Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why We Should Accept Gay People

"If homosexuality is a disease, let's all call in queer to work: 'Hello. Can't work today, still queer.'"

Robin Tyler

Gay Gene
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Homosexuality.

I did not have the most thorough of upbringings, I admit, and I was pretty much left to my own devices growing up. You see, children are terribly impressionable, wide-eyed creatures. If you tell them that if they tell lies, their tongues would be cut off in hell, they'll believe you. If you tell them that there is a God who created everything in this world - from the sun and moon to toilets which flush themselves - they'll believe you too. If they see you recoiling in horror from a cockroach, something we all know to be completely harmless, they will probably grow up with the assumption that there is really something about cockroaches that they should be afraid about in spite of how irrational they eventually know that fear to be.

I was very lucky to have been left to my own devices for much of my childhood. I was allowed a free reign to discover the world with an uncoloured and unbiased mind, and to interpret it on my own terms. The most discriminatory thing I ever saw my father do was honk at the transvestites who used to gather nightly behind the old bus station every time he drove by. At no point in my young life was I told anything about how I should feel about homosexuals. The first homosexual person I ever met was my supervisor, a large effeminate man with an equally large Australian boyfriend, back when I was working part time at the local Tesco as a sales assistant. I remember being mildly surprised that homosexuals actually exist outside urban myths, but thought nothing worse.

Over the next preceding years, thanks to the internet, I came to know just fractured the world is on the subject. The dichotomy was between the people who thinks that homosexuality isn't wrong or deviant, and that they should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual partners (this camp, as you can imagine, consisted mainly of homosexual people) - and the large heterosexual majority which feels that homosexuality is sinful, wrong, abominable and has no place in the ordered ranks of humanity. It was very easy for me to decide which party deserves my support. I merely asked myself one question: Which side is hurting the other?

I like women and I enjoy my right to fall in love with anyone I want to. No one has ever tried to stop me because well, lucky me, I happen to fall on the straight side of the coin. But what if I'm gay? I used to wonder about that a lot. What if I'm gay and I'm not allowed to fall in love? What if the law forbids me to fall in love, or to consummate my love? Can you imagine what it feels like to be denied one of your simplest and most basic rights?

People should just remember how lucky they are that their inborn nature is in accordance with the vast majority and consequentially, suffer no persecution of any sort. Why then must they deny others what they themselves can possess freely? I find it cruel and selfish. That's all there is to it. Cruelty and selfishness. So what if two men fell in love - or two women? Love isn't a finite resource. Just because gay people love each other doesn't mean that there is much less love to be had by the straights.

When there is no victim, there is no crime. Being in a homosexual relationship isn't a crime because it's between two consenting adults who love each other. Homophobia, on the other hand, should be criminal because it victimises people who just wants to lead happy lives.

On the scientific front, they debate is still out in the field on whether homosexuality is a genetic trait or an environmentally influenced one (there are so many theories on the subject that listing them would eat up most of this article). That controversy is immaterial. If homosexuality is learnt in childhood, it's not their fault because they can't change what made them who they are in their formative years. If homosexuality is due to some hormonal or immunological factors while a child is still in his or her mother's womb, it's still how nature intended them to be. If homosexuality is caused by an actual gene coding for the trait, well, why don't you people just start telling people who have blonde hair, black irises or an inborn inability to detect the scent of cyanide that they are all deviants of nature?

I'll go one step further now and say this: Even if every single gay person in this world made a conscious choice to be what they are (preposterous conjecture, I know), I still feel that no one has the right to tell them they can't live their lives the way they want to, so long as they aren't hurting anyone in the process.

Now, if we look beyond humanity, we'll see that homosexuality is ubiquitous and omnipresent in nature. It was estimated that 25% of all male black swans are homosexuals, 60% of all sexual activities between Bonobos apes are between two or more females, and homosexual behaviour has been documented in every single species of great apes on this planet (a group which includes gorillas, chimps, orangutans and yes, humans). Almost half of all sexual pairings between elephants are of the same-sex variety - with the homosexual relationships between males reportedly being more permanent and less fleeting compared to heterosexual encounters. And the great shaggy macho lions? 8% of mountings are male on male. The female whiptail lizards are so gay that the males of the species are actually facing the danger of extinction. All the lizard chicks need to do to reproduce is dry hump one another and they'll spontaneously become preggers. That's right, people: There's an entire species of Virgin Mary lizards out there. And don't even get me started on the dolphins, penguins, salmons, giraffes, chickens, cats, dogs and killer whales. The entire animal kingdom is having a great time having awesome gay sex right this moment and we're still trying to stop homosexual members of our own species from following their own nature. What a fat waste of time. Why not draft a legislation against sunlight and rain while you're at it, assholes?

