Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Skytrex Extreme Challenge: Waltzing up the Tree Tops

Truth be told, I really didn’t want to go for another round of SkyTrexs (http://www.skytrex-adventure.com/contact.php). :) Having ‘been there done that’, I was not particularly keen to reenact my adventures suspended 22m above the ground tackling a mélange of ropes, pulleys, hooks and cables. But Aurelius can be very persuasive when he has to :p. And so, with barely a few hours sleep shortly after touching down at KLIA from a business trip to Korea, I was again up among the treetops at Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam in Shah Alam attempting a series of obstacles Indiana Jones might find familiar in yet another Sky Trek challenge in the early hours of a fine Saturday morning. Our group first gathered at the entrance of the Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam park at about 7:40am, a total of 32 officially registered guys and gals coming for the challenge today.
Trail Trackers and others gathering at the bus stop to get into the park

This was one of the rare few events that did not require me meeting up first at the TT HQ in TTDI and that for one made me very grateful not to get up at the usual 5:30am just to make the 45 minute drive there. Instead, having the park located almost practically at my backyard in Klang, the less than 20 minute drive to the destination allowed me to enjoy an additional few hours of precious sleep, preventing me in effect from experiencing any reoccurrence of ‘edling’ as had happened in Ipoh when my exhausted mind sort of screwed up some very simple after dinner accounting. :p Shortly before 8:20am, our group went in, riding a bus that took us to the Sky Trek office in the middle of the park.
Sky Trex office

Here, our group split into two, Aurelius leading one group while another was led by a still mysterious Miss Patsy Pang, which I have been informed but not introduced by Aurelius. Nor have I been introduced to ANY of her group, leaving me to venture that this other group of mostly unfamiliar faces boarding the bus with us were part of the 32 people, Aurelius had been telling me about. Our group consisted of more familiar faces which aside from Aurelius, had Ai Ling, Aaron, Dennis, Eu Jin, Terence, Charlene, Vit Ping, Tony, Chin Ann and Linus, who after virtually withdrawing to the north pole to sing Christmas carols in May, had returned to make an appearance yet again at last. 4 other new additions also joined our group, them being Lorna, her sister, Frank and Olga. After paying the RM43 fee for the challenge, purchasing a pair of necessary leather gloves for RM3, having a curry puff at RM0.50 to fill our empty stomachs and signing off the standard ‘Life and Death’ indemnity form, we went off to the equipment station where we were given and helped into our straps that came with the two carabineers (one long, one short) and one pulley.
Retrieving our gear from the Quartermaster

A safety briefing followed next; where we were briefed by one of the instructors on the techniques used when up in the tree canopy before a ‘life’ simulation that required us to do some basic challenges at heights you’ll hardly feel any sense of vertigo.
Safety First! Instructor giving us a briefing...

Once that is done, it was off to the ‘trek’ itself! :) Gaining potential energy by climbing up a ladder straight up into air to a wooden platform perched 17m in the air, we jumped off it to ‘flying fox’ across a wide open space below to reach another platform probably 200m away among the trees on the other side.
"Look, no hands!"

Another less spectacular ‘flying fox’ followed before we encountered the first set of obstacles. The first was a relatively easy stride across a series of cylinders stringed in a line. It could get wobbly towards the middle but with enough speed, one can easily clear this obstacle without much worry.
Ai Ling attempting the suspended log crossing

After this, it’s back to the monkey bars for ye. ;) Here, it’s where your upper body strength that is going to make the cut. Sadly, my spindly arms couldn’t take the strain and I faltered after the first few bars. Momentum plays an important role in overcoming this challenge and should you stop to hang by your arms, that’s it! :p
It is obvious Terence has more UBS than myself! :) Bravo!

Fortunately, there remained a backup option for me to get across, flying foxing the last few meters to the next platform which was located at a slightly lower elevation. Then there is a short rope swing across two platforms, not really daunting actually as the distance was so small, you’d just simply leap across without even needing the rope! :p Next, was these series of swinging loops formed by dangling ropes. Patience and careful steps will eventually carry the day for this one before we finally reach the last challenge at this station.
'Ah Lian' camwhoring by the looping ropes challenge

This is where it’ll take a little more time to get across. Formed by a number of long tubes suspended on both ends by ropes, it’s tendency to swing back and forth, front and back, makes this challenge difficult.
Zig Zag Pipes anyone?

