Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Not one to do things by halves

Kuching roundup
Two 5.30 am runs with Min last week; laksa breakfast with Mas and Jun to hear about Jun's involvement in World Kindness Day; dinner with Emily; and a farewell dinner with the Damai Run crew (the Wees, Shein and Peter, Ivy and Swee, and their boys Nick and Keiren) and Belinda (Eng Hooi was in Sibu with the athletics team he coaches). We're planning to go to Myanmar for the water festival next year, as Shein is Burmese.

Bali half marathon: #4 for 2012
The Wees and I have decided that if anyone asks why I'm introduced as "family", when they are Malaysian Chinese and I'm Caucasian, we'll just explain that I'm adopted...

This weekend Min, Sam, Sara and Sean Wee and I ran our second race outside of Sarawak. (The first was a half marathon and 10K in Kuala Lumpur last month.) We flew together to Bali last Friday, and were met at the airport by Gede, whom JB and I got to know when I was last in Bali in December 2010. We picked up our race packs in Sanur before heading for the hills and Ubud.


Sam, typically, chose a special place for us to stay that does good in the world. I've never met anyone who is as unselfconsciously kind and good as she is. Plus she has a wicked sense of humour :-)) Suly Resort and Spa, on the outskirts of Ubud, is associated with a school for disadvantaged kids/hospitality training centre and a meditation retreat. It worked for us for our four nights' stay.

My room (top left); Min and Sam's (top right) 

Gede didn't bat an eyelid when we asked him to pick us up at 3.30 am on Sunday to drive to the start of the half marathon near Gianyar. He has been great company for all of us during our stay. He, too, shares his good fortune with those who are less fortunate.

The start of the half marathon was well-timed at 5.30, as it was damned hot by 7 am. The best part of the course was the small villages we ran through, where the roadsides were lined with young kids dressed in traditional costumes or crisp school uniforms, waving flags or noise-makers, and cheering us through the corridors of outstretched hands. Sometimes there was a gamelan orchestra playing in a roadside temple, or a barong dancer. It was really uplifting and I had tears in my eyes a couple of times.

We Wees

The half marathon course shared some of the marathon course, so that we were twice lapped by the front runners, all Kenyans. The third marathon runner snatched my water bottle from my right hand as he ran past me, which some boys sitting by the roadside thought was hilarious. There weren't any water stations for a long distance in the middle of the course and he obviously was feeling the need to get some fluids. I had time to duck into a warung and buy a replacement, which was a luxury the elite athletes didn't have!

We all finished around our expected times, though Min was really pleased to do his best time so far in a half.

Yesterday afternoon we caught up with Cat Wheeler, whose book has been reissued as "Bali Daze". It's a terrific read. She autographed the Wees' copy, and they got to meet the animals she writes about.

At Batubulan we watched a kecak and fire dance performance. Love the chanting by mostly old guys from the village; very hypnotic, which is why it culminates in one guy walking through and squatting in a pyre of burning coconut husks and emerging unscathed apart from blackened and smoking feet.

Dinner afterwards at an open food market where Sam doled out extra servings for the kids hanging around and wanting money handouts.

We ate at Clear on Jl Hanoman, Cafe Wayan on Monkey Forest Road, Cafe Havana on Dewi Sita (where Karma and the other staff do fabulous salsa dancing) as well as some places Gede knew of that do local specialties.

After a farewell breakfast this morning I've been tidying up some work loose ends before I fly tonight to New Zealand via Brisbane. The Wees and I are meeting next in Italy, in September, for the Bologne half marathon!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Way to go...

The street where I live when in Kuching. It hasn't changed much.

There has been both very good and very bad news in recent weeks. My friend Sue Falkingham, whom I've known since the late 1980s when we both lived in Hong Kong and who moved on to Portugal, Belize and just recently Guatemala, died suddenly of a heart attack last month. I visited her in Corozal, in Belize, in November. We had some funny adventures over the years and I'm pleased that I now have some very recent memories of her to add to the old ones.

I can't share the really good news just yet, but it involves a big arts-related project that I proposed and which has been given the thumbs-up. I'm very excited about it!

