Updates:

Haven’t gotten any uni offers.
UCL, has, however, sent me a questionnaire, which means that they aren’t completely ruling out my application, which is great. But that means that I’ll have to write more stuff.

I’ve also just finished my 300 word statement to be sent along with my written work to Oxford. I’ll probably send it off by the end of this week. WISH ME LUCK.

is it time for a quarter life crisis yet? (re: graduation)

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Guess I’ve just graduated today, even though we’ve still got another week of school, and we’ve got to take our A Levels throughout November, and then there’s prom on December the third (which means that I’ve got about a week to frantically try to find a prom dress.)

It’s so weird to think that school’s out and the next time I go to school, I’d be in a completely different environment, probably even alone, overseas (and hopefully that is the case.) I know I did just come to the school I’m currently in about two years ago, but at least I had my bunch of friends in secondary school that I can always turn to when I’m uncomfortable with the new environment…not that the environment’s been all that uncomfortable after you get used to the culture shock (teachers no longer molly-coddle you and there isn’t as much of “pastoral care” as in a girls’ school where teachers do take time to talk to you about your personal issues) and the boys…but that wasn’t really an issue since I ended up in a class with two boys, who’ve been really nice and sensitive and non-misogynistic (thanks guys-in-class.)

Other than that, there isn’t too much of a difference between junior college and secondary school, but I doubt that’ll be the case in uni. Well, I don’t think the way tutorials/lectures are structured at Oxford (where I really hope to go to) and Durham will be that different from what I’m experiencing now, and in fact I do think that I might really enjoy the tutorial system there since it’s typically only between your tutor and yourself and sometimes another student, which means that you’re free to discuss what you’re concerned with as much as you wish (with regards to the tutorial topic) without having to worry about how other people might perceive your ideas…I’m not sure how well I’d adjust to the uni systems in other schools, but hopefully I’d be able to adapt.

Anyway, I do think I’ll really miss secondary school/junior college, as much as the education environment’s been rather “toxic” especially in year six, with all the pressure from your school and family and your peers to excel. Strangely enough, I might actually miss stressing out over deadlines and the things that I don’t understand in class. I’d miss being a major nerd with my friend and googling things in notes that aren’t really relevant to the exam-taking bit of education just to find out strange things about politicians and stuff. I’ll miss dragging myself to school on Tuesdays for the sole purpose of being in Southeast Asian history tutorials, and feeling enlightened after these tutorials, and I’d just miss the silly moments we have in tutorials.

Of course, I’d miss the people too. All throughout my time in Raffles, I’ve met the most wonderful people (and acquainted myself with some of them.) I’m pretty awkward, socially, so I don’t really have that many friends, but I do have a really close group of friends that I absolutely adore and even though other friends pass fleetingly throughout my time in school, I still stick to these groups of friends since…well…I suppose it’s because we do share some sorts of similar interests outside of class. One of my best friends from secondary school’s my go-to concert buddy since, well, she’s the perfect friend to go to concerts with. We’re into the same sort of music, and we’re pretty hardcore about getting front-row spots at concerts so we’d usually go to concerts really early to get the best spots. We’re both huge fans of children’s literature as well, and she’s a book collector, so we’d usually nerd out at the bookstore whenever we hang out. The other best friend from secondary school…well…is probably one of the only people in the world whose minds work at the same wavelengths as mine we do share a strange sort of humour. I’d say we’re like Daria and Jane from Daria – friends that judge the rest of our species together. It’s also cool that she follows the stuff I’m obsessed with as well (she sometimes gets into it before I do, like with Sherlock) so there’s someone I can rant to about new Doctor Who episodes or discuss Sherlock headcanons with. Oh, and we come up with plans to take over the world, except that none of them have been realised yet, and all of them have been rather ludicrous but we think they’d work if we have infinity amounts of money.

Then there are my new friends in junior college, who are somehow acquainted with the aforementioned best friend through mutual friends and extracurricular stuff. I must say, they’re the ones who’ve helped me cultivate my current work ethic since they’re both really disciplined and motivated, and I feel bad when I’m not working as hard as they are. I guess there’s sort of an implicit, friendly competition between us in terms of academics since I do find myself setting standards based on how well they do – and they both do really well – and it has helped me improve a lot. Of course, we do help each other figure things out since we aren’t eventually going to be competing with each other in terms of university applications and all that…one friend’s a Cambridge hopeful and the other wants to study design and architecture (which I really hope to see her do well in since good design’s always been my thing, even though I don’t wish to go into the field of design.) Outside of academics, one of these friends is a whovian – she’s the one who introduced me to the glorious whoniverse in the first place – and the other one is an anime fan. Both of them share my cynical world view, which is great because I can then discuss politics with them since my parents really aren’t the best people to talk about politics with.

As much as I’d miss my friends, I know that I’ll still hang out with them and see them around, albeit less often, but another group of people that I’ll really miss are my teachers. Some of the teachers that I’ve had aren’t the best educators (some teachers are just better able to convey information to their students than others), but they all certainly have been really kind and patient. I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I cannot stress this enough, that I’ve been incredibly lucky with the teachers that I’ve had throughout secondary school and junior college.

Earlier today, as a graduation gift, my form/literature tutor decided to give each of us a book from her personal book collection, which I was personally really touched by. Since there are twenty-one of us in class, the books must have costed her at least two hundred dollars, which is quite a lot to spend on a class of insolent children, not to mention that those are books that she’s probably had for ages, and being a literature/book lover, I must say that parting with your own books is really REALLY hard. I could barely bear to pass The Hobbit on to my brother, let alone give twenty one of my books away to students. Also, she’s picked out the books for every single one of us, based on what she thinks we’d like – one of my friends got a book on the culture and history of India since she’s really fascinated by it and she’s done a full extended essay for History on India, another one of my classmates got The Clockwork Orange, which really fitted her slightly rebellious personality, and my friend-whom-we-always-joke-about-being-the-PM-of-India got a Salman Rushdie book. For myself, I got Patrick McGarth’s “Asylum”, which I find, is a rather hilarious take on my one word self introduction on the first day of class: “(slightly) crazy”. I’m not really sure what this says about my mental state  (I do find myself being rather intrigued by psychopathic characters like Harley Quinn and the Joker, and Lecter Hannibal, out of many more psychos out there) but there are elements in this book that I know I’d really enjoy – it’s a gothic novel, and it includes a character who’s an artist, and an estranged woman trapped in an unimaginative marriage…and psychos. Yep, seems perfectly like me to read a book like that.

