Saturday, March 30, 2013

When I Grow Up...

Whenever I am in the hospital, I am reminded of the days I was a St John Ambulance cadet. We had some training in basic nursing, specifically, home nursing, in addition to first-aid. Those days, my bestfriend and I both wanted to study medicine. (On a side note, we both also wanted PhDs since we were 12 years old... at least that is still a possibility!) Yes, I wanted to be a doctor. That ambition was quickly shelved, for both of us, when we found out how much it would cost our parents. At one time, I seriously considered nursing as career. We had some of our nursing training at a government hospital, and the (probably underpaid and overworked) nurses were, to put it politely, not the friendliest beings I've encountered. I told myself that if I were ever to be a nurse, I'd treat all my patients with kindness, tenderness and pleasant facial expressions. I know I would make a great caregiver. *Ahem*

Among other things (ie., becoming a physicist, complete with the Nobel prize dream *Ahem*) I'd once also considered undertaking Forestry or Botany. When I was 15 or 16, I told my parents that when I was done with school, I would build myself a little hut in the middle of a jungle and stay there on my own. I wanted to study nature in peace and be distanced from all other people. My father was "supportive". He said, sure - I can do whatever I like... after they're both dead. Oh, well.

So, I did Engineering.

Funny thing is, I'd never thought of it until I enrolled for it. Granted, when I started college, I took general subjects suitable for a variety of degrees in the sciences, but it was somehow decided I would move towards Mechanical Engineering (but no, I ended up doing a different major in engineering... another long story there). Throughout my one and a half years in college, I'd briefly considered switching to Psychology (but my father was concerned that that wouldn't make me a decent living) and Journalism (but I prefer to write for self-entertainment).

And now, I'm in the teaching profession. I do not know at which point in my life I decided that teaching suits me... but it does! I enjoy imparting knowledge, I get a great sense of fulfillment when I know my students have learned and a single appreciative person out of an entire class of a hundred makes the (relatively) meagre salary acceptable. (Despite having said that, I totally wouldn't object to annual fat bonuses and handsome increments...)

I wonder how many people are indeed living the life and enjoying the career they had planned when they were younger. I am not, but I have no regrets. At times I still dream of venturing into different fields when I grow up... I mean, older. Learning can be a lifestyle, much like martial arts, or yoga, or climbing can. So, technically, the ambitions of my younger self are not total lost causes (except the Nobel prize part.... ah, the follies of my youth! *you may stop laughing now*)

What are the aspirations of your youth? =)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

For The Myopic

When you're looking at rows and rows of frames, where do you even begin to choose one that might look good on you and is comfortable to wear? Seriously.

I usually just let my cousin (the optician) choose for me. So far, no one's told me I look dorky when I wear my glasses, so yea, this is the strategy I shall stick to indefinitely...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The "Run"

I've always thought of myself as a non-sports person - years of being in a school where "sports" generally mean "mainstream sports" like running, jumping, netball, volleyball, badminton and the likes has drilled that too deeply into my head, so although I've taken up martial arts since college and more recently, climbing, I still don't relate myself to sports. I blame it on the school's way of defining sports as the ability to run or jump or catch and throw balls (which you have to run to do). I can't run and I don't run. I know running is getting to be rather "fashionable" in these recent years - so many friends who I never knew run are now doing half- and full-marathons, so much so that a 10km run is "for fun" and a 5km run is "not a run". Whatever. I've had friends try to pull me in:

Typical conversation 1:
She: We have 3 runners here, so we should make our next gathering at a marathon!
Me: Sure... you guys run, I'll cheer you from the sidelines
She: You can run the easy 10km
Me: I can run 10m to and fro between my office and the washroom
She: ...

Typical conversation 2:
He: It's just 7km... you will find your stamina
Me: Sure, I'll run 0.7km, then I'll die and you'll have to carry my dead body with you the rest of the way
He: ...

(read more on my inability to run)

Two weeks ago, my mother asked if I would like to join a 1km run for charity. I should have sensed that something was not quite right - who on earth would organize a 1km anything? It's for a women-related charity, she continued, and it's not competitive.

