Saturday, November 30, 2013

Assignment: Kyoto - Part 2

A tour of Kyoto..

Day one of the NACE EAP conference began with a tour of Kyoto.
This was provided courtesy of the Japan chapter.
We began with a visit to the Shimadzu Corporation - a company that manufactures precision equipment which is world-reknown.
Following the factory tour, we moved on to the Nijo Castle, a UNESCO Heritage site located in the mid-town area.
This is were the Shugon had resided during the Tokugawa Shogunate era.
Its a real beautiful place with an entrance fee of 600 Yen.
After a tour of the castle, we were led to lunch where half the group had left for a meeting.

A Shimadzu corporation staff explaining a 3D X-ray scanner
Temples and Shrines

We continued to visit two more shrines and temples around Kyoto.
Our tour guide was very enthusiastic as she walked us through the different era of Japan's feudal ruler's history.
The second stop was another shrine in the mid-town area. 
We spent about an hour there and moved on to another popular temple which is also one of the oldest in the city.

Nijo castle
An entrance to the garden in Heian shrine

Sake barrels offering
The Heian shrine
The last venue was an old temple called Ryoan-ji.
This is a popular tourist destination as there were hoards of people entering the temple complex from tour buses.
November is one of the busiest period for Kyoto in terms of tourist arrival.

A nice view of the temple complex

This 14th century structure is a UNESCO heritage site
A formal evening...

The tour ended by 5pm and this was followed by a cocktail reception for the participants of the EAP conference.
I went back to the hotel to put on my coat and joined Michelle at the cocktail reception.
Drinks were limited as we stood around to wait for speeches by the big wigs and later, we worked our way to downtown Kyoto for supper with a couple of staff from the NACE office in Kuala Lumpur.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Assignment: Kyoto - Part 1

A planned trip..

Michelle had made mention about a conference she is attending in Kyoto, Japan.
That was last year and she'll be there as a VIP guest of the NACE EAP chapter.
NACE is the National Association of Corrosion Engineers which is based in Houston, Texas.
And every year, my wife will make her pilgrimage to Houston to attend their annual conference, which is one of the largest gathering of corrosion protection experts from around the world.
Over the years, Michelle had been working very hard to establish herself as one of the top certified experts in Malaysia.

The plan..

My ticket was claimed by frequent-flier mileage. All that was left to pay, was the airport tax.
There weren't much preparation and when the time came for us to depart Kuala Lumpur for the Kansai international airport near Osaka, we boarded our midnight flight and sat through the ride.
I spent some time with the kidz and pat them goodbye. 
By the time the aircraft was cruising across the ocean past the Philippines and Taiwan, we were on our way to the land of the Rising Sun.

Giving the kidz a treat

At KLIA before boarding our flight..

Feeling upbeat..

We didn't have any issues clearing the Japanese Customs and Immigration and after claiming our baggage, we hopped onto a bus bound for Kyoto. 
Technically-speaking, its a one and a-half hour ride on the highway to one of Japan's historical city. 
Kyoto was the country's old capital which is steeped in history.
We arrived at the outskirts of Kyoto where the city's international convention centre is located.
There, we will stay at the Grand Prince Hotel for six nights.
From the Kyoto central station, we jumped onto the subway and headed towards Kokusaikaikan, the last stop on the line.
Once there, we hauled our gear and was told by the hotel reception that check-in time is around 2pm.

In the subway headed towards Kokusaikaikan
Making our way to the hotel
Having a piece of Onigiri for snack

At the supermarket

The foliage during late fall
With some time to spare, we walked around town.
There was a supermarket around the corner and we scouted the outlet for some bottled water and food. This will be our meal as we had no plans to eat out.
While we were at it, we also found an outdoor retail store. It felt as if I was in Paradise because I found the gear that I was looking for in this outlet.
They sell Snowpeak camping gear and was listed as a stockist.
Later, we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. 
The bill came up to 1,405 Yen (about RM45) and it wasn't that bad...