The one teacher that I’m probably going to miss the most, though, is probably my southeast asian history teacher. Not only is she an effective teacher, I know this sounds cheesy, but she’s a really inspiring one as well. It’s not “inspiring” in a sense that “the teacher keeps encouraging me despite my initial disinterest in the subject, convincing me to work harder to excel in it”, but for most of us – the generally sapiosexual bunch that tend to prioritise intelligence over certain other qualities, the fact that she knows so much about southeast asian history, and is able to craft her arguments so cleverly and succinctly, inspires us to want to be exactly like her…except maybe the ‘teacher’ part because we doubt we’d be as good at teaching as she is. (We just found out the other day that she studied not only international relations when she did her masters at LSE, but also economics, so she’s got LSE’s “economics and politics” part covered thoroughly. It goes without saying that a few of us did respond in awe.) I guess there’s a bit of idolisation in it, and let me just clarify that this isn’t all that weird since, well, a schoolmate of mine found out that the previously mentioned literature tutor’s class made a (sort of) fan blog for this history teacher…well, that was when the literature tutor was still a student in our school. And the best part about that is that the history teacher’s actually seen the blog and chats with her students on the blog. I guess that’s why she’s not all too weirded out by the idolatry she’s getting from us. Speaking of which, I popped by the office to get her to sign something for my Oxford application for me, and my friend came along to pass her a note she wrote (since it’s graduation and all), and she remembered that a few months ago, friend and other friend and I dropped off a letter of sorts in which we rambled about =feels= and thanked her for being such an amazing and patient teacher with us (and I think I did let some of that idolatry slip), so she thanked us for it, and friend and I had a little “senpai noticed me” moment. As for my Oxford application thing (she’s supposed to verify that the written work I’m sending is original and unaltered), she actually went over the essay I’m submitting again and we discussed the various essay options I have since I was concerned with sending an essay that I didn’t get the highest score for, but she said that it doesn’t really matter and the essay I’m sending is good enough. /squeak/ Affirmation from my favourite tutor feels pretty nice, it feels like I’m finally a teensy bit smart, or at least, smart enough to register on her intelligence scale.

So yes, the point is, I’ll really really miss my tutors after leaving school. I do already miss my secondary school teachers but I still talk to one of them on facebook. She’s a Benedict Cumberbatch fan so we fangirl over that together. I doubt I’ll find any of my current teachers on facebook or twitter, and if so, it’ll be rather awkward if I do add them as facebook friends or follow them on twitter since I don’t talk to my current tutors as casually as the way I talked to my previous teachers (which is justified since the tutors I have now don’t openly declare their love for Benedict Cumberbatch and Captain America’s butt.)

I don’t think I can be any more thankful for the experiences I’ve had in school, no matter how much I’ve complained about it before. I do suppose the next few years in university might be similar, but I’ll try to remind myself of how much I’d miss the experience once it’s over to enjoy it more.

/lagging/

Couldn’t possibly have came up with a cheesier title for the post, but anyway, that title IS relevant to..I suppose, my life right now, and the film I went to watch today, that I’ve been waiting to watch for AGES.

Okay, first things first, the film. Laggies.
It premiered at Sundance earlier this year, to pretty good reviews, and it stars my favourite actress ever since I was about nine or ten (I can’t remember) but I’ve watched all her movies since I watched her in pirates of the caribbean (yes I was so happy when I found Bend It Like Beckham in my school’s library and of course, I borrowed it to watch it at home.) I know it’s exactly three weeks till my exams, and I should be studying, but it stars Keira Knightley, so obviously I had to watch the movie, but since everyone else was busy studying (even the best friend who’s been partially grounded), I watched it alone.

When I got to the theatre, everyone in there were adults, which I thought was pretty weird since the film is, ultimately, /chokes on my words/ a rom-com. I don’t want to call it a rom-com since it cheapens the film but, yes, it undeniably is one. Maybe it’s the timing, or maybe it’s because the film isn’t publicised as much (as evident in how I had to travel to town to watch it since the cinema near school isn’t screening it), and there are other movies like /chokes on my words again/ the maze runner available (in which kids can squeal over actors throughout the entire movie, but alright, I do that too with Ryan Gosling, but hey, it’s Ryan Gosling we’re talking about.) Being alone in the theatre with a bunch of adults was rather intimidating though, even though I felt much less awkward after I shuffled over to my seat five minutes into the commercials and spent the next five minutes trying to get comfortable in my pullover (since my uniform is pretty darn scratchy under my pullover.) Eventually, I figured that watching Laggies alone with adults wasn’t too bad (or not as bad when I had to watch Guardians of the Galaxy with a bunch of boys from school whom I didn’t know, who weren’t exactly Marvel fans at all. GRR.) They didn’t mind me laughing at the silly parts, well, because they laughed too even though they are…well, adults, and y’know, serious, and not supposed to laugh about silly sex jokes. I don’t know. Is there a “laugh at silly sex jokes” card that you have to hand into some mysterious authority when you become an adult or something?

Anyway, the film was spectacular. I walked out of the theatre grinning so much, feeling so warm and fuzzy and happy, because like most entertaining, commercial rom-coms, it ended with a happy ending with the boy and the girl (or sometimes a boy and a boy or a girl and a girl or well…any variations available) getting together. Keira Knightley’s character doesn’t really sort her life out very much since she hasn’t got a job but hey, she’s made a head start by figuring out that relationships are complicated adult things and she ends up screwing her teenage friend’s dad and it is implied that they eventually get into a relationship and have their happily ever after. (It’s okay, her teenage friend doesn’t mind and wants her and her dad to get together, which might be sort of weird but it looks really cute.)

