10 Annoying Questions that Every Runner Hates

I’m a semi serious runner, or at least I will be once my injured leg heals (faster heal lah I’m sick of waiting) and I also reside in Singapore so yes, it’s hot here, really hot and humid and life here moves along pretty fast and a lot of us have a lot to do and very little time for sports. So when you choose running as your main sport or if you show a vague interest in running, you’re sure to be bombarded by these really annoying questions by all the non-runners out there. So here goes…

“Huh not tiring ah?”

Yeah I think we are well aware of how tiring running is because we actually do the running so when you tell us that it is tiring it’s not going to make any sense to us nor will your opinion be of any value. Yes, running is tiring. But we love it for that.

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Of course it’s tiring…

“Not hot ah?”

It’s hot alright. The temperature here soars to a sweltering 35 °C every now and then and even at night it can be a staggering 31 °C. But look at it this way: the faster you run, the more air resistance, the more the wind cools your face and it’s actually not too bad when you get into the rhythm. If you just walk? Then yeah, no wonder it’s hot.

“Not boring ah?”

If the scenery and the cars and the random passersby and the possible contact with nature isn’t enough, the pain you feel towards the end of your run should excite you a bit. If it doesn’t, then run faster. More scenery passes by and there’s more pain. Not boring at all, trust me.

“You siao ah?”

Yeah we’re crazy but you’re lazy.

“Where you find the time to run ah?”

We find it where you find time watching TV, using Facebook stalking your crush or playing street soccer. We find it when we most want it. YES! We actually want to run and if you want to do something you wont ever NOT have time for it.

“How you even breathe after you run so far ?”

Breathing is really simple you just breathe and like even when you’re running breathing is still breathing and it’s really the same process. Bet you didn’t know!

Eh did you sign up for the 10km marathon?”

I need to make this very clear. A marathon is 42.195 km and it’s a tribute to that messenger who sacrificed his life running so far. Hence a 10 km, at best, can only qualify as a “quarter marathon” while 21 km is called a “half marathon”. Anything more than a marathon is automatically called an “ultramarathon” so don’t just bunch every distance as a marathon. By right, anything less is just called a “run”.

“Why you don’t cycle or swim?”

Yeah we get it! Cycling is faster and there’s more wind and more classy cos the bikes can be branded and swimming is cooling. We totally understand but sometimes in life the best option isn’t always the most suitable one. We realise that running can bring us a certain kind of joy that cannot really be rationalised. Can you understand that?

“Got win the race?”

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I don’t know why people think that running is like the world cup finals where one team wins and the other loses. In actual fact there can be as many as 16 to 7000 runners in any long distance event. So to answer your question, no. No one’s going to win unless you’re lucky enough to ask that one guy who probably runs so much even I’d ask him the above questions.

“Never win the race ah….but you cannot just run a bit faster meh?

If I could I would. Seriously. Running isn’t very complicated. It isn’t like soccer or poker where bad decisions on the day itself can cause you to lose spectacularly. In the running world it all comes down to training and consistency. It’s not some last minute bankai kind of thing that people think it is, so STOP asking if we could have been faster. We love our sport and giving any less than our best is the ultimate disrespect to the running gods.

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It’s a passion, you love it more and more with every step you take 🙂

Choose the Person, Not the Machine

Recently, I visited Johor, which (as most of us know) is right across the border. It was a simple day trip, nothing very special or over-the-top. My friends and I were on the way back and at the Singapore immigration there was a horde of people flowing in a singular direction, all headed for Singapore.

At customs you have two choices, to go through the traditional customs officer who will stare you in the face and stamp your passport, or to go for the biometric passport scanner, which will subsequently scan your fingerprint, and the door will automatically open. They have this at Changi Airport as well so most Singaporeans are well acquainted with this. I trudge up and see that there is at least a four to five man queue at each of the Automated booths but that the solo manual booth (with the customs officer) had only one person in queue. So naturally I went straight for the manual booth, quickly got my passport stamped, smiled at the customs officer who smiled back at me, and was on my way home.

The people that queued at the automated booths still stood patiently in line, contented at their choice.

But why should they be? Why would everyone rush for the automated booths when there is an obviously shorter alternative to the side?

To answer that question, I think we have to look at the social and technological trends. Zoom out for a while and think. Where else in Singapore is this situation familiar?

In fact, you don’t have to look very far, just walk into your local supermarket and you’ll see a similar situation at the cashier. We have the normal cashiers with their scanners and cash registers and then you have the self-service counter. You’ll get your very own scanner and you can choose a bunch of payment options and even package everything yourself before leaving. There are six booths in a small space and it’s just so much more efficient, and as a bonus you can avoid the tired glare of the cashier. A win-win situation it seems.

