Thursday, December 31, 2015

Summary For 2015

This is my last posting for 2015 and typical of me, I will do it on the eve of the New Year before the clock strikes past midnight going into 2016.  My Chinese horoscope has indicated 2015 will be a good year for those born in the year of the tiger and, phew...I am among them.  No, I am not the superstitious type in case some think I am but 2015 on whole has proven to be not too bad a year for me.  That said, Chinese horoscope has indicated 2016 will not be that smooth sailing for those who were born in the tiger year.  Notwithstanding, I believe in working hard, be truthful to ourselves and to others and it does not matter what one's horoscope says.      

When I decided to leave my comfort zone more than 3 years ago, where I used to draw a decent pay,  I was already contemplating to go into organising outdoor event or training related stuff.  Some concerned friends did advise against leaving my comfort zone to go into uncharted territory especially I am not that young anymore.  Yep, it was a risk I was prepared to take.  I have to budget everything in the past few years  and only spent when it was necessary.  Stable income aside, I realised I am happier doing things I enjoy.  I did some freelance works, organised some outdoor trips and fortunately, I still managed to get by.  Most importantly, I do not have to resort to borrowing from friends or relatives.  

I did tell some friends that I was keen to realise a run event for the masses.  Well, by some stroke of luck, I managed to get connected to some friends and our first run event, Run For Light was finally launched in January 2015.  Admittedly, it was tough as there were just too many run events in Singapore.  We went on to launch a cycle event called 'Casio Nongsa Cycle 2015' the first half of the year and one more run event, 'OCC 3Ten Run' in December.  Indeed, it was a learning curve for new players like us.  I am not sure the good year for those who are born in the Tiger year mentioned in the horoscope means making good money but the good year to me means I am satisfied that I have managed to fulfill my ambition to have launched outdoor run events in 2015.

Opportunity does not always happen and I am indeed fortunate that a golden opportunity has come knocking on my doorstep.  Yes, I will be embarking on another new career path come 2016.  I foresee 2016 is going to be another challenging year ahead but I am prepared to take it on.

This is to wish everyone a Happy New Year ahead.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2016 (SCMS)

Group Picture Taken At Ya Kun

I have not been running SCMS event in the last two years until Feng messaged me to replace her in this morning Ekiden event under 'Team PainKillers' and I agreed right away since I didn't sign up many run events for this year.  There are 6 runners to the team and each of us will have to run 7 km to complete the 42 km distance and passing the sash to another runner when one runner holding the sash has reached the designated checkpoint.  In our team, I only know Daniel.  On the eve of the event, I managed to be introduced to Norman who will be taking over the sash from me.  The order of our relay team was as follows: Daniel will take the first leg, I will be the second runner followed by Norman, Andrew, Max and Raymond.

Picture Taken at Padang

I got up this morning at about 0345 hrs and drove to Leisure Mall to catch the shuttle bus which will take the Ekiden runners to their respective start points.  My start point was at Singapore Flyer and I had to pass the sash to Norman, the third runner at East Coast Park near Fort Road.  The bus left at exactly 0430 hrs and well before 0500 hrs, we arrived at Singapore Flyer.  It was still dark but our chat group started to kick-in when Daniel arrived at Orchard Road start point.  I estimated more than 50 Eiken runners at my side.  When it was past 0500 hrs, one of the marshals informed us that the race had started and we had to gather at our waiting pen.  I did a little warming up while waiting. A group of Kenyan runners were the first to run past the 7km mark and they had already pulled a long lead.  After them, a local Ekiden runner arrived and that was fast.  The second runner quickly took over from him.  Not long later, local elite runners and the Kenyan women runners strode past.  More faster Ekiden runners started to arrive.  One Ekiden runner was (I think) fourth to arrive and he started to shout for his second runner.  No response.  He shouted at the top of his voice and actually, letting go a little of his frustration, much to the amusement of the rest of us waiting.  Poor chap, he did a fast first leg but his second runner was nowhere in sight.  

Some of the waiting runners started to move forward leaving little space for first leg runners to run through and the marshals started to push them back.  Stretching out my head to look out for Daniel in the dark and he suddenly appeared before me.  It was about 0545 hrs and boy, he was among the early batch to arrive.  I quickly took the sash from him and sped off immediately.  Adrenalin rush did kick into me as I did not want to lose the good head start given by Daniel.  Still fresh, I was soon running past many runners who were doing the full marathon.  I did manage to overtake at least 5 Ekiden runners who were ahead of me.  For the first 3 km of my 7 km run, I accelerated faster than my usual 5 mins plus per km pace.  I reckoned it was 5 mins or little under per km.  I then decided to slow down a little to prevent over burning.  At about 4 km into my run, I can see the 4 hours pacers from a short distance in front of me.  I told myself that I have to catch up on them and slowly but surely, I did.  There were two water points along the way but I skipped them all.

Running past Fort Road cross junction to East Coast Park, I knew it was near to my check point.  I accelerated a little faster and from a short distance, I saw a group of Ekiden runners waiting, I started to shout "Painkillers" to catch Norman's attention.  When I arrived, he was already waiting.  I passed the sash to him for him to carry on.  It was already 0620 hours.  After a quick dash to the toilet, I decided to walk to Padang instead of waiting for the shuttle bus to pick us back.  It was easily more than 5 km back.  I was walking in the opposite direction of the runners who were heading to East Coast Park. I was taking my time as it was still very early.  Daniel had by then settled at Ya Kun outlet at Funan, tempting rest of us to join him for a hearty breakfast there.  While walking along Nicoll Highway, I found a nice Wang Cafe at Suntec and decided to take my breakfast there.  Meanwhile, our run progress was updated on our group chat.

Daniel and I were waiting at Padang for the rest of our team members to join us.  The cool morning started to get hotter by the minute.  When our last runner, Raymond completed, it was near 0930 hrs and we finally managed to re-group.  Our gun time on the app show 4 hours 22 minutes.  Good team effort.  We then strolled to Ya Kun at Funan to have another round of breakfast before parting way.  It is nice to meet new friends and we promised we will run again next year.  The clock under 4 hours for 42 km.    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fright Of My Life

Everyone should have encountered frightening moment at least once in their life.  I have had encountered few but I remember two incidents fairly well.

That year was 1982 and I was still serving NS.  It was our hard earned 3 days rest & recreation trip (R&R) in Brisbane city after more than a month of army training in the wilderness.  We went to Dream World, it was already a highly developed outdoor entertainment park then.  My army mates and I were queuing up to board a boat which will take us through the man-made river and into the man-made safari.  At the entrance, there was this big notice warning us that a lion had escaped from the zoo and was on the loose.  I happened to read that notice but it didn't bother me.  As we were slowly moving, there were crocodiles in the river and some other animals.  We knew these were not real.  As we went into this man-made cave, it was quite dark and while the boat was gliding through, I saw a moving lion from a distance away.  Suddenly, the warning notice that appeared at the entrance struck me hard and for that moment, I thought a lion was really on the loose and it was hiding inside the cave.  I thought there was no escape for us as our boat was moving nearer to the lion.  I swear I was frightened stiff.  All the hair in my body simply shot up.  It took me a while to realise that the lion was not real.  My army mates had a good laugh at my expense, of course.

Second incident was in 1985.  I was to attend a seminar in Bangkok.  On arrival, I made my own way to the hotel which was quite near the airport.  It was a nice 5-star hotel but tried, I did, I cannot remember the name of that hotel now.  I managed to check-in, got the key and took the lift to my room.  When I opened the door, it was pitched dark.  First thing first, I had to find the switch to on the light.  I couldn't find the switch which was usually near the door.  Finally, I managed to switch on the light.  I saw a figure standing in front of me.  I cannot describe the fear that struck me at the very moment.  I thought I saw something I was not supposed to see.  Everything happened very fast.  When I regained my composure, I realised the figure that I saw was actually my own mirror reflection.  There was a big mirror mounted on the wall near the entrance and since it was so dark, I had no idea that there was a mirror in the room.  Again, all the hair in my body suddenly shot up.  I had a good laugh at myself after that.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Two Recruit Days Buddies

When we served our recruit days during NS stint, each of us was assigned a buddy.  Both buddies had to work together and if one happened to have erred, both were punished as a result.  It is called buddy system and I believe it should still be practised now.

I was from the first mono-intake which means we did our recruit training and after passing out, continued on as guardsman vocation till we ROD in the same unit throughout our NS stint.  My unit was called 3 Guards located in the rustic Kranji area then.  The camp has since been re-located where the present Yew Tee HDB flats are.      

