Monday, 11 November 2013

Sulphur mines at Kawah Ijen

My brother, uncle and me recently made a trip to East Java, Indonesia in search of a long lost Javanese legend.

We rode over mountains,

Crossed endless deserts,

And ventured into unknown roads,

Till we found at long last, the last living man who remembers this sacred Javanese legend.

The legend goes something like this:

Once upon time, in a land far far away. There lived a small chic by the name of Chicky-chicky-micky-micky. He stayed with his mother and his many brothers and sisters.

One day, he decided to go for a walk alone in the woods.

As he was walking, a curious sight caught his attention.

He was so excited, he ran as fast as his tiny legs could carry him back home to tell his brothers and sisters.

Upon hearing the news, they all rushed to see this sight.

The sight which interest them was this new building which never was seen before in this land.

They entered the building out of curiosity and that was the last we ever heard of Chicky-chicky-micky-micky and his siblings.


Ok seriously, we went to East Jawa to visit Mount Bromo and the Sulphur Mines at Kawah Ijen. I have to say the sulphur mines were pretty interesting.

This sulphur mine is located in the crater of a volcano called Kawah Ijen. We had to ascend the volcano then descend into it's crater to visit the mines.

Standing at the top of the volcano and looking down the crater, the sight of the mines coloured yellow by the abundant amount of sulphur and swathed in a thick choking sheet of smoke greeted us.

We quickly descended despite warning signs prohibiting us from going down.

In the mines, a dozen iron pipes channel molten sulphur from beneath the depths of the volcano to the surface.

The liquid sulphur will solidify, forming solid stones of sulphur.

The miners will then break up the stones of sulphur, collect the broken pieces of sulphur, put them in a basket then carry them down the volcano.

A miner breaking up the sulphur 

A basket of sulphur waiting to be carried down

I'm astounded at how the miners can actually carry the basket of sulphur weighting at least 90kg and manoeuvre across the treacherous pathways of the volcano.

I tried lifting the basket of sulphur and I tell you it is heavy. It is so heavy it hurts. I barely could take one step, let alone make my way uphill. 

The bamboo resting on my shoulder dug into my clavicle, exerting such force that my clavicle threaten to snap at the weight of the bloody basket of sulphur. 

I managed to speak with a local miner named Poniman, who has been working here for the past 17 years. He braves the the suffocating sulphuric smoke, the crushing weigh upon his shoulders and the treacherous pathways just to earn a little money to feed his family. 

After so many years of carrying the this heavy burden, his body has adapted to allow him to perform his job. Notice the hypertrophied trapezius muscle to protect his clavicle from the obscene pressure exerted by the basket of sulphur. Notice also the bruising around the shoulders and the yellowing of his teeth and sclera. 

The ravages of sulphur mining

Seeing the miners being able to go about their work cheerfully despite the heavy burden they carry, even teasing and helping one another as they slowly made their way down the volcano made me realise that I have officially lost the right to complain about life. No matter how bad or tough I think my life is, it can never be as hard as these sulphur miners. 

I mean what are long working hours or parade which takes 3 hours compared to this lifestyle?

Henceforth, if I ever start to complain, please give me a full cup of water with a cover and ask me to shut the full cup.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Secret to Extreme Crazy Fitness

I'll be going to Hong Kong at the end of this month for the 2013 Lantau ITU Triathlon Asian Cup. Since I started clinical posting, my training load has decreased like crazy. Going to the hospital at 0630H and returning at night means that I can slot in one session of training a day at most and even that is uncertain.

Once, after a long day at the hospital, I arrived back in camp around 2200H. I was worried about my fitness for this coming competition, so I decided to go for a late night swim session.

The layout for the swimming pool area in my camp is something like this:

There is a cafe just by the swimming pool and the benches is where we'll put our stuff.

As the pool was already closed and I did not want to bring attention to myself, I choose not to switch on the spotlights thus I did my swim in the dark.

Halfway through my swim program, I happen to glance up and I notice a group of instructors standing at the edge of the pool staring at me intensively.

So I stopped swimming and approached them with my googles still on. As I got nearer to them, one of the instructors wished me in the most polite voice ever: "Assalamualaikum tuan! Tuan dari mana ni?" (Peace be upon you sir! Where are you from sir?)

