Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Hundred Days of Baby Darwin

"Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories."

John Wilmot

Today marks the 100th day after Darwin was pulled right out of a bloody hole we cut into his mother's belly. Somehow, we two new parents with zero job experience managed to keep him alive and thriving for cien días with the absolute minimum loss of limbs (and by "we", I really mean "Cheryl mostly"). So far, he's coming along beautifully and is reaching all his developmental milestones punctually. We also have not seen any evidence to suggest that he is actually the second coming of Jesus, the Antichrist, or the Chosen One who would restore balance to the Force - but hey, it might still just be too early to tell.

Now, I know how clichéd it is for new parents with unfounded pride to try and get people to look at pictures of their babies and how annoying they can be. The following chronological series of pictures are not intended for you - unless you are Darwin, reading this post years in the future when you are grown and have finally attained the all-important life skill of keeping drool in your mouth. At some point, you are going to appreciate having these to look at and share with the people you love.

These photographs are also intended for my own viewing pleasure when I am old older, so I'll always be reminded how little he once was and how he used to think I am the most interesting, funniest guy in the world. Because I know one day, I wouldn't be.

001 Days Old - First Cry on Camera
Day 1 of life: Darwin's first cry caught on camera. He was understandably upset because they totally mishandled his luggage on the way here.

003 Days Old - Darwin on the Phone
Day 3 of life: Darwin's last day at the hospital. Here we see the evidence of evolution in modern humans. Even without knowing what a cellphone is, he instinctively knew how to put one to his ear.

004 Days Old - First Meet with Cat
Day 4 of life: First contact with Mikey. Not pictured was Mikey running for his life when Darwin wailed in his face.

006 Days Old
Day 6 of life: Darwin in a motherly embrace. He's still trying to get used to having his head up and his butt down.

014 Days Old
Day 14 of life: Darwin in his standard pose. I'm going to call it now - he's a rightie.

022 Days Old
Day 22 of life: More than a week later, Darwin is still stuck in the same pose.

028 Days Old - Face Regard
Day 28 of life: Darwin regarding his mother's face. And spotted a booger.

034 Days Old - With Mikey
Day 34 of life: Darwin bonding with Mikey on the beanbag. Mikey wasn't tolerating him. He was just too lazy to move his Ragdoll ass.

034 Days Old - With Sophie
Day 34 of life: Darwin reclining on Sophie. I am changing her name to Lazer-Dog and I am going to tell Darwin that that's her name so that's all he'll ever know her as.

041 Days Old - Squishy Face
Day 41 of life: Darwin squished against his mom's mom. Cheryl says that he'll never forgive me for showing this picture in public.

045 Days Old - First Smile on Camera
Day 45 of life: This is Darwin's first photographed smile. It is his most potent weapon against possible infanticide by his sleep-deprived parents.

049 Days Old - Morning Smiler
Day 49 of life: The first thing that Darwin does when he wakes up every morning is smile. Unlike his mom.

051 Days Old - Happy Pooper
Day 51 of life: Darwin loves pooping. It's like his favourite thing to do in the world.

054 Days Old - First Flight
Day 54 of life: Darwin at a Generic Overpriced Coffee Place while waiting to board his first flight ever to Penang. I remember the first time I flew, I was riding a bike when I hit a pothole, was thrown out of my seat and sailed several feet across the street.

058 Days Old - Toupee
Day 58 of life: Still bald like his mom was when she shaved her head for cats last year. Sorry Darwin, I don't think you can pull off having long hair without looking like Anton Chigurh.

060 Days Old - TV Watcher
Day 60 of life: Darwin watching soap with his maternal grandmother. Stahp! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says no TV until 4 years old!

067 Days Old - Finger Lickin' Good
Day 67 of life: Darwin successfully gained enough motor control to manoeuvre his little fist into his slobber-hole. Achievement unlocked! He is now his own favourite flavour.

070 Days Old - More TV Watching
Day 70 of life: Still watching telly with his grandmother and improving his head control in the meantime. Just look at the level of concentration on his little face.

079 Days Old - With Hawt Mama
Day 79 of life: Darwin, out shopping with his gorgeous dolled-up mother. I wish I can literally pump calories right out of my nipples too and lose weight just as quickly.

087 Days Old - In Car Seat
Day 87 of life: Back in Kuching and in his little car seat. He quickly learned that he could put both his shoulder straps into his mouth at the same time.

087 Days Old - Noodle Inspector
Day 87 of life: Eating out with Darwin. He carefully inspects everything his mother eats, making sure that only the best ingredients are used in making his breast milk.

087 Days Old - Watch Thief
Day 87 of life: Darwin wearing my watch. He was smiling so slyly because he was going to put it in his mouth in a second.

087 Days Old - Reading 101
Day 87 of life: Darwin and I reading Farm Sounds by Joe Grasso (illustrated by Allison Rose). It was not very good. The characters were all very two-dimensional and the dialogues were uninspired. The plot was threadbare and I saw the ending coming from a mile away. It has practically no re-reading value. And the strong language made it really unsuitable for children - I went green in the face when the rooster said "COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO".

