From 2 Timothy

Queen Christina

Starring Greta Garbo, Queen Christina shows a woman who became the leader of Sweden as a child when her father died, lead like a man. Garbo captivates. I don’t think I’d seen her in a movie, just in photos. My, was she compelling. Her magnetism keeps all eyes on her. This strong, passionate queen had no qualms about leadership. Her problem is the nagging requests for her to marry the King of Spain.

In the beginning of the film she had no desire to marry. When she gets fed up with the wheedling to coax her into the King of Spain’s arms, she bolts from the court. Dressed as a man, followed by her mentor, she encounters the Spanish envoy whose carriage falls into a rut. She teases and mocks him and his retinue. When she overhears the envoy’s plan to take a room at a nearby inn, she beats him to it and takes the last room for miles. Incognito, the queen teases the envoy when he arrives at the inn. Yet he gets the last laugh when the innkeeper, who’s swayed by the envoy’s higher offer, convinces the disguised queen to share the room with the envoy.

It isn’t long before the queen’s gender is revealed to the envoy and before you know it, they’re madly in love. Of course that presents problems because 1) the envoy’s mission is to convey his King’s proposal to Queen Christina and 2) he’s bound to discover his love’s true identity.

Garbo gives a strong performance and the story offers a surprise ending. The costuming was elegant and arresting. I’ve got to see more of Garbo’s films. You should too.

Note: There was a Queen Christina, who ruled Sweden in the 17th century, but I can’t find any evidence that this film isn’t more than conjecture.

Hidden Fortress


The Hidden Fortress (1958) is another Kurosawa masterpiece that blew me away. Like characters from Shakespeare, two pusillanimous peasants bicker over how irritating they are to each other as they head home after escaping from a wartime prison. One stumbles upon some gold hidden in a stick in a river. An emblem on the stick shows that the gold is the fortune from the clan that lost the war. Greed overcomes the men and they start trying to get all the sticks they can. They become obsessed and go back and forth between cooperation and conflict over the gold.

This ancient, Japanese vaudeville act is soon upset when a strange man sees them hunting for the gold. Eventually, they learn he’s a legendary general who’s intent upon saving an exiled princess and returning her to safety and restoring her clan. As foolish as the peasants are, they do occasionally come up with clever ideas. The gruff general realizes their counterintuitive plan to go through enemy territory could work since no one expects them to take that route.

What follows is a story of courage and honor, peppered with outstanding action scenes, wit and just plain foolishness that made me smile. Toshiro Mifune is outstanding as the general, who’d probably love to ditch the peasants but keeps them with him just because they’d probably do more harm to his mission and themselves if left to their own devices.

The princess exudes force and honor as no other character, I can recall. Raised like a boy, she’s strong, brave and willful. Kurosawa shows that she cares for her people because she insists that the general buy one of her subjects who’s been sold to a brothel owner even though taking another person on their journey is risky. Various viewers have noted that the princess is played by an actress whose career never took off and that the performance is rather one dimensional. I see what they mean, but I don’t think that one weak performance hurt the film that much. The princess was quite compelling and not just a stereotypical character who needed saving so the story had momentum.

The one thing about the princess that puzzled me was that for some reason her eyebrows were drawn on at 45° angles. They were very dark and dominated her face.

Like many Kurosawa films, The Hidden Fortress has great power and grab me emotionally. All in all, The Hidden Fortress is a classic that’s not to be missed. It inspired George Lucas when he conceived of Star Wars. 

Politics & Gerrymandering in Illinois

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The problem in Illinois is that Mike Madigan, the head honcho of the Illinois Assembly, has held power for 49 years. This evil mastermind figured out that the way to wield power forever and to make millions is to win elections in a state district. All he has to do is win a small state district and through his Machiavellian tactics he can control whoever we elect as governor. He can also probably control the mayor of the biggest city in the state. Moreover, he can see to it that his party dominates in congressional winners for Illinois.

By determining the congressional districts’ boundaries Madigan controls who wins in congressional. Take a look at District 4. This should be the image used in any dictionary defining Gerrymandering. The green area is the oddest designation of a district. The communities it covers are oddly situated so that no rational person would consider them a unit, but they insure that Madigan can get the winner he wants.


