Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brief reflection

On the 7th of January, I set some goals which I wanted to achieve. I got 80% through writing this before the rush to get ready for our trip overwhelmed me. Surprising though is the fact that despite blogs on blogspot being inaccessible from China, blogs are still publishable - hence freedom of speech is unhindered, while freedom of information is not!. Anyway, here are the results for the year:

Goal 1. Get a diary and keep to it.

This was mostly done, though I did start to fade during the last few months.

Goal 2. Get my charitable activities in order.

This was done in fits and starts. I sustained my stroke work throughout the year and Noel is great to chat with. One problem has been getting there on time. I'm not the best conversationalist either so we usually do just 30 minutes. I did tree planting twice. The donation side of things was less than I had intended but it is very much in motion. And, if it counts, I donated my time twice to help out AIESEC with facilitation and pretty much donated as much blood as I could do within the guidelines.

Goal 3. Get fit, lose weight.

This was a failure. I've expanded somewhat, especially since Trailwalker. My ankles are still not trustworthy. I have taken up jogging, but haven't gone far. This will be the goal that I'll put more emphasis on next year, but will still be difficult considering my increased workload.

Goal 4. Re-regiment my language learning.

I've had two periods of intense Chinese study throughout the year which have been well worth it. My listening ability and reading capacity have both increased, although my speaking capacity has maintained itself at the same level. This all being said, I have been disappointed with my language ability that I have displayed in China. My writing is a bit of an unknown. Maori was brushed up once, but none of the other languages got a look in. My English knowledge has been deepened though.

Goal 5. Consolidate my business.

This has been an interesting year. I was aiming for an average of 18 hours a week, but only managed 16.5 hours. My biggest week was equivalent to 21.5 hours, and there have been some great periods of work, but the droughts lowered this. I had a slow start, jury duty took out some hours during a ripe period but generally there wasn't enough work. I didn't seek a second client because when the work boomed I didn't think I'd be able to commit to another company, but when both companies lacked work, I'd be helpless. Naturally, recent news will transform the next year. If I can sustain the Wellington project, I'd conservatively estimate a 28 hour average, with a potential for 33 hours on peak weeks. The real possibility of getting someone on board is a little bit of a headache. I have one potential, new client and also more demand in my current clients than I can handle (I got a call yesterday to see if I have room for 3 more students). Well, it is pleasing that after struggling along there is some reward.

On an incidental note, my savings have finally returned to their late 2003 levels (prior to me doing a Diploma of Education, two foreign trips and a year and a bit without any income).

Goal 6. Continue the garden throughout the year.

The garden has kept going even if the veges stopped being produced during the winter. We're back on track with onion, garlic, potatoes, artichoke, beetroot, carrots, mustard, tacai, red cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus and other miscellany growing well. Interesting will be how well they grow in our absence.

Goal 7. Organise things on the homefront.

Well, I've continued to move things from mum's to Xin's. It's getting the last 10 percent that is the most difficult. I do have a more elaborate plan in mind, turning my room desk into an office-proper, thus removing the laptop from the dinner table. But that will be next year's plan.

So that is how the cookie crumbled planwise in 2007. 2008's goals will be vastly different with a new set of challenges in sight.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chickens all here, accounted for, and ready for action

Saturday, November 24, 2007


What a mirage the last two weeks have been! As mentioned in my previous blog, work was meant to be cooling down. Little did I know the following week would be another packed week and this past week would be a psychological rollercoaster.

One of the looming sticking points has been a renegotiation of my hourly charge due to the inclusion of GST and the re-writing of the contracts that required. I thought this would have been an easy process but one of the clients baulked at any movement in price and I didn't want to charge one more than the other. To not move the price means a pay cut of 12.5% upon getting registered. Knowledge was the key here when I discovered companies claim back the GST tax on their expenses (from GST registered companies) so any price rise would be superficial and they'd still effectively be paying the pre-tax amount. Upon this discovery, I finally got some resolution and now the contract re-writing has lost its trickiest element.

With all the discussions prior to that discovery came a pretty useful question to address any rise in the charge: What is the real market price for my services?
It was a genuine question but also a tool for this person to negotiate; it is the market that dictates the price and not whether you suddenly want to include the tax - if my pre-tax price was the market price, then the price won't rise just because of my need to include GST! I couldn't give a market price because I have had no contact with others in my employment niche; we are more or less lone wolves. Even if knew someone similar to me, price information would hardly be what you'd share without a lot of assurance you wouldn't be competing for a future clients. He said he'd 'call around' to see if he could find a market price. Later on he called me over and mentioned that he'd done a bit of research and said that my price was far over the market price. Surprised I pressed him for which companies he was making his comparisons: sit-down group classes, mostly in the city. I thought that was rather sneaky. It was to compare my service with something that does not have any of my competitive advantages: namely, its on their site (so no time wasted in transportation), its one-to-one (meaning student's weaknesses are dealt with through a personal curriculum and not a generalised one that may not deal with the needs of a student) and it is flexible to the student's schedule so they are not paying for lessons which they cannot go to due to workload or urgent meetings.

The shock to the end of this story was a sudden indication that my charge may be below the market price. Another company has been looking for someone similar to me in Wellington. They found one but found the charge to be too steep! They'd rather fly me down to Wellington to do their English tuition there for two days! Since they'd be paying for a flight and accommodation (probably discounted but still significant when compared to my charge), I can only assume my price is very competitive. Currently though, that plan is not actually possible due to my other commitments although I would like to negotiate a compromise. The Wellington work would be excellent if it could be done in a single day - the question is if that is really feasible. And that is what I will be finding out.

One thing is for sure though, next week will certainly be quieter on the teaching front - but there is still a lot to do. With the lead in to my vacation I'd like to get things straight. Not having things straight in my head and too many ideas floating around is not conducive to good sleep, I've found.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stars aligning

I'm on the downward slope from a real boom period in business for me. Work should taper off somewhat till I'll be leaving on a jetplane to China. The last two years have both had a nice, profitable October-November period before my hours take a plunge at the end of this year and the start of the next. Complicating work will be hopping over the GST threshold - and taking a likely paycut as a response. This naturally should drive me to work more and harder - and if work continues its expansion, the chance of perhaps getting someone else on board. For me, that is a scary matter.

On the pessimistic side of things, I'll be losing at least one student over the New Year and there is always the worst case scenario of getting GST registered but have a drop in hours to the point where you're well under the threshold!

My imminent trip to China has spurred me into studying Chinese like there was no tomorrow. Earlier in the year I nurtured hope of taking the Advanced proficiency test, but my motivation ebbed and I couldn't study while my free time was consumed more and more by work. Now I find that even with a heavy schedule, making time to study is not an issue. It is funny how when you have the right motivation, things that seemed difficult can ease tremendously.

Spring has turned out to be turbulently nice. There have been some pearlers amongst the rough. I'm a bit sad to be missing out on a third of the summer. I had better get all my swimming and bush-walking out of the way before going just in case conditions aren't as favourable when I get back!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sleeping Dogs

When I was in high school we read a book called Smith's Dream (by C. K. Stead). It was a fascinating book following a man who finds himself caught in an insurrection in New Zealand. It presents a battle between the military and a rebel force. The rebel force had camps in the Coromandel, well-armed with safe houses, code words and the like. It was made into a movie Sleeping Dogs (Sam Neill's first big movie). Oddly enough I chose to rent and watch this just recently, and as of today it is reported that police raided the Bay of Plenty (and other places) for paramilitary groups!

I hope this unravels to show exactly how this has come to be and what was to be.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chinese and the media

The recent two cases involving the Chinese seem to have revealed an inability of the media to deal with Chinese names. Many of those who have a career in reading and writing the news seem not to have any advice on how to approach them. Regularly, the names have been so butchered that at times it was hard to know who was who.

