Friday, August 16, 2013

Down in the water

I swam. 2 weeks later than I thought. At 6 weeks after surgery, it's finally the right time. I could have done it earlier but it was either laziness that gripped me and held me to bed or the damned weather that prevented me from going every time I decided it was good to go.

I figured out long ago that swimming was good for my soul. But today, I had another thing click. It's the weightlessness that I feel when I glide through the water. I am still not at full strength but I do feel fit. I wasn't tired but my wound is still healing and I don't want to aggravate it unnecessarily by overexerting. Nevertheless, I pushed for 1k and still managed it well under an hour. If I had to walk that distance, I'd be hurting. Although it's too soon to tell I don't think I'm going to feel a lot of pain from today's 1k.

The other day I met an overweight boy of 13. He's the child of a family friend. I've seen him over the years and each year he has grown. His brother before him was rotund as well but lost all his weight in his late teens and is looking fit now. Everyone who is around him, save his family, is quick to make various comments about his size or weight. And each time, I can see that cringe inside him. He smiles politely and utters nothing each time but I can tell it hurts him. And each time, he's wishing that whoever is talking would just shut up or go away.

I've asked my family and friends who are around him to refrain from making comments about his appearance, but some have just got defensive and insisted that they were just saying he is "big". Isn't that bad enough? Said enough times, and often enough, it would kill any self esteem he has left.

This is the sort of experience you will suffer if you are overweight in Malaysia. People often don't say the things they are supposed to say, but say the things that they aren't supposed to. I've suffered it enough to realise that the first thing people are going to say to you is, "Wow, you've put on weight" or something to the effect. Or worse, "you're so big, not like your [insert relative or parent]". And yet when there are real and important concerns about someone's well-being, most are keen to say, "I don't want to ask or make any comments. It's none of my business." If you are Malaysian, or indeed Singaporean, you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

So I got to thinking about being weightless while I was swimming. It's got to do with being carefree and burdenless I think. It's being naive and vulnerable, even careless. It's returning to a childlike state perhaps? It's different from me being able to think through stuff while swimming.

                                                                     *   *   *   *   *

A day later after I wrote the above, I'm feeling great. Having swum 500m today using both upper and lower body strength I'm feeling a little confident if not cocky. I'm going to make the best of whatever time I have left of the summer. School has started back home in the States for Zoe but she's still here. I've got lots of stuff to do before I leave here... I'm dreading leaving but I also look forward to being back in the swing of things in my other home. Sigh!!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Some places I've seen

Bournemouth  ~  Steyrling  ~  Perth  ~  Trinity Hall  ~  Dungannon  ~  Hangzhou  ~  Nottingham  ~  Bangkok  ~  Dam Square  ~  Enniskillen  ~  Glasgow  ~  Camden  ~  Bangor  ~  Port Authority ~  Tiananmen  ~  Besut  ~  Clark Quay  ~  Linz  ~  Southfork Ranch  ~  Quayside  ~  MOMA  ~  San Juan  ~  Whitley Bay  ~  Seattle  ~ Sydney  ~  Graz  ~  Millennium Park  ~  Manila  ~  Shanghai  ~  Christchurch  ~  Hatyai  ~  Osaka  ~  Hong Kong  ~  Pasir Mas  ~  Rotterdam  ~  Belfast  ~  Niagara Falls  ~  Baggot Inn  ~  Piccadilly Circus  ~  Nikko  ~  Salzburg  ~  Melbourne  ~  Cincinnati  ~  Petronas Towers  ~  Leeds  ~  Perhentian  ~  Coleraine  ~  Vienna  ~  Edinburgh  ~ Sunderland  ~  Wembley Arena  ~  Schipol  ~  Tokyo  ~  Durham  ~  Tate Gallery  ~  Memphis  ~  Santa Monica  ~  Mall of America  ~  Gateway Arch  ~

Friday, August 2, 2013

Just another rant: this one is about Control Freaks!

Within the narrowest of definitions, I think everyone qualifies as a control freak. Who wouldn't want to be in control at least of themselves? It's the undesired parts of "control freakery" that are so annoying. Really!!

Having being accused of being a control freak, I will own up to many things that I do and expect of others. Yes, I want to know what I will be doing and when I will be doing it. Yes, I want you to damn-well RSVP so I can plan the party and know how many guests are going to be running around my house. Yes, as a mother, I want my daughter to do exactly as she is told because there is a method to the method and it isn't madness! (And if she finds a better way of doing something, I will willingly integrate it into daily usage). Yes, I want things to be done the right way. When there are established methods of doing things that are logical and that lead to success, I do my best to follow those methods I have followed before. I don't see anything wrong with that. Do you? If those are the things that make me a control freak, then OK, call me one.

What I don't get is the passive-aggressive type of control freakery. For instance, some people will ask questions or say things to lead you to "draw a conclusion" and make you do what they want . You know what I mean don't you? Instead of telling you something like "We ran out of coffee, can you please get some when you're at the shop?" They will say, "Hey the coffee bin is empty you know." and then expect you to get some from the shop.

Or it is the passive-aggressive silent treatment disapproval that these control freaks give you when you inevitably do something that is not pleasing to them. And until you fall in line and do what you're expected to do, you won't be getting any favorable attention..

Then there is the possessiveness of some who try to dictate your every move: what you do, what you wear, where you are going, who you are meeting, what time will you be home, where are you now, and of course the mother of all of that: What are you doing and with whom?

And don't get me started on people who don't understand what an opinion means. An opinion is simply that. It is not gospel. If I ask your opinion, I'm interested in what you think. Sometimes it could be someone asking for advice but that advice may not be followed. Don't get offended if I don't follow your opinion to the letter. At best, an opinion is a suggestion. I personally am quite clear about this. If someone asks me for my opinion/advice, and they don't take it into account, it's okay with me. They may not agree with me and I'm totally all right with that.

The inability to deal with ambiguity or unplanned situations is a serious problem. I find myself stuck in between wanting to be prepared, and wanting to just be spontaneous. Frequently, the latter has won. I find myself wanting to plan more, but I have an undeniable affinity with spontaneity. I like surprises (but not nasty ones!), and I like to surprise people. I like the unknown and I'm intrigued by it. It's exciting to be in a completely new place or situation and go with the flow. I don't quite understand the people who cannot deal with that at all. Surely it must be a "release" from the humdrum of a schedule?

I will admit that there are certain things I expect from certain people in my life. I constantly have to assess and manage those expectations. I find that the less I expect of others, the happier I am. My goal is to seek happiness, and not be bitter or frustrated by others. But is expecting less necessarily better? I'm not sure.

Post Surgery notes

The surgery went well. I caught a huge break. Despite the twelve-centimetre monster mass in me that adhered to some of my organs, I came away untainted by cancer. The OVPLEX cancer marker test results gave my physician the confidence to open transversely (conservatively) because the risk of my having cancer was extremely low. I imagine it was a complex task to get the intruder out and not perforate my surrounding organs. The incision was in excess of six inches. A little more than four weeks later, there is no visible scarring on the outside. At each end of the incision, under my skin, there are noticeable protrusions, no doubt from the internal scarring post op.

I am posting a little shout-out to all the nurses at Gleneagles Ampang on the third floor who were so kind to me and my family during my five-day stay post op. The level of care was top notch. I have mad respect for these ladies who are expected to do so much and yet seldom get the recognition they deserve. A band of doctors also roll through to check on patients for various reasons. They were an incredibly competent bunch.

The past few weeks have been spent taking it easy (missing a planned holiday to the pulau), being generally bored but managing to find entertainment off and on (including watching all three seasons of Game of Thrones) and reflecting on my year thus far. I have had few visitors because I have insisted on my privacy. Ironically, I'm publishing the details for the world to see on here. Hmmm, something is wrong with this picture...hah!!

More later..

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sand and Sea before surgery

I squeezed in a bit of sand and sea time today before leaving for KL tomorrow, before the big surgery

Today was the first time we went to the beach since being back in Malaysia. It felt good to feel the sand under my bare feet. It feels like home for me now.  I've flown over the South China Sea so many times but until today I wasn't in it.
I took a wrong turn and went to the popular beach close by instead but when I realised my mistake, I quickly made my way to our usual secluded beach that was not far away. In this semi-private and not so well known beach, there are no vendors, no hoipolloi. Sometimes there's a few local kids hanging out here and fishermen, but it is usually a small number.

