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The 23rd Annual Global Network Conference is about to begin. The last few days has brought much to ponder about.
- Hiked up a little hill and came upon a zen buddhist ceremony, there were only two people there and I snuck around the back to keep out of sight. Took a couple of photos from in between the slats.
-Met with the highest priest of the Shugendo Zen buddhist sect who talked about the relationship between Buddhism and Space
Walked a long way back to the hostel yesterday from the north eastern front of Kyoto. After a short detour into Ginkaku-ji Shrine, a World Heritage Site, known for its moon viewing platform, or Kogetsudai, I took a left out the shrine entrance and hiked Mt. Daimonji for a spectacular view of Kyoto and its surrounding hills.
Traversing back in the direction Gion district, moseying around immaculate temples, shrines, and gardens, I encountered the Kyoto City Budo Center. Part of the city’s Amateur Sports Association, the facility is the oldest martial arts competition hall in Japan. Several buildings in the compound host a range of Japanese martial arts, including sumo, kyudo (archery), aikido, and judo. At the time of my visit, a youth Kendo class was underway in the main hall. A group of fifteen to twenty 12-17 year olds donned traditional Kendo equipment underneath the high arched ceilings and the towering wooden pillars. Tatami mats line the viewing area on all four sides, except for the enclosed section designated as the imperial seat.
Kendo is a martial descending from Kenjutsu (Technique of the Sword), which developed among samurai communities in medieval times. (Source: Budokan Brochure) After the opening bow, the students put on their head gear, and paired up. The rest of the class was spent traversing the space doing sword drills. Instead of the slightly arched Japanese swords, the students train using straight bamboo swords, or shinai.
To my surprise, the students’ drills comprised whacking each other with the sword. The more experiences sword wielders made veracious continuous strikes. Facing each other, the partners took turns striking, changing roles only after the pair travelled the futsal-turf-sized length of the space. Here is a video from one of the later drills. One partner remains stationary while the other advances and does a single strike to the head on the first go, then the torso. They end the set with a close range set of strikes.
My opinions about the martial art’s brutality evolved as the class progressed. The full forced striking g and charging made me question the learning implicit in Kendo practice. However, I later realized what they were doing required tremendous mental focus. By the middle of the two hour class, students were drenched in sweat. The sweltering summer heat added to them already being heavily clad. At this point, some of the students sat out. An instructor escorted them to the side and instructed they take off their gear and hydrate. Those remaining were phased by their friends’ leave, but went on with their drills. Apart from general notes being shouted to the group from the side-line, the students have to carry out the goals of the drill with precision. The shinai’s bamboo slats absorb the shock, but the hardest strike can produce a bruise.
At the end of World War II, Kendo and other Japanese martial arts were suspended under the occupation of the Allied forces. It was only after 1950 that Kendo was taught again. No longer required for combat purposes, Kendo, like other Japanese martial art forms, changed to be practiced for gracefulness and technical accuracy of motion. The technique of the sword is now a series of sheathing and unsheathing movements, starting and stopping motions, done in order to defeat an imaginary opponent. It may be expensive to partake in Kendo classes, but the students who do are trained to be calm under pressure and confident in the face of risk.
Just spent half of the last 24hours in the airport and the other half roaming around Gion, Kyoto. Formerly the geisha district, Gion's wooden buildings and granite pavements still echo leisure and luxury.
Amidst the sweltering heat, I made my way to the hostel. When I venture out again, I chance upon a local cultural performance and watch snippets of various art forms. Among the seven short pieces, the Gagaku (court music) performance intrigued me the most. Accompanied by musicians, the masked dancer moved with a force and lightness that made the non-verbal performance mesmerizing.
After the performance, I strolled around with two friends from the performance. We parted and I went in search of food. Here is what I found, a Teppanyaki restaurant, where your food stays hot on a large flat grill about the size of your table. A couple beside me watched a local reality tv show. Saw some strange things that I found too overwhelming to even try to decipher. I tried asking them about it but our bilingualism was unsuccessful, one of the questions was: "did that man decide to bury himself in sand or did the group do it to him?"
Here's a post dinner shot of four men in a bath, three of whom are trying to make the oldest one uncomfortable through physical intimacy.
