Personal

Deep breath.

Hello world!

I know it has been over six months since I’ve updated, and it’s terrible. Every so often I would open up my blog and stare determinedly at the “new post” button, but I never managed to muster up the willpower to write an entry. I think the problem was that there was just so much going on in my life, that the task of condensing it into bite-sized paragraphs seemed insurmountable. For most of the past half-year, I’ve been playing catch-up, week to week, with all the things I’m supposed to be and do. I think now, at least, I’m glad to say I’ve reached a point where I’m able to take a deep breath and refocus.

In February of this grand year, I started my training in psychiatry. Working in an inpatient psychiatric ward at a busy public hospital has been hectic and challenging, at many points. But it has also been immensely eye-opening, memorable and rewarding. But more reflections on psychiatry training to come later.

I also did not finish my book. I hate admitting failure: it gives me a cold shudder in the pit of my gut. But it’s true—sadly, I didn’t achieve what I set out to do in my six months off from work. I wrote up to chapter 23 of a planned 30, and then—bam!—life got in the way. And then I lost faith in the story, and I haven’t yet picked it up again. I haven’t written anything for a few months, struggling to find inspiration amidst the busy-ness of fulltime work and study.

A Time article reminded me recently:

Failing is OK. Not failing is not OK. If you don’t flop every so often, you’re not trying hard enough.

I’ll keep trying.

In the vein of cheesy, motivational quotes, I’ve embarked on a bit of a personal mission to be less cynical and more positive. About two months ago, rather uncharacteristically, I browsed “inspirational quotes” on Pinterest and felt immensely uplifted by the words. I’ve even become one of those people with an inspirational quote on my phone wallpaper. I know, I can’t believe it. But being more positive to people around me on a day to day basis has had such a tangible effect. As soon as I shifted my mindset and behaviour, I noticed changes. My day became less stressful. People responded to me more warmly. I was able to be a soothing presence when others were stressed, and to give more to help out. When a coworker was short to me and others, I understood that she was probably stressed out and used to being spoken to in a grumpy manner. So instead of shutting her out, I decided to do her a favour. I think I’ve just realised the magic of returning coldness with warmth.

Anyway, onto some book recommendations!

Non-Fiction

Stuff Matters – Mark Miodownik 

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This is an informative, interesting and fun read. Miodownik is a materials scientist with a flair for words. There are ten chapters in this book; each chapter discusses a different material in our daily lives—glass, charcoal, steel, concrete, etc—from a historical and scientific perspective. It’s pretty eye-opening and you really learn to marvel at the extra-ordinariness of the ordinary substances around us. Highly recommended.

China in Ten Words – Yu Hua

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Ever since reading the graphic novel A Chinese Life and visiting China at the end of 2013 (and oh yeah, maybe because I’m ethnically Chinese too…ha ha), I’ve been somewhat interested in 20th century Chinese history and the shaping of modern Chinese culture. That’s why I was quick to snap up this book by Yu Hua when I found it in Green Apple Books in San Francisco. It’s a collection of ten essays, each one reflecting on an aspect of Chinese culture from a personal and analytical perspective. For someone living outside China, it’s fascinating. Another highly recommended read.

Fiction

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise & The Search – Gene Luen Yang

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These spin-off comics are set after the events of the original series. The Promise and the Search are each an instalment of three, and there’s a third trilogy, The Rift, as well. I had my doubts, but Gene Luen Yang’s artwork is wonderfully lively and the story stays true to the spirit of the series. These comics are very fun reads, and The Search is especially compelling. Worth reading if you’re a fan of the series!

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More next time,

Grace

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How Playing Soccer Has Changed My Body Image

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I remember my friends starting to worry about their weight when we were thirteen.

I went to an all-girls school, and so all the glorious aspects of female puberty were openly discussed at lunch-breaks: height, weight, hairy bits, crushes, and that mysterious coming-of-age marked by “getting your P”.

We grew at different rates. I was one of the slowest, and was scrawny and stick-thin for most of my childhood and early teenage years. People would comment on my poking ribs and knobbly knees with a mixture of praise, envy and criticism, wondering out loud if I ate enough. As a child, I never worried about what I ate.

