Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Trouble with Cinderella

Yesterday, my wife and I took our girls to see Kenneth Branagh's version of Cinderella. While I am not going to be bragging here about the quality of the movie, I thought it was admittedly quite entertaining and well made, to say the least, although none of the actors are unknown to me, except Cate Blanchett who interpreted the role of the stepmother with her classic style. The visual effects obviously help add up to the magic they are due to showcase to children.

The fairy tale is so classic that you may remember every single twist of it. However, as a parent, I found one troubling fact about the movie, particularly knowing that my kids were there watching.

Nearly all the leading and supporting characters in the movie has a line to say "Have courage and be kind". And they say it over and over. With the latter ("be kind"), I simply have no issue. I bet it's in every parent's advisory book to their children.

Yet, the "have courage" part is what I intrigued me the most. It does not seem to resonate with the way Cinderella handles her domestic abuse from her stepmother and stepsisters. As the main character who is supposedly a role model for every girl, she does not reflect the girl power, defiance, courage nor boldness, unlike Elsa or Anna in Frozen or Merida in Brave.

At one point in the movie, I started to get excited when Cinderella showed a slight courage to challenge her stepmother when they were having an argument over the glass shoe. I thought we would see some unexpected twist of the story. But my hope was cut too short. Shortly, we were reminded again how submissive Cinderella was after her stepmother locked her in inside the attic. She just gave in.

To her defense though, she says it clearly that she does it all for the sake of keeping her promise to her parents to cherish the house they love. This, I agree! Keeping a promise is a lesson that our kids can learn.

Cinderella is fragile and unfortunately irrelevant. Being kind does not always have to be tame or subdued. Being kind does not always mean you have to suffer to make people happy. Being kind does not mean you have to give in your courage.

After all, the movie is rated PG. As parents, it is our responsibility to remain critical and to teach our kids about the values in life.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My First Full Marathon: a Little Drama and a Picture with a Paramedic

Dubai Marathon 2013 was just over. Another milestone in life was accomplished. Words can't describe how happy I was upon crossing the finish line. Seconds after, a flashback rolled inside my mind. I recalled everything that I had been through: the grueling pains during the practices, early morning runs in the cold, dark winter days whilst everyone else was still enjoying their pillows, my diet restrictions and so forth.

Above all, what I remembered the most was a little drama that occurred just before the start of the marathon. I was crossing the grass barrier that separated the crowd from the warm-up area. Intending not to step on the nicely planted flowers, I hopped over and landed my right foot in a completely wrong way and sprained my ankle. I couldn’t get up and thought this was the end. My dream to run my first marathon was all over.

The day was still dark. I was sitting alone on the black top in pain. It was only 20 minutes before the start. Two fellow marathoners apparently saw what had happened and offered some help, but I said I'd be fine. Would I? I didn’t know if I’d be okay. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it. I was deeply sad, regretting what had just happened. I thought I was stupid enough to do such a thing while I had previously been very cautious about my preparations, making sure I would not get injured or do something silly. I thought,"This is not happening now. It can't be true."
My swollen ankle after the run

I closed my eyes, calmed myself and prayed. I comforted myself by saying that it was perhaps part of His masterplans. I composed myself and collected my strength. Slowly got up and made small walking steps. I felt it was not as bad as I had thought before. After applying cold spray, I weathered the storm by starting to attempt a little jog for a minute or two. I prayed again,"God, please don’t give up on me now."

The consoling part is that I hardly felt any pain anymore, so I carefully walked to the start line, which was about 200 meters away. At this point, I still had a mixed feeling about my feet as to whether I would be able to make hours of running. Then just five minutes before the start, I felt something weird on my right shoe. I touched my ankle and found a pretty bad swelling. I scanned around and spotted two paramedics in their bikes nearby. I quickly explained to them about what had just happened and asked for an ice pack for a cold compression. One of the paramedics examined my ankle and frowned,”This doesn't look good. Are you sure you still want to run?" I swiftly responded,” Yes, I do!" He did not say anything further nor argue, but I could see he scowled even more. Obviously, he was very concerned.

