Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sandakan Marathon 2019

It's been a few years since the last time I set a personal best (PB) for a road marathon, and up to now my PB stands at 3:52:08. I haven't been trying to improve on that but instead have been active in Ironman triathlons. After I completed the Ironman New Zealand in early March this year, I decided to embark on a PB-hunting mission in Chiang Mai Marathon this December. But my running fitness has long been neglected, so it was obvious that I had a big challenge in the coming months.

I ran as a pacer for 4:30 in the Borneo Marathon, and then beyond that I have been continuing with my training with a view of Chiang Mai Marathon. However, according to my plan, I'm going to need at least 2 full marathon races before Chiang Mai to gauge the progress of my training. I registered for Sandakan Marathon (last Sunday 7th July) and Kuching Marathon (18th August). I suppose if I looked hard enough, I would have been able to find other events around these times too, but it would have been much more expensive to travel too far from Sabah. Since these are meant to be just parts of my training, I decided to save on the cost.

The full marathon route published by the organiser was like this:

To be honest, I'm not familiar with the roads in Sandakan, and the map above did very little to give me any idea of where I would be running. I only knew that I would start from the Town padang, which was also where I would end. However, I was impressed with the map because in it, there are many water stations, medic posts, mobile toilets, kilometre markers, sponge stations etc. In fact all of those are the norm for most marathons.

I wasn't sure of the elevation profile of the course, so according to my plan I had estimated a finishing time between 4:00 - 4:15. I thought that would be safe enough. The only thing that I was worried about was the problem with my body clock. You see, the race was to start at 1am, and I had in the past, especially in my ultra trail years, been struggling with sleepiness past midnight; and I had expected to get more or less a similar problem in this race. Still, I thought 4:15 was a very decent timing as the slowest of my finishing time. Oh boy, was I wrong!

Upon flag off, runners had to pass through the main street of the town, leading to the highway. Immediately, it became obvious that the course will be challenging in terms of the undulating terrain. There were no steep slopes, but long gradual ones which could take quite a toll on the runners. 

According to the map, water stations would be available approximately 2km to 3km apart, but it soon became obvious that this was not the case. Some stations were close together, but some were very far apart, and I can imagine especially for the slow runners, it may take them perhaps over half an hour or even 45 minutes before they can reach another water station. To make it even more challenging was that the first half of the race, up to the turning point at 21km, not a single station had isotonic drinks. I don't mean they ran out of it; I mean they really had no isotonic at all. On the return leg, I can remember 2 stations providing isotonic drinks. In each station that I stopped at to drink, I had a quick glance at the number of cups on the table, and at the back of my mind, knowing that there were so many other runners behind me, I knew that the water would eventually run out and therefore nothing left for the slower runners.

I was also conscious that the organiser did not provide mobile toilets as shown in the map. I reckoned that this would be quite challenging for the ladies. I saw a number of men just doing their business at the road sides. It's such a wonderful thing being a man!

The feeling of the race was somewhat surreal. In fact it felt a lot like a routine long slow distance (LSD) run over the weekend, because the crowd thinned out very quickly, and one could find that he's running alone for most stages of the race. It was in fact a very lonely race.

Apart from drinks and toilets, I found it rather surprising that no safety cones were deployed along the race course. I wondered if the organiser did not think that safety cones were necessary because of the small number of runners. Remembering that even with safety cones, runners were hit by cars in a couple of West Malaysian marathons, I felt that Sandakan Marathon should seriously consider the safety aspect of runners in its future events. Truly, there was no feeling of a race at all. It was merely a running workout in the wee hours of the morning, and passing some very dark roads on a weekend.

On the way back from the turning point, my sleepiness got the better of me, and I was struggling to stay awake. Hard upon that, my legs began to complain as my body was craving for replenishment of electrolytes. When I finally came upon a station with isotonic drinks, I took the chance to grab a few cups. And then I grabbed a small bottle too. But I could only drink so much at a time. In my epic sleepiness and sensation of onset of cramps in both quads, I had to slow down. For if the cramps really did manifest, that would be the end of me.

Despite the many kilometre markers shown on the map, I saw none on the course, except one that showed KM40 on it. However, even that was placed at the wrong location. I climbed a gradual slope after that marker to reach one final water station—and when I said water station, I really mean just plain water available—and I was surprised to see my friend Dr Liaw there. Liaw is a much faster runner than I am, so it was obvious that he had fallen victim to cramps.

After that final water station, I increased my pace a bit since I thought even if the cramps did come then, I would be able to make it to the finish line. So I ran and ran passing the now familiar streets of the town and was approaching the padang. And then in my exhaustion, I had one more final challenge to endure. There was no marshal, no signboard, no indicator whatsoever that would guide runners to the finish line. I was confused, not knowing where to go to. I entered the back alley of the padang and saw the starting arch where we started from earlier. Very dark and not a single marshal there. I had to stop running and ask for direction—where should I run to? Where's the finish line? A bystander pointed to the end of that road beyond the start arch. So I ran to that direction. At the end of that road, I guessed I had to turn right. And then finally, I saw an opened gate. I entered that gate and saw the finish arch. I ran in and crossed the finish line in 4:23:04, only managed 12th position in the veteran category. The distance was about 43km. I was way adrift of my 4:15 slowest estimate, but I was so glad to finish such an unreal marathon event.

