Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Belaying for Lead

It's been nearly a year since I took up climbing, and almost six months since I had my first taste of lead-climbing. I'll be honest about why we haven't done more lead routes, though we obviously enjoyed that first time. There were a couple of deterring reasons, in addition to my belief that being just a little more than beginners in this sport, I was (I must use I for I daren't speak on behalf of someone) not experienced or skilled enough for leading. First, though we learned the basics of climbing and clipping, we didn't know the right way to belay a leading partner. Second, lead climbers very often need to hold the rope fast between their teeth before clipping, and well, we don't find that palatable.

His intent to get on with leading heightened considerably in the past couple of months and last week, at long last, we got Mr Expert who, the reader might recall, first taught us top-roping, to teach us, once again.

We refreshed our minds on the basics - climbing and clipping - and of course, gathered new knowledge. I learned that we ought to focus on the climb and find the most comfortable spot for clipping, rather than aim for the quickdraws and climb to clip. I also learned the reason why we should never back-clip - the rope could get unclipped in the event of the climber falling, and that, needless to say, would be disastrous! Most importantly, I learned the right way to belay the lead climber.

Before the first clip, it is advisable that the belayer spots the climber, though one mightn't think any climber good enough to lead would likely fall off the wall that early in a route. After the first clip, the actual belaying begins. The rope should be kept slack, but not too much. Compared to belaying top-rope, the belayer has to focus a lot more on the lead climber's every move, to the point of anticipating his next move - for it is crucial to give enough slack so as to not hinder the moves, but not so much as to risk hurting both should the climber fall. When the climber attempts to clip, the belayer needs to quickly feed as much rope as would be required. Right after the clipping, the rope should be slightly tightened. To hasten the slacking and tightening of the rope, the belayer is to move closer to and further from the wall just before and right after clippings. That, in addition to shifting from side to side according to the climber's progress, in order to avoid obstructing him with the rope and to be able to observe him clearly, makes it necessary for the belayer to be constantly moving about. It seemed, at one glance, a lot to remember, but after a while, it became mostly instinctive.

He climbed first. We hadn't the slightest ideas the routes' difficulty, and randomly picked one we thought was average. It turned out to be a very technically-challenging one, which was rather demoralising for though he climbed well, clipping correctly and smoothly all the way, he could hardly complete half the route. At that part was this huge void on the wall, which we initially thought was because some holds fell off, or were taken down and the route incomplete. It was only later that some other climbers informed us that it was meant to be difficult that way.

The next route we picked looked easy. Looked easy. It turned out to be a balance-critical one. I couldn't do it without cheating (using a few holds which belonged to adjacent routes to assist in some moves) He could, of course, and very well too. In fact, he was so focused on his climbing he missed clipping one runner. Mr Expert said that although it's no major fault, skipping quickdraws is not advisable. I could understand that, for if one skipped a clipping-point and falls before he clips at the next, he would fall a very, and I mean, a seriously very long way. Thereafter, whenever he looked the remotest like he wasn't stopping to clip, I'd shout at him. However, he managed to ignore my irritating, noisy reminding and skip two quickdraws for one of the routes. It is a plus to be that focused on the climbing though, Mr Expert commented.

So, we learned lead-belaying. It wasn't so hard, except on the neck. We both noted how strained it becomes, after just minutes, for the belayer has to be looking up at climber all the time. I don't know if it afflicts all the others, or if there are ways to avoid it. It is something I ought to look into. That, and how to effectively climb though we would not bite the rope, as it sometimes is necessary.

We both had used our knees to "hold" the rope by pressing it to the wall, while hanging on to tiny holds for dear life with one hand and attempting to clip with the other. It wasn't exactly neat or elegant or energy-conserving. He's thought of a few designs for contraptions we could wear to fulfill the purpose, but of course, we don't have any yet.

But hey, we could belay lead now. That's one deterring reason down. It'll be just a matter of time before we work our way around the second deterrent and we could then lead as often as we please!

Monday, March 28, 2011

An Insight

Not for the close-minded. If you know for a fact that you are one such person, do not read on. If you think your mind is open enough, go ahead, but if at any point you start to feel offended, or any sort of negative emotions, please stop - it means you're not as open as you think you are. There are plenty of stuff to read on the Internet, you do not need to suffer yourself through disagreeable ones.

