A great Chinese exercise for everyone, on land or at sea

A great Chinese exercise for everyone, on land or at sea

Several years ago, my interest in Chinese philosophy and healing led me to pingshuai, a simple hand-swinging exercise (pictured above being demonstrated by Yao Huai-Ying on the far left). This basic form of qigong was developed by Master Lee Feng-San Sifu of the Meimen Qigong Culture Center in Taipei. It is designed to improve the circulation of qi or vital life force, which is the central underlying principle in Chinese traditional medicine and martial arts.

Pingshuai is easy to learn; does not require any equipment; can be performed indoors or outdoors by young and old alike; and takes as little as 10 minutes. For maximum benefit, the exercise should be performed daily. There are a few important things to keep in mind, as I have found out, when doing any qigong exercise:

• wear comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes (barefoot is okay)

• wait for one hour after a meal and 30 minutes after a snack before doing the exercise

• focus on what you’re doing (don’t watch television or use your smartphone during the exercise)

• synchronise breathing and body movement

Practitioners of pingshuai swear by its many health benefits. One does not have to take their word for it. The best way is to try it. As the French physician and Enlightenment philosopher, Julien Offray de La Mettrie, said: “Let us then take in our hands the staff of experience… To be blind and to think that one can do without this staff is the worst kind of blindness.” (L’Homme Machine, 1748

Disclaimer: I have no connection with the Meimen Qigong Culture Center in Taipei or any wellness centre for that matter. I am sharing the foregoing information about pingshuai in the hope that it would benefit the readers of Marine Café Blog. Always seek the advice of a doctor before starting any qigong regimen, especially when you have any medical condition.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Sign of the times: captains criminalised for sea rescues

Sign of the times: captains criminalised for sea rescues

The noble tradition of saving lives at sea, which British engraver Henry Edward Dawe depicted in his 1832 print They’re Saved! They’re Saved! (pictured above), is under attack. This year, two German captains of rescue vessels operating under the umbrella of Sea-Watch were thrust into the limelight. They were arrested by Italian authorities, accused of breaking Italy’s laws against illegal migration and aiding human traffickers.

Pia KIemp

Captain of rescue vessel Iuventa. Boat detained in August 2017 after entering Italy’s island port of Lampedusa. Klemp is accused of aiding illegal migration and could face up to 20 years in prison plus “horrendous fines”. Read more about her case herePhoto credit: Ruben Neugebauer / Sea-Watch.org (shared under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

Carola Rackete

Captain of rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3. Arrested on 29th June 2019 for helping illegal migrants. Held for several days after the ship with 40 rescued migrants hit an Italian police speedboat whilst entering the port of Lampedusa. Freed from house arrest by an Italian court and returned to Germany. Read about her release here. Photo credit: Paul Lovis Wagner / Sea-Watch.org (shared under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

That both captains have been hailed as heroes by some and condemned as criminals by others is in itself telling. It shows how deeply divided Europeans are on the migrant issue. Just as important, it brings to the fore the conflict between national interests and universal human values.

Alessandra Vella, the Italian judge who ordered Carola Rackete’s release, said the captain did not break the law and was carrying her duty to protect life. Her ruling was in complete consonance with international law and maritime tradition. However, it has not softened Italy’s stand on migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean sea into Europe from North Africa. Refugee boats and rescue vessels are still barred from entering Italian territory.

Can the Italians be blamed? The country has been flooded with illegal migrants. Frustration and anger are swelling over the European Union’s failure to work out a unified policy that would stem the tide. Anti-migrant sentiment is on the rise, not only in Italy but in a few other EU countries. Italy’s populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has become its rabid voice.

A maritime tradition subverted

These are sad times indeed. Rescuing people at sea who are in distress or face imminent death is a time-honoured tradition in the maritime world. It is a moral duty sailors are bound to uphold even during times of war. It matters not if the person needing help is an enemy. All human lives are precious.

