The game

This game has come to an end.

After my last interview, I realised all that I learnt during this game. Thinking about it, I played the game not only for the month of applications, but for nearly a year. Preparing to enter the game - having just that extra bit of motivation to nudge you over the edge to be involved in university life, be part of a committee. Laughing with friends about being the founder and president of a "evidence based CV padding committee". Checking out what the fuss was with conferences. Doing that interesting (or absolutely useless, but free) course, dabbling in some rudimentary textbook editing. It has certainly made our lives colourful.

Who would have guessed that the game would enhance my skills in being female. Preparing for that day, I figured out, for the first time, how to use a blow dryer and straightener instead of relying on waking up to find the hair tame and smooth (which it almost never is). Feeling the same way as I did when I was seven and smearing mum's eyeshadow all over my eyelids, as I bought some of these goodies myself and tried to apply it without making myself look like an evil witch doctor. My wardrobe had expanded in variety and volume thanks to days of shopping for a suit jacket but instead, coming home with bags of op shop bargains. Realising, it's perfectly acceptable to not to buy that $300 dress from Cue or Jacquie - an outfit that's "me" does so much more than one that's incredibly high class and out of my price range. Realising also, it's okay to not wear a new stunning pair of heels if you can't actually walk without falling over in those heels.

The interviews themselves were worthwhile. Recalling difficult times, mistakes, conflicts and smiling as I thought, wow, without these, there would be no real experiences to talk about. Forced to think of my future pathway, and having a wide eyed moment as I saw how paediatrics lined up with everything that I've done, from my family life, to holiday work, to medical electives and conferences (still undecided though). Preparing, I found was impressed with how articulate, clear and incredibly helpful you could be, making up answers for me because you knew my life experiences, my interests, my strengths and weaknesses.

Not having an interview at hospital 1, I realised that even games can hurt, and learnt to deal with the inevitable feeling of rejection. In hospital 2 I made some difficult decisions to practice self care, and discovered the affiliation I had to my university in ways I had not previously imagined. Hospital 3's group interviews were, well, different. Watching how each person presented themselves, and how each person walked the delicate balance between presenting well and being fake was remarkable. During hospital 4's more conventional individual interviews, I was pleasantly surprised how much more comfortable I was talking about myself in front of strangers, rather than practicing with my friends. Hospital 5, for you only did I write a completely sincere and heartfelt cover letter.

The game helped us to quickly see who our true friends were. Who you could easily share your successes and failures with, and which ones trusted to share theirs with you. Who happily told you the specific questions they were asked at their interviews, and who quietly slipped out of your life or gave a generic answer when you asked them how everything was going. I quickly realised for which friends I could turn from being envious to genuinely being happy for them, and for whom I had real difficulties ridding myself of poisonous feelings towards them, because I honestly did not like them. Being busy also helped to weed out friends of convenience to friends who make an effort to meet up - after all, if you never see or talk to each other, what sort of friendship is that? Being busy, I realised also that I rather enjoyed being productive, having a routine, doing something, rather than the nothing-ness of the previous semester.

Making these decisions, I learnt to communicate to my family about matters which I felt strongly about, and at the same time, being more receptive to their suggestions about matters which I felt ambivalent about. Waiting for the outcome, I knew clearly that walking with God is many times more important than where I will be next year. Finding out the results, I'm learning to have the proper perspective of being thankful, rather than proud, whether openly or secretly. I called it a game, not because I feel that I can go wherever I want without trying, but because all along until now I have no strong preferences of one place over another. I had participated for the process of playing, rather than the outcome, and it was worthwhile (for the process, rather than the outcome).

The cold city

It's been awhile since I've heard bits of a song that seem to reflect my mood perfectly. Even if the song itself is talking about something completely different.

那年夏天 - 许飞

偶尔缱绻 星星闪烁剩最亮一颗
往事如风 划过夜空 你的歌
跳动音符 熟悉旋律谁来和

人来人去 留在身边的朋友不多
那些天真 纯纯的笑 哪去了
洁白翅膀 美丽天使不见了...

Is it because I've been on four plane flights in two weeks? Is it that I've met new and old friends, family, just starting to be part of their lives again, only to be saying goodbye? Or is it that I had once again began to slip away from my life here and now, being lost in mysterious Obernewtyn, the complicated family ties within the single Korean drama I've half watched all these years (because I stumbled across it during my hotel stay overseas), or the dark world of Batman where everyone on screen seem to get killed, and where heroes and villains alike love to use blazing guns? Is it because I've packed and unpacked countless times and will be living in two homes for the following weeks, being confused where my belongings are here or there? Is it because I had lost my voice without singing and felt too tired to go grocery shopping and find something to eat?

