From my recollection, I’ve never done a BRICK (short for doing a bike ride/run/swim consecutively) before February this year. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I signed up to do a mini duathlon (swim 500 m then run 6 km) with Try3 club in March. I just remember stressing about transitioning from swimming to running (I didn’t have a triathlon suit at that stage) and potentially catching a cold running outside straight after a swim (fortunately I didn’t).
Having cycled 80 km in the mountains the day before, my legs felt like lead on Sunday morning when I turned up to do the duathlon (I haven’t discovered the benefits of foam rolling and recovery workouts at that stage). After the head coach went through the rules with us, we went off to change into our swimming gear and gathered by the pool. I struggled through the swim, only managing to do free-style for the first 200 meters before lapsing into breast stroke. I was the last out of the pool, feeling very sluggish and not looking forward to the run. There was only one other fellow newbie in the transition area, struggling to put on her long running tights. I quickly towel-dried my hair, slipped on my running jacket, running shorts and (powdered) running shoes and ambled over to the entrance of Chaoyang Park to start the run. I managed to find the running track and followed it most of the way with some guidance from the club members.
To this day, I’m still not sure if I actually ran 6 km, but it didn’t matter. I finished my first mini duathlon and experienced what it’s like to run straight after a swim. Transitioning wasn’t as messy as I’d feared, and running with wet feet sans socks wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated, but I really wished I brought a cap to cover my wet hair during the run. I did remember feeling completely knackered afterwards and napping involuntarily in the afternoon.
In the weeks following my first dabble into multisports, I realised just being able to swim, bike and run wasn’t enough prep for taking part in a triathlon. I needed stamina to swim, bike and run consecutively for a little over three hours for an Olympic distance race.
To gain some triathlon racing experience, I’m off to Wuxi tomorrow to do my very first Sprint distance triathlon armed with my brand new Garmin Forerunner 920XT, and enjoy some fresh air and time by the lake.
Happy Dragon Boat holidays to those who’ll be getting some time off!
My colleague reminded me yesterday that January was almost over. I began pondering if I should still write this post I’ve been thinking of writing since the last week of 2014. Posting a review of 2014 and my resolutions for 2015 at this point in time seems to be advertising how disorganised I’ve been.
Then I remembered the name of my blog. It’s better late than never.
Instead of a list of resolutions, I’ve set myself one resolution, one mantra and one goal for 2015….
Think as much about what I don’t say as what I do say
I received some news on my birthday that forced me to re-examine what I said to a friend 7-8 years ago. Even though I know I’m not responsible for what happened to her relationship, I can’t help but wonder if I could’ve saved her from heartache had I not verbally encouraged her to date this guy, someone I barely knew but who looked like a good idea. I remember telling her she should give this guy a chance, otherwise she might end up being single like me at my age.
What really irked me about this incident was how I practiced nothing of what I preached to her. I’m still single, waiting and trusting God for His best, while she’s had to spend years healing from the breakdown of the relationship. It made question my motives and the wisdom for saying what I said to her all those years ago. I felt incredibly stupid and hypocritical.
This incident made me think about misunderstandings that’s arisen between me and my loved ones because I’d withheld my opinions for fear of hurting someone. For the longest time, I believed people couldn’t get hurt by what they didn’t know. Now I’m not so sure. There’s a Chinese saying that goes, “Paper cannot cover up fire.” It depends on who’s involved and what’s at stake. But most importantly, it depends on how much I care about someone and their well-being. And I was forced to admit that most of the time, I cared very little. I just told myself it’s none of my business and went on living my life the way I always did.
All this changed on my birthday. I thought back on all those people who made it their business to look out for me, watch my back and speak truthfully and openly to me for my benefit. And I realised I owe it to them and God to care and exercise greater discretion in what I say or don’t say, when I say it and to whom, so my words could be “like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
This is easier said than done, but I’m going to try nevertheless.
My annual body check-up in November revealed that my good friend, hyperthyroidism, is back. When I was first diagnosed with it 12 years ago, I was relieved to find out the cause of my crazy heart rate, my constantly trembling hands, my seesawing weight and my lack of good quality sleep. I heard this condition was common among Asian women and I was relieved I got it under control after taking meds for two years. Not all my friends who had the same condition were as fortunate as me.
