Monday, February 28, 2011

KK City Hunt 2011—The Elusive Connection

One of the most enticing elements in a treasure hunt is research and general knowledge . Sometimes if one were very good in research—perhaps he's efficient in googling up answers from the net—or maybe he's prepared in terms of general knowledge, then that element alone can be a decisive edge against other teams. But sometimes one needs to know what to search for to start with. For even with the best of search engines on the net, that is of no use if one didn't know where to start.

General knowledge can be in many forms. In the game of treasure hunt, general knowledge in terms of knowing the style or tendencies of the Clerk-of-Course (CoC) may be paramount, although admittedly that can't work all the time.

I've been hunting in a number of hunts clerked by the Time Out Solutions (TOS) before; a few in past KK City Hunts, a few in other hunts in KK, and also in KL. For a while now, I've noticed a peculiar tendency whenever TOS sets the KK City Hunt. On the surface, they usually appear to fashion out the hunt in favour of the KK folks—most of the route questions will be quite easy and straightforward; the games and challenges are aplenty and given overwhelmingly ridiculous weightage against the route questions. But there is always one element that stands out from the rest, and that is this: one of the several treasure clues will be a popular or well-known item in West Malaysia, but not in KK.

Some years ago, we have had the Kit Kat Bites as a treasure in one of the KK City Hunts. Back then, that particular product of Kit Kat was very new in KK. More recently still, we have had the Green Spot. I'm sure we have had several other instances, but I can't quote from the top of my head right now.

A few days before the KK City Hunt yesterday, I was exchanging text messages with a strong local hunter. And I found it amusing that he had noticed such tendency too. I don't know if the above is just a pure coincidence—that the CoC sets the treasure clue without even checking if the item is readily available in KK; or that a special knowledge is required to solve the clue, which is unique only to the West Malaysians. But what I can say for sure is that when a Sabahan hunter is put up against a West Malaysian hunter of similar hunting abilities, the latter has a better shot of getting the required item.

In yesterday's KK City Hunt, we had an interesting treasure clue. It was like this:

Minuman in kaya dengan vitamin C,

Sedia diminum dan akan buat kamu berani,

Pek yang akan diterima hanya satu sahaja,

Hanya yang ada kaitan dengan penaja komunikasi kita.

The first line of the clue is helpful, but not of much value. There are many, many drinks in the market supposedly rich in vitamin C. But that is a good start anyway.

The second line is a bit more useful to us. From it, we know that it's some kind of beverage that is ready to drink. So anything in the nature of syrups which require dilution with water, for example, can be ruled out here. And then a good cryptic solver can very quickly see that "buat" is a common anagram indicator. That indicator tells the solver that the letters found in a neighbouring word(s), i.e. the fodder, must be rearranged to form another word(s). However, safe for some exceptions, that fodder must be located next to the indicator; it can be before or after.

In the second line of the above treasure clue, we have "buat kamu berani". The CoC had intended to rearrange those letters in "berani" into "Ribena", i.e. the name of the required drink. And here, I immediately saw the offending "kamu" blocking the influence of "buat" on "berani". Cryptically speaking, this clue is technically wrong. But the reality is that, as I have said many times before, sometimes even when we know the CoC is wrong, we still play along anyway for the sake of winning the game!

That was my position very shortly after we were flagged off at Nexus Karambunai in the morning. But beyond that lies a deeper riddle. The third and fourth lines are very significant in that they warn the solver that only one specific pack of the item will be acceptable. That packaging must be connected to the telecommunication sponsor of the hunt, i.e. Celcom. Failure to bring in the correct pack of Ribena will yield no score at all. Therefore, even if one were able to solve Ribena, but brought in the wrong packaging, that item will be rejected!

Now if one were to go to the supermarket, he would find that there are many versions of Ribena—some in bottles (as in Sparkling Ribena), or with other flavours, e.g. lemon, or with added glucose. Some also come in small boxes. But in KK, the less popular one is the one below.

It is obvious that the whole riddle is about looking for the connection between the item and Celcom. I spent a lot of time between hunting sectors studying these possible alternatives, having bought them rather early during the hunt. For a while my attention was drawn to the one in the box with a "Tetra Pek" on it, remembering the "X-Pax" of Celcom. Is that the connection the CoC had in his mind when he set this question? But although it's very tempting, in the end, I decided it was a long shot.

