Saturday, December 30, 2006

should auld acquaintance be forgot....?

was in penang last weekend for the annual year-end pilgrimage - for some unknown reason, we seemed to spend our christmas breaks there.

after a leisurely 5-hr drive (did remember: speed trap, speed trap!) we were there by late afternoon. traffic was a breeze & thanks to touch 'n' go, crossing the often congested penang bridge was easy. without hesitation, the 1st stop, as always, was the hawker stalls, as we had a late breakfast & had skipped lunch. after a delightful course of char kway teow, hokkien mee & pasembor, downed with brown-sugared soya bean drink, we were ready to take on penang.

after putting our stuff at the in-laws', we headed for bukit dumbar. this green-lung in congested jelutong provides sane reprieve in terms of open space & recreational activities.

lots of space for football....

tai-chi & children's playground....

& a view from the top.

when i started working in penang years ago, eden restaurant was synonymous with good tasty western food at reasonable prices & all through the years, in my opinion, they have never failed to deliver. they even have a branch (really, a misnomer bcos this is larger than the original one) at the batu ferringhi tourist belt. i still remember the very popular set lunches at RM7.90++ those days, consisting of a warm bun, soup of the day, main course meal, ice cream & tea/coffee - what a lot of food for that price!! it costs over twice now, but still a grand deal!

so we decided to have dinner at the original shop on hutton lane. they used to have 2 shops, each just 2 doors away from the other, but i suppose competition is stiff as there are nasi kandar/mamak stalls aplenty just a stone's throw away along penang road. also they now offer set dinners at RM24.90++ & that it was only half-full on a saturday night betrayed that things are not well. the black pepper steak i had was top-notch, & so i remain a loyal eden patron.

the next day we checked out the new queensbay shopping mall. naturally, the parking was almost full by the time we got there at 11.30am, probably because it's still free for now. lots of window-shoppers but few buyers. the best place to be by a long shot, has to be starbucks. located within the premise of borders on the 2nd floor, the glass wall provided a panaromic view of the pulau jerejak, the sea & penang bridge. taking in that picturesque scene & with a good book in hand, that latte will last some hours.

you know how it is said that the world is a small place but i can tell you that penang is even smaller. bumped into ex-medic classmate dr C at the apple/ipod shop. funny, he couldn't recognise me when we had just met last year at the reunion, & i don't think i've changed that much either. exchanged work & family tales - he's a physician at 1 of the many private hospitals there & his eldest, a girl, is going for A-levels in uk next year. it seemed only yesterday when he was tops in the anatomy clinicals.

then bumped into dr L & his family, with whom we shared many a meal in sheffield, UK when we were both in the same registrars' rotation. our daughters were born in the same year there - i named mine emma because it was such a typical english name & he named his june, even though she was born in august. he's also in private practice in penang, his hometown.

that evening found us religiously doing our ritual - the almost mandatory hike up penang hill from youth park. emma & i huffed & puffed up to the usual #3 stop where we rested for tea, but this time we raised our benchmark a little & ascended a further (pant! pant!) 15mins to #5 stop.

fairly steep climb

#5 stop in sight

affirmation : #5 stop

snack time!

here again, tea, coffee plus cream crackers & roti kok were offered. medics often advise people not to eat immediately before & after strenous exercise (something about blood flow being diverted to the contracting muscles) but i think a light snack is fine, because i've never appreciated black coffee & roti kok till now, right after an exhaustive hike. there we bumped into a cousin & his wife, both regular hikers & they offered to take us up yet one more level to #7 stop tomorrow. i'll have to think about that.

the next day, we were at the chowrasta market to get some famous tau sar pneah & at the same time, to savour the even more famous chendol, located at lebuh keng kwee, off penang road.

the 2 stalls have been operating for ages &
for some reason, the one on the right (below)

seemed to attract more customers. in terms of taste, i have no preference
but the stall on the left (below)

did have more ingredients. no matter, because almost without fail,
i'll have a bowl each from both stalls.

the red beans used to be much bigger
later, we met the cousins for the hike. you have to hand it to the penangites - they eat well & yet, they exercise almost religiously. the car park was already half full by that time - at 4pm in the blazing sun!! we took a different route up, but no less easy.

apparently, the hash house harriers had been there.

however, #7 stop was just a spot between stop #85 further up & #5 below, which we achieved yesterday. an anti-climax? the descent was a stroll.

this has been an unusual penang trip. i planned on meeting an ex-primary school classmate william (whom i have not seen for over 30yrs) but he couldn't make it. instead, i bumped into 2 colleagues & 2 cousins. it's always nice when we unexpectedly meet friends & colleagues, esp those we have not seen for some time. in these crazy, crazy times, we need to build bridges more than ever.

so, should auld acquaintance be forgot & never be brought to mind?
God forbid, for we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

blessed new year, one & all!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

the other miracle birth

when our daughter was born in 1994, we thought our lives were complete. when she grows up, i hope & pray that she appreciates the care, attention & love we showered on her. i can safely say that she lacked nothing, with 1 glaring exception.

a sibling.

someone she can relate to, talk & play with.
someone she can have arguments & fight things over with.
someone she can also share & love, as much as we have loved her, if not more.

so we prayed. & waited. & waited.

many years ago, we learned that God answers prayers in 3 ways :
A. yes
B. no
C. yes, but not now.

after a long, long wait, we resigned ourselves to the reality that there will just be 3 of us.