It's a good LSD training, but such an awful race. If I had this racing condition in Chiang Mai this December, I'd be really pissed for sure! All my friends eventually survived the race in the end. And we had a glorious breakfast in town later that morning. Congratulations y'all!

But now it's time to recover and then resume training for Kuching Marathon as soon as possible. I'm aware that Kuching Marathon has been going on for a number of years now. So I'm confident that I'd be getting a much better deal there. If you're running in Kuching too, I'll see you there!


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Losing Focus

There was a time like a hundred years ago when I looked up to my father as a role model. As a boy, I can still remember wanting to become exactly like him some day. But over the years, as I was growing up, I realised that he wasn't such a great role model after all. He had way too many weaknesses and he made way too many mistakes in his life; and he kept repeating those mistakes too.

I had the habit of lamenting about my father to my uncle. My uncle said something very profound to me. He said if I'm convinced that I'm smarter than my father, then I should be the one to understand him; not the other way round. I should be the one to find ways on how to make him see where I'm coming from. That was about 30 years ago, but I've never forgotten my uncle's advice up to now.

The recent case of the student who was beaten by her teacher as a punishment for calling him names, reminded me once again of my uncle's advice. I myself am a parent to a teenager, and for seventeen years I've never once beaten her as a means of teaching her manners or how to become a good person. She's not a perfect child, but thankfully she's never been in any serious trouble in school. Perhaps I'm just a lucky parent, but I have at least proven, albeit from just one child, that beating is not entirely necessary to discipline or teach a child manners. In fact I'm a firm believer that beating may even be harmful in giving rise to the habit of her doing the same to her children and other people.

Having been a teacher for about three-and-a-half years of my life, I think the role of a teacher is far greater than just to impart knowledge to the kids. He is also a role model, and suppose to inspire his students to aspire for greater things in life. Those are the things, therefore, where his focus should lie. However, dealing with many students can be quite challenging. It means many different family backgrounds, religious and moral upbringing, how they interact with their peers and teachers. Needless to say, there is bound to be some bad apples.

When the going gets tough the teacher, above all else, should remain true to his role and be very careful not to lose focus. If he considers that he is smarter, that he is the educator, the role model, the person that inspires his students, then he should behave like one, and not easily lose focus and fall victim to anger, thus reacting by beating the student on grounds of provocation. 

A strong man is one that keeps a cool head under very stressful situation and able to act in a calmly manner—a quality that I have no doubt that many of his students would admire. Respect is not an automatic entitlement; it is earned. If one wishes to be respected, then he should behave respectably. An ordinary man may lose his cool, and then driven by anger to act violently against others. But when one wears the hat of a teacher, the standard of expectation is much higher than that of an ordinary man.

The standard of expectation can vary between different professions. A judge is expected not to indulge in any criminal act. A doctor is expected to have the passion to save lives. A clergyman is expected to be religious. A teacher in the course of his duty is expected not to be provoked into violent behavior when he is angry.

But what about the student that called him names? Well, she obviously needed to be taught manners. She deserved some guidance. A young mind is not always thinking at the same wavelength as that of an adult's. That's why the teacher needs to be creative in his approach. Perhaps discuss the problem with her parents, or suggest counselling sessions. Just because beatings by teachers was an accepted punishment by most parents in the past, that doesn't mean that it was the right, or best, solution for problematic kids.

I'm seeing reactions on facebook, some of which have suggested that if the teacher is not allowed to beat his student, then he should just focus on imparting knowledge and neglect teaching the student to become a better person. I must beg to differ. A teacher is a teacher, and his job is not limited to just imparting knowledge. I would expect him to develop the mind and instill good qualities in his students to make them better people. I find that to demand the right to beat his students as a condition for him to carry out his full responsibilities is too big a price to pay. 

May I repeat, respect is not an automatic entitlement; respect is earned. If one wishes to be respected, then he must behave respectably. The teacher, in the course of imparting knowledge and wisdom, should be the one to find ways to help his students, not just resorting to violent means.


Monday, June 17, 2019

Wanting to Believe

I'm seeing a number of posts on facebook on the recent gay sex video purportedly taken in a room at Hotel Four Points, Sandakan, involving Haziq Abdullah Abdul Aziz and Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali. But apart from facebook posts, I've also had conversations with friends about the same topic. A fair number of these posts and conversations are basically expressions of dissatisfaction on what has transpired since the time when Haziq confessed that he was one of the men in the video. He said the other man was Azmin Ali, but the latter has denied it. For the benefit of non-Malaysians reading this post, gay sex is against the law in Malaysia.

