Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Model Essays

I happen to know that some of my former classmates and school mates are regular readers of this blog. Of all the readers here, they can testify that I wasn't a particularly popular kid in school, especially among the teachers. I have always been a nerd—though not the Steve Urkel kinda nerd. I wasn't a high achiever in school; in fact, I was a lazy bum! I very rarely broke into the top half of the class in almost all the school exams, and I was always among those who hardly ever finished my homework or school assignments. 

It wasn't until quite late in my teen when I suddenly decided to just flow with the education system one fine day. And then I was more readily accepted by the teachers. I began to do well in the exams, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I guess in a way, you could say that I was rehabilitated—that I finally ran with the pack. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I had to become someone other than myself, but it was not a matter of choice. I wasn't born with a silver spoon, and I realised that if I screwed up in my studies, I would be dead meat for life! One important lesson that I learnt quite early in my life is that sometimes one has to learn to obey orders first, before giving orders to others.

I don't deny that education, for the most part, is very important. I dare say that diplomas and university degrees can open doors. But out there in the harsh world, quite often, luck and survival skill count for a lot too! These are two major elements that no universities can teach, even if they say they can!

My daughter JJ sat for her exams recently; and although I'm not particularly concerned about her grades, her mommy would lose sleep if JJ did badly in her exams. I'm not sure if that's a natural thing for women in general, but I guess I shouldn't be complaining!

JJ had to write an essay on "Why she admires and respects her mother". So she wrote what I thought was a decent piece. Although not in her exact words, it basically boiled down to a [fictional] story of how she and mommy rode in a bus one day. The bus was full, and there was a pregnant woman in the bus who had no seat. Mommy stood up to offer her seat to that woman. Then later, JJ asked mommy why she gave up her seat to that woman. Mommy explained that that woman needed the seat more than her; that it was a kind and polite gesture. One of these days, when we are also in difficulties, would would also appreciate it very much if others would make similar sacrifices for us. And that was why JJ admires and respects mommy to this day.

It was a short story, of course, but I reckoned it's good enough for a primary 4 exam. I don't claim to be a brilliant writer—far from it! In the course of posting articles in this blog for a few years now, I have used varying styles. Sometimes I allowed my sense of humour to flow in my posts; at other times I argued my cases in a very serious manner; at other times still, I would become somewhat poetic; or maybe I'd even blend all those elements into my posts. But whatever style I adopted in my articles, there's always a message I'd like to put through to my audience. The styles, whatever they may be, are only means to capture the eyes of my readers—so that they would want to continue reading, and then hopefully get the message in the end. I have never had a formal training as a writer, so I can't say if I've been doing it the right way.

In essence, I think JJ has achieved the basic requirement of a decent essay. Note that I'm not using the word "excellent" here; merely "decent". Of the possible full score of 30 marks, I did not expect her to achieve full score. But neither did I expect her to fail the essay. That's why I was rather surprised—and I will admit it—even disappointed, that JJ scored 12 marks out of 30.

Elsewhere in this blog, I've expressed my disgust with the education system. Sometimes, I think it's just plain rubbish. I did not expect such an essay would fail. So just out of curiosity, I asked JJ to seek her teacher's justification. Was the essay too short? Was there anything wrong with the sentences?

It's not because of the length of the essay or grammar and the likes. Apparently, a good essay must contain at least a few points, not just one. JJ's story, although quite interesting, had only one point, a single event of mommy's act of kindness to a pregnant woman in a bus. I suppose JJ could have scored very well if she had told a story about how mommy would sweep the floor and clean the house, prepare dinner every night, tuck her into bed and sing the lullaby. Mommy also teaches JJ when she has difficulties in her school work. And the list could go on and on. Those are the "several points" that would qualify for a good essay. The emphasis on quantity rather than quality, which has always been the failure of the education system. 

Why can't a child have a lasting [favourable] impression of her mother from a single meaningful event?

But teachers are humans too. And some of them are very sensitive creatures. They don't like their judgement to be questioned. I was given to understand that she sought the opinion of another teacher. And that other teacher's comment was that if it were her who had marked JJ's essay, she would have scored even worse!

I shall carefully refrain from challenging that decision. I just hope that the teachers did it for the right reason. As in my case over 30 years ago, I will concede defeat and flow with the system. I think it's a whole bunch of craps though. But this essay will play no role in shaping JJ's future. She just needs to play along, sing the same tune, get the certificates, whatever they are, and then move on in life—the sooner the better.

Monday, July 16, 2012

TMBT Training at Inobong Station

It seems like it's been only a few weeks ago when I was struggling in the 100km ultra trail marathon, Vibram HK 100, in Hong Kong, but actually it's been a few months. I have since run a half marathon in Brunei, a full marathon in Singapore, and another full marathon in KL. Oh! how time flies! 

