Friday, May 30, 2008

The Virgin London Marathon

I received an update from the London Marathon newsletter that "Virgin has signed a five-year deal to be the official sponsor of the London Marathon...The £17m deal, which starts in 2010, will see Virgin take over from the current sponsors Flora. Sir Richard Branson commented: "It’s an epic and inspirational event and raises a fantastic amount of money for great causes. It’s the single biggest fundraising day on the planet and we want to make it even bigger."

Picture from London Marathon website

£17m is a lot of money for a marathon race. I tried Googling for the sponsorship of the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon but found nothing about it. But I am certainly sure we're nowhere near RM17m. Even the Singapore Marathon is only SGD 3.5million. So maybe we're talking about RM1.7m for KLIM. Correct me if this figure is an exaggeration.

You can never be sure with cost when you have FTAAA running things.

Another good news about the London Marathon is that the 2009 overseas ballot is now open. So if you are in Paris, Philadelphia, Doha, Melbourne, Penang or KL and are interested in doing the race, this is the time to sign up before the places are gone!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Places tourists wouldn't Rome

We were extremely fortunate to have the company of a priest when we were in Rome. Fr Charles Serrao, whose profound contribution in one of the Catholic spiritual orders can be Google-d easily, is currently teaching and residing in Rome.

When we arrived in Rome, mom gave Father Serrao a courtesy call to inform of our arrival. What meant to be a courtesy call turned out to be a full guided tour of Rome by Father Serrao himself!

Fr Serrao and parents

When I was in Rome the first time, I saw many sisters, nuns, brothers and priests on the streets. If anyone were blindfolded and dropped into this city that person could have easily guessed that this was Rome! That said, I wouldn't blog about the tourist places anymore.

What I remembered about Rome was it was a giant open air museum of ancient ruins and that there's this massive stadium that could easily hide you amongst it cracks. I remember I blogged about the Vatican Museums too, to the point that the article was verging on exaggeration. I thought I exaggerated but Father Serrao raised the bar even higher!

To start with, Fr Serrao procured tickets for us for the Papal Audience. Yes, it means seeing the Pope!
Nearest shot taken of the Holy Father

Pope addressing the crowd

Meeting the Pope was like a dream come true. Millions of youths around the world dream of doing just that during the World Youth Day. We didn't get to shake his hands but seeing him a few metres from where we stood was so unreal! It's even better than seeing Queen Elizabeth! The moment when I saw him threw me into a biblical imagination of a chapter in the Bible when Jesus was going into Jericho and a short man (Zacchaeus) climbed a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of him. I stood on the chair!

What many didn't know about Rome is that St Peter's Basilica is not the only Basilica in Rome but one of the five.
Basilica of St John Lateran

In fact, St Peter's Basilica is neither the official church of Rome nor the official seat of the Pope. The Basilica of St John Lateran is! It ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, even above St. Peter's Basilica.
Fr Serrao showing the location of St Peter's Basilica

Not far from St John Lateran, Fr Serrao brought us to the Holy Stairs. It is called so because the stairs were believed to be the actual steps that Jesus climbed the day He was sentenced to death. That is why you see people climbing up the steps on their knees as an act of veneration.

Holy Stairs

If St John Lateran Basilica is ranked higher than St Peter's Basilica, then what is St Peter's Basilica actually? Well, it is the most important place that contains the work of art of the greatest artists of the 16th Century like Michelangelo.

Fr Serrao brought us to two other Basilicas - St Mary Major, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Paul, the final resting place of St Paul, persecutor of the Christians before he repented and turned into one himself .

Statue of St Paul

St Paul's Basilica

One of the most astounding tours that Fr Serrao brought us was to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme where the relics of Jesus' crucifixion were displayed. There were:
  • Three fragments from the True Cross
  • One nail used in the Crucifixion.
  • One third of the Title of the Cross showing the word "Nazarene" written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
    Relics of the crucifixion
Fr Serrao also brought us to his College where he teaches theology. He invited us over for lunch. At first I thought he had some left over food which we could have until he introduced us to about 30 brothers in the College! Everyone looked so "holy" in their habits (uniform worn by the brothers). When we were introduced, I felt so weird in t-shirt and khakis.
Ferdinand, one of the brothers in the College.

Coincidentally it was one of the brother's birthday, so we sang a birthday song too. Thank God the attention was eventually diverted! Fr Serrao was speaking Italian fluently to them so I had no idea what he was saying.
In the College

Ferdinand and Gregory showing me around the College grounds. Looked like the corridor in Trinity College, Cambridge.

When the stares and smiles from the brothers were directed at us, they were actually directed at me. Fr Serrao laughed along. Then Fr Serrao looked over and explained, "I told them that you may be joining them soon."

After the trip, we felt really touched by the great hospitality by Fr Serrao and the students in the College. The brothers as I observed have this great humility in them. They didn't need to do what they did for us. Priests are not tour guides and having one of them, being so profound in their knowledge to guide us around the city is like having Princes Charles showing us around Windsor Castle.

But even if Prince Charles were to give a full tour of Windsor Castle, there is still a great disbelief that you can ever be part of the royal family. But in Fr Serrao's case, he has not only managed to make me feel confident in the God I worship, but also demonstrated that He was with us in Rome.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Graduation in Cambridge

I have finally attended graduation in Cambridge after months of planning.

I started planning for my family to come over since January 2007, way before I finished the MPhil. I had initially wanted to graduate in November last year but reconsidered for a less miserable time of the year to do it.

So I chose May 2008 - plenty of daylight, mild temperature, stable weather conditions and cheaper flight tickets. Knowing that the third is a lie, I prayed hard for good weather since Christmas! I guess my prayer was answered.

