Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Down In Dundee And Dad

I just got back from Dundee…it tends to be a place I usually rapidly pass by but I liked it at first impressions from up close…it has a noticeably high student population with its two large universities, a rich cultural and scientific patina which I have yet to imbibe, and the city is negotiable on foot with a pedestrianised city centre and the usual shopping trappings to cater to the most essential needs of the inane modern lifestyle. It also seems to be randomly peppered with cemeteries but I think the city just gradually grew around them over time, rather than have the burial places erased away for development.

I worked briefly at Ninewells Hospital the last few days in my time off, more as a fact-finding mission for myself to see how another place operates. It’s not the largest hospital I’ve been to but with it’s expansive multi-storey layout, the place felt like an interior of an aircraft carrier when trying to negotiate my way through the labyrinthine corners, stairs and long corridors, nimbly dodging staff, students, trolleys and vehicles in a hive of industrious activity. I was amazed at the number of people whom I randomly bumped into who have seen me or think they’ve met me or know people who know me (!) I didn’t have time to meet up with Reem but she promised to cook me some food the next time I drop by…plus she’s tempting me further with green tea. How can I refuse an offer like that???

Halloween at Edinburgh tonight was awash with randy Roman centurions, not-so-little Red Riding Hoods, pasty pirates, card-board cowboys, naughty nurses, dastardly doctors and other similar ghoulies and ghosties. And twats, you may be dressed like that guy with a big “S” on his chest and tanked up with alcohol, but please look carefully both ways before crossing the busy road or you’ll end up in Scotland’s busiest A+E department covered in a different type of red and blue.

I’m not feeling too good atm. With my lack of internet access at times for days and my mobile being off when at work, I only just literally got news my Dad has been hospitalised with massive bleeding. It doesn’t help that I know the differential diagnosis inside out. And I was due to see him next month. It’s eerie that for some inexplicable reason at the same time I couldn’t sleep last night and I lost my house keys – something that has never happened to me.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Youth Is Wasted On The Young

I need to find me one of these for Halloween

I’m currently sipping my astringent jasmine green tea all warm and cuddled as the winter season starts to settle in. I’ve found meself a clinically neat tea-house to feed my green tea addiction even though the prices are twice that of Aberdeen (bah!). It’s becoming a seasonal habit of mine…dark winter nights means an emo-leaning towards moody classical music and warm pots of green tea...sound and taste being the two senses strongly associated with memory for me (my sense of smell is not as powerful as the other two)…after all, winter time in the UK can get fucking boring when soulful reflection can surprisingly be a major activity, as waking up and coming back from work means hardly being greeted by the DNA destroying rays from our friendly yellow ball of gas in the sky.

Ahhhhh, green tea and no sun – just some of the secrets to my disarmingly youthful appearance. Yes, I genuinely confound people. First, after having long ago shaved my oh-so-cool moustache (on the advice of a girl…err, I concede she was actually right) people now think I am much younger than I am actually…from, “Soooo….what are you studying now?” (uhmmm, I’m waaayyyyy past post-graduate)…to the classic…“Can I see some I.D. please?” (uhmm, not only do I not drink, I often treat these drunk and/or assaulted fuckers much younger than I, thank-you-very-much)…to the extraordinary…“Are you old enough to watch this DVD?” (paying for a copy of “Léon” at the till – one of my all time favourite films I can near quote verbatim)…to being flirted by teenage girls young enough to be my daughters. It’s so Nabokovian. I don’t mind though as people younger than me collapse with acute myocardial infarction and it’s me ending up treating them.

And then I open my mouth and from a few choice words they rapidly realise I’m not fresh out of kindergarten...“Sorry, what does that mean?” (NB to self: desist enunciating archaic iambic pentameters)…

but then I get the second confounding classic, “…that accent…it’s not Scottish…where do you come from…which part of England…it’s so region-less”…to the improbable but already occurring several times, “South Africa? Australia?” (NB to self: WTF??!?).

Nobody guesses correctly I’m from Hong Kong. Not even people from Hong Kong. Not even when I am in Hong Kong. And then their mandibles plunge when this “gweilo” reply in Cantonese. And eyeballs extrude, expand and explode when they hear me colourfully swear in Cantonese.

