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Parasites Like Us

I don't know if I have enough time to finish this last book from the library.  If I don't, I'll just have to borrow it again.  I've reached my renewal limit, though, more's the pity.  I had left this one to the last because I like to end my reading sessions with a funny book.  At least I think it's funny, from reading the synopsis on the dust jacket:

Times are changing in South Dakota.
Birds are disappearing.
Dogs are turning on mankind.
Hogs are no more.

Anthropologist Hank Hannah has a hope: that by studying all of the lost civilisations of human history, he may finally come to understand the hearts of those nearest to him.  But when one of his students discovers a prehistoric spear point, Hannah abandons his classroom in order to exhume a twelve-thousand-year-old grave, thereby unearthing an ancient and deadly legacy.  Now his deep connection with an extinct people must guide him and his companions through an ever more uncertain future, across icy plains haunted by frozen corpses and burning pyres, back twelve thousand years to the dawn of another Ice Age.

From Publishers Weekly

An archeological find sets off an apocalyptic epidemic in this first novel by Johnson (Emporium), an erratic, overstuffed satire that tracks the antics of a South Dakota academic. Anthropology professor Hank Hannah studies the Clovis people, a prehistoric tribe of hunter-gatherers. His theory is that their hunting habits helped kill off 35 species of large mammals. The discovery of a Clovis arrowhead helps substantiate his claim, but disaster strikes when Hannah and two graduate students, publicity hound Brent Eggers and formidable Trudy Labelle, try to dig up the remains of a Clovis male. The police appear and Hannah is arrested for assaulting the officer who defiles the grave site. His stint at a luxury low-security prison, Club Fed, is interrupted by the outbreak of a deadly epidemic, transmitted from pigs to humans and triggered when Eggers and Labelle use the Clovis arrowhead to kill a pig. The prehistoric contagion litters the Midwest with dead bodies, ushering in a bleak new age. Johnson's fertile imagination produces plenty of innovative speculation about the connection between prehistoric and modern customs, and Hannah's bumbling charm can be endearing. But wading through the chaff of the unfocused narrative-including an ineffective romantic subplot in which Hannah woos a Russian botany professor-is an arduous task. Johnson shows some of the outrageous flair here that made the stories in Emporium a critical success, but his elaborate concoction sags under its own weight.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Revenge of the Nerd

Sunday, 15 Aug 2010.  The close of a peaceful weekend.  I'm writing this from the 12th floor of the building where I work.  Got the place to myself both days, so I'm quite contented this time.  Slept in yesterday morning and today.  Caught up with the remaining library books that are due in 5 days.  Not getting along so smoothly with that Nobel Prize novel by Imre Kertész, title of Fatelessness, but I am halfway through Stephen King's Dreamcatcher.  I'm no intellectual and I don't deny it.

Before I came out today, I made myself attend to some laundry, not much, but it's good to stick to a weekly routine of hand washing, I think.  Even at my age, it's character building.  In any case, I had to wash my jeans, which I've worn for a week and a half already.  I don't hate doing the laundry by hand, but it's hard for me to get started and I keep having to psyche myself up to it on Sundays.  But hey presto, I got it done before I went out today.

It looked like rain - I felt a few drops - but it didn't rain after all.  I went across the street to get a couple of cheeseburgers and some ice-cream for a late lunch before making my way up to the office.  Uploaded some stuff for work, and then settled down to read the news.  Malaysian Insider had this story about Ridhuan Tee Abdullah on the front page.  My first thought was, why the hell do they let that clown take up the space?  Then I read further and realised the comedic value of this latest brain fart by a former nerd who is out for vengeance against imaginary enemies.  What a hoot.  I don't ever wanna forget this, so I'm pasting it into my journal right here:


KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — Controversial Mingguan Malaysia columnist Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah continued his weekly diatribe against non-Malays, saying today that minorities who cannot respect the special position of Islam and the Malays should return to their homeland.

The Muslim convert also sneered that Malaysia should be renamed “Cinasia” or “Indiasia” if every demand by non-Muslims was accommodated when commenting on Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) columnist Helen Ang’s recent piece “Enforcing NEP on minority religions.”

“Will the practice of prayer (doa) cause the heart of the non-Muslims to melt and embrace Islam? She really (Helen Ang) hates Islam. Prayer (doa) is part of the Malay Muslim culture.

“Why would we want to delete all of our identity for merely wanting to accommodate others. If that’s the case, just change the name of Malaysia to Cinasia or Indiasia. How strange it is this species, never cease trying to challenge the position of Islam and Malays,” he wrote in his Sunday column headlined “Jangan terlalu berani mencabar” (Don’t be so brave to challenge).

In her piece, Ang questioned why non-Muslim religious societies were banned in national schools.  Ang added that the restriction on non-Muslim fellowship in schools has stopped many Chinese parents from sending their children to national schools.

“If I were a mother, I would never wish to subject my vulnerable child to a bellicose environment where my race, and the traditions and faith beliefs I’ve imparted to my son or daughter are disparaged,” she said.

In response, Tee said that the country does not want Ang’s children, whether legal or illegitimate, a favourite line he continually implies about the Chinese.

“She does not need to send her ‘children’ (if any were legitimate) to national school, if she is not confident with the national school or she is scared that her ‘children’ will become Malays. Her ‘children’ are not needed here.

“Just send her ‘children’ to schools in her homeland or overseas. The presence of ‘children’ are not needed here,” he said in a personal attack on Ang, who has also had two police reports lodged against her over her article.

Tee also said that Ang should migrate to the West if she is obsessed with their culture.

