Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wedding planning and other scary thoughts

And so wedding receptions were created. Some are simple and others elaborate. Some couples do away with it altogether, some brides find it offensive if it's not up to par. It's not uncommon for the woman to take charge of everything, other times the man pays more attention to the type of frosting on the cake. Tons of money are spent on these fleeting events. The tiered cake, the dress, the menu, the photographs, the long list of guests...have a band or don't have a band, to karaoke or not to karaoke...that is one of the many questions.

I revisit the root cause of weddings:

1. Boy meets girl

2. They fall in love

3. They dated for a bit

4. They decided to tie the knot

5. Parents are elated

6. Parents decide to celebrate and annouce their union to the world by sponsoring WEDDING RECEPTIONS

I used to wonder why women become bridezillas over weddings and now that I'm halfway to becoming one, I can relate to the self-imposed anxiety and gradual slide to insanity. It suddenly feels as though the wedding planning are the sole responsibility of the woman. True, women can generally multi-task and revel in the details of planning. True, it's supposed to be fun, doing all the girly-wirly things with your girlfriends and mother...sisters if you have them, or brothers if they tolerate this sort of thing. It would be really cool to have a gay friend as portrayed by Rupert Everett in 'My Best Friend's Wedding'.

In the past I had thought it amusing that so much pressure rested on this event when the more important thing is how the marriage would proceed, long after the guests have left and said their best wishes; the venues no longer have traces of your merry-making; and long after you come home from honeymoon and a huge mound of laundry is staring right back at you...

Now I'm a little bit obsessed about getting this hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event right. I guess I have always been one of those people who realize belatedly what certain things entail. And weddings are one of them. As I navigated assumptions, expectations, "assumed" expectations and realities of a budget, my stress level sky-rocketed. There were restless nights where I found myself staring at planning spreadsheets, mulling over guest lists, budgets and protocols.

What protocol? There is NO protocol. And the conflicting advice from well-meaning aunties...aren't all these things written down somewhere like a manual entitled, 'How to Carry Out a Malaysian Chinese Wedding for Dummies'? Both sets of parents established that the receptions won't be traditional but there must be some framework, some remnant structure to follow, right? Or do you just show up, eat your fill, then get up and leave? I realize as the dates draw closer, I wanted something more from the two receptions; some level of cohesiveness and a good flow...I want them to have soul...whatever that means.

I used to be proud of the fact that I didn't really concern myself with what other people might think. Now I do. Is it a sign of maturity or just an implosion of self-esteem?

Well, I probably am just stressing myself out for no apparent reason. I mean, the big things are pegged down: the venues are booked. Invites to the bridegroom's reception have been sent and many have RSVP-ed. We are looking into the invites for the bride reception this week. I selected a design for the tailor-made dress.

Maybe part of the problem is that I still view myself as a tomboy. I may have grown my hair long and seldom leave the house in some shapeless and baggy garb. But I actually dread trooping from bridal house to bridal house, looking for a decent dress that wouldn't make me look like a cupcake or burn a hole in the pocket so deep I can see the earth's magma.

Having rambled all the way down to this paragraph, the realization hit me like the monsoon rain at 4 in the afternoon: the biggest source of anxiety is that the wedding and all its intricated planning represent the beginnings of how two families will interact with each other. A precursor event that will be reflected and referenced upon, with your closest relatives, friends and colleagues as witnesses.

So now I take a deep breathe and although I am not Christian, I will murmur these soothing words of prayer: "Grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change; COURAGE to change the things I can; and the WISDOM to know the difference."

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Recently for a staff retreat and team-building exercise, I took a MBTI test and found out that I am a ISFP. At the workshop though, I validated as a ISFJ. As WWF-ers, my colleagues and I enjoyed the acronyms because our world is flooded with them: PMP, USAID, TNC, CI, WCS, WFC, CTI, SOM, WOC, CCC.

Anyways, an ISFP is described as someone who is:
1. Able to "live in the moment"
2. Aware of people and the world around them
3. Independent
4. Faithful to people and things important to them
5. Guided by strong core of inner values, with a desire to contribute to people's well-being
6. Adaptable and flexible, unless a core value is violated
7. Quiet and unassuming
8. Seen by others as quiet, reserved and private

This fascinating tool was developed Isabel Briggs Myers based on psychological theory by Carl Jung. I was unsurprised by the results and was pleased that the tool confirmed who I already knew I was. Some questions weren't easy to answer, requiring at least a beer or two before taking a stab at it...not given much room to say, "well, it depends". Of course, you might get different results if you used the tool after a "major event" or after considerable lapses in time.