& life goes on.

for a few weeks near the end of 2001, my wife had felt "lousy". without any other symptoms to go by, we randomly visited our gynae friend. & lo & behold, the ultrasound revealed an answered prayer - option C. the 12-week-old fetus, nestled comfortably in the depths of the uterus, already had a beating heart!

we were overwhelmed with mixed emotions. happy because we had been blessed with a love child. yet apprehensive as my wife was at an age when congenital abnormalities (medic-speak for birth defects) were a distinct possibility. our gynae offered a chorionic-villous sampling (where a fine needle is inserted through the abdomen & into the uterus to obtain a small amount of placental tissue) as a test for these abnormalities.

after much delibration & prayer, we decided to forego the procedure. come what may, we will love & nurture our child, with or without blemish. for we dwelled on the promise of the psalmist :

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully & wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
psalms 139:13-16

on may 18, 2002 we rejoiced in the arrival of a normal healthy boy. he doesn't know it yet, but he plays so many roles - a son, a brother, a grandson & most importantly, a child of God. so heavy a responsibility on such fragile shoulders!

4-month-old with a blank stare

4-yr-old : future petrol station attendant?

how should we raise this boy? the same way we have done with our girl, according to the instruction of the wise men of yore :

Train a child in the way he should go,
& when he is old he will not turn from it
prov 22:6


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

weekend in singapore

it was an impromptu visit. we had been thinking of spending a weekend away & after much delibration, settled on s'pore. the x'mas lights along orchard road was the attraction & we've not been there for over a year. after securing accomodation just outside of the Central Business District (where cars entering during peak hours pay a levy) we took a leisurely drive south, careful not to exceed the speed limit along the 2nd link, where i have had speeding tickets twice (yeah, some people never learn!) .

at the s'pore check-point, i had to renew my autopass (a prepaid card registered to the car which is used for paying tolls & parking fees) because unbeknownst to me, it had expired. so after getting the passports stamped, i had to go over to the Land Transport Authority counter to renew it. the 2 english-speaking malay ladies manning the counter were ever so helpful & friendly, & the autopass was renewed, with a smile, in minutes. (anyone with a similar satisfying experience at our local government offices, please let me know!)

after checking in late morning, we had lunch at a nearby food court & then we're off to check out orchard road. the lights weren't switched on yet, but the festivities were visibly in full swing - teenagers dressed as elves were soliciting donations, others attired as santa clauses were promoting the shopping complexes & the x'mas trees & buntings were prominently displayed. unashamedly, even biblical texts were not spared :

but i can understand the audacious attempt. singapore is a wholly secular state (try this in malaysia & the city hall/town council guys will dismantle the signs before you can say " ho, ho, ho!" & fine you for putting it up without approval in the 1st place - & no, they won't close 1 eye on this matter!!) & the retailers will do anything to garner sales because s'poreans love to shop. the affluence is obviously palpable. the cars on the road say it all - beemers, mercs & volvos & many other foreign marques hogged the roads. the working class strut around in the latest fashions, talking on the fanciful camera-PDA-phones & sipping designer lattes at SGD12 a pop.

i met up with an ex-colleague whom i had the great pleasure of working with when i was in s'pore in the mid-90s. kenneth was the exemplary medical officer - he's intelligent, determined, has an extremely affable personality & well-liked by everyone because by example. i know i can rest easy when i'm on-call with him because he will capably handle most of the problems that may arise. he has been appointed consultant for some years now.

over udom, tempura & green tea, we caught up on old times. he's just gone into private practice - oh, did i mention that he picked me up in his new spanking volvo S60? - which surprised me because he was such a loyal worker in our previous hospital. apparently, the new head of department has brought in drastic changes - far too radical for him to remain in the dept & though he is obviously happy where he is now, i can sense he still misses his old job.

the next morning, we checked out early & went on the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) trains - the kids just loved the ride. they're on par with our own LRTs in terms of comfort & safety, with 1 major difference - convenience & user-friendliness because the same ticket can be used when changing trains. stopped briefly at the esplanade & chanced upon an exhibition of metal wire figurines by a local sculptor :

guess anything can be art these days!

