Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ultra Aquathlon Melaka 2017

About a year ago, I raced the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon, and although I had no problem finishing the race, I didn't do it quickly enough, and eventually finished 13th in my category. Actually, the main reason why I joined this race was because I wanted to conquer my fear of water. Yes, in a strange way, I have a kind of fear when joining any race that involves swimming. It's not really about being afraid of drowning. Somehow, at the back of my mind, there are many things that I can't control in a swimming race, and the fear is about my lack of control rather than about drowning. It's different with cycling and running; a lot more of the factors are within my control.

So anyway, I was again racing the ultra aquathlon last Sunday, by the same organiser, except this time it was held in Pantai Klebang, Melaka. Mia and I flew in through KLIA2 and then took the bus for a little over 2 hours to Melaka last Friday. We put up in Temasek Hotel, which we were told a fairly new hotel within the Portuguese settlement area. It's quite a pleasant hotel, except that I think it desperately needs to improve on its sound insulation system—doors were banging throughout the night, and it was very annoying for a light sleeper like me. The reception staff were also rather clueless, and the housekeeping folks had no idea what "PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB" means.

Before I forget, let me say that Mia did get her size XS finisher T-shirt for this race. It wasn't an easy thing to arrange, mind you, I had to personally remind Andy, the Race Director, several times through Whatsapp.

We opted for the shuttle van to the race venue since it was too much trouble to arrange for the taxi. The van driver, a man named Mano, arrived on time at 5:30am, and it was interesting to note that he was as clueless as the many volunteers of this event. I texted Mano the day before the race, but of course he did not reply my text. He was unaware of how many passengers he was supposed to pick up from Temasek Hotel. Well, there were four of us; and we made our way to Hotel Mahkota to pick a few other participants. Then we were held up for a bit because Mano wasn't aware of where he was supposed to send us. We told him that we're supposed to go to Pantai Klebang, but that piece of information wasn't really helpful to him. He then went into the hotel to seek help from the reception desk. That done, we embarked on our journey to Pantai Klebang.

It wasn't a very long journey—or at least it wasn't supposed to have been a long one—except that we went the wrong way and I was beginning to panic (read that part in the opening paragraph above again, about my fear of unable to control the factors). One of the participants took out his smartphone and used the Google Map. The driver debated on the location for a bit, until Mia told him to just follow the info on Google. Well, we arrived at the race venue safely in the end. It wasn't a very big crowd; in fact less than 100 participants were doing the Ultra category, i.e. 2.25km swim, and 21km run.

The swim was divided into 3 loops of theoretical 750m and after each loop, we were required to exit the water and run a short distance on shore before entering the water again. As for the run, it was mainly flat throughout, but practically no shades whatsoever.

As I had expected, the flag off was late by about 20 minutes. In fact, I've joined a few other races by the same organiser, and this organiser has never been on time as far as the flag off was concerned. The swim was surprisingly pleasant even for a lousy swimmer like me, except that it was chaotic because of the crowd. I'm yet to find a way to get used to swimming in a crowd and ignore all the kickings and elbowings. Although it was a sea swim, the water was just awful—it was murky and visibility was almost zero. I spent a lot of time swimming with my eyes closed, except for the times when I had to lift my head up to sight. In the end, I emerged from the sea after about 55 minutes. I should have been still fresh when exiting the water, but because I'm not a good swimmer, I had to struggle for a bit, and therefore used up quite a bit of energy.

Exiting the water on the second loop of the swim leg, and running a short distance on the beach before re-entering the water for the final loop. To my fans out there, I'm so sorry to disappoint you—I'm on the left, NOT the sexy one on the right.

That's the face of a man feeling so relieved for surviving the 2.25km swim, running a short distance to the transition area.

I took my time at the transition, consuming a pack of GU and chasing it down with about 300ml of Carbopro concoction. put on my socks and shoes, sun glasses and cap, grabbed some more GUs, and then I was off for the 21km run. I've never been very efficient in my transition, and this time I took almost 4 minutes for the transition.

