dal niente

Month: December, 2014

To the 9s

[CM] and I went to a Chinese wedding last week. We went with a number of her highschool friends. The bride was also a highschool friend.

I use the term “friend” in a different way from CM. Her version of friends often coincides with what I’d call an acquaintance or, perhaps more accurately, someone who I have history with but don’t actually like being around all that much.

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The wedding was impressive. The food was great. I had never been to a wedding this extravagant before– one that served over 7 courses of food, not including a selection of 5 different deserts. There were over 500 guests. Each table had fresh flowers, almost as many as the boquet that I had bought for CM for her graduation (which wasn’t cheap).

I was thinking to myself: how much does this all cost?

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People can spend what they want on what they want of course. I just wonder if I’ll ever understand all the inefficiency that comes with Chinese people making a huge fuss over looking good in public. Actually, to be more accurate, I don’t even understand how women can claim to want freedom when they still insist on wearing uncomfortably heeled shoes– and it’s not that I don’t understand why they do it, so much as I don’t agree with the philosopy behind fashion to begin with. So maybe my gripes are not tied with the Chinese specifically, so much as they are with the great lengths we go through to impress people whose opinions we shouldn’t give a damn about, at the expense of being able to make more meaningful investments of our time and energy.

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A wedding is a happy occasion– it’d probably be happier if I knew the person who was getting married, or if anyone at the table had anything particularly nice to say about the bride. One of the people at my table was looking up the bottles of wine on the internet to check how much they were worth. If the taste isn’t enough to make you enjoy it, maybe you don’t know much about enjoying wine?

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CM every now and then tells me that she wishes that I’d watch what I say before I say it. I realise that my actions reflect upon her because she’s my partner. I know how to be exceptionally polite and put on my “networking” face, controlling every little thing I say so that I can work a crowd. But I also know that unless I have a good reason to do that, I might just say whatever I want and let people take me as I am.

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It’s an ongoing initiative of mine to push CM to give less of a damn in general about what a bunch of shallow rich kids (not specifically referring to the wedding, just generally) think about us. We run into a fair amount of them in all sorts of situations just because of med school and law school.  She knows I’m doing this, and she knows that many of these people have toxic enough personalities to warrant more than one punch in the head when they say the kinds of things that they do.

There’s a difference between CM and I though; it’s fundamentally part of the reason why she is a doctor, and I’m in law. That difference is that she gives second, and third and fourth chances– whereas I hold people responsible for what they do. There’s a place in society for both of us, but perhaps more importantly, there’s an incalculable importance for her sort of optimism and her perspective more generally in my life.

It doesn’t stop me from wanting to punch people though.

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That said, it was a grand event and, all things considered, the way it was done took really good care of the guests– in many ways, much better care of the guests than many of these guests probably deserved.

Parents can’t help but be proud of their children. And I’ve no doubt that the people getting married are in love as I envision what “love” means. In many ways, the celebration is just as it was meant to be. All the best to them and congratulations to the bride and groom and their family.

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When CM and I get married, we’re going to keep the guest list to people that matter to us. And we hope that the only people who arrive are people who think we matter as well.

Christmas in Hong Kong

Had a pretty good time in Hong Kong– it’s been about 3 weeks that we’ve been here with [CM]’s parents, but now it’s time to go back to Sydney. We’ll be having dim sum with family and friends tomorrow and then taking a taxi straight to the airport for an overnight flight back.

It’ll be good to be back in our own apartment I think.

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Money is going to be pretty tight for the next few months. It’s been convenient that CM’s parents have basically lodged and fed us completely during our stay here, but at the same time, it’s been difficult for us to accept handouts to this extent. It’s not in our nature.

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As soon as we land in Sydney, it’s time to transfer money to the breeder for our cat– who will arrive (by plane) to us on the 30th. We’ve decided to name our cat Celty, after the headless-horsewoman character (who wears a cat-eared helmet) in the anime Durarara!!, and she’ll fill all the quiet gaps in our humble apartment.

