Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Eulogy

"I never thought I'd die alone
Another six months I'll be unknown
Give all my things to all my friends
You'll never set foot in my room again"

Adam's Song (1999) by Blink-182

Have you ever thought of killing yourself? Like seriously consider it, get torn up inside about it and weigh it against your life on a scale of depressive bias? I believe that everyone has, at some point of their lives. I have. I was staring at a pit of pitch black nothing so vast, so deep it doesn't even echo. That's a figure of speech. What I really stared at was this hook in the ceiling of my room in Manipal that's just there for some reason. Something heavy used to hang from it, I think - possibly a ceiling fan. I know it was sturdy enough for all intents and most purposes. It's cold, unfeeling and metallic. It's dependable, and won't give way at the very last beat. I know because I tested it. I looped my belt from it and lifted myself up with my arms, holding as long as I could. It gave no chance of turning back, no chance of reprieve.

The first thing I'll have you know about standing at the edge of that pit is that it is frightening beyond all reason. Have you stood there? Have you stood there, stared as far down as you could, and told yourself that that's where you are going? If you have, you'd know just how scary it was. It's scarier if you don't believe in an afterlife - if you don't buy into the whole heaven and hell deal - because what you're staring at is utter oblivion. You know you can't come back from there. You know that you're never ever going to feel anything anymore. Curtains. The End. But that's why you want to go there in the first place, isn't it? To not feel anything anymore. It's only when you think that life is at its nadir, when living comes in only one bitter flavour, that you'd even think of walking out of it. It might be your a last desperate claw at dignity. It might be you want to lash out at everyone who backed you into that corner, to crush them with the weight of the guilt they have yet to realise - a big fuck you to the world before you take the plunge.

Or maybe, you just want everyone to know that they love you after all. Throw that last question to the wind,

"Will you cry if I'm gone?"

And leave without knowing the answer.

The first thing I'll have you know about standing at the edge of that pit is that it is frightening beyond all reason. I remember standing at the edge with finality screaming in my ears, staring at that pit of pitch black nothing - and it stared me down. My nerve died in a heartbeat. My resolve crumbled like a flimsy sandcastle back into the sand as if it had never existed at all. My knees went weak and I dropped onto the floor, and I scrambled frantically from the edge back into the sunlight, blubbering like a pansy. It's only in the face of death that you find out what you're made of. I realised that I didn't want to die, that there is so many things I want to live for. There is so many books I still want to read, so many places I still want to see. I've never eaten foie gras or fugu, or Thai bamboo worms, for that matter. I want my house in the countryside and a beautiful library with a sofa set, a chaise lounge and a bean bag in its middle. And I want to write that novel I always wanted to. I want life. I want all of it - the happiness, the possibilities, and even the frustration, the anger, the pain of sorrow in life. I want them all more than I want that pit I can never come back from.

I chose and I think everyone can agree that I chose right, but that doesn't change that one simple truth; I was afraid of dying. I was a coward. They always say that Death is easy and that Life is hard. They say it to comfort themselves when they chickened out from dying. They say it to convince other people from doing themselves in. Death is easy. Life is hard. Suicide is the easy way out. Bullshit aphorisms.

Dying is hard. It's ineffable, irreversible, and stretches endlessly in all directions. I remember when my sister was much younger, a kindergartener still sleeping with my parents on their bed. She suddenly woke up from sleep one night, sobbing uncontrollably and repeating "I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" over and over again. That's what death is. It's an eldritch horror. It's. Fucking. Scary.

And I don't want to die before I'm ready.

"I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend"

Jumper (1997) by Third Eye Blind

An old friend of mine killed himself last week, and unlike everyone else, I can't say I'm surprised. It's not like I expected it but, for some reason, I felt that I ought to know. The last time I talked to him was two years ago, before I went to India. It was difficult to get him to come out and have lunch with me, but I managed eventually. I can't really recall what we talked about that afternoon now, but what I do remember is that I kept asking him, "Why are you acting so strange? Why are you acting so different?"

And I was not asking about why he became reclusive after the fifth form, after the SPM. I was not asking why he never tried to meet up with the rest of us old High School boys, or bothered to keep in contact either. I was merely wondering at his behaviour, the way he talked, the way he moved, the way he smiled. Know a guy for five years in secondary school and you'd know a lot about that person. But he laughed it off, assuring me that nothing's changed, that I was imagining things. It really struck me how hollow, how joyless, how fake his laugh was then.

