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

Blogger Recognition Award!

Thank you to the beautiful Amy for nominating me – I’m currently giving you a virtual bearhug. She writes about empowerment, inspiration and change; blooming with resilience, check out her blog here for some real talk. God bless you, Amy!

The Origin Story of “That Med Kid”

I like writing. In fact, I like writing so much, I wrote a 80,000 word novel in middle school. It begins with an obscure legend that has it said a girl touched a stone that was the colour of a million dimensions, causing the destruction of Atlantis in one day and one night. In present day, the story follows the protagonist who possesses a beautiful jade necklace, and secrets begin to unravel when she moves to Canary Islands. Needless to say, it was *this* close to potential publication, but crippling self-doubt, irritating perfectionism and losing updated drafts, hindered that from ever happening.

It was in middle school where I discovered my best writing pieces came out of being in an extraordinarily dark headspace. Thus, I always went hardcore on creative writing assignments in school – murder, self-harm, teen pregnancy, depression, and so on. Fun fact: my submission for the school writing magazine got rejected because it was “too dark and intense”. 

So, I began a blog back in middle school (which is now very hidden) – it was a bit of a diary where I could lay down unedited, imperfect thoughts without having to double-space or set to font type Arial size 12. No obligations, no outside standards; great. But like any other New Year hype, I eventually let academics override and blogging dormancy settled in. This isn’t to say I stopped writing, because I didn’t.

And guess what? In the summer of 2016, I tutored Mathematics and Chemistry like crazy, scraped every last bit of money I could, and used it to self-publish my very own book, titled “The Danger Of Not Trying”. The little blurb is below:

In the past few years, I realized: we are all actors. We rehearse who we want to be, we perform who we want to be, and hope it is convincing enough for everybody else to believe. We cannot stop being actors, and that’s fine. What isn’t, is if you try not to be – the danger lies here, because genuine happiness doesn’t come from a scripted truth. 

The book explores this thinking throughout a compilation of quotes; each one holds a backstory, whether it be fictitious, anecdotal, or both. The lessons underlying them are all very real and I hope they can help you get through life like it did for me. 

No, I didn’t have an editor; no, I didn’t have a cover designer; no, the only application I used was Microsoft Word. It was a creatively exhausting process, both very primitive and very organic, that I can wholeheartedly say is one of my proudest achievements in life. I donated all the profits to Rejoice Foundation, a HIV Foundation in Northern Thailand, where I did work experience for one summer – they continuously stun me with how dedicated they are to the duty of care they voluntary committed their life to, and are one of the reasons why I want to become a doctor. And thus, I am so incredibly humbled by everybody who supported the book, because all I did was put the inspirational words of people on page. It’s a book I wrote as a homage to everybody in my life. 

Anyway, let’s fast-forward a few months to the first frigid night of December when I was listening to the “Life of Pi” soundtrack. It was a Thursday, and mindlessly scrolling through my iPhone Notes app, I found random ‘poems’ I wrote. On a whim, I created this blog, and that was the day of my first post. And why “That Med Kid”? Because it embodies exactly how I perceive myself. Just another no-name, anonymous “Ah, she’s just this random med kid” person. Just like my first ever blog in middle school, this is a bit of a diary for me – thus, I was very hesitant to share this blog until, gosh, five months in?

Goodness me, I apologise for the long-winded writing biography. Hardly Marvel Hero origin story standard, but there you go. I’ve never written this much information about myself before, so this is probably the most personal post I’ve written by far. Don’t worry, this doesn’t happen often.

To sum up, I like writing, but I’m not a writer. I hardly have any knowledge about anything, but if there’s one thing I can do, it is being honest. So if you’ve read my blog, be it one post or one word, thank you so much – the gratitude I have is indescribable.