Since the earthquake and subsequently, the tsunami, followed by the nuclear power plant crisis, hit Japan, I have quietly observed in the various reactions of friends and some strangers. Most wrote generally well-meaning wishes for the affected souls, asking the world to pray, beseeching readers to appreciate life and their loved ones, etc. Others wrote longer notes, on their blogs, on roughly the same things. While I appreciate the empathy shown (contrary to the perhaps popular belief, I do empathize with the worthy), I do not see how such can amount to anything practically useful. I'm not a hardcore skeptic, but I do not believe in prayers and I do not believe praying for Japan can in the least be helpful to her people. Do I have a point where I'm going? Yes, please bear with me.

A friend close to my heart lives in Hiroshima. Following the quake, he sends weekly emails to provide updates on the situation as he sees it. Three days ago, we had an exchange I felt was worth sharing. I have his permission to publish it here:

Dear --- ,

Some earthquake-related updates from me.

One. The death toll has passed the ten thousand mark as of twenty sixth of March. Still there is a total of more than ten thousand people unaccounted for at the moment. There is a possibility that they would be dead, making the total toll to more than twenty thousand. But that is of course a rough forecast from the local media, should not be taken as an official comment.

Two. A temporary surge of radiation level in the state of Okayama, which is the state right next to Hiroshima by the way, has been detected yesterday. No immediate health hazard was announced but I am not taking this lightly.

Three. The Japanese government is contemplating to change the regulation that specifies the maximum level of radiation exposure that is safe to be exposed to. I really don't understand why would they want to do this.

Four. The state of Fukushima has imposed a ban on delivery of farm products until further notice. Unusual level of radiation has been detected and there is now fear that food shortage will follow.

Five. whether the situation is under control or not isn't made clear to the public. There is a debate whether the evac area is wide enough. I don't know what to believe but one thing for sure you guys do not want to go anywhere near the place, right?

Six. Automobile and electronic devices might see a drop in production because of the supply chain problem. So, what I read from this piece of info is that whoever wants to buy a Japanese car or a, say, computer, might want to buy it before it is too late. The price of computer memory has gone up since the quake.

Seven. Life is good, don't waste it.

Going back to the point I was making - I felt that I could only stand by and watch. The monetary aid that can be given by an average individual like myself is but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the disaster. So, is there anything practical and useful that an ordinary person like me can do? Anything at all?

He replied:

Dear --- ,

If you are talking about how an ordinary person could help as in helping the people who have lost their home or loved ones, unfortunately I don't think there is anything you can do. (as a matter of fact I don't even think there is anything I can do to help them)

Those people needs a new place to settle down, a job to attend to, warmth, food, water, and most of all, hope. They don't need money per se, what they need is a life to live.

The Japanese society in a whole is polling batteries, clothing, bottled water, cup noddles, gasoline and whatnot and sending them to the people in ground zero. I have tried to play my part in this incident by making a small donation. I don't really believe that my money will even reach to the needy, nevertheless I did it because it seems to be a norm doing so. I didn't dig up the canned food or batteries I have in my storeroom and send them off because I am more concerned with my own welfare.

You might think I am being cold-blooded, but I would have asked you doing the same. There is no need to do anything out of ordinary to help. What we need to do is, put it simply, the everyday stuff.

Live a normal life, carry out all the activities and transactions as if nothing had happened. Help to stabilize the economy by doing nothing unusual. Say, buy the Japanese goods, Japanese fruits, Japanese dairy products or Japanese snacks. This would be the most you or anyone outside of Japan can help those people - to rebuild their lives. If you (not you per se, of course) were to put your self-interest of protecting yourself from possible radioactive contamination above everything else (which is normal) it means you don't need to do anything special for those people.

People who will benefit from helping the affected people will do so without being asked for. So rest assured that you don't need to do anything special, just do your own thing like nothing had happened.

If this doesn't make sense to you, well, which is what I suppose would happen, you can try to donate money even a little, just don't have high hope that the money will do the people any good. You know there is human cost and institutional cost involved to move money around, right?

Thank you, CK, for sharing, and allowing me to share.

