Saturday, January 31, 2015

12 KM Jogging Trail Around Keningau

Six days of inactivity after the 100 plus outrunner to recuperate, I decided to follow my friends out for a slow jog-cum-walk around the trails in and about Keningau. Fascinating would be an understatement of the year as I literally possessed no notions about these trails until today. The early morning breeze, coupled with the slight drizzle that preambles the portentous sign of a heavy rain (which failed to turn up) as well as the gunmetal sky with razor-lines of sunlight peeking behind the pregnant clouds was an inviting breath of fresh experience. To be frank, I have never in my life attempted jogging on a trail prior to this and as exciting as it may have seemed, I was partially and internally happy to go slow in fear of risking further injuries while at the same time taking in the glorious sights of the local village sceneries. The picturesque view would hardly come as a surprise for a person like me who has been staying in Alor Setar for more than five years as I do have encounters, every now and then with the brilliant golden-yellowish hue of the paddy fields. 

The 12 KM stretch starts out from the back of my house (a trail which I never knew existed) followed by a circuitous route that takes us out of the Bingkor bypass before feeding into a lengthy gravel road intertwined in between with tarred road. The huge circle then ended right back up on the front of my rented place and the whole affair took us nearly two hours to complete as I went really slow. Notice how far behind I was from the avant-garde runner right in the front. Haha... I'm quite certain that my pace might have been lingering around 9-10 km/minute, the unconventional pace that I would take whenever I couldn't quite cope with the state of affairs of injuries that I picked up from the overly gung-ho participation of the half marathon the month before. I've learned my lesson well enough and would stick to the 5-10 K for the time being. 

Thankfully I decided to revert back to my Asics Kayano Gel which I've been running with for the past six months or so. It must have been broken into enough to be a comfort fit for my feet. I ended the run with some tolerable strains, not much of a pain but bordering on discomfort. As I've learned from the past, whenever I am afflicted with such soreness, I chose to dwindle down the speed even further and walk at a languid pace. No more of those cavalier attitude of no pain, no gain after I've done a lot of reading and revising on the ChiRunning book by Danny Dreyer. A good form is what's important after all and I tried this out throughout my run/jog/walk. It served me well enough and I attempted to utilise my core muscles, lifting my ankles and keeping my knees down to adopt the proper form in running. I also pointed my toes forwards rather than sideways unlike what I would usually do in the past. That's what people would call the duck-walk just to clear up the confusion.

Notice the toes pointed forward, a slight lean (not from the waist but from the ankles and I do realise I still do lean on my waist every now and then), elbows bent at 90 degrees while appearing not so relaxed for the fear of the cows going suddenly berserk behind me. LOL! Oh and most importantly, I strive for a mid-foot landing rather than the usual heel strike. You will appreciate that I tried to open my stride behind my hips on the pictures above rather than opening the stride up in front. I could only manage around 150-160 steps per minute at my fastest but I couldn't quite keep this pace up with too much of a short stride as I was literally exhausted after a couple of minutes. I then went down to around 120-130 steps per minute.

Scenic view, with the paddy fields adjoining the sides. Juxtaposed right next to the trail is a canal that is actively gushing with fast-flowing water thanks to the rain the night before. With birds chirping, egrets poised in mid stance, the gushing of the water flowing through and through as well as the occasional moos from the cows and the barks from the local hunting dogs, who wouldn't feel relaxed at such an ambiance that would take you through the trail roads at a slow comfortable pace? This was definitely a new experience - one that I'm sure would keep nature-lovers glad with a fulfilling satisfaction. 

Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling

I think I might just have a crush on JK Rowling’s prose and I might as well admit the fact that I couldn’t wait for her next book to be out. As much as the promises made into the ravishing details of her next Cormoran Strike series, I’m wondering what surprises she has in store for me. Casual Vacancy, so as it is stated, is her first adult novel that takes on a whole different realm of writing. Published in 2012, just before Cuckoo’s Calling and Silkworm, it concerns a particular local election in a district council. One of the Pagford’s councilman had just suffered a burst berry aneurysm which resulted in the inevitable death sentence. This resulted in an empty position which is locally termed as the casual vacancy. As through the faces of the public unconcerned with the relative minutiae of the politickings between two opposing forces fighting for the position - this book aims to genuinely unravel the ugly and dirty side behind it and takes into account those group of individuals that comes under heavy fire from the decision panned out by either sides should they win the election. Like the common saying always go - whichever side wins, the ones to suffer would still be those of the grassroots.

