An Unexpected Exercise Regime

A ballroom dancing couple. Illustration by Dav...
A ballroom dancing couple. Illustration by David Göthberg & Co, Sweden.  Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My exercise of choice used to be Ballroom Dancing. I loved moving my body to the sound of music and thrilled in my ability to move gracefully across the dance floor. I spent hours with my dance partner perfecting the movements of the dance; and spent many hours with a high impact aerobics instructor in order to be “dance fit”. My aim was to compete in five dances, one after the other, and make it seem effortless. I could not imagine exercising without moving to the rhythm of music.

Fifteen years later I have had two children and dancing has become a part of my “before-children” phase. A firm believer in the benefits of exercise for growing children, I have walked my children to swimming lessons, skating lessons, and (on request) Tae Kwon Do (TKD) lessons. Each week I have taken them to our local community centre so that they can get their weekly quota of exercise in order to grow physically strong.

In January of this year, my husband and I decided our girls needed more marshal arts training than they were getting at the community centre. They needed to take the sport seriously and learn to perfect their form. We enrolled them in a TKD dojang (school) and have seen them blossom under the tutelage of their new Master and instructors.

But what about me? I fell into the trap that many mothers fall into: the trap of looking after the health of the family and not my own. My exercise regime suffered. My own physical activity consisted of walking my daughters to their lessons; and trying, sometimes successfully, to follow a DVD at home early in the morning before the household awoke. No longer was I exercising for up to 2 hours a day. Instead, I have watched my children partake in their lessons, praised them and encouraged them, watched physical activity from the sidelines. I have felt proud of my children’s achievements and progress, and celebrated with them each small success.

“What about mum?” the TKD Master asked me one day after a lesson. “You are here, try it.” She encouraged me to join in, noticing that I often watched with interest the participants in her class. “Maybe you will like it. It will help you with your weight, and give you energy to be with the kids.” (She knew I am a teacher of young children). I knew on some level that I was neglecting my own physical fitness but, secretly, I hoped to one day dance again. Realistically I knew that it would not happen for a long time, not while I had children dependant on me to take them to their physical activities. And in the meantime? I gained weight, and lost the fitness that I once used to enjoy. I decided to take the Master up on her challenge and join the other adults I had watched exercise with their children.

Four months ago I donned the white uniform of the TKD student. As I tightened my white belt around my waist, young voices of encouragement echoed in my mind: “You can do it mommy! I know you can!” The voices of the instructors joined those of my children as they encouraged me to do sit-ups, push-ups, and even cartwheels.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
The Tae Kwon Do uniform. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I will not tell a lie and say that the classes were easy. I am not supple and struggled to even touch my toes. My heart beat races after the first few minutes of cardio. Often during the class I am left breathless as I strive to keep up with those fitter and younger than me. And yet … I revel in the aching muscles and physical fatigue that helps me sleep at night. I welcome learning movement again albeit without the sound of rhythmic beats. I am learning slowly to master the movements, the exercises and patterns, the Korean terms.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
Attaining the TKD yellow belt. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I felt pleased when I attained my next belt and wore the colour proudly. My children helped me learn the new patterns, and I practised a little each day when I woke up. I have slowly begun to feel stronger – certainly the muscles in my legs are getting firmer. I am surprised at how many push-ups I am now able to do (I can now do more than one!). I have reached my toes in the stretches and am now working on touching my head to my knees. I enjoy the camaraderie of the classes and still watch in admiration those who have attained a higher belt.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013
Testing for orange belt. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

I have just completed the test for my orange belt and feel I am now on a TKD journey. Each time I tie my belt around my waist, not only am I showing that I have attained the next level and am committed to this marshal art, but also that I have made a commitment to my own physical exercise and well-being. And the next best thing? I am exercising with my children – both in the classroom, and when we practise together at home.

Have you ever fallen into an unexpected exercise regime?

