Japan voters seen boosting Abe in parliament vote

TOKYO — Japanese voters are suspicious of the government’s economic policies and don’t trust controversial plans to change the pacifist constitution — but they are still expected to hand Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition victory in parliamentary elections.

Analysts predict the ageing and conservative electorate will back Abe as the only viable choice faced with an opposition widely criticised as ineffectual.

“The others are horrible,” said Tokyo resident Akira Hachinohe, 52, who plans to vote for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

“They are opposing the government for the sake of opposing it,” he added. “I don’t have a choice other than to vote for the LDP.”

At stake in Sunday’s vote is half the 242-seat upper chamber of parliament.

Known as the House of Councillors, it is a motley crew of descendants of former lawmakers, ex-sports stars and entertainers as well as former technocrats and grassroots activists.

It wields less power than the lower, yet larger, House of Representatives, which sits for a four-year term unless dissolved early.

Having been largely written off after a failed 2006-2007 stint as prime minister, Abe seized a second chance after a left-leaning government collapsed at the polls in late 2012.

He promised to end deflation through public spending and easy money – so-called Abenomics.

He also sought to beef up Japan’s defences, revise the constitution and promote conservative social values.

His forceful demeanour boosted confidence. Stocks initially soared and businesses reaped record profits as the yen fell.

But the effect has wore off and the world’s third-largest economy has since lurched back and forth from growth to contraction, with the deflation dragon yet to be slayed.

In a recent poll by the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun daily, 45 per cent disapproved of Abe’s economic policies. Some 74 per cent said they did not “feel” the recovery Abe touts.

But the same survey indicated a 49-per cent approval rating for his government.

“Anybody who can hang on and provide stability and predictability is good” in the eyes of most voters, said Saori Katada, who teaches international relations at the University of Southern California.

Even so, dissatisfaction with a lack of alternatives has turned off many from voting in recent years, resulting in falling turnouts that have only benefited the LDP’s well-greased political machine.

“My salary has been cut because of the economy,” said a 31-year-old construction worker, who declined to give his name and doesn’t plan to vote.

“I don’t think the election will change anything for me,” he added.

A wildcard this time is that Japan’s voting age has been lowered from 20 to 18 to encourage young people to take part in the political process.

To what extent they will turn out and who they will support remains unclear.

Abe’s LDP and coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed Komeito, already enjoy a majority in the upper house, where members sit six-year terms. The other half of seats will be contested in three years’ time.

But Abe hopes that the coalition and a loose group of hawkish conservatives from smaller parties can grab a two-thirds majority in the chamber.

With the ruling bloc already controlling a super majority in the lower house, a similar result in the upper chamber could give Abe the strength to start amending Japan’s constitution.

The document, which renounces the country’s right to wage war, is deplored by nationalists as a “shameful” US-imposed abomination, though many Japanese staunchly embrace its pacifist ideal.

But any legislation that mustered the two-thirds majorities needed in both chambers to change it would face another hurdle — a national referendum — and few expect Abe has the necessary political capital to win such a plebiscite.

While surveys have shown voter weariness over Abe’s policies, some take a longer-term perspective.

“The economy and other things were horrible before” he came to power, said a 72-year-old real estate agent, who declined to give his name.

“Japan is safe. People are comfortable,” he added. “I remember the time after World War II. People were poor.” — AFP

US probes second suspected Tesla crash

NEW YORK — US highway safety officials said on Wednesday that they are investigating a second crash of a Tesla car that may have been operating on the vehicle’s pioneering self-drive autopilot technology.

A week after a fatal Florida crash came to light involving the luxury electric car’s autopilot hands-free system, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was looking at a non-fatal accident that took place on July 1
in Pennsylvania.

The NHTSA is investigating “to determine whether automated functions were in use at the time of the crash,” a spokesman said.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the owner of a Model X, Tesla’s newest, SUV-styled model, told police the car was using autopilot when it crashed and rolled over last week. Both the owner and his son escaped injury, police told the newspaper.

Tesla confirmed it had received an electronic data message from the car “indicating a crash event”, but said that it had not received driving logs that would confirm whether the self-drive system had been in operation.

“We immediately reached out to the customer to confirm they were OK and offer support, but were unable to reach him,” the company said.

“It is not possible to learn more without access to the vehicle’s onboard logs.”

