Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yokohama Nights

When I travel, I never don't usually buy souvenirs for myself. My souvenirs are free, they are in the form of memories. Each of us has their beautiful moments in life, the memories of their lifetime that no matter how difficult life seems, they can just close their eyes and return back to those moments in time. Times where everything was so delightful, where we feel so alive, where we were so free, where we had no fear, and we had no idea that the moment will last forever in our minds. I travel to pick up these moments, they are my souvenirs. 

One of the souvenirs I picked up was from Yokohama, Japan. I have always loved city lights, but here, they took city lights to a whole new level with their giant Ferris wheel that lights up the city with colors. The moment was surreal, I could have just take pictures and let it past but I knew it would not be enough. So I looked for a perfect café where I can view this city from above. I found it. I sat there all night right until the café almost closes. I put Coldplay's 'Lovers in Japan' on repeat in my iPod, and the moment that has now become a souvenir that plays in my memory every time I listen to that song :)

Moments that last forever

My Japan Experience Part I: Niigata University

Sunset in Niigata
It all started during one of our Special Study Module (SSM) meetings. Our supervisor, Associate Prof Shamsul Azhar has been doing his pHD research in Niigata University, Japan for almost 4 years. In that meeting, where our research almost came out to a conclusion, he said that he would like to treat all of us sushi once we're done. I knew he frequently goes to Niigata back and forth several times a year, and it was a casual remark when I said to him 'well, you should take us to Japan instead and treat us the sushi there!'. I was joking of course, but then he said 'Yeah why not? I will be going to Niigata again next June'. Since that time was still SSM week and class hasn't started yet, he thought it would be a good time. Ever since then, the idea of going to Japan keeps lingering in my mind. I have always wanted to go to Japan. It is the land of my childhood dreams!

Perhaps my other group members didn't gave it much thought, but I went back home and looked for the flight ticket price to Japan. I was elated to discover that it was quite cheap! I quickly SMSed all my group members about the ticket price. However, after a few days many of them had constraints and none of them could go. I was with my friend, Hannan in Mumbai and through our experience there, we realize that we make great traveling partners. I finally had him convinced to join this trip to Japan, and at last, we went to the Japan Embassy at Jalan Stonor, Kuala Lumpur to apply for a Visa to Japan. Prof Shamsul was very happy that finally there will be undergraduate student visit to Niigata. Although my intention of going there is just for sightseeing, he suggested that we make it a formal visit, because before this, Niigata University has been sending postgraduate students to UKM for formal visits, and now would be a good time for us to return favor. 

