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New Year Resolution for 2008: Swim faster, Run longer, maybe return to cycling.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It was a Steve Irwin moment in Bintan that I couldn't resist



video


Video was taken by LTM when a few of us were having a retreat in Bintan.


G'day. We were swimming at the Bintan Lagoon Resort pool when I spotted a large shadow at the bottom of the pool. Crikey! I immediately recognised the 'shadow' as a water monitor lizard. It must have come from the nearby natural foliage surrounding the lush resort. From nose-to-tail, it must have been about 2.5m long. Water monitors are large reptiles and are highly adaptable to their environment. They are known to be able to survive in sea conditions as well as fresh water conditions. It looks like our little friend here has even taken to living the good life at the resort's chlorinated swimming pool. Apart from sunning themselves at high noon (they are after all reptiles - cold blooded animals), they are also omniverous creatures. They are not known to attack human beings unless provoked (all animals are usually like that), and their bite is not usually fatal or poisonous but the saliva might carry harmful bacteria.

Every wise swimmer got out of the pool except for some nosy adventurous kids who decided to mess around with the reptile. I took the opportunity to whip out my trusty shockproof, waterproof Olympus 720sw for an underwater shot of the reptile. Then I got TM to video me as Steve Irwin. The video shown is actually the second take - the idiot TM forgot to start the videoing process at the first take. The first take actually saw me following the creature to the other end of the pool and running a commentary ala Steve Irwin style. I understand that VNN has got portions of the first take from his Panasonic camera.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Singapore's Bid for the Youth Olympics - A Make or Break Situation

Singapore's bidding to host the inaugural Youth Olympics in 2010. First question to ask: Can we do it?

Off the cuff, it's a yes. We have the physical infrastructure (provided the Sports Hub is ready by then) and we certainly have the manpower resources (schoolchildren and NSFs will make the bulk of it).

But are we ready for it as a sporting nation? Before I answer this, let's look at several factors that might affect our chances of hosting.

1. Quality of athletes. We have athletes from many different sports. Are they good enough even for a sliver of hope within their specialities? Perhaps it's possible within the Asian context. It's a different ballgame altogether if pitted against the rest of the world. Maybe some 'sports' like bowling and snooker might make the cut, but how about traditional sports?

2. Support for athletes. It's so difficult to get funding and justification at the NSAs. There's so much politics. Sometimes you even wonder if the Sports Council is doing anything at all to facilitate (or are they just 'there' as a phantom authority of sorts)?

3. Community spirit. Lack of hype and exposure are perhaps the main cause for the lack of community spirit. Maybe it's how Singaporeans prioritise. Paper chase achievements are far more important than sporting achievements. That sucks because it only means personal pride rather than national pride.

4. Media priority and blackouts. Sure. Let's just concentrate on the English Premier League and David Backham's paltry performance with LA Galaxy. Forget about covering sports right in our backyard.

Honestly, we are a boring sporting nation. Check out how much pride we have? The best is perhaps a full turnout at the National Stadium during the Malaysia Cup days. But the Grand Old Dame will be torn down. Compare that with the Singapore Slingers of the basketball league. Did you even know that Singapore has a basketball team represented in the Aussie League? If you didn't, it's okay, coz you didn't miss much.

I'm sure there are many more reasons why Singapore might not be ready to host. The SSC has to go for a major overhaul. Staging the F1 is not going to cut it. Where's the oomph factor? Remember that the host country usually brings back alot of glory for the country in terms of medals and personal bests.

Can we do it? Honestly.

En Bloc Frenzy Threatens Fabric of the Nation

You've seen it in the Classifieds: Property agents selling 'hot properties' and 'en bloc potentials'. You've read it in the news: Neighbours separated into two camps - one for en bloc, other against en bloc sales. You might even have experienced it first hand, and depending on how you view it, en bloc sales are either a boon or a bane.

My personal view? As the title goes, my feelings are that the en bloc frenzy - if left unchecked by the government - will threaten the harmony of our nation. Already, friendly neighbours are split and unscrupulous methods of hearsay and gossip just to tarnish an estate is rife.

Whatever happened to the 'kampong days' of yore where community living, spirit, and cohesion were the unwritten rules of harmonious living? Not even the racial riots of the 60's could effectively break it, albeit tensed moments of brevity.

