Saturday, 16 November 2013

Under the Weather



It’s 4:30am China time.
I’ve been laid up in bed with the stomach flu and haven’t been able to get a decent sleep since midnight. It’s not a severe enough pain to make me want to curse life, but then again it’s irritating enough to stop me from enjoying it. 


I figure it’s akin to having a baby elephant lightly treading on your abdomen -or being pregnant at 6 months.
Seeing as I won’t be getting the nine hours of sleep I crave on the weekends, I thought I might as well do something useful with my time like writing, and truth be told I’m in a very comfortable place to be sick.
My dorm room is very cozy thanks to the turning on of heating by the dorm administration to combat Beijing’s bitter winter winds. And for those who’ve lived here, you know that there is an exact day when this begins and not hell or high waters can convince them to turn on the heat a day sooner. As well I have medicine, tea and a washroom and shower nearby. No matter what my stomach decides to throw out at me I’m pretty sure I can handle it; unless it’s appendicitis, and in that case I just have to remember that 9-1-1 is actually 119, 110, or 120 depending on the situation, easy as pie!

As for other topics of conversation, since I’ve realized all I’ve talked about is illness, I have succeeded in making new friends ( won’t my mother be so proud of me!) I joined a roller-skating club which is basically skating on anything but ice for you Canadians reading this.
We meet twice a week and suspiciously late at night. Turns out that’s the only time Chinese students have for doing extracurricular activities so I roll with the flow. I’ve learned some pretty cool tricks and thanks to past experience can hold my own. The best part is I’m basically the only foreigner that regularly attends. I get to bask in the glow of being a minority which, oddly enough, is not a new experience for me. Though I do lose a few acquaintances when I stubbornly refuse to speak English, overall they’ve been great in being accepting. 

Joining this club has also been a great opportunity to see these students in a casual setting. As soon as guys and girls mix you’re sure to see sparks fly-yes, I partially quoted Taylor Swift-and its fun to see how they jest with each other. I get the feeling that in front of foreigners Chinese students either act pretentious or bashful. But when it’s just them together, it’s easier to tell the personalities apart from stereotypes. I met one girl from Tianjin who is especially great. I told her I prefer only speaking Chinese and she was fine with it. Turns out we both are book lovers and prefer listening to the oldies, so we talked for most of the night, and spend the rest of it trying not to fall over learning new moves.

It’s really a fun sport and a good alternative to being cooped up in the dorm all day.

Well my stomach is starting to feel better, so I think I’ll try and get some shut eye. You know winter has arrived when everyone starts getting sick and sniffling in class. I’m sure I’ll be alright in a day or two and luckily it’s the weekend so I can take it easy; there’s nothing like spending your two precious days of freedom with a box of Kleenex and watching repeats of 小爸爸 ( Little Father).             

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

It’s a time for scavenger hunts, hurling leaves at each other’s faces and general merry making. To describe the food we eat would take up a whole page of its own. In brief, you start with the mashed potatoes dripping with gravy, and move towards the turkey that’s been tantalizing you all day. On the side plate is your stuffing and vegetables with enough bread and butter to completely fill any space that might be left. Just when you think you couldn’t eat one more bite, out comes the pumpkin pie, and the lemon meringue… and the cheesecake. Now to just take one slice would be a disgrace, so you have to try them all in order to gauge accurately which is the best.

It took me many years to realize that not eating lunch in anticipation for turkey dinner did not in fact enable me to eat more and instead had the reverse effect: I had many sad experiences of my eyes being too big for my stomach. Yet eating is just one of the best parts of the holiday. Most importantly is being with family and taking a moment to be grateful. Having gratitude gives you this incredible ability to improve your lifestyle without having to spend a dime. First you notice what you do have, and secondly realize what you can do without.

You see I’ve been focusing a lot lately on what I can’t do.

Figuring my language ability isn’t quite up to snuff I’ve made some changes to my class schedule. I jumped up a level, and was faced with brand new teachers and students. In my classes I’m learning how to read newspapers, write short stories and listen to the news. On top of that I’ve been going out of my way to make Chinese friends. These new changes though good in the long run are just making it more painfully obvious how little I know. I’m constantly hitting brick walls of communication that I have to force myself to climb over rather than to give in.

