Unmasking the Fashion of Masks | Covid-19

It has been over a month of lockdown in Thailand, and yesterday marked the cautious resumption of some businesses and re-opening of local parks. Though the number of new Covid-19 cases each day have dwindled down to single digits, looking towards a post-pandemic society still feels wearily distant, and the uncertainty will most certainly pollute our minds for much longer after that. I somehow fantastically managed to acquire runner’s knee during my 14-day quarantine (in my room, may I add), but it meant a rare opportunity to leave the house and explore Bangkok’s streets from the car window. Indeed, there is no doubt Covid-19 has transformed the way the world looks, and yet, much has remained the same. The local coconut shop has stayed open, supermarket queues trail all the way to the frozen section, Bangkok road rage is still a thing, and the nation’s addictive usage of Line has only increasingly stoked Thai people’s notorious social insecurities the more isolated we have to be (more from where that came from). Yes, the tourist traps are eerily empty and you’ll see the oddly heartwarming sight of Grab delivery motorcyclists making smalltalk in-store, but the biggest visual change? That would have to be the masks.

…a common site in many gardens here…

Masks everywhere, on everyone. Devoid of smiles, an abundance of expression. And as with any wearable item humans deem fit or have to tolerate, I’ve watched the inevitable emergence of something from the humble breath-catcher: fashion.

Masks now boast extensive diversity — from rugged motorcyclists adorning cartoon animal masks, to AirPod-wearing users boasting sophisticated minimalist designs that flatteringly pronounce their jawline, to young girls prancing around in pastel-coloured flower masks. (Also, what is it with so many people still not wearing a mask properly? I swear if you cross paths with me and I can see your nose I will not hesitate to SPRAY BOTH YOUR EYES WITH ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL, VERY LIBERALLY)

Mask-wearing isn’t a new practice in Asia, and since masks do claim dibs on a fair share of our face, the demand for more aesthetically appealing designs is pretty reasonable. However, I can imagine that masks becoming a mainstay item in the foreseeable future in Western cultures is an unfamiliar and radically different practice. It’ll become a “popular accessory” — and though I feel a bit uncomfortable about using that phrase in the wake of Covid-19’s devastating destruction, there is no dying that the demand for masks is more than just its efficacy.

Here’s a quick story. One time during residential back in Year 6, a classmate gasped when she saw me, and proceeded to exclaim in front of the entire year: “Oh my gosh I can’t believe you’re wearing patterned shorts with a patterned shirt! Everybody knows that’s wrong!”

People sniggered at me. I guess I was meant to be embarrassed, but alas, you can’t really care about something you put zero thought into. Plus, looking back, that statement definitely does not seem like something your average 11-year-old would say, but hey-ho. Not to brag but present-day me now harbours some fashion sense — you know, the fantastic clothes that’ll make you win “Best Dressed Delegate” at yet another overseas MUN conference (I’ve never won), all-black attire for concerts and performances that specifically have no shoulder restrictions (!!! very important !!!), and the increasingly popular all-in-one “Clerk @ 5, Club @ 11” outfit.

…sigh. Help me catch some of that pitiful despair, now would you?

Point being, despite my disturbingly limited sense of style, I do know that fashion is all about fitting in and standing out. It is an outlet of self-expression and personal value; a snapshot statement of individuality. Like wearing a poppy badge for Remembrance Day or adorning NHS rainbow badges on your lanyard, wearing a mask is not just about being the right thing to do but also being seen doing it. “Hello, it is I, pledging my allegiance to citizenship, and you should too.” The self-consciousness of mask-wearing has flipped its polarity from the embarrassment of wearing one to the embarrassment of an exposed chin.

At first I thought, great. Of course the characteristic nature of people is to extrapolate the phrase “high-in-demand” plastered all over the news as “a trendy opportunity”, a way to ride out this viral storm whilst desperately trying to stay relevant, stand out, look cool, versus the stark kind of desperate call from frontline workers for surgical masks and N-95s to simply feel a bit safer; aren’t fashionable masks a mockery, expressing sympathy for those at high-risk to our followers on Twitter from the comfort of our couch, basking in the affordable luxury to wring out the celebrity angle of this “popular” item?

But after much thought and mildly frustrated confusion, I’ve concluded this: 仕様がない. Just, 仕様がない*. Because yes, it is indeed the typical fashion of humans to take advantage of a situation, but lets at least put the “fun” in functional, because life goes on. There’s no denying the age of coronavirus is indeed dire, and the stats are more than horrendous; one can complain that ordinary people wearing fancy designer masks are not taking the situation seriously, but maybe those same people are simply getting on with life’s new normal. Don’t get me wrong, I find it digusting that some ‘social influencers’ and ‘celebrities’ purposefully exploit their audience with hiked prices for less-than-mediocire quality (that’s a whole other topic in itself) — all I ask is that if you’re going to make masks, you better do your homework, do it right, and if you will, sell it reasonably. And if we scoot past that, regardless of whatever intention you may have in mask-wearing, at least it still sends a very clear message of hygiene and safety to both yourself and everybody around you.

So if it is a coping mechanism for your feelings of helplessness to post numerous #maskies, so be it. If your post-pandemic routine before leaving the house becomes “Keys, wallet, phone, mask”, then you proudly whack on that (questionable) plague doctor bird mask, you do you. As long as they’re CDC-approved and not useless self-proclaimed “PPE” (looking at you, Boohoo), I think a little bit of colour is exactly what we need. Don’t you think?


Music: “Stand Out Fit In” by ONE OK ROCK

*A Japanese phrase that basically means “can’t be helped” with all sorts of nuances (at least, that’s how I’ve interpreted it from living in Japan for a while!).

Sorry, Not Sorry | Covid-19

“So, this next consultation will also be done via phone.” Keyboard clacking sounds ensue. Then, “Even I have a 1 in 40 chance of dying.”

I’m mid-sentence making notes: “SCLC — paraneoplastic, LEMS, 40 dying–” Wait, that’s not what I was supposed to write down and wait what did she just say?

It’s March 12th, 2020: a bizarre Thursday with flip-flop weather that switched at a simple glance and the majority of this lung cancer clinic list being done over telephone. The respiratory consultant — a short-haired lady whose mind, I observed, had a certain zippiness that can knock you out for a second — had had her iPhone propped up behind the keyboard since I walked in. She was constantly refreshing worldometer’s Covid-19 statistics, fervently attending to every blaring BBC notification sound, and relapsing into solitary moments of a sighing & head-shaking combo as she checked the respiratory doctors’ WhatsApp group chat.

It was the first thing I asked about; of course it was. I’d walked in already on edge about this Covid-19 situation. I wasn’t feeling anxious up until two weeks beforehand — not when I couldn’t find hand sanitiser in Boots for the third weekend in a row; not when there were rumours swirling around about two confirmed and one suspected case in the trust I was practicing in. Maybe I didn’t want to admit that I had my doubts about not taking this seriously, but heck, I was still scoffing with friends in car-rides about how this was “just the flu 2.0”. It stemmed from this borderline prideful thinking that as future doctors, we have a duty and responsibility to prevent the spread of panic — but in retrospect, the horrendous cost we’re dealing with now is probably caused in part by that excessive downplaying attitude.

Perhaps it hit me hard after realising this wasn’t a blip — that this situation was not wavering. It was a consistent regression from what we knew and what would happen in the form of my Mum sending Line messages everyday in our family group chat (“Buy hand gel” “Keep some in stock” “Wear mask, take from hospital” “Buy Dettol”), a simple search for antiseptic spray and alcoholics wipes for electronic devices on Amazon Prime yielding “Out of stock” messages, the empty aisles of tissue paper and dried pasta — but most importantly, it was how light-heartedly everybody around me was taking it and laughing at those who were anxious. Thus, after much internal resistance, the palatable sense of worry suddenly got through to me because clearly, I wasn’t the only one worried if there were all the stock issues going on.

My concentration fluctuated drastically in the last two weeks before being shuttled off. I still risked clerking patients in the respiratory ward despite it being closed off due to a norovirus outbreak, brilliantly left my water bottle in one of the infected bays, put a cannula dressing on the wrong way in front of a consultant, lost a page filled with haematology notes somewhere in ED. Yeah, I was a bit of a mess — so, I made it a point to get into any respiratory clinic before the weekend, so at least I could hear what an expert in the field had to say. Luckily I was on a respiratory rotation.

“How worried should I be?” I remember asking. “Because I am, but people around me aren’t. So I don’t know if I should be.”

I remember her abruptly swivelling on her chair and looking directly at me. When unquestionable resolute, she replied, “You should be”, before turning back.

The entire clinic was a lot of her abruptly stopping to check something Covid-19-related and me immediately prompting her about it. I’d ask a Covid-19 question out of the blue that would’ve probably been deemed inappropriate manners in another setting, but she always answered without hesitation. After internally battling the two ends of putting on a face for my family to not worry, to getting my own worries immediately deflected by my colleagues, talking to her was…nice. Mildly cathartic, even.

