Monday, May 30, 2011

Yesterday Once More

I had an interesting conversation with a friend some years ago. We were reminiscing about our school days; the mistakes we had done, and how differently we would have done some things had we been able to turn back the clock. And then something he said struck me as quite profound—"The best way to learn in life is by making mistakes."

Let me explain that sentence.

All of us make mistakes in life, of course. And most of us learn from those mistakes. When we encounter the same situations again, we are better able to make the correct choice(s) in the hope of getting a better outcome(s).

Nevertheless, some people have the habit of repeating their mistakes over and over again. What's more, after failing a few times, they still don't know what's hitting them! Such was my friend's case. He had to get married because he accidentally made a girl pregnant. He said it was never really about love. It was a rocky start from the beginning. He reckoned that he'd make the best of it and hoped that he'd fall in love with the girl after a while. I know all of this sounds like something from the movies, but believe it or not, it happens in real life too! Unfortunately, he failed to fall in love with his wife. But instead of ending the misery for both parties, they had another child—also accidentally...

Many of us will not learn from our first mistake, but thankfully, we will learn after repeating them a few times.

My daughter, JJ, repeated her mistake in her recent English exam. A few months ago, I posted an article about an English exam, of which she made wrong past-tense sentences without including the word "yesterday".

In her recent English exam, a similar situation arose. The instruction in the paper was for the pupil to "use all the words below to make one correct sentence." And the given words were "walked" and "school".

So JJ wrote:

He walked to school.

That sentence, to me, albeit very simple, is correct. After all, JJ did use both the given words in one sentence, as per the instruction. But actually, it was marked as wrong because, of course, there was no "yesterday" at the end of the sentence. I'm guessing that the "yesterday", which was supposed to have been included in the sentence, was meant to "prove" that the pupil understood the significance of the tenses, i.e. the "ed" in "walked".

As you can see, there is here a pattern in the teaching of English in school. JJ got it wrong in the last exam because of that forsaken "yesterday". And now she is again wrong because of that "yesterday"; or rather because of its omission. It makes me wonder what would have happened if she wrote "today" instead of "yesterday". I won't be surprised if "today" would have been rejected too! And if indeed rejected, it would be solely because that answer does not conform to the taught-and-supposedly-memorised "yesterday".

What I see in the education system these days is mechanical thinking—solutions to problems are restricted to only some acceptable ones which are the norm. Anything other than those are discouraged. Original ideas or creative thinking will soon become rare phenomena.

In time to come, we will see many of these kids entering the job market, full of knowledge which they had memorised from school. They will be equipped with "mechanical brains". We will not have many inventors, if any at all.

When in due course some of them end up becoming English teachers, they, too, will insist that past tense sentences must end with—and only with—the word "yesterday".

Monday, May 23, 2011

Condom Fight

Benigno Aquino III, the President of The Philippines, is a brave man for advocating free access to condoms for the people of his country. He is under severe criticism of the Catholic church and a boxing champ. But he is going ahead with his plan to provide information on family planning methods, make contraceptives available free of charge, and introduce reproductive health and sexuality classes in schools.

Interestingly, Manny Pacquiao, a very successful Filipino world boxing champ, is against the President's plan. He argues that if his parents had practised birth control, he would never have been born. I think that's a very good argument, although regretfully, missing the point by at least a few thousand miles. He had forgotten that the President has to shoulder the responsibility of doing what's best for the nation as a whole.

I think if Pacquiao can guarantee the majority of Filipino births can give rise to millionaire world champs like himself, I'm sure the President would encourage his people to reproduce to create more wealth. But unfortunately, the reality is that there is only one world champion Pacquiao amongst 94 million people—about a third of whom live on $1 a day.

Pacquiao had forgotten that more than half a million women are seeking abortions at back-alley clinics because of unwanted pregnancies annually (abortion is illegal in The Philippines); and some 90,000 suffer from abortion complications, and an estimated 1,000 die each year.

Manila Archbishop Rosales is calling for abstinence [from sex] to solve the problem. That is almost a comical solution to me. Even Britney Spears used to pledge to abstain from sex, yet we all know that the mind is strong, but the flesh is weak, don't we?