I sat beside him in class in the Second and Third Form, and in that two old years, he was my best friend - and I was his, for what it's worth. I realise now that he never really shared his mind with me. I found out that he went on a date with a girl I knew years after it happened, and I had to learn it from a friend of that girl he dated. He hoarded every thought, every feeling to himself - and behind that joking, laughing goofball front he put up for me, for everyone else, there's probably a lot of hidden things we never suspected or bothered to ask about.

The last time I saw my friend was a few days before the Incident, and that probably made me the last person from the old crowd to see him alive. I saw him exiting his house and getting into his father's car as I drove by. In fact, I pass his house, which is about a minute's walk from mine, everyday on my way to college. Everytime I did, I found myself wondering if I should call him out for lunch again someday. I could have done that last weekend, in fact. I would have too, since I was having a bit of a holiday from school for Christmas. Heck, why did I have to wait till then? I could have done it anytime since early September when I've came back from India for good. Maybe if I did, the last time I talked to him wouldn't be two fucking gone years ago.

I learnt about it on Sunday morning, from my next door neighbour, who didn't knew my friend that well either - but knew him from an English tuition class and from living in the same neighbourhood. I have since talked to many more old friends about this. There's a few half-assed conjectures being thrown around, theories pieced together from odds and ends of rumours and fish-talk. I will not repeat them here because I don't want to mar the memory of his passing by misconstrueing his purpose for passing. But that's what everyone wants to know. The Why - and not, it gladdens me to say, the How. When someone off himself, there's that macabre interest everyone shows in knowing every grotesque detail of his method, like it fucking matters. Say one thing; say it takes a true friend to want to know your reasons above everything else.

Yesterday, I went alone to the Buddhist temple where my friend's ashes was put to rest. It was strange seeing his urn with his picture (smiling there) and name on it on a shelf stuck behind a pane of glass, surrounded by dusty old people. There were several pairs of crescent shaped pieces of wood lying about - you know, the ones which are flat on one side and convex on the other. You ask the dead a question and drop a pair. If they land the same way up - both concave or flat - it means "No". If one is concave side up and the other's flat, it means "Yes". Or at least, that's what my great grandmother taught me.

"Hey, don't you wish we could have gone out one last time?" I asked his urn and dropped the bits.


I don't believe we can talk to the dead. I don't believe there's an afterlife they can talk to us from. But it felt good anyway.

I wish I know what his last thoughts are, in that room where he did himself in. I want to know if he was afraid like I did - and why he didn't step back from that damn pit. Maybe he just couldn't see the reasons I saw for living anymore. Maybe he's simply not a coward. Perhaps, if I have seen him in his last days or in his last hours, I could have asked him out that one last time. We could go for lunch and a drink in this cafe by the river I have heard good things about and always wanted to check out, but couldn't find anyone to go with. After that, we could take in a movie, throw stones at the sea or go crash visit one of our old classmates. Along the day, we can even make plans for a proper reunion with the old crowd - we hadn't have one in ages. Then maybe, just maybe, it needn't be the last time I asked him out after all.

I am not conceited enough to think that I could have made much of a difference, though I'd like a chance to try anyway. At least he would have went knowing that, yes, I cared, and everyone cared. Sometimes, that might just be reason enough to live, reason enough to be afraid of dying.

The first thing I'll have you know is that standing at the edge of that pit is frightening beyond all reason.

The last thing I'll have you know is, my friend was the bravest person I ever knew.

"Everyone's got to face down the demons
Maybe today,
You could put the past away"

Jumper (1997) by Third Eye Blind

k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Being Right

I was fourteen at the time, a weedy nobody second-former in a secondary school with a student population 2000 strong, and I was in the Red Crescent Society, an Islamised version of the Red Cross. I remember sitting in a classroom during one society meeting - it was a Friday - and was listening to a lecture given by the society's President on AIDS. He's a bespectacled, goofy, nerdy type who was doing accounts, economy or something similarly money-oriented in the sixth form. My point being; he's not a science student. But hey, any old idiot can give a lecture to a bunch of impressionable barely-teens from a book of instructions. Our country's education system thrive on this belief.

