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.


The Trouble with Love is

5 12 2011


The trouble I have with love is how to strike the balance between not having expectations so that I can let myself go with the natural flow of the relationship and let myself be surprised, and not letting my own desires and even beliefs go completely in the process, getting washed away by the tide.

When is it being flexible and spontaneous?  And when is it losing the grounding of who we are?

The dance, this push and pull, the force of the moon on the tide – it’s all so difficult to navigate…



6 09 2011

I suppose this was inevitable, but as much as I love writing in this blog, I feel that it is no longer as rewarding for me as it used to be.  It currently feels more like an obligation than an opportunity, and as such, I am going on hiatus, in hopes of trying to preserve whatever quality this blog had, and in hopes of not writing until I feel inspired and motivated to do so.  I also haven’t quite figured out how I will navigate blogging about patient stories while maintaining respect and privacy, so perhaps it’s best to wait before I blog again.

Anyway, here’s to focusing on living life fully right now, and perhaps writing about it later.

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.

Cirque du Soleil is My Montreal

27 07 2011

After watching Totem at Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, I was speechless.

Yes, I was speechless because it was incredible, but I was also speechless because I didn’t know how I felt or what to think about the performance.

I was not really sure how I could categorize my experience there. I was, and still am, a wee bit confused about the whole shebang.

Cirque du Soleil, for those who may have not been, is a circus taken to unprecedented heights.  I did not know what to expect, so I had the same expectations going in as I would have had had I gone to a show at the theatre, and my expectations were simultaneously unmet and greatly surpassed.

In many ways, Cirque du Soleil taps into a visceral, primitive response that theatre rarely does.  When trapeze artists were lifted 40 feet into the sky, or when young ladies rode on unicycles four times their height while kicking bowls onto each other’s heads, or when acrobats performed tantalizing feats of amazement without using any safety harness, it was exhausting to watch.

It was exhausting because there were so many moments when I felt like I was in the performer’s shoes, so my adrenaline was pumping strong because my empathy made me feel like I was 40 feet in the air and about to fall, or that I was about to screw up in the act and disappoint myself and my colleagues.  At times, I could even feel fear for what might happen if the performer made a mistake and it cost them their job.

There was also an amazingly designed set – complete with a sliding main stage that could turn into a trampoline and a platform that could move like a scorpion tail; live musicians playing beautiful original music; and perhaps most impressively, an incredible use of technology and dazzling lights to help create illusion and wonder that constituted genuine treats for my senses.

The problem is I did not expect that.  I was used to seeing a different type of show, which thrilled me in a completely different way: by making me think about the story and characters in the play or musical or film, reflecting the themes and metaphors of the show onto my own life.

Not to say that one is better than the other, but I went in expecting one and got the other.

However, Totem was confusing not because it was completely the opposite of what I expected, but because it was a mix of both physical thrill and thought-provoking beauty.  There was a particular scene that stands out quite vividly in which a young man tries to seduce a young woman, who is resisting his advances, and their whole scene takes place high in the air on a trapeze, but they never lose their character’s intention during the beautiful choreography.  In a lot of ways, I think that is what I expected the entire show to be: a cohesive story being told through physical movement and athleticism, but only some of the acts were stories, and it did not all fit into the greater theme of creation and evolution, which Totem is supposed to be about.

Like Montreal, the Cirque du Soleil’s place of origin, the show is truly one-of-a-kind: full of rare, curious, and talented individuals who simultaneously fit together for a purpose, and yet at times clash and seem to be off in their own isolated worlds.

The transitions between acts were not always smooth, and the acts were at times chaotic, nonsensical, silly, and seemingly out-of-the-blue, but never was it boring.

And that’s exactly how Montreal feels to me: full of surprises, with so much going on (e.g., three festivals happening on a Thursday night), sometimes inherently contradictory, sometimes seeming to be without purpose (other than for a good time or simply because they can), but always full of passionate and delightfully strange individuals (myself included), who push boundaries of what is expected and acceptable, and truly celebrate uniqueness while looking down on conformity.

In fact, I was at the Just for Laughs festival and two young ladies were dressed as tongues – with complete make-up, taste-buds in front, and blood vessels on their back – and by golly they were the proudest, most confident tongues I have ever seen.  I would have been more than a little embarrassed had I been in their shoes, but they were running around actually making fun of other people in their flamboyantly rouge outfits.

I guess that’s why they call it Montreal.

Patient-Centred Care: If You Could Only Change One Symptom…

26 07 2011

Prelude: As seems to have become a habit of late, I am again cramming all of my month’s blog posts into a matter of days.  Although in theory I suppose I should rejoice in what appears to be my dedication to spending more time living life than writing about it, the truth is this blog is important to me and my personal reflective process, so in practice, I think I simply need to concentrate on posting more consistent, but shorter posts.

Let us see how long this can last…

A little while ago I was at the hospital with the privilege of shadowing the Esophageal Clinic, consisting of four doctors who jointly saw patients one after the other, providing a superb level of patient-centred care that I had yet to witness firsthand in Montreal.

