dal niente

Month: June, 2011

Location location location

The first day that I tried to turn on my GPS it was totally confused, and after 5 minutes of paniking, it asked me weather or not I’d moved over 100 miles since the last time that I had used it. (It tries to remember its favorite satelites, so when those are nowhere to be found, it panics.)

Anyway, that works now. I’ve been around my immediate area in Glebe, seen a bit of the central business district, been to Chinatown once, and been to Kensington briefly. Around here in the Glebe end of New South Wales things are nice; it reminds me of my old neighborhood in NDG Montreal. There is a mall about a half hour walk away, but before that there are lots of small family businesses, the majority of which are small restaurants, cafes, and bookstores. Almost everything I need is within walking distance of about 10 minutes from home.

I’m really glad that the Glebe Library is just around the corner. It’s a very small library, less than half the size of the library I used to work at in LaSalle, but it’s still got a nice friendly community feel, and comfy chairs near large windows. It’s got a distinctly small town feel to it, the way that the bulletin boards have as many local piano and clarinet teacher ads with the pull off phone number tabs as there are official City of Sydney publications. No mangas here, but there is a sizable selection of American comics that I’ve not read.

It’s also got a nice level of background noise– people at the front counter chatter constantly, but, to me, that’s a plus. I’m not the sort of person who can read or study well in total noiselessness, because for some reason that actually makes other things extra noisy by comparison. Simply put, I’d rather not hear the ninjas coming.

The library is smalltown enough that I don’t think many people come here, which will be a plus when I get around to studying. They’ve got a sizable amount of non-scholastic books on the Australian legal system which I’ve been browsing, so that’ll be a plus.

I’m actually really happy with the location of the apartment. Library within spitting distance. Groceries too. If I go downhill, there’s a fantastic bayside running path as well. Rent is a bit pricey compared to what I’m used to in Montreal– it tallies up to a bit short of 800$ per month, but for all the local availability of things, it saves me a fair amount on transportation. Public transport is pretty pricey because unlike montreal, a bus ticket doesn’t ‘transfer.’ That is to say, for every bus you get on, you have to get another ticket stamped (wheras in Montreal, one ticket gets in general gets you from your start to destination, even if that means you use a bus, metro, and another bus). As I said, that’s okay though because I use a bike. UNSW (University of New South Wales) is about 8km away (which is at most a 40 minute ride), and that’s the futhest thing I need to get to. Chinatown (Haymarket) and the central business district are both significantly closer than that. Every daily bike ride to school saves me almost a clean 10 bucks or so. I’ve heard that you can get an unlimited pass, but for my purposes the price is a bit too prohibitive and i can’t justify that cost since everything else is so easy to get to.

In general, Sydney’s a pretty easy transition from Montreal. It’s certainly not like South Korea, in that the language and customs are totally different. In some ways, Sydney is quite confusing though because of how deceptively subtle the differences with Montreal are. The weather right now varies between about 15 and 20 or so degrees Celsius, which is pretty typical back home of spring. But aside from the left-side driving, there’s a few little things: like how you walk down a street and you don’t recognize any of the trees that are growing; or all the signs are in English (no french); or how everyone mostly speaks with Australian accents.

Anyways, it’s a learning process. I think I’ve done really well as far as jet lag goes, I’m falling asleep at mostly the right times but I often wake up a bit too early on account of some birds living outside my window.

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Tele

(This post was originally written about a week ago, and is only now being posted)

It’s been over a month now since I’ve last owned a cellphone. The disconnect hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be. I never know what the date is, I often don’t know what the time is. Sometimes I put my watch on upside down because I’ve not frequently worn one for years.

Having internet access was never been too big of a deal even without it I always had my smartphone.

Ever since arriving in Sydney on the 8th, I haven’t had internet access at home or on a smartphone, so I’m a bit disconnected. (At the time of this posting, this actual post is several days old, since I’ve been writing offline).

Lack of telecommunications isn’t so bad right now, because I haven’t started classes yet. However, there are a lot of simple things that I guess would be nice to be able to do– look up a map, for example, so I can more efficiently check out my surroundings.