And then suddenly, I'm left with only 8 weeks before The Most Beautiful Thing 2 (TMBT)—another 100km ultra trail marathon. I have conquered the first TMBT last year as reported in 2 parts here and here. I can still remember my reply to a question from a friend immediately after the race: 

Never would I do anything crazy like the TMBT again, ever! Been there, done that. Period!

Yet we all know that humans are very forgetful creatures; the lust for challenges that shapes men's ends had since brought me to Hong Kong in February for an ultra trail marathon. And hard upon that the lure of the TMBT 2 with a new route which is substantially different from the first one. The cut off time for the entire race had also been reduced from 36 hours to 30 hours. Well, I know I said no more TMBT, but this time it's tougher, what was I supposed to do? I had to oblige the challenge!

So with only 8 weeks of training left for TMBT2, yesterday morning I joined a few friends to the Inobong Station in the hills in Penampang for the long-overdue training. I've never been up there before. Last year, we trained along the Kibambangan-Terian route. Judy had been up to Inobong, so she played tour guide for the day. Except that she brought us to a wrong junction! Thankfully, however, Dr Liaw and Jonas have been to the Inobong Station before, so we ended up following them instead.

Shortly after we entered the junction, we came to a small substation. As we were about to get out of our cars, Jonas suggested that we should park our cars in the compound of a house by the main road. So we drove out again. In hindsight, I think it was all in Jonas' evil plan to torture us with the extra 100 metres or so!

It was about 7am when we started. Looking at the sky, it was obvious that it's gonna be a hot day. We walked a short distance to the junction again, and then into a gravel road with a mild climb. Jonas started running, and the rest of us followed almost automatically. Soon, we came to a steeper climb before reaching a cemetery.

I have to admit that hills are not my strong point, so eventually I was reduced to brisk walking. But Jonas continued running, and soon enough, he disappeared into the hills ahead. We alternated running and brisk walking. Pretty soon, it became obvious that the hills are very steep; in fact, they reminded me of the torture of TMBT last November.

There was a good dose of gravel road.

And long stretches of concrete driveway.

As well as stretches lined with palm trees.

But almost an hour later, we finally arrived at the main arch of the Inobong Station.

It may be surprising, but people would actually go to this park for a holiday. I saw nothing very special, but little did I know that that was just the entrance of the park. A little further beyond the boom gate, we came to a concrete driveway, which was ridiculously steep; I mean really steep!

Liaw and I tried running up the slope, while Judy decided to take this photo. I looked back over my shoulder and said the slope was "fun"! Judy started laughing. And then I said, "How come with all the effort, I don't feel like I'm moving forward at all?"; and that made Judy laugh so hard, I thought she was about to faint. But luckily she didn't after all. Otherwise, Liaw would have had to run down the slope to perform CPR on her. While Judy was still in her fit of laughter, Jonas came running down the slope like he just saw a ghost. He ran pass us, merely slowing down for a bit to say, "Right up to the end, guys, no cheating!". I think if I had a shotgun, I would have shot him there and then!

Well, it seemed like a never-ending climb.

But in the end, we arrived at a corner where a shed appeared out of nowhere for no apparent reason. Liaw and I decided to pose for a photo, but I swear there is nothing going on between us, even if the place is perfect for lovers! 

After all the trouble, we were rewarded with this breathtaking view. It was surprising that we had actually climbed such a long way!

From that point, we could see the sea, the islands and KK City in the yonder... awesome, awesome view.

We went all the way up to the dead end before stopping to rest for a few minutes. It took us about 1hour 10 mins to reach that point. Then the return leg to our car. One would have thought that the downgoing should be easier, but actually, it's quite harsh on the knees. Still, it's easier than going up. On the way down, we met Jonas again on his way up for the second trip to the park. Damn! I think one of us should bring along a rope or something on the next visit, so that we can put Jonas on a leash.

Well, we reached our cars again, refilled our bottles, and up we went again for a second round of torture! The sun was already up and scorching hot. I marveled at Liaw with his sexy outfit. But perhaps it's OK for him to get a bit of sun tan, since his skin is so fair as if he's been applying whitening lotion on a daily basis!

The second trip up the hills was much tougher as expected; especially when we met the devil again on his way down when we were just about halfway up! By the time we reached the top again, I could feel both my quads and calves aching.

