Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things I Am Thankful for in 2011

When a door is closed, a new one opens

So it’s the last day of the year. It’s a cliché, but time flies. Fast! Next year I will be 25. Quarter-life as some people label it. I can say that I have been through a wealth of experience, ranging from one extreme to another (good and bad), to make who I am today. I believe the things that define us are the things that we love to do. For me, it is traveling, writing and public speaking. 2011 has given me a chance to fulfil these things that I love doing. As for my passion for travel, 2011 has taken me to the England, Wales, Holland, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey. I am thankful to the Almighty that at the age of 24, I have been given the chance to see 15 countries and 31 cities around the world. While I am not a writer for the newspaper or magazine, I am also glad that my passion in writing has brought this so called ‘Coffee Talk’ to gain relatively wide readership, especially thinking that my blog is not that sensational with the latest gossips or gadgets. It’s just about my life. I am thankful that people read the things I wanted to share. It really surprises me when I was walking in the middle of nowhere people came and told me they read and love my blog. 

As for public speaking, I was also given a chance again to speak at an international level (the last time was in 2009 for the Model United Nations in Harvard). I represented the Malaysian medical students in the International Federation of Medical Students Association in Jakarta, and presented the Malaysian medical students organization in front of hundreds of other medical students worldwide. The feeling before stepping up the stage was nerve wrecking, but the feeling after was extremely exhilarating! My passion for public speaking has also enabled me to teach some students on the tips, tricks and techniques of speaking in public. I was willing to do everything for free, but when you’re unexpectedly paid for something you’re willing to do for free, the satisfaction is beyond words!

Academic wise, I am thankful that until now I never have to re-sit any paper along my journey as a medical student. It is indeed a blessing, because I know this year serves the toughest year yet, juggling between two huge responsibilities as the president of medical student association both at the University and national level. Going for meetings, events and interviews and keeping up with my studies at the same time admittedly was not an easy task. I am more than half-way through, and I hope I will keep the pace up and pass the current posting I am on and keep up with my responsibilities. If I can make it through this term, I believe I have equipped myself be more ready than ever to face the future challenges of my career.

However, not everything goes perfectly well for me this year. In the middle of the year I gained a permanent disability. My left ear was damaged up to the cochlear and nerves that I now have a constant ringing in my head, even now as I am writing this. It never stopped from that day, and I guess it will stay there until the day I lie on my deathbed. It was a traumatizing experience, especially during the earlier days where I was having vertigo and the world seems to spin around me for days. I wasn’t able to even walk without falling. It was even more traumatizing to know that my brain fluids (CSF) was leaking out, and without proper care, I could have contracted a brain infection and only God knows what will happen. Thankfully, the vertigo goes away, only the hearing problem stays. I am thankful that my family and good friends are there to support me during this critical times by visiting me, sending me gifts and wishes. It is in times like these you realize the people that you should prioritize in times of health.

The good thing about having traumatizing experiences is that all other bad experiences pale in comparison. I tend to take problems and other things in general more lightly now that I’ve been through a lot more worse. The problems I face daily become so small in comparison to the traumatic experience I’ve been through. Now that I only have one perfectly working ear, I tend to care less about what people say, and listen more to what my heart says. Every time I face a difficulty, I say to myself ‘Well, at least this might not kill me like last time’, as the saying goes ‘anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. How I appreciate life more now.

All in all, 2011 will be a year I will always remember. Partly thanks to the ringing in my ear which will always be there to remind me the things that I have learned this year. Goodbye 2011, you have been a great teacher. Welcome 2012, whatever you may bring, I am ready!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cook All Your Worries!

Great courage comes not from feeling great while everything goes well. The greatest of courage comes when you feel great despite constantly being tested or running through a complicated situation. What is courage if we do nothing much to test it? It is the ability to cultivate a mind that stays calm in the middle of the storm which is much coveted by those who wish to become great. While so many things are running through the mind, many imagine the worst thing that could happen. However, have you noticed that most of the things that you worry about in the past didn’t actually happen? Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. All worry does is elicit unpleasant emotions and hinders you from truly enjoying the present moment. The future is uncertain, so live in the present, live the moment as it occurs to you. Take control of your worry and feelings, because if you don’t, it is possible to go sightseeing in Paris and still be depressed. Take control and you might feel happy just walking through your home garden.

I am not suggesting you to ignore all the troubles that might be looming in the future. I am just asking you not to ruminate about it again and again in your conscious mind. Put it in the back of your mind and solve it when the time comes. I have no experience in cooking, but I know that there is such term as ‘slow-cooking’ using the oven. I have observed chefs in cooking channels put some of their stuff in the oven, let it slow cook and sort of forget about it for a while until the time where the timer comes off. While waiting, the chef would tend to other things that needs present attention like cutting and frying. Uncertain problems that might occur in the future, instead of being tended to as in frying, should be let in the oven to ‘slow-cook’, while the current things in the present should be attended with your attention. It is not ignoring, it is putting in the back of your mind and live your daily life paying attention to the present. If it helps, put it on a note to remind you, and let it be. You are not procrastinating but letting time find solutions to your problems. You will be surprised that as you live your day, solutions will come from the most unexpected sources. The great thing about putting it in the back of your mind or your ‘oven’ is that the problems or issues will slow cook and by the time you get it out, it is cooked, or you might already have the solution to the problems.