(This post was inspired by the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

My Work Day Begins

I approach the large double doors and open them, stamping my feet to remove the snow clinging to my boots. As I enter the corridor and move towards my room I take off my hat and gloves, grateful to be out of the cold and bracing morning air. I stand in front of the cream-coloured door, rummaging in my bag to search for my keys. Ah, found them! Unlocking the entrance to my domain, I feel the warmth welcome me. Thankfully I shrug off my coat and sweater. I am not too enamoured of the clothing we wear mid-winter because, as my children say, “we feel like snowmen!”

I look down at my desk covered with papers to correct, photocopies for the week, and my daily plan. I zero in on what I have prepared for today, noting the daily message. Walking over to the white board, I pick up the black marker and begin: “Aujourd’hui c’est mercredi le ….”  I think of my assistant of the day who will read what I am currently writing: a six year old with wispy blonde hair and the enthusiasm of a child eager to please. I am hoping she will be able to read the words we have been learning this week: regarde, les yeux, la vue.

Once the morning message is up, I make sure the disc is in the CD player ready for when we sing our songs. Currently we are learning the vocabulary for body parts and I always savour the enjoyment I see on twenty faces as they sing the French version of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”.  I look around the classroom decorated with posters detailing grade one vocabulary. The bright colours are a comfort to me, assuring me that this space is conducive to the journey of discovery my students are on. I check that all the activities needed today are ready: the necessary books, papers, and cards in the orange and red coloured boxes (red for “arrete, pas fini” and orange for completed tasks). Crayons, markers, scissors and glue sticks adorn the tables; all set neatly in their place and ready to be used.

The bell rings and a few minutes later the chatter, clatter and noise of children enter the building. Backpacks are hung on hooks, jackets unzipped, boots kicked off and snowpants pulled off. Red-cheeked children enter the room through the doorway I had opened half an hour ago.  “Bonjour Madame!”

“Bonjour les enfants.”

And so my day begins.

Where do you spend your day?

(This post was inspired by the folks at WordPress and the Weekly Writing Challenge.)

Starting Over

When I hear the phrase “starting over”, I automatically think of scenarios such as these:

  • Beginning afresh after a broken relationship (whether it be divorce or a long-term relationship); 
  • Beginning anew on a project when an idea does not work (ah, the frustration!);
  • Putting one’s life together after the death of a loved one (parent, spouse, child);
  • Learning to live again after a serious accident (especially if one’s physical or mental capacity has been affected).

One scenario I never used to think of, was the experience of immigration or relocation to another country. I certainly did not do so when my husband and I spoke of leaving the country of my birth. We thought of moving to a place we believed would give to our children the experiences we wanted them to have. When we filled in the application forms and paid over the money requested, we did not think of the specific experiences we may have in the land of our choice. Our knowledge and expertise were wanted; and we were eager to change where we lived on this earth. We realised that we would have to “move house”, sell and give away our possessions; but we did not realise the extent of the change we would have to experience. 

English: Toronto Pearson Airport – Terminal 1 ...
English: Toronto Pearson Airport – Terminal 1 seen from the tarmac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We landed at Pearson Airport full of optimism and hope, certain that our experience here would soon lead us into a life similar to the one we had left behind: similar and yet with the knowledge that we would be living in a more secure society. What we did not know was that we would be starting over in more ways than one. Not only would we need to create a new home in another hemisphere, or start over with a new company in the workplace; but we would also need to start over with our careers.

Koeksuster, jou lekker ding.
Koeksuster, jou lekker ding. (Photo credit: Phil Massyn)

Moving the family to another country has brought along with it many learning curves.  We have had to learn the bureaucracy here (very quickly so that we could get through the required paperwork!). We have had to learn how to use the public transport system (coming from a city that has an almost non-existent one, this was a pleasure). We have had to find where the supermarkets are, the post office, the libraries, the schools, the doctors and the dentists. We have had to learn new roads, and new ways of understanding directions. We have had to relearn the language (even though we could speak English, our accents are different; as well as our terminology). Jersey became sweater; pavement became sidewalk; mielie became corn; and the words biltong and koeksusters were no longer used. “Ah, siestog!” a South African may say. And yes, it is a shame as we can no longer eat the foods I had grown up with and loved.

