Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Power Of Love

Our maid, Fin, went back to her hometown in Indonesia for a holiday in July. She said she would return to Sabah to continue working for us after about 2 months. But as expected, she hasn’t returned up to now. So we haven’t had a maid since July.

It’s a bit tough for us to cope without a maid because both Mia and I are working during the weekdays; and the weekends are the only days we can take a break. We have therefore been looking for a maid, but haven’t been successful so far.

After several months without a maid, we were very happy when someone told us that there’s an Indonesian woman looking for a job as a maid. That was last Monday. I quickly called her up and made the arrangement to fetch her the next day.

Came Tuesday, during the lunch break, I sneaked out of the office to fetch Jovita from City Mall. Mia, too, drove all the way home from Alam Mesra to meet Jovita. We spent about an hour giving Jovita her scope of responsibilities. Then we had to go back to work again. Before that we told Jovita not to do any cooking and use any of the electrical appliances until we return in the evening. She had just arrived from her village about 2 weeks before that and was not very familiar with electrical appliances, you see.

Well, anyway, we went back to work. Several hours later, when I reached home from the office in the evening, Jovita was in her room. I called out to her several times, but she refused to answer. I raised my voice a little louder, thinking that she didn’t hear me somehow. When she emerged from her room, she was crying uncontrollably. I was surprised to find her in that condition. I asked her what has happened, but she refused to tell me what’s wrong.

Shortly after that, Mia arrived home from her office. In the bedroom, I told Mia about Jovita. Later that night Mia took her time to talk to Jovita. In the end, she was able to solve the mystery.

Apparently, Jovita had a boyfriend back home; and that boyfriend did not allow Jovita to come to Sabah. But Jovita had no choice because her parents needed her help to feed her other 4 siblings. She went to a loan shark to borrow 2 million Rupiah (the last time I checked, about RM800) and made up her mind to come to Sabah anyway. If she is able to find a job and repay the loan within 6 months, then the amount due would be 3 million Rupiah. But if she takes a year to repay the loan, it would cost her 4 million Rupiah. You know how it is with loan sharks.

However, that’s not the end of the story; Jovita’s boyfriend was adamant not to let her go. He warned her that if she left him, that would be the end of their relationship. But of course this joker has no means to support Jovita. In the end, Jovita made the brave decision to come to Sabah anyway.

That fateful afternoon, while alone in my house, her mind started to wander. Inevitably, she ended up thinking about her boyfriend. And she started to cry. And then she cried some more. And then she cried much, much more—until I arrived home from work that evening.

We asked her if she really wanted to work—she didn’t seem like she’s gonna last 6 months, let alone 1 year. She said she’s sure that she wanted to work. Otherwise there’s just no way she could pay her debt. One way or another, she must earn some money before going home to Indonesia.

Well, OK, I guess that’s sensible enough. After all the trouble of coming all the way to Sabah, why would she go home empty-handed, right?

The next day, I was driving at around 2 pm when I received a call from Jovita. She was crying uncontrollably again. I waited a few seconds for her to calm down. In between her sobs, I could hear her say, “ndak bisa; ndak bisa” (cannot, cannot). At that point, I knew what was happening—I had expected it anyway.

When I arrived home that evening, Jovita was already calm. In fact, she was humming a tune to herself. I waited for Mia to come home from work and then both of us sent Jovita back to her cousin where she will probably stay for a few more days before going back to her village to be reunited with her man.

She will have a lot to explain to her parents. Then she has to reckon with the loan shark; and probably will be indebted for the rest of her life. Hopefully the loan shark will not be too harsh on her family. A mountain of problems waiting for her at home. But in spite of all those, at least she will have her man. Sure, they will be poor—dirt poor—but, y’know, we’ve all heard it all before, the power of love is hard to explain. I just hope for her sake that the man is really worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Buy & Fly

Most of us Malaysians are familiar with the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), Kuala Lumpur. I myself have been travelling through this terminal many more times than the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) terminal.

Last Sunday, on my way home to KK, I was a little early when I entered the departure hall. It was around noon, so I thought it's a good idea to grab something to eat. In the departure hall, there is a cafe with a catchy name—Buy & Fly. Such an attractive name and makes a lot of sense too. It is simple and very easy to remember; and it rhymes.

There were many packed meals on sale; they range from cakes and buns, nasi lemak and mi goreng and of course some good old sandwiches. There're also a wide variety of canned drinks available. All of those were displayed on the shelves located by the walls. In front of the shop, there were small tables and chairs where people could sit while having their meals.

