Warning: Declaration of TarskiCommentWalker::start_lvl(&$output, $depth, $args) should be compatible with Walker_Comment::start_lvl(&$output, $depth = 0, $args = Array) in /var/www/snigel.nu/public_html/wp-content/themes/tarski/library/classes/comment_walker.php on line 22 Warning: Declaration of TarskiCommentWalker::start_el(&$output, $comment, $depth, $args) should be compatible with Walker_Comment::start_el(&$output, $comment, $depth = 0, $args = Array, $id = 0) in /var/www/snigel.nu/public_html/wp-content/themes/tarski/library/classes/comment_walker.php on line 50 Olle Linge - Languages, literature and the pursuit of dreams · January 2009

January 2009

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

This is my thirteenth monthly report. To review introductory comments and the purpose of these reports, please refer to the initial report made for January 2008. For more overall planning and goal-managing, see the Project page. Text in italics is copied from the previous monthly report for reference.

Looking back: January 2009

January will be a little bit hard to plan, because a lot out of the ordinary will happen, such as my parents coming to Taiwan for vacation and my moving to Gaoxiong. Since I will join my parents, it is almost impossible to tell how much time I will have left for personal projects such as studying, exercise and creativity. That being said, I will set ambitious goals and do my best to accomplish them.

Physical – I will remove going to the gym from my schedule from now on, basically because I do not plan to pay for that after I have moved. Also, it is much more convenient to focus on exercises that can be done at home. However, since I do not yet have a chin-up bar at home, I will still do that in the gym. Since I only have half the month available, I will aim for four sessions in January, aiming for the one-arm chin-up of course. Coupled with this, I will do four squat workout sessions.

No great progress here, but the five sessions I did weren’t enough to expect that. I did some minor improvement on the one-arm chin-up, but nothing worth noting here. Still, the goal was easily achieved.

For the handstand push-ups, I have decided to start the one hundred push-up training program, but of course, I am going to do it vertically instead of horizontally. I have really no idea how long this will take me, but since I want to solidify my handstand push-ups anyway, I thought I might as well do it in an interesting way. My intention is to follow the program as written, with the only difference of adding the word “handstand” before every “push-up”. I will begin this challenge on Monday 5th and will write about it more then, so stay tuned.

Since January consisted of four complete weeks, I had four chances to complete various weeks in the program. I was very close to managing the first week on hard (the rightmost column), but failed on the last day. Next week, I felt that I needed to rest more to avoid injury and only completed two days on the medium difficulty. The third week was successful on the medium level, and so was the first try on the second week. This means that I’ve finished two weeks on the program, which isn’t bad at all. My current record stands at 17, but that is at the end of a session and not fully rested.

The one-hand handstand is slowly, slowly progressing, but I need to practice more if I want to reach any notable results this side of my thirtieth birthday. I intend to practice one-handed handstands twenty sessions during January. I know this is ambitious, but since it is mostly balance, it should be okay. I shall have to look around for progressions from my current level, but the overall goal is twenty times.

I practiced roughly fifteen times out of twenty, which I think is okay considering that I’ve been travelling for the past two weeks and have had little opportunity or time to practice. I did spend a lot of time reading about the one-handed handstand, though, mostly on Gymnastic Bodies (a highly recommended site) and it seems like this skill might be too difficult right now. I have made some progress, but not much.

New for this month is the planche, a skill I have thought about for a long time, but never really started practicing towards. It will take a long time, but following Christopher Sommers’ guide over at Dragondoor will probably be a good start. As he specifies, the initial exercises can be performed everyday, but I will settle for twenty times during January. In short, the practice amounts to holding a static position of increasing difficulty for a total of 60 seconds every day. Right now, I can manage the second progression (tucked planche) for about 14 seconds.

Progression was fast for the first two or three weeks, leading to a record of 35 seconds (more than twice that of last month!) but towards the end of the month, I felt results dropping constantly and decided that it was due to lack of either nutrition and rest. Thus, I decided to rest for a while. In all, I did sixteen sessions out of twenty, still not bad.

Same as last month, I intend to complete my auxiliary exercise program eight times. This is not very hard workout, but it keeps me focused on some things which are pretty useful for my diving.

