time is it there? which you don't need to have seen to appreciate). The camera contemplates every scene, with long takes on every action and minimal dialogue. For the unacquainted, this is disconcerting, "Make something happen, damn it!" In fact, it may be the case that the two, who fall in love this time (or at least more visably), may say just one line in the whole film. This is all stylistic to the director, who won an award for this movie. The movie also was punctuated by song and dance numbers to either alleviate (or accentuate) the silence.

Overall, I saw it as a love story, of the coming together of two very unique people. One had to slowly overcome his uncertainty of the physicality of love, caused by his job as a porn star. The other had to overcome her shyness with love and her introversion. The culmination of the movie is the most surreal love scenes you'll ever see, as finally his secret profession is suddenly known and she reaches out to accept him for it.

It is a highly sexual film too although as it is porn, it is shown as hollow and impersonal. The lead actor in fact spends at least half of his film time nude and most of that simulating or having sex. The movie contains many extraordinary scenes. The opening watermelon love scene, the big dick song and dance, the woman giving birth to the watermelon, it all made sense in this mesmerising film.

The two films are polar opposites in that A Wayward Cloud is acting to create neither reality nor phony movie reality. It manages to create two parallel universes, the normal Taiwan with monotonous Taiwan construction, pornography and silly TV news and another surreal world that exists between the two leads. A Banana in a Nutshell on the other hand sought to grab reality and use the movie format to portray it.

Overall, both were immensely satisfying and recommendable.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Movie Reviews

Three... Extreme

Well, the title says it all. There are three shortish movies, illustrating three macarbe stories. And extreme they were.

Dumplings, the first movie, was the most elegant gross-out movie you can have. Simply put, there is a woman who makes special dumplings which when women eat them can assist in their rejuvenation and anti-ageing. The first scenes showing us a waning star painfully eats them one by one, their maker casually reminding her: "Don't think about what they were, but the effect they will have!"
Strangely, the content was rather close to some background internet browsing I did to help debunk a hoax spam a wee while back. The movie's cinematography was quite very smooth, and I wasn't surprised that it was Christopher Doyle. Isn't it odd that one can predict a cinematographer?

Cut, directed by Park Chanwook (of Old Boy and JSA) is a nasty piece of work, but oddly reminiscent of Old Boy. The film ironically is about a successful director who creates a scene in his movie exactly like his home, and then who is kidnapped to his set in the middle of the night and tormented by a rather psychotic "extra". The motive: All rich successful people are essentially bad people who trod on others, which makes the extra feel fine because he is neither rich nor successful, so could feel that those rich people were nothing. But the director, he is rich, successful AND a good man. Now that ain't fair!

Some elements of the film were so similar to Old Boy but it was still interesting. The ending though, I am yet to fathom.

Box, directed by the notorious Takashi Miike, was a disappointment. The plot was hard to describe, but was ever spiralling back on itself. This was good, it kept creating itself anew till the end... failed. Or so I thought.
Probably the same person who memorably pleaded "What happened?" at the end of Mulholland Drive, also yelped: "What?!" upon the second to last frame. And yes, something else could have happened... Ah, I can't be bothered in explaining it.

On the whole, it was the bad, the wicked and the disgusting (in reverse order) and worth the watch.
Daniel Incorporated

There is a distinct possibly I will transform myself into an entrepreneur, should primary schools continue to rebuff my overtures. A niche has been spotted for a person like myself. The idea, though not coming purely from me, could well be grabbed by me.

Market research required and other investigations.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The funeral hearth grows dim

Any organisation changes form over time. The school known as Intrax was no exception. It was the current manifestation of an unbroken continuation. Just like a growing body, it shed cells and hair, but the essence remained, while the external appearance changed into new forms. The school apparently started as 'ASL' in the mid-90s, the original owners and principal that started it have been gone for a while now. Its name change, ownership change have all happened, but it was always the same old school. Four teachers were there during the final four years, some leaving but always returning. We could have taken ourselves to be the spirit of the place.

Now three of us, ripped from that dying body, we were transplanted into another school. Alien entities don't necessarily stay long before the systematic immune system weeds them out. And that includes me. Friday will be the last day of my three week tenure at ALC. I leave it without a working home to go to.

Psychologically, it may be a good thing. Even at teacher's college, there was that subconscious thought, 'I can always go back to my home at the language school'. And even now, who could resist that appeal of the comfortable workplace. Now, I am compelled to fend for myself.

But as the smoke disperses, I can't help but think if the friendships at the old school will stand the distance of non-work. That is only something each of us can strive for, and that is where I will leave this meandering obituary.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Sometimes things happen too fast. This is one of those times. Going on a busy trip, adjusting to the new rules at my new place of week, my body adjusting to early mornings and full-time work and then neglecting my Japanese study for two weeks and then going to class to be overwhelmed has all added up to a washed-out Daniel.

What's worse it seems I have begun a losing spree reminiscent of times gone by. I am ashamed even to name the things that I have misplaced and/or lost in the last little while. It has been costly too. And also soaking...

One small bright side is that my financial situation has received three injections; one calling in a long-time debt from my old chess club and another being working full-time $28/hr at the new work and already getting my first pay cheque. I will also get another shot in the arm when I get my final payment from my old school, including outstanding holiday pay. But if the new school only keeps me for two weeks, then this might be the boom before the bust.

The school's closure has left me a little bereft too. Many of the students have taken it hard. Some have already left, not wishing to move onto the other school. In fact, one poor sole had been to the other school before and in desparation had left for a better school... I bumped into some accidentally on Monday, went back to school on the Tuesday, and went to a farewell on Tuesday night. One unusual encounter occurred on the way home when I heard my name called out while I crossed the road. One of the students that I taught long ago, in her first week, ran over to my side of the road. Strangely (or not), she spoke purely in Japanese, while I used English. Strangely (or not) I could understand every word. And for a moment we shared yet another moment of shared sadness on the side of Albert Street on a rather wet night.

