Friday, January 29, 2010

The self-serving volunteer

Back in October I started doing some volunteer work via NYCares. My first project was/is an Early Morning reading program that I do every week. We go and read with kids between grades 2 and 4. This can be fun, frustrating, rewarding--sometimes at the same time. I signed up for it because it takes place at a dual language school and I could learn more about how language is learned. It depends on the child and the situation whether that actually happens of course. But today a little interaction with a young boy was something along the lines I was hoping for. We were reading "The Lorax" and he said someone "colored" the Lorax. And I didn't see it. We went back and forth between two pages and I said the colors were the same and then he came up with the word "ink" and I saw what he meant-sure enough someone had made a couple of small lines in pen on the Lorax. I love those moments when someone uses a different word than I expect because it really makes me think about the language.

In December I started going for English Conversation in Chinatown with adults a few evenings a month. These are immigrants from China and Hong Kong who are working on their English skills. At first I was working with this guy whose English was not good enough to be there quite frankly. It was hard for him to understand me, no matter how slowly I spoke and when he would answer me it was often not an answer that fit my question. It was frustrating for both of us. Lately I have been with other students who can understand and respond much better. We have interesting coconversations, with them sometimes explaining things to me about their lives and with me sometimes teaching them new vocabulary. One example is when two women and I were discussing coupons and one woman said that they don't always work for what you want to buy and I introduced them to the term "fine print." I love it that we are all learning.

I am in awe of them because for most of them, English is not their 2nd language but 3rd sometimes 4th. I have long wanted to be bilingual but have yet to get close. I think about my level of Cantonese and I am nowhere near the level where I could partake of a program like this. I am hoping that my trip to Hong Kong will propel me closer to it at the very least.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

unnecessary stress

I am a librarian. I don't have a job where anyone's life is on the line. I barely have a role in anyone's future, I might make it easier for them in some small way (or more difficult) but really in the scheme of their life, my role is minimal. But life at the library has been stressful lately mainly because I work where we evaluate each other and everyone is working towards the golden ring (or noose) of tenure. We have had quite a few disagreements in this process and it has been very uncomfortable for me. I don't eat as well, sleep as well, I am tired and I don't want to do anything but veg when I get home. I thought maybe this was because this is my first experience with this process but I know other committee members have been struggling as well. It is almost over but it has really left a bad taste in my mouth. I think of escaping to a different job or a different career and then realize it doesn't much matter because all jobs have office politics that come to a head at some point or another. I just need to endure and to keep my integrity and my sanity until it is over.

I wasn't going to do an all text post again, I am sure it is boring for folks. I was going to take some pictures when I went for a walk in the park this weekend but forgot the camera. Too bad, I think I could have gotten some nice shots. So instead here is a picture of my dear departed dog, I had to put her down in mid-October. I think of her when I least expect--for instance my super called me at work on friday, something went wrong when repairing a leak in my upstairs neighbor's apartment and I needed to go home right away. It ended up being that water backed up via the sink, so not as big of a crisis as I had imagined when he called but still required two plumbers hours to fix it. But when I got the call my first thought was that if Yardley was still around she'd be in a panic. Two or three years ago my bathroom ceiling, which is no stranger to leaks, fell in and she tried to get out the bedroom window, damaging the window frame and hurting her paws in the process. And it took her days to truly calm down.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Clay Pots and Paper Sons

Today I went to have lunch with a friend. We started with the idea of hand pulled noodles but then ended up at Yummy Noodles (48 Bowery) which despite the name is known for their clay pot rice dishes. We had a Chinese sausage with preserved duck and Minced pork with preserved cabbage. It was excellent. I have walked by this restaurant hundreds of times, I can’t believe I haven’t eaten there before, what a shame! But you know there are probably couple dozen great restaurants that I have yet to try in Chinatown. It was a better meal than I had the other night when I was with another friend; we went to Wo Hop (17 Mott St.) and had Salt and Pepper fried Squid and Fried Tofu. Sadly the squid was too chewy. I have had it there before and it was fine, so I was surprised. My friend is going to take me to a different restaurant for squid next time we go out, she says it is always good there. Since I love squid, I am looking forward to that.

Back to today--after our yummy lunch we headed over to the Museum of the Chinese in America. It is quite a step up from the previous location because it is newly designed by Maya Lin. We arrived exactly as planned, for the gallery tour. Our docent wasn’t the most experienced but he was quite enthusiastic. And quite patient with some of the questions and comments. After the tour we went back thru the exhibit again to take a closer look at things. My friend was showing me this one particular display and said that it was symbolizing the “paper sons.” This was new to me. I knew about the Chinese Exclusion Act, of course, but I didn’t know of this way of getting around the law. A fire in San Francisco created this opportunity because many birth records were lost. Our docent had touched on the interviews at Angel Island and how detailed the questions were but if he mentioned this as being one of the reasons, I didn't hear him.