He contacted the doctors at Niigata University, and they were glad as well that after more than 5 years of MOU between UKM and Niigata, the undergraduate students are finally getting involved. They were happy that in return, they would like to send the undergraduate students from Niigata to UKM in October. That was great news. The Japanese students will receive us in Niigata, and as a return we will receive them in UKM in October. Finally, we decide to make this an exhange student program, and this would be the first time ever for both the medical faculty of UKM and Niigata University. We went to Japan on separate flight from Prof Shamsul. We took Airasia and he took Malaysian Airlines. We landed in Haneda Airport and he landed in Narita Airport. Our flight arrived late at night so we had to stay the night at the airport, at the waiting area:
Sleeping like a spoon at Haneda Airport
We meet up with Prof Shamsul at the Tokyo Ueno station. Then, we head up straight to Niigata by the well known Japanese bullet train, or Shinkansen. There was a particularly memorable scene while we were waiting for the bullet train to be ready. From outside, we saw the workers cleaning and adjusting back the seats hastily. Being Japanese, they were very fast and efficient indeed. After all of them were done, suddenly we saw them lining up in front of the train. There must be around 15-20 of them lining up, facing the passengers. Suddenly, all at the same time, they start to bow together to the passengers and then dismiss, going to each of the train doors to greet the passengers in! How adorable, we don’t see cleaners do that often in other countries, do we?
While waiting for the bullet train. Notice the time of arrival on the board to the right: 12.08, 12.24. In other countries it would have just been 12.10 and 12.25.
Our first day in Niigata was received first by the Malaysian students studying there. The majority of them were engineering students. They had a car, so they first took us sightseeing around Niigata. It was evening and they thought that it would be nice to see the sun set from a high point to they took us to Nikko Hotel, where there is a cafe at the top level. We could view the whole of Niigata from there, and the view was absolutely amazing! So we sat there for about an hour, just waiting for the sunset and taking pictures
That night they took us to a sushi restaurant. We are a big fan of sushi back in Malaysia, and we were elated enough to know that we finally get to taste the original sushi from Japan. We heard from those who went to Japan before that the sushi is Malaysia tastes different from the original ones in Japan. I could not agree more. It definitely tasted different we loved it! I ate 7 to 8 plates of sushi that night, and was very satisfied. We also had the chance to talk to the Malaysian students studying there, discover how their life were living there in Japan, and what were they planning after finishing their study. Some would like to work in Japan,  but most of them can’t wait to come back to Malaysia after 4 years here in Japan. Well, I guess no matter how wonderful the place you are in, you will eventually miss the place where you're from.
I was so much into appreciating the taste of original sushi I just had to close my eyes
The next day was the first day of our exchange program. On our arrival to the medical faculty, we were greeted by Associate Professor Yugo Shobugawa, who would help us in just about anything during our stay in Niigata. Since this visit is under the Public Health Department, we started off the official event with slide presentations from the Public Health pHD students in Niigata University. We listened to their presentations and I was surprised that some of the researches done by the pHD students are similar to the one that my SSM team was doing, using the Graphic Informational System (GIS). At first, I did not intend to present our SSM research to them, but since I realize that our research was similar to theirs, it gave me confidence to go on ahead. I downloaded the slides from the internet, and presented our SSM research titled 'Tuberculosis Clustering and its Associated Factors in Cheras, KL'. They found it very interesting firstly because they never thought undergraduate students could already use the GIS system (the system were never thought in undergraduate curriculum), and secondly because tuberculosis is very rare in Japan, hence they were very keen to know about it.
Presenting our SSM research to Associate Professor Yugo and the pHD students of Niigata University
Although the program was under the Public Health Department, we also get to join the ward rounds for other departments. Hence we joined a Paediatrics ward round. The ward round was headed by Professor Akihiko Saito. Since he did his master in San Diego, United States for a few years, his English was very much fluent as compared to other doctors, making it very easy for us to learn from the ward round since all the students presented in Japanese. Professor Akihiko helped to translate each of the cases for us. Very kind and helpful of him. We realized that the ward rounds were very much similar to the ones back in UKM, with the students reading the cases from carefully written notes, the students being very silent when the Professor asks questions, and some of them even shy away. Oh Asian medical students, perhaps we are the same ;p
After the Paediatrics ward round
Each evening, after the events at the hospital is over, we would walk back to our hotel about 2 kilometers away. It was a leisurely walk since the weather is very nice, and we would always be accompanied by small children coming back from school. These were the little children wearing bags like exactly like the ones we see in Japanese cartoons like Doraemon or Shin Chan. I am surprised that there were no school buses here. Every children either walks to school or used the public transport. It is amazing how independent they are and how safe the social environment is for children as small as them them to walk home alone.
Walking home with the kids. Look at their cute little backpacks!
One of the nights, the Japanese students took us out for dinner at a halal indian cuisine restaurant near our hotel. They are the students that would be coming to UKM in October. The food was great, though of course not as good as the original ones we had back in Mumbai 2 months ago, but the more important thing is that we get to teach each other our own languages. The dinner was mostly filled with language exchanges, where we ask what certain words are in Japanese, and they ask us what certain words are in Malay. It was hilarious when we taught them to count from 1 to 10 in Malay. I had it recorded on a video, which you can view:
We also had the chance to join the pre-clinical students in their tutorials. They used a unique method for discussion, called the KJ method, named after a prominent Japanese initials who created that method. The method makes the discussions much more alive and interesting, where every student has to be active, play their part, and think together to come out to a group conclusion. I think it is the essence of group-thinking, something the Japanese were well known to have, as opposed to the individual-thinking which characterizes the west. Since all their discussions were in Japanese, we could not understand a thing, but the doctors there were kind enough to translate for us, and we contributed what we can to the discussion.
They were asking if I can read Japanese. I don't!
We also had the chance to join their lectures. As expected, the lectures are in Japanese. I even fall asleep during lectures in language that I understand, how do you expect me to stay awake in a lecture that I don’t? Oh well, I even saw some of the students dozing off, so I think it was not much of a big sin to join them sleeping.  I also realized that they have really big blackboards in front, and I could not believe that they still use blackboards and chalks. 
This is the moment before I doze off
As the amazing experiences were happening, we did not realize the time had passed by so fast. We had a heavy heart on our last day in Niigata. We could not believe we would be leaving soon. For us, our time here was too short when there is so much more to experience. However, we do feel that the experience we had, although little was extremely valuable and memorable. Before we went back, Professor Yugo was kind enough to bring us to a park next to the Big Swan Stadium that was once the host for World Cup matches when it was held in Japan in 2002. We had sushi in the park, and it was a very tranquil experience. Just the nice experience for a lasting last impression of Niigata. Niigata seems to be very cozy and quiet place, a perfect place to study medicine. It is one of the best places to study Public Health too, my passion. Perhaps one day I will come again as a student. Until then, sayonara :)
Sushi in the garden with Professor Yugo