The rest of the evening was spent walking around, exploring the shrines and accompanying garden compounds. Stunning upkeep and layout of the temple grounds.
In some ways I am out of here. Glad to have arrived three weeks ago, I now leave unannounced and unforgotten. I try to think of things I want to do before I leave. Nothing much comes to mind. I have seen the people I want to see and eaten more than sufficiently.
With me I lug along a rucksack full of devices, adapters, and connectors. Just when you think you got the gadget that would replace three, you realize you forgot the other two that had to be consolidated. Never have I been so tech-tuned to voltage and port requirements.
In me there is a yearning to go, an excitedness, but I do not know if I am ready or will be for all that lies ahead. I spend the first night in Kansai airport before heading into Kyoto the next day. I am incredibly excited to walk around and look at temples. Places of worship baffle me when they bring about a set of behaviors on a person upon entry.
US Visa, lightweight laptop, international drivers permit, Japanese phrasebook, are all set.
Here's a pic from the time my world religions class visited the funeral monument and temple of the Maharashtran Saint Dannyeshwar in Alandi, 25km outside Pune in 2011.
A rough evening of contemplation leads to assertiveness and conviction in pushing for trauma-informed educators and employers in Malaysia. I dream of the day when I walk into a pre-dominantly male environment and remember only the group activities. The two kinds of self-awareness trauma victims occupy in vastly disparate ways need to collide for a fuller experience in the present. This would require some kind of intervention into a person's past, identifying antecedents to existing behaviors.
There are two systems of self-awareness, one is the ability to keep track of our selves from the current moment to the past, the other keys into the present self and checks in with it in the present moment. One is autobiographical, the self that assembles a public, coherent story, the other is based in physical sensations of the moment. If the situation is felt to be safe and not rushed, the moment-to-moment self awareness is able to find the words to communicate the immediate experience. These two ways of knowing are located in separate parts of the brain. The challenge when these two parts of the self are disconnected is one receives more attention than the other, leaving unfilled explanatory gaps between what happened and the felt consequences. A woman undergoing an evaluation following a suicide attempt and temporal lobe epilepsy explained why she had committed suicide, she spoke in a matter-of-fact manner about her being diagnosed at five, losing her job, and faking it. When asked what it had been like for that five year old to be told that something was wrong with her brain, it forced her to check in with herself. She had no ready-made answer to this question. She responded by saying that her father saw her as a defective child, that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Having to manage by herself, she was forced at an early age to pull herself together and survive situations she was not prepared for. Then, the physician asked her how she felt now about that little girl with newly diagnosed epilepsy being left on her own. Instead of crying about her loneliness, she responded vehemently saying: "She was stupid, whiny, and dependent. She should have stepped up to the plate and sucked it up" Such passion arose from the part of her that had enabled her to survive, and cope with her distress. The physician acknowledged that it probably helped her back then. Next, she was asked to allow that frightened, abandoned girl to tell her what it had been like to be all alone, her illness compounded by her family rejection. She began to sob and kept quiet for a long time until she finally said: "No she didn't deserve that. She should have been supported; somebody should have looked after her." After that, she shifted and proudly shared her accomplishments, and connected how she felt to the person she is now. Particularly that how she had achieved much despite of the lack of public support.
-Source: van der Kolk, Bessel. "Language: Miracle and Tyranny." van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New Yotk: Viking, 2014. 230-247.
Something tells me that this is going to be the last straw. Finally after two weeks of trying I am at my wits end. The expiry date on the bottle of soya bean milk is the most difficult challenge to live up to. Even cow's milk works fine for the lactose-tolerant pace at which I consume dairy.
Great news. I get to leave as scheduled for the Watson after snagging an earlier spot for my US Visa interview. Tomorrow morning at 7.30am I will be waiting patiently outside the US Embassy in KL, without a backpack, clutching all my documents. I can take any question, Officer.