Weird analogy, I know. Especially from a person like me who doesn’t cook. But that’s what got into my mind as I watched cooking channels. So, cook all your worries, and live your life in the present!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moments I Surrender To

Sunset in Istanbul. One of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen
Some people travel to get someplace. I travel just to go. I travel for travel’s sake. My great affair is to move out of the environment that I have been too accustomed with and realize that the world is wider than what my mind had initially perceived. When I am away, I am free from questions, attachments and worldly affairs. I surrender to these moments where I have the luxury of time to think about things I usually don’t think of when I am in the thick of hectic things. Like thinking about the universe, the purpose of my life and the purpose of living in this world. As I observe the wonder of the bizarre and beautiful things that surrounds me, I find beauty in the Creator. It is as if I was detached from my former self. Then comes the great understanding that I live in this world, but I do not belong to it eternally. I live and surrender to these moments, exaggerate the feelings until I truly feel it. In these moments, I resemble the flowers, the trees, the mountains and the stars in the sky…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Talking About an Intelligent Future

The Waiting Room

They say that the future belongs to those who can predict it. It sounds simple and honestly useless especially since there isn’t anyone in this world who has that ability. Maybe if we extend that saying to include ‘those who can predict the future with the most accuracy’, it would sound more logical. I have written before in a post titled ‘On Intelligence’ where I back Jeff Hawkin’s theory that intelligence is merely the interrelatedness of memory and prediction. In this post, I would like to elaborate more on the process of predicting, which lies discreetly on the elicitation of patterns from completely random memory, data or any other scattered things. These things that seem completely random initially will make a whole lot of sense when a pattern is elicited from it. From patterns, predictions are born. Patterns play a huge role in in visual arts, where certain patterns of various colour shapes and sizes appeal to the visual. They also play role in music, where certain arrangements of sound notes appeal to the human ear. The ability to find patterns from human behaviour and predict from it has been used my marketing genius to advertise and sell their products. It has also been used by politicians to gain popularity among the people. The ability to elicit patterns from economic data has saved countries from economic meltdown. Patterns of disease spread have been elicited to prevent infections from becoming increasingly epidemic. In short, pattern exists in everything in this world, as if the world itself is made out of patterns.

I was lucky enough to be invited to International Business Machines (IBM) headquarters in Damansara to get a direct input from IBM Malaysia’s Chief Technologist about the future of predictions. Now, why IBM? In my previous post ‘On Intelligence’, I have summed up that intelligence occurs when huge memories are stored and there exists extensive networks linking them together. The simple reason is that the technological capabilities to store large amounts of memory and create extensive networks covering them lie within the technological pioneers who mostly work for corporate giants, and IBM is one of them. On my visit there, I was introduced to a supercomputer they casually call Mr Watson. Almost brain-like (emphasize the word almost), Mr Watson crunches mind numbing data from its super huge memory and uses complicated algorithms (and I mean really complicated algorithms) to predict patterns from those random data and conclude by predicting an outcome. To show its capabilities, Mr Watson contested in the reality TV game show ‘Jeopardy’ and outwitted two of the game’s best performing human contestants. He was not connected to the web during the show.

But Mr Watson was created for a larger purpose than winning cash in ‘Jeapordy’. The people at IBM has a way of summing up what Watson’s purpose is: ‘To have computers start to interact in natural human terms across a range of applications and processes, understanding the questions that humans ask and providing answers that humans can understand and justify’. In the world we live today, huge amounts of data on various things has been obtained everywhere and on anything. However, they remain mainly scattered and largely give no meaning until someone does extensive research on it. For example, medical records are now compiled in digitally, but in order to see a pattern emerging from those data, researchers need to do laborious work of statistical analysis. However, the research outcome depends on the topic decided by the researcher. In other words, the researcher mainly chooses which pattern related to the topic that he wishes to elicit from those set of data, and his statistical analysis proves the pattern exist (hypothesis accepted) or not (hypothesis rejected). The eyes do not see what the mind doesn’t know. Researchers sometimes miss the subtle patterns that largely remain obscure. With a super computer that detects all possible patterns, this human limitation can be overcome. Medical researchers would also most likely rely on medical records, engineering researchers would rely on engineering records, and economic researchers would rely on economic data and so on. Rarely there is collaboration between fields, where in reality, each field always overlaps. When there is a huge and intelligent place to store all these data and process and make predictions from them, a whole new revolution in human history might take place.

With IBM Malaysia's Chief Technologist (second from left) and Head of Marketing (leftmost)

Think about the future with a technology like this. Think about a more intelligent future where traffic is diverted through its predictions of congestion and weather and reduces the number of traffic accidents. Think about a future of public safety where security is increased in places predicted to be high in crime rates and hence fight organized crime. Think about the future of commerce where the right business targets the precise market predicted. Think about the future of education where knowledge is targeted to those who would benefit from them most. Last and definitely not least, think about the future of medicine and healthcare. IBM has envisioning a smarter healthcare, and is how we got in contact in the first place. We were collaborating for a ‘Smarter Healthcare’ week and that is why they wanted to talk and explain in explicit details about this future technology. IBM is smart enough to realize that this technology is too early a technology to be introduced to those who are already doctors today. They target medical students, as the President of the Malaysian Medical Student Association, it is my job to expose the future doctors towards this future of possibilities. Someday, medical records might all be stored in a huge centralized system that automatically detects patterns of disease and relates it to other aspects such as lifestyle, economic status and family history. However, the question that remains to be asked is how do we maintain patient’s confidentiality in pursuit of this new technology? That question is to be answered by our generation.

One of IBM's vision

The integration between these data can no longer be delayed. When these data can be compiled into a single storage, and data from various fields like medicine, engineering, architecture, economic and social science brought together by networks to give a meaning. There could be a possibility to create a whole new intelligent world. Sometimes we are too frightened by Sci-fi Hollywood movies where machines overtook humans and conquer the world. But humans will never become obsolete because machines never make decisions. They only assist in making decisions. Perhaps when skeptics are overcome, we are well on our way towards a better, smarter future.

In front of IBM's logo
Cool hallway!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are We Modernizing or Westernizing?

