Now that you’ve decided you want to ride a motorcycle, passed that really difficult Traffic Police riding practical test and have purchased your dream machine, here are some ownership tips that I’ve learned from others, or from trial and error over time.
Many people think that owning a motorcycle is easy and low-maintenance, but to be honest, it’s not.
A motorcycle requires a minimum amount of TLC and your personal time because it needs to be road-worthy and safe to ride. It is also easily stolen or vandalized. Many great motorbikes are works of art and deserve to be properly cared for. Some of the tips here may sound shallow but they’ll resonate with more experienced bikers who will get it. Continue reading →
There is one common thing that I’ve frequently observed among people who find it difficult to lose weight and those who wonder why they don’t seem to be able to save much money – they’re simply not very self-aware of their own habits, and they often complain that it’s hard to lose weight or save money.
This post is more on our drinking habits, so I won’t talk much about how to save money because it’s different for everyone. Some people have big necessary bills to pay, some have big unnecessary bills, and some people find it tough to get a good job. (What I do each month is to simply carve out my forced savings the minute my pay cheque gets deposited into my bank and transfer it into another account.)
Now to jump to my conclusion about healthy, economical drinking – just drink plain water all the time (duh).
People know that plain water is beneficial to the body, but you need to look at the economics of commercialized water – you may not be aware of how much money you are literally pissing into into the urinal and helping to fund the huge advertising campaigns of beverage makers to get you to drink even more sugared water. Continue reading →
I’m glad to see 2013 come to an end. It’s been a year of many new experiences, many learnings and even more sobering realizations of the human condition. You might say that’s a good thing, but it wasn’t a fun year.
The biggest change in me this year came with the Great Clean-Up Diet, where I discovered how easy it was to lose weight (and keep it down). I still can’t believe how this massive transformation came about due to a bad case of bad foot fungus – I was forced to examine my entire diet and exercise regime and that’s when the snowball started rolling. Continue reading →
For those who aren’t on my Facebook, I’ve decided to make my book “Anyone Can Lose Weight” free instead of USD1.00, and you can download it from this page. At the same time, I’m going to post more blog updates on weight management as this is still a learning journey for me and people keep asking me new questions which make me think “Hmmm, that’ll make a good blog post”. What’s really encouraging is that more people I know are starting to count their calories or at least rein in their eating habits, and they’re seeing pretty quick results. Losing weight isn’t a tortuous process, just read my book (which is really an edited compilation of my earlier blog posts) to find out how.
I’m a geek by nature and when it comes to weight management, it’s only natural that I seek out the latest technology to make it easier and more fun.
Obviously, you can lose/manage your weight without spending a cent at all (remember to buy new running socks though!) but it’s interesting how technology has advanced in the past few years to enable weight monitoring on a daily basis, across different platforms (PC, smartphone etc) in an increasingly seamless way. Remember what you’re about to read is purely optional, and is really catered for the geeky folks out there. Continue reading →
When I first started counting my calories, I got quite a few responses from my friends. Some feigned mock horror, others said they couldn’t be bothered as it was a chore. To amuse myself and to annoy my Facebook friends, I posted regularly on the horrors of high calorie content in our local foods, and what do you know, some of them started calorie counting too. Sadly, most gave up after a while.
Anyway, in the past four months, I’ve dropped about 5.5kg from the time I swore to change my diet. On the bright side, I can see my jawline again, most of the spare tyres around the tummy and chest has disappeared and my waistline has contracted by over an inch, reversing a 15-year trend.
The bad part is now most of my usual work and casual clothes are now baggy and I have to buy new clothes.
To some people that isn’t a bad thing at all.
Anyway, some friends have asked me to share my diet plan and other tips, so you read this earlier post (My Mid-Life Food Crisis) first on the science behind dieting, and my new learnings as follows: Continue reading →
Last weekend, I was swimming with the family at Bishan pool when I heard a China-born swim coach remind his young students “态度决定命运!”. It means “Attitude Determines Destiny”.
It was such a fascinating statement that I stopped swimming to listen further and I kept brooding on it. I went home and did online research, finding out that it was the title to the following saying (I’m not sure who the author is)
Change your attitude, and your behavior will change.
Change your behavior, and your habits will change.
Change your habits, and your character will change.
Change your character, and your destiny will change.
How true! All these, many of us know in one form or another, but it had never been laid out to me in such a clear, logical manner. I spent the rest of the weekend discussing this with Isaac, stressing to him how every step (attitude, behavior, habits and character) are essential to building one’s future. Of course, I don’t know how much he will remember of this conversation, since he is still young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.