I’m not sure if anyone’s noticed this, but the film is pretty similarly structured to Keira Knightley’s previous film, Begin Again (which is another rom-com but it’s a really REALLY indie one), in which girl getting away from a slightly dysfunctional relationship meets dysfunctional family with an absent mom, and girl falls in love with the dad and girl befriends dad’s daughter, and there’s sort of a reconciliation of relationships between the daughter and the dad through the girl. That being said, both films end up quite differently. Begin Again takes a more realistic and empowering tone, in which girl ditches old love and new love, new love and ex-wife reconcile their relationship, girl moves on to find her place in the world (it, still, is pretty optimistic despite a sad undertone beneath the resolution of the story) whereas Laggies is slightly more unrealistic in its happily-ever-after-even-though-you-guys-have-only-been-together-for-a-week ending. That being said, the way Laggies concluded was really adorable, and for someone who actively seeks out fluff fan-fiction to read in my spare time, I really enjoyed it. Begin Again left me with that teeny itch that hasn’t been scratched, since y’know, while I appreciate the honesty and the film’s consistency to the message of ‘not selling out’, I am ultimately someone who watches films for entertainment. Laggies scratched that itch, gave me a standard Hollywood ending that I’m accustomed to, the ending that makes fairytales and I don’t actually mind since the film was well written, smart, funny and interesting.
I’m not sure if you guys get the comparison, but well, we studied George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan in literature and Begin Again can be compared to Bernard Shaw while Laggies is more Oscar Wilde in terms of the way they go about trying to get their message across while retaining the artistic value of entertainment. I wouldn’t say that one is better than the other, but I definitely enjoyed watching Laggies more than Begin Again, even though the music in Begin Again makes up for the gap that lies between both films.

Up till now, I’ve made Laggies sound like a rom com full of fluff that some film buffs might scoff at, but really, do watch it since there is much more beyond the romantic plot that carries all the subplot. (I do think that Laggies should get much more attention that it is getting right now because I don’t see it publicised a lot and most people don’t know about the film when I told them about it.) Beyond the romance, this film is really relatable to, I suppose, most people. I was watching the cast+crew’s panel at Sundance, and like Keira Knightley mentioned, practically everyone has a point in their life (or a few points in their lives) in which they stop to wonder if they are doing what they are meant to do with their lives, or when they don’t actually know what to do with their lives. Being a student who’s about to graduate from (the local equivalent of) high school, who’s applying to universities and all that, this question’s been plaguing me for, at the very least, the past year. There was a scene in which Megan (Keira’s character) and Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz’s character) were meeting her teacher, and her teacher wanted to discuss planning for Annika’s future, and Megan (who’s been consistently pressurised by her family and friends to get a stable job and settle down, as established earlier in the film) mentioned that there really isn’t a point planning so far ahead in your life since plans change, and you wouldn’t know what you’ll want in the future, and it really put into perspective some things that have been happening in my life. I mean, I’ve applied to uni, and if I do get into the university of my choice, I’d be committing myself to that for the next three years, and I’ll also be committing to myself to a career in the arts and humanities, that’s probably related to anthropology. If I do take up a scholarship, I’d be committing myself to a job I’ll have to take for six years following my graduation. Currently, I don’t mind a career in management, and I certainly wouldn’t mind a career related to the arts, if I do end up getting and taking up the arts or heritage scholarship, but I’m not sure if that’s what I’ll want to do in three years time. It’s a weird thing knowing that your choices in the next few months or so will impact the next decade of your life. I just hope that myself-in-ten-years will not regret the choices I’ve made when I’m eighteen.

Getting back to the film, the whole idea of dealing with the complexities of adulthood – of dealing with relationships maturely, of settling down and getting a job and not lazing on your parents couch, of, I guess, being responsible is something that I sort of fear, considering that I AM on the cusp of becoming =that= and soon it’ll not be possible for me to laze around in my room at my parents’ house and blog about stuff like this and rely on them anymore, and I’ll have to move out, get a job, get a mortgage, get my shit together… This film does not directly reassure me about that, since Megan simply gets a new boyfriend who has a stable job, well, she had a boyfriend earlier who also had a stable job, and I guess, lives with the guy and maybe even lives off the guy. It’s not something that I’d want, obviously, since I’m not the domestic sort, but I’m not the sort to slave away at a nine-to-five job either. But, I guess, the film does make a point to highlight that this responsibility is inevitable, but how you manage it is up to you, which is the nudge I need right now to get me to work.

So yes, I did walk out of the theatre feeling a little inspired and empowered, aside from feeling like fluffy candy floss inside from all the adorable bits in the movie.

That aside, right after the movie, the portal for us to check our Raffles Diploma results was finally unlocked (this sounds like a video game but no, it’s just a school portal…website thing) and I managed to get a Merit in both the domains that I applied for. It’s quite funny to think that I got an award in the cognitive domain for going on two school trips, which makes it seem like a phony, but oh well, I’d take the award. I got another one in leadership, which I didn’t think I will at the start of last year since I was never the sort to take up leadership roles (given my sense of responsibility, or lack thereof.) Well, I guess things changed a little for me, I became part of the system, even committed myself to twenty two hours of service learning that I didn’t really believe in (I wanted to volunteer at the local women’s organisation but they didn’t get back to me, sadly – it would probably have been something that I’d have enjoyed doing more since it was a cause I believed in.) Anyway, as much as I’d like to brush aside achievements and awards (since it’s 1. rather pompous to harp on it and 2. not something that you should focus on…it’s “quality, not quantity”, says the hypocritical society that ultimately gapes at a Harvard degree and shuns a-sizeable-percentage-of-people without a degree), I was pretty happy about it. It’s not all too important an award but it’s still a teeny bit of achievement that I’ll celebrate by working harder for the next two months for a place that starts with an “O” and ends with a “xford”. (Geesus I sound like a sellout now.)

aaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAHHH

My teacher sent off my application at noon yesterday, and UCL and Oxford have already gotten back to me to confirm my application. Manchester and Durham haven’t, but aaaaahhh. THIS IS HAPPENING. People are reading my application. Or they are going to. PROFESSORS, WHO OBVIOUSLY KNOW TONS ABOUT ANTHROPOLOGY AND ARCHAEOLOGY, ARE GOING TO READ THE APPLICATION. And they’re going to judge me. Hopefully I’ll be good enough for them… :<

school, and grades, and mundane stuff that you should probably just skip

School went surprisingly okay today.
We got the remaining of our grades, which I’ll get to later, and my teacher finally (sort of) replied to my request for her to write my teacher’s recommendation for my UCAS application.