I think President Aquino is doing the right thing in providing his people with the knowledge of family planning. The decision of whether to have protected sex or not is for his people to make. In fact, I think he owes it to his people to at least educate them on the subject. Whether or not the use of condoms and other contraceptives is a sin, that is their choice to make—not the President's, not the boxing champ's, and not the Church's.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgement Day

No—this is not the Judgement Day of the Terminator movies. This is the Judgement Day as interpreted from the Bible through a complex series of calculations by one Harold Camping. But that is not the most amazing thing, really, as we all know that there are many, many nutcases in this world. The most amazing thing is that there are people who actually believe him!

Interestingly, Camping made a wrong calculation way back in 1994, when the Judgement Day did not happen. Presumably, he has corrected his mathematical formula—whatever it is—and arrived at a new conclusion; that Judgement Day is today!

Well, we're fast approaching noon here in KK, Malaysia, but I suppose it's still night time in America. It's not clear which time zone Camping is referring to, not that a few hours can make much difference anyway if the world is really coming to an end!

The thing about religious people is that it always boils down to one central issue—repent to secure a place in heaven; otherwise you will go to hell. No matter what religion, the message is always the same, that is to worship the "true" god to secure a place in heaven. Sometimes, there is an added element of time too, as in the case of Camping. Not only must you repent, but you must do it now!

If god is really such a cruel creature, who enjoys inflicting pains on his subjects, just because he has the power to do it, then I wouldn't want to be anywhere near him. I'd rather be thrown into hell. Love and respect can't be forced; they must be earned—even for god.

And so, as the hours and minutes wear away, to the dying moments of the world, I'm waiting for the punishment for the biggest sin that I have committed in my life—the mortal sin of not believing in the "true" god. In a few hours' time, when and if I appear before that conceited being up there in heaven to answer for my sin of unbelieving, I hope the punishment will be swift.

But on the other hand, if I live to see another sunrise tomorrow morning, I suppose Camping would be going back to the drawing board to recalculate the next date for the Judgement Day. I'll take my chances... keeping my fingers crossed...

Friday, May 20, 2011

1Malaysia—A Dream Within A Dream

SHORTLY after becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak propounded the concept of 1Malaysia—an ambitious dream of equal treatment to all Malaysians irrespective of racial background.

It's hard to say if the 1Malaysia notion is merely a political ploy to win back the confidence of voters who voted for the opposition in the last general elections; or whether the Prime Minister truly means to give equal treatment to all Malaysians, but I would say it's probably a bit of both. If indeed the Prime Minister means what he says, then I'd say he's dreaming the impossible dream. For I can't see Malaysia transforming into the so-called 1Malaysia—at least not anytime soon.

In many ways, the non-bumiputeras of Malaysia have always been the less-privileged citizens. In terms of government projects, it is always the bumiputeras who will secure them. And in many cases bumiputeras are partners in major companies strictly because they can secure government contracts. In terms of important posts in government establishments, e.g. the police force, banking industry, universities, administrative bodies, these are overwhelmingly given to the bumiputeras.

No wonder when the Prime Minister first announced the 1Malaysia idea to the nation, many non-bumis were somewhat skeptical. But after a while some were convinced of the idea, and allowed themselves to indulge in dreaming the impossible dream too; hence a dream within a dream.

A year or two had since elapsed since the first time I heard of the 1Malaysia announcement, but I still see it, for the most part, as an ambitious—if not impossible—dream. Many, many government policies do not accord well with the 1Malaysia concept; and I don't foresee them to change—ever.

In the housing industry, for example, 30% of new houses are still reserved for the bumiputeras at discounted prices. If the policy is a matter of helping poor bumiputeras to own houses, I can accept it. In fact, I would welcome that policy. But it would be more reflective of the 1Malaysia concept if the 30% discounted prices are given to poor people from all races, as opposed to only the bumiputeras. Even more baffling is that the 30%-for-bumiputera rule extends even to high-class properties of, say, condominiums worth above RM500,000 each. I think it's pretty safe to assume that if an individual can afford a RM500,000 house, he is not exactly poor.