The dissatisfaction arose due to the fact that Haziq has since been arrested by the police, but the Minister is still a free man. This, they claim, is unfair, and it has been suggested that both Haziq and Azmin should be arrested. Well, I can't speak for the police, but I'm sure it has a valid explanation for arresting Haziq, and not the Minister. But I shall come back to this point shortly.

Of the several facebook posts that I've seen, I've only commented on one—that of a friend whom I'm convinced is an open-minded and learned person, capable of holding a decent and honest discussion on the subject. Of the rest, I have refrained from commenting because most people are not open-minded; and they may even become annoyed when receiving comments that do not agree with their opinions.

I find it very interesting that some people can come to the conclusion as to the guilt of the accused person simply from watching a video clip of which its authenticity has yet to be confirmed. Apparently, one of the persons in the video resembles the Minister, but so far this has not yet been proven to be the case. I'm guessing that the police would need a bit of time to investigate into the authenticity of the video.

Obviously, there are many questions to be answered in relation to the case. Some of these questions are suggestive of Azmin's guilt, while others are suggestive of his innocence. Questions such as Haziq's own father having doubts that that was his son in the video; Haziq's longtime friends having no clue whatsoever that he is gay; Haziq's claim that Azmin was the one who recorded the act (which begs the question: Are we then supposed to assume that Azmin shared that video to kill his own political career? Or was that video stolen by a third party somehow?). So many other questions remain to be answered. But the type of questions raised—whether for or against Azmin's defense—and by whom, are indicative of the persons asking those questions.

There is a psychological significance here, and that is the point this post. Human nature is such that we sometimes have the tendency to believe in something, perhaps even hoping that something is indeed true, and we either consciously or subconsciously jump to the conclusion despite so many questions still unanswered. Furthermore, of the many unanswered questions, there is that tendency to focus only on those which can help our case, and simply reject the questions that are not in our favour. For example, if I'm convinced that the accused is guilty, and if he denies the accusation, there is the tendency not to believe him and reject that denial. If there are witnesses that claim the accused was never in contact with Haziq while he was in Sandakan, that too would be dismissed as trying to protect the accused. Whatever other evidence or witnesses that can help the case of the accused, all those would be dismissed, because subconsciously the mind is focused on one thing, and only one thing—wanting so much to believe that the accused is indeed guilty of the crime that he is accused of.

I have actually discussed this point before, although it was a discussion that revolved around religion. I've said that if a person does not believe in God, no amount of evidence can help to change his mind. Even if God himself appears in a physical form in front of his very eyes, that would be dismissed as merely some sort of magic tricks by a very clever artist. On the other hand if the person is a believer, everything he sees around him is already proof enough for God's existence. He would see the world, the sun and the moon, the seas and the mountains, the air we breathe, and life as a whole, as the ultimate proof of God's existence.

Jumping to the conclusion before investigations are concluded is a natural human tendency. It takes a very strong person to resist the temptation of jumping to the conclusion. And it takes an even stronger person to be unbiased when sifting through the many evidences in the course of the investigation, questioning and analysing each of them with the same veracity, instead of picking only those that can help his case to support something that he wants so much to believe.

Two final points I'd like to make in this post. The first is that I keep an open mind on the matter. That is because based on the available "evidence" right now, I'm simply not satisfied. Anybody can accuse anybody; anybody can deny accusations. I can only form an opinion when all the evidences have been presented and verified or confirmed. The accused may well be proven guilty in the end, and if that is indeed the case, then I have no problem in accepting that conclusion. For I am neither for nor against the accused. I am for the truth.

The second point before I close is on the dissatisfaction of Haziq's arrest (now reportedly released on bail). The police has not offered any explanation why only Haziq has been arrested, whereas the Minister is still a free man up to now. I have said earlier that I can't speak for the police, but if I were the police, I would explain it like this: There are essentially two persons involved in this case, i.e. Haziq and Azmin, and the main evidence is the video clip, supposedly taken in Azmin's room at Hotel Four Points, Sandakan. That video clip is, however, yet to be investigated of its authenticity and the persons in it yet to be proven Haziq and Azmin. On the strength of the video alone, neither Haziq nor Azmin should be arrested. However, Haziq had confessed that he's one of the persons in the gay sex video. In other words, he confessed to a crime under the Malaysian law, and the police therefore can act on that confession according to the law, not act on the strength of the video. If a person confessed to a crime, I see nothing wrong in the police arresting him. Azmin on the other hand did not confess. In fact he denied the accusation. It would mean that in order for the police to arrest Azmin, it would have to arrest on account of the video which is yet to be authenticated. This is just a possible explanation from a layman looking at the matter with an open mind. But of course I'm also aware that when a person had already convinced himself of Azmin's guilt, such an explanation would be dismissed as mere nonsense!


