Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Summary For 2013

It is the time of the year where I will post my last entry before the clock strikes past midnight into the new year.  In the first quarter of the year, I have decided to quit my full time job and go with my passion.  Having crossed half a century mark, it is a risk I must say and I should know better.  I have faced business failures and I won't want to be caught in a tight financial situation again.  Fear not, I told myself.  All I need is to manage my expectation and I should be fine.

I like to organise outdoor events and this is my passion.  It is also my livelihood now.  With times on my side, I have had organised quite a number of cycling and hiking tours in the one year period.  Thanks to Sandy, I am pleased that I have the opportunity to collaborate with Star Cruises where we launched our first ever cruise and cycle tour which brought us to Phuket and Langkawi in October this year.  Following our successive maiden run, our second cruise and cycle program will commence in March next year.  Since beginning of the year, I have been advocating for a major outdoor event, be it a run or cycle event and I hope to get some strong sponsors to realise my ambition.  I will continue to work on it going into 2014.  Fingers crossed for now.      

One of the most meaningful events I helped to organise has to be the "Ride For Rations" fund raising event where we cycled from Malacca to Singapore over 2 days.  I am honoured and pleased to be invited to be the exco member of Bike-Aid Singapore.  Our third edition saw a record number of cyclists and the biggest fund raised for the needy families under Sunlove Home.  Working with great people in Bike-Aid who are volunteers themselves is one enriching experience for me.  I am fortunate to have made acquaintance with them.  It is such a pleasure to see every bit raised that went to a cause.  I am happy to have played a humble part and we have bigger plan for "Ride For Rations" come 2014.

Another meaningful event is our ride in Thailand in Feb this year.  It was a private initiative from a good fellow in Nicky Tay who brought some of us together for the gruelling 3 days ride from Bangkok to Sangkhlaburi in the rugged western region of Thailand near Myanmar.  We raised funds for the home on a private basis.  It was a chanced meeting with Dada (brother) from Baan Dada Home who has to take care of homeless children.  Dada has to feed them, house them, school them and even send some to university.  He has to do everything on his own and I am deeply impressed with his untiring commitments to serve the under-privileged.  He lives a frugal life and he is from the Philippines but yet he is in Thailand helping the children who are mostly from Myanmar.  It is my good fortune to have met Dada in person.  Some of us are getting together in our bid to help Dada in his various fund raising campaigns.  Again, I am honoured to play my part to help Dada and his children within my best ability.

This year has its fair share of negative things that had happened around me but I don't wish to share bad and negative experiences.  Notwithstanding , we must always be positive looking and make the best while we are still living.    

2014 should be another challenging year for me as I continue to follow my heart and seek new developments to spur myself.  Bring it on, 2014!  

An Older View

Note from me: On the eve of the New Year, this contribution is from a good friend of mine who prefers to stay anonymous and I am pleased to post it on my blog. 


A bespectacled old lady walked up to me and thrust a packet of dried herbs under my nose, and without waiting for any response from me, pointed at a date and said, “what’s this?” (in mandarin). In a flash, I looked at what I was wearing – a purple and pink sweater – and wondered if she could have considered me an NTUC staff. “Cannot be what,” I thought to myself. But then since the packet was still under my nose and her forefinger was still poking at “Nov” and she was still asking me, “what’s this ah?” I decided to heck it and told her (in mandarin) that it means the month of November 2014. She didn’t say a word of thanks and just shuffled away.

I also walked on my way but I was surprised at my subsequent thoughts. Initially, I was irritated at such an ungrateful and rude woman. Golly, do such uncouth people still exist ? However, I momentarily realized that she did not understand English and simply needed a stranger’s help. I swear I did not look like a staff member of the supermarket chain. At the least, my hair was in a mess and that would not have been part of the dress code. I figured it cost me nothing to say a few words so what’s the big deal even if she had been ungrateful.

I realized that in my younger days, the situation would have been different. I would probably have helped her too but then also probably grouched about her impoliteness and ill-gratitude for a long time. I think it would have been youthful pride.

These days, as I grow older (and hopefully wiser), I see many things differently. It’s no point “stewing” over such things. I have learnt to accept an imperfect world, because put it simply, I am also not perfect. I have learnt to accept my bodily aches and pains, my oncoming long-sightedness, my declining memory (and declining savings !), my aversion to crowds and my diminishing appetite. But I am being renewed inwardly every day, with new patience, new positivity and a new appreciation for the grace I receive.

For example, someone passed me a couple of clothes so that I could help her give them to Salvation Army. I was a little “kay poh” (dialect for being a busybody) and took them out for a look. Lo and behold, they were as good as new (and very pleasantly scented I must say) ! What’s more I could wear them too ! When I asked my friend for permission to choose some that I liked, she was happy to agree, provided I didn’t mind. Again, in my younger days, I would have turned my nose up at such hand-me-downs. As though I had no money to buy my own ! But these days, I think, why not ? There is nothing wrong, and they were still brand new. So what if they were bound for the coffers of the Salvation Army ? It would actually be Salvation Army’s loss that I “pilfered” the bounty. Have I become a scavenger ? Hardly. I believe I’ve simply grown up and learnt to view the world and the things around me with different lenses.

Sometimes, long-sightedness is good. We see farther ahead and become less focused on the inconsequential things that form the microcosm of our lives. We begrudge less and receive more. Grace upon grace, I hope that my eyes are opened increasingly to the kindness of others, despite the unkind world that we live in. In 2014, I pray that my God will continue to teach me to number my days aright, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.

Happy New Year everyone ! And thanks for listening to my “older view”. Cheers.

The Contributor


Sunday, December 22, 2013

No Place Is Perfect

The recent ‘Little India’ incident is a wake-up call and it shows that we can never take things for granted no matter how secure and safe our city is.  We must always be vigilant and be prepared.  Ours is a not a perfect place, definitely not but I won’t swoop this place with another place in any part of the world.  If I hope to land a perfect place, it can only appear in my dream. 

I remember I was 20 and was serving NS.  We were sent to Australia for a month or so training stint.  That year was 1982.  In between training, we had one day rest & recreation (R&R) in this small town called Rockhampton.  My army buddies and I were happily roaming the town.  We walked past a pub and few white men who had a drink too much suddenly barged out.  We did not even provoke them but they started to call us “names” and even challenged us to a fight.  We were on foreign soil and we were definitely out-numbered.  We just kept quiet, ignored them and walked away.  They did not relent and continued to call us “names” just to provoke us but we just walked away.  This was my first time experiencing racism on a foreign land. 

My second encounter was in Amsterdam, Holland.  I was on a course sent by my company.  That year should be in 1987.  I was checking out the place with a colleague from Korea.  We saw a shop and entered together.  The moment we stepped in, the white owner suddenly barged out from his counter.  He said we smelled like ‘garlic’ and chased us out.  He didn’t care whether we will buy anything at his store.  I was very agitated with his behaviour but my Korean colleague calmly pulled me away.  This is racism at its worse.

The third encounter is not about racism but about safety.  I was in Paris for a holiday and that year was 2010.  I was on the airport subway heading to the city and when my guard was let down for a moment, my haversack comprising my passport, monies, lap top and handphone, among others was snapped away.  I was later guided to the police post at the central train station by a good Samaritans to make a report.  The police tried to contact my embassy for me but could not reach anyone there.  They then gave me the address and I tried to find my way there.  After making many wrong turns despite asking many for direction, it finally took me a hellish 2 hours or so trying to find our embassy.  I was so relieved to find our embassy but the notice that stuck onto the gate mentioned it has shifted to another place.  My heart just dropped.  Gosh, I was given the wrong address by the police.  It took me another frantic hour or so locating our embassy and by then, it was way past office hours.  Fortunately for me, I managed to catch hold of a Singaporean staff who happened to work late and she then helped to email to the immigration headquarter in Singapore for me.  As I needed a police report to file insurance claim back home, I was made to wait at least 2 hours at one of their police stations for a report that took just 15 minutes.  It was to be my first trip to Paris but the entire experience was nightmarish from the moment I touched down the airport.  It is not safe to travel in the subway at all.  It is dirty and ventilation is poor.  The staff at one of the train stations was downright rude when I approached for help.  I cannot imagine staying in this first world city without fearing being mugged. 