If you notice, I have not address the major arguments levelled by the religious against homosexuals and their lifestyle. That's because I have another post in the making just for that purpose. Anyone who has any refutations to throw at my arguments so far can do so in the comments section and I'll address them all in good time.

I do not aim merely to preach tolerance to those who are different from us. I aim to incite complete and utter acceptance. I like to believe that each and every one of us has the potential to be decent and loving human beings. Search your own feelings. See if you can morally justify oppressing a group of people who meant us no harm, and still feel righteous about it.

Related Post: An Unofficial Survey of Homophobia in My College

For the rights of all humankind,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Unofficial Survey of Homophobia in My College

"When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."

Epitaph of Leonard P. Matlovich

It's complicated.

Since the beginning of the previous academic year in my college till date (a period approaching two years in length), I report that I have busied myself trying to assess my colleague's opinions and protestations on the subject of
homosexualism by lobbing some simple yet awkward questions into middle of break-time conversations and random small-talks - and then recording them in this little grubby notebook I always carry around. Aside from that direct modality of census, which I can only do so many times before people start looking at me weirder than usual, I also jot down remarks or statements I overhear in the lunchroom, in the wards or in the lecture theatres which concern this touchy subject. The resulting record I ended up with, as you can imagine, is more than a little harum-scarum but it's nothing a little radical restructuring can't fix. Bear in mind that my subjects are,
  • Ostensibly of above-average intelligence (they made it this far in med school, after all).
  • Currently in training to become doctors, healthcare professionals that are suppose to be non-judgmental and non-discriminative against another person's race, religion, nationality and most pertinently, sexual orientation.
  • From Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian country which forbids homosexual relationships and sodomy in both law and society. If you're not allergic to reading, here's a Wiki on the subject.

Now, I have directly asked about 50 subjects in total this question; What would you do if your son or daughter turns out to be gay? The following are the answers I culled from them,
  1. With the exceptions of just two persons (excluding yours truly), every single person responded that they would would not like that.
  2. Roughly one third of that number said that they would cry, despair, howl at the moon, et cetera.
  3. Another one third said that they would force their hypothetical gay offspring into some form of psychotherapy - which is a damn stupid answer for a medical student because homosexuality is not a disease defined in either the ICD-10 or DSM-IV.
  4. The last third said that they will disown their hypothetical gay offspring outright. No negotiations. Just, "Get the fuck out, fag/dyke. You shame the family name!"
  5. This is not within the parameter of this study but a few of the subjects voluntarily told me that if they discover that one of their friends are in fact homosexual, they would not talk to that friend ever again.
  6. Some answered me with another question; "Why are you asking this? Are you... gay?" I could see from their faces that they were already expecting the worst.
  7. One guy just pointed at me and went "LOL, you're gay!" and did not answer my question at all.

So, out of 50 medical students, only two of them agreed with me that having a homosexual son or daughter is absolutely nothing to bawl about. This, of course, is not a very objective method of survey but even as an inaccurate estimate, a 96% homophobia rate is a worrisome figure indeed.

What really scares me, however, is just how virulently homophobic some of these people really are. I was genuinely surprised by how much they hate homosexuals. One guy would spit out the word "fags" or "fuck these fags" everytime the subject of same-sex relationships come up, particularly between two men (he seems to be a-okay with lesbian coupling), and the discussion would invariably lead to either their inability to understand why a man would want to sodomise another man when there are plenty of serviceable vaginas to be had, or their concensus that all "fags" should be murdered in the most violent manners imaginable.

Another guy is so afraid of penises that, by his own admission, he would not watch a porn scene with more than one dick in it. What is he so afraid of anyway? That he'd like what he see?

On occasion, I would participate in these discussions to try to defuse the frankly malignant hate in the air but too often, I was met with blank, "is this guy for real?" looks on their faces. I begin to question the prudence of my activism in this issue these days. Who knows when they'll turn all that hatred onto me and preemptively hate me to death in the off-chance that I'm really a closeted case of some sort. At the moment, I'm only experiencing some light teasing for what they perceive to be my strange affinity towards gay people. It's tiresome when all I'm doing is trying to engage my peers in dialogue about an important social issue (engaging them in dialogue about booze, our crappy government or Megan Fox, well - that's a lot easier).