I did the eight sessions, but I’m beginning to question some of the exercises in this routine, not because they are bad, but because I’ll get them elsewhere. The jumping, I’ll get from the diving, together with abdominal and back workout. Also, the planned front lever and planche exercise also taxes the back and abdomen pretty much.

Also new for this month, I intend to take up stretching more seriously again. Right now, I stretch for warm-up and after heavy exercise, but not very much. I will try to stretch a total of five hours during January, not including warm-up.

Five hours wasn’t enough, because I did that without trying very hard. Only stretching after exercise and some more relaxed stretching is enough to accomplish this goal. The stretching was pretty ambitious in the beginning, but dwindled almost to nothing during my vacation. I still find this very hard to keep up.

Creativity  – With travelling on the agenda and lots of Chinese to study, I think creative projects such as novel writing or role-playing related stuff, will have to stand back the coming month. However, I do not want to lose the momentum for the novel writing, so I will try to write at least 10 000 words in January.

Success! I have written roughly 10 000 words since the beginning of the month. That means that I’m about halfway through part one of the novel and I’m gaining momentum. I’ve come to terms with writing the way I do now (i.e. not caring much about quality, but focusing on writing anything at all). Also, a determination to finish part one and then write something else for a while has helped me to focus.

Education – Since we have finished our text book and will focus on revision, I will have a lot of time to study other things. This is very good timing, because next semester I am going to study at another university, which uses a different text book. My goal for January is to finish all the books up to the book we will be using next semester. Of course, I will also spend a lot of time revising, but that is nothing new.

This is not quite a success, but not a complete failure either. I’ve revised some during my vacation, but not enough. I’ve completed the three books leading up to the book we’ll use next semester, but I haven’t revised what I’ve learnt so far. Still, there’s almost two weeks after my vacation ends to the start of the semester, so I should be okay as long as I stay focused then.

Lucid dreaming – Since this seems to be progressing well without any serious effort, I might as well enjoy it and just be careful to write down whatever experiences and reflections I have regarding lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming requires focus, something I haven’t had time for the past month. Still, I had one lucid dream. I realise that the progress isn’t fast, but as long as it requires almost no effort at all and still continues moving on, I’m not inclined to change anything.

Looking forward: February 2009
This month entails settling into a new life in a new city, but since the semester doesn’t start until mid-February, planning shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ll keep some goals moderate and somewhat tentative, though, because I’ll need to establish some new habits before accelerating.

Physical – This month, I’ve decided to try a somewhat different approach to handbalancing. I’ve realised that although endurance is perhaps not a goal in itself, it’s something extremely useful to have when practising. Most coaches and gurus advise that practise should only continue as long as quality remains high, and since high endurance means that good form can be kept longer, it indirectly leads to faster learning. I’ve sketched out a small program to follow, and although the order and amount might have to be adjusted as my lack of experience in this field bumps in to solid reality, I’ll try to complete this program ten times in February.

20 x 5 seconds handstand
25 free handstand push-ups
10 minutes working towards press to handstand
5 free handstands, maximum time
15 minutes total time wall handstand (normal)
15 minutes total time wall run (once a week)

I feel that the planche workout is working, but that I do to much else focusing on the same muscles. I’ll try to do the planche exercise in combination with the above program to allow for at least 48 hours rest between sessions. Thus, I will not try the twenty sessions from last month, but rather be satisfied with ten. I also want to begin working towards the front lever, but right now I lack equipment to do that (I need to find a chin-up bar, which shouldn’t be too difficult). Once I have one, I’ll start trying out the various exercises, but I won’t set a specific goal for February.

In addition to all this, I’ll be able to start practising diving again, probably as much as possible, but since I’m here to study Chinese and not diving, I’ll try not to overdo it. This will take care of a lot of auxiliary training and perhaps my coach will have more diving-specific exercises to perform. I’ll include them as I go along.

Creativity – Finishing part one seems like a reasonable goal for the novel.This means approximately 10 000 – 15 000 words, a fair amount, but in no way much. In addition to this, I’ll try to sketch out five short-stories in some way relevant to the novel, although not directly concerning its story.

I also want to start writing a story in Chinese, and since I’ve already outlined the plot, I want to start writing and finish the first part, say at least 1 000 characters.

