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Mr Dieu Ly 1925-2010

My Grandfather

There are many ways in which a great man will be remembered by people. There are many who knew him as Si-Fu (Master) or Si-Yeh (Grandmaster), as the pioneer of Yun Yee Tong Shaolin Chow Ga Kung Fu in Sydney, but to me he was simply known as Guong Guong (Grandpa) and this is about the way I remembered him…

Moments flicker through my mind whenever I bring up my memories of him. I remember every morning and afternoon he would take us to primary school on his bicycle. He managed to fit a school buddy on the backseat while I sat squished between the handlebars and his seat on a wooden contraption he had managed to put together. My grandfather was always in the garage downstairs hammering away at something. He was not trained as a carpenter but he didn’t understand why you would buy something when he could just put together something better with bits of wood lying around he had fetched from stuff people had dumped on the street. He would be building and fixing anything from our doorbell, to shelves, umbrellas and junk we would never think would work again. I also remember every morning, he would cut up the left over and stale bread to feed the birds in our backyard in the morning where by our home suddenly became the neighborhood feasting ground for them. However, he also had to construct a scarecrow on our tree to make sure they don’t eat the fruits on it either.

From an early age I became his disciple in Kung Fu. My Grandfather had learnt and taught martial arts in Vietnam from a master and his grandmaster’s disciple in the Shaolin Chow Ga style. To get the foundations strong, we would spend hours in the sun in a fixed horse stance on our driveway, until our legs trembled, our muscles quivered and sweat broke out. If I complained, he would relate even scarier stories of what his disciples had to go through back home. I was always the dumb student, he would have to patiently teach me the same form over and over again till I got it right. He always gave me the most practical forms and moves, never any flowery stuff for show but something I would use if I’m ever in danger. Grandpa would build some smaller custom size model weapons for me, and then force me to use the real heavier ones once I got the hang of it.

Our driveway always had students training in weapons, koon, and lion dance. Sometimes passer bys would stop and watch curiously. Even though he didnt speak any English, he managed to teach Westerners all the same with me sometimes acting as a poor translator (a month in India with only half the people speaking English showed me how hard it was and its think its amazing how he managed to get by everyday in Australia). But he would never teach students if they wanted to fight, as our Kung Fu was always only for self defense, a strong body and discipline. Funnily, its seemed the police or even the neighbours never seemed to have a problem with us while we would duel each other with double swords, staffs and other weapons in plain view of the neighborhood and as the drums and cymbals rung loudly when we practiced the lion dance routines.

His past I had gathered like patchwork from the stories he told me and what my mum shared about how life was like in Vietnam. He used to scare me with his adventures as a “Ghost catcher” and what the Japanese occupation of Saigon was like. My Grandfather grew up very poor with his father an opium addict, he never got a proper education and his childhood was spent as a hawker on the street taking orders for noodles to fund his father’s habit. He used to find shoes from the garbage and patch them up to use himself. After the death of his father, he and his elder sister went through better times and as the business grew, they were able to open up a noodle restaurant. He started living a lifestyle of the more prosperous and became an excellent bike racer and a great ice skater. Hoping to get him to settle down, his sister married him off at 20 to my grandmother (who was only 14 at the time) through an arranged marriage. Suddenly the better times came to an end one day when he went into a business deal together with a long and trusted friend. Not understanding the terms of the contract written in Vietnamese (he only could read a little Chinese due to his education) he lost his entire fortune when his friend ran off with the money they were supposed to have invested in a mini-van. With a family of three children to feed, my grandfather took to fixing bicycles and mending pots by the roadside and the friends who used to hang out with him were now too ashamed to even associate with him. After he took up the job as a driver to pay for the rent, things slowly became more stable. But now, with his own children he always saw value of education, and he put them all five of them through to 6th grade as this was all the family could afford. After my parents came to Australia as refugees during the Vietnam war, my grandparents were also migrated over in 1985 through the family reunion scheme.

