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Lombok 2014: Day 1 – Arrival and Kebun Villas

Published by on March 31, 2014

For Valentine’s Day, I bought my wife a surprise trip she’d never expect in a million years – 6 days in Lombok! Why Lombok? Why not Bali? Where’s Lombok?! Those were the questions I was asked by my friends and colleagues. Well, we did a few mainstream tourist destinations recently in the past few years, like Bali, Gold Coast and Bangkok. I thought it would be a good change to do one a little less ‘touristy’ – a bit off the beaten path. Ever since we’ve been doing annual family holidays since 2006 (I think), the ones we enjoyed the most were the more obscure destinations, like Ko Lipe (when was that? 2011? I can’t even remember without checking the photos).

Anyway, it was during the research for the Bali trip in 2009 (can’t remember for sure again) that I read about Lombok, the island just next to Bali. Known as the ‘the undiscovered Bali’, I think Wikitravel sums it up the best:

Located just east of Bali, Lombok in many ways lives up to or exceeds the promotional term, “an unspoiled Bali”. With beautiful beaches, enchanting waterfalls, the large, looming volcano of Mount Rinjani combined with relatively few tourists, Lombok is indeed the paradisaical tropical island that many people still mistakenly imagine Bali to be now.

Well, its not exactly ‘undiscovered’ or ‘unspoiled’, but I like to think of it as Bali was 40 years ago, before mass tourism hit the island in a big way. Although its only a 45 minutes boat ride from Bali, there are several marked differences in the culture and geography of the two islands. For one, the indigenous people of Lombok, the Sasak, are predominantly Muslim as opposed to the Hindu of Bali. However, there are Hindus on the island, along with temples, remnant of when Bali ruled this island a long time ago. There are many other important differences, we will see them over the course of this travelogue.

So with a little help from Sasha (who was here just recently) and a lot of help from TripAdvisor and the Internet, it was off to Lombok.

Anyway, last Tuesday AirAsia brought us to Lombok’s new airport located in Praya, on the south of the island. Its a 3 hour flight from KL.

first sight airport

The old airport was conveniently in the capital city of Mataram, this new one is a little out of the way from all the places tourists might want to go. Aside from a handful of Mat Salleh tourists and a few Malaysian families on school holiday, the flight was full of local Lombok folk coming back from working in Malaysia. Later our taxi driver told us that everyday, hundreds of Lombok men return from work in Malaysia, and hundreds more to work in Malaysia.

Although the airport is new, they aren’t really prepared to handle big crowds. Only 3 counters were open, serving one common line, which included locals and foreigners.

If I thought inside the airport was a little disorganized, outside was almost chaotic. Hundreds of families clogged the entrances, either sending off or receiving family members. Everyday its like this, my taxi driver said.

ouside airport

Speaking of driver, I was approached by a few guys, it instantly hit me and my wife we didn’t do any research on taxis… but I went with this local guy who could speak ‘Malaysian-Indonesian’ – you know, like how the Indonesians here in Malaysia have learnt to adjust their accents and vocab a little to be better understood by Malaysians. Anyway this guy Dzul later told me he spent many years working in Klang and KL, so it figures. Dzul turned out to be a great pick, we actually used him (and his assistant) on all the days we were on Lombok. Anyway the trip from airport to our hotel in Senggigi cost IDR225,000.

Immediately after leaving the airport, all you can see are paddy fields, and empty fields with tall coconut trees. There are hardly any buildings, except near tiny villages, and even fewer shops. There were hardly any cars on the roads, just a few bikes and cidomos (horse drawn taxis, very popular here). In fact, our driver had a habit of driving in the centre of the dual carriageway.

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The capital city Mataram has a little bustle, but not really much either. Reminds me of a small town in rural Perak, very low density but spread out larger. No traffic jams, no speeding cars, no loud honking. Everyone takes it easy.

After leaving Mataram and moving on the coastline to the north, we approach the beach strip of Senggigi.

first beach

The beaches in Senggigi have beautiful vistas from the many seaside cliffs, but the sand is black. the beaches in the south are more appealing with their unique grainy or powdery sand.

For the first 2 nights of our stay in Lombok, we stayed at Kebun Villas & Resort. Its not a beachside resort, since we figured the pool would be more suited to my kids.

Its actually a rather small resort, but like its name, its built around a garden / landscaped concept. EVERYTHING is surrounded by greenery – my Landscape Architect colleagues would love it here.

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The rooms are simple, all facing greenery and the pool.

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The thing that drawn us to this place was the 2 pools. One is a small pool next to the restaurant. The other was a 70m pool and is simply stunning.

