Festival Recap

It’s snowing in Park City. There’s at least a foot and a half on the ground right now. The sun peeks through a blanket of fog, but it’s not bright enough to rouse the rest of the house this morning. This is the first day in a long week that we have nothing to dash off to. With the festival over, I wonder what the town will feel like once we do meander into a few of the coffee shops. Over the last five days it has been a moving machine – with about two hour intervals between the movies we saw every day (from 2-6 of them) we only had time to send text reviews to each other and stop for coffee on the main street before sitting still for another 2 ½ hours in a dark theater. I’ve cried and laughed at the most amazing stories and spoken to some incredible filmmakers here, and barely have had time to process those feelings before I am running to the next thing. I’ll try to process them in smaller tidbits here.


Day 1 – Ticket mania, ticket “fomo,” I can’t find the right theatre, WOW I’M AT SUNDANCE, an intense historical fiction film about pregnant nuns and a French Red Cross doctor, a bad documentary about a film buff, and a new wave girlhood film about a 12 year old who turns from boxer to dancer. (Agnus Dei, Film Hawk, and The Fits.) Agnus Dei and The Fits were directed by women, and I babbled through an incomprehensive conversation (on my part) with Fits director Anna Rose Holmer to find out that most of her department heads were women as well. Encouragement!

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Still from The Fits, directed by Anna Rose Holmer

Day 2 – I am sitting here watching a movie about a doctor from the 30s who put goat testicles into impotent human male testicles. The documentary director is a spunky, screamingly intelligent woman who grew up on a ranch in the middle of the country and is screening a film that collaborated with seven different animators at the Sundance Festival. Later in the afternoon I see a film called Cameraperson – a meditation of visuals collected from one cinematographer’s portfolio. I think about death and life and sometimes I need to remember to breathe evenly while I’m watching it. Then we see a collection of documentary shorts that none of us are very impressed with. (NUTS!, Cameraperson)


Day 3 – I am seeing 5 films today, and I can barely keep my eyes open from yesterday. The first has a strong script, but I feel more engaged in my twenty-minute conversation with a senior from USC beforehand. We talked about theory versus practice while her mom interjected every once in a while to exclaim that this movie was her pick. Next I see a Columbian film that would go on to win the Audience Award for World Dramatic Cinema. The older man beside me ended up gripping my arm halfway through as we both tried to play it cool and stop sobbing. Afterwards the filmmakers spoke beautifully about their relationship with their audience and arts for arts sake, not commercial benefit. Too soon after the film is over, we are filed back into the same theatre for the Dramatic Shorts program. A policeman who dances at his mother’s funeral in Thunder Road makes us keel over with laughter, a great cure for my blotchy face. After a quick dinner I move on to a film about prostitutes in Mexico City. I’ve fallen in love with at least four of the women by the end. Much later we go to the midnight screening of an Indian film satirizing the class system, following 4 teenagers trying to get laid. It is not one for my 11 year old brother to see. (Mi Amiga Del Parque, Between Sea and Land, Dramatic Shorts Program, Plaza de la Soledad, and Brahman Naman.)

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman  Naman.

The Director, Writer, and two lead actors of Brahman Naman.

Day 4 – Snow is dumping today, and though I’m a Colorado native I have completely failed to prepare for this weather. Walmart shoes falling apart, I make my way to three films today. The first, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet love story between two women that makes me cry at 8:30am. The second, a hilarious, Little Miss Sunshine-esque family road trip featuring Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. The third is the Animation Spotlight collection. I am amazed at what people are able to imagine and make tangible… our technology is truly limitless. (Lovesong, Captain Fantastic, Animation Spotlight)


Day 5 – I only am able to get one ticket today because it’s the last day of the festival. I get into the World Documentary Grand Jury screening of Sonita. An Afghanistan teenage girl raps about the arranged marriage culture of Iran which she may be forced back into if she cannot escape her family. When I get out of this film, we see that there is already about six inches of snow on the ground, and a massive blizzard is predicted to blow up from Colorado Springs through Wyoming and Utah in the next two days…so we decide to stay in Park City. We all celebrate with a huge dinner in town, laughing and toasting to the amazing week we’ve had.

