A Brewing Storm

Dark clouds loom over the horizon of this Utopian little tropical island; there is talk weaving through the grapevine of an incoming thunderstorm. And here I am propped up at the most miniature laptop I’ve ever used in the lobby of a hostel in Singapore, in the wake of the biggest global tremor that has emanated from this region in a long time. The Minister Mentor is gone.

His title says it all: he was the politician of this country and he was a marvelous mentor to younger ministers and to his citizens and to the rest of the watching world. His words and actions have inspired generations and shaped the physical and mental mould of many nations, including but not limited to Singapore’s.

Like so many others, I wish to pay my respects at the Parliament House to the great man on the very foundation of his life’s work. And like many others, my mind drifts to the possibilities and to the future. How will Singapore forge ahead without their iron backbone, their will of steel? Has Lee Kuan Yew’s ideologies and life values been ingrained sufficiently into his lifeblood, his countrymen and women?

I have always admired Lee Kuan Yew. He has easily been one of the most prominent political figures in this part of the world ever. Ever. That means the public spotlight was always on him. And he endured it and relished it and made it work for him, as best he could. His traditional values and stern leadership carried him consistently through this mortal coil, and he barely stumbled, always pushed on, always did what he believed was best for himself and for his people.

Did you know Lee Kuan Yew loved to swim? I imagine he didn’t get a chance to do it very much when he was playing father to a whole country of people, but I guess that’s something that kept him going. Kept him sharp. Maybe I should get back to swimming more.

Oh, that reminds me, some good news: Penang just had their international cross channel swim this morning! Six whole kilometres over open ocean. And that’s not taking into account drift and waves. And I don’t mean from the spectators. Hopefully there will be more to come, since it has been a very long time since there has been anything of the sort around that part of Malaysia. Watch this space!

Now I mentioned I was lodging at a hostel. A little bit of advice to those who may plan on hitting the dormitories and shared accommodations: get a decent and decently-sized quick-dry towel and take it everywhere with you! If you have to take one piece of advice from whimsical Mr. Adams, take a towel with you wherever you go. They can be surprisingly (or perhaps I’m just easily surprised) handy! That said you might not want to get too attached to one, because certain uses may call for the greatest sacrifice a towel can give.

That’s all for now, folks. Peace out!

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It’s Adventure Time!

I recently encountered a thought-provoking quote questioning a queer predicament that the Western world is currently facing. It is something that affects all of us, something that strikes us at our core. First World problems.

The quote resonated with me. It piqued at this yearning inside me, this almost alien notion. Adventure.

Since I was a child I had heard the word so many times that its meaning was dashed to dull little shards in my autopilot brain (it doesn’t help that I still watch the intro for almost every episode of Adventure Time). Let’s go on an adventure, Adventure World, Adventure Time, Adventure Quest.

“This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively, but if sweetness can win, and it can, then I’ll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace.”

And I believe there is, deep in the soul of man, an innate longing for adventure, an intrinsic passion for something risky, something new. Perhaps just something unusual.

Variety is the spice of life, as they say. And you can’t drink variety without a spot of change. And change is often associated with trouble and discomfort.

Western culture is geared to believing that if we are comfortable and in control of our environment, then we will be happy. Is that not the American Dream? If you can tick all the boxes, then you’re a success and you can live happily ever after!

In striving to achieve the elusive American Dream, countless souls have thrown themselves into the pursuit of wealth and happiness. And are they now happy? Sure, lots of them are! I do not disagree. But what if the joy is in the struggle? What if we were never meant to “get there”?

Dean Karnazes has a similar lament about our culture of comfort. In fact, it almost seems like he is asking us to embrace discomfort.

We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure.

It is his quote that tickled my sense of adventure, that rang true with my distaste at the sedentary lifestyle and cubicle culture that boxed me in and surrounded me.

It has been said that pain and suffering are the catalysts for growth. No pain, no gain, right? On some level everyone knows this to be true. But of course you’ll find that just saying things like that to people ain’t the best way to motivate them. People cringe and visibly recoil at the mere prospect of pain and sweat and muscle aches and discomfort. Frankly, the sight of it makes me sad.

