Saturday, December 29, 2007

A spectacular Carry Me crash in Battambang

Celia enjoying the "all-terrain" Brompton.

CM recuperating after the crash.
I've taken 2 weeks before deciding to write about this crash I had in Battambang on Thu Dec 13. I guess I still can't believe it happened.
My wife and I were cycling to the Bamboo Train about 5km outside of Battambang, trailing a Tuk Tuk carrying our team. Her 6 speed Brompton could cruise at a good clip while my single speed Carry Me was struggling to keep up with her and the Tuk Tuk. So a brilliant suggestion was thrown to me - why not hang on to the Tuk Tuk and get a free ride?
Tempted, I finally relented. Lazy me grabbed on the left edge of the Tuk. It was fun, not having to pedal and flying at 30km/h. Fun until the Tuk had to avoid an oncoming car and moved to the edge of the road. The little 8" wheels of the Carry Me were not too happy going "Cambodian off road" at such high speeds and started going out of control.
I had 2 choices - to try control the wobbling bike or to do a John Wayne "horse to train" stunt. Fortunately, my faith in Hollywood compelled me to do the latter and I jumped off the uncontrollable iron steed onto the Tuk Tuk, legs dragging on the ground. It was a pity that this was not video-ed as it would make good "Funniest Movie" fodder. Celia witnessed it from behind and complimented on my acrobatic ability.
I wasn't too sure about that and was glad to walk away with just a small scratch and a badly bruised ego. But more importantly, the CM was not damaged at all. Thank God for that.

So much for being lazy! Lesson learnt - no such thing as a free ride in cycling.

More about the amazing Bamboo Train:

Friday, December 28, 2007

Renewing ties in KL

The New - Imposing Petronas Twin Towers

The Old - Coliseum Hotel & Restaurant circa 1920s

Big juicy Satay, shiok!

Mei testing the compact CM inside a spacious 3 bedroom Ascott Suite.

Our stay at the Ascott was booked exactly one year ago in 2006. Its important to pencil in time where the extended family can get stay together for a couple of days. What made it even more special is my dear friends, The Ongs and The D Lees (from NZ) came along as well.

KL is booming, with construction everywhere around the KLCC area. It is truly a modern metropolis like Singapore, but unlike Singapore, there are still pockets of tradition and old town. One such institution is the 85 year old Coliseum Restaurant and Hotel at Jln Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Described as a poor man's Raffles, the Coliseum has a similar planter bar. It looks exactly the same as when the British had drinks to discuss how to counter the Communists Insurgency during the 1950s. Coliseum is Hainanese run offering wonderful steaks and other Western food. The waiter who served us told us that he has worked there for 46 years! Our ever discerning kids gave the quality of food 8.5/10.

I did not have the chance to ride my Carry Me much save for one trip in search of Teh Tarik stalls. As usual, it got molested to no end when I parked it to buy some Ramli Burgers and Malay Kuehs. One fellow got the cheek to ask for a test ride, to which I firmly said, "No". This place along Jln P Ramlee also did juicy Satays.

We left with happy hearts at the renewed relationships formed 20 floors up at the Ascott. O yes, we made another booking for Dec 26-29 for 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home for Christmas

I arrived in Singapore with mixed feelings. It has been an awesome trip to Cambodia and I was sad to leave but happy to be home.

Typical of a busy Singapore lifestyle, we had a Christmas Party to host the next day. Trust my dear friends (6 families) to bring EVERYTHING - the food, drinks, wine, cutlery, presents and most of all, their friendships. We gathered to celebrate God's gift to us and our 30 years of supporting each other through thick and thin.It was wonderful to see Dan and Mei who hail from Auckland. We've known each other since uni, and he said, "I have had so many happy moments at your home since the 1980s...". My best friend Simon got me a most appropriate gift, a boxer shorts with bicycles on it!

Our Christmas Service at church too was very special and meaningful. Dr Choong Chee Pang, a distinguished Professor at Beijing Uni gave the message and reminded us to consider 3 important questions:

1. Where did I come from?
2. Where am I now?
3. Where am I going?

Jesus came to answer these questions for us. He came 2000 years ago to give us life, and give it abundantly.

I learned at church that Richard, one of my folding bike friends, bought a Giant Halfway foldie on his recent trip to Taiwan. It has only one fork.
While I was away, Chris, my cycling and photography buddy, was so kind to "zhnged" my Bike Friday Tikit.

I can't wait to ride it!

And on Boxing Day, our 3 generation family will go up to Ascott KL to celebrate the year end, foldies in tow of course.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The greatest homestay in the world!

