13 Hours in Istanbul

The plane touched down the runway of Istanbul Ataturk Airport at 4:10 AM of the 31st of July, one hour ahead of the 5:10 AM ETA. I was feeling a bit worn out already as I have been technically on the road for over a day having left Davao on the 30th of July at 8:10 AM. I spent almost 11 hours at NAIA Terminals 3 and 1 waiting for my evening flight to Istanbul and spent most of the roughly 12-hour flight awake as my two seatmates sitting on the window and middle seats kept making trips to the toilet.

But despite the creeping fatigue, I was buoyed by the prospect of seeing even a little of Istanbul. I was looking forward to the sightseeing tour that Turkish Airlines offers for passengers with at least six hours of wait time at the airport.

I wanted to take the 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM tour schedule that includes a visit inside the Hagia Sophia. But as my ETD to Kaunas, Lithuania from Istanbul is at 4:00 PM (which got delayed for 1 hour and 20 minutes), the much shorter 8:30 to 11:00 AM sightseeing tour will have to do.

Turkish Airlines’ TourIstanbul 8:30 to 11:00 AM Sightseeing Tour Schedule

With still about three hours to kill, I decided to explore the terminal and see if I could find a place to get a cup of coffee. But I had trouble finding a table at the many coffee shops I saw. So I decided to look for the Old Bazaar I read about where I could buy some souvenirs. I figured I should buy what I need already since I may not have the time to do it on my return flight.

Old Bazaar at the airport

Luckily, I quickly found the shop and spent some time there browsing a wide array of items many of which I really liked. I managed to stick to my list and bought what I needed except that I could not find the black soap I promised to buy for my friend Anna Liese and the Istanbul or Turkey mini-bell for my friend Chalyn.

At around half past six in the morning, I decided to start looking for the Hotel Desk where I needed to be at 8:00 AM if I do not want to miss the tour. I had a bit of trouble locating it so I asked one of the airport staff at the information booth just across the passport control area in the departures terminal. The girl told me to head out to the food court, take the elevator located on the left side, and go down to level 1.

As I reached level 1, I asked one of the airport personnel I saw there where the Hotel Desk is located. He told me to pass through passport control first. I was surprised to see the long queue. It took me more than 15 minutes to reach the line closer to the booths. But it was then that things got a bit frustrating. Some people were so eager to go first that there were double lines queueing for each booth and with many people jumping lines to get ahead.

I finally managed to get through after a little over ten more minutes of waiting. I passed through customs to get to the exit, turned right, and walked straight looking for Starbucks that serves as an easy-to-find landmark for the Hotel Desk that sits beside it. There was no one in line so I went straight to one of the windows and asked about the tour. The guy asked for my boarding pass, checked it, and told me that I will have to take the 8:30-11:00 AM tour. He then told me to wait at the cafe and wait for my name to be called.

I observed that there were already a handful of passengers that seem to be waiting for the tour as well. But Starbucks still have plenty of tables and seats so I was finally I able to get a cup of coffee that I have been longing for since I arrived.

Just before 8:00 AM, one of the Turkish Airlines staff started calling names. I was confused because I did not hear my name. As the group was about to leave, I went to the Hotel Desk to ask if that was for the tour and he told me that it was for the group going to the free accommodation. The hotel stay is for passengers with at least 10 hours of layover who probably prefer to sleep or rest than go for a quick tour of the city.

At about 8:20 AM, the staff called the names on their list. There were more than twenty of us in the group. We were told to follow the tour guide and we left at exactly 8:30 AM. We walked a bit to where the bus will pick us up and waited for about ten minutes there. We got on the bus as soon as it arrived and it left the moment everyone was on board.

I have read a lot of things about Istanbul and seen numerous photos of it over the years. I thought I have a fairly good idea of what I will see. But there was something about actually seeing some parts of the city that made me wish I have more time to enjoy the sights longer than the few seconds that it takes for the bus to pass by. What little traffic on the road was a welcome experience for a change for it meant slowing down to take in some of the views.

