Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Kevin and I in India by Frank Kusy by Carlyn

I won Kevin and I in India in a goodreads giveaway.  Frank Kusy is a travel writer who has written about  many Asian countries including, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Singapore.  Kevin and I in India is Frank’s journal of his time in India with fellow traveler Kevin Bloice. The two spend their time backpacking around India, visiting temples, villages, trying to avoid being swindled by con men and trying to survive public transport and questionable food.
 The book was first published in 1986 so I was eager to see what travel was like in the 80s. Most of the diary entries centered on temples, public transport, the hostels and local people. I don’t remember all the temples that the two men visited as it seemed all the same after reading the diary entries. Frank’s journal is very detailed that I can imagine being present during his holiday. I particularly thought his descriptions of the hostels he stayed at were quite vivid. I could picture thread bare mattresses and the horde of cockroaches and appreciate the cleaner rooms that had good pillows and air conditioning.

 There was also a good deal mentioned about the chaotic transport in India which is still the same in the present time. I liked reading the descriptions of being squished into buses and trains, riding on the roof and surviving near collisions.  I also learnt that buying a ticket for a train or bus can be a tricky thing in some circumstances. It can involve lining up in a queue to get a ticket which can take a few hours and then having to line up again to get it stamped. After that process, the bus/train could already be gone or not show up. However, I am an optimist and believe that transport must have improved at least a bit during the years.

The two men also seemed to encounter a lot of people who tried to swindle them. There were always people promising them better deals to accommodation, food and travel and sometimes they lived up to their promises and other times they didn’t. They also met a lot of good local people as well who helped them and told them interesting stories about their lives.

The part of the book that I liked the most was when Frank wasn’t in India. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy reading his experiences in India, it was just that life was a bit more calmer. Frank spent a short time in Nepal during the last leg of his travels. I liked reading about the villages, the mountain air and the peacefulness. He still experienced hardships such as a tortuous account of diarrhoea on an hours long bus ride and no toilet paper and perilous forays into the countryside.

I would have liked if he had included pictures of his adventures but there is a map and about two pictures in the book. While reading the book, I thought about the technology in the 80s compared to what we have now. There was no Google Maps, Facebook and Instagram.  When people go on holiday in the present day, they can instantly upload their pictures and videos onto social media so that they can brag and loved ones can see that they are safe.  In the past, people had to use to post letters or they would wait until they got home to share stories about their adventures.

In the author’s notes, it says that Frank goes back to India and has been several times. I think it’s nice he gets to reminisce about his Indian adventure and he gets to learn new things about the country.  Although I have never been to India, I think of it as a place that always gets better and forever changing. I would love to go to India but not as a backpacker. After a long day of adventuring, I’d rather a nice place to sleep and a good shower. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Entertainment Monday: Broods (Monday October 20, 2014)

Broods is a brother/sister music group from New Zealand.  Georgia Nott is the lead singer and her older brother Caleb Nott does instrumentals and back up singing.  I think they have a nice sound.  I like Georgia's voice, but mostly I like the group for their lyrics as much as their sound. 
I think it's interesting that they come from a family of musicians and have other siblings and yet have achieved success as a duo separate from their other family members.  So often it seems when you hear about a successful music family the entire family is somehow involved with the music or linked to fame in some way.  Especially when all are musically inclined, as Georgia and Caleb's siblings are.  I most often think of the Jackson 5 and Nelson (even though sister Tracey who was an actress was not part of that band) and Hansen when I think of family bands that have attained fame for their musical exploits.  As far as the Jacksons and Nelsons were concerned, several other family members were famous either prior to or after those bands achieved fame.

I have heard Georgia in an interview on a radio station before and she seems very down to earth and easy going.  It's hard to really "know" anyone from small snippets of an interview, but I got the impression that early fame has not gotten to her or her brothers heads.  Hopefully they'll be able to enjoy continued success and keep that same down to earth and humble nature. 

One of Broods first songs to get radio play here on Alternative radio in the United States is Bridges

Another of their songs which I enjoy listening to very much is Mother and Father.  I have a soft spot for songs that are about family, and Mother and Father relates nicely to the difficulties many of us face when we leave the safety and comfort of our family and try to make a life away from them.

