AC03: Flying with Phaedra!

As I walked down the gangplank toward my ‘home in the air’ for the next eleven hours I heard even before I could see her the head Flight Attendant on Air Canada flight 003 from Vancouver to Tokyo.  She was on the PA system almost cheerleading her staff, and as I appeared she put on her game face… but not the one that I am used to.

As you know I fly a lot, and over the years have not had a lot of energetic and outwardly happy and excited flight attendants.  It is not to say that any of them were bad or good, they were just for the most part very… professional is the word that comes to mind, but that would almost imply that Phaedra-Lynn Hicks is otherwise… and that would be far from the truth.

clip_image002As the first passenger on board I had a lot of time to observe the crew as they welcomed the masses to the flight, and Phaedra, manning the forward hatch, was greeting everyone with a smile.  I heard her joke with one young lady (who had purple hair) if her hair was natural, and how so many people asked if her blonde locks were natural or not.  It set a humorous tone to the flight ahead.

“At this point you should be seated comfortably (or uncomfortably) in your seats with your tray tables stowed and your seat backs in the upright position.”

You might expect this sort of humour on some smaller airlines, but on Air Canada?  It is rare, and it is no wonder that she has won almost every individual and team award that Air Canada awards, as well as a few others.

I have a confession to make.  This is not the first time I have flown with Ms. Hicks, and I remembered both her smile and her attitude from my previous flight with her.  As we had eleven hours together I asked her if she would mind talking to me for the blog, and she was delighted to.

As we were discussing the ‘interview’ she mentioned that I should check out the YouTube video that she made as a spoof.  It is an Air Canada commercial (spoofed and unsanctioned) to the Call Me Maybe song.  As I am still at 36,000 feet you can check it out for yourselves by searching YouTube for Air Canada Call Me Maybe.  From what Ms. Hicks tells me if you are checking it out from a mobile device you will need to do it via Huffington Post. (Now that I am on the ground I checked it out, and while I suspect I am the last person on earth to hear that song from beginning to end, the video is great… and I recognize quite a few of the players!)

Phaedra started flying after a friend of hers – a flight attendant with an American carrier – suggested she apply.  At the tender age of nineteen she says she applied, and for the interviews she bought a blue suit (a nice but very inexpensive one – budgets of nineteen years olds being what they are), put her hair up in a bun, and went into the interviews with the most positive attitude that the kid from Pierrefonds (the West Island of Montreal) could bring.

Three interviews and six weeks of training later Air Canada had their future best flight attendant on her maiden voyage.

I spent a lot of time chatting with Phaedra, and was able to interview her with the condition that her chain of command be able to vet the piece before it published. Unfortunately life (both hers and mine) got in the way, and the interview could not be vetted in time. As such I have removed my twelve questions and her answers from this piece. Hopefully one day I will be able to share them with you; I assure you they have been redacted, but not deleted entirely!

What I will say is that Phaedra was a pleasure to speak with. She gave thoughtful answers to every question I asked, and was quite clearly not just giving me the approved company answers. Of course, a couple of the questions I asked were probably not anticipated by the company. I am looking forward to flying with Phaedra again – I do not know when that will be, but hopefully soon. As she is based in Vancouver, she likely will not be on my next flight (Tokyo Narita direct to Toronto Pearson). I think, however, I have found yet another reason to stop in Vancouver when on my way to Asia.

When on the ground (wherever she is) Phaedra is an avid practitioner of Yoga. She is currently working toward the next level of certification (enlightenment?) that one can achieve as an instructor. If she is as passionate about yoga as she is about her work I have no doubt that she will pass with flying colours!



Wednesday morning I was sitting at my desk when a pop-up appeared on my screen.  It was actually an Internet Explorer window, and although it was written entirely in Japanese, I suspected immediately that it was a scam, a fraud, malware, or something.  Why?  It had a very old Microsoft logo on it (from the Microsoft Certified Partner days).  I asked my boss to confirm, and he started laughing at me that the sites I was visiting were not secure.  Since I was planning to re-image my system when I was back in Canada, I didn’t really worry about it.