The Ramen lunch

Experiencing the cool weather

A beautiful scene at the Takaragaike park in Kyoto
Shorter daytime..

By 4pm, the sky is already getting dark.
We checked-in our luggage and walked down to the supermarket to purchase some food, beers and groceries.
I packed some sushi and ate it in our room. Our tummies were filled to the brim and we called it a night as there's gonna be a long day tomorrow..

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just nooming around..

Some of the best things in life are free..

I downloaded an apps from Google Play that measures one's footstep.
Its called "Noom Walk" and its really easy and interesting.
Using the smartphone's gyro-sensors, it measures footsteps.
And when you are able to achieve 5,000 steps in a day, the apps will alert you.
You can also record your best performance with a weekly breakdown given on the screen.

The app's screen shot
Setting daily challenges...

You can get in touch with your friends using the same app to encourage them to walk more.
Best of all, its the battery-saving feature on this app that is quite impressive.
It uses a minute amount of power from your phone battery to run.

I used my Garmin Fenix to track my walk and combined with the Noom Walk app
The apps is available free from Google Play and you can also download Noom Weight Coach for managing your body weight! 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Foldie's Journey - Part 2

I don't take shit from people...

Skills are built based on experience.
In the course of helping out people in social rides, I took the role of sweeper.
On my Dahon Speed's saddle bag, there's always a spare inner tube and a set of recovery kit.
If need be, I will render help to a fellow cyclist.
Even back in the days, sweepers are badly treated.
They often arrive at the destination last and by the time the get there, there's no more food or water.
So, with that in mind, one have to fend for himself. Never depend on people.
On some occasions, I ride with my wife. She's my soulmate, we click extremely well and if you are married to someone who is willing to cycle 100km with you without complaining, you can't ask for more...
In the circle, I never hero-worship other cyclists. I never try to copy them nor emulate them by getting the same bikes they ride. 
Put that together, I am my own man.
I bought Michelle her first touring bike: the Speed TR in early 2011.
We were invited by TT Siang to tour with them in Betong, Thailand.
That's where we got smitten by the touring bug.

My 2008 Dahon Speed P8 - rigged for touring

Michelle and her Speed TR at the Malaysian-Thai border

The gang in Betong, Thailand..
The learning curve..

I must say that long distance rides are fun.
Its even better if you can plan trips across the stateline.
But, the hardest thing is to find a touring buddy. In my case, I am blessed with a spouse who can cycle and loves to explore.
We did many rides on our own and despite being shunned by the fragmented group that we once rode with, nothing could stop us from hitting the road.
After the ride in Betong, Thailand, I've replaced our Topeak panniers with the much better Ortlieb front and backrollers.
Having good equipment and a desire to explore opened up doors to many other things.
From Betong, we've concentrated on the local scene and rode from Port Dickson to Malacca. 
We love it so much, we started exploring places like Tanjung Sepat, Sekinchan, Sg Besar and the paddy fields in Tg Karang.
In-between the rides, we trained. 
We spent some time doing hills and straights to build our stamina. 
And it paid off.

At Port Dickson after completing a ride from Malacca

Pit stop in Pantai Morib, Selangor enroute to Tg Sepat
If it's not broken, don't fix it..

I was inspired by the tales of Heinz Stucke who traveled to 38 countries on this Bike Friday Pocket Llama. 
It was a 7-speed bike and now, Mr Stucke is a sponsored tourist with Brompton Bicycles.
If a guy can do it with a 7-speed bike and cycled around the world on a small wheeled foldie laden with gear, surely he must be doing it right.
I hear a lot of thrash talk about modifying bikes, Dahons with butterfly bars and triple chainrings. But that is just for show, there real deal is cycling out there.
I kept my 2008 Dahon Speed P8 in its original form.
The only thing components that I replaced was the saddle and pedals.
After clocking-in more than 10,000km with the Speed P8, the bike is still fitted with its original components.
Although much of the original implements have shown signs of wear and tear, the Speed P8 is still my choice bike for touring.

