dal niente

Month: February, 2013

101…. 101

There are a number of new people in the judo class.  Whether it’s judo or any other activity where there is a progression of skill, I always feel that one of the things that stands out the most about new people is their fighting spirit– or more specifically, when there is a lack thereof.  A lot of it probably has to do with how you grew up, the activities you’ve done before, and how much self-confidence you have. Maybe some other people care about how friendly or nice a guy you are, but I don’t really look at that.  There are plenty of nice people in the world– there are lots of cute puppies and kittens out there too– but I wouldn’t want to do an activity with them, because their commitment to an activity has nothing to do with that.


When you start a new activity, it’s a given that you do not have the skills that the regulars.  When I say fighting spirit, I’m not talking about arrogance, or even self-confidence.  I’m simply talking about the willpower to throw yourself into the activity.  Willingness to make mistakes is a large part of it.  Humility is another.  However, whining about how hard something is gets you nowhere, and being decidedly stubborn about things from outside the world of that activity doesn’t help either.


Example cases can be found in some of the new judokas.  One of them kept on getting her bracelets caught in her sleeve when people grabbed her by the arm, and when asked to take it off, she would insist it was okay.  Another insisted on wearing glasses, even through the warmups.  Apparently he sees more than well enough for the purposes of sports, so I don’t see why having your glasses falling off every time you do a roll is very smart.  The final example are all those first-timers who show up at class without a gi (training jacket)– that in itself is excusable, because gis aren’t cheap, and if you don’t know yet if you want to commit to this activity, it’s unlikely that you’d be willing to shell out a hundred bucks for something you might never use again.  But for god’s sakes– at least wear some athletic clothing!  Who shows up at a gym expecting to start a workout in designer jeans?  All the more ridiculous when they’re low cut ones.


I’ve gotten in the habit of not using the expression “common sense” anymore, because frankly, what the fuck does that even mean nowadays.  Because for every 10 new people at the judo club showing up and expecting to participate, 5 of them are wearing jeans that are too tight for the to move in, or that they have to keep pulling up because they’re falling off their asses.


So maybe what I want out of newbies isn’t necessarily even fighting spirit– it’s just a bit of pre-reading on how to be a newbie.


While I was at judo today, the instructor took a few of us white belts aside and started asking us all sorts of questions, and to perform all sorts of techniques. It was difficult– mostly because I haven’t taken the time to learn the japanese names for everything.  If only there was a manga about judo that I could read!  By the end of the night– I was promoted to a yellow belt.  I was surprised, because I didn’t really even realise that I was being tested– but I guess that means I’m doing pretty well!


After manning the Baduk Club stall today, I stopped by a badminton shop that I discovered in the area near my university.  They sell all sorts of brands, but mainly VIctor products, which I’ve never really used. I did pick up a pair of badminton shoes for [CM]– and when she tried them on tonight in the apartment. We’ll be playing badminton tomorrow.   She was pretty psyched that they were a perfect fit as well.


I guess despite  all the difficulties of life, we’re finding small ways to move forward.  I think these things are important.

Not Enough

I got a grade back for the summer course– 77.  It’s a distinction grade, which is to say, probably in the top 15% or 20% of the class, but I’m pretty disappointed.  I had a feeling that this was the kind of grade I’d get though, so I guess it’s fair.


I didn’t like this class though.  The subject matter was interesting– global competition issues– however the teaching was nonexistant, and the amount of work we had to do for a 6 credit course was insane. Not recommending this class to anybody!


O-Week has started on monday, and results have been pretty good so far. We signed up about 50 members so far, which is pretty good considering what an obscure game baduk is.  Last  year, we signed up a lot more than that, but that was because we were signing up basically anyone who passed by whether they wanted to or not.  There’s not much point to getting members who won’t actually show up to play, so this year, we’ve been trying to focus more on students who display a minimum amount of interest.


From the Introduction to Go (Baduk) Workshop on Tuesday, it seems that all the hard work last year was paying off.  A lot of students found us through our internet presence and word of mouth, which means that the social media campaign I launched last year has had a positive effect.  We also had twice as many people at the workshop (a solid 20 at least), and these people just kept on playing and wanted to know when we would be meeting next.  I haven’t played much baduk over the past few months– mostly against AI opponents.  But playing humans has rekindled my interest– as a newly promoted 6kyu, I’m getting close to the level of [SiB], who taught me how to play, who is a 4kyu.  A showdown is inevitable…


The organisational structure of the club is slightly different this year, since I modified the club’s constitution last semester.  For one thing, we have more executive positions to spread out the work.  This was a good idea, and it’ll take the burden off of me, and hopefully streamline the tasks.  I mentioned in a previous post that one of the Executives was giving me trouble– the O-Week Coordinator.  Well, last night, I sent him a message telling him to give me a call.  After asking him why he’s been so difficult to communicate with lately, and where he thought we should go from here, I asked him politely to resign from his position.  “I can’t force you to resign, obviously.  But looking at what you’ve accomplished, and what you know your responsibilities were, do you think the way you’ve done things is the way the coordinator should have done them?”