Buy & Fly also had an interesting rounded display area in the middle of the shop. In them were some drinks and some jellies contained in plastic cups as shown above. Buy & Fly also lived up to their name. Below is a blown up portion of the above picture. Let's see how sharp your eyes are; how many flies can you spot on the jelly cups?

Virtual Hunt

Some of you have been pestering me about the first anniversary virtual hunt in this blog. Since I have been repeating myself several times over emails, perhaps it's best that I make the announcement here. At the same time, the purpose of this post is also to whet your appetite!... HAHAHA!

I am more or less done with the questions for the virtual hunt. But I am looking for the best time to organize the competition. It is not something very grand—I'll probably throw in a RM100 prize money just as a sweetener. Besides, I have the impression that many of you are not focusing on the prize anyway.

Now is not a good time to do it. I need at least a week uninterrupted for the competition. During that one week window, I will be posting ONE question per day. This is something like the Volvo online hunt last year. The question will be posted at the same time each day—tentatively at 7:00 pm. Everyone will then have equal opportunity to submit his/her answer. But only ONE answer is allowed per customer. I am aware that some of you may have the foresight to register under different names at the beginning of the hunt, but I can't do much to control that.

I will also factor in time element into the competition. The first successful answer for each question will get the full score of 10 points; second, 8 points; third, 6 points; fourth, 4 points; fifth, 2 points; and 1 point each for all remaining correct submissions.

In terms of difficulty level, it won't be the super tough ones. In fact some are easy; some are moderate and only a few somewhat "tricky". The reason I'm doing it this way is so that the competition is achieveable by a wider audience. It would be quite a disaster if only one or two masters are able to solve some of those questions. So because more people can solve, it means that it's a matter of how fast you can solve those questions (and submit the respective answers). Trust me, folks, most of you would probably require a bit of time to solve some of them.

In my opinion, the time element will make the competition more exciting. Some of you freak hunters may be able to solve the questions at a glance. Some might take an hour or so; others might take longer.

But now the problem of when to do it. There is hardly any time between now and theSun Hunt. And then after theSun, I will probably be spending the next few days kutuk-ing (according to one of my readers) the questions and answers. Then soon after that, I will be flying off again to Penang for the 25K run. So it seems that we will have to wait till after Penang, i.e. second half of November. In other words, about a month from now! So be patient, folks, the hunt will certainly come. Give me a bit of time to save RM100 for the prize money... HAHAHA!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Those of you who haven't been to Brickfields are bound to notice 2 things about the neighbourhood.

Firstly, there's a high population of Indians there. It's almost like if you were to toss a stone in any direction randomly, you are bound to hit an Indian. You will see an Indian in every nook and corner of Brickfields.

Secondly, there are so many blind people in Brickfields. You can see them in the street almost around the clock. Many of these blind people are working in the massage centres located on the upper floors of shophouses. So you can imagine how many massage centres are found in Brickfields.

The streets themselves have an interesting character. At almost every junction and pedestrian crossing points, there is bound to be a signboard reminding the public of blind people crossing the roads.

The first time I was at Brickfields, I was puzzled by the long stretches of special tiles laid on the pavements. These tiles can be found on almost every pavement in the neighbourhood.

When it comes to a junction or crossing area, those tiles would come to a larger box where a different type of tiles are used.

Last Saturday afternoon, I actually spent some time trying to understand the purpose of those tiles on the pavements. I didn't take very long to figure out the answer. It became obvious soon enough when I saw blind people using those tiles as their guides to move around. Humans are such clever beings, huh?

Well, I was very pleased with myself for solving the mystery of those tiles on the pavements; until I came to this pole which was positioned exactly in the path of one stretch of tiles. Did I get it all wrong? Can anyone help me out here? Why is this pole located where it is?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mizuno Wave Run 2008—Padang Merbuk

I was still training for the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) several weeks ago when my friend, KK Chai, told me about the Mizuno Wave Run on 19 October to be held at Padang Merbuk, KL. It's just a 10K run which I thought would be a good recovery run after the gruesome 21K in the BIM.

And so, the 17 October saw me landing in LCCT-KL and checking in to YMCA near KL Sentral Station. Of course I could have flown in on 18 October, but I decided not to change my plan at the last minute. I had originally planned to hunt in the I-Kwan on the 18th, but that hunt was subsequently postponed to next year. To those of you who're not familiar with this hunter, you should know that I have a strange curse when it comes to treasure hunts. Many of those hunts I want to join would almost magically get postponed somehow.