Compare Illinois’ and Iowa’s congressional voting districts. Iowa’s makes sense to anyone. Illinois’ is an image that shouts corruption, a trait many of us are sick of.

Iowa v IL Map

Gerrymandering isn’t Madigan’s only sin. He’s created rules of governing that give him as Speaker of the State House imperial power over what laws get voted on. It’s impossible for a law that isn’t approved by Madigan to even get a chance at getting passed. Furthermore, Madigan has complete control over which committees a representative can be on. There are no checks or balances in Illinois’ politics.

Yesterday the citizens of Illinois had a terrible choice for governor: either a billionaire who never held a job and was taped by the FBI as he trashed African Americans in conversation with an imprisoned ex-governor or the incumbent billionaire who couldn’t get a budget approved in two years and scoffed at his base with bills against their values. We elected the former, J.B. Pritzker who certainly has no character to win against Madigan, the real power of the state. It’s a pity that J.B. wanted the job, because his sister, who worked for the Obama Administration is probably truly qualified.

The Job Hunting Problems Continue

Must confusion and anxiety be such a big part of job hunting?

March 8th a university offered me a job in Macau. I emailed them with two questions:

  1. Is there housing for the teachers?
  2. Is there insurance?

A day later I this reply:

Dear Susan,

Thank you very much for your enquiry.
I would suggest you to read the attached document concerning the medical scheme of UM. Yes, we will arrange on-campus accommodation for oversea recruited staff.

Should you have more questions, please let us know.

Okay, sounds good. That’s what I wanted so I accepted the job.

Time goes by and getting final approval for the job is taking longer than I expected. While a colleague told my employer I got another job, I write to my current employer, who only needs 3 or 4 teachers in the fall, to ask if I can return. I’m told all the spots are filled. Well, I’m still excited about the job so that’s no skin off my teeth.

Well 10 days ago I got an email from an assistant at University of ___ asking me when I was going to arrive in Macau so that she can arrange – wait for it – my temporary housing. I reply asking what she means by temporary housing. She refers me to personnel and they don’t respond for over a week.

A couple days ago I learn that there is no campus housing. The planned move to a new campus is postponed. Why they didn’t know this in April boggles the mind. The newspapers reported that the campus was in the inspection stage. I learned that the 108 new teachers who were promised housing now get 60 days of housing. Then maybe when the new campus opens in January, we will get campus housing. (Some will. Some won’t.) Between October and January, you’re on your own for housing. The school will subsidize housing with about $200. Apartments range from $800 – $1200 per month. So I’d be making $12,000 less a month.

As learning to negotiate is one of my goals, I emailed the director. I wrote:

Dear E.,

I’m very excited to start teaching at University of M, but I’m also very concerned about the uncertainty with the housing. As the email below shows, housing and insurance were my two main concerns when I accepted the position. In fact, I turned down an interview for a job that had both because of Ming’s response (below)*.

I understand that things change, however, there should be a way for the university to live up to Ming’s response, whether it’s extending the temporary housing till the new campus is ready or some other convenient solution.

I’m starting to have doubts about my decision, to be frank. When I was invited to interview, I was told my travel expenses would be reimbursed. I immediately replied saying I was flying from Cambodia to Macau then back to Jinan. No one told me that would be a problem. I was very open about coming from CAMTESOL. Then the school refused to reimburse my flight from Cambodia to Macau. Had I known that would have been denied, I would have used frequent flier miles for the first leg of my trip.

So you might be able to understand that I’m worried that the employee will bear the brunt when problems arise.

Can you see about a better housing option?



I got this response:

Dear Susan,

I can understand your frustration. In fact, many of the current staff have anxiety over housing issues as well, since we have no idea when the new campus housing will be ready to move in.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem easily solved.+ Currently, on this old campus, I am on the only person who lives on campus. Everyone else lives off campus in apartments around M and T. which range in cost from 6000-10,000 MOP per month. Some of the live with other teachers so as to reduce the costs. The housing subsidy is 1,650 MOP (I think) for Senior Instructors, so even with the subsidy, they have had to come up with a significant portion of the rent out of their own pockets. However, considering that the salary is much higher at UM than most places, especially universities in Mainland China, this is to be expected.

