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.