Neither does there seem to be a standard convention for the ordering of Chinese names. In the recent article, “Pumpkin case: Grandmother's anger at police”, the grandmother is called Liu Xiao Ping using Chinese name ordering (surname first) yet in the same article ‘Pumpkin’ is called Qian Xun Xue with English name ordering (surname last). In the Saturday Herald, a man by the name of Sun Anguang was mentioned; Sun was his family name yet in the article he was referred to as Mr Anguang! The solution is easy: if it is a Chinese name, use the Chinese order (e.g. Hu Jintao); if the name has an English component, use the English order (e.g. Pansy Wong).

Perhaps this is a sign of the inability of media outlets to take on journalists of other ethnicities and language backgrounds.

(I've sent this to the Letters to the Editor at the Herald)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Obsession rising

I was downtrailed. Not a single answer solved. The grid immaculate apart from a few feeble, misguided scribbles in miniscule letters. The Mephisto crossword humbled me three weeks ago, restricting me to three answers, but had given me an ounce of hope yielding 19 (of the 32) answers the following week. But this past week's left me confounded and grasping.

Studying the clues I didn't get revealed a glaring problem. The clues were designed for an educated, older British solver. A decent knowledge of Middle English (as you'd expect in Chaucer), Scottish vernacular and the history and people of note for Greater Britain are all required.

So guess who's reading Chaucer now...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I've got back into dosing myself on the hardest of the hard cryptic crosswords (well, of those available in NZ). They are the Kropotkin crosswords which are in the Weekend Herald. When I'm high on them, I'll proclaim them as the most spectacular challenge to the intellect; and solving them as akin to godliness. Naturally they are neither, but such exaggeration is indicative of how much I'm enjoying them.

It is not just that they are a more difficult; it is that some of the answers are obscure words that you may not have even seen before. The compiler creates words occasionally. This week the answers that I have got so far feature: frescade, theeing, Frenchman's Creek, chorpoda and hircine; and last week featured: gormenghast, dilutee, trencherman, grimwig, neath and chinwag. Of the other answers, few are 'normal' words. Useful knowledge this week included knowing that 'inch' was another word for an island, 'fell' was an old word for a skin or hide, 'magister' is the latin for master, two greek letters (chi and mu), a Maori Major of the past and the names of indian tribes. Almost all the clues are so carefully crafted so that you can look at them for hours before they are unlocked. It is truly a puzzle that can keep you occupied throughout the week.

Currently I have four clues remaining, gnawing at me (from the 26 in the beginning). The only other person I know who does them has already got all 4 of them, indicating they are not completely impossible. The only saving grace is that I have got one he hasn't got. Anyway, just to demostrate a little of the wonder:

Correspond with me after letter got from overseas (5) Answer: CHI+ME 'Chi' is a greek letter, and to Chime in is to agree or to correspond!

Ravel - A french composer of hits about the first century (8) Answer: Un+sti(t)(c)h 'Un' being french for A and ravel not just being the name of a French composer but also a word meaning to undo! So intricate and well crafted.

I can't wait till Saturday to finally 'get' the remaining clues and get another set of the finest challenges.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Presenteeism, infection, incubation, symptoms and exhaustion

I believe a circle was completed today. Last Thursday my newest student came slightly under the weather to my class. He had been sick, off-work for a day and had come back to work still not 100%. "Shouldn't you be still offwork I asked him?" He demurred.

Monday evening, I had forgotten my keys and had to wait for Xin to return. I felt unwell as the rain came intermittently. Upon getting in, I increasingly felt uncomfortable. It was the flu. Tuesday and Wednesday were both spent at home ($300 of income lost). Back I went today, I had thought I was mostly back to health but I wasn't. Each of the five lessons today were long and it was a relief as each finished.

The last lesson of the day I met the student from last Thursday. He had had two days off this week already, still being ill. In fact, he still had a sore throat and had got antibiotics to treat it.

Driving home was exhausting. I feel rather deadish.

Did I come back too early too?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Te Wiki o Reo Maori

Kia ora koutou. Well, Maori Language Week has almost slipped me by. I was thinking of saying kia ora to my students but being completely unhabituated to greeting with Maori I have failed every single time. Ah well. Hei aha...

More entertaining this wiki has been the performance of newsreaders and current affairs hosts trying to speak reo Maori. Simon Dallow started the wiki saying an extended maori introduction on OneNews. He is actually, to my ears, very proficient. He showed that during the tangi of the Maori Queen that he could more than handle himself with reo. I'd say he'd kick my ass in Maori even without a teleprompter. He has clearly put work into it.

The rest clearly have not. John Sainsbury was only marginally better than Dick Hubbard's at the ANZAC day ceremony (i.e. reading it off a script with English vowels). DH's effort was cringing. Wendy Petrie was the best of a bad bunch. John Campbell was surprisingly poor. He does well in his regular greetings but as soon as it moves to something less practised (er... the Maori national anthem) his vowels turn out mangled.

'Foreign' languages are difficult and not everyone can master them. But I was a little disappointed that something like basic pronunciation was not better. They make their living speaking; the obligation should be on them or placed on them to shape up.

Anyway, my contribution to te wiki o reo Maori is to provide this link on the basics of greeting in te reo Maori.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A token record

On my rubbish walk this morning I easily broke all previous Hell's Pizza token collecting records, with a stunning 17 tokens in 1 hour 15 minutes. This works out at about $17 an hour if converted into gourmet pizzas and then into cash. In the process, I also picked up over 7kg of waste.

One of the more surprising aspects is that I only found one box with a token removed!

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's the pong!

I did a long procrastinated thing yesterday: I visited the Auckland Table Tennis Association. I adore ping-pong but without the convenience of being a language school teacher (where sometimes I played ping-pong for a longer time than I taught English!) I pretty much haven't played it. But I'm back spinning and smashing. Finally something to keep me fit perhaps.

Friday, July 13, 2007

(I discovered a lode of draft blogs which once saved were long forgotten. These I will finish and publish)

Education quote (from 2004) - The nature of humanity and state of society

The purpose of education is always an interesting philosophical debate.

This quote is taken from a book The Liberal Tide: From Tyranny to Liberty (edited by Jim Peron), the article itself coming from a person called Frank Chodorov

"In one way or another, this idea [social collectivism] has insinuated itself into almost every branch of thought and has become institutionalised. Perhaps the most glaring example is the modern orientation of the philosopy of education. Many of the professionals in this field frankly assert that the primary purpose of education is not to develop the indivdual's capacity for learning, as was held in the past but to prepare him for a fruitful and "happy" place in society; his inclinations must be turned away from himself, so that he can adjust himself to the mores of his age group and beyond that to the social milieu in which he will live out his life. He is not at end in himself."

(beginning of 2007 edit)

This was written by a libertarian author whose individualistic nature is quite easy to spot. A libertarian would object to all forms of collectivism in society and it is through that prism that he analyses phenomena. Is his observation valuable?

The human species tends towards gregarious behaviour and collectivism. This is not to say that every person is sociable but that people generally like having friends and being a part of groupings, and thus gain a sense of belonging and identity. Individualism itself is usually an extreme exception in human societies of the past. Naturally, these days apparent individualism is more common but I would say that it is individualism that has insinuated itself into education and politics. That is not to say that it is an aversive thing - but it does highlight an interesting trend.

On a TV show Exposed (hosted by John Marsden), a suggestion was made that human nature had evolved to cope well in groups no greater than 500 individuals. Over that, people start to not be able to recognise or know the members of their community and start closing off. The point was that urban life exposes us to numbers much greater than that 500. I'd say that this forces the individualisation. Adjusting education to enable individualism may be an important trait for 20th and 21st century education due to the environment we live, but this has to balanced by an acknowledgement of the collectivistic needs of people. Classes should have contact with the world beyond the world of their classes. How would someone learn social responsibility if one has to focus on their own goals? You can threaten people with punishment to cause them to be responsible in their pursuit of goals, but there is not a greater method than cherishing the society in which you exist and having no desire to harm it on the way to your own personal goals.

