Showing posts with label melbourne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label melbourne. Show all posts

Friday, November 01, 2013

Letter 675: At the Airport

The hardest thing about goodbyes, is that you'll never see each other again.

Some people hate airports. They hate the rush, the check-in queue, the strict baggage allowance policies, the last few calls for boarding, the swirls of madness, the farewells, the tears, the people they leave behind.

I love airports. If I could live my life in an airport, I probably would. It is a place where life is abuzz constantly, where day is night and night is day. I love staring at the flight schedule board. It tells me people are flying in from Jakarta, from Los Angeles, from Hong Kong-- are they visiting, or are they coming home? It tells me people are boarding flights to New Zealand, to London, and to Beirut-- are they going on business trips, or on holidays?

Last summer, close to midnight, I found myself standing amongst the crowd of people milling about eagerly outside the Arrivals Hall of Tullamarine Airport, waiting for my family with equal zest. A few steps away from me stood a white-haired gentleman, decked in cream-coloured shirt and khaki pants, who nervously held a bouquet of blush pink roses behind his back. He was pacing back and forth restlessly, and tapping his oak brown leather shoes against the vinyl floor rhythmically whenever he stopped pacing. The flight schedule board had confirmed that flight D7212 was the only aircraft flying in to Melbourne slightly past midnight, and it was on time. He looked about 60, his face freckled and wrinkled under what must have been years of chronic sun exposure. As I stood outside the gates, waiting for my own family, I wondered if he was waiting on a wife, a partner, a daughter, or a friend?

After what must have seemed like eternity to him, out poured a throng of travellers, jet-lagged but perky enough to be received with enthusiastic hugs and kisses. From the corner of my eye, I saw him scanning the crowd, searching for a familiar face. There were a few moments where he'd tighten his grip on his bouquet, only to loosen it and let a soft, almost inaudible sigh escape from his pursed lips as he realised it wasn't who he thought it was. 

For all my curiosity, I never got to see the recipient of his roses, because as I left with my family in tow, his eyes were still peeled at the gates, their deep pools of turquoise displaying a mixture of anguish and excitement.

At least the easiest thing about goodbyes, is that you might see each other again.

Penned on 1/11/13, at Adelaide Airport, sipping coffee whilst marvelling at how the airport has been revamped, how Adelaide has undertaken a metamorphosis so monumental it made me almost miss this city with great affection, and realising it has been too long since I last took a flight home from this airport.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Letter 649: A Life Led

2 am, Russell Street.

It struck me as odd that I find myself gravitating towards that Canto-Viet shop for supper, inching my way through people who are far too young to be drinking and Prada-toting foreign students who are far too rich to care about their overseas education. Black is apparently still the new black, and towering platforms remain in vogue. How do they do it? The girls: Hair extensions, heavily-lined smoky eyes, chunky bracelets, glittering clutches, cleavage aplenty. The guys: Check shirts, thick-rimmed glasses, skinny pants, Converse hi-tops, cheekiness aplenty. Maybe I'm too old for this shit. Was I once like that? Dancing down the streets that were littered profusely with scattered newspapers and cigarette butts, not giving a fuck to the world as I caught hold of a stranger's hand and twirled with him while the lone guitarist in front of 7-Eleven sang some Bob Dylan? Come baby, find me, come baby, remind me of where I once begun...

It was tragic and beautiful at the same time. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Letter 648: Polaris

I now know what I didn't know then: That there are no right or wrong choices-- just the consequences of your actions.

Here I was, sitting at my usual table, in that Hong Kong-style cafe that has been my salvation for many a times during my residency, tucking into that plate of sliced beef hor fun that had warmed my tummy on many a late winter's night, when I saw that unmistakable mop of jet black hair at the far end of the cafe. He was a consultant physician, one who, for all his high profile academic position, actually stopped to talk to a lowly resident on a busy vascular surgery ward. I remember him swinging his tendon hammer in one hand while sipping his takeaway coffee in the other, walking by and telling me that the patient we referred to him was "okay", and that he just needed to see him in 6 weeks, at the outpatients clinic. I like asking questions, so I asked him what he thought of my patient, and he answered with years of clinical experience backing him up. Conversation then turned to my future.

I told him what I was intending to pursue. He listened, and when he opened his mouth, I thought he was going to belittle me for embarking on a career choice that many would frown upon, but instead, the only words that came out were, "If you think you're going to be happy doing it, then by all means, go for it." He grinned, then proceeded to tell me how he'd turned down a prestigious gastroenterology fellowship position to take up neurology, simply because he had no interest in gastro and couldn't figure out why he'd applied for it in the first place.

Now, so many years later, I see him as a different person in this cafe, not so much the highly revered professor in neurology and director of clinical training, but as a father trying to feed his toddler spoonfuls of rice porridge, as a son serving piping hot bowls of herbal soup to his ageing parents, and as a husband looking lovingly at his wife who is carrying his second child. He is happy. Or, at least, contented.

