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" 

Enjoy!

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.'

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Empathy

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:8-11

You will never understand how much empathy, not sympathy or instructions, means to the person on the receiving end, until you've been there. At this point, a friend who truly understands you because he is experiencing the same thing and is willing to share means so much to me. 
Thank you so much, mate. 

I still do not know what to do or what the future hold, all I can do is pray...I ask for Your grace, peace and guidance. Whatever Your will is, Lord, let it be done.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Love-hate relationship with Cambridge

"strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive. At our farm in the summer, I paint the barn or mow the hayfield or pick berries or cute fire wood to length…. I don’t even try to think about the problem, but more often than not, at some point in the middle of the not very challenging activity, I’ll find myself mulling it over and coming up with a new slant, a new way of tackling the issue, maybe just a new term to use. Engaging my brain with something else to control and think about helps melt down the blockades that have been preventing me from making progress, freeing up the circuits for some new paths. My strategy could hardly be cruder, but it works so well so often that I have come to rely on it.
One summer, many years ago, my friend Doug Hofstadter was visiting me at my farm, and somebody asked him where I was. He gestured out to the big hayfield behind the house, which I was harrowing for a reseeding. ‘He’s out there on his tractor, doing his tillosophy,’ Doug said. Ever since then, tillosophy has been my term for this process. Try it; if it doesn’t work, at least you’ll end up with a painted room, a mowed lawn, a clean basement."
- Daniel Dennett, philosopher. 
Sorry for the MIA and sudden random quote. As I am writing, I am enjoying the Top 40 Billboard on Spotify, for the first time after months (or since second year Medicine in Cambridge started) The problem with these songs are, they are mostly pop sounds or clubbing songs which are...not so conducive for studying, at least not for me, because I enjoy them so much I tend to sing, or sometimes dance along with them instead of, well, studying. I am just too attention deficient to do anything these days. When I am studying, I must 'multi-task' (paint my nails, make cups of coffee, check my email) in order to 'focus'. I know it sounds paradoxical but it's true. If I just sit there and try to focus, I will never get pass the 1 sentence because I stand up and start doing something again. Sigh. 
Perhaps that's why I find the quote above so attractive. 
And perhaps, it's because I was just done my second year mock! Don't go 'it's just a mock' on me! Caius' mock is more intense than Cambridge finals. It's all subjects, back to back, with shorter than standard time allocation, all in one afternoon. I didn't do well, in fact, I think it's quite bad. What's more heartbreaking for me is I did bad in my favourite subject - Neuro. What if I am not that suitable for the subject, should I pursue it further? Oh wells. I went for a celebratory meal (for surviving the mock) with Livia at Gourmet Burger Kitchen after that and had a nice long chat with her. Surprising how we (actually they, the people doing a 3-years course) are approaching 'Halfway Formal' soon, it seems like it's just yesterday we were all freshers, in anticipation of starting our Cambridge life  
At least, I get to get tonight off, to enjoy this hiatus before Lent term starts again tomorrow. Should I sigh? Or should I be excited and happy?
Oh, Cambridge and I. We have this love-hate relationship. (It was just hate-more hate relationship for my first year) As much as I love the knowledge and opportunity it offers here, I sometimes yearns for a rest, the one without a deadline creepy at the back of your mind. Our holidays are not exactly holiday. I mean, who else in this world feels guilty for taking a break for 2 days during their 21st birthday and Christmas day!? And to the rest of the world, we are scoffed for having the longest holiday even though we are in the top university! No, our holiday is not a REAL holiday!  And all the 'attention' we get from our supervisors...sometimes I feel like I am just a part of the production line of 'First Class Students'. If we don't meet the number, our consequences would just be...unbearable.
But!!! I complain less nowadays, may be because I have adapted to the way things work here, working 18 hours per day is just a 'norm' now. Or maybe, because I have someone to share the burden with me... :) 
Talking about taking a break, I was just browsing through the 'Special Options' we get to attend as part of our second year course.(Don't judge, this is how I take a break from work) There are 8 subjects related to Medicine in a wider perspective that we get to choose from. These subjects are more interesting in the sense that they are not just lectures and labs, it's incorporated with presentations, seminars, lots of further readings etc on THINGS WE ACTUALLY LIKE. :) Ok, I am not being sarcastic here, there are really things which I truly love  and wish to learn about - cognitive neuroscience and psychology. I have always been interested in these things, but there seemed to be no hint of related things in our course so far, until now. :)) Selections of IQ tests during lab sessions, how cool is that?! No, I am not a nerd, I just have a different interpretation of 'entertainment.'
Another thing I love about Cambridge is, it's such a BIG name (although most of us here don't feel so), it opens many doors of top institutions in the world for you instantly. I am currently looking for summer research programmes in the States, more specifically, BIGGGG NAMES like Harvard, John Hopkins etc. Seriously, before Cambridge, I did not even dare to dream about these place but now I am courageously applying to do researches there?

In my first year, being in this place has taught me to be humble, to be hungry for knowledge and to learn how to learn. 
In my second year, being here has taught me to have courage. Strive for the impossibles. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Neuro is like a marmite, you either love it so intensely, or hate it.

"We are so familiar with seeing, that it takes a leap of imagination to realize that there are problems to be solved. But consider it. We are given tiny distorted upside-down images in the eyes and we see separate solid objects in surrounding space. From the patterns of stimulation on the retina we perceive the world of objects and this is nothing short of a miracle. 
- Richard L Gregory, Eye and Brain, 1966.

And again, I am in love with neuro. (Beside being amazed by my genius, famous supervisor - the one and only - Roger Carpenter, who is the author of our textbook, every single week...) How can the human brain and the nervous system be so amazing? How we perceive the world, the people around and ourselves - it all depends first our senses, next our consciousness, then our cognition, then our actions and expressions from within, and it all goes back again.
This amazing cycle, nicely decorated (or interrupted) by the magic of our mind, completely changes the world. This is just too...AWEsome.

*Apologies for the geekiness but I've never been so in love with what I am studying before.