He sounded a little surprised, but in the end, agreed to resign.  Which saves me one headache– if he didn’t resign, I would have called a general meeting and had him removed by special resolution (a vote of no-confidence).  Being the clever person that I am, during my revision of the constitution last year, I put in clauses that made it easier to remove someone who wasn’t doing their job if ever it became necessary.


It might sound like I’m proud of myself for being able to “fire” someone.  On one hand, yes I am.  I feel like I’m a bit more mature now, or something.  It’s not like I was belligerant or disrepectful– in fact, the whole process of asking him to resign was, in my opinion, very professional.  I gave him the chance to explain himself, I asked him what he thought we expected of him.  I set out the situation, and explained how the logical conclusion was for me to ask him to resign.


But at the same time, I’m a bit saddened by this.  I’m no stranger to workplace politics– people get in trouble, people get sent to other departments, people get fired all the time.  People just dissapear, and work goes on.  But that’s the world of paid work– when it comes to a club, run with volunteer fuel, it’s sad when people who come together because they’re passionate about something have to feel the bluntness of beaureaucracy.  I don’t feel bad about firing the guy– I feel bad that having a guy like him means that, if people can’t put in energy for clubs that they sign up for for fun, what do you think will be the final product when they become productive members of society?  Do a marxist interpretation of the situation and the result is quite bleak.

I like watching people around me thrive, and it’s a big high for me to feel that I’m a part of a process that makes people find some direction in their lives.  But when people demonstrate that my influence on their life has just been to be the bad guy, who has to lecture them, who has to fire them for being a lazy ass– they have failed, but at the same time, it means I’ve failed to a certain degree.

I’m not responsible for everyone’s choices in life, but I do wish that people would get their shit together because I don’t like dealing with people who don’t.


At the end of the day– O-Week is already halway over.  The hardest part was actually the last two weeks leading up to O-Week, the time during which that guy (the Coordinator) was really slow to organise, respond and basically do what he was supposed to do.  So firing him doesn’t really serve any purpose– the damage has already been done.


No purpose, except, to set an example.  I think the surprise for him was that he was being asked to resign– he thought he would, like in the past year, get a slap on the wrist for just doing whatever he wanted.  Last year, he was our student union liason– a position which he did the bare minimum for.  He wouldn’t have even become the O-Week Cordinator for this year in the first place if I had had my way.  Can you believe that he was running for Vice-President of the club?  The problem is that he’s a friendly guy and is well liked by a lot of people– so he got the job because democracy.

Some of the things that he failed to do were basically communicate with us.  I sent him emails, text messages, voice mails and whatever for the month leading up to O-Week to see what our strategy was going to be this year.  Most of those messages went ignored, and those that were answered were only because I managed to catch him live.  Not only did he not attend any of the Student Union meetings which he was supposed to hand in, he handed in forms late (which almost had us barred from having an O-Week stall altogether); he handed in a half assed description of our workshop (resulting in us having a disastrously boring advertissment of a prime space and time event); he just didn’t show up for a shift he was responsible for; etc… ETC… E-T-C.

There are many people in the world who you could say are “nice people” and you would hardly be able to pin “maliciousness” as one of their character traits.  But it doesn’t change the fact that some people let you down, and that you can’t always ignore it and move on.  I hope that he felt embarassed or ashamed of himself when the reality of my request kicked in.  The only reason why I bothered to fire him was because I wanted the rest of the club executives, and members know, that yes, we run this club for fun– but we take our fun seriously, and don’t fuck with something that we love.   Sure it’s a board game– but if you extend yourself as taking on responsibilities, then do what you’re responsible for.


See exhibit A, hanging from the castle ramparts.


I hope he learns something from this.


I’m up early today to make some final preparations.  Still a bit sleepy, but the UNSW Baduk Club (of which I’m President again this year) will have a stall running, and I need to go and set it up.  I don’t particularly like this kind of duty, truth be told.  I’m not the kind of personality to stand there and try and entice you to join something by calling out to you.  I often wonder how those people seeking donations do it, but I guess like telemarketing, it’s an acquired skill.