In spite of the exhaustion, it was mainly happy thoughts on our final descent—until about 4km to the finish when we saw Jonas running up the hill from the opposite direction. And I was, like, "Again!?" (Where is the shotgun when I need it?). However, despite his getting carried away with the training, Jonas had to turn back because he ran out of drinking water! We had hardly any water left on us, so in the end Jonas turned back and ran ahead of us. Might as well, because I might have kicked his butt so hard he'd roll down the hill like a rock!

We finished the workout in about 4 hours 35 minutes; and distance covered was just 26km. All the pain, and it's just 26km! So, OK, that's a good start. We'll come back again in 2 weeks from now. Who knows, perhaps by then we'd be able to do 3 rounds up the hills? But for now, my quads, calves and buttocks are killing me!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Fighting For A Principle

A few years ago, a teenage schoolboy was stabbed to death near the Kota Kinabalu central market in broad daylight. Apparently two Filipino guys asked him to hand over his money, but he refused, so they stabbed him. It was later found that he had very little money on him. The news made headlines not only because of the audacity of the crime, but also because there were many eyewitnesses at the time of the commotion, and yet none of them lifted a finger to help.

More recently, I myself witnessed a suicide attempt near my office as reported here. In the end, the poor fellow survived the ordeal that day—although a couple of weeks later he successfully killed himself anyway! During all the excitement, it was interesting to note that a friendly civilian was seen trying to help by talking to the man from a nearby window, apparently in the hope of calming him down. And then later, when the police and firemen were able to grab hold of the man, that friendly civilian also stuck out his hand to grab the man from falling. One has to wonder what would have happened if because of the "busybody" civilian's involvement, the police was unable to save the man. Maybe all fingers would be pointing at the busybody; he had no business getting involved with police business, since he was not trained for the job? After all, that is human nature—when something good happens, everyone would fight hard for the credit; but when something bad happens, everyone would be looking for somebody to blame.

We have come to a stage where common sense is no longer the primary determinant of our acts. A doctor who'd refuse to help an accident victim who's apparently beyond help in the street just outside his clinic, for fear that he will end up getting sued if that fellow dies. People, despite seeing a robbery taking place in broad daylight, reluctant to help for fear that they, too, might end up losing their lives. And people, when seeing a snatch-theft victim lying motionless in the street, reluctant to help either because they "don't want to get into trouble" or because there is always someone else who would help.

And then the inevitable happens...

There will come, sooner or later, a public outcry; criticisms abound: Those people at the scene who could have helped, but chose not to—they are heartless people!

The reality is that people are like that; they are always criticizing from the sidelines. It remains to be seen, however, if they'd really stick out their necks to help a fellow human in distress. I don't think that is a reflection of heartlessness; rather, which is a stronger force, compassion or self-interest? Most people, whether they'd want to admit it or not, almost always give priority to self-interest first. They would help others—yes—so long as that won't result in negatively affecting their self interests.

The principle of helping others in need is a noble one; it is always very easy to fight for a principle, but it is not always easy to live up to that principle!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Second Decade...and Counting...

On a chilly weekend morning in late 1989, I found myself at Timpohon Gate of the Kinabalu National Park together with a group of friends. We were about to embark on a hike up Mount Kinabalu. I have, of course, conquered Low's Peak several times before that. But this particular trip up the mountain trail was different from the rest; it was a life-changing experience for me!

Among those in the group that day was a seemingly anorexic skinny young woman with scrawny legs; decidedly a rare breed of the homo sapiens, and easily a convenient subject of ridicule. She wasn't a physically strong woman—certainly, there was nothing athletic about her at all. Seeing her huge backpack, I was fairly convinced that she'd end up breaking her back before even reaching the first shelter. But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving—she made it up to Laban Rata with that huge backpack; in fact, she reached the peak too the following day!

She was a determined person and had an amazing fighting spirit. Perhaps somewhat stubborn at times though. What can I say; the foolish heart that was captivated by a creature that operated along more or less the same wavelength as mine. So, on 4th July 1992, she said “I do” to me in St Simon Church, and that marked the beginning of a life-long honeymoon...

20 years had since elapsed. What a ride this has been. Today, on our 20th anniversary, I'm making a wish—that I will be here again to celebrate our 40th anniversary!

Elsewhere in the world, people go about their lives as usual. Lady Gaga is probably thinking very hard to invent another ridiculous outfit; 75% of Singaporean boys are probably still trying to figure out how to use condoms; many, many runners are probably disappointed because they're not eligible to join the Run For No Sex Before Marriage.

But today I am immune from all those; today I am a happy fellow. Maybe we will have a quiet little dinner; and who knows, perhaps attempt to re-enact the night of 4th July 1992 afterwards? Surprises are in the air; but hopefully, she won't attempt to surprise me by spending up to RM60,000 for this cosmetic surgery.

Keeping my fingers crossed...