I've experienced property agents who want to nitpick on private estates, most of them matured estates with harmony built upon its very foundations. Finding fault in the process, inciting strife and unease amongst neighbours. It's bullshit and totally unethical.

Then there are the speculators - probably fueled by the very same agents who entice them with the supposed profitability of the potential sales of the estate. They buy property and expect to it to go en bloc within a year or so. On a wing and prayer, they hope the property might just fetch them a 10% profit. Idiots do idiot things to earn that extra buck. But these 'temporary owners' don't know the intangibles that are attached to the property: sentimental values, the 'kampong spirit', the size of each household, etc. They are only concerned about the dollars and cents. Myopic idiots.

The government should come up with policies that protect true owners and residents of private estates. Put aside 'property boom', generation of jobs, economic growth. There are other ways and means of achieving these. One thing that shouldn't be compromised is the already eroding harmonious living that we all share as Singaporeans. We ought to keep the spirit burning as one united people, and not a divided nation, thanks to loose laws on en bloc sales.

Speculation is a very dangerous tool, and if left unchecked, I'm very certain that we will become a nation of selfish bastards.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Celebrating the End of an Era

Monday 17 September 2007.

It was my last working day at MCS. It has been a wonderful 1 year 10 months at the Singapore office.

Professionally, I know I've brought exposure of MCS to many developers and architects; giving them the assurance of MCS' prowess in transport planning and traffic engineering. Alas, what they didn't know was the behind-the-scenes solo efforts in bringing glory to the consultancy firm. From marketing to business development; from tender stage to final report. The projects were completed, each with its own end-in-mind because of the uniqueness of place and problem. Such is the nature of the job scope.

And to think that most of them were done solo and without any help from the 'large family'.

There were times I thought of coming out and freelancing as an individual. After all, there were less than 10 of us in the entire Singapore context. I dismissed the constant thoughts because someone promised me that things would change. Someone promised that overseas opportunites would come our way.

But things remained status quo. Support was not provided, and internal strife was more prevalent. At least I remained professional in my field and in my thought process. I had to save the profession somehow, just so that due respect could be given to transport planning professionals. Expert views were given when they were sought, but undercutting was the name of the game and sustainability of the said industry was in question.

I had to think of ways to keep my passion and my profession alive.

The initial decision to leave was not easy. I made many friends at MCS and apart from gaining exposure for MCS in the transport planning industry, many colleagues have also been inspired to exercise and achieve their personal bests in the sporting arena.

I must clarify that the decision to leave was made much easier by someone whom I initially revered as 'respectable'. The past couple of weeks were a great disappointment and I'm gravely saddened by the lack of serious thought in keeping to certain promises.

Sometimes a Commander is the reason why major battles are lost. No matter how dedicated or brave his men are, a Commander will lead them to their deaths if he is not a respected leader.

Such was the basis of my disappointment. I am serious in my work and passionate to keep the company going. Alas things have gone spirally downward without the assurance of positive change.

Shape up or ship out: I decided to ship out.

Stayer or Quitter: I decided to Quit for the better; for the opportunity costs were too high if I chose to stay.

Only my fellow colleagues and friends have assured me that things would be brighter on the other side of the fence. They have brought me out for lunches and dinners. The filipino community even prepared my favourite filipino dishes. I'm grateful to the dedicated staff who have toiled and tolerated to keep the name of the company in good books.

If only the leaders realised it with good on-the-ground management.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Munn Sells Consultancy Services

Japan's Prime Minister Abe has quit, and so has Bush's top advisor Karl Rove. The time has come for the Munnster to leave MCS as well. In an industry where market forces prevail in the dynamics of career movements, the Munnster's departure did not come as a surprise to many of his close friends. "It's all about economics - supply and demand. Someone else dangles more perks and benefits, you cannot really dismiss that fact about the real world out there." an industry spokesperson said. "The pull factors are very evident, ceteris paribus."

Indeed the lure of international master planning in the transportation field was the main pull in the Munnster's decision to move up in his career development ladder. "The world is expanding everywhere around us. I'm going to heed what our Minister Mentor Lee said about globalisation." the Munnster was quoted as saying. "I've always believed from Day One that we (civil engineers) build bridges and we don't burn them. As such, we look ahead in building our own careers in our specialised fields. Only then we will be able to forge ahead in the industry, and our profession be more recognised by others around us."

