Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Prostitution of Running Medals

I have conquered a number of marathons and ultra marathons; as well as other endurance races such as duathlons and triathlons, up to the Ironman distance. But I have not attempted the Climbathon. Many people have found that a little strange, since the Climbathon is a famous annual event in Sabah. The simple reason is that I have no doubt that I can also conquer the Climbathon, but I'd rather do it later, perhaps when I'm no longer able to do very long races. For now, I would focus on conquering other races within the region.

I'm not in a hurry to attempt the Climbathon, because almost anybody can get the finisher medal, as long as he crosses the finish line. The event is organised in such a way that, although there is a cut off time, one can get the finisher medal even if the time taken is beyond the cut off time. One of these days, when I'm old and weak to run fast enough to meet the cut off time, I can always do the Climbathon and still end up with the finisher medal. That kind of medal is perhaps nice to have in my collection, but not of much value to me. It's just a piece of souvenir for keepsake. The Climbathon, when and if I were to do it, will NOT likely be a race for me. As I said, I'm not in a hurry to attempt the Climbathon.

Some other races also adopt the same policy, i.e. finisher medals are awarded even if the athletes completed the race beyond the cut off times. One example is our very own Borneo International Marathon (BIM). Medals will be given out even if the finisher takes a few hours beyond the cut off time. 

I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, because after all, a finish is a finish. There is nothing on the medal that actually specifies that the runner had finished within the cut off time. I do participate in the BIM, because on the one hand, I'd like to support the event; and on the other hand, I would probably be running my LSD anyway on a weekend along the same route, although admittedly I don't run 42km every weekend.

However, I find it interesting that in the case of the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS), the full marathon (42.2km) finisher medals were awarded even though the organiser was fully aware that the runners did not finish that distance. Far from finishing 42.2km, they ran just 25km and was awarded the 42.2km finisher medals and finisher T-shirts. Here is the organiser's announcement on the issue. I'm  not sure if this was because the organiser was trying to be popular among the slower runners, so that in the coming years they could attract an even bigger crowd. 

I see this as the prostitution of the marathon medals—if these medals were meant to be that cheap, then the event should be promoted as such. Don't bother to have rules and regulations, because obviously those mean nothing. I have said that fairness is a two-way street—while the organiser is trying to be popular among the slower runners, it should not downgrade the value of the marathon medal to that of a mediocre souvenir. 

A race is a race, and this one has given a lot of time to finish the race too. If one is unable to finish the race within that generous amount of time, then maybe that means he or she should train a little harder—and longer—for the 42.2km. It's  not like there are no shorter categories in the event. We admire and applaud them for trying, but I'm afraid 25km is still 25km; it is not 42km.

If the organiser feels compelled to please the slower runners, then it should prepare a good amount of 25km medals. It can then award those to the runners who just finished that distance. Be fair to those who did finish the 42.2km. They trained and raced hard to run that distance, only to see others running 25km getting the same recognition as them. Where is justice?

I have joined the SCMS twice before and found it too crowded. Because there are other choices for marathon races in the region, I haven't been back to the SCMS for some years now. This latest episode is one more reason for me not to go back for the event.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UPSR—The First Hurdle

Elsewhere in this blog, I've posted a number of articles about the Malaysian education system. It's been about 37 years ago since the time when I sat for my Primary 6 national exams. I have long forgotten what it was like in my day. I was for the most part a lazy kid who hardly ever did my homeworks; and I was famous for being the black sheep of the class. I have no idea how I passed my exams, but somehow I just did.

Almost 4 decades later, there have been several changes in the system, and I have lost track of what the exams are all about. These days the Primary 6 exams is known as the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR). This morning, JJ went to her school to collect her results for the UPSR, and those of you who're not keen to read all the way to the end of this post, let me just tell you that, contrary to popular prediction, JJ did not get straight "A"s. 

But I'm sure many of you can guess that I'm not in the least worried or disappointed about it! If JJ can pass her exams with decent results and progress to the next level, I'm OK with that; and if she can achieve anything better, well then that's a bonus! I've seen that in many, many cases, paper qualifications don't really mean much in the job market. Out there in the real world, one needs a different kind of survival skill to do well, and no amount of paper qualifications can help. I just need the paper qualifications to help JJ to open doors; and once she steps through those doors, all those paper qualifications mean very little!

But this post is not really about JJ and the UPSR; rather it's about Mia. You see, Mia has been somewhat obsessed with JJ's performance in her studies since the first day she set foot in school. If JJ did badly in a school test, Mia would suffer the torment akin to a bullet wound. Seeing Mia has in fact been my frequent source of entertainment. If only the school would allow Mia to sit beside JJ during the exams, I'm sure Mia would be there! But alas, our education system hasn't reached that level of ridiculousness yet.

