Monday, December 31, 2007

Impressions from China - 366

The Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium

It's been a year & a day since we landed in Beijing. The first few months seemed to drag on, due to occasional bouts of homesickness & frequent attacks of frustration as we slowly got used to the different ways of how things work here & the very different mentality of how Chinese think(I use the word "Chinese" here in reference to mainland Chinese as opposed to ethnically Chinese) .
Then as we made friends & discovered where to go to buy safe meat, & got used to having to wash vegetables & fruits so that we don't get poisoned, & figured out the best & cheapest massage places to go to & found things to do in school & with friends, the time has flown by.

These are things that I have realised in our time here (in no particular order)...
  • I have yet to learn how to cross a busy Beijing street without going through a panic attack...
  • I have learnt to watch where I step to avoid dubious-looking splotchy patches on the ground which, more often than not, turn out to be emissions of the oral, hacking kind...

  • I have learnt to be patient with Chinese excuses & reasons they come up with when something goes wrong in the house that they can't readily fix...

  • I have learnt that an electrician here may not neccesarily know much about electricity, & a plumber here may not know much about the priniciples of piping...

  • I have learnt that if I add a "rrrrr" to the end of every noun/phrase/sentence, & pretend that I have marbles in my cheeks, I can do a halfway decent Beijing accent...

  • I have become more confident in my use of Mandarin as my ears slowly attune to the local accent, although I am still far from proficient...

  • I have learnt that Northern Chinese food, dialects & even facial features differ greatly from the Southern ones that I am used to in South East Asia...

  • I have learnt that being Chinese is not a homogeneous condition, but something far more complicated than what has been argued about in Singapore (i.e. learning how to speak Mandarin does not neccesarily automatically make one more Chinese)...

  • I have learnt that the mainland Chinese & the Overseas Chinese may as well be two distinct cultural entities altogether, for all their differences & despite their similarities (as I said...complicated)...

  • I have learnt to apply lip balm at least twice a day to prevent chapped lips in the very dry & very cold Beijing winter...

  • I have learnt that when one is deprived of good TV programs & good movies, one's attitude towards pirated DVD's drastically changes. (I think Hollywood movie studios/producers have to approach this "problem" from a different direction)...

  • I hate the fact that most restaurants still do not have "no smoking zones"...

I'm not sure how much longer we will be here. At the moment, I am still ambivalent about staying here long term. The air quality & health issues certainly play a part in how I feel. (Last Thursday/Friday, the air quality index apparently reached a horrendous 421!!!) On the other hand, I know that if we do stay on, it will be an enriching & eye-opening experience.

Happy New Year to all!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Season of Cheer

It's strangely quiet now after two weeks of a full house filled with the sounds of, well... just family. It's amazing how one gets used to the ambient noise of chatting, xboxing, guitar-playing, cooking that was present during the two weeks when family was here visiting & spending the festive season with us in chilly Beijing.

The below freezing temperatures were not enough to temper the hearty warmth generated by family love & togetherness.

Home truly is, where your heart is...& mostly, one's heart is where one's family is, no matter where you are geographically.

Have a Happy 2008 everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Tis The Season

Christmas is...

...Good Food...
...Good Company... matter where in the world you happen to be, if you are with your loved ones, Christmas is always more meaningful.

Wishing everyone out there: Love, Family, Warmth, Togetherness, Presents, Good Food, & Good Company this holiday season!

Monday, December 10, 2007


It is a sad day indeed when one seems immune to feeling anything when something like this comes up in the news. Especially when it happens within a week of this.

How many more will it take before America wakes up?

The right to bear arms indeed.......tell that to the victims' families.

Impressions from China - First Snow

Woke up to a blanket of white this morning...

A lot of it has already turned to gray slush especially on the streets because of the traffic & the salt that was strewn over it.

Here's hoping for a White Christmas!

Impressions from China - I Beg Your Pardon?

...Pidgin English...

To me, the common thread in the above 3 variations of "English" is the fact that it is, for the most part, incomprehensible to foreigners.

A typical example of a telephone conversation here in Beijing:

Customer Service:

Uncertain pause...
"Uh, hello? Who's this again?"

Customer Service:

Another uncertain pause...
"Can you please repeat in Mandarin?" (spoken in Mandarin)

Not only do they tend to link every single word & every sentence together without any punctuation whatsoever, but add the Chinese accent to the mix & they might as well be speaking a foreign language altogether.

I admire the fact that many Chinese are learning English in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the world; and there are many who speak excellent English. But then there are those who are not quite up to par as far as spoken English is concerned, which leads to a lot of confusion when they attempt to do so, from the foreigners' point of view.

Similarly, many foreigners in Singapore (including family & friends of mine) who cannot understand the "English" spoken by the average man-in-the-street/waiter/salesperson in Singapore. And it saddens me to hear the repeated insistence by certain circles in Singapore that speaking Singlish should be something we should be proud of.

I don't think we should abolish Singlish. It is a unique "dialect" & instantly recognizable by fellow Singaporeans wherever you may be in the world. However, if the children of Singapore speak Singlish at the expense of knowing & speaking proper English, then it IS a problem.

MOE's introduction of teaching English to pre-school teachers is a good first step. I just hope that they are taught PROPER English, both written and spoken.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


“Better” is a book written by Atul Gawande. He is a general surgeon working in Boston & also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School & the Harvard School of Public Health. He writes about performance in Medicine, what it takes to be better at what we do as doctors, and how do we measure this ‘goodness’, for lack of a better word.

He uses real-life examples to explain his points of view, which is one reason why this book is so immensely readable, especially for doctors. It could be you or me that he is talking about.

An interesting issue he raises is that of litigation. As we all know, it has become an almost nightmarish situation for doctors practicing in the USA as far as litigation is concerned. Malpractice insurance premiums have skyrocketed especially for specialties like obstetrics & neurosurgery.

On the other hand, there ARE patients who have suffered as a result of medical errors. What recourse do they have if not for malpractice suits? Gawande highlights an approach that has been used by vaccine manufacturers which seems promising.

See, previously, the vaccine manufacturing industry was threatened by lawsuits from patients who had suffered from side effects of vaccinations. Out of the millions of patients helped by vaccination, one in ten thousand is affected by side effects. Like anything in medicine, there are always risks involved, even for the most mundane procedure. These victims would then file for damages (talking billions of US$ here). Because of these lawsuits, some vaccine manufacturers went out of business, prices of vaccines hiked up, stockpiles dwindled (you get the picture).

So the US government came into the picture. A 75 cent surcharge was imposed on each vaccine. This money went into a fund for children who are harmed by the side effects. A panel of experts had come up with a list of known injuries from vaccines, & whoever suffers from any of these injuries would be compensated, whether the injury is due to negligence or bad luck. Those still unhappy can still sue but apparently, few have.

Putting this in practice for physicians is a monumental task. Who would qualify for compensation? How do you put a dollar amount to an injury or disability or death due to medical error? Would doctors buy into such a scheme?

