Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nike Human Race

I did it! My timing is definitely not brag-worthy, and it's not even good. But...

I did it!

A month and a half ago, I got an advertorial for this in my NUS mailbox. Come to think of it, it wasn't the first time I had seen the Nike Human Race advert. I vaguely recall seeing a poster for that on a bridge pillar in Melbourne when I was holidaying there. Didn't think much of it.

I had picked up running for some time, to supplement my regular bicycling (cross-training is important!). It's high time I put that running training to good use.

I shot off some messages to my friends and realised that there are quite many of them who are interested. Yay.

And for $25 (before GST) I'd get a bottle and a T-shirt so it was a pretty nice deal.


And then the gravity of the situation dawned upon me. I have never run 10km at a go before. There's a real chance I'd have those 3 cruel letters - DNF - next to my name when I view the results.

I wanted to beat this thing, and I was going to do it.


I ran, either once or twice a week, making sure I do a long distance run of 8-10km every 10 or so days. Decked out with GPS phone and sports tracking software, I dutifully done those runs.

The timings were dismal. I had to walk much of the way.

It just wasn't fair. There are so many people out there who hardly train and can run way faster and longer than I do. My chances at being a good runner is getting quite dismal.

It is often said that one's VO2max, the objective laboratory measurement of the maximal sustained aerobic output, cannot be improved significantly even with training. But one's tolerance to lactic acid build-up can. VO2max is pretty much a function of genetics and the luck of the draw. But it's pretty depressing eh? Knowing that no matter how hard I train, there's this nagging barrier preventing me from ever achieving great things.

And then I realised that it's all about me and what I can do to improve myself. Who cares if the others can run well?

All I want to do is better myself. And when I do, that's something to be proud of. I kept on bulldozing through, slowly but steadily improving my running.

A week before race day, I've improved, but like what statisticians would love to say, it might be statistically significant, but it's still small.

How does the School Team Challenge work?
When you register for the race, you may select to represent your school in the School Team Challenge on top of your individual race category (Men's & Women's Under 25 or Men’s & Women’s Open) The school in each category that has the most number of registered runners completing the Nike+ Human Race 10K under 90 minutes will win the School Team Challenge.

If I take longer than 1h 30min, my timing won't add to NUS's total tally. And a week before race day, I still have trouble hitting that. Granted, my training route is hilly, but it's depressing to know that I was so close to a fail.


Race day.

Like any medical student would do, I trawled Google and Pubmed for the best way to enhance my performance (i.e. legal cheating).

I loaded up on carbohydrate-rich foods.

I ate baking powder.

I drank a horrible concoction of instant coffee and sugar.

No, I wasn't suicidal. I was desperate enough to make sure that I was going to run it all below 1h 30min.


The clock started. Being a charity/fun run, I was pretty surprised at the sheer number of serious runners, all togged out in expensive running shoes and apparel. Oh no.

Maintaining the pace was painful.

And when I reached the halfway mark, I just knew that I wasn't going to make it if I followed that pace. All that carbohydrates, caffeine and bicarbonate only helped in the first few kilometres. Then I bonked hard. After that I was all on my own, so to speak.

I slowed down.

Being cross-trained in bicycling, my exhaustion wasn't the breathless kind, but the kind where I just felt too tired to move fast. If I were to take running more seriously, I'd really have to trade in my bicycling hours for running. And no way, I am never going to do that. I love bicycling. I don't love running.

I ran when I could, I brisk-walked when I couldn't. (I brisk-walk pretty fast, faster than the speed some of the girls run. Heh.)

I can't really say I tried my best, but I did try.

I crossed the line just a hair above 1h 15min 1h 14min. Not impressive to many, but pretty darned good for that one person named KC who had just stepped over those ChampionChip timing mats.

Victory is sweet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Was planning to write out a really long entry about the Olympics, the human body and the cruel sin of envy, but you'll prolly not want to read it anyway.

There is beauty in brevity.

So unless you're a rotund starfish living under a rock on the ocean bed, you'd have watched the Olympics, then subsequently gawked at how fit and toned all those bodies look. If you're not a professional athlete already, you most probably have a body that is way less desirable than them.

And then comes the painful, cruel pangs of envy. You wonder, perhaps if you have that diver's body, you could strut the streets confidently in fitting clothing and get any boy/girl you desire?