Then thirdly, the inevitable…“What are you?”…and some inexplicably, for lack of an imagination, settle on something that may just cover it:… ie. ----> “Are you…American?” (Oh the ignominy)

Well, I’m Eurasian if you must know, the next stage in human evolution…

So seriously, how does one go someway in maximising their chances of staying youthful and healthy? Of course where you live and other environmental factors can have a huge impact – poverty, pollution, poor sanitation, crime, ignorance, gamma radiation and inane reality TV shows can really be harmful. But reflecting on my habits the following Ten Commandments is what I actually do and may go some way to explain my Peter Pan appearance:

1) Do NOT smoke.

2) Do NOT consume alcohol.

3) Enjoy life but don’t purposefully spend unnecessary amounts of excessive time in the sun.

4) Plenty of water. Or green tea (heh).

5) Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables – there are onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, ginger, pulses, cereals, apples, bananas and EXTRA virgin (heh) olive oil and vinegar somewhere in my diet everyday. Oh yes, I eat rice everyday too – potatoes can do as well (I neeeeeed my fuel). Consume lean meat and oily fish. Limit amount of red meat. I allow myself copious amounts of chocolate (gotta treat yourself every once in awhile) but other than that I generally avoid junk food.

(This is not for everyone since for some their genetic make up can’t handle it but I drink lots of whole fat milk (never with green tea) and consume cheeses every bloody day and it’s the high calcium intake that is one of the reasons that keeps me thin. I also eat chillies everyday but that is just a “me” thing of loving spicy food – it’s not for everyone)

6) Hygiene – brush your bloody teeth at least twice a day, wash yourself etc. It’s bloody common sense.

7) Exercise and stretch regularly. Some yoga it or tai-chi it or martial arts it. Whatever works for you. I just walk briskly (I’m %^&*£)£ late for work) at least one hour every day. Occasionally I'm even known to jog. As a bonus, performing salah five times a day, every day actually exercises every joint in the body.

8) Get enough sleep.

9) Be spiritually content (that is totally different and separate from being happy but if you are happy too, then lucky you). Have at least one passion in life (not just mere interest although that is a start!). Exercise, challenge and stimulate the mind mentally with cerebral gymnastics. Be interested in family and people. Love and be loved. Where possible, avoid negative souls who tend to bring out the worst in people. Basically, try to %^&*£)£ minimise stress.

10) The rest is random genetic lottery.

Monday, 22 October 2007

My Overused Quotes

Chance observation in town the other day:

A man started to cross the road at a zebra crossing and the blonde woman with him followed rapidly behind. The cars and trucks all lined up at the edge of the zebra-crossing were revving their impatient engines and suddenly started to accelerate as per traffic light instructions. Caught off guard and realizing his miscalculation, the chap decided it was safer to back track before being squashed to smithereens. The blonde also had no choice but to retreat with the bloke. She was sooo annoyed.

He purposefully cracked a joke to his mates that the difference between him and her is that he at least always looked where he was going and that she did not and just follows blindly. Laughing ensued. She said nothing and fumed.

I saw the whole thing.

This is what ACTUALLY happened:

The chap did NOT look where he was going when he crossed the road. He just assumed the whole world would revolve around him regardless. This time he did make a mistake until it was almost too late and had no choice but to retreat or risk being seriously hurt.

The woman DID look where she was going before crossing the road. She realised her chap ahead of her was taking a huge risk as she hesitated to join him at first. But she DID choose to join da man eventually…because well, God knows why.

When the mistake became inevitable, both of them had no choice but to retreat.

In order for him to divert attention away from his own stupidity, he chose to crack a joke in front of other males at the expense of the woman to salvage his brittle tumescent ego and sacrosanct pride. She knew the joke wasn’t true but in order to say so, she would have had to admit to her own stupidity of making a bad judgement call of following a stupid man.

