Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Day Trip with the Upper Echelons


半斤八兩 (1976) by 许冠杰

Today, I left my cookie-cutter daily drudgery in the Male Surgical Ward and went on a day trip with a trio of my bosses. We went halfway through our morning clinical rounds when one of my Medical Officers (or MO's as, we usually call them) tapped me out of the loop and asked me to follow him to a district outfit in Serian. I was to be part of a flash team comprising of one Surgeon, one Registrar, one MO and one House Officer out to deal with a sudden backlog of clinic patients and minor surgeries there when a consultant neglected to make his visit yesterday. I couldn't decide if being volunteered for the job meant that I'm one of the more reliable workers or that my superiors think I needed to be placed under extra invigilation. At any rate, I jumped at the chance. I'm not one of those talented toadies who can comfortably hobnob with the bosses, but it was a syzygy of the most benevolent ones in the department. That promised a relatively stress-free and educational day.

Coincidentally, the MO who asked me to tag along is the husband of my previous boss back in Obstetrics and Gynaecology - yes, the very one who supervised my maiden Caesarean section. I don't know about you but it always warms the cockles of my heart when I see outstandingly nice people end up together.

The road trip to Serian was about an hour long with scattered conversations about nothings. I brought up a hugely fascinating article I read earlier that morning before I head off to work titled: Why do woman menstruate? It was an excellent summary of a recently published paper on the evolution of the monthly feminine bleed. Did you know that humans, a bunch of primates, some species of bats, and the elephant shrew are the only mammals to regularly shed the lining of their wombs?

"So, you are a follower of Darwin?" my Muslim Registrar asked.

"Isn't evolution just a theory?" my Christian MO asked.

Wow. My mind instantaneously hammered out the appropriate answers. No, I'm not a follower of Darwin - I'm a follower of science. And the word "theory" in the scientific lexicon has a different meaning from its colloquial connotations. A scientific theory is a principle or a set of principles which coherently explains a body of data or observations, and can be used to make accurate predictions. Remember the germ theory of disease? The theory of evolution is just as established and proven as that. But I didn't turn those brainwaves into soundwaves. I seriously didn't want to start another endless creationism versus evolution debate so early in the day. Especially not with my bosses, both of which I'm rather fond of.

In Serian Hospital, we split the team. My MO and I went with the Surgeon to the clinic to deal with the 40 to 50 patients waiting there while the Registrar headed off to the operating theatre and got started on what we in the surgical biz term as "lumps and bumps". By 2:00 PM, we cleared the half-hundred and scooted over to the operation theatre to cut a giant tumour measuring 15 centimetres out of an 18-year-old's right breast, which was the last case of the day.

Today, I worked harder than I usually had to in the wards but it didn't seem that way to me. I think it's because feeling like you're part of a team with friendly senior colleagues who treat you with respect allows you far greater job satisfaction than being a human bedpan, waiting for shit to rain down at any moment - which is what working for some of the more malevolent, saurian and condescending specialists feels like.

Oh, Phoebe's coming on Saturday morning! On the ride back from Serian, my Registrar and MO helpfully suggested several places I can take her. It's good to have a week I can honestly look forward to.

An unlikely teamster,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Anticipation of Boxing Day

"If a plane crashed into my room
I wouldn't even flinch
I couldn't try to move
My mind is on you
My mind is on you"

Little Dreams (2010) by Ellie Goulding

On the morning of what I imagined to be a bright and cheery Christmas Eve, I expect to leave my house, drive to the airport and wait for the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ to be a tangible part of my life again. The day after this Christmas would be the second time we are physically together on the 26th of December. The last time that happened was four years ago when we crossed a line we didn't know were there and kept on walking ever since. I can scarcely believe that it's been four whole years since I christened a girl Phoebe and weaved her so seamlessly into the fabric of my life that I've forgotten how to survive nights without that constant comforting thought that out there in the world somewhere, someone loves me.