So even in Australia, the habit of survival was the still order of the day and manifesting itself mostly in the form of thrift. We would always get scolded for leaving the lights on or tap dripping, while he managed to get by in the dark. He would even hide food in his room as he didn’t want to throw it away and he would horde the most seemingly useless items. But these eccentricities were not strange to me and my sister, but just part of our normal everyday life as a child. Yet despite his frugality, he would still always generously send money back to the home country to help his children and their families.

Even through his old age, my grandfather’s stoic resolve never wavered. When the nerves on his spinal cord had been worn down, he had an operation and had to be confined to a wheelchair. The doctor said he would never be able to walk again but that never stopped my grandfather. Everyday, he would summon up his strength and train his his legs to move and after weeks of effort, miraculously the old man was able to walk himself. But this was no miracle, as like the rest of his life, it was achieved through hard work and determination. However, after he had contracted severe pneumonia, the family was no longer to take care of his basic needs and as with the unfortunate fate of so many, the last years of my grandfather’s life were confined to a bed in a nursing home.


A Lion paying respect at his funeral

Today his legacy lives on. Through his work, the work of his many disciples and my uncle, the Kwoon has grown into a large community in Canley Vale (near Cabramatta) of many students. Instead of getting involved with gangs and drugs, young people have come to train and learn the values of discipline, moral character, respect and community, all while having an active role in the keeping the traditions of their ancestors. Tonight, tomorrow and for the next few weeks, to welcome in the Chinese New Year, the streets, temples and restaurants will have over 20 lions and dragons from Yun Yee Tong Kwoon performing the martial arts and lion dances that my Grandfather had once taught. I hope that this living form of his work is something that Guong Guong will be proud of and happy to see alive today being passed on to generations to come.

Heres a tip

I’ve been M.I.A for the past few days as I’ve been a tourist and its hard to be able to find a good connection on the go.

For some strange reason there was always bizarre childhood dream of mine to be able to goto a hotel restroom where theres someone there to hand you towels… it was probably in some of the movies I had watched somewhere. So here I am in India, and I guess you can say … my dream had been fulfilled? And no, its not glamourous at all, its really quite creepy. In India, theres always seems to be someone in the toilet waiting there, paper towels at the ready, from dodgy hotels, the airport and shopping centers. If you do take the offered towel, they will block the exit until a tip is forth coming.

When you are a foreigner, especially as a tourist, you are in a perpetual game involving how to get as much money out of the foreigner as possible.

In Agra, our waiter approached our table four times. First time, “Good food? You happy, me happy” Second time: “Good food, good tip”, Third time: “Please leave good tip sir”. Fourth time: “My job not finished till you leave tip sir” and then stood there next to the table until we opened our wallets to give him a tip. I didn’t really have the chance to discuss with my friend how much to actually pay.

At times I am torn between, should I just pay them, they don’t get paid much anyway and I refuse to get ripped off just for the sake of it. Most tourist sites have a different ticketing price for foreigners and locals, normally a difference of 25 times more.

To be fair, we had probably gotten a crappy experience as we stayed or ate at the wrong places. In most places which are not tourist infested there are no awkward problems, but after being hassled wherever we went for a few days, it made me defensive whenever someone happened to be nice about anything. No, I do not need anyone to help me with my luggage, open the car door, turn on the hot water, and no I do not need those damn hand towels!

Im in Faridbad at the moment, I’ll be blogging about what its like there soon enough as well as about the places Ive visited.

OMG Photos!

Hooray! I finally can get photos off my camera…  Heres what happened. Ive been a bit of a tourist lately going around seeing the wonderful historical sites in Delhi. I’m now gonna bore everyone with computer stuff, but too bad. I had brought an SD card reader to get the photos off my camera memory card. Unfortunately, after trying in vain it seems all the computers here in India are way too slow to read from my SD card reader, which meant: no photos for everyone.

