A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

Kids and their bikes

actually my bikes

semi-overcast 29 °C

Well, I was only just writing about reaching the halfway mark and now it seems I am almost already two thirds through.

In a way it is a blessing, but I also feel like I haven't done enough. I need to write a bucket list of all the things I want to do before my time in JB kicks the bucket. First on the list is completing my paediatric rotation. I have to say the teaching here has been remarkable, and so have the patients. I have completed 10 weeks here in the ward and there have been a few stand out moments. One in particular was a 27 year old mother whose 1 year old child presented with all the trademark symptoms of leukemia. Her child was eventually diagnosed with a mild form of thalassaemia (a treatable genetic blood disorder) and she was smiling from ear to ear when she realised her little boy was going to be fine. This is not so remarkable on its own, but only a few weeks later another child presents with much the same symptoms albeit a whole lot worse. We examined the child with a crying mother who was begging for the diagnosis to be confirmed. The contrast between the two mothers was incredible and I don't think any amount of books or lectures can teach the lesson in that mother's eyes. Cure for cancer is going on my bucket list too.

At the other extreme there are parents that just don't seem to care, or maybe more to the point, have no idea how to care for their kids. There has been more than one child that has come into the hospital after failed treatment by their local traditional Chinese healer. Sure the healing has been in business for 100s of years, but when the young patient with liver cancer goes there with legs resembling an elephant's, he still directs the mother to a hospital. Only it is too late for the poor boy who will be lucky to see his 12th birthday, and the traditional healer is free from any reprimand or litigation. Meanwhile the mother still seems oblivious to the dire situation her son is in. This story wouldn't look out of place on an episode of 60 minutes back home.

Even though I feel like my learning has been hampered by a persistent language barrier that I have failed to deal with, the overall learning experience is overwhelming. Wards that have no air-conditioners in stifling 30+ degree heat, over 100 beds per ward and 12 beds per room and still often patients are lining the corridors. The solid steel beige-painted cot beds and cheap plastic outdoor furniture provided for the parent's comfort. There are probably 100 other startling things that are no longer startling and I don't notice anymore. But you couldn't buy this experience in Australia and if a patient ever fronts up with dengue fever or thalassaemia back home, I might just look smart for a change.

I am sorry if this blog seems a little morbid, but my week has been less than fantastic to say the least. That brings me to my bikes. After I went to visit cousin Anna one last time in Singapore (where I bought a flute from the guy with the amazing shirt-tie combo) I rode my motorbike home at a sensible 100 km/hr. Then *SNAP* chain broken and bits of steel mangled all over the place. Luckily nothing hit my leg, and nothing got caught in the back wheel. But my poor baby was bleeding black blood all over the road and there isn't much help around at 1am. Luckily I was close to home and some friendly local offered to push my heavy rolling piece of scrap metal with his mini scooter... I laughed at him, "you're a crazy man, you can't push this". He just stuck one leg out, wedged it behind my foot peg and took off up the road. I was doing 60km/hr up hill! I think he wanted to keep pushing me to the next suburb, I had to actually shoo him away to get in my driveway.

So cleverly, I decided that I could push my bike to the mechanic the next day. I think my bike weighs 200kg (actually I just looked it up - 195kg dry) and the bike shop is about 4km UP A VERY VERY BIG HILL. VERY BIG HILL. I figured if someone stopped at 1am they would also stop at 10am. But they didn't, and it was hot. Very hot. And it was a very big hill. Even worse is that it is a freeway and one of the entry ramps was full of traffic. I was stuck on a traffic island for quite a few minutes with cars crossing lanes in front of me and behind me before two really slow trucks completely blocked the ramp and I bolted to the side of the road (bolted as fast as a 200kg dead weight would allow). The only time i have ever been happy to see trucks overtaking each other up a hill.
This is a very small part of the very big hill as seen from my balcony. Ok, so the mechanics rush to the door with a cold glass of water (I was dripping profusely and my arms were no longer functional) and they refused to believe I was stupid enough to push the bike that far. Didn't stop them from laughing though. But the next day I had to go and find some parts for my 31 year old rocket, so I rode my pushbike to the mechanic up the very big hill. I'll make this bit quick. Got all the way there, popped my tyre on a sharp curb, hailed a cab, drove to a bicycle shop, bought a tube, jumped back in the cab, drove back to my bike, changed the tube, pumped it up at a servo with one of those stupid automatic pumps that don't work on bicycles, rode 500 metres and popped it again. Not just a bit of air coming out, more like *POW - PSSSHHHH - CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK* followed by lots of swearing. So I walked home. At least I was going down the very big hill this time and I was only pushing 20kg of scrap metal.

