Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Chicken Story—The Sequel

It's been a little over 2 years ago since I posted the fictional account of a colony of birds entitled The Chicken Story. But I left that story hanging in the end, much the same way how many movies are made these days. You see, movie makers sometimes deliberately leave their stories without a proper ending to keep the option open for possible sequels. If a movie turns out to be very successful and profitable, then the movie maker can make more stories in the hope of making more money! Well, I did not make any money from my chicken story 2 years ago, but this is the sequel of that story anyway...

So the alpha rooster has been enjoying his reign as the king of the colony. Other roosters had, on several occasions, attempted to dethrone him. But each time the challenge ended in failure because the king still commands the support of the majority of the birds. It is unclear, however, whether that support was because of confidence in the leadership, or because of fear of the king. As a matter of fact, there have been talks of disfavour; of wanting a new leadership.

Some of the daring young roosters teamed up to form an alliance, and then embarked on a mission to garner support from the flock in the hope of dethroning the king. At first it was done rather discreetly. But when the support for a new leadership gained traction, the fight for the throne became more open.

Nevertheless, power is a very intoxicating and addictive thing—when one has it, or even just the prospect of having it, one can quickly lose his mind; and the original reason for the fight can swiftly be overwhelmed by personal agendas which are not necessarily for the good of the colony as a whole.

The roosters, supposedly working hand in hand to overthrow the king, suddenly turned on each other, alliance notwithstanding. The strength arising from the alliance rapidly diminishing into nothingness. The king, having prepared for the worst, watched his rivals self-destructing themselves in amusement, because of course it is amusing!

Sometimes, a king is a king because he is right for the job. But sometimes a king is a king not because he is the best for the job; rather, it's because all the other roosters in the flock, despite their brilliant leadership quality, can't convince the colony that they really want to do the job. All they do is whine and quarrel with each other; yet they expect everybody to choose them to be their king.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Successful Economy

A few weeks ago, I accepted an invitation to attend a briefing on the current state of the Malaysian economy. It wasn't a very long session, perhaps just about 1.5 hours. Shorn of the numerous comparisons against other economies in the region, graphical illustrations and formal statistics compiled by so-called economic experts, the Malaysian economy was reported to be in good shape. It has been said that our economy has been growing well, and is still growing well; that we still have plenty of reserves, and we remain competitive in trades when compared to the neighbouring countries.

Truth be told, I had expected to hear all those even before I attended that briefing. Over the recent months, it has been regularly reported in the media that Malaysia's economy is doing great, and the outlook has always been positive too. Recently still, it was reported in The Star that "Malaysia's financial growth going from strength to strength".

Alas, I'm not an economist, and I can't say with authority the truth or accuracy about these official economic reports. As a layman, however, I can comment based on what I'm seeing in the streets around me.

The truth is that, despite all the positive reports in the media, an average Malaysian household is finding it increasingly tough to cope, and the trend seems to be continuing. It is, of course, good to know that the Malaysian economy is doing great, but it would be even better if all those "success stories" can somehow translate into a proportionate success story for the average household. 

But the reality is not like that at all. For example, Malaysians in general are finding it increasingly hard to own a home. Prices have gone up so much to the extent that very few young Malaysians can afford to own their own homes. Even if they are earning more today in terms of Ringgit and Sen, they find that they get a "smaller basket of goods" with that money, because the cost of living has gone up quite a bit. 

Too much emphasis had been made about wanting Malaysia to become a "high-income nation", but in the end, what really matters to the average household is to achieve a stronger purchasing power. There is no meaning to be able to earn millions of Ringgit even, if that money can't buy much. I'd rather have lesser Ringgit, but am able to buy more goods and services with that money.

These days I have taken over the responsibility of grocery shopping for my family, and I can say that I'm bound to see a bigger amount spent at the check-out counter. That's why I found that sitting there at the briefing a few weeks ago, listening to the success story of Malaysia, seemed somewhat surreal; what's reported somehow bears no resemblance whatsoever to what's happening to the ordinary people in the street.

To me, a successful economy is not really a successful economy if the citizens are not equally successful. They merely get to admire all the success stories on paper, but not actually feel the benefits in their pockets.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Ghosts At A Potluck Dinner Party

A friend organises a potluck dinner party at a public park on a weekend. Plenty of food and beverage from the contributors—in fact, a ridiculous amount of those. There is music and dancing as well as silly games that we've all enjoyed as kids; and even lucky draws too. Sounds like an event not to be missed.

