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....