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.