Upon enlisting, everyone was assigned to their buddy but I had two buddies, as we were the remaining last three after evenly sorting out the rest.  Lang and Tong (not their real names) were my recruit days buddies.  Both used to live in the same neighbourhood and prior to enlistment, they know each other in their growing up days but they were not close though.  I only know them during enlistment.  Their characteristic greatly contrasts to one and other. Lang was quite a sloppy man while Tong was more 'on the ball' type.  Lang will not help out in cleaning and spent most of the time lying idly on the bed.  Lang sported few tattoos on his body and arms.  My initial impression of him was not very good then.  In fact, he had one tattoo that says "He loves so and so (the name of his then girlfriend's name)" and when I got familiar with him, I started to tease him by asking what will happen if he changed his girlfriend and sure enough, he changed his girlfriend few times over.  I think he eventually deleted the entire tattoo some years later.  Lang did not have proper job even after ROD.  He used to smoke and gamble heavy.  He was also involved in triad activities and I did witness the injury he sustained one gang fight too.  Yep, he was a street fighter.  Tough he was outside the camp but when it came to training, it was a complete opposite.  He will try hard to feign sick to avoid all sorts of training.  Once, he went to great extent to get a bunk mate to break his hand using a changkok stick in desperate attempt to earn few days or weeks of MC.  Few guys will hold on to him tight and one will just hit his hand hard with the stick.  It was a pain to watch and I didn't want a part to play with it. Needless to say, he was not very fit and eventually downgraded.  Despite all that, Lang and I got on fairly well actually.  We continued to keep in contact for good many years after ROD but we have lost touch in recent times.  

Tong was more a righteous person.  Both of us did try to apply to apply to become policemen in a futile attempt to avoid tough army training when we were still recruits but were flatly rejected.  Tong eventually managed to join the police force after ROD and later transferred to CID  handling heavy crimes.  Tong was quite fit and we even kept up our fitness regime after ROD but for a short period though.  We used to arrange for run together at National Stadium.  Tong was also downgraded when a changkok (metal plate) hit his head while digging trench in one of our exercises.  I was present too.  Blood was oozing out from his head, it was scary to watch and he was in great pain.  Fortunately, he did not suffer serious damage to the brain but had to be downgraded to service vocation.  He served the rest of his NS stint at the officers' mess.  He was a total changed man after he joined the police force as a CID investigation officer.  He did not want to contact any of his army mate, me included for reasons he knows best I think and slowly but surely, when we met on the street one day, we acted like strangers to each other.

The two recruit buddies of mine represented the 'black and white' in society.  For a good many years, Lang was always in involved in triad activities but we had always maintained cordial friendship until we lost contact.  I have never intended to disassociate with him knowing his triad connections.  The righteousness of Tong is the opposite.  Perhaps, he must have thought being a CID officer, he must stay away from friends in order to remain impartial.  Or perhaps, it was wrong of me to assume so.  I harbour hope to meet up with these recruit buddies one day.    

Monday, September 21, 2015

Training In Australia

Australia is everything Singapore is not.  They have no shortage of land while we are land-scare. They have abundance natural resources while we have none of it.  They are generous with handouts to their citizens while we are definitely less generous.  Australia can afford to change five Prime Ministers in short span of five years but many of us here do not believe abrupt removal of Prime Minister one time too many will do us good.  Given their sheer size and wealth aplenty, they can afford to shut away from the outside world and still survive while we will sink almost immediately once we shut our doors.  Suffice to say, Australia is an ideal destination any immigrant would dream to settle on.      

My first encounter with Australia was in 1982 and it was my first overseas trip.  It was not a holiday trip for I can barely afford as a young adult.  It was an army stint as a NS soldier. Australia was already a highly developed country while we were still playing catch up in the early 80s.  Indeed, it was a honour that we were the first army battalion from Singapore to be sent there for more than a month training which subsequently becomes an annual training ground for combat units to present times.  That was also my first time flying a commercial jet and best of all, with Singapore Airlines to Brisbane but boarding was via the cargo complex at the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to the Australia government, we can never have another great overseas training opportunity for our soldiers had that not been granted.      

The training was very tough and the terrain was exceptionally challenging.  In the day, it was hot which can hit more than 40 degree C and extremely cold at night.  The entire training ground including our campsite is 4 times the size of Singapore in Shoalwater Bay, Queensland.  Throughout our training, we can hardly see any human habitat in the vast area allotted to us - really, it was that huge.  Kangaroos and wild horses were common sight when they ran past us from a distance - so surreal like in a movie.  The cries of wild animals at night that sounded like wolves can be heard loud and near when we camped out.  We can never have such experience in our mostly urbanised Singapore's terrain.

I still remember Australia currency then was stronger than US currency.  It was more than two Singapore dollars to one Australia dollar.  Now, one Australia dollar is traded for slightly lesser than one Singapore dollar.  With our peanut NS pay, it was such a pain to us when we converted our currency to Australian currency then.  

Due to the strong Australia currency, our commanders told us that our hard earned 3 days rest &relax (R&R) after more than a month of hard training was not at any hotel but an army barrack in Brisbane, Each platoon was allotted an open space where we will set up our basha using each of our togo rope to form a long rope. We had to bring our own safari beds too.  We did not have the luxury of even the bunks at the army barrack but an open compound instead.  Officers or soldiers, we slept together - it was really that budget.  Our 3 days R&R were spent in Brisbane touring and sightseeing.  Dream World impressed me the most and I even had my first picture taken with a nice Australian lady.  As a greenhorn or 'mountain tortoise', we truly enjoyed the tour.  I believe present troop training in Australia should now enjoy better amenities and facilities compared to us then.

We were given one day off in between our long training.  We were ferried to Rockhampton town to spend our free time.  A few of us were walking and checking out the town.  A burly man suddenly came out from the bar to invite us in.  We declined his invitation and he then hurled out verbal abuses at us.  He even challenged us to a fight.  We knew if we confront him, we will be outnumbered.  We do not want any trouble.  We just ignored him and walked away. This was my first encounter to be openly abused by someone for doing no wrong.  This incident has etched deep in my memory to this day.

Photo contributed by army mate, Chua Kok Poi

In one of our training, our company had to be airlifted to simulate an attack.  The Australia army loaned us few Chinook helicopters for the exercise.  It is a twin-engine heavy lift helicopter which can easily take in a platoon of men.  SAF did not have Chinook helicopters as only few advanced nations can afford then.  We were still using the already phased-out UH1H helicopters.  I am proud that we were among the first few in SAF to be airlifted by Chinook.  If I can remember correctly, it was only in the 90s, Chinook helicopters were introduced to SAF.  We were still far behind the Australia army in term of equipment and weaponry.

Photo taken by an army mate, Chua Kok Poi during the exercise 

Even their combat rations were so much better than us.  It came in few varieties.  We can choose menu A to E and it was so good that most of us prefer to eat their combat rations when back to camp from field training than taking the cooked food in the cookhouse.  For many of us, we will definitely remember the tasteless 'dog biscuits'.  It was so hard that we used to joke that our 'dog biscuits' can knock one unconscious when hit by it.  Our combat rations used to come in two types, Muslim or non-Muslim.  Save for the meat, everything was the same.  I am not sure if our combat rations have made vast changes compared to our times then.  However, I do relish those experience.

When I was young, I used to harbour the hope of emigrating to countries like Australia, New Zealand or Europe.  Perhaps I did not have much opportunity to realise the emigration dream then and it slowly fizzled out.  It was during my working adulthood, I have come to realise how vulnerable our little red dot is.  I used to assume our peace and stability is a given.  This is my country, for better or for worse and I will defend our shores if I have to.  My emigration dream has long gone.  Singapore is my home and always will be. It is not a perfect place but I cannot ask for more.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Landslide Win For PAP

I am always been on the side of ruling party since the day I am allowed to vote.  PAP has been too domineering and in the early years, I can still remember when election was called, they were immediately returned to power as more than half of the seats were not contested by opposition parties.  It happened not once but I think at least twice.  Lives were much simpler then.  People were content with a roof over their head and enough to eat.  Without a hinterland after gaining full independence, the government under LKY were focused on making sure the 'needs' of the people more than the 'wants' were met.  We were a rapidly growing economy. We were named the 'Four Little Dragons' of Asia, an accolade we shared with Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan.

Lives are so much better now than before though we complain about high cost of living here.  Our people are better educated now and have travelled to many places.  Then, we were mostly relying on mainstream media to be kept informed of current affairs but news can be embargoed, rightly or wrongly.  With social media in present times, we receive uncensored news almost instantly.  The word, 'embargo' has become passe now.  In a short span of five decades, we have become an affluent society.  Those who are unable to keep pace have unfortunately fallen behind and they need help of sorts from the private and public sectors to get by.  We are not a welfare society like many Western countries where big handouts are given and medical is almost free.  We cannot afford to do so though some insist we can because we have accumulated huge reserves over the years. We have to be prudent and be always ready if a recession were to hit us time and again.  This is what a responsible government should do.  

