General Notes about my English lessons and life in Viet Nam.
Author: Thay Paul's notes
London-born English teacher, now living and working in Sai Gon, Viet Nam.
I want to use this site to post lesson notes, extra work, helpful links as well as general notes about my time in SE Asia and Viet Nam. I also want to give real classroom experiences and how to deal with real classes of noisy, unmotivated and resistant students. Additionally, I'll be posting links to films, publishing plays and stories, and introducing friends who work in the arts.
Tomorrow I have a class taking their IELTS speaking test. Thus, I present a reminder about what you need to say in order to:
ace the test
pass with flying colours
hit that baby right out of the ballpark
I will be listening for the following:
Fluency – use of discourse markers. WITHOUT A WIDE RANGE OF DISCOURSE MARKERS YOU WILL NOT GET HIGHER THAN A ‘5’.
Lexical resources – Low-frequency words (big words). Know synonyms and multi-syllable words to impress the examiner. Not to mention, a sprinkling of idioms, phrases, phrasal verbs. Paraphrasing is very important
Grammar – it’s OK to make a few mistakes, grammatically, but what we want to hear are complex structures – basically, altering the structure of a sentence or including several pieces of information in one sentence by using relative pronouns.
Stress and intonation – listen to native speakers and COPY how we speak, when we stress words, when we ‘swallow’ letters, our body language.
Fluency – Ability to speak at length without noticeable effort. A good range of discourse markers and connectives. Answer is coherent and pertinent. Self-correction is totally acceptable.
Lexical Resources – A wide vocabulary to cover a variety of topics. Low-frequency words. Ability to form collocations. Use of everyday as well as less common idioms and expressions. Paraphrasing, by which I mean rephrase the question you have been asked – don’t just repeat the exact wording.
Grammatical Range – A combination of simple and complex sentences. Generally error-free. Verb tenses must be correct, and subject must agree with verb form.
Pronunciation – Must be clear and easily understood. Effective use of stress, intonation and rhythm. If you are telling a happy story, sound happy.
Oedipus, along with Sisyphus, Achilles and Odysseus, is a figure from Greek myth who is part of our modern psyche. His story, whose key points are widely known, belongs to our collective cultural history; he lends his name to a psychological complex. In philosophy, Oedipus can be discussed as a case of free will versus determinism.
Oedipus was certainly no hero in the Theseus or Perseus mold. An argument could be made that he was no hero at all, but a tragic figure. However, he was strong enough to overcome four royal guards single-handedly, and intelligent enough to solve the riddle of the Sphinx, thereby freeing the people of Thebes.
A warrior (like Achilles), an strategist (like Odysseus), a character doomed for unimaginable punishment (like Sisyphus) ? We see what a complex character Oedipus is, and why he still holds our interest and awe.
So, the key points, what the ‘average person’ knows about Oedipus:
He killed his father and slept with his mother
He solved the Riddle of the Sphinx
Some background is necessary. Some clarification is absolutely necessary.
Firstly, he unwittingly killed his father (King Laius; I shall elucidate later). Secondly, as a reward for freeing Thebes from the curse of the Sphinx, Oedipus was given Queen Jocasta, Laius’ widow, to wed. The patricide and insest were commited freely. Or were they ? Oedipus had been told that he would kill his father and marry his mother, which is exactly what happened, despite his determination to prove the prophecy false.
Therefore, it is my contention that Oedipus was punished for having the hubris to believe that he could defy fate. Yet, the question remains: why was Oedipus fated for such a punishment ? For that, we have to go back a generation and learn about his father, King Laius of Thebes.
Laius was from the House of Thebes and, as a young man, left his home town and stayed in Elis with King Pelops, a grandson of Zeus and son of Tantalus (but that is another story). Laius was a guest, and became tutor to Pelops’ son Chrysippus. Laius committed the unpardonable sins of abducting and raping the boy. For this he was cursed. Should he ever have a son, that child would murder him, then marry the widow. Despite Laius forcing himself to decline the pleasure of his wife, nature, to employ a phrase, took its course. A son was born, a son that Laius demanded be left alone on a mountain, his feet pinned together.
