Climb Every Mountain – The Early Days

I now had one-and-a-half years to prepare for Mt. Rainier. Well, we had.

“Plenty of time!” said David. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you there.”

I wanted to believe ‘cos I was so nervous and unsure. This really was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Did I really say I wanted to climb a mountain for my 40th?

The first order was to have our fitness assessed so the team can design an individual training programme for TH and I. “Oh joy,” I thought. Not only will I have to embarrass myself in front of supreme athletes, I’ll also have it on record about how poorly I’m doing. TH, on the other hand, was all pumped. He saw it as a chance to further improve his fitness and get some handy tips on how to work his ‘problematic’ calves.

On the day of the assessment, I was feeling edgy. Not because of it but ‘cos BDE was taking part in a Singapore Specials contest and she’d have to show a talent. I had no idea what this was going to be as BDE only knows a few basic commands and she’s not liable to do them on command. I was plagued by the thought of standing on stage in front of a crowd addressing a dog determined at times to do her own thing. I’m not sure if that affected me but the assessment didn’t end well. Everything was fine till I completed a set of back extensions. I stood up and the room spun. Then I started to feel nauseous and my head started throbbing, my saliva thickening. I was finding it difficult to swallow. It felt like the onset of a migraine but I knew it wasn’t. I didn’t know what it was though. I told our trainers I wasn’t well and we wrapped up. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to get home, as I was feeling worse by the second. I took some painkillers and climbed into bed clutching my head, trying to breath normally and whimpering. I wanted to chop my head off! Exhausted, I fell into a fitful sleep, all the time worrying about the contest. After a couple of hours, I managed to recover sufficiently to take BDE for her competition and to our surprise and delight, she took first prize. First prize!

BDE looking cool

BDE posing with her trophy

We were so proud of her, so extremely proud of her. Best! Dog! Ever!

Till this day, I don’t know what hit me. I think it was a combination of things.

I'm marginal

I’m marginal

When we received the report from the team, I was classified as ‘marginal’  and my goal was to reach good or high performance. I had 11 strength training exercises of 3 sets each with 8 – 12 reps on top of cardio work. Back extensions were part of it but I’ve never done them since.

Looking at the programme, life, as I knew it, wasn’t going to be the same again. For a start, I’d have to exercise consistently. In fact, the right word is train. I would need to factor in the time and really block it off, no excuses whatsoever. I would need space in the wardrobe for a whole new set of clothes. There will be sacrifices and pain. I had to develop healthy living habits – eat better, sleep earlier. I needed a new life!

Once I thought it all through, I was psyched. I felt ready to embark on this great big adventure except no one sent the memo to my body. My first gym workout was a disaster. I could barely run for more than 10 minutes and I was lifting weights that felt heavy though in reality read 3lbs. It wasn’t even the pain after the session or how tired I felt that killed. It was the pain the following day and the day after that, and after that. And somehow I had to motivate myself to do it all over again?

I moaned and whined to TH. Fortunately he understood and patiently explained the ins and outs of starting a training programme, especially for novices like me. You know what I learnt at 38 years old? That everyone feels pain, even pro athletes. They’re not immune contrary to what I always believed. Honestly, I found it comforting. I don’t know how or why I thought that people were either born able to do all this sports stuff or not. It never occurred to me that people struggle initially. Anyway, TH suggested ways to better manage each session and egged me on.

The gym became my second home

The gym became my second home

So I kept at it. The first few weeks were difficult. I couldn’t see the benefits of training and I wasn’t feeling any buzz from exercising. Where’s that feel-good factor that everyone talks about? Then one day, snap. Without realizing it, I was running longer and feeling less tired, I was able to complete my weights training comfortably and I felt goooooooood. Slowly, I was able to increase the weights too, one bar at a time. But I won’t lie; it wasn’t all up, up and away. Some days were rough and my training went back to square one. Groan. TH assured me that this was perfectly normal.

We were reviewing our progress with David and Ed one day when they said: “We think that you guys should climb Mt. Kinabalu this year. It’s a good test for your fitness and adaptability in high altitude. It’s 4095m, close to Mt. Rainier. July will be good.”

What?? It’s now March.

“There’s time. Don’t worry,” David said calmly.

Errrr….