The present configuration of my Dahon Speed P8
Talk is always cheap

I see people bragging about their bikes on forums and Facebook peer groups. I leave them be. 
There's nothing to argue about because time is wasted on talking.
That said, I am fortunate to have people whom I can count on in terms of planning and executing a trip.
What made it even more memorable is the fact that we successfully complete the ride and come back with pictures to share with our peers.
That is why a ride like : "Journey to Land's End" became so memorable.
I even wrote about it as a centrespread story in The Star.
Our journey inspired a new breed of adventure seekers and with the myth of small wheels being third tier bikes put to rest, more people are taking folding bikes seriously.

In Pontian during our touring ride to Land's End
The Southernmost tip of Asia

Time, our enemy..

I juggle between my day job and my hobby.
Cycling brought me closer with my spouse as well as peers.
In the years that I've invested, I made friends with some really good people and I truly value their friendship.
This is based on honesty and sincerity.We keep them close in our circle and are grateful for their contribution to the folding bike community.
There's still a lot of grounds to cover and with proper planning, I don't think we would run out of places to explore...

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Foldie's Journey - Part 1

In the beginning...

I chanced upon a 2008 Dahon Speed P8 that was hanging on a window display at a bike shop in Taipan USJ five years ago.
It's appearance and overall built quality spoke to me and over a couple of days, I worked out the costings on what that would be my first bicycle in 25 years.
Even back then, I began researching about folding bicycles and the brand "Dahon" came up tops on the Yahoo search. This pre-dates Google back in 1997.
It wasn't until 2006 when I had a closer look at the Dahon bikes during a visit to St Kilda's beach in Melbourne, Australia.
At that time, the cost was prohibitive. 
On the average, a folding bike would cost around AUD$1,600 a piece.
So, after seeing a black bike that looks like a BMX with an 8-speed drivetrain, I made a decision to purchase the bike that was sold at RM2,090.
The store supervisor gave me a 5% discount that came to around RM1,985.
I did a little bit of research and found out that the Dahon Speed P8 is a premium priced bike with hardy components.
It was easy to use and when I rode it around the neighbourhood, it handled like a larger bike. 
The only thing that felt funny was the small 20" wheels.
If you have the "Circus Bear" syndrome, it would take some getting used to.
I felt bad that Michelle was "left out", so, with my limited knowledge, I bought her a Dahon Curve D3 folding bike.
It was a 16" folding bike which is still in our keeps.
Together, we rode around the neighbourhood and after a while, we got lazy.
The bikes were just sitting around.
That was until much later when I had an idea of how to spend the weekend by transporting the bikes to a certain destination, deploy and explore. 

Maiden ride on my Dahon Speed P8

Getting used to a small bike

The 2008 Dahon Speed P8 
Pulau Ketam, the beginning of a wanderlust on a folding bike

We drove to Port Klang and took a ferry to Pulau Ketam.
This inspired us to do some rides in Selangor and we ended up cycling in Kuala Selangor, Sekinchan and Tg Karang.
Slowly, but steadily, we began to move away from cycling in our neighbourhood.
It wasn't until October 2010 when we actually joined other cyclists on a social ride around Kuala Lumpur.
Having "migrated" to Subang Jaya, I wasn't fond of riding around the city.
It was then when I realised that we were merely sub-urban cyclists because we were not really equipped like the rest of the guys.
They've set a good example by wearing cycling helmets and gloves for protection.
Seeing that safety is paramount, I bought helmets to outfit our rides.

Michelle and her Dahon Curve D3

Riding in Pulau Ketam

At a social ride in KL back in 2010
We joined the rest of the gang on social rides in Putrajaya and met on occasions to talk about cycling and hear stories from the more experienced cyclists.
As it turned out, we did more exploring than social rides and since I was not too keen on riding around the city, I gave a few rides a miss.