As a sort of final assessment of how serious she felt about Covid 19, I remember saying, “Well, I guess I’ll be canceling my meeting at the library this weekend, do online grocery shopping, and freeze my gym membership.” At this point I wasn’t even sure I’d do those things. But her reaction: an approving nod, and a simple “That sounds very reasonable.”

That sort of cinched it for me, and I felt oddly lighter. It was a huge, ironic relief to meet somebody who felt as anxious (albeit much more knowledgeable and sensible), even more so as a freakin’ respiratory consultant. I felt I could justifiably worry.

Besides the racist floodgates that this pandemic has outrageously opened, looking back, it was a massive conflict in attitude. Me, at the beginning of February, thinking how ridiculous it was to buy a box of masks to send back to my family in Bangkok as per my Mum’s order, embarrassed to see predominantly Asians wearing masks on the street, and healthcare professionals laughing about how this was being blown out of proportion. Then me, experiencing a sudden turn in tide at the end of February, being scoffed at for sanitising my tuff box and my stethoscope, berated at when telling colleagues to “At least wear a mask if you’re coughing”, and being told repeatedly that I’m worrying way too much as people rolled their eyes at me. “Stop contributing to the panic, I’m not going to wear a mask, they don’t even help” to “We’re gonna be fine if we get it anyway, whatever” were common things being said.

It was hard to predict what was going to happen. Fast-forward to present day, numbers have sky-rocketed unbelievably high, healthcare systems are more than exhausted worldwide, and PPE is horrifyingly running out. No one had any way of knowing.

But, why wait? It was unnerving to see my surrounding colleagues blissfully at ease with everything as if life was completely fine, because that was what I was like before my wall ‘crumbled’. It was more unnerving that even after we were told to permanently go home and an official statement was made by Boris Johnson, some people were still going to concerts, clubbing, and traveling for the weekend, like “Oh, maybe I can catch the tail-end of the last bits of freedom”. On a more personal level, I was stunned that yet again, we were all medical students — but hey, we’re all human in the end.

I wholeheartedly agree that panic is bad, and like I said, we had no way of knowing how bad it’d be — but at that point, after a couple serious official statements were made, surely it’d be a bit daft to think you could go on with life normally. Okay, so wait until you get symptoms before deciding to self-isolate. Wait and hold out against wearing a mask because they’re not even that effective until WHO officially says you must. Wait until the number of deaths creeps up until you decide social isolation is convenient for you. But why should we sit tight twiddling fingers until an official statement is released, at which point, things are usually pretty dire?

This conflict in attitude is what made me question myself in those last two weeks. That because I was acting and worrying on my own accord, I was in the wrong. Medical school hasn’t said anything. The news hasn’t said anything about a mask. ScIeNcE hasn’t told me what to do yet!11!! I was using the “but we are medical students!” reasoning both ways — a duty to not spread panic? Yeah, but a duty to prevent the worst-case scenario is just as important. A tricky balance.

That’s something I’ll remember if there is another pandemic of sorts — it’s okay to sensibly worry. You’ll know you crossed the line if you start gulping down Dettol.


So…About Intercalation Year

You’d expect that after several months of radio (blog) silence, I should make up for it with quality content. Well, strap in, boys — here is a real saucy reflection on how intercalation year went for me…

Starting off ~wild~ with a quick heads-up: this is entirely my personal experience and should in no way be extrapolated to what yours is/will be like (I chose to do BSc Physiological Sciences, so that in itself will be different in both the degree you’ll choose, where you choose to do it, and even the units you pick).

So intercalation had its awesome bits, which I’ll dip into, but a lot of my friends have mentioned feeling this sort of ‘intellectual shock‘ — feeling misinformed, and almost even a sense of betrayal, from the people we’ve spoken to before beginning intercalation, who never told us it’d be like how we found it to be. So, I hope to give an honest account of how I found the year, which I wasn’t aware of when making my decision to intercalate.

Also, my creative writing has severely regressed due to the lack of leisure reading in the past term, so forgive my usage of simple terminology. I mean…I can quote a paper pensively speculating the role of aquaporins in the urothelium? Aren’t pathetic redemptions great? Anyway. Enough of me faffing about, and onto the main body.

Let’s start positive.

Intercalation year brutally forced me to learn tedious skills I would’ve never dreamt to sit down and teach myself. Reading scientific papers, then scrutinising their approach? Learning how to use SPSS, a statistics software, to analyse dreary data-sets? If it sounds dry, it definitely felt like that on several (all) occasions; however, they are skills I’m honestly so grateful to have learnt, and can now execute, albeit mediocrely.

When the relief of submitting dissertation is vastly greater than the distress of how awful it probably turned out (yes, that is a mini snickers you see at the side)

So this next pro is highly subjective, but I tremendously enjoyed how much time alone I had. Because my last lectures ended late January, I essentially had no more scheduled teaching for the rest of the academic year, unless you count the revision seminars before exam period. Of course, there were all these tiny niggly things to deal with (like a little something called a dissertation that determines, oh, I don’t know — 33.4% of your entire degree as an intercalator).

But that was what my Term 2 was like: a solid 4 months of however you decided to use your time. Don’t get me wrong — you can most definitely take this time to travel or indulge in other fun social shenanigans. But I’d enjoy early evenings on Brandon Hill wearing out the Irozuku Sekai no Ashita Kara soundtrack, try out little hippie restaurant hideouts for Sunday brunch, and unintentionally act as the most suspicious Geocacher ever. I probably attended a grand total of 2.5 actual social gatherings, but hey, if it counts for anything, hundreds of minutes worth of FaceTiming occurred (time differences still stress me out). So, that’s just my outlook, but it’s totally up to you in the end.

Okay, now onto things that aren’t necessarily negatives, but just general comments to bust in some real-talk.

Intercalation passed by like slime that a kid dumped way too much Borax in. Earlier in September, I volunteered at New Scientist Live and had the privilege of monitoring “The Great Slime Race” attraction (an unfortunate test of resilience. Troves and troves of kids…and me, not a fan of kids. Nor slime). Anyway, one of the games included plopping your personalised slime into a tiny mesh container, and timed to see whose slime would withstand gravity the longest. There were some which splatted down like bird poo in the first 2 seconds (then the dismaying OHhHhh’s from the parents, as they see that dreaded quiver of their child’s lips). Then there was slime which hardly made it past the metal rungs of the container itself — barely moving, barely indented, barely going anywhere. I can’t believe my duty was to stare at this stupidly sparkly amorphous blob for 20 minutes; my contact lenses were absolutely screeching.

I mean, good on you, kiddo – you’re winning the game. But it sure doesn’t feel like it, does it?

That was how intercalation felt to me: an absurdly never-ending, Borax-crazy slime. You’re giving it your absolute all and more, but progress seems microscopic at best. And you ‘win’ by simply sticking it through.

Admittedly mesmerising if they’ve got that Goldilocks’s ratio right, though…

Of course it feels like ‘time flies by’ when I’m comparing this current state of post-cortisol submersion, proportionately greater >10,000 lux days, and shockingly empty seats in Beacon House, to the drawl of introductory “Why are you even here BSc” lectures, 8-month early pep talks (thank you, but not yet), and being the weirdo at Fresher’s Fair who knew way too much about where the freebies were. But it felt begrudgingly slow throughout the year for me, and it was the first time I’ve ever had so many recallable moments of “When will this ever end?” in an academic setting.

Be smart about your revision; you cannot cover everything. “Do not put all your eggs in one basket!” was the prevailing message hammered into us during revision period. So I thought, duh — I’m the kind of person who never wants to leave things untouched anyway; why would I not go through everything!?

…because, sadly, we’re no Spider-Man. Sigh. Teach us, Tom.

It’s really not the same as high school. See, everybody is incredibly bright, but it is utterly unfeasible to cover all the bases in the context of the university’s caliber, and then having to go above & beyond for a higher mark. This, of course, is unsettling if you have a similar mindset to me — having to gamble on topics that will come up in the exam, and selectively revising only half of an entire unit!? What a recipe for anxiety.

I’m so sorry olfaction, but it was an easy decision to selectively avoid you, there’s just way too much content already okay 😦

But you have to trust yourself. It’s not that I hated the topics I didn’t revise, but you’d be fooling yourself to go over absolutely everything and not feel alarmingly overwhelmed. With a bit of deduction, instinct, and hints from the unit structure/lecturers, you can somewhat predict the essay questions. For example, it was an offhand remark by the unit head, “…so because each lecturer set a question…”, that clued us into conducting smarter revision by just looking at the content of 3 out of 5 lecturers, because you’re bound to hit at least one of them even in the worst case scenario. But then other units are not as predictable, so once again, every exam is different even if they’re set-up the same — your revision approach will vary with each test.

