A note on traveling solo, Part Two

“Hi, do you speak English?” I asked the man. He nodded warily, not before casting a suspicious and puzzled sideway glance at me.

“Will your phone be able to make an overseas call?” I asked quickly, as I watched his mouth open and closed when I clearly answered his un-asked question. He nodded again, this time more affirmatively, while glancing at the red Singaporean passport that I was clutching firmly in my hand.

Perhaps it was the look of desperation on my face or that he was holding a similar passport himself that prompted him to hand me his phone, I will never know. I didn’t have the time to find out because this was an emergency.

What was happening? Well, let me start from the beginning.

As my solo trip to Australia came to an end, I was checking in to my Jetstar flight back to Singapore in Melbourne Airport, when I was unceremoniously informed that I did not opt for the 15kg check-in luggage, which meant I had to pay a grand total of AUD 160.

I could have just paid up, wheezed past customs and boarded the plane back to Singapore, right? Well, that was the best case scenario.

The worst case scenario would be not having any money on me because I spent it all, mostly on souvenirs, a credit card which wasn’t activated back home, hence couldn’t be used for overseas transactions and not having a handphone because I smashed it a few days ago.

Unfortunately for me, that was the scenario I was presented with, two hours before I was supposed to depart for Singapore. As I scrambled around begging my fellow passengers for a phone, I was praying to God that I was dreaming and this was somehow a nightmare. With time ticking down on me, I felt the walls closing around me and thought I would definitely miss my flight.

A flurry of phone calls back to my family in Singapore later, one on my fellow countryman’s mobile phone and the second on another kind samaritan’s mobile phone, I finally had the money to pay my luggage fees and was through customs with time to spare.

When I left for Australia two weeks ago, I never imagined that I would learn anything from my second lifetime solo trip, as the highlights would most likely be skydiving, snorkeling and climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

I was wrong. Granted, all this trouble could have been avoided if I had paid for my baggage beforehand when booking the flight, but I realised that my family and God was all I could think of when I was in trouble. That is why I’m comforted that I have my priorities in order.

However for my next trip, I will definitely keep some emergency money, activate my credit card for overseas transactions and most importantly, pay for luggage beforehand when flying with budget airlines.


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Discipline vs Obsession

It’s three days to my first ever CrossFit competition. Am I ready? Honestly, I do not know.

2014 has seen quite a number of significant changes in terms of my fitness journey. I left my CrossFit box because firstly, I felt I wasn’t progressing; I was getting fitter with all the metcons, but not in strength, which go against everything CrossFit stood for. Secondly, I was getting too caught up with trying to beat metcon timings in the box that I became obsessed with trying to get better at CrossFit.

While I took a break from working out in a community for the past six months, I started training alone and followed The Outlaw Way’s Outlaw Power programming while doing some reflecting on my own.

The question that ate at me was: Why do I feel so empty and hollow when I was chasing big numbers in my lifts and aiming to achieve faster timings?

It dawned on me that the purpose of my life had become all about trying to excel at CrossFit. Shouldn’t my life be about trying to please God? I should workout to live and not live to workout.

I had crossed the fine line between being disciplined and being obsessed. I couldn’t go a week without working out and beating myself up about it. To miss a workout, was not okay to me.

Sin City Invitationals 2014 will be a significant milestone for me when I take to the competition ground this Saturday. I have learned to forgive myself when I miss a workout and knowing the difference between being disciplined and being obsessed. I constantly remind myself  that I train to honour God and not because I want to be faster, stronger and fitter than anyone else.

I haven’t trained as much as I would like to in the last few weeks leading up to the competition because of full day coverage at the WTA Finals and Singapore National Games as a journalist, but I choose to have faith in my training for the last six months, have fun and leave the rest up to God.





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IPPT: All round fitness test or purely an endurance test?


Photo: TODAY

Depending on which side of the fence you were on, the recent changes to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test either caused you much anguish or made you celebrate like Mario Gotze after scoring the winning goal for Germany in the World Cup finals.

