Sunday, April 26, 2020

Playing Nutritionist

I went to a pharmacy in Damai a few days ago to buy vitamin C supplements, and I ended up having an interesting debate, albeit a short one, with the pharmacist. To be honest, I haven't been taking vitamin C supplements until very recently, and even  then I'm not doing it diligently. I would miss a day or two, and sometimes longer, before suddenly remembering to take them again. I'm just not really serious about vitamin C. 

There was an assortment of different brands and different means of consumption, i.e. some are taken in the form of tablets; others are taken after having been diluted in water and to be consumed as a drink. There are also many different dosages, some are tablets containing a mere 250mg each, whereas others may contain as high as 1500mg each. I wanted the 250mg tablets, i.e. one of the lowest. But the pharmacist was recommending the 1000mg tablets. She said the body needs it.

My wife has been taking vitamin C for the longest. Somebody must've convinced her many years ago that taking vitamin C is absolutely necessary. I suspect it must've been one of those so-called "direct-selling" folks playing doctors or nutritionists. I can still remember when my mother-in-law was still alive, my wife made her take vitamin C supplements too; and each tablet, if I'm not mistaken, had 1500mg of vitamin C in it. I did not know this until one day when I wanted to buy something from the pharmacy, and she told me to buy some vitamin C for her mom. I was surprised to know the dosage. She explained to me that the digestive system of old folks may not be as efficient as young people; she may not get sufficient vitamin C from her diet. Hence the 1500mg vitamin C supplements.

Now I'm not a nutritionist, but I know a little bit about vitamins. There are many different recommendations for what is deemed as the amount of vitamin C required by the body each day, from as low as 40mg (National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad) to as high as 110mg (European Food Safety Authority). You may have noticed that that's way lesser than the 1000mg recommended by the pharmacist; and the 1500mg taken by my late mother-in-law. Since I have plenty of vegetables and fruits in my diet, I did not think that I'm not consuming sufficient vitamin C for my daily requirement. Furthermore, I've also noticed that vitamin C is also present in some of my sports supplements. I'm also drinking Ribena almost daily for my sports activities, and I reckon that I'm getting at least 100mg from Ribena alone.

However, I've noticed that many people, especially from "direct selling" companies, would use the excuse that even if people consume a lot of foods which are sources of vitamin C in their diets, they may not necessarily be able to absorb it into their system. That's why they must take vitamin C supplements. And of course their supplements are the best compared to others because theirs are much more easily absorbed by the body. This is also the same excuse they'd frequently use for any other vitamins or substances required by the body.

I'm a very simple-minded fellow. If indeed my body is unable to absorb sufficient vitamin C from my diet, then I reckon there will be symptoms of deficiency such as bleeding gums or slow-healing wounds, or some other signs which would give rise to negative effects on my health. But if there are no such symptoms of deficiency, then that must mean the body is still getting enough. I'm not trying to play nutritionist here, I'm just applying a bit of simple logic and common sense. Therefore, no amount of persuasion from the pharmacist will make me take 1000mg of vitamin C supplements on a daily basis.

I suspect many of my readers are vitamin C supplements consumers. Before you start bombarding me, let me just say that this post is not intended to ridicule you. If you want to consume 1500mg vitamin C daily, by all means, pray continue. I'm just explaining why I'm not doing it.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Ineffective Order

Malaysia has been under the Movement Control Order (MCO) since 18 March. The Order was originally to have been implemented up to 31 March, but it has since been extended up to 14 April. However, many Malaysians are now predicting that it will be extended up to at least the end of April, if not beyond that. If it is indeed extended, it shows that the MCO has not been very effective against the Covid-19.

Now the biggest problem with the Covid-19, apart from having no vaccine, is that there is an estimated incubation period of about 14 days after infection, within which the infected person may unknowingly infect others around him, even though he's not showing any symptoms of the disease. Beyond that, those other people may also do the same to others, thus the chain of infections continues.

The whole idea of the MCO is to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic by forcing, to a certain extent, people to stay at home, so that when people are isolated from each other, there is little chance for the virus to spread from infected people to others. At the same time, testing could be conducted on suspected cases, such as when people have a history of being in close contact with known infected people, or if they are showing symptoms of the disease. If the tests are found to be positive, then they can be quarantined, thus preventing the virus from spreading. In theory, that seems like a sound strategy. But in Malaysia, so far it doesn't seem to be working very well, if at all.

I don't proclaim myself to be an expert in crisis management. But whenever I'm faced with a problem—any type of problem, not necessarily just dealing with the Covid-19—especially if it's a new problem to me, I, too, may end up trying to solve it with a trial-and-error approach. It's always the same; I'd start with a theory and then formulate a specific step-by-step strategy in implementing that theory. If I failed to get the desired result, then logically it means that that theory is unsound. Or if I'm still convinced that it's a good theory, then it must mean that there are weaknesses in its implementation. In either case, one thing should be glaringly obvious—if an approach doesn't work once, repeating that same approach over and over again will most probably result in failure again and again. I'm thinking, extending the MCO again and again will not beat the Covid-19. 