Education – I need to take care of proper revision of everything I’ve learnt so far, and I need to do it before the semester starts. I’ve kept my reading ability and pronunciation constant, but my writing ability has declined over the past three weeks. I intend to go through and revise what I’ve learnt so far and fight the interval filter to zero for these categories of characters. Also, I’ll add all the new characters from our new series of text books and make sure I know how to read and pronounce them (but not how to write them) before the semester starts. This is some 700 items, so it will take a while.

Furthermore, if I really want to keep my options open for next year (I mean after the summer), I need to find something nice to study here. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stay here, it just means I think it’s stupid not to apply. However, some courses I’ve looked at so far required certificates of my Chinese ability, which I’m unable to get for many reasons. If I haven’t a clear plan when this month is over, I’ve no choice but to go home after the summer. Indeed, that is probably to be the outcome anyway, but I’d rather make it a choice than a requirement.

Having moved to a bigger city with a more specialised college (focused on foreign languages), it should be very easy to find people to do language exchange with. Since I don’t know yet how much time I will have for various activities, I can’t think of a reasonable goal to set aside from writing an ad and see what people turn up. That I intend to do, at least.

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Green Island

We left Taroko on Monday morning without much trouble, catching a train to Taidong and then a ferry to Green Island. Since then, we’ve had time to do quite a lot, but to begin with, I”ll limit my story to two things: scooter driving and scuba diving. First, it might seem incredible to some of you that I’ve never ridden a scooter, but such a vehicle is in Sweden generally associated with teenagers and not something I’ve ever had the need of learning (bicycling is fine). Driving motorised vehicles is always fun, mostly because that’s something I can never do legally in Sweden because of my poor eye sight. We used the scooters to go around the island, something easily done since it’s only 17 kilometres in circumference.

Welcome to Green Island. It’s not difficult to understand where the name came from.

Second, we did some scuba diving (two dives, to be more exact). These were my first dives outside a learning environment, but apart from the fact that I initially had some problems clearing the ears, it went smoothly. The water was about 25 degrees and losing the dry suits I know from my Swedish dives were not a loss at all, I can tell you. The coral reefs outside Green Island are perhaps not world famous for their plethora of aquatic life, but hovering over a sea floor like this felt almost like visiting another planet. I enjoyed these dives immensely and it was also a good idea to recapitulate some practical knowledge from last year’s course. I won’t hesitate before diving again here, if opportunity presents itself.

We stayed at a place called Jack’s Hotel, and the lodging was above the average for our vacation so far. Some interesting things were also included, such as scooters and vouchers for nice restaurants as well as the hot spring here on the island. The visit was somewhat disturbed by the fact that no ATM machines worked on the island, which meant we were short of cash. Fortunately, we could borrow money from the host, but it was still inconvenient to be reliant on other people for such things.

Wednesday, we spent mostly on exploring the island on scooter, alternated with short hikes or excursions where on foot was the only option. We followed the old trans-island path to the interior of Green Island, a hundred-minute walk including snakes, squirrels, butterflies and tropical plants. We also spent a fair amount of time climbing around on rocks facing the pacific ocean, with magnificent waves wasting tremendous power trying to crush the volcanic rock of the island.

This picture doesn’t say much, but it’s a nice picture anyway.

Furry squirrel! Spotted on the trans-island road.

Fishy, fishy, fishy. It’s a bit tricky to dissect this beast with chopsticks.

Sometimes it’s just easier to point.

Well, one has to do something while waiting for dinner.

Our stay on Green Island was nicely rounded up on Thursday by a visit to the salt water hot spring on the island, one of the few that exist in the world. It was nice, but nothing spectacular, perhaps partly because a glaring sun wasn’t what my already burnt skin wanted at that time. The journey back to Taiwan was pleasant enough, with even more clement weather that on the way out.

To sum things up, the stay on Green Island was worth the three nights. The lodging was good, we used a package from Green Island Adventures, and it was alright, except that the host is the kind of person one either loves or hates, and I think most of us fell into the second category. However, it should be noted that he probably never meant harm, and that perhaps circumstances poisoned my view of him somewhat (such as the problems concerning cash withdrawal mentioned above). On average, though, I can recommend this package.

We’re currently heading for Gaoxiong and I write this sitting on the train about halfway from Taidong. Somehow we managed to get three seats on this train without having reserved seats in advance (something our taxi driver said was almost impossible), and let’s hope that our good fortune continues for the next couple of days before we meet up with Vanessa either on Monday or Tuesday.