On his feelings about leaving Maunsell, he had this to add,"I will leave with fond memories," Munnster said. "I've met a great bunch of colleagues who have become great friends in many ways. I may not have had the opportunity to work with most of my colleagues due to the nature of my work, but I've certainly learned alot from everyone. If there is one thing I will miss about Maunsell, it's gonna be the uniqueness of Culture at Maunsell. We have Filipinos, East and West Malaysians, Indians, Hong Kongers, and 'Ang Mos' amongst Singaporeans. There's so much to learn in terms of getting to know each other's cultures. It would be a waste if we all work alongside without understanding each other's culture."

Elaborating on some examples, the Munnster cited the wealth of information that came forward the time when he seeked help from the office's Hindu community. He also mentioned the cohesion and community spirit amongst the Filipino community. "Without their additional help, I don't know how the drafting pool can churn out drawings." The Munnster was also visibly moved when he talked about the close-knit Maunsell family, "I can count on most of them because I know my friends and colleagues have in-built qualities such as integrity and accountability. There's this x-factor that binds most people together here on the 3rd floor of the Concourse."

The Munnster was also full of praise for the opportunities he made while interacting with fellow colleagues from other AECOM offices such as EDAW, Maunsell Australia, and Maunsell Hong Kong. "I learned a great deal from the KPE Congestion Management project with Stephen and Dave from the Melbourne office. They not only taught me the technicalities of transport modelling, but I also picked up important Public Relation skills from them. Interaction with the Hong Kong and Melbourne offices have made me realise my potential in my chosen field of Transport Planning. I also have John Endicott to thank. He not only sponsored our triathlon team last year, but he has always been a source of great inspiration to me in achieving a work-life balance despite the rigours of work".

When asked if there was anyone in particular to mention, the Munnster had this to say,"There are so many friends I'd like to pay tribute to. I'd like to thank Irene for being there when I needed someone to exchange traffic-related matters; to Juvena for ardiously taking over the reins from me; to Dr Yong for holding the fort and being my confidant; to Daisy for reminding me that all things are possible; to Julie for being the steadfast godmother; to Chng Yih for being my training buddy; and to Priscilla for being so ever willing to assist in the nitty-gritty stuff. If I missed out anyone, that's because I have so many positive things to mention and it'll bore everyone if I go down the list of names. However, I'd like to specially give credit to Vincent for everything. For once, I will not joke about Vincent because he has a heart of gold and he's always willing to stand up for me. He is a true friend and I've never seen him let anyone down (except when he cursed me before my Port Dickson Triathlon race last year, but he quickly made it up by visiting me at the hospital in my worst state!)."

The reporter then asked if the Munnster had any final words to say. "Yes, I have. Let's all move on with our professional lives without compromising on our moments with our loved ones. Remember to keep healthy and work towards a work-life balance. It's no use if we keep working and miss out on the beautiful things around us. And finally, please save the trees and keep up the good work with regards to the cleanliness of the male toilet!"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Baptism

13 September 1998.

I was baptised at Wildcat Creek, Indiana during a weekend church retreat with GCF (Grace Campus Fellowship). It was a wonderful experience because Papa happened to be visiting me at Purdue enroute to Tulsa (I think - I can't really remember the city).

Everything fell into place during that weekend of renewal and rebirth.

Several months earlier, I seeked the advise of Elder Gary about getting baptised. He prepared me and then I decided to get baptised when the church was having a retreat.

Then I found out that Papa would be visiting and I was ecstatic.

It was even more special because Papa was the one who brought Fye and me to church when we were little. He brought us to Grace Independent Baptist Church along Upper Changi Road.

It felt then that I came full circle, and Papa was there to witness my baptism.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Significance of Seven Seven

Here are my bib numbers from various races:

Singapore Biathlon 2005 - 1127
Standard Chartered Marathon 2005 - 11277
Bintan Triathlon 2006 - 577
Big Walk 2006 - 25770
Army Half Marathon 2007 - 3377

And the number '7' means 'spiritual perfection' in the Bible.

Six Years On...

It was about 8:15pm and we were all watching a local sitcom as a family. I had just returned to Singapore after 5 years in the US.

