Thursday, October 11, 2012

Play hard to age well

This professor's philosophy in aging well is to play hard. What interests is his elliptical bicycle which he uses to get his workout. This guy has the reflexes and balance of a teenager despite being in his 70s. 

He advocates play and believes it can help you build brain cells, develop neural pathways and prevent or delay Alzheimer's and dementia. Worth investing 4 mins of your time to watch the video, Never leave the Playground.

His blog here -

Monday, October 8, 2012


I was pleasantly surprised when a pic of me (blue jersey, hair band) on a jetty in Karimun Island, Riau, Indonesia all the way back in 1994 popped up in Facebook recently. Those were the good old Mountain Bike times and I remembered owning 2 MTBs then, a Marin and a Bridgestone MB-3.

This trip was organised by none other than bike guru, Chris Wee (cool dude with dark glasses) who I still tour with today. Can't remember the other chappies except the guy next to me, KG, who I've been friends since 1977. Always grateful for the wonderful friends we make along our bike journey.

Those were the carefree days...  and I miss those times indeed. What were you doing in 1994?

One of the top hits for 1994 - we were all heroes then :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bridging the Barelang Highway of Batam - Pt 2

At the end of a long day on a tired bicycle, a good hot meal and a comfortable place to rest is worth a million dollars. We could not ask for more as we cycled down 100m through a dirt path at the end of the Barelang Highway. In front of us, was a big house with attap leaf roofing, on stilts in the sea.

We were welcomed warmly by Awang and his family and when we told him we needed something to eat and a place to sleep, his bright and friendly smile was something I will always remember. They fussed over us like we were important guests and showed us the warmest of hospitality.

Their signage outside promised seafood and it certainly did not disappoint. The steamed fish and fried prawns were as fresh as it could get.

We tucked in heartily under the twinkling stars, with the sounds of lapping waves feeling so contended. A white Kitty took an immediately liking for KC and hung around him, knowing that this kind man would feed her, and she was not disappointed.

We enjoyed a nice bath the old fashioned way where you scoop water onto a small bucket and just pour it over you. The ice cold water was so refreshing and invigorating!

Awang's daughter told us to bring our dirty bikes inside her clean restaurant in case it rained and I was touched by her thoughtfulness, even though she was clearly not a cyclist. Bed time was rustic. 3 mattresses were presented to us with pillows and we plonked them on the restaurant floor, just beside our bikes. Awang kept asking us if we preferred a room with a fan, but we couldn't leave our bikes alone, could we?

After a bit of clowning around and after dinner coffee/tea, we drifted slowly into dreamland. It was so special sleeping like this, and what was interesting was the rest of Awang's family plonking themselves all over the place just like us. Communal sleeping at its best!

I was the last to get up and missed the sunrise. Truth be told, I was quite exhausted the night before but got up reasonably fresh. It was nice to just take a quiet walk alone to the end of the long jetty, giving thanks to God for this beautiful place, my wonderful ride buddies and the lovely time.

Awang came later to serve us a sumptous breakfast of fried rice noodles and egg, washed down with strong, sweet coffee.

It was nice for him to take some time out of his busy schedule to spend time with us. I learned that his father came here from China some 50 years ago and landed on this obscure island of Pulau Galang, to make a living as a fisherman. Life was obviously difficult and he soon developed health problems at 40 years of age. Then one day, a German pastor happened to pay him a visit and invited him to put his faith in Jesus Christ.

He took that step and was blessed with a full and healthy life till 82 years old. His grandson told us later that the family was with the patriach when he went to glory, and he died full of happiness and peace. At Awang's daughter's wedding a few months ago, this German family friend, now on wheelchair and frail, made it a point to attend the happy occasion. I felt very privileged to hear their personal story of faith and friendship, and my heart was lifted up. What a beautiful family they are and it was a high honour to be their guest.

