Monday, June 30, 2008
OK, since several people have tagged me today, here it is. If you read this, you may want to do one yourself.
10 years ago
I worked in Taipei and occasionally made trips to Palau, Guam and Saipan.
5 years ago
I was enjoying Peaman and Mango biathlons and triathlons in Hawai'i, but still only had a junk bike.
1 year ago
We left Hawaii and returned to live in Taipei
5 things to do today
Prepare more food for today's feeding
Continue to sort things and tidy my office
Finish at least one job I am working on today
Write my real blog report for the day
Go to bed early so I can swim well tomorrow
5 snacks I enjoy
Granola and milk
Bananas, pineapples, dragon fruit or mango
A piece of Toblerone chocolate
Home made soya bean milk
If I were a billionaire, I would:
Invest in a guest house in Hanalei Bay, Kauai so weary triathletes could rest there.
Donate some money to medical research.
Become a venture capitalist to help Bree achieve billionaire celebrity status (and resolve her running shoes by the front door problem).
Entrust most of it to Bill and Melinda and let them decide what to do with it.
Continue to live in my current house, eat potatoes, do my usual work and swim every morning (the race is only 12 months away now).
6 people I want to have lunch with tomorrow:
My wife and two sons (as long as I can eat my potatoes), Harry (in Kona), Brown Bear, and the Dolphin Boy.
5 places I have lived (all a long time):
5 jobs I have had:
Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager
Economics editor and translator/interpreter (Chinese)
Bible school teaching staff
There is no time like the present!
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I have recently included a "video bar" (scroll down the right-hand column) and if you click on the top of the four pictures (a picture of Kitaro), you will be able to listen to Kitaro's music and watch it as it is being played. At the end of the song, you will see various mini screens on the YouTube screen and each of these is a different song by Kitaro, with some very nice viewing to go along with them. Maybe not the thing for the very busy, but if you are just relaxing or maybe doing some stretching exercises at home, then this may be of interest.
I first came across Kitaro's (喜多郎) music when I was spending my first year in Taiwan as a Chinese language student. I would learn about new kinds of music just by walking past the hawkers who sold music cassettes by the side of the street and listening to whatever they were playing. I was immediately attracted by the sound of the Silk Road, this title referring of course to the road that the merchants travelled on across China and Central Asia in the days of the Genghis Khan and Marco Polo. The music was certainly different from what I had been used to in England. It was very soothing and relaxing, and even though some regarded it as "New Age", on a subsequent trip to England a prominent couple in the church I attended actually handed the tapes I gave them to someone who was dying of cancer to help him relax, and apparently felt it had a beneficial effect.
Kitaro apparently had no formal musical education, and claimed he could not read or write music. He relied purely on his ears and his emotions. From the video one can see he really gets into the music as do the other musicians with him. Some of his songs sound more Western and others much more Japanese (for instance Heaven and Earth with a lot of Japanese drumbeats, which is brilliant in my estimation).
When listening to music from other cultures, I am obviously concerned about whether the music is suitable or not, just as I will sometimes listen to the music our sons play to determine whether the music and the lyrics are wholesome or not. While I am not sure what every Japanese would think about this music, at least a fine Japanese Christian lady I shared an office with when in Hawai'i a year or two ago very much enjoyed it, and she also very much liked the "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" music, which is what you may hear when you first look at my blog (if you stay long enough for the music to load). (If this freaks you out, you can pause the music by going to the Playlist box in the right-hand column.) Thanks Pat for putting Playlist on your blog!
This morning, I went swimming at 9:00 am (as I normally do Saturday), and due to the wet and stormy weather there were fewer people than usual. I decided to swim long and steady, and covered 6,000 meters in exactly two hours, with no breaks. I started with the lane to myself, but around the middle 2,000 or so I was at times sharing the lane with four others, some who were pretty slow, and hence I had to weave in and out of people quite a lot, as I had to stick to my schedule. However, it broke the monotony a bit. I slowed down slightly the last 1,500 or so. I think these long swims are quite good, because when I eventually swim something like 2,000 meters in a race, I should be able to swim pretty strongly the whole way, instead of weakening around the turnaround buoy. After the two hours, I had a quick needed break and also went to the small pool where you can be massaged by a fairly strong column of water coming down from above, and then I finished off with 400 meters with hand paddles, as well as an odd 50m without them, to finish on 6,450 meters for the day. I also felt pretty normal the rest of the day at home, so I don't feel I overdid it. Tomorrow being Sunday, I will probably have a lighter and easier swim.