In between intervals throughout the hunt, I revisited this problem over and over again. I considered many other possibilities, e.g. the purple colour. Up to the dying minutes, I failed to find the connection. But from very early in the game, I told myself that if I can't find the connection in the end, I will submit the above pack on grounds of it being less popular in KK.

Little did I know, when the above pack was first promoted some years ago in KL, it was promoted as Ribena Mobile Pack. There is no "Mobile" anywhere on the pack itself. And the CoC intended that word "Mobile" as the connection with a Mobile telecommunications company, i.e. Celcom. That is the only strength upon which the mobility of the packaging of the item rests on. There is nothing on the item itself that claims its mobility. Therefore one may argue that the one in a tiny box, and ready to drink, is also a "mobile" pack?

At any rate, this was a fluke shot for my team. Had I failed in this treasure, I would've fallen out of the top 10 winners. Sometimes things can turn for the better too.

KK City Hunt 2011

The first time I saw the entry form for the KK City Hunt 2011 a few weeks ago, something caught my eyes immediately. The prize list shouted a cold hard cash of RM8,000, amongst other prizes, for the champion; RM5,000 and RM3,000 for second and third place winners respectively. And I immediately foresaw platoons of West Malaysian teams coming to our city for an early harvest of 2011.

With the cheap airfares these days, all it took for a West Malaysian team to make money was to be within the top 3 finishers. I was, of course, aware of 2 West Malaysian teams which would be around, rain or shine, whether or not the prizes were lucrative. But this time it's different—with the kind of cash prizes at stake, I wasn't surprised to see more than 10 West Malaysian teams at the flag off yesterday morning. Amongst them were familiar faces in the KL hunting scene, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a friend and mentor, grandmaster hunter, from Penang.

Apart from the presence of many West Malaysian hunters, there were a few other things different about this year's hunt. The number of participating teams have grown to 145; time control was only 6:30, and the format of the hunt was a bit different. For some strange reasons only known to the organiser, teams were made to drive all over KK city, repeating the same routes several times for numerous tasks, including collecting 8 stamps for hunt passports, motorised and walk hunts, and repeated visits to the DBKK main office. The format was at least weird on grounds of the amount of fuel we had to burn since the theme of the hunt was "1Malaysia Clean & Green".

As soon as we were flagged off, we worked on the treasure questions. And I was relieved to see that they were quite easy this year. We more or less solved all of the clues, except for T2, which was obviously set in favour of the hunters from the West. But otherwise, we were happy. Happy, that is, for having solved them, but of course not for the inaccuracy of the clues.

The mere collection of 8 stamps for the hunt passport alone took us almost an hour to complete. But then again, I am aware of several Myvis which overtook our 100km/h Hilux—they probably completed the task within 45 minutes. After getting all those stamps, teams had to rush to the DBKK office in the city centre where the traffic jams could easily raise the blood pressure by at least 20% (but I probably achieved 50%). There, teams submitted the passports in exchange for the questions and challenges for Leg 2.

Leg 2 comprised 15 hunt questions divided into 3 sectors, two of which were walk hunts, and one was a motorised hunt. Apart from that, there were 4 challenges to be completed within a specific time window. The challenges were at locations far away from the hunt sectors, and they included planting of flower trees, rubbish collection at the seaside and playing games at KDCA. And even these challenges were at different locations from one another.

It became clear to me from the moment we received the instructions for Leg 2 that we needed to come up with a strategy to utilise our precious time efficiently. Since Vivian and I were stronger in cryptic riddles, we decided to handle the hunt questions. So Dennis and Harry dropped us off at Jesselton Point, and then went off to deal with the time-wasting errands.

The walk hunt at Jesselton Point took us probably only 10 minutes, as the answers were glaringly obvious even for the beginners. We then got into a taxi and made our way to the Api-Api development, discussing some of the hunt clues while on the way there. I was fairly amused to see VK and Jay, my hunter friends from the West, arriving at Api-Api in another taxi a few minutes later.

It was while we were going on foot, looking for the answers, that I found out that some of the teams from the West were collaborating with each other. Strange how the big money can bring out the worst in people. These were regular hunters to be reckoned with, by the way!

We were doing quite OK except for one question, but simply had to make a wild guess shortly after Dennis and Harry arrived. We then made our way together to Perdana Park in Tanjung Aru where Dennis and Harry dropped Viv and I off to attempt the 6 questions there, while they went off to deal with the 2 challenges at KDCA. The questions at Perdana Park were not exactly easy, but thanks to our strategy, we were able to spend a bit more time there. In the end, however, we had to leave the sector with one question unanswered, as we were running short on time.

