Category Archives: musings

never been cheaper

it’s been a couple of disorientating weeks.

after a lifetime of feeling like i’m not good enough, i’m showered with the kind of flattery a fat nerd like me could ever dream of when i was 16. it’s a shame i’m now alot older and possess some insight. if i were 16, i’d have drawn confidence from those words, texts, from the body language. i’d have naively expected the world. instead, i believe maybe half of what’s been said was actually sincere. everything else had motive. everything else was meant to throw me off.

everything else meant nothing.

in a world where inflation is a rule and there’s never enough cash, we can find comfort in the fact that one thing will continually and reliably deflate in value – words. they’ve never been cheaper.


passion addict

i’m addicted to the passion of others.

my mother is a talented storyteller. i grew up on the story of a pretty little girl raised by a loving father and selfish stepmother. she later met a man with nary a streak of romance in him, but won her over with his humble honesty. she spent her life imparting wisdom to whoever would listen – in the classroom, through the airwaves, at home – and lived by the simple philosophy of “forgive, but never forget”. the story has been told and retold countless times; i have yet to tire of it.

i first heard his name at a gathering i had no business being part of. after grazing through the pre-event activities, i caught a glimpse of his tall figure at a booth selling shirts and buttons advocating knowledge and empowerment. it wasn’t the last i saw of him – he has the ability to attract a bevy of followers who gladly join in his (ridiculous number of) ventures and for a short while, i was one of them. he used his “powers” for good when he could have easily manipulated others for evil and that makes up for all the bad haircuts in the world.

“music really isn’t supposed to be perfect. it’s all about people relating to one another and doing something that’s really from the soul,” says tom petty in a scene from dave grohl’s rockumentary tribute to the analog neve console from sound city studios. it was 100 minutes of the kind of love we look for our whole lives – unrelenting, overwhelming, inconceivable love. musicians i’ve never heard of spoke about sound and words and tape. i felt a little dizzy after watching the film and i knew that, for once, the long island iced tea was not responsible.

i’m addicted to passion. some of my favourite books are autobiographies because you need to feel strongly about something in order to write a couple hundred thousand words about why you do the things you do in your life. i attended a conference on bowel surgery a few days ago and the most enjoyable talk was delivered by a british surgeon who helped develop a device to reduce the effects of faecal incontinence. he invested significant energy into the project and i could hear only pride as he described his work, determination as he spoke about the challenges ahead.

what others’ passion gives me is a great hope for what is to come. this world cannot be so bad if there are people who believe in leaving a legacy. my mother’s determination to make lemonade out of every lemon has helped me see that life is only as long or short, enjoyable or torturous, as i make it to be. but it accentuates the absence of passion in my own heart, whether it be passion for medicine or the things i enjoy doing. there just isn’t anything worth sacrificing for. nothing that moves me, motivates me.

so i feed on the enthusiasm of dreamers, casting my net ever further for a passion of my own. i’m just not happy where i am.

let go

when i went for my great graduation trip to the uk a couple of years ago, i planned my itinerary down to the last minute. my train pass allowed me 8 days of unlimited travel, so i visited a total of 8 towns in 14 days. i looked up train schedules, worked out travel times and budgeted what was necessary for each attraction. it was a little rushed but i covered most of what i wanted to see and i came home tired but satisfied.

an unplanned, impromptu trip is almost inconceivable to me. when i met the irish couple who came with just an idea of what they wanted to do in malaysia but nothing much else, i thought they were nuts.

then, i met suzie.

it was a short trip to penang to celebrate a friend’s wedding. i went on my own, had a pleasant flight, but then was faced with the prospect of spending 74 bucks on a solo taxi ride to batu ferringhi. as my turn at the airport taxi counter approached, i looked to the back of the line, hoping i’d see a tourist who may be heading for the beach as well. there, two turns behind me, was a tall caucasian lady who looked really lost. i decided to do something completely out of character and asked if she were going in the same direction. to my surprise, she was heading to ferringhi as well and, in what is either a happy coincidence or divine intervention, her hotel was located right opposite mine!

suzie, as i found out, was in penang just for the weekend. she had flown in from melbourne the night before and decided to book a ticket to penang as she heard it was a place well worth visiting. she knew nothing about malaysia, wasn’t aware it was thaipusam the next day, and asked what she should do during her time there. before i launched into my role as an ambassador in denial, i thought – holy crap! all she did was catch a flight to a state she knew close to nothing about, had nothing planned out, and brought nothing other than a tiny backpack that contained goodness-knows-what! and i had a proper carry-on with three changes of clothes, a set of clean underwear, heels, and a toiletry bag full of makeup and other miscellany!

