Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Typhoon Returns...

It's been about one-and-a-half years since the last time Typhoon Diana struck, and wrecked havoc in Kota Kinabalu with its mighty force. The turbulance went on for a few months, and by the time the typhoon subsided, we sort of went through a period of healing while picking up the pieces.

As a matter of routine, Mom would come to visit us every couple of years in between her holidays to Reno or Vegas to visit her friends—the one-arm bandits. But last year she had a bit of rough times when her doctors found a tumour the size of a tennis ball in her uterus. We dreaded for the worst, but a surgery to remove the tumour was successful far beyond expectation.

So at about 11am this Sunday, the typhoon will be arriving in Kota Kinabalu again. According to the programme, Taman Sinar Bukit will be the first stopover—probably for a week or two, before my other siblings take over the task of containing the typhoon in their respective homes.

So I suppose this Saturday will be a spring cleaning day for me. I'm not sure if I still have time to order a red carpet for the grand welcome. Maybe I will have to hire a part-time maid for a day to clean the entire house spotless.

Meanwhile, Flora will also be coming together with her 2 kids and maid from Brunei on the first day of Hari Raya. So I will be having quite a number of guests this coming holidays. However, Mia and I will be away for 2 days of jungle trekking at the end of this month, so JJ might want to stay at home with popo Diana, wathcing cartoon the whole day. Or maybe if she wants to see more cartoon, she can see real life ones at my in-laws.

For the first time ever in so many decades, mom will be celebrating her birthday with all of us A to F on the 1st of September. All these years we were unable to assemble all my siblings. But this time, Audrey, Bridget, myself, Dennis, Evelyn and Flora will all be there. Her pewter is all nicely wrapped up; the durian cake (I don't suppose they have that in Vancouver); as well as the food catering have been arranged by my sisters.

I foresee lots of tears of joy this September; so there will be more reports to come later...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unprepared For Pre-paid Phone Service

Shortly after I moved back from Brunei to KK about 9 years ago, I bought one of the most primitive Nokia mobile phones and subscribed to phone services from MAXIS. Later on, I took up a "family plan", i.e. I took up the main phone line, and Mia as the supplementary line. Over the years, I've changed my mobile phones several times. However, I wish to say that I'm not one of those creatures who have the habit of changing phones solely for the sake of changing phones, or "keeping up with technology". In most cases, I changed my phones because they had reached their lifespan.

I see people changing their mobile phones almost annually; or in some cases, even twice a year. And these people would actually spend an entire month's salary—and ever more than that—for newer phones!

Mia had been using her Nokia for at least 4 years now, and had recently been liable to sudden shutdown for no apparent reason. Messages would disappear; and some important data went missing. In fact, it was obvious that it was probably time to consider buying a new phone. But since procrastination is a universal disease, she never actually made the effort to go mobile phone shopping—she merely grumbled to me every time her phone started acting up.

I think God must have been observing her patiently and sympathetically from heaven over the last couple of months. But in the end He ran out of patience and finally acted on it.

As part of our training for the 100km trail race this coming November, we've been trekking the Kibambangan jungle. Both Mia and I bought specially-designed trekking backpacks. But she saw to it that hers had many more compartments. In fact, she's proud of all those little compartments. She is very proud of having all her little stuff nicely separated into their respective compartments in her bag, you see. But I'm not impressed, because she almost always finds herself unable to locate her stuff when she needs them, quite often ending up having to ransack the entire bag to look for a single item. Some people!

At this point, you may be thinking what has all this got to do with the title of this post. Please hang on, I'm getting there sooner or later!

The last time we went up the hills in Kibambangan, Mia brought her forsaken bag again. But on our way back, it started to pour. No problem—she was prepared with a special plastic cover to protect her backpack from the rain. Again, she was very proud of her preparation. Only that when we reached home that night, she realised that she kept her mobile phone in one of those many compartments which were not protected from the rain. Needless to say, her phone was soaking wet and it was already dead by then. I, of course, laughed my heads off, until I remembered that I have been the one who bought all her phones all these years. After I became sober from my uncontrollable laughters, it dawned upon me that Mia would have to buy a new phone.

Enter the iPhone 4...

I've been meaning to switch from MAXIS to Digi for a while now. But again, procrastination is a universal disease, you see. And again, I suppose God thought he would help push us a bit to decide sooner. So since it's time for Mia to buy a new phone, I thought I might as well take the opportunity to finally make that transfer to Digi.

