Thursday, March 06, 2014

Rethinking the job-identity

Every once in a while, I'm asked if I am in research or in a job. These are mostly people from all age ranges in India. Probably what they mean is, do I work in the academia, or in industry. I get that. But this mindset of research versus job is somewhat disconcerting. Does it mean that research does not count as a job? 

I think that it is the lack of basic understanding that doing your own thing can also be counted as a job for which you get paid. This is what researchers do. This is why I want to be a research professor, to pursue my own research ideas. I’d like to acquire sufficient skills and expertise that I do not have to work for anyone. That I will come up with my own questions, write grants to seek the money, and investigate those questions. It took me a long time to figure out why being a research professor is such a coveted job in the US. Based on my experience in India, I thought that all professors did was teach.

I'm wondering, what qualifies as a "job" for the greater mass? Something you spend at least one-third of your day doing? Something that pays the bills? Some place that you have to show up at, at least five days a week? What else? I don’t think that money is always a criterion. I do a lot of unpaid work too, that I consider my job. I take care of the house, I do writing and editing work, I lead many projects, and I pursue photography. The list is longer. None of these pay me. So let me refine my definition of what a job is. I think that anything that enriches our identity (social, personal, professional, etc.), is a job. Anything that makes us accountable to other people, and to ourselves is a job. Anything that makes a difference in this world is a job. Perhaps reading this will help people open up their mind about how one perceives work.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

April Snow (Oechul)

“If we met long ago or much later, what would we be?”

We find love in the most unexpected places, when we are least expecting it. I did too, for a man whose name I cannot say properly, whose language I do not understand, and who I am never going to meet. Yet he left me speechless with his acting in this movie I have watched three times in the last four days.

Sunday evening, I wanted to watch a movie, and was randomly browsing their “foreign movie” section when I accidentally saw the name “April Snow”. Intrigued, I read the synopsis, and started watching it. Two hours later, I had finished watching it, shaken to the core, sobbing, and knowing that my life would never feel the same again.

There are many famous, or not so famous movies you watch and like, and kind of forget. This, on the other hand, is an ordinary story narrated rather extraordinarily. Bae Yong-Joon and Son Ye-Jin are ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, when everything changes one fine day. Their spouses meet with an accident that leaves them in coma, and it is then that their spouses realize that they were having an affair. What we see over the next few weeks/months is how Bae and Son care for their respective spouses, and in the process of shared grief, they fall in love with each other. That is all that there is to the story. However, the way it is narrated is extraordinary. The first time I saw it, I was busy following the story. The next two times, I noticed all those subtle things that I had missed the first time. There are many things I loved about this movie. I’ll write down a few.

·         Snow: The story starts with a drive in the snow, and ends with a drive in the snow.

·         Cell phone: It makes them discover the affair, and the same cell phones, that unite the two at the end.

·         Ordinary people with extraordinary lives: Bae is a stage light designer for concerts, and Son does “household chores”. Unlike other movies, Bae is not a “hero” doing incredible stunts like beating up the goons, but an ordinary next door guy with glasses who could be your neighbor. A very hot neighbor. He does not wear fancy clothes, just jeans and a shirt (not tucked in) and a jacket most of the time, that adds to his appeal. Son is very pretty, but in a sad way. They show Bae crying in at least two scenes, one at the beginning in a bar, and one about fifteen minutes before the movie ends. This makes him seem more human.

·         The constant reference to the change in seasons, that perhaps marks the transition in their love life from winter to spring. Subtle references like the change in their clothes from heavy winter wear to spring wear, the way she buys him a plant (and not flowers) and asks him to make sure that the plant does not die. The way the plant is perched on top of the unopened boxes when he is eating dinner.

·         The utter lack of drama. They were both shocked to discover about the affair. There were tears too, from both sides. Yet it was all shown in a very dignified way. I love the scene where Bae tells his wife that at first he wanted to know, but now he does not. Because in the mean time, he himself fell in love with Son, and perhaps now empathizes with his wife.

·         Although Son has been portrayed as a very docile person, there are streaks of fieriness in her personality. Like when she enjoys running in the cold. And like how, despite hesitating, she decides to make love to Bae. Sure, there are tears, but there is no drama.

·         I love the little places in the movie. Like the motel they stay at, and the little eatery they eat at, with scrap papers on boards across the wall. And the corridor with floor to ceiling glass at the hospital.

·         My favorite scene in the movie is about fifteen minutes before the movie ends, when Son is at that eatery, looking at Bae from the window. Bae, who is in his room, has no idea that he is being watched, and in the next scene, he sobs uncontrollably. The musicthat plays when she is watching Bae breaks my heart every time I listen to it. At that moment, you pray that she steps outside, goes up to his room, and meets him. But she does not. Her husband died, his wife is out of coma, and she thinks that they will probably be reunited now, and she must leave them alone. So she walks out with her suitcases. Closely following this scene is my second favorite scene, where they walk by the sea after making love, and she asks him if they can take a picture together. Immediately, she realizes the gravity of it, and moves away, until he says yes. Once again, I see couples around me, flooding Facebook with their pictures together. Yet the couple in this movie took just one picture together, and it delivers a very powerful message.

·         Talking about favorite scenes, there is another one when the two are hanging out, peeling fruits. And Bae’s father-in-law knocks on the door. It is amazing, the way they act with composure, not panicking. She locks herself up in the bathroom, and later when he opens the door, she just says, “I’m okay.” And he goes and hugs her. One of the many many amazing things about this movie is how little the two people talk to each other, and how much they convey.

·         The most amazing thing is the open-ended ending of the story. As an optimist and a romantic, I would love to think that they united for life, but no one knows. I don’t hope for marriage or anything that screams a false sense of social security. I just hope that they got to be with each other for the rest of their life.

As you can see from my long rambling, I love the movie. This is the first Korean movie I have seen. I don’t know anything about Bae, I didn’t even know about his existence until three days ago. I don’t know how famous he is (although I Googled him, and found him dressed like a girl in many pictures, and I am really confused about that, because he is quite the hot guy in the movie). I don’t even know anything about his other movies. I know that he owns restaurants in Asia, and in Hawaii (that I definitely plan to visit someday). But I want to remember Bae as his character in the movie. Tall guy with glasses, loose jeans and a shirt and jacket, driving a powerful SUV and smoking cigarettes. I wonder why Hollywood hasn't discovered him yet. Of course I am listening to the music from this movie in a loop now. I also wish to go to Seoul now (the movie is based in Seoul), although going to Seoul doesn’t translate into meeting Bae. I just want to see that motel, that hospital, the place where they have dinner together, that walkway by the water where they walk in the night, and the city in general. I feel a connection with Seoul now. Because I have fallen in love with In-su, Bae’s character in the movie.