Now when you order fast food delivery there is also an online option where you just go to the website, scroll down and choose your orders, key in your address and press enter. You don’t even have to call anymore. On top of not hearing the tired and unappreciative voice of the delivery serviceman/woman, you eliminate the chance of the guy getting your orders wrong. Machines won’t fail you.

And of course, going back further in time, borrowing library books and topping up your travel card is also much more preferable when machines are in the equation. In Libraries machines have already taken over and librarians are there to merely assist the checking out process while people prefer using the top up machine at MRT stations rather than go to the station staff. I mean, why depend on someone when you can just do it all yourself and save yourself the trouble of all that human interaction?

But then again, what is so wrong with all this human interaction? What makes talking to another stranger so difficult? I see a lot of MRT control stations empty but a line forming at the top-up machine, I see how tolls in Malaysia don’t even require you to look at the person on duty, you just tap a card on the scanner and it deducts some money from it. The fact that technology is progressing isn’t really an issue. The fact that a lot of this technology promotes anti social behavior isn’t the biggest worry either. The biggest fear is that we are subconsciously taught to hate the sight of a stranger.

The above examples are so commonplace, that day-by-day, it slowly roughs away our edges, making us formless and unsubstantial. We don’t give ourselves the chance to smile at one another, to make another person’s existence seem any worthier. When you step up to the MRT staff and give him a smile after he tops up your card, you could very well be making his day that much more meaningful. Similarly, at our airport, the toilets have this electronic survey where you tap a number to show how satisfied you are. But forget about that, it would be so much more genuine for you to say a sincere ‘thank you’ to the toilet aunty. I mean, think about it: would she appreciate the monthly stats the management presents to her or a stranger’s heartfelt words? It’s a no brainer, really.

I’m not saying we don’t have the gratitude or kindness within us to brighten a stranger’s day; I’m just upset that these silly machines are here to make it so much harder to do so. They’re frighteningly efficient, yet cold and heartless contraptions that will eventually turn us cold as well. So here’s the deal, the next time you have a choice, please choose the person, not the machine. Speak politely to the delivery service, smile at your customs officer and make small talk with your neighbourhood librarian. Who knows? You may make their day that much better and you’ll feel better about yourself afterwards. It may take longer, your friends may hate you for wasting time, and you may miss your next train or may even get your order wrong.

But it’s worth it, because these little flaws are what make us human.

The “Life’s Like That” Syndrome

Recently there’s been a really popular song by a certain artist called James Bay. Hold back the river is its title, and at the start of the song the lines go like this: try to keep you close to me / but life got in between.

It’s melodic, somber and touching. But upon closer listening, what in the world is it trying to say? What in the world does “life got in between” even mean?

Sure, this is a phrase we use all the time, and it comes in many variations. We have the typical “life’s like that”, or “c’est la vie” as the French call it. There’s the more Singaporeanised version of ” that’s just life lor” to even the absurd “it’s like that”. 

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What in the world are we trying to say? Every time we encounter some problem that seems to be out of our control we start blaming the all encompassing concept of “life” and “the universe”. Sure, it makes us feel better, that we’re all in some common struggle. But what are we actually trying to do here?

Back in JC my friend and I were shoving each other around and one of us knocked down my teachers laptop off the table. This foolish act displaced the screen of the laptop from its frame and it was permanently damaged. We each had to pay a few hundred dollars for the repairs and the teacher in question got really cross with us.

My form teacher was really nice and pointed out to my friend and I that “that’s just how it is”, that this kind of thing just happens now and then through your life and you just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences! At that time, I must admit, it was comforting to hear.

But I was just a JC kid then and a few hundred dollars was quite a shock to me. I think to calm us down warrented the use of all-encompassing gemeralities. However, I believe the blaming of “life” and “the universe” becomes a problem when people start doing it all the time regardless of individual circumstance.

And we see it so much! In pop songs , in tragic break ups, when teachers console their students, when friends console each other. “Life will do things to you”, “eh bro that’s just life”, “look ah this circle is your life and this dot in the middle, it’s you!” Amazing how many variations of the same meaning you can come up with to justify every mistake or unfortunate event that befalls.

Here’s what I think. I believe that we, as people are horribly ill equipped when it comes to dealing with our own mistakes and facing consequences. No, I’m serious. I believe we are the ultimate pathogens of the “that’s life” syndrome.

I (and perhaps we) tend to shift all the blame and all the screw ups to the large dartboard that is life and the universe. I know it’s quite effective, for if you tell people this, they’ll be fooled and think to themselves, oh yeah everyone makes mistakes so it’s ok if you make mistakes as well. But all things aside, how does it make the mistakes any more acceptable? It’s like killing someone and in your defence you tell the judge “but people die all the time”.