Autopilot can steer the car on highways and brake at dangers its sensors detect. But the Pennsylvania crash added to concerns that the self-drive system is encouraging drivers to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods even though the car cannot sense and avoid all dangers.

In the Florida accident, which occurred on May 7, preliminary reports indicated that a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla from the opposite side of a divided highway. The car failed to stop with the truck in front of it and ran under the trailer, destroying the car and killing the driver.

“Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied,” Tesla said in a statement. — AFP

Bangladesh reels after another deadly attack

DHAKA — Suspected Islamists carried out a new deadly attack yesterday at a huge prayer gathering in northern Bangladesh to celebrate the end of Ramadan, only days after the mass murder of hostages here.

Authorities said four people, including two policemen, had been killed after several explosions and gunfire near a prayer ground in Kishoreganj district as at least 250,000 people joined a post-Ramadan gathering.

“Two policemen, an attacker and a woman who was shot during the gunfight were killed,” national police spokesman A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman said.

“Nine policemen were also injured. They are in a critical condition and have been shifted to a military hospital in Dhaka.”

Another senior officer said a group of at least three attackers had hurled hand bombs at police manning a checkpoint just outside the main prayer ground, which is around 150km north of Dhaka.

Nearly 1,000 police were on duty in Kishoreganj at the time of the attack.

“We responded with gunfire. A gunfight ensued and they fired back and threw more hand bombs,” Tofazzal Hosain, the northern district’s deputy police chief, said.

Two attackers were arrested, including one who had been shot and injured, while a pistol and machete were recovered from the scene.

The gathering in Kishoreganj is known as the Sholakia Eid prayers and officials put the number of people at the service yesterday at between 250 and 300,000.

It is by far the biggest such congregation in Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim country that is home to around 160 million people.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it came less than a week after Islamists killed 20 hostages and two policemen in an overnight siege at a Western-style cafe in Dhaka. All the victims, including 18 foreigners, were hacked to death with machetes.

Bangladesh has been on a heightened state of alert in the wake of the killings in Dhaka last Friday night and many services that were held yesterday to mark the start of Eid included pleas from religious leaders for an end to the violence.

“Allah, protect our country … and protect our children from the evils of terrorism,” Mohammad Sadequl Islam, the local imam, told a gathering of around 5,000 devotees at Dhaka’s Mahakhali neighbourhood yesterday.

Many of those who attended services in Dhaka could be seen openly weeping as clerics led prayers for a more peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh.

The government immediately launched a clampdown on social media sites spreading jihadist propaganda after an attack on a Dhaka cafe, saying the country’s young were being radicalised online.

Authorities said the deadly siege at an upmarket cafe popular with foreigners had been an “eye-opener”, exposing the role of social media in recruiting young men to jihadist groups.

“Social media has become a fertile ground for recruiting militants,” the head of the telecoms regulator Shahjahan Mahmood said.

“The attack was an eye-opener for us. They (jihadist groups) attract the young men through social media.”

Mahmood said the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had ordered YouTube to remove videos of “radical preachings”, including those of the firebrand cleric Jashim Uddin Rahmani.

He was sentenced to five years jail last December after his speeches were found to have incited Islamist militants to kill the atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in early 2013.

Shortly after the cafe siege, it emerged that several of the Bangladesh attackers were young, tech-savvy men from wealthy families and had easy access to social media.

“Uploading, sharing, commenting or liking any video, images or speech in the social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in support of the Islamic State or militancy is a punishable offence,” deputy Inspector General of Police A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman said.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are already working around the clock to take down jihadist accounts, but they often pop up again under different names. — AFP

Blair defends Iraq war after damning inquiry report

LONDON — Former British prime minister Tony Blair yesterday made a passionate defence of the 2003 war in Iraq, after a long-awaited official inquiry condemned it as woefully executed and based on flawed evidence.

His voice cracking with emotion, Blair said he had “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe” for some mistakes in the planning of a war that deeply divided Britain.

But, in a two-hour press conference, he stuck resolutely to his defence, as more than 100 anti-war protesters rallied in London, shouting: “Blair lied, thousands died” and “war criminal Tony Blair.”

“I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer” without Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Blair told reporters.

The long-awaited Chilcot report offered a damning verdict on Britain’s role in the US-led war, detailing the flawed intelligence, questionable legal basis and “woefully inadequate” preparation for the occupation.