A few months ago, I wrote a light-hearted piece about modernization and westernization titled ‘If Malaysians Rule the World’. This article is the heavier version of it, where I would like to discuss the difference between westernization and modernization, and are we heading towards the former or the latter?
We live in a western-centric world. Everything that is new, and everything that replaces the old, looks western: from the things we eat, (think of McDonald’s and KFC), the things we wear (think of blue jeans) to the things we listen to (think of rock and pop music) are all moving towards a western outlook. This process of ‘westernization’ goes beyond appearances. Companies all over the world are managed by ‘standard business practice’ mostly developed in western countries. Politically, democratic parliaments, constitutions and law are modeled after western countries. Economically, central banks and trade policies were also from the west. So significant was this process that we just have to wonder when did all of this started? 

Then there is modernization. How different is modernization from westernization? The highly influential American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argues in his book ‘Clash of Civilizations’ that modernization is about industrialization, urbanization, rising levels of literacy, education and wealth, while the things that make a society western, in contrast, are unique: the classical legacy, the separation of religious bodies from the state and governance, democracy, the rule of law, the civil society. The west, Huntington argues, were western long before it was modern. However, in the world we live in today most of the things that are modern seem western. Even Japan, the highly modern country coveted for its ability to maintain traditional customs is well known to be great imitators of the west. They are the only country in Asia, which has a national baseball tournament outside of America. With modernization and westernization becoming almost indistinctive, can a society become modern without being western? Fareed Zakaria in his book ‘The Post-American World and the Rise of the Rest’ predicted that with the rise of countries such as China, India, Japan and Korea, economic dominance, which most likely will be followed by political dominance, will move direction towards the east. The question is: Will this future look modern or western?

The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria. Entertaining and informative read

The reason for all this might sound stupendously modest: everyone wants to succeed, and people tend to copy from those who have succeeded. Modernization advances a society towards success. While many aspects of the western society drive towards modernity, not everything that is western is modern. If what Fareed Zakaria postulates in his book is true, the time is more crucial than ever to distinguish between the two. If we look at the things that make things modern, they are not necessarily distinctively western, but they are distinctively universal, practical and appealing to the mass public. McDonalds and Coca-Cola made it around the world because they can be affordable, and can be found almost anywhere. Blue jeans are popular because they are comfortable and able to withstand prolonged wear and tear in any weather. Democracy is spreading across the world because it gives and spreads power to all citizens, not just certain people. Western economic policies appeal because they amass wealth for those who are the smartest and most hardworking, not to certain people with certain blood lineages. If I could sum it up, I would say that modernization are the things that drives a society towards success, brought by its practicality and benefit towards the mass public, to as much people as possible in that society.

With the frenzy of following the footsteps of western countries in order to become so called modern, the hardest challenge that we face today is to really examine and analyse which ones really drives the society forward by giving the most benefit to most people. It is possible to maintain our Asian values while modernizing at the same time, to achieve industrialization, urbanization, rising levels of literacy, education and wealth without letting go of our grassroots and religious belief. However, with the constant bombardment of western media made in Hollywood, it is easy to become delusional and try to live the so called ‘American Dream’ right here in Malaysia. The fact is what you see in movies and TV series are not as what it seems in the real world. There are no such schools and clubs as gleeful as the ones in Glee, there are no such drama, good looking and sexy doctors as the ones in Grey’s Anatomy, there is no person that knows every disease under the sun such as House. Everything is not as free as it seems. There is no total freedom of speech. If there is, why are people being locked up for speaking against the Jews, for being (accused of) anti-Semitic and for denying the holocaust? We are fooled by TV series to believe that there is total acceptance in America. If there is total acceptance in society, try clicking on any news about same-sex marriage in America and read how many comments were negative. The media and scholars might claim that they are open to acceptance, but it is them, not the general public that forms the majority of society that speaks. If their society are still struggling, trying to bring these western cultures into our country is not going to spearhead our country towards modernity. Success in the west was not brought up by the separation of religion from daily life. Atheist and scientologist claim that they advance science by separating themselves from religion, but most of their names remain obscure compared to the scientists who were well known to be highly religious such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Avicenna, Al Farabi, Gregor Mandel, Averroes and Al-Kindi. Seperation of religion from daily work is distinctively western, and we have our own Asian values that may drive us towards modernity.

Moving towards a modern society involves implementing things that benefits most people, so when small groups inspired by such foreign western ideology going against religious belief create havoc to fight for something that benefits certain small groups but incite fear and discontent towards the majority of the people, it is right for those in power to take action before it flares up. Like a surgeon, a leader has to excise a tumor before it grows malignant and spreads to other parts of the body. The task of being a leader for such a diverse population is admittedly very challenging. With the difference in background and education, deciding on which action to take could be a huge dilemma, for every decision that he makes will disappoint some party if not another. How do you make a decision that does least harm to the whole of the nation? For me, the answer is to truly question which action drives the nation forward, and which were just an imitation of a delusional nation far far away.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Singaporeans Pick Doctors in Malaysia?

A friend sent me a link to a blog of a Singaporean writer. Basically the blog responds to the following I've pasted below. However, I felt that although his respond was not enough a disagreement and I am compelled to write my own respond. Here was the issue raised:

In Malaysia, pick an Indian/Chinese doctor, not a Malay doctor
Given the bumiputra policy, there is a loss of selective pressure which leads to the decrease in mean ability of Malays as a whole. Contrast that with the Indians and Chinese who have to fight tooth and nail, who have to drag themselves to the front of the pack in order to get into the limited spaces in medical school (the rest of the quota being taken up by bumiputras). It’s a no-brainer. The Indians and Chinese who graduate from medical school must be really good. The Malays… not so sure.
This is my response:

Everybody has a right for their own opinion, and as the writer has an opinion about picking doctors in Malaysia, my opinion is that the writer is shamefully racist for even coming out with the idea of choosing doctors based on the color of their skin. I don't know if Singaporeans have this sort of mentality, but it is clearly an evidence of low level of thinking when someone picks a doctor to save their life based on their race. A sound minded person would choose his or her doctor based on the doctor's record of experience and achievements. By the number of successful surgery he has done or the number of precise diagnoses and treatment he has come out with. Each individual vary, and every race has their own high and low achievers. The color of skin has never been a good measure of credibility.