Then because we both study Cantonese we were looking at some of the Chinese to English phrasebooks. The docent was nearby and seemed pleased that we were taking the time to notice these. Then I observed a simplified character and commented on it. He explained that when they simplified the Chinese characters sometimes they used older, no longer in use characters which were perhaps earlier attempts at simplification. Interesting, I wonder how true that is. That aside, the phrasebooks are quite revealing because it is all work related phrases, not something you'd see nowadays I imagine. I wish I could remember one completely but I can’t, but it was all about being able to understand or be able to give orders to do particular manual labor tasks.

Not a bad way to spend a cold day. I don't usually get to adventure too much on Saturdays, I usually have Cantonese class. But right now we are on a hiatus, so I have to take advantage while I can.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Clean Slate

Finally this morning I got my hard drive back, as a clean slate. Wow, how bizarre. It has been damn inconvenient being without my computer, then having to set up all the drives and programs so that I could work again. But I am loving how fast it is now and that because there is so little on it, what is on it is so much easier to find. Stark Simplicity. It also solved a dilemma of mine--whether I should change my wallpaper or not. It was a photo of my dearly departed, the best dog a woman could ever have. She died in mid-October. I was trying to decide if keeping it up there was getting to be morbid or if it was just a sweet memorial. Well, it is gone. I could get it off my USB or facebook or any number of places I have my dog's pix but I decided this was a good time to move on.

I had my Cantonese tutoring session last night. Via Skype, which I love. I was having a lot of difficulties with my tongue, I guess I was a bit rusty from the vacation. But it was really funny at one point, I was counting, 1oo1, 1oo2 ... and I kept mixing up my consonents, so "l" when it was supposed to be "ch" and vice versa. I must have done it 5x in a row, I would correct myself and do it again. Not only do I pay my tutor, I give her a good laugh. She is either really good or really bad at giving homework, I haven't decided. Sometimes I really have to think not only of what I would answer in Cantonese but also sometimes what I would answer in English!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Danger, Danger!

I went to work today with the best intentions to be productive (well, that might be a bit overstated) but then my computer went nutso on me. Apparently I am infected with some sort of trojan. I didn't want to call the systems guy, they always give you this accusing look and ask "what were you doing?" as though you had been trying to hack into some secret government website. But to my surprise, he came and acted like it was no big deal. Apparently, I have been dammed lucky not to have one of these things before beause my job doesn't exactly provide the best antivirus software.

So I kept getting warnings from my trojan which was trying to get me to buy better antivirus protection from his masters, to demonstrate my need it kept loading porn onto my computer. I am actually laughing, but if my systems guy can't fix it I may be very cranky by the end of the week.

Tomorrow I will bring my laptop. I can't really work on it but I can do my own stuff on it. This way I won't have to resort to cleaning out my file cabinets like I was doing today ...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010--the year to blog?

I don't live an exciting life, really nothing to blog about, really don't know what I am doing here. But I have big dreams for this year, life changing stuff, so I thought maybe I should share them.

These dreams mostly involve my interest in Hong Kong. I have watched many Hong Kong films and some tv series. I probably know the names of and can recognize more Hong Kong actors and singers than I can American ones at this point.

I recently finished a MS in TESOL and want to make a career change. I am not young anymore so this is a big, big deal for me. I am way too comfortable in my present career, bored actually would be a better word.

I have been studying Cantonese for years but I don't really practice it outside the classroom so what I know is rather limited. My comprehension is better than my speaking ability. Now that I have finished my degree, I have tried to improve my vocabulary and have started working with a tutor to develop my conversational skills.

Now I am basically a lazy person but I have two concurrent goals that are motivating me right now. My first one is to spend the month of June in Hong Kong. My focus is to work on my Cantonese. I am probably going to do a 3 week class at CUHK. I need to immerse myself in the language. I live within a subway ride of more than one Chinatown but I am a bit shy about my Cantonese here. Only when I am with either my fellow students or Cantonese speakers do I put myself out there. And the responses have been good, it is all in my head, I know that. But if I go to Hong Kong for an extended time (versus a 10 day vacation) I expect that I will have to use it more. This is in the planning stages: I need to apply to the school, make the airplane reservations and find a place to stay while I am there.

My second goal is much bigger, and sometimes seems more like a fantasy of myself versus the real me. I want to teach English somewhere where I can use my Cantonese. Hong Kong would be great but there are other places that would work almost as well. I have never lived overseas nor have I ever taught. It is alot of change all at once and part of me loves this idea and part of me is petrified that I am not flexible enough for that much change all at once. So this is another reason to go to Hong Kong in June and really try to immerse myself, if I can't hack it, then I know this second goal is more fantasy than reality for me.