Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A year in review

One good thing about blogs is the luxury of being able to clearly look back on the previous year. This has been a good year after a lull between 2004 and 2005.

It started with me considering my business which I had always said was an 'unsustainable' undertaking. I had come off a failed application for my dream job as a translator, and the complete failure the previous year to get a teaching job.

I was determined to let it be my year of health - yet this is one year to forget healthwise. My back has troubled me the whole year and my ankles are still not 100% and assorted maladies harried me throughout.

In January I murmured that I should get back into chess - this took me until December to do.

In February, I lost my wisdom teeth. March passed without a single blog!

April was defined by the challenge of the Oxfam Trailwalker and my failure to get to the end.

May I started considering jumping professions to Speech Language Therapy, which required some extramural study as well as practical experience with people affected by strokes. Now the extramural study didn't happen but I've happily accommodated doing some volunteer work with a stroke sufferer into my weekly schedule.

May also held the leads that resulted in my second client, and the lifeline for me. It also was the month that I leaped back into crosswords as my intellectual challenge of choice.

Early June also saw Xin's mum move out of home and back to China. I filled the vacancy and haven't looked back. Moving out of home had been something I had been saying I would be doing for so long, especially since late 2004 when I was going to move out as soon as I got my first primary teaching job. Neither ever eventuated and I was in limbo. Moving into Xin's home has been wonderful - it is such a release of the annoying burden of living apart.

This year has been the year of the book for me. Being something of a tortoise with book in hand, and occasionally going through periods of holding anti-literature attititudes, it is rather surprising to consider how much I've read. At the start of the year I ran through Guns, Germs and Steel. In mid-year, I read The Myths that Make us and The Simpsons and Philosophy. The Sutra of Weilang and The Science of Realisation followed in August. Lately I've chewed through the massive Ideas book and followed it up with A Brief History of Almost Everything. I'm already onto two other books yet to be completed.

July saw a crisis of ability when I started to doubt my competence at pretty much anything. My faculties worsening - disasters left and right. While that crisis eased - the factors remain the same. The filmfest also came to town and was enjoyed. And so were my first lessons at my second client.

August saw me returning to natural cycles: waking up early, making food, growing sprouts, planting trees and cultivating a garden. August also saw our car window smashed.

September saw a busy hosting period when it seemed like we were inviting everyone into our home.

October saw only two blogs - one in the aftermath of my birthday party and another in 'gloomy' prognostication of a work-tsunami. The work really was charging forth in October and reached a pitch in November when I was rather exhausted.

December saw my first serious over-the-board chess games in seven years and the beginnings of a new Trailwalker campaign.

Overall, it has been an important and successful year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Trailwalker campaign 2007 underway!

After the experience of Trailwalker 2006, I have decided to participate again in the event April next year. This is a 100km walk - one that I failed to finish at my first attempt. But my body is stronger and I feel like I can finish it this year.

James is back for a second round of punishment. Chris Quill and Myles Arkell are in for their first attempts. We trained for the first time last weekend and we have a name:

The MDRs! (Most Direct Routes)

It is all for a good cause, raising money for OXFAM to help the impoverished around the world. If you are feeling generous, please visit our fundraising site:

Sponsor us here

Monday, December 04, 2006


For the first time in seven years, I participated in a chess tournament and overall it was a pleasant experience. It was a five round rapid tournament - rapid in chess terms though with 25 minutes for each player for the whole game plus five seconds for every move you make. It makes for a rather intense game as there is just enough time to consider plans and attacks but not deeply enough for anyone to be 100% that they are doing the right move.

The first shock of the tournament for me was that the directors of play elected to use my 1999 standard chess rating as a basis for draw. Without explaining the system, that means that I started on the top board (out of around 25 boards). This helps in a way as it is intimidating. But it was quite annoying too as my first game showed.

The first game was against a young player, definitely still at primary school. The first round is a usually a massacre as the highest rated players are given the lowest rated players. This is to ensure that the final rounds are full of tough tussles and no-one is too exhausted by early round clashes. However, I struggled to defeat this young boy; in fact it was the last game to be completed. This is quite embarrassing because people were surrounding the board watching as I struggled to find a decent plan. Eventually I used a school-boy tactic to defeat him.

The second was my first over-the-board game against a family of chess players, the Maroroa family. It was the youngest - a boy still in Intermediate. He played quickly, scarcely using more than 10 seconds per move. And they were all reasonable moves that caused me problems. However, I used a straightforward yet overwhelmingly strong plan which he could not deal with in his haste. After I finally seized the advantage, he finally took several minutes to take stock of the carnage - then ripped out the poorest move possible to eliminate any doubt.

That was good for the confidence as it was a well executed win (as compared to the first game).

The third game was against a veteran of chess, finally someone older than me. We played a solid game in which I accumulated small advantages that in the end won me the game. At the end, he had only 5 seconds on the clock before he couldn't defend any longer and let the time slip away.

There was a five way tie for the lead - three older players and one junior and me. So four of the bunch fought it out with one person left over to maul someone on a lower score. I played one of the senior players who had recently won two consecutive tournaments. He faltered early in the game and I missed an obviously winning move. He hit back and my advantage dissipated leaving him in with a good chance. He missed one clear win (I saw it immediately after one of my moves) and then it was a tight endgame which could have been won by either of us. In the end, it was a draw. Coincidentally, the other game with leaders was a draw t00.

So going into the last round there was one person on 4, and a bunch of four on 3.5 points. I was to play the junior, another Maroroa, the older sister. I had destroyed her online earlier in the year - but she had improved since then - as a rule Juniors do, the inexorably improve till they're about 20. We played a solid start but I went astray in the middlegame exposing myself to a crippling onslaught. Defending against that tied one hand behind my back and halted my attack. She then swung to the other side of the board and eventually found a method to exchange pieces to a won endgame. I had lost.

Overall, I learnt a lot especially from the loss and the draw. I still have to decide whether I'll persist with chess. I may join the nearby club if I have a weeknight free in the new year.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


The climax of my working year has passed, and I'll be drifting to the year end in considerably more comfort than I have been recently. The past week has been a little bit of an exhausted blur. For the third time, my expectation of exceeding 20 classroom hours in a week have been thwarted, but only just. I taught for 19.5 hours, losing 2.5 hours to cancellations, and another half-hour to a change of day. To be honest, I was thankful for those losses on the Friday, where a scheduled 7 hours shrank to 4.5 hours. I was rather ragged at the end of those 4.5 hours.

But that is work, and with it out of the way for the time being, it is about time that I focus on the month and a third till the new year. My goals are:
  • to rekindle my walking in preparation for Trailwalker next year
  • to finish Ideas, which I have finished but for the last 130 pages and read A Brief History of Nearly Everything
  • to sharpen up my chess so that I'm at least moderately dangerous
  • to tidy up the garden around Xin's house
  • to manage my money well
  • to get back into a healthy life routine, like I was before

Fortunately, harvest time is approaching steadily for the vege garden. Lettuce has already been harvested and some small heads of broccoli have also been taken. The peas and beans are flowering beautifully and just need a hard-working kiwi bee to pollinate them.

And after our house regains its sense of order and place, I want to get back into have guests over.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Excuse my german. Today was the culmination of the last month. And I'm shattered. The presentation went off passably. There was the funny moment when the screen automatically went up half way through the presentation. It was put together largely within the last week and a half. This last 24 hours have been rather exhausting. But it's a Monday, and Mondays are the first day of the week. I'd better have a good night sleep.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Well, the week wasn't quite what I expected. The intense Monday and Tuesday left me shattered on Wednesday morning but I was saved by an unusual number of cancellations. My Friday, in particular, dropped from 6 hours to 2 hours. Although it is disappointing in that I was completely prepared for all those classes and I lose some potential income, it does give me more leeway time-wise in the coming week as I already have a class plan for all of the cancelled classes. This week is looking to be a quieter week in terms of lessons but will be the time when I'll be applying myself assiduously to the side-project.

Other auspicious developments are in my garden. There are little heads on my broccoli (I'm salivating at the prospect) as well as caterpillars on the broccoli leaves, which I left to the mercy of the neighbourhood's avian gangsters. The peas are growing onwards and upwards and one of the once small tomato plants is starting to look rather like a strapping adolescent.

After several months of nothing my volunteer work for the Volunteer Stroke Scheme finally got underway three weeks ago. Unfortunately, a lot of what I learnt has already been blown away by the gusts of work and other bits of life. I finished the course when I was still living at Mum's house!

One of the fascinating things about the stroke victims is the words that there are recurring words and phrases that come out meaninglessly. My person says'good, good, good', 'and all of a sudden' and 'buh-buh-buh-buh-buh' whenever he is trying to put a sentence. The latter was interesting because I heard one of my students at FPH says the same thing when he was searching for a chinese word for something (he is learning Chinese). It seems that some phrases just get frozen in your mouth. What words and phrases would be the words you are left with?

The sheer frustration of someone with a stroke is probably the thing that strikes one the most: How hard it can become to express yourself when something like that happens.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


A work-tsunami has been pending for the last few months. Seismic activity in both of my contracted companies has been simmering for quite some time; at times promising but barely cause a ripple. Next week, however, may be when all hell breaks loose. It will be the 20-hour week that I have been talking up. Not only that, but a side project will pillage my weekend.