Anyway, Chai and I went to collect our race kits at Padang Merbuk on Saturday morning. Then Chai showed me the route of the run before dropping me off at YMCA again. Instead of spending the afternoon shopping as I had initially planned, I walked the Brickfields streets, pigging out and observing people and strange things there. That night I went to sleep at around midnight. I woke up at 5:30 am and prepared for the run. The Mizuno running vest, adidas shorts and adizero shoes. Then I packed a towel, a big botttle of mineral water and a power bar. Chai came around at 6:45 am and we went straight to Padang Merbuk.

When we reached Padang Merbuk, there were already so many people there. We had to park the car at quite a distance away from the starting line. While walking to the starting line, I made a detour to a nearby toilet. That's when I got separated from Chai. I followed the crowd and found my way to the starting line. Then a figure came running from amongst the crowd. It was one of the regular readers of this blog. We spoke briefly to each other, and then I made my way further up nearer to the starting line, but without much success because of the large crowd.

A short wait and then it was the starting horn. The crowd began to move slowly. It took about a minute before I finally passed the starting line, and a few more seconds before I was able to start running. At the start of the run, we had to go through quite a long, gentle slope, uphill. And then there were plenty more uphills and downhills throughout the route. The last time I experienced the hills was when I ran the DBKK run earlier this year. But that was only for a distance of about 4km.

Photo courtesy of Tey at pmtey.multiply.com. Obviously not my most handsome pose. To be quite honest, I wasn't even aware that this picture was taken. And I also can't remember where exactly this picture was taken, but probably it was during the second half of the run. As I said, it wasn't amusing running while holding on to the bib which had already (partially) fallen off.

It wasn't long before I started feeling the exhaustion building up in my calves. So punishing were the slopes that I had to walk for a few metres 3 times during the run. I also stopped somewhere at midpoint to have some drink. Anyway, one good thing about the hills was the down-going parts. The hills were tiring no doubt, but nothing like the heat that most runners had to endure the week before in the BIM. I was glad to note that the final stretch of about 1km to the finish line was a gradual downhill slope which I took full advantage of to increase my pace. Very soon, I was happy to see Padang Merbuk, which was the finish line of the run.

I therefore ran full speed, knowing that there's no need to preserve any more energy. And then I came to the biggest disappointment of the run. During my training for the BIM on a flat surface, I usually complete 10K within 55-56 minutes. I set a modest target of no more than 1 hour for Mizuno. I was happy that I could make that 1 hour by a margin of only 1 minute. However, upon reaching the finish line, all of the runners had to queue up and wasted 2-3 minutes before we get to step onto the timing mat. How disappointing! In the end, I missed my target by about 2 minutes, but I am still waiting for the organizer to publish the official time.

More disappointment was to come. The organizer had somehow separated the finish line into 2 sections—one for female runners; and another for male runners. But due to the lesser number of female runners, their lane was more or less free-flow. Whereas the male lane got into a bottleneck situation.

After going through the timing mat, runners passed a small desk where a couple of officials were busily keying in the bib numbers of runners. At the same time, others were passing out small cards containing numbers. I was also given a number, but in the commotion, I can only remember that I had 600+. Apparently that was my position in the entire race, but for the benefit of the organizer, let me tell them that by that time, several of the runners have jumped queue. I held that number for only a few seconds before another official took it away from me. Then we were ushered to get into yet another lane. In fact, I later noticed that there were 3 lanes: Open, Junior Veteran, and Senior Veteran lanes. Of course we were ushered to the wrong lane, until I realised (from the bib number) that the Junior Veteran lane was on my left. Well, I moved over to that lane and eventually got the so-called goodie bag which contained my medal. I spent some minutes detaching the timing chip from my shoe and claimed the RM10 deposit at a nearby desk. A few minutes later, I saw Chai arriving at the finish line.

When I ran the Borneo International Marathon a week earlier, so many regular runners from foreign countries were heaping praises to the organizer for a job well done. To be quite honest, I thought it was well organized, yes, but I failed to understand why such a big compliment. Now I understand why.

The Mizuno Wave Run, despite being the 5th one organized, was a far cry from the BIM. I don't understand what's the purpose of the timing chip when runners got to queue up at the end before the respective finish times were captured by the timing mat. The idea should be to capture the time first, and then followed by the other business of checking and counter-checking; not the other way round!

I am not an expert in organizing this kind of events, but perhaps if any of those good people from the Mizuno Wave Run is reading this, I'd like to share how the BIM folks did it at the finish line.

