Sunday, March 4, 2012

On the move

Proof that I made it. Taipei 101.
So... it's been a while since my last entry. Why you may ask? Well, I've recently moved to Taiwan to begin my next big adventure. It's taken me a while to establish a decent internet connection and get settled in. But now I finally have a bit of time up my sleeve so figured I'd try to recap what's happened so far...

Departure and Arrival

My departure from Australia was uneventful. I wasn't sad, I wasn't overly excited. I just was. I knew what I had to do and in my usual fashion, I left it all until the last minute. Perhaps that's why I didn't really 'feel' anything... I didn't have the time.

Drive to the airport with Mum and Dad was quiet. Spent an hour checking in and saying my goodbyes and then the adventure really started. First challenge was getting through customs. I was a bit concerned I'd be stopped. I had a few layers on, it was 30+ degrees and I was sweating like a mofo. My concern was unwarranted though. I made it through no worries and then had a bit of time to kill before jumping on the plane.

I remember taking-off from Brisbane International Airport with a massive grin on my face. This was very different to when I moved to Japan in 2007. (When I left Australia then I had an emotional breakdown on the plane.) I suppose I've matured a bit over the last couple of years and I'm a lot more comfortable doing things independently now. Anyway, just as the lead up to my departure was uneventful, so too was the plane trip. I had a window seat next to a very polite, old Taiwanese man. He kept mostly to himself. Apart from the standard, conventional courtesies, we spoke very little.

I arrived safely at Tao Yuan International Airport at about 6:00am (local time) on February 8. Getting through customs was a breeze. My driver was waiting for me with another new teacher, Seth, who had just arrived from America. The drive into Taipei was somewhat adventurous though! There are no road rules per se in Taiwan bar one - only focus on the first metre in front of your vehicle at all times! Sounds a bit crazy but it's very logical. If everyone is always paying attention on what's in front of them, then there shouldn't be many accidents... right!? We'll see about that one. So there we were, Seth and I, two strangers united in fear of imminent death as we hurtled down the highway towards Taipei. Glad to report we made it safely. It was nuts!

Checked into the First Hotel which would be my home for the fortnight of training. Met two other teachers, David and Nikki, and we spent the day exploring some of Taipei. By the time I crashed that evening I was a walking zombie. It had been close to 36 hours without decent sleep.


Intensive! That's the best way to describe the HESS initial training. I'm not going to elaborate too much on this one. All I'm going to say is I respect and appreciate everything our trainers, Michael and JK, did for us and how happy I was to have met such an awesome bunch of fellow adventurers/ESL teachers! That week and a half flew by.

Highs - Da Hu Park, Shilin Night Market, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial and a day trip to Danshui (Fort San Domingo and Gongming St).

Lows - Late nights prepping for teacher demos and my first Taiwanese biological update - commonly reffered to as the flu.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolve to be realistic about your resolutions

(Flikr: Jorgen Kesseler)

New Year's. It's that special time of the year where all one's worries and concerns can be momentarily put aside as we mark the passing of another calender year. Many of us celebrate the occassion with family and friends; indulging in reminiscence and making plans for the not too distant future. Many of us will also make resolutions. But how many of us will actually see our resolutions through to fruition?

My guess is not many. Sure, we may stay on track for the first couple of weeks of the new year, but by the time February comes around many of us will have conveniently forgotten our resolutions and will be back where we started; slavishly embracing the same old habits that prompted us to make our resolutions in the first place. As a case in point, I vividly remember my list of resolutions for 2011 and while it's somewhat embarrassing to admit, I don't think I achieved any of them. I didn't even try. How very sad. SMH.

So why do we do it then? Why do we set ourselves these goals, year in, year out, yet more often than not fail to do anything towards achieving them? Are we lazy? Are we trying to fit in with friends and family... I mean everyone makes a New Year's resolution, right?

According to Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University, resolutions are a form of "cultural procrastination", that is they are an effort to reinvent oneself. "People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves," he says. Pychyl argues that most people who make a resolution aren't really ready to change their habits, particularly their bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate.

But the reason that really struck a chord with me is much more simplistic. As stated by Dr Avya Sharma, people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

So how can we be more realistic with our resolutions? Writing in Psychology Today, Ray B Williams offers the following tips:

1. Focus on one resolution, rather than several;
2. Set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 kgs in 90 days would be;
3. Don't wait till New Year's eve to make resolutions. Make it a year-long process;
4. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too big a step all at once;
5. Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to;
6. Celebrate your success between milestones. Don't wait the goal to be finally completed;
7. Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits;
8. Focus on the present. What's the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
9. Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future;
10. And finally, don't take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, but don't let the slip hold you back from working at your goal.

