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.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When you have a humble beginning...

Ok, I'm no economics/political science/social science student here, as you can see from my blog name but recently, several events and walks on the Singapore street have triggered many thoughts on social stratification. You see, as an average Jane, I would hardly think about the society as whole in my daily life but I guess this long summer holiday boredom has finally made me think a tad more about our society here, rather than just 'what to eat next?!'

It started off with my random stumble onto the former Singapore PM Goh Chok Tong's speech on Meritocracy and Elitism (link here) during the very recent Homecoming Dinner of RI. I've never given a second thought about this topic before, and heck do I really understand what is it all about. Partly it is because of my upbringing. Unlike many of my peers who comes from a family background with high social standing, I come from the humble, normal family, which is blessed enough to bring me up and groom me into the person I am today. I am really fortunate enough that I was educated in the common primary and secondary school so that I have a chance to meet all my crazy and fun bunch of hometown buddies that understands me so well, and accept who I am whatever happens. I was fortunate enough to be able to not attend any tuition until Form 5 (not because I don't want to, but my mom, full of wisdom, knows that it is better to let an extremely naughty, monkey-like kid such as yours truly, to just run around rather than being tied down in tuition classes), having most of the afternoons and evenings during my younger years free to roam around the neighbourhood on my own. I could still vividly remember catching fish IN the huge drain in front of my house with my neighbours, and the days when a few of us were running for us lives on the street by stray dogs. (Don't worry, there's no rabies in Sarawak!) Yes, that's the life of a kid from the small town of Miri, Sarawak. I never knew what the outside world could offer until I went to Kuala Lumpur for my Pre-U studies.

"How could you live all these years without Zara, Mango, H&M?" a senior from my university was astonished when he visited Miri recently.
"Why not? I don't even know there's such thing before I came over."

No, it wasn't pure ignorance. You can't just imagine things that you didn't know could exist, nor does your peers know anything about it. I would say complacent was the cause, but I would rather say we are fortunate not to know these things when we were younger. We were never competing against each other on who has what luxurious brand, who went to what 5-star restaurant for tea. There's simply no need for these.

Social moibility: Breaking through the stratification

Then I was fortunate enough, thank God, to be able to enter the university of my dream without any financial burden to my parents. It's a huge jump for me, not only did I suffer from massive cultural shock because it's my first ever time in the UK, it was a cultural shock from even within the circle of Malaysian and Singaporean friends I am mingling with. The topics we discussed about, the language, the fashion, the place to dine, the hobbies etc, heck even the jokes we made! It's completely different from what I am used to all these years. It took me quite a while to adapt, but at the end of the day, I will always remind myself to remain true to myself, and thank God for these great companies for accepting me as I am.

Otherwise, things seemed quite equal while in Cambridge. Everyone just seems like an average normal person, although we all know the fact that you could just throw a stone and the chance of hitting some country's top scorer/genius/scientist who just made an awesome breakthrough is almost 90%. The social stratification in that university town is barely distinct at all, although we do see the homeless guy, the funny guys who sell 'BIG' issues on the street (I vow to help them shout and sell at least 1 copy of BIG issue before I graduate!) and other citizens as well. We do compete, but not in material terms (ok maybe we do, competing for who has the biggest room in the year, but that's it!) There are inevitably, elitist and snobs. But...

the elite is often not an elitist. 

Until I came back to Malaysia and Singapore and met up with my friends here, only did I realised how rich/'atas' these people are. Yet how humble they have been all these while! This social circle is indeed different from the rest of the society. Apart from the privilege they have to enjoy the best materials this society could offer, the attitude they have towards life is completely different. Just talk to them, you'll realise how much more eager they are towards living life. This is the group of people who truly, deep down in their hearts, wants to learn, to contribute and to bring positive changes to the society! (And I thought these people only exist during the pre-independence era)

I proceeded to take a walk in Bugis street. You may cringe at the thought of visiting this 'dodgy' place, but try taking a walk there, you'll find so many interesting incident happening around. Try listening to the conversation just around the corner. The language, the tone, the VOLUME, the topics etc. You could feel 'life' in their voice too, but it's a different type of attitude towards life. It's another facade of this very same society, which people are working so hard 24-7 but still could still barely make ends meet.

