Monday, September 27, 2010

My first……... half-marathon….

For me, it was definitely a day to remember, as I am one step closer to my dream.

My dream is to run marathon in 2 years time; and aim to do triathlon in 5 years since my first 5k run in year 2008.  Today, I am one more step closer to the dream.

I didn't think that I had prepared myself well for this run, shift working schedule obviously doesn’t really help.  I didn't really know how to shape myself to be a half-marathon runner, apart form trying to run a long run (at least 7-8miles) once a week.  But even so, it was a struggle to me.  Until a week ago, I decided to push out all the worries of study, work, and whatever preoccupying on my mind, and just went for a run.  After for a while, I then realised I had run almost 15km in 1 hour and 30 mins.  That' s an encouragement and assurance that I properly could do half-marathon.

When we watched people doing marathon or other endurance races non-professionally.  They always said that they would never dream themselves to do this (marathon or others), but now they were there to prove the possibility, dream came true.  Honestly, I thought about that to at one point, but after that 15km run, I realised that it wasn't only about my physical ability; but also the mental capacity to keep telling and convincing myself that it's possible to do this half-marathon.  It was all the game in the mind, and now, I can see how powerful they are.  Without that mental muscle doing their job properly,  I truly didn't think that I could manage to finish the course.  But during my last 15km run, I have suddenly realised, it's all about the mind.  My physical body is properly ready for the run, but the mind, to be cleansed from all the noises of work and study, and then to be still to do the run, and concentrated to run… and then I realised I enjoyed it and it was possible.

With the confidence, I prepared myself and got ready to go for the it.  Thanks for TFL… Jubilee line was 2 days in the row having difficulties and problems from Stratford to North Greenwich.  Panic sniffed in… what if I miss the game??  The run was supposed to race at 0945, 0910, I still found myself standing in West Silvertown DLR station with one other runner and calling cabs to get there on time.  Until 0915, the runner's friend called and stated the game was delayed to 1030 due to transportation (Jubilee line, the major route to get to O2 stadium) problem.  It was the good news for both of us.. I dun need to rush. Panic is gone… I guess, tip one for racing, never let panic got a place in your mind and heart. Praise God.. I was free from it at least!

Games started at 1030. It was apparently over 17000 people in the race.  The atmosphere was good and uplifting.  Live music definitely was helpful, especially on that day was slight windy and chilly…  Gun went… race begun.  I kept telling myself on the way, 'don't be dictated by other steps and pace… go with my own pace, you know it… go with my own very pace.'  I had to admit that it's quite difficult, especially you were seeing different people running  over you.  And even when I was listening to my own Ipod, my usual running music, I was slightly nervous to check out whether I was slower than my usual pace (as you keep running with the same music in every practise, you can figure out how far you have run by listening to what number of track in that album).  So, it wasn't easy.. Constant reminding myself…. 'Own pace! Own pace! Own pace! '

Along the way, then I found a Paddington bear was running with me (in fact, it pumped onto me); and then a rhino, and then angels, brides (?! Hen's party?), and bananas (yes, with 's' at the end cos there were 2 running bananas).  Spectators were found actually in most of the course… they cheered you up and some kids just put their hand out for high 5! Cute :)  There are different music spots along the course, either live or recorded.  Some places were no music covered, some neighbour put their player out by the main door and window playing some upbeat music for us! So coool!!! Thank You! I have to say, music and running have to go together to me… when a music is doing the same beat with your pace, oh! The power was great! And I felt much more energised  as well. 

Run and run…. Seeing the signs from 2 miles, 3 miles, 4, 5, 6… it's good to know that I was moving forward.  From the information pack, we all were told that there was a uphill around 6-7 miles… and that's what I have reserved my energy for.  As I was approaching the hill, I was able to see the others running up the hills… it could look slightly daunting!  And then the question of 'are you sure you can finish the course' begun to make its way again.  Solution?? Nothing but just keep thinking 'my own pace and think, the little hill isn't that long'… downhill would be great! Downhill did come, but not until another 1 miler later….

