Rainy Round Island

Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling

On the day of Eid al-Adha – the Day of Sacrifice in Malaysia, we did a rowdy ride around Penang Island. We witnessed and endured much, with the rain coming down on us halfway through our ride. There were also some rather gory scenes, with public slaughter of livestock (it isn’t called the Day of Sacrifice for nothing), which I will spare you.

Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling Penang Island Batu Maung Haji Rain Cycling

It’s mostly our usual cyclist shenanigans.

Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling Penang Island Haji Rain Cycling

Chiang Rai Cycling

Chiang Rai Bikelah

Chiang Rai Bikelah Clock Tower
The clock tower of DOOM! Although it would seem everything is spiky in Thailand

Chiang Rai Bikelah Chiang Rai Bikelah

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Chiang Rai Bikelah Chiang Rai Bikelah Chiang Rai Bikelah Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
The endless road

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Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
Doggy came to say hi

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
A man and his little pupper

Chiang Rai Elephant
The mighty Thai oliphaunt!

Chiang Rai Bikelah Food Chiang Rai Bikelah Food Chiang Rai Bikelah Girl Banana Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling

Chiang Rai Bikelah Coconut
The happiest coconut there ever was

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
The kids from the local orphanage came to greet us

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
It’s lean, it’s green and it’s spiky. Typical Thai

Chiang Rai Bikelah Cycling
Serrated spears that pierce the heavens

Self-Discovery

Here’s some food for thought:

We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.

– Blaise Pascal

It’s not exactly a world-changing quote, or even an uplifting one, but it does ring of truth when you think about it.

I believe we’ve all come across such scenarios in our lives, whether we’ve been on the giving or receiving end. One party has tried time and time again to convince another of the best course of action, but the other simply won’t listen. Some call it nagging, others counselling.

As I’m sure you’ve gleaned, what the quote is implying is that people are better at convincing themselves than anyone else. Really, a person’s mind is only truly changed when they allow themselves to be persuaded. And this is much harder if they were previously convinced to the contrary.

However I think there’s more to this than just that. On the one hand, it’s advice for people who are bent on altering the habits or perceptions of another. On the other, it touches on the power of self-discovery.

A key word in the quote above is “discover”. Now there are two ways to discover something:

  • By sheer chance, or
  • Through conscious seeking and searching

Maybe one day you wake up and you spontaneously decide that you’re going to get a haircut, even though your mum has been telling you to do it for the past few months. It just clicks in your head. It happens. It’s an epiphany! (I always enjoy using that word.)

What about quitting your job and moving to a new city or country? Do people suddenly get a change of heart on the fly, like having a toggle button flip in their heads? Even if they do, I imagine they would spend some time pondering the notion, plotting their course of action.

I think it’s more meaningful if we consciously try to seek for direction and reason on our own, but that’s not to say that having an epiphany is any less meaningful. It just sounds like the latter is a more passive process, but as long as there is action involved I’m your stuntman! I mean, action is good. Positive action.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the term “journey of self-discovery”. There’s some action for you. What does it mean to you? Have you ever embarked on one in your life? More than one?

Here’s a definition for you:

The term “journey of selfdiscovery” refers to a travel, pilgrimage, or series of events whereby a person attempts to determine how they feel, personally, about spiritual issues or priorities, rather than following the opinions of family, friends, neighborhood or peer pressure.

Thanks Wikipedia! What would we do without you? The people’s knowledge, I say!

Now this second quote ties in rather well with the first one, don’t you think? It focuses on the personal, the individual, the meaning in one person’s life, rather than what others dictate it to be.

It is about finding your own purpose and own way in this life, instead of simply accepting what your loved ones and what society has predetermined for you, as good as their intentions may be. It is what makes us individuals, what gives us identity, what makes us unique.

I believe that for a person to truly grow, they must go through a journey of self-discovery. To grow outwards, one must look inwards. Only by setting a solid foundation within yourself can you attempt to go out and change the world. But of course, don’t take my word for it. You’re better off discovering all this for yourself.

