Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Contagion: A Review

"Blogging isn't writing. It's graffiti with punctuation."

Dr. Ian Sussman in Contagion (2011)

Bloggers of the world! Unite!

Contagion Poster
Soderbergh spelled out the movie in its tagline because he thinks you are stupid.

Last Thursday night, I made contact with Steven Soderbergh's Contagion, a disaster film like no other I have ever seen. It's best described as a movie length procedural chronicling how every level of human society would respond to a pandemic motored by a highly transmissible, highly virulent virus previously unknown to science. The virus is also fictional, but just barely (I will put on a labcoat and explain what I meant by that in a bit).

In many ways, it's almost a documentary in its very clinical and hyper-realistic account of what would happen in the event of a worldwide plague. Four out of four doctors agree (that was what my movie party consisted of, by the way) that it's almost a public service announcement. We did however, differed in our enjoyment of the film. I unabashedly loved it. The others thought it was more education than entertainment and opined that if you're looking for a good time at the movies, you won't find it in Contagion. It very bleak, brutal and unpredictable, much like how a real life pandemic is.

Warning: This doctor recommends that you watch the movie before reading this review slash armchair analysis. There is no known cure for spoilers.

The Virus.

The real star of the film, the MEV-1 virus, is based on our very own, real-life Nipah virus - one of Malaysia's rare honest contributions to the world of medicine. It was named after Kampung Nipah in Negeri Sembilan where it was first isolated from a human infectee (there's also a Tioman virus, if you're interested). Like Nipah, the MEV-1 is a respiratory paramyxovirus and encephalitic agent, and for those of you who don't understand scientish, "encephalitic" pretty much means "it eats braaains". Nipah too is spread primarily through touch, and typically presents itself through flu-like symptoms (fever, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, etc) and neurological signs (like drowsiness, altered consciousness and cinematic dramatic seizures). It may scare you to know that Nipah typically kills 40-75% of its victims and severe sporadic outbreaks had been recorded almost yearly since its discovery in 1999. Yes, the scenario in Contagion can totally happen.

Another noteworthy trivia is MEV-1's origin story which is blow-by-blow identical to the proposed mechanism from which Nipah first arose - from the spillage of excrements and half-eaten fruits from Pteropid fruit bats into pig farms due to the increasing overlap of habitats these two animals share - or as the film puts it: "Somewhere out there, the wrong pig met up with the wrong bat."

The scientific aspects of this film are surprisingly accurate and its accuracy, by and large, can be credited to Contagion's science consultant, Ian Lipkin, the Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, an academic laboratory for microbe hunting in acute and chronic diseases. It was he who created selected the film's virus, going as far as constructing the genetic map of the MEV-1 using sequences of paramyxoviruses he downloaded from GenBank. The Paramyxoviridae is a family of viruses which boasts the inclusion of common household names like mumps and measles, but I bet you already knew that.

I do however have a minor plausibility issue with a story element in Contagion where limited supply (a recognised logistic problem with vaccines in real life pandemic responses) forced the distribution of the newly-developed vaccine to be decided by a lottery based on a person's date of birth. In reality, the vaccines would be first given to doctors and nurses - because let's face it, who's going to help the ordinary folks after all the healthcare providers have keeled over and died? That scene where Dr Ellis Cheever gave his dose of vaccine to his janitor's kid while putting the wristband which marks those protected on himself was meant to be heartwarming, but it elicited a "what a fucking moron" from me and my friends. He's essentially turned himself into a walking public health hazard.

The Film.

Contagion doesn't have characters in the traditional sense of the word - going against every good advice there is on good film-making. If an unproven director had made it, I'd have chalked it up to crappy direction but it was most certainly a calculated decision on Soderbergh's part. What it has instead of characters are broadly-painted points of view. In Matt Damon, we get the ground level everyman's perspective. Laurence Fishburne represents the decision-making upper echelons of public health as a high-ranking officer of the CDC. Marion Cottilard plays the WHO epidemiologist who went on a quest to Hong Kong to identify the index patient, or "patient zero". Elliott Gould and Jennifer Ehle are the scientists charged with discovering the nature of the pathogen and ultimately finding a way to fight it.