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I haven’t done all that great a job of staying in shape while in HK–  mostly converting muscle to fat considering my diet here! But it has been a good chance to do that periodic “reset” of my body through just plain and continuous rest.

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The next big expenses are for immigration applications– once that’s out of the way (which will set me back about a month’s salary), the rest are bonus things in life: such as, an engagement ring, pet insurance, and saving for a trip back to Canada for an overdue visit to relatives.

Occupy Admirality

A few days ago, the Umbrella Revolution protests were forced out of the Hong Kong financial district. If you hadn’t heard the news when it first started months ago, it was because China was making a tweak to the Hong Kong electoral process, which effectively resulted in the “mainland” government being able to have a final say on who could stand for election in Hong Kong. It’s not exactly that China could tell Hong Kong how to run their governance, but you can guess that having controlling powers on candidacy stacks policy heavily in favour of mainland interests (if you recognise that Hong Kong has interests separate to those of the mainland).

What was the result of the protests? Did China revoke it’s “tweak”? Nope.

About a month ago, my prediction on this issue was that the protests would have to get hella more violent, or to have some serious economic consequences, before China would budge. Neither scenario eventuated, and China has not budged.

What has happened though is that protesters have managed to turn a lot of the local support against them, and, either naturally or through media twists, the point that Hong Kong democracy was going to be affected became a side issue to many residents.

A family friend of [CM]’s runs a shop in the area where the protests were taking place.

“I have been paying rent for two months, and have not had a single customer. The protests are blocking all my business.” A week before the protesters were cleared away, she had refinanced her home to keep her business afloat, and was in grave danger of losing everything if things continued.

Most people who live in Hong Kong know enough about China and the way it works to know that Hong Kong, really, belongs to China now, and nothing is going to change that in China’s mind. Shop owners know that the mainland government don’t give a shit about business at the ground level in the streets of HK. When a shop goes out of business– another will open up in it’s place. Taxes will still be due. And the Circle of Life will Continue. That’s been the way HK has worked for centuries, and that level of turnover makes no lasting difference.

So will the complaints go up to Central Government? Maybe a few did.

But mostly, even liberal and foreign media began reporting that the sentiment on the ground was that the local businesses were fed up of the protesters. And more than that– locals were fed up of the increased traffic jams in a region that, even without a protest going on, is one of the most heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffice areas in the world.

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The protestors had made their point about democracy, and it was a good one– but they’d provided no “out” for China. They’d given no better alternative. China would not budge until it was good for China.

Scholars at the head of the movement were on the “right track” in my opinion– some of them suggested that the only way HK would get China to change it’s mind was if people started refusing to pay taxes to the Central government. Now there is something that will hit China hard! But, predictably, the idea didn’t get much steam, because nobody wanted to risk the wrath of the mainland.

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China is still dealing with independence issues with Taiwan and TIbet– it will not show weakness by loosening it’s grip on Hong Kong, which remains a financial mediation ground between the East and the West.

In the aftermath of the main protests (which continue in a more scattered form still, but not in the central financial district), arrests have been made. It’s quite likely that anyone whose details were discovered were put on Mainland blacklists, which will have severe consequences for them in the future.

Your Pit Bull

The Dad Letters

Dear River,

I want to tell you a story about your dog, Zoe. We found her cowering at the pound. She wasn’t barking like the other dogs. She was simply laying there, looking up at us. The tag said, “lab mix” and she was slated to be killed in a week. We fell for it, thinking we were buying a lab.

She is not a lab. She is a pit bull.

Zoe_2

As Zoe grew, we came to realize the pound had lied. I was scared. I felt irresponsible for letting this type of dog into my home. All of the stereotypes, preconceptions and worries filled my mind. Should I take her back? What would people think of us?

She is the definition of disenfranchised. When first time guests visit we lock her in her cage, not because she is dangerous, but because of unspoken fears. She receives wary glances from strangers as…

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Aftermath of Oneliners

The hostage situation in Martin Place Sydney is now over. Some thoughts while it’s fresh in my head.

