Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

The year came and went, just like that. Time flies really fast and it time for some reflection again. This year has been pretty "whirlwind" in a few departments. I did a similar re-cap to welcome 2013, and it's fitting to send her off and prepare for 2014. I will try to make this brief, paying attention to two main header - Life and Work.
The Work
Let's get the "fixed" portion out first - the part that pays for the bills and command 8 to 10 hours of my life, everyday. While 2012 has been great, 2013 started with some doubt about the momentum being able to carry through. The renewable energy business was a really steep learning curve and I've learnt a lot (and by that, i really meant a lot) within those 2 years. Unfortunately things has to come to an end, as Renewable business is not "sustainable" - not in Malaysia to start with where the drive and policies is still at infancy. It was a challenge in many ways, both in good and bad way. So, if you ever want/think to dabble into renewable energy in Malaysia, let me know as I would be able to share some insight with you. ;-)

What happened when a door starts to close is another opening. I was in conversation with an ex-colleague to catch up and months later, as the renewable energy project started to slow down, something happened and I was given the opportunity to help start and assist him with an operation. It comes with a lot of challenges and it has been a good 7-months since. I was given the opportunity I never had in previous consulting job and at the same time, retain almost the same life-work balance I had in renewable energy business. It was almost the best of both world. 
"Almost" as consulting, very much like accounting and auditing breathe on "timesheet and billability". More so, just a few months back, the (current office) operation won a contract sealing the deal for me to serve the very same group of client I've served in my 5-years in consulting previously. I guess karma works in a strange way - for the better or worse? I do not know yet. One thing certain is the support I am getting (and has been getting) from my family, especially my wife to "go forth and show what you are made off". I hope it will be as easy (or tough) as my training regime.
With that said, increased responsibilities, wider job scopes, working with a more diverse group of professionals and being recognised in the organisation will equate to a happier working life. At the same time, there are a few opportunities knocking, and it is for me to make the best out of it all when I arrive at those junctions.
The Life
This is why we live - for the life we have. Growing old as they say is compulsory, growing up is optional. While that is true, I believe with a family in tow, growing up become somewhat needed as well. Never had I felt more to spend time with the family. I've lost many years building "The Work", only to see it not being a constant that will be with you. In many ways, I have finally able to detach myself from telling myself it is "ok to check that email at 11pm". It is time to "go home and spend time with the family". That is what mattered more. When you lose your job, they are the one that is constantly there for you - that is what mattered. 
With that said, the "The Life" are further broken down to different sub-topics, because life is too short to be less than awesome.
1. Clean Eating and Diet
A lot of refinement since we started eating cleaner. More ways were found to make things healthier. More indulgence in all thing better and less processed. We have stopped using the breadmaker because seriously, making bread from scratch is not as hard as one would think. 
It may sound sad to some, but food as a way to indulge has been "out of the window". Instead of quantity, the palate and tummy appreciate more quality and wholesome food. What used to be pure sins of eating the local food such as at Penang, has been reduced to just a mean to feed myself and that came surprisingly easy when we went past the indulgence stage. 
However, having said that, we still enjoy a varieties - for healthy life is truly a mix of moderation and better choices with our food selection.

2. Team 2ndSkin
Being part of Team 2ndSkin has been very rewarding. Tying up with collaborators such as Skechers, Garmin, Hammer Nutrition and Kraftfit Compression has given me a lot of opportunity to try out new items that otherwise will cost a lot of cash to buy for the sake of reviews. 

Honest opinions on what work and don't has benefit many that I hope has helped to manage time and money spent on gadgets, shoes, apparels and nutrition. This ties back to how I wished someone would had shared with me previously when i started out in sports - on what to look out for and how to do it correctly. 
Truly, we won't live long enough to make all mistakes (and purchases) ourselves, best is to learn from others and then share it out for mutual benefits. 
The spot in the team is not permanent. While "podium" is not a pre-requisite, "giving back" is expected in the form of sharing with the team on training, nutrition and life-skills. This extend to the more general people we interact, to help them by dispersing advices, tips and sharing so they too, can enjoy the sports that they do. It has been very rewarding personally so far. 
GoRun2 and GoRunRide2. Review here and here
Hammer Nutrition
Garmin 910XT and Fenix. Here and Here
Kraftfit Compression
What's in store for the team in 2014? Follow the team's blog at www.team2ndskin.blogspot.com for updates and information. 