Looking at my Social Media feed, there were people who were posting about the changes and using words like “Finally!” or “Now I don’t have to do Remedial Training!”  As for the opposing camp, netizens were concerned about how making the test easier is inviting criticisms that soldiers in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) are weak and pampered.

When I was still serving the nation more than two years ago, I felt that the IPPT was flawed and needed some tweaking. One of my pet peeves I had was that there was too much emphasis placed on running. I blame this on “the faster you ran, the fitter you are” culture in the SAF. The scoring system of the old IPPT system was proof of that.

For example, if you pass your standing broad jump, shuttle run, pull ups and sit ups stations but fail your 2.4 kilometres run, you fail the whole test. How does that make sense? If I can do 20 pull ups, jump 250 cm, finish my shuttle run in 8.45 seconds, do 50 sit ups but I fail my run because I did it in 15 minutes, does this mean that I’m unfit?

The old system cultivated a habit where soldiers who performed poorly in the 2.4 kilometres run would do the minimum effort required to pass in the rest of the stations in order to save energy for the run. This meant that there were no accurate readings on which soldiers actually has the strength, flexibility, speed and endurance.

Another bug bear I had was that as a combat-fit soldier who went in to the field almost every week in full combat gear, I realised performing well in IPPT doesn’t always translate in to performing well out in the field. Why? Again, because of the emphasis placed on running.

Physical Instructors were so obsessed with training soldiers who failed the 2.4k meters run, that 90% of the training consisted of running. In fact, every opportunity that SAF had, the commanders made the soldiers run. Oh, it’s Battalion Cohesion Day? Let’s go to East Coast Park to run. There’s a new Commanding Officer in the unit? Let’s welcome him by going for a run. You get my drift. There was a run for everything.

Running is beneficial and healthy, yes. But the truth is, endurance alone is not a good training to prepare soldiers for combat. Soldiers needs to have strength training to prepare them for the heavy loads that they will be carrying, flexibility to climb over objects and uphill/downhill, speed to sprint to take cover or attack during fire movements.

So does the new IPPT changes address these issues? Well, Yes and No.

As with everything in Singapore, the changes to the IPPT, which has been reduced to 3 stations (push ups, sit ups and 2.4 kilometres run) is not new or original. It is a watered down version of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) Physical Fitness Test (PFT), which consists of pull ups, sit ups and 5km run.

This watered down test is great for Operational Ready NSmen because it addresses the main grouse: It is easier to train for and pass because they are simply too busy with work.

However, this test still does not determine if soldiers in active duty is combat fit and neither does training for the test prepare the soldiers for being in the field.

The USMC has another test, called Combat Fitness Test (CFT), which has a 800 meters run, lifting a 13kg ammo box over their heads as many times as they can in 2 minutes and a 274 meters course where they have to perform 5 various tasks. This test has to be done in boots, camouflaged pants and t-shirt.

Here’s my suggestion: Implement the CFT for soldiers in active duty and use the PFT for NSmen. This will effectively kill three birds with one stone.

Firstly, it will prevent the IPPT from being a purely endurance test and encourage soldiers to train for strength, flexibility, speed and endurance. Secondly, NSmen who don’t train regularly because of work will not have a hard time passing the test. Which is SAF’s main purpose for changing the IPPT system in the first place. Lastly, both tests don’t include the dreaded pull ups anymore.

What do you think of my suggestions? Share with me in the comments section below.

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Photo from The CrossFit Games

Photo from The CrossFit Games

I looked up from my computer screen to survey the competition floor for the last heat for Event 6 of the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Asia Regional in South Korea. My fingers were tense and hovering above my keyboard as I waited to see who would get up from the rower first.

Spotting the current leader on the Women’s leaderboard, Marlene Andersson, leaping up and moving to the box jumps, my fingers went to action. “Marlene Andersson is first off the rower!”, I typed furiously, “Followed close behind by Crystal Sullivan!”. As soon as I hit enter to post my tweet, my social media boss, Lynn hurriedly pointed out to me that Yuko Sakuyama was next off the rower.

