POSTED: July 4th, 2013
Day 2 (Tuesday April 2nd) — Training Day
I woke up well-rested somewhere around 9 o'clock. Training was to start at 3pm and I had a list of things to do to get myself prepared. The Easter holidays were over, which meant my first priority would be to buy some food. Then I had to locate the training hall on a map and figure out how to get there, as well as try to figure out my money situation. These things by themselves would have been complicated enough, but I still had no internet, barely any money, no idea where any shops were, no key to get back into the house, and Xiayou was still out cold. I tried the computer again but I thought the thing was going to get a hernia when I asked it to open a web browser. I thought about asking Xiaoyou if I could use her iPad (she had complained about it being slow the night before, but apparently the internet had worked better with it than the computer), but I didn't want to wake her up. Ah well, I thought to myself, it's still pretty early for a college student. I'll just do some relaxation exercises in the meantime to give her a chance to wake up.
I pulled out my rubber ball and "torture mat" - a foam mat covered with plastic spikes, evidently for acupressure purposes — and began to go through some relaxation and breathing exercises. I was quite stiff from carrying around a heavy rucksack the day before and my back thanked me graciously for taking the time to do this.
The weather was still dismal and I took another shower to warm up. It was a bit after 10 now and I was starting to get antsy. Xiaoyou was showing no signs of life and I was worrying about food — not so much that was I getting hungry, more that I would have an upset stomach when training started if I didn't eat soon. Eventually I couldn't take it anymore and I went over to her bed and gently tapped her awake. She groaned, rolled over to open her eyes at me, and grunted — she wasn't even able to make out a "...what?" I asked if I could use her iPad (I didn't want to bother her about food, yet. It would have required her to get up and find me a key) and she barely managed a positive grunt and a half-hearted gesture toward it. I retrieved the iPad and my question regarding a password produced a negative grunt. I went back over to sit on my bed and eagerly awaited my connection to the internet.
I immediately found myself in an interesting and self-evident predicament. The iPad was in Chinese.
To make matters worse, I had never actually interacted with an iPad before. Normally this wouldn't have provided any problem for me — again I'm of the generation that learned how to use things like these by fucking around with them until we figured them out. But now I couldn't even know the relative positions of keys* and options, and I had no immediate feedback whenever I touched something.
*QWERTY keyboards don't appear to be the popular in China.
However, I wasn't worried just yet. The communist party in China may have butchered the hell out of the Chinese writing system in an attempt to simplify it, but I did spend several years studying Japanese, and the Japanese writing system is based off the Chinese one*. While I forgotten most of my Japanese and I was barely able to recognize a Chinese character even at the height of my Japanese knowledge, I was able to make out a key that looked like it had the character for "letter" on it. I pushed this key and was rewarded with a menu giving me the following options: some Chinese characters, 日本語 (Nihongo — Japanese), Deutsch, and English. I was developing a pattern for big sighs of relief. I pressed English.
*Of course the Japanese system is based off the Chinese system when it was introduced to Japan around the 6th century A.D. and since then Japan had been modifying it to suit its own needs (producing two more alphabets in the process), but I wasn't going to let that get to me, either.
But my iPad hardships were far from over. I decided to check the internet speed by first checking my email. The internet was indeed slow, but at least it worked. After successfully checking my email I decided to go over to my bank account. I haphazardly typed in the URL (I've never gotten used to touchscreens), clicked on the proper links, and found myself face-to-face with my next problem: I didn't know my online-banking account number. I slapped my forehead — I had used my web browser on my computer to save my account number and thus had never bothered to write it down anywhere. My computer was right next to me, but as I couldn't connect it to the internet I wouldn't be able to get it to show me the number. ARGH. The only place it was written down was in my pile'o'papers back in Austria.
I grumbled and set out to write Sabrina an email to ask her to go through my papers and find the number. This was utterly confounded with the iPad's damn touchscreen and its desire to recommend words to me in Chinese as I was typing. I managed to disable this "feature" and was successful at sending off the email. I then had the idea to check my American bank account. I knew there wasn't much money on it and that there was an algorithm of fees I would be hit with for using the ATM here in Germany, but it was a good idea to at least know what wiggle room I had in case of a serious problem with my Austrian bank account. I trudged my way through the URLs and slow loading times to be rewarded with a security procedure. The website recognized I was trying to access the account from a new computer and required me providing a security code in order to continue. They were willing to send me the code in one of three ways: phone call, text message, or email. Considering I hadn't had an American phone number in over two years, the only option I was left with was the extreme frustration of typing my way BACK to my email then BACK to the bank's website again.
