Wednesday, December 30, 2015

“Returning to the source is stillness.”


It has been two weeks since our arrival back and life has been relatively simple. Of course, not having jobs helps with that simplicity, with the only inclusion of some job searching and applications each day, you get nine hours of leisure. Excellent!

What having I been doing, beside Christmas?
  • Re-connecting with family and friends
  • Eating
  • Doing my portfolio for my Diploma (which I thought I was done with but one of my essays in it was considered done for in preliminary marking and was sent back to me to be re-done).
  • Content writing for a friend’s enterprise.
  • Tossing and interpreting coins in the I Ching.
  •  Doing the gardening
  • Reading the Art of War
  • Not exercising

I had intended to have a period of daily exercise upon coming back. However, inflammation has literally found my Achilles Heel, which three months on has not Healed. Post New Year, I’ll get an expert in to advise me. Twice it has seemed to come right only to relapse completely after modest exertion.   


Life is simple, which after twelve of the busiest in my life is a joy. Soon I’ll be pining for the hustle and bustle.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tongue

"New Zealand accent, aside from the short "i" sound, to outsiders is more or less the same," I said. "Although some Australians pronounce "plant" with a sharp "a" like in "ant"."
"Oh, they must have been influenced by America," my friend Colin said.
"Nah, probably influenced by somewhere in England," I remarked and perhaps is a consolidation of my whole insight into dialects and accents.

I'm not a linguistics professor, nor a historian. But slow learning languages and accents themselves, noticing patterns and looking at history have provided me with my own conclusions which I'd like to elaborate here. I'd like to raise a book read aaaagees ago which is worth a read, not for facts but the kind of thinking that can really blow you out of established facts about language evolution. It is The Secret History of the English Language by M J Harper. One of it's simple posits, recalled because I don't have it as a reference right now, is that language is because that's how it was. Evolution, whether biological or linguistic, isn't fast. Even if someone in an ivory tower evolves language, like a Shakespeare or a Bacon, it won't cause the majority of the population to develop a different way of speaking. There is huge buffering against change. That's why, as I'd agree, Middle English didn't evolve out of Old English (as the book stridently puts forward). A language basically like Middle English (think Chaucer) probably came to the British Isles. It probably wasn't the language of the ruling class early on, that must have belonged to another tribe that would be relegated to history. No-one would say the people who wrote in Latin spoke like the early Romans, just as no known region spoke in Classical Chinese, which existed right up to the twentieth century as a means for communication. 

And so it was from my experience with Cantonese. It might seem a mystery that there are different accents in different towns just kilometres down the road, but simple when you look at language not as a monolith but as a mass of diverging, interacting units. They're not unlike biological evolutionary units. We're not surprised to see two birds, a kakapo and a kiwi, living on the stretch of land (let alone a sparrow if it should hop by). And it would be a mistake to think that these two derived from an ancestor that once existed on the same strip of land. Such is it with Guangzhou Cantonese and Qingyuan Cantonese. Qingyuan is probably not a Guangzhou colony, but a place settled during the same period of migration by a bunch of different clans. Chinese clans are patrilineal, so I'm currently in a patch of at least two settling families, both called Zhong. Our Zhong family isn't actually Cantonese but naturalised Hakka. The other Zhong family is local Cantonese. By proximity, they speak a similar brand of Cantonese. Women have been married into other towns for millenia but a single woman here and there won't make much difference to the linguistic core and development trend. So probably not in the distant past different families brought their tongue as is to this strip of land in the Pearl River Delta. The fact that they're somewhat similar, mutually understandable, indicates they were part of a similar region from their originating area (the central plains of China). Biologically they can still interbreed. 

Hakka dialect can't interbreed in terms of pronunciation or grammar because it's too different. You would learn both separately and choose one to use. They're mutually exclusive for communication purposes. Hakka was a much later mass migration to Guangzhou. The logic is the same but much clearer for Hakka because they're more widely spread: it's hard to imagine them as a single clan. They were another snapshot of central plain Chinese language and culture that spread south in a wave. The wave is important because isolated families that move are unlikely to retain their language. They'd need to assimilate to marry their women out and make alliances. Where there is a wave of migration, there'll be enough other families to support the continuation of the culture and language without the need to rely on others, who won't necessarily give up their own dialect or culture for the sake of others.

And if that weren't incomprehensible enough, I'd like to return to our Ozzie friends and their "plant". My friend was quite rational in his guesses of American influence, but it can't be right. The fact that Americans, almost all Americans, use this pronunciation, indicates that some of the colonisers undoubtedly said it that way. The United Kingdom has all sorts of accents there. Immigrant countries have a lingual lottery from the proportion of peoples from various regions. If the population is small enough, they average themselves out to make a core identifiable accent that is a mean of all the parts, more or less.  Australia, in some regions, probably have people from the same areas as the American forefathers who brought the same sound over. 

This could be all claptrap, but it's the kind of claptrap I'm glad I have a working theory for. Such things are some of those dirty secrets of the way the world works.

An ode to Qingyuan

It's my third home, the place of my comfort, where I can sleep and wake without need or want. A place when I'm so secure I can drink beyond my limits. A place where I can walk among the paddy fields. I can talk snakes with the elders as well as spot half-squashed snakes on the roadside. It's a place of geese and chickens. Of tables and tables spilling over everywhere on festive occasions. Of uncles and aunties, all of which I forget to call correctly. Of tea and wine. Of seeing the young'uns grow and grow. 

Qingyuan represents a lot to me. One day, if I were to retire in China, it'd probably be here in a school living in a small place I could walk from and to. It's simple and complicated, it's sweet and it's bitter. It has all the flavours, sights and smells. It represents bridges: I bridged the relationship with my wife's family. But they moreso bridged the gap to me. I tried to pave the way with language even if my language is still a work in progress. 


Where I paved too poorly, there was Second Grandmother. She is a direct neighbor but a distant relative two generations higher. She's had a roughish time of life but doesn't show it a bit. She can take the bitter. She's always smiley to me but has never figured out how to talk to me. She usually greets me in the exact same way as she would another, a rapid, high pitched, loud exuberant connected stream of words, usually a question, that I have no way of answering. Anything beside this I might have had a chance to deal with but she gets discouraged. Usually in her discouragement she speaks slower and I can understand a bit more but she's lost interest.

