Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Summary For 2014

It is the last day of 2014 to a start of another year ahead.  It is a "ritual of sorts" for me to post my last thought for 2014 on the last day of 2014.  How did 2014 go for me?  For starter, the year did not augur well for the aviation industry, most particularly Malaysia Airlines when the world received a rude shock on hearing the missing MH plane in the early part of the year which has yet to be found.  The sombre mood worsened further when another MH plane crashed from the Ukraine internal war conflict some months later.  While the world has yet to fully recover from the double whammy, days before the year is over, AirAsia Indonesia plane crashed while enroute to Singapore from Surabaya.  Like many I do empathy for the affected families and hope they will recover from their grieves soon.

On a personal note, I do find year 2014 not that bad a year for me though not fantastic to say the least.  However, I do get to know more nice people through the many events I have had organised.  One in particular is the cycle and cruise event with Star Cruises and since our inception, we have gone on to do three trips and still counting.

I have gone another year without a full time job and admittedly, I have to be very watchful on unnecessary spending.  Somehow, I am confident I can get by.  I am very excited going into 2015. Why so?  There are few exciting events in the pipeline and I am collaborating these events with some like-minded partners and with some stroke of luck, I am hopeful that we can deliver a good show together - fingers crossed.  I reckon event organising is the way to go for me now and hopefully, I can carve out a niche from here.  

What has been my most satisfying moment in 2014?  I find that I can help more despite not having a full time job.  Our annual "Ride For Rations" cycling fund raising event has raised a record sum for the needy families in 2014 - all thanks to everyone involved.  On a personal note, I am also glad that I have managed to form a volunteer group to visit Baan Dada Home in Thailand in the middle of the year and the fund that we raised did help Dada Rama in the nick of time.  Some friends pledged monies while I pledged my time and some effort.  I really hope I can help more.  It has been great knowing some of the people who come together for a cause.

What is my wish for 2015?  I hope it is going to be a peaceful world and everyone can live harmoniously together.  Wishful I know but nothing is going to stop me from not wishing for that. 2015, bring it on...I am ready for it!


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Those Days At Work

I joined the airport team of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in 1985.  I was the latest recruit and was the youngest.  I was 23 then.  Aside from Simon Oh who is of the same birth year as me and he joined some months earlier, the rest of our colleagues are more than a decade older than us.  Added to that, they had already worked more than a decade with the company.  For some, two decades.  It was just a beginning for me.  If I can remember well, Simon was few days older than me.  We even share the same birthday month in February. He was a 'little feisty dragon' at work.  He has a fearsome Chinese name called Oh Kim Leng and in Hokkien, it means golden dragon.

I remember Zohri who used to work as office messenger running errands.  He was later promoted to handle simple passenger service tasks.  Zohri spoke with a unique slang, almost like an ang moh but not exactly close.  I liked to call him 'Zorro'.  Yes, I was quite a rascal sometimes.  Guess being young then, I can afford to tease around.  I remember once Zohri was about to leave office to handle a flight.  He was engaged in a conversation with someone in the office and on one hand, he was holding a walkie-talkie.  I managed to take out the battery in his walkie-talkie he was still holding without his knowledge. When he was done talking, I called him on the walkie-talkie to get him to do a sound test.  It was in the office, we can still hear each other even without the walkie-talkie.  Guess what, he can respond back without realising his battery was gone.  I had a good laugh at his expense though.  Bad, I know I am.

Another bubbly person was Jaalam whom we affectionately called Jack.  He has already passed on for many years.  Jack was a rotund fellow and enjoyed his cigar.  He was one of our company's drivers.  He had a waist that measured more than 40 inches and easily weighed in more than 200 pounds.  He will always demonstrate to me that he can still touch his toes when he bent down.  Boy, indeed he could.  I was really amazed.  

Peng Choon, our office messenger who used to work alongside Zohri but the latter got promoted, he didn't.  Peng Choon was quite a laid back person and he was one fellow who does not speak or express much.  He was a small fellow but one heck of a heavy smoker.  Given his care free nature, we used to call him 'Peng San' (lost consciousness in Malay).  

Ali, another of our company's driver.  He was a very hardworking employee.  I cannot recall a time he will nag about too much work.  He simply went around doing his errands going from airport to town office and back.  I liked his work attitude.

Johari, also our company's driver.  He was a friendly chap and liked to mingle with us.  Johari sported a thick moustache and he had a stout built too.

The one I remember too well has to be Tay, also our company's driver.  He was the opposite of Ali. He will nag and nag when he was asked to go for more errands.  When Peng Choon and him were at the pantry, it was always so smoky to the point of setting the place on fire.  Both will smoke non-stop.  Admittedly, I do find Tay quite a pain in the butt sometimes.

It has been more than two decades and recollecting back now, I do enjoy working with them all. Once a KLMer, always a KLMer.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Going Extra Mile For Stranger

During my airport days, I used to have this colleague who will not hesitate to extend help to strangers in distress.  As far as I can remember, she is always overlooked by the management when it came to promotion or perk of sorts.  Perhaps, she was not the complaining sort and therefore, taken for granted by the management then. When I joined the company in the mid 80s, she had already spent more than a decade with the company but still stuck in the same position.  She is one who will not complain about too much work or went around gossiping.  Most of all, she will not pull rank to the junior just because she was more senior, rather the other way around is more true.  Quite frankly, I have never once witnessed her losing her cool while handling difficult passengers.

Once there was this elderly lady passenger who missed the flight, had to stay in Singapore for few days and had no money on her.  My colleague could not bear to see her stranded high and dry in a foreign land, actually brought her home.  She even provided food for her during her stay with her.  In fact, this was not her first time helping out strangers in distress but happened few times after I have left the company.  If I can really recall, I don't think her effort was even recognised by the company then.  Only in recent years, Changi Airport started to run this publicity campaign to award airport service staff for displaying excellent service to passengers.  If I can nominate, my colleague should deserve one too.  My colleague has since left the company and now residing in the US with her family.  'Mom", if you you are reading my blog, I want to recognise you for going the extra mile for people whom you don't even know.  You are one of the few people I know who do not clamour for recognition but prefer to remain anonymous.  It has been great having you as my colleague once.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Applying Air Ticketing Rules

I confess I have never enjoyed doing air ticketing when I was working for KLM in the 80s due to its complex rules and regulations that one has to remember.  Like it or not, we have to know some ticketing knowledge being part and parcel of our job.  We have to know whether a ticket issued by another another carrier can be endorsed to another carrier or accepted by us.  Some tickets were simple.  It was point to point, easy to read - no sweat.  However, some tickets were all over the places and involving few carriers and in different classes of travel.  Unlike now, we use e-tickets but prior to proliferation of the Internet, only properly issued airline tickets can be accepted.  Each flight coupon had to be issued and uplifted at point of departure.  If we do not understand some ticketing rules, we will find ourselves 'stranded'.  And if we accepted the wrong ticket, we will be held liable.

Our airline has already already built up a reputation for its well established training centre in Holland.  We even trained other airline personnel including SIA.  When I first joined the airline, I was first given correspondence course on passenger handling and basis ticketing.  After passing the assessment, we were then sent to Holland for further training.  I have had two training stints in Holland during my 5-year with KLM.  One of it was the air ticketing course. One has to have fairly good knowledge in Geography if one hopes to do well in the course.  Imagine, if one cannot find Singapore on the world map, how do you expect that person to cope well?  I was not that bad in Geography, fortunately for me.