But with a steady, patient heart and a firm footing, this obstacle can be overcome as well, although its zigzag length was a tad bit too long. Fortunately it was not long enough for my nerves to quit. ;)
Struggling with the ropes, cables and shackles... :p

Still, a log jam sort of developed as we paused for each of our members to attempt this one. In the interim, I took the opportunity to flash a few pictures of our group members, in addition to those ground huggers down on the road below that was gawking up at us.
More terrestial members gawking up at us...

A flying fox and a ladder climb up later, it was now time to get pass the second set of obstacles. It was tight ropes galore at this point, coming in all sorts of combinations, from the standard circus style single tight rope crossing to two tight ropes spread apart side by side and even two tight ropes with wooden planks linking them together in the middle.
Ask and you shall receive! Aaron fulfilling his wish to be a tightrope walker.

Also thrown in was a variation of the earlier looping rope crossing, this time with a long plank spanning over multiple ropes to make this challenge a little more unique. :p One more flying fox with an unexpected climb down later and I’d reach what I found to be the last station. By now, the sun was reaching its zenith and I realized it has taken more than 2 hours to navigate across the scores of obstacles on this ‘sky’ trek. ;) 3 more sets of challenges await at this station, the first being a simple scramble across wooden planks suspended between 3 cables, a virtual highway compared with the tight ropes at the previous stations.
A virtual highway compared to the previous tightrope challenges

Eu Jin and more suspended tubes!

Another round of swing tubes came after this before the ultimate challenge, the swinging rings! This one really demands a combination of flexibility, strength, patience and loads of iron will. Initially, you’d had to get your feet into the two rings suspended down from a long cable covered with protective rubber. Successfully getting into one will make the whole thing start to swing wildly, requiring you to extend one foot out to the next set of rings to steady oneself before then slipping in the other foot into the new ring’s twin.
The ultimate challenge for the ultimate warrior (or is it Terracotta warrior instead?)

Sounds easy enough until you reach the part where there was only one ring extending down from the cable instead of two, easily blowing away the earlier formula! This is where you’ll have to discover the yoga master in you as you are now required to cross your leg over between the other and the long rubber tube to reach for the next ring! Worse, the moment your foot touches the new ring, you’d be instantly thrown off balance, requiring you to either hug the long rubber tube as tight as possible or reach out to grab the surrounding cables for leverage, not an easy task either way. In effect, I was struggling at this point, reduced to a mass of jumbled limbs as I repeated the sequence of crossing leg first, tumbling as I lose balance, reaching out to the cables to pull myself up, steadying myself before repeating it all over again for the next 15 rings!
A jumble of limps!

I eventually made it, though the progress was painstakingly slow, the instructor manning the last point offering a number of times to pull me up to speed things as others waited for me to finish.
"I've made it!" :)

The end was anti-climatic. A somewhat slippery descent to the ground down a netted passage was the only reward for all that effort. Disappointing actually, because the last time I was doing this, I had this fantastically long flying fox to do from the tree top to the ground. In any case, I understood this trek was very new, being opened only two weeks before we had our fling at it. Perhaps they can improve the ending a bit from our feedbacks?
Charlene being naughty... :p

Dennis and his unorthodox way of getting off a bus!

Lunch came a little late, after Aaron and Linus decided to have another go (illegally) at another easier trek, underestimating the time it took for all of us to finish and leaving Aurelius fuming as the rest of us waited at the park exit. All that 'Christmas carolling' in early summer also sort of messed Linus up as he kept insisting that I shared my storage locker (and thus the key)with him despite the fact that I remembered vividly that the guy I shared the locker with was slightly shorter and had a lot less hair! :) Dennis saved the day by delivering the misplaced key to Linus who was marooned at the SkyTrex office to get his bags out. By the time everyone was out, it was already close to 2:30pm, way too late for most of our TTs who had decided to skip the customary post trip banquet (Awwww!) :(.
Leaving Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam

Too bad, it ain't going to stop me from having a hearty lunch of my own though! :) And so, with a smaller posse consisting of Linus, Aaron, Chin Ann, Eu Jin and myself, we head to my hometown, Klang, a mere 10 minutes away from the Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam Park. There, I introduced them to Klang's FAMOUS Hakka Pai Kut, located near the brand new mosque on Jalan Pasar. We ordered the house special (which is hakka pai kut of course), accompanied by a side of asam fish, a bowl of deliciously rich mutton curry and a plate of vegetables. ;)
Klang's Famous Hakka Pai Kut... Yum Yum! :)

