A personal blog on gaming, travel and fiction. The author lives half in China and half in the US.
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Today is June first, and my calendar alert reminded me to do my Free Donut Day class warmups. Every summer, I do a little activity with a coffee menu, a little counter vocabulary, and a roleplay conversation with directions to … Continue reading...
Today is June first, and my calendar alert reminded me to do my Free Donut Day class warmups. Every summer, I do a little activity with a coffee menu, a little counter vocabulary, and a roleplay conversation with directions to the nearest Dunks. I love setting up students to go eat sweets with their new friends. Today is also the first day of the new session, and I usually run a smooth and solid into activity for new students.
You guys, I used to be so good at my job.
But this morning, I signed into my online classes, instead of doing any of that, I talked with students about racial tension and police brutality. We talked about the excessive force in the death of George Floyd that led to these protests, and the excessive force turning protests into riots all over the country. We also talked about staying safe from riots during a pandemic, with fairly low-level English students. There’s nothing in my teacher training or classroom experience to prepare for that. It was a dark version of the usual directions lesson, not talking about getting to Dunks for a free donut, but about where there were fires last night and which students live downtown. My school said they’d be making a statement about tolerance and student safety, but didn’t actually send anything before classes, so I was 100% on my own. We’re all on our own right now, looking for some kind of plan or way out, while our country’s president is tweeting from his bunker about not looking weak.
So today, my classes were just a place to talk a little bit, share a little information and get a little community, from our separate apartments. Maybe tomorrow I’ll teach some English.
Year of Wonders is a novel about about the plague. I was a little worried that the title meant it was gonna be too much bright-siding in the face of disaster. I’ve unfollowed everyone who’s written any garbage about how … Continue reading...
Year of Wonders is a novel about about the plague. I was a little worried that the title meant it was gonna be too much bright-siding in the face of disaster.
I’ve unfollowed everyone who’s written any garbage about how the covid quarantine has gifted them with time to hear the birds/smell flowers/really enjoy their daily coffee/etc. Just ugh. You’re allowed to feel shitty in a pandemic, guys, there’s no need to sugar it up for social media. Also if it takes a global pandemic to spend time with your spouse or family members… I mean… maybe capitalism is the virus.
Oops, I got off track. Where was I?
Year of Wonders is about the plague. When the small mining village of Eyam sees the beginning of the black death, the local minister asks the entire village not to go to the relatives and friends, but to stay within in the village boundaries. The neighboring lord sends deliveries of some supplies to an exchange spot at the boundary stone, and occasionally, letters are shouted across the valley, written, and sent. But no one will come in or out until the plague has passed. With one notable exception, the villagers agree to close themselves off for safety.
The plague tests everyone, of course, but the story centers around the town’s minister, his beautiful wife, and their maid Anna. Anna begins as a poor village girl, her desire for learning and knowledge constantly competing with her practicality and awareness of her station. There is a constant brutality even before the plague, from harsh weather, domestic abuse, general violence and poverty. There’s also an ominous religious threat, with a fear of witches (and of being named a witch), flagellation and harsh penance for sins, and a quiet tension between Puritans, Quakers and other Christians.
I couldn’t put this down, even though there are some gross moments, with descriptions of plague symptoms, constant deaths, and the practical questions of how to handle so many corpses. Normally, I need 100% gore-free thrillers, but here, I just had to know what would happen and who would survive. he plague is indiscriminate — I knew our protag Anna wasn’t going to die, of course, but the plague killed off so many other characters, often without a dramatic death scene or any resolution of their story arc. I really felt like no one was safe. I also wanted to know how the people would go one after losing so many villagers, and how they could take up life again.
I was fascinated by this story, and I’d still recommend reading it, but I have to say I found the short final section jolting and confusing. I was glad to know that Anna found happiness, peace, and sunshine, and that she was able to continue her studies, but it was so disconnected from the rest of the story, it almost felt like I accidentally started reading another novel.
In an entirely different universe, about a month ago, going to the grocery store wouldn’t merit a mention. But now… we made it 8 days since our last shopping trip, and I would really like to eat an apple or … Continue reading...
In an entirely different universe, about a month ago, going to the grocery store wouldn’t merit a mention. But now… we made it 8 days since our last shopping trip, and I would really like to eat an apple or a cucumber again, also, we’re flying through our soap.
