The chill inside out

Growing up in a tropical climate means this is the first time I see the blanket of snow covers the entire landscape. The temperature has not dipped too low yet. The roads are muddy and the layer of snow is only ankle deep. So it’s still relatively safe to go for a run, well-equipped. This photo is taken (with my phone) while on the run back to my hostel.

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With the academic stress lifted off the shoulders, I am scrapping through all the seminars and lessons thus far, literally. Spent a few days during the exam break (in fact, 5 out of 6 days) traveling. To realize that I’m not that fond of walking the streets of the major cities, I found Copenhagen and London rather boring. Anyway, I brought my notes along and studied while on the move, and spent one day doing the final revision. Not surprisingly, like how I scrapped through the seminars, I barely passed the exam. I can’t help but feel a nagging feeling that I could have done more, but I didn’t.

I received an email today informing me that I failed a recent seminar because I did not demonstrate an understanding of the concepts involved in the studies. In my defense, I did understand what was happening. However, I find difficulties in bringing an idea across using technical terms when I’m not very familiar with the concepts. To make the situation worse, my articulation of the words seems to stir some confusion within the other group members, especially the tutor. As much as I would like to learn, the interfering with me is turning me away.

Things took a bad turn when my Honors project allocation came out. The prioritizing of the projects is quite a lousy idea, as implemented by my school, in my opinion. I shall not go into details how it works exactly, it’s just that not getting my first few choices of projects left me flustered. On the bright side (I have to dig deep enough to find this glimmer of light), it’s still within the field that I may be interested in.

Rough week I would say. I had wanted to come here to start afresh after the incidents back at home. But apparently, I still couldn’t find the courage to pick up the pen and start writing. The haunting feeling that I was never able to shake off still creeps over me occasionally. And all the little failures and discourses just aren’t helping. I could still help the failures, but the discourses are simply beyond me.

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The sky turns dark early in the afternoon. The sun never emerges out from behind the clouds today. The lack of sunshine means a lower synthesis of Vitamin D in the human body, resulting in the hindering of certain neuro-chemical pathway that is said to cause a gloomy mood.

It has come to the point where I don’t even know if it’s the lack of sunshine, or it’s just me. This is bad.

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If you walk long enough

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

– Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

I believe everyone has written the passage on “Who do I want to be when I grow up?” at some point of their lives. Teachers, doctors, fire-fighters, gardeners or even the President. Yet I vaguely remember knowing any friends who said that they wanted to be a bioethicist, a tax accountant or an property agent. Why so?

My 16 years-old tutee once asked me what’s there to do out in the world if he gets a diploma, or a degree. While I listed out many opportunities available (from the back of my mind), from designing polymers with high tensile strength, to managing funds of a company or creating investment portfolios for an individual, and also inspiring and educating the next generation of youths in schools, I can’t help but wonder what it takes for him to survive in the economy and the society. Or me, as a matter of fact. Passion or practicality? In the face of an adversity or survival, should we continue with making good arts and doing good deeds? Or should we step back and review on the practicality of our dreams and the family that we have to take care of?

Then another group of friends, who constantly questions the relevance of the education they receive in their tertiary institutions. (Below are edited forms of the comments, just wanting to bring the point across.)

“Why do I have to memorize all the organic mechanisms and synthesis pathways? Not as if I’ll use it after I graduate.”

“Biology is all about memorizing, the more you can take in, the more you can regurgitate out during the exams.”

“Whatever that the professor teaches during our engineering lectures have real life application in the industry.”

Though it may sound legitimate, they aren’t entirely true. There’s always more than biology to learn in a lecture on biomolecules. Which brings me to Meselson and Stahl’s experiments to investigate the semi-conservative characteristics of DNA replication. It’s an established fact now, but it isn’t built upon thin air. And it’s an established fact now, why do we have to memorize it? Without the foundations firmly built on the ground, even the tallest building will fall. And not surprisingly, most of them have no idea what and which building to design.

And as mentioned right from the start, it doesn’t matter which path you take, if you don’t know where to go.

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Anti-socal, really?

Pardon me but it’s hard to write if I don’t know what to write about. And then, I stumbled upon Julian Tan’s article on Asian students’ reluctance to mix around with local (when overseas) and other international students while they are overseas.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of not mixing around with other students and tend to hang around friends of my own country. Let me just summarize the points he made for people like me, who are not sufficiently sociable:

1. Differences in social behaviors and sharing of jokes (not much on food, I’m quite resilient in this aspect) that contribute to the so-called culture shock experienced when you’re suddenly dropped into a foreign land.

Drinking has never been my forte, neither does dancing to rock/rap music appeal to me. I find it particularly tough to catch up on the Western counterparts’ conversations as they are really good story-teller, while my mind just draws blank whenever I try to recall details of an event. Certain jokes are hard to catch in the absence of context, which essentially boils down to the fact that I don’t live in your country. Once, I was with an Australian, an American and a New Zealander (also known as Kiwi – Wikipedia) over dinner. They shared their stories on housing because they moved away from their parents, on drinking in bars and on searching for employment overseas. Of all, I couldn’t contribute any because of my lack of exposure, because of how I was brought up. And to be frank, I still feel kind of weird whenever I answer the “How are you?” and “How’s your weekends?” questions.

2. English isn’t the first language. And it is difficult to break two barriers at the same time just to chat, the language and the clique.

While I have no issue with English conversation, quite the opposite happened. Swedish is my classmates’ first language, and naturally, they feel more comfortable conversing in their first language among themselves. It poses a barrier in wanting to chip into the conversation. It doesn’t help when they’re already a clique since they have been classmates for more than two years. So, it’s not just a language barrier that I have to break, but also a social barrier. On the other hand, among other international students, a mixture of accents which I’m not used to make things slightly complicated. Apparently, my own accent isn’t helping either. So at the start, we just brushed each other off with polite smiles and nods, silently acknowledging the miscommunication.