As for me, I am trying to figure if Herbert Freudenberger had anything to do with my actions (or their consequences).

On a flashcard chanced upon at the office desk.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Letter 642: Distant Star

2 Decembers ago, I tasted liberty and freedom. Today, liberation found me again in a squeaky white plastic chair at an Asian hairdresser's, having my long hair chopped off. In my (almost) 10 years of being in Australia, I have never had my hair cut by an Asian hairdresser. Despite what people say about how Caucasian hairdressers do not know how to handle Asian hair, there are some who styled and coloured my hair really well. So I've never ventured into an Asian salon until today. Today was an exception, because I'm sick and tired of battling with split ends and tangled messes that long tresses bring, and because I tend to live so spontaneously these days, I couldn't be bothered making an appointment for a haircut. So, armed with the comfortable knowledge that most Asian salons do walk-ins-- and are generally cheaper in pricing-- I found myself headed straight into a relatively decent-looking salon that had Korean and Chinese characters splashed on its orange signboard. I thought I was getting a Korean hairdresser, until she slapped the bib over me and asked me if I wanted a wash and blow-dry in fluent Mandarin, assuming with such ferocious confidence that I'd know how to speak her language. For all she knew, I could be Korean (or so people tell me). 

Her name, as I later found out, was Hui. Unlike most hairdressers, Hui tended to work with quiet precision. In particular, she wasn't as chatty as your ordinary hairdresser. Which was a huge relief, because it meant we didn't have to make small talk about the weather, and it meant that I didn't have to divulge what I do, where I work, my marital status and my whole life story to this random stranger cutting my hair. I felt strangely comfortable with her while she was snipping my locks away in our little bubble of silence. Maybe I will go back to her. She did a pretty good job for 30 bucks. 

The story of the hairdresser alludes to the many "firsts" that I've had this year. 2012 has been a hectic and challenging year for me, yet for all its relentless pursuits, 2012 has been kind to me too. With the help of fellow colleagues and friends, I managed to pass my Fellowship exams. With the help of my "personal accountant" (i.e. The Other Half), I managed to save up enough to build a house to call home. And with the aid of a very efficient wedding planner, I managed to organise a wedding for a close-knit group of 37 people. In other words, I passed my exams at the first go (I was preparing to re-sit), became a first home owner, and got married for the first time (I hope there won't be a second time!). To me, each of these elements required meticulous planning and preparation, so I am unquestionably thankful to whatever forces are out there in the universe that may have helped conspire these 3 elements and made it work. It feels remarkably emancipating to be able to achieve all these milestones in such a short period of time, and for this, I am eternally grateful.

I am also extremely appreciative of the acquaintances made this year-- most notably, my wedding planner, my photographer, my baker, and my florist. A couple of days after Christmas, I found out that my florist-- who supplied the most gorgeous flowers for my wedding-- is actually from the town in which I work. Apparently he said I saved his father's life once when the latter was in hospital. I did not know what to say except that the world is smaller than I thought.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose-- my 6 week holiday, and the year 2012. To conclude the year, I am sending a secular prayer out there for those in agonising need of finding perspective through kinship-- I hope you find it in the warmth of a thousand human heartbeats.

Have a blessed new year!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Letter 641: Extremely Alive and Incredibly Afraid

For some strange and twisted reason, I kind of wish Christmas didn't have to come around so soon, because it meant my holidays are ending. After the new year, which is exactly 7 days after Christmas, I will be thrown back into the deep ends of work. I haven't seen my patients in close to 6 weeks, but my mind keeps wandering back to some of my regulars-- Are they well? Are they getting their monthly meds? Have they had another fall this time? The only thing close to clinical practice that I've encountered during the last 5 weeks were the persistent questions thrown at me over dinner in regards to grandma-in-law's rapidly enlarging belly. I usually keep a safe distance from treating family members, but the questions keep coming back like tidal waves bobbing against the shore-- Do you think it's a tumour? Why are my knees sore? Can you take a look at this rash?... 

It's not that I don't like work. I love what I do, helping people in little ways, be it chronic care or emergency management. But the new year would mean a whole new career pathway for me this time. I am both thrilled and intimidated by its prospect-- What if I don't like it as much as I thought I would? What if I suck at this job? What if I accidentally kill someone because in this new job of mine, accidental homicide is not a remote plausibility? 