On one particularly dejecting day I decided to stow away in my room. As I was cleaning up my eyes rested on some old newspapers I had lying around. As I flipped through them to my surprise, I came across a paragraph I could read in its entirety.  It startled me so much that I made my roommate read it over to see if I made up the meaning. Granted it wasn’t that long of a paragraph, but the fact that I could understand it, and found it humorous, made an impression on me. Suddenly the line between English and Chinese started blurring. Reading characters wasn’t so much a chore as it was enjoyable. My speaking in a foreign language has turned into thinking, and then into feeling accumulating with my dreams being in a strange mixture of English and Mandarin.


So even though at times I stress out over phone calls and finding the perfect words to say, I can tell that little by little I’m improving. I’m extremely grateful that I have one more year to polish up my speech and aim to use it up the best I can. I miss my family and the friends from last year, but I’m glad we can still keep in contact. I figure this year has a lot of surprises in store and I’m glad I have someone to share them with.  

Friday, 6 September 2013

Back Home

I spent the last two months in Medicine Hat, Canada and will be spend the next year in Beijing, China.
In both places I’m surrounded by familiar faces and have a place to call my own. My personal objects are around me and I feel comfortable in my environment; so which place do I call home?

Like identity, a home place is intangible and liable to change. It’s not a permanent structure that you can touch and feel though it is very much an emotion, a sense of belonging. Often a house is said to be a home because of the domestic and leisure pursuits that are performed within its four walls. If that house was to burn down, would home suddenly stop existing? We use words like “temporary shelter” or “halfway house” to describe the act of moving our home away from a prior situation, as if it can be boxed up and packed with all our other belongings. 

This concept of home is important I feel, especially for a traveler whether it be a choice or imposed circumstances. Another question to ask is if it needs to be verified by outsiders to be considered a true fact. Like most things when we look for others approval the answer is shaky. If what we do benefits them they often love to call us their own but if we are strange, or a bit unkempt, suddenly affection is changed to disdain. In some places it takes a few months to a year to be considered an insider, and in others places you never will be. In fact it can be compared to an indifferent parent, who as hard as you try will never show their approval.

That’s why I think it’s best to focus on what you can control. To create a place of belonging requires you to be involved. A staged room might look beautiful but it has no soul. To add character to a place demands effort but also gives out a higher reward. Belongings are just material, but when it’s been carried around for ages, or hung around the neck, it seems to take on a different meaning. Small articles can be comforting and reminders of the past. Journals as well are good to keep, and can be the best historic records to have on hand. Other than the fact that they’re useful for autobiographies, which are a must these days, it’s a way to fuse the present with the past and future.

Lastly, home is where the heart is and your thoughts as well. A place of rest and rejuvenation regardless of space, it’s an area where you can be at peace and unafraid to explore. Within mansions or cottages it’s a creation that meets our most important need, those with it are extremely fortunate, and those without have the building blocks to envision it into being.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Incessant Politeness

As Canadians we get a bad rap for being excessively kind. Yes it is true that we will probably apologize for you running into us, but that doesn't mean we can’t stand our ground. I figure there are just unspoken rules we follow that once explained, will help make sense of our appalling niceness.   

For example, I went to get pizza the other night and the following scenario occurred. I walked in and there is a line of fifteen people. I go to the back of the line and wait 30 minutes for what should have taken 10. I then proceed to people watch those in front of me and notice a strange repetition. The first thing a person does when entering is to have a deer in the headlights look and then penitently walk to the back of the line.

Rule #1: once you start a mission you cannot back out

The Cashier girl could maybe be 14 and looked a little overwhelmed. She would smile nervously to take orders then run to the back and yell at the dough makers. She would then come back in a few minutes looking calm and collected.

Rule #2: Never lose your cool

At last it’s almost my turn and the person a head orders 5 Pizza’s with sides. This slows down the movement of the line considerably and an exasperated sigh escapes from everyone.

Rule #3: Hide within the collective

At last it is my turn and I put in my order and wait patiently. I've noticed this whole entire time not one person has forgotten to give their compliments to the Cashier.  I decide to sit down, which is a bad idea, since it takes me away from her line of vision. I don’t realize until a few minutes afterwards that my order was already called. I self-consciously go to get it and mumble in a low voice. I don’t realize until I hear the door slam behind me that I have made an unpardonable sin.

