28 August 2011

Disaster Preparation - Dressed To Run

"What?  There is a fire? Quick, I want to wear my pilot jumpsuit!"  That was me during my younger years.  I had a yellow pilot jumpsuit that I love and would want to wear it should something happen and we had to leave the house in a hurry.  Or so I was told.  I admit I vaguely recall having the jumpsuit and the photo below helps reinforce the feeble memory.

Thanks to the recent visit by Hurricane Irene, I finally have a Go Bag made.  9/11, blackout, some other minor storm...  after each of those past events I would declare I would make a Go Bag, something to grab and run out of the house.  I never did, until this weekend.  I only have two 500-mL bottles of water and the bag is already pretty heavy.  At most it will last me two days, I think.  The recommended amount is 1 gallon per person per day.  One gallon is about 3.7 L, so I only have about a quarter of the recommended amount.  I do have a flashlight which does not require batteries but is rather human-powered.  As long as I have the strength to crank it, it will work.  I love the Etón series of emergency devices.  Flashlight, AM/FM radio, weather radio, USB port for charging small electronics like cell phone and Nintendo DS, powered by human power or solar energy.  In my case, the Go Bag's device also has an alarm clock.  I had some snacks and a few change of clothes and that's about it.  No important documents in waterproof bag, so I guess my Go Bag is not that ready to go.

Maybe it's an obvious thing so it's not mentioned, but in all the stories on disaster preparation I read, no one ever said that we should wear street clothes as part of the preparation.  For me, that would be a shirt or maybe even a sweater, then some kind of pants or shorts to hold the house keys, wallet with IDs and credit cards etc, some cash and coins, and the cell phone.  What's the point of having a Go Bag but you cannot go right away because you are not dressed to run out into the street.  I should have slept in street clothes last night but then did put it on when I woke up.  It's not that I don't want to be seen on TV at a shelter in my PJ, I just want to be prepared.  It is not so much as the clothes themselves, it's what I can bring with me and home clothes usually don't have pockets to carry stuff.  Maybe it is easy for a guy to say what I just did, but I imagine women can wear something comfy that allow them to run quickly.

Did you wonder if I had some other pilot jumpsuit on this morning?  No, for me these days life is all about long-distance running, so the shirt of choice I had was my NYRR Queens Half Marathon 2011.

20 August 2011

Vacation Packing

T-shirts, check.  Sneakers, check.  Toothbrush, check.  For my recent trip to China, considering I pack only the night before, I did OK.  Somehow I managed to bring along everything I thought I would need for the trip.  Still, I have always wanted to write things down and check them off as I pack, so I finally put it all down in the Google sheet below, incomplete of course:

Qaptain Qwerty Vacation Packing

What I forgot to pack was dedication.  The determination to run during the vacation.  Granted it was a bus tour such that once the tour began there's nothing you can do but go along with the tour.  Most nights we got to the hotel late, when the pool or gym was already closed.  There was much walking or standing during most tours, but intentional exercise is always better than the walks during the tours.

I should have treated the vacation the same way I do with a typical day.  Get up early enough to squeeze in a run or whatever, shower, then go to work, or in this case,  join the tour.  Instead, I came up with excuses and did not run a single day during the whole 10-day trip.  Twice I did get up early but only managed a walk, which I think is good enough.  In the five Chinese cities that I visited, running is not that popular, or at least street running is not.  During the two walks as well as other times on the bus, I saw at most two different runners actually running as an exercise.  There were other people running, but only briefly to arrive at a bus stop or some similar destination.  Maybe people run at night when I already checked into the hotel, or in some public park that I did not know of.

Too bad I didn't manage to run, as the typical block in the visited cities are extra long compared to New York City.  I would call them super-blocks.  There were no individual homes, only large and tall buildings surrounded by walls.  There were some areas that have family homes, maybe at most three stories tall, but those buildings too were enclosed by some walls, again, long block.  I love the long blocks as that means less interactions with vehicular traffic.  Some of the cities even have footbridges, something I think New York City can make use of.  Keep the pedestrians out of the cars' way and there is zero chance anyone will get run over.  Some of the footbridges I saw in China even have escalators, and I wouldn't be surprised if others have elevators, too.