I’d suspected it came back about a year before I went for my check-up. My thyroid was noticeably bigger than before and the doctor who examined me for my work visa medical in 2013 had recommended I get it checked up. I put it off for as long as I could, not because I was in denial, but because I wasn’t looking forward to taking meds everyday, and seeing the endocrinologist and getting blood tests every month. I absolutely hated the hassle and the expense.
Then a friend I’d met at church was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. That was my wake-up call. I booked a check-up, got my blood tested and began seeing an endocrinologist and taking meds to get my thyroid under control. Thank God my company’s health insurance policy covers my bills.
Apart from prescribing meds, my first endocrinologist reminded me that stress was a primary cause of hyperthyroidism, and I should be careful not to over-exert myself. Hence my mantra for 2015: space things out and slow……. down.
This means I will have to tone down my workaholic tendencies, consciously take time out to wind down, turn down appointments/opportunities/cool projects, and ruthlessly keep my daily to-do list to a maximum of 3 items. So far so good. I’m slowly seeing the other upsides of going slow, apart from an improvement of my physical well-being. I’ve been making less messes at work, prioritising more, feeling less worn out, and focussing my attention on things that are important to me. Yes, it’s early days, and things at work are winding down prior to Spring Festival holidays, but I’m optimistic. The tough part, of course, is sticking to it.
Regain control of my finances
I racked up debts when I was unemployed in 2013 which I chose not to pay off in 2014. I decided instead to enjoy having a regular income again by splurging on holidays to exotic lands (here and here).
Being back in Sydney last October forced me to look at my Australian financial affairs square in the face, especially after speaking to my bank manager. I hadn’t maxed out my credit card limit but the debt felt like deadweight hanging over my neck. It made me feel like I’ve lost control over my finances and I hated it.
So I set myself a deadline to pay off my debt, and made some hard decisions about what I will and will not buy in the next 12 months. It was really tough when my LG G3 was stolen in December, and I had to replace it with a Huawei Honor (my first ever ‘made-in-China’ phone) just because it was within my budget. I’m sure this is the first of many tough purchasing decisions I’ll have to make in 2015 so I can reach my goal, but I tell myself everyday regaining control of my finances is worth the sacrifice. The gradually weakening Australian dollar has given me further motivation to reach this goal.
You may be asking, why advertise these on my blog? I’m giving you permission to remind me all throughout 2015 to stick to these three items. I’ll be needing all the help I can get.
Every year when the temperature descends past freezing point, friends and colleagues have taken to ask if I’m still cycling in the cold. Depending on my mood I’d give them either the long or the short answer.
The long answer would go something like this…
I picked up my first bike two years ago on the coldest day in Beijing. It was -15 degrees Celsius with strong winds! Today’s nothing!
And the short answer is just plain…Yes!
The person I speak to will then respond in one of the following ways..
Give me a thumbs up and tell me I’m strong, brave or both.
Shake their heads while saying I’m insane.
Tell me what I should get on Taobao to protect my knees from the cold (how do they expect me to cycle with a blanket over my legs?)
More often than not, I meet seasonal cyclists, that is, people who cycle only during late spring, summer and early autumn (read: when it’s warm) and when the air quality index (AQI) is an acceptable number (read: under 100). You can count the number of days these people cycle in Beijing with both hands.
There are days when I’m cycling in Beijing in subzero temperatures and howling wind, teeth chattering, nose and feet numb and battling to keep my bike heading in the right direction when I tell myself never again. But then I’d get to my destination all warmed up, relaxed and filled with a sense of achievement, and forget everything I told myself just moments ago.
People also argue cycling in filthy air probably do more bad than good to our bodies. I recently read a WeChat post by a fellow cyclist who hated wearing face masks when cycling. When the AQI went through the roof earlier this year, he decided to take the subway instead of cycling to work. After five days of battling epic crowds to get on and off the subway and being squashed into inhumane postures for his hour-long ride to and from the office, he bought himself a face mask so he could resume cycling to work in a healthy manner.