Back home, one will never encounter a Malay or an Indian shopkeeper chasing the Chinese out or likewise, just because we are different from them.  I can roam the street without the fear of being robbed.  Our trains can be packed during peak hours but anytime, ours is much much safer and cleaner.  Frankly, I am contented enough and I can’t ask for more.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Should Oppose, Rightly or Wrongly!

I should be among the disgruntled lot but when I dug deeper, I did not.  It was tough growing up in the 60s and 70s with 4 other siblings.  Our parents are illiterate and birth control was never their agenda as we popped up one or two years apart of each other.  I am the second in the family.  We were not taught values from day one as life was a struggle for us.  The neighbourhood we were in was shady where gang fights were norm.  I remember I was bullied by a teenage gangster who threw cigarette into my singlet for no rhyme or reason.  I was about ten then.  That gangster still lives around the neighbourhood but he is an old man now.  I still see him on few occasions.  One can forgive but will never forget.  The flat we were living in was one-hall type with a common corridor shared by all.  Even a fart can be heard from far.  There is no room for privacy, we slept in the hall and sometimes my brothers and I slept in the kitchen.  The block had since been demolished as our country progressed. 

Tried he did, my father could not maintain a regular income to keep us going and my mom had to straddle with few part time jobs.  It was a hard life.  My mother’s focus then was to put food on the table and when the going got tough, she decided to operate a gambling den in our small flat.  She is not a hard core gambler but by allowing our place to operate as a gambling den, she could earn overriding commissions from the gamblers.  It gave decent income by our own standard.  At any one time, there were more than 30 people squeezing in our small flat.  Gambling will start at 1000 am and end at 1000 pm 24/7.  They played black jack game.  The gamblers were some neighbours, manual labourers, gangsters and even housewives, you name it.  They had their lunch, their dinner and sometimes, supper at our house and the game will never stop until very late.  It went on for few years.  No police raided our place, not even once.  I wished they had.  It was stuffy, smoky and ventilation was poor.  Door had to be closed for obvious reasons.  I hated it very much and once tried to stop the gamblers from coming into our house but only to end up with cane marks on most parts of my body save for the face.  Sheepishly, I once swore I wanted to be a policeman to nab all the gamblers but it was a pipe dream.  As expected, our grades were badly affected.  There was no proper place to study at all.  Mixing with bad company was easy but it was the last thing in my mind and so too for my siblings.  The gambling activity ended altogether until I went NS.  By then, my mom realised too late that I am very anti-gambling.  Life got a little better from there on.  However, I find comfort that none of my sibling including me ended up as compulsive gamblers despite the environment we were in.                

This was Singapore in the 60s & 70s.  Had we not progressed and punched above the line in the last few decades, this little red dot will still remain a shady place where corruption is rampant, standard of living is low, education standard is low and worse still, suppressed under “bad governance”.  The progress of our small nation is the marvel of many countries and it does not happen overnight.  Rightly or wrongly, I should oppose the ruling government for the sorry stage I was in.  I did not have the privilege to live in a safe and comfortable environment then.  My parents were poor and we were deprived of many things we could have yearned for.  Common sense prevailed; had the government of the day not recognised that we must forge ahead despite the many uncertainties ahead, do we have a modern Singapore now?  They had the good foresight, the perseverance and painstakingly guided the country to that of a developed nation.  No, I am not an “ungrateful piece of shit” who just enjoys opposing for the sake of opposing.  This is the government I know, from LKY to GCT to present LHL.  It is easy to oppose but I can’t find major faults to oppose.  Our young nation is still very much a work-in-progress which is totally dependent on the outside for its survival.  This is a fast moving world and if we think we have arrived, it will be the day we see us going down the trend.  I can’t thank our government enough for giving us such a safe and nice environment to live in.  March on, Singapore...march on PAP!      

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2013

After our run, me on left, Catherine, Dora, Howie and CK

It is the biggest marathon event in Singapore, probably in the region too.  I first ran my first Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore event (SCMS) in 2007 where I participated in the 10 km run and since then, it has been a yearly ritual for me.  It was my third half marathon run with SCMS.  My first was in 2009 where I clocked 1 hr 56 mins, second was last year where I paced Winnie and this year's run was to be my third.  I did 2 full marathons at SCMS too.  I was hoping to clock my personal best for this event and if possible, go under 1 hour 50 mins - a tall order to say the least.  To prepare for that, I had been doing more runs with my run kakis.    

SCMS 2013 was scheduled on 1 Dec 2013, Sunday and as expected, participants were over 50,000 strong.  The 21 km event attracted 12,000 runners and the flag off was at the bridge that will lead us to Sentosa.  The 21 km route is definitely more interesting than 10 km or 42 km as runners can run into Universal Studios in Sentosa.  If I remember correctly, the route has not been changed since 2009.  I understand from the organisers that all the routes will be changed next year and the finishing point will be at the soon to be ready national stadium in Kallang.  

Jac, CK, Catherine, Dora and her son, Howie and I had arranged to meet at Vivo City this morning at 0600 hrs to take group picture before the run.  As usual, I arrived at our meeting point well before 0530 hrs.  Only CK was there.  It was already past 0600 hrs, I told CK that I will move off first while he waited for the rest to turn up.  I wanted to move as front as possible so that I won't be blocked by slower runners after our flag off.  It was always chock-a-block at the initial stage as the path to Sentosa is quite narrow.

At exactly 0630 hrs, we were flagged off.  It was raining quite heavily the day before and though the ground was still quite wet.  Fortunately rain had already stopped hours before the race.  I had to be careful when overtaking some runners.  The path is quite narrow and it was still quite dark.  I saw a young lady in her cosplay makeover.  She wore a long blonde wig and her dress was almost covering the ground.  This made her run quite cumbersome but she seemed to enjoy it.  I ran past her and then concentrated on my own pace.  I was keeping a good pace at this early juncture, slightly over 5 mins.  We ran into Siloso Beach and heading to Resort World Sentosa (RWS).  The first water station was at 4 km mark and I took a sip and then poured the rest over my head.  We ran into Universal Studios park.  Upon entering, a male caucasian runner pulled out three balls and started juggling while running - much to the delight of the supporters who lined up to root for the runners.  I was equally amused.  The characters and staff were stationed along the park to welcome the runners.  Music was played too and it was inspiring for the runners, I must say.  I didn't stop to take pictures with the cartoon characters but gave hi-5 to some when I ran past them.  When we ran out of RWS, we had already covered more than 10 km.  I was still coping well but it puzzled me this time there were no pacers throughout.  Probably the pacers were assigned for 42 km event.

At the 10 km mark, I took a packet of power gel and downed it with a cup of plain water.  Yes, I needed the power gel to refuel and fortunately, I can get the power gel at the water point.  The route can be quite challenging.  We had to run up a slip road that merges to the main road after exiting Sentosa.  I started to slow down my pace as I was not sure if I can last the final 10 km with a 5 min plus pace. I was still keeping well.  It was a straight run from HarbourFront all the way to City Hall.  Every 2 km, there was water station. The hardest part was the last climb near the 16 km mark.  It was a long straight climb but fortunately for me, I managed to overcome it without stopping.  When we turned to F1 pit building, the final 3 km to the finish, we were joined by the rest of 10 km runners.  There were many runners at that point.  I was still not pushing hard, probably fatigue did seep in on me. I had no idea how fast I had covered as there were no pacers.  I was still hoping to clock a good time.  When I ran past Esplanade, I started to open up my pace.  After a short right turn, it was the final 100 metres dash to the finishing at City Hall.  I looked out the clock above which showed 2 hours and few seconds before running past. I knew I did not manage to slice off my previous best of 1 hr 56 mins.  It was 3 mins off my personal best time.  I clocked 1 hour 59 mins but I am still satisfied with my time.  The weather had been good throughout though it was threatening to rain anytime.