“I suggest that she migrate to another country, if this country does not provide her with any freedom. She should go to her country of origin or to the West because there is more ‘freedom’ there to build the biggest church and the highest statue in the world and have vernacular schools as well as having free sex.

“I do not think that she is proud of her ancestors because she prefers to use a white man’s name even though her eyes are sepet,” he said.

Tee stressed that non-Muslims should be grateful because the Malays have been very tolerant.

“Let us compare how the situation of Muslims living in countries where non-Muslims are the majority. Tolerance is very high. Muslims do not pose a problem for non-Muslims, except when their rights taken and exploited like in southern Thailand, Philippines and Palestine. Malay Muslims in Singapore do not make any noise when their land was stolen. They just sat quietly even though their Islamic and Malay rights are slowly taken away by the Chinese community.

“See our tolerance here. For me because the Malays embraced Islam 600 years ago, non-Muslims can live comfortably in this blessed land. The Islamic values have taught the Malays to protect the rights of non-Muslims and to not oppress them,” he added.

On Monday, Malay right-wing group Perkasa today lodged a police report against Ang for allegedly questioning the rights of the Malays and the position of Islam in the country.

Well, well, some people will do or say anything to get ahead in life, wouldn't they?  A sad fact in this world, but if u unlucky enough to be born without looks or smarts, you better have a huge dick or a greasy mind.  Ridhuan Tee-hee-hee has the unctuous holier-than-thou, that's for sure!

Paying income tax

Well, it's a good thing I went to see Aunt last Friday.  If I had put it off any longer, I wouldn't have known that my IRAS deadline is on August 12th.  That would have really fucked up my peace of mind this year, and the next.  I don't know what happens to people who don't pay their taxes on time, and I don't want to know from personal experience.

So I'm just in time this year.  The deadline is tomorrow, but I didn't want to leave it until the last minute.  Something might go wrong, who knows.  The post office computer might be down, although that rarely happens in Singapore, I think.  Must be the imprinting in my brain, after having dealt with that kind of shit in Malaysia for the past few decades.

Besides, I have a quarterly meeting with my boss tomorrow at three, the usual one-on-one chats which I always dread, even if it's not the annual performance review, which I REALLY hate.  And another thing on my mind is the dry cleaning I have to pick up from Suntec.  A hooded sweater and one pair of blue jeans, sitting at Presto Laundry since the time I had to rush back to KL.  The collection shit says they discard anything unclaimed after two weeks, but luckily for me, my stuff was still there.  The counter girl told me not to worry, they have customers' items dating back over a year still gathering dust there.  Whoa ...

I had planned on giving myself and my family a few treats this month, after what I went through recently.  Well, plans have gone to shit, which should not surprise me, this time of year.  I can always count on Inland Revenue to fuck up any plans I have in the second half of the year.

So I hopped to, first to HSBC to withdraw the cash, almost $1,900 in all, and then trudged to the P.O. on the third floor of Suntec to pay my dues. 
How painful is that?  It could have bought me a lot of nice things.  Geeze.  What more to say?  The image on the right pretty much shows what I have always felt about paying my taxes.  I'm sure I won't be the last person to say that.  So ... at least my mind can rest knowing that my duty is done, as far as last year's earnings are concerned.

Here's the best part.  When I got back to my office, I found my payslip for August.  There was a deduction of $1.00 for the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) fund, for which I was automatically included.  Me being in a petulant mood, I went and searched for the online form to opt out, printed and filled out three copies and left them on the desk of Kristina from H.R., not caring what she is going to think of me.  Cheapskate?  You bet.  I'm pissed at being included for instant debits as a permanent resident, but not when there are goodies being given out.  Hell yeah, I'm cheap when I'm mad.  It may be only $12 a year, but they should have asked me first.  I'm not an easy victim if I can help it.  (And I keep remembering they wouldn't even let me borrow books from the library for free!)

SG National Day 2010

This morning I woke up with the sinking realisation that I'm actually hanging around in Singapore on the day of NDP 2010.  I guess one cannot always escape.  I do hate the disruption to buses and traffic, but what can I do this year?  I've just come back from KL a week ago, so it's bye-bye August break for me.  Again, I remind myself I shouldn't complain; I've worked from home for a whole week about a fortnight ago.  That was a bonus, sort of.  You win some, you lose some, so people say.

Saturday had been a testy day for me, after enduring the presence of workmen, Alan, and somebody from another department, when all I wanted was a little privacy to sit back and think how different things had been just a week before, and what I had been doing in KL at that time.  So I spent the entire day yesterday, Sunday, lounging in bed reading, eating crackers and checking on my laundry to see if they were dry.

Today, I felt I had to get out.  I needed to get something to eat, for lunch if not breakfast, and I wanted to use my computer at the office to check some online learning sites out.  I took a chance and hopped onto a bus going to Chinatown, and blindly sat down at the nearest mixed rice stall I could see near People's Park.  I'm sure there are better stalls somewhere in the area, but I didn't want to walk further until I had something to eat.  The dish I thought was sweet and sour pork turned out to be fish instead, so I only touched the vegetables.  Shingles - what a bummer.

Then I was heading towards the MRT when I saw the same kind of souvenir shop I used to visit in Farrer Park, outside Mustafa Centre.  The kind that sold three items for a flat price of ten dollars.  Wasn't planning to buy, just looking.  In my mind, I did think to look out for wrist watches; I needed one since the black one finally ran out of juice or something.  Interestingly, the shop had some funny looking masks made of Plaster of Paris.  I chose three to give to Neets in my next trip home.  I know she like this sort of kitsch.  I do too, but I don't have space in my room for trinkets.  They're all cheap stuff, but they are interesting enough to look at.