The shepherd charged with this duty gave the baby to a friend from Corinth, where the baby was adopted by the childless King Polybus and Queen Meriope. The child was named Oedipus, meaning swollen foot (and from which we get the medical term oedema, swelling in the feet and ankles) . Oedipus loved and was loved by his parents, and all was well in Corinth. Until, that is, a drunken man told Oedipus the truth, that he was not the natural child. Polybus and Meriope denied this, but Oedipus (in perhaps his first mistake, not believing his parents) travelled to the Oracle at Delphi to learn the truth. His origin was confirmed, and his fate, to kill his father and marry his mother, was proclaimed.
In an attempt to avoid this prophecy, Oedipus travelled instead to Thebes. On this journey, he met a carriage coming towards him. Either the driver grazed him, struck him, or demanded that he yield and give way. This infuriated Oedipus, and a fight ensued. In the carriage was an old man; King Laius. The King and all his guards, all but one of the retinue, were slain by Oedipus for their disrespectful treatment of a king’s son.
Whether he was brave to refuse this slight, or flawed by an uncontrollable albeit understandable anger, Oedipus had unwittingly fulfilled the first part of the prophecy.
Continuing on to Thebes, Oedipus encountered the Sphinx and solved the riddle (which I’m sure you are all familiar with). Defeated, the Sphinx killed herself and, as mentioned earlier, Oedipus was given the widowed Queen Jocasta. The had four children and all was well. For a time. A plague decimated Thebes, and it would not abate until the murderer of Laius was found and punished. Eventually, it was revealed that Oedipus was the killer. Jocasta hanged herself, Oedipus blinded himself and went into self-imposed exile, wandering the countryside and dying just outside Athens.
The Greek myths, unlike theological texts such as the Talmud, Bible and Koran, are incredibly flexible and varied, altering from city to city, as well as over time. Just how much people believed or accepted them will never be known, but many people would have been aware of the more famous myths.
Many myths that involve retribution, such as are found in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’ are read as cautionary tales. Someone, a mortal, displayed a weakness that was so offensive they were punished. Some punishments were extremely harsh, but the reason could be clearly discerned. But how to understand Oedipus ? What, in fact was his digression ?
His fate was stated before he had done anything wrong. Maybe he didn’t accept his parent’s explanation, but that seems more contrary to Confucianism and filial piety. Greek myths are full of family in-fighting. He refused to yield to the carriage of King Laius and that pride led to fighting and murder, yet that could be attributed to self defense. Oedipus’ only fault seems to have been simply existing. Laius angered the gods. Why punish the son ?
I have read that some contemporary Greeks apparently thought the same, and began questioning the veracity of gods, myths and society. Such a harsh punishment for a young man who had rid a city of a curse made little if any sense. The psychological trauma would be unimaginable, which may explain the need to self mutilate, physical pain to numb the mental anguish.
To conclude, I am left to assert that Oedipus’ only crime was to try to defeat fate, to have the hubris to feel that a mere mortal, a king’s son notwithstanding, had the power to change the will of the gods. He honoured his father and mother but at the expense of the Immortals. Oedipus refused to accept his fate, for that he was doomed.
What else could Oedipus have done ? Should he have ignored the prophecy, or resign himself to the outcome ? The debate continues.
The employer is responsible for providing a safe working environment for staff.
In the physical workspace, the teacher should not be physically or verbally harmed in any way.
Kicking, hitting, being jumped on etc are unacceptable, and the offender needs to be punished.
In the online workspace, the teacher should not be expected to work with an unreasonable amount of background noise.
TAs and senior staff need to be more proactive in both recognising and addressing these problems.
The situation is clearly very stressful for all involved.
Let’s work together and make classes a fun, happy and, most importantly, appropriate place for learning.