Over the last few days leading up to the UPSR results, Mia tried so very hard to act cool. But oh how she failed miserably! After over 20 years of marriage, I can read her like reading the dictionary, although admittedly I still can't fully understand the thought process sometimes. Then again, women are not meant to be understood, if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, today Mia had an urgent legal matter she had to deal with at the office, and there was absolutely no way she could escape. She was therefore unable to go personally with JJ to her school to collect the UPSR results. So she sent her sister to do it for her instead. Only god knows how Mia was able to focus on her work in the office while all the time dealing with the suspense of wanting to know JJ's results. I caught myself smiling to myself just thinking of what Mia must be going through. I felt like calling my sister-in-law to tell her to take her time, please.

Nevertheless, like all fun stuff, the suspense had to end—Jackie duly brought JJ to her school. To be honest, I don't quite understand the present format of the UPSR. All I know is that everybody is obsessed with counting how many "A"s the students can get. I'm a little confused with the number of subjects and which are the ones that really matter. 

Well, as I said earlier, JJ did not achieve straight "A"s for her UPSR; she scored a "C" for "BAHASA CINA - PEMAHAMAN", and a "B" for "BAHASA CINA - PENULISAN"; and "A" each for all the other subjects. Oh yes, there is also something under the heading of "PENTAKSIRAN KERJA AMALI" for which JJ scored a "1". I have no clue what that "1" is all about. Although not a straight "A"s, I want to say that I'm a happy daddy anyway. All I want from JJ is for her to try her best.

So now that JJ has passed her first hurdle, she progresses to Form 1 in Lok Yuk next year. The plan is to drop Chinese so that she has a bit more time for the other subjects, and perhaps start to indulge in some sports. Still a long way to go and many hurdles ahead—Mia still has many, many years of sleepless nights to come, worrying about JJ's school exams. I guess some things will never change...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harmful Curiosity

There was once a man in Miri, Sarawak, whose curiosity got the better of him—he wondered if it was possible to fit his wedding ring onto his penis. Where and how he got the idea to do that, only God knows; and why the penis of all the organs in the body? It’s mind-boggling when you think of it even though that news article must have been over 20 years ago. Sometimes, you just can never forget the things that are outrageously stupid, if you know what I mean. 

Well, what d’you know, he was able to slip the ring onto his penis somehow. I must admit that that was quite a major achievement in itself. I can only think of 2 obvious possibilities; it’s either because he had an extremely thin penis or because it was an unusually huge wedding ring. But still, why the penis, for crying out loud? 

Anyway, the tip of his penis immediately swelled up, thus making it impossible to retrieve the ring. Soon after that, the pain was becoming unbearable. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, the ring cut and his penis was saved from permanent damage; and his story made the headlines in the Borneo Bulletin for all the wrong reasons. 

Such is the story of human nature—they often fall victims to curiosity, and the lust of wanting to know if something is possible, which in turn frequently ends up with disastrous outcome. 

I read with interest the recent discovery of the preserved body of a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth from Siberia, and the ambitious plan of cloning it. The thing is, I have faith in human abilities. I’m convinced that it’s just a matter of time; sooner or later, we would be able to bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. After all, we have successfully cloned living animals. It seems not too far-fetched that we’re gonna be able to do the same for dead animals too. Granted, it may not happen during my lifetime, but I’m sure it will happen eventually. 

But why bring back the mammoth from extinction? Are we bringing it back just because we can, or has it got other benefits for the human race? I mean benefits other than having something unique and exotic in our zoos? 

Because of its size, I can imagine that the mammoth must have been one of the dominant species that roamed the earth eons ago. It may have been driven to extinction due to over-hunting by humans; or perhaps because of the change in the world climate. Whatever it was that caused its extinction, I think the mammoth has had its time in this world. If our scientists are so obsessed with wanting to clone animals, then maybe it’s much better to start cloning recently extinct species; or even species that are currently at the brink of extinction. We have plenty of those, especially when considering how quickly we’re destroying the jungles wherein these animals are living. 

Like I said, I’m sure we have the brains and means to clone the woolly mammoth sooner or later, but let’s not do it just because we can; or because we’re curious to learn more about the animal. Maybe it’s not meant to be; we’re trying to be too smart for our own good. Let’s just let it go; let’s put to good use the lesson that we’ve learnt from the man in Miri.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Challenge of the Shoe Seller

A shoe seller bought shoes from his supplier at a cost of RM21 per pair. He then put a price tag on them at RM29 per pair, intending to make a profit of RM8 per pair (ignoring other costs). A customer walked into his shop and bought a pair, and paid him with a RM50 note. However, the shoe seller had no small change. He therefore instructed his employee to go to the neighbouring shop to break the RM50 note. After breaking the RM50 into smaller notes, he wrapped up the pair of shoes and included the change of RM21 to his customer.