It is a great moment - a high tide mark - but it is also promising to be a harrowing one. See you all at the other end of it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Several weeks ago, I was exhausted after my busiest week with 17 scheduled hours. This week my hours plunged to... 6 1/2 hours. That's a loss of more than half of my income, with four students going abroad and several cancellations, and the continuing unstable circumstances at the my second client. Next week will be quiet too, but the subsequent week should be back up to 17 hours or more. It is very much a case of feast and famine.

In the meantime, I've had a chance to dig into Ideas, the book my sister gave me for my birthday gift. It, along with anything from Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker, is a book that makes you feel truly knowledgeable after every page you read. It nicely lays out the development of ideas from time, to the Bible, to the early development of psychology etc.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fleet of Foot

After a period of some recovery, my ankle irritation returned several weeks ago. This caused me to reconsider my assumptions about the cause. I had long thought that the shock of spraining my ankle, then by overcompensating while walking strained and weakened the internal sides of my feet. I decided to go back to the podiatrist, and it was wise. My insoles had been compressed and the soles of my shoes were munted. It was likely that the damage to both had caused constant stress to my ankles as I walked.

Now, I have my upgraded insoles and am on the verge of investing in another pair of sturdy shoes to wander around in.

Friday, September 22, 2006


My working relationship with my second client has not been developing well due to a seemingly incompetent manager at the other end. To date, I have missed four days of work due to apparent incompetence and this person has inconvenienced many due to her lack of consideration.

The missed days were all a case of the manager not scheduling that which had to be scheduled. For better or worse, she is the only person who can schedule the lessons at the company for me. If she should neglect to do them, I have no work and the students lose any regularity of lessons. On one day she cancelled the lessons with me on the pretext that none of the students were available, but she didn't notify the students that the lessons were available. Obviously she hadn't talked to all the students as one called me in the afternoon asking me why I wasn't there for his lesson...

I received quite an amusing e-mail from her on Monday, when upon receiving an invoice from me, she asked about several details. She said that one particular lesson I charged for was not on her records and asked me to provide the reason why it was taught. I sent to her the e-mail she had originally sent me, outlining the schedule for that week (stating clearly the lesson). She read my comment on the invoice: “Lessons unscheduled”, referring to the days where no lessons were scheduled, as “Unscheduled lessons” and asked to whom I was giving unscheduled lessons. Not that these lessons were charged... I explained that I would refrain from ambiguous language in the future (her reading of Lessons Unscheduled is vaguely possible to a rational person, so I should either put more words to put the matter beyond all doubt in future).

On Tuesday, that manager called me this morning wanting to change an afternoon lesson time, which, though slightly annoying, I agreed to. However, upon arriving at the company I found that my 12 o'clock appointment believed his time to be on Thursday (which may be an innocent misreading by him). He was at an external company but could come in for the meeting later in the afternoon. The receptionist tried to reschedule with awkward results. She had not been informed of the lesson change that was agreed to in the morning, nor had there been a room allocated for that lesson change. Due to a lack of communication from that manager she had to do multiple calls just to set the story straight and then organise an alternative plan. She then talked to me with a somewhat embarrassed expression saying that she should have been told about these changes, while trying to remain professional. She proposed a very practical rescheduling which worked well with me.

However, when I met with the student for his needs analysis, he told me he was leaving next week for a three month trip. Right... now why was I giving him a needs analysis now?

The whole situation, though potentially aggravating, no longer causes more than a sigh from me. She has improved her communication, e-mailing me today about the schedule - although it was a schedule of nothing, saying all rooms were booked out (in the whole AXA building)! Well, at least it was cancelled on an actual reason, rather than laziness. I'll e-mail all the students to make sure this clear to the students.

This week was meant to be my heaviest week of work - but cancellations reduced it somewhat.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cruising Altitude

It has been a rather frenetic last seven days. We have hosted 3 people for dinner (out of 5 possible nights of dinners at home), one over for a cuppa, gone on a road trip and had our first person stay the night over. I really like the idea of the open door to friends who come and go.

In A Vigil to a Nation (which I'm reading piece by piece), the author incessantly chatters in tangents about all and sundry while describing his journey's through the landscape of WW2 China. One point that did strike a chord with me was how he said that in the US the 'open door' that people used to have for random guests, had become the 'open porch'. This was back in the mid-1940s, so it is interesting to see the change began then. When I was young, even though we were living in the country, we only ever had people over with a lot of forewarning, preparation and with a self-evident reason.

So let this be an open invitation to anyone reading this to drop by sometime. Just give a text or call and I'll open the door.

Small Print: Naturally should we be occupied with other pressing matters, your visit may be politely declined, or reduced to a cuppa or walk around the block.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Last week, my sickness waned, strengthened then waned again. After my two sick days, my short working week (back to 3 days) was frenetic including a Friday which would be a record (effectively 6.5 hours of teaching in a 7.5 hour period). My weekend was a rollercoaster with highlights of having friends over for dinner and putting my first set of lentil plants into my mother's garden where I hope they'll take root and do what they may (I hope they produce lentils but anything would be nice to watch). The aftermath was that I was back to health and ready for a new week.

However, work-wise, Monday and Tuesday have been disastrous, with my company responsible failing to set up the lesson schedule for me this week, and then her getting sick for the first two days of the week, thus cutting off contact and leaving me without any work except to ring people left, right and centre to piece together the situation. But that is work-work, finding more time on my hands, suddenly re-planting the kawakawa, coprosma and minature horopito in the front lawn. Upon hearing that a high was over the country to stay for a few days I washed almost every washable item for my bed and clothing and it is now hanging gloriously from the line. Since my elderly neighbours putting lawn clippings in our rubbish bin (long story), I created a compost area with discarded branches (a true compost bin, as the branches will compost in the end too). I pickled mushrooms, worked out the problem with my mum's computer and had another friend over for dinner. So I have managed to convert my workless time into concrete outcomes.

Having people over for dinner is rather easy when you have a place of your own. "Xin, shall we have Paul over?" "Okayyyy". And it was done. Resource consent is not difficult at all.

Monday, August 21, 2006


My back is finally almost right.
My ankles are coming into stability.
My weight has come down.
I have been sleeping well again...

And after all those victories, I have been knocked over by a nasty cold, which I think is my first of the year. It is my first sick-day this year. Sick days immediately hit my income which is always a consideration. Irritating for me is that this week at my new company I was to do evaluations for two new students which immediately increases my hourage there. But these things are all unavoidable and the best option is always to allow rest to overcome the lurgy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Process and Ritual

I have been reading a lot of books lately. I have read large portions of The Science of Realization (one of the Hare Krishna books that they try to get you to buy on Queen St), ripped through the Sutra of Weilang and now have started Vigil of a Nation of a much lauded Chinese author Lin Yutang.

The Hare Krishna book was very interesting for about the first half. The author (the dour looking master you may see in pictures related to Hare Krishna stuff) outlines the system of Hare Krishna thought well and argues in a sophisticated manner. I appreciate the simplicity of the system, it is much more logical than Christianity's convoluted logic (with all due respect to Jesus). His zeal to prove Kare Krishna thoughts leaves a lot of dogma explained to my satisfaction. Interestingly, a few correspondents argued with him quite successfully on some points and these letters are included in the work. I'm interested in getting a Bhagavad Gita written in natural English.

My interest in that was wiped away by re-infatuation with Zen. As mentioned, prior to finding the Sutra of Weilang, I already had it encroaching on my mind. Now, I am interested in getting all I can on buddhism. It is perhaps the sudden relevance to some mundane thoughts that bring it so strongly to mind. Let me take you back to 1999 March/April at Wellington when I was on the Organising Committee for NZ Motivational Seminar. It was the beginning of a burst of philosophical thought in me that took me to Taoism. I was there in the kitchen cleaning na incessantly building pile of dishes and finding the simple process of cleaning to be a great pleasure. I felt so pure just doing this routine over and over again. The realisation that there was no such thing as boredom or meaninglessness was probably one of the most profound that I have had and still influences me strongly.

Life, especially keeping a home, is process. Everything is process. And thus everything is Zen. We hosted some friends for dinner last night. Making chapatis was great. Cooking was pleasure. Organising the house was a wonder. I was having far too much fun before the guests had arrived.

I remember my amusement when I first saw the Japanese tea ceremony, one step after the other, after the other. I despised the arbitrariness of each step. Watching it though, in Drawing Restraint 9, was beautiful. I realised it was a process.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Zen / Dao metaphor like this: You are in a boat in a lake, suddenly you notice a boat being sailed directly toward you. You yell at the person, but it keeps coming closer. You curse the sailor and have a case of boat rage when it eventually hits your boat. Now consider what you would do if the other boat was empty i.e. it was just drifting with the wind. There would be no anger. You wouldn't curse or wish pain upon anyone. You'd just do your best to avoid it. And if it did hit, you would focus on what is important – saving yourself and recovering your boat.

It is an allusion to being dispassionate when someone does you ill. The point being, if you do meet misfortune because of someone else, you should just treat it as fate, that the other boat is empty and do what you can to improve the situation, rather than being angered by the action. Zen is big on detachment.

