Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The research journey

I love doing research. A lot of people cannot understand why I choose to do my PhD when I quit my job 3 years ago. Why not being a full time lady of leisure?? Maybe I am crazy. The truth is I have always wanted to do research. And when the opportunity comes knocking, I grabbed it. Of course, the generous scholarship from the university makes it much easier for me to decide. I love the process. From not knowing to knowing. The discovery process can humbled you. A lot.
 The lab gives me some sense of peace....geeky nerdy kinda peace.

I did one year of research for my honours degree in Hobart, Australia, and truthfully, that was the best year in my whole academic year. The beginning of my love to scientific research. I know this can sounds really geeky, but seriously it was. Not that  everything was smooth sailing and my supervisors were super duper fantastic. But they were always there. You don't have to go chasing them. Or they don't go missing. Or forever busy with meeting that they had no clue what is your research is all about. I had my challenges. But it was the environment that makes a difference. The environment was very conducive for learning.

The uni have the resources, and the infrastructure. Say u want to use a machine, there will be technician who will teach u how to use it. So u don't screw up the machine and make a very costly mistake.

And there's no prejudice. No hierarchy. You can mingle with the professors in the staff's coffee room during morning tea break. Freely. Even if u r only an honours student, who just graduated, who knows very little about research, and most likely had no clue what u r doing....they will treat u like u r one of them. You can talk about your research freely. And there will be a lot of knowledge sharing and healthy discussions on how can you proceed, or what can you do to fix the problem, or who should you turn to for advise etc etc etc....and of course the fact that u can call them by their first names make the whole conversation a lot easier.

So naively, I was assuming that research environment in Malaysia would be the same too. And I thought that once I left the corporate world, I have left all the bitches there. And all the politics and the backstabbing and whatever rubbish. After all this is the academic world right? Where all the brains I thought. Soooo I thought. And how wrong I am. Pffftttt!!

I have learned that you cannot talk about your research freely. To almost anybody. Because somebody might just copy your research and do the exact same thing and publish the result way ahead of you. I can never comprehend how anybody can do this. But it has happened many times. Not to me yet. But to some others that I know. Of all the million possibilities of choosing the research topic, you choose to copy the same exact bloody research somebody else is doing. Hence her/his years of hardwork might be invalid, coz now the work is not novel anymore...and you need to produce something novel for your doctorate. Can you see any logic in this????? It only becomes logical for somebody who is not sincere doing research. Somebody that is doing it to gain something superficial. Definitely not for the love of knowledge. So it's a fast way to add credentials to your name, to add number of research u r doing, to get papers published etc etc etc.

As a result of not telling people what you do, the knowledge sharing is very minimal. Close to naught. So your research journey can be a very long painstaking pain in the ass process. Lots of tears. Lots of pain. Lots of trial and errorssssss. Lots of retail therapy to balance it all out.

I have also learned people don't share knowledge. At least not readily.There's a lot of insecurity, rivalry between departments..between professors...between students.....or just plain cockiness.

Of course there's exception. I spent 3 months in IBS, University Malaya to learn about cell culture. The girls there were exceptional. They taught me everything they know about cell culture. All I have to do was be there. Whenever they were doing something new, they will pull me along. I am forever grateful to them. Suja, Li Kuan and the heartfelt zillion thanks. May God bless all of you.

But as I said, those girls are the minorities. Most of the time, u have to be really thick face to get somebody to agree to teach u stuffs. Not only it makes u feel awkward, unwanted and idiotic, it makes you feel so small that u wish u can disappear. Poooffff!! Vanish into the air. And most likely they will just teach u the minimum basics. The rest, go figure yourself. And sometime it will take agessss for you to figure it out. And many many wasted experiments down the drain. And many many long lonely days and nights in the lab. The mentality is so sickening. From student up to supervisors. I just cannot understand what is the harm of sharing the knowledge???