It has to start in the mind, I tells ya. I used to believe I could never amount to anything physically, could never run, never achieve anything athletically. But one day I decided. I said to myself: I think I can do this. Not the most assertive thing to tell a young scrawny sap, but slowly I pushed myself, gradually I tried different things, challenged myself in different ways. Because I believed nothing is impossible.

And you know what I found? I discovered I could do it! Nothing the likes of Dean Karnazes or Usain Bolt or my uncle Khoo Swee Chiow (Singapore to Beijing on a bike!), of course. That being said, deep down inside, I do still believe if I so desired that I could one day be like these legends. Pipe dreams, perhaps. But my point is it is not impossible.

What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.

And when I read this, I felt my insides come to life; the hairs on my back began breaching the atmosphere, a spark began spinning wildly out of control in my head. So that’s what it is, I thought to myself. I think Mr. Karnazes certainly hit the nail on the head, and put it very eloquently too. 

Now you might think all these folk do these outlandish things for the fame and fortune, and I can’t discount that as a real factor. But be that as it may, I like to believe that the real reason these folks went on wild and world-changing adventures, was just because they wanted to push themselves to see how far they could go.  When they had exerted their bodies to the limit, when they had stared certain death in the face, to catch a glimpse of that magic.

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The Little Lake North of Perth

If you’re a casual cyclist and you’re searching for a spot to take your bike for a spin, there’s this idyllic lake just north of Perth city that you’ll absolutely adore! Chances are you’ve already been. It’s called Lake Monger. Mm hm, thank you come again!

Lake Monger
Doesn’t look so big now, does it?

Even if you’ve already graced the place with your presence, you should try going at different times on different days of the week. It’s a truly picturesque spot that’s popular with runners, walkers, young families and cyclists. This means it can get very busy during peak exercise hours.

The lake is circled by lush vegetation and stalwart trees, and beyond the lake looking south you can behold the cityscape of Perth standing watch above the treetop. There’s lots of local wildlife (mostly birds, and they’re not really that wild), as well as cute local domesticated life. Yes, I’m talking about pets here.Happy Dog

Monger Lake
Check out them birds! Wak.

The place is centrally located and very accessible by bike. If you’re travelling up from the south, there is a region when you reach the central business district where you’ll have to do a hopscotch through the city then shimmy along the Mitchell Freeway until you spot the lake.

Here’s a brief cycle-through on how to get to the lake from Perth city. If you are game to cycle next to CBD traffic then go north along any of the main roads until you find your way to Wellington. Then go to 42. If not, go to 15.

15

Once you pass John Oldham Park (that one on your left as you approach the city) take a right into the spooky tunnel under the road, bear right, then head up the happy slope towards Mount Street where you’ll see the pedestrian overhead bridge that spans the Mitchell Freeway. Ignoring the trolls, cross the bridge and explore the quieter inner city streets that will lead you to the east section of Wellington Street.

There’s a little map below in case my directions are entirely unhelpful (which they probably are). I should mention this is a decent way of passing through Perth city without having to go onto the bustling deadly roads of Perth (they’re actually not that hazardous, aside from the cars), should you ever need to pass from north to south. Now go to 42.

Follow the blue line.
Follow the blue line.

42

Go along Wellington for a little bit then take a right to find your way onto Market Street before linking up with Railway Street. From here you have two choices: you can either go east or go west. If east is your inclination, then get onto the red bicycle path that runs parallel to the Mitchell Freeway and just cruise along it until you see an imposing white bridge that extravagantly opens the way to Lake Monger as well as the nearby train station.

Otherwise, you can take a jaunt into suburbia and cut north through Subiaco. Yep, that’s all folks; you can find your own way there. Don’t worry, the suburb is a grid, so just keep going right and you’ll be alright! No wait, I just made that up. Essentially, all you need to do is find your way to Lake Monger Drive, and the lake will be staring you in the face.

And a few hundred words later, you’ll find yourself at lovely Lake Monger!

