Doubles in December - part three

Two paintings

Painting without a mouse (not the rodent) was similar, but strangely unfamiliar too. Paint is messy, with spills and smudges to avoid. So you go outdoors. But staying outdoors beyond sunset means being attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, and insect repellant is ineffective. Then, with limited tubes of colours, mixing the right colour is difficult. If you're lazy then the colour becomes unevenly mixed. Even when you finally get that lovely shade you imagined, sometimes coming back the next day, everything is dried up, and you can't replicate it! No layers, no undo, can't save or go back to previous versions. Training your fine motor skills with no zoom and fat imprecise brushes. Paint runs out, brushes wear out. But it was fun.

Two birds, two rats

Long long ago in a land far far away...

Bumblebee's Pets
Lived a little girl. Who loved robots, monsters, dragons, and such things. Her mum asked her why she doesn't draw something like ponies, flowers, and pretty things. And she felt so sad. Her sister said she can draw whatever she likes, and besides, she did draw some cute pets for the robot.

Gingerbread Hansel & Gretel
Lived a little girl and little boy. Run run as fast as you can, you can't catch us because we're the gingerbread people. They stopped running when they saw a delicious looking candy castle. But, there was an evil witch cockatiel waiting to turn them into statues, and a furry witch rat who fattened up gingbread people to gobble them up - it'ssss dinnnnnertime!

C: And, that's all folks. THE END.

Doubles in December - part two

Two weddings

I attended two weddings in December.

"When you get to my age, everyone is getting married, buying HDBs (apartments), and having babies!"

Been hearing that, in various forms, for several years. Then, it's a strange thing when you start getting your first few wedding invites from friends. More surprised still, to hear about the number of weddings that were happening in these short holidays after graduation, even just amongst those in my year level. One which you have been hearing about since she started planning her wedding - who to (and not to) invite, the dress, the location, the music, the reception, the dance lessons, and more. Another coursemate who is getting married to a wealthy plastics registrar (but her family is already rich anyway). Still another, entering into an arranged marriage and with attending friends discussing whether they should wear a sari for the occasion. Not to mention waiting in the line to collect my gown and overhearing about a classmate who had proposed on graduation day itself, viewing photos of a dance friend's pre-wedding photo shoot at their new apartment in the following week, then unexpectedly receiving an overjoyed text on Christmas eve from an old friend - "she said yes!!!"

On committment

Whilst waiting for the bride:

A: Aww, he (the groom) must be feeling nervous, standing there.

B: Why would he be? What do you mean?

A: He will be wondering whether she will show up.

B: You mean if she will be late? Or not turn up on purpose? Surely if you are getting married you should know that the person is going to be there...

A:Well, I know of someone who it's happened too. She changed her mind and didn't turn up. Then they had another ceremony a year later!

I laughed. I guess though, it is no easy committment. For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Maybe it shocks me a little to hear the exchange of vows - I can't help think, really?? What difficult words to utter, to mean from your heart, and to live by for the rest of your life! What solemn promises made before the witness of family, friends, and God himself!

Glory to God

We were friends since the first few weeks of university. The three of us had fun times. I remember a time when we heard that one of the other residents had thrown out his laptop; instead of asking for it, they waited til evening came and invited me to join them in hunting for the goods. So after laughing as we dug through multiple garbage bins (!!), for where we lived there were a full line of red and yellow topped bins, we recovered not only a working laptop, but a nice CD player with speakers too. But.

Even on that occasion, though none of us knew the owner well, he just knew somehow that "New Folder" on this laptop's front page must be porn. He reasoned, well what else would you call it? And he was right, to my disgust. He was often curious about what sensitive exams we had learnt during our course. For awhile he went to casino regularly and annoyed me by influencing others around him. He used to flirt, have so many crushes, write about them, talk about them, chase them.

And he had no interest in God. It must be for a girl, I teased, when he said he started going to church. And so it was. But what I was really surprised at, was that it became a deep committment to seeking and obeying God. What transformation there was, in his approach to friends, to relationships, to marriage, in his speech, and in how he started to prepare for his role as a godly husband. How very strange but joyful it was, to see their wedding ceremony proclaim so clearly, the glory of God. To see God's grace and forgiveness in restoring a relationship with this friend who (like us all) used to live defiant opposition to him.

During the ceremony, we sang hymns of God's greatness, saw the church family which he had become a part of, and was reminded that it is God's help which will see them through their committment when inevitably, difficulties arise. In many ways, the ceremony emphasised that more than a union to make oneself or even one another happy, as with other aspects of Christian living, marriage has the primary purpose of bringing glory to God.

On groomsmen, traditions, and miscellaneous thoughts

Seeing the lovely line of bridesmaids and groomsmen lined up for photos, I thought, oh no what a lop-sided gender balance there is amongst my close friends. What if I can't think of a girl whom I can have as a bridesmaid? Would it be inappropriate to have a bridesman? Probably. Later I remembered that almost all my school (primary and secondary) friends are girls. But I still stopped to think about why there have been so few close girl friends years after high school. Maybe I will save those reflections for another day.

Sometimes I wonder why conventional weddings are the way they are. Why church weddings with priests and prayers if you would never attend on a regular week? I suppose some look to traditions when faced with significant life events such as births, weddings and deaths. Why buy an expensive white dress which you could never wear, unless you plan to get married more than once? Do people actually practice the wedding day kiss? What happens if you serve fairy bread and hot dogs instead of the normal banquet? And how about the cake?

W: Instead of having a cake, I will have a block of cheese, with a rat inside! Which will run around after I cut it.

C: What if you cut the rat? I'm going to have a pie with a magpie. And the bird will fly away.

W & C: Heheheheh.

Still thinking about Christmas

Still thinking. In 2007, I thought about the physical birth of Jesus and what Christmas had meant to me, as a child. In 2008, I thought about the irony that Christmas often distracted us from time with God. In 2009, I thought about God with us, in flesh and blood, as the reason for our celebrations. In 2010 at this time, I was lying on a deckchair and reading books at a seaside resort, and in 2011 I was in the clouds, on a plane decorated with boughs of mistletoe, being served a not-so-delicious slab of turkey with cranberry sauce. Perhaps being away was a good break from the usual festivities, and an opportunity to see Christmas afresh.

Still pondering on many questions - what does Christmas mean to us and others, should we celebrate it, if so how do we go about it, what greetings and gifts do I give, to sing or not to sing various carols, to take on or not to take on traditions associated with the festival, how about Santa or the pretty sparkly decorations? And, what do I say about these things to my little sister?

Reflections on Christmas carols

I was listening to my younger cousin's song which he rearranged, with a strange mix of lyrics talking about Santa (When Christmas Comes to Town) and Jesus (Silent Night). When he told me about it earlier in the holidays, I was wondering if I should say something (I didn't).

On a side note, I'm quite impressed with his covers and original compositions, with little prior knowledge of music theory, with not having his own instruments to play for many of those years, with working out notes, chords and even the instruments by himself. He picked up guitar and piano during his senior high school years, to the dismay of the family (how unthinkable it is, especially in China, to pursue anything that will affect your academic performance on the university entrance exams).

During carolling, I was again thinking about popular Christmas songs. I sing them so many times that I start to tune out on the lyrics, that I begin to have preferences based on melody rather than meaning. For example, take verse one of Joy to the World:
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

What is there to be joyful about the Lord's coming if you don't believe in it? With joy being in the salvation that Christ brings, what joy is there, if we do not first recognise our sin and God's wrath, hence the need for a saviour? How can we sing about preparing our hearts to receive Jesus as our king, then be filled with the busyness of Christmas and all it entails in modern society, rather than Christ alone and above all? If indeed we are singing with heaven and nature, do our thoughts, words and actions also reflect a consistent attitude of thanksgiving and praise towards God?

I think if I were the writer of such hymns, I would be disgusted to see how they are often sang without meditation on the message, without reverence towards God; or how they are played alongside Jingle Bells or Deck the Halls as generic expressions of merriment, rather than proclaiming a joy which comes from knowing Christ (rejoice in the Lord always - Philippians 4:4).

“Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice." - Ezekiel 33:32

The people in Ezekiel's days gathered together and received God's words eagerly through him; however, they treated the message lightly, nothing more than just a nice song. Isn't it nice that in this season, many many people are listening to and singing songs that celebrate Jesus' birth? Yes, but only if we hear and heed the significance of his life on Earth, and what that means for our lives!