Last Thursday there was a wonderful moment to test this out. Some individual(s) decided to go down Marsden Avenue smashing passenger windows, opening them up and searching them for valuables. Zu, our reliable car, was caught in the devastation and gained the car equivalent of a black eye. I hadn't realised it till a neighbour knocked on my door while I was making dinner. To be honest, on hearing the news and seeing the resulting mess, my blood pressure hardly rose. I was quite detached and peaceful.

However, time does prove us all wrong. After telling Xin about it and her telling me she was too preoccupied to come home immediately to help deal with it, my peace was shattered. It is hard to empty the boat when it is someone you love. Obviously I still have some cultivation of my mind still to go until I am peaceful when my expectations are dashed by a person close to me.

I've always been a calm person – I thought I had to learn to show anger more or people won't take a grievance seriously. Once, when Vanessa unilaterally controlled the fate of a certain photograph, I wanted to show anger because considering it was a mere photograph, it was hard to make such a small issue an issue something worth protesting about. So I went through all sorts of rather artificial actions to express my disappointment and frustration. It was hard work getting angry, and it was for no result greater than harming a friendship.

Is expressing anger in any situation productive to a relationship or friendship? It is hard to imagine. If one can be dispassionate and accepting, but honest to express their qualms or disagreements it would seem to be a better course, if they can help it.

For me, today has been great. I have done my dream of "A thousand miracles before sunrise" (waking early and getting into doing so many little tasks). My rubbish collection was a little late but all other tasks were done. I resolved most of the smashed window problem (just need to call someone on Monday to fit it). I hosted some friends for morning tea and the hummus I made after that is a beautiful colour and doesn't taste half-bad. I have prepared my first ever batch of naan bread (another indian bread) which needs to sit for a couple of hours before being cooked in a hot oven. Can't wait!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This year there has been a surprising number of landslips and mudslides reported in the media. Most of these are caused by agricultural techniques to raise livestock. Land is deforested to create grazing land and roots of trees that usually support the land are removed hence the higher risk of gradual erosion and sudden slides. This produces externalities to many parts of the community. I can remember from my youth many rivers being brown, and that is the way it is for many towns. As the silt accumulates, as the river floor rises, the river can no longer be held by its banks, which have to be built higher and higher.

So who is responsible? The farmers who often inherited the treeless legacy, or consumers who tend to overlook the responsibilities associated with consumption? What is a responsible course?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflections on my way to work on the bus

At a bus-stop shelter, you'll often see marker pen graffiti on the glass. I started scratching it with my nails, with limited and messy success. I picked up a wet leaf, and surprisingly it came off with ease.

You can't tell a book by its cover it's mostly true. But as a ship bears flags of its purpose and provenance so do people tend to be revealed by appearance. However never take an aphorism to be true just because it is an aphorism. Just as you wouldn't rely solely on appearance as definitive evidence of a person's nature. Truisms are weeds to the logical mind.

Across from me is a man who boarded the bus at the same stop as I did. He had been singing audibly at the bus-stop, and in the lack of company in his vicinity, has been talking effusively in a quiet voice several rows ahead of me, to himself. His readable cover might be that of a person with dementia, or perhaps just a little eccentric. Both conclusions come from my mind only - nothing compels them to be true. He leaves the bus with his business satchel slung over his shoulder, just as I might. I sing as I walk to the carpooling point too.

Man, the photo for the TV1 drinking age survey advertisement has two of the fakest smiles you'll ever see. As I write this, several row behind me, the girls in the back-row start discussing the drinking age. Psychic networking?

The background song in my mind as I write is Thom Yorke's "The Clock". I had heard it for the first time on the radio (Radio Live, the only commercial station I have found any interest in of late, 100.6FM - although I've never listened to the main hosts) - it sounded like an incessant whining drone - a song I was surprised to be hearing on the radio. Now I have the CD and suddenly its unique beat has created its own imagined music video in my mind. I can picture Thom beating a bongo drum (not unlike Andy Kauffman in Man on the Moon) even though its an electronic song with a dead serious face as he wails against the Clooooooock~ It's a beautiful song.

The bus almost pulled into a white sedan trying to squeeze by at speed before the bus came out. I wouldn't have notice if it weren't for the same girls behind swearing in shock in a loud voice. I'm too busy writing in amongst the mental drumming.

A man is patting his thighs waiting at a crossing. Is it Ka Mate? He dashes across opportunistically, before the signal.

Tim Allen is the Shaggy Dog, In Cinemas April

(Inuit) Exeunt

Monday, August 07, 2006

Cleaning and Zen

Cleaning and tidying are interesting activities. There can be actions which are cleaning explicitly and deliberately. Like when you plug in the vacuum cleaner and motor it around the house. There can be incidental cleaning, like cleaning the bath while you are taking a shower. There is habitual orderliness, which is the prevention of the need of cleaning. If you don't dirty things, they naturally don't need cleaning. Somehow, for me this recalls two Zen Buddhist poems.

In a temple where the Fifth Patriarch of Zen taught there were two promising student, Shenxiu, who was something of an academic and Huineng, a 'barbarian' from the South of China. Shenxiu was admired by others and was widely expected to become the Sixth Patriarch. The Patriarch himself decided that there should be a competition to write a poem that describes Buddha-nature. Shenxiu wrote:

The body is a Bodhi tree,
the mind a standing mirror bright.
At all times polish it diligently,
and let no dust alight.

Huineng wrote in reply:

Bodhi is no tree,
nor is the mind a standing mirror bright.
Since all is originally empty,
where does the dust alight?

The latter 'won' and the Patriarch gave the ceremonial robe to Huineng. The poem itself is a favourite of mine, hanging on one of the walls in my home (as is Huineng one of my favourite characters of Buddhist history).

However if we are talking about the real world of cleaning, the theorising doesn't work. You cannot make your home clean by realising that cleanliness is an empty abstraction. I agree if Shenxiu when it comes to cleaning. My house is a bodhi tree, and the windows mirrors bright, we should constantly keep it clean and let not dust alight... lest we gain grimy corners.

Interestingly, after I started writing this (I saved it on Monday), I found the Sutra of Weilang at Jason's bookstore (only after browsing did I realise that Weilang was an old romanisation of Huineng's name (probably in Cantonese, which is apt because Huineng was Cantonese). Nice synchronicity and enough to persuade me to buy it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Simple Joys

I had never eaten a chapati prior to my own making of one, nor had I eaten Essene bread before I made it myself. Learning something foreign and then mastering it is one undeniable pleasure and moreso when it is culinary and success can be gauged by your own sense enjoyment.

Chapatis come from the Indian flatbread family. My first attempt at this family were stuffed parathas, which Xin said was not cooked enough (but could not be cooked more). Disappointed, I decided to try puris (deep fried bread). That was very popular and tasted quite good. I learnt a few lessons from that. Especially the best ways to knead and how to roll them better. I tried a chapatti which, though biscuit-like, were well cooked and tasty and I managed to roll them up with newly-made hummus for Xinna in a small crisis. I immediately went for a tricky recipe and put blended spinach in the dough making a beautiful green. The taste did not match the beauty.

Each time, I was not completely satisfied with the result, but last night again I tried plain ones and suddenly it went perfectly. The expanded as they should – looking just like restaurant ones. It was a simple joy to make them.

Essene bread is an interestingly simple recipe. It has only one ingredient: blended wheat sprouts. I had a go at this several weeks ago and although the taste was interesting, I could not say that I liked it. I resolved to repeat the recipe with my own extra ingredients: ground almonds, cinnamon and honeysuckle honey. Again, it was much better. Alice and Mark (especially the latter) took to it keenly this morning. I am not yet satisfied I have a recipe to keep on advancing it, using the wheat sprouts as a base and change the ingredients and cooking time.

Interestingly, I have never made traditional leavened bread – something I will remedy at some stage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Life changes, changes everything. Life makes the rules...

I've tried to be rather progressive with my routines lately. My mornings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are now effectively set in concrete. I wake at 5:30am, make breakfast, water sprouts, transport potplants to window-sills, make Xinna a Daniel sandwich, brew a ton of tea and head out the door at 6:30am. I charge up Mt Eden rd at a brisk pace, entering Big King reserve within 5 minutes to be immersed in the minature, but pleasant, Dawn Chorus - sipping hot green tea and ginkgo from my flask. I plough up the mountain and back down again, greeting the likewise earlybird dog-owners who do their walking in the twilight before sunrise. I get to the pick-up point just on the turn of 7am and wait for my ride, doing a few stretches.

I like routines. If I had to turn bow down to any master, it would be to the clock (and if I had to bow down to a mistress, it would be Xinna). In the evenings likewise, I am drilled into a routine. Getting dinner underway and ready, while managing cleaning, updating lesson plans, sprout management, watching the news and downing tea by the time Xin comes back. Then to bed by 9:30pm (that's the target, which I often fail).

I have brand-new projects. I have officially started my morning rubbish collection on Saturday mornings. I have already made a new neighbourly friend, Lao Guo, a 70 years+ Chinese man who lives down the street. He accompanied me on my walk. After that, I return to make a sandwich (or two) while porridge is cooking. I do Taichi after that at One Tree Hill.