Lake Monger Sunset

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One Man’s Cause

A few days ago, I met a man. A man with a very unique name, and a very unique passion.

I was told to call him “Jee” (please don’t start singing that song…oh great, now you’ve got it stuck in my head). He immediately struck me as a very passionate and driven individual, with many a good yarn to spin. But his one defining passion, at least as much as I could glean from a first encounter, was his roots. His Hainanese heritage.

Having a passion and taking action are two very different things. So what did Jee do? I’ll tell you what he did. Jee did something very remarkable – he cycled all the way from Penang island in Malaysia to Hainan island in China!

Penang to Hainan cycle route
Mr. Jee’s journey by bike from Penang to Hainan.

WARNING: Trivia Alert!

Bit of background information for those interested. Penang is one of the most prominent places in west Malaysia, with the nickname the Pearl of the Orient. With a population of under 2 million, Penang boasts a diverse multicultural heritage, as well as a UNESCO tag to their historic old town. It’s filled with arts and craft and architecture owing to a plethora of religions and cultures. A tourist hotspot and incidentally, a great place to cycle too!

Hainan, on the other hand, is the smallest and southernmost province in China since it split from Guangdong province in 1988. Don’t let that introduction fool you though, because it dwarfs Penang island in so many ways. Let’s see: population – 9 million; 10 major cities and 10 counties; 6 different mountains that exceed 1,500 metres in height. A thriving economy, major tourism industry, bubbling hot springs, and they have their very own space launch centre!

One thing both these places share is Hainanese chicken rice. And seafood. And other delicious Asian food. Man, this is making me hungry!

Anyway, I think I’ve digressed enough. Now Mr. Jee’s arduous odyssey took him through numerous countries in the South-East Asian region. He slogged through sun and rain, road and mud, hill and valley. He travelled over 6,250 kilometres. On a bicycle.

Why did he do it? Well, you’d have to interview him yourself to discover all the reasons. But I believe he did it for two reasons: to personally make the journey by land from his hometown to his ancestral home, and to create a link between these two unique locations.

He is a herald for the Hainanese clan in his hometown of Penang and for all those who belong to the Hainanese ethnicity in the surrounding regions. He is a champion for stronger relations and connections between the two island nations of Penang and Hainan, and ultimately Malaysia and China. And above all, he is a cyclist with a dream.

You can read all about Mr. Jee’s adventures and his plans to link these long-lost cultures on his dedicated website. There are even numerous tips on how to go about bikepacking (backpacking with a bike), for those who may be intrigued by the prospect. So if you’re contemplating exploring around the area with a bit more pizazz, check out the website or better still, get in touch with Mr. Jee!

P.S. At the start I alluded to a name that was like no other. You didn’t think I’d forgotten, did you? Well, when you meet him, remember to tell him I told you to say hi. Because that’s his name. His full name is Jee Say Hai.

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Pedaling Around Perth

Perth is a pretty pleasant place to pedal. I guess that sums up cycling in Perth: loads of peas.

And koalas and kangaroos.

I kid, you probably won’t see any of those (unless you specifically order them; some places serve a mean kangaroo steak) while you’re on your bike in Perth. Methinks this would be a good place to clarify that we’re talking about Perth, Western Australia. Hope I didn’t disappoint too much.

What you will see will blow your mind though. Well-kept lawns, pristine beaches, wide expanses of greenery, broad swathes of ocean and the most stunning sunsets you’ll ever see.

Sculpture Sunset

But enough chit-chat, let’s take a cruise around the metropolitan area of Perth.

Perth has some mighty decent cycling infrastructure: well-maintained cycle paths that flank the main freeway and surround the great Swan River; online guides to popular cycling routes; a few bicycle repair stations that may be in need of repair themselves; endless sunshine, except at night; quaint little cafes and coffee shops serving that precious molten elixir that everybody craves; and most importantly, freely available toilet facilities (yes yes coffee is waaay more important than whatever comes after you imbibe; let’s just say I saved the best few till last, m’kay?). What more could you want?

