Saiyidah Aisyah, bronzed and muscular, opens her slim, long hands, studies her palms and laughs as she helps me count calluses. Right hand, eight. Left hand, nine. Hard, dead skin. Peeling skin. Blistered skin. Her hands may not seem pretty, yet they speak evocatively of every rower's toil. These are not the smooth, creamed, manicured hands of the paper pusher. These are the rough, honest hands of the labourer.
Six days a week she glides across water on an 8.2m carbon-fibre shell. It's a lovely, beguiling picture except what you can't see, especially in races, is the pain. As George Yeoman Pocock, the rowing philosopher, wrote: "Once the race starts there are no time-outs, no substitutions. It calls upon the limits of human endurance."
The 2,000m single-scull race takes her seven brutal minutes and 44 agonising seconds at her best. It requires 240 strokes. By the 40th stroke it will start to hurt. Everything will hurt. But you have to ride the pain and wear it, you have to wake up for it and train for it.
"Rowing is lonely," says the first Singaporean rower at an Olympics. "You're on your own. It's you against yourself. How much do you want to give? You're tired but how much do you want to continue?"
One day on the rowing machine she does a 2km test. While on the water her coach can't tell how hard she's pulling, here he can see the speed, note the power, for here is a "true reflection of your strength". She rows, she hurts, she lies down, she can't even lift her phone. You can do anything, she will learn over the years, but you cannot stop in rowing.
Saiyidah Aisyah was a self-confessed "nerd", used to be immature, is fiercely intense, quite funny and rather passionate. And passion is a beautiful thing, it runs wild, it drives you nuts, it freaks people out, it propels you towards your goal.