My biggest running regret was when we were in Shanghai, on our own after the bus tour ended.  I had two chances, two mornings, to run the 1.5-kilometer distance from the hotel to The Bund, a touristy waterfront area.  Although I did not know the exact way to get to The Bund, from the hotel I could easily see the Oriental Pearl Tower, so I could not be wrong to run in that direction.  The first morning I actually got up early enough but then I was upset that the trip, as it turned out, included a side business trip about the local real estate market.  I was scheduled to babysit some kids.  Why I didn't just run and shake off the unpleasantness I don't know, but it became an excuse to return to bed.  To be fair, even if I ran, I would not made it far because that morning a really heavy rain descended upon Shanghai.  The street was flooded badly at most corners.  For the second morning, it was the day I was to fly back to the U.S. and my mind came up with more excuses.  What if I got hit by a bus so that I would miss the flight?  If I survive the impact, that is.  What if that, what if this, in the end, no run.  I should have stuck to Nike's motto and just do it.  Now I only have a big regret.

A typical super-block in a Chinese city.  Yay, long stretch of not having to watch out for cars!

14 August 2011

China Vacation 2011

Geek Cruise, that is what I need.  Mac-based Geek Cruise, even better.  One of these, that's what I will have as a vacation.  No waiting around while others do their shopping.  Just me and a bunch of geeks.  Maybe there will be lectures about some up-and-coming technologies, or maybe classes on some existing apps.  That may sound boring to the typical person, but then again, hanging around with nothing to do while others shop is boring, too.

I just came back to the U.S. from a 5-city, 5-day bus tour of Shanghai, China and nearby cities.  Each city has its unique culture or history and the tour guides were good, even though my Cantonese is not that good, but I know enough to figure out what they were talking about.  It was actually more interesting to hear the stories related to the places we were heading to.  For example, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge's story was about Chinese citizens scraping together to finance the bridge and Chinese engineers overcoming technical difficulties to create the bridge.  It was not a beautiful bridge, the tour guide said, but it was the first to be built entirely by Chinese, without foreigner's assistance.  Earlier, the Russian helped built two other bridges that also traversed the Yangtze, but disagreement started between China and Russia and Russia recalled its engineers from the Nanjing project.  We arrived at the a building under the bridge, took the elevator to some viewing platform and took photos of the area, then got "treated" to an art gallery.  The near-extinct art involves painting on the inside of snuff bottles.  Not just bottles, but many kinds of glass objects, like globes and vases.  The work requires serious skill as the painter would have to pain on the inside of the objects, doing things backward or mirror-reversed.  Great stuff, but then we spent an hour or so there as many people in the tour went gaga over the artworks.  The visit to the bridge turned into a shopping spree of artworks.  Likewise, other visits to factories that specialize in products of the region also turned into shopping experience.  Some even appeared to be infomercials!  "Buy this set of silk bed spread and blanket NOW and we will throw in another set for free!  But wait, there's more!!!  We will also include, free of charge, a small handkerchief for you to clean your camera lens or eyeglasses!"  Haggling over the prices of some jade jewelry, persistent salespeople offering pearly necklaces or bracelets, medicine men telling us overweight people we need his herbs to live a healthier life... things I do not need to be involved with while on vacation!  In Cantonese, some tours are called "duckling tour" because the tourists get rushed about like a group of ducklings.  I don't know what these apparently vendor-sponsored tours are called but I think I'd rather be rushed about instead of sitting around waiting for others to shop.

I did have some fun looking for signs with incorrect or bad English to snap.  Here is one:

04 August 2011

Don't Know Squat About Squash

Taking care of a melon garden is a lot more work that it seems.  You do not just setup some sort of a frame and the melon vines just move in and produce the melons for you.  You need to give the garden much water, not by spraying on the big leaves, which make them look refreshing but actually does not do any good.  The water needs to reach the soil where originally planted the buds.  A handyman would have an x by y frame for the vines to spread.  I am definitely not handy and like to use found objects to build the frame.  So far I have 2 CD towers which I rescued off the curb from a neighbor up the block.  Various poles found in my backyard serve as the vertical parts of the frame.  Several short pieces of string from the packinq of a Nerf, when tied together served as the horizontal parts.  The strings were not but luckily I have an old garden hose laying around.  As the vines spread around, I added pots and poles and even resorted to using two bicycles that I have no other uses for, as part of the "frame."