Another interesting issue he raises is that of falling income of doctors, mostly due to the fact that health care costs are managed mainly by insurance companies. Doctors not only have to deal with managing their patients, but now are faced with having to tread through the oftentimes obstacle-ridden course of managed care. End result: they lose money. Unfortunately, this seems to be happening in Singapore as well. Ironically, without insurance, many, including the well-to-do, would have a hard time covering health care costs. Medical care IS expensive. I don’t know the answer to this dilemma.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Picking & Choosing

This is an interesting article about recruiting & retaining physicians.

This was written by an American author for the US scenario, but I wonder how much of this would be applicable to the Singapore situation. With the "shortage"of doctors here, can the employers be so picky & use the guidelines listed in the article? ("Employers" here meaning the large group practices in the private sector & the two clusters that run the government polyclinics, which all seem to have a perpetual shortage of doctors).

I really doubt it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Winter - a random post

I like Winter.

It's a refreshing change to feel the crisp air after a summer of drenching humid heat.

Except when it gets too cold & the chill goes right into your bones & your teeth can't help but chatter & you can't help but shiver to generate more heat to keep warm.

Layering helps. Except that when you enter a heated building, you have to peel off your gloves & scarf & hat & heavy jacket & sometimes your sweater, so you end up with your hands full which makes shopping damned inconvenient.

No, I really do like Winter & am actually looking forward to the first snow of the season, whenever that may be. Especially if I can look at it from the inside through the window of my toasty warm house.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Awesome Talent

I saw this video clip on the Ellen show today & was blown away by this 14 year old girl's talent...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This is an amazing video of a grateful lion - a modern day version of David in the lion's den. This lion remembers & hugs his sweet is that???

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tree Man

This is the worst case of warts I've ever seen!!!

A real-life Ent - poor guy...I hope he finds a cure. Or at least some way of keeping it under control.

Oldies but Goodies

"There is no age limit for applications."

I was pleasantly surprised to see this in a recent mass mailing I received from a certain medical association calling for applicants for specialist traineeship.

2 years ago, in a similar letter (I guess they send one out every year), I noticed an age limit in place for applicants. When asked by a director in the public health institution I was working in at the time whether or not I was going to apply for traineeship, I gave him a wry smile & said that I was too old. Admittedly, I was flattered by the look of surprise on his face when he realized that this lowly M.O. was already the mother of a teen & a pre-teen (at the time) & already over-aged for such lofty ambitions (sarcasm intended).

So why the change in policy now? If I had to make an educated guess, I would say it is to try to make up for the perceived lack of doctors in the public sector. Whether or not this will make more senior doctors step up to the plate...we can only wait & see.

I am glad the age limit has been abolished (for now, anyway). After all, in this day & age, 40 is hardly considered over-the-hill. Yes, the eyes may be starting to go a bit, & some of us need reading glasses to read the small print; and the reflexes may not be as good as, say, a decade ago. But the brain power is still there. Plus the added years of experience of practising general family medicine I think is a huge advantage.

But I wonder how this will affect the teacher-trainee relationship, especially if the trainee is one who was already practising medicine when his teacher was still struggling with the PSLE! It will be interesting, to say the least!

So does this mean that I am considering applying? Nah...not right now. But who knows? Five years from now, when I am an empty-nester, I may reconsider it. But by then, the policy may have changed again...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Impressions from China - Trash talk

There seems to be a lot of China-bashing going on these days. The recent rumor that China is banning Bibles from the Olympic village next year is another instance of black-mouthing. Although the official religion is atheism here, Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques & Christian churches DO exist; and as far as I know, believers of these mainstream religions are allowed to practise their faith freely.

I personally have not seen any persecution of people who worship in churches here. There is a church service held every Sunday in the clubhouse here that is very well-attended by the expat population. I have yet to see any police raids on the place. Worshippers walk around freely carrying their bibles to & from service.

So I really don't know where the rumor started from.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Impressions from China - An Olympic Celebration

Last week, my sons' school celebrated International Day with a special focus on the upcoming Beijing Olympics. I was there, & it was pretty cool to be part of the festivities as well as a part of the Olympic flag which was made up of students, teachers & parents.

We also made it into the China Daily news...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Zagat for Docs?

Hmmm....what next? Michelin stars to rate doctors?

I have no issue with rating long as it is done fairly. But when this is driven by an insurance company, it becomes quite suspect, really. After all, the bottomline (i.e. $$$) counts A LOT for these companies.

Impressions from China - Autumn in Beijing

You know, if you take away the gray haze, Beijing really is quite beautiful...

This was taken from the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on a clear blue sunny day in mid-October.

Here is another view, this time, of mountain ranges adjacent to the Great Wall.

My attempt at an artistic shot - taken from one of the ramparts on the Great Wall.

In contrast, here are some pictures taken on a typical hazy day. These were taken in the Fragrance Hill & Summer Palace environs*.

View from Fragrance Hill.

This was taken on the grounds of the Summer Palace.

*for non-Mandarin speakers or those who are not terribly fluent (like yours truly), Fragrance Hills & Summer Palace are not user friendly at all. First of all, these places cover acres of ground with directions mainly in Chinese (& not very well placed either!) So if you go, make sure you hire an English-speaking guide.

The picture below was also taken at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, but at the end of October. As you see, the leaves have started turning red & yellow. What a difference two weeks make.

And to top it all off, a beautiful Autumn sunset by Roma Lake, near where we live. (This picture was taken by my fledgling photographer 13 year-old, showing off his recently acquired skills learnt during his Digital Photography module in school).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plantar Fasciitis

Boy, what a pain this is.

I just read this article from Medscape about Plantar Fasciitis.

I am sure GPs will agree with me that this is one of the most common foot problems seen in their clinics. And treatment can be difficult as well as it tends to drag on or become a recurrent condition in some patients.

The article mentions most of the modalities of treatment we would generally use (although now, I tend to discourage patients from getting steroid injections into the affected area....damn painful, & also not advisable) but seems to have left out NSAID’s for symptomatic relief.

Oh, and I think they could have mentioned CROCS as well…. :)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tough Calls

How does one make such a decision?

Oct 22, 2007

Weigh options when saving premature baby

I REFER to the article, 'Saving tiny tickers' (ST, Oct 11).

It is indeed heartening that medical advances allow the babies mentioned to enjoy a new lease of life.

Infant mortality has been reduced drastically because of the excellent medical care and services provided by Singapore's health-care workers.

However, we should not use the plain vanilla number of initial infant survivals as the basis of a job well done by health-care professionals.

This holds true, especially for extremely premature babies.

With advances in medical treatment, younger and younger 'premmies' are able to survive.

However, some will have disabilities, from minor to major, because of their early arrival and subsequent damage to their brain and under-developed organs.

If a baby is severely brain-damaged, where his quality of life in future is likely to be almost non-existent, should the doctor go all out to save the baby, just so he is alive for another painful day?

Or should the doctor let the baby die with dignity, through compassionate inaction?

Who should be the one to make such an important judgment call on the treatment (intensive, moderate and just enough to prolong the life, letting go) for the tiny patient?

For parents, this dilemma can be very much be like that of the relatives of a brain-dead patient.

It is therefore important that a clear standard set of rules and guiding principles be provided and adopted for extreme premmies' treatment, as this is a sensitive and grey area where emotions, and personal and religious morals and convictions play a big part.

It is important that the parents have a say in the premmie's treatment and can make informed decisions.

This is because, as parents, their decisions will be based on what is best for the baby.

