“A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is–
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.”
― Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover
Was riding at a leisurely pace along the bike path at East Coast Park this morning with a good friend when these strange, flame-colored mushrooms or fungus really caught my eye…
Went on an early morning ride in Phuket the day before the Ironman. It was hilly, windy and dangerous because of the twisting roads combined with unpredictable traffic. It was still a great experience though as you get to see so much more on a bike than you would on a car. Rode until the end of Surin Beach and couldn’t resist taking the bike all the way to the beach, even though I knew I would have to power-wash it afterwards.
Spotted in the urban jungle. All ready to go! Doubletree Phuket, Thailand
February 11, 2012. The road was a side road, devoid of people. Cars, presumably driven by fitness enthusiasts and park goers, lined up every single free slot on one lane. Which meant I had almost 6 meters of road all to myself. I was riding on the leftmost lane maybe a couple of feet from the sidewalk as is my custom. It was around 9:30 am. Having just finished a 70km east coast ride with a cycling club, I was pleasantly tired and was spinning along at a leisurely pace. My thoughts turned to the Half Ironman race I would be having in exactly 5 weeks, my first. If we could have this nice cool February weather on that day, and I felt like this after 70km on the bike, it would probably turn out well for me.
After a few minutes on the same road, I saw a lady, a runner from her singlet & shorts, walking at the edge of the sidewalk away from me, on my side of the road. She was maybe 50 meters up the road so instinctively I moved away from the sidewalk and moved my hands from the aero bars to the drop bars where I had access to the brakes. She looked back, saw me and kept walking. Thinking nothing of it, I kept riding at leisurely pace, maybe doing around 27-28 kmh. But when I got to within 10 feet of the lady, for some reason, she suddenly stepped onto the road and proceeded to run across, directly into my path.
With no time to think, my body reacted without conscious instruction from my brain. Both hands squeezed the brakes so hard that my bike stopped on a dime, narrowly avoiding a collision. Unfortunately my body did not stop and flew heels-over-head over the handlebars, straight into a faceplant on the rough asphalt. My cycling glasses shattered into 3 pieces, my helmet cracked from the impact, I felt my right shoulder joint dislocate and searing white hot pain shot through my entire face as if I had dunked my head in a bowl of hot lava. I couldn’t open my eyes for a few seconds and when I raised my head, I saw the road beneath me with a large pool of blood where my face had hit it. My first thought was, ‘ I have to call my wife’. That was quickly qualified with ‘I have to call an ambulance’. Perversely, the third thought was, ‘I hope my bike is OK.’
All this time, the woman who had caused the accident was standing over me and asking, ‘Are you ok? Here’s my card.’ I was about to scream at her, ‘Call an ambulance you idiot!’ when I heard a couple of male voices come within earshot. The first guy came close and said to my ear, ‘Lie still. You’re bleeding from somewhere on your head, don’t move, we’re calling for help.’ Just then I became aware that my iPhone, which I had mounted on the handlebars of my bike, was still playing music. The song was Guns and Roses’ “Paradise City”. I asked the guy if he could get my phone, go to my Favorite contacts, and call my wife. He admonished me not to move and did what I asked. After a quick conversation with her, he told me not to worry and that my wife was coming.
In the next few minutes while I was lying there in pain, I could hear more people coming in, including the police. They took a statement from the pedestrian lady. I tried to open my eyes but couldn’t because of the blood that had caked on my eyes; I had difficulty breathing so one of the guys used a wet towel to wipe my face very carefully. I obviously couldn’t see myself so I asked the guy how bad it was; he didn’t say anything except, ‘Don’t worry the ambulance is on its way’, which I took to mean, ‘It’s very very bad’. While waiting, I systematically flexed each of my muscle groups, and they all seemed to be working. I even managed to pop my oft-dislocated right shoulder joint back in, while lying face down on the pavement (they hadn’t moved me for fear of any spinal injuries).
The ambulance arrived, and a team of 4 or 5 paramedics expertly immobilized my neck with a brace, slid an emergency stretcher under me, and lifted me to the vehicle. I asked after my bike, and the lead medic said, ‘Sorry sir, we don’t have space for that inside.’ Fortunately, one of the Good Samaritans heard me and told me not to worry, he had my address (from my wife) and would take the bike home. He put my iPhone in my left hand and I whispered thanks, and I was really grateful to have people around willing to help me. All this time, I still had the wet towel compressed on my face, (the medics advised to just hold on to it until we got to the hospital) so I couldn’t see anyone or anything. The blindness added to the anxiety. I didn’t even know if my eyes were actually OK or not.
As soon as the ambulance door closed, the medic leader kept talking to me, asking about the accident, how it happened, where had I come from, where I had ridden, (‘You rode 70km today?? That’s insane!’) etc. It was non-stop and in retrospect, I think that was deliberate, to keep me from worrying and to make the ride seem short.
The ambulance arrived at the hospital and the medic team transferred me to a gurney with their usual efficiency. The first thing the doctors did as soon as I was wheeled inside was to test if I could feel my extremities. I told them I could, but they did the test anyway. Once they ruled out the possibility of spinal damage, they started to work on my face. The nurses cleaned me up, and while waiting for the doctor, I used my iPhone to take a picture of my face. What I saw made my blood pressure go up a few notches, with the possibility that I would look like that for the rest of my life going through my mind… fortunately a plastic surgeon came in, took a quick look and assured me I was going to be OK. He stitched together the skin on my right eyebrow, right eyelid and upper lip. At that time it was painful as hell and seemed haphazard but in a couple of months I realized that the doc had been damned good at his job.