At the finishing with my hard earned medal 

At the finishing, I waited for the rest.  I managed to catch Catherine but missed out CK and Dora who had finished earlier than her.  Howie was still missing when we managed to find each other.  Jaq smsed to inform that she had a bad cramp at 15 km mark and therefore, she will be finishing later.  We finally found Howie and all 5 of us took a short walk to Killiney Cafe at Purvis Street for our breakfast before heading home.  We called Chua who was the only one among us to run the full marathon to check on his whereabouts and he was already on the way home.  He did 4 hours 10 mins for his full marathon, his best time ever.  I did not manage to clock my personal best this time but fret not, I will be back next year to attempt again.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tour de Bintan aka 'Enter The Dragon'

Group picture before rolling off

If I can count correctly, this was to be my 5th cycling trip to Bintan.  After our 'Ride For Rations 2013' cycling event which took us from Malacca to Singapore, our GP Riders captain, Tomas had been asking me to organise a cycling tour to Bintan for our cycling kakis.  So, the date 16 Nov, Saturday was fixed and we were to stay one night at a resort.  I had all along been staying at the idyllic Ocean Bay Resort at Trikora Beach but this time, I decided to change to another resort just for the experience.  Febry who used to work for Ocean Bay but now she is running her own travel company in Batam will be my contact person.

Some of us donning "Ride For Rations 2013" jerseys on day one

We aimed to get 20 cyclists for this cycling tour and this time, we also extended invitation to another cycling group, Hougang Slow Riders (HSR).  Most of the cyclists are regular and many will be bringing their road bikes.  And for many of them, it was to be their first tackling the much talked about 'dragon back' in Bintan but by my reckoning, they should not have any problem completing the 2-day tour on a high.  In my few previous trips, I had some who were not avid cyclists, did not even have their own bikes and they still managed to flash a smile at the end.  Notwithstanding, during the ride they were really struggling with the undulating terrain ahead and admittedly, the punishing weather, it can "make or break" one.  That said, in all my overseas cycling trips, I have always insisted to have support vehicles and this time, it was no exception.

The riders from HSR and on right, Poon (most senior rider in our group), Denise and Robin 

I invited some from my outdoor meet up group, Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers (SANL) to make up the number but on condition, they are able to keep up with the main group and preferably, have a road bike. This trip was not meant for recreational riders.  In the end, I had 24 signed up for it - 20 guys and 4 ladies. The most senior in our group is a gentleman at 65-year old called Poon and another slightly younger one is Low at 63-year old who was the last minute inclusion but they are certainly tough cookies.      

Me and Patrick on day two ride

On 16 Nov morning, everyone had been advised to arrive at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal by 0730 hrs.  Our ferry departure was at 0910 hrs.  Some drove, some cycled and I cycled from my home.  My GP Riders gang drove their cars to Aranda Country Club, picked up their bikes at the bike room and cycled together to the ferry terminal.  The check-in was swift as all the boarding passes and bike tags were prepared for them one day before.

Everyone brought their sleek light road bikes but I brought my heavy mountain bike.  I had intended to cover the rear and to provide first aid assistance, where needed and therefore, a mountain bike can slow me down considerably.

On our arrival in Bintan, our bikes were picked up after customs clearance and everyone was ushered to the open compound to prepare for the ride.  Febry and their support crew were on hand to give directions.  I made a brief introduction of Febry to all, gave a final briefing to all and we were ready to roll off.  Febry will lead the front with her SUV vehicle and a mini coach will cover the rear.  The weather was hot on day one. Almost immediately everyone rode off on quite a fast pace.  The vast compound within the Bintan restricted zone is quite undulating and covers more than 10 km to the security gate.  Zorom was just ahead of me while the rest had surged ahead and I can see that he had some difficulty climbing up the slopes.  I told him to take it easy and not to over stress himself.  He felt bad to have held up the whole group but I assured him it was alright.  At this early juncture, he felt slight pain on his left leg which had been injured before.  He decided not to cycle after our first break, so as not to aggravate his old injury.  His girlfriend Angella has improved vastly. Just a year ago, she was a novice cyclist but this time, she was able to keep pace with the front cyclists.  She had the music turned on while cycling and this fondly reminded me of my late friend, George who used to do likewise.

Rolling off to Trikora Beach from ferry terminal  

After lunch, I informed the group that the real challenge will come for they will have to face the Bintan dragon's back.  The weather did not seem to relent anytime and the lack of trees on the long stretch of road only made it even hotter.  The road is nicely paved, thanks to the recently concluded 'Tour de Bintan' event and there were not many vehicles which made cycling such a breeze save for the weather.

Low, our second most senior cyclist who is going strong 

The distance from the ferry terminal to Cabana Resort where we were to be accommodated is about 60 km and by 1400 hrs, all of us had arrived.  Tomas, Richard and some wanted to clock more and after our check-in, they continued on.  I did not follow but stayed back to mingle with HSR cyclists who stayed back. Some took to the pool while some just relaxed around.  The resort is nice and the rooms are comfortable.  It was full as there was a big church group from Singapore.  Tomas and the gang finally arrived back from their extended ride and immediately, they jumped to the pool to cool down.  It was quite a funny sight to see a pastor baptizing people who were fully submerged into the water from across the other end of the pool while our people was frolicking around on one end.  I jokingly told them they were all baptized already.

Breakfast on day two before rolling off

Dinner was served at 1930 hrs.  It was an elongated setting with rectangular tables joined to sit 24 of us.  It was seafood meal for us.  The food was alright but I still prefer the home-styled cooking at Ocean Bay Resort though.  After dinner, some adjoined for karaoke session while some including me retired to bed early.    

Group picture at the resort before rolling off on day two

It was still raining quite heavily when we woke up the following morning.  We were to ride off at about 0900 hrs.  The rain turned to light drizzling, probably it heard our call for it to stop or maybe, just maybe, the church group sent a prayer for us.  At about 0900 hrs and after completing our check-out, we were ready to roll off again.  The distance to the ferry terminal is slightly longer but less undulating.  The weather was cool and there was hardly any traffic at that hour.

Denise, Dan and Amy

Due to the faster pace, we reached our usual lunch stop very early, well before 1100 hrs.  Even Zorom was in fine form.  After a short rest, we decided to have our lunch at another stop.  It was still drizzling but the weather was cool throughout and we cannot complain more.  Our lunch stop was just outside the compound of the security gate to the Bintan Resorts compound.  We had our lunch which was already prepared for us by Febry and as usual, some ordered beer and more beer.  As it was still early to our ferry departure which was at 1635 hrs, we decided to stop at Pasar Ole-Ole for more drinks and food.  Only Patrick from HSR had a good one hour massage while the rest waited for him.  We had more than an hour rest at Pasar Ole-Ole.  I went off earlier to the ferry terminal to prepare the boarding passes and bike tags.  When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we bade farewell to Febry and her support crew.  The ferry left as scheduled and by 1730 hrs, we were already in Singapore.

AJ "molested" by Denise in full view of all

It was an enjoyable trip and everyone mixed well with one and another.  There were a lot of laughter and even Angella, Jaq and Zorom who met the rest for the first time in this trip mingled well too.  Three cheers to all...hip, hip, hip, hooray (3x)!          