There's also a dark street beside the Bugis street stalls, but I dare not walk there since it's already 11 pm but I really wonder what stories would unravel behind that curtain of darkness...

I was so blind all these years while enjoying the comfort my parents was able to provide me with back at home but it didn't came to my mind that social stratification is this close to home. The fact is, Sarawak IS the place to observe such situation. Just drive 2 hours out of the city, there are natives who do not even have clean water to consume and are completely illiterate. While my friends are busy volunteering themselves in Africa, India, Nepal etc, I thought about doing so too. Just imagine how much it'll boost your CV! But wait, do I really have to fly that far just to care for that kid whose stomach is parasites infested?

...And yet here I am, just few months ago, dancing away the night in the luxurious Queen's College May Ball at Cambridge; then just a few weeks ago, rubbing shoulders with the mentors we are fortunate enough to have during the Oxbridge Society of Malaysia in KL... What am I doing?

At times like this, I also wish my peers could see what I saw. At the end of the day, we are the ones who are able to narrow this economic inequality, no?

Currently encouraged to read on 'elitism' and 'social inequality' in the international community . Will discuss about it if I find anything especially intriguing. :) 

If you came here expecting a medical related blog, so sorry! I'm currently on summer holiday! Will get back to medics related stuffs when term starts in October! :) 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Feeling welcomed

Grammar Nazis, you have been given the liberty to fire away, with muted weapons. :p 

For the past months of travelling all around, I have met so many more new people from all walks of life. Big shots I've never imagined myself to be acquainted to; old veteran who enjoys idleness, but even more, enjoy a young listening ear; little kids, whose smiles and curiosity never fail to tickle my heart. Each has very interesting background and funny stories to tell, if you are willing to listen.

But...the character which made me envied so much is of those who is able to make you feel so welcomed, so at-home with even though you've just met them few seconds ago! It may be my naivety speaking, but this type of people is so 'warm' that I somehow felt safe and would put down all my guards, just to chat, endlessly with them.

My most recent encounter with this character was during a car pool with a senior in my hometown. I've seen this senior before in high school, but I've never found the reason to talk to her and, she's my senior, the pretty one which most guys would just watch from afar. She graduated before me and I've never seen her, or heard from her ever since, until I helped in an ex-classmate's ECA Drive event in Curtin Sarawak last week. I had no transport back home so she volunteered to fetch me home. It was a 40-minutes drive. If it is like any of my car pool moments with strangers, just the driver and I, I would be terribly shy and quiet. At the end of the car ride, both of us would still know nothing about each other and 40 mins will feel like forever. urgh. I'd just wish we reach the destination ASAP. But car rides with people with warm character as hers, it was much more enjoyable, even in the congestion. 
"I'm so glad you are here today! The whole journey felt so short! Unless the usual days I have to drive alone..." She repeated at intervals. Erm, I should be the one expressing how grateful I am for having a free car ride home...but I just don't know how to respond, so I just smiled and remained quiet, which did not justify the whole situation at all!  
It's all laughter and joy, sharing our stories throughout the journey that we'd wish the journey is a bit longer just so we can finish our stories. 

Another friend which never fail to make me feel so glad to meet him is my Cumas brother! (You know who you are if you are stalking. :p) The one you can always count on, especially if you are one extremely-forgetful and pessimistic person like me. The one who never fails to brighten my day during those sunlight-deprived winter season in Cambridge with his puns, although I too, just smiled and remained quiet most of the time. Thank you for the time you 'introduced' Cambridge to my mom and best friend on River Cam; and for the times I've messed up and couldn't time find storage space for my 10 'china bags' of possessions (=.= sigh), he soooo eagerly came to save the day, or rather, the night. For the times you've helped, not only not expecting any return, but 'forcefully' reject the returns. 
"You know, you are one awesome medic," he often says, which in reality, that's what HE IS. That's what I've been wanting to tell him! 

(China bags are those colourful, stripy, gigantic fold-able nylon/plastic bags those taukes selling stuffs on the streets use. It's traditionally used by China sellers. You can throw it, kick it down the stairs, pull it across the street or treat it however you like. Extremely cheap and heavy duty bags.)