I said yes. For one, it's a charity event. For another, (this is the long story short) a dear friend had asked a couple of us to go on a weeks-long trek / hike across Nepal, and I'd sort of said yes. With stamina like mine, it'll be a kamikaze mission if I don't do anything in preparation for it. So the plan is - my friend who's afraid of heights will come climbing with me, and I, who's unable to run will force myself to, well, go for runs with her. Of course, as of now, the plan is still just a plan. *Ahem*

So, yea, a 1km whatever-you-call-it is as good a start as any. Unfortunately, it turned out nothing like I thought it's be. I had unwittingly signed up for a pointless event that, under normal circumstances, I would not have thought twice before saying no. The crowd was so huge and so full of families with loud, chattering women and screaming children I was uncomfortable just being there. I don't like family events - I prefer my family in the comfort of our home. The organizers served breakfast - I could only cringe at the amount of polystyrene used and was completely nauseated by the thought of how horribly littered the park will be when the event was over. I had no idea what the schedule was, but a full hour after the event was supposed to "start" the walk / run was nowhere near starting.

Maybe it's my age - I don't have much patience these days (except when I'm teaching, during which the well of my patience is practically bottomless... it's like there's a switch in my brain, and yea, I find it odd too). I was not about to stick around wasting my Sunday morning, which could have been spent sleeping! I half-ran, half-walked along the jogging trail around the park, got my fill of cardio I signed up for, and then left. I don't know if I made the miserable 1km, but I don't care - I still don't like running. I'd much rather be the "court jester" playing tennis (another long story that I shall save for next time).

Good night (or morning), Reader! =)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pre-Dawn Consciousness

In my teens, I was accustomed to go to bed very early and wake up by 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning (I usually left for school at 7am). I used to love those hours because it was dark and quiet all around, and I'd be literally all by myself. It suited me, and my family members never minded much my oddities. In university, it was common for me to stay up all night - along with my roomees and other nocturnal friends (yes, fellow humans, in addition to our hamster and rabbit, and we'd keep each other company via online chatting). Right now, I am wide awake at a time of the night that used to be my favourite, but I am no longer enjoying it. I need my sleep, for the obvious reason that I have a job which requires me to be awake during the day.

Every so often I am afflicted by insomnia. There was a time, some years ago, I was down with some form of depression and I suffered sleeplessness every single night, sometimes crying half the hours away. Of course, I am nothing like that now. My mind is simply too occupied - too obstinately occupied. It is frustrating in that I know exactly what the problem is, yet am utterly unable to overcome it by sheer will-power. If there is a will there is a way? Nope... sometimes the will just isn't enough.

It's been days. If I do not get over this soon, I'd have to wear make-up just so I don't inadvertently scare anyone I meet....

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Of the entire one and a half years I spent being a college student, there are only two (not listed as texts / references) books I studied which I still remember, now, years later.

The first was Abnormal Psychology. I had to write a term paper for my Psychology class and my topic was Obesity. I don't remember how I ended up looking into that title - obesity is abnormal? abnormal conditions that cause obesity? - but I borrowed it. I remember reading, with unparalleled fascination, case studies of patients with brain damage from either illness or injury, with their behaviour and/or speech and/or specific abilities greatly altered according to the location and extent of the damage. I distinctly remember the case of a man that, due to some sort of accident, had his trachea permanently fused, such that he was unable to even swallow his saliva. Doctors connected a feeding tube directly to his stomach, through his abdomen. The psychologists observed that the man chewed food before spitting them down his tube. He even "drank" beer by taking the liquid in his mouth, therefore, tasting it, before spitting it into the tube. This afforded them a study of the significance of satiation. So. Interesting.

Since I'm already digressing so much, let me share one other thing I remember from the term paper I wrote. *Ahem* A group of researchers designed an experiment where they had two groups of randomly selected volunteers. These volunteers were told that they were to taste a new snack product (potato or some other kind of chips) and to provide feedback on how well, tasty it is. Each subject was be provided a bowl of chips. Those in the control group were not told anything futher whereas those in the test group were given a limit of how many chips they were allowed to eat. In other words, they had a constraint. The researchers then quietly observed and noted the amount the subjects ate. In the second half of experiment, the whole setup was repeated with the test group subjects being told they can eat as many as they like - no more constraint. The control group subjects were not given any instructions as previously. With a constraint imposed, predictably, the test group subjects ate much less compared to the control group. However, when the constraint was lifted, they ate significantly more than the control group, which showed no increase or decrease in amount of chips consumed between the first and second half of the experiment. The researchers (or some others, I forgot...) also observed that subjects tend to eat more when they are alone, than when in company of others (maybe because we all grew up with judgemental friends?). So, in conclusion, if you are trying to lose weight, don't try to stop yourself from eating (you'll risk overeating the moment you stopped stopping yourself) and always eat with a condescending person who loves to judge and criticize. Kidding =P

