part 1: vietnam hat 2014, the magic of flatball, and tat’s first Christmas away from mum

A third post in a short amount of time after posting maybe once every month or longer over the past year. Hopefully, this becomes more of a habit rather than a doomed-to-fail New Year’s type resolution promise. Or like when someone with an historical tendency to eat crap food and exercise very little stands up and says, “MY DIET STARTS TOMORROW!” You just know they’re hitting the Cheetos and delicious Chapman’s ice cream harder than ever in about two week’s time.

This update comes to you on the heels of the Vietnam HAT slated for this weekend, December 21st and 22nd. The tournament begins tomorrow and I cannot express how stoked I am. Why am I’m so excited for some flatball and a good ol’ fashioned tournament? Well, I could go into a thesis paper on the topic… but a couple of my friends from Taiwan have already made their own post on loving the frisb and I’m certain they’ve articulated the sentiment far better than I could ever have. Here’s Austin’s and Joanna’s take on the love for chasing a piece of plastic. Skyd Magazine also published an excellent article by one Yacine Bara on the beauty of this sport, which you can find here. So, I won’t go into great detail on why I love this game so much. I will, however, provide a short origin story on how I got into it.

I want to say the year was 2008 or 2009 but I can’t be certain. End of the year papers, final exams, and all things school related had just wrapped up. The University of Toronto has a thing for scheduling exams late into May and sure enough I was the last one of my group of friends to finish. But I had made it; I had finished another grueling year at Toronto’s finest post-secondary institution, I was past the halfway mark of my university tenure, and I did it well enough. June was just around the corner and with it would come a sweet summer of insobriety, girls, late night pool-hopping episodes, and whatever other cliché mischievous shenanigans you can think of for 20-21 year old kids.

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I was starting to worry about finding a way to keep in shape. I had been playing the beautiful game of soccer in a league located in the boonies of Toronto but a decision (that was heavily influenced by a ridiculous amount of Old Milwaukee Ice) to punt an oversized garbage bag late one Saturday night had resulted in a very serious right quadricep injury. I was forced to stop playing soccer for the remainder of the league schedule. My friend, Sarah, who plays for the Toronto Capitals had been trying to get me to play ultimate Frisbee with her and her group of friends. The suggestion was for me to sign up and play with them on a Monday or Wednesday league night. I finally relented and joined them. I figured this would probably be better than getting on an elliptical at an overpriced gym with countless other middle-aged women who had no business wearing super-tight Lululemons or TNAs. Or worst, male retirees who decide to get fit but wear short shorts that would make Larry Bird’s thigh hairs tingle.

Anyway, I had finally decided to play ultimate Frisbee. But league would not start for probably another month so I had time to recover from my injury. One late spring/early summer night, I was in Ravina Park, a green spot near my house as well as my old primary and high schools. I was with several of my old high school friends and we were enjoying a suspicious communal “cigarette”. As the aromatic clouds billowed over the green field, a lanky figure emerged from the thick of smoke. It was an old acquaintance from high school and a former physics lab partner of mine. He was also smoking a suspicious “cigarette”. It was somewhat of a coincidence that he would come by and run into us. This guy, as it turned out, was also playing on the same league team that I had just signed up for. We talked about the game and I might’ve lied about how excited I was to run around catching Frisbees. From that night, a greater friendship emerged between us as he helped me learn the game and get better at it. This lanky fellow would later go on to make Toronto’s top club team, GOAT, and play for Team Canada’s U23 that captured gold in Florence.

It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. I didn’t know it then but my love for a sport that has often been mistaken as an activity for pot-smoking hippies began to grow from a hazy conversation in the midst of dense fogs like a scene from That 70’s Show

Now that’s the story of how I got into flatball. And it’s important to me because it got me out of a potential a rut. It’s only later on in life that I realized that my younger-self back then was starting to develop bad habits and could have spiraled into a vicious cycle. You see, I might’ve partied too hard sometimes. I was working hard at school and at my part-time job but I was also working just to get through the week and land on the sweet, sweet weekends. When the weekends came, often times I was too excited and went overboard. I would justify this excessive behaviour by believing I had somehow earned it because I worked hard at school and at my job; things that I should be working hard at in and of itself. Consequently, my motivation was dropping in many aspects of my life.

But flatball changed things. It was changing my attitude and behaviour as well as my outlook on life. Suddenly, I wasn’t looking forward to blacking out on the weekends but remembering sweet, sweet plays on the field and incredible moments with my teammates.

This post is getting pretty long and I need a break to formulate my next thoughts. So, I’m gonna partition my thoughts into two parts. This is part one. I’ll get to part two eventually. For now, I will say this: what I feel when I chase that stupid flat piece of plastic must be the same feeling Harry Potter gets when he gets on his broom and chases after that elusive, sneaky-ass golden snitch. My mind is suddenly focused if only for a brief moment. More importantly, I’m happy as a clam when I’ve got that little sucker in my hands.