Imagine waking up each day to the beautiful laughter of children playing, singing with the purity and power of 120 voices, sharing a simple meal with so many little friends, enjoying an exciting heart-pounding water bomb fight, cheering and shouting together for our soccer team in the hot sun - these are just a small slice of the many special moments of our 3 days at COSI Orphanage. If ever there is a representation of heaven on earth, this must be it. Words cannot describe this experience!

I was thrilled to re-connect with my "daughters" Sinat, Sophorn & Bopha and so many other lovely children. To see them grow each year in character, spirit and body brings great joy to my heart. Though they do not have much materially compared to us, they are so rich in every sense of the word in terms of relationships and happiness. They showed their love for us in many different ways. William, one of our Youth, got his feet washed after an outing to a dusty village by a small boy. Many of our ladies got their hair beautifully tied up and decorated with fresh flowers. The kids were ever so willing to dance and sing for us, and learnt new songs we taught them like sponges.

Each child gave us their gift of priceless friendship - evident in the numerous letters and cards they poured upon our team especially when it was time to say goodbye. Many of us cried when we finally had to say goodbye and it was so difficult. I kept telling the kids that I will NOT say farewell for I shall be back, sooner than later.

These children are special. We have learned so much from them, and our hearts are deeply touched. No wonder Jesus said that when we receive these children, we receive Him. I finally understood that!

I look forward to seeing them again in 2008, Deo Volente.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Daylight robbery, & a night one too!

She risked her life
for her friend.

I've been to PP for at least 6 times and feel its a relatively safe place, until last night. While waiting for our transport after a meeting with University students at 10pm, a motorbike pulled in front of us and the pillion demanded my friend's handbag. This was inspite of the fact that there were 6 of us. Immediately, another friend helped grabbed hold of the handbag and the robber reluctantly left after we all came in. Shocked and caught unaware, we were stunned for a while but it was another clear example of God's protection over us all. What was certainly displayed was selfless sacrifice on the part of my friend I'Ching - she did what Jesus did for us all. Putting her life on the line for her friend!

When I got back to the hotel, I learnt from my wife that her student, Kat, also nearly got her bag snatched while on the back of a motorbike. A motorbike pulled alongside and tried to take it on the move.

What an adventure this has been. Next time, we need to get bodyguards. But seriously, its important to be vigilant in ANY country especially in dark places. And O yes, do carry only things that you are willing to lose.

Just another normal day in Phnom Penh.
Words of Jesus in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dirt Poor & Filthy Rich

Dirt Poor
Filthy Rich

Sunday's early morning start was our 4th in a row and it was taking its toll on us. But we had to travel 30km through dusty roads into the countryside where COSI Orphanage was. We were joining the 815am Christmas Service and IChing, my colleague, was preaching through a translator. It was good to leave the chaotic traffic and bustling commerce of PP and enter into another world of open skies, vast rice fields and rural villages. As usual, it was great to be so warmly welcomed by the kids and our COSI team, who went a day earlier.

About 100 people came including many village VIPs. They were all dressed up in their "finest" Khmer clothes, though their poverty was quite apparent in so many ways. Their kids came too as they were - scruffy and raggy but excited about joining our celebration of God's gift to mankind through Jesus. Another afternoon service was organised this time in the compound of a Khmer friend's home. It was simple and hot but once again, about 50 people came. It was a special time but the Cambodian 34c heat was melting all of us and we were glad to return to our aircon hotel in PP.

We were kindly invited for dinner by a Cambodian friend who spent 6 months in Singapore. A late model black Mercedes S320 with glitzy chrome 20" wheels came to get us. This statement of opulence belonged to a friend's friend whose family runs a tour business. As our party was too big, some of us travelled in a humble mbike Tuk Tuk - who had to fill up its empty tank with $2 of petrol.

If ever there is a place where $ can get you anything, it must be Cambodia. I learnt from the 22 yo owner of the S320 that the rich can pay their way out of any trouble - which explained how she parked indiscriminately on a busy road to buy us expensive durians. Even a gun can legally be obtained with the right connections and right price. Driving the dusty black "Make way I'm rich" statement on 4 wheels, it commanded power and respect that even the ever opportunistic police will think twice about stopping anyone of this bourgeois class.

A country of contrast indeed between the many poor and the elite rich. But rich or poor, the heat, dust and dirt falls on all without favor or discrimination...

Friday, December 14, 2007

The work begins...

