The weight is over: time to diet (thanks a lot, Singapore)

I never thought my (previously) scrawny arse would ever have to say this but here goes:

I have to go on a diet.

When I moved to Singapore two years ago, I weighed a mere 66kg. A little on the slim side, perhaps, but I’m not very tall. I need to wear thick-soled shoes if I want to say that I’m 5’7″ and get away with it.

I was unhealthy back in Australia. I skipped lunch at work all the time, ate plenty of junk food, smoked too much and never exercised. Well, I did cycle now and then. But I did it on my motorcycle. That offers about as much physical benefit as a rubber bone offers a starving dog.

Then I moved to Singapore.

I’ve posted about how good the food is here but I probably haven’t made the point that hawker centres aren’t exactly founts of nutrition and good health. Roti prata, kway teow (fried noodles), chilli crab, char siew, and all sorts of mee goreng have made their way into my list of favourite foods but they’re about as healthy as being trampled by a group of drunken soccer hooligans heading home after a heavy loss. I need to drink beer all the time in Singapore (it’s always so hot… that’s my excuse and I’m going with it) which hasn’t exactly helped either. Add to that the fact that we travel a lot and love to try the food wherever we go, what happened is no surprise: slowly but surely, my wardrobe started to strain under the weight of my… uh… weight. So my girlfriend and I joined a gym.

"Please don't eat me!" I'll try, little buddy. I'll try...

“Please don’t eat me!”I’ll try, little buddy. I’ll try…

I worked hard for a few months and toned up a little. The few flabby kilos I’d put on turned to muscle and while images of me in boxer briefs weren’t about to grace packets of underwear, I was healthier than I’d ever been. But, as always happens when you hit the gym, my appetite swelled to insane proportions. I’d go to restaurants and ask if there was a course between the appetizer and the main. Steak became a side dish. I was always hungry but I worked hard and burned all those calories off before they had a chance to congeal into a rotund, pants-splitting arse. Life was good: I was healthy, I felt good and, for the first time in my life, I had biceps (albeit small ones). Then then I used up all the sessions I had with my personal trainer. He was great and I turned up religiously because I’d booked sessions in with him and I felt obliged to go but, once the sessions ran out, I got lazy.

Roti Prata. Ever notice how oily food makes paper wrappers become clear? Rub roti prata on a concrete floor and it will become clear.

Roti Prata. Absolutely delicious, but ever notice how oily food makes paper wrappers become clear? Rub roti prata on a concrete floor and it will become clear.

My workouts stopped but my gargantuan appetite just wouldn’t abate. That’s when I slid very ungracefully from ‘not about to grace packets of underwear’ to Michelin Man tryouts.

Except for socks, I outgrew every single piece of clothing I’d brought over from Australia including the tailored Hugo Boss suit that my girlfriend bought me as a present shortly before she left for Singapore (she got here four months before I did). It was, without question, the best fitting garment I had ever owned. Right now, my thighs can barely fit into the pants, my arms can’t get into the sleeves unless I coat my arms in butter and there is zero chance of buttoning up the jacket without sucking in my gut and holding my breath. If I relax and take a breath, chances are the button will fly off at ballistic speeds and blind someone.

When I brush my teeth in the morning, everything below my jawline jiggles like jelly being jack-hammered and it doesn’t stop until a good fifteen seconds after I’ve finished brushing. I went from being able to do fifty push ups with ease to being able to eat fifty of most things with ease. Chairs creak and groan audibly underneath me when I sit. ‘Could it really be that bad?’ you ask…

I weighed 66kg when I got here. I now weigh 84.5 kilograms. I’ve put on 18 kilograms since I got here in September, 2011. That’s 18kgs in 22 months, an increase in body weight of over 25%.

So I’ve had it. I’m going on a *sigh* diet. I’m going to *sigh* cut back on beer, sweets, chocolate and anything else that gives me any sort of *sigh* pleasure when I consume it. I’m going to start exercising and get healthy again. I’ve set myself a goal: I will shed 10kg in the next three months. That will get me to a half-decent weight for healthy guy at my height with my build. I’m yet to lay down a proper fitness regime or choose a specific diet but cutting out the roti prata and getting up off the couch every now and then would be a great place to start. I might even give up cigarettes but one thing at a time. My girlfriend always tells me that she’s worried that I’ll get sick if I keep smoking. Little does she know that it’s already happened: I’m sick of her asking me to stop. Besides, life is short. Why make it even shorter?

