Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Perspectives

It seems like just a couple of years ago when I started running long distance, but actually it's been quite a long time since 2008. I can still remember the great achievement that I felt whenever I finished running 3km; and on a good day, I could even run up to 5km. I was like, wow!—it made me feel invincible!

Then the Borneo International Marathon was organised that year, and that was the first time I found out that the full marathon was for a distance for 42.2 freakin' kilometres. I mean, who the hell would be crazy enough to actually run that distance? Dumb! 

Yet, a friend convinced me to register for the half marathon (21.1km). I trained diligently for about 3 months. When I finally crossed the finish line on race day, I was on cloud 9. I felt like I had a long red cape on my back, and a huge letter S on my chest that day. And then suddenly the 42.2km didn't seem to be that ridiculous after all. In less than a year, I was already running the full marathon.

Over the years, I have gone on to run many more marathons, and I have also run a couple of ultra trail and road marathons of up to 100km long. As one would expect, the training for the ultra is very demanding. I was logging an approximate 200km per month, and for a period of about 2 months prior to the race day, I was logging significantly more mileage for training. Apart from a minimum 3 times of at least 10km each during the weekdays, I had to do several back-to-back long slow distance runs on Saturdays and Sundays too. The weekly total could be anything in the region of 60km-70km.

Looking back to the good old days in early 2008, I realise that I've come a long, long way. These days running 3km to 5km is just a short workout on a lazy day for me. On my supposed rest days, I sometimes bring JJ for a jog at the Likas jogging track. She would be panting heavily after only 3km, while I hardly break a sweat because of the slow pace.

But my focus has changed since last year. I'm gradually shifting my focus to the sport of triathlon. Which means instead of training for running, I now have to train for cycling and swimming too. Eventually, my running mileage dropped since I had to allocate time for the other two sports.

Then about two months ago, a friend invited me to join a facebook group where runners were challenged to run a total of 100km per month. It happened that I was cutting down my training sessions to allow my body to recover from exhaustion due to months of big volume training, and my running total came up to just around 70km-80km per month. This was also because I've been maintaining a minimal amount of time for swimming and cycling. I found that 70km-80km per month was too little and I was a bit shy to announce in that facebook page. I was for the most part just observing in silence.

This month, however, I am gradually increasing my mileage again for running, and I feel like 100km should be quite easily achievable. I have therefore started to post my running distances in the facebook page. Others are also posting their respective total running distances too. According to the Admin of that group, that's intended to inspire others to try to achieve that distance too. I thought that's a good idea.

It is amusing to note, however, that instead of getting inspired, there is now mention of people who're posting their running mileage are doing it to show off. It is amusing to me because I was actually hesitating whether to post or not since from my perspective 100km per month is not really an outrageous distance to achieve. In fact, in a strange way, I feel that that is rather too little.

Sometimes there is the tendency to forget that a running distance of 100km per month may appear differently when seen from different perspectives. To the untrained runners, that may be an impossible distance to run in a month; but to a regular runner, 100km per month is nothing to shout about, really.

But people have the tendency to see things negatively. Instead of getting inspired, they are seeing people as showing off. Instead of getting encouragement, they feel belittled. Instead of being happy to see others' achievements, they try to find ways to interpret those achievements in a negative way somehow. 

I guess that is human nature. I shall not allow myself to be influenced by all these negative forces. I choose to strive for better; I choose to improve; I choose to realise my full potential. And in the end if I failed, then at least I know that I have given my best shot. My perspective is one that is always willing to take the challenge.


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Ambitious Goal

Ages ago, shortly after the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), I applied for numerous scholarships to pursue my studies. At the same time, I also applied to both local and foreign universities. Replies from the universities were mostly positive, but unfortunately, I couldn't even afford to study in a local university. Without a scholarship or at least a study loan, it was just impossible. Many people with a Chinese surname will tell you that university education isn't something that we can take for granted in Malaysia.

A few years later, I got a job in a property consultancy company performing simple tasks, akin to just an office clerk. I then started saving diligently for about 2 years to finance a self-study distance learning course leading to a degree in Estate Management. It took me about 4 years to finally earn that degree. When you come to think of it, sometimes it's quite amazing what one can achieve if one puts his heart and soul into taking steps to realise his ambition. Something that seems impossible may turn out to be possible after all.