E (extraversion) or I (introversion) - where you focus your attention
S (sensing) or N (Intuition) - the way you take in information
T (thinking) or F (feeling) - the way you make decision
J (judging) or P (perceiving) - how you deal with the outer world

The preference clarity index showed I was clear about being an I and a F. I was only slightly a S or I might swing the other way according to circumstances.

At the workshop we were grouped with people with similar preferences for the four preferences. Most of the groupings confirm why I worked well or got along with certain people and less so with some. I understood better the sources of conflict and tension.

A manager seeking to restructure would find this useful for setting up his or her team. While it is tempting to choose people who are the same type, there is strength in diversity and that different tasks would suit certain people very well. I think it's a recipe for a happier work place...of course when you have the luxury of choosing what you want to do. Most of the time you just do what you have to do.

I really like that the facilitator said that just because you are of a certain type, it doesn't give you the excuse for bad behavior. I guess despite my preference for solitude, I'd have to venture out for social gatherings every now and then. I'd have to learn to fight the urge to follow my heart too much and use my head when situations require it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sorry, NO sharks' fin soup at my wedding

Life as a marine biologist in a small town in northern Borneo was never dull. Early morning on 16 August 2007, we received a phone call from the District Officer. He said there was a large fish of some sort that was found off Pitas in a weakened condition and was dragged back to Kudat by the fishermen who came upon it. He suggested that we rush to the scene and take stock of the situation. As my colleagues and I piled into the field vehicle, my mind raced with excitement. The District Officer mentioned that the creature had white spots. The fish might in fact be a whale shark, Rhyncodon typus.

In 5 minutes, we arrived at the jetty of Kampung Air. The sight of at least a hundred locals, young and old, lining the road toward the jetty, proved that this fish had become a star attraction. And lo, in the murky shallows there floated the whale shark. I had never seen one before and was hoping against hope that it would be alive but clearly it was dead.

Rob and I started asking the fishermen questions. Who found it? Where and what time was it found? What happened, how did it die? The fishermen who found the whale shark answered our questions in a guarded manner; perhaps worried that we were the authorities. Shortly after we arrived, the real authorities arrived: Sabah Department of Fisheries as well as the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Armed with a camera I started taking photos of the shark and the fishermen held it up for me enthusiastically. There was even a festive atmosphere as more and more people gathered to view the spectacle. For a fleeting moment, I was worried if the rickety jetty could support the weight of so many people.

Pretty soon I was not content to just look at the fish from the jetty. I wanted to touch it. In my quick-dry track pants and skin suit, I was dressed for the occasion. Without hesitation, I jumped into the dirty water. I knew the men from Sabah Department of Fisheries, and together in the waist-deep water we measured the length of the shark, determined its sex and took tissue samples. The shark was a juvenile male about 6 m long. Its skin, as with other sharks, felt like sand paper. Sharks' scales have a hook-like structure and that is the reason why people can get injured just by being grazed by a fast-moving shark.
We inspected the shark closely to figure out what killed it. CSI, hah! On its tail fin and head were some abrasions and brown paint. It seemed unlikely that it would have run into a boat. Perhaps it was caught in a net then drowned. As it was dragged back to Kudat, the shark may have scrapped against the bottom of the boat, where it came into contact with anti-fouling paint that is usually rust-colored.

The whale shark is world’s largest fish. It is found in tropical waters and swims long distances. The poor shark that died that day was just a young one, for an adult could grow as long as 20 metres. Perhaps the fella was swimming with its family to Sorsogon, Philippines, where they aggregate in large numbers. You’d be glad to know that these giants feed mostly on plankton and fish; divers have found them to be gentle and harmless. I guess we humans are their greatest predators. Whale sharks along with other species of sharks are being hunted in great numbers every year. That’s why at my wedding reception this year I will not serve sharks’ fin soup. Who knows, my guests might thank me also if they know that sharks are known to accumulate heavy metals such as mercury in their flesh.

Picture courtesy of Robecca Jumin

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What would I be without my Father?