A visit to Digi revealed that it wasn't as simple as I thought. While it's possible to retain our original phone numbers with MAXIS, we had to convert to the pre-paid plan in Digi first. After that, we can then convert again to the postpaid plan.

They have numerous "special packages" in Digi, some of which come with the phone sets. Now my Nokia N97 is still usable, except for some keys which are no longer functioning. But since it's a touchscreen type, I could still use it. But I reckoned that I might as well grab the chance to change my phone too. Besides, I was pleasantly surprised that Mia decided to pay for her own phone! [God, I don't know how you did it, but thanks for the help!]

I must admit that I have a kind of phobia of using these so-called "smart phones", because I feel that I'm not so smart to use them! Moreover, since day one of my mobile phone history, I've never ever used a pre-paid service. I know so many people who are using the pre-paid service, but I've never actually investigated what's the difference with the postpaid system.

Actually, both systems are the same, except that in the case of the pre-paid service, as the name suggests, users would have to pay first before using the service. This is done by buying phone credits by means of what's called "reload coupons". While this may sound like a simple and straightforward procedure to most people, it sent chills down my spine. But, well, it's now or never!

So a few days ago was the last of our phone signal from MAXIS, and it was time to activate the pre-paid service from Digi. Of all the time for this to happen, it had to be in a restaurant while we were having dinner. Mia, who's probably 10 times worse than me when it comes to this sort of thing, passed her phone to me to help her activate her pre-paid line. Earlier on, we had already bought the reload coupons. Looking at the instructions on the reload coupon, I was quite relieved to note a very easy step-by-step procedure. First, one has to key in "*123*", followed by the 16-digit number on the card, and close with "#" before hitting the call button.

That looked simple enough, but after I followed the instruction with the 16-digit number, it was rejected! I tried again a second time. Then a third time. Then fourth...

The minutes passed. In the end, I decided that the simpler method was just to ask one of the waitresses. She merely walked over to my table and demonstrated to me how to execute the activation procedure. First, type the "*123*" (uhuh, that's what I did). Then type in the 16-digit number hidden under the portion of the coupon which I had to scratch, NOT the 16-digit number under the barcode; followed by the "#" key and the call button. And then, almost magically, voila!... the phone suddenly came alive!

I thought the waitress must have rushed to the toilet to laugh her heads off.

I think Digi should produce another type of reload coupon meant for dummies—one which actually tells the user to scratch that portion on the lower right hand corner to get the 16-digit number.

Well, Mia has since had her iPhone 4 and been spending like 23 hours per day playing with it. I think this morning she's trying to find out how to connect to the internet. I think by the time my Galaxy S2 arrives, I'm gonna spend something like a few days just to learn how to make a call.

Keeping my fingers crossed...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Theories, Experiments & Conclusions

Have you ever noticed what sports magazines—generally speaking—have in common? Well, they almost always come up with new research and experiments leading to new conclusions that would absolutely demolish earlier claims by experts of the old school. Y'know, things like drinking 8 glasses of water per day used to be good for you, but that is no longer true today based on new evidence; that when running marathons, "drinking to thirst" is better than "drinking ahead of thirst"; that when weight training, doing 3 sets of 10 reps each is no longer considered the best thing to do for best results.

I think there is a kind of expectation from the audience to see something new in sports magazines. Otherwise, there is no point to keep buying the monthly issues—simply buy a few months', and then those could be recycled over and over again, forever! Therefore, for the magazines to keep selling, there must be something new in them in each issue!

That's just one part of the story. The other part of the story is that I suspect the people who conduct those experiments have more or less made up their mind as to the conclusions that they can—and should—draw from their experiments. I'm convinced that even scientists of the best breed can sometimes fall victims to their own theories. That is human nature, you see.

Take the porn star as an example. I think even before she so much as lifted a scalpel or forceps when conducting the autopsy on Teoh Beng Hock, she had already had the theory of murder in her mind; and the autopsy was just a means to find the evidence to prove her theory. And if there is any hint in the slightest degree that can lean towards murder, then that will immediately leap to her eye; whereas the other facts that would rule out murder would be in danger of not even getting noticed.