19 folks + 42 boxes of goodies from my church flew in last night. It was a challenge to fit everybody and everything into a rickety van and a jalopy 4wd. It could not fit so a need for another taxi. Such a joy to see so many excited faces! We went for a nice welcome supper at Mittaheap Coconut Ice Cream and swarmed the tiny restaurant.

This morning, the main team left for COSI Orphanage by bus to begin their stint with 120 orphans. A second team focused on teaching at the Bible College. My team of 6 people went to the Methodist School of Cambodia at 0630. The training sessions we gave on Pedagogy, IT and PE were well received. It was so inspiring to see the wonderful work done to give young Cambodians a better future through education. We are humbled that we could contribute in a small way.

A well deserved lunch cum simple birthday celebration for my friend I''Ching was held at the Aussie owned Lazy Gecko. Koda the ever friendly waitress recognised us and made us all feel so at home. Typical of warm Cambodian hospitality. Of course, I had the Deluxe Burger which is acclaimed to be the best burger in Phnom Penh for a princely sum of US$3.50.

Tomorrow is another early start as we make our way to COSI at 0700 to participate in an early Christmas service. Looks like playing tourist ends and the work begins... and we look forward to it immensely.

Guns & Poses

Cambodia is THE Wild Wild East and guns are still available for hire. Displayed prominently in front of a certain hotel's recep is a wide menu of all sorts of guns/rifles including hand grenades, RPGs and even anti-aircraft guns. The variety will make any army proud. About US$30 for 25 rounds, one could have a go at the shooting range. It has been sometime since I left the army, so I thought I would give it a go and give an "education" on the destructive power of these weapons to my son and 9 yo Godson.

The shooting range was near to the infamous Killing Fields, and ironically, most of the victims there were murdered by the Khmer Rouge not by bullets but by everyday farm tools. We were greeted by a most friendly Gun Waiter who welcomed us warmly - like we were stepping into a family restaurant. We were invited to sit down and looked at the menu. It was hard to choose, so we ordered the special of the day - a Russian made AK47 assault rifle. The boys were thrilled and posed proudly with their various rifles. Of course when the shooting started, they were a little scared but the green camouflage jackets they donned on gave them the courage to squeeze a few rounds. Only 7/25 rounds hit their target but at least it wasn't zero!

On our way out, we saw a hand grenade lobbed into a pond and witnessed the underwater explosion. It seemed very dangerous and we were glad to leave the place.

Well, at least the boys were happy. They got lots of photos of guns in various poses...

Folding Trains and Flying Taxis.

Assembling train - 2 mins flat...
Off we go!
The railways of Cambodia is notorious for its unreliability. So what do you do with a proper rail line that is largely unused? (The PP to Battambang train runs once every week only.) The locals got it ingeniously figured out with their own train made out of bamboo. The Bamboo train is the only "folding" train I know. Made of two simple axles, a bamboo structure measuring 4 x 2m and powered by a small generator motor on fan belt. The 8 of us rode on this contraption and were very impressed. Simple, economical and most importantly, very effective. It carried goods, people and the odd cow to the next small town.

But what happens when another bamboo train comes into your path? One minute is all it takes to lift the structure and remove the axles. Simply amazing and this happened to us about 3 times. No fuss or fighting, lots of goodwill and understanding, and everyone seemed happy enough though I could not figure who had to get off the track. The fresh country air does bring the best of people.

Our ride to Phnom Penh were 2 sinister looking dark green 12 year old Toyota Camrys with equally sinister looking drivers. They drove at breakneck speeds with their horns in full use as they weave skillfully through traffic. The 290km was covered in 3.5 hrs - truly a grand finale of our Amazing Race!

A slice of France in Battambang

French Governor's Residence

Battambang means the "Disappearing Sword" and for me, its the welcome disappearing hordes of tourists as compared to chaotic Siem Reap that I truly appreciate. Nothing like being on a bicycle with the fresh early morning breeze in your face, experiencing the awakening of the town. Min and I parked ourselves in the middle of the bridge, watching the local crowd pass by on all sorts of vehicles. We were particularly thrilled when a bunch of hand-driven wheel chairs with disabled children made their way independently to school. Someone had made a difference to their lives and may God bless them !

This charming riverside town is perhaps the most Cambodian town I have visited perhaps due to the relative inaccessability to get there. No airport, poor road from Siem Reap & boat ride from hell. Though from Phnom Penh, its a pretty decent 290km of highway. What stands out are 2 huge statues on each end of town - one a golden man with several hands including a CD and another, a black colored fierce warrior with a sword.