So, grades. I managed to pull my grades up a little, generally, and did surprisingly well for a few essays. I managed to maintain my B for Literature, got a rather stable B for History, and scraped a C for Economics (which I was a tad disappointed with since I’ve always done slightly above average for Economics and now I’m just average. Dammit I’m shifting down the bell curve, which isn’t good because I’m supposed to improve and maintain my 70+ percentile!)

Literature was a pleasant surprise though, since the papers I thought I screwed up really bad were in fact rather well done. My essay for The Age of Innocence got a 20/25 even though I approached the question wrongly, but after re-reading through the essay today, I suppose it’s my annoyance at Newland Archer’s chauvinism and objectification of Ellen that got me my marks. (Well, I did scribble “Archer’s an idiot” at least thrice on my question paper.) My Duchess of Malfi essay was a borderline A as well, but I thought I did better for DoM than AoI since I’m much more familiar with the play. Either way, I scored As for both the essays that my literature tutor, who will also be writing my UCAS recommendation, marked…so that hopefully gives her a better impression of me. Also, it was really amusing how even though I barely understood the second poem in my poetry comparison essay, I managed to get a 15/25 (which is a B) and the tutor who marked my essay even scribbled “clear understanding of the poems” as a comment on my essay. Oh, and because I ran out of time, I didn’t get to finish my essay and only wrote one vague point for the essay yet she mentioned that it’s a promising start for an essay. Little did she know that what I’ve written’s all that I understand of the poem (or at least the second poem) and that I don’t really have much else to write for the essay. I suppose being really vague in your essay actually works in your favour sometimes since it’s better than over-interpreting the essay and getting it all wrong. On the other hand, I didn’t do as well for my literature paper 2, probably because I did expect my own Victorian literature teacher to mark my essay – since I did include a substantial bit in my Silas Marner essay that’s more about George Eliot’s reading of Comte and Feuerbach (which he told us about), that might not seem directly relevant to literature…but usually gets me more marks with that teacher. Anyway, I managed to do rather okay for literature although I do suppose I might have gotten myself an A if I didn’t screw up my comparison essay for Lady Windermere’s Fan and Mrs Warren’s Profession, which I wrote in a haste since I ran out of time.

History went pretty well too, and I actually managed to do better for Southeast Asian history than international history with a solid 19 for one essay. I feel like I’m beginning to learn how to hack History exams. Well I could probably have done similarly well for my second essay except I ignored a part of the question in my haste and got a 16 for it instead. As for my third essay, I didn’t actually study very much for it but our teacher practically gave us an outline for a similar question when she went through her revision lectures (since it’s really hard to deviate from the standard question for that topic), so I sort of regurgitated the outline with specific examples, and managed to get a 16 for it too. In the comments for that essay, though, she mentioned the argument wasn’t really strong…which is an accurate statement since I barely understood the topic fully, so it’ll be hard for me to form arguments or even opinions on the topic. My source based question was a surprise though, since I didn’t think I was deserving of a 14 since I spent only half an hour studying the topic the night before and my essay was only one and a half pages long, but then again, it’s not too difficult to get the basic marks for a source based question. I guess History isn’t really my main problem currently, since there are other things to work on (like Math and econs), but I’ll probably still spend the longest time studying for it as it’s the only subject that I can stand studying for prolonged periods of time without feeling frustrated or getting bored.

Economics….Was disappointing. Well, it wasn’t the grades that were disappointing, since I expected that I wouldn’t do that well for this paper, but my performance was disappointing because I messed up pretty bad. Even my economics teacher was rather disappointed with me, and I should probably get her something to make up for it because she had such faith. The funny thing was, I didn’t mess up on what I thought I screwed up – the source based question in which I misread a part of the question and had only 5 minutes to make up a 10 mark essay answer after realising my mistake was the one I did better (even though it was, admittedly, easier on the whole), and my essay questions that I thought I did better than my source based questions were not very well done. I did manage to get a 16 on one essay, but that isn’t as good as the 17 I managed last term, and on the essay that I thought I knew the answer to, I managed to only get a 13. I’m not really sure why but I guess I didn’t address the question well enough and simply regurgitated what I memorised (not a good idea). As for my third essay, I didn’t really have much time so I managed to get only a 12 for it, but it’s still better than the 8 I got the last time I ran out of time on an essay…probably because this question’s split into two parts and I got quite a substantial bit of my score from my first essay, whereas the last essay was a 25 mark essay which meant that I wasn’t able to address very much of the full requirements of the essay. Time management’s still very much a problem for economics, even though it’s gotten much better for history and literature, so I’ve got to sort that out. That and handwriting.

As for math, which is my only D this time around), I’m not sure what else I can do, really, other than to continue practicing and hoping that the A Level questions will be much more manageable than the ones our school sets. And my General Paper score was pretty alright, even though I don’t really know if I’ll be able to manage to do the same at the A Levels since my GP grades fluctuate wildly (depending on whether the markers agree on my stand on things.)

Grades aside, the lessons today were rather enjoyable except for Economics. My Math tutor seemed pretty pleased with the general improvement of the class, even though I don’t think I’ve made very much of an improvement (two marks…but one entire grade). Literature got a little stressful since our lecturer was going through the poetry comparison that I thought I messed up, and I spent the entire lesson worrying about my grades and disappointing my literature tutor even further, but all was well afterwards and the class seemed to have done alright. Southeast Asian history was really pleasant too since the class generally did pretty well (7 quality grades, up from 3 last term), so the atmosphere was rather light. One of the best bits was when my tutor was commending my friend for her essay, saying that it’s one of the best essays she’s ever read in all her years of marking, and another friend commented (a little too loudly), “that’s a lot of years.” That’s probably the first time anyone in class has ever sassed her since it’s always been the other way round. She’s always been snarky – in a funny way – when talking about our abilities but she’s got the right to since she’s really REALLY smart and we all look up to her for that. As for economics, well…most people did improve (I actually did too, but relative to the cohort, I think I slipped) and when checking our scores, my tutor went, “do you have anything to say to me” (albeit in a rather joking manner), to which she got flustered squeaks of “sorry!!!”. It seems as if her other classes have done stupendously well, whereas we sort of sucked in comparison even though we were consistently her favourite class. /sigh/ I feel like such a fluke for Economics now.