In the next part of this two-part blog post, I will talk about how the game eventually hooked me up with some of the best people I will ever meet in my life beginning in Canada and then later on halfway across the world. Some of the friends I made while playing this game will likely be the best mates I could ever have on and off the field. 

ImageThe Inbetweeners, anyone?

Stay tuned….

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manila, you really did a number on me. but I still love you.

Manila, you really did a number on me. But I still love you.

Before I get into the gritty of my trip to the Philippines, I want to include an addendum to my previous post regarding me being alone. After I published the post on being alone and returning to writing, I was met with a number of responses, most of which were made in private. People were sending me well wishes and hoping the best while providing some good-natured advice. I can’t say thanks enough. When I wrote it, I didn’t intend for it to be a depressing message – it certainly did veer that way a bit though, didn’t it? It was merely my intention to acknowledge that I am now alone, and to consider what it meant to be alone, which can be a separate concept from the idea of being lonely. I also went to elaborate on the good things that can come from being alone, not just the bad. If it came out as a cry for help, it certainly wasn’t meant to. Regardless, I am extremely grateful for the support. I know some of the best peeps in the world.

Now, about the Philippines.  Some of you might be asking what I was doing in Manila. Well, I’m infatuated, nay, in love with this silly sport that has an even sillier name called ultimate Frisbee. I’d much prefer the sport’s name to be changed to flatball or magic flying plate, but I digress. The annual epic Manila Spirits tournament was taking place on November 15th – 17th, and a ragtag group of players mostly from Taiwan and Thailand, with ringers from here and there like myself, banded together to create Huckuna Matata. Our awesome cosmopolitan group of flatball players had landed in Manila and we were ready to play mean and party aggressively. Some of us had also decided to take an extra day or two off our day jobs to do some sightseeing and explore a corner of the Philippines.

Allow me to fast forward a bit and recount a misfortunate incident that happened to me while we were in Manila. As most of you who are more or less up to date with my goings on, I was robbed of my prized possessions on my first day in the Philippines. A few bad apples pulled the ol’ Houdini on me and snagged my camera backpack, which was loaded with my Canon 7D, a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 17-40mm f/4 L lens, a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, my GoPro HD Hero 2 camera, a couple of lens filters, and the usual minor accessories attached to cameras’ setups.

ImageMy prized possessions. The Nikon D80 wasn’t in the bag because I no longer own that camera but the other two were taken away from me far too soon.

Here’s the setting: our group of 7 or 8 people were sitting down for lunch at an outside patio. Now, normally, I’m very protective of my stuff and when I carry a backpack around, I usually place it on the ground with the shoulder strap looped around my ankle. Never have I experienced any suspicious activity against me. But on this particular day, our group sat down with a full 360 degrees panoramic view around us. I made sure to pull my bag close to me; it was even slightly touching my foot. Rosie was sitting perpendicular to me to my right and a few of us were sitting across from me with full view behind me.

Now I was told that a group sat behind me and was about to order off the menu but then got up and left after a few minutes. I did not give them too much of my attention. Obviously. Neither did anyone else in the group. When we paid the bill and got up to left, I looked to my right where my bag should’ve been between Rosie and myself. The bag was gone. It would be an understatement to say that I was livid. I was borderline murderous.

ImageJaleel, you were too late.

Looking back on the incident, I could certainly see why our group was targeted. A group of 7 or 8 happy, go-lucky peeps just happy to be in each other’s company and conversing with each other in good spirits meant our collective guard was down. Not to mention, of course, that we were already visible targets just by being obvious tourists in this country.

This unfortunate incident could’ve or should’ve left a bad taste in my mouth. I should’ve been miserable for the rest of my trip. Instead, I shrugged it off well enough and was still able to enjoy the rest of my time there.

Now for the more positive bits. Manila along with the Manila Spirits 2013 ultimate tournament was the absolute tits. The tournament was a huge hit and the party was nothing short of spectacular. I’ll save a separate post on the tournament and ultimate Frisbee at another time.

What I really want to get to is my trip to the Taal volcano by Tagaytay, about several clicks outside of Manila. This place was fucking radical. The setting looked like a scene straight out of National Geographic. I was stunned. Being with a super sweet crew consisting of Jess Chen, Alice Chirn, Rosie, David Wong, and Chris Price was also the peanut butter to the jam.

ImageDa crew.

We arrived at the top of Tagaytay to get a breathtaking survey of the land and seascape before us. After that, we drove down some crazy windy-ass roads and stopped at the foot of some mountains where we booked a boat ride over to the volcano. From there, we each got horses to ride up to the top of the volcano.  All for about $20 USD. The horse rides were a great touch, but certainly not necessary. The trek up the side of the volcano would be peanuts to do by foot and probably faster than riding a horse up.

ImageAt the top of Tagaytay looking at what’s in store for us.