It’s a break — from medicine. Not a break in general. So, know why you are doing it. It isn’t an easy year, and everybody has different motivations starting out. You are told to drive by passion, and indeed what you choose to do ultimately stems from some sort of inkling interest — but why intercalate? The reasons vary. Some want the experience of research, some just want a year out before starting clinical years, others find the idea “pretty cool”, or one person told me “I’m not *physically* ready” (yeah, whatever that means). There are obviously discrepancies between courses, with some coming out feeling absolutely lush (I’m looking at you, Childhood Studies — we get you had a great year, okay!?), and some…some looking like they need help.

Nah, but all in all, everybody gets through it one way or the other; the main take-home message is that intercalation is not a break, though how close you lie to this statement on the spectrum will obviously depend on your personal experience. I chose to intercalate for a few reasons, the main one being the challenge it posed and the subsequent experience of resilience. So, just figure out why you’re intercalating and know it isn’t close-my-eyes easy — but not to disregard everything else you get from it.

You become a ‘normal’ student for a year. Initially, I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant when a lot of my fellow intercalating pals cited this to be a positive reason. I assumed maybe this was because of the minimal contact hours per week compared to medicine and the workload flexibility (it boggles my mind that my Thursdays & Fridays were empty during Term 1, albeit meant for dissertation research). But, now having come to the end of this 5-week transition hospital training where I’ve reunited with familiar faces from pre-clinical years, I sort of now realise what this ‘being a normal student’ means: the false pretence in posing as a final year undergraduate student gives you a greater connection to the rest of the university, from the irks of submitting our dissertations in the wee hours of the morning, to the rushing sense of finality stepping out of Coombe Dingle for (what I hope to be) the last time. But, medical school does something different, secondary to this well-established subject isolation when we longingly wave our non-medics good-bye: fostering a strong sense of community in its entirely own misunderstood entity, to feel like a family, because we’re in it for the long-run. Ugh, I know, so wholesome!

Anyhow, here I am, having finished the last day of hospital training. The ratio of panini press to smoothie blender usage has considerably plummeted in the last couple weeks since the weather melted into humidity; the town has gotten as arm-y and leg-y as I’ve ever seen it. Ah, it finally feels like *real* summer has officially begun.

Oh, and about graduation. Well, results were released on Monday…and I’m glad to report that I didn’t order that £45 graduation gown for nothing.


(E)motion Sickness

“When was the last time you got really excited?”

I was in the middle of putting my terrible palate to the test, to see if I had the innate grace to distinguish the difference between Norwegian and Loch Duart salmon. The question caught me completely off-guard; the chunky sashimi quivering delectably between the clutches of my chopsticks almost dropped. A challenge! It shouldn’t have felt like a challenge. Quite naturally, I laughed the kind of laugh preceding a tip-of-the-tongue answer — followed by more hesitation, laughter (nervousness has entered the chat), an even longer hesitation, miscalculated my hand coordination resulting in a disastrous soy sauce flood of the poor salmon that could no longer swim, and finally, shut my mouth upon the realisation no words were ever going to formulate an answer…because I didn’t have one.

I replied with something profound like “Uh, yeah, geez.”

“You can’t think of anything recent?” The disbelief in his tone irked me, but only transiently.

“Uh…” I stuttered, a kind of imminent bewilderment creeping up on me. “Okay. I dunno. Going to university?”

He stared at me and blinked slowly. “But that was more than 2 years ago.”

“…yeah,” I responded, wondering what he could see in my eyes right now — pure, top-of-the-line, scathing military-grade nothingness? So I let out another compensatory laugh, which unfortunately came out more like a shrill bird noise. There was a weird sense of shame, and to top it all off, I was definitely not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between Norwegian and Loch Duart salmon. Sigh.

Many witty comments, endearing conversations and a big bear hug later, that question made me reluctantly ponder. When was the last time I got excited? I’ve had my exciting moments, surely – getting a parcel containing books I ordered from Waterstones, the familiar green ‘n’ gold “Sandwich Sandwich” sign, that comforting Marvel flip-book logo before yet another awesome flick… (oh my goodness Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio). But never have I been bursting-at-the-seams, screaming ecstatically across the abyss sort of excited.

Perhaps it’s part of age. After all, only so much is new and fresh anymore. Days are routine; schedules are predictable. I’ve got a sort of preprogrammed response for almost every encounter. How dismal, you must think. I don’t want a dull life. And that’s where most people draw the line and complete a PayPal transaction to go bungee jumping in Australia and start analysing John Keats poems (~a stanza a day~) in order to undergo an emotional makeover, because I wish I was just as excited as that kid who found a dandelion, I wish every time was just as thrilling as the first, if I’m not expressing am I even feeling I’m losing touchwithmyhumanity —-!

Yeah, no.

Am I sad about the revelation I can’t remember the last time I got brilliantly ecstatic? Do I yearn for that all-or-nothing child mentality?

No, oddly enough.

It’s not a desire, an increasingly conscious effort to maintain oomph and vitality over the years, either — I’m just not an ‘extreme’ person, and just as equally, not a big fan of people who are…how can I say, too much. I’m not against showing emotions, but there is a time and a place. Many times have I read about people wanting to feel, to be in awe, to ~ride~ the wave of emotions — and nobody ever talks about how it’s okay to not have to express to show that you feel. I mean, I once forced myself to scream on a roller coaster ride so the stranger next to me wouldn’t think I was incapable of emotion (undoubtedly the most pathetic thing ever).

Perhaps this is an unpopular perspective, but this is the way I like living: a mathematical constant, a simple average of the minutely-fluctuating data-points, a noise-filtered regression…there’s nothing wrong with a simple shrug and a smile. By no means am I feeling less (those of you close to me know this is definitely not the case) or living a much less exciting life, but I just don’t like immersing myself in high-intensity emotions often — because my goodness it mentally demands a lot, both negative and positive.

Very few of us in this generation have physically demanding jobs; after all, the physical effort we exert in our day-to-day activities doesn’t warrant the fatigue we experience when we flop down on our bed (obviously excluding the likes of sign-spinners and medical residents). As lowly students struggling to remember our Barbie doll answers during college interviews convincing employed fifth years why we will pay to slave away for a piece of paper, it’s the theatrical emotions that wear us down. I’m no expert on neurodiversity, but I am part of this social gang of 8 billion — it’s not just frustration, panic, or hysteria; it’s also elation, euphoria, and delight. Take a look at the physiological arousal evident even in the language used in Western culture: “Yeah, crush that interview!” “Knock it out the park!” “Fight through this!” “Break a leg!” It seems the pathway to success requires you to bring on attack mode with the intensity dialled up to the max (at least, in the Western world).

To not feel is hardly human (for the most case). However, knowing yourself emotionally does not mean being overly emotional, nor is being emotional the same as being passionate. Emotion feels; passion does. At least, if I’m going to get all amped up with stress or excitement, I’m going to allocate my most important natural resource – energy – into something more than just feelings-full-stop. So yeah, I guess I do internalise emotions more, but I am aware there are way more confounding factors at play here. If you’re the kind of person who feels really good because you’re feeling good, and feels really terrible because you you’re feeling terrible, that’s totally fine; in fact, I’m envious of the fact you just feel for the sake of feeling. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you think there’s something wrong with you for not feeling awful about the fact you don’t holler at the top of your lungs when you reach the summit or you don’t burst into happy tears upon receiving an acceptance letter, trust me — there’s not. Stick to your lofi hip hop vibe; silence isn’t always demure.

Fast-forward a few months. There I am, sitting in the passenger seat, cruising down the highway with the same friend as we listen to Jaymes Young crooning on the radio. There’s a comfortable silence, and then he clears his throat:

“So, Holly – when was the last you got really upset?”

And, sure enough, I didn’t have an answer.



There we are, chilling with the “Chicago” soundtrack flirting around in the background as we munch on Co-op’s delectable cheddar bites. And like the culmination of any double-digit nighttime having sprawled-all-over-the-bed sorts of talks, the giggly topic of innocence is inevitably brought up — more as a passing defiant comment, I mention the Rice Purity Test.

Seriously. NOT a bucket list.

This popular test was originally published in 1924 by Thresher, Rice University’s official campus newspaper. Historically, kids would complete the Purity Test as during O-week (read: Fresher’s week, if you’re not from across the pond); the more you tick off, the more you’ve done – or, in line with the test name, the less ‘pure’ you are. Not only a light-hearted activity meant to bond students, the score is meant to gauge your maturity throughout freshmen year. Read more about the historical context of this test on, well, Thresher itself. 

I’ve done the Rice Purity Test before (yeah, go give them more traffic – you know you want to). An excited “You’ve never done it before?” “Right, I’ve got to try this out!” exchange later, my friends and I are squeezed around a laptop reading each item off the list, occasionally stopping to justify a tick with an embarrassingly hilarious story. The questions range from the relatively more demure “Kissed for more than two hours consecutively?” to “Used a drug stronger than marijuana?”, and to the extremely eyebrow-raising “Engaged in bestiality?” Note that once you get into a relationship, your score will basically drop from 90 to 70 like an anchor to a seabed.

