The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cook Ding's Kitchen

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen. Of nearly 20,000 blogs tracked by Icerocket, this one is closing in on number 1800. I want to thank you for visiting. I appreciate it very much.

A question that I get asked regularly is "what's this Cook Ding stuff anyway?" Cook Ding was a character in a story in one of the Inner Chapters of Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu). It's one of my favorite stories:

A cook was butchering an ox for Duke Wen Hui.
The places his hand touched,
His shoulder leaned against,
His foot stepped on,
His knee pressed upon,
Came apart with a sound.

He moved the blade, making a noise
That never fell out of rhythm.
It harmonized with the Mulberry Woods Dance,
Like music from ancient times.

Duke Wen Hui exclaimed: "Ah! Excellent!
Your skill has advanced to this level?"

"What I follow is Tao,
The cook puts down the knife and answered:
Which is beyond all skills.
"When I started butchering,
What I saw was nothing but the whole ox.
After three years,
I no longer saw the whole ox.

"Nowadays, I meet it with my mind
Rather than see it with my eyes.
My sensory organs are inactive
While I direct the mind's movement.
"It goes according to natural laws,
Striking apart large gaps,
Moving toward large openings,
Following its natural structure.

"Even places where tendons attach to bones
Give no resistance,
Never mind the larger bones!

"A good cook goes through a knife in a year,
Because he cuts.
An average cook goes through a knife in a month,
Because he hacks.

"I have used this knife for nineteen years.
It has butchered thousands of oxen,
But the blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"The joints have openings,
And the knife's blade has no thickness.
Apply this lack of thickness into the openings,
And the moving blade swishes through,
With room to spare!

"That's why after nineteen years,
The blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"Nevertheless, every time I come across joints,
I see its tricky parts,
I pay attention and use caution,
My vision concentrates,
My movement slows down.

"I move the knife very slightly,
Whump! It has already separated.
The ox doesn't even know it's dead,
and falls to the ground like mud.

"I stand holding the knife,
And look all around it.
The work gives me much satisfaction.
I clean the knife and put it away."

Duke Wen Hui said: "Excellent!
I listen to your words,
And learn a principle of life."

I've been laid off for a couple of months now. I was fortunate enough to find a contract job writing software. One of my former customers won a program and had no one to work on it. The contract is for six months, and I think it could easily run through the end of the year. The company I work for is actually out in British Columbia, so I'll have at least one trip out there, hopefully for the change of colors in the fall.

I began my career as a contract software engineer, but back in the day, I had to go into the office just like the captive engineers. This is my first gig where I get to generally work from home, although I have to go in for meetings and what not. With the contract job, and the things I wanted to work on at home, I haven't yet fallen into a rhythm.

One of the things that I wanted to do when I got laid off was to simply devour books. I'm achieving that. On the average, I get a couple of hours reading in at a time. Other things that I wanted to accomplish are getting filtered out. I've been meaning to work on my chess game, but I'm just not getting around to it. I'm also finding that I'm not working on my Japanese language study as much as I had hoped. The difference is becoming clear between what I wanted to do and what I really wanted to do.

I've been working out of my basement. The Mrs tends to leave me alone, but it's really cold down there. Even when we had days in the 80's recently, I had to wear jeans, a shirt, a sweatshirt, white socks and shoes and I was still frozen and unable to warm up by the time I emerged in the afternoon.

I'm not making what I had been. I'm also paying for my health insurance, and have to pay both parts of unemployment tax, but this goes a long way in keeping the wolves from the door. Of course all of this is moot once my Nigerian benefactor desposits that $28,000,000 in my bank account.

I can't justify driving out to Ann Arbor every week for Taijiquan, even though they would work with me on the dues. I find that I've really cut back on my driving among other things.

I'm practicing a lot on my own though. Before I got laid off, I had purchased the DVDs by Dr. Stephen Hwa that I planned to study to improve my practice. I've decided to follow his form. I'm also training with the Wujiliangong group which happens to be within bike riding distance from me. I'm in good hands.

I've also been getting a lot done around the house. I lift weights and walk on a treadmill during the winter. My preference is to simply work in my yard when the weather is nice to maintain a functional strength.

I've lost about 10 lbs since I got laid off. I'm active, but mostly my diet has changed. I simply don't eat out as much. I would like to lose another 10 lbs, but they don't seem to want to come as easily.

I was talking to a neighbor who was also laid off. Off the top of his head he named another half dozen guys in the sub who were laid off. We're mostly in sales and engineering. We're all about the same age.

