Movie Review: Please Vote For Me

Title:  Please Vote For Me (2007)

Director:  Weijun Chen

I was all set to plug a Bollywood movie until I turned on a short (58 minute) documentary while I fixed supper.  Please Vote for Me follows a class of elementary school children in China as they experiment with a democratic election for the coveted position of Class Monitor.

It was a completely appropriate choice given that it’s election season around here right now.  The difference is, I found this election far more compelling.

This is a not an overly-slick, Hollywood-ized documentary.  A lot of it is 8 year old kids being 8 year old kids.  Yelling, pouting, fighting, arguing…it’s as real as it gets (and one of these boys is totally going to regret this when he’s a teenager and it gets shown around school with him all up in his undies all the time).   It’s only when you stop to realize that this is China that it gets truly amazing.

Watching the three kids at the center of the election jump into the typical games of politics (back-room negotiations, pushy behavior, gifts to gain favor, empty promises, mud-slinging and general sabotage) you start to wonder if what you’re seeing is the rise of a new way of thinking in China, or if competitive election behavior is just rooted in human DNA.  And it’s not just the kids, the push-to-achieve Chinese parenting style is apparently way more powerful than any loyalty to communist equality as all the parents push their little darlings to practice for each round of the election cycle–some pulling out more stops than others.

It was interesting to watch the way these kids approached the process, and though less heavily featured, it was even more amazing to see the teacher walk them through it.  About the last thing I ever expected was to see a Chinese teacher explaining democracy, and emphasizing the importance of each kid’s vote as their way to control their own destiny.  It would be a throw-away speech for a teacher here, but in a country where the internet is fire-walled by your government and there’s only one party, it becomes a heavy-hitter.

There’s a plain old slice-of-life attraction to it as well.  You follow these kids home and get a little peek at the life of the new “middle class” Chinese family.  And the classroom shots were an eye-opener.  I was surprised that you didn’t see the kids doing all that much school work.  And the way they were wandering around at lunch, in and out of the halls,  doing as they pleased?  That’s not what I expected, especially since the public school classroom where I volunteered in Dallas was a WAY more uniformed, regimented, all-in-a-line kind of place where there was no way a kid set so much as a toe in the hall without being in classroom line, or escorted by a teacher.

Sadly, these kiddos didn’t get much better choices for their leader than you find in most Western elections, so there’s a depressing universality going on here.

It’s an interesting look at both election behavior and at what China is becoming.  The film is not life-changer, but it does inspire a moderate amount of thought.

I give it 3 and a half jars of peanut-butter.

Kids these Days…

Yesterday I got an email from my nephew. My eight year-old nephew. Sent from his iPod.

Sorry, I don’t know about you, but I need a second with that…

My nephew’s eight. He has an iPod. And he knows how to send email from it.

Holy crap.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m not saying it’s a good thing, I’m just saying it’s a thing. And my sister is a responsible mother and he informed me in his first email she would be monitoring what he did online. And I’m sure she is. It’s just…

Damn times have changed.

I got my first email address when I started undergrad. Before that my entire family shared one email address. Can you imagine that? A time when a family of five all used one email address? And it was okay, because I only had two occasions to receive email before that point—the first from a friend who had moved cross country, the second from my boss.

Getting email when you start college seems a reasonable idea; your life changes drastically and it’s sort of a rite of passage. Or at least it was for me. Because I don’t think email represents the same thing to them as it does/did to me. For me, it was a way to prove I was really all grown up now. For kids these days email is a integral part of life.

Yeah… times, they are a-changing.

Cammy’s First Cabbage Patch

One of the defining elements of 80s child-culture was The Cabbage Patch Kid doll.  I wanted one so bad.  I asked for one year after year, but my family was broke for the earliest part of the 80s when the dolls really exploded on the scene, and even after we emerged from the lean times, the frugality that had seen us through continued to run strong in my parents.  Those damn dolls just seemed exorbitantly high.