Doubles in December - part one

Two graduations

It was only in December last year that we briefly met, that you gave me five bright orange goldfish, that I was surprised to see you as a patient in clinic, that after dinner the train broke down for the rest of the night. Not long ago, I felt that it was sad how you valued all other friendships from these university years but towards me you were sporadic at best, mostly hateful actually. But somewhere between then and now, those things have lost its hold over me. Neither the dark cryptic comments and you wanting nothing to do with me, nor past memories or any positive aspects of your character which I appreciate, would affect my emotions with any intensity again.

A few years ago I remember you said, perhaps the next time we meet will be at graduation, hearing each other's names being called out in that hall. You were almost right. I never would have imagined then, that I could walk into a room and have no desire to face you, and be content with not acknowledging each other's presence. At the same time, I was sincerely happy for you, and clapped, knowing that I had both helped you and made this journey difficult for you. Time does heal after all, albeit rather slowly.

Regarding my own graduation, I guess it's supposed to be a significant event but I was just glad that the weather was not as hot as we expected it to be, that hiring gowns was a relatively straight forward process, that the gown and my dress matched relatively well, that photo taking was tolerable, that I could flip through the yearbook so I only briefly fell asleep during the ceremony, and that I didn't trip with heels whilst walking up and down the stage. The perks were probably seeing my best friends in medicine graduate together, spotting them amongst the sea of blacks and reds (sea of redback spiders), waving and hi fiving them on the way back to my seat. Also my two bouquets of flowers and cards, friends and family whom I love, and having my lovely little sister who was so excited hang out both her arms and half her torso off the balcony, to wave.

Contrary to the speeches, I don't feel there is any reason to congratulate myself about finishing the degree. These up and down years has shown me clearly that it is in God that I find any reason to live, and any strength to do what I do. Plus, I am somewhat aversive to change and just as I really really dreaded moving away from home and starting university, I feel similarly about starting work. How do you feel, to be a doctor? I feel (though there's no rational reason to really think so) sorry for whoever is going to be my patient, ha... I feel fake, and don't think that doctor title should ever be associated with my name. For the first time, I understand what the lecturer in first year said, when she talked about the imposter syndrome.

Tonight, Christmas carolling at a hospital, the familiar smells and pink de-bug bottles stirred in me (if I may borrow the phrase) a sense of impending doom. I wanted to run awayyyyy. My friend laughed and said, "you can't run away forever", and my sister gave me a big and very sympathetic hug, then proceeded to brainstorm ideas:

C: "How about you tell your teachers you quit?"
W: "Aww darling, I already finished school, I can't quit anymore haha."
C: "I know, you can leave them a nasty surpriseeee. Put a rat next to everybody's cheese, and make them scream. Then you will be fired!"
W: "I'm not sure I want to be fired..."
(after a pause) C: "Or, you could just not turn up to work."

I guess it is important to contribute to society through work, and living off others when you have the capacity to work is not living according to the word of God. Looking back at the university years too, I can be encouraged that there is joy and meaning to be found in walking with God. Even through times that I wouldn't have chosen for myself; the tiring, the draining, the confusing, the sad, the stressful, the difficult times.

Top hits

 我的歌声里 - 曲婉婷





"But you used to hate this song, I even got told off for listening to it!"

It's interesting how often, when you hear a tune many times, annoying repetitive becomes contagiously catchy, and unusual-almost-unpleasant vocals become interesting and unique.  How many times can you listen to and hum along to the lyrics, before you really hear the song?

But other times, annoying (even if tolerable) never ceases to be annoying. How can a song be so pervasive that everyone, from my primary aged sister, to the middle aged aunt and her Communist-party colleagues, to my eighty year old grandfather and all of his elderly morning exercise neighbours at the park, know and enthusiastically embrace it? What makes that ridiculous dance worthwhile being repeated everywhere - from school assemblies, to university balls, to public parks, to weddings and more?


I don't know much about the holiday, neither had I ever celebrated Thanksgiving. But it's an apt time to finish a post that I had been drafting on and off for months. I wanted to complete it because this is the space in which I had often expressed how exasperating church life is in the past year.

It hasn't always been so. I had often regarded church and fellowship to be family. From the friendships and fights during my childhood years, to the medical fellowship at NUS which prepared me for the challenges of group dynamics and hospital life during clinical years (for which, I will always be immensely grateful for). Then more recently, there was the church community I loved, which continued to be an encouragement to keep loving, as I remember how I was blessed by their warm hospitality which arose from their faith in God.

The troublesome life of a troubled church goer

For sure, church life is troublesome. Fellowship is accompanied by a whole range of difficult emotions - sadness at not having friends, hatred when I feel snubbed, venomous envy when I compare my own talents or "role" in the church to others, being proud or self righteous as I judge the knowledge, abilities, motives, manners, and attitudes of others (that's hypocritical, isn't it).

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? - Matthew 7:3

I usually look forward to attending Sunday service. Not so much with the regular service I attend but more often on the odd occasion when I would find myself at other churches, I would be distracted by everything - the building would be too bright and flash (money hungry?), the organ too grand, there would be one too many overdressed girls with heavy make up (are you there to pick up?), the handshakes feel insincere, the songs too repetitive, lyrics without enough depth, the clapping too enthusiastic, the band too loud, the singers were clearly showing off, the pastor told too many anecdotes, the teaching was unclear, the offering tray too transparent, they talked about loving your neighbours but no one stopped to say hello after service... and so on and so forth.

But your (my) attitude and focus as you walk in through those doors, shapes everything. Am I really here to worship God and love my brothers and sisters? Am I here to serve or be served?

Since returning last year, and even from the time I first arrived almost six years ago now, I had a difficult time feeling "at home" in M. In amusement I recall spending first year at a Cantonese church with services translated to Mandarin or English. Many youth group members spoke good English, but spoke Cantonese anyway despite knowing that I could not understand. Later I explored many churches before settling at where I am now. Yet, here, I have always struggled with being from an Asian but somewhat different culture, I often felt disappointed with cliques, with superficial conversations, lack of honest sharing and prayer, with the general reluctance to ask a genuine how are you, and with people still ask me if I am back for just the weekend (fair enough though, I do come and go often - to rotations, to conferences, home for holidays). Less so now, but occasionally, I would be offended about not being invited to this outing, farewell party, dinner, or road trip. At my birthday gathering his year I was reminded of how richly I was blessed with close friends from various areas of my life - except it was also a stark reminder of how few close Christian friends I had, even after all these years in my regular fellowship.

In my previous Bible study group the next youngest people were in their forties, and the mean age of the group was probably in their sixties. So, perhaps being used to falling on the younger end of the age spectrum, in my student fellowship group, I came to realise a novel way in which I did not fit in - I feel old, ha ha. Some are many years younger chronologically. Some are not but have views of life, studies, friendships and relationships, or have ways of talking, joking, pranking and relating to people, which I could have probably related to better, was I several years younger. Not that I am better at growing up. But having a growing relationship with God as I lived away from home, moved here and there, interstate and overseas, got to know groups of new people, old and young, of my culture and of different backgrounds, and the sheer number of years spent in university, may have accelerated that shift a little more, towards adulthood.

Memorable encouragements, incidents, and lessons

"Why don't you try another church?" I was asked many times. I had always felt that I saw a purpose of being here, though I did not always enjoy it. I think, I saw that there were people to care for and share God's love with through this fellowship, and lessons for myself to learn too. I'm thankful for God's grace to help me not merely persevere, but find joy and thankfulness midst my troublesome feelings. I want to remember these times of encouragement through writing.

On weeks when I was able to focus on serving God, I recognised that not being knit in the "mainstream" social group, I sympathised with and was more able to spend time with those who were new, from different backgrounds, or those who were also often alone. I saw how, being non Singaporean non Malaysians, I could more readily understand how international students who were from other countries felt when they were not included socially, or struggled to understand the jokes and cultural references. I saw how English class made for creative ways to present God's message; I also saw, how my frivolous love of singing karaoke, and (thankfully) being able to speak simple Mandarin, helped me to better connect with many students, not only in class but socially too.

