toffee and national security

at canadian customs on way back to yyz:

officer: good afternoon, miss-
monkey: good afternoon, here's my passport and forms.
o: (glance forms) where do you live?
m: here in toronto, downtown by eaton centre.
o: (scribbling) and where are you coming from?
m: a small village called chinley in the peak district.
o: (looks baffled) and that's where exactly-
m: about 45min drive from manchester, uk.
o: (comprehension) aha okay. what were you doing?
m: i was visiting my partner.
o: (small-talkish) and how long has been there for?
m: he was born and raised there.
o: (raise eyebrow) oh? what does he do?
m: he plays for bbc phil.
o: (raise another eyebrow) and you?
m: well, i live here, for now, if you let me in?
o: (calmly) and what do you do?
m: i work at utoronto, at music faculty-
o: (baffled) so he lives there and you are here?
m: yes, that would be correct-
o: (pause) HOW DOES THAT WORK?
m: well, it's working no?!?
o: (surprised) why isnt he moving here?
m: we can go eitherway, as long as i get my citizenship ppr!
o: (genuine warmth) well, welcome back, ms lee,
and bring your love  here for you, we'll find him something,
m: hahaha, thanks.
o: (back to official) any gifts? duty-related things? you say- of 100 CAD value?
m: just carton of fags.
o: (scribble) that's all of 100?
m: i have no idea how much a carton costs- so it seemed okay?
o: (mischievous) and nothing from your partner?
m: i have- toffees! 24 blocks of them!
o: (lost)toffees?
m: that's 2.4kg of toffee!
o: wha- (amused greatly)
m: i may lose pretty things but i can always eat toffee!
o: (genuine) are they good?
m: ones with brazilian nuts are particularly good.
o: (smiling) i suppose brush your teeth, and welcome home.
m: thanks sir. good afternoon to you.
o: (scribble 'candies' on form, hands back to monkey)

how does it work? well, it does work.
even when 25% of my check-in luggage was toffee.
by weight.

while others were losing patience at our conversation, it was for canadian national security. important things in life, sometimes. as long as it works. what a grave matter!  :)


one degree removed

it is a bright day today here in chinley.  thanks to the hailstone-rain of yesterday, all the water in the air seems to have drained downward, through the soggy spongy earth, leaving the sky blinding bright.  here at the green pasture basket, the bedroom has been recently painted to a pale yellow and it is quite a joy to see the sunlight peeking behind from the curtains.  especially when a sunny morning is not a guarantee but a luxury.

it has been quite busy.  it seems amazing- it ought to be impossible really, as i am not legal to work here, period. however, like all blank calendars, it somehow filled itself right up to the rim.  it is difficult to note all things of amusement, but the most recent events were a birthday party and joe satriani concert @ manchester.  and they happened to fall on the same day (how does it always happen so?)  since it was a big-number birthday of a particular oboist friend, it entailed numerous things- especially concerning logistics and food choices etc.  when one plays in a big band, like an orchestra, i think it becomes really difficult to make a small list of people. where do you draw the line? (now it sounds like a wedding show) so due to company size, it was moved to the local pub.  and this pub being very british, it doesnt really utilize the kitchen, hence, things had to be room-temperature.  and ooh yeah. all ages too- sunday afternoon, which means tons of itty kiddies who may have all kinds of preferences.  thought it really isnt a big deal ('serve what you would serve at home when someone drops by in sunday mid-afternoon!'), it was fun to be involved in various musing stages.  anyways, it was a good party- though we had to buzz off to pick up fish offspring no. 2 to attend joe satriani show.  so a full day.

inevitably, sunday was full of people i never met.  even most of the people i knew arent really my friends yet- a polite acquaintances, really.  just another slice of walking into someone else's life, i suppose.  as often as it happens, still, being the slight outsider is a difficult position.  especially if you consider mr fish is an orchestral player by dayjob- unlike bank jobs, being in an orchestra (and he's been in the same one for decades i suppose) is much more personal, i believe.  attuned to one another, one gets to know others in more details possible in other occupations.  these people have been known one another for ages, tours together and often commutes together.  and another recent experience was to tag along to mr fish's naughty fusion band school workshop.  similar things here- the band members may not know the details of one anothers' daily lives, however, to play 'tight,' there's always a great deal of personal understanding.

