Thursday, May 28, 2015

Archery for all..

Kolonel Sander's legacy..

Our "last-fling" with bare bow archery at the MSN Keramat Archery range was a month ago. 
Haji Ghazali, our go-between guy at the range told us politely that bare bows are not allowed at the range.
We have had a good time at the range, which in my opinion: is one of the most beautiful archery range in the Klang Valley.
There were some power-struggle in the club that occupy a small section at the range and it spiraled out of control when two camps tried to dominate the scene.
Cikgu Lau, a buddy of mine and I went to the Keramat range to shoot some arrows. We were reprimanded by one of the "official" club committee members. 
In short, we got thrown out.
Seems to me, the Keramat fiasco was more like a Kentucky Fried Chicken archery. Spare the few friendly faces, there were some really cocky characters. 
Michelle and I had decided not to go back there. Ever.

Caught in-between..

While the war wages on, the conflicting parties had reached a compromise. The "archery academy" folks had full control of the turf while the other club were given a small space at the range. Not bad. I hope they will resolve all hostilities and move on.

A big break

Mr Tan, an old friend of mine and a US-NAA Level-3 coach told me that traditional bows are allowed at the Kg Pandan Sports Complex.
Then, Raymond Chew, a customer of Tan confirmed this and made arrangements for us to give the range a try.
And since it's place where we can rent the target lanes, the "type" of bow was never an issue.
Best of all, the hourly rate is RM8/hour. I took the opportunity to check out the range in Kg Pandan with Michelle, my wife and found the place to be quite suitable for recurve bows.
The longest distance is 70-meters and this is also the range used by a group of Traditional Japanese archers.

With En Zaki, Raymond and Michelle at the Kg Pandan range
Mr Tan, who also came to the range was with his traditional bow. But the lanes were full as a group of islamic archers were training their customers there.
Then, came the Kyudo archery practitioners.
Raymond said he knew someone at the range by the name of En Zaki. 
And true to his observation, a guy and his son had turned up. They set up their target bud at a concrete pavement and invited us to give it a try.
Zaki was there to train a kid, whose parents had paid him for coaching.
I noticed that he had a Primal Gear Compact Survival Bow and was shooting with a thumb-draw technique.
We exchanged notes and Michelle and I had the opportunity to shoot two ends before I head over to work.

The Kyudo sensei in action

Michelle having a go a the target bud

Shooting my Hoyt Buffalo takedown bow
A decent group of people..

The folks who were practising at the range were all good. 
Although there were some Samurai-wannabe, we paid no heed to their customary bow and Zen-like form.
It's fun to watch the Kyudo archers in action, but in terms of practicality, their accuracy would come in question.
I see that some of the guys were really strained and their shots were either too low or wide.
But hey, it's not the target that matters but the form.
The number of people with traditional horse bows were overwhelming at the range.
Most were beginners while a few seasoned archers showed what they can do with their Korean bows and bamboo arrows.

An early morning session where we had the range to ourselves

Michelle's pretty happy with her grouping at 12 yards
What sets Kg Pandan apart from Keramat is the fact the folks there were pretty friendly. No egoistic Kolonel Sanders-like characters, selfish left-handed compound bow shooter, fart-faced committee members and that "I am too good for you" kid.
The pace at Kg Pandan is more relaxed and I found the Kyudo archers totally amusing. These guys practise from 10am - 12noon.
If done right, we can sustain our training sessions at this range and block off some dates by paying in advance..

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tour of East Coast - Part 6

Teluk Gadung Beach in Dungun, Terengganu
Just chilling out..

We've covered some 300km from Kota Bharu in Kelantan to Dungun in Terengganu. To me, it's an achievement. No downtime, plenty of fun and a fulfilling experience.
With the day slowing fading away, we had a night's stay in Dungun and we intend to make the best out of it.
Michelle and I took a stroll down Teluk Gadung beach and ended up at the far reaches of the area.
We saw some people pulling their fishing nets and spoke to one of the men who were preparing soft drinks.
He said the group were from a nearby polytechnic and they intend to pull the nets till late and night.
Well, hopefully, they caught something.
From the beach, we walked back to the hotel and headed straight to the restaurant.

A happy camper!

A driftwood along the beach area

Exploring the shoreline
The corrosion expert at work..
Last night in Terengganu and an awesome dinner treat!

I told Michelle that I would treat her to some makan at the hotel's restaurant.
She ordered a plate of grilled lamb chops.
I had the "XXL" grilled platter. 
While we waited for the main course to be served, we had some rojak buah for starters.
Since this is a training hotel and the people serving us were students, I don't place a high expectation. 
But when my meal arrived, it blew me out of the water.
At RM31 a pop, the mixed grill set was totally awesome. I had a piece of steak, lamb chops, shrimps and a piece of fish fillet fried in batter.
In short, it was a meal fit for Godzilla!