And so the commercial hype of Mother's Day has passed and now the focus is on what to buy fathers. I seldom know what to get my Father to show my love and appreciation. I've bought him books, luggage, CDs and electronic gadgets. I've even made him cards, sent him electronic ones too. But how do you really show the man who helped bring you up in this world that you really care and cherish all that he has done for the family?

I want to tell him that although he is always far away I hear his words of wisdom in my head, in everything I do.

I want the whole world to know that he has shaped my environmental activism and love of all things great and small. That his generous spirit and gentle guidance have given me so much freedom to explore the world and be all that I want to be.

I want to thank the man who sacrificed so much so that his family can have so much comfort in life. He is frugal with himself but is lavish with us. How many men can tolerate working in harsh environments that are isolated, endure long hours and night shifts? He kept himself motivated and sane with exercise and hearing my Mother's voice on the telephone.

This is the man who makes me feel like his thousand gold. He taught me to love myself, to hold my head high, and to live a life imbued with high moral values. When I was a younger woman, naive and stupid about men, he taught me about the importance of fidelity, trust, and wanting the best for myself. When I was ready for a steady relationship, I wanted a man with the sterling qualities that made my Mother want to choose Dad as her life partner: honesty, patience, respect, humor and dedication to her and the family. And happily, I found someone quite like my Dad :)

My father is the reason I have a lifelong thirst for knowledge. He upholds the importance of good education for it is something no one could take away from us. I'll never forget the paperbacks and National Geographic magazines he brought from his work place to encourage my love for reading. This also meant that that I read mostly Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Alistair Maclean, Sydney Sheldon, and Dean Koontz while my peers were into Judith McNaught, Barbara Cartland, Mills and Boons. But it suited my tomboyish nature fine.

When I was a little girl, I feared his strict ways. He told me that his days in the Armed Forces were tough but it is likely that he and my mother shared a strategy for keeping us kids in line. But I certainly remember the year he retired from the Army. He was a different man, openly smiling and making jokes. He was...liberated from a highly regimented life. So yes, he was strict but only when we kids were wayward. Otherwise, my brothers and I enjoyed a carefree childhood.

To my wonderful Father, I can never thank you enough. I hope to always make you proud. Happy Father's Day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Mother, my hero

Mother Nature

Mother of all storms.

Mommy. Ibu. Madre. Ma ma.

My Mother is a force to be reckoned with. My Father was and is still outstation a lot so she looked after the homefront with the incredible efficiency of the Volkswagen engine. If we were to profile her experience professionally; she has a Ph.D in Home Economics with years of experience as an interior decorator, chef, nurse, counselor, financial manager, event organizer, family relations coordinator, fashion advisor, social worker, hygiene and sanitation expert, child minder and mind reader.

Mind reader, you ask? Yes, she knows the instant you dropped some food on the floor and tried to pretend you didn't. She can read you like a book.

My mother's mother was also very cool. I will always remember that she was resilient, kind, popular and magnanimous. She led a life fraught with challenges and yet emerged stronger with her humanity intact. This was a person who survived the Japanese Occupation, the untimely and heartbreaking death of a spouse and two sons. Managed a charcoal business. Drove a truck during the times when women were the ones driven around or left at home in the kitchen. My grandmother once grew pot in her backyard. An unconventional woman in a conservative Malaysia. She also told me, "Be open to everyone but choose your friends carefully." Walking on the busy streets of Penang on a hot day with my grandma, we'd stop every now and then to greet someone: young, old, Indian, Malay, Chinese, men or women. How did she know all this people? They LOVE her!!

So you can see where the benchmark of super female is: an amazing grandmother, a fantastic daughter. As the granddaughter, I can only hope I am half as brilliant as they are.

Mother is my first teacher. She is my avid supporter me when I first decided that I was going to save the world. After sitting for the A Levels (a.k.a. the braincell destroyer: STPM), I was sitting at home not doing much. I decided to pick up trash discarded along a small road near our house. Now, because our house is always spotless, I felt there was nothing I could do except not mess it up. Neighbors would walk by and ask why I was picking up someone's trash. They then asked my Mother if the STPM exams fried my brains to the point of irrational behavior. She said, "If you are not going to help her, then shut up." Nuff said.

So this Sunday is Mother's Day. Of course it's not the only day to appreciate your mother. But it is kind of cool to have a day dedicated to women (and men, I guess) who committed their lives to their family. Once a Mom, always a Mom. She'll never stop worrying about you, no matter how old you are. You may disagree with her sometime but if she disapproves of something you'd feel like the whole world doesn't matter.