On the other hand, if policies are really changed in line with the concept of 1Malaysia, would it work? I'd say it's doubtful at best. Policies can be changed in a heartbeat, but the people who are supposed to put those policies into operation can't be changed overnight. If, for example, there is now a new policy that says government contracts should be awarded to companies based on merits, and not on race, would the people actually doing the selection process obey that policy? What do you think?

If, for example, there is a policy that says scholarships are to be awarded based on merits, and not on race, would the people actually sitting in the selection committee obey that policy? What do you think?

No—the 1Malaysia concept is just too far-fetched to ever become a reality. But it is a romantic idea, and many people would dream that it would become a reality one of these days.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

KK Challenge 7

Yesterday I clerked the KK Challenge 7, a treasure hunt which attracted 16 teams, each comprising 3 to 4 members. Actually, I entertained the idea of postponing the hunt because I haven't been able to spend the time to prepare. But in all the KK Challenges before this, I have never postponed any of them, and I decided to live up to my reputation.

Because of my marathon training, and then recently, cycling; and more recently still, swimming, I could hardly find the time to prepare for the hunt. But last Saturday, I was finally able to put my fingers to the keyboard and started to work on my KK Challenge 7. After the morning cycling, I embarked on the questions. Another break in the afternoon for the swimming lesson before continuing my work at night. Then on Sunday morning, after the 19km long run, I spent practically the whole day going round taking photos, preparing the tulips etc. I had anticipated that I'd need more time, so I had taken leave on Monday to work on the powerpoint answer presentation. Oh! so much to do!

But I somehow managed to get everything done by yesterday morning at the expense of having just 5 hours sleep.

The KK Challenge 7 saw several new teams, an element which I had taken into account when setting the questions. Incidentally, during the KK City Hunt in February, I had an opportunity to chat with Master Hunter Jayaram Menon who had come all the way from Penang. He said for an open hunt, it is better to give more easier to average questions, and perhaps only 5 tough ones. I took his advice and set my KK Challenge 7 with a generous amount of easy questions.

From what I could see, the teams liked it. I thought the blend was just the right mix. Most of the questions were solvable by even the new teams. Assuming a passing rate of 50%, 10 of the teams passed the hunt. But even those which failed only did so marginally. However, 2 very new teams score in the teens.

Just to share some of the questions which entertained most of the teams. At the Millennium Plaza, off the Penampang Bypass, I gave this:


I was there to watch some of the teams walking up and down that stretch several times in the hot sun. It wasn't a small signboard at all, and a few teams eventually found the intended answer. But I was amused to see some others which spent quite a while, baffled by the strange clue, and then eventually had to leave the sector with the wrong guess. Upon seeing me smiling, one of the hunters reacted.

"Aiyah, what kind of question is this oh?", he said, before answering the question himself, unknowingly, "no-head-no-tail bah!"

I merely continued smiling. If only he had listened to himself!

This following one was at my all-time favourite sector, the Lintas Square:

Q29) Although not courageous people, they aspire to become knights.

Quite honestly, I didn't mean this to be a very tough question. I think I have been fair to at least give something for the hunters to zoom in to, i.e. the word "YELLOW" that can fit "not courageous". If the teams had only investigated further on the remaining word, they probably had a good chance to be successful. In the end only 3 teams found the answer.

The following question is found at the very last sector. The sector is quite a long one, but there were relatively very few signboards. Well, at least few to be promising answers.

Q40) Mostly becomes expensive if...

A highly visible sign and literally standing on its own at the roof of a bus stop, away from the clusters of signboards within that sector. According to a member of the team that found this answer—they won this hunt, by the way—if this question was located in the earlier part of the hunt, he reckoned that perhaps more teams would have been able to solve it too.

Well, it was a very exhausting few days for me leading up to the hunt. By the time it was all over, it was such a relief! But it was all worth it, as I could tell that everyone had a good time.