My score is unapologetically high. My friends’ scores are unapologetically low. Is anybody more promiscuous or inherently immoral relative to the other? Is anybody more of a conservative prude, eliciting a high-pitched “Ew, yucky!” outcry when sex is brought up in conversation? A gigantic, slap-in-the-face no, no, and no.  The test was such a good laugh, and reminded us how we’ve all come into university with vastly different life experiences. It’s harmless, but think any more of the score than it is, and the test transforms into a long tightrope across a valley of heckling, slut-shaming, and off-limits interrogation. The view isn’t ever worth that sort of assault, and quite frankly, is offensive to be distilling experiences down to a simple number.

Nonetheless, the large number of questions involving intimacy did get me wondering about my own reservations with physical touch.

I’ve never been a hugger. It’s evolved from petty “Ugh, don’t hug me because I’m not clingy and am playing hard to get” teen rebellion facade, into now near-instinctive hugging whenever I believe it suits social customs; but underneath it all was simply my timeless inability to make intimacy feel natural. Resting your head on someone’s shoulder, lying on someone’s lap, linking arms with a friend — to me, it’s like being Cameron Diaz’s character desperately trying to cry in “The Holiday”.  Don’t get me wrong, it’d sure be lovely to get cosy with Noah Centineo in a hot-tub (yes please), but I’m a big fan of compartmentalisation. Partner dances, patient examinations, massaging – I’ll give it my all; strictly professional. But as soon as weird, fuzzy emotions intertwine with the intentions of intimacy [~that lull in conversation as the night draws to an end when his gaze lingers on your lips~] a foreboding “Oh no no no no”  Titanic-sinking moment vividly plays in my head.

A plethora of reasons pops up as to why some people may find physical intimacy harder than others: you’ve grown up with parents who avoided or evaded intimacy; perhaps the fear of intimacy stems from childhood abuse, and such experiences make it hard to trust anybody. Apart from the familial side, you could simply be an unending workaholic, feel it to be unexplored territory, experience anxiety, or could even just be down to plain immaturity. Maybe the lack of touch doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t comfortable with you, but quite simply, that physical intimacy is not their primary method of showing affection. Words are. Making time to see you. Actively listening to you. The lack of touching itself, I’d even argue, is a form of respect that speaks volumes.

And of course, we cannot forget culture. Oh boy. You’ve seen the endless memes and YouTube videos (“No dating until marriage!”), which are obviously dramatised parodies, but dramatised off of a very real ideology nonetheless. Coming from an Asian background, there is no denying the enormous influence tradition plays in the reservations when approaching intimacy.

Mate selection itself is a process heavily determined by cultural and social factors, differing between an individualistic and collectivist culture (my my, nothing more sexy than cross-cultural psychology and anthropology research). Here’s a crude rundown: individualistic cultures embody that revised plotline where the main protagonist (i.e. you) dramatically assumes the Thinker position and profoundly contemplates, “I need to figure out who I am”;  it emphasises a more autonomous exploration of relationships, to gain more experience in love and sexuality, cultivating love upon this intrinsic desire for passion.

Conversely, the collectivist culture attitude towards mate selection can be summarised quite simply: “If you date her, you date her family.” The process of finding a partner is a tricky business that your entire family unquestionably embarks on, too; in these cultures, only until marriage does physical intimacy and sex become acceptable with a romantic partner. Rather than focusing on the ‘sparks flying’ connection between individuals (every single 12% Rotten Tomatoes rom-com movie), its encouraged to focus on the more pragmatic qualities like economic assets, social status, but most importantly, a positive relationship between the two families. 

Of course, these ideologies are inevitably dynamic and fluid when applied in the real world – social attitudes are always so political. But there is no denying the cultural influence on behaviours towards physical intimacy, and the unimaginable weight of importance placed on family in all life matters when it comes to those of Asian descent. It’s a tad different in my case, as my siblings and I have grown up in a Westernised household in Asian countries – we’d enjoy watching Little Britain when I was a kid (and all innuendos were understood…), I grew up watching Disney Channel religiously where the shows set my expectation of dating to always involve lovey-dovey hand-holding and kissing at the end of the night (PG touching at its finest), and thirst tweets about Ryan Gosling or Mark Ruffalo don’t make me uncomfortable in the slightest. Despite this, despite intimacy making so much sense in my mind as a natural thing to do, actually carrying it out in my own life simply hasn’t ever been. Maybe it was that discrepancy between the individualistic exposure and collectivist real-life. 

So, yes – love can be the hopeless, blissful kind, a passionate fervour that makes you pen a thousand songs to never let the world stop knowing. But love is also putting food on the table, working abroad to earn family income, or giving your first ever earnings in a new job to your parents as a thank you. Love is much more than just Versace on the floor; love is also practical. 

With love, a 90+ Rice Purity Test scorer. Always aiming high.


The Introvert (or Extrovert) ‘Hangover’

“Go hard or go home!”

I definitely go home.

In these past couple weeks, I have never felt much more blatantly aware of my introverted self. Having begun my intercalation year in physiological sciences, I’ve essentially become a fresher again, but not without an unattractively scornful attitude. It’s highly likely to have arisen from the premise of “This may be my third year here, but I still want the privileges of a fresher to justify my lack of boldness with”, but boy has it made me ponder. 

The introvert hangover makes such profound sense as to why I feel utterly drained and exhausted after any kind of context involving people, but it’s upon the assumption I’m an introvert myself. I’ve taken those 4-hour long personality tests every Asian tutoring school seems to offer up to the ubiquitously crude Buzzfeed-style quizzes that have tried to bedazzle by defining who I am. Like a ping-pong match, the results cast me back and forth — you’re an introvert! You’re an extrovert! “You are such an extrovert!” “Are you an introvert, too?” And it’s only gotten much more absurdly complex: in parade the ambiverts, the extroverted introverts, the social ambiverts. Typical perennial human obsession flaunting to the world a justification for their attributes.

However, I’m no exception. During middle school, I unashamedly went through an addictive phase of doing online quizzes – but beyond visionary extrapolation, vanity and harmless fun, I was a superbly low self-esteem teen much too worried and much too serious about the future. Personality quizzes were a fork-lift out of the rubble of imploding thoughts; they’d get me out of my own head. See whether my experiences levelled with how others perceived me. And funnily enough, there was almost this sense of awe and wonder to every buffered result – this psychological need for self-reflection, a paralleled OASIS avatar of everything I can be.

Because there, you are assigned an identity, and everybody’s a winner. ESTJ? The performer. INFJ? The advocate. An inborn sense of morality and idealism,” 16personalities.com writes. Hogwarts House: Slytherin. “You possess a remarkably unique blend of imagination and reliability,” some random job recruitment service site spews. Because there, everybody wants to believe they possess some remarkable personality trait, as if it grants them VIP access to unlocking the secrets of society and reality.

Because there, you bask in a sense of innate superiority, in which the world simply must acknowledge and validate. It’s flattering, but probably more to do with the Barnum effect.

So here I am, after a whirlwind of several taster sessions, social events, and meeting new course-mates, and I quickly realised how great of a proportion I spent my 5-month summer engaging in serene, single-player activities. And I’ve also become consciously aware of what a convincing pretence I can muster up in the headlight moment somebody catches me cautiously roaming the room’s perimeter to ask if I’m enjoying the party. Too many introvert hangovers have I experienced from the over-stimulation of social environments (and the only kind of hangover I can relate to, for that matter).

But in jarring contrast, I’m a big fan of initiating conversations with total strangers outside of lecture theatres – I despise small-talk, but because I crave authenticity, I’ll tolerate it and can most certainly conjure small-talk with genuine enjoyment when it’s expected of me. At a totally different birthday party, you can find me wildly busting out the dance sequence to “We’re All In This Together” in front of people I just met. And possibly the most convincing example of extraversion for you Bristol medics out there, I auditioned for CLIC last year (and proud to say I did not get in; 10/10 will definitely go again this year).

That being said, I’ve always known myself to be more of an introvert at heart. And despite everything I’ve said, whatever the consensus on the whole introvert/extrovert faff, I experience introvert hangovers all the time. At the end of the day (quite literally), I’d much rather be doing laundry whilst listening to the “Horizon Zero Dawn” soundtrack instead of clubbing with Nick Grimshaw on a Thursday night. Oddly specific? That’s because it is precisely what I did.

Like a brick-load of things in life, ambiversion is a spectrum. I can’t deny having binged on Buzzfeed quizzes, because let’s admit we’re all a little bit narcissistic and need nonsense in this stupidly stressed life; my issue lies with those quizzes or tests claiming they’re the real deal with a prediction of your future career, relationships and goals. We’re all wired to seek out ways to reflect on who we are — and fair enough, yet this vulnerability is exactly what those companies, tuition centres and other organisations exploit. There’s no denying the very real need people seek to figure out the mess of who they are, but who I am is not a calculation, nor is it a summation of what we know. You don’t need some overpriced test result to articulate your own identity as if you were hearing about if for the first time. The way quizzes guide you through with a nurturing hand, as if a momentous self-discovery process?  It’s an illusion of truth; a botched pseudo-science that rarely tells you anything you didn’t know before, but simply articulates who you know yourself to be. 