As Broods is still a very new group it will be interesting to follow their path.  Will they have sustained success?  Will their spotlight be brief?  I certainly believe Caleb and Georgia possess the talent to have a long successful career with a devoted following.  I have not yet heard a song where Caleb's vocals are featured, and I think it would be cool if they choose to do that at some point.  I always like when bands push the envelope a little on their "sound" and try new things.  Those experiments sometimes alienate loyal fans, but I think that mostly happens when a band has already been around a long time and wants to explore a new sound. Broods is still new enough to dabble in that without hurting their burgeoning fan base I think?  Even though I suppose when a group is just beginning to have success they might want to stick with what they know works for a bit before changing things up.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shakespeare in the park: Much Ado about Nothing

One of the perks about being a teacher is the school vacation times. Some teachers get offended when people joke that holidays are the reason for them becoming a teacher. They think that it belittles their dedication for education as most teachers are hard workers.  Anyway, I love it when it’s the school holidays because I get a break from teaching. I don’t have to think about planning lessons and waking up early. Most full time teachers don’t get much of a vacation and some return to work early as they have to prepare for the new term. I’m a relief (substitute) teacher so I don’t have to worry about school planning.
During the holidays, I went to see an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a performance from my old school, the University of Southern Queensland Artworx. I thought the play was very good. It was my first time seeing Much Ado About Nothing. Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy centering on courtship, mistaken identity and misunderstandings.  The story takes place in the 15th century in Messina, Italy and is about the courtship between the fair lady Hero and the young Lord Claudio. The friends and family of the two help and hinder them through the process and there is also a secondary love story between two supporting characters.
USQ Artworx Production of Much Ado About Nothing
Antonia, Leonata and Don Pedro (L-R)
I was a bit worried about whether I could follow the story but it was easy enough. I had a two second delay as I translated Shakespearean to what I thought they meant when I watched the play.   USQ set Much Ado About Nothing in modern times with contemporary clothing and 80s music. I thought the performance was sexy and I thought it was a little inappropriate as there were some young children in the audience.  Fortunately, I think most of the children didn't understand any of the play but all the gyrations and risqué dancing was a sight they probably shouldn't have seen.
I thought the performance was very good. The cast were all well rehearsed and made no slips in their speeches. I liked the way the cast expressed their words and their gestures which helped me to identify what was going on in the story so when I missed some of the context, I could see that it was a funny moment or sad moment etc.

Have you watched any Shakespearean plays? Do you have a favourite? Or have you studied or read Shakespeare?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Entertainment Monday: The Maze Runner (Film) October 13, 2014

The Maze Runner is the latest teen dystopian film. The main character is Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and he finds himself trapped in a maze with a couple of other young boys. All the boys were abducted and put into the maze with no memory of their former lives. The boys live in a sanctuary called the Glade which is in the maze. They try every day to find a way out of the maze which is difficult as the maze changes every night and there are monsters guarding the maze. Thomas is determined to get out of the maze and becomes a maze runner. A maze runner’s job is to map out the maze and find a way out.
I heard that critics have described this film as a mix of The Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games. I agree except that their boys are not as dysfunctional as the boys in Lord of the Flies and the movie is less violent than the Hunger Games.  I didn’t read the book before seeing the movie so it was a mystery to me why the boys were stuck in the maze. The film focuses on Thomas’ perspective so I didn’t see who was controlling the maze until the end. I found that it helped to create the atmosphere of anticipation and dread as Thomas explored more of the maze.
I found the film to be fast paced and I would have liked more time spent on character development. I thought some of the secondary characters were a bit one dimensional and stereotypical. They had the cute kid who the protagonist treats like a like a younger sibling, a jerk who tries to tell everyone not to listen to the hero and is kinda jealous, token female and generic best friend.
I still think that the supporting cast was good but there were no stand outs. I recognized some of the other boys in the Maze Runner as some of them have been in other films.  Thomas Sangster (Love Actually) plays Newt, who is the best friend of Thomas and Will Pouter (We’re the Millers) as Gally, Thomas’ rival. They are very good actors and I was glad to see them in the film.

I think that The Maze Runner is a good movie to see with friends. It’s action packed but not too violent, it’s suspenseful but not serious. The Maze Runner is part of a series and the second movie is currently in production. I look forward to seeing it. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is a novel about the power of words.  It follows the story of Liesel Meminger an orphaned German child whose communist mother is persecuted and must leave Liesel and her brother with an older German couple, Hans and Rosa Huberman, who have grown children that no longer live with them. 

Liesel's brother dies on the train ride to the Huberman home and after his passing the story follows Liesel's upbringing with Hans and Rosa.  The Huberman's must openly support the Nazi cause and Adolf Hitler in spite of their secretive disdain for the Nazi Party and what it stands for.   Hans who affectionately becomes Papa to Liesel is the comforting and supportive figure in her upbringing while Rosa is the tough but loving Mama who protects Liesel but will not pamper her. 