Then another visit to the now famous DBKK office where again the traffic jams raised my blood pressure a little bit further. After submitting the answers for Leg 2, we got the questions for Leg 3: 15 route questions meant for the motorised hunt to some sectors in Penampang, Jln Lintas, Inanam and the journey back to the finish station in Nexus Karambunai. Time then was a bit tight. And while I and Viv worked on the questions, Dennis was busy working on making a turtle out of recyclable materials (this was the final task to be completed).

After we had finished with the questions, we had about 15 minutes to make the journey from Inanam to Nexus. Dennis had by then taken over the wheels from Harry. And while he was blazing through the road like a mediocre F1 driver, cursing every single car in front of him, Harry and Viv were busy putting the finishing touch on the pathetic turtle. I was still trying to rake my brains to make a connection between T2 and the telecommunication sponsor of the hunt. Just like playing chess, we tried our best to give a job to every member, you see.

At the dying minutes of the hunt, I was still unable to solve the missing link of Treasure 2. But I had decided long before that to submit one particular pack from a variety of possible choices on grounds of psychology and common sense (I will elaborate more on this later in another post). We had of course bought the treasures and alternative choices earlier at CKS in Millennium Plaza.

It was a very challenging hunt in terms of the crazy format and limited time for all the tasks. But it ended up with exactly how most of us had expected it. Out of the top 10 positions with cash prizes at stake (no cash beyond those placings), 9 were teams from West Malaysia. It just so happened that my team spoiled the party when we managed to squeeze in by fluke to 7th place.

Perhaps the local hunters should start planning for next year. Shortly after the hunt, already they were plans to try to beat the West Malaysians by using their own strategy. Sounds like a plan to me. But we have a whole year to think if we want to make this about money, and nothing about fun and sportsmanship. We'll see...

The Champion of KK City Tourism Treasure Hunt 2011

Results (130):

1. Sallehuddin Yusof, Azeman Saarin, Fazliana Ibrahim, Adrian Julian (122)
2. Norashikin bte Ab. Aziz, Rhyrita Bte Sukiman, Salleh Tating, Zizi Irlanty Bte Aznan (116)
3. Tina Goh, Cassie Forsythe, Chong Voon Kiat, Jayaram Menon (116)
4. Chai Koh Khai, Sin Yoon Leong, Margaret Sha, Chin Siow Lyn (116)
5. Danny Ng, Noriza Bte Esa, Nurzatul Hayanie Bte Mohamed, Masnudiah bte Abdullah (114)
6. Khairul Nazib Mahmud, Hagi Suhaimi Z Abidin, Erawati Hudong, Dyg Ismahanie Ismail (114)
7. Cornelius Koh, Vivian Cham, Dennis Koh, Harry Koh (111)
8. Poljiah Ag Besar, Evawati Hudong, Rosnah Nengsi Hudong (111)
9. Johan Salul, Dr Ben Lau, Dr William Gotulis, Mohamad Syukri Joni (110)
10. Peh Kok Hun, Yong Kig Siew, Tommy Ng, Loh Chee Kwan (109)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2011

Months before the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 20 February 2011, I was told that it's one of the toughest terrains in the region. I have a kind of phobia of slopes because I simply suck big time on undulating terrains. But I've come to realise that I can't possibly limit my scope of marathon venues to only flat routes. So when I signed up for the Hong Kong Marathon, the slope factor has always been a major concern at the back of my mind.

Nevertheless, the marathoner must experience the slopes himself to truly appreciate the punishing terrains. The climbs can last for kilometres each, through several bridges and tunnels across the sea. Not to mention the biting cold, especially when the wind blew.

The weather in Hong Kong at this time of the year is quite cold, ranging between 13C to 17C. That's not terrifyingly cold, really, but for people like me, that is quite enough to make me dislike the place!

On the eve of the race, we went to the race pack collection centre, which was also the finish venue of the race. I've been to several races before Hong Kong, but this was the first time I ran a race where the starting and finishing venues were not in the same place.

Group photo taken just at the final 100m to the finish line. From left to right: Ong Wei Diong, yours truly, Dr Liaw Yun Haw, Dr Helen Lasimbang, Dolly Phan, Teo Chen Lung, Andrew Voon, Dr Joseph Lau.

