Twenty minutes

Six weeks ago, I signed Marlon and myself up for a beginners’ running group at the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. I wanted a wallet-friendly form of exercise, but am especially bad at running (which is probably why I detested it). So I thought learning how to run “properly” and combining it with a fun group atmosphere would transform my experience of the sport.
So every Thursday at 7:45 pm (except last week when my sister was here), I ran. I quickly grew to enjoy the company of my group—11 warm and friendly Dutchies who had as little experience with running as I did. Rick, our coach, worked in sports for the disabled, a fact that did a lot to put me at ease. I had all my limbs and faculties, didn’t I? So I couldn’t be the worst runner he’d ever met! Rick was patient and kind, always reminding me that everyone has their own pace and I didn’t have to keep up with the others. When you’re perpetually at the tail end of the group, lagging way behind the Dutchies with their endless legs, hearing that can really keep you going.
Last night was our last run, the one we’d been working up to for six weeks: running for 20 minutes straight around the park. If this sounds easy to you, you must already be into running. Back in Singapore, I attempted a “couch to 5k” program where the first level was one minute of jogging alternated with a minute and a half of walking. I would be totally winded after the minute-long jog, and lived for those precious minutes of walking. I never progressed beyond that first level. 
But last night was a breakthrough. After working my way up from 2, 5, 8, 10 then 12 minutes of straight running (no walking allowed!), I was nervous that skipping last week’s 15-minute training would stop me from reaching the goal of the entire course. But it didn’t. Finally, running became easy, automatic even (at least after the first five to seven minutes). And running through a park buzzing with vibrant life all around me, seeing all the Dutchies out in full force to enjoy the spring sunshine with their beers and barbecues… running even became fun. 

When I saw the green fountain (“water post” in Rick’s idiosyncratic English) that marked the end of my 20 minutes, I could not help but break out into a wide grin. Marlon, having seen me at the worst of my running attempts, was so proud of me. 

After a round of high fives, we walked over to the pub at the Amstelveenseweg gate of the Vondelpark to celebrate with a drink. It really did look and feel like a celebration, with a packed open-air terrace and bonfires lit all around. And that beer tasted like the sweetest thing on this good earth.

I also received a certificate from Running Holland. If I ever forget that I was able to run 20 minutes straight and how good I felt afterwards, I have this to remind me!

But why would I forget? Because I signed up for the next course, 6.6km or two to three rounds around the Vondelpark, next May. And I’m looking forward to surprising myself all over again.

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Avoidance

This afternoon I exercised for the first time since November. Yep, it’s been that long—since this whole moving to Amsterdam process first got started, in fact. 
I’d been putting off this workout since we got here. When I first arrived in Amsterdam early January, I resolved to use my time at the serviced apartment by using the in-house gym. Guess how that went. Then when we moved to our permanent address, I got all excited about having the picturesque riverside a few minutes from my doorstep. I told myself every single day that I was going to run. Or at least walk. Tomorrow. Hah! Fat chance (a pun that truly applies to me at this point).
I avoided exercise with an odd, inverted determination. There were a lot of excuses, the cold being my favorite scapegoat. “When I go out in the cold, I burn more calories anyway,” I told myself. E ano kayang ginagawa yung mga cold cuts and cheese sa bahay
Finally, today, I just went out and did it. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on a Heattech top and tights plus a regular hoodie and sweatpants (a 100% Uniqlo outfit), stole Marlon’s Nike GPS thingamajiggie and stuck it in my shoe, and went out.
And found what I had been avoiding all along was actually… not so bad at all. In fact, it was wonderful.
Half jogging, half walking west along the river, I discovered Beatrixpark just minutes from my house. It’s a beautiful open space with long winding paths, duck ponds and large green swathes of grass. I saw lots of doggies bounding along happily, playing catch with their owners, and old ladies sitting all bundled up on park benches with their smiling faces tipped up to the sun. Because of the cold, a kind of fine mist hung in the air, making everything look soft. 
It was another “Is this really my life?” moment. I didn’t feel cold at all and I didn’t really care that my pace was atrociously slow. It felt that good. 
And I realized I avoid a lot of things that turn out to be less painless than I think they’ll be. I think of it as the “hell week” syndrome—you know, back in college when it’s the week before exams and you’re terrified you’re going to flunk or die, but when you’re halfway into it you realize you’re passing and alive and hey, it’s not so bad.
Exercise is one. Housework is another. I never did housework in Singapore, ask Marlon. Getting me to do it is like pulling teeth from a baby lion. But yesterday when the sun streamed in through the windows into my house, it hit me how dirty everything had gotten in the span of a few days. And so I began vacuuming and mopping like a madwoman. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, this really doesn’t take that much time.” And seeing my all-white kitchen just sparkle in the sunlight gave me a domestic thrill that bordered on perverse. Hallelujah, I have seen the light!
I also used to avoid calling clients. And it wasn’t because they were difficult, I just had this strong irrational sense of not wanting to do it. It doesn’t last long, maybe an hour at most; people who’ve worked with me always find me quick to respond and very “on.” But sometimes even if I already found myself on my way to doing it, I would get a heavy, draggy feeling in my chest in those last few seconds before picking up the phone. Then we would have a normal chatty conversation, getting things done, and I would feel like myself and all fired up to work again. Weird huh?
What do you find yourself avoiding lately and why? And how does it turn out when you do get into it?
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So bike me