The Champion team: Tembak Angin (combination of Main Tembak & Makan Angin)

The top 8 teams were:

1) Bernard Liew, Alvin Wong, Audrey Chin, Allister Kong (88/100)
2) Francis Omamalin, Eileen Yeoh, Lee Tze Jim, Moina Liew (83/100)
3) Jude Ripin, Norazimah Shazana Abdullah, Victoria Jingulam, Lee Hui Yeing (74/100)
4) Dr Liaw Yun Haw, Ellen Yee, Mary Lokupi, Felix Joikon (73/100)
5) Joanna Stidi, Suzanne Stidi, Adoree Malinjang, Josy Majalap (72/100)
6) Ryner R R Ripin, Roland Ripin, Ernie J R Ripin, Jenifer Julius Topin (72/100)
7) Harry Koh, Buddy Jiliun, Sophia Lai, Raymond Woo (71/100)
8) Talissa R Kiandee, Andrea Abidin, Callum Abidin, Robinson Ken (68/100)

* I will sort out the photos, but will only post the champions' here. The rest I will post at the Treasure Hunt FB later. Please bear with me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Onto The Saddle

It must have been about a year ago, during a get-together dinner with some friends shortly after running a marathon, when the subject of attempting a triathlon came up. Quite honestly, I wasn't even seriously considering venturing into triathlon—not when I'm in my mid forties.

However, that was a significant start for a friend, Teo, who suddenly became so pumped up about the idea of doing something new. Together between him and Andrew, they ended up going bike-shopping in Manila a few weeks later in conjunction with a business trip. Shortly after that, Teo's road bike arrived on the shores of Sabah. Andrew's bike, a GIANT TCR came all the way from Singapore. Since then, Teo has been pestering practically everyone around him to buy a bike. The first thing he thinks of when he wakes up each morning is who else he can pester to buy a bike.

I was still not very serious about the triathlon. So I've been ignoring Teo's constant yapping about cycling. But he did manage to convince Dr Felice to buy a road bike, and then join him and Andrew for the sprint triathlon in Miri last October. After that event, Teo became even more obsessed in the subject of triathlon. In every 10 sentences he utters, one is bound to find the word "triathlon" therein!

Well, I'm still unsure if I'm ever gonna do a triathlon, but if ever I'm gonna do it, I'd rather that I prepare well for the event. I'm not a believer of doing something just for the sake of finishing it. I want to prepare and finish it to the best of my ability. It doesn't really matter if my best is a last place finish, but I want to know that whatever I achieve, I've given 100% to achieve it.

I've been putting off the cycling thing for a while, until Andrew decided to buy a new road bike earlier this year. Since I'm not particularly concerned about brand name or whether it's the latest model in the market, I bought the bike from Andrew at RM4,300 several weeks ago. Later on, I spent a good RM1,500 on the accessories. Before the recent Borneo International Marathon (BIM), for the most part, my bike was mainly sitting pretty at home, doing absolutely nothing except for a short tryout ride with Teo one Saturday morning. I found out that although I haven't been on a bike for a good 20 years or so, I could very quickly adapt to the road bike.

Now that the BIM is over, I reckoned it's finally time to embark on some serious cycling. It happened that there were 2 groups of cyclists for yesterday morning. One was that of a bunch of triathletes starting from Tg Aru and involved some hills for a total distance of 43km. The other group was that of Teo and his friends, starting from the Likas sports complex to Sepangar Port. According to Teo, the total distance was about 40km, give and take. Since it would be something like a first time serious cycling for me, I thought that it's prudent to join Teo's group.

So at about 5:50 am yesterday morning, I went to the Esso station near my home to rendezvous with Teo and his friend Derek. Together, we rode a slow 5km to the sports complex. There we met a few other cyclists. We then proceeded on to the coastal highway leading north to Yayasan Sabah and beyond.

Just a few minutes on the highway, I could already feel my thighs burning up. And I wondered if I could last the many more km ahead. Strangely, however, my legs very quickly adapted to the new punishment, and I surprised myself when I actually felt comfortable riding between 32kmh to 35kmh. I found out that cycling is way easier than running. The only thing that troubled me was the hard seat—the pain in my ass just killed me big time!