Doctors should not be biased against their young patients' parents, even when the parents' views and opinions differ greatly from theirs.

Doctors should also respect parents' decision on treatments offered to the baby, even if they disagree with the parents' decision.

At the end of the day, it is the parents, not the doctors, who will have to care for the disabled child.

Thus, treatment options should be scaled towards what the informed parents want.

As a resident working in the NICU, I grappled with such dilemnae almost daily. Why save the premature, especially the severely premature, when the child eventually develops disabling conditions like cerebral palsy, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, ROP, all requiring long term medical care, with questionable quality of life. And the caregivers, having had to deal with the heartbreaking situation, are now saddled with a huge hospital bill, & look forward to a life time of probably repeated hospital stays & visits & seeing their child suffer.

But as a resident, one sworn to save lives, we pretty much did our damnedest to save even the most premature of babies until we knew that there was nothing much else we could do for him. I don't remember any one of the parents trying to stop us from doing so. I sometimes wondered why.

But then I became a parent. I then realized that the love one has for one's child, even unborn, is undescribably all-encompassing. I understand now, why these parents would want the doctors to try their damnedest, no matter how disabled or how much suffering their child might end up with. In a way, it's a selfish kind of love.

In any case, it's a tough call to make. To save or not to save. You tell me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Impressions from China - Blocked

And the blockages continue. First it was Blogspot then Flickr and now You Tube.

It's annoying.

Appreciate your freedom, people out there.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mountains & Molehills

A case of who knew too much about Clooney

By Gina Piccalo, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer October 11, 2007

A New Jersey hospital is at the center of a storm over its suspension of 27 staffers. The action, over viewing of the actor's file, seems 'a little harsh,' his publicist says.

George Clooney's medical records and the hospital staff who may or may not have leaked them to reporters have caused quite a dust-up at a North Bergen, N.J., hospital this week, leading to a month's suspension of 27 staffers without pay and thrusting Palisades Medical Center into the rigorous churn of the worldwide celebrity news cycle.

The story was bested this morning only by Lindsay Lohan's whereabouts since rehab, and naturally hundreds of bloggers debated the hospital's actions. Camera crews flocked to the Palisades Medical Center, and reporters flooded the phone lines of the hospital and the union representing some of the suspended staffers.

"It is just sickening," said one hospital receptionist of the newshounds. "There's more important things going on in the world."

Indeed. But -- spoiler alert! -- those things won't be covered here.

Clooney and his girlfriend, Sarah Larson, took a spill while riding the actor's motorcycle in northern New Jersey on the afternoon of Sept. 21. Clooney suffered road rash and a cracked rib, and Larson injured her foot. They were treated and released from the hospital the same day.But news of the incident ricocheted around the Internet and made headlines around the world (as did subsequent footage of Clooney escorting his paramour as she teetered along on crutches).

Palisades Medical Center found itself at the heart of the news story and launched an investigation into staff access to Clooney's records. So far the hospital hasn't accused its staff of leaking the information to the press, but the investigation revealed that as many as 40 hospital staff members accessed the actor's personal medical records in apparent violation of federal law that bars staff members who are not directly connected to a patient's treatment from consulting a patient's medical records.

Since then the story has gained momentum, leaving the hospital struggling to go about its daily work while at the eye of a celebrity news story. The 27 staffers were suspended on Friday. The hospital released a statement today, emphasizing that its staff "adheres to a strong code of ethics that respects the privacy and confidentiality of all of our patients.

"Eurice Rojas, the hospital's vice president of external affairs, could not be reached for further comment.

A spokeswoman for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union, which represents seven of the suspended workers, has publicly criticized the suspensions as premature until the hospital's investigation is complete. Some suspended employees may have been legally permitted to view the records, said union spokeswoman Jeanne Otersen.

"I'm looking at the Web and seeing how widespread [this story] is," she said. "Whether you are John Doe or George Clooney, you have the same rights to privacy. The same goes for the staff. They have rights too. Now you have a tenfold violation of his privacy. . . . I think there's a different way to handle it so that you both protect patients and educate workers and make sure that, while people are held accountable, there's due process."

For his part, Clooney -- known for his lively debates with the media on its treatment of celebrities -- has taken this latest security breach in stride.

On Tuesday afternoon, he issued a statement in defense of the staffers and emphasized that he had nothing to do with the investigation of the alleged leak.

"This is the first I've heard of it," Clooney said, referring to the suspensions. "And while I very much believe in a patient's right to privacy, I would hope that this could be settled without suspending medical workers."

"This is not our issue," Clooney's publicist Stan Rosenfield added today. "This is between the hospital and their employees . . . . This was not anything we instigated. We felt that perhaps suspending medical workers was a little harsh."

Yes, patient confidentiality is important & is well understood by health care workers.

But suspending 27 hospital staff for one month with no pay??? That's a bit much, isn't it?

I wonder if the same punitive action would have been imposed if the patient happened to be John Smith, plumber instead of George Clooney, movie star?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Impressions from China - Blue

Yesterday we saw blue skies. An unusual occurrence here in Beijing where a grey haze has become what we are accustomed to & a PSI of 90 is called "Good" day. The clear air was a result of a full day of slow drizzling rain, washing away the fumes & pollution coming from the kazillion vehicles, factories & what-have-yous.

It was wonderful seeing the Blue again, with white flurries of clouds interspersed amidst the cumuli nimbus, & breathing in clean air without the smell of exhaust or chemicals. We could even see the mountain ranges north of us - a rare & beautiful sight, indeed.

I wonder how long it will last. Today looks promisingly Blue still. The day is still crisp, with sunlight brightening up this fall day.

Mmmm….nice…I'd better go outside today & & enjoy it whilst I can, before the muck builds up again, which should take, oh, another 12 hours or so, I would think.


We’ve been offline for almost 3 whole days now. THREE WHOLE DAYS.

It’s sad how reliant we’ve (at least our family) become on our Internet connection. It feels like losing the use of my left thumb. (I don’t mean to belittle the importance of the opposable digit, but on the contrary, emphasize on the importance of keeping connected with the cyberworld.)

Email, Facebook, Blogging, Google…all a means of keeping connected with family, friends, & the community at large. For work, or for school, or just plain daily living, we’ve felt lost without it. Hubby needs it to access his email from home; kids need it to research school work, do homework & just for keeping in touch with friends in far away places.

By the time you read this, we obviously would be back online.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Impressions from China - Corn, anyone?

In the past month or so, this has become a familiar site. The end of summer marks corn harvest time, & I have to say the Chinese are resourceful in using what is available to them.

Our neighborhood is built amidst villages. A lot of the land has been taken over by sprawling expat compounds. Previously mostly farmland, there are still large areas where various crops are grown, depending on the season.

When the corn was ready for harvest, all those ears were stacked on the neighborhood streets, for lack of available space, in hundreds of piles, exposed to the elements, road gravel, passing vehicle exhaust & the occasional wandering stray dog or animal (I shudder to think what else these dogs may have done besides sniff at these piles of corn!). After a week or two of drying, the villagers put these ears of corn through machines which de-kernelize(is there such a word?) the corn, after which the kernels of corn are again left on the roadside to air before subsequently being ground into cornmeal.