Sometimes, I do relish on the slower pace of lives then, cost of living was so much lower and I must admit, we worry lesser.  Had we remained stagnant in growth, can we, a small dot on the world map survive on own while the rest of the world continue to evolve?  Like it or not, we have to progress and not just progress but to punch above our weight if we want to stay ahead of competition.  Nobody is going to take pity on us if we fail.  We may even end up seeking refuge elsewhere had the government of the day failed to deliver. Fortunately for us, they did not disappoint - give credit when due.

PAP has been so domineering that many felt they are not listening to valued feedback from the ground.  This proved to be their Achilles heel and perhaps, it was so.  The election in 2011 did send a warning sign to them when Aljunied GRC was lost and their win majority dipped too. Some may say government are more receptive to feedback and it is all thanks to the opposition - I agree somewhat.

The political landscape has changed.  The expectations of people in the past and now differ greatly. People are not content living in HDB, they yearn to live in condo or landed properties if they can afford to.  Even HDB has to transform.   Some HDB flats look almost like condo.  I have to say I do not envy the present government.  They have to work really hard to appease the wants of many. Failing which, they will be blamed for the slightest of mistake or oversight.  Yes, we are complaining more something some may not agree with me.  Singapore is seen like a well-oiled machinery that cannot breakdown.  Fact of the matter is machine does break down sometimes.  We are not perfect, can never be.  We are still a work-in-progress.

When PM called for election this year, I do fear the worst.  I do fear freak result may see PAP not in power.  We need to have stability in our government to give assurance and confidence to overseas investors.  We need that or we will sink.  General consensus wanted PAP to remain in power but at the same time, wanted more opposition in.  However, nobody can control which ward will go where and then decide how many seats to be distributed between PAP and opposition parties.  A freak result may be possible, however remote it may be.

When the final result was revealed, I am happy that PAP has regained some lost ground.  A 69.9% win is simply too good to be true and on this note, I can conclude majority of Singaporeans still want PAP to be in power - a sensible decision indeed.  I hope to give one message to PAP.  Be humble, continue to listen to the people and work to bring stability and progress to our country going forward. Majulah Singapura!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Election Is Coming

Everyone is talking about it and many say election will happen in September this year.  PM Lee did not attempt to hide saying it is soon in his last weekend NDP speech.  I say September is likely the month where our election will take place and I am certainly looking forward to it.  Already, opposition parties have started to make their rounds and some parties are still quibbling over who is to contest in which ward to avoid third corner fight.

I live in MacPherson and it is now a single ward under incumbent, Tin Pei Ling from PAP.  This is going to be one of the hotly contested wards.  Nicole Seah of NSP then was making waves at this ward and I must admit she has held herself well despite her young age.  By my own admission, Tin Pei Ling did not fare as well as Nicole during the last election.  Nicole is no longer interested to contest and now both NSP and WP are laying claim to this ward.  WP is now a branded opposition other opposition parties are trying to avoid and because of their big branding, they are not willing to accede to NSP's request not to contest in MacPherson.  At first NSP has agreed not to contest after the meeting by all the opposition parties but they have now overturned their decision - they now say they will contest.  Both NSP and WP probably think Tin Pei Ling is a weak link and MacPherson ward is ripe for the taking.  There are many poor families living in MacPherson and many are living in old 1-room and 2-room rental flats.  They need help of sorts.  Granted, I can hear grouses from the common folks at the hawker centre.  I even heard of one elderly uncle complaining that he is planning to live in Johor.  He cited the reason that our water is not safe for drinking and that nobody will win in our Toto & Big Sweep as it is controlled by the government.  Comical and nonsensical but I heard it from this man.  If these are his reasons for uprooting, I sincerely encourage him to do so.  Probably the grass is greener across the causeway for him.  I have even encountered an elderly Indian lady who is always with a younger Indian man and they are always drinking alcohol at the nearby hawker centre as long as they have money.  I believe the elderly lady is using her own CPF money to support this younger Indian man.  They do not work.  From a neighbour's account, sometimes, the younger man would beat up the older lady when money runs dry.  The lady looks sickly and dirty.  She is a stroke patient and she walks unsteadily.  They are on social help.  Sad but she needs to first help herself before anyone can really help her.  There are many families that need help from the private or public sectors.  Tin Pei Ling is aware of it when I emailed her to highlight the plight of this particular Indian lady recently.  She has been spontaneous with her follow up and she is sincerely wanting to help.  I voted her in then because she was part of Marine Parade GRC though I have never been impressed with her.  I am going to vote for her again because she has proven to be a truly committed MP who has served the residents well.  Candidates from WP and NSP, don't you think MacPherson ward is an easy target.  For the betterment of the residents living in MacPherson, Tin Pei Ling should continue as our MP.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Brawl Onboard

It was a party thrown to the officers and crew onboard Renaissance One  We were still trading in Sabah water then and that year was 1994.  It was our first party celebration in appreciation to the Master, officers and crew for their support.

Though I don't drink, I did drink a little so as not to disappoint the rest.  Everyone was in a party mood.  We played games, had a lot of fun and plenty of booze (non-stop, unfortunately).  The party just went on and on.  Some were highly intoxicated.  When the party was at its climax, someone reported a fight.  Dropping everything, I rushed off to the scene with a few of us.  One gaming crew was quite badly beaten up by a stronger deck & engine crew.  Before, we could even settle down, another fight broke out somewhere again.  We rushed over to check out.  Pandemonium was everywhere and it was akin to a riot onboard.  Again, another fight happened.  It was never ending.  Basically it was between few camps, the gaming department, the hotel department and the deck & engine department I later learnt.  Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured as it was just physical fight using fists and not any weapon of sorts.  Finally, I can heave a sigh of relief when the situation was kept under control.  But at a price, there were few injuries.

The next morning, we had our own inquiry.  Firstly, we realised we made a big mistake by allowing non-stop supply of alcohol for a party celebration.  We should have put a cap on alcohol consumption.  Too late, damage had been done.  Secondly, it was a pent-up mood waiting for an eruption.  The deck and engine crew were never happy with the gaming and hotel crew.  The guys at the deck and engine did the physical works but they did not get tips unlike those from the hotel and gaming crew.  Also, some were related to 'boy-girl' relationships which is common onboard cruise vessel.  When the investigation was finally concluded, the identified ring leader of each department was fired.  One from the gaming department, one from the deck & engine and one from the hotel department.  When they were sober,  they regretted their violent actions in the stage of intoxication.  Some really needed the job.  However, we were determined to send a strong message to all and to be fair too, we decided to release the ring leaders from the various departments.  This is a big lesson learnt by us.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Wondering Spirits

It was on board one of our vessels, "Renaissance I" when a passenger complained that he felt something unnatural in the room.  Not long later, another one complained sighting familiar encounter.  Then, the Filipino crew claimed they saw something they were not supposed to see.  Soon, words went around that the ship was haunted.  Our boss was concerned it will affect our load and therefore, decided to engage a taoist priest (sifu) to exorcise the spirits.

Through a recommendation, this particular 'sifu' was introduced to us.  My colleague and I brought him to the ship to conduct an inspection.  He had with him a small coffin which he carried in his hand.  When we were showing him around the ship, he will sometimes make a stop and then, placed the small coffin on the floor.  He will then open the coffin cover and then shut it, sensed around the place and then, continued on.  He repeated this few times.  After the inspection, he told us our ship was not 'clean' and he had to conduct a thorough 'overhaul'.  It was so urgent for us to restore our passengers' confidence, it was to be conducted on the same evening when the ship sailed out on a one night cruise voyage.  The 'sifu' had to quickly mobilise his team of disciples.  I counted at least 10 of them when they came on board.

First they had to find a lowest point in the vessel.  We found a small room in the engine room for them.  They then set up an altar.  The 'sifu' will start by combing from the top and lead the spirits to the room while his disciples will do chanting in the room.  I was curious and so too for my more superstitious colleague, we decided to follow the 'sifu'.  He started to pray starting from the highest deck followed by some of his disciples and two of us.  We had to sweep from the top to the lowest end.  We went to the bridge, we went to the open deck, we covered all the public corridors, we went to the casino while the game was still on going and I think we covered all the rooms too (moving from room to room).  'Sifu' was chanting some prayer as we moved along.  Prior to that, we had informed our customers that we will be conducting some prayer in order not to alarm them.  Our captain and officers hailed from Italy and they were also very co-operative throughout.

