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?

©TMK

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.

©TMK

(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.

©TMK

Intimacy

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.

©TMK

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.

©TMK

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.

©TMK

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.

©TMK

The Dirt On Clean Eating

“I’m eating clean,” the postgrad says, not for the first time that week. Six of us are crammed around this tiny three-person IKEA table in the Chulalongkorn Biomedical Laboratory, eating a spread of grilled fishballs, red pork covered with gravy, and spicy somtam. I slurp a mouthful of tom yum noodles, briefly tasting the phrase before moving on. She proceeds to enviously eye the others eating blissfully carefree, but not before she pulls out a homemade salad, completely drenched in Caesar salad dressing. The overwhelming stench of mayo made me nauseous; I had to hold back a gag.

“Yeah, you guys should try clean eating,” she says with this smug expression, popping open a can of Diet Coke; it froths over slightly and trickles down lazily. “Like, I feel so much healthier, instead of putting junk in my body.”

Hoo boy.

Perhaps my mind was completely enraptured on my lovely E. coli battlefields holding little wars between the awesome antioxidants and the feisty free radicals, but I didn’t realise at the time “clean eating” would soon be taking over the minds of millennials in years to come. Fast forward, shall we?

***

Year 2 has begun, and consequently, so have the diets.

Besides all the How Was Your Summer?’s, It’s So Nice To See You!’s, Did You Do Anything Cool?’s talk that becomes heavily saturated between lectures, I see a bunch of loaded veggie wraps, skinny lattes, and quivering self-control. And if this was the scenario a few months ago, my mind would’ve crumbled from the toxicity my relationship with food was creating.

I’m all for eating clean. I’m happy that people are striving to nourish their bodies with nutritious ingredients and are spending a little longer looking at supermarket food labels. This is an awareness I admire, but “clean eating” is a little different from your quack conspiracy-theory-like diets; it has challenged mainstream ways of eating, powered by the ever so convenient social media, and has become absolutist in its claims.

The phrase “clean eating” must’ve began with good intentions; to eat fresh, natural, whole foods minimally processed – vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, animal & plant-based protein, oils, nuts, pulses. Eating as close to nature as possible; cooking at home and seeking high-quality ingredients for your own health. This healthy approach towards nutrition is fantastic. Eating clean sounds modest, almost like Mum’s cooking – no calorie calculators, but simply eating as much nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.

So, #eatingclean, #eatclean, #clean – what the heck happened?

This definition has become incredibly misguided and misconstrued. It’s clear “clean eating” is more than a diet; it’s a belief system. That if you’re not “eating clean”, you’re the very opposite – sloppy, careless, and damaging your body. And that’s when this becomes a dangerous game to play. It’s morphed into a beneficial sense of awareness of food into this diet-driven caste system. Not only is “clean eating” establishing a hierarchical model for eating healthily, but it is yet another bolstering means for food-shaming. And just to make it all worse, its taking over the entire Instagram platform, shovelled into the mouths of millennials, resulting in a heightened paranoia about the foods we eat consequently falling onto an obsession with the way we look. It’s the latest fad to prompt nationwide lack of self-acceptance in this millennial generation. I miss the days when “eating clean” simply meant not getting nachos down your front (napkin, miss?).

What I realised from my personal experience – the hours and hours of searching up vegan burrito bowls on Pinterest and anxiously scrolling through the infinite #cleaneatinginspo thread – is that this whole “eat clean” culture disregards the lack of access, both in time AND money. Not all of us can find the little organic farmer’s market; not all of us can afford dried gogi berries, a kilo of coconut sugar and cacao nibs on the daily. The surge in #avocadotoast aesthetic, Amazon searches for spiralisers and cauliflower pizza bases. Frankly, it’s elitist – this isn’t food education or nutritional economic awareness. This is buying into the attempt to be, let’s face it, media-skinny; the fat-burning green juice, protein powder lovin’ pictures of health. This isn’t the “eating clean” I signed up for, but a movement I unfortunately became a part of.