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One of the people who died, I’m sure I’ve seen him around before– he’s an employee at that Lindt Cafe and I’m sure he’s even served me on a half dozen occasions.

The other hostage who died, I don’t think I’ve ever met her personally. But I think she’s the brother of a work colleague of my boss.

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While it is true that everyone knows someone who dies, and indeed, everyone knows someone who dies, real violence is something that most of us don’t actually understand. Yes, movies and games have gotten more violent– but until it affects a close connection to us, we’ll seldom be shocked enough to react in an effective way to address the roots of the tragedy. Until tragedy takes someone away from our immediate circles, our response will be predictable: we will talk about it; we tuck our children in and give them a kiss on the forehead at night, if we have children; we will stay up and watch the scant details loop on the news; and eventually, a few weeks later, we will move on. Because most of us don’t understand violence anymore. It’s something most of us only interpret in terms of movies.

I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying that for many, the nightmares of such events will loop for many more nights than others.

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Already, the news is magnifying every little detail of the event.

I’m not sure what I think about free speech sometimes.

My big issue is with the presentation of the issues whenever you get little quote bits from people involved. For example, apparently, the gunman was out on bail for being an accomplice in the alleged murder of his ex-wife, and was well known for writing offensive letters to the families of Australian military. It follows that one of the issues that comes up is “why was this man on the streets?”

That question riles up a lot of anger, mostly at “the system” that deals with corrections and criminal behaviour. It’s easy to say that this “system” let out a criminal who should have been in– finger pointing is easy. But how do we contribute to this system?

Australia is increasingly capitalist not only in economic policy, but in social welfare and punitive policies. We’re talking about a system that we encourage through the idea that criminality and social caste are permanent afflications that make it easier for people to be thrown into a hole than to deal with with rehabilitation, social integration, and psychological support. We’re dealing with a prison system leaning from the example of United States, with economic models of prison developments as lucrative businessess at the expense of taxpayers and for the benefit of investors, rather than for the correction of inmates.

This system just sweeps away the bits we don’t want to see.

And why not? It’s cheaper in many ways.

The bail system is what it is because we support a particular a economic and political system of caste.

I’m not saying that anyone is directly responsible for a gunman’s choices except a gunman. However, the quickness with which the media perpetuates a single degree of environmental factors (the “system” of this or that) is irresponsible– because it doesn’t dig deeper to the fact that the people who are pointing fingers at this or that system are largely what support and further entrench, enable, or encourage that system’s continued use.

The right wing media however knows way better than to bite the hands that feed. People tune in and get a sensation of “connectedness” in order to have sensationalism give sparks to their lives– not to be lectured.

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The aftermath will undoubtedly be debates about this or that, about fingerpointing at this or that system, and this or that belief. But who is going to give credit to the people pushing systems in the right direction, and who is going to step up to do the pushing for the future generations?

Who is going to admit that they’re at fault?

Good luck is the result of hard work

but that’s not entirely the whole story.

We’re “all equal under heaven” as the saying goes, and bad luck is just bad luck. When it happens, it happens, and when it’s bad, it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it.

I was just thinking about this in the context of what’s going on in Martin Place.

When I was still living in Montreal (1.0), I used to work at a hospital near my old college (CEGEP). I often went to my old college area because of the nearby mall to eat lunch, and the nice greenery around the college itself to sit around some trees in the shade– and around that time too, if the timing was different by a few minutes this way or that way, I might have been dragged into the Dawson College Shootings.

I’m not going to bring up gun debate laws, but I am somewhat disturbed that twice in my life now, these sorts of things have happened in areas that overlap with my normal daily activities.

I’m not sure if it means that the world as I know it (being from context of someone who has always lived in a first world country, with a Western upbringing)  is becoming a more dangerous place, of if the illusion of safety is being challenged. Either way, we live in interesting times.

