Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Start of third year!

homemade cappucino to start off the day! I am a third year. 

Remember when I first started this blog I haven't even got a clue how Cambridge is like? I haven't even been in the UK before at that stage! And look at me now...all full of wisdom, of a third year. (better than a first year :P)  Time really flies. Looking back, I couldn't be grateful enough for the family and friends that have supported me through. Those that are far away offered their ears (and their videocall), sacrificed their sleep just to listen to my rants; and my fellow cantabs here have been nothing short of amazing in supporting each other in any possible way. *melts* 

I used to hate this place very much. And my level of hatred towards this place usually escalates to the peak during Easter, when the Tripos/finals are super near. I think I will be used to the exam stress this year. Oh wait, no. I will still scream, rant, cry and act out all kinds of drama, but a note to self, that too, shall pass. 

Anyway, while everyone is still happily soaking in their last day of break before the term starts tomorrow and the freshers, happily being lost and confused all the time at Sidney Street, I...being a Pathology NatSci this year, have already started working in the lab since yesterday. 2 holi-days short. 

(Yes, medics in Cambridge get a break from being a hectic, mad medic in the third year, by doing some other courses of our liking. pheww... and I heard we are paying NatSci's tuition fee which is wayyy cheaper than medics' one this year.) 

It is not a bad thing I guess. I am currently working in Dr Ajioka's lab with 2 phd students. I met one of them yesterday, and we went full force immediately, literally. Because there wasn't a desk space for me in the lab yet so 2 of us had to move drawers and machines around to clear a corner for me. What a warming-up!

And guess what I'm working on this year? Exploding bacteria. Yes, we are trying to explode bacteria as uniformly and optimally as possible.  Why on earth would anyone want to do that? I thought so too initially. 

 Displaying photo.JPG
But it isn't as easy as exploding bacteria! My project aims to mutate the viruses which infect bacteria = bacteriophage, so they can infect the bacteria and incorporate their genes into the bacteria to make the bacteria burst more synchronously. No, I won't make a virus that causes a catastrophe as in The Dawn of the Planet of the Ape. It's a virus that infects bacteria, not.human.plants.animals. 

There are many applications to this idea if I manage to come up with a very simple, elegant method within these 2 terms. But the bigger implication is, we can then use the same method to increase the yield of any protein/product we desire from bacteria and to enable one species of bacteria to produce proteins which can only be produced by another species. This includes antibiotics, rare proteins etc. So yea, that's my academic part of the year, aside from the usual but MUCH LESS lectures and supervisions for the year. *twirls* 

As for the ECA part, I am embarking on a fresh, new, daunting journey with a new organization - Malaysian Medics International. I guess it is daunting for everyone on the committee but very very exciting at the same time. I am suppose to work on the finance and sponsorship *with zero experience*. Grabbed this opportunity because it is a chance to learn new things apart from the human body. We are preparing a series of very new, exciting and most importantly, USEFUL events for this whole year and the next summer, so if you are a Malaysian Medic studying in any university in the world, do like our page on facebook - Malaysian Medics International UK for updates. :) 

Ok, time to head to the lab to burst more bacteria! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Project

Because of that random chat with Juan, a senior in uni, I was put in contact with a professor in Universiti Malaya. And because of that, I was fortunate enough to be offered a chance to part of a clinical research project under several professors here and thus putting my holiday to good use (instead of sitting around). Praise God for this chance! :)

So I can't really tell you what this study is about, because:
1) I am not suppose to share it out, not until the papers are published and the data are put to good use.
2) I am sponsored by my college (Yay Caius!) and I have gladly promised to contribute a story to be published in the medical association's newsletter when I get back to Cambridge. So I don't think they will be very happy if this story is published elsewhere first. :P

But I will share with you what I think is appropriate to share. :)

So this stack of paper is the result of my blood and sweat for what I have been doing for the past 3 weeks or so:

my precious - hundreds of data! :O
Ok...this is not just any stack of crumpled paper. But the process of collecting these data (the earliest phase of this project), the doctors and nurses have taught me a lot:
1) I was doing a clinical survey. I have no idea what a clinical research even is before this (how does it differ from a normal lab research?) until I started this project. It is actually based on statistics rather than models, which is completely different from a lab research in the sense that what we are doing is with real people, in real situation. It does not require much extrapolation from a lab model, just adaptations for the bigger population and into the future. It doesn't involve too many people, and I guess since I am very free, they don't really need that many people to help out in this project as well because I am very very happy to roam around the hospital for as long as I like.