Iraq’s descent into violence and loss of life following the invasion saw 150,000 Iraqis killed by the time most British troops left in 2009.

The report said Britain deployed troops before diplomatic options had been exhausted.

It also highlighted how Blair wrote to president George W. Bush in July 2002, the year before the war saying: “I will be with you, whatever.”

The inquiry found that “military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point. But in March 2003 there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein”.

Shortly after Blair had responded to the report, current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn — a top figure in the anti-war campaign — directly contradicted the former Labour premier.

“The invasion and occupation of Iraq was a catastrophe,” Corbyn, who formed the Stop the War coalition, said in a speech to the families of British soldiers who died.

“I now apologise sincerely on behalf of my party for the disastrous decision to go to war in Iraq,” he said.

The war was justified at the time by claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but they were never found and the intelligence was later withdrawn.

Inquiry chairman John Chilcot laid the blame for this firmly on spy chiefs, clearing Blair’s officials of “improperly” influencing a key intelligence paper published in September 2002.

The report also criticised Blair for failing to challenge Bush on the lack of planning for the post-invasion phase — and dismissed his assertion that the impact of local militia and Iran could not have been predicted.

“I accept that especially in hindsight we should have approached the situation differently,” said Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

But he added: “There were no lies, parliament and cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war. The intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith.”

Iraq remains plagued by sectarian violence — on Sunday at least 250 people were killed by a Baghdad suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group.

Blair rejected claims the war led to the rise of Islamist groups in the region, saying Saddam was “himself a wellspring of terror” — but admitted many disagreed.

Relatives of some of the 179 British soldiers who died in Iraq said they would scrutinise the findings for possible grounds for legal action against Blair and other officials.

“The inquiry has confirmed all our fears that these young men and women were deployed on the back of a falsehood,” said Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew, 34, died in 2005.

The legality of the invasion was not in his remit, but Chilcot said the process of deciding the legal basis for war was “far from satisfactory”.

“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort,” he said.

The families are not the only ones considering legal action against Blair — a cross-party group of MPs is also looking into the possibility, including of taking a case to the International Criminal Court.

The war, which at one point saw 46,000 British troops deployed, mostly in southern Iraq around the strategic oil hub of Basra, still looms large over British politics.

Britain’s scarring experience in Iraq has made it deeply wary of committing ground troops to international military interventions in countries like Syria and Libya.

Retired civil servant Chilcot said his report was “an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day”.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We cannot turn the clock back but can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on”. — AFP

Pistorius gets six years for girlfriend’s murder

PRETORIA — South African paralympic gold medallist Oscar Pistorius was sent back to jail for six years on Wednesday, less than half the 15-year minimum term sought by prosecutors, for murdering
Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, who fatally shot his girlfriend four times through a toilet door, had already served 12 months in prison for her death. But the original manslaughter conviction was increased to murder by the Supreme Court of Appeal in December.

Judge Thokozile Masipa, whose sentence at the initial manslaughter trial was criticised by women’s groups as too lenient, said she had accepted the defence argument that a lower punishment was appropriate.

“Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court,” Masipa said.

“I am of the view that a long term in prison will not serve justice.”

Pistorius, who stood impassively as the sentence was read out, hugged members of his legal team and chatted briefly with his sister Aimee before being led away by police.

Women’s rights groups say Pistorius has received preferential treatment by the justice system compared to non-whites and those without his wealth or international celebrity status. His backers say he did not intend to kill Steenkamp.

The state and large sections of the South African public had demanded a 15-year jail term, the prescribed minimum term for murder, saying he had shown no remorse for the 2013 killing.

It was unclear whether the state, which has two weeks to appeal, would accept Wednesday’s sentence.

Pistorius’ defence team said he would not appeal and that their client would be able to apply for parole after serving half to two-thirds of the sentence.

The track star, who had the lower part of his legs amputated when he was a baby, was freed from prison last October after almost a year behind bars. He was to serve the remainder of his five-year term under house arrest at his uncle’s house in a wealthy suburb of the capital. Pistorius has been living with his uncle since.

Steenkamp’s father Barry, who in an emotional statement to the sentencing hearings said Pistorius must pay for his crime, declined to comment on the prospects for an appeal.

“We’ll leave that to the state,” he told reporters without showing any emotion.

In her ruling on Wednesday, Masipa said that although the Steenkamps had suffered a great loss, Pistorius’ life and career were also in ruins.

