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Monday, May 30, 2005

Things I do when I miss home (II)

Beef Kway Teow Soup
Originally uploaded by
My Little Rascal.
There are times when I wish I could just nip out to the hawker centre and indulge in some char kway teow or hokkien mee or chai tow kuay.

Sometimes, I crave simple things like teochew muay or hainanese chicken rice - relatively simple to make, and most of the ingredients are within reach at the local supermarket.

But other times, I have to rely on my other senses.

Look at this picture of Beef Kway Teow taken by My Little Rascal. It's part of an entire set of photos - a Singapore Food Picture Library. You can almost see the steam rising from it. You can almost taste the tender meat, drink the savoury soup, bite through the white soft noodles. A whole cornucopia of culinary superstimuli.

I love the concept of superstimuli. Most people have heard of Pavlov's dogs - how they salivated to the sound of a bell when they came to associate that sound with feeding time. Many people have witnessed japanese koi swim themselves into a frenzy to the sound of hands clapping.

The power of stimuli.

Superstimuli refer to stimuli that seem to overpower the senses. It's frequently used in advertising to entice the viewer into making a purchase.

McDonald's commercials are very good at this - a perfect looking burger with crispy looking lettuce and juicy red tomatoes. How many real burgers have looked so pristine?

A good example of the sort of behaviour that superstimuli can induce is a recent study on the behaviour of seagulls.

Mother seagulls have a white spot at the end of their yellow beaks, and baby seagulls will peck at the white spot a few times to induce their mother to regurgitate.

Hold a stick with a white spot at the end of it near the seagull's nest, and baby seagull will peck at it a few times in the hope of obtaining food.

But hold a stick with white *stripes* on it near the nest, and the baby seagull will peck at the stick non-stop until it faints from exhaustion.

The power of superstimuli.

This is probably why I torture myself with these pictures of food that I cannot obtain. Because just by looking at these wonderful pictures or reading the descriptions on these blogs, I can smell and taste the food in my mind. And I can close my eyes and hear the sounds of Singapore and the clamour of the hawker centre.

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Originally uploaded by Sunshine follows me. lying on the grass on a cool summer afternoon. With the smell of sun-baked earth. Clouds floating drowsily overhead. The hypnotising music of crickets. The person you love best in the world curled up around you. Whilst you are pleasantly falling asleep.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Homegrown goodness

Sitting across from me in the train this evening was middle aged businessman reading a 'Wired' magazine. He had a crisp white shirt, a silk tie with tiny silver sheep printed on it, and metallic blue cufflinks, his greying hair razored into a Pepe LePew quiff. Like most commuters, he was plugged into his mp3 player which lay on the table in between us. It was a Creative Zen Micro.

I had a prickle down the back of my neck when I saw it. I looked at his face, feeling slightly more warm towards him than before. A patron of Singapore!

Looking round the train, I suddenly realised that 3 other commuters in my vicinity were also listening to Zen Micros. Only one fellow owned an iPod - a rat-faced highschool boy who was surreptitiously reading 'The Sun' in a corner, eyes glued onto
Page 3.

From converstions with other Singaporeans and from Singaporean blog reviews, I gather that Creative Zen Micro is viewed with rather a jaundiced eye, at least at home. "It's ugly looking," they rant, "it has a stupid name, it's not as 'cool' as the iPod, it's pathetic 'copycat' technology" and so on.

I decided to trawl through the internet to see what other sort of reviews I could find, and realised that the Creative Zen Micro had won
some awards and (in general), is regarded quite highly in the European market.

I wonder why Singaporeans seem to have a dislike for the homegrown Creative Zen Micro. I wondered if the very fact that it was 'homegrown' made it a less popular product than the iPod mini. Never mind that it seems to be cheaper and with roughly similar features. Perhaps Singaporeans don't seem to believe that our tiny little island is capable of producing anything super enough to be a contender in the international market.

Is this normal for a post-colonial society? Do we have inflated views of foreigners and expatriates? Do Singaporeans suffer from nationalistic low self esteem? Or is it because the majority of Singaporeans are Chinese, and are culturally self-deprecating? Or are we just too cynical to believe in homegrown talent?