I really, really wonder if there is further cleansing or sterilizing of the end product before it is sold as a consumable product. Maybe it's meant for the pigs?

Who knows? This is China.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Aliens in America

This looks like a promising new series that addresses our differences (as well as our similarities) head on, without the double-talk & hypocrisy that is so rampant nowadays in the guise of political correctness.

Crossing my fingers that it will reach our shores (or at least, our satellite waves!) eventually!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Finish the Fight...

The marketing blitz surrounding the Halo series of video games has been phenomenally & amazingly successful. I pre-ordered the 3rd installment of the game for my boys & had to stand in line (which snaked all the way outside the shopping mall!) to collect it, surrounded by fans, some wearing the Halo 3 cap & gear...grown-ups, mind you, not kids!

It has spun off into novels & even a movie, due to be released in 2009. I can't imagine what it will be like then...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Money Can't buy Everything

Hah. A lesson learnt about citizenship & what it should be about.

I've said it before & I will say it again: Being a Singaporean should be more than how much one is paid for one's services, no matter what those services may be - whether it be sporting ability, intelligence, scientific knowledge or artistic talent.

This fiasco has cheapened this country's citizenship. Obviously, these athletes were in it for the money & not for love of this country. Why the Singapore Athletics Association went along with it is beyond me.

Imports 'failed', but locals will take up baton: Athletics chief

HE ONCE memorably said that if medals were what Singapore was after, then he could simply "hire" athletes from China to deliver.

Under the country's Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, Mr Loh Lin Kok eventually recruited China-born shot put specialists Du Xianhui, Zhang Guirong and Dong Enxin.

The two women received their Singapore citizenship in October 2003, while Dong got his in May 2001.

Another shot putter, Luan Wei, and hammer thrower E Xiaoxu, touted as possible graduates of the scheme, were brought to Singapore in 1999.

But today, Mr Loh, who is president of the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA), brands his association's efforts a "failure".

Du and Zhang are back in China after disagreements over training and salary issues; Luan is currently embroiled in a court case with the SAA over unfair dismissal; E Xiaoxu dropped a similar action due to financial constraints; while Dong has failed to live up to his billing thus far.

"The foreign talent scheme has failed miserably," Mr Loh admitted in an interview with this newspaper.

"The characters were, quite simply, unreliable. Two have abandoned us and another two have charged us in court. As a medal prospect, Dong is unreliable, too.

"When I brought the China-born athletes over in 1998, I wanted the sport to be more professional, to have full-time athletes training professionally. But they've abused my generosity."

Does that mean the SAA has lost faith entirely in the foreign talent scheme, launched in the 1990s?

"No, we are not going to abandon it," said the SAA chief. "It's just that the previous failures have taught us a bitter lesson. From now on, we will have to tread even more cautiously and look at each case with a microscope before making any decision."

The closer scrutiny of foreign-born athletes augurs well for the local athletics fraternity, for the SAA can concentrate on grooming the home-grown talent coming through the Singapore Sports School and other institutions under the Ministry of Education.

Eight of the Republic's best youngsters qualified for July's World Youth Championships in Ostrava, the Czech Republic (see box), and Mr Loh is counting on this pool of juniors to kick-start a new era in track and field.

"There's a new generation taking us out of the rut. Right now, we might have to suffer a bit," he said. "But believe me, when it bears fruits, they are going to be bountiful and they are going to be beautiful fruits."

Even though the decision may mean that for the first time since 1989 Singapore would almost certainly not win a track and field gold medal at the South-east Asia Games in Korat, Thailand, from Dec 6 to 15, the SAA supremo remains upbeat for the future.

"We are in transition," he said. "Instead of relying on foreign talent, we are putting our faith in a bunch of really promising youngsters, all born in Singapore."

The athletics chief is also looking for a radical change in the local club scene to pump-prime the sport. From Wings Athletics Club to Swift, there are some 20 such organisations affiliated to the SAA – but with some pulling in different directions, with what Mr Loh describes as an "I don't trust you, you don't trust me" attitude.

He believes such rivalry is "unhealthy" and is looking to adopt the school-based American system, with schools here taking over the grooming of young athletes.

Said the 59-year-old lawyer: "Right now, the Singapore Sports School is leading the way towards an American tertiary format. Its manufacturing process is good.

"Of course, it's not easy to manage schoolwork with athletics, but times are different now -- it pays to be in sport these days … We have insisted that the athletes are not put under too much pressure at a young age. American athletes complete their degrees in eight years, and we can adopt that."

Mr Loh was SAA president from 1982 to 2004 before making way for his handpicked successor Tang Weng Fei, a businessman and former hurdler. But Mr Loh was never far from the scene and two years later, he was back in the hot seat when Mr Tang stepped down.

Said Mr Loh: "People may call me autocratic, but running an association of this nature needs tough measures.

"Some clubs seem to exist for the sake of bickering, others just want to chase that elusive title of 'best club'. But there's a bigger picture here. The duty of the athletes is to perform, not get involved with club politics."

Copyright ©2005 MediaCorp Press Ltd

Thursday, September 20, 2007

White Coats No More

This is a great move by the UK Department of Health.

White coats off, UK docs told

LONDON — British hospitals are banning neckties, long sleeves and jewellery for doctors — and their traditional white coats — in an effort to stop the spread of deadly hospital-borne infections, according to new rules published yesterday.

Hospital dress codes typically urge doctors to look professional, which for male doctors, has usually meant wearing a tie. But as concern over hospital-borne infections has intensified, doctors are taking a closer look at their clothing.

"Ties are rarely laundered but worn daily," the Department of Health said in a statement. "They perform no beneficial function in patient care and have been shown to be colonised by pathogens."

A 2004 study of doctors' neckties at a New York hospital found nearly half of them carried at least one species of infectious microbe.

Last year, the British Medical Association urged doctors to go without the accessories, calling them "functionless clothing items".

The new regulations, which will take effect next year, mean an end to doctors' traditional long-sleeved white coats, Health Secretary Alan Johnson said.

Fake nails, jewellery and watches, which the department warned could harbour germs, are also out.

Johnson said the "bare below the elbows" dress code would help prevent the spread of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, the deadly bacteria resistant to nearly every available antibiotic.

Popularly known as a "superbug", MRSA accounts for more than 40 per cent of in-hospital blood infections in Britain.

Because the bacteria is so hard to kill, healthcare workers have instead focused on containing its spread through improvements to hospital hygiene.

Doctors and nurses who do not adequately wash their hands pose a far bigger risk to patients warns Dr James Steinberg, an Emory University infectious disease specialist. — AP

When I was an intern, then an MO doing hospital postings, we had to follow a dress code, which meant ladies had to wear skirts (no pants allowed unless on night call), & covered shoes (meaning court shoes, not thongs or Croc-like sandals!) while the guys had to wear ties or bow ties. It was a pain especially when, as an intern, you had to do all the scut work, running around the wards, doing multiple rounds a day, setting drips, taking blood (no such thing as phlebotomists in my day :( ).

I don't know about other doctors, but I find it less of a strain on my back to squat next to the patient's chair or bed when setting drips or taking blood (& also less risk of exposing my chest to the male patients!!!). Try squatting in a skirt. If it's a slim cut one, damned difficult. If it's a flare skirt , you end up sweeping the floor with it. And the shoes...OMG, talk about plantar fasciitis & bunions!

