Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sandakan Marathon 2019

It's been a few years since the last time I set a personal best (PB) for a road marathon, and up to now my PB stands at 3:52:08. I haven't been trying to improve on that but instead have been active in Ironman triathlons. After I completed the Ironman New Zealand in early March this year, I decided to embark on a PB-hunting mission in Chiang Mai Marathon this December. But my running fitness has long been neglected, so it was obvious that I had a big challenge in the coming months.

I ran as a pacer for 4:30 in the Borneo Marathon, and then beyond that I have been continuing with my training with a view of Chiang Mai Marathon. However, according to my plan, I'm going to need at least 2 full marathon races before Chiang Mai to gauge the progress of my training. I registered for Sandakan Marathon (last Sunday 7th July) and Kuching Marathon (18th August). I suppose if I looked hard enough, I would have been able to find other events around these times too, but it would have been much more expensive to travel too far from Sabah. Since these are meant to be just parts of my training, I decided to save on the cost.

The full marathon route published by the organiser was like this:

To be honest, I'm not familiar with the roads in Sandakan, and the map above did very little to give me any idea of where I would be running. I only knew that I would start from the Town padang, which was also where I would end. However, I was impressed with the map because in it, there are many water stations, medic posts, mobile toilets, kilometre markers, sponge stations etc. In fact all of those are the norm for most marathons.

I wasn't sure of the elevation profile of the course, so according to my plan I had estimated a finishing time between 4:00 - 4:15. I thought that would be safe enough. The only thing that I was worried about was the problem with my body clock. You see, the race was to start at 1am, and I had in the past, especially in my ultra trail years, been struggling with sleepiness past midnight; and I had expected to get more or less a similar problem in this race. Still, I thought 4:15 was a very decent timing as the slowest of my finishing time. Oh boy, was I wrong!

Upon flag off, runners had to pass through the main street of the town, leading to the highway. Immediately, it became obvious that the course will be challenging in terms of the undulating terrain. There were no steep slopes, but long gradual ones which could take quite a toll on the runners. 

According to the map, water stations would be available approximately 2km to 3km apart, but it soon became obvious that this was not the case. Some stations were close together, but some were very far apart, and I can imagine especially for the slow runners, it may take them perhaps over half an hour or even 45 minutes before they can reach another water station. To make it even more challenging was that the first half of the race, up to the turning point at 21km, not a single station had isotonic drinks. I don't mean they ran out of it; I mean they really had no isotonic at all. On the return leg, I can remember 2 stations providing isotonic drinks. In each station that I stopped at to drink, I had a quick glance at the number of cups on the table, and at the back of my mind, knowing that there were so many other runners behind me, I knew that the water would eventually run out and therefore nothing left for the slower runners.

I was also conscious that the organiser did not provide mobile toilets as shown in the map. I reckoned that this would be quite challenging for the ladies. I saw a number of men just doing their business at the road sides. It's such a wonderful thing being a man!

The feeling of the race was somewhat surreal. In fact it felt a lot like a routine long slow distance (LSD) run over the weekend, because the crowd thinned out very quickly, and one could find that he's running alone for most stages of the race. It was in fact a very lonely race.

Apart from drinks and toilets, I found it rather surprising that no safety cones were deployed along the race course. I wondered if the organiser did not think that safety cones were necessary because of the small number of runners. Remembering that even with safety cones, runners were hit by cars in a couple of West Malaysian marathons, I felt that Sandakan Marathon should seriously consider the safety aspect of runners in its future events. Truly, there was no feeling of a race at all. It was merely a running workout in the wee hours of the morning, and passing some very dark roads on a weekend.

On the way back from the turning point, my sleepiness got the better of me, and I was struggling to stay awake. Hard upon that, my legs began to complain as my body was craving for replenishment of electrolytes. When I finally came upon a station with isotonic drinks, I took the chance to grab a few cups. And then I grabbed a small bottle too. But I could only drink so much at a time. In my epic sleepiness and sensation of onset of cramps in both quads, I had to slow down. For if the cramps really did manifest, that would be the end of me.