3. As Brand and Event Go-To
While Team 2ndskin covers very much the bigger picture, I've been lucky to be part of Camelbak Malaysia as the brand ambassador. Being a long-time user of the brand, it was a privilege to be associated with the brand. My tenure expires in June 2014 and perhaps, it will be continued. 

If that was good, I am also involved with JVC Kenwood unofficially to test and review their Adixxion XA1 and XA2 action camera. With the amount of active outdoor lifestyle that me and the family goes through, it is a matter of time before I purchase an action camera. I am grateful for a friend that hooked me up with the good people in JVC Kenwood and I have to repay by continuously using the cameras to test the durability and performance. Trust me, it's used on a daily basis and I can almost operate them without looking!

Thanks to a friend as well, I have been given samples of fragrances and was actively reviewing (and using) them. You will most unlikely to catch me without any fragrances on, unless it's sports or my "lounge at home" day ;-). Personal favorite so far? Hugo Red!

Rouge Communication has been working with me directly and indirectly on some blog postings. I get to attend some very cool launches and be part of a lifestyle reviewer. Being a blogger (and be legit with it, not just posting selfies) is hard work. But I've been enjoying it so far. It is an opportunity to build my own "social media presence" and perhaps brand myself in the long run - for you never know, there could be opportunity for me being or running my own social media company one day, perhaps?

4. Sports and Training
2013 saw me entering the usual races. I've begin to participate in more running races and has been clocking good results. I credit these to relentless training and very disciplined routine I set for myself. Much of the race report and record can be viewed at my blog page here. Not going to bore how it was as you could had read hundreds of similar stories before.

What I am going to focus on instead, is just how much effort it took for me, personally to be at the level that I am - at best, average when compared to many others. Truly it is a long journey that I am still embarking. Never easy and I do not forsee 2014 to be any less challenging when all factors are put in. How so? 

To date as of December 30, 2013, I've clocked 4,259.15km swimming, biking, running and walking. Breaking it down, I've clocked 1927.94km running only. November and December saw me reducing my running as I embarked on a "bigger picture" training for Ironman Malaysia (both 70.3 and full) and Xterra World Championship qualifier

It is a full year of structured committed training that will involve the whole family as the year progresses. Races from October till the completion of the Ironman in September will be deemed as "training" where a lot of refinement and effort will be put in. Truly, there is a lot of rooms for improvement and I need to make sure 2014 is an injury free year and be really pragmatic with my approach. Coincidently, this week, which bridges both 2013 and 2014 is my final week of baseload training and I will take a week off to allow the body to recover. The body deserves a break. 
The past 11 weeks
2013 saw me and wifey racing Sabah Adventure Challenge together. The experience was so good we signed up for 2014 without blinking our eyes. 3-days of trails in the jungle of Sabah, camping out. I am secretly waiting when the kids grow old enough to be able to join us for these races. 2026 perhaps!

5. What Mattered Most
Family. The kids is growing up really fast. It seems like yesterday when they were just babies and we were struggling to balance everything thrown at us. Significant events with the kids this year include the boy starting school, the daughter learning to ride bicycle in ONE lesson (she has no fear, i fear for her sometimes), the boy's first competitive event, the daughter getting her ears' pierced (and it won't be the last as she grow up) and of course, the wifey being involved with all of these, perhaps even more than myself. In a photo-log, it sort of looked like this:

2013 saw me being involved with a few "giving back" by helping to raise funds for a few groups of people. With 2ndSkin, it was the Project CARES where funds were raised for Dignity for Children Foundation and NASAM Stroke association. 
Outside of 2ndSkin, It was having a team of runners under my name to raise money for United Voices. It was a humbling experience and made me to be more grateful and thankful for what I already have.
In form of activism, I was involved with something i am standing up for that is to "Save Bukit Kiara". Much destruction is happening in the name of development and/or "restoration". As of today, a large portion of the secondary jungle in Kiara has been worked on, fences erected and cliffs cut in haphazard manner. 2014 will see even more destruction; even the park below Bukit Kiara has seen greens being replaced with concrete structures that doesn't really add any value to the park.
Discreet work? NOT
6. This Blog and Social Media
This blog (will) remain to be busy and with a lot of sharing from time to time. I've committed to 236 (including this one today) postings. Slightly down from 2012 where it was a good 277 postings. Over the last two years, I've shared a lot of (hopefully) quality write ups that I surprised myself when reading back. It was a learning experience for myself and more so I hope I've been helping some of you readers to achieve what you set out to do - and do it better than I did. I've been a "social media practitioner" throughout the past years and it will set to continue. Look me up in any of these channels : LinkedIn Facebook Twitter YouTube Garmin DailyMiles Google+ Tumblr Pinterest
Ending 2013, Welcoming 2014
Rewarding. Fulfilling. Achieved more than I intended. Three words I would call 2013 for me and the family. There are always rooms for improvement and we are looking to progress as an unit. 
2014 will be challenging at all front, again, there is nothing impossible as long as we believe we can do it all. With this full-life I am living, there is no time for resolution or resolutions. It is "bring it on and we will get it done" attitude. 

