Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sycamore Row, John Grisham

My first legal thriller book which I approached with much trepidation seemed for nought when I soon got enthralled with the adrenaline-gushing pace set by Grisham. It is no mystery to me now that he has won so many #1 best-selling legal thriller books ever since he penned his first novel, which so happens to be the prequel to Sycamore Row; A Time To Kill.

Though most of the hidden agendas seem to unravel by itself precociously and you could as well anticipate the ending (which is no big secret by the way, thus no surprises there), it is the suspense that is weaved around the characters that would get you into a captivating tight-fitting race to finish the book and take a glimpse as to how the court-room drama is fought out (and that's where it got real ugly - I thoroughly enjoyed how Booker Sistrunk experienced his own downfall away from his native land). In that latter regard, Grisham is second to none as he regales his readers in a genuine battle that pits Jake Brigance into his second fight against a horde of shysters led by the more senior and veteran lawyer - Wade Lanier. After all, isn't that all his readers are yearning for when it boils down to the very foundation of the book's genre - a heated up courtroom brawl with a hot-headed but equally fair presiding judge?

Granted that most of the story do appear a little contrived in certain ways; yet it doesn't seem to interrupt the flow which was brilliantly defined and outclassed by Grisham's manifold capabilities in his story-telling wit. So tense was the progression that it had me by the teeth. Chances of me reading his other novels are high against all odds of other commentaries denouncing his formulaic thoughts and poor plotting finesse.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Exhausted Housemen

Letters to editorials of the newspapers by disgruntled doctors isn't something new. Just about a week or so, another of such article has come to light (see above picture) which has led the public to think for themselves whether is it really genuine that doctors are indeed exploited up to an extent that they are bordering on exhaustion. This goes against the dictum that the ratio of doctors to patients are now approaching the desired goal of 1:400 in the peninsular. Browsing through comments made by my more senior colleagues, one can easily draw a line between two sides of the coin on their differing opinions. The more typical and standard reply would be one that junior doctors are allergic to and urge the veterans not to regurgitate them as though bilious material is one that is foreign to the gastrointestinal tract and need to be purged every now and then when circumstances arises. These 'back in my days' comments uttered either way, be it in an avuncular or in a cavalier manner would grip the necks of the juniors like a tight knot that they would resist in any either way to be relieved of them. In fact, I did have my fair share of being given such comments by my senior colleagues when I was still a house officer. Knowing for a fact that such comments are considered, up to an extent, belligerent to their feelings, and having read much of the previous articles, I try my very best to alter the phrase prudently, lest feelings get hurt should one decide to forgo the circumspect manner of being generous and sensitive to roiling emotions.

It is extremely unfortunate for the Exhausted Houseman in Ipoh to be subjected to such burgeoning workload alongside indecorous hours that put them in a situation where they begin to experience all sorts of challenges that are thrown into their way. It is commonly understood that an exhausted intern would not be able to perform adroitly and Robin Cook knew this pretty well a long time back in the 80s. Never heard of him? Well... you should grab this book in the near future and have a go at it when you are much freer and at your own time and pace. It's entitled The Year Of the Intern, published in January 1973 (thank God for e-books!). Minus the sexual escapades and quickies that the intern is privileged in getting (which is elucidated in slight detail that may not be agreeable with most people, though I have to admit it does make for an interesting ploy for some) in between his on call duties and off call free times, the workload has always been the same, if not, increasing over time. It doesn't really take a rocket scientist to extrapolate and break it down to you in facts and figures as to why this is so. The Earth's population has been remarkably exponential in its growth so unless you're into some kind of an evil scheme in one of Cook's books or that the world is indeed suffering the consequences of Dan Brown's Inferno's stratagem in plateauing the world's denizens, then I'm afraid you've just got to keep your socks on with the ever increasing workload that will never cease to stop.