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Searching for a Suitable Career

I had an interesting conversation with JJ recently when I fetched her from maths tuition. She is in form 5 this year and will be sitting for her SPM exams in a couple of months' time. Up to now she is still unsure what studies she'd like to pursue beyond form 5, and she asked me what I wanted her to do.

I told her quite frankly that as much as I'd like to, I can't decide for her. At best, I can only give some suggestions. I said she has a flair for English, and maybe it's worth exploring a career in something to do with English. By the way, I have recently discovered from JJ that our schools in Malaysia do teach grammar after all. Just that there is no emphasis on it in assignments and exams. So although JJ can speak and write grammatically well, she doesn't know what are adjectives and gerunds, for example. Thankfully, she knows quite a bit about tenses. I was thinking maybe she has some potential in journalism; maybe she can also have a future as a novelist, y'know, something along those lines.

JJ was rather surprised that I wasn't even suggesting anything in the order of doctors, engineers, dentists or any other professions coming from the science stream. Somehow she had the impression that I wanted her to pursue one of those, because those are "respectable professions" and for "smarter people".

I told JJ that she should choose something that she loves doing as a profession, because in the end it's her life, not mine. I won't think any less of her if she's not a doctor or engineer or dentist. She is what she is, and she has strengths and weaknesses just like anybody else, including doctors, engineers and dentists. If she's happy doing what she's doing, then I guess that's already a big achievement. For I know of many, many people feeling miserable in their professions. It would be a big tragedy if JJ chooses something that she doesn't like, just to make me and Mia happy, but she herself is miserable. 

There are only two important things she needs to bear in mind. Whatever she chooses to do, she should try to be among the best at it. The other thing is that she can't expect to get everything in life. Sometimes doing something that you like doing won't translate into big money, and you may have to be poor till you retire. So maybe compromises will have to be made.

Mia doesn't always think at the same wavelength as mine. I bet there will be some tendency to influence JJ to pursue something that mommy likes, but not necessarily something that JJ likes. However, I want JJ to know that daddy will be there to the rescue if there is any element of force. I very rarely get involved in this sort of things, but this would be one of the very few exceptions, and I would step in to intervene if there is a need.

Truth be told, I'm getting a little anxious about JJ. She said many of her classmates have more or less decided what they want to do after SPM, but she is still clueless. Well, there's still a few more months. Hopefully she will think of something after SPM.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Depression

I have a friend from a well-to-do family background. She is highly educated and doing well in her career. She owns many properties even though she's still quite young. Although she is not an athlete, she is generally healthy. She has what I'd imagine what most other women can only dream of having.

Yet the irony of it all is that she's been suffering from depression for many, many years now. Although I did not discuss the matter with her in detail, I suspect she must have sought professional help to treat her condition. Well, whatever it is, it's obviously not working in terms of totally curing the problem. At best, the doctors have been able to control it.

I was once as poor as a church mouse many years ago—I had practically nothing to my name, no properties, no fat bank account, no university degree and no prospect of ever getting a scholarship or education loan to pursue my tertiary education. During the darkest moments of my life, I worked as a supervisor and was in charge of labourers collecting garbage from house to house. On many occasions, I myself had to be one of them, i.e. being a garbage collector. Quite often, I had to work for up to 14 hours a day. It was hell, and it seemed like there was very little prospect of improving my life beyond that. Those are circumstances which I would consider as good ones to be depressed about. It was very stressful, but I was never depressed.

I've long before that realised that everybody faces challenges in life, and I've learned to count my blessings. I focused mainly on what I had—which, unfortunately, wasn't much back then—and tried to build from that. Because after all, being rich or poor, being healthy or sick, being highly educated or not—all these are relative measurements. If I'm poor, I bet there are many poorer people out there struggling to make ends meet, and to feed their families. If I'm feeling not so healthy, I bet there are many people at the verge of dying of a terminal diseases out there. If I think I'm not so well-educated, I bet there are still people who're unable to read and write out there.

That is basically why I refused to dwell on the negatives. I'd rather focus my energy on whatever's out there that I can potentially acquire. For as long as I keep trying, there is something that I can hope for. If I failed, then that's too bad; I suppose I will keep trying again and again. It's OK, I don't mind trying. There is just no reason for me to be depressed. What I've learned in life is that if I keep trying, sooner or later I'm bound to be successful in at least some of those challenges.

It's OK to be disappointed in something, but don't be depressed about it. Count your blessings and remember that you are still better off than many, many other people. Be happy instead. After all it's much more fun pursuing the dreams of your life feeling happy rather than depressed.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Art of Keeping Secrets

My mother-in-law lived in my house for about 2 years before she died. She had trouble walking, and she would spend her days moving between her bed and my favourite seat in front of the TV, which very quickly became her throne when she moved in. She had an amazing stamina watching TV at least a few hours a day.

As you all probably already know, the shows on Astro would be repeated over and over again throughout the day, and quite often over a period of several weeks. I don't normally spend a lot of time watching TV though, and I would rarely find myself in front of the TV. But sometimes, I would be in the mood to watch old movies which I've missed watching in the cinema.