There is a formal school farewell party tomorrow, where apparently the jilted American marketing director will be extravagant with the food at the companies expense. Great!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Resurrection

Well, after Black Friday, the weather cleared to reveal a brand-new day. I had slept over at AJ's with the tramping group. My cellphone alarm rang, Amy was nearest:
"Amy! Turn off the alarm please" Nothing.
So anyway, I got up and turned off my alarm and started getting myself ready while annoying others to the extent that they would rise from their warm beds. The time that we used to prepare for our departure for the mountains was ponderous and dragged on, but eventually we hit the road for Ruapehu.

The weather held well as we arrived at the waistline of the mountain, and after finding the trailhead, we grooved to eighties music while munching on our lunch. For all of us, the feel of treading on fresh snow was a unique experience. We saw strange ice phenomena, like water bubbling under sheet ice ("Are they small fish?"), murderous icicles, snow on dirt-dry dirt (theories abound), frozen ripples on frozen puddles and ice crystals aplenty. Through all this we were permanently backed by the imposing sight of Ruapehu, while Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and even Taranaki watched from a distance. Xin played detective with animal tracks, AJ played hitman with snowballs. My big task of the day was the re-animation of a weta. AJ happened across it quite accidentally. It had been half-submerged in ice and looked lifeless. But from my biological studies, I declared it could be revived. Some doubted it but my pleas for an effort, for the sake of science, was met with action. The ice was broken, sawn and soon we had a block of ice with a weta in the middle.

Our group trod forward until we arrived at the hut. We set up, and started a fire. I set up the weta for defrost, first in the sun, and then with the slowly warming pot-bellied stove. While this happened we got digging into the food and drink: And discovered AJ is a sucker for punishment having carried a 3L bottle of apple juice all the way there. In an act of altruism, Edwin and I relieved him of his burden. Likewise, I relieved Edwin of the burden of his mini-twix bars.

Night closed in, and with it the cold and a group of DOC workers who were staying a night at the attached room. Our fire stopped it appearing cold and heated water. The food was simple but as with all tramping food, it was good. Stargazing was the event for the night. Never before will you see the stars so clearly, a clear sky, at altitude (as there is less atmosphere). But the coldness meant that it could only be enjoyed briefly. With only candlelight, the time felt late (even at the modest 7pm) and sleep beckoned most of us. And in our nice warm room we all passed into sleep (some faster than others).

At what might have been 5am I awoke to find, for the first time in my camping life, that I was cold in my sleeping bag. Amazing! I was wearing just polyprop but I should have been warm! So after a loo-break, I put on my full tramping gear (less boots) and found a nice warm thought. My feet never recovered though. No-one's feet felt any warmer than freezing and the prospect of putting on wet boots was not a happy thought. I got out to discover the liberated weta had moved 90 degrees and stood on the sponge I had placed the ice on, contemplating. I was right! Breakfast porridge tasted wonderful but nor did that warm my frigid feet.

We threw together our things, packed and prepared for our homeward bound journey. One of the DOC workers came in to fill a pot of water and casually mentioned that we would have a few river crossings, "well... one." After depositing the resurrected weta, we departed and indeed did come to a stream. AJ demonstrated a wonderful slip-pirouette on the ice with his crossing. A more reliable crossing was found upstream. But was that the river? No! The next stream had to be crossed. This time AJ found a good method, but that just meant him and Xin were the only ones spared a boot-full of cold water. And after that we finally arrived at the river! After a lot of effort to find methods, we got across.

Then it was the plow onward to the cars and that was our Ruapehu odyssey.

One peculiar coincidence was that I met three of my students on the road up Ruapehu on the way there. I knew they were going to be in Taupo but to have them pull up next to you is uncanny.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Black Friday (to be followed by the Resurrection)

Like all black days, there are usually precursors which give an indication of what to come. In this case, it was last Wednesday when, while I was at my desk preparing class, I heard from quite a distance and through the closed door of the Managing Director's office a loud expletive. At first I thought he had injured himself but he turned up later, very much in one piece.

Then, Friday morning I was reminded that there was to be a staff meeting today, to which I replied, I had to leave early to get ready for my weekend trip. Stay at least for the start, they said. And they remained as cryptic as possible. So at 3:15pm we all sat down for the meeting, to hear: "I'm sorry but Intrax will be closed down by Friday next week." Yes, the American owners had reconsidered their investment and decided to up and leave. To cut a long story short, another school has already offered to take our students from next week, and also wanted to snaffle a few teachers in the short term. So now I am working there, full-time, well, for the time being.

The school's impending closure left all in an odd state of mind. As a co-worker told me today, when he told other people, even his wife, they didn't seem to understand. It felt like grief. Many of us had been with the school in its many manifestations since 2001. For me, driving a motor vehicle was probably not the best thing to do as I kept having realisations all the way to Taupo: the EIA course is now worthless, ah, but I don't have to fill in all the holes! I don't have to deal with surly Pablo, but what will happen to all those nice students. Will we keep in touch?

Now us teachers are already in a new school while the news was broken to the students. Should we be there? It seemed cowardly not to be. But we had jobs. The news was not received well.

After 5pm I went to Foodtown where as it happens I bumped into three previous students of mine. They were all sad and resigned to the fact. One of them was not going to be affected, as it was her last week, but the other two had three more weeks remaining. But they didn't seem to want to go to the next school. There was attachment to the old one.

Anyway, life goes on. And in this case, just two days later (rather than the usual three) there was a Resurrection, which I will describe along with details of our wicked trip to Ruapehu in my next blog.