090 Days Old - A Sibling Rivalry
Day 90 of life: Darwin and Mikey. It is a pretty one-sided relationship.

090 Days Old - Laughing at Telly
Day 90 of life: Cheryl indoctrinating Darwin into the cult of Barney & Friends via YouTube. You can see the light in Darwin's eyes going dim in this picture as he laughs and claps to the seductive songs of the violet velociraptor.

090 Days Old - Sort-of Bottle Holding
Day 90 of life: Darwin holding his bottle on his own and chugging it. Can YOUR baby do this at 3 months of age? No? I don't think so.

094 Days Old - Belly Time
Day 94 of life: Darwin lounging topless on the bed. What do you think? Is he diaper-model material?

094 Days Old - Bunny Lover
Day 94 of life: Darwin romancing his squeaky rabbit toy that his mom just bought for him.

097 Days Old - Ooh Shiny
Day 97 of life: Darwin supporting himself on his forearms when prone. He's also enraptured by blinking lights. Babies are sooo easy to entertain. I'm just going to give him empty cardboard boxes to play with till he is old enough to go to school and discover that all the other kindergarteners are rocking Xboxes.

097 Days Old - Sweet Smiler
Day 97: Oh boy, look at that smile. Fine, I'll buy you the Xbox, you rakish devil you.

097 Days Old - Tabung Haji Fan
Day 97: Darwin in pink. On the fan he's holding are the Arabic letters for the sounds of "T" and "H" (I was told). It stands for Tabung Haji, the Malaysian hajj pilgrims fund board. I was on medical duty at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new installation for the organisation and the fan was in the goodie bags they handed out to attendees. I think I was the only Chinese guy there.

099 Days Old - Skrik
Day 99: Darwin giving us his best impression of Edvard Munch's Skrik.

Just in case you didn't know, if you hover your mouse cursor over the picture, you can summon up extra secret captions via their hover texts.


The Second Hundred Days of Baby Darwin
The Third Hundred Days of Baby Darwin

Darwin's male parent,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Religion Poisoned My Favourite Ramen

"God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything"

The title of the late Christopher Hitchen's book

Close to three years ago, I wrote about how they changed the condiments of my favourite instant ramen - Nissin's Tokyo shoyu - from its tasty MSGooey seasoning sauce to something that they must've taken out of a boardroom ashtray. I had declared that the new Nissin noodles are made of suck and had chosen to boycott them until they restore my beloved Tokyo shoyu instant ramen back to righteousness. True to my word, I had not bought a single packet of Nissin noodles since then.

A few days ago, someone left a comment in that old post. It read,

Greetings from S'pore! This post is 3 years late, but hey I just stumbled into your blog. You may be surprised at what I'm about to tell you but here goes :

We have some things in common and it was our previous love for Nissin's Tokyo Shoyu instant noodles. I too used to love the previous ones with the liquid shoyu seasoning. I stopped after trying my first packet of the powdered version. How can the folks at nissin not be able to tell the difference?? It affected me so much that I actually wrote in to the company. The next thing I knew, they contacted me and thanked me for my feedback. They came personally to my house and offered me 2 packs of their other instant noodles to try.

I asked the guy why they had changed the formula and content and the reply was that they did it to cater to the halal market. The original had porcine content. Anyway, I stopped taking it ever since. I| really wonder if they have captured the halal market but lost many of their previous customers like you and me. Kekeke...

Hope things are great for you!

For years I have spoken confidently and strongly against the hegemony of religion and how its insidious influence corrupts everything it breathes on - and once more, I find vindication. Because of certain folk's imported Middle Eastern faith, they have wiped something good and beautiful off the face of the Earth. Like the destruction of the 6th century Bamiyan Buddhas (irreplaceable relics as old as the very religion of Islam itself) in 2001 by the Taliban, my newborn son will never get to witness these majestic monuments for himself.

The unique, irreplaceable flavours of Nissin's Tokyo shoyu ramen is lost to the world forever. Tell me that that doesn't at least make you feel a bit depressed.

There are no degrees to irreplaceability
There is only loss.

To be honest, the switch doesn't make sense to me because Nissin ramen had never been discriminated for its allegedly piggy content. I have never seen it being isolated at the non-halal section of any supermarket (as supermarkets are wont to do to protect the sensitivities of Malaysian Muslims because as everyone knows, pork can magically osmose through sealed plastic packaging). So, even if it is true that my favourite Nissin ramen did contain yummy, yummy pork, changing the formula isn't going to affect the Muslim market - because no one knew about it.

And since I did not know that its shoyu seasoning sauce contain pork elements when I wrote about the change in flavour three years ago - and its removal made it taste noticeably much worse - it objectively proved the inherent deliciousness of pork. I wonder how the loss of Nissin's Tokyo shoyu old fanbase affected Nissin's revenue and whether this unannounced switch to a halal recipe drew more patronage from the Muslim market (because if they do announce it, there is going to a shitstorm coming from their old Muslim customers who had been eating their ramen before the change).