The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.
The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.
The scenery along the coastal road from the European side of Istanbul coming from Atatürk Airport.

I was sitting in the window seat at the right side of the bus with a great view of the coastal scenery. We were coming from the European side of the city where the airport was located. On the left, there were many fascinating sights as well including the views of the Yedikule Fortress, Old Samatya Armanian District, the Walls of Constantinople (Istanbul City Walls), Hagia Sophia, and so much more. I was really hoping we could at least slow down or stop for a few minutes just to see more of them. But we were on a tight schedule. I just have to remind myself that the short tour is much better than just staying at the airport and not seeing any of it at all.

View from where I was standing at Galata Bridge 

I did not take many photos as I did not want to miss the sights as the bus continues on its route. The first stop was at Galata Bridge. Our tour guide told us we will spend ten minutes there to take photos. The sight of birds flying and gliding gracefully against a backdrop of the water and the cityscape was among the most beautiful things I have seen as the bus journeyed along the coastal road. And I got to see it again as we spent time at the bridge. Birds were soaring above the Golden Horn that glistened as the thin clouds on the clear, blue sky offered little cover from the bright sunlight.

Dolmabahçe Mosque

The second and last stop was at Dolmabahçe Palace where we spent twenty minutes wandering around taking photos. There was a cafe at the palace grounds with outdoor seating with a nice view of the European coast of the Bosphorus.

Dolmabahçe Clock Tower (Dolmabahçe Saat Kulesi)
The main gate (Sultan’s Gate) at Dolmabahçe Palace
Outdoor seating, and just a small section, of the waterfront cafe in the palace grounds that offers a great view of the Bosphorus.
Another view from the cafe
View of the clock tower from the Sultan’s Gate
View from the exit

We left Dolmabahçe Palace at exactly twenty minutes after we arrived and continued the sightseeing tour, this time en route to the airport.

I have always been fascinated with the things I have read about Istanbul. While I thought of wanting to see it at some point, I did not really have that much of a strong desire to do it until that moment when the tour started last week. As the tour guide started telling us about the city, I found myself wanting to explore it at length, see its breathtaking architecture and landmarks, taste as many of the foods as I can, and drink plenty of Turkish coffee and tea, among many other things.

If there was one thing I was sure about as I stepped off the bus back at the airport, it would be this: I want to come back. I started the tour just curious about what I would see. And I finished it already in love with the city.

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Words of Advice from a Brod

Joining a sorority in my first year in college not only meant being part of a sisterhood. It also gave me the opportunity to meet some of the best male friends I have from our sorority’s partner fraternity. One of the things I like about my brods, especially the ones I’m closest with, is their brutal honestly. I can rely on them to call me out on my bullshit and dish out sage advice if needed.

Nates_editedOne brod has become a coach and confidant over the years. He was the one who got me into arnis. And I remember that time when he had enough of my wallowing over my first heartbreak so he brought me to his dragon boat training. He was also my teacher in capoeira. As a longtime practitioner and teacher of martial arts, he’s been one of the few people I can really count on when I need someone to talk to when I’m having a tough time in kendo. When it comes to words of advice, he unfailingly gives me a lot to think about:

I think you are being too dependent on what is taught in class. Do you train morning and night on top of the regular class? It’s not about 1 hour before class additional training. It’s about lifestyle. Are you thinking like a kendoka? Or as someone who does kendo. You were an elite rower. You know what it takes to be elite. Apply your knowledge from other disciplines that you have been elite in to this one. The formula is the same.

Complacency kills. Keep the edge sharp. Train like the old men of war. They survived real combat. Not like this pretend fighting crap. Read Musashi and his book of the 5 rings. There is real wisdom in there.

you don’t do a martial art. you are the martial art. you don’t wield a weapon. you are the weapon. you don’t have a rank. you are the rank.

