Rhythmic Gymnastics – A Golden Year

This weekend the most intense two days of the year flew by and the gymnastics season was brought to a close with the national finals in the Ahoy in Rotterdam. It rounded off a really exciting year for Luna and our family because so much happened and our girls grew as gymnasts and people. Beyond medals and prizes the fact that the gymnastics community is one big extended family on a global level makes being involved in this sport a reward in itself. When you see the hours of work that go into the creation of moments of ethereal, fragile beauty you realize that this is a world where the aesthetic triumphs over the material. At the same time the glamour and fashion of rhythmic gymnastics offers something uniquely feminine and chic to the world of sport.
It seems a long time ago now but Luna’s first individual final was on June 14 in Utrecht. The ‘two per club’ rule meant that she had one chance in the apparatus finals and she tool it with both hands. Luna won her first gold medal ever in individual completion in the Pre-Junior A Ribbon apparatus final. It was a real testimony to her growth this year that she managed this result in a material that she had no previous experience with. It made us all so happy and proud and took away a lot of the nerves around the all-around finals.
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On June 20 the all-around individual final was held early in the morning in Rotterdam. The hall looked great, the only pity was that the supporters consisted only of family really so early in the day. This Pre-Junior A field was really strong so it is a shame that more people could not enjoy the performances. The ten girls had to two four routines in just an hour. There was little time to change leotards and practice in between so it was a really high pressure situation. Luna started on Ribbon but she was a bit nervous and missed two catches. In a way that made us relax because we thought she would be out of contention after that point. In her next routine she did Free and it was her best routine of the season. It actually ended up getting the highest score in the competition. Hoop went very well as it has all season. It is a world away from the little girl who was afraid of the big throws at the start of the season. The improvement there can be directly attributed to the coach advising her to change to a thinner hoop at the start of the year, after that her confidence grew. Luna did ball, her weakest material, in her final rotation but it went better than in any other competition this year. In the end her Hoop and Ball had the third best scores but Ribbon was only the fifth highest. As we waited for the scores in the final rotation we wondered if she had done just enough for third place but she missed out on bronze by 0.1 points! The girl who got the medal is a great gymnast who is also one of the friendliest girls around so we were happy for her. Luna shed a few tears but we were delighted that she had come so close. If you had have told us one year ago that she would get so close to a medal in her first year as a Pre-Junior we would have been delighted. Missing out this year will only motivate her more for next year.
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On June 21 we were back in Rotterdam again. In the morning Daisy’s Acro team did a fantastic demo in the Sportpaleis as part of the preparation for Helsinki. It went down really well with the crowd and it was another really proud moment for us (Photo c/o Fantastic Gymnastics).
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Luna’s group exercise in Hoop was on the agenda for the afternoon. There were fifteen teams in the competition and one of the main competitors got a really high score early in the rotation. We were nervous as Luna’s group came on because they were the favourites to win but you still have to make it happen on the day. This time they were really good and did their choreo with just a couple of mistakes. Their score was enough to win Gold by a distance. Later on the club’s other group won Gold for their Hoop/Ball routine and Luna got a medal for that one as reserve.
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The year ended on a high and now there will be time for some rest and recovery. We expect to hear soon if Luna will be in the training group for the Dutch team for the Europeans in 2017. If that goes ahead then next year will be even busier. Daisy still has preparations for Helsinki in July so we will be busy for a few more weeks but things will be a little more relaxed than they have been for the last while.

Learning Kanji by Radicals – Lesson 14 : 丂 – The Bendy radical

This radical is not used independently but it is very recognizable. It comes from the idea of something that extends before bending like as if you push the bottom of a T and and then bend it. There are a few recognizable Kanji with this radical.

1) 号 – Number
This one adds a mouth above the bendy radical and there are various derived meanings to do with a calling or crying. The main place a learner is likely to see it is the context of number.
番号 ばんごう, bangou = number
電話番号 でんわばんごう, denwa bangou = telephone number
信号 しんごう, shingo = traffic light

2) 巧 = Skillful
This one adds the has the work radical to the left of the bendy radical to indicate ingenuity.
巧み たくみ, takumi = skill; cleverness
巧む たくむ, takumu = to plot; to plan
巧いうまい, umai = skillful, delicious
口が巧い, くちがうまい, kuchi ga umai = honeymouthed; glib;

3) 朽 = Rotten
This one features the tree radical on the left of the bendy radical. You can think of rotting vegetation bending out of shape.
朽ちる くちる, kuchiru = to rot
不朽 ふきゅう, fukyuu = everlasting; immortal;

For those who like to keep score, after this lesson we are at 61/2136 Jōyō Kanji.