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Leisure Ride to Kota Tinggi

                                                          Group photo at the resort

This capped another fun-filled weekend cycling event with a group of gregarious outdoor seekers on 9 Nov, Saturday- all 13 of us. We were to meet at Outram MRT station for our coach and prior to that, everyone had been informed to arrive by 0630 hrs.  Only Elaine will meet the rest of us at Woodlands Immigration.  I managed to arrange with my operator, Prima Sierra Holidays to rent bikes for some of us, thus saving the hassle of bringing their own bikes over from Singapore and in the end, only seven brought their own bikes.  We left for Woodlands at little over 0700 hrs.

The familiar faces in the group were Kevin, Jai, Elaine, Richard, Fenny and Karyn.  It was my first time meeting up with Jen who brought her friend, Cara, Sebestian, Vee Lee, Ashish and Liz but very quickly, everyone warmed up to each other.

                                                                  Rented bikes ready

It was still early when we arrived at Woodlands check-point and the causeway was not that packed but it was building up slowly though.  Immigration and customs clearance at both sides were swift and soon we were on the way to Kulai town where we were to commence our ride.  The ride to Kulai was about 45 mins and it was about 0900 hrs when we arrived.  We had our breakfast at a local eatery.

At about 1000 hrs, we stopped at a less busy road to begin our ride.  The rented bikes were transported by the support vehicle.  The bikes are mountain bike type and are completely new.  Five brought their sleek foldies.  As usual, Kevin brought his ever trusted 'Birdy'.  Jai who now sports a fitter and leaner body has his 'Dahon' which he brought online.  I did not bring my bike, preferring to use the rented bike for convenience sake.

                                                           Briefing before rolling off

Before setting off, I made a briefing to the group.  The distance from Kulai to Kota Rainforest Resort in Kota Tinggi where we will be accommodated is about 40 km.  I did tell the group that the route is mostly flat but admittedly, it is not that flat.  It is fairly rolling but definitely not like Bintan or Batam.  It is a two lane straight road on either side and traffic on that Saturday morning was a tad heavier than I would have expected.  I can't stop reiterating to the group to keep to left at all times.  After checking our bikes and we were ready to roll off.  

The weather has been unpredictable of late and I had a hunch that it would rain.  I was wrong.  The sun was looming above us and it was hot.  I was covering the rear while Henry who was in control of the Hi-Lux support vehicle will lead the front.  Sometimes, he would drive back to check on some of us at the rear.

Fenny had some difficulty controlling the bike.  She has the tendency to sway left and right.  Soon, she was lagging far behind from the rest.  I was passing instructions to her when she could not engage her gears properly especially cycling up the slope.  By my reckoning, she cycled for about 20 km before calling it quit.  She then joined Henry on the support vehicle throughout the journey.

                                                                       Along the way

Liz was with me at the rear.  Kevin slowed down to join us too while the rest was ahead.  I spotted a lizard monitor on the side of the road and when I cycled nearer, it did not look to be dead but simply not moving.  The position seemed to suggest this lizard was making a cross to the other side.  Cars would have made a 'pancake' out of this lizard if it did not move out sooner.  I avoided the lizard and moved on.

The weather was getting hot and Liz did not carry water with her.  Her rented bike does not have the holder and so too for me.  I was also thirsty.  I tried to call Henry to drive back so that we can have the cold water but he did not answer his phone.  Fortunately for us, we found a small food stall at a short distance away.  Kevin and Liz happily ordered a bowl of 'kampung-style' ice kachang but knowing too well that I have weak stomach, I chose to drink from the can.  We were not far from Kota Rainforest Resort.  We resumed our ride and arrived at the resort past 1300 hrs.  Liz heaved a big relief as she had wanted to hop on the support vehicle at some point but she preserved on - good for her.

Lunch was ready for us at the resort and after that, we checked-in to our rooms.  Kota Rainforest Resort has a big compound and the setting is very eco-friendly amidst the greenery.  There are some outdoor activities like rock climbing, paint ball and flying fox, among others.  We were the only group but I was told that a corporate group had just checked out before our arrival.  It is an ideal place for team building, given its varied activities within its compound.

                                                                     At the waterfall

I gave three options to the group.  First option was that we will cycle to Kota Tinggi waterfall which is about 3 km away and cycle back.  But it is quite steep and likely to pose a challenge to some not that strong cyclists.  Second option was to take a coach to the waterfall and bike back.  Reason being on the way back it is down slope all the way to our resort but there are some risks if some are not able to handle the bikes well.  Finally, we decided to take the coach and return with the coach.  We had a leisure afternoon at the waterfall.  For Ashish, Sebastien, Karyn and Vee Lee, they continued to swim at the pool at the resort after our return from the waterfall.  There is a man-made waterfall at the resort pool...still a waterfall.

Balancing Act

BBQ dinner was arranged for us and it was good.  It was during dinner Jai mentioned about cycling over a monitor lizard.  He said he was distracted by Richard who was talking to him and before he could react, he realised he had cycled over that poor monitor lizard.  It remained stationary.  Those who were cycling behind Jai saw that lizard and now we learnt Jai was the main culprit.  From that moment on, monitor lizard became the hot topic.  I even teased Jai that the monitor lizard will appear before him in his dream.  It will be his nemesis.

After our dinner, we went to Kota Tinggi town for firefly tour.  This was my third or fourth firefly trip but for many in the group, it was to be their first time.  Coincidentally, the boatman not only showed us the fireflies that lit up like Christmas, he shone his torch on some trees where monitor lizards and monkeys rest.  Yes, the monitor lizard saga continued at the firefly tour and we took jibes at Jai.  This was my first time that this particular boatman showed us the monitor lizards and I thought it was quite funny.  The boat ride last about an hour.  After that, we were combing part of the town and settled for deserts at an eatery before heading back.

                                                       Dinner at Orang Asli Restaurant                                                              
The second day ride was short, just over 10 km to the town from our resort.  Some were doing rock climbing while others explored around the vast compound.  We checked-out at 1100 hrs and ready to roll off to town for lunch at a local restaurant.  After lunch, we loaded up our bikes and proceeded to the shopping mall at Bukit Indah.  Some went for a soothing massage while some went for hair cut, it was our own leisure at the mall.  I chose to hang around.  Before heading home, we had early dinner at Orang Asli Restaurant in Perlin.  There was no heavy jam at the causeway on either side and we soon arrived at Outram MRT station.  It was a fun-filled leisure weekend outing with good company which I truly enjoyed.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Deepavali Gathering

John (in forefront) took this picture when we were taking our lunch

We were classmates at MacPherson Secondary School from 1977 to 1978.  Looking back, it has been more than 30 years and time really flies.  We are now in our early 50s.  Lucian (Tong Hai, always on the plump side and still is) and Don (Teck King aka Johnny Walker) and I used to meet up at Alan's (Mong Kwang) place on every Chinese New Year.  It has become a ritual of sorts to us for good many years after leaving school.  Alan used to live at Haig Road, moved to Bedok and finally Pasir Ris when he settled down.  We were always there on Chinese New Year until the recent years.

I have lost contact with Ragu until we are connected some years ago.  Through Ragu, I managed to get re-connected with our form teacher, Mr Samuel, who unfortunately passed away last year.  John (Joo Chai), our class monitor lives near me and we have always been in touch.

Then, there is Daniel (Wing Keong) whom I met by chance at the hawker centre near my house recently and got his contact.  I have not met Daniel for some 20 years and for the rest like Lucian, Ragu, Teck King and John, at least 30 years or more.  We have all upgraded to 'uncle' level.    