Samo's dinner

A large portion for a super-sized man..
All good things must come to an end.. 

For the past five days, we took the challenge to ride along Kelantan and Terengganu's coastline. 
It was a great experience for us. The planning and execution was done with clockwork precision and some minor adjustments were made to compensate for cost and logistics. Nevertheless, we pulled it off.
After a good night's rest, we packed up and had breakfast at the hotel's restaurant. We don't have the luxury of waking up late prior to this and were grateful that the ride was incident-free.
From Jalan Pantai Sura, we rode towards town and found a 70-year-old Chinese coffeeshop where we had some really good coffee.

Rolling out to Kuala Dungun town
Enjoying a cup of local coffee

Speaking to the shop owner
A selection of packed meals
Boarding the bus
Our bikes in the luggage hold
Arrival in Terminal Bas Bersepadu Selatan near Cheras

Home at last and with my girl.. 
We had a bit of time to burn, so, we hung out at the coffee shop. It's owner, a middle-aged man had struck a conversation with us.
He shared some stories on how he got started and said that we were unusual people who took on the road to see the country on a bicycle.
"The furthest I could go was a 10-minute ride around town. You guys are crazy! Coming down all the way from Kota Bharu!", said the amused coffee shop owner.
I was just awestruck by the wooden shops that lasted nearly seven decades. Kuala Besut town has seen better days and is slowly dying as progress takes it's toll.

The journey home..

We waited for the bus that arrived late. It was scheduled at 11:10am in Dungun. Our bikes were bagged and ready to be loaded onto the cargo hold and when the bus had finally arrived, it was a mad scramble to fit the bikes and I made sure that they were secure. We found our seats and endured the six-hour journey to the bus terminal near Bukit Jalil.
Our plan was to get a ride on an executive taxi.
So, fast-forward from Dungun to the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, we made it back in one piece. 
The journey on the ECE highway was rather forgettable as we are familiar with the scenery. Once the bus dropped us off at the terminal, we carried the bikes to a cab stand and managed to get a driver to send us home. The meter came up to RM57, which is pretty decent when you have so many luggage. 
We got home and were greeted by our kids. I was very happy that everything has gone smoothly as planned.
This trip inspired me to plan for more road trips around the country and abroad. As reality sinks in, I have to rotate back to the world and endure the mundane working life until another tour is up.
On the whole the tour of the east coast was an excellent learning experience for me. Kota Bharu was awesome. Kuala Besut sucks, Penarik was exciting and Kuala Terengganu was only so-so. Dungun made up for the long ride. 

Summary of the journey: Watch this video presentation

Tour of East Coast - Part 5

Stage 4 - Kuala Terengganu - Dungun

Route map of stage 4
And so it begins: the toughest ride of the tour..

We woke up at 05:00am sharp. 
Didn't take up much time to pack the gear and load them onto the ground floor. We took turns to move the bikes and set them up.
I did a key drop at the hotel lobby and got down to the ground floor to rig up the bikes. The waypoint has been set for Dungun and the GPS has it's moment when it took us further inland.
We were 15km off-course by using a rural road towards Kampung Laut and eventually ending up near Bukit Payung and Marang.
I trusted the GPS to get us to our destination, but the setting was in such a way, it avoided the common route used by cars.
By using the inner roads, we bypassed Chendering which is practically flat. The long and winding kampung roads led us from one village to another and ultimately, detours to route T171 at kampung Undang. 
There was a makan stall at the junction towards Marang. We met an elderly man and asked if the path is correct. He said "yes" and told us that there's a couple of hills ahead before it tapers down to the junction leading to Marang town.
We feasted on a good selection of food and it was a good thing.

Getting ready
Rolling out from Kuala Terengganu
An excellent selection

Good food at daybreak.. 
First hill in days

We pushed on towards Marang after breakfast.
Slowly, the ascend towards Bukit Payung began. We crunched our gears to a gradient of 5% and the highest point was 10%. With a load, it's no joke. If you don't train for this, there'll be trouble.
With an 18-speed bike, spinning the bike at 60rpm was not an issue. You just need to get the rhythm right so that you don't overwork your heart. My heart rate monitor was dead, so, I relied on my breathing technique which works all the time.
I led the way up to a long climb and when I reached the plateau, I took out my Canon EOS M camera to get some video footage of Michelle ascend.
Motorists that were traveling on this route were very sporting, they gave some leeway for us to climb the steep and long hill. 
After a series of climbs, we reached the junction towards Marang and took a break at a Shell petrol station. There, I helped adjust Michelle's handlebar grips that became loose.