GAHH! Fuck it! There probably wasn't enough money on there anyway. Things weren't so horrible, yet: I still hadn't tried the ATM today, I still had the training money, and I could still bother my friends for some in an emergency.
This brought me down to two problems: food and directions to the training hall. As I was already dealing with the iPad and as the only signs of life Xiaoyou had produced since I asked her for it was to pull the blanket over her head, I decided to do the training hall directions first. This was a serious test of patience.
Of all the things that will really, really drive me up the fucking wall, the following recipe is one of them:
Apple and any other company making touchscreens can brag all they want about their new and fancy technology, but they can be buggy as hell with Google Maps, especially when you accidentally brush your fingers across a part of the screen you didn't want to touch. I had written down the address of the training hall and I kept trying to get the iPad to show me directions, but the thing routinely changed itself back to Chinese and reset the browser. There were a couple functions that I knew Google Maps was capable of and that the iPad would be able to do, but they were located differently as they would be in a normal computer browser. I would almost get the iPad to do what I wanted before the browser AND the language would reset, making it difficult for me not to smash it against the wall.
Mr. Foster, my 7th grade computer teacher for whom several classes I was a TA, would at the beginning of each quarter explain the Monkey Rule. The Monkey Rule was basically a reason to remove an student running his mouth from a faster computer to make room for a nicer student who was stuck on a slow one. It was accomplished by clicking on the same thing or the same list of commands on the computer or a particular piece of software and expecting the results to be different from one attempt to the next. "Monkeys can be trained to do that." Mr. Foster would always explain, and I could hear his words echoing between my ears as I went through the same motions every time the browser reset itself, hoping I could get something new to happen.
Despite the ancient voices of 7th grade teachers in my mind, I was able to prove myself to not be a monkey and found the function in Google Maps that I had been looking for. I damn near dropped the iPad, I was so relieved. I grabbed my notebook and quickly scribbled down the map and the street names, worried that the iPad might decide to spontaneously re-Chinese itself and do whatever other psychological warfare tactics Apples likes to practice on its customers.
This led me to the final problem of food. Xiaoyou was still as mobile as a sagging sack of potatoes and I saw I was just going to have to wake her up again. I did so and asked her where I could buy some groceries and if I could have a key to get back into the house. She rolled over half-asleep, reached for a pen and a piece of paper, and drew a little map to the nearest grocery store. She then managed to pull herself out of bed and make a quick stumble around the room looking for the key before telling me she couldn't find it and that I should just call her when I got back.
I dressed myself as warmly as possible and made my way outside. It was even colder than yesterday. Fuck. The temperature itself wasn't that low, but it was that type of cold that creeps its way through however many layers of clothing your wearing and immediately sinks down into your bones. I groaned thinking of the walk I was going to have to take to get to the training hall — Google Maps said it would take about 45 minutes.
I found myself in the main street of the old city looking around for a bank or an ATM. I found the former before long but didn't go inside, as something was strange about it.
It was overly ornate for a bank and there were big posters with photographs of a specific statue on it, the text on the posters saying something about 500 year-old history — something you usually don't find stuck on the windows of a bank. The statue apparently was of Prince Fugger, and the bank the famous Fugger Bank of Augsburg. I had never heard of it before (probably due to the fact that banking history has been surgically removed from our public school textbooks), but I had a strong sense that there was a particularly bloody history associated with this building. However, I didn't have the time to investigate it — I still had to find food, money, and get out of the cold.
Strangely enough, when I was back in Austria after the seminar, I started reading through a book entitled The Lost Science of Money which details the monetary history of classical and western civilizations. Within a day or two of returning, I, lo and behold, came across a section of the book specifically dedicated to the history of the Fugger banking family. According to the book, having started their business in the 14th century from learning banking "skills" from the Venetians (that is, they figured out how to loan money they didn't actually have), these guys managed to become Europe's leading financial institution by 1525. They were able to get control of Europe's best silver mines in Tirol by "loaning" money to the Archduke at the time, thus having him by the balls. Fuggers even accompanied church officials during the era of indulgence sales, collecting the profits of the practice. Many of the clergy had bought their positions by bribing the pope, the money for which they, of course, got from the banking class. The Fuggers' power structure grew so great that eventually they had control of the mint, which, if our modern world of cancerous central-banking parasites teaching us anything, is where the real power lies.