Originally Mom bought a look-a-like head and arm set at Wal-Mart with the intention of putting it together for me, but it never happened.  I think part of this had to do with the fact that–in addition to thinking they were over-priced–Mom never found the dolls cute at all.  I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure if I quizzed her, she would say she thought they were “funny lookin'”  And, well, they are.

But that never stopped me from wanting one.  It wasn’t just the doll part (and I did love my dolls–still do), it was having a doll like the other girls had.  By the time I was in first grade and (we were no longer flat-ass broke-just moderately busted), I was the only girl I knew who didn’t have one of these coveted dolls (even girls whose families were still flat-ass broke).  Some of them had MORE THAN ONE.

What I had was Jennifer, a cloth doll my mother had sewed, face and all (made lovingly for me during our flat-ass broke period for my 4th birthday).

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Round and Round

One of my paths home from work (I have several–options help me avoid traffic…and make it easier to lose people trying to tail me), takes me through mostly residential neighborhoods.  For the most part, this path is calm, uneventful and utterly unremarkable.

Except for the house with the path.

On a particular corner where I make a turn, there’s a house of no noteworthy description other than the well-beaten foot-path that seems to run around the perimeter of the lot.  Not some kind of landscaped decorative thing, no, this is just the bare kind of path you see when feet beat out grass, weeds and everything else that might dream of coming up.

My first suspicion was that this house had a dog, and probably one of those radio-frequency invisible fences.  This kind of path is completely typical of the paths I’ve seen beaten around the back-yards of friends with dogs who like to pace and circle their domain.  Usually big dogs who are either so protective of their humans that they are constantly on patrol, or so eager to escape that they are looking for the chinks in the fence.

But, I discovered about a year ago that there was no golden retriever or black lab behind that path.

There were just two kids.

I happened to be turning there on my way home last spring when I noticed a little girl around 8 or so, hauling hell-for-leather around from the back of the house.  I always keep an eye peeled for kiddos out running around when I’m driving through the neighborhoods (and a good thing, too–I’ve avoided the loose basketball in the street tragedy more times than I care to think about).  I was concerned that she was going to barrel right on out in front of me.  Instead, she hooked a right and continued running….right around the path in the front lawn.  She didn’t appear to be chasing anything, but I couldn’t be sure since I went on my way, assuming that somewhere ahead of her there had been a beloved family pet.

But it happened again.  Same girl, same full-bore run.  And then again.  The third time there was a little boy who was maybe 5 or 6 running too.  Not with her, and not chasing her, but with the same kind of odd determination, running that same path for all he was worth.  No alteration, no pause.  Just pumping arms and legs.

Through the winter I saw them less, in part because I was so busy that my work schedule kept me from driving home in daylight.  But a couple of weeks ago…there they were again.  Both kids, out running in circles.

There is just something really weird about this to me.  I mean, when I was a kid there was some amount of running ’round and ’round the house, but that had more to do with chasing one another, or in some way playing a game or accomplishing something.  And on occasion, when my brother and I were too wound-up, Dad would yell at us, literally, “Go outside and run around in circles until I tell you to stop!”  And we would giggle and go make a few quick loops around the two trees in the front yard before going, “Daddy, can we stop now?”  Which generally Dad was fine with–but told us to just stay outside and out of his hair for a while.  My brother and I sure didn’t make enough of a habit to wear a path (Mom would have been pissed at that), and go at it like we were training for the cross country team while still in our elementary years or anything.

And the kiddos only made it more weird this week.  We had rain, solid, steady, heavy rain for the better part of last week.  And– I shit you not– I drove home one day, wipers on full….and those two kids were out, running that path around the h0use.  One in a pancho, the other in what what looked like a Cars raincoat.  Round and round.

I don’t know if their parents have big dreams of summer Olympians or what.  But, I guess they don’t have much trouble getting the kids to sleep at night.

 

Coffee On A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Would we have coffee with Madeleine L’Engle?