During the course, we were not allowed to use computer to auto-quote the fare for us.  Yes, computers in the 80s were already quite up to scratch where airfares can be automatically worked out at the press of the button.  In the course, we had to rely on this thick book called the ABC book.  The book listed the flight schedule of all airlines in the world, the published fares and the mileage of from one point to another.  One can imagine the thickness of the book which (if I remember correctly) came in two parts.  I did struggle I remember.  I do not issue air ticket in the course of my job.  I handled passengers at the airport.  My course mates were mostly ticketing staff from other part of the world and they had no problem at all.

There were so many ticketing rules one had to remember then.  The unit used for fare calculation was called FCU (fare calculation unit, I think) but some years later, it was switched to NUC (neutral unit of calculation, I think so too).  We used to say, "Never Use Condom".  When  we issued a ticket that involved multiple destinations, we had to remember to apply some rules.  It is not so straight forward applying destination A, then add destination B, C and so on.  The fare from destination A via B, C to D can be cheaper than A to B, thus apply the latter fare.  This is called the HIF (higher intermediate fare) and if one missed this check, it means short collection.  We had to flip through our voluminous ABC book, checked the TPM (ticketing point of mileage) for each destination and then cross-checked the MPM (maximum point of mileage to ensure everything was kept within allowed mileage.  We also had to do a CTM (circle trip something, I cannot recall exactly now) before we can be sure it was the right fare applied.  Attending air ticketing course with so many rules to remember then was akin to aspiring surgeons undergoing specialist training.  Ask a surgeon to issue air ticket then and surely, that surgeon will be baffled.  Not any Tom, Dick or Harry can just issue an air ticket.  Only ticketing professional can do the job.  It is a specialised job too (in jest).  However, the same cannot be said now.  Even a 10-year old child can book an air seat and issue own ticket now with permission from the parents, of course.  It is no longer complex when your computer can just do the rest for you.  I am no longer with the airline and no longer involved in issuance of air  tickets.  Welcome to the Internet world!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

One Fight I Will Never Forget

The neighbourhood in the 70s I used to grow up with was notorius where gang fights were the norm during those days.  We shared the common corridor with each household facing one and another.  The corridor was always noisy with kids like us running up and down.  The block has since been demolished in the early 80s.

I was 12 or 13, I think and I was hanging around at the playground and minding my own business when a boy, around my age and built approached me.  Without provocation, he started to challenge me to a fight.  I ignored him but he persisted to taunt me.  It got me mad and we started to fight.  Crowd gathered immediately but nobody broke out our fight.  I quickly got him on the ground, folded up his hands and sat on top of him.  He couldn't move and meekly surrendered the fight.  I then told him to leave me alone and walked home.  I did not dare tell my mother I had a fight or I could have 'eaten the cane'.  Her caning was terrifying and that probably toughened my skin, I think.

What happened next?  We became friends later and not buddies though.  This is part of our growing up in the 70s & 80s.  This was probably the only physical fight I had with someone.  There were few close encounters though.  Despite the rough childhood, I kind of relished the good old days.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Celebrating Deepavali

In uniquely Singapore, there are three important celebrations in a calendar year that relate to the three major ethnic groups.  Typically, when we refer to Chinese New Year, the Chinese will come to mind; Hari Raya Puasa, the Malays and Deepavali, the Indians.  Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated by the Hindus and Sikhs.  

The meanings of Deepavali or Diwali, its symbols and rituals and the reasons for celebration are innumerable.  Deepavali celebrates Lord Rama’s glorious and long awaited return to his Kingdom of Ayodhya after his fourteen long years of exile in the forests.  It commemorates Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon Narakaasura who had kidnapped and terrorised the gopis of Vrindavan.  When the evil Narak was finally killed by Bhagwan Krishna and Satyabhaama, he begged for mercy; thus upon his entreaties, it was declared that this day of his death would be celebrated with great joy and festivity.  It is also celebrated as the day of Bhagwan Vishnu who married Maha Lakshmi.

Deepavali is also associated with the legend of the fall of Bali – a demon king who was conquered by Lord Vishnu who appeared in the form of a dwarf before the demon.  When Lord Vishnu re-appeared in his original form, he placed one foot on the Earth, another on the Heavens and the third on the head of the evil Bali.    

“Deep” means light and “avali” mean a row and together, it means a row of lights.  While it is a one day public holiday in Singapore, it is actually observed and celebrated over five days.  The history of Deepavali has its root that relates to the legends from the Puranas (holy Hindu scriptures).  Central to the theme, it evolves around the classic truth, the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and light over darkness.  The lighting of oil lamps symbolises gratitude to the Gods for the happiness, health, wealth and knowledge bestowed upon the people.            

During the festive period, the main road along Little India in Serangoon is tastefully decked up in colourful decoration befitting the rich Indian culture.  Street bazaars are also set up along with many exciting fringe activities to welcome throngs of visitors including curious tourists.  The electrifying atmosphere at Little India is densely filled with holiday mood among shoppers.     

Special delicacies are prepared during Deepavali celebration which symbolises sweetness and happiness.  These delicacies are also offered to deities for blessings.  Deepavali is the time where family members and friends rejoice together and enjoy the many delicacies prepared for the special occasion.      

Perhaps one of the best descriptions for Deepavali is made by Times of India Editorial which says, “Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.”  

Wishing all Hindus & Sikhs a Happy Deepavali!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Third Cycle And Cruise Expedition With Star Cruises

Rolling off at Ishigaki Port

It was our third expedition but this time, we will have to fly, then cruise and cycle at each port call.   Sandy and Xuejing of Star Cruises were already exploring a ride event in Taiwan and Okinawa following our successive second edition earlier this year which took us to Penang and Phuket.  It was not easy especially for Xuejing who had to co-ordinate with many parties, the likes of the airline, the hotels and the ground operator, among others and when the program was finalised, we were left with about two months to get cyclists.

Group picture at Ishigaki Port

It was a 6 days and 5 nights cruise and cycle expedition, with 3 nights aboard Superstar Aquarius and 2 nights in Taipei.  At S$1,288 per person excluding airport taxes & surcharges, it is a steal.  We had scheduled to depart on 20 Sep, Saturday and returning on 25 Sep, Thursday.  We tapped on various social media platforms to get the cyclists.  Some of my kakis signed up too.  Star Cruises did their own broadcast to cast the net wider.  Admittedly, it was a slow start from onset as this involving flight passage and people generally took longer time to ponder over.  We were hoping those who joined us in the first and second edition to join us again but after some persuasion, we managed to convince Andrew Lum (as always, Star Cruises' number one supporter) and husband & wife team in Irene and Michael to sign up for this latest edition.  My other kakis like Peter and Arthur also joined in and they too roped in their friends and relatives.  We had a couple in Patrick and Justina who live in Perth flew in to join us too.  Justina used to swim for Singapore in the SEAP Games and won 7 gold medals for us, one of our golden girls in the 70s.  When it was finalised, we had 40 of us joined by some from the Singapore media members too.

Collecting and inspecting our rented bikes from Giant 

Our departure on 20 Sep, Saturday was by China Airlines, CI752 at 1025 hrs to Taipei.  Two representatives from Taiwan Tourism were at Changi Airport to send us off.  Sandy dropped by too.  It is certainly heartening to receive tremendous support from the Taiwan Tourism.  We were probably the first to combine flight, cruise and cycle in such a unique expedition.

