KDramas I’m currently watching

Japanese and Korean dramas are among my guilty pleasures. But I have not written much about the ones that I like. The first and last time I wrote about something I watched was back in 2012 soon after I finished watching Warrior Baek Dong Soo. In the past few weeks, I have been following K-dramas currently airing. Here are my top five picks:

5. Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Lovers:_Scarlet_Heart_Ryeo
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Lovers:_Scarlet_Heart_Ryeo

Genre: Historical drama, Fantasy, Romance

One name: Lee Joon‑gi. The first teaser of this drama popped up on my radar a few months ago. And I was hooked the instant my eyes clapped on Lee Joon‑gi. I have been a fan since his stint at My Girl in 2005. There was a lot of hype surrounding this drama months leading to its first episode. I find it a tad disappointing though. With so many actors at play, there were certain episodes that it felt like the lead actor was left at the sidelines. It was tedious and heavy at some points. But things seem to be picking up lately. One thing that keeps me happy is that Lee Joon‑gi never fails to deliver.

4. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_in_the_Moonlight
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_in_the_Moonlight

Genre: Historical drama, Coming-of-Age, Romantic-Comedy

It took me a while to check this one out. I decided to make a quick peek out of curiousity. I was not really expecting to get past the first episode. But I was surprised how it somehow got to me. It has all the makings of a cliche but Park Bo-gum and Kim Yoo-jung pulled it off. I stopped watching on the 10th episode not because I was no longer enjoying it. Limited time and that feeling of dread that it will not have a happy ending made me stop. But only for now. I intend to finish it when I have the time.

3. The K2

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_K2
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_K2

Genre: Political drama, Action, Romance, Thriller

I am a Ji Chang-wook fan so it makes sense that I would watch this. I also like Im Yoona so that makes two reasons already to get me curious. But the biggest draw is that its being an action drama. I am a huge fan of action, adventure, detective, mystery, and thriller dramas so there is no way I am going to miss this.

2. Woman with a Suitcase

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_with_a_Suitcase
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_with_a_Suitcase

Genre: Legal drama, Comedy, Drama

This one was another surprise. The curious cat in me just wanted to know what it is about. The lead actors (Joo Jin-mo! and Choi Ji-woo) are rocking it. It has an interesting cast with Lee Joon delivering like he always does.

1. On the Way to the Airport

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Way_to_the_Airport
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Way_to_the_Airport

Genre: Romance, Melodrama

The last drama that I started watching turned out to be the one I like best, at least for now. It took me a while to finally decide to see it. But it has been an INTENSE ride right from the first episode. The extra marital affairs theme is touchy. But the writer and production group seem to be pulling it off splendidly. I am into this for the rawness of emotions it squeezes out and the complexities surrounding the lives of the characters. Kim Ha-neul and Lee Sang-yoon are superb in making their characters come to life. I also love how Lee Sang-yoon does this romance thing. He has a knack of making me fall for him in every role that he plays. I am not sure if rooting for their characters to end together is bad. But that is what I have been doing from the get-go.

What running teaches you

Have you ever ran so far that you begin to wonder if you would ever make it back? When pain dogs your every step that it becomes a constant struggle to the finish. When you eventually find yourself learning to cope because it is either that or crumble on the dirt road.

Running changes you in many ways. Subtle changes that may go unnoticed for a while. But sooner or later, you begin to see the telltale signs of a different you.

One day you will realize that you are not the person you used to be. You begin to yearn to be out on the road and watch the world come to life. And regardless of your skill level or the distances you run, you feel a strong sense of kinship to every runner you pass or see on the road.

You learn that the only way to finish what you set out to do is to ignore that annoying voice  that tells you that you can’t do it. You drown the voice by focusing your mind to the beauty you see around you. The subtle shift from dark to light as the sky welcomes the sun. The silence gradually broken as everything around you stirs in preparation for a new day. The soft caress of the wind as it hits you from all sides and the way it makes every nerve in your body come alive. All that and more are the sights and sounds that you begin to look forward to each time you run.