What has been the hardest for both my husband and me, has been starting over in our profession. After the process of being certified and doing courses to make me more eligible for hiring here, I have had to start at the bottom. My previous years of experience in another country are seen as nothing. When I walk into a school, the experience I have under my belt is ignored and I am treated as a first year teacher. Bit by bit, week by week, I need to climb up once again – just as I did when I was 23 years old and fresh out of university. The difference now is that I am older, my hair is greyer, and I am myself now a mom. I sigh in frustration when others tell me what I know: that the job of a teacher never ends, that doing report cards is stressful, that there are never enough hours in the day to help the children reach their full potential. And I smile slightly to myself when I realise that even though I am treated as a first year teacher, I will never reach the number of years required before retirement. It is my age that will determine that time of my life; not the number of years I have worked as a teacher in this country.

Now when I hear the phrase “starting over”, I add one more scenario to my imagined list. I add the realisation that at times beginning once again can exceed any expectation I may have of what it means. I have had to adapt to my new surroundings; and I have had to accept that in starting over in a new country, I started over in more ways than one.

What “starting over” experience have you had that led to more than you bargained for?

(This post was inspired by the writing challenge prompt issued by WordPress)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words…

The prompt this week for the Weekly Writing Challenge is this photograph: 

The day was meant to be one of celebration. The marriage of his youngest brother to his sweetheart had all the components of the fairytale love story: two young people who had overcome all the obstacles that had been put in their way to finally join together in commitment to one another.

Eric felt no reason to celebrate. His recent experience had made him feel cynical towards the sacrament of marriage. His wife, the mother of his children, had decided two months ago that the commitment required of marriage and of raising children was not what she  wanted. She had left him stranded with two young children who did not understand why their “mama” was no longer at home to care for them and to love them. It was difficult for him to celebrate the first blush of love when he was daily worn down with the cynicism of a love lost.

As they were leaving home, Eric’s neighbour offered to take a photo. “Not often we see you all dressed up to the nine’s!” A quick photo to capture the moment; and to capture the time of unhappiness and discontent. Pulling the children with him by the hands, Eric walked silently to the church around the corner. There was no avoiding the stained smiles, and the hushed whispers. It was time, not only to wish his brother well, but also to face the sympathy of family members and friends.

What do you see when you look at this photo?

(This post has been inspired by the folks writing at The Daily Post. Visit them to see what responses others have made to their prompt). 

A Dance Memory

.. I missed breakfast, bah.
A cup of tea with a biscuit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tea had been made and poured into dainty cups. I carried the tea tray through to the living room, placing it on the table in front of the sofa we always sat on. My grandmother favoured the spot in the sunlight as it warmed her during the cool winter days. I enjoyed the spot as the sun shone on her face, highlighting her smiling face. I passed a cup to her, with the “p’tit biscuit”. After helping herself to a spoonful of sugar, she sat back comfortably and began stirring her tea. I settled in next to her, ready to spend hours in the company of someone I loved very much. I enjoyed this weekly visit to my grand-mere: I discussed my concerns with her and shared my joys. She told me of hers; and took me into the past and a life experience that no longer exists.

Rhythm, a sequence in time repeated, featured ...
An early moving picture demonstrates the waltz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a mild winter’s day when she took me to a balmy Saturday evening in Mauritius. Men and women had dressed up for the evening. The men, she told me, looked handsome in their suits – no jeans and t-shirts for this evening’s attire! The women were dressed to the nines as well: hair done up in the style of the day, and bodies enveloped in beautiful dresses. It was the weekly dance: the band was playing and couples were dancing on the floor. Everyone knew how to dance: the waltz, the foxtrot, the quickstep. The band played the rhumba and cha-cha as well. My grand-mere reminisces on the dance card she had, a card that was always full. “I was a good dancer and everyone wished to dance with me.” The smile on her face told of fond memories and pleasant experiences.

“So different from today,” I said to her. “Nowadays no-one knows how to dance – the men seem to avoid dancing and moving to music. Ah, I would have loved to have been there: listening to the sounds of the band, and moving to the rhythm of the music with someone who knew how to dance.”

