Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Ode to Rabbits*

DISCLAIMER: this is another blog post that centers on running.  I'm going to have to work much harder at balancing my running-related posts with more references to squat toilets.

I've blogged before about my running proclivities, including my preference for running on routes that minimize running circuits or repeating any part of a route on a single run.  Living where we do for the last year has been mentally taxing because I have very little choice but to run circuits, and it leads to random and otherwise odd thoughts (more so than I had when running in the United States, at least as far as I remember).

There is one advantage I've found to running loops around the Nichada lake, however, and that is the availability of unsuspecting rabbits.  If you are somewhat familiar with greyhound racing then you will understand my use of the term "rabbit."  In that particular form of "entertainment" (I use the term loosely, as I'm pretty sure those graceful dogs would actually rather do something else, like water a tree), the muzzled greyhounds race around a track chasing what in the sport is called a "lure," which traditionally is some form of rabbit.

Because I run alone I have to find ways to push myself to run harder/faster, and one way I do that is by tagging someone as a "rabbit."  Around here that is usually someone running the opposite direction as I am who passes me somewhere near--but not too near--my turnaround point (I will run all the way around the lake, then turn around and retrace my steps in the opposite direction).  My goal is then to catch up with and pass the rabbit who doesn't know they are a rabbit before our paths diverge (either they get to their home or I go left to head home and they head right for another lap around the lake).  This works on the supposition that said rabbit is running laps around the lake and they don't live in one of the housing complexes on the route and will get home before I catch them.

I have found this method to be quite effective in pushing me to run faster, particularly on the final stretches of my runs where it is often easiest to start coasting ("I've already been running for xx minutes, I can slack a little here at the end!").  Because I am something of a geek, a couple of years ago I created a spreadsheet to help track my runs; it's allowed me to plot my progression, see where I'm stronger/weaker, when I'm feeling good, when I'm feeling really slow, etc.  Because of this tool I have proof that I am on average significantly faster on sections where I'm chasing a rabbit.  I'm still not getting to the ridiculous kind of splits I had when I first started running distance with my BYU roommate Rob back in 1995-95, but I'm getting much faster than I was even two years ago.  Not that it's anything to brag about, I'm still a horrendously slow white fella.

But the best rabbit I've ever chased, hands down, is Mali.  It's only happened once, because I can only think of two times where she's been out exercising at the same time that I've been out for a run (I typically run later in the evening, she tends to go out with her girlfriends earlier).  There was just something about chasing that woman down that was so, so...well, this is a family blog and I think I better not say anymore.

*Please don't confuse my reference to rabbits with the Lao/Thai phrase ໄປຍິງກະຕ່າຍ/ไปยิงกระต่าย, which literally translated is "go shoot a rabbit."  It's a quasi-polite/silly way to say that a man is going to urinate.  Women cannot shoot rabbits.  They get to ไปเก็บดอกไม้ or "go pick daisies."  There's your language lesson for the day.  Don't say I never taught you anything.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Commuting Like a Local

Since we got here a year ago I've wanted to get on one of these Bangkok Metropolitan Transportation Authority (BMTA) commuter vans to come home at least once.  I figured it would be fairly entertaining to squeeze myself into one of these with many Thais who use them every day as their principle form of transport to and from work.  You see them all over the expressway, so I figured that one day I would take advantage of their availability and ride one home.  A couple of weeks ago that day finally came.  Allow me to set the stage.

I worked late and I had missed the last shuttle van back home, so I walked down to the Skytrain station at Chit Lom.  I have learned that it is difficult, if not almost impossible, to get a taxi near the Embassy that is willing to take me all the way to where we live, so I usually hoof it to the train and get off further up the line.  Anyway, as I got close to the BTS station it started to rain.  My previous post described what it can be like in Bangkok during the monsoon season, so it was no surprise that the trains were very quickly full.  I couldn't get on a train at Chit Lom, so I waddled down the Skywalk to the Siam station--it's a transfer point between the two BTS lines, so a lot of people get off each train and a whole bunch get on.  I got into the scrum of humanity and still had to wait for FOUR trains before I got on board, and that was packed like sardines.

Per my usual practice I got off the Skytrain at Victory Monument and descended to the street level to catch a taxi.  Normally I can get a taxi in two minutes or less, but even though the rain wasn't coming down in buckets there were quite simply no taxis available.  I knew that my chance to ride the BMTA van had finally arrived!

Those of you who have seen Victory Monument, you know that it is a giant traffic circle, and all around are pick-up/drop-off spots for shuttle vans and buses that run all over the greater Bangkok metropolitan area.  It's simply a matter of finding the place for the line you want to catch.  So I started walking around the traffic circle, looking for the vans that said ปากเกร็ด (Pakkret, the district in which we live).