Friday, June 27, 2008
In general, I am seeing improvements in my swimming, not necessarily in times, because since I am not really doing races it is hard to know how much effort I am really putting into going fast. However, the times are slowly improving and I am feeling stronger. While I have not done much in terms of land exercises, mostly due to lack of suitable equipment and also to avoid injury, all of the focused swimming has increased my ability to pull through the water more firmly while also feeling more relaxed.
My training does not just consist of the almost two hours I spend at the pool almost six days per week. Feeding myself during the rest of the day is extremely important, and shoveling yet more potatoes down my throat requires just as much discipline as the 100m race against my friend. Knowing when and for how long to rest each day at home is also essential, if I am going to get the most out of each day. I don't have the time to lie around doing nothing, but not getting enough rest leaves me in no fit state to focus on the work I need to get done each day.
I would benefit from some professional help, as constantly swimming and analyzing my stroke has me wondering whether I am moving my hands along the most appropriate trajectory, or whether I should restructure my pool workouts as well as incorporate dry-land exercises. In relation to this, I hope in the not-too-distant future to attend a swim clinic in the U.S. if something suitable can be arranged.
So for the time being, I will as it were continue to feel my way in the dark, although generally speaking I am pleased with the way things are coming. While I had some good swims while living in Kona, I feel that I could do better at any venue in Hawai'i were I to be there now than I did before when I was there. I am about two months into my training for Hapuna next year, and have just over 12 months of training to go.
Today's photos: View from the roof of our Taipei (suburbs) apartment (the tall building behind the hills on the left is the Taipei 101 (storeys) building), as well as views inside. We had this place 20 years, but it is fast becoming just a memory. Life goes on.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Between the ages of 20 and about 29 when this picture was taken, my friends generally associated me with my bicycle, which was almost my only form of transportation during those years (I was credited with biking 180 miles in one day to go and attend a summer Bible camp and then bike back home one week later, not just once, but three years running). Other people associated me with my books (as you can see I had quite a few of them), and in particular with my fanatical interest in things Chinese.At the age when this picture was taken, I should have been married, living in a semi-detached house somewhere in England, working as an accountant in some office every day, and just being normal like everyone else. However, for several years I had had a dream of going to Asia and of learning Chinese, and when I finally could not pass my final accounting exams, I just decided to take off anyway. My first plane ride ever landed me in Hong Kong, and one week later I was in Taiwan. After a year there and having promised friends and pastors, etc. that I would return to the U.K., I went back to the U.K. more or less penniless, and after feeling truly lost and at times more lonely than I could ever imagine, I managed to find a couple of fairly interesting jobs in accounting that helped me save up enough to get back to Taiwan again.
So instead of trying to solve people's tax problems in an accounting office in England, I was spending each day studying Chinese language and literature, and of course making a lot of new friends. Those early years in Taiwan were not that easy, but the longer I stayed, the more smoothly things went. At least I had the satisfaction of being in the place where I wanted to be.
Fast forwarding to today, I had an interesting time swimming today. I arrived slightly earlier this morning and swam 4,650 meters non-stop in about 1 hr 31 mins. Then after a few minutes' rest and a slow 100m warm-up, I raced my friend over 100m, which he won in about 1m 24s to my 1m 27.5s. Less than a minute later, I challenged him to a 50m race, and I won that doing it in 40s flat to his 41s or so. I am not good at sprints so I felt quite satisfied with that swim. I am continuing to see gradual improvements. Again, I am not sure why I am doing all this, but I am just trying to make sure I keep at it. It would be nice to get an ocean swim in some time.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Today I include a painting of a bird I copied from a book I was reading (at the age of 11), as well as a drawing of a toad family, that was the kind of thing I used to dream about when I was in elementary school. I don't think I ever gave the drawing a title. Maybe I should call it the "Psychedelic Toad House". In case anyone has noticed that I have included a photo of a "Psychedelic Rolls Royce" in the right column of my blog, this was the one that John Lennon of the Beatles had painted only a few miles from where I grew up. Originally black, the car was taken by John and/or his driver to an autoshop that had the equipment to spray paint cars. After discussing the colors, etc., the shop's boss commissioned some gypsies who were probably uneducated but at least had some imagination. Up to that time the Rolls Royce was usually driven by royalty or retired wealthy company directors, so when this multicolored version took to the streets it caused an uproar among the British public. One old woman was so incensed by it that she repeatedly hit it with her umbrella. Later the car was shipped to the US and eventually sold there for a cool US$2.3 million to an American. So when you think the change of color scheme ruined the car, just think of the huge return on the investment. It seems the British are well known for their eccentricities.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The lead character in the movie, Taeko, is currently 27 years old, but she is constantly having flashbacks to her youth when she was around 11 years old. This is referred to as nostalgia, although for someone my age it may possibly be referred to as dementia. Well, while I am still sane enough to write coherently, let me share one or two memories from my childhood that I "rediscovered" today while continuing to sort out my things.
