Last Day in Manila; Back Home for a Minute

I’m only back in the 206 for a minute.  

  
On they day of my niece’s 18th birthday party, her “debut,” I got caught in the rain.  I ducked into a 7-11 to wait out the rain and NOT buy a 5th umbrella.  I ate some 7-11 chicharrones to help pass the time.  

 After a change of clothes, I got into an über.  The driver snaked through Makati, rather than EDSA/Ortigas, so I spotted a Wang Mart.  I figured it should be on the internet.

I had left the condo at 5pm, with explicit instructions from my niece to show up at 6pm American Time, NOT Filipino time.  So I was annoyed at 6pm when I was still in the car, waiting in traffic and watching the sun set over the Pasig.  
Here’s the scene I found when I got there at 6:40:  

  

Mostly empty venue!  I put my gift at the table and sat down and picked at the trail mix, avoiding the m&m’s.  
 
There were plenty of photographers there, so I just took some selfies with family.  

   
    
    
    
    
 As is my custom I took a picture of my plate.  All the food was RICH.  The blue lights made the food look bad but I am too busy to put a filter on, are you kiding me?  

   
    

 I got a ride home from Kuya J at midnight and packed my bags, including my various electronic cables.  

The next morning Kuya J picked me up at the condo and I took this last photo.     
Meanwhile, my relatives started posting some of their own photos of the party, including photos of some photos from the photo booth.  

Here’s an airport selfie from Manila, where it was desperately, desperately cold.      
It was four hours to Seoul; I watched Avengers 2 and some other movie.  When I got to Seoul it was a tight connection and it was a good thing I learned how to read “Seattle” in Korean script.  

 

The flight attendant behind me is a baby whisperer; they send her to flirt with fussy babies.  That was a 9 hour flight, and I watched Tomorrowland.  I like Korean Air, lots of legroom and food is decent.  It’s kind of funny how they launched into an explanation of bibimbap with every passenger, and the flight attendant was shocked, SHOCKED! when I asked for gochuchan, which came in a little toothpaste tube.  
  

I got home and slept as if my life depended on it.  When I got up, it was so early that the grocery story checker had to leave their station unattended.  So I had to squeeze the squeezy toy.   
 

Here’s the breakfast I made for my sister; sausage-silog.  
   

 The next day Cowsin I showed up to look at some vinyl records.  We found some gems.     
 

Below is a road trip that I’m planning.  Plus my new whip.  
   
 

Another New Beginning’s End

Ladies and Gentlemen, last night I graded my last stack of finals.  Today I stopped for pastries at the Columbia City Bakery before going in to work.  At work, I put my grades to bed, collected my personal belongings in a box… turned in my keys and key card… and drove away.

In many ways it was the dream job, the job I had always wanted for a long time.  I had a parking space, my own cool classroom with a million dollar view, a nice office shared with a great department, a key to the faculty washroom, a decent lunch only a couple of floors below.

When they told me I would be teaching five preps, I choked on my tongue a little, but signed the contract, as I had no other alternative. Well, folks, I’m happy to say I have fulfilled and survived the five prep club!  And I have another gig lined up for the fall.

My students and coworkers have been so gracious in these last few weeks, although there have been some attempted guilt trips, which I find entertaining.  There are a few gift cards, which I think I will attempt to spend tonight, since… since I have no papers to grade.

A week from now I’ll be in Seoul; the following day I’ll be in Manila.  I can’t wait to start writing more posts.  Stay tuned!

In The Past Three Weeks

The last time I posted on this blog, I was in Hawaii, attending my Cowsin L’s wedding.  I wish I had had more time to blog, because there’s be a lot since then.  

Kauai was amazing, and the best part of it was meeting local people and eating local food.  My sister feels island anxiety there, disconnected from the world.  Me, I have no anxiety there.  I imagine myself living there and eating hot rice and poke with kimchi-style cucumbers every day for the rest of my life.  As an Asian American who grew up in the Lower 48, the Local Hawaiian culture is very seductive.  Even though I know I’m an outsider, I felt like we were getting local treatment. I loved it there.  Also, I have always loved Hawaiian Pidgin English.

