Learning outcomes

4 weeks into the second semester of Year 4, I’m getting more sleep and study time than ever. I started the semester with two very chilled rotations, which gave me a lot of insight regarding what studying medicine and being a doctor really means, at least to me, and I’ve never been so sure about my choice of career.

Medicine is paradoxical, contradicting and altogether confusing. We are trained to analyse a person’s features, posture, behaviour, and be able to have several ideas, diagnosis and plans in mind within 5 minutes, basically giving someone a label after 5 minutes of shaking their hands and getting their names right. Also, we are taught again and again, to never judge too quickly, to always pry into their lives and stories, that anything and everything under the sun is possible. We are always drilled on the ‘classical presentations and features’, and yet, they always ask us ‘What else?’.

These few weeks have exposed me to a huge variety of people, and it made me love humanity, and made me realise how much one can develop themselves just by being around people.

For the past 3 weeks I was writing up on a psychiatric case, which gave me a huge opportunity to read up and understand what psychiatry really is, even before my psych rotation at the end of the year. People call them ‘crazy’. Yes, they are not normal. Yes, some of them have a tendency to become aggressive, and might impose harm on you if you’re within reach. Yes, they are humans too. They didn’t choose to be mentally ill, to be locked up in a guarded ward, and they certainly didn’t choose to receive those judging gazes just because their hair was messy or they talked funny.

I like how they treat psych like any other department here. Although there’s still a lot more that can be done, the awareness is far greater than what I’ve seen back home, where having a mental illness meant that you are too weak to cope with what everyone else goes through too, or that you’re attention-seeking or just plain crazy. Meanwhile, people spend hundreds and hours just to see a freaking gastroenterologist after 2 bouts of diarrhoea because ‘GP’s are useless’. Talk about crazy.

Psych isn’t meant to be shunt at that small isolated building behind a tertiary hospital. Psych should be IN the main building, with clinics as frequent as Rheumatology clinics. Psych should be on signboards, with it’s own hotline and emergency contact, because it is as serious as hypertension, and these people need as much help as the diabetics, if not more. Mental health deserves more attention and awareness than it has, because it is not that they don’t care about their own well-being. It’s because they don’t know, don’t realise, or have too little information on what to do and where to seek help.

Multiple times I’ve heard drug addicts and alcoholics being called ‘parasites’, and all kinds of nastier things. To be honest, I used to think that they didn’t deserve this amount of help and care, as compared to people with medical issues, because while some people get sick for no reason, they actually brought those diseases and psychiatric problems on themselves by drinking and taking drugs. Not until my previous registrar said something that changed my mindset. He told me that these people need whatever amount of help they can get, because they didn’t know better, they didn’t choose to be sick either, and they really are sick. I know that we tend to deem drug or alcohol induced problems, psychiatric or medical, as illegitimate, because they’re not ‘organic’ problems, and also using drugs is a crime in most places, making these people more criminals than patients.

My registrar made me realise that as a doctor, illegal or not, right or wrong, it’s not for ours to judge and act. As doctors, we treat. There’s no such thing as a legit sickness. If you can’t go to work, can’t eat or sleep or poop like you used to, if you have trouble feeling joy and pleasure in what used to make you happy, you’re sick. If they’re sick, we treat. They have the law and the society to punish and judge them, and our job is to make sure that at least someone is taking care of their health, both physically and mentally, because everyone deserves to be healthy.

People generally don’t become dependent on substances for no reason, that’s the benefit of doubt I’ve been practicing. It will be great if we could find out the reasons and fix them, but generally, behavioural problems are caused by trauma that have been going on for an extremely long time. Not everyone is as privileged as us, to have a mother who cares enough to whack that cigarette off our hands, or worry when we’re acting a little differently. Not everyone is fortunate enough to even grow up with shelter, food, and support. You have no idea the amount of trauma, harassment, loss and neglect a person had to go through to drive them into having a personality that people call ‘crazy’.

The past week in oncology made me feel all kinds of things. I’ve seen people who are so sick that eating half a teaspoon of baked beans was a struggle, people who are almost at the entrance of death and know it, people who were just told that they have an incurable disease and was thrown a million facts and information and asked to make choices they never thought they’d have to make, people who are told that their treatment have been working and that they’ll soon be cancer-free, people who have been cancer-free for awhile but paranoid of every tiny ache and glitch, people who had recently become cancer-free but are still haunted by the amount of pain and suffering they went through, people who see their loved ones becoming paler and more frail everyday, people who are so motivated that they know twice as much about cancer than I do…

I’ve gained a great amount of respect for oncologist and palliative care physicians and staff. I’ve seen kind people, but their kindness amazes me everyday. It’s definitely not easy, dealing with hundreds of patients with terminal illnesses, and family members who have different views and demands, but they’re always so keen to listen, to help, and even arrange even more help. I’ve been very happy with patient care here, but oncology is a whole new level.

