The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: circus

Le regard neuf de l’enfant sauve même les trottoirs de l’usure

enfantThe fresh perspectives of a child will save even the sidewalk from attrition — Romain Gary

I learnt this phrase from a friend from France who turned up at my weekly circus. We talked about haiku and I mentioned about the naive perspectives of children being one of the most beautiful things about it, and he told me about this quote. I found it poignant and decide to illustrate it.

Every day I wake up less and less sure of myself — I open my email inbox with my breath held, expecting to be disappointed. Expectations were met. No response from any of the jobs I have applied at.

Every time I write I become less and less sure of my ability — I used to think that being capable got you places, and I was sure that I was pretty capable. Now am I less confident that that is the case, or that maybe I’m not that capable after all.

And then I realise that perhaps what I need is a fresh perspective to stop this attrition of the self and of the mind. I left college with a font of hope and optimism, and thought that sufficient to last me till I transition into the next phase of my life; where I start working. I guess I did not consider that this transition might take longer than I expected, and hoping to merely brave this foray with what I had would not be sufficient.

I will need to renew my view on how I take each day that does not bring me the news I so fervently wish.

Rest in Pieces: The cost of vision

ripglassesI’ve been going without glasses for about two weeks now, and I’m still in one piece. But my glasses aren’t; they’re in two.

Deciding that I was not a fan for living a life of impressionist vision, I got a rather splendid Groupon thing where I pay $35 for an eye exam and that includes a $200 value that goes towards the lens and frames. I was quite thrilled at the prospects of having to pay only $35 for new glasses.

What I did not know was how expensive glasses are in the United States.

Back home, the glasses that I got (and the one that is currently broken) cost me about US$70 for both the lens and frames. They were not fancy glasses, just plain, black plastic ones that were suitable for use in the military during my time in National Service. The lens were high-index lenses and had UV protection.

At the optician’s in Park Slope, where the voucher was for, I was looking for a similar pair to the ones I broke; black, plastic, durable, unassuming. I was handed a pair that I was assured are very durable since they are made by a company that makes sports glasses. I was rather pleases with it and was almost about to make a decision when I suddenly remembered,

“Oh, how much are these?” I asked.

“$349,” he replied.

I balked. $349? And that was not inclusive of the lenses.

“Have you got anything else? Cheaper ones, perhaps?”

And the optician helpfully pulled out a couple more from the back of the shop.

“These are $249, and $199,” he said.

I looked around undecidedly. I had not planned to be spending any amount of money that exceeded double digits.

“And this one is $149,” he said, taking one more from inside a drawer.

It was black, light, unassuming and looks durable.

“I think I’ll take this one,” I said. That left me $50 for lenses.

And then we had to look at the lenses.

“We use Nikon lenses because we believe they are one of the best in the market for value and durability.”

The high-index lenses were $225, but it was not like he could pull out any other kinds from more drawers.

“That will be all,” I said, a little shaken from the day’s events. And I had only been in there for about 20 minutes. 20 minutes was all it took to wipe out everything I’ve earned from street-performing in the past few weeks and more.

But at least I will be able to see now.

Rest in pieces, old (cheap) pair of glasses

Graduation: We did it! What is ‘it’?

About a month and a half ago, I graduated with my bachelors from New York University. It was a pretty grand affair. The Yankee Stadium was awash with a sea of purple and camera flashes, and while a sizeable portion of the student body was not impressed that their commencement speaker was David Boies, the lawyer who got Prop 8 overturned, I thought it was pretty rad.

However, I just could not muster up the enthusiasm to enjoy the ceremony. Around me, friends were congratulating each other, high-fiving, taking pictures of themselves in graduation regalia.

diditI just didn’t feel it. People were telling each other, “We did it!” But, what is it about “it” that we did that is so worth congratulating?

Perhaps I was reluctant to be ending a period in my life where I didn’t have to worry about finding jobs and entering the “real world?” Perhaps I was unhappy to be leaving friends I’ve made in my four years?

No, not really. University for me has always been a gateway for me to enter the world of journalism. I practically entered college with my major declared. No fudging around classes, wondering what life was going to be for me when I left college — no, I did college for what lies after. I was eager to start my foray into professional journalism. And no, while I had a handful of friends at college, my closest friends in the city were mostly outside of college (circus, online communities, etc), and the close friends I made in college are still in the city anyway. Also, it is not as if I am one to bemoan having to leave people behind; after all I am not stranger to uprooting myself. I left a lifetime of friends and family 9000 miles behind to be here.