Indeed, English class has been an important area of joy and encouragement. In class I often appreciated the input of the other teachers as they transformed a simple lesson into a vivid imagery of God's love, or helped to articulate the gospel clearly and concisely in a way I could not. During my trips overseas at the end of last year, I was surprised at the effort in which those who I had looked out for in M were in turn, acting as hosts in their home cities. For the first time, I had friends in the city of my childhood to take me out - my friends, not my cousins, not cousin's friends, not family friends, not family friend's children. I was inspired too to pray and speak to my own extended family, as I saw the passion and clarity in which these relatively new believers shared God's love to their family and friends back home. Back in M, I was touched by the generosity of one of the students who brought his own ingredients to prepare multiple dishes from his national cuisine in big pots, in additional to our usual pasta dinner. Perhaps ashamed also - for our focus in planning for communal meals is often to minimise costs, whereas his main concern here was to share a delicious feast with each of us, as a token of his heartfelt appreciation.

There were other gentle nudges to keep going with fellowship too. I was weary and growing in discontentment with fellowship during those months, when the door unexpectedly opened one evening. I had prepared to attend the fellowship that Friday evening, but was late and not in the mood to face anyone after a series of bitter arguments. As I walked past the rarely used side door on my way home, the pastor opened the door and was almost directly in front of us. He assumed we were walking in and held out the door, and we felt too awkward to refuse. Throughout the fellowship that evening, I felt that more than an amusing coincidence, this incident was a reminder and glimpse of God's gracious and loving call to come to him just as we were.

Weeks later, there was one morning when I suddenly remembered to give thanks for the church service I take for granted Sunday after Sunday. Giving thanks for the song leaders, musicians and singers, who used their gifts to help us sing praises, to think about God's character, and reflect on his grace. For those who prepared our hearts for communion through their readings and prayers, so that we too might be encouraged to reflect on Christ's death for our sins, and what this means for our lives today. For the pastor and guest speakers who, week after week, faithfully teach from the Bible so that we are better able to not only understand, but also interpret the word for ourselves, in context. For the blessing church is every week, to reflect on my focus throughout the week, to deal with my sins. How effective thankfulness is, in turning cynicism and dislike for others to a heart which is more inclined to unity in Christ, and one which is more willing to praise God!

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. - Colossians 3:15-16

For a period of time I found it difficult to respect my Bible study leaders who were younger, or whom I deemed to be less mature in their spiritual life and understanding of the Word. Frankly, I was rather offended that they were asked to lead Bible study while I was not. Yet I am thankful for those seasons, in helping me to see that serving God goes beyond holding a recognisable title or leadership role - for example, being faithful through participating and prompting discussion, words of encouragement to those who do lead, or praying and caring for fellow group members. In an almost amusing way, I am thankful for coming face to face with the truth of the unpleasant remark of - "W, you are so up yourself!" It is only in seeing my pride that I could reflect upon the meaning of, and pray for an attitude of humility and unity. Perhaps these opportunities to work on a heart of service was important, and in this case, more important to God than actively serving in those roles. No wonder Paul instructs Timothy, regarding the choice of overseers and deacons:

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. - 1 Timothy 3:6

As the year of fellowship gatherings come to an end, I can say honestly express my gratitude for the privilege it is to come together as a spiritual family each week. Even more in times away, do I realise how important these routines are, in spurring me along to spend time with God, talk about God, continue to learn to live a life worthy of God. Time alone with God is important, but so is learning and discussing with others. I think even in my own posts on Bible passages I can see the synergy of these two elements at work - whilst I spend much time reflecting alone, much of the content of those posts can be credited to those who brought the Word to life through sermons, or helped me to understand through discussion in Bible studies. It is also a joy and valuable growing process, to serve in unity with other Christians despite our differences and imperfections. May we continue to be thankful, growing in love and meaningful fellowship, with unity in ministry, to the glory of our God!

One Voice

Father we ask of You this day, come and heal our land.
Knit our hearts together, that Your glory might be seen in us;
Then the world will know that Jesus Christ is Lord!

Now is the time for you and I to join our hearts in praise.
That the name of Jesus, will be lifted high above the earth,
Then the world will know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Let us be one voice that glorifies Your name.

Let us be one voice declaring that You reign.
Let us be one voice in love and harmony,
And we pray O God, grant us unity.


Whilst waiting for final OSCEs.

Titanic, numbers, medicine

Coming to the end of study week creativity, and blog wars (which I clearly won, muhaha).

During study week, I spent more time on numbers, than I did on medicine. Mean, median, life tables, cumulative incidence, incidence rate, binomial distribution, normal distribution, and so on. Statistics. Yawn? I thought it would be. But it was fascinating, the assumptions and stories behind these ways we use to summarise information.

One set of data really caught my attention. Survival of passengers aboard Titanic (see more detailed figures and analysis). What a story numbers tell!

"Those poor poor people," my friend said. Indeed, it does not take long before you feel the injustice seeping through the page (computer screen). Were the rich informed first? Were the poor systematically excluded from the lifeboats? Was wealth a measure of how much a person's life was worth? There are even journal papers discussing these questions.

The numbers tell a more noble story too, of how women and children were preferentially saved. It's sad - picturing these agonising decisions of who should live, and who should not. The rush, the terror, the scramble to safety, before your ship sinks out in the middle of a cold, cold ocean. Chilling too to wonder, when it comes down to it, would I not also push people out of the way to survive?

Would the movie Titanic be more powerful than these numbers, in impressing these images and emotions within me? I have never watched Titanic by the way, so I could find out, if I wanted to.

Working out answers to mathematical questions recaptured a period of time before university when I really enjoyed learning. The type of interest which consumed you, as much as a good novel you were reading, or a drawing you were working on. Not that maths was my favourite, but I have always enjoyed working out problems, doing questions to learn (like physics). Rather than areas which relies heavily on descriptions, and a good memory (like biology, which I didn't take up for that very reason). When I can and do study, the week before exams is usually one of my favourite weeks of the semester - sleep, eat, procrastinate, study, repeat. But I think, the contrast between intriguing Titanic figures and preparing for exams, has reminded me once more of why I don't find the subject of medicine very exciting.

I have come a long way from first year where I truly fell asleep through almost an entirety of one lecture, every single day. Sometimes I didn't understand the words they used, other times I couldn't see how I was supposed to remember step by step, what goes on in some long and boring biological pathway. Then somewhere during clinical school, I realised to my delight that understanding and problem solving was part of medicine too. Having not much knowledge of the details, you can still work out a basic history to ask, physical exam to perform, investigations to perform, or management issues to consider, for any condition or presentation.

You can get by with that, but it can only get you so far. You will always have those random lists which don't make sense. Obscure symptoms and signs which are barely logical, eponymous names which collect symptoms which should not even exist together, specific terms for radiological findings, associated conditions - some which feel associated, but most which feel unrelated, criteria for scoring for diagnosis or prognosis, staging systems for malignancies. Then drugs, with their hard to pronounce names, side effects which affect every system, dosages which can sometimes vary with brands, even for the same generic medication. Or expected values for this and that blood test. Or fanciful bacteria and parasite names, or body parts in full glorious Latin. And so many acronyms and mnemonics, that I might remember something amusing like I GET SMASHED (aetiology of pancreatitis), but barely remember what each letter stands for.

To be more than mediocre, you do need to remember tiring terms, long lists and fantastic figures. Physician training, or most areas of medicine really, seem to favour people with good memories. Which I lack; I would say, in general people don't get excited about an area that they are not good at. So I wonder at times, would I better utilise my strengths elsewhere, or would there be a suitable area in medicine? Or, would that matter less when you spend more time working and learning, rather than reading and learning? Would people be interesting enough that it wouldn't matter how interesting or disinteresting anything else was? I don't know, but I guess we will know, in time.

University classmates

I've always found it awkward, to not see my classmates for years, then see them again. Then not for months, then again at internship talks and career related events, then not for more months, then again at exams, then not, then again at graduation and celebrations.

I guess, I never liked them much, and don't hold any sentimental attachment towards my cohort. In those preclinical days, I didn't like the fact that all the students from local high schools had their gangs, those from residential colleges were close to one another, those on the same train line got to know one another well, those from an Indian background had their own group, as did the exclusive Singaporeans who rarely associated with anyone else, and as did a group of Indonesians who were always so talkative. I didn't enjoy associating with those who were smart but arrogant, or obsessively competitive until they lived biochemical pathways and breathed anatomy notes. Nor did I share much in common with those who boasted about how many times they had sex in a day, those who were more interested in having a drunken good time than learning medicine, or girls who treated every day at school as a fashion show or beauty contest to win.