Rule #4: Always say Thank you     



Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Exploring

Today I want to share something that I love to do and that is to go exploring.
Regardless of circumstances there is always opportunity to see new sights wherever you are. In big cities most of it involves architectural wonders, or shops and little cafes. Lucky enough, I live right next to a vast space of land meant specifically to preserve land and keep animals in their natural habitat which probably has my Father questioning why I wasn't sent there long ago.
Now I don’t profess to be a nature lover, but I do enjoy going on the off beaten path. It’s one of those things where if you tell me that I’m about to go on a two hour walk I’ll probably balk, but if you say it’s only a half hour, and we get conveniently sidetracked, I won’t mind at all. The best thing about exploring is it’s on your own time. Paved paths are just reminders that civilization does exist, and in an emergency there is help, so no need to die a martyr’s death among the thistles and thorns.
The last time I went on my own I decided to follow the bank of the river that’s been recently flooded. To get there I had to first climb across the tree trunks that had conveniently fallen down to make a bridge over the debris. This is when I’m grateful for my glorious, yet short, gymnastics career and pity those who don’t know what an arabesque is. Once on the other side I hunker down so my toes are just hanging off the edge. This is a perfect position to nature watch, and no wonder this is how birds sit for hours on end waiting for their prey. 
Unfortunately being a reformed carnivore I do not eat mussels, fish, or other moving things raw. Instead I watch the light play across the water and think for an unlimited time. Once finished my repose, I often see how much farther I can go before becoming completely directionless. Depending on the time of day, and recognizable landmarks, the time it takes for this to occur varies greatly. I tend to not panic and just keep walking until I find a path. On the occasion I find an animal bigger than me I then decided to turn my walk into a run. One time as it was getting dark a giant owl swooped down as if to eat me. It had large grey wings and beady eyes, they were very sinister. Afterwards I was told it could have been a Great Horned Owl. The only other menacing creature with horns I know of tempts small children and carries a pitchfork; it could have been one and the same.

Having made it through the forest alive, I return home to a hero’s welcome which coincidentally coincides with suppertime. After dinner there is usually a lot of activity and buzz going on. Before heading in for the night though I like to open the front door and lookout into the silence, there are no skyscrapers or building to block the view. Grassland stretches out before you and then there are the coulees after that. 
It’s definitely nice ever once in a while to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the moment you’re in. 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Brownie Batter


Since being back I have done all the things that I've missed out on they being primarily driving in a car for extremely long periods of time, eating home cooked meals, sleeping in a fluffy (note fluffy) bed and baking brownies.

I wouldn't say I’m an amazing baker but I, at least once, have to make brownies when I go home. This stems from a childhood love of chocolate and the realization that if I learn to bake brownies I am then entitled to eat all the brownies, you can call it the Little Red Hen syndrome.  

The old cook book wasn't hard to find, since we never throw any out and instead collect piles and piles of them, even though we make routinely maybe 10 out of the hundreds of recipes possible. I found the right page by flipping it to the most torn and ragged leaf. This special recipe is called One Bowl Brownies and I’m pretty sure it is imprinted on my heart.

I then went around trying to find all the ingredients which is hard to do when you’re in a new house. I couldn't find the cocoa powder for the life of me and really that is the prime ingredient other than a lot of brown sugar. I finally found it stuck way far away in the pantry and started baking. I was having a great time until I realized the butter I used is the same kind of butter that I had on toast the other night that tasted awful. I don’t know what the brand is but it gives the food a plastic taste and one whiff of it makes you want to avoid it forever. By then it was too late and I tasted the batter, which was a bad idea, and it tasted terrible. I was pretty much done, so I had no other choice but to continue and hope it would be hidden in the mass of the other ingredients.

By the time it was ready it smelled good, but you have five senses for a reason.

I had my brother try the first piece and he thought it was alright. I then tried it and could taste a hint of the terrible butter. I finally broke down and told them it was most likely uneatable because of the butter but no one seemed to care- I then drowned my brownie in caramel sauce which made it taste much better. This has now got me thinking that perhaps my taste buds have gone haywire, and I don’t know what to do. There is a marginal chance that I might have burned them off by all the hot water I've been drinking.     

