Toni Kukoc, greater than his 3 championship rings

Read this wonderful piece, just have to write down my thoughts to show salute to this important symbol of the game.

Toni Kukoc.

Toni_KukočOld fans would recognize him as the smooth all around integral 6th man during the Bulls’ 3-peat. He was the pre-Dirk in shooting, pre-Gasol in passing, “the stretch big” before the term was even invented. He was probably the one that sent NBA scouts all over Europe, and landed us Dirk, Gasol and other European talents.

His historical influence in the world of basketball, however, was probably leading the then-Yugoslavian national team defeating the USA in 1990 FIBA World Championship and being named the MVP of the tour, which forced FIBA to loosen the restriction on the participation of professional basketball players in the Olympics. Simply put, without Toni Kukoc, the history of basketball would never have had Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Charles Barkley amongst other Hall of Famers on the same team. The highest level of basketball would had been set by other players later on.

toni mullin

 

Unfortunately, war raged and separated Yugoslavia into different countries, which also broke up the famed Yugoslavian National Team and torn up their friendship amongst teammates forever.

While most would remember Kukoc as the pioneer that introduced the European brand of basketball to the NBA, let’s also recognize what his legacy meant to the world of basketball and humanity as a whole.

retired

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B&B sub-in, a hipster experience

Caught a great opportunity to sub-in for my B&B friend Chiu-Fan. She and Nans have “gone surfing” at the Philippines for 2 weeks, so this allows me to experience what’s it like to own, run, and live in a Bed & Breakfast, old (Taiwanese standard, 60+ y.o.) pre-WWII house style.

StairwayThe chores are quite simple: feed the cats, water the plants, and clean the house. Things that requires little mind-power; exactly what I need to rest my overworked brain. It’s also a refreshing change to the fill-it-all-up day I used to have: either staying in the lab or running like mad.

The house has no TV. Instead, there are books, CD player, and a guitar. If you need something more dynamic, there are 2 ex-stray cats sufficient to keep things interesting. It may sound boring, but it’s very, very, very tranquilizing.

The surrounding is so calm and peaceful, it allows the mind to settle, and to think, often without purpose. And so, the mind begins to recall, that piece of memory, that interaction with someone, somewhere.

I started to recall a few things related to slowing down, taking a break. I remember that sign I saw at a coffee shop hidden in the alleys of PuJi St, “Slow down, so your soul can catch up.” I remember reading that sign, giving it a nod of approval, and then looking at my watch and counting how much time there was Side viewuntil I had to leave.

And then I recalled that time when I first suffered from Ménière’s disease. I was telling Nans how I had used my weekends smartly in the wilds to unleash my stress from work, and he refuted by saying maybe what I needed the most wasn’t more triathlon tournaments or crazy 3000+ M hikes. He suggested “complete emptiness.” The idea seemed understandable, but not practical because I simply just had too much work and things I had to and wanted to do.

Thus for someone that’s been living with such a tumultuous schedule, this B&B sub-in is certainly a timely change of pace. and style. Comparing to what I used to have, this much of “empty” time is almost meditative. Zen-ish.

More importantly, it allows the sentiments to breath, and to foster. I could sense the change in my feelings towards “the sorrows” world. I can understand, and personally relate to, why such thing as hipster exist. It’s hard not to try it, and then like it, at least for a little while. Because it’s just so comforting. soothing. and easy.

And I haven’t even made coffee yet.

Comfy living room

 

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Be Your Own Boss: Identity Round-Up

Identity has always been an intriguing question to me. I remember it was an English assignment in high school that we had to reflect on the values that represent an identity. My buddy Jeff and I used to discuss whether Michael Chang and Michelle Kwan were Taiwanese/Cantonese or not. These questions persisted when people heard my broken Mandarin and asked if I was an ABC (no way). A few years ago my family were discussing whether our born-and-raised in Japan cousins should convert to Japanese citizenship. Then came Jeremy Lin.

lin first taiwanese nba

Just like every other issues, the real answer is dynamic and always debatable. Jean-Yves the French philosopher of Marseille and Tamsui once said to me, that he believes as long as one 1) speaks the language, 2) wears acceptable clothing, and 3) identifies with the people/country, then he/she is who he wants to be. “So I am Taiwanese now,” he looked straight into my eyes. I was impressed, touched and inspired.