I went in to the office after that, did my usual upload for the day, and settled down to surf, read news, sort personal emails, and do something constructive.  I did tidy up my desk properly, which was what I hadn't been able to do on Saturday with all those fuckers milling around.  But ... I'm ashamed to say this, but in the end, the most remarkable thing I did today was to watch Dreamcatcher on YouTube.  Somebody had uploaded the whole movie and I caught 10 out of 13 parts. 

Dammit, I have the book in my bag, and I'm supposed to finish reading it by 21st August, same as all the rest of this latest batch of books from the National Library.  But I got lazy today, I dunno why.  Maybe seeing the movie again takes me back, to the time I last saw a rerun of the movie years ago.  It's not a bad movie (as usual, the book is better), but I won't forget the story.  I never forget a Stephen King story.  Or maybe I just like Thomas Jane too much.  The character of Jonesy wasn't bad either.  (What am I saying?  I must be getting cabin fever in the office.  I better stop here.)


Cabin fever Sunday

Sun, 8 Aug 2010  Spent the whole day in, lounging in bed, reading.  The first relaxed Sunday I have had in a long time, I realise while writing today's journal entry.  Maybe it's because a three-day weekend (due to the NDP tomorrow) makes one feel rather extravagant with time.  Perhaps it was because I had already gone in the office on a Saturday (yesterday) and felt that I really should give it a rest today, coz I could always pop in tomorrow, even though it's a public holiday. 

And this morning, I had done by requisite uploading for work around eleven (the wireless signal was exceptionally good), so there really was no need for me to budge from the comfort of my air-conditioned room.  I had cream crackers, a can of baked beans, instant oatmeal and a few sachets of Campbell's mushroom soup with pasta, so I felt I could get through the day without venturing a step outdoor. 

So lazy I didn't even do any laundry, though I felt I ought to.  I just enjoyed the luxury of lying in bed and catching up with the library books that had been neglected for the past two weeks due to my unexpected hold up in KL. (Of course, I had had to renew the borrowing period last Thursday from KL - thank goodness for online reminders and one-click renewal options.)

As a result of today's lie in, I finished a whole book that I had barely started on Friday evening - My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey.  He's the author that picqued my interest after I read about the story (and film) of Oscar & Lucinda.  Once I got sucked into the story, it was amazing how much 'ground' I covered in a day.  Maybe because I only put the book down a few times, either to drink or pee.  By the time my roommate Ah Mooy got back from work at around 9:30 (early for her), I only had about six or seven chapters to go.  When Ah Mooy went to bed at around ten, I used the yellow dynamo torch Mum had given me to finish off the rest.  I couldn't have slept a wink if I hadn't read to the last page.

On a previous relaxed Sunday, July 11th (before that fateful day), I was searching for Carey's book on the Ned Kelly Gang, but this came into my hands.  Perhaps the cover caught my eye.  Looks very much like this one that I have linked from Bookshelves NZ but my copy from the library shows a slightly different vintage street scene from old Kuala Lumpur.  Then, what made me decide to borrow it were these words on the back cover: 

In Melbourne in the late 1940s, a young conservative poet named Christopher Chubb decides to teach his country a lesson about pretension and authenticity. But over the ensuing years his audacious act of literary ventriloquism takes on a much darker resonance. Having fled Melbourne for the seedy, sweaty streets of Kuala Lumpur, Chubb finds himself, just as Frankenstein was, haunted and pursued by his own creation.

The story starts off with the narrator, a certain Sarah Wode-Douglass (nicknamed Wicks), the editor of a literary magazine, going to Kuala Lumpur for a holiday with a poet whom she has long regarded with a curious mix of wariness and obsession.  In KL, fate brings her into accidental meeting with Christopher Chubb, a (brilliant?) poet who sort of lives in exile from Australian society after a literary hoax he planned goes horribly wrong.  This Chubb, the book reveals, has lived such a fantastical life it can hardly be believed at times. 

I have to admit, the story disturbed me a lot!  I feel bad for Chubb - everything and everyone was against him, even when he tried to do the right things, after he did one wrong thing.  He didn't deserve to be treated shabbily by everyone.  It scared the shit out of me that a man who seems mild and good can be punished so severely for just one mistake.  I enjoyed Carey's vision of pre-war Malaya and his intriguing use of local patois (with quite a few Malay proverbs thrown in) but the story was much too Frankenstein-ish for my simple timid taste in fiction.  Yet this was based on a true story of the Ern Malley Hoax, something I would like to know more about.

A trapped weekend

When I travelled back to Singapore about four days ago, I had dreaded this weekend.  Today is Saturday, the start of the long weekend I had planned so meticulously to avoid.  For the past two years, maybe three, I have been returning to KL around this time to avoid the disruptions caused by the NDP or National Day Parade.  This year, I failed to repeat my escape.  It wasn't my fault; circumstances were out of my control this time, but still, it feels pretty shitty waking up in my hostel room and realising I am supposed to be enjoying myself in KL today, tomorrow and the day after.  Bah!

After last night's visit to Small Aunt's flat in Sengkang, I felt a bit drained this morning.  Lay in bed thinking, and then spent the first half of the day finishing up The Widows of Eastwick, which I had started on just before rushing back to KL on July 13th.  I missed the 31st July due date as I was still in KL recuperating, so I extended the borrowing period for another two weeks.  Apart from this one, I have four more to finish by August 21st.

I thought the sequel to the story of Alexandra, Sukey and Jane would be just as interesting as original Witches of Eastwick.  After all, they were now much older.  What would happen if they returned to that town after so many years?  With Darryl Van Horne gone, what could they possibly get up to now?  But the story fizzled out for me after reading only halfway and, worse, one of the witches dies!  Well, at least I finished the book today.

