Sunday, June 23, 2013

Unpleasant Encounter With A Passenger

I was in my mid 20s, then I was working as passenger handling officer with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines at the airport.  I have had encountered many unpleasant situations with passengers but I still remember this one quite well, that year should be in 1987.  I was on the afternoon shift but I came to office early.  I received a call from the counter that a passenger arrived after the closure of the check-in and demanded to be checked in.  Our flight was heading to Jakarta.  I then radioed my Station Manager, Henk van Dinther who was handling the flight if he could allow one 'last minute passenger' and approval was granted.  I rushed straight down to process the check-in.  She was a young American lady, not exactly nice in her disposition when I met her.  As I was helping to expedite with the check-in and before handling over the boarding pass to her, I asked for the airport tax payment.  During our time, airport tax was S$12 and we must collect cash at the check-in counter.  She refused to pay citing she had no money.  She claimed her money was stolen and she insisted to leave this 'damned place'.  I told her that paying airport tax is mandatory.  Admittedly, I was prepared to pay for her if her money was indeed stolen.  She started to shout at me and the moment she used the F language on me, I walked away.  I refused to talk to her anymore.  I was walking into the restricted zone and she was shouting loudly for me to come back.  She said she had the money and wanted to be checked-in.  She then ran to me but was stopped by the police as it was a restricted zone.  She was refused check-in by me and therefore, missed the afternoon flight to Jakarta.

After the flight departed, I walked back to my office.  She was waiting at the office and when she saw me, she wanted to have my name.  I handed my airport pass to her.  I even handed a piece of paper and pen for her to write her complaint.  She was left waiting for my Station Manager and I continued to mind my own business. 

Not long later, Henk arrived back to the office.  He was a rotund man, then in his 40s and quite a jovial chap too.  She told him that she wanted to file a complaint against me.  He sat her down in his office, heard her recounting the entire incident.  After the conversation, he re-booked her flight to Jakarta on the following day.  He was nice throughout, listening and the moment she walked out of the office, he immediately tore her complaint letter into pieces and threw it into the rubbish bin.  This lady had to pay for another night of accommodation and earlier she claimed her money was stolen, she now had extra money for another day stay in Singapore.  She was trying to get away not paying airport tax and was trying to act aggressive to the extent of being vulgar, only to backfire on herself.  I did not retaliate the moment she uttered the F word.  First, she is a lady and it is not nice for guys to be verbally abusive to a lady.  I am representing my airline and I am the front liner, I have to maintain the image too.

From that moment on, my respect for Mr Henk van Dinther had gone further up.  He did not even want to question me why I decided to 'bump off' the lady.  He respected my decision.  He handled the situation well, acted professionally in front of the lady but not admitting liability on our side such as according her free accommodation or waiver of airport tax, nothing.  Years after I left the airline, I heard from some former colleagues that he passed away in Holland from cancer.  He was a jolly good fellow and I have had enjoyed working under him.  He is still missed whenever I think of him.        

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tour de Southern Most Tip of Mainland Asia