What I was not enthused about was of the zeitgeist of “We did it!” What was particularly hard about college that surviving it made it an ordeal worth congratulating? A student who puts in conscientious and regular effort into his or her school work will find that making it to graduation is not that big a deal. Perhaps we now live in a culture where “keeping up the good work” has become a rarity and that one who displays it should be congratulated.

Or perhaps I grew up in a culture where such things are expected of you. Insert Asian stereotypes here, but verily making it to the finishing line doesn’t turn heads, doesn’t make eyelids bat. Distinctions do. I was not a spectacular student, and I even lapsed at school work at times, but I can say that I consistently put in effort in college, and I came out okay. I didn’t graduate with Latin honours, but my grades were not abysmal (3.5 out of a 4? I’ll take it.). I am sure if I put in more effort, I’d have gotten better grades and all that but that is no more than a numbers’ chase.

One’s path in college, no matter the classes taken, is predictable. One is expected to put in a certain amount of work into it, and at the end of the day, you come out unscathed and meeting expectations. Do we congratulate people for meeting expectations? Maybe we do, but people at graduation make it out to be such a big deal it is as if people enter college with the expectations that they are all going to flunk out, and that having made it to graduation actually is exceeding expectations.

Why would anyone want to enter college expecting to fail anyway?

What I would say “We did it!” to would be more of the unexpected things one does in college; things that a student endeavours at his or her own risk with no idea what the outcome would be. Things I would celebrate are:

  • Having started a community of my own, the NYU Violet Circus Arts
  • Making the effort to immerse myself in the local cultures, such as having performed at the Howl! Festival
  • Learning to extend myself in ways I’d never have done back home, such as forming friendships online, etc

The common denominator of the above seem to be about forging and integrating into communities, and they don’t seem like much, but these are things that were quite unknown to me back home. Going to gaming meetups from Reddit groups? Would never even have touched Reddit back home. Talking to random poi spinners in the park and subsequently being introduced to the local scene of fire spinning and circus arts? People scarcely even publicly practice circus arts, and that’s not to say that there are very many.

In comparison, having done these as a student was above and beyond what I felt was expected of me as a student. The true growth came not understanding of linguistics and journalism in the classrooms, but from what I made myself do outside of them.

Don’t smile the Mirthless Smile

I went performing in the park again today, and the collection wasn’t as good as last week’s. But it is an amount that will go towards helping me through this period. However that is not today’s topic.

Prior to today, I haven’t had much reason to smile. I lived the past few days with nary a need to even twitch my facial muscles upwards. Ultimately, I actually did not smile at all for the past three to four days. Personally, I don’t smile very much anyway, unless I have to or something or someone is really funny.

However, while performing today, I was all smiles and winks, a stark contrast to how I’ve been living the past few days. After a while, I was starting to wonder if I was really smiling or was I making my face resemble a smile for the purpose of my performance?

I have a friend who is an actor/comic. Every now and then a laughter comes out, but it sounds executed on demand; bitter and a little forceful. That is less a laughter than it is an exhalation. I say, “Don’t laugh the bitter laugh,” yet here it seems that I am smiling the Mirthless Smile, committing what I preach not to do.

Studies have shown that simply arranging your facial muscles into the semblance of a smile is enough to trigger endorphins that makes one happy, which in turn makes them smile. Was I unhappy when I was smiling, or was I trying to make myself happy? I have had so little to smile about recently.

But perhaps I was really smiling because I was happy to be performing. From when I was learning to unicycle, the moment I sit on the saddle, almost uncontrollably, a smile begins to form, because I like unicycling and simply sitting on my unicycle makes me happy. Granted, today, I was probably more washed out from the heat (38c/100f), making it hard to notice if I was having fun or not, but I believe that I was still happy to be spinning and unicycling around.

You see, performing takes up so much of my focus and attention I could scarcely spare any mental faculties for ruminating on whatever sad thing in my life. At the moment, putting my all into my moves and producing art that pleases me does make me happy. Satisfaction at a job well done, so as to speak.

My smiles while performing could not be Mirthless. The day that happens will be a day when I stop enjoying performing, and start to see it a chore. Which is kind of why I’ve resisted putting out a collecting box for my performance, until now. Let us hope that the Mirthless Smile never comes.

And after today’s performance, it’s back to another period of stony-faced austerity.

Orientalism vs Occidentalism: Circus Edition

I’ve been unicycling and spinning various stuff for about 10 years now, probably. I’ve spun in Singapore, and I’ve spun around the United States. I’ve seen buskers in the Czech Republic and in Germany as wells. One thing that always struck out to me was how similar Asian performers are with one another, but markedly different from Western performers, who are similar amongst themselves.