Peter giving his wife, Rose a push while ascending Yang Ming Shan 

Perhaps it was our good fortune looking at the positive side when typhoon "Fung-Wong" had decided to drop by at the southern shore of Taiwan on the day of our departure heading north.  It was a direct hit on Taiwan.  The port had to be closed on 21 Sep, Sunday where we were supposed to commence our ride to Keelung port from our hotel to join the cruise.  Instead of spending three nights on board Superstar Aquarius which will take us to Ishigaki Port and Naha Port, we had to contend with 2 nights and only one ride in Ishigaki instead.  In replacement, we had another night in Taipei to avoid the typhoon.  Granted no other option, we had to depend on the quick thinking and ultra efficient support team from Giant to re-route our entire cycling itinerary.

Group picture mid way at Yang Ming Shan

On our arrival at Taipei, we were met by Giant's representative, Frank who will oversee our entire cycling tour.  We checked at Danshui Fullon Hotel Hot Spring for a night.  Indeed it was my first experience staying in a hot spring hotel.  I was given a double bed which I had to share with Hong Choon.  Either someone at China Airlines (the hotel arrangement was by the airline) or the hotel must be out of their mind, who 'conveniently' assigned the room without considering whether the two persons of the same gender are indeed couple.  Sometimes, I hope the person doing the room assignment should have exercised some common sense.  Guess some have it, some don't but life still goes on.  We were not the only ones affected by the room allocation.  Arthur and his brother-in-law, Joey had a room that comes with a bathroom without door or walls.  There is no privacy when one has to do "private business".  I burst out laughing when I saw their room - much to their dismay of course. FazBoi too.  He had the same room concept as Arthur and Joey.  Fortunately, we managed to change our rooms.

Peter reaching for the skies with help from some

After settling down, we went to collect our rented bikes which were arranged by team Giant.  Our rented bikes were hybrid type.  The bikes were tagged to our names accordingly to our reservations.   The way the Giant team organised was very professional, I must say.  After testing out, everyone was happy with their bikes.  It was free and easy in the evening.  Most of us went to a local bazaar for local food which is one station away from our hotel.

One good jump before heading to Keelung Port to board Superstar Aquarius

We were to cycle for some 60 km on 21 Sep, Sunday from our hotel to Keelung port had it not for Typhoon Fung-Wong timely visit".  Frank had re-arranged for us to cycle to Yan Ming Shan in Danshui district which is near our hotel.  The one way distance was about 20 km and 40 km in all.  We had the morning till 12 noon before Typhoon Haiyan finally hit Taipei city later of the day.  The typhoon was reported to have created some havoc of sorts in Taichung and slowly moving up north.

One nice shot for Taiwan media during ride in Ishigaki

Though it was a short 20 km but it is a gradual climb from the hotel.  The highest point is more than 800 metres.  For some in the group who are not regular cyclists, this really posed a big challenge for them.  The oldest member in our group, is Uncle Tan who came with his daughter, Lee Lee.  Uncle Tan who speaks Teochew and Mandarin is 73 year-old but he has no problem cycling up the slope of Yan Ming Shan at all.  Lee Lee, his daughter told us that he cycles everyday.  The only problem he had was he could not understand the lingo (initially, of course) when we shouted, "car back" to forewarn those in front of approaching vehicle.  And he has the tendency to disobey some safety rules too.  Some had to keep a lookout for him.  Another senior cyclist in our group is Michael who is just two years younger than uncle Tan.  Peter's wife, Rose who did not want to cycle initially but gamely joined him for the ride.  She did try to climb up the hill while Peter was pushing his wife from behind - such lovely couple.  A short while later, she decided enough is enough and hopped onto the support vehicle.  The Giant team had assigned a lead cyclist, a cyclist in the middle and a sweeper throughout.  FazBoi who is our former national cyclist helped to cover for the slower riders.  The way he pushed up some cyclists up the hill with one hand seemed so effortless.  I tried too but can last for a short while only.  A support vehicle driven by Frank was always on the move.  They communicated via walkie-talkie to keep the group intact.

On the way to Keelung Port on day two of ride

We reached our hotel before 12 noon and soon, we had to check out for another hotel.  This time, we were transferred to Hotel Day+ and I must say it was a much better hotel, spacious and comfortable.  On our arrival, we were greeted by a strong gush of wind which almost threw us off balance.  Admittedly, it was my first experience with typhoon.  After our dinner, we had to stay in our hotel while the typhoon came knocking in the middle of the night while I slept soundly in my room.

Warm up led by FazBoi, ex national cyclist before Ishigaki ride 

Our second day of ride will only start after lunch as it was still raining in the morning from the aftermath of the typhoon.  We checked out at about 1100 hrs and were brought to the  Fishery Harbour for a nice and sumptuous seafood lunch.  I must say each serving is generous and 'sedap'.  Adrian who is the editor from Asia One is allergy to seafood shared the same table with us and he had to settle for more veggies dishes while we tucked in heartily - so guilty of us.  After lunch, we were to take a short 20 km ride to Keelung port where Superstar Aquarius was berthed alongside.  To add some distance, we did a little climb before riding along the coastal road to Keelung.  The waves were hitting the shore as we rode past.  It was a scenic sight.

Lunch stop at Ishigaki

We arrived at Keelung well before our boarding time at 1830 hrs and we spent some time roaming the street bazaar.  Superstar Aquarius was scheduled for 2 nights cruise voyage to Ishigaki port from the original 3 nights voyage.  Everyone had been informed to don our specially designed third edition Star Cruises' cycling jerseys for our final ride in Ishigaki.  The jerseys were designed and printed by Raymond of Quickspeed.  The previous two editions were done by Bikelabz.  He joined the tour together with his wife and daughter.  I am comfortable with the fitting.

Hosted the certificate and medal presentation attended by the hotel manager  

The vessel pulled alongside at Ishigaki port the following morning at about 0900 hrs.  Ishigaki is a small island, among the many south of mainland Japan.  Thanks to Xue Jing's arrangement, we were given priority clearance.  The Taiwanese media joined us for the ride too.  Most of us donned the specially designed third edition cycling jerseys.  Thanks for his generosity, Raymond even gave each of us a pair of his company's bright green socks too.  We had group picture taken at the wharf before rolling off.  The weather was hot, just like Taiwan.  There were some rolling along the way but compared to Taipei's Yan Ming Shan, it is still nothing.  The motorists from Taipei and Japan really exercise much tolerance toward cyclists.  I have not heard a single horn from any irate motorist so far.  They gave us much space and only overtook when the opposite side was clear.  I cannot say the same for some of our motorists back home though.  We had few stops along the way, to replenish and to take pictures.  The zealous Taiwanese media members not just ride only, they will cycle ahead and stopped to take pictures of us riding past before continued again.  I gave them two thumbs-up for their professionalism.

Oldest member of the group, Uncle Tan receiving his certificate and medal from the hotel manager 

We covered some 40 km before returning to the port at about 1700 hrs.  In the evening, there was a certificate and medal presentation cum bbq dinner for all on board.  Everyone was called to receive a nice certificate and medal from the hotel manager.  I was losing my voice but fortunately, I did not fall sick - thanks to Arthur for his energy booster sachets.  After the presentation, Joseph took to the stage with his Bon Jovi number.  He was backed up by the live band.  The night had just begun.  After dinner, some adjourned to KTV where they sang and drank all night long.  Frank and his Giant colleagues were drinking merrily with some of the cyclists at the open deck.  Everyone was in celebratory mood.  After watching the show with some, I slowly made my way to the cabin to take a well deserved rest.  