when i met suzie again the next day – yes, we split a cab to the airport too because (surprise, surprise!) we were taking the same flight out – i found out that she spent the previous day at the pool and even managed to check out the thaipusam procession. she was pleased with her (painfully) short stay in penang and looked forward to spending the rest of the week in kl. i helped her work out the details of getting back to her hotel and we went our separate ways once we landed.

what amazed me was the ease of her trip to penang. she came alone and by sheer luck got to share a taxi (twice!) with a friendly malaysian who wasn’t out to rip her off, who even bought her a box of tau sar peah, and she got to chill out at a nice hotel with a nice stretch of beach and experience one of the most colourful festivals in the country. all without much planning at all!

i haven’t gone on a trip out of the country – other than singapore, but that’s basically my second home, so it doesn’t count – since my fortnight in the uk. it’s stressful just booking the flights and timing it so i’d be able to check into my accommodation yet not waste too much daylight. there’s the duty of meeting up with friends who live in whichever place i visit, and the attractions i want to see. if a museum is on the list, i have to allocate at least 2 hours for it. then there’s checking out noteworthy cafes and slotting in time for anything unexpected.

that’s right, i even plan for unplanned things. an extra 1/2 hour for an interesting antique bookstore, or an additional hour at the park. maybe another 20 minutes at a small museum or a walk through a pretty arcade.

perhaps i need to learn from suzie and that irish couple. although a well-planned trip ensures adequate “coverage” of the place i’m visiting, it leaves very little room for me to meet people who can give me helpful tips on what to do or where to go. suzie would have prolly missed out on thaipusam or tau sar peah if she hadn’t met me. she could have paid more than she should have for a rented taxi to the city or been late for her flight to kl because she didn’t anticipate the traffic.

my graduation trip, or even the many little excursions to singapore, could have been very different if i had just let go and let life, coincidences, divine interventions, whatever, lead the way. who knows what opportunities and experiences i’ve missed by being such an uptight type A woman?

ambassadors in denial

last night, i had a couple of drinks with some colleagues and an irish couple who dropped by penang to take an exam and have a look around malaysia while they were at it. they had an early flight out to kota kinabalu and booked diving slots at sipadan but were otherwise just winging it. my friends and i enthusiastically recommended places to go and things to eat, showing them pictures of durians and mangosteens and giving them a brief history of malaysia. they were intrigued with what we had to say about the country and promised to make several trips back in order to experience everything we’ve told them about.

what moved me was how eager we were to promote everything we loved about malaysia – the food, the diversity, the beauty of our rainforests and beaches. when the couple mentioned they were impressed by the size of gurney plaza, we told them about midvalley and 1utama and were rather pleased when they were astonished at the notion of mega malls in kl. we quickly forgot the earlier discussion about affirmative action and private medical universities and their exorbitant fees. so many other things make malaysia worth the injustice and corruption that plague the nation.

it’s a little sad that we put value in superficial pleasures and stay because we love our families and bak kut teh. everything else feels like a losing battle. perhaps its learned helplessness and we’re coping by looking to the other things that make us happy. we speak fondly of malaysia to our visitors to convince ourselves that it’s not that bad here, that we’re not being cowards by tolerating the other crap.


of all trades

is it better to be good at a few things or to know a little about many?

i have to confess that i don’t know enough medicine or surgery to be a reliable doctor and to my dismay i’m not interested enough in any one field to obsess over it or find inner motivation to push myself very far. i might have been an avid reader and writer at one point but my attention span has kept me from progressing much in my writing. i enjoy music but ask me about acoustics and production and i will have nothing of value to add to the conversation. same goes with all the other things i’ve dabbled in – human rights advocacy, post-production of digital photos, art appreciation, caffeine appreciation, running long(er) distance.

it’d be easy to say that i’m just interested in alot of things at the same time and make that an excuse. but even i find that hard to accept when i know several people who are genuinely good at many different things, who can be considered snobs and elitists but are absolutely qualified to demand nothing less than perfection, who can be mistaken as pretentious but really aren’t.