The book provided an interesting example to elucidate this point (page 164, if anyone other than me is actually willing to cough up the 90 bucks to buy the book):
"The Fuggers loaned to Emperor Maximillian, Queen Elizabeth I, and various princes and clergy. In 1518, they backed Emperor Maximillian's grandson, Charles V for the Kingship of Spain. In theory, the Church's College of Electors elected Princes to these positions. In practice this meant bribing the churchmen, and the price of the Crown was rising. 850,000 Florins were needed to do the job. The Fuggers lent 534,000; the Welsers lent 143,000; the Genovese and the Florentines lent 165,000."
The book goes on to describe how Charles V, even though he was able to "win the election", was so much in debt to the Fuggers that he was unable to outbid the King of France in acquiring mercenaries from Switzerland, which the king then used to go to war with Charles. Charles was then in debt to the Fuggers for decades to come. What a perfect example of how banks, for centuries now, have been really calling the shots in the political arena and have been able to do so through the bookkeeping magic known as "banking" of being able to lend out money they don't actually have — another topic strangely missing from our history books. But alas, I regress.
The end of the author's well-rounded description of this particular banking era concluded that eventually the Fuggers became so unpopular in Europe that the English language at the time adopted the word fugger to mean "to carry on trade in general and in the popular mind it had an evil connotation in the sense of usurious trade or sharp practices". The author then quoted another author who suggested that the Fuggers may be the etymological namesake of our sophisticated English word fucker. This sat well with me because, not only do I find it a fitting description of anyone engaged in the modern system we understand as "banking", it was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the word FUGGER written on the posters in the windows of the bank.
But, as I said, I learned this information after returning home and I wasn't in any position to act on it anyway. If you don't want to be cold you gotta move your ass, so I did.
A few minutes later I scuttled my way inside a "normal" bank and got in line for the ATM. When I went up and popped my card in, I made the same mistake I had made back near Salzburg and was looking around distractedly while the ATM was processing, and upon looking back I just saw my bank card protruding out of the machine. It was sticking out its tongue out at me, accompanied by no money and no explanation why. I got irritated and shoved the card back in, this time paying strict attention after typing in my PIN. I told the thing to give me 50 euros. It hummed and buzzed like it was flipping through money to pick out what I had asked for, then it stopped, telling me that my available balance was 0.00 euros. It stuck its tongue out at me again.
The last time I had checked it (admittedly awhile back), I was definitely in the positive and had no reason to believe that my account shouldn't have stayed that way. This led me to believe that there was either a problem with my bank account or a problem that I was in another country. Whatever the case, I still didn't have any money!
Deciding to deal with my last problem of food, I quickly back-tracked to Xiaoyou's apartment and followed the directions she had drawn for me to get to the grocery store. I bought an assortment of food that I thought would provide lasting energy and be available for quick utilization. Eggs, cheese, carrots, peppers, bananas, butter, the densest loaf of bread I could find, and some spinach. The damage was 15 euros, leaving me at a near-equal 15 euros plus change. I went back to the apartment door and gave Xiaoyou a call. Yes, indeed, I woke her up. She opened the door up for me, informed me that I could just push the buzzer next to the door instead of calling, then stumbled her way back to bed. I cooked myself up some breakfast and got my things ready to walk and find the training hall. In preparation for the cold walk ahead, I roused myself with one final grunt/kiai and left the apartment with Xiaoyou still with the blanket over her head at a bit after 1 o'clock.
I got mixed up and had to ask for directions twice. Both times I was immediately identified as an English speaker and the person would switch the conversation into English despite my efforts otherwise. I normally find this irritating, as I make a lot of effort to convey myself in German, but on my walk I must have heard at least five groups of Americans chatting. The locals must be used to it.
I found my way along Vogelmauer, a long market street with people peddling all sorts of crap, trying to make everything look as traditional as possible and charging you out the ass for it. The funniest booth I saw was one of those hyper-active salesmen who try to sell cleaning products, special sponges, or knives that can cut through boots by going through a whole choreographed line-up that poses all the questions for you and already has the perfect answers to provide. Hearing it in German made it difficult for me to keep a straight face — especially because I could hear his north German accent*.
*German has roughly two major accents, north and south. Austria and Bavaria fall into the south accent category, which is actually rather soft and easy to listen to. The north German accent is the one we're all used to hearing whenever someone decides to make jokes with a stereotypical German accent.