Despite the many kilometre markers shown on the map, I saw none on the course, except one that showed KM40 on it. However, even that was placed at the wrong location. I climbed a gradual slope after that marker to reach one final water station—and when I said water station, I really mean just plain water available—and I was surprised to see my friend Dr Liaw there. Liaw is a much faster runner than I am, so it was obvious that he had fallen victim to cramps.

After that final water station, I increased my pace a bit since I thought even if the cramps did come then, I would be able to make it to the finish line. So I ran and ran passing the now familiar streets of the town and was approaching the padang. And then in my exhaustion, I had one more final challenge to endure. There was no marshal, no signboard, no indicator whatsoever that would guide runners to the finish line. I was confused, not knowing where to go to. I entered the back alley of the padang and saw the starting arch where we started from earlier. Very dark and not a single marshal there. I had to stop running and ask for direction—where should I run to? Where's the finish line? A bystander pointed to the end of that road beyond the start arch. So I ran to that direction. At the end of that road, I guessed I had to turn right. And then finally, I saw an opened gate. I entered that gate and saw the finish arch. I ran in and crossed the finish line in 4:23:04, only managed 12th position in the veteran category. The distance was about 43km. I was way adrift of my 4:15 slowest estimate, but I was so glad to finish such an unreal marathon event.

It's a good LSD training, but such an awful race. If I had this racing condition in Chiang Mai this December, I'd be really pissed for sure! All my friends eventually survived the race in the end. And we had a glorious breakfast in town later that morning. Congratulations y'all!

But now it's time to recover and then resume training for Kuching Marathon as soon as possible. I'm aware that Kuching Marathon has been going on for a number of years now. So I'm confident that I'd be getting a much better deal there. If you're running in Kuching too, I'll see you there!


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Losing Focus

There was a time like a hundred years ago when I looked up to my father as a role model. As a boy, I can still remember wanting to become exactly like him some day. But over the years, as I was growing up, I realised that he wasn't such a great role model after all. He had way too many weaknesses and he made way too many mistakes in his life; and he kept repeating those mistakes too.

I had the habit of lamenting about my father to my uncle. My uncle said something very profound to me. He said if I'm convinced that I'm smarter than my father, then I should be the one to understand him; not the other way round. I should be the one to find ways on how to make him see where I'm coming from. That was about 30 years ago, but I've never forgotten my uncle's advice up to now.

The recent case of the student who was beaten by her teacher as a punishment for calling him names, reminded me once again of my uncle's advice. I myself am a parent to a teenager, and for seventeen years I've never once beaten her as a means of teaching her manners or how to become a good person. She's not a perfect child, but thankfully she's never been in any serious trouble in school. Perhaps I'm just a lucky parent, but I have at least proven, albeit from just one child, that beating is not entirely necessary to discipline or teach a child manners. In fact I'm a firm believer that beating may even be harmful in giving rise to the habit of her doing the same to her children and other people.

Having been a teacher for about three-and-a-half years of my life, I think the role of a teacher is far greater than just to impart knowledge to the kids. He is also a role model, and suppose to inspire his students to aspire for greater things in life. Those are the things, therefore, where his focus should lie. However, dealing with many students can be quite challenging. It means many different family backgrounds, religious and moral upbringing, how they interact with their peers and teachers. Needless to say, there is bound to be some bad apples.

When the going gets tough the teacher, above all else, should remain true to his role and be very careful not to lose focus. If he considers that he is smarter, that he is the educator, the role model, the person that inspires his students, then he should behave like one, and not easily lose focus and fall victim to anger, thus reacting by beating the student on grounds of provocation. 