That granted, some unfortunate circumstances are totally beyond your control. If you walk down the street and a bird releases it’s poop on you or if an airplane crashes on your house and kills everyone, you would definitely blame the universe. Go ahead, the universe is at fault and is there for you to blame. In a sense that’s what life insurance is for, unforseen circumstamces when the universe steps in. And it makes sense, because you had NO control over any of this.

However, if you are late for a meeting, cheated on your not so significant other or threw too many smoke grenades at your recruit who later dies of an allergic reaction, don’t even begin to search for excuses. If you screw up in any way that you had some control over, don’t for one minute blame it on life or the universe.

You only have yourself to blame.

(image courtesy of http://sd.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/i/keep-calm-because-c-est-la-vie-1.png)

The Only Thing to Fear is Yourself

I opened my eyes. It was still dark. Rolling over to one side, I checked my phone. I read 3:26 AM. I sat up and got out of bed, making my way to the toilet.

I walked past my brother’s room, down the corridor, and turned into the toilet. I’ve sort of trained myself to memorise the number of footsteps, the position of the furniture, the height of the toilet bowl and the small step that meant the entrance and exit of the toilet. You tend to sync yourself with the very design of your house, a peculiar intimacy that comes with time.

In the light of this, I could do everything in the dark. Upon executing my business, I quickly run my hands through the tap water and waltzed back to bed. I took a quick turn in the dark, and my eyes travelled quickly across to the study room at the end of the corridor.

Wait a minute. I noticed something.

I looked back at the study room. The entire room was bathed in darkness, only the streetlights filtered through the curtained windows. The room stood vacant. I could have sworn I saw something, or someone in that room as I made that quick glance.

I walked cautiously back to my room, not daring to look back, and quickly pulled the blanket over my body. 3:29 AM was the time on the phone. I fell asleep shortly after.

***

I opened my eyes. The room was as still as a mausoleum, damp and dark. I checked my phone. 3:26 AM. I needed to visit the toilet.

After I was done, I guided my foot just a few centimeters over the small step at the door of the toilet and made my way back to my room.

“Silly Justin.”

It was barely audible. But I could hear it. Barely. It was a very soft call in a nonchalant tone. Somebody called out my name. It came from directly behind me. It may have been from the study room. There was nothing very emotional about it; it had a sluggish tone that was similar to the reading of 4D numbers. It was not a voice I recognized but it still sounded strangely familiar, like someone recounting for you a dream you had forgotten.

I didn’t turn around. I walked straight up to my room, locked the door, jumped into my bed and pulled the blanket over my head. Just as I got comfortable, the doorknob started to throb violently. It was as if someone outside was trying to open up the door and barge into my room. Or maybe I was imagining this too. I counted my racing heartbeats to calm myself down. None of this is real, you’re imagining all of it. Damn it! Get to sleep!

Sleep did not come so easily this time.

***

The next morning, I woke up in a cold sweat. I looked at the clock. 8:53 AM. I tried falling back to sleep, but despite my exhaustion, I was unable to. I walked out of my room and into the kitchen. Dad was there, having his breakfast before work.

“Morning, Pa.”

“Morning Ah boy, how was your sleep?” My dad replied, looking down at the morning papers.

A casual question, but one with an unusually complex answer this time.

“I have something to tell you, something happened last night. It was horrible.”

My dad looked up this time. “Tell me more.”

So I told him what happened. What I thought I saw two nights before, what I heard yesterday, even the banging on the door. I told him everything as he looked on intently.

He paused for a while before continuing. “I heard nothing last night.”

“I know, but you have to believe me. Something is out there.”

My dad thought for longer this time, his vacant index finger playing with the handle of his coffee mug.

“Boy ah, let me tell you something. I’m fifty-six this year, and I’ve had tens of thousands of nights, thousands of sleepless ones, I assure you. There may have been a few hundred nights where I’d woken up and felt that something wasn’t right. Just like you last night. Let me just tell you one thing: the only thing you should fear is here.” He pointed to his temple before continuing, “so please, don’t go exploring. Keep to yourself. There is nothing out there that is trying to get you. The only thing there is to fear is yourself.”

With that, he held me firmly by the shoulders, nodded at me, and trudged off to work.

I was not sure if he even vaguely understood what I had experienced.

***

I opened my eyes. The room was dark as death, and still as amber. 3:26 AM. I put my phone down. I made up my mind. I’m just going to lie here. Until I fall asleep again. I didn’t want to go out there. No, I didn’t want to at all.

3:46AM. I could no longer hold it. I stepped out of bed and walked out of my room. There’s nothing to fear. I thought of what Dad said. The only thing to fear is myself.

I switched on the lights this time. The corridor illuminated and hurt my eyes, which I had to adjust for a second. I walked to the toilet and did what I had to. I switched on the toilet lights this time.

Shortly after, I switched off the toilet lights and was just about to make my way back to my room.