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Anyway after checking in it was kinda late and since there were no restaurants around our hotel, we ate in the hotel.

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Hannah's lunch

After that was an afternoon in the pool and sleeping it off.

For dinner we took a cab to Senggigi town (IDR 30,000, rather overpriced) at Big Papa’s café. Its a Chinese owned placed that we really liked.

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my dinner

After dinner we walked back to the Art Market (nothing much to see) and then back to hotel, taking some night shots.

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(This is the other pool next to restaurant)
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Next: Day trip around the island.

Doing A Title Search at the Land Office (PTG)

Published by on March 19, 2014

Over the years working in the property development industry, I’ve often asked our land surveyors to do a title search. What’s a title search? Basically, if you are interested in a piece of land, doing a title search at the local land office will tell you who the owner is, and other stuff like his address and and land details. If you are the owner and want build a house or sell the land, a title search is the official confirmation from the Land Office that you are the owner of the land.

Law firms also commonly do title searches whenever there is a legal procedure tied to the land or property.

All this while, our consultant land surveyor handles title searches. Recently, we needed searches for 91 plots owned by my company. Apparently, one person can search up to only 15 titles in a day. So we needed at least 6 people to do the job. The one extra title can be done with some persuasion to the counter staff. So i was on the phone with the consultant (a young surveyor about 2 years out of college).

“So i meet you at land office tomorrow lah. What time ah?” I said.

“Seven, ah, Mr. Simon.” She chirped.

“Seven something? Why so early?”

“Mr. Simon, its seven o’clock, not seven something ah. Have to be early to get ticket.”

Er, okay. I’m fine with waking up at 6am, i do that 2-3 times a week these days anyway. i’m just worried about traffic on the Federal Highway.

Anywy, this morning, i reached Land Office (PTG) in the Selangor State Secretariat (SUK) at 6.50am. I was THE FIRST CAR in the parking lot. My other 2 colleagues reached almost the same time with me. No sign of the 3 guys from the consultant. When we walked into land Office, there was a line of bags and satchels arranged neatly in front of the ticketing counter, stretching about 10 meters. Now i understand why i have to be tere so bloody early.

The 3 consultants ambled in at 7.20am and they were a further 10 meters behind our bags. Meanwhile the waiting hall was slowly filled with runners, despatch riders, other consultants, rookie lawyers, all waiting for the counter to open. Maybe i should mention something cliched here about the obvious camaraderie and friendliness among the regulars here of different races showing the true spirit of Malaysia, but its true.

So anyway, from 6.50am to 8.30am, I went to the cafeteria for breakfast, read my Cormac McCarthy book (good thing i brought it). The ticketing counter opens at 8.30am sharp, so as the clock ticks nearer, everyone starts standing in the place of their bags / placeholder. Its a narrow space between the seats and the public phones, so its kind of a cram. When the counter opens, the line moves really fast, if you’re late to claim your place, its gone forever. In less than 2 minutes, more than 200 tickets are issued and the counter is closed. Wow.

After that burst of activity, it mellows down again as we wait for our number (mine was starting at 115). Each ticket can search a max of 5 titles, each person can take up to 3 tickets only, hence the 15 title limit. Took me another 2.5 hours of waiting, in which i had a power nap, had another trip to the cafeteria for a mid morning snack, read newspapers, etc.

Anyway, when your turn comes, its rather straightforward. Hand in your form (pre filled in, please), pay the fee (a whopping RM50 per search), collect the printout. Of course, holding three consecutive tickets makes it trickier.

Anyway, everything done, was back by in office by 12.30pm. They weren’t joking when they said it would take at least half a day.

Signal Cigarettes

Published by on March 8, 2014

Signal brand cigarettes.

That’s the brand of cigarettes my grandmother smoked. Not the grandmother in Melaka, the other on that stayed with us at home and took care of me.

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No one else I knew smoked this brand of cigarettes, not then, not now. She smoked it when she stayed in Batu Gajah, and when she stayed with us, my mom bought it for her from the sundry shop near my house. I’m not sure if its a coincidence, or if my mom requested for the sundry shop to stock the brand, but i’ve never seen any other shop sell this particular brand.

It came in a simple pale orange box, with a picture of a white railway signal on the cover.

My grandmother smoked a pack a day, was thin as a reed, was completely deaf, swore like a Cantonese sailor, but lived to almost 80.

Anyway, the cigarette company is still around, its still being sold in the US, albeit from the website I can see they’ve changed to a modern box design.

Memories of Chinese New Years Past

Published by on January 28, 2014

Ever since I could recall, every Chinese New Year was spent in my paternal grandmother’s house. The entire clan converged there, so all my CNY memories are interminably linked to the happy times in that little house in Malacca.