Canadian frigate SWANSEA’s seaboat alongside as U-boat survivors are helped out of the sea and on board the frigate, 1944 (left). One of the U-boat survivors, still dazed, rests on the deck as his sea soaked clothes are stripped off by men of the SWANSEA (right). Photos and captions courtesy of the Imperial War Museums, UK

Those who argue that the actions of Captains Klemp and Rackete have encouraged more illegal migration and aided the Libyan human traffickers are missing one important point. The flood of migrants is a direct result of the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya which led to the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the subsequent chaos in that country. The death of thousands in the Mediterranean sea is a European-made catastrophe. The problem won’t be lessened by criminalising ship captains who seek to protect lives.

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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The joy of childhood and the sea celebrated in art

The joy of childhood and the sea celebrated in art

Les enfants n’ont ni passé ni avenir, et, ce qui ne nous arrive guère, ils jouissent du présent. (Children have neither past nor future, and, that which hardly happens to us, they rejoice in the present.)

~ Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères (1885)

What has happened to childhood? Many of today’s urban children spend their weekends inside shopping malls or playing video games at home, sometimes for hours on end. Their world has literally shrunk. They should be outdoors — romping about the gardens, flying kites and paper planes, biking along grassy paths, or playing at the beach. The latter is an unforgettable experience for any child and is joyfully depicted in the following paintings.

Corriendo por la playa (Running along the beach), 1908
Joaquín Sorolla (Spanish, 1863–1923)

With neither past nor future to encumber it, childhood is unfettered and free-flowing like the water and sunlight in Joaquín Sorolla’s 1903 painting. No other artist perhaps could have depicted children on the beach with such joyful iridescence. As William E. B. Starkweather, an American painter and writer, wrote in his 1909 essay, ‘Joaquín Sorolla: The Man and his Work’:

The art of Sorolla is an art of joy, of sunshine, of splendid youth. He does not consider for a moment failure or distress, old age or death. It is an art somewhat savage, somewhat pagan; but it is an art beautifully vigorous, admirably robust.

En Flok Drenge ude i det solglitrende Vand (A bunch of boys out in the sunlit water), 1892
Peder Severin Krøyer (Danish, 1851–1909)

Young boys gambol and frolick in the sunlit sea, unburdened by worldly cares. Peder Krøyer’s painting is a hymn to childhood and its unremorseful sense of freedom.

Les petits goélands (Small seagulls), date unknown
Virginie Demont-Breton (French, 1859–1935)

Virginie Demont-Breton’s painting is fittingly entitled Les petits goélands. The three young boys are nestled together in a mound of sand like baby seagulls. The image is suggestive of the sea as the Great Mother providing for both birds and humans.

Kinderen der zee (Children of the sea), 1872
Jozef Israëls (Dutch, 1824–1911)

It is a kind of tragedy that the children of today no longer find pleasure in simple toys. The charm of a miniature, home-made sailboat has given way to the dazzling lights and spectacular sounds of a computer game.

Beach Scene with Lavender Sky, circa 1920
Edward Henry Potthast (American, 1857–1927)

Children in brightly coloured clothes enliven what would otherwise be a humdrum seascape. Are children not like flowers that add colour to life? A world without their bright smiles would be a dreary landscape indeed.

Two Boys Watching Schooners, 1880
Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)

Children soon grow up and grow old. Perchance they will remember that day on the beach with the smell of saltwater and the warm sand under their feet, and declare together with the great British Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore:

LIKE the meeting of the seagulls and the waves we meet and come near. The seagulls fly off, the waves roll away and we depart. (Verse 54, Stray Birds,1919)

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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Wanted: a new code of conduct for seafarers

Wanted: a new code of conduct for seafarers

This is a new version of an article originally published in Marine Café Blog on 27th February 2015. I have retained much of the original. ~ BU

The shipping industry talks incessantly of seafarers’ rights. The maritime unions and charities have made a fetish of it. How often does one hear about the duties of merchant mariners and the values they need to cultivate?

There ought to be a universal code of conduct for seafarers. I am not referring to a set of dos and don’ts as spelled out, for example, in ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, or in company manuals. Such rules are imposed from outside by higher-ups. They are rules, not beliefs.

By a code for seafarers, I mean one that they would freely abide by and make part of their whole being. The credo would lay down a path to self-realisation and a way of life similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors (shown above in Felice Beato’s 1863 cropped photograph, Portrait of the Satsuma Clan Envoys).

