Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hidden Gem in Our Midst

Duane, the only black guy in the photo, is Jamaica's National Chess Master

I am really proud of one of my coursemates from Jamaica. He would be representing Cambridge to compete in a chess tournament against Oxford and the showdown would be held in March at the Royal Automobile's Club in London. It has created alot of excitement here. Why? Well, first of all, he's our classmate and secondly, he keeps quiet about it and I didn't even know about his credentials until he sent out an email inviting us to attend the tournament. He's so humble about his achievements!

Duane Rowe is the Jamaican champion. Okay hear this. What if I were to tell you that he played against 14 chess players simultaneously and won 12 of them?! Yes, 12 out of 14! That's just unbelievable! The two photos below show Duane in action, against 14 other chess players simultaneously.
If you ask me to play chess, I doubt I could last more than 10 steps before losing the game.

**Photos courtesy of the Cambridge University Chess Club**

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My First Video from the UK!!

A short video of how I celebrated CNY in the UK, which I made today. Sorry for the low quality production. If only I had more time....

Cast: ESD-ers, Kartini and I.
Location: Cambridge and London
Music: Peach Blossom - Ah Niu

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cost of Triathlon and Marathon To Double in 2025?!

Today we had a Distinguished Lecture Series by Fred Pearce, an environmentalist and the author of the book "When the Rivers Run Dry".

He was the recipient of the Peter Kent Conservation Book Award and the TES Junior Information Book Award, and his books have been translated into eight languages. He has written reports of the WWF, the UN Environmental Programme, Red Cross, UNESCO, The World Bank and the UK Environment Agency.

Fred said that the 21st Century will have a water crisis and would be a major political issue for many countries. The ice age was gone not because we don't have anymore ice, the stone age was gone not because we ran out of stones. Likewise, the oil age will be gone not because we ran out of oil. The world can live without oil but we certainly could not live without water.

Among the highlights of his talk that I noted down:

> It takes 1000litres of water to produce 1kg of wheat.

> 1000litres, 5kg of potatoes

> 4000-5000litres, 1 litre of milk

> 50 cups, 2 teaspoon of sugar

> 2000-5000litres, 1kg of rice

I'd say that these figures were ridiculous if it came from someone else. But since it came from someone with high credentials, I think we have a reason to pay attention.

Economists have predicted that by 2025, 350mil tonnes of food production per year would be cut across the globe if the global trend of water scarcity continues. This would mean an inflation of water and food production price, as the global population breaches the 9-billion mark by 2050.

While 2025 or 2050 is still considerably far into the future and I'd probably be on my rocking chair, I'm feeling a little gutted when those figures lingered in my mind. Should I still be running my full marathon or doing the Olympic distance triathlon, I'd be paying a lot more registration fees with all those items costing so much more in future. Wheat, potatoes and rice are all carbohydrates that feed the unsatiable appetite of sports people especially those who have just finished a marathon. At the back of my mind, I was really curious if PJ Half Marathon would still serve water from the black tanks? Would runners be rationed to only a few drops of water out of a sponge to cool themselves?

And what about triathlons? Would we still have clean water to swim in for our swimming event? How much would a packet of PowerGel or a packet of Endurance pack cost in future since these items are so carbo-intensive? What about 100plus or Gatorade, they are both liquids!

Oh well, since it's a problem of freshwater rather than sea water, I'd probably still be able to do my 6.5km swim from Kapas to Marang.

So, what if all these predictions really come true? What should we do now? I suggest you rethink about your investment portfolio from buying another lot of say, IOI to a more tangible "future asset". Maybe stock up 1000packets of expiry-free PowerGel, PowerBar and 50 containers of 100plus and Gatorades?!

Don't take me seriously....just another course satire.

Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday and Catholics all over the world are reminded again (marked by the sign of the cross on the forehead) that "it's from ash that we came from and unto ash we shall return". Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40-day Lent before the culmination of the tripartite Easter celebration. Lent is a time of giving up certain "sins" and "turn over a new leaf" so to speak e.g refraining from your favourite ice cream, not eating your favourite slice of chocolate cake for the next 40 days, swearing, smoking, etc. Whatever you choose to give up, counts. So, what have I chosen? Maybe worries? But even if I am giving up more, today's reading said "your left hand must not know what your right is doing". So when I fast, I am not supposed to talk about it...what more to blog it?!!

But yesterday was a lot more different. It was Shrove Tuesday, something unheard of in Malaysia. The word shrove is a past tense of the English verb "shrive," which means to obtain absolution for one's sins by confessing and doing penance.