When MDH was still training as a medical student, he did some work experience in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (partly to ingratiate himself with my parents, partly to recce the Singaporean working environment). Everybody treated him kindly and with respect. The young student nurses blushed whenever he so much as glanced in their direction. The older nurses called his accent 'charming' and were happy to help act as translators for him.

What was particularly interesting was that some of the patients would point at him and say 'No no, I want to wait to see that one'. They would wave off the already qualified young Chinese medical officers and even the Head of Department, an experienced Indian doctor, and demand to see 'The Angmoh doctor', even after being told that he was only a medical student.

Once, an Indian family approached him in the street and asked him to hold their newborn son. They gazed at him reverently, smiling and nodding in gratitude when he willingly obliged. I was standing nearby, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I still haven't figured out what they were expecting him to do.

What is this? A sort of reverse racism?

Or maybe it's a the old case of being rejected in one's own hometown.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Bursting to share (II)

Now you might say that you could possibly accept hearing about Christianity from a close friend out of respect for your friendship. But you just cannot abide those mass produced leaflets or random strangers coming up to you in the street.

Why do Christians stand in the street handing out tracts or approaching people to 'have a short chat'? I've already outlined why Christians feel the need to share their faith...but here's why we try to share it with people we don't know.

Sometimes it's just less complicated to talk to a stranger than to somebody whom you know or who is close to you. I'm not saying that it's easy to approach a random person on the street and talk to them about your deepest feelings. However, if you offend a stranger, it is less devastating than offending a friend. Or if a stranger laughs at what you have to say, it's far less hurtful than a friend doing the same thing. If you embarrass yourself, chances are that you will never see that person again. I have been on these 'Street Witness' things before and it can be pretty embarassing as well as demoralising to be rejected time and again.

Occasionally there will be someone who really does want to listen. Or somebody who has wanted to know more about Christianity but has not approached anyone about it for fear of being scoffed at.

Finding someone like that is like finding a lost treasure.

Another reason why Christians do this 'street evangelism' thing is because it makes us visible. We're standing in a public place practically holding a sign reading 'Christian Here', so that anyone can approach us to rant/ask questions/ask for directions to the supermarket. It makes us vulnerable, but it also makes us accessible.

That's all the thoughts I've got on this subject, so I think I shall stop here.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

pretty pretty pretty

pretty pretty pretty, originally uploaded by Sunshine follows me.

Ok I got home too late to write more about evangelism. So here are some pretty things from Bellaceti - the colours are so brilliant and yummy! My favourite is the little cherry necklace. I must try and convince MDH to visit this site. Maybe I can accidentally on purpose leave the computer running with this page in the background for when he gets home...


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Bead there, done that

Look at these cute little handmade beaded purses from Sassysacs! I love the Statue of Liberty one, and the Panda one is so sweet!


Bursting to share (I)

At work today, some of my colleagues were complaining about Christians and how they hate it when Christians 'try to convert them'. They scoffed at people who stand on the street handing out leaflets, and the Gideon society who leave Bibles in every motel room. I've also noticed many other blogs (such as this one) complaining about Christians and their forceful (and sometimes insensitive) methods of 'spreading the good news'.

Well, I couldn't just sit quietly and listen to my colleagues without making some sort of defence. I figured that if they heard a decent explanation, they might be slightly more forgiving.

I'm sure most people have heard the following phrase in one form or another - "God loves you so much that he sent his son, Jesus, as a sacrifice to atone for your sins, so that you can have a relationship with him". To a non-Christian, those words are hollow and probably have less literary impact than "Once upon a time". But to me, a Christian, those words have a deep and profound significance that forms the very basis of my faith.

Once, I heard a preacher describe how a person might become a Christian.

The first way he called 'Lydia's Conversion' (Acts 16:13-15), which more commonly occurs with people who have been born into a Christian household. In this way, conversion is a slow process, with the person understanding a little bit more at a time, until one day, full understanding is achieved. It's like walking towards the sea in the early morning - it's dark, and the sky gets a little brighter with each step you take until the sun comes over the horizon and morning comes with the dawn.

