My First Chilli Festival

For most of my life, I haven’t really been into chilli. Sometimes as a kid I would compete with my brother to see who could eat the spiciest curry or whatever, but I never really enjoyed it. Then one fateful trip to Korea, I ate a kimchi jiggae so hot that I found every other chilli dish in the world to be pleasantly mild.

Since then, I’ve been meaning to check out Araluen’s Chilli Festival, and today was the day I finally got there. Immediately after arriving, Beth and I bought a chilli plant to replace all the veggies we’ve lost (a kaleidoscope chilli that we’ve named Kali), and then decided to have a wander around the stalls.

The very first stall we came to had some chilli sauces, and when I saw one called “Widow Maker” (thinking of the Overwatch character) I decided to try it. There was a couple already chatting to the owner, covering an entire cracker in the sauce and sampling it. I sidled up next to them and spread a small blob (about enough to cover a 5c piece) on my cracker, and just as I put it in my mouth I glanced at the label and saw that it read: “Hotness: 15/10.”

As this couple next to me talked about how it had a pleasant heat that didn’t kick in right away, I suddenly felt like something had grabbed the back of my throat. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, but after a few seconds of fighting it I started coughing uncontrollably. Drinking deeply from my water bottle, I stopped hearing whatever the couple was talking about because I was consumed by the fire inside of me; it literally felt like I had swallowed a hot coal that got lodged in my throat.

Beth had been saying something to me as well but I couldn’t make out the words. After a few moments (where I stared desperately at the crackers on the table, wondering what he’d say if I just started shovelling them into my mouth), I thanked the owner and walked away because I didn’t want him to see me cry. And cry I did, the tears rolling relentlessly down my face as I desperately tried to put the fire out.

The water didn’t help much. The moment I swallowed it the burning returned as strong as ever, so I ended up just holding the water in my mouth and it kind of helped a little. Beth had the brilliant idea of getting ice creams, and without a word I handed her my wallet and leaned against a nearby post while I tried not to be sick.

We found some stairs to sit on as we ate our ice creams, and Beth gave me her handerchief as my nose started running uncontrollably. Trembling from whatever hellfire was burning its way through me, I felt like I might throw up, or soil myself, or both. I tried to make the ice cream last as long as I could, but when it inevitably ran out the waves of molten lava began to crash into me again. Talking made it worse, because the burning on my tongue would press against the burning on the roof of my mouth. All I wanted to do was find somewhere shady to lie down and die as I was consumed by the fire within me.

After about 20 minutes, I managed to gather enough strength to stand up and hobble, and we made the long journey back to the car pausing several times so I could rest. A laughing man pretended to reach out and steal one of the chillies off the plant I was holding, and I didn’t even have the energy to break his kneecaps. I felt like I’d been poisoned three steps into the dungeon and had used the every healing item the party possessed just to stay alive. Worse, all the drive home I felt like a hand was gently squeezing my guts, and that hand was slowly going from “pleasantly warm” to “alarmingly hot”.

All in all, I consider the Chilli Festival a great success, and I can’t wait to try again next year. 10/10 will immolate again.

General update: Getting up early, facebook, video games, and training

For the past four days in a row, I have gotten up some time between 5 and 6am. I didn’t plan to – it just kind of happened that way. First I met up with a friend for hiking, then I needed to fill a skip bin before it was removed (though it turns out they still haven’t picked it up two days late), then I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep, and finally I’ve given a lesson to my karate student. Although it’s early days yet (forgive me), it’s such a gift to see the sun rising, and to hear the birds begin to sing. The air is crisp and fresh, and the coolness of the dawn makes it a pleasure to be outside.

I haven’t been a “morning person” in many years, but I think I might try and become one again. Additionally, there’s something appealing to me about to building the discipline of getting up even though I don’t want to. I guess we’ll see how things go over the next few days – it’s probably easier to sustain while I have the opportunity to nap during the day. I recall a few years ago that I got up at 6am every morning (except Christmas Day) to run for 5km around Tomato Lake. Tiredness became my default setting, and I just learned to live with it.

I do not want to live a half-life of wandering about in a daze, not willing to sleep but neither willing to get up and be active. I’ve known such states all too well lately, and have filled the void with idle games or scrolling facebook.

 

Speaking of which, I noticed that I was spending a lot of time on facebook, so I downloaded an app that could track how much time I was spending on my phone. In the first week, I was disheartened to learn that I was losing over an hour a day on average to mindlessly scrolling, hoping for that next endorphin hit. I noticed the problem got really bad when, without being conscious of it, I minimised the facebook app and then re-opened it hoping for that fresh first-time-checking-experience.

After that I disabled the app on my phone for a day, and once I had re-established a degree of self-mastery, used the tracking app to set an alarm once I’d used it for 30 minutes. I’m happy to say that I’ve rarely gone over 30 in the past few weeks, but I’m still using it more than I want to.