It should have been a dreary read considering the banality of the plot yet Rowling isn’t one to give it up so easily without some dramatisation of her characters. Unlike the clear-cut good versus evil residing within her Harry Potter series, Casual Vacancy reveals the utter darkness of all her characters' flaws. It is more so of the lesser of the two evils embroiled in a battle that has been boiling over more than half a century that sees a piteous nature of those who didn’t ask to be oppressed versus those that couldn’t dream of anything other than holding on to power and authority. The beautiful canvassing of the characters and their chemistry, despite it being an ugly one with no bars held in check is one that is a genuine freedom of fictitious prose that brings you back to the reality of the immediate ripple effect stirred by a casual vacancy.

If asked upon which characters I liked best, I would have no problems in picking up that of Krystal Weedon. She represents all the aspects of poverty, the circumstances of her penurious state defines the abhorrent attitude of those in charge who are in for a quick buck and a benefits in political gain. And it would as well extend both to her mother Terri Weedon and her younger three-year-old brother Robbie Weedon, for all trio suffered directly, if not indirectly, what the destitute would often come to comprehend. For lack of a better description, it was an appalling state of affair described in colourful adjectives about their lives. These little bundle of characters showed what it really is like when it comes to the realms of prostitution, crack abuse, child neglect and sadly rape. Even domestic abuse was inscribed into the novel but that was printed in another family of the Prices.

It ain’t much of a read for most who prefers to shy away from such characters, thus making Casual Vacancy not one of a highly voted book, but coming from one who works with the destitute, I’m sure I can understand what JK Rowling is trying to cut across in this novel. I sincerely hope that she will never stop writing because I’m developing a knack for her prose and I just pray that she will get better and better over time.

Friday, January 30, 2015

100 Plus Outrunner

This was definitely something fresh out of the box with an added tinge of surprise that distinguishes itself from your typical garden-variety marathons. With the added drones to scan your barcode and taking your 'life' leaving you hanging, you'd either run like never before or run strategically. Thankfully, we didn't sign up for the former, but decided to go with the much more low-key affair of running the 12 kilometre stretch around Precinct 3 and 4 of Putrajaya. Let's face the fact, I'm still so much for an amateur runner who has been jogging for the past five years, but only recently started to participate in jogathons and the 5K-10K competitive runs. I'm still basking myself in the ambiance of feeling the after-effect of the run and likewise, the experience of the run. To compete and run at a shorter time isn't really to my liking, but to complete one naturally would be exhilarating. Don't we all always begin like that? But hinges and pressures from work would disadvantaged me to do any others than just to cross the finish line without acquiring any particular injuries.

Perhaps, one of the more well-organised run with purportedly 10,000 participants, I'm quite surprised that they did pretty well. The volunteers, organisers and participants made up the whole carnival affair and the fireworks marking off the starting point was indeed a remarkable triumph added to the atmosphere. Had there been any form of decline in terms of the organisational aspect, it would be contributed towards the way certain groups or individuals do their running. And so you will hear of how these people would bump into you and shove you aside to gain the few steps right ahead of you without enunciating their 'p's and 'q's properly; only to fall behind again after a few extra running meters because they ran out of gas. And when their gasses are refilled, they would relapse to the similar running joke that quite screams out the word amateur. I suppose these fellas took the whole deal as a serious matter to garner their personal best record that they forget the very basic fact that it doesn't really matter whether you come first or last. Then again, certain people possesses certain life philosophy that is best left unchallenged. But I do sincerely hope that at least one would learn about how to be a courteous runner, or at least adopt the proper running etiquette so as to run in a way that doesn't reveal how ignorant you are. But I suppose I should stop being pedagogical about these matter, lest I be rebuked. 

On a lighter note, this was the first run that I adopted the ChiRunning method and failed miserably partly because I'm still new into learning about the methodology and posture and largely because I'm still ignorant of my own BodySensing capability. And these two could very well be attributed to my core muscle strength which is like to the many of us non-existent. This sort of run is practically quite new and requires one to adopt a new style of running which markedly reduces injuries so that you could extend your running years well into your sixties, seventies and even eighties without surrendering to joint pains and stiffness. It isn't surprising to witness so many people suffering from running injuries year in and year out, and to those who yet to suffer them would be a likely candidate in the near future. I am quite frustrated with the notion of my flat-foot which often gives me knee trouble, and thus the need to research for something new and for something revolutionary. Thankfully, I came across this book by Danny Dreyer who appears to be the founder of the ChiRunning and ChiWalking method. Head on out for his e-Books if you're keen to learn more, but I could very well attest to the fact that his running method is one that would carry you far. I'm still learning from scratch - posturing, stance, Body Sensing and ChiWalking before even considering the need to advance to ChiRunning and trust me when I say that even the basics are a challenge.