so, with all that x'mas festivities going on, what did i get myself? an archeological study bible at 30% off :

tell me if this was an impulsive purchase.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination,
and if you saw,
he's what you call a
dinosaur sensation!!

barney live at alton towers, UK, 2000

how many times have we heard that chorus on TV & VCDs? & how often have the kids clap their hands in excitement to watch another episode? imagination is a powerful tool of the human mind which trespasses all physical barriers, to venture beyond & breech the virtual divide. so powerful that, even in kids' minds, the purple dinosaur & his friends come alive to play with them. how much more can the adult imagination achieve?

last nite i had a strange dream - isn't a dream similar to having an imagination while asleep? in it, i met 1 of my previous patients, one whom i've not seen for 20yrs. yeah, i know what you're thinking - 100's of patients & decades in practice, how come i remember this particular one?

well, this is one whom i became friends with later on. she was a teacher who came in for a tonsillectomy & we clicked from 1st of the the daily ward round. initially it was just friendly banter & social small-talk, but by the time she was due for discharge, we've started teasing & taunting, as if playing a cat-&-mouse game. we did finally go out a few times - yeah, i know this kind of doctor-patient relationship is an absolute no-no, but hey, i was young, impulsive & a swinging bachelor ruled by raging hormones - & this is the 1st time i've had a blast with someone of a different race & religion. yes, this could have been love but life has its own way of determining its path, turning the corner or expediting damage control. i got a job overseas & the distance put paid to whatever great plans we had. we wrote a few times & then there was silence across the physical divide.

of course, it would be nice to bump into her again but circumstances have changed but i'm convinced we'll remain great friends. there's this other girl i would have loved to meet again. we were introduced by a mutual friend after the MCE (now renamed SPM). she was the rich girl from the next taman. her dad was a lawyer, she lived in a bungalow, had a grundig colour TV & her mum droved a merc. oh yes, & she had the hots for me. she used to ask me help solve maths & physics problems for her - that's like asking johnny b goode to play the guitar! ha ha, some days i'd feigned difficulty, only to impress her with a spark of inspiration before conjuring up the answers. (actually, these were questions from past-year papers which i've already diligently prepared for the MCE - but would i tell, while basking in glory?!!)

but yet again, d i s t a n c e got in between. i did 6th form & she left for taylor's in KL to do grade 13 before going over to canada (rich girl, remember?). i still have her toronto address but she has since moved. this reminds me a lot of the movie grease - except that i'm not hunky like travolta, she couldn't sing like olivia & we didn't end up in the same high school. but we sure had hot summer nights!

so, koliza & kathleen, wherever you may be, may God watch over you always. thanks for the endearing memories & may you both live forever in my imagination.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

oh, to be popular!

just how do you measure a person's popularity?

in a fair election, this is decided by the number of legitimate votes. in reality talent contests, this could be determined by the number of SMS votes. if you're a blogger, the hit-counter shows & if you're dead, you could be deemed popular if there's only standing room at your wake. but if you're an average joe, like myself, who's still alive, has no political inclination & can't sing to save your own life, how would you know?

the crowd at your farewell function may not count because there will be people who can't wait to see the back of you. ditto for birthday parties because no one turns away from free food. i think a reliable indicator is the number of birthday greetings received, be it via email, sms or the near-obsolete memory lane card (this should score brownie points because you actually have to go to the shop to buy it) , provided it wasn't meant for someone else & it was received not later than a week after your birthday.

think about it, to remember a birthday you have to take the trouble to :
1) look up the date, or
2) ask for it, then
3) actually remember, or
4) record it, then
5) set the alarm if stored in your organiser or cellphone, and finally
6) say out or send out the greeting.

&, for some, like my so-called friends, that's a lot of trouble to take.

unfortunately, for most of us, as we grow older, it is likely that the numbers will dwindle (at a rate much faster than the hair loss) because people move away, have other circle of friends, forget us or have passed on. that's ok since it's a natural progression of life events. hopefully, someday when our paths fortuitously cross again, we'll carry on from where we left off the last time, like good friends should.

incidentally, yesterday was my birthday. outside of the family circle, i received a card from the new bank officer i've been dealing with lately, & a sms each from my insurance agent & 2 (yes, two!) old flames. & that's already 4 more than what i had expected.

ah, things are certainly looking up for this old geezer....