Jean-Yves brought up these statements because France had been on the receiving end of the Arab immigrant influx, and he sincerely wished the immigrants could embrace the values of being French more in those aspects. I concur to that. My argument in favouring my born-n-raised in Japan cousins to “Nipponize” their passports, is not because I agree in bowing 100x a day. It’s because it would be extremely foolish and near betrayal in my eyes for them NOT to identify with the place, culture, and people that foster and nurture them to become who and what they are today.

Most importantly, my cousins should be the ones deciding who they want to be, and who they want to identify with.

Austronesia

While the population of Taiwanese people should look predominately Han-Chinese, Dr. Marie Lin has shown ample genetic evidence that near 90% of the Taiwanese are heirs of Austronesian. The fact is that Taiwan has been gradually and steadily developing its multi-cultural and ethnic influences: its native aborigines, the colonial and modern Japanese, the oversea American students and scholars, the Han-Chinese, and the blooming international mothers. It’s not to the extend of American the melting pot yet, but 20 years down the line, it would not be uncommon to find a Taiwanese bearing 3 or more ethnical backgrounds. Would anyone be talking about being a pure-bred Taiwanese? Does genetic constitute really matter?

If an English teacher from the US finds his/her love of a life time in Taiwan, wouldn’t he or she someday become the parent of Taiwanese children? If so, and if one wishes to, shouldn’t he/she be a proud Taiwanese parent as well?

Take another step back, if a backpacker lands in Taiwan, falls in love with it (I’ve seen and met many), decides to fully embraces all aspects of its value, calls this place home, and is willing to devote and stand up for it, wouldn’t you agree that he/she is just as much of an Taiwanese, if not more, than any born-and-raised local you know?

1 million likes walk around Taiwan

Because we cannot choose our ancestors, or where we are born, it’s exactly why we can and should decide who we want to be and identify with. It’s not about what runs in your blood; it’s about what’s in your heart.

This is explicitly why I was perplexed when president Ma spoke of “The people of both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese by ethnicity. Cross-strait relations are not international relations.” on his National Day address. What a shame that a democratically elected president spoke openly of his racial-state ideology on the National Day. What a shame that he is representing this friendly, multi-cultural AND ethnical country and its people.

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Triathlon: the Ultimate Self-Reflection

Getting back to Taitung over the weekend marked my 1-year anniversary of triathlon, and 2-year since I first participated in a triathlon relay. Taitung was where the journey started. It is therefore fitting to devote a blogpost (instead of FB it) on the one question that my non-triathlon friends ask constantly: why do you do triathlon?

They ask with various legitimate reasons. They ask because they are my teammates. “Is triathlon more fun than tennis or ultimate frisbee?” They ask because they are my colleagues. “Aren’t you supposed to relax after a gruelling week of lab work and meetings?” Some ask because they know about my herniated discs and Thalassemia  anemia.

Let’s get the simple and straight forward reasons done: for the love of nature and to embrace the God-given-body. To immerse oneself in water, sun, air, and sometimes rain, along with the scenery that mother nature presents, and at the same time exerts (or display) one’s fitness and energy to the fullest, to me is an act of appreciation. It’s fulfilling, gratifying, and exhilarating.

But the reasons go deeper than that.

