It began with a 1.5-hour Asana yoga session at 6:30am, and those of us who were willing or able to crawl out of bed so early were richly rewarded. I considered myself very lucky to have my first ever yoga lesson taught by an Indian instructor with a PhD, who works in a university in Mumbai and has been a professional footballer for many years. I particularly liked the way he taught us to enhance our awareness of the mind by focusing on our breathing. (He was to give a talk later in the day in which he demonstrated that he was as masterful in theory as in practice.)
I leafed through a magazine that came with the local paper. In it was this article called Raisin' Health. The article, which began with this beautiful definition that "raisins are nothing but grapes and sunshine", contained the history, some facts, stories and recipes about this food. The article quoted the following from the Bible:
"... And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights." ---1 Samuel 30: 12
I switched to the sports page of the paper and learned that Martin Navratilova had made it to the final of the mixed doubles of the US Open with partner Bob Bryan. The 49-year-old tennis legend was firmly in the mind of adding to the long list of achievements in her illustrious career by winning it one last time. She was quoted as saying:
"You are only as old as you feel and I certainly don't feel forty-nine. I just wanted to inspire people."
Outside the window, day was breaking. The plane was floating on the marshmellow-like clouds again the backdrop of a multi-coloured sky made brighter every minute by the rising sun.
Maybe I didn't have to feel quite so wary of the country, the Congress and everything?
While the 3x3 of tennis serving mentioned in the old blog I posted yesterday mainly involves "technique" and "tactics", it does not cover "mood". In simple terms, mood is about confidence, which is what many experts consider to be the most important aspect of serving. "As with any shot, 90 percent is just confidence," says Taylor Dent, whose successful comeback to professional tennis after three career-threatening back surgeries I wrote about in two blogs in September last year. "If you're feeling great about your serve, you're probably going to serve well."
Conversely, you can land yourself in deep trouble if you do not feel confident about your serve, and according to sports psychologist Allen Fox, the serve is the shot one is most likely to lose confidence about. "Of all the strokes," says Fox. "The serve is the most problematically psychological of the bunch ... the most prone to the yips."
Apparently from nowhere the fear cycle takes over: "When you get the 'Oh my God, what's wrong' thought, you start to do some very bad things," says Fox.
Which was what Jana Novotna did in the 1993 Wimbledon Final when she handed Steffi Graf the match after serving three double faults in four points, having been up a set and a double break in the final set. It was one of the greatest choking in tennis history, and in the prize presentation ceremony the devastated player burst into tears on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder.
That sort of fear is crippling and is something that players have to learn to actively conquer. "Most people never become the best they can become because they're afraid of failure,"says Nick Bolletieri, whose tennis academy has nurtured so many world class players and champions. He faults the parents and coaches who focus a youngster's serve on just putting it into play and implanting a mentality of not taking chances: "Champions don't wait for opponents to give them the match. ... You can't do in crunch time what you probably haven't done during training."
I blabbered about how you can serve in at least nine ways: 3 (flat, kick, slice) x 3 (to the middle T, to the body, out wide), which parts of the ball the racquet face should be in contact with when making different serves.
I said it is more effective to mix it up and keep your opponent guessing than to try to hit with raw power.
I said that the serves of some professionals are so well disguised that when they make different serves, the toss and the service motion are the same. That makes it very difficult for the opponents to make the serve.
Not that I can serve like that of course, but I believe this is something important to know. I've heard it said that success in a profession rests on one's ability to make finer and finer distinctions between differences, and I think this can be applied in all sorts of domains.
So maybe there's much more to know about tennis serving than just these 3 x 3 ways?
Like this one about a trip to Macau:
It’s the Macau International Music Festival again – one of the annual events I always look forward to. Monday’s concert, by Musica Antiqua Koln, was one of the three I am to attend this year. I am not too crazy about Baroque music, finding it a bit too tidy in its architecture and structure, but I enjoy the feeling of going back in time, especially when listening to the harpsichord, and this quintet is renowned in Europe. The venue, Teatro Dom Pedro V, is itself also an attraction. Built in 1858, it is the oldest theatre in Macau and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. So I was hoping that it would be worth the trouble of queuing up for the tickets one hot summer morning in July and the hassle of catching the 6pm turbojet right after work.