In addition, the phrase “clean eating” misrepresents scientific evidence of food ingredients – more and more food products begin boasting a “clean ingredient” label. But how could it be, if your product is mostly filled with a trendier version of oil and not providing consumers with educated choices? Kale is no better than good ol’ spinach; coconut oil is high in LDL cholesterol; commericalized cold-pressed juice is essentially a bottle of expensive sugar. And like with any revolution, “clean eating” has its hardcore leaders. I know you know them.

The trend claims to be easy, but just like every YouTuber who attempts the Pinterest Challenge, it is always much more complicated than that. The rules are endless, and you have the power to choose which one to adhere to – you can begin with the vegetarian diet, pescatarian diet or vegan diet. Pretty harmless, huh? Well, let’s go further – the Atkins diet, juice cleanse diet, paleo diet, carb-free diet, gluten-free diet, dairy-free diet, or the sugar-free diet. Oh, but it doesn’t even stop there – how about the anything-cooked-above-a-certain-temperature diet, or the raw food diet? What’s next, food-free diet? Breathing-free diet? If that sounds extremist, you bet your fancy pants it is.

Unsurprisingly, this philosophy birthed unrealistic, guilt-inducing fads – and falling down to our knees, we pursue its promised attractive outcome despite its disguise as an instructional guide to becoming unhealthy obsessive and/or feeling ultimately terrible about ourselves with failure. If any kind of diet whispers into your ear, “Hey, food is the enemy. Take it down.”, drop the weapons of restriction, because there is something very wrong. Don’t you ever view your food choices as sources of guilt and shame. This war makes you delusional, and it has consequences.

©TMK

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming | Kind Of A Review, But Not Really

Warning: This post contains spoilers about Spider-Man: Homecoming. You have been warned…

Spider-Man’s web shooters have become such an iconic gadget ever since his debut in Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 (a rare, near-mint copy was auctioned off late last year for $454,100!1) – I mean, it seems every interview promoting Spider-Man: Homecoming ends up with the ever-patient Tom Holland strapping on a silly-string shooter for a Marvel knowledge quiz. Like watching any other superhero film, I was questioning the plausibility of the science behind it all – was the web fluid formula Peter secretly making a batch of in Chemistry class legit? Can the thin bundle of web actually support Peter’s urban jungle-swinging? When the cable on the elevator snapped, how could his webs suspend it long enough before saving everybody inside?

I love science so, so much. Thus, seeing the scientist side of Peter Parker in Jon Watt’s “Spider-Man Homecoming” and Mark Webb’s “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that Sam Raimi’s movie trilogy never showed gave me palpitations of nervous excitement (you think I’m joking…). There is an extremely high chance I’ll be doing a much more in-depth research of the science behind it all, but for now, this post is going to be a review that’s quasi-scientific. Bear in mind, I’ve only watched the film once, so details are a bit hazy. Huge shoutout to Marvel Studios for the Thai restaurant scene with the picture of our beloved King Rama 9 of Thailand; thanks a million. I am so grateful. 

I’m gonna start off science (or of what limited knowledge I have). In Peter’s Chemistry class, a long row of black & white portraits of brilliant scientists line the top of the whiteboard; there were the likes of Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Sir Isaac Newton…and even Bruce Banner. I loved that, because the film treasured Bruce Banner for his contributions as the famed thinker he is and not the superhero he can also be. The science teacher quizzed the class on how to calculate the linear acceleration from Point A and B (you can see the problem on the whiteboard in the screen-cap below). She was essentially asking for the formula for the angular acceleration of a pendulum, and Flash Thompson incorrectly responded (gravity times sine theta)/mass, but a dozing Peter awaken from his nap with Spider-Man YouTube videos playing on his laptop was able to correctly answer, “Mass cancels out, so it’s just gravity times sine theta.” (“You’re dead!” Flash later whispered, because ooo trig burn). I mean, regardless if Peter is a genius, I love that sly reference to Spider-Man’s mode of transport i.e. swinging like a pendulum on webs.

