Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sense of Proportion

I learned a painful lesson in the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014—despite months of careful planning and hard training for a modest goal of achieving a PB in the race, I threw the game plan out of the window barely 10km into the 42km race because of greed. I allowed myself to indulge in the romantic idea of not only beating 3:52 for a PB, but also achieving 3:45. In the heat of the moment, and the blazing excitement of the race, I crumbled and abandoned my own game plan. 

To be honest, I was confident that I could beat the 3:52 PB based on my training; I felt it’s almost an assured conclusion. That’s why the disappointment factor was extra large for this race. From about 30km of the race to the finish line, I hated myself, because it was at that stage when both my quads suddenly seized up, I knew that I’ve done myself in. I crossed the finish line in a decent 3:56:51, and a few years ago, I would have been thrilled with that result. But not in this race.

Then a strange thing happened to me. After receiving my finisher T-shirt and medal, I waited for my friend, Lim Young Peing, at the finish arch. One by one the runners crossed the finish line; and just within a window of about an hour, my disappointment in myself subsided and then turned into quite the opposite. 

It’s amazing what one can see and learn at the finish line of a marathon race; it can be something of an eye opener. People from all walks of life, in many sizes and colours, challenging themselves to conquer the distance of 42km. Standing there at the finish line, I saw people becoming very emotional—crying as they cross the finish line, into the waiting arms of their loved ones, time regardless. 

Suddenly, I felt like a total idiot! I have forgotten my own principles in life; and sometimes I need to be reminded too. We all have the tendency to forget to count our blessings; we lose the sense of proportion. We become greedy; and then end up miserable.

At the age of 49, I should be happy with a sub-4 hour finish in a marathon; I’m healthy and can still indulge in the things I enjoy doing. I guess it would have been “perfect” had I been able to achieve a PB while enjoying the race too, but sometimes things don’t always pan out the way one would like them to. As I’ve always said, actually, all the little imperfections in life are the very things that make life perfect!

In the hotel room a few hours later, Lim reflected on his fortune of achieving his PB in Gold Coast—a 3-minute improvement from 4:50 to 4:47. He said it’s just a small improvement, but I hastened to assure him that it’s still a significant improvement anyway. He should be thrilled and excited all the same. After all, he has conquered a new frontier; and that is a major achievement

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Clowns

"This is because should a woman menteri besar suffer from 'uzur syarie' (period), there will be a number of obstacles for her to accompany the Sultan at several religious functions."

—Constitutional Expert, Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun, in explaining why Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail can't be the Selangor Menteri Besar. [Link]

I'm thinking that it must be extremely tough to earn a living in Malaysia as a clown. We have too many of them; in fact, we see them around on a daily basis, so much so that we become immune to them. We no longer find clowns very amusing; they are no longer entertaining.

By the way, those of you who don't already know it, Wan Azizah was born in December 1952. It means that she's now in her sixties. I'm no gynae, but y'know, I seriously doubt that she's still having periods, but I may be wrong.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014

I research and experiment extensively on running, and way too many people have approached me to seek the magical formula to improve their performance in running. In fact, I’m a mentor to many of these people; which is quite an irony, because I have no formal training as a coach, and neither am I a fast runner!

The one thing that puzzles me about most of them is that the vast majority have no clue whatsoever about racing strategy. In my opinion, many of them can do much better than their current PBs, but the main stumbling block that prevents them from achieving better results is that they almost always run way too fast at the beginning of their races. I’m seeing some of these people run race after race, repeating the same mistake, and they just don’t know what’s hitting them!

Armed with knowledge and a keen sense of racing strategy, one would expect me—of all the people in the world—not to fall for the same mistake, but that’s exactly what happened in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. But it’s not the kind of mistake of not knowing the significance of racing strategy; rather, the mistake of putting at stake my chance of a PB for the sake of greed.

Earlier this year, I was training for the New Zealand Ironman, an ill-perceived move on my part. I had insufficient training, and then my friend who was supposed to race with me had a bike accident and had to withdraw. In the end I went alone, with whatever little training that I had, and had to struggle to finish the race in a miserable 15:32. One could almost say that it was a “successful failure”!