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Title: The Ghost Brigades
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2006

Since I liked most of what I saw in the prequel to this book, Old Man’s War, I decided to continue with the series. The second book, The Ghost Brigades, uses a quite different chronology than the first book, although Jane Sagan is still one of the main characters. This time, a human scientist, expert on the brain pal (the computer enhancing the Colonial Forces’ natural brains) , has gone renegade and betrayed humanity to a triple alliance of hostile aliens who are planning a war of extinction on mankind. To get closer to this traitor and understand how he works, the military leaders of the Colonial Union decide to clone his body and imprint his mind on a new consciousness. The result is somewhat ambiguous. Of the new person thus created, how much is from the mind of the traitor and how much is formed by new experiences? To what extent is personality and identity a function of memory? In addition to this, there are further questions going to the core of the Colonial Union. Is the universe really so hostile as they proclaim it to be, or is there a truly rational and cogent argument why one should betray the union? Identity, choice and the latter’s implications on the former lie at the heart of this novel.

Even though the setup is nice and the book almost stands alone (however, I do recommend reading Old Man’s War first), the frequency of new, interesting things is simply lower than in its predecessor. Most of what was good in the first novel is good also in this, but there’s not much new. Also, I’ve begun to become irritated at some of the author’s bad habits, such as an exaggerated use of “she said” or “he said” in dialogues. I don’t need Stephen King’s On Writing to tell me that this is not only unnecessary, but outright bad workmanship. Still, taken as a whole, it’s still a worthwhile read, only superseded by the first book by half a snail. This is nice. but I agree with the outcome of the last few year’s Hugo Award ceremonies, which nominated both books, but without giving any of them a Hugo. The third and last book, The Last Colony, was also nominated, and also didn’t win. Give me a few days to see if I agree with that, too.

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This is a status report for progress on my own vertical version of the 100 push-ups program. To see what this is all about and what rules I’ve set for myself, please check the original post from January 5th.

Week 2
In the confusion surrounding my departure from Xinzhu, I didn’t have any opportunity to post an update about my progress for handstand push-ups. The second attempt on the first week started out really badly. I must have over exerted myself the previous week, because four days rest wasn’t nearly enough. For fear of more serious injury, I cancelled the first day’s exercise almost before it started. I decided to change to the middle column instead and try again on Wednesday, which was fine. The Friday session was also alright (8, 10, 7, 7, 10 reps), but the fact that I still found it difficult should perhaps be interpreted as a sign that I wasn’t fully recovered. Thus, since I skipped the first day of the week, my second attempt on the first week also failed, even though I did managed the two most difficult days.

Week 3
The third attempt was successful and not overwhelmingly difficult (my current record is 17 push-ups now, which was done on the second day in the last set). To summarise, I think this level is more appropriate. Next week, I will try to move on to the second week, middle column, but considering the way we travel around and that I spend a lot of energy on other stuff, I don’t think it’s very likely that I will make it. However, I have to start somewhere and I didn’t complete the first week on the first try other.

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Gorgeous Taroko

Exploring Taroko Gorge at first seemed to be a bit difficult, partly because of my somewhat limited knowledge of Chinese. After breakfast, we waited forty minutes for a bus that didn’t exist; then the host happened to come by and told us the bus station was five kilometres down the road. Since the traffic wasn’t heavy and the view nice, it wasn’t so bad to walk there. However, there was no bus there either, so we took a taxi down to Swallow’s Grotto and then the real adventure began. If that’s not apparent, Taroko is a must-see for anyone who visits Taiwan. Sadly, neither words or pictures are enough to convey this experience, but since I think pictures stand a better chance, here are some:

Right now, I’m sitting in bed typing, after a hot shower and a nice New Year’s dinner (today is Chinese New Year’s Eve). Since we spent most of the day walking around (we set out at ten o’clock and arrived home about half past five, and we didn’t spend much of the intervening time resting, let me tell you), I’m tired, albeit in a pleasant way. I will try to get some studying done, perhaps also some writing, and then say goodbye to Venassa before she leaves for Japan. Going to bed early seems like a good idea, though, because tomorrow at seven thirty, we’re leaving Taroko, heading for Green Island where we will spend three nights.

