Well it's been a while since I've blogged on blogger.
Sometimes the lure of a blank page is just what you need on a calm afternoon in Adelaide. I'm here visiting my brother, and it's nice to buy a ticket without any plans, to escape the craziness that is SGH and certain orthopaedic teams, and have a fresh look at where I am, where I'll be and what I wanna do.
It's not exactly the best time to be in Adelaide as my brother is having his exams soon. And of course, he needs every bit of time he can muster to study. Still, if holidays are not a good time to come visit, then when's a good time to visit? Very soon we will be too busy, and our lives will diverge like it has already begun to.
Even now, I feel that work is like a wedge that breaks up life into two completely different pieces. And when we talk about work, and how much we should work this lifetime is never an easy question. Different places have different living costs and quality of life. Once you start working, you start seeing how a great number of decisions were made for you by the circumstances of your birth, and how few choices you really had growing up.
But now you're grown and you have to make decisions for the next generation, and the next generation may not be anything like you, or do what you want to do, or like what you like. And then you have to decide if this society that you've chosen treats everyone equally well, or if you were just one of the lucky winners who was born in a city that suited what you wanted to be. Because luck cannot go on forever. All we can do to continue to succeed is to stack the dice for our children and make sure they get every edge to keep ahead.
I've always associated myself with Raffles Institution and the idea in our anthem of a Prometheus. A man/divine being who will descend and bring knowledge and salvation to others. In my job, I do feel a little like Prometheus, using whatever little knowledge I have to try and help a few people. But it's more than that. As a person, without my job and this system, can I function as a prometheus? Can I do all these things myself?
It's my little driving dream, to be able to plop anywhere and bring the "divine" knowledge to others. But we're really still learning, still experiencing, and still seeing how things are changing day by day.
Taking a break
When things spiral out of control, all it takes is a deep breath to bring it all into focus again.
I haven't written on Jugs in ages. Part of it is due to my lack of time with studies and dance, part of it is due to the accessibility of Facebook from my iPhone, and part of it is due to having great friends that I can tell anything to, and trust that they'll keep my thoughts in confidence, forgive my indiscretions and are generous enough to not get offended by my frankness. Yet when the day winds down, and I've pushed everything distracting in my life away, sitting down to think a while, to myself, to put my thoughts into words with all the freedoms that I've lost (with regards to number of words, and amount of space), and all the time I've never had, I find so much to say that I couldn't previously. I have so much to say that I could never have put into words for another listener. Yet here, I can use all the words I want, and express the finer points of what I have to say, without fear that I may be misconstrued, or that I've been too bombastic for my readers.
Days seem to form sections of time that spiral along. One section of time in my life is eerily similar to another that I may have experienced before. My troubles are not new troubles. They are poltergeists, ghosts of the past that exert power over my present, shifting my reality. It must come from a fundamental flaw of mine. History always repeats for men who fail to learn their lessons, and I'm no exception. But I'm starting to realize that the nature of this fundamental flaw is innate in my consciousness, that it comes from my consciousness itself, my sensitivities and my desires.
Consciousness is the source of my ideas. The act of living is the act of constant juxtaposition between past and present. Comparison drives our lives, and experience gives rise to ideas that guide our futures. The conception of a series of thoughts (i.e. Logic/Emotion) is the clearest thing for us to perceive, but it is the hardest thing to share with someone else. Countless beautiful things I've thought up in my mind, that I am unable to share with the same clarity with someone else. And countless more ideas I've received, from famous poets and famous writers and famous musicians, and not so famous people around me, which are only a trifle of the immensity of their original conception. And yet, all around us, these trifles are held to be the standards that we SHOULD aspire to.
Communication isn't my strong point, and perhaps for some people, they have the ability to arouse most of their conception in another person (through whatever delivery mechanism). But the written word is all I have to get my ideas out. Sometimes I think mathematics or a programming language would be far more helpful, or even logical symbolism, so that we can debate/argue points cogently, yet any technical language would require another person equally conversant, and concepts not within the language would be hard to represent and integrate. Words are vague, but they will have to do if they can be clearly defined.
I don't know if I'm asking too much, if I just hope to meet a person whom i can converse with and understand at a similar level. I'm writing this because I'm tired. I'm tired of having to use words that are generally understood, to share ideas that could be better expressed with the whole palette of communication that exists among the human race.
I can't live like this anymore. I can't keep thinking and not sharing. But there's no point sharing if there's no one who understands. Hello world? Can you hear me?
