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!


Dea Nathania said...

beautifully written winnieee :') this makes me sad how we are all busy with our own schedule, so it's almost impossible to meet again as group 15 :(
but no matter how long life will take us, we'll still be friends :)


hyunjinny kim said...

i hate you for writing in such a lovely and nostalgic way. i hate you for leaving us early and i hate you for being the coolest. :'( yes we might forget our words on getting together again but you know that what we shared together will never be gone. i just love the fact that i cant help but smile whenever i think about my awesome group 15, and thats just enough. i love you winnie. i wont be missing you 24/7 but you will always be in my heart. <3

Winnie said...

dea - thanks for your comment! glad to know you'll always remember me as a friend ;) I forgot to write about your secret but awesome photo taking skills.

jinny - aww love you too, do you like the accurate description of you? ;) I think what you said is true, I won't be replying instantly 24/7 but it doesn't mean I don't love you or smile/laugh about how crazy you all are (especially you jinny :P) when I remember group 15

Johnny Hsueh said...

"What we cannot remember, we must rediscover." I read this sentence today in a novel called "Axis".I recalled lots of things about AMSC and you guys as soon as I read these words. I like the imagery which shows that memory sometimes would fade away but we are not afraid of creating again. By the way, Winnie you can consider to be a writer cuz you're good at writing. It's touching!

Winnie said...

johnny - hey thanks! miss hanging out with you guys johnny :(

I saw that quote on your facebook. I like that idea too. let's 重新发现那些我们无法记得的 one day hahaha :D


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