Saturday, November 25, 2006

grass on the other side

couples living together without getting married is as common in the west as fish & chips. cohabiting is also not a totally new concept in malaysia, either. the reasons they give include saving on house rent, sharing the washing machine & spending as much time as possible together. some see this arrangement as a prequel to the main event (marriage) - a trial of sorts to determine if living together permanently is a viable option. a bit like trying on clothes before the purchase to see if the material feels comfortable or if it's tight at the crouch.

sometimes the trial period is too brief to discover if the other person lives like a pig, & sometimes no amount of trial will uncover the bad habits & shortcomings.

years ago when a close friend K needed a change of jobs, i asked him which of the 2 possible options he's lined up was his preferred choice. i remembered his saying that it would be a dream move to have YC as a colleague. YC is a pioneer at another medical centre & his exemplary reputation had preceeded him. obviously K was thrilled to death when YC personally vouched for him & invited K to join in a partnership (marriage of convenience??).

the "honeymoon" lasted only 1 week before disgruntled feelings & displeasure emerged, mostly YC's. it wasn't long before K realised YC was hard to please. it seemed YC relished being in charge of things - a "control freak", in K's own words. he wants things done a particular way, usually to his own advantage, & naturally would not budge from his stand. K , being the junior partner, put up with it for a whole year - he filled in for YC when the latter was unavailable to fulfill his responsibilities, did stuff which YC distanced himself from & at the same time, sacrificed his own free time to carry out those additional duties - before things came to a boil.

K decided enough was enough & "filed for divorce", one that was almost as acrimonious as michael douglas & katheleen turner's in the movie "war of the roses". except that nobody got killed here. however, accusations were hurled, mostly by YC, & tempers flared, mainly YC's.
they went on separate ways & it was years later before they got back on speaking terms. however, one can still feel the simmering heat in the background.

so, is the grass greener on the other side? there are single men & women who think marriages are made in heaven while some married couples swear that marriage is an institution from hell. K thought YC was the perfect partner until the ugly side reared its head. i received an sms some time back which cheekily declared that getting married is like going to a restaurant - you order what you like, then wished you had what the other guy is having.

my own simplistic 2sen worth of opinion is that marriage is an act of faith, a journey of hope & a commitment of love. no period of cohabitation will make it work - if hope, faith & love can't get the job done, nothing will! didn't paul the beatle sing that love is all you need? even better is to heed the advice of paul the apostle :

"do not be yoked together with unbelievers. for what do righteousness & wickedness have in common? or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" 2 cor 6:14

Saturday, November 18, 2006

hooray! school's out!

my daughter should be posting this blog. but she isn't. yesterday's the last day of school for the year & in her case, last day in primary school. i asked her if she'd like to have my camera (& i even offered her new batteries) to capture in digital print moments commemorating a passage of rites with her classmates/teachers she may want to keep for posterity, but she politely turned me down. hey, what gives???

my parents never owned a camera & i got my 1st only in med school. looking back, i now despair at the numerous precious memories that now only reside in the dark recesses of my mind. if i had a camera when i was 12, imagine the stories, illuminated with photos, i could have come up with!

i have a faint recollection of my last days in primary school but i still remember some of the teachers vividly. mrs thumboo comes to mind 1st, followed by puan rahmah & mr brockett. puan rahmah was the primary 1 class teacher & i was her "pet". she liked me so much, she even asked me, on more than one occasion, if i would be interested in one of her daughters. up to this day, i still do not know if she was teasing.

primary 1 : pn rahmah - mother-in-law??

mr brockette is eurasian (my 1st encounter with someone so big & fair-complexioned) & primary 4 class teacher, schooled in british tradition in hong kong & a true blue disciplinarian - he could very well had been the headmaster, except that the latter was even more fierce than him!!

primary 4 : mr brockett - disciplinarian

there were also a few trainee teachers who, despite their brief sojourn, endeared themselves to my classmates & i. mr nathan came in at primary 4 - he was a really likeable chap & we tried to help him as much as we could. i remembered his appeal - that during his assessment, when he asked questions, as many of us as possible should put up our hands, whether we knew the answers or not. but we felt sorry for him because he failed in his stint with us. mr boh ooi chek, a batu pahat boy, was with us in primary 6. he was truly "one of us" & i really missed him when he left. i wonder what he's up to these days - should be enjoying retirement by now.

but what i do remember clearly of the good old days is that school holidays is, be it a few weeks with the grandparents, hanging out with friends/relatives, going on a vacation with the family. or even just "lepak" around at home. but none of that sedentary stuff for our modern super-competitive parents/students. as i write this, i know for sure plans are afoot for day classes, night classes, tuition classes, extra classes, motivation classes, memory improvement classes - any thing that will make sure the students stay ahead of the competition.

hey, doesn't anyone know how to be a kid anymore?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

shakespeare in life

to be, or not to be.immortal words. the only bard i could quote, since literature was not offered as a subject in my school. no matter, because i managed to pick up some eg. goodnight, goodnight, parting is such sweet sorrow, & some i learned the hard way eg. hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

mr C has AAA. nope, that's not his credit rating & he's neither a member of the automobile association nor alcoholic anonymous. he has an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm - an abnormal bulge in the main artery in the abdomen from a weakness of the vessel wall. it has grown to a diameter of over 5cm & needed to be repaired before it leaks or worse, ruptures - then all hell will truly break lose!