There are two contradictory English proverbs pertaining to lovers far apart and they are "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and "out of sight, out of mind". One of the worst thing that can happen in a relationship is having your heart grow fonder for a mind you are slowly slipping out of. I have that insecurity, and I surprised myself when I discovered it in the undercurrent of my daily medley of emotions. I have always suspected that the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ is too good for me and I hope the day doesn't come when she arrives at that same realisation herself.

Phoebe is Drunk and Slurry
The Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ after a light, Midori-laced cocktail back in May.

The future of our relationship looms ever nearer but no less uncertain, and it's unrealistic for me to hope that this blissful limbo we are in can be protracted indefinitely. I guess it's part of my blundersome coming of age that the bond between a boyfriend and his girlfriend appears more and more flimsy to me over time, like a game children play, a chaos of three-legged racers who breaks off from their partners at random and reattach themselves to new people all the time. Is that bottomless void of insecurity the reason why men and women get themselves sucked into the spiral of ritualised promises - the illusion of engagement followed by the charade of marriage - all in fact equally flimsy?

Next week, for a few days at least, I want to dwell on none of these bothersome things. Instead, I just want to lose myself in the nearness of the one girl I love most out of the seven billion other human beings on this planet. Oh, if only the rest of our lives should be so simple: she and I, and that elusive Here and Now.

Long-distance three-legged racer,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Bats and Taxes

"Bats have no bankers and they do not drink and cannot be arrested and pay no tax and, in general, bats have it made."

John Berryman

I had an afternoon off last Friday and I spent it driving around town distributing a significant portion of my fledgling savings to various creditors. I had credit card bills and the car loan to pay off. I had to make rent and break even with the utility companies. That afternoon, I had one of those moments when I suddenly realised that I'm a giddy thousand feet up in the air, strung up only by the contracts of daily adult living. It can all be over if I look down.

What a life. The few measly hours in which I am not working to generate my salary was spent delivering it to other people. Ever had that nagging feeling deep down inside that we are living wrong? I do all the time.

The Ministry of Health made it clear that any and all leaves we take from work is a privilege, not a right. That's something that my bosses and even my colleagues kept parroting; the former as a psychological slogan to keep stiffs like me in line and the latter as an expression of undiagnosed Stockholm Syndrome. It stinks of manure and I couldn't be the only person smelling it. No, the allotted number of days I am allowed to forget about work, work, work is rightfully mine. I am not a slave. To try and brainwash me into thinking otherwise is cruel and inhumane.

And now for an unrelated aside: here's a bat I rescued earlier this year right before my med school finals,

Bat Rescue
I shall call it Percival and rub its round velvet belly.

I'm fascinated by bats. They are the only mammals to ever evolve powered flight and but yet are practically helpless once they are floored. They are like living metaphors for overachievers who just can't deal with setbacks or failures.

It's almost cute.

I'm also fascinated by humans. If we find a crash-landed bat scrabbling about on the ground, our first instinct (except for children and psychos) is to try and help it take flight again. Contrast that with the first instinct of a cat, which is probably to eat it.

That reminds me: I need to get a cat.

A friend of bats,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Hate and Bile in a Queue at the Movies

"The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn't angry enough."

Bede Jarrett

The world around me and the people in it make very little sense to me. For example, how can anyone possibly believe that there is a God without the benefit of any real evidence? That does not compute for me. Why is having a kid out of wedlock such a bad thing? What is it with women and their fetishistic passion for exorbitantly priced handbags?

However, if I have to make a pronouncement on the one thing I understand least about people, it's how they sometimes behave at the ticket line at the movies. I don't know about you, but before going to catch a film at a local theatre, I almost always look up the day's schedule on the web first before I even step out of my bedroom. I'd arrive at the cineplex with one or three movies that I plan to watch with their showtimes already memorised. Also, I would also have a good idea of where I want to sit in any theatre (about 4 or 5 rows from the screen, right in the centre) and a sundry of other seats which I wouldn't mind terribly. One of the reasons why I don't normally ask anyone out to watch movies with me is because most people prefers to sit nearer to the back, and I hate, hate, hate making compromises on my preferences. I hate that only slightly less than having anyone - even my closest friends - contest my choice of films.