Risks associated with coffee

A couple of gunmen took over a coffee shop near my workplace in downtown Sydney (Australia) a couple of hours ago. It’s still going on. Every person in the coffee shop is now a hostage. On last reports, some of them were being forced to hold up a flag with some sort of Islamic message on it.

If I were in Sydney right now, there’d be a sizable chance that I might be actually in the area of that coffee shop, if not already in that coffee shop, because it’s the usual place that my co-workers and I go for hot chocolate. It’s also at the time of the morning when we would normally be looking for coffee.

It’s the Lindt cafe at Martin Place.

Luckily for me, I’m on vacation on Hong Kong with [CM]’s family. And by whatever stroke of luck, my coworker was going to a different coffee shop that day– she was trying to go to the area when the police had begun to barricade the area off. If she’d been a bit earlier and done the usual routine, she might be a hostage at this point.

Home improvement

Whenever I stay with CM’s parents, I invariably end up plastering walls’ drilling holes, and rewiring things.

Speeches for Audiences

When I was in High School, I was in the band. It was a pretty prestigious thing (at least, I thought it was) because it was one of two activities that you could do that fulfilled two extracurricular activity credits in one go. (The other was being a prefect, which I also did– but prefecting didn’t actually require any skill).

As a result of being in a band, and eventually going on to play in a division of the concert band for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I’ve been at several functions– things like commemorative dinners and graduations and that sort of thing– that have people at podiums giving speeches.

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Consider the differences between:
-Giving a lecture
-Facilitating a group
-Delivering a press conference
-Giving an address/speech
-Doing a product demonstration
-Giving a toast

What are the things that you think about when you consider these situations? Yes, the can overlap. But what do you think of when you think of a good speech?

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Public speaking is a great fear for many people, sure, but some people don’t mind it and are called upon to give speeches.

I was just at [CM]’s graduation ceremony, and Someone lmportant gave a speech about Something. I don’t remember what it was, and to be honest, I didn’t give a shit even 10 seconds after every sentence that person mentioned. People just get so caught up with the pomp and circumstance that they understand, by looking around at the person sitting next to them, that this is the point when we should all be quiet and listen.

You wouldn’t put up with a boring movie. You wouldn’t normally listen to someone who does nothing but talk about themselves. So what is this social phenomenon that results in the captive audience?

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Have a think about certain things about speeches that might help you the next time you have to give one. Mostly, have a think about the types of speeches you hate, and the kinds of reasons why you want to hear what someone has to say. Think of the context, and the purpose of why you were asked to speak.

For example:
A graduation speech is supposed to make you feel special, and to let everyone know how much you’ve acheived.

As someone from the profession looking on at a hall full of graduates, you are doing the wrong thing, if:
-all you talk about is what you accomplished when you were at school (nobody gives a shit)
-you speak about lessons that you learned, in a way that makes you sound like a wise guy (this new generation is about them, not you, and while there may be wisdom to be gained from you, it is with you as a case study in a larger system, and not with your individual epiphanies which you assume to be applicable to the larger lot)
-you tell people that it was all worth it (this is the same sugarcoating fallacy as “America is the Greatest Nation in the World) and that you all have bright futures.
-all you do is give a history lesson, because your age makes you the resident expert
-all you do is reminisce about what you did in their place (again, irrelevant)

You are doing the right thing if you spend more time telling them that it is imperative that they learn more about themselves, and get prepared for the institutional spoonfeeding to stop.

You are doing the right thing if you tell them, in no unspecific terms, the wild things they can do with their degrees.

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Yes, I am jaded. I am displeased at how the majority of speakers at inaugural events are so irrelevant, and that a culture of irrelevance has perpetuated to the point that some people in the captive audience actually feel really good about these tablescrap speeches and dull embers in their hearts warming.

Graudation– it’s freedom! This is release from institutionalism that means that you finally have the collection of silly papers that says you will be recognised for potential that you always had. Yes, so you picked up skills along the way– but when you get to the real working world, you’ll realise that you’ll learn it mostly on the job anyway. You’ll wonder why systems of apprenticeship ever got replaced by so much abstract theory (read: moneygrab!).