Back in Seattle now, and the big news is that I’ve accepted a job offer at a company in Los Angeles, and I’ll be moving there later this year.  It’s an exciting opportunity and I be more forthcoming about the details when I get there.  There’s still a lot of time and space between now and the start of my new job.  

Moving to LA means leaving Seattle, and leaving my teaching job.  Last night was my last graduation ceremony as a faculty member.  It was also my last graduation party and after-party faculty karaoke apocalypse.  I will definitely miss that tradition; I hope they carry it on without me this time around!  Since I’m saying my goodbyes to my colleagues, the yearbook moderator was kind enough to find me a copy of the yearbook, and I’ve been having people sign it.  So far people have been writing very heartfelt and moving messages; for some reason, I had expected more clowning!  

There are 10 days left in the school year, so there are grades and exams and final projects and all manner of professional responsibilities still to fulfill.  Since it’s my last school year there, I’ll have a desk to clean out, and my classroom… I have a lot of funn stuff in there to consider; maybe I shall leave that stuff to the next Chinese/Spanish teacher.  

Today I met with my real estate agent, to plan Operation Move The Heck Out.  I hope my townhouse sells fast!  After that, it will be summer break–my last summer break!  and there will be big adventures in Manila before starting my new career in LA.  

Recent vocabulary:  畢業典禮,在年鑑裡留言,鵬程萬里。

I’m in Hawaii

    

So my sister and I are on Kaua’i for Cowsin L’s wedding.  It’s my first time in the 50th State and I’m quite impressed with the Garden Island.  We’re staying in Waipouli, which is a beachy village halfway between Lihu’e and Kapaa. 

There will be another post later, with more photos, but for now, just the facts:  

  • I did, in fact, bring a stack of Spanish 1 exams with me, and graded some last night on a picnic table while everyone else was at the bar.  
  • My sister and I have, indeed, eaten double our combined body weight in poke, the seafood salads that locals eat.  So far I’ve eaten ahi, spicy ahi, hamachi, salmon, lomi salmon, hamachi, crab, prawns, and mussles.  Also some ono ceviche from the Mexican place.  
  • Meeting locals is the funnest part of Hawaii.  

More later.  

The Life I Want To Lead

I live in a smallish, high rise apartment in downtown Seattle.  It has an amazing view.  That’s the main thing about this apartment; the view.  There’s also the sunlight bathroom and the kitchen that always stays clean somehow.

Sometimes I stay home and work, since I’m a famous author.  Other times I take my work to the coffee shop, or the public library.  Have you seen this place? It’s kind of spectacular.

When I’m feeling dramatic, I walk down to Coleman Dock and take a ferry round-trip, working on the boat..

All I need for work is in a messenger bag that I carry; my iPad, my keyboard, a stylus.  My grocery bag folds up really small, so I always have it in my bag… I’ll have to stop at the Market later for vegetables.  The vendors all know me.  I walk, by the way, because I lead a car-free life.  It’s an easy walk to the ID.  It’s a train to Coumbia City, Broadway, and the UDistrict.  It’s a train to the airport.

I imagine my publisher is in New York or Boston somewhere, so I’m flying there every so often.  Occasionally I plan extended trips to other towns, where I can keep working but keep my language skills sharp.  A couple months in Taipei during the fall, somewhere in Western Europe in the spring.  Summers in Seattle, Christmas in the Philippines.

I like to write. I see that I’m not particulary great at it, and my research habits still feel middle school at times, but I enjoy it.  On a typical day, I write, and work on writing, for four to five hours.  After that, I have time to do other things, other things that are not work.  Things like playing my ukulele, taking a language class, volunteering at Matt Talbot or Operation Sack Lunch.  Writing music and practicing with my band.  I wonder what it would be like to volunteer to teach ESL with Casa Latina or the Archdiocese of Seattle.  I wonder what it would be like to be a volunteer multilingual tour guide at the Seattle Aquarium.