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther Chan

Bella Egizi, Emelia Whitmer, and Esther ChanTom Crandall

Tom Crandall

 Now there is two feet outside the window I’m sitting next to. The class is huddled around me in our cozy kitchen. Someone made tea for everyone, and our professor brought back bagels this morning after we took a class photo in front of the Sundance sign. We’ve got two snow days ahead of us, and I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a better group of people for it.


The Week at Snowdance

It’s been a wild and crazy week in Park City! On top of averaging 4-5 movies per day, we have been attending industry panels with many of the filmmakers; Q and A’s after each screening; speed-dating sessions with producers, writers, and directors; open talks about Sundance’s goings on in the filmmaker’s lodge; virtual reality exhibits; scrambling up and down Park City’s snow-covered Main St., and trying to protect our hot tub from a mysterious neighborhood water thief.

IMG_5109  IMG_5110  IMG_5108 IMG_5124     IMG_5137IMG_5128

It wasn’t until after arriving in Park City on Tuesday evening that I finally realized what a special place Sundance really is. Not only are the mountains surrounding the town blanketed in a majestic layer of powder that various skiers are able to enjoy throughout the day and night, skiing right down to the Main St. lift, but in the town itself there is a constant hustle and bustle of celebrities and film geeks alike, all contributing to an air of inspiration and excitement. I was surprised by how friendly everyone was at the festival, and how willing filmmakers and other festival-goers were to chat. On Wednesday my friend Esther Chan and I ran into the director of my first and favorite film of the festival, As You Are. A recent graduate from Bard College, and only two years older than I, I felt comfortable stopping him on the street and telling him how in awe I was of his achievement. It was intimidating, but I am so glad I did it. Talking to him in person helped me view him more as a peer than as someone in some unattainable position above me. This set a good precedent for the rest of my interactions at the festival, and I became much more outgoing with people than I ever have been before. On Saturday I was on the shuttle home and suddenly found myself sitting between the two mermaids from Thursday night’s screening of the Polish world dramatic feature The Lure. It was hard not to act star-struck, but once I started talking to them the conversation came easily and I switched from looking up to them to simply looking at them.

IMG_5142     IMG_5152

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset

It was fun keeping an eye out for certain filmmakers at screenings and seeing which I had similar taste to, and also which filmmakers had similar taste to each other. That was another surprise at the festival: while we were all so anxious and excited to talk and potentially network with certain artists that we look up to, we were also able to observe those artists feeling the same about others. It’s a strange environment mixed with people supporting, admiring, and yet competing with each other. Because of how equal everyone felt here, by the end of the week I had completely forgotten that there was a competition involved at all.

       IMG_5131       IMG_5133       IMG_5160        IMG_5169IMG_5156   IMG_5170

Now the festival has come to an end, the awards have been awarded, the movie stars have all escaped and we are snowed in at our house in Park City. The biggest thrills of our lives now are discussing these films to the point of exhaustion and trying to catch our hot tub water thief in action.

Since I have been staring at screens all week I must sign off now, but will leave you with a list of some of my favorite films from Sundance 2016 and will be sure to update again very soon.

As You Are, dir. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
Plaza de la Soledad, dir. Maya Goded
All These Sleepless Nights, dir. Michal Marzak
Brahman Naman, dir. Q.
Wild, dir. Nicolette Krebitz
Notes on Blindness, dir. Peter Middleton, James Spinney


Colorado College and the Sundance Kids

We’ve made it to the end of first week in the Film and Media Studies Sundance class and already it feels like we’re running a marathon! As part of our preparation for heading to the festival next week, we’ve had screenings of past years’ Sundance winners and in-class discussions on what makes indie films unique. So far we’ve been unable to come up with any concrete conclusion on that, but it seems that’s the whole point of Indie films ‘breaking the mold’ and transcending traditional storytelling conventions, isn’t it?

So far we’ve watched Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 film Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Damian Szifron’s 2014 shorts anthology film Wild Tales; Kimberly Pierce’s 1999 Boys Don’t Cry; and Craig Brewer’s 2005 Hustle and Flow.

What a roller coaster ride. In all these films covering such diverse subject matter, cinematic style, release dates, and production budgets, we have found common threads that may be able to help us narrow down what makes a Sundance movie a “Sundance Movie” .

