Traveling in Europe by Train

A friend’s Facebook post yesterday made me look back to my own experiences booking train tickets online for my Geneva-Aix les Bains-Paris-Brussels-Antwerp trip last year. I have not thought much about the process at that time. It was just one of the whirlwind of activities I had to deal with prior to the trip. But now that I reflect on it, I would have to say that it was a bit confusing at first.

Screenshot of my friend's post
Screenshot of a friend’s post

I remember spending some time looking for the best routes and transportation options. I had to figure out how to get from Geneva airport to Aix-les-Bains and book tickets for that as well as for other trips. I made all the arrangements on my own so I was initially anxious about how things would turn out. But I was pleasantly surprised everything went well — well, at least most of it. And these are some of the things that helped me through it.

Rome2rio

My go to source of information for routes, transportation options, and more
My go to source of information for routes, transportation options, and more

Rome2rio is informative and user-friendly. I has been my go-to source of information when looking for the best routes. I find it helpful and reliable. I like how it made some of my past trips a lot easier to plan.

Voyages-sncf.com

Aix les Bains to Paris (TGV)
Aix les Bains to Paris (TGV) – Train tickets for me and my friend from Myanmar who asked me to book a ticket for her as well
Paris to Brussels (Thalys)
Paris to Brussels (Thalys)

Booking tickets with Voyages-sncf.com was a breeze. And in hindsight, the “Ticketless” option I chose on my Thalys ticket was more convenient. I just saved the barcode ID they sent me on my phone and presented it to the inspector as instructed.

My TGV e-ticket, however, was another story. I thought that I just had to present the e-ticket I printed as stated on the confirmation email I received. But as I was sitting at the lounge area across the information and ticketing booths at Gare d’Aix-les-Bains-Le Revard, I noticed that most of the passengers I saw were holding what looked like boarding passes. So I approached the woman issuing tickets out to ask if I needed to confirm my reservation again. And this is where my Aix les Bains to Paris misadventure began. I had trouble conversing with the woman because she was talking to me in French the whole time. And whatever little I have learned in my French 10 class in college did not help. After a lot of pointing to the printed ticket and showing the email confirmation, she finally understood what I was trying to say and gave me a boarding pass. Too bad I did not get the chance to use it and enjoy the free Wi-Fi onboard the TGV train since I mistakenly went to the wrong platform and boarded the wrong train.

Fond Memories and Takeaways

  • What they say about booking train tickets online months before your trip is true. The Aix-les-Bains to Paris ticket I purchased on Voyages-sncf.com only cost me $42. The cost of the ticket from Bellegard to Paris that I had to buy after I missed the TGV train to Paris-Gare de Lyon was approximately EUR100 (give or take 1 or 2 Euros) not to mention the price of the ticket from Culoz to Bellegard. Boarding the wrong train was an expensive mistake on my part. But on the upside, I got to see more of France and met some of the kindest strangers I will never forget.
  • The beautiful scenery reminded me once again why I love traveling by train (Amsterdam to The Hague, Beijing to Hangzhou to Xiamen, Guangzhou to Hong Kong, and others)
  • The stranger seated next to me in the Thalys train who  put (and retrieved) my heavy luggage on the overhead compartment
  • Paris-Gare de Lyon and Gare du Nord — the architecture, trains, vibe, and the people
  • Taking the train from Brussels Midi to Brussels Airport instead of heading straight to Antwerp. I chose that route because I figured it would be more convenient for me to take the shuttle from the airport that stops directly in front of  the hotel where I will be staying. On the downside, I missed out on the chance to see the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station which was one of the city’s attractions.
  • Meeting a US-educated Tanzanian politician at the platform while waiting for the train and having an interesting conversation with him about education and politics during the trip from Brussels Midi to the airport.

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

[Kendo Musings] Finding the lost drive and the serendipity of letting go

(Photo credit: @verywellnoel)
(Photo credit: @verywellnoel)

My kendo journey hit a wall in 2015. I lost my commitment and drive. And I even went on a long hiatus twice. I only came back a month before a scheduled kyu evaluation last November. I of course failed the grading given my lack of training and progress.

