The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: friends

Long Islanders love garage sales

li1It’s been a while since I last did  a long-distance unicycle ride, but I decided to go visit my friend on Long Island, and that’d give me an excuse to do some long-distance. The route would have been about 67 km/41 miles. I was to start in Queens and meet him at the Three Village Shopping Center just north of Stony Brook University. Because WordPress.com does not allow embeddable live maps, here’s a picture of the route. Scroll to the bottom to skip to the stats.

sbkYou’ll come to realise that the trip stopped at 58km, that’s because I got a flat tire and had to stop. And I was so close! I had about 9km to go and I was forced to stop.

li3My rations for the trip: GPS, a book for the train journey back (I wasn’t going to ride all that distance back!), extra batteries for the GPS, my wallet and phone, MP3 player, 2 Snickers bars, 2 litres of water, some nuts, potato salad, and a Nintendo 3DS to see how many steps the pedometer in the 3DS registers the journey as.

I started out in Queens, since I figured if I were going to hang out with my friend, I probably shouldn’t be completely pooped out by the time I arrive. Had I left from my apartment in Brooklyn instead of Queens, that would have added an additional 13km to the journey, making it 80km total, which would have wiped me out.

li2li4

li5

Queens roads are the absolutely terrible; potholes, roads that are not level, cracks, and glass shards. I was worried my legs would be over-taxed early into the journey. I unicycled past lampposts that was utterly covered in staples and nails, and a really cute barn-like pit stop. This was all still in Queens.

li6 li7

My first stop outside of Queens was this town called East Williston; it has a pretty church and a pretty train station. That’s about it. The rest of the journey alternated between boring suburban towns, some fairly nice neighbourhoods with ritzy residences and industrial towns.

li8 li9li10

I ended up on the expressway and panicked a little — I thought I was lost and was not supposed to be on it. Luckily, when I saw some other bicyclists on it too, I relaxed. Other highlights of the trip include numerous fresh produce farms and when I made a wrong turn and ended up on King’s Park Wharf.

The journey was on the overall not too hard, until the last leg after I got lost, where it was killer hills, rocky roads and more killer hills. In fact, that was probably why I had the puncture, from going downhill a little too quickly on a rocky road on a killer hill.

li11

Here are some stats summing up the entire trip.

Total elapsed time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Total moving time: 3 hours 37 minutes
Total stopped time: 58 minutes
Maximum speed: 29km/h
Total UPD’s: 2 (One downhill, one when I hit a sand bank)
Total roadkill count: 14
Total garage sale count: 11
Steps counted by the 3DS: 29,611
Breaks taken: 5

I unicycled into Long Island and all I came back with is a weird tanline.

li12

Outrunning the rain on a unicycle

unistormIt began in Williamsburg. “I know this is a weird question, but are you going to ride on that?” asked a fine folk working at the Meatball Shop, pointing at my unicycle. “Yes, I will be riding home on it,” I said. “Ooh, can we see you ride on that when you do?”

The skies were overcast and the clouds above were getting chummy with each other.

“I’ll sweeten the deal. Would you like some free cookies?” the lady said.

Who’d turn down free cookies? “Uh, sure,” I said, slightly taken aback.

So I waited a couple minutes more and received some delightful chocolate chip cookies. I ate one, gave my friend one, and took the last one in my hand and got ready to go. Half the staff came out to see me ride off triumphant with their cookies in hand. A couple drops of rain landed on my head. I hugged my friend goodbye, mounted awkwardly on my 29″ unicycle whilst trying not to drop the cookie. A car behind me honked angrily as I took some seconds to gain momentum.

The staff and my friend cheered. I was a celebrity! And then I took off. The cookie lasted the length of North 8th Street to North 9th Street.

And I commenced my six-mile dash back to Prospect-Lefferts.

I could see that the sun still shone warily from behind the consternation of the angry clouds some distance ahead, while behind me the rain was starting to become heavier and heavier. I was chasing the sun, pursued by the rain. Pedalling as fast as I could, I could feel the rain less and less. Down Union Ave I went until I hit Atlantic Ave. Curses, a red light! As I waited for light to change, the slow but steady clouds crept up and dropped its vindictive, wet victory over my attempt to outrun it. Green light! I sped off again, swerving the wretched potholes that comprise Brooklyn roads.

My legs were starting to burn and I started to sweat profusely from exertion. Down Brooklyn Ave, I had gained the lead on the rain clouds and only the slightest rain drops landed on me, but at this point where the rain failed to get me wet, I was doing a fine job of wetting myself with my own sweat; it was impossible to tell if I was wetter from the rain or from sweat.

I turned onto Nostrand Ave and continued down. The storm clouds yawed away and the sun came out to announce my victory. Yes! Score one for man, over Mother Nature. I reached home and hobbled up the stairs to gloat my sweaty, hard-earned victory.

In pursuit of happiness

A gay man is marrying a woman he will never romantically love, or even have sex with.

A friend is moving in with a woman he could never see as a lover.

Initially there was shock and outrage all around from the ones around him,

“Marrying a woman?” they’d say, “Have you lost your mind?”