I was studying histology when I realized that differentiation at the cellular level is analogous to many processes that religion has explained the principles of. The maturation of cells, by this I mean progenitor cells dividing into daughter cells that are quite different in function, are goldmines of philosophical insight. Are daughter cells the same as the original cell? Has the original cell died, after "giving birth" to two daughter cells? Or is the original cell part of an unbroken lineage of cells, that includes daughter cells, and that they are all just one cell living in an eternal life. Are cells immortal by virtue of their infinite divisibility?
I was watching this Jacky Chan film (over the National day weekend) about him being reborn as some archaeologist who was once a Chinese general. He was confused about his dreams, (which told him about his past life as a general and this woman he loved very much) and sought the advice of a wise man (who runs this martial arts school). The man replied, (i paraphrase poorly) "When is life life? And when are dreams dreams?". And he said a few other things about how dreams must come from somewhere, physical experience or otherwise. And that whether it is truly impossible for there to be a link between two separate ages or lives, because the evidence is there in the form of dreams that there must have been some physical experience before.
We know that it is not impossible for life to bridge two separate times. In fact, the germ line cells do exactly that by being the seed from which we all come from, and passed down along the generations that are motivated to reproduce. However, we are often stuck on the question of is it the same life. Are we the same person? If we are, how come we don't recognize each other, we don't recognize that we are parts of the same person, or coming from the same source.
But I think we do. We are all part of this syncytium of people that have our lives planned out for us by the people who have come before. We don't emerge in a void. There are growth factors, inhibitors, basement membranes that tell us what to do, who to become, opportunities given to us, and knowledge passed down based on how well we master that knowledge. There is this constant selection, differentiation, subspecialization, maturation in a human existence.
Our bodies do the same thing. No non-germ line cell in our bodies last through an entire life time. As we mature into our role in life, the cells in our bodies do the same thing and mature. The flexible bodies we once had mature into a fixed stable state for us to do our roles. There is no point arguing that men are eternally free when our biology betrays the truth of the matter. Once our cells have differentiated, there is no going back.
So what does this say to me? This tells me that I'm probably in safe hands. That I live in a world where everyone around me is me. I am part of my environment as much as they are a part of me. This world is not out to get me, or to kill me, or to make life miserable for me as long as I'm not out to harm this world in any way. Even if I die, it is part of the process of maturation, of differentiation and growth. It is as the wheel of life (eastern philosophy). We are immortal and "trapped" in a cycle of death and rebirth.
We don't know if humanity is in a growth phase, in a maturation phase, or in a death phase. If we stay on Earth forever, we may grow, mature and die. But if we leave our planet and explore the universe, then we may be as an egg, that has a huge growth phase in front of us yet. Still, that bright future that I will never see bears the marks of my tiny hands because I have lived, and in living contributed.
Views on Life
Today I saw Dr Chong and Dr Tan operating in the OT today, and learnt quite a bit about the procedures that they do. I won't put their full names down because then Google will find it and put it up. I think what they do is really interesting because Dr Chong works on small parts with small tools and repairs the problems with healing. It's quite strenuous, as it demands a great amount of precision and strength at the same time.
Dr Tan's work is interesting, quite a bit of basic science involved. He was sharing about himself and how long it took him to reach his position. There were quite a number of pitfalls along the way, people from his medical school batch who changed their perspectives on life.
From talking to them I'm starting to see what's in my future, and I'm just writing a note here to remind myself when the time comes of what I believed in when I was much younger. Framing my life to make more sense of it.
I think a lot of people assume I am Christian/Catholic, and I've always been trying to understand why. Why do I give that impression? I think it's a compliment of sorts because it shows their acceptance of me, but to me it is a little distressing as well as I don't see why I look/sound like a believer. Ultimately I hold these people in high regard because of their principled lives. I just don't share the same high regard for the principles that they live by.
There are many reasons to that. I think the most important reason is that I don't believe in the label of being Christian/Catholic/ACS boy or whatever. Lots of people get a label and try to live up to that. Some people get a label and use it because it's useful. And some people (like me) just don't want to be labelled, even if we may think exactly the same things or live by the same principles. When you have a label, there's always that temptation to just live up to it. But when you don't have a label, or believe in any labels at all, then that artificial boundary is taken down and one can go beyond.
He also mentioned the weeds in the earth, and the seat of heaven in the sky. To me, that violates two principles. One, the arbitrary definition of earth being sinful and heaven being sin free. This is such an illogical definition that I cannot find it in myself to refute it. Two, the concept that a sinful life is not worth living, and that we should live(aspire for) sin free lives (in a place that is sinful) in order to reach a sin free state.