This, dear readers, is just the first of three articles I am planning to write on the subject of homosexualism and homophobia this week. I mean this as a primer for the next two pieces, in which I will expound upon,
  1. My moral, social and scientific rationalisations for accepting the practice of homosexualism and allowing them the same rights and status that heterosexual couples enjoy
  2. My refutation of the popular arguments (mainly religious) for opposing homosexualism and gay marriage.

In the meantime, I would like to hear your answer to that question I asked my colleagues;

What would YOU do if your son or daughter tells you that he or she is gay?

While I am supportive for legalising homosexualism in Malaysia and the granting of full civil rights to gay people, I am willing to listen to dissenting views, so long as they are worded politely. If you have any arguments for or against homosexuality, I would be delighted to hear them.

And I will deal with any of the latter (providing that they aren't completely retarded) in my third post in this series. So, debate me on this.

Related Post: Why We Should Accept Gay People

A human rights activist,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Ass in Assumptions

"Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make - bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake - if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble."

Lemony Snicket

This is a story which is more than half a year too long in the outing. I have always wanted to write about it but it kept slipping off my blogging schedule. In fact, I would have written it about a week ago if I didn't have to get a certain picture from Jo first.

It is a picture of my Aka - a colloquial name we used for our domestic helps back when we were in India - and I. I never did find out what Aka really meant, and I never did get her name either. Anyway, this is an important picture and is quite central to the incident I am about to reiterate for your benefit. All the main characters are in it with Jo, the third, being behind the camera. And the camera itself. We must not forget the camera.

This picture was taken before I left India last year.

The camera belongs to Josephine actually, one which I have gotten into the habit of borrowing quite regularly for my own purposes in the last months of my time in Manipal. My camera, if you recall, was murdered by a waterfall somewhere in the mountainous wild of the Indian North.

It all began when Jo's camera disappeared into thin air while it was in my room.

I am one of those people who never cracks under crisis. Whenever a problem arises, you'll never see me pray, despair or throw my hands up in surrender. Instead, you'll see me frown. That's what I do. I frown at problems till my mind works out a course of action I can follow. I believe that a person isn't lost until he stops walking.

So, I frowned at that empty spot of air on my writing desk which Jo's camera should be occupying, but wasn't. The last time I saw it was just that morning, right before I went out for lunch and an afternoon of reading at the Coffee Day in the library. Now, what happened in the intervening time? Think, Kok, think!

I wasted about half a minute trying to will Jo's camera back into existence with my eyeballs, and failing that, I wondered if the damn thing had somehow gone invisible (I swept the spot with my fingers just to be sure). Then, as my eyes pried and prodded the rest of my room, I noticed a disturbance in the creative chaos which typically permeates my room like the smell of unwashed laundry. That is, I could see my floor. It was usually concealed masterfully under my books, rough notes and clothes which still smelled sort of clean. That means Aka must have came by while I was out and cleaned the place. Da da dum! We got a suspect!

Aka was the only person aside from me who has total unrestricted access into my room and that's because I trust her implicitly. Call me a shiny-eyed idealist but I truly believe that there's a good person in everyone, and that we should always give this good a lot of room to grow. Besides, when she first started working for me, I remember setting up a secret test of character for her. She did much better than expected. In fact, she did so well that if it was an exam paper, she would have scored above 100%. So, I came to assume that she would not disappoint me, at least where her honesty was concerned.

It's a horrid feeling, finding out that your trust in someone was completely misplaced after all. It feels as if you've been cheating yourself all this while, but was just too dumb to realise it. Of course, how that feels like cannot compare to when you have to confront that person about it. It's like a lump in the throat that's too big to go down. I really didn't want to think that it was Aka. Sweet, unassuming Aka who goes to the store for me when my detergent ran out and invited me to her house for Diwali - who stole the camera. Honest, upright Aka who did not so much as pinched a single rupee from my room in the entirety of the two years she worked for me. But who else could it be? My room was built like a prison cell; grille on every window, and bolts as thick as lead pipes. No one without a key could have gotten in without powertools and without trace.