I’ve always wondered if being a journalist was a good thing, because there was so much unhappiness during my SPH bond. But one thing that was beneficial was that it led me to meet so many different types of people in a very short time, and sometimes I got the opportunity to tell their unique stories.
As I looked back at people I’ve met over the years, the four steps manifested themselves in different ways, but always had similar roots in habitual behavior.
There was this army major, who spent his time blaming young NSFs for his mistakes of poor judgement.
There was this girl, who couldn’t help but keep making the wrong decisions in love, breaking up other lives along the way.
There was this person, who kept lying and covering up in almost everything at work, until it became chronic and known to everyone else.
There was this person who spent his time plotting against others, but never actually doing any real work. As far as I could tell, he didn’t really have any real skills either.
There was a writer who was addicted to plagiarism, but somehow was always let off the hook.
The pattern continues, and you get the idea. People who do the things they shouldn’t do, keep doing it until it becomes a fixed habit. Then they get stuck, because they really can’t stop.
What was the attitude that led to the behavior in the first place? The idea that they can get away with it? That it was an acceptable thing to do to survive in this cruel, unforgiving world?
Some will scoff, saying that you can’t be a goody-two-shoes if you want to rise to the top, because the bad guys always get ahead. The question needs to be asked – do you want to rise to the top, and where is the “top” anyway?
The peak of a corporate firm? Or the peak of your technical skills?
The peak of being a multitasker? Or the peak of being able to live with contentment?
The peak of being able to fool everyone (eg. cheating pastor of a big church)? Or the peak of self-awareness and humility?
How then, did such attitudes get planted? Through upbringing? Through peer influence? Through multiple failures or successes in life?
I don’t know, and I worry for my children as I seek to put them on the right path God instructed parents to. I keep making mistakes in parenting and I keep asking myself if I am doing right by my kids. I look back at my own life, and I wonder what did my mum do right so that I didn’t grow up with the wrong values.
Or was it that I was blessed with righteous and caring bosses in SAF, SPH and Microsoft that led to my current outlook on life? I’m not saying that I’m great at what I do, but my bosses all taught me the unshakeable values of doing my best no matter the size of the assignment, and being brutally critical of my own work and behavior because there is always someone better…..You know, there are few greater blessings than having wise mentors.
Or is it genetic? Are chronic liars and competitive people born that way?
Again, I don’t know, but all I know is that shaping my future, and hopefully my children’s values, all starts with my attitude, and for that, I thank the nameless coach for such precious wisdom. I’m not saying that man is in full control of his life – God is. But we have been given free will to decide what kind of life we want to lead, and what is our attitude that will please God and men?
Update 3 Feb 2013: I’ve switched from the HPB iDat app to MyFitnessPal, which provides a much better food database, nutrition breakdown, user interface and it syncs properly across devices. The problem with locally created apps, especially those from govt. agencies, aren’t very well maintained or designed. But it was a good start and I do thank HPB for it.
Late last year, I got infected by a really bad case of athlete’s foot (that’s foot fungus if you’re not an athlete). It refused to heal despite all sorts of medicine being used, and I had to stop jogging for the whole month of Dec and the early weeks of Jan because it became too painful to even walk. I’ve since ditched the useless Western medicine and am using an ancient method of vinegar soak (50% white vinegar, 50% water for 20min twice a day) and it’s killing the fungus with an unholy vengeance.
The infection forced me to stop eating heavy foods and reduce my snacking, because I knew I couldn’t burn them off with another long run. This was especially miserable during the Christmas season when people are supposed to be making merry and gobbling food.
But that didn’t change my thinking on food, which was to “live to eat”. Two years of running with the Nike+ system gave me more stamina, but I gained about 3kg rather than losing weight. I love my pork lard, dry noodles and curry rice!
Then a few weeks ago, I purchased a digital weighing scale to replace the old spring version which has been showing the wrong readings for years. The new scale came with a fat percentage analyzer, and to my horror, my fat count was over 24% (healthy is 20% or under).
Didn’t help that my BMI was borderline overweight at 25 (it should be under 25). I’ve been mildly unhappy with the gradual disappearance of my jawline over the past few years too, and the weighing machine sparked the decision to change my eating habits for good.