I can't see why the first few days back were so hard. Over the semester, in a layer of busyness, of meals, of catch ups, I always forget. But each time I come back, I find something terribly cold about M, and it has nothing to do with the weather. It's a place of solitude, as it always has been - reminiscent of a time many winters ago when I arrived in a cold room, with tired walls, at the end of a corridor in which I knew no one. That semester I was way more sick than now, lying on my bed, half awake, half feverish. Didn't appreciate the college "friends" who made fun of me disappearing for days rather than just dropping by and seeing how I was.

Time away heals, but old troubles, new sorrows, quickly return. The city suited my melancholy moods during those earlier years, especially the mesmerising dark beauty of the river reflecting the city skyscape at night. But I'm content to do without the artistic emo-ness. No matter how many years later, each time the loneliness and sadness welcomes my arrival. And each time, it becomes a bitter reminder of how I handled those feelings when I first came. When I visit these places afresh I see the ghost which are so intertwined with the cityscape, familiar routes through which our footprints have long been covered by layers of leaves, dust, rain.

This is the place like no other, where love has turned into hate, where my high school best friends have become cold strangers, not because they were far away, but for the very fact that we lived in the same city. The superficiality of relationships in this city perlexes me, whether at school or church. Even the friends I have here now are mostly a remnant of my life away from this city. In all my travels I've yet to find a place which matches this city's culinary quality and diversity. But despite that, and despite M being the place where I've done much growing up, crossed the milestones of my young adult life, I doubt that I can make my home here. Many years will not change that.

But even being in my favourite town is sad. The same old nursing home student accommodation, but the people living behind the same doors are long gone. The brilliant red jars of quince jelly we made, knocking each other's doors, the vegetarian Peking duck rolls, the Rockband sessions in a crammed room, late night talks, racing to the hospital, walks and runs along the lake, weekly badminton - these have faded from reality into mere memories. At least our friendships are still reality.

A most memorable week

In the week following, the conference was constantly on my mind - reliving the memories through photos, a rally of comments and messages. Unexpectedly, this had become a highlight of my medical school life.

See, I have never been interested in being involved with the medical community until I made friends in medicine during the last two or three years. I had avoided medical events, because I inevitably felt ripped off for subsidising alcoholics, paying extravagant amounts for a ball ticket which only comes with a two course meal. Or spending hundreds of dollars for a student conference within Australia where the theme is getting drunk, partying hard, and casual sex.

Manila itself was unremarkable. A dingy old terminal packed with relatives and budget travellers. Cars driving as if the white lines on the road were invisible. Standing out with my pale vampire skin after not seeing the sun for a semester. People asking for money on the streets. Homeless children and adults. Taxi drivers pretending to not understand English when they're asked to turn on the meter, instead charging double, triple, quadruple the usual amount. Security checks and half hearted pat downs at every major shopping centre, even before you enter the university building. Guards with guns on the street. Hearing of a Korean lady being killed in her hotel bed (not ours) during the time of our stay. It's not exactly a place that feels safe. At least streets were reasonably clear of piles of rubbish, and the toilets, even student toilets at the local university, smelt far fresher than most Asian countries.

The local cuisine consisted of fried, meaty, salty, sickly sweet, more-sour-than-lemon dishes, with a strange combination of those flavours hitting you all at once. The desserts were delicious, full of coconut and condensed milk. But too sweet. It didn't help that we were catered with cheap boxed meals for lunch and dinner. What a surprise! I have not yet come across a cuisine that I do not enjoy. To be fair, there were one or two passable dishes. And it did take me half a year or so of living in the country to get used to Singaporean/Malaysian food.

Our pre-conference evening was spent in a surprisingly new and nicely renovated room in a not so nice part of town. Adjacent to our first hotel was a Lord of the Rings themed establishment, with little people (the performers?) outside. Down the road was a seedy looking place called "Hussy", with neon signs, and a door with a dark square window. In the evening, behind that window you would see half  clothes ladies dancing with their faces right up to the door. How disturbing.

During the conference itself we stayed in a five star hotel. The most amazing part was that a week long student conference would in fact be accommodated in a five star hotel with a delicious buffet breakfast every morning. Not that half the people made it to the 5am to 7am breakfast. After a tiresome here and there swap of rooms, I ended up with the best roommate, with whom I never had to feel bad for turning on lights and brushing my teeth noisily in the morning, or for switching channels when we watched TV at night. Just felt bad that I was also the "chick repellent". Too bad!

