Thursday, July 24, 2008


today the australian tradition of inefficiency was taken to a new level. inefficiency might not be the best word to describe this particular event. Waiting eagerly for my results to come in the mail, I was starting to feel something was amiss, when my results failed to show up like all my peers. But also having been away for the past month, I decided to look thru the stack of mail, that had the slim chance of concealing the envelope I so eagerly seek.

Did I find a letter from Monash University? I sure did.

Did the letter contain my results from last semester? NO!

What the letter did say instead, was that the FACULTY of MEDICINE was " your attendace at the year 3 formative exam was recorded as ABSENT" " It is disappointing that I FAILED to take the OPPORTUNITY to EXPERIENCE the format of 3rd year examinations" which were substantially different from previous years of study. The faculty also sought from my part "an explanation for my absence from such an important learning opportunity"

So I called them up and asked them what the fuck was going on. and it appeared just like in a David Blaine magic show, my script turns up in the pile of 'empty' scripts, the extras that weren't filled in, hence MISPLACED. I seriously don't expect such mistakes to take place in an institution of that like Monash, one of the BIGGEST and highest ranked universities in Australia, plus I don't pay FULL FEES for this to happen to me. Now, I have to wait again for my script to be marked and for the feedback and remarks to get back to me......

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the medical interview.....

so i've just finished reading this book " the soul of doctors". its a collection of personal experiences by medical students from Harvard Medical School. and it touches quite close to home the personal experiences I have since starting clinical rotations. one particular story that struck me the most was that of the medical student being turned down repeatedly by patients to take histories or perform examinations. He hated those patients and even more so their ignorance on their contributions to the teaching of future doctors. Not that I haven't been turned down before.

I've been turned away as many times before as the next medical student, but today seemed oddly different.While I use to bear quite a grudge on the patients that were unfriendly and stubborn somehow things were different today. Having set myself the task of seeing 3 patients a day this semester, I decided to start my day at the Gastroenterology ward today, to brush up on my GI Hx and Ex skills. Patient number 1 " sorry, it's embarrassing enough, my story, I dont really want to share it with students" Patient number 2 " I'm having trouble breathing right now, I'm sorry". I don't mind such patients who tell you from the start they did not like to be disturbed, the worst ones are the ones who agree at first and then decide halfway through to get pissed off and tell you to leave, those people are a huge waste of time, not just mine but the hospital's as well. But noot feeling defeated, I press on and I find 'david', chronic alcoholic who was at first apprehensive but warmed up and shared with me his life story. then came Mr R who was so obliging, you wish all patients were just like him. and last of the day was 'Mano' another wisened old man who was a great story teller. Because of his gregariousness, his history was a tough one to take as he often went off track. These 3 gentlemen restored my faith in the existence of the 'good' patient.

Alot of patient's really aren't aware of the amount of influence they have on a medical students development and their learning process. Every single patient, complicated or simple adds great depth to a future doctor's medical acumen. while i can understand their concerns for wanting their own privacy, there is really no other way for good students to become great doctors, without learning from the sick themselves. To all medical students out there, and those deciding to enter medical school, like everything else that you seek, good things don't come easy and persistence always pays off.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

good bye 15May - Vua Hac Vua Lac

today we had the English championship, the culmination of events in the past 2 weeks, to give the children a day of fun-filled activities involving games to reinforce the english they've been learning from us.

i woke up today with mixed feelings, and they persisted to occupy my thoughts throughout the day. We spent the morning preparing the school, hanging up banners, decorations, preparing the game stations as well as putting together goodies bags. At noon, it looked like it was going to rain heavily, threatening the days activities, but then the clouds held up and GOD gave the children a day to remember. I truly believe this was gods grace, he definitely didn't want the children to have a day of disappointment. The activities were scheduled to start at 1pm, but then at 130pm, only a handful of children turned up. This was somewhat depressing at first for us, and even more for the members of the EC component who faced so many setbacks and obstacles from day one of PV08. Thankfully, the rest of the kids turned up at 2pm, and the days planned activities went on as planned.

My mixed feelings were stirred mostly by 2 antagonistic views. Firstly, seeing the smile on faces of the children throughout the last 2 weeks and even more so today; I've never really felt happier and more satisfied with anything I've done previously compared to my time spent here with SEALNet. The second feeling is one of sadness; I feel really sad to say goodbye to them. I wonder how much we've done in the last 2 weeks will really affect them. Coming into this project, I knew that we could only do so much for them, but I truly truly hope that in 5 years time, If I get the opportunity to come back and see these kids grown up, they would have somehow with God's grace and blessings made good with their lives and continue to pursue excellence. What is worst is that I can't speak Vietnamese, so it was really hard to say goodbye to them. It was only in the last few days where these kids actually started addressing me by 'Jeremy', before it was just facial recognition.