Finally we reached the lowest deck where our prayer room was.  'Sifu' then sat down facing all his disciples and they were deep in their chanting.  It went on and on.  My colleague and I stood by the side and watched the whole proceeding.  Suddenly, two disciples started to shake vigorously (a sign that a spirit was trying to get into that person) and 'sifu' sensed that.  He immediately held on to them and do a prayer.  He continued to chant and a short while later, they started to calm down.  It was already in the wee hour of the morning.  The whole proceeding took few hours.  At some point when the prayer was so intense, I tapped on my colleague's hand to get his attention.  He was a joker by nature but he was so serious and totally immense in watching the whole proceeding.  I then turned around and asked him, "did you see anything passing by?".  He gave me a serious look as if telling me this was not the time for any joke.  I returned back with a wicked smile.

When it was finally over, it was already in the morning and the ship was about to come alongside at Singapore Cruise Centre.  'Sifu' told us that there were more than one spirit.  He told us that the first wondering spirit found the ship and decided to make the ship its home.  It then welcomed rest of the wondering spirits to its new 'home' and eventually, we formed a group.  He further told us that he did not engage in any 'fierce battle' with these spirits but sought their consensus to leave the ship on promise to find a better place for them in the netherworld.  The few lights were said to contain their souls and the lights cannot go off or it will spell trouble.  We had to send these wondering spirits to Chua Chu Kang cemetery but before we could do so, we had to clear immigration and customs.  I walked in front to clear all the formalities while the rest followed behind.  As it was already daylight, we had to use an umbrella to shed the lights another person was carrying.  As I approached one of the customs officers and he happened to be a Malay, I told him that it was the spirits from the ship that we were carrying.  The officer must be puzzled to see someone holding an umbrella and another holding lights walking slowly inside the arrival hall.  After my explanation, he understood the culture (likely giving respect to the Chinese custom), he gave us the clearance to pass through without stopping us.  The spirits were finally sent to proper burial ground in Chua Chu Kang.  For the longest time, we did not receive any complaint on unnatural sighing on board.  Not very long later, I left the company.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Dust, Powder Can Be Fire Hazards

My note:  This is written by a former colleague in the cruising industry who is a retired master mariner and it appeared in the ST forum recently.  Given his training and profession, he has always stressed on maritime safety.  The recent Taiwan party incident which took 2 lives so far and sadly, more might follow has triggered him to pen his thought.

It is my pleasure to append his article on my blog for the better guidance of the readers.    


At least two died and hundreds were injured in Taiwan when clouds of multi-coloured corn starch sprayed on the crowds exploded and engulfed the young revellers in flames ("S'porean among 500 injured in Taiwan festival fire". Monday, and "Colour Run to continue in Singapore", Thursday).

The cause is likely to be cigarette lighters or heat from stage lights.  The manufacturer had marked the powder as "flammable" , but the organisers ignored the warning.  They said they had never heard that such an activity could be dangerous.

Likewise, housewives cannot imagine that a bag of corn flour in the kitchen can explode, the way it did in Taiwan.

Last August, the metallic dust suspended in factory air exploded in China, killing at least 75 and injuring many more ("Safety breaches at auto factory led to deadly dust blast, says Xinhua"; Aug 5, 2014).  The factory polishes hubcaps.  Perhaps the heat source was also a cigarette lighter.

Experts have said that dust can be highly explosive when it is suspended in air, in the right concentrations, and this is true even of materials such as aluminium and iron that typically do not burn.

We need to learn from these incidents.  We must bear in mind that a heat source need not be external; dust particles rubbing against one another at high speeds can also result in a spark of explosion.

By Capt Kevin Ho ( Master Mariner)

p.s.  this article of mine above was published in the forum page of the Straits Times on 4 July 2015. Owners and operators of buildings and ships, especially those that are very old, should note that fine dust may form in ventilation or air-condition ducting, with time.  The ducting is like blood vessels, enveloping the human body.  A careless spark or heat source, may cause the whole building or ship to end up in a ball of fire.  Hence, regular cleaning of said ducting is absolutely necessary, not only for safety, but also for health and hygiene purposes.  Learning from the factory fire in China in Aug 2014, the air-condition ductings of 2 very old cruise ships, under our management, were opened up for inspection.  Dust of about one inch was found at its base.          


Thursday, July 02, 2015

My Cruise Journal

I started working for a ground handling agent at Changi International Airport after completing my national service and not long later, I landed a decent job with an airline company which I worked for 5 years.  I was last with a travel company before I landed my first job in the cruise industry and it was by default too.  That year was 1991 where cruising to many then was only meant for the rich and discerning travellers.        
Then it was a friend who called me one day to ask me to join him urgently but he didn’t elaborate much except saying it was a travel job which was related to cruising.  I was excited about the prospect of working for a cruise vessel.  When I dropped by his office, I was surprised to see him so immaculately dressed up like a high flier executive.  Yep, I was so used to seeing him in his tee and Bermuda shorts but what a transformation he had turned up to be.  Even the office personnel addressed him as “Mr Lim” and after I joined his company, I had to follow the rest in addressing him the same way too – much to my reluctance though.  He was the executive director of the company that chartered a cruise vessel for operation in Singapore and Jakarta.  It was a quick chat and soon, I was given a job by him.  He wanted me to help set up the travel arm for the company.  But before I could even sit down to map the travel plan, I was asked to take a cruise on board their vessel to render any help.  Gosh, I had never been on board a cruise vessel in my life but it certainly sounded exciting for me as a greenhorn.  The Singapore Cruise Centre at the then World Trade Centre (the present HarbourFront) was not fully operational yet and therefore, the vessel had to berth at Keppel Container Port.  My first association with any cruise vessel was called “Orient Sun”, an ageing vessel which was the company’s first chartered vessel that plied between Singapore and Jakarta.         

I was waiting at the container port for the ship to come alongside where I got to see all the actions for the first time in my life.  Everyone seemed busy with their own chores except for me.  Someone briefly introduced me to some of the key people on board and thereafter, I was left alone.  I really had no inkling what was I supposed to do while on board as there was no specific instruction given by my new boss.  He just threw me in the deep sea.  Like any “true warrior”, I just went along and did what was deemed fit to do.  I went to the purser office and started to help them in the manifestation work; helped to man the reception even duplicating keys for passengers; helped at the restaurant when it was busy and even went to the supermarket to make urgent purchases for ship when the ship supplier did not turn up with fresh supplies.  It was the chef who frantically ran up to me to ask for help in getting urgent supplies.  I didn’t know who to approach but somehow I managed to get a passenger van driver to send me to the nearest supermarket to clean up the shelves.  Come to think of it, it was quite comical then.  I came from an established European airline company where everything was so structured and orderly.  Over here, it was like everyone to themselves and one had to learn to find one’s own way to get things done.  It was really a culture shock for me but a great learning curve I must say.  There is no textbook to follow.       

While waiting at the wharf-side for the vessel to come alongside at the container port for the first time in my life, it was surreal to see a fleet of sleek white Mercedes Benz lining up nicely in one row.  One would have thought the cars were meant for export out but no, these cars were on standby to pick up the VVIPs on board.  When the VVIPs finally strolled down the gangway in high fashion accompanied by gleeful customer service staff (generous tips were expected from these high rollers) who then whiskered them to the waiting vehicles.  It was like a HK triad movie to me.  I then realised ours was a ‘high octane’ gaming vessel that just got back from an overnight high sea cruise packed with high rollers from Indonesia, HK, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.  Stakes were high which ran into millions of dollars.  This charted my inroad to the booming local cruising industry.    

In the beginning of the 90s, local cruising landscape started to transform rapidly.  Our company quickly chartered another passenger vessel, “Royal Pacific”.  She was a newly refurbished vessel, converted from a car ferry.  During that period, she was considered one of the better passenger vessels that plied in our region waters.  I didn’t stay very long with the company and I later joined the ship owner of “Royal Pacific” as its operations manager when the charterer (my former company) decided to off-hire the vessel.  The ship owner company was known as Starlite Cruises took back the vessel.  In our new business plan, we had planned to run a leisure cruise voyage with lesser emphasis on gaming.  Our ambitious routes had included Port Klang, Penang and Phuket.  We roped in experienced personnel from our Miami-based company to help us.  However, fate did deal us a cruel blow when our vessel, “Royal Pacific” sank in the Straits of Malacca during our maiden voyage.  She collided with a fishing trawler in the Straits of Malacca.  I am one of the survivors of the sunken vessel and the rest is history.  Fortunately, fatality rate was low though we were ill-prepared for such a crisis.  That year was August 1992 when the ship sank and the local cruise industry did take a tumble but quickly recovered.  Not many people can still remember about the sinking vessel now which was then a major shipwreck incident.        