Group picture before rolling off

The Asia continent is the largest land mass in the world and if this cycling event has sounded intimidating to many, the opposite is actually true.  It was to be my first organising a leisure cycling tour to this idyllic region in Malaysia from Singapore.  Instead of cycling from Singapore and navigating through the busy road in Johor Bahru, I chose to transport everyone by coach and then commenced our cycle in Pekan Nenas town in Pontian region.  This is the safest option and that is key.
In all there were 18 of us comprising 15 ladies and five men including me and the total distance covered was about 70 km and over two days.  It was a leisure ride, not meant for speedsters and the route is mostly flat.  But importantly, there was no heavy traffic to contend with.
The cycling tour was scheduled on 8 June, Saturday and we had to gather outside Outram MRT station for our coach by 0630 hrs.  I cycled about 10 km to the pick-up venue from my house and I arrived well before 0630 hrs, 0545 hrs to be exact.  It was still dark and no one seemed to have arrived yet.  One by one, everyone arrived and they were early too.  It was past 0600 hrs, I still did not see the coach yet and admittedly, I got a little jittery.  I then decided to contact the driver to check on his whereabouts, just in case.  He was to travel from Johor.  He told me he was somewhere in Orchard and by my reckoning, should arrive in 5 mins time.  Our coach arrived at about 0615 hrs and very quickly, we started to load our bikes first.  Everyone was very co-operative, helping one and other though many met for the first time.  In this group, I know just a handful.  Choon Hwa, Yennie,  Jeanette and Florence who have had participated in some of my previous cycling events and for the rest, I was meeting them for the first time.  When we were done, we were off before 0630 hrs.  I was hoping to avoid the jam at causeway if we were to leave later, given it is still a school holiday period. 
Much to my relief and probably it was still early, it was smooth sailing at SIN side.  We reached the Woodlands check point at about 0700 hrs and soon, we were on the way to Pekan Nenas town.  The journey will take us an hour after clearing the Johor immigration.  In our group, we had Mohri-san from Japan and he had brought some Japanese fruits for us to sample during dinner.  Well, he is in on-line fruit delivery business and he was hoping to secure some orders from us.  I made an introduction of Mohri-san while on the coach, to break the ice for him.  Mohri-san was actually worried how was he to cope when he thought he was required to cycle and at the same time, carrying a heavy load (his fruits formed the bulk of the weight) on his back.  I realised that he did not read my itinerary clearly.  He thought we had to cycle from Outram and all the way to Tg Piai and without support vehicle too.  I had a good laugh but from his expression, I can see he was relieved when he realised our ride was not a tough one.  Nonetheless, he was game enough to go despite his initial fear.
Hearty 'ba-ku-teh' breakfast in Pontian
We arrived at a ‘bak-ku-teh’ (pork rib soup) shop in Pekan Nenas town and I understand from my Johor buddy, Chua Poh Kok who provided the coach and the support logistics that it is a famous ‘bak-ku-teh’ eatery in this part of the town.  As we did not have any Muslim or vegetarian cyclist among us, everyone could enjoy a hearty ‘bak-ku-teh’ meal together.  It was indeed savoury.  We still can find alternate arrangement had we have Muslim or vegetarian cyclists with us, no big deal either. 
Flat and scenic route to Tg Piai
After our breakfast, we proceeded to offload our bikes, geared ourselves properly and at about 0930 hrs, off we went.  Everything was in accordance to plan.  I was the lead cyclist while the Hylux truck driven by Chua’s brother and assisted by his son, Henry will cover the rear.  I had a briefing to all and always the same old remainder, “cycle in a single file”, “have your helmet on” and “stop if you are tired”.  The Hylux truck was sufficiently stocked with 100 plus and mineral water to keep everyone hydrated throughout. 
We turned into to a new road that will lead us all the way to Tg Piai.  The main road that will lead us to Tg Piai and Kukup has too many cars and it is also longer.  This new road is generally flat, no pot holes or cracks and it has much lesser vehicles.  On our first day of ride, we will only cycle 50 km at most.  We cycled past some chicken farms and kampong houses.  It is a scenic sight, good to cycle at a leisure pace though the weather was getting a little hot as the day went by.  John who came with his wife, Sheela wanted to go faster.  John is a young man and he has good body physique.  I was hoping he will not find this group too slow for him.  I told him to look out for signs that point to Tg Piai in case he went too far ahead.  I had to cycle at a leisure pace to keep most of us closer together.  At some point, we were chased by three dogs.    I stayed back a while just in case the dogs did really attack some of the cyclists.  Fortunately for us, the dogs did not attempt to attack but merely to scare us away.   
We made two brief stops for drinks.  Everyone seemed to be in high spirit and nobody had indicated he or she wanted to drop out any moment.  In this group, there were 11 of us aged 50 years and beyond and the oldest one is 66 year-old.  Despite her age, Audrey keeps an active lifestyle and she is quite a strong cyclist too – hats off to her!
About 10 km to our destination in Tg Piai, I decided to cover the rear while the Hylux vehicle will go in front to ensure the faster cyclists know where to turn and stop.  Elsie, another not that young lady seemed to have some difficulty managing her mountain bike and she was lagging behind the rest.  I was covering her from behind.  With grit and determination, she still managed to arrive at Tg Piai.  Another surprise element was Florence.  She was in the middle of the pack throughout and she was on her ‘Brampton’ foldie.  The first time she followed me was to Batam which was just some months ago.  She was really struggling then but this time, she has improved much.  Bravo! 
A monument at Tg Piai
Group picture at Southern Most Tip of Asia
Everyone reached Tg Piai well before 12 noon.  I then proceeded to make arrangement for all of us to visit the national park.  We were to walk to the point which is the southern-most end of mainland Asia and take a group picture for memento sake.  I even readied nicely designed certificates certifying we were at the southern-most end of mainland Asia with all our names imprinted to be presented to all when we settle at our chalet.  At the juncture, we had only covered less than 40 km.  I then asked the group if they wanted to cycle another 13 km to Kukup town to clock more mileage or take the coach.  Only two persons opted to take the coach while the rest will cycle to Kukup town where we were to put a night there.  
When we arrived at Kukup town, we proceeded immediately for lunch first.  The resort operator, Eric was already waiting for us and he showed us to our tables.  It was seafood lunch and it was another sumptuous meal.  I even met an old friend there.  Ah Seng who owns Kukup seafood restaurant happened to be around on that day.  He could not recognise me at first.  I then jostled his memory going back to the days when our ship landed in Kukup in the late 90s and phew, he remembered everything.  We lost contact for more than 10 years, time flies man.  Instead of cycling our bikes to the chalets, Ah Seng graciously allowed us to store all our bikes at his restaurant. 
Sunset at chalet
From the verandah of our chalet (Photo from Wendy Leong)