My favourite character by far was Kate Winslet's Dr. Erin Mears. She had the thankless job of being the main exposition mouthpiece, bringing the average filmgoer up-to-speed on technical jargons like "fomite" and "R0", and spouting statistics like "the average person touches their face three to five times every waking minute." That's a factoid that you are now going to recall every time you touch yours for the rest of your lives. Clearly, this is not the reason why I enjoyed her performance.

Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever and Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears
Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever and Kate Winslet as Dr. Erin Mears.

Dr. Mears is someone we term in the medical fraternity as a "frontliner" and being one myself, I naturally identify with her most. She was charged with organising other first responders and setting up field medical stations, willingly exposing herself to contacts with the infected masses. Contagion recognises the silent, unthinking heroism of the average health worker. It's a fact that every time I draw blood, perform surgery or even interview someone, I am putting myself at risk of catching whatever bugs my patients are harbouring within their systems. All of us in the field knows someone who was infected with HIV or viral hepatitis in the line of duty. When SARS broke in 2002, many doctors and nurses succumbed to the disease and died, and this too was to be Dr. Mears' fate; to die on a bed in a field medical station she set up. Some may consider it schmaltz overdose, but I find that beat in her final hours when she tried to hand a fellow patient her jacket incredibly poignant. It was shot, aptly, like an understatement.

There are a lot of cinematic touches like that which I enjoyed. I like, for example, how it quietly highlights someone touching each other or a potentially biohazardous object, like a cellphone of a bowl of nuts. It was also most certainly deliberate when the film killed off one of its biggest named stars and a little kid in its first act. After all, anyone can die when the next big pandemic hits.

I also loved the sleuthing sequences that Marion Cotillard's epidemiologist went through in order to home in on the index patient, but sadly those parts are short-lived as her story turned into a kidnapping caper by that sleazy Chinese accountant guy in The Dark Knight in a gambit to get first dibs on vaccines for his village. I find that storyline highly implausible - I mean, after they let her go, what's stopping her from giving the kidnappers up to the law? The guy worked with her in the beginning! And he even took her to his village! Good going, poopyhead. I hope the Chinese government puts you in front of a firing squad.

The Big Ideas.

At the pandemic's crescendo, we see Minneapolis decompose into an anarchy of looters, housebreakers and thugs when the city was put under quarantine - a necessary utilitarian evil to prevent the disease from escaping into nearby provinces. It was highlighted in a scene where a throng of people were standing in line at a drugstore to purchase an alleged cure for the disease. As soon as it became clear to them that there isn't enough of the product for everyone, they immediately dissolve into an angry mob ready to snatch what they want by force. It hit home for me that civilisation is just a tissue-thin unspoken agreement we all have with one another until resources cross a threshold of scarcity. I find that idea terribly chilling - more so because I believe it can certainly happen.

Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff
Anna Jacoby-Heron as Jory Emhoff and Matt Damon as Mitch Emhoff

In Contagion, Soderbergh also drew comparison between the spread of a modern pandemic in the age of global air travel to that of the spread of fear, memes and misinformation in the age of the internet, making the case that the latter is more injurious to the ranks of humanity than a killer virus. The public's overreaction felt a bit manufactured to me, seeing as what we should worry about is really the opposite. After the whole H1N1 influenza debacle turned out to be a huge ado about nothing, I fear that people would not take the next epidemic as seriously as they should - and they should.

I have hopes that Contagion will immunise the masses against their fatal indifference (which I personally think is the goal of the movie) but then again, how does one prepare against the next potential globe-trotting, population-decimating infection the likes of which we have never encountered before? If there's one thing I learned from this flick, it's that the only thing anyone can do against a disaster of this scope and nature is damage control.

The Scepticism.

On the subject of misinformation, I was pleasantly surprised by just how sceptically-bent Contagion is. In fact, it's quite probably the most sceptical feature film I have ever watched on the big screen.