We got there really late, well into the evening, close to dusk. The sea was calm, and there was no rain in sight. It had been raining every day for a while with scattered thunderstorms, but this beach was clear of all of that.

The South China sea felt warm and inviting. I knew I didn't have much time to savour it fully. I was satisfied with just being in it, walking around, barefoot.  

Zoe took great delight in digging for crabs after initially complaining about them running rampant on the beach, squealing at the slightest sight of crab holes.

If you want to stay and play, quit whining and get over it! I said.

And with that...she was let loose!

I love that the first thing she did was write L-O-V-E in the sand. It was cute! 

I had told my parents at the last minute, that I intended to take a short ride to the beach and even though they usually don't enjoy it, they must have sensed that it was important to me to go today. I have no chance of going to my usual Perhentian getaway, so this little outing will have to do me for the rest of the year.

They too came along with little fuss. We took so many pictures today especially after I discovered my camera was capable of some special effects!

Zoe knew her time was running out when the light faded. It was hard for me to leave too.

Because of my surgery, she and I both won't be able to go to Perhentian this year.

If it is for your safety, Mummy, it's okay. We can go next year.

In the moment those words were uttered, I felt such pride. And such sorrow as well. I knew it was a great disappointment for her too, that she couldn't go snorkelling. 

We will swim with the fishies next year baby. 

Soon, darling. We will go to the island we love.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pet Peeves

Perhaps I have been living away too long. I can't get used to some of the things in my own country. 
  • Uneven steps in the floor everywhere. Hard to explain, but they are everywhere in Malaysia. You just have to look before you step. These can really trip you when you don't expect a less than one inch difference in floor surface.
  • WET public restrooms: From floor to seat. Lack of toilet paper, and the stench of pee. The existence of the "bidet hose" in every restroom just helps make this mess.
  • On the loo theme: shoeprints on the toilet seats
  • People who can't say what they mean, eg, asking questions to allow you to draw your own conclusions then getting frustrated that you didn't draw the same conclusion they were driving at.
  • The "see first" or "see how" attitude that so many people have. How about making a commitment to do something at a certain time or a certain way and sticking to it?
  • Doctors' appointments for each patient that start at the same time and it is "first come first served". Or you're told to come within a certain window, say 9am-12pm and the same "first come first served" rule applies.
  • Drivers who don't drive within the designated lanes. This has also forced me to drive the same way. Some of this is inevitable, I understand, because of motorbikes and trishaws, but even when there's no one else on the road?! 
  • Cashiers always asking if you have small change. For example, if it is $6.20, and you hand them a tenner, they inevitably ask you if you have 20 cents. If I had it or wanted to get rid of the one I had, I would have given it to you!
  • People who's breath I can almost feel when I am at an ATM. Personal space please !! And on that note...see the following two:
  • Blatant queue jumpers or people who are so impatient they push you.
  • Body Odor!!
  • Referring to females as HE and males as SHE. This happens so often it's not even funny!
  • Ridiculous shorthand on texts. OK I'm guilty of a few but some are ridiculous:. "X Wan" - means "Don't Want" 
  • Saying "Don't Worry" when they actually want you to shut up and quit talking. I've caught myself doing it a time or two as well, much to my dismay! 
And the list goes on.. maybe in another post! 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I don't know where to start

I have a date for my surgery. It's finalized.  And it's a mere few days away.

Suddenly it feels like reality hit me. Originally I was just going for consultations, appointments, scans, blood draws, and nothing was certain. Nothing was because every cancer marker was normal. The last cancer marker has not come back, but a surgery date is scheduled. This, is for real. I now have a tangible date.

I would love to go into surgery without a care in the world, but I'm left wondering what my mum is going to do, the worry-wart that she is. Who is going to sit with her while she waits for me outside the operating theatre? What is she going to do for dinner that day? Who is caring for Zoe while I'm away? Are they going to be able to handle her because she can be precocious? Who is going to watch my stuff while I'm in the OT? I can't leave it lying around or trust anybody else with it. I also worry about having to be admitted for more than 24 hours before the procedure. I'm going to talk to the surgeon about it. I'm going to be bored senseless. If the op is in the afternoon, let me come really early in the morning, for Pete's sake!!

If I had my way - nobody will be with me overnight either. But plans have been hatching around me to stick someone with me overnight to "take care of me" because "it is the way it is done here in this country". Somebody has to be with me so they can do what? Hold my hand when I have to pee? (I think I will have a catheter for that) I should be a veteran by now but I still hate being in a hospital. I have stayed as long as one month before. Granted, my husband stayed over almost every night and brought me outside food. I am determined to do this stint as unassisted as possible. I hate to be fussed over. As long as I have my phone and iPad, I think I'm fine. I can keep myself occupied and concentrate on recuperating.

That said, it would be nice to have my mum to sit around with me for a while. I just don't want her to stress over me and I know she will. It will be uncomfortable for her to sit around the whole day, to say the least. And, she will be bored as well. 

I know they all mean well, but I just want some peace of mind knowing that Zoe will be looked after and that I won't be hearing complaints about her later. Find a way to resolve problems without my assistance or knowledge. I just want to see her smiling at me later. For that matter, I want to see everyone smiling at me later. 

Whether this is cancer or not.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

So I jumped the gun but here's the news.

Unknowingly, I jumped the gun. It turns out I am not having surgery. Not yet, anyway.

I saw my surgeon today. He is a gynae oncologist specialising in more complicated surgeries. He is highly regarded in his field and I was referred to him by my mum's classmate who is also a leading gynaecologist in Malaysia. Dr Aziz Yahya is a kind and gentle man who has no airs about him at all. He's warm and approachable, and a straight shooter without being crass like some doctors can be.

My meeting with him didn't change the solution or necessarily the approach towards my surgery. Even though Dr Aziz is skilled in performing surgery robotically (which is his preferred method), it cannot be used on me. My pelvic cyst has a semi-liquid portion and what looks like a solid mass to it. It must be removed intact. They still need to open me up to ascertain if there is cancer.

However, there is a particular cancer test specific to ovarian cancer called OVPLEX that is 95% accurate in determining if I am at high or low risk for cancer.  More information can be seen here:

This multimarker bloodtest for ovarian cancer costs RM900.00 (USD 300) just because Malaysia doesn't have a lab to test for it. I believe it has to do with some licensing issues. Testing has to be done in Singapore so my blood has to be couriered to Singapore for analysis. Furthermore, they need 10 days to get the results back.  As a result, I have earned myself a reprieve. I cannot be in surgery till after the results are back because it determines how Dr Aziz will open me up.

If it is found that I have high risk for cancer, a vertical incision will be made and lots of parts of me will be gone. Lymph nodes, omentum, ovaries, the lot. If I am at low risk, then he will open me transversely, then upon removal of the cyst, he will determine if it is suspicious for cancer. If it looks like I have it, then a frozen section of the cyst will be ordered while I am still on the table and sedated. They need 30 mins to figure it out. If cancer is found, I will still lose the lot and a bigger incision is necessary to remove it all.

There was a lot more to our meeting which lasted almost an hour. I felt really comfortable with Dr Aziz and he explained things precisely and clearly to me. It is the standard to have people stay in the hospital for 4 days following surgery. I was already negotiating to get out earlier if possible, and it was met with a slightly raised eyebrow with a little smile attached. We don't want people to stay in the hospital if it isn't necessary. Or something to that effect. Let's hope I'm out early. But I don't think surgery will happen any time earlier than July 4th, honestly.

My thoughts immediately go to Pulau Perhentian. The doctor said swimming is good. Even snorkelling is good. But then I thought about my mother. She would have a cow if I even mention that I want to steal a day to go to my beloved island. It is a risk. Dr Aziz approved it, with a reminder, as long as you don't do anything too robust! I actually immediately shot it down as I was saying it, but I also really do want to go. I really really want to...even for just a day and a night.

