Friday, May 26, 2017

Michelle Yeoh boleh!

Hello, blog! It's been far too long. Uni placements and job applications are keeping me quite busy, but I recently came across something I really wanted to blog about.

I don't normally keep up to date with pop culture and movies and things, but this bit of news caught my eye: Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian actress, is keeping her Malaysian accent in the new Star Trek series. So what?, you may ask. It's just an accent, what's the big deal? Ah, but it is indeed a big deal, to me at least. Let me tell you why.

I am a Malaysian Chinese. In 2013, I came to Tasmania, Australia to study. It wasn't very long ago, but Tassie back then wasn't the popular tourist destination it is now. It was one of the less cosmopolitan parts of Australia, with a predominantly Caucasian population. Some people had never left the island, never mind Australia, because they were perfectly happy where they were.

Enter me, a Chinese girl who spoke English as her first language and didn't actually speak much Chinese. I didn't foresee communication to be a problem at all. It'd be fine, I thought. I'd talk to people, make friends, ask questions if I needed to. It'd be fine.

It was not fine.

Within the first few days of being on the island, I quickly realised two things:
1. People couldn't understand me because of my accent.
2. People assumed I couldn't speak English well.

Number two sometimes happened independently of number one. They saw me, a timid-looking Asian person, and just assumed I had a poor command of the English language. And that I was from China. Because all Asian people are from China. But anyway, I'm not here to rant about that. Let's talk about number 1: my accent.

When I was still in Malaysia, I was told by a few friends that my accent 'wasn't very Malaysian'. Whatever that meant, they probably weren't right, because my born and bred Malaysian accent was one that just could not be understood by the locals in Tassie. Close to nothing I said got through. Conversations got awkward really quickly, and it got to the point where I dreaded having to converse with anyone. One particularly memorable exchange happened in Woolies.

ME: Excuse me, do you guys have any kale? It was in your catalogue.
WOOLIES GUY: Sorry, what?
ME: Do you guys have any kale?
WOOLIES GUY: *stares at me intently* Do we have any..?
ME: Kale?
WOOLIES GUY: Um. *looks super uncomfortable* *starts looking around for help*
ME: Y'know, kale? K-A-L-E?
WOOLIES: K-E-L... What?
ME: No, K-A-L-E!
ME: Okay, never mind. Thanks.

Thankfully, it wasn't this bad at uni, where lecturers were more familiar with Malaysian and Singaporean accents due to previous students. I still avoided asking questions whenever I could, though, instead choosing to utilise Google (who never misunderstood my typed rather than spoken questions). I also stuck to people who spoke the same way as me, people who could understand me and whom I could understand effortlessly. Speaking to anyone local was difficult and uncomfortable and made me feel very small.

It wasn't long before I started seeing my accent as an embarrassment. It outed me straight away as someone foreign and different, someone who wasn't from here and didn't belong. My accent was not one of a predominantly English-speaking country, like America or the UK, so people found it difficult to understand. I often had to repeat myself a lot, and even then I slowly grew used to watching people's eyes glaze over as they gave up trying to understand me. Communication was hard, and it was all my own darn accent's fault.

So I adapted. My accent slowly became a weird Aussie-Malaysian hybrid that I detested but knew was necessary. Over the years, I like to think it's become more Aussie and less Malaysian (though I do still speak with a Malaysian accent normally!). My accent is now less clumsy and comes more naturally, and my tongue stumbles less over the round vowels and drawls of the Aussie accent. I can comfortably hold conversations with classmates, doctors, patients, people at church, people at the gym...anyone, really. Also, I've made some great friends along the way!

Not every Malaysian and Singaporean goes through this dramatic an accent transition, however. There are people who speak with their (toned down) normal accents to locals, powering through the awkwardness until they are understood. Whether by choice or because they can't, their accent never changes, and I respect them so much for it. I think it says a lot about someone who doesn't change who they are or the way they do things purely to make life easier.