Enter Jude Law's Alan Krumwiede, a unique-hits-obsessed internet crusader stereotypically positioned to be the Cassandra against an almagam of a sinister shadow government and the corporate boogeymen out to deceive the sheeples. From his blog, he tells his substantial readership that there is in fact a cure to the MEV-1 which Big Pharma is suppressing from public knowledge for their own undefined financial gains. Said cure is a homeopathic remedy derived from forsythia, a yellow-flowering shrub used in traditional Chinese medicine, and he claimed that it made him better after he caught the virus himself. According to Hollywood film conventions, Krumwiede would be the hero.

Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede
Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede

But this film's commitment to realism did not fail at this juncture. In reality, the lone alt-med conspiracy nut on the net would be just that - a lone alt-med conspiracy nut. In truth, Krumwiede faked his illness and then supposedly "cured" himself using forsythia in order to drum up demand for it - and he ended up making millions from the masses of people who read him and trusted him. In fact, he even tried to discourage people from real medicine - the new vaccine developed by the CDC - using the inherent anti-government sentiments he engendered in the web community.

Homeopathy, if you don't know, is absolute bollocks. It's unscientific ritualised sympathetic magic, and I'm surprised that not many more people know that. 10 out of 10 of my colleagues (freaking doctors, the lot of them) assumed that homeopathy is just another system of medicine, and when I quizzed them on what it really is, they couldn't tell me - at which point I would gladly launch into a Homeopathy 101 mini-lecture I have given a million times. If you see the word homeopathy on the label of any medicine, rest assured that it's quackier than a flock of ducks it contains nothing more than water in it.

If you think that Jude Law's slimeball blogger is unbelievable as a character, read this real-life NaturalNews.com article on Contagion. Krumwiede clearly has his real-life analogues in delusional alt-med misinformation artists like Mike Adams, Joe Mercola and the anti-vaccination kooks over at the Age of Autism. They demonise science-based medicine (which have more than doubled the life expectancy of our species, thank you very much) and real doctors while promoting unproven "natural" alternatives that have been conclusively and repeatedly shown to be ineffective in the scientific literature.

The Last Word.

All in all, it's a very well-made film. Some critics have called Contagion a very emotionally cold and distant movie, but it's an opinion which I do not share. Real life is rarely as dramatic as it usually is in Hollywoodland, and Soderbergh's latest offering is about a real life horror story, and how. I don't remember the last time I was scared by something I see in a cinema.

Contagion also remembers the real heroes: the scientists and healthcare providers who worked their asses off to fight the diseases which plague humanity even as the Krumwiedes of the world labour to undermine their efforts. Just for this, I give Soderbergh's scandalous (and uncalled for) dig at bloggers and blogging a pass. Don't do it again, Steve, or we might just rub our grubby fingers all over your face.

P.S. Another thing worthy of mention is Cliff Martinez's dissonant, sciencey score for the film. It has a very strong presence throughout the film.

A graffiti artist who uses punctuations,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Found a BlackBerry

"I found a wallet
I found a wallet
Inside were pictures of your small family
You are so young
Your hair dark brown
You had been born in nineteen fifty-three"

Wallet (2009) by Regina Spektor

Here it is!

I Found a BlackBerry
I included a picture just in case you thought I found a cluster of small dark fruits.

I found it sitting on its lonesome on top of a table outside of the Life Café at Train Terrace, and seeing that I too was on my own, we hooked up for a petit déjeuner. All my life, I only ever had dalliances with Nokias (which I value for their nigh indestructibility). Pricey delicate phones that can do a billion things and also give me back rubs holds little attraction for me because I'm the sort of person who shouldn't have nice things. However, if something nice plants its perky ass on my laps and whisper naughty things into my ear, I find it hard to say no.

Y'see, it was too easy. I could simply turn it off and pocket it. I was alone so no one could judge me. Since I don't believe in karma, God or the existence of a punitive afterlife, I fully expect to get off scot free. I could make a mantra out of "finders, keepers" or "la la la la". I could tell myself that the owner was too dumb for a smartphone and that he (and it was most certainly a guy) deserved to lose it because he was careless enough to leave it behind. Yes, that sounds like a plan.