I decided on what must be done in five minutes because if there's one thing I do well; it's making hard decisions. I would ask Aka to "look for" Jo's camera for me, and tell her to put it on my desk when she does. I'll leave the room as usual so she could return it with as much of her dignity intact as possible and we could all pretend that nothing happened at all. I would also tell her that if I still could not locate my camera after a few days, I would have to make a police report and let them investigate the matter. Hopefully, the threat of lawful involvement would scare her into doing the right thing. It was terribly unfortunate, no matter how it would pan out. I have grown quite fond of her, and I have always been impressed by her integrity and character. She earned every penny by the white of her knuckles and the sweat on her brow, and she stuck to it. I paid her more than what she asked for monthly because I felt that she deserved it. Then, in the light of this theft, I felt as if I have never really known her at all. It tore her down to her ankles in my mind.

I did not plan on telling Jo about her camera yet though, because there was still a chance I could get it back. If I could not, it wouldn't make a difference if I tell her later anyway. I would have to buy her a new one using the money I saved for my new Panasonic Lumix TZ-15. Anyhow, I couldn't think of a single reason why she wouldn't be glad of getting a brand new clicker. I'm a pragmatist. I make plans and fix things. It's what I do.

Now, Aka comes to my place every third day - instead of every other day as was initially agreed upon in our contract because I didn't want to work her too hard (and also because I don't like to be disturbed too often) - and I was all prepared to put my little scheme into action. Only, I didn't.

I met Jo outside my room, just minutes before I expect Aka to arrive, and found out that the camera has been in her keeping all this while.

"But how?!" I spluttered.

"Aka let me into your room to get it when she was cleaning a few days ago," she explained. Aka cleans for Jo too and knows that she and I are good friends.

Then, I proceeded to tell Jo about how I nearly and very wrongly accused Aka of being a dirty, common pilferer, and about my contingency plans for recovering it or reimbursing her for the lost camera. When I finished, she was laughing her ass loose while I stood there scowling like the midday sky of Armageddon. I was pissed, but I didn't really have the right frame of mind to stay that way. That's because I was fucking glad. I was fucking glad I talked to Jo before I confront Aka. I was fucking glad that I didn't end up playing the nasty employer part and attacked a decent, hardworking woman for crimes she did not, would not commit. I was this close to utterly destroying all the goodwill between Aka and I just weeks before our last goodbye - this close to being just a bad memory and a bitter aftertaste.

It's strange how I dared assume her honesty back when I hardly knew her but I would entertain the contemptible and frankly preposterous notion that she could be a thief, even after the hundreds of times she proved her worth. There's a moral here in this story - possibly even several. If I have to pick one and tell you to remember it always, I'd pick the one about having faith in people, about trust.

What we risk, I believe, is much smaller than what we always imagine. What we stand to gain is so much more than what we dare to believe. I don't think you know what I mean. But that's alright.

k0k s3n w4i

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Letter for My Professor

"Hey you with the pretty face,
Welcome to the human race"

Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Blue Light

I like Lily Allen's cover version better - especially when she sings the lines above.

Yesterday, I got sent out of the Surgery wards for doing something really inane by a the head of department of Surgery in my college - I will not disclose his name here but it suffice you to know that he is the Father of Modern Terrorism. What I did was this; I looked at a patient's lab report before completing her general physical and systemic examination. Still, the stupid thing is that he wouldn't have found that out if I didn't tell him myself. He was perusing the patient's file and I thought that he might be interested in knowing the highlights.

My colleague who was clerking the case with me did the same thing I did but he got off, of course, because I didn't sell him out. The reason Prof. Abject Terror got so uptight over my apparently harmless action was that he did not want our impression (as medical students) of a patient to be coloured by whatever other findings or diagnoses the ward's doctors have uncovered.

What he forgot was that we are also tasked with writing two cases every week (and lengthy discussion notes on them) and that we must not have duplicates, cases with the same diagnoses. And also, there is a list given to us enumerating certain types of diseases we must see and write about before the end of our Surgical posting. The only way we can achieve that two conditions is that we find out the patients' diagnoses - or at the very least, the pertinent findings in the history and examination - before deciding to invest the paltry 30 minutes allotted to us to finish taking a complete history and examine the patient thoroughly. Remember, we are only in the Surgery ward 3 mornings a week, so we have to select the two best out of three.