Yesterday, I referred to my great uncle in Switzerland and to visiting him at the age of 11. I found a painting I painted on site of the chalet my family and I stayed at in Blonay, near Lausanne in Switzerland. I also found a drawing of a map of Switzerland which I mostly drew while in Switzerland. I spent one or two days with my great uncle and his wife, while my mother, grandmother and sister were taken by a cousin in her car for rides in the mountains. I was easily carsick (especially on those roads), and so I preferred to stay home. To me at the time, my uncle and aunt were getting on in years, and had not had children of their own, seemed fairly serious, and so I whiled away my time drawing things. There were no games or TV where they lived. However, I remember my great uncle as someone who took a lot of interest in me, and it is a pity I only met him on that one trip over there (as far as I can recall).
The other pictures are from a magazine that was published not long after I returned from about one month in Belgium where I attended a boys' summer camp at the age of 13. When I arrived there I understood French very well (having heard it most of my life from my mother and grandmother when she visited), but when I returned to England, I spoke so much French that I would even reply in French to people who spoke to me in English especially around Dover when I got off the ship from Ostend. I learned more about how to think and speak in French in those weeks than in all the years that I studied French in school.The above photo of me together with some boys and published in the local organization's magazine "Soleil Levant", a copy of which was sent to my grandmother, is actually a scene I remember well. The boy lying on the ground in the middle was about my age and someone I had befriended at the camp. Like most Belgians he spoke French and Flemish (akin to Dutch) fluently, although to my surprise no one at the camp, including the teachers, spoke any English. This boy spoke to me in French and so we could converse. However, the younger boys on the left only spoke to me in Flemish, and I did not understand a word. I don't think they had met anyone who did not speak Flemish.
As I thought about these pictures, it reminded me of how the boys at the camp referred to me as "l'Anglais". It is true that I was that to them, but in reality I was part Belgian (through my grandfather), part Swiss (through my grandmother), and the other half British (which was a mixture of English and Scottish). Had I lived some time on the continent and spoken French like a native speaker, I don't think people would have considered me to be English. It was only when I eventually arrived in Taiwan that people started asking me if I was French. The Chinese are very interested in trying to guess where people are from and they can easily tell the difference between an American and a European, not just in their mannerisms, but also in their looks.
If my parents had had more money and had been less tied down by the basic need for stable employment, I might have got to spend much more of my childhood in Europe. I often regret not having had that opportunity. Our children have had it much more than me, in that life for them so far has been almost equally divided between Taiwan and Hawai'i. They were able to hang out with their skateboarding friends in Hawai'i and speak the same variety of English as them, and they can equally hang out with the skateboarders in Taiwan and speak the same Chinese (Mandarin) as them. This, of course, has brought difficulty to them, in that it is hard for them to be really good at English so as to pass all the English exams needed for college in the U.S. Of course, had we moved back to the UK when they were younger, they might have become a lot more British, but that is another story. Hawai'i, while not home to any of us in the sense that we always had to pay rent wherever we stayed, was a great place for them to grow up, not just because of the weather, but because of the multiracial characteristics of the society. That is really one thing I like about Hawai'i. Maybe I'll have to write about Hawai'i as it is becoming more and more of a distant memory!
In case readers may think I am stuck reminiscing on the past, I still went swimming this morning. I swam 4,500 meters straight in 1hr 29mins, and then after five minutes in the jacuzzi raced my friend over 100m. I was just behind him, finishing in 1min 29secs. In all I covered 4,750 meters. I don't know where this is all leading, and that is something I am trying to work out.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
This may sound like a strange title, and it arises because I am trying to sort out my things following our house move early this year. In the midst of the various things I and we as a family have accumulated over the years, there are some things that date back to early childhood. Unfortunately, I have very few photos of myself as a child, and given the improvements in camera technology, movies and digitalization, I am sure that all kids nowadays, including my own, have hundreds and thousands of photos or movie clips to remind themselves of earlier days. However, besides still having some of the stamps I collected as a child, I also have one hundred issues of a handwritten newspaper I wrote between the ages of 10 and 12, and also a few little notebooks in which I recorded some of the things that my much more imaginative mind at that time used to think about.
Issue No. 5 of Animal Life (it had eight pages). Also written in 1964. The picture can be enlarged by clicking on it.