Not everyone is crazy about such a potluck dinner party, of course, but there are people who wouldn't miss it for the world. The vast majority of those who're attending would gladly contribute in terms of food and beverage in return for the enjoyment they're getting from the party.

But there will be some who're unwilling to contribute—they merely self-invite themselves and appear at the party without any contribution whatsoever and conveniently blend in with the crowd. They are like ghosts, if you like, that are there at the party, but are too cheap to pay for the enjoyment, even if they can afford to pay. They could of course organise their own little party if they want to, except that it's probably not gonna be the same without the crowd and all those exciting stuff?

Thankfully, I'm not a big fan of parties with ridiculous amounts of food, and all the impossibly loud music akin to a war zone. I therefore don't have to sneak into a friend's party uninvited. But on the other hand, I'm imagining that even if I do enjoy such parties, I wouldn't attend them as a "ghost". Quite on the contrary, I'd gladly contribute, because I'm gonna be meeting friends and relatives at the party, and I can't bear the thought of them seeing me as a cheapskate bum.

The point is that I have pride in myself, and I crave for people to admire me, not just for my achievements in life—however big or small those are—but for achieving them in a respectable way. After all, I've always said that if one yearns for others' respect and admiration, then one has to behave respectably. In other words, one shouldn't be complaining when others are looking down on him if that is a result of his own actions.

These were the thoughts passing my mind when a friend approached me recently to share my views on ghost runners in this blog. I know the whole potluck dinner story above is a little confusing, but I wanted to give a proper context of the subject before I dive into it. You will have to excuse me for my long-winded approach, but I just can't help it; I'm born with a torturous mind!

Anyway, if you're unfamiliar with the term "ghost runner", it means someone who'd join in the fun of an organised running event, but unwilling to pay for the registration fee. He therefore runs without a bib. In the past, these people would do it sneakily, and tried to keep a low profile so as not to attract attention. The lesser people know about him, the better. But times have since changed, ghost runners are seemingly proud of "running for free" nowadays. As a matter of fact, they try to publicize about their "achievement" too. They create groups of ghost runners, and they compliment each other for running free.

It's a very long shot, but one of these days, these ghost runners may become sick because of severe dehydration. Or perhaps serious cramps and blisters that require medical assistance. Or even other life-threatening issues such as heart attack and the likes. It would be interesting to know how they would react if they are denied drinks at the water stations; or denied medical help despite emergencies. Beyond that, in an emergency, information such as allergies, or emergency contact etc, will not be readily available to the medics. In some cases that may mean life and death. Unlikely scenarios, I know, but just imagine...

Of the many readers arriving at this blog and reading this post, there's bound to be a ghost runner. I can almost see the smile on your face and the thoughts running through your mind right now. These are far-fetched scenarios that just won't happen to you. For your sake, I really hope that you're right!

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Agony of Seeing Agony

There are many things about my life, especially my childhood, that I sometimes wish I could erase from my memory. I have shared some of them in this blog—for example here and here—and there are many more stories that have not been told. I'm sometimes tempted to spend a stretch of a month or two to put my fingers to the keyboard and tell it all. But then again what's the use?

In some ways, perhaps I have benefited a lot from my rough childhood. I'm convinced that I've become what I am today as an outcome of my life experiences. I see glimpses of my mom attacking my dad with a cleaver when they had their fights. The exact times, locations and causes of those fights have all disappeared from my memory, but my parents doing the Ip Man thingy remains fairly clear in my mind.

So much agony in witnessing all the ugly things that people do; and some of these observations can be very traumatic and have a lasting effect on the observer. Thankfully, however, some of us can learn from the experience. Sometimes, when we do something bad, we're unaware of what we're doing—the gravity of its consequences upon others surrounding us. But when we're observing others doing it, we're better able to realise how bad it actually is.

It is mind-boggling to me that some people can allow themselves to intentionally cause physical and emotional pain upon others. This news article is one example of how ugly people can become, although we've not arrived at the conclusion of the case yet.

It pains me immensely whenever I see my wife in agony. I've had quite a few of those moments. For example, when I saw what she had to go through in the delivery room when JJ was born. It was a difficult delivery, and she had to endure a 13-hour labour. I've also seen her agony in the many endurance races that we've done together. You see, she is not born naturally strong, and she would struggle in most races just to finish the race before the cut off. I've raced The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) together with her some years ago, and I experienced that moment when I was struggling to hold back my tears just from watching her in agony as she was approaching the finish line. I actually wrote extensively about that race in 2 parts, here and here. And last week, during the Putrajaya 70.3 race, I was again overwhelmed to see her limping to the finish line in the dying minutes of the race.