“The life of the accused shall also never be the same. He is a fallen hero and can never be at peace,” she said.

The judge agreed with defence that the Pistorius who shot Steenkamp in the early hours of St Valentine’s Day was not the gold medal winning athlete but a vulnerable 1.5m tall man.

She said there was no indication at all that the deceased was in an abusive relationship with Pistorius. She also said there was no evidence there had been a row between Pistorius and Steenkamp before her death, as suggested by the prosecution.

Pistorius says he fired four shots into the toilet door at his luxury Pretoria home in the mistaken belief that an intruder was hiding behind it.

His defence argued his disability and mental stress that occurred in the aftermath of the killing should be considered as mitigating circumstances to reduce
his sentence.

Outside the court, a group of supporters held up placards backing the athlete. One read: “Give Oscar his freedom back please”.

Legal analysts were divided by the ruling in a country beset by high levels of violent crime against women.

“To reduce from 15 to six years in the circumstances of the case seems to me to be unduly generous to Oscar,” said Paul Hoffman, a lawyer and director of rights group Accountability Now.

“It’s quite possible that having invested so much effort in the prosecution … that (state prosecutor) Gerrie Nel will saddle up again and ride out in an effort to get a bigger sentence,” he said.

Johannesburg-based lawyer Ulrich Roux doubted the state would appeal, saying the judge had delivered a “just sentence, considering that he was convicted with murder with indirect intent”.

But the Women’s League of the ruling African National Congress (ANCWL), said the sentence was too soft.

“First five years, now six years? She is an embarrassment to the justice system,” ANCWL spokesman Jacqueline Mofokeng said of Masipa. “It is an insult to women in this country.” — Reuters

Taiwan cancels flights as super typhoon bears down

TAIPEI — Taiwan cancelled more than 100 flights and shut schools and offices yesterday as the island braced for a direct hit from Super Typhoon Nepartak, the first major tropical storm of the season.

The typhoon was packing gusts of up to 245kph as it rumbled towards the eastern counties of Hualien and Taitung, where it is expected to make landfall early today, according to Taiwan’s Central
Weather Bureau.

The storm is expected to dump torrential rain on the whole island with mountainous areas forecast to be deluged with up to 600 millimetres, potentially triggering landslides that have in the past claimed hundreds
of lives.

All fishing boats have been called back to port as waves — as high as 14m, according to TV reports — batter the eastern coast.

More than 35,000 soldiers are on standby to help with evacuations and disaster relief, while shelters have been set up across
the island.

About 200 people have been moved from their homes in Hualien and the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung, according to the Central Emergency Operation Centre.

Taitung is also expected to start evacuating residents in villages and settlements most at risk of mudslides.

Most domestic flights were grounded while 106 international flights would be affected, Taipei’s two main airports said.

Dozens of ferries have also been cancelled while crowds packed onto trains along the east coast, before the railway is shut later yesterday evening. The high-speed rail was running as normal yesterday but is expected to close for most of today.

The popular tourist spots of Green Island and Orchid Island, which have already evacuated thousands of visitors since Tuesday, closed schools and offices yesterday. — AFP

Protect against disease

FOLLOWING a recent outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), Nippon Paint Malaysia Group launched its Wellness for Children campaign last month with a panel session featuring HFMD researcher Dr Chan Yoke Fun.

“Many parents are unaware that children can be infected with HFMD more than once in their lifetime due to various enteroviruses and adults can also be infected,” said Chan, an associate professor from Universiti Malaya’s Department of Medical Microbiology and a recipient of the L’Oreal-Unesco Malaysia National Fellowship and L’Oreal-Unesco International Rising Talent 2015.

“Things they touch, such as walls, toys, door knobs can all carry the virus. Care givers should wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after changing children’s diapers and frequently disinfect touched surfaces.

“Educate children to avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands,” Chan said.

According to the Health Ministry, in the first week of last month, more than 1,300 new cases were reported nationwide with Selangor topping the list.

Authorities recently closed 12 nurseries and pre-schools in Negri Sembilan to carry out disinfection procedures as it was among the first areas affected by HFMD.

While adults might not develop visible symptoms, they can be carriers and eventually spread the virus. Chan also said reports showed the virus was capable of persisting for more than 20 days in throats and 50 days in faeces.

Commonly caused by viruses such as Coxsackie Virus A 16 and enterovirus EV 71, HFMD is an endemic in Malaysia largely affecting infants and children below the age of two.