In the BIM, no segregation was made before the finish line. Male and female runners from all categories ran freely over the timing mat. After crossing the finish line, and the finish times captured by the computer, then the runners were segregated into separate lanes which were clearly labelled under the numerous categories. Pictures were also taken upon crossing the finish line, and as soon as the runners got into their allocated lanes, they were given their finishing time written on a piece of paper for counter-checking purposes. At the same time, those in the half and full marathon categories were presented with the medals, hung over the head; not in the goodie bags. No queue whatsoever before the timing mat. The point is that it is OK to have the queue after crossing the finish line, not before. If we have queues before the finish line, there must be something seriously wrong with how the event is organized.

Apart from the injustice where some runners ended up without medals when they deserved them, others who came in late ended up with nothing at all because the organizer ran out of goodie bags due to improper handling of the distribution, thus resulting in some runners getting more than one goodie bags! According to the entry form, everyone should end up getting a goodie bag each.

Although I got a medal, I was just lucky that they did not mess up before it was my turn to cross the finish line. I would have been extremely disappointed if I ended up without even a goodie bag, having travelled such a long way. It would surely have been a lousy first-time experience running in KL!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

First Anniversary

ABOUT 2 weeks ago, one of my loyal fans wrote me an email, reminding me of the first anniversary of this blog. He is right—it's been a year since I posted my first article on 14 October 2007. He suggested that I do something to mark the occasion. Amongst others, he suggested a new look for this blog; some sort of competition and the likes.

I have been busy with work, Rotary activities, and preparing for the Borneo International Marathon (BIM). Although the BIM is now over, I will still continue my training as I will be running in Penang and Singapore. Maybe I will also run the the GE30 in January next year. Apart from that, I also have theSun Motor Hunt 2008 (02 November) on my calendar. There is therefore hardly any time left to organize a competition in this blog.

In December last year, I did the December Virtual Hunt; and saw the number of visitors to my blog surged to over 1,000 a day. Unfortunately, not even 5% of those visitors participated in that hunt. I suppose many were merely watching from the sidelines, and waiting for the answers and explanations.

Well, there is now a twist in theSun Motor Hunt 2008. The Clerk-of-Course inducted me to their Hall of Fame, in spite of my objection. Apparently the rationale of the promotion to the master list was due to the fact that I have clerked hunts before. Anyway, as the result of that promotion, I will probably opt out of theSun Hunt again this year as this will allow my other team mates to proceed with their plan to hunt in the Open Category.

Maybe this is a good news for my fans, because perhaps I will now find a bit of time to organize a virtual hunt in this blog after all. But I doubt that I can do it immediately. I will need to start going around to take some pictures and set some questions etc. I'm afraid I won't be able to do all those this weekend as I will be flying to KL to do the Mizuno Wave Run.

Sooner or later I will try to find the time to work on a virtual hunt. This time I will think of a prize and I will also factor in some sort of time element into the competition. Very ambitious plan and much more to do. Since time will play a role in it, I will publish a notification at least a few days before the hunt starts.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all my loyal readers. I hope to continue getting your support for a long time to come!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Borneo International Marathon

RUNNING along the coastal highway, passing the Sutera Resort Development towards the direction of Kota Kinabalu city centre, I was struggling to keep up the pace. Passing the "8 KM TO GO" sign, I looked at my stopwatch and noticed that I was still within the target of under 2 hours to finish the run. It was then about 7:18 am and the sun was beating onto my face from the east. In that heat, I felt like giving up. 8 km was just too much to hold on to that pace. But I kept running anyway. It was a truly big test of mental strength.

About 3 months ago, while going blog hopping, I stumbled upon the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) in a friend's blog. I read with interest on her ambition to outrun Kenny Sia. Following the link from her blog, I found my way to the official website of the BIM. Then I decided to join the 10 km run. But later on, because of the encouragement of some friends, I signed up for the half marathon instead.

I surfed the net for more information on marathon training. Then more research by asking some friends who are frequent runners. Before I embarked on the marathon training, I have been running quite regularly at an average of 3 times per week; and each time I'd run between 4 km to 5 km. When I started my training, I gradually increased my mileage. During the earlier part of my training, I ran mostly on the treadmill at YFitness, but later on YFitness went bust and I was forced to continue my training at the Likas jogging track. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. Running outdoor is different from the treadmill somehow. Besides, I have since experienced running in the dark after office hours; in the wee hours of the morning; and twice in the cold rain.