earlier, he had seen the urologist for difficulty in passing urine - typical of a prostate problem for someone his age. it was during a routine abdominal ultrasound examination that it was fortuitously discovered he also had AAA. the vascular surgeon was called in & as this was the more urgent problem, mr C agreed to have the aneurysm repaired 1st. as part of a pre-operative assessment for major surgery, he underwent a gamut of tests. the chest xray revealed that he has a suspicious-looking 3 cm nodule in his lung. unfortunately, the subsequent CT scan showed that this nodule, very likely cancerous, is too deep-seated to be removed without excising the whole lung as well.

to be, or not to be.

it looked like it was not going to be for mr C. he thought he only had a urinary disorder - the prostate surgery could be done in an hour & he'd be out of hospital in 2 days. then we found he also has AAA - the aortic repair could be done in 4 hours, he'd be in ICU for 2 days
& then discharged from hospital within a week. but this lung tumour is a different ballgame & adds a sinister dimension to the scenario. should he have the AAA repair & then to discover that he has incurable lung cancer? or maybe, proceed with lung surgery & then have the aneurysm rupture on him? shakespeare aptly described this scene, also in hamlet :

when sorrows come,
they come not single spies,
but in battalions.the logical way out of mr C's predicament is 1st, to biopsy the lung nodule, determine it's nature & assess if it's amenable to chemothearapy or radiotherapy. then decide the sequence of treatment option for the best survival. not an easy resolution. mr C has but a short time to confer with his family & we await his decision.

i face instances like this all the time, & it only serves to remind me of my own mortality. in my pursuit of dreams & ambitions, i often take for granted the many little things in life whose worth far exceed any worldly rewards. what price do we put on the power of sight, the ability to laugh & the unfailing love of our family? when do we decide that we should be contented with gifts our ungrateful selves have been bestowed upon but don't deserve? shakespeare may not have the answer but the wise men of yore did shed a clue :

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
otherwise, i may have too much & disown you
& say,"who is the Lord?"
or i may become poor & steal
& so dishonour the name of my God.

prov 30:8,9

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

a rude awakening & the parting of the red sea

no one likes to be woken up at 3am. esp if you have just gone to bed at 2am. i was put in that unenviable dilemma recently. well, actually it wasn't a dilemma - i was on-call & i had to answer the phone.

the emergency dept (ED) medical officer (MO) was desparate. he has a middle-aged man who had surgery for cancer of the thyroid followed through with radiation therapy to the neck. he was recently discharged from hospital but has come back because of breathing difficulty. the MO attempted to intubate (medic-speak for inserting a tube into the mouth & passing it down the windpipe to maintain an airway & to assist respiration) but he couldn't identify any of the structures in the throat to facilitate the procedure. ah, this is not good - i'm half awake, a difficult problem has cropped up & this could be life-threatening.

by the time i got to the ED, sleep has worn off & the adrenaline was in control. the MO heaved a huge sigh of relief - 2 heads are better than 1, right? the gentleman was obviously in distress - he was panting like he's just done a sprint & his lips had a sickly bluish shade, indicating he's not getting enough oxygen into his lungs. & i seriously thought he was a goner. i mean, he's got cancer that has breached the original boundaries & now, obstructing his respiration. & i'm getting flashbacks of darth vader breathing down my own neck.

ok, i definitely won't be thinking of curing his cancer, i thought, but i'm going to try to pull him through the night, at least. so here goes........

endotracheal tube - checked!
laryngoscope - checked!
oxygen - checked!suction - checked!
tissue paper (for mopping my forehead) - checked!
intestinal fortitude - err, checked, i think....

using the laryngoscope to look into the throat, i can confirm what the good MO saw - it's a war zone in there. i cannot recognise the usual anatomical landmarks other than a deformed epiglottis, which resembles a flap overhanging the opening into the windpipe, through which i must insert the tube. except that there was no opening where one should be!! zero. zilch. the devastation of the spreading cancer & the rages of subsequent radiotherapy had altered the landscape altogether.

on to plan B, & this comes with experience. seriously. (young ED MOs, before you hit the panic button & yell for the ENT consultant - & face his wrath - at such unearthly hours, you might want to consider this.) i inserted the tube just behind the epiglottis because theoretically, this is where the opening should be. as i gently prodded at the fleshy tissues with the tip of the tube, they gradually gave way to reveal the hidden orifice. suddenly i felt like moses at the parting of the red sea.

with the tube well-secured in the windpipe, oxygen breathed life into the patient, who was then transferred to the ICU for assisted mechanical ventilation. 2 days later, a tracheostomy (an artificial orifice surgically created through windpipe) was performed & he was able to breathe on his own without further mechanical assistance. after another course of radiotherapy, he was well enough to go home. i had earlier thought he was a goner, but he lived another day to dote on his grandchildren. & i love a happy ending.