Yesterday,  after visiting the Red Fort in Delhi, our driver went missing and we went back to the car and found him in Chandi Chowk markets. He told us that his phone was broken and led us into a labyrinth of street hawkers, screaming merchants and eventually to a mobile phone repair…well i guess you could call it a “store”. He went upstairs and there were 5 guys in this tiny room (no more than a meter wide) with soldering irons hammering away at his phone. Deep in this jungle of narrow lanes and alleyways, was the most amazing sight of thousands of  merchants selling the most craziest electronic gear out on the street from mobile phones, dvd players to speaker systems. The entire whole market could probably make the next iPhone (its probably where the fakes come from). I thought I would try my luck and see if they would had a cable for my camera but I didn’t have much hope as it was a very specific and obscure Fuji adapter. A Sikh man with a white turban examined the camera for 5 minutes, spoke to some others in Hindi, made a few calls and told me to wait here while he walked off into the jungle with my camera. Our driver had already come back happy with his phone repaired, and so I was expecting that it was the last time I would see him or my camera again, but then round the corner his white turban appeared with my camera and  a cable which fitted perfectly. I wasn’t really in a strong bargaining position after that but I got what I wanted and it didn’t work out to be very much converted back anyway.

Chandi Chwok marketsChandi Chowk markets

Our driver then led us to another corner of the markets. Being foreigners, we were the novelty of the town. The guys at the shop kept asking us things back home, checking out our phones and trying to flog us NOKAs and other unheard of brands of mobiles. One of them kept haggling me to sell him my camera. I managed to bargain for a 32GB USB drives  for 400 rupees (less than $10), which would cost about 7 times more back home. Ok, yes, its a fake Kingston but its still pretty good… so I think.

The most surprising thing was, they both worked perfectly (actually the USB drive is a bit corrupted), and I can now show photos.  So without further ado, you can compare what really happened to the pictures to my poor descriptions.

Affluence?

Guragaon, Delhi
We started our Cultural immersion program with our programme co-ordinator. We learnt some basic Hindi and some enlightening facts about the history on India, the culture, the religions and politics.

Gurgaon (where we are staying for our orientation), we are told, is one of the most affluent and safest areas of Delhi, its where the new industries have been starting to flourish and will be the new center of business. I remember being driven past the office towers of Citibank, ABN Amro, etc built with more impressive architecture than back home, and looking quite out of place in the dusty landscape. Our apartment complex is guarded like fortress, like a haven to those who come priveldged enough within its four walls. The apartment building is not luxurious by Australian standards but more than adequate for our needs and even more so for the average Indian.

During our free time, me and David (a fellow volunteer from Iceland) went down to the main center of town, City Mall via rickshow to check things out. Juxtaposed within the dusty dirty landscape of street harkers, cows and merchants rose blocks of modern malls and new buildings in the process of  rapid construction.

A mallA mall

It interesting to see how even in the shopping mall district where a highway divides the area into two there were no pedestrain crossings to get to the other side. The town planners already knew that people would never use one anyway. To cross the road you just had to run head long into the traffic across the busy freeway and hope you dont die in the process. I held my breathe followed the lead of one of the locals and lived on to eat my masala chips I picked up at one of the vendors.

MaccasFinally! Something at Maccas I can eat!

Malls in India seem to have the things we also have available in Australia from Maccas, Levi’s, Giordanos aswell as stores that they have only in India like Baazaar and Tata and stores like TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesdays that seemly all other countries get to have but us . Prices were defintitely alot cheaper… only the equivalent of a few dollars for the jeans, shirts, and progressively higher for the more familiar brands. I couldve felt more at home if it wasnt for the security guards posted outside every store and the body scans we needed to go through get into each othe malls. They may have been there to make us feel more secure clutching their rifles but it didnt seem to quite have the intended effect on me. Despite the airbrushed posters of Bollywood models drapped accross the walls enticing me to drink “Bubbly”, something just didnt quite sit right, maybe the unsmiling gazes of the multitudes of sales people waiting to assist the nearest customer or the unnerving stares from the men in the restrooms also trying to assist you. Maybe “Bubbly” was something everyone else thought we were drinking.