Another thing excited me as well about running this race is that there were so many places that I haven't been before.  Checking back to the route from the information pack.. The route basically was like this…
Started at O2 -> New Charlton -> Woolwich -> Royal Arsenal Woolwich pier -> Royal Artillery Barracks ->
Charlton -> Greenwich Park -> National Maritime Museum -> back to the Oz.  And I have to say, most of part of the route, I had totally no ideas where I would be; even though there are normal public transport signs along the route; but they didn't give me any hints where I was (as I totally had not been those areas before).  This little sense of adventure definitely added some spices in my run here, although it could take off a little of security of being a familiar place; but I was just excited to be explore some unknown (to me) places of London.

After 9 miles, my body started complaining, especially my injured thigh, pain (another unwelcomed guest) came again.  At that time, from 'Own pace! Own pace! Own pace!' as my motto, changed to 'Push! Push!Push!' I begun to  feel my muscle start to stiff up. I have been sipping water in every water station; however, I do find that my body took longer time to recover after even just a small amount of cold water along the course.  Body was getting tired; and I noticed that it wasn't only me, my fellow runners too… paces had slowed down for most of us.  And my body and legs were getting stiff and wanting to stop; but then thinking about everyone good wishes and even expectation on me; somehow it got me to keep running. 

10 miles, 11 miles (I was thinking 'actually, how far was the half-marathon? 15 miles?), 12 miles,  750 m to go ('Oh! We are getting there!'), 500 m to go, 250m to go… I saw the finishing banner, and don't ask me how; but I found little amount of oil in the tank and found myself running towards the finishing line.  There are always 2 ways to finish anything, 'finishing strong' or 'finishing so so'… 'Finishing strong' is always my way, so I splinted…. Clock check… finished at 1 hour 52 mins 58 sec on my watch.  What?? I was aiming 2 hours…. But I finished the run much under my target! But at that time, I just didn’t have any sense (back) with the time… all I want was just stretch; not until later, on my journey back home; then I realised that  I had done it! Not just done it but finished it strong! I'm very pleased actually. 

Official time: 1 hour 53 mins 30 sec!

The time was the encouragement to me already. What I'm more pleased to know is that I do love running! And I want to train more properly now for next year to come.  But for now…. I choose to rest for 1 week… and just remember this moment : )

Monday, May 3, 2010


After sightseeing all the Gaudi work, I went to other well-known tourist spots to do what tourists are supposed to do.  I did go to Olympic site to imagine the busyness of the games in 1992, try to do some souvenir shopping in La Ramble, try to get sunbathing happening in the beaches, check out different historical building in the cities, and attend a concert in a historical Palau de la Musica Catalana and was wowed by the massive ceiling!

It was uneventful until my last leg in Barcelona, back to airport to catch the flight back to London.  So what happen this time? Easyjet's computer system in Luton (the headquarter) was experiencing some difficulties (i.e. crash), so all the flights departing from Barcelona were delayed at least another 2 hours.  My flight was scheduled to leave at 2200 hours, it was postponed to 0030 hours.  In those 2 hours, I was doing some of reflections about the trip, which are mostly shared on this blog.

However, I was quite worried and anxious about the delayed.  Even though London time was one hour behind, I truly landed in London about 3am.  But it's just Standsted airport, not my home yet.  Another 1 hour journey from Standsted to my flat, which made me to be home really at 4am in the morning.  The thing was... I need to be at work at 0745 in the same morning.  In the other words, I had only about 2-3 hours in between to wash myself up and tried to get some rest. You may say that I could call off sick leave; but then, it wasn't too late for that anyway.  So, I went to work... and don't ask me how it was the day.  I felt tired already even just now I'm typing this.

To sum up, the trip was different due to all these different expected elements in it.  All the events that you don't want to experience in travelling all happened in this trip in the time of 6 days.  That's why it made me quite tired and drained.  But now, I'm looking back, I do think that I enjoyed this trip; I do like this city, probably not as much as like other cities.  I'm glad that I have been.  And I do believe that it was a good choice of visiting this city. 