At thirteen, my friends began to discuss weight and BMI. Diets became a thing. Some classmates exercised excessively and shed pounds of baby fat. Others swore that if they hit a certain weight, they would stop eating. (Just like that, somehow, as though food was not a necessity.)

By the time I finished high school and transitioned to the very different environment of university (freedom! parties! balls! boys! freedom!), I was no longer stick-thin. I didn’t agonise about my weight, but it was always a nagging thought at the back of my mind, a voice that would grow louder after I downed a packet of chips or too many slices of bread. I examined other girls’ bodies, wondered how their frames were so small, their legs so disproportionately long. What had once been a mundane household appliance, the scale, now became an object of apprehension.

Growing up, I never completely committed to a sport. I was a jack of some trades, master of none. In high school, every lunch break, we scampered down to the sports centre to try our hand at basketball and tennis. I joined the running club, but was never fit enough to compete in cross-country. I dabbled in inter-school volleyball and badminton. I had most success in athletics, where I found some skill as a sprinter, but was never the best, and after sixteen, age and weight seemed to slow me down.

In early university, I retreated to the sport of the busy and solitary: jogging and walking. I sustained a one-year gym membership, initially thrilled to find new muscles popping out in my arms and legs, but eventually growing bored of the treadmilling and cross-training and the music videos on repeat. A couple of times a week, if I was lucky, I’d drag myself for a jog around the neighbourhood. But apart from improving my distance, there was no thrill in the exercise.

And then, two and a half years ago, one of my best friends started a futsal team, and asked me to play. From there, it snowballed. Suddenly, everyone was playing soccer, and I had a wonderful growing community of friends who would kick around for fun on weekends. I played mixed futsal and girls’ futsal, and I felt myself getting better every week. I learnt from better players; I tried outdoor soccer with great excitement.

I suddenly understood why people fall in love with a sport—and I felt like I’d missed out for the first twenty-something years of my life! There’s something very challenging and fulfilling about practising a skill enough that you acquire it, and seeing yourself improve. I felt myself growing stronger—not only physically, but mentally. My sense of body image had shifted and changed, without me realising it.

My body was no longer merely a passive vessel for my mind, nor was it a prop to be displayed and to impress others. My body’s primary purpose was to function, to do, to the best of its ability. Every time I run, I run to make my body fitter, stronger and more enduring. Having a serious injury (which turned me into a restless, sedentary ball of frustration for a few months) encouraged me to take care of my body, and to value function over aesthetics. After all, when I’m a decrepit little old lady, I won’t care about what my legs look like—I’ll only care if they can get me out of bed and to the loo.

My relationship with food has also improved. I find myself listening to my appetite much more. I learnt to eat when I am hungry, and to stop when I am not. I found that I no longer stressed about “good foods” versus “bad foods”. Most of the time, my appetite tells me the right things anyway—it sends me little prompts to hunt for fruit and veggies. But if I crave a Cherry Ripe bar or a big bowl of salt and vinegar chips, I won’t fight it. I will think, yes, I’ve exercised a lot today, and I feel hungry, so I will eat what my body is craving. I’ve realised that denying yourself doesn’t work—after forcing yourself to eat something “healthy” that you don’t really want, you often end up going back to the junk food anyway, and overeating.

Five months post-injury, and twelve years since I first realised weight was something people fretted about—I now feel like I’m at my healthiest. Cheesy, but true. As a soccer player, I feel tougher and more capable. I even noticed that I carry myself with more confidence, and worry less about what I look like. It’s liberating.

Whether it be team sports, yoga, pilates, running, cycling, dance or whatever, I think teaching yourself a physical skill can transform not only your body, but your perception of your body and your attitude towards good health.

Game on :)

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Giving Every Month.

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I live a self-centred life.

Although, yes, I do work in a profession where the focus is on the patient and family, and as doctors we profess to “help others,” I spent the majority of my time fixated upon the self. What would I have most fun doing this weekend? What are my ambitions? What do I want to buy?

