Monday, 19 March 2012

Caxias, Judit and my fond farewell to Brazil.

Well, it's been a fairly hectic few weeks, and I can finally say that I am more settled than unsettled here in Melbourne. I've started my new job and have managed to arrive at work, looking somehow like I am comfortable in a suit and tie. The next few posts will cover how I got back home, before I try and get on with my NY resolution to keep this regularly updated.

My final week in South America was spent in the southern most part of brazil and saying my farewells to the churrascarias which were quite easily the highlight of my trips to the Portuguese empire, and enjoying the last of my caiparinhas.
The purpose of my final visit was not entirely culinary, rather it was to play in the caxias do sul open chess tournament which runs in conjunction with the grape festival every second year. Andre Boff did an extraordinary job running the tournament, and proved his commitment to high quality chess by backing up the previous appearance of elite GM Vassily Ivanchuk by attracting legend, and the worlds best ever female chess player GM Judith Polgar. Judith proved everything which has been said about her, that she truly is a Lady of chess. Regardless of the time, she was always willing to pose for an photo or sign an autograph, and quite memorably played a friendly game with a 4 year old entrant to the tournament. It would be amazing if Australia could somehow attract her to play down under.

Personally the tournament was a mixed success. After winning my first two games, I played quite poorly against former top 100 GM Giovanni Vasquez in round 3 and he beat me quite easily. Round 4 was an uncomfortable game in which I was always worse as black until the final position in which I had equalized, and was calculating to see if an exchange sacrifice would have been advantageous (it was equal, nothing more) when I looked at the clock and thought I had about 5 minutes left with my opponent 2. I continued calculating when suddenly my flag fell. I had misread the clock, (there were a variety of analogue clocks being used and this one was different to any I have seen in my life). As it eventuates, my opponent only had 15 seconds left, and i had thrown away the easiest of wins.
At this point I was feeling pretty poorly about the tournament, however I went on to win the remainder of my games and end upon 7/9 which was enough for =4th, which is quite pleasing in a field which had 10 GM's and several IM's, even if I didn't collect a 2400+ scalp.

This it turns out was only the beginning of my adventures of getting back to Australia (well chile also), but it requires another complete post to cover that.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dia de Australia - a Chilean Australia Day

Green and Gold Face-Paint... Tick, Great Australian Music.... Tick, Rediculous amounts of meat.... Tick, Green and Gold house decorations.... Tick.

Australia Day is one of my favourite days of the year. I realise that almost every year there is some controversy about whether or not Australia Day should have its name changed to "Invasion Day" or simply move the National Public holiday to a different day, but to me the 26th of January is a really important day on the calendar. 

After nearly 12 months abroad I have learnt a lot about what it means to be an Australian, and also given that I am regularly asked about Australian history, I have developed a much better knowledge of what has happened in the 224 years since colonisation.  I cannot, and will not condone the atrocities which were committed against the indigenous population of this country and really feel like that as a society we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that there is true equality between the "white" population and the traditional owners of the continent. 
That being said, I love Australia. I genuinely believe that the complete freedom of expression, generally high standard of living, and openness to each and every culture is something which is unique to our great country. Our history has some dreadful acts that have been condoned by previous governments, with "The Stolen Generation" being the most well known. There is nothing that any white Australian can say or do which will fix the broken families which were a result of government policy which was just inexcusably wrong. 
I think that one of the most important and signifcant days in recent Australian history was the 12th of February 2008, when Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the stolen generation for the previous governmental policy and for the lives which were ruined.

Despite my views mentioned above, I don't feel that they preclude me from celebrating the multitude of great achievements and noteworthy events which have come about throughout our history. To mention a few: the discovery of penecilin as a medicine, the work done by Mary McKillop, Frank Fenner's contribution to the eradication of Smallpox, Barry Marshall's cure for Ulcers, Terence Tao's contribution to Mathematics. Can you imagine life without the Combine Harvester, the inflatable aircraft escape raft and slide, the electric drill, latex gloves, the roller door, the photocopier, refrigeration, the pacemaker, Internet Wifi or the bionic ear (with the bionic eye on its way).  These discoveries and actions have improved and saved countless lives, and have played a very significant part in global development.