As was the case in the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon last year, my quads refused to cooperate at the start of the run. I had to control my pace to ensure that I would last the whole distance, but I also needed a bit of time for the GU and Carbopro to flow into my system. But oh boy, it was a big struggle for me during those first few kilometres. I had expected a very hot run, but I was happy to note that it wasn't as hot after all. There were plenty of water stations along the run route, and at the back of my mind, I thought it is a model that other race organisers should copy. For example, during the Challenge Iskandar Puteri last year, the water stations were just too far apart. Running in the hot climate of Malaysia shouldn't be underestimated.

By the second loop of the run, I started to push the pace a bit, since it was quite obvious that I could last the distance. Thus I overtook some other participants along the way. However, when I reached the turning point for the second time, I knew that it wasn't gonna be 21km. I finally crossed the finish line in the official time of 2:58:29, and I got fourth in the "46 years & Above" category.

The joy of arriving at the finish line. I've been crossing so many finish lines before that I've long ago lost count. But the joy of crossing the finish line—one can never get tired of it!

I had to wait well over half an hour for Mia to arrive at the finish line. I collected my own finisher T-shirt, as well as for Mia, and my finisher medal. It's not normal, of course, for Mia's T-shirt to be collected before she even finish. But based on my experience over the last few events, they always ran out of the XS size by the time Mia finished her race, and this time I had to make a special arrangement with the organiser to collect the T-shirt first before it's exchanged by other participants. After I had collected Mia's T-shirt, I stood there watching the volunteers allowing the other participants to exchange their T-shirts. Some things will never change!

While waiting for Mia—and it was quite a long wait—suddenly that wickedly sexy creature by the name of Wendy Tan walked by. She was in her awesome outfit, a shouting red-coloured sun hat, and sunglasses. She was just walking around, but in my mind I saw her movements in slow-motion with the music "Beautiful Girl" in the background. After a while, she saw me, and I said "Hi", and we shook hands. We spent some moments talking about the race, while I was thinking if I should buy the lotto jackpot—because I felt it's my lucky day for having the opportunity to shake hands with Wendy. Y'know, at my age, anything young and in skirt is beautiful, especially this particular one! But I had to shake myself out of the trance, because I was thinking Mia might be approaching the finish line very soon, and she might be tempted to beat me up with a baseball bat?

Well, I stood there for quite a long time and there was still no sign of my wife. After a while I became a little worried. So I decided to walk out to the course to look for her. And then just as I hit the road, I saw that scrawny little creature from afar, running with a steady gait. I jogged with her to the finish line. Mia came in last for her category, i.e. "46 years & Above", but because there were only two participants in her category, she was officially the first runner-up. I felt like I almost died running to the finish line, and I didn't get anything. She took her time and got second! I wasn't sure whether to be happy or sad for her, but in the end I chose to be happy. I'm still afraid of the baseball bat. She collected her finisher medal and then we had to rush to the transition to get our remaining stuff, and then hopefully Mano, the van driver could find his way back to fetch us to the hotel.

On the whole, I would say this was a well-organised event. I felt it deserved a bigger participation. The things that mattered the most, such as safety of swimmers and drink stations etc were well covered, and I must say the organiser did a good job. But on the other hand, there is still room for improvements in terms of the bib collection process which I felt was just too slow and inefficient. I don't mind to join this event again next year, and I would certainly recommend to my friends to join too.

Photo credit: Vy Mussolini Photography

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Art of Dealing with Failures

The school bus arrives at my house at about 6am every morning, and JJ would be seated at the dining table for breakfast at around 5:30am. Mia and I would wake up at around 6:30am. I would have my oats and eggs at home before leaving for work, and Mia would eat at her office because she has to leave home before the traffic builds up.

Consequently, we don't have frequent breakfasts together as a family. Mia works on alternate Saturdays; whereas I have my cycling sessions and it takes up to at least 9am (much longer when I'm training for longer races). So we make it a point to have a family breakfast session on Sundays. I still run a minimum 21km on Sundays, of course, but I start very early and would usually be home by 8am.

We were seated at a restaurant having our so-called family breakfast last Sunday, and Mia and I were discussing about stuff. Suddenly, JJ said something which I found rather surprising. She said, "I hope I will be as successful as both of you as an adult."