The second way he called 'Jailer's Conversion' (Acts 16: 16-34), which usually happens with people who are not born into the Christian household. Conversion is sudden and instantaneous, the person listening to the gospel and suddenly it all seems to make perfect sense. It's like walking through a forest on a rainy day - suddenly you take one step out of the cold forest, the clouds have parted and the warm sun is shining gloriously down on you from above.

Now in both methods of conversion, there is also a positive change of behaviour associated with it. I could go into that a little bit more, but it would take me off on a tangent.

Why do Christians feel the need to tell people about Christianity?

It would be meaningless to throw about phrases like 'the great Commission'. Yes, yes, Jesus did command all Christians to tell the world about him, but our motivation is also largely personal. I'm not a mindless drone just carrying out instructions for the sake of it. I have got Personal Agenda, okay.'s the lowdown on our motivation.

Firstly, we've discovered what we think is the most amazing piece of news. Maybe to you it isn't, but to us it really is *something*. Who in their right mind would keep something this exciting to themselves? It's like a juicy piece of gossip but oh SO much better.

If I was walking with a friend down Abbey Lane and I saw a polar bear, I would probably get all excited and say to my friend 'Look! Look! It's a polar bear!'. I'm sure you would do the same. Sharing with somebody can sometimes double the joy that one feels (unless you're one of them peoples who hoard treasure, in which case you're either a selfish pirate or a lonely dragon or both).

Of course, my friend has the option of either saying 'you seow (crazy) ah? Polar bears don't live in London!' and then ignoring the polar bear, or looking where my finger is pointing and seeing it. Two possible reactions - one of disbelief and one of curiosity. The first way means you miss out on something potentially amazing, the second way reveals the truth.

Secondly, Christians consider the Christian message to be the single most important thing in the whole world - which means Christianity is the most important thing in their lives. It's only natural that our conversation is takes on a Christian slant. Our whole world is tainted with God, so to speak.

If you want to have a deep and meaningful friendship with a person, then you might expect he or she to be candid and honest with you about their dreams, worries, thoughts, feelings. So if that person is Christian, they probably ought to be talking to you about their faith - because it means so much to them.

Lastly, Christians believe that when a person dies, they can go to heaven or to hell. I don't know about this purgatory stuff - you will have to speak to a Catholic to find out more about that.

People ask me all the time 'so you believe that when I die, I'll go to hell?'. My answer is such: when a person dies they go to the place where they have chosen to go - and I can't predict what a person's choice will be, but I can tell you what my choice is. The Christian idea of heaven is the place where God is present, and therefore hell must be the place where God is absent. You can see why Christians say that hell is a terrible place - because it would be the worst thing we could ever think of to be separated from God *foreverrrr*. A non-Christian has obviously chosen to be in the place where God is not - and I must assume that this is the choice they prefer. Again, I could go on a bit more about this, but it's much too long a tangent. Another time, maybe.

Anyway, to get back to the point, Christians who care deeply about their friends will also realise that their non-Christian friends are heading for a different place in the afterlife. Eventually (when they get up the courage), they'll try and convince their friends to choose to go to the same place. Why not? It's worth a shot. Personally, I would love to go to heaven at the end of the world and see all the people whom I love there as well. That would just be so awesome. Chilling out with my friends and having fun with them for all eternity yaaay!!! So you see, it's all about my own Personal Agenda; I'm so selfish, I know.

Okay, I know I've left out quite alot of other things about evangelism, but I think I've written enough for today. And besides, it's dinner time and I'm hungry for rice porridge. Part deux tomorrow!


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

14k gold leaf

leaf jewellery, originally uploaded by Sunshine follows me.

Beautiful gold and silver dipped leaves (L to R: zarzaparilla, fern, cyprus, shamrock, maple) from Patagonia. I guess we ought to have something to remind us what leaves looked like when we turn the rainforests into concrete jungles.

That maple leaf looks suspiciously like marijuana to me.