“the true master of an art reveals it in every action” – samurai maxim from the book ” zen in the martial arts ” by Joe Hyams

Actually having too many techniques for attack is not an advantage. It’s about how many techniques you have mastered. In tourneys I have a maximum of 3 techniques that I have mastered. The trick is having a defense that can’t be breached. When you can’t get hit, you’re only concern will be scoring.

Find the strike you like. Then create a defense based on that strike

Just train until your art is your philosophy. You need to be the sword .

A Samurai will recognize a fellow samurai among simple swordsman.

The body mind and spirit must be one in a fight. You need to allow the art to take over. That is Why you train to embody the art so that you can move without conscious thought. If you are focused on making something work then that is conscious thought.

Skills will tell everyone how to identify a senior. Not skill because of power , strength , and speed but because of simplicity and effortless ease of movement and execution with intent. You can be in a corner alone and your movement will show who you are. I repeat. Work to understand your art. Find the essence of it

A martial artist’s road is a solitary one sis. Who cares what anyone else thinks? You are your own sword . They will not wield yours and vice versa.

And it’s not a sport. It’s a way to enlightenment via understanding the blade. Never degrade your system by calling it a sport.

It’s the mindset sis. The objective is to kill your opponent without getting hit. So how do you that? When you know what method of killing your opponents you prefer then you practice it to the point that it becomes second nature for you. When you fight or spar you will be responding without conscious thought.

A Fascination for Tenugui

I have developed a deep fascination for tenugui ever since I started my kendo journey. I now regret the times that I did not take a closer look at all  those tenuguis I have seen in various stores and at the airport souvenir shops in previous trips to Japan. The few ones I own were either gifted to me or given as freebies for some kendo gears I bought. So it is really a happy day for me when a good friend who is in Kyushu sent me a message earlier followed by photos of tenuguis for me to choose from.

 

The first photo my friend sent. I liked it. But I was not sure if it would be appropriate for kendo so I asked if there's anything that's used specifically for kendo.
The first photo my friend sent. I really like it. But I was not sure if it would be appropriate for kendo. So I asked if there’s anything that comes with a more kendo-related design
Sakamoto Ryōma ("a Japanese prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan." - from Wikipedia)
Sakamoto Ryōma (“a Japanese prominent figure in the movement to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate during the Bakumatsu period in Japan” – from Wikipedia)
In black
In black

I took the “safe” route and picked the black tenugui. Next time, I will definitely go for anime-themed designs. I would love to have a Naruto and Totoro tenugui — among many others. For now, I am excited to have another one to add to my small collection. I am happy to say that each piece comes with a tale that brings back good memories.

An Unexpected Gift During the Asian Championships in Aioi
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My first tenugui. I did not even know what it was for when I got it. I cannot recall who gave it to me. But it has to be one of the athletes, organizers, or volunteers I met during the Asian Championships in Aioi in 2002. I received it on the day of the Opening Ceremony. It never fails to bring back great memories that include a marching band that ended their repertoire with the Doraemon song.

A Surprise Freebie When I Bought My First Kendo-gi and Hakama
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There was no mention of any freebie when I ordered my kendo-gi and hakama. So I was surprised to see this when I opened the box. I have used it since I started wearing bogu so it has faded quite a bit.

The Free Tenugui That Came with My Bogu
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I got this free tenugui when I bought my bogu. I do not usually go for red. But it was the only available color for the freebie they were giving away at that time.

A Gift from the Japanese Umpire at the 2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta
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There were only three of us jury members from Asia during the World Rowing Masters Regatta. It was great to see that the Japanese was a familiar face. I have previously worked with him during the 2008 Asian Olympic Qualification Regatta in Shanghai. On the last day of the master’s regatta, he gave all of us umpires a tenugui each. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It seemed like a fitting parting gift for a memorable event.

I may not have many tenuguis right now. But every piece I own is precious to me. I cannot wait to collect more. And hopefully, each one will come with its own story.