I used to envy the docs I saw on TV wearing those oh-so-comfortable scrubs. I wonder why doctors in Singapore can't change into scrubs when they get to the hospitals (even if they are not working in the OR), & at the end of the day, leave them for the hospital laundry to wash so that they don't bring home all those nasty hospital germs.

Besides, I think scrubs are sexier looking than street clothes.


Just For More Laughs!!!

If you liked the previous youtube video, I'm sure you'll like this offence meant to my friends in anesthesia...but it's damn freakin' funny!!!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Just for Laughs!

For my medical colleagues out there...a unique way of teaching med students how to clerk patients!!!


The kitchen now is all white-washed walls, stainless steel surfaces and clear-glassed fridge doors. Utensils are pure white porcelain, with square plates & uber-large bowls, all zen-like to match the interior decor with its straight lines & right angles.

I remember when this was a free-standing stall in a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Holland Village, back in the days when it was just a sleepy enclave made up of shophouses in the midst of a predominantly residential area. It had the best Ipoh Hor Fun & Curry Chicken Noodle south of the (JB-Singapore) border.

The waiters used to yell your orders to the cooks, letting everyone know what you were eating, & the orders would be served in melamine dishes with melamine soup spoons. Wooden chopsticks soon became the generic off-white plastic kind & now, a clean sleek zen black.

Unfortunately, the quality of the food has not improved along with its environs, never mind the air-conditioned space & the waiters who dutifully take your orders & serve you at the table in a civilised manner. I prefer the mouth-watering food back in the days when we had to stand in line patiently, sometimes waiting for half an hour at peak times before it reached our turn. Service was brusque, but the rewards delicious.

Now, the food tastes rather blah, sadly. Gone are the good ol' days.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fat?? FAT???

So what's the deal with the latest Britney Spears saga?

She appeared in the recent MTV awards show wearing a silver sequinned bikini. She apparently ran off the stage exclaiming that she looked like a fat pig.

No, dear girl. You've been brainwashed by the media with its high regard for Women-Whose-BMI-is-Less-Than 16. You are not fat. You are a woman who has carried two babies to full term. If my body looked like yours, I'd be really happy. No, make that deliriously happy.

You should fire your manager & agent for getting you this gig. MTV was looking for ratings. You are obviously not ready to perform again, given your recent history, not to mention the hormonal flux your body must still be in after having two babies within two years. I know because I've been there.

It sounds cliched but things WILL get better. Allow your body & soul to heal, for the sake of your boys. They are the most important things in your life right now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Man's Best Friend

Reading the book Marley & Me was like picking a scab off of a wound that had not quite completely healed.

It had me laughing then crying then laughing again, over the antics of a mentally subnormal (the author's words, not mine) yellow Labrador retriever, who was lovable, destructive, loyal, slobbery, devoted, hyperactive, & most of all, a beloved family member.

I saw so much of my old dog in Marley, and as I read, I thought, "Oh my God, this all sounds so familiar!" The incessant shedding, the jumping, the highly dependent personality (read: leech), the eager desire to just BE with someone (24/7 if possible), the undying devotion, the insatiable appetite for everything & anything (from pebbles to mulch to plastic bags)...all this described my old dog to a T.

It was re-living heartbreak again, when the author described the problems that came with an aging big dog & the eventual decision to let him go as humanely as possible.
When I picked up this book to read, I thought that I had gotten over what I had gone through almost a year ago. For many months, I distanced myself from dogs. When previously, I would have gushed over & cuddled a cute little puppy, I would instead walk away, for fear of stirring up unwanted emotions.

No, the wounds have not healed yet. Maybe another year. Maybe not ever completely.

6 Years Ago

(Disclaimer: This post may contain sentiments which some may deem politically incorrect or even prejudiced or cruel. These are solely my personal opinions & reflections in response to what has been happening as a result of terrorism & religious fanaticism. I do not lobby for any particular political group or country. I only speak from my heart.)

6 years ago today, the World Trade Center twin towers fell, as a result of terrorist attacks. 2,801 people died.

The invasion of Iraq by US forces in the name of fighting terrorism began in the middle of 2003. Four years later, despite the capture & subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein, the forces remain, sustaining casualties numbering the thousands, not including the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed by violence which many feel, is related to the US occupation.

Fanaticism & hatred is not going to go away anytime soon. Religious fervor, killing in the name of God/Allah has been around for centuries.

Get out of there now, I say. Bring home those noble soldiers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters now. Get them out of harms way, & let the mentally warped target their hatred towards someone else. Spend the money on education, healthcare, national defense, instead. Spend it on those soldiers who came home maimed, and disabled. Spend it on those families who have lost their breadwinners to a war they do not understand.

I know this is not politically correct to say so, but let them sort out the quagmire in their country. Hell, let them kill each other in their own country if they want to. It is obvious that they spurn help from foreign quarters, especially the so-called “infidels” (read: non-Muslims). Let the world see how “civilized” these lunatics are. Perhaps then, there will be a chance for the United Nations to play the part that they should have played in the first place, & for diplomacy & humanitarianism to work.

Enough is enough.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

R & R (recuperating & rehabbing)

I'm back.

I realize one of the reasons why the homo sapiens species has dominated this Earth is the Opposable Thumb. I don't envy our simian cousins. Try holding a pencil or chopsticks or eating without using your thumb. Hard, isn't it?

So, meantime I am using my non-dominant hand for most functions. (By the way, it's hard to wipe one's nether regions with one's non-dominant hand after using the loo).

Looking on the bright side, maybe I'll become ambidextrous by the end of this saga.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ironically Jinxed

Well, I've done it this time.

No sooner did I write an entry about getting injured than I sustain an injury that requires surgical intervention. What I initially thought was a bad sprain has turned out to be a torn ligament requiring repair to prevent instability & arthritis in future.

And it was one of those freak accidents that happened as a result of sheer bad luck & poor timing; in this case, it involved a wheelbarrow, a spooked horse, & a tangled rein. AND the great irony was that this injury was not due to my lack of riding skills; as a matter of fact, I was actually feeling more confident & balanced than ever before. Then this had to happen.

So, I am being medevac'ed by International SOS to a surgeon sometime this week to get this done.

This really sucks big time. I am majorly bummed out.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Art of Medicine

In our training to become doctors, we are taught not just to look, but to see; not just to hear, but to listen; not just to touch, but to feel. As these senses develop, we learn to process the information we garner from seeing, listening, and feeling, and translate it into impressions, or, in medical terms, diagnoses.

In this sense, I don’t think we are that much different from artists. We use our eyes, ears, hands & sometimes even noses to perceive, in our case, patients; while artists use their eyes, ears, hands & noses to perceive the environment around them, and translate these perceptions into works of art.

This is where I think Medicine is an Art form; the part where we connect with our patients, where we use our God-given senses to learn & to know from seeing, listening, feeling.

I know that the advance of technology & the development of new lab tests & investigations will help us to more easily diagnose diseases. However, I hope that we will not eventually lose this, the Art of Medicine. If we do, I think that we also lose that little extra bit of humanity that goes with being a doctor.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


It is painfully ironic (I stress the word painfully) that now, when I have the time & the means to pursue activities which I have always wanted to pursue, but never had the time & money to do so, my mature (not quite aged, but getting there) body is finding it difficult to cope!