I am still struggling to rekindle my motivation. But at least I have been able to drag myself to the dojo to continue training.

There are several external and internal factors at play that pushed me to the brink of quitting. I have tried to do something to address both early last year. But I quickly realized that I am powerless in dealing with the external stuff. I figured it is best to leave them alone. It is a tall order for me because I am wired to observe, analyze, and act. Unfortunately, I seem to operate differently than what others are used to. Given the lessons I have learned, I decided to focus more on myself. I need to learn how to accept the nature of my current kendo environment without compromising the things I stand for.

I am still working on completely letting things go. It is not easy to let things slide when they have a direct or indirect effect on my progress. But taking baby steps leaves me empowered. Kendo is teaching me a lot about humility. It is teaching me to endure the unpleasant and irritating things even if they impact or derail my training. Above all, it made me realize that taking the higher ground is easier said than done. But taking a small step towards that direction feels like a major achievement.

But my need to learn and improve is so strong. I am desperate to understand more of what I am doing because I learn better that way. I have yet to find a mentor to help me with that.

Today though, I am just happy with these discoveries I had while reading some kendo resources:

Yakusoku geiko

Yakusoku in general means “promise”. So the targets to be struck are already decided (prearranged). Therefore, if you have the targets to be struck in certain order, i.e. “onaji no waza uchikomi geiko”, it is a yakusoku geiko.

Now if we apply the definition of yakusoku geiko, all the training for techniques such as debana kote, men kaeshi men and so on are all yakusoku geiko, because both motodachi (receiver) and kakarite (striker) know what target and how they should strike.

So yakusoku geiko is a general term for training in which the practitioners know what targets should be struck.(Source: Kendo-Guide.Com)

Butsukarigeiko

…continued practice of men and taitari followed by hiki waza (Source: kendoinfo.net)

Hikitate-geiko

In jigeiko, the higher ranks will make openings to the lower ranks so that the lower ranks can learn good opportunities to strike. (Source: Kendo-Guide.Com)

Knowing these terms and understanding their purpose is a big deal for me. We have been doing them during practice but I did not know that there are specific terms for them. I feel that now I can optimize their benefits more. It also made me understand a bit better why the senseis and senpais I have done jigeiko with use them. Hopefully, I could use this newfound knowledge to be a better kakarite. It may even help me become a better motodachi to my kouhais.

Learning all the Japanese terms is not an easy feat given that it is rare for us to use them in the dojo. But I find that knowing the term and the rationale for each drill or technique helps me execute it more properly. At least as properly as a newbie like me can.

Thanks for the Wild Ride, 2015!

This year has been far from boring despite my lack of expectations going in. The Chinese horoscopes I have read  hinted of little promise for my sign. Given the somewhat unfavorable predictions, I opted to block them from my mind (yes, I’m selective like that). So I welcomed the year a bit wary of what’s to come. But with a firm resolve that whatever happens, I will do my best to get through whatever life throws at me.

For a year that was supposed to have little to look forward to though all sorts of crazy things happened. The good, the bad, and everything in-between — they all made this year unpredictably eventful. Here are some of my 2015’s highlights. Every experience was an opportunity for gratitude, happiness, learning, and growth.

Family is Love

We don’t do showy love in our family. But we see and feel it. And this year, there have been several ways I’ve seen how they support me in what I do. They may not always understand my choices given the traditional beliefs some of them have. But I could count on them to be there for me. It has always been more than enough. My dad, mom, and sister each in his and her own ways have helped me a lot this year.

It was sad and scary though when my dad was hospitalized last November. He had to stay at the hospital for several days. It didn’t help that we were not really sure what was wrong with him. He’s been dealing with diabetes and high blood pressure for so long. Thankfully, he got better quickly and was able to go home a few days later.

Friends I’m Lucky to Have

I don’t often see my closest friends since I moved back to my hometown. So it’s always a happy occasion when I get to meet them. I had a chance to do just that this year for some friends I haven’t seen for a long time.