Mommy dearest, thank you for everything. I mean everything. You are my sunshine, my moral compass, my pillar of strength.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's May already??!!!

How did this happen? I thought I could write another blog before April bids us adieu. I had all these blog ideas in my head while riding the bus to work but didn't put pen to paper or rather, fingers to keyboard. So poof, they're gone, evaporated. Gone, babe.

With the swine flu scare, I worked from home for two days after falling sick over the weekend. There was actually a memo that advised unwell employees to refrain from sharing their germs by heroically insisting on coming to work. My parents didn't think it was that special when I told them I had the sniffles. My father even said, "You and the cold virus are best friends." Yeah, I used to get sore throat, cold or allergies every other month as a teenager. Imagine, being the awkward teen with self-esteem of an egg affected by DDT. It definitely didn't help if you wanted to attract the attention of the guy you have the crush on if you have mucus flowing out of your nose.

I have been reading and watching some pretty depressing stuff lately. Awaken one night by fire alarm I couldn't get back to sleep after the firefighters came to check that everything was ok. I watched the movie, 'The Color Purple.' Now, I have seen plenty of white-discriminating-against-black movies but this one was special because it was a story of oppression within the African American people, particularly women who are raped, abused and treated like slaves by their own family and spouse.

Then I read a Nobel Peace Price winner's account of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel wrote 'Night' is such a simple but devastatingly clear manner that I was just stunned all over again by the atrocities the Nazi Germans committed against the Jews. The thing that struck me was how trusting and peace-loving the Jews were. They didn't want any trouble. They just wanted to live their lives, follow their customs, be with their loved ones. Elie's father is my hero because he kept his son going until the very end. Elie was about to give up while they were all being forced to run 42 miles continuously in the snow but the father, looking like a corpse, prodded his son on.

Today I watched 'Cry, Freedom', directed by Richard Attenborough, brother of David Attenborough. I enjoyed hearing Denzel Washington speak with an African accent. But there it is again, the theme of racial discrimination and domination. The separation of families and keeping people poor in their social standing and in their minds. The war against apartheid claimed many victims for many decades.

So I've covered disease, war and slavery. Makes sensational reading, no?

Of course, learning about the suffering of others whether through fictional or non-fiction work makes me grateful for all that I have.

Yes, my government isn't perfect. But it hasn't stopped me from becoming a conservationist.

Yes, my job isn't perfect. But it has given me interesting exposure and learning experience.

Yes, my health isn't perfect. But this body has enabled me to do many things and go many places.

Much, much to be thankful for indeed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Itsy Bitsy Spider

Once when I was a timid eight-year-old I had to deal with a spider that hid near my bed. The cob’s hairy eight legs and fast movements frightened me intensely. At night I made a fuss with my parents as I refused to lie down next to it. My father assured me the harmless spider was more afraid of me than I was of it. In my wild imagination, the spider might crawl over me or go into my mouth. My father killed the spider at my request. He sprayed it with an insecticide and the spider, though not scientifically classified as an insect, died all the same as would an ant, cockroach or bee. As the spider lay on the floor, its long legs curling into its body before dying, my father emphasized again that the spider is actually a beneficial creature as it eats pesky insects. It had to die because I refused to deal with my irrational fear and to share my space with it.

Far from being happy about not sharing a bed with a spider, I felt remorseful. I promised to myself that from then on I will overcome my irrational fear of God’s creations, big and small. One day I saw a common garden snail in the drain. Although the hair on my neck stood up, I studied the slimy creature intensely. The snail, crawling along, was completely oblivious to its human observer.

Many years later, while working in my lab on my final year project in university, a centipede wandered in. The centipede could inflict a painful bite if provoked or stepped on. I didn’t want to worry about it as I go about my work. But instead of killing it, I trapped the centipede with a glass and released it outside. And no, I did not take the time to study the writhing centipede.