Cammy:  In honor of her birthday tomorrow* I would be delighted to buy this woman a cup of coffee.  I cannot fathom that she would be anything less than interesting to talk to.  Her books have touched on such a wide variety of topics from science to religion to moral failings in one’s parents to just getting along with those pesky younger siblings.  And those are just the ones marketed at children/young adults.  Her best known book, A Wrinkle In Time, actually employed legitimate science, for which I will be eternally grateful (there are plenty of great fantasy books suited to the younger set, but far fewer actual sci-fi–even more rare to have sci-fi and a female lead).  She produced books that were connected, and yet very different from one another, which always strikes me as awesome.  I’d love the chance to talk to her about the way the different “universes” of her books run next to one another, occasionally glancing off tangentially.  Why did she choose to do it that way?  Why not keep the Austin’s totally separate from the Murrys, or fully integrate them?  How did she really feel about the right-wingers who were down on the subject matter of her books?  Beyond that, I just want to chat with the woman.  After all, she managed to start a work with “It was a dark and stormy night…” and turn it into something fabulous and thought provoking, imagine what she could do to having coffee.
Kristy: This is another one of those moments where I confess to a minor heresy: I’ve never read anything by Madeleine L’Engle.  I think in elementary school one of our readers had a chapter from one of her books or something, but that’s it.  It wasn’t a deliberate choice, I just never got around to it.  I was obsessed with history and dance as a child and there were enough books for kids focused on those topics that I never had time for fantasy.  Something I kind of regret as an adult, though I have yet to find the time or inclination to go back and read the things I missed.  So clearly I have some homework to do prior to coffee, but yes, I would have coffee with her.  I imagine we could still have plenty of things to talk about.  I’m interested in how late in life she began her professional writing career–did she ever imagine writing was something she’d do professionally?  Why does she think it took her that long to find her first novel idea?  I’d also love to hear any insights she had into the publishing industry in general.  Heck, I’d love just a list of suggested books for my nieces and nephews.  I’m sure she’d be a very interesting lady with whom to share a cup of coffee.
Cammy:  ZOMG.  I feel like I’ve failed as a roommate for never having made sure you were indoctrinated.  I am going to retire to a corner and cry tears of shame.

*Side Note:  Apparently November 29 is a great day to be born if you want to write a successful youth novel.  C.S. Lewis and Lousia May Alcott share the day with L’Engle.

Vicarious Enjoyment Via A Superfan

The CBC Radio 3 Blog community was home to a discussion of superfans recently.  Normally, I would find the rabid superfan a little off-putting.  They tend to be louder, pushier….a lot of things ending in -er, most of them unpleasant.

But at tonight’s rodeo/Reba concert I got to watch a superfan who actually made my own concert experience better.

About 5-6 rows ahead of me tonight, there was a girl, who looked about 11, and her Dad.  The kid was sporting her “All The Women I Am” Reba shirt and a lot of barely contained excitement.  You could tell in one look at the kid that she was stoked about this.  Dad appeared to be patient and mildly amused.  I think I noticed them because it reminded me so much of my first Reba concert when I was 11–Dad took me, and displayed the same amused patience.  Throughout the rodeo, she was watching, paying attention–Dad was pointing things out and clearly explaining–but radiated a kind of tense anticipation.

When Reba finally took to the stage, the entire Sprint Center stood for the first two songs, but after the rest of us had settled back in our seats, that kid was still on her feet, clapping and singing along.  She stood the entire concert (her seat position and her height prevented this from annoying anyone behind her–and the volume meant that her singing along could in no way offend anyone around her).  At one point I saw her glancing down at her palms, clearly contemplating whether the sting of all that clapping was worth it.  I suppose it must have been, because she shrugged and kept going.  She even sang along with the medley of older stuff.  And when I say older, I’m not talking about “Fancy” or anything from the 90s.  I’m talking “Can’t Even Get the Blues”…from 1982.  Her Dad was probably still in school when that one came out.

