Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Vibram FiveFingers Part 1: The Adjustment Phase

Leading up to my trip abroad, I came across an article on reviewing the Vibram FiveFingers: For some time I've been interested in running shoes; they're usually sinfully ugly and bulky, any genuine innovation in this space beyond adding a Nike-esque set of springs in the heels is welcome. Vibram finally came up with something new that in fact harkens back to something old: running barefoot.

The article caught my attention particularly for the reason that I would soon be travelling, and lugging around a massive set of running shoes is not that an attractive a proposition. The FiveFingers are very compact and require no socks, thereby clearing luggage space for all manner of junk acquired on a trip to Australia and Southeast Asia. The only major drawback is that the FiveFingers get a lot of weird looks and they take some adjusting.

And oh, do they take some adjusting. I picked them up just before I left from the lone store in San Francisco that actually carries them. They got their break-in on the treadmill at the gym and the instant result was calf agony. Generally speaking, my calves are in good shape, but after about two mile's worth of running in the FiveFingers it felt as if my calf muscles had completely seized up. I place a lot of trust in my body—aside from my hair follicles—and let the lactic acid clear over the next day or so. Given sufficient time, I figured my calves would adapt to the new gait imposed by the shoes. The next day I took the FiveFingers to the gym again in an effort to build up the leg strength. Gradually I got there, but that's when the next phase of adaptation set in.

Something clearly spelled out by people familiar with the FiveFingers is that they will stretch the tendons in your feet. Moreover, there are muscles in the foot that don't get worked in the same way when using standard running shoes as when using the FiveFingers. There's a whole lot more going on when essentially getting around in bare feet, and the result is a lot of discomfort. I followed the rules and slowly built up the mileage. While on the trip to Singapore and Jakarta, I dutifully squeezed in a couple of miles a day, providing my feet with ample time to explore what it takes to run in the FiveFingers. My arches ached after each workout, but it felt like something good was happening so I persisted. Towards the end of my week in Jakarta I felt confident of upping the mileage, so when I lobbed back in Sydney I took on what is perhaps my favourite run in the world: the Bondi to Coogee run.

The Bondi to Coogee run clocks in at about the 7 mile mark, I think—I've never measured or timed it but that's what it feels like to me. Slipping on the FiveFingers I took to the trail yesterday. I felt strong, full of energy. The miles slipped past and at each potential turnabout I forged ahead, reminding myself at each point that the run is an out-and-back, and that each mile I run on the outward bound leg is the same number I'll have to run on the way back. But I felt good so I did it.

During the latter third the foot soreness kicked it. Unlike most running injuries I've encountered in the past, the pain wasn't something that felt catastrophic; rather it felt like the strain or tightness one might feel in the quads after a long period of disuse. It was obvious that I'd finish the run well, but the next day would be full of agony.

And that's what happened. I awoke this morning with feet that burned slightly above the arches. Placing my full weight on them was difficult but possible, and after an hour or so of ambling about I felt much better. I'm confident that I'll eventually reach an adequate point of comfort, but for the time being I'll have to contend with more tendon and muscle stretching.

Tomorrow I'll head out for another run, althought this time I'll peg the mileage back a little. The lungs are willing but the feet are week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lunch at the Hawker Stand

The week in Singapore has largely gone well; the weather has remained consistently steamy and the need to wear undershirts has never quite been so critical. Amongst the facets of Singaporean life that have become most clear are the following: the country is run like a corporation and there's little else to do here other than go shopping and eat. The latter point is not necessarily intended to disparage Singapore, the country is a tiny island and there are only so many ways to create entertainment in such a confined area. To that end, Singapore has decided to make air conditioned malls its primary attraction—and, of course, its hawker stands.

On more than one occasion I've made the right decision to ditch the comforts of a climate controlled restaurant for a hawker vendor. The food is usually of a better quality and the price clocks in at about a third of what one would pay at a place more attractive to pampered western tastes. Nonetheless, a few of the people travelling with me on this trip continue to shun the more authentic experience in favor of comfort. So be it, they can have their trip and I'll have mine. For example, take yesterday's lunch. We had a few minutes on our hands prior to visiting the SingTel offices near Orchard Road. On a nearby street lay a strip of restaurants capped at the end with hawkers. We strolled the length, surveying what each place had to offer: Thai, curries and supposedly good Japanese food. Then we reached the hawkers. Kway teow, laksa and murtabak, they had pretty much everything I wanted to consume. While my enthusiasm for planting my backside on a plastic seat in the midday heat as I slurped down a bowl of laksa was evident, it wasn't shared by the rest of the group. "We're going to go to the Japanese place," they said, "we don't think we can handle being outside."

"Fair enough," I replied, "but I'm going to eat here." They left me alone. Was I unhappy that I'd been ditched? Not a bit. For $3 I snagged a bowl of laksa and relished every minute of it. The clams swam in a perfectly spiced coconut milk gravy while I did my utmost to stop the noodles from whiplashing the sauce onto my white shirt. I failed in my efforts to remain clean but accepted the orange marks an occupational hazard. The meal met every expectation.