Maybe I met some nice people too, but I can't recall many. I disliked medical students altogether and avoided associating with them. Truth is, I probably felt that way because I felt sad and rejected about not fitting into their conversations, their backgrounds, their interests, their lives. I guess now my views towards the medical community have shifted, after encountering memorable friendships, friends who I'm thankful for, both at my clinical school and outside that too, with those from other cities and countries around the world. Nevertheless, being back each time reignites some of those negative feelings.

During our long wait in the holding area, as we held small chit chats with those seated around us, I wondered, what makes two people click, and another two get along awkwardly every time they meet? Is it that the other person is awkward (but they don't seem to have issues getting along with mutual friends), or that I'm awkward, or is it just something between us that will never change? On the other hand, how is it that another person may be socially awkward, but be one that you can get along with easily? What makes one person warm, and another cold as frost? How is it that you can laugh and joke with some people in one setting, and not know what to say to say to them, when the setting changes? Why do I feel hated and snubbed every time I interact with some people, or am I hypersensitive and misinterpreting their sentiments towards me? What is it about an interaction that makes two people want to get to know each other, make an effort to be friends, and how do people decide who are the individuals they will politely greet but are happy to never see again?

It's so complicated. My head hurts.



Ezekiel was a man called by God to warn his people of the destruction and judgment that was to come. At this time, God's people were living in sin and disobedience. The rulers were misusing their power, the priests cared little about teaching God's law, the prophets lied about their visions. The people were leaving God for idols, taking bribes, stealing from one another, mistreating the needy, sleeping with their neighbour's wives, their daughter-in-laws, their sisters (Ezekiel chapter 22).

1. Attack a clay tablet

"...take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it." - Ezekiel 4:1-2

The strange instructions were to be a warning to the people, presumably that Israel would be under siege.

2. Lying on one side without turning

"I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege." - Ezekiel 4:8

God instructs Ezekiel to lie on his left only for 390 days, and right only for 40 days, symbolising the years in which Israel and Judah will bear their sins.

3. Baking bread over human excrement

This was to warn Israel that they will eat defiled foods in the nations where they will be scattered. Ezekiel protests that he had never eaten unclean foods in his life, and God's response was:

"Very well," he said, "I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement." - Ezekiel 4:15

4. Lusting after the strong, handsome and powerful

"...she lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians - warriors clothed in blue, governors and commanders, all of them handsome young men, and mounted horsemen" - Ezekiel 23:5-6

God likens his people to two sisters, who shamelessly chased and prostituted themselves for other men, whilst he was their rightful husband. What a shocking allegory, with imageries of caressed bosoms, genitals which were like those of donkeys, and emission that were like those of horses (Ezekiel 23:20-21)! I cringe at even reading from the page; can you imagine having this allegory preached and explained one fine day at church?

5. Taking away life, for God's purposes

The craziest event yet. Ezekiel was carrying out what God had commanded him to do, and now, God tells him that his wife was to die. Immediately. Whilst the other events so far have been serious but so strange that it's almost amusing, this feels tragic and bewildering.

"Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes." - Ezekiel 24:16

Then, he is told not to mourn for her, in the customary way. Even more baffling, her death, and Ezekiel's response was to be a sign onto Israel for what will befall them. Faithfully, Ezekiel goes out and explains to the people the very next morning, how this was a warning for them.

Reading that, I feel quite sad, and troubled. Is it fair to take away a life of someone so precious to him to make a point onto a stubborn nation? Would I still follow God if something similar happened? How is it that Ezekiel did not give up in his ministry? I guess, he must have personally encountered God, and deeply understood who God was.

The crazy ways of God

It's tempting to ignore these quite bizarre stories of the Old Testament (by the way, The Bible Jesus Read is a helpful book in understanding what the Old Testament is about). But here, we see God's character for what it is - in loving patience, he calls on Israel again and again to turn away from idols, from sin, from a destructive way of life. In his holiness, God punishes and brings justice.

Ezekiel is given outrageous instructions, so that the prophet himself, in physical form and action, would graphically and loudly warn the people, about a judgment to come. God's roar is like that of a lion, which the people (and us also) would do well to fear and heed. Even knowing this, sometimes it still feels that God doesn't make sense, and what he says and does is craaaaaazy. Not to be irreverent though - he is creator, and sovereign, and as clay are not in the position to quarrel with the potter, neither will we quarrel with our maker, whose ways are above ours.

Time, mysterious time

Time, mysterious time.
A year, six years
How long is long,
How short is short?
How do some months
Fly fleetingly, carelessly
Whilst it need not hurry;
And others halt,
Wait out. Waiting
In agonising slowness
For days to be marked.
How are these the same
Circles spun, passing
The same numbers
Twenty-four times?
Time, mysterious time
Ticking quietly, unseen
Labouring without rest
Patiently boring holes
One drip,
One drip, at a time.
A constant friend, a foe.
A healer, a murderer.


1. What is this supposed to be about?

I used to avoid Psalms. That year, when I decided to read the Bible from start to end, I reluctantly and sleepily ploughed through it.

I couldn't understand what it was about. It was set in this faraway land of chariots and swords, wild beasts and deserts. It was repetitive and chaotic - all one hundred and fifty chapters seemed to be about David and others being constantly paranoid about their perhaps real perhaps imaginary enemies (was thinking about this a long time before I learnt anything about psych), then asking for their enemies to be crushed, and then moving between whinging about their fears and anguish, to random bursts of praise of how high God was, and how good he was to them. The praise and complaints were equally perplexing to me.

2. Poetry, and paintings with words.

Then one year, I read in a book that Psalms was loved for its richness in human emotions. So it was like poetry. Painting with words, and even with unfamiliar imagery, or events which are different to what we would encounter, the emotional landscape of the psalmists are what resonates with us, many centuries later.

So it was no surprise that I didn't like Psalms. I disliked poetry and literature for most of high school. Why waste so many words, write so elaborately, when it could all be so simple? Why waste time writing about war and love at all; and even if you have a message to the world, why not write in clear prose instead of confusing the poor students annotating your text with all this rhyme, rhythm, metaphors, alliterations and more. To me, it was so pretentious and unnecessary.

I guess rather unexpectedly, here I am often thinking about how to craft language, and jotting down many (what I would have considered to be) unnecessary words.

3. He was a writer!

During a sermon on a psalm of David last week, I thought about how this man of God, king of a nation, military commander, strong warrior, was also... a writer and harp player. How bizarre! What's more, his outpourings of feelings, his sins and repentance, his relationship with God, and references to life events, are deeply personal. Presumably, psalms were sung publicly, and not only written for his reflection alone. Can you imagine, a king's blog, or a leader making known his struggles and prayers to God?

In Psalm 55 we looked at how David cries out in fear and betrayal, then desires to "fly away and be at rest" (isn't that what suicidal ideations are about...). He cries out to God constantly, recalls God's justice, and finally concludes with, "but as for me, I trust in you".

In Psalms, the feelings of pain, hate, and fear are honestly expressed. Yet these emotions are dealt with alongside the remembrance of who God is - his greatness, holiness, love and faithfulness. One day I was trying to explain why I would take weeks to write stories for myself, and in answering, I realised that just as students draw mind maps to show how they arrived at what they learnt, written words can be a mental map of a journey, so that you don't have to start afresh, finding a new route every time. I think Psalms, parts of Job, and other such passages, are similar. They don't necessarily give an answer to why there is suffering, or provide a solution to our fears, but are a model or map for how to go about thinking, feeling and praying with the knowledge of God, in both troubled and joyful times.

It's good to know that words can be purposeful, and that writers need not to be indulgent narcissists or dreamers who toy with abstract ideas for the sake of it (I guess it depends on how you go about writing).

4. What did the old tunes sound like?

We went through a story in Judges in English class, and at the end of it, the teacher for that week got all of us sing the Song of Deborah to the tune of Australia's national anthem. Which was strange. The same words sung and spoken out loud felt different.

The words of Psalm 23 come alive so beautifully in a sung melody!

I love many songs, but find it particularly meaningful to meditate on lyrics which are closely based on scripture itself. How memorable are verses in a tune! Not being able to read much of the Chinese Bible (unfortunately), but in songs, I can recall 我要向高山举目 (Psalm 121) and 除你以外 (Psalm 73).

Another song I like (not in Psalms though) with lyrics almost directly taken from words of the Bible is Highest Place - amusingly, many time I can't read Philippians 2 without the chorus of the song playing in my head:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name above all names
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.

Ward rounds

Memories of aged care

I wanted to write these things down months ago but never quite got around to it.