My sprouting activities have moved to the a more sophisticated food gardening, transferring successful broccoli and lentil sprouts to egg carton cups and a little soil. I know have 24 broccoli seedlings and 12 lentil plants growing, hopefully into whole plants.

I had a moment of realisation during the week. After Fiona left from picking up hummus and Xin came home for dinner, I suddenly realised this abode was in fact now my home, and was rather homely. I have gain comfort and rhythm - the necessary criteria for a homely feeling for me.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Middle East

I've never believed in Karma in a metaphysical sense but there is a lot to be said about Karma in geopolitics and life in general. The whole of human history is karma, its build up and realisation - and this is shown clearly in the Middle East. Looking at it historically, it is rather cringe-worthy, firstly the Biblical lead up, the Crusades of the Dark Ages, Zionism of the last century and the present day result. Karma is being inflicted on the civilians of the involved states, and karma is being built up again through the actions of both sides.

In the metaphysical world of karma, you reap what you sow, and this is what we'd hope would be true in the real actions of the world. To this of course we must ask, why do both sides unremittingly sow malevolence?

How do we solve the Middle East conflict? You can't. It can only be untied by the expense of lives and time while letting the bad karma be 'realised' and only then can peace stand a chance.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My last review

And from the absurdity that excessive creativity can have on the classic boy-meets-girl movie, to the absurdity of pure excessive creativity. Drawing Restraint 9 is the first movie by Matthew Barney that I have seen, although he has a series of acclaimed movies: the Cremaster cycle (viewed already by Xin). I knew what to expect in style, which meant there was no shock of its extreme arty movie style.

I liken watching truly arty movies as like listening to a symphony. It used to be that people could listen to classical music and enjoy the flow, build-up and climax of pure sound, the building of a motif to its ultimate realisation etc. etc. Then came pop music which its thematic creation which drowns out such appreciation. The same could be said with dance and ballet. Likewise with movies, the simple observation of crafted symbolism, recurrent motifs, trained performance, simple beauty could be missed in this movie to the unaccepting eye drilled in the patterns of commercialised movies. But if you let such a movie come to you, hold it within your minds eye, let it brew, wait for association and meaning to form slowly and form it is a refreshing experience. You feel cleaner by the end of it.

Of course, I loved the film, after all, it has the coolest tea-set on the face of the globe. It was sensual and cryptic. The sound of this movie is overpowering. Matthew Barney's wife and co-star is the irrepressible Bjork (although her acting her is definitely one of restraint to the natural) so naturally this is to be expected when an artist is given such a responsibility. The music is an even more extreme demonstration of the pure music shown in her recent album Medulla. Lyrics are a scarce commodity in all the music and to those wanting to hear that voice it could be a disappointment. But for the movie, the abrasion, repetition and flow of the whole soundtrack are undeniably apt. I had seen reviews of the soundtrack on Amazon.com and the screams of protest from Bjork fans at the minimalism of it all – and the lack of Bjork's crooning. But that is to forget that it is a soundtrack. I had been rather sleep-deprived for two straight nights, and at times did shut my eyes. Xin aided in my reawakening. But this is the kind of movie you can appreciate well with your eyes shut.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Movie Reviews

With a film festival, there will always come reflection on films, their qualities, the thoughts they inspire, as well, as well as reconsidering the reasons we choose particular movies, or watch movies at all.

Thus, here are my reviews and reflections on the three movies I have watched in the 2005 Auckland Film Festival.

Sympathy for Lady Vengence

This is the third in the Revenge trilogy, three independent movies based on retribution. After watching the previous two (Old Boy and Cut) I was awaiting another dose of plot trickery, kinetic action and general sadism. Regrettably, having such high expectations can lead to disappointment and regrettably this was the case here.

A woman is released after her 13 year prison sentence for the crime of kidnapping and murdering a young boy. The film sets out exactly how it was that her though innocent, was convicted and how she set about in her plans for vengence on the true perpetrator of the crime. Needless to say, a lot happens in between, it is rather tiring to decipher the relevance of it all.

Park Chanwook, the director, built on the bag of tricks used in the previous movies thatching together a complex cohesion of segments into this film. The time line, even more than ever, is shattered and we are given fragments from various times, while the main segment proceeds.

Amelie-esque whimsy is often used frequently with daydreams, fantasies, and general trickery used within the general flow. At times, this is a pleasant break, at other times it is disorienting, not knowing what is really true. Did it happen? We might never know.

The ending was the weakest point, lengthy and removing the significance from the preceding journey. She discovers vengence is not hers to deliver, and this is drawn out further and further. And then in an ambiguous segment (is it true or is it fantasy), the film ends.

The Science of Sleep

Stephane is a wildly creative person, a dreamer, if you will. But dreams, and their separation from reality can make life difficult, especially for a fool in love, and even more so for the object of his affection. This film is one of the most amazingly creative movies I have seen. Almost half of it is conducted in the confines of Stephane's imaginative brain revealing his desires and doubts. He is plagued mercilessly by his suspicions that Stephanie, whom he was besotted, really loves him and is not attracted to another.

Strangely, a lot of my criticisms for the last movie are strong points of this movie, showing it is delivery rather than the tools itself. The jumps from fact to fantasy could have been confusing, but we grasp the frustrations of Stephane even more strongly - this was clearly intended. The trickery too is the nature of the film.

I'm quite familiar with work of the director, Michael Gondry. He has done several movies notably The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and memorable for me is the Bjork music videos he has done (Bachelorette, Human Behaviour, Army of Me). Some scenes even directly recall them to mind. He has even done an acclaimed music video for the NZ band Stereogram.

In many ways, the dreams sequences are realisations of a wickedly kinetic music video. The soundtrack often kicks in during the dreams too complementing the weirdness of the dreams. The effects are eyepopping. Huge hands, cardboard cars, an antique toy horse charging around a field. The dialogues are littered with wordplay and language fun (done in three different languages, but mostly English). Almost the whole cast are oddballs, with the exception of Stephane's mother and housekeeper.

Overall, it was a ball. Highly recommended by me. A review of Drawing Restraint 9 will follow my viewing of it on Monday.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


A quick blog from an otherwise frenetic life. I chose, almost at the flip of a coin, to do some relief work for my last language school. This reduces my time for everything else of course. In amongst the buzz, I've officially become a contractor to my latest client. Things will begin soon and surprisingly, they already have 7-8 students lined up "without much trying" and only from one section of the business (albeit the largest section). I went for a forest walk on Sunday and went for a jaunt in the CBD and my ankles felt fine. My back seems to be holding up well with my regular back stretches (even if the beautiful music it makes causes James to cringe).

So perhaps I'm emerging from the mire of my unwellness. My personal economy will hit a small boom (for the first time in I don't know when). And I can't think of anything else depressing right now... Except for the petrol price - that's bad.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Unity of all Things

One of my tightly held philosophical belief is the unity of all things i.e. that all things, despite our tendency to differentiate things, are essentially part of the same thing (just different forms).

One interesting thing about listening to Radio NZ on Saturday afternoons is that they play a plethora of different music, from hip-hop to country, to house music to metal etc. Usually music tends to get a little tribal - especially if you are younger. It is perhaps when you become musically wise when you realise that music cannot be chopped up. It does have different forms but it remains an intact art. It is a unity. It is then you can listen to almost anything.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Life as an errand

It took me one hour to leave F & P Healthcare today, which was essentially four different errands. Afterward I charged home on another, go waylaid by another, then decided to wash the dishes at my Dad's home before going home (in passing doing another errand).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Now we're cooking with gas

In Xin's house, we have instituted rather austere restrictions on power and water use. There is no need to be profligate with resource use - efficient routines and habits are the key.

I'm also housesitting my father's house while he and his family are away on travel. He has no qualms about power use. It took me two weeks to notice he had the bathroom towel rail on. And another week (now) to think to run down to his bathroom to turn that one off. The shower here doesn't sprinkle, it saturates, and does so faster than the shower can drain the bottom. He has a wastemaster for scraps (we have a worm farm and a compost heap). His uses gas to heat the whole house (fortunately I don't need to use that).

It is a constant contrast.
A First?

Edwin asked one day what was something that could really be considered strange that I had done or something that I had done that no-one else had ever done before or something like that (feel free to say the exact question, Edwin). Some people are wont to call themselves strange, y'know, without any decent reason (apart from the idea that you vary from the norm, well who doesn't).

Anyway, although I may or may not have answered satisfactorily that day, perhaps another thing to add to the hypothetical list is a telephone-call where Xin and I simultaneously brushed our teeth for the first few minutes of the call tonight.

But naturally one doesn't know if other people engage in such adventurous combinations of ordinary tasks as we do. And at the same time, there is no strange in reality without comparison, and it was thus I answered that day, in the main.
New Adventures in HiFi

When you go from dial-up to broadband, it is like the first time you enter a chocolate shop. You gain access to secret places, drop the semblance of temperance and it's like I was blind but now I see.

Sheer delight.

One of the delightful Zen phrases goes like this: "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." It gets to the root of all the endless abstraction, eliminating the mental dross we accumulate in our efforts to grasp the Absolute. After all, usually if the Zen disciple asked irrelevant questions to the master, more often than not he gets thwacked with a rod.