OK - perhaps one simple wish : that everyone at home, family, friends and you dear readers will be blessed with a lot of health to enjoy doing everything even more. 

See you all in 2014! Carpe Diem!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Taobao SEA Freight Forwarding : How-To Get It To Your Doorsteps

If you have been following the blog, you would know that I've placed purchases with the Taobao website via South East Asia Taobao of www.sea.taobao.com. If you want to learn how to buy things from Taobao.com and get it sent to you straight (as most seller only deal with addresses in China, HK or Macao only), click here to read more : TriStupe Guide To Tarpow at Taobao SEA.
The last update in the blog on this purchase was that the items has been placed and will be sent to me via the designated forwarder. 
I have also highlighted about the "International" tab where you will see the items you have placed for delivery, and how it can be consolidated into one freight to save on the cost.
First thing to do is to click on the (translated) EXPRESS tab and that will put your item into "Pending Merger Courier". As you can see above, I've clicked on the Black Diamond, hence the "express" tab has disappear. One of the other feature is that the forwarder typically allow up to 20 days of "free storage" (noted as "warehouse rent-free) before shipping out. This meant you have the X-day to keep buying and to consolidate the freight to you to maximise on the weight ruling. Makes sense as the items above (3 items) combined weight is less than 1kg and I will only be charged at Yuan38 (RMB38)
As you can see, both items added and I am lucky 0.8kg! ;-) Pressing the "Combined" button, it leads me to the next page where it will note down all the important items - like your delivery address (which I've blacked out) and your phone number (also blacked out). Estimation of time taken to deliver is also noted there.

Next is to proceed with payment. As I have about RMB8 left inside the Alipay Purchase Card, that is used to nett off the payment first. Leaving me to "top up" additional RMB30.
Again, right-click and "translate to English" if you are not sure - or just follow the "orange to confirm" tab in Taobao. Seems that is the magic color if the translate did not show up. As you can see, the above has been paid and thus the "orange" has turned grey.
You can also pay via Malaysian banking/direct debit. I tested it out and press "Next" (again, the orange button at the bottom) and I am brought to the next page, with the RMB30 (balance) converted to MYR16.94 (to pay)
There is a 9-minute period to enter all details...and I had to cancel this because I have none of the payment portal above. However, as noted, more Malaysian banks will be included soon, which will make banking and payment a breeze. Direct payment incur no additional charges (unlike Credit Card) as it has been built into the bank's transfer fee. With only one choice for me, I used the Credit Card payment option.
In my hurry to set the payment, I forgot to offset the payment from the Alipay Purchase card and ended up paying the full RMB38 instead of RMB30. The amount calculated RMB39.14 is inclusive of the 3% credit card charges. My own fault for not being careful. So, if you have balance in your Alipay Purchase card, remember to use it first to offset!
Payment via credit card is secured as the security code or the One Time Password (OTP) is specific to your credit card bank and is sent to the phone number that you register during payment. Again, payment portal requires a different set of password in Taobao and Alipay. Once everything is done, you will be routed back to the page and the transaction will be seen as successful.
Clicking on the "View International Transport" brings you to the page where the items tracking will be seen. In this case, it is "Subject to the library" (bad translation), which meant it is marked for delivery.
Next : To wait for my New Year's Gift for myself!
If you still have not joined the contest in my blog to win RMB500 (or MYR260), do so now. Details in my original blog entry on Taobao here : WIN RMB500 to Shop at Taobao SEA!