Beyond the KKIP, there were some undulating terrains, but it did not give me too much trouble. The journey to Sepangar Port wasn't very tough. But on the return leg, suddenly the rest in the group decided to make a detour into the Navy Base. I began to worry a bit since this detour wasn't in the original plan of what was supposed to have been a "slow and easy" ride according to Teo.

Then a few hundred metres upon reaching the Navy Base, Teo suggested that we should do a short sprint—"just for fun", he said. Not wanting to be the black sheep of the group, I obliged to a sprint. At the Navy Base, we paused for a short rest, and I finished the isotonic drink in my first 700ml bottle.

It was quite a relief to have survived the outing so far. But my happiness was short-lived, as the group decided to go for yet another detour all the way into the Karambunai resort. I began to worry again. Cycling wasn't as punishing as running, and right at that moment, I felt I could have easily endured another hour or two of cycling. Except that I had a one-hour swimming lesson scheduled in the afternoon. Still, I obliged, and soon found myself at the Karambunai resort.

It was already past 8am by the time we emerged from the Karambunai resort and it was already getting quite hot in the scorching sun. Thankfully, however, it was time to make our return journey. It wasn't really a race, but I was able to average around 33kmh to 35kmh all the way back to the Likas mosque, where the leading cyclists were contemplating going for breakfast of roti canai. But this time I declined, and Teo decided to accompany me. In the end, the rest abandoned the idea of breakfast too. I reached home around 9am, feeling quite exhausted after a total of 75km ride, but nowhere near the kind of exhaustion of running marathons.

I think cycling is a good form of cardio workout, and it's entirely possible that I can also benefit from the workout for my running. But I guess I will just have to wait till my next race to find out if it does indeed help!

In the afternoon, I arrived at the pool feeling like a zombie, but that, too, was a good workout. Then last night I slept like a baby, only to wake up at 4am for a 15km recovery run with Dr Peter starting from the Likas complex at 5am. Unfortunately, during the run, my legs felt like jelly, and I had to reluctantly cut short the distance to 12km only, thus barely escaping the morning rain.

I'm feeling dead tired now. It doesn't seem like I have it in me for a triathlon—the mind is willing, the flesh is just too weak. But I just love the challenge!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Borneo International Marathon 2011

I wouldn't say that the Borneo International Marathon 2011 (BIM) was perfect, but I'd describe it as at least among the best I've joined so far. I've heard of regular runners complaining about the value of the goodie bags; or quality of the the finisher T-shirts. I don't look at those when assessing the success of the race.

This year, the BIM has attracted about 2,200 runners in all categories—a far cry from the huge crowds in even small races in West Malaysia. However, for the BIM, that figure translates into an increase of about 50% against last year's participation. I must congratulate Andrew Voon, the Race Director of BIM, who happens to be a good friend of mine. We ran marathons together in Penang last year, and more recently in Hong Kong. It was while we were in Hong Kong that I shared a room with him. I was able to get a glimpse of the kind of commitment required to pull off a successful marathon.

Andrew would tell you that I'd be among the first few people who'd be quick to criticize when the organiser screws up. And of course BIM didn't escape my criticism in the past! I've participated in all of Andrew's races so far, and I can attest that Andrew is improving the BIM all the time!

This year, Andrew managed to enlist a number of cyclists as race marshals on wheels. And I can say that the volunteers did a good job at the many drink stations spread evenly along the entire route. My only small disappointment was the fact that I had to suffer a terrible thirst on my return leg from Tg Aru (about 10.5km to the finish line). By about 4 hours into the race, all the drinks at the Segama drink station were gone. That's the station supporting all the race categories. And because that station was dry by then, I had to endure about 6km of thirst between the drink station near Sutera and the one about 2km before the finish line. Now on any ordinary training day, I can quite easily run 10km without a single drop of water. But when running a race beyond the 30km point, under the scorching sun, 6km is extremely hard to run without any drinks! So this is probably one thing Andrew can look into when organising future BIMs.

Speaking of the scorching sun, I think contrary to popular belief, the BIM is not really an easy race even though its terrain is almost fully flat. The hot sun during the last 10km-12km of the 42km is enough to drain 20km's worth of energy! Even regular marathoners are talking about the famous morning sun of Kota Kinabalu!