Now before you get the wrong idea, let me hasten to say that a 14-year-old kid may not necessarily define that word "success" the same way an adult might. Kids have a much more simplistic view of life. Success, to them, is not really about having a ton of money, a ridiculously large mansion to live in, a private jet to travel the world. Success can simply mean having a harmonious family, a decent home with enough of the basic needs, time to indulge in hobbies, plus perhaps some extra resources for a vacation every now and then. We certainly have no bank accounts with balances made up of figures with mind-boggling number of zeroes at the back.

Most parents would try very hard to instill the habit of hardwork and discipline in their children from an early age with the aim of achieving a successful life. Success—whether as defined by kids or adults—will require hardwork and a lot of sacrifices to achieve; success almost never happen by accident.

At one time I was somewhat worried for JJ. She seemed a bit lazy and not as hardworking as I would have liked her to be. We had to keep reminding her to study for her exams etc. Thankfully, however, she seemed to have gone through a process of gradual change over the years. These days she needs very minimal supervision. She is quite independent when it comes to her school stuff. She has in her the drive to excel in school. Mia is very happy to see JJ doing well in school, and I'm of course not complaining. But that is not the end of the story.

Ever so often we tend to forget that hardwork, discipline and sacrifices do not always result in success. No—the harsh reality in life is that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you will still fail in the end!

JJ was crying this morning; she was under a lot of stress. She tried to achieve something but she was overwhelmed by the immensity of the task. The sense of hopelessness written all over her face. Never mind the details of her nightmare, but Mia attempted to forge ahead anyway, and I had to butt in and apply my authority. 

It is OK to fail every now and then, because life is not always a bed of roses. All I expect of JJ is for her to try her best, and as long as she'd tried her best, I'm not too overly concerned about the result. Even the most successful people in the world have gone through many failures in their lives too. I want JJ to know that failures are not always a bad thing. But giving up in the face of failures is bad. A little set-back here and there, but we pause to reassess the situation, and then find a solution. Of course it may take a little longer to achieve what we want to achieve, yet the tortoise, remember, outran the hare in the end. Failures can make us stronger and wiser eventually.

I want JJ to know that there will be many, many more failures in her life, and she should learn to deal with them. For I consider that dealing with failures is an art—a skill that parents should develop in their children. Way too often the focus is on instilling hardwork, discipline and sacrifices in children, but the art of dealing with failures is neglected in the upbringing; the skill and determination to pick oneself up after a bad fall and start again. People turn to alcohol, drugs and even suicide when faced with failures and disappointments.

I won't be around forever in JJ's life, but I hope that before my time is up, I will have equipped her with at least the basic of life's virtues so that she will be able to realise her goal of achieving "success" like her daddy and mommy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Ring—Horror Story

A little over 2 years ago I posted an article entitled Harmful Curiosity. In it I shared the story that I'd read from the Borneo Bulletin some years ago—that of a man who had suffered severe consequences of his weird curiosity. 

And today, I experience a kind of de javu; as if I'm put into a time machine and then thrown back to the time zone of all those years ago. Hence the surreal feeling of reading the same news article of over 20 years ago, except that today I'm a much older and, hopefully, wiser man. 

An uncle said something profound to me a long time ago. He said something like, "The fools make the mistakes; and the wise men learn from the mistakes made by the fools." But the reality is that some people will never learn—they keep repeating their mistakes over and over again, and they don't even know what's hitting them!

So, de javu, over twenty years since the story of that man in Miri, now we have another man who slipped a ring onto his penis as reported here. I'm not sure if it's a case of curiosity or boredom, but as in the case of the man in Miri, the ring also got stuck on the penis of the man in the latest case. What I really would love to know is how on earth was he able to slip the ring onto his penis? As before, I can only think of two possibilities—either he had an extraordinarily thin penis or it was an extremely huge ring, although of course lubricants would have helped too. And again, why the penis, for crying out loud?

To be fair, it's entirely possible that the man in the latest case had no knowledge of what happened to the Miri guy over 20 years ago, and he therefore had no benefits of knowing the potential outcome of playing with the ring. I won't be surprised if there are other cases of "ring on the penis" out there. I have come to accept that this thing is much more common than I had previously thought. It's a weird, weird world, if you know what I mean? We would be better off having lesser of this type of horror stories in the world. 