There are the ones who've made it across the paved road I've made through a greater effort and openness on their part. Those are definitely my parents-in-law, who've probably dealt with a fair but just because I'm a foreigner but who care for me dearly as I do them and will try tirelessly to communicate. My grandfather-in-law has more to overcome being partially deaf, but still has embraced me and tried to bridge the gap. Others are Aban-go, who is my age and puts the effort in to talk. He doesn't grade down his language, probably because he can't but his desire to communicate means I learned a lot from him (compared to the more helpful but distant, Hou-go, who usually resorts to Mandarin but can't understand my culture or personality nor support me really to understand his); Fourth Kaufu, who's always smiled and tried to communicate (I've blogged about him in the past); Third Uncle the Chef, who I've barely understood anything of in five years but still communicates from the heart.

This has been my final exam of exams for my Qingyuan dialect. Speaking, I still can't freely communicate. It's really disappointing, but my listening is surprisingly good. In all the "reunion" farewells I've followed quite detailed and sophisticated conversations in accented Qingyuan dialect. I can always fall back on good listening and a command of Mandarin in my daily life if I choose so I'm at least happy that I have the tools to deal receptively and actively in rural China. But Mandarin always feels a cop-out here.

Qingyuan, oh Qingyuan, this is my final sleep here for some time. May your charms and hearts remain.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

One of a million: Old bean, Changyu brandy and the cursed Japanese.

It comes with countdowns that the seconds seem more precious. I haven't blogged much in the last few years but there have been a million blogs that were unwritten because living abroad is not only a special time with so many insights and thoughts but is also a time where there isn't as much leisure to write, especially when you're censored off from the world. (I remind you that blogspot is actually blocked from China. I send my blogs by e-mails, which has a nice similarity to the foreign correspondents of old who telegrammed their stories in. If there is repetition in my content, it's because it's quite difficult to check past writing.)


I may have talked about Old Bean, which is the literal translation of how I call my father-in-law, 老豆. It's a casual name of "father" in Cantonese. My wife calls her father this and her mother "婶"(aunt) which is quite strange to a western ear. Old Bean, even by countryside standards, is a simple man. He's been told recently to cut back on alcohol, but previous to this I'd drunk a lot of alcohol with him, most of which was Changyu three-star brandy. It sells for less than five New Zealand dollars (at the current exchange rate) for a 40% alcohol in a 700 mL bottle. Unfortunately for all other wines, this is the value standard that everything is compared against. We bought Maotai, China's most famous baijiu, so famous that it's a metonym for foreigners for all baijiu, for his 66th birthday and he could not even fathom appreciating it because no matter how good it was, the price was almost certainly beyond that of Changyu that he appreciated on a daily basis. Simply put, price affects his sense of taste. Without it being at the right price, there is no appreciation.

But that's the way he is. Having drunk with him for over 5 years, I know his habits at the table. In my Qingyuan world at dinner you rarely drink from your glass without chinking it with everyone. But picking your time to chink, or detecting when someone else wants to chink, becomes the skill. Even when increasingly inebriated, you should have your wits about you because someone's hand might go onto the table and rest aside their glass indicating that thirst has arrived and that quenching is required. Pouring is another thing. The younger the person, the more incumbent pouring is and to judge how much to pour in relation to the responses of the pouree. And once we stop drinking brandy, switching onto tea. (Hydration is important!) It's the kind of ritual I'll miss.

Old Bean's family has been impacted by Chinese modern history, and history is frequently a topic at the dinner table - more history than any western family could recite and discuss casually with little notice. Yesterday at our kaufu's house (our maternal uncle), the topic of both the starting emperor for the Han Dynasty (Liu Bang) and the War of Resistance against Japan in WWII came up. The latter came up again over lunch today. Of course it was much less abrupt here: there was a Chinese wartime drama on TV, Changsha Defense Force. Chinese wartime drama is not a fine artform: they often rely on exaggerating Japanese wartime atrocities (as if it were required), disregarding history and overemphasising the amazing abilities of the Chinese soldiers who slaughter the Japanese with cathartic glee. (Have a look at either of these if you need to see for  yourself: http://www.chinasmack.com/2013/videos/chinese-heroine-gang-raped-by-japanese-soldiers-uses-super-move.html http://www.chinasmack.com/2014/pictures/tourist-attraction-based-on-anti-japanese-propaganda-movie.html.) I've had two moments to look at these dramas in the last week. The first was The Pretender, a popular series usually beyond the ridiculousness of the ones mentioned in those links, but still had the childish cowboyesque moments where there enemy is shooting and hitting nothing while the hero pokes out behind a small rock and nails five in between the eyes in short time. Soon as I see this my sense of appreciation, just like Old Bean's, switches off. No matter how good it is, I can't stomach it.

The one on TV for lunch was a little different: It represented the KMT (国民党) positively. Saying that is simple but it was the kind of theme that floors even a casual viewer like me. Historical interlude: KMT, the Nationalist party of China, was the power after the Qing Dynasty was overturned and the Republic of China began. But then the Communist Party rose and then the Japanese invaded. Part of the reason for the Japanese success in invasion was no doubt because the two forces, the established KMT and the Communist Army had mutual distrust. After the bombs fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end Japan's imperial aspirations, the KMT and the Communists fought it out with the Communist Party and Mao prevailing in 1 October 1949. The KMT wasn't vanquished though. They headed off to Taiwan where their successors still are, happily ruling in what eventually was a successful democracy with fisticuffs on the parliament floor.

In a censored, controlled media like China, KMT though are corrupt, foolish, doomed and evil, only marginally better than the Japanese, but only in that they were not inhuman and inhumane. And then suddenly, out of the blue, there is a TV show that shows them dutifully defending the Hunan provincial capital of Changsha. We all dropped our chopsticks at the thought. And then had a drink.    


Endings


Before you start again, you've got to leave. And I've been leaving now for about 6 weeks. I had my first farewell on 1 November with teachers then with students from my old centre, then a surprise farewell at my second centre 7 November, then another surprise farewell on 11 November, and dotted all around then and ever since are the small personal farewells. Even after being sent on my way, I crashed at least two other leaving parties. And embarrassingly had to go into a couple of the centres later to do some scanning and printing only to confronted by students of the belief that I'd already landed in New Zealand. (I'd been always clear that I was returning home in December but they'd assumed that my farewell was going to be the absolutely last time they saw me.)