Anyway, because of the limited time I had during the Ironman training, my focus was mainly on endurance, and hardly on speed. After the Ironman in early March, I began to work on my speed around mid March, and I reckoned that I should have enough time to gradually build up speed to the Gold Coast Airport Marathon on the first Sunday of July. I was hopeful that I would achieve a PB in that race. As the weeks and months went by, I could feel my speed improving. I could run 10km-15km at 5:30min/km pace fairly comfortably. And by June, I could run 5:00-5:15 mins pace for 10km-15km comfortably. Things were looking very good indeed. I was very confident and I felt that I had a good shot at improving on the 3:52 I set in Hong Kong last year.

My friend, Lim Young Peing, went to Gold Coast with me, and he was also hoping to achieve a PB. We arrived on Friday morning, and then went to collect our race packs together. It was such a grand event, and so many people at the expo. We each received our bib and a goodie bag, but without any goodie in it!

I was walking around in the crowd after collecting my race pack, and then Karen Loh of the MWM’s fame greeted me. The truth is that I seriously doubt that she knew me, but was merely being friendly. I guess “Malaysian” was written too plainly all over my face, you see. I did not let it go to waste though—it’s not always that a pretty and sexy young woman would greet a nerd like me. I turned to Lim and told him that that was Karen, as if we’ve been buddies for a long time! I can’t remember if I had walked with my eyes on my forehead after that. I must ask Lim about that later.

I ran about 3km on Saturday morning and felt very good. I was ready for a great race. The next morning saw me at the start line of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. I found my place in section B meant for sub-4hour runners. Temperature then was about 10C, but it wasn’t as biting cold as I had initially thought. At the flag off, I started cautiously—I ran the first 5km at a very conservative average pace of 5:20min/km. In fact, it was so comfortable that I hardly broke a sweat. I was thinking that I would surely achieve my PB if I could maintain that pace; and it almost felt like it was too easy to maintain that pace too! I continued running more or less at that pace up to 10km, and I was still feeling very fresh.

Then the tragedy—the evil that has always been the culprit that had destroyed many strong men of this world—I was overwhelmed by greed . Seeing the red balloon depicting the 3:45 pacer coming back from the turning point, I began to wonder if instead of just beating the 3:52 PB, maybe I might even have a shot at 3:45? That would be a fantastic icing of the cake. After all, even before reaching Gold Coast, I've been contemplating that 3:45 all the while. Could it be possible? I was feeling fresh running the 5:20min pace for 10km; I had all my nutrition and hydration schedules executed according to plan. It was a flat course. The 3:45 finish seemed like something too sinful to miss at that stage!

And that was the turning point of the race for me; I fell victim to greed and began to chase after the forsaken red balloon. I maintained a pleasant 5:10min average pace up to 15km, 20km and even up to 25km, still feeling good. Was it something that I had eaten the day before? Did some magical bio-chemical reaction happen in my body? It just seemed too good to be true!

Well, you know what? It was indeed too good to be true! At about 28km into the race, I suddenly felt my left quads seizing up, followed just a few seconds later by the right quads. I knew then I was in big trouble. I was forced to slow down a bit. I arrived at the 30km point in about 2:38, but although that was a decent timing, I realized that the remaining journey to the finish line would be hell for me. The cramps in both quads were hell. Suddenly the race turned into a nightmare.

Well, what remained of the race was not a pleasant experience. I ran with plenty of walks in between. A lot of torture. It’s been such a long time since the last time I experienced such a torture during a marathon. It kinda reminded me of the first few marathons that I had run. In the end, not only did I fail in achieving 3:45, but not even the 3:52. Instead, I finished in 3:56:51. Although that is still a decent finish, I must admit that I’m disappointed. My disappointment is not really because of the failure of achieving a PB. I have long accepted that I can’t possibly achieve a PB in every race that I join. Rather, I’m disappointed because I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by greed. But then again, I’m walking away from the Gold Coast Airport Marathon with a lesson learned the hard way. I will be back again; and I will achieve my PB one way or another!

In all this, at least my friend Lim achieved his PB. He improved from 4:50 to 4:47. A small improvement, but still nothing short of spectacular all the same!