It is also called as the Pancake Day. The reason that pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent is that the 40 days of Lent form a period of liturgical fasting, during which only the plainest foodstuffs may be eaten. Therefore, rich ingredients such as eggs, milk, sugar and flour are disposed of immediately prior to the commencement of the fast. Pancakes and doughnuts were therefore an efficient way of using up these perishable goods, besides providing a minor celebratory feast prior to the fast itself.

I had a raspberry pancake cooked by my block mates, Ian and Mei Ling. I also had it with honey and a dash of lime. It was heavenly!

Learnt something new today!

CNY in London

The Chinese are everywhere in the world. In fact their presence is so strong that almost every nook and cranny in the world has a Chinese. Someone even quipped, "Every country in the world has a Chinatown but not an English or American town; not even a Little India!"

The Chinese community in the UK has been growing ever since China opened up the economy. The increasing affluence of the Chinese and the one-child policy also meant that more parents could afford to send their children abroad for education and UK is one of those countries. No wonder this year's CNY in London is such bang!

As for me, you can take me out of Malaysia but you cannot take the Malaysia out of me. Being a true Malaysian, I certainly wanted to do something on the first day of CNY, especially that I am ethnic Chinese! So I went down to London to join in the crowd in Trafalgar Square.

The stage that was erected in front of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square. The Chinese altar on center stage seems rather odd as it is like showcasing a Chinese worship rather than CNY celebration.

Choy San Toh!!!

Met up with Kartini in Trafalgar Square and then proceeded to Leicester Square.

Chinatown packed with merry makers.

Even Chinese groceries enjoyed brisk business. I also took the opportunity to stock up on some Chinese ingredients since I was in Chinatown.

And finally, I wish everyone who's celebrating CNY


Saturday, February 17, 2007

CNY Eve Reunion Dinner in Cambridge

So what if you are in a place that does not declare holiday for Chinese New Year (CNY)? Just make the best out of it. The choice is in our hands. And that was exactly what we did for CNY here in Cambridge. The Asians in ESD united to throw a CNY Eve party to all coursemates. I volunteered to cook two big Emperor Chicken and a new found recipe of banana fritters with toast.

The above two photos are showing "engineering in practice". So what if you don't have a pot that is big enough to fit in a chicken? Just use a pan as the lid!

We sent out an email to ask everyone to wear red for the party. It was just a recommendation. And I was really surprised to see how red the party eventually turned out! I was laughing looking at the photos. I doubt people could be this disciplined for such mono-coloured dinner if this party were held in Malaysia!

The dinner spread at Gina's place. The two chickens (in aluminium foil) were placed at two end of the table. Gina is English but offered her beautiful place for the party and cooked up some Char Siew for the dinner. She learnt it when she was staying in Hong Kong for 11 years!

L to R: Gina, Kiki, Me, Phuong, Gareth, Eskandar and Martha.

The very "ong" people! More traditional than the celebration we ought to have back home. Phuong was so beautiful in her traditional Vietnamese costume called the Ao Dai. Kiki contributed all of the auspicious Chinese writings on the background, as you can see from the photo.

Happy Birthday Irene!

There are so many thing to write about you, but I'll just keep it short and simple. I really appreciate all the help that you have given me when I was in Malaysia and out of Malaysia, for being a true friend, a kind-hearted and God-fearing person, and the bubbliest person in everyone's life. Am very proud of what you have achieved in life - new house, new job, new friends, new blog, two new HRC T-shirts and a new truce with Doraemon. All the best in 2007 and again, Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Happy Birthday Roslinda!!

Roslinda is my ex-colleague with the Gamuda Group of Companies.

Yesterday was her birthday and I take this opportunity to wish her a Happy Belated Birthday!

If you are amused or disgusted by what I wrote in the cheapo "birthday card" (haha!), that just shows the level of our friendship. She is an absolutely good friend of mine.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Language for the International Race

I have always loathed the fact that I am ethnic Chinese but don't know how to read and write the language except for my name. In Japan, Japanese who can't speak Japanese are called "boiled egg". In Malaysia, I'm called a "banana". But no matter what term you use, the meanings are the same. What is more ironic is that I now know more Japanese than Chinese!

After coming here and doing Sustainable Development, I realised that this term could be defined in many ways, depending on how we look at it. Sustainable economy? Sustainable eating? Sustainable living? Sustainable environment? Sustainable gossiping? Sustainable learning? O wait, sustainable learning seems appropriate for this article then, so let's talk about it.

I am conscious that the my language capability and learning trend are both unsustainable if I want to be good at it. I need to know my roots, my dialect and most importantly, maintain the flame in the torch for the next generation. I am a Foochow, and shamefully admit that I could not speak a word of it! I know it's a mammoth task for me to catch up learning that dialect and most likely, the Foowchow dialect will be decimated in my generation once my grandmother is no longer here.