It usually takes me only about 15 seconds at the box office to get in, get tickets, and get out. So, it baffles and infuriates me when moviegoers takes a full minute or more to make their purchase. You know the type - they would approach the counter, take an eternity to decide on which film they want to watch because they did not so much as glance at the roster on the letterboard before jumping into the queue. Hell, they don't even need to do that anymore because most box offices these days have display screens overhead flashing the available showtimes. It meant that while they were waiting in line, they were too simply lazy or retarded to look the fuck up. Then, they'd hold up the line further by deliberating on the films' timings, trying to figure out which are the least offensive ones to their day's activities.

Of course, what really screws the pooch for me was when they are presented with a graphical display of the available seats, they would stare at it like it's the most mind-bending conundrum in the known universe. Civilisations rise and fall while they decide. The Egyptians probably took less time to build the pyramids than it take them to pick where they want to park their asses for a couple of hours. Usually, it's because the row at the back is all filled up and they are leery of getting too close to the film they wanted to see. I don't fucking understand it: why do people keep fighting over what are clearly inferior seats? Don't you think that you would get the most bang for the buck when you are in the middle of the blast zone of the surround sound system with the screen filling up your field of vision? Morons.

The worst scums of the earth are jerks that get to the box office and find out that their preferred seats or movies aren't available - so they proceed to hold a conference call with their buddies in situ while a hundred other patrons wait for them to make their life-changing decision. And no, they usually don't even have the decency to step aside and let others go first, fearing that even the crappy seats would be snapped up while they stall. This happened to me last weekend as three ugly, fat teenage hippopotami girls called the other members of their of Edward Cullen's Cock-Sucking Brigade because they might have to sit apart for Breaking Dawn: Part 1. Yes, the people behind you in a queue are judging all your physical flaws while you ruin their day. C'est la vie. In fact, if I'm in the line, I'm probably silently willing your father and mother to die in a gruesome gardening accident, or your children to be tortured, raped and infected with AIDS. I'm not even kidding. That's what I did to keep myself from boiling over, leaping at them, and crushing their larynges with my bare fingers. If you believe in the evil eye, this should cause you some concern.

One heroic mother of three standing directly behind the Twilight Cum-Sluts told them firmly that if they are having trouble deciding, they should let other people buy their tickets first - and they ignored her, indignant that anyone would dare speak to their self-entitled lard-asses that way. Eventually, they left empty-handed which meant that they wasted everybody's time for absolutely nothing. I was surprised that I had the presence of mind to stop myself from stomping them brutally in the ovaries.

One of these days, I'm going to stroke. Look, people of Kuching, I can forgive your lousy car-parking skills and your rubbish local food but please, stop being assholes at the box office. Hugs and kisses.

Has anger management issues,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Immortals: A Review

"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality."

Emily Dickinson

There are films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy that make me feel like it's perfect. Then, there are films like Tarsem Singh's Immortals that make me want to throw a hundred million dollars at it just so it can be perfected.

The premise guaranteed my ass in the audience. It's a swords-and-sandals epic featuring the Greek pantheon and their demi-divine champions; the original superheroes. And I don't ask for much. I just want a spectacle. I want fight sequences that make me go "HOLY SHIT!" every five minutes. I want depictions of the Greek gods in all their amoral, dysfunctional, psychopathic glory (the Disney-fied fatherly Zeus and motherly Hera cooing over Hercules made my eyes want to throw up, even as a kid). I don't care much for adherence to the stories per se but I do care about characterisations. In my opinion, the closest any modern work of fiction ever came to matching the vision of the Hellenic deities in the myths is Dan Simmon's Ilium/Olympos duology of sci-fi novels.

To enjoy Immortals, I had to basically overlook the fact that the Olympians were portrayed as basically benevolent, if neglectful gods. Done.