2) It is a project about geriatrics. Again, I do not know what this specialty does before this. It is not very general like cardiology, neurology, ENT etc, so most of us young medical students do not know what they actually do (unless you have a relative doing this/attached to this specialty before). It is part of the syllabus for those under specialist training and beyond. So, I have not met many housemen in this ward, instead I have met many master students and specialists in this ward. This creates a bit of generation gap as these doctors are lightyears ahead of the stage I am currently at i.e. I have only completed 2nd year of medical school, I don't know anything! D: is actually not as bad as it sounds. Through conversations over lunch with these seniors, I have learned why they chose geriatrics above others, and from those that are doing their masters, what do they think of geriatrics since this is also the first time they encounter this field.

Geriatrics is actually a very interesting subject. Unlike other fields which you most probably only care about one part of the body, it is much more holistic, much like Paeds. It encompasses the whole health condition of an elderly, from their physical condition, to their psychological condition and even to their social condition. It is definitely one of the most complex specialty I have ever seen! Because old people are frail, it is uneasy to take care of them. A single fall which means nothing to a normal adult may be life-threatening to them; bedbound plus chronic diseases could easily causes bedsores which could easily cause complications; staying in the ward for too long exposes the elderly to all sorts of infection in the hospital, which causes further complications. It is a huge, difficult task indeed, to treat these precious elderly, so that they can prolong and enjoy their final, golden years..

Not only do the doctors and nurses have to take care of the patient while he/she is here, they also have to find out what the social history of this elderly is, what care do they usually have and where are they going after the discharge. Then there're whole lot of drama about abusive maid, abusive nursing homes, children fighting over the wealth of those that are to be deceased etc, Geriatrics doctors have to care about all these social drama too! But it is also through these I have seen learned many lessons myself:

Take care of your parents when they are old, because they once took such great care of you when you are young, powerless and naive. Do NOT send them to nursing home!

Treat your children with love and care when they are young. Because they are your children, and because if you abuse them when they are young, they will learn from you, to abuse you when you are old and powerless too.

Be an example to your children. Do not show them that sending your parents to the nursing home and dumping them there is an ACCEPTABLE act.

Be prepared for your old days. Financially, socially, mentally, in anyway you could. Not to be paranoid, but just to aware of it and embrace it when your turn finally comes.

Treat the elderly with patience and care, especially those with neurological and psychological problem.
Depression, Alzhermer's, Parkinson's, bipolar and schizophrenia are common. It is not their fault that they are behaving like a huge baby, it is just Nature taking its course. Empathize them, for they have worked so hard their whole life, to lose their physical power, respect and in cases of dementia, to lose their identity. It is also the first time I encounter psychiatric patients first hand. They are actually unlike how I imagined them to be when I learned about these diseases in lectures... It is very different, in a good way.

3) Romance do last. My grandparents are (THANK GOD!) very healthy and are still very much in love with each other, so are my parents. I often seen pictures of old couple together on Facebook too. But nothing hit me as hard as what I witnessed beside these hospital beds. Many of them are widowed, but I have seen so many old couples in the wards too! They are the most loving couple I have ever seen. An example is, I overheard a few old men chatting about their wives who are currently sick:

"How old is your wive?"
"I am 79, she is 75. You?"
"I am 92! and she is 89. I want to die when she dies."
"Me too." 

Ok, I know that sounds rather morbid but...the way they pushed themselves on a wheelchair/walked with walking frames to the wards and stared at their wives for hours (very adoringly!) until the visiting hours are over, then they will leave very very reluctantly, are really touching. They have shown me what keeping to your marriage vow really means:
" have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." 
Trust me, I am not romanticizing the whole thing at all. They have shown me that despite the fast food culture that is fast eroding into the realm of marriage in modern days, true love still exist. It is indeed, a great blessing, to have someone that loves and adores you so much even when you look absolutely horrible, old and sick. I envy those ladies (and of course those old men whose wives are there too.) :)

Of course, I do learned that to do a project, you have to be consistent, discipline, proactive, ethical etc (soft skills that you'll put in your CV/personal statement), but nothing beats the whole experience I have here. 

Thank you, UM. Thank you, Prof Tan and Dr Khor!

Now, into the next phase: analysis and discussion. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Cambridge (Medicine) Interview

The Cambridge University admission interview, the one filled with so much stories, mysteries and myths.

