First off, for those expecting an entry on cycling, many apologies. This will be a once a year deviation, I promise. For the rest of you, here goes! Ah, and another apology now that I’m done this thing. 2008 was pretty dragon boat heavy, so for the few of you aren’t hip to the DB scene (your loss, by the way) you may want to cut to July.
JANUARY / FEBRUARY / MARCH
January saw election time on our dragon boat team in Singapore and me being elected men’s captain. Ok, so I was the only candidate. What matters is I won! Here are a few pictures of my first gig as captain, the SAVA Sprints, pretty much the hardest race of the year, usually due to teams of bionic Filipinos flown in to humiliate us. This year was no different.
Here’s the men’s boat pretending to form a strategy before a race.
And here we are making that strategy work, putting the boat into reverse.
In February I stayed in the endless summer of Singapore and Shoko went to visit her mom in obviously-not-summer Japan.
The beginning of the year was also the time we decided to leave Singapore and try our hand at Europe. We applied in February, I think, and miraculously the French gave us two visas to stay a year, 3 weeks later. From then on it was full-time dragon boating and very part-time French studying till our departure in June.
Oh, and we had visitors in February. Sonya and Ali, from Australia and The Netherlands respectively, have been cycling non-stop since 2006, and dropped by our place for a few days stay, on their way up the Malaysian peninsula and into Thailand. I don’t have pictures, but you can catch theirs by following this link. It’s an amazing website, by the way. They are still on the road in fact – in Mexico now.
APRIL / MAY / JUNE
April saw the 2nd annual ‘Divas Race’, which is supposed to be a forum for the ladies to shine. Unfortunately for them this year, there was also something called the ‘Drag Queens’ competition, and I only have photos of that. You’ll see why soon enough.
In May Shoko and I, along with about 50 other dragon boaters from Singapore, hopped on various planes to the beautiful island of Boracay, Philippines, home to the biggest dragon boat party of the year, as well as some races during the day…
This is on the ferry from the mainland to the island. I’m not sure if the double exclamation marks are to give confidence or instill fear. Fortunately we had our DB life vests.
A few pics of the aforementioned party (part one).
Sorry Ken. I’m not sure if I got your best side on those last two shots!
And then it was race morning…
And the Singapore Barbarians had their race faces on…
But so did the locals…?
We ended up doing respectively well, considering we were a team put together that weekend. The last evening was a blur, but for those who remember it, it apparently was one of the best parties ever. I’ll take their word for it.
Shoko made yet another trip to Japan to visit her mom in May – a final ‘short’ jaunt before the semi-annual long hauls she’ll have to be doing from France.
Also in May the team took part in the Ultimate Dragon Tug, a tug of war between dragon boats, if you couldn’t get it from the name. I thought it was a really stupid idea until that weekend, and we ended up having a blast. The technique is totally different from regular dragon boating and weight (and the power that comes from it) is all important. Well, not many teams can touch us for weight, so it’s not a surprise we came away with the most medals in all of Singapore.
This is us, up against the American boat.
And here we are, moments later, beating the Americans.
Next up, the Australians.
And it just sort of went that way most of the day. We finished the day winning both the lightweight and heavyweight men’s competition. Our Maple Leaf flag got a good workout that evening.
No, this next photo is not me telling a lost tourist where to go. It’s a Japanese journalist asking me questions about the race day…must have been a slow news day in Singapore that day!
June was totally jam-packed. We moved house, as our lease was up and we wanted to stay in Singapore for the biggest race of the year at the end of the month. Our good friend Ayen graciously welcomed us into her place for the whole month. At the beginning of the month I had our stuff sent off to France and all the official things done, so we spent June training and carbing up for the race. Well, if ice cream is carbs…
Then the big day came. The timing of this last weekend was insane. Because our French course near Nice started on the Monday morning, and the race was Saturday and Sunday, we had to race all weekend, go to our after-race party, then run to the airport for a 11pm flight to France to almost make it time for the beginning of the course. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This weekend in June will surely go down in history as one of the very best of my life, and I think I can speak for Shoko as well. Our team had been training intensely for this race, with some of us at Kallang 4 days a week religiously, plus the usual gym / run / bike in between. There was also a lot of pressure on us, since we were the defending champions in our division (Expat), and rumors were flying around that our friendly rivals, The Aussies, were training even harder and were intent on taking what was rightfully Canadian property.