Climbing Bukit Payung

The Death Alley: Kg Kelulut - Kg Jambu Bongkok

When you are traveling on an average speed of 14km/h on the road, you tend to see and smell everything you roll past.
Road kills are no exception. From Kota Bharu to Kuala Terengganu, I've rolled past at least three dozens of road kills. From flattened cats to compacted animal remains lining the road, I've seen them all. The largest of the lot was a Musang or Civet Cat. The oddest road fatality was a Slow Loris that I came across near Kampung Jambu Bongkok. This is a rare and endangered animal and it was stone dead after being hit by a car. Throughout our journey, we spotted a lot of dead animals. From the house cat to birds of all sizes, the road had claimed many lives.

An animal crossing sign near Jambu Bongkok

A dead squirrel

This rare animal's life was claimed by a passing vehicle
Rantau Abang: Turtle paradise no more

We rode past a number of villages before taking a break at a wakaf (shaded shelter) near Rantau Abang.
There, I spoke to a caretaker of the wakaf who told me that Leatherback turtle sightings are very rare these days.
"In the past, there were hundreds of turtle landings here. All but a few are still found here.. It's sad," he said.
The elderly man told me that Rantau Abang is a pale shadow of its glorious past. Human intervention and light pollution were the main causes for the turtle's decline.
I remember watching videotapes about turtle conservation by the WWF officers who visited my primary school back in the 70s. Rantau Abang was "THE" place to visit when it comes to turtles. 
We rode past the Rantau Abang turtle conservation centre and as the day became hotter, I took the liberty of parking my bike to walk across to the opposite side of the road to get some coconut juice and keropok lekor from a stall.
Michelle and I sat in a hut and rehydrated. We were about 20km away from Dungun.

At the Rantau Abang Turtle Conservation Centre

Just passing through
Coconut juice for the soul

The last 20km to Dungun..

We have been cycling for more than seven hours, covering more than 75km from Kuala Terengganu.
Our goal, was to reach Dungun, settle our passage home and check-in at a hotel in the area.
The heat, as high as 45C is slowly taking it's toll on our morale and strength. We progressed slowly and as we were reaching the outskirts of Dungun, there were a series of short and long slopes. It didn't bother me much, but Michelle was slowing down drastically.
At the junction of Kuala Dungun, I checked my Google Maps and it showed the location of the bus stop in town. The map led us out of town and since we were also pretty hungry, (it was way past 2pm) I decided to make a call to pull over at a Chinese coffeeshop.
There we had our late lunch and I took the opportunity to ask the shop owner on the location of the bus stop. 
He told me that the ticketing counters and bus station had relocated to Kuala Besut. 
"It's near the Nirvana wholesale mart, you find an open area just opposite the store. They have moved there recently," he added.
The man was really helpful and told us that we could use the beach road from Jalan Melati and backtrack towards Kuala Besut.
Sensing the urgency of the matter, we rode back towards the old town area and found the bus ticketing booth.
There was a service from Dungun to Puchong Tesco, but it was only meant for the Transnasional service. I heard bad things about this company and decided that it was best to get a more reliable company.
We ended up purchasing tickets from Syarikat Adik-beradik that offers VIP seats and plenty of luggage room. 
I asked the ticketing clerk if we can fit our oversized luggage without using the word "bicycle". She said it's okay and knew that we were transporting our bikes. This was at no extra cost, so, with one down, we could focus on getting a place to bunk for the night.

Late lunch
Settling our passage home
At the UiTM hotel in Dungun

A training hotel managed by students of the hospitality industry

By doubling back, we've added more mileage to our bikes.
Along the way, I checked out a beach motel. No vacancies. So, the next course of action was to head towards the end of Jalan Pantai Sura. The Dungun I knew since my last visit in 1994, has changed drastically.
We fought the heat and fatigue and had finally reached the UiTUM hotel. I walked to the concierge's desk and asked if there are any rooms left.
A student manning the desk told me that all standard rooms were fully booked and only the deluxe rooms at RM160 including breakfast were available in limited numbers.
I was delighted with the news and went on paying for our accommodation for the night.
We pushed the bikes into the room and freshened up..

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tour of East Coast - Part 4

Stage 3 - Penarik - Kuala Terengganu

Route map of the ride
We managed to get a good night's sleep.
And we beat the alarm by waking up ahead of time. There's some packing to do and our laundry's all dry.
The devices are fully-charged and we were ready to roll out.
From Kg Bari, we headed towards Merang. This is the port town for tourists heading to Pulau Redang.
We enjoyed the early morning breeze and the cool air actually helped us to cover more ground. 
By 06:45am, we already reached the outskirts of Merang.
I spotted a stall and told Michelle to stop there. 
The place was serving nasi minyak and nasi lemak. 
Since it was our first meal of the day, we had a hearty one.

