Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pixar's "Ratatouille" is such a charming tale. Set in la belle Paris, how could it go wrong? It's about good food and messing about in the kitchen, a la the plethora of audience-friendly cable cooking shows, the likes of Oliver, Bourdain, and the travelogues of Samantha Brown. If that isn't a license to print money, I don't know what is.

Oh, and Chef Remy is a rat. Not the Cagney "you dirty... rat" type, but the actual makes [Victorian] women jump on chairs and scream rattus rattus variety. While his genius becomes so well-loved by the top food critics in Paris, his genus is widely despised, reviled and persecuted by nearly every human being who catches sight of him.

So, basically he's a mutant rat with some very special abilities. His uncomfortable friendship and partnership with the new garbage boy, Linguini, revives the name of the once-famous 5-star rated "Gusteau's" -- and brings it back into the attention of the much-feared food critic, Anton Ego, whose scathing review of many years ago had brought the restaurant's name down in the first place.

In the complicated relationship between rat and garbage boy, success lies somewhere between their strength of self-belief and identifying their personal talents which work well together in times of crisis. Like foreign talent, both are viewed with disdain, suspicion, jealousy and hate. Head Chef Skinner -- who has his own plans for Gusteau's -- particularly fears the new staff member, concerned that he will eventually be eclipsed and replaced (sound familiar?), and is unable to switch from his tried-and-tested ways to accept the newcomers' unorthodox but effective new practices.

Both facing the prejudice of their colleagues, and creating a dish to satisfy their culinary nemesis, Monseur Ego, require their ingenuity, creativity, talent and a touch of audacity, and is indeed a sight to behold, particularly as Gusteau's kitchen has to resolve a dramatic personnel meltdown in order to do so. Too bad for the locals, then, who cannot see the reality that in these days of unprecedented talent mobility, "Anyone Can Cook", and the next great thing may not necessarily be home-grown. It's going to take an attitude shift like chef Collette's, who adapts quickly to the unfolding circumstances and adds her local talent to create the new gastronomic haven that emerges.

Is the movie funny? 'Funny' has to do with the juxtaposition of opposites, in unlikely situations, causing unexpected results. Rat. Boy. Gourmet kitchen. Pressure-cooker kitchen environment. Paris. Lots of dichotomies too, as Remy and Linguini have to wear more than one hat each as they learn to adapt to their new home. Yup, the mix looks to be just right. Let it simmer to boil, serve warm. Good stuff.

Whatever. Linguini may live in a rathole, but at least it's a rathole in Paris.

Friday, August 31, 2007

My true talents have finally been recognized, if only by Taily and Que! Now I have another shiny thing to add to my collection that's sitting on the top of my cubicle's partition, thanks you two!

Thanks also for the other Teachers' Day gifts and notes of appreciation and encouragement from everyone else.

There was a novel party on campus to celebrate the occasion. There was food and open-air entertainment. P personally handed out ice-cream to the staff, Dee had a counter selling pretty little cupcakes for a good cause, and Lena brought her maltese, Hercules, whose well-groomed coat bravely bore the brunt of many hands seeking pet therapy.

Don't know how Council managed it but during the penultimate act at the open-air concert, the beautiful blue sky grew ominously dark and a light drizzle started, prompting a mad scramble for shelter and an abrupt close to the festivities. Perhaps we could hire out that last act to drought-stricken countries?

Great lunch at the White Dog with a larger group of company than usual. Vays, Linc & I were GoH to mark the completion of yet another solar orbit. Thanks everyone!
The GP prelims are over! That's the last official test the JC2s will take before they face the Real Thing in a few weeks' time. But a reminder to the JC2 KIds, remember to come back next Saturday to take your Critical Thinking paper!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We had 2 speakers discuss talent and population challenges for S'pore at this afternoon's industry-organized seminar. 1st guy was from a private sector consultancy, a Permanent Resident himself, focusing on the competition for talent around the world and looking at some of the factors that attract talented people to make a decision as to where they want to stay.