Which brings me back to Michelle Yeoh keeping her accent. From what I've seen around the Internet, she's already been receiving some flack for it ('Hire sum1 who can speak English!!!11'), but reception has been mostly positive. I, a Malaysian, am so proud and so grateful that she wasn't embarrassed to speak with the accent she was brought up with. Of course, this accent has been flavoured by her time in the UK and Hong Kong, but it is ultimately her own Malaysian accent. And I am so glad to hear it.

Thank you, Dato' Michelle Yeoh, for being unafraid to speak with your Malaysian accent on a platform that will be viewed and heard by many. Thank you, director and producers of Star Trek, for allowing this to happen.

One of the best things about globalisation is the normalisation of different accents. I hope this means that we will no longer feel ashamed of our own in the future. Lah.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Leaving home (again)

I've just checked in for my flight and I am upset.

This break has meant the world to me. It's been a time of rest and reflection after a stinker of a year (good riddance, 2016!), it's been an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, and it's been a lovely period of being spoilt rotten by my parents. Also, I can't tell you how nice it is to be more relaxed about money -- no more covertly converting currency in my head and chastising myself for contemplating buying things I don't need. Man, is it great to be able to afford to eat out more.

Speaking of which, the food! The food! Chilli pan mee and nasi lemak and pork noodles and roti canai and duck rice and claypot loh shi fun and banana leaf rice and chap fun and Hokkien mee and lin chee kang and various biscuits and kuih and oh my goodness have I put on weight. But it doesn't even matter! Home food is the best food! I'd missed it so much! And I'm going to miss it so much all over again when I leave.

Going back to Launnie signifies the end of my freedom, basically. It's uni and the final exams of my uni degree and freaking job applications and graduation, and then work starts the very next month. I ask myself all the time how I got here so quickly. It seems like just yesterday I was super excited about going to Australia to study.

Suffice to say I am quite dreading going back. I want to stay here. I like having free time, and selecting books to read from our massive collection, and having meals with my family. I like meeting up with friends, catching up with them and hearing about what had been happening while I was away. I like wandering around KL, appreciating both the old, weathered shoplots as well as the towering skyscrapers. I like being able to converse freely with people in Manglish or Malay, or even my woefully clumsy Mandarin. I like it here. This is my home.

But of course, nothing is permanent. The bliss of the holidays must end. Soon, I will be back in cold, small Launceston, trying my best not to get too stressed out about, well, everything. I need to constantly remind myself that I'm lucky to be there, that I'm lucky to have the opportunities I do. Deep down, I know that and I am thankful. I really am.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really make the homesickness any better.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016

Well, what do you know, it's year end post time already!

As I'm sure many people can attest to, 2016 has been an awful year. Really and truly. The worst. Celebrities were dying left right and centre, numerous acts of terrorism and shootings were happening across the world, there was the shock of Brexit and then the Trump presidency, and the world heard about the horrors happening in Aleppo which included bombings of MSF-supported hospitals. On a lighter note, closer to home, Dato' LCW unfortunately missed his last shot at an Olympic gold medal (although the three silver medals in badminton that our athletes brought back are certainly something to be proud of). Anyway, all in all, it's just been a really bad year in general.

Burn, 2016, burn!
(Gif from here)

It's been hard on a personal level as well. Wait, hold on, I have a lengthy disclaimer. It feels kind of disrespectful to talk about my (largely inconsequential) personal life after all the truly horrible things I mentioned above, but I know far more about what I'm going to write about compared to world events. In any case, there are countless articles written by people far more knowledgeable and opinionated than I all over the Internet, so I don't think there's any need for my contribution to that at the moment.

Anyway! This year has been a difficult one for me. I mentioned some posts back that I'd had trouble adjusting to Launceston, but what I hadn't mentioned was just how much trouble I was having. For a creature of habit like myself, having to adjust to a new environment, new hospital, new friendship group, new house, new housemates, new everything, was a nightmare. It took me a very long time to settle in, and I was utterly miserable. Which is not how you want to be in a new everything! You want to be friendly and outgoing and adventurous, but instead I was withdrawn, self-conscious, insecure, and very, very sad.

