Monday 27 November 2017

Running the Big Walk again (2017 edition)

The last time I joined the Big Walk was during SG50.

I ran to be first across the finish line, but didn't get directions because I wasn't wearing the Big Walk T-shirt and went the wrong way and ended up not first.

Yesterday morning, I wore the T-shirt but still ended up fourth (I think).

That was because I arrived at the start line too late and was stuck behind too many walkers.

For the first time, I saw President Halimah Yacob, who flagged off the Big Walk this year. She's very short.

A post shared by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

I certainly wasn't the only person running the Big Walk.

I overtook this guy, but then he later overtook me just before the finish line, the bastard.

Total distance: 8.5km.

So it appears my running year isn't over yet.

EARLIER: Running the Jubilee Big Walk: I could've been first, but I didn't wear the T-shirt

Monday 20 November 2017

Japan is trolling us: Rail company apologises for train leaving station 20 seconds early; meanwhile in Singapore...

Dear Japan,

Stop trolling us!

We just barely got over that whole Synonan Gallery thing and now this?

We get it. Your MRT is sooooooooo wonderful.

Last Tuesday, your train operator apologised for “the severe inconvenience imposed upon our customers” not because of a train breakdown,

Not because of train tunnel ponding.

Not because a train “came into contact” with another train with such over-friendliness that dozens of passengers had to go to hospital.

But because a train left a station 20 seconds early.

The horror.

No passenger even complained.

Well, you know what they say: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”

Did your train operator go on Twitter to advise commuters to subtract 20 seconds from their train travel time?

Was the reverse-tardiness linked to a new signalling project? Or is a deep-seated culture the cause?

I suppose that is life.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, last Tuesday was Public Transport Workers’ Appreciation Day, where our Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said to let the recent train tunnel ponding be a “turning point”.

The next day, there was a disruption on each of SMRT’s three lines — the Circle Line, the East-West Line (where the injurious train-to-train contact occurred) and the North-South Line.

I call it a hattrick, but Mr Khaw called it “an awful day”.

Perhaps this could be the new “turning point”.

That is, until the next “awful day”. Or the next. Or the next…

Yes, our train operator just can’t seem to catch a break. We don’t need you to rub its nose in it. We’re doing that ourselves.

On Thursday, SMRT refuted a widely shared post about its CEO firing half of its “night crew”.

The company said on its Facebook page:
“This is obviously fake! How would SMRT have been able to complete the change out of all the power rails and 188,000 sleepers if staff count had indeed been cut so drastically?

“Contrary to what is purported, under SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek’s tenure, the Permanent Way (PWAY) team that looks after our track and track-side infrastructure almost DOUBLED.”

You would think that Singaporeans would at least support SMRT over fake news.

But that would be like expecting the Miss Universe Singapore national costume not to be campy.

One netizen commented: “This line ‘This is obviously fake!’ is very unprofessional of an official page. SMRT media team throwing tantrum?”

Another wrote: “So fast to response to fake news but so slow to solve true problems. This is obviously wrong! We don’t care how many staff you added, face the issues and get it fixed asap!”

And another commenter suggested:
“All they needed to do, was to phrase that single line as: ‘The claims and allegations made against us are simply untrue.’

How hard can that be? Seriously.

“Then again, this is the same SMRT media outlet that refuses to report any delay that doesn’t go beyond 10 mins in recent weeks AND pretend that no delays of that nature affecting pax ever happened on the ground. Not a surprise then.”

Like I said, our SMRT just can’t seem to catch a break. Even its corporate communications have gone off the rails.

As our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said about the recent SMRT mishaps at yesterday’s PAP Convention: “People are frustrated and worried, and understandably so. These incidents should not have happened.”

And he wasn’t talking about trains leaving the station 20 seconds early.

So we don’t need you, Japan, to make us feel worse about it.

We don’t need your Japanese CEO of your Japanese car company Nissan to say last Friday that he will return part of his salary after an inspection scandal led to a recall of 1.2 million Nissan vehicles.

All we got was a bow from our SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming last month.