-=-=-=-=-=-

I’m doing things the old fashioned way instead– on foot. I’m drawing maps by hand, which, if you look at them, look more like stick figures with words on them. I have an old Garmin wrist mounted ForeRunner GPS that I bought in Korea– it doesn’t have any map data functions, but, it does allow me to save waypoints.

Within a few days of arriving here in Sydney, I also purchased a bike. To be honest with you, I really like this thing– it’s the first brand new bicycle I’ve bought for myself in… well… ever. I’ve always bought second hand bikes. Why the change? Well, from my current residence in Glebe, the trip to University of New South Wales (henceforth, UNSW) is about 8km in one direction… that puts me at about 16km of commuting per day, and I intend to do that by bike. Fixies in general seem to be pretty popular here– and they have some really nice equipment that’s gone a completely different cultural route from the fixies in Montreal. But for the daily distance I’m going to be handling, it’s a bit uncomfortable I think.

Sydney’s also extremely hilly compared to downtown Montreal, so gears are a must. The choice to me was between a hybrid and an ATB, but eventually, I ended up going with a hybrid. It was a pretty good deal– I ended up buying the rig from Europa Cycle in Kensington. It set me back a pretty penny, but already I love how this thing just rolls along and eats up the roads.

I will miss the Warthog’s agility and the feel of every little detail of the road under your feet, but the new hybrid is a lot more practical for me right now. Comes with fullsize rain guards on front and back, as well as a cargo rack to which I’ve attached the saddlebags that I brought with me from Montreal.

It’s not the fastest bike on the street, but it’s close to one of the most comfortable, and it does a really good job of carrying weight. I picked up about 10kg of groceries yesterday from Chinatown and the frame and tires seemed to not complain in the slightest.

It’s a pretty new experience for me to use cargo saddlebags actually, because I’ve always been one to either hook my u-lock in my belt, or wrap my huge chain lock around my waist, and carry all other cargo in a backpack. Having things in cargo bags really lowers the centre of gravity. I worry about increased flat rear wheel tires because of the back-heavy weight distribution, but having all the weight low really feels like the ride is much more stable.

[CM] got a bike the other day too, we bought our bikes together at the same shop at the same time. I think she’s pretty pleased with it, and it does me great joy to see that she’s really into using it.

I guess a bike is one of those things that when you get it brand new, it’s probably one of the biggest shiniest toys you can get aside from a car. Perhaps that initial lustre wears off after a while, but what a bike represents is a certain contract of involvement and control, at least to me. To me, being on a bike has been always in part about being able to go where I want, unrestrained by bus routes or the rides that people who drive (I don’t have a license) can bring me. Environmental reasons, well, we’ve all heard those, but also for one’s health: urban cycling is something that keeps me physically fit and mentally sharp.

To be honest, seeing CM ride her bike makes me a bit nervous. I’ve had my fair share of accidents while biking back home– cyclists just don’t tend to win many duels with cars or asphalt.

It’s funny how when I’m riding in my parents’ car and my sister is driving, my dad is always super critical of how she checks her blind spots, how she drives too fast, how she stays in the wrong lanes, etc– and I always thought to myself it’s really annoying. Watching CM ride makes me want to do that: to be critical, I mean.

I think now that I’m here, in person with CM instead of doing long distance, I need to adjust to being in a normal relationship now. That means, in large part, now that I can fix things, now that I can directly affect her life, sometimes it means that I need to do nothing. It means that, as proud as I am, and as smart as I think I am, I need to let her be herself and figure out her own way for a lot of things. I need to just learn to trust her. She’s smart, she learns fast, and, she’s a gamer– she’ll figure it all out on her own even if I don’t stick my two cents in!

White

(This post was written between Montreal and Sydeny, before I arrived.)

I remember when I first got back to Montreal from Asia, I was eager to see how the Montreal taekwondo scene was like. I was a relatively fresh 1st dan at the time, working towards 2nd dan (though that would be a long way off, I thought). I ended up checking out and joining Montreal’s “top tkd gym,” in the east end of Montreal. Apparently, this gym had churned out a fair share of Canadian tkd olympic fighters in the past.

I think I had a bad experience there from the start. I didn’t exactly want to wear my black belt while there, I should point out. There were a number of concerns I had in my head about doing so, one of them being a certain lack of confidence in my ability (especially the translation of rank between Korea and Montreal). While many of my worries turned out to be unfounded, many of them turned out to be right, and there were other issues that I hadn’t predicted.