In aged care, I came across a consultant who was had this almost mean smirk on her face constantly, and spoke softly but harshly. She hardly said hello to patients, ever. One day she pinched an overweight lady's abdominal fat, wobbled it around, and then asked her - "what is this? You need to lose it." The patient said oh, with surprise, and I was equally surprised. Another lady had an unusual gait, and this consultant demanded to know "Ms X, why are you dancing like a ballerina?" What a strange sense of humour.

It was disheartening that the attitudes of the senior doctors were readily followed by the rest of the team. I remember an old man who the team rolled their eyes at and dreaded rounding because he always complained. As they whisked through his daily observations, talked about his condition and ignored his attempts to engage in conversation, he demanded with his gruff slurred voice - "aren't you going to talk to me?!" Having plenty of time as a student, I answered his questions about what was happening, and listened to his story about the apparently inattentive overnight nurse, and just a few minutes into the conversation, he (quite appropriately, and thoughtfully) said I should really go and catch up with the other doctors.

Somewhere during those weeks, I noted to myself to work hard to be a normal person, to say hi and bye, as you would in any other situation. And to do that even if the tension of scribbling madly, listening to multiple conversations and rushing off to see the next patient pulls you in the opposite direction.

My clearest memory of aged care was this man in his nineties who always greeted us with a hearty good morning, and winked at me, once or twice. I guess he (and others like him) remind me of my grandfather, who is so stubborn, but doting. Anyway, this man had been in hospital since the first day of my six week rotation and was there until something like my final week. Unlike many of our patients, his mind was sharp, and each day there was a pleasant albeit brief conversation. He had heart failure and I was supposed to complete an observed physical examination on him. Before the weekend he had been sitting up, and was getting ready to leave as soon as home supports were in place. Then he developed pneumonia, and was back in bed. I wasn't there to know the details but over the weekend his infection continued, he had acute renal failure, and ultimately died of a gastrointestinal bleed. So I had to find something else to do for my assessment. But that was okay. But every time I walked past his bed, or when I later saw his name on an old handover list, I would feel a bit sad, and wonder about where he was now (not his physical body of course).

The surgeon and his (her) minions

Groomed, with large leather bags or expensive handbags (I was curious and took a look inside, one was filled with multiple medical journals, another with an iPad and a very fat wallet). Hands on hips, arms crossed, walking deliberately, nodding, firing a question here and there. Talking amongst each other as if there is a massive gulf between themselves and the rest, joking darkly about people dying and having metastasis spread everywhere, complaining about the public hospital system, having lists cancelled, etc. Yes, this is your friendly consultant.

Then there are the in-betweens. Energetic but laid back, presenting with confidence but not yet arrogance and self importance, with distinct character but not yet obnoxious or growing an unsightly Hitler-styled moustache, probably having enough to indulge in delicious food but not entertaining a lifestyle of obesity yet. I guess, it's just a matter of time until these registrars become the men (women) in suits.

The team's secretaries - holding piles of papers, running to get files, scrambling to write down notes, looking intently at everyone who is talking, opening doors and stepping out of the way. Anonymous (the intern said so, not me). Behind them, the non medical staff, usually women, sometimes in alternative outfits, with large dangling earrings, talking indiscreetly about how doctors never actually talk to their patients.

Then there's us, with minds half there, half elsewhere, with our short attention spans. Standing at the patient's end of the bed (because there is no room on the foot end) wandering what he or she feels about the mass of doctors who swarm on them every morning. Wondering why this ward smells different to the next, watching the blood nurse sucking blood skillfully like a vampire - okay not really she is just doing her job. Seeing the multiple bouquets of beautiful flowers one patient has and wondering what makes a person have more flowers and cards than the person next to them. Reading educational posters and random signs and notes, looking out the window and looking at the city skyline in the distance. Admiring a colourful fish painting down the corridor and wondering whether a staff member painted and framed it there, or whether it was just a donated gift. Eyes lighting up to a multidisciplinary meeting - a platter of fruit, adjacent to an assortment of muffins, and delicious bacon and egg breakfast rolls. Mmm, that is what I came in for today!

I guess what goes on in hospital life, whilst familiar, still strikes me as strange. I'm surprised that what I paid attention to, the way I perceived my surroundings during those first ward rounds, are quite similar to what I have described here, on my last ward round as a student. Do I really have to switch roles? I don't really want to...

How many have you loved

Who, what, when, where, why. I would not have been impressed with this guy's smooth talk if I had asked the same question, "how many have you loved?"

I've sang it countless times in song lyrics, in English, in Chinese, and more. Wrote it out once, maybe twice, in an indirect, roundabout way. How far along a relationship do you first start to say "I love you", we discussed, in our lovely but not so productive group study session - which ended up to be a delicious feast of Korean fried chicken with pear salad, mango and grapes, jelly and flavoured seaweed, and lots of random chit chats. I can't remember ever having said those three words aloud, ever. Really?! That's so weird. 

Anyway, I thought about how I would answer that question, and whether what the guy in the short film said resonated with me. Did I love at the time; and even if I did, is it fair to retrospectively say that I did or did not love, based on my thoughts about what love means now.

What is love? Oh how it changes.

As a child love was the desk buddy you blamed for something that was your own fault, but still brought your homework books to your house when you left them at school. Or a classmate who twirled red and green pipe cleaners to create a perfectly shaped heart and sweetly handed it to you for Christmas - instead of the other boy who saw what the first boy had done, and made a wonky white and yellow imitation that barely resembled a heart. Love was a poorly written piece of poetry, left beside your scooter, which you tried hard to decipher because it was barely legible, but soon gave up and forgot about shortly after. Love, was the not very academic boy teased and hated by everyone in class, who had the foresight to bravely ask you to be his primary school graduation dance partner a whole half a year (no less!) in advance. Or for some, love was the cutest and most popular guy who expressed his interest.

In high school love was the boy who asked your mother for permission, before asking you out in person. Which was a refreshing change from randomly declarations of love from people who you never spoken to, who said you were beautiful, and declared their love from behind the screen of a computer. Love was the warm and fuzzy feeling that kept you awake after your first date, of watching a movie that neither of you paid much attention to. It was not caring what this or that person said about what he looked like, what his background was, or being together, despite the frownings by the nosy adults in our community who said - you are going to be distracted in your studies. Love was having a Valentine to bring you gifts and endure the teasing of your crazy girl friends. It was drawing a lovely blinking bear in front of a rainbow, childlishly playing footsies under the table, or letting someone hold your hand for the first time.

At the same time, love was not that best friend who awkwardly swapped seats to be seated next to you on a long international flight, then in the middle of the plane trip, abruptly held his hand up and declared that you should do the same so that you could, palm to palm, see how perfectly they fitted one another. Love was not the intensity of one depressed person paired with another sad person to create waves of negative emotions which would wash over from one to the other. Or him, having long DNMs (to borrow my friend's phrase) with other girls on long phone calls, or having other fights which would result in long silences on the phone whilst you felt the time pressure of trying to prepare for your piano exams, as well as high school finals.

Later on, love was being unfortunately paired with an annoying, arrogant jerk for school work, only to later become best friends with him. Love was catching each other's eye in class, then quickly looking away and feeling giddy inside. It was never exchanging words at school, but writing a million emails back and forth, every day, about every thing. Love was having a person to make you laugh after you had a fight with your parents, or listening to his sibling conflicts at home. Love was well, sort of nerdy. Getting through the final part of high school together, studying and racing to solve mathematic problems on practice exams, outdoing one another in assessments, seeing each other at the library every day during study week and pouring water on his head every time he took a drink at the water fountain. Or (get ready for more nerdiness) receiving clues via a message encoded in a series of matrices and colour codes. Love was the fun of changing your profile picture and screen names to be the same so that all your friends were confused. Or the awesome delight of receiving a creatively carved block of cheese, in the shape of a rat!

Love was being relentlessly pursued for years though you had laughed at him, offended him, when he first told you how he felt. Love made the high school formal magical, and made you dance happily until midnight, though your friends had left hours earlier. Love was saying goodbye for a year, waiting and hoping that the lyrics of (Guang Liang's) 童话 and 约定 would really come true. But fairytales are fairytales for a reason, ha ha. Love was going through many seasons thereafter as good friends, listening to each other's new love problems, but that would also end one day.