When Discernment and Sport Collide – The Wisdom of Yuzuru Hanyu

I am a huge Yuzuru Hanyu fan. Win or lose, he has never failed to amaze me. I find his performances inspiring regardless of the results. His tenacity and ability to bounce back quickly from falls and defeats are just some of the things I like best about him. But it is his wisdom that really get me. He has this uncanny knack of saying things that exemplifies the true heart and mind of a champion in sport and in life.

I came across this collection of Yuzu quotes in the past. I decided to repost them here to remind me of the good things and the possibilities when discernment and sport collide.

(Source: SEIMEI)

http://ice-kingfisher.tumblr.com/post/107498192418/yuzuru-hanyu-quotes-2014
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http://ice-kingfisher.tumblr.com/post/107498192418/yuzuru-hanyu-quotes-2014

 

After Kendo Practice Thoughts: The Simple Things are the Toughest to Learn

My first shiai.
My first shiai. (Photo credit: A sensei visiting from Hong Kong)

It has been twenty-two months since I took up Kendo. In that time, I have been on a total of about 4 months of hiatus. Considering that our club’s regular training is only once a week, I would say that I have not journeyed far enough from my path as a beginner.

Yesterday after keiko, our sensei had some words to say to us. It is rare for our sensei to indulge in long talks like that. Apart from the language barrier that makes it hard for him sometimes to articulate what he wants to say, he is really a man of few words. In the almost two years of training with him, I observed that he is one of those martial arts teachers (and sport coaches) who can teach a lot of invaluable lessons for those who persevere enough to dig deep beneath the surface. Most times, it is not about what they say but what they do.

I first met sensei during the second day of the newly-formed club’s practice. I was with the two other students who were there the first day. One thing I learned then was he likes pushing students past their limits. And it has never changed. Last night, it seemed like he felt the need to remind us of that once again — in words. He reminded us that Kendo is more than a sport. He said that it requires a lot of self-discipline and always giving our best regardless of how tired we feel.

It has been said that the simplest things are the hardest to learn. I could not agree more. In Kendo’s context, there are things beginners are taught early on. Some of them seem simple enough, but they could be quite a challenge to sustain.

I have been feeling demotivated in kendo for months now. But I held on because I love it and I really want to learn it. A few weeks back, I decided to review the things expected of me as a kendoka. I challenged myself to keep doing them regardless of circumstances outside my control. It may not be easy most of the time. But I find it fulfilling to do these things, especially on days when I do not feel like doing them:

  • Clean the dojo floor – I have to be honest that it can be frustrating to see that not many people do this despite repeated reminders from our officers. Initially, it was supposed to be the beginners’ (read: youngest batches) job. But a recent memo from club officers stated that everyone should do it. I have only recently read said memo. Even before that though, I already promised to myself that I would make it a part of my pre-practice routine. And I have been delivering on that promise since. (I found a thumbtack while cleaning the dojo floor yesterday.)
  • Practice footwork before training starts – Sensei first issued this instruction about two months after the club was formed. He told us to try arriving at least 30 minutes before keiko starts so we could do this. As the club membership grew, he has been repeating the same instruction over and over again. But only a few actually do it without anyone prompting them. I understand why anyone would want to avoid it. It can get really tedious. I am not even good in kendo yet but I find it boring and painful most of the time. But knowing that I am not good served as motivation for me to keep doing it. I told myself that maybe someday, something good will come out of it. For me, it has been one of the challenges I have to overcome even before keiko starts. This is one of the things I made sure to follow since that time sensei told us to do it.
  • Aim for beautiful kendo – This is one thing that sensei said that really stuck to me. It is what I want as well. I find it helpful to keep it in mind. I use it as a guide on how to approach my training. It is not a pleasant feeling to be struck in practice or in shiai (match). It can be tempting to keep blocking (without the intention of doing a counter-strike), tilt my head to avoid being hit, or do things that would compromise proper form and technique. So every training, I challenge myself to receive every hit straight on. I know I suck at matches. But I would like to think that getting into that shiai-jo with the goal of playing beautiful kendo is worth the pain of losing.
  • Push – Sensei’s training can be brutal. I may not look forward to it, but I appreciate its true value. There have been occasions in the past that I took a rest even before the official break has been called. To be fair, those were times that I really cannot seem to carry on anymore. Each time, it felt like I let myself and sensei down. It was not a good feeling. I decided to try not doing it anymore. Lately, there have been times when it seemed like I was about to faint. But I chose to carry on. Surviving that feels like a reward in itself.

I would like to share some excerpts from an article written by one of the celebrities I admire. His writings are among the reasons why I’m a fan. I enjoy reading about his thoughts on travel, food, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Here are some of the things he shared in a blog post that resonate with me:

As I say at the top of this episode, as I tape my fingers (in the forlorn hope that it might mitigate the osteoarthritis and Heberden’s nodes associated with grip fighting), I will never be a black belt. I will never successfully compete against similarly ranked opponents half my age, I will never be great at Brazilian jiu jitsu. There is an urgency to my training because I’m sure as shit not getting any younger, or more flexible. I’m certainly not getting any faster. And as I head down the highway on my jiu jitsu journey, the likelihood of the wheels coming off the car grows stronger every day.

But I am determined to suck less at this jiu jitsu thing every day if I can.

I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that. ~ SWEEP THE LEG, JOHNNY! by Anthony Bourdain

I am still in the earliest stages of my kendo journey. I am still far from being good at my level. I do not know what my future in this martial art will be. But to borrow Anthony Bourdain’s words: I am determined to suck less at this kendo thing every day if I can.

The Long Road To Understanding Traditional Martial Arts

I have shared in previous posts how I was perplexed by some people’s interpretation of traditional martial arts. Some invoked those three words as a sort “simple explanation” to address my questions on health and safety related issues during training. This only fueled my curiosity more. I wanted to look for answers that could help me wrap my head around the responses I got.

I recently stumbled upon an article that made me understand what one of my long-time Filipino martial art practitioner friend has been telling me. It echoed what he said and more.

Reading the article made me think beyond martial arts that evolved into more of a competitive sport. There were several things mentioned that struck a nerve. To quote one of them: “Sport and budo (budo is the term I use to differentiate a martial art from a martial sport) have a few things in common, but not much; although enough, it would seem, to cause confusion. The pursuit of sport karate requires that you win over others. In fact, your success in sport karate, or any sport for that matter, is a direct result of your ability to defeat other people. This mindset runs completely contrary to budo thinking. In sport karate there are winners and losers, but in budo karate there are only doers. Without sounding too esoteric here, the aim of sport karate is to win, while the aim of budo karate is to not lose. As hard as this idea may be to grasp for a ‘newbie’, budo training, pursued with sincerity, leads to the avoidance of conflict; if you don’t fight, you never lose, right? Sport karate does not hinder traditional karate training, it’s a completely different activity altogether.” ~ Budo or Bust by Mike Clarke

I think I understand a little of what he was trying to say here. But I would like to believe that there are many sport practitioners out there across different disciplines who live by the same beliefs and rules that traditional martial arts uphold. Olympism is at the heart of the Olympic Movement. And it shares similar ideals.

Screenshot from http://www.olympic.org/olympism-in-action
e Screenshot from http://www.olympic.org/olympism-in-action

Sadly, competitive sport has evolved in such a way that seems more focused on winning. There are often many factors at play that could explain this. Winning sometimes dictate the level of support like government funding, sponsorships, and more that athletes and their support system can get. That often puts a lot of pressure on athletes to win. But I also know many elite athletes from different sport disciplines who exemplify the values that Olympism promotes.

I believe that this is where the quality of instruction comes in. Finding the right mentors and ensuring that the values are ingrained during training could develop more athletes and martial arts practitioners who embrace the ideals that the two sides of the spectrum represent.