Part of the problem was that we'd planned to go travelling after the end of my contract and it didn't happen because I lost my passport. My bag thief ironically saved us a lot of time, money and stress. Only through his intervention did we save on travel, but allowed me to finish my diploma work on time, plentiful time to pack, gave us time to make a little money and prepare for the time ahead. And now, pretty much, we have a couple of busy yet leisurely days of doing things we want to do, like reading, writing, walking and talking.

Winter has come to Guangdong though which has been keeping us inside. I hope tomorrow brings sun to my last three days in China. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

Shaking with the times

I have had no lack of reading in China during these six years. But it’s been a long time since I’ve read a heavy academic general-interest book like Antifragile. And boy was it a shock to the system when I started it a few weeks ago! The language is deeper, ideas for potent and, if you’re not 100% focused on it, it doesn’t go in. Reading Chinese kungfu novels are easier to follow than Antifragile. But perhaps it’s because of a lack of that kind of reading. I read the same authors books Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness before I came to China and, at least at the time, felt they were very consumable.

The book seems to come from my family of thought so it didn’t have too much challenge to my base assumptions. The person who lent it to me apparently struggled with some of the left field propositions delivered with bombast, self-righteousness and more than a dash of smugness. In a word, it’s not a book that seeks to win over people. It is a book to smack people of a different feather over the head, if they dared to venture in.

It is part of a trilogy of his other books, linked and mutually supporting. While this book introduces his idea of antifragilily, this book also summarises and elaborates the concepts from his previous books, of randomness, black swans and the metaphorical concepts he creates to explain them all. He has a whole glossary of metaphors and self-made terminology that frame the phenomenon or approach: Black swans, Extremistan, the Procrustean bed, Green timber problems, iatrogenics and others. If I were to write a book of my thoughts, a glossary of my takes on each word would be indispensable – and would drive readers equally made.

Black Swans weren’t his original metaphor, Karl Popper used it to illustrate the idea of falsification rather than proof. He extended it to talk about unexpected event with big ramifications, which could potentially change everything. Before 9/11, not many people would have thought to prepare for it. Before the GFC in 2007, no one thought so many large companies could come to an end. These are two black swans. We don’t plan for plain sailing; we should have our approach ready for the storm.

I’d read Black Swan before arriving in China and was amused in my first year in China that one of the most interrogative students I’ve known (nicknamed Question Kevin for his penchant of assailing teachers mid-hallway with inane, hair-splitting questions) couldn’t chew through the main point. I sat him down but he didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps he had too many questions.

Randomness was a key principle in his first book, but there is an extension of it his latest book, in regards to randomness, that applies to my life now in a timely way. First to talk of the principle: almost everything in life has a background randomness to it whether it be your heart rate, your productivity, the China - New Zealand exchange rate and a wise approach to life is to not be mentally oversensitised to fluctuations but also see the benefits in fluctuations and randomness to things. Being able to deal with and benefit from these is quintessentially what antifragility is about. Denial of randomness or artificially stabilising things makes them fragile.

An analogy he usefully brings up in this book is that of the employee versus the contractor: An employee has a very stable income, and if we extrapolated it to retirement would be a quite a nest egg. A contractor’s income is quite random and he knows it. He has to make or take his opportunities, make the best of the income droughts and take full advantage when it rains. It is plausible that he’ll have the same nest egg at the end of it as the employee but it’s a rollercoaster getting there. But if an employee loses their job, they’ve lost their income until they can find a new one. The apparent stability is not true if a career black swan arises. A strictly employment mindset is fragile. (Incidentally, I was watching the mini-series Mildred Pierce at the same time as reading part of it, which made me think of people’s approaches to that other historical Black Swan, the Great Depression.) The contractor by contrast might thrive or even get stronger, which is the key thesis for the book: The contractor may be more antifragile.

This taps into my future ahead because I’m again at the same kind of crossroad I was at 11 years ago (almost to the day). I’d finished my Diploma in Primary Education coursework and was sending out CVs and going to interviews at primary schools and getting nothing. It took a series of events that led me to become self-employed and having a very different kind of working life (which, incidentally was ended by a black swan, but the experience definitely made me stronger; my entreprise, however, was fragile.).

Currently I’m investigating all sorts of side projects and contemplating a large one, all the while still applying for jobs to be an employee. Of course, full-time employment doesn’t preclude side projects small nor big (unless the contract says so). Before there are any houses or babies on the way it might be good to experience being moderately cashed-up and experimental with the coming year. Maybe it’s time where an antifragile approach would be better.

Back to the book, he was big on adding fragility to all sorts of systems from decision making, health, medicine, nutrition – all very random. He could quite possibly need a sedative. In terms of adding Randomness to systems, my recent interest in the I Ching had a nice resonance with one of his passing comments: “Finally the ancients perfected a method of random draw in more or less difficult situations and integrated it into divinations. These draws were really meant to pick a random exit without having to make a decision, so one would not have to live with the burden of the consequences later.”

Randomness is only retained when intervention is seen as a last resort, and it’s only tolerance and adaptation to randomness that gets us to be antifragile. It has a ring of the Daode Jing, “Practice inaction and everything will be done.” Another tie in.
 
In less philosophical life: We left our apartment almost a week ago now, staying in the family home in Qingyuan. Tomorrow we’ll head back to Guangzhou for the last time before we go to NZ. And in 10 days I’ll be waking up to New Zealand time. Bring on the next step!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Red glass, green glass


Life is full of choices. Red pill, green pill. When we say no or yes. When we choose to accept the world or seek to change the world. When we break from our habits and compulsions or break from them. When we say what we feel or know that it's not the right time. And what to drink?

There have been plenty of choices, recently. One case was the successor who didn't succeed. He was weak when he arrived. I knew it. I tried to make it clear that it wasn't enough. Probation time came. Both my manager and I made the call to pass him based on hope and the stated desire to improve. Without me there I'd hoped he'd find the space and the need to step up. Without me, two weeks later he was fired. 

In another completely different encounter, I chatted quite deeply with someone like me who was leaving the company apparently on his own terms, but as the tone of the conversation immediately implied, he felt forced to leave. The policies were unreasonable and prevented him doing what he wanted to do and stay with the company. There was heat; there was wine. I felt some affinity but I'm glad I don't feel oppressed by the world like that any more.

New Zealand will bring me a new tone of life. I would like to be a pragmatic vegetarian and cut back significantly on drinking alcohol and coffee. The latter two are kinds of perversions: compulsions. I feel defiled when I think of anything aside from basic bodily reactions as compulsions (i.e. besides sleep, hunger and thirst etc.). Choices and optionality are the way.

