Paddling the seven seas

I tell people one of my favourite pastimes is kayaking, but I hardly ever get to kayak these days.

Back when, then and all that time ago, I didn’t kayak all that often either. So I suppose kayaking is a favourite in the sense that I remember liking it a lot when I did do it.

I like kayaking for the quiet solitude it affords, though I don’t mind having a companion kayaker who shares the same sentiment, and who might be able to help you out if you don’t execute a kayak-capsize-drill properly. I dislike any motorised water sport, which I think to be the domain of clueless landlubbers who think they love the sea. And don’t even get me started about wakeboarding. If you really love the sea, you’d love kayaking, and perhaps sailing. But…

A kayak can go almost anywhere in practically any weather. In the right hands it is probably the most adaptable and seaworthy vessel afloat. Kayaks have been paddled across the Atlantic and through the Caribbean and up the Alaskan Coast and down the Nile and the Amazon….

…There have been paddlers in kayaks at the (Cape) Horn for as long as there have been humans…. Four hundred years later the kayak is still unchanged in its basic design, because for its size it is as near as possible to being a perfect boat.

~Paul Theroux, Paddling to Plymouth, Fresh Air Fiend

I haven’t paddled even the shortest stretches of the Atlantic, the Caribbean or Alaska, but I have, with a friend, paddled from Singapore to Tioman in a double Klepper kayak, similar to the ones the British and Australian commandos used to blow up Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour. Made of maple and canvas, it is the most seaworthy craft I have ever paddled, even if I haven’t paddled many.

The trip took twelve days from Changi Beach to Pulau Tioman, and according to my kayak journal, which I fortuitously found while trying to tidy my room (and which prompted this post), we set off from Changi on Wednesday 7th of August 1991:

0700 Arrive at Changi Point. Ate breakfast. Bought water. Forgot bread.
0720 Changi Beach. Assemble Klepper. Load up.
0800 Leave Singapore.
0900 Paddle past Tekong.
1100 Arrive at Tanjung Pengerrang Immigration checkpoint.
1630 Arrive at Tanjung Datok, set up camp, dinner, rest.
Total travel 30km, 8 hours paddling. Current and wind against us.

The rest of the journal gets even more sketchy as tiredness and boredom set in:

9th August 1991:

1600 Land on unknown beach. Super seasick.

And then there’s one long journal entry about how Jason’s Bay (Telok Makhota) is extremely depressing. The whole beach is littered with cowdung. And our greatest challenge is combating boredom. , followed two days later by:

Most nervous moment of trip so far when storm blew up gale force 6 winds. Made it to Sibu after 8 hours non stop paddling.

That is a classic understatement. I remember shitting bricks when the storm hit. I remember throwing up on both sides of the kayak. I remember the sizable shark circling us after probably overdosing on the scent of my vomit. The journal ends with these entries:

Pulau Tinggi, Thursday 15th August 1991:

…Have decided to push for Tioman tomorrow. Will be toughest leg so far (>50km) and will take 12 hours or so.

Friday 16th August 1991:

Woke up late. Decided to postpone crossing till Saturday 3am or later, maybe 8am. Bored to tears. Word has gotten around the island that we’re two Japanese commandos.

Saturday 17th August 1991:

Rained heavily in the morning. Have to postpone crossing again. Decided to slot midnight as departure time. Didn’t get to sleep last night because of the wedding party on the island.
Sunday 18th August 1991:
Left Pulau Tinggi at midnight as planned. Couldn’t see anything in the dark but our slipshod navigation skills managed to see us through till dawn, when a storm broke. Got terribly seasick. Barfed twice. Sighted the island at 0745hrs but paddled like mad to arrive at Tioman at 1300hrs. Total time in the saddle 13hrs. Sore bums, hunger pangs and physical exhaustion norm for the day. Booked into cheap resort (RM15 a night), relaxed. GAME OVER.

This is the one trip I’d love to be able to do again, for whatever vainglorious reasons which I won’t admit to. Why, me and my kayaking friend even wrote the leisure article for Straits Times Life [Saturday, November 16, 1991, Leisure, Page Ten] and got paid $200 for our effort – writing and the trip. Cheap adventure. But for some fucked up reason, the editor decided to omit my name from the story, so it would sound like it was an almost solo adventure but the adventurer decided to ask a friend along.

But these days, I find that a good kayaking day consists of two hours or so of paddling through scenic waters, and the only place available with kayak rental and scenery is Pasir Ris Park, where you can rent a kayak for $15 an hour and paddle to Pulau Ubin and back. There are creeks on Ubin which are worth exploring for their flora and fauna and grumpy fishermen living in huts with big dogs that threaten to leap into the water and take a chunk out of your paddles. Forget the sharks, these marine dogs can be real mean too.