If you want to try more luck, Taobao is currently having 10 rounds of competition at their Facebook Page here : http://www.facebook.com/taobaosea Join and stand to win more Alipay credit to shop for the things you want.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Morib International Triathlon 2014 Race Report

This must be the first triathlon I've missed this year apart from those situated too far outside of Klang Valley (Kenyir and Miri). The decision to miss this was due to a few reasons, one of them was to support the race "outside" of racing. I've done so previously "during" the race helping friends that just started and need some guidance "on the go", but I figured out maybe I can give a bit more by being there physically while everyone moves around the Swim-Bike-Run circuit. I believe many that has known me personally and through this blog or my Facebook Page, will wonder how come I am not racing. I've joked with them that I've "left my bike at home and found a camera in the car". Lame, i know. 
So, i drove myself down from home to Morib on Sunday at about 5.30am. The journey, as calculated using Google Map will take 1hour 13 minutes.
The drive was uneventful except going through the old road that links Shah Alam and Banting via the Jalan Kebun Bunga and Jalan Masjid. Apart from being the typical kampung road, it is dark as well. So, 60km/h is absolute maximum speed when driving here at 6am. I arrived at the resort at about 7am and cars were parked on both the left and right road shoulder.
Tight spaces
This is an old trunk road (Federal Route 5) that links up technically, the whole country on the west side. That morning, i parked close to 300meters away. 
Walking into the resort, i first bumped into my team mate, Irene and her support vehicle. Irene is with Team Time (racing in the ITU championship) with Coach Steve Lumley. She is also with Team 2ndSkin
Cilipadi No. 2.
Transition was the car park of the resort. It was busy with activities and an estimation of the bike and space tells me there were about 500people, max, racing that morning. Small race and good for starter for those dabbling into triathlon.
Swim 1.2km
The Swim was to start at 7.30am, but was delayed to 7.45 am as Uncle Chan said to "allow" the tide/water to raise a bit. Could the delay was because the VIP has not arrived yet? Looking out to the sea, the water level was pathetic. Morib beach has a lot of silt because it is near the mouth of Sungai Klang (at Carey Island). Even from the satellite image, you can see the area is covered with silt and despite the "high tide", one need to run out almost 70meters before reaching waist high level to swim. 
You can almost walk to the buoy at the far end...
The delay was used fully for me to capture photos of friends. Previously, I was the subject in the photo - it was refreshing to be on the other side taking photos instead.
Phui Tin doing her first triathlon
Jun Shen with his parents. He is still the youngest Ironman Malaysia finisher in history
Edwin (Joo Ngan Son Bicycle) and his merry ban of triathlete. Edwin took up the challenge to help others to be triathletes. Nice one sir!
The race finally started and it was the men 16-29 going off first. Then it was the Men 30-39. This is the most competitive age group with most of them in their prime and is considered to be racing for the past five years at least. This is also my age group.
Rupert (in Red Pearl Izumi) and Sharom (Abdullah) gunning for it
The swim was 1.2km and should be completed in two loops of 600m each. With the low water level, it is sort of reduced by 200 to 250m total in a square configuration (and not triangle). Distance include running on land/beach. Here are some select pictures of triathletes getting out of the sea.
First man out of water
First woman out of water - Irene!
Sabki - representing Malaysia in Paralympic game
My batchmate Sean Mutalib. He don't have a FB account, so this is me tagging him here
The swim was ok for the leading pack, and then it all went wrong as someone in the middle pack decided to short cut, be it due to bad water condition (less visibility) of the far right buoy was not in sight. Instead of going in a square, what happened was a majority of them turned at the first buoy and headed back. The announcer (Razlan) tried to inform the race organiser, which in return tried to radio the marshal out in the water to get everyone back on their course. But it did not happen. From my own observation at the second loop, I noticed that there is still many that swam buoy to buoy (in square) and back. Some in fact swam further due to the water/tidal current pushing them off course. The buoy was at the right position, but the smaller buoys were in a zig-zag manner due to the current. Whatever it was, I believe it was still tough for the beginners and the back packers - having to struggle with bad water and tide. Siltation does funny things to how water flows near the shore.
I stayed long enough to until only about 20% left were out in the sea and headed into transition. There, i waited for a few friends. 