My appointment with the doctor ended on a good note. I left feeling that I was in good hands. I am ready. But as soon as I got in the car with my brother who had taken half a day to be with me, I got on the phone to Shelly and told her the news about the surgery and when it would be. Can you read my mind now? Do you know what I'm going to ask you next?  She laughed her hearty laugh and I was filled with anticipation. She's going to say let's do it!  I'll see what I can do, I'll let you know by Sunday. I have to check my schedule.

So I'm left I get to go? I have 10 days or so to do what I want before I'll be left at a diminished capacity and probably mostly in bed for the following weeks. I will even miss Wimbledon because I will probably be in hospital during that time. Hmmm... And yes, I am selfish. I want to be able to do this.

Friday, June 21, 2013

I5 mins to write

I shall allow myself  not more than 15 mins to leave these thoughts before I head out to see the surgeon tomorrow in KL because it is late and I have to be up to catch a flight in -oh -5 hours!

I leave with a light and heavy heart -

I feel like I have a pretty good attitude towards this whole thing. I have an upcoming surgery that is certain. What is discovered is uncertain. But what happens happens. I can't change that. Nobody can. I don't believe in God, so nobody can save me. I'm a realist. I am not worried or depressed. I just want to bloody fix things!! Everything else is not in my hands. I can only be happy and have a good attitude and that's the best I can do. I hope that whatever it is in my pelvis is fixable. And if I do have cancer, it is treatable.

Look at James Gandolfini today. He didn't anticipate his end was nigh. Nobody could have. Life is like that. I accept it. It could be this our that that takes you away from everything and everybody.

I am lucky because I have parents, husband, daughter and an amazing brother who love me and unconditionally at that. My family has lent their support, my friends - new and old - have stood by me, and wished me luck. Most of you who know me don't give me "false hope" and say everything will be fine. And those of you who have said that - I know you mean you hope the best for me. And I appreciate it all the same. Love and hugs to all! Massive love and hugs.

To those of you who have heard me speak endlessly about the ups and downs...I hope you don't mind! I talked to you a lot because you listen well. I might have bored you but you were there for me. And I thank you! Those who have heard me briefly, just know that I didn't want to rehash things over and over for everyone. If you read me here, you'll know what I mean.

The heavy heart of course is if things go wrong - my dear Zoe: Mummy's favorite girl. Forever! I hope you always keep a good attitude and remain strong no matter what. Life goes on. There's many things that I haven't had a chance to teach you but I know you are in good hands with Daddy and everyone in Malaysia. Love love love!! Big love!! Remember to treat your family and friends well, and with respect, at all times.

I'm not a fatalist, don't think that at all. But I don't want to leave important things unsaid. Going forward, I'm not sure if I have the heart to add to this, but I more than likely will. I am always looking up and always smiling..

Gigi xoxo

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I'm supposed to slow down

...but I simply can't.

After an agonizing day of pain in my pelvic region from what I can only think is the twisting of my pelvic cyst or torsion (which may not be), and 800mg of ibuprofen later, I finally feel pain-free in the evening.

I quickly take the opportunity to swim. I figure, let's try 200m and see what happens. I haven't swum in almost a full week, I think. I haven't worked out for the same amount of time, and I have been eating and enjoying food over the last week despite the various ups and downs of my health news. So I'm due a good session. And I need to clear my head of the rubbish that's been going in! Let's see if my lower abs bother me.

200m and I am fine, so let's go for 400m. I'm still fine. Let's shoot for 600m. Hmm, I think I'd better stop after I hit the mark, but no, I'm barely breathing hard. Okay. 750m. I'm not only going strong, I'm not really stopping for a break. I am the fittest I have ever been in a long long time, yet I have all these worries about cancer and a small matter of a naughty (biggish) cyst. It doesn't make sense that I think I am fit does it? But I don't feel tired, when many times I get sluggish.

At the 900m mark, I finally feel a bit winded. I'm having to breathe more often. I figure I did a combo of 40% breast and 60% free. And not a slow relaxing breast stroke at that. So at 900m, it makes sense to round it up to an even 1km. I do exactly that and I feel like I'm on top of the world. I did it in 25 mins, which is much more than super fit people need, but for me it is pretty darn good. Exit. Shower.

Feeling fantastic. I hope I don't pay for it later. Thank you painkillers. I hope I get to do this again tomorrow but in the sun. And maybe I won't need as much ibuprofen.

This swim was not really for vanity, but for my sanity.

Several notable things today!

*  My father has severe gas pains and we are extremely worried because he's suffering. We have to give him a suppository which is an unpleasant thing in itself. Finally after some hours, there is some relief and we can all breathe easy.

*  In the meantime, my pain has been one of the worst since returning home. Even with 600mg of ibuprofen, it is barely under control. I lie down in between checking on my dad.

*  The ENT specialist calls me twice but can't get a hold of me. This is the first time during the day when I do not have my phone as my arm extension. I'm having lunch with my mum who is still worried about my dad who is recuperating.

*  My friend also tries to call me four times (while I am without the phone) to tell me the ENT is trying to get a hold of me, but he leaves me a Whatsapp text instead to tell me I'm CLEAR. My nose biopsy is negative!! Hurrah for that, and phew, what a relief!!! And just like that the pain in my pelvic region subsides a little. Maybe the ibuprofen is beginning to work. (I am swimming soon!)

*  I have to take Zoe to the dentist who self-proclaimed, "I'm not good with kids" to have two cavities filled and she screams at the mention of it. Later she declares she wants to use laughing gas but she doesn't want to as well. But I don't want to be controlled by gas! I laugh my ass off because that is the funniest line I've heard in a while; and my nose is clear, so I can afford to laugh!!

*  I had chided a close friend in America who repeatedly assured me that everything was going to be all right. I just simply don't want to be promised things that no one can promise. Is that asking too much? So she writes a long message lamenting her life with an uncaring and almost certainly bipolar and untreated husband. She said my situation with my health is bad, but her only way out is if she were gone from this earth. And that at least my husband does not treat me like hers treats her.  Here is my response to her:

Hey, you need to do what makes you happy and not pin your happiness on your family or your husband. I know how you feel right now but you have to really just try to be the happiest you can be. By yourself. For yourself. Be happy every day. Think happy things that make you happy and that make you smile. And just smile all the time. And you see you will feel better. 

I am not losing hope my friend. I am a fighter and always will be. I just don't like to hear things that no one can promise. That's all. I am still hopeful that I don't have cancer. But if I do, I will face it and fight it bravely.

So please my friend, don't think unhappily even if your life is. Look up, be up, and be smiling even through pain. You will see that it helps.  

Love you, Sending you lots of hugs. Even in my weakest moment, I shall not be weak. And I am here for you! PS. Don't be upset any more, and please don't drink so much.

Resisting the urge to...

1. Disregard my pain and go swim so I can just clear my mind and think
2. Calling the Doctor to ask where my biopsy results are
3. Talk to people I want to talk to in case I bore them with my health scares
4. Get on the treadmill and/or lift some weights in case my bloody cyst gives way and I become an emergency case!
5. Walk at my usual pace
6. Overstress about the future
7. Overthink things
8. Not eat again. I should eat..
9. try to take care of everything that is mine myself and let people help me.
10. Tell people off who say "Don't Worry, everything will be fine".

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Malindo Air

Malindo Air is one of the newest airlines to compete in Malaysian airspace. Their slogan: "Not Just Low Cost". The aircraft from Subang Airport to Kota Bharu was exactly the same as the usual Firefly aircraft, not sure what model that is though. Two seats on each side. And even though Malindo boasts more leg room, I highly doubt it. I can't be sure, but it did feel a little tighter for leg room. The seats however, were comfortable, but not exceptionally large or special. The seatbelts seem to be a lot longer than other airlines though.
It's tricky to look for your seat number. You have to look right up
to the brightly lit light above the overhead compartment
Usually, the journey starts with the airplane reversing and taxiing to a certain point and then you will gradually speed up and take off. With Malindo, this part of the journey was extremely short. We reversed, made a slight turn to the left and then suddenly we were speeding down the runway and before you know it, we're in the air.
Am I in the Enterprise?

The pocket in front of you is up top
so don't  bother to look downwards
where they usually are
The lighting in the aircraft upon take off (and landing too) was nice. Dimmed cabin, with blue lights and even dimmer fasten seatbelt signs. I really felt like I was in the spaceship Enterprise! At any minute I would expect to see Jean Luc Piccard and share a hot cup of Earl Grey with him. Hmm, wouldn't that be something? Anyway that fantasy didn't last long.