When Ragu invited us for Deepavali on 2 Nov, Saturday at his place in Pasir Ris, I managed to round them up for old time sake especially for Daniel.  Ragu ran a fever and complained of swollen right leg but despite his not so good health that day, he did not cancel the gathering.  Alan is closer to Don as both served the Navy together and he lives in Pasir Ris but he was conspicuously absent.  Don did inform him of the gathering but received no confirmation whether he will be coming - radio silent.  This has been very typical of Alan in recent years for reasons he knows best.  Calls and SMS made to him were mostly not answered.

We had good chat at Ragu's place and his lovely wife is a good cook.  I really enjoyed her mutton dish.  We talked about the good old days at school, family, the sorry state of Mr Samuel in his later years and his abrupt demise and for Lucian, his favourite topic...bashing of PAP policies, among other things.  Don brought along his young PRC wife and perhaps of the generation gap with us, she kept mostly to herself.

We ended our gathering with a visit to the late Mr Samuel's place which is next block to Ragu.  It has been vacant since his passing and it is just a matter of time before HDB take over the house.  Mr Samuel has left behind hundreds of books and we are still exploring how best to dispose all his books for a better cause.

It has been a good gathering with old classmates and we are hoping to get re-connected with more of our long lost classmates in our next get-together and with their grandchildren in tow perhaps.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Star Cruises' Inaugural Cruise Cycle Expedition

Group Pic at Langkawi Port

I have to admit being active on social media platform like Facebook does help me to secure collaboration of sorts with Star Cruises when they were planning to launch their first ever 'Cruise and Cycle' program.  Their VP (Sales), Sandy is on my FB's friend list and she has been reading many of our outdoor events organised by me.  This impression has somehow been 'imprinted' on her mind I think and she told me the first person she thought of to get this started was me.  Of course, I do feel honoured and I told myself I cannot disappoint.  This was where we got started which was sometime in June this year.  I then roped in Pek Ya to co-partner me.  Pek Ya is a professional coach whereas I see myself more an event organiser and together, we can have much synergy tapping on each other strength.  After our preliminary discussion and on 30 June this year we went on a familiarisation cruise onboard Superstar Virgo to Phuket and Langkawi.  Everything began to evolve.  Xue Jing, their marketing manager was our main contact person and she was instrumental in getting everything up and running.

We targeted the month of August to launch the program, just in time for the NATAS Travel Fair.  The scheduled departure was on 6 Oct till 9 Oct 2013.  It was a hefty 50% discount starting at S$562 nett per person.  One can cruise for 4 days and 3 nights onboard Superstar Virgo where accommodation and meals are included, get to cycle in two exotic destinations in Phuket and Langkawi with support vehicle and for the cyclists, a specially designed Star Cruises' cycling jersey too.  We even designed completion certificate at the end of the tour and it was signed & presented by the Master of the vessel to all the cyclists.  Where to find such good deal, really?  I put up the inaugural cycling program on few cycling platforms.  Almost immediately, I received very good response.  However, some administrators took down my program citing no commercial stuff allowed and I can understand that.  I also launched on two meet up sites, SANL and SOS to cast the net wider.  This was not meant to be a race event, it was designed for recreational cyclists and this should attract, given its 'super duper' offer.

Some of my regular run kakis immediately signed up, the likes of Dora, CK and Long Chua (but the latter had to cancel at last hour due to compassionate reason).  Kevin Soh, that 'part time doctor but 'full time adventure seeker' kaki of mine could not join as much as he would like to - he had already planned to spend holiday in Korea with his family, just too bad.  It was a combined marketing effort with Pek Ya and Star Cruises and in the end, we managed to garner 35 motley group of people including some non-cyclists and media for the inaugural cruise cycle event.  If this happened to be a weekend event, there will be even more signing up. Good number to start with considering it was over a weekday period and many had to apply leave.

On 6 Oct, Sunday we were to meet at Singapore Cruise Centre by 1100 hours.  Well before 1100 hours, before even Superstar Virgo could be seen alongside at the wharf, some of us had already arrived.  I reached early too, at about 1030 hrs.  When Star Cruises embarkation team finally arrived at 1130 hours, our bikes were swiftly tagged and transferred to the ship.  The whole check-in process was over very quickly.  Xue Jing and her colleagues had prepared all our boarding passes, programs and bike tags well in advance.
Receiving my completion certificate from the Master of the vessel

I was given a cabin with balcony on the 11th deck, same too for Pek Ya.  First thing first, we organised a briefing at Celebrity Lounge.  For many, I was meeting them for the first time.  After an introduction of myself and my partner, Pek Ya I went through the slides with them which were shown on the big screen. Safety is the number priority in the briefing and it was reiterated time and again.  Pek Ya covered the area on training and Xue Jing on ship's activities and amenities.  It was a good briefing and everyone was well informed.  Laughter, giggling can be heard even though many met for the first time.  Everyone  had already started to warm up to each other and my gut feel immediately told me it will be fun for the next 4 days.    

Briefing at Celebrity Lounge

Our first ride was to commence in Phuket in the evening on our second day on 7 Oct.  In the morning while still cruising, some of us had a training circuit with coach Pek Ya at the gym.  We did quite a fair bit of stretching exercise.  I realised later the ache on my thighs was not the result of our cycling in Phuket but from the body conditioning class.

Break During Phuket Ride

The route for our Phuket ride was about 40 km only.  At 1830 hrs, we assembled at the 4th deck at mid ship.  The cyclists were accorded priority in embarkation just like VIPs.  At about 1900 hrs, the ship was cleared by the authority and we then moved out to the wharf side.  Our bikes were offloaded from the another side.  It was still bright when we disembarked but very quickly, it turned dark.  We had to wait a while to collect our bikes which were already brought out pending customs clearance.  I had a quick chat with the guide, to ascertain on the route and the stops along the way.  Xue Jin and her colleague, Nathaniel will be with the support vehicle.  Each of us carried a walkie-talkie for ease of communication.  Pek Ya will be somewhere in front while I will cover the back.  I had my first aid with me.

It was already dark when we were about to set off sometime after 1900 hrs (I didn't check my watch).  A reminder to all to tag closer and to ride safe and off we went with the front vehicle leading the way.  One final count, we had 29 cyclists and raring to go.  The street lights in Phuket are not that bright.  Where we started at the south eastern side of the island, we cycled to the direction of the west side.  It was not that hilly but we had to cycle past town where traffic was a little heavy.  As arranged with the guide, we will not have any break until we reach our 20 km which was out mid point at Karon Park.  During the ride, the front pack soon broke away from the mid and rear cyclists.  I tried to communicate with Xue Jin in the support vehicle on my walkie in bid to inform them to stop or slow down for the rest to catch up but my walkie simply went kaput.  Rain then started and some cyclists stopped to wear their raincoats.  However, the rain was intermittent.  It came, stopped and resumed again.  Alas, my gamin failed on me.  I could not read the distance we had covered so far and I can only guess from there on.  The road is one way up and the other way down.  There were cars and motor bikes on either side of the road but the Thai motorists are not driving fast and they always give way to cyclists.  As the front and back were separated by a wide margin, the front cyclists led by a front vehicle made a right turn while the middle pack (some 14 of them) went straight.  I was at the rear with 4 others.  We saw the mid pack going straight instead of turning left but we could not shout out to them.  Fortunately, we had a third back up vehicle with us at the rear.  I then asked the third back up vehicle to intercept them.  

Rain came, stopped and came again.  I was just in front of my friend, Jimmy who has not been cycling for many years.  He has just taken up cycling as a hobby.  He was slow but definitely not stopping.  I could see he was struggling but he simply pressed on.  When we reached the Karon Park, the front cyclist were already waiting for us.  The middle pack of 14 cyclists that went the wrong way were on the way to meet us.  Xue Jing received a sms from ship informing one of our cyclists, Elaine was left behind.  It puzzled me why she could miss us when we were covering the rear at very slow pace.  She claimed she stopped to wear her rain coat and the next moment, she saw those in front cycled off, she then lost sight of them all.  By then, the mid pack re-joined us and we cycled a short distance to a resort to meet Elaine who was separately picked up by one of our support vehicles.  We had coconuts at the resort before resuming our cycle back to the port.  After some initial hiccups, we had better understanding and everyone kept to a steady pace on the return leg.  My walkie-talkie was working fine by then which allowed me to communicate with the support vehicle in front.  It was an easy ride back.  We reached the port well before 2300 hrs.  