It is your chance to become real women and men because now, you are in a social position where you will make choices, and you will not only live be consequences, but you will create consequences that others will have to live with as well.

A graduation speech that does nothing but celebrate the past and look at the future with rosy glasses on?

No. Give me the graduation speech that says we are going to war with humanity– that you have been given some of the tools, and the credentials, now go and take back those dreams of a kinder world when you were 10 years old.

Give me the graduation speech that says that we are bad people and that we’re going to have to do more bad to get to the good.

Give me the graduation speech that takes a stance and says that, within 20 years, despite all this promise and pomp, a select few of you will be the elite, and the rest of you will be the rest of the poor majority. And that for all the bright futures, the select few of you will become oppressors.

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If you have an audience… how often do we just tell people what they want to hear? How often do we assume that our life is the norm, or that we know what “common sense” is, or that we in any way set a “reasonable standard”? Read the rest of this entry »

Full time Lawyering

About a month ago, I made the transition to full time work as a solicitor. It was a mostly smooth affair. In the past, I had already worked at [The Firm] full time as a paralegal, and at the [Big Firm] in Hong Kong.

The main difference was the intensity of the work. There’s a huge difference between the work you have to do as an intern or paralegal and what you do as a solicitor in a small firm– mostly that suddenly, your responsibilities jump tremendously.

Economically speaking, the main reason for this is that as a solicitor, you can now earn substantially more in billable hours for the firm than you can as a solicitor or paralegal. So while in the past, I did a lot of administrative work and legal research that goes behind the maintenance of the business and keeping up to date on things, being in the solicitor’s earning bracket for the firm suddenly means that you can do work so that the principal doesn’t have to do as much. It also means you’re way more responsible for things, because things go through far fewer checks between your keyboard and the client.

It used to be that while I was a paralegal or intern, I would do perhaps a couple of billable hours per day, and sometimes, only a handful in an entire week. Suddenly? Suddenly, almost 90% of my day is composed of billable hours.

Which means that accuracy of the work is essential.

WHen I was working at the Big Firm, I was told that I was overal an excellent performer– my only issue was “attention to detail.” It was best explained to me that this was professional work, not school, and that getting a “Distinction” or “High Distinction” was no longer enough– things just had to be perfect for the client.

This difference has been significant, because I’m someone who views efficiency as a paramount concern– and efficiency in most situations means that sometimes, big picture gains are more important than sweating the details.

This approach doesn’t work as a solicitor. Perhaps it might as an intern or a paralegal, or with the work I was doing in executive roles at [The Institute], but it doesn’t cut it when it comes to work that is going on directly for a client. I wouldn’t pay a doctor to get my operation “mostly right”, and conversely, nobody would pay my fees for something that’s mostly right either. Every part needs to be right– and yes, this means you lose effiency, but the language of the work is so important that errors can potentially lead to huge liabilities.

The shift from a mindset of “efficiency” to “perfectionism” is an interesting one– and kind of painful, to be honest. But I’m getting better at it, even though I’m making mistakes along the way.

I made a significant mistake about a week ago which would have had a not-insignificant effect on a matter. I was really embarrassed afterwards– but I was actually surprised that, not only didn’t my boss through me under the bus, but she actually stood up for me to the client. Confidentiality obligations means that I don’t actually get to say much more about the facts, but knowing that my boss is actually taking up a mentoring role and wants to grow me into the business is a good feeling. I don’t feel as scared to learn, and the learning feels like it’s for the sake of my craft as opposed to strictly for the avoidance of liability. It’s a healthy kind of balance.

I’m not saying that “efficiency” and “perfectionism” are necessarily incompatible. You can be efficient and get a perfect result. But oftentimes, nitpicking about the details takes too long, and time is money. What I need to do is have more respect for these details, built up my craft from the foundations, and the efficiency will come naturally.