Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Living with the Mentawai

Situated deep in the dense muddy jungles of Siberut island, a tribe of people known as the Mentawai is found surviving and thriving in the jungle. The Mentawai were once head-hunters, using poison arrows and long cruel looking knifes to go about their hunts.

Over the years, as modernisation and religion is slowly introduced, they have become more civilised and more accepting of outsiders but no less ferocious.

Taking a 12 hour ferry ride from Padang, Indonesia to Siberut island and another 2 hour boat ride upriver into the jungles, one would arrive at a certain part of the jungle inhabited by the Mentawai people. 

Instead of forming settlements or villages and living together in the jungle, each Mentawai family consisting of the parents and children will build a wooden house and fend for themselves. The closest neighbour would be at least 45 minutes to an hour trek away. 

Braving the hardships of the jungle, I stayed with the Mentawai people for a week learning their ways  and observing their rituals. What I've seen and learnt has given me a totally new perspective of life and also answered a question I always had since I was a child.

"Why did Tarzan learn to swing from the tree-tops?"

The answer to that particular sophisticated question would be because the jungle floor is extremely muddy! I kid you not, I was practically swimming in waist-deep mud just to get from point A to point B. 

Having Sagu as their staple diet and the occasional meat, most of the children here suffer from Kwashiorkor disease (a form of malnutrition caused by inadequate protein). Children with distended bellies are seen running about looking like pregnant mothers.

Once a fortnight, a saina (domesticated pig) would be slaughtered and dinner that night will be a grand affair! Although most of the Mentawai has been converted to either Islam or Christianity, forms of animal-worship can still be observed. Say for instance, during the slaughter of the saina.

Before a knife is plunged into the neck of the saina, a ritual is done whereby the saina is blessed with a prayer chanted in Mentawai language and flowers stroking the head. Half way through the prayers, the saina is quickly stabbed and as its lifeblood flows out, the light in it's eyes fades..

While waiting for the fire to start, the saina is gutted and the children went ecstatic waiting for the upcoming pork for dinner.

Dinner was indeed a grand affair, or rather as grand as it could get in the jungle without electricity. Dinner was eaten with much gusto and many smiles which became broader as I gave out my portion of boiled pork seasoned with salt.

Through a translator, I asked one of the Mentawai father if given a chance, would he uproot his family, leave the hardships of the jungle and move to a city. He blatantly said no! "The forest has provided for his father, his father's father and will continue to provide for his sons and generations to come. They know every tree, every rock and every vine. Food, medicine and materials can all be procured in the jungle for free. Why leave the beautiful jungle and go to a city where everything is controlled by money..." he passionately said in Mentawai language. 

Before it was translated, I already knew the answer just by seeing the fierce proud gleam in his eyes as he described the jungle and also by observing the tender lovingness in the gestures he made to emphasise that the jungle is part of his family just as much as it is part of him. That is what that defines him and makes him a Mentawai!

Yours truly,

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Thought for a Rainy Day

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest"
                                                                        -Matthew 11:28-

I recently completed a trek across the mountains of Kashmir known as Markha Valley Trek. The trek was nearly 90km long with passes of 5200m above sea level. We walked for days carrying our bloody heavy backpacks through freezing cold and scorching heat.

Reaching a village where one can have a simple cup of water to quench our paper-dry throats and a place to rest our weary legs is like finding an oasis in the wilderness, a temporary respite from the sufferings of the trail.

The extreme relief and gratefulness one feels upon given rest after being weary and burdened is indescribable. It is tantamount to........ I don't know, nothing? Words can't describe the feeling. One just feels at peace, sheltered and safe albeit only for a moment. 

Here is a fascinating thought though:

Is finding religion similar to being given rest when one is weary and burdened?

With all the sins and evil in the world, an unbeliever stumbles upon religion and finds peace and serenity. He is at peace knowing there is some higher power at work and there is a better place somewhere when all is done. So he prays with a joyful heart and worship fervently.

Or, is religion more of a blind leap of faith?

We do what we are told because some ancient man told us many thousand years ago to do this and to that. Hence, we robotically do what ever we are told, blindly but with faith that we are doing the right thing. We feel no joy, no tranquility, no nothing. The only thing we feel is perhaps a small sense of achievement at fulfilling our responsibility. 