I recently finished Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the span of 4 hectic days packed with various social schedules. This says a lot about the book. If you haven't already read it (it was made into a movie in which Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock play a role, but I haven't had the chance to watch it), I'd highly recommend getting your hands on it. Once every so often, a work of incredible fiction finds its way into your heart. This is one of them. It is one of those books which, on completion, leaves behind a void in which you fill with a little sadness and a little yearning for more. There are certain things-- movies, literature, poetry, social gatherings-- that fill you with so much joy and energy and enlightenment that their conclusion digs a hole in your heart. Christmas this year feels like the completion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I am lying in bed, 2 hours after the end of Boxing Day, in this city that is so full of inspiration and amusement and love. We spent Christmas day on the Melbourne Metro and the Yarra Trams (hooray for free public transport on Christmas Day!), exploring the bits of town that we don't usually get a chance to see on a normal working day. There are always new experiences to discover, new things to marvel at, and new people to befriend. Like this American from Utah whom we met on the train, who spoke Mandarin fluently despite only having learnt it for 2-3 months. Or the guy from Hong Kong who works at one of the finest izakaya bars this side of town that we keep going back at odd hours in the night for his yakitoris and conversations across the bar counter. Or the amiable saleslady at an electrical appliances store who called me "kiddo", and then covered her mouth with slight mortification when she found out about my occupation later on, and proceeded to laugh at the faux pas when she waved us off and said "You just made my day, kiddo!". We spent Boxing Day at a friend's place for her son's 2nd birthday. There were so many toys and bubbles and balloons that I kinda wish I was a kid again so I could ride in the plastic fire truck and hit out at the pinata in the shape of a dinosaur. We ate tuna sandwiches and chocolate pretzels and jelly. And cake, of course. And washed it down with good ol' lemonade and hearty conversations beside the colossal pile of birthday presents.

There is magic in kinship, and miracles in every corner. Bidding this city farewell again in a week's time is going to be hard.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Letter 640: Hiro

It all started with a plate of Wagyu beef. Funny how something as inconsequential as a plate of Wagyu beef could lead to one of the best conversations I've had with a stranger at an izakaya bar. 

She was from Tokyo, but spoke English laced with a tinge of American accent. I picked up on it and one thing led to another and we were talking about Wagyu beef and Kobe beef, Boxing Day Sales vs Black Friday Sales, studying in Washington State, the influence of American sitcoms, conversing in Australian (I told her not to lose her American accent), the Fukushima effect, and the average cost of a bowl of ramen in Tokyo. 

Before she cleared our plates, she said, you made my day. And she smiled. 

It was 10 o'clock at night. 

She was the kind of stranger who makes you want to sit at the bar and drink sake with till sunrise.

We took a picture together when she arrived with our order of a green tea parfait. 

Before we left, I said, YOU made my day

It was 10.30 pm. 

She laughed with her eyes this time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letter 639: Love, Hate and Anger

It is not very often that I go to bed surrounded by confusing clouds of love, hate and anger swirling over my head. But last night, I did. I was seized by one of those heart-gripping moments-- you know, moments that threaten to change your values, your beliefs, and your perception of reality. And I was terrified. Terrified because last night was only the third night of my marriage. 

A few years ago-- and I cannot for my life remember under what circumstance we were in to be having this conversation-- my bestie gave me this advise for which I would adhere to over the years: Never go to bed angry. It works every time. But what if confusion became the dominant feeling before bed? 

Love, hate and anger. If I drew a Venn diagram, the only virtue or emotion that occupies the common area formed by these so vastly different yet inter-related characteristics that I could think of is this: exhaustion. But there is something wrong with my Venn diagram. Shouldn't love be the centre of everything? Late nights and long trips eventually resulted in a blanket of immeasurable silence that predominates over those failed conversations and missed connections, which I am still trying to paw my way through in the hopes of having interactions deeper than linguistic understanding. 

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, my newsfeed is flooded with updates of the shooting. There is an article in the New York Times titled "Tips for Talking to Children about the Shooting". In that article, child psychiatrist Dr Abramovitz suggests asking the child questions as such: "Remember the last time you were afraid? Remember what you did to calm down?". I don't remember the last time I was afraid, but I do remember writing calms me. So I am writing this now and asking you: Does love always triumph over hate and anger?

At the signing table

[Pic stolen from my friend Kim's Facebook]

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Letter 638: Open Heart

December escapes me. 

Last week the mercury hit 43 degrees Celsius and the queue for gelati was a mile long, but tonight I am huddled under a wool blanket, clutching a warm mug of cocoa with outside temperatures dipping to 16 degrees Celsius and wind speeds up to 50 kilometers per hour. My dog came in to the house after his poop session in the garden, wet and shivering, but just as hyperactive as ever.

When the weather was warm, we had fun. We played Taboo and Pictionary at someone's house till 1.30 in the morning. We ate soto and nasi impit and kuih lompet and karipap. We also had slow-cooked lamb pizza and prawn and basil fettucine and a dessert platter which featured one of the best tiramisu's I've ever had. I found out cats liked to play dead, too, just like my dog. Or at least grey, chubby British Shorthairs do. The catchphrase of the weekend was "Remember: Friends are for life." Everyone liked it, virtually. I wished the weekend never ended.