We had a 1pm spa appointment at Tempat Senang back in Batam and wondered how we were going to make it in time. There was no way we could ride 80km over those 66 hills! Fortunately, Awang had a van and offered to take us halfway for a most reasonable fee, and we were so grateful as it started to drizzle. We folded our bikes and packed into the spacious van and his son Timothy gave a running commentary on the area while driving us to Bridge 3. One highlight was a story of a how a huge ship broke anchor and crashed in to Bridge #6, shifting it one meter! We got all excited and took lots of pics, and marvelled at the damage.

There was a dragon fruit farm at Bridge #3 and we stopped there to try the delicious shake and to thank Timothy for his kindess. Apart from being bitten by a thousand mosquitoes, it was a pleasant experience with scenic views.

Saying goodbye to Timothy was hard. We unfolded our bikes and waterproofed our stuff as a light rain had descended upon us. It was nice and cool riding in the drizzle and somehow, going back seemed shorter. We only had 32km to do but we somehow cycled at a good pace. Perhaps our legs got stronger after yesterday's work out but I think we all wanted to hit the spa early.

The flooded portion of the road yesterday was still there but we knew the short cut. Only this time, even the cars went through the little muddy side lane and made it even more difficult for us to ride.

I nearly fell off my bike as it slide through the soft mud. Note to self - slick tires are NOT suitable for touring! I felt sorry for KC & YC who had earlier in the morning washed their bikes.

It was quite a challenge to find the spa as it was not sign posted to maintain its discreteness. Good thing YC's GPS came in useful and we managed to locate it after getting a little lost. We found out from the friendly manager that we were the first among their exclusive guests to arrive on bicycles and we felt rather honoured. Tempat Senang, after all, was voted best spa in Batam!

True to its name which means Place of Rest, we felt we deserve to pamper our tired muscles and get some quality rest. KC wasted no time changing out of his sweat-filled lycra into a lovely batik kimono, and we could not stop laughing at how classy he looked!

For US$75 plus taxes, we had a choice of 3 treatments lasting 3 hours. I opted for a Lavendar scrub, a Balinese massage and a Hot Herbal Compress. It was the compress that send me to the heavens!

Getting sore muscles skillfully deeply rubbed with heated natural herbs in a hot pack is something I have never experienced before, and this must be the mother of all massages for tired cyclists.

Our 3 hours passed too soon and it was time to catch our 510pm ferry back to Singapore. The spa's complimentary SUV could swallow our 3 foldies and 4 adults and it was a mere 7 mins drive to Sekupang Ferry Terminal.

Though our trip was just a short overnighter, we left feeling we had accomplished much. Whether we were in a simple fishing village or a top end spa, I could not but smile at the interesting places our foldies can take us. Add in great mates, all the pain we suffered is quickly forgotten. A big cycle trip in Dec is already in the pipeline with a dream team of tourers put together.

Can't wait to be back!

Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” Acts 16:30,31

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bridging the Barelang Highway of Batam - Pt 1

Just an hour's ferry ride south of Singapore in the island of Batam, lies a little known cycling route that Jan Boonstra, a famous Dutch cyclist and cartographer, describes as cyclists' paradise. This is a 64km beautiful road that links the 3 main Riau islands of Batam, Rempang and Galang with 6 bridges. It was one of President BJ Habibie's dream to connect these islands together to form a formidable economic zone. Alas, the only thing formidable about the project was its cost where some pockets were said to be well lined. It is now a tourist attraction more than anything else, but for us cyclists, long deserted roads with scenic bridges make for a compelling reason to ride it.

And ride it we did, all 3 of us in late September. KC, YC and I jumped on the early morning 830am ferry from Harbourfront Spore with our foldies and arrived at Sekupang, Batam on an easy 45 min boat ride. The weather was a bit rainy and we waited it out with a nice hot breakfast at the noisy domestic ferry terminal's canteen.

