Growth

self portrait of Chad with bristly beard and sombre expression

The last time I shaved was 2 weeks ago. It was the last time that I saw my grandmother alive. She was in hospice and I had been driving up to Vernon to visit her. We knew this was the end. (She was 87). So, I decided to stop shaving.

I have done something similar only a couple times before. Like when my wife told me she was pregnant, I stopped shaving for the whole pregnancy. I let my hair grow and everything for nine months and then shaved it once the baby was born.

There must be something deep — evolutionarily speaking — to do this kind of ritual at important life events. Some sort of inner emotional need to externally represent cycles — whether birth or death. I am not sure. I don’t think I learned it, it is just a feeling… a thing that has to be done.

My grandmother — my last living grandparent — is gone. She passed away on her terms, helping people while she went. It was pretty amazing actually. She will be missed.

Her funeral is soon. It has been exactly two weeks, so tonight I will shave the beard.

Let a new cycle begin.

A quick end of year roundup

Last day of 2018. Only wrote 5 posts this year, but it was a big one for me since I took a big step up in my job and even took on a second job. Some highlights:

  • taught 2 semesters of Computer Science as a sessional instructor at University of British Columbia (Okanagan) 👨‍🎓
  • though I didn’t do a lot of writing, I did create over 600 slides for my lectures ✍️
  • paid off 2 of my 3 students loans (the final one will be done in the coming months) 💰
  • a magical trip to Hawaii (review) 🏝️
  • World Cup, which was brilliant, and motivated me to start tracking La Liga, in addition to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League ⚽
  • read 50 books, including a lot about Asian history (not just Japan, but China, India, Tibet, Southeast Asia). Really taken an interest in what is happening on continental Asia these days. So interesting! 🌏
  • was even able to re-read a few books, which never happens ♻️
  • discovered Murakami Haruki (read 3 of his books) 📚
  • only watched 30 films (a third were rewatches). My all time favourite of the year: Bao 🥟

Now that my teaching is done, I plan on writing more in 2019. I haven’t set a goal yet, but likely the topic will be on Asia. Kinda think I might be going back to my Coming Anarchy roots. I will be in India next month, and Japan in the summer. So there will be at least 2 travelogues.

2018 was big for me. It feels like a new beginning. Here’s to 2019! 🥂

Your life-changing books

Here is the concept: what books have changed your life? I am not talking about your favourite books, or comfort food books that you have re-read over and over again (ahem… Harry Potter series), or even books that you recognize are a masterwork (eg Invisible Man or The Handmaid’s Tale) and deserving of praise. I mean books that, looking back, you see the ingredients for who you are today; books that are waymarkers for your life, turning points that you can say there are distinct periods before and after the book.

Some caveats: self-help books (like Getting Things Done which was transformational for me) don’t count, even though they will motivate you to take action. That also goes for books that inspire you to do (more of) an activity in the short term, like write (eg. Stephen King’s On Writing or Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler).

Lastly, I think we should skip over non-fiction books, like history, politics, and biographies. A person often reads these kinds of books with the intention of changing how they think about things, or at least further refining their thought. I think we should limit this to fictional works, which though may be written to affect the reader’s heart, due to the individual’s present life circumstances of which the author can never know, can often do so incommensurately.

So, if you will indulge me in my little game: which novels have changed your life?

Thinking about the various distinct phases of my 40 years in this existence, I trawled through the 600+ books on my Goodreads to see if I could determine the waypoints. However, the truth is, I already knew before even looking. There are only a handful (not sure if that is a good or a bad thing) that have left such an impression on my mind that I think of them often, even though many of them I have only read once. The candidates are below.
Continue reading “Your life-changing books”

A brief pause

It has been a couple of months since I have made an entry here — it is merely due to life keeping me very busy. I am working on some large projects at my day job (at which I was recently promoted to Director, Platforms & Technology), and in late December was offered the opportunity to teach a class at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.The course is Digital Citizenship, a sort of technology ethics course. It was a last minute emergency appointment, and preparation for three lectures each week has taken all of my spare time. Luckily I am team-teaching with a very talented friend, otherwise there is no way I could do it.

Once things begin to calm down in late March or April, I should like to get back to writing. I certainly want to reflect on my experience teaching, and I still have to write about my new year’s trip to Japan, including my stay on one of Japan’s holiest mountains Koya-san (see pics here). Furthermore, there are a number of book reviews I need to write. See you in spring!

100 days of meditation

At 6am this morning I quietly rose out of bed, padded into the bathroom to wash the sleep out my eyes, and then sat down on a cushion in front of the fireplace in my living room, surrounded by shadow and silence. Crossing my legs into a half-lotus position, I took a couple of deep breaths, and then settled into my morning habit… a habit I have been able to maintain for 100 days as of today.

screencap of InsightTimer profile page
Profile on InsightTimer showing 100 consecutive days.

