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


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.