Another case of choice was that of my wife biting her lip, rather than speak. Did I tell you I have a friend who owns a baijiu factory? (Baijiu 白酒 a grain alcohol spirit). I'd met him on a language exchange app. I was helping him with English at first (he gave up soon after) and I made some crucial breakthroughs with my Cantonese while I was laid out with my broken knee. Then he mentioned his family's baijiu factory and I mentioned my love of baijiu. It was agreed: a year and a half ago that I'd be going to his factory; and only in the last week did we actually get around to it. The factory was started by his father on his own initiative. You could tell he adored his father, describing him as a very cultured man, who is a gourmet, calligrapher, master chef, entrepreneur and founder of a baijiu factory. I'd looked forward to meeting him and then it came. He made civet and snake hotpot (good!) and poured snake blood into wine and snake gall into another. (Ironically some vegetarian friends of ours had been interested in coming originally but I'm glad that they didn't.) But his conversation was mostly over my head. His humour was too abstract and ironic for me. Unfortunately it wasn't that way for my wife who stayed slightly aloof, but not because the rest of us had snake blood breath. It took the trip back to realise why:
"I wonder what his mother's like. He must take after her more." 
"Why?"
"His father said some really crass things."
From demeaning all people from Qingyuan (which I thought was jokey and I'd defended by saying Qingyuan Cantonese was more pure than Guangzhou Cantonese), to him asking which one of us had the "problem" for us not having a baby, to using a slightly derogative term for a half-Chinese/half-European baby (半唐番) and many other points, too. Apparently the comments were before the wine started flowing, from a cultured man, not that that means much between hobbies and proclivities. Perhaps it was probably good for me not to have understood quite at the time.
Great meal, though, and I was pleasantly drunk by the end.

Anyway, back to choices: Red glass or green glass?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Consulting the I Ching

The itching of mosquito bites on my ankles. Her next to me ripping out the staples holding embroidery to its backing. My finger's bled blood coagulating. The Qing dynasty period drama playing on the iPad. The medicinal cupping marks on my back pressing into the sofa. The honks from down on Jiangnan Xi road. The last crumbs of a colleagues biscuits melting from between my teeth. And the lingering tipsiness of the Four Specials in my blood.

There are moments and then there are moments. Today has been the most testing of days since I bid working life farewell temporarily. There have been 101 little processes to jump through since my passport and bank card were stolen. I still don't have my hands on my own money. I could get that within 7 days provided I had my passport in my hands at that time. I won't. In 7 days my passport will be sitting on a visa officer's desk for 7 working days. It's a mystery how these things can't be done faster than seven days. My money is in the bank but for procedural reasons my bank card can't be issued within 7 days. And the visa, I've had many, can't be done within 7 working days because that's how long they say it takes. Bureaucrats don't exceed the expectation here - they're paid to meet them and only that. 7 days is an interesting number because that is how long it took for me to get a new New Zealand passport, including postage to and from New Zealand and processing time at the end. The contrast is stark.

Someone just died in the period drama on the iPad (甄嬛传, if you must ask). You can't have missed it - dying people have blood dribbling out of their mouth. Someone poisoned the emperor's daughter-in-law. All poisonings and serious kungfu blows require blood to come out of the mouth to indicate that something has happened. It's a convention of TV dramas and the kungfu novels I read. I feel like I haven't felt much through and after this instance of thievery but I know the sheer frustration of bureaucracy isn't just felt by me. Blood is being spat.

Before she had a sherry and I had some Four Specials, I grabbed some coins and consulted the I Ching (易经). That doesn't sound like me, does it? I Ching is usually classified as divination - foretelling the future - but perhaps it's deeper and more realistic than that. I'd heard of the I Ching long ago and turned my nose up at it more often than I turned it down. A friend and colleague gave an I Ching book to me at my farewell and said that the next we meet we could talk about it. Well, we've already met incidentally - perhaps that wasn't divined at the time of giving - and we're yet to talk about it.  But it's worth talking about.

You toss some coins, or some yarrow stalks if you have them around, you form a hexagram (6 lines, either complete or broken) and from that you read one of 64 possible permutations. But if you expect the future spelled out for you you're in for disappointment: each prognostication is deeper and more arcane than Nostradamus's quatrains. But then again that's perhaps the truth of it all: Life is textured and arcane.

The voice of doubt above is very much of my life and views before. I can't say I've read it much now with any doubt, only interest and introspection. There is not such thing as a lucky hexagram. All have risk and promise; there is no one approach in life, our approach should change with circumstance (challenging us to change and not be fixed); and sometimes it requires some direction to take action confidently. 

She drew a "Biting Through"; I drew a "Ding" (a traditional three-footed pot). I could relate hers to her more than perhaps she could. And I'm the stable three-footed pot, which even when tipped, tips out the worst and keeps the best. 

She's taken out the embroidery. Apparently no-one died in the drama and the sherry has been finished. If there is one thing that can be foretold is that waves ease, winds pass and the drunk sober up.  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Antifragile



"Do you want it or not? If you don't, well that's fine. If you do, I'll need a little something. Give me 5000 yuan and I'll send it over. How does that sound?"
I lent against the desk of the police station, contemplating this text message and if and how to reply. He'd already called me once before sending me a text - he was heavy accented and had his script tight and mechanical. I suggested he message me to buy me some time.  
"I received this," I said giving my phone to the uniformed person behind the desk to show the text. 
She laughed, "He's trying to trick you! Ignore him." My phone, almost out of batteries, displayed another in-coming call from the same man. I ignored it.
"You're a bad man," I texted back, "You've taken my money. Even if I wanted to pay I can't. You took my charger, too, I'm almost out of power."
"Do you want it or not," he texted. "If you say nothing, I'll assume you don't." I left him to assume.

Later on, I was giving my statement to another officer: "And I received a call from the guy who stole it." 
His eyes lit up, "You should meet with him. Bring a friend and call the police."
"In my country that's what we expect the police to do. Besides, he only wants me to put money in his bank account."
"Oh, then just ignore him."
"Do you want me to get his bank account number because I can ask for it."
"No, he'd have used fake documentation to open it." He wasn't interested in following it up and finished my statement. My phone ran out of power with the need to help him find the address of the restaurant where it was stolen.