Once back out on the street, it became apparent we were an easy target for child beggars. Their formula was simple: Cute, grubby and very very persistent. David with his blond hair and fair skin had it worse off, as we were chased by one of them through the traffic and only managed to escape by climbing onto a rickshaw and heading straight back home to our fortress.

BeggarsThese beggar kids came up to our car when we stopped. Instead of giving them money, I took a photo and showed it to them. They giggled and became children again – its probably not often they get to see themselves.

Still cant upload photos, but at least my credit card woes are sorted now.

Through the woods and back to Delhi

Gurgon, Delhi
I know the rate in which I’ve been blogging has not quite been able to convey the sense I’m in a remote poverty stricken country, to which all I can say.. at least the internet is really slow here. But today, i’m excused. Its my day off, so called “sleeping day”, where the volunteers arrive off the plane and come back to the lodgings to pass out.  I’ve already done my fair share of passing out,  apparently I slept through lunch despite two attempts to revive me… so now I’m on the internet… and on a very slow connection with a 13” CRT. Can’t get skype to work either.

I got back to Delhi this morning after another 12 hr bus ride. This time I was prepared with woolies (no, not woolworths) and covered myself with blankies, socks, and beanies which I had stocked up over there. I met my programme co-ordinator Rajan in the wee hours this morning. He seems like a nice guy and also laughed at how I got ripped off by the taxi drivers for charging me 1200 rupies to his place this morning (they were damn convincing I swear it). It seems my project plans have changed. Delhi projects are understaffed as Jaipur was the popular destination, so he recommended I go there instead (apparently some of the girls wanted to go to Jaipur for the shopping experience and volunteering provided a means of cheap accommodation – talk about aspirations!). It’s a rural project on the outskirts of Delhi in Faribad to teach at a school for underpriveledged children. After about 8 weeks I will also do other community development work such as womens groups and health. I was happy to help on whatever needed the most support. I met some other volunteers here aswell from Iceland and Denmark and everyone seemed really cool.

Yesterday after visiting lower Dharamshala (there wasnt much to do there except use their very slow internet), I went for a hike up in the mountains. Dharamshala isnt the best place to be getting a lesson in stranger danger as people are so nice here and you can strike up a conversation with anyone. I already lost count of the numbe of “Konichi wahs”, and “From Japan?” I get as a greeting. Though conversation with some New Zealand and Spanish nationals who have been travelling around India, it seems Dharamshala is the place where they all end up and then stay for months on end, as it is so serene. A an old good-humoured Buddhist monk showed me his Gompa, a small and dimly lit room filled from wall to wall with statues of Buddhas, Boddhisattvas and fearsome dharma protectors. While being distracted by playful cats, I made out through his broken english he was a Tibetan refugee who came here 18 years ago.

After being asked by some kids whether Ive seen their lost cow, I kept hiking and encountered a fork in the road where a girl sat cross legged. “Which way to the top?”, I asked. She pointed to the right, and I followed it up. It led me to a private lodging which I was reluctant to trespass and on the way back down I encountered her again. “Did you find what you were looking for?”, she asked. Despite the whole sagely demenour, she was actually as lost as I was. I told her where the path actually went and we both went exploring for the best way. Her name was Clara, and she was working as an artist in California had come to Dharamshala to volunteer on the photography project for Tibetan children for two months. She kept asking me about what it was like back home in New Zealand despite correcting her and her apologising profusely each time (at least it wasnt Japan). We came to a clearing of with aboandoned house and an old Tibetan nun sat huddled over a fire over a tin roof. “Which way to Dhamakot?” (a place near the top), Clara asked. Smiling, she pointed up, despite not seemly comprehending what we meant. “To-de-cheh!” (Thank you) I said, the only Tibetan words I knew (been using that one alot). After we trampled through “The path less travelled”, through barbed wires, cow dung and encountering monkeys on the way,  I told her I needed to get back to make my bus. On the way, we came back to the fork she and I were at before, and it turned out we shouldve taken the other turn. A young tibetan man was strolling back and after asking him, he told us it went to the top, but he had started walking at 4am (it was 5.30pm). I wasnt too keen on it making it all the way there.

