March 30, 2005

Here's To My Brother

I was interviewed by my students in school today for the student newsletter, and they asked me who my favourite person in the world is. I thought about it for a moment, and the answer was clear: My brother, Ming. Coincidentally, today is his birthday. Happy 18th Birthday Ming! He's my biggest supporter and he's probably the only person who always believes in me.

A brief exchange we had over dinner illustrates our relationship well:

Ming: I was going to have lunch with you today, but I ran into a friend. Then I ran into another friend.
PJ: Did you then get out of your car and scream, "Oh no!"
Ming: No, of course, don't be silly. I had lunch first, then I went back and screamed, "Oh no!"
PJ: Ah, of course, silly me.

Posted by pj at 09:34 PM

March 23, 2005

No Checks. It's Cash Only.

I was recently forwarded an article by P. H. Mullen Jr., author of Gold In The Water, a book chronicling the journeys of swimmers to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Entitled No Checks. It's Cash Only., it tells his story of how he swam across the English Channel. It's an amusing read that brings back a lot of memories for me and is a taste of what will come. If you're interested, you should take a look.

An Excerpt:


My own swim is uneventful until hour 4. Then, out of God's wide sky, comes an apocalypse. I swim into the middle of a 200-yard shoal of jellyfish, and suddenly the water is purple and gelatinous with sea creatures. Everywhere I put my hands I'm stung. The jellyfish cover my face and shoulders; they get squished in my armpits and groin. My torso and legs are flayed. Over the next half hour of slow swimming my right arm loses feeling and my breathing turns raspy. Another half hour passes, and I become light-headed. Woodward's book is gone; he intently watches my every stroke.

Posted by pj at 08:15 AM

March 18, 2005

My Kids

One of the fun things about being a history teacher is being able to read the creative interpretations of history by my students. For example:

"I think that everyone wants to be in a favourable light, Pharaoh or not. The Pharaoh might have wanted to leave his mark on the world and telling people what he has achieved [sic], you wouldn't want people going into his tomb and see hieroglyphics of the King eating chips and drinking wine while his kingdom is getting screwed. People will say, 'Man, he is such a loser.' ...

"... also when we analyze secondary sources it may be biased or inaccurate or totally false. We can't fully trust books or the internet because not many people would trust a source that says 'Michael Jackson turned white naturally' because anyone can write bullshit and claim it is true..."

Needless to say, this chap did well in the History test I gave!

Anglo-Chinese School (International) is a wonderful, wonderful place. Everyone on the staff, from the Principal down to the janitorial staff, are terrific people and work very hard at their jobs. The people who really inspire me, though, are the students- they are such a wonderfully talented group. Despite any problems we may have, I feel that there's nothing insurmountable with them. I truly enjoy working with them and I know they will all be very successful in the future.

As a teacher and as a person who's doing something utterly crazy to benefit the school (it is one of the beneficiaries of the Methodist Schools' Foundation), it warms my heart to know that these kids have so much promise and are working so hard to fulfil their potential. Every time I see them hard at work and I watch them learning, I am glad that I can help them achieve their goals and get the most out of life. They inspire me and hopefully I can inspire them.

Posted by pj at 08:30 AM

March 04, 2005

Glorious Failure

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt.

-- Measure for Measure, Act I, scene iv (William Shakespeare)

Despite my attempts to explain, some people still do not seem to understand why I am making this attempt. Apart from the most readily apparent reasons- charity, to set an example, and so on- I'm also doing this for myself. I swim to challenge myself, to push the boundaries of the human body and the human spirit- my body and my spirit.

People ask what happens if I die in the Channel. What happens if I don't make it? Will I have thrown away my life, my health, my sanity for a moment of fleeting glory? What benefit could there possibly be for having once swam solo across the English Channel?

What they don't understand is that the height of achievement lies not in the accomplishment of a dream, but in the pursuit of it. What will remain with me is not the fleeting moment of glory, but the hours I spent chasing the elusive dream and the sacrifices I made to make the dream possible.

Million Dollar Baby illustrates the nobility of this pursuit. You may agree or disagree with the movie and its ending, but there's no denying its message (If you don't want the ending spoilt for you, stop reading now). The film tells the story of a young woman, played by Hilary Swank, who escapes from a life of drudgery by spending her every spare hour in a boxing gym. For a while, it looks as if she is talented enough to escape. Then the fates deal her a terrible blow: she loses her championship fight, is horribly injured, and persuades her trainer, played by Clint Eastwood, to kill her. She tells him not to blame himself. Her belief is that it is far better to have tried and experienced the briefest glimpse of success, but ultimately fail, than it is to not try at all and live out your days in mediocrity. To not try: that is the worst possible failure, and she is far happier for having done what she has done.

In the movie, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) says, "If there's magic in boxing, it's the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you." The same goes for life in general. You have to be willing to risk yourself and everything you have for the achievement of your dreams. Therein lies the nobility of the pursuit of one's dreams. Failure isn't failure if you've given of your best. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle that in itself is a victory.

Posted by pj at 08:20 PM

A Faithful Mistress

I was recently accused of overachieving. I'm not even sure what that phrase means. How does one overachieve? I merely did what I had to do, when I had to do it, and achieved what I deserved from my efforts. It was just hard work and time. I achieved what I could with the time I was had, with the opportunities I was given, and with the obstacles I faced.

It may seem I 'overachieve', but at the same time I can make a case I underachieve. I am an incredibly lucky person, and Lady Luck has frequently smiled on me. With so many opportunities thrown my way, and with such providential situations I find myself in, I could hardly go wrong.

Just as easily, I could cite various misfortunes which have befallen me over the years. I don't dwell on those issues either.

In fact, given recent tumult in my personal life, it's timely to remind myself just how therapeutic the pursuit of excellence is. I highly recommend it. There is nothing which makes me forget about my problems more than spending two hours in the water, working my guts out, leaving my exhuasted but triumphant on the battle field. Similarly, when I'm absorbed in my marking, teaching my students, and focused on some other important piece of work, all my cares and worries melt away.

Over the years, the water has been my most faithful mistress. She has been there for me, every morning, beckoning me to dive in. She ranges from being frigid at 5.30am to being deliciously cooling at 4.30pm; but she always welcomes me into her embrace and never rejects me. All these years, I have shared with her pain and sorrow, heartache and sadness, and still she waits, every morning, accepting but never judging.

Perhaps that is why I find it so hard to bid her farewell. It's hard to say goodbye to someone who has meant so much to you and given so much of herself to you all these years. I am approaching the age where I must one day decide I can no longer keep seeing her every day. Yet I know that she won't mind and she will always be there for me, happily lapping at my feet as I walk up to the edge of the pool, waiting for me once again to commit myself to her depths and to leave the dry world behind.

Posted by pj at 07:37 PM | Comments (2)