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To be honest, I’m getting rather tired of this cold. It begun roughly two weeks ago, after I got back from my New Year celebration with Vanessa in Gaoxiong. It’s not that it’s cold outside; compared to Sweden it is stiflingly hot (the coldest I’ve seen is six degrees, but that was five o’clock in the morning on the coldest day, usually it’s been around 15-20 during the days). The problem is that Taiwan is built for the warmth of summer; buildings are designed to release as much heat as possible, often with the aid of air conditioning.Nobody seems to mind that this has a reverse effect in the winter.

Regardless of the fact that the winter is very short, it’s still cold indoors. I count everything above minus five as agreeable outdoors, but for indoor temperatures below fifteen degrees another word altogether is needed. It’s alright if one keeps moving, but sleeping, studying or anything like that becomes a pain.

Today, we realised that this cold has some really impractical implications. We left Sun Moon Lake this morning at eight, and although I was close to writing “fortunately with another driver”, I’m not sure that “fortunately” is the right word, but it seemed to be true then. The problems increased as the height of the road above the sea rocketed and temperatures plummeted. First, fog obscured the road and forced the driver to take it very, very slowly. Then the snow began to fall.

We met cars coming in the other directions, all bearing signs of much worse weather farther up the road; an increasing number had snow chains attached. Climbing up the road piercing Taiwan’s central mountains from east to west, the driver soon realised that he would have no way of going down the other side, because ill-prepared as he was, he had no snow chains of his own. In the highest pass, he somehow found another car who would take us and our luggage down to Taroko Gorge and our hotel. The vehicle happened to be a four-wheeled jeep with snow chains, so even though the journey was slow, I was never worried after changing car (and driver).

As we descended, the snow melted to a cold drizzle, which refused to give way as we reached our new hotel. It’s called Cloud Village and is a small place very far up the valley. There seems to be no other guests so far, the room is freezing cold (this explains my rant above), but at least the food is good and the staff are friendly. My parents just returned back from a short hike, but I felt weary and decided to stay on our room, catching up some studying I’ve been neglecting and beginning to write this text. Right this moment, I’m tired and don’t feel like I’m on vacation at all. Perhaps it’s because I’m not used to being responsible in this way (I am, considering that I’m the only one here who can communicate with most natives). It will be a lot easier once the beginning of the Chinese New Year is over (roughly when we get back from Green Island on the 29th or so).

The fog didn’t only envelope the road, it also hid the allegedly fabulous view.

No comments.

It’s colder than it seems, and the food is more tasty than it looks.

Another possible reason is that I miss Vanessa. We haven’t met since the beginning of the month and right now it doesn’t feel good at all. We have been in contact a lot, but she’ll soon leave for Japan and we won’t meet until the beginning of February. However, I still look forward to lots of things we have planned to do before then, so I’m sure that I’ll be able to keep myself busy. Having my parents here is also nice and, disregarding the cold, I’m very satisfied with our vacation so far! Green Island is also tropical, so perhaps thawing is coming up.

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Sun Moon Lake

As I’m writing this post, Friday evening comes to an end and gives way to Saturday morning. I’ve spent a couple of hours writing, editing photographs and generally trying to post as much as I can about our travelling so far. I’m now connected to the internet using an unprotected wireless network, but since we’ll leave Sun Moon Lake tomorrow, there’s no telling when I might have access again. This being the case, I must admit that I’m tired and that I’ve no energy left to write something ambitious about our stay here. Let it suffice to say that we did indeed go around the lake by bike, as I implied we would yesterday. It’s about 33 kilometres around the lake and the terrain is hilly, so including breaks, lunch and several detours, it took us the better part of the day. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the telling, perhaps with some additional comment here and there.

This is the best overview picture I have. The lake isn’t big, but mist made it hard to see clearly anyway.

This temple was one of our first bigger detours.

Dragons coiled around pillars are ubiquitous in temples like this. I find the colours of these particular pillars extremely nice.

Most of the time, the mist made the biking colder and obscured the view, but in this case, it really adds something to the experience.

Tomorrow, we leave Sun Moon Lake for Taroko National Park at eight o’clock. In so doing, we hope to avoid the worst of the heavy traffic that’s to be expected on the first day of the Chinese New Year vacation (starting tomorrow, with New Year’s Eve on Sunday). I don’t know how much this will affect our plans, but we should be okay. If being okay involves being online remains to be seen, though, so bye for now; I hope to be able to write again soon.