Hello there! :)
If you are not one of my very few usual readers, you must have stumbled here by googling something for THE INTERVIEW (congratulations for the courage to even try! :D) or perhaps just trying to figure out if you even have the chance to realise this dream which you've been keeping it a secret to yourself for years. Welcome! I was suppose to blog about this interview 3 years ago, when I just finished mine, considering the fact that I have benefited a lot from my predecessors. But then I remember reading something in TheStudentRoom about we shouldn't be blogging about it, or else we'll be lectured by the admission tutor if they find out. It has been 3 years since mine happened, so I guess the content of the interview should be completely different by now (if the procedure still stays the same) and therefore, since I have nothing better to do this summer holiday, I think it's safe to share with you my experience now. Warning: This is NOT an official, rigid guide of how the interview is/should be like, for each interview is different and is guided by how you respond to each question. I am just here to share with you, my personal experience and my thoughts if I still remember them clearly  from that wonderful first encounter with this magical institution - Hogwarts Cambridge. Besides, there are so many posts about the interview experience of candidates that interviewed at their respective college itself, with so few from the international students interviewing at their home country, I felt obligated to contribute back to this special circle, especially to those in Malaysia. There is indeed a very strict quota on the no. of places for international medical students being admitted to the UK medical schools each year, with only about 1-2 places for internationals in each college in this University. So, I guess it is important to have a rough idea of what to expect and to prepare for potentially THE MOST IMPORTANT INTERVIEW IN YOUR LIFE. Be rest assured tho, it is not that scary. Don't worry, don't drive yourself to the brink of insanity. Keep calm and think.
There are of course many other helpful websites, esp those from the university admission team themselves, that you ought to visit to prepare if you haven't done so!

Apart from the UCAS application form, personal statement, the BMAT/UKCAT and your A-levels or equivalent results, the interview with Cambridge tutors is perhaps the most important factor in the admission process. This is because most of the candidates applying for this spot will look almost the same on paper: columns of straight A*s, consistently across several years, and a brilliant personal statement that shows as if you were born/have been preparing for decades for this spot, this degree. An easy way to distinguish one candidate from another is thus, the interview. For those who are unable to fly halfway across the globe to the UK just for an interview, we are very very fortunate that the university has been sending professional interviewers (who are possibly your future lecturers) to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong for the past few years. The interviewers may not be from the college you applied to, but they will make a report to the college and have the whole interview recorded. I had my interview at HELP College, Selangor, one day before my A2 exams started (which I had both Pure Maths P3 and Biology P4 the next morning after my interview day) UK candidates get 3 interviews with their future/potential supervisors in their respective college, stayed in the college and even dine there during the interview days. (unfair? Haha they flew over. consider the logistics involved and hey, interviewers are humans too, they need to rest) As an international student, you will have to pay 100 pounds for a 25-30 mins session to show them all you've got! The good news is, most people get interviewed after meeting all the deadline for the application form submissions and payment if you are a candidate that shows reasonable potential on paper. So why not just grab that chance?

Unlike most medical school admission interviews, you do not get ethical questions or questions that ask about your personal experience in a previous hospital attachment. So books like Medical School Interviews by Picard and Lee may be helpful for all other interviews, it is less so for the Cambridge interview. This interview focused mainly on your scientific and mathematical knowledge. This is because the syllabus is still in the traditional style in cambridge, so for the first 3 years, you do not go to the hospital/have frequent patient contact, you are basically learning how to be a scientist. You still do the things like you do in A-levels: go to lectures, supervisions (the special learning system in Oxbridge, equivalent of tutorials but with a ratio of 1-3 students to a supervisor), do your homework, write essays, have exams etc. Your scientific foundation is pertinent for your survival here! It is important that you have a strong grasp in your basic sciences to do well here. After the first 3 years, you will need to go through another round of interviews to get into clinical schools. That is when they focus on your experiences and assess on your attitude and principles as person. For this interview, it is...hardcore science, so know your stuff!