The main attraction of Battambang is the French period architecture sprawning in many parts of town. During the long civil war, Battambang being so far away from the action, was spared from bombing and thus, many of its old French designed buildings remain pretty intact. We cycled along the river and stopped many times for photos to take advantage of the brilliant morning light. The original French Governor's Mansion still stands so elegantly facing the river, almost ready to host the next dignitary dinner. Its black cannons waiting to fire a salute.

Many many other French villas still stand and one particularly has been lovingly restored and turned into a boutique hotel, La Villa. Celia stayed there for a night and was charmed. Wide boulevards with huge trees neatly lined added to the very European atmosphere of this old IndoChinese town. Perhaps the most common contribution of French designed architecture is found in the numerous old shop houses with fascinating French windows and iron wrought grill balconies. We also visited 2 Wats and interestingly, some of the bungalows within the temple compound was obviously built and occupied by the colonial masters. It was odd to see orange-robed monks coming out of such quarters and some had their roofs changed to look more "buddhist".

Unlike the other French towns of Indochina like Vientiane, Saigon and Phnom Penh, Battambang must be the best remaining example of the influence France had in this region. A slice of old France lives here, and I hope it stays that way for a long, long time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More pain, less pleasure...

A crooked horizon due to listing of overcrowded boat
After all the steep climbing at Angkor Temples, a late morning is what we needed but alas, the Amazing Race boat trip required us to suffer another 0600 start. True to the "flexi-bei-tei" nature of this lovely country, our pick up came late. What's more, it already had 8 burly Caucasions in the old diesel van but somehow with some Cambodian magic, the 4 of us, 2 bags plus 2 folding bikes managed to fit in.

Expecting a lovely & spacious boat (it is a long 5 hr ride), we were shocked to be sardined into an old boat build for 35 pax. Dora counted close to 60 pax and we ended on the roof of our QE2 liner, Cambodian version. I had to personally mop the roof so that we could sit/sleep decently. It was quite comfortable to be on the breezy roof soaking in the magnificent scenery. Wildlife is obvious very rich in the Tonle Sap Lake with all kinds of birds seen, some flying in A-formation. We passed by several floating villages where even schools were on boats. The kids were always ready to give their cheery smiles and friendly waves. But soon the sun started to come up, and we were like frogs in slow boiling water.

The only toilet stop came 4 hrs later where we docked and were herded onto a floating coffee shop. Toilet was a hole in the shed, leading straight into the lake. Fortunately, we were told to squeeze with fellow passengers below in the deck and that provided some respite from the searing heat. Sitting at the back next to the diesel engine, I was not sure if my lot had improved. What's more, the boat had to squeeze through some very narrow passages of mangrove bush, and the "whipping"effect began as branches brushed rudely into the cabin. We took it all in stride and 7 hours later, arrived at the rickety Battambang Ferry Terminal.

It was such a relief to be picked up by Celia in a huge Toyota Landcruiser, with cold aircon. The Banan Hotel chosen was pretty decent. Celia and I managed to squeeze in a bike ride with the Brompton and Carry Me and we had a photo competition where our 9 yo Godson, Daryl was the judge. Less dusty, more character and certainly more French colonial than Siem Reap. I met a chubby Aussie guy who runs the Bus Stop Guesthouse and he pointed us to the best restaurant in town, PP. It turned out very satisfying indeed with delicious Khmer food served, finished off with lovely ice cream.

We ride the Bamboo Train tomorrow, this time a little later for the rest of the group. But for me and Min, a Physio student at Melbourne Uni, it would be a 0630 start to do what I love most, bike riding and photography of an unfamiliar town waiting to be explored.

Hopefully, there will be more pleasure than pain.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pleasure & Pain

The few Cambodian words I know is "How are you?" or "Sok si bei tei?". But one of the most impt keyword to keep in your heart is "flexibei-tei" as things are fluid and often unpredictable. We arrived at PP airport only to be told that our hotel had car problems and was told to wait. They sent Mr Vannak, the Front Office Manager, to pick us in a taxi. 45 mins late, but no issue, we were not in hurry. Problem was we were 4 people and 7 pieces of luggage. Vannak came together with his driver in a 15yo Toyota Camry. Somehow he managed to fit everything into the small sedan with me sharing the front seat with him. What a wonderful experience for Dora, a first timer and her son Daryl, as they marvelled at the lawless traffic. He also showed us a video footage of the recent Dragon Boat tragedy where 5 Singaporeans drowned on his phone. The DVD is on sale! Sick.

