"Courage is the fear of being thought a coward."Horace Smith
Sometimes, I suspect that I am the star of a some sort of bizarre reality sitcom, or at least its resident comic relief character. Just last week, I received a Facebook invitation from my colleague, Jun Mun, to an outing he's organising because we had a weekend of breathing space to kill between clinical postings. He titled the invite "skytrex adventure day out!" and enclosed within was a copypasta-ed description of the activity from the official webspace of SkyTrex which began like so,
"SKYTREX Adventure provides an organized outdoor ‘eco-recreational cum educational’ activity which will take the participants from tree to tree..."
And that's pretty much all I read before I submitted a "Yes" to his répondez s'il vous plaît. What I had in mind was some sort of tame novelty nature walk. I didn't bother visiting the SkyTrex website; I didn't pay attention to the discussion my colleagues were having in that Facebook invite page; and I completely missed warning words like 'aerial obstacles', '22 meters in the air' and 'EXTREEEME CHALLENGE!'
My thought process went something like, "Hey, I like nature! Click yes."
Oh, you can just imagine what sort of deathmatch the left and right lobes of my brain fought with each other when I was confronted with this on site yesterday,
SkyTrex Adventures offered 3 circuits or "challenges" with varying difficulty levels, namely,
- The Little Adventure
- The Big Thrill
- The Extreme Challenge
Then again, he's a bit of a cloudcuckoolander like I am anyway - birds of one feather, we are. "Click yes." Sheesh.
Anyway, to give you an idea of the different difficulty grades, this here is a picture of the Little Adventure,
And this one below is a picture of the beginning bit of the vertiginous Extreme Challenge. Be warned because at that height, the trees you are standing on will sway in the wind like a ship in high sea,
Hold a sec, readers - I don't think that that snapshot effectively conveys the perspective and dizzying scale of the Tyrolean traverse. Try this one on for size instead,
I was the one and only person in my team of ten to bring a camera along with me up into the canopy of the forest because sanity and I had a falling out and we aren't talking to each other anymore. Coming with me was my trusty ol' messenger bag which had a sling I can tighten close around my torso because I had need of it to hold my camera whilst I move between trees 70-feet up in the air. The bag and I do everything together, you know - like that time in Manali when we paraglided off a freaking snow mountain for example.
So, to take the tale back to the beginning, we signed disclaimers saying, um... wait, I don't remember what the papers said now so I'll just assume that they were to waive SkyTrex of any culpability in the event that I lost a limb or get eaten by a tree or something. In the "in case of emergency, contact..." part, I simply jot down Lai Yin's parents names and numbers claiming them to be my godparents.
Man, it would have been hilarious if something did happen to me and SkyTrex contacted them saying, "It's about your god son. There's been an accident..."
"Wait what? What god son?!"
See the Caucasian man sporting a black cap in the photo? We were right behind him during the 5-minute how-to-Tarzan tutorial when I was ribbing Joon Keat - the biggest and heaviest member of our party - about his weight. Then I assured him in Cantonese that if the zip-line can hold the white guy's weight, he should have absolutely nothing to worry about. In that exchange, I used the informal Cantonese phrase for white people; 'gwai lo' which literally means 'ghost man'.That was not one of my Better Ideas, and I haven't a clue if white folks actually find it derogatory or not.
Black Capped White Guy overheard me and turned around saying, "Yes, we gwai lo's should stick together," flashing a big grin at us. I was perplexed for a minute before I realised that he had mistakenly thought I was telling Joon Keat that we should let all the white people go first.
Good thing he didn't actually know what I was saying about his heft, eh?
Let me be honest with you; the scariest thing about the Extreme Challenge is by far the ladder-climbing, I shit you not. Imagine having to scale several storeys worth of ladder rungs in a dead vertical direction. Every time I come to stand at the foot end of yet another ladder on the course, my calves and shoulders groaned "No fucking way."
That's when I discover that I fear exercise more than death-defying heights.
I also kept forgetting to anchor my carabiners to a safety line after I land on a new platform because I was so completely unintimidated by the whole venture. I only came to realise my carelessness when one of the instructors yelled at me to secure myself after spotting me nonchalantly swinging both carabiners in my hand as I was talking to Abby on one of the higher platforms. It makes me shudder to think about it now. If a particularly strong breeze just happened to blow by or if a disoriented hornbill flew into my face in that instant, I would have plummeted down to a very messy death.
The most demanding and painful obstacle in the course was the monkey bars, hands down. In the past, I couldn't even finish a playground version of the thing and you can easily imagine my feelings when I was accosted with one strung between two trees as high as a fatal fall from the forest floor. These are the sort of moments when I could only stand agape and just marvel at the complete absurdity of the situation I have somehow gotten myself in.
I know, I know - the monkey bars weren't going to climb themselves. Gritting my teeth, I decided to man up and get it over with. I am, after all, in the best physical shape I've been in the past 5 years. In just the recent 2 months, I've dropkicked a total of 9.5 kilograms off my fat ass making me a very manageable 66.5 kilo load to ferry across with just the sinew my arms - or so I thought.
Impossible, it ain't - but manageable? Not in this lifetime, mate. I exhausted my reserves halfway through and my fingers were all screaming a chorus for me to let go but I obstinately clung on anyway; mainly because Jun Mun and another white guy (a different one this time) was on the other side watching my every move. I vowed right there and then that I would see myself through all the way even if I have to rip my arms right out of their sockets doing it.
Panting out oaths on every transition, I actually made it to the other side! Un-fucking-believable! Of course, after I have made it across I became unbearably puffed-up. I started taunting all the fellas when they chose to simply pulled themselves across using the harness and pulley. And I targeted Joon Keat in particular because I'm an asshole that way.