Even this insignificant blog, this bypassed back-end of the World Wide Web, is a little shrine to self-progression. It is dedicated to furthering my knowledge and pleasure, and sharing my nerdacious exploits with my readers. Most of my sentences start with I.

I grew up in a Christian family, and attended an evangelical church ever since I can remember. I was an eager participant in Sunday School, which they rebranded to the much cooler “Kid’s Church” (they never placed the apostrophe correctly, and that irked weeny primary school me). Throughout my teenage years, I joined the weekly youth group, lurking on the outer fringes of the cliques until I managed to bring my school friends to church and felt like I finally belonged. I relished the wonderful, deep discussions we had in our small group sessions.

Giving was a huge part of being a church member. It became a matter of habit to drop a few coins out of my allowance into the offering bag every week. When I started earning a small amount of money from cashier work and tuition, I learnt to give more consciously, reflecting on wherefore and where-to I gave my tithe. Towards the end of high school and throughout university, my friends and I banded together to sponsor a child through World Vision on our unimpressive wages.

But I haven’t gone to church regularly for some years now. And with the disappearance of one habit, another has faded: the act of giving.

So for the last couple of months, I have committed to a change of lifestyle. I will donate a portion of my earnings, every month, to a charity or several charities that I believe in, both local and international. This will be a rule rather than an option. The fun part is, of course, picking what or who I want to support.

I hope you don’t get me wrong. I’m not sharing this on my blog to toot my own horn. There are many others who are much more generous, sacrificial and committed than I am. I have friends who run charitable organisations alongside full-time work, or travel overseas on missions. I have done none of those things.

But I know that, with our busy schedules and the stresses of work, it’s easy to feel like you can’t make a difference–that your small gift won’t really change anything. So I hope that by sharing my personal pledge of charity, this post can be a reminder to myself and to you that, whatever our day profession may be, we can make a difference through simple, regular generosity. Our societies need doctors, dentists, mechanics, engineers, consultants, administration workers, policy makers, hospitality staff, mathematicians, researchers, writers, designers and artists just as much as they need people who run charitable organisations. Charities need funding just as much as they need workers. We can be good at the jobs that we do, and develop our skills to earn an income, and give a portion of that income to make society as a whole—the world as a whole—better for every member.

So this month I’m giving to:

I’m also making a conscientious decision to shop less wastefully. This article outlines three really simple questions to ask yourself before you make a purchase, and I think the first one especially is so useful.

1. Will I wear this a minimum of 30 times?

2. Do I really need this item, or am I just attracted to it because it’s similar to something I already own?

3. Is this a timeless item or an unsustainable trend item?

These rules allow you to channel your money into quality items that you need and will use regularly. If I had used these questions earlier, I would have avoided blowing my money on quite a few items that are currently hogging space in my wardrobe. I have a drapey dress in there with a giant alien landscape on it because I thought it looked edge-y and sci-fi. I’ve never worn it :(

So maybe instead of passing along the #ALSicebucketchallenge, consider passing along the idea of Giving Every Month. It’s less catchy, but, I think, more meaningful.

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On to Month Two of Hermit Life!

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I have officially been a bum for a month.

In the past week, I have:

  • slept a lot
  • brunched at Dukes Windsor, apparently one of the best coffee places in Melbourne (the cappuccino was yum; steak sandwich also yum)
  • guiltily played soccer. I played an outdoor game on Sunday—the second-last game for the season; I couldn’t resist!—and collected three bruises and a good bit of swelling around the injured ankle
  • felt majorly down and crippled due to injury and pain, and secretly loathed my GP for telling me to rest
  • binge-watched Korra season 3 (review forthcoming!)

How goes the writing, you ask? It’s up and down. By the end of three weeks I’d reached 20,000 words and I was past the tenth chapter. Then, last week, the most horrible of horribles happened: I hit a lull. I’d sit down at my desk and be overwhelmed with restlessness and frustration. Everything I wrote seemed forced. Doubts surfaced about the validity of my story–it’s ridiculously light-hearted, it doesn’t deal with any important themes, it’s not serious, it’s gratuitous and artificial and anachronistic and just way too far-fetched.

