Wednesday, September 14, 2011

History & Fairytale

History has it that about 1400 years ago, a famous conqueror invaded a tribe during a war. Many people were killed. Those who survived the war were held captive by the invading army. Among them was a 17-year old girl known for her beauty. Her father who was the chief of the tribe, and her husband were both killed in battle. She was about to be taken as a slave when her beauty was brought to the conqueror's attention. The 60-year old conqueror offered to marry her, thus escaping the fate of becoming a slave. So she chose to marry the 60-year old man. It was said that although she was angry at the conqueror at first, she eventually forgave him; in fact greatly respected him later.

Now, 1400 years later, upon reading that story, I can't help but have doubts of its accuracy. For that history does not resemble anything like any human behaviour at all. It is beyond my imagination that a 17-year old girl whose father and husband had been killed by an invading army would eventually marry the leader of that army—a man old enough to be her grandfather. It is beyond me that the 17-year old girl would climb into bed to sleep with that man. I can't help but think the circumstances leading to the marriage had elements of force in it. But what do I know about history—I'm not a historian; I'm only relying on a bit of common sense and knowledge of human nature.

The thing about history is that many, many years ago, people who were supposed to have witnessed those events when it happened, put them down in writing according to what they saw with their own eyes. Or failing which they would rely on information they gathered from a third party who were supposed to have been eye-witnesses of those events. That sounds like a fair deal to me.

But how does one see the contents of the heart and mind? How can one be sure that a 17-year old girl, whose father and husband had been killed by the enemy, genuinely forgave the perpetrator and actually had great respect for him?

Was it really history or just a fairytale arising from a true event which we wish had happened according to how it was told?

Sometimes, it is possible that we are told things from our very early childhood—things that we have no means of verifying so that we rely totally on those who had originally told the story. Except that what would happen if some other people would come up with a different version of the story which changes the earlier version completely? How would we react?

Well, since a favourite pastime of Malaysians is lodging police reports, that's one of the first things they would do, as can be seen recently when the Mohd Sabu chap had a different version of the Bukit Kepong tragedy several decades ago.

I'm neither for nor against Sabu's version, as to be honest, I know hardly anything about the event! But I must admit that his version of the history does not accord well with what many people have been programmed to believe. The subconscious mind is programmed into believing that communists can never be heroes. And so Sabu's version can't possibly be right, no matter what. How many people would actually sit back, keep an open mind, and spare just a few minutes to listen to Sabu justifying his case? I doubt that there are very many.

Most of us are quite unwilling to listen and consider the opposing version. We prefer to believe in the version which we wish to be the truth, but not really wanting to know the truth...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Parental Instinct & Harsh World

For the most part of my early childhood, my parents were hardly ever around. I was one of those people who grew up without the luxury of experiencing love from their parents. Worse, the people whom we ended up living with were not very generous with love. Instead, life was something akin to slavery.

I had a long history of ugly childhood which I'd rather erase from my mind, but the human brain is a strange recording instrument—I have often wondered, at times I have a hard time recollecting events which have taken place only a week or two ago; yet I can remember vividly the events—as ugly as they may be—from all those years ago. I have shared bits and pieces of them at one time or another, here in this blog; but it's not exactly my favourite topic.

Against such background, one would be fast to dismiss me as a person who is unqualified to talk about parenting. But please bear with me for a minute...

Events over the recent days have inspired me to put my fingers onto my keyboard to share my thoughts about parenthood. The thing about being a parent is that there is that instinct to love and protect one's offspring. In some ways, even animals have that instinct.

When I was a small boy, I could hardly ever get the things that I wanted—I longed for love, and I got very little of it, if any; I yearned for toys, and I got hardly any. And as for the things that I did get, I had to strive really hard to earn them. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise; it made me see life in a peculiar way—that one should learn to strive and earn the things one wants.

I love my daughter with all my heart, and I make sure that she knows that I love her dearly. But while it's so tempting to shower her with all the things she wants, I refrain from granting her all her wishes, even if I could afford to. I practise the reward system; she has to earn them! So she got her PlayStation recently, but only after she got first in class. And in some cases, a "no" means "no", no matter what. Therefore, she is not ready to own a mobile phone, even if she gets first in class.