Blending in is never easy. It takes not just effort, but extra effort to interact with the locals, and with people who were brought up in a different environment than you are. Understanding a new culture or language isn’t an overnight event, neither should I categorize all the diverse cultures into a generalized “Western world”. But I do have to admit alcohol knows no boundary. It’s like music, money and food – everybody has a common understanding of them.

Yup, maybe I should try to be less “anti-social” and join the upcoming corridor party. Who knows, maybe I’ll love the combination of alcohol and loud music.

Since I’m on Julian’s article, also check another of his articles out.

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This isn’t really an iconic place in Copenhagen. I just found this row of buildings while I was strolling along the river (in the biting cold).

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Into cooking

After many attempts at various recipes, I shall talk about this: Carbonara.

Okay, it doesn’t look particularly appealing on this photo.

Anyway, credits go to recipe one and recipe two. After salivating over the two videos, I decided to combine (too ambitious) the two methods of cooking Carbonara, and with much effort, I could probably manage only 50% of what’s going on in the video. Well, learn from the mistakes and lick the wounds. Tomorrow’s dinner will be better than today’s.

Anyway, mistakes made are as followed:

1. Forgot to keep the pasta water, resulted in dry and sticky pasta.

2. Bacon wasn’t crispy enough.

3. Too bloated from the ridiculous amount of Tagliatelle (the pasta shown in the picture) cooked.

4. Forgot the salt, thinking the bacon was salty enough.

Other than these, everything else went well. And probably work on my presentation skills next time. Hah! While everyone’s moving across borders, I’m kind of addicted to the kitchen. Anyway, the flight tickets are so expensive!

Edited.

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The first encounter with a patient

It’s amazing how C’s words carried a tinge of positivity when he introduced K to the class. It was my first encounter with a patient cured of cancer. Personally, I have only known one other person who had an encounter with cancer. She shared her experiences on coping with the lymphoma, walking to the hospital from home though she could have fainted because of her low blood count, shelving her travel plans away because of the diagnosis.

The session went on under 50 other keen eyes, listening attentively to her recollections while C kept the mood light and made occasional humorous comments. Probably because deep inside, we know that the diagnosis often signifies that the life is close to an end. While some treatments are meant to extend the lifespan of the patients, other treatments are curative. But we all know cancer remission is like a weed, refusing to steer clear of the field, hiding and haunting deep inside. Or probably it’s just me. We weren’t allowed to ask question on the prognosis, on the other hand, others asked about the changes in lifestyle and counseling. It was great to hear that she could lean on her family in critical times like this, receiving love and support from family members must have aid a lot in overcoming the side effects of the treatments.

Sensitive topics like death are often overlooked by people. People choose not to discuss about it because of fear and judgement. In the face of death, would you choose to do the activities you love, disregarding the people around you? Because death is such powerful excuse nobody talks about it though it’s running through everyone’s minds. And what I learned from watching American dramas, death is the end for that person, nothing else comes after that. Pain is only felt by the rest still breathing, enduring the emotions and feelings of missing someone.

The class ended off with a birthday song (in Swedish) for one of the students (while the exchange students stood blankly and clapped along the rhythm.) and C’s personal lesson:

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Skogskyrkogården is a beautiful cemetery in Stockholm, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The serenity and cool air are a fantastic getaway from a busy schedule, and also watching people stroll along in the paths in the woods. The tombstones are decorated with flowers and ornaments (mini-lampposts), which are quite cool. Truly celebrating life, embracing death. I’ll probably talk a walk back when winter comes.

You know you need to take more photos when you’re focusing on the wrong point. ):

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Climbing up the escalator

It is one of the longest escalator I’ve been on, right outside my hostel at Västra skogen, Stockholm. (I pant if I were to climb up all the way, while the escalator is moving)

The journey takes 1.5 minutes if you were to just stand on the platform. That would be 3 minutes for a two way journey, if you take it down when you’re going out and up when you’re coming back.

Doing some simple math, you spend 15 minutes on the escalator every week if you travel via the metro every weekday. That would be an hour spent on the escalator every month, 12 hours (half a day) in a year.

Well, if you think this is long, there’s another one in Maryland, USA, that beats this flat-down, by a minute more.

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Raise your hand

Culture explains the social phenomena and human behavior in a local setting, disregarding the effect of genetics that shape the person to who he is. The debate over nature or nurture that realizes the inherent potential and characteristic of an individual has no end to it, as experimental settings and controlling of variables are not possible. Neither could we wind the clock back to reset everything.

I guess back home, I was not accustomed to speaking up in classrooms or lecture halls. Not because teachers don’t encourage questioning during lecture, but more because the environment discourages it. Because no one else is doing it. Conforming is one pressure that alters a person’s behavior under a certain situation. The absence of societal pressure (not possible though) would allow the person’s inherent characteristics to surface, while the presence of such pressure suppresses them.

To understand a new culture is to read from texts and papers. To fully appreciate a new culture is to indulge in it. To walk the journey in their shoes and to see the world through their lens. Culture is not passed down genetically, but through learned behaviors. Monkey sees, monkey does, monkey learns. Thus to learn the culture, we have to do what the local people do after seeing it for the first time.

And so, I may have raised my hand for the first time in the lecture hall.

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Shall make an attempt to upload a photo with every post. Can’t seem to scale down the photo without losing the pixel information. Uploading the original picture takes up some space though. Oh well.

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