Do I need to know the syllabus for the first few years of med school to be admitted? How much do I need to know?
No! You can try, but I find it impossible for normal human beings to perform such mighty stunt when you have AS/A2 coming up at the same time. Although it is a good idea to look up what are we studying to know if you are really interested in this course and check out if you like the way we are taught (as compared to other styles of teaching in other med schools, not everyone like this traditional way of teaching. You shouldn't be here if you want to get into action, talk to patients on the first day of med school), you are not required to know med school stuff. No one expects you to know them, not even all 3rd years know them very very thoroughly because there is just too much to learn here! Save those worries for another day, ok? This is what you are required to know very well and in detail - your A levels syllabi. The questions they asked me were relevant to the syllabi and suited to my level. I will talk about this later. I had slight advantage during my interview because I was an A2 student, when majority of the students who are interviewed in my batch were AS students, so I could answer the questions in a greater breath and depth.

But considering the fact that I answered almost every single question wrongly, I think a more important factor is to show you are able to think on your own. We Malaysians are very prone to memorizing stuffs and 'vomiting' all out without digesting during exams, when we are suppose to think! (Ah the days of memorizing 36 nilai-nilai moral!) This bulimic way of learning may have brought you smoothly through our Malaysian education system, but it is a different story when you reach the tertiary level. For this interview, I think they also assess your ability to think, or rather, your ability to show that you are thinking. So when answering the questions, explain to the interviewer logically and clearly how you come up with you answer, show him/her your thought process in any way you could. Imagine explaining how cellular respiration works to your little brother or sister, and using appropriate words, explain it to the interviewer. I know this sounds easy, but many people failed miserably in ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS CLEARLY.

Really? How do you know for sure?
Here's my experience! I was an A2 student. I did not have much time to prepare for the interview itself except to view several Cambridge related videos online and read some seniors' experience on their interview because I was preparing for A2. I knew some other candidates even read The New Scientist to prepare themselves, but I did not have the time nor the resources in my college to do so. But I was not expecting anything,'s okay... I applied and paid for the interview because I have friends who had made it there and just by paying 100 pounds (or about that), you will definitely be interviewed (as compared to Oxford's interview which only very few candidates get and you have to be in the UK to be interviewed - this is actually one of the reasons I chose Cambridge over Oxford in the first place). Taylor's College Subang Jaya, where I was from, also had a very dedicated university centre where they hired professionals to give us a mock interview and feedbacks, few weeks before the actual day. On top of that, I was very curious about this famous admission process, so why not go for the experience of being interviewed? Why not give it a shot?

On the day, I 'attempted' to dress like a professional and arrived on time at HELP. I was the first to be interviewed at that centre on that day. (There are several centres in Selangor and KL) When I met my interviewer, I was not particularly nervous but when I was seated, I saw the next candidate's photo and CV, I did panicked a little inside.

The interview was a very very friendly man (who is actually my lecturer for my first year's course and still remembers me on the day he walked into the lecture theatre). He greeted me with a warm smile, and started the interview by asking questions like 'Why Medicine in Cambridge?' to break the ice. I just gave a very honest answer: it is a prestigious uni, it is known for its quality of education in Medicine, I want to learn there etc...

After that, he started the real interview process by showing me a graph of foetus' weight over the whole gestation period. I was so afraid because the only thing I knew about pregnancy is the connection between the mother and the foetus is at the placenta via the umbilical cord. What am I gonna do? That feeling of impending doom was almost unbearable.

Based on that graph, I was asked to derive another graph for the growth rate on the spot. That's mathematics, so it's alright. It did scared me a little because for the negative plotting points, there wasn't a negative y-axis on the answer sheet I was given, so I had to extend the line on my own, which I thought looked really weird at first. But it turned out to be correct.

That was the almost only part I was able to answer correctly. For the rest of the interview session, I was asked questions like, 'why do you think the baby's growth did not occur exponentially?', which of course I have no idea. I explained my answer based on principles. For most of them, he replied, 'Interesting idea. Principally it is correct, but this is not what happens in nature. It is actually...' He patiently explained the correct answer to me everytime I answered wrongly. The whole process was very interactive and fun. I was so grateful to be able to learn so much in that 25 minutes, which isn't what I expected out of a typical interview! (I guess that fee paid to cover the interviewers' flight over was so worth it even if I did end up being rejected)

We ended the session by discussing about esters' structure, which was what we learned in A levels Chemistry, and that was about it. I was glad I was there, but I wished I had done better for all the wrong answers I had given. But the damage was done, so no matter how devastated I was, the only thing I could do at that moment was to go home, study for tomorrow's papers and hope for the best. Who knows, the good news came as a complete surprise in one of the quiet nights in January...