Let me show you two videos from the Olympics of unicycling, UNICON.

The above two videos show the winners of UNICON 16, Kazuhiro Shimoyama (Japan) and Janna Wohlfarth (Germany), of the Freestyle Expert category, Male and Female respectively. Notice the vast difference? Shimoyama does a lot of pirouettes, and is generally a lot more dance-attuned and rhythm-attuned to the music that’s playing. Wohlfarth, aside from the Marge outfit and the Simpsons soundtrack, looks more like a showcase of all the nifty skills she’s learnt.

And that actually quite sums up the difference between Western and Eastern performing. If you think I’m generalising, here‘s a link to the performance of Haruka Sato and Ryohei Matsuda (Japan), Pairs Expert, where Sato also came in second for Freestyle Expert, Female. And to compare, here‘s Philipp Henstrosa (Switzerland), who came in fourth in the Expert, Male category in UNICON 16, but this video is from UNICON 15. You’d see that the generalisations I made still pertain.

Such similarities transcend unicycles. Having been in New York for a while, other (Western) spinners never fail to be amazed by my movements, even though the tricks I’m doing are relatively simple. I can’t do a stand-up wheel walk or do a unispin or a flip; I can’t even do a hyperloop on a poi, but I do move my body a lot, and always in reaction to the music that’s playing. To me, music sense is very important to me, because it shows the audience how your mind and body interprets its surrounding and the music to the best of the limitations imposed by the props one is using and of one’s body.

In the spinning world, such a dichotomy is one of ‘Tech’ and ‘Flow’. ‘Tech’ is the pursuit of technical skills, the equivalent of stunts or tricks. They usually have a name, like “Rubenstein’s Revenge” or “Reverse Wheelwalk” or the ilk. Tech spinners tend be grounded on the spot and they let their skills speak for themselves. ‘Flow’ is simply movement. They don’t even have to be graceful and fluid; popping and locking while performing is a form of flow. It is the natural progression of the body as applied to the prop that gives flow its meaning. You can’t name ‘flow moves’, else it would be named something like “Hip-wiggly-thing-as-I-round-my-shoulders”. Less cool-sounding than tech moves.

Also fundamental difference, you can teach tech, but you can’t really teach flow.

I mean I do wish I were actually more skilled in tech. I always tell people “Nah, I just go flow simply because I’m bad at tech.” Which is not completely incorrect; my tech skills are very limited. But I do wonder why it seems almost racial that Eastern spinners tend towards flow (even if it’s crazy, mind-blowingly hard Japanese flow) whereas Westerners tend towards hard skills. I’m sure there are tons of tech-versed people who are trying to marry tech and flow, but the number who succeed, well. I’m not so sure.

You don’t have to run away

runaway

I’ve been keeping myself occupied, none of these occupying things are going to lead me to an occupation. But it takes my mind off of less savoury things, like why haven’t the companies I’ve applied to replied.

Tomorrow’s the weekly Circus in the Park which I hold in Washington Square Park. It started out as a thing I did on my own, where I’d just practice poi and unicycling by the fountain. Eventually, people got interested in what I was doing and started to join me. That was how I got to know the spinning community here in the city, really. Even though we haven’t talked in a while (Dale, Gwen, Rappo, etc), I will always remember them opening my eyes to the magnitude and vibrancy of the spinning community.

Funnily enough, back home, I was always surrounded by lots of jugglers and nary a unicyclist, except among the Singapore Unicyclists. When I did my outdoor practice, those who would join me were jugglers. Here I find the opposite: many poi-and-staff spinners, and I did not get to know many jugglers until junior year in college.

A contributing factor to why poi is so much more pronounced here is simply because there are rave scenes. Poi and glow-sticking are essentially the same thing, and they are constantly a mainstay at rave scenes here in the city. Not to mention that there is a hearty drug market that goes alongside these raves. You can scarcely find a light-show back home save for tourist landmarks, and it’s a death penalty for drugs (I heard the ‘mandatory’ part has been repealed but that’s another story).

Anyway, I created the above cut-and-paste notice to bring to Circus tomorrow, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but have never found the time. Guess what, I now have all the time in the world. Go me.

I must say, the tedium of drawing, cutting and pasting the drawings by hand has a certain charm to it. It gives me a sense that I’m doing work. Granted, it’s elementary, but it keeps my hands and mind busy.

Here is another set of pictures I’ve drawn for the circus club last winter.

pbcircus

PBDIABPBUNIPBJUG