13 Sep 2015

Understanding Spice? Let’s Get Precise!

Author: Isa | Filed under: Asian Studies

The peppercorn is a quite insignificant-looking object. Small, dark colored and pungent-flavored, its appearance betrays the immense impact it had on human civilization. Pepper and other spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves were so valued that countries voyaged across land and sea to find the origins of the Spice Trade. The ordinary spices found in little bottles in kitchens built empires, tore conflicts between nations and companies, and spurred humanity on to explore the world.

Many spices were worth more than their weight in gold; the potential profit a single bag of nutmeg could produce motivated people to look for more, at sometimes extreme measures. The Europeans believed that spices were not only beneficial to health, but also essential to flavoring their dishes. The wealthier the household, the more spices were used to season their food. Spices were popularly used as a method of preservation. Pepper and other spices were especially effective when it came to masking the flavor of spoiled meat. They were also useful for sweetening breath or producing perfumes, medicines and dyes. In Ancient Egypt, cassia and cinnamon were vital to the process of embalming. Nutmeg was believed to have been a cure for the bubonic plague. Here is a quote from the Bible that reflects on the value of spices of the Europeans:

“Moreover, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take also for yourself the finest of spices: of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of fragrant cinnamon half as much, two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane two hundred and fifty, and of cassia five hundred, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin.’You shall make of these a holy anointing oil, a perfume mixture, the work of a perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.” (Exodus 30:22-25)

Why did people start world exploration? “For Christ and spices!” (The Epicentre) Spices were in high demand and merchants were being pressured to supply their appetite. However, the price of a bag of cloves in Venice could be drastically different than the prices on the other side of the world. How could the price for spices become so high and far away from its original price in the East? This relates to several aspects. First of all, the distance. Europe was thousands of kilometers away from where spices were being produced.This meant the valuable goods had to travel enormous distances; they usually end up traveling more than the actual merchants. However, it was inefficient for merchants to travel the whole distance. Instead, they only traveled part of the distance before selling their goods to the next merchant, who traveled another part and then sold their goods to yet another merchant. The second aspect was the economical one. In order to create profit, each merchant had to sell their goods to the next at a higher price than what they got them for. Therefore if the first merchant acquired his goods for 2 gold coins, he would sell his goods to the next merchant for 3 coins or more. The more hands the spices passed through, the higher the price of the spice went. Once the spices reached Europe, they would be so costly a housewife could only afford a few peppercorns. These merchants, essential the workings of the spice trade, were called middlemen. The Arabs dominated the middlemen; only they knew the true origin of the spices they traded. They were extremely protective of this and concocted fantastic stories of how giant birds built nests of cassia on a mountain range in Arabia and had to be lured by chunks of donkey meat left by brave Arabs. They did this in order to maintain their power over the spice trade. If only they knew where spices came from, not only could they control where the spices were traded to and remain the key trading components, but could also inflate the prices much more ridiculously because of the Europeans’ lack of knowledge and technology to have their own access to the spices. The lucrative spice trade, however, was not kept from the Europeans for long, for they were determined to enrich themselves, and were prepared to explore the entire world if they needed to.

The mysterious origins of the spice trade were to be uncovered by the Europeans, and their thirst for riches and power led to many conflicts and discoveries. Legend says that Vasco Da Gama, before leaving Calicut, asked for a pepper stalk he could replant. It was an outrageous request, but the potentate calmly stated “You can take our pepper, but you will never be able to take our rains.” The potentate was referring to the monsoon winds that brought heavy rain to satisfy the capricious pepper crops. The monsoon winds have proven to be a huge discovery in the history of the spice trade. The Arabs had tried to obscure these discoveries, but historical figures such as Roman historian Pliny and Greek merchant Hippalus disclosed the truths of the origins of the spices and the annual monsoon winds (respectively). It was discovered that the monsoon winds, as shown in the map below, change into opposite directions during summer and winter. This paved an easier, more efficient path for the Europeans in the Spice Trade, causing them to flourish and the Arab monopoly to come to a close. Now that the Europeans had better maritime technology, they set off to explore the world. Everyone was in search of the “Spice Islands “, and because of these searches, Christopher Columbus stumbled across America, Magellan led the first circumnavigation in history, and human civilization began to spread out all over the world. However, there were certain negative aspects of the world exploration. For instance, the conflicts that occurred between natives and European nations. Europeans found that it was simpler to conquer lands as the natives were no match for their armies. They were able to be ruthless and cruel. The observations from a British merchant called George Early stated: “This system has been found so oppressive, that frequently the natives, driven to desperation, destroy their own plantations,  preferring beggary to such severe taxation for the support of a government which seeks only to enrich itself, and proves utterly regardless of the welfare and prosperity of’those who are subjected to its rule.” Similar things happened in the Moluccas, where the Dutch burned down clove trees out of their control so prices would stay high and production limited. Clove trees bore spiritual meaning for the natives; they planted a tree when a child was born, and the tree was supposed to be closely linked with the child’s life. The European nations also had their rifts, as everyone wanted to monopolize the spice trade. The Dutch were even willing to trade Manhattan for nutmeg, or more precisely, the lucrative Run Island, where nutmeg was mainly produced. For spices, everyone was willing to take drastic measures, for those who control the Spice Trade controlled the wealth.