Perhaps I have grown too fearless at times. I once stumbled upon a dead snake while jogging on university grounds. Over a metre long, the snake was in good condition. It was probably recently killed by motorists while trying to cross the road. Why did the snake cross the road? To get to the other side, I guess. My lecturer once remarked that present-day biology students are boring and unadventurous. During his student days, he and his friends went camping in the wilderness almost every weekend, collecting interesting specimens for the lab. Feeling indignant at being labeled unadventurous, I picked up the snake, coiled and placed it in a discarded plastic bag. Not wanting to cut short my run, I hid the snake near a tree and picked it up later on the way back to the dormitory. While my room mates were out, I laid the snake out. With my vertebrate biology textbook opened, I studied its scaly features and tried to identify which species it belonged to.

The next day I handed the lecturer the snake. He was grateful for the contribution to the lab. The snake was later identified as Naja naja, or the common cobra. My mother, on the other hand, recoiled in horror when I told her of my little adventure. She said, “I’m not sure what I ate to give birth to such a brave child.”

I smiled. Certainly, my courage did not come from genes or the things she ate while I was in her womb. It was carefully nurtured over the years, starting with the poor spider.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Blog for the Sake of March

I have the bad habit of starting something in the spur of the moment and after the impulse is gone, it falls to the wayside.

When I started Ocean Color Scene, I said to myself, "This will be a blog that I will continue writing in." It won't be a dinosaur or an unwanted toy, collecting cyber-cobwebs.

March had been a rough month. Heck, it had been tough since I unplugged myself from what I know and love to be in America. This year-long experience at this desk job had been an eye-opener but it had sapped my zest for marine conservation and general outlook in life.

Sure, there were good things that happened: getting married, making leaps and bounds in my personal life. A girl can't have it all. Here I am sulking because I couldn't fit personal and professional fulfilment into one neat equation for a wholesome life.

The growing frustration at this job made me examine my priorities, desires and needs again. Seems like I'm always having a "head check" when sufficient amounts of dissatisfaction build up to a critical level. And being action-oriented, I seek answers, rationalizing irrational behavior of colleagues, trying to fix things.

I wish I had the perseverance to go on when things slam in my face. I bitch, rant, cuss and eat more junkfood. But hey, everybody has his or her vices.

Fortunately, my spouse had been a pillar of support throughout this "adventure". My family continued to guide and calm me when my mind is disarray and my hopes are faint. Counting my blessings, I am lucky to have people who love and care for me in this otherwise impersonal and calculating world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A story for Valentine's Day

She was a bookish student who liked keeping to herself. He was a good-natured chap who was always with his friends. It was 1996, when the school year began for a gaggle of Sixth Formers at King George V Secondary School.

It had been a rough start for her. Her class, Class 6 Muzaffar, was a "floater". As class monitor, it was her duty to find a classroom whenever they got booted out of a class they squated in. In the previous year, a kind schoolteacher had advised her to go into the Arts Stream for she fared better in the languages (Malay and English) than Mathematics and the sciences Physics, Chemistry and Biology. She ignored the well-meaning advice, deciding to follow her dream of being a scientist or maybe a doctor (almost every parent's wish). To make matters worse, their class teacher was a deadwood who constantly belittled them. He would say that she and her classmates were wasting his time and that they were better off being hawkers selling fried kuey teow. Now as she wandered along the corridors looking for another classroom, she cursed her decision.

School assemblies were dreary affairs but she looked forward to seeing one person: the tall, quiet guy from the other Form Six science class. He came to KGV from the Anglo-Chinese School to take the A-levels not offered at his alma mater. Noticing the glances she cast his way, a classmate tactfully told her that he has a girlfriend who was in the Arts Stream. At learning this, she stopped looking at and thinking of him.

After a tumultuous one and a half years, the Sixth Formers were ready to spread their wings and fly. Despite the teacher's prediction that they would fail to make it into any university, a timely government policy to increase the number of science graduates saved this hapless class from being fried kuey teow hawkers. All of Class 6 Muzaffar were accepted into local universities except for one student (he flunked most subjects) in spite of their outrageously horrendous A-level results. She got her top choice: a 3-year B.Sc (Honors) Biology program at Universiti Putra Malaysia. He attended the same university as she, where he trained to become a veterinary doctor.

She was grateful for the second chance to further her education. She worked hard and did well. She also broke out of her anti-social shell when she became an activitist seeking to raise awareness of university students on HIV/AIDS. It was an odd choice of extra-curricular activity but she liked the type of people who formed the group Universiti Putra Volunteers for AIDS Club (UPVAC). When other clubs and societies were highly polarized and homogenous, UPVAC members were fun-loving, wacky and were of different ethnic groups and programs.