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My grandmother was a respected matriach in the extended family clan, every year the relatives, both close and distant, would come to pay their respects to her.

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We had a tradition of hanging a red cloth around the door, like at some weddings. Except the cloth was measured for the door on the old wooden house my grandmother stayed in many years ago. The newer house had a bigger doorway , so cloth hung halfway at the sides.

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My grandmother never made cookies, but there was never shortage of goodies to eat. My favourites were always keropok (prawn crackers) and white sunflower seeds. The type with the salty white powder coating the shells.

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As with any traditional Chinese family anywhere in the world, the family dinners were always the focal point of reunions. I don’t really recall much of the food, but I do recall we always had steamed chicken and chinese sausages (‘lap cheong’). Later after dinner my dad would always have a small shot of rice wine made by my grandma.

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Lion dances were more common then, I suppose it was cheaper compared to now, one of the neighbours would definitely have them on. Firecrackers and fireworks were far less common, though.

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My grandma was by no means a cheerful person, but not mean or a disciplinarian. She was just serious and upheld the traditions. But I guess she liked New Year very much. She liked the attention of and the long chats about days gone by. I suppose its true then, they say that Chinese New Year is most enjoyed by the very young and very old.

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We weren’t a big family, but with 4 children and spouses, and 7 grandchildren, it made quite a crowd when we all came together. There is a photograph of the clan on one Chinese new Year, i remember. My grandmother sat solemnly in the centre, everyone else around her. I was sitting on my mother’s armchair rest to one side, i was probably 9 or 10. Maybe when i go home this weekend, i’ll dig out that photo.

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That old house now stands run down and deserted, waiting to be sold. The inhabitants, long passed on, others all grown up and grown away.

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Happy New Year, everyone. Remember the past, live for the future.

My 2013 in 9 Points

Published by on December 31, 2013

Today is the last day of 2013, and it is time again to review my past year in 9 points. To understand why only 9 (and not 10) you have to go back to the first of this yearly tradition to find out why. The past editions can be read here (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008).

New Year, New Job

Began the new year on Jan 21 with a new job with one the fastest growing Property developers in the country. Getting in the company was tough, keeping up with the job was tougher. But I’m thankful to God for the opportunity, and in a way, my previous short-stint job kind of prepared me for this. Things tapered off after 4 to 5 months, when i got to grips with the morning traffic and job-related stress. Also having a new (more understanding) boss helped a lot. As I approach a full year here, I am immensely thankful to the lord for the team he put around me (although staff turnover is very high).

Ukulele

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For my birthday, my wife bought me a ukulele. A ukulele! How cool is that? Learning to play, while easier than a guitar, is a little harder, though. But as in anything that require a new skillset, Practice, practice, practice.

Elections

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What year end list would not mention this? Yes, it was one of the biggest national event in our nation’s history. But for lust of power, it was victory at all cost. And it cost Malaysians everything – our freedom, cost of living, religious harmony, pluralism, and maybe soon, internet freedom.

Bangkok

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(Very beautiful photo spot)

Six days of wonderful holiday in the Thai capital. Why haven’t I come here before?! And more importantly, when am I coming back again?!

Reacquainting with Weekly Football

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One day, on a spurious occasion, i upgraded my Astro to b.yond HD. And i make a resolution to watch more football. After all, i’m paying for the channels, and i had drifted away from weekly football for a few seasons already, due to other commitments. This was just before Arsenal resurgence due to the arrival of Özil, so it was a exciting time. As the cynical long time Arsenal fans would say, enjoy it while it lasts…

Galaxy 4

On the same day I got my Astro B.yond, I bought my Samsung Galaxy S4. Am I the only person to go from S1 to S4? Wow, things have really improved since the first model! No lag! No freezing! So clear! So expensive!

Books

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I cut down on the books for 2013 from the usual 50 to 18, mainly due to work commitments. Even with that, i found it difficult to make time to read, and to find good books that piqued my interest. Only a late flurry thanks to the Big Bad Wolf Sale helped me reach my target, and then all of a sudden, i didn’t feel like reading again. Maybe I should target only 12 books next year.

Christmas Play

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Some time back in May, the church YA asked me to write a script for the Christmas play. At first I was apprehensive, but i soon realize the tantalizing premise. A simple play to capture the uneasy sentiment of urban Chinese Christians in Malaysia in response to Islamization, emigration, rising crime, discrimination, etc. The script finally completed in August, casting and practices commenced in September, and there it was staged 3 times during Christmas.

I’m to say at least ONE person thought it was good.

