Archive for October, 2009

It’s about time I had a post that was a little more light-hearted… I have been studying Chinese internal martial arts on and off for around fifteen years now. I’ve trained in the Yang 85 tai chi form, Hun Yuan tai chi, Wu Dao Gong kung fu, Zi Ran Men kung fu, Nam Pai Chuan kung fu (with a Japanese club!), Bagua Zhang, Xing Yi and Liu He Tanglang Praying Mantis. I’ve practiced anywhere from one day to five days per week, but it’s a lifetime journey; there are some areas I feel quite proficient in, whilst others not even close.

I’m not on my way to being a kung fu master; this kind of person dedicates their whole lives to the art; every waking moment is spent in training. I am a typical Westerner practicing in my spare time for health and self-defence purposes; around Australia, doing kung fu doesn’t often pay the bills, and so we have to work most of our days. Doing martial arts has ironically made me a more peaceful person, and it’s been great fun as well as good for my health and confidence.

I’ve been fortunate to have a few very good teachers. Here are some videos of a few people I’ve been lucky enough to train under, or of forms/styles I’ve learned:

Here’s an old video of my Zi Ran Men teacher Liu Deming on a China trip.

This is Han Yanwu doing Bagua Zhang training; he came to Melbourne from Beijing a while back to help us out.

Grandmaster Fu Zhongwen doing the Yang 85 form

My Canberra teachers Brett Wagland and Fontaine Ip doing Hun Yuan tai chi

Some of our Zi Ran Men training drills here in Melbourne, Australia

This is how we sparred in the Nam Pai Chuan school over in Wakayama City, Japan

Have you ever trained in martial arts? How has the experience been for you?

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I think this is the last Facebook analysis I’m going to do for a while; five posts on one subject can make one feel as though they’ve left the real world and entered a world of ‘faces’. Facebook has had a huge impact on much of modern society in the Western world and there has been no shortage of News in relation to strange happenings within its ‘pages’.

For example, there was the Auschwitz Facebook site, which has subsequently closed down (just like the original ghetto – I can say this; I’m Jewish). There was the criminal who got busted after making the wrong friend request. Did you hear about the incident where car crash details including the name of a female teenager were posted on Facebook before her parents had been notified by authorities? The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, was forced to delete his Facebook account after being constantly asked to befriend people. I guess being that rich has its drawbacks…Taiwanese civil servants were told to cut down Facebook use, and it has been banned altogether at various times in China. These are but a fraction of the Facebook stories floating around the ‘Facialsphere’. Some of my Facebook opinions:

–       Some people want as many friends at they can get, but never communicate to them. I’ve seen people with hundreds, and famous people have thousands of ‘friends’.

–       Whenever someone you are connected with says anything about their lives, everyone they know has the option to add a comment or simply tick the box that says, ‘I like this.’ Everyone comments on one another’s lives without actually interacting personally.

–       There’s an online chat aspect to Facebook; here you can have short instant messenger conversations with people you haven’t seen in years. Ask them for their phone number and see what they do…

–       You can give virtual gifts to people; this takes hardly any effort at all, and usually feels like a waste of time. However, there was an instance where a friend’s husband passed away overseas and I sent her a ‘hug’ with a teddy bear praying for her. This actually did feel good, but it was much more real when I called her on the phone.

–       Some people seem to ‘talk’ to everyone they’ve ever met, worked with, or gone to school with. If someone they’ve known comments on the News wall, they’ve always got something to say about it…Are they lonely, or sociopaths?

–       There’s a multitude of whacky applications and groups to ‘join’. I have an acquaintance that is a ‘fan’ of Vicks Vapour Rub. Why does he think this is worth expressing? Is it comedy?

–       I played the Facebook application called Texas Hold em’ Poker for a while. I made it from $1,000 up to $2.6 million, and then lost it all. Some people have billions of these virtual dollars and are so proud of their achievement, although it has no intrinsic value whatsoever. Still, it did feel sad to lose all that ‘money’. It sure is weird to see ‘poor’ folks asking the ‘rich’ people for spare chips.

–       As I’m a travel bug, there’s one add-on application I like called, ‘Cities I’ve visited’ created by Trip Advisor. You get a map on your Facebook page, which shows everyone where you’ve been (including yourself!), though admittedly it can come across as being a little egotistical and ostentatious…

–       I have the Top Friends application where I’ve put my closest family members; you can ‘send drinks’ to them virtually. I don’t drink. It’s weird how society automatically thinks we want to drink alcohol with those we feel close with.