Liesel becomes best friends with Rudy Steiner a boy from the same neighborhood who once (prior to ever meeting Liesel) raced around the town track painted black as he pretended to be the American Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens.  Rudy also has an unfailing crush which turns into an unfailing love for Liesel. 

Liesel who does not know how to read or write when she arrives at the Huberman home has a fascination with books, even before she knows how to read and she ends up stealing books and learning how to read from her Papa in the basement of the Huberman home. 

The Huberman's adopt another visitor of sorts during the story, Max Vandenburg, a Jewish boxer who seeks refuge in the Huberman home when Hans Huberman must repay a debt to the son of the Jewish man who once saved his life during World War I. 

Liesel also becomes close to Max and faithfully keeps the family secret as Max lives for several months in the Huberman basement, not even sharing the knowledge of his presence with her best friend Rudy Steiner. 

The heart of the story though is about Liesel's love of reading and love of words.  Liesel become's a light in the darkness that is Nazi Germany in the little town of Molching as World War two progresses.  Her friendship with Max, the Jewish Boxer is what helps her to understand the power of words and how they shape all that is evil and all that is wonderful about people and our world.

Liesel learns how words can make you laugh, cry, love, fear and live or die.

Another central figure is the town mayor's wife who becomes a willing victim of Liesel's book thefts, when several of the books Liesel takes are from her home library, because she feels a kind of kinship in their mutual love of reading. 

As you might expect with any book that is about Nazi Germany during World War Two there is a great deal of hardship and heartache.  And outside of Liesel herself the most prominent character in the story is the narrator, Death.  As you might expect with any book where Death is the narrator too, the degree of fear, heartache and struggle is palpable. 

Death as a narrator, while he is focused on doing his job and does not intercede with the fate of those who's time it is to die, is a humane figure.  More humane in fact then Adolph Hitler and the many humans who are responsible for causing so much destruction upon their own human race.

The story is so well written and wonderful that I did not really think or notice how I get caught in the emotion of it.  There are other books that I have read which I feel tug at my heartstrings throughout the story.  In the Book Thief I did not even notice all the emotional build up until very near the ending when I was taken by a fit of crying that I had not befallen me since my own father's passing back in 2005.   Other stories have elicited a tear or two, but the Book Thief broke me down like no other book I can recall having ever read. 

I think the book has so many important lessons and morals that can be taken with it, and those shine through as only they can when a story and it's characters are so heartbreakingly real. 

There is an intense humanity the rises from a book in a time where it's hard to believe humanity existed on any level.  It's perhaps in that fact where the emotional strength of the Book Thief exists most.

I hope our readers will take the time to read the Book Thief and take away from it how much our words make a difference, how our words can build or tear down, and give life or destroy.  Most of all I hope we will all think about how important it is to be a Hans or Rosa Huberman or a Max Vandenburg or a Rudy Steiner or a Liesel Meminger when life is in it's most dire state and people need love, friendship and help in spite of the risks and dangers that challenge the very fabric of life.  There are people and ideals worth standing up for, even at the ultimate sacrifice.  No book I've read brings that message home any stronger than Markus Zusak's the Book Thief.

review by Jon Bear 

Carlyn's review of The Book Thief

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Jon Bear Journal: Growing up as a Twin‏

I posted the Jon Bear Journal picture twice because as I have mentioned to our readers before, I am a twin.  But rest assured this is the Jon Bear Journal and not the Clifford Bear Journal.  Perhaps one day I'll be able to coax him into a guest post?

When I was growing up several people had questions for me as to what it was like being an identical twin.  I think many of those questions were conversational and enjoyable to answer. I often felt very uncomfortable answering some of what I termed, "the twin questions" though, or questions that tend to be directed towards twins but not other siblings. Yet the twin questions that got to me were those that tried to get you to admit either a superiority or inferiority to your twin.  I'll try to answer a few of the questions I was asked years ago, and even some of the "twin" questions that made me feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps it will provide a little insight into what it is like to grow up as an identical twin for anyone who might wish to know.   Who knows, maybe I will even find a bit of "self discovery" in answering  the questions.  

For the past 15 years Clifford and I have lived hundreds of miles apart, so my questions and answers will be relative to my childhood and young adulthood. 

Do you and your brother fight?  And who wins if you do?
Yes we do fight, but no more often and possibly even less often though than any similarly aged siblings might.  I would say it's pretty equal as far as wins and losses.  Our fights are more wrestling than striking fights though.  We don't wish to seriously hurt one another, or worse yet, get in trouble from mom and dad if we were to hurt one another in a fight.  Once Clifford did drag me by my hair around  the house, which wasn't much fun.  As to the hair incident tough, in fairness, I should mention  that I once put chewing gum in Clifford's hair when a mutual friend of ours father was taking us on a field trip. 