I love triathlon because it’s the ultimate self-reflection.

swimming

Nobody can fool, or get away, in triathlon. It’s a pound for pound, inch for inch, output-comes-from-input sport. It’s unlike tennis where if you don’t have the touch, you can improvise different strategies or rely on talents to get away with a victory. Or you can just luck out and get a weak opponent. It’s unlike basketball, if you have an off-day, you can focus more on assisting, defending, rebounding, and fastbreaks. Even in ultimate if you aren’t feeling the disc, you could do more safe passes, and D hard to get that important interception. In triathlon, there’s no room for alternative get-aways. If you train hard, your time would improve. If you slack off, your legs would let you know. If you don’t sleep properly, as in my case this time, your temporal pulse would hunt you down. It doesn’t matter if you have world class talents or are born wrecked; athletes can’t defy physiology.

Swimming, the first obstacle for most in general. It’s a challenging threshold because it has the highest technical skill requirement, in addition to the fear of swimming in an seemingly bottomless and open-field body of water. I can still recall clearly of how determined I was in preparing for my first tri over a year ago. I knew I had to do 750 M in an open-lake, yet the most I had ever swum in one trial at the time was probably 200 M, in which I alternated between froggy and free-style. Therefore my goal was simple: to free-style 800 M under 20 min, period. I swam twice per week and had to gradually work from sets of 200, 400, 600, and eventually 800 M. Although on game day I couldn’t orient and had to pretty much frog it all, the process leading up to the test gave me strength and confidence. It was through those endless tile watching (man, endurance training in the pool is the most boring one of all) that I could feel my body joints, the pulse on my temporal, the immobile body, and my weakness. Do I have the mentality in me, to overcome the boredom of swimming, and obtain fluidity?

Cycling

Cycling, the speed limit challenge. Cycling has never been a problem to me. I have always enjoyed cycling since the day I learned how to bike. Cycling was how I participated in my first tri-relay 2 years ago, in the pouring rain. It’s fun to train because of the de-stressing effect of getting out of the lab, and it’s even more exciting to race because of the thrilling speed and the stay-focus-or-you-will-crash-setting in combine. Yet at the same time, without proper training and supplement of energy (or BCAA), the sudden on-set of vulnerability in the legs could lead to helplessness and doubt, leaving little choice but visually bidding farewell to your opponents while they blast you away in seconds. It is scenes like these that makes you wonder, and regret, of how much better it would had faired, had you just pushed yourself that much harder on that last trip out.

Running

Lastly, Running, the grind. My worst enemy of all. In high school the 2 testaments of “strong will” were the start of school Terry Fox Run and the end of the year inter-house cross-country run, both of which were merely 5k. They felt endless back then. Endurance running has been a nightmare all my life. Never could I imagine myself getting off from 40 k cycling and pushing off another 10 k on legs. And there’s one losers’ trap in running: it’s too easy to go slow. Because it’s the last part of the tri, because you’ve already done 1500 M + 40 K, because you pushed too hard on cycling, because the sun is too hot. And when your opponents are surpassing you from behind, you have a few seconds to decide whether to keep up (with the possibility to vomiting in pain in minutes) or sending them off in distress. Running is also the time where your mind can either go blank, or have flashbacks of everything and anything. You try to recall that one time where your legs were feather-light for once and recorded the best time ever, or the gratification of overcoming the most physically demanding trail in a life time, and hopefully these memories could serve as the positive rejuvenators.

Most frequently, ask any triathlete, the body is in Pain during the race. The pains are not necessary derived from injuries; on the contrary, they feel like metaphysical pains. These pains more often act as stimulants, initiators, and messengers, to open conversations with your own body. I describe them as metaphysical because, through mind-body talks, they remind you of the hardship you have endured, how much you have achieved, maybe a little bit of regrets from personal weakness, and at the same time how much more is there, to push. If the great forebears had gone the distance to experience and live to tell their everything-changed-since life and death stories, maybe for me and other triathlon enthusiasts (probably endurance fanatics as well), we do triathlon to go through lapse of mental breakdown and reborn like a spiritual salvation in a relatively safe and controlled manner.

Podium at Kenting

So here I am, a year later after my first half-distance triathlon. Without a doubt I had grown mentally stronger, ever than I could imagine and believe. So I thought personal time wise, my time must had improved. I mean, after all these mental relapses and salvation in more than 10 tri races and road runs, I must had physically improved, if not “transformed,” right?