"many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." proverbs 19:21

Thursday, October 19, 2006

cuti-cuti malaysia, take #1.

it's been ages since i got on a plane. but each time it accelerates for take-off, my heart jumps into the throat, & i feel a knot in the neck. every time. without fail.

that's still how it was when i went with the family last weekend to langkawi. i don't think anyone noticed that i was squirming in my seat, partly because it wasn't a full load & partly that it was only a brief flight (45mins from KL). during those few moments aboard, i made a few mental conclusions :
1) even though everyone can fly now, many are turned off by the haze,
2) or prefer to stay at home during the fasting month;
3) those stewardess in red tops & matching skirts look neat & yet stunning, and
4) stunningly sporty if they put on those crimson baseball caps as well
(all hail, Tony F, ceo & fashion guru), &
5) nobody asks for food/drinks on-board when they have to pay for it.

the best way to explore the island is probably to rent a vehicle & there are no less than 12 vendors lying in wait to mean, attract travellers at the arrival hall. on their brochures, a wira 1.5A goes for rm120 a day but in off-peak season (fasting month, no school or public holidays) i got one for RM45 without bargaining. & the air-con worked, too! as the fuel tank was nearly empty, the 1st stop was the petrol station. the nearest was petronas at telaga harbour park, a scenic man-made bay where a handful of yachts were docked. above the convenience store is the petronas smart, a science-themed play area similar to petrosains at klcc, except that it's smaller & does not charge for entry. anyway, the kids loved exploring the various exhibits & the brief body-snatching experience. i heard the harbour is managed by a certain datuk azahar of solo-circumnavigation fame.

after checking in the hotel & a quick, late lunch, we drove towards kuah town, passing by tanjung rhu & stopping at a hot spring appropriately named air hangat village. it was here that we learned the origin of kuah. according to history, a couple from 2 rich families on the island were forbidden from marrying by their parents. the families fought each other, leading to bitter quarrels & public brawls - faces were slapped, fists were hurled, clothes torn & hair pulled (this was before the existence of MCA Youth). also pots of gravy were thrown & jugs of hot water broken. the spot where gravy was spilled came to be called kuah, & where the hot water jugs landed, a hot spring sprouted & villagers called it air hangat.

the jetty at kuah has changed tremendously since the last time i was there over 2 decades ago. gone are the wood & plank & in its place, a spanking new concrete building, which housed duty-free shops, & watched over by a very large inanimate eagle.

after a bit of shopping, we settled for a (what else?) sea-food dinner. the fish & prawns were fresh & prices reasonable. not cheap, but reasonable.

the next day, we headed for one of ex-PM's pet project - the cable car. in a bid to promote local tourism, the rates are slashed down to RM15 & RM5 for adults & children, respectively, if you can produce the mykad. otherwise it's RM25 & RM15, respectively. now, this is definitely different from the cable car at genting or even sentosa in s'pore because it's one heck of a steep climb up gunung macincang, which i estimate at about 60 degrees (but actually 42 degrees, according to the cuti2 m'sia website) .

at the upper viewing station (there are 2 viewing stations) 710m above sea-level, there should be a panaromic view of the andaman sea, the surrounding islands & kuah town, except that it was a little misty (not hazy) that day.

even the suspension viewing bridge, accessible via steps carved out on the side of the hill, which looked impressive during the accent,

was barely visible by the time we reached the peak.

now, don't you wonder where Tun M got the idea for the (cancelled) scenic bridge??

after another round of shopping at kuah, we again had seafood dinner at pantai cenang, a "touristy" area lined with restaurants ( at "touristy" prices, i presume) & craft shops, very much like batu ferringhi in penang. oh yes, we stopped by the underwater world
located nearby, but was turned off by the (prohibitive?) admission prices - rm28 & rm18 for adult & child, respectively!! mind you, this is already reduced from the rm38/rm28 meant for foreign tourists. we definitely didn't fly no-frills just to splurge on such steep admission prices!!

we were back home the next day. it had been a thoroughly enjoyable break for us but i concluded that it would have been better had we extended our stay by just one more day, to be spent going on a round island boat trip plus a spot of snorkling thrown in. the 1st time i snorkled decades ago, it was at pulau payar, just south of langkawi & the memory of diving into crystal-clear water amidst fishes, corals & sea-urchins has not been lost on me.

of course, nobody leaves langkawi without stocking up on cheap, duty-free chocolates. lots of it!! yummy!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

prof & mrs thumboo

edwin thumboo is emeritus professor at national university of singapore's english dept (& i'm sure he does not approve that i do not use CAPITAL LETTERS for proper nouns & at the start of new sentences!). his list of academic achievements is nothing short of astounding, as you can read here.