A friend shared the story of her son. He was in close contact with someone who was eventually found to have been infected with Covid-19. A few days later, he developed some of the symptoms of the disease. He then got himself tested, and while waiting for the result, decided to self-quarantine at home. The result eventually came back positive. But what's really disturbing was that it took NINE (9) DAYS to get the result. Between the time that he actually got infected up to the time when the symptoms manifested, he could have infected others around him. Some people develop no symptom whatsoever and may proceed to infect others.

I think 9 days to get the results for the Covid-19 tests is just too pathetically long. I wonder if that's how long it takes for all the Covid-19 tests throughout Malaysia, or is that just for Sabah? We need to solve this problem first. There are also many other people who were in close contact with infected people, but refusing to come forward to be tested for the disease. And let's not forget that there are still some people who are not heeding the MCO. If just a small percentage of them are positive of the disease, that's good enough to destroy the MCO strategy to fight Covid-19. The chain has not in fact been broken, and extending the MCO is bound to be in vain.

The authority should seriously find ways to achieve fast testing and quick results so that positive cases could be isolated faster; shore up enforcement of the MCO by hunting those who've been in close contact with infected people, and imposing heavier punishments upon those who're not heeding the MCO. All these should be dealt with first for the MCO to be effective.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Value of a Challenge

The Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia is quite an eye opener for most of us. Though not exactly amounting to a house arrest, it's in fact very close to one. It takes a bit of effort to adapt to the lifestyle of being confined at home, though in this case we're still allowed to go out for food supplies and essential items. I'm not sure if I'd ever get used to spending so much time in my home.

People have been asking me on several occasions in the past, why I'd run the marathons, race the Ironman and the swimathon, and the likes. My answer has always been the same—because I'm blessed with a reasonably healthy body, and I'd like to do what I can do with it while I still can. For there are people out there who were born without limbs or confined to a wheelchair; they're probably longing to be able to run the marathons. There is almost no limit to the lust for freedom. One of these days, I will be too old to run marathons or race the Ironman; perhaps I, too, will be spending my days sitting in a wheelchair, in a diaper. But if ever that time comes, there is no regrets, for I have lived my life to the fullest; I have achieved what I challenged myself to achieve. And if I failed to achieve what I set out to accomplish, then that's fine too. Sometimes in life the value of the challenge is in the journey, and less of the final destination.

The MCO is especially tough for people who're used to the active lifestyle; those spending a good amount of time outdoors indulging in sporting activities such as running, swimming and cycling. Unless if one has a personal gym at home, it takes some imagination and creativity to keep active while confined at home. Although I don't have a gym, I do have a bike trainer, and I've been making good use of it regularly throughout the MCO. I also do a bit of skipping, jog around my compound (which is horrifyingly boring and mentally very challenging) and some other light exercises like stretching.

Notwithstanding the above, however, I have no immediate plans to run 263km in my house. A friend told me this morning that someone in Malaysia ran that distance in about 36 hours in his house to prove that "it's possible for runners to stay active from the safety of their homes during the MCO, even if it might not be as efficient as running outdoors."

Running 263km is undoubtedly an amazing feat, perhaps not just physically, but especially mentally. I'm an idiot when it comes to pursuing big sporting challenges in life, but I would never run that distance in my house—even if I'm physically or mentally able to do it—to prove that runners can stay active from the safety of their homes. That particular challenge is just not appealing to me; and therefore there is no value to me. If I want to prove a point about keeping active at home, then I'd run or bike say an hour or two. That is proof enough, because the vast majority of runners hardly ever run much longer than that anyway. "Keeping active", to them, means an hour or two, not 36 hours.

Please don't get it wrong though. I said running 263km in the house is of no value to me, but that doesn't mean it has no value to the runner who did it. It is an amazing achievement and he has earned my admiration and praise.

I suppose different runners aspire for different challenges. What's valuable to me may be very different from what's valuable to other runners. The most important thing now is to heed the MCO, but still keep physically active at home. It needs not be an hour or 36 hours. Perhaps exercise a minimum 30 minutes a day on average—"minimum" being the keyword—to remain healthy and sane during the MCO.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Neutral Position

Malaysia has been overwhelmed by political turmoils in recent days, and so far it seems like the storm is not abating anytime soon. Way too many Malaysians have suddenly become expert political analysts. I read, with a certain degree of amusement, some of their opinions and explanations—especially those which attempted to explain what's going on in the minds of people like Tun Dr M. 

Of course I have my own views and theories too, but I shall carefully refrain from making a fool of myself. The point is that I readily admit that I can't read minds, unlike those people I've mentioned in the preceding paragraph above. Instead, I want to share my view about people in general; of how easy it is for one to fall prey to one's feelings when analysing things.

The thing is that if we start theorizing or analysing people from a biased position, that is to say we start from the position of either favour or disfavour that person, there is that tendency for us to somehow arrive at the conclusion that would concur with our opinion of that person, all other factors notwithstanding.