I’m going to share my progress with you as the weeks pass, dear reader. If you’re going through the same thing, let me know and share your experiences. I’ll be sharing mine so we can push each other along.

Note to gut: you’re finished. The Battle of the Bulge is on.

"Reckon you can give up my burgers? Good luck, buddy!"

“Reckon you can give up my burgers? Good f#cking luck, buddy!”

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The sauce of all happiness: Satay at Lau Pa Sat

Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre is a five minute walk from our apartment. If I had known this when my girlfriend signed our rental agreement, I wouldn’t have scoffed at the amount of rent we signed up to pay for the next couple of years.

Hawker centres are a huge part of the Singaporean culinary experience. Lau Pa Sat is also a part of its history.

Hawker centres are a huge part of the Singaporean culinary experience. Lau Pa Sat is also a part of its history.

The hawker centrea is actually called Telok Ayer Market but is known colloquially as Lau Pa Sat. There’s a bit of history about the place.

It first opened in 1825. Originally, it sat at the water’s edge but, due to land reclamation, is now a couple of kilometres inland in the middle of Singapore’s busy CBD. Back then, boats would pull up and unload produce directly into the market. Needing a serious upgrade from its weather-battered wooden beginnings, it underwent a drastic overhaul. A cast iron frame was shipped from Glasgow around a hundred and forty years ago, the same frame that holds it up to this day. In the 1970’s, it was converted from a market into a hawker centre.

Telok Ayer Market way back in the day. It's now two kilometres inland thanks to aggressive land reclamation.

Telok Ayer Market way back in the day. It’s now two kilometres inland thanks to aggressive land reclamation.

Lau Pa Sat comes alive at night when a section of road in front of it is closed off and tables are laid out. When the dozen or so stalls that pop up nightly set up their charcoal-fired grills and the smoky smell of barbecue fills the air, locals and tourists alike flock there to enjoy the food and the cool atmosphere.

Eating out on the street is so much fun. It gets smoky sometimes but it is worth it.

I usually can’t breathe properly by the time I leave, probably because of the strain my belly suffers when trying to hold over a dozen satay sticks plus all that beer.

Under the centre’s roof, dozens of stalls sell all manner of Asian food. At the centre of the hawker centre is a large dumpling stall that sells fried and steamed dumplings of all sorts. I often eat nothing but those. No rice, no sides. Just plates of dumplings, char siew bao (steamed pork buns), fried spring rolls and fried prawn dumplings as well as a few other bits and pieces that I don’t know the name of. I usually just point and say “I’ll have two of those, one of these and a plate of those please, auntie” (older people in Singapore are called ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ as a sign of respect). The dumpling stall is surrounded by scores of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Malay and Italian eateries as well as places that specialize in BBQ, vegetarian dishes, noodles and anything else you can think of.

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My girlfriend and I had dinner there last night. She felt like some Korean from one of the stalls inside so I grabbed some tasty prawn dumplings. We sat down for what was really just an appetizer for me.

The fun really started when we moved outside a few minutes later and ordered a plate of satay sticks…

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Beef, chicken, mutton, pork and prawn satay are everywhere as well as a handful of other choices. Smoky-flavoured, juicy pieces of meat and prawns are sold at every stall lining the road although, personally, I can’t tell the difference between them.

They’re all fantastic but the sauce is what really keeps me coming back. It is so good that it’s drinkable. Sweet, sticky, spicy, thick and as tasty as food can get. I don’t really dip my sticks in the sauce. Rather, I pretend that my stick is a spoon by trying to scoop up as much sauce as it’s possible for one small piece of meat to hold. Grab a mug or jug of beer with your sticks and you’re set for a fantastic and surprisingly cheap meal. Sticks are sixty cents a pop, cheaper still if you order a set.

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It’s not just that the food is great. I love the lively atmosphere, the mix of tourists and locals (the presence of locals suggests quality!), the history of the place and the fact that it’s a five minute walk from home.

There is a segue into my next post here…

For dinner, I ate three prawn dumplings and – I can’t believe I’m about to admit this – fifteen satay sticks. I couldn’t help myself. They’re just so good! Unsurprisingly, I now weigh far too much. How much, I hear you ask? Since arriving in Singapore nearly two years ago, I’ve put on 18kg.