In elementary school, I was a well above average student, although not the best and that used to bug me. I think it was because I often heard people say I could do better, but what was there really to do better at? At school at that time, subjects like arithmetic were not particularly challenging, and everything we studied in class was designed for kids. Interestingly, outside elementary school I was teaching myself zoology, having private Russian lessons, and writing my own newspaper series. I was in my own little world as it were, and sometimes I regret I did not just become a "normal" kid like everyone else and function more within society. I think there is a lot of truth in the view that our early years, however they are, shape us for the rest of life.
My interest in writing the newspapers started when I tried to form a club at school called the "Toad Club". Well, I guess it wasn't what the teachers would have recommended, but it did cause me to write a least one of those newspapers every week or so, and to handwrite the duplicate copies as printing in those days was really archaic. Photocopiers did not exist. Today I also found a notebook in which I wrote the names of all of the people who received copies of the newspaper and which editions. There were at least ten people over the two-year period and some received at least 30 issues. They were mostly classmates, all of whom I have lost touch with, as well as my Belgian grandmother and her brother, my great uncle, in Switzerland. While he spoke mostly French and German, he was most impressed with them. I met him and stayed with him in 1965 when writing these newspapers was at its height. He died suddenly two years later in 1967 in Lausanne.
The newspapers are not like a diary, so little is written about me. However, when looked at as a whole, they do reflect my worldview or at least the world I lived in at that time. In those years, my life revolved within a 5-mile radius of my parents' home in Surrey, England, except for the occasional contacts with relatives in continental Europe. I liked to write about animals and "country life" as I saw it, which tended to mean ponds and frogs, toads and newts. I liked to make up puzzles that my friends could do. I referred to some of the hit songs (like the Beatles) that were top of the charts at that time. I liked to write messages in code (with a corresponding table for converting the symbols into Roman letters) (reminds me of studying Japanese nowadays). I had little columns written by Polly the Parrot and Pip the Potato Squirt with their words of encouragement. Neither of my parents were writers like this. I just somehow developed the interest myself.
Issue Number 100. I was already in Secondary (Grammar) School then and was finally losing touch with my elementary school days. At the top in the middle is a badge for club members to wear.
What I feel I have learned from rediscovering these old newspapers is that people as they grow up have little to remind them of their childhood apart from photographs and memories. Memories are often sketchy in those early years as we get older, and for many of us, there are many unpleasant memories, like being scolded by a teacher who just wanted to be nasty to any defenseless kid, or being forced to learn what you were told to learn within a rigid education system instead of being taught how to learn what you wanted to learn for yourself at your own level and pace. One recommendation I would make to parents would be to encourage young children who like writing to write, and then to ensure that they preserve all these things. After almost 45 years have passed, they will be grateful for it.
I was not a good student of English within the formal educational establishment (I hated English lessons where we just read Shakespeare around the class). However, when it counted, such as when writing essays in high school and university (economics), I could write well. I gained much experience writing and editing magazines over the years. I have translated many a research paper from Chinese into publishable English. Now as I get my things at home in order, I want to move on, and focus more efforts on writing in Chinese, and eventually Japanese. There is no end to it. One day I want to do Ironman Japan and be able to speak Japanese well enough to converse with everyone there. If I get to that stage, I will smile a lot during the race. I will be happy in a way I never experienced before and I will finish before 10 pm.
I myself and many blogging friends and their friends in the US were hoping and in some ways expecting the US favorite, Bree Wee (ブリー・ウィー), to win the race. Bree has been improving by leaps and bounds in these last few years and has already had several impressive performances in just this past year. Bree beat Naomi by close to 15 minutes in the Hawai'i Ironman last year. By the way Bree has been improving, I don't think anyone who knew her had any doubt she would win. However, it did not quite work out that way, even though Bree went 9 hr 37 mins today compared to Naomi's 9 hrs 44 mins last year, when she won the ladies' race in Ironman, Japan. So what happened, and how did Naomi manage to storm to another victory in 9 hr 33 mins 59 secs? The answer is that I don't really know, and we will no doubt read the race reports tomorrow by the competitors themselves or other people.
Bree was leading on the bike after 50 kms, having benefited from a 5-minute plus lead on the swim over Naomi. However, Naomi's bike split was ten minutes faster than that of Bree, and Bree might have run about a minute faster than Naomi on the run. Naomi also "grazed her arm" falling off the bike early into her ride. While I think some of us would have thought that was it for Naomi, she seemed to catch fire and blazed the course. She must have been lucky only to suffer a "graze". The men's winner last year, Mr. Park, apparently had a much more serious injury early in the bike and was forced to withdraw from the race. Conditions were slippery in the hills.