"Your manhood is at stake!" I jeered at him when he was standing right before the monkey bars. When he chickened out eventually, I went "You're a disgrace to your Y chromosome! Better donate it to science!'
Of course, Joon Keat eventually redeemed himself here on the rope-swing challenge,
Li Lian's scared shit-less face. She have forbidden me to post this on Facebook so I posted it here in my blog instead.
After the initial few challenges, I quickly got the hang of things and started treating the rest of the obstacles with sedated irreverence. I started chatting while I was doing them and Abby asked me how I could talk and still concentrate on all the balancing acts.
The answer is simple: I wasn't concentrating. Boo-yah!
Lai Yin was ahead of me most of the way and she would usually shout tips back at the rest of us on how to approach each obstacle.
"Slide your feet across the rope! Don't lift your feet up!" she helpfully offered at one of the tightrope-walking challenges.
I responded by mockingly taking huge exaggerated steps, making the wire wobble all the way shouting "TOO EASY! TOO EASY!" the whole time just to annoy her. But it was true though; once you've found your balance, everything becomes far too easy for words. At some point, I got so bored that I decided to race everyone to the final platform. I was the first to get there and I did it without "falling" even once. How do you like them apples?
Hey, what's the point of winning bragging rights if you're not going to rub it in everyone's face every chance you get, right?
Since I was the sole photographer of the team, there isn't any pictures of me up in the forest canopy. But just as a keepsake, here's one of me post-adventure with my climbing harness still strapped on,
And here's one of the few pictures containing all ten of us and we looked like we are in a photo-op promoting the rehydrative and electrolyte-restorative virtues of 100 Plus. It's a shame it's kind of blurry though,
That's Randeep on the ladder. As for the rest, from left to right: Inn Shan, Li Lian, me in a girly pose,
Lai Yin, Abby, Jun Mun, Soo Hong and Joon Keat (they are an item, by the way), and Prakash.
The yellow bus which took us in and out again. See how much clearer the picture is when I'm taking it?
I guess Jun Mun knew best after all when he booked the lot of us into the Extreme Challenge. Everyone defeated the course and made it to the salty end - all 21 stunts of it - without ducking out through the chicken exit midway through. It might not appear to be much to you but that's quite a stellar achievement for a bunch of pampered academic pansies like us who have left the ghost of our physical primes behind years ago.
If I have to briefly review SkyTrex's Extreme Challenge, I'd say it's far too tame for my taste considering that I've always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie (no, really) - but it does make for a pretty demanding endurance test, I'd give it that much. I suspect that most people would feel too washed out to experience any sort of fear whatsoever after the first or second ladder. Also, they might want to look into the traffic problem; I spent most of my time sitting on platforms just waiting for my turn. And if it's not too much to ask, hoist a vending machine up there or something, please. My hypoglycaemia struck halfway through and my shaking fingers made it really hard for me to hold my camera steady.
And here's a big thank you to Jun Mun who organised the whole event and bought everyone drinks at the end! It was a great trip and I honestly can't wait to go on another one soon!
In case you're wondering, I didn't exactly escape the ordeal unscathed,
I picked up a blister on the palm of my right hand - I think it was the monkey bars which did this to me. It seems that I quite literally wouldn't let go even when the skin of my hand was being scraped off. Well, I knew that if I let go, the harness would have kept me afloat anyway but there's just something about being suspended like a mile off the ground which just makes you want to hold on for your dear life.
And this was how the RM 3 gloves I bought there fared,
A young white guy with his Chinese girlfriend actually ran the course sans glove. I guess this is how their hands look like now.
I actually packed a thicker pair of gloves with me on this trip but I eschewed them in favour of the fingerless ones because it was awkward to work the camera wearing my bulky mitts.
After Inn Shan and I have freshened up at Jun Mun's place, the man took the four of us - Li Lian and Lai Yin included - to a fantastic Japanese restaurant called Hanazen at Jaya One,
I think the unagi or grilled freshwater eel there was done close to perfection and it was one of the best I've ever had the pleasure of sampling. It was incredibly tender and flavourful, and I had a lot of love for the thin, crisp, ever-so-slightly burnt exterior. Carcinogens are yummy things.
We also shared an unakyu uramaki between the five of us which wasn't too shabby in the taste department either,
And I topped it all off with the best damn ice-cream I have ever eaten in my life. That was not a hyperbole, by the way - I really did mean every word I said,
If you couldn't already tell from the picture (or the Japanese caption), it's a single scoop of the most delicious black sesame ice-cream this side of the equator. It was so amazingly creamy, rich and fragrant that you won't believe it - and I seriously dug the lovely texture of finely-powdered sesame seeds on my tongue. I have no idea if they made it according to a house recipe or if it was imported, but I don't fucking care so long as I get to have more, more, more of it!
Sigh, so this is how an explosive orgasm in the mouth tastes like. What a satisfying end to a great day out. The next time I'm in the vicinity, I'm going to give their wasabi flavoured ice-cream a taste test. I love wasabi and I love ice-cream; what can possibly go wrong?
P.S. Guys and girls, if you want all of the high-resolution, un-watermarked SkyTrex pictures, pass me your thumb drives, memory cards, external hard disks whenever. There's almost 450 MB's worth of them here so be sure you have enough space to accommodate the lot.
P.P.S. I don't care that I'm the last to touch terra firma, Lai Yin. I only stayed back to take pictures of everyone as they arrive at the finale. Recognise my supremacy or none of you will ever get the rest of the outing's photos from me!
A walker of skies,
k0k s3n w4i