mr fish's offspring no. 2's birthday was also similar. all families gathered together, who have known him pretty much since he was in nappies, with very few exceptions- late comers, the slight outsiders, like me, who is getting to know him a bit, but yet far from being an intimate friend.  even here in chinley, i bet i could walk for miles and miles and not run into another asian, nevermind another korean.  in manchester, i would have much better luck (though it's nothing like back in yyz, where the immigrants have overtaken the previous anglo-saxon culture.  i think the wealth in yyz is still held firmly by the old white families- old monies anyways, but the culture definitely reflects fusion elements)

unlike a festival or a school semester, where a large percent of the population leaves one's own context (if not all), being integrated usually involves a big long phase of being a passive outsider.  i remember being a social outcast when i first moved to canada- somewhat terrifying and difficult to be uprooted.  and though i now speak the language and have grown a bit more since then, it is quite challenging still- to grow some roots.  but the additional problem is that i move around so much anyways, that it has been impossible to be grounded. like a cutting of a plant, being changed from a cup to another on regular basis.  so here, most of the time, i am stuck at the polite company level through association.  wherever i go, it's pretty much explained (previously or presently) that i am with company of mr fish.  i dont mind that really. that's not the challenge.

last night, mr fish had a jazz gig.  i usually tag along and sit a the back during the gig.  i know the players and i do exchange short greetings and such.  but it being somewhat of old boys' network of gigging, during the break between the sets, people- including the audiences, usually follow their social protocol.  catching up. buying pints. whatever it is.  then occasionally i am conversed to, usually along the line of: are you here to see (mr fish)?  suppose it is obvious, as i sit by the fiddle case.  then often they make remarks, usually friendly ones.  things like: oh, he's a wonderful player, isnt he- he's got a nice sound, etc.

then sometimes a bit more interesting ones:
old man: are you with the fiddler?
monkey: ay sir.
om: are you a jazz musician as well?
monkey: ah, no sir.
om: i bet, like me, you would love to be able to play an instrument like he does!
monkey: ha ha-
om: he's special than all of us, what a nice player. well, good night.

i understand that he was just complimenting my company.  but at the same time, it did bite a bit, another reminder that im just an outsider.  that no one really knows who i am nor they care (but seriously, why should they?) but last night, i couldnt help but to think: but i do play alright, if not jazz, though i really know for sure that you dont really care, old man!

i didnt study for a long time so that i would have a title.  i dont expect people to love me instantaneously. or even to notice me at all.  in such context, im once again, that last one in, new kid on the block, the slight outsider.  even more, all my personal connection in chinley is through mr. fish.  all of them still a polite company.  i understand it takes ages of time and real efforts to build a friendship.  a friend matters. a friend is someone you understand and know a thing or two about AND vice versa.  it all takes time.  and kind open gestures.

i did feel a bit of envy when fish junior thanked dad for the wicked concert.  hey, i did spot it after all. but it's not about who gets the big thanks, but more of- i am, yes, once again, one degree (at least) removed.  and there is nothing that can trump their relationship in a sense- couples can separate, but parent-child bond is eternal, even in biological sense.

so on this crisp beautiful autumn day, i am sitting by self in the sunlight, missing my friends, where i am not a degree-removed, but have grown together.  sadly, most of them are too faraway to enjoy the sun with me.  even IF i had a big bash, there is no way that everyone would be there, logistically saying.  and because i move around so much, i often wonder if i am forgotten.  though i do understand that the rare but true friends can transcend the distance/time differences.  but then it's not an everyday thing. that's why they are so special.

i do think eventually i may be integrated into fish's world as a person of my own right.  it may take an awful long time. however, regardless of that (or this long blattering post), i just simply wanted to scribble that i miss my friends, the people i understand and know, love and miss. zero degrees removed.  friends who knows who i am without another introduction or polite small talks.


going beyond chilean miners

the world have been watching chilean miner rescue operation for weeks. and yes, it's a big relief that they are all out once again.  survival of thirty three roughneck miners in the depth of earth, only connection to the world as they know it by what can only be described as ephemeral means.  thousands praying, watching the rescue, forgetting their own suppers and tasks.  a human victory over seventy days of trial with no certainty for future.

