Friday, June 27, 2014

A Long-Lost Friend

I was walking in Gaya Street a few weeks ago during my lunch break, heading to my usual stop, a shop famous for its hot buns. Now just so that we're very clear about this, when I say "hot buns", I mean it in a literal way—I'm talking about food, not "hot buns" in the slang way, referring to amazing buttocks in the likes of J Lo's. Oh you know what I mean!

Anyway, I bumped into an old friend, and he greeted me cheerfully. He said, "You're Cornelius, aren't you?"

I replied in the affirmative, and he exclaimed loudly, so much so that some people were looking at us. We shook hands, and he asked me what I've been up to all these years. I spent a few minutes to give a brief summary of my life history going back to some 25 to 30 years ago. I surprised myself, because I would usually have a bit of trouble summarizing my stories. But not on this occasion. He listened attentively. When I had finished, I thought it was my turn to ask him what he's been up to all these years. But unfortunately, he was running late for an appointment. After he walked away, I turned back to have one last look at him; and I caught him looking back at me too. We merely waved at each other from the opposite sides of the road, and that was that.

I proceeded to buy the hot buns—as in the food for my lunch—and then traced my way back to the office. As I was chewing the buns in the office, my eyes started wondering to the ceiling as I tried to access that part of my brain, but for the life of me, I just couldn't remember.

Who the hell was that guy? Where did I know him from?

I kept trying and trying, until in the end I gave up. I just couldn't remember who's that guy, even though his face looked somewhat familiar.

Well, it's been a few weeks since that dramatic scene we made in the  middle of Gaya Street, and I thought I could put that episode in the "Weird Encounter" folder in my brain. But today I saw him again from afar. He waved to me excitedly, and I waved back to him with a big smile; my curiosity rejuvenated.

The next time I see him again, I swear that I will ask him outright who the hell is he! Not know him is driving me crazy!

Kinabalu—Getting The Name Right

This is going to be a short post (which is uncharacteristic of me).

I'm seeing a lot of excitement—as per facebook posts—in a group of Singaporean friends attempting to scale our famous mountain here in Sabah over this weekend (all the best, folks!). For a while now, I've noticed that there are many, many people, including non-Sabahan Malaysians who've been getting the name wrong. 

So here I am, in my brave attempt to set the record straight. However, I'm not doing this with much hope of success, because I happen to know that some people don't really care about getting the name right anyway. But here goes nothing!

The name of the city is Kota Kinabalu; the name of the mountain is Kinabalu. Notice that there is no "Kota" in the name of the mountain. In English it's Mount Kinabalu; in Malay it's Gunung Kinabalu. Some people may find it a big challenge to pronounce the Kinabalu somehow, so they may opt for Mount K instead, though I would much prefer the full name.

So, Mount Kinabalu, Gunung Kinabalu, or Mt K (if you really must). But NOT Mount Kota Kinabalu, Gunung Kota Kinabalu or Mt KK.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Playing Politikus

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a little over a year since the last Malaysian general election. Somehow it feels like it’s been just a few months ago. But perhaps it feels so recent because people are still talking about the general election up to now. I had one such conversation with a friend a few days ago, and one of the points raised by him was that the opposition parties garnered more (total) votes when compared to the eventual winner, Barisan Nasional (BN), which has since formed the government—again. It was a mere 2%-3% margin, but the argument was that because the opposition parties received more votes, they were the “real” winners of the general election.

Actually, the argument that “the opposition parties received more votes than BN” by my friend is somewhat unoriginal. I’ve heard of that same argument raised over and over again by so many other people before this. I’ve seen it mentioned in countless articles too. I dare say it’s one of the most popular justifications—if not the most popular justification—to support the view that the opposition has earned the right to govern Malaysia today. And that argument seems logical too.

The trouble with many Malaysians, however, is that they don't really understand about the kind of democracy system that we have in Malaysia. Specifically, they don't understand the rules of the game. I don't claim to be an expert in politics, but I'm quite clear about the elections that we have here in Malaysia. 

In whatever competition, there will always be rules and regulations which are to be adhered to. Take for example the game of badminton. The organiser assembles a group of players to compete for, say, 2 weeks. They are separated into several groups according to some sort of ballot system. They will then play against each other through several rounds. Perhaps the earlier rounds are based on points collected, and then later becoming sudden-death rounds where only a win will ensure progress into the next round. When the final 2 players reach the grand final to decide the champion of the tournament, it doesn't really matter if one has scored extremely well in his previous games, because all that really matters in the score for that final game.