A post shared by SM Ong (@sm_ong) on

Our transport minister, Mr Khaw, once said: “In Japan, the chairman, the CEO will call a press conference and take a deep bow, and in the good old days, they may even commit hara-kiri.”

Giving up part of your salary is probably more painful.

Although after last week’s non-collision and today’s lightning strike, taking the MRT now feels like you could be committing some form of hara-kiri.

But then our Prime Minister also listed the top four cities in the world for train reliability and Singapore is one of them.

No Japanese city, though.

So who’s trolling who now?

Sayonara and thanks for the Samurai Burger (but not the Ninja Burger).

- Published in The New Paper, 20 November 2017


Why 30-year-old MRT system is looking its age: Rodents and missing cable tabs?

Only now SMRT decides to do 'wide-scale audit'?

Blamed for MRT's problems? Join the club

Sunday 12 November 2017

How my year of halves became my year of injuries (No, I didn't join the Yolo Run)

At the beginning of the year, I proclaimed 2017 my year of half marathons.

Instead, it turned out to my year of injuries.

First, I blew my quad in my left thigh in February.

Then I hurt my Achilles tendon in my right ankle in August.

Because of the latter injury, I had to skip the 8km Choa Chu Kang Big Farm Run in October, the first time I missed a run because of extreme pain.

I joined eight half marathons this year, which is double the four I ran in my 50 years before this.

My goal to was break the 2 hour 40 minute barrier, but that was scuppered by the injuries

Marina Run 21km, February 26
Shoes: Brooks Launch 2

My first night race ever and also my most depressing race ever because it was night.

As I had just recovered from the thigh pain and barely trained, I started the race very, very slowly to conserve energy and avoid walking the last few kilometres.

What I learnt from this race is that no matter how slowly I start, I'm going to hit the wall around 15km anyway and start walking like I always do.

So I might as well go as fast as I comfortably can in the beginning to bank my time and just fade in the last few kilometres.

It was the first time I came in over three hours since my first half marathon in 2013.

An inauspicious start to my running year.

2XU Compression Run 21km, April 2
Shoes: Asics Gel Cumulus 17

I got a painful blister during the last few kilometres but managed to finish under three hours.

What I learnt from this race is never run a half marathon without socks.

Income Eco Run 21km, April 30
Shoes: Altra Paradigm 1.5

Unexpectedly, I came close to breaking the 2 hour 40 minute barrier here. My time was 2h 42m 47s, my best for the year,

I wore socks.

Star Wars Run 10km, May 7
Shoes: Nike Air Zoom Odyssey

My second night race and only 10km road race this year, which I tried to finish in under an hour but failed by 1 minute and 23 seconds.

The fireworks before the flag-off were a treat, though.

The Performance Series - Riverside Walk
21km, May 28

Shoes: Nike Lunarglide 6

It was during this race that I questioned my participation of half marathons because I was just so tired of running.

I was between injuries at this point but still struggled to a lousy 2h 55m 35s finish

Tri-Factor RunSwim Challenge
5.25km run/1km swim/10km run, July 2

Shoes: Nike Lunar 2

My only aquathlon of the year, my fourth overall and possibly my last ever.

I always suck in the swim leg, but the 10km run after the 1km swim was also hard.

My time of 2h 48m 14s was like my half marathon time.

The Performance Series - Punggol 21km, August 13
Shoes: Asics Gel Kayano 22

My first race after getting Achilles tendinitis and my worst half marathon time ever of 3h 8m 48s.

And I had another half marathon seven days later.

Army Half Marathon 21km, August 20
Shoes: Skechers GoRun Ultra 2

Still limping with Achilles tendinitis, I managed to improve over the previous week and finish in 38 seconds under three hours. It's sad that I actually felt good about the result.

Newton Challenge 21km, October 29
Shoes: Newton Aha

No more pain or limping, but with little training because of the injury, I managed a time of only 2h 52m 29s, compared to my personal best of 2h 40m 6s at last year's Newton Challenge.