A (spouse) and two kids, a dog, a kitchenette. The wholesome American dream. He could pull a Madonna and adopt one of the kids from Africa, he tells me.

Apparently he has given up finding love. Apparently he has given up on disappointments and hope.

In the past, we’d call that resignation. Today, he calls it “achieving the life he’s never had.”

“Is this what the whole fight for marriage equality was for, so that you could marry a woman?” I wondered to myself, but never actually telling him that.

Then I realised that in my judgement of his decision, not only did I realise what my own views on marriage are, but that had I told him off, like some of his friends did, I would be imposing my views on his. And who was I to curtail what my friends choose to pursue? If my friends choose ‘happiness’ in whatever forms they see fit, I will be supportive, even if they aren’t the same as mine.

So I only wished him the best in his pursuit of happiness, no matter whether he eventually walks down the aisle with a bride in hand or not.

The value of philosophy

I’ve heard it said before that the purpose of philosophy is to solve the problems and conditions of the human mind. Philosophy seeks to find truth, understand how we get truth and the why we get it. But when those who do philosophy get so enmeshed with finding simply finding truth and lose sight of the how and why and what for, is there purpose to their philosophy?

Consider this: Compare classical philosophy, from the times of Socrates to Descartes, and today’s modern academic philosophy. There is a stark difference in what each is trying to seek and for what purpose.

Yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend who did philosophy in college. We were comparing three things: classical philosophy, academic philosophy and commercial philosophy, which comes in the form popular books for consumer’s purpose such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I asked him, do you think classical philosophy is superior to commercial philosophy, comparing the two? He said that both have their merits, but consumer philosophy adds nothing new to the literature; they’re simply taking what exists and people already know and packaging it in a way that people can understand. By that virtue, they are making philosophy accessible to the public, which is a good thing. Classical philosophy on the other hand sought to explore what people didn’t know and tried to explain them, even if they sometimes got them wrong. Both are still philosophy, because both still reach truths and conclusion using similar methods.

Then I asked him, what about academic philosophy these days, where they are constantly adding new things to the literature all the time, but what they do seems to be so obscure and so dense that many of them appear to have no apparent value to the society? I asked him, what good is philosophy if it serves no purpose to the society? He agreed that philosophy should have a purpose, and we both felt that many-a-times academic philosophy seeks truth and adds it to the literature simply because they’re expected to and because they can, even if the ‘truth’ discovered has little relevance to our lives.

Commercial philosophy, even if by dint of its commercial nature, has to make its material easily digestible by the reader. At least it tries to serve purpose to society. In comparison, academic philosophy doesn’t even try to make itself readable to even other academics. Bad writing and unclear direction in so many modern philosophical texts begs the question: For whom are they writing philosophy?

Some modern philosophy reveal a lot about the condition of our modern selves, but for every one good one, there exists a lot of other PhD theses that write texts akin to intellectual masturbation.

No wonder we get the sentiment of “Philosophy is a useless field of study” from the masses these days, because philosophy as made itself irrelevant.

Philosophers were well-respected in the past; no one would have dismissed the great thinkers of Nietzsche or Wittgenstein, for they were concerned about the society they live in and sought to de-construct the way society was, and hoped to allow people to understand the way they operated. Be it philosophy of religion, language, politics or science, it added an extra edge to simply practising religion, speaking language, participating in politics or conducting science. It allowed for the development of ethics, philology, and other branches of thought that make these respective fields more humane.

While I’m pretty sure a text like “Hegellian Responses to the Post-Surrealist Inclinations of Photography over Traditional Painting” (I made this up) could make for an interesting read, I’m not sure it would ever be as helpful as a book that rehashes hackneyed interpretations of Zen Buddhism as applicable to motorcycle repair.

Seeing beasts

I play Russian Roulette with my mirror. I never know if I’m going to like what I see each time.

“Oh, you look alright today,” would be the sentiment on fair days. The day passes by uneventfully, mostly never remembered.

“Ugh, what is wrong with your face?” would be the judgement at other times. “Look at yourself, you look utterly and absolutely disgusting.” And then you would remember that your father used to say things like that to your acned 14-year-old self.

“Look at your face,” I’d remind myself, and remind myself I would for the rest of the day.

I grew up with a fear of having pictures of face taken, and also with the disappointment of my friends who wanted to take pictures with me.

“Let’s take a photo together,” they’d suggest, as we hang out for tea, at the park, or at a party.

“I’d rather not, sorry.”

“Oh. Okay then.”

Soon, they’d learn to stop asking altogether.

An eternal soul or eternal ego?

I am not a religious person. I am not atheistic either — I do not vehemently believe in the non-existence of a god.

Last night, hanging out with a friend brought about an interesting discussion about religion. We were talking about how in the medieval periods, churches used stories of hell, fire and brimstone to scare people into believing in Christianity. My friend said people eventually started going to church to be intentionally frightened because it was on some level, entertaining. I said how I learnt that because most people were illiterate, religious art in that period were dramatic, flamboyant and scary, to achieve the same effect of scaring people into belief.