After Vogelmauer, I hopped and bobbed down the various streets and alleyways, often getting confused for a moment when the streets didn't line up with the map I had drawn, but quickly getting back on track. Eventually I emerged from the pleasant back alleys with the creek running through it the main road leading over the Lech River, fit with tumbling plastic bags, grimy gutters, and dazzling advertisements designed to hook you by your genitals long enough to separate you from your wallet. Without the pleasant scenery to distract me I really began to feel the cold and attempted a breathing exercise to warm myself up. It didn't work very well and I was elated when I finally got close enough to the training hall to recognize where I was. Another 10 minutes walk and the hall was in sight. I approached the glass door and found it locked. Peering inside, I saw Daniel, my scream-coaching buddy from Vienna, chatting with Andreas, the head of Systema Europa and the guy putting on the seminar. They motioned for me to go around back.
It wasn't exactly warm in the training hall, but I was able to give up on my barely-effective breathing exercise. I walked around to the front to greet everyone and when Andreas began to chat with me, my mouth was so numb I couldn't form a coherent sentence. Despite my impeccable ice cube imitation, I was able to communicate that I wanted to register for the week, both the preparations seminar and the TOP seminar, and that I had all the money up front. I pulled the envelope of 330 euros out of my thigh-pocket, extracted the fiat Monopoly money, and counted it out in front of him.
"Alles ist klar." He said to me and checked my name off his list as being paid. Alles ist klar, indeed, I thought to myself. My emergency money was now gone and I was quite literally down to 15 euros. I felt this would be a perfect time to explain my situation to Daniel, my last hope at a back-up plan. I didn't get halfway through a sentence which included the term "bank problems" before he interrupted me:
"You too?" He said, shocked. Me too? Aw shit, this wasn't looking good. "That just happened to me! I even deposited a bunch of money into my account before heading out and the machine still won't give me any money, which is totally weird because I'm allowed to go 300 euros into the minus..." he went on explaining his situation to me as I began to scratch at my head. Fuck, I thought to myself elegantly, who in the hell can I bum money off of? There was no way in the furthest corners of hell-damn-fuck that I was going to be able to make it through a week on 15 euros.
At the moment there was nothing I could do and I wouldn't have had much time to think about it anyway, because the Vorbereitungsseminar ("Preparation Seminar") began. I had about enough time to greet Yuraj and Christoph before Andreas moved us into the training hall. I counted roughly 25 participants (a few more would trickle in later). Standing in the center with us fanned about him in a semi-circle, he began the introduction in German with his soft and direct voice. Be careful, be aware of your partner's limits, work with your partner to help point out mistakes or things that could be done better in a positive manner, don't make the training about "winning", and so on.
"What I always see in these seminars and what is very important," he continued, occasionally stroking his mustache, "is that people have two mentalities when it comes to 'sports'. There is normal mentality, which is how we are in normal life. Relaxed and moving without an intense manner. Then there is sport-mentality, where we focus and intensify our determination. With sport-mentality we are always faster and stronger. We can jump higher, hit harder, lift more weight, and everything else. What is very important during this seminar, and really whenever we train Systema, is not to switch to sport-mentality while exercising and working with partners. We want to stay in normal mentality, relaxed and breathing, no matter what exercise we're doing. The reason for this is that when we live in normal daily life, we live in normal mentality, and when a situation emerges, whether we're attacked, protecting someone else, or otherwise in danger, it never gives us a chance and the time we need to switch to sport mentality." He firmly had my attention at this point. I had never considered this for training. "Therefore if we train with sport-mentality, we never learn how to move and operate ourselves in normal mentality, which is the mentality you're almost assuredly going to have when a dangerous situation arises."
Andreas continued on a few more points after this one, and eventually I noticed a young slender man with black hair standing in the doorway watching Andreas expectantly. After Andreas went over his last point on training, he announced he was changing the subject and motioned the guy in the doorway over to him. The guy came over and Andreas introduced him to us.
"This is Dmitrij." (Note: you don't pronounce the J.) He stood softly and had a gentle smile on his face, but I could see his muscles and tendons were made of steel. "He is trained in Systema massage and will be here with us for the whole week. He has brought all his massage tools with him and you can come talk to him any time during the seminar if you're interested in a massage." Trained in Systema massage? We were constantly doing different massage exercises and techniques to each other during Systema class back home, so I knew that massage and relaxation exercises were an integral part of Systema. But trained? Trained meant officially learning somewhere, and officially learning somewhere means an official organization teaching it. That meant "Systema Massage" was something you could get officially certified in. My previous experiences with Systema massage exercises could more or less be summed up with the words "intense", "painful", and "effective", and thus I was wholly curious as to what a guy trained in it would do. Andreas was still going.