Of course, there are many more people in my life who is able to make you feel so at-home around them instantly. My words and my responses definitely don't justify their goodness. I often wish I could do more, helping them immediately in return, being there when they need, or at least, send a thoughful thank-you note or smth for them. However, often I shamefully did nothing. Instead, I just smile, mutter a 'thank you' and stun...for their sunshine and warmth have left me amazed, when all else is cold and dark. 

Ya think it's just a networking trick? Real stuffs can't be fake! (You don't say!)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Free speech

*POOFF* look at that thick layer of dust we've got here. It has really been a long while since I last came here. Life has been wonderfully/terribly, anyhow you put it, busy. I've finally finished my first year of Med school at Cambridge about 3 months ago and am currently enjoying the bliss of summer holiday at home - Miri.

Many things had happened from my last post here. I got into depression, got out of it, got actively involved in Malaysian Night and ended up with 3-4 hours sleep for weeks due to the heavy workload, got elected in CCCF committee and pulled out because I really felt I was not at the right mind and heart of serving cheerfully and willingly (with so much on my hand during term), got into the biggest stress of my life - my first ever Cambridge Tripos. The amount of stress for 10 papers tripos was insane. I have no idea how I survived that, but thank God for His grace and providence, I am still here today.

It's so hard to get back to blogging after so long. It's not that there isn't enough time to blog during this summer (because I'm practically not doing too much compared to term) but there are just so many factors repelling me from expressing my thoughts here. 

1. What if my prospective employer sees this?

I have never thought of this question before until quite recently when I am editing my CV. (Yes, I am kiasu like that) I have a blog when I was younger which I blogged with full enthusiasm and passion for many years. Looking back, I could not thank my younger self more for recording all those funny moments down but even more, I was ROFL-ing literally. How did I wrote something SHO STUPID as Doggie's Cosplay Tutorial?!
*facepalm*

Taking a step back, I was thinking what would my future employer/colleagues think about me when access to the blog is as easy as googling my name? (I tried it.) No, I do not want to lock this blog up because when I set this blog up with the name the-whitecoat, it was meant to be shared, on my experience as a medical student onwards, truthfully and passionately. Therefore, I will keep my stance and keep this open, with no silly nicknames like *ehem*apreviouscantabwhowenttolondonforclinical*ehem* 

However, to prevent jeopardising my bright future as well, I need to think carefully before expressing any thought/ posting anything on the internet. I know I sound like my mom, but it's really time to think about this. I believe this does not apply online only, but in reality as well. When words are untrue or does not do any good to the listener, why would you say such thing? 

2. What if my sponsor sees this?

Recently, my best friend from Imperial told me that one of her friends who went for Bersih 2.0 rally in London, who was a government-sponsored student, was caught by the authorities and consequently, very very unfortunately, he lost his scholarship. He didn't post anything on the internet, neither did he informed anyone that he was going to attend the rally, how then did the sponsor knew about it? It may be his 'friends' who were giving his back a big big stab, or there might be government personnels spying around, but how did they recognised him among the huge crowd? *shrugs*

This scares me A LOT a little bit. What if I am just speaking up for something I think is right? What if I have no intention of offending whosoever in my country and definitely have NO INTENTION of talking against my country? I mean, why would I want to speak against my own people and my home? I rarely speak up, to be honest, but I hope that one day, when I gather to courage to speak up for something I believe is true, right and benefits my country, I will not get into trouble for that. For I do not want to be the coward who become dumb/deaf/blind to the needy, just because of my own interest is threatened. That's just selfish. And I believe my sponsor and my country sent me this far to see me grow, mature into a person with integrity and ability to think. 

“To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” 
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” 
― Winston Churchill

3. What if my parents see this?

I have no worries about this. What secrets that I can share with the world that I can't let my parents and family know? 
Hi Mom! Hi Dad! :D

There is freedom of speech online has always been a debate, and has got many people into controversies. With that said, should we all keep silent? NO! For the passion of sharing, of voicing out, of passing down the information through this free and easily accessible source to everyone is but the most prominent contribution of the 21st century human! 

Conclusion: Passion >  fear. *chucks fear out of the window*

“Free speech means the right to shout 'theatre' in a crowded fire.” 
― Abbie Hoffman