Penang

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Last minute trip, been many years since I’ve been there. This was my first real ‘tourist’ trip. Navigating Penang is very much easier with Waze. Bonus, met 2 old friends I haven’t seen in years.

Hamley’s Toy Store, 1 Utama

Published by on December 7, 2013

I remember watching the cute ad for Toys R Us on Singapore TV. You know that catchy one that goes “I don’t wanna grow up…” Showing adorable mat Salleh kids hugging the giraffe and caterpillar plush toys and assorted colourful and expensive looking toys. I remember going to Toys R Us in Marine Parade (i think?) in Singapore although I don’t think i have much memories of it.

Some years later Toys R Us came to Malaysia, in The then new Subang Parade. They ran the same series of ads on local TV, except with local (equally adorable) kids. I remember it giving me kind of a hallowed view of the place, where you can find cool and exquisite toys that you won’t find anywhere else. Back then the only place we bought toys was from the local supermarket, or the Chinese sundry shop, both places mostly selling cheap China or Taiwan made knock offs that impressed mostly the youngest (or most naivest) of kids. But then again as kids buying toys wasn’t a big thing. We made our playstuff from bottlecaps or old ice cream sticks, or those small toys that come with junk food packs. Remember the Mamee toys?

Anyway, years later as an adult i moved to PJ to work and i visited the Toys R Us. To say it was disappointing was an understatement. It was basically the same as any other locally owned small time toy shop. Except it was bigger and probably with better layout design. But they sold the same Mattel, Hasbro, Barbie toys and board games. I used to joke that Toys R Us was no different from ToyCity.

I understand the necessity. They need sales volume to survive. Malaysians can’t afford the expensive stuff. So they sell all the fast movers. If you have too many samples or play areas, ugly Malaysians will damage them or worse, steal them.

Cool toy stores only exist in American movies like Big or Home Alone.

But what we do have are some cool indie specialist toy shops around in KL. There are a few in midValley and one particular one i like in BSC.

So when i heard that Hamley’s of London was opening in 1Utama, i was mildly excited but understandably wary. How awesome can it be, right? But i did make it a point going today (it opened on 30/11/13). Well, it was quite impressive. Despite it being expensive (that would be a given) they had a lot of their own house brand which had lots of cool toys. I won’t give too much away, but you should go and let the kid in you have a blast.

I hope they keep their standards up. In their defence, Toys R Us probably kept their image up at first, before market realities made them change (in their new location in Subang Parade, they seem to not even bother with ID). The same happened with other foreign retailers like Debenhams, Borders (another rant for another day) or Harrod’s. Dedenhams local capitulation is almost a comical tragedy.

My Second Adidas King of the Road

Published by on November 10, 2013

Last month I took part in my second 10K run, the Adidas king of the Road. Last year was my first race ever, you can read about it here.

A lot of stuff happened in between these two races. Since that last race, i had quit going to the gym since i changed jobs, and i only ran on weekends if i had the time. I had only re-joined a gym shortly before this second race, probably for just over a month. At that same time i ran an 8.5K night race, another first for me.

So all in all, this time round I was more prepared mentally (no more anxiety about waking up early or not being able to complete the race), but was slightly worse of physically. This year the weather was much cooler and shadier, and I would say the organisers were slightly better prepared than last year. So kudos to Adidas and their partners. I was a little disappointed to run almost the same time as last year, but i guess i shouldn’t be expecting too much if i only run 1 or 2 races a year, right?

On a somewhat related note, last weekend a home town friend i knew while growing up died unexpectedly last weekend in a tragic waterfall incident. I knew him since i was 7 years old, but i haven’t seen him in 20 years. Although i can’t say we were good friends, his passing only goes to strengthen my resolve to make the most of my time i have wisely – challenge myself to do things i’d never thought i could do, go new places, read more books, spend more time with my family, keep my good friends closer, and above all, never be satisfied with what you know now. Yes, and stop watching so much TV and snacking.

So what’s next for me? I’d really like to run a couple more runs a year, start studying a few more topics that interest me (this usually means expensive books). We’ll see.

Jeram Toi Waterfall

Published by on October 20, 2013

It was a public holiday, and instead of the usual shopping mall trek or sitting at home in front of the telly, some friends and i decided to go to Jeram Toi waterfalls near Jelebu.

I’ve been here before last year on my many trips to Kuala Klawang in Jelebu. Its easy to go, very near the main road, and suitable for kids.

So in the morning, we loaded the cars and convoyed down the LEKAS highway. The waterfall is about an hour away, turn off at the Jelebu exit and follow the signs.

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The lower parts of the falls has a man-made pool with water slides. Right above it there’s a pool for swimmers.

