Sunday, March 24, 2019

They are us // This is not us

Karl gave us the heads-up. Karl Marx, that is. We'd wanted to take students off to a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch attack and one happened to be set to happen nearby in Aotea Square called "Jummah Remembrance: Vigil for lives taken in Christchurch" - sounded on the money. To get details we headed over to the Facebook event page but saw that one of the organising groups was Migrants Against Racism and Xenophobia. I had never heard of it before, but I shouldn't need to tell you what their acronym is to tell you it was a tip off that as noble as the event might have been envisioned, there might be something more than mourning on the agenda, even if a vigil for the victims was what it said on the box. My senior teacher and I exchanged glances and shared our concerns. Ultimately it didn't matter as they moved the event to the Domain which was logistically difficult for the school to arrange a large scale attendance so we kept it "in house" with a Wall of Wishes and a representative speech from me. Language schools have a mission to bring people together, which is relevant to countering the message of the gunman. We have muslim staff and students for whom we must show they have as much right to dignity, safety and respect as anyone else. One student cried after the speeches at the school.

Today I saw the news in the Herald about the vigil we missed. Karl was right. There was a bit more in the mix and apparently it might have caused some attendees to leave early. Some parts of the reporting:

Muslim and tāngata whenua speakers covered experiences of everyday racism and violence they face, and spoke to New Zealand's white settler history and colonial violence. Sharon Hawke, of Ngāti Whātua Orakei, said hatred existed in New Zealand: "White hatred is its foundation." She spoke of atrocities committed against Māori throughout New Zealand's history, including at Parihaka, and even Okahu Bay in Auckland in the 1950s, where the Auckland Council burned down her hapū's village.
Apparently one of the messages was that even though white New Zealand sincerely repeated Jacinda Ardern's words that "They are us" and that the actions and beliefs of the gunman "weren't us". The event, the reporter mused, may have become a bit more a political rally of sorts. And being someone who was not white in even egalitarian New Zealand did not enjoy the same feeling of safety, dignity and equality that those who seemed white did.

Putting aside the "false advertising" element of it, and also filing away the fact that in grief and anger, people often act with poor judgement, I can only say that such words don't help achieve any goal except for some catharsis and exultation among the speakers and their confederates. Racism is in New Zealand without a doubt but prejudice and hate doesn't die through pointed fingers. It weakens only with open hearts and minds. And it is pointed fingers that both of those things close. And it was ironic because it was with the preceding collective grief that people start to open up and embrace.

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who also spoke at the vigil, said rather than it being "too soon" it was actually "too late" to be having these conversations.

I would just say that it wasn't too early or late but simply the wrong place. There are places for these conversations to happen, and in fact they are happening. Reconciliation with NZ's past is always happening and continues to happen. As the old guard of national influencers change and pass, so does the standard belief. Race relations are changing. Racism is ebbing. Is it happening quickly? No, because there is no magic that brings a whole population's worldview around on pinhead. And the collective worldview is not a collective but a 4D continuum. Even views within migrant communities aren't uniform. After Jacinda's recent international prominence through her response to the attacks, some commenters mentioned their desire to leave the US for NZ; in response, some suggested that NZ wasn't a paradise and no better than the States. To those naysayers, I can only say that whether it would be recognition of original inhabitants, migrants or the acknowledgement of the significance of history on minorities, there is no comparison.

Yet there is still a long way to go, which is what they wanted to say at the vigil, when all the people wanted to do was grieve together.

One notable place conversations of racism are happening, in the right place, is in Australia where Project host, Waleed Aly, has spoken with eloquence and then combatatively to the core of the environment which engenders racial bigotry and violence there. I don't have a measure of Waleed - the comments reveal he's not liked by a rather large proportion of commenters, of which a noticeable portion use language that relates derogatively about his ethnicity rather than as a person. One interesting piece of sophism that was used against him was that he comments when there are people within Australian politics who espouse racist views or exploit racial differences for political gain yet he doesn't speak about muslims killing Christians in Africa. Why would he speak about religious attacks in Africa, when he's an Australian Muslim? And why shouldn't he confront Australians with language that cultivates the same thoughts that lead those to slaughter for religious ends?

He doesn't have to answer for African Muslims any more than those sympathetic caucasian attendees of the vigil need to answer for the overt and open racism, or even the motives or influences on the Christchurch shooter. Regardless of where religious or ethnic killing happens, the context and history are worth exploring. And even when it is apparently ethnic or racial, it is often something else that the killer(s) are calling their identity that race or ethnicity is just an incidental characteristic. For example, if one tribe which happens to be Christian avenges with blood a past grievance to their group by a non-Christian group, is it actually a religious crime?