I used to run no more that 40 minutes per session, and I couldn't go beyond 9km/hour average. Besides, it was also clear that I couldn't hold that pace if I had to run for a longer period. Therefore, at the beginning of my training programme, I had set my mind to finish the 21 km within 2 hrs 30 mins. However, as my training progressed, I could feel my strength and pace improving. I became more confident and revised my target to 2 hrs 15 mins. That seemed to be a realistic timeframe for a first-timer. Then later on, as I became more comfortable running at the pace of 10 km/hour for more than 1 hour, the idea of running the half marathon under 2 hours became increasingly promising. However, I had to do better than 10 km/hour. In fact I had to run faster than an average of 10.5 km/hour. It was a long shot, but as I got closer to the marathon day, I have abandoned the 2:15 target, and fully set my mind on sub-2:00.

Yesterday night was the pasta party sponsored by The Sabah Tourism Board. On the way to the venue, it was raining cats and dogs. It did not look like the weather was going to improve before today's marathon, but we were keeping our fingers crossed. At any rate, I had made up my mind to run even if it rained this morning. There were numerous cultural shows at the pasta party. Mia, who said she'd skip the pasta party, decided to come along at the last minute. But we left earlier at around 8:30pm.

I planned to retire to bed early so that I could catch at least 6 hours sleep. In the end, I only managed about 4 hours. It was still raining at around midnight. The possibility of running in the rain became increasingly real.

At about 4:15 am, I woke up and started preparing for the marathon. At about 5:15 am we started for the sports complex. We reached there at around 5:30 am. There were already so many people there eagerly waiting for the start of the half marathon. The full marathoners have been flagged off at 4:30 am. One more visit to the toilet and then I made my way to the starting line. I found a spot somewhere in the middle of the pack. A final check of the timing chip on my shoe. Some more stretching and warming up by a bit of jumping. Soon it was already the countdown for the flag off. And everyone started to rush forward, but I remained true to my gameplan. I ran an approximate 10 km/hour pace for the first 2 km, and then gradually eased into the 10.5 km/hour after the 5 km mark; and then later built up the pace to 11 km/hour.

I was a bit worried that at around the 5 km mark, I was already feeling the exhaustion building up, but I pushed on anyway. As I progressed further into the run, I gradually overtook those ahead of me one by one. I arrived at the 10 km mark—which was within the Sutera Resort—in 56 mins, still looking good for my sub-2:00 target.

Coming out of the Sutera Resort, we had to turn south towards Tanjung Aru. But just before reaching the traffic lights, we made a loop for the return route to the start/finish line. I was already panting under the hot sun, I have only covered a little over 12 km up to that point.

Because of the heat, I stopped frequently for drinks—alternating between 100PLUS and plain water. The return leg proved to be the most punishing part of the run because of the heat which had built up to around 30C by then. Passing the Sutera Resort for the second time, and seeing that "8 KM TO GO" sign, I was already at the verge of giving up. It was quite obvious that I was not going to be able to finish the run. Yet I pushed on for whatever it's worth, because after all, I was still within my target of completing the run in under 2:00.

So tough were the remaining kilometres that I started counting in my mind for every step that I made. And so I went, "1, 2, 3...", challenging myself to keep running for at least 1000 steps before giving up. But when I reached 1000, I challenged myself to do another 500 steps; then another 300 steps; then another 200 steps; then another 100 steps...

I just kept going and put some more kilometres behind me. At around 3 km to the finish line, I overtook Mia. She's doing the 10 km run which started at 7:00 am. At that point, my pace had gone down to 10 km/hour with about 15 mins left. I had to accept that it's close to impossible to achieve my target.

I am so disappointed to have failed in my mission—02:03:45 was all that I could squeeze out of my legs for my first half marathon. I have tried so hard; I got so close, yet so far. But later when the results were published, I realised that I got no. 30 within my category. I supposed that had a lot to do with the fact that only 87 veteran men ran in this first Borneo Marathon.

Today, some of my friends have failed too. This friend failed to outrun Kenny Sia. Actually I thought she had a good chance to beat him, but maybe my confidence in her was influenced by her good looks (smile).

Dr Liaw, too, failed to complete his full marathon in under 4 hours. I thought he could certainly do it, judging from the way he ran at the jogging track. He said he suffered cramps in his legs after 30 km.

Perhaps Teo suffered the biggest disaster today. He tried to convince me to join the full marathon together with him. But I am a realistic person, and stuck to my half marathon. Teo proceeded to sign up for the full marathon, suffered severe cramps in both legs at the 35 km point and had to withdraw from the run with only 7 km remaining. Teo, my friend, if you are reading this, you need to do more than just 15 km for your long runs if you want to attempt the 42 km. Youth is not everything!