Back to reality for a second:  I like the place I’m working now.  I have a nice office in a particulary competent and professional department, a modern classroom with a million dollar view and a covered parking space.  The workload is a hardship, and I haven’t had much of a personal life this year.  Solving that might be tricky.  Fingers crossed, and I’ll hope for the best.

Courtesy Language Switch and the Minority Mindset

I was recently thinking about code switching, language switching, and monolinguals.  I was re-reading this post from 2007 and I realized a couple things.  

I’ve been pretty sloppy about the term “code switching.”  Usually it means using the grammar and vocabulary of more than one language in the same paragraph or sentence for communicative effect.  Monolinguals often see this as an inability or a defect, since they fear what they don’t understand.  I’ve also been using the term “code switching” to cover a different phenomenon, which I’ll specify as “language switching.”  When I say “language switching” I mean holding a conversation exclusively in one language, and then swithing for some reason to speaking exclusively in another language.  

“Language switching” is something that I perpetrate on my students and collegues several times a day for thousands of different reasons.  It’s usually meant to be a seamless transition but I am hyperaware of it, just because I’m who I am, and my hypervigilence of language.  

So as I said in the post from 2007, I grew up in a house without the Courtesy Langauge Switch (CLS) ever directed toward me.  My elders did NOT swtich to English just because one of us kids walked into the room; it didn’t even occur to them.  When they did switch to English, it was to bring us into the exchange; not out of courtesy.  They did CLS for each other, but we kids were spared the CLS.  

I spent a huge amount of my childhood in rooms where people were not speaking a language that I understood, and as an adult, I’m still perfectly comfortable that way.  That pain some people feel when they don’t hear their language being spoken around them?  I don’t feel it.  And yes, even in that 1-in-10,000 situation where their eyes get shifty and I know they’re talking about me.  I don’t need langauge to manage that situation.  

So here’s the deal;  I don’t CLS for anyone.  ANYONE. If the First Lady of the United States waltzed into the room while I was in the middle of something in Spanish, I would either abruptly end my other conversation or graciously bring her into the conversation, maybe by switching or maybe with gestures and body langauge and touching.  However I wouldn’t automatically switch just out of COURTESY.  Gross.  

Why not?  Because speaking another language is not impolite.  It’s not a dirty secret we have to hide when Master shows up.  Maybe that other person is interrupting something, have you ever thought of that?  

This is a minority mindset; we weren’t doing anything wrong, and we don’t have to hide our non majority behavior, and if majority people have a problem with it, the problem belongs to them.  

Do I feel the same way, when the tables are turned?  YES.  I’m actually disgusted when people CLS just because I showed up. 

I had been talking English with some South African friends for a couple of hours, when I found out everyone was Afrikaans speakers.  I asked them if they had CLSed for my sake, and they said, yes of course.  Are you kidding, I said, I’VE NEVER HEARD AFRIKAANS IN PERSON BEFORE.  They were happy to switch, and I was enthralled to hear it.  I didn’t want to participate in the conversation anyway, it was about finding elemetary school work in Taiwan.  Later, I asked for clarificaiton, which is (hello) natural in monolingual conversations too, right?  

It happened again last summer with some German speakers at a bar in Taipei; they were having this gross ESL conversation all for my benefit, and if I were them, I would have thought “I hate having to speak English just because this dude is sitting next to me.”  I also hated all their ESL explaining; they would say something medium clever that took a second to say, and then proceed to rephrase, explain, and clarify their remark for the next ten minutes.  Once I had them dispense with the CLS, their conversation got much more natural.  I was part of the conversation whenever they brought me in, and I didn’t have to suffer through their awkward, bricky ESL.  

Here’s the deal; I would rather double translate, over-gesture, and have a NATURAL multilingual conversation with explanations and clarifications than have that forced courtesy langauge experience.  I would rather let stuff go by, or find something else to pay attention to for a few minutes, than have to fully participate in a Courtesy Langauge conversation I don’t care about.  If I care about participating fully in a conversation, I’ll start it, or people will swtich because they want to talk to me; not out of some “courtesy” meant to spare my feelings.  