No, my time this year actually worsened by 2 min compared to my rookie trial last year. For whatever reason. After some calculation, I’ve learned if I were to return to the podium again and make that as my mission in triathlon, I would have to improve by 15 min in the half-distance and 30 min in full. Obviously there’s still room for improvement, but I have a feeling that my vsRBCs (very-small red blood cells) have worked their best. I can probably still extend the distance (Ironman 70.3 in the future?), but probably not increasing the intensity to improve my time, at least not by much.

So maybe there will never be another day for me to make podium. And it’s ok. I would still and always have my own record, my own mind, and myself, to beat, to talk, and most importantly, to reflect.

I can always do triathlon; and that’s grace from God for more than I have ever needed.
Bible Verse

“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” – 3 John 1:2

 

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Beatown Love – In memory of Boston Marathon Bombing

I had lived in Boston for 2 summers in my childhood, both of which were for pa’s public health continual education program at Boston Univ and Harvard. They weren’t exactly pleasant experiences: both stays ended up with our possessions stolen or broken (a bike, a broken window and the car stereo), and the sense of insecurity after dark didn’t help either. The traffic was a nightmare, EVEN with a GPS. I’ve always got an affinity for old things; the stories of what had happened could easily sent my imagination through time. However, Beantown could just be too old and too much for the pre-puberty and teenage me. Simply put: there was NO LOVE.
Yet on April 16, 2013, I got nothing but LOVE for Boston.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

boston-marathon-bombing-brooklyn-music-yankees-red-sox-king

 

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Music Video Review: “People,” the Hip-Hop Track Featuring a Buddhist Nobel Laureate

When was last time you had more chills than excitement watching a hip-hop music video?

People” is almost certainly one of the most unprecedented rap tracks ever to be released to a global market. There is no bling, no babe, and no bikini. Its opening shot features a Nobel laureate: the Dalai Lama, who aims to send a strong humanitarian message in his prayer from Green Tara Mantra and through Dog G’s music, hoping to reach out to those most distant audiences, from the hip-hop lovers to the Chinese people and everyone worldwide. Dog G (or “Duagyi,” as how he is called in Taiwan), one of most renowned rappers in Asia, counterintuitively combines hip-hop and Buddhism, resulting in a song that is both upbeat and reflective. The song addresses the dark side of human nature and at the same time reminds us of the warmth of some individuals in the mist of this apathetic world. The peaceful style of music aims to swirl the audience into the state of meditation, rethinking the value of being “People.” Its music video has accumulated more than a half-million views and over ten thousand likes on YouTube in just 3 weeks, a very respectable feat considering a large part of the song’s target audience is limited to people in Taiwan due to the now-notorious Great Firewall of China, which blocks “subversive” websites like YouTube and Facebook.

Any unprepared listener would be confused by the prayer of the Dalai Lama from Green Tara Mantra the moment the track is played: “Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Svāhā.” The hail to Tara the Buddhist savior, highlights the gloomy helplessness of the artists from witnessing the combative and destructive human force to all lives and the earth. The story-telling lyrics use lines like “child soldiers at Sierra Leone are trained in waves / barely in their teens / just days leaving home they are armed with AK-47s,” “We spend trillions on arms races, piling up rockets and fighters / but are without resources to support the poor to go to school.” As Dog G sees it, and beseeches, almost in despair, “But we continue to do nothing / just like this / always as it is / the Holiness Dalai Lama / please tell me what to rap next?” In the last verse, the storyline is brought to the historical scale, as it quotes from poet Rubén Darío “Poor Admiral, yes, you, Christopher Columbus / pray to God for the world you discovered!” Just when Dog G believes the audiences must have been pushed to the verge of a guilty-conscience meltdown, he tunes down the tone and waxes reflective by recognizing the positive phenomena in this world, citing Doctors Without Borders before returning again to the Dalai Lama.