The fear of the libertarian is that the personal goals and needs will be completely subverted by the asserted needs of the society. There is are existing examples of this but it is one location on a spectrum. But a completely individualistic society is not necessarily a better society in which to exist either.It is hard to say where our (admittedly pluralistic) society is on this spectrum but I'd say that a more collectivistic education system would be beneficial to help glue together the diversity of the society.

(I wonder what I was going to say back in 2004)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The perils of youth literacy

When I was, I read a lot of books that I was probably not old enough to read. I had an interest in science and read copiously from encyclopaedias and other books to get my fix of information on chiefly dinosaurs, snakes, meteorology and astronomy (I can't remember the other topics). Anyway, in adult life there have been many signs of how my youthful exuberance exceeded my proficiency to read accurately. There are so many words which I learnt from through reading but through the misapplication of pronunciation rules and the poor assumption of meaning.

For pronunciation, it often involved the wrong placement of stress in a word e.g. banal (pronounced 'bay'), the incorrect vowel botany (with 'boat') as a first syllable and puberty (with 'pub'). All of these stayed with me for years and I have been corrected by others. Now at the age of 27, I have discovered that another word from my youth, taciturn, I have long pronounced wrongly. I have always said it in the coolest way: tacky-turn. But the word is related to 'tacit' and the pronunciation of 'taciturn' is the same. Ah well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A spell

Well, it started well. My blood donation this evening featured my highest iron level in quite some time - a good bounce back from the low of the previous donation. After the donation though, I rested for ten minutes and then got up and went to the toilet. I had drunk a lot before the donation. However, while I stood letting nature take its course I felt a little lightheaded, and as time went on my eyes were fuzzing over. I managed to finish and zip up before lurching out of the room and then staggered straight for a couch, while at the same time muttering something to the nurse in the kitchen area. She knew what to do - and then enforced the procedure to the nth degree. I had to stay flat on my back, feet up high with ankles and wrists rotating and coughing till she said (this was to get the blood flowing back to the brain). Then I could put my legs down. And then five minutes later I got a pillow under my head. And then 5 minutes later she let me sit up. And then I had to stay for about 20 more minutes. But on the positive side, they paid for my taxi back home! I actually got back right when I said I would.

This is the first time in 23 donations that I've had an adverse reaction. But it is a good lesson in what to be careful of as well as the procedure for when someone becomes lightheaded.

Monday, July 02, 2007

From a horse's mouth on Islamic terrorism

If you are interested in the motivation of Islamic radicals this is probably the most worthy read you can have:,,2115832,00.html#article_continue

Sunday, July 01, 2007


My weekly workload has collapsed and will stay low for most of July before August will bring it back to some respectability. Naturally, I'm caught in a win-win situation, where a lack of hours brings more leisure time to do what I like to do and a surplus of hours gives me money for random expenses like car repairs, which I like too.

In my extra time this week contemplating, my mind settled back to an old philosophical chestnut, namely whether we have freewill. A burst of inspiration suddenly revealed to me a weapon to destroy the argument of anyone claiming that determinism is a logical necessity.

Paul once related an idea from a book he was reading about how the human mind has a natural tendency to look for causes for phenomena it experiences. For example, if people saw a comet and then a nature disaster occurred, there was an inference of causality. In the book, it related how this could be a source of the belief in the supernatural. The sins of mankind had to lie in a past flaw/sin at the beginning of creation; people of different areas spoke differently because God punished the people for building the Tower of Babel; deformities and being born in poverty must have been a result of sins in a past life and so on. This is a reasonable theory and could explain the capacity for rational people to believe in things such as luck and the desire to see coincidences as providence. More crucially, it shows that a natural mode of thinking can lead to beliefs that are not necessary logical.

If we have a look at the scientific mode of thinking, it is easy to see that it is a formalised systematic analogue to the same mental process. It looks at the effects and seeks to attribute causes. This naturally is a powerful technique and has been highly successful. But the conclusion of determinism could be an example of how such processes being victims of their own success.

Determinism is the theory that all of our choices are essentially pre-determined by circumstance. For example, I'm going to make a cup of tea now. Why? Because I have a sensation in my throat; I'm partial to tea; it's cool in this room; I'm a bit sleepy and may be in need of a pick-me-up. I could try to demonstrate my freewill by going against such factors to make a point. But my decision to make this point are also pre-existing; I'm writing this blog (which itself had pre-existing causes); I'm a contrarian etc. So if all the effects have causes, then there is no free will, thus determinism.

But the logic leading to determinism could be underpinned by the same assumptions that lead us to beliefs in luck, karma and a creator. If you assume that all effects and choices by sentient and non-sentient beings and objects can be attributed to causes, then you are begging the question when it comes to freewill. It is an assumption to say that all effects have a 100% materialistic cause.

We could assume that our choices are to some degree a result of circumstances and to some degree the effect of the executive functions of the brain exerting its freewill over the choices available. The executive function is what weighs up the significance of each of the factors and effectively makes the choices. Naturally circumstances are the data that the executive function may consider, but to say that the circumstances force choices upon the executive functions is to make an assumption beyond what one knows.

I see this perspective as a valuable point to raise against anyone who considers determinism to be a logical certainty. It doesn't prove freewill; in fact you'll notice that it can be used to attack someone who intellectually asserts freewill. But any awareness of the assumptions that lead to non sequitur 'conclusions' has to be a good thing.

I'm annoyed that I had never noticed this point in fact. It does have implications and uses in other discussions. Anyway, I came to blogger this morning because I knew there was a philosophical topic I was going to blog. Freewill was not going to be the topic, but I couldn't remember the topic that had inspired me to have a more philosophical blog. While writing this one, typically, I recalled the topic which will be the basis of a blog in the near future: Was Mother Theresa selfish?

Any thoughts on freewill and/or Mother Theresa, please comment.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Crash course

Slip sliding away, into another car's rear end. That is something I thought I wouldn't be doing. My driving has improved a lot (only by my own reckoning) since I resumed regular driving in the second half of 2005. However this afternoon, driving home, my mind drifted. I was driving at the right distance at a reasonable speed, but didn't realise that the flow of traffic slowed. I braked when I realised but slid along into the bumper of the car in front.

Fortunately the gentleman I bumped into was understanding and the insurance issue has nearly been sorted. But I'll be losing a decent chunk of my savings due to only having third party insurance.

It is always a psychological shock to have an accident. I'll have to be very careful in the next few days to get my confidence and make it to the weekend so that arrangements can be made.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ngati Whatua and Maori claims

Recently there was a front page article regarding the Ngati Whatua claim (the largest tribe in Auckland prior to Pakeha settlement) on parts of Auckland. It included three volcanic cones, a creek and sections of Waitakere, North Shore and parts of Manukau. There had been an agreement in principle over these but this has been cancelled after a lot of criticism of the process. This will delay proceedings considerably.

Prior to the recent developments. I knew this claim was in action but the tension surrounding it became more clear when I visited a marae for an AIESEC event. Our hosts offered a little bit of Q&A for us. They seemed quite sensitive at times and went into lengthy explanations that led all questions to their claim. At the time I thought that it might be a response to the general criticism that Maori tribes get due to a perception of claiming for everything to get money (a perception that is not true). It was likely though that they knew things were getting tricky and that their claim was hitting the rocks. It wasn't their fault of course - they had followed the process set for them and jumped through the requisite hoops. The Crown had failed to consult other smaller tribes of Auckland before they made their agreement in principle. The editorial yesterday was particularly of interest:

One thing that always annoys me is the degree of ignorance of the Pakeha majority (and also the migrants to NZ) regarding Maori issues. It is hard to change this of course. My parents both have quite strong views on Maori claims, but with no real knowledge apart from hearsay and subtly racist catchphrases.