In my few years of research I have benefited quite a bit from generous knowledge sharing. Maybe I am lucky. Maybe they are real professionals. People that believe sharing knowledge in the name of science. People that are confident enough not to feel insecure over sharing their knowledge. These are people that I don't even know. The Japanese professor who send me his compound when I failed to synthesize the compound for my honours project. And nicely explained to me in detail why it was so difficult to synthesize the compound. Another Japanese professor who gave me all the details on how to grow the difficult cell line that I was having problem with. With detailed pictures and methods. Day by day progress. That Massachuset guy who patiently answered all my stupid questions on Excel VBA and eventually helped me processed my data to calculate the IC50. That Czech lady who is on 2 years maternity leave but still promptly answered my email and helped me figured out what was wrong with my MTT assay.What amazed me is how readily and promptly they answered my questions, and how little reservation they have on sharing the knowledge, and how they don't make u feel like an idiot even though u did ask lots of idiotic questions.

Anyway, I am not generalizing. But the experience I had so far don't impress me. And the stories from my fellow friends don't impress me either. I just had a bad day. I wasted some experiments that I have spent a few days working on, bcoz I don't know how to operate the bloody machine, and bcoz that guy who showed me how to operate the machine made me feel like an idiot. Petty issues. But after a long day in the lab, it can drives u nuts. Maybe I shd seriously consider being a full time lady of leisure. Maybe I should go somewhere else to pursue my research interest. Maybe....whateverrr...this shall pass.

For now, I just want to bury my head ;(

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The father they have become

My father is the epitome of hardship. He grew up with very little of everything. Very little love. Lots of hardship. My late grandma was the abandoned 1st wife. She struggled throughout her life. My dad went to school when he was 10. He used to tell us stories of his childhood. How he has to walk many2 miles to reach the school, how he only had 1 pair of school uniforms etc etc etc. And he and his mom were always the outcast, even among the relatives. Due to their poverty. As a result my dad become very bitter. I remember him telling me how hard it was for him to forgive his late dad for what he has done to his mom, despite him knowing he has to...he can never said his dad's name in his prayer, until very2 recently.

He grew up with no male figure in his life. Oppressed and poor. So he raised us based on his experience. You tend to make up with your kids what you were deprived in your childhood. In his case it's education. So that's the reason he was very hard on me and my siblings. For him, education is everything. For you to be worthy of something, you have to excel in your academic.

My relationship with him has always been formal. Very business oriented. He rarely express his feelings. No mushy2 I love u kinda thing. Never. Very authoritarian. And pretty chauvinist too. Dad never lift a finger in the kitchen. And mom never lift a finger beyond the kitchen. So there is a very clear demarcation on the role of husband and wife in their marriage. Men doing house chores is just unthinkable to my dad.

I used to fear him. I used to feel all he cares is our exam results. But as I have my own kids, and he started to mellow down, I started to understand him from a different perspectives. I started to understand people can express love differently. Dad being a worrier is love, dad being the workaholic is love, dad pushing me to my limit is love. It might be far from perfect, but nobody is. And he has raised me and my siblings well. For that I should be grateful. Grateful for the father he has become.

Mr O, on the other hand is everything that my father isn't. He cooks. He make wicked pavlova and crumbed prawn. Not kidding ;) He does the household chores too. He never complains when the house is messy (more likely bcoz he's one of the main culprit..hahahaha), iron his own clothes, scrub the toilet etc etc etc. But don't get me wrong. He's far from perfect.

On good days when his mood is good, he will do the chores. Some days, he will be busy saving the world killing pigs and monkeys or whatever monster on ipad. Some days, he just annoy the hell out of me. As much as I annoy the hell out of him...hahahaha. But I am really2 grateful. I can never survive if he doesn't help out. It makes a whole lot of difference to my sanity. And he makes effort to be the father he should be. The imam of the family. The tutor (albeit a fierce one). The quran teacher. The one who download movies and songs and games for the kids. The techy guys. The Handy Manny of the house. And most importantly, the one who pays my bills...hahahaha. Flaws and all, he's the best father my kids could ever have.