Chances are if you’ve been in Perth long enough, you’ll know it’s unofficially divided into the right side and the wrong side of the river. I’ll let you decide which is which, but it’s basically between the north and south side.

Perth Map
Figure 1.1 That mighty crooked thing under the letters Perth, that be the Swan Riverrr arrr.

Now, both the north and the south have their fair share of bike paths and scenic routes. I imagine most of the routes you take will be influenced, if not dictated, by where you live.

While I’ve got the map here I might as well point a few things out. The north side has lots of nice beaches with cycle paths that run parallel so you can cruise along them to the thrum of the ocean. If you go inland to that little dot called Mundaring, there’s a forest trail that’s popular with the off-road MTBers. It’s also fairly mountainous, so if you’re into acute angles on wheels then be my guest!

One thing that isn’t found in Figure 1.1 is this vibrant coastal town just south of Rockingham called Mandurah. Alright, before you cut my tyres I’m pretty sure it’s a city by now, but for some reason I’ve heard it’s still classed as rural. Go figure.

A red riding path runs right next to the north-south Kwinana freeway and goes all the way from central Perth city down to Mandurah. It’s a reasonable distance (around 70kms for those playing at home) but definitely worth the leisurely ride. A few small hills and the occasional detour, but largely a straightforward route.

If you do decide to speed down to Mandurah, don’t miss the turnoff at Cockburn Central Train Station. There’s this quaint little coffee shop shaped out of shipping containers called Mooba.

20140705_121724
Mooba long, you whippersnappers! New age cafes these days.

They do a decent cup of joe, and I’ve noticed some people doing bicycle workshops in the area from time to time. They even have a bike repair station!

Bike Repair
I hope it still works…

You can take detours to the two towns listed on the map before Mandurah, but you’ll find they’re both a fair distance from the freeway and are somewhat less vibrant. That said, don’t let it deter you from exploring those mysterious roads and forgotten forests…

Kwinana Reserve

In conclusion, if you are an avid cyclist and are for whatever strange reason being deported to Perth, fear not! For although the paths may not always be straight and may sometimes even end abruptly, there are many cycling adventures to be had here on the sunny western coast. And what can I say, the locals, they just looove cycling.

20131109_215305

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Welcome, Tyred Traveller!

Welcome, my friend, to the cycling diary of some random, rambling, mostly enthusiastic guy with a bike!

A word of warning: I tend to ramble (did I mention I tend to repeat myself as well?) especially when I get the whole train-of-thought business going, but I promise there will be pictures! Soon.

First, a tiny bit of preamble. Why have two wheels between your feet, you may ask? Well, because it’s faster! But not so fast that you have to maintain your hands at the 10-2 position (or whichever segment of the clock our hands are supposed to tick to in this day and age) and keep your eyes fixed on the reflective periscopes that sequester you in the comfortable alloy box that drives our world into the future! Tick tock.

Now where was I? Oh yes, why cycle? On a bike you can move at your own pace and stop almost anywhere you like, a great way to capture those fleeting photos. On a bike you’re exposed to the great outdoors, that big patch of natural goodness that sustains us and takes our breath away! On a bike you can feel the breeze on your face and the wind in your hair (keep that helmet on, people).

When you’re on a bike, you’re using one of the few renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy: manpower (and womanpower, because women ride too). Perhaps my definition of renewable is somewhat questionable (technically we’re not being depleted in the expenditure of energy), and you might argue that humans are by no means a friend of their environment what with their ploughing and pillaging, but my point is…why waste money on petrol?

Alright, I’ll stop harping on about the supposed benefits of churning your legs in circles. Chances are you’ve come across the concept of cycling anyway. Some people say it’s a fad or a trend, like golf and Tamagotchi and Justin Bieber. I jest, Bieber is forever. Regardless I Bielieve cycling always has and will continue to conveniently shuttle folks around the world for many, many ages to come. So, um…keep cycling, people! Yes, that was my point.

Did I say I would cease and desist? Oops. Ah Tamagotchi, that brings back memories…

Riverton Sunset

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