A strong man is one that keeps a cool head under very stressful situation and able to act in a calmly manner—a quality that I have no doubt that many of his students would admire. Respect is not an automatic entitlement; it is earned. If one wishes to be respected, then he should behave respectably. An ordinary man may lose his cool, and then driven by anger to act violently against others. But when one wears the hat of a teacher, the standard of expectation is much higher than that of an ordinary man.

The standard of expectation can vary between different professions. A judge is expected not to indulge in any criminal act. A doctor is expected to have the passion to save lives. A clergyman is expected to be religious. A teacher in the course of his duty is expected not to be provoked into violent behavior when he is angry.

But what about the student that called him names? Well, she obviously needed to be taught manners. She deserved some guidance. A young mind is not always thinking at the same wavelength as that of an adult's. That's why the teacher needs to be creative in his approach. Perhaps discuss the problem with her parents, or suggest counselling sessions. Just because beatings by teachers was an accepted punishment by most parents in the past, that doesn't mean that it was the right, or best, solution for problematic kids.

I'm seeing reactions on facebook, some of which have suggested that if the teacher is not allowed to beat his student, then he should just focus on imparting knowledge and neglect teaching the student to become a better person. I must beg to differ. A teacher is a teacher, and his job is not limited to just imparting knowledge. I would expect him to develop the mind and instill good qualities in his students to make them better people. I find that to demand the right to beat his students as a condition for him to carry out his full responsibilities is too big a price to pay. 

May I repeat, respect is not an automatic entitlement; respect is earned. If one wishes to be respected, then he must behave respectably. The teacher, in the course of imparting knowledge and wisdom, should be the one to find ways to help his students, not just resorting to violent means.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Wanting to Believe

I'm seeing a number of posts on facebook on the recent gay sex video purportedly taken in a room at Hotel Four Points, Sandakan, involving Haziq Abdullah Abdul Aziz and Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali. But apart from facebook posts, I've also had conversations with friends about the same topic. A fair number of these posts and conversations are basically expressions of dissatisfaction on what has transpired since the time when Haziq confessed that he was one of the men in the video. He said the other man was Azmin Ali, but the latter has denied it. For the benefit of non-Malaysians reading this post, gay sex is against the law in Malaysia.

The dissatisfaction arose due to the fact that Haziq has since been arrested by the police, but the Minister is still a free man. This, they claim, is unfair, and it has been suggested that both Haziq and Azmin should be arrested. Well, I can't speak for the police, but I'm sure it has a valid explanation for arresting Haziq, and not the Minister. But I shall come back to this point shortly.

Of the several facebook posts that I've seen, I've only commented on one—that of a friend whom I'm convinced is an open-minded and learned person, capable of holding a decent and honest discussion on the subject. Of the rest, I have refrained from commenting because most people are not open-minded; and they may even become annoyed when receiving comments that do not agree with their opinions.

I find it very interesting that some people can come to the conclusion as to the guilt of the accused person simply from watching a video clip of which its authenticity has yet to be confirmed. Apparently, one of the persons in the video resembles the Minister, but so far this has not yet been proven to be the case. I'm guessing that the police would need a bit of time to investigate into the authenticity of the video.

Obviously, there are many questions to be answered in relation to the case. Some of these questions are suggestive of Azmin's guilt, while others are suggestive of his innocence. Questions such as Haziq's own father having doubts that that was his son in the video; Haziq's longtime friends having no clue whatsoever that he is gay; Haziq's claim that Azmin was the one who recorded the act (which begs the question: Are we then supposed to assume that Azmin shared that video to kill his own political career? Or was that video stolen by a third party somehow?). So many other questions remain to be answered. But the type of questions raised—whether for or against Azmin's defense—and by whom, are indicative of the persons asking those questions.