One of the PC-myths perpetuated due to ignorance was that One Tree Hill still hadn't had a new tree planted on the summit because the council had to pander to Ngati Whatua for 'consultation'. But if you were in legal proceedings regarding a claim of ownership, it would not be easy for one of the parties to make changes to that land. It is not political correctness - it is a legal necessity.

The more recent claim WAI 262 is of particular interest to me. I'm not sure if I support it or not.
If you haven't heard about it, check this out:

Claiming the flora and fauna is rather gob-smacking. Under libertarian principles, this would seem to be a good thing. Ownership can mean that more responsibility and resources are put into retaining the varieties and methods. Also it prevents the rape of genetic resources by multinational pharmaceutical companies which has happened in other countries. But still the degree with which a minority 'own' all the native trees in your yard etc. and legally require consultation for to make any changes is something to ponder over. We can't always disregard the claims that affect us and approve of the ones that don't, but the whole practicability of such a claim as well as the fears that it inspires is quite disconcerting. It is similar to the Foreshore and Seabed claim in that way. I supported the latter in principle even though it was cancelled by parliamentary bill.

Anyway, those are my musings on things Maori.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Tea-Monkey

Accompanying Xin to arty-farty events is not necessarily on the top of the list of things I like to do. It is not that the people there are in any way unpleasant, they aren't, and can be quite pleasant. It is usually that I don't feel at home or at ease in their company and they do tend to be cliquey.

Last night though I found my perfect role at an art opening: serving tea. Xin had been working on a project for a gallery she co-directs where they would make one room into a tea-house. I helped getting her a little information (how to write tea-house in korean, directions for some of the teas etc.) but didn't really stretch my imagination as to what it would be like.

Anyway, I turned up at the gallery and stood around aimlessly for a while, my only success being spotting a typo in korean on a sign. The tea-house, which was situated in one of the rooms of the gallery, was a bit disorganised. They were still hammering it together while people were coming into the gallery. I thought this was part of the plan - y'know construction being observed, but apparently the process leading upto the event was a little shambolic and there were some ill-thought-through points. Xin decided to start boiling water, so I sat down behind the tea-trolley and helped her. I thought we could start serving the tea, so when people came into the room for a look, I asked them whether they'd like a cuppa, and described the five varieties of tea we had on offer. This went on for almost three hours, but I didn't mind. In the tea-room, strangers would come in, enjoy the tea and chat. If I weren't there, I'd be standing around struggling to pick off some strangers for superficial conversations so I was happy in my work. So time flew and we went through a lot of tea.

Four of the five teas were very well received: Lapsahn-Soochong was the surprise hit, with Rooibos with Kawakawa, Barley tea and White tea all having multiple brews. The most conventional of an eclectic selection Earl Grey Rose went through a single pot solely to the few people who, like me, have a love affair with the Greys. Several of the people were a little overly-keen to get a source of tea leaves of their own. Lap-sahn Soo-chong in particular was one that several people were keen to procure.

Emerging from behind the trolley, all the directors (and several patrons) expressed their deep thanks for my help. Only later did I hear from Xin that they hadn't planned to have anyone serving tea; there wasn't any consideration given to how the attendees were going to actually get the tea! Practical elements aside, the aesthetics were cool. The fridge and water-cooler were encased in a box. The tea room had a minimalist feel in construction and the paper bags of tea were cute. I felt at home there.

Naturally the role of tea-monkey was one I was born for and one day it would be my ideal role in retirement (if there are still tea-shops then). I did have one slip though - I brewed one pot of the white tea for too long. I smelt it when I opened the lid after serving it to several people... That was a consequence of chatting while having several teas brewing simultaneously. I followed that mistake with a perfectly timed brew of white tea. After I gave it to a few people they said it was 'clean and pure'. I had to try it myself and I was stunned.

So overall, not a bad night considering I wasn't keen on going!

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Early this morning I walked out to Mount Eden and ascended the summit. At the top was a rather alien sky. After all the star-watching I had been doing in the evenings, the morning stars and visible constellations are quite different. Scorpio, which dominated the evening sky with Jupiter below it, was diving down to the west. The zodiac from Scorpio to Aries was visible, although none of those were that easy to make forms of. The best new features were the square of Pegasus, which stretches wide across the north, and Mars, which was to be one of the signposts to find Matariki.

Nick and I found a good spot, also occupied by a New Zealand born self-identified anglophile, who had also come to spot the small constellation. Some people came by asking if we were there for a 'guided walk'. We said no, but after some thought a guided walk at this time of the morning could only be about Matariki. After a moment, a crowd of about 10 maori came over to our viewing spot. We all stared out to the north-eastern horizon. Rigel was the first up, one of the feet of Orion. Then Aldebaran, the horn of Taurus, twinkled vigorously red into visibility. No-one seemed the wiser on exactly where Matariki, a cluster of about seven stars, was meant to be. The day was breaking with the glow of the sun becoming apparent over a low bank of clouds. After consulting my book, I isolated a patch of sky and lo and behold, there was the faint twinkling. We directed other people to it, but the race between brightening of the sky and the rising of the stars came to a head shortly after.

The Maori group did some speeches and a karakia in Maori. I was pleased to understand one speech and a joke quite well. We descended the mountain and had a proper breakfast incidentaly missing the sun-rise and a pass by the International Space Station.

Happy Maori New Year.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

lifeThe (spinning) wheel of Justice

Another two days of jury service has provided me with more chatting and book-reading. Today I got as close as I have done so far to serving on a jury. My name was called. I stood up and took two steps before the accused uttered the word 'challenge' to send me back to my seat. My ex-con friend said that he recognised the accused from his time in prison; he just didn't recognise the name.

In other news, fate, intuition, or mere coincidence has come to bear relieving me of some festering guilt. When a team-mate in our Trailwalker team pulled out, he entrusted me with his sponsorship book and a donation cheque. Very regrettably, despite my best intentions, it was misplaced and had been missing for three months, presumed fatally recycled in a freak paper sorting accident. Despite repeated ransackings over the house and the general passing of time (which often brings lost objects to light), it never reemerged. This week is the last for donation books to be sent in and d-day in terms of sorting out the associated mess (calling OXFAM, that member and telling his donor to rip up their receipt etc.). I decided to call them yesterday, coming home from jury duty with the full intent of doing it as soon as I got in the door. I hesitated, procrastinated with the use of a book and my business accounting. Time moved forward to 4:30pm when I finally summoned enough resolve to get up to the phone and bite the bullet. But naturally I walked past the phone and into my room where I felt compelled to do some tidying. 'Perhaps it was in my old folders' my mind said. 'You're procrastinating' said my my conscience. It wasn't in my folders. I looked down at the bottom shelf of my desk and sore a little pile of things. I'd looked their before of course. But I was moved to look through them. Moving the top one revealed a sponsorship book beneath. I had found it! After dancing around the house and doing various victorious poses in glory, I sat down feeling elated before dashing out the door to my evening engagement.

All hail procrastination!

Monday, June 11, 2007

It is the emptiness of the wheel that gives it its function

My first day of jury duty ended with being randomly not selected for two trials, one long horrific one and one short milder one. I didn't even get to the point when I could be challenged by the lawyers. Nevermind, better luck tomorrow.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Woe is me. My run of weird illnesses and injuries has gained another chapter. This week has become rather horrid, first of all mysteriously hurting my knee. I have been limping since Tuesday evening, and it is still a problem now. I have no idea what set it off but it was significant enough to slow me down significantly.

Then on Wednesday I developed a weird condition where my eyes, cheeks and sinuses feel intolerably pressurised. It was invariably better in the mornings, leading me to go to work where it would start to increase the pressure hour by hour, verging on a headache but never quite getting there. In the evenings, I'd struggle to get dinner ready (Xin's 'enjoying' her busiest period of the year) and then doing my best to prepare lesson plans so that should I be well in the morning, I'd be able to work. And then the cycle began afresh the next day.