That reminded me of a conversation I had with another friend a week before about the eternal soul. That friend is Catholic and believes in a higher power. I asked him, “What do you think happens to us when we die? Do you believe that we have an eternal soul that endures beyond our physical bodies?” He said he believed that there must be something beyond just the finality of death, and he believed in an eternal soul. I then asked him, why must we have an eternal soul; is it that bad if whatever we know and think ends when we die? He said, wouldn’t that be depressing if all we ever are just stops there, and that he feels that we exist to achieve a higher purpose.

That, to me, sounds a little like the fear of letting oneself simply end; to die. The ego prizes itself so much that it creates an afterlife to exist in the minds of those still living, so that fears of its finality may be placated. In a way, that is the premise of the Christian hell, isn’t it? Just as good souls go to heaven, for bad souls to go to hell, the soul must be eternal first, before it can go anywhere after a person’s death.

The fear of hell isn’t a fear of hell itself, but a fear of what might happen to one’s eternal soul.

If you told a person he could be condemned into hell, but be untouched by hell’s eternal damnation, the “fear” of hell dramatically decreases. Likewise, if you told a person his or her soul would ascend to heaven, but the soul lies in a perpetual possibility of a fall to hell, heaven becomes less desirable. It is a person’s conception of their own soul that creates the existence and purpose of a heaven and hell, and not vice versa.

The key to religious faith is not in external entities; not in a god/God, not in a heaven or hell, but in that one does not simply die after one dies. That is all it takes.

We console ourselves that our dearly departed are better in the afterlife, because we believe they have continued existence after death. When we think about the ghosts and souls of others, in essence we are reminded of our own because we believe that we will one day be like them, enduring in the minds of others.

Last Summer

sword

We were singing little ditties
all summer.
We were singing little songs
of peace.
We had hopes to dare, to soar, to crash,
for we were little scamps
that summer.

We were riding adventures
all summer.
We fought hand-in-hand
together.
We braved far lands,
through bogs, our parents.
With our wooden swords we staved off dragonflies,
last summer.

But last summer
had come to an end.
Last summer did, as all summers are wont to do.
We were made to grow up
and say our goodbyes.
We may have traded our suits of armour
for suits of linen,
our swords become mantelpiece attractions.
But I will always remember
our summers.

To be driven to despair

Job seeker, 21, with 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs, kills herself after she was rejected for 200 jobs

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1267953/Job-seeker-Vicky-Harrison-commits-suicide-rejected-200-jobs.html#ixzz2bABkpoVL

After being unemployed for two years, and after over unsuccessful job application, 21-year-old Vicki Harrison kills herself. I read this today and I felt immeasurable sadness for her family, and empathy for her situation. While I have not been unemployed for two years, there are times when my mind have wandered into the similar regions of despair, self-loathing and frustration.

Every day gained is an extra day lost.

Time is ticking out for me; I’m currently on a visa that gives me a year’s grace to be employed in my field of study. A sixth of it has gone. Unlike Harrison, I don’t have two years.

Today, I bumped into the unemployed friend of mine on my way to circus. He told me that in the two years since he graduated from college, he has been unemployed for a total of 15 months when all his unemployment periods are added up. That’s more than a year, more than half of how long he has since graduated. It did not hearten me to hear that he could have been unemployed for that amount of time.

What if it happens to me? What if my year runs out and I still have yet to find a job?

The problem with being college-educated and being told that you’re good at what you do only sets you up higher for a bigger fall. Harrison has 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs. I have 3 A-levels and 9 or 10 GCSEs, and a college degree. But these alone do not get you a job. Jobs these days want a minimum of “3-4 years work experience” for junior, associate or entry-level positions. Well, what are fresh-graduates supposed to do to get this magical work experience for entry-level jobs that are supposed to help them get experience? What’s the level below entry-level where graduates can glean experience from then? Friends have told me that internship experience counts, but I can scarcely imagine a hirer choosing a fresh-graduate with only internship experience over someone who has actual work experience from a time when entry-level was really meant for people to enter into the industry.

I wonder how long I can hold out before my font of optimism snuffs out?

Pokémon heals hearts

chanseyhealsToday, I met up with a friend who wanted someone to play video games with, to help him get over his breakup. I agreed, and we ended up playing Pokémon together. We battled, traded, fought co-operatively. It was pretty good fun.

At the end of the day, he texted me to let me know that he really appreciated what I did. What he didn’t know was that he was helping me too.

Just as he needed the company and a distraction to pull him away from thoughts of his breakup, I too needed reprieve from sitting around the house obsessively checking my emails trying to see if any of my applications got back. Every phone call from an unknown number gave me a surge of hope, to which I always reply in my most professional, “Hello?” only to find out that it is the gas company calling to confirm that I changed address, or the building management asking about a flooding situation that happened in my toilet.

Each call a surge of hope to be dashed, every time.

And thus with Pokémon and friends, in that time where we pitted pixels against pixels, my (and his) worries were forgotten for a spell of time.

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.