Y'know, we have warnings attached to products such as plastic bags to be kept away from young children, for fear of death arising from suffocation. Which makes me wonder; maybe it's not such a bad idea to keep rings away from bored or curious men...

Especially men with very thin penises.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Trying Too Hard To Be Smart

I had an ear infection about 5 years ago, and I went to the then Damai Specialist Hospital (now it's known as the KPJ Damai Specialist Hospital). According to the ENT Specialist, the infection was mainly due to my own doing. You see, I had the habit of cleaning my ears with cotton buds. The doctor said, actually there's no need to clean the ears because they're "self-cleansing". If entirely necessary, it's OK to clean, but perhaps just once a month; maybe no more than twice a month. Unfortunately, I was in the habit of doing the cotton buds thing almost on a daily basis!

Five years have since elapsed, and I'm still doing the cotton buds thing—daily. Old habits die hard, you see. I shall not attempt to offer any excuses—I readily admit that I'm an animal of habit, and this particular habit I just can't cure! Each time I had the cotton buds in my hand, I knew that it's just a matter of time before I'm forced to visit the ENT Specialist again, but I've been very lucky for the last five years.

Then my luck took a turn for the worse 2 days ago. While I was indulging in the cotton buds thingy, somehow the cotton was detached and got stuck inside my left ear. For a short moment, I panicked. But then I managed to compose myself and started thinking how I might get the damn thing out of my ear. That was the proper starting point of my 2-day adventure of trying too hard to be smart.

Let me just say that having a cotton bud in the ear isn't very amusing—you become partially deaf, and although there's no pain, it'd still bother you all the time. I've tried everything that came to my mind, and not all of my ideas were brilliant ones. But desperation is a curious thing—it can make you come up with all sorts of ideas, if you know what I mean. 

Well, they all ended up in failures, one after another. If anything, I only made it worse; with each ridiculous try, the only thing that I achieved was to push the cotton deeper into my ear. Then at the height of my desperation, I came up with the most ridiculous idea yet. I reckoned that it might be a good try to pour water into my ear; and then when the water's flowing out, it could drag along that forsaken cotton too. I mean, think about it; it's logical, isn't it?

Except that the moment the cotton got wet, it immediately expanded and the water got stuck in my ear. So I ended up becoming totally deaf in my left ear, and now I had the problem of the cotton piece as well as water stuck there! Way to go, Cornelius!

After 2 days trying to be smart, I finally came to the conclusion that I needed the ENT Specialist's help once again. Don't ask me why I took such a long time to arrive at that conclusion. Please just be happy for me for eventually arriving at that conclusion.

Well, you'd be glad to know that the doctor did not give me a hell of a scolding like what I thought I deserved. He listened to me while I spent about 2 minutes to tell him about my 2-day adventure trying to be smart, thus culminating to a visit to his clinic. He then spent something like 15 seconds to extract the cotton piece from inside my ear with the use of a pair of tiny forceps. It was quite a relief to be able to hear clearly once again. So it was a happy ending to a short adventure, except that I was RM109.20 poorer!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Veterinarians, Sick Bunnies & Clueless People

Me pet dog, Boomer, died of old age a few years ago. He lived up to about 12 years old, and a veterinarian friend said that's the equivalent of about 80 years old for a human. At the time of Boomer's death, I had just begun running regularly, and I reckoned that I wouldn't have had the time to have another pet. Having a pet is tough work, you know; it's a lot like looking after a child. Besides, we have since moved to another house, and there isn't much space for a dog to roam around. I'm not such a big fan of keeping dogs in a cage.

JJ, however, managed to convince Mia to buy her a pair of bunnies a few months ago, and named them Charlie and Emma. I was like, what kind of names are those, for heaven's sake? I mean, shouldn't it be something in the order of Toothy or Hopper, or even Big-Ears? Instead, it's Charlie and Emmabah!

Anyway, this was after JJ's short stint with hamsters which had since died. I wasn't even aware of all this bunny business until I came home from work one day, and saw those baby bunnies. I think it was a reward for JJ's good grades in school. I'm OK with JJ keeping pets, but I made it clear to her that she would have to be responsible for them. Which means cleaning the cage, feeding etc. I told JJ that I wanted nothing to do with those bunnies, because I just don't have the time for that!