Plain Water!
Immediately after take off, service began. Beverage choices were tea, coffee or "plain water". The snack was a golf-ball-sized cup cake. I had a little chuckle to myself when the girl in the aisle across from me spilled her water. The water comes in a clear plastic bottle with a foil top and a straw. I push the straw in, no problem. When I went to pick it up, it spilled all over my tray and my iPad. Naturally I wasn't amused. I found out too late that the plastic bottle is not sturdy so the water spewed like lava from a volcano.

Another thing is - beware of the pocket that is located high on the seat in front of you. Open your tray table before putting anything at all in it. I had put my iPad in it without checking and later saw to my horror that there was a used napkin at the bottom when I opened my tray table.

View of pocket with tray table open.

We landed as easily and without much notice as we took off. The pilot clearly is into speed! No need to really have a gradual landing, mate. Just take us down and speed down the runway as if it is endless. It all turned out well. It was definitely speedy. We got to the Malindo parking spot and alighted extremely quickly. For RM109, I'd take it again but I'd watch out for several things, like I said!

The flight attendants barely looked at the passengers getting off and didn't bother to say goodbye, but hey, who cares? I guess no one, as long as they keep their costs low.

I'm just glad to be home again, in one piece!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nose Cancer? Getting a biopsy.

continued from previous post

Following the news of nose cancer, and the stunned reaction of all of us - me, my brother who was there, and family and friends..I decided to just go have lunch. Let's go and eat sashimi. It will put me in a better mood! Perhaps..

I called a good friend who has some connections with some medical specialists and told him that my GP was going to scope my nose and do a biopsy to check for cancer. A red flag was raised immediately.  Is he a specialist? No. What if I can get an ENT specialist to see you today? Would you go? Hell, yeah, if I can get in today because I have a ticket to fly home to Kelantan tomorrow. (I don't want to stay here and be away from Zoe). Let me see what I can do.

Not 15 minutes later, a call back confirmed an appointment for me at 3pm. I trekked down to the Subang Parade area with my brother who is driving in KL traffic while on a conference call with me holding a laptop for his reference. Insane...

I am greeted by smiling faces at Dr Puravi's clinic that is on the first floor of a row of shophouses, next to an Eye Clinic. They were clad in purple blazers, all of them. Many of them!! A girl with what look like burns on her face asked me,

What's your name, why are you here?

Gigi, I have nose cancer. Here's the report.

How long have you known?

The scan is from this morning, I say calmly with a wry smile.

A look of sympathy flashed across her face.
From the way you are talking, it sounds like you've known for a while. But it's just this morning? You mean today?

Yes. The scan was done this morning. I am OK. I have taken it all in already. I am ready.

Registration continued and I find out the only guy behind the counter is from Kelantan. A connection is made immediately as we started speaking our local dialect, a form of Malay very unique to our area and it commands a lot of respect when Chinese people don't sound like Chinese people trying to speak Malay. The girl with the scars who had warmed to me instantly is even more in awe now. You don't speak like a Chinese.  I laughed, acknowledging the compliment.

The Indian doctor showed up shortly after I arrived. He is bespectacled, tall and slender and slightly balding. He has kind eyes.

I was second in line. The patient before me is an older woman who has had two bouts of nose cancer and is back for a check up. She had arrived about an hour ago and was just tired of waiting. Complaining loudly because she waited so long, she went in to see him. My brother is still on his conference call.

Eventually it was my turn to see the doc. He sat me down. He'd already been briefed by my good friend about my condition and diagnosis from earlier in the day. He stepped me back through some history and I have a better grip on telling my story since I have had to tell it several times already. This time I'm doing things chronologically. I walk him through. He explains that in his experience a lot of times these things that show up red in the PET/CT scan are not cancer but something else, but he will look at me.

After explaining different parts of the nose and pharynx to me, he ushered me to a chair where he can examine my nose with what looks to me like a 6 inch probe  with a camera on the end. He said Look at the screen and showed me everything inside my nose.

I don't think you have cancer. In my experience, this looks to me like an ulcer. You have narrow nasal passageways, enlarged adenoids and tonsils....blah blah blah...

But please take a biopsy anyway, just for my peace of mind.

Are you sure? I really don't think it is.

I am sure. I need to know. And really for my peace of mind. The radiologist said that he was nearly 100% sure I have nose cancer.


Several of his assistants busied themselves and loomed over me. He sprayed some Afrin into my nose to numb me for the procedure. I had to wait for a few minutes before it was done. One nostril was probed with the 6 inch thing from earlier and the other was probed with slim looking pliers. Snip! He pulled something out and decided it wasn't enough. I wasn't relaxed enough and he couldn't get a good sample size for biopsy. Another stronger numbing agent was introduced.

This is going to taste really bitter.

I can take it. Let's go.

The spray was incredibly bitter and as he sprayed it in my nostrils, I tasted it in my mouth and it trickled out and also down my throat. Yep, it was bitter.

Wait 10 mins, and then spray more Afrin. And then, let's have another go at it. Dr Puravi instructed his assistants.

I started to bleed from my nose and cough up some blood clots. And apparently it was totally normal.

Before long, I was up for another try. As the probes reentered my nose, I started to cry involuntarily. The tear ducts are so close to my nasal area that this was bound to happen. And the thing bloody hurt. It was super uncomfortable to have to breathe through my nose (which is already small!) with a probe in one nostril and a pair of pliers, albeit a slender pair, in the other. Still I breathed through my nose, took a deep breath through my mouth and SNIP!  Remember my high pain threshold? Still intact, but still bloody awful and painful.

A big chunk was taken out for biopsy. I've got a huge sample size, the doc declared. I am given a handful of tissues and blood started coming. I tasted blood in my mouth as well. Totally normal.

I get out of the chair with a smile and thank him. All his assistants have kind faces and they are all constantly smiling reassuringly. I sat down opposite the doc and he gave me a bit more advice on what to do going forward. After all was said and done, I told him I was really happy to have seen him on such short notice, and that he had amazing staff who were so incredibly kind and always smiling. He looked a bit perplexed, like no one had ever bothered to say something like that to him. He just nodded his head and smiled, not sure how to respond I guess.

I was truly impressed by his demeanour and calmness, his willingness to not gloss over everything and his patience to explain to me exactly what was the matter with me and how to treat what I had, assuming it wasn't nose cancer. He really changed my day around from the 100% nose cancer declaration I had got in the morning. I felt like I had some real hope when I left his clinic. But I will wait to celebrate when I know the results of the biopsy.

I wanted to tell him but I feared that my being so honest would embarrass him or make him think I was just trying to flatter him unnecessarily.

Those of you who read me here and know me will know that I am not into flattery, in whichever direction. I don't like to be flattered (when it is clearly untrue) or lie and flatter others. But I wasn't sure how he would take my sincere and heartfelt comments. So I left it at just complimenting his staff.

I now hang on to the next few days while I wait for the biopsy results with some hope that I really don't have cancer. I hope I really just have bad inflammation of my nasal pharynx area.

PET/CT Scan - what was my experience today?

My family doctor wants to be thorough about things so I was told to go to this place in Bangsar on Jalan Maarof - called Austral-Euro Diagnosis to get a PET/CT Scan to see if there is cancer. Even though cancer markers were taken, only 2 were obtained, not the usual 4. So this scan is supposed to see everything?  Really??

I get there 8am in the morning, I'm early. There's already 3 or 4 patients in front of me. They register me, get an IV catheter going and get a brief medical history while they are at it. I am then ushered into a tiny room with a comfortable chair and a place where I can put my clothes. I am given 1.5 litres of water to drink. In the meantime they push some clear radioactive dye I suppose in me through the IV. I'm to undress and just wear my underwear and a robe. All my accessories are off - earrings, rings, and phone!!  I'm left alone in that tiny closed room with a ventilator to contemplate what the scan's going to show and to drink my water. Not my idea of fun. And that took a long time. The mind wanders you know?