There was little more important to nations than wealth and power. The history of the Spice Trade, analyzed through the Social Studies subjects, shows us how the modern world was sculpted into the world it is today.


Maps Comparing Summer/Winter Monsoon Winds from here



“The Spice Trade, A Taste of Adventure – The Epicentre.” The Epicentre. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Whipps, By Heather. “How the Spice Trade Changed the World.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 12 May 2008. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

4 Jun 2015


Author: Isa | Filed under: Humanities

“10 minutes.”

I scratch absentmindedly at my wrist. The hard, white surface of my Timer felt smooth and sleek as usual, yet something was a bit off about it. A fervent itch was writhing and twisting inside my arm, but no matter how I dragged my nails over it, the unpleasant feeling would not relent. Luckily, my friend Top’s bubbling excitement was enough to distract me.

“I wonder if he likes cats,” she said for the 17th time. “Oh no, what if he’s allergic?”

“Then I’ll take your cats,” I replied, elbowing her ribcage. “Quit worrying.”

Her fingers worked furiously at the anxiety ring I had given her 3 years ago. The two silver gears clicked silently together as she turned the gears over and over. “9 minutes.” Click. Click. Click.

“What if,” she paused, clapping her hands together for emphasis, “he’s 40 years older than me?”

“I don’t think it will matter.” I tapped a finger on my Timer. “It’s your destiny, and that means you were meant to meet him.”

The shuttle arrived. Students, and teachers piled into the shuttle, the students, laughing and shoving each other, the teachers engaged in conversation with one another. Everyone was eager to return home. The stress of the finals had dissipated into the air as soon as the classes were dismissed. Once the last student had boarded, the platinum shuttle doors slid shut and the shuttle shot forward. It would only be a few minutes until our station. I limped to the nearest empty seat and plopped down. Top was scanning the faces in the shuttle anxiously. I glanced past my reflection for a glimpse outside, but the speed of the shuttle reduced trees to green blurs, flowers to multicolored streaks. I scratched at the flesh around my Timer, wincing as the raw skin began to redden. The itch seemed to be extending from the patch of glass. A long hiss and students were emptying out of the shuttle capsule, until the shuttle was almost empty. Only 5 minutes to go. “Top.” I whispered, in fear of breaking the steady silence enveloping the shuttle. “I think he’s in this bus.”

Top must have realized this earlier as well, because her eyes were already darting from one person to the next. A frizzled looking teacher in his 40’s. A blonde woman with ridiculously heavy eyeliner. A skinny 5th grader with grazed knees and a baseball cap. The shuttle’s occupants were not very promising.

Click. Click. Click.

“No… No.” Top murmured. “This can’t be right…”

“Be patient.” I didn’t know what else to say. How would I know anyways? “He’s your soul-mate. There’s no way your Timer will make a mistake.”
“Of course it can.” Top snapped. My eyes widened. “Its happened before, faulty Timers. I mean, you would kn–”

She stopped abruptly. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. I shook my head. “It’s fine. You’re just tense.” She rubbed her forehead, sighing. 3 minutes.

2 minutes.

1 minute.

There were only 40 seconds left when the shuttle stopped at Station 3. Our heads both shot up as the doors hissed open. 30 seconds. The clicks increased in frequency, synchronizing with the quick leaps in our chests. Click click click click. We held our breath as a gentle breeze blew into the shuttle, carrying a faint scent of lilac. There was no one at the station. 20 seconds. Our eyes burned into the pavement.





Pattering footsteps tumbled in our direction. Within the remaining 3 seconds, a panting, flustered boy sprinted and leaped into the shuttle, hair flying and clothes flapping. His dark eyes light up as she met eyes with Top. I flopped into a chair as Top and the boy slowly walked towards each other. Top brushed her flaming locks away from her eyes, widened in surprise. “So…” the boy murmured. “You’re my soul-mate.” Top broke into grin. “Guess so.”

“I’m Und.”

“Und?” Top’s laughter seemed natural enough. “It’s almost as cool as mine. I’m Top.” They both wore the same silly smile. I could almost laugh. “I’ve got a really important question.” Top took a deep breath. “DO YOU LIKE CATS?”