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tun Dr Mahathir Used To Be My Imaginary Grandfather

Most Malaysians of my generation would remember Tun Dr Mahathir throughout their childhood as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. But things are a little bit different for me. Thanks to my elder sister, I remember Tun Dr Mahathir throughout my childhood as my grandfather, or Tok Ayah. I could not understand her motive, but whenever Tun Mahathir came up on TV or the newspaper, she would say to me ''Opie, tengok ni, Tok Ayah masuk TV!''. As a child 4 or 5 years of age, of course I would believe in anything she said. So I believe that I have 3 Tok Ayahs. One is Tok Ayah kampung who lives in Batu Pahat, another one is Tok Ayah PJ who lives in Petaling Jaya, and the last one is Tok Ayah the Prime Minister. My delusion that the Prime Minister is actually my grandfather was so strong that one day me and my family went to a 'Disney on Ice' show premiere in Kuala Lumpur. Tun Mahathir was there with Tun Siti Hasmah. At the end of the show we had a chance to shake his hands, and I went to him and said 'Hi Tok Ayah!'. I could not remember the expression on his face at that time but it must have been a surprised one.

The delusion weans off as I grew older, I no longer look up as him as my grandfather, but I still look up at him as my inspiration. I could not believe that after 20 years, I get to speak to him again at an event held by my University. Tun Mahathir is a much older man now. Even early in his speech he seems to fumble with words, forgetting some of the things he wanted to say, but as his speech goes on, he speaks as well as he spoke 20 years ago. I fully took this chance to ask him a question, in an effort have a form of conversation with him. I asked a friend to record the video, and I shall put it here to preserve the memory:

Both ardent fans of him and his political enemies seems to agree that he has done a lot for the country. I was inspired by what he said in his speech, that he does everything for the love of the nation, he could not bare people looking down on his nation, and he feels humiliated that during his time the country were always under the rule of another. His love for the nation is above everything else. I have read a few of his autobiographies, the most prominent of course being his own memoir 'A Doctor in the House'. I was inspired when he said that his training as a medical doctor contributes much to his way of thinking when he solves problems as a Prime Minister. He admits that doctors has a systematic approach to solving problems, and that approach can be used not only to treat patients but to treat political, economic and social problems. At the age of 87, it is amazing that he can still be active writing, giving speeches and attending events. I am sure that when he looks back to his past life, he can be proud that he has changed the lives of many for the better. That is the life I want to live. To serve, to change people's lives, to be remembered, to leave a legend. I know it will be hard, but we have only 2 choices: either to tip-toe through life, avoiding getting bruised and die without a trace, or we can live a life full of ups and downs, filled with challenges...and be remembered long after we are dead and gone.Tun Dr Mahathir lived a legendary life, and I will always remember him as THE Prime Minister, and my imaginary childhood grandfather :)

Me and Tun Dr Mahathir after book signing

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Towards The Land of My Childhood Dreams

I cannot believe today is finally the day I am going to step foot on the land of my childhood dreams. Growing up in a childhood environment filled with Doraemon, Dragon Ball, Ultraman, Masked Rider and the likes, Japan has always been one of the first places I dream to go to. Heck, let's not start with the Japanese video games that has filled my childhood. Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, Tenchu, Shinobi, Shenmue, and everything else Konami, SquareEnix and Capcom (my future kids would wonder what the heck I am talking about). I even cried watching some of the endings of those games. There are no such things as the cartoon or video game characters in real life, I know, but the culture embedded in the stories are real. I just can't wait. It's like a journey to rediscover my childhood. Here we go!

