Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What 2013 meant...

A year of excitement. Wonderful adventure. Start of a new chapter. 2013 has been one of the most challenging and happiest year of my life.

It started with a bang...Opening up with the biggest financial commitment of my life. If before I was a rolling stone, this is the major anchor cemented my decision to set root in Singapore. Y and I decided to purchase a house together. As we worked on the reconstruction plans, e.g. the artist's rendering of our new home. The dream became a reality 2 months later as our little nest was completed.

Then the master's program culminated in a tough practicum project leading to my graduation in mid 2013. Another milestone as I join the ranks of public health practitioner amidst my surgical practice. 2 years of hard work after-hours, learning priceless knowledge on preventive health and knowing good classmates..It was truly worth all the efforts...

Of course the main highlight of 2013 would be undisputedly the awesome Docs Tie The Knot 2013 held in both Singapore and Malaysia. Y & I worked very hard on preparing for 2 joyous days of celebration as we hold each other's hands and made solemn promise to have and hold, in sickness and health, till death do us part. What lifted my heart and soul is that I know my late mother in heaven would rejoice on this happy occassion too..even as my siblings and I remembered how she loved us. She would love Y as her own too...I am sure of it.

Thoughts as Y and I enter into a new year of 2014? May our good Lord continue to watch over us as we dedicate both our lives in serving Him - in bringing the art and science of healing to our patients daily, in enriching the souls of our oikos and in loving one another. Even as we rejoice and give thanks for all that has happened in the past, we are sure that God will continue to amaze us with greater things to come as we face life, together.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Odyssey to the centre of Europe 1 - Pretty Prague

Quarter of my trip down and just discovered live-blogging from European trains. Better late than never. Sometimes it's cathartic, at other times, strangely poignant, recalling our travels as we zoomed pass giant wind-farms & golden fields of rural Austria. 

Marvelous European railways

Our first day was a seemingly endless day of cruising at 35,000 ft above sea level as we tried to sleep on the huge Lufthansa Airbus. Thankfully, we drifted off into a dreamless sleep as we were fatigued from 2 weeks of wedding prep & festivities. Frankfurt airport was ruthlessly functional but forgettable. At least I managed to clear customs (always a few minutes delayed compared to Singaporeans that I am traveling with). Don't these people know where is Malaysia?

The cathedral in centre of Prague Castle

Quoting from our guidebooks, these fertile soil is also sites of famous battlegrounds since medieval times. Blood had been shed defending the glorious Austro-Hungarian empire. But mostly, the empire blossomed from the times of the Spanish Hapsburg to the First World War. 

Beautiful vista of Prague

Before my mind began to wander back in history, maybe I should record down the chronicles of our recent foray eastward across the plains of the Donau Valley (Danube River).

This is Vltava River, not the Danube..with Charles Bridge in the distance

On our second day, a quick connecting flight brought us to the ancient capital of Czech Republic..Prague or Praha. Weather was sunny, with brisk chilly wind reminding us that it's autumn after all. Apparently the town is always brimming with tourists from all over the world, eager to explore the castle, the bridge and the clock. 

Elegant houses of Prague

Prague castle looms large over the city's skyline with the spires and buttresses of St Vitus cathedral piercing the blue sky. This is the largest medieval castle in the world according to lonely planet if you count the entire corner of Hradcany as part of the castle. To me, the abandoned castle with no actual inhabitant or a royal family is such a melancholic relic. 

Smaller bridges of Prague

Charles bridge across the Vltava river, on the other hand, seems so lively and functional as it spans the giant question-shaped waterway that is the lifeline of Prague since it's foundation by princess Libuse.

View from the riverbanks of Vltava River, Prague

Steamers, ferries, paddleboats gently sailed from the riverbanks as we strolled slowly pass the meandering waters. Alas, the inevitable jet lag overtook us and we retired early into our hotel on the Katerinska in the Nove mesto.

Malostranska subway station, Prague

After all, we were looking forward to our first time on European trains. So, bright and early on the third day of our sojourn, we say hi to stately, proud Vienna with majestic Habsburg castles, museums and pretty parks bathed in stunning autumnal colours.... 

Habsburg Castle complex, Vienna, Austria

to be continued...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Haze Myth: PSI vs Visibility vs PM2.5

Rumours abound in times of trouble...and its' human nature to 'panic' and fear the unknown or unnatural. As a medical doctor and recent public health graduate, sometimes we see things differently through broader lenses. Rational, educated mind is a good defense against irrational feelings and emotions. Despite what our eyes tell us, let us focus on creating solutions and calming those around us, instead of creating more anger and fear. That's why I was quite impressed with what PM Lee said recently regarding this crisis - no megaphone diplomacy for this statesman.