Any student in a noisy environment should have their mic muted.
Any student who interrupts the class on a regular basis will be placed in the Waiting Room. Repetition of the offense will result in the student being barred from the class.
I have happy to report that my centre has taken action, and changes were implemented within a few hours of this posting. My Manager is pretty amazing that way – your help and input can not be overstated. Thank you.
On Monday 6th September Jean-Paul Belmondo, icon of French Cinema, passed away. Jean-Paul, who was 88, worked with many of the top names in French Cinema: Jean-Pierre Melville, with Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Claude Lelouche, with Agnes Varda and Louis Malle. With Jean-Luc Godard, the director with whom he will always be associated.
Belmondo was much more than an actor; he was a star. His charisma and screen presence was inimitable. In the three films he made with Godard, he portrayed a petty criminal being hunted by the police (‘A Bout de Souffle’), a lovable rogue with a flair for comedy and dance (‘Une Femme est une Femme’) and an existential adventurer on the road to freedom (‘Pierrot le Feu’). With these three film alone, Belmondo became a part of Cinema history.
What are their plans for the evening ? Belmondo wants to watch a film on TV “With my friend Burt Lancaster.” He turns to the camera and smiles.
Such a scene is typical of the Nouvelle Vague, the French New Wave of Cinema that wanted to move away from studio sets and unrealistic dialogue. It was youth, energy, charm in abundance, and it was referential and respectful to Cinema and filmmaking. We hear projectors whirl, clapperboards clapping, calls for “Lights, cameras, action.” Characters were named after directors (in the above scene, Belmondo is named after the German director Ernst Lubitsch), they would turn to the camera and address the audience. Cinema was fun, it was life, “In a word ’emotion’,” and we were all invited. Fifty years later, the films retain this exuberance, this spirit, this joie de vivre.
Belomondo’s performances contribute to this magic because, for me, that is exactly what Cinema is, what it should be – pure magic.
Jean-Paul died aged 88, so at that age, death is not a tragedy. The tragedy is that he is irreplaceable. His persona was unique. So unique. For many cineastes, he is part of our cultural DNA, his work is ineffably part of our lives, which he enriched.
If you’re not familiar with Jean-Paul’s work, here’s a good place to start, some clips from fifteen of his films:
As a prelude to some blogs about my favourite Korean films, I would like to post a little tribute to one of my favourite actors, Lee Eun-ju (also known as Lee Eun-joo). The actress, who was also a talented pianist, appeared in some of my favourite Korean films of the early 2000s.
Lee Eun-ju was born in Gunsan, south-west Korea, on December 22nd 1980, and studied piano when she was at school. At sixteen, she won a modelling contest. From there, she moved into TV dramas and then movies.
One of her earliest roles was in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors” (2000). This art film, shot in black & white, tells the story of how two people meet, and is told in flashbacks showing different perspectives and while some events are similar, others are very different.
The film is one of my top Korean movies. Anthony Leong writes that Lee Eun-ju “delivers the standout performance,” and her charisma is “one of the highlights,” of the film.
The following year, Lee Eun-ju appeared in the reincarnation love-story, ‘Bungee Jumping of their Own’ (2001). She plays a shy girl who falls in love, eventually, with a young man with whom she shares an umbrella during a storm. However, after planning to meet one day, she fails to appear and is never seen again. I will not spoil the film (too much) but many years later, the young man, now a teacher, meets a boy student who shares many of his old lover’s mannerisms.
The theme of boy meets girl – falls in love – one of them dies is stepped up a notch in another one of my personal favourite Korean films, ‘Lovers’ Concerto’ (2002). I even watched it (again) last night, to prepare for this blog. Lee Eun-ju shows her acting skills, as she portrays a young lady who is by turns spoilt, unreasonable, tender, loving and so fragile. With her charm and charisma, she really lights up the screen.