If, for example, I have a theory that beer contains a very small amount of women's hormones, how should I conduct an experiment to prove my theory? Well, maybe I would find a couple of healthy men and separate them into 2 groups. I would let the first group drink a glass of plain water per 10 minutes each and make an observation of any effect on them. Then I would let the other group of men drink a glass of beer per 10 minutes each and also observe if there is any effect at all. At the end of that experiment, my report might look something like this:

"1) Those who consumed plain water were observed to remain normal in terms of behavior, except that the frequency of visits to the toilet is seen to have increased.

2) Those who consumed beer were observed to gradually talk a lot of nonsense and gradually lose their ability to drive.

3) The conclusion is that beer contains a very small amount of women's hormones, of which when sufficient amount is present in the body, the feminine characteristics will become apparent."

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk presented by a sports scientist from Singapore. Although he was not a doctor, he had been conducting research and experiments for some years related to sports in general, but perhaps more for running sports. In fact, he was also an avid runner himself.

It was an interesting talk to say the least, but as in the case of many sports magazines, I couldn't help but notice that quite a major part of what's discussed was to break a lot of myths about running sports.

According to him, in one of those experiments conducted, it was shown that when running marathons it is better to "drink to thirst", and not "drink ahead of thirst." He went on to explain that the recommendation to "drink ahead of thirst" had its origin in sports drink producers in the States, trying to boost up consumption of their products. So experiments were conducted in such a way to somehow arrive at the conclusion of "drink more of our products", though not in so many words.

Well, I am not a sports scientist, and I don't claim to know more than the speaker. But to me, drinking a more or less fixed amount of liquid—especially sports drinks—in a given workout time, even ahead of thirst, had always worked well for me. There were times in the past when I experimented with "drinking to thirst", and I got caught with severe cramps. And of course the terrible thing about cramps is that once you get them, the race is practically over!

So I must admit that I have doubts about the experiment conducted to conclude that "drinking to thirst" is superior to "drinking ahead of thirst". After all, each individual may be different physiologically, and may react differently to the timing of hydration. I'm not suggesting that all sports scientists are like the "porn star", but I would suggest that runners do what works best for them, even if what they're doing may not accord well with the findings of new "research and experiments."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jungle Trekking—Training Continues...

At about 7:10am yesterday morning, a group of 23 people assembled at the Kibambangan Resort, about 10 minutes' drive from Donggongon town. They consisted of doctors, triathletes, marathoners, RPM instructor, and other sports enthusiasts. They had one thing in common—they were all nutcases who would sacrifice their Sunday to torture themselves by walking miles and miles into the hilly jungle.

We were supposed to start trekking no later than 7:15am, but because we are true Malaysians, it was 7:45am when we finally embarked on the journey. Before we started, however, Dr Helen declared that "this is my backyard", and took it upon herself to conduct a briefing.

We turned attentive faces to her, while making last checks on our backpacks.

In the crowd were the newly inducted Port Dickson Triathlete, Teo Chen Lung and his friend Alex Tay. By the way, Teo was the most hi-tech trekker in the group. He had on him a state-of-the-art mobile phone, Solomon shoes, cap and hydration belt, heart rate monitor, knee guard, Compression calf tights, a Camel Bak pack with a 2-litre capacity bladder, and an Oakley Jawbourne shade worth RM1,200. Before starting on the journey though, he took the time to distribute the hardcopy registration form for the Miri Triathlon. I will discuss with Helen later if we should charge him some sort of royalty for promoting the Miri Triathlon during this training session.

Anyway, I was lucky to have had a short conversation with the Chok sisters, though actually that conversation was merely because they wanted me to take a photo of them together. Anyway, as you can see, tights don't look so good on men, if you know what I mean.

Interestingly, Cherylanne, the girl holding the camera loved her Solomon trail running shoes so much that she decided to leave them at home. Instead, she wore ordinary running shoes for the occasion.

A quick group photo before the nightmare began. I reminded everyone to smile as that could be the last time they'd smile for the whole morning.

The group photo done with, we made a slow procession across a hanging bridge, and then up a fairly steep climb for a good 20 minutes or so. It was around then that Boyd, Stephenie and John started running up the slope like mountain goats, while the rest of us could only watch enviously.

It was also about then that Teo announced that his heart rate had risen to 134, which was somewhat surprising, since it was observed to be at only 34 when he was having his fried noodle during breakfast.