“If I hadn’t met you, I’m pretty sure my cat would be my soul-mate.”

I was glowing for my friend. The scene was almost movie-like, the two chattering as if they had known each other for lifetimes. I caught the words “chickens” and “Star Wars”. Dorks.

I suppose they have known each other for lifetimes. Soul-mates will always find each other. Strangely, the shuttle was distorting through the tears pooling in my eyes. How long has it been since I’ve cried? I don’t even know. The feeling is unpleasant. The clammy fist scrunching up your chest. The feverish heat in your face. The mess of snot and salty water.

Maybe the last time I cried was when I first realized how different I was. The tears had dribbled freely down my chin that day; just as they were today, splattering onto my wrist. Dabbled with tears, the Timer’s sleek surface remained blank and emotionless.

It had never shown any number but 0.





I rolled over, causing the bed to heave and groan. “No, mother dearest, I am not depressed because Top found her soul-mate.” She leant against the door frame. “I didn’t say you were. But your dinner looks really lonely. We think it’s the one going through serious depression.” Wow. Mom’s trying to be funny again.

“Not hungry.”

“Not an excuse.”

She slid a plate of rice, potatoes and beans onto my bedside table. A single hunk of beef wafted its savory aroma into my nose, arousing the snarling of my insides. “We had meat today?” I sat up reluctantly. “This payday was very special, I take it?” My mother gestured to the plate, so I began to pick at the rice and beans unhurriedly, leaving the meat for very last. “My boss seems to appreciate my work ethic. I might get a promotion soon.” My mother explained, a slight edge of pride in her tone. I smiled at her best as I could without revealing my mouthful of food. “I have other good news too.” She continued. There was a fleeting expression in her gaze. Caution? Excitement? Hope? Patiently, I nibbled at a corner of the beef. The tender, succulent meat was an explosion of heavenly taste. I wanted to scream at the remaining beef for its miniscule size.

“He recommended an extremely reliable doctor,” she finally began, very slowly, as if weighing each word. I slumped back into the bed, freeing a loud, uncomfortably long exhale. “MooO000OOo0ooOO0o00ooOoo000Oom.” She edged closer to me anxiously. “Just hear me out, okay? This person is involved with the Timer Corporation. She’s been fixing Timer malfunctions for the past 5 decades. The research she’s contributed to our society is legendary. ”

“You know I can’t be fixed. I’m broken beyond repair.” I said, attempting to close the conversation.

“Not broken.” Her voice was abruptly soft, a feather drifting on spring breeze. I turned my head to meet her eyes, glinting with conviction. “Different.”

Huh. Different. I closed my eyes. People hate different. Sometimes people try to euphemize it by saying “special”, but I’m pretty sure if I walked into school covered in fluttering, flamboyant feathers, my reputation as a complete nut-job would be sealed. According to my calculations, 0.00% of students would consider me “special”. As a major mathematics enthusiast, I’ve always found it frustrating that my professors wouldn’t accept my own approach to problems, no matter how efficient it was. Come to think of it, anything that deviates the school’s default skills are unwelcomed… I pushed the thought away. No energy for philosophical thoughts tonight. The bed creaked and shifted under me as my mother stood up. “Just… Please think about it. It’s worth giving a try,” she sighed. I listened to her footsteps fade away.

Silvery wafts of moonlight seeped through the shades, creating an eerie glow in my dark room. My insides felt parched, drained from this morning’s tears. I was a shell of a human being, light and hollow. We’ve been trying to fix my Timer for years. Or more accurately, my mother has. I stopped a long time ago. At a young age, I finally accepted I was different. An oddity. Some sort of insignificant malfunction in a complex engine that wasn’t big enough to worry about. No one had to know my Timer was broken. No one had to treat me like I was a freak. I mean, life’s great when you’re swimming downstream.

Still, the doctor might be promising.




“I really don’t like how the pills come in such noisy wrappers,” my mother lamented jokingly. “It’s not like I want the whole world to know I’m taking pills.”

I fidgeted on the coarse, fabric surface of the seat. “I’d say the same for pad packaging.” This drew a loud snort from my mother. Luckily, the waiting room had very little people to notice.

Quick footsteps drew towards us. “Ms. Kat?”

My mother and I stood up. “Good morning, Doctor Orice.” My mother was wearing that smile again, the apologetic “my daughter is going to be real tricky” smile. She does that to every doctor we visit. The phoniness is rather sickening.