spideytrailer_25.jpg
Source

Spider-Man’s web shooter. The classic design, as you’re probably very familiar with, is strapped to Peter’s wrists beneath the costume sleeves. You can watch Tom Holland briefly talk through it in behind-the-scenes footage; he even shows you the piece of tech. There’s a palm release button high up on the palm to avoid unwanted firings, and when tapped, the web fluid stored in small cartridges made up of mainly nickel-plated annealed brass passes through an internal spinneret mechanism made from stainless steel (except for the turbine component & bearings). I really liked how the film kept going back to Peter picking up spare web fluid cartridges he stored underneath a row of lockers; it’s these kind of details that makes it so much more realistic. The very small turbine pump vanes shears the web fluid, forcing it through the spinneret holes with an adjustable nozzle, which cold-draws it and shoots out through the air where it solidifies. There is so much detail about Peter’s web shooters, and I recommend you go scour through all the Amazing Spider-Man issues and read Marvel Wikia for more.2

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Amazing Spider-Man #2 Panels

And, what’s the web fluid made of? Well…no one really knows. The chemical composition remains a mystery. Potassium carbonate? Toluene? Silica gel purification?  I saw sneaky salicylic acid amongst Peter’s notes in Chemistry class! “Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide”3 states Peter spent hundreds of hours in his high school labs working with multi-polymer compounds to create an adhesive substance – we do know it’s related to nylon. It’s thought the web fluid exists as a shear-thinning liquid inside the cartridge (solid until a shearing force is applied to it), and according again to the “Ultimate Guide”, each cartridge holds approximately 1000 yards of webbing. I assume when exposed to open air, the web fluid begins to harden, though I’m wondering what high school lab equipment Peter uses to pressurise the fluid at 300 p.s.i. (though this official number has been known to change, this would be enough to shoot a stream of web approximately 60 feet, but once again depends on forces of resistance). According to Marvel Wikia, “On contact with air, the long-chain polymer knits and forms an extremely tough, flexible fiber.” In the film, Peter does mention the webbing takes about 2 hours to wear off, so I guess the web fluid’s adhesive quality diminishes rapidly with exposure to air. Indeed, Marvel Wikia further states “After approximately 1 hour, certain imbibed esters cause the solid form of the web fluid to dissolve into a powder.”

I’ve only just scraped the surface of the basic science at work with Spider-Man. There is way more science out there concerning Spider-Man’s heroic feats and his web shooters, but I just wanted to give a little taster to get you pumped about how extraordinary the science is. I’m obviously no expert in the realm of physics, but from what I’ve read, the science is pretty plausible – it sticks within the rules of the MCU, and there are sufficient calculations to show the web fluid tensile strength, slinging capabilities, etc. are all quite legit.

Now for a more general overview of the movie: I’d like to start off by saying how much I loved the montage of all the high school scenes. Not only is it devoid of the stereotypical cliques of cheerleaders & jocks with the lead character clearly a twenty-something with a backpack chucked on, but the various encounters reminded me of my own time as a 15-year-old kid. The little things like when Ned questions back what the chess team are doing when he’s creeping around the hallway (and the kid vaguely gestures to the classroom, “Chess…” in such a mannerism that’s so relatable), Michelle reading Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel “On Human Bondage”4 (if you read the book, you’ll find a very familiar parallel with that of Peter’s life), the very millennial-style editing of the morning school announcements (zooming in on Jason’s rejected face), building the LEGO Death Star (3,803 pieces!5) with that heart-warming moment Ned gave Peter the very last piece (Emperor Palpatine) to finish it all off, Peter practicing in the mirror what’d he say at Liz’s party alongside his Thor impression, Ned’s questions after learning about his buddy’s secret identity (“Do you lay eggs?”), playing kiss/kill/marry Avengers style during gym class, telling Happy about the churros he got because as a teenager food is always such a joy but not when freakin’ Tony Stark mentions it after the ferry incident (you’ll never see a greater combo of frustration, regret & embarrassment on Peter’s face), searching up how to do a Windsor knot on YouTube for homecoming, the Academic Decathlon team’s quirks (I liked the dude who confidently answered incorrectly in response to what the heaviest naturally-occurring element was and immediately realized out loud, “…that’s not the question, okay. Yeah.” with a sheepish smile). There’s a lot more I could mention, but you get the point – it realistically depicted a high school kind of life, not some kind of Easy A, Avril Lavigne music video kind of vibe. 