I think people imagine that Courtesy Langauge conversations are civilized and pleasant, but just as often they are boring, or a pain in the ass, or unnecessary.  

That’s minority mindest.  I’m sure majority minded people find natural multilingual conversations to be frustrating and tiresome, painful sometimes.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I just don’t feel that pain.  I don’t believe it even is pain.  I think it’s just fear; fear that I’m not responsible for.  

That’s My Secret, Cap

I have two favorite scenes from the Avengers movie.  Here’s one:

… and then he goes from being a soft-spoken educated white man to a superhero who punches the monster in the face.

Here’s the whole scene:

I Learned to Read in Graduate School

I didn’t learn to read until I was in graduate school. Because of Noam Chomsky.

Sure, I was in the highest reading group in first grade, and I certainly had to read books in high school and write essays about them.  In college I was reading my textbooks and passing my classes and I thought I was doing pretty good.

But it wasn’t until my second year of gradschool that I actually learned how to put knowledge written on the page into my brain.  Before that, I had been reading negligently.

My mama tells a story about how when I was very little, less than two years old. I used to guess long words by the first few letters, and then relative length of a word.  So once when I was waiting in the car, I read a sign in the parking lot of the old Point Tavern in Tumwater and got scared.  The sign seemed to read “CHILDREN TO GO” and I immediately asked my mama, “where’s dad, I want to go get him.”  My mama, because she is hilarious, told me I couldn’t go in there, because Russians.  The thought of Russians terrified me, what with their insane recursive dolls and their unnatural love of literature.

The chicken was really good there. No actual children to go. Also, no actual Russians.

There were no actual Russians at the Point Tavern in the mid-1970s, they were just a boogyman token, meant to keep me out of the Point Tavern. A few minutes later, my dad came back to the car with a bag of fried chicken, and my mama told the story to my dad about how I had misread the CHICKEN TO GO sign.

Another time, in high school Honors English, Mrs. M had a test question based on READING, something she hadn’t gone over with us in class.  The question was, what were peering at us in the night like red eyes in the Red Badge Of Courage? The answer, of course, was enemy campfires.  Everybody had gotten it wrong except for April W. (and maybe Jonothan C.) April gave some ridiculous explanation for her correct answer; she said she remembered the image from her reading.

Remembered it from reading? Gross! red badge of courage

Teenagers are disgusted by things they don’t understand.  Anyway, I wondered if remembering something you read was a learnable skill.  For most of my life I had been reading everything and remembering nothing. I used to laugh when I’d get reading assignments, because I would do the reading, and understand nothing about what I had read until we discussed it in class.  That’s how I scraped by.

Finally, I found myself in my second year of graduate school, in an advanced syntax seminar, reading Chomsky’s Minimalist program.  Our prof asked each of us to lead a discussion on a chapter.  This is a terrifying task to someone who has gotten through life without any retention. I needed to find a way to retain what I read.

So what I did was to fire up my Microsoft Word and set it to outline mode.  I numbered each paragraph on a page with a pencil.  Then  I would read a paragraph from the Minimalist Program, and summarize each paragraph with a single sentence, carefully noting the chapter and paragraph number.   Occasionally I’d have to add a second sentence to include more detail, but the premise was this:  every paragraph has a point.  My job is to paraphrase that point.

The process was tedious at first, but the effect on my comprehension was IMMEDIATE.  When I got to seminar, I went from being the guy who was faking it to the guy who had understood the reading.  My classmates would later tell me that I seemed thoughtful and well-prepared for each seminar; something I had never been accused of before.

Eventually, I got pretty fast at summarizing paragraphs that I had read.  My mindset shifted; reading was no longer something I did with my eyes.  I came to think of reading as something I did with my fingers on a keyboard.  If I hadn’t outlined a passage I didn’t consider the passage as read.