Never mind that the lecturer who want us to present these cases at the end of the 30 minutes would scold us if we select cases with no physical findings (which is more common than you think in the Surgery ward, I can tell you). So, how would we know if a patient have physical findings or not if WE DID NOT LOOK AT THE DAMN FILE? Now, suppose I follow the correct procedure - suppose I spend 20 minutes taking a complete history before proceeding to examine the patient - what if I discover at the 25th minute that the patient has no physical findings? Do I start all over with another patient who may or may not be a case I can write in my portfolio, and who may or may not have physical signs on examination?

Unless the Surgery department tells us which bed we must go to in the morning clinical session, I will continue to do what I have always done; look at every patient's file in the entire ward before deciding which case I want to clerk. In fact, I went to the wards half an hour earlier yesterday so I can have first pick of the cases before the college bus arrive with the throng I have to fight with everyday for the best patients. I did this because I want to learn, to see cases I haven't seen. I am in med school to get an education - not perform miracles.

Anyway, I didn't actually feel any anger when Satan, I mean, the Professor berated me loudly in the ward and sent me out. If any other lecturer did the same, I'd have flip out. The thing is, I consider him to be some sort of unpredictable force of nature in my mind - like a hurricane or a tsunami or underfoot dog-shit. He can happen to anyone at anytime without any warning. Plus, he sent so many thousands of students out of the wards over the years that the punishment no longer seem like such a big deal anymore. This is the first time I was sent out of a class by him though. Now, all I need is a T-shirt saying that I have passed my rites of passage in my college.

Oh yeah, he told me to write a letter explaining why I erred. I wanted to simply leave him a note saying "to err is human" but thought better of it after the alcohol wore off. Here's a transcript of that letter; which I spent a pretty enjoyable half hour writing (I'm pretty sure I wasn't suppose to enjoy it, though). Keep in mind that he likes to call people "incompetent fools",

Dear Sir,

This letter concerns my banishment from the Surgical Ward of the Malacca General Hospital for the day by your authority with the stipulation that an explanation must be put in writing regarding the circumstances which precipitated said penalty.

The patient which my colleagues and I were clerking presented with pain in the upper midline for 3 days with a history of one episode of vomiting and yellowing of the sclera of her eyes. After eliciting the relevant history of her current illness, I have, in a moment of extremely poor judgment and foresight, stole a look at the results of the patient's liver function test before the completion of the patient's general physical and systemic examination. You, sir, were informed of my indiscretions by my own candid and voluntary disclosure without any prompting from your party - another lapse of judgment on my part.

My reason for acting thus is because I had the gall to assume with a possibly misplaced certainty that the patient has a hepatobiliary condition from her history alone. I took further liberty by hypothesizing that the patient's liver profile would show abnormalities in her bilirubin levels, and made the terrible, terrible mistake of trying to test my hypothesis. I apologize for my over-enthusiasm.

My colleague, who was completing his questioning of the patient, left me with little to do till he is done, so I took a peek at the liver funtion report in the interest of saving time - as I would later be required to reproduce the findings in either the case presentation session (which, as of yesterday, is at 8:30 am instead of 9:00 am - making time economy more important than ever) or in my portfolio. Again, this is absolutely no excuse, and my stupidity and incompetence is indefensible.

Your judicious decision in sending me out of the ward and denying me my attendance in the records for the day, sir, is absolutely necessary because I need to see the errors of my ways and repent. After all, how else will I learn?

Once more, I apologize for my stupidity and incompetence. Thank you for sending me out of the ward, kind sir.

Your incompetent student,
Kok Sen Wai

I will get right back at you with a couple of real posts this weekend. But then again, I got a feeling that even my filler posts contain more contents (or at least, word count) than the average regular post most blogs display. Where the hell do I even get the time to write so much crap?

Joined the club,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, April 06, 2009

To Live Up to Oneself

"Treat a man as he is, he will remain so. Treat a man the way he can be and ought to be, and he will become as he can be and should be."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A paediatrician and a self-described grandmother of two came into my class today and gave a lecture on the ethical topic of patient-doctor confidentiality. I have heard little of said lecture because I was half on the floor wrestling with a laughing fit. She has an American accent and sounds exactly like Granny from the Looney Tunes cartoon and speaks to all of us as if we're all five year olds. She also has this hilarious habit of trailing off on irrelevant tangents in a classical doodering octogenarian fashion (like what she'd be doing later at 7:00 pm that evening) and frequently acted out entire hypothetical conversations solo. Most of the time, I was laughing alone because I couldn't stop imagining a knitting needles in her hands and Tweety on her shoulder.

