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.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

the one-eyed god

tuesdays will never be the same again.

not since grey's anatomy joined the already packed schedule of tv programs. if you only watched terrestrial tv (in contrast to satellite), then after the early evening fare of drama serials, you have the primetime news followed by grey's anatomy (8.30 - 9.30pm, ntv7), more serials, then desparate housewives (10 - 11pm, 8tv), joey (11 - 11.30pm, 8tv) or 3rd watch (11-12mn, rtm1) in rapid succession.

but, if you have astro in it's full bloom, you need to juggle also with football focus (8 - 9pm, espn), wwe raw (10 - 11.30pm, assp), perfect disaster (10 - 11pm, disc) and crash scene investigation (10 -11pm, natgeo).

for me, grey's is a must-see while the rest are just options to toy with, depending on my whim & fancy, esp the astro programs which will be repeated through the week. why, what is it about the abc's hit medical drama that has malaysians salivating for more? i think we have always held matters concerning healthcare close to our hearts (pun intended), perhaps 2nd only to education, as evidenced by the extreme popularity of shows like ER & chicago hope, esp in their early seasons. when i was younger i was glued to quincy, M.E. and M.A.S.H, although neither inspired me to pursue my present vocation. maybe the dramas did the trick for the young impressionable minds of present school leavers, as indicated by the intense competition for medical seats in local &, to a lesser extent, foreign varsities.

back to grey's, i think it's the interplay of personal relationships amongst the protagonists that defined it's popularity. a medical drama that prominently portrays that doctors are also humans, with their inherent vulnerablilty, is a sure-fire bet for top billing. consider this : intern falls for surgeon, surgeon fails to mention he is still married but currently separated, estranged wife makes appearance, not only as herself but also as stand-in head of department. wow! no wonder intern threatens to run surgeon down with her car when he tries to talk it out at the car park.

i can't wait for episode #2 next tuesday.

Monday, September 11, 2006

oh no, NOT another 9/11 blog!

i was watching tv when my friend called to declare that world war III has begun, & directed me to CNN to witness the carnage unfolding at the WTC. as i switched channel, smoke was seen billowing from north tower. i thought it caught fire until a 2nd plane crashed the adjacent tower. i've read about, & seen on tv, catastrophies caused by natural forces & human negligience, but never before a witness to an inhumane plunder of this magnitude. not since iraqi forces overran kuwait, & the subsequent operative desert storm, a decade earlier. watching "pearl harbour" on vcd isn't quite the same genre.

for many weeks after that, al qaeda permeated our lives & we suddenly become acutely aware that hamas & IRA aren't the terrorist flavours of the month anymore. i was due to fly to goteborg, sweden in 2 weeks & it didn't occur to me the ramifications of 9/11 till the organiser called me 2 days later to enquire if i felt comfortable or secure enough making the trip. i hesitated for less than a second before agreeing to go ahead - hey, it's not often i get invited to test-drive volvos at its motherland. the outward journey, via amsterdam, was uneventful despite the obvious heightened security checks but on the return trip, i came undone at goteborg airport, at the final check before boarding, when i was told in no uncertain terms that i could not keep my swiss army knife in my pocket, as it could pose a threat to passengers & crew alike. yeah, right!

"err, excuse me, miss, give another pack of peanuts or i'll plunge this deadly blade into your heart!!"

it had to be transferred to the baggage compartment but how, when i've already checked in my bag? trust the innovative swedes (read: ikea) to think ahead - i was given, without charge i must stress, a little cardboard box the size of a pencil-case, into which the "offending weapon" was placed, then sealed in front of me, retained by security & a receipt issued. how's that for efficiency??

back at KLIA half a day later, i discovered to my horror that the little box did not arrive with the rest of the luggage. nah, it can't be, not after i've raved about how the swedes seemed to be so-very-on-top-of-things. but it's true, my beloved swiss knife is missing. i made a report at the lost luggage counter. as expected, the clerk said he'll look into it & i thought that's the last i'd hear from him. but true to the malaysia boleh battle cry, i received a pleasant surprise a few days later when someone from the airport actually personally delivered the box to my workplace as he lived in the same town. sorry encik, i can't recall your name now but that doesn't make your act any less kind.