Some people are not only unmoved when seeing other people suffer; in fact they have no qualms in causing the suffering themselves! Money and power can be quite intoxicating; people can lose their moral compass and use the power to inflict harm upon others. The rest of us can only watch in awe and disbelief. They are people who look educated, respectable and even being role models to others. But under the surface, they are very ugly and behave in the most shameful fashion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

TIME Ironman Putrajaya 70.3 (Half Ironman) 2016

It's been a year since I raced the Putrajaya 70.3, of which I had a lousy experience as reported here. 3 weeks before that event, I raced the 113 Triathlon Sabah, and I somehow did not taper enough within that 3 weeks for the Putrajaya 70.3. I arrived at the start line still feeling tired. But I also suffered a puncture during the bike leg. It was such a nightmare; in the end, I finished in about 7:14. It was just an awful experience. Shortly after that race, I told myself that I'd be back again this year to redeem my pride.

I saw myself at the start line again last Sunday, 3rd April 2016, this time properly rested after the 113 Triathlon Sabah 3 weeks ago. There were also some other things which were different from last year. I have upgraded my bike wheels to Zipp, with a combination of 404/303. But as any cyclist would tell you, equipment alone won't do much for the overall performance. It all boils down to the training, and since a year ago, I've been improving gradually in the bike discipline. But I'll share my thoughts about bike training next time. For now, suffice to say that I've been adopting the opposite approach of most cyclists—the standard approach of spinning just doesn't work for me; I've wasted way too much time trying to improve my bike by spinning. But more on that next time.

I'd also like to say that 2 days before the race, I bumped into Rupert Chen and Nik Raiha at the expo; and the former duly reminded me to mention his name when I report on the race! Unfortunately, I didn't  have a chance to take a photo with Rupert. What a waste, because he has had a nice haircut, and was all primed for an awesome finish picture in the race. But at least I managed to take a photo with Nik.

Photo credit: Nik Raiha

I thought I'd be able to achieve a faster swim time this year. Unfortunately, there were way too many slow swimmers blocking the way. Maybe I would have been able to break through if they were all swimming freestyle, but many of them were swimming breaststrokes, and after a few kicks to my body, I decided to play safe. I finished the swim in a little over 49 minutes—not the kind of time I had been aiming for—but unlike last year, I felt very good coming out of the lake. Obviously the extra time I've been spending in the pool has helped a lot.

Photo credit: Jack Ah Beh

Earlier that morning, I met comrades from KK, i.e. Dr Shah, Ahmad Marzuki and Rayner. I'm a little sad to say that my friend, Teo Chen Lung, has decided to opt out of this race. I was hoping against hope that's he'd show up on the race day somehow, and we would be racing against each other again, but that was just wishful thinking. 

Loyal readers of this blog would know, of course, that Teo is famous for his so-called killer face when he races, especially if he's winning or doing well in a race. The famous killer face would however fade away if he's not doing so well. Just to give you an idea of his trademark killer face, check out this photo of him when he emerged from the swim during the 113 Triathlon Sabah about 3 weeks ago.

Anyway, to continue with Putrajaya 70.3, I was expecting my Sabahan friends to be ahead of me after the swim, especially Rayner. I'm not known for a fast transition, and I'd usually take a bit of time to fire up my legs after the swim. The Putrajaya bike course is interesting in that almost immediately after the bike start, there's a gradual climb; it's such a shock for the legs! But after a few minutes working on the pedals, I got into my rhythm, and I was actually feeling very comfortable.

Apart from the Zipp wheels, I also adopted a slightly different approach on my hydration strategy. Having experienced the same bike course last year, I started the race this year with only one 750ml bottle containing my Carbopro concoction; and I left the other bottle cage on my aerobar empty. I did that to spare my legs the approximate half kilogram of weight during the first few kilometres of the bike course. I grabbed a bottle of water at the aid station a few kilometres into the bike leg, and then I continued alternating the Carbopro and plain water for the rest of the way. I was still feeling quite fresh after the first loop, but by the second loop, the sun was already up, and I could feel my back getting roasted. My breathing become a little hard. I overtook Rayner shortly after starting the second loop. When I finally rode into transition, I was pleasantly surprised to see 2:49 on my Garmin (bike split). That was an improvement of almost half an hour when compared to last year! Having had a puncture last year, I had a phobia of a dejavu, but the puncture god was kind to me this year.