"Now, my dear boys, I'm sure you can see why confidentiality is so... what is that smell? Oh pickles, my cookies are burning to crisps! Sylvester! Get me my mitt'ns!"

However, that's not what I meant to write about today. What I want to write about happened Friday, during a viva voce which in front of another lecturer, a professor - one with a faint British accent instead of an American one. He is what I would describe as a learned old world gentleman who wears intelligence on the sleeve of his shirt and speaks with reason in his voice. Every single lecturer I've met to date in my college are specialists, experts in their chosen field and little else. This man is a polymath, a well-rounded scholar who can recite entire medical manuals, give impromptu history lectures on pre-civil war America and quote Lewis Caroll in mid-conversation. He is a little more than teacher to me. He is a role model.

"Who is Socrates?" he asked on the very first day, in the clinics. Everyone in our little group reported that Socrates was a Greek and a philosopher, a factoid which impressed him little.

"Now, can anyone tell me what Socrates is famous for?" he asked, and was met with silence followed by a sussurus of bad answers. He grinned, having found the unsurprisingly shallow bottom of the well which is the general knowledge of Malaysian students.

"The Socratic Method?" I offered. I had a wee hunch that this was what he was looking for.

"Well, it's evident that any method attributed to man names Socrates would be called the Socratic Method," he chided, chuckling fruitfully. "But what does it mean?"

I said I wasn't sure but he would have none of it.

"You know what it is, boy! Try!"

"Well, the Socratic Method entails arguing by asking questions after questions..." I began and he interceded in beat.

"... after question after question until a person reaches the correct conclusion!"

He beamed at me at the end of his simplified explanation of the Method, or more accurately, the adaptation of the Method for teaching, which he practices. It must have been a rare thing for him to encounter a student born from the mold of our country's brain dead education system to be able to answer that. Now, I am not implying that I am smarter than everyone. If my examination results are any indication, I am at best a middling student in every basic discipline of medicine in the curriculum. I do, however, take pride in my vast mental store of trivia on any subject ranging from literature and classical history to pop culture and Norse mythology. My motto is; if it's pointless, I must learn it.

Now, you must excuse me for apparently running off course but that incident is, I affirm, thoroughly relevant. This was the reason why that he was disappointed in my performance in that oral examination I was telling you about earlier.

"Now, let me be honest with you," he said wearily. "From the start, I have this impression that you and that J girl are the smart ones in this particular clinical group. You are not doing as well as I expect you to."

"Well, appearances can be deceiving," I did not say.

And he was right to be disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself too - in the way I should have been disappointed in myself all these years, but didn't. It was the way he said it which made it so hard and bitter a truth to swallow, a truth I have to swallow no matter how hard I try to avoid doing so. I should be better than this. I should be better than this.

I came out from the classroom where the interview was conducted and told a girl what the professor told me, and she said,

"Well, you do look smart," she said. "That was the impression I had when I first met you."

I have never once thought that my face would convey such misinformation to people looking at it. When I look in the mirror, all I ever see is a handsome face of chiselled marble perfection a perpetually bored expression barely hiding a sort of vague contempt and disapproval of the human race. Suddenly, there's this strange new pressure on me to live up to these nonsense signs of intelligence people claim to see in my eyes or in the whorls of my ears, or up my nostrils or whatever. I hate to have to try to perform up to other people's expectations.

Later that night, Shaki informed me that I have passed the viva voce despite not being able to answer a single question properly - or at least, I honestly felt that I did not. If I have to grade myself, I'd fail me like the vengeance of Zeus on a lightning rod. A pass was something I did not deserve at all. I'm afraid that the professor have given me a score, a minimum, which he expected me to attain but didn't.

Somehow, I will have to try to live up to it. This is bothering me more than I thought it could.

k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bookends: March 2009 (Part 2)

I just woke up earlier this evening at 5:00 pm after doing a pretty convincing impression of a corpse for the past 16 hours. The ration of sleep allowed to me in the past few days did not exceed 3 hours per night. This is no life for anyone.

I said that I would finish updating Bookends: March 2009 on the day succeeding the night I completed the first half on, but leisure did not find me – so I'm doing it now. So here are the remaining two reviews I promised you,

Bridge of Birds

By Barry Hughart

"My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character."

Master Li Kao

Cover Bridge of Birds
This book is really, really funny. You probably can't tell from this.