My approach was to get to bed as soon as I could to give my body a chance to recover. This plan went well except for the fact I still feel like crap. I drove to work, but always on the way back I was wondering whether I would be focussed enough. The feeling of imminent brain implosion is something of a distraction.

I'm glad it's Friday.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


My current flirtation with amateur astronomy has continued and with each evening, I'm learning more and more about how to navigate the sky. Tonight, I had the rare pleasure of spotting Mercury! It is only visible for two short periods during the year (in the evenings). I have now seen four of the other seven official planets (along with Venus, Jupiter and Saturn). In terms of constellations, tonight I learnt how to find Libra (my sign) and Virgo. I confirmed Leo.

When I was a young teenager, I had a fascination with astronomy but didn't have the resources or persistence to gain the knowledge. Now I'm amazed that I had never seen constellations like Scorpio, which along with Orion, is very identifiable. The difference has probably been the internet (where the information is a click away) and a radio programme (Radio Live, 12pm Saturday).

Probably the best aspect of this is that I have more awareness of our place in the solar system and universe, breaking the geocentrism of the mind. I looked out to Venus and Saturn (which will be in conjunction at the end of the month) this evening and suddenly realised that the Earth would be moving between where they are now.

Now I can't wait for the blazingly bright full moon to wane and thus darken the sky so the stars will come to the fore once more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On the verge of winter

Next week the formal start of winter will pass (I prefer Winter Solstice as an appropriate beginning but nevermind). It will also bring in my year anniversary of my residence in the Cheng household. The year till today has been filled with joys and challenges, and I'm glad I have had the opportunity to live here. It is still something that I was surprised had come to pass and I'm still grateful for it.

When I came, the winter knocked me rather suddenly. This house is a lot colder than my mother's home with chillblains, numb extremities and dampness causing me all sorts of discomfort. I'm prepared this time.

This time last year was also my reinvention as a green-thumbed gardner. Now, suddenly, again, I'm gripped in a fascination with the botanical world. The wormfarm again is the provider of wonders - the tops of corncobs sprouted; potatoes scraps have too; while others come from random sources, a rosemary branch from the roadside is continuing to grow in some collected soil; an avocado seed split apart to grow a sapling; the 'dead' avocado plant I had put in the front yard has come back to life with new leaves.

Recently I have begun the pruning at one of my clients too. By the end of the month, I'll be 'graduating' two long term classes and decreasing the hours on another. It is the right choice as those students have had a long time to improve and their progress has flattened out. In a way this could be an opportunity to revitalise my roll. One of those classes felt 'stagant'. Freeing up hours and having my services readvertised to all the managers opens up the chance to have new challenges. Of course, there is the risk of my hours being permanently decreased but this has to be accepted. It was never going to be forever.

Meanwhile, Winter Solstice (June 23) and Blue Moon (30 June) celebrations are on the mind. As well as tree-planting opportunities and viewing Jupiter and Mercury in the evenings. I have had trouble keeping the activity side of things active. That is my focus for now.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Quote from a telephone conversation

To not be able to kill and choose not to kill is nothing.
To not be able to kill yet still have something killed is to be weak and cowardly.
To be able to kill and choose not to kill is to be compassionate.
To be able to kill and choose to kill is either to be gratuitous or to do the necessary.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Natural rhythms

They are invading again! They are coming from all sides, through the gaps under the doors and through the windows. Pregnant Mantises, that is, ready to lay their egg cases in the dryness of the house. That desire causes me to remove them several times daily. They're are tripping over themselves to get in - sometimes at their own peril. I saw one enmeshed in a spiderweb and another had fallen into an uncovered jug with a little disinfectant in it. That isn't good for them. Fortunately the peak is over and border security can rest.

Jupiter is rising high in the night sky. With my new found astronomic awareness, I now am following its progress through the arc of the zodiac. It is absolutely stunning, currently residing in Scorpio, and is going to be in complete opposition (a Full Jupiter) on June 6. I can't wait. It is the last 'star' to disappear in the morning. Last week I was watching it till my carpool friend picked me up. It was still shining after the sun had risen!

The climax of this week however has already passed. In my third busy work week in succession, I had several additional obligations that sapped my time and energy. I can now rest with my Earl Grey Cream and reflect. Today especially was the culmination of a pile of work resulting in 6 hours of sustained activity: A speech at a powhiri (with a good proportion of te reo Maori), a conducting a lesson in Maori language, an hour session on culture and then instruction in Ti Rakau (maori stick games). There was a lot of good that came out of it. Namely, I met some really great people, and what's more, there were some fascinating conversations and there were some important discussions that flowed from the culture discussion. Everything went more smoothly than the last time I did facilitation at this event. My speech was more sophisticated in intent and language and was appreciated by the hosts. I am glad I was asked to help - although I don't like the idea that perhaps I am over-relied upon. I'd hope others are inspired to be able to do such sessions or to find people capable of doing so.

This week has also featured some rather startling ineffable realisations. Sometimes you require 'that' to clarify 'this' and then 'neither and both' to level 'them'. Never try to explain the ineffable. You start to sound like you are making stuff up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Last night I saw the movie Earthlings, an explicitly explicit look into the way humans have treated animals in recent history. Billed as The Passion of the Christ for animal rights, it contained a sample of the more brutal acts that people have perpetrated against animals, and also the realities of some of the animal industries that operate for our 'benefit'.

Coincidentally it started with the same metaphor (with a slightly different twist) that I use when I explain the philosophical reason for my vegetarian, which was that just like Nazi Germany, the human species considers itself of higher value and 'others' to be worth sacrificing or to be exploited or eliminated in the pursuit of 'progress'. Included was a quote from Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer similar to the below:
'The man didn't give a second's thought to the fact that the pig was made of the same stuff as he and that it had to pay with suffering and death so that he could taste its flesh. I've thought more than once that when it comes to animals, every man is a Nazi. '
Apparently my thought (which was actually inspired from the novel Ishmael by Daniel Quinn) was hardly novel.

The film itself was well-structured investigating each of the main ways that humans use animals from the seemingly innocuous use as pets to the obvious exploitation of agriculture to zoos. Several of the aspects were new to me such as the industry of animals bred to be pets and the true extent of the problems caused by irresponsible owners. The objections to zoos and farm shows were also enlightening me to the degree that my views have indeed changed. And it almost has inspired me to get a dog or cat from the SPCA.

But as often happens in polemics (think about anything by Michael Moore for example) people of zeal tend to have less value on truth or accuracy. All the acts seen in Earthlings were real and it is undeniable that the capacity of humans for cruelty beggars belief, even to fellow human beings - but are they representative of what happens in general? Is the horror I witnessed actually valid evidence that should sway a non-vegan to become one?

Some aspects were undeniable: battery hens and pigs are verifiably true the world over. But many of the other areas seemed less factual. Showing the worst case situation is not being representative of the whole situation. The effect of this on me as a viewer is that the producers are more interested in making people shocked than being objective.

The biggest lesson I think a person objectively looking at the film would get is that they should be aware of where they get their products from - which I think is a great lesson. Cheap leather ironically comes from India where animals are taken from poor people and driven to an area where cows can be slaughtered. India (the 3rd biggest producer) was the only leather producer covered by the film. A reasonable 'humane' person would naturally look for a source of 'ethical' leather.

What of free-range eggs or organic meats? If animals are killed humanely, is that acceptable?
This is where naturally people would make their own decisions, but the film itself leaves a blank despite its purpose earlier on.

The film occasionally suffered a divergence of focus; it often emphasised the willful suffering that animals go through (demanding the use of anaesthetic in use or humane killing) and then often deeming that any treatment of animals as inhumane in itself. This is regrettable - but understandable. Thus is the nature of all polemic movies. The desire to provide shock and awe compromises accuracy and mixes the message.