The first was that I was greeted by a school that lacked discipline and toughness. There were a few people there who were training very, very seriously– but there were also a lot of people who were just dicking around and somehow were already on their 2nd dans. I don’t think one ought to judge by the best of a school, or the worst, because those impressions may be the result of a dedicated few. There is a lot to say, however, of the general feeling of the median attitude.

Maybe it’s because my gwanjangnim was a real hardass, but I just thought the school was disgraceful.

When I say soft, I’m not sure if it’s because they were trying too hard to baby me or if it was because they were really training at the pace that was there. They were very concerned about image– and even worse, about merchandising. I couldn’t wear my Koreana gym uniform, which I suppose was reasonable, because you’re theoretically not supposed to wear another nation’s flag on your uniform (should be Canadian). But they pretty much insisted that I order one of their uniforms instead (I opted for a generic one) and a pair of shoes.

While we were training, I was the only one on the hardwood floors that was training without tkd shoes– I should add though that I was running, jumping and kicking at least at the median rate despite it.

I suppose it’s fair to say though that it’s their house so it’s their rules, but in general… I just didn’t like the atmosphere. When I first got there everyone was always testing me– which is fine I guess if i was there to proove something, but I wasn’t. I just wanted to learn; I’m not of the personality who wants to go in and be the new kid on the street, I just want to blend in and do what I’m there to do.

It got to the point where one of the other black belts, a portly old man of about 50 years at least, would raise his arms up and say “okay, kick me as hard as you can.” Naturally– I declined, and even when I eventually grudgingly agreed, I didn’t do so at full force…

And, on another occasion, while I was on the ground stretching, someone slapped me on the back. That actually screwed up my back pretty bad, and I never went back to the gym after that.

-=-=-=-=-=-

I need to sort through lots of old stuff at my parents’ place, because my bedroom basically won’t have any occupants for at least 3 years, so a lot of it will be stored away in the basement. As I was going through stuff, I ran into a child’s judogi/yudobok (a training outfit for judo/yudo). I bought this by accident because I was ordering online on a Korean martial arts supply site, and I completely mistranslated the sizing– so instead of getting an adult’s training jacket, I got a kid’s jacket instead. It even came with the white belt. I’m going to be giving that to my twin cousins. I doubt either of them will start training in martial arts in time to fit it (neither of their parents is really too keen on the idea) but it is more useful to them than it is to me.

My own yudobok is coming with me to Australia. I’ve never formally been trained for a long time in either standup grappling, throwing or groundfighting, but over the years I’ve done enough mixed martial arts to really develop an appreciation of it. I bought the training jacket when I first got to Montreal 2.0 because I was opening up Numac (the non-profit mixed martial arts successor to the original MAC). Despite that it sometimes gets a bit rank, I love that thing– I like the heft of the jacket, or something, and I like that it’s strong enough to support my weight without even a groan when someone uses it to toss me. Most cheap clothing that I wear to train with tends to shred or tear eventually, but the oldschool durability of this training jacket just gets it all done.

I’m leaving the taekwondo outfit at home. It’s doubtful that I’d want to do any more of that in Australia. I’m not saying my Montreal experience in TKD is the reason for it, but I want to do something that either doesn’t care about belts, or which I could start from scratch. I think I’d look into judo, jiu jitsu or maybe even aikido, if I can find an interesting enough school. I guess it depends on how much time I have too– chances are, law school will keep me pretty busy, so maybe I won’t even have time to do much except normal, non-martial exercise.

But we’ll see. In any case, for Australia, all the belts are going into storage, except a generic, still creased white belt.

Brainwash

[This post is unrevised, and was written several days ago between Montreal and Sydney.]

“Just so you know, it’s been a long day…” Natalie Portman says, with a nervous smile.

“It’s okay. It’ll get better, I promise,” comes the reply from Ashton Kutcher in No Strings Attached.

I think I’m becoming a better traveller. I mean, it’s about 6AM in Sydney right now, and I’m on the plane as I start writing this, so that makes my sense of time pretty fucked up. But all things considered, this was probably the ‘easiest,’ even though the longest flight, I’ve taken yet.