Who's the "evil twin"?  *this is one of the "twin questions*  All twin questions hence forth will receive an asterisk. 

Well, as you can see from my answer to the question above, we both had our fair share of "evil" in us when we wanted to let it out.  I think Clifford "school wise" came off a little bit more like the evil twin then I did.  Not because he was actually evil, but because he was much more likely to speak his mind or present a contrary opinion.  He liked to play devil's advocate.   I think I was more concerned with being liked then Clifford and I would capitulate or shrink from confrontation. 

Are you and your brother friends?  Or do you hate one another? 

We are best friends.  It would be difficult if we were not considering the amount of time we must spend around one another. 

* Who's smarter?

I don't think that even standardized testing has resolved this question.  Our I.Q.'s are only 1 point apart.  I do not even remember who was one point higher. Grades wise in high school and undergrad college I did a little better.  Clifford had a better S.A.T. score. 

*Who's better looking?

If I answer... "ME!" I'm vain. If I say "HIM!" then I lack self confidence.  So I suppose to some people he looks better and to some people I look better.

*Can you read each other's minds and feel each other's pain?

I have not ever been able to read Clifford's mind and when I got hit by a car and broke my leg, Clifford told me he did not feel it. 

Do you finish each other's sentences?

Yes, we often times finish each other's sentences.  I believe that can be attributed to the time we share together and the experiences we've shared.  I really think it is very similar to what married couples experience when telling a story involving a shared experience.  So I think it has less to do with a symbiotic mind and more to do with environment, being in the same place at the same time so often. 

Do you like being a twin?

Yes, I think it has a lot of advantages.  You almost always have someone to play games and do things with who shares your interests.  You never feel lonely.  You learn to share and I think creativity and imagination thrive in an environment where you have another person to bounce your ideas off of. 

What is the worst thing about being a twin?

The constant comparisons when trying to establish your own identity and be seen by others as unique, and not just the copy of another person.

Did you ever try to switch places and fool people?

Only one time that I can recall in kindergarten.  Clifford and I switched classes.  It took our teachers pretty far into the day to figure out that we had switched places  It was fun but tough for me because I did not know all the things his class had been doing in their previous lessons and I had to get used to responding when called by a different name.  I also did not know the names of all Clifford's classmates.  As I recall, our teachers thought it was funny and we did not get in trouble at all for switching.  I think it helped that we only did it once.  Had we tried it again we may have been pushing our luck  a bit. >.<

So hopefully that provides at least a little insight to what it is like being a twin.  If anyone has any questions I did not answer here that they would like to ask me about being a twin, please feel free to ask them in our comments section and I'll be happy to do my best to answer them.  

*posted on Jon Bear's behalf.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Entertainment Monday: Halloween Music Videos Retro Version (Monday, October 6)‏

I remember fondly when I was a little kid how much I looked forward to the Halloween Music Videos that would be played on VH-1 and MTV.  I know that any of today's videos are going to be much better productions and likely be debuted on an artist's website and not on MTV or VH-1.  It wasn't that I always liked the music necessarily, but the videos helped to get me into the spirit of the holiday.  As I have never been a big Halloween fan to begin with it might be that the videos were even my favorite part of the holiday.  A few of the songs were not really about Halloween but the video lent it to being shown at that time of the year.  Some of the songs could be linked lyrically somewhat to Halloween even though the videos were not Halloween themed. I know that t.v. evolves with public interest and music videos don't have the home they once did on television.  While I miss that by-gone era I'm also okay with not spending hours in front of the t.v. watching video as I would sometimes do.  The occasional trip down memory lane on you tube is still fun though. 

Or perhaps I should say, "funny".  One of the songs I liked as a kid that would be part of MTV's Halloween lineup was Howard Jone's Everlasting Love.   I think the people in bandages were supposed to be Mummy's and thus a pictorial metaphor for an everlasting love. 

One of the more famous Halloween videos of the day was Rockwell's, Somebody's Watching Me. 

I have been a fan of Tegan and Sara for years and their Walking With the Ghost is a song I always enjoyed. 

Michael Jackson's Thriller was without a doubt the biggest Music Video associated with Halloween, but the full version is really quite long so I won't show it here.  If you get to watch it on line though it's considered a classic and worth seeing at least once.  

The last video I'll show here is not short either but always a fun video.  Doin' It All for My Baby by Huey Lewis and the News.

*Posted on behalf of Jon Bear who is having computer trouble.