I believe the bumiputra policy has nothing to do with the quality of Malaysian doctors today because in medical faculties, it has been a long-time gone issue. Right now where I study, and most of the public universities, the ratio between bumi and non bumi are 1:1. There is competition, but we compete between individuals, never between races, why should we? As Malaysians, we are smart enough to realize that medicine relies heavily on teamwork among individuals regardless of race, religion or belief. A doctor would refer a complicated case to the best doctor available specializing in that case, not the doctor who has the most similar skin color. There was never an 'Anugerah Kaum Terbaik', and even if there is (maybe they have one in Singapore), what good does it meant to win awards when you can't even think in terms of simple logic such as choosing a doctor based on his or her records of reliability and not the color of the skin?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Medical Mind

The semester which involves the most reading has just ended, and what we read was just a small fraction of the whole of the medical field. With so much to read, I wonder if a person can really be confident enough to hold the responsibility to save lives. I think nobody can claim that he or she is fully ready. Someone might claim that he is ready for the final exam, but being fully ready to become a doctor is a very different thing. Fortunately, medicine is insanely human, and with everything else that is human, it involves interactions between individuals. It is like a sport, where no single person can do things alone, teamwork is vital, and if a person doesn’t play by the rules, the thing at stake is the lives of others. Hence, being a team sport, a doctor does not necessarily know everything under the sun. That is why in medicine we have specialties, and a person will decide to devote themselves into a field they feel that they have passion in.
Many students make the mistake of wanting to know every single detail there is under the medical umbrella. Many took in the details of the theoretical knowledge too seriously that they lose the humanity of medicine, which was actually the main tenet. Our responsibility lies not in knowing every single detail there is. It is more than just about reading books from cover to cover. I believe with most certainty that to become a great doctor is not just to be knowledgeable in theory, but to cultivate a medical mind.
A medical mind is a mind that of a doctor that is not quick to judge, a mind that observes and analyses before coming out with conclusions. A mind that is trained to see subtle changes, either in anatomical features or human behaviour. A mind that is trained to listen, to perceive even the slightest signs or symptoms, the one that can detect the smallest movements of the small muscles of the face which could indicate a frown or a disagreement, even when the words which came out of the mouth was that of an agreement. Cultivating a medical mind is not just about reading thousands of pages and vomit out every single detail onto a paper, it is about cultivating a mind that can make decisions as sharp as a surgical knife, as confident as puncturing an artery, a mind that is able to take in a flood of information and render it down into simple but important facts that really matters. The simple things that make all the difference.

Cultivating a medical mind is about developing the simplicity of a surgeon in handling the hassles of everyday life and the complexity of a physician in thinking to solve a problem. Medicine is insanely human, it takes more than mere logic to solve the problems confined into the four walls of the hospital. Human complexities are beyond the limits of logic.
The diseases that plagues humans are an interplay of our own environment, our anatomy, physiology and our mind. The human mind and body defies logic, one may expect a result from one but not the same from another.
When a medical mind is cultivated, the mind is ready for future endeavours not only in the medical field. History has been sparkled by the presence of doctors in the field of politics, business, economics and even arts. This is because the medical mind not only makes you a better doctor, it makes you a better human. A mind that is trained to take in so many information in so little time is destined to learn the most impossible things at a most rapid rate. A mind that is trained to listen and to detect the subtleties of the body language may succeed anywhere in any field that involves the interaction with other humans and the general public. A mind that is taught to empathize and understand the suffering of others is sought after in relationships, either professionally or personally. These are the qualities of the medical mind. It does not read the mind of others, but it is trained to listen, understand, treat and make life better, for you and the people around.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Working with IBM: Business Lessons in Daily Life

One of the subjects that I have never regretted and am most thankful for taking before I entered medical school was Business & Management. I took the course along with 6 other subjects when I was in International Baccalaureate in MARA College Seremban from 2005 to 2007. I still remember how my lecturer at that time, Puan Kartina would make the subject very interesting with her ‘in-between stories’ that somehow may seem not related to business management at all, but were very interesting indeed. It was soon I learned that as well as in medicine, the lessons from business management apply not only in the workplace but also in living daily life. Maybe that is why her stories were always related to her life, but has business lessons in it. 

If it weren’t for Business and Management, I wouldn’t think I would be able to play the leadership role I hold today. Even after I’ve graduated from International Baccalaureate, I crave for business lessons and would always always always visit a bookstore every time I go to a shopping mall to get my hands on a new business book. Right now in my house, my bookshelf is already full of those kinds of books that I had to buy an extension to it. A few of my all-time favourites was: Built to Last and Good to Great by Jim Collins, Onwards by Howard Schulz, The Starbucks Experience by Joseph Michelli, The Innovation of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney, The Big Idea by marketing guru Donny Deutsch, Blink, The Tipping Point and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Narcissistic Leaders by Michael Maccoby, Doctor in the House by Tun Mahathir Mohammad (you might not think this is a business book but it has a LOT of lessons about doing business in Malaysia), Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff about Money by the late Richard Carlson, and…oh, I am not a book promoter, am I?