This is similar to the recent hullabaloo surrounding the last minute cancellation of Ke$ha's concert in Malaysia costing the organisers 1.1 million ringgit in irretrievable losses. Why? Because she offends the "sensitivities" of  Muslims here with her body and lyrics, and that is after she agreed to change her song lyrics and wardrobe in accordance to Malaysian standards. If Ke$ha offends you (like how she offends my taste in good music), don't fucking go and see her. It is that easy. No one is forcing you to pay to see her perform but when you ban her, you are obstructing the enjoyment of other people who don't subscribe to the same backwards, over-conservative taboos you jealously guard. 

What kind of ridiculous reasoning it is? You deny others of a pleasure you are going to avoid anyway? Only in Malaysia, ladies and gentlemen.

P.S. Of course, I am only going on the words of Someone-on-the-Internet here regarding this story so if anyone else can help to verify it (perhaps someone from Nissin) I would greatly appreciate it.

Poisoned by religion,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Screaming Staircase: A Review of the 1st Book of Lockwood & Co.

"When I write something that would have made me laugh as a ten-year-old, or would have scared me or would have excited me, I know I'm onto something."

Jonathan Stroud

One of my favourite children and young adult writers working today is Jonathan Stroud who gave life to what is possibly the funniest djinni ever birthed in fiction (sorry, Robin Williams). This is not the first time I have heaped love onto the Bartimaeus sequence of books and if you haven't read them - well, what are you waiting for?

While the titular indentured djinni is certainly the most memorable element of the Bartimaeus books, what really sold the original trilogy is Stroud's vision of a dystopian London run by scheming magician-politicians who enslave spirits and tyrannises non-magic commoners. Bartimaeus' London is simultaneously familiar yet coloured in every way imaginable by its magocratic upper class. There were high end shops in Piccadilly that supply sorcerous artifacts to London's elites. The British Museum contains magical antiques (stolen from foreign cultures, much like the real British Museum) and the mummified remains of Bartimaeus' former employers. Tombs of Britain's most famous sons and daughters in Westminster Abbey are cursed and guarded by powerful spirits to discourage looters. Stroud's immense talent at world-building - or world-tweaking, really - also permeates every pen-stroke in The Screaming Staircase where he introduces us to yet another vision of London slightly askew.

The Screaming Staircase US Cover
If there's something strange / In your neighborhood / Who ya gonna call?

Lockwood & Co. is one of Britain's many enterprising agencies that had sprung up in the wake of the Problem - which is a typically English way of understating an epidemic of ghosts and hauntings spreading all across the British Isles. Suddenly, the spirits of the dead refuse to stay dead, and some categories of these spooks can hurt or even kill the living, either directly or otherwise. Employing children and teenagers with the psychic ability to sense ghosts, these agencies provide the increasingly valuable service of dealing with hauntings to the public. Stroud then layered this basic premise with commonsensical extensions of the concept by also introducing us to the corporate rivalry between these agencies, governmental offices which regulate them and perform research into psychic phenomena, and the economical microverse that revolves around ghostbusting like the iron and silver industries, lavender horticulturists and purveyors of good tea bags (preferentially by the Pitkin Brothers of Bond Street). If anything, Stroud had gotten much better at reimagining London since Bartimaeus.

The Screaming Staircase is narrated by Lucy Carlyle, a young agent of exceptional talent who joined Lockwood & Co., an agency operating completely without adult supervision. Anthony Lockwood runs it, in Sherlockian fashion, from his residence at Number 35, Portland Street and through the course of The Screaming Staircase, proved to be an able understudy of the Baker Street sleuth. Anthony Lockwood intends to elevate Lockwood & Co. to be the number one agency in London and isn't above endangering his associates to achieve it. His deputy, George Cubbins, provides most of the comic relief in the book and is best described as the overweight, flatulent, male slob equivalent of Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter books and much like her, he approaches every problem by reading and researching the hell out of it.

Reminiscent of the taxonomy of summonable spirits in the Bartimaeus books, Lockwood & Co. categorises ghosts into Type Ones to Threes, in an order of increasing intelligence, autonomy and malevolence. Within those Types are various species of spirits ranging from Cold Maidens to Poltergeists to Phantasms, and they are grouped according to their behaviour and abilities. Unlike the ghosts in Potterverse, the Visitors (as they are euphemistically called) imagined by Stroud are of the horror film variety: creepy, mindless and often violently murderous. Stroud clearly intends to scare his readers with them.

The Screaming Staircase UK Cover

Like the Bartimaeus Sequence, The Screaming Staircase is a breezy read - I finished it in a day and found myself hungering for the sequel. I could tell that Stroud already had the mytharc of the series down pat, and the grand  architecture of it loomed ominously over the events of the first book. What is the Problem and what is causing it? I NEED TO KNOW! I guess I'll just have to wait for next year for the provisionally titled second book, The Whispering Skull. to be published. If George R. R. Martin manages to deliver The Winds of Winter next year as well, it would make 2014 a really good year indeed.

I recommend The Screaming Staircase to just about anyone at all. It doesn't matter who you are, how old you are or that you don't even necessarily enjoy reading for leisure at all. Stroud always know how to show everyone an enchantingly good time.

Definitely not on Jonathan Stroud's payroll,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Mid-Autumn Conversation

"Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendent."