These suggestions make a lot of sense to me and I for one feel more prepared to set a realistic resolution for 2012.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A multiracial Australia without racism? Hmm...

Police watch crowd before Cronulla Riots. (Flikr: Warren Hudson)
Today marked the sixth anniversary of the 'Cronulla Race Riots'.

When considering all of the available facts, it's hard not to believe that racism and intolerance played a significant role in the lead-up to, and the riots themselves.

For example, on December 4, 2005 police were called to North Cronulla Beach following a report of an assault on off-duty surf lifesavers by members of a group of Middle Eastern men.

As noted in Strike Force Neil, Cronulla Riots, Review of the Police Response:

Three Caucasian members of the North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club ... has just completed duty on North Cronulla Beach and were walking in the direction of the club house. They walked up a ramp leading from the beach. A group of about eight Middle Eastern youths were on the beach at the bottom of the ramp and had been observed there for some three hours. It would appear that as the three members of the surf club passed the group of Middle Eastern men, the members of each group were staring at each other. A verbal exchange took place in which a member from both groups accused the other of staring at them. At the time on of the Middle Eastern males said to the victim, in response to the staring accusations, "I'm allowed to, now fuck off and leave our beach." The victim said during this verbal exchange, "I come down here out of my own spare time to save you dumb cunts from drowning, now piss off you scum."

The following day, Alan Jones expressed his unique view of the exchange on 2GB radio:

"What kind of grubs? Well I’ll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. This lot were Middle Eastern grubs."

Then there's the widely circulated text messages that are believed to have instigated the gathering at Cronulla on December 11, the day of the riot.

"This Sunday every Fucking Aussie in the shire, get down to North Cronulla to help support Leb and wog bashing day...Bring your mates down and let’s show them this is our beach and they’re never welcome back"

"Just a reminder that Cronulla’s 1st wog bashing day is still on this Sunday. Chinks bashing day is on the 27th and the Jews are booked for early January"

If you read the above comments and failed to identify the racist remarks, or how they could fuel violent acts, I'm afraid there's little hope for you.

Not suprisingly though, some people are still of the opinion that racism and intolerance were not the main contributors to the riots.

Writing in Online Opinion last week, +Peter West argued: "The media encouraged violence and gave people permission to express their anger. Then, when people gathered in some kind of demonstration, the media were there, eager to record any hostility."

Mr West went on to say:

"The idea that Australia is a nation of outstanding racism is a view held by leftist academics and mindlessly encouraged by the silliest people in the media. And it was the media who were most of all responsible for its most extreme manifestation at Cronulla in 2005. And who were happy to show it on TV, while pretending to be horrified."

"I happen to love Australia. Show a foreign visitor around, and they will tell you we are the envy of many other countries. A land full of nasty racists? I don't think so."

Fair enough Peter. I also love Australia and agree we are the envy of many other countries. And while I respect your opinion that we are not a nation of outstanding racism and that the media encouraged the riots, I can't agree with you.

First, it would seem the riots would have taken place with or without the presence of the media; in fact police had been recording racial and ethnic tensions in and around Cronulla since October 2005. It would seem the December 11 riots were simply a very public demonstration of these tensions. You say the media encouraged the riots? The media encouraged people to act on their racist feelings? I would certainly hope not. This event was widely reported across all of Australia's media. If it was the media's doing, it would have to be one of the biggest cover-ups/fabrications in Australian media history.

You also ask why the media didn't report on the "friendly" scenes between locals and police earlier in the day? Any media student can answer that one. The friendly banter wasn't as newsworthy as the riots. Friendly banter or assaults and racial vitriol to fill the evening bulletin... hmm... tough one.

Second, while we may not be a nation of "outstanding" racism, we are a multiracial nation that fosters many forms of racism. In fact, I can't think of any multiracial society that exists without the presence of some form of racism? None. One cannot exist without the other. 

No matter what type of Australian you are, whether you be Indigenous-Australian, Anglo-Australian, Asian-Australian, African-Australian, European-Australian or Middle-Eastern Australian, you're always going to feel differently about Australians of a different culture or ethnicity to your own. It's human nature. While science may prove that humanity, although diverse, is one family and one people, sadly our common experience also shows that racism, hatred or dislike of others simply because of their origin or culture is a common human failing. And the more racially diverse Australia becomes, the more obvious it gets. 

For the record, I'm not a leftist academic, I don't consider myself "silly" and I don't identify as a racist. I try to be as tolerant and understanding of different cultures and people of different ethnicity as possible. But I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been racist at times. I challenge any Australian to identify a point in their life where they hadn't had a racist thought or laughed at a racist joke.

A multiracial Australia without racism? Yeah right!