Unfortunately many of us fell sound sleep through many of the keynote speaker's talks. But, I was still amazed to see the the passion and projects from younger medical students (yes, not many were in their final year) to reach out to the socially disadvantaged groups in their countries. Health disparity, made so clear by visiting a crowded public clinic feeding malnourished children, and an hour later, walking through the presidential suite within a top private hospital, complete with a stunning view and a spa. I'm still working out my thoughts on the more serious aspect of the trip - namely, health inequality, which was also the conference theme.

The happiest times there were my group mates who became my new friends. With you guys, I didn't mind waiting for hours for transport, or being stuck in traffic. Because during that time we were amused by learning to passionately declare "I love you!" in a million languages. Singing karaoke was fun, even though the song selection and sound system were worse than if we had just used Youtube on a family TV. With you guys, I didn't mind staying up for nearly the entire night just being crazy and (on an alcohol free) high. It's nice, being around a good proportion of people who aren't slurring their words or trying to tell me that I just need to try it to have a good time. Not to say that there weren't medical students there who were clearly looking to club and hook up every night. But being final year is nice in that there are no one in the years above trying to tell you what you need to do to do to make the most of your university life.

Our group was lead by the most caring person I had ever, ever met. Surprising all of us to ice cream treats, and cold drinks on many hot days. Buying this snack and that dish for us to try at the mall. Taking us all out for dinner when we were sick of the catering. Apologising for the food, the tight schedule, the weather, anything, when none of it was his fault. Donating a green necktie as a snake for our rod, for the group 15 banner. Driving us everywhere as we sang Jason Mraz and listened to his self composed tunes. Playfully and amazingly accurately, imitating each group member's quirks. Carefully planning our "mission impossible" escape from the long boring city tour without other groups finding out. Giving us souvenirs. Staying up with us until sunrise. All while there were exams coming up in the following week. Taking care of us, helping us to bond as a group, and being an unforgettable, incredibly awesome host!

Then there was each of you. Our second group moderator who was with us just for a little while but was so bright and colourful both in her personality and clothing. The pretty Korean girl who had so many photos of herself on everyone's phone, camera, iPad, anything. "You look amazing, you don't need to check your photos!" I had told her, to which she replied tartly "you don't need to tell me, I already know that!" Another Korean delegate with the sweetest smile, always prepared for the camera, even when she was almost falling asleep. The Indonesian guy with long hair who took self-take photos to the next level by piling up almost forty people behind him, and capturing them all within the photo. Helpful too, teaching me the manual settings I never knew how to use on my camera. The UK group buddies who we only really saw during night life activities. Our shy Malaysian friend who didn't want to sing - we thought she was croaking off-tune into the microphone, only to turn around and discover that it was our group moderator pretending to sing in a girl's voice. The Indonesian girl who teased me for being a fake and mean group moderator. Swapping sunnies with my Taiwanese friend. A Thai friend who patiently taught me how to say "my name is" after repeating it to me for the twentieth time within a few hours. Nùeng, săwng, săam, sìi, hâa. I don't think I'm very good with languages. Recalling bits and pieces of Japanese with an aspiring psychiatrist, and catching snippets of her conversations with the others. It was surprising what was left, after letting my language learning lay dormant for over six years. Our pathology orientated Singaporean friend who took great delight in dissecting the half formed duckling in an egg. Eww.

An interesting and diverse group, and I felt sad, leaving without adequate mental preparation. It was not an easy decision to make, but even a the time, I knew it was the right decision. I was just getting to know you all, be part of the family, and also planned to talk to many others, watch the cultural performances, shop more, and sight see outside Manila city itself. But my adventure came to an early end. I guess my group shouldn't have been surprised at my decision, as you had already heard my choices in the just-for-fun psychology testing through story endings - I had, without hesitation, chosen the inhabited warm house rather than venturing further into that forest, no matter what enticing adventure awaited me.

Our time together reminded me of the close friendships I had in high school, my fun group of dance friends who I thoroughly enjoyed rehearsing and just having supper, or simply spending time together as a group with. And of course, the silly fun we had in B with many end-of-block parties, climbing up the roof with party poppers, playing cricket and lawn bowls in our massive living area, swinging on the swings next to the lake and waving to the consultant who walked past that same afternoon. I was starting to think otherwise, but this time I was reminded and reassured that I had no inherent issue in making friends, or be part of a social group. Just that sometimes you go for a very long time without finding someone, or a group of people, that you can click with. It just depends who you meet.