You know yourself better than anybody, and more importantly, you know exactly what you don’t know. So, Heaven forbid you sincerely believe your complexity of an existence can be contained by four tiny letters, but please, by all means go right ahead and make a pizza to decide if you’d survive a zombie apocalypse.


The Digital Disgrace: This Generation’s Creators & Entertainers

I’m awfully glad I didn’t have Instagram when I was 12. Quite frankly, it terrifies the bejabbers out of me to think of wide-eyed impressionable Holly opening the Insta-dora box (except there is no hope left. No hope at all.). The Internet is built on content consumption, and equally wields services where even the most inept find a way to contribute by adhering to the confines of the tool. “Human expression!”, every new social media platform initially preaches with good intentions. Tumblr, the microblog lowering barriers to scoring coffee-table deals. Twitter, the ability to easily participate in online discussions. Snapchat, the authentic look into personal lives in real-time via visual storytelling. And Instagram, sharing your beautiful artwork almost like an online portfolio. I appreciate social media immensely for bringing endless positive changes, and providing a medium to keep the world interlinked – I most definitely believe it played an essential role in rescuing the 12 young Thai boys & their football coach after 9 days in the caves, where over a thousand people flew from all over to lend a helping hand. For this, I really am forever grateful. However, this post is going to focus more on the dismal side of social media; how the original premises have sadly veered into our currently flawed state of user-generated content. For this, I will be delving into the unfortunate new generation of Instagram comedy as a true testament.

The Instagram explore page is now typically composed of the following: 30% people working out, 40% disastrous memes (“Tag 2 friends in the comments below who also like breathing”), and 30% useless lifehacks. Have a scroll down to look under the “Comedians” section, and you’ll find it is a terribly liberal use of that word. Train-wreck after train-wreck, it’s basically 6.5 seconds strewn across 60 seconds. The premise of Vine was certainly interesting, filling the void with a content medium in accordance with our current online attention spans. Constraint can create marvellous art, but the migration of tanking Vine stars onto YouTube & Instagram only serves to prolong what comedy they couldn’t even make in 6.5 seconds. I know, I know; sweeping generalization. However, I feel entitled to make such a bold statement considering its reckless abundance breeding reckless behaviour in young kids.

I’m no comedian, but isn’t comedy about the delivery and the punchline? Instagram comedy does neither. And if you thought the videos were outrageous, the comments are fantastically worse. Aside the dismayingly profuse use of the laughing-until-crying emoji comments, the complaints are of course about the video production, sound quality, and unwanted censoring of the otherwise R-rated clip – just disregard all the big glaring offences like rape, sexual assault and infidelity, because this is a backward mental sphere we’re in, mind you.

Have we regressed? It’s difficult to think we haven’t, when the steps taken forward to eradicate such pertinent issues have rapidly back-pedalled to zero under the guise of “comedy”. Objectification is an issue being battled as is, and of course Instagram comedians have subscribed to this belief by portraying women in their videos primarily for the thumbnail, because views. Also, just like how the Kylie Jenner lip challenge was so 2015, and fidget spinners are so 2017, isn’t cheating just so 2018? Because you better jump on that unfaithfulness bandwagon so rampant in Instagram comedy – haven’t you realized it’s a staple phenomenon to public relatability? What all these videos have in common, as Daz Game puts, is the predictability.

The worst part must be the amount of production value that goes into each less-than-average skit. A legitimate team of writers and producers, sitting behind the camera crew, elbows on knees, brainstorming – Hey, you know what’s hilarious? Sexual assault! Comedy gold right there!”

Cody Ko so aptly calls this “pepper-spray comedy”there is a time and place for everything, but there is never the time nor place when rape, cheating, or violence is the punchline. Nonetheless, the thrift-shop cloak of humour thrown over these issues draws in millions of views, views that pay their rent, buys their fancy cars, and similarly disguises their greed with altruism by “£10,000 donations to random strangers”. Besides this dark branch of Instagram comedy, Danny Gonzalez also titles another highly popular subset of videos “ab comedy”, which essentially translates to “I’m not funny, but at least I’m hot” (very loosely used term here). Look, if you want to post a shirtless selfie or a sultry bathroom picture of yourself, I would prefer that any day over doing so under the guise of “comedy”. Frankly, it’s quite insulting to our intelligence by doing so.

It must be said, though: props to the Instagram comedians working tirelessly to defy the moral status of the uprising generation; unafraid to severely exploit the vulnerable hormone-fuelled limbic systems, knowingly plugging into their digital lifelines. They’ve figured out the unwritten algorithm of the jamming-the-fast-forward-button nature of social media and consequent hysterical fan response, bypassing the more traditional celebrity framework – a strange, uncalled-for breed of “influencers” who live and die on their approachability, but ultimately, is a testament to their outrageous sense of entitlement and dollar sign eyes.

Where is the sense of pride? Where is the responsibility in reaching out to millions of malleable minds, the responsibility in setting the tone of what passes as humour to an entire generation? Impressionable children will witness “comedians” making light of sexual assault and rape, perhaps even standing up for the insensitive jokes adults used to be able to control through comedy clubs. Instead, this dangerous behaviour slaps young viewers in the face with no caveats through every and any Wi-Fi-connected device.

It’s offensive to creators in the digital world creatively dedicated to what they do – it takes courage and hard-work, of which the latter seems to be forgotten. And after all this, it left me with a couple questions: what does it mean to be a creator these days, and what has entertainment turned into? Having grown up watching YouTube since I was 8 years old, I’ve grasped a little of the ethos of long-standing YouTubers – they avoid drama, or indirectly tackle it in a clever way; their relationship with YouTube headquarters is amusing, to say the least; but, most important, they stay rooted. So, the sheer fact they’ve felt strongly enough to comment on the shifting online entertainment speaks volumes to me. Ryan Higa talks about the powerful politics behind-the-scenes of award shows, how we perpetuate the vicious cycle by treating such entertainment with much more value than it should have. PewDiePie so aptly says the number one rule in becoming a popular content creator, especially in the vlogging community, is a simple equation: flexing = views. He goes on to expand that vlogging has become the new clickbait window-shopping going beyond the materialistic behaviour, repeatedly begging the question, how far will you go, hitting the nail on the head describing the behaviour as pathetic & Neanderthal-like. Smosh have comedically parodied Instagram comedy several times pretty accurately. Wong Fu recently launched a Patreon page, and Phil talks about having watched the digital space & industry change immensely, how click-bait videos these days overwhelm the few channels creating original scripted videos. He spoke about their company never wanting to comprise quality & integrity because they care about their artistry and the fans, and it’s something so realistically addressed in their 3 million subscribers video. And, honestly, it makes me sad.

I’m not saying all Viners who migrated to YouTube are terrible; neither am I saying YouTubers these days are just money & fame hungry. Amazing creators are born all the time on YouTube and I’m struggling to keep up with my subscriptions because I have over 500 (I wish I was kidding). I’m a loyal member of the meme economy just as any other millennial. However, Instagram comedy was simply the trigger that made me step back and wonder, this can be detrimental to younger kids. What irks me is that it’s not those high quality content channels trending, but instead, ridiculous Musical.ly stars scamming money off gullible pre-teens are. I’m lucky to be able to step away and macroscopically see the situation as a 20-year-old, that I can put myself in the right frame of mind. Unfortunately if I was 12, this post could just’ve easily been a Wattpad tribute defending the #TanaCon disaster.


Never Enough | “The Greatest Showman” (Cover)


My incredibly talented sister and I decided to do our rendition of “Never Enough” sung by Loren Allred in “The Greatest Showman”.

Vocally, the most difficult part of the song was the very last “for me”, this fragile feathery little C-note of a thing, treacherously teetering on the scales of Anubis against cliche human desire (because it holds that much volume, as you’ll hear in the bloopers). Piano-wise, playing the “string” of quavers (pun intended) took me ages before I got a take not mistakenly slipping into that irritating, weak D when playing the Ab/Bb/C/Eb in octaves. But, thoroughly enjoyed the quaver/triplet/sextuplet progression runs in building intensity as my sister repeatedly belted and held that exhausting Eb. Whew, I think even after having listened to “Never Enough” for well over 100 minutes worth of time, this majestic composition is so deserving of every second of it. We hope our version does it somewhat justice!


Put Up Your (Manic) Defence!

I distinctly remember that middle school phase where inspirational sayings overlying a natural landscape was a staple of every social media timeline (i.e. highly stylised memes for the gullible); suddenly, you were the righteously self-titled “deep thinker”, reflecting much more than a mirror ever could. Admittedly, many pseudo-intellectual Tumblr quotes were saved to my camera roll despite its mild insult to great sayings by actual influential figures of history. Anyways, that was a much longer than anticipated trajectory to this wonderful quote by Oscar Wilde: “To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” And, sir, I can finally truly appreciate your words.