i have never met the good professor but i do know mrs thumboo, who happened to be my class teacher when i was in primary 2 & 6, & with whom i had lost contact, until 2 years back. i chanced upon a review on the professor's work in the online edition of s'pore's NST & contacted the writer, who graciously provided me prof thumboo's office tel no. & , oh so cliche, the rest is history.

i soon met up with mrs thumboo in s'pore & as we reminisced upon the good old days, i enquired if she remembered a poem prof thumboo wrote about me that was published in one of the english books used for primary 2 those days. i gathered that i was accorded that honour because, at that time, i resembled their son julian (who surprise, surprise is also a medic). that book is no more in publication so i asked mrs thumboo if a draft of that poem still existed, perhaps amongst some old newspapers in her storeroom. that was 2 yrs ago.

lo & behold, when mrs thumboo came to town a few days back, she brought with her 2 volumes of "child's delights", the professor's collection of childrens' poems, personally signed, & gave them to me.

what touched me even more is that, God bless her good heart, she even remembered gifts for my 2 kids - jane austen's emma (very appropriate) for the daughter & a dinosaur toy/book for the son. i joked with her that in 50 years, when the 2 volumes become rare collectors' items, they would be worth a million bucks.

of course i jest. i would never, ever part with those classics................ for less than 10million apiece.

class photo, 1966. on mrs thumboo's right was the class monitor, to be me.

THE poem. this is probably as close as i can get to seeing my name in print. the prof also wrote about his kids julian & claire in the collection.

ps. prof thumboo, if you are reading this, please feel free to correct my grammar, punctuation, sentence construction etc., as you see fit.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the gospel of st luke according to bruce kuhn

ruce who?

i've read the rave reviews. i've heard from hearsay, that it's the ultimate one-man show. a compelling, unadulterated, & in-your-face recitation of luke, not the jedi but the doctor who wrote the gospel. i figure it would do the show no justice just reading or hearing about it, so i took it upon myself to pull a church friend along & we got tickets last saturday, near the end of its current run at the bangsar actors' studio.

after having been at the cavernous petronas auditorium before, i was pleasantly surprised at the cosy ambience at the bangsar stage - just 6 rows of seats, which i thought made a mockery of the disparity in prices. other than lowest-priced seats located at the sides of the stage, those that face the front should really cost the same, because they are all quite close to the stage. ah, just my 2 sen's worth....

bruce kuhn is obviously an experienced actor, having done les miserables & tolstoy previously & has been re-telling luke for 20yrs. anyone who can hold court for 90mins without props, fanciful stage clothes, back-up singers or musicians takes some beating & deserves a 2nd look. the lightings though, when appropriately directed, helped emphasise some decisive scenes eg. the appearance of the angel Gabriel & the crucifixion. i revere professionalism & admire spontaneity but an artiste exhibiting a photographic memory with matching facial expression & body language truly fascinates me. acting out the whole gospel of luke, literally word for word, & king james version at that?? the virtuoso's display in bringing the bible to life is no more a prediction. it's a fact & i'm a witness to it. simply put, i'm blown over.

in uncertain times like this when religious conflicts abound, i'm a little taken aback, & simultaneously glad, that this show was allowed to be widely publicised & staged, without the pre-condition "for non-muslims only" tagged to it. i hear that bibles were handed out freely in the the american series & the accompanying flyers detailed where one could join the local christian fellowship.

regular church-goers would no doubt be impressed with this masterful performance of biblical proportions but i suspect it could be a life-defining event for some yet to believe in the virgin birth, or more crucially, the resurrection of the saviour. who knows, bruce kuhn the actor may yet save some souls !!

all hail, bruce almighty!

PS. i wonder if billy graham started out this way....???

Monday, October 02, 2006


anyone of us guys who have loved & lost would have been consoled with these immortal words : if you truly love her, you should set her free & if she comes back to you, then she is meant to be yours (although we are rarely advised what we ought to to do if she doesn't come back!). or as connie francis sang it more simply : que sera sera.

i too am a great believer in fate. or destiny, as some would call it. nothing happens by chance. everything has been pre-destined & is part of a master plan. nope, this is not a sunday school message. it's about how things are just meant to be.

a few days ago, i was in the operating theatre doing this major excision & reconstruction job on this unfortunate man's head & neck, scheduled to last the best part of 12 hrs. all OT personnel were prepared for a long day & night ahead. during the course of surgery, it was discovered that the tumour wasn't as extensive as the CT scans had suggested. the procedure was completed in 9 hrs - what a stroke of good luck, i thought. i was about to call home to tell the kids that papa will be on time for dinner after all, when the patient started coughing out blood - blood coming out of any orifice is never a good thing - & his neck was getting swollen. he wasn't a pretty sight, i can tell you, but he definitely needed exploration into the neck wound. & sure enough, there was a little recalcitrant spurter (medic-speak for arterial bleed) that was eventually ligated.