With the new campus, we feel sure that housing will be provided for teachers who were recruited from overseas, as M said. The housing is based on a point system, so that foreign teachers with families get priority over single foreign teachers. Local teachers or teachers who own housing in M are not eligible. Therefore, since the ELC mostly recruits from abroad, I feel confident that you will be offered an apartment on campus ……….. The problem is when the on-campus housing will open. It may be August, or it may not be until later (even next year perhaps). In the meantime, we can provide temporary housing at least for 60 days if on-campus housing is not provided.

Please realize that the other 8 new teaching staff at the ELC as well as over 100 new teaching staff at UM face the same problem.

If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

We will keep you informed about housing just as soon as we know something.

Take care.

To her credit, I think the director does wish she could do something. My problem is that I’ve worked for good directors in situations where they had no ability to change anything. The teachers were expected to deal with horrible or substandard situations. Now that may occur in any field, but it happens 99% of the time in (EFL) teaching. I’ve been told that we should be able to teach on a desert island, with no resources by someone who never taught a day in her life. Whether we should be able to do so, is an arcane question. The question I find more pertinent is Why? Particularly when the needs were known months ago.

While I have a good impression of the director, I’m not swayed by the fact that 108 professionals who probably were promised housing won’t get it. That just shows me that the school doesn’t care about its teachers or that they’re so overwhelmed that they can’t handle problems so they foist them on to the new staff.

What makes the whole matter worse is that I was told there’d be housing. I accepted the job and stopped interviewing and applying for others based on that information. Now there’s no action resulting from my stating that. There was no update on the housing once it was known that we’d be denied this benefit. Why should I trust what the school tells me? Why should I move forward with a job when there’s no trust and consideration?

I’m going to give the school another chance to come up with a better option. I’m going to put together another email and hope for a better outcome. I don’t like that the decent salary is made to sound like a king’s ransom just because other places pay a lot less. What does that have to do with the tea here (in China)? The market for my skills is not just Asia.

Needless to say I feel duped and miffed. I keep remembering all the times I’ve landed in bad jobs. I saw some red flags, stayed positive, and went ahead against my better judgment. Hell always followed. I won’t let that happen again. I’m going to try to get something better, but if that doesn’t work out, I won’t move forward. It’s been my experience that when I hold out for what I’m worth, I get it.

I realize not everyone gets an apartment with their job. That’s beside the point. My concern is that I asked a straightforward question and got a clear, simple answer, now they’re backing off their response.

When you discount your worth, people walk all over you.

*Such redundancies bug me. I should edit better!

Power Struggle

I had my first power struggle of the year in class today. I don’t recall any problems like this last year and they’re rare in China. I’ve got a new class and another class with students I’ve taught before. The new class has a lot of willing students of varying levels and a few who lean towards incorrigible. Four were absent the first couple days which is unusual for China. Truants tend to show up the first week and then occasionally if there’s a speech they must give or a test to, in their case, fail. It puzzles me that they bother, but they do.

After I asked the administrators to see if these students had transferred out, the four appeared, no doubt unwillingly. I almost wish I hadn’t said anything. They act like middle school troublemakers, which I suppose isn’t as bad as acting like high school rebels. These boys giggle and poke each other when they aren’t playing with their phones. While some students were giving speeches I saw some kids playing with cell phones so I confiscated them promising to return them at the end of the class. I hoped to nip this problem in the bud.

During the break, the boy whose phone I had took his back. When class resumed I asked the students where the phone was. No one said anything. Eventually one boy said it was his phone and he wouldn’t use it. I told him he needed to put the phone back on my podium. Defiant, he refused. He was really quite a jerk about it.
I don’t believe in losing my cool, but I also didn’t want to cave in setting a bad precedent for the semester.  I repeated my directions to place the phone back on the podium and said he’d have it at the end of class. He refused. Then I said unless the phone was forfeited, the end of the week video would not be shown and we would do work in the book instead.
That worked as his classmates urged him to forfeit the phone.  My training as an elementary teacher again pays off as I teach in a Chinese university.
My first group of students who graduated last year has said that the “younger” generation is more selfish and rebellious. It seems like I got a taste of that today. I don’t think this group will be easy.  I hope I’m wrong.