Thank God for His grace, after all that had happened, after so long, I still think this was a miracle. :)

So here you go, the story about my interview, which I guess is a typical Cambridge interview process, depending on which subject you are applying. There were myths of weird questions being asked like 'how many atoms are there in the world?' I do not know if that is true, but even if it is, I wouldn't be surprised. Why would you ask a textbook question and expect a textbook answer anyway? Reality isn't like textbooks most of the time (esp in med) and uni is to prepare you for the real life out there. You are suppose to think critically yea, don't be shocked if something completely out of this world pops up during your interview. Just keep calm, and work it out logically based on what you know; if you don't know, try; if you really don't know, just admit you don't know. The interview process simulates the actual supervisions we have, so they also want to see how 'teachable' you are, and if you have the passion, hunger and humbleness to learn! You can't teach a person who thinks he knows it all. After all the more you learn, the more you realise you know nothing.

All the best for those who will be having their interview and A levels exams soon! Do leave a comment below if you have any questions :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

An inspiring talk to share - Puncture

Just an  update: Ok, I am finally back from the holiday trip around the west coast of Malaysia, this time my holiday ends for real (not like my previous post) because I have been blessed with an opportunity to work with professors from UM and University of Aberdeen on geriatrics, which is undoubtedly, the next big thing. It is quoted that, more than 1% of the world will be more than 90 years old by 2050. So yes, I guess it is time I spend some effort looking into this field, before I start my own research project next year and the clinical school. On weekends, I will help out at the roadshows of the National Kidney Foundation, doing some public education work. So it will be a busy busy month coming up! Funny how excited I am to work after being on holiday for 2 months. But really, I have to thank my college's Caius Medical Association for this opportunity. To completely ease the financial burden, they have given me a generous sum of grant for my summer work on a last minute notice. So glad that I can stop thinking about saving every single penny and having to squeeze on the public transport, probably since 5am every morning to get to work. From now on, I shall stop whining about their greediness. 
Thank you, Gonville and Caius College.

Through our syllabus in ethics and law, we have learned that the major progress in the medical world were done...usually through a series of accidents and coincidences. Like Alexander Flemming's penicillin. Like the mysterious yet debilitating schizophrenia's treatment - clozapine. Like tuberculosis' vaccine. I will not bore you with the medical history here, but if you care to read about it (or if you wanna talk about it with me, feel free to email me! :) ), it is all discovered not by deliberate work of sciences. Even the tracing of source of cholera outbreak in Soho, London in 1854 by John Snow is, strictly speaking, a work of epidemiology, rather than work of labs.

The milestones in medical history has really been dotted with accidents and public health, no matter how scientists like to boast it is the fruit of their intelligence and their diligence in the lab, the precision of their measurement and the advancement of technology. However, it is of course not right to throw science completely out of the window. I believe science do contribute to the birth of these 'accidents' and public health development too. And in modern days, work of scientists do help make our life better, in every small but significant way in our daily life.

I would like to share how a young scientist manage to solve, arguably, the most dangerous step in many medical procedures and surgeries, that has been bugging doctors and surgeons for more than a century. And I have jotted down part of his speech as below because he reminded me of why I am doing what I am doing today and what I had written down in my personal statement when I applied to study Medicine:

"...and it proved to me that my idea worked if I just spend the next couple year on this project. I worked on this because this problem really fascinated me, I mean, it kept me up at night."

"If you come across a problem that grabs you, let it keep you up at night, allow yourself to be fascinated, because there are so many lives to save" 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Chihuahua's worldview

Written few weeks ago...

Walking through the crowd in London's Paddington station at its peak hour,  I saw a chihuahua walking passed me with its owner. As though it was tracing a familiar scent, it kept its head down all the time in the midst of  thousands of legs of humans... It looked so small, frail. I can't help but to imagine how terrifying it is to be a chihuahua: this giant world is GAAAAHHHHHH SCARY! I don't want to be a chihuahua...

Oh wait, I will not be, but that's not the point. The point is, I almost find myself having a world view of a chihuahua lately. Small, scared, always trembling, and any small 'calamity' can send me into catastrophic mode, I.e. Bursting into tears. Of course, I don't cry when there's people around. But it really makes me wonder since when have I became so weak? Since when have I started viewing the world as a small chihuahua?

"You're a big girl now, stop crying."