And this is how I realised I can never be a surgeon lol.

 

Edinburgh

This, is Edinburgh to me – the simple and sophisticated, all in one.

Sophisticated is the history behind those tall, narrow buildings, and dark, intriguing alleyways (or ‘closes’ as they call them). The humongous castle on the hill, screaming for attention, you can’t help but wonder how life was like a couple centuries ago within those concrete walls.

Simple are the modern time Harry Potter trail and references, mac and cheese occasionally in a pie form, and just strolling along Victoria Street with an ice cream cone in hand.

Week 17

Seventeen weeks into Semester 1, and I’m so very ready for a break.

Honestly, Adelaide has been extremely beautiful lately. The trees are changing into shades of warmth, as if trying to make amends for the cold, single-digit mornings. I like how walking under a cloudless, sunny day feels so perfect these days, though I really don’t get to spend much time outside the concrete of the hospital, since the days are so short now. Having a cup of coffee in hand never felt so amazing, on (not so) rare occasions when we have time to sneak in a coffee run after morning rounds.

I like how the horses I see along my usual running route have started to put on clothes, and that autumn fruits are popping up with prices dropping every week (yay for apple crumble), and that my breath becomes fog when it hits the morning air.

When I was little, the biggest reason I wanted to live overseas so badly, was to be able to experience the seasons. And now I’ve come to understand that what’s beautiful about the seasons is not the variety of clothes or not sweating after walking 300 metres (ie. Malaysia). What’s breathtaking is the transition: the trees, the flowers, the animals, the fresh produce, the menu’s in cafe’s… the change. And maybe the ever confusing daylight-saving.

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I could tell our story over and over again, same words, same scenes, and still smile, hoping that whoever hearing it would feel that innocent trace of spark, or be amazed at how things can turn out to be, the most unexpected ways possible.

I think over those 3 years, my mind has shaped those memories into what feels like the dreamiest scenes from Korean dramas, where the pictures are slightly blurred, with pink sparkly edges, and I’m more than happy to keep it this way. It was two people, fresh out of high school, going towards somewhat different directions (or people *chuckles*), crossing paths, friends, close friends, best friends, platonic for way too long, and decided to up the game on one Valentine’s day, over a cartoon movie.

You have no idea how often you cross my mind. Random cafe with good music, I’d picture us attempting to study, your laptop open, highlighter in my hand, you laughing at how I’d get distracted by the cakes and pastries at the counter. Walking down the pier in Victor Harbour, was me wishing that I could just reach out to grab your hand, knowing that your presence will make the view a thousand times more stunning. In Melbourne, a place that serves the thickest matcha latte and the best pizza I ever had in my life that I knew you’d enjoy. Walking home on a chilly Friday night, thinking of ways to steal your jacket if you were there.

As much as I like being where I am right now, things would be a million times better with you by my side. I miss burying my head into your chest after a long, bad day, or making a trip to McDonald’s at midnight just because. I miss feeling your hand gripping firmly on mine when we cross the road, and catching you staring at me like there’s nothing else better to do. I miss agreeing that you’ll order an item in the restaurant and I’ll order another, and ending up ordering both my preferences because I couldn’t decide between them.

Love, I can’t wait for August, for you to be all mine for two weeks, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, both our birthdays, all at once.

Thank you for all these years of patience and compromise, for the endless love you showered on me and the people I love, for always being my pillar to lean on and the anchor to our relationship.

I hope that you’ll have a good birthday, and that you know that you have my very best wishes.

Medicine

I can still remember that red, rectangular, Hello Kitty-themed, toy chest mom and dad got me when I was young. I think it was suppose to be a toy first aid kit, with a pink stethoscope, a green scalpel, a pair of scissors and forceps, a roll of tape and it’s holder, a few empty ‘medicine bottles’ and two small round containers (for creams maybe? or specimens?). I cannot recall when I was given that chest, or when it disappeared together with the rest of my toy collections, but I remember playing with it, and acting like I was one of those medical officers working in the ambulance, rushing to places where medical attention was needed. I remember how I broke the scissors and had someone tie the fulcrum together so it could still move. I remember placing the stethoscope around my neck like how doctors do it in the hospitals.