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sunshine, Smiles, and Cheerful Words


Being at home has felt a lot like returning, and taking part in a well-loved television show.

The cast is familiar, new faces have been added to the numbers, and the senses are pervaded with familiar sights, smells, and company. The catch is you’re altered, and finding the new role to suit is a difficult task.
The change of focus from taking care of one, to being a part of many, is disconcerting.
 It’s enjoyable, definitely, but I find it also makes it easy to be indolent. 

I’m re-reading the classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and find it gives expression to my temperament. Amidst many things, something I particularly love is how accurately it depicts the struggle between high ideology and natural abasement. Over and over again they strive to live up to a golden notion that is continually being tarnished by mistakes, tempers, and trials. At a particular low point the parents are struggling with having “taught one child to meet death without fear, were trying now to teach another to accept life without despondency or distrust”. Not only is it a stark contrast, between attitude towards life and death, but to me shows the importance of facing life with enthusiasm.    

I've come to realize a strange polarization within me which is how I lean towards the optimistic side of things while at the same time being a bit cynical. Yet, I dislike prolonged contact with cynics and fear I could begrudge another’s happiness based solely on their seeming to be so happy.

I do know at least that I don’t handle despondency well and am glad I have the ability to pick myself up even if it is to reach for the unattainable. I figure spreading sunshine is worthwhile even among the gloom, and I’m glad I have my nieces to show me how. I've spent the past week with three of them and the things they say are so matter a fact is makes you wonder why you would dare to question them in the first place. It’s best to catch it in the moment before it fades, but these are the few I remembered of them.

Doing a craft project with the 5yr old she gives me a sticker with a shooting star on it and says “This is so you remember me when you’re far from me”.


Helping a niece fire a water-gun, and testing it to make sure it’s in order, she replies exasperated “It always works; it only doesn't work when it’s broken”.


*Q: “What are you doing?”
A: “I’m going to take a shower.”
Q: “Can I come too?”
A: “… I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
A: “Right. I would get all wet!! I’ll just listen from the door instead.”
A: “Okay.” Double locks the door.
*this wasn't from a niece but a child around their same age.

So it turns out that my new part in the family drama, or comedy of errors, is not very difficult at all. I’m expected to be the same cheerful, over-analytic youngest sister while my older siblings are to adore me (which could use improvement). It turns out that being half-way across the world wasn't very far at all. 

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Brilliant Blue Sky


Brilliant blue sky was my first sight of Canada as the plane for Vancouver descended into the clouds.