Advice For New Bloggers

  1. Write, not “create content”. By “content”, I mean the one that gets Reddit users all irked, and what ex-Viners do in desperate need for a career on YouTube (there are exceptions, of course). Don’t try creating this commodity of value as a superficial distraction from reality, but simply write about reality. Did that make any sense to you? Yeah, me neither.
  2. You probably expect me to say consistency, but I’m a big fan of spontaneity. Blogging is time-consuming, difficult and can drain into this sewage of obligation. And if it ever gets that far, perhaps rethink your priorities with a blog. Am I just saying that because of my inconsistency and recent hiatus of three odd weeks? Maybe. But would I ever want you to stick two fingers in and painfully force content out just for the quota of “New post every Thursday!”? Absolutely not. The Quality > Quantity phrase is very applicable.

Blogger Recognition Award: Rules of Acceptance

• Take the time to thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
• Write a post to show your award
• Give a brief story how your blog started
• Give pieces of advice to new bloggers
• Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to
• Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them, provide the link to the post you created

***

I still yet have to finalise Part 2: Science of Superfoods of “The Dirt On Clean Eating” series I began (Part 1 here!) – apologies for the incredibly long delay. Med school life has begun, and there is much I have to update you all on, but let’s save that for another post. Hope you are all doing incredible. Stay motivated, pals. 

©TMK

 

Liebster Blog Award!

An award? Um, I did not expect this at all…I’m kind of flabbergasted.

So, I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award; it was created to discover, recognise and welcome new bloggers to this incredibly supportive blogging community. Thank you so much to the lovely Kristie for nominating me – check out her blog for hilarious, straightforward Mum-talk: https://onmumdaysi.wordpress.com. It just goes to show what a great community blogging brings about, to be nominated by somebody with an entirely different niche from mine. Anyways, the official rules of the Liebster Award can be found here – and as part of accepting this award, I’ve received 8 questions by Kristie to be answered. Hence, 8 will be the number I use throughout.

The 8 Answers

  1. What is your goal?

    To do my duty, even if it means sacrifice.

  2. Did blogging come naturally for you?

    It has to, or I’d just be fooling myself.

  3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

    Revising for an exam in a badly lit room, whilst yet another friend is getting married. Life.

  4. If you could have dinner with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

    Nikola Tesla. What a guy.

  5. Who is your inspiration?

    My extraordinary parents, for sure. I can only strive to be half as great as them.

  6. Would you ever step out of your comfort zone?

    100%. I believe it is essential to do so everyday.

  7. Would you collab with another blogger?

    Of course! But I think the real question here is if any blogger would like to collaborate with me…

  8. Do you VLOG on YouTube? If so how many followers do you have?

    I do have a YouTube channel where I post music covers for a proud 24 subscribers (huge, I know). But, vlogging? We’ll see.

The 8 Random Facts (Nothing Too Scandalous)

  1. I do not watch any TV shows. And no matter how many times people try to convince me to watch Game of Thrones, I just probably won’t ever get around to it.
  2. The last movie I watched was “What Happened To Monday”, and I’ve been falling asleep thinking about the conundrums of overpopulation ever since. Also, just the eerie parallels the movie drew with the day you were born on…
  3. Speaking of, I was born on a Friday.
  4. Cody Simpson follows me on Twitter (it has been many years since it has happened, and I still don’t know why).
  5. Tom Holland. Just, Tom Holland.
  6. I love running. It makes me less tired.
  7. ….but I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago training for the half-marathon in Bristol this coming weekend. Sigh.
  8. And lastly, I’m starting second year of med school next week.

Rules & Nominees

Alright, so that’s enough of me. To my fellow nominees, congratulations! And here is what you gotta do next:

  1. Answer the following 8 questions below, and write a blog post including the link to the blog that nominated you (i.e. me!).
  2. Write 8 random facts about you.
  3. Nominate 8-10 other blogs (see, I chose 8 because I was asked 8 questions, but it’s completely up to you).
  4. Ask 8-10 questions your nominees have to answer.

The 8 Questions

  1. Do you believe in ghosts?
  2. What is your least favourite colour?
  3. Describe where you’d be in 10 years.
  4. How important is exercise to you?
  5. What is your relationship with food?
  6. What is your preferred social media platform?
  7. Why do you blog?
  8. What motivates you to get up everyday?

Have a great week, everybody.

