Your first ukulele jam: do’s and don’ts

Going to your first ukulele jam session may be a daunting experience if you go alone and don’t expect to know anybody there. Like crashing a stranger’s wedding party, you simply don’t know what to expect. If it’s a small jam session, you will feel like an intruder for it would seem that everyone else knows everybody there, except you. If it’s a large session, you might feel totally invisible and unwelcome.

What can you do to make your first ukulele jam an enjoyable experience?

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Getting to and from a ukulele jam session

If you are as fanatic about playing the ukulele as I am, getting to and from a jam session could be an issue if the venue is relatively far and inconvenient and if it’s the first time (in case you get lost). If the jam experience is worth it, you’d find an alternative way to get there to make it less painful and arduous. I’m always surprised when seasoned ukulele players drive more than an hour through rush hour to come to our weekly ukulele jam sessions. It’s not always easy to find parking in our area. The first time, they say they are curious. If they come again, it’s a compliment. We’re doing something right.

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Why are ukulele sales booming?

The only instrument that did not suffer a downturn in sales in London during the recent recession was the ukulele. The person who told me this has been researching ukulele clubs in the U.K. for her doctorate thesis. I have a hunch that it’s like chocolates during difficult times. People still want to reward themselves and feel good. The ukulele is that instrument. Am I right?

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Routine to reduce stress and uncertainty

Routine is good to reduce stress and uncertainty.

I am trying to get back into a routine, after nearly a month of living out of a suitcase and traveling across two oceans and a continent.

Because my job has little structure, it makes even more sense to induce some routine or mantra into my daily life. Setting limits, goals, and rules is the first place to start regaining control.

Step One:

Set rules that are easy to follow.


  • Go to bed by 9 pm so that it’s possible to wake up at dawn.
  • Walk to the office. Don’t drive.
    Today I finally found a short cut. I don’t have to trespass my neighbor’s yard anymore.
  • Get to the 7:30 am workout class on time. Do it 4 days a week: M, T, W, F.
  • Attend yoga classes 3 days a week: T, W, Th
  • Whenever I drive to the office and on weekends, go swim laps: Th, Sa, Su.
  • Practise piano.
  • Water the lawn at sunset everyday

Step Two:

Stick to the rules. Reward yourself when you do.

  • Call an old friend on the phone, skype, or Facetime
  • Write a blog post about something frivolous
  • Attend an event you’ve never been to before

Step Three:

Ward off temptation.

If you stick to the rules, you won’t get sidetracked by temptation or distraction.

3 things I dislike about long haul travel

Long haul travel is great except for three things: it takes time to …..

As much as I love to travel, there are several things I dislike about long haul travel.

First, it takes time to get ready.

Not only do you have to prepare for the trip, you also have to clear and clean up your home so that you can have a peace of mind while you’re gone. I’ve often made the mistake of hiding important documents for safe keeping only to forget where I’ve put them upon my return.

For my most recent trip, I had to pack the right clothes for the different weather: warm in Knoxville, possibly cool in Boston, cold in London, hot and dry in Davis, and variable in San Francisco. It was spring and the pollen forecast was important for hayfever sufferers. I carried sufficient antihistamines to ward off allergies that are nearly non-existent in Hawaii.

Second, it takes time to unpack after you return.

For the same reasons that it takes a long time to prepare for your trip, it will take time to unpack all that you’ve accumulated and attend to the backlog built up during your absence.

It took me a day to do two loads of laundry, clean the floor, and unpack my two suitcases. It took another day to review my snail mail, water the garden, and get myself back on track.

Third, it takes time to shed the weight you’ve gained during your travels.

What a paradox it is to gain weight while traveling! The lack of routine and exercise combined with the temptation of eating out all cause water retention and the build up of fat. On this trip, I attributed the weight gain to having to wear a lot of clothes to keep warm — and subconsciously having to consume more food to feel warm and comfortable.