Like any independently produced material, an indie film is going to either suffer or benefit from its financial limitations. Yes, an independent filmmaker may have to sell her soul to come up with the funds just to get the project on its feet, accepting from the beginning that she will likely make no profit from it should the thing ever be completed. But with this terrifying investment in self-expression comes a certain kind of freedom that filmmakers can’t always get working under the wing of a Hollywood studio. Because of this, the kinds of films that make it to Sundance exist because of the filmmakers’ determination to stretch the limitations of their own minds and, sometimes even out of desperation, create something out of nothing.

The “aesthetic” of Sundance, if we were to assign one, would be one of daring and sometimes even subversive storytelling methods. While not all Sundance films are devoid of happy endings or satisfying and expected ‘movie tropes’, many of them do test the best known formulas of script-writing and cinematic presentation.

As a class we have taken it upon ourselves to write a ‘Sundance’ anthology feature. Following a helpful 7-beat formula laid out by Clay Haskell, we have structured our scripts to align with recognizable story progression bullet points – or as Clay calls them– beats. The trick now is how to experiment with the beats in unexpected ways. The most liberating part of learning and understanding the rules to a formula is then knowing how to break them.

Hopefully after editing the last draft of our script this weekend, heading off to Sundance for a week to watch film after film until our brains are mush, and eventually returning to crash and burn in a final 48-hr film project, we will have succeeded in breaking just a few rules in recognizably ‘innovative and original’ Sundance ways.


More to come soon!
Thanks for reading.

Sundance Film

The Sundance class. A test of faith in today’s film industry. Will it do justice to our world’s best storytellers? What has the Sundance Festival become over the years… is is a portal to project new filmmakers into the blockbuster world? Will it toss anyone into that fray other than baseball cap wearing white men? (“No!” says the release of the late Jurassic World.) Or is the festival an end goal for independent filmmakers? Is it both a cannon and a finish line? What defines a Sundance film – what topics to they cover and how? Who is making the movie and where do they come from? How do these films compare to the Hollywood world? Around 2300 films were submitted to the Dramatic Features category in 2015. The Festival accepted 79. Is the scope of the indie world too massive to conquer these days, and what has that competitive nature done for the filmmakers vying for one of those spots? ALSO we get to go to this thing – did I forget to mention that? Who knows, this time next week I could be sharing a cheese plate with John Krasinski, foolishly reminding him of the best Office gags he pulled off.

The many many many questions we have asked ourselves within the first week of this class. My brain is exploding with tangents. Perhaps I’ve alluded to some of those answers by asking the questions…I hope so, because I hardly have definitive answers for any of them. In summary, yes, the festival has evolved into more than a screening festival, which is what we would call the Telluride Film Festival. Sundance is prestigious and selective, but does a much better job at supporting a variety of subjects and filmmakers than the Oscar/Hollywood worlds do. Today, 1.9% of Hollywood directors are women. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, 29.9% of directors are women. Still an appalling number when you say “only 29.9% of women are directing Sundance films,” but it makes me feel a lot better than that dismal attempt at a 2%. It’s one of my goals to see as many films by female directors next week as possible and bombard them my intellect so they hire me instantly. (This is very unlikely, as I sweat a lot when I try to talk to people after performances and end up exhibiting my elementary vocabulary well. “That was sooooooooo good, you are sooooooo good at stuff.”)

After watching four films this week and discussing them with my peers, it still seems there isn’t a formula for a perfect movie. Duh, right? We followed one structure to write our own 15 page screenplays (in one night – hello block plan), but still had an incredible variety of structures pop up in the results. We spent hours talking about the how the tiniest detail in a screenplay makes the entire film’s theme resonate perfectly. Hours of digging through taboo topics in the films we watched contemplating their successes and failures.


Filmmaking is a push and pull that you have to get a grasp on just long enough to connect with an audience so they’ll pay attention to you for an hour. Or even 30 seconds. It’s an overwhelming business at the same time that it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful art. In this class we are edging towards finding a balance between the two. We watch, write, talk, learn, yell, process, and start again.  We keep trudging down this path of doing, doing, doing until we can end up making something we admire. I hope to observe this admiration in the people I meet and the films I see next week, so I can be reminded again to keep doing (and stop staring at blank Word documents).