He made a statement that very much resonated with me, “It’s natural to assume cycling an hour will be more strenuous than sitting in the subway for the same amount of time. But the truth is, I always felt revitalised and refreshed after cycling to work, but I was always stressed and drained when I took the subway to work for a week because I killed so many brain cells working out how to get on and off the subway everyday.”
Taking the subway in Beijing during peak hour traffic is a life-threatening exercise. After falling out of the carriage and wedging my right leg in between the platform and the carriage 4 years ago, I banished all excuses about cycling in Beijing from my head, got on a bike and never looked back.
It’s interesting how much a simple thing like cycling has taught me about psychological barriers and overcoming fears. It’s always easy to find excuses not to do something. What’s yours?
I had no idea what I got myself into when I decided to join a Big Four accounting firm as a marketing consultant. I didn’t quite understand the job description I read online, nor the job description verbally provided by HR and the subsequent two interviewers. Because my first manager was such a laid back guy, it took me almost a month after I started work to understand my role and responsibilities.
One of the things I had not anticipated doing was organising an internal magazine cover photoshoot. Anyone who knows me for more than an hour will tell you I’m all about substance and almost zero about appearance. So when I was told to organise this photoshoot, I had to do the one thing that went against every fibre of my being — I had to scrutinise people’s appearance.
The first hurdle was choosing models. My colleague gave me a list of requirements and insisted on seeing pictures of all the good-looking people in the Beijing office. After deciding on the male model (a tanned, buff audit senior manager), we moved onto the arduous task of selecting the female model. All ladies with anything shorter than shoulder-length hair were eliminated. Ladies who sported a summer tan, dyed their hair an unnatural colour (maroon and purple) were eliminated. By the time we got rid of the ladies who looked awkward before the camera, we were left with 2 choices. And out of the two, I was only able to track down one. I wished my work ended here but it was not to be.
The second hurdle was selecting clothing for the shoot. Having been told we didn’t have the budget to buy clothing, I begged the models to send me pictures of both their professional and casual clothing. Again, we quickly decided what clothing the male model should bring and struggled with the lady. We said no to spaghetti strap jumpsuits, polka dot and other patterned dresses in bright pink, purple and electric blue and frilly tops and hotpants. I was almost in tears when my colleague in Hong Kong vetoed the fifth batch of clothing pictures sent over by the female model. I ended up wandering around in Zara after work, snapping pictures of clothing and wondering if I could just let the model wear it once and return it after the shoot. Such was the extent of my desperation. Eventually (I thought) I resolved my dilemma by sending my Zara pictures to the female model and asking her if she could produce similar clothing. We decided on the clothing she should bring for the shoot literally days before the shoot.
The third hurdle was appeasing the graphics guys who were forced to be professional photographers for an afternoon. The senior guy complained like a dripping tap that the female model was not good-looking and her make-up (which I did) was not up to scratch, and that it was tough taking pictures at the two outdoor locations I chose. I blame it on the hot weather when I eventually blew up at him, telling him off for not giving me clear prior instructions and for assuming I knew what went on on a photoshoot. To this day, I’m surprised by the quality of the end product. For copyright reasons, I can’t post their work here, but it was the work of pros.
Ever since completing this harrowing project, I’ve begun paying special attention to pretty ladies in the office, often refraining from asking for their names and extension numbers. I’ve also acquired a newfound respect for magazine editors who have to organise photoshoots on a daily basis. Last but not least, I now understand why fashion editors become the Devil Who Wears Prada.
I’ve been living on Brazil time since FIFA World Cup began 2 weeks ago. I stay up for the matches showing on CCTV5 at midnight and wake up for the early morning matches. I only took a break when I was in Hong Kong for a business trip for the second half of last week because the hotels I stayed at did not have the TVB9 channel which was showing the World Cup matches. Needless to say, I was immensely glad to be back in my own apartment in Beijing. I watched the first half of the Belgium vs Russia match (boring) and the second half of the USA vs Portugal (thrilling to the end) early Monday morning. I was in a stupor for the rest of Monday and had to catch up on sleep, instead of watching the match between the Netherlands vs Chile (which I’d excitedly anticipated). The Orange Men are tipped as one of the hot favourites to get to the finals, together with the Germans. Both teams have been playing extremely well in the group games.