These things fill me with an immense feeling of pride and show that whilst we are a small population we have made and are continuing to make a global impact. These are the things which I celebrate on Australia day. I celebrate that we are a free, tolerant and unique nation and what it is we have achieved.

This Australia day for me was slightly different to previous years, although I at least tried to keep the general theme of the celebrations as I would have if I was in the Great Southern Land. Obviously it was not a public holiday here and so the post work celebrations kicked off with some of my Chilean mates arriving unusually punctually and the music starting. Great Aussie hits like "What About Me?", "Khe Sahn", "My Island Home", "I Still Call Australia Home", "I Come From a Land Down Under", "Back in Black" etc started to be belted out over a few beers, prior to the last 20 songs of the Hottest 100 were put on to countdown. A short while later, the meat went on the BBQ and the smokey aroma of Steak and Snags quickly permeated the apartment and quickly, delicious sausage sangas were being eaten.

I actually thought that I would really miss not spending Australia Day in Australia, but it was a real pleasure to share some of the things which I feel are important on Australia Day with my Chilean friends. It was a great night, and the fact that the Aussie's got up in the cricket made it even better. The apartment is still graced by the presence of the Green and Gold Balloons, and provided they don't become too limp before I leave I can see them being the last item taken down before I return down under.

I apologise for the delay between posts, as with all my other attempts at New Years resolutions, I appear to have failed after less than a month. Unfortunately, amongst work travel and trying to arrange my life to leave Chile by the end of this month I just haven't had time. Anyway.... enough of the excuses, next blog will hopefully be more timely!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Semi-Transparent Mirror

Like most people at around 11:55pm, December 31st, I hurriedly thought about what it was that I wanted out of the following year, and made snap decisions on the things in my life that I can improve upon or can change. Like most people, I also realized around 3 days later that it was a rather poor list and that I would never actually follow through on them, and to be honest had no desire to.

I did however, come up with a revised list of resolutions which I believe are things which I can attain this year, and will actually be beneficial to me. Looking through the semi-transparent mirror that is a combination of reflection and projection has meant that I have come up with a SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely) list of goals. They cover all aspects of my life and hopefully will assist me with looking back on 2012 with the same level of fondness that I viewed 2011.
For me, 2012 is shaping up to be really exciting. I will be returning home in the not-too-distant future, although exact dates remain uncertain and I am really looking forward to seeing family and friends again. 2012 is also however, inherently going to be a sad year. I had no idea when I arrived in South America how attached I would become to the place and my new friends. Saying goodbye to friends and family in February last year was difficult, but I knew that there was a deadline on when I saw them again. Leaving Chile however is not quite the same proposition, I truly want to see again my friends here who have made my time here such an incredible experience . Given the uncertainty in my future right now, I unfortunately am not sure when that will actually be. There is no way that I could have survived this year, let alone prospered personally as well as professionally if it wasn’t for the immediate friendship and support that I was greeted with at 10am on my first day. I hope that I see them again soon, but nonetheless I imagine that I will get emotional again, Fran will call me a little girl and I will sit on the airplane, wishing there was a way that I could stop time and spend a just a few days more on this wonderful continent.

