we are all made of snowflakes.

Today, on day 1 of the attempt to chip away gradually at the 10-year scholarship bond (though one might argue it would be a little bit like giving an ice cold Diet Coke to a Bedouin), I quite quickly realised how fatal my surname had become.

It made me pity the bin Ladens, the Gaddafis and - God forbid - anyone whose family name is Hitler (or at least was until moustache guy decided it was his turn to sully the family name, not at the expense of a few million people.)

Again, we are never who we really are until we become rootless for a while. Our roots undoubtedly hold us down to where we are and where society reckons we should be - and let's not deny that frisson of excitement everytime we see a community of like-minded individuals sharing an obscure interest, like the local Civil War reenactment society, or the local donkey ride appreciation club, flourish. However, we are always in some way held back by those roots until we choose to sever our ties and forge an identity that by definition cannot be founded on who we were or what we have achieved.

Unfortunately there seems to be no golden bullet. When we leave where we are rooted, we immediately get branded by arguably unfairer assumptions. Who cannot forget the sinking horror when, after having departed a country where the people are not racist but the government are, you then end up in a place where the government is decidedly not but certain people are, simply because of the connotations slit-eyed people conjure up?

We are either held back by what we have done in the past and what our parents have laid for us (or lack thereof), or what others have done in the past and what fellow people who may merely look or sound like us have created in the eyes of a new society.

This, really, is one extremely strong argument for being comfortable in your own skin, and to never want to "dress up in you". No matter whether you have roots or not, there will always be a prejudice you can never shy away from, and arguably, a prejudice you can directly affect the outcome of, because you are rooted, can be less harrowing than one you can never affect.

In your face, conformity - you have never been much good to me. All I need are a few people who will care for/about me even when I am the most disastrously boring person in the world. We are all made of snowflakes - we either fade into obscurity in the maelstrom of a snowstorm, or we are swallowed by the earth.

All we can do, really, is enjoy the view from the fall while it lasts.

The View from the Other Side

We delight in reading pulsating tales of intrepid travellers, heroically pulling off Herculean tasks with befuddled ticket inspectors and wistful old men whose primary purpose in any postcard perfect scene, really, is to supply drections via a well-rehearsed wordless song and dance routine. A new day, and another motley cast of stock characters marches up and reports for work again, slipping, like a well-worn glove, into their prescribed roles in the daily murmur of travellers hurrying past.

The boatman with the deformed leg, again, hobbles up the jetty, drawing alternating gasps of amazement from the tourists, and standard issue catcalls from the wearying locals. These characters flit in and out of the metaphorical home video each traveller has privately composed mentally as they lounge idly at check-in, waiting for the queue to shrink. The lovers of guidebooks are always trying to spot these stock characters - we seemingly imagine, in today's indie travel climate, generally and incrementally inhospitable to guided tours and packages, that if we "meet the natives" for a dose of "local culture and heritage", we can have a "proper story" to tell.

Who, however, chronicles the lives of these stock characters?

Each boatman, despite never moving particularly far away from his two designated piers, meets a cast of characters varied beyond belief. Travellers, on the other hand, are merely encountering variations on a theme of boatmen. Life and fiction have glamorised travel and mobility, yet we do not realise that mobility, if done by the book, can merely mean a constant rehashing of identical experiences.

A life may begin, sustain itself, and end 5 miles away from each other, but if this life insists it is going to be an interesting one, it will open itself up to wild gesticulations and broken conversations with complete strangers. On the flip side, boring folk, irrespective of the number of countries they rack up, will wear a well worn trail even thinner, making it even less appealing to the rebels in our midst.

Through circumstances, ownership of slightly inconvenient citizenships, or sheer financial dire straits, many remain on the other side, ever destined to be a stock character, to play the seemingly humdrum role of court jester in another's heartbreaking work of staggering genius. But we, on the other side, we amble through our lives, with our head in a cloud or two, and occasionally, allow an itinerant wanderer to punctuate our painstakingly constructed reverie.