Firstly, the PSI has been adopted in Singapore to give the public an up-to-date information on the air quality in this country, as opposed to the different indices used in US, Malaysia, etc. It's a composite of various substances in the air which may cause harm to the human body if we are exposed to it in significant concentration, depending on what is your health status. A normal healthy adult obviously could tolerate the pollutants a bit better than a sickly person, the young and the old. However, if you are exposed to it in significant amounts over a prolonged duration, there may be both short and long-term effects.

Secondly, I would say of all the pollutants being reported, the most insidious and hardest to clear from our body is the PM2.5 particulate which is lodged in our alveoli. These particulates are suspended in the air, but invisible to the naked eye and odourless. When its consistently high (as reported by various authorities), it can cause long-term lung damages, especially lung fibrosis in the future. Not now. What's happening now is the sequelae of direct irritants in the air, to our airway - sore throat, cough, asthma attacks, shortness of breath, conjunctivitis, headache etc. It's usually a brief episode unless the hazy condition persists.

Thirdly, staying indoors is a good advice, provided that you have air purifier or a good working air-conditioner with functional air filter. Indoor air quality can be worsened if u open the doors/windows intermittently and trap the haze within the closed compound. Especially for those susceptible to the effects of haze, please take precautions - wear a well-fitted N95 mask properly whenever u are exposed to hazy outdoor air but do not hoard. There are more than enough masks around - just be patient and resourceful. Visibility is not equivalent to high PSI. Check the official results regularly to be well-informed.

Lastly, public health problems require public health has be long-term sustainable solutions, tackling the root causes and not just a one-off assistance. Short term measures like creating rain artificially or fighting the fire are temporary measures. We have to work together to tackle the root causes of why these fires are started at the first place. Eradicate poverty, improve on peat-fire surveillance, tighten legislations and change this burning practice. This is a man-made calamity, which means, we can work together to eradicate the cause and not point fingers. Empty vessels are of no help now. Human behaviour may be hard to change, but it's not impossible. The collaborative task-force should be sustained long-term and not hastily convened at the sight of trouble. Prevention is better than cure....

Meanwhile, continue to keep calm, drink lotsa water and pray on.

Caveat: This article is purely personal opinion and doesn't amount of professional medical advice. Please seek a doctor's consultation if you are suffering from the effects of haze. Thank u.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rediscovering the famous noodles of Malaysia Part 1

Sometimes I feel that I kinda neglect talking about the wonderful food I grew up with. Short of making atonement (i.e. constructing the dish myself), I've decided to dedicate this entire post (in all its' brief glory) to the wonderful heritage of hawker food in Malaysia. Starting with my beloved hometown/city, KL.

Go Google Imbi Pork... and immediately this foodstall (Imbi Pork Ball Noodle) at Win Heng Seng corner coffee shop pops up. Numerous posts have been dedicated to this scrumptious concoction. How I even begin to describe this delicacy - the soft, smooth rice noodle bathed in dark, savoury gravy to the robust, flavoursome minced-pork laced with plenty of fiery Sarawakian white pepper and finely-chopped spring onions...ah, my mouth still salivates at the thought of this Michelin-star worthy dish. IMHO, it ranks quite high up the top 10 food in Malaysia, sitting up there among the Penang CKT at Lorong Selamat, Hokkien Mee, etc.

The perfect accompaniment to the white ribbons of delicious kway teow is usually this bowl of peppery soup made from some secret-broth. Especially if you order the 'dry' bowl. It's not easy to find this springy, dense near-perfect chu-yok-yun (pork ball) and Chinese sausage gently floating in the amazing broth. Therefore, it's unsurprising that the crowd is often-time huge despite the fierce heat and lack of proper seats/ventilation. Go and experience this heritage-food before another huge corporation gobbles up this recipe or company & ended up having (inferior) franchises in malls and airports, ok? YY said that he would drive 400+ km from Singapore just to have this for lunch and then go back. Sort of a foodies' mini-pilgrimage in lieu of even further distance to another food-mecca (Penang).

There was also another kind of noodles I grow up with. Along the North-South Expressway, there lies a small town called Tangkak. To most people, this one-lane settlement is famous for Mount Ophir but I've recently discovered that this town is equally well-known for its myriad of emporiums selling all sorts of fabrics, especially curtains. And a type of noodles called herbal beef soup noodles popularized by Kuang Fei off the main road of Tangkak.