Then again, I am constantly wishing for perpetual weekends. I buy too many books (five today!), but don't read enough. I buy too many pairs of heels (three today!), but don't seem to have the chance to flaunt them too often. My feet are used to ballet flats-- sensible, comfortable footwear that doesn't make my knee ache and wobble like an 80 year old woman's. My 80 year old patients probably have better knees than I do. I know what's wrong with my right knee (the dangers of self-diagnoses), but I don't want to go for an arthroscopy (the dangers of denial). So I keep applying voltaren gel over my knee because I don't like popping tablets, and I buy platformed heels now because they are so much more comfortable than what I was used to wearing. It's probably contradictory, but then my life is full of oxymorons as colourful as the heels I bought today.

Yesterday we wanted to uncork another bottle of wine after dinner, but something came up and I find myself waking up at 5 in the morning today to say my goodbyes to the only two relatives who were going to attend my wedding. So now it's only going to be my parents attending from my family's side. It seems sad to word it this way, but in actual fact it is not so sad at all, although that bottle of wine still sits, uncorked, on the dining table which seems so huge now that two people have departed. 

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Letter 578: Dusk

"This city is a map of love
on this street you met me
here snow joined our lips
here we said goodbye
and your eyes followed me for so long
here our paths married
here our hands found home
here I ran to you in illness
here I drove you for the last time
here you hid yourself from me
here I won’t stop looking for you"

Anna Kamienska, “A City Map”

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Letter 566: The Day in Chronological Order

Hour 0:00
"Wake up!" You say. "We're running late!"

Hour 1:43
A brief contact between our lips, and you're gone, slamming the door behind you as the car patrol officer glares at us with bellicosity as he checks his watch. Our 5-minute privilege at the passenger drop-off point is almost up. 

Hour 1:45 
I'm not thinking of you. I'm thinking of the quickest escape route from this madness back into the Tullamarine Freeway. Airport traffic is MADNESS I tell you.

Hour 2:16
I'm sleepy, I'm hungry, I'm tired, but I will not think about you. And I will resist turning into Nicholson Street or Sydney Road for brunch. What's the point if you're not here to enjoy corn fritters and poached eggs with me?

Hour 3:22
There's less of a crowd in Chadstone than I'd presumed. Perhaps half of Melbourne is at the Australian Open. Whatever. I just spent 200-over bucks at Myer. Am I satisfied? Maybe. Whatever.

Hour 4:45
Re-living Phish Food and New York Super Fudge Chunk moments. Ben and Jerry's just isn't the same without you.

Hour 6:13
As I walk around our house-- now void of furniture-- cleaning up the empty beer bottles and other bits and pieces, the echoes of my own footsteps reverberate through the hallways and bounce off the whitewashed walls, sending them straight back towards me like a shower of tiny arrows, piercing my own heart with such a rip-roaring ferocity that I am almost eaten alive by the emptiness surrounding me.

Hour 8:15
10-inch pizza or triple-deck burger with fries?

Hour 8:36
This is ridiculous. I need to get out of the house before my sanity is annihilated by my own desolation. But where will I go? You left footprints everywhere in this city, damnit. 

Hour 9:01
You would've touched down by now, but you haven't called. You said you would. I grab the car keys and I'm out of the door. The beach it is. 

Hour 9:57
Finally! A parking lot in St. Kilda! Do you know how hard it is to get a free spot around Acland Street on a Saturday night? There is a God, and God is leading me out of my misery! Hallelujah! 

Hour 10:02
I swear it was in God's plan for me to spend 40 bucks for a top within 5 minutes of parking. It wasn't me. And it's definitely not because I was grieving your absence either. 

Hour 10:03
Am I the lone figure amongst the crowd?

Hour 10:17
Readings-- you are the reason why I dragged myself to St. Kilda. Your vast compendium of literature and your late opening hours. You are my salvation.

Hour 11:58
I need gelati. Shit. The queue outside 7 Apples is preposterous. Must be the 37C heat. Whatever. Desperately in need of chocolate gelati.

Hour 12:34
Can one possibly walk off this loneliness? Maybe loneliness is just another layer of skin over the epidermis. If I walked to the end of the street and back, perhaps I would be able to shed some of that pathological layer along the way. Let those dead cells be swept away by the nocturnal zephyr for all I care.

Hour 13:29
I feel so strange. For the first time, I'm eating gelati, and I'm not feeling anything. I'm sitting on one of those pretty tiled benches on the sidewalks, practically shoving the award-winning flavours down my throat, and watching people swagger by, and not feeling any joy, sadness, amusement, or self-pity. I wonder if people who people-watch feel the same? Is that why they do it? Or do they have a different agenda?

Hour 13:40
The street's getting rowdier as the night draws to a close. Tons of pick-ups are unfolding outside the bars and cafes and heck, even gelaterias. It occurs to me that people are secondarily sociable because they are inherently lonely. They throw their lonely hearts on the streets and those scattered hearts get picked up by someone equally desperate. I'm tempted to do it too, but instead, I chuck the remaining quarter cup of a gelati into the bin and drag my feet back to the car. First time I throw gelati away. Award-winning gelati, too.