For those who will: *click here*
If you're registered with Google Checkout, all it takes is a few clicks.

Actually, I never thought much of the cost involved in moving money, and I don't know if our contribution can indeed reach the intended recipients. I guess we will just have to put our trust in the people we give our donation to.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On A Solitary Sunday Evening

I don't always engage in serious and/or solemns thoughts of life and life's philosophy (*ahem* if!) Sometimes, I do dumb stuff on my smartphone.

Here are the Roomees, Androidified!

I don't know if they can tell which is who... my art skills are amazingly poor. Oh, but that was fun while it lasted =P

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Hey, who hasn't been? Who doesn't get? Who's never felt those painful moments of revelation when one realises one isn't as well-liked as one thought, when one is made to see that one's concern, attention and friendship are not wanted? The hurt rushes over, tumbles one's heart and mind around for a while, draws bitter tears perhaps... but it'll all subside.

After the sting fades and the tears dry, one will emerge stronger. That, we always do, don't we?

Yes, we all do.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On A Solitary Saturday Evening

When it's quiet and I'm alone I indulge in contemplation. It isn't odd that one could just sit there "doing" nothing - just thinking. Einstein reportedly liked to sit and think, and well, we all know what all that thinking led him to. I'm no genius, unfortunately (OBVIOUSLY), but I do so love to exercise my mental faculties.

It started earlier in the evening. A neighbour was practicing on the piano. I noted that it was the same song I'd heard the (presumably) same neighbour play crappily since some weeks ago. It sounded much like a beginner's piece, and I wondered why after so much of practice it still sounded like it was just learned the day before.

"Kinda like how I am with my guitar pieces..."

He laughed.

It's true, though. I hardly play enough, and pieces I've started learning a year ago still sound like I'd just learned them last week.

I got to thinking about it later. I am know that I am not very passionate about playing, or I'd be splitting the skin of the fingertips on my left hand on it every minute I could spare. I'm not indifferent either, or I'd have long given up. It's crossed my mind a few times before - I simply love the feel of my guitar on me, even though I could not play a decent tune on it. The body is pressed to my chest and as I pluck the strings, I can feel the vibration just as I can hear the notes. It is as if the music flows from the instrument straight into my heart - and I find that extremely affecting. Laugh if you will, but the sentimental me loves the idea, absurd as it may be. It must be one of the reasons that have been keeping me playing - irregularly as I do, poorly as I only could.

I've never yet been asked directly, but one could very well question what the point is - I will never get anywhere on my guitar. Well, I am aware! I am also aware that I'll never be anyone to the world - I'll never write a great book, or make an important scientific discovery, or come up with solutions to mankind's problems - so what would I live for? To amuse those who care to listen to or read me? To bring joy to and share laughter with those who care to go crazy with me? To love and care for those who I could? Or do I live only to be happy?

My thoughts did not end then, but that will suffice for this.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Friendship Shoot

Ever since the publication of these photos, we've received numerous comments on them - all pleasant and favourable, of course. While being aware that people (*ahem* the nicer ones, at least) are apt to give positive remarks regarding such as photoshoots, I personally feel that the shots turned out exceptionally well. To me, it is a novel manner of documenting the beautiful friendship we share - exactly as it is at this moment. We know not what the future holds, but right now, it is this amazing, and we will always have a reminder of it in these pictures. I've always found that pictures, in addition to literature, are the nearest to permanence I could hold on to, in this world of impermanence. Does that explain my penchant for writing and photography?

Granted, I'd never had any outdoor photoshoots prior to this one, so I can't tell how most people would describe them - a breeze or tedious, enjoyable or horrifying, fun-filled or stressful - well, other than tiring, of course. Ours was so awesome it didn't feel like a photography session - it felt like a genuine Roomee Outing, with a professional photographer tagging along. I can't remember when last I had that much fun! (oh yes - during the last outing with the roomees!)

So, what made the shoot and the shots such a success? Here's a glimpse into Behind the Scenes...

The Impeccable Planning
The credit goes to Bee Ree - she chose a great location and made us wear white. Our plain clothing made good contrast against the mostly green backdrop, and exuded an air of youth and wholesomeness (misleading perhaps, but well... nonetheless!)