Being idle and content with doing nothing is something I’ve aspired to for years. Curated by Disney’s “School’s out, scream & shout!” ideology and agonising exam periods, it’s bizarre to think how relaxation can be difficult. It’s almost been a month since I’ve touched down in Bangkok, where I resolutely told myself, “Now, I can finally relax.” However, I’m still periodically plagued with Raven Baxter-like precognition (except it’s a stabbing pain in my temples, not a vision, and I have that hideous look of a sneeze). I mean, my goodness – exams are over. Pre-clinical years have finished. I’m back at home for the summer holidays with limitless hugs from my family. So, why do I still feel like I’m subconsciously pushing ridiculous deadlines and complicating personal projects to unnecessarily create stress? Stress withdrawal symptoms, is this what this is?

Do I like being stressed?

An infuriating no! resounds, but even the immediacy in this response seems defensive. Maybe my whack hormones enjoy the high of stress, but my mental health does not find satisfaction in reaching a new high score on the scoreboard.

I guess I never really conceptualized it before, but holidays are weird. What are these short periods of unstructured time, and how does one simply do…nothing? My childhood summers filled up with personal projects that began as plain fun, which rapidly escalated to the infuriating high school summers where the same projects caused my eyebrows to furrow thinking, “What’s the point of this?” Because if the sole point was just to unwind, guaranteed I’d find it a waste of time. 

It’s partially my own values and personality, but it’s also partially the environment we surround ourselves in. “Taking breaks is so important in avoiding burnouts!” numerous teachers, friends, and Business Insider articles have stressed (ha). What a load of flapjacks, my body always thought, though never consciously. My helpless and despairing mind engages in warfare, grabbing pitchforks and desperately charges towards this utopia of nothingness, but it’s too late – once again, omnipotent control and overwhelming stress has won. The go-to war strategy has always been manic defence, especially in the predominantly Western mindset that there is supreme nobility in sprinting from one task to the next. Relax, but then the next person will beat you to whatever you were trying to accomplish. Demands of daily life are intense, never-ending, and relentless; thus, the guilt of relaxing really is a guise of your inability to master your agenda despite the ambition. It makes sense why when we stop, stress doesn’t. It would explain the scene of me shuffling pathetically through Suvarnabhumi Airport with a luggage in better condition than me, feeling absolutely battered and broken not from the 12-hour flight, but the 5-month fight, because it still isn’t over.

So be it if I must voluntarily delude myself in “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make” quotes to help unstrap the belt around my head, to practice the art of doing nothing. Who would’ve guessed, that years later, my name is enrolled in a fight I never thought I’d sign up for: learning and practicing what it all means to simply relax, just like finding happiness.


Year 2 Bristol Med School | Summer Exams

It has only been a few days since completing the final summer exams, and you bet your sweet bippy I’m still experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. These episodes are of an unfortunate recurrence after every exam season, and leave me chaotically conflicted. I’m gonna call it…post-exam subjection trauma (PEST). You know what I mean; how every little ordinary detail in daily life triggers this automatic all-out regurgitation of lecture knowledge where you completely blackout, before snapping back into reality dry-heaving “May 16th please be kind to me”.

*sees a mother breastfeeding her baby in public*

Okay oestrogen = ductal system, progesterone = secretory system? Ooooo but don’t be fooled since progesterone & oestrogen actually inhibit lactation. Nice one. And then, what was it? Oh, dopamine inhibition due to suckling relieves restraint on PRH, prolactin release causes milk production, oxytocin causes that weird “milk ejection reflex”…that reminds me of the “viscous fingering” mechanism in the parietal cells of the stomach, omg that lecture was kinda weird, ha ha ha *still staring at the breastfeeding*

Sigh. This is what PEST does to you – you only see science, not people. 

Anyways, I did a similar review last year of the Year 1 summer exams. Thus, as a sucker for continuity, here’s another.

Systems of the Body 2: Paper 1 (April 23rd)

Structure: 70 best-of-five questions | 1 hour 45 mins

What: Gastrointestinal, respiratory, renal

Remarks: Because we had January mocks on Systems 2, this was just a smidge less terrifying than the others. I have to say, it was much more clinical than I prepared for, but I was definitely expecting it. There was one question where it said a man came in with fever, diarrhoea, etc. and we had to figure out which bacteria he is most likely to be infected with. At this point, it could be any of the options. But then, the vital bit of information is that upon history-taking, it is learned he works in a lab…with lizards.

…so, okay. I get medical school is all about lateral thinking, but the lizard thing was just a little bizarre. Can’t get over it. Lizards.

With drug names, I can safely say this on behalf on all of us: we don’t remember them entirely, and just commit the first syllable to memory. It’s best-of-five, after all. For example, one of the cysteine leukotriene antagonists for asthma is montelukast, but I just think its that Monte Carlo drug, or the synthetic analogue of PGE1 protecting the stomach mucosa for peptic ulcers is misoprostol but I remember miso soup. And then, we all have our idiotic tactics of remembering a list of drugs. Anti-emetics, for example: the 5-HT receptor antagonists. One of them is Nabilone, which sounds like Naboo, that planet in the Star Wars universe, so extraordinarily picturesque it’s almost euphoric (one of the side-effects of the drug). Or furosemide is a loop diuretic; I remember this by the thinking “fur” = dogs, one of my favourite dog breeds are shiba inus, and they have curly tails (“loop” diuretics)…

A lot of the tactics used are incredibly crude, linking up selective information required for exam purposes only in a strange way. And then for others, you go over and over them again, until they just suddenly give way. Like, for me, I didn’t want to just accept the definitions of SaO2, CaO2 & PaO2 – we’re told it’s saturation, content and partial pressure, respectively. I never really properly understood this in relation to the equations given, but one day, it just randomly fell into place for me: SaO2 = the oxygen binding to Hb, PaO2 = the oxygen actually dissolved in plasma, and CaO2 = summation of SaO2 & PaO2. Highly likely I’m just really slow, but I never really got it until I kept staring at it.

Systems of the Body 2 & 3: Anatomy & Histology Spot Test (April 25th)

Structure: 80 MCQ questions | 45 seconds per station (1 hour exam) | Includes topographical anatomy, case scenarios, pathology cases, clinical examinations, radiology, and histology

What: Gastrointestinal, respiratory, renal (Systems 2); nervous system, endocrine & reproduction (Systems 3)

Remarks: Right, so this was the exam I was more disappointed at myself in compared to the others. Anatomy tends to be the slightly (better subject for me than the written papers (keyword: slightly), but I walked out feeling absolute dismay; it didn’t feel like the dozens of hours spent revising, especially on the topics you make an extra effort to understand, paid off. Things that we spent a lot of time in the DR learning (“You need to know this!”), like the various strictures of the oesophagus & its multi blood supply or the lumbosacral plexus roots, didn’t even come up. We had a whole practical dedicated to ears & eyes, and only 2 questions max came up in total for both. My friend said she only knew the answer to another question because she happened to overhear someone directly ask the demos; so unless prompted, there would be no explicit answer that wasn’t even in the booklet (but apparently on the exam).

The questions came at obscure angles, like the innervation of the ureter (only PSNS, only SNS, both PSNS & SNS, etc.) – not even joking when I say it’s this tiny, vague statement at the bottom of the renal booklet “Nerve supply via autonomic plexuses”. There was one station displaying a radiograph of the thorax, and the right lung clearly showed pleural effusion. The question was, “What is the pathology in the left lung?”, in which the correct answer was simply “Normal”, which I didn’t even realise was a trick question until somebody asked me after the exam, “Hey, that trick question though, right?!” I think what irks me is that the formative spot questions in the sessions give the wrong impression of the style of questions that actually came up. But then again, this was just my experience; a lot of people came out feeling pretty good, and that it went better than expected, so I could just be an unpopular opinion (story of my life).

Systems of the Body 3: Paper 2 (April 27th)

Structure: 70 best-of-five questions | 1 hour 45 mins

What: Nervous system, endocrine & reproduction

Remarks: Held in the grandiose Will’s Memorial Great Hall, it was a pretty adorable way to finish the gruelling pre-clinical years. Most of us were tremendously jittery beforehand, because of the fact we have handbooks the length of your average 3.5/5 Goodreads YA novel and tedious 9-5 lectures that happily shoved us off the cliff into anxiety. So, it was a shocker to say the paper went much better than anticipated for the majority of us. Once again, a rather clinical paper – there were quite a few questions on contraception applying theory to legitimate context useful in practice, which I appreciated (though mind-boggling at points). The first question threw everybody off – “How does alcohol cross the blood-brain barrier?” For some reason, I thought drawing the molecule for ethanol would help me decipher the answer (it didn’t). Ask us about the basal ganglia pathways in relation to Parkinson’s disease, and we’ll give you this immaculate answer all backed up with Vancouver referencing. But a stupidly easy question about alcohol’s solubility properties? Well-played, examiners, you’ve caught 228 med students off-guard. My favourite question asked how a patient with mania would present at the GP – one of the options had convoluted SAT words with way too many vowels, but the real star answer was “Staring at the wall and counting”. Not the right answer, but just…right.

