Ten Things I Love About Australia

8 06 2013


1) Security at the airport takes 1 minute (especially for domestic flights and is quick even for international).  No taking off shoes, no cleaning out pockets, no taking off my jacket, and you are allowed to bring food, as many fluids as you want (shampoos and conditioners can be carried on!), and the officers are super nice.

2) Marsupials!  Everywhere!  Apparently locals find them nuisances because they sleep in backyards and front lawns.

From kangaroos…


…to kangaroo rats…=P

Kangaroo Rat

3) There is a nickname for everything (and it’s the same nickname): Brisbane = Brissy, Gladstone = Gladdy, Rockhampton = Rocky, and football = footy.

4) People are relaxed here.  Nobody takes themselves too seriously.  Doctors are addressed by their first names, and the Australians make fun of everyone, especially themselves.  Australians I have met have been incredibly generous and hospitable.

5) Medical specialties do not seem as rigidly defined.  For example, ENT surgeons can remove molluscum contagiosum from toes, fingers, etc; and general surgeons can do C-scopes and remove potentially cancerous skin lesions without fuss or the need to refer to someone else.

6) There are fun, beautiful towns and cities all along the east coast, each of them incredibly unique, so a whole different world is just a roadtrip or a quick plane ride away!  The diversity of each of the places I have been to is breathtaking.

7) Tanned, athletic, beautiful people everywhere in warm weather clothing.  Full stop.

8) “Cold” is 10 degrees in the middle of Winter……..but it does flood up to 10 meters here in certain areas occasionally.

9) People here tell me I have an accent =P.  Actually, I love the accents and the slang here.  People actually sound like they do in tv shows and movies.  I enjoy being called mate.  Green peppers are actually capsicum.

10) Postcard-worthy pictures… everywhere.

Tannum Sands Beach

Tannum Sands Beach

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Great Barrier Reef

Part of the Great Barrier Reef


1770, Queensland

Manly Beach

Manly Beach

In Australia, what I learned the most is the importance of adjusting your schedule to achieve maximum Sun exposure on a daily basis.  I learned to be flexible and prioritize what is truly important, which is to enjoy life as much as possible.  That is the true reason for existence, and I cannot be more grateful for my great Australian lesson.

And finally…Bonus #11) All the beds are on wheels…what is up with that?!


The Confidence to Drive on the Other Side of the Road

28 05 2013

Time has flown by, and I am now at the end of my third year of medicine.  I am currently doing my rural family medicine rotation in a small town in Australia, and I have been loving my time here.

Because it is a small town, the only way to get around is to drive, and, of course, in Australia, they drive on the left side of the road, which is the opposite of what it is like in Canada.

Now if you had asked me whether I could drive on the other side of the road a year ago, I would have told you NO WAY, especially not in a big, crazy busy city like Sydney (which I did just last weekend), because I hadn’t driven at all for three years, much less on the other side of the road.

Now I’m sure there are readers who will be thinking that I am silly for thinking that driving on the other side of the road is a big deal, but you should know that I am so anxious and hesitant, getting myself so lost in the potential consequences of my actions that I can too often become paralyzed and fail to end up taking a step at all.

So then how was I able to be bold and brave (as a couple of my colleagues put it) and drive on the other side of the road in a new country in a busy, chaotic city with massive traffic and poorly designed roads (Sydney) when I haven’t driven in three years?

Well, it’s all thanks to trauma surgery.

The short answer is that when you learn how to deal with patients coming in with gunshot wounds, stabbings, massively broken bones, and injuries from being hit as a pedestrian by a car; you become less stressed about the littler things.

The long answer is that I absolutely loved my trauma surgery rotation, and found it an incredible privilege to be there.

Watching the surgery residents deal with incoming trauma, I noticed how calm they were.  The patient could be unconscious with massive wounds and completely fractured bones, but it was as if the more serious the situation, the calmer the residents were.  Patients would sometimes have massive hemorrhages, be deteriorating quickly, and require immediate intubation/chest tubes/etc; but unless you were experienced, you wouldn’t be able to tell how serious the situation is from watching the staff calmly at work.

