20 September 2012

Hay Hát Hơn Là Hát Hay

In my family, my late father was a good singer.  The talent skipped me and bestowed upon my son.  Or perhaps my son got it from the mother side.  My brother plays the guitar and learn the tunes by ears.  My wife is good at the Chinese zither, aka gu-zheng, and she got the kid into it, too.  He's good at it, he just hates the practice sessions.  I cannot carry a tune and don't play any instruments.  The only instrument I ever played was the recorder, in high school, and the only tune I knew was "Three Blind Mice", more popular known as "The Three Stooges Theme".

To make up for my apparent lack of musical talents, I made an effort to know song names and the performers.  I was much into music-listening when I came to the U.S. in 1980.  Radio-listening eventually got replaced by video-watching.  At the peak, I was watching America's Top Ten every Saturday morning and Friday Night Video.  Solid Gold, too.  When I had some money, I bought audiocassettes of The Police, Alan Parson Project, Sting, Heart, "Weird" Al Yankovic etc.  I also made use of whatever Queens Borough Public Library and New York Public Library had, all audiocassettes.  The public libraries did not have that many tapes for pop music so I ended up listening to a lot of classical music.  A chance borrowing of Hooked On Classics got me, well, hooked on classics.

Life got busy and for years I did not keep up with the music scene.  For a few years, while dating my future wife I listened to Cantonese pop music (Cantopop) as a way to learn more of the Cantonese dialect of Chinese.  Apple's campaign with Pepsi got me many "Weird" Al songs that I didn't know about, which led to the original songs, too.  The great thing with "Weird" Al is he's been around for so long, he parodied a broad spectrum of music.  Altogether, my musical knowledge was limited to the 80s, classical, "Weird" Al and whatever songs he parodied.  I thought I was pretty knowledgeable, at least with the 80s.  Then I discovered SongPop.

Name That Tune is the most obvious phrase to associate with SongPop.  The game is available on tradition computers and also on iDevice and Android.  In the game, you hear a tune and choose the correct song or artist name from a list of four.  You earn some points with each correct choice, the faster the more points.  Your opponent then get the same choices and would try to beat your score.  The winner gets three coins, the loser only one.  With the accumulated coins, you can buy new playlists, perhaps something you are more knowledgeable in.  Playlists include Love Songs, Female Singers, Alternative 90s, Movie Soundtrack, and more.  You can also buy power-up, the ability to eliminate two of the four choices to give you a better chance at guessing.

Much to my chagrin, I discovered that I am not that good at the game.  Some players are very knowledgeable and fast.  Then there are so many bands, singers,  and songs out there since the last time I closely followed music.  There's also much music before the 80s that I was not interested in.  Big names like the Bee Gees and ABBA I know some songs for but there were also the One Hit Wonders back then.  Strangely, I have not come across any Beatles songs, other than A Hard Day's Night in the Movie Soundtrack playlist.  Perhaps SongPop, the company, needs to have someone like the late Steve Job to negotiate hard to bring the Beatles into SongPop.

In Vietnamese, the phrase "hay hát hơn là hát hay" means "those who sings lousy often like to sing".  That's my case, except I like to play the game.  I try to get more knowledgeable by using YouTube and Wikipedia and it sometimes help.  With the Photoshopped playlist above, I should win more, but I enjoy the game whether I win or lose.

19 September 2012


A big chunk of the 2012 NYRR Bronx 10-Mile took place on the Grand Concourse.  Having lived in Brooklyn for the past 15 years, I think of the Grand Concourse as the Bronx's Ocean Parkway, without the nice tree shades.  I actually lived in the Bronx for a few months in early 1980, in the Kingsbridge part, not too far from where Fordham Road meets the Concourse.  Alexander's department store used to be there, then it got replaced by Caldor's, who knows what's at the corner now.  I, perhaps along with other Vietnamese, think of Grand Concourse as "răng con cọp", or "tiger's teeth", purely because the consonants in the phrase sound similar, i.e. R.C.C.

A few people complained that the Grand Concourse was boring.  I think it is fine.  You need a wide boulevard so people can run in both directions, while the cars still can use the service roads.  NYRR is an NYC-based group so its races have to be urban runs, along city streets, in the canyons overshadowed by tall buildings.