Body Conditioning Class With Coach Pek Ya

The next morning, 8 Oct some of us went to the gym to go through the training circuit with Pek Ya before our second and final ride in Langkawi later.  At 1030 hrs, we assembled at our usual meet up place.  Everyone had been informed to don the 'Star Cruises' jerseys.  We were to take a group picture at the wharf side before and after our ride.  The distance for Langkawi was slight over 60 km.  When ship pulled alongside at 1100 hrs, we were out immediately and our bikes too.  I was introduced to the guide by Xue Jing.  I told him to stop at every 15 km so that all the cyclists can re-group before resuming.  We had only one vehicle which will take the lead in front while I covered the rear.  With better understanding, Pek Ya and some stronger cyclists helped to do ushering at every turn.  The scenery in Langkawi is nice and the weather was not that hot though at some point it threatened to rain.  We cycled past rustic villages and padi-fields with the mountain range looming large.  We were cycling in one single file and the gap between between the front and back was not too far apart.  A motorist appeared and abruptly swerved to his left which hit one of our cyclists.  Fortunately for KS who was hit by the motorist, he suffered only superficial cuts on left his leg.  He did complain pain in his rib region but it did not suggest any fracture.  I bandaged him up and he continued on.  We did not even want to make an issue with the motorist even though he was in the wrong, knowing too well we were on foreign land.

Break During Langkawi Ride

We reached the lunch point at about 35 km mark.  Probably due to our group size, the food vendors could not cope up with our orders and it took quite a while before everyone could finish up their lunch.  By then, it was already 1430 hrs and we should be back to the port by 1600 hrs.  With more than 30 km to cover, it seemed to be quite a tall order but I expected us to arrive a little late.  I prompted Xue Jing so that she could liaise with the ship in event we were running very late.  One final check and we set off at about 1445 hrs.
We made one more stop for refreshment before heading all the way to the port.  The terrain is somewhat rolling at some parts especially the last slope near the port.  Again, Jimmy was in front of me while the rest pressed ahead.  He was managing well but when it came to slope, he just pushed his bike.  Probably he is a novice rider.  He was concentrating too much on managing his bike that his vision was compromised.  He could not see the front riders making the turn but just rode straight.  I was behind so I managed to shout at him to stop.  We had a good laugh when we described the scenario to him while back onboard.

Waiting Before Disembarking At Langkawi Port
It was near 1700 hrs when we were about to reach the Langkawi port.  When I reached the wharf, Dora told me that Joyce had a nasty fall near the entrance.  I saw the swell on Joyce's left arm.  She hit the hump that threw her off her bike and she landed on her elbow, ouch!.  She was immediately attended to by the ship's doctor.  Well, sometimes we can't avoid accidents in outdoor activities but most importantly, we have to take safety precautions and to be better prepared.  

Cycling in Langkawi

That same evening, a gala dinner was arranged for us.  Everyone was presented with a nicely designed completion certificate by the master of the vessel during gala dinner.  We felt like a champion.  Later in the evening, a fun and game program was specially arranged for us.  We had plenty of laughter.  Some stayed on for supper while I went back to my cabin to give a good rest.

At Phuket Port

There was a debrief with the rest of the cyclists on our last day (9 Oct) and overall general feedback was good.  When ship docked at Singapore Cruise Centre at about 1500 hrs, we bade farewell to each other.  I truly enjoyed this outing, made new friends and looking forward to another cycling expedition with the rest again.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ride For Rations 2013 (14 to 15 Sep 2013)

Our 'Ride For Rations 2013' (14 to 15 Sep 2013) may have ended on the high following our recent 'post-ride thank you' dinner get-together at Aranda Country Club.  While our adrenalin rush has yet to fade away anytime soon, ambitious plan is already underway for 2014.  This is our third consecutive year organised by Bike-Aid Singapore where 'Ride For Rations' remains symbolic and indeed, I am honoured to be part of the organising committee for this year.  This fund raising cycling project attracted some 140 participants with more than 100 cyclists and the rest providing vital support along the cycling route.  Thanks to many supporters, the event received overwhelming support from many private organisations.  Many cyclists who joined in the last two years signed up again and there were even more who joined for the first time when they heard about the event through word-of-mouth and social media platforms.  This year recorded the highest number of cyclists and supporters.    

All cyclists were required to cycle from Malacca to Singapore with a night stopover in Batu Pahat covering a distance of some 250 km.  Cyclists and supporters needed to pay S$250 each to cover 2 nights accommodation (Malacca and Batu Pahat), one way coach transfer to Malacca, meals, isotonic drinks & mineral water and fruits.  Above that, each cyclist had to raise a minimum sum of S$500 from friends, relatives and colleagues.  All proceeds are meant for Sunlove Home.  Following our successes in 2011 & 2012, our organising committee was quiet confident that 2013 should do much better and therefore, gamely upped the ante to S$220,000 in raised funds for Sunlove Home.                

Video Montage of Ride For Rations 2014, courtesy of my buddy, Kevin Soh

On 13 Sep, Friday we were ready to set off by coaches for Malacca.  There were two pick up venues, two coaches leaving from Pasir Ris near Aranda Country Club at 1000 hrs & one at 1200 hrs and one coach lws by me leaving at West Coast Plaza at 1000 hrs.  Support crew and some advance party drove up on own.  Our first night in Malacca was spent at Hatten Hotel.  

Almost all my regular cycling kakis from GP Riders including my regular run kakis participated and we were joined by other social cycling groups such as Hougang Super Slow Riders and EZY Riders, among others.  Shoeb, our Bike-Aid President and organising committee Chairman who had been providing support in the last two years joined as cyclist this time around.  I believe he had the permission to ride from his equally spirited and supportive wife, Shireen.      

Day one ride from Malacca to Batu Pahat covered a distance of a little over 100 km but everyone had to contend with the hot weather.  After a short speech by Shoeb at the entrance of Hatten Hotel, we were flagged off in batches at about 0800 hrs.  By 1600 hrs, the last group of cyclists made it to Pine Hotel in Batu Pahat where we were to spend a night.  Everyone made it safely and that was key.  Dinner was then arranged at the hotel and a surprise birthday celebration was thrown in for those who are born in the month of September.  

On day two ride, it was raining quite heavily early in the morning in Batu Pahat followed by some flashes of lightning which somewhat marred our plan to set-off early.  Finally, we started more than half an hour late under the rain.  Some part of the roads were quickly flooded which made cycling quite a treacherous affair.  Second day of ride is always more challenging, given the longer distance of more than 140 km to be covered.  The rain was a blessing and it began to fizzle down as we cycled south.  The weather was fairly cool throughout.  No one suffered from heat exhaustion saved for day one.    

As always, the most challenging part was the crossing from Pekan Nanas town to Singapore after our lunch.  We had to cycle alongside the heavy traffic which can filter from either side at some points especially in Skudai.  Therefore, we had to group the cyclists before despatching them off.  I led a group of 21 of cyclists and with my buddy, Chua providing the vehicle support in front, I felt assured.  Admittedly, I heaved a big sigh of relief when we finally touched home in Marsiling.  