Having said all of that, I am excited about the future and the prospect of living in Australia again, readjusting to life in my home country and seeing a game of AFL live. I am really looking forward to seeing what challenges and adventures 2012 brings, and my expectations for 2012 are extremely high, although as a Richmond supporter my expectations are always high in January.
Beat a Grandmaster – 2011 was the first time I drew with a GM, and I have recorded several victories against IM’s, 2012 will be the year for my first GM scalp.
Complete fluency in Spanish – I feel I am quite close, however a combination of vocabulary, and a devilish tense called the subjunctive are currently standing between me and being able to express myself in every context I want.
Get fit again – In 2010 I was in really good shape, but unfortunately due to a variety of factors I let that slip in 2011. Running or cycling every day and eating more healthily will be on the cards once my clothes and shoes return from the abyss that is Iberia’s luggage service.
I am going to maintain contact with my friends better – I made excuses throughout most of 2011 for not maintaining the level of contact with my mates that I should have. In 2012 there won't be excuses and will make sure that I stay in touch.
Get more organised – In the second half of 2011 my organisational skill improved significantly and I have been able to juggle more balls and maintain order in my life much better than in the past. I want this to continue, and am committed to having my life achieve a level of positive structure.
Post on my blog weekly – I started the year with a great deal of verve and excitement, and communicating this to the internet seemed like an excellent idea. However, once time started to become a little scarcer as other interests took over I got lazy and didn’t post for a long time.
Take up a new extracurricular past time – this is a little vague, but the possibilities include things like: learning an instrument, playing football again, taking creative writing classes, joining toastmasters (probably the frontrunner atm), martial arts or learning to dance.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Feliz Navidad, a reflection on the year past

Hi everybody,

It has been rather a significant while since i have had time to post anything, life has a way of just getting in the way of things such as what are generally rather self-indulgent musings.  In this post however, I would like to be relatively festive, unfortunately as I write this post, I am fighting off exhaustion after having endured 3 of the hardest days of my life, and so I ask your forgiveness if there is the slightest tinge of bitterness towards the airline that delivered me 30 hours late without my luggage.

Having said that, Christmas is a time for celebration, a time for family, a time for friends and a time for reflection on the year past.  As I write this, I am sitting on a couch, watching Mission Impossible with my best mate in London, and whilst my journey here has left more than a little to be desired, the important thing is that I have made it and will get to enjoy Christmas here.  I must give a big shout out and thankyou to Manuel and Brigitta who have been extremeloy hospitable and invited Dave and myself to celebrate Christmas with them.  Also, to Ian and Cathy who have allowed me to stay at their place in the 'Dam. 

After Christmas I will be off to spend some time in Germany with Lisa and her family prior to once again being in Amsterdam for nearly a week before work summons me back to the southern hemisphere.

I must admit that there is a tinge of sadness associated with this years christmas, as it will be the first time since Dylan was born that our family will be at all divided for Christmas.  Thankfully, modern technology, in particular Skype will mean that we get some degree of connection throughout our festivities.

Christmas has a way of making you only focus on those things which are really important and matter.  When I look back across the year, I know that there have been some horribly trying experience, with many challenges along the way, however I could not recount a single one.  The things I remember are those which I learned from, the friends I made, and the sights I saw.
Here are a few of my favourite memories from my year:

  • Rotorua - What a way to kick off the year, spending time with my best mates before I left the country.
  • First day in Chile - whilst a little Jetlagged, I remember the thrill of the adrenaliine coursing through my body in anticipation of the year ahead just after I put my foot on official chilean soil for the first time.
  • Dave, arriving in Chile
  • Going to Uruguay for Lunch,
  • Safari in South Africa
  • Winning my first quality adult chess tournament
  • July 8th /9th, depending on who you ask
  • Going snowboarding for ths first time
  • Speaking to Oliver Tickner on Skype for the first time
  • Seeing my parents at the JFK Airport
  • First steps on European Soil
Thus ends my nostalgic musings from 2011.  Thankyou to all my friends who have supported me this year, my best wishes to everybody and your familes for the festive season.  Eat too muchm, drink too much and don't let the Christmas Grinch get you down.
Finally, a very Merry Christmas to my Grandparents.  Hopefully that I have written a post will mean that you cut me some slack before I need to write a new one.\\

Friday, 29 July 2011

Brazilian Travel Diaries

After a week in Brazil, I have made it to the airport in preparation for my departure back to home.  The trip has been relatively busy, plenty of work but I have still had some time to get to absorb some of the beautiful Brazilian culture and to see some of the breathtaking landscape that this fantastic country has to offer. 