Hour 14:01
I reach home. The phone rings. It's you. 

(Source: Le Love)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Letter 565.2: Friday Night Lights-- Golden Monkey Says Ni Hao!

"Follow the Path of Infinite Divinity,
Down the Staircase of Hanging Suns,
Through the Valley of Endless Blossoms,
Into the Heart of the Golden Monkey."

Four Fridays ago, Christmas was a blurry distraction that served to amplify what was imminent and inevitable-- that there wouldn't be too many Friday nights like this where we would plough through Melbourne's bricklanes on a drunken high, in search of tangible memories that we could tread on with our stilettos years later. We didn't find it at the posh Spice Market, where bouncers sized you up based on whether your soles exhibited that sheen of signature red, nor did we find it at Blue Diamond, where, despite the dizzyingly striking view of the entire city decked in Christmas cheer, there was not a lot of jive going. After clicking our heels along Queen Street and Collins, we stumbled upon the rabbit hole that led us straight into the heart of the golden monkey, where a bottle of sweet New Zealand riesling awaited. When a cloud of zen-like tranquility enfolded us in its euphonious bosom, we knew we had found what we'd been searching for. We had arrived at the zenith.

Friday night/ Saturday morning @ Golden Monkey, one of Melbourne's best-known basement bars, 389 Lonsdale Street.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Letter 565.1: Friday Night Lights-- Cuba and Chocolate Cigars

A friend and fellow doctor who'd just completed his internship and entering residency remarked-- upon trawling through my many food adventures immortalised in my many Facebook albums dedicated to the multitude of delicacies in Melbourne-- that I "make resident year sound very fun and relaxed all the time *insert smiley*". Truth is, this whole year of residency, I've been vacillating between periods of immense stress and a certain amplitude of quiet contentment. In those immeasurably toilsome and counterintuitive blocks of time, I came close to being suffocated under the avalanche of work, but was able to miraculously grope and crawl my way out of the mountainous misery for which I substituted with outings that almost always involved at least a decent meal to work my spirits up again for the next block of detrimental rigour.

Food provides a welcoming reprieve to the banal existence of work life. Melbourne itself is so saturated with amazing cafes and restaurants that dining out can sometimes lead to a delightful stumble of tastes and smells, and leaves the diner with a satisfied sense of awe and a swirl of curiosity orbiting around his head like the moon-- how did the chef do it? Really, how?? A flagship example would be the unprecedented creations of Shannon Bennett at Vue de Monde, where each course dances with your tastebuds and flirts with the pleasure centers in your brain. Of course, one pays through their nose for an electrifying experience as such. Fortunately, Vue de Monde has sister cafes and a bistro to entertain those who are broke after splurging on their degustation menu. So on Christmas eve 2010, we found ourselves seated at Cafe Vue by our bubbly and well-informed waiter, Nick, partaking in a Cuban-themed night of pabulum debauchery flanked by Nick's punctilious trivia about the gastronomical history behind each course and cocktail as they were being served with a gracious smile.

Cocktail #1: Daisy de Santiago


[Light, fruity, served in a chilled glass-- perfect start to the meal.]

Munchies #1: Blue eye cod cerviche with crispy plantains.


[Tender pieces of cod went well with the smooth avocado whip. Keropok pisang was superfluous.]

Still sober. For now.

Happy clappy :)

Cocktail #2: Century Rum Punch.


[When Nick poured in the Bacardi, he heeded our request for more! ;)]

According to experimental studies, if you drink alcohol with berries, the antioxidants will cancel out the toxic effects of the alcohol. Note these studies await further verification from longitudinal comparisons.

Munchies #2: White cucumber and almond gazpacho.


[Not a fan of gazpacho. Cold soup? Crazy Andalusians. This tasted too healthy-- like a detox product. Actually, it just might be intentional.]

Absolutely delightful duo =)

Cocktail #3: Mary Pickford.


[This was strong. REAL STRONG. 5 stars for the hardcore drinkers perhaps.]

Munchies #3: Grilled pork neck and papaya salsa.


[Absolutely fantastic combination of flavours and contrasting textures.]

Tipsy trio.

Cocktail #4: Bodeguita del Medio Mojito.


[A slightly different version of Mojito. Can't remember what was so different about it. Blame Mary Pickford.]

Munchies #4: Coconut rice pudding with a scoop of ice-cream.


[Disappointing in the sense that it was bland, a tad too warm (ice-cream was melting), and too eager-to-please with the coconut exterior.]

Homo sapiens.

Munchies #5: Milk chocolate and passionfruit cigar.


[Dessert's saving grace was this stunner of a surprise exquisitely carved and presented immaculately in a retro-looking box.]

I hereby endorse non-nicotine, non-tobacco, non-toxic, full-fat, full-cream, sugary sweet Cuban cigars!

With Cocktail #5 in hand: Pina Colada with a modern twist.