"...and I can only recommend doing it. Any time during training or the breaks in the seminar, just come up and talk to him and you can work out how much it costs and when you want to do it." He patted Dmitrij one more time on the shoulder and let him go back to the doorway. "Then! Let's get started. Walking in a circle," his made a circular motion with his index finger as he said this, "breathing one step in, one step out."
We all began walking in a circle counter-clockwise, alternating the in and out-breaths with each step. We continued this for about a minute before Andreas said, "Two steps in, two steps out. Stay relaxed, stay in normal mentality." Following his instructions, I began my standard tension scan through my body — seeking proper bodily structure with the inhale and relaxing on the exhale. Starting with the facial muscles and the jaw I breathed out my tension, letting the muscles go like falling dominoes. After the face and the jaw the tension in the back of my neck became obvious. I breathed this out and felt my spine elongating with the inhale, making my shoulders fall as the relaxation continued its way down.
"Three steps in, three steps out. Find your own rhythm and speed. If you need to walk slower or faster, do it."
The melting sensation that always accompanies the relaxation between my shoulder blades went through me as I adjusted my breathing pattern. I focused on pull my shoulder blades down and tucking in my tail bone ever so slightly, thus further straightening and relaxing my spine.
"Four steps in, four steps out." Andreas said walking around in the middle of the room. We were meshing around him like the wind around the eye of a slowly-forming hurricane. "When you feel like doing so, turn around and walk in the other direction. Avoid crashing into people moving in the other direction but stay soft and relaxed. If you do make contact, try to move with and around the person." People began intermittently to turn around and go against the flow.
I focused on walking from my knees and not from my hips, my relaxation scan having moved down to my lower back, the power center and the total bitch when it comes to relaxation. At least for me, that is. The next commands came in similar intervals.
"Five steps in, five steps out."
"Six steps in, six steps out."
"Seven steps in, seven steps out. Now for each time you walk around the room, turn around and walk backwards for one round. Keep doing this and don't forgot to occasionally change the direction." If we had looked like a confused mass of bodies before, then this pushed us over the edge. Everybody walking in every sort of direction trying to avoid smashing into people who potentially couldn't see them, some walking backwards and some walking forwards.
"Eight steps in and eight steps out. Hold your arms high in the air with your hands as light fists. Keep your shoulders relaxed as you do this." This exercise is designed to tire out the shoulders in order to force them to relax upon returning them to the sides of the body.
"Nine steps in, nine steps out. Speed up your steps just slightly." I was breathing deep with my belly, focusing on not filling up with air before the ninth step and not running out of air before the other ninth step. Trying to keep the breath smooth and relaxed — not sharp, like panting — between breathing in and breathing out.
"Ten steps in, ten steps out. Hold your arms out in front of you and keep your shoulders relaxed." The ever-amounting chaos continued to ensue. People were weaving around and crashing into each other left and right and doing their best to softly resolve their collisions, attempting to maintain the calm concentration required for continuously breathing the entire ten steps.
Eleven steps, then twelve steps. I began to wonder how high we were going to have to go when Andreas changed the exercise.
"Now," he said, "Four steps in, four steps hold, four steps out, four steps hold." This was a relief as twelve steps begins to approach my limit and this particular exercise gives me a good chance to relax without working so hard for it. Inhaling for four steps, holding the breath for four steps, exhaling for four steps, holding for four steps, rinse, lather, repeat. I continued to focus on keeping the area between my shoulder blades and my lower back relaxed.
"Eight steps," he said, "Eight steps in, eight steps hold, eight steps out, eight steps hold." I was well beyond hyperventilation by now. My blood was saturated with oxygen, however I wasn't light headed as the movement created by walking caused my muscles to demand enough of it to keep me from falling over. Maybe not a perfect balance of movement, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, but it sure was close.
"Twelve steps!" He announced in the same fashion. This became taxing very quickly and he must have known it, because it wasn't long before he told us, "Normal breathing. Everyone walk in the same direction and come back to your comfort zone." Comfort zone meant walking and breathing at the pace your body automatically adjusts you to.
"This time I want you to run slowly and relaxed, and as you do so I want you to take one hand on your solar plexus," his placed his hand just there, "and the other hand moving like this." He began waving his hand in front of himself like a young boy does when playing out the window of a fast-driving car. "The hand should move up and down slowly and you should feel not that you're pushing the hand with your running, but that the hand is pulling you and you're running to keep up." We did just this and I managed to get the feeling of my hand pulling me across the training floor.