Two things were weird here. First, instructors never call us, cadets "sir". "Sir" is usually used by lower ranks to address seniors or officers. Second, instructors are never polite to cadets. They'll either be shouting or screaming at us cadets.

I felt a little perplexed at why these instructors were being so polite and nice to me. I wondered if I was commissioned as a officer recently without my knowledge. Maybe I was now Tan Sri Brigadier General Dr Lim...

So I answered them confidently in my most officer sounding voice: "Selamat petang staff! Saya Pegawai cadet Lim dari UPNM ni. Ade apa-apa tak staff?" ( Good evening staff! I am cadet officer Lim from UPNM. How may I help you?)

The instant they realise they were dealing with a cadet and not an officer, their expression and manners changed immediately. They went: "BLOODY HELL CADET! HOW DARE YOU SWIM ALONE IN THE DARK! DON'T YOU KNOW THE POOL IS CLOSED! GET OUT OF THE POOL BEFORE I BEAT YOU SENSELESS!

So out I went from the pool as fast as I could with my tail between my legs. So much for their peace be unto me.... So much for Tan Sri Brigadier General Dr Lim...

As I got out of the pool and made my way to the showers, I heard a shout coming from the direction of the cafe. "Cadet! Come here you!"

Let me make a few things clear at this point. First of, I am short sighted. My vision without my specs looks something like this:

Second, I was still in my swimming trunks.

Third, as cadets, we have certain protocols to follow when we approach officers and instructors. We have to stand in front of the person, stamp our feet twice, brace up (puff out our chest, hands at the side and tilt our heads up) and greet the person. Then as the person is talking to us, we'll have to either stand at attention (feet together, hands at the side) or be at ease (feet at shoulder width and hands behind the back). In other words, we'll be doing a little basic marching.

Left picture: standing at attention. Right picture: standing at ease.

So yeah, when I heard someone shouting for me from the cafe, I had no idea who was calling me and where exactly was that person situated. That means I had to enter the cafe wearing only my swimming trunks, try locate who was calling me and do some simple marching clad only in my swimming trunks. Not a very entertaining thought for me!

Like bats and whales, I used Sound Navigation and Ranging (SONAR) to pinpoint the source of the of the shout and blindly made my way there hoping I don't approach the wrong person.

Long story short, I managed to approach the officer calling me, did some half naked marching in the cafe then listen to the officer tell me off for swimming at this odd hour. All the while squirming uncomfortably as people looked at me funny wondering what is this fellow doing in his swimming trunks.

Instead of getting to practise my swim for the upcoming competition, I had to do some half naked marching in a public place. I wonder if this is some secret training my officers came up with, a training so effective it makes you crazy fit.

So, if you ask me: "Is there a secret to extreme crazy fitness?" To which I'll reply: "Yes there is. Try half naked marching in a public place. It work wonders for your stamina." At least I hope it does, else I'm screwed.. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Year 3 of Medical School

This is my room's shower. I know "hate" is a very strong word to use but never have I hated anything more than this shower. Not any parades, not any politician, nothing!

Normal showers dispense water in a steady and smooth manner.

My shower on the other hand is not normal. When turned on, it will first flow normally, but after a while it starts gusting out air at high speed with an occasional drop of water.

What happens during bathing time is that the shower will flow smoothly long enough to wet our bodies, shampoo our hair and soap our bodies. 

At the exact moment we intend to wash off the soap and shampoo, water is miraculously changed to air. We would be left stranded in the bathroom with soap running in our eyes and our tempers rise by the minute as we listen to the gushing air coming from the shower.

We'd get so pissed off that we eventually start cursing the shower. 

And in reply, the shower will shoot a bullet of water flying at such high speed that it leaves you gasping in pain upon impact. You wouldn't want that bullet of water hitting your softer nuts.. I mean parts of the body. 

Desperate to get the water flowing again, we would try all kinds of methods to make it happen. 

So with shampoo all over the body, we would do rain dances, go on our knees in prayer and even undergo rituals of sacrifice.

If the water actually does return, we would know there is a God up in heaven who loves us and has sent his only begotten son to die for us. 

But if the water does not return even after exhausting all the methods (which happens most of the time), we would have to resign ourselves to wipe the soap and shampoo off with our towels.