I know. Crying doesn't rally solve the problem. That's what I have been telling myself too but when things go wrong, I just could not help. It is as if, if I don't cry, I will explode from the pressure built up from within. This is even worst when I am tired/hungry, missing a terai like this afternoon, just makes me frustrated, angry then I cried (just for a few minutes).

However, this fact is, God didn't made a chihuahua, He made me a daughter of His own. This does not mean I have the right to have absolute pride in myself because I shall not boast in anything but Christ alone! But shouldn't this also implies I should thus view the world as a daughter of God?

The world is in God's hands. Everything is under His control. And if that holds true, shouldn't I trust that He will look after me too? That's the problem, I always forget God's promisesnd the blessings He has given me over the years...a man who loves me and whom I love too, my family, my Baobei and his family, my friends, my opportunity to even be here today. Oh my silly mind, are you amnesiac?   (Even if w are unfaithful, He remains faithful, because He cannot disown Himself. - 2 Timothy 2:13)

Familiarity: I'm back!

This is a picture I took on the flight back to Kuala Lumpur from London yesterday night. I rarely take the window seat because it's made me feel claustrophobic, but for some reason, the seat next to mine was empty for the whole journey back so I was able to lie down and sleep properly on the way back. (but the jetlag is still here!) KL really took my breath away. I know this may inflict a good laugh to many Malaysians: 'KL is beautiful' - for the usual habit we have making derogatory joke about our own country even though we still love most of her - but really, it's beautiful.

For the past month, I have been travelling a lot, I mean, A LOT. Thank God and of course, my sponsor, for the opportunity. I went around UK,  south of France, Monaco and Switzerland for a few weeks, took thousands of photos, but have yet to go through them. I will try to blog about them and share with you, my dear readers, about the funny, ridiculous and awesome experience I have had thus far, but these posts will mainly, serve as a memoir for future myself, about my second year far far away from home, away from its comfort and familiarity.

Familiarity. There's never anything as comforting as that. Whenever the flight I'm in is taking off from a city, I always take a picture of the bird's eye view of the whole city, whispering 'thank you for the beautiful time here.' Or even if I was just transiting, like in Dubai, I love to see how this city that I have yet to explore. I saw Burj Khalifa, the Palm and  Atlantis hotel etc. I want to visit these wonders of man's wonder one day, if my transit is long enough. :p These overviews never fail to amaze me, but it's just big picture of the whole place, and did not mean anything too sentimental. But for KL, it's completely different. It's (almost) home for me. When we flew over the city yesterday, I definitely saw the Twin towers and KL tower. I'm sure anyone who knows Malaysia can recognize those buildings, but if you, like me, lives/stayed here before, may catch a glimpse of much more than those 2 iconic landmarks. If you look carefully, you can actually name many buildings in view. 'Oh, i know that building, that's so-and-so.' 'Oh yes, that's XXX! It looks so different from up here!' then it brings back all the memories. And what about those roads and the toy-like vehicles: Federal, LDP, NKVE...   You can see how the roads that normally look so straight when you are on it actually isn't that straight at all. Ah, the familiarity!

'We have landed at Kuala Lumpur International Airport...' the pilot announced after a smooth landing. I was overwhelmed by a sense of relief that I am finally back. Jeeyen and Jia Nyuk came to fetch me back home, with Pico the poodle and we were cruising on high speed, on the highway and roads that were once, all so familiar to me.

And it hit me, another year has passed. Thank God, thank God! for guiding me through the past 2 cycles. I know You will be there for me, for the many many years to come.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

'I know those paving stones well...'

Title was quoted from a comment on a friend's photo on facebook, which inspires me to write the following post...

Lately I have been bombarded with messages that warn undergraduates to make the most out of the undergraduate years and go after your dream, live a life, instead of being in the rat race of rankings in Medicine and Veterinary Science Tripos and playing it too safe. For instance, there's this article from the Tab about Cambridge finalists lamenting about their regrets as they are about to face the real world. Being an easily influenced person, I can't help but feeling a bit worried too. Am I living the life I want? I caught myself repeating this question over and over again in my head. But again, what is the life I want? Is it the 'life' other people said it should be? Taking risks, going after big dreams, skip lectures, jumping off bridges into the River Cam etc. is that the 'LIFE' they are talking about when people talk about 'get a life, kid.' From the content circulating around recently, it really seems so. Then I should be very ''dead', thoroughly and long ago. Perhaps, never alive.