But that's me being mean in a literal way, and I do apologise should any of you feel the slightest hurt that tickles your emotion which is at present in deep turmoil. And I mean it in a sincere manner. I've been in your shoes before and I'm not going to acquaint you with the melodramatic nuances of what happened back in my days lest some people decide to brandish me with harsh uncouth words that is all but unnecessary. The former sentence calls up the ideal phrase of working smart as well as hard, though more so of the first rather than the latter. Devising a diligent scheme and subsequently adopting it in your work is not a crime, but is seen as something that not only eases your formulaic work, yet it does even allow you to hand it down to further junior generations for the betterment of all. One of my fellow house officers did a gem of a thing when he decided to apply an investigation flow chart for one such particular department which was previously non-existent and we all applaud his ingenuity for doing so. It is in fact what he had learn from one of his erstwhile posting some time back. And as time goes by, more and more data are added and revised into the flow-chart to make it more presentable and it eases everyone's life a great deal especially that of the house officers all the way up to the consultant level. Some medical officers whom I know devised plans that are equally comparable in their resourcefulness. Certain medical ailments with multiple investigations and clinical findings that changes over time are made into a tabulated format that mimics the flow chart system. This not only allows for easy access to previous documentation of the patient's complains but it allows the disregarding of having to flip through an encyclopaedic volume of the patient's old file to find whether a certain blood investigation has been taken and whether a repeat is due in the next couple of months depending on when it was last sent. No doubt, there are many other ways that you could think of in making your working life as comfortable as possible without overlooking your assigned duty.

But having put into writing all there is to say about my mind, I'm not discrediting the Exhausted Houseman from his complains with regards to the prolonged insufferable hours that he has to contribute for the functioning and running of the medical healthcare system. We all do this once in a while, some more than others, while some lesser than others in order to keep the department hunky-dory. Perhaps he's displeased over comments made by his senior colleagues? Could it be the inflections that resides within the intonation by his senior that resembles indifference or haughtiness? Or was it the fact that he's not been given the rightful attention that he needs in order to address his concerns in wanting to make a change for the better in the system? I do have to admit that certain senior characters do adopt a slightly more autocratic approach in handling agendas and the imperious traits might have brushed off on the poor junior's shoulders where he is already at wits end trying to pull things together and staying afloat. In whichever manner, I've learnt that there's always a way to go around it in order to placate whatever that is implacable and to discern from what is the right way from that which is not that right. Always remember to maintain your composure...

It all boils down, at the end of the day, on how words are uttered, strung together and spoken in a way deemed professional where a tinge of melodious tactfulness is entwined within a purpose of getting things done. This is not to say that one should kowtow and forgo the courage to speak altogether or spice up their words with unnecessary obsequiousness that may reflect you on the wrong spectrum up to the point of being labeled a sycophantic parasite. Learn to channel your thoughts and ideas in a proper manner. Do it the ideal way to earn respect in the rightful way and you'd be surprised as to how your colleague's approbation of your personality would follow effortlessly.

My dear Exhausted Houseman, it is not wrong to pen your thoughts. Do not listen to people who disparage you from doing so. But remember before your ink touches the paper that the pen is mightier than the sword. It has over centuries and eons stirred up war that ravaged and plundered villages, towns, cities and metropolis without so much of lifting of one's finger from the desk. Likewise it would stir emotional attributes that may not agree with what you say and thus resulting in animosity, acrimony and unwanted resentment. You are not encouraged to keep your thoughts to yourself of course, but filter them wisely, deftly and appropriately. Ask yourself what could be a better or more constructive way in approaching and removing the ramparts right before your eyes before hitting it all away and earning nought. Most importantly, take the challenge with utmost equanimity and let not these adversity best you of your aplomb.

The Valley of Amazement, Amy Tan

I am always intrigued with the appearance of this book each time I walk into a book store and somehow, while I was browsing in MPH at One Utama for a book to read the week before, I bumped onto it yet again. This time, the anticipation won over and I decided to re-read the synopsis again before deciding to pick it up for casual reading to occupy me for the week after I return back to Sabah. As I thumbed through the first ten pages of the book, I knew in an instance that this would serve as a complicated read. The emotions and critical observations exuded by Lulu and Violet alone would keep your fingers crossed that you won't become utterly confused later on. That amidst the varying oddly named Chinese courtesans and their array of maids to whom possesses their own prominent characteristics would add on the brunt before you know it. Amy Tan has that sort of prose that keeps your excitement in check but before you know it, her long-windedness would more than settle upon your eyes and make you hasty to just finish the whole thing. But haste not, lest you get entwined with even more perplexity.