The two days ride ended with everyone safely accounted for, no major hiccups along the way and best of all, we received a total contribution of more than S$225,000 from the combined effort of everyone and contributions continue to pour in to these days.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

My Form Teacher, Generous To a Fault

Mr Samuel was my form teacher when I was in secondary three and he taught us English and Commerce for two years.  That year was 1977.  He was a big man who sported a thick moustache that curled on both ends.  To start with, we were not brilliant students and most of us come from dialect speaking families.  Half the time during his lesson I had some difficulty understanding him.  He hailed from Sri Lanka but educated in Malaysia.  He spoke quite fast and with some Indian slang.  Sheepishly, his lesson was quite boring.

What was unique of Mr Samuel?  He was the most generous of teacher that I have ever met.  Many of us were poor.  Our parents cannot afford any form of luxury other than sending us to school.  We had just formed our class football team to compete in the school championship and we were excited about it.  I used to idolise the legendary Kevin Keegan and so much so I earned a nickname from my classmates who called me 'Ah Gan' (Keegan for short).  We wanted to get jerseys for our team but alas, the school did not have any budget for that.  We had to foot it ourselves.  When Mr Samuel knew that we wanted jerseys for our football team, he did not hesitate to pay for us from his own pocket.  The design of our jerseys mimicked one of the English Division One football teams (before it was re-named to Premier League many years later).  If I remember well, it was the QPR team design.  Our jersey colour was bright orange which had black and white stripess running on both sides in front.  We held our heads high when we paraded our jerseys on the field.  We had the best jerseys on the field.  We were one of the favourite teams as we had few school players with us but nice jerseys aside, we were knocked out early.  Hurt pride was all we had.  If any, I was just an average football player with big dream though.

Mr Samuel passed away early last year.  He was always too careless with his money.  The friends around him knew him too well.  He was once cheated of his hard earned pension monies by a teaching friend of his which left him struggling with his daily life.  Immediately after his sudden passing, some scheming friends even took advantage of the situation.  Mr Samuel was never married and he had an aged elder sister (who died some months after him) leaving in Kuala Lumpur.  His sister was a widow and childless.  They only had each other.  One in Singapore and another in Kuala Lumpur.  She was unable to care for herself and was suffering from severe dementia.  While she was barely alive, his scheming friends seized the opportunity to sell her house in Kuala Lumpur by forcing her to appoint one of them as trustee.  One I was told was his former teacher in his 80s.  The house was quickly sold, proceeds went to them and subsequently she died too.  I guess such thing will only happen in Malaysia when one who was never related can manage to doctor some documents and then got the house sold without the consent of the rightful owner.  I will talk more about this sad event separately.

His big generosity has proven to be his Achilles heel, sad to say.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Computerised Check-In vs Manual Check-In

I am born in the 'dinosaurs' era and the word, 'computer' was not found in any dictionary yet.  In the 80s, I was already fascinated with fax machine when it was introduced.  I was wondering how could a whole text be transmitted over and via a telephone line.  It was simply magical.  

I started work at Changi Airport in 1982 handling passenger check-in, arrival & departure and manifestations.  Computerisation for check-in at airport was already put in place but not for the company that I worked for.  We were still doing manual check-in for passengers.  Imagine a Boeing 747 full flight which can carry more than 300 passengers, we had to type the name of all the passengers on a passenger manifest which will be used for our check-in at the counters.  If we had 6 check-in staff, we had to print more than 6 sets of passenger manifests.  Preparation works prior to each departure were normally done a day before.  Frankly, typical human error such as missing out a booked passenger or typing a wrong name was inevitable.  When the counters were closed half an hour prior to departure, this was where tension was at its highest.  In that short half an hour, a person will have to record all the names of the checked-in passengers, their nationalities, the total number of bags and weights while another person will rush over to print out the passenger manifests.  Printing was not done by photocopier machine but on a noisy printing machine which may tear the paper apart if placed wrongly.  Weight had to be calculated manually and indicated on the loadsheet for the captain.  It was always a mad rush in that short half an hour after counter closure.  Sometimes, it can't be helped when a passenger turned up late and insisted to be check-in.

When computerised system was finally introduced, margin for error was definitely minimised and workflow greatly improved.  I joined KLM in 1985 and the check-in function was handled by our ground handling agent, CIAS.  On one fateful flight, their newly installed computerised check-in system suddenly went kaput.  Everything had to be halted while waiting for the system to be up and running.  The breakdown continued on and we then decided to fall back on manual check-in to avoid further delay to the flight departure.  Most of the check-in personnel were never trained in manual check-in.  They were so used to computerised check-in.  Queue was getting longer and longer and passengers were getting irritated.  I then decided to take over the check-in functions from our ground handling staff.  Fortunately for me and some of our older colleagues, we belong to the 'dinosaurs' era and we definitely saved the day.  Manual check-in is 100% fool proof and best of all, we do not have to worry about breakdown.  One up to manual check-in and the rest is history.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Another Check-In Encounter @ Changi Airport

This is another encounter when I was with KLM in the late 80s.  I was supervising at the check-in counter which was handled by our ground handling agent, CIAS.  It was another of our usual evening departure to Europe via Amsterdam.  I noticed a check-in staff was taking longer than usual to check on a passport, she was flipping from page to page.  I then walked over to see if I can be of any help.  At the check-in counter, the staff must ensure validity of our passenger's passport must be more than six months to expiry and depending on his final destination, we have to check for the visa too.  In those days, we have to refer to our hard manual if we are not sure if some nationals need visa for the country they are visiting.  Human error is inevitable.  Failure to check all these will sometimes land the airline into trouble with the authority concerned.  It is therefore safe to say that some authorities will simply push the problem back to the airline, sometimes even fined the airline for its lapses.  During my 5 years with KLM, I witnessed just too many times.  The airline usually ended up with the shorter end of the pole, whereas the people with the stamp of authority are always 'deemed to be right' - rather unfortunate to say.

The passport belonged to this Caucasian male passenger.  The check-in staff was looking for the passport expiry but just couldn't find it anywhere.  I then took over, hoping to find the expiry too.  We flipped from front to back, back to front and to no avail.  Everything was printed in French.  Normally, even French passport will have some English words especially on the validity column but this particular one was extraordinary, not a word in English for our comprehension.  Finally, the passenger got agitated.  He asked what were we checking for and I replied we needed to know his passport expiry date.  He shot back saying, "Didn't you guys go to school?", assuming we should know French language from onset.  I did not pause a second to give him back.  I said, "Sir, we don't go to school to learn French, we study English and if we cannot be sure about your passport expiry, we will not be able to process your boarding pass."  Reluctantly, he flipped on the page which showed the passport expiry in French and he had to translate for us too.  Satisfied, we then proceeded with the check-in.  Thank you for flying with KLM.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mount Kinabalu Trek 2013

Somewhere near the rest house on the way up, it was more than 3,000 metres high

It is my fourth consecutive climb to Mt Kinabalu climb and barring any unforeseeable, I should be doing my fifth climb next year.  I do not organise many trekking events but Mt Kinabalu is always close to my heart.  It has been an annual ritual of sorts to pay homage, something words can't describe.  Last year, I led a group of 20 and this year, I had 14 comprising a motley group of outdoor enthusiasts, eight men and six ladies from The Philippines, Myanmar, Belgium, India and Singapore.  The oldest member is close to 60, Jimmy who is a friend of mine and he is joining me for the first time.  I must admit the ladies were surprised when they learnt of his age.  Further, he does not look anywhere near 60 age range, one even guessed he is in his 30s.  He even proved that look age aside, he has the fitness and physical strength to reach the summit.  I am impressed, I must say.  Months prior to the trip, some of us did organise a weekly step training at one of the 40-storey flats in Toa Payoh and a 2-round trek up Gunung Pulai in Pontian.  On whole, I was confident this group will do well.                