More to come! Thanks for reading.


Under Press-ure

Excuse the pun in the title, but this post is about the time constraints of our class’s press project, and I couldn’t help but make the nod to David Bowie––may his soul soar epically through the farthest reaches of outer space.

"#1 rule of type setting: don't eat the type."

“#1 rule of type setting: don’t eat the type.”

Tomorrow is the last day of class (already!) so we’ll be taking as much time as necessary, presumably the entire morning, to print our book. For three hours this afternoon and three hours on Monday we’ve been setting our pages of type, putting the spreads in a desired order, choosing colors for paper and ink, and carving linoleum slabs for illustrations. Setting type is slow and relaxing. Also, one’s fingers tend to be covered in poisonous lead residue by the end.

Carving linoleum, on the other hand, has proven to be far more frustrating from my perspective. It took me two hours and three attempts to finish my first illustration last night. Tonight I spent another two hours filling my desk with gray shavings, but this time I was able to complete two images without making irreparable mistakes. So I suppose practice helps, and I’m rather content with how they look. However, my fingers have suffered much worse than a little metal grime in this case. My characteristic carelessness has brought about a few jabs from the carving tool, and while two of them were minor, a rather forceful one from this afternoon at the press gave me a profusely bleeding left thumb and a throbbing pain that didn’t subside until after dinner. No matter that Aaron warned us of the sharp dangers––I’m still incredibly prone to risk-taking and clumsiness.


Can’t wait to see how it looks once printed.

We chose a deep reddish brown as the ink for our text, and Aaron showed us how to follow the Pantone swatchbook formula for mixing. It’s a painterly process, and if you know enough about mixing colors you can step away from the swatches and create your own.


56% red, 35% yellow, 8.5% black.

Once the ink was made, a few of my classmates began printing. They completed all 30 copies of our title page, dedication, and colophon, which is the page at the end that says where the book was published and when. It seemed like we accomplished a lot today, but we still have a great deal of work to do tomorrow. Thankfully Aaron keeps coffee brewed in the pot by the door.

I’m certainly interested in returning to the press under circumstances that are less time-sensitive. I would love to put even more effort into the content and design decisions. Paradoxically, I’m impatient with my own creativity, considering how difficult I find it to revisit and revise the things I make, and yet I don’t like to feel rushed. In terms of hanging out at the press, I hope to be able to choose an event or two from the college calendar many weeks in advance, and carefully design and print posters for them. The ones I’ve seen thus far are astonishingly eye-catching, and it’s evident how much work goes into each one.

Now for an unrelated note, regarding last night’s reading: If you’ve never heard of the book thief Stephen Blumberg, his story is fascinating. He stole approximately 286,000 books from university libraries across the nation in the 1970s and 80s––not to sell, like many book thiefs before him did, but to keep in his own private collection. His obsession with Victorian-era objects began when he was 12 years old and his behavioral tendencies were clearly influenced by his family’s mental health history (a topic that is very interesting and important to me). Even Colorado College’s Special Collections has seen the expert thieving hands of Blumberg! He made away with five books on the history of the American West, but only two were attributed to our library and eventually returned. To find out more about the bibliomaniac, click here.

Thanks for reading.

Why Art (When it’s Tedious)?

On Wednesday our time in Special Collections was spent carefully handling rare, ancient objects, like clay tablets from 2,000 BCE, or a leaflet of the Gutenburg Bible, to help us think about books’ beginnings. Yesterday, we time traveled to recent centuries, where the bird’s-eye view is quite different. Jessy covered the tables in books that bless the modern world with their novelty, artistry, bright colors, and overall intrigue––for example, one of my favorites: The Little Prince as a pop-up book!


I’ve considered getting this tattooed. (The Little Prince on Asteroid B-612)


Arguably the most majestic page.

We perused and admired, asked questions silently and aloud. Then we each sat down and explained an object of interest. I attempted to talk about the mysterious “Fire Dogs” by Ken Campbell, Caitlin sympathized with a sneezing bear in “Little Fur Family,” Nate held up the beastly novel rendition of “Where the Wild Things Are.”


Based on the screenplay.