Now, the second one (yea, I was talking about books I read in college that left lasting impression on me) was a Physics title. I don't remember what I was doing, reading a Physics book that was out of my league at the time. I guess I didn't have a life. I studied the entire chapter on Einstein's Special Relativity, math and all. Yes... I actually studied all the mathematics. Unfortunately, I'm not genius enough to remember any of it *sad* One of the concepts - that time slows down for one travelling at speeds approaching the speed of light - remained in my memory though. It was perhaps also around that time that I was first exposed to the idea of time being one of the dimensions we live in. For example, if one gives 3-d coordinates of a place one is to meet a friend, the two will most likely not meet, unless one specifies the time of meeting as well. There are at least 4 dimensions.

I had for some time intended to revisit the theories of relativity, but as always, I had other things to do (I'm full of excuses, aren't I?). Recently, I came across this title:

It's all about the theories of relativity without the math! Well, there are simple equations that anyone can handle, but not any of those that only mathematicians and physicists can stomach. (You know, Reader, when I was very young, I planned to either become a physicist or marry one... both didn't happen *consciously stops veering off-topic*) Russell Stannard unfolds the concepts clearly, a step at a time, with easy-to-understand examples, diagrams and analogies.

The first part of the book deals with Special Relativity. The time slowing down at speeds close to that of light phenomenon that I mentioned earlier is termed time dilation. Seems pretty simple, but the part that might be called non-intuitive about it is that one experiencing time dilation will not notice that anything is out of the ordinary (neural impulses, like everything else, are slowed accordingly), because time is not of its own, but a part of spacetime, the four-dimensional reality we live in. Like this: In some Chinese folklore involving deities, a day in the heavens equals ten years on earth - so if a mortal visits heaven and spends a day there, when he returns home, he would find that ten years had passed. That's how in some stories, a maiden-deity who "runs away" to earth to experience life as a mortal can marry a mortal and live happily for ten years before the heavenly guards come to "catch" her. They would've only realise she's gone when she didn't return at the end of the day (in heaven)! But I've digressed... again. Apart from the effect on time, there is length contraction as well. Prof Stannard also discusses the Twin Paradox, Simultaneity (whether two events happened simultaneously or not depends on who is looking), and the (arguably) most famous equation of all time,  E=mc2. Subsequently, the reader will be introduced to General Relativity, which is, as the name clearly states, the theory of relativity for general cases, taking gravity into account. The reader must be prepared to understand (seemingly unorthodox) concepts such as light is bent when passing through a gravitational field, and space is not nothing and it can assume contours - like being curved one way or the other. The book concludes by showing the reader how everything comes together to provide scientists the understanding of much of the universe that they currently know (about 5% of it only!).

Honestly, this is a book I feel everyone should read. It's beautifully written, with adequate simplification of the complex, but not so much as to compromise the knowledge presented. Happy reading =)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hello, Friends

Friends? Hello.....? *knock knock knock*

Every so often, I am overcome by a sudden wave of wistfulness that I no longer see my high school friends as often as I used to. Everyone's simply too busy. The rational, empathetic and positive-thinking voice in my head says it's normal and completely acceptable. As people mature, they have more responsibilities - demanding careers, spouses, children - and therefore, not much time for all else. Yes, definitely.

How much better my life would be if that was the only voice in my head.


I am too acutely aware that almost every single thing one does and doesn't do is a choice. Granted, some choices don't seem like choices due to societal norms and expectations, ethical and moral grounds et cetera, but they are, nonetheless, choices. One does not have time to do something not because one is too busy, but that one has placed that something on the lowest priority. That is the sad truth that no one will likely admit.

Being "busy" makes the perfect, convenient, no-offense excuse.

And, suppose the definition of "busy" is what I say it is... so the following are all valid - 

"I can't make it because I'll be busy (watering my cacti at that time)."

"I can't attend the party because I'll be busy (reorganizing my bookcases and arranging the books alphabetically by author's last name)."

"I can't help you do that because I'm busy right now (reading an article about monkeys shunning mean people)."


I've rambled. I know not why my mood took a turn for the melancholy tonight. I guess everyone (including myself, to be honest) needs a friendly reminder, every now and then, that when someone always seems to have the time for one, it isn't that he/she has a lot of free time - it is that he/she has assigned one a higher priority than most other things in his/her life. Appreciate that.

Oh, and lastly, you should really read that article about the monkeys, Reader. It's very interesting.