Salomon X-Trail Run 10km, November 4
Shoes: Under Armour Fat Tire Low

My only trail race of the year. It was only 10km, but I had less than 12 hours to recover before a half marathon the next morning.

The Performance Series - Changi 21km, November 5
Shoes: Asics 33-M 2

Giving myself the excuse that I just ran a race just hours earlier, I didn't even try to make good time and finished my last half marathon of the year in a minute and a half over three hours.

It was pretty much a write-off.

I was tempted to sign up for yesterday's Yolo Run because the race singlet and tee look cool, but I didn't want to join yet another race around the Marina Bay area.

And as it turned out, I was lucky I didn't.

I wish I signed up for next month's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, though, because the half-marathon route goes to some different places, but I have already missed the early bird deadline.

Maybe next year.

Unless I get injured again.


I did join the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon because I found someone selling his half-marathon slot for less than the early-bird rate two weeks before the race.

Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 21km, December 3
Shoes: Hoka One One Clifton 3

I considered this a "fun run", meaning I didn't care about my time. (My time was just 41 seconds over three hours.)

Saturday 11 November 2017

Why 30-year-old MRT system is looking its age: Rodents and missing cable tabs?

Another week of the news dominated by SMRT — Parliament, 30th anniversary and of course, more breakdowns.

And that's just the mainstream media,

Online, there are supposed behind-the-scene revelations from alleged insiders.

Disclaimer: This could all be "fake news", so read on at your own peril.

What is wrong with SMRT

Well written but not many people know the issues plaguing SMRT.

Before Saw became CEO, 2/3 of the SMRT workforce worked in the Permanent Wave; that's night shift to people who don't know. 11pm to 7am; non-rotating shift.

These were majority engineers, technicians. Most with Diplomas and a few with Bachelors.

When Saw became CEO, on the recommendation of the Board of Directors, she fired 25% of the night staff. Not so bad, but what happened was the night shift guys had to prioritize workload.

Still not so bad.

Desmond stepped in and fired 50% of the Night Crew. So the original 100% is down to 35%

Now they have severe issues.

And those who were fired had been in SMRT from the beginning making a lot of money, and doing the same job as a brand new Poly Grad.

Here lies the problem. Poly Grad = S$1600. SMRT entrenched with 10-15years S$5400. Yet Day in day out they're doing the same thing⁉

Not so. That 10-15 year old man can hear the train and tell you what's wrong. The Poly grad doesn't know squeak from squawk.

And when these oldies were chopped. They removed all the Cable Tabs which would tell a normal person, where the wire comes from and where it terminated.

All the cables in SMRT are insulated and waterproof, but when Saw brought in retail, it caused a rodent problem in SMRT.

Rats were eating into the water insulations and cable insulation. Worse, some of these cables are completely sealed off. Meaning they don't require maintenance for 25-50 years.

But the rat infestation caused leaks, and now water has seeped in and with it dirt and tiny creatures which have been causing all those Signaling issues.

The SMRT brought in a consultant. He asked SMRT to shut down for a month so they could trace every single wire and cable; replace and retag all of them.

SMRT has said NO.

UPDATE: SMRT has refuted the post:
Some of you may have seen this online report on SMRT.

This is obviously fake! How would SMRT have been able to complete the change out of all the power rails and 188,000 sleepers if staff count had indeed been cut so drastically?

Contrary to what is purported, under SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek’s tenure, the Permanent Way (PWAY) team that looks after our track and track-side infrastructure almost DOUBLED.

It grew from 206 staff to 395 staff from 31 December 2010 till 30 September this year.

The number of night shift workers also increased by 65% with more permanent night shift staff added to the North-South and East-West Lines in the same period.

The number of personnel carrying out maintenance work is even more when one adds external contract workers who augment the permanent staff on the tracks.

Note that SMRT addressed only the part about staff numbers in the first half of the post and not the cable insulation issue and rat infestation brought up in the second half.

SMRT has also yet to refute this other post from SGtalk:
A ex consultant leaked this on mrt breakdown.

He says too many people there, don't know what is going on. He was trying to look at the drawing on the cables and no one knows what the cables are for.