Anxiously, I took a long break over the weekend. I returned to the draft with some trepidation yesterday afternoon and was relieved to find that my passion for the story had returned! I rewrote Chapter 8, and plodded on with Chapter 12 at a slower, steadier rate, empowered by melodic drum & bass tunes and a sneaky little bit of Ariana Grande ft. Zedd (the video clip has a scrolling intro, aliens and boob rockets—how could I not like it?!).

Speaking of music, I have to gush about a song. I am madly in love with this tune. I was walking down the street listening to it and I almost leapt up and punched the air like a crazy kickboxer. It was extremely difficult to resist the urge. (I sort of did a little punch, inconspicuously.)

 

It’s a remix of Chromeo’s Lost on the Way Home by Mat Zo, and it’s the most perfectly bizarre mash-up of genres. A drum & bass remix of an electro-funk song? The result: bouncy liquid goodness. The intro is a little wacky, but give it a shot!

If you’re not a fan of drum & bass, the original is pretty smooth stuff, too.

Also, if you’re a fan of EDM and want a great way to support a good cause and get something back at the same time, check out Bass for Autism Vol. 2.

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One thing I struggled with towards the end of this month is working from home. Contrary to all my declarations about being a hermit, I’m actually someone who can’t stand being cooped up all day. I’m quite restless. I can’t sit still for more than half an hour; I start getting an urge to stand up and walk around. Even watching a full-length movie in a theatre is pushing my limit of sitting still, and when the credits roll I can’t wait to hop up and stretch. So, sitting in front of a computer for many hours a day is physically challenging. Towards evening, my body feels sloth-like and my eyes feel fried.

I’ve tried to work around this in several ways: making sure I take a rest break at least every hour, going for walks, changing it up by writing in a cafe or public place. But I’ll have to think of something more. I used to be able to play soccer nearly every day, but sadly that’s not something I can do at the moment.

Overall, it’s been a fun and relaxing first month of full-time writing, with some unpredictable challenges. I’m excited to see where my second month of writing takes me.

My ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – please watch to the end!

Week 3 of Hermit Life + Game Review: To the Moon

Reading: Before Watchmen – Ozymandias/Crimson Corsair
Listening: Owsey & Resotone – Broke My Promise & Stared to the Sea; Klingande – Jubel
Watching: Elementary, Parks & Recreation, Korra, eagerly awaiting the Twelfth Doctor…

I’m in my third week of writing life!

I’ve written about 15,000 words of a first draft—some of it I’m happy with, some of it I know I’ll need to rewrite later. I’m also revelling in my newfound freedom with all the joy and abandon of a pig in a bog. I’ve been watching stuff, reading stuff, studying stuff and, when my introverted side is entirely sated, crawling out of my hole to achieve social connection.

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Over the weekend, I tried fancy pizza and gelato in Fitzroy. I explored the fowl wonders of Melbourne (my friend organised a city-roaming, chicken-eating adventure) and devoured chicken cooked in Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean fashions. I also played too much soccer, after chugging Nurofen last week and luring myself into a false sense of recovery. After unusual amounts of physical activity on Sunday, and a game on Monday, my ankle is killing me, but not as much as the fact that I have so much time to play, but my body isn’t physically allowing me to do so :(

So today I am resigned to being a couch potato. Whilst I am sedentary, I thought I’d do a quick review of the indie adventure point-and-click game, To the Moon. This game came highly commended to me several months ago by my dear friend Frank. I’m not at all a gamer, so bear in mind that I have zero qualification or authority to write this review. That being said, it’s a lovely, short introduction to the gaming world for a non-gamer, or for anyone who likes a good story.

To the Moon was designed by Kan “Reives” Gao and released in November 2011. It’ s a simple, 2D point-and-click role playing game that tells the story of an old man named Johnny who, on his deathbed, contacts Sigmund Corp, an agency that has the technology to implant artificial memories in a person’s mind. Johnny has an inexplicable wish to go to the moon, and two doctors arrive at his house to delve back into his memories and fulfil Johnny’s wish. As they explore Johnny’s past, an intriguing story emerges surround his late wife, River, and Johnny’s childhood.