Switch hands, he ordered, keep running. Switch again, but this time instead of going up and down, now go left and right. Switch again. Now use both hands, one going up and down and the other moving left and right, but make sure they're moving at different speeds from each other and at different speeds from the rhythm of your running. Don't forget to have the hands pull you!
Talk about a coordination clusterfuck. An important part of Systema is learning how to move each part of your body independently from the rest, and this was damn sure a good exercise for that. When running in Systema we're told to keep our hands down at our sides, as holding them up creates tension and thus takes energy. The shoulders should bounce naturally with the vibrations of the feet touching down on the floor.
"Hands down and walking," he said, "and 'natural' breathing. 3 or 4 steps in and out. After you come back to your comfort zone, exhale fully then inhale as long as you can. When you can't inhale anymore, run around the hall with one step in and one step out. Then come back to your comfort zone and when you're ready, do it again." We had enough time to do a few repetitions of this before he stopped us and had everyone turn to him to listen for the next exercise. The breathing warm-ups were over. Whew!
Rolling was the next exercise. Andreas had us start on our knees and slowly as possible roll over our shoulders, back onto our knees again, exhaling once throughout the entire movement. There wasn't exactly enough room in the hall for anyone to be able to do this comfortably and more often than not I would roll into someone else.
"Damn man," I said when I had the chance to roll near Daniel, "I came all the way to Augsburg to do a Systema seminar and I ended up in this interpretive dance class!" We laughed and rolled away from each other again like oozing swamp monsters.
During this time I got a chance to get an idea of how many various countries were visiting just for this seminar. Our Systema group from Vienna consisted of an American (me), two Austrians (duh), and one guy from Slovakia. I picked out a group of French people, three men and one woman (three of which didn't speak any German whatsoever, which made me feel a hell of a lot better not to be the least-communicative for once). There were two guys from the Netherlands, a guy from Belgium, and though they were all living in Germany now, people from the Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. There was easily just as much Russian being thrown around as there was German. By the end of the week there would be another American, a guy originally from Latvia who flew in just for the seminar, and a woman from Japan who did the same. This is to say nothing about who showed up on the weekend itself, but I'll leave that for later.
Our last exercise for the day was falling — something I have a particularly large amount of experience with. However, after five years of getting my ass thrown around in Aikido, two years of doing Wile E. Coyote's in parkour, and smashing my way over the mountains, through the woods, and into holes, crevices, and ravines of all varieties my entire life, I still wasn't able to pull off what Andreas wanted us to do. Andreas himself didn't actually show us the exercise, he allowed one of his senior students to do the honors. I forgot his name, but when I talked to him later I found his Russian accent was thick through his German, and what he demonstrated left me wide-eyed. From standing straight up, keeping himself straight as a plank and arms at his sides, he just fell to the floor. There was no slam, thud, smack, whack, or any other onomatopoeia commonly associated with the afore-mentioned Wile E. Coyote — he just greeted the floor with the determination of a rocking chair and the spirit of a flopping fish out of water. Instead of slamming straight down, he would use the perimeter of his body to continuously disperse the force of his falling body until there was no force left, and thus nothing left to damage him. If this doesn't make any sense, imagine how you can make a sheet of paper 20 feet long: you simply cut the sheet out into a single continuous strip, whether in circles or zigzags. The paper can technically get as long as you can cut it thin. In the same way, guy was able to make a rocking chair motion not just in the one dimension from his feet to his head, but in three dimensions using all the edges of his body.
Might I add there were no training mats. This was a hard floor.
As anyone who has been on the receiving end of martial arts magic well knows, understanding in your head and understanding in your body are two completely different things — just because I could see what he was doing didn't mean I could do it. I thus spent the remaining time in the seminar that day smacking and banging particularly my shoulders onto the floor, with an occasional elbow or side of the hip. You gotta have some bruises to show for your work, right?
Class ended and Andreas got us back into a semi-circle. He spent a small amount of talk about some finer points of training, then moved on to the schedule for the rest of the week and about dinner that night. There was a small local place that served Russian food called Mosaik downtown. When I was doing a seminar in Augsburg the previous summer we had eaten here as well, the food was awesome and the prices cheap, so my hand was way in the air when he asked for a round of hands. With that he ended class for the day and told us he would either see us at Mosaik or in training tomorrow.
