Tuesday, September 30

Surviving the Monday

Pfft! And I thought my next post will be about how I survived the weekend when it should be about how I survived this Monday. Woke up at 7am to reach school at 8 plus just to give me enough time to drink my coffee before my tutorials start. The first tutorial group apparently reacted to my threats from the week before and were prepared. The second and third however really got on my nerves. Absolutely no preparation whatsoever. It really annoys me to the point of almost losing it. Anyhow, survived that too. I only threatened them like I did with my first group, so let's see how that will turn out. Students here have an amazing ability of memorizing stuff and an awesome knack of not being able to think. Like when I ask them what are the two types of something, they all answer instantly. But when I ask next what is the difference between them the silence is so silent you can hear a fly scratch itself.

Next came the second episode in my teacher-student mishaps when I ended up freeing one hour of my time before their midterm just to answer one student's questions. Turns out he had 2 (TWO) questions and I had to spend the next 50 minutes just hanging out outside the midterm lecture theatre. And I survived the midterm too! Though I don't know how they survived it, cause they had a lot of questions. To my satisfaction some of the questions were those that I insisted on discussing during the tutorial. I'm curious though about how many of them actually paid attention and remembered. Probably none.

Friday, September 26

I love tropical countries

Rain, rain, come again

Oh boy oh boy was it raining cats and dogs and lizards and what not this morning at 6:30 am. I love the rain. More precisely, I love the sound of rain. And the thunders, lightning and all that .... love 'em love 'em love 'em. When I am indoors sleeping/reading, that is. Not when I am outdoors climbing or wanting to climb, mind you. Then, yeah ... there are no words to describe what I feel then.

To come back to the sound of rain. I love it so much that when I was little (10-12 years old) I used to let the water run in the bathtub and sit (yes sit) on the margin and do my homework. Back then the water bill was divided among all residents of the block. I had no problems about wasting water and killing the planet back then. Now I don't do it anymore, except sometimes when I really really want to relax. Then I hop in the tub and read.

This weekend is going to be very full. Last night Marian and I ran 16 km! Wohoo! In about 96 minutes, more or less. Not bad at all for rookies. Today wanted to play tennis, but eh, the rain ... Tomorrow going climbing (hopefully at climb asia, I have a score to settle with a 6b and with my fear of falling). Meeting cristina to check out true yoga to see if we're joining. Sunday (if the weather holds) Marian has planned cycling in Pulau Ubin. Can't wait!! Hope there will be mud. I get a certain high when I think of cycling in the mud. Sounds ... extreme!

Wednesday, September 24

On students

yeah. Wanted to make this a nice, elaborate post but my students are depressing me so yeah. First of all, school is different here. In what? It's not free people! This means that attitudes of the profs back home (i.e. "go and study by yourself, I dun care" or "I have no idea what to talk about, I am here because I know people" or "you will all end up wiping the floors at mcDonald's") are not permitted here. I would not care very much about the latter, but sometimes, I would just love to tell my students to go stick ... their fingers in the keyboard and google it for crying out loud!

I am starting to draw the line at "oh i can't compile and I get errors like "javac -invalid flag" (this is not a compilation error) because they have problems reading and going through instructions that are longer than 3 steps. Or like "can we meet you for consultation? tuesday at 10:15 am?" "Cannot, pls meet me in the alloted slots (i.e. later than 5pm)" (my answer much longer and more polite). "sorry cannot, can we meet you earlier? this is because some of us live in the west and need to get home in time for dinner". "Sure, what time?" And then answer miraculously with "Wednesday, 10 am?" (giving them about 7.5 hours to get home... I guess they are WALKING to Boon Lay?) Top it off with some nice icing and be 25 minutes late. After I had to swim through the rain to get to school on time. Yup. I lost it for one second there. Or "I can't seem to grasp the differences between "nice to have" features and "must have" features". Brr. I do appreciate it when I see that some students really take the time to do some search before they come to me. It shows respect for my wasted time (I am not payed for consultation - I could do research watch climbing videos instead).

And the worst of it all is when I encounter teacher's pets. They annoy the hell out of me. Not really there but not really stupid or lazy either. Trying to make up for it by sucking up. I mean c'mon!!

Students are not as tech-smart (i.e. don't know how to program) as I was expecting, but this is normal considering that they don't do programming from high-school as we are used to. Unfortunately, they are incapable of thinking even 1mm outside the box, lack critical thinking and always expect an yes/no answer. Which is very difficult to give for a software engineering course. I started to tell a group how their report in order to be comprehensible should answer three questions ("what?", "why?", "how?") and they were writing it instead of thinking about what I had said. Pfft!!

I want to write things down for them (as in what's next for their project and so on) but I don't know how many people will read through it, considering that for the last long email that I wrote 50% of the people wrote to me to ask a question that was answered in the second last paragraph of the email. Brr. I wish I had had profs that cared.