After that, I thought I'd better pop in to the office to upload some trending concepts for work.  Besides, I was getting hungry and cream crackers with Campbell's soup-in-a-mug wasn't cutting it.  Good thing I won't need to go all the way to Suntec now; that'd be a bitch with the National Day rehearsals and diverted bus routes shit.  Well, instead of the peaceful Saturday afternoon I had anticipated, a whole army of contractors were in the office when I got there.  Thanks to a fussy picky kiasu Alan, they had to knock some tables apart and rearrange them for Old Namby Pamby.  I had no peace for the most part of the day.  I had to turn up CNN News to maximum volume the whole day.  Later in the afternoon, Alan came into the office to inspect his new seating, totally Legally Blonde style, the kiasu shithead.  I think he was taken aback and none too pleased to see me there.  I blasted swing music from the thirties, haha.  He left in the later afternoon, but I stayed until 11:00 PM. 
Before I left the office, I also wrote a complaint email to The Soup Spoon because I wasn't happy with a mistake made by the cashier at their Tanjong Pagar MRT branch.  My email went:

Dear Soup Spoon,
On Friday, 6 August 2010, at 13:42, I was at Soupspoon Tanjong Pagar.  I purchased a lunch set for $11.00 which consisted of a regular Mushroom Stroganoff,  Ham & Cheese Sandwich (half) and a green apple.  And I took up the Souperholic loyalty card.  A few minutes ago, I registered my card at your website and checked the points.  To my surprise, my account only has 50 points because your cashier made a mistake - she recorded the transaction of the customer AFTER me, whose bill was $5.80.  As I still have my receipt, I can tell you that my Invoice Number is #245806.  But the Invoice Number recorded in your website is #245808.  I am now short by 50 points due to your cashier's mistake.  Please let me know what I should do to get my missing 50 points.   ~ Miss C

Note to self:  Two weeks later, still no response from this pretentious joint, which claims to serve up not just great soups, but good eats too.  But the Mushroom Stroganoff which should not have been named Stroganoff in the first place, was so full of cornstarch or some kind of thickener, you could have left a spoon upright in it when cold.  I read some poor reviews about their other soups as well; most people say The Soup Spoon falls far from reasonable expectations.  How can you get soup wrong?  Evidently, they get it wrong when it comes to customer service too.   

  N O T 
  P A S S I O N A T E 
  A B O U T 
  C U S T O M E R
  S E R V I C E.

Visiting Aunt, post-funeral

Since I returned to Singapore late Monday night, I told myself I could choose which of the following four week nights I preferred on which to pay a visit to Small Aunt, who has been waiting to pass me two letters, one of which is from IRAS.  I had too much going on at work on Thursday night, and then I put off Thursday night for some reason, so tonight was the only one option left. 

Wasn't just the IRAS letter that made me feel I've just GOT to go there; Aunt had been wondering since two weeks ago why I didn't call her.  She didn't know I had gotten sick and hadn't returned to Singapore.  Until this week.  Besides, I had some heong peah, dragonball biscuits and snacks I wanted to pass to her, which I bought at the Bisgood store in Midvalley the first weekend Neets and Biss took me out have lunch at Kaveri more than two weeks ago.  They weren't getting any fresher and I had carried them to so many places before this.

Well, at about 6:30 PM, Wendi offered me a lift to her place in Hougang.  I followed her to the International Plaza taxi stand and when I got there, I realised I had forgotten to bring along the envelope on which Dad had written Ah Pek's name and time of death, and which contained two sweets.  But it was too late.  Aunt would just have to wait until next time.  I was carrying a rather heavy blue plastic bag and I didn't feel like turning back to the office for it. 
After 30 minutes in peak hour traffic, when we reached Wendi's place, I went to NTUC in Festival Market to pick up some cream crackers and chocolate beverage to add to the snacks and biscuits.  Wendi also wanted some streaky bacon.  I felt rather rushed so I just managed to get the bacon from the deli, a jar of Cadbury's drinking chocolate, and a tin of Jacob's cream crackers.  Don't know why I picked up the hot chocolate instead of Milo, which would have weighed more.  I just had this odd feeling that Aunt deserved something different, and I felt sorry for her, now that the reality of Doris's incarceration finally sank in.

It wasn't easy for me to walk towards her flat; the whole way there brought back lots of memories.  I had to ring the doorbell many times before Aunt opened the door, with Evangie behind her.  I gave her the collection of Pooh, Barbie, HSM3, and Spiderman stickers I had brought, along with some bubble gum tape I picked up at the rest stop in Pagoh, Muar.  I must say, it was rather awkward the first few seconds when Aunt asked me to sit down and told Evangie to fetch me a cup of water. 

It turned out that Aunt wouldn't need that envelope after all; she'd rummaged around and found a name card Ah Pek gave her years ago.  The Chinese characters for his name is printed on the card.  So, after about 30 minutes of chatting, I took my leave.  I'm sure Aunt was relieved to see me go.  I don't have to fool myself that she is well.  Everything is not well.  I felt angry with Doris and very sorry for Aunt. 

But I suppose it's none of my business.  Still, I can't help feeling disturbed.  For several days after the visit, I couldn't help remembering how wretched she'd looked.  The image of Jacob's and Cadbury's is stuck in my mind.  I know that from now on, every time I see these items at the grocery store, I shall feel a bit sad.

After 2 weeks, back at work

Back at work, after a rather long time away.  Almost three weeks, come to think of it.  It sure feels weird.  The office is still new to me.  The day we moved in, Ah Pek had passed away that afternoon.  I guess it's my turn now to get acclimatized to a whole new workplace and the area known as Tanjong Pagar.  I almost feel shy to turn up at the office, coz I'm uncomfortable with the loaded hellos.

