Monday, February 18, 2013

Intruders & Animal Instinct

Almost a week ago, a group of over 100 Filipino gunmen from the Southern Philippines, claiming itself as the Sulu Sultanate Army, arrived on our shores in Lahad Datu on the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia, as reported here. The Malaysian Security Forces swiftly surrounded the area and began negotiations with the intruders. Amongst others, the latter demanded that the illegal Filipinos in Sabah to not be sent back to the Philippines. But after a few days' stand-off and "negotiations", the Sulu Sultanate Army has agreed to leave. 

It is interesting to note the comment of the Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Hamza Taib regarding that demand. He said:

"There is no negotiation because they are demanding on a wrong platform and should do it on a specific forum."

I find that statement rather surprising and appalling, to say the least. Right or wrong platform, specific or non-specific forum, the response to that demand should have been a stern "NO", plain and simple. Is the Police Commissioner implying that there is at least a remote chance that the answer might be a "YES" if the demand were made on a "right platform" via a "specific forum"?

Reading the news for the first time a few days ago, my immediate reaction was for our local forces to rain bombs and bullets upon the foreign gunmen. Our police and so-called special forces have the reputation of treating seemingly peaceful Malaysians who assemble to seek fair elections in Malaysia as a threat to national security. So one has to wonder if the police sees the Sulu Sultanate Army as at least of similar level of threat to national security.

Over the years there have been a number of hostile visitors from our neighbour in the Southern Philippines. They came in speedboats. They arrived at our shores and grabbed civilians; and brought them back to the Philippines. They then made demands—mostly money. As recently as last year, 2 people were taken from an oil palm plantation in the east coast. Maybe these are different groups of people from the Philippines, but to the ordinary Sabahan in the street, they are all the same. It is so tempting to just terminate them all! I should add that from a fair number of postings I've seen on facebook, it seems that such is the popular sentiment of many Sabahans.

Then yesterday, I decided to unwind at the movies—I spent  my afternoon watching A Good Day To Die Hard. At the end of that movie, I had an even more brilliant idea; it would be even better to send the McClanes, Senior and Junior, to Lahad Datu. I'm sure they can do a better job than our police?

But that's the danger when people decide with the heart, and not the mind. This morning I woke up and started thinking again, this time with my mind. Sadly, the more I think about it, the more I agree with the police. You see, it is so very easy to just bomb all these animals to kingdom come—it would be over within a few minutes. But then to do that would also mean that we have to bring ourselves down to their level—in fact, it would make us animals too!

The simplest and most obvious solution is not always the correct decision. Some of us still believe in being civilized; every human life is worth something. I guess however insignificant is the worth of that life, it is only right to try to save it as much as we can. If anything, that is one of the few things that makes us different from animals.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Moral Instinct

I read with interest the recent news of Pope Benedict XVI who announced his resignation effective 28 February. To be quite honest, I wasn't even aware that a Pope could actually resign from his post. It just goes to show how little I know about the church. It's only after I've read the article that I know that the last time a Pope resigned from his post was about 600 years ago.

The thing I've noticed about the Pope—in fact, any Pope—is that he has a great influence on most Catholics. It's almost like his religious opinions are deemed to be those directly from God; the Catholics have faith in his views. I'm not even sure if Jesus had such an influence when he was still alive.

Throughout the history of mankind, a few people have claimed that they're the messengers of God. They're supposedly born into this world to deliver to us the words and commandments of God. Whether or not these people were bogus messengers, only God knows. 

There are a few possibilities here. Firstly, all of them were not who or what they claimed themselves to be; that they were just ordinary men just like the rest of us. But they pretended to be people they're not, for reasons only known to themselves. 

Secondly, that only one of them was the genuine messenger, whereas the rest were not. If this was indeed the case, then it's up to us to figure out which is the genuine one?

Thirdly, that all of them were who and what they claimed themselves to be—people who were born to spread the teachings of God. But if that's indeed the case, it goes to show that God can't quite make up his mind on what he really expects of us; he seems to keep changing his mind. For there are several discrepancies in the holy books. If the information contained in the holy books came from the same source, why, then they should all be the same. There's really no need to have several versions of the holy books.

I admit that I don't know—for certain—which of the 3 possibilities above is the correct one, but I'm inclined to choose the first. Perhaps it's just that I'm not meant to understand God fully, maybe my mind and knowledge, and seeing things from such a narrow scope against the grand scheme of things, it's just impossible to appreciate what's really going on in God's plan for us. But I try to understand Him anyway, and I'm doing it not based on the holy books, but instead relying on my moral instinct.