Whatever, this brings a whole new dimension to hippie jewellery.


Difficult choices - medical ethics (I)

Last week, I met a young lady who had come into hospital with abdominal pain. She had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had just completed a course of chemotherapy - her blond hair was just beginning to grow back, a fine layer of peach fuzz on her scalp. I had a short chat with her, performed a physical examination and then sent some blood and urine samples off for testing. And, as with all young ladies who come into the emergency room, I made sure she had a urinary pregnancy test.

Which came back positive.

I repeated the test a few more times just to make sure, then called the labs to ask if I could get her blood sample tested for bHCG (a hormone produced in large quantities in pregnant women). All the tests pointed to the inevitable - she was pregnant. Probably about a month. She had no idea at all.

Perhaps you might think this is a wonderful thing - life in the midst of death, so to speak. But it's not. It is terrible news for someone in her situation.

Let's start with a little bit of background information about chemotherapy.

The theory behind chemotherapy is based on the fact that cancer cells are human cells in rebellion.

Normal human cells are programmed with rules on how to grow, where to grow, when to stop growing, when to die. Cancer cells have do not follow instructions - they grow where they are not wanted and they do not stop growing and they do not seem to die. Like weeds, they grow quickly and begin to choke normal human cells to death. This is why cancer appears in the form of ugly tumours that grow, spread and eventually disfigure human tissue.

Chemotherapy drugs target the parts of a cell that deal with cell growth and division - thereby having a greater effect on the fast growing/dividing cancer cells, than slow growing normal cells. This also means that chemotherapy also poisons normal cells (albeit at a lesser extent) leading to the hair loss, nausea and tiredness so often associated with cancer patients.

In short, chemotherapy kills cancer faster than it kills the patient. (And we claim that modern medicine has nothing to do with homeopathy. Hah!)

I see that it is starting to dawn on you why pregnancy would not be a good thing for a cancer patient. Oh yes, pregnancy = foetus = fast dividing cells = more prone to chemotherapy induced damage.

The look in her pale blue eyes still haunts me.

What are her options?

1) keep the child, continue with the chemotherapy - she may live, child most probably will die or be severely deformed. (This option is actually impossible - no responsible doctor will allow a pregnant woman to undergo chemotherapy)

2) keep the child, stop the chemotherapy - she will die (likely before pregnancy can come to term), child may die

3) abort the child, continue with the chemotherapy - she may live, child dies

So. In all scenarios (we're not including divine intervention), the child has a very poor chance of survival. And if it somehow survives the pregnancy, it may be severely damaged by chemotherapy.

It all boils down to 'my life vs. my child's life'. Does she forego her next course of chemotherapy and hope that (miraculously) the child hasn't been damaged too severely by the previous course? Or does she go with the odds and abort the child, saving at least one life - her own? The latter seems (sadly) the more rational choice.

I dare not even suggest the idea of divine intervention to a person in her situation...sometimes it feel too much like raising false hope whilst instilling a sense of guilt. She has to make her own choices and be responsible for them...and I must do the same. My choice is to be compassionate and non-judgemental.

Somebody once told me that women who have abortions are feckless, heartless and flippant. I have met many other women who use abortion as a form of contraception, throwing away a baby like a used condom; Flippancy masking Denial. I think of this young girl and I realise that sometimes there are situations where difficult choices have to be made in order to save lives. It is what doctors like to call a 'therapeutic abortion'. Do the ends justify the means? I don't know.

As a Christian, I do not agree with the concept of abortion and I would never be able to perform the procedure, but once a woman has gone through the harrowing experience of an abortion, my responsibility as a Christian is not to condemn her for her actions, but to comfort her in her grief.


Sunday, May 22, 2005


This tee and its inspiring message, £12.99 from designers 'David & Goliath' (excellent and appropriate brand name, eh!).



Throughout my education, teachers/lecturers/professors have told me time and again that I am part of the elite, the top 10% of the population, the brains of the country. I never believed them.

Of course there are the members of our society who are born with an inherited mental handicap (eg. downs syndrome)...but other than that, I figured that most people were clever in their own way, and a person's intelligence cannot be measured by looking at what school they went to or what profession they are in.