It me
(Image from here/Fanpop)

Given the drastic life change I was undergoing, I figured this was a normal reaction and told myself to wait it out. Things only got worse, unfortunately. Later in the year, I started having problems with anxiety (I am normally a bit of a worrier anyway, but this was almost nothing like it). After talking to a few friends and after much encouragement, I went to seek help. It was the best thing I could've done. I will forever be grateful to the friends who shared their own experiences with me, who encouraged me to see someone, who commiserated with and comforted me. Thankyou for being there when times were hard. You guys really are the best.

I'm being a bit fuzzy with the details, I realise, but that's because I don't really want my entire mental health journey on the Internet for the world to read. In fact, the only reason I'm writing about it at all is I believe mental health is something that needs to be talked about. When I told people about this, it sparked great discussions about their own experiences with mental health issues and how they dealt with them. If you're interested, I'd be happy to talk to you about my own experience in more detail; I'd be happy to listen as well if you'd like to talk to someone. (Malaysian friends, I'll be around till Chinese New Year!) Mental health issues are far more common than you think.

To be honest, all that kind of clouded my entire year. Things back home weren't so great, either. There was much turmoil over having to give away Pugsy, our very first dog, due to DBKL's one-dog ruling. It was extremely hard for my family, and I felt guilty for not being there. All I could do was post on Facebook and ask friends if they or anyone they knew wanted an old purebred Pug. Everyone was sweet and understanding and did all they could to help. In the end, my mom found a suitable home for Pugsy, and she's now very well taken care of along with two other Pug half-siblings. It's actually really cute.

Miss you, Pug dog
(Photo credit: New owner -- I don't actually know their name)

If I've learnt anything from the dark clouds surrounding the year, it's that friends can be the most amazing silver linings. I've been so blessed to have the best people with me in the worst of situations, and there aren't enough words in the dictionary for me to express how incredibly grateful I am.

Anyway, I'm done talking about the bad stuff. I suppose if I think back hard enough, there were some good things that happened this year.

I mentioned before that friends were a great help throughout this year. Another great blessing was church. Moving to a new place also meant moving to a new church, and I finally found myself in The Branch. I've always taken a while to adjust to new things, but somehow ended up joining a growth group relatively quickly. It was a great decision, because growth group was large enough to have a good number of people for discussions and small enough that I was able to contribute to them. It was where I got to know people better since the things we talked about at growth group were more in-depth than after church conversations (it also meant I didn't have to approach or be approached by new people, things I'm still working on). At church itself, I met and made new friends from Tassie, the mainland, Malaysia, Egypt, and Germany. Diversity is a great thing, and our church clearly isn't lacking in that department! The Branch is a great church, and I'm excited to bring friends who will be in Launceston next year there.

10/10 would go again
(From their Facebook page)

Other good things that come to mind about this year all involve leaving Launceston. I don't mean to offend anyone, it's true! I went to Hobart a few times this year and loved every second I spent back in that city/town. It's amazing how much I miss the place. I must've looked like a crazy person, happily strolling down Collins St going, "Hello, RHH! Look at all that construction work. Hello, Woolies crossroads! This is where I used to do my shopping! Oh, there's Pigeon Whole! They have great almond croissants!" while my friends shook their heads. I miss the pier, the ice cream, the city, living in the city, Soldiers' Memorial Avenue, the coffee places...and the people, of course! Every visit back meant meeting up with Hobart friends I'd missed dearly, and that made visits all the more treasured. I even managed to make it for OCF one Friday night! Sigh, Hobart. I could go on and on forever about Hobart and how much I miss it, so I'd better stop here.

Another thing worth mentioning is our various trips with the Burnie people (plus one Hobart person that one time)! Over the short breaks we had over the year, we went to Grindelwald, Russell Falls, Cradle Mountain, Anvers (a tourist attraction in its own right, if you ask me), The Nut, and Narawntapu National Park. We stayed over in Burnie a few times as well. Getting out of Launceston and away from all the stress and worries of med school was such a welcome respite, and I enjoyed seeing the Burnie people again! They were incredibly generous and gracious hosts/hostesses, and made sure we were well-fed and comfortable. You guys are A+.