I observed the few people in transition and it sort of strengthen my thoughts on getting yourself familiar with transition. T1 is a very daunting place as you come out from water daze and confused. I wrote about Transition here. 10 Tips for good transition. With that done, i headed out to the bike course. And the sun has started to come out of it's full glory.
Bike 35km
The challenge as a photographer is to get a clean background without much disturbance. As the road leading to the hotel/venue has cars lined up on both sides, I have to walk past my own car (last at the furthest end) and hope to get a good line of sight. As it turned out, not too good with a short distance before the road turn left. So, i drove out further, about 2km out and found a spot safe enough for me to park my car and stand. You see, the trunk road is small with almost no, or very little sidewalk or buffer. I do not want to risk myself being run down by the vehicles travelling at high speed or endanger cyclists. With the sun being right at about 30-45degree from the horizon, i know i will have a difficult time with the camera settings...
washed out first shot. Had to adjust (post process) to make it acceptable
You can see how busy the road and where there is less than 3feet buffer by the side to stand. I had to be mindful. Then having to deal with the sun, and I wasn't ready/enough time to get the setting. It was shooting instantly and hoping it comes out ok.
Now under..... :Þ
I have only a few minutes before the next peloton reach, so vehicles passing were fair game as "test shots"
Kakak Polis 
The test shot that resulted in me noticing Klaus!
After a few shots, I realised where I was standing was not idea due to the proximity with the athletes. It got a bit too close for comfort and I can tell some were not wary I was there.
 And those that did usually provide me with more than just a smile
So Asian (for an Angmoh)
Here are some select shots from the biking. By the way, organiser sanctioned this to be a "draft-legal" race. Meaning you can follow the person in front of you. Not the most ideal if you ask me, not with the traffic condition and most bikes with tri-bars.
Ah Thiam aka Hafiz (back rider) in action
Overexposed and corrected (white balance) and I get this. Cyclist flying???
Irene on bike
A peloton moving fast
Panning shots of Lesley and Pui San
EM ordered a panning shot, and (phew) I delivered.
Yeap! Camwhoring!
Run 8km
I got back to the starting line and this time, I had to park even further than I initially did. With cars on the sides of road, there is very little space to accommodate myself and the runners, so I have to keep moving until i find the right spot to take photos. Thankfully, with the sun almost at the top of me, lighting and exposure was almost perfect. Enjoy some of the photos from the run. 

I finally managed to "break free" from the endless cars parked on the side of the road. It was a breather knowing I have more space to stand and take the pictures.

I believe I had walked almost 2 to 3 km out and quickly get myself back to the starting line again. Somehow, I know my friend, Phui Tin should be on her way back. And I wasn't disappointed. It was a run to the finish (to be ahead and take her photo) for me.

Post Race
The race finished without any major incident. I heard there were one fall of bike by a girl. Not sure if she is ok as nothing has been updated since. Congrats to all winners and finishers. It was a fun race for many - as that is Mr. Chan's trademark, more so if the triathlon race is not the usual one that happened at year end, or during the period of the year.

Some thoughts about the race :
1. Swim - Morib is not really suitable for swimming. Water quality and also the depth of the water play a big part. What makes PD more suitable is really because the seabed has been deepened to accommodate the marina. Else, it will also be another "walk" in the water. 

2. Bike  - traffic control were bad if not horrific. As a spectator, i saw so many near misses as the local Morib/Banting/Sepang folks get confused about the amount of bikers on the road. Many were speeding and overtaking rather recklessly. Some did it on the left because some cars wanted to turn to the right. Having used this route for bike training before, I know exactly what to look out for - and this was one of the other reasons why I did not race this time. 

3. Run - I was told the water stations were with ice, which is great because the sun was really showing Her full power that day. It was hot and dry that I came back a shade darker. Perhaps the only improvement I would hope will happen is again, traffic control. Cars do come dangerous close to the runners - and when you are "in the zone", you tend to forget/let your guards down as you run next to traffic. 

Enjoy some after race photos here:

And lastly, thank you Julia and Fadil for this capture of me during the swim start. Yes, I was not there for the race.
Spotting me without trisuit on a tri-event. Maybe its a sign...
Thanks Victor and Elaine for making me looked like racing despite NOT taking part. :D

More Photos here:

I snapped about 1900photos on event day using my Nikon D3, 50mm F1.2, 70-200 F2.8 and a flashlight SB600. Hope you enjoy this report, that is a bit different from the other I've done (where I am racing, usually).