This afternoon, Mia and JJ brought Charlie to the vets. I asked JJ what's going on, but as usual, she just gave me a one-word answer—nothing!

It wasn't until later that I received a message through Whatsapp from Mia when she was about to leave the vets' clinic. Apparently, JJ was observing the bunnies when she noticed that Charlie had some sort of growth and she was worried that it might have been a disease that should be treated quickly. I'm not sure if she was thinking about a possible tumour? Mia saw it too, and both of them rushed Charlie to the vets. Check out the "tumour" in the photo below.

But other than that growth, Charlie appeared fine. He behaved very well as usual, even when he was at the vets. See for yourselves.

The vets spent perhaps 10 seconds to look at Charlie, and then told Mia that he's perfectly normal. RM25 for consultation fee please, thank you. I bet that must have been one of the easiest RM25s that the vets had made. Even from seeing the photos through Whatsapp—yes, Mia sent me several photos of the tumour from different angles—I almost died from laughing so hard, to the extent that I almost had no pause to take my breath! I'm guessing that the vets must have had a near-death experience from laughter too after Mia and JJ left their clinic. Too bad I wasn't there to join them in their laughter!

Anyway, I'm sharing this with you all because I suspect that some of you, perhaps especially the women, are as clueless as Mia and JJ too? Remember, people, male bunnies are born with testicles; they stick out from the body in between the hind legs.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ironman Malaysia 2016

After I completed the Ironman Western Australia last December, I knew that that wasn't the last time I'd be racing an Ironman, even though I said that was the last. Still, I had planned to take a break from an Ironman race for 2016. I thought I'd rather focus on the half distance for this year. I had a special interest in the Putrajaya 70.3 in April because I was disappointed with my performance in the same race last year. Not long after it opened for registration, I signed up for the challenge. I was also eying for the Ironman Malaysia 2016 (IMMY) in Langkawi, although I would have preferred to give it a shot in 2017.

Then my plan changed because of two very powerful words—LAST EDITION. It was announced that the IMMY 2016 will be the last, and I had to reconsider my racing calendar. Some of my friends were also joining the race. In the end, I decided that I might as well join too. There was a "bundle discount" for athletes opting to join both the Putrajaya 70.3 and the IMMY, but I was disappointed to have been told that since I've registered for the Putrajaya 70.3 earlier, I was no longer eligible for that discount offer.

It was a windy morning at the start of the race, and having seen the bike route 2 days earlier, I knew that it was gonna be a big struggle for me. I trained on my bike over the last 2 months with a long ride during the weekends. But the maximum elevation gain that I had was about 700m; whereas the elevation gain of the race course in Langkawi was about double that. I told my friends that I'd expect to finish the bike leg in about 7 hours.

The Swim

Anyway, the swim consisted of 2 loops with a short break of beach run in between. It was a calm sea, although it was rather frustrating that there was a lot of kicking (from swimmers using the breaststrokes). I received a few blows all over my body, and one of them kicked my Garmin. I didn't realise that that had caused my Garmin to stop. I had no idea how I did during the swim, but I  have a feeling there must be something wrong with the timing system. It was recorded that I swam the 3.8km in about 1:40. My own estimate is that I must have swum at least 1:45, especially taking into account that I wasn't swimming straight! I took my time at the shower on my way to the changing tent. I managed to restart my Garmin once again just as I was about to embark on the bike leg.

The Bike

The start of the bike leg was a pleasant flat road of a few km. But then soon after that, we had to turn in to a junction, leading to the hilly terrain in the direction of Datai. As I said, I didn't have enough hill training, so I decided to play safe—each time I reached a foothill, I'd shift to the lightest gear and take my time spinning uphill. It was still tough work though. I spent perhaps around half an hour for that part of the bike leg, and I was glad to eventually emerge from that junction once again to a relatively flat course. It wasn't till much later when I arrive at 3 consecutive hills immediately after the traffic lights. Again, I adopted the same approach—lightest gear and very slow gradual climb. I passed the challenge without the need to push my bike uphill on foot. Looking at my Garmin, I was pleased to note that I was on target for the 7 hrs bike leg finish.