A few hours later, the neighbouring shop keeper came to inform the shoe seller that the RM50 note he exchanged earlier was actually fake money. In the end, the shoe seller had to pay RM50 back to his neighbour. Obviously, instead of making a profit from the transaction, the shoe seller actually suffered a loss. But how much did he lose?

Such was the question raised by my running buddy, Dr Peter Ong, during one of our long runs over a weekend sometime ago. We talk a great deal when we run together. Or rather, I talk a great deal, while he listens. The question isn't an impossibly tough one, but it provokes the mind to think. Now I have always said that these days our education system no longer teaches our children to think; it teaches the kids how to score straight "A"s, of course, but that doesn't really require them to think.

This morning, I chaired another one of our Monday meetings at the office. I was sharing my view that an approximate two thirds of the students in our universities are female and if it's not already the case right now, I'm expecting that similar proportions between the two genders can be seen in the job market too. 

However—and this is the point I'm trying to make—in the end, the top positions will almost always be dominated by men. I'm fully aware, of course, that the world has seen a number of female leaders such as Margeret Thatcher and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the likes. But when seen as a whole, the top positions are overwhelmingly male. Why is that so?

Women are extremely good when deliberating detailed matters, especially from the theoretical point of view. They are sharp and meticulous and willing to swim in the abstract, turning every single issue down to the micro and atomic levels. Their solutions are very often impeccable and deserve an "A" for the university exams. However, these solutions are not always practical, and may not always reflect what's going on around us. Many ordinary problems in this world require simple solutions derived from common sense approach; not complicated mind boggling calculations based on bombastic formulas. It is in that sense that, in my opinion, men can quite naturally outdo women. This is speaking from general observation of course.

I meant to prove my point in the meeting this morning, and I threw out the above question to the audience. They ranged from high school to university education. There were 5 males and 6 females in the audience; so it was about balance. I told them to write down their answers on a piece of paper, and then those were to be submitted to me. I had expected that not all of them would be able to find the answer (maths is almost everybody's weakness), but I reckoned that the guys would certainly do better than the gals.

Well, what d'you know, all of them failed to get the answer—even after several tries! Not only have I failed to prove my point through this little experiment, but I have also discovered that none of my staff had what it takes to be in the shoe business!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Visit To A Bicycle Shop For A Spare Tube

I was out cycling with Mia last Saturday morning for an intended 70km ride. It was a hot and dry morning; and I was already sweating profusely as early as 20 minutes into the ride even though we started at about 6:15am. Thankfully, however, we weren't cycling very fast, so it was quite a pleasant ride. 

Unfortunately, shortly before reaching the halfway point, I had a puncture in my rear wheel. I changed the tube and used up the CO2 that I had with me to inflate the tyre. Having no more CO2 and spare tube, I decided not to proceed any further beyond that point, because I wasn't sure if Mia had brought along the hand pump with her. Accordingly, I crossed to the other side of the road and waited for Mia on her return leg. A few minutes later, Mia came along, and then we rode together all the way back.

I've been busy on Monday and Tuesday. Today, I finally had the opportunity to make a visit to the bicycle shop in Kampung Air. I had intended to buy a spare tube which costs about RM12 retail price, but because I'm a regular customer, I usually get it at RM10 each. I reckoned that there's no harm to buy more, so in the end I decided to buy 3 tubes. While I was at it, I might as well buy 3 canisters of CO2 too lah.

Then I received a text message from Mia. She said she wanted 2 pairs of white arm sleeves so that she can use alternately with the only one pair that she's been using all this while. Since she's also going to attempt the Putrajaya Half Ironman next year, she's expecting more regular rides in the coming months, you see. So OK, 2 pairs of arm sleeves.

Then, as if struck by an after thought, she said might as well buy a pair of calves sleeves too lah. She's vulnerable to getting cramps in her calves, you see, so maybe the calves sleeves can help to solve the problem.

And oh!...the floor pump that we have is just not very good for women. Mia is just about 55kg-56kg, and she'd need a Herculean push on the handle whenever she needs to pump her tyres. Usually, I would be the one who'd pump her tyres for her. But she'd like to pump her own tyres too, so it would be good to buy a better pump! I checked out the numerous choices of floor pumps at the bike shop and then found one that's a bit more expensive, but softer. Perhaps it's good enough for Mia; so I bought that pump too.

The original plan was to go to the bicycle shop to buy a spare tube at a cost of RM10 a piece. About 15 minutes later I walked out of the shop with a bunch of bike stuff, and a receipt showing the figure RM498, net of "discounts".

When the price of fuel in Malaysia was raised by 20 sen per litre a few weeks ago, too many people have sarcastically said that they will sell their cars soon, and then buy bicycles so that they could save money that way. I was like, "Yeah right!...If you think riding a bicycle is a cheaper means of transport, think again, folks!"