Growing up with both my parents working in the healthcare system, I was exposed to medicine at a very young age. I’ve seen the very limited ‘pros’ medicine has to offer (job satisfaction, a cool title in front of your name, having people assume that you’re really smart and capable), and the long list of ‘cons’ (short holidays, long erratic hours, waking up at 3am to answer a call and rushing to the hospital within 5 minutes of the call, scratching your head all day all night, solving a thousand problems everyday with none of it being really yours…). Despite all these, in 2014, I chose to enter med school.

And then in 2016, I chose to continue my degree in the university that has one of the highest failure rates among those that were on the list. A school that needs its students to be functioning at intern-level before they even graduate.

I started my clinical years with a breast-endocrine surgical rotation, and the first two weeks were chaotic. I was somehow expected to know how surgeons work, to be able to scrub in and assist in surgeries, to suture mastectomy wounds, and also have an idea on all kinds of neo-adjuvant/surgical/adjuvant therapy for cancers, or how they know if lymph nodes are involved, and what structures to look out for when they’re removing a thyroid gland. Just when I was getting the hand of it, I was rotated to an upper gastrointestinal surgical team. And suddenly, things became snappier, people were more inpatient, and patients were a lot more sicker.

General surgery made me understand why people (physicians and interns) roll their eyes when they say ‘surgeons’, though I admire them for the passion they have in surgery, being able to perform lap-chole and Sentinel node biopsies >10 times a week. It taught me how to present a case in 30 seconds. And now I know the significance of ‘how’s your bowels/urination’ or ‘are you passing any wind at all’ or ‘hows your appetite’ when we take histories. I now understand why ‘past surgical history’ is important, and also the power of compression stockings and Clexane. I also found out that anesthetists are actually quite cool and they don’t just sit there all day playing with their phones, and that you can actually get a sore arm for 2 days after doing bag-and-mask for half an hour just because the patient has a loose tooth and they don’t want to knock it off during intubation (maybe that’s why the doc was so keen to let me do it without prior training).

After those 9 long weeks, I realised that I will probably never become a surgeon.

I think I have learnt more about medicine in the past 4 weeks than those 2.5 years I spent back home. From learning how to place multiple problems together and weighing risks and benefits to finally being able to (vaguely) interpret test results and scans and relate them to clinical findings. From being able to differentiate different uses of antiplatelets vs anticoagulants to understanding ‘it’s not fluid restriction, it’s salt’ in oedematous patients. From differentiating different kinds of dementia to finally seeing some sense in neuroanatomy.

My dad always tells me that ‘medicine is an art’, and I sort of see where he’s coming from now. Fluid/salt titration, fluid challenges, to thrombolise or not, empirical or broad-spectrum, warfarin or NOAC’s… These are all things with no hard and fast rule to follow, and you just have to… learn…, preferably without killing anybody or causing any morbidity.

I am amazed with how much we have all changed. I used to dread going for classes in pre-clinical, and clinical skills session were just daunting, but we’ve now become these group of nerds who envy people in other hospitals for have one tute more than we do, and be super braggy when we have a consultant or tutor who’s a damn good teacher. We talk about cases (without revealing names… ahem… confidentiality) as if they were as interesting as ‘so-and-so is seeing who’, and acting like I’ve seen Zac Efron when it’s just a patient with subcutaneous emphysema.

Despite all the note-writing and lungs-drawing during ward rounds, and all the mini mental state examinations I do on a daily basis, I am the most productive I’ve been for a very very long while.

Things I’ve learnt about Adelaide

1  Weather

Growing up in Malaysia, the fluctuation we ever get is storm-rain-sun. If you Wikipedia our yearly climate changes, it’s the most boring chart you might ever find. Air there is so humid it feels like 30 even when the temperature reads 26. And I used to complain. “It’s always so warm,” I ranted again and again, throughout the 21 years of my life on earth. I thought Malaysia was the worlds biggest oven, until yesterday, when the temperature strikes 37.

37 here is dry air, and unfiltered UV glaring from the cloudless sky. It’s a burning sensation on our skins, and squinted eyes from the reflection of the sunshine. It’s the reluctance to step out from the shade, and being compelled to enter any shop with air conditioner.

And all this, lasts until 8.30pm.

I am looking forward to next week, and I can’t even tell if it’s because of uni or the 27 degrees on the weather forecast.

 

2  Campus

“Trees, grass, river” -my mother’s definition of campus life overseas, and I’m grateful that this is happening to me.

The University of Adelaide has blocks and blocks of buildings, both ancient-historical and modern-stylish, a river running along the north side of the campus, walkway accompanied by trees with purple flowers, and of course grass, and people legit sitting on a mat to get some tan in.

