Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nike Human Race Report: London Edition

I ran the Nike Human Race today. It started in Wembley Stadium. Ironically I am running for London instead of KL since runners here can only represent this city. I found out from CP, that runners in Paris get to choose the city they want to represent.

Shots taken before the race when it was still dry and bright

Even though I couldn't run for KL, I am still proud that I did it for London and we came in second to Madrid in the overall ranking! Londoners have to concede the matadors were just too strong for us! Other than that, we beat 24 other cities in the world. So that's pretty remarkable.
City ranking

Even though I took part in the event, I was in my worst form.

Imagine a time when you have a migraine and had to climb the stairs. Suddenly a dog chases you as soon as you reach the landing in the middle of nowhere and then the sky starts pouring like mad and you had to run for cover from the rain as well as from the fierce bitch.

I felt exactly like that before the race.

I was down with a sore throat for three days and then it developed into a mild fever with an unstoppable running nose. I tried using Clarinase to plug the mucus but to no avail.

Trying to run with flu is like trying to drive a car with the exhaust pipe blocked. Only thing, you’re the car.

It was affecting my mood terribly and I had the Nike Human Race today. Unlike the London Marathon, they do not reserve your place for the race next year if you do not feel fit to run.

So I had to make a decision - to run or not?

30quid was too much to lose, so I decided to gamble it with my life. I didn't realise the decision of my life is only worth a low 30 quid!

Anyway, when I arrived, I sorted my baggage and went to the stadium. I was placed in the first wave of four. I managed to make last-minute contact with Bettina, who was also doing the race. She was in a different wave. I don’t know how have they allocated the waves but I suspect it has something to do with our predicted finishing time.

The first two waves get to go to the pitch, i.e the football field.

I did recover from my illness when I arrived into Wembley Stadium. It was false recovery from the excitement and adrenaline rush into the body. But it fell through when the sea of runners dressed in red amassed and glared by the stadium floodlights. The aggressive colour was too much for the retina when it is in sick mode.

The glaring red colour is too much for a pair of ailing retina!

This run is slightly different. They started with a mini concert by Pendulum and Moby. They were good but they annoyed us after a while when they delayed the entire race.

Pre-race concert on the pitch of Wembley Stadium

The race was supposed to start at 7pm but was delayed until 7.30pm. The sky turned to dusk at this time. That’s also when normal human beings usually have their dinners and bats look for food. But the 30,000 of us were waiting to run!

I hope Nike has learnt that high-profile artistes and a high-profile race cannot go together. There can only be one show!

I was surprised to see Paula Radcliffe, who represented Team GB for the marathon event in Beijing (but didn’t finish). She was there to flag off our race. It was my first time seeing her in person so I was quite excited. She's shorter in real life than in TV!
Paula Radcliffe on stage

At the start, runners from the first wave, probably 10,000 of us, converged into a one-lane tunnel. It was quite a nasty start as people jostled to get through it. It took me a while to orientate myself out from the crowd.
Runners converged into a tunnel to exit the stadium

As soon as we were out, we were greeted by the good ol' British weather; the rain. I was soaked in 10mins. I also thought I was going to be electrocuted by my iPod in such wet condition. The last time I checked, it’s still working.

The race course has its fair share of undulation and flat stretches. I like the climbs. I overtook many runners in these places. If you're sick, soaked and running, all you care is to finish the race as quickly as possible whether it’s a flat or undulated course!
First and last two ks were zig-zagged around the stadium

I am glad there were no complications in my breathing even though I was down with a running nose.

The rain stopped as soon as I crossed the finishing line. Just can't help thinking if I'm the cause of the rain!

Picturesque finish

After the race, all runners were rewarded with a finisher’s T-shirt and lots of energy drinks. There were no medals though but since Nike has bribed us with two of their apparels, they can be forgiven this time.
The not-so-glaring finisher's shirt

Furthermore, the proceeds from the race will all go to charity organisations, so that’s not too bad. At least I know some of the money will go to saving the Orang Utans (in Sumatra!).

I received my official time through the SMS. The results came through half an hour after I crossed the finishing line. Now that’s very efficient.

Runners making their way to the Tube as soon as they are changed. No-nonsense, no lucky draws, no prize giving ceremonies, no time-wasting. Suits me really well.

To my surprise, despite the illness and adverse weather, I smashed my previous personal best for a 10k race with a time of 44mins 6 secs.

I am placed 7626th out of a supposed 1,000,000 runners in the world ranking. Sweet!