Alif the Unseen (2012) by G. Willow Wilson

On the night after the Chinese Zhongqiu or Mid-Autumn Festival, I was doing the 3 to 11 PM shift in Emergency and Trauma. We just completed our 9 o'clock handover round and the torrent of the poorly were slackening to a trickle so I could catch my breath. I wandered from my post in the Yellow Zone into the Green where I ran into a familiar face, a Pakistani doctor who was one of my supervising officers when I was doing time in the Medical Department. He was there doing what we call locum and no matter what it means in Latin, we medicos read it as a contraction for "LOads of side inCOME". He is a short, dark moustached and bespectacled man who always greets me warmly with a huge smile and a raised open palm. That night, he greeted me in the same way he had always greeted me and since we were both stuck in a pocket of dead time, conversation was struck.

"Yesterday night, we saw many people in the Friendship Park after dark," he told me. "They were playing lanterns there and were releasing large floating ones into the air. I brought my family there to watch. It was quite a scene."

Lanterns, I learned as a child, is an inseparable part of growing up Chinese in Malaysia. It's the closest thing we have to the Western celebration of Halloween but instead of dressing up, venturing out at night and going door to door asking for candy, we scions of the Middle Kingdom patrol our neighborhoods carrying lanterns. Even after battery-powered imitations were invented, I remember that as a kid, I still insisted on getting the genuine articles with real lit candles in them. There are few joys of childhood comparable to playing with fire - real fire - and staying out after dark, and that is what Zhongqiu Jie always meant to me and I suspect, to most Chinese children. I always ritualistically set my own lanterns ablaze at the end of every Mid-Autumn night and make them look like accidents.

"Did your kids enjoy themselves?" I asked. I could not help but wonder how a Muslim man such as he feel about participating in a kuffar festival.

"Oh yes! I was wondering what the festival was all about though..." he said.

"I'm not really sure but it's probably some sort of harvest festival held every year on the 15th of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar," I answered.

The conversation then drifted to his time working in the Maldives and true to the fashion of most conversations held between gents - as sure as water running downhill - the subject turned to politics.

"We just had an election in Pakistan and the term of our very corrupted President ended," he told me. "We call him Mr Ten Percent, you know. If you need anything at all in Pakistan, contracts, tenders or purchases - just give him 10% of the profit and its yours."

"We just had our Malaysian general election too earlier this year too," I said. "However, we are still stuck with the same regime being led by the same guy."

Politics is not my thing at all. Most things which most people found to be very important eludes my attention and priorities. It's not that I do not realise their import, but I just find them incredibly boring. Naturally, I changed the subject. I asked about the school that his children attend. He told me the name of a famous private school here in Kuching. I had learned from the reactions I see from Kuchingites whenever that school is mentioned that it is a really posh - and costly - outfit.

"Must be expensive," I remarked faux-knowingly.

"Their tuition costs me half my salary every month!" he told me. He also laughed as he did, as if it was a really funny joke. "But we want the best for our children, don't we?"

"Yeah." I suppose I do want the best for Darwin too but how does one know what's best for anyone anyway? I went to public school and in spite of that, I turned out okay. I had a vague plan to emulate my own approach to education for Darwin (minus all the unhelpful stuff I experienced like rote learning and repetitive exercises) and it involves teaching him to read and introducing the internet to him at as early an age as possible. He's only a little more than 2 weeks old at the moment so my plan, as you can see, isn't quite fleshed out or even properly thought through yet.

"So, did you go back to Pakistan for Eid this year?" I asked.

"No," he said. "Too expensive. For my whole family? That is going to cost me half my year's salary!" He laughed again. This was a joke to him too.

"I flew to India on my last backpacking trip. It cost me less a thousand flying there and back again," I said.

He told me that Malaysia's most popular budget airline flies to India, but that recourse is not available to anyone heading to India's uneasy neighbor to the west.

"Isn't it possible to cross from India to Pakistan by bus or train?" I asked. "If so, you can fly there first to save on the cost of travel."

"Yes," he answered. "But India and Pakistan aren't very friendly to one another, you see. A Pakistani like me flying to India from Malaysia and then crossing the border on land to Pakistan? I am afraid that they might hold me for questioning on suspicions of spying."

Water ran downhill. We came full circle back to politics again, that perennial favourite subject of men with zero political power.

"Pakistan," he mused. "I pray that things will improve, insha'Allah. All our troubles came from those meddling Americans."

"How so?" I asked, wondering at the answers I might receive.

"Afghanistan," he said simply.

"Excuse me?"

"Afghanistan. After the American invaded Afghanistan, the terrorists - they ran to to Pakistan. Even Osama bin Laden," he said, all traces of laughter gone from his voice and eyes. "The terrorists that now infest Pakistan, they bomb anything and anyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike."

"Why do you think they do what they do? Why do they attack people of their own faith?"

"I don't know. I think they just want to destabilise everything and take power when there is chaos," he said, a little faraway. "But then again, there have always been terrorists in Pakistan. And they hurt Muslims more than they hurt anyone else in the world, physically and by reputation. When I was a medical student, I learned anatomy dissecting charred bomb victims. They are usually unidentified and so, were given to medical schools."