Once the meal was done I went in search of the rest of the group but couldn't find them. I had no idea where they'd gone. As we reconvened after lunch we traded tales of what we ate. It turns out the rest of group chose the Thai place instead of the Japanese restaurant. The service was sluggish and the food was expensive and of poor quality. Somewhere inside me a vindicated voice shouted "yes!".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In Singapore Part 1

I made it to Singapore today. The flight from Sydney was pretty uneventful, and that's the way flights should be.

Just after I rolled into the hotel I heard one of my classmates call out to me. She and another classmate on the trip were planning to visit the night safari, which on the surface seemed like a cheesy thing to do, but as it turns out, it's actually pretty interesting. Singapore's done a good job of arraying a pretty broad selection of Asian beasties, ranging from rhinoceroses to leopards. Sure, the price isn't exactly cheap (S$32 for the tram tour) but it's ultimately worth the dosh.

Tomorrow morning's schedule is free; we don't have to be anywhere until 1pm, whereupon we'll be visiting a local law firm. Great, bring on the lawyers.

Right now I'm knocking off my third can of Tiger beer. There's a 7-11 over the road selling six packs for about S$15. That's a fair price and it sure beats the hotel's minibar.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Good Friday! Let's Bake!

So as an expat Australian I'm forced to suffer certain indignities. One such transgression is the criminal absence of hot cross buns from the store shelves in the week leading up to Good Friday. Now I'm hardly a religiously observant man, but when Easter comes around I want my fucking buns! It's like Christmas without the Christmas pudding. It's just not right. Cats would chase dogs and we'd be living in Bizarro world.

Right now, stage one is complete. The dough has been mixed and risen once. The individual buns have been placed in the pan and are now slowly rising, ever so gradually puffing up via the miracle of chemistry into their final fluffy shapes. More to follow...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mitch McConnell vs Pan's Labyrinth

Something's been on my mind ever since both the success of Pan's Labyrinth and the emergence of Mitch McConnell on the national political stage: Mitch reminds me a hell of a lot of the saggy-skinned, kid-eating monster from the afore mentioned movie. Check the pictures.

And then there's the monster from Pan's Labyrinth. Who can tell them apart?

Monday, March 16, 2009

More On the Transfer

Last Tuesday I had the interview to transfer to the full time program. Unlike interviewing to gain acceptance the first time around, this little exercise in self-indulgent blather about oneself was much less nerve wracking—much more a general chin-wag. All told I think it went well, although if I did what I was supposed to do and impressed the person with whom I interviewed, I'll be left having to make a decision and that's not something I'm necessarily looking forward to doing.

The problem is that I kind of like my current predicament; I've got oodles of time on my hands to dive into my studies and I feel a strong connection with the rest of my class. Switching to an all day, full time regimen will ruin both of those little comfort spots. The playing field will be levelled and I'll no longer be the sole person in class who's done the homework and researched the cases.

Then there's the prospect of actually finding meaningful employment once again. After taking the last week or so off to focus squarely on annihilating the exams I sat last Saturday, I cast a couple of applications out into the ether today. There's no reason to believe that they'll illicit a response any different to what has transpired in the past: silence. You know, were it not for all the pressure of study I'd probably be quite depressed right now.

And when is that ridiculous Selective Service status letter going to arrive? I can't keep paying for this education out of pocket like I've been doing. It's killing me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Going Full Time

It's been seven months and something has to give. Since June I've been on the warpath, searching for a better way to fill the hours between 8am and 5pm without any luck. In fact today I uncovered a job opening at Adobe. With the help of an inside operative I discovered the status of the job: an offer was about to be extended and the person was going to take it. This is a common script, one that has played out for me over and over in the wake of my layoff.

So what's next? The MBA studies have keep my brain afloat and lent purpose to what might otherwise have been very aimless and purposeless days. Perhaps it's time to embrace that frame of mind to its fullest extent. Perhaps it's time I jumped off the weekend MBA train and went full time. It's something I'm seriously considering.

Honestly, I'm doing more than considering it—I'm going to do it; apply that is. Around five transfer spots are made available each year for evening and weekend students who for whatever reason would like to make the hop. Don't think of it as a sure shot, it's not. The transfer requires the completion of forms describing the reason for the request, explaining in detailed terms exactly what the prospective full time student might bring to the program. While the powers that be are considerate enough for forgo another round of GMAT examinations (rejoice!), the process is tantamount to a re-application. But I'll do it.

I'm not actually required to accept should I be offered the transfer, but at this juncture I'd probably take it. The tuition fees are significantly cheaper—I could claim in-state rates—I'd be out faster and the career launchpad provided by the program that much more lifting. With the rate at which I'm not finding any interest in my resume that last point is amongst the most attractive. Watching my limited funds dwindle away is far from pleasant. Retreating to the cloisters while the current financial tempest wreaks its havoc might be exactly what I need.