For example, 3 years ago, I went on a skiing trip to Vail, Colorado. I found myself on the bunny slopes trying so hard to keep myself from falling, and not doing a very good job of it, seeing all the toddlers & children whizzing past me. I ended up bruising my tibia which took about 8 weeks to heal. So much for the glamorous images of me zig-zagging down the black slopes leaving a trail of snowdust behind.

Then there was softball, with me joining a team made up of mothers & teachers playing against a high school. Now, I've played softball before in university, with no problems at all. But now, decades later, I developed plantar fasciitis which took several months to heal (thanks to my ugly, but comfortable Crocs!).

Then, there is horse-riding. The last time I had lessons was in between children. That is about 14 years ago. I don't remember having problems with keeping myself balanced & stable in the saddle. Now I feel like one of those wobbly dolls with the rounded bottoms whenever the horse goes into a trot. And there was the one time during a sitting trot when I landed precisely on my coccyx - man, did it hurt! No, it was not fractured or subluxed, just bruised. But the pain took about 2 months to abate.

Sigh. As that Alanis Morrisette song goes: "Isn't it ironic..."....

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pressure Cooker

So add more pressure, why doncha?

Kids are already struggling with having to learn two languages in school. I am not even talking about being able to speak proper English & proper Chinese. Because the English & Mandarin being spoken by the average Singaporean on the street is far from proper, or even proficient, in many cases. Non-Singaporeans have problems understanding the Singlish that passes off as English. And having lived in Beijing now for the last 8 months, I realize that the Mandarin I hear being spoken here in China is w-a-a-a-a-y different from the Mandarin I hear being spoken in Singapore!

So now, PM Lee talks about adding a 3rd language to the secondary school curriculum, with incentives for the students to take it up to get bonus points into JC.

More incentives to learn Malay at secondary school
Monday • August 20, 2007

The talk has long focused on the language skills necessary to engage China and, yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the need to relate to the Malay-speaking region, too.

More incentives, he announced, will be dished out to encourage more Singaporeans to study Malay or Chinese — if it is not their mother tongue — as a third language.

Such secondary school students will soon enjoy two bonus points for junior college admission. Perks like these will be available to non-Malays who sign up for the Malay Special Programme (MSP) and non-Chinese students in the Chinese Special Programme.

The MSP has had a poor take-up rate since it was launched in 1985 for top Primary School Leaving Examination students to learn the Malay language and the cultural heritage of Malays. It remained unpopular despite being extended this year to all Secondary 1 students.

Mr Lee said that while many older Singaporeans spoke and understood Malay, "too few" of the younger generation did.

While the current mother tongue policy would not change, he said, it was important to learn Malay or Bahasa Indonesia to facilitate interaction with our Southeast Asian neighbours. As such, a Regional Studies Programme — where students take Malay as a third language and learn about South-east Asia — will be rolled out in three or four secondary schools. A hundred scholarships will be offered to sweeten the deal, he added.

"It would be good if one of the schools can offer Bahasa Indonesia. I understand … one school is already interested," said Mr Lee.

Civil servants, too, will be incentivised. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officers already get a language allowance if they maintain a good grasp of languages to do their work better and this will be extended to more agencies that have extensive contact with other countries. — Lee U-Wen

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

I am all for learning a 2nd or 3rd or heck, even a 4th language, IF THE PERSON LEARNING IT ACTUALLY LIKES & APPRECIATES THE LANGUAGE HE OR SHE IS LEARNING.

There has been some debate in the ST Forum section lately over the teaching & learning of a second language (specifically Mandarin) in school & I have previously blogged about it.

So before PM Lee or Minister Tharman endorses this new policy, I hope they first look into how languages are taught in Singapore schools before piling on more pressure on the already highly-pressured educational system in Singapore.

Friday, August 17, 2007

What's In A Name

Apparently, a Chinese couple tried to name their baby this symbol.

There are strange sounding "Westernized" names that many Chinese people give themselves, especially those who work with foreigners. I have come across "Silke", "Yippe", "Fancy" just to name a few.

The idea is that these names are easier to remember than Chinese names spelt in HanYu PinYin. Many non-Chinese speakers find it hard to pronounce, let alone remember strange sounding names like Xu Qinjin or Zhang Xinli. Even Chinese speakers like me find it tough. I think it would be easier to remember if one knows the Chinese characters for the name as they actually mean something, since remembering Chinese characters is kinda like having to remember pictograms or logograms.

So if I were to introduce you to a girl named Meilian, for example, it would be easier to remember her as beautiful lotus (which is what the name means).

With China's economy expanding faster than the speed of light, & the Internet inundating everyone's lives, it is inevitable that sooner or later, someone would come up with the idea of naming his child "@", poor kid.

Actually, I think being named @ may not be too bad after all, compared to Tabooger, Fifi-Trixiebelle or I.P. Freely according to this website of Strange Celebrity Baby Names.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Impressions from China - Danger where you least expect it

Scary, this...

Kyodo News
Monday August 6, 11:03 AM

Wrong drug combination may be behind S. Korean diplomat's death(Kyodo)

A mistake in the administration of intravenous drugs by a Beijing clinic may have been behind last week's death of a senior diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in the Chinese capital, a source informed about the incident said Monday.
Whang Joung Il, 52-year-old minister for political affairs, died July 29 after receiving intravenous solutions at the clinic he visited for treatment of abdominal pain.
As part of his treatment, Whang received Ringer's solution and an antibiotic that should not be administered simultaneously with calcium-containing solutions, according to the source. Ringer's solution contains calcium.
A written instruction for the antibiotic used in the procedure, obtained by Kyodo News says, "Do not use diluents containing calcium, such as Ringer's solution" with the drug as "particulate formation can result."
The possibility of the clinic's improper use of the drugs emerged as a cause of the minister's death after an investigation into the incident by the South Korean Embassy found that numerous blood clots were discovered in the minister's body.
The clinic has yet to formally inform the embassy about the reasons behind the minister's death, and has not offered an apology over the incident, according to the source.

The Chinese authorities, which are also investigating the incident, have yet to issue a formal report, the source said.
The South Korean Embassy has issued a notice on its website warning South Koreans in China not to visit the clinic in central Beijing, which caters mainly to foreign expatriates, for any kind of treatment.
Whang visited the clinic after falling ill eating a sandwich.

Imagine that. Dying from a stomach ache. I wonder which antibiotic it was that they used.