okay. i am being a bit sarcastic. but let me express my sincere relief on the completion of the rescue mission, if it was a bit tad dramatic (hence television worthy).  looks like all will be taken care by the government (at least for a bit), rejoining their families and the so-called-normal-life.  but it longer will be just normal life.  i am fully expecting at least several movie scripts and autobiographical book plans in transit ever since the case went global.  so why am i being so bitter on such joyous occasion?

chile is not what i would call one of the most developed countries.  the list of G20 member countries are constituted with the wealthy nations and their trade/labour partners.  including the big guns such as uk, usa and majority of western europe, it also includes their necessary partners such as turkey, india, south korea, mexico and china.  chile isnt one of them. i bet they wish it was. why? because it means certain things: wealthy, power, you know, the usual.  the non-G20 countries usually work in close conjunction to these economical powers. one of the main industrial traits is that the 'advanced' countries no longer want to dirty their hands in primary industries- mining, farming (with small exception of recent reform on local-ecologically aware agricultural movements), forestry, quarrying, fishing (though canada is an exception, as it still relies heavily on its oil and forestry industry).  

we export our electrical wastes to our lesser neighbours, so they can reclaim whatevers left of any value, inhaling toxic burning plastic fumes, killing off whatever land they may had left for survival. we take the finished products at the lowest costs possible, leaving caustic toxic waste dam, just a stone's throw away from the danube (i wonder if people have came through this news while the media was glowing with chilean victory) with 158m to 184m gallons of alkaline sludge (which is just really a bit less than 200m gallon oil spill by BP by gulf of mexico this year), you wonder: well, it's just alumina refinement by-products. may be soils and water be effected.  i was surprised to learn that it is caustic enough to kill people on contact. chemical burned to death. seven on count (four dead, three missing), eleven on critical condition. it's now too big of a group to keep in our heads, isnt it.  and why do i have a funny feeling that it only just became a news because it threatened the mighty danube, pride of continent europe? if it was effecting some local hungarian (or substitute any equal-category countries really), would it ever become a new item at all?  

wait. this may have been a fresh piece of news for you after all!

i also wonder how many people had gone beyond the up-to-date tweets and email news reports to see even the most general picture of mining.  for instance, just a short googling will tell you that in average, 34 people perish in mines of chile alone, according to their state regulartory agency, servicio nacional de geologia y mineria de chile. which may imply that the real number of mining death would be a lot higher. san jose gold-copper mine had one of the worst records anyways, including a shut-down on 2007 due to a civil suit case against the company.  but 2008, it opened, quietly. again. with no changes. to supply us with some aluminum. so we can have our coke cans.  the miners at these privately owned mines often gets higher pay because they live with danger all the time.  the miners at san jose were paid on average 20% higher wages.  with providing just over 1/3 of national income, mining is a serious and dangerous deal i chile. in china. in rural united states, where the pipe water runs blood red, from ravaged ground, toxic.

and so in brief and conceited research-like snooping on the web by a comfortable monkey tells me that the miners were definitely aware of their situations.  people talked on their starbucks coffee shops and their living rooms with HD big screen television: it is horrible! they are trapped under ground, on small holes through the ground!  ladies and gents, it's called mining.  with profit in mind. they go down there every day.  what we consider 'shocking' conditions are the daily backdrop of these people.  without the collapse, they were still living with big-bulls-eyes stuck on their heart. and they did get out much earlier than expected. all alive, etc. we wont even include the highly secretive and bloody mining of gemstones.  have you ever seen children miners with their legs cut off? casted into the ground on a rickety pushboard, so that they can get into smaller and smaller holes? i have.  you think im joking.  i wish i was being punked by some sophisticated photoshop.  i was about nine or so when i saw this picture. i dont remember where it was from, by whom. too young, i suppose, to do a proper bibliography.  i sworn off gems ever since.  