Early this year, I met up with Nathan, my brod who got me into arnis, dragonboat, and capoeira. It’s been almost eight years since I last saw him so I was happy to reconnect with him. I’ve seen him again after that when I went to Manila. I had dinner with Sis Lilet who was in Davao a few months back. I had a meet up with my kindred Karen and former workmate Ailene when I was in Singapore. I likewise had a chance to see my awesome Virgo friends Anna Liese, Babs, and Chalyn when I was in Manila last July. I stayed with my former teammates Belen, Jess, and Adrian when I was in Paris. A common friend from Pencak Silat also made time to visit us while I was there. And just a few days ago, I had lunch with high school friends Leonor and Deanna who are based in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro respectively.

I’ve also kept in touch with my best buddies Bixie (Seoul), Min-Min (Melbourne), Beth with Milo (Maryland) and Aileen (Singapore).

Getting an Apology I No Longer Expected

Early this year, I found a message on my Facebook account’s “other” inbox a few days after it was sent. I usually don’t check that inbox so I don’t know what prompted me to open it. I was surprised to find that message there, especially at a time when I no longer expected it. It was a most touching message that I’ll never forget. Here’s to closures and great stories that last a lifetime.

Health I Need to Take Better Care Of

I had at least two worrisome respiratory woes this year. Both required visits to a pulmonologist. During my first check-up, the chest x-ray showed some fluids in one of my lungs. I was worried about this because it was the first time that it happened to me. The doctor gave me a lot of medicines. I was advised to refrain from doing physical activities. This meant skipping kendo training for at least two to three weeks each time. The treatment worked so I was more than glad I stuck to it. But the problem recurred a few weeks later, but without the lung fluids. I got another round of prescriptions. I made sure I followed the doctor’s advice to the letter. This was a few days before I had to leave for jury/umpire duties at the Singapore SEA Games.

Getting sick sucks for a lot of reasons. I realized I need to take better care of my health from now on.

Jury/Umpire Duties

I once read an interview of an experienced umpire who said something like a good race for us jury members is when we remain “invisible”. And I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s every jury/umpire/referee’s wish that every race goes as smoothly as possible.

I’ve been generally lucky in the previous umpiring assignments I’ve had. But that all ended this year. I’ve had a lot of challenging firsts while doing jury/umpire duties in the past months.

SEA Games

Crews at the Start area.
Crews at the Start area.

This year’s SEAG was memorable for me because I got assigned as Responsible Judge at the Finish. I’ve done Judge at the Finish several times but not the responsible judge task. I was also Judge at the Start at one of the toughest days to be assigned in that post given the bad weather that was threatening to get worse by the minute.

During the last day of races (Final A), I was the only female umpire of the four out on the racing course. It was raining hard early that morning and quite windy too. The weather improved a bit so the races started as scheduled. But it was still raining. I was a bit worried about some boat classes like the coxless pair and four given the weather conditions.

As my luck would have it, I was the umpire for the women’s coxless four (W4-). It turned out to be one of the toughest events to follow that day. Some of the teams’ boats were already swerving as soon as the race started. The wind was not helping at all. Everyone was moving into others’ lanes. I was using my white flag and bullhorn almost throughout the duration of the race. I had several instances of near collisions involving not just one or two crews but most of them. Two teams were so close to colliding with each other as they approach the finish. I was surprised that the race ended without mishap.

World Masters Regatta

Umpire Boats
Umpire Boats

My first assignment as jury member for a world event was equally memorable. It was the busiest regatta I’ve been to. Over 3,500 participants were competing in different age categories (27 to 90+). Races were scheduled from 6:00AM to 7:00PM for three and a half days. Jury members were assigned to work in shifts. There were only 3 minutes intervals between races. I’ve never experienced calling out a false start before. But in that event, I had two false starts and one close call when I was assigned as Judge at the Start.

Crews at the Start Area. Taken while hanging out near the Aligner's Hut while I was off shift.
Crews at the Start Area. Taken while hanging out near the Aligner’s Hut while I was off shift.

During my afternoon shift in the last day of races, I was static umpire at 500m (350-700m zone). A male single sculler in lane 1 stopped as his boat approached the 500m mark. I asked him if he was okay and he said he doesn’t want to continue anymore. He said he would like to leave the race course and go directly to the rental boat pontoon. Only a few races after that, a women’s pair boat in lane 6 capsized. The boat driver and I quickly went to assist the capsized crew. The rescue boat stationed near my umpire boat was gone and I wasn’t getting any response on my call for assistance on my hand-held radio. We had to assist the distressed crew fast because the next race was already coming in.