Now if I put the Brundtland's definition of Sustainable Development into perspective; "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs", I am in deep trouble. My brother, cousins and I have certainly developed a strong foundation in our education level but we have compromised the ability of our future generation to uphold their Foochow root and identity. The future generation of Yaps would not have any inkling of their past and most definitely dialect too. I am saying that we should have at least given our future generation the option; whether to learn the language or abandon it. We have not gotten any form of education or exposure ourselves to learn the dialect. It's pretty irrational to cry over spilled milk now but let's make it better from here.

Having said that, I also meant that language is increasingly more important in a globalised world. People are getting smarter, capital transfers are getting easier and companies are expanding across the seven seas more rapidly than before. Language is no longer a barrier of trade but rather an edge that will tip the equilibrium state of two equally good candidates vying for the same job, project or sales. The more language, the better chance of survival in a globalised world.

When I was in Spain and Portugal, I realised that knowing a few more languages would not only save time and money, but also enhance the value of my travel if I could relate personally with the surroundings, talk to the people, understand the culture and read their manuals.

Mandarin lessons in CD, given free to The Times readers

Today I scoured through the dailies and found that The Times has also gotten into this language fever. They are having a one-week series of learning Mandarin conversation starting today, free to all readers. I found it extremely interesting but equally embarassing because Chinese was something that I ought to know at this age. I was so engrossed with their "syllabus" that I ended up making a personal commitment to follow up with their subsequent lessons.

Well, the little broken Mandarin that I knew previously and my formal grounding in Japanese kanji would come in handy and be a good starting point to pick up Mandarin now, I am sure.

Above showing the difference of writing "horse" in the Chinese (printed) and Japanese way (written in blue)
But first, I need to callibrate between the Japanese and Chinese way of writing a similar word.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cambridge Snow Part 2

They say the second time is always better. I agree.

Me, Eskandar, Martha (Uganda), Duane (Jamaica) and Phuong (Vietnam)

Me, Martha, Phuong and Eskandar at King's College Chapel

Snow fight begins!

Oh no! You better not get this in snow fights!

This time, not only have I been more prepared with my clothings and empty stomach, but I have also planned in advance with my other coursemates for group photos and snow fights! It was marvellous. And the snow this time is much more intense than the previous one. In fact, it lasted for almost 6 hours!

I will let others do the "blogging" this time. I will not blog more but this is how it all went throughout the day:

In the radio yesterday, Cambridge Q103 reported, "It better snow tomorrow because the council has spent alot of money mobilising snow shovels in anticipation to tomorrow's heavy snow fall. It'd keep everyone waiting with their shovels for nothing if it didn't!"

This snow-woman is taller than me! Will see this egoistic chic melt in no time!

Today's email circulation for a talk...

"Despite the snow, this meeting is going ahead. If you can no longer come, it would be a great help if you could please tell us (reply to this email). This is to remind you that... "

Today's email circulation from our college gardener...

"..just a reminder to please keep off the small fine lawns which have 'keep off the grass' signs in corners. The reason is very simple -it causes soil compaction/damage when wet and grass die back when frosty. There are also bulbs coming thru in some of the lawns so please be careful to avoid these (daffodils, snowdrops, aconites, crocus). Thank you. Please enjoy the large lawns elsewhere and make as many snowmen as you can !!!"

Me, Martha, Phuong and Eskandar at The Backs of King's College

An email from my Japanese language lecturer:

"MINA SAN! It's Snowing!! Let's sing the song http://www.toshiba.co.jp/care/benri/douyou/2konk.htm Are you a dog person or a cat person?"

Well, I do have something to say after all but I won't type it out. I have done it in a video format and uploaded it in Youtube. Message to everyone in Malaysia, Uganda, Vietnam and Jamaica from the happy and fun lot in Cambridge!

and more snow fights...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Creative Destruction

My recent encounter with Dr Ashford's (from MIT) lectures about Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" has left an indelible impression on the way I see technologies.

Wherever and whenever I see a new technology, I am always thinking about the potential displacement of an old technology that once thrived in the yesteryears. Linking this 65 year-old thinking with the things that we encounter daily makes classroom learning extremely interesting and fun.

You probably thought what the heck have I gone wrong now, posting some academic terminology in the blog?! You see, it's not at all academic but something very real happening in our society. It's just that we seldom care to find out that there's a term to it.

So what is creative destruction? As Schumpeter put it, creative destruction is the process of transformation that accompanies radical innovation. In my course, we link it to the mechanism of sustainability. Disruptive technologies are leading new and more effective solutions to today's problems and displacing old and archaic technologies of yesteryears.