It’s a bit hard to put into words what’s going on in my mind right now, but I liken it to the title of a book I always intended to, but never read: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The easiest memories for me to refer to are in terms of emotional growth several key events in my life. I remember my first kickboxing tournament– I was so nervous that I felt as if I was going to throw up. Because it was just an amateur tournament, there were no weight classes, and on top of that, no fight data on anybody there. My opponent was a head taller than me and outweighed me by a good twenty pounds. I took so many punches to the face in a 3 minute round that the white part of one of my eyes had burst blood vessels, and I spent a good 15 minutes after that semifinal match in the college bathroom topless, dousing myself with water from the sink. Dissapointment at losing was one thing, and pain was another– but I still felt the overhand knot of my intestines from the fear of fighting. Whenever I sparred, I always held back. In that match, it felt as if I was fighting a beast– I didn’t hold back, and that scared me, because even though I gave it my all, he was still hitting me back. My wrists hurt from the impact of my punches, the muscles near my shins were cramped from my legs classhing against his midsection and his legs. I felt paralyzed at the knees, even though just minutes ago, these joints has delivered what I considered bludgeoning lethality nonstop. I couldn’t lift my arms, though minutes ago they were hooking, thrusting, almost flailing with a wild instinct of their own.

It was true that by that time, I’d only been practicing martial arts for a handful of years, so my inexperiences translated into ‘light’ punches and kicks. Nonetheless, it was terrifying to be in this real world, outside of classrooms, where my ‘textbook’ commended technique wasn’t enough. And even when I had added on all the emotional fire I could muster? He just wouldn’t fall.

And when I tried my sharpest wits, heaviest clubs, and most burning desires– to throw all that all into one ball of manifested intention, to see it have only half the effect I intended, it left me feeling empty and fearful.

The fear made my blood viscous and unthinnable, while my heart refused to slow down and just kept on choking on that sludge. They say that the heart is the subconscious willpower… that is true. Because my willpower was faltering, and my body was injured, but my heart was still hammering away in the engine room, waiting for the captain’s next trick.

Well, willpower is a mental process, and the body’s phsyical ability is linked to both conscious and unconscious mental commands. Fear is something that comes from two sources– first of all, it comes from external stiumuli, that your conscious mind evaluates. If I attempt a right hook and he counters with a big right hand straight in my face, it only takes one or two of those for your better judgement to say “okay, stop doing that.” You develop fears as the result of evaluation of a situation– you decide eventually through on the spot learning that something is risky, but you can’t always proof the equations on the spot, so your brain does the calcuations for you and gives you it’s counsel in various degrees of a sensation of fear. As experience begins to tell you that a certain form of action isn’t just risky, it’s nearing impossibility, then the fear becomes more intense.

Eventually, your brain does the automatic function of assigning these relationships between action and reaction more permanently in your subconscious. Which is where the second side of fear eventually comes from– it’s your subconscious instincts, recognizing patterns around you (sometimes incorrectly) and giving you misleading information.

Fear from the subconscious is the worst kind. Unlike fear of that which is right in front of you and based on limited data, fear that is from the subconscious is based on an automatic survival mechanism that half of the time makes you want to run away. It’s extremely unproductive in terms of sticking to goals that you’ve consciously decided on.

Fear of conscious things can be worked on to a certain extent, but the really difficult stuff is the fear that is deeply rooted, that has been commited through so much repetition that we may not even be able to rationalize it any more.

We might call these subconscious fears “inner fears,” while a conscious fear of something is an “outer fear.” The two are very closesly related and it’s true that a situation may be seen as a result of both inner and outer, but let me give an example of how we might visualize the divide.

Several years ago when I was biking as my primary form of commuting, I’d gone over a year without never setting into a vehicle except maybe once every couple of weeks to get a ride to a family outing. As a result of that, my road instincts had retuned themselves to biking.