I see people trying so hard to demonstrate their love for their children by granting them all that they ask for. The kids always get what they want! And when they can't get what they want, even the parents will be sad!

I know that is probably parental instinct on auto pilot, but although I don't claim to be an expert in parenting, I don't believe that is the right method to bring up a child. Unfortunately, life is not always a bed of roses. Along the way, there will inevitably be some rough patches, like it or not, and the sooner these kids learn that fact, the better off they are! It doesn't mean that if the parents do not grant the wishes of their children, then they love their children any less.

Seeing the children playing in a group, I couldn't help noticing that one of them had the tendency to dictate what game to play, when to play it, and how to play it. And when the rest in the group disagreed, not only the dictator was disappointed, but even the parents were disappointed too!

In a perfect world, perhaps it's possible to get everything that one wants; everyone obeys one's wishes without question; everything is black and white, cut and dried, exactly like how one wants it to be...

But alas this is not a perfect world; one doesn't always get what one wants; people don't always agree with one's views; they don't always obey one's wishes. There will be disappointments upon disappointments. I think it is just impossible to protect one's child from such reality of life.

So I think if you really love your children, then please do them a favour; expose them to this harsh cruel world and watch from afar. When they fall, help them back to their feet if you can; for as long as you can. Pray that they will become strong individuals. For I say this solemnly—retreating them back into their world of pretense where everything is perfect will surely backfire in the long run. One of these days, that world will come crumbling down, and all that's left is the harsh reality that they will have to face somehow...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trail Running—Back-To-Back Training Part 3

I woke up with extremely sore legs at about 5:30am. I had a solid 6-hour sleep, but it felt like just 3 hours. I could hear the raindrops on the metal roof. For a brief moment, I considered going back to sleep. But I received a text message from Esther, asking me if we're still on for jungle trekking. I in turn texted Liaw, asking him for decision; and he replied that we should all go to the meeting place in Donggongon before we can decide. This was the second day of a back-to-back trail training (30th & 31st August).

I arrived in Donggongon at about 7am and found Liaw and Esther waiting in front of the public library. It was still drizzling, but we decided that we should still proceed with the programme anyway. Some people, as expected, did not turn up, while others went straight to the starting point at the Kibambangan Water Resort.

In the end only Liaw and I were from the original group of trekkers the day before. The rest of them from Part 2 had opted either to rest, or to continue their training at the Bukit Padang hills. Almost immediately after we started, I could feel my quads burning up. I thought I would soon get the cramps. Thankfully, however, shortly before we started it stopped raining. We went up the steep path as usual, but when we reached the dirt road, it was exceptionally slippery.

Liaw was soon ahead of the rest, but Tania was tagging along. I could still remember that during one of the previous trips, I ended up walking alone with Tania from Terian. And I told her that "I suck on the hills". I meant that in a slang way, of course, so I hope she didn't misunderstand me—that I meant "suck" literally. Obviously, I had no intention of sucking any part of a woman's body on the hills, but, y'know, sometimes figures of speech can be quite mind-boggling.

Anyway, to continue with the story, we remained mostly together in a group, except for Lawrence, the forestry fellow who was terribly out of shape for this trip. I was for the most part walking together with Esther, Velerie and her sister, Judy, the self-proclaimed "biasa punya doctor".

A little over two hours later, Tania emerged from the opposite direction. She had only planned to trek up the hills for about two hours before turning back. The rest of us continued up the hills and finally reached the top at Pondok Tinipot where we rested while waiting for Lawrence.

We spent quite some minutes at the pondok, and Esther took the time to amuse herself with this colourful bug.

When Lawrence finally arrived, complaining about cramps and aching knees, we proceeded on the trail and then began descending to Terian shortly after. A little while later, Liaw, Esther and Judy left Velerie, Lawrence and I behind. The three of us were doing a nice comfortable pace when suddenly Lawrence, with his keen eyes, suddenly stopped when he saw this hardly-visible frog. If I were alone, I doubt that I would spot this creature, but now that it has been brought to my attention, I, too, spent a few moments observing it. To be honest, I can't see anything special about it, except that perhaps it has a striking resemblance with Bernard Dompok.