In a brand new city, love was the boy who shared his breakfast with you, and many meals thereafter. Love was filling an emptiness in one another, until the world seemed to only contain the two of you - only later do you realise how you each had neglected to invest in other friendships, interests and hobbies, to your detriment. Love was exploring the city, learning to do daily chores, and helping each other to get by with living away from home for the first time; vacuuming, laundry, dishes and all those mundane things in life. Love was not - having that closeness, then not acknowledging it by calling it, just friends.

Love was confiding secrets in one another, caring for one another, having someone to sit by you when you are delirious with fever. Love was staying overnight at the airport, so that he could pick you up early in the morning, and leaving you a lovely surprise in the fridge upon your return. Or the thoughtfulness of making a home-made drink out of green tea ice cream for you because you loved it so, and prettily completing the drink with bubble tea pearls and bright green mint leaves. Love was being taken to the highest mountain, or highest buildings in the city, looking out on a beautiful sunset, then being showered with multiple cakes, surprises, long road trips, and expensive gifts. Yet soon realising that you can have beautiful scenes and even beautiful times, but that doesn't always equate to a beautiful relationship. Love was a warm hug, but then seeing, how love was not a valid excuse for lust. Love was, sitting through church services with you every Sunday, and even taking notes; then perhaps realising, love was not about trying to meld two sets of values that were worlds apart. Never being able to agree on the fundamentals about what life and love was about - all that would do was make one another unhappy, or compromise on the essence of who we were.

As college students, love was about being crazy. Running around and literally chasing one another down the corridor, down the street. Having your headband and shoes stolen, and plotting revenge by throwing his shoe outside the window, or apple pieces into the principal's courtyard beneath his balcony. Hiding in the wardrobe and jumping out to scare the other person, smashing the table tennis ball at one another's faces, play fighting and choking one another. Then, love was about the quieter times too - talking until early hours of the morning, walking around the graveyard, learning from the Bible together, praying and asking God for help, and memorably, love was about honestly pointing out something wrong in your life. Love was crazily intoxicating, but it is not about being blind to how you hurt others in the process. Neither was love about taking a huge leap before you take a good long look, and think about what you were doing. Love, it seemed, was the long period of harmony at the begininning; until a year had passed and you saw that it was merely the sweetness that marked the first stage of a relationship.

Back in high school, I would show an interested guy this poem, which would basically ask whether he liked me or liked the notion and feeling of being in love. I would never have admitted it, but perhaps for many years, I too often confused the two. It seemed that anyone who came along the way was suitable enough as long as there was that buzz, or as long as they were totally, "my zing" (Hotel Transylvania, terrible movie). It took me a long time to realise that it's very inadequate not to be able to give specific reasons as to why you like someone - you have to look a bit harder, take a bit more time to work out who they are, whether there is something special, compatible, worthwhile pursuing, beyond the delusional feelings which would fade one day.

I agree with the guy on WongFu productions, how "the final" would contain bits of everything - the crazy times, the fun times, the mutual care, the hopes, learning together, getting through daily life, and more. But, with so many silly and strange ideas about love over the years, after seeing all that love is not, who would really want their final person to embody everything that they found in all their previous "loves"?? Looking back you wonder, how could I ever have thought this or that was true love. Then you wonder, would I mock myself with the same question if I looked back from the future, to where I am now?

What does the picture of love look like in my mind, now?

Out of convenience

I was listening to Malachi randomly, at a timely time, on the drive that I sort of wish I didn't go on.

God's people (the Israelites) in Malachi's time failed to give tithe and offerings as required. They saw it as a burden. They knew the requirements of the law but saw nothing wrong with offering blind and lame animals to God, though they had acceptable animals in their flocks. They gave, but out of their convenience. Those animals couldn't have profited them much anyway. Or in Jesus' time, those who were giving out of their wealth - perhaps they were happy to drop in a sum each week, as long as it didn't hurt their lifestyles.

Do we obey God out of convenience?

I have been (am) struggling with how love comes at a cost. Perhaps it costs time when you could use for study, or petrol on a week where fuel prices are high, or significant damage to your personal belongings. Perhaps the cost is less tangible, but very real nevertheless. Less hours of sleep, maybe even insomnia. Not being appreciated, or the sort of friendship where you are only contacted out of the other person's convenience. How about when the person you are helping, in the same breath that they express their gratitude, shock you with how self centred they are. Maybe with something that is not even socially acceptable, akin to refusing a small favour such as, can you please pass the water from across the table.

Sometimes I think, maybe I'm nice you know, I do love my neighbours - thinking about how I can encourage this person, spend time with that person, help with someone else's needs, buy something good to share with another person. I love a little, while it's convenient. Until it costs me something that hurts. Then it turns to hate or pondering whether it is worthwhile to serve God. If this person is like that, why should I ever do anything for them. I wish I never noticed. I should have stayed home, then this would have never happened. God this is not fair, why did this happen when I am trying to be good to others?!

“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?" - Malachi 3:13-14

I guess, when you read the whole story of Israel and how patiently God had loved and blessed the people with everything they had, it's ridiculous that the people would say that. But somehow, it sounds more reasonable coming from my own heart... but it's not.

So no, reality is that I'm selective, and give up easily, and don't love that selfless love much at all. A humbling reminder it is, of how none of us can be righteous before God by our own efforts, and how deeply we need to grasp God's love to continue loving. What a high calling Jesus gave and demonstrated, to love your enemies; and if your enemies, then surely your friends also!

(By the way, I always thought loving enemies was an oxymoronic statement, but perhaps what he was saying was, those who despise you as an enemy rather than those whom you despise as enemies.)

What is on your mind?

Philippians 4:8
Think about such things.

Shaping our thoughts by what is unseen and eternal, and a love for God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. - Matthew 22:37

Writing about writing

"I don't understand, how can anyone write so much?"

I love writing.
Making sense of life. Sorting, shaping thoughts, feelings, views.
Stopping them from crazily and endlessly spinning in my head.
But you have to be careful with what you share with the world.
Careful not to write about people you know, offending them.
Careful not to name people, not to say too much about yourself.
Careful, so you think you are safe but maybe you are not.
Even in a convoluted way, there is depth in sharing who you are.
Never thinking, how abstract words, could surprise you.
Colliding with a mirror of your inner world, painfully. In tangible reality.
Writing to touch others, never imagining how profoundly it would touch you.
Writing about what was learnt; not seeing the start of a new lesson.
How could questions and uncertainties be so intertwined with writing.
Not knowing what to think, say. Not wanting to say anything at all.
Food was scrumptious. Blissful. Cannot hurt, or turn insane.
For a time. But sickening after a terrible evening. Hate it.
For a time, wanting to never, ever, write about it again.
So here I am again, resuming drafts on what I really love to write about.

From the other side

The ambulance call

"Can you have a look at her?"

That morning I was awoken by distressed cries and loud bangs on the door. Her tongue was swollen, in pain, and she couldn't speak or eat properly. The ambulance was called.

Sleepily I sat on the couch beside her. Ironically, we had just revised the ALS protocols the previous day. Airway, breathing, circulation. Tongue was mildly swollen but nothing else to suggest anaphylaxis. No respiratory distress. Er, what else would cause this? I sat in silence, watching her cry and struggle in agitation, unsure of what to say or do, not knowing whether it was appropriate for me to examine her further or to try to calm her down. Sorry, I wish I could have been more helpful. Fortunately the paramedics arrived, and I watched in marvel at how they turned chaos into peace; just simple measures of putting on a saturation probe and listening to the lungs, or speaking to her in a calm but authoritative tone.

Greeting the second ambulance that arrived, I stood sleepily on the front steps, with messy morning hair, in my bright stripy pyjamas. Are you the patient, they asked. Is she your sister? What?! Being used to the assumption that I was part of the medical team (even as a student), I was taken aback by the question. Then, I struggled to give a concise briefing on what was happening, especially not knowing how much of her past history to say or omit with her there in front of me. What did I do all those long case presentations for if I can't give a one minute handover?

I reflected, was it the hospital (or clinic) environment, the medical gadgets there, the doctors and nursing staff surrounding me, that bestowed upon me an ability to think and management problems medically? Void of those, I felt that a layperson could have handle the situation more appropriately. Maybe that's why unlike some of my classmates, I'm not excited about the prospect of finding myself in the middle of an emergency on the streets or on the plane. Surely, had I been dressed for work, wearing the stethoscope around my neck, hospital badge clipped to my shoulder bag, walking down the Emergency Department, the same presentation would have been met with a more active response than simply sitting beside her once I worked out that there was no immediate risks to her life, and that she was far from needing chest compressions. Yet it still makes me doubt whether I can be a doctor at all.