It's true that I have been deliberately opting out from elections of societies, Jailbreak, RAG charity fundraise events and those sort. Maybe there is a tinge of cowardice element that made me decided to do so, but to be honest, at this point of time (maybe I will think in a completely different perspective in the future), I am really content with how my life is like. Content, not complacent. I do realize there are heaps of room for improvement (personal development, interpersonal skills, knowledge, life wisdom) but I do try my very best to make decisions that will not myself regret, at least not in the next few months. I am content that every morning, I have someone I love waking me up, have a nutritious breakfast with selection of white coffee from home or thick black coffee to get me started, going to lectures and supervisions to learn from the experts who are highest in the academic hierarchy, chat with friends who are terribly bright in between lectures, ridiculously huge resources to depend on to do my essays and revisions, have random chats with my corridor-mates, go for grocery shopping, chat with my family on Whatsapp and ending the day with a nice long conversation again with my love before sending he starts his day on the other side of the planet. There are days when I go to church to meet my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for service and bible study, to make the days of the week slightly different. There are times when I am dead exhausted (especially after 3 supervisions in a row) so I go for a late night jog around this small town with my favourite songs playing on the phone, which by God's grace, I was able to buy it on my own means. Then there are times when I wonder 'why am I spending so much? I need to save!' (still working on it)...
Honestly, I am quite content.

A lovely note I received from Tiffany in between lectures 
Of course, things are not always smooth. I was so stressed jut few weeks ago due to some issues that I was so afraid I am going to be depressed; I was rejected from one of the summer programs I have applied too; my rice cooker just got confiscated yesterday (serves me right for leaving it in the kitchen the whole night). There are times when I was just so tired and wondered if this is all worth it? am I doing the right thing? am I living a life? Am I as capable as my peers who are managing the whole club/society (but I can't even manage my own life!)? But then again, is there a script that I should follow but somehow I have been unaware of all these while?

I am learning to be grateful for the people around me that helped and supported me through the hard times, to accept me as I am, to take the mistakes as a lesson to learn from. For example, yesterday I told my mom I lost the rice cooker (it's relatively new) and the porters who confiscated it were kind enough to leave my pot of chicken soup behind. Instead of blaming me, she laughed at the fact that my soup was still there. Oh, my mom is such an optimistic and strong person, sometimes, when days are bad, you just need to talk to her to feel better. This, is one of the lessons I should learn from her.

I can't be absolutely sure if I am really living a life (as everyone calls it), but I do know exactly what is not having a life. It's when you are completely blind to the good things that are happening around you, and be physically and mentally consumed by work/studies all your waking hours. I do not mean to criticise those who work hard, because I do too (just ask anyone who knows me) and I know working on things you love and mean so much to you with all the passion you have is indeed a very enjoyable and fulfilling process. However working so hard that you lose your health, your mind, your faith, working so hard that it affects the relationship with your family and friends, and working so hard that you just feel like...this is all life is about, really isn't my idea of living. I spent a year doing that and just that. Being completely oblivion to my surrounding, I didn't even feel like I am in Cambridge, UK, as envied by my friends back at home because I was hiding in my room, studying away all the time! Trust me, it was awful.

My friend from another college asked if it's better to work madly like last year or to keep to a relaxing work pace like now? If you wanna look back and have memories of the youth, perhaps it's better to be like this; if you wanna go for grades, this is definitely not going bring you to the "Rank #1 in the Year' many covet. But does it matter? This year, I try to strike a balance between working hard and to have time to appreciate people around, to love myself and to enjoy simple pleasures in life more. Beautiful friendships blossom each day. Also, I find it's much easier to get through things (esp hard times) and many times, it much more productive and efficient to work this way. The 18 hours study regime can wait till next term. :P

Not that I do not have ambitions and dreams. I do, I too am delighted with achievements and while I am working towards my dream, I constantly ask myself, 'is this what I want? or am I just following the crowd? Perhaps next time, when you ask a person to get a life, do remember there isn't a fixed script that everyone must align themselves to, to have a life. A note to self (and whoever's reading this) who is always busy with work/studies remember to stop to enjoy your surrounding once in a while, always care for the people around and remind yourself that there are more important things in life and in this world than whatever that's overwhelming you right now. It's easy to miss that when all in sight is the PROBLEM, but keep calm, change your perspective and carry on.

Photo taken and edited by Allen Ng
Rose Crescent, Cambridge.
I want to be able to leave this place one day proudly claiming, 'I had a great time learning in this place and I know those paving stones well too.'