Setting off at 10am, the roads were still a bit wet and it was still drizzling but that made for a very cool start. Traffic was manageable considering we were cycling through a heavily built up area until we arrived at the 16km mark, where we turned off to the southern gateway to paradise. I was told that drink stalls were scarce as this highway was practically deserted so we stopped to watered ourselves good when we saw a string of them. The drink seller was a jovial and friendly fella and was gracious to pull a couple of chairs for us. We found out later that there are plenty of drink stalls along the way!

Just 3km into the ride we encountered a massive traffic jam. So much for all the feedback of quiet roads, I thought until I discovered that the road was severely flooded due to last night's rain. It was fun to weave through the thick traffic until I got to the front. The choice was either to ride through the flood which was about half a meter deep or riding through a muddy side road. Since all the mopeds took the latter, we did the same. It was harrowing slip sliding away in wet mud on skinny Primo Comets on my Pocket Sport but the skills picked up during my early MTB days came in useful.

Once that section was cleared, the promise of deserted roads came through. It was a lovely ride but all the mud caking the various drive train components of the Friday made things a tad messy. That is why touring with mud guards is a must. After a few hills to warm us up, the first bridge came at 24km and this is by far, the most beautiful steel cable bridge in this part of the world. Riding through it was special as it is really quite an engineering feat.

We stopped to take photos and just enjoy the scenery before us of many islands and emerald green waters. This is quite a tourist spot judging from the large number of drink and food stalls clustered on both ends of the bridge.

Moving on, I was surprised that bridge #2 came within 10 minutes. It was not as grand and obviously, the engineers believe in the maxim that first impressions count. Bridge #3 came at 32km marker where we stopped for coffee and Nasi Lemak. This is a fishing village with friendly folks. We had all the time in the world and were really sightseeing more than anything else as our destination was only 80km, a most manageable distance, so we thought.

The road after that started to get interesting with rolling hills becoming the order of the day. We were grateful for cloudy weather but that still saw granny being called more often than I would like to admit. Hills are what separate the men from the boys and KC was no where to be seen. YC was kind to accompany me as I was puffing my way up and tearing down the hills at full speeds in the hope of catching up with KC. All in, there were 66 of these beauties so be warned, its not for the faint hearted. KC, a most seasoned tourer rated this route 4/5 in term of challenge.

We finally arrived at the 5th bridge which offered a commanding view of surrounding islands. Lucky Seafood restaurant at the bottom of the bridge beckon us for lunch and that was much needed after all the energy expended.

The 2 staff operation with 2 kids didn't seem to be too happy at our arrival as we interrupted their afternoon siesta, which was probably the best thing to do in the middle of the afternoon. Good thing their fresh seafood and priceless views made up for their lethargic service. A small blessing came in the form of several colourful Kingfishers that entertained us with their spectacular dives and we were enthralled by their amazing gracefulness.

As we were enjoying our lunch, a powerful boat cut across the sparkling waters and disappeared behind a cove. We discovered then that we were just a stone's throw from the seaside town of Galang, where we next veered off the highway to investigate. This was the jumping point to Tg Batu in Kundur that leaves at 10am and Tg Pinang in Bintan at 9am, or is it the other way round? Rats, I forget.

This turn off is also where in the late 1990s, a whole lot of Vietnamese refugees sailed all the way from communist Vietnam and landed here. They stayed at Galang Refugee Camp for up to 15 years till they got resettled by the United Nations.

The only thing left behind now is an old Catholic church, a very nice Chinese Temple and sadly, a rather large cemetery.

It was already 5pm when we picked up the pace again and it was starting to get dark and our legs were getting fatigued from the many hills that sapped us.

I thought the last leg was really the toughest and when we finally arrived at the end of this great highway, I breathe a big sigh of relief.

YC's GPS saw a reading of 83km and it was one of  the toughest 83km I have encountered. We have bridged the Barelang Highway and felt a deep sense of satisfaction, proud that we conquered it with so much fun, in such esteemed company.