After that, I'm told to pee several times to get as much liquid out of me as possible so my bladder is not full of water and they have to scan me again. They shuffle the patients from comfy chair to comfy chair in a waiting area outside the scanner room to indicate your turn. The closest chair to the scanner room is up next. Musical chairs. Fun? No. A better way of doing things should happen here.

Everybody sitting out in the waiting area is really almost naked under the robes, and the robes are pretty short. I don't really fancy looking at these fellas who are out there with me. And thankfully everyone has the decency to just close their eyes and think about what's ahead.

I am quite claustrophobic so that was my biggest concern. Turns out the machine is not really that bad. It is open on both sides and they shuffle you back and forth so you are never quite covered all the way, nor do you feel like you're entering a closed tunnel. The attendant tried to strap me in and I told her, Look, I am claustrophobic so please don't do that! So she makes sure that I will hold myself  on that little tray they slide in and out of the covered area, and not fall off. Arms over my head and off I go. There's a little sticker that reads Laser Beam, do not look directly into it.  Or something to that effect. I just close my eyes and try not to fall off. The whole scan takes barely 15-20 mins. I almost fell asleep!

After I came out of the scanner room, I promptly got dressed and waited outside to hear my results. The procedure was as simple as that.

As to whether my results were good - No. I didn't hear what I wanted to hear - which is that everything was clear. I was told that I have something that looks like cancer in my pelvic area but that it was not clear - 50-50 chance, the doctor said. And that he was almost 100% sure I had nose cancer, and that it needed to be treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy immediately. But it is very treatable, he added.


My brother was waiting outside. Prior to the scan, I'd told him - Don't freak out, no matter what the results are. Or I will as well. He did well composing himself. He didn't freak out. I didn't freak out. I was stunned. And then I started making calls and sending texts. I told people I had it. Because who says nearly 100% sure if they don't know? And a PET/CT scan is supposed to be the be-all and end-all that shows you every goddamn thing. I told people - I'm not afraid. Whatever it is, I will deal with it. Let's fix it. In my head, logistics of how things were going to happen just weighed me down. I should go back to America. I shouldn't. What?! I need to get it done soon...blah blah...all in my head - I was hashing this out.
I thought about Zoe. Even in moments of weakness like these, I shan't be weak. But I couldn't help feeling that I was fighting Goliath. I kept thinking about Zoe. I made my husband promise me that he will always keep the connection with my family if I weren't here. I was thinking all the things that were worse case scenario. It would be foolish for me not to. Yeah it is good to be positive, like I always strive to be. But I still have to think for Zoe, if for nobody else. What happens to her without me in the picture?

I felt so lucky that I had my brother with me. It wasn't a planned thing for him to be with me. He had work to do today. But he chose to come and it was a great comfort to me. Truly. And I'm not just writing for him to see either because I know he reads me here. It was just having someone there to help maybe take it in alongside me. And to drive me away from this place! ASAP!

No matter what, don't anybody give me false hope. Some have said, everything will be OK. do you even know that? You can't say that. So don't say that. I like it upfront and honest. Don't promise me something that can't be given. I'm a realist and I don't live in la la land!  I almost have to laugh despite the dire news. Just so people realise how ridiculous they sound.

To be continued.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shells on the beach

Beautiful soul, welcome to my life
I am so glad you have arrived
Like walking on broken shells on the beach
We sauntered unknowingly into each other's colourful lives
Our lives filled with unspoken pasts, present lies and future secrets.

She has been to hell and climbed out of it,
Fighting for every moment of sanity
Clawing at sand hoping for a grip
Always hoping but inevitably she would slip
Back into the abyss
Darkness around her

In her despair she found love
She buried every sadness and each painful memory
Wishing that the happiness she found could blanket her world
Immersing herself in family, work and other pursuits
She thought she escaped her past
But did it last?

For many years she would fight the pain
Every night and day it would remain
No sleep for many days
Dark rings under her eyes
Staying in a daze each waking hour
Hoping the despair would disappear
Or even dissipate

I don't know how we found each other
An undeniable affinity existed from the beginning
We walked different paths to where we are now
And the paths never really crossed before
Our connection came through the understanding of loss and pain
And our need to be free of the things that hold us back
We are new and fresh
Yet it somehow seems like we have known each other forever.

I hope that one day she will be free of suffering
I don't know how that will happen or when it will
I know she also hopes for me to be happy
And free from the physical ills that have shackled me
A few days of bliss with her and
I know I love this one very much.


Eventually it will be clear skies again my friend
Beautiful soul, stay and play!
Let's chase cars together.

Monday, June 10, 2013

High Pain Threshold

If there's one thing I have in common with my favorite champion, Rafael Nadal, is that we both have high pain thresholds. He talks about enjoying suffering so that he can achieve all that he has in tennis.

And by the way, what a fantastic Roland Garros for him in 2013. A crazy first week where he left us on the brink every match, and the semi-final against Djokovic that was such a nail-biter. And, in the Final he was able to close out David Ferrer 3, 2 and 3.. I'm so happy. He made my day yesterday when he won his 8th French Open. Funny how that covers up all your worries even if just for a day.

Okay, maybe I don't enjoy suffering as much as Rafa does, but there is something to be said for a little pain to make you feel alive. I don't necessarily enjoy suffering but I can take it. I can take quite a bit of it before I start really complaining. Contractions at childbirth took the cake when I tried to go without an epidural.

Pain to the point of curling up into the fetal position is not my idea of fun. However, that seems to be the running theme this week. I'm still not exactly sure what is causing my pain, but I know I have a pelvic cyst that begs to be removed, as soon as possible.

Consulting over the phone with some specialists, I know this:
1. I have to get it surgically removed, no matter what.
2. I can't wait or suppress it with painkillers or other medication
3. if I do nothing, it may a) rupture and therefore become an emergency to get it removed or b) become choked of blood supply and cause necrosis which in turn also becomes an emergency
4. I have to get a biopsy of the other ovary
5. I could have adhesions to other parts that may need to be released
6. I could have internal haemorrhaging of the cyst already
7. I could have ovarian torsion - twisting of the cyst which causes the pain - which is what I personally believe I'm suffering from now.

I first heard of the term high pain threshold from my mum. She described herself as having this, and always would chide us for not being able to put up with a little bit of suffering or pain. As I grew older, I found that I was more and more like her. I would be able to put up with a lot of pain. I'm not sure what her perception of me is now but I sure feel like I inherited this from her.

Don't get me wrong, I don't like to be in pain. As a doctor told me tonight, "We want you to have a better quality of life."  No shit. I want that too. Who'd rather live in pain than not? I can't think of a single person. Okay, maybe my mum would rather sit and wait around than consult a doctor..but is it worth it? I wonder that myself. I'm left contemplating whether I can push this off till I return to my other realm, where I don't have to pay for surgery (not as much as here anyway) and enjoy the remainder of my summer - the summer that I planned to actually be free of illnesses and just enjoy my life before returning to work in the fall. I didn't intend to be recuperating and healing the whole damn summer.

But it seems I can't be waiting around. I need to get this done. The general consensus is "Oh Gosh, Gigi, get it done." So I'm hoping that in the next few days, I will get a reasonable surgeon to operate on me and fix me. Once and for all. I don't want to be healing from cuts in my abdomen again, for a long time. Or better yet, ever!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Swim again?

So I defy doctor's orders and go swim. I'm supposed to "forget about exercising and dieting" for now. hahaha...what doctor ever says that?? I've never heard that from anyone, let alone a doctor!

I'm still in a wee bit of pain despite the painkillers I took a couple of hours ago, but I'm in desperate need of some thinking time. I had been pushing through the pain and the fatigue for the last few weeks, doubling up on treadmill and swimming so I am not using my thyroid problem as a poor excuse for lying around. Come to find out, maybe it's not my thyroid that is making me tired. Well, who knows? A combination of everything? Who cares, until tomorrow? That's when I know something for sure.

I wonder if my arms will be sore tomorrow. I do have pretty good upper body strength to carry me through my laps with little use of lower body strength. Using my legs causes more pain. I think I'd rather stay away from that. Lying curled up, fetal position on my bed for hours on end is not really that fun. Been there, done that. On top of that I can't even fall asleep and the mind wanders. Worse for wear.