The race started off near Joyce Kilmer Park, up the Grand Concourse then at Moshulu Parkway made a left toward that school complex consisting of Lehman College and Bronx Science High School.  The 2012 race was my second visit to the area and I still don't know where Bronx Science is.  I've heard so much about it, I would like to at least take a photo of its front door.  However, during both visits I was there to run a race and there was no time to stop and take photos.  Actually, with the Bronx Half in 2010 I did not care too much about my finish time and did stop to take photos, but not of Bronx Science.  Anyway, a turn here and there and the runners were back on Moshulu heading east, then turn around at some point to head west then back on Grand Concourse for the long stretch to the finish line.

I recalled that the start was around 161st Street and Moshulu was around 200th Street, so there should be only 40 or so blocks to go, no?  If 20 blocks equal one mile, then there would be just 2 miles to go once we were back on Grand Concourse.  I looked forward to each intersection but they seemed so far apart yet the street numbers went up by only one.  As I learned later on, these Bronx streets don't follow the 20-block rule.  They are much further apart.  Indeed, the return trip on Grand Concourse was 3.5 miles, not 2.

Something nice with the return trip on the Grand Concourse was that I bumped into Mr. James Lu, the 74-year-old runner featured in this video, http://vimeo.com/42746005 .  I saw him before after many other NYRR races but did not know his history or his name.  He certainly was a unique character.  At the Bronx 10M, I greeted him by name as I ran by him.  At the water station we both stopped but afterward I took off before him.  It is nothing to brag about to beat someone 30 years older but it had to be done, as the alternative would be worse.  I'm sure other older runners beat me to the finish line, but I did what I could.

As I walked to the garage, the sight of people queuing up to pay at the ticket machine was discouraging.  I was not too tired from the 10-mile run but standing on line for a long time was not something I wanted to do.  Out of the 3 machines near the entrances I entered through, one was out-of-order.  I walked over to the other entrance, where another 3 machines stood and the line was not too long.  It turned out one of the machines was also broken.  The one on the left supposedly would only take credit card only.  I was on a queue that supposedly could use either cash or credit card.  One runner did not have a credit card so he asked me to switch with him and I did.  Then it turned out he did not have enough small bills to pay the $8 fee.  I could have changed it for him but just to be safe I told him let me finish my transaction first.  It was a good, lucky move, as I discovered shortly afterward the credit card reader was not working and people before me had to pay cash.  Adding injury to insult, the machine did not give change either.  I think one or two people inserted $20 or $10 bills and got nothing in return.  Later on I saw one of the 2 parking staff walking around with wads of bills, maybe they were going to refill the the machine.

When I got to the machine, I had enough small bills to cover my $8 and had some bills left.  A woman behind me only had $5 so I gave her $3 in singles.  She wanted to know how she would pay me back but I told her to give it to charity when she gets around to it.  Pay it forward, that's how I like to do things sometimes.  Random act of kindness, too, I'd like to think that was.  Automation is great to some extent but when it does not work and there are no humans around it's a total pain in the ass.  I never drove to Yankee Stadium so I never park there.  I wonder how bad it would be when there was a game and these dang machines don't work properly.  Hopefully next time, if there will be one, the parking company can do a better job at serving the runners community.

18 September 2012


I was planning to write Part 2 of the NYRR Bronx 10-Mile but something came up... The Yonkers Marathon!

The Yonkers Marathon is well-known for being the second oldest marathon in the U.S. (after the Boston Marathon) and for being very hilly.  Much as I would love to, I don't want to spend money flying to different cities to run marathons.  I make an exception if it involves visiting family.  With the City of Yonkers just north of New York City, or its borough The Bronx, to be exact, running the Yonkers Marathon is a natural choice for me.  And it was so affordable, too, just a mere $40 with early registration (I signed up in October 2011 for the Sept 16, 2012 race!)

During the weeks leading to the event, I read some blog posts about the race and got worried about its 5-hour limit.  Will there be no official listing for the 5+ runners?  Even no medals!?  Will I have to fight traffic to cross the streets?  A few days before the race, I checked the course and got worried that maybe I will run the wrong way at some point.  I sweat so much so I cannot run with my near-sighted glasses so I cannot see far that well.  I am already a slow runner, losing time by going off course won't help.  A DailyMile friend dispelled my fear when he told me that the police department does a good job of directing traffic and guiding runners.  It was also comforting to know that the marathon course is a double-loop, i.e. the same loop to be run twice.  Chances are by the second time around I won't have other runners ahead of me to follow, but by then I would know the route to follow.