I actually found myself wishing I was seated next to her.  As it was, other than my empty seat, and the PDA couple directly in front of me (side note: there was also a Radio 3 Blog discussion of concert PDA), I was surrounded by un-impressively passive people my parents’ ages.  They totally didn’t get into the concert, which was physically painful, because in the stripped down and truncated version of the performance (rodeo concerts tend to be less elaborate), there were maybe 4 slower songs (1 of which was “Because of You” in which Reba turned the mic on the audience for large chunks).

How much nicer would it have been to have been along side the kid, bopping along with her?  To catch a little of that enthusiasm and feel like it’s totally okay to keep clapping and enjoying the hell out of the moment?  Even at a distance, I feel like I  got something out of seeing this girl watch the show, and I guess that’s enough.

I hope she enjoyed the concert as much as I did–though I strongly suspect she may have enjoyed it even more.

 

Not-so-Kodak Moments

I’m currently on vacation with my entire family.  That means five children between the ages of three and twelve.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m not someone who loves hanging out with children.  I never babysat (okay, a couple times I got roped into it when I was a tween, but I hated it).  I don’t want kids of my own.  I love my nieces and nephews, but I have a tolerance level which is quickly reached.

I have, however, found something which seems to entertain and tame small children for enough time to wait in line, wait for a table, or wait for food.  (No one wants to be with antsy children at restaurants.)  Most adults in my family will hand the children their cell phone and allow them to play Angry Birds or some similar game.  I have a smart phone, but I don’t have any of those games.  What I do have is a camera.

I simply hold it up and tell the bored child to make a crazy face.  When you have kids who are constantly being told not to act silly in pictures and (in my nephews’ cases) being punished for making faces in photos, the opportunity to deliberately look like a goofball is a picture is apparently thrilling.  And all it costs me is battery power and I’m saved the aggravation of obnoxious children.  And everyone else around us is spared the aggravation of obnoxious children they aren’t related to.  Victory for all.

Magnetic Regression

This weekend I became the possessor of some super-strong, rare-earth magnets.

And reverted to age 7.

I’d forgotten how entertaining it can be just to use little magnetic disks to pick up random crap around the house (totally fun with a metal Slinky and the refrigerator) or to push each other around on the table (that kept me enthralled for a good 20 minutes).   And making OTHER things magnetic?  Beauty.  There’s a straight pin on a piece of soap in a little dish of water pointing due north right now.

Problem?

Super strong magnets?

MEANS super strong.  I actually pinched my fingers when they got in between two magnets that really wanted to slam together.  And I had to futz for 15 minutes with one of the TV remotes when I got it too close to a stack of the little buggers (it refused to respond).

And I wondered…..when did I get so far away from something so simply fun?

Pram Problem

My deepest apologies to those friends of mine with children because I’m pretty sure I’m going to offend at least a few of you.

But you deserve it.

You and your damn prams from hell.

Pram.  Stroller.  Baby buggy.  Whatever the hell you want to call it, these monstrosities are pissing me off.  And, in some cases, causing severe bruising.  There are SUVs smaller than these damned things.  Honestly, I get that you have your kid’s safety in mind, but do you really need a Sherman tank to wheel him around in?  Scores of children have managed to survive to adulthood and procreate additional spawn after having only been pushed around in those flimsy little strollers that look like a hammock chair on wheels and umbrella handles to push with.  Or with no stroller at all.  So I’m pretty sure you could spare the all-wheel drive monstrosity for just one day.

Especially in close spaces.  I was in a museum today, touring a special exhibit.  Now, setting aside the depth of “NOT WISE” involved in toting anyone from the under-2 set through a special exhibit on Princess Diana, let’s talk about the pram issue.  You know there’s going to be a lot of people–that’s why the tickets had time slots for entry–you know there’s going to be all kinds of display cases and things to maneuver around–that’s what exhibits are kinda known for–so why do you insist on crowding an already crowded space with your kid-wheeler?!?!?  Leave it in the car and tote the kid.  And don’t you DARE tell me that it’s too hard to carry the kid because NONE of the 5 strollers that managed to hit me today actually had a kid in it.  In all cases the kid was being carried by one parent/aunt/grandparent while another person was pushing that massive cart around, generally containing a baby-bag.  The bag that person could have carried on his/her shoulder, thus sparing us all from the Pram Problem.