The most interesting thing I find in these books was the story of the business companies as a whole and the gritty people inside them that unfolds the story of success. I love reading about how the companies were started, how determined their founders were despite various setbacks, the ups and downs of companies, how they were burnt to the ground and then rise from the ashes, the passionate people that make things happen by teamwork, and the life and death of the prominent figures in business. Each and every company has their own stories, as told by the people inside them, but all in all, the stories shaped the way I think about leading an organization and leading my own life. 

Apart from the story of Apple, Starbucks, Google and Sony, my favourite story was about IBM, the International Business Machines. I sum up their company as extremely innovative. Just recently, IBM has passed Microsoft to become the world’s second-most valuable technology company. Although their products were not as publicized as Apple’s iPad, iPod or iPhones, that’s only because their products work silently in the background. They are like the timid guy in class who makes things happen in the background and end up being a revolutionary. Their components powered our cities, lighted up our skyscrapers, mobilize our LRTs, powered the MRIs and CT scans we doctors use every day and even enable you to read this very text I am writing. I have always imagined myself working for a big international companies, just for the sake of imagination, but of all things, I would have never ever guess that I will ever work with IBM someday, at least not until I am working. Who would have thought that the day came when I am still a mere student? I had the chance to work with them when they approached my medical student organization, SMMAMS, where they wanted to collaborate with us making their IBM Smarter Planet Healthcare Week a reality. This morning I received a thank you email from them. It goes like this:

Subject: Thank You SMMAMS for All Your Help
Dear Lutfi, Hsiao-Hui and all those at the Society of Malaysian Medical Association Medical Students (SMMAMS),

Firstly, we would like to thank each and everyone one of you for supporting IBM Smarter Planet Malaysia and for your participation during the Healthcare Week. Without you, the Healthcare Week would not have been the success that it was. Thank you.

With the help of you, the SMMAMS students and the few hardworking souls who helped run the Healthcare Week contest, we have increased the traffic of the IBM Smarter Planet Malaysia Facebook and Twitter webpages. We had a jump of over 50 ‘likes’ in the span of 1 week and an increase of users who came across the webpages by the hundreds.

Your participation has helped spread the values of a Smarter Healthcare not only amongst Malaysian but to others from a far. To add, your involvement is the impetus to future technological progress of a Smarter Healthcare and ultimately, to a Smarter Planet. Please find attached a copy of the infographic for your keeping. I hope you have found the information useful, we shall be following up with the winners to give them the prizes. Again Hsiao-Hui and Lufti, thank you very much.

We will be in contact with you when we have future projects coming up that you might be interested. Keep in touch.

Best Regards,

Conrad Bateman
IBM Malaysia

Before the event, me and my IT director, Ms Hsiao Hui Yeap had a 'business negotiation' with one of the people from IBM over dinner. I find the people in successful business their face light up with passion when talking about their product that you have to wonder if they were really trained to do just that or they really have that passion in their hearts. Working for a big company such as IBM was an eye-opener to me. I have mentioned before that I am interested in doing Public Health and management of the health system in Malaysia where I believe needs TREMENDOUS help by applying business lessons. I pray that someday I will be able to do something about the healthcare system in Malaysia, and make it smarter. But I guess even if I don’t get to, I might just apply those lessons in real life, in any organizations I am in, in family (a family itself is an organization, isn't it), and if everything else didn't work, I might just end up saying, ''I am not a businessman, I AM a business, man!''

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Discrimination

Have you ever been denied certain things because of the appearance you were in? Like the cloth you wear or the car you were driving? I have been a few times. I think it is human nature to judge people based on appearance first and character later. Despite being a so-called 'anak Dato' I drive a crappy old Proton Saga that must have been nearly as old as my younger sister and on a glance must have looked as if it was taken off a junkyard. But I am happy with it. My dad just didn't want to pamper their children with too much luxury and I am at least proud to drive a national car.

So last month I drove my car to an event in UKM Bangi where the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhiyiddin Yassin was the VIP. As I approached the entrance of the parking lot, the Pak Guard there saw me from afar and made a cross sign by his arms and shouted 'Tak boleh masuk!'. I saw there were still a lot of empty parking spaces but then I thought they might be reserved for the lecturers and VIPs and the students had to park outside. So outside I went and parked my car down the hill. From there, I had to walk a few hundred meters uphill under the scorching sun to reach the venue. Drenched in sweat, I finally arrived at the entrance when I saw a fellow friend of mine driving a car much better than mine smiled and waved at me, then drove swiftly into the parking lot I was denied into just earlier. The Pak Guard who stopped me earlier just stood there, and to my surprise just let in all the other students' car too. 'Wow, this is what I call daylight discrimination!' I thought. Being the Yang Dipertua for your college means nothing in the eyes of others when you're driving a crappy car. In the hall I asked my friends where they parked their car and they all parked just outside the hall.

I decided to let if off my mind. However, in the afternoon I was invited to have lunch at the same table with the Deputy Prime Minister. I sat near him, we had met when he had his Charity Golf event in Bandung, so we talked about the place, he asked me how come I am now here in UKM, and I explained that I am under a Twinning Program with Indonesia. As I was chatting with the DPM, the Pak Guard saw me. I was sure he did, because as I turned towards him, he abruptly turned his head away, perhaps recognizing me as the one driving the crappy car this morning. He must have thought I am a VIP of some sort for sitting on the same table as the Ministers and Vice Chancellor and felt guilty for denying my entry this morning. The fact is that I am nothing more than a student representative. While there is nothing much to be proud of just sitting over lunch with these people, I felt satisfied for being able to show him how appearance can sometimes be a bad measurement for a person.