It's probably true that we Chinese can probably eat anything with the back facing the sun. Each part of the cow's anatomy could be used for multi-purpose cooking and this bowl of perfectly-balanced meehoon soup is the prime example of it. What amazes me most is that there is the extremely juicy beef meat-cubes mixed with all sorts of 'innards' that resembled something I took out in the OT the other day. Stuff of legend. If you are yearning for a hearty bowl of beef noodles and wouldn't taking a detour on the NSE, do drop by this flagship store at Jalan Solok, Tangkak for the most yummy, value-for-money noodles this side of the country. You'll love it!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

This is being Phuket escapade

"What do you mean by you cannot check us in? We have a flight to catch!"

And there goes my vacation...actually, the end of my vacation. Being stuck on the dreamy vacation touristy island of Phuket ain't too bad, just that the airport was abysmal and I need to get back to Singapore (there is always some life-saving business to attend to, u see)...

Anyway, the extremely hectic month of April (yes, the duo terror of exams and research report) was interspersed with this gift from our hotel in KL. We flew to Phuket for a pre-wedding photoshoot with one of the most eminent photographer in the wedding circle in Malaysia, remarkably un-prepared and casual for 2 OCDs. Needless to say, being spontaneous means we thoroughly enjoyed our care-free, unpretentious cheerful photo-session -  with major credits to the ever-professional Jim Liaw and team.

I suspected I may have sabotaged myself by getting an outfit totally unsuitable for my shape/size but who cares when you are actually enjoying a photoshoot - and to be has been a long, long time since I've gotten so much of fun in front of the camera (normally we're the ones behind it!). Of course there was this fleeting sense of envy when I saw how the other beautiful brides looked in their long, flowing bridal dress but all sense of inadequacy was washed away on the remarkably warm, clear seas of Kata beach as we jumped into the water during our final shot; totally splashed sand all over the semi-formal attire. Ah, the bliss of thrashing a dress in the sea. Hahaha!

Thailand is of course well known for flowers and upon arrival to Hilton Arcadia Phuket, we noticed there were fresh flowers everywhere. We asked for some as accessories and we were immediately given some. Thumbs-up to Hilton hospitality!

The flight to the island was extremely pleasant and we were the first couple to arrive as we travelled on an earlier flight from Singapore. Weather seemed excellent in early April. Only rained on the last day as we leave the island.

We were armed with not one but TWO lonely planet book on Islands & Beaches of Thailand, and a special laminated map of Phuket for the remaining part of the trip. Highly-recommend the map. The books aren't that helpful, to be fair.

This is the (in)famous Patong beach - sun, surf and sex(trade) all souped-up in a heady haven of hedonism. This is where I learnt the phrase ping-pong but didn't see the show. We also noticed the amount of male tourists outnumbering everyone else in this town.

It was also the Phuket Motorcycle week so the whole town was jam-packed with tourists, bikers and their accompaniments (read:hot bikes & gals).

In the meanwhile, i also took one whole day off to settle some work - sounded crazy - but I was supposed to hand-in some assignments right during the vacation. The mysteries of life as a hyperactive cilipadidoctor ain't easy :-P

As a reward, we went to Phang-Nga bay. Initially, we thought we could do some sea-kayaking. Turned out that the majority of the arm-work was done by the Thai guides while we lounge about in the kayak. At least we managed to do some canoeing at the end of the 'cruise' but it is not the same as Halong Bay, I can assure you. I was mildly disappointed. I guess I missed how we travelled from one mini-island to another in Vietnam.

IMHO, Halong Bay is a lot larger than Phang-Nga and somehow more authentic. If you come from a land far-away, I would suggest going to Halong rather than this area. I think there are a lot more hawkers in Phang-Nga as well and the food at the Muslim sea-village sucks.

James Bond Island. More famous for its' appearance in the movie rather than anything else. Not much to do here except take a picture of the island, sit back and observe the tourists.

More islands to gawk at on the way back at the end of the day. This is after we swam on a tiny island. As we leave this really nice island, I would say the airport was a real let-down but everything else was quite good for a short break. I guess I will come again in the future once I get my PADI license refreshed. Apparently, i heard the diving off Phi Phi Island is really good. Anyone's been there?

Caught this aerial view of one the islands in the beautiful Andaman Sea on the way back to Singapore. Time to say a wonderful island escapade in the midst of a crazy month!