And it’s not just museums.  Crowded restaurants and cafe’s.  WHY wouldn’t you leave it in the car? You’re not going to walk that far, and you’re going to be sitting down to eat anyhow.  There’s no room in the aisle and you know it, yet you park the beast right there by the table to everyone else–server and patron alike–is stuck trying to find a way to get around it.

It comes down to this, oh proud mama’s and papa’s of today’s era:  You’ve got a misplaced sense of entitlement.  You have a kid and you believe this means  “stuff” and you need a way to move said “stuff” and it needs to be convenient for you.  Because it’s all for your kid.  And parenthood is sooooo important.

Yes, you have a kid.  Yes, that’s inconvenient for you and it means you have to have all this “stuff” to tote around with said kid.

Tough.

You chose to have them.  I don’t owe you any space in the aisles for that, so quit taking it from me.  I want kids myself, but when that day comes, I’ll go into it with the understanding that I’m gonna have to build up some muscles because the entire public shouldn’t have to give-way so that I can be comfortable and lazy.

I’ve already accepted that your kids are going to scream and cry and raise hell and kinda ruin a lot of other parts of my experiences in museums and restaurants and shops.  The least you could do is leave the damn Pram in the car.  Or at least watch where you’re driving the sonofabitch so I don’t come home with big bruises on my hips and back.

 

*Please note:  If you are in the extreme minority of today’s parents and actually leave the stroller in the car, or use one of the old-hammock style, or in some other ways attempt to minimize the impact on the rest of us, I applaud you and you are exempt from all beratement herein.

Awkward Moments

Since my very first teaching gig, every time I go out somewhere there’s this little fear of running into one of my students.   As previously stated on this blog, I don’t really embarrass easily.  But I’ve run into students while I’m dressed in funny costumes and it just kind of makes things… a little awkward.

Well Friday I ran into one of my students outside the classroom.  But I’m not the one for whom things are now awkward.

Context:  My university has this spring tradition which is basically an excuse for kids to get drunk and make bad decisions.  Now I know you’re thinking, “Doesn’t every college have a tradition like that?”  Not on this scale.  At least no other college I’ve attended has.  I’ve been around my share of drunken parties in my life, but I have never seen anything that approximates the large scale public drunkenness of this event.  Think New Orleans at Mardi Gras.  Then imagine the people around you are a little younger and a lot more annoying.  And handle their liquor worse.  In perhaps the most disturbing display of how open the debauchery is one of the waxing salons I drive by was running a special on Brazilians in honor of the event.  Yeah.  Don’t think about it.

Students miss entire weeks of classes for this one.  And act shocked when professors don’t cancel classes.  Or expect assignments due.  I’ve had students use up their “free” absences early in the semester then come to me all concerned because they needed to miss class for this.  Professors tend to respond to this with one extreme or the other:  either they cancel class or they have major tests/projects due.  I didn’t do either, though there was a super easy class that nearly everyone got 100 on.

Friday I was driving across campus on my way back from a meeting and I looked beside me to see a small sedan with about eight large frat boy stereotypes crammed inside.  I was only a little surprised to notice that one of the guys in the passenger seat was one of my students.  Suddenly he and the guy on his lap both noticed me looking at them and called out, “Hey, what’s up baby?”  I smiled and looked back at the road because the light had turned green.  And that’s when I heard, “Oh fuck!  That’s my TEACHER!”  Perhaps it’s the way his voice suddenly went falsetto on the word “teacher.”  Perhaps it was picturing the expression on his face Monday morning.  But it is hands down one of my most amusing student interactions ever.

(For the record, he came in slightly late on Monday and avoided eye contact as he signed in)

Survival tip for college drunkenness:  Make sure that chick you’re catcalling is not responsible for determining your grade.