Further down the path, while we were doing a good brisk-walking pace, Lawrence suddenly stopped and told us to go ahead, saying that he needed to rest his legs for a bit. So Velerie and I went ahead; and I carefully refrained from telling Velerie that "I suck on the hills".

Well, I thought Velerie was doing great going downhills, and I found myself doing almost my racing pace keeping up with her! Eventually, we arrived at the stream where we had to cross by leaping onto boulders. Velerie decided to play safe and avoided risking falling off the mossy rocks by simply wading through the stream. I tried to balance on the rocks, but slipped and ended up soaking both feet in the water too.

We climbed a hill and reached the top where we could get a panoramic view of Terian.

Crossing the hanging bridge. We saw Liaw and the two girls waiting under a tree. We spent perhaps 15 minutes or so waiting for Lawrence. It was about 12:15pm then. We were beginning to get worried for Lawrence when he suddenly appeared from across the other side of the bridge.

We made our way to the top of a hill where lunch had been arranged. We took off our wet shoes and socks and dried them in the sun. And then while we were waiting for lunch to be served, a female cat which was pathetically in heat was going around, crying meow-meow, pleading for someone to relieve her urge! And just so that we are clear about the word "heat", I didn't mean heat as the one below as recommended by John Chin for this trip!
Anyway, Esther gave the poor cat a stroke on its head and she absolutely got a kick out of it. Ummm... I mean the cat got a kick, not Esther (no, I couldn't tell for sure whether Esther was also in heat then). But after a while, when nobody could do anything more for the cat, it finally decided to hit on our wet shoes. Damn!... where are the male cats when you need them to do their job?

After waiting for a few minutes, we all sat down to a glorious lunch. Very simple dishes but they all tasted so good, as can be seen from Liaw's gesture below.

It's hard to believe that such simple and good lunch came from this stove in the kitchen.

Throughout lunch, we could still hear the poor cat crying meow-meow. After lunch we spent a few more minutes resting. Finally, at about 1:30pm, we started our return journey to Kibambangan. I was fairly impressed with the girls, crossing the bridge—or what's left of it—with no sign of fear at all!

As usual, the climb from Terian to the midway shelter was very punishing; but especially so for one who has done another trip the previous day. I thought we were gonna get caught in the rain, but we survived the whole trip without any rain.

Somewhere in the middle of the jungle, the girls suddenly walked a little faster, and I followed suit. In fact, after a while, I decided to overtake them. I don't know if it was the glorious lunch in Terian, or was it because I couldn't wait to get home in the hope of finding Mia behaving like the Terian cat, but I reached the clearing at a little after 4pm. From that point it would take only an hour, give and take, to reach Kibambangan.

We arrived back in Kibambangan around 5:30pm, but we had to wait for Lawrence who was suffering from severe cramps. In the end the girls managed to get hold of him on the phone. It was fast getting dark; Velerie and Judy, and I decided to make our move, whereas Liaw and Esther waited for Lawrence.

Well, two days of madness. I think I must have burnt at least 5000 calories over the two-day workout. It was truly an amazing workout, but in the end I am still alive, though perhaps not exactly kicking because my legs are just sore beyond words.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trail Running—Back-To-Back Training Part 2

I suppose it was just a matter of time, but because some of us signed up for the 100km ultra trail marathon this coming November, we had to accumulate sufficient mileage during training. It seemed somewhat impossible to find the time and proper training ground to achieve the total 100km, but we reckoned that we could at least come a little closer to that distance. To do this, we had to organise a two-day back-to-back jungle trekking session between the now familiar Kibambangan Water Resort and Terian.

Those of you who've not been following this blog, it's still not to late to follow the reports on past outings here and here.