(Note: Timelines are off for this series of posts as they were meant to be published in the last quarter of 2013)

Advertisements

A dog is just a dog but it isn’t just a dog

Tomorrow (08/03/13) marks BDE’s third year with us. As she lies on her bed looking at me, like a statue, I remember clearly the first time we saw her at the SPCA.

BDE kept looking out towards the door

BDE kept looking out towards the entrance

She stared out of the kennel, unbothered by and displaying no interest in us. How things have changed since.

Getting a dog was my idea, cooing at strangers’ dogs – me, imagining my future dog’s name – me, reading books about caring for dogs – me. Wary of animals – TH. But he gave in to my constant hounding. So although he was very much involved in the process of choosing our dog – he went along for puppy viewings and also chose BDE – when she finally came home, he had no idea what to do.

The weeks and months that followed were not difficult really, not by a long shot compared to what many new dog owners face. TH though couldn’t figure how to connect with BDE. He couldn’t get her to do what he wanted and she seemed afraid of him, which made her listen and respond even less, which of course made him angrier, which made her more fearful and so the cycle went. Then one day, he got it! He finally understood her, on his own terms, and began building his own bond with her. Don’t get the wrong impression – I’m still Alpha.

Over time, as BDE settled in and opened up, a few things became evident. BDE is obsessed with food. Obsessed. A lot of people say their dogs are greedy and that most dogs respond easily to food. BDE is a cut above that. When there’s food around, she goes into a frenzy. She’d approach strangers, plead, jump on them, follow them like the pied piper and I’m all forgotten. So it follows that BDE has no loyalty. Feed her and she’s yours. BDE dislikes being physically close. Hug her and she stiffens, lie next to her and she turns away. You can literally see her discomfort. But she would come to us for pats. She’d rest her head on our laps and look ever so lovingly. And the second we reach out to pat her, she’ll turn around and sit, giving us her back. BDE mostly does her own thing. Any command needs to be given as a command. Say it nicely and you might as well be talking to a wall.

I have no stories to share about BDE sensing my moods and comforting me. When I freak out over my number one horror, she runs away. A friend once remarked that her new dog is “just a dog”, unlike her previous dogs which she determined had superior qualities. It occurred to me I could say the same of BDE. This revelation hit me and honestly, I felt somewhat disappointed. Yet, I know better than that. BDE may not have great doggy-human senses and there will be no tales of heroism or undying love, but she’s not just a dog.

BDE's happy smile

BDE’s happy smile

BDE makes us laugh with her antics, she helps diffuse stress and tension with her constant seeking of pats, her smile puts a smile on people’s faces, she is an ice-breaker. She brightens up every single moment.

In fact, I could say that of all dogs who share a bond with their human. You won’t see a scowly, grumpy owner and dog on their walks. Can’t say the same for parents and their kids.

One day, TH and I were talking about stuff when he said: “Let’s clone BDE so we’ll never lose her.” It’s funny how many of us would accept the death of a person. It is after all inevitable. But when it comes to our dogs, I know many wish they could clone theirs and hold on to them forever.

Happy 3rd Anniversary BDE!!! We’re so glad you’re in our life. We call you the best dog ever but you’re so much more than that.

Step up, Singapore!

Now that election fever is way, way, way over, the hard stuff begins for the SG government. And boy is the work hard. Neither the issues nor sentiment towards the ruling party have abated. In fact, they’ve probably escalated over the past few weeks with reports about all things foreigners, record pricing for public housing, problems in the health care sector and floods; all of this not helped by perception that the PAP is back to its old ways.

I wasn’t expecting an overnight change in the system, but I believed that as Singaporeans experienced political awakening and discovered alternative points of view, we’d see ideas, debates on ideology and positive movement. Instead of considered points of views and constructive feedback and suggestions, a good number of posts and comments on Temasek Review and occasionally The Online Citizen are now angry rants and dribble that fuel negativity on already sensitive topics.

Reading those sites, you’d think Singaporeans are racist and xenophobic, and the country is on the verge of a violent revolution against the government and foreigners (the source of all SG’s problems, so it seems). I guess access, truth and online anonymity set people free; unfortunately a lot of them aren’t mature enough to handle it nor understand that freedom still comes with responsibility.

Much is to be desired with the system and the ruling party. Their policies haven’t worked for a long time contrary to what SG looks like to a visitor. It’s fair to blame the government, it’s right to feel angry, but where does it stop? Heaping complete responsibility onto them and not taking any is tantamount to agreeing with what they’re doing no matter how much you complain online.