The inpatient

"Doctors! They can't make up their minds," she told me in exasperation, about how her elderly mother with rectal bleeding was managed on the acute wards.

One day they prepare and fast her, the next day they say the procedure is too risky. One they they want to do the colonoscopy, next day they decide to do CT instead. Now they scheduled a PillCam for next week. Angiogram was planned and cancelled. She's working but visiting the hospital every day, feeling frustrated with the decisions that are being changed all the time, not certain of how long this will go for.

So that's what it is like from the other side. Not that patients and relatives don't express similar frustrations during their stays, but I guess it's different when someone confides in you outside your medical role, and when the person is closer to you. A reminder of why good communication between the team, patients and their families is important.


One day, I was driving along a familiar road. Dusk tinted my vision with its greyish-blue shade. The street and city lights appeared dimmer against a sky which had not yet become completely dark.

Suddenly, I realised that every road sign along the way was blurry. I could barely make out road names, or read the number plates of cars in front. The green and red traffic lights smeared beyond neat round circles. I wondered, how many times had I driven home along this road, assuming that I could read speed signs, when what I was doing was actually relying on memorised speed limits? How often did I walked past these restaurants, without being able to read their neon-lit names?

Was my window foggy or dirty? Was it because I was used to driving at broad daylight or in deep darkness, but nothing in between? Is something wrong, did I sleep too little, were my eyes puffy or blurry from tears, did I need new contacts - but how can that be when I just started wearing fresh ones recently? The more worrying question was, how could I have not noticed the extent of blurriness in my vision, for surely it had been a gradual decline! Did I spend too much time looking at what was directly in front of me, was I too absorbed in singing (screeching) along to melodious emo pop songs while I drove, or too often lived within the landscape of my emotions and thoughts rather than in reality, that I had stopped seeing and noticing my surroundings?

One night, I wore the stronger prescription glasses, and turned off the bathroom lights. By chance my head was tilted towards the window panel above (which I completely forgot existed). I felt a flutter of delight and amazement at the stars above - I could not recall when I last had the acuity to clearly pick out those small, silver dots of brightness in the night sky.

What if your blessings come through raindrops?

Blessings - Laura Story

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel you near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if each promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know
You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win, we know
That pain reminds this heart,
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy.

What if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?

God, why?

I think it will take me a long time, if ever, to understand. But I see now why I loved this song and thought so often about what it meant, since I first heard it on the radio that frosty morning. What beautiful words of sorrow and hope, truth and clarity.  How did I not see it before - there is no true antidote in anyone, any distractions, anything, but God.

Lessons from Ephesians

 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12

Seasons pass, where reading the Bible and listening to sermons becomes a chore. During those times, I hear an exasperated voice say within, I've heard this so many times already, what can I possibly learn from hearing it again? Yet, seasons come when it's fascinating to study God's words, even if we are going through the same handful of chapters, for months and months. During these times, it's a delight to discover the depth of God's word, and amazing to hear each day, a living truth that we would do well to take to heart.

Some lessons and ponderings from Ephesians, mostly from this week's studies.

1. Knowing Christ

"You, however, did not come to know Christ that way." - Eph 4:20

What does it mean, to know Christ? What did it mean earlier in the letter, when Paul prayed for the Ephesian church (who were obviously Christians already) to know God better?

It's more than hearing, or even believing, that he exists. One of our speakers put it as, the difference between knowing about someone, and actually knowing them, personally.

2. Deceitful desires

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires..." - Eph 4:22

Deceitful because, it can be an innocent desire itself, but become corrupt as it overshadows or distracts our focus on God. Deceitful because, sometimes even we have difficulty seeing the layers of good and pious reasons we give for something that is essentially self serving.

Apparently there is a hymn, "prayer is the soul's sincere desire". And the challenging question is, what do you pray for in your quiet moments before God?

3. New attitudes

"to be made new in the attitude of your minds..." - Eph 4:23

For myself, it's interesting to see that in very real ways, knowing God has brought me new attitudes and desires that are quite distinct from my original self.

Also, I liked the study guide question - what are you doing to renew your mind in Christ?

4. Holiness is not a mystical state

"and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" - Eph 3:23

Holiness is more than something that just happens where we become crowned with a halo, wear white robes, stand with a calm but solemn expression, and have sun rays shining upon us! Living out holiness involves taking off our old self, and putting on our new selves, which requires practical actions, and our active participation.

5. Consider needs of others

"and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us..." - Eph 5:2

All the practical examples Paul gave from 4:25 to 5:4 in regards to living out holiness, can be summarised by living a life of love which puts others before ourselves - for example, practicing unity in the church by being slow to anger and forgiving one another. Or, building others with the words we say. Godliness isn't practiced in isolation.

6. Being very careful

"Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise..." - Eph 5:15

This is my last point because I can read the passages every day, listen to the sermons every week, and discuss it in Bible study twice a week. But, every day, I want to pursue my own desires without stopping to evaluate whether that is in line with what God desires. Every day, out of boredom, jest, spite, carelessness or, in particular, in anger, I speak (or write, ha) words which neither build up nor benefit those who listen.

Beware, be intentional, because it doesn't come easily or naturally to live wisely. Thank God, for being gracious towards us.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. - Eph 2:4-5

Change of pace

For a few days, I exchanged my scarves for slippers, and saw a sun which glowed with real brightness and intensity. For once, my thoughts were occupied not just with discharge summaries and the whirlpool of my own feelings, but with the lives of old friends, and medicine that touched poverty, politics, and the wider world. As I weaved up into vast skies and layers of clouds, once again I was struck by the consciousness of my own mortality, despite knowing that statistically, dying from a plane crash is extremely unlikely.

From waking up to noisy neighbours and train hoots, there, I woke up to an unnecessarily loud and horribly evil laugh of a kookaburra, followed by a colourful choir of tweets, which reminded me so much of home. My never changing breakfast of two minute oats, milk, and bananas, was changed to, waking-up-too-late-for-breakfast, which would be promptly followed by scoffing down dry scones at morning tea, binging on tea and milk for lack of good food options, piling massive plates of not so filling vegetarian meals (organisers were going green), and diving for fried finger foods in the evenings. Each night would conclude with a stroll down to the night markets, armed with a delicious roll of Japanese crepe with whipped cream and ice cream.

Instead of (mentally) speaking with myself at my desk, which makes for poor and tiresome company, I sat with old friends on quiet benches outside loud and drunken parties, indulging in long overdue catch up chats. We talked until early hours of the morning, about our careers and futures, above love, about makeup and clothes; laughing at how each of us, from the pink-loving girly girls to the tomboys who never wanted to be girls, were on a journey of transformation, from a girl to a woman. Having often lamented on lost friendships during university years, I delighted in discovering that old high school friendships could mature into something better, where even the craziest girls, or the boys who adored only games and Anime, could develop a thoughtfulness and patience to listen and connect on a meaningful level.

A few days of warmth and a change of scene, away from the unbearably stubborn fog through which everything becomes indistinguishable shades of grey; respite, I think that is what they call it...

Life, not love

It's about life, not love.

It was and is my dad's favourite line. Probably mum's too. Not that I was ever a hopeless romantic. But as teenagers do, you half listen and half think, how cold is that? Maybe that's how things worked in your times, but... just a bit outdated! They never tire of repeating the phrase. Whether we are sitting back lazily on the bed in our new house, in a quiet evening stroll beside the sea-facing resort pool in Bali, or chugging along a bumpy train in China. More and more this year, I have been thinking about this phrase, weighing up its truth, its value.

A: We did all the corny things that couples do, just sitting and holding hands. Beach, mountains, sunsets. It was nice, like being on drugs, all the time.
B: Or having a mental illness.
A: Now we see couples and laugh at them, ha. Well, you can't have that forever, the feeling fades. Unless you start a new relationship.
B: I guess you can't do that indefinitely.
A: Yeah, and it will never be the same as the first one.
A: He used to really love me, doing all the sweet things. He says all the right things now but...
B: He could do more?

Despite that, they are getting married this year.

