21 Dragons

In Search of Wisdom

Looking Back: 2010

At the end of every year I always wonder where it all went. Has it been 365 days, 52 weeks, 8765 hours already? Another year gone, never to come by again, and have I done right by it? It's strange having a flawed memory. Images tumble back and forth when I try to recall something, and things that felt like they happened in 2010 actually occured in 2009, and memories from 2009 seep into my recollections of 2010. Events from the year before feel more vivid, while some events that happened a few months ago I can't remember at all. If not for the photographs I take and the people around me who help me remember, I wouldn't be able to write this post at all.

Travel Highlights


The highlight of the year for me were the 15 days I spent with my girlfriend in Japan. Especially when we stood on Naoshima island together, outside the cafe of the Chichu Art Museum on a cliff overlooking the sea. Ever since I first visited the museum in 2008, I'd dreamed of bringing her there to see one of the most beautiful places I know.

I get the chance to travel in my work. Traveling alone can be fun; you have the freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. But the downside to that is that you have no one to share moments with. So many times I was overseas experiencing something wonderful and I would wish she was there with me, especially in places I knew she would love. I finally managed to share those moments with her in Japan this year. Like the saying goes; "sadness shared is halved, happiness shared is doubled." My happiness more than doubled in those 15 days.

Another highlight of the year also happened in Japan, earlier in March, when I was invited by Sony to participate in a photography workshop by Magnum photographer Abbas. It was a great thrill to learn from the feet of a master and shoot in beautiful Japan, and I am immensely grateful for the experience.



I delved deeper into photography this year, shooting whenever I had the chance, not just in Japan but also in Beijing which I visited in April. Learning again and again from David duChemin's book Within the Frame, I consciously focused on shooting things about rather than of something. Besides photographing, my post-processing skills must have tripled, thanks to duChemin's third book Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.



Something else that made me incredibly happy this year was when my girlfriend's German Shepards give birth to puppies. I was obsessed with these six cute little tykes, traveling every weekend to Johor Bahru for a month to see them. They grew up so fast, from little mewing creatures with closed eyes to playful stumbling pups with doleful eyes. They were all given away after their first month or so, and I haven't seen them since. I sometimes wonder what they look like now, and even though it's too bad I never got to be there to see them fully grow into adults, I'm grateful enough to have shared in the first month of their lives.

It made me really sad when one of the pups – my favorite one, with little white paws – didn't make it. He developed stiff back legs that failed to walk, and it was painful to see his front legs grow strong and thick while his back legs grew ever skinnier. We tried to help him exercise his legs like the vet recommended, but in the end it didn't work and we had to put him to sleep. Months later, I was even sadder when my girlfriend's family was forced to give up their beautiful female German Shepard. The male has looked lonely since, and I try to play with him lots whenever I visit.



Physically, I feel better this year. My girlfriend and I have been eating better, thanks to us cooking our own food more and healthy doses of watching River Cottage. We made the difficult choice of leaving our yoga instructor, whom we'd been learning basic Hatha yoga from for the past three years to grow further in our yoga.

So far, we've been doing hot Hatha for the last 4 months and it's been a (hot) blast. Even after doing basic Hatha yoga for the last 3 years, this class is still difficult but we feel ourselves steadily improving. Yoga is great exercise and I love it more now than I ever thought I would; I get a great stretch every session, working muscles I never knew I had, the warmth helps me go deeper into stretches than before, and I've become more aware of my body. I'm nowhere near the physical fitness goals I have for myself, but hot yoga has been helping me get closer every week.

Self-Defense vs. Martial Arts

2010 was the year I realized how far I've gone away from the Bujinkan and how I can't go back. Even though I studied Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu for 10 years and have a second degree black belt to show for it, I've been absent from it for the past 2 years and been training almost every week now in Tony Blauer's PDR (Personal Defense Readiness) system instead with my coach Leon Koh.

After training in a system which not only advocates real-world practicality but puts its theories to the test with full-body armor and recreated scenarios of real-world violence, I found it impossible to go back to a traditional martial arts class with its co-ordinated drills and theories. I still appreciate the martial art for what it is; an art, but I no longer believe it dovetails with my goals of training for self-defense.


If I've improved in my photography and traveled a bit more in 2010, I didn't improve in my finances. With rising demands – for one, the wish to buy my own place contrasted with rising property prices – I keenly felt the need to make more dime this year, but didn't. It seems like I've always had a problem with financial abundance, and it's one challenge I didn't solve again this year, and one area I need to do better in 2011.

21 Dragons

If there's one thing I've missed, it's not writing in 21 Dragons enough. Writing helps me think, and 21 Dragons has been a delight and a learning experience since I started it 2 years ago. Sometimes the writing comes easily, and sometimes it just dries up. And my inspiration for writing has dried up for the last few months...but maybe not for lack of inspiration, but simply for lack of practice. Come 2011, I want to write more in this space I've created for myself.