and with all fairness, they did have crappy seventy days.  but look, they had communication with the rest of the world, it was closely watched. no chance in hell they will be 'forgotten' once it was reported on global networks.  people bonded with them.  watched them. cried for them.  engrossed by their lives.  i say that is the first-class treatment of these miners.  there was no way their governments/family/whoever was going to let them down. unlike the chinese miners. which ones am i talking about? when did it happen?

just plog in search for 'chinese mine collapse 2010,' watch your result grow endless.

what of the recent pakistan flood 2010? 
tsunami 2004? 
kashmir earthquate 2005? 
haiti 2010? 
russia wildfire 2010? 

it is impossible to weep for every single victims of these disasters, especially since lots of them were out of human control.  and there's this weird phenomena where the general public becomes incapable of relating to a mass group of victims, while they find it easy and natural to attach themselves to a smaller number of victims (enough to remember, not too big that it becomes incomprehensible); i once ran into an interesting article on nytimes on this subject while the rescue of molly, a black cat, trapped in the wall between two buildings went on for weeks as a section A interest in 2006.  i wish i could find it again as it quietly explained why we make 'icons' out of these singular victims while being somewhat dull towards suffering of a large group (not enough info to comprehend the depth of the situation)

in any case, the miners are alright for now. the hungarian toxic dam is no longer leaking.  there will be more disasters coming, everywhere. so why not find a piece of beautiful life and stick with it? sprinkle it occasionally with media's good news stories where we are all compelled to glue selves to tv and feel pity for that 30 min of our day? why not?  i cant tell you why not.  it is not an individual faults (usually) that leads to tragedy of mass scale.  and no, we cannot worry about all the wrong things in the world.  but perhaps just starting to look one step beyond the media feed of the hottest-current-report would be a good place to start.  starting to be aware of larger pictures. if one becomes familiar with such pictures, i believe the questions will come. in floods. and answers will also arrive, if in little pieces.  and with those questions and answers, we can be slightly more aware of the place we live in.  one of my favorite writer, michael pollan, said it very well in his 'in defense of food':  you cant just do one thing.  

awareness can lead to many issues.  but like everything else in life, the situation itself was never new.  but once aware, it becomes a new issue.  people often talk of 'discovering' and 'understanding' (especially in scientific research, where we, the general public tend to put on a huge mythical belief that it is all brand new and wondeful), but the truth is that the life as we know it, has always been there. whether we understand the way universe work (or not) through various theories (string theory, theory of relativities, quantum physics, you name it) and we are becoming more aware, simply put. but it is a relief to know that once aware, regardless of the present understanding of it (or anticipated resolutions in near future), the question will eventually lead to richer life experience. so why not try to become aware?

come on, take that extra 10 min from your favorite killing-time-activities (i blame computer, har har), and take just one extra step.  chilean miners, hungarian toxic dam, doesnt matter.  look around you.  find things of all nature- pleasant, unpleasant, surprising, assuring-   and be excited that the questions will arrive at your doorstep. with a big suit case for staying over, squatting in the corner of your consciousness. we never live alone. love to you all.



you came a bit after me
two years and two months 
and twenty-two days
i thought it was a nice gap
enough for me to drag you through the mud
steal your candies and laugh when you look surprised
a gap that i thought was permanent
we are two years and two months 
and then twenty-two days apart

soon we will be two years 
and four months apart
as you chrysalised at an ambitious age of twenty-eight
and i continue to slow crawl forward.
this wouldve been a nice point for me to
buy you duty free fags and send you bills

such a nice feeling to have you through 
the gritty bits of life as
i was so certain you also had gritty days
especially when you are always so kin on no tax fags

if one stuck a cylindrical drill
to take a core sample of me
just like the fossils
you will be there
scattered and intermixed
just shy of two years two months and twenty two days
though the days grow apart 

it would hurt
as if one did stuck a drill
i cant take you out 
as a sample would still leave
a large part of you
interwoven with my life

we slowly grow apart
because of time
and with the pressure of time 
a constant
you will stay closer to my core
deeper and intact
if difficult to see right away