Recently, a newly elected MP paraphrased JFK’s famous line: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. That he should’ve delivered it in a better manner shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s a good wake-up call. Singaporeans need to start doing things for themselves. Only then, will SG become the place they want to live in. In case you’re in doubt that you need to take responsibility and can make things happen, here’s a post by Robin Sharma, one of the world’s top success coaches.

Do Your Part

Big question for you: “What are you doing to help build a new and better world?” Don’t blame the politicians. Don’t blame those around you. Don’t blame your parents or your background. Doing so is playing the victim and this world has far too many people playing the victim when they could be sharing their brilliance and making a profound difference. Mother Teresa said it so much better than I ever could: “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.”

Blaming others is excusing yourself. Telling yourself that you – as an army of one – cannot have an impact is giving away your power. After a hurricane a while ago, a couple of college kids got their hands on empty school buses and drove them into the ravaged area when everybody else said the city was impenetrable. A little man in a loincloth named Mahatma Gandhi freed an entire nation. A woman named Rosa Parks sparked a civil rights movement because she refused to sit at the back of a bus. Ordinary people really can do extraordinary things. I love what Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, once said: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.”

Live by what I call the Jennifer Aniston Rule. In an issue of Vanity Fair, Aniston said that she gives herself one day to play victim after experiencing a challenging event. After that day of feeling powerless and sorry for herself, she wakes up and takes ownership for the way her life looks. She takes personal responsibility for her part in the problem – even if that only amounted to 1%. That’s personal leadership in action. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. “The ability to triumph begins with you. Always,” offered entertainment superstar Oprah Winfrey.

What don’t you like about your life or the organization you work for or the country you live in? Make a list. Write it down. Shout it out. And then do something to improve things. Anything. Start small or go big. Just do something. As you experience your power to choose, guess what? Your power grows. And as you work within your sphere of influence to make things better, guess what? Your sphere of influence expands. So do your part. Today. Now. The world will be better for it.

I’m dreaming of a new Singapore

Since I have no voting power in the upcoming elections, I thought I’d indulge in some fantasies, imagining how my one vote, when counted, would change everything.

It’s 02:35 on 8th May. A nation is gathered around their TVs, eyes glued to the screens; sleep forgotten. The roads are eerily quiet for a city that is constantly on the move. Clouds have been building since dusk and the night sky grows increasingly white. The air is thick with anticipation and not a single leaf rustles. The ruling political party has lost 40 seats. History has already been made but it isn’t done yet. There’s one last vote and this would either give opposition parties half the seats or PAP the majority, albeit a much smaller one. A huge bolt of lightning strikes and its light is seen across the island. The faces of crestfallen PAP members are momentarily lit and many break into a small smile; it’s a good sign surely. Seconds later, the stillness of the night is broken by the sound of rumbling thunder. It reverberates as it gathers momentum rising to a crescendo. The last vote – mine – is in the hands of the vote counter. As he prepares to read it, the explosive clap hammers home the final verdict.

In an instant, the sky opens up and a torrential downpour falls upon the citystate. In an instant, everything changes.

Better General Elections management

There are several points here and we know why things are the way they are. It’s not right; and I think all these tactics have made SG a highly immature and unsophisticated nation.

  1. Fix the boundaries/constituencies once and for all. It’s absurd that the lines are redrawn so drastically each election, and most of all, they don’t make sense.
  2. Change it all back to single member constituency. This group thing is complete groupthink. Absolutely rubbish policy
  3. Fair notice for voter registration. This is a result of what I’ve just experienced. The Elections Department should issue a letter to all eligible Singaporeans a month before the closing date. This is to ensure all Singaporeans, especially the ones who have been away for a while, can check the register and update the records accordingly.
  4. Lower the nomination fee. In 2006, the fee was S$13,500. This time, it’s $16,000. That’s an increment of 18.5% (I hope my math is right!) just for the nomination fee. A little bit steep, isn’t it? To truly appreciate the meteoric rise of the fee, look here. On what basis did the fees increase? Why even? I don’t know what the party line is. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with ensuring only people who are serious / qualified run. But why is there a need to? The results would speak for themselves anyway.

This cartoonish system needs to end soon. It makes a fool out of all Singaporeans.

Shorten NS to 4 months or do away with it

I believe something’s wrong when more money is spent on defence than education and healthcare, and I don’t buy the reason it’s ‘cos we’re a small country surrounded by large neighbours. That’s essentially saying we don’t trust our neighbours; and makes it easy for us to disregard them. So who’s antagonising whom?