Colleagues and friends alike think I’m nuts keeping a schedule like this, especially since I don’t bet on the games. I just love watching the World Cup. If the players look hot, that’s just an added bonus. I don’t follow Premier League, Bundesliga or the European Cup very closely. There is something very touching and exciting about the teams playing for their respective countries and their cheering squads donned in everything from their countries’ football jerseys to blue/green/red wigs and garish face paint. Every detail is painstakingly commented upon and analysed by sports commentators around the world. Conspiracy theories abound about match fixes. In China, everyone laments the failure of their country’s soccer team to make it into the qualifiers in the past and wonders if they will see the China team play the World Cup in their lifetimes.
It’s now 1:15 am in Beijing and I’d watched the first half of Italy vs Uruguay. Both teams are playing extremely well and making it very tough for their opponent to score. Unfortunately I have to go to work tomorrow, so I had to turn off the TV and get ready to hit the sack. I’ll have to content myself with reading the scores and watching replays of matches tomorrow.
From top left: power food for cyclists; a tunnel we went through by mistake; gorgeous scenery at Shibantan mountains; fellow cyclists taking a rest stop at Miaofeng mountain; breathtaking mountain views along the way
Everyone will think they understand your main points about saddles:
Inexpert cyclists always have their saddle too low. (The leg should almost be straight with the pedal at the bottom.)
They wrongly believe a big soft saddle is more comfy. (Small firm ones are better.)
Women need different saddle shapes to men.
– pages 36-37, The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling
I’ve learnt the hard way what the right and wrong saddles can do to my legs and butt.
My first bike in Beijing, an aluminum Giant bike with 3 gears, had a big soft saddle that was heaven to sit on. I found out it didn’t go very fast after joining a ride with a group of fixie riders and being left so far behind, my friend who took me on the ride advised me to drop out of the ride. I was wearing a pair of short shorts and in my effort to catch up, my inner thigh rubbed so hard against the stitching of the saddle that a painful scab formed. Needless to say, my ride home that night was annoyingly painful.
I rode my Giant bike so hard that the saddle broke off after a 40 km ride round the northern section of the 2nd ring road. I went to a bike shop to get a new saddle the next day. I remember being so very tempted to get a small hard seat as my pro cyclist friends had suggested, but eventually ended up buying a similar saddle to the one before, except it was shaped specifically for female riders.
When my Giant bike got stolen about 2 months later, I lamented more about losing my brand new saddle than about losing my whole bike.
When I began riding my newly purchased MTB, I wasn’t aware of how hard the saddle was. Granted, I rode my MTB on average 20 km a day, hardly enough for my bum to feel its effects. I didn’t understand what my cyclist friends were talking about when they went on about how their bums hurt for days after riding on hard saddles without donning their bike pants.
It was only when I cycled 60 km to Changping that I understood what my friends were whining about. And I was wearing pro bike pants with padding. The soreness in my bum barely subsided the following day when I cycled 40 km from Changping back to Beijing and only disappeared after another 48 hours. I’d never been more grateful to my friend who insisted I wear pro bike pants for the ride. He saved my bum from literal disintegration.
I remember getting onto my MTB the next day after I got back from Changping, thinking a rest of over 24 hours was definitely more than enough. Well it wasn’t. My thighs and bum were sore the whole afternoon as I rode my MTB from my home near Chaoyang Park to Sanlitun, then to Jiangguomen for a massage and finally to the Dongsi area for Yunnan food with friends. It didn’t help that I was also combating strong winds and a sandstorm that day. I remember being physically blown off my bike at a big intersection along Jinbao Street and having to stand for around 3 minutes in the howling wind, holding my MTB steady while waiting for the wind to subside a little so I could climb back on and continue my ride.
The next day after my windblown adventure, I refrained from riding my MTB to the office as the winds had not subsided, and bought a town bike that very evening.