Nobody likes being spoken to in a patronising manner or treated as if they are feeble-minded children. We laugh at those manufacturers who print 'Caution: Contents May Be Very Hot!' on the plastic caps of Starbucks takeaway cups. "Why state the obvious?" we scoff, "We're not *stupid*".

Since I started work, I've tried my best to treat people with dignity and respect. But even so, I have really met some shockingly *stupid* people, who have made me realise why doctors are considered part of the intelligensia.

Consider this conversation, I had a while ago with an SSP (shockingly *stupid* person) -

Me: Thank you for coming in today for your Water-Deprivation Test. Have you had the test explained to you?

SSP: Oh yes, the other doctor gave me a leaflet.

Me: Okay, well, I know you've already read the leaflet, but I still need to explain to you and make sure you understand exactly what we are doing. Is that okay?

SSP: Well...okay.

Me: You can have anything you want to eat and drink until midnight tonight. After that, you must not eat or drink anything that is liquid or contains water. So no water, milk, tea or coffee. You can have dry foods to eat if you are hungry. But nothing that contains water, so no vegetables or fruits. I will be along every hour to take blood and urine samples for testing. The test will last until X hrs. Here's a timetable so you can follow what we will be doing. Okay?

SSP: Okay.

Me: I need to make sure that you are 100% clear with what I've told you, so is it alright if I ask you to tell me what you understand that we are going to do tomorrow.

SSP: I'm having a water deprivation test, so I can't have any water past midnight tonight.

Me: That's right. So do you have any questions?

SSP: Yes. I usually have a cup of tea in the mornings, so can I have that then?

Me: Well, no. You will have to skip it just for tomorrow.

SSP: But I *always* have tea in the mornings.

Me: Yes, but tea has water in it, so you can't have it tomorrow because you're having a water DEPRIVATION test.

SSP: Well then can I have a bit of milk with my cereals?

Me: No. Milk has water in it.

SSP: What about orange juice?

Me: NO. You need to avoid anything with water in it tomorrow.

SSP: So I can't have anything to drink? Not even a tiny tiny sip of tea?

Me: NO! No tea, coffee, milk, juice, water or soup. No sips of anything. It's a water DEPRIVATION test. It's only a few hours long, you know, and you can drink as much as you want later.

SSP: What about some salad?

Me: NO!!! Salad has water in it. No salad! And no fruit either!

SSP: well, this is no good at all is it? Not being allowed to have anything to drink. It's torture!

Me: Ma'am, you've come in for a WATER DEPRIVATION test. The whole point of it is that you don't drink any water...

-end of conversation-

The next morning, she was yelling at the nurses because they wouldn't give her any tea, and I had to go through the same palaver all over again.

I couldn't believe anyone could be so shockingly *stupid*. It was really frustrating.

Then I realised that I can't expect everyone to think like myself. Even a concept like 'water deprivation' that seems so simple to myself, could be difficult for somebody else to understand. What I really need to do is exercise a little more patience.

Or just grit my teeth and try not to whop them upside the head.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Things I do when I miss home (I)

I get very homesick for Singapore every so often.

In my university days, I used to wander down to Chinatown and Bayswater on the weekend, just so that I could listen to all the Singaporean students as they lahlehloh-ed their way to lunch. I watched as they instinctively sought out the resturants with the best asian fare. I queued up with them for half an hour just to spend ten minutes eating the best duck rice/char siew noodles/dim sum/toufu. I smiled when they kiasu-ly bought twenty extra portions to bring home with them or complained about the service. It was almost like being at home.

Things have changed since I've moved away from London. Singaporeans living outside of the major UK universities (London, Oxbridge) are few and far between. I had to look elsewhere for a 'fix'.