I think the club made huge leaps and strides last semester– we really whipped it into shape.  As with any organisation though, there are hiccups though.  One of my officiers, simply put, is dragging his ass, and I’d like to have him fired.  He ran for vice president but I specifically blocked this from happening because I knew he was lazy, but he still managed to get a position as the O-Week coordinator, which he hasn’t been doing well at all. In fact, I don’t think he’s done anything yet…

I kind of feel like having a talk with him, but only after O-Week.  Thing is, if he shows up to help man the stall, we still need him for that.  His lack of initiative for everything else is the problem.
  And I find that it’s not just that I am dissapointed in him as an officer of the club– it annoys me on a personal level to know people with his kind of character.  I guess I’m a bit OCD like that.  I never really considered myself OCD about anything, but now that [CM] mentioned it once, I’m starting to think that I might be more like my dad than I think.


Anyways, aside from manning the stall, and yelling at crowds to come join, most of my week will be spent playing and teaching Baduk– which is something I quite enjoy.

I’ll probably take the day off judo.  I injured by neck last week, to the point where every fall I took was sending a pain up my back.  It’s compounded by a shoulder injury.  I really would like to go to judo today, because starting next week, I’ll have very little time to go because my school schedule conflicts with my judo club’s schedule.  But well– this far down the road, I guess if I learned anything it should be to respect my body’s need for recovery time.


[CM]’s grandmother passed away last week, and it’s placed her under greater strain than she already has been with med school.  It brought up a lot of memories of my own grandmother’s passing, which was just a few months ago.  There’s not much you can say when something like that happens– there’s no advice you can give that is anything more than generalisation that could just as easily not have been said.


I wonder sometimes if we’ll ever catch a lucky break where things will just suddenly become “easy,” but realistically, it’s doubtful.  Orientation Week is this coming week at my university, so that means that I’ll be getting busy as well due to commitments to the Baduk Club and LawSoc.  It’ll be good for me to get busy.

CM and I got into an argument the other day about my neediness as a person.  I guess what it amounts to is that I feel that I, as a boyfriend, am entitled to a certain amount of attention.  Certain things count more than others for this.  I guess the big thing is that CM is so pre-occupied with how complicated her school and other life is that she just takes it for granted that I’m there in the background, still going about things.  I try really hard to make her life easier and simpler, because I think that’s what a partner should do.  But on the other hand, maybe I’m over reaching.  She tells me that nothing can change the situation she’s in– does that mean I’m supposed to stop trying to help?  Because in my helping, I expect some appreciation.


Fundamentally, I don’t think a relationship is just a work relationship.  It’s not just a question of dividing and conquering the upkeep of daily life or the tasks that we need to achieve what we want.  There’s something to be said about needing the presence of someone uniquely because they are who they are.  I am quite convinced that that person, for me, is CM.  And I’m mostly certain that she feels the same way about me.  The problem is, she doesn’t take the time to show it– and I’m not a machine. I need some encouragement.  We’ve talked about it, and we get nowhere on the subject.  Fundamentally, she’s just too short on time.  Perhaps too short on time to really maintain our relationship.


I think back to generations of Chinese families, where one partner goes off to work and barely ever comes home.  I’m still on vacation– today is my last day– and for the past few weeks, I feel like that has been me.  It has a lot to do with the relative ratio of stress that we have in our days.  Her day consists of running around hospitals, following doctors around, where I’m largely left to my own devices.  I have most of the days to spend on video games, judo, and my part time job.  Where I can, I do as much as I can to get the load off CM’s back– laundries, cleaning, groceries.  I’m like a home-maker.  And the tacit assumption is that what my partner is doing is what’s best for her, and for us, and it’s what we need.

I know that relationships can survive like this– thousands of generations of migrants workers, not just Chinese, have families built on exactly this model of love and devotion.  Perhaps my standards are too high– maybe the reality of the real world is that the best we can hope for is a comrade in arms who we can have an occasional heart to heart with over a campfire.  Did I get the false impression from movies and television– that a relationship should be more fun and more involved with one another?  I remember a quote from Dr. Cox from Scrubs.  It went something along the lines of how relationships don’t fall apart because two people keep fighting– they fall apart when nobody wants to fight anymore. 


We made decisions to come to Australia and take on some of the most difficult grad school programs there are.  Whether or not I regret it is inconsequential.  The question is, do we continue to find reasons to find it all worth the prices we continue to pay?