–       Did you know if you close your account on Facebook the website holds the right to keep your information even after you’re gone?

–       One friend of mine says it’s all too commercial now; another says every real-life conversation he has, Facebook comes up, and he’s sick of it.

–       My girlfriend says she doesn’t like the feeling of having to check her homepage regularly to find out when friends’ events are on. Why don’t people just call if they want her to come?

–       Now there’s Facebook for Mobile. I fear if people get too into this they will no longer focus on the world around them; I like paying attention to people and the changing landscape on my daily train rides. Staring into your phone for the entire journey is questionably equal to disassociating one’s self from the present moment surrounding you in the space-time continuum of life.

–       Now that I’ve deleted some people from my Friend’s List, my brother says he’s heard people can be deeply wounded and offended by this act. Really? I’ll just tell them I’m not into Facebook, except for keeping in touch with very close friends. If they don’t understand or no longer want to know me, I can presume it was a good decision anyway.

–       Check out these articles relating to Facebook: ‘Death of a Gatekeeper’, ‘Why you Should be Aware of Facebook‘, ‘Is it a Day to be Happy: Check the Index‘ and ‘Beware: Happiness is Contagious‘.


Why have a Facebook if all faces are only masks to what truly lies behind?

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I’m not obsessed with Facebook, but I figure if I’m going to judge something negatively I should look into the matter as deeply as possible. I think Facebook is a very impersonal way to communicate, and I’m not the only one. This whole communication via short text messages as opposed to telephone conversations or face-to-face interaction is very easy and non-committal; it also feels very shallow.

Recently my brother mentioned to me a few people he knows are shocked and feel invaded by having to answer a spontaneous voice phone call when they are not prepared for the interaction. All these SMS’s, emails, status updates, Twitters and instant messengers…could they actually be taking away from true and deep human relationships?

I was sitting in a tutorial for my Writing and Editing for Digital Media class at the University of Melbourne the other day. This is a postgraduate unit discussing blog writing, Internet journalism, as well as other social networking concepts. I looked over at a couple of my fellow students and saw they weren’t paying any attention to the lecture of which the teacher was putting a lot of effort into. What were these students focussed on? I’ll tell you; they were on their Facebook accounts. ‘Face Crack’ is addictive. Why?

There are three of ‘me’ on Facebook: Jesse Somer, Jesse Somer and Jesse Somer. Who is the real one? Can you tell which one I am? Let me give you a hint; I’m not the Asian guy in sunglasses with his shirt off and a six-pack stomach looking like a male stripper. This guy is giving ‘Jesse Somer’ a bad name.

Facebook can be useful. Whilst volunteering at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival the organisation set up a MWF Facebook page to inform everyone what was going on. Unfortunately, I obtained all the important information directly to my email, so it proved unnecessary.

However, generally I get this weird notion I’m unintentionally peeking into other people’s lives, getting a view into areas I truly have no desire to see. For instance, there’s the ‘Wall’. Each person has a ‘public’ wall where they show all their communications to all of their ‘friends’. You also have the option to send private messages, but a lot of the time people don’t bother. The result is seeing what other people are saying to one another. In the old days your Mum would box you on the ears if she found you eavesdropping; on Facebook you are forced to.

I was happier when I was the only Jesse Somer.

Jesse Somer
Is this the real Jesse Somer?
(Photo taken from Facebook public page; all rights reserved to Facebook and Jesse Somer)

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The title of this post is a direct follow-up to the previous one, ‘Facebook: Why I feel the need to delete half of my so-called friends’, and the third piece in a series of five short articles questioning the pros and cons of the Facebook social networking site. Many people would like me to believe quitting Facebook or deleting my friends is a disastrous decision inevitably leading me to a life of a hermit/isolation.

Facebook is dominating recent News (in the areas of technology and human interaction) and recently I read some people believe if you don’t join Facebook when your friends ask you to, you are then classified as ’needy’ by those within their Facebook clique. By not joining you are deemed as being a person who desires more interaction than normal people these days should require. You are in essence inferring your need to be the centre of attention. I don’t believe it; this has always been the mentality of the sheep-like people who chastise the one who is different (the ‘black sheep’), or who fear the wolf, the one who could eat them.

I’ve also read a psychologist’s theory that says every new friend you get on Facebook the more happy you’ll be, because you feel more connected to society and the community. Another article entitled, ‘Friends with benefits: Do Facebook friends provide the same support as those in real life?‘ also questions this idea. I’ve read from a ‘business expert’ in an era of networking one should never delete contacts from their Facebook, mobile phone or email. The result will be lost opportunities. I’m sorry, but I’m doing it anyway.