Our first halt at Merang

A very decent meal

Merang was part of the T1 coastal route. We rode towards Batu Rakit and noticed that traffic was getting heavier by the hour. So far, we have progressed well without any issues. 
The Merang stretch was pretty long. 
We reached Batu Rakit and took refuge at a Petronas station.
There, we had a breather before continuing with the journey to Wakaf Tengah. Rather than taking the usual route with heavy traffic towards Kuala Terengganu, we detoured inland, headed to the University Malaysia Terengganu and cycled towards the end of the Sultan Mahmud Airport's runway.

Riding along Merang

Reaching Batu Rakit
Going around the Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Terengganu
An interesting place.. 
Entering Kuala Terengganu town area
After doing more than 55km, we entered the outskirts of Kuala Terengganu.
We rode across the first bridge across the Terengganu river and while waiting at a traffic light, a friendly motorcyclist struck a conversation.
He asked where we were from.
I told him that we came from Kuala Lumpur and his immediate facial expression was a raised eyebrow.
"Wah! Jauh betul!" (Wow, that's far!), he said.
Then, I explained to him how we got from Kota Bharu to Kuala Terengganu.
The man said he had never seen a bike by Tern before in his life. So, I told him that there's always a first time for everything.
We crossed a second bridge and enjoyed the safety of cycling along a motorcycle and bicycle lane on it.
A familiar hill greeted us with three communication towers on it. It's a sign that we have just reached the administrative capital of the state.
I have booked a room at the Felda Residence Inn and as we made our way along the riverside to the hotel, the day was getting hotter.
On the road, we have been doing six hours of solid cycling. 
I left the bike with Michelle to check-in at the reception and was assigned a room. Since we were leaving early the next day, I settled the room payment in full.

Rolling the bikes into our hotel room

A high-angle view of Kuala Terengganu

The downtown area
Guan restaurant in Chinatown

Deep-friend Spanish Mackerel with dark soya sauce
A hot shower was what I needed to wash off the sweat and dirt off my body. And like clockwork, Michelle went to work on the laundry.
Our choice of accommodation was strategic as we were able to walk around the downtown area.
Practically-speaking, there's really nothing much in Kuala Terengganu. I prefer Kota Bharu anytime.
After we have freshened up, we took a walk to Chinatown where we had lunch at Guan restaurant.
This place is famous for their deep-fried ikan Tenggiri (Spanish Mackerel) in dark soya sauce. I had a taste of this more than 15-years ago and it's still as good.

Kuala Terengganu walkabout photo gallery

Lunch was excellent and we walked it off by taking a walking tour of Kuala Terengganu. I remembered this place as a riverine town. But much of it's old charms were gone.
The state reclaimed the river and called it a "waterfront".
In the past, the Chinese houses that are dotted along the river were just a few feet away from the water.
Today, you can walk as far as 500 meters out to where the riverbank was located. There's an ugly LED sign in the middle that reads: "I love KT".
I found this rather cheesy. 
The state tourism department had tried to emulate Penang and Malacca by restoring much of its architectural facade. But the Chinatown stretch was shorter than what you will find in Banda Hilir in Malacca and Georgetown in Penang. Nice try, but no cigar!
We walked towards the edge of town and found ourselves in a new shopping centre. Which is empty. The aircon was strong, so, we didn't complain.
From there, we walked towards a supermarket to buy some drinks and snacks.
Later, we found a coffeeshop and had a few beers there. First in days!

Empty bottles! 

The cooling tonic water

Having a chilled one on a hot day.. 
During the beers, Michelle had decided that it was best to end the ride in Dungun. We have about 78km to cover in order to reach this town.
We continued to enjoy our hard-earned brew and headed back to the hotel. For my wife, her day hasn't ended. She was working throughout the day. I enjoyed two more cans of beers before crashing on the bed.

Sunset in Kuala Terengganu
A night hawker centre
A simple porridge dinner
Night in Chinatown

Selfie at the cheesy sign at the waterfront
Before I knew it, it was already late in the evening. 
We walked down to the riverfront to get some shots of Sunset.
There were some boys rigging up their fishing gear, hoping to strike something from the water.
We made our way to a night hawker center near The Store.
There, I noticed piles of beer bottles. 
It didn't took too long for me to realize that some of the stalls were serving beers with hostess entertaining their "thirsty" customers.
We found a stall selling porridge and settled for this as our dinner. It was cheap and decent. After the meal, we walked along the rows of pre-war Chinese houses and ended up having coffee at a joint called "Trappers".
Now, the funny thing was this: the local staff were being trained by foreign workers. The food outlet is a hit among its local customers. But it didn't impress me at all. Authentic Hainanese coffeeshop dishes are far and few in between these days. 
When we were done, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest for our final stage to Dungun..