So where do I start, one might ask? How does one commence a journey of self-discovery? I’m glad you asked! Because by asking questions, you have already begun. Ooooh. O_O

Now I don’t profess to be a master of such lofty, philosophical trains of thought, but here are some suggestions, entirely free of charge**!

**This claim may or may not entitle you to solicitations for micro-transactions that may incur actual real-world charges in the form of currency, and other such offers.

Ask yourself:

  • How well do I know myself?
  • Do I feel fulfilled in my day-to-day life?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What inspires me?
  • Where am I heading?

Wow, this turned philosophical fast! Let’s just say if you can answer these personal questions, then you’ll have a better chance at tackling the somewhat trickier ones, like why am I here and what is my path in life?

Or you can continue on your way, your staunch mind unmolested by the winds of change that these words whisper in your ears. Oooh.

Either way, I wish you bon voyage on your odyssey of self-discovery! Discover your own reasons in life, so that you can uncover the many other mysteries this world has to offer, and maybe help others on your way through your treacherous quest.

May the Force live long and prosper! No, that’s not right…once you hit the bull’s eye, all the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate! Yes, that’s it.

A Culture of Fear

Fear is the best form of control. Cultivating a culture of fear ensures everyone tows the line.

Have you ever been to a live animal show? The circus or somewhere you can ride the animals? What happens to the stronger or the smarter ones? The monkeys and the elephants? The lions and the tigers? You’ll notice they are either chained up or beaten into submission. Bent to the will of man.

And they take it. Even though they could easily overpower their captors, break free and run for it. They obediently do as they are told, following the leash wherever it drags them, diligently doing what they have been trained to do.

That’s what we do, right? We train our young, train our people in the ways of the world. Train them to look both ways before crossing the street; train them to stay away from strangers; train them to wash their hands and stay indoors; train them not to climb trees or jump in the mud.

And of course that’s all very well and good and pragmatic. No nasty germs or jihadists getting to your precious younglings. They live to see prom and puberty.

But what happens when they are old enough to think for themselves? How do you control them then? Can’t very well spank them or send them to their rooms anymore (well, I suppose you still can but good luck with that). How do you ensure your children grow up imbued with the values and virtues that you wish to instill in them?

Why, you tell them stories of course. Preferably ones with morals and lessons in them.

Remember all those fairy tales and folk stories? Neither do I, there’s so many of them. Well, how about the latest news updates? Family accosted by unruly gentleman! Fire hydrant explodes, spilling gallons of water onto the streets! I imagine they’re actually a lot worse than that.

Those places are far, far away, you say. We’ll be fine. No volcanoes or earthquakes or Tyrannosaurus Rexes where we live. We are the people that are never in the news. We are the folk that exist in between the lines, in the blank gaps where no ink or blood flows.

But what happens when it strikes close to home? When a neighbour’s house gets broken into? When a friend contracts an unpleasant disease? When a crazy dog bites someone?

We do what most sane people would do: we lock up our houses, avoid human contact, and stay the hell away from anything that isn’t human while we’re at it. Good strategy. Stay indoors, away from people, zero petting. Win.

This way, even if nothing of the sort ever happens to us personally, we’re prepared. Constant vigilance! Don’t go near the water because there might be jellyfish! Bring that mosquito repellant so you don’t die of dengue fever! Lather in that sunscreen so the black holes of melanoma don’t consume your soul! In fact, just don’t go out at all. It’s too dangerous.

Isn’t it ironic that we laugh at people who are afraid of little creatures many times smaller than their own body size, but a lot of us fear the tiniest most minuscule of adversaries: micro-organisms. Dropping an acronym like SARS or MERS will easily strike fear into an entire population. Superbugs are going to bite you in your sleep! Take more drugs, people!

I’m not saying doing any of those things is wrong or foolish. I’m merely pointing out that such things are part of the risk averse culture that is driven by fear. Part of the smothering web that slowly eats away at your sense of adventure. Chips away at your resolve to do things you’ve never done before. Keeps you safe and proper and “civilised”.

And so you stay in your safe zone, your comfort zone, where everything is neat and tidy and clean as a whistle. Where you can surf the web on your phone in peace and quiet, with zero lag.