Eventually the discussion moved to a book that once graced the display case on the library’s second floor, at the start of the school year. It looks like a composition notebook, but it’s made of fabric and every word is embroidered. It’s called “Common Threads,” and Texas-based artist Candace Hicks (check out her website here) sold it to our collection at a discounted price of $925. “Maybe, if you divide that cost by the number of hours she spent on it, she was making minimum wage,” said Jessy. Indeed, the book is so intricate and must have taken a very long time, especially considering the artist was just starting to refine her craft. My classmate John brought up the inevitable question: why would someone do something so incredibly tedious?

We entered into a philosophical discussion of why we play sports, why we make jewelry, why we wrote poetry, why we play musical instruments. If not seeking fame or fortune, why do we engage in repetitive, tedious activities that fall under the category of “art?” What is it that we’re looking for?

My contribution included a reflection on last semester, when I didn’t set aside enough time to be creative. By the time it was ending, I noticed more and more my deep-seated frustration concerning my artistic endeavors, or rather, the lack thereof. I dabble in many mediums and feel that I’m mediocre at lots of things––collage-making, poetry, playing the piano––instead of learnéd and talented in one area, which seems like it would be far more satisfying in the long run. I envy my roommate who has played jazz trombone from a young age, and my other roommate who draws consistently and seems to be on a path toward common themes in her drawings. My urgent goal is to find the medium I enjoy the most (it might even be radio production), and put in my “10,000 hours.” This is obviously quite tedious and will require a lot of patience. But if I’m not actively pursuing this goal, I start to feel restless and unfulfilled.

The question still stands: why do human beings care so much to use their creativity? Why do we feel this intense need to use our hands? Even after reading up on the brilliant observations science has made on this subject, there’s a philosophical curiosity that can’t be satiated. So much is happening in the brain all at once when art is being made, or music being played, and we’ll never fully understand our own minds, so the mystery will go unsolved.

It was refreshing to look at books, and not just artists’ books, through this lens; naturally, writing of any kind is applicable to a conversation about creativity and expression. Even though we’ll never fully know why we feel the urge to write, at least we can rest assured that the urge will be there.



That Special Something

Where on campus can you find an illustration of the charismatic and extinct dodo bird, drawn by the hand of someone who lived among them? The answer, of course, is Special Collections. Even considering the last five months I’ve spent working there, pulling and re-shelving materials from its four chambers—the CC room, Colorado room, Special Editions room, and the vault—I still consider it a treat to have an entire class period, such as today’s, dedicated to a close look at a handful of items. I intend to become as familiar as possible with the collection during my four years, and this morning was another big step in that direction. Not to mention, now I’ve seen a predictably accurate sketch of the dodo bird (while on the previous page is a terrifying, seemingly inaccurate drawing of a flying squirrel).

In this half-block, our objective is to consider the nature of books as objects, rather than engaging in an intense scrutiny of their content, which is a necessary learning activity of your average course. Part of this consideration is the process of printing. Fortunately, the Press at Colorado College is a well-oiled machine (thanks to aficionado Aaron Cohick) that exposes to 21st century students the art of the letterpress. Yesterday we learned to set two sentences of type in preparation for our group printing project.


The printing room. (If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind the door next to Taylor Theatre, this is it!)


The classroom/prep space.


“I am here; I am happy.”

We have finalized our ideas for the mini-book we will print next week; my two-page spread will include poems and illustrations about banned books and the role they’ve played in society. I’ll also be commenting on what censorship might look like in the future––think Fahrenheit 451 (one of my all-time favorites, by the way).

It turns out that “The History and Future of the Book” is somewhat of a misleading title. Whenever I say it to others after they ask me which class I’m taking, many of them think “the Book” refers to the Bible, when really we’re looking at all books, not just the one that’s been printed, bought, and sold the most. Thank goodness, because it’s quite fascinating to think about where books have their origins, how they function in today’s world, and what they might look like in 100 years (Kindles only? Not enough trees to make paper?).  Hopefully, the book my classmates and I produce will encourage its readers to think about the same ideas.