The doctor, on the other hand, smiled genuinely. Her youthful demeanor (and her beauty) had me taken aback. A smooth, glowing face adorned with angular, wrinkle-free cheekbones. Sleek, dark locks framing bright, intelligent eyes. Isn’t she supposed to be 70 or something? Dermatologists must hate her. “Please, call me Lic. You must be Kit,” she speculated, eyes sweeping in my face, my Timer and myself into her office. My mother followed, but the doctor stopped her. “I must apologize, but I work much better alone with my patients. I promise you’ll receive details when I’m finished.” I nodded towards my mother, who then promptly sank into a chair and cupped her chin with both hands, resting her elbows on the table, resembling a dejected toddler. I broke into a slight smile for the first time, giving a little wave to her. She stuck her tongue out in response, fumbling in her bag for another pill.

“Alright then, Kit,” Doctor Orice – no, Lic, began. “Let’s take a look at it, hm?” I tugged up my right sleeve, exposing the blank, dead Timer in my wrist. “Ohhh. This is very intriguing. So it’s been this way since you were born?” I nodded. “Well, I’ll be honest,” Lic stretched her fingers in front of her, emitting little cracking noises from her knuckles. “I’ve never dealt with these sort of… Timers before. I thought we’d have eliminated all malfunctioning Timers by now.” Shrugging, I replied, “Well I guess I’m so very special then.” The doctor chuckled. “Ah, I’d say your family is so very special. Your mother’s Timer led to the wrong person, no?”

I glanced uncomfortably at a box of latex gloves behind her. How’d she know that? How much does she know? Heat prickled uncomfortably under my cheeks. “Yeah. Are you suggesting my family has a history of Timer malfunctions? Like a hand-me-down curse?” She shook her head, still smiling. “Oh, no, not a curse. Simply a disease. With my technology, however, any disease can be cured.” Wow. This lady is confident.

“I’ll need to open up your Timer,” Lic continued, slapping on latex gloves, “But it’s totally painless, trust me.” She paused suddenly. “Oh dear. I just love having the memory of a goldfish.” She stood up, brushing her skirt smooth. “My toolkit is in the surgery room. Excuse me.” Flashing a last brilliant smile, she spun and sauntered out of the room.

For a minute, I sat in absolute silence. There were no clocks ticking, no engines humming, no voices or footsteps. Therefore it was perfectly reasonable for me to release an inhuman screech when the doctor’s computer lit up with a “ding!”

How is the appointment going? Is the anomaly eliminated?

Anomaly? Eliminated? Screwing up my eyes and moving closer, I quickly processed the message. Appointment. The message is from an anonymous user. It can’t be an email; the way it’s written and the notification style shows it’s an instant message. The doctor has no other patients at this time. Therefore the “appointment” can only be mine… As for the anomaly… This processing took a split second before a second message flashed onto the screen. “When you’re done, return to HQ. We need you. Since the erminate the mother as well. 39°55′N 116°23′E

Oh my god. I fell back from the computer, heart pounding. What the hellThis doesn’t make sense No one would want to kill me… or my mom… I stumbled out of the office. Overactive imagination? I doubt it. The message is pretty straightforward. I need to get my mom… Yes, my priority is to get the hell out. Both of us. But what would she say? Would she listen? A good excuse won’t be too hard. I rounded the corner, to the chair my mother had despondently took refuge on. It was empty. Her car keys still lay on the table. Heart in throat, I sprinted towards the seat, swiping my palm across the fabric seat. Still warm. She must have left a minute ago. The waiting room was empty except for a lone janitor emptying trashcans. “Excuse me,” I stammered, trying to mask my panic with a smile, “Have you seen my mother? She was here a minute ago, dark hair, purple skirt, white blouse…” The janitor didn’t turn his head. I walked towards him. “Excuse me…” I began, until I espied the pill wrapper. I snatched it up. “Where did you find this?” I demanded. The janitor screwed his eyes at me and pointed at his ear. In a hurry, I gestured in sign language “Where?” and pointed at the wrapper. He pointed down the hall. My blood ran cold. The surgery room.

I could feel fear burying its barbed tendrils deeper and deeper into my chest with every step. The hospital was so quiet. Where is everyone? I pushed the surgery room doors open.

A wave of sickening stench blasted into my face. The room was the purest white, a stark contrast to the bright crimson dripping from the walls, the sink, the surgery bed, and my mother. Her eyes, sparkling with confidence and spunk only a few minutes ago, were misted, stretched wide in… Shock? Pain? Surprise? Her fingers were stiff and bloody, fingernails torn from a struggle. Gashes decorated her limbs and torso, staining her white blouse to a brilliant scarlet. I could barely recognize her face. Pale, bloated and distorted, besides being stained with blood, her jaw muscles were severed so that her mouth hung wide open, like a gaping chasm. Looking closely, I saw that there was something barely visible in her throat. A knife. Someone forced a knife down her throat.