Playing To the Moon is really more like reading an animated novel or watching an interactive movie than playing a game. I didn’t really feel like I had become a gamer through this four-hour experience! The story is sweet, clever, poignant and had a good amount of unpredictability. I appreciated how every character had a personality, especially the Drs Eva Rosalene and Neil Watts, who had some hilariously entertaining dialogue between them.

Although the graphics are pretty basic, they are cute and also pleasantly eerie at different points in the story. The gameplay, I have to say, was frustrating and slow at some points. Wandering around multiple scenes to collect various hidden ‘mementos’ became repetitive and frustrating, particularly as I just wanted to find out what happened next in the story.

I guess that goes to show that although the story is a little soppy, it definitely did fascinate me, perplex me and leave me wanting to play more every time we took a break. The thing that really completes this game is the beautiful, evocative soundtrack. The threads of For River that float through the game really highlight, to me, the tenderness of the tale and the attention to detail.

A clever, emotional story with an interesting science-fiction premise that can be played through in about four hours.

Day Three (or really, day two), + Book Review: Ender’s Game – The Graphic Novel

Reading: Before Watchmen – Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan
Listening: CMA – Caught In Our Thoughts
Watching: BBC’s Wonders of the Universe; waiting for the other half to have free time so we can catch up on Korra and Elementary
Playing: Nothing over the past few days

Day Three of my six month journey of writing! Or technically, day two…because yesterday I had a job interview and didn’t achieve much in between that and physiotherapy and outdoor soccer training. So yesterday will be one of my “weekend” days and I’ll work a full day on Saturday or Sunday to make up for it.

What difficulties have I encountered so far?

1. Waking up

I always have difficulty with this. Especially in winter. I suspect my body is somewhat related to a polar bear, because I tend to adopt hibernation behaviours in cold weather. I’m pretty sure, if you left me to it, I could sleep three-quarters of the day away. Unfortunately I’m not one of those lucky people who are able to thrive on a few hours of sleep (and now it seems there’s a genetic association for it!) though I really wish I was. Imagine the productivity! In fact, my utter inability to function without adequate sleep has definitely been a factor, amongst other things, in pushing me away from specialties such as Emergency Medicine and surgery.

Despite my love of the bed, I am actually a morning person and achieve the most before 12 noon. So, the alarm has been going off at 7.30am.

2. The Melbourne cold

I haven’t yet got so sick of my house that I have had to relocate to a cafe or library. But the downside is that my house is freezing. My weapons of defense? Fluffy pink socks and a trusty beanie.

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3. The afternoon slump

Hits around 2pm. I yawn and can think of nothing but a pillow against my cheek. My techniques for handling the slump so far have included switching activities—for example, switch from story-outlining to blogging; doing 10 push-ups (the most I can achieve); going for a short walk.

4. Facebook

Hasn’t been as much of a problem yet as I’d feared. Will update if this changes.

On to the book review!

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Yesterday I finished the graphic novel adaptation of Ender’s Game, scripted by Christopher Yost and artwork by Pasqual Ferry. It’s a collection of Ender’s Game: Battle School #1-5 and Command School #1-5, which basically covers the events of the original novel by Orson Scott Card: An impending second war looms between humans and their enemies, the bug-like alien Formics. To prepare for this, the army is seeking the most gifted child to mould into a deadly commander. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is taken to Battle School in the hope that he can become this commander.

The graphic novel is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book, covering all the main events in a condensed way. It’s a great introduction to the story if you’re new to Ender’s Game, and also an enjoyable alternative medium if you’re already a fan. There isn’t anything new or surprising.

The art style is clean and futuristic. Ferry’s linework conveys movement fluidly. The colours are sombre and evocative of the gloomy interiors of the spaceships. The Battle Room scenes are well illustrated and fun to flick through.

Overall, the graphic novel conveys the main emotions of the book fairly well, though the resolution seemed rushed and only offered a superficial skimming-over of Ender’s reaction to the final battle. I also feel as though they left out a major part of the ending.

A quick and easy graphic novel read that can be a great introduction to a controversial science fiction classic.

Happy hump day, everyone!