Did I mention that the vans do NOT have their destinations written in English?  Oh, wait a second--I can read Thai.  Problem.  Solved.

I only had to walk about halfway around the traffic circle to find the pick-up spot for our area.  I spotted a guy there who looked like he knew what was going on, and asked him first if the van was going where I wanted.  He said it was, so I asked how to get a ticket for this particular van.  He told me to pay after I got on.  Sweet.  Of the 17 people on the van, I was the only non-Thai.  That's right SEVENTEEN people (including the driver).  The shuttle vans that I normally ride are exactly the same on the outside, but our vans only seat 10 passengers, 11 in a pinch. Where our vans have three rows and seat three people in each row, the Thai commuter vans have four rows and two of them seat four people.  It helps that the average Thai is much narrower in body than the typical American embassy employee.  Now I'm no economist, but I believe that is maximizing profits and efficient use of resources.

Here's the best part.  After I sat down they passed a basket around for the fare, a paltry 25 baht.  TWENTY-FIVE BAHT.  Do you know how much it costs to get a taxi from Victory Monument to our place?  Including the expressway tolls it's about 250 baht.  Again, I'm no economist, but that's a difference of 10 times (right?).  So, tell me, why on earth would I ever pay 10 times as much for my commute?  I mean besides the fact that the van drops me off at Central Chaengwattana and I have to call Mali to come pick me up there (especially when it's raining), or the fact that the BMTA vans stop running sometime around 9 p.m.?  And that's only a problem if I work really, really late, at which point it's worth it for the taxi because they get me home so quickly.  Anyway, I only had 100 baht bills, so I had to take my change from the basket, and it honestly felt a little weird, but I forgot my guilt as soon as we got out of the traffic circle and on our way. 

Oh, and just like the shuttle vans I usually ride, most of the passengers fell asleep shortly after the van got onto the expressway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not-so-Random Thought While Running

In the spirit of my previous post (has it really been over a month?), I had another interesting experience while running tonight.  In fact, I have a couple more running-related posts percolating in my noggin, which I hopefully will put into the blog sooner rather than later.

But I digress.

It had been threatening to rain all evening, from the time that I dragged my disappointed carcass back from the school (nobody told me that there wouldn't be any soccer at ISB this week) all through my evening run, so it was no surprise to me when I felt a few drops of precipitation.  I still had about two miles left on my planned route, and there was no way I was going to curtail my exercise because of a little rain.

Those of you who have been to Thailand at this time of year know what I mean by "a little rain."  When I say, "a little rain" what I really mean is rain falling from the sky in such voluminous amounts as to make one think about looking up to see where the bucket is that is dumping out that much water, but you don't dare look up because you're afraid that if you do, you'll drown like those turkeys you've heard about.  Yeah, it rains that much here.  It's insane how much water can come out of the sky in so little time.

So anyway, I figured that even if it did start raining while I was running, it wouldn't be long before I would be so wet that I couldn't get any more wet.  It would be physically impossible to any more wet, absent immersing oneself in a body of water.  Remembering my Chemistry 103 class at BYU (so nice I took it twice, in 1992 and again in 1994--it helped convince me that I really needed a major that didn't involve hard science or math), I knew the term I was looking for was "saturated."  As I kept running I remembered also that certain chemical compounds could actually be super-saturated, and I wondered if a human could get super-saturated while running in the rain.  These are the genius thoughts that run through my head while running sometimes.  Scary, ain't it.

Being the trained analyst and naturally curious fella that I am, I started thinking about how I would actually go about seeing if a human body could get super-saturated.  One big factor is that I am not a chemical compound, but rather a highly complex carbon-based human organism, so I figured that first you'd have to figure out the rate of rainwater absorption for the largest organ of the human body, the skin.  Then you'd have to factor in the rate of perspiration and vapor loss from breathing during exercise for a 37-year old white male like myself running in an excessively humid tropical climate like the Bangkok suburbs.  I figured the next step would then be to find some mathematical formula that calculates the difference between those two, throw in a few fancy phrases like "tangent" and "multivariable analysis" and do something with one of those huge Texas Instrument graphing calculators, and...

...and then I remembered that I've been in water for some crazy amount of time like two hours (swimming pool, lake, ocean, etc.) and the only thing that happened was that the tips of my fingers and toes got wrinkled.  By then I was home, my run was over, so I forgot all about super-saturation of the human body, stretched with minimal mosquito interference, and went in and took a shower.

I will say this about running in the rain, though--the soles of my feet have never been so clean without soap.