I placed my fingers onto her eyelids and closed them gently.

And then I ran.




Sorrow? Nah. Fear? Nope.


39°55′N 116°23′E.

I need to go there. It is the only thing I can do. Call me weak for giving in to hatred, to anger. Call me stupid for charging headfirst into the unknown. Why don’t you come back to me when you lose your family, your home, and your faith.

I strained on the pedal as hard as I could. There were no cars out here in this bleak landscape, just rolling hills and the occasional wraith-like shrub. Even if there were, I really didn’t have much to lose. Except I would never avenge my mother. Or find out the truth. I must admit, I was also dying for answers. There is something that they must be hiding from us. Not just my mother and I, the “anomalies”. They must be hiding a truth from everyone. My hands tightened around the wheel. But what? What is so harmful that would be worth slaughtering an innocent woman? Or devising an elaborate plan to draw an anomaly to a trap? And the final, most crucial question: who is behind this?

The killer left her unnecessarily mutilated. I felt sick recalling the surgery room. He, or she, did not intend to give her a painless death. This was done in seething spite. This caused me to grip the pistol tighter. I never thought I’d even touch it, that it would even leave its case in the trunk. First time for everything, right? Like seeing your mom dissected.

More desolate hills and spiky bushes. Wind started to whip against the windows, bringing grains of sand and coloring the air brown. No wonder their HQ is out here. I squinted past the clouded glass. The same, monotone landscape rolled past, not a single change in landscape, no odd rock or twisted tree to mark my passage. I hit the brakes, unanticipated. Holy… I had stopped just in time at a cliff’s edge. The canyon below my feet was dark, menacing. The cliff’s edge seemed to kiss up with the road on the other side, creating an illusion that hid the canyon from sight. I peered down the yawning chasm. That was so close. I checked the GPS, frowning. The coordinates lead in the canyon. This’ll be one hell of a trip.

A narrow, winding path was carved subtly into the cliff. Rocks and sand littered the ledges, but overall the path was clear. Slipping my keys and pistol into my pocket, I began to steadily scale the cliff face. There were plenty of handholds, but I gripped them so tightly that by the time I reached the bottom, my fingers and calves quivered with exhaustion. I was in pretty bad shape. My hands and face were coated in dust and grime, my hair hung in lanky, sweat sticky strands. The air was completely still in the canyon. There was no wind to ruffle the dust off my torn clothes, or to relent the overpowering stink that soaked the air. Once I was strong enough to walk around again, I took in my surroundings. There was no vegetation, nor signs of life. The canyon seemed as stark and empty as the landscape above. Except for the huge boulders sprouting every 10 meters, there was nothing. I cried out as my toe struck a hard, metal object, falling clumsily onto the cold stone. Rubbing my toe, I sat up to inspect it. A license plate.

I stared around again, in horror. Those weren’t boulders; those were cars. Heaps of steel rubbish and engines and wheels. And of course… Corpses. The reek of death and motor oil was overwhelming. This canyon intends to take the lives of anyone trying to enter? Shuddering, I heaved myself shakily onto my feet. The illusion’s genius, but all the more psychotic… The sudden glint of a door handle caught my eye. “Yes!” I hissed, hobbling furiously towards the camouflaged door. It opened with a shuddering creak. Not locked? That’s scarily convenient.

Dr. Orice turned around in her chair. “Hello, Kat.”

Oh no.

I snatched the pistol out of my pocket, locking my arms in front of me. “You’re going to explain everything,” I snarled, spit flying, “Or your brains are going to decorate that computer.” Dr. Orice’s sculpted lips turned upwards. “Oh, Kit.” She put her hands to her head, but I did not relax. “Skip the excessive chatter. Get to it.” The doctor exhaled softly. “Such a tough girl now, huh? It’s only been a few days, but you’ve grown.” I leaned the pistol up to her forehead. “Get to it.

The doctor leant back into her chair. “There’s not much to say, really. You and your mother needed to be eradicated. It is that simple.” Her calm demeanor only fueled the flames licking at my insides. “That does not explain anything,” I growled, “and stop smiling. Tell me why we need to be…” My breath hitched. “… Eradicated.”

“Because abomination needs to be destroyed.” The word abomination was forceful and contemptuous, a thorny twig forced down a throat.

28 May 2015

The Turning Point

Author: Isa | Filed under: Humanities

He experiences pain, understands the reason for the Sameness, and realizes what the Sameness is bringing his community to. Jonas, the protagonist of the book The Giver by Louis Lowry, experiences a change that spins out the whole story: becoming the new Receiver of Memories for his dystopian Community.

