Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Modern American Art: Chinese Perspectives

  1. We’re talking about TV shows in Oral English class this week. My students are describing TV shows they like, recounting scenes from TV, and pitching pilots to networks. (In this case the “network” is me. You may laugh, but at I am still more profitable than NBC.)

    To get the ball rolling, we’re showing the first 5 minutes of the first episode of Lost, which is a TV show that you’ve probably heard of. Somewhat surprisingly, many of my students have not. I’m sure I will have more to say about this by the end of the week, but at this point their reactions to the (fairly suspenseful) opening scene have ranged from tepid to asleep. One person actually fell asleep during the scene, which features a being sucked into a jet engine and it exploding. I mean, come on. This is Lost. It’s not like I’m making them watch The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years. (More like The Thorn Birds: The Missing Hours of my LIFE, am I right? Who’s with me?) I’ll have a more complete account after all of the classes have watched it, but so far they’ve found it about as exciting as Richard Chamberlain Sings.

  2. On the subway yesterday I saw a young Chinese guy wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “WILLIAM GARLOS CILLIAMS.” I hesitate to read too much into this non-native speaker’s sweatshirt, but it looks to me like a devastating critique of one of America’s most influential poets. I have no idea what it means, but on the other hand I don’t understand why you would wear that sweatshirt unless you had some serious beef with WCW. (I would wear that sweatshirt, but I also have an exquisitely developed sense of irony.) While I was on the train I considered how William Carlos Williams might have replied to this Chinese man’s unprovoked affrontery; perhaps “A poem is a machine out of words but if your face was a poem it would be a machine made out of ugly” or, more briefly:

    Spell my name


  3. Gristle and I were walking to a bus stop a few nights ago and he turned to me and said, “Jon, I have a secret to tell you,” which is a troubling thing to hear from anyone but especially from a man who asked you to take pictures of him in the shower a few weeks ago. There’s just a lot of different ways that statement could go.

    So I say, “OK, Gristle, what is it?”

    “Do you remember a few weeks ago when we were singing songs in your apartment with Serena?” (I’m not sure if I mentioned this on the blog, but it did happen. Another exciting night in Guangzhou.)


    “I discovered something about you that night,” he said.

    “What did you discover?”

    Then he dropped the bombshell. “I discovered that you cannot sing high notes very well.”

    A beat while I try to figure out whether I have somehow misunderstood the word for secret. “Yes, Gristle. I know that.”

    “But don’t worry, I promise I won’t tell Gus. It’ll be our secret.”

    Well that time he definitely said 秘密, and that definitely means “secret.” The only way his comments make sense is if he thinks he is such a discerning music critic that only he can detect that the Canadian accent-inspired falsetto I use when I sing along to Celine Dion karaoke (an increasingly common occurrence in Asia, I’m afraid) does not sound good. And he believes that he is doing me a favor by telling me this, because I must not know either. And then, as we boarded the bus, he decided to give me an impromptu singing lesson, which involved his demonstrating his (apparently banshee accent-inspired) falsetto on a crowded bus until the lady next to him gave him a dirty look and I promised I would practice just to get him to stop.

    The long and short of it is, for anyone who has had to hear me do my Celine Dion impression: I’m sorry. Gristle says it doesn’t sound good. I promise I won’t do it again.