Instead, I left it on and waited. I finished my breakfast waiting, and I was halfway home when it finally rang. Even at that moment, I felt the temptation to ignore it pulsating against my conscience. I was at the point of definite returns; it was still not too late to change my mind.

I couldn't do it.

Every cell in my body forced me to accept the call, and I did. On the other end was a rather flustered Malay man who immediately started barking questions my way. Who are you? Why do you have my phone? Where did you find it? Then, before I could say hello, he offered me a reward for the return of his expensive piece of shit - as if I needed an incentive to do the right thing. My hackles rose and I realised that I could just as easily say goodbye instead. Your phone's mine now, asshole.

I took a deep breath and told him to take one too. Then, I arranged to rendezvous with him at the nearby Wisma Saberkas (Kuching's poor man's Lowyat Plaza), a plan he eagerly assented to. On my sinister shoulder, my metaphorical devil tried to reason with me: "You can stand him up, you know. He sounds like a prick anyway."

But I waited. After almost half an hour, the bloke turned up. He looked suitably grateful to see me and thanked me profusely when I handed him his phone back. He took my digits and promised, to my horror, to keep in contact but thankfully, he had not come through on his word.

Now, why did I do that? Why would I - in fact, why would anyone at all do anything which benefit another person while expecting zilch in return? In my case, I even stood to profit rather handsomely from it, but chose instead to waste my time and petrol restoring the BlackBerry to its original owner.

Perhaps it's because I really like thinking to myself: "I'm one of the good guys." Perhaps, I simply believe in treating others the way I would like to be treated in return. Or maybe it's because I constantly have second thoughts about all aspects of my life; a process I have come to think of as my internal dialogue with myself. I figured out that the solution to the age-old conundrum of quis custodiet ipsos custodes - who watches the watchman - is to have a binary watchman system, each watching the other. In a way, there's always someone else within my head with me, policing everything I do without.

It's either that or I'm seeing the early squeaks of my latent schizophrenia.

P.S. Interpreted to its fully extent, it means that my blog represents the third level of my consciousness. That's just like me - going meta on meta.

A believer in the rule that glitters,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gone Baby Gone

"Don't wake up, won't wake up, can't wake up
No, don't wake me up"

By The Time (2009) by Mika feat. Imogen Heap

Do you know what's messed up?

I do, and I learned the meaning of it just last week. Dawn was cracking and I had just begun reviewing patients in the gynaecology ward when a woman emerged from the washroom with the bottom half of her standard-issue green hospital garb soaked with blood. Her horror was on her face. Mine wasn't.

That was not what's messed up. In fact, that's almost routine but it demanded my full attention so I dropped everything I was doing and attended to her immediately (or stat, as we like to say because five syllables was four too many in an emergency). So, I laid her down and jammed a disposable plastic speculum up her delicates, and what I saw through it... that's messed up.

I saw a fluid-filled, translucent sac bulging into her vagina. Within it, I saw a pallid miniature foot complete with miniature toes twitching and kicking against the glistening membrane. The sixteen-weeker mother had been dallying at the point of no return for a couple of days already and all of us were absentmindedly expecting the inevitable - but the reality of it rushed up my head like too much iced drink when it actually unfolded in crimson on my own two hands. I knew the foetus was still very much alive the whole time. I also knew that it's chance of survival outside of it's mother's body was precisely zero. I was to deliver, for all intents and purposes, a tiny living corpse.

After a couple of pushes, the sac slipped out and promptly burst in a warm flood of amniotic fluid, depositing an uncanny imp-like creature between the lady's legs. Its tiny mouth opened and closed like a goldfish's, screaming soundlessly and gasping to fill it's useless, half-formed lungs. I continued to attend to the woman while trying my hardest not to notice it as it squirmed impotently against the back of my hand. There was nothing I could do for you, little fella. Just die. While I waited for the placenta to detach from the womb, the baby slowly faded away.