As I sit in the airport lounge in Vancouver, I got a different albeit similar pop-up, this time in English (it is always nice when malware knows where you are…)

imageHere is a simple way to know if the warnings you are getting might be legitimate, or if they are completely bunk:

1) Legitimate programs do not display their warnings in Internet Explorer.  They would have their own windows appear.

2) I do not use a product called Advanced System Protector.  That being the case, if it were legitimate (it is not) it would still have no business scanning my system.

My recommendations? firstly do not click in the window.  The only place you should click is in the upper-right hand corner… the X.  Note that they are sneaky buggers… under the real X there is their own X, which would have you clicking in the window.  Do not be fooled.

Once you close the window, make sure you run your legitimate anti-malware system – do a complete system scan.  It is not necessary in my case because I simply shut down the machine, and the next time I turn it on I will re-image it (format it and re-install Windows).  However most of you will not want to do that… and yes, you do have malware in your system.

One Week…

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was the title of my favourite Barenaked Ladies song, but in this context it is a lot scarier.  I have been working toward my Second Degree Black Belt… well, really since I started Taekwondo in January of 2009, and then since I earned my Black Belt in June of 2010 but in reality I have been ‘it training’ for it since this past January when I sat with Master Dimitrios Beis and we decided that it was possible for me to test for the belt at the mid-year testing.

I have been blogging about my planning and progress since February, and have been counting down since April.  The testing is now one week from today… and more importantly the pre-testing is today.  Today I find out if I will be a Second Dan Black Belt in one week’s time.  Let me explain:

The Black Belt Ceremony is an amazing afternoon… you see Black Belts testing for their next level and Black Belt Candidates testing for their first.  However if you go to the testing you will never see anyone who is not passed.  That is because in the weeks prior to the testing ceremony the Grand Master pre-tests all of the candidates, and decides if they are ready to test.  In other words, if they do not look like they will be ready, they will not be allowed to test.  So while next week is the hype and ceremony and excitement, today is the real test… at least in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong… if I pass today that does not make me a Second Dan Black Belt.  That has to wait until GrandMaster Kim wraps the belt with my name around his waist and then transfers it to me.  THAT makes me a Second Dan.  There are also things that we do during the testing that we do not pre-test for… one of which is the most worrisome part to me right now… the concrete.

Yes, the last thing I will have to do to get my belt is smash two slabs of concrete with a hammer fist.  They do not pre-test you for that, and it is a good thing too… last time, you may recall, I broke my hand doing it.  I know several candidates who have, which would prevent me from being able to test next week.  So that is not pre-tested.

I had a little scare the other day thanks to my friend and training partner Chris Burgess, who is testing for his Third Dan Black Belt next week.  When I got off the plane from Vancouver on Thursday I got an e-mail from him that said that they had found out the previous evening that testing was this Saturday.  I wrote back and asked him that surely he meant NEXT Saturday.  He replied no, it was indeed this week.  I started to panic as I walked aimlessly through the terminal at Pearson International Airport (it was the first time I recall getting lost getting off a plane).  I called Master Beis, who assured me that if that was the case (he did not think so) then I was ready, and I would test on Saturday.

When I finally reached Chris by phone he told me that his auto-correct must have changed PRE-TEST to TEST, and that it was actually the -pre-test that was this Saturday, and the actual testing is still June 2nd.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I don’t know if I really NEED the extra week… but it sure was comforting to know that I have it.

In other news my diet had been going terribly – I have not been disciplined with it for a few weeks, and I am lucky that when I got onto the scale yesterday morning I had only gained back five pounds and not twenty-five.  I fasted yesterday (not fun when you jog 5km, do a 90 minute Taekwondo class at noon in the 85F heat and then another 90 minute class at night in similar heat) and am now back to the weight I was at… I still haven’t lost 50lbs, but I am within a couple of pounds of it, and hope to be there for testing next week.