After lunch, we then took a short cruise to a fish farm before heading to our resort called Kukup Ocean Resort.  It was a Saturday and the boat was quite packed with other holiday makers.  Finally, we managed to check-in to our chalet.  Everyone was delighted that the chalet I had chosen was the best in that cluster.  It is newly built, and we had the second level unit all to ourselves.  There are 4 big rooms to be shared among us.  The five guys took a room and the ladies had the three rooms.  Our unit which can easily accommodate 30 people is sited at the furthest end of the chalet which overlooks the sea.  In the common hall, there is a nice karaoke system and there is mahjong game available too.    
While lunch was taken not too long ago, Eric brought up some afternoon snacks for us.  Some of us gathered at the veranda, chatted and at the same time munching the snacks away.  It was a relaxing afternoon till dinner time.  Choon Hwa, Jeanette, Meow and Tang En started the mahjong game which they continued after dinner. 
It was BBQ dinner, yet another savoury meal.  We did not have lift our fingers to do anything, Eric and his workers barbequed for us which they then served to us.  We just used our mouths to feast on the food.  Mohri-san brought out his tomatoes and his prized winter melon.  I understand that winter melon can cost more than S$100.  I liked most is the tomatoes which are sweet, unlike the local one.  He even brought some Japanese tau sau buns too.  We really enjoyed the dinner. 
'Kong Min' lantern that took off
After dinner, some of us bought the ‘kong min’ lanterns from Eric.  Before setting off the lanterns, we penned some well wishes for good luck.  Other guests at our resort and nearby played with firecrackers and light up fireworks too.  It just reminded me that as if it was still Chinese New Year period.  Slowly, each of us went about doing our own things.  Some continued with their mahjong, some went for the karaoke while the rest retired early to bed.  I sat around at the hall listening to the karaoke songs but at while later, I was too tired to carry on.  I decided to retire early.      
Breakfast was ready before 0800 hrs.  It was still raining when we got up and the weather did not seem to look fine for the whole day.  We were to move out at about 0915 hrs, picked up our bikes at the seafood restaurant by 0930 hrs.  The rain suddenly stopped, the dark cloud seemed to move away and clear sky appeared again.  What a day to start our ride.  Anyway, it was a long ride and we only planned to cycle about 20km to Pontian town where we will end our ride.
Auction taking place at Pontian market
Just before 1000 hrs, I led the group to Pontian market.  I intended to make a brief stop at Bugis Museum but I missed the place.  There was no prominent sign for me to identify.  I was pedalling in front, making sure I did not go too fast and Audrey, the most senior one in our group was just tagging behind me.  Boy, she is such a strong rider.  Not to mention, John was always way way in front.  I knew we had covered more than 15 km and we were getting very near to the town.  Do I stop or just press on?  I decided to cycle on till we reached the Pontian market at the very least.  When we reached Pontian market, we had already covered slightly more than 20 km.  We made a tour to the Pontian market to witness some auctioning.  Instead of noises made like a typical fish market auction, it was 'hush hush' affair with a person whispering to the middleman who was keeping note.  I was told that the auction is opened to close circle of people in the trade, not meant for public.  It was certainly an eye opener for all of us who were visiting for the first time .  We stayed for about half an hour before walking back to our coach to load up our bikes.  Our lunch was fish ball noddle, dried or soup at a popular local eatery in Pontian town. 
After our lunch, it was shopping and massage time at Bukit Indah.  We even stopped by for durians while travelling to Bukit Indah.  Three hours were allotted for shopping and massage, plenty of time to while away.  Choon Hwa had to leave early to attend a wedding dinner.  She took a public bus at Bukit Indah Shopping Centre which will bring her back to Singapore.
Our dinner was taken at Orang Asli Restaurant but we waited more at least an hour.  It was super super packed with people.  When we finished our meal, it was already past 2000 hrs and we were caught in a massive jam on the Johor side.  Luckily for us, our coach can managed to manoeuvre around the heavy traffic but still, it took an hour just to clear the Johor side.  I dread to think the jam at Singapore side but fortunately, it was all clear at Singapore side.  Soon, we were on the way to Outram MRT and at about 2200 hrs we finally reached our destination.  I still had to cycle home from there. 

This capped another enjoyable and safe outing for us.  I am fully satisfied with the final outcome.  I must thank my friend, Chua and his staff at Prima Sierra Holidays for all the arrangements and I shall look forward to another cycling outing soon.    

