Monday, November 19, 2012

Bridge of thighs

Something like 30,000 runners competed in Sunday's international marathon, half marathon, 10K and fun run on the Penang Bridge. That's 60,000 thighs...

I had spent a night in Kuala Lumpur en route to Penang in the hope of catching up on zeds after a sleepless flight from Dublin. My thinking must have been a bit squirrelly (to borrow a Jack Reacherism) the next morning, because I opted to take a taxi the 500 km to Penang instead of my one-hour flight when the forecast thunderstorms rolled in. By the time the driver Frankie and I had agreed terms, and he'd transferred me over to his brother Chong's cab because it was Frankie's son's eighth birthday and he was taking him to KFC for a treat (well, that was the story he gave me...), the sun was poking through the clouds. It ended up being a gorgeous morning!

Caught up with the Kuching contingent for dinner: Min and Sam, Sean and Sara, Stephen and Alfred (running their first marathons), Swee and young Nick (Ivy and Keiren were sick), Laffy and Eng Hooi. By the time I got to bed it was 9.30 pm, and I had the alarm set for 11.30 pm. I got about an hour's sleep. Our early start was to accommodate walking through town (where the karaoke bars were still in full swing) to the race shuttle bus pickup spot, then getting out to the start to watch the 2 a.m. marathon kickoff. Our half started at 3.15.

It was a very long 21.1 km and very hot, even though it was still dark when I crossed the finish line around 2.5 hours after I started. It was my slowest half ever. [My official chip time was 2:16. I had forgotten that the clock had started 15 minutes earlier when the men's race began.] Min and Sam had to walk because of injuries. Amazingly, and so typically of Sam, she rescued a tiny kitten along the route and carried it inside her top for the last 4 km. It is now with one of the Penang girls who was competing and who has worked with Min's firm here in Kuching.

I got back to my digs – a very lovely heritage building in a secure compound – where for half an hour I couldn't raise anyone to open the gate. It was still dark. I was dripping with sweat. The laneway isn't lit. I was feeling a bit vulnerable and very, very annoyed. By the time someone finally heard the bell and opened the gate, I was in a bit of a lather. After my dummy spit, a shower and breakfast, I worked on an urgent job until I couldn't stay awake any longer. Had a nap and then finished the job and got it off to Polly in Hong Kong.

The gate in question... My room at Clove Hall was the one upstairs, under the gable.

Dinner at an Italian place on Weld Quay was to celebrate Min's and my Year of the Dragon birthdays: mine in October and Min's yesterday. There were about 16 of us. A nice finish to a whistle-stop visit to Penang. I didn't see anything except the bridge and the exterior of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel as I flashed past it in the cab on the way to dinner. I stayed there, in a grand waterfront room, in 1991 on my only other visit. I must try and get back to Penang again and take another look around.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang

A very easy flight direct to Kuching this morning. I spent the two hours working and trying to ignore the kid behind me who kept kicking my seat. Obviously, I still need to catch up on my sleep...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Living the life of Riley on the Liffey

I've been staying in an apartment right on Dublin's River Liffey, overlooking Ha'penny Bridge.

Dublin ticks a lot of boxes for me: the city centre is compact and very walkable; there is some beautiful architecture; the food is great; it's got cheap and cheerful public transport; there is running support; and it's got a fabulous arthouse movie theatre. The Museum of Contemporary Art is closed for renovations (though they currently have an exhibition of Sidney Nolan's "Ned Kelly" series in a small ancillary building), and I didn't manage to get to the National Museum this visit, but I wandered through Trinity College and saw The Book of Kells and the fabulous Long Room of the library.

Trinity College Library

I'm now a member of the Dublin Running Meetup Group. I had two runs around the huge urban Phoenix Park with Shane and Nicole and a few others, one at night in the drizzle and the other mid-morning on the weekend. Both runs were around 10K.

Deer and the Papal Cross, Phoenix Park

The Irish Film Institute is just a few cobbled streets away on the other side of the river. I've seen three films: "Room 237" (various theories on symbolism in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"), which was a waste of time; and two new French films: "Rust and Bone" and "Sister", both of which I really enjoyed.