Despite pushing me way out of my comfort zone, I have to say all the umpiring experiences I’ve had this year taught me a lot. And most of all, it made me realize that there’s nothing to fear when I’m out there doing my job. That stepping up is exactly what we do, if needed.

Kendo Journey

With the MKC senseis and senpais
With the MKC senseis and senpais

It hasn’t been a great year for me in Kendo. I went on a long hiatus at least twice. I stopped training for a month during the first quarter of the year. Then I had to take breaks of at least two to three weeks each to recuperate when I was having respiratory problems and when I had to travel for jury duties. My second long break from kendo was from August to October. I only came back after a fellow kendoka told me about the kyu assessment scheduled for November. I thought maybe I should give it a shot and see if I’ve learned anything in all those months I’ve trained. Because honestly, I’ve always felt lost given the prevailing lack of feedback.

I wasn’t expecting much from myself for the kyu assessment. Still, I felt a bit sad and disappointed soon after I failed my first ever 1 kyu exam. But looking back to what I’ve been through, it didn’t seem bad at all. It was funny actually how everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in the days leading to the evaluation. Failing the assessment on the last day of November seemed like a fitting end to the worst month I’ve had in 2015. Work-related changes that required learning some new skills, sleeping at the hospital for a few days when my dad was hospitalized, learning Kata 1-3 only a few weeks before evaluation, and cramming Bokuto 1-9 lessons in two days all took their toll in my performance.

I had a tough time even during the two days of pre-evaluation training with the visiting MKC senpais and senseis. My shinai was damaged on the first day so I couldn’t use it. The only available replacement I could use was Lim sensei’s carbon fiber shinai. Apart from the difference in size, it was also a lot heavier than I expected. I experienced using men’s size shinais before. But sensei’s shinai was quite heavy. I could feel my shoulders protesting the whole time I was using it. The next day, one of my male dojo mates lent me his extra shinai. While it was lighter than Lim sensei’s shinai, the grip was different so I had to adjust to that as well. Just when I thought that nothing could go wrong anymore after what I’ve been through, I was proven wrong. The night before the evaluation, our club manager told our batch that we can only take up to 2 kyu. This was perfectly fine with me given how ill-prepared I was. So I was surprised when the next day he told us that we’ll be taking the 1 kyu evaluation instead. And as the results show, I messed it up big time.

Despite the disappointing results though, I couldn’t help but feel motivated. Ono sensei’s unexpected feedback inspired me to do better. Because he doesn’t seem the type who’d say something without meaning it.

Strangers to Remember

The kindness of strangers is another highlight for me. I’ve met several in my travels this year. I may not know or remember their names, but my interactions with them have been unforgettable.

-The young accountant I met at NAIA Terminal 1 while I was waiting to check-in. We’re on the same flight going to Abu Dhabi. He’s a new addition to the country’s growing number of OFWs. We ended up as buddies until we had to go our separate ways in Abu Dhabi. He was on his way to Jeddah and I was traveling to Geneva.
-The dedicated volunteers met at the World Championships in Lac d’Aiguebelette, France and the World Masters Regatta in Hazewinkel, Belgium
-The old lady who chatted with me at the boulangerie near the hotel in Aix les Bains
-The owner/chef of a restaurant where I had one of the sumptuous dinners I’ve had in Aix les Bains
-The teenage kid who helped me when I got on the wrong train on my way to Paris
-The train conductor on the same train who kindly looked for a new and detailed route for me (which was not easy given the train schedules)
-The couple at the train station in Culoz who helped me after the teenage kid left me in their care. They made sure that I get to Bellegard as smoothly as possible so I could catch the train to Paris Gare de Lyon
-The guy seated next to me on the Thalys train going to Brussels who kindly put and retrieved my luggage for me on the overhead compartment.
-The US-educated Tanzanian guy I chatted with on the way to Brussels airport
-The rower who took the time to give his thanks saying that we’ve all been really nice and that it was the best masters regatta he’d been to.
-The girl I met at Brussels airport going home. It was like we’ve been friends for a long time. She was on her way home to Tarlac after a 6-month visit with his father, stepmother and stepsiblings who live in Liège, Belgium.