They would bump into each other every now and then on campus and they would talk and talk. But they never made the effort to connect beyond the opportunistic meetings. They had separate lives, interests, partners and ambitions.

One day, she received a phone call from him. He said he was leaving for America. He had been going around calling and meeting up with friends as he wasn't sure if he would be able to see them much.

Those feelings that she kept buried all these years resurfaced. She realized that she really, really liked him. But it won't work: both of them were still in their respective relationship. Besides, he's going far, far away.

Months later she received an e-mail from him, broken-hearted and alone in a foreign land. His girlfriend had left him. She offered words of comfort and told him to be strong. Little did she know she was headed down the same path. Her boyfriend of 5 years had suggested that they get married but she suspected that he'd only said that to curb her freedom. She had been offered a job in Sarawak. The ugly truth surfaced when she forced the boyfriend to talk to her parents about marriage. The boyfriend said that it was a misunderstanding and that she forced him to get married. Her mother also decided at that moment to give him a piece of her mind. The end result of the meeting: angry parents and irate boyfriend.

After two months of verbal abuse, she decided to end the relationship for real. The ex had given her enough hate fuel to launch herself out of his orbit forever, to her parents' relief. They weren't sure if the ex was the man for her.

She sent an e-mail to him, to share the sad news. The next day he called her from the US, surprising her at work. After 3 months of grieving and bitching about their respective exes, they realized that they love one another.

Two soulmates who finally found one another...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Finding Marmite in the US

Living in a foreign land, I have several mechanisms for coping with homesickness. Calling home to talk with friends and loved ones. Speaking Malay to Malaysians working in the organization. And, having my black little bottle of Marmite.

I love Marmite since I was a kid. Mom would mix it with porridge and sometimes she prepared it as a watery brown soup to help me finish my rice.

Since I arrived in the US, I have been surviving on two bottles of Marmite. I've been holding off using the last bit of it because I haven't been able to locate Marmite in any of the international food marts.

I didn't know Marmite was a British product.

I LOVE marmite. Husband hates it

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Waiting, doctors, tests and then some more waiting

Worry is a sneaky thing. It starts out small and insignificant. But when you feed it, worry doubles its size every second. Before you know it, you have an anxiety attack. Your mind starts to play tricks on you.

A colleague recently noticed abnormal bleeding a few days after her period had ended. This usually tough woman was reduced to tears when the doctor said it could be cancer or even have her uterus removed. Later the two of us raged about the doctor's speculations without waiting for test results. To add salt to the wound, urine and blood tests results will take 2-3 weeks and potentially 2-6 months wait for appointments with specialists. She's now waiting to see a specialist and if he can't find out what's wrong with her, she's flying back to her home country to get treated. In the meantime, we both agreed that she should NOT worry herself to death. Easier said than done.

Two years ago I was called by the hospital where I donated blood. I've given blood many times but have never been called back for re-testing.

So I went to the hospital, thinking there must be some mistake. My real mistake was leaning over to see what was written next to my name: retrovirus. I felt as though the floor fell away from my feet. How the heck did I get a virus like HIV???

The nurse, oblivious to my reaction, proceeded to extract my blood while chatting away happily. I numbly replied her questions. I do have a pale complexion but at that time I must have been a whiter shade of pale. She then cheerfully added that I can come back in 2 weeks to get my results.

I walked out of the room and noticed that the world looked surreal, as though I was on MTV complete with strong, vibrant colors and weird background music. This was back in the days when MTV used to play music instead of reality shows. As I walked to the van parked on the hospital grounds, a doctor friend happened by and noticed that I was whiter than white. He took me to his office and asked what had frightened me so. I hesitated but looking at his kind face, I knew I could trust him. There was an outpouring of emotions: fear, anger, and sadness. I told him I could not wait 2 weeks for the results. I would have pulled out my hair, bitten my nails to the quick and gone insane. I had to know NOW. He pointed out that I could get faster results by getting re-tested in the city. Good, I now have a distraction, a mission.

After getting permission for an emergency leave, I drove toward Kota Kinabalu in the rain. It was as though the heavens felt my pain. It was difficult to remain optimistic. Will I leave my job? What will my boyfriend and family think? Will I ever have kids of my own? Perhaps I could deal with the virus since monthly cost for the cocktail of drugs is less than RM1000 if I am still employed. But the stigma and discrimination can be the deal-breaker for a weakling like myself.