In fact, I read in the papers a day after graduation that it was the hottest day of the year since 30 years ago! 28 deg C in May??!! No wonder I had a wet forehead.

Even though it wasn't difficult to convince my parents, brother and friends to attend, I was asking myself the question if it was really worth it for them to fly 13 hours all the way from Malaysia to attend a 20-minute ceremony.

There are so many other logistics on top of that - accommodation, transportation, food, travel to other places, making sure everyone's RSVP-ed and their flights are booked and confirmed, making sure everyone's got a place during the congregation lunch and ticket to the Regent House, etc etc. You know those kinda stuff like you'd normally do in a wedding ceremony as well.

Indeed, I felt like I was planning for a wedding! I'm glad I do not have plans for a next MPhil or PhD at the moment.

There were five family members and friends who attended the ceremony. I was initially worried that five was quite a stretch to Wolfson's allowance of three guests per student to the Regent House. They allowed the additional two after several email exchanges to the pra-elector. I am still very grateful to his generosity and understanding.

With my family

The day started at Wolfson College President's Garden where drinks were served. We had champagne, wine and fruit juice. Then it was the President and Praelector's speeches. We were fortunate that both the President and praelector came to our group for a chat despite the large number of students graduating in May.
With the President of Wolfson College, Dr Gordon Johnson, who was also the Deputy Vice Chancellor for the ceremony. What a coincidence!

After that we proceeded for lunch at the College hall. I could understand most of the guests were excited for lunch as we were. I overheard a conversation, "Is this the Harry Potter thing you were saying?" I found it amusing that this is the way people relate such unique experience which would otherwise be a lot harder to describe.

There was a 3-hour gap after lunch to the next event. Thanks to Farouk, this year's ESD student who lent his place to us for 3 days, we were able to get some rest first.

After that, we reconvened at the multi-purpose hall in College. There was a 15-minute rehearsal of what we must do before we walked to the Regent House. Walking from College to the Regent House was one of the proudest moments of being a student of Cambridge.
Walking to the Regent House

When we passed nearby Darwin College, they too were walking in the same direction. There, I met a few familiar faces from other MPhil programmes. We chatted and caught up on news. Was really nice meeting familiar people and seeing everyone so smartly dressed and not in bicycles! Haha!
Into the Regent House.
**No photography in the Regent House**

The praelector is the person who would present us to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (the person awarding us the degree) in the Regent House. I was arranged in alphabetical order - third in row and second in line.

We were briefed about the order of the event. We were required to hold on to a finger of the praelector while he leads and presents us to the Deputy Vice Chancellor.

We were supposed to kneel in front of him and put our palms together (in prayer mode) while he clasps his hands on ours and confers us with our respective degrees; MPhil, MBA or PhD. The entire ceremony is done in Latin and in the name of the Holy Trinity: " nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti." This is the Cambridge custom of 800 years old. However, students do have a choice if they don't want to kneel or be conferred with the Trinitarian formula for personal or religious reasons.

This is one of those experiences that I want my parents, brother and friends to have and share with others about Cambridge when they return. This unique experience is not something that will happen everyday, everywhere or to everyone- at least not in Malaysia!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the following people:

1. Parents for their support and guidance.
2. Brother for the same.
3. Two aunts from the maternal side for their well wishes and angpaos.
4. Two grandmas for their support, well wishes and angpaos.
5. Friends for their well wishes.

Special mention to:
6. Farouk for lending his place in Cambridge.
7. Evelyn Lee for lending her place in London.
8. Fr Charles Serrao, Ferdinand, Gregory and students in their College for their great hospitality in showing us Rome.
9. CP Yap for lending his place in Paris.
10. Irene for helping much in the logistics.
11. My housemates - Paul, Brendon and DD for their kind understanding when my parents were here.

Finally but most importantly:
To God for giving me the life, ability, scholarship, knowledge, inspiration, motivation and direction to Cambridge in the first place!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

When you assume...

That was what happened in the office today.

I was awashed with guilt and embarassment after a little misunderstanding in the office.

Usually one of us would bring snacks to share with the team. I'd bring biscuits or chocolates, since that's the "standard" here. Have never attempted durians though.

The common area was filled with food today. Not only had someone brought biscuits and chocolates but pies, fruits, cakes, candies, sausages and profiteroles. As I walked pass, I took one of the profiteroles. They looked lovely. I went back to my work station and sat down.

As I was putting the little dough into my mouth, a colleague seated beside me, Nicole, exclaimed, "Ah Yap! Don't steal food! They're not ours!"

I could feel hot blood rushing through my head at an instance. It was probably because her voice emerged out of nowhere and broke the silence of a serious working environment.

I was like, "What?! Really?!" I was lost for words.

Nicole explained, "These're from the other team. They are celebrating today. They've achieved their team targets." She did the finishing kungfu kick of death and repeated.."Don't steal food! Ah! C'mon!" She burst into laughter as if enjoying every bit of my embarassment.

The other members in our team looked at me and laughed.

I apologised and said I didn't know about it. They know I was embarassed. I could almost camouflage a scarlet wall. I tried picking up the shattered pieces of my dignity.

At 3pm, the other team came to us and offered to share their cakes and some other leftovers. Nicole looked at me. I looked at her. We both laughed. There's this unspoken agreement between us that I've been vindicated from "all charges".

Now that my feelings have consolidated, I can really laugh at my silly mistakes and the unforgiving nature of being the brunt of a joke.

Moral of the story is: When you assume, you make an "ass" of "u" and "me". Mathematically put: assume= ass /(u+me).