As inferred in my previous post, I’ve now stopped being friends with those people on Facebook who I don’t really like, who never speak to me, who I’ve tried to talk to, but who ignored me, who I don’t actually know well, or who are from a past I desire to leave in the past. Note: I will also delete more of my current ‘friends’ when in future they are no longer in my immediate vicinity or everyday interactions. I’ve now dropped from eighty down to around forty friends. Admittedly some friends are still only there because they are associated with someone I know; I’m being polite, they are nice, but I’ll probably rarely communicate with them. They too might completely disappear from my list one day, and then again, maybe I’ll drop the whole Facebook idea altogether.


I know there's a lot of good in Facebook; so why do I want to dump it at the bottom of a river?

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Continuing on from my previous post entitled, ‘The Book of Faces (Facebook): Some debate whether it’s worth it.’ I am going to further explore why many people (including myself) have adverse feelings about the giant social networking website that is Facebook.

Facebook is supposed to be about connecting with your friends. The idea is to get in touch with all of the important people in your life. This can include your family, friends and people you hope to network with for business purposes. In many instances I found this to be helpful at first, but then the type of communication between these different kinds of relations and their ways of ‘speaking’ caused many questionable lines to be drawn and then crossed. In the end, confusion and disenchantment reigned supreme.

For example, there’s the inane chatter of the ‘News feed’. Status updates from people you don’t know well, or who never shut up, or whom you don’t really relate to, can get quite infuriating. It’s called a ‘News feed’, but when you write in it you are asked, ‘What’s on your mind?’, and then you fill out the update. What’s on your mind, or on my mind for that matter, is not News!

I’ll give you a few examples. There’s the close teenage relative who you ‘Facebook befriended’ because you are family, and for a family to function well we all need to communicate. However, this teenager writes every single thing that happens in her day. In reality, she’s actually communicating to a very few close teenage friends, but because she’s on my ‘Friends List’, I get every word she says on my News feed. I love her, but I don’t want to hear about how much she loves her friend that day, and how they should ‘text meee!’ If a business colleague were to have a look at my Facebook home page, they’d see a whole bunch of crap about how cool the new Twilight vampire film is going to be, even though I didn’t write about it, or even comment on the topic.

Then there’s the self-obsessed partner of an old friend. I’ve known the old friend for over two decades, but his wife was added because we now ‘know’ one another. The thing is, I don’t believe we actually like each other at all. It’s about being polite, and so I accepted her ‘friend request’. Funny thing is, she’s never said a word to me on Facebook, and every time she does a status update, it’s an internal monologue spoken out loud to the world. I’m just not interested in hearing weekly updates about her pregnancy and how happy she is about it.

Last but not least, I’ll discuss the ‘friends’ who aren’t actually friends at all. These are people who befriend you via the ‘Suggestions’ link, or just because they see you on one of their friends’ ‘Friend’s Lists’. The Suggested friends link is a Facebook algorithm designed to regularly and automatically ask you if you’d like to add a person to your Friend List simply because they know someone you know. I can imagine this being handy on occasion when an old friend is discovered after aeons of separation, but generally speaking it puts you in touch with people you knew long ago through school or old jobs.

There’s a reason we leave these people behind and move forward in our lives. After you ‘become friends’ with these old acquaintances you find that’s it. There’s nothing else to the interaction; no one ever actually communicates! It’s almost as if they’re saying, ‘you’re on my list, if I ever need to talk with you I will, but I don’t need to right now.’ If you’re not going to say hello, why get connected? I’ve bothered trying to write letters (I am a fan of the traditional letter in the post) to a few of these old friends, and all I got in return was a one-sentence reply.


Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather receive an impassioned heart-felt letter covered in red ink, than a short impersonal text message on Facebook.

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I have been sitting on this topic for a fair while now, and have had so many thoughts, ideas and opinions, I’ve found it hard to put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) until now. I intend to post more than once on this matter. Facebook is definitely one of the most widely used social software networks in the world today. Here’s a cool ‘World Map showing the popularity of social networks around the world (Nov. 2008), though it is a little out of date. The question for many remains, ‘Is Facebook worth it?’