Do I blame the small hard saddle on my MTB for the discomfort it caused me and the extra expense I’ve incurred buying a town bike? I really shouldn’t. I learnt from a fellow cyclist that pro cyclists hardly sit on their saddles when they cycle. So I can only blame my own amateurish cycling methods and general ignorance.
Women don’t benefit from a hollow, but do need wider saddles as their sit bones are wider apart than men’s. A women using a man’s saddle will find it uncomfortable, and according to your sexual politics, you can blame the man who sold it to her (for being ignorant) or the woman who bought it (for being ignorant).
There are two main types of bike: ones people want and ones they actually need.
– page 29, The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling
I was devastated when I got out of Nearby the Tree after a night of drinking too much beer and making out with an Austrian boy I’d met only that night to find that Sottie’s Giant bike was stolen. In my haste, I’d neglected to lock the bike to an immovable fixture, THE golden rule of locking a bike in thief-ridden Beijing. Austrian boy and I made a cursory search in the surrounding area, knowing full well it was gone, before I resigned to the fact that I had to take a cab home.
I was inconsolable about the loss of my beginner bike, but that didn’t stop me from going out the next day to Merida and plonking down my hard-earned cash on a white Merida Duke mountain bike (MTB for short). An MTB as defined in the Bluffer’s Guide “has 27 gears, tractor tyres, full suspension, no mudguards, disc brakes, and a big soft saddle”. It took me a while to get used to riding with my back at a 45 degree angle to the bike, working out which gears to use when, and how sensitive the disc brakes were. But boy did I enjoy riding this MTB after riding a heavy bike with only 3 gears.
I rode my MTB everywhere everyday for 5 months before I realised I may have bought the wrong bike. For one, I rode my bike in the city most of the time. With Beijing traffic as it is, I’d be lucky to get a smooth ride with no stops along the way, whether it be for a red light or an idiot driver/biker doing a U-turn in the middle of the road. Stopping while riding an MTB is painful for me. You can say I asked for it when I elevated my seat so high, I can only stand on tiptoes while waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Sometimes when the lights took a while to change, I’d feel my right foot go numb. I confess to breaking almost all of Beijing’s traffic rules in the past in a bid to alleviate this discomfort and I could’ve been killed any number of times, if it wasn’t for God’s protection.
The other thing was, with no mudguards, on the rare occasion when it rains in Beijing (though it’s become less rare these days), whatever I wore while riding the MTB would be covered in mud splatters by the time I reached my destination. This was the case even when I wore raincoats. One of my new work shirts I wore while cycling to work on a rainy day now has a stubborn mud splatter on the back even after going through a wash.
I weighed up my options, which essentially were:
(a) only buy and wear dark clothing and pants all year round so I can ride my MTB, or
(b) buy a town bike that I can ride wearing anything I currently own.
A town bike is defined as “tall, sturdy, upright” with a “proper mudguards”, “step-through frame”, “few gears, none high” in the Bluffer’s Guide.
I decided to go with (b). After trying out a Mongoose (7 gears, white, grey and plain), a Giant (7 gears, ugly colour and design) and a Forever C (no gear, cool pedal-powered headlights, gorgeous as you can see in the picture above), it was a no-brainer which bike I ended up buying. After riding my Forever C town bike for 2 days, a part of me wondered why I was so against buying a town bike initially, and the other part of me missed the speed, gears and disc brakes of my MTB.
My Forever C was easy to get on, went faster than I expected and wasn’t as heavy as I feared. When I stopped at the traffic lights, my right foot was practically on the ground. I also attracted the envious stares of many pedestrians, though I didn’t care for it. Needless to say, this new relationship has gotten off on a good start.
Perhaps I might start hating my town bike after riding it in rainy weather and discovering another irremovable mud splutter on the back of my last nice blouse. Weather forecast for tomorrow: scattered showers. 🙂
Riding a bike is great. It saves temper, time and money. You glide past traffic queues, arrive early feeling fit, and get 300 miles per gallon of coffee. It puts you in direct control of your resources.