As everyone milled about chatting, getting their normal clothes back on, stretching, and generally getting ready to chill for the rest of the evening, my mind began to mill about back to the memory that I was two colorful pieces of paper away from being broke. I still only had 15 euros and I was about to go out to dinner. Knowing that you can't bleed a rock, I went over to Daniel anyway and asked him if he could cover me that night for the food. Even though he was also bank-blocked, he still had 90 euros in cash on him and agreed to cover me.
As Yuraj had driven to Augsburg with Daniel and Christoph, we all piled into Yuraj's car to get to the restaurant. Daniel and I had a vague memory from last summer of how to get there, and it wasn't long before we were sitting around drinking German beer waiting for our borscht, pelmeni, vareniki, and pirozhkis.
Christoph, Yuraj, and I all sat down at the same table. Andreas came a little later with his kids who sat down next to us and guy by the name of Patrick came did the same.
I had worn my FLUORIDE KILLS T-shirt that day and during training Patrick had approached me about it. He was from northern Germany. He asked me what was up with the shirt and whether or not I would explain the significance of it to him. I told him I was more than willing to do so, however I had a tendency to get a little animated and long-winded in the description, and if I were to do it right then we might as well have forgotten about training. I told him we had the whole week to talk about it and if he didn't mind we could do it later. He had agreed to this and we continued on with the training*. Now as he was sitting at the table next to us, he asked me about it again. I sighed and apologized once again. I was worn out and wanted like at least to eat before I got into the fluoride story. He accepted this patiently and we went on chatting about less exasperating topics.
*I told Daniel this after training and he quipped at me, "Woaaa! The Moore was able to keep his mouth shut about the fluoride talk! What's going on?" Ya fucker.
That is, until the topic of nuclear energy was brought up. Ironically enough, nuclear energy actually has quite a bit to do with the history of fluoride, but this change in topic was enough to derail us for the rest of the night from getting back to the fluoride topic. After the three melted-down reactors of Fukushima, one of which included MOX fuel*, I've got a fuse with roughly the duration of a Mighty-Mite firecracker when it comes to this topic. To make matters worse, Yuraj was taking the "nuclear good" side of things. This was enough for the chain reaction of my splitting atoms to reach critical mass.
*MOX is short for "mixed oxide". The mix here is a mix between normal uranium oxide and plutonium oxide. Uranium, as dangerous as it is, has nothing on the radioactive effects of plutonium, thus potentially making Chernobyl look like a joke compared to Fukushima.
The conversation began to heat up, mainly between me, Patrick, and Yuraj. It was one of the more interesting political debates I have ever had, not so much from the content itself, but from the language swapping. I spoke English fluently and German well enough to deal with the conversation, Patrick spoke German fluently and English well enough to deal with the conversation, and Yuraj spoke both German and English well enough to get by. This meant me speaking in English until I got too fast and too complicated and Patrick had to ask me to slow down, Patrick speaking too fast and too complicated in German until I had to ask him to slow down, and Yuraj asking both of us to slow down and intermittently saying words in Czech or Slovakian when he couldn't think of their English or German equivalents. The linguistic gymnastics aside, I was eventually able to gain control of the conversation and give my sermon on the evils of nuclear energy. It went a little something like this:
"...but with the disposal of the waste aside," said Yuraj in a broken mix of German and English, "there is no cheaper source of power than nuclear—"
"What?!" I shouted at him, wide-eyed and possibly drooling while I clutched my German beer, my other arm flailing about, "What in the hell are you talking about Yuraj? How can nuclear possibly be the cheapest energy source available?"
"It is! I have a engineer friend who works in one of the nuclear plants in the Czech Republic who told me about this." Ah yes, the ol' appeal to authority fallacy.
"Well I don't know what your friend has to say about it, but this is the way I've looked at it. I understand what you mean that nuclear is the 'cheapest' source of power, because when you look at the non-hidden costs, I'm sure it can seem that way. However when you're talking about nuclear, you have to look into the hidden costs. First of all, you do realize that uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, right? That means by the time the sun goes nova, half of our nuclear waste will have decayed. This basically means that the waste is here on the earth forever. Now because this stuff is so radically dangerous, that which isn't sold as ammunition material to the military and shot all over Iraq and Afghanistan has to be put into a military-guarded site and guarded until, well, forever."