A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was, proclaimed the subtitle on the books front cover with a wink and I couldn't help feeling that we have all been cheated out of an Ancient China That Should Have Been.

The story began in the Chinese village of Ku-Fu where a young man of prodigious physical strength called Number Ten Ox lives. In the days preceding the silk harvest, all the children aged between 8 and 15 were struck by a mysterious disease which first made them scream, then claw the air in front of them as if they were fending off something no one could see. The children would experience convulsions next before finally falling in a deep sleep with their vitals barely hovering above nothing.

Traveling to Peking, he found Master Li Kao – a sage "with a slight flaw in his character" as he so fondly and frequently described himself – and managed to enlist his help in his quest to save the children of his village. What ensued is an adventure which spiralled so rapidly out of proportions that it soon became a breathless race against time to solve a heinous crime perpetrated a thousand years ago – a crime so heinous that it had thrown Heaven itself into unease.

Bridge of Birds is a chinoiserie tale that is surprisingly faithful to the culture it had plundered so thoroughly for its richness. Barry Hughart, an American who served in the Far East when he was in military service, discovered that a great number of Chinese deities had their roots as characters in novels, and set out to write his own. I for one think that he had captured the voices and the personalities of the Chinese people with great precision and wit (being Chinese myself, you know that that is no idle praise). In fact, it is Mr Hughart's humorous asides on Chinese mythology and history which made this book such a pleasure to read. It's a rare book which can make me laugh out loud.

On the other hand, there are times in which the story simply abandons all pretence of fidelity to accuracy and steps seamlessly into the absurd. Someone unfamiliar with Chinese legends wouldn't be able to tell what is true and what Hughart pulled straight out of his ass. Then again, someone like that would simply assume that the entirety of the novel was made up. Bridge of Birds reminded me strongly of The Princess Bride by William Goldman, another great novel. Fans of Mr Goldman's book would certainly find much to love in Bridge of Birds, and vice versa.

As you can probably tell from the novel's title, Hughart's novel borrowed liberally from the Chinese folktale of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. Then again, "borrow" is perhaps the wrong word to use here. "Rape" is probably more correct – and I mean that as a compliment to Mr Hughart's inventiveness and to the large size of his balls. What he ultimately came up with is a delightful story of immense beauty and charm which ultimately culminated in a surprising and deeply satisfying conclusion. I'd recommend this to you regardless of what sort of books you like to read.

Score: 9.5/10

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony

By Eoin Colfer

"I am not as careless as you, Artemis. I prefer anonymity, until I have something exceptional to be recognized for."

Minerva Paradizo

Cover Artermis Fowl and the Lost Colony
As you can imagine, I don't carry this book around with me in public.

I don't know if it's me or if Eoin Colfer (pronounced Owen) is running out of good ideas. The first three books – particularly the first of the three – in the Artemis Fowl series were clever subversions of ye ole fairytale conventions which first introduced us to the teenage criminal mastermind whose name titled the books. By the fourth book, the novelty and freshness of the series have lost their lustre. The fifth book, the one I'm going to write about in a sec, is almost boring. I suspect that it has something to do with me growing out of children's books, but then again, I am still perfectly capable of enjoying Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events which, from what I can tell, was intended for an even younger audience.

The Lost Colony, in brief, is about Artemis Fowl trying to save an island sequestered out of time and place and the surviving remainder of the Eighth Fairy Family – the demons, never mentioned prior to this book – which lives on it. In this book, he will also "meet his match". This, along with some "twists" in heavy spoiler territory firmly shows that the series, which used to be such groundbreaking exemplars of originality, is now mucking about with TV drama conventions. Also, I liked Artemis Fowl better when he was still an amoral genius who only cared about profit and mental challenges, but I suppose "character development" is simply unavoidable in anything running longer than 3 books.

You'll notice that I've been judging The Lost Colony against by the standards set by its antecedents, hence the mostly negative tone of this review. However if you compare it with most of the other stuff of its genre now, you'll find that Artemis Fowl is still much better than most of the Harry Potter clones which plague the commercial shelves. I'd still recommend this series over most others. And I'd still buy the sixth book, Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox, as soon as I see a marked down copy at a book fair or warehouse sale.

I merely think that Artemis Fowl fans deserved better than Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony.

Score: 5/10

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The April Fish

"It's easy to see I'm not down with that,
I'm not nobody's fool."