When I reached the starting line of the 42km race, the injury in my left foot had not recovered. As a matter of a Plan B, I took ponstan—a painkiller—about an hour before the race. That was the first time I took any painkiller before a race. Even when I ran the Hong Kong Marathon with a back injury in February, I refrained from taking any painkiller. But this time it's a bit different; I reckoned that I wouldn't have lasted the 42km without the painkiller.

During the first 10km or so into the race, my foot felt great. Just a bit of pain, but it was totally bearable. I and my running buddy, Dr Peter, ran side-by-side almost throughout the northern route. But as we were nearing the northern turning point, I realised that we were running somewhat too fast for the targeted 4 hours 30 mins. I reduced my pace a bit, but still keeping Peter in sight. As I reached the turning point, Peter had already started his return leg to the south.

The run was rather pleasant until I reached around 1Borneo on the return leg when I felt a slight pull in my right calf, and then soon after that, I felt a similar pull in my left calf. I looked at my watch and realised that I was still running too fast. I reduced my pace a little further and began to lose sight of Peter in the dark. It was just getting bright when I reached the 21km mark. I looked at my watch again and saw about 1:57, way too fast for a 4:30 target.

By the time I reached the Wisma Perindustrian roundabout, I suddenly merged into the crowd of the 10km racers. But I was still able to run comfortably. I ran all the way to Tg Aru, stopping to drink in almost every drink station along the way. On the way there, I saw some of my friends running the half marathon on their return leg. By then, I have developed cramps in both my thighs; and the pain in my left foot was becoming quite unbearable.

About 300 metres before reaching Tg Aru, I saw Peter on his return leg for the final 10km of the race. And my heart sank because I knew it there and then that I've lost my bet for the second time in a row! Frankly, I didn't have high hopes of beating Peter in this particular race, but losing is never easy on my pride, you see (smile)!

It was more or less about then that I shifted my focus—looking at my watch, I saw that I still had enough time to make the sub-4:30 target. It's gonna be close, but not impossible. The only problem was that the cramps in my legs and the pain in my left foot were beginning to bug me. All I had to do was to hope that my legs could still move. For as long as they could still move, it's a matter of enduring the pain that last 10km. Turning at Tg Aru roundabout and making my way back to the finish line, I was already struggling to endure the pain. By then the morning sun was already burning my exposed neck and arms.

The above photo, courtesy of Tey Eng Tiong (thank you), is just at the turn leading to the Wawasan roundabout.

Before long, I was reduced to the walk-run-walk-run routine. About a thousand steps later I arrived at a drink station just shortly after turning into the coastal highway from Jln Mat Salleh. And another drink station after about 900 steps later, a little after the Sutera Harbour Resort. I grabbed 2 cups of isotonic drink and continued my run. What followed next was the 6km run without any drink. I lost count of how many times I walked within that 6km. I've endured similar heat in past BIMs, but this time I felt it was more serious—I was at the verge of puking.

The last few kilometres was mainly about mental strength. Step by step until I reached the Wisma Perindustrian roundabout for the third time that morning. Turning into Jln Istiadat, I knew that I had about 1.3km to the finish line. Looking at my watch, I had a little over 9 minutes left for the sub-4:30 target. I ran-walked-ran-walked until the last 200 metres when I kept running, limping, and basically dragging my left leg to the finish line. Peter was there when I crossed the finish line just under 4:30 (Will have to wait for the organiser to publish the official results in a couple of days' time). Although I lost my bet to Peter, I'm happy that I at least improved last year's time by about 7 minutes.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find friends to help us take photos for the day. The above was taken by a FB friend who was there shortly after the race. Those are all happy faces. Gosh! my legs don't look too good in tights! (smile) From left to right: Yours truly, Dr Peter, Judy, Dr Liaw and Dr Felice.

Now that the race is over, I'm determined to take a break from running races to allow my legs a bit of time to fully recover. Running will still continue, but at shorter distances. To compensate, I'll be spending more time on cycling and swimming instead. Who knows, maybe I'm still in time for the 120km road race in late July!