Widening our social circle..

We met quite a few characters when we first joined some social cycling groups.
There were folks who cycle for leisure, some did it to network in terms of business, a handful were "followers" of their idols (architects, rich buggers, rockstars, celebrities).
Michelle and I were not really bothered or intimidated by people in high places, we just want to go out, learn and have fun..
Lucky for us, we met and became friends to a couple of cyclists whom we are still riding with until today.
With the ups and downs, people also come and go.
Some remained in the circle, cycling pricey and branded bikes while a few had actually dropped out from the scene..

The Dahon Folding Bike Club

The few in the beginning

Checking out the goods at Rodalink Bangsar

This was the brainchild of a product and marketing guy from Le Run. 
He gathered a few fellas and conducted a meeting at the Rodalink store in Bangsar.on Sept 16, 2010 which fell on Malaysia Day.
The agenda was a social ride in Sunway Pyramid called "Pedal Away Polio" which we didn't participate.
There, I met an old-timer Mr TT Siang and became friends with him. I also met Mr Wee Chong Siang, a retired RMAF personel who is still active back in his hometown in Butterworth.
Basically, these are the guys whom I am still keeping in touch with till today.
Sadly, the Dahon Folding Bike Club had died of natural causes.
There was no commitment from the organizers and the guy behind it was also not a cyclist. He too has left the building after giving it a shot at promoting folding bikes.

The trend didn't die, it just grew stronger...

Dahon's Vector X10
Folding bikes was in its infancy back in 2008.
I was told by the guy who brought in the Dahons (five basic models) that they didn't actually sell until mid-2009.
A few was sold here and there and these are mainly bought by people who wanted to use them as utility bikes in their household.
No one was mad enough to go bikepacking, camping or even touring.
Even the phrase: "Touring on a folding bike" was a word that is alien to the bicycling community.
In the order of hierarchy, folding bikes ranks as the lowest form of transport.
But in the years to come, that will change.
From a handful of people, the numbers started to grow, this made way for the launch of Dahon's 2011 line-up.
It was considered as an interesting year for the industry as the best of the lot was brought in to Malaysia for the mass market.
But 2011 also marked the departure Joshua Hon from Dahon, he's a well-respected man in the folding bike business.
Tern Bicycles was formed in June 2011, their products were launched here in December the same year.
For me, 2011 became a stellar year in terms of cycling.
Michelle and I went places.
But we broke off from the larger group that was initially formed by an old-timer.
This was due to some misunderstanding about a trip to Southern Thailand.
Later, I learned that the group had also disintegrated due to a big clash when they did a long ride.
Talk aside, not everyone is mentally and physically strong. That was what we learned and despite being shunned, our lust to go out and ride became much stronger..

Sunday, November 3, 2013

ToST II - Part 9

Let's celebrate!

We've made plans for dinner and found an awesome makan place nearby.
It's a traditional Thai hotpot restaurant and the customers there are mainly locals.
Our plan was to stay as far away as possible from tourist traps.
We didn't have any issues getting our fill with the Thai hotpot and drowned the night with a lot of beers! 
Everyone was happy with the fact that the ToST II was successful.
Since we bought our train tickets, there was nothing to worry because we are going to wake up a bit late the next day to ride around Hat Yai.
So far, the cyclometer has clocked-in about 300km.


Working jumbos pays a visit

Ohhh.. Yeah!