Coffee Stain

Like many other states and nowadays districts, the highest amount of outlets that you could see while driving across town has to be that belonging to the food and beverages department. And here, we have one that I would like to shed my thoughts on. That of Coffee Stain which is located in Solaris Dutamas. From the outward appearance, the facade boasts a humble veneer which consists of a small verandah that offers outdoor dining. The decor is plush with creepy-crawly plants that mimics that of the grapevine closely. Walking into the coffee outlet would differ infinitesimally compared to most other creative coffee places as you would be nevertheless greeted by the caffeinated aroma infused with the greasy ambiance that comes together with your typical breakfast-y meal. Marry this with the elegance of interior designing and you'd get a luxurious feel, one which boasts of a class that stands on their own. Impression, like they say is a vital key to inviting first-time customers, but what is to follow would often play out the remaining affairs of whether you would love to return for your next agenda.

The Coffee Stain outlet is located in the same area as that of the Red Beanbag, and in significant contrast to the more ostentatious outlook of the latter, the former pales in comparison when it comes to the attempt of trying to be what it isn't really. Finding a place to park your behind isn't much of a problem here, not even in the peak hours - so you should probably pay a congratulatory consolation towards the idealistic quick dining that they are offering. On the other hand, one begs to differ when it comes to the content matter - the food and the drinks, in parentheses. Service was the first thing that threw me off my hinges when I had to resort to getting up and approaching the counter to place my order. I was informed that the waitress would attend to us shortly, but how short that is leaves the mind boggling as you continue to wait out for at least ten minutes or so. Thank goodness the waitress adopts the smiling policy and we're distinctly grateful for her presence to take our orders. By then, we were famished and have already forgotten (nearly) what our orders were. Unhurriedly, the pretty lady took down our orders in a methodical manner and gave her best toothy smile to reassure us of our presence in dining at Coffee Stain. Well.. that says so much for the service and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Eggs Benedict with salmon (above) and Bacon Pancake with Honey (below) - forgive my unintentional omission of the proper platter names but the insipid blandness of the food might have something to do with it. Perhaps having sampled some of the best foods in town could contribute to the reason why I am a tad bit too vocal and expressive when it comes to something that couldn't quite match up to the second to none comparison. And it wasn't really attributed to the fact that the food was undercooked or overcooked - but perhaps one should look into the way it was prepared. Presentation was without a doubt as pleasant as it would get. But the first bite was sufficient for me to decide otherwise.

Branded as their signature caffeinated beverage, I suppose there's no harm in giving it a shot, but we certainly didn't. And that was referring to the coffee cubes cum iced coffee (no picture, sorry) served with a hefty price of RM 15.90. That's way too much for one to enjoy whatever Robusta or Cuban beans they are trying to impose upon your selection, but then again, who'd knew? We decided to go with the more conventional affair of Cafe Latte and Citrus Circle (quite obviously, this is iced lemon tea in disguise of a more proper noun). And even this wasn't much of a deal to start off with. I'd rather return to the Red Beanbag than to give this outlet another shot for their other menu selections. Good first impressions for the visual senses, but there's still quite a lot of improvements on the other aspects of it. And when that fails, I could always make my own coffee cubes ice latte with infinite servings of espresso to my liking.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Under the Hawthorn Tree, Ai Mi

I suppose the original Chinese prose was an outstanding one filled with flowery verse and beautiful descriptives. Painted in one of the remote villages in China, the book serves to withstand the acid test of love in an utmost and unusual circumstance. Without spilling too much beans on this one (it is best preserved unravelled), may I thus recommend this title to you. And if you could read Mandarin, it's all the much better to go with the original text. It's a pity that I couldn't do so and have to make do with a weaker English translation that didn't impose too much of a strength to encourage higher ratings.

Granted in the most original prose, the book would have inevitably won numerous awards for its' creative fictitious account.