A bit of clarification before I proceed with this report though. The title above, i.e. Part 2, may be a bit misleading. This trip on the 30th of August, was actually the fourth outing; not the second. Before that we've been up there in the jungle 3 times already. However, it wasn't until our third outing that we decided to set up a facebook group for training, and then invited others to join us. That first outing which was opened to others was then referred to as Part 1, and this outing therefore became Part 2. Part 3 (to be reported in the next post), though can be considered as an independent one on its own, should have been a continuation for a two-day back-to-back training for those who signed up for the 100km ultra trail marathon.

The crowd was much smaller than the previous one. It was after all the Hari Raya holiday. Most of those who were present were familiar faces, but we also had some new faces—Eric, a frequent adiNation runner who was up to some interesting new experience in the hills; Laurel, the chap who wore a pair of tights which attracted not only the girls', but also the men's attention; and Laurel's dad, who turned up and behaved more like a tourist rather than a jungle trekker.

Before we started, as usual we spent a bit of time chatting with each other while making last-minute checks on our backpacks. Teo, the most decorated trekker of 'em all, was also there. Except "decorated" in this case did not mean decorated as in a soldier awarded with war medals of honour. In this case, Teo was decorated with all his state-of-the-art equipment. Jonas unveiled his new hydration apparatus comprising a camel bak pack with a 1.5 litre bladder and two front pouches each holding a 750ml water bottle. I could see Teo just itching to outdo Jonas.

I think Dr Soma surprised everybody when he turned up, despite having suffered a severe cramp during the last trip and had to turn back long before reaching Terian. In fact, as if wanting to make a big impression, he turned up with a brandnew striking pink hat! Check out this photo below where Soma, the guy devoid of muscles is standing beside Boyd, the guy who's everything about muscles.

Judy took the opportunity to take a picture with Stephenie and Laurel. And at this point, just a friendly advice to the girls not to spend too much time looking at Laurel's amazing tights.

Some of us had a bit of time for some laughs too (check out Jonas' water bottles).

Group photos before we started the torture.

A few minutes after starting the journey, we took a short break in the jungle. By then Stephenie, Laurel and John Chin and the rest of the leading pack had already rushed up the hills. Stephenie and Laurel had intended to only do a 40-minute run before turning back. She's scheduled to fly to China on 1 September for a 300-km eco-race comprising 10 disciplines, so this was just "light" workout for her.

Upon reaching the dirt road, we started the climb. I had felt great then, but had to control my excitement from rushing up the hills. I had to keep reminding myself that there're still many more kilometres to cover not only that day, but also the following day.

However, a part of the training was also to keep a minimal pace to ensure that I can finish the race in November within the allocated 36 hours. So a few minutes later, I was already gradually leaving the pack behind together with Judy.

And then suddenly, we heard a kind of stampede from over the hill. We thought a herd of karabaus were coming our way. But then Stephenie and Laurel emerged and running from the opposite direction in annoyingly relaxed fashion. And I have to shamefully admit that instead of looking at Stephenie's fit body, my eyes were again drawn to Laurel's tights (Damn, am I absolutely nuts?).

I somehow had the impression that John was supposed to go all the way to Terian and Buayan with the rest of us. So I was fairly surprised to see him walking back not too long after Stephenie and Laurel.

Well, Judy and I walked together for a little longer up to the hut at the end of the clearing. Then I decided to increase my pace. I stepped into the jungle and pulled ahead of Judy soon after. For the rest of the journey I was walking alone. It was kinda weird—and boring—to walk alone for hours

I reached Terian about 3 hours later, crossed the hanging bridge, and then found myself not knowing where to go to next. I spent some minutes asking for direction to Buayan. I was finally directed to a steep hill akin to the Gunting Lagadan-Sayat-Sayat climb. That absolutely drained all my energy. But the good news was that after about half an hour's climb, I reached a moderately flat terrain. Shortly after that, I came to a camp where a man was busy chopping firewoods together with his wife and two young boys who probably forgot to put on their pants that morning. I stopped for a minute to ask about Buayan. He said, Buayan was about 2 hours away.