A young man replies to a job advertisement for the position of "Office Boy" in a company specializing in the civil engineering field. The young man is not highly educated; he passed his Form 5 with an average score. He is called for an interview, and at the end of the interview, he is given the opportunity to raise any question regarding the company. Instead, he asks about his prospects of how long would it take for him to eventually become one of the bosses in that company. You see, that is not something that is impossible to happen. May I repeat what I said in the preceding paragraph: 

Something that seems impossible may turn out to be possible after all.

But sometimes, it is much better to keep such ambition to oneself, because it is just human nature to be ridiculed when one utters something that is too far-fetched; or at least too far-fetched for the foreseeable future. It makes more sense to be discreet about one's out-of-this-world's ambition, and to put in the time and effort into achieving that ambition, and perhaps when one is very close to achieving it, then and only then is it time to discuss his future prospects in the light of his forthcoming achievement.

Although I'm not a fan of football, it's hard to miss the glaring headlines of Malaysia losing horribly by a margin of 6 goals recently. As I'm not a fan, I have no clue on strategies or whatever formula that might be helpful to improve the strength of our team. I just know that losing by a margin of 6 goals is very one-sided in football.

That is why I couldn't help but smile when reading the news with the earth-shattering headline: "We can be a football nation"

I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to achieve. But maybe not so soon lah, I don't know. Perhaps it's a good idea for the minister to wait till we can actually win a few regional tournaments first—never mind world stage football for the moment—before mooting the idea of becoming a "football nation"? I'm sure it won't be very funny then.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

JJ's Report Card

It's been some years since the last time I went to JJ's school to collect her report card. She was still in primary school then. Well, JJ is in Form 1 now and the time has once again come for parents to appear in school to collect their children's report cards.

Usually, I'm just the back-up parent as far as collecting the report card is concerned. Mia has always been the one who's obsessed with seeing "A"s on JJ's report card. But yesterday, she was too tight up at the office. So daddy received a call from JJ, saying that unless one of the parents appear in person to collect the report card, the pupil shall not be allowed to enter the class!

I saw myself at Lok Yuk at about 3pm. In fact that's the first time I went to Lok Yuk; I reckon that is a record in itself because it's been about half a year before I finally made my very first visit to JJ's school! I had to wait for a bit before I was able to see the teacher. 

The first thing I asked her was about the strange policy of not allowing the pupils to enter class until the parents come to collect the report cards. Apparently, the majority of parents "don't have the time to collect the report cards", leaving the school with no choice but to come up with such a drastic policy!

Then we moved on to the main agenda, which was of course JJ's report card. Let me just say that she had an A only for English, but the rest of the subjects ranging from B, C and D; and even F for Chinese and Kemahiran Hidup. If these were the results during Primary 6, Mia would have fainted. But we have decided that this year and next year are the "honeymoon" years for JJ. I'm a little concerned that her maths got C, since I consider the subject as the easiest among all. I will need to look into that!

JJ, like most other girls, is not very keen to use her brain to think; she is not generally a problem solver. The modern education system trains the kids to memorize rather than understand. And if there is an easier way to arrive at the answer, even without understanding why or how, JJ would be satisfied anyway. 

I was spinning on my bike in the living room a couple of days ago, and was watching Man, Cheetah, the Wild on Astro. JJ was also watching grudgingly while waiting for daddy to finish, because she wanted to see her comedy shows. The documentary followed the life of a cheetah and her five cubs; and it said that in the wild, only 20% of the cubs will survive to reach adulthood. I turned to JJ and asked her, out of the 5 cubs, how many will become adult cheetah? She looked up to the ceiling and seemed to calculate in her head, but then failed to come up with an answer. Then she used the calculator on her phone and told me the correct answer. It is scary to think that JJ is developing into a typical Malaysian kid—how is she gonna survive out there in the job market? It's not too late yet, but it seems like Mia and I will have to intervene soon.

Last night, I left Mia alone with the report card so that she could digest whatever information therein. And then this morning I thought we should discuss what to do about JJ. Accordingly, I raised some key issues through WhatsApp. As  you already know, these days, spouses and family members can have discussions only through facebook or WhatsApp. But anyway, the consensus is that we will stick to the plan of Form 1 and 2 as the "honeymoon" years, with the exception of beefing up her maths. As for her Chinese which she was only able to score 18% (I thought the teacher wrote that figure with the report card turned upside-down by mistake), we will leave her be.