Then he got about asking us to tell him how the human immunodeficiency virus is transmitted, to check on what we already know. 'Unprotected sex', some one said. Alright. What else? Sharing needles, you say? Good, good...

It wasn't hard. Our government is pretty anal about health education, and those AIDS ads on the telly certainly helped. Those are stuff everyone knows.

"Breastfeeding. A baby can get AIDS from breastfeeding," I volunteered and the President looked right at me, a little taken back. Then he grinned, seemingly pleased that someone has gotten something wrong at last.

"Breastfeeding arh?" he said, making a big show of humouring me, "Maybe if the baby bite too hard and the nipple bleed."

He laughed at his own stupid little joke. Everyone laughed at his stupid little joke. I didn't, of course, but that's because I was busy feeling incensed and embarrassed at the time. But I know I was right. I read that from a directory of medical conditions which for whatever bizarre reason unknown, was sitting in the same cupboard as my encyclopedias and storybooks. It just appeared there one day. I got to ask my dad about it someday. But fact being, I was ridiculed for being right, by a classful of idiots led by an authority figure who refuse to entertain the possibility that, by Jove, some 14-year-old might know a little more about fucking AIDS than he does! He did not ask me where I came by that bit of information. He did not even had the decency to admit that he didn't know for sure, and that he would look it up.

A few weeks after that incident, I found myself in an English class. My English teacher was this tall Chinese guy who enjoys spending entire periods telling stories from his supposedly vast store of general knowledge, and only setting us a bit of homework in the last five minutes. So, you can imagine that he's quite popular amongst the students. That day, everyone was listening in rapt attention as he was telling us the origin story of Coca-Cola - citing a certain Dr. Pembrooke as its inventor. I know differently, of course. I once read in a trivia book I found lying around that it was a John Pemberton who did the inventing. Besides that, I also realised that he got a whole other sundry of details wrong, leading me to suspect that he fabricated a lot of the stuff he couldn't remember.

This time, however, I knew better than to speak out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Disgusting Hypocrisy of Medical Students

"Mmm, what you say?
Mm, that you only meant well?
Well, of course you did.
Mmm, what you say?
Mm, that it's all for the best?
Ah, of course it is.
Mmm, what you say?
Mm, that it's just what we need?
And you decided this.
Mmm what you say?
What did she say?"

Hide and Seek (2005) by Imogen Head

So accusatory. I like.

I am aware of just how little I am updating my journal these days. A haze of complacency and listlessness seemed to have settled over these days. I feel unmotivated to do anything at all. The only thing I feel like doing is just lie around and read myself to oblivion, and on the occasions I managed to gather a bit of drive, I would simply spend it plotting. Plotting, as in thinking-up-a-storyline plotting. Yes, I have rebooted my on-and-off intention to write a novel and I'm pretty pleased with how far along I am now - though I'm pretty sure that I'll just bin the whole manuscript again in a month (like I did with all my previous efforts) because I always end up thinking that everything I write is crap. Which they are, by the way. Crap, the lot of 'em. I seriously need to get tonnes better at this whole writing business. Anyone else writing a novel too? Anyone who ever thought about it?

Alright, this was suppose to be last week's post (before I got sidelined completely) and it's about a very particular problem I have with a number of medical students in my college. If you actually bothered to read the title, it's about their hypocrisy; a subject with a terrifyingly wide scope on its own but here in this post, I'll stick to just one standalone issue.

Cue exhibit #A,

This picture does not require a caption.

That's just one of the parking lots belonging to the Malaccan General Hospital which is perpetually filled up with cars. I took this picture at a somewhat morning-ish time, so the double parkers and space vultures have yet to start clogging the place up. My point being; parking spaces are seriously scarce here, just like food in Ethiopia and penguins in the North Pole.

More of the same.

This one is a shot of one of the roads within the hospital grounds and playing Captain Obvious here; that's a whole bunch of parked cars taking up a full lane. The tiny blue signboard in this picture reads;

"Para Pelanggan Yang Dihormati,
Kurangnya tempat letak kereta kami fahami,
Tindakan diambil untuk mengatasi,
Segala kesulitan amatlah dikesali."