I did OK. I felt refreshed after the swim. I swam alongside Zoe's lithe body, admiring her slenderness, her free spirit, her ignorance to the stuff I was going through. I wondered how long it would take me to heal from the impending surgery and when I would swim again because that's the one thing I absolutely love to do. Swimming. It is good for my psyche. And it is good for my body. Especially when I can swim under the sun. It does wonders for me. I wondered how Zoe would do under the care of my parents. Less lip, more respect, please, little one!

Tomorrow. I'll know more tomorrow. For today, let's just be happy. And hope there's no more pain tonight.

Just when I thought...

I got my appetite back full swing..I lost it just as easily as it came.

I was free of illnesses and ready to be live my life unencumbered, I get hit by another thing.

I could plan a trip to Perhentian and definitely be able to make it, I'm hit by the realisation that I won't be making it this year. How am I going to tell my tour operator that I'm cancelling on him again, yet another year, yet another health related reason??

life is short, it seems to be even shorter than short! Life flashes right by. Before you know it you're wondering what are the most important things to you and what you have left to do.


So I walk into the doctor's office with an idea in my head. This doctor is known for prescribing "nothing". Just go home, wait it out. Do nothing. Don't take pills, don't do ANYTHING. Just wait. "I don't have enough info when you say you have pain, let's wait and see what happens"

Anyway - I walk in and the first thing I say is, "I need a scan. Right now. I have pain. Every day."
Surprisingly, there were no questions asked, I was ushered straight into the ultrasound room.  I sit patiently in this tiny dark room, waiting for him to show. I see this stain on the mattress, and strangely I don't give a crap. He shows up shortly afterwards and with not much fuss, just gets right down to it after I explain my pain. Pelvic area. On and off pain.

Not even a minute into it, he confirms that I have an ovarian cyst. A pelvic cyst. But then he scans other places. Kidneys, lungs and heart. What followed happened so quickly but this is what I recall:

You have to have it out. 

What if I don't?

Don't ask me that. You have to have it out. And get a CA125 blood test. 

Wait a minute, you suspect cancer?

I'm not a salesman, I don't try to tell you nice things. My job is to think worst case scenario. 

That's all right. I can take it. Just tell me straight. You suspect cancer? Can you see it?

Get to the lab and get the blood test. Oh you know what, I'll take your blood and I'll see that I get the results by tomorrow. Then I want you to get down to KL and get a full scan.



That's day after tomorrow. So I have to have surgery?

Yes. As soon as possible.


Friday, June 7, 2013

I was just thinking..

There have been several distinct stages in my life, and within those stages maybe different realms.

The first stage was my childhood through teenage years. The second was when I was learning to be my own person when I left home to study overseas. The third was when I inadvertently got married while I was still growing up. A fourth was when I realised I had grown up and was married. A fifth perhaps when I was gaining experience working, and hoping to start a family. A sixth started when I was pregnant and then gave birth to Zoe and taking care of her full time for many years. And now, when she's herself growing up and when I am taking back some of my freedom that I had lost taking care of her full time.

I'm still not exactly sure if the stages are well defined, but they seem like they are quite distinct for me.

Taking back some of my freedom may sound really exaggerated. Actually I merely mean that sometimes, I am able to step out of being mum to Zoe to being just myself.

Acting as mum to Zoe can be really tiring sometimes. It's trying to find the right balance of being caring and militant. It's trying to manage expectations and hopes. It's trying to do the right thing all the time just because you want to be a good example.

I have to let my hair down every now and then. I'm sure there are mums who don't. I'm sure there are mums who are always mums and they lose their own identity unless it is associated with their children. I actively don't want to be that sort of mum. I realise and love the fact that I will always be Zoe's mum and will love her eternally and unfailingly unconditionally. Yet, I also have a strong need to be recognised as an individual independent of connections to others, be it spouse, family, child or friend. And perhaps it is because of that need that I am the way I am. You can call it selfish or even arrogant. You can hate it or like it. I call it being the only way I know how to be. And that is to be me.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Nasi Dagang, that Kelantanese MUST

Any self-respecting Kelantanese loves Nasi Dagang.  This literally means "Trade or Trading Rice". It's a semi-glutinous rice that has tinges of red in its grains. The famous dish just known as Nasi Dagang consists of this particular kind of rice that is cooked in fenugreek and coconut milk, then coupled with some form of chicken or fish curry, with cucumbers and hard-boiled egg on the side to finish it.  It is simplicity at its best. In my home state of Kelantan, we typically have it for breakfast, and sometimes for dinner.

Friday is the day when the best nasi dagang known to my family is sold. It is sold in a place called Tumpat, a town probably 20-30km from where I live. The seller only sells it on this day, the weekend in these areas, Friday being the holy day for Muslims. In our state, Fridays are in effect like Sundays almost everywhere else.

Normally the drive is about 20-30 mins but today it took considerably longer because there was a huge mother of a jam for a quarter of the distance. School is out and many people are on holiday back here and unbeknownst to us until we got home, a huge international kite festival was happening at a well-known beach just outside Tumpat. Traffic was horrendous. And here we were lamenting the state of it almost all the way there. Once we got to the stall, the food was present, but the owner was not. She had a couple of people move her stuff over there for her, but she was nowhere to be seen or heard.

The food is here, but there's no one to sell it to us
Her helpers looked at the customers who came and went. They were tired of hanging out there with us. I think she must have lost at least 30 customers who either walked by or drove by, cast looks and left, having decided that it wasn't worth the wait. We on the other hand, were the first to arrive, so we were first in line, and we had promised some guests from out-of-town that we were bringing them this awesome nasi dagang from Tumpat! We had no choice but to wait for the elusive seller to show.

Little Malay girls dressed in their tudungs
and normal clothes. When I was a child, I hardly
ever saw this. Most young Malay girls wouldn't have
cared to cover their hair back then.
 I saw these cute little girls who had come to buy some flavored drinks from a stall close to this one. Unfortunately that girl dropped that whole drink on the ground right after I took her picture. Minutes later, they came back for a replacement. And our nasi dagang seller was still M.I.A.

I was getting really tired of waiting, and so was my mum. She's sat on a stool given to her by one of the helpers. Red ants were crawling around her feet. This was not the place to be putting up a stall. Even a make shift one. Come on!!

After waiting for about 45 mins, she finally pulls in in her beaten up Proton Saga. She saunters over lazily without apology nor guilt. It's so close to prayer time, of course I'm going to pray first, she muttered, after my mum jokingly mentioned she was kind of late today.

It really is nice to have people waiting in line for your amazing nasi dagang, isn't it And of course she knows it. She can afford to make people wait. She doesn't care if she pisses anyone off. If you like, you join the queue and wait, if you don't..piss off.

That big large bowl of nasi dagang will all be
 gone by sundown.
So Mum goes and places the order for 9 packets of nasi campur (nasi dagang and plain rice together, because nasi dagang alone is really filling, and hard to digest) with both chicken and fish curry. The packet isn't that big but this costs RM5.50 each. It's what you pay now for this. Of course it used to cost less way back when. But at under 2USD, I won't be complaining. It is the bomb! Cik Izan (Ms Izan) or in Kelantan-speak we call her Ize..(i-zeh), you really know how to make this tasty. I almost... almost, want to kowtow to you. But I won't!

I had no appetite for this food when I got home. We delivered it to our guests and my mum stayed with them to have dinner. I went back home and got on the treadmill to see if I could find my lost appetite. It didn't let itself be found by dinner time, but eventually I got hungry and I ate my packet of nasi campur. And I wasn't disappointed. Even if my appetite was largely suppressed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Georgia On My Mind

Talking about Georgia, Georgia...the whole day through, just an old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind...

I opened with this song for my new friends. It set the tone. I had been feeling sick all day and for a moment, I felt good. I'm so ready to be feeling good for a good long time, not just pockets of bliss here and there. We sang through the night until we closed the place down. It's mid-week and no one is here anyway. So we have the whole place to ourselves.

My new friends don't know me and I don't know them. It is a clean slate. No past, just the present. A wonderful beginning. These people are all singers. They have done this so many times, they know the lyrics, they know the music and they can sing. I feel like I'm in good company. There's a pool table too and I haven't played in forever.