Another thing of interest is the so-called "merit system". Students are continuously assessed and points awarded or deducted on account of wide-ranging headings such as behaving well in school, able to submit assignments on time, interaction with other students etc. Well, right now JJ has a negative score, and it's mainly because she has difficulties in doing well in her Chinese subject. I'm not planning to intervene for the moment.

I don't think it's necessary to send JJ for maths tuition. I haven't been doing school maths for some 30 years now, but I should still be able to handle basic algebra. Looks like I will have to discuss further with Mia how to draw up a timetable for daddy and JJ to do maths together. So I guess it's time for WhatsApp again...


Friday, June 5, 2015

The Experts

A few months ago, my mother-in-law moved in to my house to live with us. I found it amusing, although I'm appreciative, that my wife actually asked for my permission first. I gave my consent immediately. My mother-in-law is a frail old woman of about 80 years old, and she has trouble moving around because her legs are weak. Whenever she spends too much time on her feet, they would become swollen and she'd suffer a great deal of pain for the next few days. 

Apart from weak legs, she also has some other issues—mostly age-related, I guess— such as poor hearing, can't ever remember to switch off the lights and fans, and of course being stubborn; y'know the common issues with old folks. But the thing that amuses me the most is that she tries very hard to explain things to others even though she herself is not very well-versed in the subject.

She spends her days mostly reading the Bible and other religious scriptures, and watching TV. When JJ comes home from school, she would sometimes watch some movies on Astro which are unfortunately mostly reruns. That means grandma had seen most of those movies; and for heaven's sake, she just can't control herself from being the commentator, telling JJ the whole story from the beginning to the end. We dropped small hints. Then we dropped big hints. Then we dropped gigantic hints. But it's hopeless; she just doesn't get it—she's telling the stories whether you like it or not—period!

At other times, she would also explain how things work, even though she herself knows hardly anything about the subject. And when it comes to God, she knows more than the Bishop, of course. When I was about to send my maid off during a weekend, she reminded her to go to church, because of so-and-so, which I didn't quite catch. Of course my maid just said yes to make her happy; and indeed she was happy for performing her duty in reminding others of what God expects of them. She is blessed with the knowledge that she is an "expert" in many subjects. She is in fact, for the most part, a source of entertainment for me.

Then today I had a revelation. We had a slight tremor here in KK first thing in the morning. It wasn't a big jolt, although I heard it was quite serious up in Ranau and Mount Kinabalu. The funny thing is that I didn't feel the tremor at all, whereas my friends were talking about furniture vibrating, chandelier rattling, and small objects falling off display cabinets. The excitement was frantic. Facebook postings were mostly about the earthquake; WhatsApp chats were discussing quakes too.

I suspect my mother-in-law did not feel the tremor too. She must have been still sound asleep when it happened. When I arrived home from work this evening, she said nothing about earthquake, so I'm guessing that she's still unaware of it. Now I'm thinking perhaps it's a good idea not to inform her, because if she finds out, she may be tempted to explain to JJ and the maid the science of earthquakes.

But anyway, all of a sudden, we have so many "experts" on earthquakes in KK! We have people talking about bombastic words such as "epicenter" and  "aftershocks", and they're even able to predict the exact times when those aftershocks will happen! So it seems like my mother-in-law is not a rare species after all. But well, at least I have my daily dose of entertainment; these people never cease to put a smile on my face.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Not-So-Special "Specialist"

There was once when my brother's wife had an ectopic pregnancy and it became necessary to have an operation. He called me up for help, saying that he intended to admit her to the then Sabah Medical Centre (now KPJ Specialist Hospital) for the operation. For those who're not familiar with Kota Kinabalu (KK), the KPJ is a private hospital and quite well-known, as the name suggests, as a "specialist" hospital. Being a private hospital, it's not difficult to appreciate the fact that treatments can cost substantially higher than that of a government hospital like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).

I don't always hear from my brother, but when I do, it's almost always because he needs my help—financially. I asked him why not do it in QEH, since it's much more affordable, and therefore more agreeable with his pocket. But no, he wanted a specialist to handle the operation. I decided that he should learn to live within his means. After all, it's not like there was no alternative for him. He tried to find help elsewhere, but in the end, left with no choice, he admitted his wife to QEH. The operation was a success anyway, just as I had expected.

That word "specialist" has a profound effect on many people. Some people I know would fly to Singapore to seek treatments at so-called specialist centres even though such treatments are readily available here in KK. There is that tendency to think that a specialist is more knowledgeable and skillful than a non-specialist. But truth be told, that is not necessarily the case.