In addition to that, she actually prepared a storyboard!

She did a research on various possible poses, chose what she wanted and had them all printed out neatly for reference. I am - and I'm sure the others were too - humbled by her thoughtfulness and thoroughness. What a roomee!

The Generous Dose of Craziness
An overdose, in fact. We simply couldn't seem to stop being silly both in behaviour and conversation, nor stop cracking jokes.

When our photographer instructed us to "act" like we're talking to each other, we end up saying stupid things and then laughing like hyenas. That resulted in a lot of mouth-opened-wide shots.

We really do love to laugh like that and we don't care if the world thinks we are not lady-like.

It was a challenge when the photographer wanted to take proper, demure shots of the bride because the remaining roomees would be goofing at the back and that made it quite impossible for her to keep a straight face.

Seriously, I can't explain how on earth we found so many things to laugh about.

When the photographer told us to just stand there and pose, as opposed to "talking" with each other, we burst into song.

No, we just couldn't stand there and do nothing - unless he ordered us to look at the camera and smile. When the photographer said to walk hand-in-hand, we clowned around as we did.

The clowning resulted in someone laughing so hard she was temporarily unable to continue walking.

One of the laughing fits had my tears streaming down, and I had to exert a lot of effort to control myself, in fear of my make-up melting! Such, we were, throughout the entire shoot. We even monkey-ed around the photographer every chance we had.

If he was exasperated, he didn't show it. What a sport!

The Fantastic Photog
In addition to his impressive photography skills, he's a great guy! I've been told a good photographer sets the right mood and puts his subjects at ease so they would be happy and comfy throughout the shoot. Ours didn't need to work so hard on that - we provided more than enough to amuse ourselves, and him as well! When I ran through a wet grassy patch in the field, got both feet covered in mud and had to rinse them out at a sprinkler, he could hardly contain his laughter. No, he didn't need to put us in the "mood". Instead, he did very well encouraging our liveliness and putting up with all our antics. Despite our being out of control so often, he managed to capture nearly 300 very decent shots. He even caught us totally unaware, like in this one:

Actually, they were posing for me:

He was also very patient with us, especially during the "jump" shots. He had to teach us the right way to jump, count for us (= 1, 2, JUMP!) and yet... failed shot after failed shot! We were totally talentless in coordinating our jumps. Like, totally!

At first, only Shell Shell couldn't keep in sync. She jumped later than everyone else and was still up in the air when the rest had landed:

Or she was ahead and had landed while the rest of us were still up there:

Gosh, it was hard! After several more attempts, the rest of us started spiraling out-of-sync as well:

And we kept taking turns doing it:

We just kept getting it wrong!

Look - someone's "floating":

Guess the landing sequence:

I wonder if our poor photographer was grinding his teeth and suppressing his urge to pull our hair out by then. The poor fella!

After n times, at last, we got this great one:

*phewww* You have no idea how very relieved we were!

Of course, most importantly, a friendship photoshoot cannot succeed without the friendship...

So, there! =)

Further reading:
The Photoshoot
The Wedding (Morning)

The Wedding (Evening)

Sunday, March 6, 2011


It's on the wall!

There's a lobster above it as well!

The route next to this has a pineapple. The one next to that has a goat and an owl. A fine touch to the sport, I'd say. Absolutely adorable!

Roomees, are you ready to attack the walls? ;)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Gift of Song

Some readers may remember my desperate plea for ideas on possible songs someone and I could sing for someone's wedding. Well, we made our choice!

Yesterday, someone asked me what it was.

"When You Tell Me That You Love Me," I answered.

"Diana Ross?" someone else asked, clearly impressed. "You can sing Diana Ross?"

"Yup," I said, "I can sing Sarah Brightman too. Whether I do it well or not is an entirely different matter." The statement is true; disclaimer even more so.

He didn't stop to consider what I really meant. He went on, "So, can you do a Celine Dion?"

"Yup, but again - whether I sound good or not is a different matter."

He still seemed impressed. He told me to make sure someone takes a video of the singing so he could watch it afterwards.

I can sing doesn't mean I can sing well. Either he's deliberately being pleasing and agreeable, or he's just plain cute :P