Clara taking pictures of monkeys

Clara taking pictures of monkeys

Next to the road there was a white building with Tibetan inscriptions. Adventurously we pushed through the gate and noticing the geometry marks on the blackboard, I observed it was a school for kids. In green painted against the white columns next to the doorway stood the only english words: “Come to Learn” and “Go to Serve”.  “Isn’t that what we are here for?”, Clara remarked. I thought the same.

I am a Chinese agent

Lower Dharamshala

EveningEvening in the valley

HHDL residenceWhere His Holiness lives. Didnt quite manage to sneak past the armed guards

Outside of HHDL templeThe pogada area outside the temple

They say religion and Politics don’t make good conversation but what else is there to talk about when you are in Dharamshala. Tonight I was accused of being a Chinese agent – way to go, talk about building rapport. Now, Ive always considered myself to be pretty pro-Tibet… you know the whole going to Dharamshala thing and have even been accused of being whitewashed in the past for my views… but I would  this would ever happen. Ok well heres what happend. After visiting HHDL temple, I struck up a conversation with some of the locals (there wasnt really much else to do here otherwise at night). A lot of them happen to be second generation Tibetans, whose parents fled Tibet as refugees and have built their lives there, establishing shops and communities.. and after many years the area has really grown and flourished with the influx of tourism (and blessings of HHDL of course!).

A kind store owner pulled up a chair and told me about the situation happening to Tibetans, which was great as I really wanted to know abouit first hand, an older Frenchman who had overheard us came in to join the conversation.  I consider mysef the type of person that likes to challenge things, and accepted ways of thinking (or so I think), and so the conversation turned to a friendly debate on what we think China and Tibets future. As the conversation got more heated, I thought I would turn it around and talked about more casual stuff like where he was staying, for how long, what his plans were, etc.. but he just gave me alot of vague answers of which then I came to know why. “I think you are a Chinese Agent. Ive met Chinese agents before and they speak like you”, he stated in full seriousness. My reaction was a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and confusion… I laughed and asked him to check my passport “Well, you could be an Australian but still be a Chinese agent”. I told him about how I try to read widely especially on views that challenged my own… we sat in that store for the next two and a half hours discussing the topic (I chucked in some extra anti-Chinese arguements just to make him happy) and at the end of it we exchanged internet sites to review and he said he no longer thought I was a Chinese Agent, well thats what he told me anyway. He was actually quite informed about the Tibetan movement. I still havent quite figured out what the lesson to be learnt out of this is: When in Rome?, refrain from talking about politics in an  unfamiliar place?, French people have a strange sense of humor? don’t be a Chinese Agent in Dharamshala? Its interesting how so much of our perceptoins which we take as our own and as certain and concrete are shaped by wha we read, and who we interact with in order to form world views on things. To have my views of my own perceptions challenged in that way was a really interesting. At least I now know that its not the dreadlocks that are causing those stares from the local tibetans. =)

Anyways, Tsuglagkhang was beautiful… I’ll post some photos when I figure out how to. Anyways, off for more adventures.

Run Run Run

Im not quite sure what to do with this blog, whether I keep it like a journal of the insignificant happenings of my life, a thoughts and philosophies blog of ramblings, or just reviews of my most recent gadget/cd/movie/<insert distraction here>. But at the end of the day, I think its just going to be an all of the above.

So today, after much procrastination, I went for a jog. Been doing some jogging lately. Today I ran  to the beach. About 19km. Took me 1hr 49 minutes. It was great, especially getting close to the beach and realising I had made it. During dusk, there were lots of Mediterranean and middle eastern families camped out near the water, watiing the planes come down from the runway where oil fields don over the horizon.

Jogging is great. I makes you ponder things like, maybe they put traffic lights at the top of a hill so that cars will slow down when they reach there, cos you have no breath left either, and that its much better to run against traffic as you can at least see when a car tries to sneak up on you when you cross the road. Anyways, I’ll keep running.