Day 1: Monday
The alarm went off a touch to early for my liking (3am), so I could get some excercise in before my flight, seeing as I figured that after a 6 hour flight, and a 2 hour drive I wouldn't be in any mood on my arrival to Brazil to hit a gym.  Mario, my ever reliable and friendly taxi driver successfully negotiated the Santiago early morning vaccuum of traffic and got me to the airport in time.
I was luckily pretty tired, and was able to grab a couple of hours of shut-eye on the plane before I watched "The Ugly Truth", to tell the truth I didn't really care what the movie was about, as soon as I saw it had Katherine Heigel in it, I wasn't interested in anything else ;)  Getting through customs was a breeze, after hearing some horror stories from friends who have had realy difficulties getting into Brazil I expected some trouble.  The only trouble I had was when I said "Bom dia"  I receieved a bombardment of rapid Portuguese, which I had no possibility of understanding.  After explaining that I only spoke Spanish, we had a delightful conversation in slow Portunol, before finally getting my papers stamped.
2 Hours later, my colleague and I arrived in Lorena, where we checked our emails, and made some plans to the following few days.
That night, I had my first parmagiana since leaving Australia - the deliciousness of a schnitzel that was so tender it was able to be cut by a spoon along with the rice and salad was great. 

Day 2 - Lorena
Tuesday was a pretty busy day, exclusively work before going to a nice and quaint little restaurant in the township where I had a nice steak, followed by probably my favourite desert - Creme de Papaya, a puree'd papaya and ice-cream dish with a blackberry (I think) liquor.  I will make sure that I bring the recipe back home, its amazing!

Day 3 - Lorena
Once again, a day at the office and then a brief nap before trying to get in touch with my new graduate friends to see if we could meet up for a beer.  Alas not, so I grabbed a quiet one on my own before having a rather delicious Sushi dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Day 4 - Lorena-Rio De Janeiro
Once again, another early morning start - however this time, it was to prepare for the long drive from Lorena to Rio de Janeiro.  The drive is rather spectacular, particularly early in the morning with the fog rolling over the hills/mountains as you drive past.  A few business stops at vendors along the way broke the drive up sufficiently and it was nice to meet people whom I had heard about but hadn't actually had the chance to meet yet.  Our arrival into Rio however was easily the highlight for me, the outskirts are extremely interesting, with a lot of extremely poor areas which don't have power or water and are quite dangerous (to the extent that traffic cameras solely operate as extra street lighting at night... nobody actually stops).
There are effectively two cities in Rio located right next to each other.  There is the poor side of the city, and then the rich areas - these two dicotomies are located immediately adjacent, and its as though there is a line drawn through the landscape which defines them.  One side you have nice new buildings, and on the other is rather obvious poverty.

Day 5 -Rio de Janerio - Santiago
Today, I am currently in the airport after another early start.  This time however, it was totally self inflicted.  I decided that given I was staying at Cobacobana beach I should take the opportunity to go down for a sunrise and drink a coconut for breakfast.  Whilst it wasn't quite what I was hoping for, in that the sun rose from behind some hills to the left of the beach (looking out across the water) It was still a magnificent site and I cant believe I was one of so few people out there!  Hopefully there will be a next time, so that I can go around to Flameingo and get a pproper sunrise, and find the time to get to the Sao Cristobal (La Cristi - as the locals call it... we know it as the Giant Jesus).

Anyway, hopefully my flight isn't delayed any further and I will get back to Santiago only slightly later than planned.  Boa Tarj amigos!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Confusion reigns supreme in South America