All these encounters left me with stories and memories that inspire me.

Travel

MBS, home sweet home while in Singapore. Taken while hanging out with my former workmate who's now based in Singapore.
Marina Bay Sands – home sweet home during the SEAG. Taken by my former workmate, who’s now based in Singapore, while we were hanging out.

I didn’t expect to travel this year except maybe for the SEA Games. The notice of my selection as one of the jury members for a world regatta came in the first quarter of 2015.

My first trip was to Singapore for the SEA Games. Unlike my previous trips, I didn’t have to go to Manila this time. The Davao-Singapore direct flight made it more convenient for me. Soon after I returned from Singapore, I traveled to Manila. While Manila’s been home for me for almost two decades, I haven’t been there much in recent years. It was like traveling to somewhere familiar, but feeling like everything has changed.

Two months after, I traveled to France to attend a conference. The trip took me from Davao to Manila to Abu Dhabi and to Geneva. The view during the plane’s approach to Geneva airport was simply breathtaking. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen from a plane’s window. The hour-long road trip from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains was delightful. I still remember the picturesque scenery on both sides of the road. I stayed at a hotel in Aix-les-Bains with my friend and fellow umpire from Myanmar. She booked with the same airline so we could meet at Abu Dhabi airport then travel together to France from there.

Rooftops in Aix les Bains. Taken from the hotel room's balcony.
Rooftops in Aix les Bains. Taken from the hotel room’s balcony.

From Aix-les-Bains, it’s only about 20-minute bus ride to Lac d’Aiguebelette which is part of one of the communes in Savoie, France. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve seen. This year, it was the venue for the world championships and the conference.

My friend and I went our separate ways after the conference. Her friend who’s based in the Netherlands picked her up in our hotel on our last day in Aix les Bains. They were traveling to Barcelona together while I’ll be traveling to Paris. But what could’ve have been a simple trip became a circuitous journey when I got on the wrong train. I ended up in Culoz before traveling to Bellegard to catch a train to Gare de Lyon in Paris. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, what could’ve been an unpleasant experience became a happy sightseeing side-trip and memorable adventure.

My former teammates who now live in Paris picked me up at Gare de Lyon. I stayed with them during my short visit. No matter how short though, I was still able to see the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Sacré-Cœur, and the Arc de Triomphe. I enjoyed exploring a little bit of Place Charles de Gaulle and ventured on my own to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise to visit Oscar Wilde’s tomb.

From Paris, I took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord to Bruxelles-Midi then transferred to another train going to Brussels Airport. I chose that route because it seemed more convenient for me. I wanted to take the Airport Express shuttle that stops at Crowne Plaza Antwerpen where I’ll be staying. In hindsight though I wished I just took the train to Antwerpen-Centraal to see the station’s beautiful architecture. I didn’t know then that I won’t have the time to explore the city given our busy schedule. I didn’t see much of Belgium much to my regret. The only sightseeing I’ve done while in Antwerp was the long walk I did soon after I arrived and the daily trips from the hotel to Willebroek where the Hazewinkel rowing venue was located.

I may not have been able to see much of the places I’ve been to this year. But in each place I’ve discovered more than I expected. All the experiences and things I’ve seen made me want to travel more. It also made me realize that traveling solo is one of the best experiences one can have.

Work I Enjoy

I was happy with work this year. I had to learn new skills to adapt to constantly-changing requirements. But it was all fun despite the long hours I have to do sometimes. More importantly, I’m grateful that the work I do now allows me to pursue my passions. It may not be as financially rewarding as my last “regular” job. But venturing out on my own was a risk I was prepared to take on so as to have more freedom to do what I love.

It’s been year of ups and downs. But despite the struggles, the good things far outweigh the bad. At the end of the day, I learned many things along the way.

So I’ll end this with a quote: “Trust me, I never lose; I either win or learn!” Unknown

Sayonara and Thank You, 2015!