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.