It’s a tricky thing though. In my head, it’s uncomfortable but not impossible to just experience distress and boredom without deflecting and distracting. In practice, it’s almost intolerable for me to be tired but not try and comfort myself somehow. When I’m tired, I’m really fucking miserable, and if scrolling through wholesome memes and stories makes me feel a little better about my life, then it’s very hard to convince myself that it’s bad for me. Of course once I start scrolling, I find it super hard to stop; I keep promising myself that I’ll close the app after “that next big hit”, the next story that I pause to read, or the next image that makes me smile. Spoiler alert: it never comes. Or rather, I read the story, and then want more because I only get this tiny little endorphin release, and I’m chasing that next big hit. It’s really hard for me to walk away when I’m getting diminishing returns, but I know logically that the void I’m trying to fill can never be filled, and I have to make peace with the emptiness inside me.

 

Speaking of filling the void, I picked up Skyrim again. This was a scary decision for me, because last time I played it I fell 237 hours deep into the hole. Yet, I’d been reading Inheritance and reading about fighting with swords and shields, and I had such a craving I thought I’d scratch it.

And I scratched the hell out of it. I played about 8 hours over a few days, choosing a very different path from my magical, highly moral Khajiit and acting as a proud Nord warrior. I blocked and I blocked, and I bashed and I bashed, and then feeling satisfied I put the game down again. I’m grateful I didn’t stay long in the pit of addiction I so-often find myself in.

In other gaming news, I’ve decided to take a break from Gwent and Overwatch, which were consuming an hour or two of my day on a regular basis. When they overhauled the Gwent mechanics I dipped back into it for a bit. Apart from my deck Mahakam’s Finest, all of them have really low success rates, but have been fun to play with. (For posterity, my decks are named Ackbar’s Nightmare, Komorebi Phantoms, Sage Wisdom, Wielder of the Flame or Anor, Dragon Fire, Master Elves, and my one and only Nilfgaard deck, For A Silver Penny.) After playing out the first competitive season and ranking reasonably well, I’ve decided to retire from Gwent, at least for now. Overwatch on the other hand, now that the Lunar New Year event is on, I’ve been playing almost every day until I get that sweet sweet “First Win of the Day” xp. Sometimes it takes five minutes, other times an hour. It’s pretty fun, so I’ll probably continue my pattern of playing it during events and then not at all in the interim months.

I’ve been trying to finish Mass Effect Andromeda for a while now, and I kinda ran out of steam with it. 80 hours in, I’ve 100%’d 3 of the planets, and am about halfway through one or two more. It’s an amazing game with a great story and interesting characters, but I am looking forward to retiring it so that I can move onto God of War which I got for my birthday three months ago. For once, I have so many accumulated games on my PS4 that I’ve run out of room to download them all, so I’m planning on finishing and uninstalling a bunch as soon as I can.

 

Training-wise, things are up and down. Something that is fresh in my mind is that I keep accidentally making contact with my partner, far more often than I want to (but not perhaps more often than is reasonable). Sometimes it’s because my partner responds unpredictably and moves (or moves me) into contact, and other times it’s just because I move in too far. I’d really like to get better at this right now.

I met a Chen-style taiji practitioner at King’s Park last week, and his balance and control both put me to shame and inspired me. I feel clumsy and awkward compared to the memory of him, and I’m starting to understand what mastery looks like: not just being competent at the moves, but doing them to a degree of perfection that they could not possibly be improved in any way, every time.

Karate in comparison is easier for me. I’m pretty confident as a teacher, and there’s so much I know that I wish to pass on to the other students. I kind of take for granted that not everyone has had the benefit of training for decades in various styles, and so their knowledge of basic grappling principles (for instance) is very poor, ever though their stand-up fighting is reasonable. It’s hard for me to be patient sometimes and I wish that it were possible for everyone to master a principle the first lesson they practiced it.

My great fascination at the moment is with weapons. In the past two months, I’ve been revising jian, sai, tonfa and jo. I daresay I’m quite adept with all of them, and I wish there were other people I could train with for applications. All of them feel like natural extensions of my body and will, and it would be great to explore them deeper in other contexts beyond the forms. I seem to have an affinity for weapons of just about every kind, and I’m grateful for those skills.

 

Well, that will do for now. Time to get on with my day and enjoy it while it’s cool. Hope your day is a blessed one, too <3

Replenishing

I’ve been feeling weary lately.

I’ve just moved house, and my goodness I forgot how much work it is. Quite apart from packing up all my worldly belongings and moving them from Point A to Point B (South of the River for once), I’ve done a lot of decluttering and selling on gumtree. Not only have I cleaned the new house to make it comfortably habitable, but I’ve cleaned the old house from floor to ceiling over several days. (Beth I even had to go back because we hadn’t sufficiently dusted the lights or scrubbed the insides of the window sills.) We’ve been taking bushfire safety seriously and I’ve been climbing ladders and sawing branches. I’ve cleaned and returned a car we’ve been borrowing, been cleaning the dojo more thoroughly and have been teaching three times a week (one more class than my usual two). Not to mention the psychological fatigue of learning how to survive in this new location – learning how to use the oven, to find the shopping centre, to get the nearest petrol station… It’s been an exhaustive amount of newness.

Yesterday, after teaching karate the night before and then getting up at 5:25 to teach it again, I was worn quite thin. I was snappy and impatient and peevish. Poor Beth, nothing she did could cause me to smile or feel less vexed.