Dr Felice, who was joining us for the first time had quite a good warm-up during that first few minutes and took a short break to pose for a photo. Felice has been an extraordinary specimen in that she has always demonstrated that her unorthodox training method can work equally well. She likes to do things her own way...

After a few minutes on the trail, the crowd began to spread further and further apart into smaller groups. Teo and Alex decided to stick together. After all, Teo's motto has always been "Slow & Easy"; though according to him for this particular outing, it was more like "Slow & Not Easy".

However, he did pick up a bit of speed later on when he reached the dirt road. And as you can see Claire was quite determined to catch up with him.

Further ahead, Teo was still going strong. Well, OK, at least he appeared to be strong still. Claire was still chasing after him.

Some parts of the road were shaded by the trees. But still lots of climbing.

Having suffered a severe cramp 2 weeks ago, Mia decided to play safe this time by going slow but consistent pace—a strategy that paid off handsomely.

I failed to reach Terian during the last two attempts, so I was quite determined to make it this time. I went a little faster this time and found myself in the leading pack with Dr Liaw. But later on, Boyd, Stephenie and John came from behind. Apparently, they had gone the wrong way for a bit before realising it, and then only now caught up with us. In a jiffy they overtook me and I had to walk in solitude for a bit until Dr Joseph came along. We walked for some minutes before finally arriving at this small shed where we met the leading pack again behaving as if they were waiting for a bus.

Beyond that shed, it was more or less gently undulating for some minutes before going downhill approaching Terian. I continued walking with Dr Joseph. Along the way, I could hear plenty of chattering sounds from the trees. But those were not the Predators of the movies. We also did not come into contact with any 10-foot-tall blue creatures with USB port at the tip of their ponytail hair.

All the way into Terian, I was conscious of the downhill path. I knew that we would have to pass this way on the return leg. The minutes passed and before we knew it, we could hear the sound of running water. It was a river, and I knew that we were already close to Terian. As we crossed a shallow river by jumping on boulders, we came up on the other side, and after a short climb, Dr Joseph suddenly threw up his hands to the heavens and exclaimed "At last!". And I could almost smell lunch!

We came to a hanging bridge which was desperately in need of refurbishment. As we crossed the bridge in the best of Indianna Jones fashion, we were pleasantly surprised by sounds of applause from below. Boyd, Stephenie, John and Dr Liaw were having a dip in the river below. My excitement mounted.

I was about to join them at the river when I suddenly realised that a leech was happily feasting on my left foot.

And if you're having trouble spotting it, here's another shot without my shoe. Can you see it now?

For the benefit of those who're not familiar with this parasite, let me tell you that it is no thicker than a matchstick. An amazing creature which is very primitive—it has no eyes, yet it can sense blood from several metres away! It somehow found its way onto my leg, moved all the way down, and from the surface of a thick sock, was able to sense blood flowing in my veins. It's such an efficient blood sucker. And it's also a damn greedy little bugger too. Although it had extracted blood as much as 10 times the volume of its body, it still won't stop; it kept sucking. In fact, it's almost as greedy, and as scary, as our politicians, if you know what I mean!

Well, after I dealt with the little leech, I went down to the river to join the rest. Oh! the river felt so nice.

One by one the rest in the group arrived across the hanging bridge above. I was quite surprised to see Claire, followed by the other girls (Teo, you should really come back for a rematch with Claire). Not far behind, Teo was happily approaching Terian. See for yourself!

I was still at the river when Judy arrived and took this shot from the hanging bridge. I still think men don't look very good in tights.

Later on, Jiki arrived and found that she, too, donated some blood to the little creatures. In fact, most of us did!

After the relaxing dip in the river, we made our way up the hill to where Helen had arranged for lunch.

Happy faces having hot drinks after the long journey from Kibambangan.

Dr Liaw decided to tease the women in the group with his sexy white legs, whereas I went topless. I'm thinking maybe I should consider wearing a sports bra next time? We opted not to do the pole dancing though, because we had to conserve some energy for the return journey.

It wasn't some half an hour later when Mia finally arrived for lunch. We were counting heads and wondering where's Felice when she made her big entrance. Instead of crossing the river on the hanging bridge, she just had to be different—she approached Terian from who-knows-where, crossed the river wading thigh-deep water and lived to tell the tale! (Did I say she likes to do things her own way?)