After we collected our race packs, Teo and Diong, who registered for the half marathon race decided to "upgrade" to the full marathon upon our "encouragement" and "persuasion".

And so, both of them ended up with 2 race packs each—one for the half marathon, and another for the full marathon. Amazing what people can end up doing when their pride is at stake.

On the morning of the race, I finally decided to just wear a running vest and the long 2XU Compression tights that I've worn in several other races before this. We took the train to the race venue on the other side of Hong Kong. On the way there, I had a sweater to protect my body from the cold.

Immediately upon arrival at the race venue, I got separated from my friends. But I found my way to the bag deposit truck where I bumped into CP Tan, a friend from KL. I took off my sweater and deposited my bag, and gradually found my way to the starting line. There I met Kevin Yuen.

Shortly after the flag off, I began to feel my body warming up, but my fingers were still very cold. After the few weeks of tapering, rest and carbo-loading, I felt very strong. The morning before the race, I ran a 4km slow 6min/km on a treadmill in the hotel. So I was very fresh on the morning of the race. I ran the first few kilometres with Kevin, until I realised that I shouldn't be running his pace even though I felt strong enough for it. Amazing how the cold temperature can make the body feel stronger!

I forced myself to slow down, and saw Kevin gradually pulling away. As we were approaching the Stonecutters Bridge, Dr Joseph, coming from behind tapped me on my shoulder. And then shortly after that Dr Liaw, too, overtook me. Apparently, they started from way behind in the crowd. Feeling very strong, I was tempted to run faster, but thinking of the many slopes ahead, I carefully controlled my excitement.

Then the fist climb to the bridge that seemed unending. And then somebody must have switched on the fan. For the wind that blew then made me shiver and my fingers felt numb. And then it began to drizzle. Thankfully, however, the drizzle was only for a few minutes.

Shortly after the bridge, we found ourselves in the tunnel. Emerging on the other side, we made a sharp turn to the Tsing Ma Bridge. Approaching the end of that bridge, I saw Kevin and Dr Joseph running together from the other side. Seeing a drink station ahead, I downed a power gel, just in time to follow with water at the drink station.

I wasn't really paying attention to the time, but as I approached the half way mark, I was fairly alarmed to see 1:56 on my stopwatch. And then I was later shocked to know from the official result that I actually finished the half marathon within 1:52:49, easily my personal best!

Although I was running beyond my intended pace, I maintained that pace anyway since I felt I wasn't really pushing myself too hard. Another power gel and another tunnel later, I emerged at the Tsing Kwai Highway.

I thought I was cruising comfortably as I was approaching the Vitoria Harbour when I suddenly felt a slight twitch on my quads and calves. And I knew that I was in trouble. That was the first sign of the impending "wall". I reduced my pace to perhaps 6min/km for the first time throughout the race in the hope of preventing cramps in my legs. But passing the 30km mark, I noticed about 2:47 on my stopwatch. And then I became greedy again. I had come to Hong Kong seeking to achieve a personal best of 4:30. But now, calculating in my mind, I realised that if I could maintain an average of approximately 6min/km for the rest of the distance, I might just pull a sub-4 hrs! So I increased my pace again, going into the Western Harbour Tunnel.

Emerging on the other side, however, I was devastated to see a sharp climb and slanting loop of the flyover. And then suddenly the dreaded cramps happened just then. I was reduced to a walk, but I tried to fight on. A few more sharp climbs within those last few kilometres, but by then I was averaging 7 to 8 minutes per km. As I was approaching the Wan Chai vicinity, it was clear that the sub-4 dream was not meant to be. This photo below was taken within the last 1km of the finish line. I was probably running at 6min/km pace. People were cheering from the sidelines, cameras clicking frantically, thousands upon thousands of people watching.

And then finally, I saw the finish line ahead. I was so glad to cross the finish line in what must be the toughest marathon I've joined so far.

Official Time: 04:08:08

Net Time: 04:07:30

10km Time: 00:56:14

Half Way (21.1km) Time: 01:52:49

30km Time: 02:47:16

An outrageous personal best time that I've never even imagined of achieving! But now that I have achieved it, I'm beginning to wonder if a sub-4 hrs is doable after all?