When people imagine heaven, the preeminent image is on of limitless space with billows of clouds and mist that dance across the surface. Whenever I see this country from a bird’s eye view that is what I think of, that heaven can be compared to moments of wonder that we see on earth. 
My first reorientation into Canadian culture happened on the flight over.
 I take almost excessive enjoyment in the little services of airline travel. I think it’s nice that food is prepared in such organized containers and that there is a rhythm and rhyme to when things are served, lights go off, and the endless entertainment options.
 There was one particular stewardess who was especially smiley. Even though there is a chance it could have been forced, I found myself responding in kind and then do you know what happened? She smiled back. It seems this simple act of reciprocity has been missing from my life. I think Canadians in general are a happy bunch and very formal with manners saying their “please” and “thank-you”. I figure it could be for two reasons, either they are happy and therefore express their contentment by using these words or they can be using these words often enough that it creates the feeling of satisfaction. This is of course very simplified but it gives you pause to ponder since how often do we let our attitude affect how we view circumstance? By saying these words that some could argue we don’t mean, we give ourselves a chance to see our position in a new light and find what there is to be grateful for.
For me, I was bombarded with the little things I had forgotten I was used to.  When our meals came they came with butter and I had to ask myself what it was. It brought to mind a certain friend who claims that he loves to eat butter completely on its own in giant bites. I thought off following his example but then stopped because for one, that’s just weird, butter was not made to be eaten like bread and two, people were watching. I also was reinitiated into bilingualism and remember now why I understand some French words even though it’s just mostly when people are yelling at me.
I landed in Vancouver safe and sound and ran for a connection flight that I wasn’t late for. I then proceeded to walk very nonchalantly around the service desk pretending I knew exactly what I was doing. I eventually brought out my laptop to do a bit of writing, but that didn’t go anywhere either because there was a couple sitting right in front of me looking incredibly hip; I was in Vancouver after all. I then felt pressured to put on fashion glasses and whip out a Mac but all I had was a Toshiba! I then felt it would be appropriate to do some non-stop writing with punctuated sighs of exasperation, and forehead rubbing, but that didn’t happen either. Instead I stared at my screen counting the minutes to midnight and re-writing one sentence five times.
Once on the flight, I debated on sleeping vs. not sleeping until the trip was over so that made my decision easy. I also like to test social boundaries of propriety like proving false the statement that “If you don’t break the-ice in the first 10 minutes you never will”.  I would just like to clarify and add “or if you do, it will be very brief.”
I think this begs an explanation of why we even call it breaking the ice since it automatically brings to mind snow parkas and polar bears. If it sounded like something fun to do perhaps more people would be tempted to give it a try. I also dislike how there is a set mindset of only two types of travelers, those who are anti-social and those who are chatter-boxes. This leaves no room for the third type of personality that would enjoy a brief introduction and then a comfortable lapse into silence because you know sooner or later one of you will be climbing over the other to get to the washroom and prior prolog will make it a lot less uncomfortable.
I then arrived in Calgary and found my sister, easy enough to spot with her long red hair and enthusiastic smile waiting for me at baggage claim. I thought about running down the escalator to meet her, but who knows how bad that could have ended. I instead patiently waited to be delivered onto ground level, by a magic machine that has massive gaping teeth and only moves in one direction, so I could then run and give her a giant hug.   

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

   

Saturday, 29 June 2013

All Sung Out

The last few weeks have been full of emotional pressure, outside of my schoolwork; which for good or bad always remains a constant. My way of handling these constant ups and downs I’ve been experiencing is to turn to music.

When I say I turn to music I don’t mean the weekly top 40, even though some of those songs are pretty catchy, but I’ve found the songs that moves me the most are deep, heartfelt, and can all be found on the soundtrack of Les Misérables ( 10th Anniversary Concert).

This is the best morale booster you can find outside of an institution.

I find it strange that I gain encouragement from listening to such unhappy songs, but there’s inspiration even within the saddest. What I like so much about this novel turned musical, turned movie, is that there is no perfect hero and that even good people suffer. I don’t know why I find that last bit particularly cheering, since I’m trying to be a good person myself, but it illustrates to me that suffering is not solely the consequence of wrongdoing and if you’re in pain that doesn’t mean you’re forsaken.

C.S. Lewis wrote a great book entitled The Problem of Pain that deals with the issue of a loving Deity and pain in our lives, and if that’s compatible or opposite in  nature. What I drew most from the book was the many aspects of suffering, and how emotional pain is just as cutting as physical. At first emotional pain seems to dim when compared to the physical ones of hunger, fatigue, and breaking bones. Yet the very issue of pain is that it hurts, and mental anguish seems to carry long after meals are served, rest is taken, and bones are mended.

As well, the saying “no pain, no gain” is easy enough to use as a retort, but it fails to overlook how terribly wretched the feeling can be; when you come in contact with harm, it bruises your vital organs. In Agnes Grey written by Anne Brontë, the human heart is compared to India-rubber that a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. She then expounds that if “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it.

So as stated, my antidote to this ailment is to listen to Les Misérables.

I find that without making any change to my situation I’m able to forget my own worries and be carried away in the music. My thoughts are then given a chance to stop racing around in my mind and settle down into a rhythm, once this repose is over I can more clearly deal with the situation at hand.


After a few days, or weeks, I find that I no longer need The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to console me. My first instinct will not be to turn the music on, and instead I will let other life matters fill in the space. That is when I know I have recovered completely and can lovingly push the songs aside until they are needed for the next occasion. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

1 Year: China & Taiwan

Today is the anniversary of setting foot in Taiwan and starting my studies of Mandarin abroad.