Non-verbal bonds attach people to one another. The break down or absence of language to describe relationship needs make for pairings that baffle and insult third-parties. Two scenarios that piqued my interest: why did the chinese-speaking businessman in the bicycle shop tell his girlfriend in english that now she knows how to dismount a bike like a man? How could an english-speaking young adult, following after his mandarin-speaking girlfriend, attend a mandarin-speaking church till he consents to be baptized by the pastor? Neither of these scenarios explained why people were acting outside the bounds of their language comfort zone. Both exude an intentionality for further connection with the partner in question. For a brief moment prior to her mounting the bike on the repair stand, she sifted through her partner's spiked up hair, pulling out any white hairs; and in accordance with the baptism ceremony flow, prior to submersion and a lengthy pastoral invocation in Mandarin, the person about to be baptized gave a statement of his faith in eloquent and crisp english before a fifty-person chinese-speaking congregation. Both scenarios neglect the importance of language in carrying out both pedestrian and coming-of-age rituals.
In a world of overly generous, and endearing aunties and uncles, force feeding you and forcefully requesting you take their pair of slippers because the threads on mine are running bare, I encounter pockets of difficulty. An aunt said to my cousin yesterday: "I don't care who you bring home, I will accept!" A statement that would ring relief in non-speaking families, she was referring to the readable identities a person bears. She went on and listed the kinds of people she would accept: "Hindu la, Punjabi la, Sikh la, boy la, girl la, Malay la, eh no no no, actually Malay very hard [to accept]." Despite her liberalness, cultural and religious implications of a Malay partner-in-law plague her. The difficulty she anticipates is an expected burden, and one too heavy even to agree with in theory. What is this fear of the Malay partner-in-law for non-Malay's? Is a child's adherence to parental biases required for filial piety? 'yes, of course,' screams my left brain.
Twelve months ago school was humming along and I was in the midst of a Malaysian life crisis. The family did not know the least about my life in the Pine Tree State, neither did I. The current going-ons are always vague until it has passed in full.
Right now, the day-to-day is embroiled in visits to banks and pools. Sanity is kept in the water while the neurons rage under financial pressure. On my way back from Maine to KL, I spent time reading the Marketplace Addendum to my citibank account. Second time through, I still had questions as to whether I would be charged an additional fee for a credit card purchase outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Back here, where the days start and end at the same time all year round, I fester with bank officers about retrieving my debit card from the machine that swallowed it, and smile at over-the-counter personnel to get them to work faster.
The bank and the pool.
A day before departing I met with a college staff member at the Heath Center. She tells me about the documents I ought to read to secure a better understanding of any health insurance plan. An Out-of-Network plan will cover 80% of the Usual and Customary charges. okay. The 80% covered is based on the remanding amount following the deductible. okay.
When not pursuing logistical details, the experience is transfixing. Last night I attended a Toastmaster's Meeting. Earlier this month, the club's members sought advice from theater professionals regarding gesturing while public speaking. The day I returned, my mother, a Toastmaster, asked if I would be so keen as to conduct a workshop for the club. done. Two weeks from now it is. Yesterday was about giving a five minute preview of the session to come. Aside from a blow-by-blow layout of the workshop activities, I recounted the time Kate Kearns recited her monologue in Acting Shakespeare and how there was some consensus about her fish-like qualities on stage when it comes to non-verbal expression. That has since changed. So, amidst formally dressed toastmasters, I reenacted the acting class scene with a textually sound shakespearen delivery from the Merchant of Venice, and asked for observations from the floor. Getting acquainted with the club's members was the best part of the evening, a rather rowdy bunch of twenty or so early to late career professionals, cheering on each speaker, making the occasional marginally racy comment, and listening astutely. Everything was in english and as public speakers, the level of english proficiency was medium to high. Full sentences, consistent tense and gender pronouns, eloquent elocution were elements in full gear.
Travel wise, a US visa set back has caused me to postpone my departure date to the beginning of August. Much to my dismay, this arrangement throws off initial plans to attend the Annual Global Network Conference in Kyoto. As an adjustment and a way to make up for the holistic communal experience I would have had, I am hoping to participate in the week-long excursion following the conference to Hiroshima. The group will attend the World Conference against the Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, and the 70th Anniversary of the bombs.
Dialing back to the weekend before returning to Malaysia. Here is a snippet from the three weeks of prep leading up to Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape and Not I.