[Forgot to take mugshot of Cocktail #5. Forgot what constituted the "modern twist". Again, blame Mary Pickford.]

Still standing tall after 5 bloody cocktails. I kick my own ass sometimes.

Warm and fuzzy Christmas memories @ Cafe Vue, 430 Little Collins Street.

**For more luscious photos (of the food, of course *ahem!*), click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Letter 564: Consult

He whizzes past me as usual, leaving that unmistakable trace of a distant memory, like a ghost floating in the present in search of its past. I tread lightly-- a little too hesitantly-- although at times, a little too hastily. He senses my burning desire for answers. Perhaps it was reflected in my imploring gaze, or in the way I hold my pen mid-air in suspense, almost as if pondering if I should spit my curiosity into the kidney dish next to me. He sighs and inches towards his right, closing in on the space between us. He looks around and, when satisfied that everyone is out of earshot, he lowers his head and breaks into a conspirational whisper: He tells me that this place is a messy cocoon of suffocation. That this is a place that has shaped him into a monster, into a person whom he detests, into an antithesis of himself and his beliefs. That this is a place that holds out for no one but itself, and that he will leave. Soon. He will break free of these chains and find himself again. Then, with a smile and a pace almost as swift as the calculated decision he had made earlier to tell me his story, he shuffles his feet and collects his stack of notes, ready to leave. He stands up and, turning around to look at me once more with an empathetic gaze he's probably perfected over the years, he cautions me with the most profoundly sensible advice that no one in his position ever cared to tell me yet I've always suspected but did not dare-- or want to-- believe it to be true: Take care of yourself, because no one will do it for you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Letter 563: Exhuming that Elusive Ethos

So there's a new batch of interns already: Fresh-faced, eager, and ready to impress everyone with the brightest smile on the ward that translates into "I'll be your paper slave/ coffee slave/ medication slave/ rectal exam slave. Just send me a page anytime! Yes, really, anytime!" . In their glimmering eyes that spell out hope and ambition, I saw in them my own naivete when I was starting out just a mere 2 years ago. Now, coming to the completion of my residency year and entering my 3rd year as a registrar, I begin to wonder if the virility of hospital life has dampened my bubbly and enthusiastic spirits by an ineffable margin. No longer was I able to return to my old self, for I've been too scarred by the venomous bites of humanity lurking around the dark corners, waiting to pounce on those innocent enough to provoke it with a sincere heart to help. I've been raised by a set of good-natured parents who dictate that we should treat others kindly and respectfully, irrespective of their personality, nature, social rank or financial status. Of course, in this world, no one expects kindness to be returned, but to be fair, kindness shouldn't be reciprocated with animosity either. Then again, what do we know about being kind to others when the temptation of wealth, prestige, glory and recognition becomes too seductive to resist? This is how the world operates-- when malevolence turns people into monsters, monsters beget monsters; till the point where we sometimes forget that kindness can stem from the purest of thought, and that not every action needs to be motivated by some personal gain behind it.

We've all done it before-- that period of growing up where there's this obscenely incessant need to inundate parents with why?. Why is the sky blue? Why is that a cat and not a dog? Why can't I have a sister instead of a brother? Sometimes, out of frustration or impatience or plain ignorance, just because becomes the default answer. Just because, my dear, just because. And so even as we stumble through adolescence and adulthood with many whys, they eventually morph into just becauses. The other night, a fellow resident most graciously offered the on-call room for me, insisting to sleep on the couch while I get the room (and the bed) to myself. I felt bad, for he was already at the residents' lounge before I got there, so technically, he gets the room (and the bed) first. But he wouldn't have no for an answer, and retired swiftly to the couch before I could say anything. My first thought was Why? Why this kindness? It was actually more of a curiosity than a suspicion, but then I felt despicable for having had even the slightest hint of cynicism lapping at the foreshores of my thoughts, so just because became a more easily digestible rationale at his good intentions.

I remember I was happy and foolishly excited at the completion of internship. Now, nearing the end of my residency, I am perturbed that I cannot say the same. If there were more honesty and benevolence, the world would indeed be a better place. But then, what can one person do to change the world? I can only remind myself (and whoever's reading this) that no matter how frustrating certain situations are, always be kind to others. And smile, even if no one returns your smile.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Letter 562: Where Pigs Fly

The new year brought with it an amiable sense of unprecedented calm that surprised me even. It's true that I had strayed on the streets of Melbourne till 3 in the morning after the clock struck 12, and the fireworks had left all but a cloud of its short-lived existence trailing behind the Yarra. I had never seen Flinders Street so strewn with litter as it had been during the first few hours of the new year, nor had I seen so many tiny crowds of policemen gathered along the same street like mini battalions, resolving drunken fights among teenage punks every 500 meters or so. By the time we took the train back (where a disheveled man who appeared suspiciously woozy on drugs nearly projectile-vomited along my way as the train lurched forward), it was close to 4 in the morning. And by the time we actually awoke to a bright new year, I had no recollection of time, except a sense of peace that seemed like the whole world had descended to a standstill: There was not a rustle in the leaves, and few cars on the road. I couldn't hear the nearby rumbling of the train, which never fails to add a little cacaphony with its screeching wheels in need of oiling to our bustling neighbourhood. Unfortunately, this warm blanket of serenity lingered for a few days before it got blown away by the cool southeastern winds, and I found myself panicking again-- so much to do, so little time.