Gymnastics – The Final Weeks

As with a lot of sports there comes a time of year when you know you are doing well if you are still involved. This year has been a very big transition year for our three girls with new clubs and training schedules all around. The three of them have had great seasons with lots of highs and there are still some big events ahead.
This weekend the focus is on Daisy. She has her first national acro final in Zwolle in the D level mixed pairs. Their routine has been getting better steadily so we are hoping that they can deliver a top performance on Saturday evening. We will get a night’s sleep and then go east again to Apeldoorn on Sunday to see the demo group’s Try-Out performance for the World Gymnaestrada in Helsinki in July. Daisy will also be picking up her Oranje gear so that she will be looking the part for the Dutch delegation.
Next weekend Nadia will have an RG group competition in Utrecht and Luna will be in the apparatus final for Ribbon at the same venue. The rules for the apparatus final qualification are really unfair. The Top 7 per apparatus qualify but only 2 per club. Luna lost her place in three finals because of that rule. Her place went to girls who were outside the Top 7. Girls from other teams will be in four apparatus finals the week before the national all-around final so it is the perfect preparation. Luna was third in both qualifiers and is in one apparatus final.
In two weeks time we have the big Fantastic Gymnastics event in Rotterdam. On the first day Luna has the individual all-around final. On the second day Daisy’s demo group is performing and Luna will be performing with her team in the group hoop final.
Even at this stage we can say that the year has been a big success. The main thing we hope for is that the girls can perform their best and finish the seasons on a high note. The results will take care of themselves.

Japanese – The Importance of Reading

Despite my best efforts I can’t say that my spoken Japanese is anything but basic but I do have a relatively large vocabulary. The difficulty for me is in verb conjugations and the grammatical structures which often seem to be counterintuitive. The thing that has begun to reassure me though is that I am gradually increasing my reading ability. Other people say that you don’t need to read Japanese to reach a good spoken level but I just don’t see how I could advance very far without that since I don’t live in Japan and it’s just not realistic that I will get sufficient exposure to quality Japanese in my workaday life.
Although it is very difficult to make progress the advantage of reading Japanese is that you can make continual incremental advances. The hiragana and katakana syllabaries are straightforward (though I do get stumped on katakana words more often than I should, it’s the fact that some of the characters look so similar that gets me) but kanji (the Chinese characters) are a different matter of course.
However, an adult learner of Japanese does not have to know how to write Japanese (technology takes care of that) so the main job is to recognize characters. You need to know their most common readings, their English meaning and the most common compound words that use them. At first that all seems insurmountable. Indeed I am still very much in the foothills and I can only recognize 300 or so but the point is that every character you know is one less that you need to learn. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a footstep and all that jazz.
I am still functionally illiterate when it comes to Japanese but like a child who gradually starts to sound the roman letters the jumble of characters is far less confusing than it used to be. The great thing about Japanese is that you can recognize the word types in a sentence straight away because kanji, hiragana and kanji perform particular functions. If you see a Chinese character you might not know what it is but you know it is a verb or an adjective or a noun. Sometimes the hiragana characters used to conjugate the kanji verb trigger the reading (like if you see 行く (iku – to go) the ku makes you think straight away of –ku verbs, actually for 遊ぶ (asobu – to play) I nearly always see the bu first before I read the kanji).
Of course it is all practice, practice, practice but if you are willing to keep going then you can learn to read Japanese. Spoken Japanese is actually quite easy to ‘hear’, it is certainly easy to follow compared to tonal languages like Mandarin. The main issue you have is insufficient vocabulary (partly solved by more reading) and the difficult grammar which can be aided by listening to as much real Japanese as you can. The difficulty of reproducing all of that in speech is an entirely different matter which can only be solved by finding tolerant Japanese friends, paying a teacher or going to live in Japan. Either way I think that learning to read is a crucial step for an adult learner. I despair sometimes at my lack of progress but we all have to remember that this is not Swedish or Spanish or one of the other languages with which English shares its history and half of its lexicon. This is something entirely different and that merits patience and time and the long game before one gains some small reward.