Back in Sydney, I paddled Middle Harbour , where you have to fight traffic as if you were on the road. I once paddled in the middle of the channel without knowing there was this passenger ferry bearing down behind me. The ferry pilot must’ve thought it was funny to wait till the last moment to sound his damned loud horn, startling me to the point of my bum leaving my seat. Good amusement for the 100 plus passengers on the ferry. Later that same day, a deranged seagull attacked me while the same ferry was making its return journey through the channel, so the passengers had the benefit of watching me fight off the seagull with my paddle.

I think there’s something nagging me to return to the sea. (Duh. You think??) I want to do the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Alaskan fjords and maybe the Cape. I might start off easy again and go do the Pasir Ris to Ubin leg. But please don’t leave any comments about it being a mid-life crisis thing, all youse landlubbers.

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Jesus stole my gal

iTunes’ party shuffle is playing: Ain’t That Lonely Yet – Dwight Yoakam – Last Chance For A Thousands Years – Dwight Yoakam’s Greatest Hits From The 90’s

I love you with the love of Christ.

My friend Ryan has heard this declaration several times in his life. You know enough of the context in which this declaration is made to know that it is no declaration.

Ryan is a very, very nice guy and a hopeless romantic. That is not to say he makes loud, grand gestures of affection. I’d call him the strong, silent type.

Once, he and I happened to meet in London because he and I were hopelessly in love with two girls (one each) who threatened to have our hearts for breakfast daily. His girl was in love with someone else, and my girl was in love with herself and no one else. What he did in response to his girl’s new man remains one of the better gestures of selflessness I’ve seen.

His girl, who was hitherto his long-distance girlfriend (Ipoh-Sydney) until she went to Cambridge to read law and become a slut, fell in love with another man who, of course, reciprocated in ways her limited provincial experience hadn’t shown her before. He bought her a bunch of flowers one day.

How did Ryan respond? He went out and bought a vase for the flowers. She cried buckets of course. But that was about as contrite as she would get. She then loved him with the love of Christ.

Over the years, Ryan has been showered with enough love of Christ to last several generations. Bit like having so much Christmas spirit you just wanna throw up. I feared the worst when earlier this year, he called to say he had met a girl, several years his junior, and who attended church very regularly, meaning not just every Sunday, but you know, those fun fair food fair raffle things too.

This girl, Beth, threatened to love him with the love of Christ too, at first. But thankfully for Ryan, the allure of being the older, wiser man worked in his favour for the first time in his life, and over the last half year, after attending church every Sunday plus helping out with her church’s food and fun fair, she’s apparently finally relented, and was last heard referring to Ryan as her boyfriend. They went to Bali together last month, and I am certain not too much time was spent poring over Bible passages there.

Ryan came down to Singapore without Beth last week, but judging from his contented cat demeanour, things between them look good. There was no furtive SMSing, no checking for missed calls, no phone calls which required going out to the balcony for privacy. It was all relaxed, all open, all sweet.

Not bad for a guy who’s so full of Jesus’ love he could be beatified.

I wish you both well, Ryan and Beth.

Me and my Scrabble mate got bored tonight, so… SW view from Kent Ridge Park, Pasir Panjang Hill Battle Site.

Scrabble this!

iTunes’ party shuffle is playing: If We Never Meet Again – KD Lang/Tony Bennett – A Wonderful World

If I weren’t self-employed, I’d be blogging about how nasty work is, how I work with idiots, and how my bosses couldn’t tell a marketing plan from a block of flats.

But I don’t have the privilege of being in that situation, so I can’t blog about it. Instead, I’ll yabber on about how I enjoyed an extremely hedonistic weekend that was so unrelenting I had to neglect writing entries here for two whole days.

There is a tinge of guilt as I write this. The wife languished at home over the weekend while I went out and partied, spent an inordinate amount of time with one particular girl, got drunk, danced till my kneecaps swelled, and then spent Sunday arvo recovering on Orchard Road playing Scrabble with the same said girl.

A friend asked why I was rubbing my knees,

‘Heh, why pain ah? Carpet burn ah?’.

‘Went clubbing lah’.

‘Yeah, right’.

I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing if my friends would rather believe I was having sex more than they’d believe I went clubbing.

Coffee Bean, Tea Leaf and Scrabble set

I have been many things and this is one of them

iTunes’ party shuffle is playing: No Regrets – Tom Rush – Wonder Boys [Soundtrack]

I was just reading Cour Marly’s post about her having had the experience of working for a non-profit organization, and how, despite it having been an ‘eyeopener’, she didn’t stray from the tried and true corporate path.

Not that I am on a tried and true corporate path lah. But lately, I’ve had to revisit those tracks I’ve beaten myself, thanks to some people who’ve for some misguided reason asked me for advice on work, career and life in general. I seldom know how to advise someone constructively, and only know how to tell a story and hope it makes some sense or holds some meaning for the person I’m telling it to. If nothing else, it’s usually a funny story, and they’ll laugh enough to forget what they were after in the first place. This is one of those stories.