By nightfall and just 30 minutes outside the city I accidentally ran over a puddle of water. It was deeper than I thought. After running for 300 m, the van sputtered, choked, gasped and finally stopped near traffic lights, of all places. Things couldn't get worse, could they? Let's add a full bladder and no nearby toilets to the equation. Desperate, I called a friend but he was out of town. I contacted another colleague who gave me the phone number for a taxi company. While waiting for the cab to arrive, 4 strange men walked by the van and taunted me a little before moving on. I could barely contain my tears at that point. Finally, the taxi arrived and I asked to be taken to one of the hotels I normally stay at when in town. Tired but unable to sleep, it was one of the longest nights I've endured.

It worked out well that I had no appetite that night and the following morning since it's standard procedure to fast before going for a blood test. The technician who attended to me was very kind and gentle. He sensed my desperation and offered to call me as soon as he got the results...the next day! Gohonzon always had a way of sending angels my way in my darkest hour.

The mechanic who went with me to fix the van found that the problem was water that got into the carburator. Fortunately, the water had dried up and the van worked fine without too much meddling. After he left I forced myself to eat to regain the strength to drive back to Kudat.

Another night of fitful sleep and I awoke, heart and mind racing. Will the technician call as promised? The hours crawled by as I paced the field house and listened to some loud music to drown out my growing anxiety.

The phone rang at 2.30 p.m.

"Miss, results from the lab confirm that you've been tested negative for HIV."


Monday, February 2, 2009

Have you ever had a cockroach wake you at 2 a.m.?

It had been an easy-going day at work. Although there was an event to organize, it was not crazy or frenetic like other times because: (a) advance preparation (b) sufficient support from all around (c) the cat wasn't around.

I retired early at night after reading a page or two of Sophie's World, a novel on the history of philosophy. Just as Sophie and her philosophy teacher Alberto started dwelling on unification of Christianity and philosophy, I decided to get my zzzz.

My slumbering body sensed an intruder in my left ear. My pinky finger automatically moves in to get at it. The next thing my sleepy brain knew was that a cockroach had crawled right in.

I reluctantly got out of bed and went to the bathroom. I took a quick look at the watch on the counter. "Darn bugger woke me up at 2 a.m.!" Of course this was not verbalized. There is always an odd sensation in the mouth after waking when you don't feel like talking or eating or anything but sleep.

I took at a cotton bud and jabbed at the critter. I wasn't sure how big this cockroach was. I noticed 2 types of cockroaches roaming my apartment happily. Last night I saw one about the size of a small ant, say 5 mm, exploring my computer. From the frightening noise and frantic scratching I can safely say it was the bigger variety, about 2-3 cm in length.

I considered using the tweezer but worried I might drive the critter deeper and possibly damaging my eardrum. As my mind raced through the options (not many rational ones I could muster at that hour) the cockroach decided to exit on its own.

My immediate emotions: relieve, disgust and irrational fear. I started thinking about prevention. Ear plugs. Cotton pads. Headscarves. Cellophane tape. Headmasks, like the ones robbers and terroritsts wear. Then I worried about how my hair would look like in the morning (I can't go to work wearing a paperbag over my head). In the end I settled for earphones.

So wearing earphones in bed I decided to find out on the internet how other people dealt with insects or foreign objects in their ear. There was a decent article that suggested using oil to kill the insect or running water to flush out a bean that's not too tightly wedged in. Ah, nice. An oily ear or wet head at 2 in the morning.

The article also warned about not using inflexible objects like tweezers for fear of hurting the victim...presumably the article was written for mothers or guardians dealing with a panic-stricken child who is struggling and crying to have the bug out of his or her ear. Well, I want my mommy too!

When my irrational fear had lessened somewhat I started musing about the hilarity of the situation. I have slept in worse places and had not endured a cockroach lodging itself in my ear. I had the bigger ones crawling all over me and my brothers when we spent the first night at a field house in Langkawi for my first job in marine conservation. There is always the first time for everything I guess.

I sure am glad the pest control folks are coming over to attempt eradication of those critters. But if I understood correctly, they are only targeting the kitchen area. Moments after the intruder launched itself out of my ear, another one came out of the bathroom sink. It's going to take more than just a visit from the pest control to get rid of these bugs.

As far as I'm concerned, the cockroaches have started a war...