Team Giant led by Frank returning appreciation to the cyclists 

We had another day in Taipei when the ship called in at Keelung port.  Our hotel is at heart of the popular Ximending district.  We left on 25 Sep by China Airlines in the afternoon.  Irene, Joseph & Carmen, Terence & Eijin extended their holiday on own.  The trip certainly ended well and most importantly, everyone arrived safely.  Thanks to all @ Star Cruises for another successive run yet again.  Till we meet again in the our next cruise cum cycling expedition, let's relish on this one for now!  

Video montage produced by Star Cruises' number one supporter, Andrew Lum

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2014

Group picture with the famous 'Cat woman' at the finishing

It was my third Yellow Ribbon Prison since its inception in 2009.  This Yellow Ribbon run will cap my last run for year 2014 and for the first time, I am not participating in Stanchart Marathon since 2007.  I did not have the chance to run for two weeks due to my busy schedule but did some step training though.  I was still hoping I could clock a good time and barring any foreseeable, I should prevail.

Picture with Jonathon, Shirley and their son at the flag-off  

The run was scheduled this morning near Changi Village and as usual, the finishing is in the prison compound.  The distance was 10 km.  I was to pace Winnie but she had stomach upset in the last few days, thus had to forgo as much as she would like to run.  I had arranged to meet up some members of Aranda Country Club the likes of Peter Yeo, Simon, Poh Kuan and Richard Foo (the latter was doing 6 km) at the club and our buddy, Steve Wong who was not running will send us to the flag off point.  We left the club at about 0615 hrs and it was still dark when we arrived at Changi Village.  We then settled down at a coffee shop.  I heard Jonathon from my Painkillers cycling group shouted at me from a distance.  He was running with his lovely wife Shirley and 16-year old son.  We even took picture at the start point.  I even ran into Brenda and Kessler (Kevin Soh's brother) at the start point - what a coincidence.

When we walked to the start point, it was almost 0745 hrs.  I did not get to see Peter and the rest who had moved way in front and very soon, the horn sounded.  Richard flagged off together with rest in the 10 km wave.  There were more than 9,000 runners in 6 km and 10 km category.  The first km was choked-a-block with human traffic and I decided to follow some by running on the pavement to avoid running into those in front while overtaking them.

Solo picture at the finishing

I realised I was running faster than my usual pace in the first 5 km.  The route is nice though fairly undulating throughout.  We ran past the museum, the chapel, Johor Battery and the women's prison in the idyllic Changi district.  At the 6 km u-turn mark, I saw Peter who was just running in and I shouted to him but he did not hear me.  I slowed a bit in the last 5 km.  I am not a morning person as I prefer to run in evening.  I was not sure if my condition can allow me to push my pace.  I was mostly just behind one male Caucasian runner throughout.

At the 8 km mark, we turned into the prison compound.  From there on, it was an easy run as it was downhill for long stretch.  I did not accelerate my pace though it was near the finishing.  I just maintained my pace of 5 mins plus per km.  The weather was getting a little hotter by then.

When I was near the finishing, the clock was still showing 55 mins plus and after crossing the finishing, I gave a thumbs-up for the camera.  Taking away the gun time of 3 mins, I should clock under 53 minutes I think.  Though I have yet to go under 50 mins in my 10 km run, this should be my best time by far.

The three musketeers at the start point

After the run, I waited for Peter who came in some 2 minutes later, Simon, Poh Kuan and Richard.  We hang around for a while and we took more pictures.  We then walked some 5 km back to Aranda Country Club.

Good run in the morning with friends and thumbs up to the organisers for a good job.      

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hari Raya Haji

To many non-Muslims in our multi-racial society, it does not come as a surprise if many still cannot differentiate the symbolic days between Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji.  Simply put, Hari Raya Puasa symbolises the end of Ramadan (fasting month) and Hari Raya Haji is in remembrance of the sacrifices made by Prophet Ibrahim on his son, Ismail.  Both days are public holidays in Singapore and more often than not, after celebration of Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji will follow suit some months later.

Tracing the sacred journey, Hari Raya Haji is usually celebrated over a period of four days by Muslims in Islamic countries and the festival starts on the 10th day of the month of Zulhijjah which is the last month of the Islamic calendar.

Aside from the sacrificial theme, Hari Raya Haji also marks the end of Hajj where thousands of pilgrims converged on the Holy Land of Mecca to perform a series of symbolic rituals.  Before the 8th of Dhul-Hijah (sacred month of the Islamic calendar that marks end of the year), anyone who wants to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) pronounces the intention to perform Umrah while approaching the Miqat (specific places to do Hajj or Umrah).  A second intention for the actual Hajj is then pronounced at a later period.  The rites of Umrah and Hajj may include putting Ihram (the state of sacred purity Muslims must adhere to); performing supererogatory prayers; making several types of Tawaf (moving in anti-clockwise direction & in harmony); doing Sa’ee (ritual walking) between Safa and Marwah; trimming and/or cutting hair, praying and staying in Mina, praying and standing in Arafah, praying and staying in Muzdalifah, throwing pebbles in three Jamrahs (stoning of the devil); sacrificing an animal; praying behind Maqam Ibrahim and drinking from the well of ZamZam.  On completion of the Hajj journey, the pilgrim asks Allah to accept the rituals and promises to abide by the divine commands.  Prophet Muhammad had said, “Whoever goes to Hajj without obscenity he or she will be forgiven as a new-born.”           

During Hari Raya Haji, male volunteers will congregate at the mosques to offer their prayers and reflect upon the sermons that are read out.  This serves as a timely reminder to share one’s wealth with the less fortunate people.  After the prayers, sheep, goats and cows are then sacrificed and that symbolises Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrificing his own flesh and blood for God.  The meat is then distributed among the Muslim community. As a customary, the Muslims would then pay a visit to their parents, families and friends where they come together for a hearty meal. 

Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous." (Qur'an 16:120-121)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

TRI-Factor Series 2014

Group picture with Alim, the star (man in the middle) before the flag-off

I participated in this morning's TRI-Factor series by "default" and it was my first in three disciplines, swim, bike and run.  One of my kakis from the 'happy group', Edmond who signed up for this event but at last moment, he pestered me to take over his bib.  Some of us suspected he could have developed 'cold feet' syndrome though he told us that it clashed with another event of his.  Reluctantly, I took over.  It was just a "Freshmen" entry, swim 200 metres, bike 10 km (yawn) and run 2.4 km (more yawn).  For the first time, I was running in the name of Edmond.

Group picture with Tan and his "Happy Group"       

Due to tight schedule, I did not do any exercise for the whole week and this one at least can allow me to burn-off some calories - thanks Edmond hor.  I had arranged to meet Tan and his "happy group", the likes of his wife who is my idol, Jane, Wendy who is another of my idol, Doreen and their two other friends at 0800 hrs.  Wendy and Doreen had downgraded to the "Freshmen" category leaving Tan, Jane and Carol impersonator (the real Carol is still nursing an wrist injury) to do the more challenging "Sprint" entry, swim 750 metres, bike 20 km and run 5 km.

