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Monday, August 29, 2011

39 Steps: A photographic experiment

Inspired by a photo challenge on Red Bubble, & the title of the book by John Buchan, I decided to conduct a photographic experiment over the weekend. Starting at my front door, I took exactly 39 steps (the elevator ride counted as two - one in, one out) & looked around.

At first, it was difficult for me to find an interesting subject to photograph. Since I pass by this scene every day on the way to & from my life in Shanghai, everything looked so... usual. I decided to just start taking photos at random & see what happened. I snapped continuously for a few minutes, taking 70 photos total before I started drawing curious stares from the neighbors.

Back inside, I uploaded the shots to my computer. With very minimal tweeking - auto fix mostly - I wound up with five usable images.

It was a good experiment for me. It forced me to look at a very familiar scene a bit more closely - to notice the details - & I found some pretty interesting stuff.

Perhaps the point of this type of exercise is, instead of always looking to the future - the weekend, the next vacation, retirement - to notice where we are. Even if we've seen it hundreds of times before, it's still worth a second glance.

This is probably a large part of why I have such insatiable wanderlust - my inattention to where I am. I feel more comfortable with a constantly changing backdrop. When I see the same scene day after day, I get restless, longing for a new view. But what would happen if I zoomed in every now & again, & took a closer look at now?

What do you see 39 steps from your front door?

starting point
39 steps from the front door
worker ants
沪 (pronounced "hu") is the official symbol for Shanghai
ginko leaf
between a rock & a hard place

Monday, August 22, 2011

POT: The Program for Online Teaching

The internet is so cool. I just enrolled in a 24-week online teaching certificate program offered at Mira Costa College in Oceanside, California. The course is completely online & it's free, free, FREE!

Our first assignments are to download the e-textbook for the class (which I can read on my Kindle!), create a blog that we will use as our course journal, & create an account on Diigo for sharing links & other information from the internet with the participants in the class.

So far, I've been successful at only one of the three. Google e-books & Diigo are apparently not China-friendly. I'll have to see what I can do to work around the Great Fire Wall.

In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to the course. It will give me the opportunity to learn more about online teaching while trading useful ideas with teachers around the world. Plus, it will be a great way for me to stretch my boundaries & exercise my brain a little.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Virtual Groceries

Since I've been away from the US for over two years now, I'm not really ever sure when I see something new or strange or crazy, if it's an Asia thing or if it's all the rage at home as well.

Case in point: I had heard about vending machines in Japan selling live crabs & used underwear. What will they think of next, I thought. But when I was in the US for a visit earlier this year, I was surprised to see, live & in person, a vending machine selling electronics in Dallas (how many quarters do you need for a Canon?), & one in LA selling fresh cut flowers. Vending machines. Like Coke & Fritos vending machines. Does no one else think this is strange?

The other day, during the morning push-n-shove on the Shanghai subway, I passed by a billboard that caught my eye. At a glance, it looks like the shelves of a grocery store, with brightly packaged food lined up in neat little rows. But a closer look reveals more.

Each product has a scan code pattern next to it that you can scan with your mobile phone. The scan places an order with the store, & the products then get delivered to your door later that day. You can shop on your morning commute & by the time you get home, your groceries are waiting for you. Not only groceries - electronics too. You can get a Canon for 6648 RMB (US $1038). What will they think of next?

So what's going on back home? Do they have this kind of shopping there as well?

Monday, August 8, 2011

The New Office

My office moved over the weekend, from downtown to the international business district. The new office is bright and clean and funky-Swedish-designed to the nines. EF is big on making their spaces look cool.

We have rooms built of glass walls, elevated spaces with cushions to sit on for impromptu meetings, columns of green plants growing up through three floors of anti-cubicle desk arrangements, & a track of monkey bars bolted to the ceiling for an alternative mode of transportation between departments.

It's all very exciting & new. We're having a great time playing around on the rock climbing wall, making chalk drawings on our personal lockers, & experimenting with the new cappuccino machine. Woohoo! Google ain't got nothin' on us!

Today we received our shiny new security badges, complete with photo & job title - the kind that you clip to your belt & swipe to get into the building. I'm an official nine-to-fiver now, complete with membership card - something I never thought I'd be.

It's been quite an interesting experience - being an office grunt. In many ways it has posed challenges I never knew existed. For one thing, I've discovered that staying quiet, focused & seated for eight hours a day is difficult for me. Really difficult.

But It's been a good project for me to spend this year in an office. I've gotten a greater insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Not only do I understand the mechanics of curriculum development better, I've also gotten a glimpse into how office politics work - it's a whole new culture for me. 

But most of all, I've realized that I really do love teaching. I love the interaction with students. I love creating a lesson & getting immediate feedback in the classroom. I love moving around as I work. I love the creativity that comes with teaching. & I love being personally invested in what I do for a living. Let someone else climb the ladder to VP of Academics. I'm quite happy in the classroom, thank you.

So I've started looking for ways to meld my two loves together: travel & teaching. EF offers online teaching - like having a Skype call with students - & the teachers have the opportunity to live anywhere in the world. I just need a healthy internet connection. I've already started teaching a few classes per week, & hope to continue with that full time after I leave China at the end of the year.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Memrise: A vocabulary study tool

I've recently discovered a website called Memrise. It's a fun vocabulary study tool that lets you study in short five-minute chunks. The interface is based on growing your vocabulary "garden". When you want to learn new words, you "plant seeds", words that you're studying need "watering", & words that you've gotten right consistently are "harvested".

Here's my greenhouse:

As you can see, I have three wilting plants in my garden - the ones that I got wrong during my last study session - but I can water them (study some more) to make them healthy again. 

It looks like Memrise started as a Chinese language study tool, but lots of other languages are available as well, including Spanish, Polish & Biblical Hebrew. You can even use it to increase your vocabulary in English so that you can finally ace the Sunday crossword puzzle.

I've been using Memrise while I'm at work to exercise my mind at the beginning of the day or when I need a short break from editing in the middle of the day. It's a great way to jump start my brain & much better for me than Angry Birds!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blooming Lotus

Continuing my quest for green leafy places, I spent this past weekend in Hangzhou. I had been there before & liked it a lot. So when I heard that the lotus were blooming, I decided to go have a look.

Blooming lotus
Water show complete with music soundtrack
As seen from the train at 350 kph (214 mph)