From his company's studies, financial reward comes last out of 4 criteria. The most important factor is something so subjective that it's difficult to quantify: talented people want, above all, a challenging experience, and a "buzz" in their work culture and environment.

Call me parochial, but I couldn't help thinking about my own employment situation, wondering if the "buzz" I'm getting now on the job will be enough to keep me going, and for how much longer. In the workplace right now, there are staff who've been here since like forever, so there's no doubt there is some kind of "buzz" going on. In a recent email, a friend of mine from waaaay back, listed a number of our old teachers from our sec school days who are still teaching there, and I'm like, wow... If I can already consider myself a wizened, shriveled, prune of a sage, these old mentors and tormentors of mine must have become hardened into diamond by now after so many years on the job. Would I ever last that long? Do I even want to?

What's the "buzz", anyway? It obviously has something to do with the challenging nature of the work, which should be stimulating in process and somehow results in benefits for others -- which makes the job worthwhile. Solving problems for people can be quite an ego boost, sometimes worth even more than the financial compensation for the work done.

But the "buzz" is also a social thing, in that there must be other co-workers who inspire, support and socialize informally with each other; sharing time, food, caffeine (or similar biochemical stimulants), gossip and jokes apart from the work-load. The "buzz" is excitement in the things we do together, whether it's duty-hours serious business, or off-duty fun and play. People respond positively to busy-ness within an atmosphere of "buzzy"-ness.

This year, I've had to get used to things being a little less buzzy, and I kinda' miss the Boyz still. CCA-wise I feel isolated and cast adrift since I've got no partner to bounce ideas off, or to spur me to do more than just tread water, or even help me get my admin straight. But I am appreciative of my current company, and the effort we make to still have meals together, at least. Today's pasta lunch before the seminar, the few movies we've sat through, and the upcoming D. NY EL Retreat, for example, show we still know how to create a buzz for ourselves. Even without the Boyz who, I'm beginning to be convinced these days, were a bit of an anomaly.

Guess I'll be sticking around a while more...
After an intense weekend of news editing and laying out, compre marking and the last couple of days of non-stop seeing of individual and small groups of students every hour on the hour with only a short lunch break in between, by this evening I was feeling like I'd been taking meds without actually having taken any.

The year 2 students are on study break, meaning no more formal timetable, but they arrange personal consultations with their subject tutors on a loose per-hour basis, first come, first served. Around this period in previous years, I don't remember ever being so popular. It's probably the nature of this batch, more of whom seem genuinely concerned about doing better about their grades than the earlier batches.

A couple of things I've been repeating today: Despite essay and compre papers looking like pen-and-paper exercises, if we treat them simply as intellectual exercises, we tend to be more interested in what we want to say about the issue rather than address the specific concerns of the person asking the question. We seek our own agenda among the questions offered and pick the one with the closest match, but fail to pay attention to what we are actually being asked. Hence we often miss out on the specific nuances that our chosen question requires us to address. That, in human terms, is just rude.

Instead, a good essayist listens to the questions like there was a real person asking them. Respect the inquirer, seek to understand the situation from the inquirer's perspective, address the inquirer's concerns, and reassure the inquirer that things are not so bad. Even if the essayist has no solutions to the problem, the essayist should at least know of which agencies are taking steps to solve the problem, and make referrals accordingly.

For GP students concerned about formalities like keyword definition, thesis statement construction, and the biggest bugbear, argument "balancing", perhaps the famous Prayer of St Francis might offer some insight and wisdom.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

With all our concerns about climate change and pollution and hyper-consumerism all being linked to our mania for urbanization, maybe it IS time to let the Taleban and Al-Qaeda take over the reigns of the world. They pursue the perfect save-the-earth policy, after all. It's called "Turbanization".

Well, what did you expect? I've just finished laying out our latest print NYconneX, and am now facing about 30 essays to mark by tonight. I'm really not supposed to be blogging now...