Wanting to be effective, efficient, and optimally care for my patients; there were a couple of times when my voice started speeding up and increasing in pitch, my walking pace became more rapid, and my shoulders tensed themselves up reaching towards my ears.  I felt like I needed to quicken my pace to take care of the patient this second, but twice I remember two different residents telling me to chill out.  I remember then recognizing how stressed/anxious/frustrated/impatient I was at the time, and I deliberately took deeper breathes, relaxed my shoulders, and smiled gently.  It was as if I was doing a heavily simplified form of mindfulness therapy on myself.

But hey, it worked.

The biggest lesson I took away from trauma surgery was why I needed to be calm.  I will be always grateful to the residents who made me realize that when my shoulders tensed up, my brain also tensed up.  I would lose my ability to think coherently, I would become extremely absentminded, and I would lose (most importantly) my sense of humour.  Essentially, in times of stress I lose who I am, and that, beyond turning me into a mindless automaton, has the side effect of rendering me useless as a clinician, to the detriment of my patients.

Sometimes it feels like if I am too relaxed at work, I am not doing my job right.  I worry that if I am too calm, I am forgetting something important.  But actually the opposite is true.

I worry that making jokes and allowing too much of your personality to show through is arrogant or unprofessional or a hindrance to my performance as a future doctor.

Well, now, I think that it still is a very delicate line, but I know now that if I become so stressed that I lose my sense of humor or I worry so much about doing the right thing perfectly that I become paralyzed, not only do my patients suffer, but it is not sustainable for my career.  If I lose my ability to enjoy the work that I do, why am I going into work at all?

So thanks to the month with my incredible trauma surgery team, I learned how to be calm in the craziest of situations.  I try to remember that joking and laughing at the right moments is not unprofessional or arrogant, but necessary and important for patient care.  Whenever I feel my shoulders tense up and my voice quicken, I take a deep breath and I remind myself that if I can handle patients with gunshot wounds, perforated appendices, and ischemic bowel in a calm, logical manner; what’s a little bit of driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the world?

Things I Didn’t Appreciate – the 2011 Version

30 12 2011


I’ve had sinusitis/phlegm/hoarseness for three months since my musical ended.  I thought the symptoms just needed to run their course, but since I came to Hong Kong and took steps that have been finally leading to my recovery, these are the things I realize that I didn’t appreciate before now (first of an annual series, perhaps =P):

  1. Thermal undergarments: Who knew a thermal undershirt can mean that you no longer need to wear a jacket, when before I was feeling cold even with the Canada Goose jacket?
  2. Chinese herbs in…
  3. Chinese soup: delicious and nutritious =).  I shall be regularly making my own soup from now on (hahah this sounds remarkably like a New Year’s Resolution – let’s see whether this actually happens)…

  4. Waterproof shoes (top photo): warm, weather-proof, and slip-ons to boot!  Woohoo: no more cold, wet feet in the snow, or ruining your shoes after six months (what was I thinking wearing those shoes in that weather?  I am way too lazy with these types of things!)!
  5. Hot meals: So I guess I kind of knew that hot meals are infinitely better than cold meals but I didn’t realize how much better they make me feel, physically and mentally. Mmm.
  6. Bathroom exhaust fans: I don’t have one at home and I didn’t realize how much steam build-up can hurt my eyes.  This one’s just good sense.

So yes, some simple things I never thought were important now will be adopted into my regular routine.  Maybe it’ll help prevent and reduce the amount of time I spend with sinusitis…

I will let you know if it works out!

What It Really Means to Be “Busy”

16 12 2011


So I thought my life was busy, but I only became recently acquainted with Busy when I watched one of my best friends balance her life with her new two-month-old baby (the cutest in the world, I might add).