I'm catching up on this blog from Miri, in the far north of Sarawak where I'm visiting my friend Jennie. Jennie has as many pies in her life as she has fingers and toes. I don't think I've met anyone who has more interests and activities crammed into her weekly calendar. I met her in 2010 through her work with the Society of Sarawakians Writing in English (SOSWE). I spoke at a gathering here just a month after I had started my travels, and joined in a book-sharing event on Saturday afternoon with president Molly and other local writers. Yesterday afternoon I sat in on Jennie's practice session with the Miri Choir. It was fascinating to watch the director coaching out of the members the notes and modulations he was looking for. And they sounded beautiful. Some of them had sung at Jennie's daughter Cheryl's wedding last weekend.

Our run from Kuching to Damai Beach Resort (33 km) two weeks ago on Good Friday was a lot of fun. Seven of us started at the Civic Centre at 3.30 am. Min and I made it to the Santubong Bridge together, but the field spread out a bit after that. I was the first to reach the finish after Sam and the kids, who had run the last 10 km, which is hilly and hard going. We had a long breakfast at the resort with our support crew afterwards.

Our Good Friday run took us from town to the far side of Mt Santubong, shown here.

Tougher than that long run was my first-ever Pilates session with Sam and instructor Tatiana. I actually felt nauseous during it. It reminded me that I really need to work on strengthening my core area, right through to my lower back.

I've spent some social time with Emily, brother Darroll and Emily's friend Annie, who is a voracious reader. Lots to talk about with all three.

I've taken the opportunity while in Kuching to have a small medical procedure done. I'm very comfortable with the doctors at Normah Medical Centre after having been there for one thing or another during my last three visits to Sarawak. (My doctor said to the nurse when I walked in, "This isn't a new patient. This is an OLD patient." And gave me a big smile.) Sam went with me. I also visited her dentist, had one of Josephine's amazing three-hour facials (which is also a gab-fest), and had a hair treatment.

I'm not what I would call high maintenance, but it's reassuring to know that everything's in good working order. It's going to be an exciting year, and I want to be in shape to enjoy it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nice work if you can get it...

Some days I'm amazed by how lucky I am. Very early one morning last week there was nowhere on the planet I would rather have been than running in the dark through the quiet streets of Kuching with my mate Min, listening to Billie Holiday singing "Nice work if you can get it" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP6P4e5ggqs). We were a group of five runners (Eng Hooi, Steven and Alfred were the others) spread out over quite a distance. We converged on the waterfront right on 6 am for running drills with the regular group that meets there on Sunday mornings. (It was this group that I spotted and spoke with in January last year, and which has led to a wonderful friendship with two families.)

I'm really enjoying all our early runs. Instead of going to Brunei to run a half marathon next weekend, I'm staying in Kuching to do a special Good Friday 32 km group run to Damai Beach. This is the fourth year Eng Hooi, Min and others have attempted the distance, and I want to be a part of it this year. Min and Steven are training for their first marathons, Penang in November, so this will be a great run to complete this far out from Penang and just before the Wees and I head off to Bali for a half marathon.

One of the many pleasures of running with Min in the mornings is having breakfast afterwards with Sam and Sean and their house guest Kay. We eat at different places depending on whether we feel like popiah or laksa or noodles... I feel so happy sitting with them, still sweating after a good run. It's such a great start to the day...

In the past week or so, there have been dinners at The Junk (with the Wees and a whole bunch of architects) and at The Dyak (with the Wees, architects Ivy and Swee, and a visiting architecture professor from Singapore who is a friend of Min's). One of the items on display at The Dyak ("dyak" is the collective name for all the indigenous tribes of Sarawak) was an antique headhunter's sword, with holes (notches) indicating it had claimed the heads of 17 men and 5 women. The owner, Vernon, has many stories to share.

Today I spent the morning with Emily and some of her family, who were tidying up the graves of her grandmother and grandfather and sending them burnt paper offerings as part of the Ching Ming festival.

'Cosmetics' for the afterlife

Sending burnt paper offerings to Emily's grandmother, Ching Ming festival

It was fascinating to be in the cemeteries, where thousands of people were tending to their ancestors' graves. Food and rice wine are offered along with the paper money and other small items that are burnt, and many families set off fire-crackers.

It was a stunning morning, with a huge sky and cirrus clouds, without a trace of a breeze. By 4 pm, when I was back working at my desk at Batik, we'd had our regular daily thunderstorm.

I've scaled a mountain of work in the past few months and am now facing a manageable daily load — for the next week, at least. I've been self-employed as a freelance editor since 1986. Technology now means I can travel the world while I do it. It certainly is nice work if you can get it!