The rest all finished, and most of them achieved personal best too. Diong ended up beating Teo, so we're all waiting for Teo to reward Diong. That afternoon, we celebrated with a ridiculous amount of dim sum in a nearby restaurant. Perhaps because of the excitement, we ordered so much that we were unable to finish the food in the end.

And then, if that's not enough, later that night we went for dinner hosted by Diong's brother. Food, food and more food. I think by now we have far over-replenished the 3,500 calories we burned during the race!

So glad to be home again and out of that horrible frozen hell! But now there are talks of going back to Hong Kong again next year in an attempt to improve on our respective performances! Bring it on!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coal-Fired Power Plant—The About Turn

The proposed coal-fired power plant has been quite a hot issue in Sabah. The government has been bent on building the forsaken power plant, and it has been trying so hard to maneuver all the protests from Sabahans. Out of nowhere, suddenly there were 1,500 people who supported the proposed coal-fired power plant. Numerous environmental studies conducted by professionals suggest that the coal-fired power plant is a bad idea.

That's why it was somewhat surprising when Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman announced a few days ago that the state government has put a stop all bids for a coal power plant in a move to protect the environment. [The Star]

He added, "Sabah needs to increase power supply to meet the increasing development but the state cannot afford to put its natural environment at risk... We must protect the environment especially when it is the biggest tourism draw".

An awesome about turn in the government policy!

Now I'm really convinced that the general election is coming soon.

But I wonder how soon the coal-fired power plant proposal will be resumed after the election...

Saved By The Dragon

So I've been preparing for the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon over the last couple of months, you see. It will be held this Sunday. My preparations have been something in the order of paranoia, you won't believe it, I tell you. I booked a cab to fetch me to the airport since Monday. And I kept calling the cabbie throughout the week to ensure that I wouldn't be forgotten. I also made sure that this time I'm having matching pair of shoes.

This morning I woke up quite early and finished packing with hours to spare. In fact, I was running out of ideas on how else to kill the time while waiting for the flight. All system go.

And then Helen just had to spoil everything for me. She called me at about 2:30pm and asked me a strange question, "Where are you?"

I said, "At home, of course. Why?"

Well, anyway, to make the long story short, that call was made just as Helen and the rest of my friends were about to board the plane. I almost fell off my chair. Now this wasn't the first time I had mistakenly seen the ARRIVAL time as the DEPARTURE time on the flight schedule. The last time it happened to me was a few years ago when I was flying home from KL. I must make it a point to seek Dr Peter's help when I return to KK. Maybe there is a cure for stupidity, I don't know.

After I have calmed down from freaking out, I started finding alternative means of getting to Hong Kong. I entertained the idea of flying out to KL and then catch a connecting flight from there. But alas, no more flight today. The next best thing was to stay in KL tonight and then catch a flight to Hong Kong tomorrow morning.

Then I considered flying to Singapore where I can find alternative flights to Hong Kong. But as I was contemplating all these alternatives, my brother called up, saying that he found a direct flight to Hong Kong tonight. I wasted no time—I immediately confirmed the seat.

If you're smelling something burning, it must be the hole that's burning through my pocket right now. But luckily I was saved by Dragonair, touching down in Hong Kong around 10:30pm. But it's a little past midnight when I arrived at the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised to know that our rooms are on the 23rd floor, apparently the VIP floor. I wonder if that stands for "VERY IMPORTANT PERSON" or "VERY IDIOTIC PERSON", but I guess it doesn't really matter because right now I feel I can qualify for both.

It's quite amazing, too, that I actually managed to find my way to the hotel, instead of ending up in Macau, if you know what I mean?

I'm not finding all this amusing at all, but I don't know why I can't stop laughing at myself.

So... I am in Hong Kong! Let's see what other silly things I can do for tomorrow. For whatever it's worth, at least my shoes are a matching pair.

Keeping my fingers crossed...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

External & Internal Influences

SOME of us are convinced that we know everything there is to know about religions; we believe that we have all the solutions to the problems of this world. And because some of us are also the so-called "learned people" who are known as "religious scholars", we feel that we have the authority to interpret our holy books. Furthermore, we impose upon others our "learned" interpretations. We proclaim with confidence and authority that negative elements must have originated from other cultures and religions.