At the very beginning of this year I set out four “goals.” I wrote these goals on my dive slate which hangs in my shower. One was to build a meditation habit. Kickstarting that habit was a reason I went on retreat at the Birken Forest Monastery this summer. As a side note, one thing I have learned about New Years resolutions is to not necessarily try to do them cold turkey. Give yourself some space to build towards the goal, and when the time is right, it will happen. Two of my other goals (learn more about Buddhism, and lose weight) have been successful. This year I have lost 20 pounds and so far have read 13 books on Buddhism, in addition to going on 2 retreats and planning my third for the year end. It might take a few months to get started, so don’t give up on your resolutions too early.

But back to the meditation habit. As you can see from the data, I have been consistent ever since that time at the monastery, except for one day: Aug 19th. If not for that, I would be at 135 consecutive days. But who is counting? I suppose I should not cling to the numbers… 😉

chart of meditation time by date
2017 sessions to date. The vast majority come after my retreat (indicated by the arrow on the left)

100 days is nothing compared to more experienced practitioners, but it is a milestone for me. Meditation has been a game changer in terms of stress reduction. But there are many more benefits waiting to be unlocked. Currently I only do the basic breath meditation for about 20 mins per sit. I sit at least once a day, and often twice. More recently I have been listening to some guided mettā meditations. I would really like to explore other meditation techniques, but I feel like I need access to a teacher. Spending time at retreat helped me get started (I first picked up Bhante G’s Mindfulness in Plain English 7 years ago, but only sporadically tried to sit, and only did so for very short periods) and in order to move to the next level, I am going to look for more instruction.

Why I moved here

Friends at startupvernon.com have been canvassing for stories about what made people move to the Okanagan. I would like to add mine using their questions (slightly adjusted).

NOTE: On November 30 our friends in Vernon will be hosting this years #megageekbeers which brings together community members from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops and surrounding areas. I hope to see you there! RSVP here →

Where are you originally from?

We came to Kelowna from Vancouver, where was had lived for just a year after moving back to Canada from Japan.

After having our second baby, we spent a few months in Armstrong where my parents retired. The original intention was to go back to Vancouver, but that changed after just a couple of months.

What were your biggest concerns about moving to Kelowna? What helped you overcome those worries?

When it was first suggested to me to move to Kelowna (by my parents), my first reaction was “I dunno how to drive a tractor!”

But after couple of months attending Digital Okanagan meetups, and learning about the types of technology opportunities here, I decided to quit my job at Apple and start a new path here.

And to echo some of the other responses, Kelowna’s reputation as a retirement community was not exactly attractive. But things are getting more diverse (not just age-wise but also a bit ethnically) and we have a somewhat progressive and young municipal administration which is making things better (eg. increasing density, active transportation, etc) for retirees and non-retirees alike. At the time I moved here I could already see that my impressions of Kelowna was well out of date.

What kind of research did you do before you moved to Kelowna?

It was really being here and meeting people. Having the opportunity to hang around for a couple of months is a real luxury that most people do not have.

What other cities did you consider moving to?

Hmmm… we weren’t really planning on leaving the Lower Mainland. It just kind of happened. Really happy it did though!

What’s kept you in Kelowna?

Family for sure. It is a great place to raise small children, and with extended family here we get lots of support.

The community is great too. As I have written elsewhere:

We have lived for 3 years in Kelowna. Since leaving my hometown at 18, this is the longest I have ever lived in one location. I am involved in a few different community groups including the startup community, Japanese immigrant community, the wider immigrant community, and others. … at this point in my late thirties, with all the connections to the local community that I have been building over the past few years, I am finally achieving a sense of long-term belonging.

Career wise it has been great. I have been exposed to many opportunities that I would not have in a larger centre.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering moving to Kelowna?

I always advise people that we are in the West, and it is kind of frontier land, so we need people that are resilient and willing to help build. For people looking to make a real impact, the Okanagan is a great place.

About running your company

[I am going to skip these questions since I do not run my own company here. But I will say that we are an international company that is based in Kelowna, and we a growing like crazy. Probably the biggest challenge — something I think most other companies here face — is finding talent. Our talent pool is too shallow, so we need more great people to move here!]

What would make Kelowna even better?

Housing affordability, less inequality, immigrant services, protected bike lanes… I have a long list of pet issues 😜 but this might be more of an objective place to start.

Kelowna has been great to us, but there is certainly much room for improvement. The cool thing is that I see many people fighting to make it a better place, which makes it just that much cooler to be here.

39

39_thank_you_by_lancelot_73-d4saebv.jpg
Miku image by lancelot-73

Today I am 39.

“3” in Japanese is san.

“9” in Japanese is kyuu.

San-kyuu is how Japanese pronounce “Thank you.”

Thus, I am making my 39th year my Thank You Year.

I intend to me more mindful of how I got to where I am, and thankful to the people, organizations, and organisms without whose support I might not have made it to 39, like so many others.

Thinking about how I got here despite how many animals I have eaten, how much carbon I have exhausted, how much ignorance I have propagated, should help me make the next years of my life more benefecial to others, and more fulfilling for me.

Thank you!