Well, there is only so much that can be achieved in 2 weeks. I just pray and hope that these children will have good lives. I know they won't be reading these, but I want to say this to them, " I will truly miss everyone of you, (Thuy and Dao especially), you have changed my life and my perception of life. You have provided me a life lessons that I would treasure for the rest of my life and I can only wish that I have at least left some figment of an influence on you." " I will always be thinking of you and praying for you, but come next week we won't be around and I pray you won't be sad, continue to be a kid and at the same time be good."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

PV08 Day 9

today, the last event for the leadership component came to a close. the mentees, divided into 3 groups were tasked to come up with 3 different community service project proposals to benefit 15MAY School once SEALNet concludes its project here for 2008. I must say, and I believe I speak for most of the team, that we were all very very impressed by their presentations. they were all of exquisite quality and also very feasible and practical.

The presentations all displayed organization, good team work and also quite impressive public speaking. I personally feel a sense of satisfaction with the fact that we saw these mentees incorporate the skills obtained from our workshop and applying them so well, it exceeded my expectations; despite them being Vietnam's brightest bunch. Shang and myself were most impressed with the group which we supervised today (Picture-Dictionary group). They took our critique and tips, and improved their final presentations so impressively. In addition, the feedback we got from them about our series of workshops was generally positive, with some very very encouraging remarks.

During the past week, there were many occasions where we as mentors had doubts about the commitment of the mentees towards working with MAY15 School once we leave, due to the fact that a number of them raised the issue of being able to relate to these 'street' children. That being said, I believe we have a new found confidence in their abilities and willingness to continue the work we've done and bring it to greater heights.

On a lighter note, my good friend, Shangster annd myself have progrssed from 'Sao Zais' to 'Tep Zais', that is from ugly boys to handsome boys according to Dao and Thuy, the 2 cutest girls at the school.

I can't help but think how they would feel monday, when SEALNet no longer shows up to their school.............

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Project Vietnam Day 8

today has been quite a good one. Most activities went along smoothly and everyone was in high spirits, despite yesterday's emotional sequence. Because most of the leadership workshops have now concluded, i decided to help out with the english curriculum and got involved in some teaching. So this afternoon I helped out three little girls with their English, aged between 7 and 9. I find it very amazing that despite the language barrier, teaching another language to a child has not been as difficult as I anticipated. Given that more effort and time has to be put into the child during the interaction; the process taking place in the class room has been a very enriching and self-discovering experience. I never once expected I would be able to sit so patiently for 1.5 hours with a child, and more amazingly actually having them behave themselves. The interest in the subject and the enthusiasm for learning is truly AWESOME; even more so for children with such unfortunate backgrounds.

In the last 8 days, not only has the team worked against challenging odds to reach our goals, we have in the process also developed our own independent project which we hope to see become a reality. On the cards currently include:

1. Long-term Donation for Binh Loi shelter and Can Gio shelter, by means of an online system; which will also serve to sustain and develop the work that PV08 has done

2. Engaging NGOs to increase their awareness of such needs in some areas/communities of HCM.

3. Increase awareness of the work by PV08, by means of a project blog and possible website.

I really hope to see the fruits of our labour go a long long way, whether it last 1 month or 1 year or even 10 years, the impact this project has left on us individually, the children, and the mentees will be a milestone in all our lives.

Monday, July 7, 2008

PV08 Day 6 + 7.

Day 6

The past 2 days have been rather intense in terms of work schedule. full days of workshops to conduct + a very early morning start to Can Gio, to visit a rural shelter. Alot has happened in the last 2 days and several emotions have been stirred. this is where i shall start my blog entry tonight.

several emotions were stirred a few days ago during our nightly debrief sessions. some group members felt somewhat inadequate in terms of their value towards this service project, while the leaders of the project felt that the project was coming apart as some members of the team helpless; and they could not provide direction.they even cried. Sometimes, I feel that when people take on responsibilities and tasks, they tend to stray from it. I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way, i.e. shirking off responsibilities. What I am trying to say is, we often set lofty goals and these goals may be far beyond our own capabilities. When these tasks aren't accomplished to our expectations, the feeling of dejection and failure becomes a greater insult. This however, does not give us an excuse to settle for mediocrity or 'average'. This is one of the main lessons that I have taken away from my experience with SEALnet so far.

Visiting Can Gio today was quite an eye-opening experience. Seeing the state of living in the community there was quite surreal. Given the 3rd world status of Vietnam, one can still find it hard to believe that there are still places around with living conditions so poor, one would classify them below rudimentary. I could not imagine myself growing up as a kid in such a place, and I thank god for blessing me with such a fortunate life thus far. We spent most of the time playing children games with them, some might find them really silly, but just seeing the kids enjoy themselves made it all worthwhile. We even took them out to the beach for a few hours of fun, if we weren't there they would not have other means of going out of the compound for fun0filled activities.

