Monday, March 29, 2010

Proving a point, fulfilling an objective

In fulfilling one of the fifteen Development Objectives to becoming a Chartered Engineer, I had to demonstrate that I have achieved an "effective interpersonal skills" throughout my professional years. The examples given to demonstrate this, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers, were through these:

"Reports. Letters. Drawings etc. Presentations. Exchange of information. Advice to technical and non-technical colleagues. Contribute to meetings. Consider the views of others. Consultation. Knowledge and use of IT. Present your case and defend it. Conduct discussions."

Seven years ago, I presented a highway tunnel project that I was working on to a television production team. The team was doing a documentary on the project as it was the widest tunnel and most expensive highway link (price/km) in Malaysia at the time. I led in the general presentation of the project while my manager led on the on-site technical presentation of the tunnel. I didn't appear in the TV since it was a general briefing but my manager did as he presented the "more relevant" bits.

I found it difficult to put this in writing for my professional review. So I uploaded the video in Youtube and attached the URL in the report. That way, I provided an opportunity for the assessors to evaluate easily this skill set that I claimed to have acquired, if they so choose to view it, and for me to demonstrate that I've not only left a legacy of my work there but also proven a point that I've fulfilled all the criteria including playing as an extra a VERY small role in TV (try 4:07-4:12 and 4:39-4:41).

I only hope someone from the panel of assessors can understand Malay language! If not, just evaluate those slides in the documentary. After all, they were all done by me and the good news is all of them were in English. Or at least award me points in "knowledge and use of IT" with this Youtube!

Now just to share the video with you....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dressing the devil in a cassock

Today after rehearsing for the next organ "performance", Nat who's an active church volunteer, lamented how he wished more people could help out.

He said the Church was not only short of musicians but also readers and altar servers. I joked, "Well, I can play the organ, then run down, do the reading and be an altar server all at the same time!"

Nat was like, "Really if you are up for it that'll be great! Would you like to be a reader and an altar server?" Nat thought again, "Wait, I don't want to get you too distracted, because you're already playing the organ."

I paused to think about the offer and my other commitments in life - work, running, traveling, friends, CEng professional exams etc; then agreed with a condition. "I will only do one at a time. Not all. I was just joking."

Before we parted ways, Nat promised to consult with the wife, who's another active volunteer, to get me in to the reading rota.

Back in Malaysia, I was never a volunteer. I am a passive participant of the Church. I was never playing the organ. I was never a reader. I was certainly not an altar server! Besides altar boys in Malaysia are usually children or teenagers. It's only in the UK that altar servers aren't gender and age specific.

Here in the UK, many things are possible. I've never played the organ for 15 years, now I'm playing again. I certainly can't speak the Queen's English, but asked to read. I certainly am a bad, bad, evil person, but now asked to serve at the altar. The Catholic church is already in so much trouble lately. Dressing a devil in a cassock is the last thing anyone should do.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A thoughtful evening

As I looked out the window into River Thames, I thought about life.

I thought about what I am, where I am and how I am today?
I thought about what I have and haven't achieved at this stage of my life.
I thought about what I may be doing if I'm not in London.
I thought about how long more will I be in London.
I thought about how long more do I want to live like this.
I thought about friends. I took account of them.

Once in a while, I look at the photos my friends share over Facebook. Many of them showing their wedding photos. Also as many of them showing their newborn. A few of their kids are toddlers now. They make me smile.

People say friends come and go. That's a fact of life. But these friends are still in touch even after so many years. 15 years to be exact! The same group of friends, all with the same but older faces. Not one less, but many additions; wives and children are now in the photos.

These friendships are real. They date back to pre-Facebook days when keeping in touch wasn't as easy. They've never failed to keep in touch. They've never failed to drop a line. They've never failed to send an invitation for the next gathering even knowing well I'm not able to attend.

The smile withered. I sat back and swept up my hair.

I thought to myself: Where am I? Why am I here?

Today another picture was shared. This time of my good friends holding their babies, as if it was a parade. I could recognise the lad who once called me a fatty, another lad who once made fun of my surname and another who once stabbed my finger with a technical pencil. They made me smile. What aspirations we had then and what aspirations we have now. How innocent we were then to think that the world revolved around us.

I thought to myself: What are my aspirations now? Why am I looking at them from here?

Will I ever have kids to play with my friends' kids? Will we ever get to take a photo together? Will their kids be much older than mine? The "math to conformance" is to get married now and have kids by next year. Only then, the age gap is marginal.

What's next? Another Masters? Or a PhD? What am I after? What do I want to get out of it? Where would all these lead me?

Still, I was thoughtful about what comes after this. What about growing old? Who will see me breathe my last breath? Who will bury me? How would the ending be? When is the last posting of this blog and what is it going to be?

Still there is another angle to this. My friends look at me with envy. No wife, no kids, no commitment. Traveling here, traveling there, eating this, eating that, doing this, doing that, achieving a childhood dream, living life to the fullest. What else can one ask for? Stop thinking about dying!

But of course, there is a trade off to everything.

I've been very thoughtful today. Spring comes after winter. New life springs after the previous ends. I've reached a stage in life now I want to cross the fence and be like my other friends.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ski Trip at Courchevel 1850

I just returned from a ski trip to Courchevel.