Friday, June 27, 2014

A Long-Lost Friend

I was walking in Gaya Street a few weeks ago during my lunch break, heading to my usual stop, a shop famous for its hot buns. Now just so that we're very clear about this, when I say "hot buns", I mean it in a literal way—I'm talking about food, not "hot buns" in the slang way, referring to amazing buttocks in the likes of J Lo's. Oh you know what I mean!

Anyway, I bumped into an old friend, and he greeted me cheerfully. He said, "You're Cornelius, aren't you?"

I replied in the affirmative, and he exclaimed loudly, so much so that some people were looking at us. We shook hands, and he asked me what I've been up to all these years. I spent a few minutes to give a brief summary of my life history going back to some 25 to 30 years ago. I surprised myself, because I would usually have a bit of trouble summarizing my stories. But not on this occasion. He listened attentively. When I had finished, I thought it was my turn to ask him what he's been up to all these years. But unfortunately, he was running late for an appointment. After he walked away, I turned back to have one last look at him; and I caught him looking back at me too. We merely waved at each other from the opposite sides of the road, and that was that.

I proceeded to buy the hot buns—as in the food for my lunch—and then traced my way back to the office. As I was chewing the buns in the office, my eyes started wondering to the ceiling as I tried to access that part of my brain, but for the life of me, I just couldn't remember.

Who the hell was that guy? Where did I know him from?

I kept trying and trying, until in the end I gave up. I just couldn't remember who's that guy, even though his face looked somewhat familiar.

Well, it's been a few weeks since that dramatic scene we made in the  middle of Gaya Street, and I thought I could put that episode in the "Weird Encounter" folder in my brain. But today I saw him again from afar. He waved to me excitedly, and I waved back to him with a big smile; my curiosity rejuvenated.

The next time I see him again, I swear that I will ask him outright who the hell is he! Not know him is driving me crazy!


Kinabalu—Getting The Name Right

This is going to be a short post (which is uncharacteristic of me).

I'm seeing a lot of excitement—as per facebook posts—in a group of Singaporean friends attempting to scale our famous mountain here in Sabah over this weekend (all the best, folks!). For a while now, I've noticed that there are many, many people, including non-Sabahan Malaysians who've been getting the name wrong. 

So here I am, in my brave attempt to set the record straight. However, I'm not doing this with much hope of success, because I happen to know that some people don't really care about getting the name right anyway. But here goes nothing!

The name of the city is Kota Kinabalu; the name of the mountain is Kinabalu. Notice that there is no "Kota" in the name of the mountain. In English it's Mount Kinabalu; in Malay it's Gunung Kinabalu. Some people may find it a big challenge to pronounce the Kinabalu somehow, so they may opt for Mount K instead, though I would much prefer the full name.

So, Mount Kinabalu, Gunung Kinabalu, or Mt K (if you really must). But NOT Mount Kota Kinabalu, Gunung Kota Kinabalu or Mt KK.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Playing Politikus

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over a year since the last Malaysian general election. Somehow it feels like it’s been just a few months ago. But perhaps it feels so recent because people are still talking about the general election up to now. I had one such conversation with a friend a few days ago, and one of the points raised by him was that the opposition parties garnered more (total) votes when compared to the eventual winner, Barisan Nasional (BN), which has since formed the government—again. It was a mere 2%-3% margin, but the argument was that because the opposition parties received more votes, they were the “real” winners of the general election.

Actually, the argument that “the opposition parties received more votes than BN” by my friend is somewhat unoriginal. I’ve heard of that same argument raised over and over again by so many other people before this. I’ve seen it mentioned in countless articles too. I dare say it’s one of the most popular justifications—if not the most popular justification—to support the view that the opposition has earned the right to govern Malaysia today. And that argument seems logical too.

The trouble with many Malaysians, however, is that they don't really understand about the kind of democracy system that we have in Malaysia. Specifically, they don't understand the rules of the game. I don't claim to be an expert in politics, but I'm quite clear about the elections that we have here in Malaysia. 

In whatever competition, there will always be rules and regulations which are to be adhered to. Take for example the game of badminton. The organiser assembles a group of players to compete for, say, 2 weeks. They are separated into several groups according to some sort of ballot system. They will then play against each other through several rounds. Perhaps the earlier rounds are based on points collected, and then later becoming sudden-death rounds where only a win will ensure progress into the next round. When the final 2 players reach the grand final to decide the champion of the tournament, it doesn't really matter if one has scored extremely well in his previous games, because all that really matters in the score for that final game.