I am NOT going to that clinic. Ever.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Impressions from China - Clearing the Air

This is Beijing's attempt at clearing the air for next year's Olympics:

Vehicles ordered off road for Olympics drill
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)Updated: 2007-08-10 07:06

Beijing yesterday announced a drill to test the effectiveness of the Olympic host city's efforts to improve air quality and ease traffic congestion.
From August 17 to 20, about 1.3 million vehicles - nearly half of the total 3 million in the city - will be ordered off the roads as part of pre-Olympic tests, according to the capital city's environmental and traffic authorities.
On August 17 and 19 (Friday and Sunday), only vehicles with the license plate number ending with the odd numeral will be allowed on the roads.
On August 18 and August 20 (Saturday and Monday), it's plates ending with an even number.
The rule applies to Beijing-registered vehicles as well as those from outside the city.
Du Shaozhong, spokesman for the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said air quality will be monitored during the vehicle-reduction days.
"Let's see the correlation between air quality and the number of running vehicles," he said.
"Data from the tests will be collected and analyzed to improve air quality," Du said, adding vehicle emissions are a leading cause of urban pollution.
In addition to the 27 air quality monitoring stations spread across all the 18 districts and counties, three new stations and two new mobile monitor vehicles will be put to use, he added.
Vehicles which will be exempt from the drill will include those of the police, ambulance, fire, postal and breakdown services and the public transit system as well as those belonging to embassies and international organizations.
Zhai Shuanghe, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Traffic Management Bureau said the drill will test the city's public transport.
Rush hour services of the bus and metro systems will be extended to three hours, 6:30 am to 9:30 am, from the usual two hours, 7 am to 9 am.
Civic servants are supposed to arrive in office half an hour earlier at 8 am, and shopping malls will open doors one hour later at 10 am.
Currently, the public transit system carries 31 percent of the traveling public and is the most popular means of transport after walking.
Beijing runs 19,105 buses, two metro lines and two light rail transits lines.
During the test period, the public transit system will operate at full capacity. Besides, another 700 to 800 backup buses will be used, Zhai said.
Some cities around the world - such as Athens, Manila and Sao Paolo - restrict vehicles according to odd or even numbers on license plates.
(China Daily 08/10/2007 page1)

This is a valiant attempt at reducing that gray haze that seems to hang perpetually over the city. I am sure it will work, because the traffic situation here is horrendous. The congestion you see on a regular workday is ridiculous. And it is quite common to see the PSI exceed 100.

What I wish is that they would make such efforts, not just for the Olympics, but, for the sake of the environment (& our health!), that it will continue past the Olympics. Maybe something not as drastic but perhaps some incentives to encourage car pooling or use of hybrid cars.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The End

I finished reading the final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows last week.

Spoilers ahead...

I've always enjoyed the Harry Potter books. I think JK Rowling is a wonderful writer, managing to capture her readers' imaginations & drawing them into the story so that one is loathe to put down the book until the end.

It was the same with the Deathly Hallows, although I got rather frustrated with Harry's reluctance to let others in on his secret mission just because Dumbledore said so. And this despite his own doubts about Dumbledore's sincerity & truthfulness. These people- Remus, Moody, the Weasleys - were willing to sacrifice their own safety to save his life, for crying out loud! So I didn't quite get Harry's very child-like loyalty to Dumbledore's confidence.

The final battle sequence was enthralling although Voldemort's demise was quite anti-climactic...downed by a reflection of his own Killing Spell??? I wonder if Ms Rowling's creative energy was running out of steam at this point.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book overall, & is quite sad to see it end. I hope Ms Rowling will change her mind about not writing anymore about the Harry Potter universe, as I am sure many fans will wonder at how the various relationships develop (i.e. Harry-Ginny, Ron-Hermione) between the time when this book ended, to the Epilogue of Nineteen Years Later.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Impressions from China - Interesting Finds & Factoids

I discovered amazing/unusual finds during our recent trip to Xi'an:

  • Manchurian writing looks like there is some Indian influence, but vertical...try turning the picture around & you see what I mean...

  • Ingenious inventions like the no-spill water pot which reminds me of child-proof cups I used to buy for my sons to use when they were toddlers. Same principle, different time period.
  • the versatile heater-in-the-winter/air-cooler-in-the-summer device from the Qin dynasty - put heated coal in it to warm up a room, or ice carved out from the river (& stored underground) to cool it down & voilá!
  • Sudoku! Actually, they used this (replica below)as a charm to ward off evil back in the Tang, I think, Dynasty, because they didn't understand the magic of Mathematics. They thought that this combination of numbers had magical powers because no matter which row it is, the sum of the numbers is always 111!!!
  • the Tang Dynasty ideal of the perfect woman had a full figure...hmm...I wonder how I might be able to bring that fad back into the 21st century! (apologies for the flash reflected in the was crowded & huge & was rushing through so didn't have time to review pictures)

  • plumbing actually existed way back then! Remnants of pipes were excavated from the foundations of old buildings. (no picture, sorry)
  • and finally, something not quite ancient but I thought rather unusual..., not an ancient way of watering trees in China. We saw quite a number of trees hooked up to IV's!!! We think this is how they treat diseases in the trees.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Impressions from China - The 8th Wonder of the World

I figured this deserved its very own blog entry. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the immense proportions of the place together with the enormity of the task of creating it is astounding.

Did you know that the excavated area covers only 1/13th of the estimated entire site which covers approximately 56 sq. km?

Did you know that the first warriors were constructed for Emperor when he was only 13 years old? And that it took over 3 decades to complete (continuing even till after his death)?
Did you know that the bronze weapons found at the site were plated with chromium?
This is 2,000 years ago. How's that for a high tech ancient civilization!

Did you know that when first discovered, the warriors were actually colored with paint replicating the real color of skin, armor etc? And that within hours, the colors slowly disappeared due to exposure to oxygen, CO2 & light?
The pictures below were taken just after the unearthing of the warriors. Note the skin colored faces & bluish tinge on their armor. Now, the exposed warriors are completely clay-colored, and further excavation has been postponed indefinitely...I suppose till there comes a time when they have developed a technique of preventing such degradation.
In this picture, the imprint of a fallen warrior that has been left behind together with the red paint that used to be on its armor.

Did you know that you can tell an archer from an infantryman from an officer from a general just by looking at what's on their heads & what they were wearing?
This is a first-row archer. Note the single top knot on his head, his half kneeling position & his armor.
The archers were grouped in threes - the first row (as above) helped to shield, the second row would shoot & the 3rd row getting ready to shoot (below - note: no armor).
Officers wear a flat leather headpiece, infantrymen wore armor & had single topknots on their heads; generals had two topknots & also wore accessories which designated them as "2 or 3 star"!

Did you know that each soldier is a "different person"?
Check out their faces below. The Emperor handpicked "models" for the warriors, ensuring that they were all tall & strapping lads! So most of the warriors are taller than the average Chinese!

Did you know that most of the warriors were found in pieces which had to be painstakingly put together by the archeologists?
Talk about a difficult jigsaw puzzle!
In the picture below, the fragments are in the foreground waiting for the archeologists to put them together.

Did you know that Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of a unified China, for whom these warriors were made, still lies interred under a huge mound of dirt (which looks like a small hill) & it's believed that his tomb lies among a replica of the map of China with the rivers represented by quicksilver (mercury) to deter grave robbers (due to the poisonous nature of this substance)?
Our visit to Xi'an has been an eye-opener. This ancient city, which used to be the capital of China, has given us a greater appreciation of the richness of Chinese history & civilization.

Impressions from China - Xi'an

We went on a short sojourn to Xi'an, where we...

...walked on the City Wall...

Built in 582 A.D., it is still fully intact & just over 13 km long. It encircles the city center. the bricks are held together by a mixture of clay, lime & powdered glutinous rice.

...visited the Bell Tower...