Immortals poster

The plot goes something like this: King Hyperion of the Heraklions is a misotheistic brute who sought the Epirus Bow, a weapon that can be used to free the Titans in order to make war on Zeus and co. The Chosen One is Theseus, a bastard and everyman who is really good at kicking ass. As the plot dictates, the gods themselves were conveniently forbidden to intervene in mortal affairs unless the Titans were actually unleashed because the film would have ended in the first two minutes otherwise. Zeus could have simply nuked the upstart god-killer wannabe from orbit.

Speaking of nuking from orbit, one of the most mind-blowing sequences you'll see from this film is Poseidon stepping off the edge of Olympus, plummeting thousands of feet at a (literally) screaming velocity into the sea and creating a freaking tsunami.

Henry Cavill was physically perfect for the role (and those people who cast him as Superman in Zack Snyder's upcoming film about the Man of Steel certainly thought he look heroic). What threw me off was how poorly his character was written. Theseus was traditionally thought of as a thinking man's Herakles who employs his cunning as much as his prowess in combat but in Immortals, he's just another flavourless well-muscled blockhead. It seemed to me that he had to be rescued by dei ex machina every time he strolls into a trap. Literally. He kept getting in situations that were way over his head and the gods have to power-bomb down to ancient Greece over and over again to bail him out.

I'm not necessarily complaining though. The gods are incredible to look at when they fight, and I simply could get enough of them. Differential slow motion was employed to show how blindingly fast the deities move in comparison to mortal, and when they go mano-a-mano with the newly emancipated Titans (who could move at the same lightning speed they do), Tarsem Singh did this interesting thing where slain combatants would fall or be flung away at slow motion while the fight continues to happen at normal or heightened speeds. Athena's sequences in particular illicited several gasps of awww-yeah! from my audience. I only wish that they had enough money to create blood and gore which look less bogus. And to allow the gods to keep their pimp-tastic gilded headgears in the final showdown. Seriously, the helms they put on at the end looked as if they came out of a plastic mold. Hell, if Tarsem had more money, he probably could have hired more than five actors to play the Olympians.

It also wouldn't be much of a spoiler for me to mention that the Minotaur made an appearance (a la Achilles' heel from the 2004 epic Troy in that it's just a really beefy guy in a freaky cow headgear) - since it's probably the original Theseus' most well-known exploit. Still, it didn't make much sense to me to have a realistic version of the labyrinth-dwelling half-bovine man-killer when there are clearly supernatural elements in play in Immortals, unlike in Troy where they consciously stripped all the unrealistic bits from the Trojan War. Theseus' fights were noteworthy as well and looked as if they were deleted scenes from 300. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that a couple of them even surpassed the action sequences in Zack Snyder's Spartan homoerotic brawl-fest.

Mickey Rourke was in excellent form here as would-be deicidic maniac and torture enthusiast (he had a brazen bull and everything), and the speech about what he was going to do to a defector gave me shudders. Freida Pinto played designated love/sex interest Phaedra, and her body too gave a stunning performance (which our Malaysian censors thoroughly scissored - bastards).

It's no great cinema but I certainly saw glimmers of greatness shining through parts of it. Is it due to studio interference? Likely, considering that one of the selling points they try to market this film on is that the producers of 300 were involved. Even so, I had a pretty good time being wowed by the bloody mayhem that Tarsem Singh managed to cobble together and like the sucker I am, I'll be right there when a sequel hits - if its blatant sequel hook actually keeps its promise. To sum it all up: Immortals is what Clash of the Titans should have been. There are actually titans clashing in this.

A graecophile from way back,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My First Successful Surgery

"Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit - Life!"

Emily Dickinson

Two of them, as a matter of fact.

I marvel at the achievements of our species which allowed me to cut a large hole into the abdomen of a living, breathing human being today and pull her newborn child right out of her into this world - which isn't a very impressive feat on its own. The fact that she's expected to survive the whole ordeal and would probably be discharged from the hospital in a couple of days is the amazing part.

I understand that most hospitals in Malaysia do not expect their house officers to perform Caesarean sections but where I'm serving, it's a mandatory procedure. My maiden major surgery was supervised by the nicest, coolest, and most fetching Medical Officer in the department who, coincidentally, shares the same name with the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™. My patient was a 37-year-old Bidayuh lady with a baby on board that (we suspect) grew a little too chubby to safely ooze out of her vagina.