No rest for the wicked. I realized I was holding my breath. I let it go and typed out what Lynn had pointed out to me, even as my eyes went back to survey the competition floor, looking for my next tweet.

Live tweeting is hard. Live tweeting without a live stream is harder.

Without a live stream, the onus was on the social media team to provide up to the minute play-by-play action on Twitter for the audience at home. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. After all they were just moving weights and going through complex movements, right?

Boy, was I wrong.

I forgot there was only one reason why I was looking at the athletes down in front of me from my social media booth. Why they were here in the first place.

They were amazingly fast. Which meant that we had to be faster. Only God knows how much Lynn and Jen, the Regional Media Director, were screaming in their hearts for me to type faster when they were hovering over me during the Heats where I was covering the play-by-play action.

I had never tweet as fast as I did before that weekend and admittedly, it was stressful, but at the same time I was happy that I volunteered. I learned so much from Jen and Lynn, who both had amazing leadership throughout the whole weekend.

I was inspired by the athletes too. From my vantage point in the social media booth, I had a bird eye view of the whole arena. What I saw on all three days proved that Asia can hold its own amongst other bigger regions.

Granted, Asia is not where you get to see the likes of Rich Froning or Samantha Briggs compete. We still get made fun of for having caucasians on the podium. We only get one spot to the Games.

However, what Asia lacked in terms of super-human strength statistics and star names, the crowd made up for it in their never wavering and endearing support for the athletes. I witnessed the crowd cheering every rep for athletes, whether they were struggling or about to finish first. Who they came to support was immaterial. First or last, all the athletes taking part were already heroes in their mind.

The athletes too, had never-say-die attitudes.

I saw athletes like Jaki Kan from Team Asphodel, struggling with his overhead squats during Event 7 and yet refusing to give up. I saw the hours athletes put in to train their weakness finally paying off, like Eric Carmody, when he won Event 7 and qualified for Carson. They were just two of the many athletes who gave nothing but their all.

It was also very easy to not give your full effort as a volunteer when your region is an obscure region. This was my second surprise that weekend.

Starting with the media team, we hailed from 7 different nations and despite most of us meeting each other for the first time, we instantly gelled like glue. We were not paid, we had to be the first at the arena and the last to leave. But every task we were given, we did it with our full effort.

As for the rest of volunteers, from Security to the Judges to the Equipment guys, they worked as though this was their full-time job. I was very impressed especially with Security. They had a million and one things to do, from crowd control to making sure that no one brought in banned camera lenses. Yet, whenever the Media team had any issues with the crowd, they would drop everything and helped us.

All the volunteers were united for two reasons: We love CrossFit and we wanted the athletes to only worry about their performances on the competition floor and nothing else.

We decided beforehand that the hashtag for the 2014 Asia Regional would be #SeoulStrong. Amazingly, the hashtag has  887 posts and rising on Instagram.

I can’t help but marvel at how apt this hashtag has been. The story about the Asia Regional this past weekend was about teamwork and fluid coordination. Everyone, from the spectators, to the athletes, to the volunteers were a collective unit. We were, #SeoulStrong.

This article represents only my views and is not sanctioned or endorsed by The CrossFit Games and CrossFit,Inc

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Bringing out the bully

Photo from The CrossFit Games

Photo from The CrossFit Games

I don’t care if you don’t like or made a vow never to try CrossFit. Just stop telling the whole world why.

CrossFit is not without it’s faults. There’s a thousand and one things that can make CrossFit better and CrossFitters know it. They do not have to be subjected to a public service announcement (PSA) every other day. Critics and haters justify their constant PSAs as “being concerned for the general public” or “to prevent people from being brainwashed by CrossFit boxes”.

Now, what qualifies someone to be “a fitness authority” when there are millions of coaches in the world? Is there such a thing as “Fitness Police”? Can they actually ban someone from doing CrossFit instead of just merely writing or posting on Facebook about why someone should stay away from CrossFit? Do they have the powers to persecute someone for doing CrossFit?