It was a very hot day, and my sweat was dripping from my chin like a leaking tap. I thought salts were provided at the aid stations, but there was none. In fact, there was an aid station that ran out of water, and I was very frustrated, because I had run out of mine on the bike too. Bear in mind that the aid stations were about 20km apart. I was thinking maybe I could do with whatever electrolytes from the energy gels. Because of my controlled speed, I had no problems of cramping muscles, but nausea was building up in my system. I knew that I was in deficit of electrolytes.

A few km during the tail end of the bike leg, suddenly it began to pour. I mean raining cats and dogs like somebody was doing the ice-bucket challenge onto me. I could hardly see the road ahead, and I had to slow down substantially to about 15kph. I noticed several other participants behind me.

When I finally reached the dismount line, there were many people cheering us. One of them shouted "Well done!... you're doing great!"; and as a volunteer took my bike from me, I yell back, "I'm afraid I'm NOT done yet!"

The Run

I would estimate that when I started on the run leg, it must have been about 9 hours since the time I started the race that morning. It was still raining heavily. I was jogging very slowly, but it was no good. I felt like puking. In the end, when I reached the second aid station, I decided to enter the toilet to try to puke. After spending a few moments in the toilet, it was still not happening. Accordingly, I started jogging again, but the nausea was too much to deal with. Shortly after that, my friend, Dr Shah came passing by, and I could only look at him drifting further and further ahead of me.

Soon, I was just walking more than running. I wasn't sure how much more time I had at that point of the race, but calculating in my head, I realised that walking for the rest of the race wouldn't get me to the finish line within the cut off time. I kept trying to jog, but I had trouble balancing on my feet. In the end, I had to accept defeat. Arriving at an aid station about 10km into the run, I went to the side of the road and again tried unsuccessfully to puke. It was then that I made up my mind to quit the race... 

Quitting is something that I very rarely do in my life. I didn't get to be where I am; and what I am today by quitting. But this was my limit; and I had to reluctantly accept that there is only so much my body can do—the mind is willing; the body is unwilling.

Then a miracle happened. A participant named Yap (I found out after the race that his full name was Yap Eng Hui), when seeing me stooping at the roadside, asked me if I was OK. I said I couldn't continue because of severe nausea. He said he had salts with him, and then gave me a capsule. I took it and decided to walk a little. At the next aid station, I was still feeling horrible, and another friend, Henry Wong, came trotting along. I told him I wanted to quit, but he encouraged me to continue.

So I laboured on, and by about half an hour later, perhaps after the salts were in my system, I felt much better; and I was able to jog once again! I was confident once again that I would be able to beat the cut off. But alas, that one salt capsule did not last very long. about 2 hours later, I was once again feeling nausea. My Garmin had gone totally dead by then. Reaching the final turn at MIEC, I lingered on at the aid station. As I was walking out of the building, I struck a conversation with a lady. It turned out that she had salts too, voila! After taking that salt capsule, and waiting for some minutes for it to take effects, I came upon a man named Riedel. After walking with him for a few minutes, we started running the remaining 4km or so to the finish line together, overtaking several people along the way. 

You can imagine my elation when I crossed the finish line. It wasn't what I had expected when I entered the race. The changing fortunes throughout the race is something that was worth it. Valuable lessons learnt; new friendships forged. 

In the end, my official finish time was 15:46:23. My friend, Teo, teased me for being among the last few to finish. But I'm proud of that achievement, really. On the other hand, though, I'm rather disappointed in myself. The disappointment isn't about being fast or slow; or winning or losing. I mean, people from all walks of life, in different shapes and sizes enter this race. I can beat some of them; and get beaten by some of them too. I have long ago accepted that I'm not good enough to be able to beat all of them.

No, the disappointment is for a different reason. In whatever I do in life, I will always want to do my best; to realise my full potential. In the same way, whatever race that I join, I'd like to achieve my highest potential. It doesn't really matter if I can finish the Ironman in 12 hours; if that's not my best, I'll still be disappointed in myself. But on the other hand, even if I can only finish in 16:59, but that's my best potential, I won't be disappointed. I just feel that I did not perform to the best of my potential in this race, and someday, god willing, I want to try again to prove to myself that I can do better, much the same way I redeemed myself in the Putrajaya 70.3 on my second attempt. If this was really the last edition of the IMMY, then that is OK too. For even if that was not my full potential, I've given my best shot anyway. I'm still happy that I finished a race which I've actually surrendered already!