But let’s go one step back. Why is it that SG feels threatened? Historically, we’ve never had conflicts with each other on the war scale – we’re not in the same boat as Pakistan/India or Palestine/Israel. I think our neighbours have better things to focus on than SG. In the unlikely scenario of escalating tensions, I’m pretty sure other countries would step in to mediate before allowing for a war to break out. I mean, this is the 21st century.

On the subject of tensions, why not work on building strong interdependent relationships with our neighbours? This would minimise tensions, and should WWIII break out ever, we’re more likely to have their protection.

Low danger doesn’t mean no danger, of course. We could have a military academy to recruit those who want to serve, and train all citizens in first aid, handling weapons and other back end stuff. Four months is plenty of time for that or it could be incorporated into school even so no need for NS. So I’m not advocating zero defense. I just don’t think we need a force that is so large or advanced. Not when the resources can be better spent on more important things such as aid for the poor, education, healthcare, and:

Land for urban farmers and artists

Now that more land is available ‘cos SG has done away with a lot of NS camps, space can be put aside for urban farmers and artists. SG could have vertical vegetable farms, 60 storey high. Plots can be rented out or sold. There are so many benefits to this. It’d be a great escape for many people, families can grow their own vegetables or fruits and trade, gardening’s an excellent stress reliever, connection to nature revitalises the soul; queue tourism and also creation of a new industry and SG can lead the way in city farming and rurban (rural/urban) development.

If I’m not wrong, Japan already has such a building underway. But times have been hard on that country, and if there’s one thing the SG government is good at, it’s making industries sprout overnight.

Other sites would be for artists with mix live/work spaces. We can finally develop and nurture highly skilled craftspeople. There’d be pottery studios, welding workshops, glassmakers, bespoke furniture designers, multi-media studios, etc. A SG art form or style may emerge that would finally anchor us in a unique culture we can proudly promote.

These won’t bring massive economic growth but life isn’t about economic growth. We need to feed the artist in all of us, in whatever shape and form, to lead healthier, more holistic lives. We need space that lets us breathe, that lets our imagination and handiwork go wild. That is living.

On Education

  1. Schools will be merged from primary through to higher education. Only at 18 will students have to apply for tertiary education.
  2. Reduce classroom sizes to 25 at most.
  3. Introduce subjects such as political science and law from the get go so that all Singaporeans understand our constitution and law, and develop an interest in shaping SG.
  4. Fewer exams and tests. Assessments in the style of The Apprentice with good rewards. After all, that’s real life – real issues, real pressure, real lessons, real results.

We’ve had years of nation building and have achieved first world status. Yet, our education system hasn’t improved. Classroom sizes are still at 40 kids per class, almost every child now goes for tuition, and from conversations I’ve had with parents, the system only seems to be getting worse ‘cos teachers now don’t even know how to teach the syllabus as it’s changing so often. Incredible! In the worst way possible.

These changes would require more schools, more teachers, more people in the education sector. As Tan Jee Say said, these are good jobs for Singaporeans, fit for a nation of well-educated people. Why is that bad?

Cut dependence on public housing

I think SG should really aim for 70% (I’m being arbitrary here; a smart urban planning person should come up with the magic number) true home ownership. Why do 70% of Singaporeans still live in public housing? Not that public housing is bad. The quality is good and there’s nothing wrong with an HDB flat per se. I’m just saying that the government shouldn’t be the majority home/landowner. I don’t see why they need to be, and I think having all that ownership has allowed them to control supply of land and manipulate cost. Left in the hands of private developers, together with better controls over foreign ownership, we’ll see a different boom in property development, and prices will reflect what Singaporeans can afford. They will finally really own their property, HDB flats will finally be for those who most need it and we can finally rid ourselves off this property obsession.

Comprehensive public transport services

To control the car population, why not have more taxis, and mini buses that go around estates frequently? Make it so convenient, there’s no need to buy a car.

Taxi fares should also be cheaper and exempted from ERP charges. From conversations with taxi uncles, it’s implied the high fare is needed to cover the high rental fee. But if the government is able to view taxis as a good form of alternative transport, then taxes to bring in taxis should be very, very low, thereby reducing cost of the vehicles too, which should translate to lower operating cost, lower rental charges and cheaper fares. Right? The same could be done for mini buses too.