It sometimes helps to read Singapore-grown blogs - peppered liberally with 'lah' and 'can or not' and other Singlishisms. It seems to me that Singaporean bloggers such as
this fine man have made it to *dramatic pause* FAME AND FORTUUUUNE *trumpets, please* on the international blogging scene.

mr brown is undoubtedly my favourite blog author, although I do check out
these other blogs on a regular basis as well. (And yes, occasionally I do creep into this blog for a peek to satisfy my kay-pohness - but I'll never admit it in public, NEVER!!!)

The use of Singlish adds to the character and charm of these blogs. It brings out the flavour of Singapore that I'm after; It's probably one of the reasons why these blogs are popular in the first place. Singlish is part of Singaporeans - it somehow binds us together, gives us identity. My use of Singlish has become more pronounced since I left Singapore - it's probably my way of hanging onto my roots. I don't use Singlish much when I talk to my British mates, but I welcome the opportunity to 'air' it every so often.

I don't believe that Singlish inhibits communication and using it doesn't make a person sound any less intelligent. In fact, some of my British mates and even MDH started using Singlish here and there ("Aiyah, you!", "Don't be like that!") just because it seems to help them express themselves. MDH loves reading mr brown too and the use of Singlish doesn't seem to impair his understanding of the blog at all.

I was so thrilled when mr brown decided to
make podcasts. I tune in to each new episode as MDH rolls his eyes. "He's more funny when he's writing", MDH says. I have to agree that the podcasts are not as belly-achingly funny as his journal entries. But that's not the point. I just want to hear accents of home.



Made for walking
Originally uploaded by
Sunshine follows me.
MDH just bought me these fantastic vintage style leather boots from ASOS - for a mere £25! Bargain! I have a feeling ASOS is going to become one of my favourite online shopping sites.

The boots arrived in the mail just this morning - and they are surprisingly comfortable. I can already see myself wearing these with a flirty suede mini and a white blouse.

There is something so sexy about knee high boots. Maybe because they hide calves and draw the eye higher towards the thigh. Maybe they lengthen the leg and add a swing to the hips.

Or maybe, as MDH says, they just "make you look sooo hot!"


This is probably one of the reasons why I married MDH in the first place - I love his honesty!


Thursday, May 19, 2005


Originally uploaded by Sunshine follows me.

I never really enjoyed Enid Blyton stories. Most of my peers talked about 'The Faraway Tree' and 'The Famous Five' whilst I busied myself with 'Vanity Fair' (the abridged version, of course).

One day, I picked up a copy of Enid Blyton fairy tales that was lying in the corner of my cousin's house. I remember reading the line 'a carpet of bluebells' which captured my imagination. I spent the rest of that golden afternoon daydreaming about it.

Now I have seen this carpet with my own eyes, and it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.



Today I cried at work for the very first time.

She came in already dying, a timebomb in her belly just waiting to explode. She went very suddenly - one minute she'd finished her icecream and was talking to her husband and the next minute she was pale and cold on her bed.

Her husband asked to speak to me and I cringed inwardly - would this be another blame session filled with anger and denial? I put on my armour and held my spears up, prepared for a tough defence.

Instead of the usual demands ('Why didn't you do anything/do more?'), he thanked me for looking after her in her last few days. He quietly remembered the last day she had spent out of hospital. It was Sunday. They had gone to their favourite park in the afternoon. It was sunny and the bluebells grew in the shaded areas. The ducks were paddling in the lake and herons flew in circles overhead - a special display just for them. They went home and held hands and listened to music. It was a perfect, beautiful day, and he was glad that they spent it together, just the two of them. They had been married for sixty years.

He looked at his hands and then looked at me. I could not meet his eye. I told him I would convey his gratitude to the staff. He shook my hand.

Then I went into the stock cupboard and stood in front of the sink, bracing myself against it.

People come into hospital all the time and they get better and leave, or they die. I never connect with them on a personal level and I don't try to. I don't know why this one managed to touch my heart. Perhaps because this old man had loved so much - it made me realise what a special person she was, and how grey the world had become without her.

Perhaps, I saw her through this old man's tired red eyes and she became a woman to me, a woman who had loved much and been loved much - not just a frail old lady waiting quietly for death to take her, like so many frail old ladies who die quietly in a hospital bed.

I cried at work for the very first time.


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