One day I tagged along and on top of feeding her baby every three hours, changing him at least that often, and trying to keep him preoccupied and happy so he doesn’t cry when he’s awake, she also spent the morning at work, picked up her seven-year-old son after school, went to visit a daycare centre for both of her kids, dropped her partner off at work, got dinner for us, and somehow still remained as cheerful as ever and managed to keep me entertained all day long.  I think she often forgets to eat, but she makes sure that her family eats.  While I was there, she slept at the same time as me, but she woke up hours before I did, while also waking up periodically to feed the beautiful baby.

Supermom: I guess the word “busy” is reserved only for them (and Superdads).

Perspective. Gotta love it. It’s a beautiful thing. =).

Traveling Time Capsules

16 12 2011


As of December 5th, 2011, the Basis of Medicine ended, which means the 1.5 years of lectures are now over forever.  In January, we go into the hospitals as second-year medical students: naive, wide-eyed, eager.  Ready to be unready for the experiences that will shape our lifelong careers.

Although we still pay tuition, we no longer have summer vacation as we once knew, as we are thrown into work at the bottom of the hospital food chain.  I am genuinely thrilled.

However, January has not yet arrived.  As such, all of the colleagues in my class are taking full advantage of this last month off, each in our own way, before we essentially start our careers.

For me, this month is a month of traveling, and this is the first time I’ve traveled to multiple destinations in one trip, visiting friends and family literally all over the world.  I figured, when am I going to get this guilt-free month-long opportunity again?  Probably not for years.

Thus, I am now on the third leg of a little December journey, and I am having an amazing time.

The brilliance of traveling to multiple locations like this is that I realized that each place I go to ends up reminding me of my past – a specific time in my life and the specific person I was at that time; engaging different, specific parts of my being.

In New York City, for example, I stayed with a friend I admire tremendously, and we share a strong interest in theatre, so some might say we were in the right city, and my theatre side was entirely fulfilled by seeing three shows, critiquing them with him, singing theatre tune after theatre tune with him as we walked home down the streets of Manhattan, and meeting many of his wonderful friends who are passionate about (and in many cases working in) theatre as well.

In Pennsylvania, I spent some quality time in the suburbs with my family of friends there, and it was like I warped back in time to when I spent a year with them, picking up exactly where we left off and having those simultaneously intense and silly conversations and experiences that characterize our family.  The pancake-toast man captured in the photo above is characteristic of our silliness =P.

Now I’m in LA with one of my best friends, and, of course, the focus is on going to the theatre and owning Hollywood, but in truth, it doesn’t really matter what we do, because he ends up dragging me on adventures anyway – just like old times.

And when I get to Southeast Asia and I’m with my family, I know that I’ll revert back to being a child: being told what to do, but ultimately, loving being taken care of (as long as it’s for a short period of time).

And it’s just funny that when most people think of travel, they seem to mean traveling to new destinations in order to open up their eyes to new worlds and things they’ve never seen.

For me, traveling seems to let me do the opposite: to go back in time to relive the best parts of my past.  How awesome is that?

Being Chinglish

8 12 2011


I had the pleasure of watching Chinglish on Broadway in Manhattan while I was there, and it was one of the few times when I enjoyed theatre without people breaking into song in the middle of it.  Chinglish works for so many reasons, in my opinion: because it presents accurate stereotypes of the Chinese while making characters complex and multi-faceted; because it transitions between scenes with Chinese hip hop and rap that seem to capture the juxtaposition of East and West; because it takes an old concept of lost-in-translation and somehow still makes it fresh, hilarious, and extremely authentic.  As the son of two business people who are currently running businesses in China, I found the awkward dialogue and ridiculous business dealings extremely funny because of how shrewdly reflective they are of reality as I’ve heard and seen for myself in China.

That five of the seven actors are Asian (and I think even authentically Chinese rather than Korean or Japanese playing Chinese, which is not absolutely necessary, but nice, I think), gives me hope and inspiration for my own mini-career as an actor.  It’s true that this show was about China, and Jennifer Lim, the amazing female lead in the show, talks in an interview about the double-edged sword of getting opportunities specifically because she’s Asian, but also cautious not to get pigeonholed for the same reason.  However, I think shows like this are extremely positive because they feature Asian actors in roles that allow for depth and range in the performances, rather than casting Asian actors in limiting roles that perhaps reinforce beliefs that these actors have limited range.