The young Thai girl keeps coming over to pour beer in unfinished glasses and wrap her paws around the guys. I am not sure what she's working for. I don't think she gets tips. No matter. Since you are here, take this to the guy and let him set us all up for our next song selections. But then she comes back again, tipping ice into beer glasses and pouring more and more. You can't keep track of how many you've had. I put my hand firmly over my glass. No more!

Shelly is responsible for introducing me to this bunch of people. I am simply Gigi. No last name. No need really. I've known Shel for a long time but we weren't really friends. In 2 days we have become fast friends, connecting perhaps in many unspoken ways. These are her friends I am with. One of them in particular is an amazing singer. His repertoire stretched from Chinese songs of 20 years ago to Tom Jones, Michael Buble and Enrique Iglesias. And his voice makes anyone melt. I'll stop the world and melt with you. I'm reminded of that Modern English song. It was like a form of synaesthesia for me to feel his voice, and not just hear it. Sublime..

And now I see what the Thai girl is getting. Free beer. She has a little glass on our table as well. Funny I didn't notice that before. Why would one work for that? Wouldn't money be better?

The night ended more than 4 hours ago and I'm still wide awake. Something is keeping me awake and I can't put my finger on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Make me feel good today

Nausea permeates me today
I can't shake it
I just have to lie here 
and hope it goes away

I need to get up 
and go do something
eat, walk, swim
but all I feel like doing is lying down

I haul myself out of bed
But I don't do anything well
I'm going to go out with my friends
and hope I don't throw up

Perhaps forcing myself to feel normal
will make the feeling fade
12 hours of this and I'm tired of it
Give me a few hours of the day to be free.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Beautiful and Dirty Business of recruiting part I

I have left the industry for many years now. Going on 9 years. And I bet the recruiting business hasn't changed much at all. I often wonder if I would ever go back. I fancy I was quite good at it when I was a recruiter. I wasn't by any means a cut-throat numbers cruncher, so maybe I wasn't that good, from the company's perspective. After all everything is about the numbers. You don't make the cut, you're gone. While I was in it, I did reasonably well.

My first "in" was a cattle call, off one of those short ads for making money you should never believe. It was straight off the heels of a mass interview from another of those kind of ads where I was ripped to shreds because I asked too many questions. It was a scam for selling perfume to people off the streets, in parking lots and back alleys. It was all incredibly shady and I was glad to walk out of that one and shame the recruiters and warn the potential "job seekers" of the fanciful accounting they were trying to sell to them.

Anyway, like I first "in" to recruiting did come from a similarly worded ad. A reputable company with a proven track record was looking to hire fresh-faced, untarnished people to sell...people! And I had not learned anything from the perfume lesson, and went to try for this one as well. I was still new to America then. That's my excuse!

Turns out it wasn't so bad after all. My first boss was intimidating. She was this petite middle aged woman with neatly cropped short hair. She was attractive and somehow very enticing in her ways. We were first put through a battery of tests and the last one was a Myers Briggs test to make sure we were the right personality for her team. We were three of us, new to her team, and she picked me to watch over daily, situating me directly in front of her while we worked. She scrutinized my every move, every call, every word. I was so fed up of having to look at her day in and day out but I really appreciate her and thank her for maybe not trusting me to do well.

Our goals were, if I remember correctly - an average of 60 calls a day, totalling 2 hours of phone time. Every day. We read and "improvised" from a script and took notes while talking to candidates. All calls were logged and recorded, times were tallied and reports were printed. It was all in the numbers and you couldn't cheat the system. I learned fast. Initially she would stop me after each call and point out what I did wrong or didn't do. She would question why we took lunches or breaks. It was a hellish training that I loved so much that I would go home and continue to make calls. Then on weekends I would go to the office and make more calls. I think that this whole training way back when is the reason I can't talk to people on the phone for long any more, preferring face-to-face interactions any day.

With my boss's help, I was able to make some lucrative "permanent" placements and make quite a bit of commission on top of our meagre salary. Like any sales position, typically the salary is really disgustingly low, and you're supposed to be motivated to make all of your income via commission. For instance, this particular company charged a 30% commission off the new hire's starting salary. So if you place a person who makes 100k, the company would make 30k for the placement. That commission is then split top down, and the lowly recruiter still gets a nice chunk of change. Not a bad deal at all. It was a different breakdown with people who were placed as "consultants" but then the recruiter would get an ongoing daily commission based on the hours the consultant billed. Build up a nice base of consultants working for you and you'd still do all right.

to be continued

Sunday, May 26, 2013


The kenduri was nothing like what we expected at all.

The nephew of a prominent politician was getting married and we were invited to attend the kenduri at his house. I was keen to attend because it'd been a long time since I'd been to a proper Malay wedding and even longer since I've been to an elaborate kenduri or Malay feast.

Imagine our surprise when we got there to be greeted by 2 small marquees with several plastic tables and chairs set up for guests, a buffet that consisted of 5 dishes and some rice and 2 choices for drinks. It was hardly the grand set up that I had envisioned.

We were the only Chinese to be seen and upon seeing us everyone assumed we had come from Kuala Lumpur probably because the groom works for a Chinese-owned law firm in KL. My brother was the groom's colleague.

"Did you come from KL?"
"Buke, dari KB ni..." No, I'm from KB, I answered in Malay, to prove my local accent.
Still, the reply came in English. "'re from here" almost like it was a disappointment we weren't from out of town.

Had I got on a plane and come all the way from KL to attend this kenduri, I would have been more than a little let down.  I wondered how the royal family who were there before us and had left already thought about the whole set up. Surely they were disappointed as well?

We grabbed a plate and ate hurriedly. It was sweltering. Sweat dripped from my forehead. Zoe was dressed to the nines and suffering in the heat. She didn't want to play with any of the children who were there, and she didn't enjoy the food at all. I can't blame her. It was all a bit weird. They came by with wedding favors but didn't give each of us one.

I suggested to my brother that we get a picture with the bride and groom before we leave. We were invited into their room where a professional photographer took our pictures and then it was all over. We got in our car and left. What a disappointing first kenduri for little Zoe. I think she won't be keen to go to another.

Night mode

I've always been a night owl. I love night time. Or the semblance of night. When I lived in the UK, it would get dark really early in the winter time. Sometimes it would be 330pm and it would be dark. I loved that. I don't get that so much in the US Midwest. Night always comes slightly later than that even in the dead of winter.

Regardless of the season, long or short, it is still night time, no? When Zoe and the husband are asleep, it is most peaceful. I get a lot of things done during this time. I plan my lessons for the private classes I give at home, I study, talk to my friends from the other side of the world, catch up on news and do whatever I want. Nobody else needs my attention in the still of the night. It's bliss. Mostly.

Lately my nights have been difficult to get through. Ironically, it is for the same reasons they were so good before. Circumstances have changed. Outlooks have changed and a friend's unexpected early death also threw a wrench in it. I needed some libation to get through the night, a little self distraction to comfort my aching soul. I am not sure why I even resorted to it because it's not something I do. But for the past few weeks I have been slovenly. I have cared little about food or much else. My usually well stocked fridge was now full of old food that had not been eaten. I made sure Zoe was fed properly and with proper fresh food, but I didn't care about what I ate, when I ate or if I ate. Sometimes I survived on a banana or two throughout the day and ate a meal at dinner that I hardly tasted nor enjoyed. Sometimes I was lucky and had company over who would make me sit down and eat something with them. And I'd have to eat something really sweet or salty to overwhelm my failing taste buds so I could stomach any food.

It's funny how a lack of appreciation of food can lead to much more. My nights were horrid. Being alone at night while the husband worked out of town during the week was getting tougher. All things being normal, it would not have been difficult. He would be asleep if he were home anyway. It would not be any lonelier or harder. The difference was this: I could make my descent into night mode and he would not be around to wake up to find me gone and he wouldn't be able to pull me out of it. So, I allowed myself to drown in my sorrows, choosing to obfuscate the sadness nightly with my gin and tonics, wine or beer.

I was barely holding it together but I knew I had to keep it together. I didn't want to look down at the abyss that was beneath me. Just keep looking up and moving forward. The thing about being a strong person is sometimes nobody stops to ask you how you are because they think you have it all under control. Even strong people are vulnerable at times, no? Anyway, I think I'm nearly out of this sinkhole now. Perhaps.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flowers for my grandparents

It was drizzling this morning when we set out to pay respects to my grandparents who have passed. I never knew my father's parents because they died before I was born.  My mother's parents on the other hand, I was very close to.  I lived with my grandparents when I was younger and remained close to them until they passed. I have so many good memories of them.