But before I could go to work, I had to go to Suntec first.  My right ear is well and truly blocked.  I can't hear anything at all out of that side.  I really needed to see the doctor, and I didn't know where else to go but the old and familiar Bethesda Medical Centre.  I got there pretty early, but had to wait a fuckin' long time, so I got a bit petulant with the counter staff.  When I finally got to see the doc, she asked about my shingles too, after noticing the pink scars on my forehead.  So she prescribed a tube of H-Cort cream and 3 blister pack strips of Neurofort tablets (for nerves).  As for my ear, she took a look with a thingamajig and said it wasn't fungal at all, so I should stop taking the anti-fungal tabs and the antibiotic eardrops too. 

She did, however, see a lot of stuff blocking my right ear, mostly old dried hard earwax.  For the first time in my life, I required ear irrigation, something I had never heard of before.  I had to change into a hospital gown and wait in the surgery room at the back while she attended to another patient first.  A nurse prepared a jug of warm water and left a scary looking metal ear syringe in a kidney-shaped pan next to me.  Whoa!

Then the doctor hurried back and started sucking up water with the scary looking syringe.  While the nurse held the kidney-shaped pan, the doctor squirted water into my ear three times.  When it was over, they let me see what had flowed out of my ear, along with the water.  Bits of greyish stuff floated around, and a few big chunks at the bottom that made me feel sick looking at them.  I still can't believe how much gunk a tiny ear canal can hold.  "Did all that really come out of me?" I asked.  The doctor nodded, "Yup, can you hear now?"  My right ear felt wonderful, all airy and cold and my hearing sharp as crystal.  The nurse remarked to the doctor, "That was fast."

Doc said, "That's because she has been using eardrops the last few days, so everything has softened in there."
She went on to say that if the wax had been hard, she would have had to squirt many more times and it would have been painful for me.  Yikes.  I hope I can deal with this problem by using ear-softening drops in future.  It's a bitch having dry earwax, which is recessive.  Wet earwax is dominant.  Mum can't understand how I have dry wax while my siblings have wet.  Oh well ...

Fun with shingles

Shingles is no fun.  It's a nasty disease caused by the chickenpox virus.  Herpes zoster or VZV for Varicella zoster virus.  If you catch it for the first time, you get sick with chickenpox.  As you recover from chickenpox, your immune system eliminates the virus from most locations, but it stays alive in your nerves. 

After you get better from chickenpox, the virus lives on in your nerves.  Specifically in the ganglia next to your spinal cord (dorsal root ganglion) or maybe the Gasseri ganglion in the base of your skull.

If the virus stays dormant, all is fine.  But if you're unlucky, when you're tired and your immune system is weakened for any reason, it wakes up and makes you sick again, only this time it's not chickenpox but shingles. 

When reactivated, the virus travels along the nerves towards the skin surface which eventually breaks out in fierce red rashes.  It attacks the nerve fibres along the way, causing severe debilitating pain even in seemingly unaffected areas. 

Based on recent experience, I think shingles is one of the worst things you could possibly come down with.  It's tenacious, it's nasty, it's ugly (I borrowed these images from 2 sites) and worst of all, you can NEVER eliminate it from inside you.

Shingles is a modern medical mystery.  Western doctors don't seem to have the best treatment methods at their disposal even today.  I don't know why, but Chinese physicians can deal with shingles far better, not just prescribing painkillers but providing the cure itself.  By 'cure', I mean the rash stops spreading and starts crusting quickly.  Yet no one really knows how they do it.  Not even Western-educated doctors here can explain it.  But no one discounts the fact that traditional Chinese treatment works, even if it seems like hocus-pocus. 

Indeed, the treatment starts off like a ritual - a joss stick is lit and prayer is silently said.  (photo below taken from Pattaya Gogos)  The healer then use the lit end of the joss stick (or the flame of a burning twist of paper) to search for the 'eyes' of the Snake, using her trained eye to follow its path.  (The Chinese refer to the condition as 'Snake Growth', possibly because the patient experiences a slithery sensation on the skin, and of course, the rash follows a coiling path very much like the trail of a snake.)

When she locates the Snake's eyes, she taps them quickly, a strange one-two dotting action known as Catching the Snake.  In my case, I hadn't expected her to actually touch me with the lit ends of the joss sticks, though I sat in trepidation, feeling the heat as they hovered close to my skin.  But when she suddenly tapped twice on my forehead, I felt the half-second sting of the burning joss stick on my rash, followed by a sudden creepy-crawly sensation that was not pain or tingling.  It felt like the death throes of a whipworm lashing out in agony across my forehead, scalp and temples.  I am not kidding - it felt like a centipede was running across my head.  A centipede on coke.

After the had 'blinded' that Snake, she said, "You'll be fine now.  It will stop growing.  The spots will dry up and crust over and turn black before they fall off.  I'll give you something to put on the rash at night."  (I was amazed by her confidence.)  Then, from a large pot, she spooned some dark green stuff into a small plastic container for me to take home.  The green stuff was a concoction of herbs, crushed and mixed with alcohol spirits, and some sulphur too, from the smell of it.  Later that night, my mother used a cotton bud to apply it on my forehead.  It had been chilled in the fridge, so it felt cool and soothing at first.  Then it stung quite badly and I got the slithery sensation all over my head again, as if the Snake was thrashing around up there.  But the pain's grip was loosened that night and I could sleep better.  By next morning, I felt so much better.