Few months later, our ship owner re-positioned another of its Miami based vessels, “Regent Spirit” to Singapore.  We had renamed our company to Regency Cruises.  Finally, I left the company to join another upstart local based cruise company called Renaissance Cruises.  That year was 1994.  My new company chartered two Italian built vessels, “Renaissance I” and “Renaissance II” which they later bought over from the owner.  It was another high sea cruise where gaming operation is the key to survival.  I was managing these two vessels for the company.  Personally, I like “Renaissance I” as it was this vessel that went through turbulent period with me.  The vessel was like a second home to me and during my stay on board, I was always well taken care by the crew too.  It was not a big vessel and we were quite closely knitted.  I was practically left to fend on my own when “Renaissance I” was re-positioned in Kota Kinbabalu.  I followed the ship to Kota Kinabalu and helped in the setting up of operation.  The vessel faced harassment of sorts from the authorities and even threats from gangsters.  One day the vessel was arrested while on high sea cruise in South China Sea.  We were actually sabotaged by a local influential figure who initiated the police to arrest the ship.  We were hauled back to port and we had to stop operation temporary.  We then fought a bitter court battle with the authority for a good one year and fortunately, we won the case - much thanks to our Sabah legal counsel who is now my good friend too.  

In 1995, I joined another locally based vessel, “Leisure World” as its owner’s representative and subsequently, went on to manage the company’s travel division on shore.  This was to be my longest stint.  I stayed more than a decade with the company before venturing out to set up my own travel and aviation companies in year 2001.  I re-joined the company in 2005 when my own businesses went topsy turvy during the SARS outbreak.  My time with Leisure World and the company was largely peaceful.  I finally left the organisation in 2012 to pursue my other passion in life.   

Admittedly I have never been not trained in the maritime industry before as I started my career in the airport and airline.  Everything I learnt was purely based on trial-and-error.  Even when our ship was struck with an ill-fated tragedy and many a time, I had to apply some common sense to the things I had to do and follow up.  At time, it was really high tension and looking back, I do not know how I managed to survive through the aftermath.  I am glad I did, somehow.  Despite all the knocks in the volatile cruising industry, I have had enjoyed the many opportunities given to me and at the same time, the adversities I had to face and overcome.  The early years in the cruising industry was exciting for all.  At its height, there were easily 7 to 8 cruise vessels plying the lucrative high sea route.  In the last 2 decades, many players appeared and many left too.  The local cruising industry can now witness just a handful of players.  To have survived this long tumultuous period, this says something special about these handful few.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fifth Edition Cycling Cruise To Taiwan and Okinawa 2015

Group picture in Ishigaki on first day of ride 

It has been my pleasure to co-organise this event with Star Cruises once again.  It was our fifth edition and our second to Taiwan and Okinawa on Superstar Aquarius following our first trip in September last year where we had an unusual date with typhoon "Fung-Wong" then.  This time we did not get to meet any 'typhoon of sorts' but it was the hot weather that we had to contend with in Taiwan and Okinawa.

Briefing on board before our ride

The cycling cruise trip was scheduled on 7 June over 6 days duration.  This time we had a motley group of some 50, from the leisure PCN cyclists to the hardcore cyclists and surprisingly, quite a number of them are senior citizens.  There were non-cyclists among them, mainly the accompanying wives of the cyclists. Much to our delight, we saw those who were with us last year and they were Andrew Lum (Star Cruises' staunch supporter who came 4 out of 5 times), Hong Choon and the 'forever young' Murphy and his three regular cycling kakis.  Added to that, some 40 cyclists from Taiwan also joined us for the 2 days ride in Ishigaki and Naha respectively.  In all, we had about 90 cyclists.  The ride was supported by a team from Giant Adventure led by gregarious Frank Hou.  Once again, their efficiency and professionalism did impress all of us at the end of the cycling tour.

Final preparation at Ishigaki port before rolling off 

It was an early departure on 7 June, Sunday by SQ876 leaving at 0820 hours.  My two kakis, Tan and Jane had arrived few days prior on their own and they will then join us at Keelung port on 7 June.  It was a pleasant and hassle-free onboard SQ flight.  And upon our arrival, we had to rush a little so that we can arrive at Keelung port by 1500 hrs.  Frank was already at the arrival hall to greet us and when everyone was out from customs, we were well on the way to the port - an hour drive needed.      

Couple Tan and Jane in Ishigaki

We arrived at Keelung port at about 1500 hrs.  We were among the last group to embark.  While onboard, Frank took the opportunity to introduce his team to us during the briefing.  For the second time, chatty Hong Choon shared the cabin with me.  He came alone, enjoyed the last trip and was hoping to know more friends in this trip.  Save for the time we met at our cabin, I largely left him to mingle with the rest.  I was mostly with Tan, Jane and Andrew.  There was this group comprising senior citizens, Sunriders and Long and Doris whom I know from other events are among their members.  They even took the trouble to design a special cycling jersey for their own group.  There were other couples and friends who signed up separately and it was just a matter of time they will warm up to each other.

Cyclists cycling in single file in Ishigaki

The first ride was in Ishigaki and for some, it was our second trip there.  On our first day of ride, we worn the 5th edition all yellow cycling jerseys.  It was almost the same route we had for last year.     There were some climbs but not particularly steep save for the last part where the highest point stands at about 100-metre high.  The road is nicely paved throughout. not a single pothole can be seen and the motorists generally gave us wide berth.  From the port where we rolled off, we cycled along the scenic coast to the popular Kabira Bay and we then made a u-turn back to the town centre.  Ishigaki is a small island which attracts throngs of tourists mostly from Taiwan.  There are not many modern buildings and corns are a common sight.  The support team from Giant Adventure made sure that there was a support crew at every turn so that no one will be left behind.   The weather was generally hot but compared to our humid weather here, I can't say for more though.  First day ride clocked about 45 km.  We had late lunch in town before heading back to the port for our re-boarding.

Bikes waiting for customs clearance at Naha port on day two of ride

We missed our ride in Naha last year due to typhoon but this time, I was looking forward to it.  Naha is the capital city of Okinawa Prefecture.  We were supposed to cover some 70 km but the stringent customs procedures at Naha port did delay our roll-off somewhat.  Naha seemed to be hotter than Ishigaki.  The place is definitely much developed than Ishigaki.  There are more buildings and nice flyovers.  For the large part, we were mostly cycling in the city area and traffic movement was quite heavy.  Every 200-metre, there is always a traffic light and it changes quite fast too.  Much to my delight, I have not heard a single horn from the motorists while alongside the cars and trucks.  We were cycling in single file and obediently observed all traffic rules.  They have nice park connector too.  It is still an island and the breeze from the sea did cool us down despite the hot weather.  We did not clock 70 km and had to stop around 50 km.  We had our lunch before heading back to the port. This capped our second day of ride.

Group picture in Naha

In the evening while cruising back to Keelung, Frank and I organised some fun and games for the cyclists.  As the Taiwanese cyclists will not be joining us for the ride in Taiwan, we had a simple certificate presentation for them.  We had great time with the Taiwanese cyclists.  One particular group called the "Taichung Apple Bike Club" (ABC) and among them, there are two senior cyclists who are 75-year old.  The two gentlemen were given the highest applaud when their names were announced.

Warming up and getting ready at Naha port

When we arrived at Keelung port in the afternoon, we were transferred to Yilan where we will start our 91 km ride to Taipei.  We stayed one night at Yilan Shangrila Boutique Hotel.  Yilan is a rustic country side surrounded by a range of mountain.  There are many padi fields in this countryside.  In the evening, we went to the famous Luodong Night Market where we just hopped from one stall to another to fill up our tummy.

Taiwanese cyclists taking a break in Naha

It was our final day of ride on 11 June, Thursday and we were expected to cover about 91 km and ending at our hotel in Taipei.  We got up early and by 0730 hrs, everyone was already out. Mentally we were prepared to overcome two mountains and at its highest point, it stands at 500 metres.  The route is famous for its '9 turns and 18 curves' during the climb.  The first 30 km was mostly flat before we start our climb.  We stopped for lunch first.  Along the way, we even made pit stops at a discarded brick kiln and Gin Tung Chuen waterway.  We also visited a fruit factory, toured around the premises where prunes are produced.

Idyllic Yilan countryside 

After lunch, we then started the climb.  It was a gradual climb for a good 14 km, not very steep.  For the regular cyclists, it should not pose any major challenge.  The road is curvy and I understand it is very heavily used during the weekend by cyclists and motor cyclists. Fortunately for us, it was a weekday when we rode save for trucks that send deliveries to Taipei on a daily basis.  The trees that line on both sides did provide shelter on a otherwise hot day.  As we climbed the countryside and the mountain range appearing on the background provides a picturesque sight.  After reaching the highest point, the downhill is some 8 km.