Drifting towards the stream

Parallel to the shore

Even while learning spells for invisibility, or getting a tattoo of protection from the war-goddess Marishiten, I never really considered myself “into” Buddhism. It was always a peripheral topic to my main interest in Asia and the martial arts.

I don’t really remember a time where Buddhism was unknown to me, even growing up in small town Canada, nestled in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by primarily rural white Anglo Protestant people. For my social studies credit in grade 10 I forwent learning about the Canadian political system to take Asian Studies. That class covered a lot, but I was able to gain a high level understanding of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the difference between the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. Here is a picture of me, at age 16, by the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho, a famous statue in Bangkok. I remember visiting a Buddhist monastery in southern Thailand at the time, and being impressed with the monks there, but I never seriously thought about what they were actually trying to do.

Me standing in front of the Sleeping Buddha
A young me standing in front of the Sleeping Buddha, Bangkok, 1994

Later, in my twenties, when I was seriously committed to learning classical Japanese martial arts, I was exposed to mikkyō and Shingon, and of course Zen. However we were only learning about Buddhist teachings in the narrow sense of how it served the Japanese warrior on the battlefield (I wrote a paper about this for a class, if you want to learn more). Symbolism, spells, basic meditation — the classical martial arts (and even the modern ones) are rich with Buddhist esoterica. But we spent no time on the actual teachings of the Buddha. We were there to learn how to fight. Continue reading “Drifting towards the stream”

Best of 2016

2016 has been a tumultuous year, for both the entire world and for me personally. I have categorized some of the best hits and big changes below into three categories: Life, Posts and Media.

Life

Death and rebirth

This year we had a cancer scare in my family which made me put community activity on hold for a few months while we waited for test results (maybe I should write a post about how we were totally failed by the Canadian medical system, and had to get this sorted out in Japan?). I had to leave ORCA, which was sad because I think they do important work. I stopped playing D&D. There were many serious talks.

However, two good things came out of this: first, it doesn’t look to be cancer. Second, it made me rethink my life. What they say about near-death experiences is true.

New job

After 4 years in startupland, 3 of which dealing with adtech, I finally moved on to a new, more stable (and less morally hazardous) work environment. My new company is in a massive growth phase, so I get to use a lot of my startup skills. The nice thing is they have lots of customers and resources and experienced executives, making it a much easier to execute.

Vegetarianism

On December 28th 2015, I decided to stop eating meat. A year has passed and I am still not eating it, and am pretty happy about the decision. I wrote about why at the 6 months mark →

Travel

I had the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time, and learned a bit about that state’s history, and of America’s as a whole. My wife and I also took a getaway to the Sunshine Coast, where we could delve a little into BC’s aboriginal history.

This year we took two trips to Japan (I am still on one as I write this). Since we stay in Kyoto, the city of temples, I took both opportunities to explore Japanese Buddhism. Here are a couple of posts exploring the issue:

Public appearances

Early this year I did a couple of radio interviews: one on downsizing and one on Syrian refugees. I was on a public panel about transportation. Lastly, and totally randomly, I was on local TV news.

Posts

blog-posts-by-year-2009-2016

This year was a good one for blogging. I have 54 posts (including this one) for 2016, which is an uptick over recent years. Starting a newsletter to help people who do not use Twitter or RSS to help keep up gave me some more motivation to write, holding me accountable to a schedule. Also, I hit 500 posts this year since starting in early 2009. Lots of introspection about how my thinking has changed over the years here.

Standout posts for the year include:

Media

53 films

The Force Awakens (second viewing) was my first film of 2016. Rogue One (first viewing) was my last. Well, the first 45 mins of it anyways, since my (not quite) 5 year old got a little too scared and we had to leave. I am sure I will get another opportunity to see it.

In February and March I went on a tear and watched a bunch of Oscar-related films which was just about the deepest, non-Marvel non-superhero, non kids watching I did. Standout films include:

62 books

This year I set out to discover new podcasts and Great courses, so I originally set my Goodreads challenge low, to like 30 books. I was still reading a lot, so I kept having to up the challenge. But now when I look back, 20 of those 62 books were graphic novels (including the 8 volume series on the Buddha reviewed here), which means I actually didn’t hit my final goal of 45 books. Also, only 10 of those 42 books were in text form, making my audiobook ratio 76%, which is pretty high, even for me.

I read a lot on Syria, about Marxism and leftist politics, and a lot about Buddhism this year. It is a reflection of the ever-changing perspectives and interests of someone trying to live the examined life (or write the examined blog at least).

My standout books this year are as follows:

Event: OnPoint – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?

onpoint header image

What are the possibilities for city beyond transportation? How do we think about transportation in terms of making a city more vibrant, rather than a deadening concrete grid where we travel isolated in our cars?

On December 8th I will be on the panel for the Urban Systems On Point Series Getting Unstuck – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?. The event is the fourth in the series, and happens at the Laurel Packinghouse from 7PM. There is wine, food and music, and about 200 to 300 interesting people to meet and mingle with. See all the details and get your FREE tickets here →

I will be on the panel with a few others to discuss transportation. Here are some related posts on this blog that will likely be mentioned on stage: