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Time Travel

Last week one of my coworkers retired, I thought – shit I’m more than halfway there my myself. Same week one of my friends told of shopping for a funeral plot for his father, and since it’s a family plot, for himself, too. My friend is my age. Damn.

And how did it get to be fucking April already? Wasn’t it just January? As a kid, I’d hear adults saying stuff like this and think – meh, it’s because they haven’t made use of their time well that they regret its passage, but now I know it is simply letting oneself become aware of one’s precarious footsteps. Once, on the face of the earth, there were not any footsteps that were planted by me. Later, there will be a time when I shall plant no more footsteps.
The number of our footsteps and heartbeats is limited.

Hurtling through time and space, we can see what happened a hundred years ago, through the blurry filter of film, pictures, and books, but those people who saw it first hand are no longer with us, and though it may be possible for us to live beyond a hundred, what happens a hundred years from now, we will likely not see.

With slow conditioning, I am stronger, more balanced, and have better eyesight than I did ten years ago. My body has grown younger, and this has in some ways blinded me to the passage of time, but it is true – we are time travelers, and every day we get to make a few choices as to where we will be tomorrow. Life happens fast. Pay attention.

But in all our striving, we are not the final beneficiaries. Each day brings us a little closer to the dreamless sleep and the final forgetting.

Meanwhile every dance, every Aikido practice, every laugh is to me like a salve, like a refreshing wind or summer rain. In passing we can smell, touch, see, hear, taste, maybe remember it for a time, but we cannot own it. Surely my old friend PJ thought this as she sat on her back porch watching, smelling, listening to, feeling, and tasting the summer rain in the last stages of her struggle with cancer.

She has long passed into the unremembering sleep, but I can remember for her. In a way bits of us live in friends and family, just as I can be happy when my brother tells me of his vacation, so therefore his vacation is partly lived for me. Similarly, I can take a few deep breaths, and think of the pleasure PJ must have felt to be alive, and remember her healthy (the sound of her nerdy laugh) and share this pleasure of breathing with her vicariously.

Our time is too short.

Long has it been since I have reflected on the shadow of Death, but he is there, a faithful shadow who has followed me through all time, quietly whispering to remind me to be my better self, and promising though I may forget him, he will never desert me, until he lifts me up, and with a laugh or sigh, we say shit, fuck it, and step out into the void.

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Temperance

In a Krav Maga video, the instructor talks about the correct way to use a gun to threaten someone at close range – not to hold it in front of the other’s face, where there is a danger that one can get into a struggle over the gun, or even be disarmed, but to stand with the gun pointed at the other party, and the elbow pulled back, while pushing with the other hand to put distance between oneself and the other party. I suppose the same is true for a knife.

I think this is true of the power to harm in general. It is most effective when used defensively, and loses some of its strength if brandished overtly.

Observed and Overheard

Observed: After an Aikido demonstration, he bowed to his uke, then bowed to the front. This was customary. Then, he paused, and bowed to the audience, which struck me as  original.

「站在底的橋下,身體挺高,也只是撞到自已的頭。」
“When standing under a low bridge, standing tall only causes you to hit your head.”
(compare with Japanese: 出る釘が打たれる。 The nail that sticks out gets struck.)

「大家忘了台語,很可惜,但是這個是時代的潮流。我也有聽不憧台語的朋友。我們不可能講台語然後翻給他聽。語言也只的一個方法。說出來,意思通就好了。」
“That people are forgetting to speak Taiwanese is too bad, but this is the direction of history. I have friends who don’t speak Taiwanese. It’s not practical for us in a group to speak Taiwanese and then translate so that he can understand. Language is just a means. What’s important is understanding.”

我覺得我可以從這個很蠢的東西感到動力。
不是蠢。是夢想。
別人也許會覺得很蠢。
你就做你的夢想。也須不會有回報,但是沒有夢想,什麼都沒有。別人怎麼感覺,是他們的事。
你不會覺得很蠢嗎?
這個說法沒有在我的詞彙裏。

I think I can keep going if I lose myself in this foolishness.
It’s not foolishness. It’s a dream.
Some might say it’s naiveté.
Work toward your dreams. Without them, what do you really have? What other people think is their business.
Don’t you think it’s naive?
Such a statement is not in my vocabulary.

我有障碍… 只是,我還在學。
I am handicapped… Well, it’s only that I’m still learning.

Cities

Reasons to live in a city as opposed to the country. Walking distance to work or school, plentiful transport links, more diversions for leisure (parks, libraries, concert halls, bars, restaurants); a wider selection of goods; food stalls with cheap, good food; access to markets.

