For me, the lead up to the election was not tense, the future was not in jeopardy. The election day was merely a formality in which the USA had to participate to confirm that they would indeed not be considering someone who was not only completely unqualified for the job, but is outwardly offensive and oppressive towards so many sections of society.
I watched events unfold from my classroom with my students who come from 28 unique nations. As each result was announced they furiously tried to calculate whether the day could be saved. It couldn’t. Not in the way that we hoped.
For the second time in my life I sat in the staffroom surrounded by grieving colleagues. The first such time was the morning of Brexit. Only 3 members of staff in the department were eligible to vote in the referendum, the others having used their right to free movement of people to come to the UK to teach the children of those who had now voted for them to leave. The post-election staffroom was infinitely worse.
The students began to express their fears. They aren’t worried about whether they are safe in China, or what happens in the stock market, they’re worried about what this means for humanity. One student of Indian heritage told me that she had already heard some of her friends saying that “Trump isn’t that bad”. She told me that the problem with having someone like him in power is that it allows people to think that what he says is okay. It normalises sexism and racism and becomes a springboard for oppression.
Some sort of magic happened when we crossed the world with our apple tv and our Netflix account. Despite reading online that we wouldn’t be able to access UK Netflix from a Hong Kong address, upon buying our gratuitous television (owing to the cheapness of electronics in Asia and the novelty of the freedom to select our own TV), Netflix worked right away. Having access to only cantonese and mandarin language channels via cable, Netflix has been our Hero.
When you are spoiled by the availability of channels via Sky you put less thought into what you watch and more importantly, what you don’t. In each household the TV is almost always on in the background, a comfort blanket protecting you from awkward silences and boredom. Often we watch TV out of habit, flicking through channels until we see something at least satisfactory before we settle down to sit for 30 or 60 minute slots. You can waste a lot of time watching TV.
I believe in the power of technology for education, for communication and for pure enjoyment. TV is a powerful tool and there’s nothing wrong with spending time watching it. For us, reliance on Netflix as our sole connection to the world of visual entertainment has evoked a natural habit shift.
I saw a meme on “the internet” which said that relationships are just two people asking each other what they want to eat before they die. I would add “…and what do you want to watch?”. The beauty of Netflix is that entertainment is on demand, you can choose what you want to watch and when. You can choose to watch your favourite series before getting an early night or you can binge watch into the early hours of the next day if that takes your fancy.
Asking each other what we wanted to watch everyday can grow tiresome and you eventually run out of episodes, out of series, out of answers. My “continue watching” menu became populated with half watched documentaries and pilots which had turned off after a few minutes because they were boring or simply terrible. As our options lessened, our habits changed.
At mealtimes the TV was redundant, with nothing to put on we began to stream music in the background. Rather than staying up late on “school nights” we’d choose to watch the next episode in our current series and then get to bed at a reasonable time, fresh for the next day. In the mornings before work the TV stayed in sleep mode, weary at the early hour. On Saturday mornings we’d enjoy our lay-in, take time making a coffee and enjoying the view from our apartment.
I began to see the value of enjoying the space of the apartment and its silence. Or near silence. This isn’t pinterest. People live above us and a dog lives next door. (With his owner too I might add).
I enjoy being at home and spending my time there. Minimising the static buzz of the television has opened up 30 and 60 minute slots to enjoy other things at home instead. Recently I dipped my metaphorical toes and literal pen nib into the world of calligraphy. It’s really hard and I’m not very good but it’s relaxing and I’ve made friends doing it. A resounding success.
My short experience with calligraphy has helped me to remember just how much I enjoy creative pursuits and stationary shopping. When we had a day off of school through emergency closure due to an impending typhoon, I spent 10 hours painting. Even when I was a GCSE art student I don’t think I ever spent 10 hours focused on the same piece of paper. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t get an A, or maybe I had better things to be doing, but regardless, the joy finishing my work sparked in me was undeniable.
Some sort of magic happened when we crossed the world with our apple TV and our Netflix account. We began to reevaluate what our passions are, we became more purposeful in our watching habits and we spent more time talking to each other. If Netflix isn’t our hero then I don’t know what is.
NB: It might be that I’m feeling a little disaffected with technology after watching 3 series of Black Mirror (prime binge watching material) the same week I suffered eye strain from reading on my laptop for hours at work. A coincidence of course but indulge me a little!
The idea of a capsule wardrobe is a simple one, it rests on the notion that we simply don’t need as many clothes as we have – something we can all agree on. A capsule wardrobe is a curated collection of good quality, age appropriate clothing which is versatile enough for any occasion. Experimenting with a capsule wardrobe for just over a year has completely transformed my attitude to clothing and my belongings. Here’s how it has worked for me:
When I was young I was a gymnast. I could tumble and dance and show off to a reasonable standard. I could do things non-gymnasts thought were impressive. Grandparents, teachers and well meaning strangers would say: “We’ll be seeing you in the Olympics one day”. Only, they wouldn’t. I started gymnastics at age 7, and although I progressed quickly through the different ability groups, at age 7 I had started too late. I had too many habits that couldn’t be unlearned, I hadn’t maintained the flexibility I had when I was five, and I was years behind in terms of technical ability. I wasn’t brave enough to fling myself upside-down with wild abandon and this meant I was not going to the Olympics in over a decades time. At age 10 I knew I was a gymnast, but a recreational one. In fact, the classes I attended were only to raise money to fund the serious gymnasts.
