Monday, October 24, 2005

The Eels

I went to only my second concert last night (it would have been my third if Massive Attack hadn't cancelled on me a few years ago). The Eels are not a well-known band but one that I became familiar with back at high school when a couple of their songs featured on Max TV regularly. I put the lead singer among Beck, Bjork, Tricky and David Bowie as someone who creates his own trademark music, inhabits it and succeeds on their faithfulness to themselves rather than compromising musically.

When I say The Eels, there is only one true member, with apparently 20 transient band members. The surly gent who is the morbid heart to the band, E, is the writer and frontman is a bit of a character.He also feels very free to be himself, not one to fuss over his appearance or mind bothering people by his incessant cigar smoking. The songs are generally musically simple but touchingly lyrical.

On the whole, the concert was wonderful except for the neverending wait at the start. I was frankly a little peeved, especially that I had failed to bring some refreshments in my bag. We waited long and then were greeted with a 10 minute russian cartoon, and then waited even longer, and got another informative short film introduction to The Eels, but still not the band... And then, maybe an hour after the start time, the curtain went up yet again but this time to reveal a band with strip instruments.

Then on came E, puffing his fragrant cigar (probably breaking the law of December 10 last year) and bursting into song. From that point on he scarcely missed a beat, passing song to song with out pause. His songs are usually no longer than three minutes, although sometimes daring to four.

For a sample of the music:
"Trouble with Dreams" is pretty cool. I remember it so clearly from the concert.

He bantered with the audience a fair bit. First telling of a few guys cheering while he was speaking. Telling jokes, apologising it taking him 10 years to come to New Zealand and promoting the room party of Chet, the multi-instrument musician (inviting girls only).

The songs were excellent. Having only one of his albums, I knew only four or five of the songs. But he picked my two favourites from that album "Dead of Winter" and "Climbing to the Moon".

The end was amusing. He introduced the last song, saying: 'This is the last song I am contracted to play. But you know after that, we have to play that whole cat and mouse thing. You know. So I just want to say that this is officially the last song.' So he belted out that song, bowed and left with the bad. Then the "cat and mouse" began. The applause, stamping and bottle tapping from the audience went louder and louder. A minute passed. And then the people at the front went even louder. And that's when they came back for another two songs. And then said goodbye again. And then the applause came back. They returned, did a few more songs, and left again. The audience again persisted with applause after they left. And then they came back for the very last song. And left the stage again. The audience cheered and clapped again, requesting they come back. The floor-crew started collecting the equipment. But still the sound went on. We started to leave, along with half the audience. And one of the floorcrew went to the microphone and said: "Sorry folks, the Eels have left the building. No they haven't, they're back!" And back they came, this time dressed in pyjamas and ripped into "I can never take the place of your man" (originally a Prince song). People came pouring back into the St James again. But that was the last.
Cat and Mouse.

Then we went to Kebabs on Queen which it seems that the Eels also got their dinner from because they sent a girl down at the same time we were there. But anyway, it was worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Video Reviews - A Billy Bob Thornton double

50c videos and time at home can be a time consuming occupation. Fortunately, I restrict myself to one a week.

The Man Who Wasn't There

I watched this one last week, being that I had seen it in the shop and thought that I might like it, but strangely never got it out. This is perhaps one of the darkest comedies possible, either that or it isn't funny. Filmed in black and white, humour as black as can be, and an actor who makes depression seem like delight, you might be challenged to see any light at all. But Billy Bob Thornton is a cool actor, for whom I have gained a lot of respect. He is one of those solid actors who can be the complete character, and despite appearances has quite a range (as evinced by his Oscar-winning turn in A Simple Plan).

Here he is the lead role and narrator of the story, an unaspiring barber in a routine mundane life. He is suddenly impelled to actually do something different, to finally try to better himself... but a series of consequences consume four lives including his own (and also breaks the clavicle of Scarlet Johansson's character Bitsy).

Watching it was almost reminiscent of reading The Outsider by Camus, in the numbness that the lead leads. His murder of a friend, the trial leading to his own impending execution are all just humdrum excursions on his way through life.

It was a cool movie to enjoy, as long as you are unhurried.

Monster's Ball

This week I decided upon Monster's Ball, mainly because of seeing the other Billy Bob Thornton movie the previous week, but it turned out to be a good choice. I only knew that Halle Berry won an Oscar for her role, a deservingly so.

The movie is almost one long unmitigated personal disasters for all concerned. All of the disasters had large repercussions except for one, the very last one when suddenly it becomes obvious to Leticia (Berry) how fate has dealt to her yet again. But she takes it silently and in that way the film elegantly ends, Leticia swallowing the pain and learning to accept.

As long as you are prepared for the most depressing of melodramas, I highly recommend Monster's Ball simply because it is honest and unflinching and in a heartbeat, moving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Until today, I have probably been through my most intense period of focussed work and study for a long time. I was hardly distractable. With completion of the Chinese proficiency test, my Dad’s birthday and one day of work at my old language school over the previous three days, I could finally rest today. I didn’t really plan on it, but my mind was determined and I got fixated on all sorts of strange things…

Actually I can pinpoint exactly when in happened. 5pm Monday afternoon, my bus passed another bus, which had been slapped on the left cheek, by a car door, while the bus was moving at quite a speed. Needless to say, all drivers concerned were rather flustered. And the car door was now double-jointed. But I suddenly felt a relaxing feeling spreading through my body.