Jonas was notified that he would experience extreme pain during his training to be the Receiver of Memories, indescribable pain that changed the lives of the Receivers, forever; he didn’t know, however, that he would be the one Receiver to change the fate of the Community with his knowledge. Jonas receives memories from the former Receiver, known as the Giver, and his training was not just pleasurable memories. The Giver gives Jonas memories of sunburn, fire, wounds, and warfare, each more painful than the next. “From the distance, Jonas could hear the thud of canons. Overwhelmed by pain, he lay there in the fearsome stench for hours, listening to the men and animals die, and learned what warfare meant.” (Lowry 120) Jonas could see the ignorance of the children. “It was a game he had often played with the other children, a game of good guys and bad guys, a harmless pasttime that used up all their contained energy and ended only when they all lay in freakish postures on the ground. He had never recognized it as a game of war.” (Lowry 133) Jonas now sees his Community, oblivious to pain. After all his experiences, he now is thinking: the people of the Community have a right to know! The people had been brought up with no feelings, and without feelings they could do terrible things that they would feel nothing for. Experiencing pain, Jonas now knows of the terrible truth: the Community is falling to an incognizant world. The book’s climax can now unfold.

Throughout Jonas’ training, he wonders numerous times: “Why doesn’t pain, color, or love exist in our Community anymore?” The answer, Jonas comes to find, is the Sameness. The Sameness was a decision. It was an act. The Sameness had made everything colorless, making everything the same so people couldn’t make choices. No longer were there things that could bring pleasure as well as inconvenience or were unnecessary things, because those things made life harder. “‘And hills too,” he added, ‘They made conveyance of goods unwieldy. Trucks; buses. Slowed them down. So­­­— ‘ he waved his hand, as if a gesture had caused hills to disappear. ‘Sameness,’ he concluded.” (Lowry 84) In this paragraph, the Giver explains to Jonas the reason why there were no more hills or snow. Jonas gets his first glimpse of the meaning of Sameness. Jonas also sees colors, and this leads to Jonas’ thinking “’If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic, or a red one?’” (Lowry 97) The Giver responds to his thinking with “They could make the wrong choices.” Though making a simple choice like choosing clothes might seem like nothing, if you had a choice of choosing clothing, why not choose your wife or husband? Why not choose your job? The Community does not want anyone to make the wrong choices, therefore they choose for them so that they will not suffer from the ‘wrong choice’. The discovery of how the Sameness is grinding down the Community into oblivion is critical to the story as Jonas needs to understand that his Community is not perfect.

Seeing all the citizens without feelings or choices, love or color, Jonas knows that he cannot just be Receiver without doing something for them. He knows that they all live like they were lifeless, with no feelings, just doing what they were assigned to do, never experiencing or wondering what true pain or pleasure was like. If Jonas left the Community, all the memories, painful and pleasurable, would all go back to the citizens. Jonas could change the Community. “The Giver smiled grimly. “’When the new Receiver failed, the memories that she had received were released. They didn’t come back to me.’” (Lowry 104) The Giver’s former apprentice had been released, and when she was released, the memories went back to the people. Jonas knew that if he left, the memories would go back to the people of the Community. Where would he go, though? This is the where the climax arises, the most crucial part of the book, where Jonas has to take action to save his Community from forever oblivion.

Becoming Receiver is a huge turning point for Jonas, as he experiences the pain that would drive him into action to change the Community, to show them a new world without the Sameness, and bring pain, pleasure, color, and love back to their lives. Jonas himself, though, will also go on the adventure of his lifetime, to find the world where the Sameness did not exist.

In several ways, I can find tendrils of my 8th grade year in Jonas’ journey. In the beginning, Jonas is unaware, unsure, but curious. Before I came to 8th grade, I was in the same state. What would change in 8th grade? My friends? Myself? My grades? I didn’t feel prepared in any way for what seemed looming ahead. But then, I was caught up in this whirlwind. Due dates and workloads whistled past, stress and tire piling and disintegrating. There were a lot of challenges, such as writing the blog posts, or preparing for presentations. There were crammed and hastily rushed works. There were memorable learning experiences. There were times where I was not responsible. I think 8th grade felt like a huge turning point in my middle school life. It was the year where I really needed to learn time management, organization and responsibility. Throughout the year, I made many choices. Some were the right choices and I benefited from the opportunities they brought. Some were wrong and dragged myself into stress and extra, unnecessary work. Like Jonas, I learned from my mistakes. Like Jonas, I became more independent. “If you aren’t thinking, others will do the thinking for you.” Mr. Fidler said something along the lines of that, and it’s really stuck here in my brain. I don’t want to be oblivious. I don’t want to be manipulated. And to do that, I will continue to take on responsibilities and embrace the turning points in my life.

28 May 2015

To Be Continued?