There were other little bits I picked up on, like how there were equations the lecturers specifically said to commit to memory, like % ionised, that they just straight up gave in the paper anyway. Then various pathways, including the motor & sensory tracts, auditory & optic pathway, or the spermatogenesis & oogenesis processes, barely made appearances, if not at all. Embryology was absent. It was a little frustrating, because with those topics,  it actually took a substantial amount of time to methodically learn them step-by-step. Then there were those one-off questions, like what the uterus fundal height is by 20 weeks – it’s this tiny sub-bullet point on a slide amongst 37 others, let alone in a booklet of 225 pages. Or which condition can cause increased feet width; intuitively, most would choose acromegaly anyway, but this information was in a video the lecturer showed, not on the actual lecture slides given.


I know a lot of this was nit-picking and complaining about parts of the paper, but overall, I understand exams will always be like this. The really wishy-washy, extremely unpredictable questions that you’ll feel are unfair, but you gotta play the game whether you like it or not. What I’m basically saying is, no matter how much you revise, it’ll never be enough – the learning isn’t necessarily harder than IB or A-levels, but probably down to the sheer quantity and conceptualisation of certain ideas (e.g. the reticular formation or the basal ganglia). It’s learning how to cover everything effectively (but not beating yourself up if you don’t, either), preparing to accept there isn’t always a correct answer, but most importantly, being able to not always want to know why. I say this with a conviction suitable only in this context; this is a mindset that our high school curriculums set us up to think, that there is always some kind of explanation for every question-mark – it’s the whole “big fish small pond” syndrome shaking up the high-achieving kids who tumble down the pyramid. Falling isn’t the issue, but trying to climb to the top again purely out of familiarity, most definitely is. Whether you agree or disagree, hopefully it’s something to think about.


Eddy Ruyter | Interview

“I’m always so impressed when Skype actually connects. We worked out the time zones – I’m so impressed with us!” And, despite Eddy Ruyter sitting 3452 miles away, this enthusiastic optimism radiates brilliantly through my iPad.

The Toronto-based musician began playing the piano at six years old, when all he wanted to do was play outside. “It was probably a good four to five years before I started turning around and was like, “Oh, I actually really like this!””he recalls. Eddy then whizzed through the classical training and gained exposure to a variety of influences, including Elton John (“A complete legend – I still see huge influence in my playing from listening to that as a kid!”), but mostly drew inspiration from pop-punk & rock bands. His decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in jazz performance was due to its fundamental applicability, but Eddy comments, “Jazz was something I dove in the deep end in college – I never really lived jazz music in the way a lot of my other friends did.” Nonetheless, he fondly remembers feverishly transcribing some of Joe Zawinul’s solos, and Bill Evans’s “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” still remains one of his favourite albums.

“There was a good year or so I was paying my rent mostly from playing with a Mexican band”

However, it was more the amalgamation of diverse sounds that cultivated his musical direction early on. “Toronto, being a very multi-cultural city, it’s cool just being a side-man here – there’s so many different kinds of music and so many different cultures all put together. There was a good year or so I was paying my rent mostly from playing with a Mexican band. I got to learn how to do a bunch of salsa, merengue, duranguense…I never thought it would be an experience I got to have, which was so fun! I definitely feel Latin influences has been a bigger part of my playing than jazz was, even.”

Source (Photography Credits: Josiah Van Dien)

A lot of Eddy’s passion for pop-punk & rock music stems from hearing how the synths & piano sounds are integrated. “Linkin Park did that, and Silverchair even had a concert pianist come in for one of their songs to play over it. I always love that rock edge, but when they bring in programming, synth stuff & sampling, I always like seeing how all those sounds are integrated within rock music.” So much so, Eddy was part of a 5-piece pop-rock band a few years ago, Aberdeen, that toured around Canada. “It was just throwing everything in the back of a van, driving across Canada, and sleeping on peoples’ floors.”

“You start with little gigs that don’t really pay much, but you have to learn a lot of songs for. But I always loved it; I always wanted to play”

This sporadic, impromptu lifestyle is absolutely expected in a musician’s life, so I ask him about what pursuing a career in music entails. “I just played with anyone and everyone I could. It started a lot with cover bands and being in school for it, as well as just being around a lot of different musicians. I was also working part-time at a music store teaching guitar & piano lessons there, and just being around so many different musicians helped a lot, because they’ll be playing a little bar gig here & there, and be like, “Hey! I need a keyboard player! Can you come for this?” So, you start with little gigs that don’t really pay much, but you have to learn a lot of songs for. But I always loved it; I always wanted to play. I always liked the challenge of, “Oh, how do I make that sound?” “How do I cover all these horn parts and string parts and synth parts at all the same time?” I just kept doing that. The more you do it, the more other musicians notice you, and the more you get asked to do other shows or other projects.”

Breaking into the music industry seemed more of a side-effect than an end-goal for Eddy. Incredibly humble with a remarkable work ethic, it was no surprise Eddy was soon presented with the opportunity to work with the now 22-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, Francesco Yates. “I worked with him for a couple years playing keys. Francesco is absolutely amazing – he is an incredible singer, an incredible piano player, and an incredible guitar player,” enthuses Eddy. In addition to working with Francesco, around that same time, Eddy also began subbing in with the 80s-synth band, Spoons. With a delighted laugh, he exclaims, “I love them! They’re amazing. They’re the sweetest people and have music videos out from before I was even born! I just did a show with them about a week ago, and it’s been so fun.”

“Trying to help people through things is something Shawn definitely is really on with his lyrics, and is one of the reasons I really look up to him”

Eddy & I also happen to be Skyping a couple weeks shy of having just recently wrapped up Shawn Mendes’s phenomenal worldwide Illuminate tour – a simple “Hey, can you come to Salt Lake City tomorrow and play a show?” call from the guitarist led to an adventure of a lifetime. Further exemplifying how integral spontaneity is, Eddy lays down breaking into the music industry with no rigid set of pipeline events. “There’s really no tried-and-true “Oh, I went to do this, or accomplished this, and that allowed me to play with so & so.” I just kept playing, and I loved playing, and your name gets passed around. If someone needs you and they know you from another show you did, they might call you. It all works out.”

Source (Photography Credits: Josiah Van Dien)

Having gone from the unpredictable “Can you jump in with us tonight?” texts to a scheduled regimen of touring with label artists, I inquire whether he misses the flexibility in performances, like during the Illuminate tour. “It’s very put together beforehand, and decided “Okay, this happens here, this happens there.” In rehearsals, there will be a lot of improvised parts that we figure out – we’ll lock something in and say “Okay, this is what we want to use for this tour.” It all depends on the group. There can be improvisation, but mostly has to be set in stone before going out on the road. In the case of a tour like that [Illuminate], you have to be locked in with lighting, visuals, and everything else. The more production element parts, the more you have to be like, “Okay, so this is what we’re doing” so it fits. But with that being said, there are a lot of shows set up in a way that allows improv to happen.”

Also, feeling creatively stifled is never an issue with Eddy: “One of my buddies in college, he’s a saxophone player, and was talking about doing pit band. He said, “Well, whenever I’m in the pit band, there’s no improvisation there, but I’m really focusing to make sure that my tone is on point, that my pitch is right there; I’m focusing on doubling of the instruments, or on my sight-reading.” So, with any show, it’s always looking at what to improve. With a tour like this, you’re not doing as much improvisation, but you’re taking that attention and focusing on other aspects of the music – “How tight can I play with these guys?”, “How can I create the best sound that is going to fit in with this project?”, or “How can I dynamically play this part to showcase it in the best way possible?” It’s definitely a very big part of it, seeing what the song calls for and what’s the best way you can do it in.”

“Lyrics are a big thing because music is something that can help people through so many different aspects of their life”

The next few months will involve a little less traveling mileage – Eddy is currently working hard on his own personal projects. Amidst the gigs generously speckled here and there, Eddy has a four-track EP “Blurred” to be released soon (“It’s been on “Coming Soon!” for a while now!”) with one track out now, “Catch Me If You Can”. “I am slowly recording and starting to launch some of my own stuff. It’s under the name “The ER Project”. I’ve got a few recordings that I’m holding onto and trying to figure out the whole release plan. Hopefully, over the next few months, I’ll start getting those out!”

With a lot of the sounds being a fusion of pop-rock and electronica, noting the large influence Hedley & Marianas Trench both have on the EP, most of the tracks were written during his Masters project: “The whole thesis of it was just pop-rock compositions, but it was lyrically targeting a lot of issues songs don’t.” Communicating with the listener lyrically is clearly the crux of Eddy’s musical vision – the long, drawn-out pauses of contemplation in conversation hints at deeply personal experiences. “Lyrics are a big thing because music is something that can help people through so many different aspects of their life; that’s why I really focus on a lot of artists or groups that will lyrically target that. I don’t look at that as anything against any other genres or other lyrical content – everything has its place.” He smiles gratefully, before continuing, “Trying to help people through things is something Shawn definitely is really on with his lyrics, and is one of the reasons I really look up to him. He really cares about connecting with the listener, and writing things that will inspire them, and can give them something to relate to, which is huge.”