I won’t bore you with the details of every single race those two days, but just about everything went our way. We had an excellent Saturday, posting some of the fastest overall times in the heats, and drew good semis on Sunday. But to cut to the chase, in the Expat Finals we had two boats up against the Aussies, Americans, Germans, and I think the Japanese. And it all came together, just like it’s supposed to. We were out ahead from the start, held off the Aussies through the middle, and made a blistering charge to win by about half a boat’s length. Elation is probably a good word to describe the feeling on the boat after those 800 meters, but for me at least, the word doesn’t do it justice. It was pretty much an indescribable feeling. All I can say is there couldn’t have been a better send-off.
So Dream Team (Danny, Shoko, Pauline Y, Ayen, Clement, Kirby, Mark W, Jesper, Marilyn, Matthias, Raj, Thilo, Rob, Ken, Paul, Pauline A, Analu, Bindu and Wann), here’s to you…you made my June!
Here’s one of our boats burning down the course.
Unfortunately I don’t have any shots of our winning boat, since Shoko and I were on it, and the whole damn team was on the water for the Expat finals, so words will have to do the trick.
Our success on the water was pretty much trumped though by Melvin, a veteran of the team. He made a very public (and hence very risky) marriage proposal to Mina, a paddler from the Aussies of all teams! Luckily for Mel, she said yes and more tears were shed on the team. Here they are with us at the awards ceremony. Does that guy look happy, or what!
And the moment of glory…
And one more for the road!
And that was that. Our two years in Singapore were done.
JULY / AUGUST / SEPTEMBER
So the very next day, June 30th, we are sitting in the Institut de Francais in Villefranche sur Mer, taking a level check! It’s too bizarre for words, but maybe a good way to make the move – just jump right in.
Well, not exactly ‘jump’. We had a full month of intensive French at this school before actually being chucked into society. And it’s a good thing we did. My French was disgraceful, after 2 years speaking Singlish, 9 years of very bad Japanese, and another couple of decades forgetting the little I had learned in high…no junior high school! Shoko, on the other hand, is a good student and had been studying all along, actually putting her in a higher level than me at the school. I did join her a couple of days later in her class, but the damage had already been done to my self worth…
Anyway, this school is world famous and justifiably so. Only French is allowed, even at meals, and the method is very strict and systematic. Having taught English for nearly 10 years it was a joy to watch real professionals in action 😉
Here are some shots of the town and the school.
The view from the school. It’s a wonder anybody learns anything…
August saw us on a plane once again, to Canada this time. Again, the timing was crazy. After a month in Villefranche we spent a hurried week in Montpellier (where we planned to live) trying to find an apartment. Lesson #1 – don’t try and get anything done in France in August. Most businesses are closed and the rest of them are in slow-mo summer mode. I can’t count the number of times someone said they’d call me back ‘tomorrow’ and 3 days later having to go to the office to remind them I existed.
But family awaited us in Gaspe, so off we flew for a week of good quality time with relatives. Special thanks to Darlene for offering up her whole house for the week, and Scott for his many toys of leisure. Here we are in one of them.
And a couple pictures of the center of the universe, Gaspe, Quebec.
And one with family thrown in.
And all too soon it was back in Montpellier, France. It took another 3 weeks or so, but we finally got that apartment, right in the center of the old town, and after a few more weeks we received our ‘Cartes de Sejour’ to keep us in France legally. Here is what awaits if you come and visit us in Montpellier!
In September Shoko started her university French course, spending her free time at home conjugating verbs and talking to herself in French. Me, I started lessons a couple times a week at a small school near the apartment, with the world’s most patient French teacher! I spend my free time at home avoiding verbs and listening to Shoko speak to herself in French.
This month we also got our first visitor. Yoshiko spent a couple of days with us on her grand tour of France. Hope to see you next year, Yoshiko!
On the sports side of life, Shoko found a route in town and has started up her running again. And I’ve been cycling whenever the weather is perfect, which is most days around this time of year. Keep scrolling down after this wrap up (for the brave ones who make it that far.) to see my cycling blog. Mostly pictures and maps, so not that painful, I’m promise.
OCTOBER / NOVEMBER / DECEMBER
In October we got a visit from newlyweds Nigel and Maki. They thankfully added Montpellier to their honeymoon itinery and we had a great time together. Here we are on rented bikes, fruitlessly searching for a winery that alluded both our GPSes.
Maybe we were too busy taking pictures of each other…
Throughout the fall we pretty much stayed around town, getting to know the area, except for a couple of overnight cycling trips (in the blog below) and one weekend trip to Lyon.
And that’s that. 2008 is in the record books. I hope you all have a super 2009, and if you’re in the neighborhood be sure to call in!