To prep for it, I watched a series of instructional videos on the internet. Yes, in a government hospital, it's possible that you may be operated upon by a first-time surgeon who just learned how to do it overnight through YouTube. What, did you think we grow full-fledged specialists from cloning vats?

Alright, alright, I had also assisted in more than a dozen of these operations - so I sort of knew what I was doing. Besides, my awesome boss was standing by, ever-ready to take over the enterprise if the gravid mother on the table exploded or something (more likely than you think). I've replayed the steps in my head so many times that I actually started having recurring dreams of performing C-sects. And not all of them ended in conflagrations and macerated, finger-chomping, zombie babies.

I entered via a Joel-Cohen incision, and was surprised by how little mental resistance I encountered towards slicing a live human being open with a scalpel. This is coming from a guy whose closest experience to butchery was taking a table knife to a slab of medium-rare steak. Then, I proceeded to enter her abdominal cavity in layers; digging through her fat, splitting her muscles and snipping through her peritoneum. After identifying the lower segment of her womb, I cautiously made a transverse incision, exposing the bulbous amniotic sac which popped in a warm gush of liquor amnii. Seizing it by its head and neck, I extricated the infant from the uterine cavity in short order, cut its cord, and deposited its bawling ass into the hands of a waiting nurse. Booyah!

As per the patient's request, we tied off her tubes so she can never conceive again. Finally, came the tedious task of sewing the huge gaping wound I've inflicted into the woman's middle layer by layer. She was fully awake the whole time, of course, since she was only under spinal anaesthesia.

Anyway, I did far better than I thought I would. From "skin-to-skin", the surgery took a little more than an hour - 73 minutes to be precise - which was about twice as long compared to a C-sect performed by a more experienced surgeon. The estimated blood loss was only about half a litre; well below concern. I was in a celebratory mood so I bought everyone pizza. It's little victories like this that make my job fun.

P.S. In case I've painted an immodest and overly-competent picture of myself, I must remind you that my MO was coolly and patiently walking me through it from start to finish. I was so afraid that she would suddenly decide that I suck at it and finish the operation herself - but she didn't. Phew.

In and out again,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, October 31, 2011

Deus ex Machina

"We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings."

Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen

Names were changed to protect the privacy of the parties involved.

"This is a very severe case of bilateral ventriculomegaly. The atria of the lateral ventricles measure more than 30 milimetres each!" said Dr. Nic. "The thalamus is also absent. I can't say for sure since I am unable to do any 3D scanning with this machine, but I suspect that there is agenesis of the corpus callosum as well."

He was clearly narrating for my benefit rather than for the mother of unborn child he was performing the ultrasound scan on. The woman could neither speak nor understand English, and even if she could, she would still come against the layer of Latin jargon which we medical types use to sound smart and to shield our conversations from lay ears.

"The head is far too big to be delivered vaginally," he went on. "It had to be taken out through a C-sect."

After peering into the Rorschach greys of the monitor to his satisfaction, he hung up the transducer and then went to his computer to compose his report. "There's no way of even knowing how long the baby would live after its birth," he said as he typed. "The prognosis is very bad."

He attempted for a moment to explain to the expectant mother and her mother-in-law who accompanied her about his findings but then gave up before turning to me, asking me for the Malay words for "mental retardation". I supplied them, and he then proceeded to break the bad news to her in his halting, syllabic attempt at our national tongue. It sounded blunt because he had not attained mastery yet over the usual sympathetic inflections. Meanwhile, the woman sitting in front of us was slowly processing the information she just received into tears.

"How do I tell her that the baby might even die in utero?" he asked me next. I took over from there and re-explained everything in the most delicate way I could. But what could I do, really? No matter how soft the words are, the news were still going to crush her like runaway bullet train out of nowhere. Her little babe was more than 30 weeks old, more than three-quarters of the way to the beginning of its new life - and up until that moment, she had been picturing a plump, gurgling, pink-cheeked cherubim in her mind. That picture was shattered in a second. No one expects to give birth to a mistake of nature.