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For those craving for more authentic nature experience, you can climb up the steps beside the falls to enjoy the beginnings of the falls and river.

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Pure Jatomi Fitness Vs. Fitness First

Published by on October 5, 2013

I was a member of Fitness First (FF) for about 4 years, at the Curve Branch. When I joined the gym coz it was near my workplace at the time in KD. I had the choice of Celebrity Fitness in 1 Utama, but FF was nearer, plus you know how the parking situation in the mall can be at times. True Fitness opened a branch in Sunway Giza but that was much much later.

When I quit my job, I terminated my membership at FF. A year later I joined Pure Jatomi Fitness (PJF) in Tropicana City Mall. The story is that the founder of FF named Michael sold his business and formed another gym chain with two other guys James and Tony (hence the name Jatomi). In KL at the moment, there very few branches compared to the other big 3 (FF, Celebrity and True Fitness).

So I’ve been a using the club regularly for more than a month. Since I’ve only used this branch and FF The Curve before this, I can only make comparisons between these two branches.

Good for Jatomi:
Its cheaper. I’m paying about RM120+ for corporate package, which means I get towel facilities and accesss all other branches (this is albeit a moot point, I’m not patronizing any of the other branches). FF charges me for RM160+ for local membership, their passport membership is a lot more. They were a little cheaper before this, but about 2 years ago they started charging GST. Towels used to be free, but now cost RM5 (not sure of the price) per usage. So don’t forget to bring you own towel.

With PJF being new, there are far fewer members so it isn’t crowded. However, having said that, their weights section is really cramped and small.

In terms of tech, PJF wins hands down. They use a wristband locking system, so no problems of losing your key or locker getting broken into. they have phone charging stations, 6 internet stations, latest workout stations with internet and TV. FF has the same workout stations, but the internet never works.

Good for Fitness First:
Their club is bigger and better equipped. Jatomi definitely does not have enough weight machines and dumbbells. Every time I want to work my splits, I either have to wait for it or improvise with some other workout.

FF has more classes and more frequently. if I am not mistaken PJF only has 2 classes after work. I am not sure why, but they are not popular at all, compared to FF’s which are almost always packed.

FF has many trainers walking around and helping customers if they have problems, correcting mistakes (although most of the time the guy trainers spend their time flirting with the ladies). PJF doesn’t have this.
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At the end of the day, for me, personally any gym membership is useless if you don’t make the most of it to increase your strength and health, so if you don’t maximize your time and money, all the above is meaningless. Having said that, I feel other than the cramped areas and limited machines, PJF gives better value for your money.

Running My First Night Race

Published by on September 7, 2013

On the night most serious runners were in Putrajaya running the Shape Night Race, i was halfway across the Valley running another smaller race.

About a month ago, a few days after the closing date, my wife and I signed up for the Tropicana Nite Race IV. This race was 8.5 km on buggy tracks across one of the best golf courses in the city. I signed up mainly as a warm up for the Adidas King of the Road in October, and probably to put my end to my lack of serious exercise lately.

90 minutes before the start of the race, we were on the way and it started raining heavily. Pouring. I wasn’t really worried. These downpours don’t last long. Besides, running after the rain is always better than a hot sticky evening. Sure enough by the time we got to the golf club, it had reduced down to a slight drizzle.

It was a small race, about 200 participants over 3 age categories (men and women) and a family category. We had to wait around a long time coz the race was delayed about 35 minutes ‘to wait for latecomers stuck in the traffic jam’. I thought this was unnecesary, if people are late, they start late. This late start would affect many of the runners later in the race, as we would discover later on.

Anyway after a lot of announcements, the different categories were set off. My group, men’s 35 years old and above, were the biggest group, with about 30 runners. And we were off!

But as with my other runs, the first 2km were the toughest. As usual, i was thinking “Why did I sign up for this? I’m not going to make it. Can i turn back?” This was actually a tough course. A lot of steep slopes, especially the tunnels going under roads. I had recently riden on the track on buggy, i don’t remember it being so tough. After all, if an electric buggy can climb the slopes, it can’t be that steep, can it?

The other thing that bothered me were my legs were stiff from my my 3km run in the gym the day before. I didn’t really go all out in the gym, but still i felt the effects in my run. It was only after 5km at about the halfway mark I could get some stride going. Then another problem hit – it started to drizzle. A light drizzle, but had we started on time, we would have avoided this.

But anyway, with my stiff calves and heels and the rain, i completed the run in about an hour.

After the run, I was happy and relieved. The rain made it cooling to run, but made the slopes slippery. Night runs are cooler than morning runs, but you’re tired even if you don’t exert yourself all day. But still, it was a good run.

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