Have you seen anything more beautiful in your life? Anvers is amazing.

I should have blogged about Cradle Mountain and given it its own separate blog post, but I'll attempt to condense the story here. The day we attempted to climb to the summit, it was wet and drizzly. It was the best the weather was going to get at that time of the year, though, so we decided to stick with the plan and plough through. The climb up was fine, but got daunting towards the end -- there was no trail, and we were scrambling over gigantic rocks that were wet and slippery. One of us had already called it quits and gone back to the rest stop to wait for the others. We got to the final stretch and saw that it was even steeper than the route we'd just come through, and the drizzle increased to an ominous 'don't-do-this-don't-do-this' patter. We took a vote and ultimately decided to turn back. So close yet so far! In my mind, I'm counting that as having climbed a mountain, never mind that we were unable to make it all the way. That's one thing crossed off the bucket list!

To be fair, the hike started off nice

"Why not try again one day?" you ask? Let me tell you why: Coming down was agony. I am afraid of heights and sometimes get a little dizzy descending a particularly steep flight of stairs; descending a mountain was about a million times worse. My friends were happily striding and/or sliding down slopes all around me, while I clutched onto the nearest stable object I could find and slowly shuffled down. To make matters worse, I experienced hypoglycaemia for the first time. I was giddy, nauseated, shaking, incredibly grumpy, and couldn't concentrate on anything. Initially, I attributed all that to my acrophobia, but when I finally reached the rest stop (long after everyone else had), my friends took one look at me and told me to sit down. I was very pale, apparently. I sat with my head between my knees, accepting gummy bears someone had brought out. A few gummy bears later, I felt remarkably better, and that's when I figured it out: hypoglycaemia. It's something you know about, have studied about, but never think to apply to yourself if you don't have diabetes. I ate other stuff we brought along, more complex carbs, and made it back down alright (albeit very slowly). So those are my reasons for not attempting it again: acrophobia and hypoglycaemia. Climb every mountain, they say; sure, but at what cost?

View on the way down, when the fog lifted a bit

But I digress. I'm supposed to be talking about good things. Well, Cradle Mountain was a good thing, it just had some not-so-good aspects.

Anyway, electives were good! I did two weeks of oncology at the LGH while waiting for results to be released (more on that later), then two weeks of psychiatry at SGH. They were pretty different experiences, but both a good two weeks. Everyone in oncology was lovely (I'm sad the regs won't be there when I'm on med rotation next year!) and the intern turned out to be a senior and friend of mine. I got to do an ascitic tap, which was pretty cool! The thing that struck me the most about oncology was the arsenal of treatments we now have, and how specialised things could get. (Did they have this particular cancer? Did it have an EGFR mutation? What kind of EGFR mutation did it have?) It was also really nice to see how well some cancer patients looked. It showed me that, yes, cancer can be something you die from, but more and more it's becoming something you can live with. I think that's great.

Psychiatry in Singapore was mainly clinics and blue letters (what is known in Australia as consultation liaison psychiatry). Because it wasn't a hospital specialising in psychiatry, I saw mostly the usual depression and anxiety, which was really strange to me since GPs deal with that in Australia. I did get to see a floridly manic patient, though! Her husband described classic manic characteristics, it was incredible. It was also incredible to see how much people put up with before they thought to seek help. What is 'normal', anyway? Oh well. It was a great four weeks in total of electives, and I'm glad I spent them where I did.

SGH is massive
(From the SGH website)

The reason I did two weeks in LGH was to see if I needed to stay back in Tassie for supps. I'd studied hard and practised OSCEs a lot, but it had been a hard year for me, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I might fail something. The day before I was due to fly home, I found out that I'd passed. I heaved a massive sigh of relief, and prayers of thanks were said. The breakdown would only be released days later, but I was content knowing I wouldn't have to change my flights. Elated, I flew home. Due to the three-hour time difference, the breakdown was released while I was still asleep. I awoke that morning to notifications from classmates alerting me to the fact that breakdowns were out, and scrambled to check my email. When I finally received it, I opened the email attachment with bated breath...and yelled.