At the time, I never had time to review my reading notes outline. I would type out the outline and then hit save and then never see it again  I was always too slammed to find time to open them again.  However, my retention had improved so much that I didn’t actually need to look at my notes a second time, and I was aware of this.  Apparently processing the information a single time by summarizing each paragraph was enough to make it stay in my brain.  I had finally learned the secret of retention, six years after April W.’s enemy campfires glowing red like eyes in the night.

Discussion questions.  What the hell is the point of reading if you can’t retain?  Also, why hadn’t anyone taught me to take reading notes before?  Also am I a total freak show for needing to summarize and type in order to understand Chomskey?

Ask me later about how I learned to take notes.

She really didn’t know…

One time, back in grad school, I was sitting in my office grading papers or something, and I got a phone call.  I forget the name of the office the person was calling from now, but it was the office that oversaw the program that gave kids Detroit kids a shot at attending the University of Michigan.

These kids were mostly African American, and they qualified for the program because they didn’t have the financial means to afford college themselves, but they had succeeded as high school students.  When they got to my Spanish class, they didn’t always mix with the mainstream students.  I didn’t have time to get to know any of my students very well, but I tried to make a point to reach out to the kids in this program because I hated HATED seeing them drop out after a few months.

The program that they were in was supposed to offer them some academic support and some coaching, but since the program was run by idiots, it seemed their academic support consisted entirely of requirements imposed on them:  what  classes they had to take, what GPA they had to maintain, what kind of offenses they could be expelled for.  That’s what I saw at least.

So I got this phone call in my office and the counselor–I guess that’s what we’d have to call her–called me up and wanted to ask me about some remarks I had written in the “remarks” section of the withdrawal form I had to sign for one of my students.  I said, sure, I’d be happy to talk about what I wrote, what office are you in?

The counselor choked for a second, and then said, “Ok… yes… we’ll do this in person then,” and told me she was in some office in Angel Hall.

So I put on my baseball hat and walked five minutes to Angel Hall.  Let’s “do this.”

This student of mine, I don’t remember her name now, but I remember she was bright and enthusiastic and quite beautiful.  She had come to my office and shed a few tears about how stressed out she was, how she was taking eighteen credits and she wasn’t sleeping or eating properly.  When I had talked to her before, I could see why she had been academically successful as a high school kid in Detroit; she had exactly one academic strategy, and it was brute force studying. They had her in a pre-med track, so besides Spanish she was taking a chemistry course, a writing course, and a couple classes to meet her full time requirement.

When I say “brute force studying,” I mean that I doubt she collaborated with a study group or went to her TAs or tutors to ask questions.  She was the kind of student that isolated herself, read and reread until she understood, did her homework to the exclusion of her health. Big emphasis on drilling short term memory recall.  It’s a very punishing, isolating way of studying.

Anyway, I had checked all the boxes and filled in all the information they requested, and in the “remarks” section I wrote that my student was over stressed, and that the program was pushing her too hard and giving her bad advice.

So when I got to the counselor’s office, I removed my hat and sat across from her on the other side of her desk, and first listened to her explain to me briefly what the program was about, and the requirements that their scholars must meet.  Then she explained to me that she could see that I was frustrated with the situation, but that this particular student really didn’t have a difficult course load, it was a standard freshman slate… “The only difficult class in her schedule is Spanish,” she said, and I’m sure it was a boilerplate line that they use on instructors, like ‘the only difficult class in X’s schedule is [whateverclassyour’reteaching].’

I looked at her for a moment and wondered what to say.  There were five things wrong with what she had just told me, but she seemed to be missing a big piece.

“Did she tell you,” I asked, “that she hasn’t been sleeping and that her hair is falling out?”

The counselor took a breath and held her eyeballs still so they wouldn’t roll.  Very professional.  She started to explain to me that all freshmen experience stress and repeated that the course load was nothing especially difficult.

Then I realized what the missing piece was.  She didn’t know.  The counselor didn’t know.  I had to be the one to tell her.  The counselor had never picked up on it.  The student never told her.  Then again, why would she?

