Monday, June 30, 2008

I've Been Tagged

For those who have many swimsuits and other triathlon equipment that constantly needs washing and drying, it is best to have a nice big lanai on the top (5th) floor of the house. Here there is a good breeze plus running water and a washing machine and everything can be attached to hangers and hoisted up so that they are well out of everyone's way. Shoes can be left here to dry (if wet), otherwise the garage downstairs will do.

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
Potatoes
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):
Surrey, England
Norwich, England
Taipei, Taiwan
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Kaohsiung, Taiwan

5 jobs I have had:
Golf caddie
Accountant
Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager
Economics editor and translator/interpreter (Chinese)
Bible school teaching staff

There is no time like the present!

How I spent the "Off-Day"

What I see every day here - at least I feel at home, and am glad I live and train here.
Monday is a kind of rest day for me from training as the pool is shut, and I need at least one day's rest. So how did I spend it? It is not the most exciting of days, and for brief moments of time I felt extremely isolated and depressed as many of my friends were racing over in Kona or even Florida (at least yesterday, or today depending on how you define time).

I mainly set myself a goal of doing some work, today, since I am less likely to spend half the day asleep, and I can get off to an earlier start. So after checking the blogs and listening to some music, I got started on my work. It was a fairly tedious job today. However, that aids my ability to focus, as if you can focus on something you don't really want to do, it will be much easier to do something you enjoy. Around 11 am, I biked to the nearby market to get some meat, fruit and vegetables (to make sure there are sufficient supplies in the house for my several-times-a-day feedings), and since it was almost lunch time when I got back, I quickly prepared something and left it in the microwave oven. A few minutes to lie down on the bed while I waited, and then a little more preparation before sitting down to my main feeding of the middle of the day.

Since I ate a little more than I would have been most comfortable with, I went back to my bed and, with Japanese dictionary in hand, read a few sentences that I had printed off my friend's blog. It is so nice to read the sentence directly in the Japanese. I can really feel what the writer was trying to convey. Finally, after some stretching (the easy kind on a 7ft bed) and a short rest, I returned to my office upstairs, and although I was a bit mesmerized by the Japanese music I was listening to, I eventually got back into my work. A snack around 5 pm had me downstairs again, but I now had to make a good effort to get the work I had elected to do today finished. I eventually only finished it around 9 pm, at which point I made more food. My feeding times are often quite boring, and the food is bland. Sometimes my wife cooks, but a lot of the meals I prepare myself, since even if it is only potatoes, onions and cheese, at least it is getting into my system, and getting me ready for the next day's training.

By the time I had cleared up and got back upstairs, it was about 10 pm. At this point I attend to my blogging, and try not to stay up beyond 11 pm, otherwise I will be more tired tomorrow. I wasn't alone at home. I did spend some time interacting with both my wife and our boys, but perhaps not a lot of time. I also read or listened to some discussions on economics (my major) on the Internet for about 20 minutes today, and read a little sports news and did a little of my own bookkeeping.

The main thing to look forward to at the moment is sleep and how I interact with the water at the pool tomorrow. I want to try to pick up the pace slightly on those longish swims. Ultimately, how far I swim is not too important, but getting a bit faster is.
Finally, congratulations to my friends who participated in the various running events at the Kona Marathon weekend. I wish I had been there.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Easy Swim: 29,100 Meters for the Week

Today I swam shorter and relatively easy, although I did speed up towards the end. First, I swam 3,600 meters non-stop in 1 hr 30 minutes, and then after some minutes in the jacuzzi and a slow warm-up, I raced my friend over 100 meters. Although I thought I should do fairly well, at the first turn he was already a good second ahead. He pulled further and further away on the last 25 meters. When we looked at the times, he went 1m 22s to my 1m 26s, so although I lost, I still beat my recent record, and it was probably my PR for 100 in SCM. After about a minute, I raced my friend's friend over 50 meters. I lost that, too, but I got the satisfaction of doing it in 39 seconds. So, I am still slowly improving. It makes me tired, and I can hardly think as I write this, and so today I'll keep it short. My total distance swimming today was 3,950 meters, and my total for this last week (six consecutive days) was 29,100 meters. Today is my day off. When I wake up, the Kona Marathon will be over for most.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Kitaro (喜多郎) - The Silk Road (絲綢之路)

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

Swimming Still Improving

Today I think I felt the effects of swimming the past three days and I was slightly slower or at least I found it harder to maintain the pace of the other days. I took just over 1hr 31 minutes to swim 4,550 meters, and then I rested for a few minutes before warming up for the "race" against my friend. He very quickly gained a small lead over me which he extended particularly over the last 25m. In the end he went about 1m 24s to my 1m 27.5s. Considering I felt a bit tired, I was quite pleased with my result. The turns were better, although I still need to streamline them more. With the long swims I am not getting very anaerobic, meaning that I recover relatively quickly after these short swims. Obviously I need a bit more speed work if I am to lower my times on these sprints.