I can’t remember my precise motivation for taking up cycling 18 months ago after not cycling for over almost 30 years. My first memories of riding anything with wheels was cruising along the dirt road on a tricycle outside the family bungalow in Sarawak. Even at the tender age of 4, I’d mastered speeding and failed miserably at braking. Most of my kiddie rides ended up with the bike lying sideways in a bush and the skin of my knees peeling and bleeding profusely.
My second lot of cycling memories were in Singapore. I remember being 12 years of age and riding a rented bicycle in East Coast. I also remember emergency braking behind my brother’s bike when he suddenly stopped, losing my balance, falling and scraping my knees just as I did when I was 4. I felt extremely self-conscious walking home that evening while people stared in mild horror at my bloody kneecaps.
Considering my pathetic history with bikes, I was quite unprepared to fall hopelessly in love with cycling in, of all places, Beijing. When my friend left Beijing, she insisted I take her Giant bicycle which came with detachable front basket, 3 gears and a sturdy lock. When I told her I’d forgotten how to cycle, she insisted that I’d relearn it within minutes of climbing onto the bike.
I put off picking up the bike for as long as I could. In fact, I waited until Sottie’s absolute final day in Beijing. It was the coldest winter day in Beijing for decades. The temperature hovered between -10 and -15 degrees Celsius as the winds howled relentlessly.
My first bike ride in 30 years was around 10 km and took 3 hours. I stopped plenty of times at oncoming traffic and fell a couple of times. It was baptism by fire. After that first ride, nothing phases me anymore. Except cycling on slush, which I’ve done in my stupidity and regretted for a long time afterwards.
18 months on, I’ve lost my friend’s Giant bike to a thief, gotten myself a Merida Duke mountain bike and fallen hopelessly in love with cycling.
You will be reading this letter after a long day at work in Shanghai. You’re probably feeling smug about the work project you’re working on and how your clients admire your lawyerly skills and your professional yet alluring appearance. You probably thought then your life was on an unstoppable trajectory and partnership in an international law firm was just a matter of time. You haven’t had a boyfriend for almost a decade, though there’s always been guys hanging around you waiting to be noticed. You weren’t sure then and will probably never be sure if marriage is for you. You thought you were at your best on your own and this would never change.
First things first. The only constant in life is change. There was no way you could’ve foreseen meeting S and moving to Prague to be closer to him, exchanging your high-flying career and exciting life in glitzy Shanghai for a different kind of adventure in a city with street names you couldn’t pronounce even after living there for a year. You couldn’t possibly have known that in the space of 20 months, you’d find out the truth about S, break up with him and be retrenched from your job. The ensuing few years became the toughest and most character-building time of your life, making decisions you felt you had to make but weren’t best either for your career, mental or emotional health.
During this time of darkness and despair, you will move to Beijing, you will experience more setbacks in your personal life and career, you are humbled, you learn how to ask for and receive help, you hack through the dense forest of the global financial crisis, the resulting uncertainty and changes, and you reinvent yourself into a communications guru. You will take a job that you initially thought was dead-end, which turns out to be enjoyable, exciting and surprisingly fun. You realise it’s possible to have nice colleagues after all.
Bad news is, your love life will remain blank after S. You eventually come to accept that even though it’s tough to be single and looking for love in your late 30s, you don’t have to accept the advances of unacceptable men. Your parents eventually learn to nag less about you finding a boyfriend because they’ve either given up hope that you’ll ever get married or they really can’t bear the idea of eventually meeting the man you choose to marry. Your friends and colleagues in Beijing will balk at the fact that you don’t look or behave your age, you’re still single, and it doesn’t bother you anymore.
I wish there was more good news in this letter, my precious 30-year-old self. I really do. If it’s any comfort, I can assure you that the next ten years will be challenging yet rewarding, frustrating and exciting in equal measure. And God will prove Himself faithful. You’ll learn to dwell less and less on what you don’t have and more and more on what you have. You’ll be less and less resentful and more and more grateful. In turn, you’ll be less and less depressed and more and more joyful.
Then you’ll realise being in this place was what you were looking for all long.
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