I felt for most of that time that I was dreaming, and sooner or later reality would come crashing down. Its fine to have a piece of paper saying you’re invited to study at a school half-way across the world, but it’s quite another when you find yourself walking through customs wondering if someone will pull you aside and explain that it was all in jest. Yet that never happened, and after surviving hostel living, giant spiders, and miscommunications, I spent two glorious months in a city full of lights.

The weather was so tremendously hot that it tints my memory of that time as being a particularly lethargic experience. A good part of my time was spent walking around committing sights to memory and enjoying the tropical weather. My favorite recollections are those of learning Tai-Chi on the school roof-top, and climbing elephant mountain in time to see the sunset.

I had the opportunity to make friends with temperaments just like mine and some, with the complete opposite. It really opened my eyes to all the paths one life can take, and how lucky we are to enjoy the moments when they cross with another. Try as I might I could never capture the moments in a way to make them solidify in my memory but that’s what journals, writings, and pictures are for. I’m glad others were proactive enough to take pictures of events I cherished but thought better than to ruin by experiencing it through a screen.

In fact throughout all the highs and lows of that time, I felt reassured that as exciting, or drawn out my time seemed, I was merely preparing for the next step, It’s as if I was collecting jewels and gold pieces to be safely stowed away. This gave me assurance for the future and enabled me to be optimistic, a virtue sorely need in dealing with life’s dilemmas.

Another lesson I learned was to make time for studying and self-evaluation, taking from The Count of Monte Cristo “the application of the axiom “Know thyself” is in our days substituted for the less difficult and more advantageous science of knowing others”. I appreciated the time I had to be on my own, while sharing so much of it with those I cared about.

The friends I made were wonderful, and I found Taiwanese people in general to be friendly and universally cheerful. In the first few weeks many of the youth I met helped me to get around Taipei and would physically walk me to the subway stations if I needed it. In the evenings we would hangout, and I would become a guinea pig for famous foods that looked questionable and offended most of your senses. They were extremely kind to me and I look forward to when we meet again, and talk in their own language.

Fast forward 10 months, and you find me here in Beijing, almost at the end of my second semester of studies. The sheer masses of people makes it a vastly different experience than Taipei. I definitely enjoy living here; I find it tenacious, requiring me to be in earnest and energized at all times. I’ve grown with my Chinese immensely and am hopefully past the growing pains of language learning. The highlights of Beijing are many, starting with classmates that more resemble a caring family, and the independence of mobility allowing me to go to Harbin, Tianjin, Guilin, and Xi’an. I’ve met personalities you only read about in stories, and have been whisked on last minute adventures to climb the great wall and explore small towns.

The biggest change for me here is instead of being the one to leave and not come back, is to watch as others go.

I’ve taken over the position of “the veteran” and though it sounds a bit fatigued, it actually sends a slight thrill down my spine to think I’m now at a stage where the strange has morphed into the familiar. Whatever comes next is sure to be a challenge, but I look forward to it. I’m also very glad for all those who have helped me along the way and have been silently supporting my escapades; I will see everyone very soon!   