Tuesday, September 23


From Tracy from the new Black Diamond catalogue:
In this life, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. [Dalai Lama]

Thursday, September 18

My poster

Wanted to have a permanent memory (not that I'll be able to forget - even Alzheimer won't take this from me) of our failure and success on Matterhorn, so I wanted to buy a poster. I roamed the streets of Zermatt looking for the poster. It's a specific one, with the Horli ridge blown up and the route drawn with a yellow line with markers (in English) showing the important points in the route. You see, I knew which poster I wanted because it dominates the staircase in Marius's home. I have looked at it for years now. My trouble was that I was indeed roaming the streets of Zermatt, but I was doing it at lunchtime when all the shops are closed. Except for a house.

More of a restaurant really, with a crowded souvenir shop at the first floor. I knew it was crowded and crammed because I could peep inside. My poster was shown outside and there was something written in German on top of it. Maybe 20 letter words, anyhow I was confused. The shop was locked but there was an arrow pointing to the restaurant entrance. There, at the bar, the waitress didn't know English and I didn't know German or swiss. The people having lunch were staring at me (my face was burned and because I was so damn tired I would sometimes stumble) but I really didn't care. I finally left. Didn't go far until I realized that maybe the other words written next to a bell meant "Ring really really hard if it's between 12 and 2". So I went back.

And I rang and I rang until an old man showed up at the balcony above (balcony full of flowers, of course). So he came down smelling of lunch and I pointed to the poster. He unlocked the shop and we went in. It was very very crammed with all the possible wood carved artifacts and souvenirs that you could imagine ever buying from Switzerland. Masks, towels, cows, small matterhorns, big matterhorns, edelweisses, flutes, little sheperds, everything. It also had that smell you get from really old, woody houses. The old man asked me if I really wanted the poster, I said yes, payed and left happily.

Today I put it up in my lab. It does take away half of the precious light from my window, but I don't mind. The markers are written in German. It's not the same angle so it doesn't look as BIG as the one I wanted. The lower edge has scissors marks, like those that remain when you can't cut a piece of paper straight and you keep trying to return to your imaginary straight line. I love it.

Tuesday, September 16


  • should start writing up a conference paper but all I can think of is the upcoming trip to Vietnam (December) and then the trip to Krabi in May with Marian (and Vlad if he manages to come).

  • should find music that goes with writing this particular paper, but am listening to Bob Marley and thinking about sunny climbs whether in Thailand or Romania.

  • instant coffee only works as a dessert for me. I need a cup of strong coffee or tea to get my day started. Instant coffee only works in mountaineering trips.

  • perhaps I'm just so tired after last night's training and this busy weekend. I can't need a holiday so soon. Must work hard to graduate and move to Europe. Then I can climb as much as I want and friends from Singapore can come and stay at my place for free! (I hope you read this, Edwin) I'll have a cat, a dog, a house of my (our) own that I can fill up with books and gear as I wish.

  • when I graduated form high-school (after I got into uni) I left home for three months and went to live in the mountains in a tent. After I graduated uni I moved to Asia. These days I am daydreaming about what I will do when I (finally) finish school.

  • got a brand new, empty passport and i'm dying to fill it up with stamps again.

Friday, September 12

An Elephant No More

Yup. The time has come for me to face it. Climb wise, I am as flexible as an elephant. A FAT elephant. Whenever I try to step up, hook or whatever, I really feel that I will break my leg, ass or whatever. I also feel it when I see people the same height as I step at their ear or chest without even the slightest twitch or contorsion.

Therefore I have decided. It's friday 12th, 13:40, a nice number, too. From now on, every night when I get home I will stretch for 30 minutes. No matter how tired, dead meat I will be, I WILL STRETCH! I am also reinforcing my decision with Marian, by giving him permission to kick my ass if I don't do so.

I have spoken.

Wednesday, September 10

Rocks are meant to fall

So we finally managed to get ready, Radu finally woke up (sort of) and proceed to the beginning of the Hornli Ridge route on Matterhorn. I had been dreaming about this route on an off for about 8 years now. And here begins the chase. It was still pitch dark (3:45 am) and we couldn't see the route so we had to really hurry about the teams of guide and client that where very far from us. We were the second last team to climb, followed by a japanese guy and his wife (they would turn back in the end).

Mistake no 1: Instead of going in a team of 2, we went in a team of 3. This meant that our time doubled.

Mistake no. 2: We took a rookie with us. Rookie to the point where I would have to be two or three meters behind Radu just so that I could tell him where to step and what rocks to hold.

We were slow, very very slow. The route was very snowed in, which meant that we couldn't find almost any pitons or anchors or anything. This meant that we were more or less climbing without any safety points. Were Marius to fall, I don't know if our belay station would hold so he had good chances of pulling us off with him. It also meant that by midday when the snow would melt rocks would be tumbling down. But about that later. Just before we got on the ridge (Marius ahead, followed by Radu and then by me), Marius stepped up and entered the ridge, then Radu stepped up too. Only that, instead of stepping exactly where he saw Marius step, he stepped on a BIG flake that was not so solid. The flake dropped away to the right, he slipped, I put my hands on his butt and pushed him back (thank god for spotting at bouldering), japanese woman behind screamed, Marius freaked. Marius would de-freak about 20 hours later.