Thus the Valentine's Day celebration, according to the fatwa issued by Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM), "has elements of Christianity and the practice is mixed with immoral acts and are prohibited by Islam that clearly contradicts the belief, Sharia and Islamic morality." [The Star]

More than 20 years ago, I was teaching maths and science for a little over 3 years in a private college in KK. One of the things I can still remember about my teaching life is that the vast majority of the students were not so generous with giving credits to their teachers. If they did badly in the exams, it must have been because their teachers were not so good in imparting knowledge. But on the other hand, if they did well, it must have been because of their own hardwork—not so much because of their teachers' input.

Some of us are like that too. Whenever we do something wrong, it's always because of the negative influences from other places, cultures or religions; and hardly ever because of problems originating from within ourselves or our religions. But whenever we do something good, then it must be because of our cultures and religions.

We tend to ignore the fact that in spite of the same kind of negative influences all of us in Malaysia are exposed to, whether in terms of foreign cultures and religions, some of us stand out from the rest in terms of the highest number of social ills such as drug addiction and baby-dumping cases.

I think sometimes we need to be brave and look within ourselves and find the source of the problems there. For if we continue to search for the answers—or blames—from beyond ourselves, we shall not find the source of the problems; hence we shall never be able to find the real solutions.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ip Man

To the Hakka readers in Sabah, check out this interesting video clip of our very own version of Ip Man from youtube.

By the way, just in case you're wondering, I've never been a big fan of sideburns.

Polio Eradication—The Elusive 1%

In a recent Rotary meeting, there was a short briefing on the subject of Polio Eradication, which is one of the long-term projects of Rotary International.

In most countries of the world today, polio cases are very rarely seen. So most people don't really know a lot about the disease. But polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases in the 20th century. Polio epidemics have crippled thousands of people in the past.

After the development of the polio vaccines in the 1950s, the global number of polio cases had been reduced from the hundreds of thousands to about a thousand per year. Although polio has been declared officially eradicated in most countries today, the disease can very quickly spread from countries where the disease is still endemic. And because of the efficiency of transport these days, e.g. air travels, the possibility of an epidemic is not exactly very remote. That is why the only way to be sure is by total eradication of the disease via vaccination.

Unlike the HIV drug-cocktails, the polio vaccines are relatively cheap and easy to administer. The World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Rotary International and many other organisations have been working very hard to raise resources for the Polio Eradication project. Because of the availability and effectiveness of the polio vaccines, and considering that we are presently fast approaching 100% of our goal, it seems like it's just a matter of time that polio will be totally eradicated. In fact, it should happen very, very soon too!

But the reality is that polio is still present in some countries. As of 2006 polio remains endemic in four countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and there are good reasons to believe that polio is also endemic in nearby countries due to reestablished transmissions.

One might wonder why not simply send a whole bunch of medical professionals into these countries to administer the vaccines and eradicate polio once and for all and get it over with?

Three main reasons why the seemingly simple solution to eradicate polio is not so simple after all. Firstly, insufficient infrastructures and facilities for the delivery and administration of the vaccines to the target groups. Secondly, the ongoing wars and fightings in some countries which have prevented the vaccination campaigns. Thirdly, recent opposition to vaccination campaigns have evolved—somehow, there is fear that the vaccine might induce sterility.

Looking at the second and third reasons above, it is very tempting to just let all these people die of polio, since they're refusing help from the rest of the world anyway. But the truth of the matter is that for as long as polio is endemic in these few countries, there is always that possibility that it will spread to the rest of the world. So whether we like it or not, we will have to keep fighting the disease for as long as it takes.

It can be seen that in a perfect world, where the human race can work together to fight the disease, we can very easily beat it. But alas, it is not in our nature to work together. Polio is 99% eradicated, but it's that 1% that is keeping us all on our toes still.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

A couple of months ago, I signed up for the Hong Kong Marathon which will be on 20 February. I thought that would be a good way to keep my running habit up, so that I wouldn't become lazy in my workouts. Otherwise, I would've had to start all over again when I prepare for the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) on 01 May.

What I failed to anticipate was a fairly serious back injury I sustained in January which put me out of action for about a week. The pain that I felt then made me think that I wouldn't be able to recover before the Hong Kong Marathon. Even when I started running again, the intensity and duration of my workouts were much lesser than originally planned.

Since then I've recovered almost fully, until last Sunday when I was running my peak long run of 35km with Dr Peter on the highway. My back felt good at the start of that run, but by about 25km, I began to feel a bit of pain again. And by the time we were into the last few kilometres, I was running fairly slowly because of the pain which had by then become a cause for concern.