 

3  Hindley Street

I live off this street, and it’s beautiful. It’s the so-called ‘red light district’ of Adelaide, and it’s known for weed and drunk men, but it’s beautiful.

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And trust me, it’s even more welcoming at night, when there’s music and people sitting outside, laughing their day away.

 

4  Rundle Mall

… is not a mall. It’s a street, with shops along both sides, which close by 7pm. I thought it was going to be… well, a mall, a huge building with aircon, where I can go to escape the merciless heat, but no. It’s always packed with people, even on weekdays, as if they don’t need to work.

 

5  Walking

All day, every day, because we haven’t gotten our concession card, and we feel dumb to pay twice the price we are entitled to.

 

6 Tech support

Slow, bad, expensive.

Make a call to their toll-free hotline, and they try to convince you three times that you can actually get your issue solved online by yourself. It makes me wonder if people here are just very resourceful or tech savvy, or am I just really bad at fixing my own shit.

Counter or restaurant service is excellent, but when it comes to getting somebody to fix things, it’s a massive headache.

I learnt that if you set your house on fire, and you call the fire department, they will charge you 800+dollars to send firemen over. I guess I’m just too used to not having to pay civil servants, because I assume that’s where the taxes my parents pay go to.

 

7 Food is good

Fresh food here is extremely fresh, and of very good quality. Even when you’re eating out, though it may be expensive, but their portion is so generous, and everything is always as fresh as it can be.

And if you buy your supplies from the supermarket, things can even be cheaper than what we pay for back home. Most things are super affordable, it’s just a shame that MYR is so low.

3AUD for 2 litres of fresh milk. How even?

 

COMING SOON….

 

 

 

 

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Running 42km for the First Time

Due to an inflammed iliotibial band, and also being posted to a rural area on that Monday, I did not turn up for the marathon I signed up for last year. It was actually my mom who talked me into agreeing, “If you sign up for half, you’ll have to wait alone for three hours because we are all going for full,” this was how she persuaded (threatened) me last year. She managed to complete the course a few minutes before 6 hours, making her a sub-6 marathoner. And I promised myself that I would try again this year, and I did.

There was a lot of ‘promises to myself’ throughout the race, and also a good amount of frustration and (somewhat) regret.

This year (more like the later half of this year) was the first time I ran a real half marathon. I did a casual run of almost 20km before in July 2015, but it consisted of numerous breaks and stopping to wait for the rest, and it was also the culprit who got myself injured for a good half a year. So in early August 2016, three months before my marathon, I ran my first half marathon with a time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. In late October, almost exactly one month before my marathon, I ran my second 21km, with an improvement of 1 minute, hitting my sub-2:15 target. Although just one minute faster, I felt to much better. There was almost no self-hatred after the 18km mark, and the post-race aches lasted for two days as compared of the one-week-long recovery in August.

I was quite confident then. 42 is, well, two 21’s. Like how 21 felt almost exactly like two 10’s. Little did I know that I was so very wrong. 42 was not a race of endurance like my last two 21. It was pushing past lactic acid build-up’s, fighting the urges to surrender to the buses parked by the roadside, and forgiving yourself when you see runners run past you when you were walking.

The timing of the marathon did not help at all. Penang Bridge International Marathon 2016 was set on 27th November, 11 days after my First Professional Exam, an exam that I cannot afford to mess up, one that drained all my time and energy, leaving none for training of any sort. When I came home, one week before PBIM, it was time to tapper down, and start loading. So I went for quick 5k’s twice, and a slow, relaxed 3k three days before. And that was it, my training for my first ever full marathon.

That Sunday came very quickly, and my race started at 1:30am sharp.

1:30am was a terrible time to be running. I learnt that it was actually possible to be (very) sleepy even when one is running. Melatonin can actually overpower adrenaline. I was sleepy and groggy through the first 18km, and I hit a wall at 19km.

I was quite disappointed at myself. 19KM?!? I could run 21km just one month ago, with all sorts of elevations and ramps. The entire course was rather flat, except for two ramps and the centre part of the bridge. I gave in, and walked a little, at 19km, as I went onto Penang Bridge.

Penang Bridge. It was straight as hell, and also long as hell. Being one of the longest bridges in Southeast Asia, it has a length of 13.5km. We had to run on it, twice.

I could see the other end of the bridge when I first set foot on it, but it felt as if I was never going to get there. It took almost one and a half hour to reach the opposite land, got past the toll gate, go up a ramp, make a huge turn, go past the toll gate again, and repeat. I guess most my internal struggles were battled when I was running the bridge.

“Why did I even sign up?”