Mia had some of her teeth filled when she was a teenager. It must have been a very good job, as she had no issues with her teeth of a little over 30 years. However, last year she started to feel a bit of pain whenever she bit on those teeth. She also experienced some discomfort whenever she consumed cold drinks. I suggested that she should see a dentist who did a good job in dealing with my dental problems. But unfortunately, he's not a "specialist" dentist.

Mia was doubtful with my recommendation. In the end, she went to a specialist dentist. She told the dentist that perhaps it's time to redo the fillings in her teeth, as she's experiencing some pain arising from them. She had her teeth x-rayed, cleaned and polished, and then told that she had "sensitive teeth". She was then given a "tooth mousse" to be smeared over her teeth to solve the "sensitive teeth" problems; as well as gum gels. According to the specialist, if the problem persisted, the next step would be to make a special container in the shape of her gums which would then be filled with fluoride, and this would then be used on her teeth. That sophisticated container would have cost about RM1,000 to make.

Mia continued using the tooth mousse and gum gels for a few months, but the pain kept worsening. She told me about her ordeal, and again I told her to seek help from my dentist. Instead, she went to another dentist. The second dentist was not a specialist. But the mere mention of the previous visits to the "specialist dentist" made the second dentist a bit reserved. She seemed to support the opinions of the specialist dentist without really investigating Mia's problem.

Mia came home that day feeling rather disappointed. It just kept becoming worse to the extent that she was no longer able to bite on those teeth because of unbearable pain. In the end, after RM1,100 spent on the specialist dentist, she finally went to seek help from my dentist. He spent about an hour to drill through those 30-year-old fillings, find decays in them, clean the cavities, and then refill the teeth. It was a much simpler and direct approach than the tooth mousse, gum gels and custom-made gum containers. It was also much cheaper, and most importantly, there is now no more toothache.

Most professionals in Malaysia are regulated to practise with strict guidelines as professionals. But many professionals are also businessmen. In due course, we professionals are bound to come to a point where it is increasingly difficult to draw the line between professionalism and entrepreneurship; these two forces may seem to be conflicting at times. Sometimes, it is necessary for us to revisit the question of why we wanted to be whatever it is that we're doing as a profession. Was it because we wanted to help others while earning a living in the process; or was it because we wanted the make money even if we're not really helping others?


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Unappealing Chess Moves & Malaysian Politics

At one time in my life, I was a competitive chess player. That was many years ago. At the height of the madness, I spent perhaps 2 to 3 hours on average reading chess books and analysing chess positions daily. During the weekends, I could spend even longer hours. I learnt the game as a boy of about 10, but I only started playing seriously and competitively in my twenties.

The thing about chess is that there is almost no ending to the learning process. When you've played enough games, you'd come to a point when almost all openings seem to resemble one another. After learning the basic opening moves, you'd move on to explore specific openings. For example, I spent countless hours learning and analysing the Dragon Sicilian; it was my favourite defence as Black. 

The longest over-the-board game that I had ever played was almost 4 hours, and it was a big struggle against a far-superior player. I can't remember the moves of that game; the only thing I can still remember is that I lost it in the end. Time control was 90 minutes each for the first 40 moves, and upon reaching 40 moves, 30 minutes were added for each player. It was a game to be remembered because I came to a point in the game where I spent almost half an hour to make just one move! 

You see, in the game of chess, sometimes you are bound to reach a critical position, and all the available moves are unappealing; meaning that the continuations are likely to lead to a worse position. Of course that is usually because of weak moves committed earlier in the game. So you start exploring each available option a few moves deep and seeing their respective outcomes in your mind. Seeing the pieces "move" in your mind is a very exhausting process, and in an over-the-board game in a competition, it can be quite nerve-wrecking. But a great part of playing chess is the art of keeping one's cool in the face of a seemingly lost position! After considering several options, and "seeing" what could possibly happen several moves ahead, if you're lucky, sometimes you may find a solution to escape from the mess you are in. But sometimes, there is no clear-cut solution, and the best you can do is to reach a position with slightly promising chances, but unclear advantage. Then of course there are times, when having spent a very long time thinking, you just can't find a way out! That is probably your cue to consider resigning gracefully!

I was having my regular foot reflexology session recently when I overheard an interesting conversation between two fellows near my seat. They were talking about signing up an online petition in favour of a campaign to force the Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, to step down. I heard several thousand people have signed the petition.

