Tuesday, December 4, 2007

16. Konnichiwa, First Snow

At the beginning of the very first steps of our tiny little lives, it was filled with surprises and new things every day. I watch my little students at the kindergarten every day and how they are amazed by new things every day. I was pleased for them, and I also sort of envy them because as an adult, we often lose the freshness in our lives and, in some cases, refuses to explore more of the unknowns. However, there's a new first for me last Sunday -- the first snow in my life!

I couldn't tell you how surprised and joyful I was when I saw the whiteness outside the window. On the street, on the cars, on the rooftops of other houses, on the trees, on the window pane. It was as if the whole world has changed (emotionally too) over night. I was indulged in the happiness on seeing the snow and feeling the winter is really here. At that moment, I felt like a kid again, just like my students.

As I walked out onto the streets, it was cold and slippery, like ice-skating. And the wind was so bitterly cold. But I couldn't feel bitter at all, I felt as if it was the most wonderful morning I've ever had in New York. And the first snow is always clean. Pure and yet elegant. The whole city suddenly was dressed in white and nothing could have escaped.

This was also the day which I took Japanese Language Proficiency Test(日本語能力試験). After a nearly whole month of (not so much) cramming and the never-ending-Kanji(漢字, the Chinese characters used in Japanese) practice, it was time. Gosh, I didn't even finish all the practice tests! At 1:00PM I had to be at Columbia University for writing my 2-kyu (2級, Level 2) test. Just when I was running against time, the train broke down at Union Square. I think I said it out loud, "You gotta be kidding me!" Thirty minutes left before the exam begin and I am not even on the No.1 train yet. I walked in the snow, starting to sweat, breathing out mist and thinking, "Damn! I hope this isn't the end." And somehow, magically, I made it. It was Columbia's fault, or their right. We had to change classrooms and that made a long delay. So I made it alright.

The teacher was a Japanese woman. She tried to explain to us the mistake in a heavy accent and not so fluent English. But we all understood. She then began explaining the rules and announced that the exam to begin. And the rest was history. Some people thought it was easy (while someone so not-prepared didn't agree). But the fun thing was, this gave me a huge insight of how the Japanese test works in American, at least in New York. The atmosphere was VERY RELAXING. To a certain extend that I could almost not believe it. The students and the teacher were like soft of chatting at some point. Well, not that I was complaining, there were more than half of the examinees were non-Asians. And I'm sure they would all do very well. A (white) guy sitting not far away from me was talking in Japanese the whole time. (He was the one saying "簡単すぎ" which meant "too easy"). Oh well, I made it through safe and sound. Perhaps some laughs. What a nice experience taking a Japanese exam in American.

As I walked out, Columbia U. was decorated with beautiful snow and lights. Student were walking around. Two guys played snow fight and almost hit me! I mean, I should have joined them haha, but it was just too cold. I headed home straight away, feeling empty and tired. One of the biggest goal of the year has just passed, and I hate to admit that I wasn't putting out my best for it while I could have be. So many "would be", "could be" and "should be"s. One thing I know for sure, I will still continue study it until I can make it to 1-kyu. (My speaking is terrible BTW. Sigh.)

It's been two days. The first snow melted the next morning. Almost like a dream. But good news is, I heard that tomorrow is another snow coming. Can't wait!

Wan An!

Monday, November 26, 2007

15. My Thanksgiving Story

我去參加梅西(Macy's)百貨公司主辦著名的[紐約梅西感恩節大遊行],世界第一的呦! 我一大清早5:30起來,到第59街哥倫比亞圓環的時候已經擠的水洩不通了! 我們還是硬著頭皮找到一個駐足的好所在,看著一個個的大氣球,還有小丑、樂隊、和華麗的花車遊行,真是熱鬧極了! 看完真是累斃。接著午餐到中國城一家叫[昇輝城]的飲茶(聽說是郭富城每到紐約華阜都會來這家吃),晚上又到另一家叫[粥之家]的餐廳吃蒜頭雞、螃蟹、鮮魚等美食,雖然和一般人認知的感恩節有所不同,但可是令我忘懷不已、備感溫暖。隔天[黑色星期五](e感恩節後次日是全美大打折的日子,故稱)我也搶便宜,在蘇活區(Soho)的Apple店買了80GB的iPod,從此之後不得安寧,愛不釋手!!

Ok, I think I've got like 5, or maybe, 10 minutes to finish my story. I don't want to drag along so this is gonna be real fast and brief.

