Monday, March 20, 2006

Leaving for Japan

It’s time for me to unveil the next phase of my life. I received a surprise letter from the Japanese Embassy on 10 March 2006 informing me that I have won the prestigious Monbukagakusho Scholarship to do a postgraduate study in Japan. It’s a short notice and I am supposed to leave for Japan early April 2006.

What would I be doing?
I’ll be doing an MBA programme in the International University of Japan (IUJ), one of Asia’s highly ranked MBA schools.

See the difference of the two pics. You will agree that Tokyo is really a big city while Niigata is much smaller.

Where is it?
The place in Japan where I’ll be studying is called Niigata. It is approximately 300km northwest of Tokyo. With the shinkansen (bullet train), it’ll take about 1 hr 50 minutes from Tokyo. With a population of 800,000, Niigata is known for its ski resort, manufacturing, port facilities and rice production.

How is the scholarship?
The Monbukagakusho scholarship is a Japanese government scholarship offered to Malaysians under the Look East Policy. There are about 800 to 1000 applicants every year but only a handful of Malaysians are offered this scholarship to study (both undergraduate and postgraduate) in Japan. An average of 30 scholarships are offered every year. The scholarship consists of full tuition fees, entrance examination fee, maintenance allowance and a round-trip airplane ticket.

First, applicants are shortlisted for an English Language exam. The exam marks would decide who gets to go for an interview. An interview panel consisting of Japanese and Malaysians holds the interviews. From the interviews, the embassy would then nominate about 30 to 38 names to the Japanese government (to be exact it’s the MEXT or Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Government of Japan). The government would sieve the list again to arrive to the final figure depending on the quality of candidates and budget for the year.

The scholarship does not come with a bond. However, scholars are expected to return to Malaysia and contribute towards the development of the country.

You may read more:

When would I be leaving?
I will be leaving on 3rd April which is about 2 weeks from now. I have tendered my resignation from work employment a few days after receiving the reply from the Japanese Embassy.

I will be taking a 6-month language training in Niigata University before going into the MBA programme in IUJ. The MBA would take a further 2 years and I should be back by 2008. Thank God, the MBA programme is an English programme, so language would not be an issue other than day-to-day communication with the locals. But that would be taken care of, hopefully with the initial language training there.

How prepared am I?
Not really prepared. I haven’t even packed anything yet. I am in the midst of sorting out all the stuff in Malaysia like income tax, getting a laptop, transfer of work to my successor etc….

What about running/triathlons?
I will continue running and swimming wherever I go. I heard Niigata is a fantastic place for sports. I will continue writing about running when I’m there. I hope to hook up with some Japanese running club so I can participate in their activities too. I am sure it would be a different experience there.

As for Pacemakers, I hope to be kept as a member still and get my medals tallied from abroad.

Hey if there’s a Niigata Marathon or Triathlon, I’ll inform you guys!

Will I be back between 2006 and 2008?
Definitely. I will try to come back as often as I could. This will also depend on how much I could save from my monthly maintenance allowance. Of course, even though my allowances may allow me to come back every month, it doesn’t make sense to do it so frequently. I would like to travel Japan as much as I could before I come back for good.

Will I take visitors?
Of course! Do come visit me if you happen to be in Japan. The question is not whether I could receive you as a visitor but rather, are you willing to spend your money and time to travel 300km to see me and sacrifice your precious time on a countryside. There are many other places like Mt Fuji, Osaka, Disneyland etc to visit. Unless you love skiing in the winter! Putting up in Japan is high maintenance especially for a Malaysian, and that’s why it’s precious time in Japan.

But for the first few weeks, I don’t advise you to come visit me because I’d be an alien just like you. And maybe you could be better than me if you know Chinese characters. Let me settle down first and I’ll tell you.

By the way, I'm there to study ok!!!

Sayonara! Samishi ku naru yo! (I will miss you!)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

KL Marathon 2006

Something has gone wrong with this year’s organizing of the KL Marathon. The quality of the organizing is still not up to international standards. The quantity of runners is much lower than that of many international runs. Just take a look at this year’s event t-shirt. It’s crap. Yellow and light blue is a display of bad taste, and the quality of the material is much to be desired.

The organizers of the KL Marathon has much to learn even though there might be slight improvements in the area of refreshment, early announcements of traffic management, existence of a dedicated website and prompt publishing of results. The organizers must realize that other international runs in other countries have also raised the bars while we are still playing catch up. We may have improved, but we are only about to achieve what other organizers left a few years back. Singapore, for example, has been exemplary in setting new standards for other organisers to follow.

Taking the event t-shirt for example, Singapore has not only given an event vest but also a finisher’s t-shirt of a reputable sports brand and of high quality.

Is it entirely the organizer’s fault or that of the lack of sponsors in Malaysia? Personally, I think it’s because of the lackadaisical attitude on the part of the organizers to source for contributions from the already depleted pool of sponsors for runs and the high-dependence cum expectations towards our red-yellow sponsor to make the run a success.

I was fortunate to be part of the organizing committee for a tunnel run in 2004. The run was only 10km and our rising sun partner was a fantastic co-organiser of the event. They have put in an enormous amount of work to source for sponsors and I must say that their hard work pays. If anyone has ran the tunnel run would remember the many lucky draws ranging from overseas and local holiday trips, bicycles, handphones to myriad of hampers. The sponsorship ran into hundreds of thousands. For a 10km run, that was a marvelous feat! Many appraised the run and 99% were positive feedback.

This goes without saying that a marathon race of international stature is expected to garner more sponsorship, publicity and support as those of a 10km run.

If monetary sponsor is fully sufficient to support the race including runners’ perks like an improved finisher’s medal, better breakfast box, finisher’s t-shirt or event vest, then there must be something wrong, very wrong with the management of fund on the part of the organizers. Perhaps it is also time to audit the financial account of the race event on where and how the money was spent, fully itemized in the order of accounting standards. Was there lavish spending on other items? Were the sponsors made to pay over-priced race peripherals like streetlight buntings, tarpaulins, billboards, or even the event t-shirt? Or were some organizers disguised as “volunteers” paid a handsome sum for incompetent services rendered during the race?

A running race may sound as a harmless sporting event, but because of the high stakes and expectations involved, where our country’s image is displayed before an array of international participants, we have a thin margin for failures and definitely no room for incompetence or inferiority. While sponsors have evolved over time, we know that there is one association that is still pegged and remained as a permanent feature of the KL Marathon since its inception. So, if the race is still not up to mark, we know who is the culprit…..