Some fundamentals in adjusting food habits:
1. Data is critical. Most of the time, we make decisions without the right information. Working in journalism and Microsoft has taught me a healthy respect for collecting relevant data before acting. One of the reasons why I never lost weight since my army days is because I haven’t actually bothered to research what I was eating. How many calories was I actually eating a day? What is the trajectory of my unstoppable weight gain?
2. Exercise is unavoidable. Thankfully I have been jogging regularly over the past six years to ensure I don’t fail the IPPT fitness test. But I needed to ditch the rudimentary Nike+ Sportband pedometer because it was always showing a longer distance than I actually covered (due to my smaller strides). And the Nike+ website is a continual disaster with login failures and all sorts of problems. I can’t believe how a great company like Nike can tolerate having such an abysmal online experience for runners. I’ve covered over 900km with the Sportband and I was getting really fedup with the Nike site and my lack of weight loss.
So, I spent a day researching on calorie counting apps, and remembered the Singapore Health Promotion Board folks telling me about their iDAT (Interactive Diet and Activity Tracker) app. I downloaded it and was astounded to find all sorts of local food and their respective calorie figures in the database. It also comes with a basic GPS feature to track your various fitness activities.
So I decided to do a simulation of my usual intake of delicious SG food and it wasn’t a good report card. It’s scary how many calories our local food contains. We know they aren’t healthy, but the numbers are sobering. My baseline benchmark is a bowl of minced pork porridge, which is about 320 kcal and not the most exciting meal out there.
Breadtalk curry bun
Soya bean drink with sugar
Economy Rice with 2 veg and 1 meat
Ice Lemon Tea
Give or take, the average SG male needs 1800-2000 kcal a day on average to keep going. Of course, I don’t eat such rich food at every meal but with an excess of 343 kcal a day, one will gain 1kg in just 22 days if you lead a sedentary lifestyle and don’t exercise.
“Calorie In” must be balanced with “Calorie Out” to maintain the same weight. When you take in less calories than you expend, you’ll experience a calorie deficit which then leads to weight loss. Vice versa too.
According to online wisdom, 1kg of body weight is equivalent to 7700 kcal. To burn off 1kg of weight, you need to have a calorie deficit each day of 500 kcal over 15 days. The reverse is true – overeat by 500 kcal per day and you’ll gain 1kg in 15 days. The advice is not to have a deficit of more than 1000 kcal per day for healthy weight loss. The HPB website has much more info and you should do your research there.
Now what puzzles me is – why didn’t I know all this facts on weight management before? Why is it nobody teaches this in school or provide such advice when dishing out gems on healthy living? My suspicion is that most people never bother to find out until they meet a nutritionist or read a blog post like this.
Anyway, armed with this data, I reworked by daily diet to look something like this:
Gardenia Softmeal Bread 2 slices
Cheddar cheese spread (thin)
Kopi O Kosong
Wanton noodle soup
Economy Rice with 2 veg and 1 meat
Ice Lemon Tea
Nestum 3-in-1 drink
Overnight, I would have shaved off 800 kcal from my usual unhealthy diet. Even with a baseline calorie requirement of 1800 kcal, I would have a deficit of 267 kcal. This would theoretically lead to a loss of 1kg over 28 days. I don’t stop myself from eating my favorite mee pok or fried rice though, I just eat half a portion and substitute the rest with colorful fruits to ensure I don’t feel hungry.
Now all my friends know I’m an impatient guy and I like to see quick results, so when you add exercise to the mix, the calorie deficit increases even more. To cut the long story short, jogging about 6km at a moderate pace (say within 35 min) will burn about 400 kcal, or roughly the equivalent of a bowl of dry wanton mee.
So if you choose to exercise every day, you can still stay slim even if you eat like most Singaporeans do. However I personally think that exercising everyday at that rate is dangerous as your body doesn’t get enough time to recover, so I do it every alternate day.
My current goal is to lose 3kg so my BMI goes down to about 23, and with the above focus on diet, data and exercise, I’ve lost about 1kg in the first week (which is deemed the safe limit for healthy weight loss). This is the first time in my life that I’ve actually bothered to lose weight seriously, and it’s not as hard as it seems. My jawline has redefined itself and my jeans are already looser.
However, there was a day I cut back too much (about 1200 kcal deficit) and I spent the whole day feeling a little faint and sleepy, so don’t go to the extreme and go bulimic on me please. Once I reach my desired weight, I will recalculate my daily requirements so I can maintain the weight.