At this point, a phone rang. One of my colleagues picked it up and called for him, thus punctuating our conversation right there and then. It was 11 PM so I punched out and went home to my son and wife. My Pakistani friend would soon go back to his family as well.

Occasional conversationalist,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Naming Darwin

"'What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?'
'Cats don't have names,' it said.
'No?' said Coraline.
'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.'"

Coraline (2012) by Neil Gaiman

Darwin Thinking
I always pegged him as a thinking man.

Yesterday, I went to officially put our newborn baby son on the record. There is a solitary office on the 3rd floor of the hospital I work in, the same place where Darwin (my son, not the biologist) was born, that serves as an outpost for the National Registration Department of Malaysia, and people go to it to both register births and deaths. As with most services these days, you take a number, you sit down and you wait till your number's up. Mine was 0008, a number that the Chinese think is auspicious because it sounds like the Chinese word for "prosper" or "prosperity". They like it as much as they abhor the number 4, which is almost homonymous with "death" or "dying". Even as a little kid, I always found it amusing that mathematically, to die twice is to prosper. It is as amusing as I found death and birth being registered at the same place to be.

I looked around me and noticed the dichotomy of waiting applicants - people who just had one of the best and happiest days of their lives sitting right beside those who just had one of the saddest and worst. One could tell at a glance which was which. I wondered if it was by design; to sober up the former and to mock the latter.

I then let my gaze settle on the name I wrote in block letters in my registration form and felt a pang of anxiety. What if they don't allow it? Several months ago, I called the Registrar of Births and Deaths' office to find out if it was possible for my child to take his mother's surname and the answer I got was no. There's actually a rule on the book about it in Act 299:

"The surname, if any, to be entered in respect of a legitimate child shall ordinarily be the surname, if any, of the father."

I also heard a lot of accounts of people who wanted to change their registered religion to "tiada" or "none" and was turned away by National Registration clerks who told them that that was not possible, even when they weren't Muslims. However, my wife and I changed our religion designation to "tiada" as painlessly as we changed our address, no questions asked, so I guess one just has to take everything any drone in the bureaucracy tells you with a pinch of sceptical seasoning.

I chose the name Darwin soon after I learned that he was going to be a boy. It was one of the first names I considered and even after looking at hundreds of other potentials, I kept returning to it again and again. The only two other names that I really considered were Theodore and Jasper. I liked the diminutive of Theodore, which is Teddy but its root Greek meaning is "God's gift", which would seem like a really odd name to give a child of two atheists to say the least. Jasper is a name with Persian origins that meant "treasurer" and I always thought jaspers looked really pretty, but it was apparently used as a slang word for "a rustic simpleton".

Darwin, according to A Handy Poetical Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, was derived from Old English deorwine which was made up of the elements dêore which means "dear, beloved, cherished" and wine which means "friend". It literally means "dear friend" and I felt that that was a really beautiful and intimate name to call our little stranger. It really stood out to me from all the other names that are either positive traits people want their offspring to have, or pretensions to royalty or divinity. Also, it only has two syllables, is easy to say and sounds like "darling", which shares a similar root in Old English.

One cannot talk about the name Darwin without invoking its most famous bearer, the British naturalist Charles Darwin, who revolutionised the field of life sciences with his grand unifying theory of evolution, and to quote Dobzhansky, a Russian Orthodox Christian evolutionary biologist, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Charles Darwin was also a loving husband and devoted father - a side of him that is much less frequently discussed, but no less important, than his momentous contributions to our understanding of life. My Darwin can do much worse than share his name with so revered and venerable a figure.

Darwin and I, 1st Portrait Together
My first ever picture with Darwin.

As for his surname, we had toyed with the idea of him having a joint one but "Kok" and "Cheah" just don't assimilate well. Very early on, I decided that Darwin should bear his mother's name, because no matter how I look at it, it doesn't make sense (or seem remotely fair) for him to bear mine since Cheryl was the one who put her body through the risks, hardships and dangers of pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, I would feel as if I am assuming undue credit even if we went with a joint surname. Even biologically speaking, the creation of new life is not a 50-50 venture - it's more like I came up with half an idea and my wife then proceeded to build a human being out of it. Aside from sexist Chinese traditions that depreciate women, is there any good reason at all for my son to inherit my name?

My decision is not without precedents, of course. There were archaeological evidence to suggest that the ancient Chinese derived their surnames matrilineally before the patriarchy took over. In fact, the Chinese character for "surname" is 姓 and it consists of the radicals 女 (woman) and 生 (born), which is thought to be an etymological remnant of that practice. So in a way, it is possible that I am actually far more observant of Chinese traditions than most modern Chinese people alive.

Above it all, I did what I think any righteous man who abhors injustice and any husband who truly appreciates his partner's sacrifice would do. I named Darwin after her so that he will grow up with a constant reminder of the pains and perils his mother went through to bring him into this world. Don't you think that that is much more meaningful than adhering to a practice started by men in their sad, selfish, egoistic attempt to pass their own names down because they did absolutely nothing notable enough for them to be remembered otherwise?