i don’t pretend to know alot about the things i like or find time to indulge in. they make me happy but i’m not that fussy about how good they have to be. what’s important is how they make me feel. i guess that makes me both selfish and a boring person to be around. i don’t know anything well enough to carry on a discussion about. at least a bimbo would be able to talk about her beauty regime and the pains she went through to choose the right outfit for the day.

maybe i haven’t found something that truly intrigues me or i haven’t given anything or anyone a proper chance. but i can feel myself heading towards mediocrity fast if i don’t have anything to be passionate about, or have a purpose for.

the last shot

“congratulations, you’re now an MO,” she smiled as she handed me the letter which said someone of authority was pleased to inform me that my transfer request has been approved. it felt like a dream that was neither nightmare nor [insert antonym for nightmare, i couldn’t find a satisfactory one on the web], and i almost burst into tears when i got into the car. in addition to accepting the letter of transfer, i had agreed to a lifetime of government service. it’s a decision i’m sure i will regret when i turn 40 and be thankful for when i’m 60 and diabetic (i have no doubt i will be), but it was only when the doors were closed and my keys were in the ignition that i realised  i didn’t know what the hell i was doing.

half an hour prior to the events above, i reached for the bottle of johnnie walker that had served faithfully as a bookend on my study table for the past year. there was one last shot of whisky in it, which i saved for either a special occasion or an emergency, though exactly what emergency would call for a small amount of hard liquor isn’t very clear to me now. my friends joked about me being a closet alcoholic because i used bottles as decor, but really it was just because i thought they were pretty.

anyway, i had taken the first train to ipoh today and packed up most of my room in about an hour. when i was done, i surveyed the space around me. just 3 weeks ago i moved out of the house i called home for 2 years and made myself comfortable in a room that felt too big for one. i didn’t think i’d have to strip it down again so soon. it felt like a joke that tread dangerously on the line between ironic and cruel.

so i opened the bottle of johnnie walker and looked at myself in the mirror. 2 years and it has come to this. 2 years was too long and too short at the same time. i look much older than the girl in the photograph on my hospital id. i’m coming out from under the cover of housemanship and becoming a real doctor. my heart rate quickened and my stomach churned as a tipped the bottle over my lips.

the last shot tasted exactly as i expected – a burning jolt of reality down my throat.

the rest of the day was one long, exhausting errand. i did eventually break down as i drove home, partly from the strain of yet another move but mostly because i was overwhelmed by gratitude towards God and the mysterious ways He has worked in my life over the last 2 years. during the journey i mourned the sudden manner in which ipoh has been torn from me, how quickly i had to leave. i sang songs of praise to the One who has sustained me throughout housemanship.

i’m still tired now as i type this. i don’t dwell on shouldas and couldas because it’s a waste of time. my run as a houseman has ended and i have to get back to work, back to life. i must remember the burning reality that i am in.

out loud

“you think too much”

the only reason this blog exists is because i think too much and only say what i think when i’m asked. i prefer to ruminate things on my own, replay conversations in my head, come up with witty responses a couple of hours too late and store those thoughts in a corner of my mind until something teases them out into the spotlight once more.

writing these entries takes alot of effort and brain juice. it took a good 5 days to piece my last post together. i deleted two anecdotes and changed the structure a couple of times. i put a little more variety to the vocabulary and, at the very last moment, included a quote from the play that i had only just recalled. there are multiple revisions to each blog post and i have countless drafts that don’t make the cut. i know every bit of writing here still looks like the diary of a twenty-something doctor and not a carefully worded article but trust me, i go through great pains for them.

it’s nice to know there are sites like thought catalog that market blog entries as publishable work, but i will never be pompous enough to think i am anywhere near publish-ready. the reality is that writing – and its necessary partner, lots and lots of reading – has taken the backseat and medicine is now at the wheel. it’s a choice i made and i have to bear the consequences. i’m just not talented enough to excel effortlessly at either one, much less both.

anyway yes, i do think too much and i’m grateful that blogging has become much easier these days. there was a period of time when i had a homepage and each entry was an exercise in html. i think i spent more time working on codes than expressing my thoughts. to be fair, i probably thought alot less then than i do now. =)

to whoever reads these ramblings – thank you. as a narcissist, i am absolutely flattered that you think me worthy of your time. to those of you who think i’m rubbish – move along now. maybe you’d actually like thought catalog. whatever floats your boat.

me? i’m gonna continue thinking too much for my own good.