The music video for “People” is probably one of the most powerful and touching music videos ever to be filmed. The artist purposefully integrates vivid and almost unbearable documentary clips and images to force the audience to square up with the cruel side of human behavior that we all try to ignore or deny. The video was filmed in India, where Dog G sought the Dalai Lama to calm his turbulent mind. The documentary footage of a confused Dog G and a firm Dalai creates a contrasting yet balanced picture that perfectly describes the theme for the song. A segment of the interview was inserted in the end of the video to conclude this journey.

In summary, this music video aims to reveal everything we do. Only by vividly witnessing the bleeding wounds can one understand the lessons of a scar. It starts from suffering, through the ugly reality of human behavior, and in the end shows us wisdom and courage for a brighter future. It’s not about religion either; it’s about all the things we have done in the past, what we do in the present, and what we will do in the future. As Dog G said to the roaring crowd at his concert finale, “We can all do it. Let’s give our next generation an island that respects all lives and a better world for the future.”

About the rapper

So who IS this man brilliantly pulling all the strings? Dog G, or “Duagyi” (“Biggie”) as the people in his hometown of Tainan, Taiwan call him in Taiwanese, is one of the most renowned pioneers of hip hop in Taiwan. Being such an iconic figure has earned him interviews from TIME Magazine and multiple appearances on Discovery Channel.

Dog G is a vocal enthusiast of historical, social, political and human rights issues, specifically those involving Taiwan and Tibet, and for these causes the Chinese government has granted him a position on their infamous blacklist. In fear of jeopardizing their standing in China’s substantial consumer market, not a single label company was willing to endorse Dog G. To pursue his Hip-Hop dream, Dog G launched his own studio “Kung Fu Rap” in 2003, and has been responsible for every single aspect of his albums, from writing and recording tracks to directing, filming, and editing music videos, all entirely on his own.

Dog G is also a devoted Buddhist and can surprise any new guest with a soft heart. His strong support for the minority is also translated into his music, as several of his songs were made for street animals (“The last Morning”), for victims of typhoon Moracot (“Never Forget the Wounded”) for those affected by the Fukushima earthquake (“Japan, We Are with You”), and to protest nationalized education in Hong Kong (“Brainwash Education”). One of his all-time classic tracks, “People”, is the prime product of his compassion, in which his overflowing emotion of helplessness for all living sorrows was evident during an interview with the Dalai Lama, also featured in the song’s music video.

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My Tennis, Year 2011-2012

Looking back on the season, it’s been a constant struggle since the first day of school. I was away from tennis for long stretches of days, even weeks, and the goal of having a paper published this semester year really pushed everything else inferior to its priority. To rub it in, the defeat at Medicine Cup against a beatable opponent (though he finished 2nd in the most recent Orient Cup) really shattered my last bit of motivation. These lines pretty much sum up the first half of my semester year.

As the lunar New Year drew near, I had made satisfactory progress academically. It was a relief mentally and at the same time it created an opportunity for me to pick-up my racket and try to rescue my plummeting touch for tennis. Coincidentally, it was about the time when I had to play the qualifier for the Intercollegiate Games. To play competitive tennis with less than 50% of the touch was extremely challenging; I did not have my trademark consistency and accuracy, so I had to ensure my mind was directing within my status quo and avoiding difficult shots. My backhand and service game were nowhere to be found. Fortunately my endurance was still up to the task and I was able to grind it out physically by slowing the game down in the most boring yet effective matter. To think back, I felt I was playing to stay in the game, instead of to enjoy the game.

After the New Year, my lab work was running steadfastly, and hence that allowed me to practice tennis on a general basis for the first time since this semester year. I credited “Lil’ pink” to accept my call of duty at almost all occasions to practice at short but intense and effective spurs. I was able to emphasize on my baseline strokes and runners repeatedly and improve from there. Lil’ Pink was working hard on his defensive side of the game, so I was working on my shot locations during the process. Those individual sessions throughout the semester were extremely helpful, as I was finally finding my rhythm back, despite taking one baby step at a time.