The struggle between your mind and body is still there. But you begin to live with it. You know that it is the ever present challenge that would define your decision to stretch yourself beyond your limits or not. Then it just happens one day that you realize the voice in your head urging you to stop and rest have gone quiet. It is as if by sheer will and courage of spirit you were able to silence it.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about that sense of quiet you achieve is that you’re now able to listen to that part of you that pushes you to go farther. It tells you that you’ll always find a way to go back no matter how far you go. That the only way for you to know how far you can go is to not worry about how you’re going to get back. Because you will.

Only after you’ve gone and pushed yourself beyond your limits that you’ll realize you had it in you all along. The ability to make it happen.

[Posted on my other blog last January 29, 2011]

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.

The Hague Supermarket Items That I Miss

I love going to supermarkets when traveling. They are easily the best places to find necessities that I opt not to pack when I want to travel light. I also find it comforting to find familiar items which remind me of home.

Staying for three months at The Hague entailed a lot of cooking and grocery shopping. This meant frequent trips to the nearest supermarkets like Albert Heijn, Aldi, and Konmar. There were also visits to the open-air markets that I always enjoyed.

It has been years since that short stay but I still miss some of the items that have special spots on my list of favorite things:

1. Stroopwafels

stroopwafelNothing prepared me for my first taste of these delicious treats. And they quickly became part of my daily life while I was there. The chewy confections were the only snacks I made sure I had in stock. I took a particular liking to one brand that has the finest (at least in my limited experience) small-sized and scrumptious stroopwafels. I found them at the first supermarket I visited. Thankfully, they were also available in the other supermarkets and small grocer stores so it was easy for me to get them. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the brand. But I still have a picture of the packaging in my head.

2. Cheese

cheese-shopI was not a cheese person before that trip. But I became a convert during my time at The Hague. Not only because Holland/The Netherlands is the home to the famous Goudse kaas. It was also because it was the first place where I found a wide array of cheeses almost everywhere. The supermarkets and open markets were veritable treasure troves of so many cheeses in all shapes and sizes. I could not even pronounce or read the names on the labels of some of the cheeses I found at the supermarkets. I just grabbed whatever looked good to me. Later on, I decided to sample as many kinds and that has been one of the best things that I did in my brief stay there.

3. Rookworst

This sausage is not only tasty. The cooked variety is also the most convenient and easiest to prepare. It is excellent for meals any time of the day. And I even loved making sandwiches out of them — with whatever cheese I had on hand.

4. Chocolates

The supermarkets’ chocolates aisles are little slices of heaven on earth. The Hague’s close proximity to Belgium and its other European neighbors famous for their chocolates meant there was no shortage of delightful treats to try. I opted for brands that were unfamiliar to me. And I was never disappointed with my picks.

5. Ice cream

I am ambivalent about ice cream. I could probably live without it. But I developed an appreciation for it in my sojourn at The Hague. It was probably because of the many Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs selections for me to choose from.

There is more to the city than these items that makes me yearn to go back.  I may not have been to many places yet. But The Hague will always have a special place in my heart.

 

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.

Finding a New Happy Place

It is not every day that I find a Happy Place to add to my list. Maybe it is for lack of trying on my part for I do not venture out much. Or maybe, that inexplicable feeling that hits me when I find it does not surface easily. I prefer places away from the crowd or big enough to give me plenty of personal space where I could experience simple joys.

Among my happiest places in the world include the lakes where rowing has brought me over the years, the parks where I do my daily runs in The Hague, the pathways of Tokyo, the quiet roads of Aioi, Aizuwakamatsu and Minimi-aizu. The tree-lined streets of Jongno-gu, the old post town of  Ouchi-juku, the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, and the old village inside the vast park in Mungyeong likewise give me that deep feeling of contentment. The quaint cafes and restaurants found in towns and cities I have wandered into are also on that special list.

Manga Toshokan is a new addition to my happy place list. I have been planning to visit it soon after it opened last year. But I never got around to doing it.

Just one of the bookshelves in the cafe filled with manga I couldn't wait to read.
Just one of the bookshelves in the cafe filled with manga I couldn’t wait to read.