The only problem was that my mother-in-law had an incurable disease that made her unable to control herself from telling me what's going to happen next in the movie. Even though I told her countless of times not to tell, that could only make her stop for a few minutes. After that she would lose her control again. I'm not sure if it's just a habit or a kind of weakness of the mind. Sometimes, people are born with some sort of inclination, and it would stay with them for the rest of their lives. Such was the case with my mother-in-law as far as having no control of spoiling movies for others.

What I've noticed about people in general is that the vast majority of them can't control themselves from sharing the information that they have, though admittedly perhaps they're not as hopeless as my mother-in-law. Of course then again my mother-in-law was an extreme case, and perhaps not a suitable comparison. 

Especially if it is an important secret—an important information that is absolutely critical not to be shared with others—they would want to share that knowledge even more. The itch to tell, I'd imagine, is overwhelming. And even if they don't tell directly, they'd at least do it indirectly by dropping hints or speak like Jesus, in parables.

That's essentially why for the last several days, whenever I'm on facebook, I would shut my mind from the many, many posts about The Avengers: Endgame. I would simply ignore those posts and moved on to the rest of facebook. Except for a very few of those posts, the majority just couldn't control themselves from dropping hints about the storyline. For the most part, I did not entertain those posts until I have seen the movie myself recently. And only after I'd seen the movie had I revisited the posts on facebook. True enough, what I had known all along about most people is indeed true—they can't control themselves!

Keeping secrets is an art. In fact, it's a skill that very few possess. Most people would be itching to tell others, especially if they're told "not to tell"! It's a skill that some people will never acquire. Not everybody can do it. It takes a very strong, disciplined and patient person to master the art of keeping secrets.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

ILL INTENTIONS

Some women are very clever—they are resourceful and creative. On numerous occasions they may be even better than men in solving very tough problems. Some of them would become leaders in politics, in big companies or any other organisations. Yet when taken as a whole, female leaders are still substantially far fewer than male leaders. Immediately we ask ourselves—Why?

At the risk of getting bombarded by so many of my women readers, I'm putting my head on the chopping board to share what I think is the main reason. Or if not the main reason, at least one of the most significant reasons.

I'm seeing it in the female members of my family, friends and acquaintances. These range from people having little or no education at all, up to people whom are very highly educated. The vast majority of them have one thing in common‐they have a curious tendency to focus their energy on what other people think of them; they are convinced that other people perpetually have ill intentions on them, especially other women.

In school or at the workplace, or in any place at all, there is always that stumbling block that would hamper the progress of women. Whenever other women do or say something, however petty or without any ill intention, the interpretations that will be drawn will first and foremost be a negative one. That other woman did so-and-so "because she is jealous of me"; or "because she wants to drag me through the mud"; or "because she wants the boss to disfavour me". Something like that.

In due course, leaders will have to make decisions; quite often important decisions which will have an impact on so many other people. And good decisions should be free from personal issues. As a leader I may give a job or responsibility to someone I dislike, if I'm convinced that he's the most suitable candidate for that job. Whatever and however I feel about that candidate on a personal basis is not to influence my decision.

I have a number of women in the office, and I'm seeing the so-called "stabbing" and "back-stabbing" happening almost on a daily basis. A total waste of energy. I'm just looking and amusing myself for the most part, and at times I catch myself shaking my head seeing all these nonsense going on. They are not destined to become leaders even if they are brilliant in their profession.

But some women—although I suspect not very many—are not like that at all. They decide and act without any influence of such petty matters; and quite often arrive at very good decisions too. They would go on to become good leaders. Alas, not so many of them...


Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Flying Car

I enjoy running the so-called long slow distance, otherwise simply referred to as the "LSD", with my friend, Dr Peter Ong, during the weekends. These are very mild workouts at conversational pace. We talk about a wide range of topics, and on a recent run, I was saying to Peter that we don't have very many inventors in Malaysia when compared to the western world. We are merely the consumers of products which have been invented by others. 

I said it is not in our nature to invent things because creativity is not usually developed in our culture and upbringing. Children have the natural curiosity about things they see around them—such as why is it that birds can fly, whereas humans can't—but instead of explaining the reasons, parents have the tendency to tell them to just accept it as a fact of life. I'm not sure if that's because the parents don't know the answers to the questions; or they're just lazy to explain?

At other times, when the children try to be creative by building something, they may even be ridiculed. That would absolutely kill their inclination to make something new. So in the end, it's always much easier to just use what's already available and forget about trying to invent something new.

I can still remember when JJ was still very young, and we were watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, she was amazed by the apes in the movie. And then asked me an interesting question; she said did the movie maker train all those apes to act in the movie? Instead of ridiculing her question or telling her to just keep quiet and continue watching the movie, I went into a long explanation of how computers were used to digitally change the appearance of humans into apes.