We are on the other side, building castles in the sky of increasingly fascinating complexity, and it is no terrible place to be, really.

these ghosts, my hopes, the sand, the sea.

Today the ghost of a failure haunted me.

I have been on-site all weekdays; most weekends are spent awaiting a phone call inviting me to something fun. That phone call came so infrequently in weekends 3 and 4, I decided to take fate into my own hands this weekend and make arrangements to head out to Mendi, which as far as Lonely Planet is concerned, is little more than a petrol station with a few highly irascible old men wielding bushknives.

Of course, just like all plans hatched in PNG involving transportation and/or other human beings, the people who promised to take me showed up this morning pleading "out of money". That is, of course, the euphemism for "actually we didn't plan this till last night". They claim they will go next week; I struggle to understand how people who do not have money this week will suddenly have some next (they are students by the way so it's not as if payday is next week).

That just leaves me in a huge quandary. I can't go out alone - make that I am ABLE to go out alone and have survived public transport in the Wild West of the Middle East, but am not allowed to because the doctors here do not trust volunteers on the local buses - so need to go out with someone else. But "someone else" has a remarkable propensity of failing me.

That, really, leaves "reading a lot" and "listening to my own music collection" as my chief forms of actively planned entertainment.

12 hours later, I am halfway through Alexander Solzhenitzyn's "Cancer Ward", have discovered the AMAZING gems sitting pretty in my indie collection (Daphne Loves Derby and the Guillemots, anyone?), and am planning to finish War and Peace this weekend. Also I have finished 2 books that I have struggled to finish all week, and am beginning to learn to play some good Belle and Sebastian tunes on the guitar.

All in 1 day. I know I am starting to border on overachivement, in a desperate effort to compensate for the Exciting Weekend that Could Have Been. But we must deal with our little failures by clocking up equally little victories, no?

...Alright not all of us can lie on beaches and inhale marijuana on glistening beaches. (Sometimes I kick myself hard for deliberately picking such a hard-core elective, one where I KNEW there wouldn't be any escaping because there was nowhere to escape to.)

But I won't deny that a lot of life is not about making the best choices, but making the best choices of those fate deals you. And I believe, today, I could definitely have fared far worse.

the comeback kid

Every year, someone reminds me my blog still exists, and that normally sets off a sudden spate of writing, which ends roughly 1 month after uni starts again due to non-existent Internet connection in my new house, at which point I start handling my emotional problems in other ways (some say alcohol heals all wounds.)

I have no wounds at the moment, nor do I plan to in the near future, unless you count two needlestick injuries (that's when the clumsy doctor sticks huge needles into himself then runs around distraught ordering HIV tests on anyone within a mile's radius of said needle.) and a chronic unsettling of the gluteal muscles (that's butt pain for all you fortunate lay people) following stubborn weekly trips to the local river for white water rafting (and the obligatory capsize).

Tonight, though, I plan to patch a good old wound that needs a little cleansing. Hospital has been rollicky, to say the least. Just when you thought you knew enough to make an impression amongst the haughty old farts, they push you down again. Medicine shouldn't be this way.

Shouldn't be feudal. Shouldn't be structured entirely on more knowledgeable people making fun of and belittling less knowledgeable people. Shouldn't involve waiting hand and foot on the whims and fancies of someone who is more experienced but is (in this case) ruder than you are.

If, for example, the book-buying public worked the same way, everyone would be fighting each other for a piece of Charles Dicken's decomposing body, and there would be no exciting young breakthrough authors; they'd all be working the night shift at the local tabloid newspaper.

If football worked the same way, all new football stars would only get to play 20 minutes of football per game, in countries where there are more people executed per year than football players, until they hit the big Three-O, by which point they are ready for the metaphorical slaughterhouse for animal feed.

In nearly every other profession in the world, youth is viewed as an advantage; almost a blessing.

Not here.

...Maybe that is why so many doctors have stopped believing in a fair God.