In the Malaysian election, it has long been the case that the party that will be declared the winner is the one that has won more seats, and not necessarily more votes. But of course to win those seats, it must get more votes than the rival. It is in that sense that the "real" democracy is truly practised. However, once the seats have been won, the number of votes acquired doesn't really matter. A seat is a seat, regardless of whether the victory for that particular seat is won by a majority of 100 or 10,000 votes. All that matters for the competing parties is to ensure that they have more seats—not votes—than the rival(s) to win the general election. 

That's the rule of the game in the Malaysian context. Whether or not that is a fair rule, that is a separate matter altogether. I don't understand why so many people are still harping on the popular votes received by the opposition parties when all that really matters is the number of seats.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Financial (Mis)Management

I spent 2 years during secondary school in Petaling Jaya (PJ) in West Malaysia. I wasn't there on a scholarship or a special arrangement arising from doing very well in school before that. It was just an idea of dad. You see, as a little boy I was a timid kid—the nerdy type, if you like, and dad thought it would do me good to be away from home on my own; sort of to learn to do things on my own. I ended up renting a room with a relative.

Dad allocated a more or less fixed amount of pocket money each month, but he wasn't very good in keeping up with the timing of the remittances. I had to plan my expenses carefully, as I could be in big trouble when dad failed to send my pocket money on time.

The first few months in PJ, I walked about 4km to school each morning, and then walked home the same distance after school. Then I learned to take the bus. About half a year later, I had saved enough money to buy a secondhand bicycle for the price of RM90, which became my main transport for the rest of the two years of my life in PJ. I used to envy my classmates, many of whom were mostly riding motorbikes to school. I eventually sold that bike for RM40 to an Indian grass cutter about 2 weeks before I came home to Sabah for good.

After I left school, I got a job as a teacher in a private school. The first year working, I took the bus to and from school. Then an uncle helped me out with the down payment for a motorbike, and I paid the RM175 installment every month. That bike was a big asset to me, as I was able to move around to give tuition after school, and was therefore able to earn a small side income that way. The extra RM200 that I earned from giving tuition was a big deal considering that I was only earning RM490 per month from my teaching job.

Years later, a few weeks after I got married, Mia relocated to Brunei to live with me. I was renting a self-contained outbuilding accommodating a bedroom, a tiny kitchen which was also the dining and living room, and a bathroom. That building was actually intended for a maid's unit, but the detached house that occupied the main portion of the land was big enough to accommodate the maid, and the owner reckoned that it's a good idea to let out the outbuilding to me at BND500 per month.

I can still remember that I had some savings, but spent a long time thinking whether or not we would buy a washing machine. After much considerations and discussion with Mia, we decided to wait for a few more months before we buy one. Back then a BND380 washing machine was a luxury item for us.

I had a humble beginning and had no formal training in financial management, but managing my resources is a common sense thing to me. The simple formula of living within one's means is made up of simple mathematics. From the amount that I earn, I set aside whatever fixed obligations such as electricity and phone bills, housing loans, savings etc, and then spend whatever's left of that amount. There is actually nothing too complicated about it, really.

Seeing some of my family members and so many people out there, I fail to understand why is it so impossible for them to figure out the simple mathematics on how to manage their resources. It doesn't really matter how much they're earning—whether they have RM100 or RM100,000, they always end up spending more than what they have. It's like their appetites are growing way too fast than their earning powers. They're in fact constantly in deficit. A family member had a windfall when she inherited about RM1.5 million, but she burnt it all within 3 years, and now has practically nothing to her name.

I read about this widow who blew about RM2.5 million in just a year. It's really beyond me how that can happen. I don't claim to be an expert in financial management, but although RM2.5 million can be intoxicating, I'm thinking that even if I'm gonna burn that money, it'd take me much longer than just a year.

Financial mismanagement is almost a disease suffered by so many people. It makes me think that although it is basically a common sense thing, financial management is actually a skill that very few possess. It's one of those strange mysteries of the world.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

tHe Spring Live Active Run 2014

At about 7:33am near tHe Spring Mall in Kuching today, a female monk in a green running vest was tearing down the street to the finish line of the Live Active Run. She caused something of a stir as she was producing a medley of odd-sounding noises—perhaps something akin to that of a police siren, if you like. Everyone was stunned, and duly made way for her to come through, all the time gaping in horror and disbelief. It was a personal best (PB) in the making, and although it was a record that's nothing to shout about when thinking of the Olympics and World times, it was nevertheless an achievement of epic proportion all the same! But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start the story from the beginning.