It's a pantun, or a traditional abab (or in this case, an aaaa) Malay poem which apologises for the lack of parking spaces on the premises and that actions are being taken to remedy that. I like to think that it does a good job defusing a lot of people's annoyance and frustration at the parking problem by making people wonder why on earth it was written as a poem in the first place. I also can't decide whether this bit of Malaysiana is fresh and clever, or is irredeemably lame - but moving along now.

Critical vehicular overload.

And these are the cars which spilled out from the inside, lining the streets outside the hospital premises. Depending on their luck, an MBMB officer drops by occasionally to dole out tickets for illegal parking. That seems sort of cruel to me actually, seeing that most of these cars belong to sick people, or to the people who brought their sick relatives or friends here - and they simply do not have a choice.

Alright, they do kinda have a choice. There's an empty dirt lot right across the road charging RM2 a pop, though it really used to be free.

"Okay, so there's not enough parking spaces - we get it already!" says you. Where am I going with this?

Well, at any given time, hundreds of medical students from my college are posted in the Malacca General for clinical training and a good fraction of that number drive their own cars there, shunning the college shuttle bus which departs from campus at 7:45 am every morning. These individuals, sitting in their solitary cars would appear in the hospital on their own and collectively take up a good number of the parking spaces there, occupying them for the entire duration of their posting hours which stretched from morning till noon.

To be fair, I too drive to the Malacca General Hospital on my lonesome but that's because the distance between my house to the campus is almost the same as the length of the route I take to the hospital - and not living in the hostel makes carpooling a tad too much trouble for its worth. The difference is, I have never once - read: NOT ONCE - parked in the parking spaces reserved for the general public within the hospital. I often arrive early enough to get a place in the corner lot of the hospital reserved for my college's students and lecturers and on the occasions I didn't, I joined the illegally parked horde in picture number 3, or leave my car in the housing estate neighbouring the hospital and foot the half kilometre to whichever department I was suppose to appear in that day. This is because I'm aligned with the forces of light and good, a fact which I cannot assert enough.

This contrast me with the dickwad medical students who insist on taking up patients' parking spaces on the inside - in spite having been cautioned from doing just that by my college's admins at the start of their semester in Malacca. You can recognise them by this identifying sticker,


So, with this bit of info in mind, I urge everyone to do their civic duties - and scratch the shit out of cars sporting this sticker with your keys or coins if you see them parked anywhere in the hospital outside of the designated college student and lecturer parking. That's right, that's what I'm telling you to do. Forget that "turn the other cheek" jazz that Jesus spoke so highly of. Jesus never had to fucking circle the Malacca General Hospital's parking lot a million times in his Godmobile looking from a spot while suffering from a bad case of gastritis. Remember what he did to the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14 and 19-24)?

Remember. Stickers. In the hospital. Break out your keys.

These asshole medical students are hypocrites because they are medical students, i.e. potential doctors in the near future. These are people who are suppose to be committed to a life alleviating people's pain and suffering, and they cannot do something as simple as understanding that there are a lot of people who need those damn parking space a great deal more urgently than they do. And trust me, none of the students currently training at the Malacca General Hospital is doing anything to help any sick people at all. What they are doing - and will do till the day they graduate - is take advantage of sick people. That's putting it as bluntly as I can. They are disturbing patients' rest to ask questions, to examine and ultimately, to learn from them. Medical students often forget that the most significant part of our curriculum depends solely on the goodwill, generousity and sufferance of patients. Eat humble pie, bastards.

I have a cousin who suffers from Thalassaemia B Major and the short of it is that she requires regular blood transfusion, all her life to keep her alive (unless she receives a bone marrow transplant, but let's not go there). She goes to the Malacca General Hospital monthly for that and had, at times, forced to miss her appointment because she could not get a parking place. Maybe it's hard for the high and aloof, upper-class medical student types to know just how selfish their actions really are. Maybe, just maybe, they aren't really cut out for this job seeing that they have so much trouble connecting with the needs of patients on a human level. That's how some of my colleagues make me feel - they seem to view patients as simply objects, rather than real, living people.

But I like to give them more credit. I want to think that they don't need a sick cousin to learn that bit of humility and humanity. Maybe they just need a little more time to do that.

In the meantime, people, scratch the shit out of their cars.

Aligned with the Forces of Light and Good,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That Incident Last Thursday

"Now dance, fucker, dance!"