Also with a historical context is the discussion about whether to change the name of the Canterbury Crusaders in sympathy for the victims of the Christchurch atrocity. Crusader and crusade, from that ignorantly blissful idyllic implicitly Christian New Zealand life I've lived, are benign, cute words: "the caped crusader" "she's going on a crusade!" Probably for a lot of pākeha and while British or Americans it's the same, even if they've had a little bit of history taught to them about the historical Crusades. Any reading of the histories make it quite clear that the Crusades, while having seized distant Jerusalem for a century or two, was not very holy in its execution. While the crux of the war campaign might have been geopolitical, it's name bears the cross. Europe had sent holy warriors to the Middle East and slaughtered the inhabitants of cities of all faiths. A crusader as a term would seem to be akin to a jihadi, an appellation that would have an unfriendly sound to many of an Anglo-Christian background. If Jakarta had a football team called the Jakarta Jihadis, would it bother non-Muslim residents and citizens. Would it if a jihadi had just killed some infidels the other day? It might be an overreaction to change the name of the Canterbury Crusaders, but it's an understandable one, probably one that fits into a Marxist up-turning of the world, though.

And that's where I'd like to come back full circle. When Jacinda Ardern says: "They are us" or anyone, in reference to the beliefs and actions of the killer: "This is not us" I understood it not as a description, certainly not a description of treatment of Māori through history, or the way my wife felt when confronted by a Polynesian in the CBD, nor how one of my mixed marriage teachers told a Jewish joke in the office; nor the times when my father mocked Indian customers who simply want to order some ice; nor my own discrimination when choosing which of the hundred CVs I need to look at in my busy day. I take it as an exclamation of conviction and a forceful declaration of an aspiration for us all. It is the desire for all people in New Zealand, white, brown and every shade in between, to embrace the other and refuse divisiveness. It is one of the strongest declarations I can recall for cultural unity I've heard in my lifetime. It made me want to be better in the face of this tragedy and thereafter.

Saturday, March 23, 2019


I'll never know what it is like to be a pregnant woman who has to eat for two. I'll (hopefully) never know what it's like to be in a famine or a disaster with scarce food. I'll (hopefully) never know what it's truly like to be in the kind of poverty that means that there isn't always enough money to buy food. But I do know a thing or two about that "First World problem" of marathoner hunger.

It didn't really affect me too much in the preparation for my first marathon in 2017. I probably ate more overall and succumbed to Pandoro (an Italian-style patisserie) from time to time but that year, relatively speaking, I didn't train to the same extent. In fact, when I look at that year, which felt like a busy year of running, it wasn't anywhere near the same intensity as last year or even this year. No wonder I had trouble hitting my goal. My 2017 mileage was just over 2000km from 44 training weeks, averaging 45km a week. In 2018, I ran 2800km from 39 training weeks, averaging 69km a week. And that kind of calorie burning, muscle repair and and electrolyte demand takes some provisioning.

2018 was my first real year of running hunger. When it was a staff member's birthday, welcome or farewell and there was cake, pizza, chocolate or whatever, I was completely unprofessionally scoffing what I could get. Student farewells were awesome. Bye bye! Num-num-num! Worse, the chocolate for student prizes was stored in my office and barely stood a chance with the wolf inside the door. It became my year of bags of almonds, cashews and cranberries. They were often $8 a bag and I'd buy them all and store them in my drawer. One 500g bag might last me a few days in the office. Breakfasts deluxed. Throw in a pie. Pop down for a muffin. There was no respite.

My training in 2019 has slowly but surely cranked up and at some stage over the last few weeks the "hunger" button has most definitely been pushed. A few weeks ago, while trapped relieving the front desk when I mentally materialised pizza.  I was sitting there aching for something to eat despite the fact that I'd had breakfast, an arrival snack (a boiled egg), morning tea (a banana) and it was just 1 hour till lunch.The front desk always needs someone there so if no-one relieved me, I couldn't leave; and it's an exposed place so it's not the place to chow down on something anyway. But I just wanted something else to eat. Pronto. And it was just then that Cristian, a lovely Chilean student, came around the corner with a slice of pizza and offered it to me (they had a group meal and had too much). It was divine and satisfying. For a couple of minutes. And then lunch wouldn't come soon enough. Since then, that prize chocolate has again taken a beating. I'm feeling all rather guilty.

And now I'm blogging partly on the inspiration of food. In the wee hours of this morning, 4:41am to be precise, I stirred and awoke and it was my tummy that stopped me from returning back to the land of Nod. I had been planning a long run this morning but I usually do my running without breakfast (as it delays departure because I wouldn't feel comfortable digesting a solid meal and running). Fortunately, my tummy had woken me up so early that I could fit in breakfast, a blog, digestion before the dawning of a new running day.