I really do want to have Usain Bolt's speed, combined with Michael Phelp's ability to cut through any body of water effortlessly, in addition to the grace and agility of all the gymnasts and divers we'd been seeing on TV and in the newspapers.

It's sort of depressing that many of the Olympians are younger than me. Getting an Olympic medal - that's one thing that is now absolutely impossible in my life.


But that won't stop me.

I refuse to become one of many pale-faced flabby men who look like they've not seen the sun for months. Men who have not had physical activity to forge them into shape.

I'm running.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kitty frowns at you

It's disturbing how every morning, the trains of Singapore turn into a warzone, with people pushing and shoving just to be the first on the train. And at school and work, people vigorously battling it out just for a mere sliver of opportunity.

Sure. Life is hard. But will fighting harder for the same pool of resources make it any more plentiful? Will it make us happier people? No.

Where did the civility and politeness that we had all learnt as kids go to? Have we forgotten how to share and compromise?

Think about it.
When was the last time anyone bothered to stop and smell the roses? Does anyone ever notice how beautiful the clouds look? Or the saccharine sweetness of a kitten's purr?

Stop being so caught up in work and the city bustle. Stop using work as an excuse to ignore the world around us.

Start living.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Somewhere in the recesses of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 lies a stall that is rumoured to sell kickass claypot rice. Here's Uncle Seng Mini Claypot.

Me and my family decided to find it was true.

Alas, it wasn't. Plain, tasteless food isn't our kind of thing.


It sometimes amazes me how labile my mood is these days. If I'm amazed, imagine what kind of stark raving mad monster I'd appear to be to the people around me. Urgh. Clairvoyance sucks.

I gotta admit, I often tend to stay away from people with such labile moods, for fear of being getting snapped at or being unintentionally hurt. (In an emotional way I mean. Me, and the people who are like me, do not go around randomly shoving your noses into your craniums.)


Another week of underperforming at school. Another week of exhaustion. Another week of lack of exercise. Another week of horrible eating.

I had better buck up.

Friday, August 8, 2008

To The Public Transport Workers Of Singapore

When I was 6, my ambition wasn't to be a doctor, or an author, or a journalist, or any of those jobs often mentioned in those newspaper pullout advertisements for scholarships.

I wanted to be a bus driver.

Hazy as my memory may be, I still vividly remember the day in kindergarten when the teacher told us to mime out our ambition.

I went up to the front of class, my side facing the class (like how you would normally view the bus driver from the bus cabin) and just drove. Steering that imaginary wheel of mine, handling the pedals and pressing those 3 nifty buttons at the side that controlled the 2 doors.

My classmates volunteered answers.



'Taxi driver?'


'MRT driver?'


'Bus driver!'

And there it was. I didn't want to be any driver. I wanted to be a bus driver. Even to the 6 year-old me, there was a world of difference between driving, and driving a bus.

At the age of 6, I already took great pains to know everything I could about buses. I knew that those old buses I took every day was a Nissan UD, that some buses had more steps than others, mainly because of where the engine was sited.

And when they started rolling out the Mercedes O405 buses on SBS, I was overjoyed. They looked absolutely classy and posh, with carpeted air-conditioning ducts, plush seats, and a modern-looking exterior. And a majestic engine roar that sounded absolutely different from the whine of the Nissan UDs and the characterless white noise of the Volvo B10M Mk2s that I was used to.

I knew I had to drive one.

And when I grew up and realised that bus drivers were paid only slightly more than a factory worker, and alot less than a doctor, journalist or engineer, I quickly abandoned all hope.


I never lost interest in buses though - on some days, I sit right up front on the top deck of the double deckers, hearing the unmistakable hum of the ZF gearbox on those Volvo Olympians, thinking about the long heritage of those buses.

Back in the 70s, double-deckered Leyland Atlanteans plied the road. These were the first rear-engined in its series, which then evolved into the Leyland Olympian.

And when Volvo bought the design over, they made several minor changes and called it the Volvo Olympian. A few more updates, and it's the Volvo Super Olympian.

Finally, a couple of years back, it was superseded by the Volvo B9TL, with electronically-controlled engine systems, transmission and brakes much like how aircraft systems are designed.


I never got to drive that Mercedes O405.

But I got to drove a Mercedes diesel anyway - that's the army jeep I learnt to drive on.