The modern equivalent would be Wash Dishes Vacuum Floor of course, and that is one of the things that comes to mind. General regular spring cleaning is wonderful at clearing the mind. Find a stain, eliminate it. Find a task, do it to completion to the best of your ability.

After doing this for most of Tuesday, I walked up the road and was quite disgusted by the rubbish. I'm reminded by a promise made to myself to go for a regular rubbish picking up stroll - it just needs to be regimented into my schedule - then it would be done. It is interesting to contemplate the origin of all the rubbish. A proportion of it is recyclable rubbish that had been correctly placed in the recycle bin only to fall out when the collecting men did their running grab. The hours after collection are often when the street looks worst. Rubbish, once loose, is no one's responsibility. Similarly bad weather on a rubbish day can have a similar effect. Empty plastic bottles are naturally wont to be blown from the bins, let alone paper from overfilled bins. Other bits are people's general laziness. In the playground, littering was often a sign of coolness, as it was in opposition to the goody-two-shoes labouring to the bin to discard. But when older, you wonder what is the general perception of litterers.

There are homes with fences peppered by little scraps of rubbish - on Dominion Road some items of rubbish are many years old. When you see faded labels and the like, it would be interesting to know whether the residents of the homes nearby actually notice them, or whether it is just there to see.

A few days ago, I noticed a sopping wet thin strip of carpet left in front of a neighbouring house when on a march for a Sally Lunn bun. Last night, it had moved three metres down the road to be in front of our set of units. Perhaps the neighbour, knowing it was not his, had moved it onto us.

Rubbish is a wonderful study of society.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Nobody told me there'd be days like this

Some people know that I have fears about the deterioration in my memory and judgement. I'm generally a optimistic person, but my confidence in my general competence has never been that high since I was about 20. Only in a few spheres of life would I claim any self-efficacy or genuine self-assurance in doing things. Xin is often amazed at my ability to screw things up or break things. My day-to-day memory is appalling at times. Sometimes I fear my spoken language is also going to hell in a flaming handbag.

It is hard to know whether such paranoia is justified, whether it is just a self-fulfilling prophecy, dietary or perhaps even a medical issue. Could doctors look back on posts like this and claim that it was the first symptoms of early onset dementia, Alzheimer's (insert random brain affecting disorder).

I don't know but what I do know is that I have had some bad days, and this to a certain extent, is one of them. Today I destroyed a laptop - pushed it off a keyboard "drawer" off a computer desk onto the ground. Perhaps it is something that anyone could have done but I might have a higher probability than others. At another time today, I got into the car and realised I didn't have my cellphone. I ran back into the house and took forever to find it then almost left before discovering I had put down the keys in the middle of my search and had to retrace my footsteps to find them. The day before I was very close to locking my keys in my father's house (he is in the Phillipines) - only a moment reflection stopped me from doing it.

Of course, the most common occurrences are the near misses. Like the time I reversed the car near the bulk food shop almost hitting the car parked behind. Or the time I nearly ran down a bus driver outside the museum. I'm still a car accident waiting to happen. The world is fortunate that along with being wildly unreliable, I'm also rather lucky. Also I'm fortunate that I am a rather stable individual - I'd be desperately frustrated with myself otherwise.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Interface of the Reality

Belief systems are ways to understand, grasp, and interact with reality (regardless whether a formalised recognised one or the net beliefs of a person). One model of understanding of the workings of the body is that the body works via qi (ch'i), another model is centred on chakras, another one might even work with reference to the recognised anatomical features we all share. The different understandings might explain equally well or alternatively show great disparaties in deduced truth. Chakras and qi are unproven to even exist but at times can be useful in explaining phenomenon. One interesting point I heard that a qi blockage can cause poor circulation (cold hands), which western medicine treats as a natural disorder (something to be managed rather than solved). Apparently this is not true in Chinese medicine. I have poor circulation, hence my interest.

Economics and politics are the same in this way. The power of logic and authority might create an allegiance to one understanding of truth. I am rather straddled over the conservative/liberal divide because the explanations for both are both quite compelling and can explain different phenomena.

There is a taoist saying, "Once you've caught the fish, discard the net" which pretty much explains my thoughts on the topic. The fish (truth) always is paramount, the net (belief system / ideology) is the most dispensible. Yet as is often noticed people love their nets. The net offers consistency and stability. Thus it removes people a step from truth and reality.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Another interesting factor in moving out is the move towards complete self-sufficiency. At home, although I was a paying board, eating 95% my own purchased food, cooking that food, washed dishes, paid internet and phone etc. I often didn't do some of the housework such as washing tidying etc. Now that I have moved it gives me a direct ownership over doing things and also making some things 'my own'.

I have always enjoyed washing dishes; the process-based, meditative aspect of it is really pleasant. I have never been bored doing such tasks and now I have so many more routines such as taking care of the lettuce and tomatoes we have growing, collecting condensation, weeding, making various food (gourmet porridge, dosa, hummus, attempted chapattis, squeezed orange juice, spirulina, soaking beans for evening meals, sprouting alfalfa and fenugreek etc.), doing the washing, tidying, tending the worm farm and the list goes on. In other words, I'm thoroughly domesticated. I could be the ideal house-husband!

And then there are domestic projects abound for the future: Making tofu, Essene bread, bread bread, going into the ceiling, fixing the phone, finally tidying the house properly, selling off or donating all unnecessary spacetakers etc. etc.

Ah! Such freedom to do interesting things.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Three weeks in the making

It is rather a telling sign when I take three weeks to write a blog. I usually foolishly sacrifice valuable minutes of sleep in order to get a blog or a rant-esque e-mail out in one unbroken piece. These three weeks have been as busy as ever, and not coincidentally, are also my three weeks of having moved out from home.

My first three weeks at Xin's house have been as wonderfully challenging as I expected. There has been a very positive benefit in regimenting my life. Previously, I was very loose with my schedule but now I actively make use of all my time. I also am successfully going to sleep earlier on work nights (aside from one night's ushering for Glide Time). I watch far less television and waste less time on the computer. I finish my lesson plans faster as their is competition for the keyboard. Leading challenges are to make food that is not flavourless or excessively flavourful (by the Xin Standard). I don't seem to be able to hit the zone between those two extremes on a regular basis. All tastes delightful to me though.

My good news of gaining a second client has well and truly sunk in and I am patiently waiting for it to be properly formalised and underway. Ernst & Young will be a new challenge and a fertile ground for further work opportunities.

My back pain is back with avengence and its chronic nature is reminiscient of my troublesome ankles (which also has not been completely back to normal). I am quite optimistic about my prospects of beating my back and being stronger for the crisis. Having one's back 'cracked' $25, having on's girlfriend stomping on your back to achieve the same result - priceless. Learning how to crack your own back is a joy.

I also had lots of different motivations, experiences and ideas in this period too. I actually consumed a whole 110 page book on a work day, The Myths that Make Us. This is highly rare for a literary sloth like myself. The previous day I had sampled parts of The Simpsons and Philosophy. This book was mainly interesting for the excerpts, the philosophy part worked well when considering themes and failed when considering the characters. As was often pointed out, the characters are rather amorphous and cannot be analysed. That being said, the only philosophically fascinating essay I ran into was in a character study, albeit quoted from another book. It is so cool that I will publish it here too:

Scorned by a woman, Satan took council with his chief tempters in Pandemonium.
"What," he asked the assembled Principalities and Powers, "are we doing to hasten the dehumanization of man?"
One by one, they reported. Formidable Senior Vice-Presidents in charge of Envy, Pride and Avarice gave glowing accounts; the Chiefs of the Bureaus of Lust and Sloth read lengthy bills of particulars. Lawyers lectured on loopholes. Satan however was not pleased. Even the brilliant report from the Head of the War Department failed to satisfy him. He listened restively to the long treatise on nuclear proliferation; he fiddled with pencils during the section on the philosophy of guerilla warfare.

Finally, Satan's wrath overcame him. He swept his notes from the table and leapt to his feet. "Self-serving declarations!" he roared. "Am I doomed to sit forever listening to idiots try to hide incompetence behind verbiage? Has no-one anything new? Are we to spend the rest of eternity minding the store as we have for a thousand years?"
At that point, the youngest tempter rose.
"With your permission, my lord," he said, "I have a program." And as Satan sat down again, the demon launched into his proposal for an interdepartmental Bureau of Desubstantialization. He claimed that the dehumanization of man was going too slowly because their infernal strategy had failed to cut man off from one of the chief bulwarks of his humanity. In concentrating on offenses against God and neighbour, it had failed to corrupt his relationship to things. Things, the tempter declared, by their provision of unique delights and individual astonishments, constituted a continuous refreshment of the very capacities Hell was at pains to abolish. As long as man dealt with real substances, he would himself remain substantial. What was needed, therefore, was a program to deprive man of things.