In ancient China, the bell rang at 12 noon everyday to help the people tell the time.

...saw the Little Wild Goose Pagoda...

This pagoda remains intact after over 1,500 years despite an earthquake & massive bombing in WW2. Only the corners of the tiered roofs fell off.

...saw the Big Wild Goose Pagoda...

Built to house Buddhist scriptures translated by the monk XuanZang who travelled along the old Silk Road to India to learn about Buddhism. This journey inspired the famous Chinese classic 西游记(XiYouJi or Journey to the West). It also survived earthquakes & WW2 bombinh blitzes.

...visited a mosque...

Xi'an is home to 100,000 Muslims, descendants of settlers from the Middle East. And though this structure looks more like a Chinese temple, it really is part of the mosque, built during the Tang dynasty. It was built in a Chinese style to try to enhance assimilation of the Muslims with the local Chinese population. Apparently, it wasn't terribly successful then! Now, the Muslims live in harmony with the rest of the poulation. The children learn the Koran in a mixture of the Shaanxi dialect & Arabian.

...visited the Shaanxi History Museum...

Another fine example of the English translations we see in China, something that the Chinese government is trying to correct before the Olympics. They have a HUGE task ahead of them!

...visited the Forest of Stone Tablets...

Confucius's teachings are etched onto these stone tablets (there were at least 10 rows of these tablets I saw!!!). Scholars in ancient China had to memorise the ENTIRE SCRIPTURE in order to pass their exams (ouch), & poorer scholars who couldn't afford to buy a copy would come to these tablets & make rubbings.

...& the highlight of the trip, we saw the 8th wonder of the world, the famed Terracotta Warriors.
This is Pit 1. There are a total of 7 pits, some only partially excavated.
More on this in another entry.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I've been trying to fulfil my CME requirements since I left Singapore just over 6 months ago. I am still short about 12 points which I need to earn by Dec 31, 2007.

Originally, CME requirements for overseas doctors were prorated according to how much time you actually spent in Singapore, with a one-time waiver if you were away for the entire 2-year period. Then just after I leave, the policy changes & now I have the same requirement as any other doctor practising in Singapore. Darn.

I don't have anything against CMEs in general. I used to attend CMEs quite religiously (especially those held in nice hotels & restaurants - heh heh - though I understand there are some restrictions now on such sponsored events).

But try finding a CME lecture/conference/seminar in English to attend in China. You see what I mean?

I've been doing the distance learning programs from SMA as well as Medscape. But then there is a cap on how many points one can earn within each category. Not to mention that some of the SMA stuff is just plain boring (i.e. ECG interpretations - ugh).

So now I need to go back to Singapore to attend something that has mucho points at one go so that I can renew my license in Jan 08. Fortunately I have some expat benefits which will pay for a return air ticket to do so, so it looks like its "Singapore here I come again!" in September.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Impressions from China - Fake Magic

Heh heh, I was amused to read this article from the New York Times.

Looks like spells & potions & charms are not going to protect Harry Potter from the rampages of Chinese piracy. This takes copyright violation to a whole new level.

The lure of making a buck is so strong in this country; the response of a Chinese publisher of bootleg Harry Potter books says it all:

We published the book out of a very common incentive. Harry Potter was so popular that we wanted to enjoy the fruits of its widely accepted publicity in China.”

Bootleg DVDs & CDs, clothes, handbags, shoes....the list goes on. It is SOOOO rampant here, I don't see how the Chinese government is going to clamp down on it in its on-going attempt to put on a good "face" for the 2008 Olympics.

It's an uphill battle. Especially when the Chinese people themselves don't really understand (or probably, don't really care about) the concept of intellectual property & copyright. See what another Chinese publisher says:

Everything would have been fine if they hadn’t made the cover so obvious, even if you copied some sections of the original story,” she said. “But the cover was so outstanding, and foreign people care a lot about things like that.”

Well, until the Chinese people also care a lot about "things like that", I don't think piracy is going to go away anytime soon. Right now, they're talking the talk. But it will be some time yet before they walk the walk.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Learning Mandarin

This writer has it spot on:

30 July,ST Forum

Review mother tongue as success path in school

MR KELVIN Chia's view that 'a certain degree of regurgitation is not only well placed, but also very necessary' for language acquisition is a perception that needs to be debunked ('Current system may not be the problem'; ST, July 23).
The ability to regurgitate words and phrases simply proves a student's good memory but does not necessarily reflect ability to understand or appreciate the context of their use - a fundamental aspect of effective language acquisition.
With the dynamic nature of challenges ahead, rote learning cannot be the order of the day in schools.
Mr Chia also likens the teaching of Mandarin to that of English. The process of acquiring English as described by him is not in line with current best practices.
Backed by research, enlightened preschools in Singapore and many parts of the world have moved away from spelling lists and teaching the alphabet through repeated writing.
Pedagogy has evolved to focus on the development of long-term appreciation and love of the language.
By suggesting it 'makes better sense to promote the use of Mandarin at home than to adjust the current system', Mr Chia assumes every parent is effectively bilingual and able to speak Mandarin fluently.
The truth is many lost touch with Mandarin once they left school, for the simple reason that the working world is English-speaking and the language of business is predominantly English. Hence the language of choice for most is English.
This is a point acknowledged by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew when he cited the example of his children's choice of English as their predominant language even though they were educated in Chinese-medium schools.
Those who attempt to keep up their Mandarin proficiency inevitably end up peppering their speech with words and phrases in English, Singlish and dialects.
To speak Mandarin at home, as Mr Chia proposes, is in effect more detrimental than beneficial.
So many parents are unable to help their children tackle Mandarin at the pace and standards set by the Ministry of Education. The solution for a long time has been to engage private tutors but this should not be perpetuated.
Past approaches have failed to produce a generation of Singaporeans who can remain sufficiently fluent in Mandarin beyond their school years. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with the next generation.
It is time to review the criteria of mother-tongue proficiency as a requisite and determinant for progress in our education system.

Jocelyn Lim Chieh Ying (Mdm)

Fact: The average Singaporean does NOT speak proper Mandarin. And I am not just talking about the accent; but when I ride the MRT & listen to the surrounding "Mandarin speakers"conversing, I hear a Chinese sentences with liberal sprinklings of English words & even Singlish colloquailisms, as described by Ms Lim.

Fact: Students from English-speaking homes have been having trouble with learning Mandarin since my school days (back in the 70's & 80's). No matter what changes in policies & pedagogy have been applied by MOE, it did not & does not seem to be working, as evidenced by the groans & moans of my friends who have kids in Primary school. Mandarin has become the bane of their lives. Their kids hate learning it, & probably spend more time on trying to pass tests/spelling/exams than on any other subject.

Fact: Yes, Mandarin is an important language to learn, given China's economical growth & potential. No one is disputing this at all. But KNOWING that it is important does not make learning the language any easier.

I am sure that MOE is aware of what I have stated & what Ms Lim has said. My question is: why the reluctance to re-look & possibly re-vamp the whole approach to this problem (and yes, it IS a problem). Why don't we hear the same complaints from the Malays or the Indians whose children learn Malay & Tamil as a second language? Someone should analyse these differences & figure out what's wrong (& what's right) about the teaching of second language in Singapore.