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

The Person I Made Myself to Be

As I further sorted through photos today, I found a few of myself taken when I was in my twenties, and while there is not much else to remind me of those years, I think this picture speaks volumes, perhaps more than the books on the shelves behind me. This was taken while I was at living at my parents' home during my final few months of staying in the U.K. before I moved back to Taiwan more or less permanently.
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

Small Swimming Improvement Today

Today was not particularly eventful. I was a bit tired and woke up slightly later than usual. However, by hurrying up I got into the water by 6:27 am, and swam 4,000 meters in 1 hr 19 mins. Then I rested and chatted with my friend for a few minutes before the two of us raced over 100 meters. While my stroke had felt fairly good on the slower long distance swimming, on this short distance, I did not feel that up to it, and my flip turns were a little awkward, meaning that each time we turned my friend gained some ground. However, I went 1 min 27 secs to his 1 min 25 secs, which shows I improved slightly compared to recent swims when I could not really do better than 1 min 29 secs. So the small improvements are coming. All in all, I swam 4,250 meters today. Not bad since I had at the most 1 hr 30 mins in which to swim. There were also a few less people at the pool today. It rained fairly hard parts of last night, due to a nearby typhoon, which is enough to discourage quite a lot of the morning swimmers from coming.This month I have tended to be a little less disciplined with my work, have had a few distractions like trips up to Taipei, and have also got a little carried away with blogging. However, I think I am still processing quite a few things and so putting some things down in writing is quite good. I can't just be a machine all day long. My study room/office is still quite a mess, but I am gradually sorting and packing and arranging various things, and so eventually it will look nice.

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

おもひでぽろぽろ Only Yesterday

My title today is that of one of my favorite anime movies by Hayao Miyazaki (おもひでぽろぽろ or "Only Yesterday" in English). More information in English about such movies can be found by clicking here. I realize that these movies are probably designed for a much younger audience, but besides being relatively easy to follow, they have been very helpful to me in learning more about the Japanese way of life and hearing the language spoken naturally (as opposed to what one hears on language tapes).
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

Preserving One's Childhood in Writing

Things I wrote or drew in 1964, and a school photo taken around that time. I had forgotten about drawing the butterflies until I found them today. (Click on picture to enlarge)

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.

今泉奈緒美!女子2連覇

Naomi Imaizumi (今泉奈緒美) wins Ironman Japan for the second consecutive time! Well, today many people in the triathlon world were following the events in Goto, Nagasaki, Japan, as several top contenders battled it out for a place on the podium and also a coveted slot for the Ironman World Championships to be held in Kona, Hawai'i in October.
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.

今泉奈緒美!女子2連覇
今泉選手が、リードを保ち女子優勝。そしてアイアンマン・ジャパン 2連覇を達成しました!おめでとう!(9:33:59)
ハワイ在住 ブリー・ウィー ( Bree Wee) (USA) が女子2位となりました!(9:37:12)
3
位はオーストラリアのサラ・ポレット (Sarah Pollett) (AUS) 9:54:30
オメデトウ!

It was really hard for me to decide who I wanted to win, not that my thoughts on the matter would have influenced the outcome. Since Bree is a personal friend, I really wanted her to win. However, I wanted her to actually have a race, and not more or less be handed the victory due to the other people not being good enough or else suffering misfortune. Since I have lived in Asia for much of my life, I have really wanted to see the Asian excelling in sports, especially in those sports like triathlon which tend to be dominated by Caucasians. For me it a real joy when a Korean wins at golf, or a Japanese wins a marathon, or a Taiwanese wins at something else.
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

Trip Back to Kaohsiung


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

Trip to Taipei

My wife and I took the bullet train back to Taipei today. I actually did a race today - that of catching the bullet train. We arrived at the station just over five minutes before the train we wanted to get was about to depart. At the ticket counter there were some 20 people lined up. I knew we couldn't make it. So I asked my wife to take my place in the line and I ran to the special counter for pregnant women and other people with special needs. Since there was no one waiting there and being a foreigner, they served me right away. I then shouted "Run!" to Hsiu-chin and we ran as hard as we (or rather she) could, including a long downward staircase for her in shoes with heels. We jumped on the train and within 30 seconds it departed. It certainly got the adrenalin flowing. I guess we could have taken the next one and still got what we had to do in Taipei this afternoon done, but I don't like to miss a train if I think I can still catch it.