You're Gonna Go Far Kid (2008) by The Offspring

Okay, I've been away for more than a week and before I go on, there are some things I need to clarify first, seeing that I have received tons of question from a lot of people about it. Last Thursday, when I was sent out by the ENT lecturer for talking during lecture, I WASN'T talking. The catalyst was a slide he projected on screen which described the use of the chemical compound capsaicin as a treatment for some neuralgia or other and I was sort of surprised because I didn't know that particular use of that drug (the use of capsaicin I'm most familiar with is food flavouring - it's what make chilis hot). So, I did what I do when I am surprised; I mouthed the word capsaicin to myself.

He saw me did that, stopped his lecture midway and told me to get the fuck out of class - for talking. For a bit of background info on this lecturer bloke, he's so anal that his butthole can probably sever the finger of some guy giving him a digital rectal exam. There has to be zero conversation during his class - he's one of those paranoid crazies who thinks that anyone talking in his vicinity has to be making fun of him. We have a term for that in psychiatry; it's called the delusion of reference. Oh, and he told a student to stand up in class once and berated him for leaning a bit to the right while sitting. Yeah, that sort of crazy.

I actually argued because I was wrongly accused and that I was only mouthing a word, and he retorted by saying some shit about him being older, that he knew what he saw and that I disrupted the class and should not debate with him on it. I was teetering on the edge of a full blown explosion - it's one of those rare times in my life when I completely lost my mind (only happened 3 times ever). In all the previous instances I was caught sleeping or talking in class, I have accepted any punishment or scolding meekly and apologetically. Righteous anger tends to rise to the surface when I got framed.

What I wanted to say, and still hope that I have said, was;

"With all due respect, sir, you were lying. You could not have seen me talking because I didn't. I was mouthing a word projected on the slide to myself because I was surprised it's there, and I don't think you ever forbade us from soundlessly mouthing words to ourselves during lectures before. And you kept feeding us bullshit about how talking disrupts the class and whatnot, while every time you are the one disrupting the class the most with your childish outbursts. You think that by just exercising command, you will get the students to fear you - even respect you - but no, sir. No one is afraid or you. No one respects you. Everyone finds you pathetic and annoying and that's what everyone says about you after each lecture of yours. You abuse authority. You are just a bully."

Given his paranoia and severe neurosis, had I been allowed to shoot my mouth off, I'm quite confident that he would just walk right out of class. He always seem to be on the verge of tears and hysteria anyway. Thankfully, I had the wits about me to stop myself. I slammed my notebook shut with a satisfying smack - an act of futile rebellion - packed up my shit and stormed out. I wanted lodge a complaint against his royal anal-ness but I realised that I did not know his name (I still don't). So I drove home. I asked a lot of my colleagues for his name afterwards (ostensibly with the goal of reporting him still in mind) but as it turned out, no one bothered to remember or even learn his name. Now, that's a whole new level of pathetic altogether. And since I still received a mark of attendance for that lecture, I decided to drop it with my usual wad of phlegm (not that phlegm - words have many meanings, you know, so look it up).

I learnt that he was reiterating the case against me after I left, embellishing it by saying that he had had his eyes on me the entire lecture and that I have been conversing with the girl sitting beside me. All bullshit. If that was true, he would have sent the girl out as well. Besides, that girl was Jae Mie, and anyone who knows Jae Mie knows how hard it is to even try to talk to her in class considering how doggedly she writes her notes.

I received an SMS from Shaki afterwards, saying that a girl was sent out after me. Her story was that her friend sitting beside her did not manage to write down what's on the slide quickly enough before it changed, and had asked her to repeat the last two words of the previous slide. She obliged, and got kicked out for it.

Oh, and if anyone still has any doubt that I was not talking last Thursday when I got sent out, here's the my best defense;

I wasn't sitting beside Shaki. Case closed.

P.S. That ENT lecturer is currently learning how to swim. I saw him occasionally in the pool in the evenings trying to learn how to float and kick water while our college's gym instructor shout instructions to him from the poolside. I'll go one of these days to just stand there and watch. Knowing how neurotic and insecure he is, it'll probably irk him like heck.

P.P.S. This entire post was supposed to be just the preamble of the post I wanted to write today, but since it had autonomously grew to this length, I just changed the post's title and run it on its own.

Was not talking,
k0k s3n w4i