My maternal grandparents lie here.
We stopped to set flowers at my maternal grandparents' tomb or memorial in a smaller temple in what you can call the countryside.  There are numerous Buddhist temples peppered throughout this area that is Wakaf Baru or Tumpat. Our state of Kelantan is the closest to Thailand and many Buddhist temples in our region are strongly influenced by Thai Buddhists.  Some temples are incredibly elaborate, but some are minimalistic.

Traditionally offerings of food are presented to the ancestors. Joss sticks are also used to "pray to" (pay respects to) them, and then stuck in that little joss stick urn to burn to ash.  One would even burn fake money so that the dead can use that money to buy whatever they want wherever they are.

The Buddha sits on top of the house
of ashes
I agreed with mother that there was really no need for all that fanfare. I feel it in my heart. Let's not make a fuss. I'm going there to see them. But really I don't even need to go see them to feel them and remember them. Nevertheless, some traditions should be kept. Chinese people feel so strongly about who is going to "take care of their grave" when they are gone.  I personally don't need that but I can understand and appreciate the importance of having the tradition. It is especially important for children to recognise, respect and remember why this is done. And for Zoe, it is good to know some Chinese traditions, even if we as a family are not really exactly traditional or conservative.

Our next stop was a bigger temple a little further along the same road. This one has a huge brown sitting Buddha sitting atop its house of ashes.  Below the Buddha are dead people. This is the final resting place for my paternal grandparents who were for many years buried in a well known cemetery south of Kota Bharu.  

A few years ago, my father's family thought it was prudent to exhume his parents and cremate them so we could move them to this temple. This was primarily done to simplify Qingming or Cheng Beng for the family. Read about Cheng Beng here. 

Cheng Beng was so involved at my paternal grandparents' tomb that you'd need an army of relatives just to clean up the site. It used to be fun when we were kids but with all of us dispersed throughout the world, hardly anybody is left to do this arduous task of yearly maintenance.

My  mother making her way back to the
house of ashes after getting the key
We had some trouble getting to the site because the doors were locked. My mum had to go to the administration, today represented by an elderly fortune teller, to request a key to unlock the main gates so we could enter the house of ashes.  Normally we wouldn't have been able to get in but mum was recognised by the fortune teller: "Ahh, you are Leo's daughter, you have your father's eyes. Let me get you the keys, just make sure you lock up and bring them back."  
A stroke of luck. Guanxi works so well in this part of the world. 

Locating my paternal grandparents'
memorial was easy. Dead flowers still
hung from the last visit.
There's hardly any cleaning needed here. Maybe a little dusting off of the plaques, the removal of the dead flowers that were from a visit about a month ago during the actual Cheng Beng festival. We replaced the flowers with fresh ones and hung them by that little ring by the plaques. My fifth uncle also lies here next to his parents, himself exhumed as well from a different graveyard and then cremated so he would finally rest here.  My uncle was 15 when he took on the almighty Kelantan River and failed. Sadly, he drowned.

It was still drizzling when we left. I didn't do a whole lot of reflecting today but I did think to myself that it was good to be doing this today with my family. On Buddha's birthday, Wesak Day.    

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Random Ramblings

Life is too short to hold grudges. 
If I held them I would be completely miserable because life has dealt me one too many blows in the years past. I can't say I don't get miserable and complain a bit when I'm given bad news about people, about lost love and friendships and worse of all about my own health.  I'm not immune to that. My attitude is good but not that good that I can immediately brush it off and move on.  However, I have learned that whining is definitely NOT me. Moaning and whining just don't become me.  I loathe the beginnings of a whine in Zoe.  If it is allowed to blossom into actual words, it would drive me absolutely crazy.

Every time I go see the doctor I go with an open mind.  And if I read on her face that bad news is coming, I breathe deeply. I've had a 13-year relationship with my primary care physician and she knows to give it to me straight. Don't sugar coat it, don't try to make me feel better. What do you think it is?  If it is what you think it is, what do we do going forward?  Simple.  Don't overcomplicate.  Have a problem? Take it on. Don't deny it. Deal with it.  That's the best way forward.

I was on bed rest for 7.5 months when I was pregnant with Zoe. The threat of pre-term labor was there from the get-go. By far, I wasn't the worst case high-risk pregnancy, but with all that I had going on, it was enough to make you sick every day without mental fortitude. That was an incredibly intense emotional rollercoaster for me.  Every time we would be at the obstetrician's, we were not sure if Zoe would live or not. And with a hyper vigilant doctor at the helm, if her heart rate so much as dipped once, I was admitted to the hospital just like that.

I had a basement that was being refurbished and we had issues with the contractor that I couldn't do anything about. I was entirely reliant on my overburdened husband to provide me with food and water and take me to the doctor 3 times a week.  People have 2 ultrasounds per pregnancy, we had 3 multiple-photo ultrasounds every week.  I have a whole album of Zoe before she was even born!  My job was to make sure I rest, move little and stay calm.  Harder to do than you think for an A type personality.

Finally, a month-long stay at the hospital really tried to do me in! But guess what, I'm still here, I survived, Zoe survived, we are still living and shit...! Patience.  Also one of my all time favorite songs by Guns N Roses.

Hungry for Adventure
Staying home with Zoe for going on 9 years has been bliss.  Even though there have been obvious ups and downs, I've loved every second of it.

Many stay-at-home mothers lose themselves at one time or another. Saying that you haven't felt that would just be lying.  You lose yourself in the things that you do for the family as a whole, your children.  It doesn't matter that I only have one, it's the same.  I try to manage my expectations because I do only have one child. I don't want her to be burdened by the weight of her parents' desires and expectations. I don't desire to live vicariously through her. Obviously I would like her to do things that I am interested in but I realise she is her own person.  When she has a fire to accomplish something, I will be fanning that flame. A mother gets so involved in the well being of her offspring that she sometimes forgets and neglects herself.

I am self-aware of these feelings but I also feel like I have sacrificed a lot of myself for her. I can't wait to embark on my own personal adventure, free of my family.  It is not some kind of mid-life crisis, yet a dream that was not fulfilled earlier on in my life that I wish to see through at some point.

Not exactly a typical mother
I look around at parents at Zoe's school and I don't feel like I fit in.  I identify on a personal level with very few of them. Maybe it's because I'm not from around there. Maybe they are just cliquey. I'm not one to make small talk about stuff that means nothing to me. I want to talk about meaningful issues, important things. I don't want to talk about what crazy toys or games that are hot, or how my kid is getting along with her teacher, or least of all fake an interest in other people's children.  Maybe that's why I don't fit in. The exchange usually sucks for us too because we have only one child and other people usually at least two.

I don't care about the toys and stuff because we jive to a different tune. We have toys too but maybe not the expensive ones.  We do play games but we are now concentrating on one - chess.  If my kid doesn't get along with her teacher, tough.  Suck it up and adapt. She's not getting any sympathy from me. If you don't learn to adapt to different personalities early in life, you're just going to be coddled and spoiled. Not my Zoe.   She needs skills to survive, not someone to spoil her in this fashion. She might be my only child, but I refuse to parent her like she is the bees knees. I am glad that even at 8 despite her occasional misadventures and tantrums, she is a good and caring friend to others.

Also, I don't have a problem with some of the words that Zoe's schools bans like: stupid, pee, ass, and butt among others. Of course it depends on the context in which they are used. But generally speaking stupid is acceptable in our house: Don't be stupid, Don't do stupid things, Don't act stupidly and Don't make stupid mistakes!  These are common in our household.  I have a thing against stupid. Don't be it and you're fine.

And while I care about some of other people's kids, I don't care about all of them. I'm just being honest. I take full interest in the kids that I have mentored and taught during the course of the last couple of years. Some have become almost like my kids. I have a vested interest in their performance at school or at chess tournaments. They are my charges, and I love having them around.  I love the energy that young people have. It's so uplifting and pure.

I may not have made my case that I am an atypical mother but I truly believe I am.  Maybe time will tell.