Friday, 29 July 2011

Like a Baby Boss

It's fair to say that life in Asian countries has become the norm for me. Things that I often raised an eyebrow at in my early days barely warrant a mention now. Though occasionally, something so brilliant is brought to my notice that I just have to write about it. Baby Boss is my greatest find. This is exactly what I've been waiting for all these years, something that so harmoniously fits with the Asian culture and attitudes, it nearly popped my head right off.

I first heard about Baby Boss from one of my Kindergarten students who eagerly showed me his 'Baby Boss' dollars. My first assumption when I saw them was 'This looks fun! Like a Disney Land sort of deal.' I asked him if it was indeed like Disney Land and he agreed, but not that enthusiastically. Because it's not like Disney Land. Not at all. If anything it's more of a Communist Universal Studios. What Baby Boss does is simulate jobs for kids. It's a big playground city where they can take on various roles and essentially see what it's like to be an adult. Great, eh? And although it does offer some cool positions, like Fireman or Astronaut (which is what I want to be when I grow up), the bulk of what is on offer isn't so hot- Gas Station Attendant, Convenience Store Clerk and Cleaner, for starters. Way to set realistic goals, people.

The mind boggles at the possibilities and the dynamics that have to be at work in that place. I've never been, but I have to imagine that some parents must insist that their child only try roles like Doctor or Dentist, while more realistic parents just let their son spend all day as a Miner- 'Well... he prefers the dark.'

But it fits, so perfectly. The drive to have productive, society ready children is a major one and it makes sense that many Asian parents would want to start early. Let's make ourselves some nice little workers before their brains have fully developed- get that work ethic right in there. I know, I am being cynical, and I'm sure it's more than a little fun, but there's a sinister overtone to the whole thing. I'm quite sure that behind the screen of these fun activities, the idea to condition kids to get used to work at a young age is there. That seems a little messed up to me. Though in all likelihood, that's just the normal reaction of someone who hails from the increasingly work-shy western world.

And it's certainly not all bad. A lot of Baby Boss's jobs do sound fun, even the dubious ones like beautician, model and 'celebrity'. And hey, this attitude certainly seems to work. I'm still blown away by how efficient people are over here and how quickly things get done. We could definitely learn a thing or two. Really, this whole thing boils down to jealousy, I guess. I just desperately want to take part in the whole Baby Boss experience. It's just tough to decide what I'd be. Model and Celebrity are obvious fits of course, but I think I'd go with Crane Operator. Another dream to check off the list.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Chinese Learnin'

I've spent, much to my disgust, a great deal of time looking at the English language in the past few years and if I've come to any real conclusion, it's this- it is a horrible, lumbering pig of a language. Be grateful that it's the language that most of you have grown up with. Learning it from scratch is no picnic. The whole thing is full of quirks and exceptions making grasping even the basics a complete nightmare for non English speakers. And then they have the added problem of having a teacher like me...

But I digress...Chinese, when compared to English, is brilliant. Well, so far at least. Structurally, it just makes sense and putting together sentences is logical and sensible. As is the way they build words. From a base word like 'teach', you can add another sound and access the whole gamut of education related words. It makes understanding through leaps in logic actually worthwhile- you'll often hit upon the right meaning or structure.

It's not entirely rosy however. Chinese is a tonal language. And if you're asking what a tonal language is, welcome to my club. Well my old club anyway. What it basically means is that certain sounds can be pronounced in one of four (or five) ways and have very different meanings. Which is tough for someone who has never really had to think like that. If I say 'APPLE', 'AppLE' or 'APple' you'd all know I'm talking about a piece of fruit. It's not the case with Chinese. Plus the vocal gymnastics required in changing tones within a sentence is straining my tongue in terrible ways. Both straining AND training, ladies (Sorry Carol).

Keep in mind all of this is from someone just starting out with Chinese and I may face other more horrifying roadblocks as I continue down this path. So look out for the second part where I bemoan how tough it is. Still, it's very satisfying learning a new language and slowly starting to understand more of what I hear out in the world. I think I always knew it would be, I'm just glad I'm finally making a real go of it. Anyway, go learn a language, I highly recommend it. It sure beats speaking English in an increasingly loud voice when those foreigners don't understand you, right?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Drama Done Good

WARNING- Spoilers within, mostly related to Game of Thrones. Oh and some Heroes stuff, but who gives a shit about Heroes, right?

Game of Thrones came to an end just last week, and reminded me how much I love it when a TV show pulls the rug from under my feet. In case you didn't see, in episode 9 of the show, a major character lost a body part that was key to his very survival. The uproar was amazing. Lots of outrage and a hefty dose of complaining- why was he killed? I liked him! Bring him back! Sitting back and watching all this, it was hard to say which I enjoyed more- the event itself or the reaction to it. As for me is how all TV should be, producing real moments that people actually want to talk about.

However a lot of people weren't happy. They're not used to this sort of thing. Which made me wander what the average person wants from a TV show. Judging by the vast majority of content, they want something relatively unchanging, with nice neat plots that get wrapped up by the end of each episode. No consequences, thank you very much, and definitely no real surprises. What is the point of drama if it's accepted that certain characters are safe? That doesn't seem like drama to me. I guess it's what the casual viewer wants, though. But to quote David Simon, 'Fuck the casual viewer.'

I do get that some people want to just come in, switch off and let a TV show wash over them. But is it what people really want? Or is it something they've just been conditioned to expect? Making drama to cater for this attitude is certainly a lot easier for the networks. Personally, I find it difficult to really enjoy something when I know that the main characters are never going to be in real jeopardy. Because if you lose a big name, well think of the viewing figures. And the ad revenue. That guy cost a lot of money, you know. It creates a system were many shows need to follow a pre-prescribed path and the only risks are managed ones.

Heroes was probably the worst offender for this that I've seen. A show with little in the way of forethought, consequences or script. Kill someone in season one? Look, he's back! And it's Malcolm McDowell no less! As a ghost type thing, possibly! It felt to me like the show's creator, Tim Kring, had stepped out of the TV and shat directly into my mouth. At least I stepped away from the show at that point. Normally I wait around like an abused spouse until the bitter end.

I learned from these mistakes, and I have become better, and possibly, a lot more snobby. Though if snobbishness is wanting my media to be challenging and well made, then I'm OK with it. Sadly, this whole effect is not confined to just TV shows. I can think of few mediums that aren't guilty of pandering to the crowd. My other obsession, comic books, are one of the worst offenders, but that's an itch I'll never stop scratching. Still, even comic books have excellent examples of powerful storytelling, just not enough for my tastes.

Anyway, enough complaining about rubbish TV. I love good TV and Game of Thrones is exactly that. I should be celebrating how lucky we are. We're in a golden time for TV, people, and if you haven't, it is easy to mine the past 10 to 15 years for a dynamite catalogue of shows to work your way through. More than enough to wipe out your need to watch CSI. But with Game of Thrones both providing quality drama and bringing a big audience, let's hope shows like this can wipe out CSI and it's ilk altogether. Hope springs eternal.