On a completely different side-note I just witness something truly eerie. A trick of the (lack of) light. When I started this blog, whenever I searched for a word or phrasing to use, I would look out the window, where the city lights and even the edge of Sky Tower are visible. I looked over just moments ago and could see only darkness. It could have plausibly been a massive power cut but I believe a thick moving fog, invisible in the absence of light, has sludged its way into downtown Auckland. Looks like it will be a humid morning run!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Maraetai Half

I came; I ran; I ran out of gas. After a couple of weeks of good signs from my training, I raced and got a reality check. Reality: I'm not that fast... yet. I had my race plan based on what I thought I could achieve and followed it but after 5km with pace slipping I knew I may have gone too fast. In fact, Then there was the "Hill" in Duders Regional Park. I took it slowly up and quickly down but at the bottom felt there wasn't any energy left. The final 8km were slow even though flat. People regularly passed me but eventually with a kilometre to go I picked it up but barely enough to keep it under 1:39.

It was the inaugural event at Maraetai, which is a great leveller. Very few people would have had experience with the course. The maps all implied that the start would be relatively flat for 10km before entering Duders Regional Park where you run to the highest point and then down again for a flat 8km to finish. However, the first few kilometres, and thus the last few kilometres, passed through another regional park, Omana Regional Park. Although Omana didn't have anything major, it did have some nuisance hills and I think one of my racing sins was to hit these hard early on. Those nuisance hills were cruel tricks as we approached the finish and had to again press hard to maintain speed.

The race also boasted views, which were excellent. The coast is dotted with beaches and when you get up high it's quite outstanding to look over them as well as out to the city. Though the track in Duders was a mixture of metal and gravel, the path wasn't at any stage dangerous. The tracks were easy to follow and even in the closing of the race, there wasn't a huge convergence of different race types so there wasn't much in the way of people dodging.

Although I have some disappointment from the race, it's important to know exactly where one's fitness is and racing is the best way to know. The Waterfront Half is in four weeks and so I have a final bite at the cherry.

Friday, March 15, 2019


I've mused about the possible terrorism in New Zealand before. In the thick of attacks in England, France, the United States, Belgium and even Australia, many sought refuge in New Zealand. "It just takes one attack," I thought aloud. And in the moments after the attack, I look back on those words with sadness. We were never immune and today our moment of darkness arrived.

Of course I've read and followed news items of such acts abroad. When it happens at home, in a place where I was less than three months ago, a place within one hour drive of where my father will move to, it puts the outrage of it in perspective. I cannot fathom what kind of perversion can make minds wilfully take the lives of innocents, taking them out one at a time, despite the raw human sound of terror, pain and suffering. Thirty people were slaughtered in one place. Ten at another. Forty lives extinguished with deliberate intent. David Gray took thirteen in our previous worst shooting and that was horrid enough in scale for our small country.

I'm not one to quote the typical shock words of officials after these things. Even in grief it's often boilerplate hopes and prayers. But Jacinda Ardern's words I find rather apt:

"They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand." 
There is so much global angst against immigrants. I hope this stance in the minor and in the major scale of things is what I hope can last.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Don't catch you slippin' up!

The modern world churns, creativity spurts and the culture pops. Memes, dreams and stars blaze and burst. Well, it did before, when I was young. And it does ever more, not that I am ever looking. 

I remember back when back during my Guangzhou days a new teacher from Minnesota came and at his welcome dinner was referencing some Korean song taking the world by storm, and even got up to whoops and cheers and danced that dance. Gangnam Style, at that time, was a sensation. Perhaps before I went to China I vaguely kept up with at least some of the latest froth. At that time in China though, I realised I didn't follow much at all. I had to go home and check out the video for myself and found myself several months too late. Since coming back to New Zealand, with my freedom of Internet again unchained I'm not much more in the know. I still don't know my "smh" from the Sydney Morning Herald. When my little brother talks of memes, or even our younger teachers, I make nothing more than mental notes on very disposable paper.

Now most of it is not worth the mental post-it note I scribble it on. They never stick anyway. Most things come and go. But like every age there are some things that are pretty worth seeing or, in the case I'm about to mention, experiencing. What I'm talking about is This is America. It's a song by Childish Gambino, a singer I only vaguely had heard of, and the song has been around for almost a year. Yet I didn't register then and 10 months and 500 million views from one specific upload alone on YouTube. And it's work of art that I'm disappointed to have missed. It might as well be the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows, for its time has passed me by.

If you haven't seen This is America, experience it now, preferably with someone else you can talk to about it. And most preferably before you read any further. 

In fact accompanying the YouTube searches for this video, you'll find tonnes of videos of people being filmed watching the music video. The video is such an experience that observing people watching the video is enough to attract millions of views per upload. And with good reason. It's both a visual feast and a smack in the face (or two). I just watched my wife watch it and her responses matched the faces of most when they see the opening. Delight, curiosity and the shock.