I like to think of myself as a reasonably sharp individual, and so consequently when I get completely and utterly confused by something it really throws me.
Speaking a second language however, it happens every single day - especially when it comes to grammar and sentence structure.  For example, my self-proving attempt to say "I undertsand Spanish better than I write it" which was "Yo entiendo español mejor que me escribo".  It turns out it should be "Yo entiendo español mejor que lo que escribo" (direct translation is "I understand Spanish better than it that I write")  which I just couldn't work out how to get it.... I am sure there is a rule around it, and I understand the idea of using "que" as a comparison word - but using it twice in the one sentence is really difficult for me to understand.
What it did do though was make me think about things which have confused me, or do confuse me.
  • How the flag on the moon blew in the moon landing video.  I'm not one of those conspiracy freaks, and I think it was genuine... I just am puzzled by it.
  • How something can be New & Improved... surely if it is improved, it isn't new and vice versa!?  If it is new, it hasn't been improved upon yet?
  • How a fat chance and a slim chance are the same thing?
  • Why do our noses run, yet our feet smell?
  • The difference between Bueno and Bien.  I have decided it is similar to the difference between nice and well.  However, thinking about it "good" is an equally difficult word to understand in English.. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother from 1km away, I would say he is a good shot.... just not a good person
  • Why the QWERTY keyboard was designed the way it was.  Look I understand the history that the keyboard with the letters in an alphabetical order resulted in extremely rapid typing on type writers, and combined with common letters (e & d, t and s etc) being close together resulted in lots of jammings of typewriters,  What I don't understand is why the letters "d" and "f", along with "r" and "t" have to be so close to each other.  I will never again write in an email "I am just ducking off somewhere" of "Regards, Tristan"
  • 99% fat free.  What is 99% fat free, how big is the original amount??  I sincerely hope that 1L of milk is has less than 1% fat.  1% of 1L of milk is about 10g of fat...
  • Who decided to drink milk?  Did they try a bull as well??
  • Why are women crazy about Russell Brand?
  • Why companies insist of using voice recognition, and if you fail to speak in the way it expects... for example Spanish with an Aussie accent, it hangs up on you.
  • Why do you use artificial flavouring in Lemon Juice, yet real lemons in detergent?
  • If firefighters fight fire, whats the go with freedom fighters?
  • The concept of "assassination", at what point does the person become too important to have been murdered?
  • Best before dates and Used by dates... whats the difference, how long after best before can I keep it before it becomes poisonous!?
  • Predictive text... particularly on the Iphone... at what point did somebody decide that automatically correcting words without asking was what we wanted.  On a slight aside, I'd be interested to know if Aunt is the most used word texted using 2868.
  • Why does the MCG has a smaller capacity than 20 years ago after all the developments??
  • Why, given that break is square - is all sandwich meat round?
  • If I get asked a "Penny for my thoughts" and I "Give my two cents worth", where does the other penny go?
  • How come man walked on the moon before we got wheels on luggage?
  • Why, in all fridges is there a light.... but never one in the freezer???
  • Why do doctors call what they do "practice"?
  • Why do people stick pistols down the front of the jeans?  If I was to get shot, heaven forbid, outside of a fatal wounding I know where I would want to get shot least.
  • Why is the sporting team that polarises opinion the most, almost always the team that wears Black and White?
  • At what point did we decide to drink coffee that had been digested by animals?
  • Given the idea that bright colours generally mean danger in nature, how did we end up with a garden salad with lettuce, cucumber, cucumber (red, yellow and green), carrots and tomato?
Hopefully some of you have answers to these questions.. bonus points if you can tie in the number 42!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cause? There is no cause for this. What cause?

One of my favourite scenes from a movie is the scene in the Matrix Reloaded, when they meet the Merovingian and discuss finding the Keymaker.  The Merovingian discusses his love for everything French, the wine, the language (in particular how sexy it is to curse in French), and proceeds to go on a philosophical rant about causality.   After having watched the movie recently, it made me ponder further the concept of causality, and specifically choices which I have made throughout my life, and some critical momentswhich have strongly influenced where I am now.

If I was to travel back in time 10 years, to when I was 15 years old, have a chat to myself and tell him/me that most of my closest friends are chess players, that to this day I continue to study chess, and that I travel a lot to play in tournamnets, I'm sure that the younger me would think that my life had taken a majorly wrong turn somewhere along the line.  The truth is, that nothing could be further from the truth... The fact is that I am extremely happy, and through Chess I have had numerous wonderful experiences and a large portion of my precious memories have come through chess tournaments or with friends I have made through chess.  I am extremely lucky to have had a hobby play such a big part in my life for as long as I have, and for it to have had such a profound influence on me.  But the question I asked myself, how did I actually get to this point?