And last week, I finally got a bicycle (has it been 12 years since I last cycled on my Giant?) so that I could keep up with the cycling goblin kids. Also, it’s a great way to get together with the AC dragonboaters who are all now in the same phase of mid-life crisis, going on SG park connectors like we are primary school kids again. I cycled to work for this first time this morning at a casual pace along the Kallang canal route, burning about 285 kcal over 11.7km and 51min, and I tell you, it’s lovely not having to worry about hell drivers in the rear view mirror. It’s also great to be able to cycle with the boys you grew up with over the past 30 years!
On the flipside, this means I’ll be riding my Ducati Monster less now
Now I know I’ve been annoying my Facebook friends by posting all sorts of calorie information on various foods (do you know one cup of roasted salted peanuts has 1000 calories?!?) but really, once you start getting into the data, you can’t stop. After one week of reading the iDAT app, I can tell you offhand the calorie count of most local food.
The younger version of me will pooh-pooh this and say “one should enjoy life and your food”, but I’m not young anymore and my metabolism is really slowing down. Strangely, my palate has also changed – I don’t really hanker after char kway teow or other oily food anymore.
Gone are the days when we used to be athletic dragonboaters or gung-ho army officers, and there’s no point trying to relive the days of the past. Aging is inevitable and if we choose to ignore reality, there will be a price to pay in days to come. Good food can be had in this food paradise, but just in moderation (and I really mean in moderation) while keeping the discipline to not over-eat or snack unnecessarily. I’ve stopped adding milk to coffee and take Coke maybe once a week. No more regular snacking on Collon or Cheezels too.
I must caution you though – once you embark on this path I took, you’ll never look at local food the same way again.
Another year flies by and I thought I had better pen some thoughts down before I forget them.
1. Photography is now in the pocket
In the mid 2000s, I used to conduct a few photography workshops in partnerships with Canon. Back then, my mantra to the audience was to use as high a resolution a digital camera as you could afford, because you’d never know how big you need to print them or what kind of HD displays you would be using them in the future as photo frames. I scoffed at phone cameras because they were just so primitive then (they were horrid).
Today, that mantra has gone out of the window as the old adage of “having a camera with you at all times” is more important than the actual megapixel count. Smartphones can now do spot exposure, HDR processing to overcome high contrast scenes and have really good color reproduction. And the most amazing thing is that you can share them instantly on social media, rather than wait a few days to get 4R prints and then another few weeks to show them to your friends.
If I go out with the kids and forget to bring my Olympus Pen along (the full frame Canon 5D sees very little action today due to its enormous bulk), it’s still ok because a modern smartphone has a really really good image sensor. And I don’t print photos anymore, photos are now shared by default on Facebook and Instagram, and this blog no longer hosts photos like it used to.
Instagram has been a great tool that I have grown to appreciate. While some pros may decry the use of vintage filters, I love it because the same effects are much more difficult to achieve in Photoshop, and if you choose to take photos first and Instagram it later, you still retain the original image. And I’ve always been a fan of square 1:1 ratio images. In the past we used to fantasize about owning medium format cameras just to get that square look…today who cares?
I predict that compact cameras will become obsolete within the next five years, and dSLRs will once again become the domain of pros instead of consumers.
2. Xbox Rawks
For the past year, I’ve been the business lead for the Xbox 360 in Singapore, the fifth guy in the job since the product was launched in Singapore during the early 2000s. While I have been driving the marcoms for Xbox and our other Microsoft retail products in the past five years, it’s a whole different ball game to be actually doing product management for such a complex product line.
And till today, I still have to tell people I don’t spend all my time playing games. It’s a continuously challenging business to manage, and while I can’t write much about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, what we did publicly was truly fun and groundbreaking this year.
Dance Central Championships came about because we’ve always wanted to bring Xbox to the masses in a big non-traditional way. It blew our minds when over 1000 people signed up and the finale was simply electrifying as contestants did the most amazing moves on the stage. The finale coincided with the launch of Kinect Star Wars and it was a pleasure to work with the 501st Legion of Star Wars enthusiasts. Trust me, you don’t see such passion very often – these guys live and breathe the Force.
The Halo 4 launch was something of a full circle thingy. When I joined Microsoft in 2007, my second day of work was the Halo 3 launch at Suntec. While we had to scale this one down due to budget constraints, we organized a Royal Rumble-style Ultimate Deathmatch as our first tournament in many years and it was truly gratifying to see fans line up to see who would be the last one standing.
In my previous job as a journalist, I wrote many stories, but I could have never imagined writing a story like my past five years in Microsoft and being part of the amazing Xbox journey.