Soon after my wife arrived and even though she was shocked at my appearance, to her credit she held her tongue and just waited patiently as I went through another battery of tests for my dislocated arm, as well as some painkilling and antibiotic injections. After a few hours, the nurse-in-charge told me that I would not need to spend the night at the hospital and I could be discharged as soon as I felt ready to go. Having spent almost 16 hours in my sweaty cycle jersey, I was soo ready to finally make it home. There was one more thing though… the bill. As my wife went off to get it I felt my adrenalin and anxiety welling up again – had I been able to I would have definitely chosen ‘flight’ at that moment. My medical insurance only covered the first $500, and with the ambulance and all I was pretty sure it would cost at least 4 times that much. When my wife came back she asked, ‘did you already pay beforehand?’ because the bill was… drumroll… $99 Singapore dollars. I thought there had been a mistake, maybe that was just for the meds, but the nurse said that that was it. Score one for the Singapore Government’s healthcare program, they are getting my vote.
When I got home I immediately got the numbers of the Good Samaritans who had helped me from my wife’s phone and called each of them to thank them. I know it would have been a lot worse if they had not been there. Turned out they were Joyriders members who had ridden with me earlier in the day, but I had not known any of them personally. They just happened to be going by the same road home and had stopped to aid a fallen cyclist in need. Bless ’em.
In the aftermath, I had two weeks off from work but was back to cycling in a week, and made it a point to pass by the place where I had had the accident, just to clear any traumas out of my mind. After all I was racing there in less than a month. The scars on my face took around 2 months to heal, but now have done so well that nobody even notices unless I point them out. As a direct result of this accident I bought a bike trainer and now do the majority of my bike training at home.
The accident made me think of my priorities in life. A few more inches here and there and I could have been much more seriously hurt. General attitude and lack of infrastructure have made cycling one of the most dangerous sports in Singapore. Perhaps that is what makes it so thrilling and attractive. Nowadays, I take all possible safety measures, I stop at every single stop light. It’s not quite the same as before, my attitude towards training is different. And perhaps that is the way it should be.
I’m somebody old enough to remember when the sound of the ice cream man’s bell would bring neighborhood kids out running to the street. Nowadays nobody can hear anything with their ears plugged in to their iPhones.
In a few days I will be traveling to Malaysia to Penang Bridge International (Half) Marathon. It’s a 21k run (there is a Full 42k too but my wife and friends only joined the Half) across the 13.5 km long Penang Bridge.
Aside from its length, there’s nothing really particularly distinctive about this bridge. But it did remind me of my long-standing fascination with bridges. Ever since I was a kid, I would build bridges, starting with blocks, then on to Lego bricks, then got interested in designing bridges as a student of Architecture in the 90’s. Bridges were fascinating because from the dawn of built structures, they have had only one function: to connect people and places from one point to another. How it did exactly that was up to the bridge designer. There were any number of structural complications possible in any type of bridge; and the structure was always ‘honest’ – simple, direct and to-the-point functional, unlike much of what passes today’s architecture. More often than not, this simplicity made them beautiful. Recent advances in materials technology has allowed bridge designers to make today’s modern bridges even more beautiful and breathtaking than their ancient counterparts. Below are some of the bridges I’ve had the fortune to visit and admire; and some I would like to see and go across before I die.
PONTE VECCHIO, FLORENCE
Visited 2002 – Built in the 13th century to span the river Arno at its narrowest point, its structure uses stone spandrels that have aged beautifully. The most interesting thing about it is the shops that are still built atop its length. These used to be occupied by butchers and tanners but now used by jewellers, souvenir and art sellers. One of Italy’s great romantic bridges.
Visited 2002 – The shortest bridge in this list, this passes from the Rio di Palazzo in Venice over to the Doge’s Palace, which are both currently museums. In 1602 when the bridge was built, this passage was used by for criminals on their way to the prisons. It was imagined by Lord Byron (who gave the bridge its romantic name) that they would take their last view of beautiful Venice from here and sigh before they lost their freedom. There is also a local legend which says that lovers will live happily ever after if they kiss on a gondola under the bridge at sunset. Sounds like a story concocted by some enterprising gondoliers to me.
SYDNEY HARBOR BRIDGE
Visited 1996 – Probably one of the most photographed bridges in the world due to its dominating location in proximity to the Sydney Opera House as well as being the center of Australia’s New Year celebrations each year. I’d seen many pictures of it before seeing it for real in ’96 but nothing really prepares you for the scale of the thing; it looks small in pictures for some reason. I would love to have the opportunity to run or cycle this bridge one day. I think passing over a bridge on foot / bike and having an open view of the sky is really the only way to experience a bridge.
DNA HELIX BRIDGE, SINGAPORE
Visited quite often – I see this bridge almost everyday as it is near my current workplace project. Its a good example of how to overcomplicate something with a relatively simple purpose, but I do have to say it looks great at night, and is one of the most photogenic sites in Singapore.
BARELANG BRIDGE – Indonesia
Visited 2011 – Last year I cycled Batam from end to end with a group of friends. It was around 80km each way and during the ride the weather would change from sunny to downpour and back again. Riding up the Barelang Bridge with the awesome views on all sides was an awesome experience
The daily delivery. Dimensions approx 3.5ft x 22kg. Handle with care, extremely fragile!