I was, of course, gesticulating in my standard near-wild style and I'm sure making an ass out of myself, but I continued, "So the tax payer of the corresponding country that has to deal with these military sites are the ones who get stiffed with the bill. Second, how do you think these nuclear power plants are insured?" This got me some inquisitive looks from both sides of the table, as I'm sure it sounded like I was changing the subject, "No seriously. A power plant has to have insurance — any big industry like that couldn't possibly exist without a form of insurance. So who could possibly insure a nuclear power plant? Think of it this way: I'm a guy who wants to make a nuclear power plant and you're an investor. I come to you and say, 'hey! I've got this awesome idea for making energy. We boil water to make steam that turns turbines with this fuel which is one of the most dangerous materials to living organisms on the face of the planet. It has a tendency to undergo chain reactions and get out of control if we don't keep it under constant watch, which will poison the entire earth if it does get out of control, particularly the in hemisphere that the plant is located, leaving you, the investors, liable for each and every single person that happens to be damaged in that hemisphere. The plant will also create a waste that lasts until eternity and requires facilities with military-level (and thus military price) upkeep for that amount of time. Whaddya say?'" I know I'm not detailing it here, but at the beginning of the conversation Yuraj had been interjecting during most of my conversation at the beginning. I had his attention now.
"Of course you wouldn't invest in that! No one could possibly invest in that. The liabilities would be astronomical. So who insures it? The only thing that can insure it — the government! And of course, what do I mean when I say 'government'? The tax payers, of course. So that means the insurance, the nuclear waste facilities, the transport, the upkeep, and the cleanup are all subsidized. They all have the blood-money of the tax payers who have no choice but to pay for it. The cheapest energy source available? Indeed! What comes to you in your energy bill might look cheap, but what you pay in taxes and what all our children will pay in taxes sure make a difference."
After that everyone appeared to have had enough of political talk and the conversation moved on to less depressing subjects. When Daniel went to pay for our bills, I found that my tab was only 12 euros! I gave Daniel a 10 euro bill and he told me no to worry about the other two, which was great because now I was down to 5 euros — officially in the single digits. Luckily I had already bought myself some food that morning, but clearly there was no way I was going to have a enough money to hold myself out for the rest of the week. I wondered if Sabrina was able to find my bank account number and I wondered more worriedly if my bank for whatever reason had decided to self-destruct.
I was also wondering how to get back to Xiaoyou's place. Patrick offered me a ride — he appeared to want to talk more politics on the way. On the way out of the restaurant, the Austrian group was already waiting outside to go back to the training hall and one of the guys from the French group came outside. We all gave him a weird look as he picked up his jacket and began to put it on — it had a big German flag sewed into the sleeve. This soon went unnoticed as we realized he wasn't able to put the jacket on due to his shoulders being injured. One of us helped him get it on and Daniel asked him, "Damn man, what happened to the French?"
"Eh," he said, pulling his jacket on the rest of the way, "we lost the war."
With that I followed Patrick back to his car and we began the semi-perilous journey to finding my apartment of my couchsurfing host. This involved driving in a few circles around the city center before I recognized the grocery store I had shopped at that morning. I told him he could drop me off there and I made my way back to the apartment in the cold. I called Xiaoyou to let me in and when she came to the door, she said, "You know you can just ring the doorbell." I looked down at the wad of buttons next to the door and pointed at the one that looked the most likely. "Yea, that one." She said, then turned around and walked inside.
I jumped in the shower before she had a chance to ask me about the day. After moaning in relief of warm water for about 15 minutes, I came back out and told Xiaoyou about what I had done that day. It was fascinating to talk to her just to watch the way she interacted with me. Like she had done the night before, she would listen to me attentively when I spoke and the moment I quit talking, she would be absorbed into her iPad. However, now she seemed to notice the silence in the room and would ask me questions (often silly ones — "Doesn't doing martial arts make you short? I heard that doing martial arts makes you short."). It was hard for me to gauge what she was thinking but I eventually realized that she was genuinely interested in what I had done that day and what I had to say about it.
I asked her what time she had finally gotten up that morning and she told me 2pm.
"I sleep 12 hours a day when I don't have class in the morning." She explained. Great — did that mean she was going to be out cold for each morning to come, as well?
By this time I was absolutely giddy about the status of my bank account and I asked her if I could use her iPad — I was a bit reluctant as she seemed so attached to it. However, she didn't seem to have any problem with it and busied herself in the kitchen and the bathroom as I made my way through the Chinese interface and snail-speed internet. I checked my email and was elated to find that Sabrina had found my bank account number. I opened a new tab and I cringed with anticipation while I watched the loading bar squeeze its way past the URL only to find that the money had not yet reached my bank account. While this was indeed not a good turn of events, at least I was able to see that my bank account still existed and that the bank hadn't suffered some sort of critical existence failure.
With nothing left to do for the day, I decided to go to sleep. I was going to need it.