“Why am I torturing myself when I could be sleeping?”

“I think I might die running this marathon.”

“Why am I so weak? Why do my legs refuse to move when these people twice and triple my age are still running?”

“Should I just cheat and make a U-turn with the half marathon runners?”

“Ok, I promise myself that if I can run without stopping till the next water station, I’ll allow myself to walk past 10 lampposts.”

“Please let me walk a little. I promise I will run when I reach that signboard over there.”

“Shit, I’m hungry.”

I practically started running with an empty stomach, because my last meal was 6 hours ago. Feeling a bit sugar depleted, I took a cup 100 Plus at every water station. You have no idea how amazing something cold and sweet felt at that time. But the gas took a toll on my hungry stomach. Halfway through, I started feeling very gassy and bloated, slightly nauseated when I run. I think the banana provided really helped with my situation, but it gave me side stitches, giving me more excuses to take some time off running.

Every single water station felt like a gift I deserved, for I must cherish by giving myself a break and walk a few minutes. Every kilometre on the bridge was exceptionally long, probably because my strides had gone smaller and slower. The efforts to bring one leg forward, strike the ground, and draw it backward were very much amplified. My large muscle groups were tired and aching, my back and abs slightly sore for keeping my body upright for hours.

Halfway through the bridge going back to the island, I got caught up by the 5:30 pacer, and from then on, I made the balloon a guide, and my job was to not let it come to near me, then I should make by sub-5:30 target.

After coming down from the bridge, there was 4km left. The last part of the course wasn’t too bad, partly for the very energetic 10km runners who joined us. I was a little more motivated, although I was more tired than before. By then, my legs were twice their usual weight, my chest heavy from all the panting, endurance draining away at the rate of sweat dripping down my neck.

The last 1km was exhilarating, torturous and satisfying altogether. I couldn’t run the last km, as hard as I tried to fight the soreness and lethargy, I couldn’t, until I saw the finishing line, the clock ticking at 5:28:something (gun time). I managed to gather the last ounce of energy (or will) I had in me to dash for it, earning myself the title of a marathoner.

 

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I’m not sure if I will ever want to do this again, but no matter my future decision, this was an experience I’ll always keep close to my heart. It wasn’t just a mere completion of a 42km course. It was fighting, struggling, hoping, and enduring. It was a whole new level of long distance running, a milestone I am proud of, a reminder that we can always go further than we think we can, and that our bodies and minds are stronger than the limits society claims we are bounded by.

Your limit is when no matter how hard you push and how hard you want to push, despite all your efforts and desire, you can’t go any further, when pushing means sacrificing or hurting a part of you or who/what you love dearly.

Unless you’ve worked so hard to reach that situation, keep running.

 

 

Climbing Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is not the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, I always imagined it to be. Puncak Jaya, Indonesia topped it by around 700m, and then there’s the matter of prominence, which I don’t quite grasp its concept.

Mount Kinabalu (Mt. KK) is the highest point of Malaysia, and according to Wikipedia, the Malay Archipelago, or Nusantara. It’s the home of a very diversified range of flora and fauna, and despite suffering from its first earthquake in June 2015, it still stands unapologetically proud and high, looking over ranges or hills and mountains, uncountable valleys, and the whole of Kota Kinabalu.

Can’t really pinpoint when I decided to make this trip to KK, but I have (and never had) a single tinge of regret. The climb was difficult, straining, tiring, challenging, but oh it was worth every single drop of sweat and every groan and struggle.

This isn’t a guide, no to-bring-list, no detailed description of what you’ll have to do, no instructions of how to book your tour. This is merely my thoughts being recalled and put into words, and a little of what you might expect, if you’re a girl in her 20’s, fairly fit, and decided to challenge Mt KK with good company.

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This, is Mount Kinabalu, taken from Kota Belud.

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Featuring yours truly, taken at Kinabalu Pine Resort.

I swear the mountain looks different at different points of view and different angles, and boy, it is majestic.

We actually opted for a night stay in Kinabalu Pine Resort before the climb, and there’s nothing negative to complain about this place, and it has a spectacular view of Kundasang, so why not. And the entrance to the mountain is inside Kinabalu Heritage Park, which is a 5 minute drive from the resort.

Although pumped with adrenaline already, I slept well that night.

 

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Timpohon Gate, where it all started.

The climb started with a downhill flight of stairs. Which… means more uphill-steps coming up. But honestly, the view and the path changes after every turning, and they’re all so mesmerizing.

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Into the woods.

As we climbed, the steps eventually became steeper and higher, to the point where every lunge was painful on my thighs. Trees around us became progressively shorter, the leaves pointier, and the air became thinner, as our breathing got louder and faster.

