The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: unicycle

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

I am mesmerised

This is quite everything I’ve wanted in a video: unicycles, video games, and music.

Also, I’m working on making an illustration for a short story I once wrote. It’s taking a lot longer than I expected.

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.

Lessons from a coffee mug on a rainy evening

miloThis evening, as I was sending out more job applications, I decided to make myself a cup of hot cocoa (technically, I made Milo, which is chocolate malt). After a while, I looked at my mug, and I realised that I could see the reflection of the ceiling lights off of the rim of the mug. I decided to look closer and then I noticed the edge of foam that looked like it was climbing out the side of the mug. Other things I noticed were that where spoon touched the liquid, the area around it was slightly darkened, and that the shadow of the top of the mug formed a neat crescent that bisected the cocoa.

I’ve never stared so hard at a mug of cocoa before, and I reckoned if I could see all these individual layers of detail, I must be able to illustrate them out.

I spent a long time trying to replicate each feature accurately: its colour, its location, its details. But after a while, staring so hard at these features, I started to forget that they were actually part of a mug of cocoa. In my excitement at being able to see fine detail, I forgot what the whole thing was.

Have I been similar in my job search? Although I’m trained in journalism and my speciality is international news, focusing only on getting positions that will land you where you were trained to do might have you forget that what you really want to do is write. Maybe applying for business writing isn’t a bad thing. Maybe writing about technology isn’t an end-all (But heavens forbid you write for the New York Post). What you need to be doing is to be moving, because you (I mean me, this is me speaking in second-person again) are currently being stagnant, and that needs to change.

Like what you teach people in unicycling, “Always keep moving. If you stop, you fall.” I should learn to take my own advice more often.

Persisting in fine-graining my search yielded the above snazzy illustration of my mug, but the hot cocoa turned cold, and became slightly less satisfying on this rainy, rainy evening.

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

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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.

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Whatever pays the bills

It’s funny how after four years of college, many internships later, when it comes down to paying the bills at this trying period of joblessness, neither my relatively good grades, nor technology-savvy, nor resourcefulness in my work field are any good. In the end, it is still street performing that is keeping me (barely) out of the red.

Today, I set myself a goal to go out and make some money busking. Usually, when I street perform, I never put out a box. The ability to spin freely without needing a permit, being tutted at, and actually having people interested in what I am doing is usually payment enough for me. Washington Square Park has been a very special location for me, because not only do I get such a sense of freedom to do whatever I want there, the space fosters creativity all around, as guitarists and singers play around the fountain why the b-boyers and breakdancers do their thing to the side.

So this time, I put out a box and put in some dollars of mine and hoped that money attracts money. I was also taking a risk by deciding to into the city to perform, since that means an automatic $5 sunk cost in transport, and I was unsure if I could even break even.

I made $37. Not too shabby.

I had on my fancy swishy belly-dancer’s pants, and at the end of the day, it was kinda soaked with sweat. I am achy and sore, but I think it’s worth it. Now at least I’ll have electricity for another month!

It’s funny that during the two hours that I was there, I received various compliments about how good I was doing whatever I was doing; people were saying I should go professional with it, but on the other hand, I’ve never received compliments about how good I was at journalism. I don’t know if I’m actually any good at journalism, but I get things done and I’ve (shameful to admit) done more than my fair share of digging up records of people, etc., to a point that borders on ‘creepy’. I mean, it’s all in the name of journalism, right? This makes me wonder maybe I’m more suited to hold a pair of spinning fans and flags than a pen and notebook.

Right.

The below isn’t from today, but it’s an idea of what I generally do.

To unicycle or not to unicycle, that is the question

“Can you help me water my plants while I’m gone?” My friend texts me, already in California.

“Sure, leave beer in the fridge!” I replied.

“There should be some left in there,” he said.

That exchange of words led me to consider now something I have never done before: Whether or not I should unicycle to a friend’s place to help him water his plants because it would rob me of precious calories; calories that cost money that I do not exactly have right now.

