Thursday, August 13, 2009


A land of excesses - vast land, abundant food, welcoming hospitality, bountiful sunlight and sweltering heat. A city with expansive land sparsely populated - 3 times the land size of Singapore but less than 5 times the population size of Singapore - imagine, some 1,863 square kilometres inhabited by just under 600,000 people! Kuching, capital city of Sarawak, the biggest state in Malaysia. 

The weather averaged an unbearable 38 degrees for the five full days I was there. What made it bearable however was; besides my husband, the 14 middle-aged men and women that make up the entire tour group I travelled with. It had been a great joy, being a part of this bigger family of generous and fun-loving aunties and uncles. There was never an awkward moment watching them. Away from the usual humdrum of family life and children, they were like kids on vacation. I saw them goofing around, laughing out loud without a care in the world, jesting and teasing each other as kids on a school excursion do. In fact, I so enjoyed my time with them I dreaded the last day as we departed from Kuching for Singapore. Onboard the plane, watching them steadily falling asleep one after another, I felt a pang of sadness, akin to those moments leading up to a farewell fanfare between tearful family members at airports. 

In every place that I visit, my happiest moments are brought about by cultural exchanges with its natives. I observed that women open wider doors to cultural experiences than men. Natives of a place are friendlier and more willing to share of their lives and experiences to a woman visitor. Kuching is a land of warm people and wide smiles. I spoke to many local men on various occasions, engaging them in their native tongue (Malay) and was warmly received because I spoke and sounded like them. I even look like them, given my tan complexion. I found out about their families, struggles, grips with their vocations, the city, the country.

A man I engaged in a conversation with at Sarawak Cultural Village left a deep impression in me. A good-looking middle-aged Orang Ulu (a native tribe of Sarawak), he carried a sorry tale behind his friendly demeanour. He allowed me to photograph only the top of his head, without revealing his face, and in between our conversation, I found that his wife died at child birth. He never remarried, but raised a daughter now 26 years old. I admire his strength, for I cannot imagine raising a child all by myself without a soul mate. 

In many places, rivers are an important source of life to its residents and a source of fascination to tourists. The Kuching River is no different. For just RM30, Jason and I relished a slow cruise along the river onboard a small, dingy, wooden boat half-rowed and half-run on motor by an elderly Malay man well into his 60s. The trip up and down the murky river, observing many a local and simple life of its Malay natives evokes a sense of tranquility unlike that found in a bustling city life. We chanced upon a welcoming sight of 4 boys playing at the shallow end of the river, stark naked.

We captured many a splendid scenes of and around the river and breathed in the simplicity of a people so humble it beckons a reflection on my part as to what I value as important. To me, constant progress is essential - thus my love for a city life. To these river folks, a day's wage and a close-knit family are sufficient. As a visitor to this beautiful land, I'm glad they retained this laid-back pace because every once in a while, we need a secluded place of refuge. For me, I found it this time round in the sleepy town of Kuching, though many a times I think I make a lousy tourist because I bring my city experiences to a quiet town and wonder what its natives do to occupy and humour themselves; and, silently, pity them. Maybe, similarly, unbeknown to me, they pity me, for my surrealism. 

One of the best ways to explore a city is to run through it - navigating its nooks n corners, eating places, retail stores, mechanical repair shops, dogs guarding many an industrial area. Running in Kuching must be a rare affair. I ran and attracted many a surprised and often second look by the locals, especially men, who nudge their fellow counterparts to look upon a stranger striding down the not-so-well paved streets, under a scorching sun and trapped humid heat, perspiring profusely, hair a wild mess and eyes scanning the vicinity and observing the everyday life of its inhabitants. 

The beauty of a place lies not just in its landscape, but in its people. Kuching may not offer the glitz and glamour of a modern city life, but it has certainly charmed me (and I believe many others) with its simplicity, hospitality and alluring Sarawak laksa. 

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Why I Run

Recently I have been asked by quite a number of friends: why do I run so much and for so long? And how do I find so much time to read? Here's why and how.

I started running a year ago when I was desperately bored with my previous job and needed something to perk me up in the morning. I'd wake up at 5.00am in the morning and run before work.

It was grueling, waking up early, and worse, I didn't enjoy running. So I started filling up the agony of running by listening to podcasts.

I did not enjoy running for one full year. It wasn't until sometime this year that I began enjoying it. What's more, I discovered a book titled "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall (introduced on a book podcast I was listening to then). Reading (or rather, listening to the audiobook version) further fueled my passion for running. I ran longer and faster while reading/listening the book - I was thoroughly inspired! It is a fantastic read, even if you are a non runner - the coverage on history, culture, anatomy and ultra running is amazing.

So, how do I find time to read? I don't read physical books as much as I listen to audiobooks, while traveling in the mrt and while running in the mornings. That's easily 3 hours (2 hours traveling to & fro, and 1 hour of running).

And why do I run? Because it totally disciplines me. It disciplines me to wake up early in the morning, ignoring my tired body, not lazing in bed but heading straight for the door, enduring an hour long run; and at the same time, I'd pray, meditate, and gain a whole world of knowledge by listening to podcasts & audiobooks.

The benefits are simply too much for me not to run.