A video I found from the official website showing the race in London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Our Rubber History is s-KEW-ed

I was at the Kew Gardens yesterday with former colleagues from Cambridge.

In front of the iconic Palm House

As a Malaysian, I have come across hearing about this place some 20 years ago when I studied the "Alam dan Manusia" subject (Nature and Human, direct translation) in primary school.

Kew Gardens is where we got our first rubber seeds from the British. So whenever I hear of or see Kew Gardens in the map, I would always associate this place with our rubber.

As a kid, I absorbed facts without questioning regardless whether they were right or wrong, but there was an occasion when I asked the teacher if Kew Gardens belonged to Lee Kuan Yew!

You know I'm really not a bright person since young. Who would have made up Kuan+Yew=Kew??!!

Anyway, if you're laughing now, imagine 38 others doing the same to me in class. It was more traumatic as a kid then. You can imagine why do I still remember this after 20 years! Haha!

Anyway, when I was at the Gardens yesterday, my mind was set on two things - the treetop walk and the Palm House. I learnt that the Palm House is the tropical climate glasshouse which would feature among which, the rubber tree.
Treetop walk

When we reached the rubber tree, the guide from the walking tour explained that "Kew does not have a very proud history of the rubber tree". It grabbed my attention.

Mary, our guide told us that the British came across the rubber tree in Brazil. They saw the potential use of rubber and smuggled some seeds out of the country.
Mary explaining the rubber tree

When I checked in Google awhile ago, "some" was obviously an understatement to the real figure of 70,000 seeds!

The seeds reached Kew Gardens after many attempts as rubber seeds die easily. Furthermore, it takes ages to get from one place to another in those days (there were no planes then!) and by the time the seeds arrived Kew, they would have withered.

But you can't go too wrong with 70,000 seeds! I am sure at least a few thousands survived.

The survivor seeds were cultivated in Britain and then dispatched to two British colonies. First it went to Sri Lanka. Then it went to Malaya, as we were known then.

Even though the seeds went to two countries, it was in Malaya that rubber grew up to commercial scale. As it is now, rubber is one of our biggest commodities in the country.

I was still thinking why weren't we told of this other side of our rubber history and how it came to Malaysia. To prove my point that we weren't told the story, I tried Wikipedia in the Malay language version and I was right that there was no mention of the "theft"!

I tried to reason out that's probably because it's not an important historical fact. Stolen or not, rubber is one of Malaysia's commodities and no one can take that away now anyhow.

Furthermore, our history books were probably altered by the British before we got our independence and that would have gone under the scissors.

Unless someone can tell me that they know about the theft, I can safely assume that most, if not all Malaysians would still know about the truncated version of the history of rubber. But if I'm the only one who was not paying attention in class some 20 years ago, or the teacher didn't tell us that, then I'll hunt my primary school teacher down to apologise.

But I am lucky to learn about this somehow and ironically, in Kew Gardens. Not too late to know but it was a long way to find out that our rubber history is skewed!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Over to you, London

I was at The Mall (in front of Buckingham Palace) today for the London 2012 party.

That's right, now the eyes are on London after the great performance by Beijing.

With colleagues who are working on the project

Beijing has raised the bar for hosting the Olympic Games so high that it will take a lot for the next city to come out with a better show! Fortunately or unfortunately, the next city is London. I said "fortunately" because you need a city that is known for its arts and culture to compete with the stuff that Beijing has shown the world and London has the right sort of diversity, capability and capacity to do that as compared to the other short-listed cities in 2005, say Moscow or Madrid.

I mentioned "unfortunately" because of reasons that you and I would know by now. Raising the bar means London has to do much more to meet the heightened expectations of the world. This may mean more cost and more cost means more money from the taxpayers.

Guess who's that? I was surprised to meet him in this country when he should be in Beijing for the closing ceremony!

If today were an indication of how London would perform in 2012, I think this City can do it. I say this in all fairness even though the sneak preview of London in the Beijing closing ceremony was not what I expected. I thought they could do better.

Really, can you remember anything about it?

The only thing I can remember about the performance is the "transformer" bus and a very ecstatic lad for getting a ball by David Beckham! In fact, some UK politicians are pretty pissed over the 3-minute video shown over in Beijing.
Yes! Beijing snubs foreign media and does it again with the footprint of fire for the closing ceremony.