“A lot of the music rebels against whatever the generation before created, and in a lot of cases, it isn’t anybody meaning any harm. It’s simply: this is what this generation is; this is what the next thing is”

Recently, there has been some bewilderment from older generations due to what “masquerades” as today’s popular music created by certain millennials at the forefront. Working with young artists, like Cian Ducrot, Shawn Mendes and Francesco Yates, to name a few, what is Eddy’s opinion? He grins, rolling his eyes good-humouredly. “I think every generation in music history has been there: “Oh, these kids are doing this – why is that okay?” A lot of the music rebels against whatever the generation before created, and in a lot of cases, it isn’t anybody meaning any harm. It’s simply: this is what this generation is; this is what the next thing is.”

“Now, we’ve got the diversification of all these different genres that can exist at the same time. And I like that people are willing to accept that”

Whilst we utilize the master category of “pop music”, Eddy notes the boundaries of the genre being tinkered with, as elements of house, trap and EDM music cross over considerably these days. However, he pauses mid-sentence, before a frazzled, “Actually, I don’t know if I can even say that! Even when you had the huge club thing and EDM back in the early 10s, you had the whole folk music movement coming with Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers; then “Counting Stars” by One Republic, boom, combined them.”

Source (Photography Credits: Josiah Van Dien)

Everything has diversified now. Yes, I can say a particular genre was more prevalent in this decade to the prior one, but there are still so many other things going on at the same time. We have the internet with access to so many different things. You think of it as, “Oh, that 60s sound!” because I guess in that decade, it was more unified – whereas now, we’ve got the diversification of all these different genres that can exist at the same time. And I like that people are willing to accept that. We’re able to experiment with more, so who knows what’s next? Maybe the grunge will come back into play!”

“We’ve got far more ability to invest into any particular artist, but we definitely don’t, because there’s a lot of other artists there you can discover, which in a way…is kind of cool!”

The ease of discovering new music via streaming services has fundamentally changed the music industry and the method of consumption. Listeners have easy access to a plethora of music, but a debatable trade-off becomes the lack of investment into a single artist. Eddy immediately jumps in: “Oh, definitely – we’ve got far more ability to invest into any particular artist, but we definitely don’t, because there’s a lot of other artists there you can discover, which in a way…is kind of cool! Even if you just get a snippet of everyone, you can find so many different people making music, and listeners have such a variety to really make their own collection. I mean, obviously you’re not diving in as much into an artist, but if you find an artist that you really like, I think people are still going to do it because they have a means to. It might not happen as much, but I think when someone really finds someone they like, they’re gonna go for it.”

Not only have streaming services dampened the rigid gatekeeper role record labels once possessed, the digitization of the music industry has paved way for autonomy. Whilst terrestrial radio remains a popular avenue to means of music and vinyl is making a surprising resurgence, it cannot be overstated how platforms such as Apple Music or Spotify have given numerous musicians accessible means to easily share their music without the need for creative compromise – this comes with the valid option of not manufacturing or distributing physical copies at all. “You get to hear songs released half a year before they make it on radio, and I’ll be like, “Ah, I know that one already, I already know about that artist!” So, I think it’s definitely cool, instead of a few people having those spots and everything about those few people; there are all these other artists you can really dig in and find.” It’s true the ease of adding a one-off song into your cultivated playlist means a lower likelihood of learning more about the specific artist, but perhaps the overarching interconnectedness is more of a fortune than a downfall.

“I’m definitely one of those people that starts going crazy if I’m too long without an instrument”

Pianist-to-pianist, I eagerly ask what he is currently focusing on musically. “Right now, honestly, it’s mostly vocals and getting ready to track some more stuff. Within piano playing, it’s always just creating synth sounds, and playing with other people & making sure you’re locking in is always a big part of it. Improvisation on my own is always listening to standards and playing over them. It’s definitely hard to find a balance,” Eddy sighs, furrowing his eyebrows. “And balance is usually dictated by what show is coming up and what needs to be strongest.” The stress is transient, immediately dissolving into a grin. “As long as I’m working on something, I’m happy.”

“I’m definitely one of those people that starts going crazy if I’m too long without an instrument. I have this habit of tending to immerse myself in it in any way I can.” He laughs warmly, before finally adding, “And if that’s healthy or not…who knows?”

Source (Photography Credit: Josiah Van Dien)

Go give Eddy some love:

The ER Project




Header Image Source (Photography Credits: Josiah Van Dien)


5 Things Every Student Must Do In 2018

*This is a Liberty Living competition entry.

1. Sponsor a dog!

…because 2018 is the Year of the Dog! That’s right – on Friday, February 16th, the vibrant festivities of Chinese New Year commences. Regardless whether you celebrate this momentous occasion or not, sponsoring a dog will brighten up a furry friend’s day as well as yours. A quick Google search will give you hundreds of hits: Blue Cross for Pets, Support Dogs, Oldies Club… and that’s just to name a few of these wonderful shelters.

Processed with MOLDIV
Currently lots of “Year of the Dog” merch on sale…

2. Read a book – no, textbooks don’t count

Tell me: when was the last time you’ve read a book for leisure? When you’ve properly indulged in the pages of a beguiling novel until 3am because you keep telling yourself, “Just until the end of this chapter!” and you become overly attached to fictional characters? Yep – ages ago, right? No more I Don’t Have Time’s and I Have So Much Other Academic Stuff To Read’s, because let’s face it: you probably could use that 20 minutes of mindless scrolling through Instagram’s discover page for reading instead.

3. Vlog; filmmaker status not required

Because despite the constant dilemma of being broke, university life is too invaluable to forget – and no, you don’t need to start marketing a YouTube channel brand and do obscure MacBook giveaways for subscribers (do people actually even receive them?). It is integral you do this for the right reasons, though. The very definition of being an entertainer has radically fluctuated in the past couple years – with some ex-Viners attempting to continue their careers on YouTube as ‘influencers’ and prank videos being entirely staged or highly disrespectful in some aspect, it’s easy to feel like you must live by the stats. However, that being said, there are definitely some incredible YouTubers out there who possess no ulterior motive; they simply create videos, because they like creating videos. And as a university student, this is an integral mindset to have – pursue something, because you want to. 

So, even if it’s creating ridiculous, badly-edited iPhone filmed videos (an example of my terrible iMovie skills below) to share with friends & family, you’ll thank yourself later; seeing how you’ve changed over the course of your degree will possibly be one of the most dramatic transformations in your life.

4. Write letters

Because surprisingly, Snapchat isn’t enough. The hindrance for most is, “Ugh, but I have get a stamp and posting it costs money!”; but, trust me – it’s much less of a hassle once you’ve done it once. Taking a little time out of your day to handwrite a letter to your friends in another city, or a whole other country, is simultaneously nostalgic and exciting; I cannot describe the feelings of delight when you receive an envelope from an unfamiliar country written in very familiar handwriting.

5. Start a campaign or a charity

We are millennials. The generation who downright exploited that shirtless scene in “The Last Jedi” resulting in numerous Facebook notifications of being tagged in yet another Ben Swolo meme. The generation who made the panoramic way of seasoning steaks with salt absurdly viral, catapulting Nusr-Et Steakhouse’s Turkish butcher sensation Nusret Gökçe, known more colloquially as #saltbae, into Instagram fame (he has close to 11 million Instagram followers – no, that is not a joke). And we are the cheeky generation who, in response to Twitter user Makenna posting a photo of herself cleaning President Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star under the caption “Nothing but respect for MY president #RaisedRight”, didn’t choose the lazier route by responding with some variation of “You support a racist” or “That’s so dumb” which would’ve done little but further exacerbate the exact polarised hatred we’re trying to back-pedal from, but instead, showcased millennial ingenuity at its finest: taking a blatant patriotic claim like Makenna’s tweet, and memifying it to reveal its inherent absurdity – because Shrek for President, anyone? Britney Spears? You name it.

Yes, we are millennials. We’re an erratic bunch who are seen as politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values, and less concerned about helping the larger community. People may see self-entered, but I see individualism. Perhaps we’re oddballs fuelled by ridiculous memes, but it isn’t mutually exclusive with intellect; we’re more open-minded, more liberal, and more receptive to new ways of living. It’s those who make the news in stunningly stupid manners that people will grasp onto and project the assumed negative stereotype on the rest of us.

Millennials are doing selfless, incredible things every-day, including revolutionising charitable giving. We’ve drifted slightly from institutional giving to philanthropic organisations, towards positioning ourselves as part of the solution instead through volunteering and lending our own social networks to a cause we believe in. See Tom Holland and his brothers, for instance – they launched their own charity, “The Brother Trust” in July last year.

So, if you feel strongly about something a cause, take it on yourself to begin a campaign or a charity; it’ll easily be one of the most humbling, insightful experiences. Especially as college students constantly under stress and pressure, you’ll be incredibly grateful to give back, when perhaps you felt you had nothing to give at all.