Objectively, it wasn't a great day. I had put my bag on a seemingly safe restaurant chair for lunch with my colleague sitting opposite me and had still managed to get my bag stolen: my passport, travel document (with my phone number and address), keys, wallet, bank card, a copy of Fight Club and a memory stick all taken. Later from a neighboring hotel's office I got to see CCTV footage of the thief leaving the restaurant (also not required by the police) to confirm that it had been taken. Before that it'd been one or more of theft, David Lynch, insanity or magic.

 But I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't angry or upset. I had a little bit of anxiety when communicating with my tormentor. It's probably the kind of equanimity that I had had before for a time. Perhaps my impending end to work had relaxed some of the nerves that tighten through work. The previous day I'd given out a written warning and two strong action plans without sweating either.

And then another leaving colleague lent me the book Antifragile today by one of my favourite writers, Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I haven't read it but the name made sense when I sat down to write this. His definition of this word is something that isn't just resilient in the face of the unexpected but actually gets stronger. That in a world where security and stability is valued we make things increasingly vulnerable to the unanticipated changes and developments. But the world has endured despite sudden and spectacular changes. We should embrace a little chaos. I'm sure Tyler Durden would agree with that. Or at least be indifferent to it, as Laozi might prefer. And the police might like the latter rather than the former.

It was a tiring weekend. The theft, the police, work, a late night game of football to watch, four hours' sleep, an early morning meeting work, a farewell dinner with teachers and great whiskey, then a farewell party with students and staff with more whiskey and not much sleep and then a trip to the Public Security Bureau and consulate for my passport issues before more work again. Tuesday was the promised land. It was smooth. 

I'm not sure which page of the I Ching (Yijing in Pinyin, the Book of Changes, by some translations). I shook some coins and came up as Force/Persisting, total Yang. I wouldn't have made head nor tail of it but it was in a book I'd received among my farewell gifts. I hadn't given a toss about the I Ching because I could just write it off as silly divination. But just a few pages in and I'm keen to get more of an understanding. Coins are all I have now, anyway.

And then there was Francis. We have no lack of weird students, to be clear, and Francis seems weirdly, obsessively lucid. The kind of person if I weren't a teacher, if I weren't so up to my neck in leaving and tying up lose ends, I might indulge. I've only met him twice:
First time: Two months ago I went down to the Lounge Area of my centre and helped release a teacher for a newspaper interview. I was there for 20 minutes to entertain them while he was gone. I left and did a few other things and then when leaving he pulled me over to his computer. "You're lawful good," he said. (Actually, it took me a while to realise it was these two words because of his pronunciation and even when I knew it was that, I still didn't know what it meant. He drew me a diagram and got images from the internet. "Lawful Good are rare, just 4% of people," he said. He couldn't explain how he could observe I was a Lawful Good. I left with an interesting, abstract way of looking a personalities, and left.
Second time: At my farewell party I was taking photos with students from the past as he walked past the glass window next to us. He looked vaguely familiar and even looked at me putting his hand against the glass with a grin on he face. He came in, thrust a bag of durian and egg mooncakes into my hands and then left for the bar. After another thirty minutes, I sat down where he was to thank him and he jogged my memory who he was and where we'd met. He then wanted to talk about enneagrams, another thing I didn't know about and suddenly went to his bag to get a scrap of paper and started scribbling furiously, covering both sides linking vital organs, personality types, sexuality and handedness. "You're a reformer," he said, "Homo, left-handed reformers are geniuses. I only know one other reformer, Fernando Redondo." I didn't know Fernando and I mentioned I wasn't left-handed either, without wanting to touch on the topic of my sexuality. I thanked him for his interpretation and he stayed doing his own thing until he left. 

Tuesday is drawing to an end. I have sleep to have. Books to read when I rise. Life is good.

Monday, October 12, 2015

October Falling

Autumn, better late than never. The time of the year in Guangzhou when that you again start to recoil from the flying water shrapnel from the first unheated blast of water from the shower. People are complaining about the temperature outside, but it is now coded perfectly for my genes. Cooling. At least for now. There will be warm burps of air punctuating the comfort in the coming days, perhaps breaking the 30 degree mark, the Autumn Tiger as they call it. But for now it's blanketed dreams, the chance of more vigorous outdoor pursuits and the ease that comes in sweatlessness.

It's the month before my last day of work and two months before I leave my home of the last almost six years. Nothing to get flustered about. We're in the process of lunching and dining with friends, for the last time for who knows how long. Thinking about parties. Thinking about who will inherit our Christmas tree. Drinking the last of the accumulated tea leaves of so much generosity. And trying to finish my diploma portfolio: well, that's another story. I had that all on one computer, that my brother-in-law offered to upgrade and whose hard-disk he then incidentally formatted. Apparently it's saveable but when you're in a hurry and the most time-bound and motivated it's more than an annoyance.

Well at least while I can't work on that I can focus on the important things, like finishing my fifth nove, the Heavenly Sword and the Dragon Sabre, by the most famous writer of the genre, Louis Cha (pen-name Jin Yong). I'll probably blog about him alone once I've finished that.

This phase is also full of travel. In this year alone, I've been to two of the famous mountains of China, Emeishan and Hengshan, and there is a chance of some more mountain fun before we leave. I guess this the "returning to your nature" phase where after having so many choices for so long that you don't take what is most special to you but with time dwindling we make the clearest priorities. The next two months there will be one major trip with two parts and at least one side trips, but that could change quickly. The major trip will have two legs: taking the parents-in-law around some cities, followed by the free travel portion. We've taken "Laau-dau" and "Sam" (what I call my father and mother-in-law respectively in Qingyuan dialect) for a trip in each of the previous two years, to Hangzhou, and to Beijing. The destination is always hard to decide. Naturally we'd like to find the places they'd most like to go - it could be one of their last times out of Guangdong (they're not getting any younger) - but they are typical parents, they most want to spend time with us and even if they really want to go somewhere, it takes a thorough Socratic examination to evaluate their relative desire to visit various places. Currently it looks like we'll go to Shanghai, Suzhou and Nanjing, all nicely lined up on a high speed train line. I've been to all those places before but when you're looked to for guidance that's sometimes the best way. Then once free we'll probably head to Xi'an, where I haven't been for over 15 years, and Shanxi province, where I've never been at all, becoming the 15th province I've visited in China.