Let me draw you to some examples:

1. Internet /email is a disruptive technology to Pos Malaysia's snail mail.
2. Skype/ VOIP is a disruptive technology to Telekom Malaysia or your Maxis bills.
3. MP3 is a disruptive technology to CDs; or should I say piracy.
4. Digital camera is a disruptive technology to film cameras.

I have also noticed very obvious trends coming up in Malaysia which appear to be a form of disruptive technology in disguise to replacing other archaic industries. It's really scary if you put this disruptive technology and creative destruction into perspective and see how things are slowly unfolding in Malaysia which would affect you and I later. Dr Ashford could not emphasis more that the only way to survive is to innovate!

1. GPS is a disruptive technology to our land surveyors? Why would anyone need to hire land surveyors in future when Civil Engineers only need to have a GPS device and mark out the areas for construction?

2. Hypermarkets are disruptive business innovation to our local grocery stores or roti-man roaming on the neighbourhood streets? Think about the last time you bought your bottle of Coca-Cola or Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce from a local grocer or roti from a roti-man?

3. No-frills airlines are a disruptive business innovation to our full service airlines. Look at the effects it had on MAS and upside potential to our KLIA Airports.

4. Online recruiting is a disruptive business innovation to our office-based recruitment agencies.

5. Colour or photo printers are a disruptive technology to Kodak or Fujifilm's printing shops?

Disruptive technologies have over again made many big companies pale into insignificance once their technology is displaced. These are called the dinosaur companies, which I think is a pretty good term coined for this technological displacement. I just shudder to think how is our generation going to explain to our future generations what/who is a roti-man or why do we have to pay for drinks in plane, or why has Kodak changed its model from a photo company to a benefit-oriented company with a tagline "Kodak Moments"?

If you find this interesting, this is one of those lectures that we had in Cambridge. And if I may put a marketing pitch to it, that's one small part of what we learnt in Engineering for Sustainable Development in Cambridge; extremely practical, mentally stimulating and absolutely thought provoking!

If you've just gotten too excited with this topic, may I lead you to argue on this point:

Is money a creative destruction to human ethics, conscience, feelings and soul?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Continuing Japanese Language

Even though Japanese is no longer in use when I came here, I decided to continue learning it. I was in the Advanced class in the previous term and passed the exam and interview in December last year. So, I am continuing this term.

With a hectic schedule from my course, training for marathon, UKEC and now Japanese to juggle with, I am getting stretched thinner and thinner, if you still remember about the roti canai metaphor that I used earlier.

Learning Japanese here is all about self initiative. There are neither motivating factors to learn fast nor work hard for it. At least not the type of incentives that I get in Japan i.e the faster and more I learn, the easier I get to communicate with people. I mean, I don't even have to do it if I didn't want to! I don't have to do homework because it's not part of my module. So it's easy to be a bum here for Nihongo and not be good at it after say, 4 years of learning it. But I told myself to do it. For example, how can I learn kanji without writing it?!

I promised to work equally hard for my Japanese and at least be (a little) better than where I left off in Japan. Lest it would be a waste of the 6 months that I went through there. I certainly am grateful to the Japanese government for the Monbukagakusho scholarship and will march on with the torch to be a good citizen of their (ex) scholar.

Ganbatte kudasai ne!

Friday, February 02, 2007

London Marathon 2007

I have not written or spoken much about my entry into the London Marathon because I know alot of people will hate me for this.

I have heard from avid runners here and in Malaysia that they have attempted 5 times for the London Marathon ballot, but failed in each of the attempts! Meaning 5 years of trying to get into the race! That's a long wait to sign up for a run.
While I wince hearing that, I realised that I could short-circuit this (long wait) and get a Guaranteed Entry into the race via the university. As many of you marathoners may already know, the London Marathon was founded by Chris Brasher. Chris studied in St John's College, University of Cambridge. In memory of him, Cambridge gets 10 guaranteed entries every year for students who failed in the public ballot.

I did not get through the public ballot. My hopes were dashed to run in London. Another 5 years to wait? Or 7 years for a guaranteed placing? Will I be participating as a junior veteran by then? As if I don't have enough stress here...another bad news!
So, I went for the university ballot instead. Even with the university ballot, there were many marathoners. Well, at least the chance is better than a public ballot.

I guess you know where this story would lead to next.

Proudly presents...the Guaranteed Entry Form

When the results were revealed, I received a congratulatory email. I was one of the ten! Yay! So, I'm going to London in April for the marathon. Thank God for providing me this opportunity because I don't even know if I could stay that long to wait for the opportunity to arrive!

O yes, could anyone be kind enough to sponsor one new (design) Pacesetters vest for me to run in it? So that I could also "publicise" the club in the marathon...

Training regime..all systems go....

So yup...April 22nd, London here I come!