With the sound of the gushing air echoing in the background, we'd then sadly leave the bathroom stickier than when we first entered. 

The moment we step outside though, the gushing sound is replaced by the sweetest sound of water flowing smoothly and beautifully. But it quickly changes back to air at our very thought of going back to bathe again.

So yeah, that's my bloody shower...

A very short update: The 2010 batch of medical cadets are currently doing our clinical posting at Hospital Tuanku Mizan.

Year 3 consists of 4 postings which include: Surgery, Internal Medicine, Paediatrics and O&G. Each posting lasts 2 months.

So my group, group 3, has Surgery for our first posting.

Group 3 with the surgical professors: Prof Ahmed & Mr Anil

I find it interesting how surgeons are addressed as "Mr" instead of "Dr".

I also find it fascinating how the matron is like the queen of the hospital, bossing and ordering everybody about, protecting the welfare of patients with all the love of a mother and the ferocity of a tiger.

I am in awe at how the surgeon plays God in the operating theatre too. Confidently cutting and slicing, removing tumours and repairing damage, defying death right in the face.

I also kind of like how the ranks in this medical environment are directly proportional to one's knowledge. The higher qualified one is, the higher is the rank. So we actually have very competent and professional officers here. 

From left: Captain, Major, Major and Brigadier General

Long way for us, medical students to go though. But perhaps through tons of hard work and tireless dedication, we may one day be legends ourselves and inspire the younger generation. 

"If you aspire to inspire before you expire, first you would need to perspire" -Mr Ong Chong Wee,  ex-principal of St. Francis Institution-

Monday, 9 September 2013

Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan, the flying doctor.

8th September 2013, a very significant date for the new juniors joining the Faculty of Medicine and Defence Health. The white coat ceremony which symbolises the start of the journey of a medical student was held today.

The hall was filled with proud beaming parents as they watched their children march up the stage to receive their white coat from the dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Defence Health, Major General Professor Dato Dr Mohd Zain bin Bidin.

Usually, there will be a guest of honour to officiate the white coat ceremony. Someone of importance and great standing will be invited to give a speech and grace the ceremony with his/her presence. The guest of honour for this year's white coat ceremony was none other than Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan.

Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan

You know how certain people are associated to certain things or events? Say for example, when you think of swimming, the first name which pops into your mind would be Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time; think of sprinting = Usian Bolt; think of boxing = Mohammad Ali; think of Apple = Steve Job; think of music = Mozart; think of a great and uncorrupted leader = Muhammad Taib...

Well, Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan is the name to know if you think of medicine in Malaysia. Not only is he a renowned doctor, doing lots of research and even becoming the Deputy Director General of Health Ministry of Malaysia, he is also a legend in the sports arena.

During Malaysia's Golden Era of sports (1960s), Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan ran so bloody fast people called him the flying doctor. In fact, he was so good at running that he represented Malaysia in the Olympics not once, not twice but 3 times! He even won 3 gold medals in the Asia Games earning the tittle of Asia's Fastest Man. On top of all that, his 200m record of 20.9s remains unbroken even after 45 years. 

To achieve all this when he wasn't even a full time athlete but rather a medical student is kind of inspiring. To say he is a perfect role model would be an understatement.

There are many tributes about Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan. Go google his name if you wanna know more about him. 

So yeah, back to my story. 

For some reason, I was chosen to be the liaison officer for Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan during the ceremony. I had to go to his house to pick him up, escort him to my university and send him to the airport after everything was done. In other words, I was something like his usher for the day. And what a privilege it was!! 

It was an honour to be in the same car as Tan Sri, listening to his stories and getting his opinions and advice on various issues. I even manage to get a picture with him.

Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan, the Flying Doctor and me, the Iron Doctor :P

I'd say it was inspirational and a refreshing experience, consolidating my aim and determination to work hard and try follow in his footsteps.

Oh ya, remember my Distinction Viva a few weeks earlier? Yeah, I managed to get a distinction for Pharmacology. The distinction award was given during this White Coat Ceremony. 

I was so glad that my parents, grandma and sister could make it to the ceremony. To think they came all the way from Melaka just to witness me receive the award :)

I can't seem to come up with a proper ending for this post without sounding boastful or cheesy, so here is a picture of me in the process of making a salute. While you are contemplating about how nice this picture is, I take my leave.. so long :)