Satan took evident interest. "But," he objected, "how shall we proceed? In an affluent modern society man has more 'things' than ever. Are you saying that in the midst of such abundance and possessed by such materialism he simply will not notice so obvious and so bizarre a plot?"
"Not quite, my lord," said the tempter. "I do not mean to take anything from him physically. Instead, we shall encourage him mentally to alienate himself from reality. I propose that we contrive a systematic substitution of abstraction, diagrams, and spiritualizations for actual things, actual beings. Man must be taught to see things as symbols - must be trained to use them for effect and never for themselves. Above all, the door to delight must remain firmly closed.
"It will not," he continued, "be as difficult as it seems. Men are so firmly convinced that they are materialists that they will believe anything before they suspect us of contriving their destruction by spiritualization. By wayof a little insurance, however, I have taken the liberty of arranging for an army of televangelists who will continue, as in the past, to thunder against them for being materialists. Humanity will be so busy feeling delightfully wicked that nobody will notice the day when we finally cut them loose from their reality altogether."
And at that, Satan smiled, sat back and folded his hands. "Excellent...," he said. "Let the work go forward."
And that is that. Cool, eh.

(taken from an essay in The Simpsons and Philosophy, page 193, 'Enjoying the so-called "Iced-cream"' written by Daniel Barwick, quoting The Supper of Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Fair Trade

Yesterday I bought some "Trade Aid" Dark Chocolate. It is marketed as being organic and fair trade. It was $5.80 for a 200 gram block. I bought it because on the weekend I got the 50g version and suddenly discovered it wasn't half bad and it had a reasonable price. At Trade Aid shops those ones cost $1.90 which is equivalent to a service station price for non-fair trade chocolate.

For me, organic products are one of the higher criteria for buying. My desire for organics is greater than my desire for vegetarianism, and my desire for vegetarianism is far more than my desire for fair trade. Only financial constraints and transport stop me from buying more organics.

Fair trade is yet to logically filter through with me. With my rudimentary knowledge of economics, if you split a market taking all the buyers who would be happy to buy something for a higher price, and also remove the sellers who'd prefer to sell it at a higher price, you make the price crash. That means non fair trade chocolate, regardless of its origin, suffers a drop in price. Though this may 'punish' those who use slavery to produce their goods it also harms many farms which are not selling their cocoa/coffee through fair trade channels but are ethically fine. Ideally this would lead a trend towards all sellers moving toward getting registered as fair trade, as it means a higher premium, isolating the non-ethically produced cocoa. But this would also mean a higher price, lower demand, lower production so fewer sellers benefiting from the trade (as you get with higher prices).

And there is always a market for cheap cocoa. The rogue sellers who use slavery will always have a market because cheap goods always sell.

Anyway, I'm happy with my premium Dark Chocolate as it is delicious foremost, and organic secondly. Yum.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

My voice is my passport

I was delivered my new passport today, marginally bigger, more expensive, shorter validity and all. They also deprived me of my wonderfully easy to remember passport number, sigh. I suddenly was struck by the realisation that I had no intention of travelling anywhere outside the borders of this country. Why did I have a passport? Why fork out the money?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

World Tennis Federation

Allow me to quote myself: "It seems ironic that a year in which getting my health and fitness has turned out to be rather horrific in terms of my health." Oh, how the Health and Fitness god(s) taunt me so. On Monday night, a slight discomfort became a rather heinous pain in the ass ailment. So much so that I was compelled to go the doctor the next day. Apparently it is an ailment which 80% of people suffer from in their lifetimes. So what was I supposed to do? Well, the doctor gave me what was to be supposited. Oh deary me. I am still suffering so.

But Monday was good for other reasons in that between dilly-dallying over what I would do about my troublesome back I managed to click it into place myself. Since then I've had virtually no pain. And my ankles are good - I think. So soon all parts of my body will be in their intended places and like will return to a semblance of normality. I haven't been in normal health since early September (unless dysfunctional health is the norm...).

And then Tuesday, the Work and Employment gods decided to give me some relief by quite possibly giving me my second client... Well, not quite giving but it is open for me to seize and I will. Funny life this.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Crossword Trial

Last week I decided to give my crosswording skill a comprehensive test doing both Herald crosswords (straight and cryptic) everyday it was published and also the Kropotkin crossword on the weekend, to have some quantitative test of how well I can do them. I'll try it again later to see if I improve.

Here are the results:

Straight crosswords
Finish rate: 100% (6/6)
Error rate: 4 mistaken answers in 6 crosswords
Assistance: 2 answers provided from outside sources (A friend suggested vaunted for boasted, and also a comment from my mother made me realise a mistaken answer was something else).

Cryptic crosswords
Finish rate: 5 crosswords out of 6. Due to a mistake, one crossword was rendered impossible.
Error rate: 3 mistaken answers in six crosswords
Assistance: 1 answers provided using outside sources (I didn't know what a parvenu was).

I would have included timing to do them but I am often interrupted by work ;-) And besides some of them take me almost 24 hours to complete...

Kropotkin crosswords
Fortunately for my Crossword trial, I finished this crossword for the first time ever. That being said, I did have a lot of guesses, and occasional assistance. His clues are the most evil cryptics possible and the answers are occasionally words you'll never see anywhere else (not even on the internet). Last week I got one answer. I have to wait till next weekend to get the answers but so far I can say:

(out of 28 clues)
Error rate: At least 1 (I guessed an answer for a dressage movement, got it wrong, it was 'piaffe')
Assistance: Only to confirm answers

The evil of the clues are everywhere e.g.

  • Charlie cutting the duck up - back end discarded while meditating (7,3,3) = C+hewing the [k]cud
  • Is tenor featuring in opera? Order one to appear (8) = Is+op(t)era (the Order of termites, I found out later...)
  • Queen with straight wrist - wife leaves - mate comes around (9) = (to get this I needed cockney rhyming slang, as another word for mate is China i.e. china plate = mate so...) Ch+[w]rist+ina, apparently there is a Queen Christina...
  • Film someone eating around noon (a little bone) - had meal by the sound of it (6,2,5) = This is classic - 'Diner' insert the 'n' from noon, a small bone is 'a t bone' reduced to 'at' and sounds like had a meal is ate/'eight' = Din(n)er at Eight, a movie I found out, according to my mum...

I'll take it easy this week, but I'd like to try a few for speed.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Another week, another challenge, another success

It seems ironic that a year in which getting my health and fitness has turned out to be rather horrific in terms of my health. Just on the weekend I suddenly noticed that something was attacking one of my toes. It is likely to be one fo the evil uncles of the mushroom family, not that magical though. And last week I almost had to cancel classes as a tongue infection caused me pain and to thpeak funly. It is when you are in the most pain to speak that people do you the slap in the face of "What did you say?" after you have carefully and slowly managed to make a semi-intelligible sentence. Ah, well in all that commotion my ankles enjoyed their time outside the limelight and slowly but surely they are getting better and better.

Health aside, I have had two breakthroughs for English teaching and a job opening out of the blue. The two breakthroughs occurred during my neverending cold-calling to find another company. Now I am meeting with two companies in the next week and a half, one seeming to be rather promising. And the job opening, which was slide under the door and into my inbox, confidential like, so I'm not allowed to disclose. Unfortunately, although it is a job I wouldn't mind doing, and could be quite capable of doing, regrettably I have little in the way of qualifications to suit it. Drat. Won't stop me applying though (which I fired in quick).

In other pursuits, my first charge in preparation for the Speech Therapy qualification next year has begun with training to be a Stroke Scheme Volunteer. Strokes, as our facilitator says, are really fascinating if it weren't for them being a personal disaster for someone. Some of the symptoms seem strangely familiar. Maybe I've had a stroke. Naaah, but it is surprising how something as severe as a stroke can cause manifestations we can relate to such as "tip of the tongue" feeling and struggling to thpeak poply.

Monday, May 08, 2006


A lady from Frankfurt either has a serious problem with her phone, an intellectual difficulty or just wants to annoy me. For the third time she has called on my cellphone at 5:30am. When I first had this for the first time, I struggled to get wakeful enough to deal with a phone call and managed a "Hello, Daniel speaking". I could hear some muffled German and then she hung up. Cheers. Since then, at least once every week for the last three weeks she has called. After a rather messy night of sleep with surreal dreams and restlessness, again I got a call. I looked at the number and sent it to answerphone. Wish I had spoken to her now. Now, I have decided that I will gather enough German from a german speaker and call her or answer her call with it.

Either way, this has to stop.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Before sleep, before dreams

One of the interesting zones of semi-conscious awareness is the time when your mind is falling into sleep but you are also half-awake. Xin, heard me once tell her "So this would be good for your research" (was that it Xin?) when I had almost fallen asleep. This was not connected at all to what was being said or what Xin was doing. She was doing some of her art work at the time. I can vaguely remember that there was a reason for saying it but I can't remember it.

Again tonight, while I was lurking on the verge of sleep I could have sworn that Xin asked me a question, I remember having a really visual answer and was going to try and express it in words, something like "If the soldiers in Nazi Germany can, ..." suddenly I couldn't remember my answer nor the question and asked Xin to repeat her question. She said she hadn't ask me a question.

Anyway, that is my musing before I go down into my dreams for tonight.

P.S. About a month ago, I told many people that I had a dream about a tsunami hitting Auckland. Strangely enough a tsunami possibility scenario arose in the last few days when a 8 magnitude earthquake hit Tonga, although there was no tsunami.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A third down

Well that was quick, one third of the year has been completed, now where am I? Where am I going?