Work should have been a general progression to less but it hasn't worked out that way. One of my successors, an external hire, isn't quite cutting the mustard, and even though my other centre the management succession is clearer, our centre is in the middle of our second cancer scare in three months. That has meant a lot less time for training and means I'm covering and being more involved than I'd rather. 

Looking over the Jiangnan Xi cityscape, from my sofa, looking over the balcony: the grey sky, the honks below. October falling. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Beggars of Jiangnan Xi


Jiangnan Xi has been the location of my residence for three years and more or less the centre of what I'd call "my neighbourhood" for the whole time I've been in China. It's a food hub that's only getting hubbier, cool alleys, a rustic canal and high density living. I want to introduce three individuals who also have strong links with this neighbourhood, three people who have their own way to be. The one thing they have in common is that they're all explicitly or implicitly seeking others' loose change.

I blog about them not in annoyance or in the inglorious name of "poverty porn" but to share about their lives and my reflected struggle around them with sense of charity.

First up is 孤人 The Loner


In an society where people doubt the authenticity of beggars, thinking they rake in millions and buy Mercedes, The Loner is beyond reproach. He's there every night, just in shorts, his curved back is painful to see and he often falls asleep on the curb, mouth open. He's authentic, alright. He used to have a piece of wood introducing himself as 孤人 saying he needs saving. He doesn't any more. He just chalks his wisdom of human nature on the pavement, sometimes after some analysis of a newspaper, and then falls asleep on the pavement, mostly unclad. When he walks, he has a clear hunchback. Often he puts his medication out on display as that is what he wants as much as money. 

Guangzhou has many chalkers. They often have deformities and will crawl their way down the pavement writing some story, often rhyming, about their plight. I've always seen The Loner as above and beyond. He doesn't ask for help any more. There's a bag open. He does his thing. He lives on. He's Guangzhou's answer the late, great Blanket Man of Wellington. He's probably the most common recipient of my loose change. I don't think money will ever save him. It'll only ensure his comfort as he goes on.
The Waterboy



It took me a while to see the Water Boy but it seems like I've never stopped hearing him. We're above Jiangnan Xi, 26 floors up to be precise, and the most common sound is the rhythmic cry from below of the Water Boy selling his water. It was there every afternoon but I'd not seen or at least noticed him on my errands, but boy did his voice travel. 
"Help me buy a bottle," he'd say in  a way that one knows there might be an extra chromosome, or perhaps just a defect of some sort. If you try to buy a bottle he'll often try to sell you the lot, usually a 100 bottles. He says he can't go home till he sells the box. Recently he has moved up to a bicycle cart that can carry more bottles.
"I'm hungry. Buy these water bottles."

One assumes the worse, perhaps a handler or a parent using his disability to make money. One could say that he isn't really a beggar because he really is vending a product, a girl guide at your door. I'll buy his bottles one day soon.





The Cripple

There he is again, always with his crutches there, one slipper cast aside. He often says something quickly and indistinctly at the coming people. He's the Cripple. I believe him to be authentic but he is the one person I don't give to. Perhaps all of the people are really in need of help but I don't take to people who don't respect others. His crime: He usually sits in pedestrian bottlenecks, a strategy to get noticed perhaps, but not one that gets my Renminbi. He also is pretty grim. He stares desolately.

There are others. I've bought calligraphy off an occasional visitor who writes with his mouth. He has no hands. There's Big Head Boy. He's always at the back of a cart. He must have some disability with his legs as well as his intellect. There's the Bearded Man in the wheel chair. His legs are shrivelled. There's the Fallen Woman, not because she actually fell but that's her pose no matter when or what day you walk by.

There are others too, both likely genuine and some quite dubious. It's a wild world and it's not a surprise that some people don't weather the changes. I write this in recognition of them. Not to forget them. To occasionally give to them. But to feel bad not to have helped them. 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Emei to infinity

Was it all the fitness I'd done in the last year? It will remain as one of the times I've most surprised myself.

Context is always a factor in a story: I'd headed to Chengdu in Sichuan province for a three day conference. The previous day I worked half a day, then flew in in the evening, hotel at 10:30pm, went out snacking and drinking baijiu quite liberally till about 3am; got up at 8am the next day, got my bearings and read my book, spent the afternoon in sessions, dinner out in a scenic area, drank a lot of baijiu, went to a bar, drank more, boss got drunk, she kept ordering whiskey for me, got to the hotel at 3:30; woke up 10am missing the panda tour, went with another group for sightseeing, had Sichuan hotpot that evening with all the delegates then after speeches with a few small bottles of baijiu, walk/ran 7 kilometres on a whim to our hotel (everyone else took a taxi, I'd tried to get someone to come with me but no takers), with two others went for a massage but went to "the wrong kind" of place, went for street side drinks instead until 2:30am; got up at 8am the conference's final morning and went to sessions, went out for food in the evening and initiated others who were staying for the weekend into baijiu, drank and ate spicy food till about 1am and got up at 6am to catch a speed train to Emei mountain for a two day hike. And on the train, I wasn't the least bit sleepy.

In other words, the context was a mountain of sleep deprivation and booze before one of the more extreme fitness challenges. In my uni days I had student conferences with equally arduous party schedules but without the alcohol nor impending physical exertion. I'm quite proud of it alone.

Anyhow, with the hike now contextualised, let's talk mountains. Emei Shan is one of the key Buddhist mountains in China. It's huge, too. Other mountains here you could ascend and descend in a day on foot; on Emei it isn't an option for anyone but the superfit. It tops out at just over 3000m above sea level, starting about 500m with long tracks up ridges and traversing gulleys. I ascended by the longest route, doing about 33 kilometres of flats and ascents in a quickish 6.5 hours. There were gorgeous gorges, a macaque attack (I lost one of my bottles) and the joy of powering past lots of young people.



One of the joys though would be the monasteries: they're the accommodation! They're basic but had hot running water, a basic canteen, often vegetarian and most importantly self-selected awesome people (those who eschew cable cars, are daring enough to walk the track and be fine to settle in a monastery are clearly different from the majority). 
I woke at 5:30am to eat, check out, see the sunrise and then head onward. I charged through the other early risers but at the following temple found someone of roughly the same fitness. He was a 23 year old hair stylist from a neighboring district. The route to the summit was another 25 kilometres but with more sharp ascents with some descents. We summitted around noon where the cable car carried throngs amassed. The astonishing temple and gold Buddha was something to be seen while they were concealed then revealed from wafts of clouds.