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

Trying to Stay Injury Free

Today our older son made his own lunch. He has always had a knack for preparing Chinese or Japanese food.

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

Reflections on My First Ironman


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

Clear Skies Again!

View from the lanai (陽台) behind my home office.
While we did have a heavy shower of rain today, at least it was generally a nice day with clear skies and slightly lower temperatures for this time of year.
This morning I went to swim as usual, and got in a workout of 4,300 meters, which included a little speed work, as I am trying to get a little faster on the shorter distances. My shoulder was a little sore from trying to go fast, so I will be a little more careful tomorrow. Meanwhile, I mainly just tried to get on with my work today, although the swimming did make me a little tired (so I needed a rest after lunch), and also a little hungry. I guess I am still not eating enough, as I have felt hungry several times today. It is not that I am constantly craving food. I tend to eat very boring food, but it is when I eat boring things like boiled potatoes that I tend to feel more full. A nice looking and tasty meal often leaves me hungry a couple of hours later. I certainly cannot expect to do some longish swims unless I can get in the habit of eating more. I don't know why it is hard, but it is maybe because I just don't really have the time to go all the way downstairs to prepare and eat something.

The heavy rains caused some flooding in parts of the city, but fortunately we never seemed to be threatened where we are here. Some of our stuff is a little damp, though, because the wind blew a lot of moisture in through the open windows.

Well, it's just a short post today, and probably I'll do the same tomorrow.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Picture is a Thousand Words

Today, so far, I have managed to get on with my work fairly well. No swimming today as Mondays the pool is closed. It has been raining hard, too, so I did not even go out to mail something at the post office.

Our sons have recently found some of the photos of themselves in their pre-school years, and have been looking at them and laughing about how they looked then. I also found one of myself, taken before they were born and before I was married (though my wife and I were already friends and she came to see me dressed in this garb).

It all started when one of the (Chinese) language schools I was attending told us about preparing some skits/acting for an evening's performance. I played a character from the Ming dynasty, and I had to sing in the Taiwanese dialect to a nice looking American woman who sang back to me and played the role of a lover. My Taiwanese (dialect of Chinese) was very limited at that time, and so I had to rely very much on memory. When it came to the performance, I got the fright of my life as I got on stage and the curtains opened. The whole theater was completely packed with people and the TV cameras were all pointed at us. I froze about half way through for what seemed like an eternity as I forgot my lines. Anyway, I resumed, and I don't think people were anywhere as concerned as I was. They all had a good laugh. The character I was playing (Wu San Kuei) was a short guy, and it must have been funny for the Chinese audience to see someone who looked more like John Cleese than a Chinese official.

All this happened a long time ago, and I think everyone has forgotten about it. My picture can be seen on the Internet though, by clicking here (upside down for some reason!). A long time ago I edited a book for a publishing company and they decided to use this picture on the cover. This is the kind of thing that would never had happened to me if I had just lived in the UK for the whole of my life, and most likely not in the US, either.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Swimming and More Rain

The following picture which I found on the Internet was taken along the east coast of Taiwan between Hualien and Taitung. It looks inviting, but if the beach is more or less deserted, it could be dangerous going in alone. However, it is possible to cycle along this coastline in Eastern Taiwan and constantly see views like this.

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

In Memoriam - "Bush Baby" Duncan Robinson

The following announcement appears on the Taipei Hash House Harriers Website today: "On Saturday, June 14th, 2008, the Taipei Hash will host a special run to remember, and celebrate, the life of Bush Baby (Duncan). Duncan was a long time hasher and former Grand Master of the Taipei Hash who passed away recently. The Bush Baby Memorial Run is open to all who wish to attend. It will take place in Yangmingshan, from the temple in Yung Gong Road, where Bush Baby’s ashes are interred."

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。

2004年春某天,已忘記與你相約何事,即近,突然接到你來電說要去醫院,要另約時間,問你何事,你說這幾天皮膚突然變黃,要檢查看看有何問題,當時還跟你開玩笑說來台已三十幾年,皮膚早就該變黃云云;未料數日後得知結果竟是胰臟癌已大到堵住你的胆管,阻礙了胆汁流入膽囊,皮膚變黃乃黃疸也。此消息有如晴天霹靂,我感覺我們就好像要失去你這個朋友了;因為根據各種資訊,胰臟癌的存活時間大約半年左右;但多虧我們在榮總的眾醫師兔友們幫你找了一個全國首屈一指的胰臟癌專家蘇主任幫你進行手術,雖然手術相當成功,但他也告訴我們最多十個月;從此你的肚子裏也少了胰、脾、胆以及部份的胃。