And I got to work for SBS's parent company, Comfort Delgro, albeit for a week. In its HQ compound which happens to double as a bus depot.

I suppose I can't ask for too much eh? But then, Mediacorp compere/actress Kym Ng did get to drive a true blue Volvo Olympian for a drama serial. I'm still jealous.


And it's only when I learned how to drive, did I realise that it's no easy task driving public transport vehicles.

Public transport can either make or break a city. It's very much a part of life for many of us, and when shit happens, it can really ruin our day. That's why bus drivers, train station masters and their companies get all the flak from the public, from complains about punctuality to crowded carriages and decks.

Even if it's not their fault. Many people simply do not understand that often, crowded buses and unreliable schedules are simply a product of peak hour traffic jams. Or the inevitable vehicle breakdown. Or staffing problems. But when shit happens, people love to have someone to blame. And the poor transport workers face the brunt of it.

The public transport workers have to contend with the busy and chaotic roads of Singapore as their workplace while a large proportion of commuters have the luxury of peppering their comfortable workplace with ornaments.

Neither do they have to worry about putting themselves and dozens of customers at mortal peril when they fall asleep at work.

Neither do they have to stay glued to the seat for an hour at a time, without a minute of rest or even a toilet break.

Neither do they have to contend with 20-minute lunch breaks.

About half of public transport workers are already at work even before most of our alarm clocks ring. The other half knock off way past your bedtime.

And the worst part is, they aren't getting fair remuneration for the sacrifices they make. The basic pay for a new bus driver is $1,200. An average bus driver with a fair amount of seniority earns $2,300 a month in gross monthly wage, including allowances and shift pay.

Whenever you board a bus, you're entrusting your life to someone who's being paid this little to drive you to your destination safely.

For the kind of hours and stress they endure, it's really a pittance. They really should be paid more, and if it has to come from the pockets of the commuters, I'd be glad to understand that they deserve every extra cent that I have to pay for my safe bus or train ride.

Public transport workers in Singapore, I salute you this National Day. You deserve it more than anyone else does. Not even those men in white who are paid more than a hundred times what you earn.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


So the month-long internship has come to the end, and I've learnt a few things:

1. Life can be heaven or hell, depending on who you can work under.

2. Be very careful with self-righteous, sexist people. Be very very careful.

3. There's the perennial habit of shooting the messenger in medical communications. Messengers gotta avoid taking it to heart, or insanity soon ensues.

4. Seek inspiration and meaning from daily experiences whenever you can, just to stay sane. Having to take blood samples from someone with The Cure playing in the background can be a very transcendental experience.


New shoes. Got a $50 Running Lab voucher after trading in my pair of Adidas ($60 new) that didn't fit me well, then blew it all on a top-of-the-line Sauconys that are plushly cushioned and therefore, suitable for my high-arched feet.

I might sound silly for saying this, but I'll say it anyway:

Feet are important. You'll miss them when they no longer work properly.

So please, please, take good care of your feet.

Running Lab is quite cool, they have this treadmill where the shop guys watch how you run, then recommend you shoes based on that. And then, you'd be able to try out the new shoes, run in them and make sure they're OK before you buy them.

I'm officially retiring my 2006 Nike Pegasus from running training after several hundred km on them, since the cushioning's all compacted and all.


Just watching the world go by can be fun. Noticing the hard lines on the air-conditioning grilles in the train, looking at sleepy-eyed commuters staring at their shoes, counting down the days to the weekend, while fashion-conscious youth calibrate their pose just so that they look elegant-yet-casual at the same time.

The bright-eyed foreign trainees of SIAEC taking sprightly strides to work, probably eager to send joyous letters and comfortable amounts of dough back where they came from. And in the background, behind the Expo, you see those very aircraft they work on soaring into the sunrise.

The occasional sad kid, the world's weight too heavy for his small shoulders, slumped in his seat and staring at his iPod.

And back to looking at my own shoes again. They could really do with a polish.


It's the time of the year again where they burn paper and joss sticks that fuck up the atmosphere we breathe, and leave food to feed the stray animals leading to a public health risk.

And the particulate matter swirling around in the air makes my throat irritated. And goodness knows what diseases the animals who feed on the food offerings will eventually spread?

They're fucking with my right to my good health.

Which is more inalienable than the right to practice one's beliefs.

Using religion to justify your 'right' to hurt me is terrorism, so fuck you.