Today I did do some work but only half as much as I had put into my schedule. The game of internet chess I had started last week had been going very badly. I had been rueing every move, move by sickening move. Today, my opponent pretty much handed me back the game and I have a reasonable chance of winning now.
I demolished a bar of chocolate I somehow bought. I caught some rays (not of the stinging kind), watched the Life of David Gale. I surfed old movie reviews of Lord of the Rings... Boy, do people hold them in high regard. And started ferreting through my drawers for lost treasure.

Hopefully tomorrow I can regain my work-ethic or else I am screwed for my lessons on Thurs/Fri!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

One down, One to go

The first of the two language tests that I have been preparing for has now finished.

HSK was not as hard as I thought it would be, but at the same time, I mentally was not as strong as I thought I would be. By the Reading section (3/4 of the way through) I could hardly read a sentence let alone a scientific description of lazer-eye surgery or an item on the new migratory patterns of mammals in Finland (I am not making those up either). When I practiced, I always had at least 5 minutes when I finished each section. This was not the case this time. Each time I was under pressure to finish in the time, and usually did it with only the skin of my teeth remaining.

Overall, I think only the Listening Section will be any higher than my practice tests, grammar may be equal, reading will be lower and maybe the combined final section will be a little lower.

Now I have two months to re-configure my brain again to mellifluous Japanese tapes and barbarically complex grammar patterns for the Japanese Proficiency Test.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Longest Day

From the perspective of paid hours of work, ESOL teaching seems a piece of cake. For years, I worked no more than 5 hours a day, and only in a blue moon more. Of course, unlike other jobs it is mentally more demanding per hour of work too, and on top of that, you have many unpaid hours of work. Going back to teaching after even a week off tends to knock you for six. Actually I can still remember my first week of teaching at the dead-and-buried ASL and every afternoon coming home and passing out on the couch (I had never been one to pass out so easily). Class teaching may be hard, but one-on-one teaching is even more intensive.

As a contractor to my only client, I have slowly been increasing my hours, week after week. I can still remember the first week when I only worked one day and that was for 4.5 hours. And as it was my first teaching one-on-one for quite some time, I was zonked.

Only as I was coming home today did I realise that I had made a new record for working... I had a 6 hour day. This is the longest day I have had of paid work since 1999 (there is one other time that might pull that statement into doubt - I can't quite recall clearly my hours at that time - I don't think I was working mornings). Either way, it is a bumper day for me, but I may be peaking, and the only way to get more would be to spill over to a third day (which will be more acceptable to me after the HSK test, this Saturday). Or get another client but my chances haven't been that high of late and most leads have unfortunately not amounted to anything.

Free business cards to anyone who wants one though!

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Final Straight~

Reminiscent of exam seasons past, I have a 5 day dash to the HSK examination and seeking every shred of vocabulary, listening opportunity and even dreaming of Chinese (unusually, Xin spoke in Chinese in my dream, although not in real life). Overall, I know that I can pass the test easily - the thing is that to pass it is not the important thing. Because I want to attempt the higher level next year, I would ideally want to show that this level is a piece of cake. The test itself has band scores just like IELTS, this means it is not just a pass/fail test but tells you how good you are, or bad you are, with a rough integer score up to 8.

Yesterday, I took another practice test and in the first three sections set personal records in each on (76% in listening, 97% in grammar, 94% in reading), then quite unexpectedly collapsed in the fourth section losing 10/16 marks in one of the two parts. Considering that the whole test is 170 marks, losing 10 marks on one part of one section is criminal. In previous practice tests I was averaging just under 80% for that section; yesterday I got 68%. This has completely distracted me from my self-perceived listening weakness.

Listening in fact is shaping up nicely. I can understand the Chinese radio station with comparative ease. Maybe even better than my Taiwan days (where I understood conversation far better than broadcasts or television). But the tests are not natural Chinese. They are orchestrated logical tricks, sometimes involving rapid mental arithmetic, set idioms, and rhetorical speech.

(in Chinese)

"Does Little Wang know the score in the rugby?"
"Little Wang doesn't know, no-body knows".

Question: "Which of the following statements can be deduced from the dialogue?"
A. Little Wang likes ice-cream.
B. Little Wang knows the score.
C. Little Wang was sucked up a tornado and relocated to Ontario.
D. Little Wang doesn't know.

Of course, the answer is Little Wang knows (B), which once you get the hang of Chinese rhetorical sentences, is obvious. And no the answers aren't usually as ridiculuous as above in the Listening (although often that way in the Reading that test).

Anywho, back to a day of my nose to the grindstone.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Party time

Well my 27th birthday has passed once more. This time a much less ambitious party plan was chosen, and went smoothly.

Probably the nicest revelation is to find I can take on much less mental burden and still have a party go well. Usually I usually squash myself with stress and preparation, and usually control things far too much. This time, I even darted out of the house to grab some sushi for about 15 minutes. Everyone still seemed to be chatting nicely when I had returned.

Some of my overpreparations came to nothing. I was really concerned about there being enough food, but in the end it was just enough. I had to be reminded that I had sushi, completely forgot I had olives, didn't put out the alternative beverages and even when I did, everyone kept drinking the tea. The food side of things almost fell apart, with some food not living up to expectations in my eyes but were praised by others. One person seemed intent on finding my secret ingredient to my Tomato Basil Tofu.

The strange day was short but far superior to the previous effort on the 13th of August last year. There were sufficient ideas, and more importantly will, to go through with things - this might be due to those involved. I resolved a curious doubt I had about the philosophical question dilemma, where no-one seemed to be interested in contributing a substantial question and may approach the issue differently next time.

Leg-wrestling: Andrew (winning the final against Xin)
Straightface keeping: Paul (2 mins 30 seconds undefeated)