The melon vines had minds of their own!  I knew they would climb over the fence into my neighbors' yards, but I didn't expect them to squeeze through the plastic strips in the fence and grow up from there.  The melons or squashes in my garden have somewhat spiky vines so I worried the neighbor's grandchildren may get scratched, or at least scared by the vines.  So one day I went over to try to guide them back to my yard.  Lo and behold, one of the vines had a nice, round squash already!  It was so heavy that it pulled the vine down and was sitting on the cement wall.  As I tried to lift the whole thing back over my fence, I snapped it off!  Oh no, a premature death!  The squash whose life got squashed!!!  It was not ripe enough to eat so there was nothing else to do but display it on the kitchen for a few days, then off it went into the compost bin.  I think it was a girl melon, so I shall call it Melon Chloe.  So long, Chloe!

I hope you enjoy the exaggerated melon-drama...

02 August 2011

Queens Half 2011

Someone famous once said, "You cannot cross the same river twice."  I think it was either Chuck Norris or "Weird" Al Yankovic (heh heh).  The saying kinda makes sense, since the river flows and technically the water you touch the first time cannot possibly be the same water the second time around.  This past weekend, for me that "river" was the course for the NYRR Queens Half Marathon 2011.

The NYRR Queens Half Marathon 2010 was the first race I ran in after resuming running, after a break of a few years.  In the beginning, I ran just to try to lose some weight.  At some point, I entertained the idea of running the NYC Marathon, even though I was, most likely, only logging 3K a day (not even 2 miles!).  A half-marathon seemed to be a good yardstick to see how good my endurance was.  I did not know much about running in the heat but made sure to stop at every water station just to be safe.  I had a baseball cap on and just some khaki short and the NYRR official cotton tee.  I walked from Mile #10 to Mile #11 then let some  guy soaked me with a hose.  Not a good idea, since the wet clothes weighed me down and the water killed my cell phone.  The cover for the old phone's charging port was all tattered and anything, especially water, could get inside the phone easily, and the water sure did.  I eked by the 3-hour time limit, with 6 minutes to spare.  The good thing is the race gave me confidence that I can do a Half Marathon.

This year I got compression shorts and many more races earlier in the year.  I set my best time for a Half Mary with the Manhattan Half in January, on a very cold day, like 9 degrees (!), with 2:23:40.  I almost matched that time with the Brooklyn Half in May, 2:24:40.  It was a decent day, not too hot, and it would be nice if I had the same finish time or better.  The weeks leading up the Queens Half NYC was also known as The Baked Apple.  It was hot!  Like 90 to 100 hot!  Still, unreasonably I hoped that would somehow beat my 2:23:40 record.  Even though I just took the whole month of June off from running to give the left foot time to recover.  The rest helped, but I felt sluggish in the two races in the early half of July.

The day of the Queens Half came and it was not so hot.  Still hot when you run but not as hot as last year's.  I slowed down for Gatorade and water after Mile #3, #6, and #9, then also #11 and #12.  From Mile #12 on I had my cell phone play "Mezamero! Yasei! (Awaken the Beast Within)", from Naruto Shippuuden Season 2, over and over, and that helped keep me going, perhaps even picking up some speed.  As usual, when the finish line finally appeared, I sprinted for it.  If I recall correctly, I did not feel as bad as when I finished the Queens Half in 2010.  Compared the time for Queens Half 2010 and 2011, this year I ran 14 minutes faster, or 2:40:47.  People with better capabilities can excel themselves, or set Personal Record (PR) regardless of weather conditions or other factors.  For me, I better stick with comparing similar races.  Even though this year's Queens Half stayed inside Flushing Meadow Park the whole time, i.e. no College Point Boulevard, it was not too much different.  No point comparing apples and oranges, i.e. summer races vs. winter races.  Maybe, just maybe, in a few years, with the current running schedule maintained, who knows, I will be able to outdo myself, hot or cold, but for now, I'll be realistic.