Author: Isa | Filed under: Humanities

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28 May 2015

January 10th

Author: Isa | Filed under: Humanities

How will I ever get out of this labyrinth?

Alaska Young surfs the waves of Culver Creek life. Elaborate pranks. Hidden cigarettes and wine bottles. Cruising in the Blue Citrus. Stolen moments of illicit behavior. “Two young girls, two entire centuries apart”. One is a depressed, maddened, suicidal teen, one an actor dreaming of the ultimate role. However, their differences do not keep them apart, and within the historical fiction book Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly intertwines the paths of the two. Andi Aplers is a teenage girl, suffering from depression due to the lost of her brother, and her parent’s divorce. Her life takes a major turning point, however, when her father brings her to France, and she stumbles across an ancient diary. Reading the diary, she finds out not only was the owner of this diary, Alexandrine Paradis, from the 18th century, but also she had been close to Louis Charles, the “lost king of France”. The ancient pages of the diary give Andi both comfort and pain, and also makes the line between the past and the present disappear.


Revolution is set in two time periods, yet the same location, France. The book is written in first person, in Andi’s perspective, and I think this way of writing had shown me more clearly the turmoil happening within Andi. Within Revolution, there are many historical facts inserted cleverly into the story, and with Andi learning these things herself, we also learn. The hard work and research Jennifer Donnelly put into this book is evident. She combined multiple themes of loss, pain, forgiveness, music, history, and “liberty, equality, and fraternity”, into a tale that started with teenage drama and evolved into something much more meaningful and melancholy.


The world goes on stupid and brutal, but I do not. Can’t you see? I do not.


The last sentence in Alex’s diary was incomplete, and Andi, who had finally realized what Alex had wanted to write down, in her last breath, to communicate, finished this quote. Alex hadn’t ended with a bloody smear, nor death. She ended with a lesson that shoved Andi out of her suicidal rut. The world may carry on being depressing, unforgiving, cruel, but Andi knows that she does not have to be the same. There was major character development throughout the whole story; Andi was a brilliant, smart girl until her brother’s death, which battered at her with guilt and grief until she was driven by madness, depression, and pain. Pain from her father, who left her, pain for her mother, who couldn’t withstand all the consecutive blows, and pain from her brother, who had only wanted them to find the key. The key to the universe? The key to happiness? The key to love? Little did Andi know that flying to Paris for the winter break was how she would find her key; through Alex.


I think this book was very helpful to learning about the French Revolution; Jennifer Donnelly managed to weave in the copious amounts of research into a story, dialogue, or a journal entry. This format allowed me to enjoy a story while learning about the French Revolution. Since Alex was living during that time, and also was interacting with the king of France, Jennifer Donnelly needed a lot of information to create scene after scene; instead of directly telling the reader the nobles and riches were to be found at Versailles, Donnelly uses Alex’s diary entries to communicate “the women all with spun sugar hair and bosoms as white as meringue”, “the men in frock coats cut so close they daren’t breathe, lace dripping from their cuffs, jewels winking on their fingers”. From a poor girl who played puppet shows, the high life of the royals made her decide that she never wanted to return to the life of the poor. Instead of saying a majority of the citizens of France wore the colors red, white and blue to support the revolution, Alex herself states that within the performances she watched, the performers “wore red, white and blue cockades pinned to their clothes. These are revolution’s colors, one of them said. Everyone wears them now.” You can feel the atmosphere of the revolution, how the citizens themselves are holding up; for instance when Alex finds out about the dramatic raise of the price of bread, the citizens were just as agitated as herself, as the king had just “spent six hundred thousand livres on a funeral for his child, while thousands of French children died from hunger every day.” Donnelly makes you sympathize with the characters, moving you much more smoothly with the plot.


In conclusion, this book was engaging, interesting and information packed. Every chapter ends with a hanging edge, urging you to read more, and there are so many meaningful quotes within every one. I would recommend this book to anyone who can handle rough language and mild violence, romance, and some dark content. This book left me with a feeling to know more about that tiny heart in a glass urn that inspired this book, and made me feel like I now should look for my key.

22 Apr 2015


Author: Isa | Filed under: Humanities

Silhouette from: www.shutterstock.com/s/girl%2Bsilhouette%2Bsmoking/search-p2.html
15 Apr 2015

Day 5: EasyGrip

Author: Isa | Filed under: Science


Tired of the same old stiff pencils? Tired of fingers aching after a long session of scribbling? Tired of the dull, monochromatic pencils with not a single flare of personal taste? EasyGrip™ is here to save the day. With a soft, elastic design, EasyGrip can be applied to any pencil or pen. The result is a smooth, flexible pen grip that leaves no traces of water or color. Everyone has their own grip. You can mold EasyGrip to fulfill your expectations and desires.