I think the outcome of this Ironman Japan race today was that both ladies were true winners. Naomi held on up there in front, knowing that Bree would quickly take advantage of any weakness that she might reveal. Bree was less familiar with the course, and maybe lost some valuable minutes on the bike trying to play it safe rather than run the risk of a nasty crash. This was also Bree's first time racing in Japan, so it was all kind of a new experience. So all in all, it was a very close race. I hope both qualify for the Hawaii Ironman in Kona this October and we have the chance to see them battle it out again.
What I learned today is that it must be really great to go to different countries to race and meet the people in those countries. I would certainly like to try Ironman Japan some time, although the 15-hour time limit may prove quite a difficult challenge for me.
This morning, I still went swimming at the pool, and part of my swim was at the same time as Bree was in the water in Japan. I also swam the Ironman distance (2.4 miles, 3,860 meters) non-stop. Bree did it in 52:52, and I took about 1:16:00. Well, it was just a good feeling to think of her racing with the best while I was having a "normal" workout (I covered 4,500 meters in all today). Great race, Bree, and great race, Naomi. You are both a great inspiration to me.
Other reviews: Inside Triathlon (click here) and Ironman.com (click here). For results in Japanese (日本語) click here and in English click here.
(Photos of Bree courtesy of Ironman Japan)
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Notes on the two video clips: Top: Mostly rural scenery between the central and southern areas of Taiwan (fairly close to Chiayi). Bottom: Starting to enter Kaohsiung. Our home is only a few miles behind what you see in the middle of the picture. Still, it really isn't that bad where we live.
Well, we stayed at the old apartment near Taipei last night and now I know the difference between sleeping with an old-style air-conditioner (the big box variety) and the new modern ones that come in two parts, with the motor on the other side of the bedroom wall. Last night was a bit like sleeping on a plane on an overnight trip, whereas in our new home we cannot hear it at all.
This afternoon we were scheduled to have a meeting with some people in relation to our old apartment and so I just stayed indoors. I had to miss swimming, but that may be a good thing once in a while. After all, I have been getting a little tired recently, and missing a day like today makes my shoulder feel a lot better.
I will still go swimming Sunday morning, and since I will be swimming at the same time as Bree, maybe I should start by trying to swim 2.4 miles non-stop. I hope, however, to get home fairly quickly to try to find out how she is doing, and will follow the race at least on and off. I just hope that whatever happens she is safe out there and does her best.
I attach some more pictures from the train. It appears Taiwan is very flat. Well it is in these parts shown in the pictures. However, we did go through a lot of tunnels especially in the early part of the ride, and the visibility was not that good today, and so the mountains that run down the middle of the island that can sometimes be seen were barely visible if at all. It should also be noted that the northern part of Taiwan has a lot of buildings and built-up areas.
From the train I am facing mauka (i.e., the mountains for those haole guys). )I hope the photos help calm the nerves as we await reports on what is going on at Ironman Japan.
Pictures (from top to bottom): (1) Rice fields north-central Taiwan, (2) Part of Taichung metropolis in Central Taiwan, (3) Crops grown in central-southern Taiwan, many under green netting, (4) Fish farming, southern Taiwan, (5) Baseball stadium, southern Taiwan, (6) Factory near Tainan in southern Taiwan.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Today may be the last time we visit our old apartment in Taipei. I had the opportunity to take a picture of the neighbor's playful dog. There are a few things we will miss, but I will still be able to walk the hills occasionally without having a place here and it won't be like we will never visit this area again. However, I like our new place in Kaohsiung, so I don't have too many regrets.
This morning I had a normal swim, meaning about 4,000 meters non-stop to start off, and then 4 x 50m (slow then fast x 2), and then a race of 100m (1m 29s - it felt good). I lost by about 1 second and basically it was the turns where I lost ground but gained it on the straights. I finished with a 50m cool down. My shoulder feels a little sore, not from swimming so much, but lugging some baggage with me on this trip. That's how it is easy to get an injury, not by swimming itself but by doing something else when some rest would be better.
I attach a movie, too, from the bullet train taken at speeds somewhere around 290 kph. This is somewhere in the Miaoli/Hsinchu area, and I can actually see the sea from here in the distance. The mountains are behind me towards the middle of the island.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
With some big-time sports injuries in the news, such as Tiger's knee and the foot of Taiwan's best baseball player (he looks out of it for the rest of the season), as well as the frequent references to injuries and missed training and races in the blogs, the whole issue of injuries and training/racing has weighed quite heavily on my mind these days.
Based on my own experience, injuries can be the result of (1) accidents (like putting a foot in a rabbit scrape, or tripping and falling on lava rock when running), (2) ignorance (I did not warm up at all before running hard), (3) stupidity (I tried some heavy leg presses just after finishing a cross-country race), and (4) forced circumstances (I could not give up even though my knee really hurt - there was too much at stake).