That all being said, I appreciate the passion that inspired the film and the comprehensive approach it took. I hope that the movie itself isn't just preaching to the choir. A key lesson I'd hope all consumers learn is that consumption is complicity in the actions of the companies that produce. Paraphrasing McCartney, much of the world would be vegetarian if they could see inside an abbatoir. In my ideal world, only those capable of taking the choice to kill an animal should be able to eat from those animals.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


It is always interesting to find the arbitrariness or the finickiness of the English language. Here are the classics for the last week:

"I did the gardening at outhouse (it must be big!)... My wife did the cooking inhouse (she doesn't contract out!)"

"I had to put my ass online (how important is the word 'the')"

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Now that the aftermath of the Trailwalker has settled, it is about time to take stock of the things. The past three weeks have seen me be sidetracked heavily by lots of little issues and events. Right now I still am a bit foggy-minded about going ahead.

My current commitments and goals for the next period will be to run sessions at AIESEC's NZ Weekend Away, plan and execute a Strange Day, reignite my physical training, get my tax and donations sorted and get a solid period of work in.

Workwise, the recent weeks have again been a rollercoaster. The financial year has finished its fifth week but my hours worked weekly have fluctuated from 6 hours (admittedly when I was ill) to a new record this week where I shot past 20 hours for the second time. The bout of statutory holidays was rather annoying and a knock to the income. My goal was to have an average of 18 hours a week but as a result of sickness and stats I'm cruising at a lowly 13.7 hours. Fortunately I've entered a boom zone. Next week will likely top this one and I'm likely to sustain 20 hour weeks for the next 6 weeks. This will be good. A certain client is likely to pay me finally too for the second time, which means I'll actually get to have the money I earned there! How novel!

My garden is taking a breather in between the summer crops winding down and the winter crops yet to emerge. The delight of the week has been chokos - and the shattering of an urban legend that said they had to be paired up (male and female) to develop fruit. This was discovered when mum noticed two hanging in the orange tree that the choko was attempting to smother. We ate one and left the other so that it might be the seed choko for another plant. I thought we were lucky - a bee from a neighbour kindly finding a male plant to do the pollination and didn't expect any more. Boy was I wrong. It is raining chokos right now! Hallelujah. We might have a pumpkin finally growing on our pumpkin plant.

With the house cooling, the mind goes to a rational strategy to survive this winter. A home without insulation, heating, extractor fan (in either kitchen or bathroom) is something of a logistical challenge to live in. There have yet to be hard decisions made as to whether to invest in insulation (we don't use a heater whose heat the insulation would retain) or a dehumidifier (which would chew up the power). I remember the good old days before I lived here. When I visited the house and marvelled at the mildew patterns on the ceiling. I think a few practical habits would reduce the problems and maybe a technological solution too.

Fitness-wise, I'm still planning. Now that my ankles survived the 100km walk, I might try them out on running on a field. I don't think I should try any road running till I have fully strengthened them and any spectre of shinsplints have disappeared. I'm going to continue my achilles tendon exercises and strength exercises on the swiss ball. Other than that, I'll have to consider things one item at a time. Swimming still seems too inconvenient.

A whole lot of peripheral issues don't really need to be thought about - I'd better get back to lesson plans.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Taking life

Last night, a small life was extinguished in our kitchen. The raids by mice into our home over the last few weeks were getting beyond a nuisance and turning into a hygiene concern. I was more than a little apprehensive about taking measures that would lead the little fellas to a sudden death but in the end went for a draconian strategy. I take full responsibility.

After a week of failure in the trapping department due a trap that was too big, a newer smaller trap was bought and set yesterday afternoon. Interestingly, last night one mouse (in the stove) was being particularly audacious, coming out of a hole in the stove and onto the elements even with Xin and I there. About an hour later I saw him scampering amongst our fruit bowl. Before going to sleep I had visions of a dead mouse and by morning time there was indeed a small corpse.

I gave him his last rites. The next step will be to clean out all of our containers, drawers and cupboards, fill the holes and prevent any further incursions (and the further loss of life on the mouse front).

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Walking the Trail

Last weekend three friends (James, Nick and Myles) and I assailed the Oxfam Trailwalker 36 hour 100km challenge.

The training this year was a step-up on last year. I was healthier before the training and the training was more intensive with regular weekend walks and two weekend overnight walks.

The weather was predicted to be messy and unpleasant - but it never really eventuated. What we got was ideal walking weather, predominantly overcast, a cool breeze and occasional light rain. The only uncomfortable times were when we stopped at the checkpoints during the night and felt cool.

Unfortunately, 3 days before the event I came down with a heavy cold. This didn't impact the walk much except for ruining my sleep before the event. The fact that it didn't interfere with the event is curious. I was coughing before the event and, even now, after the event but not during the event. I was rarely out of breath.

We assembled at 7:45am at the start line with all the other competitors... er... participants and prior to the start horn unleashed our hourly chant for the first time: I'm ALIVE, I'm WELL and I FEEL GREAT! which silenced everyone for a moment. It was cathartic and energising to do it on the track and also hopefully an inspiration for those nearby.
Leg 1 (14.7 km): Unlike last year we had a fixed strategy: we aimed to do the circuit at a more leisurely pace. This was illustrated well by the fact that after the start, we were the last team. The bunch was huge but we lagged quietly behind. That in itself was a huge relief. I remember last year being in that pack - the speed and enthusiasm there at the start had not helped us 50 kms down the track. The leg, though featuring a river walk and craters of the moon was rather unexceptional. I could walk it in sneakers as it was flat. We cruised into the first checkpoint comfortably and perhaps second or third to last.

Leg 2 (12.9 km): The first challenging leg took us into the hills and was my favourite. I had changed into my tramping boots to adapt to the riskier terrain. Last year I chose to wear only sneakers so to reduce the impact on my ankles – the result ironically being sore ankles. The track ascended gently through a quarry and then higher onto a ridgeline - the highest point on the track. The wind was refreshing and we slowly gained and passed some of the other teams. By checkpoint 2, we were moving freely and enjoying it.

Leg 3 (10.5 km): This leg I started to feel the beginnings of muscle fatigue. My ankles were increasingly sensitive and my lower calf had locked solid. Often, when walking small pains and strains develop and then often could be 'walked out' and I hoped that these two were such. We kept at our gentle strolling speed and navigated (once wrongly) through the agricultural land. This leg was marked by our first encounters with incomplete teams – teams where a member or two had pulled out. We cruised into checkpoint 3 in the late afternoon. I requested that we spend a little longer at the checkpoint so to give my various sore spots a chance to have some treatment.

Leg 4 (19.4 km): The sun went down and the torches went on as the longest leg begun. This was the killer for me last year as a road segment had aggravated my ankles so much that I could only manage another leg. This time I was healthier and they also had done me the service of altering the course by going over farmland rather than along a road. That being said both my ankles and the lower calf problem were still there and I made a comment to the effect that I felt like I was in a familiar situation to last year where if my pains were to get any worse I'd have to take each checkpoint as they came. In the middle of this leg, Nick offered to massage the area which helped considerably. It was then that the diagnosis was obvious - it was just lactic acid. I had to stop for another reason later on: the ankle strap felt like it was cutting into me. I had walked with the ankle strap since the second leg to give extra support on the less even ground. Walking without it left my ankle more vulnerable but it would have to be done until the next checkpoint where I 'taped' the points that were getting rubbed and then put the strap back on.

Leg 5 (7 km): The shortest of the legs and a good thing too after the monster leg previously. It was primarily a pine forest walk, the only quirk being the non-ending. You see the checkpoint 50 metres away but have to turn left and descend a circular path, leading to a tunnel and then follow an ascending path that eventually leads you to the checkpoint - some 5 minutes of extra walking! My ailments had mostly lessened although my calf and achilles tendon were of some concern. This checkpoint is the best equipped - complete with warm food, cookie time cookies and a physiotherapist. The physio told me that the back of my tramping boots was rubbing my achilles tendon - a common problem apparently.