There is a psychological significance here, and that is the point this post. Human nature is such that we sometimes have the tendency to believe in something, perhaps even hoping that something is indeed true, and we either consciously or subconsciously jump to the conclusion despite so many questions still unanswered. Furthermore, of the many unanswered questions, there is that tendency to focus only on those which can help our case, and simply reject the questions that are not in our favour. For example, if I'm convinced that the accused is guilty, and if he denies the accusation, there is the tendency not to believe him and reject that denial. If there are witnesses that claim the accused was never in contact with Haziq while he was in Sandakan, that too would be dismissed as trying to protect the accused. Whatever other evidence or witnesses that can help the case of the accused, all those would be dismissed, because subconsciously the mind is focused on one thing, and only one thing—wanting so much to believe that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime that he is accused of.

I have actually discussed this point before, although it was a discussion that revolved around religion. I've said that if a person does not believe in God, no amount of evidence can help to change his mind. Even if God himself appears in a physical form in front of his very eyes, that would be dismissed as merely some sort of magic tricks by a very clever artist. On the other hand if the person is a believer, everything he sees around him is already proof enough for God's existence. He would see the world, the sun and the moon, the seas and the mountains, the air we breathe, and life as a whole, as the ultimate proof of God's existence.

Jumping to the conclusion before investigations are concluded is a natural human tendency. It takes a very strong person to resist the temptation of jumping to the conclusion. And it takes an even stronger person to be unbiased when sifting through the many evidences in the course of the investigation, questioning and analysing each of them with the same veracity, instead of picking only those that can help his case to support something that he wants so much to believe.

Two final points I'd like to make in this post. The first is that I keep an open mind on the matter. That is because based on the available "evidence" right now, I'm simply not satisfied. Anybody can accuse anybody; anybody can deny accusations. I can only form an opinion when all the evidences have been presented and verified or confirmed. The accused may well be proven guilty in the end, and if that is indeed the case, then I have no problem in accepting that conclusion. For I am neither for nor against the accused. I am for the truth.

The second point before I close is on the dissatisfaction of Haziq's arrest (now reportedly released on bail). The police has not offered any explanation why only Haziq has been arrested, whereas the Minister is still a free man up to now. I have said earlier that I can't speak for the police, but if I were the police, I would explain it like this: There are essentially two persons involved in this case, i.e. Haziq and Azmin, and the main evidence is the video clip, supposedly taken in Azmin's room at Hotel Four Points, Sandakan. That video clip is, however, yet to be investigated of its authenticity and the persons in it yet to be proven Haziq and Azmin. On the strength of the video alone, neither Haziq nor Azmin should be arrested. However, Haziq had confessed that he's one of the persons in the gay sex video. In other words, he confessed to a crime under the Malaysian law, and the police therefore can act on that confession according to the law, not act on the strength of the video. If a person confessed to a crime, I see nothing wrong in the police arresting him. Azmin on the other hand did not confess. In fact he denied the accusation. It would mean that in order for the police to arrest Azmin, it would have to arrest on account of the video which is yet to be authenticated. This is just a possible explanation from a layman looking at the matter with an open mind. But of course I'm also aware that when a person had already convinced himself of Azmin's guilt, such an explanation would be dismissed as mere nonsense!


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Searching for a Suitable Career

I had an interesting conversation with JJ recently when I fetched her from maths tuition. She is in form 5 this year and will be sitting for her SPM exams in a couple of months' time. Up to now she is still unsure what studies she'd like to pursue beyond form 5, and she asked me what I wanted her to do.

I told her quite frankly that as much as I'd like to, I can't decide for her. At best, I can only give some suggestions. I said she has a flair for English, and maybe it's worth exploring a career in something to do with English. By the way, I have recently discovered from JJ that our schools in Malaysia do teach grammar after all. Just that there is no emphasis on it in assignments and exams. So although JJ can speak and write grammatically well, she doesn't know what are adjectives and gerunds, for example. Thankfully, she knows quite a bit about tenses. I was thinking maybe she has some potential in journalism; maybe she can also have a future as a novelist, y'know, something along those lines.