While I was pressing the ice pack on my right ankle, the paramedic asked me if he could take a picture of me. I wondered why. He said,"It’s a proof for our office that we are useful during this event." His response put a smile on my face. I nodded in approval and muttered,"Indeed, you have been very helpful!" So, he asked his colleague to take a shot of us using his smartphone. Cheers to the first injured of the day!

When he was wrapping my ankle with a cold compress bandage, we both heard the marathon had just started. I was about 100 meters behind the start line and obviously late for the start. A few minutes later I found myself chasing a pack of 2,000+ marathon enthusiasts.

We were engulfed with dense winter fog at seven in the morning. Cool and dry weather at 15 degC. The atmosphere was fantastic. Off I ran my first marathon, leaving Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest tower - behind us and leaving that little ankle drama with a single purpose in mind: to finish my first marathon in one piece no matter how long it would take.

For the first few kilometers, I kept doing my routine mental check on my right foot. Everything seemed fine. I hardly felt any pain, perhaps thanks to the bandage. So, my self-confidence slowly returned, running at my comfortable pace. The crowds by the streets who were cheering for us helped boost our spirits. Along the way, I saw a marathoner bare-footed, a couple in cool green jumpsuits and many people in grey hair (my hat off to them!).

The first 10k... smooth...
The track of Dubai marathon was mostly flat, but the unique challenge came when we all started to hit Jumeirah Beach Road after km10. It was long and straight 12 kms on one side and the same distance on the way back. So, mentally we had to be prepared for this seemingly endless route.

At km30 my right ankle began to act up. I didn’t know whether it was the swelling or the fatigue or the combination of both. I then decided to stop for a pee while stretching my legs. The pit stop, however, didn’t help much. I started to feel a slight pain. So, I decided to ease my pace, combining fast walk and run to prevent the pain from getting worse. In a normal condition, the last 10 kms were perhaps the toughest part, mentally and physically. Now with my little handicap, another burden was added to the challenge.

This was a critical moment where I subconsciously heard an angel and a demon fighting over my head, each telling me to carry on or to give up. I knew no one could help me to beat the demon, other than myself. On a positive note, seeing other marathoners, particularly much older fellows, and the cheers of the spectators made me feel I was not fighting alone. The thought of the arduous training in the last few weeks made my efforts worthwhile. Why giving up now, while I was only 10 kms away to finish it?

Needless to say, that was the longest 10 kms in my life….

When I saw the finish line, I felt energized again. I thought,”Whatever happened, I’m going to finish this in style.” It was a defining moment when I finally reached the line. My wife had patiently been waiting there for me in the heat, although her 10k race was concluded hours before. I saw her in tears (at this point she still didn't know the ankle 'drama' as yet). Then I started getting teary eyes too. We hugged. We both were happy that I had made it. The challenge was now over and I won! I am proud of myself. I am even prouder to say that I did it at the age of 40!

A happy camp after all was over
I completed my first marathon in just one second shy from five hours (4h59m59s net), but seriously the timing was not as important as the lessons I learned from the whole experience, from the severe training until that finish line. Never before had I pushed myself to the same limit - mentally and physically. If anyone thought marathon is only about running and endurance, it is simply an understatement. Marathon is more than that. It is about self-discipline and self-determination. It is about how you set a challenge and a goal for yourself and push the limit to achieve it. It is about knowing your strengths and limitations. It is about defeating your demon. It is about not giving up easily. It is about commitment and perseverance. It is about doing a crazy idea once in a lifetime. It is about planning and execution. It is about a mental game....