Recently, Marlon and I put together a list of things we have yet to do in Singapore, made up of things we feel we absolutely must do before we leave (bakit kaya? Umaambisyon lang). On the National Day holiday last Monday, we finally got to cross one item off the list.
That item was “bike at ECP.” East Coast Park is a long stretch of beach on the, you guessed it, east coast of Singapore. It’s really popular for rollerblading, biking (or as they prefer to say here, cycling), camping and good old-fashioned beach bumming. The shores of home have spoiled me for life, so this is far from my top choice for a beach. But since learning how to bike, and biking through wine country in Sonoma last June, I thought I could finally give the bike lanes a try.
After a little online sleuthing, I decided that a worthy goal would have to be a nice way to end the day: a sunset stroll along the scenic boardwalk at Changi Point.  To get there, Marlon and I would cycle through Park Connector Network, a bike/footpath that links East Coast Park to Changi Beach Park. All we had to do was rent a bike from one of the PCN stops along East Coast and drop it off at any of the pit stops on Changi Beach. So we did, and we were off!
East Coast Park was packed with people that day, being a holiday. After a few kilometers of cycling, we slipped out of the crowd and stopped for a big carby lunch at the Mana Mana Beach Club. It was a familiar name from our visits to Bintan—we’d stayed there a couple of times, enjoying the chill vibe and superb wood-fired pizzas. Unfortunately, this was more like Polo Club Seaside Branch, without the pizzas :P
One of the reasons I don’t like East Coast Park is the view. Something about the fleet of ocean tankers parked meters from the shoreline just ruins it for me. I don’t understand how people can swim in this water—not when it’s plain that all these tankers are dumping their waste water into the ocean within swimming distance from you. 
You know how, at our beaches, the ocean gradually deepens to a sapphire blue as you look farther out to sea? Here, it doesn’t. It’s just a flat grayish green, with just a faint tinge of blue, all throughout. I know it’s the only accessible beach for a lot of locals, but for me it just feels like swimming in Manila Bay. I saw a lot of affluent locals and foreigners all dressed up in their flowing boho/tropicana caftans and chunky jewelry and designer flip-flops for this beach; kung ganito lang ang tropical paradise, wag na lang.  
So imagine my wonderment when, biking further and further away from the crowds, we found a beautiful little cove with actual white sand and clear blue water! I was thrilled. Pwedeng pwede na ‘to! There was only one other couple around, plenty of shade and grass, even a little rocky knoll with tufts of grass. Pang-Koreanovela lang. I wouldn’t mind biking back to this lovely secluded cove on another Saturday afternoon for a bit of sunning and swimming.
Tapos, kalbaryo na. Having woken up late, Marlon and I had to cover the longest stretch of road over the hottest hours of the day. But we weren’t the only ones—lots of bikers, a large percentage of them ang moh (Caucasians) whizzed by as we puffed along. I had gotten comfortable enough with biking to enjoy some of the views, like this aqueduct. It almost felt like we weren’t in Singapore. This was definitely a side of the Little Red Dot I’d never seen before.
The planning of the bike path was excellent. With lots of shade from the trees lining the path, and a covered rest stop every 1 to 2 kilometers, it was perfect for an easy-to-tire, newbie biker like me.
The most fun thing about this bike path was that it runs behind the entire length of Changi Airport. So every time I needed to catch my breath, we would plop down at a rest stop and watch the planes take off. 

After what seemed like eons of pedaling, we finally reached the PCN pit stop at Changi Beach Park. And not a moment too soon! If I could have thrown my bike at them, I would have. (Pero mas effort pala yon, LOL.)

And this is the route I cycled! From the blue point below to the blue point on the upper right, or a total distance of 17.9 km. It looks like almost a third of Singapore’s coastline!
Changi Beach was quite homey, a lot less developed and far less packed than East Coast Park. The crowd was mostly local families enjoying a day at the beach, flying kites and barbecuing. The tankers were way further out to sea, which made me feel more at ease about swimming here. 
Then our leader Ben Linus sounded the island-wide alarm, pulling us out of our weekly book club meeting to comb the beach for survivors. LOL!
We decided to take a taxi to Changi Point to make it in time for the sunset. Buti na lang kasi ang layo pala niya kung lakarin o i-bike! I have to say, the boardwalk was one of the nicest places I’ve been in Singapore, and one of the most genuine. Dotted with old-timers fishing and young families taking a late afternoon stroll, the boardwalk felt laid-back, removed from the Singapore I’ve known for the last three years.
Parang Riva del Garda lang!
And true to its promise, golden hour at the boardwalk truly was golden. Other photographers call it the magic hour, and yes, you could say it was magical too.
A section of the boardwalk takes you along a seaside cliff shielded from the sea by trees. This was my favorite part. Frame by backlit leaves and trees, the sunset seemed shrouded in layers of fine black lace woven by Nature’s own hands.
And that’s how Singapore and I bonded on her 45th birthday.
While everyone else was at the big splashy shindig down at the Padang, where we were that evening was absolutely fine with me.

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