Let me start with the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, one of the most renowned event in New York. It's a world-class parade with the best (really) balloons in the world. Jimmy, Monique and I decided to have a look. We woke up at 5:30 AM and arrived at Columbus Circle at half past seven. Little did we know, the street was already packed with moms, dads and, of course, kids! (of all ages). We first lined up at Starbucks to get a fresh cup of coffee to wake up more. Another long line... Anyway, we found a nice spot on the side of Central Part, facing West 60th, and counted down for the parade to kick off.

The sun rose higher and sunlight started to reflect on the windows on the buildings in front of us. We see people wiping their windows one by one coincidently as if they were also getting ready for a better view of the parade. Pretty amazing view. It was like in the movie Rear Window(1954) when James Steward watching the little universes in square boxes. People getting up, sitting by the window, having friends over, cleaning, wondering around, standing on the balcony and the rooftop. So on and so forth. And soon, it was 9 o'clock and with a big bang, the band started marching in. The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade now officially inaugurated.

The band was amazing. They were full of energy and charged with proud and glee. The cheerleaders were also impressive. So many of them and they all look the same! (especially their smiles!) Then came the balloons. I've never seen anything flying pass by so humongous and they were breathtakingly beautiful. The colossal floating vessels were controlled by dozens of men. First was Scoopie Doo, then came Dora, Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Shrek, Picachu, Mr. Potato Head among others flying by. It was just spectacular. The crowds were cheering, the clowns were funny, the floats were fancy, and of course, I was enjoy every moment.

With all the eye-catching-spinning marching bands and balloons, the show was over. I was so pleased and tired. We walked into Central Park and sat down on the benches for a while. It was time for some chaw. Where else? --- Chinatown.

The Dim Sum at 昇輝城(Shen Hwe Chen) got us well-fed and after grocery shopping, it was time for an afternoon nap.(which I didn't have!) For dinner, we (still) dined in Chinese/Taiwanese style at 粥之家(Congee House) with crabs, garlic chicken and fish. It was my very first and non-American Thanksgiving. Although it may seem very non-traditional, it was my peculiar and very personal yet special.

If you think this is the end of the story, think again. After dinner, it was only 9PM and the night was still young, although might have seem too late for the Black Friday Early Bird line-up at Best buy for the $500 computer or flat-screen TV, we took the opportunity to treat ourselves with a movie at Loews Theater at Third and 11th. The film was The Mist(2007). Talking about celebrating humanity on Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to Stephen King, I felt much more prepared for the dog-eat-dog world.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. In case you were informed, I bought a new silver iPod Classic (80GB) on Black Friday at the Apple Store in Soho. Gotta love it, man!

Wan An!

*Read the cover story from Wall Street Journal Online here.
*更多中文有關遊行的新聞請見[大紀元][新華網][中國新聞網] (為甚麼在台灣的報導這麼少?)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

14. Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner

Just a quick one I guess. Last night I had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at the International Center (where I enrolled for language courses). They were very nice to have organized a very warming, beautiful and delicious dinner for the students who registered beforehand. I mean, to me, Thanksgiving is just like in the movies: family gatherings, turkey for dinner and probably some fights involved. I've never been able to really understand what it really feels like to have a Thanksgiving dinner with real American tradition(or Canadian tradition, in some cases). I mean, last year I got invited but I couldn't go due to work! That really sucks!! Working situations in Taiwan is definitely non-westernized.

So, back to the dinner. Jimmy and I arrived there around 5PM. But the door won't be opened until 5:30. And we finally got inside, I can't believe they have decorated the cafe area into a fantastic dining banquet, with table cloth, green vines, cranberries, candles decorating the dining tables with beautiful dining ware. It felt almost like being at a wedding! So nice.

We sat down, and started to introduce ourselves. Most of us didn't know each other considering there are hundreds of members and volunteers at International Center. There were two volunteers (a teacher and a language partner), a woman from Myanmar, a Peruvian, a Chinese, a Korean and two Taiwanese(Jimmy and I). Very international enough haha.It was nice sitting next to the Peruvian and she told me many things I didn't learn about Peru. Now I really want to visit South America. We chatted while drinking wine and apple cider, then the organizers read two lovely poems, and after that the dinner was officially announced began. FOOD!