Reading through the lengthy fifteen chapters of the novel reminds me of the style that is much akin to that of Khaled Hosseini's 'And The Mountains Echoed' for it brings back memories on how the story is put based on the varying characters' perspective of events, circumstances and consequences. Each main characters are dedicated with a chapter, some appears to be continuous while some were divided up to rub on the anticipation as Tan digresses from the future to the past. It is fascinating to be drawn into the world of Shanghai in the early 20th century where Amy paints a hurried picture of a pristine town that is heading towards industrialisation and modernisation. The influx of the Western culture alongside the introduction of the opium trade came hand-in-hand with the more sensual business of courtesan houses where rich folks are oft seen making business and signing contracts with their Chinese counterparts. This amidst the life of the courtesans and the entertainments that follow forms the very basis of the book.

To degrade the level of courtesans to mere provision of sexual entertainment would be churlish especially when the book entails the more higher classes of cosy boudoir where your wild dreams would come true in a way that follows after a lengthy session of courting and 'marriage'. But that's not the main drive for the book's foundation although some of these scenes were unavoidable to forgo mentioning. The bestseller as one would soon find out primarily focuses on women; and in particular their rights, their confusion with love, their strenuous relationships, their faults and weaknesses that allow them to fall prey to cheats and lies in exchange for the betterment of love and a richer life. And Amy has that skill in her in sewing the intricacy of relationships between men and women of varying generations that spans across as many as four to five in the Valley of Amazement. She grants you the experience with the contortion of lies that were sold as half-truths and as well as the heartache suffered by the courtesans as you lap in the virtues, characteristics and personalities of various men with distinct agendas.

The novel has a clear trait in outlining the typical foresight of men's behaviour that has remain unchanged ever since the beginning of the world. That their primal instinct desires after carnal pleasures would drive them mad is in itself a challenge to see how Amy weaves it into her story-telling capabilities. Not all men were as overt as the most of her characters as you would realise. Take Loyalty Fang for example and that of Edward (who is a business friend of Loyalty) and compare them to Perpetual and Fairweather. The character of Lu Sheng would take some time to unfold which in a sideways glance made for an interesting side-plot. His chemistry with Lucretia Minturn and subsequently her daughter Violet Minturn and grand-daughter Flora Ivory was a progress of sorts that would touch on the very subtle ends of enlightenment.

The summation of this book would be for nought if one could not grapple with the convoluted relationship that many would simply attribute them to a significantly messed up affair. Then again, this book isn't for anyone, and it definitely isn't meant for casual reading as I have planned out before.

Jogathon Anti-Dadah 2014

My first ever jogathon was an outright failure purely because I might have expected too much of myself. The 8 km fun run was organised by the hospital alongside two other partners therein including that of the PKK (Public Health) and the PPK (Dental) departments. Divided into subcategories of open category, students and veterans, the routes were altered to fit each gender in appropriate measure. Like many jogathon or marathon, the first blow of the whistle would often see those at the head-start pushing their limits running as though speed was their second nature. Those left behind, such as the likes of me would require a few subtle slow jog alternating with brisk walk to bring myself into rhythm before capturing in the whole idea. Sadly, my muscles refused to cooperate at this particular moment and coupled with my bilateral pes planus and left hallux valgus, I was clearly at a disadvantage from the start. I bore the pain thankfully and fitted my ears to the upbeat musical tunes by the Piano Guys but that didn't alleviate much of the discouragement that I feel after the whole event. I clocked a sour 38 minutes for an 8 km run hampered throughout by first the drizzles and subsequently the rain. I'm just being a sour grape complaining and whining, but oh well... isn't that personal blogs are for? =P Perhaps, I'm just getting too old for this crapola...