I'm by nature a curious animal, and I''m always wondering about things. If I see something that I don't understand, I would try to learn more about that something. Of course I don't get all the answers all the time, but I keep trying. I sure as hell would encourage my daughter to be like her daddy. I'm convinced that the mere habit of asking questions and searching for explanations, can develop the intellect; and if the child is born with a latent talent for inventions, that, too, can be developed.

But that is not the attitude of the majority in Malaysia. No, far from it; the first reaction is almost always that of ridicule. Many years ago, other famous inventors were ridiculed too. The Wright brothers, for example, were ridiculed when they first propounded the idea of a flying machine. But their people have since outgrown that attitude. 

We in Malaysia are still stuck with the mentality of staying put in our comfort zone. Whenever one of us comes up with the idea of something different from the ordinary, the first reaction of the majority of Malaysians is to ridicule and poke fun at the inventor. We hardly ever encourage our people to be creative. Such is the case of the "point-to-point air transportation system", dubbed the "flying car" as reported here.

Well, this is not the first time I range myself on the side of the minority; I see the Malaysian "flying car" as a beginning. I'd imagine that if I were to have lived in the era of the Wright brothers, I would have viewed their first aeroplane models with the same enthusiasm too even if it had looked like total craps at the time. I mean, if not for that first aeroplane, how would we end up having jumbo jets in the skies today?

Some people are inventors, whereas some are just consumers. It might have something to do with natural talent, of course. Some people think out of the box, whereas some are just text book readers. In my mid fifties now, I don't have much more time, but I hope to see Malaysia inventing something important for humankind one of these days. I know the idea sounds ridiculous, especially since Malaysians have very negative attitude for inventors. But after all, I am a dreamer, and I don't mind being ridiculed too.


Monday, March 18, 2019

The Hobbiton Village

I have seen The Lord of the Rings some years ago, but I've never really been a big fan of the franchise. I know, of course, that it comes in several sequels, but to be honest, I can't remember why it had to be that long. The little that I can still remember was that it had something to do with fighting to acquire the ring, although I can't remember now what was so special about the ring.

I can also remember bits and pieces here and there. For example, I know Gandalf because he had a striking resemblance with a property valuer I once knew; and Gollum, also known as Smeagol, simply because, to me, he looked a lot like Datuk Yong Teck Lee.

There were many other characters in the story of which I know very little about, including the Hobbits. The Lord of the Rings branched out to focus mainly on the Hobbits, but I struggled to stay awake through its first sequel. Sadly, I fell asleep about 20 minutes into the movie, and never had the mental endurance to continue watching up to this day.

Nevertheless, a comment from a friend, Hana Sue Harun, some years ago made me look it up on the internet. You see, I showed Hana a photo of my scale to show my weight. But instead of focusing on the figure on the scale, she was looking at my feet, and then exclaimed that I had big feet like the Hobbits! As you can see, Hana's mind works in a weird way, but of course that is not surprising because she's an ex-St. Franciscan. I mean, most, if not all, St. Franciscans try very hard to be "different" somehow. It's almost expected of them! But that is a separate story to tell, and deserves a post of its own. So, anyway, that made me curious to know more about the Hobbits.

Fate would have it that my wife was keen to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set during our visit to New Zealand recently, and I had to force myself to tag along. Driving to the location in a rented car, I was equipped with the knowledge that the Hobbits had big feet, and hardly anything more than that. For the astronomical cost of about RM200 per pax, the guided tour was about 2-hour long. The tour included a short return bus ride to the actual site and a complimentary drink at a cafe known as the Green Dragon Inn.

Throughout the tour, the guide was throwing out questions to the group, and it was obvious that we had some big fans in the crowd as they knew practically everything about the Hobbits. The specific details on specific locations. The guide would say something like, "This was where Bilbo Baggins uttered the line 'I'm going on an adventure' as he was running down the path", and there was a chorus of acknowledgements and exclamations from the crowd. I pretended to know what she was talking about, of course, but later, she gave an interesting statistic. She said about 40% of the visitors to the set had neither seen the movie nor read the book. So I suppose I'm not too bad, I had at least seen 20 minutes' worth of the movie, and I knew that the Hobbits had big feet!

If you've never been to the Hobbition Movie Set, let me just say that you won't be seeing any Hobbit there. At the back of my mind, I thought it would have been a great idea to hire some tiny people—for example, Mohd Isa Abdul Samad comes to mind—to act as Hobbits, so that the village would feel more convincingly alive. As it were, it had an air of an abandoned village.

The dwellings in the village aren't really dwellings—they're merely doors and windows and tiny yards. There are no rooms or any kind of living space behind those doors. But there was one that had a bit of hollow space behind the door. This was intended for visitors to take photos.