Wendy and I finished almost the same in the swim leg 

Doreen, Wendy and I were in the same wave scheduled at 1025 hrs while Tan, Jane and Carol impersonator were flagged off earlier than us.  I met some familiar faces too.  Feng who was not feeling well in the past few days had downgraded to "Freshmen" entry despite advices from many of her friends not to race, she just did not listen.  Jacqueline from Hougang cycling group was there too.  While waiting to be flagged off, someone tapped me on my shoulder and it was David, my former colleague.  I almost could not recognise him with his cap on.  Good for him.

Wendy and I almost to the finish 

When the horn was blown, off we went.  Admittedly, I had not been swimming for many years and I was not comfortable with the swim leg.  Either you were kicked by someone or you kicked someone in the water.  Though it was a short 250 metres, I did not find it easy though.  I used the breast stroke throughout.  Soon, I was up and running to collect my bike.  Wendy was just behind me and I then told her to tag with me.

We were cycling just under 30 km/hr and Wendy was behind me throughout.  It was two laps around the circuit.  In the cycling event, I did show off some what.  When there was camera focusing on us, I released my hands from the handle bar to do a pose.  And very quickly, the 10 km bike event was over.

On the final turn with Wendy 

Wendy asked me to carry on without her but hey, how can I leave my idol behind leh.  Actually, I planned to run with Alim (the amputee athlete) but he was flagged off in the earlier wave.  Also, I did not want to clock a quick time in the name of Edmond who has to do his own personal best next year.  It was an easy run for us.  Along the way, we saw supporters from Dan, Patrick, Jenny and rest from the Hougang cycling group.  I even caught Edwin near the finish and he managed to take some pictures for us.  Wendy and I finished the run together.  Tan was already at the finish line rooting for us.  We waited for the rest to complete, Doreen, Jane, Carol impersonator and Nelson.  It was a fun event and I truly enjoyed it..  I met so many friends from other cycling groups too.  Thanks to Edmond who gave up or else, I could not have enjoyed it so much.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ride For Rations 2014 (22 to 24 Aug 2014)

Group picture at Hatten before rolling off

I was a newbie when I heard about Ride For Rations event from some friends and that year was in 2011.  I brought a cheap Raleigh mountain bike for the ride.  I had always thought those who ride on road bikes are risk takers but not knowing after this event, I bought my first Giant roadie too.  In the first edition, I was joined by some of my outdoor kakis for this event.  Kevin Soh brought his Dahon foldie and he rode for three consecutive years, Hooi Yen who was the first one to inform some of us of such a meaningful event rode for three consecutive years too.  Corina and Vivien rode for the first two editions.  CK and Dora joined us on the second edition and they did twice in a row too. TS Chua joined last year and this year again.  My kaki Long Chua did one ride, had a bad fall while preparing for the second year but he continued to provide support back up until today.  I got to know the two Tay brothers, Tomas and Peter and went on to become their cycling mates.  I was struggling on my mountain bike then, almost pulled a cramp on the last leg to Singapore while climbing up one of the bridges.  I truly enjoyed the first event and the subsequent ones too.  I was impressed with the spirit of volunteerism and best of all, the sincerity of the organising team especially the husband and wife team in Shoeb and Shireen and the founder of Bike Aid, Manjit Singh.  Shoeb was not even a cyclist then and Shireen does not look like someone into sport or adventure stuff but they left a lasting impression on me with their superb oganising and administrative skills.

About to roll off

I participated again in 2012 with more friends.  In 2013, both Tomas and I were invited by Manjit to join Bike Aid where we helped to organise the event.  Dan came onboard with us too. Each year we witnessed more participants and with more participants, more funds were raised too.  This year is not exception.  We decided to cap it to 150 cyclists and upped our target to S$280,000 - a lofty target to say the least.  We are still consolidating the total fund which will be announced in our appreciation dinner on 19 Sep at Aranda Country Club.  As promising as it looked, we did have more corporate sponsors this time around and also, we have more new cyclists signing up too.  This is the power of social media and words-of-mouth.  We were even pleasantly surprised to learn that Tote Board has agreed to increase the sponsor sum to S$50,000 maximum from their usual S$20,000.  This will certainly help us to achieve our target baring any unforseeable, that is.

Celebrating Dr Kevin Lee's birthday at Katrina Hotel

Ride For Rations 2014 was scheduled on 22 August 2014, Friday where we took the coach ride to Malacca.  There were 6 coaches designated at three different pick up venues, namely Aranda Country Club, Hougang Stadium and West Coast McDonald's.  Some drove up.  Our hotel in Malacca is Hatten, our second time with them and they were already familiar with our arrangements.  Everything went smoothly on our arrival.  Check in was done swiftly and briefing for support team by Shireen was crystal clear to all.  I did not join my other kakis to roam the town but had a quick dinner with Chua.  We slept early to prepare the long ride ahead.

Showing off for the camera with Fenny in front

Breakfast was taken early at 0600 hrs by most and by about 0700 hrs, almost everyone was ready at the entrance of Hatten to be flagged off.  We were to flag off by the hotel's general manager in  batches led by appointed pacers.  The fastest riders will roll off first followed by the rest.  At about 0745 hrs, we were finally flagged off.  It was a cool morning.  The total distance is 100 km to Katrina Hotel in Batu Pahat.  After lunch, Fenny was mostly with me.  She was on her one single-crank foldie.  She is not a fast rider but she has good endurance and most importantly, a positive attitude.  By mid day, we were very near Batu Pahat town but dark cloud had started to build up.  I was hoping for the weather to hold for another half an hour but alas, my wish was not answered.  On reaching the bridge that leads us to Batu Pahat, it suddenly poured heavily.  Fenny was just behind me.  The wind was blowing very hard and the branches started to fall from trees.  Roaring thunder can be heard too.  It was raining very heavily and there was no way we could ride on.  Fenny and I quickly took shelter at a hawker centre which had yet to open for business.  We waited for about 20 minutes for the rain to subside.

On our way to Batu Pahat

When we reached Katrina Hotel, I was told that there were two falls.  One of them was Arthur.  Fortunately for him, he did not suffer any fracture.  It was just bruises and abrasion on the wrist and legs.  The other cyclist was not that fortunate though.  He fell on his shoulder and had to be sent back to Singapore for urgent operation.  Not a good piece of news to greet us on our arrival but we have to press on and hoping all will be well on our second day of ride.

Our respected senior cyclist, Kuldip Singh who joined for the 4th consecutive time  

We had group dinner at the hotel.  During the dinner, I managed to auction off a complimentary cruise voucher sponsored by Star Cruises and it was Tomas who bid the highest price for it.  The auction raised S$950 which will go to the fund raising.  After dinner, it was straight to bed for me.

My back view with the word "Pacer" on my helmet

The second day of ride is always the most challenging especially the busy stretch from Pekan Nanas town to the immigration and customs side.  The total distance on the second day is about 140 km.  This time, we had standby a 21-seater coaster at Pekan Nanas for those who do not wish to continue on.  EZ Rider group too had a coach on standby at Pekan Nanas to bring them across the causeway to Marsiling.  The weather was nice in the morning.  By about 0730 hrs, we rolled off.  Some of us stopped at Long Chua's place in Muar which was along the way.  We plucked the longan fruits from the tree, had some fun poking at each other.  Chua's mother, his niece and nephew were home.