My friend, Hana Sue Harun, is no stranger to the marathon scene. She has several 42km and 100km road and trail races under her belt so far. She won the women's category in the Beaufort Ultra 60km last year; and she was one of the approximate one-third finishers of the gruesome TMBT Ultra Trail Marathon last year. She is an endurance runner to be reckoned with. Ironically, however, she hasn't achieved a sub-2hour half marathon yet.

A few weeks before running a half marathon in Brunei last year as reported here, I agreed to pace her for that race in the hope of achieving a sub-2 finish. In the end, although she achieved a PB that day, it was still 8 minutes adrift of the elusive sub-2. During that Brunei race, I noticed some peculiar tendencies in Hana's running technique. Without going into a detailed description, let me just say that it was somewhat inefficient. 

Then about 3 months ago, we started working on her running technique, and I actually spent a bit of time going into very detailed explanations and then ran together with her on several weekends too. I also came up with a training programme to include some work on her speed, as well as 2 "time trial" weekend runs—a 15km race and 21km race at 4 weeks and 2 weeks respectively before today's race in Kuching.

Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, however, let me hasten to say that I had nothing to do with her shaving her head. That was not my desperate attempt as a coach to shed a few grams of weight to achieve the sub-2 target. She shaved her head to raise RM12,000 for the Pink Ribbon during a fund-raising event about a month ago.

4 weeks ago, I was pacing Hana for a 15km race over a weekend, but she was unable to endure a 5:30 min/km pace (she surrendered at about 7.5km), something that is required for a sub-2 half marathon. I realised then that sub-2 would be quite a tall order, but it's still possible for a PB. Then 2 weeks ago, we did a half marathon on a Sunday, and she achieved a PB of about 2:05:49. I told Hana that a more realistic target for tHe Spring was 2:03. We may be able to do a little better than that, but sub-2 seemed too far-fetched.

We started the race this morning with a decent 5:44 min/km for the first km, and then gradually eased to an average 5:48 min/km. I kept track of the splits and regularly updated Hana on how we were doing. Contrary to what I thought before the race, the course was not exactly flat after all; it had a good dose of undulating terrain, but mercifully, they weren't very steep.

About 7km into the race, we were running abreast with a local chap who had apparently run the BIM recently. He said the hills in Kuching are not as steep as those in UMS of the BIM route. Then later on we turned into a narrower road, passing through a huge residential area. We were perhaps about halfway into the race when we were passing a roadside restaurant with the Italy vs England match showing live on tv. Suddenly there was a loud yell, and Hana felt obliged to tell me that England had scored a goal. I was, like, "Do I look like I'm in the least interested in football?"

It was basically a well-executed game plan throughout up to approximately the 14km mark. We were still averaging 5:48 min/km up to that point. Soon after, I told Hana to consume her second energy gel to prepare for the final push. When we reached 16km, I asked Hana over my shoulder if I could gradually increase my pace for a possible sub-2:03 finish. She said "NO", but it sounded like "GO!", so I ran a little faster. After a few metres however, I noticed that Hana wasn't following my pace. I repeated the question a few times throughout those last few km, but each time got a "NO!".

With just 1km to go, I increased my pace again, hoping that this time Hana would keep up, but it was not meant to be; she was obviously struggling to keep running. I maintained my pace, however, until I reached about 10m from the finish line where I stopped and called out to Hana. It's amazing that within that last 1km as she was approaching nearer and nearer to the finish line, the noises she was producing were also getting louder and louder all the time. It was a mixture of a grunt, a groan, and even a moan, although admittedly perhaps the moaning part was probably just my imagination. In the end, she crossed the finish line and my Garmin showed a 2:03:20—Hana has achieved her PB and edged painfully closer to the 2-hour mark. I must find a way on how to convert all the energy in the shouting and making noises during the last km into kinetic energy rather than sound energy.

I don't have to tell you how thrilled Hana was (and she still is) for her hard-earned PB—you can see it for yourself on her face. It was an enjoyable run, a short workout before I peak next weekend in my preparation for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.

It was a well-organised event, except that perhaps more volunteers at the water stations would be good. There were some stations where the volunteers were unable to pour drinking water into cups fast enough, eventually opting to just give out the entire 500ml bottles to the runners. Slower runners also had to endure a bit of thirst as some water stations ran out of water. More marshals would also be necessary to direct runners, as road signs were insufficient. Overall it was a good event, and I don't mind to do this race again next year if it doesn't clash with other races.