This morning, I had planned to run my 21km at the Tun Fuad Park in Bukit Padang. I'm convinced that Bukit Padang is a necessity because I desperately need the hillwork. But 2 weeks ago, when I did 21km in Bukit Padang, and especially when I was going downhill, I could feel a bit of stress on my back and knees.

Over the last few days, because of the Chinese New Year holidays, I've been having mahjong sessions with my family members, thus depriving myself of the much needed sleep for my training. I'm ashamed to say that I only had a 5km run on Tuesday evening, and another 5km on Friday late morning. But I reckoned that at least it's better than not running at all. All the time this week, I had meant to run today's 21km in Bukit Padang, but at the same time I was still considering running a flatter terrain for fear of aggravating my injury again.

After a few nights of 4 to 5 hours sleep each, I felt that I was in no condition to run this morning. But I simply had to if that's the last thing I had to do today! Arriving home from mahjong close to midnight, and getting into bed way past midnight, I woke up at 4:45am this morning for the long run. Still tired and sleepy, I peeked out of the window and saw that it was drizzling outside. For a few minutes, I considered going back to bed. My (still) recovering back injury, my sleepiness and the weather, were all very good reasons to forego running. But I decided that, rain or shine, I must run.

When I pulled into the parking lot at the Likas Sports Complex, I saw Dr Peter's car there. So that freak must have started running alone—in the rain. Unlike the usual Sunday runs, he did not wait for me this morning, as I was supposed to do Bukit Padang. But I felt moved to run on the highway anyway.

I sat in my car with the engine still running for some minutes, watching the droplets of rain on my windscreen, still contemplating abandoning the workout. It was already 5:40am (we usually start at 5:00am) when I finally made the decision to get it over with. The first few hundred metres was the toughest because of the biting cold of the drizzle. But once I got going, I felt quite OK.

Unfortunately, the drizzle developed into a full-fledged rain, and I was soaking wet by the time I reached 1Borneo. I pushed on anyway. Shortly after passing 1Borneo, I saw Dr Peter on the other side of the road on his return leg. Perhaps because of the lack of rest, I felt really exhausted and was tempted to turn back there and then. But that would have resulted in a shortfall of about 5kms of my scheduled long run. So I continued running, reaching Kingfisher Sulaman in about an hour where I stopped at Orange to buy a bottle of water. Some more annoying rain and biting blisters on my feet on my return leg, but after a packet of Power gel, I actually felt a boost of energy in my legs again.

When I was approaching Anjung Selera, I noticed a road accident up ahead. And when I got to the scene, there was a badly wrecked up car at the roadside, and a black Hilux which was already resting on its side in the middle of the road. A few people were trying to push the Hilux up to its upright position, and I thought that was a strange thing to do. But I quickly saw the reason for that. Trapped underneath that Hilux were 2 people—a boy of perhaps 10 years old, and a man, both of whom were partially sticking out of the front passenger's window, but were stuck there because of the weight of the vehicle.

I thought it was a gruesome scene—what a way to die! The people who were there were still trying to push the Hilux up, and they appeared to almost make it—but not quite. They apparently needed just a little bit more help.

And then to my horror, I realised that those people stuck at the window were not dead. The boy was groaning in pain, reaching out his hand and pleading for help; whereas the man was half conscious and the window frame resting on his chest—he was apparently having trouble to breathe.

I dropped my water bottle and helped the rest to lift and then push the Hilux to its upright position, thus aggravating my back injury again. I don't claim to be a strong person, but apparently that little bit of extra energy was all that's needed to make that final push to move the Hilux up. On the first push, we were able to pull the boy out. Then another strong push to free the man.

A series of unfortunate events—my backache, my sleepiness, the forsaken rain, the last minute decision to run on the highway instead of Bukit Padang—all culminating to the defining moment when I arrived at the scene at exactly the right time when my help was needed to make that push to free those dying people. What's the odds of that happening?

I have no clue why I chose to run this morning; and why on the highway. All the conditions were not conducive for a run, yet I went running anyway. And what's more, instead of running in Bukit Padang, I ran on the highway. Was I there at the scene by design? Were my decisions this morning directed by something? If they were, it meant a second chance for those 2 people involved in the accident.

So now, I have 2 weeks left to nurse my back. I have the feeling that I'll be taking some painkillers when I run the marathon in Hong Kong. And as for those 2 people who survived the accident today, I hope they will remember to put on the safety belts the next time they ride in a car.