Gaudi Part 2

Casa Mila (La Pedrera) - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Parc Guell & Casa Museu Gaudi - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Casa Vicens (not open to the public, photo only)
Casa Calvet (Resturant, photo only)
Casa Batllo (finally) - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Palau Guell

All these are Gaudi works in different period of time, in different projects.  Some are very nice and successful; but some are not as exciting as the others.  

Doubtlessly, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are the 2 most well-known building; so as Parc Guell.  However, Parc Guell was an unfinished business after all. One thing I have to say, as a tourist in Barcelona, I need to get to those well-known building as early as the door opens.  Otherwise, it's just filled up by people very quickly and you will be very annoyed by the numbers of people and lacking the chances to take nice photos!

We can read all we can and know how pretty and great about Gaudi's work.  But to be there and seeing for myself, it is totally another story.  I have to say, after seeing all Gaudi's work, I'm totally impressed by his forward-thinking idea, observation, passion, and vision.  For example, in Casa Mila and Casa Batllo, both buildings were designed to allow the maximum sunlight to shine through the building.  Now, when you reading, you will think that it's no big deal.  But considering the time when Gaudi (about 19thC) was designing the building, nature light was not on their dictionary of design and architecture.   It truly shows that how clever, innovative, and futuristic that he is; and yet it is practical! His work is not only pretty to look at, but also comfortably and convenient  use; useful and pretty can go together!

Parc Guell was another showcase for Gaudi.  A failed commission work is like a clever vision Michael Jackson Neverland for me.   It's a place truly full of fantasy, with colours and giant walkways, even though the commission was actually failed! But the place was built with purpose, and layout was drawn creatively and purposefully.  I can't imagine what it would become when this park was built completely  according to the plan.  I wonder whether the original layout planning is still here or the complete layout wasn't there at all, as the park was continued to plan as it was being built. 

From this park, I also believe that either Guell was a very visionary man or Gaudi.  As the location of the park is the mid-level of a hill.  We can see the Barcelona from high,  Imagine, if the park was built completely, it would be a massive statement, about wealth and creativity , to the people in the Barcelona, and even to the world.  For Guell, it would be a statement of wealth; for Gaudi, it would be a statement of Creativity.  From another point of view, Guell properly just purely admire the work of Gaudi; and the location of the park was a playground for Gaudi.

Apart from Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and Parc Guell, others Gaudi works may not that popularly known.  However, they all have their unique characters in them.  I think that the only regret that I have was Palau Guell.  I would love to see those colourful chimneys on the rooftop; however, it was prohibited to enter due to maintenance work.  But most certainly, each building were different.  You can say that I'm totally obsessed with his work.  And I'm! 

      After the drama, it's all about Gaudi! Starting with Sagrada Familia.

      Did I tell you why I have chosen Barcelona over all the cities in Spain? Gaudi! It's truly the only reason for me to come to Barcelona.  After the LnF incident, finally, my heart was at rest to enjoy his great work. 

      Of course, the most impressive work is Temple Expiatori Sagrada Familia.  I summarised my experience after visiting this massive work in my journal in 2 sentences:
      1. How Gaudi built this building with his strong observation and understanding of the nature
      1. The work is still in progress from 1882. 
      It is not an usual classical church that I used to see in Europe.  There isn't full of tradition image (figure) of Jesus, Saints or Mary in this building.  No massive traditional glass window.  But the whole building apart from the both facades, it is full of plants and animals, whose power and beauty are fully displayed.  When I stepped inside of the church (construction site?), and saw the ceiling is filled up with something like leaves in the forest, and each pillar looks like tree beck.  As I learnt later, Gaudi designed in this unique way because he believed that church is like a shelter for everyone.  Therefore, he designed the interior of the church with this forest image to indicate that church is a place who gives shelter to everyone who walk in.  THIS is the heart of Christ… I truly believe.  If the tradition churches (like Notre Dome) revealed the magnificence and greatness  of  God; I believe that this church revealed the heart of God.  