Darwin Motherhood
5-day-old mother with her 5-day-old baby boy.

When 0008 was called, I submitted my son's birth registration form to the lady at the counter who looked through it for errors. I just sat there, wondering if she would raise the issue of Darwin's surname. Without saying a word, she started typing into her computer while referring intermittently to my form. After about a minute, the click-clacking on her keyboard stopped abruptly and her eyes met mine. I braced myself for the inevitable.

"I'm going to translate Green Road to Jalan Green, alright?" she told me.

"Huh? Okay," I said.

When she was done, she printed a black-and-white draft of Darwin's birth certificate for me to check. I passed it back to here after a moment with a nod and a smile. She then walked into the office and returned shortly with sheet of official-looking green paper. Printed on it was our newborn son's name in all capital letters.


Born 4:23 PM on September 6, 2013. Boy. Ethnically Chinese. Citizen of Malaysia. No religion, but isn't that true of all babies? 

RELATED POST: What's in a Name, a short piece detailing my process in choosing his name. As you can see, I really gave it A LOT of thought.

P.S. Yes, he has a Chinese given name but we are only using that among family members.

k0k s3n w4i

Monday, September 09, 2013

Welcome to the World, My Dear Friend

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin

Cheryl on the Table
Cheryl, under spinal anaesthesia and on the table.

In the evening of September 6, 2013, my wife and I was waiting for the arrival of a long expected stranger. She was lying on a tall, narrow table in the middle of the theatre. The lower half of her body was anaesthetised and hidden a world away behind green surgical drapes. I sat beside her, just a whisper's breadth from her right ear. Without her notice or mine, it had begun.

On the other side, a silent orchestra of muted pressures and tugs was playing. The beeping of my wife's heart kept time. Occasionally, we hear the metallic clatter of instruments being placed back on a tray and the hiss of the cautery wafting over to us accompanied by its warm electric scent. I knew that song and had seen it played in front of me a hundred times. I even played it myself before though not as ably as the one we were paying audience to. Before this, I told her in jest that I wanted to look inside her and read her entrails when they open her covers like a book, but when the occasion came, I found that I could not tear myself away from her side

Suddenly, the wet smell from within the amnion percolated the room followed immediately by the noise of liquor amnii being sucked up thirstily through a Yankauer. Cheryl's body was rocked to and fro as they worked to extricate our child through the window they opened in her abdomen and at 4:23 PM, after the elapse of a breath held impossibly long, we heard the climax we waited 41 long weeks and a day to hear - the strong stark cry of our newborn son as he emerged from water and darkness into light and air. After his umbilical cord was cut, he was quickly placed into the hands of a waiting nurse and brought through a door into an adjacent room where he would be cared for.

I smiled at the mother of my child through my surgical mask, my eyes asking. "Go with him," she said.

It was a strange feeling, to want so much to go but wanting just as much to stay. It was as if the love of my life split into two persons, each going in a separate direction. A second of inertia later, I broke my inner stalemate and hurried after our newly arrived little stranger.

He was placed under a baby warmer where the remaining fluid from his private ocean was sucked out of his tiny airways and wiped from his tiny body. A blue tag bearing his mother's name was clipped around his left ankle before he was swaddled in a cocoon of green fabric. Now, warm and dry, he had ceased crying and was breathing calmly but cautiously. His face and cheeks were flushed pink from the excitement of being born. Slowly, he opened one eye - his left - and peered out into the world for the very first time.

Darwin's First Picture Ever
His first baby picture. 3.87 kilogrammes of cute.

I watched as his pupil moved this way and that curiously - or what looked deceptively like curiousity - before fixating on me. I leaned in closer to him because neonates are extremely nearsighted and could only really see about a foot in front of them, and they love looking at faces more than anything else so I pulled my surgical mask down. I realised, with a slight thrill and pride, that I was the first person he ever met on this side of life. His father. His old man. Me.

Sound penetrates into the womb far more than any other stimuli during pregnancy. When he was still dreaming deep within the motherverse, I had talked to him and even read him stories. I know that he was not capable of remembering anything I said or recognising my voice distorted through inches of mother - but chances were good that he could remember the cadence and rhythm by which I speak.

"Welcome to the world, Darwin," I said softly to him. "Welcome to life, my dear friend."

I rubbed his brow with my thumb and kissed him gently on his little head. When I looked up again, I saw that the nurse had been watching me, smiling, and I smiled sheepishly back. The nurse then picked Darwin up and headed back into the operating theatre with him. We are going to meet your mother now, kid.

Mommy was still lying on the table whilst the surgeon stitch her up. The nurse thrusted Darwin's rump at her asking, "Boy or girl?" I met Cheryl's eyes and laughed quietly at the back. I warned her that she was going to meet her firstborn genitals first.

"Boy," she answered, smiling like I had never seen her smile before. Then, the nurse lowered Darwin's face down to Cheryl's and she kissed him on the cheek.

"So soft," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "His face is so soft."

Darwin's Dad,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, September 06, 2013

Waiting on Friday's Child

"Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay."

Monday's Child,
English nursery rhyme

This is going to be a quick one.