The whole Christian/Catholic belief system is a system that has arbitrary beginnings, extends the theology based on logical principles, and comes up with a meaningless conclusion and a dangerous message. That life on earth is ultimately a place to score points for a seat in heaven. And scoring points means sticking to a set of rules as closely as you can.
And that's exactly why this whole picture troubles me. I know I'm not the kind of person that even believes in rules, although I follow most of them, most of the time. I'm not a blind follower of rules and regulations. I just respect the dialogue and hierachy that has built up over time among people who first established these rules, before writing them down. It's respect for history more than anything else.
There's a secret to breaking rules. The secret of breaking rules is breaking them only when it is absolutely necessary, and ideally without anyone knowing they've been broken. We shouldn't break them during unimportant occasions, for uninteresting reasons.
I live in a world that is filled with a million rules. To accept them is to live without seeing the invisible fences that keep us moving along like sheep. To reject them outright is like blocking the path filled with oncomming sheep. To hate them, but follow them is like bumping against the fences while moving on. You know they're there, and when the time is right you can make your escape.
Ultimately, we live only once, and it's important that we know where we want to go. He says that the unconscious decisions are the decisions made when God is not with you. But I believe the opposite. The unconscious decisions are the decisions that you truly want. The conscious decisions are the decisions made when you are trying to live up to an ideal that you are not yet capable of. They are those decisions made when you are trying to be a hero.
Satan has his devils too.
Halfway on today's cycling trip, my thoughts turned to a man I met the day before. He was reading a book on Catholicism, and I came to talk to him, to find out a little more on what he was in for. He was in a bad state. The doctors suspected nasopharyngeal carcinoma, yet they couldn't find anything so far. Still, there was an extremely high chance he had nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The markers and everything was elevated.
Anyway he seemed at peace with his disease. I was very curious to find out what his perspective on death was, since he was a very staunch Christian. He talked about death and sin, and how sickness is the result of sin. Children were born disobedient, and hence sinful. Jesus cleanses sin and defeated death, but you have to die first, before you can be reborn with eternal life.
And eternal life comes only after the Rapture, which he described very beautifully, much in depth. All the dates and times and the first coming and second coming of Christ. How the Christians will be ultimately victorious, and the non-believers be judged. I can't remember the details exactly, but he looked very eager to experience that future he believed in.
I asked him, "You are now sick, and dying. And you believe that is because of sin. How do you reconcile that with Jesus cleansing you of sin?"
I asked him, "When judgement comes, will you bear to see your non-believing friends cast into the hell that was made for Satan?"
He replied, "They chose not to believe. They chose to follow Satan."
At that point in time, I intensely disliked the man for his selfishness. But then I said to him, "I am not facing what you are facing. I am still young. Maybe, one day I might understand this."
Outwardly, it was a very peaceful conversation. But inside, I felt affronted. How can a mainstream religion still propagate such thought and still be accepted by this kind old gentleman?
When I was cycling today, the parallels to Nazism and this old man's Christianity just kept coming back to my consciousness. What is the difference between the two? They are both concerned about racial purity, both misguided, and both dangerous. And the truth is, even if he did not like non-Christians enough to reserve hell for them, I liked him as a fellow human being. I'm sure I would have cared for him, if he was my patient. Would he do the same for me?
I love him, even though he may not love me. He may not like non-Christians, but he is suffering and still a patient.
When I decided on Medical school, this is why I decided to join the profession. I wanted to help people, regardless of what they believed, or what others believed. Patients should receive full care, in accordance to what they believed. They should not receive care based on what others believe, myself included. I can guide, but only for their benefit, from their perspective.
I thought about the right reaction to him, to his view that many of us are confronted with every day. Views of bigotry, views of discrimination, views that mean us no good. I thought about confronting his belief with my belief. Confronting his faith, with my truth. There was no solution there.
Faith and belief can only last a lifetime. Faith and belief is as transient as the wind. Only truth lasts forever.
We don't have to debate on beliefs, or faiths. We don't have to debate on what is right, or what is wrong. All these are perceptions that will change with time. They are of the transient nature of things. All artifice are doomed to end. Only truth lasts.
I don't need a book to tell me what my reality is. I don't have to believe in anything. Reality is. Truth is. They are both part of the constant nature of things. If I look for truth, and find it, I'll have found it forever.
That's why I don't believe.