EasyGrip is easy to maintain. Simply keep in a sealed container or plastic bag to preserve pliancy and suppleness. Not only is EasyGrip suitable for all age and easy to utilize, but is absolutely customizable in appearance! Make your creative time more enjoyable with: EasyGrip.


Infomercial Password: pikachus

Just as promised, our polymer is flexible, easily molded and clean. It doesn’t stick to much but pencils and itself. We were relatively successful in meeting our goal. However, it has been demonstrated that prolonged exposure to oxygen changes the volume, texture and even the color of the polymer drastically, meaning that if people were to purchase this product, they would need to take extra care in preserving it in a sealed container. Every pen grip would needed to be taken off and sealed after every use

12 Apr 2015

Day 4:

Author: Isa | Filed under: Uncategorized
8 Apr 2015

Day 3: Poptropican Flesh

Author: Isa | Filed under: Science

The “Gloop” recipe is our basis. At least, for most of our polymers. What is concerning about our modified “Gloop” recipe is that it is not flexible enough. The polymer breaks apart cleanly and cannot stretch very much. Although the firmness of the polymer is desirable, the polymer does not mold smoothly. The result is chunky, with sharp edges and the pieces still appear separate.We added 15 ml of PVA to our recipe, but its effects were disappointing. Guar gum was even more so. I’ve learned to stay away from too much Guar gum; the thickening effect it has isn’t too bad, but it removes 1. the smooth feeling and 2. the moisture. The polymers with more Guar gum have shown to be dough-like, but drier and less flexible/soft.

Photo on 3-31-15 at 8.28 PM #2

Flexible, easy-to-mold polymer v.s. firm, easy-to-break polymerPhoto on 4-1-15 at 4.22 PM #3

However, I have been attempting to recreate “Poptropican Flesh”. A major difference between the “Poptropican Flesh” I created before and the two I have now is that my two polymers now are much easier to break. They share similar characteristics of breaking as the “Gloop”. Tests of heating were taken. After 30 seconds on high, both polymers came out dry, crispy and airy, just like the “Gloop”. All polymers harden to a stiff, plastic-like form after exposed to air for several hours. I strive to create a polymer that posses the stretchy qualities of “Poptropican Flesh” and the smooth, pleasing properties of the “Gloop”.

Photo on 4-8-15 at 7.41 PM #3

If you poke it, it doesn’t break. It’s like a puff pastry!

Photo on 4-8-15 at 7.17 PM

Hardened “Poptropican Flesh”


6 Apr 2015

Day 2: Squishy Pen

Author: Isa | Filed under: Science

alpha_gel_green  030354i1   6229

Our group plans to design a moldable pen/pencil grip. We were inspired by the Alpha Gel Uni-Ball pens from the Mitsubishi Pencil Company. These pens come with soft, gel grips that come in a variety of colors. Not only are the grips of these pens well liked by its users, but the pens also are visually appealing. This is what we hope to aim for with our pen grips, except our pen grips can be molded to the needs of the user, and even removed. They should be applicable to pencils and pens alike. We began by adjusting the recipe for gloop by adding liquid starch and increasing ingredients such as glue.


Modifying the “Gloop” recipe

I tested a resulting polymer (which was a nice shade of blue) at home; I froze a portion for 8 hours, heated a portion for 30 seconds at high in a microwave and another for 10 seconds. The polymer proved to return to original state within minutes of freezing or heating, although after microwaved for 30 seconds, the liquids within the polymer had evaporated and was irreversibly crispy. Finally, the rest of the polymer was left exposed to air on a paper plate. The result was a hardened blue lump. The biggest problem with this polymer was that it left traces of color on fingers and white surfaces.


Photo on 4-1-15 at 4.22 PM #2

The stretchy (but not sticky) qualities of Poptropican Flesh

Therefore, I stayed after school for further investigation. I created 2 other polymers on my own: “Bouncy Ball” and “Poptropican Flesh”. The first one is actually from a website, and later on I found the result was almost identical to gloop (disappointment!). Still, it’s not science unless you write it down. “Bouncy Ball” left a significantly less amount of food coloring on surfaces. However, because both “Gloop” and “Bouncy Ball” did that at all makes me doubt we will continue using the similar formulas (or food coloring. But our aesthetic goals would not be met if so). The two polymers proved to react similarly under heating and freezing. “Poptropican Flesh”, however, was quite successful. Not only was there no residue from the polymer, it was semi-translucent and very suitable for molding. With some modifications, this could be the polymer we’re looking for. I’m proud to call this polymer my own.

Photo on 4-1-15 at 4.22 PM

Modified Gloop (left), Poptropican Flesh (middle), Bouncy Ball (right)