The locals enjoying their food
Shopping spree

I can see on the faces of the guys that was lit up. It was a sense of achievement. 
We ate and drank all night long before calling it a day.
The next morning, we took the bikes down and headed downtown for breakfast.
Our first stop was a roast pork shop.
There, we sampled some Siew Yuk, possibly one of the best in Hat Yai and went over to a coffee shop near Lee Garden Hotel for some porridge.
Later, I realized that a piece of screw was missing from my luggage rack.
We found a bicycle shop not too far from the scene.
I asked the owner, Khun Somchai if he had replacement screws for sale which he gladly gave me free of charge.
And the gang ended up spending thousands of Thai bahts shopping there.
We decided to go bicycle shop hopping from one end to another around Hat Yai.
This led us to a high-end bike cafe in the fringe of the city.
Since we were too early, we waited for it to open. 
Michelle was beginning to get annoyed with the wait.
Having seen the no-show, we rode back to the city to check out another shop.
By the time we got back to the bike boutique, it was already open for business.
Sin splurged by spending thousands of bahts purchasing bicycle bells and a handlebar bag.
The only thing I bought from this outlet, was a Cateye light. 
Why? "Made in Japan".
While the guys were busy browsing the aisles, two of the bike shop guys were assembling a Surly Troll.
This is a nice looking bike and its also pretty affordable.
They were building it and a complete bike would cost no more than RM3K.
Our Thai hosts were also amazed with Roger's touring stories and if we ever head back to Hat Yai in the future, this shop will be a pit stop.

Getting ready for the city ride
Cycling around Hat Yai

Siew Yuk for the soul..

Khun Somchai's bike shop

Shopping time!

 A selection of folding bikes at Khun Somchai's store
I found that there were some really cool stuff at the bike boutique, but there weren't any stuff that catches my fancy.
Michelle bought a jersey for herself and Sin was the big spender.
After spending a good time there, we rode back to the hotel to pack up and head for lunch at our usual Kuey Teow Lueah shop.

The Surly Troll, nice bike to have for adventure rides

A view of the bike boutique..
Saddle-up, let's roll!

We left the hotel shortly after 12:30pm local time.
From the uptown area, we rode towards Tune Hotel to have our Kuey Teow lunch.
Later, we rode towards the train station to prepare ourselves for the long journey back to Kuala Lumpur.
And as usual, I took the initiative to pack dinner.
We went to Robinson's department store and packed four packets of rice and bought some snacks including drinking water as dinner onboard the KTM coach is only available after the train arrives in Alor Setar, Kedah.
Its also quite a chore to load up the gear onto the train as we had to cross the platforms.
By the time we settled-in nicely, its a matter of waiting.

At Hat Yai Junction train station

Getting comfy

One for the road..
The trouble with seating arrangements..

IF you are purchasing a train ticket from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur, take note that rows 15 - 14 and 1 - 3 are not sold there.
These are available across the border with passengers boarding in Padang Besar and beyond.
We had this problem before and had to "sweet talk" other passengers to swap seats.
For bikes, the best rows are 15 A-D where there's ample legroom and space to place your foldies.
In the coach, an old Malay couple boarded with no seat number.
We offered our seats to them and later learned that our seats were sold to a Thai Malay couple in Padang Besar.
The guy who purchased the seat was edgy. But I talked him into swapping with me and Michelle while Sin and Roger had stayed put.
In handling matters as such, one has to be really patient. Knowing the lingo and how to approach irate passengers is a skill one must acquire.
I had to persuade two other passengers along the way to swap their seats. It wasn't pleasant, but someone has to do the job.
So, if you intend to bring your bike, just get rows 13 A-D and place your bikes at the front row. Just be nice if you see people with fart faces and those who give you attitude.
Somehow or rather, I think we can improve the odds in future journey to Thailand, especially with our bikes.

It was a good journey no matter what..

We endured 14 hours of train ride to arrive in KL Sentral and parted ways.
Michelle and I boarded the LRT bound for Paramount Garden where her father was waiting to pick us up.
Roger and Sin went their own way.
I am grateful for Roger's scheduling and planning and Sin's patient in putting up with our idiosyncrasies throughout the journey...
The ToST experience is definitely a learning curve for me and in the months and years to come, I can certainly look forward to more of such adventures on our folding bikes!