Anyway, I’ve got to work on my written statement for my Oxford application as well as a (sort of) resume for my civics tutor so she can write my recommendations…even though I don’t think I’ve got any significant achievements to be honest, other than getting the Doctor Who tumblr to reblog two of my posts, and getting tons of notes on my doctor mew collection of doodles, and learning how to write and speak elvish. Oh, and being pretty good at Doctor Who trivia and generally a major Doctor Who nerd.

the grand budapest hotel and good storytelling

I’m still bitter about having spent two and a half hours and twelve dollars at the cinema yesterday watching The Maze Runner having to endure my dad’s grouchiness (and his awful treatment of service staff that makes me wanna bury my head in the ground forever), as you can see, since I probably wouldn’t have gone but everyone’s raving reviews convinced me to watch it…leading me to be sorely disappointed.

Anyway, I finally managed to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel today (I’ve wanted to for ages and I went to the cinema intending to watch the Grand Budapest Hotel TWICE, but was turned away both times because I was a few months away from being 18) and it didn’t disappoint the least bit. Of course, I wouldn’t count on Wes Anderson to disappoint me since he’s made a few of my favourite movies like Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums, despite having sky high expectations for all his new releases.

Of course, I’m not going to review the film in its entirety since the movie’s been released for months and everyone who’s wanted to watch it already has or they probably intend to watch it (go watch it), and to those who are unconvinced, geesus please learn how to appreciate Wes Anderson’s craft. Instead, I’m going to talk about good storytelling, even though I’m rather unqualified to do so since I’m not even half good at writing and well…my English teachers would probably know more about that than me. Even so, as a ‘consumer’ of books and films and theatre, I suppose I’ve learned to discern between good and bad storytelling over the years, having read all sorts of books – trashy, non trashy, weird, not so weird, interesting, bland – and watched tons of movies (I’ve probably watched all the bring it on movies at least twice each because I got so bored at my grandparents’ place in Malaysia…there’s no internet there, don’t ask but I’ve also managed to watch The Godfather and The Silence of the Lambs in between all that…stuff.)

Anyway, back to The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has an amazingly written story and whimsical dialogue and comedic timing that works perfectly, it’s a good story because it fulfils its purpose to entertain and make people laugh, and tear up a little, and feel all warm and fuzzy inside – it makes people feel. Au contraire, The Maze Runner doesn’t work because I don’t feel emotionally invested in the fates of the characters so much so that I found myself checking my phone a few times during the movie to discuss the Bolshoi Ballet’s livestream recording for World Ballet Day with my friend instead.

Part of good storytelling, of course, comes from creating believable and relatable characters. None of the characters in The Grand Budapest Hotel’s perfect. Ralph Fiennes’s Monsieur Gustave, the Grand Budapest’s concierge, might seem to be a perfectly “good” protagonist stereotype…until we see that he provides, um…services…to some of the rich old women that make up the hotel’s main clientele. And of course, when he later gets caught up in the whole fiasco with regards to Madame D’s inheritance, he steals the painting (that he was supposed to inherit anyway) and lands himself in a stint in prison…and escapes. He’s a typical happy-go-lucky character, except beneath that surface, there’s depth in his dedication to the hotel and his servitude, and his occasional missteps. Similarly, his bell boy, Zero, isn’t perfect either. He first starts out as a bumbling new bell boy at the Grand Budapest on a probation (of sorts), and he soon gains the trust of Monsieur Gustave, who teaches him the tools of the trade. Despite being a nervous newbie, he’s not an entirely a dimwit either, especially after picking up some of Gustave’s habits – he’s the one who encouraged Monsieur Gustave to make off with the painting, and even negotiates the repatriations he would be given should Gustave sell the painting – of course, they don’t get to that part of the plan. These are characters that have their flaws, but have even stronger inherent traits like their happy-go-lucky-ness and their loyalty, and a sense of innocence or naivety that makes viewers believe these characters and root for them, wanting to see them succeed. This sense of involvement is what gets viewers engaged in the show.

We can also see this when we compare the audiences’ reactions to the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Doctors. What endears the first three doctors to the viewers is that despite their flaws, the Doctors are still dependable (or at least they try their best to save their companions and express grief upon losing their companions), and they’ve got traits such as 9th’s and 10th’s belief in protecting life and 11th’s aloofness or…well, puppy-like nature, with his sad puppy eyes and the need for constant affirmation so that he’ll forget his dark past. In contrast, many viewers feel less attached to the 12th Doctor because, while Moffat has decided to push the show towards a “darker” direction, the Doctor feels a little too dark. He no longer tells his companion to stick close on dangerous missions, his first reaction to danger is either to investigate it further or simply to escape, rather than to call out to the companion to, well, “run”. A recurring theme in the new series of Doctor Who is the constant abandonment of the companion, most of the time because the Doctor believes that Clara can handle the dangers on her own (and she does, and that’s good) but when this happens to often, your sense of trust in the Doctor is shaken. Instead of having a character that you love and endear, you start to fear the character and the dangers he bring. I’m not saying that the 12th Doctor doesn’t have any redeeming characteristics and I’m not saying that this series is bad, because this is honestly one of the best series of Doctor Who I’ve ever watched and that’s because Clara’s allowed to shine in every single episode, bar Time Heist, and her two-dimensional “Impossible Girl” identity is given greater depth and dimensionality in the new series. This might also be why fans are starting to call the new series the “Clara Oswald Show”, and I don’t blame them. (But I don’t mind Clara getting such a huge role either – it’s been quite a while since we’ve gotten such detail into a companion’s life anyway, since most companions have lives wrapped AROUND the Doctor, not the other way round.)