This recession has changed everything. When the automakers become profitable again, I don't think they'll be hiring back droves of people and neither will their suppliers. Life has changed for many of us: what we're going to do for the rest of our working lives, where we're going to live, our life styles, and how we think about retirement.

One of my favorite authors, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written a couple of books, Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan, where he describes what he calls the Black Swan. It's an event that comes along and simply changes everything.

My oldest daughter graduated from college a little over a year ago. She was fortunate, after sending our literally over 500 resumes to get a job last fall. She's working in her field for the regional public transportation agency. Many of her peers are still looking and there's simply nothing for them. Not even waiting on tables. It's not her dream job, but it's a job and she's getting experience in her field, and that's what counts right now.

She's living at home right now, saving money, and has begun working on her MBA. by the time she finishes, the economy will hopefully be better, she'll have the MBA and some experience.

My youngest daughter is graduating high school this month, and we have to get the place ready for an open house. She'll be going on to Concordia University in Ann Arbor, MI; will study graphics design, and play volleyball for them. The economy should have recovered by the time she gets out of school and is looking for work.

A lot of the yard work has to do with making the place look nice for her graduation party. As it is, it's hard to believe that my youngest is now a college student. Truly, time flies like an arrow.


Anonymous said...

But fruit flies like a banana

Rick said...

Ha! Yes they do.

madamestrange said...

So do big monkeys!

Thanks for the History and update.

walt said...

Well, I'm a latecomer, but I thoroughly enjoy your posts. Your blog has a wide variety of flavors, and many dishes are among my favorites. Thanks so much!

Dollars always are useful; glad to hear you've got some cashflow. Yes, everything is different now, and we will need to be flexible, and agile in the days ahead.

My formulation is: The mind "sees" things already done; the body must actually "do" them. Thus, I am forever trying to catch up with myself ...

Rick said...

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by. I really appreciate it.

Al in Vancouver said...

I think that the Cook Ding story may be my favourite in the Chuang Tzu.

Keep up the good work and best of luck through this recession.

As a newly self-employed personal trainer/ strength & conditioning coach I am really struggling myself.

So British Columbia is where your company is based. Vancouver? That's where I live with my wife and daughter.


BSM said...

Something my old criminal justice professor said:

Time wounds all heels.


Regardless, love your blog and wish you well through the recession.

Rick said...

Thank you.

The Cook Ding, fighting Cock, and Archer stories are my favorites from Zhuang Zi.

I am on a contract to Pacific Insight, which is located in Nelson. I'll probably get a chance to visit them next month.

Al in Vancouver said...

Nelson is a lovely town. Have a nice time if you are lucky enough to visit.

Michele said...

Thanks for sharing the story of Cook Ding...I have often wondered.

Good luck with your new job opportunity. My husband is a facility electrical engineer and does contract work. Most of the large local manufacturing companies have closed. We are crossing our fingers that his current assignment will hire him direct even though it is an hour away. He has been on a COBRA health plan more times than I can count.

Congratulations on the fourth anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen! It is one of my favorites.

Rick said...

Thank you. I hope your husband can go direct.

Ole Blue The Heretic said...

Seems you are handling your unemployment quiet well. I used to like contract work it gave me a little more freedom than the normal work for a company kind of a job.

I really enjoyed the Cook Ding story and thanks for the book link.

Rick said...


Mike said...

Thanks for the Ding story and personal update. So much of Wujifa class time is devoted to class (well, yeah), and we do get to know each other quite deeply in that context, but not in the normal street sort of way, so, nice to read the normal guy stuff... I enjoy your blog

Rick said...


At the end of the day, we're all just regular people.

Matt "Ikigai" said...

I didn't know that about your blog name - neat to hear. The story is very intriguing and applicable to the arts.

May you have another successful 4 years and more!

Pancho said...

I'v been a reader for a few months now. Thanks for this story... it is enlightening.

Recession is like tides: come and go. Easy to say, a bit harder to endure. So, keep up and good luck.

Rick said...

Thanks. It looks like the contract could run a year rather than six months and I also have a pretty strong prospect for a direct job in the works with a local company which has been growing in spite of the economy.

Zen said...

Once that big pay off comes in, it will be all smooth sailing. You can help the kids as well. So no economic worries. Maybe you can hire me to do some business cards for you, for the new company you will start. "Basement Software Inc." or "Underground Software" no wait... "Out of the hole productions"