It is transmitted by direct contact with nasal discharge, saliva, faeces or fluids from the rash of an infected person.

Symptoms are characterised by a reduction in appetite, fever, sore throat and a general feeling of being unwell.

Painful sores in the mouth will develop along with flat red spots around the hands and feet soles.

As the disease can spread through blister fluids, it is recommended to reduce contact or wash hands after handling someone infected with HFMD. In rare cases, enterovirus EV 71 can cause neurological complications and death.

“Last year, in conjunction with the launch of Nippon Virus Guard, Malaysia’s first anti-viral coatings, we ran a survey together with an independent marketing research consultancy,” said Nippon Paint assistant general manager Alex Yoong.

“We found 88 per cent of mothers agree in that they tend to overlook walls as a medium that can spread dangerous viruses and bacteria, yet 80 per cent of them agree their children touch walls when they play or walk.

“Nippon Virus Guard offers a coating that can inhibit the growth of viruses that cause HFMD. We also believe the public can benefit from more information concerning this contagious disease,” said Yoong.

The campaign will be implemented in three phases.

Phase one focuses on strategic collaborations with key stakeholders to bring greater awareness on potential threats to children.

Phase two will be a public conference featuring Malaysia’s leading paediatrics and industry experts who debunk myths concerning childhood allergy, raise awareness on the importance of play and practical steps in addressing common childhood diseases.

Phase three will be a series of panel discussion or expert panel roundtable sessions, to share information and educate the community on details regarding children’s health.

Joining forces to combat hunger

FOR a third consecutive year, 200 employees at Sunway City Ipoh gathered at Sunway Lost World Hotel to pack 40,000 meals for villagers through the Sahabat Orang Asli Project.

Under the outreach project, Sunway City Ipoh adopted the Stop Hunger Now meal packing programme two years ago, to reach out to underprivileged and impoverished communities.

It grew from 20,000 meals in 2014, to 25,000 last year and 40,000 meals this year. Since inception, over 1,000 Sunway staff and volunteers from different units across the country, have helped pack 260,000 meals.

The strong volunteerism spirit among Sunway staff was displayed when they contributed RM10,000 this year, equivalent to 10,000 meals.

Driven by the vision of a world without hunger, Stop Hunger Now — a United States-based organisation delivers food and aid to the world’s most vulnerable people. Established in 1998, Stop Hunger Now has since provided more than 225 million meals in 73 countries.

“This event is a phenomenal success made possible with the collective effort of Sunway staff and volunteers throughout Malaysia. We need to count our blessings and do more for the underprivileged,” said Sunway Theme Parks senior general manager Calvin Ho.

“Hunger is a serious issue and Stop Hunger Now believes that when it is addressed, we are giving hope to other causes including poverty, disease, education and the welfare of women and children in particular.”

Throughout the event, volunteers who are also members of Sunway’s staff club Kelab Social Sunway, formed assembly lines to pack nutritious, high-protein dehydrated meals comprising rice, soy, vegetables, flavouring and 21 essential vitamins and minerals in each package.

At RM1 per meal, each package provides a reasonable serving for six to feed Orang Asli communities in Kampung Sekam in Tapah, Kampung Sinju in Simpang Pulai, Kampung Air Bah Lawin, Kampung Sungai Karah, Pos Kemar in Gerik, Pos Kuala and Pos Yum.

Wheel powerWheel power keeps them going

SOME 22 staff members from Central Spectrum (M) Sdn Bhd embarked on the ride of a lifetime recently, cycling 400km from Sanju City to Seoul, and it all began with a wishful idea two years ago.

It was a challenge mooted by chief executive officer Mahmud Abbas.

We were not athletes with chiselled calf muscles. We were your average nasi lemak and teh tarik consuming Malaysians. We came in all shapes and sizes, ages and fitness levels. Some only cycled as a hobby and most of us didn’t even own a bicycle.

Nevertheless, we were determined to rise to challenge.

We began training early last year, going to the gym, hiring aerobics instructors to get our fitness levels up, and watching our diet.

We knew we had to be physically and mentally prepared for the trip.

We arrived in Incheon Airport at 7am local time with 22 bycyles in tow. Our tour agent Charlie, a South Korean married to a Malaysian from Taiping, received us.

The day was spent repairing and setting up the bikes for the journey.