But what moved me the most in this show actually had nothing to do with the specifics of race.  Well, I guess it kind of did.

*Spoiler Alert* An American businessman falls in love with a Chinese Vice-Minister of Culture in a (relatively) small Chinese city while working on a deal.  Both of them are married, and after the affair goes on for a while, the American wants to tell his wife the truth about their affair, because he’s in love with her.  The Vice Minister, however, thinks that this is a ridiculous idea, and tells him that if they respect their respective spouses, they would continue lying to them.  She goes on to say, in Chinese, the most memorable line in the show for me, which was this:

“Love is an American religion.”

It gave me goosebumps because I immediately understood the difference between the two.  The Chinese Vice Minister then talked about this word in Chinese (“ching ee”), which I understand roughly as a commitment in a marriage based on time spent together, mutual sacrifices, and dedication even if you are no longer in love.  It’s in contrast to the notion of romanticism and love and passion and chemistry that I’ve grown up with in Canada, and I, in many ways, am a follower of this latter religion of love.

Regardless of whether it was the Valentine’s Day industry that initiated this religion, this line from the show really resonated with me, because I realized what the characters were talking about was a difference of what love means to them.  Words are the best we have, but so often it is unable to capture what people really mean when they use them, especially with such packed words as love, where individual definitions are informed by years of living and redefining the definition of love, so that it may take just as long to understand what the other person is trying to express through that word.

The beauty and tragedy of Chinglish, for me, was the universality of this lost-in-translation idea applied to the concept of love.  When two people’s fundamental beliefs on love and marriage are so different, could the result have been any different?

Surely no two people’s definitions of commitment, love, and marriage are exactly the same, so how far apart is reconcilable, and when is it irreconcilable?

This last question is the one I continue to struggle with.

My Cat Has FOMO

11 08 2011

FOMO is a widespread disease.  As the world becomes ever faster-paced and we respond to every email and news item when our smartphone vibrates, incidents of FOMO grow exponentially.

FOMO is, of course, the dreaded affliction also known as Fear of Missing Out.

With the advent of technology, many of us feel like we need to know everything and be everywhere every hour of every day or else we are behind in the latest gossip and the newest fad and just life in general.  Somehow knowing things first has almost become the equivalent of being intelligent, as if just getting the information first means that we are smarter, better.

What ever happened to sitting back and reflecting and writing and connecting ideas and creating new realizations based on one’s thoughts alone?  Where is the emphasis on the importance of our individual observations and beliefs and perspectives separate from external validation and what the media think and want us to feel.

But in any case this post isn’t about human FOMO.  It’s about cat FOMO.

Our cat, Molly, has come down with a serious case of FOMO.  Perhaps all cats are this way.  Or even all animals.

As long as she thought I was still sleeping in bed, she was content in her cat nap, too:

But as soon as she hears any sign of me waking up, she does her morning stretch and starts circling me:

Molly never wants to miss out on what I might do next.  Maybe he’ll pet me, maybe he’ll feed me, maybe he’s going to rearrange all the furniture so that it becomes one big scratching playground for me.

She’s right.  Maybe those things will happen.

So what is my point?  Well, the truth is I don’t always have one.  But if I were to try and make one up, I guess Molly’s behaviour justifies my own FOMO.

You should always be alert and ready just in case.  Maybe that email at 4:34 AM in the morning is from the sister you never knew you had.  She knows you are in Montreal and she’s here for a trip, but has been back and forth about contacting you.  Finally, she musters up the courage to email you, but her flight leaves at 7 AM so you just have enough time to catch her at the airport if you read the email right away.  She’s headed to Uganda for a yearlong project with MSF so if you miss her today, you may not see her for at least a year.  What then?  What if you didn’t get yourself out of bed to check that email at 4:34 in the morning?  I would personally be sad if that happened.

So you see: you never want to miss out on something potentially amazing.

You never know when someone’s going to rub your tummy.