Another thing: the portrayal of Peter Parker. We all know he has a brilliant mind, which is ultimately his biggest weapon as a super-hero, but the film doesn’t portray him as a model student.  He did lose five backpacks, and I would most definitely assume he’d be in much more severe trouble than the film suggests (losing your notes, coursework and textbooks was something almost unbearable to watch when he stood in dismay in that alleyway). In addition, he so discreetly had his “Web Fluid: Version 3.01” page underneath the “Identifying Ions” practical (because nothing like big block words WEB FLUID to keep your secret identity under wraps), which he frantically concocted in a wooden drawer. And he quit marching band and initially chose not to go to Washington DC for the Academic Decathlon. So, he’s not that picture-perfect student, but that’s what I loved because we see him do literally everything else in the world except actual work. And when he is doing work, it isn’t to serve the movie plot, but because he’s a 15-year-old kid and that’s what high school kids should be doing. It makes sense, then, that with such a rad internship, you can’t help but try to have as much fun as possible just like this 15-year old taking over Southern Rail’s Twitter. I’m sure this is a unanimous review of Peter Parker when I say he’s the most relatable and realistic one yet (at least for me, he was) – the examples are endless.  And let’s not begin on how delightful Peter’s science pun shirts were.

Overall, to me, the movie wasn’t just all about that With great power comes great responsibility” talk, but a story about Peter taking the reigns of his own life. Much like when we were younger, we took cues from authoritative figures like our parents or teachers (or in this case, Tony Stark), but ultimately, you have to learn to act for yourself and deal with the consequences of deciding who you want to be. Peter did just that, and I think the title “Homecoming” has just taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Sources:

1 http://www.cbr.com/rare-spider-man-comic-sells-at-auction-for-record-price/

2 http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Web-Shooters

3 https://www.amazon.com/Spider-Man-Ultimate-Guide-Amazing-Publishing/dp/0756626757

4 http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31548.Of_Human_Bondage

5 https://shop.lego.com/en-LU/Death-Star-10188

©TMK

I Wore A Heart Monitor For 24 Hours

Spoiler: I’m okay for now.

Approximately three weeks ago, I went for my regular health-checkup routine. There was nothing spectacularly negative about my results – my total cholesterol level increased compared to last year, but it was due to an elevation in good ol’ HDL; my TSH level was 1.960 uIU/mL, smack-bam in the middle of the hospital’s normal range; my hematocrit percentage, usually presented with a taunting “L”, was surprisingly normal for the first time in years. It’s safe to say, living on my own in Bristol the past year has made me much healthier on the micro scale.

Ah, but the results came with a little more excitement than anticipated.

Last year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with sinus arrhythmia; borderline prolonged QT interval; otherwise no pathological findings”. It wasn’t necessarily denial, but an unimpressive knowledge about ECG/EKG interpretation that allowed me to shrug nonchalantly about the situation. But this year, my EKG result stated: “Sinus bradycardia with junctional escape beat and bigeminy premature ventricular complexes”, and after having crammed an outrageous amount of information about various cardiovascular system abnormalities (I’m panicking as the phrase “Quick lids flecking at amiable dilettantes” scrolls across my vision), well, what can I say…I still shrugged nonchalantly about the situation.

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14/06/17 EKG Results (For You Keeners Out There)

A follow-up was required a couple weeks later. I was *this* close to napping face-down all day listening to the ironically motivational movie soundtracks of Rupert Gregson-Williams, but thankfully dragged my lazy bum off the bed due to post-exam hopelessness (I hope today all you IB kids got the results you wanted – remember, there’s always a pathway for you!). So there I was, in the doctor’s office – not to be worried about at all, she said. It’s common for people under 40, and it’s very rare for it to be serious. Two things would happen: I’d get an echocardiogram done, and then wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours.