It’s been a week since I sent out some applications for positions at various publications and news places, and that’s probably nothing in terms of the job application process. However, considering the fact that one of the ways a freshly-graduated, but woefully-unemployed person was going to secure housing in the competitive New York City housing market was to offer to pay rent upfront. That I did, and the management company gleefully took all of a year’s worth of rent in a go.

It is as if I jumped headfirst into a noose, but instead of the sweet escape of a snappy death, I am experiencing a slow tightening of the rope around my neck as I watched my dollars and cents trickle away. Yesterday, I was relieved to have gathered $18.50 in all the loose change I’ve amassed and deposited them into the bank. That should probably buy me another two weeks worth of groceries.

No wonder I am nickel-and-joule-ing every single calorie right now.

I figured if I ate something starchy and carbohydrate-y I should be fine, right? Does unicycling in the hot sun consume more calories than if I were to do so when it is less hot? I didn’t want to be cycling in the hot sun anyway. But I couldn’t wait till it got dark, owing to the fact that I sat on my glasses and broke them a couple days prior, and can’t afford to replace them. I can’t see much save for maybe an outstretched arm’s reach distance. I mean, I can see vague shapes and lights and colours, there just isn’t any definition to anything. It’s akin to living an impressionist painting, I suppose. I am able to see traffic and all that, I should be fine. I should probably leave soon if I am going to fulfil the favour I promised my friend.

Thank goodness I stockpiled on pasta that cost eighty-eight cents a box weeks ago at the ShopRite in Midwood. Well, whatever I bought two weeks ago is going to have to last me another two or so, I fear.

For a chronically broke person, I thankfully had the luxury of choice of what pasta to cook. I chose macaroni elbows. I added some frozen carrot-and-pea mix, and some canned corn, and since I probably needed sodium and stuff, I decided to make it ‘Asian’ and used soy sauce and sesame oil. And that was breakfast/lunch. I set out for my friend’s place.

I had been unicycling for about eleven years at that point, and I am no stranger to unicycling on the streets of New York. I’ve gone both uptown and downtown Eighth Avenue during rush hours, I’ve gone through the Fashion District when trucks are unloading, and I’ve even ventured the roads of New Jersey, all on one wheel. These five or so miles are nothing to my extra-seasoned, extra-basted legs. But these five miles were the scariest five miles I’ve experienced in a while, not because of the traffic, not because I had to cycle through Bedford-Stuyvesant, but because of an unfortunate allegory playing in my head as I was cycling.

This is how it goes:

I don’t have my glasses, and I can’t see. Thus, I’ve had to pay extra close attention to the immediate patch of road in front of me, as any crack that I unknowing cycle over can potentially throw me off my unicycle. I look at my immediate front to the exclusion of many things, ignoring the pretty houses and kids playing in the park that I pass by. Aren’t I already living such a life? Taking one day at a time, worrying about whether I’ll need to spend money today or not, scarcely thinking about tomorrow. I can’t afford to think about next month or even next week, always paying close attention to my immediate present. The finer things in life can take a backseat for now.

I arrive at my friend’s place. Gee, he sure does have a lot of plants to water. I sit down and think of writing whatever I’ve thought up into a book. “This will be in a book that will make me famous!” I toyed with the idea in my head, though a thought came after, “Yea, but you won’t get to publish this book until you’re already famous.

I leave for home. Shit, I’m getting hungry. I can practically envision that pot of pasta in my stomach rapidly vanishing into the ether. “Fuel tank low! Please refuel!” cries the warning blinkers that are my stomach growls. I yearned to speed up to return home to make food, but my legs would go no faster.

“Does that thing take a lot of balance?” Some folks at the steps of my building ask me about my unicycle as I approached.

“No, just a lot of practice.” I didn’t stop to chat. I went up and made more pasta, this time with beans and tons of scallions that were three bunches a dollar in Chinatown.