I had, at the time of the tour, very sore legs as I had just raced the Ironman in Taupo two days earlier. So walking up and down the slopes was something of a challenge, albeit a mild one. But you can imagine what a big relief it was for me when we finally adjourned to the Green Dragon Inn where we could quench our thirst and make toilet visits. I'm happy to report that these were modern toilets with modern plumbings; there's no need to instruct Jack and Jill to fetch a pail of water from the well on top of the hill. Of course while resting and waiting for the bus, I had the opportunity to catch up on Candy Crush Soda Saga.

So that concluded the tour. It wasn't as boring as I had expected after all. But I doubt that I will be watching the Hobbit movies any time soon. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Chewable Sizes

A quiet family dinner with Mia and JJ this evening, and JJ was the first to finish everything on her plate. The moment she'd finished, she made the proud announcement, "I'm done!"

I looked at her and said that when she was a little girl, we had trouble "forcing" her to eat almost on a daily basis. It was very difficult to feed her as she had a very small appetite, and we were rather concerned that she was depriving her body of the much needed nutrients for growth and development.

JJ responded that she could still remember whenever she stopped eating after just a few spoonfuls, Mia would take her plate from her and then used the spoon to divide the food into small portions. Mia would then tell JJ to eat just this portion, and then that portion, eventually making her eat a lot more than what she'd thought she was able to eat.

I told JJ that that's essentially what life is all about, really. Every single one of us will have many, many challenges in life, some of which apparently impossible to conquer. But the good news is that it's very possible to conquer many of those challenges.

Additional math or physics, when seen as a whole, can be quite daunting. And losing weight may be something that's impossible to achieve for many people. Racing a marathon, ultra marathon and Ironman may seem like impossible feats for many people. Yet so many people have been successful in conquering those challenges.

I think the main reason for the failures in some people is because those attempting those challenges are taking them as a whole. Looking at additional math as a whole is almost like learning a new language. Trying to lose weight from 90kg to 70kg is just too hard to even imagine. Running 100km seems to require a year to accomplish.

However, those challenges would seem more doable if they're broken up into "chewable sizes". You see, people fail because they expect things to happen overnight. When they want to learn additional math, they'd expect to master the subject after reading the text book a few hours, and attempted some questions successfully. If they want to lose weight, they'd expect to lose something like 2kg to 3kg per week; and some would expect to loose even more than that. When they're racing the 100km foot race, they'd look at the whole 100km, and then come to the conclusion that it's just plain impossible to achieve!

I told JJ that when I learned additional math, I took small steps, one at a time. Never mind how many chapters, how many pages, how many formulas and calculations to learn. Just start with one chapter, learn it well, and then move to the next, and then the next. When there is something that you can't understand, get help from somebody. There's bound to be somebody who'd know the explanation. When wanting to lose 20kg, just focus on losing 1kg or 2kg at a time. Make many, many "pit stops" between the starting point and the final destination, i.e. 20kg. Be patient, and don't try to rush things. When wanting to run 100km, focus on the first 5km only. Finish that first 5km and then embark on the next 5km, and then repeat the process again and again until you cross the finish line.

Whenever I arrive at the start line of an Ironman race, I'd always be worried about having to swim a distance of 3.8km. And because I'm a lousy swimmer, I'd usually swim up to 4km because no matter how hard to try, I can never swim in a straight line. At one time, 4km seemed like an impossible distance for me to swim. But in each race, I'd just focus on the first 500 metres because that feels like a doable distance for me. Just slow and easy, step by step, one at a time; and in the end, 4km is not an impossible distance after all.

Looking at JJ right now, I seriously doubt that she will become as insane as her daddy—I don't think that she will ever attempt even running a marathon in her life. But there will be bound to be many, many challenges—not necessarily physical in nature—which she can conquer by breaking them up into chewable sizes.

So you see folks, valuable lessons and wisdom you can take away from the dining table; precious, life-changing lessons. In conjunction with this Chinese New Year celebration, spend those precious moments with your parents having dinner together. You'd be surprised what you can learn about life from the old folks.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Sharing is Caring

People who know me well would know that I very rarely forward chain mails or Whatsapp messages. Of course I sometimes share funny pictures or quotes through Whatsapp. But there have been many, many occasions when I received unverified or unconfirmed news, pleading me to forward or share with friends, with a special emphasis that if I cared about my friends and loved ones, I'd share the news with them. 

What I have noticed, perhaps 99% of the times, whenever a message tells you to forward or share with others, it is very likely that it is plain rubbish. Recently, I received a message through Whatsapp with an attached photo of what seemed to be a Pakistani man. The message tells the reader that he's a conman who'd go from house to house in the village and would cast spells on people, who'd then give him money. Many people had been tricked that way. The message tells the reader to immediately contact the police if he knocks on the door. The message then pleads to be forwarded to friends and loved ones to warn them.