My mum tells me that she taught me to play chess at a young age, but (sorry mum) unfortunately I don't remember it.  In fact, my first memory of Chess was when I was in primary school, and had been on the receiving end of regular kickings by my classmates in the schoolyard.  One day, the school principle came and grabbed me and said he would like to show me something in the school library.  He took me into the "restricted" section of the library - normally (from memory) it was where the teachers would take select groups from classes to watch documentaries, etc.  Anyway, it turned out that at lunchtimes on some days the chess club met to practice.  I played the school board number 1, and although I was relatively soundly beaten I remember bragging afterwards that I captured three "prawns".  I was then allowed to play another relative newby and was able to win, and thus was my addiction born.  To me, this is the first of what I believe are the critical moments in my life - I went on to become absolutely infatuated with the intricacies of chess and went on to play at a high level for my school team, and later in several junior national championships.  I was extremely fortunate to have the parents which I did, where I was given unending support, never wanting for anything (outside of a structured program that wasn't available in SA) in my chess development... and most importantly, they never put the same pressure on me which I have seen, and continue to see applied to chess kids these days.  I am forever grateful that I never needed to play chess, or needed to play well, and at all times have been allowed to play the game purely because I love it.

The second of these turning points came in late 1997 - I had gone through a series of ravens tests, literature reviews, mathematical tests and interviews as part of the applications for the SHIP program.  I remember vividly one morning, my parents sat me down on the couch, and all serious said "Tristan, we need to speak to you about something".  I had no idea what was going on, and remember thinking that there was something seriously wrong - a family member was sick, I was in serious trouble, Matthew Richardson was retiring.  My parents, however couldn't control their excitement for too long and told me that I had been accepted into the program, and I would be starting at Glenunga the following year - the feeling of excitement which I felt is still one of the biggest highs of my life.  The opportunity to be in a class full of Students with High Intellectual Potential was extremely exciting, however looking back on it - I am undecided on the merits of the idea.   Whilst my academic education never wanted for anything, and I was continuously intellectually challenged, the idea of putting a group of intellectually gifted, yet mostly socially lacking children into the same classroom tends to leave some rather large emotional gaps.  I was fortunate in that I was able to kill a couple of years at the end of high-school to allow my emotional development to catch up a touch before I headed to University.  Whilst I don't think, given hindsight, I would repeat the acceleration of high-school (certainly not to the same extent) I made some wonderful friends along the way, had some fantastic experiences, and who knows how my life would have been without the opportunity I was afforded.
During highschool my chess interest had waned, and was basically only playing school chess when in 2003 the school team won the state championship.  As a result I ended up going to Brisbane and playing for Glenunga at the national championships, where I had life-changing-moment number 3.  I met two guys, who I thought at the time were nice enough, but certainly didn't anticipate how integral they would end up being to my life.  These two young gentlemen were playing board 1 also for their respective states (Queensland and the ACT) and both gave me rather sizeable pastings.  I remember that after my game against Dave, during the analysis he told me that I should go to Sydney to play in the Australian Juniors.  Unfortunately, this didn't end up happening, however this tournament was the inspiration for me to returning seriously to the Chess scene.  Once again, something which in the grand scheme of things seems to be a relatively insignificant event, I didn't win, no amazing event, yet without it, few years later in Dave Fitzy and would not have ended up being the good friends that we are, and my life would have been all the poorer for of it.

Each of these moments have had significant flow-on affects to my life, and are part of the river that is my life.  I have found it fascinating, speculating about what would have happened if any of these potential forks had been different, the possibilities really are endless as to how my life could have evolved if the school didn't have a chess team, or the principle didn't introduce me to it etc.  Ultimately however, I do know that if any of these moments were removed from my life, my life would be significantly poorer for the absence of any of the experiences I have had and friends I have made.

The final moment I have decided has been critical to my life is a lot more recent - the phone call telling me I was being offered the job here in Chile.  There is no way I can not include this in the list of moments which have had a defining influence in my life, and I am extremely excited about what I am going to attribute to it in 5 years time when I look back on it.  Given the way this experience has shaped me already in the first four months, I have this feeling that there is no way for me to possibly predict where I will be when I review it in 5 years time.... I do know I am looking forward to the journey!