The study room, it stood at the end of the corridor shrouded in darkness. Its darkness was more apparent when juxtaposed with the brightened corridor.

He stood there, a dark figure beside the study table.

He stood there, staring at me. I, too, stood there in the light, gazing at him, knowing I should run, run back to my room. Don’t go exploring; I could almost hear my Dad say. He is not real! He is something, someone from your imagination!

But I stood there. I could not move.

I closed my eyes and counted to three, straining so hard that my eyelids hurt. I opened my eyes again.

In the middle of the study room stood a fan. There was no longer any dark figure. You must be seeing things. Silly boy. What were you thinking? What kind of mind games are you playing with yourself?

 

I walked forward just to be sure. I had the courage of a man, a sudden surge that propelled me forward. I had to be seeing things. I had to. I needed to face this. All this time, the fan just stood there. I took a deep breath and stepped into the study room. The room itself wasn’t huge and it became immediately clear, there was no one in the room. There was only the fan and the table, and the table had three chairs tucked under it. All the windows were closed. There was no one. I walked over to the fan, and looked under the table. Nothing there as well. I stood in the darkness and chuckled to myself. Silly Justin, I whispered quietly.

I stood up again and faced the bright corridor.

I held my hand to my mouth and stifled a scream. There was someone standing in the middle of the corridor, in full view, under the light. My heart tumbled.

That person was me. Or at least someone who looked exactly like me. Same white plain T-shirt, same blue shorts, same disheveled hair. It was me. I was standing in the middle of that corridor, bathed in that courtroom spotlight. I was staring intently at me. But no, I was also here in the study room. So it couldn’t be me. He was staring at me, and I had no idea how we had managed to switch places. Upon locking eyes at my dark figure in the study room, a look of terror enveloped his face, and he strode straight back, back into my room. He didn’t even turn off the corridor lights. I stood there and watched, as he shut the door and locked it behind him.

I took the courage to walk up this time. In my head there could have only been questions. I tried for the doorknob and twisted it violently in both directions, but it wouldn’t budge.

The doorknob wouldn’t twist. The damn door was bolted shut. I was trapped outside my own bedroom.

To Mother, With Love

Before Mother’s Day officially ends here, I feel like it’s right that I share an experience in my life where my mothers love had touched me very deeply, without her even meaning for it to do so.

They always say that in your greatest time of need, the people you love will flash before your eyes. I think this statement rang true when I was in Taiwan at the start of 2014. I was still serving my tour in the Army at that time and was in the darkest and densest parts of the Taiwan forest at a lonely 2 AM with three other men, tired and cold. It was the start of spring so the weather was a chilly 10+ degrees Celsius. It was horrific for me, because the objective seemed so far away. We had done two missions but there were three more to complete. I wasn’t even halfway there and I already felt so depleted.

And then the worst possible thought came to my mind—the thought of my family, their smiles and their warmth. It was the worst possible thought, because at such desperate moments, this image tore me apart. Without much warning, damp tears flowed down my cheeks and turned cold before they reached the corner of my mouth. I did this quietly. I could not possibly give away the fact that I was breaking down in the middle of a mission, my face still thick with camouflage cream and the men around me falling into a restless sleep. No one was going to save me at this point, emotional distress is not something that is readily sympathised with.

I look back at that moment now and realise how defenceless I was, how utterly lost I felt and how little my life seemed to amount to. And at such moments, all I could think of was my family. At my lowest point, my family smiled their hypothetical smiles, and I was touched to tears.

It was thirty odd hours before the mission ended and we didn’t get a single wink of sleep the whole time. After stumbling out of the forest, I realised that my handphone had reception! Back in camp and in the jungle there was no signal, so for two weeks I had not talked to or heard from my parents.

I called my mother. It was a very natural choice, one that I instinctively carried out. I could have talked to my friends, check the news or surf pointless nonsense on the internet but none of these things vaguely occurred to me. In the most deprived time, the very things that are important to you will suddenly be prioritised. It is a beautiful realisation of the people you truly need in your life.

Every time my mother talked to me at home but I didn’t respond, every time I ate half her cooking and threw the other half away, every time I came back home late with two missed calls from her on my phone came flooding back to me with surprising clarity as I waited for her to pick up the phone. What could she be doing? Probably in her office typing a paper, going about her normal life and not realising what I had just gone through. But it was ok, I just needed to hear her voice to know that she was ok, and for her to know that I was doing fine after two weeks of not hearing from me. I just needed her to pick up the phone.

She probably wouldn’t remember this phone call, and why should she? It wasn’t a remarkable phone call when put out in words, but when she picked up the phone:

“Eh 儿子,你好吗?(Son, are you ok?)”

It was the only voice on earth that I needed to hear. It warms me up to this day.

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Happy Mothers Day, Mom.