The food served for the event was sponsored by a local high school so they came serving us and taught us the meaning of sharing and good will. I really love the idea. They kids looked very happy bring their home culture to us. I guess that's when I realized of the true meaning of Thanksgiving-- be grateful and willing to share with other in praise of the love of the world. I hope I didn't put it wrong. We had turkey breast with gravy, creamy bread crumbs, macaroni, sweet potatoes, long-stem beans and a bun. It was really delicious and the atmosphere just couldn't be better. To top it off, luscious desserts were served with choices of apple pie, coconut pie and the very traditional pumpkin pie(which I didn't get!) with coffee. I really miss dessert! I mean, since I'm a backpacker here, I don't really go for the luxury of dining out, let along having desserts! This was my lucky night! (and it was all free BTW) As a result, we left with a full stomach and a warmed heart.

All and all, the Thanksgiving dinner really opened my eyes and with some exchange of words with the American folks and other international friends at the table, I felt I was the lucky ones. I mean, just by that evening, I saw like perhaps five blinded people walking on the street and I helped one crossing the street. What I'm trying to say is that we should really cherish what we have in our lucky life and share the joy and love with other while we can. Not many people can do that. And certainly there are tons of things we can do. So I praise to all volunteers and the organizers from the International Center with gratitude and a big "Thank You" on this special occasion. It was a special experience for me.

So, how are you going to spend your Thanksgiving? Feel free to share with me!

Wan An!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

13. Jamie the Good Guy

今天我參加了傑米‧奧利佛在Banes & Noble書店的簽書會,沒想到除了簽書之外,還跟他聊了一下,我們還有握手和合照喔! 今天在書店賣的這本書還全數貢獻到慈善基金呦! 所以我說他真是個大好人(the good guy)! 我今天樂不思蜀呦!

[大紀元報]有他對英國的校園午餐發起「反垃圾食品運動」,你一定要看! 如果你有找到一些相關報導可以請你將將鏈結po給我嗎?

"Veni, vidi, vici."
("I came, I saw, I conquered") I met the non-other-than-the-real Jamie Oliver today!

Last Thursday, our hostess Monique read from TONY about that Jamie was coming to New York at Barnes & Noble (sound familiar?) to promote his book Cook with Jamie: My Guide for Making You a Better Cook. I seriously marked it down on my calendar and gotta make it there. It came as a pleasant surprise because I am very fond of Jamie very much! He's my mentor for cooking! (which means whenever I watch him cooking on TV, I get HUNGRY!!) And just by watching him cooking is really fun and he has done so much good things such as helping some disadvantaged young people training to become a professional chef at his non-profit restaurant Fifteen, challenging the British authorities by changing public school dinner(which means lunch) to REAL HEALTHY FOOD! And at the book signing, all the profits from the selling will go to charity. THAT is exactly why I like him so much!! And he's real popular in the UK and all over Europe. And Taiwan too!

Today I arrived at the bookstore around 1 P.M., there were still tons of people lining up there waiting to get their books signed by Jamie. The lady told me it was for charity so I bought the book immediately and lined up with everybody else. It didn't take took long when it was my turn. The people at the bookstore were very nice, told us to open the book to a certain page for signing. In the mean time, I suddenly could hear Jamie talking to the folks, just chatting very nicely. And I was so excited and nervous that when it was my turn, I was stuttered but finally got the words out, telling him I came from Taiwan and how I enjoyed so much using cooking as an approach to teach kids and how much they enjoyed it. Jamie then asked me how old they were. I told him they were from 5 to 7 years old. (actually the youngest ones are like two and a half!) Then he signed, we shook hands, took pictures, and I was so happy I felt everything went by like a dream. (which I have been doing pretty often these days due to fatigue, or concoction!?)

Now I'm proud to say that, "We met, we chatted, we shook hands."

Check out Jamie's website: www.jamieoliver.com (with more funny clips)

Wan An!

*Read more about Jamie Oliver at Barnes & Noble website and an interview video clip here.
*Another interview from New York Times here.
*An article from The Observer titled "The truth about school dinners: what happend when Jamie went home" here.
*Another article in New York Times that reflects on the same issued titled "Glorious Food? English Schoolchildren Think Not" here.
*More info about the show from Wikipedia here.

*Watch a clip of him promoting his show Jamie's School Dinners from YouTube below.

Friday, November 9, 2007

12. TOEFL Score

Two posts in one day. This just happened after I wrote about the head-bang.

TOEFL news! I just checked my TOEFLiBT score unwillingly after such a disastrous day.(Got fined 4 bucks at the library, and got banged on my head by a 50lb. light, just to name a few) I got my score out.

Surprise. Surprise. (YEAH! I had to shout in glee even before Christmas!) I got a total of 109 points(out of 120). It was way better than I had expected!