So how do we celebrate Father's Day this year?? By going to the wet market in the morning and babysit Medina the whole afternoon. not fancy schmancy :P But again, Mr O is a very simple man, and very2 picky eater too. A home cooked lunch will probably makes him wayyyy much happier than a lunch in some fancy restaurant that will create a hole in his pocket.

Anyway, it was a really busy day. I almost run out of everything so the trip to the market was inevitable. By the time we came back and finished cleaning up and sorting up everything, it was almost 12. And I have signed me and Hajar up for a talk in the afternoon. So I have less than 1 hour to whip out something for lunch.

The so called ""Father's day " lunch. Steamed crab, kangkung goreng with salted fish, chicken soup (recycled one...hahaha) and sambal tumis tempe & ikan bilis.

Then me and Hajar rushed to Munawarrah for the Aurat & Hijab talk. I felt so guilty leaving the kids with Mr O..on Father's day some more??? ...but what to do lahh coz I already signed up.

Anyway, what better gift can u give to your husband than a solehah wife and daughter right??? And u can't be solehah if u don't learn & upgrade your knowledge right??? there u go, Mr O, it's for your own good anyway, I'm doing u a favour ;)

We arrived there right on time. Hajar reluctantly. Me excitedly.
Somebody busy ransacking her goodies bag.

Assoc Prof Dr Harlina Siraj giving the first lecture.
I was so glad I went. And dragged Hajar along. It was really a good lecture. It gives me a totally different perspective on why woman should wear hijab in the first place. And I think Hajar concurred with me ;) Right Hajar??? Rightttt???? She's probably more excited I won the lucky draw ;P

So that concludes the day. By the time the whole thing finished, it was already 6++. So Onn volunteered to cook dinner...yeayyyy....Happy Father's Day :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fruit Cake

Today is supposed to be a long day. I was supposed to attend a proteomic seminar in the morning, and a handling chemical something2 seminar in the afternoon. BUT I started having red eyes since yesterday, and Dr confirmed it is conjuctivitis and gave me 2 days MC. 

I was still hesitating in the go OR not to go???
The conjuctivitis is bearable (though I might infect other people), but it's the annoying cough that bothers me most. So I decided not to go, and will work from home instead. Do some work. I still have no clue how to analyse my flow cytometer data...and it's so dreadful to see my supervisor with my cluelessness. 

Then there's another problem. Due to my lack of judgment, I took Medina's Salbutamol syrup in the morning. Trying in vain to ease the cough and the wheezing. Probably a bit too much. And has been having palpitation and tremor eversince. So clever. NOT. Next time, just stick to the honey lemon tea.

So when you combine all these factors, it's quite distracting to go on reading my stuffs and analysing my data. So as usual, baking suddenly sounds so therapeutic. I have been wanting to bake the fruit cake ever since I read it from Ain's blog few months back. And dearest Mr O loves fruit cake. Quite weird for somebody who hates vegies (and doesn't eat that much fruit either). So I thought maybe bake this for Father's Day for him?? Since I'm so distracted, might as well lah kannnnn. So in between my palpitation and tremor.....tadaaaaa ;)
I have tried baking fruit cake once. Disaster. Straight to the bin. So I was quite sceptical in the beginning. I didn't have enough butter. So I used half butter half margarine. And only did half of the recipe. But I think it turns out allright. Don't u think so??? :)
Such a beauty right?? Hahahaha....sorry for self complimenting.

See the fruits? They didn't sink...yeayyyyyy ;) Anyway, I was told it will taste better after a few days. But god knows how much patience I have. Plus I cannot wait to taste it. So I have eaten a slice. And I guess the kids will finish the rest once they come back from school soon. So Father's Day cake no more it seems ;P

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A short beach retreat

Both Onn and I were born in Terengganu. Onn is very proud of the place. I, on the other hand hate it. A lot. Mom always teases me that the fact that I end up marrying somebody who was born from Terengganu, is God’s way of getting even with me. You can’t hate anything too much. 