Some people may claim that they are an authority of God's teachings; that they're learned people in the religious sense. They may dress or behave in a peculiar way, perhaps have religious titles to their names too. But I'm immune from all those. No amount of theological studies, the robes or goatee beards can influence me. These people—if they're really who they claim themselves to be—should reflect the quality of God. After all, as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "With great power there must also come—great responsibility!"

When a Pastor gets into a situation which he or she has the power to either build or destroy someone's life, which should he or she opt for? Which would God choose in such a situation?

Well, again, I don't know what would God do in such a case—he is after all a difficult being to understand. But if I had the power to decide between the two possible options, I would rely on my own instinct not to destroy someone's life, unless of course if there is absolutely no other choice. But I can accept that God may choose the other option.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tour De Interior 2013

Last year, I joined some friends for a cycling outing dubbed Tour De Interior as reported here. But because of an unfortunate accident, plus persistent rain which resulted in slippery road, as well as failing daylight, we had to abort the ride about 20km before reaching the finish in Ranau.

Now it's not my habit of leaving things halfway done; and having to stop with only 20km of mainly downhill to Ranau was very frustrating. So when my friends announced that they're going back again to deal with the unfinished business, I simply had to oblige. I don't cycle very regularly, but I reckoned that I'd be happy to just finish the distance from Keningau to Tambunan to Ranau, a total of about 120km of hilly roads. The only problem was that the week before the trip, I would be racing the Vibram Hong Kong 100km Ultra Trail Marathon as reported here. I wasn't sure that I'd recover fast enough for the tour, but I thought that I'd just try my best. The plan was for an approximate 60km ride from Keningau to Tambunan, followed by an approximate same distance the next day from Tambunan to Ranau. Ordinarily, 60km is not really a big deal. But it can be quite a challenge on hilly terrains.

So at around noon of the 26th of January, we found ourselves in Keningau town. After having lunch, we went to the starting line at the outskirt of town. There, we spent some minutes assembling our bikes and doing some warming up. Then the customary group photo.

It was kinda strange to start cycling around noon—well, at least it's strange for me—but luckily it was a cloudy afternoon. Earlier on, when we were still at the shop during lunch, Paul, playing the role of the organizer this year, explained thoroughly the rules for this tour. You see, this year, to make things more interesting, he has included some hill-climb challenges. But because I hadn't even recovered fully from Vibram, I hardly paid much attention during his briefing. I barely heard that there would be some sort of regroup somewhere at the foothill, at which point we would be flagged off together. There were many hills to climb between Keningau and Tambunan, but there's a specific spot for the challenge. The distance of the climb wasn't horrifyingly far—I think just about 1km to 2km. But of course with tired legs, that can still be a decent challenge!

We started the ride with everyone intending that first 20km or so as a slow and easy pace. If I'm not mistaken, someone mentioned an average of 25km/h. I was somewhat glad to hear that, as I was a little worried if I could keep up with the pack.

As most cyclists would know, however, it's not as easy as one would think when several cyclists ride together. Elsewhere in this blog, I have mentioned about that curious disease scientifically known as kiasunisis, which is a common illness that could infect most athletes. They were only able to control themselves for—and this is the shocking part—about 5 minutes into the ride. After that, it suddenly became something akin to Tour De France time trial challenge.

From the beginning of the ride, I've made up my mind not to chase after the leading group. But because I have never witnessed a hill sprint before, I had hoped to be able to see one during this tour. Within 10 to 15 minutes, we were mainly divided into several groups, i.e. the fast pack in front, the chasing pack, and the slowest pack. I was somewhere in the middle group.

When we finally emerged at the main Keningau-Tambunan highway, it was already about 23km into the ride. I was several minutes behind the leading group. We rested for some minutes while waiting for the last group to arrive.

A short while later, the last group arrived. Hana, who was still recovering from a knee injury aggravated during Vibram the week before, had to quit at that point, but Claire wanted to continue.

We then proceeded towards Tambunan, and after a few minutes we started the gruesome climb up a hill. It was such a painful climb for me, and like many others in the group, I was going at snail's pace. Amy was a few metres in front of me, and I noticed that she, too, was struggling uphill. I merely continued pedaling, and felt my earlobes throbbing from the hardwork. My sweat dripping like a leaking water tap from my chin. But I kept my focus on Amy; I reckoned that I'd just make sure that I'd keep her in sight and follow her pace up the hill.

And then to my horror, suddenly she stopped cycling somewhere in the middle of the hill, announcing that she's done cycling; and for a moment I had to work extremely hard to shift my focus on another rider up ahead. I overtook her and just maintained my pathetic pace.

I took my time up the hill, feeling the lactic acid building up in my legs, but I kept going anyway.