Even if you do travel, it’s to areas deemed safe with no natural disasters or epidemics or crime or crazy psychopaths. And you book everything doubly in advance so you don’t miss out on anything ever. Check the weather to make sure the prophets have decreed that it will be just the right temperature to hazard a stroll outside for that day tour.

When was the last time you tried something new? Travelled someplace that none of your friends had been before? When was the last time you felt alive?

Do you want to break free of this culture of fear? Someone has been holding you back all these years, filling your head with notions of bad guys and fearsome creatures and failure. And now someone can set you free: it begins with you.

Get out there and do something no one else has thought of before. Try that drink you’ve always wanted to try. Jump for joy when you feel like it. Whistle even if you can’t. Who cares what other people think? Judgment never brought anyone any real joy anyway.

One of our biggest fears is the fear of the unknown. We fear what we don’t understand, like weird viruses and prions and algebra. Well, it’s no longer an unknown if you’ve done it or had it before. If all else fails, adapt! You can either conquer your fear, or let it conquer you. Which one sounds better to you? Which one will help you look back without regret?

Yes, fear is healthy and pertinent for survival. But someone said you should never have too much of a good thing. Because then you get fat. Fat with fear.

So take control of your life today. Don’t let someone or something else control you, especially fear. Because once you let fear seep in, it will spread to more and more facets of your life.

We all feel fear in our lives; it is about accepting your fear and assessing realistically just how worthy this fear is of your attention. Whether or not you’re willing to let it force you into submission, or cast off the shackles of unnecessary fear and have more control over your own actions.

I leave you with this litany from a famous author, whose identity I shall leave you to guess (or Google).

Litany Against Fear

I will not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Halfway Round Penang

Penang is by no means a huge island. A round trip will take you under half a day, and the total travel distance would be around 82 kilometres. So here’s a brief outline to getting halfway round the island; the more built-up half of the island, I should add.

Bikelah half island cycle route
Half island cycle route.

There are two primary ways you can get from the top to bottom: through the urban centre of the isle, or along the coastal highway. I’m sure you can guess which one I took.

Taking the coastal route is only slightly longer than the inland one, but you get an amazing panorama of the Penang Strait as well as of both the Penang bridges. The bike paths are also, for the most part, more well defined along the coast. If you go inland you’ll be on the main roads a lot.

Since it gets fairly warm around the late morning, you’ll probably want to head out nice and early. Especially since that will give you the chance to catch a glimpse of this:

Bikelah fishing at dawn

So head along Gurney Drive and onto Sultan Ahmad Shah for some decent straight cycling. You can happily keep left for the most part, since you will be sharing the road with impatient motorists.

Hit high noon at Penang’s famous palm nut roundabout, then follow the road right down the esplanade boulevard. Follow it all the way until it opens up into a highway. Avoid going up the large highway overpasses unless there is a separate motorbike lane you can use.

You will eventually pass under a great overhead bridge with the E-Gate complex in front on the right. You’ll want to veer off the motorbike lane at this point and onto the bicycle path so you don’t get caught in intense highway traffic.

You’ll end up cruising along an almost enclosed, shaded pathway, with the highway on your right. Happily plod along until the buildings to your left disappear and give way to the open sea.

Bike Bikelah peekaboo
Peekaboo!

Keep true to the paths, even if they appear to warp between bike path and sidewalk and unsealed road. After passing a fishing village on the your left, the path will become a road. Go left over a little bridge and up onto the high sidewalk. If you follow it down, you will see an opening on the left.

The foliage on the sides are heavily overgrown, but don’t be put off. You’ll see multi-storey bungalows on your right. Go along this path briefly, then you will see this:

 

Bikelah view at dawn

My bike enjoying the early morning view.

Once you pass the Queens Bay shopping mall, you’ll have to hop onto the main road (because whoever worked on the bike lane gave up right at the end). Take a left and head down towards the second Penang bridge and Penang’s major industrial zone.

Head along the main roads and follow the signs, and voila! You’re on your way to the rural side of Penang. That side is called Balik Pulau, but we’ll save it for another time.

Bikelah poster

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.