There are surprisingly many, many gullible people out there. They fall for this sort of messages all the time. They get tricked over and over again, and they will never learn. I did not forward the above message, of course, but instead I asked the person who sent me the message if he had discovered its origin; the identity of the man in the photo; and if the message had been confirmed to be true. His reply—and this is the surprising part—is that he did not even attempt to discover the truth of the matter. He said he simply forwarded the message to everybody "just in case if it's true", because after all, "Sharing is caring".

He's not the first person who'd given me that justification for forwarding unconfirmed messages. Always, "just in case if it's true". Most people would say that they're sharing with others because they care. It's nothing personal.

To be very honest, I'm quite sick of that sentence: It's nothing personal. For what it really means is that it's not personal to them. But one of these days, someone out there will spread lies about them, perhaps spreading those lies in chain mails or Whatsapp messages, and I bet it would then become personal—to them. Always, we don't think that the truth is very important when somebody else is the subject of the allegation. The truth becomes important only when we are the victims of lies. We resent it when people tell lies about ourselves, but we'd readily forward or share messages which we have no clue if they're true or false. It seems harmless to spread lies for the sake of "just in case it's true"; but it only becomes harmful when we are the victims of lies.

Verifying and confirming the truth of what we receive from friends are not generally the habit of most people. It seems much simpler to just immediately share with friends because "sharing is caring". Whether or not we may contribute to cause pain on innocent people by helping to spread lies, that possibility seems not so important; and that is such an irony.

Well, I range myself on the side of the minority—I'm NOT sharing unverified messages because I care. I care about my friends and loved ones; I try my best to prevent them from helping other people to spread (possible) lies.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Jinx

Some women are very good when it comes to bicycles; and when I say "good", I mean everything about bicycles—from the bike-handling up to mechanical aspects. I said SOME, and "some" in this case is probably no more than 5% of the female population; maybe even much lesser than that. Of the remaining 95%, there is a wide range of bike-handling abilities, as well as knowledge and common sense about bicycles. Some women that I know have been riding bicycles for years, yet they don't know how to change a tube when they have a puncture.

My wife has been cycling for a few years now, but she is still not very good in bike-handling. She used to ride a tribike, but after a few years, I came to the conclusion that she would NEVER know how to shift the gear without having a traumatic experience, simply because shifting the gear while balancing the bike was a huge feat to her. In the end, I bought her a road bike, of which it's much easier to shift the gears, since the shifters are located on the handlebar, whereas the shifters for the tribike are located at the end of the aerobars.

At times, very simple bike issues may arise. Say for example her brake pad is touching her rim on one side, and no amount of adjusting the caliper can remedy the problem. She has no common sense to discover that the rim is slightly misaligned and doesn't sit perfectly fit onto the bike frame.

The Sunday before last, my wife went cycling. It was a part of her training in preparation for the 70.3 New Zealand race. You see, I'm racing the Ironman in Taupo, New Zealand on the first weekend of March, and she has decided to come along, although she's only doing the half distance.

She arrived home that day and gave me something in the order of a shock. Her right elbow and right knee were bleeding profusely; her helmet cracked and her cycling jersey was also torn on the elbow. I thought she was knocked down by a car or some other vehicle. But no, according to her, it was merely a pothole which she rode into, which resulted in her losing her balance, which in turn led to her crashing onto the road.

Thankfully, she didn't break any bone, and her bike was also OK except for some minor issues. The first time I raced Ironman New Zealand a few years ago, I was also involved in a bike crash with my friend, Teo a few weeks before the race, as related here. This time, it's her turn. I hope I will escape from any bike accident up to the race day. So anyway, she went to see the doctor for treatment. But as you can probably guess, her wounds would take a bit of time to heal. It really breaks my heart whenever I see my wife in pain, and no matter how hard I try, I can never get used to it!

Then came another Sunday—yesterday. As I was saying, her wounds have not properly healed, but she said she wanted to proceed with her bike training anyway. According to her, she wanted to break the jinx

I have had my bike training the day before on Saturday. So yesterday morning, I slept in. I woke up at about 7am, and then went swimming at 8:30am. But later that morning, I received a call from my wife; and seeing her name on my phone screen, immediately my heart rate shot up through the roof. You see, usually she would only call me when there is something wrong.

The good news was that it wasn't another accident, which was such a huge relief for me. It was just that as she was trying to shift from the big crank to the small one, the chain dropped, and it became lodged in between the crank and the bike frame. Quite a simple problem and quite common too. Firstly, how to prevent the problem; and that is by pedalling SLOWER and not too much force when shifting. Secondly, how to dislodge the chain; and that is by simply using the fingers to pull the chain out, or failing that, simply reverse the direction of the pedal. But no, women, as I was saying, don't have such common sense. So I had to drive about 45 minutes from home to rescue her at Mengkabong Bridge where she was stranded. I spent a jiffy dislodging the chain and then the bike was ready to go again. But by then, she had decided to call it the day. She said she had logged about 75km by then.

So the conclusion of the story was that she DID NOT manage to break the jinx yet. I wonder if she will be successful this coming Sunday. I'm waiting with my fingers crossed...