I continued along that path and was a bit worried that I was soon going downhill for some 2.5km. I was still thinking of the punishment of having to climb the hill on my way back when I came to a stream. I carefully made my way down to the stream and then suddenly realised that I had probably just enough time to return to Terian for the 12:30pm lunch as planned. And so I started the 2.5km climb, all the time thinking what the hell am I doing in this jungle alone on Hari Raya, when I could be enjoying a bunch of kuih mur at home!

Well, I made it back to Terian at about 12:45pm. And just a minute or two after my arrival, Boyd had also arrived from Buayan. I found out later that I was a mere 20 minutes away from Buayan from that stream. But just about then, the other group comprising Dr Helen, Judy, Teo and Mia were already done with lunch and were about to embark on their return journey to Kibambangan. Dr Soma had started back even earlier than them.

As we were eating, one by one the rest arrived from Buayan. Liaw arrived with a bright smile on his face. Jonas suffered a cramp in his calf. His 3 litres of water was not enough to support the entire journey to Buayan after all, and Dr Liaw had to ask for some water from the villagers there. I wondered how would it be like for a white man to ask for drinking water from the villagers. That would have been a pretty sight to watch... y'know, like chicken and duck talking to each other? Anyway, Eric was the last to arrive from Buayan, and he, too, suffered cramps in his legs.

I lingered on for a little longer. And then at about 1:50pm, about 40 minutes after Dr Helen's group left, I started off for Kibambangan, leaving the rest behind. The last I saw them, they were still enjoying lunch.

The climb from Terian to the top of the hill was so punishing that I had to walk very slowly. All the while, I had to keep reminding myself of another workout along this same route the following day. As I had expected, it began to rain heavily and the path became slippery, thus slowing me down substantially. But it stopped after about an hour.

I walked alone all the way until about 30 minutes before reaching Kibambangan when I caught up with Mia again. By then Boyd had overtaken me and finally finished a few minutes before us.

Dr Helen, Judy and Teo had arrived a few minutes earlier.

It was quite a relief to complete the workout, but we were conscious of more punishment to come the following day.

After a short rest, we went down to the stream to dip our feet in the water. Then as Judy was about to take this shot, Helen suddenly used her hands to cover her midsection. I don't know if that was to cover her tattoos. And speaking of tattoo, I have posted about it here, so I'll carefully refrain from repeating it lah.

Then suddenly we were wondering what had happened to Dr Soma. He started ahead of us all, but yet had not arrived. Then Liaw arrived and said that he overtook Soma a few kilometres back. We kept an eye on the other side of the hanging bridge, and every time we heard or saw people coming, we thought it was Soma. But each time we were wrong, until finally when we saw that grand pink hat bobbing from afar. Finally, the skeleton arrived and crossed the bridge in triumphant fashion.

But that was not the end of the story. Jonas arrived with his bottles on his chest, but no one knew where's Eric. He complained of having cramps and went slower than the rest. It was fast approaching 6pm and getting dark soon. We tried desperately to call him. We wondered if he was in some kind of trouble in the jungle and contemplated a search and rescue mission. Helen addressed us and asked if any of us would like to volunteer going up the hills again in search of poor Eric. I could see a flicker of excitement in Teo's eyes, and I could've sworn that he would offer to run up the hills to Eric. But instead, he shook his head!

Finally Boyd was able to get through to him. Eric, with his legs almost failing him, had somehow ended up at the Inobong Sub-Station some miles away. Liaw drove his car there to fetch him and brought him back to Kibambangan again where he parked his car.

It was also around then that Helen, Judy and Teo decided that they have had enough trauma for now, and opted not to do another trip to Terian the next day. Maybe they have become mentally unhinged because of the experience. They said they would rather go to Bukit Padang the next day. Come to think of it now, I'm not sure if they meant Taman Tun Fuad Stephens in Bukit Padang; or was it the Mental Hospital in Bukit Padang for treatment.

When we left Kibambangan, the Part 3 of the training scheduled for the following day was doubtful. Everyone was tired. But all I could think of was to go home to a hot shower and a big meal. I wondered what the next day would bring us...