Although it can be viewed as a one-off joke about the eternal battle of the sexes, I had a sneaking suspicion that this was a recurrent pattern in their particular interactions when viewing their unspoken body language, which made me think if they will ever learn. This naturally made me think of Santayana’s famous quote:

I actually first came across Santayana in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (yet another fellow admirer of history and a song written after a conversation with Sean Lennon) and then again in Dachau, outside Munich when I visited the first German concentration camp opened by the Nazis, where his famous quote displayed prominently at the end of the museum held particular poignancy. It’s a quote I am guilty of using frequently since. The other one I use often is:

“The like stick with the like”

This all goes through my brain in a matter of seconds and then I go off on another cerebral tangent…and another…and another. Frequently when people see me pondering and asks me to explain what I am thinking I find it easier to just say….“Oh…nothing much” than to go off on an exhaustive spiel. Heh.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Eid Mubarak

Satellite image of Earth from space

“He created the heavens and the earth in true proportions. He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night. He committed the sun and the moon, each running for a finite period. Absolutely, He is the Almighty, the Forgiving.” (Qu’ran 39:5)

"Thou causest the night to merge into the day, and thou causest the day to merge into the night" (Qu’ran 3:27)

"It is God Who alternates the Night and the Day: verily in these things is an instructive example for those who have vision" (Qu’ran 24:44)

"And a sign for them (human beings) is the night. We strip it of the day and they are in darkness." (Qu’ran 36:37)

Thanks to Reem and Rana for the Ramadan greetings and the homemade card, and Mohammed for iftar with his wonderful family. Ramadan always goes by soooo fast and it’s such a refreshing month spiritually. In many ways it’s better than Eid.

And ooooh, Christmas reminders on the importance of retail therapy were already up and running since August. Better hurry or you will miss out on the world biggest religion!: consumerism.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Good Grief!

I don’t normally read Newsweek but I chanced across an interesting interview of Charles Schulz’s biographer, David Michaelis, offering insights on the life of the phenomenaly succcesful Peanuts comic strip creator.

I love reading biographies. Biographies can be potentially unfair (for the subject and reader unlike) as it is still only a point of view as the subject of the biographer is often at the mercy of the memories of others and varied documents, and the incentive, insight and skill of the biographer in being able to get beneath the skin of the subject. Still, when a timeline is constructed and various sources collated, biographies can afford tremendous insight into the lives and times of others that may allow readers to know the person (only in some ways) better than the person may know themselves.

If the charcater of Charlie Brown is anything to go by, I don’t think anyone should be remotely surprised that the author was a sensitive, anxiety filled, lonely, insecure soul. Authors and artists draw on what they personally know. The enduring popularity of Peanuts touched millions around the world because it expresed much of the human condition.

Reiterating what I had posted in an earlier entry, Charles Schulz sounded typical of the kind of person who refused to change, prefering to remain in their own bubble and happy (ironically) being depressed. Despite being married and surrounded by five children, he constantly mentioned in interviews how he remained lonely, and was emotionally distant, with nagging self-doubts of whether he was loved.

“On his honeymoon [with his first wife, Joyce Halverson, in 1951], he said to Joyce, “I don’t think I can ever be happy.” It wasn’t so much a prediction as a choice.”

Fancy expressing that sentiment, of all times, on your honeymoon! And that was exactly correct – a choice. It’s a perceptual framework. Some people, no matter how much blessings may be bestowed on them can never be happy, making their life a self-fulfilling prophecy, and unwittingly causing discomfort on those immediately around them. He was happy (perhaps “comfortable” is a better word) remaining depressed, even though it made him…errr, depressed.

''Everything has to end,'' Schulz once said. ''This is my excuse for existence. No one else will touch it.'' In November 1999 he was hospitalized for colon cancer and started chemotherapy. On 14th December he announced that his strip would end. But thoughts of death had long since seeped into his strip. ''After you've died, do you get to come back?'' Linus once asked Charlie Brown. He replied, ''If they stamp your hand.''

Donna Mae Johnson, the (real) Little Red Haired Girl who broke Charlie Brown and Schulz heart said, “I'd like to see Charlie Brown kick that football, and if he gets the little red-haired girl, that's fine with me", Donna said around the time Schulz announced his retirement in 1999.

As far as I am aware that never specifically happened. It would go against Schulz’s nature; a nature he refuses to change and break out of for it can take a lot of courage and time to open up at a personal level. His comics was the closest he came to do doing so, which gave pleasure to millions.

One may not be able to change the past, but one can certainly learn from it and live for the future.

''You can't create humour out of happiness,'' Mr. Schulz said in his 1980 book, ''Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Me.''

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Suffer Little Children To Come Unto Me

Walking to work yesterday before my shift started a curious thing happened to me.