      The church without those traditional images gave me stronger sense of closeness to HIM.  As I said, this church revealed the heart of God, but it does worship and display HIS glory by all the animals and plants in the building.  Didn't God create all of them? Didn't God architect all of them with great mystery and power, which are yet for us too learn and discover?  Gaudi with his amazing observations, he discovered those unseen mysteries of the nature, and he put them into his design. Consequently, he created those magnificent building; to me, this building is much greater than any church that I see, it isn't only displaying the grandeur of this building; but most important of all, the heart of God. 

      I'm wondering that I'm liking this building so much because I have a same sense and attitude towards nature.  I always think that we need to respect the nature; not just by saying but putting them into practise.  I don’t worship the nature, as nature is the products of God.  But as the all are made and created by God; I believe that God revealed His heart, characters, and nature in his work.  As I said before, Art reflects a nature of one true self.  If we really want to know who God is, we will know by looking around his creation!  Therefore, respect His work is to show respect to God! Gaudi did beyond that.  He respected and then  watched, observed, studied, and then applied what he knows about architecture into his work; he melt all nature ability, power with His knowledge and creativity and respect together to create this magnificent building.  That's why, by all mean…. It is the greatest church for me.  Thank You God for showing him to me.  I always think my stubbornness on nature is odd, finding that there are probably not that many people, including Gaudi, it makes me feeling much more like a normal person now. 

      Passion Façade, where I started my tour in this magnificent church.  The name of the façade says what this entrance is all about.  What more to say when we see the story of Christ who giving up his life for all sinners in the world.  This façade was completed 1954, after Gaudi death.  Architect Jordi Bonet took over the project and Josep Maria Subirachs created the giant sculptures in this façade.  Some said that they are too far off from Gaudi's idea.  However, I found that Gaudi probably like the interpretation; I find that 2 styles did melt together in a great way.  I'm still touched by the great love displayed in this façade.  For me, I'm even  having a greater joy to see that Jesus' look is not fixed in one certain look. 

      I just simply can't wait for it's to complete (est in year 2026-2030).  What is it going to be like?? It's good to know that there is a church always there to warmth mankind's heart with HIS LOVE and welcoming spirit.  Thank you God for showing these to me!

      Day 2 is about Lost and Found...

      I woke up with tummy discomfort. Oh! No... you may say. It's the last thing you would want to have in travelling, tummy problem.  But when you are sick, you are sick and I was still thankful that I was able to walk around instead of being bed bound.  So, I went to La Sagrada Familia, to start my day.  My original itinerary for today was:
      1. La Sagrada Familia, Sagrada Familia
      2. La Pedrera (Casa Mila), Diagonal
      3. Casa Batllo, Passeig de Gracia
      4. Casa Amatller, Passeig de Gracia
      5. Palau Guell, Drassanes
      6. Casa Museum Gaudi, Lesseps
      7. Parc Guell, Vallcarca
       as I said..a day full of Gaudi works.  But it turned out the day became La Sagrada Familia and Police station.

      What happen?
       I was pick-pocketed

      How could this happen?? 
      I was in the shop, trying to figuring out what to get as for presents for Alice in the shop and wondering on my uncomfortable tummy.   Next minute… as I was approaching to the casher drawer, and realised… Where is my travel wallet which was in the hand bag ?? GONE! i.e. Money in cash, credit cards card and passport!!!

      What?? I had a minute just standing over there trying to figure that out! It's GONE? Really?? Oh NO!! And panic just came straight at me! I need to tell someone about it...  

      Information desk 
      Me: Hello! I'm being pick-pocketed! All cards, cash and passport are gone!
      The girl in the information desk:  Then you are better going to the police station…
      Me: Where??
      The girl in the information desk: I show you… map??

      So she gave me the direction and I went to pay my unexpected visit to the Spanish Police station, with leaving my mobile number behind.  The girl in the information desk said that it's possible the wallet will be found with all the document, but cash will be gone.  In my heart, I was thinking… "Really?? How possible is can be?? Beside, you are not even asking me for the description of it.  How likely it is??"
      But I did go to police station and made a report (there around 1330 hours).  The policewoman who dealt with my case found that the place of event was in the shop of La Sagrada Familia, she went, 'classic, huh?'.  With her limited English, she still can make this kind of comment, then I truly know how classic it is.