It is past 2:00 AM and I cannot sleep. Cheryl is at the hospital, waiting to go into surgery tomorrow. Her Inner Child
™ is now one week overdue and due to the uncomplicated nature of her pregnancy, she was allowed to carry our baby till up to ten days after her expected date of delivery. I brought her to the Labour Ward yesterday afternoon to have a cardiotocogram done - y'know, just to soothe our postdate parental anxieties and also because Cheryl thought that our boy had been moving less vigorously and less frequently than he used to. Just a few days ago, I took her to the Emergency Room (where I work) and borrowed the shitty ultrasound machine there to scan her. While I couldn't measure the kid and estimate his weight using the ancient behemoth, I could see his heart beating merrily away and even spotted him move a few times (though Cheryl couldn't feel them when I asked her). That was reassuring but you can't be too careful about your one and only son, right?

In Labour, it came as a surprise to us to find that the baby's estimated weight on ultrasound scanning had already reached 3.8 to 3.9 kilogrammes.

Strictly speaking, the kid is still below the upper limits of normal, with 4 kilos being the cutoff point for macrosomia (i.e. overweight babies). Of course, there is a ±500 grammes error for sonographically estimated fetal weight but since one medical officer, one registrar and two specialists all independently scanned and agreed that we have a real whopper of a son on our hands, we are going with what the experts say. One perk of having your baby delivered in a hospital you work in is that everyone takes extra care of your wife and child.

Dr Prakash - who attended to my wife back when she had her threatened preterm labour in July - gave us two options. Either we cut the baby out via a Caesarean or we could try to induce labour using a pharmacological agent because they too found the reduced activity from the little one worrying and didn't think it was wise to wait till the 9th, as was originally planned. The cardiotocogram was still good but why risk being sorry when one can be safe? Anyway, the reason why they think induction and vaginal birth is still a viable choice is because when they sized the baby with their eyes and hands, they thought that the baby is probably less cherubic than what they scanned. Besides, Cheryl isn't diabetic so our kid is likely just lean and long. They were honest about their uncertainties and misgivings, which is a mark of honest physicians.

Now, we live in a patriarchal society (so much so that a woman needs her husband's permission to tie her tubes) and also, I was the medically-trained one so they looked to me for a decision.

"I think you should ask Cheryl," I said quietly. "It's her body, not mine."

After having the risks and benefits of induced labour versus surgery explained to her, she decided that she wants the McCaesarean please, with a side order of fries and Coke. And here we are. Today's the day. Today we are going to meet our little stranger for the very first time. I am just a ball of nerves and excitement right now, buzzing with the static of imminent fatherhood. I realise that this is just the first of many sleepless nights he's going to give me. A couple of hours ago, I was just sitting by Cheryl's bed. The palm of my hand was resting on our firstborn, feeling his kicks and rolls, while hers was wrapped around my arm. We talked little because there are times when words simply cannot make a moment more perfect than it already is.

Last Supper
Cheryl's last supper before her fast started. It was her favourites, prawn capellini
and tiramisu from The Junk. And there was literally a side order of Coke.
Today, September 6, 2013, we are going to find out how the child of one fair of face and she who is full of grace will turn out to be like.

Fair of face,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Devils in the Emergency Room

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction."

Blaise Pascal

Mr Pascal's Wager himself.

Yesterday night, at the beginning of my graveyard shift in Emergency & Trauma, a trio of police officers frogmarched an 18-year-old Malay young lady into the Yellow Zone. She was clearly in a state of extreme agitation, struggling, kicking and screeching glass-shattering notes at the top of her lungs. Getting the savage screaming girl down onto a bed and restraining her consumed my attention for five whole minutes and by the time I looked around, the policemen were nowhere to be seen. So there I was, left with a very disturbed young woman tied down to a bed who continued to yell abuses at me and I had no idea what transpired, where she came from or who I could contact to find out. Our tax money well-spent right there. Thanks a lot, our boys in blue.

After taking a deep anger-purging breath, I had the medical assistant take her vital signs, shoved an IV cannula into a vein (she tried to bite me in the bid) and took some blood. I turned my back for a minute to run some initial tests on her blood but when I returned, I found two strange portly men wearing songkoks and ankle length robes standing by the patient’s side. 

Must be her family members, I thought. They recited Arabic prayers at her while she barked curses back at them. I rolled my eyes at that and left them to it, thinking I could interview them when they were done – because Muslims in our country can be real explosive when you interfere in anything pertaining to their Religion of Peace™. I didn’t want to make the news. I could already see the headline in my head: ATHEIST DOCTOR FORBIDS MUSLIM FAMILY FROM PRAYING FOR THEIR LOVED ONES IN EMERGENCY ROOM. 

I returned shortly after and found that the men had drawn the curtains all around her bed. A whole lot of commotion and noise were coming from within so I took a peek. One of them was hunched over her at the head of the bed. His hands were clasped around her face and he was shouting angrish at her while she shouted back. He was trying to get her to recite something Arabic but that was to no avail. At one point, he even threatened to murder her (or what he believed was inside her). As he became increasingly more flustered, I saw his fingers pressing harder and harder onto her mastoid processes - those are the bony bumps behind your ears - till his knuckles were white and trembling. The girl started whimpering in pain and cried out, begging him to stop hurting her.