He dig up old drawings and even get his men down to look at the cables, no one can tell him what the cables are.

The cables are old and worn out. He needs to know what it is for, before recommending them to be replaced or decommissioned.

He tried asking around. No one can tell him what to do. This endless cycle of looking at cables and trying to figure out what to do drag on and on.

Have you ever notice, new mrt lines are given to new contractors. He told me mentioning the circle line. It is obvious, the previous team heading the old lines are not doing well. He shake his head. Given there are only 3-4 hours each night to review the maintenance of the lines, how to get things done. How to solve problems when no details on how to solve them.

He don't want to come out in public on this. He says its only a matter of time before we see more breakdowns.

Machines needs to rest. You can't expect mrt to run everyday with only 3-4 hours for maintenance and don't breakdown. What about redundancy in work processes? You can shut down a line and get another line to run to cover? The ex consultant says this mrt system has critical issues. There is just too many problems and too many people don't know yet pretend to know. How many times he went into mrt meetings, only to get rebutted that it is not possible. He says, fixed it by doing a thorough check. You can't just do patch work, everytime there is a problem. By doing a thorough check, you can uncover more potential problems.

No, cannot shutdown the mrt line for maintenance. This is the what mrt engineers told him

He shaked his head everytime he says he went for mrt meetings. Mrt meetings are a drag. No one wants to put their head on the chopping block to recommend a complete shutdown for repairs.

He claims, he decided its better this consultant job be given to others. He quitted.

A common theme in these two posts is that the MRT needs to be shut down for longer periods for proper maintenance, but SMRT was resistant.

Well, this week, it was reported that daily train service may start later and end earlier to facilitate maintenance. So that lends some credibility to the posts.

For more purported insider dirt, there's also this article at The Online Citizen: Desmond Kuek’s resignation will not solve SMRT’s maintenance problem and its deep-rooted cultural issues

Monday 6 November 2017

Copied & pasted: Only now SMRT decides to do 'wide-scale audit'?

Dear Facebook friends,

Certainly, in the most difficult moments of life, you realise who are your true friends or the people who really appreciate you.

Unfortunately, for most friendships, they will leave you but still send you a "like", but in reality, they do not take time to read your status if they see it's lengthy.

That’s why they should just stick to Twitter since they have the short attention span of a US President.

More than half will stop reading right here, or have already scrolled on to the next post in their feed about Miss Malaysia dressed as nasi lemak for her national costume.

What is this, Halloween or a McDonald’s burger?

I decided to post this article in support of a very special group of people who are fighting train delays with firmness and energy.

Who taught us how to live each day praying it would be the happiest day because there would no MRT breakdown!

Who have filled the world with track faults and deep-seated cultural issues.

Now I'm watching the ones who will have time to read this post until the end instead of binge-watching Stranger Things 2 on Netflix.

This is a little test, just to see who reads, and who shares without reading.

If you have read everything so far, select “like” so I can put a thank you in your profile.

Train delays are very pervasive and disruptive to our public transport system.

Even after the Bishan tunnel flooding three weeks ago, SMRT is still fighting with itself, trying to reconstruct what happened.

Last week, after discovering that maintenance records have been falsified possibly since last December, SMRT resorted to offering “amnesty” to employees who voluntarily fess up to eating snake before a “wide-scale audit”.

And you thought Kevin Spacey created a toxic work environment on the set of House Of Cards.

With the employees from SMRT's building and facilities department having come forward that we know of, it appears SMRT is itself a house of cards.

Who knows what other lapses will be uncovered?

Getting too much water in the tunnel has turned out to be a watershed for SMRT.

Even Parliament will be discussing the flooding tomorrow.

My question is, why is this “wide-scale audit” happening only now?

What took so long?

Mr Khaw Boon Wan has been Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport since 2015.

Mr Desmond Quek has been CEO of SMRT since 2012.

In 2012, there was actually a Committee of Inquiry ordered by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong because of two major disruptions in December 2011, which was when “free bridging bus service” started becoming a thing.

But the lapses don’t just result in train delays.