"and when he finds it, he calls his friends & neighbours together & says, rejoice with me, for i have found what i what i had lost" luke 15:5,6 (paraphrased)

may the heroes & the fallen of 9/11 find peace, wherever they are. amen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

best buddies

lone ranger & tonto.

batman & robin.

charlie brown & snoopy.

kevin arnold & paul pfeiffer.

kevin & paul? we all need someone we can fall back on, be they masked or 4-legged. someone whom we can ride horses with, fight crime & share secret identities with, or someone who'll just listen. we all need best friends.
kevin & paul were the comsummate bosom buddies in the ex-ABC dramatisation of middle class USA in the tumultous 60s, "the wonder years". narrated by the adult kevin, the series traced the friendship between the 2 boys from junior right thru high school, highlighting the close comradeship fostered through years of bitter-sweet sharing, competing & bonding.

it's tommy's birthday today. he was my best friend when we were in secondary school. we clicked from our common interest in chess. initially we only met on thursday afternoons at the chess club, but our friendship forged closer as we also discovered that we support english football clubs & enjoy pop songs. eventually, we hanged out on tuesdays after school to get our favourite football magazines & also most weekends either playing chess or football, or both. we got extorted one night at a dark alley. we even wrote to girl pen-friends who were classmates, & whom we visited together in penang during one of the long school vacations.

he taught me the guitar & i developed a crush on his sister, both of which were futile exercises as i still can't strum to save my life & i never got beyond to asking his sister out on a date - i'd like to think that he & his parents would have approved of me. ha, ha! (funnily enough, both kevin & his childhood squeeze winnie cooper pursued an on-off, rollercoaster relationship but eventually married another). he did grade 13 at taylor's & subsequently studied & settled in canada while i did varsity in kl.

we have not met since. wherever you are, tommy, happy birthday & i wish you & your family well. thanks for those wonder years , buddy!

photo : chess club 1976

tommy is standing at the extreme left, while that bespectacled geek standing 2nd from extreme right is yours truly. on my left is my classmate jamal, now more famously known as the CEO of maxis. & you thought i didn't have friends in high places, ha!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

exam fever

It was a maths (called arithmatic those days & i can't honestly say i know the difference!) test & i scored 47 out of 50. it was the 1st of hundreds of test/exams/assessments i was to toil for before the final one nearly 29 years later. that's an awfully long time span to be bury oneself in revision books & past-year papers, but yup, there's no other way to decide who deserves the A's & who gets the diploma.

preparing for an exam is a sobering experience, because you think you have so much to cover in so short a time. humiliating as well, because you've come to realise how little you actually know about the subject. suddenly, a feeling of inadequacy overwhelms you & the possiblility of failure becomes real. this does not just apply to school/college exams. i remember i had butterflies in my stomach the morning i was to take the driving test. in those heydays of my youth, i can easily devour 3 roti canais before you can say "teh tarik", but that fluttering in the tummy & the audible pounding of the heart, plus the mind-clouding road signs/hand signals/3-point turning manouvres sure play havoc with the appetite. in the end, half a canai & 2 sips of the tarik is all i can handle. talk about supreme anxiety. & this is just a run-of-the-mill driving test.

so as the year runs it's final stretch, i can relate to the thousands who will begin the exam season with the UPSR tomorrow, to be followed in rapid succession by PMR, SPM & STPM. in this era of endless "kelas tambahan", intense private tuition & unreal, astronomical expectations, it is baffling how much responsibility is being burdened on those young shoulders. i wish them all the best for their undertakings, & hope that, at some stage of their student lives, they remember occasionally to stop & smell the roses.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, & it will be given to him." James 1:5

note : not exactly the top prize, this modest cup was one of several trophies i had won for extra-curricular activities - i represented my form 2 class in debate & we were runners-up to the 3rd formers. it's special because it was the 1st competition in school that i had won anything. it was also made of real metal. today's students are more rounded in the sense that these activities, now termed "co-curricular" to emphasise it's importance, are made compulsory in many schools.