I'd done better than I'd ever done in all my years of uni. It was unbelievable. I read the attachment over and over again -- had I misread a number? Was that really what I thought it said? Should I put on my glasses? I did, and the number remained unchanged. I still couldn't believe it. It would take a while for the disbelief to melt away into joy and thankfulness. It was incredible that despite the tough year, I'd managed to do so well in my exams. I don't have the words to express how immensely grateful I am to have been blessed with exactly the right people and resources I needed in order to get through the things I'd been going through. My heart swells just thinking about it. (God is the best.)

Oh, since we're talking about good things about the year, I feel like Pokemon Go should get a special mention.

Have you guys seen the Christmas Pikachu? Isn't it the cutest?

It was nice to have a non-med-related sense of purpose, almost, and it was great because it got me out of the house. My friends and I went on a few Pokemon hunts, and all that walking was great exercise! There is a spot in Royal Park where three Pokestops are in close proximity with each other, which means lure modules are supposed to interact and be more effective. I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of a cluster of people around these Pokestops in the cold and dark night, heads bent over their phones, excited faces illuminated by the blue-white glow...and my shaking my head at myself as I was about to join them.

So that was my year. It's been rocky and rough and uncertain, but I'm glad to be able to look back on it with thankfulness and a whole bunch of lessons learnt. Next year brings final year of med school, job applications, goodbyes, and other stressful things like those, but I'm hopeful that it'll be better than this year. It'll be another year of learning and growing, which I'm excited to do. I'm just excited for 2017 in general, to be honest -- I've never been more ready for a year to be over.

Goodbye, 2016! Thanks for all the lessons, but really, shoo.

Hello, 2017! Please don't suck as much as your predecessor.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Home for the holidays

Hello, Internet! Merry belated Christmas to you!

I've done an awful job of blogging this year. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. 2016 has been an incredibly, stupidly difficult year in many ways, and some things simply had to be put on the back burner. In fact, I've hardly written anything at all this year, never mind blog. My journal actually started collecting dust, sad and untouched in my tiny room. I'm going to make a conscious decision for this not to be the case next year, because I've missed writing, and because writing helps me sort out my thoughts like nothing else does. It's doing just that right now.

As I type, I'm sitting in my room in Malaysia, enjoying the breeze of the ceiling fan. It's been pretty hectic since I got home, and this is my first day back with no real plans. I can't tell you how glad I am to be home. Home right now is a bit different from how I remember it, but it provides the sense of comfort and normalcy I've been craving all year. Also, home is good because it's nice to be spending ringgit rather than dollars (whether Australian or Singaporean).

Speaking of Singapore, I was there recently doing part of my medical electives. I chose Singapore because it wouldn't require bothersome visa applications (while still in Australia too!), and I have family there. Also, two cousins in Singapore had had kids while I was away and I had yet to meet them! It turned out to be an excellent decision. I stayed with my cousin Cindy, who made me feel right at home. Friends and family made me feel incredibly welcome, and I could not be more thankful. The two weeks of Psychiatry I did at SGH were interesting -- I was constantly comparing the Singaporean and Australian systems in my head, so even what the MOs called boring was intriguing to me. There was a fair bit of culture shock as well, but I did my best to ride the waves, smile, and just go with it. It made me wonder how locum doctors did it, having to adjust to new systems every time they got placed somewhere new. I will say this, though: It seems that the one constant about medicine, wherever in the world you are, is that doctors' handwriting is terrible.

I think my handwriting is alright. Maybe at our graduation ceremony they'll cut a nerve supplying some muscle in our dominant hands, rendering our handwriting barely legible.

It's crazy to think that, if all goes well, we're going to be legitimate doctors this time next year. What an exciting, terrifying thought. (What an exciting, terrifying thought.) Sometimes I try not to think about it. A small part of me wants to be a kid forever, leeching off my parents' money and not having very many responsibilities. I don't want to have to deal with job applications and taxes and salary packaging and all that stuff grownups talk about. Kid me would be ecstatic that I'm finally going to live out my lifelong dream, but upon receiving word that kid me can't stick around anymore, I'm not sure how she'll feel. It's a weird position to be in.