Compared with a lot of other sports, triathlon should be fairly gentle on the body. We are not whacking tennis balls really fast, and cycling and running generally involve consistent and repetitive motions. Of course accidents can happen and we should do our best to avoid them (like carefully observing other traffic on the road).
On long races, if we are not well-trained we will get tired, and that may put added strain on various parts of our body. That is probably why I had to drop out of Ironman 2006. I was doing well on the bike, but I had not trained consistently. So around mile 95 I started feeling tired. That made my cycling action sloppy. One foot was hurting. I tried to compensate with the other leg and the result was that I compromised my knee. In swimming recently, it has not primarily been the distance swum each day, although that is certainly part of it. In my more tired and weakened states from the swimming, I have hurt myself playing around with dumbells or trying to park a fairly heavy box on a shelf higher than my head.
In recent weeks I have been troubled to varying degrees by my left shoulder as a result of swimming quite a lot. However, it has improved by my trying to concentrate on maintaining a smooth and well-coordinated stroke, and avoiding "silly" movements during the day, like lifting a weight at an awkward angle, or trying to swim fast without really warming up with a lot of slowish pace swimming.
Yesterday (Wednesday), I swam a total of 4,200 meters. The first three thousand was steady and almost non-stop swimming where I picked up the pace a bit shortly after the 2,000 mark (mainly because the person I was sharing the lane with at that time could swim reasonably fast and consistently, too). This was followed by some shorter distances, hand paddle practice and a 100m race at the end (1m 30s) which ended more or less in a tie.
The air-conditioner in my office. I usually do not switch on the AC during the daytime. However, the temperature has mostly been 32 degrees Celsius. I am glad we have nice quiet ACs in each of our bedrooms.
Today (Thursday), I swam 4,550 meters. The first 3,000 took me 59 minutes. Then I did fifties (one slow then one fast) and repeated this about 6 times. Then I worked with the hand paddles to focus on technique, and even succeeded in doing flip turns with them on, not very well but I am slowly getting there. We more or less ended with a 100m race (1m 30s as yesterday) in which I was two seconds short of winning.
Anyway, we would probably do well to learn as much about injury prevention when we are healthy in order to avoid unnecessary "down" time.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I participated in my first Ironman in Kona, Hawaii in 2004, nearly four years after I took up the sport as it were. Initially I only did the small and free races (Peaman, Mango, etc.) and my first bike cost me about $6 (an amalgamation of different pieces of junk). I was a volunteer in Hawaii who could not work there and so I started really small. The first time I paid any money on a regular basis was when I joined the local Masters swim workouts. I learned a lot from that, especially from the 101 classes with Steve. In late 2003 I at last bought a second-hand Kestrel, which in spite of being ideal for someone about 6 inches shorter than me, at least looked sufficiently good to get me through the cycle check-in at any "proper" race (i.e., the ones that everyone did, in spite of the relatively high entry fees).
I qualified for the Ironman by racing at the Olympic distance (the first Honu race). Had it not been for the shorter distance (I was relatively fast at shorter races), I would not have qualified. There were several other contenders for slots who were much better over longer distances like a half Ironman.
I had hoped to finish in 15 hours, and I still thought I would after I finished a hard and windy bike ride and my feet hurt so bad I had to sit down in the changing rooms for at least ten minutes. So I only started the run at almost 5 pm, but I thought I could make it in about 5 hours or so. However, after about 5 miles, which I largely walked, my stomach hurt quite badly and I told my family when passing by that "it would be difficult". I struggled and become more and more devoid of any kind of energy. Many chicken soups around miles 8 to 10 (around Palani going up) probably helped. I walked and plodded on in the dark. I entered the Energy Lab at about 9 pm, just as Harry was coming out. He was worried for me, although he still thought I had a chance. I knew I had a chance, but I had to try really hard to go faster than walking pace. Leaving the Energy Lab at 10 pm, I still had 7 miles or more. I ran fairly consistently down to the Costco turnoff (Hina Lani), as I had no choice otherwise. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I made it to Ross at the top of Palani (at about 11:23 or so). Now I felt I should be able to make it, and eventually I did, but with only 17 minutes to spare.
When I reached the chute, I did not have a set of acrobatic leaps planned. In fact, I was concerned I might just collapse from exhaustion and get all dizzy from looking around at everyone. I also felt a little ashamed, since I was one of the last to finish (maybe only a dozen more after me). Surely I could have done better than that. However, here I was, momentarily making contact with the crowds, but knowing that I still had more to do - to get to the medical tent alive.
It is hard to know how to feel when you seem completely out of your depth. I had had a lot of successful little races, but I had never put myself through something like this. For some it had seemed so easy, yet for me so difficult, yet I did it. At the awards dinner the next day, I truly understood the meaning of "Anything is Possible."