Unfortunately, Lee Eun-ju found her last film, The Scarlet Letter’ (2004) a very traumatic experience, along with the subsequent poor reception and backlash. The film, her family assert, caused her to fall into a deep depression, exacerbated by insomnia. On February 22 2004, Lee Eun-ju took her own life. She was only twenty-four.
How heartbreaking that someone with so much to offer should be so unhappy. How heartbreaking to think of all the films she could have made. How amazing that an actress with just thirteen film credits should be in two of my absolute favourites.
Thank you so much … miss you so much
매우 감사합니다 ... 당신이 너무 그리워
Lee Eun-ju 1980 – 2004
Leong, Anthony C.Y. ‘Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong’ (2002) Trafford
Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to another beloved musician. Last Tuesday Charlie Watts drummer with the Rolling Stones passed away in London.
I was lucky enough to see the Stones twice, in football grounds (Wembley in London, and in Copenhagen), but I also saw Charlie in a much smaller London theatre where he performed a tribute to Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Apart from being a Rock ‘n’ Roll legend, Charlie was a Jazz lover, and played with small groups and big bands.
Stones guitarist Keith Richards posted this image:
The tip of the tip of the iceberg; a handful of books that I would like to read over the next year or so. All depends on time, energy and availability. Be that as it may, here’s a short selection:
Guy Debord (1931 – 1994, France)
First up, the French artist and philosopher Debord who was part of the Situationist International (a group of intellectuals and artists) from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. His most famous work is from 1967, ‘Society of the Spectacle’ which analyses aspects of post-war society from a Marxist viewpoint (of course, the book is much more complex than that, but I want to keep this blog short and concise).
Ryszard Kapuściński (1932 – 2007, Poland)
A poet and journalist, Kapuściński was considered for a Noble Prize. ‘Another day of Life’ from 1976 is an account of the civil war in Angola.
Madeline Miller (Born 1978, USA)
I read the Classics at University, and still love the myths of Ancient Greece and Rome. ‘Circe’ from 2018, is regarded in some circles as one of the best books of the 2010 – 2020 decade, and has been described as a feminist retelling of Homer’s ‘Odyssey’.
Ruth Ozeki (Born 1956, USA)
I read about this book while searching for Post-Post-Modern fiction (i.e. who are the present-day equivalents of David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers et al). This novel sounds extremely interesting, telling the story of a teenage girl in Japan who keeps a diary which is eventually found by a Japanese-American writer in the USA, washed ashore in the aftermath of a tsunami.
Oswald Spengler (1880 – 1936, Germany)
I did start this massive two-volume history of the world (published in 1918 & 1922) many years ago back in London, a short loan from the local library but wasn’t able to finish it in time. Maybe this is one for retirement; a comfy chair, some tea and no screaming students. Sounds like Paradise.
Ronald Sukenick (1932 – 2004, USA)
An author of whom I’ve only recently become aware, Sukenick began writing in the late 1960s, mixing cultural theory, fiction and metafiction. One review states that his writing was Post-Modernist before the term had been invented. ‘Up’, published in 1968 challenges or even rejects conventional fiction writing. If you like Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller & Vladimir Nabokov, this could be for you.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the 32nd President of the USA, is frequently cited as being among the country’s best leaders. Born in 1882 in New York, FDR was a Democrat who became President in 1933. The USA and the world was suffering economic disaster following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. Unemployment in the States was estimated to be 13 million, many banks were still closed.
To alleviate the situation, FDR inaugurated a series of reforms and aid programs known as ‘The New Deal’. These included construction programs and work in the national forests.
During the annual State of the Union address on January 11th 1944 FDR, speaking on the radio, proposed a second Bill of Rights to address the problems and inequalities facing the USA in the mid Twentieth Century. Part of this speech can be watched online, and the link follows the text:
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
FDR who had contracted a paralytic illness in 1921 and was unable to walk unaided, died on April 12th 1945, less than a month before the complete surrender of Germany. The second Bill of Rights was not introduced.