The day of the race, I got up early at 4:30 and left the house by 5.  Got to the free parking lot just after 6.  I took a nap in the car until 7:30 then lined up for the toilet.  The race started shortly after the 8 AM scheduled time, with only a short speeches by the race director Steve Lastoe and Governor Mike Spano.  With only one thousand people, I was able to join the crowd and crossed the starting mat as soon as my Garmin picked up satellite signal.  Just in case I don't get official recognition, my Garmin will tell me the distance, time, and pace for the race, kilometer for kilometer.

Somewhere at the beginning, my speedy DailyMile friend Louis greeted me from behind.  He should be at the front with other faster runners, so I was surprised that he came from behind me.  He had to have a toilet, it turned out.  We chatted a bit but I asked him to go ahead.  The marathon was no time for me to start running at a faster pace from my usual runs.

At Mile #1, I remarked loudly that there were only 25 more miles to go and got a few chuckles out of nearby runners.  The crowd got thinner quickly and we started to pass by a wooded area on the right, with the Metro North track and the Hudson River on the left.  Some runners chose then to take another toilet break, in the wood, like how some people undoubtedly did on the Verrazano Bridge during the NYC Marathon.  There were water stations at every mile, a short distance before the actual mile marker, which was both on the street and on telephone posts.  All the volunteers and police officers were nice and helpful but some were different than others and came to mind more easily.  Like the one guy who did not have anyone to help him, or the Boy Scouts troop, both somewhere on Warburton Avenue.  I also appreciate the man on the bridge with the 2-liter Coke bottles, a tad before the right turn from Warburton into Main Street.  The first time around I skipped the Coke but by the second loop I was so tired I figured I needed a sugary drink.  He had no more cups and suggested pouring the Coke into my palms.  I picked up some cup off the ground and drank from there instead.  I am not a picky person!

The hill connecting Main Street to Broadway is the worst of them all, I think.  The first time I hit it, I jogged slowly up but during the second pass I walked up.  The few people in the cheering section at Warburton and Main got me resume running a bit, but by the time I reached the foot of the hill I was out of energy again.  Pass the top of the hill was Mile #5.  The water station was out in the sun and by the second loop it was already closed.  Also on the second loop I saw a man taking a break to massage his legs.  I asked if he was OK then went on.  I was tired and had to convince myself to go forward one traffic cone at a time.  Finally I reached the intersection of Tomkins and Broadway.  I told the cross-guard there that it was good to see him, that it was so lonely back there, just me and the traffic cones.  It was a good time to take a toilet break.  After so much running, it felt weird to stand in one place.  Just a short distance into Tomkins was the water station before Mile #6.  I used one cup of water to wash my hands and took another for drinking as well as a cup of Gatorade.  Before Mile #6 was the cemetery and the steep down-hill.  Normally I like to use the descent to pick up some speed but this descent was too steep, I worried that I may not be able to keep up so I trotted down slowly.  At the foot of the hill was the right turn into Nepperhan.  The first time there was a time mat to mark the 10K point.  Second time around there was just some crossing guards.

Nepperhan started out with some homes but eventually we ran into some industrial zone.  When I got out of the toilets, some people passed by me and I followed along, able to exchanged a few encouraging words with them.  When I slowed down for the down-hill, the others went further and I never caught up.  In the industrial zone, I finally caught up to a runner but then I noticed the medal around his neck.  I struck up a conversation with him and learned that he did indeed finished the half-mary but was going for the full too.  "Galvin" and I pretty much stayed together from Mile #20 (?) to Mile 23.  We walked together at water stations and then ran together afterward.  Without Galvin I think I would have walked more often.  Thanks for pacing me, Galvin!  After Mile 23, I ran across the footbridge and Galvin was no longer by my side.  I still hoped to make the marathon under 5 hours so I continued running.  Those last few miles seemed to go forever though.  I recognized South Broadway from the time when I ran the Holiday Marathons on Christmas Day 2011 in Tibbetts Park.  I was really lost in Yonkers at that time.  I could have gotten onto the Saw Mill Parkway easily from Tibbetts but I went the wrong way to South Broadway and made a U-turn.  This time I was on foot and South Broadway seemed so long.  After the right turn into Valentin I recognize a man-and-woman couple, the woman with blond hair, from the time I got out of the toilet back near Mile #6.  I really wanted to pass at least these two people and they indeed stopped but before I could catch up they resumed running.  Luckily, the stopped again shortly afterward and I did pass them.  From then on, I only stopped for water one more time.  I caught up with a runner and asked him if ahead was the turn from Warburton into Main Street for the final stretch.  He thought it was, but it turned out to be another block.  I called up some reserve energy and kept going, made the left turn at Main and shouted "I love Yonkers!"  Up ahead I saw two runners walking so I shouted to them that if they did not start to run I would pass them.  I did pass them and finally reached Mile 21, just a square card rested against a traffic cone.  The 0.2 Mile is the distance from there to just before the parking lot, then a U-turn to the train station, under the train track to the water, then a left, then a right onto the pier.  Just around the corner on the pier was the glorious finish line.  I made it in 5:10:33, not sub-5 as I wished but it was good to have the official time and a medal.

