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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

From There and Then to Here and Now: 2013

End of the road: Heading to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.
Photograph by Weng Ho.

So, here we are on the last day of 2013. 
Time for reflections.  Time for the bullet points.  
Here are some of my personal high- and low-lights:
  • Moved in February for the 13th time in 13 consecutive years, this time to Kowloon into the nicest apartment we've ever rented in our entire adult lives.
  • Participated in the first of my many (quarter) marathons to come.
  • Lost five pounds.
  • Gained eight pounds.
  • Travelled to new cities: Chicago (work,) Pasadena (work,) Guangzhou (work,) Haining (definitely work,) Taipei (weekend vacay,) Banff and Lake Louise (definitely vacay.) 
  • Succumbed to gadget envy and finally broke away from an eight-year relationship with Blackberry to get a new Samsung S4.
  • Wishing now that I'd not deserted my Blackberry and its wonderful keyboard for the lure of some shiny Android apps.
  • Celebrated Weng's birthday in Tokyo.
  • Got my eyesight back to 20/20 for the first time in three decades through Lasik surgery.
  • Binge-watched entire latest seasons of Breaking Bad, The Returned, The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, True Blood, Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries, Revenge, House of Cards, Pretty Little Liars, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Survivor, The Newsroom, Homeland, The Americans, Once Upon a Time.
  • Drove nearly 2000 km on a picturesque road trip from Vancouver to Banff and back.
  • Had a super scare from Weng's medical crisis in British Columbia.
  • Hired three superstar regional PR directors.
  • Kicked out our tenant who had left our Singapore apartment in a deplorably filthy state.
  • Started classes at Pure Yoga but finally did my first inversion, if only for a few seconds, with the help of master Suresh of Yoga Kalari.
  • Learned to Stand-Up Paddle on tepid Hong Kong waters.
  • After 17 (!) years, reunited with my talented entrepreneurial cousin - inventor of Easy Daysies Magnetic Schedules - in Vancouver, and finally met her photographer husband and three incredibly well-behaved kids.
  • Got to see my parents twice this year in Toronto - a definite bonus.
  • Ate the famous Cat Mountain King durian for the very first time.

  • Said goodbye to and forever missing our sweet beloved goofy Emma who has been on 12 years' worth of adventure, excitement, exasperation, countless chewed toys and bedlinens, and much, much love with us.

    As always,
    I'm truly grateful everyday for what I'm lucky to have in my life:
    some common sense
    a good life
    good times
    I wish you all of these and so much more.
    Happy 2014.
Emma: 2001 to 2013


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Penang Bridge International Marathon - 17 November 2013 - 10K

I'd picked this marathon for the reasons I'd outlined here, but signing up for it in July and actually being there on 17 November are two totally different things; and up until, oh, about a month prior to the actual event, I was even in a bit of a denial mode over how (un)fit I was for this entire exercise - pun fully intended.

For one thing, I am not a runner.  I'm not even a jogger.  The only footrace in which I've ever participated ended in disaster.  And that, my friends, was way back in the 70's, when I was a wee mite in kindergarten.

Picture this: it was Sports Day; the whole school turned out; the teachers were there; my parents were there; everybody's parents were there.  I was roped in - I certainly didn't volunteer - to take part in a bizarre foot race where my fellow six-year old classmates (one of whom had stabbed me in the friggin' forehead with a 2B pencil a few months back, but I digress) had to run about 50 metres in our own respective lanes, put on an assortment of old clothing consisting of a hat, a man's shirt, and high heels, and make a mad dash of the remaining 50 metres to the finish line.  The top three finishers received a prize.

I came in fourth.

Pardon the hyperbole, but that loss stung like a thousand angry baby scorpions. 

Since then, I have never, ever participated in any competitive sport.

But a marathon is different.  I guess the good thing is that I am under no illusions whatsoever that I can ever hope (or want to) beat the Kenyans who dominate this arena - otherwise I should prepare to be disappointed for the rest of my life, amiright? - but I like that it's a competitive and solo sport at the same time.  The only one I've to beat is basically myself and my own personal records.  Kinda like surfing that way.

But back to the training.  So, how did I, basically a self-proclaimed human sloth, prep myself for it?  For starters, yoga helped quite a lot in terms of stretching my limbs and muscles.  Comes in handy in preventing the dreaded cramps during mid-run.  But yoga is nowhere near enough for building stamina, so I started running around my neighbourhood.  And even then, the term "running" is not wholly accurate. Basically, my gig is this: run for 150 to 200 metres - which is all I can manage without keeling over - and brisk walking for the next 700 to 800 km while I catch my breath.  Rinse and repeat.

I figured that I just needed to clock in at 9 minutes per kilometre (preferably less) to get my medal.  I started at around 9:30 but slowly whittled it down to 9 or so; on good days, I came in at 8:40.  And even then, the longest "run" I'd done was 8km with my pal Betty along Bowen Road exactly one week before race day.  Not quite a marathon simulation, but close enough.