The place is a book cafe with an extensive collection of manga as well as some good selections of classic and contemporary novels. The omurice I ordered was delicious and filling. The desserts were tempting. I opted for the chocolate chip cookies, which I found satisfying. The iced cafe latte could have been better. But I had no complaints. I was there for the manga. I did not do much reading though. There are plenty of time for that in future visits. Instead, I soaked in the simple pleasure of being there.

I do not know how different the experience would have been if the place was busy. But the quiet time I had there was a big draw for me. I can imagine myself spending hours there. I just have to time my visits well to avoid the crowd.

Area where the cubicles are located.
Area where the cubicles are located.
One of the cubicles in the cafe.
One of the cubicles in the cafe.
More manga
More manga

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Location:
Manga Toshokan is located at Doors 4 and 5, Belfran Bldg., Palma Gil St. cor. CM Recto St., Davao City
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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.

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.

Keiko in Semi-Darkness and the Joy Found in Not Giving Up

Kendo practice is always a challenge even on the best days. But yesterday’s keiko stretched me past my limits more than I could count. It was my first practice after two weeks of resting and recovering from the recurring pains from an old knee injury and sore Achilles heels. I would have to say that it was also one of the best training I had in a long while. Not because I felt good and did things right. But because I came across the toughest walls I had to scale to survive the almost three hours of keiko.

Keiko in Semi-Darkness

The twice daily rotating 3-hour long power outages have been a source of suffering for many of us here in Mindanao. And things are expected to get worse as the country enters its “summer” months. The scheduled blackouts though have only affected us briefly before during keiko. And I think it was towards the end of practice. Yesterday was the first time that we started training in semi-darkness. There was only one source of light. I was told that the rest of the fluorescent light bulbs were not connected to the facility’s generator. It was also somewhat suffocating since we could not use the electric fans that usually offer some relief from the heat and humidity. Even at 6:00PM, it was still hot. While there were windows in the dojo, almost all of them were blocked by tree trunks, shrubs, and many other things that keep the fresh air from flowing in.

We trained in these conditions for about two hours before power came back. And we somehow ended up continuing practice without plugging in the electric fans. I think this was one of the reasons why it was tougher for me yesterday. There were times that I found it hard to breathe. I just kept repeating this mantra in my head that I could do it. That I must never give up no matter what even if my body is telling me otherwise.

Getting Assigned to Take the Lead

Before keiko started, one of my kouhais told me that he was asked by our club manager/president to take the lead. Both our club manager/president and the vice-president were in Hong Kong to take the 1Dan exam (which they both passed) last Friday.

So I was surprised when during mawari geiko our sensei approached my kouhai when he started giving instructions. He told him that I will be taking the lead on the motodachi side. I was not supposed to move from my spot during the rotation. I had to quickly prepare myself mentally and physically for the responsibility. Even as one of the senior members of the group, it is rare for me to be assigned responsibility at anything in training. I was not used to it. It added to the things that I had to deal with during the grueling session. For me, it meant that I really should not stop at any point or take a rest even if I feel like I could no longer carry on since I had to set an example.

Emptying My Mind During Jigeiko with Sensei

If there is one thing many of us in bogu class shares, it would probably be that feeling of dread before jigeiko with Lim-sensei. I even noticed that some members opt to line up for jigeiko with Kazu-senpai – our other 3Dan instructor. I used to do it myself before I go to Lim sensei. But last month I started to challenge myself to do jigeiko with sensei right off the bat. I figured that it was the only way to overcome the dread and improve myself no matter how little each time.

All of us were already tired by the time we have to do jigeiko. Kazu senpai was not around so everyone had no choice but to do it with sensei. I was not expecting much from myself at this point. I just did my usual mental self-talk telling myself that I can do it. I also decided to empty my mind going in. I just wanted to do whatever I have to do without thinking much about it. I do not know what happened, but it was one of the best jigeiko I had with sensei in a long while.

Yesterday’s keiko made me think about what Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, said about Olympism:

Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

I would have to agree once again that indeed there is joy found in effort regardless of how much pain and suffering you have to put up with in the process.