Or, is religion some horse-crap after all?

Just an excuse for wars and genocides. Something created to divide mankind and to allow them fight one another.

The answer? I don't know. You tell me....

Friday, 6 June 2014

All Dogs Go To Heaven

When I was 12, I had a dog named Blacky that I absolutely adored. She had a jet black coat of short fur, pointed ears, lean tone muscles and snow white feet. I fed and sheltered her despite protests from my mum who feared dogs. I remember stealing slices of ham and chunks of chicken from the fridge to feed her as often as I could. 

I even brought Blacky on my daily evening runs where we would terrorize the neighborhood cats. We worked out this system whereby I'd spot the slunking cats then pointing in that direction I'd shout: " GO GO GO GO!!" Blacky would then start barking and charging enthusiastically in the direction I was pointing regardless if she saw a cat or not.

The poor innocent cat seeing a crazy barking dog charging in it's direction will flee trying to escape revealing it's position. This is the moment Blacky would be waiting for. She would run even faster chasing after the cat and nipping it at its heels. The cat would be chased up a tree or somewhere inaccessible then Blacky would come trotting proudly back to me with her head held high, tail wagging so fast she looked like she had 9 tails. These were the moments she lived for.

Unfortunately, on days I couldn't bring her cat chasing, she would become restless, chasing anything or anyone passing my house. This posed a threat and danger to the public so long story short, my dog was shot by the Malacca City Council in front of my eyes. I was devastated by the death of my dog and hated dog-catchers passionately! 

The scene of my dog being shot replayed in my head for many years

The year 3 medical cadets of UPNM recently started our Community Medicine posting. My group was attached to the Pest Control Department of Kuala Lumpur City Council. One of the many jobs of the Pest Control Department is dog-catching. Thus, we tagged along a team of dog-catchers to round up stray dog in Kuala Lumpur area. 

The Kuala Lumpur City Council uses the looping method to catch dogs. A few men armed with long iron poles that has a loop of rope at one end will corner the dog and try to loop the dog around the neck. It is like a lasso but with a iron pole instead.

Driving around Kuala Lumpur in vans, the dog-catchers start their hunt for dogs.

Once a group of stray dogs is spotted, the hunt begins! The dog-catchers will alight the van at different locations surrounding the dogs. Once everybody is in position, they will then systematically close in and capture the dogs. At least that is what the plan is..

The stray dogs are no fools I can tell you that. Throughout the years, they have learn to look out for the coming of the dog-catchers. I don't know if they memorised the smells of the dog-catchers or they watch out for men carrying sticks or maybe they recognise the van's engine frequency. But once a dog spots these dog-catchers, a long howl is heard: "AAAWOOOOOOOO!" And as if that was the warning call, all the dogs would suddenly start running in all direction.

The dog-catchers will then choose one dog and chase after it. If the dog is lucky, it gets away. Else the poor thing would be caught and compounded.

But with so many men chasing down one dog, capture is most of the time inevitable.

The captured dogs will then be brought back to the dog compound where they'll be kept for a week to see if anybody comes and so call "bail" them out. If no one comes, the dog would then be put up for adoption for 3 days. 

After 3 days, if no one adopts the dog, the dog will be put down in the most humane way possible that ensures the dog dies without any suffering.

Death by lethal injection

The carcass will then be incinerated with temperatures of 850˚C leaving only ashes to be buried.

Most of the captured dogs won't be reclaimed and will eventually face death and I think the dogs realise it too. You can see it in the way the dogs react when people approach their cage. 

Some look at you with the most adorable eyes, pleading to be adopted!

Some start barking and howling: "Let me ooouuut"!!

Others snap and snarl, determine not to beg for mercy and would rather die with pride.

But there are some that will undergo transformation as people approach their cage. They literally transform to a devil, eyes flashing green, teeth bared and hackles all raised up. The message is clear: If I'm going to die, you are going to die too.

I know it looks cruel killing all these stray dogs, I too initially thought so. How dare these bloody bastards kill my dog?!!

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the definition of health is the state of complete physical, social and mental well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

These uncared and uncontrolled stray dogs cause lots of social problem. Damaging property, threatening safety of the public and can even spread diseases. These stray dogs make people anxious and worried all the time and even cause many a sleepiness nights due to the barking.