When you are young the future should be full of every possibility. A 10 year old shouldn’t think there isn’t a possibility of them going to the Olympics. I didn’t do any other sports, so that was it, I wouldn’t grow up to be an Olympian. That door was already closed.
I find it sad that a 10 year old would be so aware of what they were destined not to be. Not just myself as a 10 year old, but any 10 year old, anywhere. We are so focused on who we are and who we should be that we fail to see who we could be. Our identity becomes suffocated by expectation and our multi-faceted talents and personalities become reduced to just one or two dimensions. As adults we become experts in placing ourselves in boxes, certain that skills outside of this box are completely out of our remit. Doubted into modesty we resort to limiting statements to strengthen our sense of identity.
“I don’t do numbers/creativity/technology”
Having progressed through several stages of education, developed our careers and pursued our interests we have specialised in particular areas, but we seem to forget the other aspects of ourselves. When I was young I was a gymnast. Now I am a language teacher and a Judo athlete. Yes, but when I young I was also a caring child, a good friend, a talented writer and a conscientious girl guide. I was a big sister, an enthusiastic art club attendee and a nervous karateka. I was good at algebra, a confident speaker and I had two years of dance lessons under my belt. With such a diverse CV at 10 I could have been anything and it’s easy to forget I still can.
I started Judo at the age of 18 and the door to the Olympics is once again open. It was never closed, I just hadn’t nudged it open.
It’s true that we can’t all be Olympians, just as it’s true that we don’t all have a natural talent for dancing. We shouldn’t let the weight of unlikeliness stop us from doing anything. Want to start a new hobby, or change career but don’t think you’ll be good at it? So what? Do it. Either you’ll surprise yourself by your ability to learn quickly or you’ll learn more from the process of mastering a skill than you ever thought possible. Persistent hard work is much more valuable than natural talent alone. Challenge yourself regularly and you’ll be amazed that there’s not much you can’t do if you’re willing to be brave.
In Hong Kong I’ve been challenging myself to learn new skills. I recently took a calligraphy workshop at a studio in central Hong Kong. My friend Holly and I were the only ones on our table who weren’t artists, but why couldn’t we be? We spent 3 hours immersing ourselves in learning this new skill and left the studio tranquil and refreshed, we hadn’t thought about anything else for the entire time.
Day #2 of practice and my letters don’t quite possess the elegance I aspire for but I am confident that one day they will. Learning a new skill is empowering, it makes you feel like you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, and truthfully, you can.
Once I knew we were moving to Hong Kong training took a back seat. Not only was I very busy making all the preparations, but I also wanted to make the most of my last few months in the UK surrounded by friends and family. As a result I reduced my training schedule to around twice a week with one weights session for around a month and a half before we left, and after arriving, training has been extremely disrupted as we adapt to our new home and environment.
Having a break from training and competing is not a bad thing, in fact, I think it’s important to have these breaks as it forces you to have perspective, assess your priorities, and helps you remember that you are not defined by your athletic career. This perspective helps you to understand what really matters to you, and it has made me unfalteringly sure that I am a judo athlete hungry for success.
Since arriving, it has been a frustrating search for a Judo club with the right volume of training, there are plenty of Judo clubs here, though most seem to train only twice a week or are too far to travel to regularly. When you identify as a Judo athlete working steadily on a path to success, it is disheartening not to be training, rather than progressing towards your destination you feel as if you are being dragged back to the start line. In reality you have just stopped for coffee and to ask for directions along the way.
After 7 weeks in Hong Kong with no significant progress made I received an email from a talent ID program in the UK run by UK Sport. I had the opportunity to attend a talent identification event looking for female athletes in combat sports which, if successful, would ultimately lead to fast track onto the Olympic pathway. I knew I could be successful if I took up this opportunity. With a shortcut to my goal presented to me in the UK, in that moment it was tough to see how Hong Kong was the preferable option. I had no club, no Judo, my brilliant and supportive coaches were 5,000 miles away and I wasn’t moving forward.
With a little perspective (and a trip to Disneyland) Hong Kong presented itself as the golden fountain of opportunity that it is. Hong Kong allows me to live a lifestyle where I train but also support myself financially and even put aside some savings to rely on in the future. It allows me to develop my career so that I am not defined by results alone. It allows me the flexibility to travel to parts of the world I wouldn’t see from home, to train in Japan, to fight in Asia. It offers me challenges and experiences which require me to adapt and see things from new perspectives. It doesn’t offer me a shortcut, it makes me earn success step by step, the long way round, and the hard way up, with nothing but work and persistence to get me through.
I took this persistence to the internet to find solutions to my situation. I asked in every Judo forum I knew, messaged each person who commented or posted on Judo pages in Hong Kong, despite them being written entirely in Cantonese. I searched for key words and sent countless emails. Polite persistence has a strange way of presenting success and by the end of the day a kind stranger had arranged for me to join the Hong Kong National Squad training program.
I might not be the most experienced or talented athlete to step foot on the tatami, but I am one of the most resourceful, the most determined, and the most persistent you will meet. I have been working quietly since I tied my belt for the first time, and when I emerge from the other side having taken the long way round I will be absolutely ready to perform.
I have 100% faith in the process, so see you on the other side.