So now I am on a strict regimen. I wake up by dawn. Walk to the office. Do the one-hour workout class. Yoga. Swim if possible. Eat often but little. Abstain from alcohol. Aim to lose 10 pounds.

If it takes 2 days to pack, 2 days to unpack, and 2 weeks to lose weight for a 4 week trip, I suppose it’s worth it. Oh — did I mention jetlag? Time to get over your jetlag?

Other than these three items, I could list a hundred things I love about traveling. I will save that for another blog post.

100,000 visitors to the Concertblog

100,000 visitors, full moon, and a return to London


How did this happen?

During my 12-hour sleep when the full moon travelled from the east to the west?

Why is 100,000 a significant number? Is it really time to celebrate?

My piano classes met for the last time this spring semester: a final exam that gave them confidence to perform well in the final recital.

Why is it that the pace seems so slow when the numbers are low? After some point, time seems to zip by. The difference between 99,000 and 100,000 seems miniscule compared to 1 and 1,001.

Why is that?

It’s been just over 4 years since I began blogging about our piano guitar duo’s adventures.

I’ve been yearning to write about other things: electric vehicles, the path to simplicity and nothingness, quenching desire, and changing oneself.

Many people have asked me,”How do you manage to make a living in paradise?”

I reply, “First you need to be able to let go. Start by getting rid of clutter. Lessening your load. Otherwise you can’t leave.”

Now I am returning to London where my memories live in the paintings on the walls, the second-hand furniture, the dishes that served many meals, and my boxes of books and knick-knacks.

Letting them go will be the final frontier. I will walk down memory lane once again, reluctant to part.

What money cannot buy in Taiwan

Even with the positive effects of globalization, it’s still not possible to get what you want where you are. Sometimes you have to travel elsewhere to be able to choose what you want at a better price than you can get where you live.

In Taiwan, it’s possible to eat very well for less than what it costs to buy a cup of coffee in the USA.

For lunch, we three ordered 4 dishes from an authentic Szechuan restaurant: tofu, greens, clam soup, and 3 bowls of Szechuan wontons (chao shou). The meal came with unlimited self-service white rice and sweet black jelly drink (xian cao, or hsian tsao, or translated literally, fairy grass). The bill was US $12.00.

In the early afternoon, I got a haircut for US $3.50 — just the cut, no shampoo or blow dry.

Later I ordered a small bowl of wonton noodle soup for about US $1.50 from an outdoor, roadside stall (hawker). It was so filling that I barely had room for papaya, pineapple, salt-water goose leg, steamed bamboo leaf parcel, and other small dishes (xiao cai; hsiao tsai) afterwards.

Yet, at the same time, an iPhone 4S costs about US $663 outright. SIM unlocked. It’s better to get such gadgets in the USA. Accessories, such as iPad and iPhone covers, on the other hand, are quite inexpensive and varied. I bought a nice iPhone 5 cover for a mere US$10 at a convenience store in Taipei.

The 2.5 hour coach ride from Taipei to Taichung cost me US $6.00 —- quite hard to believe.

My nondescript hotel in Taichung has all the amenities I need for the week: wireless Internet, shower, TV (though I don’t need this), clean bed & daily change of sheets and towels, shower, toilet, two mirrors. I can get boiling hot water or cold water from a dispenser in the hallway. It’s a 5 minute walk from my father’s home. How much? Less than US$ 25 per night.

The walk to my father’s home meanders through a shopper’s paradise of colorful assortment of shoes, clothes for all seasons, and other material goods. Sales range from 10% to 90% off. Everything is primed for “shop till you drop.”

Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold for someone who is not here to shop but to maximize the experience of one precious week for another year or more before I see my father again.

Travel & leave your world behind

There is something extremely liberating about being able to travel. Knowing that you can get away, whether it’s work-related (at someone else’s expense) or vacation-related (a well-deserved, hard-earned holiday), the change of environment and pace will allow you to gain a new perspective.

The journey begins when you book the ticket. Then you are mentally committed to going forward — you have to wind down, close shop, start the preparations for your absence, compose your auto-responder e-mail for the time you’re away, clean up, and pack.