P/S: I would like to thank the late Fujio F. Fujiko for encouraging my generation to have the wildest of imaginations. Now is the time for us to live them. 
Doraemon and friends 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Humble Beginnings

Since Hospitals Beyond Boundaries (HBB) is now an officially recognized NGO under the Societies Act 1966, it is time for some serious groundwork. Currently, we are a team of six: Me, Hannan, Aizuddin, Sarah, Asmah and Izza. We are a mix of people from the medical, accountancy and business field. Ustaz Kausar from Cambodia is here in Malaysia so last night so we met up with him at my house to discuss plans to start things off. We have decided that our first project would be to build a hospital for the Muslim community in Phnom Penh.
Why Phnom Penh?
Initially the plan was to build a hospital in the remote areas of Cambodia, especially the Muslim villages of Kampong Cham and Kampong Chnnang. However, we have discussed that since this is our first project, it should be fairly achievable in a few years. As they say, ‘dream big, but start small’. My father had a friend who was trying to build a hospital in the rural areas of Sri Lanka, but his project was halted for years because of problems with biological waste disposal. Due to its remote location, there are no proper sites to dispose their wastes, and the transportation to the city where the incinerators are located is difficult. In the end they had to build their own incinerator to destroy the wastes, which delays the project further.

By building a hospital near the city of Phnom Penh, problems such as transportation and waste disposal should be readily taken care of because the city already has many hospitals, which means they must have proper system of waste disposal. The long term plan is to make this one in Phnom Penh a start and a learning curve to the management of hospitals in Cambodia. If things go really well and we are ready to extend into the more rural areas, the one here in Phnom Penh would be the centre of operations.

Why a hospital for the Muslim community?
The Muslim community is a minority and in Phnom Penh they mainly reside in the area called KM 7, KM 8 and KM 9. There already many hospitals in Phnom Penh but other than the government, they are run by the French, the Koreans and the Christian missionaries. The demands for a hospital built or managed by a Muslims is very high because of the problems they faced as stated in my previous post (link). Ustaz Kausar also has already established a network of kindergarten, primary and high schools in that area. Hence, at least they have the knowledge of how business works in that area. In terms of management, there are many Muslims around that area that are of the working class. Hence, finding human resources for the management and sustainability of the hospital should be easy.

Today I am going to meet up with 2 other potential members in Shah Alam to join me in this endeavour. We are still working out a website for our organization, so in the meantime, keep updated through my blog! ;)

Discussing some paperwork

Saturday, June 2, 2012

13 Things I've Learned

I would like to share the things I have learned throughout this busy year of mine, having survived a whole year without failing in any of my exam papers while juggling responsibilities of both a national and college level Presidency at the same time:
  1. Most of the solutions to my problems didn't come when I think hard but when I take time to relax or do prayers
  2. Real peace of mind is not about hanging out by the beach, by the river or somewhere completely silent. It is about being in the middle of the hustle bustle of daily life and still feel peaceful inside. How? Work on feeling close to the Almighty. I have a ringing in my head 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How am I supposed to feel peaceful if I keep waiting for silence?
  3. We can adapt to almost anything if we expose ourselves to the challenge or unfamiliar situation long enough. Say...2 to 3 weeks.
  4. Most of the bad things we worry would happen won't actually happen anyway
  5. Time is relative. Wake up early in the morning and the afternoon comes very slowly. Wake up near the afternoon and the day will end so fast!
  6. Doing things early in the morning is thrice as productive in terms of creativity and quality as compared to doing things after noon. Do your most daunting tasks early in the morning and reserve the less challenging ones for past noon.
  7. There is always time. When there is none, you can always stay up all night
  8. Everybody has a different definition of success. Even if you seem like the most successful person in the universe, other people will always reason that they are better than you in one way or another. So celebrate this malleability, stop being so uptight and let loose!
  9. Never let success get too much in your head, but never let failure get too much in your heart too.
  10. Not everybody thinks like you, if you don't understand their ideas, try to understand their way of thinking.
  11. If your are obsessed with the bigger picture, work with someone obsessed with details. If you are obsessed with details, work with someone obsessed with the bigger picture
  12. Preparations and deliberate practice do wonders
  13. Missing a train only hurts if you run after it. If you know you are going to miss the current train, sit back, relax and wait for the next one which offers more seats and comfort. Same thing goes with daily life. Resist chasing things that naturally slips away from you. Learn to let go. Relax, sit back and have a good cup of coffee. I never have a daily schedule. I prefer a 'to-do' list. I work on the list at any time of the day I feel like I want to. By refusing to run to keep on schedule, I developed a sense of control over my time. I stand above the rat race instead of outside it. Well, it is difficult to lose a race you set up yourself, isn't it? 

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