As I was struggling on my bike, I felt a bit of regret for joining the tour, as I felt very exhausted. I have to admit that I need more time to recover. But of course there wasn't much I could do at that point, unless if I had wanted to just surrender and take a seat in one of the support vehicles.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that we must be nearing the hillclimb challenge location. At this point, I was very far behind together with some other slow cyclists. I kept thinking that I would soon arrive at the spot where we were supposed to regroup and I'd for the first time witness those crazy folks blaze up the slope. Instead, I reached a point where some of them were already discussing about the winners of the challenge! I don't know what happened to the rule of regrouping and getting flagged off together. I guess the adrenaline completely obliterated that part of the rule.

Anyway, we finally arrived at Tambunan a little after 3 hours pedalling up and down the hills. It was such a relief for me, as I was becoming increasingly tired. We regrouped for a few minutes at the shops before proceeding on to the lodge where we were gonna spend the night. As fate would have it, I ended up sharing a room with Anslem. Amy couldn't join us for the next leg of the tour because she had to return to KK that evening.

I spent a bit of time to rinse my bike while Anslem had a quick shower. It was a decent room with attached bathroom. As I was about to step into the shower, I noticed Anslem was already about to doze off on his bed. The warm water was very soothing, I felt like spending a few hours in there. And then to my horror, I realised that I had forgotten to grab the towel on my bed. I merely used my tiny underwear to cover my private part and stepped out of the shower. Anslem was half asleep, but he perked up upon hearing me enter and his eyes suddenly became extremely huge, seeing me with nothing on except for that underwear which I used to cover my weelie. He was, like, frozen for a bit. But when I turned to go back to the bathroom and he saw my bare buttocks, I was startled when he started laughing hysterically, I thought he was gonna faint! I could still hear him laughing frantically after I shut the door.

Well, we went out for dinner to a nearby restaurant. We ate like there was no tomorrow; I felt like my stomach was about to burst. Douglas demonstrated his amazing skill in opening the beer bottle with just his fingers. I think both Hana and Claire were very impressed!

The next morning was a bright and sunny day. Before we started for Ranau, Paul gave a short briefing, including a bit of modification to the hillclimb challenge, having realised that the effect of adrenaline was hard to control. He also showed us the route profile for the day.

Then we started off at a slow pace. Claire and Hana, too, decided to ride again. But they were held back, so the rest of us just went ahead. I was feeling a bit better after a night's rest.

We enjoyed a few kilometres of flat road. But after passing the roundabout, we started to climb again, and immediately I could feel my quads burning up. A short while later Hana surrendered and not long after that Claire, too, threw in the towel. Some of the guys took turns riding in the support vehicles, and I was tempted to follow suit. But I thought I'd just continue for a little bit more.

A bit more; a bit more, and then before I knew it, I was already far away in the hills! I felt very exhausted and although I was the last, I kept going and going, though unfortunately not as strong as the Eveready batteries. Eventually, I was approaching the final slope to the highest point, and oh boy, it was a punishing climb!

As I emerged from the corner, I could hear voices on top of the hill. The guys were taking a break after conquering that slope. And as I was pedaling like a bloody fool, they were cheering me on. It was such a relief to make it up that monster of a hill!

After a short break, we started our descent to Ranau. It was then around noon, and I could feel my arms and legs burning from the scorching sun. But at that point, all I wanted to do was to get over that remaining 20km or so to Ranau.

There were of course several uphill climbs beyond that point, but it was mainly downhill. But on the way, the guys found a nice spot for a group photo. Hence we stopped once again for this group photo.

The rest of the journey to Ranau was faily quick. We finally regrouped in front of the KFC outlet there where the guys deliberated whether to continue cycling to the Mt Kinabalu National Park. But I've had enough cycling for a weekend. 8 brave souls decided to push on while the rest of us would go ahead on the support vehicles to wait for them at the National Park which was perhaps 15km away uphill. While waiting we had our glorious lunch. We were just about to finish our lunch when we heard news that they, too, had given up at about 7km from Ranau.

After lunch, there was a simple prize-giving ceremony. Anslem was declared the King of Mountain for the tour. The thought that I wasn't even able to see the starts of those sprints is killing  me! By then, I was feeling totally spent and couldn't wait to get home to rest.

It was a very enjoyable outing even though I was the last to reach the top of the hill. But I console myself that at least I did not ride in the support vehicle all the way between Keningau to Ranau. Still, you know, I'm not used to the idea of being last. That was quite a beating to my huge ego!

Well, that was the Tour De Interior 2. Just a few days after that event, there were already rumours of another tour this year. Surprises upon surprises. Actually, I love surprises; in fact, I have a talent in surprising others too, like when we did the Miri Triathlon as reported here. I should start thinking of something new to surprise them again this year! 

But for now, I just want to rest my poor legs. They have been through a hell lot of punishments these last couple of months—they deserve the rest. 

Only question is for how long?...