"This is not your fault," I continued in Malay, pulling a few tissue from the dispenser and handing them to her. She eagerly accepted them and buried her face. "It's hard to say at this point what caused this to happen, but the child was probably formed this way from the very beginning." I avoided explaining that it could have been genetic, chromosomal or developmental because these are details she neither need nor understand.

"So, the baby is fated to be this way?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, you can say that," I answered cautiously. Fate to me is just another word for determinism but it probably meant something entirely different to her. Most people ascribed a force of agency to causality; some kind of anthropomorphic decider of destinies that has a Plan all laid out for everyone from the beginning of the universe. God, they call it.

The effect that simple idea had on her was startling. She calmed down visibly. Suddenly, the random, senseless tragedy turned into a scheduled itinerary in her life. I practically saw it clicked into place like a programmed protective subroutine in her brain, and it's uncanny. For a moment, I pierced the illusion and saw what we really are: highly sophisticated biological robots, but robots nonetheless. And we have found a way to short circuit grief.

"It's fate," her mother-in-law said, reinforcing the meme. "This is God's will."

God can mean anything we need. God can mean that there are no accidents. He can mean that all the bad things that ever happened to us are just secret tests of our characters or faith; and that all of it serve some nebulous higher Purpose. He can mean that there's a special place in the hereafter where the woman will reunite with her malformed child who was miraculously made whole and unbroken, along with everyone else she ever loved and lost, while everyone else she dislikes - murderers, paedophiles, rude individuals, or people who simply do not believe in the same beautiful fantasy she does - are summarily excluded from it for eternity. God WILL fix everything in the end, and give us our obligatory happy endings.

"This is God's will," the pregnant woman agreed, drying her eyes. And in them, I saw the invention of God, as He had been invented over and over again since the very first tragedy struck the very first man.

Homo ex machina,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Curse of Epicurus

"Human, I wonder why you’re a better make than I could ever build or create
You know not love or hate
I am so scared of what will kill me in the end for I am not prepared
I hope I will get the chance to be someone, to be human
Look what we’ve done
Look what we’ve done"

Human (2010) by Ellie Goulding

If everything goes according to plan, I'll be graduating my first posting in a fortnight. Ob and Gyn is not my favourite cocktail in the bar but the taste sort of grows on a person, you know?

Recently, I received an insight into how I was selected to be one of the two house officer leaders in the first place. A couple of days ago, I approached the medical officer in-charge of house officers to tell her that I'm leaving soon and that she would have to get another sucker outstanding individual to fill the vacuum. She told me to rattle off a string of names at random but she didn't like the sound of any of them. Then, one of my colleagues happened to stroll by and she decided on the instant that he should be the next HO leader. I half-expected her to holler "Pikachu! I choose you!"

While it's gratifying to know that I was one of the HO's she disliked least, I also know now precisely which of my coworkers she outright disdains - and I'm not quite sure what to do with that knowledge. It also made me wonder: which of my many bosses secretly hate my guts?

In a post-round powwow last Wednesday, a specialist singled me out openly as an example of a good house officer - and that totally made my day. I also secretly hate it that it can make my day. It made me feel like a spaniel pup, ever-eager to please; fetching papers and and bedroom slippers just for that little pat on my foofy head. And I also find his praise perplexing because I don't think I'm cleverer or more hardworking than any other house officer in the department. In my mind's eye, I honestly see myself as a middling worker with no loftier goal than surviving the posting without beeping too loudly on anyone's radar.

On Thursday, said specialist excused me from the afternoon round and summoned me down to his office in the clinic where he had me "chaperone" as he scanned a few patients. To "chaperone" in medical parlance meant sticking around to make sure that nothing sexy happens between a doctor and his female patient - and chaperones are always women. By the virtue (or sin) of being male, I am technically not qualified to do any chaperoning, so his request struck me as being more than a little bizarre. He then proceeded to give me a crash lecture on scanning for fetal anomalies (which I only have a very elementary understanding of) and when he was done with the patients, he proceeded to show me a few 3D sonographs of brain defects in unborn babes in his collection - which I thought were pretty damn neat. In the meantime, my partner had to do all the ward work in my absence while I essentially had a one-on-one teaching session.