Model couple Lung & Doris 

The second climb is less demanding than the first climb, about 400 metres.  This will lead us all the way to the city.  I was mostly with Tan and Jane on the second climb.  Tan enjoying away and he actually was singing away and when it came to the chorus part, I backed him up.  Jane was somewhat tired as she had not been doing much climbing in Singapore of late but the songs did provide reprieve of sorts to her (I hope).  The downhill is about 12 km.  I was going down quite fast when I noticed my handle was shaking that rendered my bike unstable.  I then decided to pull a stop when I found a flat section.  I realised my front tyre was punctured.  Phew, it was a close shave and had I continued on the downhill, I may be thrown off from my bike.  It was certainly a wise decision to pull a full stop. A quick change of wheel by the sweeper when the rear support vehicle arrived and off I went again to re-join the group at the foot of the hill.

Climbing up and still looking cheerful

Another 8 km ride on the road and we finally reached our hotel by 1800 hrs.  Everyone had arrived safely and that is key.  Kudos to all of us, we clocked 91 km on our last ride of ride to Taipei city. In the evening, we roamed the street for dinner before retiring to bed.

From the top looking down in Yilan

On our last day before we flew back, we had a simple certificate presentation to all.  After that, we gave three big bows to Frank and his team for their excellent support throughout.  This ended another successive cycling cruise, our fifth edition.  Hip, hip, hip...hooray! (3 x)

Me giving thumbs up when the ride is finally over

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Football Diplomacy

I played football when I was a schoolboy but at best, I can only make it to class team and not beyond. My favourite player was Kevin Keegan who played for England and Liverpool as midfielder. Admittedly, I tried to emulate him but still cannot improve on my footballing skills.  In the nutshell, I am not cut out to be a footballer.

When I was stationed onboard a passenger vessel, 'Leisure World' for a short spell, I organised football game for the crew members on shore.  That was in the mid to late 90s.  The ship has many nationalities but the Burmese crew are one football craze lot.  Some were really good.  Many of our Filipino crew were not interested in football.  When we had Brazilian entertainment crew onboard, I approached a former colleague who was managing an Italian class passenger vessel, 'Renaissance' for a friendly football match.  The game was on and it was to be played at PSA Sports Club.

My former colleague, Vincent was the manager for his team while I acted for my team.  When our players were doing their warming up, I issued a warning to Vincent that we had Brazilian players in our team and asked whether he wanted to bet with me.  When he saw our Brazilian players who looked muscular and fit, he was awestruck.  Before we started play, he was already betting his team to lose.  On his side, his officers were from Italy and some of the younger officers were playing.  I even told him at least he had Italian players on his side but he was already "defeated" when he saw some of our fit and mean looking Brazilian players.

When the referee blew to start, it was actually his Italian players who were controlling the game.  As for our Brazilian players, actually our Myanmar players were a notch better than them.  I then turned to Vincent and told him our Brazilian crew do not play football as they were professional dancers only.  Our Brazilian players were all over the place, couldn't kick the ball properly and easily lost possession of the ball to the opponents.  It was quite comical watching our "prized" Brazilian players on the field.  Vincent's team played very well and his Italian players were fast, controlled the ball well.  Very soon, they were one goal up and leading.  I cannot remember the final score but we lost eventually.  I then turned to Vincent who was betting against his own team, gave him a good laugh and he was dumbfounded.

Another occasion when I arranged a friendly football match for our office team against a local team. Most of my younger colleagues were in their 20s and some had just ROD from the Commandos.  They were fit and in their prime.  Derrick was the team captain and I asked if his team had been training well.  He gave me the confident look and then told me not to worry.  The night before the game, some of them including team captain, Derrick were actually partying away onboard the vessel.

It was still the same ground at PSA Sports Club.  When I arrived, the other players from the other team were already warming up but our players were still not to be seen yet.  Then slowly but steadily, our players made their grand entrance to the field.  They looked "stoned" as they were drinking merrily onboard the day before.  Derrick even assured me that they will do well but deep inside me, I was not that hopeful.  

When the match was kicked off, it was lopsided all the way.  Our players cannot muster enough strength to chase, evidently their fitness was all gone and they were not chasing after the ball at all.  One goal up, two goals up, three goals up and counting.  I was unfit to play but some of our players were already burning out fast and reluctantly, I had to step in too.  The other side relented on their assault and finally, we managed to score a solitary goal through late Seow.  The score in the end read 12 to 1, I think or maybe more, I cannot remember the actual score.  We had a good thrashing and a wake up call.  From there on, I never organised another football game for the office team anymore to preserve our dignity.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aranda May Day Run 2015

Group picture at the club

This morning I helped to organise for my club's maiden run event, the Aranda May Day Run 2015. In all some 80 runners signed up for the run which covers a distance of 5.5 km at Pasir Ris Park.

To prepare for the run, I had to wake up at 0445 hrs and quickly leave my house to pick up two staff from Aranda Country Club, Vivian and Linda along the way.  We had early breakfast at McDonald's joined by the rest who were involved in the early morning set up.  Steve, one of our house committee members who helped with the set up of the water station at half way mark joined us for breakfast too.

At the start line

Our flag-off was scheduled at 0800 hrs and already, some runners arrived early.  When I saw a group of young runners from F1 running group, I knew it will be an uphill task for our Team Aranda runners, the likes of Peter, Gavin and Simon and my regular run kaki, Long Chua to snatch a podium finish.  I was also expecting Vanja who had registered under F1 group (she hails from Belgium and she has been a top finisher in all local 10 km run events since she arrived in Singapore more than 2 years ago) but to my slight disappointment, she did not turn up in the end.  But it was still a strong turnout of runners especially some of the male runners.

Final remainder to runners before the flag-off

Tan Chai Koon, our Club's house committee Chairman was our guest-of-honour who will flag off the runners.  Peter Goh, the General Manager of both Orchid Country Club and Aranda Country Club joined in with the flag-off too.  Among my friends who signed up, Long Chua came with his whole family, Doreen Go, Esther and Khishgee (one of our run kakis who was aiming for a podium finish in the ladies' category).  Edmond and his wife, Jamie did not turn up as they overslept.

The start venue is at the start of the park connector near Aranda Country Club and when all marshals and water point were up and ready, our runners were finally flagged off at 0800 hrs.  The actual distance was slightly less than 5.5 km.  The weather was fine though it did look like it was going to rain with some overcast building up.

Our runners at Pasir Ris Park

I was waiting at the finishing together with some.  The chat group we created reported the runners at different stage and therefore we had a fairly good idea of the various positions of the runners especially the front pack.  It was reported that the front runners were from F1 group.  When the first runner dashing down on the final 100 metres stretch, he was from F1 run group.  He was running at a very fast pace and when he hit the tape, he was just under 20 minutes.  My stopwatch showed 19 mins 57 secs.  The first runner up came in some 37 seconds later.  7 seconds later, the second runner up came in.  Long Chua was not that bad too.  He was in 7th position and credit to him, he actually beat some of the much younger F1 runners too.  For the ladies, the first runner clocked 23 mins 41 secs.  1st runner up came in 1 min 13 secs followed closely by the 2nd runner up 19 seconds later.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Khishgee running down the final stretch and came in 4th position, just missing out on the podium finish.  Had Khishgee trained more regularly, she could have been among the podium finishers.  In all, not that bad for my Wednesday running group.  For Team Aranda runners, Peter came in first followed by Gavin, Simon and Teong in that order.

The podium finishers

After the run, the runners were ushered to Ban Hing Restaurant for a light breakfast and refreshment. Completion certificate was presented to everyone and of course, all the 6 runners from F1 group grabbed all the top three in the men's and ladies' category respectively.  However, we did prepare one exclusive trophy for our Aranda's member.  It is an inspiration award and it went to Teong, our regular runner at Aranda.  Teong did not expect to receive this award but he truly deserved it.  Teong who is in his 60s has set good example to many senior citizens to take up exercise to stay fit and this is the message we want to put to our senior members in the club.  A lucky draw followed and the morning event ended with three loud cheers from all - hip, hip, hip...hooray (3 times)!  Aranda May Day Run will be back again next year, I am sure.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Pen Pal

Anyone still remembers "Pen Pal"?  I think only those in their 40s and above are aware of its existence.  With internet comes email, Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social media stuff and this thingy called "Pen Pal" which had been part of our growing up years has regrettably becomes insignificant anymore.

I was in my lower secondary school when I started to have pen pals.  It went on for few years.  It was the in-thing then.  During those days, many magazines targeting the young people would have a column which featured contacts of those who are keen to have pen pals.  One particular magazine was the Fanfare if I remember the name correctly.  Back then, such thing like spam was unheard of then.  Home addresses and names of those who wished to find pen pals were openly published.  Their hobbies and interests were also listed.  