“You know she’s five months pregnant, right?”  I looked down at the desk to give the counselor some privacy, let her squirm with her shame a bit.  No, actually the truth was that I really had nothing to say after that.

We took a moment, just a moment, and the counselor replied, hesitantly, “No, we did not know that.”

I assume that the matter had already been settled at that point, because the counselor didn’t review a file or write anything down.  I imagined the student had already packed up and left campus.   The counselor got right back on message and said, “still, we would appreciate it if you wouldn’t criticize the program, because generally the advice we give is good.”

I said,  sure, ok, and left.  As I walked out, I put my baseball cap back on and turned it forward.  There are no heroes in this story.

My 2015 Language Goals

I know it’s already February, but I barely had time to breathe in January to post my language goals for the year.

First of all, I’ve started a German class on the weekends. Late last year I asked if anyone wanted to take a beginning language class with me; any class. S stepped up and said she wanted to take German, so I said great!

I took my first German class in the summer of 1994 in Ann Arbor; it was a German for Reading Knowledge course, and there was no attempt to make us into German speakers. I don’t remember how I felt about the language or the people back then; I just remember that the class itself was pointless. It was a requirement for my program because a lot of the scholarship in diachronic Romance linguistics had been in Germany.

German is a super cognate language with English, but the case system is robust (more robust than I’m used to, at least) so the relationships between nouns in a sentence is pretty opaque to me, which just means it’s going to take some getting used to. Pronunciation and reading doesn’t seem to be all that difficult. I’m doing my best to speak every day at work and to keep a summer in Germany within my sites.

My major language goal this year is Tagalog, and I’m planning a long six weeks in Metro Manila, studying with a tutor and hopefully talking my face off. I have some huge heritage bonuses with Tagalog, but at this point I still have problems making sentences with more than one noun. Tagalog grammar monster is the “trigger system,” which teachers call “focus” and linguists refer to as “topicalization,” basically it means that a verb in a given sentence is going to agree morphologically with the noun that you’re trying to stress.

This “trigger system” is the one thing they didn’t teach us at SEASSI in 2002, and it’s the whole punchline of the story. Teaching Tagalog without teaching the trigger system makes as much sense as teaching Spanish without verb tenses, or Chinese without word order; it’s the MAIN EVENT. I’ve had time to wrap my head around it intellectually, but I’m taking the summer to wrap my mouth around it

My biggest worry about Tagalog is trying to get Filipinos not to speak to me in English. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has switched into pure English on me and then denied it when I pointed it out, and then screamed with laughter when they realize that I’m right. The level of bilingualism is so high that the line between Tagalog and English is often invisible to them. It’s not like in China or France when people look at your shoes and decide to speak English to the Gringo because they don’t like your pants; in this case, it will be me, a native speaker of Filipino English, asking other native speakers of Filipino English not to speak to me in Filipino English, and instead be uncomfortable as I struggle to match verb morphology to noun topics.

The other thing is that most Filipinos I know have never had to be language learning allies. I once had a phone conversation with my mama, explaining to her how she didn’t have to give me English translations; how she could do things like offer me options when I get stumped on a word. Now my mama is a great language learning ally… unlike my dad, who enjoys trying to stump me. This is exactly why I have an English-only policy with my dad, and that’s just fine.

There are other kinds of native speakers, besides the Allies and the Stumpers. There are the DAMMIT JUST SPEAK ENGLISH people, who are worthless to me. Also there are the Horror Movie Victims, who run away screaming. I don’t expect any Filipinos to be Horror Movie Victims, but I saw plenty of those people in Mainland China.

When I get back to Seattle after the great Manila adventure, I’m sure I’ll be back to concentrating on Mandarin Chinese. Here are some other places I’d like to spend time learning language: Korea, Japan, Brazil, Germany, ASL. The list of languages I will need a refresher trip in: Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese. The list of languages I’d consider someday, if I had the time: Arabic, Swahili. I’ll probably give up before I get to those, though.