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Fine-Tuning

I was in a bit of an accident the other day involving my bike and a pedestrian.
We both were okay, and as terrible as it is to go flying off your bike I was relieved that my first crash had minimal damage. I continued to ride my bike for over a week before realizing that the handle bars were completely off kilter.  I was adjusting so much for their crookedness I was basically riding sideways down the street. The funny thing is, I only noticed because I took a few days off from riding my bike  and it’s when I went back to it that it became obvious that something was wrong. In fact I’m constantly amazed at how quickly our body compensates for weaknesses that arise. 
When I was fourteen I injured my knee, and before the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was reported, it was impossible to tell what exactly I had done since during the Lachman test, a hands on examination of the knee, my hamstring muscles kicked in over gear and acted in direct opposition, basically making up for the lack of stability in my knee ligaments.
Once all the information was gathered, and it was surmised what the best option was, I began two years of my body constantly making up for what it had lost. I was also given a beautiful new knee-brace, and picked the shade “green with envy” with thought out love. 
Post-surgery I remember having to re-learning everything I once knew.
Kneeling was a particularly painful experience, and the only way I could hold the position was by exerting all my upper-body strength to hold my weight on my arms, and gently lower my knees until they touched the ground. Walking up stairs was challenging as well, and if I was exceptionally tired I would manually lift the encumbering load imagining myself to be a cyborg malfunctioning.  
Yet throughout all this time, I was astounded at how I could reprogram my muscle memory.
I taught myself to lead with my right leg instead of my left until my cartwheels and back walkovers looked natural again. I also focused attention on my weakest joints, because if I didn’t the major muscles would take over and though it would enable me to accomplish my goal, I wasn’t really strengthening my limitation. I think this is the main thing I learned from my knee injury, and I use this principle constantly.
It’s easy enough to concentrate on what we're good at and brush our failings under the rug, but by doing that we’re hurting ourselves in the long run, much like riding a bike that’s broken. The thing about personal weaknesses, is we can be the only one aware of it. A charismatic person may struggle with shyness, and a big talker can suffer from low self-esteem. If we only ever changed what it is obviously lacking then what are we left with but a polished exterior and distortion inside?
I like to think that attention to details in our lives has a ripple effect on our actions; small alterations can become the most visible part of us that others see. Of course this isn’t to advocate for excessive concentration on minute details such as evenly separated eyelashes, since taken to the extreme we can become self-absorbed and unduly critical of others, but if our energy is spent on worthwhile adjustments I can only see it as changing ourselves for the better. Often times it seems people are content with just living with their shortcomings and don’t take the time to change them. I can understand why, but think its best if we take our shortfalls and fortify them up. This way we’re addressing the problem at hand, and in case an accident were to occur, we have the ability to compensate for where we lack.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Buses and Me


I don’t know why it is, but I find buses to be the most complicated type of public transportation on earth. I’m pretty sure mapping the trajectory path to the Moon is easier than finding your way around a city on a public bus. This personal problem of mine is further intensified by the fact that I’m living in a city roughly estimated to have a population of 20 million people. What this means is I can cover a fair distance, going in the wrong direction, before reaching the last stop and realizing my mistake.



I would like to blame my lack of mapping ability on growing up in a small town where most things were close enough to walk to, but even then I easily got lost. The real reason I never know where I’m going is because I have so much more important things going on in my mind. Wasn’t it Einstein who said in reply to a reporter’s remark, why should I remember my own phone number when I can look it up in the phonebook? It’s the same sort of idea but more stretched out to encompass e-mails, Birthdays and University campuses. Now you see Mom why I didn’t what you to move houses on me, it wasn’t for any silly sentimental reasons it’s because I will now never be able to make it home for dinner.

Back to Beijing though, I have been trying out new ways to get to my campus. I usually take the subway and then walk for 10 minutes, but those are precious 10 minutes. What I thought would be a far better idea is to get off the subway two stops before the usual, and take a bus directly to the gate of my University. What instead happened was first me going to every exit, except the one I was supposed to go out of. Once I got down to the last three available options I decided to practice my Chinese and ask for directions. This didn’t work out as it usually does since the man I asked didn’t really want to answer and instead passed me off to two old ladies, who hemmed and hawed, until they were pretty sure I was going in the wrong direction and needed to turn around and cross the road.

I wasn’t too confident in their directions so I decided to use the call a friend option. This turned out slightly better, other than having to admit I didn’t remember the bus stop she had accompanied me to just a few days earlier. She said the exit was “B as in Bob” which made me wonder why he gets picked on so much and wouldn’t it be better if we had a Canadian list of words just for occasions like this. It could then get annoyingly stuck in everybody’s mind and people will go around muttering “A as in Alberta”, “C as in Canucks”, “D as in Doughnuts” and, “P as in Puck!’”. I tell you there are many similar strains of thoughts running through my mind and this is why I must not be disturbed.

I finally found the bus stop and thankfully only had to wait 5 minutes for my bus to arrive. The stress factor came in having to alight on the bus without knocking people over or being taken down myself; I have at least learned a few good self defense moves this way. My notion of a comfortable ride home, where I could sit and think, was ruined by the timing of rush-hour. I instead stood for the entire time trying not to fall over at every jolt and screeching halt the contraption made.