The last 2km, out of 6, were the toughest. Although fueled by our packed lunch, every step felt heavy and draining, and all I wanted was to sit down, with a cup of tea/coffee, and put my legs up, for a long, long time. A comfy chair was all I could dream of at that point.

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Maybe it’s nature’s way of motivating us, the view just kept getting better and better. Once covered by a canopy of trees and branches, we were exposed to the bright blue sky of a sunny day. Rocks were bigger, but the sight of the peak became much clearer than it has ever been. It was rather chilly. My uncovered legs chilled from whispers of the wind.

We started at 8.30am, and we managed to reach Laban Rata at 1pm, fairly good timing.

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Laban Rata Resthouse (3,272m above sea level)

You cannot imagine the exhilaration when I stepped out from behind a bush of spiky leaves to see this view. Exactly this view.

In my opinion, I like the view from the resthouse more than the view from the peaks. Small, tiny, me, above the clouds, detached from life, but never felt so alive at the same time. I like how everything that has always matter didn’t matter then, and all that I cared for was the air that I breathed in and the view I had in front of me. It was like that throughout my stay in Laban Rata.

People there are of different nationalities, and different brought-up’s, but yet with one, similar goal. We were all desperate for motivation, generous to motivate.

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Look at all the chairs at my disposal lol…

This view that I dined to, earned through litres of sweat and a day worth of calorie intake. This was priceless, something you can’t buy with only money. I felt like I was in this huge plane with huge windows, or a floating room hovering above clouds.

We were shoo-ed to go to bed at like 8pm, and obviously it was quite impossible to fall asleep at 8, so I ended up spending hours just staring out the window, gazing at constellation of stars. The stars weren’t just individual sparkles, they were in clusters, shimmering glitter lighting up the sky. It was so beautiful I didn’t mind not sleeping.

At 2.30am, we started our journey to the summit.

The summit attack was painfully torturous. Legs already tired from the day before, a sleepness night, breathing shallow from the thin air, merciless wind slapping against my face, running nose, freezing cheeks, we made our way to the top, step by step.

Every step, my body wanted to stop. Strange how I can run 10km without breathing through my mouth at all, but I was panting every 5 steps I took up there. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I just tried to make sure I keep up with the feet in front of me (my mom’s), and try to stay balanced so that I don’t roll off the mountain. The wind was so strong I literally feel rocked when it blows full-force. And I thought Australia was bad. Around me, was nothing to be seen, pitch black, nothing you would want and dare to explore.

It took us slightly more than 3 hours to reach the peak, just in time for the sunrise.

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Breaking dawn.

Low’s Peak (4096m) was the highest peak of the mountain, although not the prettiest, or the most photogenic.

True enough, the view from the highest point was amazing. I was standing higher than everyone I know (lol kiasu). Like seriously, nothing, at my eye level was higher, except for bundles of clouds. I suppose this is what that drives mountaineers to conquer the impossible. The satisfaction, the adrenaline pumping through my veins, taking in a view that might just be once-in-a-lifetime.

I felt big and capable, but at the same time extremely humbled by the giant rock I was standing on. Tiny me made it up this world-ranked mountain, but my fate and my entire life depended on that mountain itself. Kind of a commensalism based relationship?

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South Peak, and its shades of blue.

South Peak, the signature peak. The picture that’s printed on our Malaysian notes. I swear it’s more beautiful in person.

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Route to the top.

Going up was ‘oh my god’, but coming down was just ‘zzzzz’. I DID NOT understand how I got my ass up at the first place. Maybe it was a good thing that I couldn’t see anything because I would’ve been too scared to depend my life on a rope held on my hundreds every morning if I’ve seen the degree of elevation. I could literally roll off the mountain if I slipped or missed a step.

The descend to Laban Rata took 2 hours, and then another 3 hours to return to flat ground after breakfast.

Going down was just… long… and painful on my knees. And half of the time I was trying to figure out how I managed to drag myself, and a 7kg backpack up such steep steps.

This trip was definitely worth the planning and all the fussing we went through preparing for it. It was tough, no doubt, but it’s one that I will keep close to my heart, one that I will always be proud off, one that ticks off a bucket list item.

 

Why I lift

“Girls should look like girls, with lengthy, slim legs and small waists.”

“Girls who are bulky look scary and intimidating.”

“You’ll hurt your back”

These, are the social stigma I have came across, when it comes to watching a female lift anything beyond 40kg off the floor, or even landing one hand on a rack of weights in the gym. Girls are expected to keep themselves to the cardio machines, and maybe a little strength training with the assisted weight equipment. Anything, but the barbell, or the squat stand or power rack. They’re meant for men, or so they say.