Tom Canton as Dorian Gray

I couldn't visit Dublin and not go to the theatre, and I was incredibly lucky to be able to see a stunning production of James Joyce's "Ulysses" at Project Arts Centre and, at the Abbey, Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Both were fabulous treats.

Grant Smeaton in "Ulysses"

I've had a little breather this past week before another really busy work period starts, so I was able to take a few days off and go down to Cork and over to Limerick. In Cork I ran a 25K race called the Great Railway Run from Cork to Carrigaline. I didn't spot a railway line anywhere along the route, which hugged the shoreline for about half the distance and was very scenic. I was pleased with my time for the first 20K (1 hr 53 mins), but I flagged a bit in the home stretch. As I was the only woman in my age group I scored first prize: a basket of cosmetics.

Cork is a nice-looking small city on the River Lee and estuary

From Cork I took the train to Limerick where I caught up for the afternoon and evening with Marc, a friend made in Santiago a year ago. We had a fun few hours driving over to the Cliffs of Moher, from where on a clear day you can see the Aran Islands and five counties. It was windy and misty, so we couldn't see much at all, but you could still get a sense of the grandeur of the cliffs.

We couldn't see any of this, except for glimpses through the heavy mist

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Superstorm Sandy and marathon mayhem

I turned 60 a fortnight ago, and I'm not sure I can stand all the excitement.

Normally in New York my life's quite predictable: I'm up early with the raccoons for runs in Central Park with the 5:30 a.m. crew (Maria, Susan, Sarah, Lissy, Heather and Joe, Andrea, Natalie, Marie, Stephen...), this year in preparation for the New York City Marathon. I see films (Argo) and exhibitions (the very moving and wonderful Discovering Columbus, and Kalup Linzy's artist talk at the Met with Oz friend Rick), and sometimes a concert (Crosby Stills & Nash) or a play. I catch up for meals with old friends (CY, Jasper from Venice Beach, Sung for a birthday lunch, Selma and Murray whom I met in Santiago, Gene, mates Gary and Anne, and the running crew) and occasionally I make new friends (my dog friend Max's owner Ellen). And I work very hard at staying on top of my workload.

Discovering Columbus: The statue has been re-imagined by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, who has housed it in a temporary contemporary living room built in the sky, at a height of c. 30 metres. Columbus stands on what appears to be a coffee table, in a room complete with bookshelves, artworks on the wall, even wallpaper designed by the artist. The whole construction overlooks Columbus Circle. I found it very moving to think that Columbus, who has had only pigeons for company for 120 years, is temporarily at home to visitors. See more about the work here.

I've done all of those things over the past fortnight, in addition to having a landmark birthday. But the two main events have come right out of left field in the last week: New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy on Monday night, which has left devastation all over the region; and the New York City Marathon 2012 has been cancelled in its wake.

I stay on the Upper West Side, right next to Central Park. The park has been closed since Monday due to the severe damage it suffered. A few of us did the 8-mile trail run in the park last Saturday morning, when it looked glorious with all the autumn leaves. There were some trees and signs down in my area, and we lost internet access for most of Tuesday, and subway service until yesterday, but that's about the extent of the impact. But it's been a very different story downtown, where major flooding caused by storm surge has disrupted everything all week. There's been no power: no working elevators in high-rise buildings, no lights, no communications, no transportation, etc.

As the week has gone on we've seen that lower Manhattan wasn't even the hardest-hit community: Staten Island, Queens, New Jersey, and other places are still reeling. It's unprecedented, and it's not going to come good overnight. There are fuel shortages all over, and power outages still in many places. There is an overview of the damage as of this morning here.

New York Road Runners and Mayor Bloomberg tried to push ahead with the marathon, calling it this morning the "Race to Recover", but the wider community as well as many runners have been insisting it's just not right to go ahead when parts of the city – some of which are on the marathon course – are still in shock and need all the available resources to help in their recovery. The death toll for New York City is about 90, I heard. The damage is estimated at $50 billion. This afternoon the decision was made to cancel the race. I totally agree it's the right thing to do.