Fairly recently I read an article in the Sunday Age Magazine entitled, ‘Off his Facebook’ about a novelist named Chad Taylor who’d recently decided to ‘ditch’ his Facebook account. It’s only available online if you pay $2.20 to the Fairfax newspaper barons, and like myself, I doubt you are keen to pay as much for one short article as you would normally pay for a whole newspaper. The story is simple. Taylor says, ‘you couldn’t drag me back’ to Facebook. He liked it at first, but in the end discovered he only wanted to share his intimate details and daily emotions with his close friends, the type of friends who call you up on the phone from time to time, or who meet you ‘face to face’ on occasion. ‘Facebook isn’t socialising,’ Chad says, ‘it’s broadcasting.’

George Clooney recently was quoted at the Toronto International Film Festival as saying, ‘I would rather have a prostate exam on live television by a guy with very cold hands than have a Facebook page.’ Why are some people so passionate about this one website? My search for the answers has been directed by my own involvement on Facebook, and my subsequent decision to delete at least half of my so-called ‘Facebook Friends’. Wait for the next installment as I look into these reasons further.


You’ve got a book, and you’ve got a face, but do you have a Facebook?

(Image taken from The Lone Wolf Librarian Weblog under a Creative Commons License)

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Travel Article for the Trip Advisor website:

Traveller Article: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Culture and Peace in a Tropical Haven

Ancient culture, friendly people and multiple levels of fun, food and relaxation are to be found in this rural mountainous area only an hour from the popular Bali beach resorts. Take a motor scooter ride through the Ubud countryside and see what real Bali is all about.

Unlike many Australians who visit our close neighbour Bali on a regular basis, I really had no idea what it would be like. Funnily enough, upon arriving in Ubud comes the realisation many Aussies never leave the beaches of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, and the Bali I was about to experience was a lot different from the Westernised resort atmosphere of the popular coastal towns. Ubud is only an hour’s drive from the beach in a $10 taxi ride, but in terms of culture and spirituality, it’s a lifetime away.

Ubud town has grown a lot from the original village, which was started when a wandering priest felt sanctity in the area, and decided to put down roots. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Bali’s inhabitants are 90% Hindu and 10% Buddhist. During the day the narrow streets of the town are packed with cars and motor scooters, but just beyond lay mountains, valleys, temples and rice paddies. The town at night is more subdued; when the electricity went out whilst eating at a restaurant, candles were casually lit, the darkness a soft enveloping calm.

We rented motor scooters, no license necessary, and after getting the balance of riding, decided to get lost in the Ubud countryside. This was the real Bali. Riding past small houses with children relaxing along the side of the road, a cool breeze took the edge off the heat and humidity that endures all year long. Up and down hills, we suddenly would find ourselves in a new village, this one specialising in wood carvings, and that one in silver jewellery. Art and craft is the heart of the Balinese economy and tourists are one of the main sources of income. Our money is worth a lot and for a fraction of what it costs back home, all kinds of creations can be bargained for. Do be careful of some persistent sellers; to a few, Westerners are walking ATM’s.

Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring's holy waters

Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring’s holy waters

For a couple of dollars you can pick up some local road-side cuisine, then ride on past skinny lackadaisical dogs and scurrying chickens. Women bathe and wash clothes in roadside creeks, then turn a corner and a sacred temple awaits you. Upon entry you have to borrow a sarong to wear, like we did at Tampak Siring where the local Hindus wash themselves in holy water, which comes from underground springs.

Tegalalong's rice terraces defy imagination

Tegalalong’s rice terraces defy imagination

North of Ubud town we found the picturesque rice terraces of Tegalalang; they’re simply amazing. We filled our bikes up on local petrol sold by the bottle, and realised after currency conversion that our 50,000-a day rupiah motor scooter cost the equivalent of $5.80, whilst petrol for an entire day of riding equated to $1.40. I decided it was no longer worth haggling for 10,000 rupiah (bargaining is an essential, fun, but sometimes frustrating part of your journey).

Eat traditional food at Café Wayan, visit the Elephant Cave, meditate with the new-agers at Yoga Barn, buy arts and crafts at local Ubud Market, give small bananas to ravenous monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest (don’t hold on to your fruit too long or they’ll take it themselves!), and experience culture like the Kecak Fire Dance in the evenings.

Enter the demon's mouth known locally as the 'Elephant Cave'

Enter the demon’s mouth known locally as the ‘Elephant Cave’

Ubud is a place where culture is alive, the people are poor, but happier than most you’ll see in Melbourne, and offerings to the Gods keep a constant reminder of the magic that life truly has to offer. Did I mention the $10 one-hour, full-body massages at the Sang Spa?

Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance

Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance

Note: All images in these two articles are used with permission of the copyright owner, the photographer, Ms. Chun Yin.

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