Then the CNA ticker at the bottom of the screen flashed something like "Plane crashes into New York's World Trade Center".

We all thought a light craft hit one of the towers of the WTC, and calmly brushed it off as poor piloting skills or technical fault.

The ticker kept ticking. And we kept assuming.

Then another piece of news flashed "Second plane crashes into WTC"

Soon after "Plane crashes into Pentagon"

I called Uncle Sam who was in California, still in slumber. He thought it was a joke.

The rest, they say, is history......

We all remember what we were doing at the time when significant events happen. And we've got the media to thank (or hate).

September 11, 2001 will be etched in many peoples' memories.

Leadership?

A certain 'somebody' visited the office yesterday. To say that I'm disappointed is just an understatement. If you ask me why, I'll just bring out the age-old rule of thumb that 'Leaders are only successful if they have the full respect of his subordinates; and Respect is earned'.

A leader is nobody if he doesn't make the effort to interact with his subordinates. Even George Bush pops into Iraq once in a while to chat with his troops. What is the use of being a leader if his subordinates don't recognise that attribute? A leader by name and title does not equate to a leader of all men.

What is the use of showing corporate videos when staff are not duly rewarded or praised for the combined efforts leading to the success of the company? What use is it just to show to a select few instead of the entire company?

You were here. You had the chance to introduce yourself to the new staff. But you chose not to present yourself as a leader.

He didn't impress me at all. Simple as that.

Next Big One



Slow and steady and I'll get back to doing full triathlons. Meanwhile my targets to pursue long distance races in swimming and running will take centerstage until I'm ready to get back to the saddle.

Next up: 3km Fuji Xerox Singapore Open Water Swim on Sunday 7 October 2007.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Keong Cho" Soup for the Motherhood Soul

It's a tradition to concoct 'keong cho' soup for new mothers, and AJ was not spared the joy of consuming the sour brew during her confinement.

Last Friday evening, Grandma taught me the 'finer' ways of brewing the strong stuff. In the simplest of instructions, she said to me:

"Make sure you get pure Black Vinegar."

"For every bottle of Black Vinegar, mix it with 2.5 bottles of water"

"Boil with lots of old ginger; shaven and chopped to bite-sized pieces"

"Use only Gula Melaka" (but she said it in cantonese and I couldn't really understand. She gestured the size of the gula melaka though, and she also did mention that it's not the 'ordinary' type of sugar.)

"Boil under slow heat in a claypot for 2 days and make sure the ginger is totally soaked and soft to chew."

"Put in the pig's trotters a few hours to cook before consumption."

And those were the wise instructions of Grandma. So I took it upon myself to brew the 'keong cho' soup during the weekend - just a little project for AJ.

What turned out as an awesome 'experimental' treat for the family and a chance to visit baby Asher yesterday, also got me thinking about my future.

You see, I didn't just did the preparation and cooking, but I also did other household chores besides doing a 2.5km swim in the early afternoon. Basically by 3pm, I achieved duties in grocery shopping, having breakfast with Dad, preparing and cooking 'keong cho', cleaning the toilet and bathroom, doing some ironing, and putting in some mileage for swim training.

I came to realise that no matter what happens in the future, it would be essential for me to turn on that 'domesticated' part of me. Marriage is a step towards the future, and my parents will inevitably get older anyway. It dawned on me that I should after all, work towards the next step.

I know most people my age would have already started on this journey. But we all also know that some have gone through whirlwind preparations and some were circumstantial. I just want to adopt the Scout's motto in whatever that comes my way - Be Prepared. I'm the sort of person who will not jump into something 'big' without preparation and wholehearted thinking. You may call me a Procrastinator, but I just want to be the best Husband and best Father a wife or child can ever have.

No way will I succumb to a marriage of convenience. I will start thinking of 'the next step' only if I am ready for it - wholeheartedly.

For the record, the 'keong cho' soup was a success.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Humble Beginnings of the Singapore 70.3 Ironman Race

It was sometime in the early part of 2005. I was still at my previous company along Club Street. URA called for a meeting with SACA and inevidently I was tasked to attend the meeting as a member of the SafeCycling Taskforce and professionally as a Transport Planner. The meeting included Max (SACA) and Ser Luck. URA had a few planners and architects, including Jaynius.