London's excitement has only begun. Even as Beijing is playing host to the Olympics, London has already made itself look like a host city as if the Games were starting next month. Tate Modern for example, has already put up a roadshow of Team GB for London 2012, and the London Eye has recently turned into the colours of the Union Jack to mark the event.

Open-air Britain United showcase in front of Tate Modern

London Eye in the colours of Union Jack

Today's performance at The Mall was just as impressive. Two big events were scheduled to happen in London today; the Notting Hill Carnival and the London 2012 party. If all 40,000 places for the party were filled while another competing event was happening not far away, that means a lot for 2012.

The next four years will be crucial. I hope the support and spirit of the people will be maintained or continue to grow until then. I really hope to take one of the seats for the opening and closing ceremony of London 2012. Oh well, we'll see...

For now, Beijing is done and thank you so much for a fantastic event. Now it's over to you, London!

The crowd for today's party at The Mall

Il Divo

Red Arrows painting the sky with the colours of the Union Jack

Yes, Michael Phelps was here today. So happened I was standing right in front. I was surprised when he looked towards me and showed his medal, as if he knew I was going to ask him for that! Haha..

See this and remember.

Look familiar? People just take everything and anything in this country. Isn't it scary? And they are just children!!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Still a soft spot for Japan

The world remembers them for their atrocities. Investors hate them for their puny interest rates. Their own people call their leaders as the puppets (sometimes puppy) of Bush. And I am always disgusted by their try-hard interpretation of American style. However, one thing that most, if not all, can agree on is that the Japanese are the most polite and well mannered people in the world!

And this reason alone can make me speak for hours about the country.

I helped a Japanese locate her husband not too long ago. Mrs Matsukawa insisted that I gave her my address and I did.

Today she sent me a letter. I remember she couldn't speak a word of English and that's why I ended up helping her.

Letter from Mrs Matsukawa

When I opened the letter, she wrote to me in English! I know the one-page letter is not a great deal to many of us but for someone who couldn't speak a word of English except "yes" and "no", that's truly remarkable!

I remember when I was studying in Japan and given the assignment to write a letter in Japanese to our lecturer, it took me half an hour to come up with one meaningful sentence, 5 hours to cover half a page and the next day to finish a page. After that, a few more hours to be corrected by our Japanese "buddies". That was also when we know more than "yes" and "no"!

So when I read her letter, I was very touched. It was no mean feat for her to come up with that. Her English was appalling but that's not important. The most important thing in language is to get the message across and it wasn't impossible to make up the entire content of the letter.

She enclosed photos of her trip and then invited me to Osaka for a visit. As if sensing I would visit Niigata or skip Osaka for other places like Tokyo and Kyoto even if I made a trip to Japan, she listed alternative plans like coming up to meet me in Niigata or Tokyo if I hadn't thought about visiting Osaka.

Mrs Matsukawa and hubby in London

Now anyone who's not gullible would not buy this so-called "invitation". I would just brush it off as a gesture of thanks in the form of invitation out of courtesy instead of taking it real.

However, when she listed alternatives, and explained about the ways she could drop by to see me in Niigata or Tokyo without having me to go to her, that's really something else!

She reminded me of my host mother. She reminded me about all the nice Japanese people I met when I was studying in the country. She reminded me of going back there.

Now I must keep reading the first four sentences that I started this article with to keep myself in check and from getting too carried away. I hate to admit it but I still have a soft spot for Japan.

Driving Theory Test

Today is the day of reckoning for my driving theory test after poring 81345352353461342423 hours for the test and familiarising with the questions through the mock tests.

And I passed. I scored 100% in the multiple choice section which surprised me greatly considering the position I started from three weeks ago.

When I first started, I failed in all of the 11 mock exams that I took. What a shame!

I know it shouldn't sound like it needed a lot of hard work. So I was shattered when I underestimated the test.

Then I started becoming serious in what I needed to do. Instead of jumping straight into the questions I took the hard way by starting from page one till the last page in the Driving Theory Pack that I bought to help me.

One of the questions which I could always remember was:

"A van signals and cuts in from right, what should you do?"
A. slow down and maintain a safe distance, B. flash your headlights, C. sound your horn, D. accelerate to prevent the van from cutting in."

When I started by jumping straight into the mock test, I depended a lot on instinct and common sense. So I am person who would choose answers like B or C. I thought these were the sensible things to do.