Take for example, if I'm convinced that Anwar Ibrahim is a good person that he claims himself to be. Then no amount of evidence that anybody can produce would change my opinion of him. Even if glaring DNA evidence is produced, I will try very hard to say that that evidence was fabricated to destroy him. Even if his sperm is found in the anus of his accuser, that, too, is no good, because I would reject that as a conspiracy by his political enemies. In other words, doctors, lab technicians, the police, the judges—heck, in fact almost everybody else, would have to conspire on a grand scale to bring this man down! That must be the only right conclusion. Any other conclusion, in spite of whatever evidence, however spectacular, must be incorrect!

Now take the case of Najib Razak. If I'm his supporter, then no amount of evidence against him will be sufficient to affect my opinion of him in the least. Even if there are documented evidence to show that money—insane amount of money—has been deposited into his personal account, that would somehow be interpreted as some dark forces are all out to bring him down. His accusers must be the ones who are lying, even if all the evidence are duly corroborated. Najib's explanation for the money in his personal account, however ridiculous and can't hold water for a second, would be the more believable one instead.

Therefore, if I'm not a supporter of Tun Dr M, whatever he does, I will somehow interpret that as part and parcel of his evil plan, because he must have an ulterior motive in whatever he does. He is a scheming little scoundrel, a master strategist that would go to all ends to enrich himself and his children. If he remained as the Prime Minister, then that's because he is power-crazy and had intended to remain in power until he dies. But on the other hand, if he resigned as the Prime Minister, then that, too, must be yet another one of his evil plans to somehow profit himself and his cronies. In fact, even if he walks away from politics tomorrow, that, too, will be interpreted as having some sort of significance in a negative way.

How many of you would dare to say, in all honesty, that you can judge these people from a neutral position? Meaning analysing the pros and cons based on facts, truthfully, and not based on your personal sentiments of the matter? If the facts can show the conclusions about these people which are the opposites of what you believe to be the truth, are you capable of bringing yourselves to judge according to those facts, and not your own sentiments?

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Learning From The Monkey

JJ sat for the Physics papers, the last of the SPM exams, a couple of days ago. She's so relieved and exceedingly happy that it's all over. Except that daddy has reminded her that it isn't over yet! Now the long wait for the results. But in the meantime, she has quite a lot of things lined up for the next few months, the first of which is the curious desire to dye her hair green. Of all the colours, why green?

I can't picture myself having green hair, not that I'm planning to dye my hair green anytime soon. I had an interesting conversation with her mommy in the car just this afternoon, and we got to the subject of JJ's green hair plan. Mia said she wanted to think it over for a bit. She's convinced that JJ would regret doing it. She's contemplating talking to JJ with a view of changing her mind.

And that started me off on my lecture.

I had in the past told the story of the monkey, and I'm telling the story again now. It's about how the villagers go about catching the monkey. They make a tiny hole in a young coconut, and then tie that coconut with a rope. They then put some peanuts into that coconut and leave the scene. The monkey which is resting high on the tree, has been observing the villagers put the peanuts into coconut. Seeing that the villagers are no longer around, it comes down to the ground to steal the peanuts from inside the coconut. Its tiny hand could just make it through the tiny hole in the coconut. But as soon as it grips the peanuts, its hand turns into a fist and becomes stuck in that hole.

The villagers then return to the scene with a net. The monkey struggles to retrieve its hand. As the villagers get closer and closer, the monkey becomes increasingly desperate. But no amount of strength could release its hand from the coconut. In the end, the monkey is captured.

Such is the amusing story of how the monkey can be tricked with such a simple trap. But actually the monkey could easily escape. All it had to do was to let go of the peanuts.

JJ is 17 years old, and very soon she will be going away to pursue her studies. She will be away for several years, and when it's over, she'll no longer be a teenager—she'll be an adult. To me, she'll always be my baby, and I can see that Mia feels the same way about her. 

Mia is so afraid that JJ would blunder and make mistakes—serious mistakes—in her life. She has prevented JJ from having a facebook account. Daddy has allowed JJ to create a facebook account long ago, but mommy has somehow disallowed her to be active on facebook. JJ is not allowed to go swimming unless her mommy comes along. Mia doesn't want to allow the possibility of JJ drowning, no matter how remote is that possibility.

But I said to Mia, sooner or later we will have to learn to let her go; we have to let her grow up. She has a mind of her own, and it's entirely possible that we may not like some of the things that she likes. We won't be around forever to watch her like a hawk. For better or worse, she will find her way. And when in due course she is lost and asks for our help, then we will come for the rescue and guide her back to the right path again. After all, one of the best ways to learn in life is by making mistakes.

Sometimes in life, we need to let go of the things we love so much because if we hold on for way too long, what results is not always the best. Learn from the monkey—because of its refusal to let go, in the end it lost its freedom, i.e. something much more precious than the peanuts.

So now I'm bracing up for the shock. Yes, it will still be a shock even though I know what's gonna happen. Any day now JJ will be coming home from the salon with green hair!

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.