The purpose of that meeting was to seek ideas for bicycle-friendly places that could be demarcated as recreational land use, including using space in the New Downtown area to showcase Marina Bay. Then it evolved to trying to sell Singapore as a brand and - coming from the viewpoint of URA - present Singapore as a place unique in its built environment. Naturally, the Marina Bay offered the best vantage points, with the Merlion, Esplanade, The Sheares Bridge, Chinatown and Shenton Way as ideal locations to showcase 'SINGAPORE'.

The idea of the Ironman was therefore mooted because it could at one fell swoop feature Singapore's built environment from past to present, and it could practically accommodate spectators almost in every nook and cranny.

Unlike other Ironman venues around the world, Singapore offered unparallelled proximity to the airport and tourist amenities. Ser Luck came up with the Ironman idea, but I reinforced it with the reasons to have the franchised race in Singapore.

It was phenomenal and URA was sold from the very beginning.

There were then 2 things to do: get an experienced sports promoter and WTC license to hold the Ironman series; and to conceptualise the swim, bike and run routes.

Through his contacts, Ser Luck was responsible for the former, while I looked into the latter.

The initial stages were tough, but Ser Luck managed to get X-Tri from Australia and I managed to draw up some possible bike routes and run routes. The initial plan was to have the swim within the Marina Bay but in those early days of Marina Barrage construction, the PUB had issues with water standards.

In any case, Hivelocity came into the picture and struck a deal with X-Tri (I was there too, recce-ing East Coast Park, lunch at Waraku, and having dinner at Spaggadies at Paragon)... and the rest, they say, is history.

It's great to have been part of the organising committee. It's even greater to know that almost 1200 mortals were transformed into Singapore 70.3 Ironmen on 2 September 2007.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Birth, A Death, and Blessings

AJ gave birth to little Asher at 1751hrs on Saturday 25 August. I went to see mother and child at KK on Sunday after the Army Half Marathon. Asher's so cute with hair and even sideburns! His little baby squirms and squeeks were a joy to savour, especially after a long absence of babies on my maternal side of the family tree. Asher's gonna be my first nephew, and I immediately took to doting on that little precious bundle of joy. Yep, within the hour I went to get baby wrapper blankets and a baby journal. haha...

A week later on 31 August, we got news that AJ was hospitalised for dizziness and fever. We later found out that she was warded for Dengue Fever. Wow... it was AJ's second time down with Dengue. On hindsight, isn't it a blessing from God? I mean, what if Asher wasn't born yet? It takes approximately 2 weeks for dengue to incubate and develop into a fever. This probably meant that AJ was bitten a week BEFORE Asher was born. It's a blessing because things could have become really complicated and might have turned worse if Asher's birth was delayed. After all, Asher was supposedly a couple of weeks premature. I understand that AJ is recovering well in hospital and her platelet count is stable. Thank God.

The weekend also saw the passing of an aunt. To be exact, she was my father's cousin's wife. She was 70plus and I understand she was ailing for awhile. I remembered visiting her home every Lunar New Year at Tanjong Pagar. It was only the past 2 years when we stopped visiting because of the sheer number of families we had to visit on the first day. It was surreal to see her lying in the coffin. The embalmer's handiwork made her look so much younger than her actual living frailty. It was even more amazing to imagine that the entire process of death, embalming, make-up and preparation for the wake was done in only a few hours. I couldn't help but realise that the entire process only took the time when I took a short swim and went to the office in the afternoon.

Yesterday (Monday) was the cremation at Mandai. My paternal aunts were crying. I'm sure my uncles and my dad were very sad too. The funeral procession through lunchtime CBD (Tanjong Pagar) was short, but there were tears. It's again so 'funny' how traditional chinese funeral processions are accompanied by long-winded and sorrowful music. It would be inevitable and unavoidable not to shed a tear or wail loudly. Such was the atmosphere; and somewhat very different from funerals of other cultures. So solemn and sorrowful... and I began to wonder about my Christian faith: aren't we supposed to be happy that heaven has received our earthly dead, while the taoist 'believed' in going through the 10 courts of hell before being considered for a chance at reincarnation. The views differ in each religion, and perhaps that's why the differing feelings to managing death.