The good news is it didn’t take too long and I remembered when to get off. Once I was one stop away I did the everyday “prepare to get off drill” which goes a lot like elbowing people out of the way until you are so close to the door your nose touches it. Once the door opens you cross your arms in front of you, like a dead man’s pose and jump off. Ideally you do this once the bus has come to a stop but you could try it mid-traffic (let me know how that goes). So once off the bus it’s a short walk, or more of a jaunt to my dorm.

Even though it’s difficult to weigh the pros and cons, the truth is I might never do that again, ever.
Instead I will revert back to my normal habit of taking the subway, which has a nice map and colour coordinated dots that don’t move. I see no reason in fixing something that isn’t broken, and it is 60% more likely that I will have a chance to sit down on the subway for the 40 minute ride home than on the bus. Just so you know I did that calculation based on my time here so it is completely accurate.

So though I applaud the fact that as cities get larger and larger, they are making faster and more convenient transit systems, I for one will take a bullet train or subway any day over a bus. Those things are dangerous, and programmed to make you more lost and confused then when you started.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

What's in a Name?


Growing up with a unique name, in relation to where I live, has always been a part of my life.  Growing up with an additional strange enunciation of certain words further compounded the peculiarity of that name.
I've had all types of pronunciations tested out from comparably the same, to completely outlandish, as if they've taken the words and created their own dialect. For the most part it doesn't bother me since I will answer to pretty much anything as long as it is directed to me  (insults don’t count). In fact when it comes to certain individuals I've grown accustomed to their own variation, and if they changed it the sound would be meaningless to my ears.

You see it really isn't the name that makes a person but the assumption of what will follow.

I’ll give a more thorough explanation in a second, but first I feel the need to make a disclaimer that in the unfortunate even of being named after a fruit, commercial product, or a pop star with the initials of “B.S”. or rhyming with “Shady” I cannot help you, but I do know of a few registered psychologists.

For the rest of mankind, who are named after normal, living, breathing people or taken from ancient books, it really doesn't matter if your name has that “catchy alliteration ring to it” or is as grave as the deceased. When someone calls you they’re not saying “Jon, come here” but “Hey brother of mine, you've got to see this, because you will either laugh or cry your eyes out”.

It’s a supposition that’s been proven in the past and will most likely continually to be so. I understand my brother well enough to know what he will find funny, or not, so I call him based on the reaction I know I will receive. We make these type of assessments all of the time when it comes to friends, and family, and even teachers. This is why as a small child the name of the principal will strike fear into your heart, and the name of a loved one soften it.

In a way we've conditioned our minds to expect certain outcomes based on that persons reaction so when we call them it’s with a certain amount of premonition of what’s going to occur next.

The reason I bring it up, is because for the past year I've been called by a drastically different name then the one I was bestowed with. My Chinese name is 美乐(Měilè and I answer to it now intuitively. At first the characters looked harsh and rigid, and there was no connection to lodge it in my mind, but now I see the beauty in (měi) and the happiness in (lè). The strokes become fitting in their place, and it’s as easy on my eyes as a well-loved book.



It’s hard to say what others expect when they call me by this name, since I’m not in their shoes, but I can say what I hope they are anticipating. Perhaps it’s a welcoming smile, and an invitation to sit down.  It could be words of encouragement or a positive spin on the daily routine of life. I've noticed that with my teacher he’s come to expect a well-thought out answer, and proper pronunciation- this is one of the draw backs of suddenly becoming studious, they then expect it constantly.
  
Regardless of the situation I've come to realize that there’s more being said then just my name. What others are not saying is the confidence they have in me to live up to my set pattern of behavior. Personally this is a bit worrisome, since who knows better than I how inconsistent and fickle my emotions can be?  To have a standard set so high puts me in danger of falling off, yet then again it’s the flip-side of the coin that has the value engraved on it.

From this dizzying new height I’m given the opportunity to go farther, run faster and attain new horizons. Although I’m the type that would like to know the end from the beginning, not knowing doesn't need to stop me from trying. My fears are able to be swallowed up in the resolve for success. I can then, little by little, stick my neck out each day and try to be better. Over a period of time this will become a habit, and then presumably a defining characteristic. Others will notice this, and be drawn to the stability it offers. Then without knowing it, what started out requiring great effort will have become an instinctive part of my nature. 

That is when I’ll know I've triumphed, and be able to answer every expectation my name holds .