the chap survived the ordeal. so did the doctors & staff. but it was a close shave. in the end, both procedures took up 12 hrs in total. just as we predicted from the beginning. just as it was pre-destined.

see what i mean? if you're meant to put in 12 hrs of work, you put in 12hrs. there's no running away from it. is this fate or what?

and this is the sunday school message : and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)

Monday, September 25, 2006

hiking for tea & bee hoon

i was in penang last weekend to visit the in-laws, & as a ritual, i make it a point to hike up (part of) penang hill from the youth park. (the other important ritual i almost religiously adhere to, is to savour the famous chendol of penang road, one bowl from each of the 2 stalls, no less, but i have noticed that the size of red beans is smaller these days. or is it just me?)

there's the gentle slope trail as well as the steep climb (gradient 70 - 80 degrees) & i usually do a combination - creaking joints & stiff muscles aren't pleasant sensationS, you know! there's a rest area each at quarter & half way up, but i've never attempted beyond the 1st rest - panting hard & feeling faint is the body's way of telling you that you're this near to a coronary event. still, it's about 200m above sea-level &, on a clear day, you can catch a pretty good view of the island.

what's interesting here which awaits the tired hikers, is that there's a guy who fries noodles & prepares hot chinese tea (sometimes with ginger). i can't comment on the noodles because i can't imagine eating, & i don't, after a strenous trek but the freshly brewed tea is certainly rejuvenating elixir for tired souls. incidentally, this rest-stop is on private land but the owner has graciously allowed hikers to pass through, and the refreshment is supported solely by private contributions. whoever said the penangites are "stingy" has never hiked up penang hill this way.

one day, i plan to hike up to halfway rest where i was reliably told that dim-sum is served. but 1st, i need a check-up with my cardiologist colleague, just to be safe.

photo : the gentle slope trail
photo : the steep climb

photo : 1st rest stop in sight
photo : view from
200m from
sea level.
top left
tion in
for semi-D

Thursday, September 21, 2006

of orang asli's & missions

Albert schweitzer. german humanitarian, theologian, missionary. and medical doctor. i 1st read of this nobel prize winner (for peace, 1952) in my history lesson in primary 5. i was just too young to understand why one would travel thousands of miles to build hospitals & look after lepers in africa.

David livingstone. scottish explorer. medical doctor. can't recall any of his work in africa except that he named the victoria falls at the mouth of zambesi river after the then queen of england, & the famous words "dr livingstone, i presume!" uttered by newsman henry stanley, sent to look for him in africa & whom he met at lake tanganyika.

me. widely unknown. ordinary joe with adventurous spirit. coincidentally, also medical doctor. & pretender in the schweitzer/livingstone mould.

it's always been my desire to set apart some time to do community work, to go down to the grassroots, so to speak. that's how i found myself volunteering for a medical camp for the orang asli's (OAs) in a recent off-road adventure last weekend. this is a yearly church mission but a 1st for me. 3 other medics & i, plus 4 helpers & medical supplies, after a 3 -hour road trip, met up with the local church members, all OAs, who directed us to the various settlements where the medical team had been carrying out their annual pilgrimages. you see, none of the team members who had made the trips before could remember the way thru the oil palm estates & forest trails (& after making the trip myself, i can understand why the twisting & turning is confusing!). besides, the advantage of having the locals introduce the team is obvious.

in the end, we spent 1 and a half days at 5 different settlements, where we examined the locals & prescribed medication. in my over 2 decades as a medic, i've never encountered people living in abject poverty as theOAs. perhaps it was physical segregation, cultural differences, socio-economic disparity or just lack of political will, that the OAs have been left out of mainstream development. the men worked at oil palm estates, tapped rubber or planted the fields, while the womenfolk cooked & looked after the children, who should be in school, but aren't. they live just too deep in the forests/estates to have access to buses (& medical care). electricity & piped water are non-existent. they seemed a contented lot though, but that doesn't preclude us from doing more for them. i'm not the social activist that can prompt NGOs & government machinery to provide aid for the OAs but i'm coming back
again for the next medical mission to do my little part.

i shall call this national service.

photo : the rough ride into the estate

photo : kids coming for vitamins & deworming syrup.

photo : our little, rural " medical center" prepares for service.

. it is encouraging to read in NST on 24th sept, that dpm najib announced, amongst other measures, that financial aid to the OAs will be increased, & places will be reserved for them at institutions of higher learning. the timing couldn't have been more appropriate. let's hope the measures materialise.