Now I wonder what is the next challenge that lies ahead.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
Sunday, June 15, 2008
As usual early Sunday mornings, I went to the pool and swam a total of 3,750 meters (for a total of 23,800 meters for this week). I noticed both today and yesterday that while I generally swam fairly slowly and intended to do something fast at the end, my arms felt like toast when it came to trying to go quickly shortly before exiting the water. Well, perhaps I did push fairly hard earlier on in the swim workouts. However, I feel I need to do something to move up to the next level. Maybe I need to eat more. It seems I am just slacking off a little in terms of getting the kind of nourishment I need.
In recent days and weeks, blogging has also used up quite a lot of my time. Not that that is bad, as it really does help me keep in touch with certain friends and to some extent with the outside world. However, maybe I can be a little more disciplined in the amount of time I spend working on my own entries and also "surfing" through other people's blogs.
At the moment I seem to be a little behind on things, like getting various jobs done such as tidying up my office. I feel quite sleepy a lot of the time. No doubt a long swim workout and constant rain have a lot to do with it. Tomorrow is my day off, as far as training is concerned. However, I will need to use the extra time to try to catch up on my work. Other than that, there is not much to write about today, which is probably a good thing.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
While attending the ECCT dinner in Taipei on Thursday, I was informed by an old English friend Mike I met there that a mutual friend had passed away a few weeks ago, and that a run would be held to celebrate his life on Yangmingshan in Taipei today. While to make a trip to Taipei for this would have been quite difficult for me, I dedicated this morning's swim training to him, all 6,400 meters of it, and, based on the various bits of information I have managed to gather on him so far, I have decided to collect my thoughts together and devote today's posting to him.
I had known Duncan, who was affectionately nicknamed "Bush Baby", possibly because of his bushy eyebrows (?), on and off over the last 15 years or more. During the few years while I was at ECCT, I attended over 50 but less than 100 hash runs, which usually lasted about 2 hours each, sometimes more, and covered all kinds of terrain, from thick jungle, to crawling on hands and knees through mud and wading knee-deep across flowing streams. There were really long staircases that we used to climb, often leading up to temples, and a typical run would include several steep ascents and descents. Duncan, as far as I know, regularly attended the Hash these last 15 years, and was very much liked, by both the expatriate community and the Chinese.
I saw him for the last time last summer. I was participating in my first and only Taipei Hash run in the last five years. Arriving late at the venue some 15 minutes after the start, I decided to run hard, thinking that I could catch up some of the slower people. That I did pretty quickly, and with the benefit of several years of triathlon in Hawai'i, I gradually passed more and more people. The course that day was quite tough, with a lot of steep climbs. Some two-thirds of the way into the run, I came across Duncan, completely unaware that a few years previously he was given only months to live and had undergone some horrifying surgery. Later I saw him finish the run, and while he may have opted for the shorter course, he probably covered about three-fourths of the distance that I did, probably taking over two and a half hours in the process. Apart from noticing that he looked thinner than before and greyer (not that I hadn't aged, either), I just wasn't aware of anything, until I met Mike the other evening. There were a lot of people at that run that day, and I did not get to talk to him, something I will always regret. I still remember some of the things he said and his humor in the past.
After looking at the Hash website, I found that the following entry had appeared in January 2005: "今天的兔子Bush Baby（本名Duncan Robinson），英國人，年齡不詳，是今年度的副會長，來台多年，已然成為一個 “台灣通”，普通話也能說上幾句，參加台北捷兔大約10年有餘，是個開朗、親切的老兔友，在筆者的印象中，他亦屬於勇腳的兔友，... " This was part of a report on a Hash run at which Duncan had been the hare (the one who plans the course and sets the trail and who normally has to run pretty fast not to get caught). He was described as an Englishman (which of course we all knew), who was very familiar with Taiwan and the way of life here, who spoke a smattering of Chinese, and had been a hasher for at least ten years. He was described as being an optimistic and cheerful and friendly person (with all of which I fully agree), and also a very brave person. The writer then went on to say how in early 2004 he started to feel discomfort, which led to hospitalization and surgery. Many of his fellow hashers rallied round him at this difficult time, and despite the seriousness of his illness, he became well enough to leave the hospital and join his friends at their running events at least for a few more years.