JJ was rather surprised that I wasn't even suggesting anything in the order of doctors, engineers, dentists or any other professions coming from the science stream. Somehow she had the impression that I wanted her to pursue one of those, because those are "respectable professions" and for "smarter people".

I told JJ that she should choose something that she loves doing as a profession, because in the end it's her life, not mine. I won't think any less of her if she's not a doctor or engineer or dentist. She is what she is, and she has strengths and weaknesses just like anybody else, including doctors, engineers and dentists. If she's happy doing what she's doing, then I guess that's already a big achievement. For I know of many, many people feeling miserable in their professions. It would be a big tragedy if JJ chooses something that she doesn't like, just to make me and Mia happy, but she herself is miserable. 

There are only two important things she needs to bear in mind. Whatever she chooses to do, she should try to be among the best at it. The other thing is that she can't expect to get everything in life. Sometimes doing something that you like doing won't translate into big money, and you may have to be poor till you retire. So maybe compromises will have to be made.

Mia doesn't always think at the same wavelength as mine. I bet there will be some tendency to influence JJ to pursue something that mommy likes, but not necessarily something that JJ likes. However, I want JJ to know that daddy will be there to the rescue if there is any element of force. I very rarely get involved in this sort of things, but this would be one of the very few exceptions, and I would step in to intervene if there is a need.

Truth be told, I'm getting a little anxious about JJ. She said many of her classmates have more or less decided what they want to do after SPM, but she is still clueless. Well, there's still a few more months. Hopefully she will think of something after SPM.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Depression

I have a friend from a well-to-do family background. She is highly educated and doing well in her career. She owns many properties even though she's still quite young. Although she is not an athlete, she is generally healthy. She has what I'd imagine what most other women can only dream of having.

Yet the irony of it all is that she's been suffering from depression for many, many years now. Although I did not discuss the matter with her in detail, I suspect she must have sought professional help to treat her condition. Well, whatever it is, it's obviously not working in terms of totally curing the problem. At best, the doctors have been able to control it.

I was once as poor as a church mouse many years ago—I had practically nothing to my name, no properties, no fat bank account, no university degree and no prospect of ever getting a scholarship or education loan to pursue my tertiary education. During the darkest moments of my life, I worked as a supervisor and was in charge of labourers collecting garbage from house to house. On many occasions, I myself had to be one of them, i.e. being a garbage collector. Quite often, I had to work for up to 14 hours a day. It was hell, and it seemed like there was very little prospect of improving my life beyond that. Those are circumstances which I would consider as good ones to be depressed about. It was very stressful, but I was never depressed.

I've long before that realised that everybody faces challenges in life, and I've learned to count my blessings. I focused mainly on what I had—which, unfortunately, wasn't much back then—and tried to build from that. Because after all, being rich or poor, being healthy or sick, being highly educated or not—all these are relative measurements. If I'm poor, I bet there are many poorer people out there struggling to make ends meet, and to feed their families. If I'm feeling not so healthy, I bet there are many people at the verge of dying of a terminal diseases out there. If I think I'm not so well-educated, I bet there are still people who're unable to read and write out there.

That is basically why I refused to dwell on the negatives. I'd rather focus my energy on whatever's out there that I can potentially acquire. For as long as I keep trying, there is something that I can hope for. If I failed, then that's too bad; I suppose I will keep trying again and again. It's OK, I don't mind trying. There is just no reason for me to be depressed. What I've learned in life is that if I keep trying, sooner or later I'm bound to be successful in at least some of those challenges.

It's OK to be disappointed in something, but don't be depressed about it. Count your blessings and remember that you are still better off than many, many other people. Be happy instead. After all it's much more fun pursuing the dreams of your life feeling happy rather than depressed.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Art of Keeping Secrets

My mother-in-law lived in my house for about 2 years before she died. She had trouble walking, and she would spend her days moving between her bed and my favourite seat in front of the TV, which very quickly became her throne when she moved in. She had an amazing stamina watching TV at least a few hours a day.