Chris and I arranged to meet at our home dojang for an hour to train before heading over to the Burlington school for the pre-test, and I am confident that by the pre-test I will be ready.  More importantly, Master Beis feels that I am ready, and when I spoke with the Grand Master last night he did not tell me I might not be ready… which is high praise indeed! Today he will confirm yes or no… and then I have one more week to train and run and lift and perform… and pray that I don’t shatter my hand again! (Think Bill Cosby)

See you after the pre-test…

Sixteen Days Out – a summary

Yesterday was a dichoto-day.  If I made that word up, it is what it sounds like – a day that was a mix of good and bad.  I want to clarify at the outset that this had nothing to do with work, which was fine (I am teaching a class at TekSource Corporate Learning this week, and have a good group of students).  It is strictly with regard to diet and training.

I ate (during the day at work) like crap – too much of bad foods (I blame Audrey, but she didn’t actually force-feed me the muffin or the pizza, she just made them readily available (as well as the only things).  She also put out all sorts of cookies for the afternoon snack, and my willpower faltered – I had three lady fingers.  To compensate – although I did not set out with this goal – I skipped dinner.  I got off the train from Toronto and drove straight to Taekwondo, where everything got back on track.

I had been really disheartened Monday and Tuesday about my prospects for testing for actually being ready for my test on June 2nd, and I decided that yesterday (Wednesday) was the day that I would make my final decision.  While I know all of my patterns (poomsaes) I had not learned the knife-defense ‘one-step-sparring’ that I need as a requirement.  That is, nine separate (and numbered, in order) methods of repelling a knife-wielding attacker.  While that is something I am pretty good at, I would usually revert to Krav Maga, so learning the Taekwondo (actually Hapkido) methods were a challenge.

vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png

vector version of Black belt 2st dan.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Miss Kelly (one of the senior instructors, who is testing for her 5th Dan Black Belt the day that I test for my 2nd Dan) and I had arranged to spend time on Wednesday going over the methods, and she agreed to allow me to record our session so that I could study the moves while on the road next week.  She is an excellent teacher whom I have always liked and respected (she was Aaron’s favorite instructor when he was in TKD), and really knows her stuff.

One of the reasons I prefer working one-on-one with instructors, rather than working in a large class, is not simply the individual attention.  I find that in most modern martial arts classes the focus is on teaching moves rather than teaching why we do the moves and analyzing them.  As a Colour Belt suppose I had to cope, because as GrandMaster H.C. Kim once wrote ‘The study of martial arts really begins once you have achieved Black Belt Excellence.’  Until you have a strong knowledge of the basics it is impossible to start analyzing the advanced.  However as a Black Belt I appreciate that when I learn a move in a one-on-one setting I can analyze, discuss, and really understand what it is that I am doing, as well as how likely I might successfully execute a particular move in either sparring or real-life situations.  I find that by breaking down a move in this way it is easier for me to learn and absorb patterns and self-defense.

Working with Miss Kelly last night was such an opportunity, and while I came into the lesson with a slight knowledge of two or three of the moves, by the end of the evening I was much more confident that I knew what I was doing… even if I might not use most of those moves in real-life knife attacks.  While I was able to execute all of the moves by the end of the evening, I am glad that I recorded them so that I can review them today and every day until I will never forget them.  I will be watching them often, breaking them down in my head, and I  predict that on my flight to Victoria next week I will be doing them over and over again in my head.

With regard to the diet, I decided this morning that I would start a two-day cleanse… which essentially means I am fasting, save for vitamin supplements.  My weight has been fluctuating only slightly over the past few weeks, but it is still about 5lbs up from my low-point.  I have lost (since January) 43lbs, and I have really been stuck there since mid-April.  Every time I have done a two-day cleanse I have lost at least 5lbs, so it is entirely possible that I could test fifteen pounds lighter than I am today.  That is a good goal, but I will settle for 10lbs.  I say this knowing that Saturday evening I am taking the family to a Brazilian steakhouse – not a very good place to diet – but that is essentially the last hoorah before my final two-week push.  Despite my travels (which, between now and the test will take me to Buffalo, Victoria, Vancouver, and Montreal) I am going to succeed, and do my absolute best on June 2nd.

More later.