In the Malaysian election, it has long been the case that the party that will be declared the winner is the one that has won more seats, and not necessarily more votes. But of course to win those seats, it must get more votes than the rival. It is in that sense that the "real" democracy is truly practised. However, once the seats have been won, the number of votes acquired doesn't really matter. A seat is a seat, regardless of whether the victory for that particular seat is won by a majority of 100 or 10,000 votes. All that matters for the competing parties is to ensure that they have more seats—not votes—than the rival(s) to win the general election. 

That's the rule of the game in the Malaysian context. Whether or not that is a fair rule, that is a separate matter altogether. I don't understand why so many people are still harping on the popular votes received by the opposition parties when all that really matters is the number of seats.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Financial (Mis)Management

I spent 2 years during secondary school in Petaling Jaya (PJ) in West Malaysia. I wasn't there on a scholarship or a special arrangement arising from doing very well in school before that. It was just an idea of dad. You see, as a little boy I was a timid kid—the nerdy type, if you like, and dad thought it would do me good to be away from home on my own; sort of to learn to do things on my own. I ended up renting a room with a relative.

Dad allocated a more or less fixed amount of pocket money each month, but he wasn't very good in keeping up with the timing of the remittances. I had to plan my expenses carefully, as I could be in big trouble when dad failed to send my pocket money on time.

The first few months in PJ, I walked about 4km to school each morning, and then walked home the same distance after school. Then I learned to take the bus. About half a year later, I had saved enough money to buy a secondhand bicycle for the price of RM90, which became my main transport for the rest of the two years of my life in PJ. I used to envy my classmates, many of whom were mostly riding motorbikes to school. I eventually sold that bike for RM40 to an Indian grass cutter about 2 weeks before I came home to Sabah for good.

After I left school, I got a job as a teacher in a private school. The first year working, I took the bus to and from school. Then an uncle helped me out with the down payment for a motorbike, and I paid the RM175 installment every month. That bike was a big asset to me, as I was able to move around to give tuition after school, and was therefore able to earn a small side income that way. The extra RM200 that I earned from giving tuition was a big deal considering that I was only earning RM490 per month from my teaching job.

Years later, a few weeks after I got married, Mia relocated to Brunei to live with me. I was renting a self-contained outbuilding accommodating a bedroom, a tiny kitchen which was also the dining and living room, and a bathroom. That building was actually intended for a maid's unit, but the detached house that occupied the main portion of the land was big enough to accommodate the maid, and the owner reckoned that it's a good idea to let out the outbuilding to me at BND500 per month.

I can still remember that I had some savings, but spent a long time thinking whether or not we would buy a washing machine. After much considerations and discussion with Mia, we decided to wait for a few more months before we buy one. Back then a BND380 washing machine was a luxury item for us.

I had a humble beginning and had no formal training in financial management, but managing my resources is a common sense thing to me. The simple formula of living within one's means is made up of simple mathematics. From the amount that I earn, I set aside whatever fixed obligations such as electricity and phone bills, housing loans, savings etc, and then spend whatever's left of that amount. There is actually nothing too complicated about it, really.

Seeing some of my family members and so many people out there, I fail to understand why is it so impossible for them to figure out the simple mathematics on how to manage their resources. It doesn't really matter how much they're earning—whether they have RM100 or RM100,000, they always end up spending more than what they have. It's like their appetites are growing way too fast than their earning powers. They're in fact constantly in deficit. A family member had a windfall when she inherited about RM1.5 million, but she burnt it all within 3 years, and now has practically nothing to her name.

I read about this widow who blew about RM2.5 million in just a year. It's really beyond me how that can happen. I don't claim to be an expert in financial management, but although RM2.5 million can be intoxicating, I'm thinking that even if I'm gonna burn that money, it'd take me much longer than just a year.

Financial mismanagement is almost a disease suffered by so many people. It makes me think that although it is basically a common sense thing, financial management is actually a skill that very few possess. It's one of those strange mysteries of the world.