So people, let us not judge others solely by their appearance

All this reminded me of a joke I read somewhere which doesn't really have anything to do with the moral of this story, but hilarious indeed:

Not long ago, there was this man driving fast a car with tinted glass windows at the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The police saw him driving so fast and forced him to stop by the roadside. The car stopped, and the driver lowered the tinted glass windows. The police demanded for the driver's license in a harsh manner without even looking at the driver. The driver suddenly got in a rage and shouted ''Suka hati aku la, ni BAPAK aku punya jalan!''. The policeman glanced at the signboard that stated the name of the road. It read:

Jalan Tun Razak


As I was glancing over the Pak Guard

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Story of Autism

There has been many films made about people living with autism, from east to west, such as 'Rain Man' from Hollywood, played by Tom Cruise. 'My Name is Khan' from Bollywood, played by Shah Rukh Khan, and our very own 'Sekali Lagi' from Greenwood, Gombak played by Sam and Lisa Surihani (although it might be wiser for the director to consult a doctor about the symptoms of autism first, which are persistent and life long, not episodic like in that movie). These movies were quite interesting and gives a great insight towards people who previously had no idea about autism. However, how interesting these movies might seem to me, nothing compares to the story of autism I saw last week, right in front of my eyes. It was when we organized a community project at the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) near Taman Tasik Titiwangsa. While not many of the children have the looks like Tom Cruise or Shah Rukh Khan, unlike children with other genetic diseases like Down's or Turner's syndrome, these children look perfectly normal...and adorable! Just look at them:





But looking perfectly normal has their disadvantages for children with mental disabilities. Sometime people just judge others by their appearance, just because they look normal doesn't mean that they don't have difficulties and we don't have to help them. Because they look normal, sometimes they are denied of disability privileges. Without proper diagnosis by a psychiatrist, it is quite hard to confirm that a children has autism. These children present with various symptoms, varying in severity and manner, and there is no one definite symptoms that can confirm the diagnosis. A thorough evaluation must be done. Some of the symptoms include a s
tand-offish manner,inappropriate laughing (they laugh at almost anything), showing no fear of real dangers (a grizzly bear might appear in front of them and they might just play with it), apparent insensitivity to pain (they sometimes bite their own arms when frustrated), difficulty with mixing with other children (these are the main problems they face in school), adverse to cuddling (they just don't want to be cuddled!), sustained odd play (they can play with a toy train for hours, just pushing them back and forth again and again), crying tantrums for no reason (you don't want this to happen while you're playing with them) and many more.

However, despite those setbacks, autistic children can have a wide range of intellectual ability. Just look at Shah Rukh Khan in the movie my name is Khan, he has an amazing ability in memorizing things. Children with autism can also have other extraordinary abilities in mathematics, mechanical skills, music and many more. Some people with autism even went as far as being world renowned and I am sure you have heard of
them: Bill Gates (I know what you're thinking. No, I am not kidding, but Bill Gates is autistic, but however he is the high-functioning type. He has an obsession towards coding computer softwares. He coded day and night, and that's how he founded Microsoft Windows), Virginia Woolf, the prolific writer who only writes while standing up, Jane Austen, another prolific writer, Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Vincent van Gogh (Source:

From my experience there, communicating with them is a hard thing to do. Taking care of them need extreme patience. They can be very mischievous, but yet very lovable. There are high hopes for these children. If only we are aware of their disabilities, understand them and give them a chance to flourish. I am glad that Malaysia has a center which involves in taking care of these children and increasing the awareness of the public towards them. NASOM has many centers all around Malaysia. I am sure that since its establishment since 1986, it has changed a lot of children with autism's life. The visit has impacted me a lot. Every time I hear about autism, I would remember the children I met at Nasom. The child who was obsessed with Ultraman, the child who tiptoes all the time, the child who was very good at puzzles, the child who just couldn't sit down...I would like to make a change in their lives. You can make a change too. How about start by donating to NASOM? You can do so by contacting 03-79843942, emailing or visiting Let's make this world a better place for all ;)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Designer in Me

Other than reading, writing and drinking coffee, I actually have another passion, which is interior designing. I think the only reason none of you have ever heard of this passion of mine is because the only time I get to design and decorate my room is when I move to a new room, which has only been thrice. Ever heard of the lazy designer? Those are the minimalists, and I am one of them. Minimalists emphasize on simplicity, practicality, elegance and, well, minimality. That's why people call us lazy. Enough said, let pictures do the talking. This is my room in college, most of the stuff in here were bought in Ikea and no, I am not paid by Ikea to do this post ;)

My sanctuary

The view from my studying table

My lovely espresso bar. Where I wake up to a perfect cup of espresso with just a touch of a button and a dollop of hazelnut or toffee nut syrup

My faithful Coldplay poster where I bring along to each room I move into

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Path I Am On

I went for follow up today. My tympanic membrane is now intact, which means I can now swim and fly, but my high-frequency hearing lost and tinnitus is still there. At this point, it's most likely going to be permanent. But yeah, I'm past the grieving period over the lost, so it didn't sadden me much. It takes some time to get use to this slight disability. Sometimes people call my name from behind and I have no idea where the voice came from. Last week I was caught with wandering attention by a lecturer during clinics when in fact I was paying attention to my tinnitus which gets louder in closed and quiet clinics. Oh, don't let me start with the operating theatre, where people talk in whispers. I tried to assist a surgeon and end up passing over the scissors to another student just after 30 minutes because I cut when I am not supposed to and did not cut when I am supposed to. 'Cut (whispers)' 'Cut...cut, cut! CUT!' He goes, and hey ho cherio I go!