No, not baby. In my documentation of the events later, I referred to it as "the product of conception". That's five syllables more than "baby", but in this case, it's okay.

I continued to chat with the mother conversationally, both of us determined to ignore the ugly fact of a freshly dead child in the room. She already knew what to expect, and was taking it far too well. When I removed the clammy, limp mannikin from the scene, I took great care to wrap it up completely out of sight with a piece of bloodied cloth. She can choose look at it when she's ready.

You know what's even more messed up? Most people believe that there is a God watching over us. If he really exists, it seems to me that that's all he does. He just stood by and watched; unblinking, unflinching, stone cold.

P.S. "God has a plan," they say. So did Hitler. We didn't like his plan very much, did we?

Messed up,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Other Side

"I don't know what you smoke
Or what countries you've been to
If you speak any other languages
Other than your own,
I'd like to meet you"

I Don't Know (2008) by Lisa Hannigan

Rajang Sunset
Sunset over the Sarawak River.

Job #1

The very first job I held down was at the local newly-opened Tesco back in Malacca; a position which Grace of Rainbows obtained on my behalf. I was sixteen at the time, and laboured as a retail assistant for the interest of a company called Travelite, an outfit which had its fingers in the distribution of cheap luggage bags, satchels and suitcases. My supervisor was a large, effeminate Chinese man who had an even larger Australian boyfriend. He was the first openly gay person I knew.

I don't know if you have noticed but our daily lives are criss-crossed with invisible barriers separating the microcosms of our social machine. Behind every uniform, badge or cash counter is a world apart. I realised this on the first day I reported for duty in my red Tesco polo neck. For the first time, I entered a familiar building through a side entryway I never knew existed and emerged into strange new place - except, it was just the same old Tesco I had shopped at dozens of times before. I had walked those aisles as a customer, but something changed radically when I walked them as an employee. You see, I had crossed over to the Other Side.

My job itself was mindless and unexciting. I recall spending major hours of it just sitting around and trying to break the 3-digit combination on the locks of suitcases which pesky, meddlesome brats had changed for a lark, and convincing potential patrons that the bags we sell aren't utter shits. The interesting part comes from exploring all the alien secret spaces tucked away from the eyes of the unititiated; the "unauthorised" - from the greasy employee's cafetaria which served food-like objects to the cavernous, twilit storage annex with its mile-high shelves and lumbering monster forklifts. Once, I had to clamber a whole storey up one of those oversized shelves and lower suitcases down to a waiting colleague below. Back then, I was still young enough to see the real risk of falling and shattering my spine to pieces as an adventure.

Job #2

After my A-levels, while waiting for med school to start, I eased into my second job at then-smalltown Malacca's only cineplex minding the box office and gigging as an usher for three bucks an hour - that's 40 cents less than my old job three years ago, but boy did I loved working there. It was where the tinder of my passion for cinema was ignited. When I'm off-duty (and usually when I'm on-duty as well), I could saunter freely into any of its four modest theatres and watch any movie I wanted - and I watched every new release six or seven times. On weekdays when cinemagoers are thin, I could even find time to catch up on my reading. Of course, I was made to put on a silly waistcoat and a strap-on bowtie, but what job is perfect really?

I had stood behind the concession stand where they popped corn and seen the insides of the box office, the manager's office, and the place where they tuck the mega speakers away (which I had to check nightly in case someone somehow magically managed to carry off one under his or her shirt beneath our notice); but I never had the chance to visit the projectionists' room, which is a microcosm within the cineplex's microcosm. The projectionists were a rather surly species and they didn't want a kid like me mucking about their mini off-world planet. Still, I resolved to make it upstairs someday.

However, I had to resign from that job before I could because I managed to piss off pretty much all my superiors. It's a long story, but the short of it is that I inadvertently started a proto-union and made all the other part-timers feel disgruntled about our slave-grade salary (which they were totally okay with before I pointed it out to them). Shit hit fan the day I trooped into the boss's office with my colleagues in tow, and we all ended up covered in it.