Next Sunday I will do the Mizuno Wave Run (10 km), followed by the Penang Bridge International Marathon (25 km category) on 16 November, before heading for another 21 km run in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon on 07 December. I want to try to impove on my time in the Singapore Marathon. I just hope I won't die from all these running!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Borneo Marathon—Not A Good Sign

Well, folks, the big day is almost here; this Sunday will be the Borneo International Marathon. I have been gradually decreasing my mileage over the last couple of weeks. Last Sunday, I ran only 12km. But it wasn't a very impressive run; I did it in 01:06. When I reached the Likas track, it was drizzling. I thought it's OK to run, but while I was running, it began to pour.

Two days ago, I woke up at 5:30am and went for a 6 km run in about 34 mins. I'm more or less done with speed training. In the previous weeks, I've been working on my speed and injured my right leg in the process. I could still feel a bit a pain on Tuesday.

This morning, I went for my final pre-marathon run. Only 4 km in about 21 mins. I did not feel the pain, but although I was running slowly, I felt a bit tired somehow. It's not a good sign; I shouldn't be feeling tired doing 4 km at this stage. I hope to recover full strength by Sunday morning.

Well, that's it for me—I'm not doing any more running up till this Sunday. Now it's just waiting for the day. Tomorrow I'll be picking up the race pack and then on Saturday night there will be the pasta party. I must try to get lots of sleep tomorrow night, because I don't think I can get much sleep on Saturday night—the excitement, if you know what I mean.

I'll report on the outcome as soon as I can. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Phantom

An interesting clue and its solution, imported from A Hunter's Tale.

Q) Ibu negara yang sah?

A) Viki Lim

When I organized the KK Challenge 4, I wanted to give a question based on a similar idea as the above. But I decided against it in the end—the question has since sunken into my question bank, perhaps never to surface again. Unless of course if I can find the time to do one of those Chinese New Year hunts in KL where no holds barred? In fact, I have some outrageous ideas involving strange twists which would shake up those master hunters from their comfort zone.

I think there are several issues in the above question which deserve some discussion.


First up, let's deal with the "ibu negara". According to the setter, he intended that "ibu negara" (which means capital city) to refer to Lima (capital city of Peru). Therefore,



LIMA = V (Roman numeral for 5)

The above solution is not uncommon in treasure hunts, but due to very, very detailed analysis and discussions in the RR Blog and also in this blog, we have come up with something that can challenge the accuracy of such solution. To illustrate my point, consider this question which is taken from Mike's hunt last December:

Q) Painkillers have strength

A) Numbers

Sadly, during the hunt my team failed to spot the required answer. We were under serious time trouble, and it did not help that the answer was a relatively small word within a main board. Anyway, after the hunt, I tried to garner support for my own answer: CM Power. I argued that "painkillers", in the cryptic sense, could be equated to "numbers", i.e. something that numbs (the nerves). And numbers, on the other hand, could be referring to C and M, which are the Roman numerals for 100 and 1000 respectively. Unfortunately, master renroc put an end to my argument, saying that:





PAINKILLERS does not equal to CM. He gave an even better example: tulips are flowers, and flowers are (cryptically) rivers, but tulips are not rivers.

Do you see now what I'm getting at with this comparison?

We can accept that IBU NEGARA = LIMA; and we can accept that LIMA = V. But it will at least get us thinking whether we can all accept IBU NEGARA = V.


Generally speaking, in cryptic clueing the setter is not compelled to provide "connecting words" such as "a", "an", "the", "and" etc. On the other hand, those words may be inserted into the clue without having any role to play other than the requirement of their presence for the proper construction of the sentence in the grammatical sense. Therefore, it can be a bit annoying for the new hunters because sometimes these words are not only there in the clue for grammatical purposes, but also because they play a role in arriving at the solution.

Consider this example:

Q) Came and get entangled?


Notice that the word "entangled" is an anagram indicator; and the words "came" and "get" are the fodders. Yet the word "and" which is found between "came" and "get" does not play any role in the solution; it is there only on grammatical grounds.

Now consider the word "yang" in the subject question:

Q) Ibu negara yang sah?

First, let's imagine what would have happened if that word was not there. Well, we would have come up with: "Ibu negara sah?" The sentence would look a bit strange, wouldn't it? It would look not quite right in the grammatical sense; yet it would have been sufficient for the purpose of a cryptic clue. But because of the presence of "yang" in the question, we need to investigate whether or not it has any significant effect on the entire question itself.