It is always inspiring for me to find people who have journeyed enough in their respective martial arts to gain a better understanding of what it is about. I want to be around people like them. I think our sensei, in his own ways, is on the same path. I am also fortunate to have met many visiting senseis whose actions imparted invaluable lessons on budo. Now, more than ever, I need to pay attention to the ones who get it and try to learn the unspoken lessons from them.

March Highlights – Inspired. Reconnected. Empowered.

I welcomed March, which also happened to be Women’s Month, with a simple goal of doing something, no matter how small, for the women in sports advocacy. Somehow, along the way, small milestones just piled up. I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than how it did – being with like-minded people who inspired and re-energized me to dream and do more.

March 6 – Davao Kendo Club’s 1st Women’s Shiai/Tournament

(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)
(Photo credit: Jesh Juson)

March 8 – Women in Rowing PH featured in our IF’s website and International Women’s Day video

Screenshot from the World Rowing website
Screenshot from the World Rowing website

March 28-30 – IMPULSE Seminar: Empowerment of women in sports in the Philippines

(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)
(Photo credit: Krizanne Ty)

Looking forward to more collaborations with all the inspiring women and men around me.

Work on a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

As far back as I can remember, Holy Week has always been a time of quiet and self-reflection in our family. My childhood memories include hearing my devout Protestant grandmother telling us to refrain from making noises and instead use the time to reflect on the meaning of Lent. She also taught us to respect Catholic traditions during the Lenten season that may be different from our own.

I am not deeply religious like my grandmother or the many friends I have from different faiths. But Holy Week has become a time of slowing down for me. I often end up spending it in solitude, reading books, or writing in my journal. This week though, I find myself working on a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday just so I can take a few days off work next week to attend this seminar:

(Screenshot from the Powerful Change FB page)
(Screenshot from the Powerful Change Coaching Training International Facebook page)

I was happy to see some familiar names on the email addresses in the communications I received in the past weeks. Giving up my off days from work may not exactly be how I planned my 2016 Holy Week would be. But it is a fair exchange for the opportunity not just to attend the seminar/training but also to see some of the athletes and sports leaders I have not seen for a long time.

 

You Are Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea

Timely and uplifting.

Posted by Nandita Bajaj on Monday, February 29, 2016

 

6 Lessons Learned from Brewing Tea

(Image source: http://www.itoen.com/preparing-tea)
(Image source: http://www.itoen.com/preparing-tea)

For someone who loves tea, I have to admit I know little of the proper way to brew it. All I know is that I am not supposed to let the loose tea or a tea bag steep for 5 minutes or more as this will leave a bitter aftertaste. Last night’s attempt to prepare a drink from the Mountain Tea Leaves my sister brought home from Sagada made me realize why I have always been fascinated by the Japanese tea ceremony. There is so much to learn and enjoy from the process of preparing tea.

Sagada Mountain Tea Leaves
Sagada Mountain Tea Leaves

I have tried preparing loose leaf tea before. But it was the first time for me to brew one using full leaves so I had no idea what to do. I made the mistake of adding the leaves into the boiling water and letting it simmer for a few minutes. Once done, I somehow forgot to quickly remove the leaves. I got busy doing something else that by the time I remembered, the tea was already too bitter for me to enjoy. This later prompted the overthinker in me to ponder about the things I learned from my failed tea brewing experience.

1) The quality of work and effort you put into doing something is directly proportional to the quality of the results you get.

2) There are things you have to do slowly.

3) Paying attention and being present in every task increases the chances of success. And it creates a sense of fulfillment.

4) You do not always get it right the first time.

5) There is nothing much to be gained in dwelling on certain things for too long. Imagine life events like tea leaves that could produce bitter drinks if left to steep longer than they should. It is best to enjoy things or ponder on them for as long as you can then let go.

6) Take time to slow down. The best things in life, like a cup of tea, are best created or prepared slowly. So be mindful and give it all you’ve got.