The sensualist side of me finds the video compelling just in the visual sense. The choreography alone is enough but the theatricity of the dancing, from the expressiveness of the face, from the cheekiness of his movement when he enters from a sidedoor and scoots past a choir, to his eyeballing of the camera for the duration. This is the foreground though. In the foreground it's mostly pomp and energy and occasional atrocity.

But the song is lathered in symbolism in the details and the background. In fact the more you watch the more you sense that the song is a deliberate inversion. The background is the blurred focus and the foreground is just a distraction. Based on the videos of the people watching the video, most viewers are immediately pulled into unpicking the sense of what they're seeing. Everyone has their own conclusions and the singer doesn't provide any annotation to the song. The details are worth a bit of reading. His unique dressing is a pair of Confederate style pants. So, though the protagonist is acted by a black rapper, his This is America refrain identifies him as an embodiment of the larger American history and modern day with its historical racist baggage. His actions identify him the same. He can do slaughter with impunity, walking past police cars, because that is America. Police haven't been held responsible for the deaths of complete innocents. (And if you are unaware of a new trend in "stand your ground" laws, pretty much anyone can kill another if they feel threatened, not if they are actually threatened.)  

Lyrically it also leaves you to your own conclusions. There are some themes that are more apparent than others. Don't catch you slippin' up sounds like it talks about the margins of error. For a black man's experience of life in America, it's famously risky to do anything in the presence of the police no matter how benign. And humorous cases of the police being called on black people just being people.  

The closing scene of him running is a bit of an mystery. My only conclusion, if the protagonist is consistent with the earlier parts, is that that America is losing. It's fighting for its survival. In fact it could be lynched. The lyrics though go against that reading. 

You just a black man in this world
You just a barcode, ayy
You just a black man in this world
Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy
You just a big dawg, yeah
I kenneled him in the backyard
No proper life to a dog
For a big dog

I'm compelled by this song and wish more songs and their videos approached the level of art. But of course they might have been but they might have all passed me by.... smh.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Groove 2 - counting the numbers

One week out from my next event and another nice confidence boosting landmark: I ran 100km in a week for the first time in 2019. The trend of a gradual build-up from my surgical recovery is quite picturesque so I thought I'd add it as a picture. It's dented only by that one week when I had evening fevers. It'll be dented again next week as I'll have a mini-taper so that my legs are fresh for the Maraetai Half on Sunday, before again ramping it back over 100km for a few weeks prior to my next event. Last year I had four 100km weeks and this year I'm expecting to do many more. Most of them preceded my half marathon personal best (1:31).

100km means something else to me that is almost more important: resilience. It usually requires six days of running in a week as I did from Tuesday to Sunday. To be able to do that means that all the ligaments, tendons and muscles have been toughened and pretty numb to the whole enterprise. This morning's run, 14.5km after the 32km yesterday was gentle but a lot of hills my muscles, core and joints were still pushed. But I was fine the rest of the day. We went to Rainbow's End and no-one would have been any wiser.

The total mileage shown for the year in the picture is a little incorrect; it's actually 600km. (For some reason it takes a while to update.) This rate will easily have me achieving my goal of 3000km for the year.

Of that 600km, just a little over 10% was done on two runs the last two Saturdays. They were my first 30km runs I'd done. 30km runs, for most training plans, are the key long run work-outs. My 10km personal best (40:50) was achieved the week following my first 32km run last year.

In that 100km this week, I also ascended 1500m, which isn't bad going. It was very much inflated from a run this morning which included 400m near by father's home. Last year I managed 46,000m of ascent in total, almost 1km ascent per week. I like the idea of aiming to break 52,000m of ascent if only for the pleasant thought that I run a kilometre upwards every week.

So, Maraetai awaits. The course is interesting. It's a very flat coastal run except for a hill inside the regional park. I'm expecting to be able to break 1:35 comfortably, probably in the 1:33-1:35 range. Just like my last half, Coatesville, I'm prepared to run on feel and potentially push closer to my PB. I'm really keen to break the 1:30 wall. In this half marathon series there is just one more opportunity to do so if not here, the Waterfront Half, which is certainly the most likely considering it's as flat as possible. At Coatesville on a hilly course, I somehow managed 4:38min/km without much specific training.To break 1:35, the speed is easy to calculate and I shouldn't find it too taxing now: 4:30mins/km. For 1:33, I need to average 4:24mins/kilometre; which is imaginable, though at this point still a little daunting for 21.1km. To break 1:30, one needs to average 4:16min/km. This kind of speed I've managed but only for shorter distances. It feels "all-out" "breakneck" speed. But possibly with the stimulus of other runners and a course that suits, who knows.

I'm so glad to be on track. Regardless of the result, I'm really enjoying my running.