As you all probably already know, the shows on Astro would be repeated over and over again throughout the day, and quite often over a period of several weeks. I don't normally spend a lot of time watching TV though, and I would rarely find myself in front of the TV. But sometimes, I would be in the mood to watch old movies which I've missed watching in the cinema.

The only problem was that my mother-in-law had an incurable disease that made her unable to control herself from telling me what's going to happen next in the movie. Even though I told her countless of times not to tell, that could only make her stop for a few minutes. After that she would lose her control again. I'm not sure if it's just a habit or a kind of weakness of the mind. Sometimes, people are born with some sort of inclination, and it would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Such was the case with my mother-in-law as far as having no control of spoiling movies for others.

What I've noticed about people in general is that the vast majority of them can't control themselves from sharing the information that they have, though admittedly perhaps they're not as hopeless as my mother-in-law. Of course then again my mother-in-law was an extreme case, and perhaps not a suitable comparison. 

Especially if it is an important secret—an important information that is absolutely critical not to be shared with others—they would want to share that knowledge even more. The itch to tell, I'd imagine, is overwhelming. And even if they don't tell directly, they'd at least do it indirectly by dropping hints or speak like Jesus, in parables.

That's essentially why for the last several days, whenever I'm on facebook, I would shut my mind from the many, many posts about The Avengers: Endgame. I would simply ignore those posts and moved on to the rest of facebook. Except for a very few of those posts, the majority just couldn't control themselves from dropping hints about the storyline. For the most part, I did not entertain those posts until I have seen the movie myself recently. And only after I'd seen the movie had I revisited the posts on facebook. True enough, what I had known all along about most people is indeed true—they can't control themselves!

Keeping secrets is an art. In fact, it's a skill that very few possess. Most people would be itching to tell others, especially if they're told "not to tell"! It's a skill that some people will never acquire. Not everybody can do it. It takes a very strong, disciplined and patient person to master the art of keeping secrets.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

ILL INTENTIONS

Some women are very clever—they are resourceful and creative. On numerous occasions they may be even better than men in solving very tough problems. Some of them would become leaders in politics, in big companies or any other organisations. Yet when taken as a whole, female leaders are still substantially far fewer than male leaders. Immediately we ask ourselves—Why?

At the risk of getting bombarded by so many of my women readers, I'm putting my head on the chopping board to share what I think is the main reason. Or if not the main reason, at least one of the most significant reasons.

I'm seeing it in the female members of my family, friends and acquaintances. These range from people having little or no education at all, up to people whom are very highly educated. The vast majority of them have one thing in common‐they have a curious tendency to focus their energy on what other people think of them; they are convinced that other people perpetually have ill intentions on them, especially other women.

In school or at the workplace, or in any place at all, there is always that stumbling block that would hamper the progress of women. Whenever other women do or say something, however petty or without any ill intention, the interpretations that will be drawn will first and foremost be a negative one. That other woman did so-and-so "because she is jealous of me"; or "because she wants to drag me through the mud"; or "because she wants the boss to disfavour me". Something like that.

In due course, leaders will have to make decisions; quite often important decisions which will have an impact on so many other people. And good decisions should be free from personal issues. As a leader I may give a job or responsibility to someone I dislike, if I'm convinced that he's the most suitable candidate for that job. Whatever and however I feel about that candidate on a personal basis is not to influence my decision.

I have a number of women in the office, and I'm seeing the so-called "stabbing" and "back-stabbing" happening almost on a daily basis. A total waste of energy. I'm just looking and amusing myself for the most part, and at times I catch myself shaking my head seeing all these nonsense going on. They are not destined to become leaders even if they are brilliant in their profession.

But some women—although I suspect not very many—are not like that at all. They decide and act without any influence of such petty matters; and quite often arrive at very good decisions too. They would go on to become good leaders. Alas, not so many of them...