Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Since I was quite young, I have known how tenuous my relationship with my home country was. In my somewhat nomadic life, moving from country to country to pursue my education, I don’t think I ever felt that I truly belonged anywhere. There is a word to describe this that I learnt in an anthropology class many many years ago – “ballastless”. And from the first time I heard this word, I knew that it was my word.

Perhaps because I do not feel tied to a particular country, it explains why it is easy for me to take-off and settle-down in new places. Perhaps because I have been fed an almost all-American diet of TV programs, it explains why I have always looked upon the US as my ideal country. Like many who have found the great American dream alluring, who have gone before me.

I have struggled with my existential crisis for a long time. It used to bother me, a lot. Maybe it still does, just that I have become more accepting over time. Now, the Asia where I come from is a melting-pot of peoples and languages and cultures. We morph easily from one persona to the next, from one language to the next, from one culture to the next. The Asia where I come from is a convenient label, a matrix of latitudes and longitudes.

“You speak English?” the Americans would ask me incredulously. “You speak Chinese?” the Chinese would ask me equally incredulously.

I rest my case.

Friday, August 27, 2010

i dESiRe

In the few years that I worked, I had managed to save up some money. Ridiculously, work took up so much of me and my time that I had little energy left to spend the money I earned. So it was not without a sense of pride that I watched my bank account grow, sometimes by leaps, sometimes by bounds.

I was happy to rest secure in the knowledge that I could go out and indulge in a $12 ice-cream, as much as I could buy a $500 8-megapixel camera phone, or take a $4,000 trip to the US. All of which I did at one point or another. Which was a big deal, if you know how stingy I am.

Except that now, I look at the life of my friends, with hunger and desire. I see them move into newer and more expensive housing. I see them go on trips to exotic lands. I see them buy a $200 dress. I see them settle into a $50 meal without flinching. I see the freedom that financial independence brings, as I come to terms with giving up that freedom.

How often have I tried to convince myself that I am a worthy investment? That pouring my life-savings into my education now will bring significant returns on investment in the future? That I should not freak out every time I have to pay my school fees? That I have to get used to the austere and Spartan lifestyle of a student? That I have to treat $20 meals with respect and distance?

I am not a greedy or materialistic person. But I would like to enjoy a cup of Starbucks’ coffee every now and then. I would like to wear pretty new dresses sometimes. I would like to enjoy the Kenyan safari too.

And the Bible says, “Do not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”

Friday, August 20, 2010


I have been sitting on this blog post for some time now. My thoughts and feelings are so confused I am not sure I can put them into words. You know when they say there are some things you can only understand when you experience it yourself? This is one of those things.

Long before the meeting, I started to prepare myself for it. I watched TV programs to get an idea of what I might see. I searched for information from the internet. I read books to find out more. I rehearsed what I imagine would happen in my mind. Yet nothing, nothing could have prepared me for this.

My last class meeting for the summer of 2010 took place in Harvard Medical School. The meeting was with cadavers. Apart from the excitement of gaining access to such a famous school, I was also at the same time a little anxious. My previous experiences with dead bodies were mainly of friends and relatives ensconced within the safe confines of their coffin, behind a piece of glass. And most recently and painfully, having to claim the body of my good friend from the autopsy room at the forensic mortuary. She didn’t even look like herself. They had wrapped her up in something that looked like a white trash bag, and I remember feeling awful that her body was being associated with trash.

So I walked into the cadaver lab with a lot of conflicting emotions within. 5 dissected cadavers were lying in black zipper bags on steel tables. The walls were decorated with the tools of the trade – saws and hammers and knives of varying sizes. Huge operating theater lights hovered overhead each cadaver.

They had heads, the front halves of their heads at least. They also had faces, fully intact faces. Some had their arm muscles exposed. Some had their chest cavity opened. Some had the top of their skull sawed off. But they all had faces. And I happened to be assigned a couple of facial muscles to identify. It was a very surreal experience touching a dead stranger’s face, trying to locate which muscle lies where, and to do a show-and-tell to my classmates. After that though, once you face the face, it becomes very easy to interact with dead strangers’ body parts. So I held a man’s lung and heart, fiddled with someone’s ribcage and diaphragm, fingered cricoids and thyroids and hyoids, and poked around a woman’s tympanic membrane.

I have turned vegetarian since. To preserve some shred of sanity. Too many people I know have been dying around me lately. And now, I have to deal with the guilt of desecrating the bodies of too many people I don’t know.

I wish I had reached out and touched her face then.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010


"I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races
So I trust too."

(John Masefield)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

tHE paSsaGE Of wRiTinG

I miss writing. I miss the hours I could spare, staring into space, waiting for the ideas to come, for the words to materialize. Now, my days are packed with reading (mainly of the textbook variety), sitting in lectures (hoping we can be let off before 8pm), and revising (more flipping of textbooks to copy out important points and then to try to commit those points to memory). So I spend considerably less time on writing, and subsequent initiations of the writing process just gets harder each time.

I am lazier too, I guess. Now that my writing has transferred to the electronic word-processing realm, I no longer carry little notebooks with me to capture my thoughts. And even if I’m not crazy lugging my laptop everywhere, anyone would think I’m crazy if I started yanking it out every other minute to type. Not that I think Roger ThinkPad would enjoy the constant booting up and shutting down.

So I’ll have these random interesting thoughts, and say to myself, “This is a really great idea for my blog!” Within the next 10-15 minutes, unless I attend to it consciously (and forcibly), I would have forgotten what I wanted to write.

I recall in my studious undergrad days when I lived and breathed language and cognition, I read somewhere that says we have about 30 thousand thoughts running in our heads on a daily basis. I don’t really know how to quantify thoughts, but 30 thousand of anything is a staggering amount.

And I just need that one. That one little thought I can catch and write to life.