'i have two brothers
my wee one is two years and four months younger than i'


critical quality

the idea of excellency is a funny one.  ive been thinking about it for awhile, as i do have loads of time on my head.  five weeks of domestication along with slightly-improvised-odd-activities (still looking forward to do some stone works and such) leaves one with much things to think around/about/of.  while i was walking along the path near the hill (called cracken edge), i collected some wild blackberries and made jam.  fish junior no. 2 have turned into an 'adult' overnight (happy birthday!).  i brought some interesting spices and things and made some quasi-improvisatory things in the kitchen. went to hear some music, even to the beethoven 5th, which is almost hilarious when one knows me that i would rarely pay to go see a classical concert (it's too close to work!)  did some doodles on papers, which are recasted as somewhat useful visual products in a long-ish process (i ought to learn A professional visual editing software i think.  it always takes longer to just muck about and getting 'lucky' in producing results, haha)

so all these odd works make me wonder why i do things that i do and how does it related to what i deem as important: well, life is fairly simple and there are only few things that matters. phew. the funny thing is that such principles tends to run through various mediums and events and continuously tickle one's brain.  so what are these few things that matter? the most interesting one so far has been the idea of 'excellency.'

an event/idea/action always have more dimensions and contexts than one can possibly conceive at a given time.  i remember having endless repetition on the subject, 'can there be an absolute art?' well, let's substitute the word 'art' into something else- music, dance, conception, thoughts, philosophy, whatever you will- then one can realize even by possibly thinking about it, it has lost its 'absolute' status.  a good example is a gossip about oneself by the office water cooler, that always gets to you the latest.  while one had no idea what has been talked about, it went around the town and excited everyone, and by the time it reaches one, it has turned into a fab scandal.  how amazing.  something that probably slipped by one's own consciousness, however, gripped others' minds with great interests. by being simply acknowledged, one is no longer absolute.  oh, the joy of unavoidable contextualization.

once it has brought to the light that there is so much possibilities of 'reception,' especially when it turns itself to become an 'inception,' it could be even frightening to think of the 'future' from 'present.'  the difference between a grandmaster and a young chess student is simply that a grandmaster can foresee into the possible consequences with much more depth and length, from what i have been told, to next four-five moves.  there, a reception of a situation (the board now changed by the opponent) becomes an inception for the proposed plans of the player (hoping to shape the board the way the player wants it, which will then become a reception for the opponent; situation will then repeat self until there has been a fatal error or a standstill cause by one party, where the game ends.  btw, i am very fond of the idea of a standstill after a robust middle game)

so once extended, this paring of inception and reception could require much thoughts for such simple actions. almost paralyzing, as if thinking about walking and trying to walk.  so then a simple event, such as playing, can be quite a daunting thing.  well, i think most musicians play not because they have a particular agenda, but because they simply wants to play.  because they want to play, they find ways and forms to present the 'playing.' and once a time and place is set and people have been called, there is very little one could do to stop/change those parameters, short of last minute changes and cancellations.  and because the world isnt perfect, there is no harm done at all in making an attempt to 'present.'  

wait, what if the risk was more than zero?
realization of activity = consequences?

there are two schools of thoughts on this, from what i gather from my personal conversations.  please feel free to fill me in otherwise.  the first school is that once aimed high, you have reached more than you could by not aiming at all, so why not encourage.  this is not the school i belong.  but i see the value in this argument.  even when an event/action is not entirely successful (usually have to do with the quality of the presented idea/actions), because it already has loads of extra-contexts, it should be encouraged and enjoyed as such.  things like primary school orchestra concerts would be a good example: the quality of the concert itself is a secondary, or even tertiary interest. the main aim of the concert was to involve/organize/process/perform as a learners and the concert involves another 'learning' activity: performing.

aha, yes. one needs to think and learn about performing. though the idea of doing something and being reflected upon should not be foreign fro practice to concert, it never is, as you must have courage to take on the stage (even with needless pressures and worries, as it tends to skyrocket when one 'cares' more and more.  *thought on this later) and be familiar with the ritual of performance etc etc (ex. you wont dress/act the same from a classical to jazz to a rock gig, would you?)(if you do, well, that would be eccentric, at least).