And then, it was off to Penang.

Check out my first ever racer's kit - a strange assortment of freebies.  All I can say is thank god the shirt fit.

Thank goodness for Betty's work connections - we scored a sweet deal on our hotel rooms.  But we weren't so lucky with the flights though.  For a destination that's only just under three hours away from Hong Kong, we should've booked early and gotten ourselves a direct flight at a relatively cheap rate.  But being newbies, our procrastination cost us a near-stroke when we saw the astronomical airfares listed.  And so we paid handsomely for our non non-stop flight on MAS which pretty much took us about 7 hours each way, stopover time included.  Total amateurs we were in every sense of the word.

But we got there, met up with our cheerleaders who had flown in from Singapore, and then, the adventure continued......

Carb-loading at the Gurney Drive hawker centre 12 hours before race time: This is fast becoming my favourite part of the marathon......aside from getting that finisher's medal of course.   Unfortunately, the food was disappointingly mediocre, except for the char kway teow.

I love these photos....they show a totally surreal  Walking Dead-ish sight at 6.05 a.m. on race day.  And to think these are just the 10K women participants.  Amazing to see and a great feeling to run with 8,000 fellow marathoners.  In total, there were a record-breaking 47,000+ runners spread over the 42K, 21K, 10K and 5K categories, making it the largest marathon in Malaysia. 

Took a wee 20-second breather at around the 3km mark to stand to the side (and lessen chances of being trampled) to snap this photo just before we clomped onto the Penang Bridge.  We made a u-turn at the 5km mark, which was about 1.5km into the 13.5km bridge - the second longest in Malaysia, and fifth longest in Southeast Asia. the victory tents: These are the uber fit runners who'd crossed the finish line, enjoying their sponsored refreshments before the sun had even properly risen (and when I was probably trudging along at the 4K marker.)  Bastards.

This is the naively self-confident me before the race (left) and the wheezing, shell-shocked version 90 minutes later (right)

Virgin marathoners no more!
I clocked in right on the nose at 1:30 and Betty made it in 1:33 - awesome results for our very first try.  (And we weren't even anywhere near the bottom as we'd feared!)


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Marathon Mania: How It All Started

I got fat.

There, I said it.

My weight has always been yo-yo-ing from svelte and slender to round and rotund over the past couple of decades, but now I am facing the fact that I'm the heaviest I've ever been in my life.  Living in Hong Kong with the bountiful plethora of good food at every grimy street corner doesn't help.  That, and coupled with the fact that we are now living in the second Golden Age of Television, well, that just cemented my obese couch potato status. 

Now, I actually don't mind being on the plus side, but I am concerned about potential health issues that are invisible to the naked eye, and that are way more insidious than the occasional wide-eyed stare and nudge by young children and stick insects walking by.

So I did some hiking, yoga, a bit of surfing, in-line skating, and dabbled in Stand-Up Paddling this past year, but that wasn't enough.  Didn't make a dent. Not even a smidgen.  And then, my good friend Betty told me back in July about how she needs to lessen her poundage as well, and she mentioned that she might just sign up for the mammoth Standard Chartered Half Marathon in Singapore that would take place in early December and wouldn't that be just fun?  Well, I didn't think I could go straight from my oh-so-comfortable sofa bed into a grueling 21k, but I did like the idea of doing perhaps a shorter run, and better still, in another city/country where no one would really know me.  It would also combine my great love for travelling with exercise and, best of all, this wonderful concept that I only learned after stumbling into the world of marathons, guilt-free carb-loading.

And so, I signed up for the Penang Bridge International Marathon.

There were seven main reasons why I did so:

1.  There was a 10k option.
2.  All finishers receive a medal.
3.  We get to run on the bridge itself.
4.  Penang is only a couple hours' flight away from Hong Kong.
5.  It was held in Penang - one of the most famous cities in the world for amazing Malaysian street food.
6.  It is the largest marathon in the country.
7.  The course is sanctioned by AIMS - the organization that certifies legit marathons (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)

I'll detail my Penang marathon journey is a separate post, but suffice to say, I got bit by the running bug right after I crossed the finish line and collected my medal.  Maybe it was the endorphins mixed with adrenaline spiked with the Malaysian version of un-carbonated Red Bull, but I, who couldn't even before run/wheeze 100m without seriously considering medical attention - I'm now making it my mission to tackle 12 marathons in 12 months, starting January 2014.  And no, these are not full fledged 42k deals - I'm determined, not delusional - but the 10k and the occasional 21k runs.

So at the end of 2014, I hope to have completed my dozen runs, nabbed all the finishers' medals and certificates, and be, if not lighter and a few dress sizes lower, then much more physically and mentally fit than I am now.  And oh yes, be filled with the happy, exhausting, maddening, exhilarating memories of having visited 12 countries along the way.