Tonight's dinner has been the most fascinating to date. I actually tried some half-hatched duck eggs, steamed to cook. It actually dosent taste that bad, pretty much like a mild salted duck egg, or a century egg. but then I was curious and decided to perform an autopsy with my innate surgical skills, with the rest of the table like an audience of eager medical students.

Day 7

During our time here, we also have several 'professional' mentors. Their alleged role is to provide MENTORSHiP and guidance for us the PV08 team members. But so far, all they have done is actually nothing more than create more unnecessary emotional tension. I know they have no intention of doing so, neither do they wish to compromise the dynamics of our team. But perhaps, they could have been more astute in their judgments which would have avoided some hurtful comments thrown out in the spur of the moment. Not only did this meeting not serve and positive benefits, it was very frustrating, and no doubt left a dent in our framework. But these have now been resolved, and there are more important things at hand to address. The mentees have started to rebel against us the mentors and we find it an increasing challenge to balance between accommodating their needs without compromising their learning experience.

On a lighter note. I must comment on the varying standards of Vietnamese cuisine i have been experiencing. The Pho restaurants have been great, and so are some of the swankier restaurants. that being said, we have also experienced restaurants which got our orders wrong several times, took ages to deliver our orders and last but not least the BADDEST tasting chicken rice or Can Ga I have ever tasted. The rice was tasteless, the meat cold and the skin LEATHERY. Truly disgusting. In the words of Shang, 'definitely a gustatory insult, that would leaves more to be desired"

Saturday, July 5, 2008

SEALNET PV08 - Week 1

On the 30th of June, after a somewhat sleepless night, I boarded SQ178 for my adventure in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Some people still call this place Saigon, but that is besides the point.

Arriving at the airport, I was received by Thao aka Viola who also happened to be a Medical student where we waited for another PV08 participant Azusa from Japan. After leaving the airport for the Le Duy hotel, the thing that amazed me most was the HCM traffic. motorcycles aplenty, cars, vans and taxis abound, the vehicles weave through the roads and alleyways with complete disregard for traffic 'rules'. Zebra crossings have no significance, as do red lights. With this in mind, if anyone actually observed 'conventional' traffic rules, one might find him/herself in an accident pretty frequently. road lines also seem to be merely a formality, as vehicle traverse the lines carelessly, and I find myself sitting in a vehicle destined for a head-on collision. In addition, motorcycles weave in and out of traffic; mothers with toddlers in arms, ladies with stilettos as well as grandmothers. many a times I have found my life hanging by a thread, whether sitting in a taxi or crossing a road.

Arriving at the hotel, I had a wash up, and decided to 'explore' the surroundings. Knowing that petty crime was frequent, I decided to only venture to a nearby mall.It took me 5 minutes to cross a 2 lane road, which seemed effortless to locals. even on a '1-way' street, I had to look both ways before crossing; while walking on the pedestrian pavement, I had to look out for moving motorcycles; such is the state of HCM traffic. If anyone can cross HCM roads with ease, they would be jaywalking kings anywhere else in the world.

The team so far has been amazing, people from all over the world. Japan, Malaysia, USA, France, Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam too. It is quite amazing how all of us, stranger to each other, gelled so easily together from day 1. Many of these other group participants from very prestigious institutions yet humble and practical/logical perspectives. Having been assigned to the leadership group, we were in charge of conducting leadership workshops as well as playing mentor to HCM's brightest high school students. These students have been quite impressive. Shy and reserved at first, they have slowly but surely evolved into confident young adults. Their standard of spoken english has also been quite a pleasant surprise.

Seeing the 'street' kids at the May-15 school of HCM and the mentees, it is quite shocking to see such a drastic difference in living standards. On one side of the room you have students with handphones and digital cameras and on the other side, students who have troubled family backgrounds, living conditions so poor, basic clothing and food are even a problem. While some can afford to spend all their time studying, the other group of students go straight to work after school, and work late into the night just to help out their own families. children in singapore are so fortunate. even the least fortunate families have guaranteed education, proper homes and enough food.

The SEAL NET project this year aims to lay the foundation in 3 areas.

1. Creating a basic computing program for students aged 6-11
2. Imparting Leadership knowledge to mentees
3. Creating a sustained interest in English learning.

So far most of the programs have been running quite smoothly, albeit some problems occurring with the english program as well as the computing program. But with this amazing group of people, I am quite certain this project of ours will be a raving success. ranging from 18-24 years of age, the diverse talents and qualities we each bring to the project is invaluable.