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Fish, mist and jade

Nothing seems to be seriously ẃrong with me, because I did indeed sleep a lot Tuesday night (see this entry to read why I only slept three hours for the first two days of this week). Twelve hours, in fact, which is roughly twice as much as I usually sleep, but it was badly needed. During the day, we visited two places, first some sort of aboriginal fishing area, which was interesting, but not terribly so. I’m sure that the landscape would have been breathtaking if there would have been more water in the river, but as it was now, it wasn’t that spectacular. Nice bridges and fresh mountain air still made the two hours worthwhile, though.

After lunch, the host dropped us off for a two hour hike to the top of a small mountain. The mist was pretty heavy, so there was no view to talk about, but walking through bamboo forests on a steep slop in fog still is something worth mentioning. The evening proceeded slowly from then on, with a new family arriving to our hotel, which meant some more Chinese for me and yet another (unsuccessful) tour to see the flying squirrel for my parents.

It felt a little sad to leave our host on Alishan; he was really nice and I got to talk to him pretty much during our drives to different places. The lodging was perhaps not the best I’ve encountered, but everything else was perfect. It was a nice mixture of guided tours and free time. Anyway, he dropped us off at a tourist centre in Yushan National Park (Yushan means Jade Mountain and is Taiwan’s highest mountain, standing almost 4000 metres above sea level), where another driver would pick us up five hours later to take us to Sun Moon Lake.

Yushan was the best thing so far on our vacation. We hiked for a couple of hours and the landscape was absolutely stunning. We followed trails running along high mountain ridges with steep drops on both sides, walked over high passes, all under a clear blue sky and beaming sun. At almost three thousand metres, the air was cool and fresh, which clearly reminded us of the Alps and skiing. It is a particular feeling, this mixture of temperatures. I managed to burn myself pretty badly in the neck, but it’s worth it anyway. Just take a look at these pictures, which are a fairly bad attempt at capturing the magnificance of Jade Mountain.

This English on this sign might be true, but it’s pretty certain that that isn’t what the writer intended it to mean. After some dictionary browsing, I think I’ve found the reason for this translation mistake. 階梯 means ladder or staircase in Chinese, but the first character might also mean “rank”, which loosely translated perhaps could be “social class”. Signs of this kind are abundant here, but that doesn’t stop them from being entertaining.

In the afternoon, we were picked up to go to Sun Moon Lake. The trip was pretty strange, because the driver had a peculiar driving style. The first few kilometres down the mountain, he drove extremely slowly, almost like he was paid per minute and really wanted to exaggerate (we had agreed on a price beforehand, so this wasn’t the case). Then, later, he suddenly decided to accelerate randomly only to slow down again. This change of speed had no apparent bearing on the actual outline of the road, sometimes making him crawl along a perfect straight section of the road, only to accelerate wildly in the next curve.. The trip was also somewhat complicated by the fact that I learnt that my future landlord hadn’t received my money. This was resolved fairly smoothly and it seems like I’ll still have somewhere to live when this vacation has come to an end. My stuff has also arrived in my new apartment, so it seems like I can relax for real now.

I’m writing this in the evening, after having had dinner in a nice restaurant overlooking the lake. We have only vague plans for tomorrow as yet; probably we will try to rent bikes and go around the lake, but since we have no real idea of where we are and what we want to do (the information centre was closed when we arrived), only time will tell. We’re only going to stay here for two nights and will leave very early on Saturday in order to go to Taroko National Park on the east coast. I’ve managed to adjust my sleeping rhythm now, at least, so it means it’s soon time to go to bed, even though it’s only slightly after ten. See you tomorrow!

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Title: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Year: 2005

Published in 2005, Old Man’s War is in its essence a follow-up to other science fiction war novels such as Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Ender’s Game (all which are mentioned in the novel itself). It’s similar to these in that it covers the training and life of soldiers in for an interstellar battlefield, and in doing so, tries to make a few points about war and humanity. Scalzi does this fairly differently, though, even though the similarities with Starship Troopers and The Forever War are pretty obvious.