I’m a very stubborn, proud person. I believe in following through with things, and though I am adaptable there are certain things that I am very difficult to compromise on. One of these things is that I will be there for CM through thick and thin.  If I was younger, I might ask myself “wouldn’t it be easier to find someone simpler?”  But that kind of “younger” thought is also a trap– because relationships aren’t just about the good times, they’re also about how you get through the really tough times together.   I often get the feeling that she’s gotten tired of fighting– but I remember that the exhaustion mainly from her fighting me (though, I am guilty of some of it), it’s from her struggling with med school and her family. 


I’m not sure what I’m getting at– but I guess it’s to say that, though the process is difficult, I’m still convinced that she’s worth the trouble.  I’m only human, so I can’t say that any more categorically.  It won’t be easy, but we’ll get through this.


It’s been raining all weekend, but the sun is finally coming out.

Like a Stuck Pig

Monday being the beginners’ judo, and there not being another beginners’ class until Thursday, I scheduled my third blood donation for Tuesday (today).

I’m not particularly squeamish about needles, but all I can say is that the needles they use to take blood are fucking huge.  I don’t think it’d be exaggerating if I compared it to the guage of a wire coat hanger.  Now just imagine sticking that coat hanger up one of your veins.


It does “pinch” a bit, but what the hell, why not.  When I was younger, I used not donate blood.  Partly, when I was in early college, I probably wasn’t physically fit to give blood.  When I was in late college and early undergrad, I was so obssessed with training that my mentality was “I had to work to make this blood, I don’t think I need to share it.  It’s too much of a setback for me.”  Whether or not there’s any medical justification to that mentality, go figure.

By the time I’d been working years in healthcare after finishing my undergrad degree, I attempted to donate blood a couple of times in Montreal.  The problem was that I could never quite get it scheduled properly– the closest blood donor clinic was a temporary one in Alexis Nihon (accross the street from the Montreal Children’s Hospital, where I worked) and no matter how many times I went during lunch breaks, the whole process of paperwork and waiting time never got a needle in me before my hour (and sometimes even hour and a half) lunch break was over. I know a lot of people have given blood downtown and haven’t had that problem, but man– it was enough of a hassle that after the second or third failed attempt, I just got fed up and regressed to not bothering.  I tried.


When I came to Australia, it was CM’s idea once that we should.  Well actually, she went, I went with her, and just decided to do it since I was in the clinic anyhow.  To my surprise? WIth nothing but my passport, I was in and out in less than an hour, even having done all my paperwork from scratch.  How’s that for a streamlined process?  Today, the whole process took a bit less than an hour, and it would’ve been even faster if it weren’t for me recently being in Canada for [Zanshin]’s wedding (apparently, Canada is on the watch list for West Nile virus), my distant history in Korea (considered a maleria alert country) and my recent visit to a general practitioner to get a new eczema cream.  I mean, considering how ‘complicated’ I am, under one hour is pretty damn good, I think.  I guess it helps that I have easy veins, and that when punctured, I bleed like a stuck pig– I don’t know how big those bags are, but from start to finish today took me around 5 minutes only, which I’m told is pretty damned fast.  I don’t know if that’s awesome or inconvenient– I guess it depends on the scenario.  If life were a first person or third person shooter, it’d be like playing on insane where I’d bleed out almost immediately on a down!


CM’s opinion is that she feels she has some sort of a responsibility as a doctor-to-be to give blood, otherwise it would make her hippocritical.  I don’t necessarily agree– healthcare people give shitloads of years off their life, and by that I don’t mean the time in hopsitals, I mean the time lost in stress and caring– but CM, on the whole, is a lot more generous a person than I am.  If I was a doctor, I don’t know if I would give blood.


Be that as it may, and it has nothing to do with me having worked in healthcare, I was an educator for a brief stint, and I did work with children.  I also consider myself a martial artist.  And I have people I care about.  And life experience has taught me that things are fragile, and shit happens.  After judo yesterday, I hurt one heel, one knee, and my neck– what if one day, I’m unlucky enough to need a blood transfusion?  I figure that, even benevolence aside, I should buy some karmic insurance by investing some blood now.  It’s not benevolence– it’s pure selfishness, to have some feeling that I paid for whatever blood I need, and whatever those I care about need.


On the whole, it feels like a more productive morning than just lying in bed or watching television.