Leg 6 (7.2 km): Another short leg - and the least inspiring. It was just farmland and then an industrial area. But for the time of night (between 3 am and 5 am) it didn't matter. It was a lull in the conversations too as we all turned inwards. We got to the next checkpoint for another rest. I went through my maintenance routine but following that found my arches (the instep) was quite tender. This was a different kind of problem related to my flatfootedness. The orthotic insoles I wear press into the foot onto muscle and bone and it seemed after 71.7 kilometres, the right foot's arch was quite aggravated. In hindsight, one of my mistakes was not to change back into my trainers for leg 5 and 6. Both of the short legs had flattish ground and could easily have been done without tramping boots. This would have reduced the hammering on the arch as well as the rubbing on the achilles. I asked James what the next leg was like last year and he said it had been mostly roads so I switched to my trainers at this point. This was my second mistake as I should have checked the map. They had changed the route and it was going into the hills. We left prior to sunrise.

Leg 7 (14.8 km): This was the second longest leg and second to last. We ascended farming land. It was nice to go uphill again but I was regretting changing my shoes. James reported real discomfort for the first time, in both of his lower legs. We slowed down, which was fine with me, as now both of my arches had become painful. The only relief was going uphill as I could put my weight on my toes and due to the angle, stretch my whole foot, relieving the pain. There is a downside to going uphill though. We came out on a road and then went downhill where I asked for another break (or two). We came out onto farming land and had a shock announcement that James was to retire from the event. It seemed a prudent decision as to walk further would be to risk further injury and he is to participate in a marathon soon. We rested, he received a massage from Nick and then we went to the nearest road where James was picked up. We went onwards and for me the last 3 kilometres were a relief. My right arch cooled down and I could move freely. We cruised into the checkpoint at 11:23am.

Leg 8 (13.5 km): We had decided to have breakfast at this checkpoint. I was busy doing necessary maintenance, but when I sat down to have breakfast I felt a little nauseous. During breakfast a guy, Graham, came over and asked whether he could join our team for the last leg, which we agreed to. We suggested a departure time, which I disagreed to. This was my final mistake. I needed more time to rest. My stomach was not ready for food and I probably should have just asked for an extra 10 to 20 minutes to lie on my back with my feet on a chair (I had done this at every other stop). I hadn't given my feet a chance to relax and be stretched, but it was the last leg and it was rather straightforward, I thought, and at the end of the last leg I was moving quite easily. Anyway, I was wrong. Within 20 minutes of leaving the checkpoint, I had to slow down a little bit as both of my arches were getting too much for me. Intriguingly there was no pain in my ankles, just agony in the arches. I tried to drink my ginger tea, but felt more nauseous after that. So after trying that I didn't drink or eat anything. I decided to just focus on one-foot-in-front-of-the-other and ask for breaks when required. That was the only strategy. When you're in pain like that you also have two options, either focus 100% on walking and shut the rest of the world out, or to distract yourself with conversation. I relied primarily on the former. And it took me to the finish area. We donned our costumes and I changed my shoes for slippers. Finally being without the insoles, I decided on the spur of the moment to start a jog with the team (I hope you didn't mind Myles). It felt like we were running fast but I'm sure it just a dawdle. And we past through the finish line. Hugs all round. Got my medal. Got a goodies bag. Cheered the ZenWalker2 team as they came through the finish line. And then after a moments hesitation, checked myself into an ambulance.

And this is the aftermath

I lay down on a stretch as blankets were put under my feet. That was good. I may have made a groaning sound of relief and a few of those embarrassing uncontrolled tears ran down my cheeks. Unsure of the groan, the nurse quickly checked my blood pressure but was happy to find I hadn't expired and that my blood pressure was actually quite normal. She diagnosed me as physically 'hammered'. I limped back to the team and went back to Andrew's home.

I found I could eat and drink once more and found my first sleep in 34 hours. Right now I am mostly fine. My achilles is still a little big. I have impressive blisters on my little toes but other than residual stiffness and a dislike of stairs, I'm great.

I learnt a lot about my body and walking strategy while on the track. And oddly, I might consider taking part again next year with an idea to do it more comfortably as well as continue support for the charity and keep fitness up.

Thank you mostly to my three walking companions, James, Myles and Nick. Thanks again to Myles for the photos above. A big thank-you to the support team of Andrew, Olivia, Angel, Alex and Mimi. Especially to Andrew who lent use of his home and car. Thank you sponsors for your generosity - it did motivate me on the track. Thank you Xin for your tolerance of my weekly training and finally thank you Oxfam for the wonderful event and the work that you do.

Friday, April 06, 2007

You should be dancing, yeah!

Until early 2004, I was quite an enthusiastic dancer. Not just any sort of dancing, mind you, my sort and only my sort, which is usually rapid, random body movements. It alone sustained my fitness in University when my high school running came to a screaming halt. In March 2004 at an AIESEC event I was kicking around a soccer ball and rolled my ankle - something that occasionally used to happen in my running days - but this time the feeling was completely different. My first of the two ankle sprains killed off my dancing, stunted any hope of physical exercise and has blighted my walking.

Last night I tagged along with Xin to an art opening. The art was ok but we spent over an hour there and the time was only brightened when the diminutive Bic Runga snuck into the opening. She kept to herself and her friend.

But what Xin had lured me with to get me to come to the opening was the dance-party that was to follow. It did eventually follow and once we were on the dance-floor everyone was standing around with the music blearing. In such an environment it is hard not to be moving slightly to the music. And well I couldn't resist so I started to dance with Xin. Occasional others danced for a short time but for well over an hour, it was pretty much only us two. It was rather depressing. Fortunately with the increasing inebriation, more people joined in and the packed room was eventually bouncing around to the beat.

It felt good. But by the time the party reached full pitch I was rather tired from about 2 hours of dancing and went home. It is nice to be back on the horse.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Saintly Notable Quotable

"A gentleman will walk but never run." - St. Ing

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Some moments I think to myself, gee this could be a rather poor decision, and even with this comprehension of the possible adverse effects of a particular choice, I do, more often than not, do the exact thing that my brain has comprehensively told me that it was unwise to do.

These last two weeks I've been running at an unprecedentedly high number of hours of work and had been feeling rather drained. Nevertheless, I decided that Friday night was the best opportunity I had to donate blood. This even though the planned final Trailwalker training weekend was to follow immediately. They tested my iron. Not good. A reading of 135, a lot below my recent average of 155, only 5 points above the minimum iron theshold, and only 2 points higher than my low-point of 133 (after which I had a mild bout of anaemia).

To donate blood or not to donate blood? Of course not, but did I listen. Anyway, the Trailwalker Training Weekend was tough. The first day was a magnificent march from Milford to my home. Magnificent in that it was 46km long and done in 11 hours 20 minutes. Surprisingly, I had no obvious tiredness, just soreness. Today we did an additional 20km while shopping and striding up two volcanic cones.

Now it's over and now I feel so damn sleepy. Perhaps it is the lack of blood and iron thing... or perhaps I've just had a very long two weeks and one arduous weekend.

Monday, March 26, 2007


I would have blogged earlier about how busy I feel - but I haven't had the time. Nor now, as it would so happen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the big pond again

My feet sustained another battering in the Waitak's on Sunday plowing through over 20 kilometres of track in seven hours. The most astonishing thing about the whole day was that we finished the walk that we planned. Halfway through, we looked at the map and conceded it would be unlikely that we'd finish it on time but went for broke anyway. We even went into a run at one section. Despite the weariness of our legs in the last hour we pulled into the carpark right on the hour.

This short period has also confirmed to me the fact that I cannot devote my intellect to more than one task at a time. I slipped back into a philosophical mode to analyse certain matters and lo and behold, my chinese study falls of the wagon. I'll collect it on Wednesday in the morning. Fortunately the philosophical exertions came to a logical end and all I need to say is a Zhuang-zi quote and smile:

"Princes! Paupers! Indeed! You and Confucius are both dreaming. When I call you a dreamer, I'm also a dreamer. As for what I've said, it could be called a flight of fancy."