Group cycling

Again, Fenny tagged along with me for the most part.  We were among the rear cyclists.  At about 70 km mark, we stopped to replenish our drinks.  There were another 20 plus km to our final lunch point at Pekan Nanas town.  When we were ready to go, I noticed the brake on the front wheel of my bike was pressing on it.  Kevin from Rock and Roll group who was providing the support stepped in to help and finally, we decided to swop with another bike.  When I was ready to roll off, Fenny who was on own was way ahead of me.  I tried to catch up with her and I missed the right turn which proved crucial.  When I finally caught up with her, I knew we were not heading the right direction.  I can still see Gunung Pulai from a distance and I told myself as long as I can head there, I should be able to find a side road that will lead us to Pekan Nanas.  I was wrong.  There is no road that can lead to Pekan Nanas town except the turn that we had missed earlier.  By then, we had cycled some 10 km.  Rendered no choice, we made a u-turn back meaning clocking another 10 km more.  It was near noon time and the weather was getting hotter and hotter.  Fenny gamely rode with me, not a single word of complaint or grumbling from her.  I knew she was tired but she just pressed on.  There were no support cars for us too.  We were on our own until we reached Pekan Nanas lunch point.  When we finally reached, the last group of cyclists was about to roll off.  Fenny decided to stop and take Long Chua's car back while I cycled on with the last group, the final 40 km to the finish.

Just before Johor customs, I stopped before the last descent from the bridge to check on the last few cyclists.  When the last cyclist cleared that final part, I hopped on my bike to continue on.  My front tyre just went flat.  Fortunately, the last support car driven by Robert was just behind me.  I decided to take a hike from him to Marsiling instead.  We were the last to arrive at our destination and most cyclists had already left for home by then.  Everyone had arrived safely and that is key.

Group picture at the finishing less me (I was still cycling)

This event had scored few firsts for us.  We had the highest number of cyclists since our inception; our founder of Bike Aid, Manjit Singh cycled with us after laying off from cycling for good many years; we had more corporate sponsors; we had ambulance through out the 2 days of ride; we had trained medic and nurse with us too, thanks to Dr Kevin Lee; we had bike mechanics and we had a team who did 1,000 km which was led by Dave.  The oldest among our cyclists is a 71-year old gentleman and there were quite a number of cyclists aged above 60.  To thank our cyclists and supporters, we will have an appreciation dinner on 19 Sep at Aranda Country Club and we will make official announcement on our final figure for Sunlove Home which will go to the monthly purchase of essential rations for the needy families in Marsiling and Chai Chee.  For now, the total sum remains a mystery but I remain positive.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Mid Autumn Festival

When Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on moon on 20th July 1969, he did not manage to make a date with “Chang Er”.  When he took the first step on moon, he famously says, “This is one step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.   This may have dispelled the “Chang Er” myth but to the Chinese, the legendary story of “Chang Er” which is very much connected to Mid-Autumn Festival is still very much celebrated in any Chinese community all over the world.  Some say her husband was a tyrant, some say he was a great hero but “Chang Er” remains a perfect wife to a fault.    
Legend says “Chang Er” had sacrificed herself by swallowing an elixir given to her husband, Hou Yi who apparently shot down nine out of ten suns to relieve people’s suffering from the extreme heat .  She then flew to Moon and became a Goddess.  Eventually, people offered sacrifices to “Chang Er” to pray for peace and good luck which led to the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival.       

One legend leads to another.  Three immortals reincarnated as three poor old mortals who begged food from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit.  The fox and monkey both gave food to the three immortals in disguise but the rabbit did not as it did not have any food to offer them.  The rabbit says, “You can eat me” and then jumped into the fire.  On seeing that, the immortals were so moved by the selfless sacrifice made by the rabbit and they sent it to moon to become an immortal jade rabbit to accompany “Chang Er”.  This perhaps best explained why “Chang Er” has a rabbit as companion.

Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar where the moon is said to be at its roundest and brightest.  Moon cakes are typically round which symbolise the full moon of the mid-autumn festival.  Egg yolks are usually added to it, which represent the four phases of the moon turning from full moon to half moon to crescent as it orbits the earth.  It is a reunion occasion where family members and friends get together akin to Thanksgiving.  Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival.  It is where people gather to enjoy the mooncakes from the traditional type to even durian flavoured type, while the children get to parade their lanterns which glow brightly in the night.               

This is to wish all Chinese a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

KM Duathlon Inaugural Race Event

Me after the race

It was the inaugural event organised by Infinitus and admittedly, it was not cheap either.  It came with two race categories, 30 km (run 5 km, bike 20 km and run 5 km) and 60 km (run 10 km, bike 40 km and run 10 km) respectively.  I decided to sign up for the 60 km event to test my own endurance.  This race could have cost me more than S$200.  My club, Aranda Country Club agreed to absorb half the cost and coupled with early bird discount, I only paid less than S$80.    

Start of our 10 km first leg run 

The race happened this morning at the Changi Exhibition Centre.  For 60 km participants, we had to run 2 laps inside the exhibition centre in our first leg, cycle 4 U-turn laps along the Coastal Road and finally run 2 laps to the finish.    

The night before I hit the bed early.  Though I set my alarm at 0415 hrs, I actually got up at 0130 hrs...haiz, I was too excited, probably.  Anyway, I arrived at Changi Exhibition Centre before 0500 hrs and it was still pitched dark.  There were some who were even earlier than me.  Quickly, I set up my bike and pushed to the bike holding area.  Slowly more arrived.  I was a long two hours wait for me as we were to be flagged-off at 0700 hrs.  

While waiting, I went to the toilet to relieve myself.  At first I put my car key in the front pouch of my compressed tee and two packets of energy gel behind.  I made a switch before going to toilet, the car key behind and the energy gel in front.  When I stood in front of the toilet bowl, the two packets of energy gel simply dropped off my pouch and slipped into the toilet bowl.  Had my car key dropped it, it will spell disastrous for me...phew!     

Still fresh as it was just the first leg

Both the 30 km and the 60 km participants will be flagged off together.  By my reckoning, there were at least 500 participants and majority going for the 30 km event.  After a briefing by the MC, we were flagged off at 0700 hrs when it was first light.  The first leg was the 10 km run and it should be easy for me but I did not want to push too hard though.  I was keeping to my usual pace.  The elite runners were already way in front.  I covered under 53 minutes for my first leg and headed for my bike.  It was still not that hot.  I was hoping to keep above 30 km/hr throughout the bike event.  It was alright for the first 10 km and I was averaging around 30 to 33 km/hr.  I suddenly felt hardening on my left calf.  I ignored it and pressed on.  But it didn't go away.  I decided to stop by the side of the road to stretch my legs and by then, my right calf also started to harden too.  Fortunately, I can carry on after the stretching but I had to be careful not to pull any cramp. Momentarily, I was confused with the U-turn count.  We were supposed to count 4 U-turns but there were in fact 8 U-turns we had to make, considering we had to cycle from one end to another end along Coastal Road.  When I made my second U-turn, I double-checked with the road marshal and he confirmed the U-turn count started at his side.  I could have been disqualified had I turned in early.  There was head wind and the ride was getting harder and harder when my lactic acid slowly built up.  I was averaging lower than 30 km/hr for a good distance.  Unlike OCBC bike race, we can tag on each other but we will be disqualified once we were to tag on others.  We had been warned prior to the flag-off.  I was on high cadence throughout as I was hoping this would help somewhat in my run later.  Given after the 10 km run, the ride was made even harder.  Different muscle group was tapped for different event.  Mentally, I was preparing for the last 10 km run after the bike event and the weather was getting hotter by then.  Sure enough, it was hard running the last 10 km leg.  To avoid cramp, I decided to walk and run.  It was the toughest 10 km I had.  By then, I told myself that finishing was key.  I huffed and puffed until the last two km, I stepped up.  I ran past two runners in front of me to the finishing.  I was just in time for the prize presentation award.  The men's top three finishers went to two Caucasians and one young Malaysian man.  They clocked around 2 hours 30 mins.  The top two ladies finished just under 3 hours and one just finished a little over.  I clocked 3 hours 31 minutes to finish in 42th position of out 117.  I reckon it is not a bad result for an old man who had to compete with mostly young competitors.  I am satisfied with my result.  It was a good event and thumbs up to the organiser, Infinitus for a job well done.  I enjoyed every bit of it.      