[CM] was attending a teaching workshop as part of her med studies, and as an example, there was the question of how right is right enough.  A kid does a math problem involving several steps.  He does everything right, but then, forgets to carry a number at some point.  As a result, that number gets plugged in and filters down to a finally wrong answer.  The method was all correct though.  The question is: what score does he get?

There were a range of answers from the classroom.  It was telling, thought CM, that the vast majority of people who said that the kid should get zero were Asians.  Most of the Caucasians thought that the kid should get a 90% or an 8/10, or something in those lines, since the method was all right, and you should get points for effort.


I know that the “points for effort” part is the way we teach it in schools in Canada, and indeed, even when I was teaching in Korea, it’s the same case.  It’s just not nice to tell a kid “WRONG, do it again!” and leave it at that.

Yet, like CM, I remember doing problems at home, mostly with my mom, and there was no such leeway.  Things were either right or wrong and the price of a stupid mistake is a perfect zero score.  The mentality of many tiger moms, as CM pointed out, is that if you don’t get punished, you don’t have any incentive for being careful the next time around.

Saturday Randori

Just got back from judo a few hours ago. On weekends, the class is much more relaxed, because there’s no particular agenda. You just work on whatever you want with whoever you want. I was really lucky today because I got to work for a good half an hour with the instructor, and I learned quite a bit. I hope when I’m in my sixties like him I will still be kicking that much ass without a sweat.

I am having a lot of trouble performing throws from standing… It just seems like I’m not learning as fast as I’d want to. I’m doing much better on ground work though. i think its mostly that all my previous kickboxing experience is really interfering with me developing the proper reflexes for standup judo. It’s really pissing me off.


So, I’m back on vacation, sort of.  My summer class if finally over.  I pulled an all nighter the other day to finish it, handing it in at 6:35AM (due at 7AM).  Then I had a 40 minute nap.  Then suited up, and went to work 8 to 5:30 at the firm.  Almost fell asleep during the lunch office meeting.


But everything is okay now, on my end.  My hand (more specifically, my fingers) have healed nicely– there’s still a bit of soreness, but it seems that the sprain wasn’t as bad as I initially thought.  I’ll be trying to go to judo later tonight.


[CM] is having a bit of a rough patch with med school– by an unlucky draw, she’s got 4-5 major assignments in a single week.  Coupled with daily exposure to hecticness of the Emergency Department, it’s a tough lifestyle that results in her having to eat breakfasts on the walk to the bus stop.  There’s just no other time to eat.  Now that I’m done with my finals, it’ll be easier for me tohelp her with the life maintenance chores.  It’s about all I can do, really.


O-Week (orientation week) at the school is coming up.  It doesn’t really matter for me personally, because I’m a second year student now and there’s nothing there for me… however, there’s usually shitloads of free stuff that you can get.  Plus, I have to represent the Baduk Club and Law Society, so I’ll be there.


I just had lunch with [DilligentB].  The conversation at some point went to the subject of preparing people for life.


When I finished high school, I had already been working several part-time jobs, so it was less of a shock to me– however, the transition to ‘adulthood,’ of which a large part is being a part of the workforce, was not easy.  It still isn’t, now that I’m doing post graduate work.  The world is a tough place– and this game has real consequences.  Suddenly, you’re trust at the forefront of your own life, and you’re not being babied anymore.  Nobody is looking out for you.  Nobody will help you or volunteer to get you out of a pinch.  And at the same time, you’re forced to make decisions that affect the course of your life.


The main thing about becoming an adult is that suddenly, you’re forced to be the architect of your own life.  There’s only one way to live, and that’s in your own life– when you were smaller, it was okay for people to tell you how that should be.  But as you get too big for other peoples’ castles, it becomes apparent that you’ll have to start a thatched hut of your own.

And shit happens. Wolves come by and huff and puff and blow your shit down.  It’s a discouraging, frightful process– you don’t feel safe.  And when you seek help, sometimes you find that the help you get from people who you thought knew how to help isn’t that good.  Their structures, their foundations, are only marginally better than yours if any, and that shit comes crashing down as well. 


My question is– how do you teach someone survival skills?  How do you teach someone to be good at life?  Knowing what I know now, is there any way that I can help a young person get to where I am without them having to go through their own pains?  Watching the process can be rewarding, but it can also be heartbreaking.

And I haven’t figured everything out. I often wish that someone who is more smart, more successful, more together than me would just one day come up to me and say: “[Jinryu], I’ve been watching.  You’ve been working hard. Not let me show you the easy way, since I’ve been there.”


Where shall I find such a mentor?