The team consisted of a gastroenterologist, a general surgeon specializing in the thoracoabdominal region, a thoracic surgeon, and a surgical resident specializing in minimally-invasive surgery.

Four extremely talented and competent doctors in one room meeting one patient at a time, spending, in one case, an hour explaining all the options to deal with a particular patient’s achalasia (i.e., difficulty getting food to pass from the esophagus into the stomach).

It was incredible.

I believe the patients are referred to this clinic only if their case is particularly difficult, and I think the idea is that the team of doctors comes to an understanding of each patient together, and offers the best options based on the situation.  For some, maybe all that can be done at the moment is a nitric oxide prescription to try to increase gastric motility.  For another individual, perhaps there are a range of options (from Heller myotomy to balloon dilatation of the lower esophageal sphincter).

I appreciated that the team discussed each individual before seeing them, so that they can provide a professional, united front for the patient.  Each doctor took turns taking the lead at different moments, and they supported each other while joking with each other as well.

In particular, I appreciated that they always asked this: “If you could only choose one symptom that you want to improve after today, what would that be?

I thought it was a beautiful question for so many reasons.

For one, it made care tangible.  Because many of these patients were referred because their diseases were particularly challenging to treat, many of them had multiple illnesses and symptoms that were bothersome.  To focus on the chief reason why the patient came to the clinic today meant that they could focus on trying to improve that one symptom, and perhaps continue forward in a stepwise fashion when the patient comes back in three months.  I think this piecemeal plan is rightly cautious and likely prevents the risks of overmedicating while allowing for better understanding of the nature of the individual disease based on how each treatment helps or fails to.

Perhaps more importantly, though, I think that understanding the principle symptom helped the team much better understand that patient’s perspective.  There can often be a great difference between what is physiologically wrong with someone’s body and how that problem manifests in and bothers the individual patient.  So for example, physiologically, there may be a sizeable diverticulum in one’s esophagus, but if the top concerns of the patient have nothing to do with the diverticulum, is it worth the risk of surgery to remove it?

It was eye-opening to hear firsthand how the same mechanical problems in the esophagus can create such a range of symptoms depending on the patient’s life circumstance.

In short, in our first year of med school, we were assigned to describe what the difference is between the “disease” of a patient and the “illness” in the individual.

For one of the first times since starting medical school, I genuinely believe that I see that difference influencing the action of practicing physicians.

And it gives me tremendous hope.

Being Able to Help

12 06 2011

I was walking home after getting take-out from my favourite restaurant close to the corner of St. Catherine and St. Mathieu when I saw a public transit bus stop right in the middle of the intersection with no signs of moving.  I thought maybe the bus had somehow ran out of gas right in the middle of the intersection, but that seemed unlikely.  I then saw all the people gathered around to watch, and I feared maybe the bus had hit someone.  I dislike it when people stick around to watch accidents, but I thought maybe I could help, and I also wanted to ensure my personal safety, and let’s face it I was also curious, so I tried to survey the scene quickly to see what was going on.

I finally saw a young lady of Asian descent lying in fetal position on the side of the road with someone supporting and holding her head in place.  It turns out the bus driver stopped the bus in the middle of the intersection to ensure that the lady had some room to breathe without fear of being run over.  I watched from across the road and I literally froze.  I felt so ashamed as I stood there, motionless, wanting to go across the road and help, but I had no idea what to do.  I had no idea what I could do.  I racked my brain before I fell in shock at the realization that up to this point, we haven’t learned very many practical skills.  I didn’t know what I could do for the patient lying on the side of the road, when it really mattered.

I watched, as time seemed to stand still, at the woman on the other side of the road, to make sure that she was well taken care of. Someone was holding her head and someone else had just put on purple latex gloves and looked prepared to get involved and help the young woman.  I figured that the patient either had a seizure or a car accident, and when I saw that she was able to move her right hand and her right leg (she was lying on her left side), I felt a bit of relief.  When I heard the ambulance siren traveling towards us, I finally felt that the situation was in control, and I left the scene.

I literally froze across the road because I wanted to help.  I didn’t walk across the street because I didn’t know how to help.  In a way, it perfectly captured where I am in my medical career: filled with the sense of duty, obligation, and desire to help, but not knowing enough to do so.  To be fair, I later asked one of my medical mentors, and she told me that there really wasn’t much I could do for the patient in that particular situation without any tools, but still, I felt a bit in limbo and it was not a good feeling.

My first year of medical school is about to end in two weeks, and I really can’t believe it.  It has been one of the best years of my life, and I have my med school colleagues, theatre friends, and significant others to thank for that.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a lot of time to enjoy Montreal and all that it has to offer extracurricularly, but the accident that I saw reminded me that I am here, ultimately, first and foremost, to become a doctor.  We’ve had one year of lectures, and we have another 4 months to go in the fall, but after that, we will be in the hospital every day, and it will be time to step up.

The accident that I saw reminded me that I never want to feel so helpless ever again.

The only way to do that is to make sure that when January comes, I will put all of me and my focus into learning those skills that will make me a great medical doctor for my patients.

I simply can’t wait.