Watch this space.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Essentially Eames: I'll Take One Of Each Please

I went to this exhibition at Marina Bay Sands in its opening weekend, and I fell in love with all the clever (and remarkably comfy) chair designs by Ray and Charles Eames.

Seriously, with every single one of them.

I only wish I had that many asses to sit in each and every one of their chairs, all at the same time (insert your own fat joke here....on second thought, no, don't.)

So yes, "essential" is right, right?

See below to judge for yourself and then head to the exhibition when next in the Lion City.

Me, I'm now more than ready to order my Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, the design of which I learned was inspired by a well-worn mitt snugly coddling a baseball.  Again, no roly-poly jokes please.

You know you've made it when even posters of your chairs (and office furniture, fer cryin' out loud) attain pop art status.

My constant refrain exactly

Photos by Charles Eames - collage by me.

Shoes - photos by Charles Eames - collage by me.

Breakfast - more photos by Charles Eames - collage by me.

A veritable house of (giant plastic) cards

That's not me....that's a selfie by Charles Eames as seen through his Christmas tree ornament.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guilin Noodles And (So Much, Much) More

If there is one dish to try - only one - in Guilin, then it must be the province's specialty: Guilin noodles.  In my all-too-brief weekend there, I must've had it at least five different times in five different ways.  The locals have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking in between meals. In soup and stir-fried permutations.  Spicy and non spicy.  In fancy restaurants and on the streets. Served with vegetables, seafood, pork, beef, and even horse meat. 

It's similar to the rice noodles that's served in Penang laksa but the Guilin version is a tad more al dente and, possibly due to the sheer volume produced daily for Guilin-ites (it's totally their go-to comfort food,) they don't taste at all like their pre-packaged and freeze-dried poor cousins.  After my first bowl, I could definitely see what the fuss is all about.

Here are some of the Guilin noodle dishes that I had, and other dishes I'd sampled or just plain gawked during my recent trip to Guilin and Yangshuo:

Stir-fry Guilin noodles with minced pork; garnished liberally with chili

Guilin noodles with pork, bean sprouts and chili

Guilin noodles with pickled vegetables, peanuts and snails in soup broth

Savoury snacks served on the ferry enroute from Guilin to Yangshuo

No deep-fried whole shrimps for me: I pecked at these sunflower seeds as my snack of choice during the ferry ride

Savoury pancake street side vendor in Yangshuo

Deep fry it, and they will eat

Fresh from the river and straight to the griller

I was fascinated by this Mix n' Match pickles stall....marinated chicken feet, tofu, chili and black fungus, anyone?

I didn't even have to colour-filter this bowl of crawfish

Sadly, I didn't try the other local specialty - Beer Fish - or dine at Minnie Mao's cafe.  Cool names, though

Stir-fry tofu in a whole lot of oil (I didn't want to know what kind was used - probably it's the most arterial-clogging one)

This stir-fry long beans with bittergourd was super duper tasty......and oily (hence, its goodness.)

Never mind three squares a day in Yangshuo: street snacking is where it's at

Taking full advantage of the ripe (and ginormous) mangoes in Yangshuo with this special dessert confection

With its adventure/adrenaline offerings in Yangshuo (abseiling, caving, cycling, etc,) geared for the athletic, outdoorsy types,  I wasn't too surprised to find a number of al fresco German beer pubs dotted around town.

Downtown Yangshuo - a cornucopia of restaurants, street food vendors, pubs, KTV lounges and souvenir shops

A bountiful harvest - those mangoes are excellent

The ferries that go both up- and downstream on Li River between Guilin and Yangshou (and beyond)


Monday, August 5, 2013

Meet My New Favourite Town In China

I didn't really know what to expect when I boarded the boat early one morning to embark on a four-hour cruise down the famous Li River.  I mean, I knew I was going to see some jaw-dropping scenery, and by God, did I ever, but I wasn't prepared to fall madly in love with Yangshuo, a colourful backpacker's dream enclave nestled amongst the awe-inspiring limestone peaks, about a little over 70 kilometers from Guilin.  Yes, the town is touristy as hell but what sets it apart from other ethnic villages dotting the vast country are the amazing karst peaks, rivers, caves, rice paddies and the sheer number of corresponding activities (hiking, rock climbing, rafting, bicycling, spelunking, hot air ballooning, to name a few) for intrepid explorers.  And then there's Zhang Yimou's mightily ambitious water and light show - Impressions Liu Sanjie -  performed at the world's largest natural theatre.  The actual show was unfortunately a bit on the thin side but it is really that gorgeous backdrop of the mountain peaks with the river as the stage, and not so much the cast of 600 singers and dancers, that is truly the main attraction.

I'm going to have a separate post later on the food of Yangshuo, but here are some of my favourite technicolour memories of that day:

Tourists boarding the boats for a four-hour leisurely southbound cruise down the Li River.

View from a bridge in Yangshou


Five minutes before showtime - Impressions Liu Sanjie lights and water extravaganza by Zhang Yimou
Best natural theatre and backdrop I've ever seen

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