An annoying start to the year but has been getting better. My eyes are fine, my teeth are fine, my back is no longer chronically sore (only a very localised problem occasionally), and my ankle is not majorly sore and should be back in working order in a week or two. I feel fitter than I did at the beginning fo the year. My plans are to go to a chiropractor, and do yoga and/or alexander technique for my back. Allow my ankle whatever time it needs and slowly build up strength and stamina through walking and possibly running nearer the end of the year.


Since the start of the year I haven't applied for any jobs and no particular other jobs have appealed to me. My In-Company Tuition has been useful but whether it is sustainable is still debatable. My current plan is to keep tutoring till the end of the year, although keeping an eye out for possible advertised positions. Market hard now for a new company to tutor to and try to work as close as I can to full time. Apply for Master of Speech Language Therapy (SLT) at University, and if selected do that for the next two years. If not selected, re-evaluate.


After sorting out when I will be paying two large wads of money to tax, I figure that to have enough money to do what I want I had better earn much more money and to cut a few expenses which may require some budgetting. Fortunately a few big expenses have already been paid such as medical bills (including wisdom teeth), trailwalker money, insurance.


Xin is nice. Planning to move in quite soon.


I will concentrate on what is required for SLT first. The chinese advanced test can be my challenge another year. For SLT, they have a restriction of 16 students, so there is a selection process and my qualifications are not directly what they are looking for but I would like to do some preparation throughout the year and have a go at applying in November.

Little projects

Despite there being a huge number of little projects I have on the back-burner, I have not done any in this third of the year. Trailwalker has been my only undertaking of any size. So I will be prioritising and scheduling the others wisely throughout the year.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sweet Dreams are made of these

Dreams are always a regular source of interest to me. I can go through long periods where I remember every dream and equally long periods where I can't remember a thing. I have dreams which leave memories strong enough to confuse me later on whether certain things have happened or not (usually details but occasionally events). There are themes which return, and then compelling ones that never come back.

Lately, I have had a rather memorable set of diverse dreams and fragments. One night I was running a slippery cross-country circuit, last night travelling and missing my flight, a few weeks ago I was viewing the destruction of Auckland to a tsunami, and another night I was touring around London with my eldest sister. Occasionally there would be something really out of leftfield or out of place which seems quite normal in the dream. This period has to be one of the longest streaks of rather mundane dreams where most things aren within the realms of reason - there is hardly any of the surreal or fantastic scenarios such as those I occasionally had with sharks and lions looming large.

I don't have more than a passing fancy in dream-interpretation. I go through times where I record my dreams and times when I wish I had - but only after the key details have faded from memory.

If I have any interesting dreams in the near future, I'll record them here, but anyone is welcome to record their dreams or thoughts about dreams.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

100k’s too far

One of my anticipated events of the year has become something of a disappointment. The 100k Trailwalker event had been a rather big focus for me. Every day I had been treating my ankles in the hope of hastening their recovery from the chronic pain I had had. In the last month I had been frenetically training looping through the city and country. But either through poor strategy or just pure insufficient preparation, I had to pull out at the 63 km mark of the event.

The walk started well although in retrospect, we probably went too quickly. The first leg of 17km was relatively easy and I was happy. The second leg of 10.7km was horrid with the front of my ankles flaring up but nothing excessive. We had to cross hilly farmland on an angled route traversing sheep tracks that ran horizontally (hard to explain sorry). This had been a problem in the past for me because if you follow the track, your ankle will be constantly rolling to one side and would be aggravating part of my ankle. I decided to take my usual strategy of going either directly down or going completely laterally along the sheep tracks. In retrospect, this may have been the wrong choice as later on the pain in my ankle was chiefly in the front part, perhaps from the impact of going straight down a hill quickly.

That being said, the third leg of the journey, 10.2k was quite good for me. The pain in my ankles completely disappeared and only friction on my heels caused any discomfort. My back started its usual drilling under my left shoulder. As a team, we skidded into the Checkpoint 3 with our first real signs that our team’s condition was starting to deteriorate.

The fourth leg was the worst for most concerned. The longest section of the course at 18.7kms, it injured most of the team in some way. I was fine to start off with and enjoyed the soft surface of a forest grove where I could move smoothly even though I had pain in my knees and ankles. Night fell and the headlamps went on. At the 50k point, I uttered the rather foolish comment that I had a strong pain threshold and despite my pained ankles, knees and back I would be able to finish the course. Unfortunately, from that point on we were walking on Whangamata road and my ankles were increasingly aggravated, possibly because of the harder surface. The speed I was able to do dropped.

At the end of that leg we realised we wouldn’t be able to meet a 10pm cut off point to get to Checkpoint 5. If we could have done so we would be able to go home for a rest in the middle, which would have been desirable for the injured (although with the feel of being a little bit like cheating). We stopped and had a chance to recuperate before our march to Checkpoint 5. Although I felt fine at the stop – as soon as I started the 5th leg my left ankle suddenly became unbearable. I had to stop at the side of the path and give it strapping and extra cream. It was worse than any of the preceding pain that I had with my ankle. From that point on, I was focussed only in putting one step in front of the other. It impaired my balance a little slowing me down more. Fortunately there was a walking pole on hand (thanks AJ), which helped quite a lot. In addition to my foot trouble, I started to feel rather nauseous too, occasionally feeling that the bushes were beckoning me to puke on them. In other words, I was a mess.

I believed I had re-injured my ankle but in a new location; the front hinge part rather than the inner side that was hurt previously (the inner ligament). With over 40kms still to go and at least 10 more hours of walking on the track I resigned myself to pulling out at the next stop to prevent further damage. We stopped at Checkpoint 5 for two hours and I gave myself some treatment. They had free massages for all trailwalkers. I started to have second thoughts about pulling out. I may have been able to do the next leg, but alternatively I could have injured it more and needed a team sent in to pull me out. So in the end, I quit.

After I got back at AJ’s house, I regretted pulling out again (did that many times subsequently). I gave my ankles good treatment with heat and various therapeutic gels and creams, slept several hours of broken sleep and in the morning I felt a lot better. I walked/limped the final 5kms with my drenched, injured and exhausted team-mates (hooray for James and AJ!).

In retrospect, I think I made the right decision about pulling out. My eldest sister told me about how she had pushed on through an obviously damaged knee on a tramp and still has problems because of it now. Right now, embarrassingly, my ankles are feeling well except for a small issue on the left outer ankle (another spot which was not previously damaged).

I have resolved to walk a 100k, with sufficient training, in the near future (probably within two months) once my ankles have settled down at their own pace and I have had the chance to prepare myself and a training plan with my other fallen comrade, Edwin. My sister suggested I do the UK Trailwalker in July (another cunning way to get me over to England for a looksee), but finances may hold me back ;-)

Trailwalker, though arguably an act of masochism, is a genuine challenge and one I will attempt again and again till I finally finish the damn thing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Last week's 'Quote of the Week'

After teaching Chinese weekly for perhaps 20 weeks to one of my students, we came across the word 'Qichuang' (get up in the morning) pronounced 'chee-chwang'. After trying to say it several times, my student said with a big grin: "Finally we are speaking real Chinese."
Skin of my teeth

Well, at the specified time of the year, I received my Japanese Proficiency test results. It was almost as disastrous as it could have possibly been. My predictions had been:

Vocabulary and Characters 96%, Listening 60%, Reading 75%.

My actual result was:
Vocabulary and Characters 96%, Listening 44%, Reading 63%.

Overall, I got 66.4%, which was over the 60% I needed to 'pass' and get a certificate saying I was of Grade 2, but it floated very close to that line. It was an improvement on my 1998 result in every area though:

Vocabulary and Characters 81%, Listening 19%, Reading 57.5%.

My next step is not as clear as for Chinese. I am not sure if I can devote the huge amount of time and energy I put into getting this result, and doubling it, to get to Level 1 level. I am interested in continuing my studies in Japanese. I have already lost my edge, but would probably still use the materials I have to deepen my understanding and try the same level again. It is a nice level and I don't mind remaining on it and seeking a more satisfying result. Of course, once I get back on the studying horse, I might be grasped by inspiration to go the whole way. We'll see.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


2006, contrary to my desire, has been a rather bumpy road in regards to my health. In early January I had chosen it as a main focus to get well and then get fit both of body and mind. I hadn't expected the first one of those to take so long. It is the eighth week of the year and I am only finally escaping from what has been a rather bad run of nuisance health problems (yes, I count myself lucky that something really serious hasn't grabbed me, as should all people. Here's a run down:

I started the year with one mostly healed injured ankle. Well enough to go 17km on New Year's day, that through imprudence (a key word for me), was reinjured and then due to my lopsided protection of that ankle, injured the other ankle. At its peak, both ankles were injured on both sides; the lower calf on the outside was strained and the inside ligaments on both were sprained. Now, I would provisionally say one, the original troublemaker, has healed. The other is painless right now, and should it be painless till my next block of work.

Wisdom teeth have been a non-problem, that became a problem and then, well, let's hope its all for the best. I had all four wisdom teeth removed, which to my ears sounded OK (so long as they need to be removed), but to everyone else's ears sounded a tad excessive, and a rip off. Either way, with the surgery more than a week old, I have still got some teeth concerns. It seems that the swelling pushed my teeth around, and then as the swelling went down the teeth all went back to where they came from, this however opened up the gums close to the teeth and was collecting food in them and it became painful to eat. So I had to revert to soft or mulched food again and still am. But the trip to the dental surgeon explained the necessity of each removal and soon as things are back to normal, I will be happy that I have had them done together without any great ordeal.