Before we decide how to deal with "yang", let's look at other possible words which are commonly used in "charade" clues. Well, we have seen "add" or "added"; sometimes "take" and the likes. So for example, if we say: HE takes ART, it can mean HEART. But of course it is also possible that the setter does not provide "takes" at all; he merely gives a clue for HE, followed by a clue for ART, and then the solver will have to figure out that he's required to join those two words together.

Well, coming back to the subject question, that word "yang", apart from resulting in a grammatically correct sentence, also has the effect of fixing the meaning of "sah". If without "yang" the solver has to guess the intention and meaning of "sah". But here, "sah" must take the adjective meaning, as in "Capital which is valid". Because of "yang" (which is), it forces the solver to take the adjective meaning of "sah" (valid). If the question had been, say, "Capital valid", then the scenario would have been different. Maybe "valid" could mean other than the adjective meaning—say a verb or noun instead?

"Yang" can't be treated like "and" or "the" or "is". "Yang" is not a "connecting word", and therefore its presence in the question must be significant. I for one do not agree with its presence in the question because the solution had something to do with connecting "ibu negara" with "sah" by the charade operation. If "yang" is replaced with, say, "the" or "and", then I would accept it. But of course that is me; other people may disagree with me!


Finally, we come to "sah". In spite of that long discussion of "yang" above, it turns out that it didn't really matter after all. The thing that made me withdraw my own question in the KK Challenge 4 was because of something similar to "sah".

Before that, I'd like to mention here that I've received 2 emails from hunters who expressed their objection—that this question isn't fair on account of the "silent" reversal. I can understand their objection. Having said that, however, I have not forgotten that perhaps a bit of leeway may be permissible for online or virtual hunts. Hunters have much more time to think in the comfort of their homes with a whole load of research materials to help them. The same can't be said about hunting on the road under the hot sun under time pressure.

No—it wasn't because of the "silent" reversal that made me withdraw me own question. Rather, it was the due to the bilingual involvement in the solution that made me doubt my own question.

In the RR blog, there was a so-called "killer riddle" which involved something similar, i.e. a "silent" reversal, where PU was read as SATA (ATAS reversed). But that was not my main concerned. A master hunter, ce5nt, came up with something interesting. The clue was set in the English language, and one of the words found therein was "main". What master ce5nt did caused something of a stir; he saw that word "main" as a Malay word (even though it was clear that the question was in English), and from that angle he adopted "main" (play) as an anagram indicator.

I found ce5nt's idea very interesting, but it was quite obvious that that idea was not well-received from the discussion that followed. We are all familiar with treasure hunt questions set in Malay, but the solutions are in English, and vice versa. But it's a different matter when the question is set in English, the word (s) read as Malay, and then arrived back to an English answer. It was for that reason that I withdrew my own question in the KK Challenge 4.

What we have here in the subject question is essentially the same thing. The question is set in Malay, but one of the words, i.e. the reverse of HAS is read as an English word. That word is then translated into Malay, "miliki". The whole process in itself can be quite confusing! The question which me must ask ourselves—though admittedly not an original question—is whether we can all accept a question set in a particular language, but the word (s) in it read in another language, i.e. the bilingual approach I mentioned earlier. Well, based on that forum we had in the RR Blog, I had the impression that the idea was not a popular one; but I may be wrong.


This is going to be the last, I promise! As I was reading the explanation of the setter, I was grinning to myself. I must say I enjoyed the explanation—the question was evil; the kind that I would conjure up myself. But then I came to the point where the setter equated HAS to MILIKI. I made a short pause to think about this translation.

Elsewhere in this blog, I have repeated several times that Malay is almost as good as my first language. I may not know all the Malay words in Kamus Dewan, but I must express my doubts on HAS = MILIKI. You see, in Malay we have MILIK which more or less means owned by something. For example, we can say, rumah itu milik siapa (who owns that house)? We can also use the same base word the other way round. But in such a case, we must add (imbuhan) "me" in front, and "i" at the back, so that we get MEMILIKI, as in: Dia memiliki ladang kelapa sawit. I must say it is strange to say: Dia miliki ladang kelapa sawit. But don't rely on me. It is possible that some changes have been done to the Malay language since I left school a hundred years ago. I must dig out my Kamus Dewan to look for that word MILIKI, but I seriously doubt that it exists in that form. But to repeat, I may be wrong—Bahasa Malaysia, like many other languages, is growing all the time. It won't surprise me if MILIKI is now an acceptable word on its own.

I-Kwan Zoom Hunt


Friday, October 3, 2008

The Tough Treasure Hunts

“Is there some sort of a contest going on to see who can set the toughest hunt this year?”