The healer had also given me 16 gai-duk (poison altering) tablets, which I was to take twice a day, two tablets at a time.  The label showed it is manufactured in a Beijing medicine factory.  Very powerful stuff for neutralising and expelling heat toxins in the body, which is believed to trigger heat disorders like chickenpox and shingles.  The
gai-duk pills were very effective - I started farting something terrible, and moved my bowels three times a day, with horrible unusually noxious dark stools.  My armpits got sweaty even in 16°C air-conditioning and emitted an unbelievably aggressive stink!

So that was my nasty experience with shingles, which is also known locally as penyakit kayap or Cacar Ular.  The Malays have their own set of pantang-larang (lore-based abstinences like old wives' tales), but the following are the ones I'd like to remember in case, God forbid, I develop shingles again!  They say that forewarned is forearmed, so I'm writing it all down for myself.  Maybe it might help some other poor soul who comes down with shingles like I just did.

1.  Seek treatment early, whether you choose Western or traditional healing.  The doctor can give you antiviral meds (like Acyclovir cream or tablets) but you heal faster if they are taken at an early stage.  Same advice given by Chinese physicians.
2.  Don't get caught in the rain.  Don't go out of your house while recuperating.
3.  Do not stand in front of a mirror, or look in it, because the rash will spread.
4.  Only apply the tincture of green herbs twice in the evening - once at around 6:00 PM and the second time, just before going to bed.  If you apply it during daytime, the Snake will 'seize up', causing a lot of discomfort.
5.  Before applying any medicine, clean the rash with thick Oolong tea, which you may keep chilled in the fridge (just like the green tincture).
6.  If blisters spread to the scalp, wash your hair with mild shampoo, then rinse with water boiled with leaves of the starfruit (carambola) tree.  (photo taken from University of Wisconsin) This will stop the itch and dry up the blisters fast.
7.  Stay away from the sizzling sound of frying.  No greasy food allowed anyway.
8.  Foods to avoid for 60 days after the onset of shingles: Dark soy sauce, chicken, nuts, fish, eggs, shrimp, squid, crab, shellfish, and fried food.  At the risk of permanent dark scars, why take a chance?
9.  Fruits recommended by my Chinese physician for bringing down 'heatiness' due to hot weather, lack of sleep, stress, overexertion and inadequate water intake: Dragonfruit, papaya, and pineapple.  (to be eaten every week, if possible)


I know all that sounds ridiculous, but when I was in pain, it helped.  Very strange and inexplicable, but I will not make fun of traditional healers again, no matter how I may have felt about them in the past.  Dad says the knowledge passed down by generations was gained from bitter experience. 
In the end, I believe traditional Chinese treatment must be a combination of superstition and experience.  It's taken thousands of years, so what is tried and true is tried and true.  If it works, I won't think too much into it.  Some things just can't be explained.  And it worked really well in my case.  I'm very grateful to the physicians who cured me!


Getting sick after the funeral

July 2010 will always be memorable for me, for the wrong reasons.  It's not every day I get shingles on top of a funeral.  I had better write down all that happened this month, so as not to forget.  So here goes.  On July 13, when I travelled back to KL for Ah Pek's funeral, I had what I thought was a painful pimple on my left temple, just next to my left eye.  What with the distractions and grief over the next three or four days, I didn't give it much attention.  I thought it was a stress pimple that would go away on its own.  But it didn't go away.  It grew bigger and redder and more painful each day. 

Fri, 16 July  It was the day after Ah Pek's cremation.  Again, my family went to Kepong very early in the morning to join Ah Pek's family at the crematorium, where we had to pick up pieces of Ah Pek's bones (with chopsticks) and place them into a marble urn.  Several days of inadequate sleep was getting to my system, and it was not good for my developing condition, which I didn't know about yet.  After collecting the ashes, we travelled in four cars to the temple in Rawang to install the urn and ancestral plaque.  There were also prayer chantings, and after all that time, we finally left to have lunch at Lan Jie steamed fish restaurant in Rawang town.

In the evening, after we all took a well deserved afternoon nap, Mum insisted I have to see a doctor about that 'pimple' on my temple.  She was worried as I was going to travel on Sunday, just two days away.  So I went to Klinik Famili and the doctor there dropped the bombshell on us - I had a case of shingles!  No wonder I had been in such pain for the past three days.  I thought it was an unusual migraine or maybe lack of sleep.  Anyway, the doctor said there was nothing to be done but for me to rest and recover eventually.  He said he'd give me some calamine lotion to soothe the rash, and some Panadol if I wanted it.

Sat, 17 July   This morning, Mum and Dad took me to see Mr Ho, the owner of a sawmill in Kg Subang.  From the market traders, Mum had found out that Mr Ho has snakecatching skills, meaning he knows how to make shingles go away.  When we turned up at his lumber yard, I was kinda hestitant but I didn't dare say anything.  Mr Ho chanted some prayers over a bowl of water and poured some into his mouth. 

Then he lit some rolled up paper and used the light of the flame to observe my backbone.  Then he spit the water in his mouth at three spots along my spine.  He also used a lit joss stick to lightly touch two spots on my temple and forehead.  Then he gave Mum some ground-up green herbs to apply on the spots when I got home.  That green herbs in alcohol suspension really stung, but I applied it three or four times before I went to bed that night.

Sun, 18 July  Woke up feeling very tired and painful.  The rash seems to be sreading to my forehead.  Just washing my face in soap and water makes my skin hurt.  The entire left side of my face seems swollen and warm.  Mum said I had to let the doctor take another look, so we went to Poliklinik Family again.  This time, a different doctor was on duty and he prescribed Acyclovir antiviral cream as well as antihistamine tablets to alleviate itch.  He also gave me two days sick leave.  I applied the cream after I got home and showered.  Now I didn't know what to do with Mr Ho's green herbal mixture.  So I alternated the cream and herbs several times in the day.