3. The Goblins
Isaac will be ten years old soon, and Isabel will be eight. Feels like yesterday that Goy and I were still pak-tor-ing (going out on dates). Sometimes I get a bit disoriented and forget that I’m a father to two kids. With them yakking and cracking jokes and arguing all the time, sometimes I feel more like their older brother. Especially since I don’t feel so grown up myself.
It’s really not easy to inculcate solid values and be a good role model to the kids, and often I fall short. But I’m glad the kids make it a fun journey…most of the time. And they are the main reason that I…
3. Fought the education system
It started one day when Goy showed me this ACS Primary sample mathematics exam paper that was so ridiculously tough I lost my cool. I said, “That’s it, I’m writing a letter to the papers.”
One letter led to another, and before I knew it, I had sent and gotten six letters published, and other letter writers contributed their thoughts too. The letters are archived here in their original unedited form (the Today letters have since gone offline, such a pity)
Did the letters help the situation? I think it did, because since the first letter, education has become a bigger talking point in the public space. The Gahmen stopped publishing names of top PSLE scorers this year and while the problem lies more in the sheer unreasonable breadth of the primary school curriculum, at least they’re doing something.
The problem with the education system, I suspect, is that there are too many layers and differing approaches, and no single visionary who can articulate what kind of education system is good for our kids. To solve this problem at the root, we need leaders with actual field experience and I am awaiting the day when an acclaimed educator become the Education Minister.
I’m not saying that the current Minister Heng is doing a lousy job, it’s just that the PAP’s way of appointing ministers needs to take into account that a finance/army/civil service guy may not appreciate the nuances of education like an ex-teacher would. To change the world, we don’t need technocrats and administrators and policymakers. We need people who know what it takes and are willing to risk everything to improve our children’s lives.
I’m done with letter writing for now, because I was starting to sound like a broken record.
4. My Monster.
I first started riding army bikes in 1996, and enrolled in the civilian Class 2B course in 2007. Only in 2012 did I finally realize the long-time dream of owning a Class 2 (400cc and above) bike and after much consideration, I chose the Ducati Monster 1100 Evo and it is an exhilarating ride. I have written about it here.
Seriously, 16 years is a pretty long time to wait, but I guess I was too busy in between.
5. People moving on.
Several colleagues have left Microsoft and I am deeply grateful for all the things they have taught me and gone through with me. Great friends are hard to find in any workplace, and I’ve been blessed with knowing so many talented folks since I started working in 2001. All this sounds very clichéd, but our personality and attitudes to life are often shaped by the meaningful relationships we have and cherish.
And my ex-boss Ben Tan has so many classic lines that I remember by heart. Eg. “Don’t wrestle with pigs!” “Stack them high and watch them fly!” (referencing mass stacking at retail). “How do you get from good to great?”
An old SPH friend, Chee Kin, left us suddenly this year. He was a kind and funny mentor during my journalism internship years, and now I can’t crack anti-Sun Ho/China Wine jokes with him anymore. Quite a few friends have passed away (the first guy during Primary 5) and it is always a grim reminder that our days on earth are numbered and unknown to us. All the more reason to enjoy life for what it is and never regret the things we do. It’s either now or never, people!
6. Passing another violin exam
To many kids, passing the ABRSM music exam is no big deal, since everyone is doing it (usually not by choice). To an adult like me, who has no natural innate gift in music, clearing my Grade 5 exam was a big accomplishment.
This was a frightening exam to go through, because I realized that I still could not get rid of the jitters and shakes whenever I played in front of a teacher or examiner. I concluded that I simply did not have stage performance confidence – an irony because I have no issues giving speeches in front of huge crowds. Goy helped me overcome this (mostly) by constantly practicing with me with the piano and I learnt how to minimize the tonality issues. I just managed to score a merit rating and it felt like a distinction already.
I continue to learn the violin because it’s too late to just stop now, when I’ve worked at this for over 11 years, and because every lesson is such a humbling experience for an arrogant nature like mine. Violin is truly a great antidote for the inertia that threatens to subsume me every day.
As usual, I don’t think too hard about the future and what I want to do in 2013. Everything happens according to God’s plan and all I ask for is to be happy in the things I do and achieve contentment at all times. I feel the edginess and impatience of the mid-life crisis (all the old AC boys are experiencing it) and we have to keep remembering to get together lest one of us disappear from sight without warning.
And 2012 was great because the last of the dragonboat gang – Pok and Naveen – finally got married. Now they’ll understand what we married men have been talking about during our Adam Road suppers