At my height, I had quite a number of pen pals but I can only remember one in particular.  She is an Eurasian girl, quite pretty by my standard.  I still remember the school she was studying (quite a popular school then compared to mine, a neighbourhood school).  It was really fun and exciting to have pen pals.  We had to personally pen down our thought, write it nicely to impress the other party and then post out.  I used to keep all the letters from my pen pals and they are all girls.  I don't have male pen pal for obvious reason. Unfortunately, this form of communication is fast fading away as people either email, tag, whatsapp or whatever using modern mode of communication.  Sheepishly, I am now following the present trend too.  Back to the favourite pen pal of mine, that Eurasian girl.  We communicated quite regularly via letters.  She even mailed me her school badge which I put it close to me.  Each time, I would check my letter box for her letter and very quickly, I followed up with mine.  I had her photo too.  Did I send mine?  Quite frankly, I cannot remember now.  I was actually quite a shy boy.  I did not arrange to meet any of my pen pal and gradually, the interest kind of fizzled out.  So, no first date from any of my pen pal during my teenage years.  Let's get real, I was too poor to go on date anyway.  I was also afraid I would fumble with what to say.  Alright, the latter was the real reason why I didn't date any of my pen pal then.

Lastly, I hope my favourite pen pal, that Eurasian girl is living well.  She may not remember me now even if we happen to meet.  The platonic relationship among young people where boys are keen to know girls and likewise is norm with youngsters, me included .  "Pen Pal" is indeed an important part of my growing up life.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cycling Is A Culture Here

Taking a leaf from one famous quote, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep balance you must keep going” – Albert Einstein.

Indeed, we must keep going in life.  That said, many people cycle for a variety of reasons.  In some remote areas, it is one integral form of transportation.  For others especially in affluent Singapore, it is chiefly to keep a healthy lifestyle – to each his or her own to say the least.  In recent years, we have seen a big leap with many people taking up cycling as an outdoor hobby and inevitably public roads have to be shared much to the annoyance of some motorists.  Notwithstanding, creating as much public awareness therefore remains fundamental in ensuring safety to all cyclists on roads.  “We have extensive park connectors now, why can’t these cyclists ride there instead?”, some motorists might have questioned.  Perhaps to a non-cyclist, a bicycle is a bicycle which should be off road.
There are many types of bicycle which have been greatly improved over the years.  Road bike or roadie as its name has suggested, it is built for cycling on paved roads.  The tyres are narrow & smooth and the frame is usually lightweight made from carbon material.  For a strong cyclist, he or she can hit a speed of 50 km an hour or more and therefore, it is posed risk of sorts to park users on park connector.  Granted no other options, road bike cyclists have to ride on roads. 

Another popular type is the mountain bikes which are built for trails or off roads.  The bikes are heavier than road bikes, the frames are usually made of steel or alloy material and the wheels are more durable and bigger to tackle tough terrains.  While mountain bike does not have the speed component of a road bike, cycling in a mountain trail requires good bike handling skills coupled with good balancing sense too.      

The cross between a road bike and mountain bike is aptly called hybrid bike which can be used on roads as well as off roads.  It usually has a straight handle bar and a straight upright sitting posture of a mountain bike but it has a thinner wheel unlike a mountain bike.  A strong cyclist can hit high speed on hybrid bike too.         

Cyclists come in many forms and shapes.  Some are leisure cyclists, preferring to take their time and admire the beautiful scenery while some are hard-core cyclists where hitting top speed is their ultimate dream.  While goals varied among cyclists, it is important for all to observe good cycling etiquettes.  Give way if you can; go slow if it is a busy road; keep left as always and overtake on the right; signal before changing course so that the person behind can be made aware of obstacles ahead and many more safety tips.  One who is a responsible cyclist will help to propel our little red dot into one safe cycling environment, be it on road or park connector.  Slowly but surely we will achieve that.  For now let’s build a safe and sound cycle culture.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Tribute To Lee Kuan Yew (1923 - 2015)

I can say with confidence that the initial LKY resonates affectionately to many Singaporeans from the young to the old.  The acronym LKY is Lee Kuan Yew - the founding father of our modern Singapore and a legendary son of Singapore.

I was born in the trying period of the 60s.  I was very young but I can still remember the racial fight between the Chinese and the Malays.  I can sense the high tension of the adults then but I was too young to understand what actually happened or fear the repercussion had that situation gone beyond control.  When I was much older, I understand that it can take a little remark poking fun at one's race or religion, all hell will then break loose.

Growing up, I have only known one big figure as our PM and he was our LKY.  He continued to loom large in my life as our country started to develop from a place full of slums to a metropolis -a promise our then PM made to the nation when we were kicked out from Malaya.  Goh Keng Swee was another respectable person whom I admired greatly.  

The place where we used to live was a magnet for gang fights.  I was once bullied by a gangster but fortunately for me and my siblings, we did not join any secret society.  It was easy to join the triad for protection.  Between the 60s and 70s, I can see all the street fights and sleazy activities were slowly but surely weeded out.  Our parents and those before them had it even harder.  LKY and his cabinets were unwavering in their pursuit to give us a safe and sound environment.

I used to hate the idea of serving NS.  Why must we "wasted" 2 or 2 and a half years of our time serving NS?  I was hoping to get into SHATEC to study hotel management but had to give up altogether when I had to serve NS.  We have peace.  There is no war here.  But we must serve NS, I used to question that.  Only in my adulthood, I understand we are living in a volatile region.  I also understand we may be a small red dot but having a strong armed forces means we cannot be easily pushed over by others.  A decade ago, our Navy was rendering help to our neighbour when fatal disaster struck their land.  Our state-of-the-art equipment was a God-send to the disaster area that greatly impressed me.  We are able to help a much bigger neighbour.  It was the long term vision of LKY and his comrades who insisted that we will have to count on ourselves to defend our own shores, thus the NS policy.  I am proud to have served my NS stint like many male Singaporeans.  Our SAF continues to punch above its weight.

I cannot say I agree to all the policies meted out by LKY and his team.  One was the curtailing of press freedom.  I was most bitter when our news article which was supposed to appear in Sunday Times was embargoed at the last hour.  It was a shipwreck tragedy where I was one of the survivors and we had wanted our government to help us to re-float the wreck and to help find for missing bodies.  It was a major event in the early 90s but we were just pushed aside.  I did question the limitation on press freedom especially ours had nothing to do with race or religion issues at all.  It was an appeal to our government from us as private citizens.  We did not get our answer and the ship is still lying somewhere in the Straits of Malacca.  I will never forget that incident.

Many said LKY was an authoritarian and I subscribe wholeheartedly to that and for good reason too.  Some, especially the misinformed western media used to call him a dictator.  I see a dictator who lives in a land of violent, one who rules and kills people indiscriminately.  Did he?  Is our place a violent place to live in?  He did jail some who opposed him but during the tumultuous period of the 50s and 60s, the communist threat was real.  He had to do what he felt was most appropriate during that period so that we can live in a peaceful and safe environment.  I am sure it was a hard decision by him.  

I was talking to a person who works at the Istana.  He shared this with me.  He said LKY was a frugal man.  He said LKY even reminded the staff working at the Istana to make sure the last bits of toilet paper cannot be wasted.  I was most impressed when I learnt it from someone who has served him before.

Our country is not a perfect place to live in but in my opinion, it is near perfect.  I can't ask for more. Foreigners who work or visit our place only have good words for our government especially LKY.  This makes me proud as a Singaporean.  This red dot is resources poor but it is a thriving city where people from all over congregate.  We won't get to become a thriving city had our pioneering leaders not laid a solid foundation for us.  We had to make it happen or we cease to exist.  I don't cry easily but my tears just flowed when I watched a video posted on FB on LKY recently who said this,

"At the end of the day, what have I got?"
"A successful Singapore." 
"What have I given up?"  
"My life."

He was a God-send to Singapore during our difficult period for without LKY and his fellow comrades, this is a different Singapore now.  It is my greatest pleasure to pen my thought on this great man.  This is my highest tribute to LKY and may you rest in peace, Sir.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Building Up Fitness Is A Slow But Sure Process

I don't consider myself a "fitness bluff".  I was most unfit when I was in my 30s until mid 40s, I had never exercised one bit during that period.  It was stress, work, more stress and money woes that I completely disregarded my own health.  I was going through mid life crisis.  Then in 2007, I decided to change my unhealthy lifestyle.  I was already 45 by then.  I had my first run around my neighbourhood.  Just one kilometre into the run, I had to stop and walk the remaining route.  I was panting badly.  I then realised how unfit I was.  I went for few more runs and yet, I had to stop around the 1 km mark.