With mask and gloves, and without any buses or subways, I walked to the fancy Whole Foods. After the socially-distant line down the block to get in, it was simultaneously luxurious and post-apocalyptic. We don’t usually shop for blood oranges and baby asparagus at $15/pound, and especially after so many homemade meals of variations on chickpeas and rice, browsing felt like a shock. It felt like when I lived in Yantai for months, and then one weekend I saw all the luxe Western food in Beijing.
But there were a lot of glaring, empty spaces on the shelves. I read a lot of novels set in WWII, so I was prepared for very limited meat, eggs, and butter. I tried to pretend I was fighting the Nazis, but mostly I was fighting other customers stocking up. (You can’t even blame them, we all want to go out as little as possible.) Also, no TP, no hand sanitizer, no Lysol wipes, almost no handsoap.
I did find a giant refill bottle of Mrs. Meyers Geranium handsoap, for a price that I would never normally pay and also way too much backpack weight. But those are the concerns of my old life… Now, it’s necessary hand soap! We have 2 pump bottles at home, each with one squirt left, because it’s not polite to take the last of something, and that applies to soap in the plague. My mom didn’t raise me to be rude.
I found a box of matzoh, too, and I started mentally making jokes about hunting the afikoman, and I cracked myself up and starting laughing into my facemask, alone, in the apocalypse, so, doing great over here. Yeah.
Shoppers are no longer able to fill personal bags in the store, so I went out to where they’d put one picnic table upside-down on another one (to make sure no one could gather there) and used the bench as a little shelf to unpack my paper bags into my backpack, with minimum wasted space and evenly distributed weight for the walk home. I’m a master at this part, I did it in my old life, even if I don’t usually do it in gloves. The washing and disinfecting at home is new.
Anyway, did you know what Mrs. Meyers Geranium Soap smells like? Because all the rich people in the Whole Foods definitely knew, there’s a reason that was the only soap left. It smells like flower-scented hot garbage. It has the sweet-rotting scent of durian, with a spray of perfume on top.
A perfect scent for mandated 6 feet of personal space.
Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland, blends elements of The Decameron, The Masque of The Red Death, with And Then There Were None, and a little bit of a darker Canterbury Tales, for a story of friendship, secrets, and betrayal in plague-ridden England. Our … Continue reading...
Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland, blends elements of The Decameron, The Masque of The Red Death, with And Then There Were None, and a little bit of a darker Canterbury Tales, for a story of friendship, secrets, and betrayal in plague-ridden England.
Our narrator is a camelot, a trader in religious relics, and an experienced traveler with a soft heart for other travelers in need. These includes a young couple expecting a baby, two traveling musicians, a story-teller with a swan’s wing for an arm, and a creepy white-haired child with uncanny rune-reading abilities. The company all have secrets, as you might expect of rootless travelers in plague times, but they’re not the secrets you might first expect. At times, they’re also not expressly spelled out in the text, forcing the reader to ask “but then why did he — oh!” and realize a bit more than was actually written. The company hopes to escape the plague, and individually restart their lives in new places, but can anyone really outrun the past?
Reading this right now, the novel’s biggest suspense came from the spread of the plague. As the company travels, they’re constantly rerouting, and avoiding villagers where there may be sickness, and finding signs that the plague has been through a town. This is a supernatural story, but the spreading disease is very, very real.
These days, it barely means anything to say I stayed up late reading. I’m furloughed from my work, so I don’t have to be up to teach classes, and sleep is elusive anyway. But I stayed up to finish this one, and other people’s plague secrets were a really solid distraction from the ongoing reveals about the spreading virus.
Remember the ghost teacher in Harry Potter? One night he died in his sleep, and then the next morning he got up to teach his classes anyway? Today is my first Monday at home on Covid19 furlough from classes, and … Continue reading →
Today is my first Monday at home on Covid19 furlough from classes, and I’m thinking of Professor Binns. The expected routine of going in to class and doing Monday’s lesson is strong. It should be the first day of a new monthly session, with new students arriving, and I should be doing my word-order intro questions at 9:15 and my partner interview intro questions at 10:50.
I know that Professor Binns is not meant to be the most interesting character, but… I get it.
Today I discovered that my sweet Level 3 students have a WhatsApp group together, where they chat in English outside of class. On purpose. Continue reading →
My newly-online ESL classes have been an absolute garbage fire, but today I discovered that my sweet Level 3 students have a WhatsApp group together, where they chat in English outside of class. On purpose. Any English teacher would feel good hearing that.
I learned this today in our online class, when my students told me how Javid pranked them all by posting a hospital stock photo in the group and telling them that’s why he wasn’t in class yesterday. When it’s good, teaching ESL is all about that cross-cultural friendship.
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