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sundown Marathon 2013

I thought last year Sundown will be my last time running the full marathon when I clocked my personal time but for reasons not known to me either, I decided to sign up for it again.  Then Dora also signed up and CK was convinced by her to give this another shot.  Chua and Catherine needed no coaxing, it was a kind of a ritual for them.   

This time, I didn't train much in running as I was involved more into cycling.  The gruelling 'Baan Dada Charity Ride' in Thailand in March this year followed by OCBC Super Challenge in April.  The longest distance in training I did was 15km.  Sheepishly, I was hoping the cycling mileage I have clocked can sort of make up for it...fingers crossed.

For the first time, Sundown Marathon 2013 separated the 10 km & 21 km (grouped as one) event and the 42 km event which I thought was a wise move, for better crowd control though logistically, it was more challenging for the organisers.  31 May, Friday will see the 10 km and 21 km and 1 June, Saturday, the 42 km event.  Winnie ran the 10 km and I was there on the first day to support her and also took the opportunity to 'size up' the place prior to our event on the following day. 

On the day of the run, I spent the whole Saturday staying at home and not doing anything.  I had slight diarrhoea too, visited the toilet few times but it was still manageable. 

We (Dora, CK, Chua, Catherine and I) had arranged to meet up Promenade station, exit A at about 2245 hrs.  Our flag off was scheduled at 2330 hrs and there should have more than ample time for us as it was short walk to the venue at F1 pit from the station.  I was first to arrive followed by Chua who drove and parked his car near the Peranakan Museum.  I took the train.  Catherine arrived shortly after.  She parked her car at Suntec City.  Dora came by train and CK arrived slightly later.  He blamed the bus driver for his delay.  We then made our way to the venue.

CK and Dora will pace and run together while I will keep pace with Catherine.  Chua will run on his own as he had more training mileage and he should finish earlier than us.  Before the flag-off, we gave each other a pat and soon, we were flagged off.  We were in the second and last wave.  There were some 10,000 runners for the 42.195 km event, second in participation size to the year end Stanchart event.

I was pacing behind Catherine for the most part after flag-off.  We were doing about 6 min per km, and our pace was constant.  We ran the first 5 km along Nicoll Highway and into the stadium.  One lane in some road at the stadium was opened for the runners.  It was very tight for us to overtake and we had to run on the pavement or the grass patch in order to avoid clashing on the persons in front.  With some 10,000 runners and the first 5 km, most of us are expected to cluster together, the organisers should pre-empt that.  They should open up two lanes instead of one lane.  At that hour, there were not many cars either. 

After more than 11 km into the race, we were heading to the park at Gardens by the Bay which will lead us to East Coast Park.  Catherine and I were still keeping good form and pace was constant too.  CK and Dora were behind us and Chua was way in front. 

We ran past the 5 hours pacers and considering, we were flagged off 8 mins after the first wave, we were well below the 5 hours target.  We were still doing good on the East Coast Park.  It was a long run near to the sailing club before we made an U-turn.  We slowed our pace.  Catherine complained the blisters on her feet were bothering her but she still pressed on.  I must say her threshold for pain was high.  I felt my stomach started to bloat, probably from taking too much drink along the way.  I tried to ignore it.  When we made an U-turn at East Coast Park, we had already covered more than 20 km.  At that juncture, I can still carry on despite the slight discomfort in my stomach. 

About 30 km, the 5 hours pacers finally caught up with us and we can still manage to keep pace with them for a while.  Catherine started to open her pace and I followed, we past many along the way.  At about 33 km mark, I told her the sharp pain on my stomach was bothering me and I asked her to run on own.  She was hesitant at first but I assured her I can manage and if I am better later, I will try to catch up with her.  When the stomach discomfort seemed to have improve but the muscle in my two calves started to pull and I had to stop running as I was afraid I might pull a cramp if I pressed on.

The last 10 km was the most punishing, considering the condition I was in.  I was either walking or running.  I started to count each km as I ran past and each km seemed never ending.  We had to run to Marina Barrage and then, to the business district.  It was hard, I must say.  On the final stretch, we then ran to the underpass near MBS and there, I can see the finishing ahead.  I just kept running and before running past, I took a glance at the board above, it indicated 5 hrs 8 mins something.  I should have clocked just under 5 hours.  Catherine was resting at the rest point and she had finished about 3 mins ahead of me.

We rested for a while, not knowing when Dora and CK will cross the finishing line but we were sure Chua had finished ahead of us.  Finally, we realised Dora and CK also finished and they were already on the way to Promenade station.  We met up for a while.  Dora took a lift from Chua and Catherine walked to Suntec City to pick up her car.  I waited for CK who was already on the way to the station.  It was still 0500 hrs and the first train will depart at 0610 hrs. CK and I waited for the station to open its door before making our way home for a well-deserved rest.