That was the question raised by Michael Pang in his opening paragraph when announcing the Atmah Hunt Results. Apparently he was told that it was a “killer” hunt. As that question suggests, there have been other tough hunts this year.

I am not sure about an ongoing contest on setting the toughest hunt, but I think it is a refreshing trend, if indeed it is a trend.

I have participated in some treasure hunts in West Malaysia. Before that I have always believed that all the hunts there are tough ones. Well, I was wrong. I found that a number of the hunts were easy. Never mind about being easy, but some of them were of low quality in terms of dubious clues and debatable answers. In fact, I dare say that most of the hunts are easy, or moderate at best. Perhaps 10% to 15% of all the hunts could be considered as tough ones; certainly not more than 20%.

The general perception is that when the hunts are tough, new hunters will shy away, resulting in a smaller crowd. Of course this does not accord well with the sponsors. Consequently, the Clerk-of-Course (CoC) will become unpopular amongst the sponsors.

However, I have noticed several things about these so-called “easy” hunts—no matter how easy they are, the master hunters almost always still win the top positions. More importantly, because those questions are too “basic”, the new hunters will learn very little, if anything, from them. The master hunters will therefore rule in the long run.

But because the hunts have become too easy for the masters, all too frequently, we get to see perfect scores and the winners are decided by means of tie-breakers, in particular which team is the fastest to finish the hunt. In other words, the hunts have mostly turned into races. We have had some hunts where the allocated time were 8 to 9 hours, but the master teams would finish them in 4 to 5 hours. Ridiculous!

More and more treasure hunts have become a race rather than anything else, which is a departure from the original idea of the sport. A quick look at some recent hunts will show that there were too many ties at the top; for example, Sonny Skinny-T Treasure Hunt and Merdeka Treasure Hunt. But of course there are still some people who refuse to believe that it is possible to achieve perfect scores in treasure hunts.

In the recent LexisNexis Hunt, the CoC actually announced that he was instructed to set slightly easier questions this year. Well, even making those questions “slightly” easier had resulted in so many ties at the top. In hunts such as these, one silly mistake is all it takes to wipe out any chance for the top 3 positions. In fact, one mistake can cause a fall of several rungs and several thousand in prize money.

For this reason, I believe that many CoCs have realised the need to increase the difficulty level when setting questions. When the hunts are tough enough, even if there are ties at the top, teams are not likely to achieve the perfect scores. Which means it’s not likely to become a race—the winners will probably be decided by, say, question countdown. Check out the results of Atmah mentioned above, and the Kairali which are considered tough hunts.

Well, I welcome the tougher hunts because it makes a more exciting arena for competition amongst the masters, but also a good training ground for the new hunters to learn something new. However, I feel that not all CoCs have what it takes to set tougher hunts. I have seen some good ones who come up with brilliant questions. But there are others who come up with practically unsolvable questions such as 40-letter anagrams and the likes. That is their idea of a “tough” question.

Maybe I am just naive and too old-fashioned, but although I welcome tough questions, I have always believed in fairness to the hunters. It means that there must be sufficient opportunities for the hunters to solve the questions. Essentially, there must be sufficient hints in the questions to guide the hunters home; there must be reasonably enough time for the hunters to work things out and to spot the answers within the sector. When I beat the hunters, I want to be able to say that I have beaten them fair and square.

Now I am aware that some CoCs—some of whom are very strong hunters—would defend themselves by saying something like: Hunters must be able to handle anything that’s thrown to them. In a way, that is quite true, but what’s the point of giving impossible-to-solve questions, with hardly any time to figure them out?

This reminds me of a hunt that I joined. The CoC was a gentleman named Baskaran. One of the tasks that we had to do was to fill up a bottle with sea water. Participants had to run to the sea, dip a tiny sponge to absorb as much water as possible, and then return to the bottle, squeezing as much water as possible into it. Then repeat the process again and again within a certain time frame. Points were awarded based on how much water was collected in that bottle at the end of that specified time. But actually the mark for 10 points was impossible to achieve. I suppose that was the CoC’s idea to ensure that no team would achieve full score. I’m not sure even Usain Bolt could have filled up that bottle within the allocated time. In that sense, I consider this particular task as even worst than coconut bowling, because the latter has at least a remote chance to strike full score.

To the many professional CoCs out there, by all means, set the questions as tough as you like, as long as the questions are solvable. Give a fair chance to the hunters to solve your questions. Of course in the end they may still be unable to solve, but that is their problem. All we ask is to be given reasonable chances to solve. Now surely that is not too much to ask for?