These ladies were among the first to reach Timpohon Gate after a successive climb

Though it was my fourth climb but each experience is always different.  I developed acute mountain sickness (AMS) in my first climb in 2010, was ill-prepared for that then but with much perseverance, I barely made it to the summit.  The weather is always unpredictable at that high altitude, fine one moment but totally disastrous the next.  We must always prepare well if we do not wish to be caught 'unprepared'.

Our departure was on 2 August by AirAsia from Singapore and it was a late afternoon flight at 1740 hrs.  Our arrival will be late at 2000 hrs and we will have some two hours coach ride to the national park for a night stay at the resort.  13 of us left on the same flight.  Only Jonathan had arrived one day earlier.  Our arrival was on time and very quickly, we cleared the immigration and customs to be met on arrival by our guide from Borneo Trails, Ryan.  A late dinner in Kota Kinabalu town was arranged for us before we set off for the national park.  After our last minute shopping at the kiosk nearby, we were ready to move on.

It was past 2300 hrs when we finally arrived at our resort for the night.  The weather was cold though it was not raining.  Soon, I released the seven keys to everyone.  Milan shared the room with me.  It was too cold to take a bath even though there is water heater.  After brushing my teeth, I went to bed immediately.  I needed as much rest for the climb the next morning.

At 0700 hrs, we were ready to check-out and headed for breakfast at the restaurant near the national park office.  It was cold at about 1,500 metres high.  Three mountain guides were introduced to us.  They are young lads, 19 to 20 years old but they can only speak halting English.  Majority in the group do not need porter service, even for some of the ladies.  They will carry their own load up.  In the midst of arrangement, I realised one member wanted to pass a 1.5 litre of mineral water to the porter to be brought up to the rest house.  No offence to him, I questioned his wisdom.  Why would he want to bring up that extra bottle of 1.5 litre of water when he can top up as much water as he want at the rest house?  Further, he had his own 1.5 litre of water with him which was more than enough.  That bottle of water costs RM1.50 which weighs about 1 kg and the porter will charge RM10 per kg.  This bottled water of his is probably the most expensive in the world if carried up by the porter.  We had a good laugh and when common sense finally prevailed, he took the cue.  The bottle was eventually 'donated' to our tour guide who was not following us to the summit.

We were transported to Timpohon Gate, about five km from the national park office.  We had our group picture taken at the gate before entering the first check point.  Our guides had a brief discussion with us and once done, we were ready to move.  As the expedition leader, I was at the back.  This is to make sure no one is left behind.  Vanja, our lady member from Belgium and friend, Jonathan should be among the first to reach Laban Rata rest house.  Both of them are strong athletics.  The distance from Timpohon Gate to Laban Rata is six km.  If it is walking on flat ground, it will take less than one and an half hour to finish.  We moved off at about 0900 hrs and generally, most should reach before 1500 hrs.  The weather was still cold but no rain.  I was wearing a tee and was in Bermuda shorts.  I did not feel cold as I was on the move.  Further, it was so nice to trek in such a cool weather and I hardly sweat.  Those with me at the back were Jimmy, Huiwen, Swie Min and Rio while the rest quickly disappeared in front of us.  Our pace was steady but not fast, we took about 40 mins to cover one km.  I have learnt a valuable lesson not to walk too fast.  We need to slowly acclimatise to the altitude as we trekked up.  I even made sure I took Diamox pills one day prior to the climb.  The five of us were mostly together up until about four km mark.  One member was complaining that cramp was slowly building up on her but she still pressed on.  I was all the way behind, so too were our two mountain guides who were also carrying our loads.

One member suddenly cried out in pain.  She had pulled a cramp on one of her legs.  I quickly lifted up her leg and pressed hard on the feet in bid to loosen her hardened muscle.  When I thought everything was fine, her other leg started to act up.  Without warning, her cramps started on her left thigh, her right thigh, her left calf and her right calf.  She was in great pain.  I applied muscle relief ointment on her, massaged on her but the pain persisted.  It continued for quite a while.  At this juncture, I was not sure if she could make it to Laban Rata, which has another two gruelling km away.  Jimmy and the rest had already moved on.  After consulting with the two guides, we decided to bring her to Layang Layang which has a living quarter for the rangers.  She probably had to spend the night at Layang Layang if her condition did not improve.  The duty ranger attended to her, brought a pail of warm water to soothe her aching legs.  She downed three glasses of salt water that I made for her.  Ointment was rubbed on her and she rested at Layang Layang for about half an hour.  Fortunately for us, she had recovered enough to resume but this time, I told her to just concentrate on walking while I will carry her backpack.  We took all the time in the world to walk up.  We had plenty of rest.  Finally, we reached Laban Rata which stands more than 3,200 metre high.  It was about 1630 hrs and just about time for dinner too.  The rest had already checked-in and rested.  I heaved a big sigh of relief that she could make it to Laban Rata.

They were the first few to reach the summit and it was really cold 

After dinner, I retired to bed early.  I know from my three previous times, I will not be able to sleep at such altitude but rest is important before making the final attempt to the summit early in the morning.  I was at the restaurant at 0200 hrs and all the ladies were ready to move off.  However, our guides were still not around yet.  We can't move off without our guides.  Early breakfast was served.  I didn't take much, just two slices of blank bread.  We wanted to move off earlier and when I saw our guides, I told them we were ready.  At exactly 0230 hrs, we set off.  The weather was cool.  I was hoping it will remain so for the longest time.  There were many climbers leaving around that time too.  It was still pitched dark and we must have our head light on.  Again, I was covering behind.  Shortly after, one member told me that she was breathing hard and she decided not to carry on.  This was definitely a sign of AMS.  Wise decision for her.  The weather suddenly turned cold and wind was howling at about 30 km per hour.  I was wearing my jacket but did not zip up.  I felt the chill when the strong wind continued to pounce on us. I had to zip up my jacket up to my neck and pull the hood to cover my head.  Adrian, Raymond, Wai and Jimmy was with me.  The wind was so strong that it almost threw us off balance.  We had to hold on to the white rope to balance ourselves.  There was a group of students from Manchester.  One boy was severely suffering from AMS but he was coaxed on by the leader.  I had suffered from AMS previously, I know what was it like and I empathised with the young lad.  He just pressed on.  Along the way, I saw a young Caucasian woman throwing out.  It must be awful for her.  Raymond was breathing hard too.  I was hoping he was alright.  The wind did not seem to have relented.  The howling sound was deafening.  Jimmy was clearly tired but he persevered on.  It was just behind Jimmy and we had to walk on four while balancing on a steep part.  Suddenly I heard something dropped out of Jimmy's pouch.  I saw his new IP-5 sliding down and with a quick hand, I managed to hold on to it.  Had I missed, the phone will slide all the way down.  Lucky for him.  We cannot take too long rest as it was too cold to sit still.  We were near the summit and it was already way past 0600 hrs where first light was supposed to be seen but the foggy weather camouflaged any slightest sign of light.  It still looked like in the dark of night near the summit.  The final ascent to the summit required some physical strength but the joy of reaching the summit simply pushed any tiring climbers to go the extra mile.  I can see that in Raymond, Jimmy and Adrian.  They were too exhausted but they were not prepared to give up.  By then, some of our members were already on the way down.  Among the first few to reach the summit were Jonathan, Vanja, Milan, Swie Min, Rio, Suvidha, Hong Choon and Eunice.  They could not stay long at the summit.  It was just too cold.  All 13 of us reached the summit except for one.

On the way down from the summit

Another picture showing climbers moving down after the summit  

It was a good trip and everyone co-operated and gelled well.  Each of us has personal story to tell and share.  For some, this was their first attempt at such high altitude and nothing beats having achieved such a feat.  I have had enjoyed this outing with this group although it was already my fourth climb.  The one thing that has impressed me greatly is the ladies in our group.  They are so organised, so united and raring to go.  Their overall fitness is awesome too.  For us, guys we certainly have much to catch up but we are not too far off either.  Hooray to all!