Imagine a school setting. CrossFit is the new kid on the block. The rest of the kids (Bodybuilding. Running, Cycling, etc) have been there for ages. They see CrossFit as a threat because suddenly their best friends forever (BFF), Gymnastics, Olympic Weightlifting, Strongman, Powerlifting have started hanging out with CrossFit and do cool stuff with them. They start to desperately scramble to show their BFFs why they are “cooler” by whispering to them nasty things about CrossFit, picking a fight with CrossFit over the tiniest issues, using Social Media to create fake accounts to spread rumors.

Sounds familiar? I might not be a behavioral expert, but I think it’s safe to say that the behavior these people are portraying is similar to bullies. I know, because I used to be one. Not my proudest moment, but hey, everyone makes mistakes right?

You want to do tricep curls and have 5 different ways of doing it? Cool. Here’s to bigger arms. Run 42km every weekend? Sure, if it makes you happy! Don’t hate me because I rather be doing cleans and snatches, learning to walking on my hands and trying to PR my 30 muscle-ups for time.

I think golf is boring, racing around a race track for 60+ laps is stupid and running marathons is the bad for the knees. Do I see the need to let the whole world and the people doing it know why every other day? No, because I rather be training hard, improving myself and enjoying watching people who don’t CrossFit enjoy what they are doing.

CrossFit is not perfect. But so is every other sport or exercise program. The bottom-line is: Do you legitimately want to warn people about the dangers of not doing CrossFit properly? Or do you simply just fear CrossFit?

If you are a fitness professional who genuinely wants to improve CrossFit and warn people about what not to do in CrossFit, then it’s time to embrace CrossFit. Because let’s face it. CrossFit is here to stay. As Lift Eat Get Big put it simply in this article: “If you truly want your sport to grow, embrace all of the people that are introduced to your way of lifting by Crossfit. Gyms and coaches who put their heads in the sand when it comes to CrossFit are gyms and coaches that will struggle greatly to make ends meet, for the most part..”

However if you are a fitness professional or an individual who fears the influence of CrossFit, do me a big favor and keep your hatred to yourself. When you open your mouth, write a “100 reasons why CrossFit sucks” article or write that Facebook status condemning CrossFit, you are showing the world that you are nothing but a bully, a coward and a paranoid pain in the ass.

Enough of the CrossFit bashing.


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Seeking Redemption: Stephanie Liew

My interview with Stephanie was originally intended for The CrossFit Games website, but the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Open results and timing sensitivity meant that it went unpublished. I decided to publish the interview here instead because I love Stephanie’s fighting spirit and wanted to share it with everyone.

Photo taken by Pauline Yong

Photo taken by Pauline Yong

By her own admission, 26-year old Stephanie Liew feels that her path to redemption is about to end, after a poor showing at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Asia Regional.

The writing was already on the wall during the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open when she failed to attempt any muscle-ups in Open Workout 13.3, which was 150 wall-balls, 90 double-unders and 30 muscle-ups.

As a result, she did not qualified for the Regional as an Individual, but instead was chosen to compete as a member of Brunei’s GETFIT CrossFit team after helping them to qualify.

To her dismay, she found out that muscle-ups were penciled in for the Team Events after the workouts were announced ahead of time; she scrambled to work on the complex gymnastic movement. However, time ran out on her.

Her worst nightmare came to pass when she failed to attempt a single muscle-up in Team Event 3, which was a 7-minute AMRAP of burpees muscle-ups, which meant that her team got a DNF, thus preventing the team from advancing in the competition.

“Mentally, I felt that I could do the muscle-ups, but physically, my body didn’t agree,” she said.

It was cold comfort to Liew that out of 20 teams that competed in the Regional, only 3 teams managed to finish Team Event 3. Her inability to perform the gymnastic movement crushed her, and she went back to the drawing board with her coaches to re-evaluate her training as a whole after Seoul, with the ultimate goal of mastering muscle-ups.