I remember watching one of the demos talk about echocardiography during an anatomy session, and this image was put up:

echocardiogram
Source: http://www.cardiachealth.org/sites/default/files/2011/echocardiogram.jpg

Um. I mean, what a truly wondrous photo. Find a person who’ll look at you the same way the patient and sonographer look at each other, am I right? (I swear I learn in anatomy sessions).

Anyways, that didn’t happen in my case (painfully grateful); I faced away from the sonographer and counted the number of vertical stripes per coloured block on the wallpaper (seven, if you wanted to know), and there was barely any talking. Despite being half-nude and having this transducer basically kneading my left boob, it all felt incredibly systematic. I almost fell asleep. But by hearing sudden spitfire beatboxing by my heart, occasionally being asked to hold my breath, and catching a glimpse of the Doppler echocardiography’s explosion of pretty colours, I just managed to stay awake.

After swiping away the ultrasound gel, I was then suited up with the Holter monitor: five electrodes plastered on, and a little pouch that held the ambulatory device itself. It’s basically just a piece of tech that records heart activity continuously for 24 hours (or 48, depending on the doctor’s suspicions of the final diagnosis) – since ECG/EKGs are performed only within a short snapshot of time and abnormal heart rhythms/cardiac symptoms come and go, the monitors are pretty great for doctors to evaluate irregularities, severity and patterns over an extended period.

I left the hospital feeling like an amateur espionage agent (watch out Agent Cody Banks!1!!). Here are a couple of images to show the Holter monitor itself and where the electrodes were placed – the former displays a countdown of the exact amount of time I had left of the 24 hours, and shut down once it reached zero; it was like a microcosm of every dystopian novel ever. 

So comes the next day, after having slept as still as a log (subconsciously afraid I’ll roll onto the Holter monitor and suffer the pricey consequences), and they go analyse the data. Here are my results in brief.

Echocardiography Summary: function and anatomy normal albeit mild tricuspid regurgitation (TR). Seeing the real-time videos of my heart beating made me oddly vulnerable – I mean, if you think about it, nobody will ever have the privilege to set eyes on your beating heart (with the exception of those lucky enough to partake in open heart surgery). I’d feel more naked posting a snippet of the echocardiogram than a revealing swimsuit photo of myself.

Holter Monitor Summary: The doctor said if I had 10% or more ventricular ectopic beats in the total number of heartbeats in the 24 hours, I would be sent for treatment. If it was 5% or below, I’d be alright. Luckily, I only had 4.1% – whilst she did appease my mother by stating there was nothing to worry about (“All you need to hear is that her heart is completely normal”), she turned to me and asked me to be more aware of my body. That is, if my palpitations become more frequent or if the tight squeezes I feel in my chest increase in severity, I am to go back to see her.

“How many hours of sleep do you get?” she asked in the middle of history-taking.

“Well, 7 hours on average, now that it’s summer.” I think back to how my heart rate was only 48BPM just before the appointment; that armchair was really quite comfortable…

With a small smile, she casually said, “Ah, wonderful – when you get to clinical years of medical school, you won’t get nearly as much!”

Honestly, I really like this doctor.

Anyways, I got this incredibly exciting full report with an hour-by-hour analysis (I can sense what a funky, wild Friday night I’ll be having).

You can see how the number of PVCs vary during various times of the day; a few examples of the activities I was engaged in included:

8:00PM = delicious dinner at MK with the family + a McDonalds cone (the simple pleasures of life)

10:00AM = extremely fervent Kyle Landry piano-playing; I even got a cramp in my left hand (watch this space for a cover…)

3:00PM = serious car talks in traffic

It’s extraordinary to actually see the direct play between the physical environment and the electrical activity of my heart – the times with high PVC frequencies correlated with some form of intense emotion; “Strike fear into the hearts of your enemies” “With a sinking heart” “Eat your heart out” idioms suddenly became exceptionally reasonable to me. It should be blatantly obvious that everything you do cascades upon your inner mechanics, but I previously could only resonate so much so as if watching a devastating BBC News segment from the comfort of my own home. It just further highlighted the stark opposition of medicine being both routine practice and blindly grasping in the dark.