Photo credit: Chen Hong Bing

As I was pushing my bike into transition, I was conscious of Rayner's presence behind me; and when I was running out of transition, I saw him just about to finish putting on his shoes. At that point, I had no idea of Dr Shah's and Marzuki's positions.

As I had expected, the run leg proved to be the toughest part of the race even though the course was mainly flat. The sun had by then risen to be right on top of the head, and there was hardly any shade throughout the course. Ironically, however, the toughest and painful part of the race is also the most exciting of the 3 disciplines. The first few hundred metres of the run was perhaps the most challenging because it would usually take a bit of time for the body to adjust to the task at hand.

At first I had planned to keep my shoes dry throughout the run. But I eventually gave in to the temptation of the inviting cold water in huge tanks at the aid stations. Accordingly, I started dousing myself at each stop. That helped to cool me down, but the effect was just for a mere few minutes.

As I was trotting along at a pathetic pace, Rayner eventually caught up with me. I tried to rise to the occasion by running abreast with him for a few kilometres.

Unfortunately, my legs were just too tired to continue for very long. I slowed down to a walk, and I saw Rayner gradually drifting farther and farther away in the yonder. Before he left me, however, he said Dr Shah and Marzuki were behind us. As I was walking in pain and epic exhaustion, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the dreadful thought of getting overtaken by Shah and Marzuki as well! Accordingly, I mustered the energy somehow to resume running again. Some minutes later, I arrived at the end of the first loop, and shortly after that, Vachel took this photo of me.

But photos can be misleading sometimes. Behind that brilliant smile, I was aching all over. As you can probably tell from the shadow under me, it was around mid day and I still had slightly over 10km to go! Shortly after passing Vachel, I slowed down to a walk again. And then while I was dousing myself with cold water at an aid station, a young sexy girl came running by. She was also obviously tired, but was able to keep a steady pace.

Now there's something about marveling on a woman's sexy figure, especially when that figure is in a wet tight outfit. It's almost magnetic, if you know what I mean. Accordingly, I decided to let nature do the work—I merely focused on her hip from behind and started following her rhythm, and then imagined the song in my mind...

She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was as nervous as she could be
She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was afraid that somebody would see

Two three four
Tell the people what she wore

It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini
That she wore for the first time today...

But alas, my joy of pacing with a girl was short-lived as I was once again running out of steam. Perhaps I could have latched on a little longer if I had started fantasizing something about that sexy body. Yes, that might have worked, but the trouble about fantasizing is that it may backfire, because you can just imagine what would happen to men in skin-tight shorts when they get too excited, hmm?

Well, I continued the torture for the rest of the journey to the finish line, all the time thinking of the inevitable conclusion that Shah and Marzuki would be catching up sooner or later. But it wasn't as bad as I had thought; I crossed the finish line in a total time of 6:21:38 with time to spare before Shah finally arrived at the finish line. It's my personal best time at this distance. Marzuki finished about half an hour after me, but it was still a respectable time for a first-timer.

I finally found my way to the recovery tent where participants were chatting and eating. I rehydrated my body with some water and isotonic drinks. And Rupert was also there. When asked, he said he finished with "crappy time". But his definition of "crappy time", actually means the kind of timing that people like me can only dream of! Made me feel like giving him a good kick in his butt. Sadly, my legs were too tired to kick. I must remind myself to kick his butt the next time we meet again!

Then I saw that sexy creature named Wendy Tan in the crowd. She must have finished some 20 or 30 minutes after me. She has a body that's so wickedly sexy that I could just put her on a display cabinet at home to admire the whole day long while drooling. For a while I considered introducing myself, but I was able to shake myself out of the trance and thought better of it. Maybe I should start doing weights at the gym to build some muscles first. Then next time I would have the confidence to introduce myself!

I also met Nik in the crowd, and she was as jolly as ever, and was kind enough to introduce me to her friends, although this old man is not exactly great in remembering names!

Well, there isn't much more to tell. It was a well-organised event except that somebody forgot to switch on the air-conditioner. I'm running a full marathon in the Borneo International Marathon, and the Gold Coast Airport Marathon first before attempting a half iron distance again in the Challenge Nusajaya in mid August. After Nusajaya, I shall embark on serious training for Langkawi in November. Hmmm....very exhausting months ahead...