“Why do you even want to do this?” they ask, because men don’t like girls who are physically strong and muscular right.

 

1. The self-satisfaction

I’m not trying to prove my capability to anyone, and neither am I trying to get a physique to attract anyone. It’s the satisfaction I get, when I set a goal weight and achieve it. It’s a motivation that gives me motivation that goes beyond those walls of the gym room. It’s the sense of victory that reassures me of my capability, because lifting something beyond my body weight used to be impossible, so impossible that I thought it was crazy. And boy, it IS crazy, when you realised that you’ve gotten comfortable with 40kg and you up another 5 or 10kg’s. And then you look back and think, “Whoa, when or how did I learn to do that?”

It has nothing to do with pleasing anybody else. But if a guy comes around, and tell you that you’re a turn off because you ‘lift too heavy’, lift him too, and don’t land lightly. If a man says that, chances are, he doesn’t lift, because one who does will admire you for your persistence and patience. Trust me, he’s just an ignorant prick who doesn’t understand what you went through to get where you are now. Or, maybe an ignorant prick who’s insecure that you’re hot and capable and envious of your strength (LOL).

 

2. Strength

Imagine, never having to look around for a bigger man when you have a box to move, or two bags of rice, or a pot of plant (if people still shop for potted plants). Imagine, never having to doubt yourself, as you stare at a box that looks heavy. Imagine, just squatting down and lifting it effortlessly, taking it where you want to take it.

There will be a point when you get to comfortable with weight that you just volunteer to lift anything heavy ‘to guess how much it weighs’. It’s easier for you, even in comparison who men who don’t lift, because you know the best way to position yourself, to straighten your spine, and lift from  your legs. Which, brings me to my next point.

 

3. Protection from injury

Yes, we are not built to move heavy things, and we could injure our backs, or displace our joints. That is a true fact, but not if you start slow and light, with unforgiving emphasis on your form. “NEVER SACRIFICE FORM FOR WEIGHT”. That, is the golden rule of lifting, or any form of exercise actually.

So, if you’ve got your form done right, trust me, weight training, if anything, protects you from injury way more than it will ever create it. It strengthens your important muscle groups on your back, your abdomen, your butt, and all around your legs. You will, for the rest of your life, remember to straighten your spine and not arch your back while lifting anything heavy from the ground. You can wake up the next morning, after you’ve moved to a new house, without a backache.

 

4. Cardio X HIIT X Endurance X Strength training (ALL IN ONE)

All my life, I’ve been sticking to cardio, because it’s known to help in body weight and figure management, and partly because my gym in my clubhouse doesn’t have proper barbells and a proper rack of weights. Also, I was blinded by the prejudice I had for heavy weights, because I thought that they’re for men who want to gain mass and have a thicker body. I was wrong.

You can actually change up your normal lifting routine, and change it into a cardio training session (light weights, more reps, slow, constant speed), or even a HIIT workout (slightly heavier reps, intense, fast reps, with breaks after each set).

I guess I got sold by how popular CrossFit is right now, all over the world. And since I don’t have access to a CrossFit gym, I have (or try to have) my own mini-CrossFit training. I lift, run, swim, do pilates, plyometrics… It all depends on my mood and the amount of time I have, and the weather (LOL). And this fits me perfectly because I get bored way to easily if I tie myself to only one type of exercise.

 

5. Gaining… MUSCLE

Obviously, you will develop stronger and larger muscle tissues, which, I don’t see as a bad thing at all. Some people like a bit of flesh, some like thigh gaps, some like bones… I’ve been all three, but I am the happiest when I lift three times a week. When I was a cardio bunny, I run almost 5 times a week, and I wasn’t able to finish a plate of fried rice without feeling that all my workout had ‘gone to waste’. I guess that was a precursor to what people call a eating disorder, and I’m glad that I was able to snap out of it before I fall victim to it, because I realised that I was never so unhappy about myself my entire life.

Right now, I NEED to finish my lunch, because without a good lunch, I can’t lift 75kg (LOL). I’m serious.

Food is something that I’ve been passionate for since young. Everyone who knows me well will know that I’m a food enthusiast, be it cooking or baking or eating or food hunting. To me, food it a gift, after surviving throughout the day. And boy, when my relationship with food was rocky, so were my mood and vibe.