I saw an adorable blonde little girl near a very busy traffic roundabout looking rather forlorn. She flagged my attention and I approached her wondering what the matter was. Cars and trucks thundered past us. She had a significant amount of glistening green snot hanging from one nostril in this cold morning but otherwise neat in her school uniform with her tiny school bag. She diffidently expressed that she wanted someone to help her cross the busy roads so that she could attend her school nearby. I was taken aback. This was just shy of 09:15 and there were no other school children and the lollipop lady had long gone. Where’s your mummy or daddy? He is dead she said sadly. He died choking on a pizza. And mummy told me to go to school. She is sleeping at home. This little girl had made it as far as she could go. She was only 4 years old.

After explaining to her that she shouldn’t really be talking to strangers and that her mother should have been with her, I accompanied and navigated her across the roads explaining how traffic lights worked. She became grateful that finally there was help and started to talk in that animated way 4 year olds do. It was just only another 5 minutes walk to her primary school but it might as well have been another universe to her. I escorted her across the empty concrete playground towards the main entrance. She was safely taken in by two members of the teaching staff. I showed them my ID and explained whom I was. I explained I was rather disturbed at this highly irregular set of circumstances and pressed home that this should be investigated and that she must be looked after. They readily agreed to look into the matter.

It was that she was so vulnerable and utterly lovely that it hurt me to see her like that. What the hell was wrong with mother for leaving her own little daughter unsupervised like that? I genuinely feared for her that some other unscrupulous stranger could have easily taken advantage of her if I hadn’t chanced across her.

I had no legal obligation as she was not my patient but ethically and morally I found I could not ignore her plight. I had to be sure she was safe. Once at work it was luckily only a simple matter of knocking a nearby office door of the Child Protection Services and a quick word to get the ball rolling. I have seen too many vulnerable children at risk before and I know if you miss that one window of opportunity to intervene, they could come to serious harm or even be dead the next time. Phone calls were made and the child quickly identified and the school authorities and social services contacted. It turned out it was the right thing to do. Father had indeed died recently and there were bereavement issues at home that I won’t go into.

Oh yes, it’s been über busy for me as usual. I aced the European Paediatric Life Support course in Edinburgh last week (98%). It was an excellent gentle introduction to the management of potential and actual life threatening conditions for children using logical and well-tested principals (there was a DVD too!). Bravo for the faculty for taking the time to share with us candidates their skills and experience. Now I want to up the ante and complete the Advanced Paediatric Life Support course next (!)

Talking about abducted children, and with the Madeleine McCann case still making the media rounds, this has reminded me of Ian McEwan’s novel, The Child in Time (winner of the Whitbread Prize), a remarkable examination of one man’s grief and coping of his faltering marriage after the abduction of his 3 year old daughter one busy Saturday morning. Again, the psychological inhabiting of the non-linearity of Time is a major theme where the past, present and future criss-cross each other. I liked how the emotional pay back of the novel’s ending was pitched at just the right level considering the rather melancholic tone of the whole work. There is an interesting side story of his friend Charles’ descent into manic-depression. The devastating analysis of his plight by Charles’ wife Thelma near the end of the novel was dead on what I would have said.

Anyway, knowing the fickleness and nastiness of the media and human nature, I was fascinated right from the very start of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in guessing how long the publicity engine would last. Regardless of all the inherent privileges Madeleine’s parents already possess, I think they have done remarkably well in harnessing whatever resources they could access in order to locate their missing daughter.

I am surprised the lactic acidosis of media fatigue in the UK has not developed to toxic levels but snipping at the peripheries from other parties and media abroad have also been on-going, with criticisms and gossips fuelled by personal and institutional politics, attention seeking, frustration, boredom, idleness and jealousy at the excessive attention bestowed on this one child. Of course, a child that means the world to its parents, just like the multitude of other missing children to their parents around the world.

Reportage had veered from the positive to downright nasty. Nevertheless, the worst that can happen for Madeleine’s parents in their quest to locate their missing daughter is that she would be forgotten. To not know is already pure torture and although there is a significant chance Madeleine is dead, I still think the correct course is to never give up hope. To forget someone you loved is to spiritually bury and live a life bereft of beauty.

“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see” ~ John W. Whitehead, The Stealing of America, 1983