I'm not even going to waste my time to find the webpage of the campaign, because that's exactly what it is to me—a waste of time. I don't believe that the fate of a Prime Minister should be decided through an online campaign. There are reasons—and good reasons, too—for having elections in Malaysia. For better of for worse, let the fate of the Prime Minister be decided through the election process. It's not perfect, of course, but it's still better than relying on the number of "Likes" on Facebook.

Although I'm no longer into competitive chess for many years now, some habits from the game remain. I just can't help thinking about all the available candidate moves ahead. As I had explained in the preceding paragraphs above, the chess mind tries to explore the position(s) several moves ahead. And what I see in my mind now is not so appealing! 

Even if Najib actually resigns because of the online campaign against him as the Prime Minister, what's next? Somehow the next in line, Muhyiddin Yassin, becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia is so unappealing to me. In fact, I'm convinced that that is a lot like "out of the frying pan, into the fire" for Malaysia. Yet, it's almost an implied rule in the ruling coalition that the Deputy Prime Minister should be next in line.

Now looking a few more steps farther ahead (yes, this quite often becomes absolutely necessary in chess), let's assume that the Pakatan comes into power somehow. Who's going to be the Prime Minister then? Anwar Ibrahim? Beyond my imagination! This is a man who was wheelchair-bound and full of braces when he was in prison; but was suddenly dancing on stage shortly after his release. And don't make me start on Hudud law. So you see, although I think Malaysia is in a lot of trouble under Najib, I just can't see anything better for now. I can't see appealing options ahead. 

When in desperation, there is that tendency to remove the Prime Minister for the sake of change. People say to me, "Just make the change, and then hope that the replacement can perform better. And if that replacement is not performing any better, then keep changing until we find one that can perform better!"

Y'know, I really wish that it's that simple. Since Tun Dr M resigned as the Prime Minister, I felt that Malaysia has been going downhill. Most people want change in the hope of improvement; but they always forget of the possibility that even bigger damage that can result from the change. Unfortunately, the damage, once done, will be very expensive to remedy if remediable at all, and it takes years to accomplish. 

Like in the game of chess, I'm reluctant to make impulsive moves when dealing with critical positions. I'd like to think a bit more, not just simply move and then see what happens next. I'm afraid I'm going to think much longer than half an hour this time...


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Job vs Career

A job vacancy became available in our company a few months ago, and we went through the normal procedures to hire a new staff. Advertisements were put in the local papers, which attracted several candidates. These were shortlisted and then interviews were duly arranged. 

Of those who made it to the interview stage was a woman in her mid-thirties. Her English wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but after all we were not looking for a walking Oxford Dictionary. Sadly, just a small percentage of the Malaysian population can actually write decent English these days. Anyway, she spoke fairly fluent English, although her written work was not grammatically sound. Yet she stood out from the rest, and it didn’t take us very long to decide in her favour. 

Accordingly, shortly after we’ve wrapped up the interviews with the rest of the candidates, we called her up to convey the good news. A formal letter of appointment was then drafted, offering her a job in our company, and we were looking forward to welcome her in a couple of weeks’ time. 

Unfortunately, a few days later, we received news from her that she was no longer keen to work for us because she had a “better offer” from a rival company. The “better offer” in this case, as you might expect, was in terms of a slightly higher salary. We could have offered even higher if we really thought it justifiable. But not in this case. So, regretfully, we had to let the matter pass. 

A few months had since elapsed, and then recently we heard from her again. Apparently, she’s not very happy with her current job, and was trying her luck with us again. She’s wondering if the job offer of several months ago is still available now. A colleague who was involved in the previous interview seemed keen to accept her. But I’m against it; and since I’m the boss, my decision prevails. This seemed a little odd, and my colleague asked me why. After all, if she was good enough for the job a few months ago, why isn’t she good enough now

Well, it’s difficult to explain, really. You see, I’m looking for someone who wants a career, not just a job. If this person can easily change her mind because of a marginally “better offer” in Ringgit and Sen, she will resign in a heartbeat the next time she gets a marginally “attractive offer” from somebody else. 

But don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong in seeking greener pastures. If I suddenly get a substantially better offer tomorrow, I would undoubtedly consider it. It would be ridiculous not to! But only if it’s substantial. If it’s marginal, I wouldn’t even waste my time. I’m unwilling to throw away my career for the sake of a job that offers a marginally higher income.