For desert, it was off to Klang's veteran cendol shop, opened since 1972, located along Jalan Nanas. A variety of cendol serving styles await but nothing beats the all time favorite, the very basic cendol kacang which is priced at a very reasonable RM1.50/bowl. :) With all the customary 'rites' fulfilled, it was at last time to split and head towards the sunset. And to those reading this, come on down to Klang! :) Because it's not just famous for Bak Kut Teh and seafood, there a lot more hidden culinary treasures here than meets the eye! Just ask me, a Klang boy through and true!
It's so intense, Linus had his tummy exposed! :)

Korea: Kimchi and Fashionable Toilets

Last week was the first time I have had the opportunity to go to South Korea, the Land of the Morning Calm. ;) Not for some touristy stuff mind you but more for a business trip with my company's client, HHI in the southern port city of Ulsan. Going there was not without some nerve rattling experiences as I was informed by the ticketing counter and the Malaysian immigration department that my passport was close to expire (still 4 months left) and that there might be a possibility that I could be denied entry on arrival in Seoul later on. :p And so, with the very conscious thought that I might have to cut my trip short dramatically to the chagrin of my bosses, the GM and my department manager, I calmly walked up to this lady at the immigration counter in Seoul to have my passport stamped after a rather uneventful 6 hour flight. To my relieve, she approved my entry without much hassle and I was off to the connecting flight for Ulsan. The first day of our business trip there was spent mostly at the hotel and some restaurants as we got acquainted with our agents there before the meeting the next day. Here is where the kim chi parade begins, all the way to the last day of our trip! ;) For lunch we had this soupy chicken with rice combination while for dinner we had bamboo crabs and some raw 'sushi' like stuff. ;)
Korean Chicken with Rice in Soup (thingy) ;)
Bamboo Crabs
After that is to the hotels as we prepare for the next day meeting. The hotel we stayed in Korea is unexpected ill equipped despite it's plush outlook. For one, they do not supply you with shampoos, toothbrush or even a toothpaste! But one thing I can really make certain off: is that my 'nether' regions will always be super clean thanks to their fully automatic toilets! This really hits the spot (literally)! ;)
Magic Toilet. Never felt sooooo clean! ;)
Day 2 and 3 were spent mostly at the HHI offices, discussing project stuff with the client and their client. The meetings dragged on well into the night so there is practically no time to do any sight-seeing. But of course, we had to eat, so the only places I can relate to in Korea are the foodstores. ;) For the second day, we had some beef rib soup, what the Koreans call 'Kal Vil Tang'. It's meat is tender and juicy. Very good. ;)
'Kal Vil Tang' or literally translated as Beef Rib Soup... Mmmmm
What is Korean cuisine without Bulgogi?
At night we went to Ulsan downtown to have some Korean BBQ. On the 3rd day, we had standard HHI canteen food for lunch, finishing the day with some Korean Chinese cuisine after being driven again for meeting till 8pm.
Dinner at the Korean Chinese Restaurant
As the supermarkets in Korea close at around 8:30pm-9:00pm, that meant there was NO CHANCE to go shopping. Friday is was an early morning for me, struggling to wake up to catch the 6:55am flight out from Ulsan to Seoul.
Waiting for the airport express rail link
My lady boss had wanted to take the opportunity to visit Seoul little knowing that we would walking into a quagmire! :p Apparently that was exactly the same day the Koreans were mourning their recently deceased Ex-President Roh Moo Hyun.
Funeral of President Roh Moo Hyun
Arriving at the epicenter of the event near the Seoul City Hall, we were immediately mobbed by a sea of people. My boss eventually got frustrated with it all and ordered us to head back to the airport. After marching down a few blocks, we stopped at one roadside shop for lunch. The shopkeeper couldn't speak English so we had to resort to pointing and other hand signals to order. I ended up having this chicken steak thing with rice for lunch.
Chicken Cutlet with Rice
Heading out, we took a taxi back to the Incheon International Airport. There, we separated as I went off to do some much needed last minute shopping, gathering souveniers and stuff. Finally, reaching Malaysia at close to 10:00pm, it was one quiet taxi ride back, as I took a deep breath to calm my hectic nerves after this one harrowing and very stressful trip! Phew! :p Sadly, there'll be another two weeks from now... better have my Prozac ready... :p
Believe me, this smile is under duress! :p

Korean Cultural Show... even it's music couldn't soothe the nerves!