Very soon, this place will be a collective memory of our first attempt at cohabitation, left to linger on the dusty mantel of our fireplace. A faint mustiness emits from the cardboard boxes that are slowly stacking up in a corner of our living room, no thanks to the oppressive humidity over the last few days that had rendered our floorboards and books all moist and sticky. A combination of panic, agony and reproach is pawing at my heart each day, leaving tiny little scratch marks on my body. I know this feeling. I know this feeling from exactly a year ago, and I hate it. I hate trawling through the Monash Freeway with this bitterness all over my front wheels, hate having a bilious lump in my throat that is itching to crawl out, hate this feeling of being chronically nauseated and dizzy with a sense of helpless undoing, and even detest it knowing that it will be a vicious cycle that will forever define my life-- that I am a wandering nomad without a home. Home is where I plant my heart at, and build my future around, brick by brick, layer by layer, year by year. Knowing that I will never have a home saddens me, and I realised, on a deeper level, that it was one of the many reasons why I bought myself a piece of land on a residential golf course even though I don't play golf, just before the year came to an end-- for I wanted a grip on something, anything, that will make me return to this place eventually, no matter how wretched or snobby it can sometimes be, because I have fallen for this coffee-consuming cosmopolitan.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Letter 561: Breathe

Tonight, the humidity that hovers above me hangs thick like a blanket, dripping with tiny sprays of water that fall onto my hair and skin, making them greasy and sticky. I want to peel off this layer of discomfort as I grace the dim hallways with my squeaky pair of old Nikes, but every time I ruffle my hair or swipe my fingers across my bare arms, it just seems to make the adhesive moisture cling to me further. I can barely breath as I step into the elevator, and almost died as the slow-moving ancient doors seal me in the vault. So this is what it feels like to be buried alive, I muse. I don't know why, but hospital elevators are soooooo sloooooowwww. The doors take 2 minutes to close, and the elevator takes another 2 minutes to register your designated floor before it takes another 2 minutes to rumble and start moving up or down the shaft. It then takes another 2 minutes-- after coming to a complete halt-- for the doors to open, which, of course, takes another 2 minutes for them to do so completely. In total, a simple ride to even the next floor consumes 10 minutes of your time. Why did I not take the stairs as I usually do during the day? It's because for some bizarre security reason the stairwell is inaccessible at night. Either that or my swipe card just doesn't have VIP access to the stairwell during godforsaken hours as such. So here I am, dying a slooooowww and stifling elevator death as I find myself entrapped in this mobile coffin. Never have I wished for the doors to open so badly, but there are 2 doors in this elevator-- which one will open and lead me to salvation? I have 2 minutes to make a decision, and I turn to the westward doors. I have never been good at guessing games, and this time, the elevator god proves me wrong again, for the set of doors that I'm facing remains tightly shut. I heave a sigh of resignation and turn around, once again, walking away from the set of closed doors.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Letter 559: Lemon Sherbet

It is a rare moment of tranquility in this corner of the nursing station, where the computer on which this piece is taking form, and the haphazardly arranged piles of radiology requests and other paperwork denote that this is the doctors' area. Actually, it is even rarer that the entire ward is empty except for me and the night duty nurse, who is sitting behind me, checking her emails obsessively in one browser tab, and shopping for accessories with equal fervent in another. Tonight is looking like last night's twin-- quiet, no pages, and NO PATIENTS. Gerrard got sent off 40 minutes earlier and Torres has just come off the field with Ngog in his place. Sitting next to the computer keeping vigile of the match at Old Trafford via The Guardian's life web report updated every 2 minutes or so is exciting-- at least during the first few minutes before Ryan Giggs scored THE goal that is looking like it will define the match between the old English rivals. After that it just became tiresome and I got bored and started to surf the web. It is 85 minutes into the game now and things aren't looking promising at all despite giving Roy Hodgson the boot earlier. I don't know why I got sucked into following this match, considering I don't really like to watch English football to begin with. Maybe it was the hope that Kenny Dalglish could've somehow turn the tides around, however minimal that flicker of hope may be. The Boyfriend has always been an ardent Liverpool fan and if calculations are accurate, he's snoring at home right now, too frustrated to be bothered with how the game is turning out, seeing that it doesn't take a clairvoyant to predict a score that would favour Manchester United. 90+1 minutes-- it is clear The Reds don't have Lady Luck on their side. This is depressing. My heart goes out to The Reds. Although I'm not watching it live, I have a feeling that lurking somewhere in the spaces between the words "Standard Chartered" is a confidence issue. How do you boost confidence? How to you build trust and cling to hope when there's none? These are the questions I keep asking myself lately.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Letter 558: In Search of Istanbul

On the fifth day of the new year, I found myself in a Turkish bazaar, exploring the foods that had inspired many a wonderful verse from a certain Mr. Pamuk.