In the 11 hours of getting onboard the plane, delight at getting two seats to myself, dosing off to the usual flight take-off, waking up to the smell of a cooked tray lunch, watching Korean movies between reading two consecutive days of the Star Advertiser (Hawaii newspaper), amid falling asleep and walking to the loo, I went through an amazing transformation.

I left behind the cough and headache of a two-week cold that accompanied a bottomless to-do list. Everyday I wrote a list of things to do for tomorrow. The next day I’d follow the list I wrote the day before so that my list would be finite. What I didn’t manage to finish that day, I’d carry over to the next day. Needless to say, my lists never ended. Neither did my cough.

Now sitting at this nice, clean, and naturally-lit Incheon Airport, I’m wondering why my cough has suddenly stopped. My headache has also stopped. Was it the 11-hour journey from Honolulu to Seoul? Or was it simply a need to have a vacation after so many weekdays and weekends of working for someone else?

Perhaps it’s simply not talking. Not rushing against a deadline. Or not having a list of things that must get done. [Or maybe it’s just the antibiotics and codeine-laden cough syrup taking their effect!]

Alas! Travel is only liberating for as long as the time I’ve set aside for it. In the background, a backlog of e-mails, voice mails, and expectations is building. Enjoy being a stranger in another world while it lasts!

Catch 22 or the circularity of concert touring

How do musicians book a concert tour? Do you wait until you get a concert before you book your flights or do you book your flights and hope that you’ll get concerts to cover the airfare?

How do musicians book a concert tour?

I should have asked the American singer/songwriter/pianist Rich Wyman when he was touring the Netherlands this past summer. I should have asked the South African composer/guitarist Derek Gripper when he toured Europe last autumn.

Continue reading “Catch 22 or the circularity of concert touring”

Music: a hobby or a profession?

I complained that I have to make enough income to show that it’s not a hobby. So far, the expenses are way too high. How can we say we’re professional musicians when it costs more to do it than to sit at home and do nothing?

Another way to look at it is to consider these activities as investment. They are necessary to scope the market.

I had an interesting conversation with our painter this afternoon. He has a portfolio career of teaching karate, sociology, and painting. Presumably being a sociologist pays the most. Karate keeps him fit. And painting? Whenever there is a demand for it.

As I’m doing my taxes right now, I complained that I have to make enough income to show that it’s not a hobby. So far, the expenses are way too high.

View in La Coruna, Spain in May 2009
View in La Coruna, Spain in May 2009

Last year, we went to Seville, Madrid, La Coruna, Ferrol, London, Paris, and Crete, not counting Venice, Florence, Rome, Dusseldorf, and Helsinki where I went without Robert.

Robert worked on a flamenco guitar project in Seville. We gave concerts in Madrid, La Coruna, and Ferrol. We went to London to check and relet my house. We took the train to Paris for a long weekend of inspiration. We spent a week in Crete, in an artist residency which culminated in an exhibition and concert in Brugge earlier this year.

We got a grant from a Dutch foundation and airfare from a Spanish electricity company for a concert.

The airfare enabled us to give the one concert (on the way) which actually paid us cash.

Airfare, accommodation, and living expenses were paid for the week in Seville, but no other income.

How can we say we’re professional musicians when it costs more to do it than to sit at home and do nothing?

Another way to look at it is to consider these activities as investment. They are necessary to scope the market.

Our painter said that he would most definitely get paid more if he was on a university payroll. But he could not conform. He preferred to freelance as a sociologist and accept the uncertainties of cashflow.

We too have to accept this income uncertainty if we want to be flexible. [See future blog about uncertainty and flexibility.] If there were an orchestra or an outfit or a conservatory or an institution that would hire us and pay us to do what we normally do, we would probably get paid more than our expenses.

Does such an institution exist? Pay us to fly to Seville, Madrid, La Coruna, Ferrol, London, Paris, and Crete?