“I went back to basics. I started doing strict gymnastic movements and focused on progressions to build strength. I also started training consistently, knowing that skills take hours of practice to master. At the same time, I kept strictly to my scheduled rest days to prevent burn out,” she explained.

It was a long and arduous 6 months, but Liew’s revised approach to her training has benefitted her tremendously. By the time 2013 came to a close, she could finally string together a couple of muscle-ups whenever it was programmed in a WOD.

She has been on a roll since Regional, winning Brunei’s Battle Royale 2013 and finishing in second place at the inaugural Sin City Invitational 2013 in Singapore. Even though these local competitions did not program muscle-ups in scored workouts, her performance at the Regional is all but a distant memory.

“When I competed in the local competitions, I focused on the pain I felt when I failed in Seoul, and I used it to fuel and push myself to do well because I never want to feel the same way again.”

She credits her head coach, Gavin Singh Sekhon, for keeping her rooted and not letting her successes get to her head.

“He spots my weaknesses and puts me through drills and progressions over and over again. He doesn’t have to remind me of what happened during Regionals because he knows it will always be at the back of my mind.”

Liew, who coaches the kids’ program at her box, feels that teaching the kids the fundamental movements of CrossFit has gone a long way in helping her cope with her new training directions.

“What I have learned and realized after every lesson I have with them is, when in doubt, revert to the basics,” she said.

Liew felt that her experiences since May last year, both good and bad, helped influenced how she approached the recently concluded 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open

“The competition is really steep, no doubt about that. But as the level of competition increased, the way I trained has also evolved. That was why I am confident of my chances.”

Liew felt that out of the 5 Open workouts, Open Workout 14.4, which was a 14 minute AMRAP of 60-calorie row, 50 toes-to-bars, 40 wall-ball shots, 30 cleans and 20 muscle-ups, was the hardest workout for her, both physically and mentally.

“I have never rowed more than 300m continuously before this, so it was truly a mental game. There were also a lot more pressure in this WOD because I expected myself to reach the muscle-ups without burning out during the row.”

In the end, Liew only managed to score 178 reps, 2 reps shy of reaching the muscle-ups, before the clock ran out on her.

Liew was confident of her chances of qualifying for this year’s Regional. In the event that she made it through; she was undecided on whether to compete with the GETFIT CrossFit team or as an individual

“The fundamental nature of CrossFit is to be ready for ‘the unknown and unknowable’. I will do my best to be prepared for whatever awaits me. Between now and Regional, I will concentrating more on my work capacity.”

Despite her valiant efforts, Liew will have to look ahead to 2015 for the chance to redeem herself after missing out on the ticket to Seoul, South Korea this year. With her exceptional work rate, she will definitely put up a strong challenge next year.




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A note on traveling solo

I walked out of Tai Cheong Bakery in Central, Hong Kong, holding a bag of egg tarts, the best I have ever eaten. Taking the escalator up to the Central Mid Levels walkway, I walked from one end of the walkway to the other end, slowly munching on my egg tarts and experiencing the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. All 800 meters of it.

It’s moments like this that makes my decision to travel solo worth every penny. I had the freedom to do what I want, when I want and how I wanted to do it. My little “walkway egg tarts adventure” may not make much sense to others, but it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Traveling alone provides you the opportunity to live in the moment too. I did that by taking the Star Ferry in both directions, from Kowloon to Central and vice versa. The 10 min ride allowed me to take in the magnificent and breathtaking view and disconnect from the world for a moment. The sea was choppy and sometimes still, as though it could read the minds of all the passengers on board.

The biggest obstacle was finding directions. Google Maps was almost hopeless, but when technology failed me, the locals were very helpful. That was probably the only opportunity for me to talk to them, given the language barrier. You get a sense of achievement when you finally find a place by yourself or with the help of the locals.

Have the opportunity to travel alone? Do it.


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