      I made loads of phone call to cancel my cards, and most importantly the Australia consulate for my passport.  To say the consulate is there to help their fellow citizens, BOOOOOOOOBOOOOOOO! I needed to call all the way to Madrid as the one in the Barcelona only opened 2 hours in a day (handy! NOT).  And my first connection was cut off by them;  luckily, my second connection made through and that fela basically advised me to go straight to Madrid to get the cost of 98 Euro emergency passport back to UK.  However, in Barcelona, it will take up to 3 days to arrive; they can try to get one done immediately in Madrid.  The question is, how I can get there?? The guy in the consulate went 'Just jump on the train'.  What?? Do you know how far it's between Madrid and Barcelona?? And how much it costs?? Beside, what about my UK visa?? How I can get that to go back to UK?? Well… it is a question to answer after the passport, so I need to make the decision, staying in BCN or going to Madrid??  Don't know!!

      After 2-3 hours in the police station, I really don’t know what to do.   I was waiting and hoping to hear some news from Sagrada Familia, but actually I didn't know what I should be doing.. Continue the plan or heading back to the hostel?? Sigh! No mood for the traveling actually… so I decided to go back to hostel.  As I passed the 2nd metro station, my mobile rang...

      The girl on the phone: Miss MaayySSzzzz Chang..
      Me: Yes…
      The girl on the phone: It is a call from Sagrada Familia..
      I was quiet for a minute, not that I was waiting for what she got to say; but because I wasn't sure what she said that she is from.  But I only had give the number to the information task in BCN; so I assumed it is her.
      Me: Did you find my wallet?
      The girl on the phone: Yes
      Me: Ok.. I'm going back to get it now!

      Horray!!! It did happen!! My wallet was found at the end in a toilet. Cash is gone (10 Euro in total) but all my cards and passport is still here! Tears are running around my eyes! I was truly relieved when I found my passport.  Thinking that all the hassle in  getting an emergency passport, cancelling my flight to another time… Praise God for protecting my belonging!!! I can't help but realising that HE is truly in control, not only about losing the wallet, but also finding it and controlling myself in all these.  Thank God!!

      It was a 5 hour panic! But at least my passport is found, what I have I learnt:
      1. Separate the passport with cash… I should use the hidden pocket and tuck it in my pant or something.  Anyway, no passport with Cash
      2. Should use the hidden pocket
      3. ZIP up everything.  I can't remember how it happened; but the zip mustn't be up completely as I was changing lens with my handbag.. That's why it wasn't zipped up properly.  NO zip up, opportunity given! So, yes.. I admitted that it's my mistake
      Always learn a valuable lesson in the hard way. But at least, it's here!!!  

      Barcelona is about sick, lost, found, beauty...4am.

      Finally, I'm able to sit down and collect myself to relook my trip in Barcelona.  This trip has certainly much more than I was hoping.  It is very rightly to summarize the trip by these words, sick, lost, found, beauty and 4am in order.

      I think this trip is one of the most trip had the most expected elements, which making it so unique.

      Day 1... sick is because I was coughing and tummy pain...
      Yes.  It all started with coughing.  Cough was my companion all the way to Barcelona. I had this coughs before trip which made me sound horrible.  It was massive big coughs that everyone would stare at me for a good 1 minute. Despite my horrible coughs, I managed to go to see Mr Picasso, who actually spent 10 years of his life in this city.  Visiting his museum was quite an invitation for me, to know more about his work, and him, as a person.  

      Among all his works, the 'Las Meninas',   definitely is the most inspiring one to me.  He had drawn a series of paintings based on his very own interpretation of the work from Diego Rodriguez's ' La Familia de Felipe IV' . The series of Las Meninas are relatively much more abstract than the original one.  But what this series of painting teach me that, being original, interpret the work and express them in MY way, not Rodriguez and even Picasso.  For me,  it takes gut to do so… as I know that I haven't had the guts to do it.  Maybe, it's the inspiration, to push me slight more further. Maybe, it's time to get out of my whole realistic drawing.

      After Picasso, I due to my hostel bed and decided to have a whole Gaudi day.  Who knows that I had a day which was totally out of my plan.