All of this is mitigated by building codes that specify minimum house size, a lack of public transport and the resulting traffic and parking lot sprawl, zoning laws that keep businesses and homes separate, and a permit and finance regime that works for chain stores and against independent stores.

Los Angeles is more expensive than Tokyo, and not as fun.

Degrees of Freedom

Today at practice we did pair work with wooden swords. It occurred to me that under normal circumstances, both parties fear death, and this limits the choice of possible movements. If it is possible to strike a fatal blow, but doing so opens one up for a simultaneous fatal blow, one will still not do it. Unless one does not fear death. The one who does not fear death is less restricted.

In the time of Caesar, the warriors of Gaul were willing to burn their cities so that Caesar would not have them. Given the choice of surrender or death, many chose to fight to the death, perhaps better to kill more Romans so that other Gallic tribes would have a chance. One tribe, the Aedui, had a long-standing peace with Rome. Caesar used their capitol, Noviodunum, as a granary and weapons store from which to launch his campaigns to incorporate Gaul into the Empire. By standards of the time, Noviodunum would have been a modern city, complete with political and civic institutions modeled on Rome. To preserve Gallic freedom, the Aedui joined the Gallic coalition against Caesar, and carried away all the all the grain they could, threw the rest in to the river, then evacuated and burned Noviodunum so that the Romans could not have it.

Degrees of freedom emerge from lack of fear, and this is present in circumstances that don’t necessarily involve life or death: whistle-blowers that end their careers in order to satisfy their sense of justice, politicians that negotiate compromises that will cause them to lose their jobs. Where this involves a statement of some kind, it makes the person more trustworthy – the messenger, by putting something at risk, must necessarily believe in the importance of his message.

Unfortunately, this is one of the seductions of IS and suicide bombing, though these are now subject to “reverse attacks” by people who bear-hug suicide bombers to prevent them from detonating explosives in a populated area.

I am looking forward to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s upcoming book Skin in the Game, which is supposed to have related discussion.

Gilan to Taipei via Sãtiau Kak

Set out at Gi-Lan at about 10:30am, rounded the cape at Sãtiau-Gak lighthouse, passed Hok-Liong beach, went through the Ping-Siang tunnel, then passed through Ping-khe and Chhim-khenn. Personal record: >100km. Weather generally good, but there were three surprise downpours before i rounded the cape. The owner of the B&B I stayed at had given me some rainwear, which I was thankful for, but it was a bit of a hassle to pack and unpack. next time – maybe wear quick-drying clothing, and it wont matter if I get wet.

Everything from Gi-lan up to the Peng-Siang tunnel was relatively peaceful, with wide shoulders or dedicated bike lanes. There were scenic stops, but the nature of cycling is that the countryside rolls by at a scenic pace, from ibises on the fields to fishermen on the sandy beach, to huge rolling waves crashing into rock strata. Downpours aside, there were occaisional light showers that did not block outbthe sun, and I was happy for these, as they cooled me off.

At about 2, I stipped for lunch at 品逸屋, which boasted locally caught seafood. I had 鰾, which I thought was a type of fish, but I learned is the air bladder of a fish. It was cooked in a good sauce of celery, chilis, leeks, and touban sauce. I will try to make this. I scarfed it down with three bowls of rice. The proprietress asked me when i paid – did you eat your fill? Yes, I told her simply.

I could have had a fourth, but I didnt want to become sluggish.

Ping-khe to Chhim-khenn was dangerous. Visibility limited by curves. Traffic flowing but heavy. Narrow shoulder. Jockeyed for position with cars. Reminds me of highway 17 to Santa Cruz, but here the tighter curves limit the speed of traffic. On the balance, more dangerous, as people take mire risks. At first, I stayed close to the shoulder, but took to occupying the entire lane when I found I was just as fast as the cars, especially as I could corner faster. Any distance that opened up on a straight stretch, I could gain back on cornering.

I got passed by two ambulances, and saw two accidents on the stretch from Ping-khe to Chhim-khenn alone. Emerging from Chhim-khenn, I got passed by another ambulance.

It was my second time riding that stretch. The first time, I saw a car marked off by police tape, with its front end wrapped around a telephone pole. There was a spider web cracking of the windshield on the driver’s side which must have been made my the driver’s head.

Arrived home about 5. After that adventure, it is a privelege to be able to fix up a dinner with stuff in the fridge and not to have to go out.