"What is your name?" the man asked again. Eyes screwed up in agony, she said it. He appeared satisfied at her response and lifted his fingers off her mastoids. Then, looking at me and smiling a winning smile, he informed me that everything was under control. He casually gestured at the IV canulla I inserted earlier and said: 

"You can pull that out now. You won’t be needing that anymore."

It takes a lot to surprise me but for I confess that I was stunned for a second by what he was telling me to do.

"Who are you?" I finally asked, my hackles rising. Who the fuck are you?

"I am Ustaz Aladdin and my companion here is Ustaz Ali Baba," the spectating partner of the pair explained in Malay. The names had been changed to minimize my own risk of getting sued. "This young lady here was possessed by an evil spirit. It was a difficult battle but we finally cast it out."

"Oh really?" I remarked acidly as my eyebrows climbed my forehead. "Are you related to her?"

"No, we just wanted to help."

At this point, the girl hulked out again and renewed her commitment to contact space aliens using only the strength of her voice alone. She struggled so violently against her bonds that I was afraid that she was going to dislocate something or worse, damage our expensive bed. Ustaz Ali Baba clamped down on her face again in a hurry with his fingers positioned behind her ears, ready to unleash torture anew. He began murmuring something Quranic.

From right to left: the patient, Ustaz Ali Baba, Ustaz Aladdin, and
the beer gut of the security guard I brought with me to confront them.

"Please unhand my patient," I told him. "You failed. Whatever you did to her is obviously not working."

Also you shamans are not part of hospital personnel and are of no relations to her – how dare you curtained yourselves off alone with her without any chaperones and manhandled her without her or her family’s consent? What you motherfakirs were doing is called assault and battery, and that shit is highly illegal. And who died and made you King of the ER that you deem yourselves to be in any position of authority to order me to remove my acutely psychotic patient's IV cannula? Also, if you claim to represent and speak for Allah, you better have papers bearing his almighty signature to prove it, you goat-bearded wizard-robed balderdashers.

Besides, isn't it haram to touch a non-mahram stranger of the opposite sex based on what the Prophet Muhammad said? These two ustaz (ustazes?) clearly didn't think so.

While I was addressing them, my patient started retching. Ustaz Aladdin cried excitedly, declaring that the young lady was about to cough up the demon possessing her. I ignored him and quickly turned her on her side to prevent her from aspirating her vomitus. When she stopped dry heaving, she - surprise, surprise! - remained aggressive and unruly. I stared daggers at the pair of defeated exorcists and said, "Please leave now."

To calm her down and to prevent her from injuring herself and her caregivers, I gave her 5 milligrams of midazolam. In just a moment, she winked out like a light (something I couldn't have done without an IV cannula).

It must had been a strange sort of ghost, demon, or djinn that can be subdued by a sedative which only affects her brain and not her body. It's almost like her psychotic actions were, gosh, all dictated by her own brain! I wanted to point this out to our Saracenic Tweedledee and Tweedledum but they had already evaporated from the Yellow Zone. Got it under control, they said. Pull out the IV cannula, they said.

When the sedative wore off and she came to an hour later, she was acting normally again.

More than even the belief in superstitions and the insistence on blaming mental illness on demonic possession, I was shocked by the gall and presumptions of the two Muslim clerics - civilians all - who thought that it was okay for them to walk into a restricted area of the Accident and Emergency department without authorisation, impose themselves onto an ill patient whom they do not know, commit assault and battery on her, and then somehow have enough nerve left in them to tell the patient's doctor what to do in regards to her medical treatment. No one, not the security guards, not my colleagues, not even my senior officers dared to reproach them for their highly unethical and unlawful actions towards a patient that was entrusted to our care. It is because they are afraid of offending the religious over-sensitivities which certain people professing to certain faiths wear around themselves like some sort of criticism-proof Kevlar jacket. It is because they afford certain people far more respect that they rightfully deserve, as their deplorable conduct showed.

It is this same misplaced respect and cowardice of standing up for what's right that led to this brutal attack orchestrated by an imam on a poor innocent Muslim woman in the UK, and this fatal exorcism in Belgium conducted by a "sheikh" and his acolytes in Belgium which ended in the death of another Muslimah.

It is high time we point out the painfully obvious fact that these self-professed spokespersons of their respective gods have no fucking clue what they are doing. Two such lowlifes attacked my patient, and I had a responsibility to protect her so I did what's right. Also, mistaking mental illness for demonic possession was something medieval yokels would do, back when trepanation and having holes in the head was still in vogue. Now that we are living in the age of smartphones, the internet and self-flushing toilets, I can't believe that people can still be this stupid.

P.S. When I related this incident to one of my colleagues who witnessed the whole thing, she told me she thinks that my patient might be possessed for real - but she disapproved of what the two ustaz was doing and probably thought that a Christian exorcist would had been more effective given her own beliefs. I just laughed loudly at her face and walked away.

Buster of ghostbusters,
k0k s3n w4i