If you are in KK please borrow my car.

It is completely invisible to parking attendants.

For the past 6 days, everytime I have parked my car in a fee-paying lot, I have come back up to an hour later to find no parking ticket on it.

By the way in KK we don't have meters or anything fancy. Just rather sad-looking people in big sunhats scurrying around affixing parking tickets to people's cars.

This must be a natural consequence of me never breaking any traffic laws.


In another aside, I was walking in Segama (an area notorious for its illegal immigrant population) when I was accosted by 2 dodgy looking decidedly Filipino men.

"Chai (derogatory term for local Chinese boy), DVD?" one of them hollered.

What a lovely state I live in :)

home is a parade of facemasks.

One expects home to look less like a war zone or an epidemic-struck crisis area.

However, H1N1(A), to give it its more socially acceptable moniker (The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett has a brilliant chapter on the early origins of the 1970s "swine flu" epidemic and how categorically incorrect the pig connotations are) has driven usually paranoid Malaysia to greater heights.

Considering how neighbouring Thailand has clocked up 80 deaths, Malaysia is probably, in the long run, going to have the pleasure of crowing over our Third World allies and saying "I told you so". I must admit that the public health measures we are taking at the moment are nothing short of commendable.

On another note, Copehagen. Ah, Copenhagen.

Some cities are like the head-turner who sashays into the room, low cut dress, considerable assets, expensive perfume wafting your way, and any man who declines a look, even the swiftest of glances, is patently homosexual. Paris, Prague and Budapest are like that - adult Disneylands with everything to keep the package tourist satiated for days on end.

Some cities, on the other hand, are the plainer Jane, who you could lose in an instant if she vanished into a crowd, but who you know you are slowly developing a rather inexplicable crush on.

That would sum Copenhagen up. There are zero mindblowing attractions. Even the Little Mermaid is kinda...small. But there's just so much raw character about the place; it's the kind of town where there seem to be millions of places you could write poetry at.

Perhaps it's because I stayed a little too long; perhaps it's because I stayed with Danish locals who gave me a feel of Danish hygge.

Sadly, it's all irreparable now and I think jeg elsker Copenhgen.

i could live there, oh yes, with a bicycle, a few million kroner more than I have now, and a lot of funky Scandinavian furniture.

up where we don't belong. none of us.

"Of what value is a civilization that can't toast a piece of bread as ordered?"
Murakami, After Dark

Today was oddly inspiring, in a way.

I finally got to see the medium-security mental health "prison", procured after 3 weeks of security clearance, following the chaplain in.

It is where those with mental illness who have committed crimes are incarcerated. Some for a few months while they are being assessed by a horde of psychiatrists.

Some, for the past 45 years.

He has never left the building ever since he was committed there in his teens for what was probably a simple flight of fancy.

Funnily enough, it feels...normal, almost unexciting, being there. They are by and large well-behaved and smartly attired, pottering around the wards watching telly or playing pool. It is when you talk to them, and stories begin tumbling out like an unexpected shower, that you suddenly realise how much collective hurt there is bottled in one building.

Some have murdered. Some are child abusers. Many were arsonists.

None of them run around the building with pickaxes or scream violently at hapless staff, just in case any of us have formed our impressions of mental health prisons from The Silence of the Lambs and whatever Hollywood feeds our impressionable young minds.

In fact, in the words of a mental health nurse, "I feel so much safer here in the medium security unit than on the streets of Middlesbrough."

I have to agree with her on that.

of tattered sails and mesmerising moments.

"[I'll teach you] how not to leave the windows of your heart open when it looks like rain and how everyone has a stump where something necessary was amputated. "

Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

The wind was knocked out of my sails for what seemed like a very long night, partly due to poor nocturnal eating habits supplying an unwelcome rush of blood to the head.

Never stay up too long to ruminate - it gets you places other than where you want to be.

I am reminded of the days before It Which Must Not Be Named when I used to stay up out of necessity to cram another choice morsel of medical information in preparation for The Event Which Could Not Be Named.