Regrettably with all the fluster has come an unsettled mind. The last two days have been partially wasted on various distractions and I haven't been preparing well for this, a very, very busy week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A change in the weather

I drove home listening to the children's programme on Chinese radio, trailing a car that despite his best intentions to get ahead by driving over a zebra crossing with people on it, speeding, tailgating and generally aggressively driving, had failed to get any further ahead. The children's programme featured a segment The Mysterious World where they talk about the wonders of the natural world. I reversed into the garage in sunshine. I waited in the car listening about koalas. They apparently don't drink water. Soon as it finished the torrential rain was unleashed and so was I as I scurried up the 10m of stairs. Such a small distance yet such a drenching.

At work, my hours are swirling about too. Classes are appearing out of nowhere - other classes being cancelled.

My confidence in my fitness is now the highest it's been since September 2005. The true durability of my ankles is still something I can only take on faith - but it has survived several pounding walks. Last Sunday I lugged a 10kg backpack over the 20 kms of hills and have no signs of damage. A month remains until Trailwalker...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

China Dreams

For the first time in seven years, I have Chinese in my dreams again. The last two nights have both featured Chinese, both written and spoken. It is quite an interesting experience.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Professional lapse

Yesterday marked the first time that I, through negligence, had to cancel a lesson. This blade cuts rather deep for me as I had pride in being organised, being on time and doing my best to solve the problems that my clients sometimes impose upon me. But this time it was all my doing.

Yesterday, at 2:10pm, while I was at my bus-stop, my cellphone rang. I was too slow in answering and missed the call. The number was a client number - a moment's anxiety sent me straight to my diary: I was meant to be teaching a lesson from 2pm. My blood ran cold.

It was a mental shortcut that did it. My lessons on Monday and Tuesday this year had been finishing at 6pm, and all the lessons I have been setting up have been consecutive i.e. if I had 3 lessons, I would be teaching from 3pm-6pm. However, recently my 5pm-6pm student asked to have lessons at 2pm for a couple of weeks, which I agreed to. My diary had this recorded. I sent out the confirmed schedule saying so too. Yesterday, I was to have three lesssons, so to figure out when I needed to be in, I simply calculated back from 6pm 3 hours as per usual: I would start classes at 3pm; I need to get the 2:15pm bus etc.

Needless to say but I'm very disappointed in this lapse.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A new adventure in Chinese

Argh. It is always a thought I express, accompanied by a lot of hitting of the head, after getting off the phone to a radio station. I have called talkback before and it's quite a thrill but this was the first time I had done it in Chinese.

Everytime I have called talkback it was weirdly surreal - you're wired with adrenalin, have a bit of a tremor going, you can no longer speak smoothly, forgetting your meaning, tripping over words (even in English): It is all rather frustrating. This time language naturally made it more difficult.

My biggest difficulty was actually trying to get the phone number before I called. It would be announced suddenly and rapidly, leaving me with bits and pieces. Then calling was interesting because you are just listening to a dial tone, hoping that you aren't just ringing the wrong number (there is no operator or background sound of the DJs). So you just wait and then suddenly they greet you and put you on the spot to start speaking (usually when you are thinking about the work day ahead).

Anyway, my call was to berate the poor quality of the Chinese New Year event at Ellerslie Racecourse. I was more timid than tigerlike. Ah well. They politely said they would take my advice to heart.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Charging into February

Sometimes time figures itself out well. The first three working weeks were quiet work-wise and I had time to put my Chinese on the front foot. I've been really proud of the state that I've polished it up. However, it has given me a lot of food for thought in terms of how far I have to go to get it up to the level I want.

Now in the past short week I have really hit my stride with an 18-hour working week (out of a potential pool of 22 hours, which would only happen on an extraordinary week - although last week I could have hit it last week if it weren't for Waitangi day).

And although I had a poor start to the year for my Trailwalker training, after a good walk today I feel like I will be ready in two months for the event. So everything is fine.

Man my proofreading sucks big-time

Monday, January 22, 2007


Language learning is something that I've become quite skilled at. I can call upon huge resources and install regimented training and systems to absorb vocabulary, practice skills for every aspect of a language. This, of course, is even more true for the foreign language that most familiar to me - Chinese.

Two years ago, I resolved to pass the Intermediate Chinese Proficiency test and started an intensive period of self-study. I surpassed my expectations but fell less than 1% short of the highest grade. Since then I've been rather lax and my acuity became rather blunt.

So with new energies I have thrown myself back into language study and am even more regimented than those two years ago. These past two weeks my blurry listening skills have been sharpened to very close to the level they were at the time of the test and I'm recovering copious amounts of past learnt vocabulary and warming them back up. One thing that is always surprising whenever you start to relearn language is that you learn vocabulary that you know that you've never learnt before - and then think how you ever got by without it. In the 9 years that I have been learning and using Chinese, I finally learnt the word for tinfoil.

Whether it was from this sudden change in routines, however, by the previous weekend I was suddenly having trouble sleeping. Every morning I was feeling like repeatedly microwaved crud. This was compounded with a virus of some sort that blighted my work days and wrecked my weekend. Fortunately, the virus symptoms seemed to lessen when I was being sociable (I've always been like that), so I could comfortably celebrate the wedding of Myles and Sufong on the Saturday. Congratulations!

Work-wise, it has been a slow beginning but I have already gained students and once everyone is back working (some are abroad, others are yet to start the training formally for the year), I'll have a busier average work week than last year. And with the zeal I've pursued Chinese, every day has been full-on and satisfyingly tiring.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A new year

After a whirlwind trip down to Wellington, up to New Plymouth and then back home in the space of four days, I'm back at home one day short of my first day of work for the year.

It has put me in the mood for goal-setting:

Goal 1. Get a diary and keep to it.

Amazingly 2006 was the first year that I have managed to use a diary right till the end of the year. This is probably more to do with having so many professional engagements than any other year. Regrettably I haven't got myself a diary yet, and have about 10 different engagements swirling around in my mind - and there is an immediate need to pin them down and get myself into an organised routine.

Goal 2. Get my charitable activities in order.

The plan is to continue my Stroke work, sort out my donation commitments, donate blood at least three times and start either refugee language teaching or migrant support volunteer work. I will give about 100 hours of time and $1000 (including the money paid for Trailwalker).

Goal 3. Get fit, lose weight.

Boy, does that sound like a cliche - but very applicable for me right now. My fitness has dropped away since Trailwalker last year and I haven't done much to retain my endurance and strength. In terms of weight, I now know I've gained 4 kg in the last year, none of which is muscle or additional neurons. I've yet to plan out exactly what my routine will be but with Trailwalker looming, walking is bound to be a big part of it. Cross-training will need to be a part of it. My main goal will be at least to get back to where I was prior to last year in terms of weight and be as fit as I was prior to my second ankle sprain. Finishing Trailwalker will be an intermediate step in the process, not a time to stop extensive physical activity and training.

Goal 4. Re-regiment my language learning.

Last year was the year of learning from non-fiction books. Now I believe I should return to my language studies which have languished somewhat in the last year. Chinese will be the large part of this, but I'd like to add basic Spanish, German and French to that. I'd like to shore up my Japanese, Korean, Latin and Maori.

Goal 5. Consolidate my business.

I'll work to raise a third client and establish a weekly average of 18 hours working hours. I've already identified the industry that I will approach first.

Goal 6. Continue the garden throughout the year.

I'd like to continue the rotation of crops on the small piece of land I'm cultivating. I would like to have a good knowledge of all the crops that I grow and some of the problems that can happen.

Goal 7. Organise things on the homefront.

My books and things are still scattered between my mum's home and my current abode. I will seek to sell off excess books, find appropriate storage for my old stuff and properly move things from my mother's as well as find a place here for the things I need.