After lunch, we had to quickly prepare for the return trip. It was by then that we realised that Dr Soma had already given up and turned back to Kibambangan. So did Tan and her husband, Alex. Janet got the cramp and had to turn back with Elisia. Cherylanne's shoes got torn and had to turn back about 10 minutes from Terian. The moral of the story is to use the Solomon shoes for what they're designed to do; not leave them at home.

On the way back, it started to pour, resulting in very slippery paths. The descent was especially tricky and I slipped a few times. Later on I overtook some of them who started earlier, and finally caught up with Cherylanne who had by then abandoned her shoes in the jungle (I wonder if the Penampang District Council would fine her for littering in the jungle) and had a pair of oversized flipflop instead, courtesy of the kind Terian folks. It was kinda fun watching the sisters bickering at each other like the sound of jentik-jentik nyamuk aedes.

Well, I reached Kibambangan again at about 4:13pm and had to wait a little over an hour before Mia arrived with Dr Felice. And shortly after we left Kibambangan, it began to rain lions and wolves.

Later in the evening, I was still admiring the skill of the leech in locating the veins in my foot with amazing precision.

Well, I wonder if it will be a little easier the next time we go to Terian, but I doubt it. I dread to think of going even further to Buayan. But we'll see what happens next..

Friday, August 5, 2011

God, Proselytisation & One-Way Street

Some years ago, I was working in Brunei when one day a Muslim client in a jubah came to the office to collect an urgent report in connection with his loan application at a local bank. Unfortunately, although the report has been completed, we required a few more minutes to do the binding. He was sitting across my desk, and I thought I'd create small talks with him.

I can't remember how the conversation started, but he was telling me about his plan to perform the haj later that year. And I sort of asked a passing question—not that I was really interested to conduct a research on performing the haj—whether it's really compulsory for all Muslims to perform the haj. Little did I know that that innocent question triggered what ended up to be over an hour's worth of lecture on Islam and why it is the best religion. Suddenly he forgot all about the urgency of his report and his appointment with the banker, but maybe that was time well-spent on his part.

Years earlier, when I was much younger, I was staying in Kampung Koidupan in Penampang. Our house was built on a native reserve on a hill. One bright sunny day, a woman came to the house holding an umbrella in one hand, and the Bible in the other. In spite of my telling her that I was not interested to know, she went on and on about her religion. The Jehovah's Witnesses are very, very persistent people, you know.

The thing about religions in general is that there is that curious tendency for the followers to try to influence others to convert to their respective religions. The attempt to proselytise may be very direct, or it can be subtle, but make no mistake, there is always that tendency!

I read with interest the recent news of how the Selangor State Religious Department (JAIS) raided a thanksgiving dinner held in the Damansara Utama Methodist Centre (DUMC). [The Star] And the raid was later defended by Datuk Dr Hasan, claiming that there was evidence of proselytisation towards Muslims. [The Star]

The question is whether proselytisation is a right only available to one religion and not the others—a "one-way-street"? That only the Muslims can proselytise and not the Christians or Sikhs?

It is no secret that I don't believe in any religion. And I'm seeing how Christianity is forced down the throat of my 9-year-old daughter. If I had it my way, I would prefer her to reach adulthood first before she is given the freedom to choose her religion, if she wants to. I'm not in favour of the brainwashing approach. I want her to have the freedom of choice.

I should add, however, that I will try to brainwash my daughter in my own way to look at religions critically. So, for example, maybe Mary wasn't a virgin when she had Jesus?

But the one thing that I shall not do is to deny her of the freedom of knowledge and information. She can attend lectures on Christianity or Islam or Buddhism for all I care. For I believe that only in that way can she then arrive at a quality decision, if she were to make one.

If my daughter is destined to choose Islam, then that is her choice. Whether or not I agree with that decision, that is not important. If she is happy with that decision, then she will have my blessings. I don't think that I'm going to prevent her from touching the Malay-language Bible because I'm afraid that she will be confused that the "Allah" in the Bible is the same with the "Allah" found in the Quran. I don't think that I'm going to prevent her from setting foot in a church or temple for fear of her converting to another religion. Relationship between an individual and God is a unique one—that is the kind of love, respect and admiration that cannot, and should not, be dictated by others. I shall not give reign to the temptation to deny my daughter the freedom of choosing her own faith.