Then came the southern regional weekend, where I only played in one match and again struggled endlessly despite grinding out with a victory. A few weeks later I went north to play in the Orient Cup with Chia-Hao. Fate may had played a role here but slipped under my eye, because I was devastatingly overpowered and overmatched by the eventual champion Chien-Wei Peng, while actually putting up a very good fight with Chia-Hao against the eventual semi-finalists from Air Force Academy. The physical aspect of my game was actually tolerable, but it was the helplessness feeling I had when I played against Peng that really haunted me for a while. For once I actually felt vulnerable on the court, and that definitely hindered my confidence. On the other hand, in the double’s match, Chia-Hao and I fell behind 0-5 before making a respectable comeback and finishing the loss at 4-6. I was pleased that we didn’t give up when we were trailing, and was regaining the groove at the net. I should had noticed that at the time my double’s game were on top of my singles, but I was buried in my misery from the defeat and could not care much.

A couple weeks prior to the intercollegiate tournament, I was very fortunate to play several singles matches against Song-Song. Competing against a player with such ferocious forehand stroke and powerful serve really forced me to take every shot cautiously and tighten up my defensive game. At the same time, I had to seize the right moment to attack his backhand side and followed it up to the net. On top of all, I had to stay focus throughout the match and be patient for my turn to climb back from the early deficits. I did not record a single victory from all those battles, but the whole process definitely sharpened my strength in consistency and forehand strokes, improved my weaknesses in my backhand defense and service, and more importantly, rejuvenated my confidence. I knew if I could put up a good fight against Song-Song, I could probably hold my own against just about anyone on the tour. In retrospect, it was through those countless approach-and-volley attempts that honed my net game, which was critical to my double’s success in the big event.

I have to admit, it was a surprising shock to be sent into the doubles on the fly. I had been playing mainly singles for several years, and I had never paired with Cheng-Yun before. On top of that, I thought our “non-aggressive” style of game were too similar to complement each other. Hence, we came to an agreement that Cheng-Yun would play his steadfast game, while I would be the disruptive aggressor on the court. We also agreed that whoever was on the baseline would create chances for the net player, and whenever we had a short shot in play, we’d hit it directly at the opponent. During the match, the coach advised us to serve to the backhand and the player on the net would need to be aggressive on the following volley.

The strategy worked effectively, despite my occasional struggles to find the right rhythm to “jump” on the volley. Cheng-Yun executed our game plan smoothly and converted most of the plays into easy winners or forced-errors for the opponent. My other concern from switching from singles to doubles was my return game, which evidently was rather sketchy in the first match against Tamkang University. Fortunately the opponent didn’t exploit this weakness and I was able to adjust later on under the coach’s direction to return it directly down the line if the serve was too fast.

As a whole, I am very thankful and blessed that Lil’ Pink, Cheng Ching-Ya, Song-Song, and the entire NCKU tennis nation was supportive through my toughest time. I am also grateful for having Chia-Hao as my company, without whom I would not had even participated in the Orient Cup, not to mention polishing my rusty double’s game in the tournament. I do not think my stroke consistency have returned to where it used to be yet, and my backhand strokes are still far from controlling at will, but I know they have been coming back steadily. After playing with Song-Song, I really feel that there is a possibility for me to take advantage of my length and play more at the net with my volley and overhead smash. In addition, I actually feel for once that I am gradually developing a deceptively effective approaching shot that integrates sudden acceleration with misleading shot direction. If I could connect my baseline and net game with that effective approaching shot, hopefully that would add a vital dimension to my degenerating defensive game.

I have struggled physically and mentally throughout the year, and it’s been an excruciating and vulnerable experience. If there were a lesson to learn from this year, was to avoid going through such slumping journey again, which was the result of lack of practice. In the future, I will have to keep myself much closer to the tennis court than I had been, so hopefully I will be able to hold on to and further build on this foundation of game that I have finally rediscovered.

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