January, 2008

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It wasn't in vain

I caught a whole ton of movies both on the big screen and on disc in 2007, but the bulk of it were those mass-appeal shows. Many were great fun of course, e.g. Borat, Ratatouille, Transformers. But the show that struck me the most was a lesser known German show Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, or “The Last Days” as translated for the latter phrase.

The story is an accurate telling of the story of Sophie Scholl, a 21 year old student at the University of Munich who as a member of the White Rose resistance movement during World War 2, was caught distributing anti-Hitler leaflets at her University in 1943. She was interrogated, charged in a mock court run by Hitler cronies, and alongside others including her brother in her movement, summarily executed by guillotine 4 days after her arrest.

I’ve been familiar with her story for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve seen a movie depicting the events. Knowledge of her tragic fate did not lessen the emotional impact of the journey though. The movie’s two key scenes: her interrogation by the Gestapo, and the court scene with Roland Freisler, Hitler’s point man in the judiciary, were apparently pieced together from eye witness accounts and court transcripts. These two scenes were powerful but yet heart-breaking at the same time: they portrayed Scholl’s courage in the face of evil and certain death, and how summarily was her defense dismissed regardless. Despite her brave front against Judge Freisler (”Very soon you will be sitting in our places.”), Scholl in her private moments alone in her cell final hours before her death finally broke down, sobbing.

The movie’s most emotional scene occurred right at the end. Just before she was executed, she was allowed to see her family one last time. Embraced by her parents, her father says “You did the right thing. I’m proud of you both.”

The movie has a fitting denouement. As hard as the Nazis tried to stop the distribution of the anti-war/Hitler leaflets, a copy of it reached the allied forces, and they promptly air-dropped thousands of those leaflets all over Germany.

What’s striking is that the movie is almost completely devoid of special effects, onscreen violence (the execution scenes are handled respectfully), blood or gore. In fact, the entire movie is devoid of any overt dramatization and seems to have been made on a small budget. The critical success of the movie rests on its script, dialog and acting, made all the more potent because it was really what happened.

The story of Sophie Scholl has continued to linger in my mind after watching the movie. I wonder if if today if ever faced with the same tyranny and evil would we be able to muster the same courage as others did 60 years ago.

Meet the Parents

One of the most delightful movies about marriage of recent years, and the moreso as it deals with a topic that didn’t get much attention then, is Meet the Parents, starring Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller. The story there revolves around an engaged couple with Ben Stiller starring as the nervous fiance who has to meet his fiancee’s parents, and Bob De Niro playing an almost impossible-to-please potential father-in-law who just so happens to be a highly experienced if recently retired CIA agent trained in espionage.

blog-wow.jpgTruth to tell, I’m not big on meeting parents myself, and these days, it’s oriented around meeting the parents of my students. Come to think of it, if the students had a say in it, they wouldn’t want their parents to meet their teachers either! The problem typically begins when the student hasn’t done too well. That’s when parents ask some of the toughest questions about their kids, as it becomes a toss-up between these two rules:

  • “Be honest with the parents.”
  • “Be sympathetic to the student.”

And that’s where the problem lies, because while those two rules aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s not easy to straddle between the two, and deliver the package in as diplomatic a fashion as one can.

I gave a lecture on gaming addiction during the recent Parents’ Seminar held at my faculty last weekend, and several parents approached thereafter to follow up on further queries. Now that was quite a situation, as while the amount of hours kids can spend on say World of Warcraft is no laughing matter, I can on the other hand also empathize with how difficult it is to wean oneself off those games. And that’s come about largely from my perspective of having established and run raiding guilds in these games. Involvement in a high-level and/or raiding guild isn’t a trivial matter, and exacting in both social and competitive expectations when it comes to participation and administration. And I’m positively certain my Missouri bud, Matt, will back me up on this! The stories we could tell about running guilds over the years…

Moreover, there’s also this little contradiction in terms: how do you advise parents on their kids playing games when they’re studying in a course that encourages its students to play games? OK, so there’s a qualifier in the latter: the course encourages students to play a variety of games. But then again, one could say that’s splitting hairs.

That said, it’s easy to meet parents whose son or daughter have done well. Heck, it’s immense joy even. The parents beam with pride, the kids glow, and you feel good. Like say for this girl in one of my classes who while isn’t the top performer in her class, has tried very hard and done well still. One of my colleagues at the faculty, has another perspective of meeting parents, and her entry is a heartfelt read.

Mad About Fish

“Can we have fish n chips for dinner tonight, dear?”

Darling has a fish-crazed syndrome lately.

He has been tucking in fish n chips at his workplace canteen, Fish & Co., foodcourts and coffee shops. Just a couple of days ago, he got me into preparing fish n chips at home.

So far, I’ve done 2 fishy dishes: 1) Baked White Fish & Fingerling Potatoes, 2) Breaded Fish & Chips. So far so good. I’ve also learnt more about the types of delicious white fish available here in Singapore for fish & chips recipes.

Just starting out in the kitchen, the great variety of fish available at the local wet and super-markets can be intimidating to moi. Deciding on which kind of fish to buy is very much a daunting experience. I gave up trying out with the wet market fish mongers. They would stare at me for orders and as darling would have guessed it, I was too slow for their patience.

Shopping at the supermarkets is less frightening – I can take my own sweet time to learn the fish names and note their characteristics. Another thing I like about buying fish in supermarkets is that the prices are all fixed. Some fish stalls at wet markets do not display price tags and I may irritate the fish mongers by asking “eh, how much is the cod today?”, “How much does this fish fillet weigh?”, “hmm, where does the salmon come from?” and “Uncle, do you have halibut?” >> Uncle says, “Huh, I sell fish lah. Where got halibut?”. I may end up buying fish which I don’t want but out of nice-ness and sheer ‘paiseh-ness’. However, I was told that if I PR with the fish monger well enough he may give me his freshest fish. Okay granted, let me pick up the basic confidence about fish first and then work on the PR.

blog-2007-Cooking-CIMG2952-fish-n-chips.JPGBack to fishy business. Reading ’Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat’ by Naomi Moriyama & William Doyle got me really interested in Japanese food. I’m unsure about the ‘old’-less theory in the book but am convinced of the ‘fat’-less theory.

Anyway, of the seven pillars of Japanese home cooking, fish is one food which the Japanese nation consumes in huge quantities. And out of all kinds of fish, the salmon is king of all. The Japs love salmon and have many methods of cooking it. I love salmon too, especially when it is absolutely fresh and raw dipped in Jap soy sauce and wasabi. I’m in love.:D

Salmon is an excellent source for omega-3 fatty acids and hence very good for health. We get omega-6 fatty acids easily from seeds and grains but we normally do not consume enough seafood to obtain sufficient omega-3. A good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases, stroke, cancers, etc! The Japs have it all: tonnes of omega-3 from fish and omega-6 from vegetable oils, beans, etc. No wonder they are ranked no. 1 in life expectancy in the world.

Waiting for salmon prices to fall now. Next dish: Salmon Teriyaki :D Yums!