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Conspiracy Theory

A little over a week ago, my uncle (mom’s younger brother) passed away at the age of 69 after a few months’ battle with an unknown disease in Brunei. I don’t have all the details of his illness, but I was given to understand that it was most probably cancer.

Every now and then, there’s bound to be an exciting announcement from researchers and pharmaceutical companies of a major breakthrough and discovery of a promising cure for cancer. This can be in the form of a new drug (or a cocktail of drugs), or a specific approach to the treatment, or both. In fact, I’ve been hearing these announcements since ages ago. Yet the ultimate cure for cancer remains elusive up to now.

I’m a firm believer that it’s just a matter of time before we find the cure for cancer; just that I’m not sure if it will happen during my lifetime. I’m confident that there’s someone out there somewhere who’s clever enough to find the answer. However, I find it interesting that each time an announcement of a promising drug or cure for cancer surfaces on the net, there will be bound to be people expressing their doubts. I can understand their doubts if it’s a matter of having little or no confidence in the human minds to figure out the mystery of cancer. As far as that is concerned, I suppose it’s anybody’s guess—who know’s, maybe none of us are clever enough to ever figure it out! 

But no, their doubts are of a very different nature—these people are convinced that doctors, researchers and pharmaceutical companies have in fact found the cure for cancer long ago; but they’re keeping their discovery a secret; that they would prevent the human race from having that cure, so that they can all profit by selling them drugs for treatment, of which the drugs won’t actually cure, but instead merely prolong the lives of cancer patients. That way, they can make more money from the patients! 

Such an accusation against doctors, researchers and pharmaceutical companies is quite amazing, when you come to think of it—it hinges on the notion that all these great minds are conspiring with each other on a grand scale in denying the human race the cure for a terminal disease, all for the sake of money.

I had a niece who died of cancer at the age of 21 a few years ago. It was a heart-breaking experience seeing how the disease, within a duration of about a year, gradually transformed her from a beautiful young woman into a hopeless bedridden patient, before finally robbing her of her life. During the final few months of her life, she endured several surgeries, chemo and at the end of it all, still lost the battle.

I know humans are sometimes greedy and selfish creatures, but I just don’t believe that so many learned people would conspire in such a way to prevent anybody from having a life-saving cure if they had it in their possession. Furthermore, I also happen to know that many of the doctors and scientists accused of withholding the cure have loved ones and close friends who’re suffering from, and dying of cancer. I’m thinking, even if they’re willing to see strangers die of the disease, they would at least save their loved ones. Heck! in fact doctors and researchers themselves are not immune from cancer. Even if they are willing to see their loved ones die of the disease, surely they would want to cure themselves?

Sometimes, people have the tendency to assume the worst in other people. Well, I can't speak for every single doctor and researcher out there. But I still have faith in them; I shall give them the benefit of the doubt—I'm convinced that if they have the cure for cancer (or any disease for that matter) they will put it to good use to save lives. They can still make a lot of money by doing that.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Artist From A Past Era

Many people know me because of marathons, duathlons and triathlons. Others know me because of treasure hunts. Others still know me as a professional property valuer. But very few people, safe for very close friends and family members, know me as an artist

You see, I'm one of those people born with a creative mind and very steady hands; and I used to combine those two gifts to produce paintings. That was like a hundred years ago in a different era. I have produced quite a number of paintings in my day, but they were mostly given away to my friends. Many have since been lost, because although I consider my work as "masterpieces" based on my own standard, they were not generally regarded as of much value. However, some have survived all those years.

Below is one of my works that has survived over 20 years (click on photo for clearer view). 

I painted it in 1991, and gave it as a present to my then girlfriend, Euphemia. It was a hasty job, but it's one of the very few ones that ended up getting framed, and now it sits on a display cabinet in my living room.

A few years after I married Mia, I painted The Last Supper, framed it up, and then gave it to her mom as a Christmas present. Knowing that she's a very religious woman, I knew that she'd love it, which of course she did. That painting has since remained on one of the walls in her home.

A friend of mine showed me a picture of a painting he took during his holidays about 15 years ago, and I was mesmerized by the photo that I decided to reproduce it. It took me almost 4 months to finish and now the painting occupies a wall in my bedroom (click on photo for clearer view).

Unfortunately, I no longer indulge in paintings these days; I have gone on to find new hobbies. But I sometimes find myself attracted to articles about arts in general. Sometimes a hobby never really die, if you know what I mean.

But times have changed. This artist from the past era is sometimes puzzled—perhaps even shocked in a weird way—how much the meaning of art had changed now. This morning, I found this article about a further twist in what is deemed as art these days. 

I was, like, "Wow!...for crying out loud, just Wow!"