I’ve posted about my love of the local food and my adoption of Singapore’s passionate approach to all things culinary but things have to change so my next post will be about my effort to shed those kilos. Stay tuned!


The long, long, looooong way round: Oxfam’s Trailwalker 2013

It’s Tuesday, 16th of April. As I type this, the little toe on my left foot has mere scraps of skin still attached to it and the toe is looking like a badly peeled grape. The outer edge of my left heel has a piece of skin the size of a 20 cent coin missing from it thanks to a recurring blister that, in total disgust at its own softness, decided to turn into a tough little callous which came off at the slightest provocation (by which I mean that I constantly and maniacally picked at it). My right knee has had a gritty crunch and a small but sometimes sharp twinge of pain piercing through it intermittently for a fortnight now and I have spent nearly two thousand dollars on a variety of hiking equipment, airfares, accommodation, isotonic drinks, blister kits and much-needed post-training beers. Sure, sounds like reason to wonder what the hell I’ve been doing to my lower half and why I’m paying for it through the nose but these are just the external symptoms of an internal change that has been three months in the making.

My team and I, collectively known as the Inkredibles, have been spending the last three months hardening our minds and bodies to tackle Oxfam’s Trailwalker event being held in the Dandenong ranges, just outside of Melbourne, on the 19th of April.

TW TrainingIt’s a 100km walk for charity based on a Gurkha training exercise created around thirty years ago where these tough warriors would pit themselves against a 100km hike through Hong Kong’s mountainous trails. It’s a great way to sort the men from the boys: weaker Gurkhas probably died from exhaustion, their rotting corpses left strewn across the mountainside as a glaring message to the rest of their regiment: “Make it – or be left strewn across the mountainside as a glaring message to the rest of your regiment”.

Yes, it’s only three days away and at the risk of sounding like anything less than a red-blooded Australian bloke, I’m nervous and a little scared. The fear of searing blisters and foot-pain beyond reason isn’t playing on my mind. Nor is the sense of dread that looms when I think about facing a 30 hour, non-stop walk through Australia’s southern regions in temperatures that will fall as low as five degrees overnight. What has been playing on my mind more than anything is the thought that I might let my team down by not being able to complete the event. I worry that an injury or unbearable pain or something as seemingly innocuous as a blister might force me to pull out of the event. It might be an unwarranted thought. After all, we’ve spent every weekend of the last three months hiking through Singapore’s lush green centre in scorching temperatures and air so humid you could nearly swim though it. And mentally, I’m prepared to tackle the walk. What worries me is that my feet might suddenly decide that they don’t appreciate being treated like thankless galley slaves and may choose to revolt by simply refusing to be placed one in front of the other – probably ever again.

IMG_3459But then I think about our efforts over the last three months: no late Friday nights – if you think the average hang over is bad, try super-sizing it by tackling a seven hour hike through a hot and humid tropical rainforest – and no more Saturday morning sleep ins, having to leave my woman’s warm, soft body every Saturday morning at 6am for a warm, soft muddy trail, spending my Sundays walking around so stiffly that anyone would think I had donated my living body to the science of proctology, a hefty financial commitment that could’ve paid off most of my credit card and training hikes that started with sweaty but relatively light four hour strolls and culminated in an eleven-and-a-half-hour 50km trek.

Ok, maybe I can do this…

Then I started thinking about the people we’re doing this for and I did some research on Oxfam’s sites. I read about kids with no clean water to drink from, kids who have a high chance of dying from dehydration and waterborne diseases, kids who, through a lack of education, have little chance of breaking the cycle of poverty, parents who walk eight hours a day to get to the only source of water that they know so their kids can drink when they know that the water will probably make them sick anyway, people who have so little food that their bellies swell like taut balloons and, worst of all, people who have to bury their children and parents because few people care enough to forgo a couple of pints so that they can donate a few dollars to groups like Oxfam.

At the risk of sounding heartless, I’ll admit it – I started out doing this simply for the challenge. I guess that created a space where the fear that I might not rise to the challenge could set in. But now there’s a greater value in participating, something infinitely more rewarding, something that is fueling my desire to grab this event by the horns and wrestle it down to the ground.

Now, the fear has faded and I’m no longer wondering if I can I do this.

The question I’m asking myself now is: how could I not do this?

Post script: depending on how badly it hurts when I’m done, the question may change to “What the hell were you thinking, you unfit meat bag?”