Mon, 19 July  So I'm on sick leave today and tomorrow.  I should have been in the office if not for my shingles.  Anyway, Mum went for her acupuncture this morning.  When she got home around noon, she was very excited.  She had mentioned that her daughter was sick with shingles, and the sifu at the centre told her to bring me for treatment.  So we went around 7:30 PM.  A lady at the centre used a lit joss stick to touch two spots on my forehead.  Mum said she was 'blinding the snake', whatever that meant; I wasn't going to argue, as I was feeling quite bad today.  I was in PAIN.  

The lady said I should watch my diet until I got better - no fish, seafood or chicken - and not to look in any mirrors.  Very fascinating to me, the mirror thing.  She also said to wash my hair in water boiled with starfruit leaves.  So we went down the road to the corner house of an Indian family who had a starfruit tree outside their gate.  They kindly let us pluck as many leaves as we needed, which we took home and Mum boiled.  The starfruit leave water helped the rash on my scalp to dry up.

Tue, 20 July  Stayed at home while Mum and Dad went out now and then to deal with Subang Mutiara house legal stuff.  I had followed them to the house on Sunday when the agent wanted to show the place to a potential buyer.  Today, however, Mum and Dad wouldn't let me go along.  I was to stay at home and rest and eat my fruits.

Wed, 21 July  This morning, again, Mum accompanied me to Poliklinik Family.  Dr Prabha was in, which was lucky for me.  He prescribed oral doses of Acyclovir and gave me another three days of sick leave.  Wow, the last time I took a whole week off was when I had nerve impingement in 2002, I think.  My boss Julie was hopping mad, as if a giant dildo had somehow found its way up her arse.  Maybe it's still in there.

Thu, 22 July  So I'm on more sick leave - today, tomorrow and the day after.  Around lunchtime, Schave called to ask how I was.  He had some time before reporting for work in the afternoon.  I had told him about my shingles in an email yesterday, when I replied to his.  In the evening, I went to Mydin to find parmesan cheese for angel hair marinara, but there wasn't any there.  I picked up a Thirsty Hippo dehumidifier for Mum to dry out her Nokia phone which had gotten wet the day before Ah Pek passed away.  I also picked up a sand-coloured canvas bag for RM16.90.

Fri, 23 July  This morning, Mum and Dad went for golf.  I think they had a game with Elsie and her husband.  I woke up around noon.  The tiredness is still affecting me, and also the sharp stabbing pains from my head to my torso.  In the evening, Mum and I went to Focus Shoes, my favourite place to shop for clothes.  I picked up three tee-shirt blouses.  After that, we popped in to Tesco Extra (Shah Alam) to pick up some groceries, including grated parmesan cheese and Jacob's cream crackers.  I also got some underwear.

Sat, 24 July  Spent the day resting at home, feeling quite hot.  The sun was blazing today.  In the evening, Neets and Biss came to pick me up.  It was very nice of them, as usual.  Mum said I really should drive myself down next time.  But I'm still kinda tired out after the shingles, so for this round, I guess it's okay.  Still, it's very kind of them.  We went to Nathan's Corner for dinner where I could eat nothing but thosay and roti kosong.  After that, we watched Season 1 of Dexter (on DVD) at her place till around one.  I went to bed first while they continued to watch Dexter.  I think Neets was getting interested in the plots, haha.  I like Dexter too, but I just couldn't keep my eyes open after a time.

Sun, 25 July  Woke up 10:30 AM, quite early considering how late we went to bed last night.  It was the phone ringing that woke me.  Gowry called to find out if Neets could meet up at Kaveri.  We took quick showers and headed for Kaveri where I saw Gowry and Guna's two pretty little girls, Sahanaa Shree and the new baby Harveena.  I had idly for lunch, boo hoo over missing out on the mutton curry and fried bittergourd.  I also drank coconut water at the stall outside 7-Eleven, coz I remembered I should be taking cooling stuff. 

After lunch, Neets drove me to Midvalley.  They waited in the car while I went down to the money changer and Teluk Anson snack shop.  Then, Sentral supermarket on Old Klang Road where I bought two papayas at their wet market, and Plaza OUG where Neets got her faulty SIM card replaced.  Then, back to Neets's flat, then dinner at Nathan's Corner, then she sent me back to Bkt Jelutong in the early evening.  Mum gave her some durians and mangosteens from her durian farm visit earlier today.  I went to bed quite early, knowing I would have to start WFH tomorrow morning.

Mon, 26 July  Going back to work was tough because I'm still feeling tired and cranky from the shingles and overwhelmed by the many emails that have piled up in my inbox since last week.  But I must be grateful that my boss allowed me to work from home, which really takes the stress out.  I don't need to waste time commuting, and I can take little breaks if I get too tired out.  Besides, I'm so lucky to get home-cooked food here, thanks to my wonderful Mum. 

At about 7:00 PM, Schave and Coreen came to visit me.  I had actually forgotten that they were coming, so I kinda jumped when the doorbell rang, haha!  I really enjoyed seeing both of them again.  The last time had been at SJMC when Schave had that awful chickenpox.  They chatted with my parents in the living room - Schave even showed Dad some pointers on using his GPS - and at the backyard where Mum showed them some of her growing herbs.