I’ve deviated far enough from my original topic, so I’ll reel myself back and we’ll leave the Doctor Who talk to another day (probably till the end of the series.) Aside from believable characters, good storytelling also comes from well written plots and in the case of TV shows and films, well written dialogue as well. I’m a literature student, and I know I don’t analyse this well enough (and I should probably pay attention to that more), but DICTION is of utmost importance in writing. Of course, I’m not expecting TV and film writers to pay as much attention to every single word they use as poets do, but this does make a huge difference between a rather unappealing movie and a brilliant one. I’m not saying that a writer has to use huge words either – in fact, that might sometimes put viewers off. Write simply such that your message is brought across more effectively. Case in point, Neil Gaiman’s writing. Well if you don’t know, I absolutely revere Neil Gaiman and I do agree with many that he IS the “Master of Storytelling”. He doesn’t write with huge and complicated words, rather, he is concise and to the point about what he’s describing, such that readers are able to visualise clearly the world he’s creating. Furthermore, the way he manipulates simple words to evoke emotions is so very incredible, I wish I knew how to do that but I just don’t have the skills to. In The Doctor’s Wife, one of the best episodes of Doctor Who in the NuWho era, there’s this farewell scene between the Doctor and Idris, who’s the TARDIS in human form:

Idris: Doctor. Are you there? It’s so very dark in here.
The Doctor: I’m here. Hey.
Idris: I’ve been looking for a word. A big, complicated word, but so sad. I found it now.
The Doctor: What word?
Idris: “Alive.” I’m alive.
The Doctor: Alive isn’t sad.
Idris: It’s sad when it’s over. I’ll always be here. But this is when we talked. And now even that has come to an end.

Of course, everyone was in tears and sobbing uncontrollably by the end of this scene, because the TARDIS – despite having been the Doctor’s constant and most loyal companion – has never ever had the chance to speak to the Doctor (yes the TARDIS is a perfectly sentient, alive, biological organism. In fact, a TARDIS has an almost symbiotic relationship with her time lord). Not to mention that the Doctor himself has had a rather unique relationship to his Type 40 TARDIS since he “stole” her and together, they’ve experienced adventures like no other time lord or TARDIS had. That scene was one of the most poignant and beautiful moments of Doctor Who and it conveyed the bittersweet nature of their farewell so eloquently despite using such simple language. I’m not exactly sure how Neil Gaiman does this, I wish I knew the tricks, but then again if everyone knew how to write like he does, everyone’d be master storyteller too.

Finally, the key to good storytelling is to TELL A STORY. Yes, just tell a fucking story. Symbolism? Great. Huge, social commentaries about life and death and capitalism and all that? Good too. But you know what a play or a film or fiction is? Art and entertainment. You can try to fill your story with huge and important social commentaries but if you don’t make it palatable, people are not going to want to watch it or read it, and this is why The Maze Runner fails. I do agree that there’s an important message about corruption and environmental degradation in the movie, but if your audience is going to either get so freaked out by hugeass spiders that they turn off, or they get so bored that they start checking their phones, or…well, they just spend the entire time squealing over the actors (which really says something about your writing because your viewers are paying more attention to the physical aspects of the actors instead of the story itself), you aren’t going to get your message across. In storytelling, the story comes first. Write it like you’re telling a child a story (but please, not in a condescending way because I hate it when adults constantly think that children are dumb and need to be taught and protected – they do not.) If need be, narrate the story like you would when you’re reading a fairytale to a child, like how Neil Gaiman writes his books, like how Wes Anderson writes his movies, like how Tolkien, through Bilbo’s eyes, narrate the occurrence of the events in the Hobbit to dear Frodo. I do enjoy hearing a narrative voice in the stories I read, because it gives you a sense of closeness and familiarity to the story and the person telling the story.

The thing is, I’ve never really realised the importance of entertainment in narrative art forms until we started studying Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession and Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan in literature. Both Lady Windermere’s Fan and Mrs Warren’s Profession are plays including two rather headstrong women with their unconventional mothers, and both serve as commentaries on the hypocrisy and corruption of society. Wilde, as everyone knows, is an amazing storyteller. His writing his humorous and tongue-in-cheek, and Lady Windermere’s Fan is no different. Even so, the play isn’t filled with slapstick humour and jokes, there are interjections of serious moments where Wilde highlights his message. Even the jokes about marriage and the double standards of women in society bring forth the authorial intent with subtlety and clarity. In comparison, Shaw goes on lengthy and rather preachy rants about how capitalism is corrupting mankind and pushing women and the poor to means like prostitution to survive. Sure, after reading the play, everyone gets that Shaw thinks that capitalism is evil and that it corrupts society, but that is because we are compelled to read the play since our A Level grades depend on it. Should the play be put up, I’m pretty sure Shaw will lose most of his audience by the end of Act II (trust me, I sat in front of two junior boys who were completely lost during Mrs Warren’s huge rant.) Before you think, who’s this kid to complain about George Bernard Shaw (who also wrote the play, Pygmalion, that inspired My Fair Lady), I’m not the only one who says this. In fact, my literature teacher’s criticised Shaw’s writing in Mrs Warren’s Profession quite a few times, not only on the incoherence in the story but also on his style of writing, in comparison to Wilde’s, seeing that it puts a rather bad taste in his viewer’s mouths. Then again, Mrs Warren’s Profession is one of what Shaw calls, his “Plays Unpleasant”, which means that he’s already setting out to insult and criticise all of society, withholding any tact or purpose to entertain.

Of course, the above are all my own views, and if you’re an actual writer, you can probably ignore the above since you’re more likely to be more qualified to discuss the topic than I am, but this is just my two cent’s worth. That being said, if you disagree with any of the above, maybe you can pop a comment at the bottom of the post so I’ll know what others think of good storytelling.

Why are people so obsessed with giant spiders aka The Maze Runner review

My mom decided to drop by my aunt’s for the weekend because we’ve got a three day break this weekend and my brother’s exams are over, so i’m stuck home alone with my brother and my dad….which also means that all studying ceases. My brother wanted to watch a movie today so we went out to watch The Maze Runner even though I’d much rather watch the Boxtrolls. Well we only picked the former because there wasn’t a suitable timing for us to watch the Boxtrolls. And I couldn’t watch anything else (like Gone Girl) since the movies I watch with my brother and dad either have to be comedic or filled with violence and action, lest they be bored.
As you might already be able to tell, I’m a little bitter about not getting to watch the Boxtrolls over The Maze Runner because, well…The Maze Runner wasn’t that good. There was tons of hype about it, tons of people on twitter were raving about it, so I decided to give it a chance but honestly, it just didn’t work for me.