John Perry is old, seventy five to be exact, and he has lost his wife to a heart attack. He has nothing to live for and old age is beginning to take its toll. Thus, he can see no reason not to enroll in the Colonial Defense Forces, which, after all, offers rejuvenation and, after a full term of service, a new life in one of the colonies. Of course, the propaganda of the recruitment division and the horrors of warfare against extra-terrestrial life are of course not the same thing. The sudden change for Perry as he leaves his familiar life on Earth to face a hostile universe is the main focus of this novel.

John Scalzi is adept at one thing, which is probably the major reason this book is pretty good. He knows what he shouldn’t include. Time and time again, I read passages where the author elegantly leaves out parts that would’ve been boring or that wouldn’t have added anything to the narrative. I often get the feeling that lesser authors would elongate these moments and drone on endlessly. Scalzi, on the other hand, deftly directs the flow of the story, focusing on what’s interesting and never lose this focus. As a result, Old Man’s War is exactly as long as it should be, a very sparsely populated category of books indeed.

In addition to this, there are some interesting ideas in this novel, some new thoughts on future technology and its implications for humanity. John Perry has to face serious questions about what it means to be human when everything around him, even his own body, changes beyond recognition. He also has to find his place in a universe much less friendly than it was supposed to be. Can there really be no alternative to war, is humankind bound to declare war on every single species we find, on or outside Earth?

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I think that an enchanter must have cursed me and transferred my parents jet lag to me. Even though I had slept only three hours the previous night and had had a pretty busy day, I didn’t manage to sleep more than perhaps thirty minutes! My plan to adjust my sleeping thus proved to be a failure of epic proportions. This was not the kind of night were one wonders if one’s awake or asleep, and constantly drifts back and forth into wakefulness. Instead, I was fully awake all the time. Fortunately for me, I had pretty nice company in the form of an audio version of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

After a very long night indeed, the host knocked on our door and informed us that it was almost four in the morning and that we should get going if we didn’t want to miss the sun rising. The sunrise as seen from Alishan was a bit hyped up, in my opinion. We had to drive an hour, then wait in a very cold train station (please bear in mind that most peaks in the Alihsan areas stand well above 2500 metres tall) for almost an hour, before we could board a train to the summit. I don’t want to think about how crowded that place must be on weekends or in the Chinese New Year, because it was pretty bad even this Tuesday morning.

The summit itself was a beautiful place which would have been worth a visit even with no sunrise. The sunrise itself was also stunning, but very quick and thus left me with a feeling of “okay, so that was supposed to be it?” There were no clouds, so the famous cloud sea of Alishan eluded us this time (see pictures). I don’t regret that we went there, but on the contrary to everybody else, I don’t think that it’s something you have to do if you visit Taiwan. Sure, if you happen to be in the vicinity, by all means go there, but don’t go out of your way to see this. Pictures of the sunrise and the associated cloud sea are beautiful, but one has to be lucky to get that (for reference, check this, this and this photo).

I did tell you it was beautiful, right?

This is were it’s supposed to be a sea of clouds. I’m not complaining, though, the view was pretty indeed.

Yes, it’s as cold as it looks. Once the sun actually rose, it wasn’t that bad, but the early morning in combination with sitting a long time made the mountain air quite freezing.

Below Alishan, there are two Sister Lakes, one big and one small. This is the small one. I could tell you the story behind the names, but since it’s pretty boring, I won’t.

This is from a short fairly close to the peak from which we watched the sunrise.

Alishan is a lot more than mountains and we could probably have spent a few days just in this area.

Yours truly.

After a fabulous meal with the most delicious tofu cooked by the host’s mother, I had at least an hour or two of sleep. This was so badly needed I can’t find words for it. Sleeping just a few hours is fine if one studies, socialise or things like that, but if one is travelling, moving, climbing mountains, trying to transfer money, waiting in cold train stations, worrying about contracts and generally not being in control of the situation, three hours sleep out of fifty isn’t a lot, let me tell you.

As I write this, I sit outside our room, with my mother beside me reading a book and my father standing in the middle of a small tea plantation taking pictures. The sun has disappeared and a mist has settled over the valley, almost obscuring the opposite side. Still, this mountain landscape with its beautiful scenery and fresh air is awesome. If I’m unable to sleep tonight, there’s something seriously wrong, because with the accumulated lack of sleep I should sleep like a baby for at least ten hours. Tomorrow, more hiking is planned, but that is, as they say, a completely different story.

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