我的托福iBT成績 (11月9日公布)
Reading 閱讀: 26
Listening 聽力: 26
Speaking 口語: 29
Writing 寫作: 28
Total 總分: 109

During the time preparing for such costly and yet pain-in-the-neck exam, it took me quite some breath and a few minor heartaches, the episode has come to a closure I guess. So thanks yo out there cheering me up and giving me courage and strength. At some point, I felt if I won the Tony's!(sorry, was watching The Producers on TV)

To sum up the EVENTFUL DAY, I would say it was full tears and laughters, pains and joys.

Wan An!

11. Whacked by the Spotlight (literally)

我掛彩了! 我今天從桌上摔了下來,接著被聚光燈敲到,嚇死我自己也下了不少人。

Yes,it was me. No, I wasn't drunk (was about to though). In the middle of the opening night, just during the intermission, as I was jumping off the table with the followspot set up on the quite unstable tables, I fell, and so was the light, right on my head! I got two swollen bumps. But I survived. (ouch!)

Tonight was the opening night. Everyone was excited and yet nervous about the show. I practiced with maneuvering with the lights just before it actually opened. I did quite fine except the light was heavy and we had to stand on a chair on a table while it was sitting (hardly) on the table as well. All I heard as a big BANG!! and then I knew something heavy fell on my head. Maybe more than once. I stood up immediately and thought, "DAMN! Not now!". Later I was told it fell right on my head. Gee. Lucky I survived.(whew!)

Well, the light broke. We have to replace a new one. And now I feel a bit trembling when standing next to it, let along controlling it. But I will have to deal with it. I'm not a wimp ok? I have to deal with the fear within. (and fingers crossed...)

Tonight's show was really great. After the curtain fell, we greeted each other and congratulated each other. "お疲れ様!"(Great show!)

Wan An! I'm gonna get a icepack for my head...(still ouch!)...

Come see our show!! It's really great!

More on the follow spot light here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

10. I've Got A Job! (Temp)

Yes! I've got a new temp job! I've been helping my pal here with his production in Greenpoint here in Brooklyn. For one thing, Greenpoint is noted for its Polish community and there are shops with goods, restaurants, bakery, newsstands all in Polish!! For one moment was thinking perhaps I've just arrived in Europe. (and not to mention the Pole are quite DIRECT...let's say, they won't shy away when giving your their piece of mind) My gosh I was shocked by how "direct" the old lady was at McDonald's. She was like McDonald's Polizie giving the clerk guy a hard time demanding for hot water. "This isn't hot enough! Are you kidding me? How can I drink this?" she said impatiently.) Enough about the Poles. I love their food BTW and, of course, the BEER!!! I hope to get some tomorrow hehe.

The job, the show. OK. I am basically doing some simple job. I do whatever Nick asks me to. He is my commender. Both Jimmy and I are his protégés. The show we are working on is for a Japanese art festival called Japanese Arts Matsuri (JAM) 2007. We started everything from scratch. First, transport all the equipments into the venue, which is a Polish recreation center for the elderly. I had no idea they were so heavy! (more amazed by the idea that I'm actually moving them with my hands!) Then, after hours and days of clean up, set up, wiring (which I do a lot), errants, testing, programing, communicating (with the Polish director at the center... very DIRECT indeed.) And finally watch the performers rehearse. It's like putting the puzzle pieces together. I somehow gain a sense of achievement when everything seem to fall into places. (Though most of the job is still done by Nick-- Hey Nick! You're the man!) So, tomorrow today (it has passed midnight) is the opening night.

Since it's a Japanese festival, of course there are Japanese people involved, and lots of them! I am very happy to find so many Japanese together and watch them interact. For me, this is like watching a Japanese Dorama without subtitles! And I could try to speak a little but I try as much as I could. (If I can form the sentence quickly enough)

The show is composed of ballet, tap dancing, string quartet, Japanese Taiko (太鼓, huge drum set), a Chinese martial arts theatre(with a Chinese story in English-Japanese dialogs), and a samurai sword-fighting show (a big hit I heard). So far I really like the Taiko performances and the master Mr. Hiro is a great cool guy. At the rehearsal, there was a little pupil as young as 1 year old baby! He was banging the table at the side with drumsticks thicker than his arms! So amazing! If you feel like having a fest of Japanese culture or just some good old fun and exciting performance, come to visit us (and visit me!) at the Java Street Hall at 176 Java Street, Brooklyn. More show info and directions here.

*Read more about the Polish community in Greenpoint in New York Times here.
*Another article from a series called "Voices of New York" in New York University website can be found here.

Wan An!