你雖然離開了,但你的精神將與我們同在,捷兔將以你為榮,Bush Baby,你是永遠的兔崽子。
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

ECCT 20th Anniversary Dinner

Dr. Ma Ying-Jeou, President of the Republic of China, addresses the 2008 Europe Day dinner in celebration of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei's 20th anniversary. (For more on President Ma's address and the other speeches, click here and scroll down)




In yesterday's posting I referred to a "mystery dinner" I was going to attend in Taipei, and now I have returned home to Kaohsiung where I am eager to explain a little of its significance to me. The European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT), an organization that represents European business interests in Taiwan, was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I was very lucky to receive an invitation to it. I really want to thank Guy who invited me. It was a very kind gesture. In our fast-paced world, it is easy to be forgotten - but I wasn't.

Security was tight, for obvious reasons.

My involvement with ECCT dates back to 1988, the year in which their office had just been set up after a year or two of planning by the European businessmen who spearheaded the whole thing, many of whom became my close friends as we worked really hard together to advance the newly-found Chamber's interests. At first I just helped write feature articles for the new bi-monthly magazine "Euroview" that they were launching. I was working at the time for a (Taiwan) government-funded economics research institute where I was able to combine my previous interests in economics (my major in university) with my near fluency in Chinese. However, I was young and ambitious and wanted a challenge. ECCT certainly appeared to be able to provide that, and in 1989 I was offered a full-time position.

"European integration" was a buzzword at that time, and to me this meant that Europeans would do a lot more things together. While some European countries, most notably my own, had certain reservations (like we still use pounds sterling in the UK, while several of our neighbors just use the Euro), for me personally I was very excited about being a pan-European. You see, while I grew up in the UK and was in many respects like any other British person, my mother grew up in Belgium, and her mother grew up in Switzerland but later lived in Belgium. My grandmother spoke four European languages fluently, but that is not surprising given where she was raised and lived. So there was something in me that really wanted to see integration among Europeans.

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.

In the 20 years or so since I first met President Ma, I have always known him to be a keen and disciplined runner. In recent years, he has become an accomplished swimmer and biker. I don't know if he has ever done a full-length Ironman. He certainly has the capability, but whether or not his entourage can keep up with him is another story. Maybe we can ask him to build more bike lanes like they have on the Queen K. highway (in Hawai'i where the Ironman is held)!


As I look back over the years, it was never the office staff who did everything, for so many of the ECCT members were volunteering their expertise in different areas, whether in their own business field such as banking, or in organizing a dinner like yesterday's with 700 people attending. Years ago a group of us spent many weeks planning an event for 300 people, so I have a good idea of the huge amount of work that went into yesterday's huge and very successful event. Great job!

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.


So I took the bullet train to Taipei yesterday afternoon, changed into my business suit in the Taipei 101 (world's tallest building?) opposite the hotel where the event was held, met relatively few people I had known many years back (the expatriate community tends to change pretty rapidly), enjoyed listening to and watching the presentations so I could catch up with where things are at now, and after a drink or two and some very cordial conversations, made my way back to the station and caught an overnight bus back home. It was an unforgettable experience, and will certainly help me refocus my current goals and aspirations. Twenty years has passed since I was asked to write a feature article for the inaugural issue of the Chamber's magazine. The ECCT continues to grow by leaps and bounds and because of the increasingly strong business links with Europe, I believe a bright and prosperous future awaits Taiwan which, for all intents and purposes, is my adopted home. Thank you ECCT!
Photo of our table (taken with a different camera!)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Steady Swim and Mystery Trip Coming Up

More water lilies! Still the lake looked beautiful as I rode home after swimming this morning. The sun was shining brightly just after a thundershower.
This morning I was awakened by the sound of heavy rain somewhere around 4:30 am. I continued to rest, but managed to get up a little earlier and (after a dry bike ride) start swimming at 6:05 am. I did not swim fast today, but my stroke felt smooth, and I barely paused during the first 4,000m. I tried to focus on my shoulder rotation. Being tall, sometimes I think I am turning my shoulders when I am just turning my head. So I focused on longish and more fullish strokes. Near the end, I did 5 x 100m on 2 mins, and finished each one in about 1m 45s. Nothing special. Still, my former coach Steve sometimes used to reprimand me during Masters' workouts for looking at my watch. I guess that time does not always matter. I was swimming smoothly, feeling like a well-oiled machine. With a bit of tapering, and something to fire me up, I think I can surprise myself. Only there is not a lot to fire me up here. After August when I can once again go to the US, the temptation may get very great just to fly over and see whether I am really any better or not. Or else the trip might be too emotional for me, so maybe better just to stay here. I finished the practice this morning with a 100m race (1m 31s), not fast, but I had the faster guy a little worried since I was leading at the first turn. Still I found it hard to generate the speed to push hard. If we had raced 200m it would probably have been a different story. Today my total distance was 4,850 meters.