Just to cap off my lovely bike pushing week, I had a lovely run in with a tutor doctor today. I think he honestly believes he is the best doctor in the world, and well he is 70 odd and has a wealth of experience. However if he doesn't know something he makes it up. He never says I don't know. Personally I would rather a doctor that knew very little but was always right when he did teach. This doctor knows a lot but is often wrong so you can't have any faith in anything he says. That irks me, but not as much as the fact that he calls children with Down syndrome Mongols!!!!!! I kindly advised him that I didn't approve, and he kindly replied that he didn't care. That was a week ago and I made an appropriate complaint with the appropriate people. Today it started again and I put up with it for quite some time until he started insulting my medical ability (the fact that my medical ability deserves insulting is beside the point). I lost it. I let him have it. I had pushed too many bikes to put up with his crap. I may have enjoyed it a little bit, but the aftermath was not so nice. Funny thing is, I looked up Mongol - Wikipedia style. Turns out by definition he is actually a Mongol. So I will be calling him Dr Mongol from now on, which according to him is not an insult anyway. I will also fail his OSCE station at the end of the year, but so be it. If more people had shared their mind with him over the last 50 years, he wouldn't still be using the term. One thing is for sure, this country may not turn me in to a medical genius, but it will turn me into a more compassionate doctor.

In the end all is good. I apologised to Dr Mongol (out of necessity, not genuine sorrow) and got my motorbike back today with an RM530 bill. About one quarter of what I was expecting, and about one tenth of what I would have paid at home. So thank you for reading this epic long blog. There are more stories that just can't fit in and more photos I want to share. I will save a pile of feel good stories for next time.

I would finally like to send my regards to my mate Shaneo. He lost a good friend and band member last week who I had the pleasure of meeting while I was home. No one deserves an early exit. Take care all.

Posted by The Doctor 08:01 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

The halfway mark.....

sunny 29 °C

Firstly I would like to send my condolences to all the Dutchies reading this blog, I was wearing orange last night :(

Yes it has been a while, and yes I have been to Autralia and back, but this is well overdue. So I am now halfway through my stint in the happening city known as JB and it has been up and down. I am happy to say that lately it has been more up than down thanks to some friendly locals. So here is a 15 point summary of my halfway mark:

Half a year of.....
1 -- amazing food
2 -- medicine in Malaysia
3 -- stifling heat
4 -- drinking 4 litres of boiled water a day
5 -- living in a very classy shoe box
6 -- being called "doctor" regardless of how many times I have tried to explain I am a student. I have just given up, apparently in Malaysia I am a doctor already.
7 -- sensational food and drinks in bags
8 -- stolen bikes (although I have technically had more bikes stolen in Australia the "stolen bikes per day ratio" is still well and truly in favour of Malaysia)
9 -- swimming in a 15m long pool. Even my 30 non-stop laps only equate to 450m. I am however a tumble turn pro.
10 -- cruising around on my awesome ex-cop 1970's blues brothers bike. Even though it is 37 degrees every day, I am determined to buy a black suit and ride to the government house to pay taxes for the orphanage. It will only be 5AUD anyway.
11 -- dead pets (not my fault).
12 -- Austudy being more than the average wage. That's right, good old centrelink is paying me almost twice what a full time security guard gets here in Malaysia. Just in case I was feeling really good about that situation, the Aussie government also sent me a bill for $50,000 just to remind me that my education is not actually free. And I kid you not, if the guard down stairs miraculously managed to spare half of his income to pay that debt, he would still be in the red 20 years later! Ouch.
13 -- ridiculously cheap and fantastic food
14 -- having a very handy compost bin just over the edge of my balcony. Rotten apples, stale biscuits, stinky durians and dirty fish-tank water all end up sailing 19 stories to a very amusing death. I should clarify that there is an empty grass-covered block next door, all the waste is biodegradable and bird edible and nobody has been hurt yet. It is actually a very mature and highly entertaining method of compost.
15 -- day trips to Singapore. I actually took my bike in there for the first time not so long ago. Unlike the relatively hassle free borders in Europe, Singapore and Malaysia seem to be having a competition to see who can be the biggest pain in the butt. White cards, boom gates, pot holes, bottle necks, vehicle checks, autopasses and roads that even a lab rat would find difficult to navigate. The idea is that you ride through customs in Malaysia (after an inevitable wait in a queue of smoke spewing 2 strokes) and show your passport to the less than friendly passport checking lady and she takes your white customs card and stamps your passport. Then you ride happily across the causeway where you are for a brief moment in no country at all. Then you go through the same process in Singapore, or so I thought. Surely if I just follow everyone else I will be fine right? Wrong.

I got to the front of the queue remarkably quickly, but it turns out that choosing the lane that moves the fastest usually means you are doing something wrong. I waited at the passport checking lady's boomgate for a minute (already feeling sorry for the bike that decided to queue up behind me) completely oblivious to the flashing light that said "scan passport here". When the boom gate opened I realised the passport checking lady had been made redundant so my plan of just looking stupid and hoping they would let me through was foiled. Now I just looked stupid. I felt like I was in a computer game and had to find the next clue before the man behind me starts to hurl abuse. The next clue said "scan your thumb here" which I did only to find the boomgate in front of me still closed, the boom gate behind me also closed and I still looked stupid. Next clue - intercom. "HELLO, HELLO, I'm stuck can someone help me. What? I can't hear you, there is someone shouting behind me!" Then came my favourite people in the whole world - the police. The immigration police to be exact. I know I shouldn't dislike policemen, but they tend to dislike me first. Anyway, this one was laughing when he opened the boomgate and made me follow his little bicycle into the rat warren where looking stupid was useful and the rats were friendly. Moral to the story - don't ride in the lane that says "Singaporeans only".

I can't finish this blog without a tribute to cousin Anna and my mother. What was going to be a 3 day flying stop-over from Anna ended up as a decent 10 day adventure. Three of those days my mum was also here. And in those days was a bunch of awesome food, many trips to Singapore, the board game cafe, world cup madness, sheesha and spew on the couch (thanks Vin). But I am pretty certain that most loved of all was Baxter the motorbike (name has been changed from Porky to Baxter since the police were nice to me). From the time he picked her up at Singapore airport to the time he dropped her off at the bus station (12 hours too early), and even when he was completely and utterly lost in JB he was a happy motorbike. And I have to say, I am getting rather attached too. Now I need a new pillion...
So the question that everyone continues to ask is "how have you found it in Malaysia so far?" And I always answer the same thing. It has been good and it has been bad, but you know what, I went home for two weeks and it was good but it was also bad.

I had an amazing time for the first month and it seemed I was on a great big holiday, then I was alone and had a really bad patch before it all got better again. I have made a pathetic attempt at the language and my studies are not flourishing in an environment of poor facilities and some very bad standards. But I believe the worst is behind me and this time when I arrived it felt a lot like I was coming home. That is a stark contrast to the feeling I had when I arrived exactly 6 months ago. I am about to enter a semester of hard work and I will have to do some study which I have mostly been able to avoid so far, but that won't do me any harm.

I have had the odd complaint that I haven't really written about the hospital and my studies, so the next few months will give me an opportunity to correct that. Bye for now.

Posted by The Doctor 10:23 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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