The credo would lay down a path to self-realisation and a way of life similar to the Bushido of the samurai warriors.

I am for protecting the rights of those who toil at sea. Even so, I am appalled at the many cases of seafarers whose actions besmirch the merchant marine profession. Consider the seafarer who files for disability benefits, only to work again after being declared permanently disabled and awarded a huge sum.

Or the seafarer who pays to secure a training certificate without undergoing any real training; who acts unfairly toward other seamen; who is disloyal to his spouse whilst overseas; who squanders money on booze; who, in various other ways, brings dishonour to himself and his profession.

The code that I speak of could be adopted by maritime schools, seafarers’ unions and professional organisations. There’s just one problem. In the crassly commercial world of shipping, where everyone is chasing after money, how many will spare a thought for codes of conduct and codes of honour?

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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20 wonderful quotes for those aspiring to be sailors

20 wonderful quotes for those aspiring to be sailors

Isn’t it sad? Many young men and women are responding, not to the lure of the sea, but to the siren call of the dollar. Surely, there is more to seafaring than just money or the chance to travel the world. A sailor’s life can be fulfilling in many ways, but it is also fraught with hardships and danger. I hope the following quotes will serve to enlighten and inspire maritime cadets and others who aspire to work at sea.

The Sea

New Jersey Beach,1901
by William Trost Richards (American, 1833–1905)

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

~ John Masefield, from Sea-Fever

But more wonderful than the lore of old men and the lore of books is the secret lore of ocean.

~ H.P. Lovecraft, from The White Ship

For all that has been said of the love that certain natures (on shore) have professed to feel for it, for all the celebrations it had been the object of in prose and song, the sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

~ Joseph Conrad, from The Mirror of the Sea

“Would’st thou,”—so the helmsman answered,
“Learn the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery!”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from The Secret of the Sea

A person who hates the sound of the sea cannot be a good sailor.

~ Captain Michael B. Cuanzon, a Filipino old salt

Youth and its Dreams

Portrait of Jack Rolling, ca. 1886
by Henry Scott Tuke (English 1858–1929)

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? To-day and to-morrow:
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? The ocean and truth.

~ Christina Rossetti, What Are Heavy? Sea-Sand And Sorrow

Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.

~Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics

There is a feeling of Eternity in youth which makes us amends for everything. To be young is to be as one of the Immortals.

~ William Hazlitt, from Table Talk, The Feeling of Immortality in Youth

How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams
With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!
Book of Beginnings, Story without End,
Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from Morituri Salutamus

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded.

~ W. Somerset Maugham, from Of Human Bondage

Education and Learning

The Black Stain, 1887
by Albert Bettannier (French, 1851–1932)

Learning proceeds until death and only then does it stop. … Its purpose cannot be given up for even a moment. To pursue it is to be human, to give it up to be a beast.

~ Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), from Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, edited by Philip J. Ivanhoe and Bryan W. Van Norden

The great object of Education should be commensurate with the object of life. It should be a moral one; to teach self-trust; to inspire the youthful man with an interest in himself; with a curiosity touching his own nature; to acquaint him with the resources of his mind, and to teach him that there is all his strength, and to inflame him with a piety towards the Grand Mind in which he lives.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Emerson on Education

Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.

~ Leonardo da Vinci, from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks

Whoso neglects learning in his youth,
Loses the past and is dead for the future.

~ Euripides, from Phrixus

The woodcutter is far better for skill than he is for brute strength.
It is by skill that the sea captain holds his rapid ship
on its course, though torn by winds, over the wine-blue water.
By skill charioteer outpasses charioteer.

~ Homer, from The Iliad

Loneliness at Sea

Moonlight, Wood Island Light, 1894
by Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)


Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner

Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

~ Herman Melville, from Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.

~ Octavio Paz, from The Labyrinth of Solitude

Who knows what true happiness is? Not the conventional word but the naked terror. To the lonely themselves, it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.

~ Joseph Conrad, from Under Western Eyes

I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.

~ John Steinbeck, from Of Mice and Men

~ Barista Uno

The Marine Cafe Blog

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