At the end of the day, the treatment literally stated “reassurance” – drink lots of water, sleep for a minimum of 6 hours per day, no caffeine, stress less. Such basic courses of action to take, and yet so subconsciously overlooked by the generation of today. Anyways, I think as a medical student, having the opportunity to personally experience particular examinations/procedures you see portrayed via cringe-worthy stock photo compilations in lectures provokes the same level of excitement you have as you are about to watch one of the most anticipated block-buster films of the year (I am at this very minute on the way to watch Spider-Man Homecoming). And that’s probably the very reason I documented it all…I guess I’m just young at heart.

©TMK

 

Microaggressions: You’ve Been Victimised

“Ni hao!” says the random white, middle-aged man, grinning profusely as he leans in much too closely for your liking whilst you’re walking down the street. Sigh.

Hands up if this has ever happened to you.

This scenario has happened to me multiple times whilst I was abroad – I can guarantee you, every Asian friend you have has probably experienced this if not once, but more than they can count. I mean, wow! What a great way to mark you as an ignorant, presumptuous jerk, right? Blurting out the first Asian-language phrase you think of just because we look vaguely East Asian; I honestly have always wanted to know, do you really think we’re going to be impressed by your poorly pronounced two syllables? Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Mandarin or the people who speak it, and I’d be totally cool with it if it happened to me somewhere where Mandarin is actually the official language. But every single time, it’s always been in a Western city. If you wanted to be friendly, a simple “hi” would’ve been more than enough. I’m always down for a conversation, but not when you’re randomly throwing around “ni hao” to every Asian you see – it’s quite extraordinary, and quite peculiar, to speculate what goes through their sad little minds.

It was only until I attended a Discrimination & Harassment Workshop on May 7th that I finally could put a word to what I had experienced: microaggression. The term was coined by psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in the 1970s, and Columbia professor Dr. Derald Wing Sue1 borrowed the term, referring to it as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment”2.

Some examples3 of microaggression would be asking the Asian guy how to solve a difficult mathematical problem, asking a black person if you can touch their hair, or the “ni hao” situation above. I’ve had my fair share of microaggressions, being told “You act different from other Asians, y’know?”, friends being in disbelief I dislike playing classical music on the piano, or people bluntly assuming my parents forced me to study medicine. I’ve moved around my entire life from a very young age, so I’m used to these types of interactions – I don’t feel threated, I don’t feel intimidated, and I definitely don’t feel relegated to an inferior status. Instead of taking extreme offense from somebody remarking “Your English is so good for somebody from Thailand!”, I take it as a sort of educating moment, and I somewhat enjoy it, because chances are, most people don’t have malicious intentions behind their words. I don’t believe they’re trying to “aggress” me in any way, and it’s just a sincere comment from somebody who maybe doesn’t mingle much with Asians. It sprouts from their upbringing; perhaps they’ve lived in only one place their entire lives. I once asked a lecturer a question about their presentation, only for her to slowly repeat the exact same phrase she used in her lecture, when it was the specific meaning behind it I was interested in. The issue here was she spontaneously assumed this Asian student couldn’t understand her British accent during the lecture, rather than wanting to delve into the science – but this lady is not a racist at all, and I felt completely fine. I didn’t see that encounter as a microaggression until I discovered the concept itself. Plus, who’s to say it doesn’t go the other way around? I’ve definitely displayed my fair share of microaggressions (e.g. saying to my Asian friends “That’s such a White thing to do” or even asking “But where are your parents from? Where are you ethnically from?”). Leave a comment down below of what microaggressions you’ve ever faced or dished out yourself without knowing – this is a non-judgemental zone (I’ll make sure of it)!