We moved away from the past and back to the present. Our journey into the past would occur the next time we met. I remember leaving her that afternoon thinking about how beautiful she must have looked when she was 17 years old. And how gracefully she must have danced for her dance card to be full. Now I think back to the times when my grand-mere took be back to the past and smile. Smile because I am thinking of the past, a past which was made richer during my weekly visits with the matriarch of my family.

(This post was a response the the Weekly Writing Challenge posted by the Daily Post. This week we were challenged to try something different.  It was more difficult than I thought to write down a memory of a visit with my grandmother. I can only hope that with practice I will better be able to capture the moment with words.)

A Reflection on the Occupy Movement

Occupy movement gathering at St. Paul's..19.11...
Occupy movement gathering at St. Paul’s..19.11.2011 (Photo credit: wheelzwheeler)

I have never really understood Economics: the ways in which it works and what drives the economy of a country. All I know is what I have observed and experienced from the time I was able to understand that not everyone has the same financial opportunities. It seems to me that often one’s financial success in society is determined by the financial class into which you are born: if a person is born poor, it is rare that the experience of poverty is left behind; if a person is born into a wealthy family, the experience of wealth is a shield that protects from want and lack of financial independence.

The Occupy Movement wishes to change the economic structure of our current society: a society which seems to encourage the divide between those who have, and those who have not. The vision of having a society in which all have what they need, seems to me to be a worthwhile one. Why should our society encourage the current financial divide; why should our lives be driven by the nebulous process of economics? I admire the vision; and the desire of those who uphold the vision.

Cochin, India
Cochin, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But is this vision feasible? Our society is driven by Capitalism; and as such driven by the profit and loss of ventures. In their desire to increase the profit margin, companies and their CEOs do not concern themselves with the livelihood of the people they employ. Or the exploitation of the people they use. All they concern themselves with are the figures they will see on their balance sheets. Many of the Big Businesses have affected small business as well as other aspects of our lives. Agriculture comes to mind: no longer are individual farms feeding us. Instead, all have been absorbed into the Big Business of Agriculture: a conglomerate that affects the foodstuffs we buy as well as the way in which it is grown.

I question whether the vision of the Occupy Movement is achievable within the framework of Capitalism – which by its very nature encourages economic inequality in our society: in order for someone to profit, someone needs to receive less. In order for the Protest to have more meaning than just words and encampments in parks, it seems to me that those driving the movement need to think of feasible ways in which their vision can be implemented. A game plan needs to be created to give the movement a direction to move towards. Otherwise the movement that began with a gusto may fizzle out and gently become a part of our history.

What are your thoughts on the Occupy Movement?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Blogging

The harsh sound of the alarm clock pierces the silence. Soon after, the soft tread of padding feet follows with a faint creak of the door closing. Five minutes later, the computer hums to life with a faint beep. Light shines from the screen and the sound of tapping keys breaks the silence. Dawn lights up the sky and the soft cooing of pigeons are heard. The tapping keys continue. What is in the mind is slowly being transferred onto the computer screen, uninterrupted and without pause.

filedesc http://www.epa.gov/win/winnews/images...

It is early morning and I have risen early to write my daily blog post. I prefer the early silence of the day so that I can type my thoughts quickly before the responsibilities of the day begin. This is my time alone, my “me” time that experts are always telling moms to take. I do not spend it at spas, or at coffee shops with other women. I do not spend it in the shopping malls, or in the pub. Instead I spend it alone with the clatter of the keyboard and the quiet of dawn. It is an activity I take satisfaction in: I get to write; and I get to make connections with like-minded people all over the world.

Each day I take note of the sights and sounds around me, aware of what may be of interest to my readers. The thoughts that run through my mind are unheard: thoughts that are later translated into words. Hopefully when my post is read, some sound will be emitted from the reader. A sigh, a giggle, a swift shake of the head. I know that often I make sounds of agreement, disagreement, or delight when I am reading the posts of others.

The sound of blogging may not be as loud as a thunderstorm; and it may pass by unheard by many. It is a sound, though, that I revel in. A sound that begins my day and brings a smile to my face.

What does the sound of blogging mean to you?

(Join me and participate in the Weekly Writing Challenge created by Wordpress. The link to this week’s challenge is here.)

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012