Biking in Montreal teaches you that engine sounds from behind you means cars approaching. If a car visually appears beside you suddenly, it’s no surprise, because even without turning your head (which is something you often don’t/can’t do, because that’s about when you’re going to get ‘doored’ by a parked car) you heard it coming from a few metres back. You also learn that the faster you go down hill, the more attention you have to pay to cracks and potholes in the road because your increased speed multiplies the danger of an accident. The lack of fear at a car appearing next to me because I could hear it, and the fear of potholes when going down hill, are habits that started off as conscious practical efforts. But eventually, they become programmed responses to simplify the state of consciousness– they become, simply, automatic.

I realized later on though when I moved to a home with carowners that I had developped a particular fear of riding in the back of a car. The reason being was that suddenly, cars would show up right next to me in the window, and I hadn’t heard them coming. And as we rolled down hills under just our momentum, I couldn’t see the road: I couldn’t see any potholes, and I couldn’t slow down. I found myself leaning back in my chair, the way I would on the saddle of my bike, but I nervously found myself at extreme unease.

I mean, if you were on bike, and going down a hill, speeding, and not only couldn’t you see the road but you didn’t have any steering or braking capability? Returning to being a passenger on the same roads where I was previously always in control as a cyclist, quite frankly, was terrifying.

And I didn’t understand why I was always feeling sick while in the back seat of a car, why my heart was always racing, why I always felt so tense… because by now, these practical cyclist fears were rooted in my subconscious, in my muscle memories, in my sense of instincts.

What was necessary through practice was to redefine the vehicle passenger experience as distinct from the pilot cyclist experience.

And therein lies the tyranny of fearful instincts– while they are meant to protect us, they also overcompensate at times and draw false relationships between similar events. Thus, while going downhill on a city road on a bike is similar to doing so in a car, they’re not the same thing, but my subconscious drew that conclusion anyways and was telling me that everything about this situation was wrong. But really, there’s nothing wrong about not having control as a passenger in a car.

If one leaves their evalluation of the feasability of interaction to the outside world to the whims of our survival instincts, we’ll frankly get nowhere. The subconscious simplifies all the inputs it gets from our senses– it makes snap judgements and attempts to build reflexes based solely on our ability to continue living. It doesn’t grade performance, it doesn’t understand nuances. That is why practice, for every situation, is the only way to learn to operate under the right levels of fear.

In real life, every day life, in the scheme of experience and personal growth, it thus becomes a defining quality to be able to examine our subconscious fears and distinguish between one situation and another. It’s not an easy process, but that’s what practice is– the repeated procession of a technique in order to gradually allow our subconscious to internalize the situation, the technique and the mental state that we can use to do better with that given act. The act of choosing to practice is the only rational part of this process– the rest, really, is persistence. If you think you can conquer your fear by just deciding that you think something shouldn’t be scary, you’re totally wrong.

Essentially, practice is the act of reducing fear, or at least, learning to operate under a state of fear, through reprogramming of the reflexes’ intrinsic reluctance towards the unfamiliar.

And that’s what I think of, now that I’m in Sydney. I’m scared… but it’s the okay level of scared, I think. It keeps me sharp, it keeps me appreciative of all the new things around me. Every now and then I feel like something bad is going to happen– but I have no idea what. And with fear being the only thing to fear, I guess that one day at a time, I can continue to move forward.

From down under

I haven’t had a home internet connection since I arrived in Sydney, but I am on the ground and well. More will follow when I get internet or a cellphone by next week. Cheers!

Before the Jump

Going to Australia is a big thing for me. I’ve never lived away from my home city for three years before. The process of getting things ready before I go, I think, has been a lot like finding out that you’ve got something terminal– you have a certain amount of time to do everything that you need to do until it just happens, and when it does, you just hope that you leave behind more postive influences on your home.

I have a cousin, [Ls] who is going to be coming to Canada in a few months. She’s a couple of years older than me and is a veteran schoolteacher in Taiwan. She wants to come to Canada to shakes things up a bit– go on the first big adventure of her life. She’s scared though– it’s a huge step, after all. She’ll be leaving behind a good paying, secure and well-respected job, for what? Because she has this feeling that maybe there’s something she should understand about the world and about herself before she does that for another year. She’s quit her job on a feeling that it doesn’t matter what’s after the jump, or exactly the conditions before it– she just needs to make the jump. We come from a family though where you don’t jump whenever you want– in addition to that being dictated by the clan, you’re supposed to ask in which direction, and how high. In the last few weeks here in Montreal, trying to get her connected with Canada has taken up the majority of my unemployed online time, as we do our homework on how she’ll survive in Canada in terms of living arrangements, schooling, work and a social support network. In the end, she’s purchased her ticket to go to British Columbia because she doesn’t have any knowledge of french, and it’ll be a problem if she were to come to Quebec. It’s still a project in the works, but, I’m glad that she asked me for help on the whole idea because I’m glad that she’s doing this for herself.