I took a taxi to Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, which was a 5-minute walk from Teatro Dom Pedro V. There was about half an hour left for a quick dinner, so I went a Portuguese restaurant called Vela Latina, which was just opposite Largo do Senado. After flipping through the menu and placing a quick order, I tried to forget my urgency temporarily and blend in with the leisurely mood of the place and the people. It was then that I noticed the western woman sitting at the next table, obviously a tourist because she was reading a travel brochure. When our eyes met, she smiled and offered me the small bottle of red wine she couldn’t finish. That set off a polite conversation, through which I found out that she was an American living in Laos and had eight days to spend in Macau, and she found out that I was from Hong Kong and coming to Macau for a concert that would commence in twenty minutes’ time. Then I went back to my dinner and she went back to her reading.
It was when I asked for the bill that we spoke again. I thanked her for the wine and she said she would like to go to the venue of the concert with me to see whether there were still tickets available. I wasn’t very confident about that, since the tickets had been on sale for three months, but I felt that I should oblige to the curiosity of a tourist, so we walked to the theatre together. To my surprise, when she asked the usher whether there were any seats left, she was led to a counter. A minute later, she came back, a smile of victory on her face and a ticket in her hand.
I was happy that in this chance encounter favours were exchanged – she gave me the wine and I presented her with a chance to enjoy the concert at a delightful historical venue. Encounters like this make traveling interesting, even though it was just a short trip to neighboring Macau.
Why are these gadgets so popular? Why don't the people just have a rest after a long wretched day at school or at the office? Apart from the pervasiveness of the gadgets and their content, one important reason is that modern people are so unused to or even afraid of quiet times. Left to themselves, they will feel lonely and lost. So taking out the gadget and burying oneself in it once boarding a train is no different from switching on the TV once arriving home. It's a way to banish the uncomfortable feeling of emptiness when left alone.
No wonder these products have such a huge market.
"Cold calls are at best a nuisance and at worst an intimidating intrusion into our lives." Ceri Stanaway of Which?, the British consumer group, said. "Three quarters of the people we asked said they'd like the practice to be banned outright."
What is it that makes cold calls so loathesome? To me, a lot. First, the mere fact that they are unsolicited makes them an intrusion. Second, they are frequent. According to a survey by Which?, people in the UK on average receive six cold calls per month. My feeling is that there are more than that here. I receive more anyway. Third, those callers typically go about their business very badly. I've said before that some of them don't even get the gender of answerers right. Some use a very fastidious sales pitch. Worst of all, the way they highlight what they are promotion as a "special offer" or as something "free" is very insulting.
It has now got to a point when I feel that I've had enough and have started to take action to prevent them. At first, I simply did not answer when the number displayed was not on my acquaintance list, hoping that they would stop calling because it would just be a waste of time. I soon realised that it wouldn't work. The callers may be using autodiallers to phone multiple numbers (which might explain why they sometimes get the gender wrong - they haven't had enough time to listen before speaking to the person who answers) so they are not wasting much time anyway. Now what I do is quickly decline the "special offer" and ask to be removed from their contact database. It seems to be working so far, as such calls have become less frequent.
Take the following picture as an example (Picture credit: Beau Lotto at http://www.lottolab.org/index.asp).
Look at the two circled tiles. Even now, when I know the absolute truth that their colour is identical (I've confirmed this through the reading provided by my graphic design software), my brain keeps refusing to accept it. It is so "obvious" that the one in shadow is bright orange whereas the one under bright light is dark brown.
So in some cases our brains are so naturally attuned to situational factors when we judge what we perceive, such as colours, size, angles, light and shade, that we even subjectively reject what objective measures inform us. These are the situations where we are so easily fooled by illusions.
The message is very clear here. We make sense of the world and we function by considering, knowingly or unknowingly, the contextual information. That is how much of our judgement should be based.
I didn't realise that in real life, a certain font type is actually so loathed by some users that there is even an online hate campaign going on.
The target of the campaign is the typeface called Comic Sans.
I may not be a great admirer of Comic Sans, but there are certain situations where the jaunty, friendly font-type is the most natural choice, as when I made materials for a class of primary summer school children a couple of months ago.
So what is all this revulsion about? Simon Garfield argues in an online article for the BBC Magazine that it is partly because the ubiquity of the font type has led to so much misuse. Holly and David Combs, the couple behind the website bancomicsans.com, agree. They say that the misuse of the font is "analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume".