So I went to bed around 10:30, a little later than planned. And I slept for eight hours, and it helped. I longed for escapism (Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Overwatch would have done nicely), but I forced myself to engage with the outside world. Getting dressed I saw my tea set, and I had a sudden desire to experience tea ceremony. I gathered my things, and as I prepared each utensil I felt as if each layer of worry was slowly being lifted off me. I performed ryakubon, tea ceremony done with a tray, and it was perfect. Not in the sense that I made no mistakes, but in the sense that every movement was intentional, every experience in the present moment. The tea was wonderfully invigorating, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about burnout lately, partially because Beth is recovering from it after some trying work experiences, partially because I’ve been burning hard and fast lately. I’m reminded that if energy out is greater than energy in, burnout is inevitable until something changes. I cannot keep up this pace forever, and so today I will rest.

I’d like to finish with a thought that came into my mind.

It might be easy to walk a mile when you’re healthy and hale, but it’s a lot harder when you have a broken leg. Being determined not to let it slow you down and walking on it anyway will just do more harm than good, and when infection finally sets in and the pain is so great you collapse, the recovery period will be a long and slow one.

There is no shame in noticing that you are depleted, that you are beaten down, that you are hurting. It’s good to rest, if you can, so that when you’re ready you can pick up your load again and continue on the journey. Forcing it before you’re ready won’t do yourself any favours, let alone those who love or rely upon you.

Be kind to yourselves. It’s a gift to those around you, too.

PS: Thought I would share with you the new homes I’ve found for my tea utensils.

The Way of Tea

Chanoyu, or the Japanese art of Tea Ceremony, is something that’s become increasingly close to my heart over the past three years. I thought long and hard about whether to write this piece in my personal journal, or whether to write it here on my blog, accessible for all time to the wide public. I don’t want to bring discredit to my teacher or my school through my ignorance or my thoughtlessness, but at the same time I want to live in a world where I can read other people’s blogs as they walk their own path of chado – the Way of Tea. So, here I am. Suffice it to say that all mistakes are mine, and that these are my personal reflections.


I will start by saying I was recently reading Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin no Sho” (The Book of Five Rings). Musashi is one of history’s most famous and most skilled swordsmen, and in the opening chapters he strongly advocates for all so-called warriors to deeply pursue the arts. Musashi himself was a master of many forms of art, and so I find it comforting to think that by studying chanoyu I add a little yin to my yang, and deepen myself as a person and a warrior.

But going through the motions has nothing to do with chado at all. It doesn’t matter if I sit perfectly in seiza for half an hour, carefully and exactly moving my body to produce perfect bowls of tea, if my heart is not in each and every moment. This is a humbling lesson that I was reminded of by the delightful Tsutomu-san of the Green Tea House in Subiaco. “The steps are easy”, he said, “but the mind is hard”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about wa, kei, sei, jaku lately – the four tenets of tea ceremony. Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Simple words with profound meaning that I could spend my life pursuing and still never quite live by.

Seasons Reflections

For the first time in my life, this year I felt a longing to be with family at Christmas. It was hard to describe – and perhaps it’s ubiquitous so I don’t need to – but I wanted to be around my cousins, aunts and uncles because of their differences rather than in spite of them. I liked the idea of all the members of my family putting aside their vast differences and being together just for a few hours once a year. I guess that’s the universal Spirit of Christmas, right? Overall I found it a little more trying than I expected.

I’ve heard a few people talk about “the racist uncle” as a kind of stereotype at family gatherings. I wasn’t too worried about racism this year (though it has come up in the past), and instead I discovered that there are many things to discriminate about. This year, I noticed judgemental language (often directed at me) that targeted vegetarians, vegans, Pokémon enthusiasts, people who enjoyed alcohol, people who didn’t give to charity, people who are sensitive, people who don’t have the latest model of smart phone, and religion and the people that practice them.

Furthermore I have discovered that I don’t really like the idea of Christmas presents. From my experience today, they are often generic and not usually liked by the people who receive them. Beth and I have worked so hard to declutter our home lately, throwing out, giving away and selling hundreds of books, games, consoles, clothes, furniture, figurines and other accoutrements. The last thing I want is to take home a bunch of new stuff that I am not in love with and want in my life, because then I have the task of rehoming the item and I risk the gift-giver being hurt if they find out.

It’s taken me a few hours to process everything that has gone on today. It was affirming to discover that I have a dislike for the materialistic side of Christmas, and that perhaps next year I will make donations to charity on people’s behalf, or provide other options that sit better with me. (I know gifts aren’t about my feelings, but I don’t think I could bring myself to give something to someone that I myself was repulsed by.) I’ve also learned that it’s hard for me to be around people who’s value systems are quite opposite to my own. Today I met people who valued eating animal products, having lots of (expensive) possessions, hobbies over relationships, negative self-talk, making fun of people (ostensibly to “toughen them up”), and being right rather than to letting people be happy. It’s fine that people have different values, though I think the frequency and intensity of those value clashes wore me down foster than I anticipated.

It’s been a busy few days, and I’m glad it’s over for the moment. Merry Christmas everyone <3