I have another cousin, [Akatsuki] who lives in Montreal. A few years ago when he was around 20 years old, I gave him a long hard lecture about how he was growing out a few of his fingernails, which, over here, is one of the brands of Asian gangs. A month ago, he told me he was looking for part-time work because he was flunking too many courses at university. He’s on academic probation now and is limited to 2 courses per semester, and probably needs the money because his dad is unemployed and bad with money, and his mom slaves away as a seamstress. I spent a few hours (it doesn’t take much) to help him work on a CV and a cover letter, and last monday, I took his lazy ass out and marched him around downtown to force him to apply at any company I thought was interesting. He is lazy, and, as I told him: “The only reason I volunteered to do this is because I know you’re lazy, and believe me, it’s one thing to not like your teachers, it’s another thing to be a big spender, but it’s simply a problem to be lazy. I’m here to kick your ass.” It wasn’t easy, but I think he feels more confident after we ran through some mock interview questions and found ways to translate his lack of job experience into eagerness and willingess to work/learn.

Within the clan, there’s the normal amount of gossip. But I think that it all misses the point if we say simply that Akatsuki is a lazy kid and who’s family needs to manage their money better. People always talk about changing for the future, but I think that what’s most important is to change ourselves first. Sure: go in baby steps. And maybe this is concusianism speaking, but, perhaps where the change needs to start is in our own lives, and with our own family and friends, before we ride the high horses to fight the big wars?

The thing is, for all my life, I’ve never put in as much effort on the homefront campaigns until recently, which is the point of this post. There are so many things that I always knew I could do to help, to make things better, to effect positive, sustainable change in the way that my clan works.

But I never did much of it.

Not until the Australia project came up. [CM] asks me sometimes why I make such a big deal about it… the fact is, despite that I am going to Australia whole heartedly, leaving Montreal 2.0 is a lot like dying. By the time I next visit… will everyone and everything still be the same?

And if I am to be missed, if I am to miss this place, what part can I say I’ve had in the way things were before I left? How have things grown because of my influence?

WHen I was selling stuff in anticipation of the move, I asked my sister, [Muy], if she knew anyone who wanted the Warthog (my custom commuter road bike). To my surprise a few days later she asked to see if I could adjust the bike so that she could ride it. It’s now a few months later, together with me she’s learned to change flat tires, and other basic bike maintenance. She bikes in the heart of downtown Montreal in the car lanes just like I did, even though just a year ago she was complaining about how much she hated/feared and didn’t understand cycling. To me, she’ll always be a younger sister– but if you consider how much change we’ve had together in the past few months alone, it’s daunting to think of how much she’ll grow up over the next few years.

I guess, my point overal, is that I was always capable of becoming more involved in the lives of those around me. I was always capable of taking on more responsibilities, of helping people to be able to do things better– but it wasn’t until it hit me that, shit, I’m going to be leaving the country for a long time that I started really putting any of those ideas to action.

So what was my excuse? What is anybody’s excuse? Why are we content, until faced with a terminus, to be bystanders? It’s a lesson which I’ve only now just learned because never before in my life have I had so much skill, so much potential, and seen how much I can get done in a few months. I mean… to brag, quite frankly, both of my parents can now use the internet. A few months ago, they still insisted on fixing the VCRs. There are so many things I can do, and I know that now.

In about 6 hours, I’ll be at the Montreal airport, waiting to get on my plane to Vancouver. I’ll then transfer to a plane to Sydney. Thus, this entry marks the last of Montreal 2.0…

See you all in Sydney!

All my bags are packed

…I’m ready to go!

One Week

One Week until I get on a plane to Australia. It’s been more than half a year since I’ve last seen [CM] in person.

It’s hard to focus on anything nowadays!