Organic Chemistry is Alkynes of Fun

As week three comes to a close, the Orgo I students finished up their last experiments and checked out of lab. The foundations of organic structures and configurations have already been established in the first two weeks of class leading up to the final full week where concepts are expanded to reagents and mechanisms of reactions. Learning the multitude of reagents and understanding mechanisms is challenging and overwhelming at times, but allowing these two concepts to become a way of thinking instead of memorization is one of the keys to success in organic chemistry (along with hard work and plenty of chemistry jokes of course). With the introduction of mechanisms and reagents, students are now able to propose and conduct different synthesis routes to produce a desired final compound, which is exactly what occurred in lab. The lab this week was spread out over two days, with each day dedicated to one of the two steps of the synthesis of diphenylacetylene, a compound containing two phenyl groups attached by an alkyne or carbon-carbon triple bond.

The first day, students performed an addition reaction to add two bromine atoms to a carbon-carbon double bond. To determine if the bromines were added syn (on the same side) or anti (on opposite sides), a melting point of the product stilbene dibromide was taken. The high melting point of the product indicated that the anti addition occurred to form a meso compound incapable of rotating plane polarized light. In addition to melting point, students worked through the mechanism of this reaction to provide an explanation for why the anti addition occurred.

A new theme in all organic chemistry classes at Colorado College is the use of green or environmentally benign reagents as alternatives to typical procedures requiring the use of extremely toxic or hazardous chemicals. To eliminate the use of corrosive liquid bromine as a reagent to brominate the starting material trans-stilbene, bromine was produced in situ (in the reaction mixture) by the use of pyridinium tribromide, which exists in equilibrium with pyridinium bromide and elemental bromine (Br2). As the elemental bromine is used up in the reaction, the equilibrium is pushed further to the right as explained by Le Châtelier’s principle to replace the reacted bromine, therefore providing a continuous “slow release” of bromine. Thus the reaction is able to proceed to produce the desired product and avoid the use of hazardous liquid bromine. Although it’s sometimes exciting to add a bit of danger to one’s life, this is definitely a case where the use of an alternative, safer procedure is greatly appreciated by both students and professors.

Safety first! Students make sure to use hot hands when working with heated reactions.

Safety first! Students make sure to use hot hands when working with heated reactions.

After students isolated stilbene dibromide using vacuum filtration, the samples were analyzed using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). The NMR instrument, by far my favorite form of analysis in organic chemistry, detects signals of different atom isotopes depending on the specifications of the study being run. This time, everyone ran a proton NMR, which detects the spin signals (up or down) given off by neighboring protons. Where the signal for a proton appears on the spectrum depends on the electronegativity of the surrounding atoms.

The more electronegative or de-shielded the environment of a proton, the more downfield or to the left the signal will appear. In contrast, the more shielded a proton is, the more upfield or to the right of the spectrum a signal will appear. Analysis of a spectrum can provide a chemist with information regarding connectivity, structure, and composition of a particular compound. Pretty amazing if you ask me! Although the students seemed a bit more impressed with the pressurized sample loading system than the actual mode of action of the instrument, NMR data collecting went smoothly and it was onto the final step of the synthesis.

Students get psyched to do the last step of the synthesis.

Students get psyched to do the last step of the synthesis.

On day two of the synthesis, students worked on a double dehydrohalogenation of stilbene dribomide, or the formation of a carbon-carbon triple bond to produce the desired product diphenylacetylene. To isolate and purify the final product, students practiced a new technique: recrystallization. This technique is based on the principle of solubility, specifically that solubility increases with temperature. Using the minimal amount of a hot solvent to dissolve the crude product caused the impure crystals to deform and allow new, pure crystals to form as the solution cooled down and solid begun to crash out of solution. These pure crystals were separated from the liquid containing impurities by vacuum filtration and then analyzed by Infrared Spectroscopy (IR) and NMR.

Dissolving the crude product with a minimal amount of solvent to produce pure crystals-- perhaps the most intense part of lab.

Dissolving the crude product with a minimal amount of solvent to produce pure crystals– perhaps the most intense part of lab.

So excited to recrystallize their product!

So excited to recrystallize their product!