©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

Shawn Mendes: Illuminate World Tour | Review

Yes, so straight after the pesky finals, I hightailed it into London straight after to watch Shawn Mendes with my best friend. It was such a beautiful day, but incredibly hot for London weather (we speculated it was because Mendes was there).

I’m just going to list a few things I noticed/enjoyed about the concert:

Shawn talked about his mum and aunt being there that night, and said, “I want you all to make some noise, to show that family is where it’s loudest at. Can you do that?” It’s funny how musicians mention their families at their shows, because isn’t family the symphony of your life?

His melismas. His vibrato. There’s something about Shawn’s voice that is segmented – each note he sings has its own boundary; a scenic, rustic, white picket fence freshly lacquered. And then there’s the vibrato, incredibly rhythmic and reliable like the ocean waves, a very well-defined pattern of lull and peaks. Almost like the familiar stairs at home. I really, really like it. It just seems to imply he’s this sturdy rock you can rely on. He’s improved vastly from the boy on Vine, and it’s odd knowing I’ve heard him grow.

He looks tired. I gazed at his broken watch moving erratically as his slender fingers played the chords to “Castle On The Hill”, and I tried to imagine the boys on my course doing what Shawn does as a living – could they pull it off? Could they handle the pressure? Maybe initially, but in the long-term, I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody can with ease. It’s a matter of resilience. Being a singer is also being an entertainer and a performer. So when I saw his glassy eyes, passing like a ghost over the ecstatically wild crowd, it hit me that this was his job. He is meant to deliver and meant to perform; I suddenly felt a little afraid.

Singers use that tactic of pulling away from the microphone to let the audience sing the high bits – I saw that excessively with Calum Hood from 5SOS when they performed in Bangkok (mind you, I haven’t watched too many concerts, but that was extremely prominent and obvious). Perplexingly enough, Shawn pulls away during catch phrases of his songs, which were all varied in pitch, and there was definitely no pattern in always letting the crowd sing high parts. Because, this is Mendes everybody! He can hit the high notes like a bullseye.During “Never Be Alone”, I found it hilarious when Shawn asked the crowd to sing the iconic “Woah-oh-ohhhh-ohhh-oh-ohh-oh-oh-oh” part (sorry I wanted to make it realistic) because he attempted to do heavenly melismas/riffs over the top of it, but when he did, the crowd probably thought they had to sing what he was doing and most of the crowd simply trailed off thinking they weren’t supposed to sing. So Shawn kept going, “Come on London, sing it real loud now! Woah-oh-ohhh….” and then would try to quickly switch to those riffs, but the crowd didn’t really get it and once again got a bit derailed. Soon after many “Alright sing with me!” ‘s and “Come on, scream it! Woah-oh-ohhh…” ‘s, he did pull off some very great melismas with the backing track of the finally cooperative crowd, and it sounds great on film. I just found it funny hearing the hesitation and confusion of the crowd initially. Just me? Okay.

My favourite performance was “Ruin” – my friend begged to differ because the interactive portion apparently was extended too long but that was exactly what I adored. It was spacious, it was tranquil, it was bucolic. Very John Mayer. In Shawn’s words, the song was timeless. I cannot say enough how beautiful it was – “Do I ever cross your mind?” was on repeat, and it basically embodied every unrequited lover’s mantra (too real).

His piano-playing was…pretty good for somebody who learned it in 8 months (correct me if I’m wrong). Of course sweat makes your fingers slip and you’re performing in front of 40,000 people, so I can’t blame him for little mistakes I heard. It made me admire him even more (if that’s even possible), because it reminded me he’s just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary life.

Alrighty, I could go on, but it would then require full-blown Vancouver referencing. Overall, it was so devastatingly amazing and it is easy to say the concert topped One Direction & 5SOS (if we’re comparing pop artists here) – go, and experience the incredible talent of Shawn Mendes.

©TMK

Skull

Despite having examined juvenile skulls frequently in the past anatomy sessions, I am still always in awe at how breathtakingly light and fragile they are. And as I trace my fingers over the fontanelles in amazement, I’m constantly thinking to myself,

“This will never get old.”

©TMK