A fellow Chinese hasher, whom we all know as Bamboo (魏志華), and who once rescued me on a hash run in 1993 after I got stuck in the woods for several hours after dark with a badly-hurt knee, posted a eulogy on the Taipei Hash House Harriers Website, that he entitled: "永遠的兔崽子--悼好友Bush Baby (Duncan Robinson 羅秉信)". While the full (Chinese) version plus several photos of Duncan in these last few years can be found on the website (by clicking here and scrolling down a little), I would like to attach two or more of Bamboo's paragraphs here as follows:
我們的好友,勇敢的Bush Baby,你終究還是不敵病魔的摧殘,於 2008年5月12日上午離開了我們,距你生日--1940年5月13日,享年67年又365天,沒錯!是365天,距你第一次開刀住院—2004年5月14日,差兩天四年;你,Bush Baby,天性樂觀開朗,幽默風趣,從來就沒有與病魔妥協過,甚至多次拒絕死神的召喚,與它們奮戰到最後一刻,大大的震撼了榮總的醫療團隊,你,雖敗猶榮。
你的好友 BAMBOO 悼記
A cherry orchard along the same road on Yangmingshan where Duncan's ashes are now interred (courtesy of whoever took the picture)
One thing I admire about the Chinese is that they are very good at expressing their feelings in regard to a lost friend in writing. In a sense, while I share similar emotions, I somehow cannot express them in words. Bamboo said that Duncan Robinson died the day prior to his 68th birthday (I never realized he was that old, and he certainly did not look it). Bamboo described him as a born optimist, a humorous person, someone who had lived in Taiwan for thirty or more years. At first when Bamboo received a call from Duncan in early 2004 from the hospital, he did not understand the seriousness of the illness. Then he found out that Duncan had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and that the cancer had spread to surrounding organs. The prognosis was not good, probably six months to at most ten months of life. A highly-skilled team of doctors removed his pancreas, spleen, gall bladder and part of his stomach. From then on, Duncan required constant treatment and medication, but in spite of it all, he continued to smile and be courageous and was able to get back into running. While the inevitable day still came, it came almost four years later than the doctors predicted.
I was only active in the Hash for three possibly four years and I had my moment, too, after I was diagnosed with an illness in the mid-1990s. I remember trying to explain to a few of my friends (also Duncan's friends) my predicament one day when I showed up for the Hash in a somewhat weakened state. Still, no one really knows the future, and things did not turn out for me quite the way I expected. However, as I grow older, I know that when something affects someone I have known, even though I may not have been very close to him or her, it also has a tendency to affect me. To quote the famous words of John Donne (1572-1631): "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."
Today it has been raining really hard in Kaohsiung. I guess in Taipei the weather is unlikely to be better. Through it all, it is as if I can hear the tolling sound of the bell. Today is a really sad day for the hashing community and the countless people who knew Duncan. There will, however, be sunshine again, and we will be reminded of Duncan's smile, his optimism, and his bravery in adversity. In the meantime, I join my former fellow hashers in remembering Duncan, and may his wife, his daughters and other close family be especially comforted at this time.
This is a long post, and may not be for you, but I trust some who knew Duncan will read it. Comments are welcome, in English and in Chinese.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I worked with ECCT for four years until the summer of 1993 and I still consider those years to be the most fulfilling years of my working life, although they were also probably quite stressful, to a large extent because of my own choosing. I had so many opportunities to use and sharpen skills that I previously had (particularly writing and administrative skills) and I really enjoyed the work and the many great activities that the ECCT organized, with the result that I became a very busy person. I did not see a lot of our two small children in those days. I was beginning to feel a bit torn in two directions. I really wanted to focus wholeheartedly on my job, but I knew I needed to do more with the family, especially as the boys would soon be starting school. I was starting to reach a crossroads in my life and my wife started to talk about attending a three-month course in Hawai'i so we could do something as a family together. Well, Hawai'i did have a big influence on me and on our family life in general, but it also meant that I eventually had to part ways with ECCT, which was a bitterly disappointing experience. However, maybe the timing was right, since about one year later I started to become quite ill and was diagnosed with something quite serious, for which I decided to return to the UK for several weeks of treatment. The job with ECCT was not really something someone else could cover for, at least the way I worked. You had to be there, or a lot of things would not get done. Besides, the organization was growing rapidly. In my time, we managed with a full-time staff of three. Today, there are more than a dozen full-time staff. Often the job grows with the organization as it expands and its vision is enlarged, but we cannot necessarily grow with the job. We are actually constantly recreating and redefining our job, but the needs of the organization also have their ways of defining what a job should consist of.
This is a picture of the "old" Bruce (or is it the "new" Bruce?) surrounded by the very friendly ECCT members I was with for the meal yesterday evening. This is how I dressed when I worked at ECCT in the past. It is not how I ever dressed in Hawai'i, or in Kaohsiung, except for my engagement ceremony a long, long time ago.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
These pictures and the movie are all from the butterfly garden.