I also went to psychiatric ward round today. There was this young lady who got very depressed and tried to kill herself because her mental illness made her unable to work or earn money so she felt that she was useless and a burden to herself and her family. I guess one of the things that got me going on is seeing others that have illnesses worse than mine. I have the chance to see it every single day, and every time I see other people who have worse disability than me, I felt thankful and appreciative of what I still have. My dad asked me why I wasn't depressed after I've learned about my permanent disability. I asked him 'Should I be?'. He said most of his patients got depressed and traumatized after learning they had a similar disability as mine, and I should learn my lesson of not joining anymore stupid outdoor games. So being a faithful son, I followed his advice and went on being depressed the next week for 5 days. Yeah, it was an awesome experience but I don't think I want to do it again.

Living with tinnitus actually sucks. Imagine having a ringing sound in your head 24 hours for the rest of your life. There is no moment of silence for me. But to take it positive, I just imagine this ringing in my head is a call. A call which is a constant reminder for me to always work towards being a better person. So when I do nothing but sit around, I will start paying attention to the ringing sound...and that is where I am reminded to get up and do something productive. I have to keep myself busy doing something to distract myself from the sound. I'm just glad that when it didn't affect my relaxing ritual sitting in cafes because although coffee exaggerates tinnitus for awhile, hearing music on the headphone masks the ringing sound.

While my hearing loss might limit my career choice of specialization, unlike the young woman I saw this morning, at least I can still work in other specialties that doesn't need me to hear soft subtle sounds from the chest. Or being in operating theaters. Or quiet clinics. I've always wanted to be a physician and specialize in infectious disease. But being a physician involves a lot of precise hearing of the chest sounds. Maybe I'll just move on to something I have always been interested in, like hospital management, health care planning, health economics and stuff. Influence something big in the Ministry of Health, or maybe work for the World Health Organization in Geneva, save the world and things like that. You know, the big picture.

All in all, despite all the things that happened to me, I am quite happy with the way things are now. I can still study and carry out my responsibilities, I can still have fun with friends. I still hold on to my favorite phrase: 'life is too short to be miserable, are you who you want to be?'. By the way a psychiatrist sensed there was something wrong with me, called me up after clinics, found out my problems and suggested me to do my own personal CBT, which stands for 'Cognitive Behavior Therapy'. I told her ''It's okay doc, I don't need CBT, all need is CBTL: Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf'' ;)

Some coffee ritual I do at airports

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Expectations

Most of the time, we are bogged down with the expectation of others, held back from achieving great things in life because the fear of 'what will people say' or 'how would people respond to what I say or do?' Making a decision is not a popularity contest. Decide to do the right thing, not necessarily the the most popular thing. I have learned the hard way that as long as you know that you are in the right, it does not really matter what people say or how people respond. Those are actually their problem, not yours

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ocean in Me

I woke up in the middle of the ocean to the sounds of sea waters slapping against the ship. I realized that sunshine has slipped its way between the golden silk curtains. As I drew them open, mounds of majestic mountains greeted me, seeming to float above the shimmering waters, reflecting the lively morning sun. In the far distant, I saw some other ships on sail, moving out of the alcove we were anchored in for the night. Some people above the decks were taking pictures of the sun shining its glory between the limestone islets. My mind recalled an article read a few weeks ago about the sunrise in Ha Long bay. The view was some of the most coveted in the world of photo enthusiasts. Impossible to be appreciated by land, it takes at least two hours from the shores to sail into this magical wonder. Just as I put my feet on the wooden floor, the sounds of rattling chains was heard indicating the anchor was being pulled up, and the ship was ready to set sail again.

I went to the upper deck for breakfast. Some of the other passengers were already having theirs. I chose a corner spot by the window so I could admire the glorious view as I had my breakfast. I was never a loyal breakfaster, often substituting the morning meal with just coffee and biscuits (not a good habit, I know). The memory from the previous day’s visit to the magnificent floating fishing village still lingers in my mind as I was having this proper breakfast I rarely took. I never thought people could live and make a living on sea waters. Perhaps the rather serene waters of the bay, protected from violent ocean waves by the surrounding limestone islands has made the place a safe haven. The place has a legend, as told by our guide. ‘There was a war between the local people and the Chinese invaders’ he said in a typical Vietnamese accent. ‘A family of dragons sent down from heaven to defend the land. These dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands and islets surrounding the bay. The people were protected from the invaders by these walls of limestone islands’ he continued. ‘The dragons were enchanted by the beauty of the bay they have made themselves, the dragons decided to live among the local people’. 

Beautiful story, I thought. Those people he told of fish for a living until the present day. Their houses floated on water in the middle of the ocean, far from the lands, but the sight of lights, television and electric generator proves that human beings hardly escaped modernity. As I was passing by the floating houses I saw a mother holding her baby by the waters, staring unblinkingly to the sea waters, mesmerized by the reflection of the sun. Come a few more years, the baby might have grown up to be mesmerized by her own reflection on the waters than the reflection of the sun. At a place like this, I wondered at what age the child learns to swim. As there were no walkways between houses, they had to either swim, or use sampans to get from one house to another.

I turned my view from the vast ocean to the other passengers in the dining area. Except for me, everyone on this trip came in pairs. It made sense, I thought, since I myself would consider this cruise perfect for a honeymoon trip. The other passengers had already got used seeing me alone throughout the journey. They must have mistaken me for a reviewer for some travel magazine or blog. It was later I realized that with the notebook and camera I carry around with me all the time, I did look like one. As awkward as it gets sometime, there is a certain kind of serenity when I spend some time alone marveling the spectacle of nature. I have always disagreed when people equate being alone with being lonely. While being in the company of others and having someone to talk to is healthy, being alone once in awhile just thinking about life, marveling the breath-taking nature, or just watching the world pass by is necessary for the health of the mind. I call this the period of detachment. Sitting around doing nothing but think seems counter-productive, but it is a lot better than running around being busy with no idea where you are heading to. Thinking about life, what we are going to do with it, what it means to us, and what it really is about gives us a better perspective once we are out in the world full of people again. Life is about balance. Like these oceans, the ocean in us has its own high and low tides. Sometimes they are rough, sometimes they are calm. Treasure the ocean in us 