Therefore, to ensure a city is clean, healthy and suitable for human habitation, you now see why rounding up all these stray dogs are essential?

If and only if the definition of health included political well-being.... rounding up corrupted politicians would have been so much more satisfying. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Our 4th Anniversary

I know I am more than a few days late but anyway, 22nd May 2014 marks the 4th year since I reported to the National Defence University of Malaysia to pursue my Medical degree. In conjunction with this special date, here is a poem I wrote to celebrate and also to commemorate our journey together thus far. No offence is meant and if I do somehow offend you, my sincerest apology is offered in advance. So, here goes my so called "poem":

University Pertahanan National Malaysia is my university,
we go by the motto of duty, honour and integrity.
Similar to any institution of credibility,
we have our moments of pride and also ignominy.

The latter is none other than our famous Rid Tee.
Disorientated as he might be,
please do not call him a bloody babi,
for it is a great insult to the swine community.

Throughout these 4 long years,
sweat, blood and tears has become no stranger.
Extreme suffering of the body has somehow become meagre,
we all have become a little stronger.

Tough and stressful it might be, joy and laughter do happen occasionally.
And it usually comes after a nice steaming bowl of mee curry.

Annoying patients out of their sufferings are what we do best.
To the extent where patients even shout: "Just let me bloody rest!"

Many a night are spend in the hospital,
with nothing to sustain us but apples,
in hopes of gaining knowledge that dazzles.

The true meaning of unity is found in the army,
not some "1-Malaysia" slogan which rings empty.

I know our walk to be a doctor is not easy,
Pray we'll have the strength to finish the journey completely.

Pray also we will one day be generals full of competency,
planning and improving the Medical Corps properly.

Lastly,  I hereby present you with Intake 2010 Medical Cadets of the National Defence University of Malaysia.

-The End-

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A trip out to Sea

During the Golden Era of Melaka, the muddy waters of the Straits of Melaka was not only teeming with merchants ships but located just beneath the surface, abundant schools of fishes of all kind roamed freely and happily.

Numbering in thousands and millions, the fishes seemed infinite in numbers, allowing a booming fishing business. Fishermen strutted proudly around the dock, occasionally throwing a proud glance at their fleet of fishing boats that made the navy green with envy.

Now, fast forward a few years and we come to present day Melaka. An obvious decline is seen due to incompetent and corrupted leaders. Lousy leaders isn't my topic of the day though, but rather he is:

Meet Pak Cik Awi, a 47-year old fisherman who has been fishing in the Straits of Melaka the past 11 years. He's a father of 4 children and works his butt off to provide for his family. Every morning, as soon as the tide is in, he goes out to sea in his tiny little sampan hoping to return with a boat full of fishes.

But the opposite is usually true. After spending hours under the scorching sun, casting and retrieving his fishing nets, he gets nothing but dead leaves, rubbish,

and also miserable tiny fishes.

Long gone are the days where every cast ends up with a full boat of flipping and jumping fishes. With all the land reclamation process going on in the Straits of Melaka, the once infinite fishes has become finite, even bordering upon extinction.

Determined not to return home empty handed, Pak Cik Awi ignores his aching back and sore hands, feverishly casting and retrieving his net, hoping and praying to at least catch a fish that is worth something. 

Fortune must have been smiling upon Pak Cik Awi that day, for after long last, his patience and hardwork finally paid off. The treasure every fisherman in the Straits of Melaka is hoping to catch is the Pomfret fish (ikan bawal). Selling at RM 60 per kilogram, catching a few of these fishes would have been worth all the hardwork at sea.

Well, Pak Cik Awi didn't catch a few but at least he manage to get one before he had to return to mainland as the tide was going down rapidly. Now his family doesn't have to go hungry for that night plus he can afford to buy petrol for the next trip out to sea. Real fortunate huh?

I wonder what happened to the former glory of the fishermen? How did it come to this?

Monday, 10 March 2014

My 2 Cents

Being in an environment where the mind is believed to be in total control of the body, I've seen various occasions where extreme feats of greatness are achieved through pure will power alone.

Photo credits to Pet S. Salvador

Be it mentally or physically, anything, even perfection can be achieved with the right amount of determination. 