Now, when it comes to animals, I have a soft spot for the mangy, scraggly, underdog type of animals. I gravitate towards them. It happened in Rajasthan, India, when I found myself a camel that looked a bit shyer than the others. It happened again here, when I chose a smaller horse that reminded me of the Tauntauns from Star Wars. The problem with this is that I ended up choosing a horse that was probably too small and weak to carry me up there. My Tauntaun huffed and puffed and grunted the entire way. But we made it! My steed and I were the last ones up but damnit we made it! My horse luckily didn’t die on me and avoided the fate of becoming glue.

ImageMy and my Tauntaun. The last one up.

I think if I write anymore, this thing will start to become an essay so I’ll just throw in a few photos and let you decide how rad this place was. Now, because I had lost my cameras at this point, I wasn’t able to take many pictures. But I was still able to snag a few shots with my iPhone 4.

ImageAbout to boat over to the volcano.

ImageA black and white shot. Some deep stuff.

ImageOh hey, Alice.

ImageHoly toledo, Batman!

Philippines, you were dope. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

a return to writing. blogging. wrogging?

It’s 11:07am. I’ve just arrived home from teaching my morning periods at school. On the way home, I bought a sizeable portion of cơm tấm and have already unpacked it on to a large plate. It’s my go-to lunch. I see a strand of hair in it and pull it out slowly. It’s too long to be mine. Within moments, I’m shovelling back rice while cải lương is being blasted from my neighbour’s. I’m taking short breaks from eating to get in breaths of air and type out a few words for this new blog post.

I’m anxious to write today. It’s an important day and arguably a turning point in my life. Today, I am alone. Truly and utterly alone.

“Wow, Alex. You’re being pretty vague and quite the Debbie Downer. And a TURNING POINT IN YOUR LIFE? Enough hyperbole, doofus.” Well, internet, lemme apply a generous (unnecessary?) amount of sriracha (cock) sauce to my lunch and then I’ll explain myself.

This morning, at the crack of dawn, I took Rosie to the Tan Son Nhat airport and saw her off. Rosie is now blazing through the sky at breakneck speeds en route to Manila where she will have a 7 hour layover before continuing on back to the true north strong and free (that’s Canada for you non-Canadians). After basically a year of Rosie and I working, living, eating, and doing everything together, she has now begun her trip home to pursue her Master’s degree and any other personal goals. I remain here in Saigon with no timetable for returning. I don’t know when I will return to Toronto, and if I do, it’s likely for a short visit before I attempt to take off again.

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Here’s a group of us after some pickup ultimate frisbee. A last hurrah of sorts for Rosie.

ImageHere’s us again before Rosie left.

Mmm, the ringing sensation on the corners of my mouth suggest that I went overboard with the cock sauce. Goddamnit, I never learn.

It’s a weird feeling when you spend almost every waking moment with someone and then suddenly they’re gone and you don’t know when the both of you will get a chance to see each other again in person. It’s almost a crippling feeling. It was on my cab ride back from the airport when I realised right then that I was alone. Utterly alone. And not just alone but lonely. That’s the worst. Being alone comes with its own benefits and sometimes peace of mind. Being lonely is different; it’s the sense of wanting something or someone or missing something or someone.

So there you have it, internet. That is why I’m now alone. That is why I feel this will be a turning point in my life. I honestly do feel that I am moving on to another stage in life, whether I like it or not. And as much as it sucks now, I have to look at the advantages and seize the opportunities of being alone. Like I said, it’s not bad being alone. For example, when I travelled to Hong Kong alone, I was able to stand on a dirty street corner for what felt like 20 minutes just to get a particular picture shot and video footage filmed. When I’m with someone, I am less likely to ask the person or people with me to accommodate my weird impulse to do things like this. Not everyone would have the patience to watch me get fixated on something, and I get that. But being alone does allow me to have these opportunities. My calendar and the priorities that clutter it instantly become strictly my own and adhere to no one else.

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Here’s a picture of just me by the Taal Volcano in the Philippines. It’s suppose to symbolize me being alone from now on.

So what is with the post’s title? Why a return to writing and blogging? Well evidently, I haven’t been writing/blogging my adventures abroad as much as I had intended to back before I left Toronto. Having someone there with you all the time is nice in that you can always vent your ideas, thoughts, rants, or whatever to them. Now that I don’t have Rosie around to hear me talk, I must find another outlet. I’m hoping I can let my streams of consciousness flow from my noggin, course its way down my arms and exit from my fingertips on to the keys of my Macbook. I also always have an ideas book nearby to write things down but I do like the organisation of a blog.

So that’s that for now. I guess this post has been a bit depressing. But things’ll sort themselves out. Oh, I did start a side-blog a few days ago. It revolves around my interaction with students at school and the content is born from the answers, notes, or responses I get from my students. For those who are following this and want to take a peep at the side-blog, check out a canuck teaching English abroad. I know, the title sucks, but it’s a working title.

There’s a few bites of rice left that look awfully bare of sriracha sauce. I’m gonna fix that.

Until next time.