But then is that the wrong choice or the misuse the fault of the costume or the user? And how about occasions when a clown costume is the best choice, as when you are celebrating your four-year-old child's birthday? Would you wear a black tie instead?
As Simon Garfield says in an online article for the BBC Magazine, "[Comic Sans] looks homely and handwritten, something perfect for things we deem to be fun and liberating. Great for the awnings of toyshops, less good on news websites or on gravestones and the sides of ambulances."
So just make sure that your beloved won't use Comic Sans on your gravestone and you're fine.
But then, maybe why not?
When he tried to photograph the leaf-cutter ants in the Costa Ricanrainforest in action, he tried to find out about their complex society and spent hours watching and following them.
"They proved to be wonderful subjects," he said. "The variation in the size of the pieces they cut was fascinating."
But showing them in action was not easy. "The were only active at night, which made my job very difficult," he said.
Of his winning photo, he said: "I love the contrast between the simplicity of the shot itself and the complexity of the behaviour."
Un sourire ne coûte rien et produit beaucoup,
Il enrichit celui qui le reçoit sans appauvrir celui qui le donne,
Il ne dure qu'un instant, mais son souvenir est parfois éternel,
Personne n'est assez riche pour s'en passer,
Personne n'est assez pauvre pour ne pas le mériter,
Il crée le bonheur au foyer, soutient les affaires,
Il est le signe sensible de l'amitié,
Un sourire donne du repos à l'être fatigué,
Donne du courage au plus découragé
Il ne peut ni s'acheter, ni se prêter, ni se voler,
Car c'est une chose qui n'a de valeur qu'à partir du moment où il se donne.
Et si toutefois, vous rencontrez quelqu'un qui ne sait plus sourire,
Soyez généreux donnez lui le vôtre,
Car nul n'a autant besoin d'un sourire que celui qui ne peut en donner aux autres.
An even more serious riot broke out after the 2004 Asian Cup Final between China and Japan. Throughout the tournament, which took place in Beijing, fans who were fuelled with anti-Japanese sentiments, had repeatedly booed the Japanese team, burned Japanese flags and surrounded the Japanese team coach. After the match, the protests became all-out riots. Trouble flared outside the stadium and more than 5,000 policemen in riot gear were deployed to restore order.
Obviously, for these fans, the only measure of national pride was winning, not showing the world that the nation could take a painful defeat on the chin.
The fight was triggered by a foul call against China which was protested by the Chinese players and coach. Play became rough until, finally, open fighting broke out.
The Chinese Basketball Association apologised to the Brazilian side afterwards and said its players are taking time to "deeply reflect". The players were made to attend classes on good sportsmanship.
This was not an isolated case of basketball violence in China. In July 2001, a brawl occurred in a match between China and Lebanon in Shanghai after the final buzzer. Fans threw objects at the Lebanese players, injuring several of them before the fight was broken up by police.
In August 2005, a nasty brawl ended the game in Beijing between China and Puerto Rico prematurely.Two Chinese players rushed off the bench to fight Puerto Rican players who had inflicted a hard foul on a Chinese player. Again, angry fans were involved.
I wonder if back then the players also took time to "deeply reflect" or were made to attend good sportsmanship classes.
No doubt Jesus would be pleased. No doubt he would say: "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
Well done, miner!
Not quite as ecstatic as the celebration for the rescue of the miners in Chile, but it is for a good cause nonetheless.
It shows Liverpool Football Club Chairman Martin Broughton and Board members Ian Ayre and Christian Purslow celebrating with the fans the ruling by the High Court that the attempt by the much maligned co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to oust Ayre and Purslow from the Board and block the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures as unlawful.
The celebration proves to be shortlived, as there is a new twist in the proposed sale. Shortly after the High Court ruling, Hicks succeeded in getting a Texas court to grant him a restraining order to block the sale of the club.
There is no tell for how much longer the saga of the sale of the football club, which are right now languishing in the relegation zone, will go on.
Some of these beautiful pictures show the miners' families turning from worry and grief to absolute.
Some show how people are overwhelmed with elation and relief at the resurface of the miners and their reunion with their beloved ones.
Every one of these faces is poetry.
These pictures exhibit the noblest aspect of humanity, which is the compassion towards people in trouble or distress, whether or not they are related, whether or not they even know each other.
This is something we are all capable of.
Sadly, we do not always remember.
And some of us don't even know.