And there we were. Very slow again, snail like. We had to put on our ice crampons four hours before the point where you normally put on your crampons. Marius wanted to turn back two times but I didn't. I did my best to stay fresh and smiling. Maybe that freaked him out more too.

We passed the Solvay emergency hut. This is where guides get their clients air-lifted when they can't go anymore. It costs 1000 Euro, by the way. I asked Radu if he wanted to stay behind and wait for us at the hut, while at the same time talking to marius (Marius was saying that he should stay behind). But he wouldn't so we continued. Because we were still wearing our crampons we had to do mixed snow-rock climbing, something for which i guess they weren't ready. I know I was.

Very few teams were passing us going down. Most of them said that it was very hard up there. The damn fog was surrounding us. What was creepier was the damn helicopter that was circling the mountain (you could hear it, it was very close but you couldn't see the bastard).

It was 12:30 by now and the french guide that was coming from the summit stopped next to us. He tried to speak in english just for our benefit, telling us it would be better to go down. He wouldn't leave until I assured him we were going down. I started to cry. Marius (who was leading on the slab) turned and asked me what should we do (he had already said once again that he wants to go back). I didn't answer at first, trying to contain the tears from my voice. As I was looking away I remembered all these memorial plaques that we had passed. I cleared my voice and said "FUCK IT, I WANT TO LIVE, LET'S GO!" This is our summit picture, you could say.

And at about 1, 1:30 pm begins our descent. We were again very slow because there were three of us. Radu was also maddeningly slow on the rappel. I know now that I will never go with rookies I don't know. When we couldn't find rappel points I would belay Marius on the descent, then Marius and I would belay Radu, then I would go back. It took us ages. The only thing I am proud about is that we didn't lose the way (I had remembered most of the rappel points that I saw when sunlight came). When we rappelled after the Solvay hut, I was holding the ropes to untie the knot when one stone the size of a fucking plate came down just where we were coming down. One minute before and I would be writing to you from heaven.

Night came. A small snow storm came. We had two survival foils (like the alluminium foil in which chocolate is wrapped), and there were three of us. We stopped on the ledge the size of a table. Marius set up a anchor point. We sat on our backpacks - Marius on his, then Radu and I on the one that Radu initially carried and then I took over (it was my backpack, woohoo). Marius and Radu stayed back to back and Radu held me. My ass is big so I had one buttock on a stone. It was cold. Very cold. Our feet and gloves were wet. Looking back I am surprised how much our bodies can take. In the mean time Vlad was waiting for us and probably going mad with fear and anguish. He tried to light his torch just so we could see where the hut were. Then he was afraid when he didn't see the lights anymore (we were under the foil) that we were gone.

When morning came we were surprised to see that we were exactly on track. And I mean exactly on track. The climbers that were now climbing a much clear Matterhorn were coming straight for us. Even the french guide from yesterday saw us and said hi. Another one said "nice pleasant evening outside?" I said a "yes" and a silent "fuck you". We rappelled the last few parts in a dream like state. I was very exhausted and very dizzy because I hadn't had anything to eat for about 14 hours.

In total, 29 hours and 27 rappels later, we were back in base camp. Vlad was relieved to see us alive. We were extremely glad to be alive. Vlad had bought a plate of rosti with eggs for us the day before. We ate it with our harnesses on (you can see Marius in the picture).

Thinking about Sebi, it makes my hair stand when I think about the fact that they went unroped over there. There are towers of stones and flakes (like in this picture) that are literally waiting for a good excuse to go down. I know that if it weren't for Marius I wouldn't be alive. This time I am proud though that I could hold up my end and at least secure the rear.

Three days later I was still glad to be alive and didn't think so much about the details. Afterwards, when looking back the complete sense of failure would just take the breath out of my lungs and I would be very determined to go back again. Now, after hearing about Sebi, maybe I will take it slowly. Move close to the alps and start slowly again. There are mountains over there that are much more worth it than the Matterhorn. But still...

The rest of the pictures are here.

Monday, September 8

Old friends ...

New friends ...

Wednesday, September 3

Monday, September 1

An evil ploy ...

Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from school:

Dear Ms ***,

teamNUS Nite 08

Congratulations! You have been awarded the Honorary Award in recognition of your outstanding contribution towards the promotion of Climbing in the University.


Woohoo! had a stupid grin on my face for about five minutes ... And then my brain started kicking in. Somebody from the team (coach Jubs, captain, vice cap) must've nominated me. I frantically re-read the letter cause I suddenly remembered Jups saying "We have something more evil planned for you!"

And there it was: not only do I have to attend the prize giving festivity, but I must do so dressed in the proper attire. GASP!!!

Dress code: Men - Shrit & Tie, Ladies - Appropriate Equivalent

Important note: on the day of the event if you are late for registration or dressed inappropriately, you will not be receiving your award on stage.