I was mostly running on own until I learnt a former colleague who runs regularly.  Prior to that, he had been running in few marathons and to-date, he is still running.  He then invited me to join him and a friend for an evening run after work.  He becomes my running buddy - thanks to Long Chua for being the biggest contributing factor to me taking up distance running.  The run with him was nothing but tough.  I had never ran more than 5 km, even when I was younger and fitter then.  The mental block in mind would tell me to stop at 5 km.  The run with him and another friend, Eddie was at least 8 km and sometimes more.  It was hell for me.  I was grasping for air and was quietly 'cursing' Long Chua for not stopping.  We used to run from HarbourFront to Keppel Bay Club where we will do laps around the club.  That was before Labrador Park connector was made available.  We now run to Labrador Park and back.  Covering at least a good 10 km and sometimes, more if we increase our mileage.  More run buddies joined us later.  Dora, CK and Catherine become our regular run buddies.

That year, 2007....our young CEO, Linda wanted us to participate in Stanchart Run.  I decided to sign up for 10 km while Chua signed up for run marathon.  Some of my colleagues including my CEO, Linda signed up for 10 km.  I had just started running with Chua and Eddie but was still not completely fit enough to cover a full 10 km without stopping.  I was very excited and at the same quite apprehensive if I could finish in "one good piece" in my first Stanchart Run.  The huge turnout of runners was simply overwhelming.  Indeed it was a tough 10 km.  However, during the run I surprised even myself when I realised I can run without stopping.  My legs were aching and my muscle was tight but I simply pressed on.  When I ran past the finishing line, I clocked 1 hr 1 min plus for my first 10 km run.  I was very inspired and utterly pleased with my time.  This fueled  me to start running on more regular basis with Chua and Eddie.  For this, I must really thank my then CEO, Linda for paving the way forward for me.

In 2008, I ran another 10 km in Stanchart but this time, I improved from 1 hour 1 min plus to 53 mins plus.  I had sliced some 7 mins from my last.  I was most inspired and I then decided to sign up for full marathon.  My first foray into full marathon with Stanchart was in 2009 and I clocked 5 hrs 9 mins.  It was a tough tough 42 km and I had bad cramp along the way - result of insufficient mileage prior to run.  I even went one further for my full marathon, I managed to get friends to support me by pledging funds for the Singapore Cancer Society.  In that run, I raised more than $5,000.  It was most satisfying for me.

In the past years, I did few marathons and half marathons but admittedly, I have somewhat lost the interest to compete now.  I have signed up for less run events now but I still do my regular run on own or with friends to keep fit.  Sometimes, I cycle with friends.

Many people will tell me they don't enjoy running for a variety of reasons.  I will usually tell them that I will not enjoy my run in the first 5 km.  I will get some discomfort in some parts of my legs or body.  My 'engine" is not fully warmed up yet but when the discomfort is gone after around 5 km into the run, my strides will then kick in and everything will be in cruise control.  Sometimes, when I was into my competitive mood, I would challenge another runner (usually the younger ones).  Running is not easy especially during the initial stage but it is a probably the most effective form of exercise.  If we run on our own pace, one will slowly but surely improve one's fitness.  When some say, "I am too old to run, it is too strenuous".  Unless one does not experience pain in the knees, one can always enjoy a leisure run at any age.  People out there, for your own health' sake, let's get up and start running now.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Men's Health Urbanathlon 2015

This morning was the 5th edition of Men's Health Urbanathlon run event.  It was my second and my first was in 2010, their inaugural then.  I did not sign up for the subsequent events as I did not like to crawl in mud water which we did in our first edition.  My new Nike shoes were total soaked in mud and was never the same anymore.  After checking all the obstacles listed except the mystery obstacle which was to be revealed on race day, there was no mention of mud obstacle and I then decided to sign up for it to test my endurance.  It was a 14 km run and there were 9 obstacles to clear along the way.

I got up at 0530 hrs and in ten minutes, I was really out.  The start up venue was at the Kallang Practise Track near Sports Hub which is not too far from my house.  Originally I was thinking to take the bus but the first bus was to arrive at 0605 hrs, I decided to walk to the venue instead.  It was a three km walk and it was still dark.  I arrived well before 0630 hrs, more than an hour to the first flag-off at 0730 hrs.  There were already many runners waiting, mostly men.  I did a little warm up and also looked around for some familiar faces.  I didn't find anyone I know.

The pen was opened at 0700 to allow runners in.  I was in the third wave among the early arrival.  By my reckoning, there should have at least 4,000 runners.  Not that bad and since it was third 5th edition, they should have built up a a pool of staunch supporters by now.

The first wave was flagged off at 0730 hrs and in between 2 minutes, another wave was flagged.  Very soon, I was flagged off too.  From Kallang Practise Track, we ran to Tanjung Rhu direction and onto Gardens By The East where the first obstacle was waiting for us.  It was about 3 km mark.  The obstacle was named "Bottom Line".  We had to hold on to the two dangling ropes above and walk gingerly on narrow plank.  I did it quite fast while holding on the two ropes for balance.  At the end I kind of misjudged the distance when I jumped off  but one foot slipped.  I quickly got up but had sustained a little bruise on my ankle.  I ignored the pain to my ankle and continued on.

We ran up the ramp at Marina Barrage and to the direction of MBS.  The second obstacle was set up just after we ran down from the ramp.  It was named "Balance Sheet".  This one was not easy as balancing is key.  We had to steady ourselves on the sloping beams and walk gingerly on the beams.  At mid way I thought I was going to fall off but managed to steady myself - close call indeed.  

The third obstacle was stationed near MBS.  It was named "Lateral Move".  This one called for some arm power.  We had to make our way across a 6 metres long parallel bars using both hands. Admittedly, I had to use much of my arm strength to move over and at mid-point, my arms weakened a little but I managed to press on to the end.  The second set of parallel bars were much easier.  We just used two hands on one bar and the legs on another to move along.  No sweat for this one, I was on my way to the third obstacle.  We had already covered more than 8 km and have less than half the distance to go.  But there were six more obstacles yet to be cleared.

I was still not getting into my strides, still feeling quite lethargic.  I did not take anything in the morning before the run and therefore, I found my pace was slower than my usual.  The obstacles did consume big part of my energy too.  I decided to slow down as I needed to preserve energy for the remaining obstacles.  Some runners from the later waves ran past me.  We were running past Fullerton Hotel and to the floating platform.  The night before there was Chingay Parade and many props and stalls are still there.  We ran along the PCN and after Singapore Flier, the fourth obstacle awaited for us. It was named "Tipping Point".  The one was no sweat.  We just need to climb up the narrow plank, balance ourselves properly which will then drop to the other side like a see-saw.  We then jumped off and continued our run.

We were running on the PCN alongside Nicoll Highway to The Sports Hub.  We had already covered more than 10 km, another 4 km to the finish.  There were 4 more obstacles to clear.  After running past Singapore Flier & F1 pit and not long later the fifth obstacle awaited for us.  We had to carry 10 kg cement block on each hand and run 100 metres.  It was no small task.  Wasted no time, I quickly picked up two cement blocks and started to run.  At 50 metres, the blocks got heavier and heavier.  When I crossed over, a Caucasian man gave me a pat on my shoulder and sped off before me.  I returned with a thumbs-up to him for the kind gesture.  At that time, the weather started to get hot.

There were 2 km to the finish but 3 more obstacles yet to be cleared.  The sixth obstacle was named "Wheel & Deal".  3 big tyres were hanging up at different heights and we had to maneuver through each tyre.  One big man in front of me had some difficulty getting through the tyre.  It was a breeze for me, given my smaller size.  I managed to squeeze through each tyre without wasting much time.

The end was near.  The seventh obstacle "the Network".  We had to climb on a 3.2 metres rope web which was mounted on a truck.  One man in front was moving quite slowly.  I believe he must be afraid of the height.  I can't pass him when he was on top of the truck and seemed hesitant to come down.  I told him to just hold on to the ropes and then move down.  I did not look back how he did it when I went ahead of him.

The eight obstacle was named "Leap of Faith".  We climbed up a 2 metres high tower and grabbed a 1.2 metre rope to get down.  That one was not that tough though.  A short run ahead was the final obstacle.    

The mystery obstacle was the final one.  Many had no idea about it though the MC did hint to us that we will have to jump off from a three-storey height but something might await us below - mud or powder? Gosh, when I heard that I was hoping it was not mud.  When we reached the last obstacle, we had to crawl below and then climb up the pillars.  And when we were at the highest point, everyone had to jump down.  There were mattresses below.  So it was safe to land.  Some jumped off from a standing position, some sitting.  I decided to do it differently.  I went down holding my hands on the edge of the platform and jumped off.  It was a nice landing for me.  Then, it was a short final dash to the finish.  I looked up, the gun time was showing 1 hour 36 minutes and taking 4 minutes away, my net time should be 1 hour 32 minutes plus I hope.  It was not an easy run, the obstacles did sap some of the energy from me but I enjoyed it thoroughly though.  Thumbs up to organisers of Men's Health Urbanathlon for a good job!        

Updated: For the record, I clocked 1 hr 32 mins 38 secs and placed 234th position out of 3,3737 runners.