Job #3

I quickly osmosed into my next job at Giordano - purveyors of tasteless apparel - within the same mall. They had an unexpectedly stringent interview process complete with a formal questionaire in which I wass quizzed on my problem-solving skills (e.g. what would you do if a customer asks if a skirt makes her look fat?). I was also asked to name the country which the company originated from, and I hazarded Italy because Giordano sounded Italian (it was Hong Kong).

If I answered honestly, I would have simply said "Fuck me, lady, do I look like I shop here?"

As a former insider, I can attest that the sickeningly saccharine sing-song "Welcooome!" the Giordanoids crooned every time you walk into one of their outlets is a codified company policy. I asked my supervisor if I could just greet customers with a clean, short, polite "Welcome" without dragging it out like a drag queen but she reacted to my suggestion as if I just spat in her newborn child's mouth. The paymasters of Giordano were a lot more generous (almost twice as generous as Golden Screen Cinemas', in fact) but I was expected to slog a whole lot harder. Once, after I've completed all the usual chores, my boss made me go up a stepladder to clean the air-conditioning vents. I'm not kidding you; she eyeballed the entire shop looking for work for me to do. Finding nothing, she had to get creative.

At the back of the shop was a closet-sized stockroom which moonlighted as a seamster's chamber and a staffroom which was just about the right size if Giordano was staffed entirely by Oompa Loompas. It was a cramped social space where I mingled with a very specific demography far removed from my usual circles: women who dropped out of high school because they got knocked up. It frightens me how easily people can settle down comfortably in dead end jobs between their narrow horizons, indulge in catty gossips as their sole pastime while making as much money as they could, and breed like base creatures, leaving behind nothing more than a headstone and halves of their genetic code behind - not that there's really anything wrong with that sort of life. It's just that I wouldn't want to live it.


I am not hardworking person, and I'd even go as far as to say I'm an incurably lazy one. The reason why I kept diving into the labour pool was not because I wanted to contribute to the community or to generate extra pocket money. I was in it for the perspectives; the figurative scenery from the Other Sides. They hold a weird attraction for me I cannot fully express in words.

These days, I'm apparently a doctor, a reality which I still have problems coming to grips with. It's surreal, almost disturbing. Men and women would undress on my command and I could touch them anywhere I wish both outside and (literally) inside their bodies. With a bit of interrogation, they would tell me their deepest, most shameful secrets. They allow me to stick them with needles daily as if they are life-sized voodoo dolls, and let me drain their freaking life blood out for lab tests they do not understand. If I hand them a pill of unknown providence and ask them to swallow it, the only question they have for me is "before or after meal?" I can cut them up, period. It's only possible because my patients have all unwittingly suspended their knowledge that I'm an average human being just like them. Amazing isn't it, how a couple of letters in front your name can change you so thoroughly?

There are few Sides more Other than the one I'm currently on, and I admit that I'm secretly starting to think it's pretty damn cool. Ask me again in a week if I still feel the same.

Sky from HUS
The sky outside the operation hall at the Sarawak General.

Writing from another dimension,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Lotophagus and Bibliobibuli

"Woke up and wished that I was dead
With an aching in my head
I lay motionless in bed
The night is here and the day is gone
And the world spins madly on"

World Spins Madly On (2006) by The Weepies

I finished reading A Dance with Dragons on the last day of August, and it was a killer of a book (as in, it will kill a full grown man if you swing it at his head). When I stepped into med school, an old friend and a fellow geek told me that I would no longer have the luxury of leisure reading. In response, I made a vow to read at least one novel a month no matter how busy I get - and I kept that vow even through my final exams. When I entered into the workforce, yet another geek friend warned me that I may soon have to abandon my modest little hobby. That galvanised my resolve because that's just the sort of person I am, and I just started on my meal of China Miéville's The City & the City for September. I will make short work of it and then belch loudly in satisfaction.

