Monday, March 28, 2011

Whole Foods Market Run

The Whole Foods Market Run is the penultimate training to the Paris Marathon. This is the milestone marking two weeks from the race day in the French capital city.

Can't believe I have already gone this far since signing up for the race back in October last year. This is the first marathon out of Malaysia that I train with a group of friends. It was a lonely journey for the past two London Marathons.

Running buddies

So this is one of the few race events which we signed up to condition ourselves for the long distance race.

Something about this race that I hated and liked. I liked the organising, the timing, drinks, support, traffic management and professional arrangement of the entire event. No hiccups, at least none of which that stood out to me.

The route was flat except for the climb up to two bridges - Kingston and Hampton Court Palace. The weather was perfect for running with temperatures lingering at 9-10 degrees C. Official results are out today:

Time: 2 hrs 8mins 57 secs
Total distance: 16 miles or 25.6km
Category position: 92 out of 231
Overall position: 427 out of 1367

Map below

The sponsors were generous with their offers. Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic foods retailer, was one of the sponsors and particularly generous with their cereal bars, fruits and herbal body wash. The words "natural" and "organic" conjure up an image of expensive and posh products and so they were with Whole Foods Market products. But these were given out free to runners until the stock ran out!

However, there were also things which I didn't like. One of them could have been avoided from the planning stage. The run fell on the day we switched to the British Summer Time. This I felt could have been organised on a Saturday, instead of Sunday. Already I felt this clock changing is such a cynical attempt of us humans trying to tamper with mother nature's daylight. Having to succumb to this inconvenience gave me a grumpy start to the morning. I wouldn't have minded it if it wasn't as early as 8.25 am and didn't have to catch an early train to Kingston. I woke up at 5.30am and effectively had 4 hours of sleep before taking on the 16-mile challenge. I had an hour less sleep than I should, so how can I not be grumpy?

Lucozade, was the other sponsor that provided runners with their branded drinks. Very generous of them to the point they've become obscene. I have given feedback about this during the London Marathon so they provided the soft pack drinks the following year. However, I don't think the shift in packaging has anything to do with my feedback. Unfortunately, the Lucozade bottles made their appearance again in this run. Sad to see the majority of the bottles not consumed entirely and strewn all over the roads. What a waste!

The finishing medal? What finishing medal? There was no finishing medal, bloody heck! All we had was a mug after 16 miles! Yes a bloody mug as memento. This is an area UK organisers can learn from the Asians. I think we get better mementos and finishing t-shirts back home!

Race memento??!!

Well I guess I'm just going to transfer my toothbrush, toothpaste and shaver into this new mug. At least it gets to remind me of this race every time I clean myself.

Can't help but think of those t-shirts you find in souvenir shops that says: "My friend went to London and all she got me was this stupid t-shirt"? Now I think the same for this race and the mug.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The O2 Arena is home to many concerts and international events in London. The site will also play host to several events during the London 2012 Games. As we were discussing about a serious issue related to the events taking place next year, a colleague looked puzzled.

He was in deep thoughts and appeared seriously engaged in the discussion. One of us asked if there was something he wanted to share. Waking up from his thoughts he replied, "Gosh, Blink 182 is great! These guys are playing in the O2 soon."

What a red-herring!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tracking down Japanese Host Family

Whenever my brother called at a time when the rest of the UK is still sleeping, there are only two possibilities - (1) something is terribly wrong or (2) he's forgotten the UK time. This time something went terribly wrong. He called to announce that a large earthquake has struck Japan, my immediate reaction was to wake up and turn on the TV. If it was as serious as he described -that SOME CITIES IN JAPAN HAVE COLLAPSED- it would be BREAKING NEWS in BBC. And it was.

When I saw the news, my thoughts went out to the people I knew when I was studying in Japan; Niigata in particular.

Most of the people I know from Japan were accounted for in Facebook except for one - the Nakata family. The Nakata family was my host family when I was studying in Niigata. Mrs Nakata, the host mother whom I occasionally contact treated me like her son when I was there. So when the earthquake struck, my thought was with her and the family.

For the past three days, I have been trawling through my email address book to look for her contact numbers. Usually, I prefer to email her since my Japanese vocabulary has deteriorated from the heydays of speaking it "amature-ish" fluently to a level now Japanese people would shun and rather speak to me in English. Unfortunately, emails to her multiple accounts were bounced and calls went unanswered.

"We're sorry, there's a disruption to the destination you are calling. Please try again later."

At the very least, the random messages acted as suppressant to the nerves. A slight hope that things might be better than I imagined. At least there was the possibility that the mobile network has screwed up at the point of time.

On Saturday I checked with Owen's wife, Akiko whose family is in Chiba. She confirmed she too was facing the same problem and that the lines to Japan were severely disrupted at the time. Slight relieve.

Not to be beaten down, I arrived work half an hour earlier this morning to try again. I avoided the evening rush hour in Japan hoping the lines would be less busy. Still no luck.

Nakata family's bungalow and adjoining hair salon

Somehow I work better in panic mode. I remembered she has a hair salon in Shibata. So I put in the keywords and Googled them. I remember another Japanese host family telling me that my host mother's hair salon was one of the most popular in Shibata. Surely her contact details had to be in the WORLD WIDE WEB! In the world of technology, no one can be good (or bad) without the INTERNET knowing. So I Googled for her name and hair salon. There were 154564561789494945648956465156156103 results spewed out. Worst of all, the first 10 pages were hair salons in Niigata rather than Shibata. Shibata is in the Niigata Prefecture just like Cambridge is in the East of England. Imagine the returned results of hair salons were from the whole of East of England!

To make matters worse, all results were in Japanese.

Trawling through the WORLD WIDE WEB was definitely worse than finding a needle in a haystack. At least you know the boundary of the haystack and with a little more time, you will find the needle. What is the boundary of the WORLD WIDE WEB?

20minutes into mouse-scrolling and Ctrl+F-ing and cutting and pasting the kanji characters finally got me somewhere. A series of familiar characters jumped out of one particular Google results page. A phone number also corresponded with Shibata's area code - 0254- As if God was helping, I spotted a rather familiar series of characters and kanjis for Shibata.

Now that I found a contact number, I was hesitant to call.

"It's expensive to call Japan. What if it isn't connected to the right person?"
"What if someone picks up and can't understand my Japanese?"
"What if it's the right person but crying to tell me her family members were all missing?"

Of course these came and went in a flash. I didn't even bother pausing for a second thought. I tried the number nevertheless.

I pressed the number slowly, one by one, then paused for it to get through. Then the call was connected. On the other side of the line was a familiar voice. I introduced myself. An indifferent tone then turned into a joyous voice. It was Mrs Nakata.