Now that is all over, funnily enough, I do not need a drop of coffee to stay up late, doing what I really want to do with my life.

Funny how we are PAID grand sums of money to do something from 9-5 everyday; yet given a choice, so, so many of us would gladly do whatever we do from 5-9 everyday, what we gladly do for free or at our own expense, be it trainspotting, writing soft porn novels, or baking luscious chocolate cakes with the tiniest whiff of cream perched delicately astride.

Now, onwards ho to the Copenhagen escapade, 0700 hours Sunday morning!

it has been longer than you think.

LiveJournal had the clarity of mind to remind me I "last updated 55 weeks ago".

I'm not as shocked as I initially would have been - I have honestly been on this course for 11 months, and it's not ending any time soon, judging by the fair degree of upheaval my life has experienced with as much tact as it can muster.

In the past 55 weeks, I:
1) Have just finished 44 weeks of medical school with only 4 weeks holiday in between (all four were, unfortunately, spent travelling to faraway places as diverse as Barcelona and Sarajevo, Bosnia)

2) Found out that I never ever want to be:

  • a paedaetrician - can't talk to kids
  • a surgeon of ANY description - anyone who knows me will have seen my tremor.
  • anything involving doing a practical procedure and leaving bloodstains.

So that really leaves psychiatry, being a GP, and essentially, any specialty where my mind will be put to good work instead of my hands. (Which, incidentally, have been put to good work this year.:)

3) Found out that even if 2) is flagrantly disregarded by the Malaysian Ministry of Health and I end up being dragged kicking and screaming into the cardiothoracic specialty programme (many a budding doctor's life dream! wasted on myself!) I will love it all the same for I am pretty certain I am doing what I ACTUALLY want to do with my life now.

4) Moved myself 50km (30 miles) away to a brand new place for my clinicals (instead of staying in Newcastle) and realising that Teesside has now become my spiritual home, and I will miss living here dearly.

I made this move foolhardedly and found myself in a clinical year with 80 horribly foreign people who had known each other for the PAST TWO YEARS (they were from the Durham branch campus of our medical school) and were possibly loath to admit "the interloper from the other campus. It's that somewhat-sinking feeling you get when you move to a new school and realise that they've all known each other for so long you'll just have your own company to begin with.

But all's well that ended well, funnily enough.

5) Read too many books and filled many a Shakespeare touring company's coffers. (I am now at play number 20 and it is starting to look precarious financially)

6) Met people, real British people who I can truly call my friends, and to Jock and Clare, though I know you will never read this unless you Google your own name (I'm sure there's a word for it!), you have singlehandedly MADE this year.

...And that's just the tip of a rather massive iceberg that deserves to be dredged up, bit by bit.

That's why I think I will actually attempt to start blogging concertedly again. Because I keep finding things, hobbies, causes, people I GENUINELY care about and who genuinely care about me in return, and this seems to happen pretty much every day of my life nowadays.

And even if no one reads this, I'd daresay it would be a bloody shame if one day, they googled themselves and did not realise how much they had made my day all those years ago.

3rd year is over. Thanks Clare, Jock, Rid, Zara, Alli, Mary, Saad (yes even Saad!), Kelly (you did warm up to me in the end!), Chris (oh, how I feared you on the first day) and oh so many more! A good year amongst the hostile natives of Durham Queen's Campus turned out so well I ended up developing a rather bad case of Stockholm Syndrome (the state of falling in love with your captors)

I have made sure to not put their surnames so they can probably never find themselves on Google :)

this is where i create.

he woke up, wide screen wistful, staring at poignant clouds that had not moved an inch the last time he checked.

he ticked off a mental retinue of things to do, of habits to break.

he halted, guilelessly, in his tracks. where do i begin, he beseeched himself?

and he knew that he could not, he felt not, but, he would fly in calamity's face and he would try his level best.

for that ephemeral moment when they meet again.