We too laugh at young couples. Couples making out on open grass, blissfully oblivious to the other users of the busy park. Those glued tightly next to one another, so much so that they bump one another awkwardly and walk down the street in zig zags. The two in an adjacent table looking intently into each other's eyes, holding hands across the table, with an endless flow of soft sweet words and laughter. I guess they weren't too interested in the meal itself. Meanwhile, I eat in silence - looking intently at my mouth-watering, spicy crispy pork ribs, picturing how delicious another bite would be. Friends celebrating their one month, one and a half month, two months, three months, one hundred day anniversaries; that's nice, I say, but what I'm really thinking is, with that plus Christmas, Valentine's Day, birthdays and more, how many presents and special meals can you manage to buy in a year?!

As fire in a fireplace changes from hungry flames to a quieter glow, changes in relationships are inevitable. Perhaps necessary, because reality can't be held off forever. How quickly the buzz which is often called "love" gives way to "life". Doing life. Living with each other's imperfections, and somehow reconciling a growing realisation of differences in personality, backgrounds, interests, communication styles, ways of thinking, ways of feeling, basically everything. In handling daily life with studies, work, careers, household chores, church, children, property, finances, and more.

Life not love.

Mum and dad, is that what you meant? But, in a way, marriage is about love, as much as it is about life. Love, not the intoxicating feeling, but a quieter, selfless love that lasts and sees through the challenges of life. Also, I'm not old or cynical enough to agree with you completely just  yet - a little craziness, not every day not even every week, but once in awhile, would be nice.

love is more than a buzz
(Started drawing the original version of this whilst jotting down sermon notes!)

On false peace

A few weeks ago I was in a conversation, where a friend was speculating about afterlife, and what it entails. I wasn't sure what to say. It wasn't an appropriate time to articulate my views on the topic, yet I couldn't simply agree with what was said either.

How tempting it is, to only speak of God's great love, omitting an aspect of his character which is just as important - his holiness. Yet, by doing so, are we not leaving out an essential piece of the gospel, the good news? For what is so amazing about grace if there was no judgment.

Reading Jeremiah, I have been struck by how Jeremiah repeatedly speaks of judgment and then a time of peace and restoration, in contrast to the many false prophets of his time who declared peace, without acknowledging the judgment of Judah which was to come first.

So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, 'You will not serve the king of Babylon.' They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands... - Jeremiah 27:9-10

For example, in Jeremiah 28 there is a prophet called Hananiah who takes a yoke off Jeremiah and breaks it, falsely declaring that the Lord had revealed to him that the rule of the Babylonian kingdom will be broken within two years.

Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, "Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies. Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.' " In the seventh month of the same year, Hananiah the prophet died. - Jeremiah 28:15-17

The false prophets were harshly rebuked for proclaiming a message of peace without judgment, and for opposing God's message of judgment through Jeremiah. In agreeing that there is no judgment, but that afterlife is a beautiful place of rest, am I not giving a message of false peace that is not from the Lord? But what else can I possibly say, without being insensitive?

It is also unsettling just how unpopular Jeremiah's message was, resulting in hatred from the general populace to officials and religious leaders, resulting in his imprisonment and various murder plots directed against him. I suppose it's not just our generation which tolerates a message of love, but finds the message of judgment offensive.


Towards the end of high school, we flipped through a huge phone directory sized job guide, which has now become fully electronic. Abattoir worker, actor, aerobics instructor, agricultural engineer, analytical chemist, anthropologist, archaeologist. We have barely begun in covering the range of jobs starting with "A". By the way, anthropology was the one that sounded the coolest at the time. Oh well, maybe I will go back and do that BA one day.

At that time, I couldn't understand why training as an apprentice chef, was considered a "lower" job than say, an accountant. Or, why three years of university education was considered so much more worthy than a three year TAFE course. Or, why was it that, the higher a score that was needed to enter the course, the more students wanted to get into the course. Again I thought about the question, whilst working as a kitchen hand, alongside those who were a similar age to me, most who did not attend university, and many who did not complete high school. But, if you work hard at what you do, contributing to society in a meaningful way, what does it matter what you do? Even now, I'm not sure I completely understand the way our society ranks different occupations and careers.

In the same way, I don't understand why medicine is so prestigious. The expression of respect, especially but not exclusively within Asian circles, that becomes evident when one hears that you are studying medicine. Wow, you must be really smart. Uh, thanks? Not infrequently, I have had others misinterpret "studying medicine" to mean that I am going to be a nurse, or a pharmacist. It's when I feel the twinge of irritation of, no I'm going to be a doctor, that I realise, I have also adopted the attitude that we are smarter, better and simply superior. We joke about this so often and perhaps, one by one, we really start to believe it, if we didn't already upon entering medical school.

Elitist. Being in an old and well established university, our students are known for being stuck up, often making snide remarks about the incompetence of students studying on the other side of town. What, you are at a rural hospital for clinical school, you couldn't possibly have chosen to be there. Where are you going next year? Congratulations on your internship destination, largest is the best, the hardest places to get in, so you must be really good! Er, no I'm not, how do I explain that neither my marks nor my life achievements are amazing. I feel uncomfortable that my extended family is more excited about my internship destination than I am - uncomfortable, because I know they are happy because they love prestige. Anyway, how does older and bigger automatically equate to a better place to work and grow?

It just doesn't stop here. Which specialty training program are you in?  The enthusiastic "wow" for someone on the R.O.A.D. to happiness (radiology, ophthalmology, anaesthetics, dermatology), or training in a much admired field such as neurosurgery, is such a stark contrast to the "oh" someone training to be a general practitioner often receives - oh, why don't you want to specialise? Just like when we were in high school and choosing what to study in university, we equate more "difficult" entry requirements, to a better specialty, and a better person. Not just academically, but smarter, richer and more important. Therefore, we treat them with special favour. Or should we?

Good marks and hard work are fine in themselves, and indeed, many of those in highly sought after specialties are talented, committed, and deserve the respect that they have. But it really bothers me, the obsession of prestige and achievement that surrounds this profession. How across every level, from medical students to consultants, we are judged, and in turn judge one another, based on rank, specialty, place of training and other such criteria. Not only professionally, but just as much in personal and social interactions. And how we judge those outside medicine to be just... well, not as good. Why aren't you dating someone in medicine - or conversely - of course my parents will be happy with my sister's new boyfriend, he's going to be a doctor!

Perhaps, most troubling, is when this occurs in fellowship. Attending a medical Christian event over the weekend, we were asked to add our year level and university, or specialty for graduates, to our name tags. I thought, does this really matter, and pondered whether it would affect the way we talked and interacted with one another. More than a year ago now, I attended a talk at Christian medical event where I clearly felt the hospital hierarchy in the room. I happened to be seated next to registrars who seemed to want to make it clear that they were registrars (not intern or residents), and seemed to change their manner when they talked to fellow registrars, and when the medical students talked to them. Or it could be purely my interpretation; or, they were shy and not very talkative anyway.

The speaker in front was the head of the endocrine unit at this hospital, and the director of that very prestigious specialty college. During the talk (on a topic which I have now forgotten) I wondered whether at times the speakers were not speaking more as consultants to their junior doctors, on how to do medicine and life, rather than humbly sharing God's words and God's work in their own lives. Considering how important connections are, in turn, I wondered how many students were using refreshment and mingling time as career networking opportunities, rather than seeking genuine fellowship and spiritual growth. Maybe I was being over cynical, but certainly, the thought of focusing on the networking aspect did not escape my mind.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:26-28

At work, we should respect those in authority, including brothers and sisters in Christ. However, it was disappointing to see hospital heirarchy, reinforced by junior and senior doctors (and students) alike, permeating into church life and ultimately, hindering fellowship and taking the focus away from God. Recognising that we are all sinners, and recipients of God's grace, why should one (no matter who they are in the medical profession) exalt themselves over another? Perhaps that experience made me reluctant to join the medical fellowship events in M. Until recently that is, when I was once again reminded of the importance of being inspired by, encouraging and being encouraged by other Christians in medicine. Just as those who are proud stand out, there are of course, many who are marked by faith, having lives which point clearly to God.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! -
Philippians 2:3-8

What's wrong with being elitist? What's wrong with loving prestige? What's wrong with having an elevated view of our profession, our university, our hospital, our specialty, our rank? It matters what we value first and foremost. We lose perspective when self becomes bigger and more important than God. We forget who we trust in, who we should be thankful towards for all that we have. We compare with others, begin to focus on collecting trophies, aiming for what is "best" and most prestigious, to serve our pride and desire for recognition. In doing so, we lose sight of our purpose, and become distracted from working for God, and living to love others. Jesus, king of kings, did not exalt himself but came to serve. How each of us, not least myself, should be constantly reminded to do likewise!

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