The engines had stopped roaring as I walked out to the decks. We visited a cave, went kayaking, fishing, hill climbing and such. All those experience was invigorating, but nothing compares to the night before, an enchanting moment I will never forget. As I sat at the roof deck of the ship as the sun set, the ship sailed towards an alcove. I watched the mountains fade away, and the stars came out. I stared at the stars, realizing how small and insignificant we are compared to the universe. If life was meant to be hard and serious, why was I smiling?
Beautiful Moments

Monday, August 22, 2011

Delightful Days in Ipswich

One early summer in 2011, a quartet of students were flown 6557 miles across the continent from Malaysia to the United Kingdom to ultimately find themselves in the small, strange town of Ipswich, one of the oldest town in England where the locals spoke in a queer medieval English accent and the bus stops face the opposite side of the road. These are the students of the arts of healing, or medicine as some call it. They were sent to this peculiar town with the trust of their Professors to learn the ways of curing ailments associated with the ear, nose and throat, commonly known in abbreviation as ENT. Although they went on separate voyages from Malaysia to this foreign land, along their stay in Ipswich they would stay close when it comes to their intellectual endeavours inside the four walls of the hospital named after the town itself: Ipswich Hospital, where stories of birth, growth, decline and death were confined into. The long hallways of the hospital were lined with glass windows and dozens of artwork by an artist by the name of David Poole, and each morning they would make their way past these hallways to the east side of the hospital, where their morning feast awaits. Devouring the typical menu consisting of fried eggs, hash browns and bread as fast as possible, they would then rush towards the opposite side of the hospital and ascend to the second floor where the square one of morning rounds is.

As opposed to the hospital they were used to back in their homeland, there was no dedicated ward for ENT patients in Ipswich Hospital. The patients were scattered in different wards around the hospital, compelling them to travel from one ward to another, making out their typically British names: Stowupland, Somersham, Framlingham, Brantham and Martlesham to name a few. Wards to wards, patients were found one by one by this flock of gleeful doctors and upon reaching their beds, their elated moods would be tuned down to suit the patients’ temperament. Curtains were drawn around the bed, temporarily delineating them from the rest of room, allowing transactions of confidential information about their illness to take place, followed by questions, answers and advice, which would all be simmered down into two opposing conclusions: ‘you can go home now’ or ‘you need to stay a bit longer’. Customarily, compliments would be given to the doctors for the former, and complaints for the latter. Along their way to see another patient, the doctors would also discuss deliberately among themselves in quiet chatter about further plans for the latter case. One by one, the patients were seen, greetings were exchanged, compliments and complaints were gathered, and patients were sent home, until they eventually arrive at the clinics, marking the end of the morning rounds and the beginning of consultation hours.

Arrival upon the clinics on the South side would usually be greeted by pleasant and courteous nurses, most memorable was the one by the name of Celia, who has a way of saying ‘good morning’ in a cheerful manner to which the students would have a difficult time not to reply with a fairly equal amount of cheer. Their path would temporarily separate here as they reach for different doors numbered one to four, finding themselves in a small room with a large window which the nurses would slide downwards to let the refreshing summer air in, a big table for the deliberate work of the doctor, a small sink for the killing of germs, and numerous other doctor’s tools of trade. Laid in a perfect triangle were 3 chairs of different shape and size. The smallest and most ordinary of them all was for the students to sit and listen, the larger one that swivels around was for the doctor to sit and talk, and the largest one with hand rests, which when tilted fully forms into a bench, was for the sick one to be treated. For hours, the doctors would attend to the patients while the students listen attentively to doctor-patient conversation.

The gap of time in between patients was the only time for the students to ask questions to the doctors and vice versa. With names such as Hilger, Yung, Baska, Satish, Raj, Ogunniyi, Qureshi and Anjayi, it is not difficult to swerve away from medical themes and ask the doctors where they were actually from, followed by the question of ‘where the doctors of actual English descent have gone to?’, but the students feel that it is not a fitting question to ask, for the fear of being accused of chauvinism. Sometimes, the patients can be quite amusing but laughers were held as long as the patients were still in. Once out the door, they would burst out in laughter at the punched nose, ear plugs left in the ear, or the small toy left in the child’s nose. Sometimes the doctors can be quite amusing too. Once a doctor point out to one of the student that her dress was too long, when in fact she was wearing the traditional Malay dress ‘baju kurung’ which was meant to be that long. This happened for hours, until noon where lunch calls for a break, and in the evening they would either go on with the clinics or they would scrub into inky blue surgery attire and enter the operating theatre where miracles happen by the minutes.

Such were their daily endeavours in Ipswich that it became a routine for them to gain knowledge this way, every day. Without them realizing, it was nearly the end of their venture in the foreign land. On their last day, they spent time taking photos, hoping to capture the good memories together with these lot of joyful people. But nothing compares to the memories that will replayed again and again later in their minds . One of the students who had this sheer love of cafés experience went to a perfect one he found by the pier. He admired the glow of the evening sun and the sight of boats docking in and sailing out of Ipswich. Sipping coffee, listening to the likes of Jack Johnson, Kings of Convenience and Damien Rice, he lets his mind meditate. Suddenly each and every moment, even small things, feels much more meaningful. Soon he will be home, shouldering more responsibilities and living more expectations. But none of those worries bothered him. He was in a state of total detachment. For a moment, he was in a total peace of mind. Like a painter, come whatever, he thought, he will take time to close his eyes and paint this feeling of tranquillity and continue to live the life he was bound to live. 

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