I daydream longingly and often of my time in the Indian Himalayas, where the days are in slow motion and the nights are not the beginning of tomorrows. What Thomas Wilson - Maugham's Lotus Eater - chose to do seems less and less like folly to me and more and more like a perfectly sensible plan. As a high school senior, it was a moral story about a good-for-nothing layabout meeting an unpleasant end he deserved (or at least, that's how we were suppose to interpret it in our literature studies in order to pass). These days, it makes me question the worth of a long life in service to others versus a shorter one in service to my own happiness.

I read a respectable number of books during my April in the Mountains including Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Dan Simmon's Olympos, Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear and Dan Brown's delighfully execrable The Lost Symbol. I also managed to rent a perfectly serviceable copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for a steal of 3 rupees from a cosy little café in the Dalai Lama's temple complex. The place serves a mean Roquefort cheese and walnut pizza, by the way - so you know where to look now.

In Huxley's bold neoteric world, people indulge in a state-endorsed, side-effects-free hallucinatory drug called soma - going on what they term "soma holidays" - and enjoy rampant, guiltless, recreational sex. He wrote of a world devoid of angst, strife and individuality, and thus devoid of true art and creation. He wrote it as if it's a detestable dystopia. All along I was thinking: "Look how fucking happy everyone is!"

One character went on a permanent soma holiday and died in imbecilic bliss. Is that such a bad thing? If we measure the worth of our lives in the amount of pleasure it contains, then no - no, it's not. I sought refuge in literature, in art, only to stimulate the dopamine reward system in my brain. It's Pavlovian. I'm a dog slobbering at the ring of fiction's bell; a complex organic robot responding to the ebbs and flows of my chemical circuitry. If I am indefinitely happy and contented, then I would have no need of the books I covet and love.

But we have no soma in our boring old world. The closest thing I will ever come to a permanent soma holiday of my own is to spend the rest of my years reading by the hillside and basking in the orange glow of a McLeod Ganj sunset. Now, isn't that a life to die for?

McLeod Ganj Sunset
Don't you just love how the sky is red and blue at the same time?

k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, September 01, 2011


"If you never say your name out loud to anyone,
They can never ever call you by it"

Better (2006) by Regina Spektor

Sleep comes effortlessly to me these days after I joined the labour pool. I used to think of myself as a habitual insomniac, but all it took to cure me all along was simply a day of honest hard work. Yesterday, I woke up at 7:00PM from a work-induced coma, wasting my half holiday in one those little slices of death. The alarm clock on my cellphone had been mysteriously switched off by whatever agent that animates me whilst I hovered in the limbo between sleep and death - I have no memory of performing the act at all.

I did a twin of what we call in the biz as EOD calls, or "every-other-day calls". It meant that I was on-call both on Sunday and Tuesday, totaling 64 hours in 4 days. What more, in my stuporous post-call state, I initially assented to taking a third call today but ultimately managed to backpedal in time to escape it. I am, however, on-call tomorrow again.

I need a recess, not necessarily from work but from people. The nature of my job requires me to treat with other human beings on an almost constant basis and I'm feeling an ache of longing for a bit of me-alone-time. The other ache I'm feeling comes from the constraints - the limits, if you will - of my life. I ask myself often: is this all there is to it? The answer is no, but only if I dare. In the 25 nascent years of my life, I already boast a lengthy string of bad life decisions, and I suffer daily under their sovereignty. I heard of a story of a house officer working in my hospital who recently did a disappearing act but he was eventually tracked down and admitted for a bit of shrinking. I've been following his blog for awhile now, not knowing he was the Notorious Vanishing Houseman but realised today that the two are one of the same. Why, I even unwittingly spoke to him in the Malaysian Atheists, Freethinkers, and Agnostics page a couple of weeks ago.

They think he's nuts. Does it make me nuts too if I think that what he did made perfect sense to me?

Last month, a 24-week-old child was born, only to die almost immediately after. It's as if the sole purpose of its mayfly life is to mock everything we do in the medical profession. I must never forget that haunting look of impotence etched on the face of every doctor in that room that day.

k0k s3n w4i