Yet, even amongst a group of close friends, many will drift, although some stay by you. No doubt individually we may meet here or there, but after this time it will never be the same group united at one place, with such easy and carefree interactions. We speak of seeing each other again but perhaps forget, that we are all busy as students and will be busier as doctors. From all these different countries, all different year levels, it would be difficult, almost impossible to find a time and place to meet again as an entire group. I've come and gone too many times to believe in friends forever, and knowing that, it made our time together more precious and added sadness to the farewells. Still, I hope some of us do remain as friends for a long time to come. Thanks for the wonderful week in Manila group 15, miss you all! Jinjjaaaaa!

Once upon a time there was

A little girl.

What a whirlwind of a holiday it has been. She never failed to rise at sunrise, but was always considerate enough to quietly leave the room and let me sleep in. At camp, trying to put her to sleep early in a noisy cabin of eight where everyone slept past midnight, was a challenge. Meals had to be orderly, not sporadic as it had been during the past month. But, I was pleasantly surprised how she had improved from being picky, to happily eating cuisines with strange spices and flavours. Especially when it was made clear that there would be no other food for the rest of the night.

Everything was slower. We were packing and unpacking for two, making two beds, taking twice as long to get ready every time we went out. We stopped along the way because (although she's much more energetic than me) her little legs tired more easily from long walks through the CBD. Delighted to hear that seeing the magical fresh snow on the ski fields was a "dream come true" for her, but teaching her to ski and carrying all her gear was the most exhausting activity, ever. Then her, falling into a sleep so deep that I literally had to sit her upright when dinner arrived so that she wouldn't leave the restaurant without eating. Thinking ahead of her so I could remind her to use a fork instead of fingers, to not blurt out anything about people (or cats) being fat, to not be too loud on a coach where everyone was trying to sleep. Thinking ahead so that I would have an answer that is not TV or iPad/games, to her question of "what can we do now?" When our plans had to change, when we couldn't go somewhere we had promised, I was surprised to find her to be more understanding than a grown up. Out of our long car trips, came many new or silly variations of Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Three Little Pigs (or the Three Little Wolves and Big Bad Pig) and more.

Living by yourself is different, and it always takes me awhile to adjust when together with her. I was so excited about her arrival for weeks and weeks. Then felt absolutely exhausted for several days. And eventually, as I do every time, came to the conclusion that though it's a disruption to the usual routine, her presence is something positive and delightful. Perhaps that's what it feels like, to be a parent.

Community and clique - part two

Camp was coming up, and I couldn't help but feel cautious, rather than excited, about the whole event. A bit of background.

Same time last year, in the same seaside town, we drove up for a day trip to the same camp. Having not seen many people for months, or years even, there was this awkward situation of not being "new" (and triggering people's welcoming newcomers alert) but not "old" enough to have anyone to talk to either. I noticed a few people I hadn't met before playing pool, sitting in trios at meals, separate from the rest. Said hi, because I love pool and didn't care who I played against. Not really. Because noticing and acknowledging people, even when you feel like passing them by, is the only way to begin showing godly love. Because particularly in fellowship, love is more important than fitting in with the "culture" of the group, or seeking out popular people so that I can be connected with the "in" crowd.

I didn't know what we had in common any more than anyone else. In fact, I couldn't remember their names for ages, or tell one apart from another. I didn't know how to talk to them, not being able to understand or be understood completely in English. At the same camp this year, I reflected and remember how our friendships have grown. Earlier this year, one shared with me how he was really searching at that time last year, and believed in God shortly after. The two I'm thinking of are eager to grow in God's word, sharing it with friends and family because they care, and are some of the most genuine, helpful and loving Christians I know. Plus some of the best KTV buddies. I reflect, and realise again (as I first did in Singapore), that it's my blessing to have said hi instead of walking away.

April this year. This is not really about community or cliques, but love. I was surprised, in a bad way, at how both in the girl's and guy's cabins, there was a mad scramble for the limited beds available. Literally running for one, or saying blatantly, I was here first, I'm not going to sleep on the floor. How old are we again? And more disappointingly still, this was between sermons where we heard of Christ's love for us, how he lived, suffered, and died for us. Can't we, even starting there and there for a few days, live likewise in serving others? But I suppose it's hard, I struggled to not do the very things I hated in others.

Anyway, back to the starting topic. This time, was better than I anticipated. Teaching was clear, as usual. Discussions were meaningful rather than routine. People made an effort with my friend, my sister. I was encouraged by finding others who were there to build a fellowship, rather than build a comfortable social circle.

I hope that we, myself included, are not just growing in knowledge each time we come together to study the Word, but can learn also, to respond in love and service towards each other, knowing how Jesus came to love and serve us. Which is (if you don't read Chinese) the idea of the chorus.





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