And then, 3000 metres up it began to rain. The whole route was paved with concrete stairs which became perilously slippery. It'll remain a mountain I've never descended. I cable-carred and bused back down and we all know that doesn't count when it comes to mountains.

The remaining time in Chengdu was a time of lethargy and fatigue. My body knew the party was over and it wasn't having a bar of me having much more fun. But that's where the reflection comes in. In terms of sustained action it was an unprecedented five days. I'm not going to do it again so I'll just let it sit coolly in my memory, like a disco king, in the corner after dazzling on the dance floor.

Interlude: Brazier's Bookstore

Humanity might never resolve its association with objects. We hang onto trinkets. We travel to inert places where somethings-ever-been. Bookstores, secondhand or otherwise, had already lured my youthful mind in a way that the adult mind could not help but to follow in tune. The books. The smell. The every-corner-a-wonder. The chess book on the opening style you'd always wanted. The tome on a history seldom delved. The guidebook to lost languages. The classic to the unknown religion. Musty must-haves, five to fifty dollars in your hand.

It didn't change from the bookstores of my youth that my grandparents took me to, or the later discoveries of my independent self. Jason's bookstore crossed that boundary but Brazier's bookstore on Dominion Road was strictly a wandering-in of my indulgent 20s. Brazier's name meant nothing. But the window display was well chosen. Often the blue old lady as there. Often the young man. The old lady had a sharp eye, often dismayed at the growing collection of books from the rusting of time that gathered on the teeth of her shelves. The younger man, Graham, a little less commited but no less in love with the printed word, thought not about the calcifying crust of literature in the sho, but keener to direct you away from the dross.

Graham died the other day. I get death more these days. His mother died barely years ago. He's a guy I met who died, from a shop down the road. He also was lead-man, in a band, Hello Sailor, whose only memorable song to my brain, Blue Lady, is accessible on Baidu music freely in China. Listening to it now. Sounds of a man that I met but barely ever heard. Baidu barely remembers at the best of time and yet recalls a band from New Zealand, from decades ago.

He's a reader. Or was. He talks but his words are just an echo. Because he's dead. He's no longer even an object but once-places and recalled moments are all that's left. If anything it clarifies fame and art. It lingers. And it fades. Blue lady.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Filial piety

竹叶青 (literally "the green of bamboo leaves") is the name of an infused wine as well as a variety of tea. At the foot of Emei Mountain, after an arduous two day hike, I thought about which gifts to take home and one of the first I thought about to buy gifts for was my father-in-law. He likes his wine and tea and 竹叶青 tea was a specialty of the region. I vetted various tea types in a half hour long tasting session and bought a packet specially for him.

Meanwhile, I was reading the second novel in a kungfu trilogy, The Return of the Condor heroes, in which the protagonist discovers that those who raised him for part of his youth also were elemental in the death of his father. The phrase 养育之恩 often comes up ("the grace of being raised"), which is the obligation to a child to be repaid to those who raise him, and this competes in his heart for a desire to avenge his father's death (杀父之仇不共戴天 literally "you cannot share a sky with those who killed your father").

It's fair to say that the concept of filial piety (孝顺) infuses the culture here, these being two examples of many. This refers to the obligations to your parents for their raising you. In China these were codified by that man Confucius, 2500 years ago. In western culture we rely on individual enlightenment to the necessity to take care of our parents. In the Orient, parents expect care, money and support while the children are educated from a young age their filial responsibilities. In the West children will often say they didn't choose to be born, and parents would feel awkward with overt support. It's two different systems of social expectation and obligation.

Flying back from Chengdu, a China-based American author, Zak, sat next to me for the flight and one of the topics we touched on was filial piety. We both felt increasing bond and responsibility with our homeland based elders. There was the irony of desiring to be abroad but feeling increasingly obliged to serve those at home. For me it manifests in serving my local "parents" and my imminent move back to New Zealand.

I drink the tea and watch my father-in-law for his appreciation. It's nice tea. It's beautiful tea. You place the leaves in a cup and pour water on them. They all rise to the top and then progressively drop to the bottom. Some leaves drop a little then float back to the top. It's all a dance of water and leaves. And then you drink.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Heat and health

July and August are the "big heat" of Guangzhou. The temperature camps in the thirties and we start using our air conditioner on a regular basis and cold showers become de rigeur. Compared to many of my colleagues, we start using our A/C fairly late. We're lucky to have an apartment facing the right way with the an air current that can cool for the early and late parts of the summer. I only got used to regular cold showers last year surprisingly - I'm not sure what took me so long to adjust to what is a very natural part of living in a subtropical climate.



The rise of summer brought the end to my gym-going days. My local gym, just to recap, is a cheap, er, simple Chinese-style gym without the bells and whistles of air conditioning and fully working machines. But that just means that in Guangzhou I have two parts of the year: swimming and running. I've spoken about Chinese swimming pools before. For swimming, I'm again thankful for my breaking my knee: I can now swim further than before I arrived in China, currently I can swim 30 lengths and I could do more if, in another Chinese quirk, the pool didn't need to rest between 11:15 and 2:30pm. (Most pools have sections of the day that they're open: 6:00am - 7:30am, 9:15am - 11:15am etc.) Unfortunately for the swimming part of the year, it coincides with the school summer holidays which turns the pools into dumpling soup, which is almost impossible to swim lengths in.

My physical fitness aside though immunity and other imbalances are big issues. I more often than not have mouth ulcers; I get rashes, frequent colds, the occasional random welts etc. This might seem odd: I'm fit; I don't eat badly; sleep reasonably well; don't smoke; drink regularly but very moderately. But a discussion with Chinese in Guangzhou often broaches ideas of another kind of health, which come from Traditional Chinese Medicine. People here talk about "internal heat", "dampness" "hot" and "cold" foods etc. regularly and how they affect their health. This is perplexing to newly arrived teachers. Students avoid potato crisps because they're "hot" even when they're cool. My scheduler couldn't come into work one day because she had watermelon the previous day which was too "cold". Me, well, anyone who's given me a foot rub, massage or taken my pulse (chinese style) has said I have a problem with "dampness" or "damp heat".