Sound the horn to tell the driver, "You're such an idiot!" or flash the headlight and hope that it will scorch him alive in his seat! . Of the two, I would deduce that the best answer is C because B that blinds, is an offence. Of course, in a very REAL situation, you'd probably be expecting the answer to be E, which is "stick two fingers up at the driver". Unfortunately, A is where the point is. Today I was asked this same question. I smiled looking at it and thought what would I have put if I didn't practice for the test!

Well, now that the theory test is over, I'm one step closer to getting a full UK driving license.

For the next stage I would have to sign up for a few hours of practical UK driving habits into my system before taking the exam.

This means I have to do away with the bad Malaysian driving habits for the moment like not giving way to other vehicles because it will save me 2 seconds of my journey time, blowing the horns at cyclists and buses, double parking and lip-move profanities at annoying drivers who cut in and out like their fathers' road!

Now if you're not Malaysian and reading this, you're probably thinking that putting a Malaysian on the British roads is really not a wise thing to do. As I'm trying to learn the "British way" of driving, , I am really serious in redeeming myself and becoming a well-mannered driver, just as long as I don't meet a crazy Malaysian on the road.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Proms Bus No.9 in A

I just returned from the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms.

Royal Albert Hall-outside


I thought I was going to see the proms alone but Owen agreed to come this morning. The proms was a very good experience. In fact, getting into the Royal Albert Hall in itself was an experience.

BBC Proms

But this is not what I wanted to blog about. I would rather talk than write about the proms because it was such a fabulous performance it would take me a while to write it.

It's about bus no.9.

After the proms, I spotted bus no.9 which I needed to take to Charing Cross and walk home from there. The bus was about 50m in front.

I ran to catch it. But the door slammed on me. I backed off.

The bus was packed, so the people turned to my direction and probably checked if someone got killed by the door.

I was lucky. There was a queue at the traffic lights in front. So I quickened my pace to the next stop only to find that the stop was not in use because of an ongoing road work. The bus passed by a grumpy me. What a luck.

So I continued walking further down the road. The next thing I knew, I have reached Knightsbridge, where Harrods is. I spotted another bus stop about 100m in front and then a bus no.9 passed me.

It signaled left and stopped. I ran quickly to it but I missed it by 5 seconds. Damn! Again! How can I miss two buses in a night!

Then I remembered this morning watching news that the 100m world record of 9.6 secs was smashed by Usain Bolt, not me. So I had to concede I couldn't run as fast and the bus driver would have retired and got his pensions by the time I arrived.

I continued walking. Then I reached Hyde Park Corner.

Just as I was checking the bus route map to see if bus no.9 stops here, one arrived right in front! Yay!

Finally I caught bus no.9 after the third attempt.

It felt like one of the pieces played in the proms depicting anger, frustration and then, victory in the end. I have forgotten the name of the piece but I'll just call it "Concerto Proms Bus no.9 in A".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Aquathlon Race

I did an aquathlon race this morning in Mottingham, southeast of London. The venue of the race was in Eltham College because we were using the sports facilities in the college grounds. I must attest that I was impressed with the school's facilities. It's like a clubhouse!

A very huge sports field for a school

The race is called the Clash of the Tritons featuring a 500m swim and a 5km run. This is the equivalent of a three-quarter Chin Woo Biathlon that I used to do.

My time was:
500m swim: 9mins 10secs.
5km run: 23mins 2 secs
Total time: 32mins 12 secs

Swimming event in the indoor pool

Transition area

This time I raced under the "Pacesetters Athletics Club Malaysia" banner. When I looked at the participants' list, almost everyone was affiliated to a triathlon club. So, PACM certainly didn't look like it fitted nicely in the list. Anyhow, the MC later announced to everyone that I was "the furthest" they had in the race so far!

The queue for registration and body marking

Because the distances were shorter, the race was pretty much judged on speed rather than stamina.

My time has been fairly consistent for long distance competitions. So I have estimated a finishing time of 40mins based on a 10-min swim and a 30-min run time. Deep inside, I targeted 38. Anything sub-40 would be nice.

When the results were out, I was elated to find that I have shaved 8 mins off the estimated time instead of 2!
Running two loops around the sports ground. Bands given to distinguish the starting and finishing runners.

Still I am a little disappointed because I finished 32nd in my category. That's probably in the top 20%-25% of total ranking.
Biscuits and cakes for runners? That's so English!

The stakes

Ever since coming to the UK, I have never inched anywhere near 10% as I previously could in Malaysia. The level of competition in the UK is so much higher even though the training facilities here are old, cramp and expensive. Sometimes it dampens my spirit of putting anymore training. At other times it pushes me to excel better.