The warm welcome we got at Asia Hotel more than made up. The staff recognized us, esp my son Jeremy (the biggest 12 yo they have ever seen) as we have come faithfully each year. The boxes we took for our Cambodian friends were gratefully received and they were so kind to book us our onward bus tickets and mobile phone cards.

The journey to Siem Reap turned out to be a real local Cambodian experience - and we were glad the long 6 hrs ended positively with Celia my wife picking us up at the bus station with the Auberge Mont Royal MPV. But they had somehow got the hotel rates wrong and overcharged us $5 per night. I was feeling pretty tired and put on a brave front. Sofia, the ever obliging front office manager upgraded us to the luxurious and spacious deluxe suite and we were grateful. See how important Flexibei-tei is?

This morning's early visit to the Angkor Temples was a photographer's dream with beautiful lighting and the magnificient Temples. 3rd time for me, but never tired. Problem was I got attacked by fiery red ants while on the ground for a low shot. The pics turned out great, but so did my stings! Riding around the temple grounds amongst elephants must surely be one of the highlights and as usual, the Carry Me attracted too many questions I could handle from admirers. One of them said, "Your life now very easy...". I smiled as I looked at the 3 red swellings on my left hand.

Tomorrow we leave for Battambang at 0600 for a 5 hour boat ride. Celia just smsed me to say very interesting floating villages but there is only one toilet stop. Help!

Pleasure and pain indeed.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Packed to go!

There are foldies and there are foldies. I have forgotten how compact the Brompton is - it fits straight into this 31" suitcase just like that. I keep it in a DIMPA (available from Ikea at under $10) to ensure it is dust-free when in hibernation. This Morris Minor of a bicycle, cream colour and all is 5 years old but still looks as good as new.

Note how much more space there is left in my suitcase (where the helmet is). My clothes for 2 weeks will fit easily inside with room to spare. This will be Brompy's 2nd trip to Cambodia and I'm sure she is excited. Last year same time, she took part in the 1st Angkor Wat Bike race, and came in 9th among big wheeled bikes.

I will be taking along a Carry Me as well for the wifey or son.

"All my bags are packed, and I'm ready to go..."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Going to Cambodia, again!

Every Dec since 2003, I have been going to Cambodia to the COSI Orphanage, near Phnom Penh. Our team bring lessons on music, science, language, art and English, as well as gifts that the 120 children there need. But most of all, we bring the gift of friendships to disadvantaged children. They don't have much, but are immensely happy - much more than us! Our technology addicted teens also come back realising that they it is indeed possible to live without the computer & handphone. Fresh from "cold turkey", they re-learn the art of making meaningful face-to-face conversations and playing games that do not require batteries. That can only be a good thing.
Needless to say, I always bring along a foldie. Having your own wheels offers a sense of freedom, especially in the exploration of Phnom Penh city and running errands. Its chaotic traffic is surprisingly easy to ride once you get used to it and drivers are generally quite tolerant and courteous. I have made a new friend, Stephen Yeo, who is the Principal of the Cambodian Methodist School and he comes from East Malaysia, Sibu. We were brought together by our love for cycling and I look forward to spending time with him on the saddle.

This time we are also visiting Battambang, the 2nd largest city situated up north where I will be looking at future humanitarian opportunities together with my wife's Physiotherapy team. I look forward to capturing some nice photos of the old French colonial mansions there with my new Canon IS650 camera.

Can't wait! But alas, my perennial problem - which folder should I bring? The Brompton is a good choice as it packs very well (no disassembly required) but so does my Tikit, Dahon Speed 8 and the Carry Me. But since my Tikit got to go the last time, it will have to stay at home and give its other siblings a chance...
Bicycle parenting can be difficult! Sigh.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sharing life together ...

This was the theme for my church camp and what an appropriate one indeed. Life lived in and within a community, is so much more meaningful and purposeful. The extended time I had with my family and friends was also very special. What a joy to see so many familiar smiles and join in the laughter of 90 folks from all walks of life, united by God's overflowing love for us. This is perhaps a glimpse of what heaven will be like.
No wonder Hebrews 10:24,25 encourages us to "Consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together..." Our Creator has made us relational beings and we came together to celebrate that.
Of course, I used whatever free time to ride my Carry Me to discover Malacca - "The Living Museum". History, culture, heritage and nonya food, its all there. The CM made exploring the town really easy. But it attracted too many admirers for my liking !

I wrote this article for the Folding Society UK last year on Malacca. Do have a click if you like to read about this little adventure on a Dahon Helios and Brompton.