First of all, I’ll have to make it clear that I haven’t read the book before, so I didn’t really know what would happen in the movie. Then again, after the movie, I read the summary of the book’s plot on wiki and it seems rather different from the movie, and I actually think the book’s plot worked better. Anyway, on the topic of The Maze Runner’s plot, let’s just say it doesn’t have a very strong or coherent plot, and I’d credit that to bad storytelling. It has such a weak narrative that I’m actually rather thankful for Steven Moffat and series 6 of Doctor Who – it’s just that bad.

I don’t know if this is just because I didn’t read the book beforehand, but for science-fiction movies like this, which are set in rather unfamiliar settings, there needs to be a strong enough narrative to fill the viewers in on the setting. Upon Thomas’s arrival in the Glade, we are introduced to the wall and the maze – which viewers are told is dangerous (we later see what’s so dangerous about it). We’re also introduced to the “Runners”, the only people that are allowed into the maze. Sure, that is an attempt in setting the scene for viewers, but we don’t know how all these came about. Who decides the hierarchy of this mini-civilisation? How did they come to be so afraid of what is beyond the walls? How were all the boys conditioned to think that staying within the walls and protecting their delicate little civilisation was better than attempting to escape? Since viewers don’t know anything about the background of the characters or the place, there is little to connect viewers to the movie emotionally, such that the impact of the movie’s minimised.

I’ve seen a twitter friend compare this to The Hunger Games trilogy, arguing that The Maze Runner is better, and that might be true in terms of the concept (since whatever’s done in THG has already been done – in an even bloodier way – in battle royale.) Storytelling wise, The Maze Runner falls far behind The Hunger Games. In THG, we are given relatable characters that we can empathise with because we know their background and we know the corrupt system that they are put in. When viewers are introduced to the system of “reaping” and of getting children to kill each other in the arena to warn the citizens of Panem about their haplessness against the system, we know that something is wrong and we feel sorry for the characters and their plight. In contrast, we don’t get to see very much of that in The Maze Runner, especially in the first half of the movie. You don’t know the backgrounds of the characters, you don’t understand the society present in the movie, you don’t really get that these kids are part of a twisted experiment until the second half of the movie. Furthermore, something that really builds emotional connection between viewers and characters is the relationships present, and that is very much absent throughout The Maze Runner. Katniss Everdeen? She’s got a mother and a sister to take care of. She’s got her friends. You know she’s conflicted about how she’s supposed to feel towards the rest of the tributes. This isn’t really present in The Maze Runner because your protagonist is distrustful of practically everyone else (and he should probably be). We only get to see him develop a =sort of= friendship with Chuck, Newt and Minho but their relationships seem more like a partnership than a genuine friendship. Well, there was a moment where Chuck reminisces about his parents but as he mentioned, he can’t really miss them because his memory is wiped. That moment was sort of poignant but it didn’t make that much of an emotional impact to allow viewers to connect with the character.

Another problem with the storytelling is the character development for Thomas. You know how whenever a female character’s super good at something and gets everyone out of shit even though she sometimes is the one creating shit (but gets away with it because everyone likes her), she’s called a Mary Sue right? Thomas is a Mary Sue. He breaks all the rules, triggers something that leads to at least half the boys being exterminated by weirdass creatures, but everyone still likes and trusts him anyway because he runs super fast and he’s the first person, in three years, to actually find a lead to get the boys out…oh, and he found the lead in three days. Also, does no one wonder why Thomas is the only one who actually protests against the system? Don’t tell me that in those three years, with all the 36 boys (since they bring a new boy into the Glade every month), none of them had the fight or flight instinct to do attempt what Thomas did? Sheesh and no one killed one of those nasty spider things before? Not even accidentally? Geesus. The next time someone calls Tauriel or Black Widow a Mary Sue, let me direct them to this “special snowflake”.

Speaking of freakishly huge spiders, why are people so obsessed with giant spiders? We saw them in Tolkien’s Mirkwood, and they appeared again in the Forbidden Forest in Harry Potter, and guess what, they’re appearing on the moon in tonight’s episode of Doctor Who. They’re either over-exploiting people’s arachnophobia or maybe they just can’t come up with anything that’s more intimidating. (Seriously though, writers, why not giant moths? Or giant beetles? Or giant millipedes or even scorpions? Why spiders?!)

On another note, while people credit The Maze Runner for its racial representation (yay for token Asian guy and African American characters – okay maybe I should sound more enthusiastic because this IS a good thing), the movie still doesn’t go very far with regards to female representation though. (Yeah if you read my blog, you’d probably know this is coming because this is something I always include in my reviews or rambles on movies.) If you put the movie to even the most basic of tests – the Bechdel test (which I know isn’t always that accurate), the movie fails terribly because, well….there’s only one female character. That might be forgivable because they’ve only dumped boys into the Glade until the last bit where they dumped Thomas’s female research partner into the Glade as well. Still, she isn’t given very much to do in the movie. She appears only in the second half of the movie, pops up a few times, takes a rather passive role in terms of the boys’ escape, and when a certain character dies at the end of the movie, guess who they show crying first? Why am I not surprised at this relegation of the female protagonist as a mere ‘assistant’ to the main, male protagonist anymore.

Finally, this seems to just be a personal observation, but does anyone get reminded a little of Lord of the Flies while watching the movie? Well, bar the whole dystopian scientific experiment thing because that seems a little more Ender’s Game. A group of boys being stranded in some foreign land against their will, having to establish order amongst themselves. They are being scared by the unknown (a pig in the case of Lord of the Flies, the spiders in The Maze Runner) into maintaining their rather haphazardly created civilisation, even though they’re eventually split with a group wishing to escape from their plight and another wanting to maintain status quo. Oh, and there’s even a chubby sidekick who eventually gets killed in the end trying to protect the main protagonist! How original. (Trust me I spent an entire year studying Lord of the Flies and I know the book inside out and outside in. I know Lord of the Flies when I see Lord of the Flies.)