So during the workshop I attended, when the presenter introduced this whole microaggression concept, I thought, Man! This is incredibly relatable, preach!” But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, where does one draw the line? Am I supposed to be more offended? When does this sort of “oh, poor me” stuff stop? Because given the nature of microaggressions – subtle messages slipped into casual conversation – I don’t believe they will ever cease to exist completely. But there is definitely benefit to fostering this awareness surrounding microaggressions; the change is evident. In fact, during my first year of university, I spent more time correcting people saying I was actually from Thailand when they assumed I was from America or Canada. This evolution in assumption is a tell-tale sign we’re at least on our way to eradicating the binary name-calling and formal exclusion (i.e. Asian people are solely from Asia! White people cannot be from Asia!). And on the other end of the stick, I know people aren’t asking about my nationality in order to oppress me, but out of genuine curiosity – diversity is fascinating, and when something’s fascinating, we speak the unintentional dialect of awe.

This interested me. Because when I walk up the steps in the lecture theatre to find a seat, I definitely have this feeling I can’t quite put my finger on – a sort of quiet, “Hm, is she going to sit next to me? I don’t know what to say because she’s Asian” vibe. Like I’m a bit of an outsider, because that’s what we’re programmed to think in a country dominated by white people, whether we’re conscious about it or not. And now I know it’s called microaggression, but why has it only erupted in recent years, and should I even do anything about it except recognize when it happens? Jonathan Haidt4, social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, signposted a fascinating article in September 2015 titled “Microaggression and Moral Cultures”5 published in the journal Comparative Sociology. Written by sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the article may help explain the dynamics currently manifesting in the U.S. society and why concerns of microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in the past few years (which I think definitely applies to other countries, too). So, what exactly does it argue?

In brief, we are undergoing a second major transition in moral culture6. Prior to the 18th & 19th century, most Western societies were cultures of honour, existing where the rule of law was weak. People had to avenge offenses, insults and violation of rights on their own via self-help violence (a reputation of rapid brutality and vengeance was thus important back in the day); failure to do so resulted in loss of social respect and status. The first major transition then occurred during the 19th century as the West became cultures of dignity, in which “people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transitions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means.  There’s no more duelling”.7 All citizens were legally endowed with equal rights, practicing tolerance that resulted in much more peaceful societies than those embodying the honour culture. Basically, it was the whole “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” gist.

Campbell and Manning now describe societies currently undergoing a second major culture transition: the culture of dignity into the culture of victimhood. It hybridises both the honour culture’s quickness to respond even to the slightest unintentional offense, with the dignity culture’s appeal for the help of third parties to whom they must make the case they have been victimized, so these administrative bodies or powerful authorities can police and punish transgressions. The result? People are urged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized and oppressed; everybody seeks to become a “victim”8. Within the broader context of the highly egalitarian & diverse culture we live in due to college campuses popping up all over the place and the rise in administrative bodies & regulations, the intensity of identifying oneself as a fragile & aggrieved victim is extreme. Here, the equation triggers an explosion of microaggression.

But of course, like every piece of literature, there were holes in the research – like, for example, the basic question of how this concept of microaggression should be applied. It’d be interesting to use Sue’s list of microaggressions9 with college students and see if minority students feel offense in the same way Sue and his researchers did. Personally, I didn’t for all the Asian stuff. And of course, they failed to take into account the subjectivity of microaggression; if it is truly in the eye of the beholder, where should the blame be placed (if any) if the beholder knows nothing of the third party? There is so much scope – we could delve into white privilege, marginalized groups, and the uprising of meritocracy. With the evolving culture of victimhood, there is paralleled swiftness in reading negativity into lots of things in life, but let’s call it microaggression when we’re belittled on the basis of stereotypes or with malevolent intent.

I hope you don’t take all of this the wrong way.