Interlude (Finland)

The flight back from Tokyo was with Japan Airlines which has changed a lot since the last time I flew with them. In the past they were chronically overstaffed so that meant that your every need was waited upon by several air hostesses. The company almost went bankrupt a few years back so I guess that they decided to change their ways. The service is still good and very friendly bit it is more comparable to other airlines.

I watched the movie “Still Alice” with Julianne Moore and Kirstin Stewart, both of whom were brilliant. Overall it was a very well scripted film and it dealt with Alzheimers in a thoughtful and responsible way. It is a real tear jerker but it is no way mawkish, the story us just incredibly sad.

We had a stopover in Helsinki on the way back too. I always wonder if I will meet Mia again by chance whenever I am there but the likelihood is tiny. I don’t know what we could say anyway. Although I have forgotten so many details from the past the last day I saw her at Helsinki station before getting the bus to the airport is one of the only ones that I can remember very specifically. That was twenty years and a lifetime ago.

The plane to Amsterdam takes two hours and I am mostly reading “cities of the plain” by  Cormac McCarthy and listening to HalfNoise, Paramore, Banks and Daughter whatever that might say. I am so full and travel weary. I want to get home and get clean and get on a diet.

Japan Diary #8

I got up very early and got ready quickly for the airport. The breakfast in the hotel started too late so it made sense to get to the JAL lounge at Narita to get a good morning feed.  

 I am glad that I kept a diary of this trip because it was a very important one. Japan has a special place in my heart and it meant a lot to come back after quite a few years away. I have changed a lot since the last time I was here. I don’t get my buzz from drink any more and that has set me free to explore in other ways. I liked being with the crowd some of the time but I got more than enough chances to find my own Japan. The years of studying Arts have sensitized me so that I am far more receptive now to art and architecture and natural beauty. I was not blind before but I see now with a heightened vision. The work I put in to Japanese really paid off as many interactikns happened that might not have been possible before and I think some colleagues could hear that my level has changed up a gear. I am still moving slowly but maybe in second rather than first. I have a long flight ahead to Helsinki but I am boarding the plane with the light heart of a man who has found what he was looking for. Until we meet again Japan, my love!

Japan Diary #7

My last day in Tokyo ended up being one of the nicest. I just got back from a delicious Indian meal with some colleagues and we had a really nice time with a great team spirit.
After my work day I took a train to Roppongi to visit the Roppongi Hills area which has a big shopping mall.
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It also has the Mori Art Museum which gives you access to the City View on the 54th floor as well as the exhibitions. There was one on Star Wars and related artwrk but since I have no interest that one wasn’t so inspiting for me though many of the fans seemed to like it.
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The other exhibition was really fantastic. It is called “Simple Forms: Contemplating Beauty” and it brought together all kinds of art work that takes its aesthetic from simple shapes and natural materials. So much of the work took something that was really obvious and made it into something pure and wonderful. There is an installation called “Liminal air space-time” by Ohmaki Shinji where a sheet of material floats suspended but alive above four air vents that is quite awesome.
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There were gorgeous photos of Mount Fuji by Okado which captivated me. Other highlights were ‘Rays’, a giant rubber band installation, by Xavier Veilhan. The prism effect used in Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Round Rainbow’ and Anish Kapoor’s ‘When I am pregnant’.
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There was also some wrk by very well known artists like Matisse’s “Jazz #9″ and Picasso’s “The Bull”.
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The overall effect of the exhibition was electrifying and it was a real highlight of my visit to this great world city.
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The views from the Tokyo City View were also rewarding showing just how far this city stretches, an endless mass of concrete and humanity
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…interspersed with green parkland partially relieving the suffocation…
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Sometimes I barely dared to look down….
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…so I looked far away to the water at the edges of my sightline….
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I visited the heights of Tokyo Tower years ago and it looks quite small from where I was standing…
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I’ll sleep my final night and head for the airport after a great and memorable trip to one of my heart countries. For Tokyo my always love, love always.