We were led to our wooden table by a man who possessed deep azure eyes the color of the Bosphorus. He had spent much of his time in Istanbul, evident by his friendly greeting from which a hint of foreign accent escaped, his olive tinged complexion and slightly unruly curls the shade of maple. His gestures and mannerisms weren't colloquially Australian, for he was too exotic in his speech and too subdued in his decorous affect. Perhaps he hasn't had his raki for the day. I smiled at him, and he smiled back, flashing a few coffee-stained teeth in return.

I sank into the wide and cumbersome rattan chair overlooking the streets beneath our feet. A glass panel separated us from the pavement; however, the top half of the panel was kept open deliberately to let the fresh evening breeze in (or to let out the aromatic smells of labna and lamb to tease, who knew?). I had the urge to ask for a sheesha, but alas, they didn't have any waterpipes. A Turkish coffee then, I said, hoping for a good strong caffeine jolt. He shook his head apologetically and said they had ran out of kahve. Oh well, one of your Büyük Baba Sangria then, I sighed, resigning to my indeterminate fate with all things Spanish.

Sipping on my Büyük Baba Sangria-- white wine sangria infused with vanilla, lemon, thyme and slivers of fresh apricot swimming at the bottom of the glass-- perfect for warm summer evenings.

I know my love affair with Spain began with tapas, sangria, Fernando Torres and pretty much the rest of the La Roja. But my affection for Turkey (or, rather, Istanbul to be precise)-- could it have been influenced by the lyrical showcasing of the city by writers who spent most of their life painting factual portraits of Istanbul with a tint of romanticism? I often conjure up a smokey image of wandering through the many colorful bazaars of Turkey and running into Elif Shafak admiring a set of emerald green glass teacups at the next vendor, or waking up to Turkish coffee in one of the many cafes along the Beyoğlu district with Orhan Pamuk at the next table, doing the same except he'd be puffing away on a cigarette and reading the morning news, leather-bound notebook in hand ready to jot down new sociopolitical ideas for his next bestseller.

Mr. Pamuk wrote about Turkish street foods-- amongst them lahmacun and its subsequent rebranding as "Turkish pizza/pide"-- in the essay Frankfurter. I doubt any "Turkish pizza" one finds in Australia would even remotely resemble its etymological cousin. For one, it is rarely served on round pita bread; and it has been greatly adorned with exotic ingredients and flavours to distinct it from "Italian pizza". Nonetheless, as I dug into our Turkish pide topped with tea-smoked chicken, red peppers, kasarli cheese and nashi pears, the only thing that came to mind was: Turkish street foods could not possibly be as pure and as untainted as this heavenly slice of pide.

Turkish pide topped with tea-smoked chicken, red peppers, kasarli cheese and nashi pears.

The man with the deep blue eyes came back with a warm meze of gözleme with slow-braised duck, soft poached duck egg, frise and pul biber. I did not know water fowls featured so prominently in Turkish cuisine, but I was game. Pulled bits of the duck were soft and fluffy, which complemented well with the golden yolk-tainted gözleme rolled in spinach and fetta cheese. I soaked up every bit of the yolk. Well done, said he, the one with the mesmerising aquamarine eyes, before whisking away the empty plate with a broad grin.

Gözleme with slow-braised duck, soft poached duck egg, frise and pul biber.

Next came our main-- slow cooked goat tagine with figs and pumpkin, served with pilaf rice adorned with slivers of almond, a handful of sultanas, and a sprinkling of saffron. This was a Moroccan influence, I knew, but the description on the menu looked too good for it to be dismissed. Generous chunks of tender goat meat literally fell off their bones as we stuck our forks into the dish, swirling it in its own juices before feasting on it. There was so much meat The Boyfriend declared his surrender by the third or fourth helping. I was still going. Hell yeah.

Slow cooked goat tagine with figs and pumpkin served with pilaf with almond slivers, sultanas and saffron

As I lay stretched out on the oversized chair, watching the skies turn pink and orange, and quite possibly being an exhibit of what was akin to a beached whale to passersby licking away their curiosity on gelati cones from the gelateria next door, I thought I was done for the day. But the man-- oh it was always a man!-- with the rich cerulean eyes came and presented the dessert menu at my mercy, and I was sold. A rose water and vanilla panna cotta with spiced blood oranges, drizzled with honey, was enough to sweeten the deal that yes, baby, we shall be packing our bags to Istanbul, city of ruins and regeneration.

Rose water and vanilla panna cotta with spiced blood oranges, drizzled with honey.