Sources:

1, 2, 3, 9. Sue DW, Capodilupo CM, Torino GC, Bucceri JM, Holder A, Nadal KL, Esquilin M. Racial microaggressions in everyday life: implications for clinical practice. American Psychologist. 2007; 62(4): pp. 271-286.

4, 7.  Haidt, J. Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://righteousmind.com/where-microaggressions-really-come-from/.

5. Campbell B & Manning J. Microaggression and moral cultures. Comparative Sociology. 2014; 13(6): pp. 692-726.

6, 8. Bailey, R. The Rise of the Culture of Victimhood Explained. [online]. 2015. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://reason.com/blog/2015/09/08/the-rise-of-the-culture-of-victimhood-ex.

DeAngelis, T. Unmasking ‘racial micro aggressions’. American Psychological Association. 2009; February: p. 42.

McWhorter, J. ‘Microaggression’ Is the New Racism on Campus. [online]. 2014. [cited June 27th, 2017]. Available at: http://time.com/32618/microaggression-is-the-new-racism-on-campus/.

©TMK

A Sense of Entitlement: A Malignant Tumour?

       One sunny April day, I decided to drop into my old high school, and naturally beelined towards the music department. After exchanging all the How Are You’s and the How Has University Been’s and Any New Aspiring Musicians In School’s with my old music teacher & guiding mentor, we began conversing about the evolution of job opportunities and whether millennials should be dubbed the “Me Me Me Generation” (the phrase coined by Times magazine back in 2013). As he furrowed his forehead in concentration and interlaced his fingers, he said, “It’s called a sense of entitlement – you just graduate and suddenly expect to be immediately working in the top ranks. But that’s not how it works; you gotta climb up.”

           From that day onwards, the phrase attracted to my mind like a magnet because I could finally put a title to what I observed so frequently. The rates of entitlement are unsurprisingly high around me – the very fact my parents were able to send my siblings and me to private, international schools around Asia is more than enough to say what kind of cohort I was brushing shoulders with. But don’t get me wrong – everybody contains symptoms of a sense of entitlement (SoE), including myself. An example of why this may be is because we, the millennials, grew up watching reality TV shows, most of which are documentaries about narcissists. I don’t necessarily say this in a negative way, but it somewhat trained us to be “reality TV ready” – that is, we are able to define our personality types when we’re 13 instead of 30, which is a huge evolutionary jump.

            For a deep-dive analysis into the heated discussions of whether millennials have higher rates of a sense of entitlement, it’ll have to be saved for another long-winded post. So, just to put my bare opinions out there first: I stand on the middle-ground with the issue. I believe millennials are extremely passionate and optimistic, embrace the system, and are pragmatic visionaries. We are tinkerers more than dreamers; industrious life-hackers. Perhaps our SoE is a result of our adaptation in a world of abundance. Yet simultaneously, our SoE can be extraordinarily tiresome – with social media becoming such an integral, staple part of our lives, so does narcissism and its partner in crime, entitlement. Personally, I think if you’re constantly exploring the curiosities of life rather than demanding so much from it, then that’s what matters. Living life completely free of a SoE is almost impossible.

         Anyhow, during the tedious revision period back in May, I remember going over oncology. All the tumour-suppressor genes, CDKs, and oncogenic viruses just suddenly seemed all metaphorical to me (one of those days), so I crafted this weird link between malignant tumours and the concept of entitlement. As I finally have spare time (and limited knowledge), I decided to try my hand at creating an infographic describing the similarities I was envisioning in my head. Hope you enjoy!

 

Sense of Entitlement Infographic.jpg

©TMK

Sources:

https://www.popsugar.com/news/Why-Millennials-Entitled-42873548

http://time.com/247/millennials-the-me-me-me-generation/

https://qz.com/720456/the-myth-of-millennial-entitlement-was-created-to-hide-their-parents-mistakes/

Seven Emotions That Follow a Sense of Entitlement

http://outofthefog.website/top-100-trait-blog/2015/11/4/sense-of-entitlement

https://lonerwolf.com/sense-of-entitlement/