Ever since I have started training in the UK, I have also noticed the differences between the races here and in Malaysia. Competitors here are very passionate about the sports they choose. You can have any competition at any price and not throw in medals or refreshments but people will still race.

However, if the same happens in Malaysia, you can bet your last dollar that no one will show up and everyone will bitch about the race to eternity.

We sign up to a race by first asking if there's a medal, vest and goodie bag or how good they are.

Then again, I am not making a judgement that this is a wrong attitude but I am just saying that runners in both countries perceive competitions in a very different and unique way.

Like it or not, the constant feeling of inadequacy to me, is very much like the feeling of insecurity. And I believe, this insecurity thing always brings out the best of people. I'm sure it has driven me to break personal best records of previous runs one by one, as I unconsciously push the limits little by little even though the rankings have not only stagnated but worsened.

Or maybe I should accept the fact that top 20% is the equivalent of Malaysia's 10. Yes I can accept that. 1:2 is still better than 1: 6.5 if the law of currency applies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Working with Digestives

I come in early to the office to catch up on news before I start working. So I have my breakfast in the office every morning.

One morning I ran out of cereals. It only filled one-eight of a bowl. Certainly not enough for me, no! So I rummaged the drawer to look for more food. I found a packet of digestives.

I tore open the seal and took out four pieces of biscuits. I broke them into quadrants and filled the cereal bowl.

As usual, a banana, cereals and milk for the morning.

After this accidental discovery, I found myself doing it every morning, even with the ample supply of cereals in the drawer! That's because it tasted really nice.

Digestives in cereals and milk. You'll love it!

I have been doing this weird combination on my seat ever since. So people hadn't noticed about it. At least that's what I thought.

This morning I decided to go into the pantry to do it since I have a new supply of milk to put into the fridge. There were three colleagues in there as well.

Gerry looked at the bowl and said, "Is that digestives?"

I answered yes. Two other colleagues looked on curiously.

Ted said with a little disgust in his face, "Does that go well in milk? That's really weird."

I asked him to try since I have loads of digestives. But he declined.

Gerry defended, "Ah! I think it'll taste brilliant. Like how they crush digestives to layer the base of cheesecakes!"

I nodded but Gerry continued, "You've been doing this for a while, haven't you?"

I laughed and said, "You noticed?!"

He replied, "I just didn't ask!"

Then lunch came. I took out my lunch box and tried to reheat the content. Coincidentally Gerry was in the kitchen. He joked, "Topped with digestives too?"

I proclaimed proudly, "No. Layered as base. Just like cheesecakes, Gerry...just like cheesecakes!"

Friday, August 08, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008

I just returned from Trafalgar Square to see the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony with a few colleagues and am extremely proud of China.

I am still thinking about what I saw awhile ago.

My definition of a good show is simple. It's one that leaves a lasting impression and makes you think about it after it is finished. And Beijing has kept me thinking and talking about it even during work! That's why I think the show in Beijing was really good!

Some parts of the event nearly moved me to tears when I saw the faces of the performers. You can see from their expressions how much they wanted this and to give their all in an international event that could possibly be the only one in their lifetime. I must attest the expressions were such a powerful message they moved a "cold" person like me to the core!

I especially liked the human wave of Chinese characters, the display of "modern China", Shaolin performance, space adventure and the duet between Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman.

I can't remember a time when I got bored looking at the big screen with the thousands gathered at the Square. There was a sense of awe in everyone's face- Asians and Europeans alike.

The common phrases I heard over my shoulder were "Amazing!", "Really good...really really good!", "That's beautiful!", "Wow!", "Very impressive!"

So did anyone say anything bad about the event?

Yes! The western media being themselves just can't stop being cycnical. They brought up the same old subjects of human rights and freedom of speech records; air pollution, the terror threat, Tibet oppression etc etc during the broadcast. Which sort of pissed me a little.

I just don't get them sometimes. Anyway...

It doesn't really matter now, does it? Today China has shown to the world what it is really capable of and who the real gentleman is. Like it or not, China is bloody good and they really deserve this!

At 5pm awhile ago, a colleague turned on to the BBC Sport to see the ceremony live. I got distracted by it and then a few of us joined in. It was the lighting of the torch. Then it was followed by a series of fireworks.

After it was over, we smiled, looked at each other and then one of us asked a question that struck a chord to a question that everyone must have been thinking, "Now, how's London going to beat that?"

*Beijing images from BBC