I've still been keeping up with my instruments. Over time, it seems my guitar sings more sweetly. When I play it now, it always brings such pleasure to me. Whereas before, it seemed to be the impediment between me and music.
I've been learning violin as well. It's a terribly difficult instrument. Up till now, I still can't seem to get the HOLD of the instrument right. There are so many demands put on the triumvirate of violin, chinrest, shoulder rest. And to get a really good sound going, the violin has to be as stable as a rock, and yet not cause undue tension on my head, shoulders, arms and neck. It's definitely very difficult to get right.
But when I play violin, I feel like the sound. Everything I do changes the voice perceptibly. Everything in my being comes forward. When I listen to myself play, it's like the confrontation of who I am, what I feel about this piece, who I am.
Whereas when I play guitar, I notice how good my guitar sounds, but I am not involved in the music as a participant, but more as a composer, or audience.
Like everything in life, perception is the key. If one does not perceive, then the object might as well not be there. If for example, there is a cat, and you don't notice it, then the cat might as well not be there. But if there is no cat, and you see it. Someone else might think/notice that too. And you can appreciate that likeness of a cat, even though it is not really there.
Well I've got a bit of the flu, and my days are filled with that of other people, so I thought I would take some time this morning to just reflect on what I've been up to so far.
I've been working really hard. I don't think I've ever worked harder at anything else in my life. The closest thing that I've ever done that was so difficult was probably programming in the lab. But that's really a distant second to what medicine is.
But I'm glad I learned programming in my youth. I chose programming over music, and what I gained from it is the maturity and professionalism that comes from responsibility. When you create, you have a goal in mind, a final state, and you make a plan to get there. And the routes you choose to take to get there is governed by how much of the world you know. The knowledge of which paths exist, and the wisdom of determining which choices lead you closer to where you want to go, which ones are the pointless detours, and which ones bring you away.
I was talking to Prof Lee, wondering why medicine attracts the best and the brightest, when all we do is formulaic, evidence based medicine. And the thought he left me with, is that patient care directly relies on the wisdom of the medical practitioner. Good medicine can only be practiced by a doctor that will keep learning for the rest of his life, because the field is so wide, and each field has something to contribute to the management of our patients. There is no point undertaking an endeavour that is easily mastered. One needs to find something new to learn even until our 70s or 80s.
And I take comfort in that. A while back, I was contemplating what I wanted to learn in my medicine posting. What do I want to understand in this point in my life? Of course, books contain all the knowledge in the world. But the wisdom from my tutors are the things that will hold true for the rest of my career. While the knowledge in the books are like the shifting sands. It's good to have as much knowledge as possible. But without wisdom, one cannot apply the theory to practice.
So the holidays are officially over. Tomorrow's the first day of school and I thought I'd just spend some time to review what's happened over the holidays. I went on a trip to Tokyo and Hokkaido, spent a week or so with friends in Singapore, and worked on my instruments.
Japan was interesting in a way. To me Japan is meaningful on many levels. It has a militaristic history. It has a deeply religious culture. It is both rich in tradition and accepting of foreign culture. It takes over nature, yet embraces nature.
In Tokyo, you can see how the Japanese have created an artificial human space, ideally designed for human activities and desires. Yet just a short day train ride away, Hokkaido lives in harmony with nature, with it's agricultural background and beautiful seasonal festivals.
Religious and cultural imagery lie side by side, together with foreign influences and their own beliefs, in harmony. The beauty of oriental Shintoism makes Othordox Christianity look pale in comparison. One builds shelter in harmony with nature, communicates with it, lives and breathes with the world around us. While the other makes a man-made cave to keep out the cold, and lights candles for light, with ornate gilded artefacts.
The beauty of the natural world is our treasure. The source of our energy is life itself, and not the promise of life after death. When you already know you are living in paradise, you will not hope for another place to be, but realize your reality. When you are living in the cold, bleak norther latitudes, maybe it's more natural to build a cave from the cold, and pretend that life is sweeter after death.
Going ot Japan really opened my eyes to the beauty of life. When I went there, I had only one question on my mind; what is the nature of love? But over time I realized that my question had no answer. When you are surrounded by love, what love is is meaningless. Who can describe light unless he has experienced darkness? From as far as I can remember, I've always been loved, in one way or another. Love is the nature of all living things. Death is love too. So is birth. Sickness is love, so is loneliness. As long as the communication between us and nature is open, as long as we build shelters and not caves, we will never be in that place where love can't be found.