The bike event

Monday, July 14, 2014

Puasa Month

Eid al-Fitr is known as the “Festival of Fast-Breaking”.  In Singapore we call it Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Hari Raya Puasa.  Muslims have to observe a month of fasting, which is known as Ramadan and when it ends, Hari Raya Puasa celebration will begin.  In Malay, the words “Hari Raya” is called the “grand day of rejoicing” which falls on the first day of Syawal, the 10th month of the Islamic calendar.   

During Ramadan, Muslims have to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and indulging in any form of behaviour that serves to nullify the fast from dawn to dusk.  They are also required to perform religious duties such as reading the Quran.    

Days before Hari Raya Puasa, there will be a “Hari Raya Light Up & Celebration” along the stretch of road at Geylang Seria which showcases our proud Malay culture and other inter cultural events.  It is usually run for a month until the last day of Ramadan.  The light up is unique to Singapore’s culture which brings people from all walks of life, where everyone gets to interact and mingle in the spirit of Ramadan and Hari Raya celebrations. The place at Geylang Seria will be brightly lighted up and decorated with multi-coloured ornaments.  Street-side bazaars selling local food, clothes, batiks and other wares are also set up which attract not just the Muslim shoppers, the other races too.  Hard bargains can be heard in familiar local lingo, “lelong, lelong” over loud hailers by some enterprising stallholders.  Curious tourists who have read about our annual light up event can be seen making a trip to soak in the atmosphere.                

Hari Raya Puasa marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and it is a time of forgiveness for the Muslims.  The first day after Ramadan is usually a trip made to the mosque in the morning to recite special prayer and seeking forgiveness from the elders.  It follows later with home visits with the parents’ homes being the first stop.  Like the Chinese in preparation for the Lunar New Year, many homes are given a fresh coat of paint and new furniture is added.  In anticipation of visiting guests, plenty of savoury local delicacies are prepared for them too.       

Hari Raya Puasa is one of the most important holiday celebrations in multi-racial Singapore where many non-Muslims can be seen visiting the homes of their Muslim friends.       

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Youth Day

The idea of having an International Youth Day was proposed in 1991 by a group of young people in Vienna, Austria during the first session of the UN’s World Youth Forum.  The primary aim of declaring Youth Day is in concert with fundraising and promotion purposes, among others and to support the United Nations Youth Fund in partnership with various youth organisations.

While ours is not for charity purpose of sorts and have been observed for more than three decades, it is a festival celebration for the youths here.  It was first celebrated on 18 July 1967 at Jalan Besar Stadium when Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) was launched by our first President, Yusof Ishak.  It involved some 24,000 from primary and secondary school in a two-week celebration then.   This has since metamorphosed into an annual event showcasing youth talents and involving more than 40,000 students typically in the month of July.

Whatever its purpose or aim, it is therefore safe to say that Youth Day is celebrated by many countries in the world to appreciate the youths’ achievement in each country for they are the future leaders of the world.     

Through the many initiatives of SYF, students of different ethnic backgrounds come together in celebration for building friendship, bonding and honing skills.  SYF has become an annual celebration in the month of July and without doubt, this year’s Youth Day will be celebrated on 6th July.   

Wishing all youths a Happy Youth Day!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Running Third Quarter Marathon

I met up a secondary schoolmate for lunch recently and we started reminiscing the good old days when we were running in marathon events as students.  If I can recall, there were not many run or walk events in the 70s.  There was this New Nation Walk that I can still remember.  I think the walk distance was 5 km and when we finished, we were given a completion certificate without our name - we just have to write our name on it.

Mobile Marathon was the most prominent run event, perhaps the equivalent of Standard Chartered Marathon of present time.  The event came in 4 stages - first quarter run for 10 km in early part of the year, second quarter run for 20 km in second part of the year, third quarter run for 30 km in the third quarter of the year and finally, the full marathon distance of 42km in the last quarter of the year.  I ran that event with my classmates and we were just 15-year old jackasses.  That year was 1977.  We had no idea what carbo loading thingy was, we had no idea how to properly train up ourselves and our running shoes were not even made for running either.  We can't afford a good pair of running shoes then.  When it was time to run, we just run.  I participated in every quarter that year except for the last quarter -  the year end full marathon event.  Quite frankly, I had no idea what I will be running into mid way into the 30 km race but I can remember clearly it was torturous.

Turnout was huge and I remember running into Mr Chan Chee Seng, a veteran MP and a Parliamentary Secretary who was in his late 40s or perhaps 50s.  He was still fit at his age and he even waved at us after cruising past us.  I even chanced upon national footballer, Robert Sim and was tagging with him at some point.  He had no air and friendly.  Robert was one of my favourite football players too.  I remember I ran until I had cramp at the later stage.  I was forced to walk to the end and I have clean forgotten the route.

I had collected quite a number of run and walk certificates in the 70s but regrettably, I threw all away.  I can only remember some events especially the third quarter marathon where I completed as a 15-year old jackass.  It was fun then.    

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trip To Baan Dada Children's Home

Group picture taken with the children 

Sometime in March last year, I made my first trip to Baan Dada Children's Home in Thailand.  It was a cycling tour organised by Nick where some of us flew to Bangkok from Singapore and together with an enthusiastic group of cyclists from Thailand, we cycled some 360 km over 3 days to the rugged western region that borders between Thailand and Myanmar.  It was a personal fund raising project for the purpose of setting up a vocation training centre at the home.  I met both Dada Rama who hails from the Philippines and his assistant, Dada Prashanta who hails from Indonesia in person for the first time.  Both "Dadas" (brothers in Sanskrit) have pledged their entire lives to help a worthy cause and they do not draw any salary at all.  Their worldly mission is to give love to the less fortunate ones - the kind of sacrifice not many can do it.  

The muddy path just outside the home

Dada Rama has been involved in setting up of Baan Dada for some 20 years, helping the children who are refugees from Myanmar forced out of their country to live near the border in Thailand.  Many are either orphans or have single parent and they are poor.  Dada Rama not only provides basic necessities like accommodation and food to them, he even sends them to school.  For some, they study up to tertiary level and Dada Rama take it upon himself to see them through to their education.  To keep them going for the longest time, they are very much dependent on continuous donations from well-wishers locally and overseas.  They work on a very tight budget, scrimp as much as possible.  Sometimes, Dada Rama will send the children to school on their school truck and in order to save on fuel, he will park the vehicle near the school and cycle some 20 km back.  He will then make a return trip by bike to fetch the children home after school.  For the record, the terrain in Sangkhlaburi is anything but rugged and flanked by mountain ranges.  