By flooding the island with a more comprehensive network of public transport services, there’d be less need for people to buy a car, thus reducing the number of private cars on the road and therefore clearing the road congestion. Easy, no?

Constitutional amendments

  1. Ministers should not earn more than the US President. I don’t have a figure in mind, but it definitely shouldn’t be more than the man who has the most difficult public service job on earth. To constantly link SG’s ministerial pay to that in the private sector and saying no one will do the job and be incorruptible if it isn’t well paying is to completely miss the point about jobs in the public service AND display a lack of morality. What of NZ and Denmark that shares the same spot as SG, and other top countries on Corruption Perception Index list?
  2. Make the President work harder; give him more to do! For f*** sake, he’s earning $4million.
  3. Include an Information of Freedom Act.
  4. Restore our rights to freedom of speech and expression; the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and the right to form associations.
  5. Ensure no one can be sued, arrested or fined by the government for their opinions and findings on Singapore. We need healthy debates and discussions to grow. Not lawsuits and fear. This would also enable SG to become a real media centre, creating a new industry with good jobs. (And while we’re creating a new media industry, fold Mediacorp and SPH. We don’t want PAP mouth pieces. Let’s start over.)

New national anthem and pledge

No disrespect to Mr Zubir Said for composing the current anthem and whoever came up with the pledge, but I think there’s an emptiness to both the anthem and pledge. The words have no heart and are not grounded in values – progress, wealth, prosperity, onward, success. These are all very driven, material words. I know wealth and prosperity can mean other forms of riches, but let’s not pretend. When a person says someone is wealthy or prosperous, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? And let’s tone down the pledge for a democratic society since…well…it’s not really happening.

We need an anthem and pledge that encompasses ‘soft’ values. It should unite the people to defend the land, to love the country, to seek a righteous path and various other emotionally heart stirring words. This is the stuff that’ll give meaning to SG. Not this wealth and prosperity malarkey.

I could go on, but all fantasies come to an end when the real world calls. So excuse me while I get on with things. I hope it’ll give Singaporeans food for thought though ‘cos there are alternatives. Policies can be changed when they’re not working. It doesn’t have to be this way.

What do Singaporeans want?

Last night at TB’s place, politics became a pre-dinner topic. It started with the park connector that would be built and how PAP is throwing money at it, to winning (or more like losing) votes at the upcoming elections, then to the ills of the incumbent party.

TB’s main gripe was the $1.5million paycheck ministers receive and the broken promise of “justice and equality” for all. TH’s point of view was (is, really) that perhaps the amount is needed in a country with such a small tappable population. This sparked off the major debate and I won’t go into the details, but needless to say, it got me thinking about life in Singapore.

In clarifying his position to me this morning, TH said that the minister’s salary is really the wrong thing to focus on, yet he couldn’t understand what the real issues are with Singapore and Singaporeans. I know where he’s coming from and I often wonder what it is people have to complain about.

Truth be told, we’re probably living in a glass tower. I don’t know what life is like for the poor. How many Singaporeans are truly struggling? How many kids are falling out of the system and ‘disappearing’? How many Singaporeans need help but are not receiving any or enough?

Most of the time, I see spoilt Singaporeans. Why do they need a car when public transport is pretty good? OK, it’s not perfect but they’re trying. What’s wrong with public housing? If it’s too expensive for newly-weds, how about living with parents for a while? Why the need to upgrade? Take shorter holidays in countries that are closer, shop local, buy local. What’s wrong with that? Families have maids that are treated like slaves yet still complain about how difficult life is. Seriously??!! Was there a memo that we would all be living stress-free, able to take exotic holidays, buy a car, wear branded clothes, eat in fancy restaurants, live in private property and be served hand and foot that I missed?

In providing everything for Singaporeans and shielding them from the real world, Singaporeans are now a materialistic, wussy, shallow bunch. That’s something I hang on the PAP. There are many things they haven’t done right – they need to be more accountable to the less fortunate, embrace human rights, open up the media channels – but I can’t fault them for providing an environment that is conducive for learning and self development in a safe, easy and comfortable way. The rest is up to the individual. Is that so bad?

I’m of course simplifying many things here. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t get a grip on what Singaporeans want. Cheap and good excess to everything with high pay and low taxes? We’re not on fantasy island. Let’s talk about real issues, people. Anyone?