Overall, the movie was a disappointment, since I don’t really bother with the action and all unless it looks all sleek and fancy like in Marvel and DC movies (I do appreciate a well choreographed fight as much as I appreciate good ballet choreography.) It honestly isn’t worth all the hype that I’ve seen going on, and I could’ve just stayed home to watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s World Ballet Day livestream instead. Or I could’ve dragged my dad to a further cinema to watch the Boxtrolls instead, or even Guardians of the Galaxy (again). Ah well, at least I’ll know not to go watch the following movies for this series. And that I should just get along with reading the Game of Thrones books I’ve been meaning to read for a while instead of reading the maze runner books.

stuff

Today’s the first day of school in weeks, but it’s alright because we get a three day weekend this week so I’ll get to sleep in for the next few days to make up for me waking up at 6.30am today.
Since these few days of school’s simply for the returning of our preliminary papers and for going through the papers, today hasn’t been too taxing. We didn’t receive our literature paper today, much to my relief, since I did really awfully for the first literature paper and I don’t think I’m able to face the tragedy that’s my paper 1 grades without my (supposedly) much better paper 2 grades to mitigate the impact. Anyway, the literature teacher didn’t actually stop me to check my work today so I suppose I didn’t do all too badly for her paper……I hope? (She’s writing my recommendations for my UCAS application.)

On a (much) more optimistic note, I managed to get a B for international history, and two (out of four) of my essays are A essays, which either means that I’m actually getting a hang of things or maybe the teacher’s just more lenient. Either way, I managed to break the “glass ceiling” for international history grades, since the teacher grading our papers isn’t known to give out A grades, even for the best students with the best essays (maybe he’s been withholding the As), not to mention that I also managed to scrape a 14 for my source based question for history even though I barely knew anything about the topic and stuffed my essay with fluff or vague notions of things that happened and the people involved (heh.) Seeing that I don’t think I screwed up southeast asian history that badly (except my source based question), unless I screwed up and didn’t actually know that I screw up, I suppose I’ll be getting a B or at the very least a C for history, which also means that I’ll probably get an A for my predicted grades. So that’s one A settled.

We got our General Paper scripts back too, and I – amazingly – didn’t screw up my essay and managed to get an A for it. Geez you have no idea how relieved I was because our teacher was going through our individual scripts before passing them on to us, and my peers who attempted the same question didn’t manage to do that well since there was two parts to the question and most only tackled the first part. Anyway, it was a question I wasn’t all too familiar with (it was about censorship) but I had to attempt since I didn’t really know how to answer the other questions, and I thought I messed it up really badly because it felt like I went on a ramble throughout the paper, but I suppose my marker thought otherwise. My comprehension paper wasn’t done as well, even though it was still done decently (thanks to the summary and application question sections), which left me with an overall B. Which means that I’ll probably get an A for my predicted grade as well, but General Paper doesn’t really matter in the UCAS application. Either way, it’ll still look good.

We received our Math paper too, and it was a teensy bit better than I expected. I managed to scrape a D for Math, which is a grade higher than last term, and miiiiight possibly get me a predicted A grade, even though I’m treading on the thin line between a predicted A and B. (Yes our predicted grades are bumped up to become much higher than our original prelim grades because we tend to churn out really high percentages of As during the A Levels) Then again, Oxford only specified 3 As, so I guess a B for math might not really taint my application THAT much – even though it might put me at a disadvantage…I’m not sure how that will work out, but I guess there are always other schools. I’m pretty sure Durham wouldn’t mind that much, considering that they specified an AAB requirement.

None of my grades were really devastating – I either did as I expected or even better than I expected, so I hope this streak carries on for the next week or so.

Anyway, today was a pretty good day. I got to hang out with some of my friends from art in secondary school, including the best friend, and it was fun catching up with everyone else, not to mention that we got pretty good burgers from Fatboys (even though it was REALLY filling.) On our way back, we came across this gorgeous kitten in a pet store…Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 6.11.40 PM

Just look at those mesmerising eyes and that beautiful fur, she’s such a charming and chubby kitty.

When I got home, the new fibre internet’s been installed and now the internet speed’s so fast it almost makes me cry. Or tear up, just a little. AND!!! The books I ordered online the other day arrived! I was only expecting one parcel to arrive today since they sent me a text yesterday, but both books arrived on the same day, much earlier than the expected date of arrival too.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 6.11.28 PM

Time to get reading so I’ll finish these by December, along with the books I just bought the other day. Well I’ve finished one of those about human evolution, and it’s really interesting even though some of the author’s arguments (made based on observations over a long period of time in human evolution) don’t really fit within modern society (even though it should even though modern society as we know it is just a teeny part of human history, since short term development of human society can be seen as a microcosm of longer term human evolutionary history.) I suppose I’ll be able to read about this from more varied viewpoints in the other books and come to my own conclusion later, but in the meantime I’ll just um….have dinner.

Sent off my UCAS application yesterday

Spent a few days wondering if I should send off my UCAS application this week or the next because the internal deadline’s next week but I’m done with my essay (and I’ve done about three or four different drafts – two of which were looked at by my college admissions counsellor) so…..I DID IT. I sent off my essay. (Well I’ve got to send off my application during the weekend when my dad’s at home because I need to borrow his credit card to pay for the application) so…yes.

I’ve emailed my teacher to write my recommendation (I feel so awful though because the teachers are all marking our papers but they’ve got to write our recommendations as well) so it’s time to just wait and um…waaaaiiiiit….and hopefully get positive replies from the universities I’ve applied to.

Oh yes, I’ve got to send in written work for Oxford too, but I suppose I’ll have to talk to my college admissions counsellor about that when I get back to school on Friday or something.

So, most of my UK application’s done. Wish me luck

On a side note, my friend who applied to Cambridge (which means that she submitted her UCAS application about a month ago) has already gotten a reply from St Andrews University (SHE GOT A CONDITIONAL OFFER /flails/ so I’m really happy for her and I’m really nervous and excited to hear back from my colleges too.