More than 15 years ago I ran the NYC Marathon, twice, in 1994 and 1995, without much training.  I ran maybe 5 miles a day and knew nothing about the recommended 20-mile run, on-course nutrition, etc.  I still managed to finish, with the lousy time of 6:30 or worse.  Last year (2011) my older self ran the inaugural Brooklyn Marathon in 5:08, a victory with the younger self from 15+ years ago.  However, as the Brooklyn Marathon consisted of 2 small loops and 6 big loops of Prospect Park.  I did not have a GPS watch with me and somehow thought I may have missed a loop.  The Yonkers Marathon confirmed for me that a tad over 5 hours is indeed my marathon time.  I did not train as much this year and the Yonkers Marathon is probably tougher than Brooklyn, so the two extra minutes is not a big deal.

One down, two to go!  NYRR NYC Marathon and the second Brooklyn Marathon are coming in November, just 2 weeks apart!  In the mean time, thank you Yonkers, NYC Runs, volunteers, police officers, and everyone who supported the race!

12 September 2012


In 2011, when the NYRR Bronx Half Marathon course was changed to start and end near Joyce Kilmer Park, I looked forward to visiting the park.  I hoped that there would be a memorial or plaque about the poet Joyce Kilmer.  Years ago, from a reference in a crossword puzzle, probably about the poem "Trees", I learned that Kilmer studied at Columbia University and lived in the New York metro area.  During World War One, he enlisted like the typical male person of the time and rose to the rank of sergeant.  He refused promotions and continued to work in the field.  He often volunteered for dangerous intelligence missions.  During the Battle of Marne, while out gathering intelligence, he was killed by a sniper.  Dying for one's country, always admirable, but in this case made more romantic because the dead was a poet.

The 2011 NYRR Bronx Half did not occur.  Hurricane Irene visited New York and the City revoked the permit.  For 2012, the race was shortened by 3.1 miles to become a 10-Miler.  Some people boycotted these shorter races but I still signed up.  Most Roadrunner races happen in Central Park, it gets boring quickly after a while, so I love the outer-borough races.  Besides, I want to visit Joyce Kilmer Park.

I left home by car around 5:30 AM.  There was little traffic on the road and I got to the NYRR-recommended garage shortly after 6.  Found a spot near the exit, took a nap since it was way early for the 8 AM race.  Eventually, I walked the short distance to Joyce Kilmer Park and wandered in it, as well as up the Grand Concourse and back to the park.  To my surprise, there was nothing in the park about the poet, other than a plaque saying the park's name.  Very odd.  I hope I am wrong.  I did discover the Bronx Museum of Art on Grand Concourse.  It seems the area near the park is the civic center for the Bronx, too, as there were a few court buildings nearby.  When I first came to the U.S., I lived in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx for a few months and did not explore the area much.  With races like the Bronx Half that I hope to find out more about places outside my work or family routines.

For the race, I had my PPTC singlet on instead of the race shirt.  While out walking about, I saw a few other PPTC shirts and saluted them from afar.  I really have to go to some PPTC functions, e.g. group run or picnic, to get to know more people.  In my corral, for bib number 9000 and above, there was another PPTC member and I mentioned to her that it was unusual to meet a fellow club member in the slow corral.  When the race started, we walked slowly toward the start mat.  By the time I got to the mat, my Garmin still did not pick up satellite signal so I pulled aside to let others pass.  A short while later, satellite signal finally secured and off I went.