On this trip, I went with people I didn't know well and had a great time. It was terribly rainy when we went to Disney Sea, but my friends made all that cold dissapear with their warm smiles. Looking at the photographs, we won't remember the cold, only the great warmth in friendship. Even we could not communicate well with our Japanese hosts, we recognized that we share the same concerns and interests and problems at this point in our lives as young people, and as medical students, and as artists.
When Yanyi lost her glasses on the train, and we couldn't really speak Japanese well with Mr Miura at the train ticket office, he still went all the way to help us call the train conductor and do a sweep of the carriage at Sapporo. Our anxiety was relieved, and comforted by the thought that they did all they could for us, even when it was our mistake in the first place, and terribly out of the way for them. He offered to call us back at the hotel if they found the glasses, and even bring it to the train station.
I let myself take photographs again, although it felt terrible at times. I was sneaking one or two in, during the first few days, where I'd concentrate fully on the moment and produce good photos. But I always felt guilty for turning this trip into work. Felt guilty for "manipulating" my travel buddies in a way. Felt guilty because I gave some hobbies up for medicine, and going back to them feels so good and natural and "addictive" and fufilling in a way. I know because of that, some of my friends do have photos that they are very pleased with. I have a few photos I'd love to blow up and hang on my wall. I know my uncle John loved a few of my more artistic works. My mom loves the night photo we took on that chilly mountain top, when I had to use all my training from RJ Photog Club to make a good picture, since i had nothing with me, photographically speaking.
I know exactly how Sai in Hikaru no Go feels. The pain of doing something you love so much again, after not being able to do that for a really long time(for whatever reason). It's both happiness, regret, and sadness. A little of everything. It's a shoe you once wore, kept in a box for a long while, and worn again, only to know that it fits perfectly, and all that time it was in the box, was time that you could have spent wearing it.
We spent so long in beauty, that coming home felt so difficult. Mixed feelings all around. I knew I was missed though, and loved, and that made coming back all the more bearable.
Then when I got back it was furious re-acquaintance with my violin, guitar and piano. Also spent some time playing drums on Rock Band at Brian's house. Spent some time composing, and drawing up my preferred band list. I'm starting to feel the depths of music. It's another deep hole like the visual arts, and sometimes it just feels that I will never have enough time to perfect anything at all.
I've made it so far with my hands tied behind my back. I can make it. I can make it.
I spent my Saturday afternoon reading an enlightening book on architecture and privacy. It explained to me very clearly, how different cultures and different socioeconomic classes view space, and privacy. Both are so intimately interconnected, yet people plan for space better than they can plan for privacy.
My cousin came by, and she said she really liked the way i did up my room. I'm surprised because my room's a mishmash of furnitures, while her's was carefully designed by a designer. But maybe children say the wisest things. We can't live in someone else's perception of what an ideal room is. Everyone should be given the power to organize the room that works best for them, no matter how young or old.
In some ways, I've been very lucky. To live in a world of my own self-determination. On the pyramid of the hierachy of needs, privacy and space is at the top (i.e the thing most people aspire for). I've had it for as long as I can remember. It's been a part of me, and something I look out for.
Life is about the space to make your own decisions, to be self-determined. And the only way to achieve that, is to have the private space to explore and think. To run through various possibilities, and determine the best courses of action. If we don't have that space (either physical, or mental) then the way we react to situations is instinctive and emotional.
I can see how people have used this principle to achieve their goals. Pressure selling is one example of denying your target the space to think rationally, and instead behave in a very instinctive and emotional way, to achieve the goal of getting rid of you. Religion is another way of restricting that personal space that we all have, by insisting that there is only one right conclusion that we should reach, one door, before we get out of that personal space of ours.
I never really understood the American desire for privacy, but after reading the book, I am enlightened as to it's importance.
Looking at my grades for the last CA, I do feel a sense of pride. Sitting here in the library for so many days does pay off.
There are some topics that I didn't do quite as well, but I'll focus on them in the remaining days and try my best.
I think that's the beauty of work. To put effort into something and see it realized. I'm building a good doctor. I'm crafting a person that can help other people. I'm not studying for grades, but building a person that can meet certain criteria, and have certain knowledge.
Sometimes we try to measure up to the ruler. It's like a growing piece of bamboo. Maybe it needs to grow 1m in order to be able to be harvested and used to make beautiful instruments. If we do that at all costs, to be 1m tall, we might be weak and break easily. We should try and grow at maximum strength, and let the test tell us when the time is right for us to move to the next step.