Courchevel is located on the French Alps and is one of the "Three Valleys" touted to be the largest linked ski area in the world. There are four ways to get there - via Geneva, Grenoble, Lyon or Chambery. I came in through Geneva because I wanted to see Switzerland as one of the side trips. My other mates came in from Grenoble.

Courchevel 1850

There are four towns in Courchevel; Courchevel 1300, 1550, 1650 and 1850. Each of the numbers represents the altitude of the town. There were eight of us. We stayed in 1850 as it was the heart of Courchevel. Because of that, it was an expensive place to stay too. According to this, Courchevel is a winter playground for the rich and famous especially the Russian oligarchs. That explains the €20 a chicken we had for dinner.
Courchevel 1850 town centre

The bus transfer to Courchevel cost 1.5x the flight ticket here. For €130, this would be the most expensive bus ticket I've ever paid to-date! And just a little more cost insight, we estimated to have spent £420 just to arrive into Courchevel without skiing! And to start skiing, this is what we've paid:

Weekly accommodation - €230 (average)
5-day lift pass - €180
Ski hire - €130
5-day lessons - €170

*All of these are not inclusive of insurance which would be another 3% uplift.*

So it's easy to imagine why skiing is an expensive sport. We were told to set aside £1000 for the trip. Almost two return tickets to Kuala Lumpur! And the weak £ is not helping either. Well, it's experience, isn't it?

I thought our timing to ski couldn't be better. Courchevel was quiet when we were up there. So this was good for us visitors. For example, the 40-seater bus that took me up to Courchevel only had three passengers in it.

Being a newbie, I took ski lessons. First at Hemel Hempstead (nearby London), then at Courchevel. I started earlier at Hemel Hempstead because it would make it easier for me to get into gear once at Courchevel. At least I got the clumsy bits out of the way first. I was glad I did because I started skiing the first day before the lessons started. Because of the quiet season, there were only three of us for the group ski lessons. During peak periods, it could be 9 to 15 people in a group.
Our ski instructor Mr Pierre (in red) on the ski lift to our training ground

There are two ways to determine ski skills. One is by knowing how to ski and two is knowing how to control at slopes with different difficulty levels. Knowing how to ski doesn't mean you can handle any slope.

By the second day, I could do parallel skiing and stopping, which were the intermediate skills in skiing. The basic was to snow plough. The earlier lessons in UK helped. According to the instructor, this was fast, as it would usually take 5 days for people to attain the level; which was why a basic ski programme takes 5 days. So I didn't carry on with my lessons. I went straight to the more challenging slopes.
Kids' snow plough lesson

The difficulty level of ski slopes are categorised by different colours: green, blue, red and black. Green runs are fairly gentle and flat while black runs are the most difficult and should only be attempted by experienced skiers.

Black run

However, as some green runs intersect with the blue, red and black runs, they can be quite steep in those areas. In fact, after doing a blue slope, some intersections at the green runs were steeper than the blue!
This is a little steep but it's a green run!

Yes, I've tackled a blue slope before coming back. But it wasn't without falls. I could still remember vividly the trail of snow mist coming down on my face as I lost control of speed and rolled down on the blue run. The poles swung out of grip. The poles were stranded up at the slope and it was where they were that I realised I've rolled down quite a distance before grinding to a halt. The high speed fall was scary but exhilarating (as long as I didn't injure myself)!

There were many kind skiers who were willing to help. For example, two skiers picked up the ski poles and passed them to me as I skied down. At other falls, some stopped and asked if I was alright. I am really grateful to these nice people. I also aim to be as good and helpful as them when I become a better skier.

All in all, Courchevel was a great place to ski. I hope the next time when I ski, I am able to do the red and black runs.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Newham London 10k Run

Stratford Park

Today I ran the inaugural Newham London 10k Run. Newham is one of the 32 London Boroughs. A borough is like KL's municipal councils, only smaller. The race started at Stratford Park and Stratford is the home of the London Olympic Park. That is why the run was also known as the Olympic Park Run.

Start line

On this occasion, participants had the rare opportunity to run into the Olympic Park site, which would otherwise be out of bounds to the public. In fact, when we ran into the site, there was a human chain of security personnel stationed at the secured areas.
Main stadium at the Olympic Park

It was a clear and sunny morning. The temperature was -4 deg C when the race started. I wore three layers on the top and a pair of long runners. Luckily there was a warm up session 10 minutes before the race. That sort of warmed up the body a little.

The race was well organised and marshalled. Chip timing; good supply of water and isotonic drinks. Course was mostly flat with short sections of undulation. Also the first time I wore the Asics Gel Nimbus 11 shoes since I bought it in January. No pain or chaffing encountered on either foot. An absolutely great pair of shoes; ready to run without seasoning.

Got a medal and T-shirt at the finishing along with sport snacks and drinks. The design was similar like the Great North Run, because it was organised by the same Great Run committee. Only grief was the pink medal lanyard and font in some parts of the T-shirt which was "too soft" for my liking, albeit a first of its kind in the collection of medals and T-shirts I have to-date. Please promise you will not do this to us again!

The medal

The T-shirt

Results are out in the website. My time was 44mins 50secs.

My 10k PB was 44mins 6 secs in the 2008 Nike Human Race.

Post-article note: You are right, Raymond, I didn't train for this.