I once was a lowly clerk/student-at-law assisting a solicitor assisting a barrister at a community legal centre (i.e. pro-bono legal work for poor people). Because of my scatterbrained ways, I was always primed to do something dangerously stupid.

On my second day at work, I messed up my schedule and only realised I was supposed to be in court that afternoon. Rushing from lunch at McDonald’s to the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission in the city, I only realised I wasn’t dressed appropriately just as I pushed open the courtroom door. I was in t-shirt and jeans and I was late. Then came the shrinking realisation that while I knew I was assisting the plaintiffs, I had no idea what they and their counsel looked like, as I had never met them before. I made a quick decision to go to the right side of the court, sat down, smiled at the barrister, who glared at me and my clothes. I thought he was just pissed because of my dressing, and thought I was going to be fired at day’s end because of that. Turned out worse than that.

The team at the other side of the court tried to get my attention with a few frantic whispered psssssts from this guy (who turned out to be my solicitor-supervisor) who held up a sheet of paper with my name followed by a question mark.

Late, inappropriate attire, and sitting on the wrong side of the court. Powers of invisibility would have come in handy.

I dragged my sorry arse to the bride’s side (as my solicitor-supervisor put it), thinking it was the most ignominious start to a legal career anyone could imagine. Though it felt like an eternity, only a minute had passed, and I composed myself enough to peer ahead at the bench. While the rest of the court were frowning and glaring, the judge (the Human Rights Commissioner) had not batted an eyelid throughout the episode. OK, I thought, he was not discriminating against me because of my attire and/or stupidity and/or carelessness because this is the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission after all.

Then I saw he was typing into this funky chunky keyboard thing, and mostly staring into space. Oh, what providence. I wasn’t going to be fired. The judge was a blind man. Did not see me coming in late. Did not see my t-shirt and jeans. Did not see me do the cross court shuffle. How cool was that? I could even have put my feet on the table. But I didn’t of course.

My supervisor thought it was the funniest thing involving an intern, but the client wasn’t as chuffed, and must have lost a lot of confidence in his chances of winning his case. The facts of the case, incidentally, turned out just as bizarre: The client had worked for more than a decade at a funeral home, carrying caskets and preparing bodies for funerals. He had been fired from his job when his boss discovered he was an amputee, citing incompetence as a reason for dismissal. A clear-cut, sure-win case for the bride’s side.

But it didn’t mean the preparations for the case before the Commission were easy. My team of interns (yes, I was retained) had to do quite a bit, including the following:

Borrow a coffin from another funeral home, fill it up with sandbags, weigh the whole thing so it approximated the weight of an average occupied coffin;

Act as pallbearers and stretcher bearers carrying the coffin from various types of dwellings – bungalows, multi-storeyed flats etc.;

Compare the plaintiff’s execution of the above task with our own and with professional funeral home workers;

Videotape and annotate all of the above.

The videotapes were then presented at the following week’s session before the Commission to show that the plaintiff had no problems with carrying out his duties at his job. Only thing was, the Commissioner was a blind man, remember? Our Keystone Cops legal team could not believe none of us thought of that. Such non-discriminating people we were.

The problem was later solved at the next session with a Counsel Assisting the Commissioner narrating all the videotapes much like a sports commentator. And they’re carrying the coffin down the stairs now… and there’s no discernible wobble…. it is a clean pick up, carry and put down…. I give it a 9.5.

I grew to love my work at the centre, so I extended it, and I still rate it as one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had. I’ve had the honour and privilege to work on cases [exempli gratia: the Joy Williams case which we ultimately lost] which I later realised (clueless, lah) to be very high profile, and which, while working on them, you just know it was the right thing to do. I was also lucky to work with a bunch of the most selfless lawyers I’ve ever met.

My supervisor, for one, was a tireless, unflappable character whose laconic manner belied his determination to always ‘set things right’. Apart from courtroom attire, he’d always be in a crinkled short sleeved shirt with some floral pattern and jeans, and he’d walk around the office barefoot, which is why I suppose he excused my sloppiness. As for courtroom appearances and their requisite propriety, he was once so addled with the wrong flu medicine he forgot his own name, the client’s name, and the number of children the client had during a Family Court hearing. He was composed enough to calmly turn to me to whisper the answers – …say ‘Registrar, my name is John Smith and I represent Janet Nguyen’…. I reckon we made a good team, and was sad to see him leave for the UK to take up another non-profit post.

Then things changed for good forever (yes, I shall remain this cryptic). I returned to Singapore soon after and became a business development manager for a talent agency. But, as I always say, that’s several other stories.