"I've been really busy during the weekend," she said. "I didn't expect the two devices I ordered at different times arrived almost at the same time and I had to figure out how to use them.
The other device she was talking about was an i-Phone 4. I asked whether she had ordered it online or from a local store and how long it had taken for delivery. She said she placed the order in an Apple Shop about three weeks ago.
No wonder the stock price of Apple has recently reached a historical high. I am sure that Amazon must be doing pretty well too. Instead of the traditional way of sales where companies make the products and display them on shop shelves for consumers to take home, and in so doing incurring costs and risks, today the marketing and logistics of these giants make it possible for them to start the manufacturing process only after an order and, better still, full payment have been received. Faithful consumers are only too happy to wait a couple of weeks for the products to arrive at their doors. Selling software, such as e-books, songs and computer programs, online is even better. It is true that, as my colleague crooned, e-books are sold at much cheaper prices than print books, but one must not forget that there is no production cost involved. Mind you, I'm not saying NO COST, but when all they are delivering to you online are megabites or gigabites of computer files, they don't have to spend any money on printing, binding, reproducing, packing, storing, delivering, selling and all that. Is this not an absolute dream for anyone doing business?
I haven't rushed home to place an order for Kindle, but to be honest, I am quite tempted. One thing is for certain though. If I do own a Kindle, it won't be with a pink cover!
But American photographer Jay Fine said he had been waiting 40 years to get the picture above, which captures the moment a lighning bolt appearing to strike the Statue of Liberty in New York.
It is hard to say whether the picture is worth the wait, but it is definitely a masterstroke.
I mean the shooting. Not the lightning.
And how about another two pictures of lightning below, one taken above the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the other taken in Zurich?
I wonder how long the photographers had waited for these ones?
Ten lepers asked Jesus to have pity on them. They were all healed, but only one, a Samaritan, returned. He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
"Stand up and go," Jesus told the Samaritan. "Your faith has saved you."
It is obvious that whoever is in trouble, even those who suffered from the horrible disease of leprosy in the Biblical time, as long as he asks Jesus, he will be "healed". But if we then take the healing for granted and fail to remember God's grace and glorify or thank him, we are not truly "saved".
That gratitude, which Naaman in the first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17) also demonstrated when he returned and gave thanks to Elisha who had cleaned him of his leprosy, is the difference between being healed and being saved. Let us be like Naaman and take "two mule-loads of earth" back with us, as reminder of our gratitude to God.
"So why start my blog?
After all, I don't think I have that much to say.
I don't think I'd like anyone to know about me, or who I am.
I don't think I can keep it going.
But these are precisely the reasons for starting. I would like to put these ideas to test.
Maybe writing blogs is like the bubbles I blew in the water of the swimming pool this morning. There were lots of them - big ones, small ones.
They didn't go far.
And they didn't last.
But if you look more closely, each one has a world in it.
And they looked quite nice, in the water, under the sun.
So why not start blowing some bubbles, I mean blogs, here?"
There was another one that I started about four years ago, one for which I wrote a few entries. Sparingly. Back then I didn't have the determination to make a sustained effort. The only exception was when I went to Goa to attend the World Vegetarian Congress.
That blog was called "Cheval Sans Tête", which I named after my favourite French book Le Cheval Sans Tête by Paul Berna. was published as The Horse Without a Head (a literal translation) in the United States and A Hundred Million Francs in England.
It is only now, when I think about the names of my past and present blogs, that I see something very similar. "Faceless Book". "The Horse Without a Head". Very illustrative of how I prefer to be invisible.
In big countries, when people take pets on long domestic trips, they either drive them or fly them. Airlines usually provide options for pets to travel under seats or as cargo - with extra charges of course. In the US, doting pet owners who do not want their pets to travel in such undignified or uncomfortable ways can book them up on a flight with Pet Airways. Their pets may then be treated as valued "pawsengers". As they said in their creative slogans, they are "the first airline with four leg room" and "the first airline where pets fly in the main cabin, NOT in cargo". While on board, the pets get carriers tailored to their sizes, constant attention of the pet attendants and regular potty breaks. And they are available for pick up at the Pet Lounge at the destination 30 minutes after arrival.
Not a bad way to travel for our four-legged friends, huh?
The picture below shows an aircraft Pet Airways use for their flights. Make no mistake about the big puddle of water on the ground. It has absolutely nothing to do with the pets!