Although this blog was filled with quite a bit of organic chemistry jargon, I hope I made it accessible to everyone, even those students who took chemistry in high school and decided it was not their cup of tea. Hopefully the joy of accomplishing a synthesis or understanding a new concept was expressed through the pictures and my rambling about the procedure. If you can’t tell, I find the whole synthesis process quite fascinating. Stay tuned for Organic Chemistry jeopardy (yes it exists and is the only kind of jeopardy where I can actually answer any of the questions) and a wrap up of the final three days of class!

Lab is alkynes of fun!

Lab is alkynes of fun!

Japanese and Kanji

You would find Chinese and Japanese similar to each other at the first sight. At ancient times, Japan had its own oral language but did not have specific characters. Later on, Chinese culture and language were brought to Japan, and some scholars started to use Chinese characters (called kanji) to represent Japanese language which had the same pronunciation. For example, mountain “山” (yama) was thus written as “也麻” (yema) in Chinese. Manyoushuu, Japan’s earliest collection of poetries, was written in such method. However, many kanjis were too difficult for people to memorize and write, so gradually only the radicals were used. (As shown in the picture.) And as time passed these radicals became hiragana and katakana, the basic elements of modern Japanese.

1.pic_hd(Hiragana. Pic from Google.com)

Still some kanji are retained; part of them really sound like Chinese and stand for exact the same meanings, but the other part are totally different. As a Chinese, I feel very convenient as well as annoying. For example, “先生” (sensei). This means teacher in Japanese and Sir/Mr in Chinese. But because in the past Chinese people indeed called their teacher “先生”, these two kanjis are very easy for Chinese to understand and memorize. There are also ridiculous examples, and “手紙” (tegami) is one of them. In Japanese it means letter, but in Chinese……


it means toilet paper. Well, fail to understand.

And at last, personally, I found Japanese sometimes very similar to Cantonese. In both language, affirmative answer/yes is pronounced as “ha i”. And the word “easy”, in Japanese is “kantan”, and in Cantonese is “gandan”.






Language is both an indispensable aspect of culture and a way to approach culture. This week, we had a special event after class-change the world with onigiri. For Japan, food has always been an essential part of the Japanese traditional culture. It not only satisfies the appetite of the Japanese, but also represents a unique living attitude that immersed in Japanese people’s daily life. The word onigiri is directly translated from the sound of the word「おにぎり」in Japanese. While the particle お often refers to a respectful attitude in speech, にぎりmeans the action of shaping the rice. So there comes the word onigiri, combined with the respect and appreciation from Japanese people to the food taken, and the action it takes actually make the food. In fact, onigiri was a cuisine that only upper class aristocrats could afford since back then rice was rare and unimaginably expensive. Later in the wars among the landlords, it became a military food for its portability and attraction to ordinary civilians. Then a lot of farmers really joined the army in order to have onigiri that they had dreamed all their lives. I think the toughness it takes to gain food in the past partially forged the cherishing attitude to food today. That spirit makes onigiri a good match for the theme of donating school meals. Most of the onigiri in army back then only had vinegar(酢) to prevent food spoilage in summer. Now, we have plum(梅干し), pickles(たくあん), salmon(さけ) and etc that we can add into onigiri to make it more delicious(おいしい). Don’t forget to say ごちそさま(gochisosama)after you had the onigiri. It is both ‘thank you’ to the people who give you the food, and to the lives of the plants and animals we take to live.


If onigiri represents an austere lifestyle, then the tea ceremony(茶道)represents the total opposite side of the Japanese lifestyle. Especially in ancient Japan, only the upper class can afford to do tea ceremony. Because except for the tea itself which is already as expensive as it can get, the tea ceremony also include tea sets to match different kinds of tea, the decoration of the room like paintings and calligraphy work, and the gardening. Not to mention the time it takes to learn and familiarize the complicated steps in the tea ceremony. You may ask, so what is the meaning for the tea ceremony? Is it to make tea more delicious? Well, not exactly. The tea ceremony was transported from China, and then merged with ideology from Zen in Japan. Within the tea ceremony, both the host and the guest will have an entirely separate moment to be silent and think about themselves. The tea ceremony creates such independent space and time that isolate people from ordinary life, and truly listen to their heart. If onigiri is the art from living and physiological life, then tea ceremony is the art from meditation and spiritual life.


Photo taken by Mamiさん and Echo






















Tea ceremony