And honestly, it’s not that easy to become bulky… Body builders spend hours, everyday, in the gym, doing hundreds of reps, just to get those gains. And we’re talking about guys with way more testosterones running in their veins. I think that they will be extremely jealous if a female like me can gain muscle bulks by deadlifting and squatting an hour, three times a week. And most of the time, my sets only consist of 3-5 reps…

 

I’m not saying that cardio exercises are lame, or that stationary bikes are for pussies. I respect whatever exercise that you find works for you, but don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be scared just because you don’t know how to do it. People in the gym are one of the most friendly and helpful people I swear. Because they’re enthusiastic about what they do, they are more willing to teach you than you think. It’s like a religion…

Go steady, go slow, go light. Watch some videos, stand between two mirrors, ask for advises and corrections.

Sungai Lembing, Pahang

Once being one of the richest town in Pahang due to its abundance of tin, Sungai Lembing lies about 40km northwest of the state’s capital city, Kuantan. This quiet town, mainly consist of Chinese folks over 50 years of age, has two rows of wooden shoplots and is famous for their handmade Lembing noodles, yong tau fu and coconut biscuits.

I visited this humble town on the afternoon of 16 January 2016 and stayed for a night.

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Sungai Lembing town

 

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A shop lot near the food court

The food court, right behind a wet market offers a variety of local favourites, and they mostly serve noodles and fried beancurd or stuffed vegetables.

The vendors were already up and working when I went there at around 6am.

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Old mine (closed since 1986)

This town owed its old-shine to the presence of tin decades ago, rendering it one of the largest pit mines in the world.

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Searching for remaining wealth.

Until today, we still managed to meet two middle-aged men, digging and searching for remnants of tin and copper in the mine. This gentleman here lead a simple life. Guiding tourists in the morning, and mining in the evening.

 

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One of the five wobbling bridges.

We rented bicycles and cycled around the area, and managed to find 3 of the 5. The bridge took us across to the other side of the town, separated by the river. The locals cycle and ride their motorcycles across the bridge, despite it being made of wood and its predictable resonance.

 

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Lembing noodles.

We came across this small shop that was said to be a family-owned little factory, producing the famous Lembing noodles. The noodles look like our usual ‘yellow mee’, but tastes more like thinner strips of Pan Mee, or softer Wan Tan Mee.

On the following morning, we were picked up by a modified Hilux with benches and shelter on its trunk at 5.30am, and we were brought to the food court for breakfast.

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Located near the wet market and the food court, an old couple ran a small stall selling homemade pau’s and kuih’s. All their goods were extremely delectable and cheap. They open at around 6am and are usually sold out by 9am.

We started our journey to Rainbow Waterfall at 6.30am.

It was an hour ride from town, and around 30 minutes of jungle trekking.

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The sunrise.

Halfway through the ride, they stopped to let us witness the sunrise, and it was absolutely stunning. It wasn’t the usual view of the clear outline of the sun rising form the horizon, but layers and layers of clouds that were changing colours every few seconds.

 

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The climb.

The toughest part for me was climbing across hundreds of huge, slippery rocks. There was no clear path for this one, so you just have to follow the rope at the side and figure your way up. Although though, the first glance of the waterfall was just simply breathtaking.

I’ve been to numerous waterfalls, but this one really had me in awe. It was at least three to four storeys high, and made of yellowish brown rock surface, glittering and shining with the moisture of the water. The amount of water falling wasn’t huge. It was more like a sprinkler rather than a fire hose, but it was beautiful.

 

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The same man from the mine the day before, preparing cup noodles and Milo/Nescafe for the visitors.

According to the guides, it’s dry season now, but during wet season, the water becomes very heavy and the rainbows will be bigger and clearer. But I was satisfied with my view.

The rainbow stretching across the lower end was so clear I would see the colours properly. Frankly I was quite skeptical when I first heard of the waterfall, and I didn’t bother to search it up. Quite happy that I didn’t, because that feeling when I took a first glance at it was priceless.

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Too high to take a complete top-to-bottom picture.

 

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View from the side.

If you look closely, there’s a second inverted rainbow above the more obvious one.

The rainbow shifted as we moved from one side to the other, or when we squat down and stood up. It’s intensity changed as the water volume varied, along with the moving of the sunlight.

 

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What it’s like to shower under a rainbow.

We didn’t plan to get drenched in the beginning, but the guides insisted that we must make our way into the waterfall to see how the rainbow changes. As I went closer towards it, into the waterfall, the rainbow slowly became a complete circle. A ring made up of seven colours, hence a round rainbow.

This experience was certainly one worth remembering, because where else can you see a majestic waterfall with a rainbow at the end? Or a small town where everybody knows each other, and safe enough for 4 girls to cycle all around?