So, Teo  (I know you're reading this) don't just tease this old man, let's do it together!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

William Koh (08 January 1943 - 12 November 2016)

It's quite normal that most people look up to their parents as their role models. My dad was my role model too when I was still a little boy. But that changed through the years as I was growing up. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that he was hardly ever around during my early years. It must have been around my mid-teens when I had a big revelation—that the man I used to admire and look up to had a lot of limitations. My father was, in many ways, a stranger to me. On many occasions in my life, I've tried to no avail to understand him. He's unique—one of its kind in this world. But although I've failed to fathom what's going on in his head, I've nevertheless learned to accept him for what he's worth. He's after all my father.

There was a time when I thought there weren't many good things that I could say about my father. It seemed like I could go on and on about what's bad about him though. And this is where I throw in those famous 2 words—nobody's perfect

Shortly after his death last Saturday morning, I received a private message from my uncle, and apart from offering his condolences, he also advised me to "think of the goodness in him (dad)...and there's a lot to his credit". Even without my uncle's advice, though, that would have been what I'd do anyway; but it's good to know that a wise uncle would support how I react to my dad's demise.

But I feel compelled to give a little background of the man. The late William Koh lived his life to the fullest, and seemed reluctant to forego whatever littlest opportunity for pleasures in life. If he enjoyed, for example, a particular food or habit—like smoking up to four packs of cigarettes per day—nothing in the world would stop him from indulging in those. When in due course, he's overwhelmed by the curious optimism that he's known for, he'd sell whatever his worldly possessions to pursue his business ventures. Not that he had very many possessions to start with. The trail of destruction in his wake could be quite something to reckon with, and I've had my fair share of the chores of picking up the pieces. I dare say that in some ways, it's a lot like making babies—I have a shrewd suspicion that he enjoyed the process of trying much more than actually achieving his goals!

But side by side with his reckless attitude in life, he was also known for his generosity. He has helped countless people including close family members and friends; even total strangers. While he was never rich with money, he was at least rich with people who've been indebted to him in one way or another. He was also loved for his simple but sensible approach to solving problems. Many people went to him for advice in his day. Despite all his failures in life, many, many people looked up to him as a big brother. I guess in that sense, he was a rich man after all. Over the last couple of days since his death, I've heard "he was a good man" from several different people, and I'm inclined to think of that as among his biggest achievements in life.

I've mentioned dad's reckless attitude in life. That's not without consequences. He was diagnosed with diabetes shortly before he turned 50. About 2 years later, he had a heart attack. He went through the angioplasty, and although he stopped smoking for about half a year after that, the locomotive in him came back with a vengeance, quickly building speed up to four packs per day. Thus he had a second heart attack about 10 years later, and this time he had to go through a quadruple bypass surgery. He survived that too. But his heart was badly damaged from the two attacks, and in the years that followed, his heart went through a gradual process of dying.

After he was hospitalised on one occasion, we children were all summoned by the doctors—both the surgeons and from the Palliative Care unit. We made no pretense, we were never in denial; and we knew what to expect. The doctors summed it up prettily—that dad's heart was in its end stages of dying. There wasn't much that the doctors could do to improve his heart, although of course they could try to make him as comfortable as possible. We should expect dad to spend increasing amount of time at the hospital. We also discussed about other matters, including funeral options etc. It was in fact a very honest discussion. Dad was also present during the major portion of the meeting, and I could see that the doctors were fairly surprised with the way we handled the discussion.

But that was about 2 years ago. Dad, with his reckless attitude, was suddenly forced to stop doing all the things he enjoyed doing. He was restricted to drinking no more than 700-800ml of water per day, otherwise his body would become "flooded". He was constantly fighting thirst. He could hardly walk more than a few metres without feeling exhausted. He was essentially imprisoned in his own body. Last Saturday, he was finally "freed", and although it's sad to lose a loved one, we're inclined to treat his life story as something to be celebrated.

William Koh lived a life of adventure, in blazing excitement. As a doctor friend said to me, he has completed his race. I dare say it was a triumphant finish too. Rest in peace, dad; you're da man!