I may have also had a mild bout of anaemia again after the surgery. This is purely self-diagnosed, but I felt dizzy and nauseous till about Wednesday this week. It was possibly also another case of imprudence when I decided to start work again on the Monday after my surgery.

And my back is still a work in progress. Absolutely fine when there is nothing wrong, and painful if I sit to play chess or teach for more than an hour.

With such a long list, I have considered how I am going to get back out of this unhealthy hole. Namely, iron tablets in the short term, mulched diet till my next working week, grass-walking throughout this week, gentle exercise and stretching for my back and legs ongoing, longer-gentle walks next week, yoga when my back is no longer in any pain, a nice variety of food once my gums have recovered and then hopefully 100km's in April to wash it all down.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Losing Wisdom

When I was on the bus in Taiwan, one of the few AIESECers who vaguely wanted to continue a conversation with a scary foreigner was explaining his Chinese name, Yingzhi, saying it meant "full of wisdom". And every time he met me again he always said, 'Remember me? I'm full of wisdom.' Anyway, in a different way, last Friday I was depleted of my wisdom with the expensive extraction of four of my "third molars".

The surgery itself was a piece of cake. You lie back, get injected and then leave the world for what seems like barely a few minutes (wish I watched the clock, it was over an hour). What happens after that is much more exciting. You suddenly get moved out on your wobbly, wobbly legs and thrown into a waiting car, which happens to be piloted by Xin's mum. Suddenly you realise that your mouth is full of stuff and you find the front of your jaw, everything from the mouth down, including your lips are completely without sensation and hanging limply. Then you discover that one of those things in your mouth is your tongue - also dozing. You stare into the wing mirror and realise your left jaw decided to adopt an expansive strategy. You look like a lopsided gangster.

You go home with a bag full of drugs and are told not to make any important decisions or drive a car. Hmmmm. Should I take these drugs? Anyway, you do crosswords and watch Chinese TV instead and then remember the drugs two hours later. You struggle down a banana smoothie, which is an appalling experience when your tongue is not in operation or with sensation, and then take those pills. Without a tongue to motivate one's desire for food, many of us would die of hunger you surmise. Your girlfriend kindly calls and you tell her, 'Rhaaay dung eeth nung.' Then feel awfully tired and collapse on bed, awaken at sometime, feel dizzy, collapse on the bed again. You celebrate the reactivation of every mouth muscle.

You get amazed that none of your previously chronically sore body parts are sore and claim to have been miraculuously cured and then remember to take your regular dose of Codeine. You cut down your painkiller intake and suddenly those body parts are reinjured.

Well, that's how it was for me, or was it? The last two days have been better, and now I am almost back to normal. I can almost eat all the things I would usually. Although if I were a carnivore, steak would be an impossibility. My jaw is back to about a third of its swelling from Friday, but still obvious. Anyway, a nice little adventure in the journey of life.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

'To have no hate nor love toward people'

My Chinese study is slowly overcoming inertia and has some movement forward after a break of about a month and a half. I am absolutely flabbergasted in retrospect at my study work-rate last year. I was a machine! It is impossible to return to that state immediately, so I am doing what comes naturally: Indulging in reading, recovering my vocab, listening to Chinese radio and chatting with Xin's mum.

One of my favourite ways to study has been to read in that language. Every student I have ever had, I have recommended it to - but few take it up. When you find something you are interested in reading, it is an amazing motivator. I am fortunate enough to have found my perfect reading material in Chinese - a magazine called Duzhe (meaning: The Reader). It is an assortment of various genres of short reading sections. Small stories. Essays. Jokes and the like. Short enough to immerse yourself in and finish in a break between lessons. And with enough variety so that you can move on easily when you choose wrongly.

One of the readings I did today was called 'To have no hate nor love toward people', which is a line from a Chinese poem by Su Manshu (unless that is a transliteration of a foreign surname). To the author, the line describes a state close to what he thinks would be heaven. He then boldly says, that that is how he describes many places in America. Friends and neighbours don't 'love' each other (love naturally means platonic love). They don't have the expectations on each other that people do in China. As there are few mutual expectations, there is nothing to bind them, and very little to repel them. He lived in America for 20 years and says he never had someone whom he could call a friend. Everyone in the places he lived just had a pool of people that were more mutually recognising acquaintances - very few had what he'd regard as friends. He suggests it comes from individualism - by believing in our requirement to be ourselves, it makes it hard to really meld together, and there is an emotional barrier that is virtually impossible to traverse without making people uncomfortable or making the other person suspicious. That is like New Zealand. In societies that are not as individualistic, the barrier just isn't there and people can intergrate themselves emotionally and also be more repelled when there is not that connection.

This coincides a little with a short story I am writing about someone with an overwhelming desire to connect with people. Someone who I am not, but sometimes play the role of. It is someone I might want to be. But interestingly, someone from that other side of the equation - sees our situation as a paradise - blissfully uncomplicated.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Chinese Test Result

After a long wait, resulting from the teacher-in-charge being away on holiday and no-one being around to send them forward till now, I have finally received my Chinese Language Test result. It was better than my expectation, but with the variation in scores that I had feared.

Listening 81% (even higher than my practice tests)
Grammar 94% (as expected, kicked butt)
Reading 91% (had expected much worse; this was when my powers of concentration were in free-fall, I must have guessed well)
Miscellaneous 69% (my fear, it was my biggest concern just prior to the test, plus in the third solid hour I was in a mental meltdown. It was my second lowest score for that section).

Regrettably with my low score in the last section, my total score fell out of the 'A' band score for Intermediate by a mere three marks (out of 400). Since there are fewer questions than points, 170 marks generating a total of 400, one extra correct answer would have got me there. But as a total score, it is better than all my practice tests - so I am happy with my results. I never quite got into that high band even with a pleasant atmosphere, tea in cup, breaks between sections and so on.

Now remains the choice of whether to go hell for leather at Advanced (and be massacred) or master Intermediate this year. Frankly, I consider only one a viable choice... Anyway, nice to finally know. I might get back to serious study soon.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


In our adrenalin filled world, an idea of bliss is sometimes hard to find. Maybe my last list mixed bliss and happiness, and probably with some pleasure in there too. For me now, bliss is the feeling of being unencumbered, released from something or to be immersed in an experience and hence released by other things.

The most interesting thing for me is that the bliss itself is not pleasure nor pain, but just experiencing what the senses bring..

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Happiness is...

...a warm bun

...love re-affirmed

...a painless back

...tasting food

...a nice sleep

...ranting in synchronicity and in tune with a fellow ranter

...a rainy day

...watching healing

...connecting to someone through an image

...unexpected acceptance

(feel free to add to this)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Old friend

When it comes to friends, I'm a sieve. I enjoy people and their friendship when they are around me - but change my situation and suddenly I lose touch. Until recently, the longest-term friendship from start to finish (not in consecutive years) I had was 12 years. This friend I had lost contact with but was re-acquainted with after a hiatus. On Piha on Sunday, though, I was lucky enough to bump into a primary school friend whom I knew for two years (form one and two) so that means I finally have a friend whom I had known more than 15 years ago. I am rather interested in re-establishing our friendship and will undertake efforts to make sure it happens.

Interestingly, in my job interviews for GCSB last year they would have required me to give the details of someone who I had known for over 15 years - a task which would have been very difficult.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The third week of the year

is drawing to a finish. I didn't get around to planning my professional career much. Priority was given to embracing the little time I had with my lover before she goes back to her island and mountain, and with me preparing for work proper, also resting with back pain I didn't have a terribly large amount of time to do any of the investigations I was planning.

What my sister believes is a back spasm is causing me no end of grief. Fortunately I'll be going to the physio on Saturday and hopefully healing can begin. It is overshadowing my usual worries about my ankle.

My good news is that I have moved to three days a week for work, an extra 4 hours a week. Anyone who knows my pay rate knows that this is quite a significant increase. I want to make this year count as much as I can financially so it is a good start.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"And we are both utterly humorless about our vegetarianism."

The line above was part of a Simpsons episode which at first I didn't really understand. Sometimes Simpsons seems to pack everything into being a joke so sometimes it is easy to think that something is a flat joke when it is not. But now I may have realised that maybe there was a vegetarian amongst the scriptwriters who was trying to relay a general experience.

Last night, I had dinner with a primarily Mainland Chinese group of people. And with every new person came the thrice repeated series of: "Oh Daniel's vegetarian" "Oh, how many joys and pleasures you'll miss out on." "How will you ever become full?" "Do you eat fish? Some vegetarians eat fish" "What about prawns?" And for once I was starting to get a bit humorless.

A Chinese student of mine, with some insight, may have explained to me earlier about how Mainland Chinese have a harder time understanding voluntary vegetarianism (or any semblance of animal rights). He mentioned that Chinese have starvation in their far too memorable recent past (barely a generation ago). With all the culinary bliss to be thankful for it is a sin not to take all that you can.