The officiation by the Deputy Chief Minister for the state of Sabah. He came right after the prizes were given for each category ranking from 4th to 10th place alongside some of those lucky draws. I didn't win any prizes nor did I got placed within those higher ranges of the fitness hierarchy. I would have myself believe that I am placed rather to the rear. Pity me... and I was hoping that someone would commiserate with my loss, but I was the only specialist and doctor from Hospital Keningau attending the jogathon event. Perhaps there's a bit of an encouragement for me personally. Or maybe not...

I snapped these two pictures right after the completion of the fun run. Everyone's sweaty and smothered with rain waters. The combination of the sour scent of the cloying sweat admixed with body odour was sufficient enough for me to run up to the on call room and take a proper bath before I start to stink. Others however do not possess that form of luxury to do so and thus, the stinking sessions began right after everyone crowded into the main lobby. Do not even attempt to ask me how it smelled like... it's not within my olfactories to bear the burden.

Five checkpoints for the 8 km fun run. Just to prove that I completed the run using the correct route and I did not cheat. I need not have to submit these to the organisers as I didn't come in within the first ten placements.

Gift hampers for those who managed to run themselves and placed within 4th to 10th placing. I have no idea what those gifts are... but I managed to take a glimpse on some boxed products which might have represented biscuits amongst a hodgepodge of other victuals. 

And as for me? At least I'm not left empty handed after all. A cert without a name to be kept as a souvenir. Maybe perhaps later, I would emboss my name on the blank column. Sigh... I'm beginning to sound like a whiner, and my disappointment clearly shows. I'm sorry if you so chance yourself upon this entry. Perhaps an operative intervention on my pes planus and hallux valgus should be considered a distinct possibility in the near future lest I develop the complication of advance knee and ankle osteoarthritis due to the abnormal alignment of my feet. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Earthlings Coffee Workshop, City One, Kuching

In our current modern world, we are pampered to the extend beyond reality with the choices we are often faced with. The luxury so many would say is bequeathed upon us by the creativity of certain individuals who has the foresight on novelty that are so fresh that it would spark an outcry... in a good way that is. One such commodity that has been mushrooming like well, mushrooms are coffee outlets. You see them everywhere. From the early 19th century to the late 20th century, our ancestors would swear it on their heads that this is the best place to be for an afternoon tea or coffee, or just to be in on the grapevine to catch up on the latest news. Newspapers after all, weren't one such commodity for them to enjoy back then in the backwaters especially.

Yet, be it the boondocks in one end of the rainbow to the metropolis on the other fine end of the spectrum, you can't seem to escape the reality that a place need to exist for the entertainment for all. Be it a party for a get-together, one that is for a farewell, one that is for a meet-up or be it a place where connoisseurs of any such taste buds they so seem to fare and opt for; it has always been a cafe by the corner of the streets. Smacked dab right in between of strip malls, hypermarts, marketplace or the more busy thoroughfare, you would often find yourself (not sinfully perhaps) sitting and sipping away pleasingly and blissfully on a cuppa while admiring the ambiance and safety of the shop.

And thanks to my girlfriend's brother-in-law, my trip to Kuching was made all the more exciting with a mini-expedition to a coffee outlet that I accidentally spotted when walking into the City One Mall. It has that exotic, naturalist name imprinted on a plaque right above the lintel of the entrance. It was aptly named Earthlings Coffee Workshop. But more of that in a short while. We've heard, and ardently followed so to speak, the more famous chains of coffeeshops such as that of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (CBTL for short) and Gloria Jeans just to name a few and seemingly, over the years, due to its rapid commercialisation and mushrooming (I have to use that word again) throughout the nation, it has gotten quite a bore as it begins to sidetrack from its original sole purpose - that is to serve original, genuine, exotic coffee beans - blended into perfection, each cup being; having its own sole individuality and uniqueness. The foremost coffee outlets has become our typical run-of-the-mill beverages stop-by rendezvous for those who wanted to utilise the chain's Wi-Fi or ogle at the other very sexy counterpart. I know some who do. =P

It wouldn't be wrong for me to utter the reality that such chains, despite clearly heading for their own short-fall, still receive quite a lot of attention. And rightly so... you could see the amount of efforts put into it to garner a greater popularity over its counterparts and to receive more attention. Earthlings Coffee Workshop however, poses a different story altogether and here's the reason why.