Wed, 28 July  Worked from home all day while it was so hot.  Came downstairs around noon to fix some lunch.  Dad was in the living room watching telly and Mum wasn't anywhere to be found.  She came home sometime after lunch.  I think she went to Bkt OUG to pick up some mail and do other errands.  And also acupuncture at Jalan Gasing, so she popped in to St Francis Xavier church to meet and pay Linda the RM20 I owe for a church raffle.  But she had to wait for a while coz she saw a sign that the office was closed for lunch until 2:00PM, so she went to Kanna Curry House to eat first.  Turns out Linda was in the Youth Ministry office all the while, but that was at another entrance.  Mum didn't have Linda's mobile number, which resulted in this wild goose chase.  I kick myself for not remembering to give it to Mum.  Groan...

Thu, 29 July  Went to Poliklinik Family again.  This time, right ear is blocked for some reason.  Dr Cheong, the one I don't really like, prescribed anti-fungal tablets and antibiotic eardrops.  I thought it was either water or old wax blocking it up.  I can't hear too good from my right ear now.  Very annoying.  Evening, went to Focus Shoes again and found a few more tee shirts.  Mum got some nice polo shirts from the shop next door, where I also found a pair of XXL black cargo pants for RM20.

Fri, 30 July  Mum and Dad went to Cameron Highlands and will be back on Sunday.  I just worked all day to finish some testing and by the time I was done, it was 8:15 PM.  I heated up some leftover French beans Mum made yesterday and had that for dinner.  Sometime later, while I was watching telly, John came home.  He was shocked that I was still hanging around here.  Not too pleased to see me, actually, coz he's a scaredy cat when it comes to chickenpox.  He took the jab (vaccination) on July 13th, the day I came back to KL, so I don't know why he's so jumpy.

Sat, 31 July  Spent the day resting and watching the telly.  John left sometime in the mid-afternoon.  It rained a bit in the evening.  I heated up the Prego sauce and prepared some angel hair for dinner.  Surprise! - Peiju called to ask if I wanted McDonalds, but I said I couldn't eat chicken or fish while recovering from shingles.  She got me a pork burger from Loong Kee instead, which tasted like Ramly burger, only better.  Earlier today, I recalled that my First Coach bus tickets for 5 August need to be changed to a later date by 2 August, which is a very tight deadline.  I will try to do it on Monday before leaving KL. 

It's a goddamn shame I can't postpone the date till Deepavali in October, because the damn bus company says there is an expiry date on the ticket, fancy that.  Sadly, the expiry date is Sept 14.  Note to self: Don't pay for bus tickets till final deadline, in case plans change.  Neets and Biss were in Putrajaya tonight, covering the audio launch of Enthiran, the latest Bollywood movie starring Rajinikanth and Aishwarya Rai.  Indian music genius A.R. Rahman was there as well, I read in the report.  Neets picked me up from Bkt Jelutong at 3:00AM.  Evidently, there's a first time for everything.  We ended up going to bed at 5:30AM.

Sun, 1 August  The three of us kinda woke up at 11.30AM.  Vegged out and chatted for a while before they took showers and we left around 2:00PM for lunch at Nathan's Corner.  I had made tentative plans with Vince for brunch today, but when I called him from Neets's place, he said he was already out with friends, since I didn't call him last night to confirm on that brunch.  Oh well.  Weather was cloudy but warm.  At least it wasn't blazing hot.  After lunch, Neets suggested we take a drive to Lake Gardens just for the heck of it, but Biss was too tired.  I don't blame him; last night they were at work for six hours straight, poor dears. 

So we went to 99 Speedmart to pick up some groceries.  It's just a few shops away from Nathan's Corner.  While walking, we saw a group of cows lumbering along the road and cropping the roadside grass.  It was a very pleasant sight.  Neets said it's very calming.  I agree.  We so enjoyed it.  Went back to her place, saw a movie and chatted before they drove me back to Bkt Jelutong around 7:30PM.  Mum and Dad back from Cameron Highlands - both taking naps when I got in.  Dad said they got back around five.  Good thing I hadn't rushed home earlier in the day.

I made angel hair pasta for my dinner.  Mum got up shortly and made some egg soup with fresh veggies from Camerons.  After dinner, she tacked the new black pants I bought from the shop next to Focus Shoes on 29 July.  We won't have to rush to the Kg Subang tailor tomorrow morning after all.  Have to buy some chicken siu-bao, though, at least for my kindly hostel administrator Ms. Ngo. 

Yes, it's time to go back to Singapore again.  And I'm leaving at five PM tomorrow.  Same old feeling of dread.  It's depressing, the thought of having to go back.  What to do?  I'm not saying I'm not grateful that I still have a job.  I'll take anything I can get, for as long as it lasts.  One thing I'd like to note here - today marks my third year working at my current job.  I never dreamed I'd be in KL on this day.  Perhaps it's better - I'm very bashful when people congratulate me on such things.

Mon, 2 August  When I woke up this morning, my first thought was, this is it - I have to head back to Singapore today.  All good things come to and end.  Damn.  About a week ago, I was kinda happy about staying on another week, but that week has passed by all too quickly.  I was depressed about this, even before going to bed last night.  Sigh...  Mum cooked a lot of veggies for my lunch, plus Chinese herbal soup and plain boiled potato, which I packed for the trip.  4:00PM came all too soon while I was hanging around the house, and Mum sent me in the Kelisa coz Dad had a meeting around that time, somewhere in town.  Didn't buy a bus ticket at all this time.  I just reached First Coach in Bdr Utama at 4:40PM and asked to pick it up.  Lucky for me, it being Monday, there were plenty of empty seats.  I know I wouldn't dream of doing this on a Sunday, haha.  Journey was uneventful, I saw Armageddon again, and my bus reached The Plaza slightly after ten.  Carried my red suitcase and blue plastic carrier up the pedestrian bridge and down to the other side of Nicoll Highway to flag down a taxi to Outram Road.



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