After years of disciplining and training our bodies, through pain and sweat, a bond is formed between our bodies and us. The body becomes a trusted companion, something we rely on, trusted to never fail us. The body and us against the world. 

At least that was what I believed until I was posted to the hospital.

Here in the hospital, the ultimate betrayal is witnessed many times over. The betrayal of the body. 

The body you thought would be there with you till the very end suddenly decides to turn against you, growing something sinister, something that eats you up from within, something that renders you paralysed for the rest of your life.  

So much for mind over body huh? How can that tumour be controlled with sheer determination? That damn infection running through your nervous system halted with will power?

You know the moment when one learns he/she has only a few more months to live? It is heart-breaking. Extremely so. Coming from one who doesn't usually like to express feelings, you can trust me on that. 

There are many reactions upon reception of the bad news. Some burst out laughing, hoping with every fibre in their body that the doctor is playing an April fool joke. Slowly, as they realised it isn't April yet, the tears starts flowing amidst the laughter. 

Others literally break down, wailing and crying, looking stunned and devastated upon the betrayal of their beloved body.

After witnessing all these betrayals, I have come to one conclusion: live life to the fullest while the body is still on your side. Go climb that mountain, jump off that plane, marry the love of your life, run that marathon, write that book, volunteer for social services or whatever. Just as long as you fulfil as many dreams and goals as you can. Thus, when the betrayal comes, you can actually calmly sit back with your legs crossed and know that you have had a good run.

My uncle who is paralysed waist down due to a bout of poliomyelitis during his childhood once told me:

" Life is short enough to enjoy but too long to suffer" 
                                                         -Lim Sow Seng-

Simple yet deep; beautiful and sweet. So yeah.. let us use that short time to the max just in case we may have to suffer later on.

Yours truly,

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Upward Plunge Part 2

Day 2: Pairo- Lantang Village

Faithfully following behind the retreating back of Mann our guide, he led us ever onwards to the snowy caped mountains.

After staring at Mann's bag for hours, I slowly came to memorise every single detail of the bag, every meticulously patched up tear, every faded stain. The image of the bag was so firmly etched into my mind that I see it every time I close my eyes, even dream about it when I sleep. Mann should have been carrying my medical books, that way I could have memorise the whole book instead...

So with Mann leading the way, me slightly behind him and Aiman covering up the rear, we walked across the Langtang trek of the Himalayas. 

Just as I was thinking how our journey is somewhat similar to the journey of Frodo in The Lord of The Rings ( Mann being Sméagle, Aiman being Sam and me being Frodo), I dislodged some stones sending them rolling down a hill alarming a flock of birds which took flight immediately. It was a magical moment as we stood on top of a hill surrounded by the serene mountain view and engulfed in a cloud of birds, at least it was magical until the shit started dropping..

As the sun started sinking behind the mountains, we arrived at Lantang Village hungry, weary and cold. The village made up of many small houses with chimneys smoking was a very welcomed sight. The smoke means fire and fire means warmth and food. 

The whole village was already in shadows as we walked towards our chosen tea-house to spend the night, except for a field nearby where the last rays of the sun still shone. 

In that last ray of sun, I saw a small young boy dancing, spinning and tumbling around. He looked so happy, so care-free, laughing as he danced, screaming as he spun and fell. 

I wanted to capture that tender moment but as I approach the boy, he quickly disappeared back into his house.

Dinner that night was a cold affair. 

Even with a heater burning red hot trying in vain to heat up the dining area, everyone was shivering as we huddled round the heater gulping down hot tea and wolfing down our Dhal Bhats (a local rice dish).

Remember the dancing young boy? Well, apparently he and his family were staying next door to us. It was so cold that they came over to share the fire and have dinner together. 

After dinner I took out my iPad and let the dancing boy and his brother have a go at some of the games I have in my iPad. They were mesmerized.. 

I could see their exciment as they figured how to beat the games. The brother concentrated especially hard while playing a game that even a blob of mucus slowly dripping out from his nose went unnoticed. 

These mountain folks seem to have nothing, no televisions, no computers, no overpriced apple products, no nothing. But in reality, these people actually have everything. 

They have the purest form of joy by enjoying simple things in life like dancing in the sun, they get the highest satisfaction achieved by pitting themselves against mother nature and excelling, they enjoy the blues skies, the high mountains....

What wouldn't I give to have what they have..