As you enter, you'd notice a built-in rack with a mishmash of coffee making paraphernalia on your left designed for the sole purpose of furnishing the interior ambiance of the coffee shop. It's shadowy environs is only brightened by neon-bulbs placed in no particular order to give a sense of oddity that this is something extraordinary. Strangely so, it does yield a sense of warmth and that together with the strong scent of cloying coffee beans coupled with the wooden (earthy) smell of the shop, it would make any coffee lover fall right into the owner's ingenuity's contraption. It wouldn't be right to hurry yourself to the counter to place your order for the first visit and that's exactly what the owners would want you to do. A trick from them, no marvel in obvious fact, to tell them that you are new to the place and thus allowing them to show you a trick or two with their charming skills in making your genuine caffeine dreams come true. A novice could easily be distinguished as well by any of the barista, though I wouldn't want to elaborate on that matter for fear of unwanted provocation of unnecessary indignation.

The bar itself is designed with chalkboards where the latest coffee products and beverages are sold. I'd like to make things simple for you should you go there in the near future. The division should be eased up in a familiar way in helping you to choose the coffee that you would want to go after. There are those that are the pre-made coffee, or so I'd like to call it, which is where the beans are already crushed and filtered into their proper ways and blended to your perfection or served tall and black just like those in the famous coffee chain outlets. The other classification is distinct altogether, more expensive due to the efforts taken (which is what gives them the apt name of workshop) to filter and process it right in front of you with all the various flasks, beakers and teapots where a barista rolls up his sleeves and performs his magic. You are given the impression that this is a paid show too no doubt. LOL! And we marvel in fascination at the way the barista (I do believe he must be a co-owner of the shop) does his work, though I could tell that he might have still been rather new with his hesitating hands. There's the lack of deftness in performing the sleight-of-hands to create the magic coffee right in front of me. Or maybe it's just because of the clear fact that we are ogling at him as he go about doing his work.

The coffee station where the baristas work on the special imported coffee beans that you order. The price range would hit around RM 20-RM 40 depending on which beans you select and how much quantity you demand. In any case, these type of coffee beverages should NEVER be drunk with sugar or added with cream/cinnamon/chocolate/vanilla as it will spoil the originality of the sensual taste that comes with it. The aroma would undoubtedly be depredated and to coffee addicts and huge fans of caffeinated beverages, it is equivalent to a crime next to wasting good brandy. Savour every drop of the wonderful coffee and you would know what I mean. The effort taken by the barista is actually simplified in many ways. First the beans are taken out from the individual flask kept in a special container to harness its' rich aroma and to prevent oxidation. Thereafter they are placed within a filter paper followed by soaking them with boiled water. The heat from the water per se would then coax the aroma outwards as the water is filtered through the paper into a large flask where your coffee would then be at the ready to be drunk. Further pouring of the filtered coffee beans into smaller beakers and subsequently into a Plexiglass demitasse is for the sole purpose of cooling, which has something to do with the avoidance of concentration density. The latter is not necessarily a bad thing as it depends really on how you prefer the coffee drunk, in any which way to your liking. Should you prefer them to be more dense, drink them later rather than right off from the flask.

The flask and the various goblets used in fine coffee drinking. Critics love these fashionable cups so much more as those who are ardent whiskey drinker. The goblet where the coffee is seen filling halfway up has a broad brim to allow your nose to fit right in as you sip through your coffee. The trick is to swirl it like you would do that to a wine from a wineglass, but the large brim would allow you to do what you do to a famously handsome brandy (like Chivas Regal); to sniff the aromatic coffee that is famously distinct from many other beans should you so happen to be a connoisseur. 

There's a great deal of difference between this type of coffee compared to the more commercialised, packaged coffee powder that you purchase off the racks in the malls. These are exotic beans, individually picked, ungrounded, filtered through proper means and harnessed long enough for its main purpose of delighting those who truly enjoy coffee at its very best. That's me enjoying a nice demitasse of Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee! Superb! 

The verdict? I couldn't sleep the whole night thereafter... LOL!