I felt out of my depth then; like I'm in a race where which was rigged for me to ultimately disappoint whoever that is fool enough to bet on me. I have no ambitions to speak of. I do not aim to be better than everyone else in anything I do (and frankly speaking, I don't see my destiny in medicine at all). Whatever it is that's the opposite of a go-getter, I'm it personified. I'm so much of a beta male that if I'm a girl, I wouldn't want to fuck me.

My idea of a perfect life is that of a wealthy Victorian highborn lady who does nothing but write, read or paint, and is free to pursue studies in whichever subject she fancies because no one expects her to amount much to anything anyway. In 21st century terms, what I'm saying is that I want to be Paris Hilton, but classy.

Dreaming of pipes,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"For here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good"

Something Good from The Sound of Music (1965)

I've been gone far too long, I know, but just for the moment, I'm back. I have not written anything that's not a patient report or a discharge summary in an entire month, and I can't imagine that being very healthy for my psyche. Some people meditate or do yoga. Some hang out with friends. My thing is: I write.

I have a hundred specific things I want to write about but I fear I have neither the stamina nor drive to put them in words today. Today, I just want to talk in a vanilla Dear Diary kind of way about nothing.

Recently, I had a rather pernicious duty foisted on me by the boss - I was put in charge of the duty roster and my job is to distribute my department's manpower pool of half a hundred junior doctors to ensure that we remain smoothly operational. It's a much tougher job that it sounds. I receive complaints and demands in all hours of the day (and some hours at night) from the house officers I expected to herd and organise; all of them fighting over valuable operating theatre time which enables them to perform the required procedures which are prerequisites to graduating the posting. I receive a daily stream of complaints and demands ranging in tone from angry to weepy, and let me tell you: I find anyone in tears to be very off-putting. It throws me into traumatic flashbacks of my previous relationship with the Ex-Grrrfriend™.

Yesterday, a specialist texted me and asked me if I would like to participate in the research team of a study he was planning to launch, and I said "I do" and kissed the metaphorical bride. I don't fully know if I should have committed to it but research is something which I find far more fascinating than the care-giving facet of medicine - even if its in OB/GYN a specialty I'm not particularly fond of. But I certainly hunger for the experience. Tomorrow, I'll be meeting said specialist and be briefed on the details and all its devils. We'll see how it goes then.

Currently, I'm quite taken in by the soundtrack to Kari-gurashi no Arietti (or The Borrower Arrietty) which was written and performed by French French-Brettone singer and harper, Cécile Corbel, who sang in endearingly broken English and presumably broken Japanese as well. There are very warm and homey Celtic and Oriental fusion tones in the music and I couldn't stop listening to them. Also, after watching Arrietty, I'm increasingly convinced by the inherent advantage animated films have over their live-action counterparts. In live action movies, we see characters being played by recognisable stars we've seen in other works and in their usually very public lives, and the "reality baggage" can sometimes intrude into the performance. With animated films, particularly those voiced by obscure voice actors or seiyuu, the characters lives and breathes only within the movie's universe. In a way, I am far more likely to forget that they aren't real, and that makes me care more about them.

A couple of days ago, I discovered that there's a cineplex located a mere five minutes walk from where I live. I simply went to my fridge, grabbed a bottle of ice-cold ginger beer and a bag of crispy nori snack, walked a block down the street, and saw Warrior (because Tom Hardy ignites my latent homosexuality even more than Michael Fassbender). It's the next best thing to having my own private movie theatre. Sure, it's seedy and looks like one of those places which show nothing but skin flicks to half a dozen furiously-masturbating 40-something lonely dudes per screening, but it's still serviceable. Besides, it's on the 9th floor and has a romantic night view of the city and the river, and that's worth something. I daydreamed for a minute of buying the place, refurbishing it and turning it around - and then the beautiful madness passed.

k0k s3n w4i

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 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