Marathon is also about paying forward. Just over two weeks before the M-Day, I had decided to fund raise for the Foundation for Mother and Child Health (FMCH). I thought it would be wonderful to make a meaning to all my efforts by helping people at the same time. While writing this blog, I was blown away by the generosity of 46 family members and friends who have collectively donated USD 2,300+ to FMCH through my fundraising page I intend to open the page until February 3, 2013, to give an opportunity for those who are still willing to participate.

Seeing how people supported my efforts was incredibly uplifting. Above all, when some people said to me sincerely that I had inspired them with what I had done… that’s simply humbling. I do hope my efforts would inspire people to live a healthy life and do something for others.

At the finish line, I ran into the same paramedic. He was stunned upon seeing me. “You are the same person who got the swollen ankle, right?” I smiled and nodded. “Did you finish the marathon?”He continued. “Yes!” I replied whilst showing him my medal. He shook his head in disbelief. Too bad, I forgot to ask him to take a picture together with me, yet I didn’t forget to say to him,”Thank you very much for your help!”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Radio Interview

This morning on the way to the office I was listening to one of Dubai radio stations – a business-oriented station. Two broadcasters were interviewing a lady who happened to be, if I’m not mistaken, the Director of Human Resources for a new water park that is to be open next week in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) – one of the emirates in the UAE, which is situated about 45 to 60-minute drive from Dubai.

After a few minutes of conversation which sounded to me more like a sales pitch, I sensed that the two broadcasters started to feel frustrated, simply because they hardly received direct answers from the lady. Nonetheless, they kept on going with more questions. This time some questions around marketing strategy. Very spot-on rational, I think, considering that the new park would definitely have strong contenders from the like in Dubai, namely the Wild Wadi and the Atlantis’ Aquaventure, which have already been in the market for quite some time, easily accessible and hence, are arguably more popular amongst the UAE residents and visitors.

Here is an excerpt from the interview as far as I can recall.

Q: Apart from ticket revenues, from where else do you expect your revenue stream will be coming from?
A: By paying 250 Dirhams for an adult ticket and 175 for a child ticket, they can enjoy our facilities.
(Me : *tapping my forehead once* Douuhh!!)

Q: I mean, do you tie in with some commercial contracts to tap in more revenue? I saw on your website that you are inviting commercial or franchising opportunities within your water park….
A: Oh yes, people will spend at least 2 hours in our park. They will eat and drink there. There is a huge commercial opportunity for everyone.
(Me: *sigh* finally, at least a little bit of common sense here)

Q: How many visitors are you expecting in a year?
A: Between 300,000 and 1 million.
(Me: Wow! What an estimate! With 700,000 gap between the lowest and the highest estimation… hhmmm… what drug was she on?)

Q: How did you go about your market research? From where do you expect the visitors to come?
A: Everybody likes to go to water park. We expect people coming from the UAE, Middle East and international.
(Me: Everybody? Really? Do people from outside the UAE know where RAK is?)

Q: But how would you expect visitors who fly to Abu Dhabi and Dubai to travel by taxi or bus for an hour or so to reach your water park, while they can do the same in Dubai in a matter of a few kilometers? And how would expect those people to come to your park, when there is still no international flight coming to RAK?
A: Ras Al Khaimah is growing. People would love to come to our park.
(Me: *tapping my forehead for the second time* Douuhh!!)

If you think I was wasting my time by listening to that type of conversation, it’s not entirely true. In fact, I kinda enjoyed it a little, contemplating what the two broadcasters could possibly say to each other off air.

After all, that fiasco was not entirely the lady’s fault. Someone had not done their homework prior to the interview. Firstly, if the interview was about promoting a new water park, why the heck did the company permit the HR director to do the interview, instead of their Marketing Director or PR staff? Secondly, the broadcasters must have previously been informed of her title, why would then they keep on asking about marketing stuffs, which were literally not her territory. Thirdly, if she had replied with “I don’t know the answer” to a few of those questions, it would have sounded better than uttering meaningless words that could only embarrass herself.

(Me : *tapping my forehead for the third time*).