Nobody's Fool (2002) by Avril Lavigne

Today is the 1st of April and I woke up at 3:00 am remembering it, feeling pretty pleased with myself that I did. No one, I thought, is going to fool me today. Then I promptly proceeded to fool myself by rushing to complete two Surgical case reports which is due on Friday, and not today as I somehow suckered myself into thinking. The guys clued me in I when I met them for our carpool to the hospital in Muar at a quarter past seven, but I was skeptical at first - y'know, vigilance and all that. I didn't want to be the first fish of the day. Vigilance wasted though. They were serious about the deadline being Friday.

Still, I took pains to analyse everything every word everyone said to me up until lunchtime because I am just paranoid that way. Nobody play a single prank or try even the simplest tricks. Not on me. Not in my vicinity. At about 1:30 pm, I decided that this blatant disregard of the one day of the year we celebrate human gullibility has gone long enough, and pulled the first April Fool's Day joke of the day. Some guy stood up from his seat and I remarked politely that there was a tear in the seat of his pants. It's not sophisticated, yes, but it's one of the classics. People's insecurities have always been fair game on April First.

"April Fool," I said (as annoyingly as I could) the moment he bit. Too easy.

"Damn," he said, laughing. "Fuck!" he supplied further, and said that he didn't remember that it was the first of April at all. That one crude prank snowballed predictably. That's how it's always been. Some guy got conned, then he try to con someone else who have not yet realise that the day is a holiday in their honour. It's a day where we laugh at other people's expense and more importantly still, we remember to laugh at ourselves. In the harried life of a medical student, we need to be reminded of that more than others. We get too self-important sometimes, and take ourselves far too seriou...

You're an April Fool if you believe that last paragraph. It was pure drivel. What really happened was that that guy simply shrugged, and said,

"Frankly, I don't care."

I don't know. I simply don't. What changed when we got to our twenties? Why do we reach some point in our lives when the person who feels embarrassed on April Fool's Day is not the person who got tricked, but the person who tricked him? For being puerile, immature, childish or whatever adjective it is they use these days for 23-year-olds remembering the most important holiday of the year? I do think that of all the numbers we have in the calendar, the First of April is most worthy of recognition. It's the day we celebrate humanity in the most straightforward, practical and demonstrative sense. We laugh. We lie. There's no other animal in existence I know of which is able to tell untruths. There's no other animal in existence which has a sense of humour.

In France and former French colonies, it is stock gag to try to stick a paper fish on someone's back without the victim noticing it. It's called poisson d'avril, or April's Fish. I knew a fish once, a Pisces to be exact, because she was born on the 12th of March - 1,2,3. Easy to recall. And on her, I played the only April Fool's Day prank I ever regretted, and the funny or sad thing was,I wasn't even trying to trick her.

I told a great number of my Fourth Form classmates that I have broken up with her (for she was my girlfriend, my first) and that being the April First, you can probably appreciate how hard was for me to get people to believe me. I played a protracted joke. When everyone called me out on it, I refused to admit. When people pointed out that it was too obvious, the day being what it was, I merely replied bluntly that the break happened two days ago - which didn't necessarily mean that I wasn't lying, but people are simply that susceptible to misdirection. I put up such a long and convincing show that I eventually reeled everyone in. And then, I forgot to tell them what big ninnies they are for being taken in by so a transparent trick, which is by far the best and most satisfying part of April Fool's Day. It was like making a sandwich with no fillings, biting into it and not noticing the difference. I realised that after I got home from school, but I thought that I could laugh at them in the following day (and possibly even over the next few days because I'm such a horrible gloat).

The joke's on me though. I received a phone call later that night. She was on the other end, evidently upset and asking me if I really wanted a breakup. Apparently, a guy I bluffed asked his girlfriend about the veracity of my tale, and the gossip chain is just this short in a small town like Malacca; someone inevitably approached her and questioned her about it.

I felt low. I felt that I should have known even though there wasn't any way I could have foreseen this big a fuck up. If someone comes to me and tells me that my girlfriend was telling everyone that we have broken up, and it was the First of April, I'd simply laugh at that person, asking him or her if the hook, line and sinker tasted good. But evidently, I'm not everyone.

That was one of the first and by far the harshest lesson I learnt about empathy. There are just some insecurities we should never ever joke about. Whether we mean to or not is academic.

No one should feel bad on April Fool's Day.

First class fool,
k0k s3n w4i