Sang Punggyo-Ihwaryeong Rest Area

With an average temperature of 8°C to a high of 17°C, cycling around the Saejae range provided a scenic route of undulating mountains and rivers. We pedalled down the valley surrounded by impressive summits and fast flowing streams with the cool breeze stroking our faces.

The cycling pace was a relaxing 17km/hour and came with lots of stops for coffee and mandatory photo sessions.

We followed the bicycle path but every time we reached a junction, the signage was in Korean only.

We did not hire guides so it was left to us to navigate. Getting lost and finding our way back added to the thrill of the trip and we took time to soak in the picturesque scenery.

With pit stops and looking for directions, we arrived at our first destination at 5pm, after cycling for eight hours. After a Korean dinner, we hit the sack early to prepare for the next ride.

Ihwaryeong-Chungju Tangeumdae

Charlie warned us this route would be the toughest as it involved two big climbs. True to his words, we navigated steep slopes all the way to the top.

Thanks to our training, we conquered the Saejae Range! The view from the top was a fitting reward for all the hard work.

Coming down was a totally different experience. While it was a blast going downhill, gusts of strong winds greeted us, and suddenly the thought of getting blown away or tumbling down the hill was a real threat.

So we tackled our descend with more caution while getting lost and trying to understand directional signages in Korean was becoming a norm.

We reached town at 6pm and managed to find the hotel, again with Charlie’s help.

Chungju Tangeumdae-Gangcheon

Just when we thought the worst was over, the third day proved even more challenging.

Charlie led us to the cycling path, and after 7km we checked our bearings.

We asked an elderly lady and she shouted at us in Korean. From the sign languages, we gathered she was telling us we were heading towards Busan instead of Seoul.

We backtracked to the starting point where a lone Korean cyclist pointed us in the right direction.

The cycling path had elevated sections and riverbanks, with pleasant views of rural surroundings, contrasting sharply with the majestic mountains we had seen two days earlier.

We stopped for lunch and the weather took a turn for the worst. It had been cloudy all morning and began to rain. With another 30km to go, we had no choice but to brave the rain.

Although we came prepared with rain coats and windbreakers, the chilling wind was something else. Most of us were shivering on the bikes.

We had mechanical failures and a rider down but not seriously injured. One rider was closed to hypothermia and we had to make a bonfire to warm him up.

Despite that, we were in high spirits and reached our destination at 7pm soaked to the bone.

Gangcheon-Paldang Bridge

The bike path along the Han River brought us up to the waterways. This route also took us to lush agricultural landscape and striking feats of engineering, with bridges and dams sitting side by side.

The highlight must be the tunnels, which was once used as railway tracks, now converted into a cycling path.

There were four tunnels with the longest being about 400m. The tunnels were equipped with light sensors and would light up as you cycle onwards.

Paldang-Ara West Lock

This would be our last leg of the journey. Despite the challenges of the past four days, everyone was eager to complete what we had set out to do.

The skyline of Seoul greeted us as we cycled towards the city. Riding in from the countryside into the city was like experiencing instant urbanisation.

After five days of cycling, we covered almost 400km, more than any one of us had ever done.

But a bigger achievement was our camaraderie, and pushing the limits of our mental and physical strength. It was an excellent experience, proving that with proper preparation and the right attitude, we could overcome any obstacle.

New in town

SITUATED in the heart of the city, Vouk Hotel Suites Penang hopes to attract local and international guests to its 231 contemporary-designed rooms.

The hotel is the first flagship under the Vouk Hotel Management and its recent opening ceremony had some 400 guests in attendance.

Among those present were Tourism Malaysia Penang director Harun Pilus and Malaysian Association of Hotels (Penang chapter) chairman Khoo Boo Lim.

The hotel’s accommodations include deluxe rooms, super deluxe, executive suites and family suites. They come equipped with LED screens and free WiFi access.

They are also fitted with modern amenities, massage chairs and hot tubs.

Other facilities include the C’est Si Bo restaurant, Indulgence lobby lounge, La Vista sky bar offering delectable Asian and Western cuisines.

For corporate events, there are meeting rooms to accommodate large and small functions.

The group manages 10 hotels and resorts mainly in Danok, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia.

“We hope to promote tourism between Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia,” said managing director Adrian Teow Ee Meng.

In conjunction with its opening, room rates start from RM198 nett.

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