This afternoon I need to take the fast train up to Taipei for a mystery dinner. I'll explain what happened tomorrow. It has something to do with what I used to do before we first went to Hawaii. I will probably see a few people I knew then. I hope I don't do any awkward movements while wearing the jacket. Swimming has made me feel I could rip metal chains apart! Still I look forward to describing the trip tomorrow. Now I need to concentrate on actually getting up there. Nostalgia - something that increases with age, I guess.

Swimming and Seeing the Butterflies

What better way to end a swim practice than to stop by the butterfly garden on the way home. Swimming was the kind of routine thing I expected today. A total of 4,300 meters, a fairly easy pace, not really getting the heart rate going. I think I was a little tired today, and I was also concerned about my shoulder, maybe more of an imagined concern than a real one, but nevertheless I tried not to do anything silly. The 100m race at the end was a bit flat, too, around 1m 32s, and I just held off one of the two other guys for second place.

So as I biked past the Golden Lion Lake to go to the open-air market on my way home, I stopped by the butterfly garden. This is very well tended and few people go there, except perhaps at weekends. Maybe people don't think a lot about butterflies. Certainly, as a child I would see a few in the fairly large garden behind our home. However, Taiwan has close to 400 different species, some 40 of which are only found on this island. Reports say the butterfly population is declining and many varieties are threatened with extinction. This is all in the name of progress, technological progress, as people become more engrossed in increasingly sophisticated manufactured gadgetry. If you want to see beauty, though, it is hard to find something which compares with a butterfly.

Watching butteflies helps me relax, and helps me release some of the stresses I face every day. The butterflies always seem to be very busy. For them life is short, but besides helping pollinate flowers and plants, they seem to enjoy flying about together in groups as well as alone. They have compound eyes, often with as many as 6,000 lenses. They don't grow in size. When they emerge from the chrysalis, they are as large as they will get. Creating butterfly gardens like the one that I can visit near my home is one way of helping to ensure that they remain with mankind for many more generations.

These pictures and the movie are all from the butterfly garden.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Routine Uneventful Training

A shaded part of a cycle path along the Love River in the city of Kaohsiung.

The title I have chosen today sounds a little like my swim training today was pretty boring. Well, it was routine - as usual I got up about 5:30 am and managed to start swimming by 6:10 am. At least I was down there actually doing it. It was uneventful. I did not break any of my records or impress anyone. I generally took the same number of strokes each length (16 usually), and when I did flip-turns, they were so-so, at least I got a good push off the wall on most of them. It can be a little intimidating for someone my height in water barely 4-ft deep. Training: well, it was training, even though the first 3,000 was pretty slow (partly because I felt sluggish and due to lane traffic which made passing difficult much of the time). Still, I got 4,500 meters in today which included several easy 100s on my own and a 100m race near the end (but only about 1m 31s for that). Yesterday evening at home I played around with a pair of 20 lb dumbells which I think made me feel a little lethargic. I was also concerned I might be taking chances with my shoulders, which had been a little painful last week. So I'll just stick to swimming for now, and try to avoid any clunky kinds of movements. Nevertheless, the fact that I actually played with the weights means that I feel a lot better than I did last week or the week before.

A friend in Kona used to say to me that running, even if slow, was like putting money in the bank, and that you did not have to go out and do something spectacular each time. Well, it seems that with all this swimming I have not improved these last few weeks. Anyway, I'll just keep pressing on and see what happens. In any case, I tried on my suit jacket today and I almost feel I am wearing a straightjacket, so the swimming may be having some effect on me after all.

View of Love River with Mount Gu in the background. The cycle path continues along the river.
Today I also had to go with my wife and one son across town to deal with some stuff in a government office. While it was pretty routine, just actually going and coming back resulted in my having a good rest at home this afternoon. At home when tired I usually take some reading work with me to the bedroom where I can lie down and work, and when the mind drifts too much, then I can put the work down and have a good sleep. At night, I don't usually get enough hours of sleep, so being close to the bedroom in the afternoon is particularly important to me. Perhaps for every hour I swim each day, I need an extra hour of sleep. So that translates into quite a few $$$, but maybe the medical bills will be a lot less in the long run.
Tomorrow will soon come, and hopefully the same routine in the morning!