see, i belong to the other school, who thinks that realization of activity must be considerate of its quality.  for instance, if you are prepping for an audition and be a real crap (lack of care, ability, time, practice, whatever the reasons may be), you should not have been there.  one may say 'i was trying,' at which point, by 'trying,' one just have wasted time (irrecoverable), efforts (may be compensated in monetary things, not all is lost) of others which made that environment a possibility.  the audition, for instance, did not exist just for one to 'test the waters,' the audition is usually held for a purpose. if you arent ready, dont be selfish and misuse the opportunity. blah blah.  when presenting something, a minimal quality control must be there. without quality, you arent really delivering what has been promised, at which point, the reception of the work is poor (whether it effects your audience or not) and it may have all kinds of consequences that one never thought was possible (how many drama teachers have crushed countless kids from becoming a comfortable public speaker? i dare no to think of. i had a couple for sure. but i bet they would never know).  

but then, you see, i do make some pocket money here and there doing what i call doodling, not the finest is it.  and i do enjoy the little things i draw on papers AND i know lots of them have probably found places under the old notes and programs to stay for awhile in other peoples' junk files.  far as i know, one of them even made it as an official handout for a university level course. ha ha ha.  so obviously, it's not all about the best you can produce. it's always a juggle between what can be and what should be.

it is a difficult thing to explain to someone that i wasnt being overly critical.  perhaps the way i should say it is that i was not being critical exclusively for them.  there have been many things that i just mumbled to my partners in crime: dont worry about putting my name on the program really... (trans: i hope this wont be recorded in history in any shape or form AT ALL)  at which point i usually think that 1. it is scheduled and it is going to happen, so may as well get on with it, 2. because it is ONLY going to exist in the most undependable form of history: human memory, it'll be alright- it will be assumed that the recollection of any kind will be inaccurate, 3. hence, to survive, all i need to do is to go there and do the best i can do and make sure that it passes through the passage of time.

cowardice? yes.
is it necessarily bad? no, i dont think.

by letting it exist only in a memory, perhaps what i am hoping to do is to only preserve whatever bits that are salvageable and useful.  is it selfish? well, if i knew that it was not up to my own standard but without any other option beside cancelling, i dont really have a choice, do i- especially when it is NOT my show (which is true for most cases).  and with a little shame, i do think that i dont have the right to tell others that they should not enjoy whatever i was able to provide just because i thought it was crap (as we creative professionals do out of blind habit: DUDE IT TOTALLY SUCKED!)

i remember walking out of one masterclass when a good mentor of mine congratulated me. and i said (instantaneously) that i played totally crap. and he looked and calmly asked me:

are you telling me i am stupid?

hahaha. lesson learned.  ever since then, it is always there, the idea of excellency and the pursuit of such illusion. and perhaps it is not always practical to think of such matter. however, as a performing monkey, i think there is a need for one to think about the process of preparing for the best-possible-outcome: selecting repertoire, players, venues, etc.  often we are overly ambitious and bite more than we could even hold in our mouths.  and as one struggles to carry out the rest of the process, it often leaves a dirty feeling in my mouth.  it wasnt right.  the quality suffers and i feel unjustified to subject self and others to sub-par works.   that is regardless of any other auxiliary results- for instance, making one's granny proud and such.  those functions were fulfilled. it does not need further discussion.  what is important, i feel, is the constant vigilance toward riding on 'high,' as if one is to present, one need to be considerate of the recipients, who will then take these experiences as their own inceptions.  

this post is way too long and it's been sitting in my brain for couple days. it's all long and quite dense.  but i am glad that it did sit in the empty skull for awhile as it does make one think about what is important.  purely presenting is not for the enjoyment of the performer.  or the audience.  it is one's responsibility to create an effective results with quality.  especially when it is subjecting less-experienced audiences.  last year at banff, i remember running into book bomber, enthusiastically telling him that i found frank zappa's music done by ensemble moderne.  he looked puzzled and said: do you like zappa's orch music?  NO NO. i dont. but if i am going to make an effort to listen to it again just to see, then may as well listen to a great performance of it.  how can i be so sure that i can only be effected by the conception of the work?  and this point made both of us laugh.  well, zappa can be someone else's hero for a bit longer. but it's a funny thing to constantly think of excellency.

sometimes i think i should aim simpler things in life to be excellent. like water-to-oatmeal ratio.  some things are important, i say.