      With Dada Prashanta, Dada Rama and a French volunteer       

Sometime late last year, I made a promise to Dada Rama that I will bring a group of volunteers in our humble bid to raise fund for them.  By some sheer luck, I managed to get 22 of us from our outdoor meet up group for the trip.  Save for me, this was to be their first trip to Baan Dada Home.  Prior to that, I did brief everyone about the home, its purpose, the basic facilities & amenities and what to bring for our trip.  Some of us even managed to meet Dada Rama who made a trip to Singapore one week prior to our departure.

Our trip was confirmed on 14 June, Saturday.  Thanks to Thai Airways, I managed to get extra check-in baggage allowance for our group as many of us will be bringing donated items like children's clothes, toys, stationery,  and books, among others.  On the day of our departure, our total check-in baggage weight was some 600 kgs and the excess was waived off by the airline - I managed to heave a big relief, phew!.

We were to stay 3 nights at the home.  Everyone had been informed that only basic amenities are expected and we had to help with 2 half days of farm work in the morning.  In all, we had 15 ladies and 7 men in our group.  Everyone was excited and raring to go.

Group picture after our waterfall hike

It was an early morning flight at 0740 hrs by Thai Airways and on our arrival, we were promptly met by our two assigned drivers.  I had arranged for 3 passenger vans, 2 to ferry all of us and 1 just for our luggage.  It is a long ride of 7 hours and covering some 360 km.  On the way, we were to stop over at the Death Railway along river Kwai, the famed Tiger Temple and Hell Fire Pass in the lush Kanchanaburi region.  We managed to tour around  river Kwai but much to our disappointment, not the Tiger Temple and Hell Fire Pass which were closed for the day by the time we arrived in the afternoon.

We had many stopovers along the way and by the time we finally reached Baan Dada Home, it was nearing 2000 hrs.  Rain has come early as typically raining season starts in July.  We were greeted by sporadic rain along the way and the final 100 metres off road to Baan Dada is a muddy path rendered more muddy from the recent raindrop.  We had to get off from our vans and hopped onto the tractor which will take us some 100 metres to the home - what a unique welcome!  The two Dadas and the children were there to welcome us.  Not wanting to waste much time, we were quickly shown to our dorms.  For the 15 ladies, they will have the concrete block which houses two separate units that can comfortably accommodate them all.  For the remaining 5 guys including me, we will have to settle for the the two nondescript wooden huts and a 2-storey wooden pavilion which has no walls.  The latter has been built recently.  I took the upper floor while Paul and Raymond took the lower floor.  Madan and Derrick shared one hut and next to them, Boon Long and Wilfred.  It was not the mosquito that bothered us that much (we had mosquito net and enough insect repellant to counter any element), we soon realised that the symphony orchestra comprising the frogs and toads could keep us awake the whole night.  Our "wall less pavilion" has the direct hit.  Trust me, the noise decibel was beyond my description but somehow we managed to overcome.

Our "wall less pavilion" for 3 nights

We were to spend 3 nights at Baan Dada Home from 14 to 17 June.  We got up early at 0630 hrs and after breakfast, we were shown around the premises by Dada Prashanta.  Our first task in the morning was to plant banana trees.  We picked up some spades and shovels and moved to the field.  We were to dig holes big enough to place banana stems and there were markings made ready for us.  Immediately, Hui Xin, Xingxia and some ladies set off with the task.  At first, they had difficulty digging up the soil with the spades but very soon, they got the momentum going.  I acted like a foreman by "barking my orders" and of course, it was made in lighthearted manner.  We were enjoying it.  Some of us carried the banana stems while some dug holes.  The children also helped out.  Sheepishly, the children seemed to have no problem with the digging while we struggled somewhat.

A pose in between farm work

It started to rain and our half day task was done, well almost I should say.  We washed up and spent the afternoon visiting a primary school, exploring a cave filled with bats, trekking and exploring the waterfall.  We were all soaked in the rain.  When we came back after a hearty dinner outside, our truck was caught in the mud, some 50 metres to the home.  Rendered no choice, we had to get off, switched on our torches and carrying our purchases  from a 7-11 store and walked gingerly in the mud.  Some of us did struggle to balance as our slippers were stuck in the mud.  However, nobody complained about the muddy situation we were in and we actually enjoyed it.  

Farm Work

We were supposed to continue with our farm work on the following morning but Dada Rama advised not to as it was still raining.  He did not want some of us to fall sick while working under the rain.  I then decided to gather all of us in the cookhouse so that we can present our cash donations and other donated gifts to them.  The proceeds from this trip yielded us S$3,120 and added to that, cash donations from friends and supporters, our total contribution came up to about S$5,500.  In addition, I also brought along cash donations from Doris, Nick and the rest from the informal advisory group amounted to S$6,338.  First thing Dada did was to pay the overdue children school fees.  Our cash donations did help them during this low season.

Bamboo rafting activity

In the afternoon, we went on a exploratory trip.  We took a boat ride to the temple which will soon be submerged in the water when the dam is filled with water during raining season in July, trekked in the fast flowing river, had our elephant ride and did bamboo rafting and that took the entire afternoon.  On our last night, we had another hearty dinner outside.  We returned to the home where the two Dadas and the children were waiting for us.  We had arranged a get-together with the children in the music hall on our last night. Much thanks to Doreen who arranged a list of prepared songs for us and Paul for downloading the songs on his mobile, we managed to pick 4 songs to sing to the children.  We may not have sang in tune but we sang our hearts out for them.  The children returned with loud applause.  They too sang their own songs to us.  It was a good bonding session with the children.  Despite just few days of our stay at the home, some had already fostered special bonding with some kids.  Jie Ling had her "lookalike younger sister" who sketched a nice picture for her and even wrote a "love" phrase in Chinese which is not completely correctly though, missing few strokes I think.  Paul's special girl gave him a nice panda bear and a personally penned letter.  Even Jen has found her "daughter" who really took care of her (Jen) especially during the trekking.  She told me that she was really moved by her "daughter".

Elephant Ride

During the trip, we had quite a few comical moments and here are some.  Wilfred brought two torches and enough spare batteries to last for a year.  However, his two torches need triple A batteries but his spare batteries are double A type. He tried to do a trade-off with others but no taker.  During our bamboo rafting activity, Raymond's frizzy mane was attacked by ants and he had to jump into the water to get rid of them.  Derrick broke the key while trying to open the lock to their hut.  He felt bad and even offered to buy new locks only to realise Dada Rama actually gave him the wrong key.  We trekked for close to an hour to find the waterfall, many of us were wearing our slippers and when we finally arrived at the waterfall, Madan signalled for us to go back.  I just got into the waterfall and Raymond was about to get in but serious looking Madan (not his usual jovial self) just can't wait to go back.  We stayed for a while and signalled all to turn back.  When we recounted all these moments, we just laughed it out.  Everyone of us really enjoyed this trip although we had to rough it out, given the situation there.  It is definitely not the one and only trip but more to come in the near future.  Madan has already sounded that he will be organising one trip early next year and rest assured, I will provide as much support to him.  Dada Rama and Dada Prashanta need our continued support in whatever way possible.  As for me, I returned home with many bite marks especially on my legs but I am glad that the trip turned up to be one memorable one for all.  .

Singing to the children