There are "cooling" herbal teas available in 7/11 stores as well as dedicated herbal tea stores to help bring down this "heat", and you could cook your own Chinese herbal medicine, but there are a host of other treatments to expel those toxins and restore balance. I'd had "scraping" before after a masseur said it'd be beneficial to reduce the "dampness" and having these symptoms again I thought I'd give "cupping" a try. My loukam (my sister-in-law's husband) accompanied me in the process: You lie face down on a bed while a technician heats the cups and places them on your back. The cooling air in the cups sucks the cups onto the back, drawing your skin in quite considerably and over time the blood rises to the surface. The placing is quite an interesting process, but they have to leave the cups on your back from about ten minutes and that is not exactly comfortable. The process leaves marks on your back, too, the more dampness you have the more it leaves a mark. In the photo you can compare the difference ;-)

There are people who are skeptical about the whole system of Chinese medicine as well as parts, but there are habits which regardless of your convictions on the subject can be useful in different environments. I'm happy to try them out and see what happens.





Sunday, June 14, 2015

Who I want to be

It is one of those questions. It's a teaser; obvious, sometimes pretentious; amnesiac, solipsistic and navel-gazing but it comes up more than often: Who am I? What am I here to do? It is the question for your late teens and twenties, that perhaps gets forgotten in your thirteen, before biting back with avengance in one's forties and then slowly suffocated in simplicity there on in, unless you're young at heart, and want to relive the tangle.

A quote I often raise is that of my old boss, Ben, who after I took him out to the "cheap and nasty" Sichuan restaurant out the back of our centre said to me, beer in hand: "Oh, you're thirty. That's cool. You know who are then." Baijiu in my glass, his words swirled in my head. I was about to turn 31 at the time. In amongst some professional turmoil. At the time I thought it was an observation to observe. And with time it is something I've often found to be true. (I could launch into several character discussions on others but I'd like to let myself have my moment of navel-gazing here.)

I think back to my twenties - financially and career-wise quite a wasted period - and reflect on the full range of stuff I got into. Between the ages of 21 and 29, I did vegetarianism, self-employment, nudism, tree-planting, taoism, volunteered at a stroke survivor charity, was on the unemployment benefit, had some great different parties, had my first relationship (out of two in my life), picked things out of rubbish, made a short drama and performed it on stage, sustained a belief that I was going to be in a hostage situation that I was going to be a hero in, dyed my hair green and got drunk for the second time in my life (not in that order). This blog started in 2004 following some of that but some of it wasn't there because it had no context. Some can't really even have been published because it just doesn't fit in any commentary but still amuses me to think back on. I actually did pee into 2L bottles that I kept under my computer desk (it was for making garden fertliser). I think it's these thoughts that I cut a little slack to the shiftless youth that I manage. 

Many of these things were shaping, but I think the one thing hasn't changed is who I wanted to be. One of the great consolations of ageing it's that I'm pretty close to what I've always wanted to be. Responsible, clear on the things that are important to me, healthy, self-aware, forgiving. But life turns and swirls again. It's on reflection that I would even notice these things in the hurly-burly of life. It always pays to carry a mirror.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Humility

In Chinese philosophy, as well as many of the great philosophies and religions of the world, there has been an emphasis on human virtues placed equal to and sometimes in the superior position to truth itself. In the past this annoyed me somewhat: the conduct of a single man matters little to the Great Truth. But definitely older, hopefully wiser, I see things differently. Knowledge has always been different to wisdom. I remember trying to explain the original Pope quote "A little learning is a dang'rous thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." in high school, and not succeeding.

I recently had an Internet interaction with a smart friend of mine, decrying the lack of humility people feel, how they're so quick to assert their truth on others. And all the time he holds a truth so strongly that he'd
like it to be held highest without question. I can only return to the wisdom of the greatest religions that might occasionally put the greatest truth subordinate to individual virtue, and seek to be silent and humble in the face of conflicting truths.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Hey, coach!

It's funny to think about bosses and managers. Before my current position, I hadn't had that many, just Reg and Murray. In my current company I've had a whole carnival of managers, Julie, Kathryn, Alan, Eddie, Ben, Linda, Philip, Amy, Don, another Amy, David, another Philip as it goes in this kind of company with a matrix-style structure. There have been some good ones, some god-awful ones, some talented but tarnished, some clueless but kind. Only one or two have really matched the my-way-or-the-highway approach that perhaps we traditionally think of bosses. Almost all the managers have rightly seen themselves as facilitators and organisers. But there's one role that is awfully rare among them all  and that is being a coach. In that list above, I can only think of one who'd get close to it. And I'm nowhere near being included.

The thought of coaching makes me think back on all the staff I've ever managed and never managed to impact meaningfully. I'm sure I trained them well, so that our students would learn, but my team didn't necessarily learn much from me. Often I thought the best thing I could do was model how to do something and model how to think. And sure enough that did change behaviours in my centres but I'm pretty sure that wasn't an internalised change. I can see that more as my old school was shut. Those who moved on, just moved to a new environments with new behaviours.

And then I think about those I wish I'd been able to get through to better: Apple, Brendan, Clive, David, James, Louise, Naf, Sophia, Steven and others. I sometimes metaphorically hit myself in the head with why they couldn't see the need to change. Of course, just as I see that others should change in some way, so do others look at me and think them same. Why is he so resistant? Can't he see what he's doing? He's just bothering himself and others needlessly!

Next week I'll be doing a Coaching course, and it feels like something I've always lacked. The pre-reading is great reading. It is focussed on self-limiting beliefs, and even ideas from quotes from philosophers. Here are some of the nice lines within:
"In 60AD Epictetus noted that men are not worried by things but their ideas of things."
"Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Montaigne claim that illusion and self-deception are an integral part of being human."
"Ellis coined the term "musturbation" to describe behaviour that is absolutist and dogmatic, and revolves around self-repeated "musts", "oughts" and "shoulds".
And my favourite: "As many authors noted, staying rational is a lifelong pursuit"

But as I read the hows and whys of coaching I get the feeling that I too have so many self-limiting beliefs. How can I advise someone when my own sleep is bothered by fretting? I'm remembering a theme in the Exorcist, as you do, that perhaps I cannot exorcise a demon till I've at least hacked through a few of my own. (I've been suffering a mild cold and re-watched the Exorcist yesterday. The key theme that I thought about is how one of the priests, who was wracked with his own guilt, couldn't free the possessed girl because he wasn't "clean" enough. The demon possessed him and he jumped from a window to end the saga.)

So far this latest program of management training seems to be the most useful. The previous session was very thought-provoking and I'm looking forward to more of the same when I head to Shenzhen on Tuesday.