Oh well, I'll worry about that later. Right now I'm focusing on enjoying the last long break I'll ever have -- no more wonderful, months-long uni breaks after I graduate. What an awful thought! Doing a second degree is starting to sound more and more appealing.

Excuse me while I develop a sudden, intense interest in Psychology.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

4th year in Launceston so far

Well. It's been absolutely ages since I've blogged, so what better time to start again than when I'm desperately procrastinating doing the million things I need to do?

I'm now in my 4th year of med school, living in Launnie with two interns. It's a big, big jump from 3rd year in Hobart. Sure, 3rd year involved a bunch of clinical stuff too, but the changes in location, environment, workload, and company were a pretty unpleasant shock to the system. For one thing, I am a creature of habit -- I like going to the same places, proper prior planning, and I hate surprises (in other words, I am utterly boring). Here I was now in a completely new place, with no sense of direction whatsoever, needing to go to rooms in the hospital I'd never heard of, missing my friends in Hobart, and wait was that a new tute that just got scheduled for today? Everyone around me seemed so on top of everything and annoyingly competent. I felt like a hot mess in comparison, except not, because Launnie is always so cold.

The first month or so here was rather nightmarish. There were periods of time when I was absolutely miserable, and really not in a good place. However, there were people who helped pick me up, and I am eternally grateful to them for not writing off the sad, defeatist ball of negativity that I was.

Fast forward two and a half months, and here we are. I can't believe we're almost at the middle of the year already. Have things gotten better? Probably. I started off the year with Paeds, which is a pretty full-on rotation -- there were on calls and a skills checklist and a hundred thousand online modules to be completed that take ten hundred thousand hours in total to get through (everyone complains bitterly about them, but the truth is that you do learn quite a bit). I'm now on Med Specs, which is so much more chill; I was on Resp for two weeks, and we had no inpatients for almost all of the second week. No inpatients doesn't mean you slack off, though, because there's always things you've got to do, like case commentaries and research opportunity stuff and electives planning and reading up on things.

Coming into 4th year taught me new ways of learning. Books and stuff are great, but if you have clinical experiences to base your learning on, you're going to understand and remember so much better. I see learning in clinical years like this:
1. You don't know what you don't know.
2. You come across conditions or symptoms or procedures you'd never heard of before.
3. You know what you don't know.
4. You ask the doctors questions and/or hop on Google and/or hit the textbooks.
5. You know, and know that you know.
It's such a foreign way of learning, but it's actually great and probably good preparation for the whole lifelong learning thing that doctors are supposed to do.

It weirds me out to look at doctors and think that that's going to be me one day. If all goes well, I'll be an intern in two years, and then all won't be well anymore because it is incredibly stressful. Living with two interns has shown me how hard #internlyf is, and when I listen to their tales of woe, I sarcastically thank them for making the future sound so bright. If it's so hard here, I can't imagine what it's like to be an intern back home (after your six-month wait) or in Singapore. It's crazy.

Anyway, living with these two has been fun because they let me eavesdrop on their conversations on hospital gossip and politics. These get even more interesting when friends with more juicy stories to share come over for meals, or just to chat. I stand at the kitchen counter nursing a mug of tea while they sit at our tiny dining table, yammering away. They've said they don't mind my being there, so I listen and absorb their talk with a sort of quiet respect, wondering if this is what it's like to have an older sibling -- privy to the conversations of the older kids, but not quite a part of the circle.

Okay, I think I've procrastinated long enough. I guess what I wanted to say is: Hi, I'm in Launnie now. I had trouble adjusting but am okay currently, and here are some of the things I've been up to. I hope to blog more throughout the year, but I say that every time I post something, so I suppose we'll just wait and see. As for now, it's time to get started on some of the things I should've been doing instead of posting this.

Well. Maybe after another mug of tea. Or two. Or three.