Since 2010, there have been at least three cases of vandalism at SMRT train depots.

More tragically, two SMRT employees were killed last year while working on the tracks and this wasn’t even the first time.

In 2010, an LRT technician died after he was hit by a train and his widow sued SMRT for negligence two years later.

But it took a flooding to open the flood gates?

Last week, the Public Transport Council announced that after its latest review, there will be no fare hike.

Considering the circumstances, there better not be.

Do we have SMRT’s ineptitude to thank for that?

So please, in honor of SMRT, copy and paste on your page this text.

Friends all say: "If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me, I'll be there to help you."

So I'm going to make a bet that most people who see this post (maybe even read all the way to the end) won't, but I believe a select few of my friends will post this, to show their support for SMRT.

I'd like to know who I can count on to take a minute out of their day while queuing for the iPhone X and actually read my Facebook status.

You just have to copy (not share) and paste. Then write "done" in the comments.

Thank you.

I’ll name a floating platform after you.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 November 2017

Dear Mr Ong,

Good morning! I have enjoyed reading your article with regard to SMRT. I felt strongly that the CEO Mr Desmond Kuek should step down as soon as possible. The previous CEO (Ms Saw) have also step down to take responsibility for the frequent train breakdowns. This time the situation is much worse and more frequent breakdown. He cannot just blame the staff as CEO he should take responsibility and step down. The CEO have been keeping quite until the recent major breakdown. He have totally no experience to run the SMRT as he just a general in the army. I am waiting for him to get his service terminated.

I hope you can continue to write more articles with regard to SMRT frequent breakdown and hopefully the CEO will step down gracefully.

Thank you very much. Have a blessed week ahead.

Best regard,

Sunday 5 November 2017

Salomon X-Trail & Performance Series Changi: Two races in 15 hours

Once, I mistakenly signed up for two races on the same morning. I just forfeited one of them.

Another time, I signed up for two races (a 13km trail race and a 10km “farm” run) on consecutive mornings.

But this weekend, I topped that by unwittingly signing for the 10km Salomon X-Trail Run on Saturday afternoon and The Performance Series Changi half marathon the following morning.

And this was after completing another half marathon the previous Sunday.

It had been an intense week.

What happened was that the Salomon X-Trail Run was originally in October, but by the time registration opened, it was changed to a month later and I signed up without checking the date.

This meant I covered 31km in two races in 15 hours with barely any sleep.

That was overdoing it a bit for a 51-year-old slightly overweight office worker who just recovered from Achilles tendinitis.

I'm in a daze as I write this.

Saturday, 4pm: Salomon X-Trail Run

I sort of swore off trail races because I don't enjoy running in muddy conditions in single file.

But I've never joined the Salomon X-Trail Run before and it's more than year since my last trail race. I kinda missed it.

As long as it wasn't at MacRitchie, I was willing to give it a go.

The starting line was at the Old Bukit Timah Railway Station.

Flag-off was 4pm, but I was in the second wave which started 15 minutes later.

Yes, I stepped deep into some mud, but having run in the area before, I was expecting it.

I tripped and fell not on the trail but approaching a bus stop at Bukit Timah Road, which was embarrassing.

Saving myself for my next race in less than 12 hours, I came in at about one and a quarter hours (nett time).

Sunday, 5am: The Performance Series - Changi

At 3.30am, I took the shuttle bus from Choa Chu Kang to the race venue, which was literally at the end of Singapore.

The race village was inside the Changi Exhibition Centre, which I had never been.

The race route was essentially Tanah Merah Coast Road, which is just a long, straight, flat road.

It was the most unscenic route ever.

But after negotiating the gnarly trails and steep slopes around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve the day before, running on a long, straight, flat road with no scenary felt almost zen.

My frequent complaint about The Performance Series routes has been that they tend to be too narrow. At least that was not the case here.

I had never drank so much Lucozade in my life, both at the Salomon X-Trail Run and here.

My time was just over three hours.

Three races (Newton, Salomon and Changi) and 52km in eight days.

I really need to sleep.