But there’s a big difference between me and Onn. Onn’s presence in Terengganu has always been as a visitor. Hence, you tend to be touristy and appreciate things more. I stayed there for a few years. And naturally, you tend to take things for granted. 

It has always perplexed me how a state with oil as the main revenue, beautiful island and beautiful beaches, and so rich in culture, can end up so under developed and so poor.

The scenic part of Dungun town

One of the things that used to annoy me most is there is not even ONE decent shopping complex in Terengganu. Unless u call Hock Kee Seng a shopping complex. Yeah…very lame I know. But it matters when you are young, and the slow pace in a small town feels like it’s killing you.

Fast forward ………after almost 15 years living in the city, I get tired of the city. The traffic. The rush. The superficialness. The fact that my kids have to resort to everything artificial for entertainment. The fact that you have to pay so much for anything that gives you any taste of nature and tranquil living. Then the thought of a slow pace life sounds more tempting. Though I doubt I can actually survive living in a place like that.

And over the years, I have also developed this strong obligation to keep my kids in touch with nature. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try my best to expose them to nature and educate them about their culture and heritage. I do believe Malaysian have so much to be grateful for. This is a very beautiful country. Nice place to stay.  It’s an irony that it takes me to be away from the country to realize that. Of course it would be much nicer if we can get rid of all those corrupted horny politicians. Wooopppsss ;)

Anyway, since we are going back to Kota Bharu for the school holiday, we decided to have a short beach retreat in Tanjung Jara Resort in Dungun, Terengganu. We spent 2 nights there.

The place is so gorgeous. I am so in love with the architecture.

And the landscape.

And the beach.

Most of the times, when you go to a resort, you will either get the beach OR the greens…here in Tanjung Jara you get both. They have landscaped the place so well that it makes you feel like you are living in a kampung next to the beach. 

You wake up every morning to the sound of birds chirping and the waves. And while you have your morning coffee at the balcony, you can just sit there watching the sunrise, birds and squirrels and the soothing greeneries while listening to the sound of the waves. Not to mention the smell of the local flowers. So natural. So virgin. It actually makes me feel so small. Like a midget.  Counting my blessing every single seconds.

To me, it’s the ultimate zen ;)

We didn’t have our meals in the resort. I was tempted to try out Nelayan…but $250 per pax sounds like a blasphemy. Especially if you have picky eaters who would probably eat very little, and still whine they are hungry after the meal. Dungun has a lot of cheap places to eat. And pretty nice food too. So food was not an issue.

By the way, that Pak Din’s Nasi Dagang was so yummylicious, it probably beat my mom’s ;)

It is so tranquil and peaceful that the kids had a blast, and completely forgotten they were disconnected from the world wide web for 3 days. Well sort of…the hotel lobby has wifi and computers ;)
 The one who still find his online manga is the most interesting thing despite the zen ambience.
But still it was impressive. No complain of “I’m bored” despite of the fact we didn’t do much. In fact we really didn’t do much. One of the nights, we tried going up to Rantau Abang to see whether we had any luck with turtle sighting. Zilch. And we were too lazy to drive down to Kerteh. So the closest we got to the turtle is the tungtung in the Turtle Hatchery Centre.
Most of the times, we just laze around and enjoyed the beach. For once, I don’t go to a resort and still have to think of ways to occupy the kids. While thinking why am I paying so much for the room when we hardly spend time there??  Not to mention spending loads of money on those activities. And whenever we were away from our room, they keep saying…”Let’s go home”…ehemmm…home is the hotel room??…ehemmm???!!

 Hajar feeling artsy fartsy...can't believe she actually packed her painting stuffs.

 Yoga anyone?? 

The service is superb. The staffs remember you by your first name. And your room number too. I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but they sure make me smile ;) They made you feel like they were anticipating your arrival. Like they will call you, when are you arriving? And if you don’t they will call again…before your arrival, they will make sure your room is ready…your additional requests are fulfilled….it gives you the same feeling you have when you are invited to somebody’s house. And whenever you need their service, they will be at your doorstep in less than 10 minutes. And they are always smiling. 

Aaahhh…how can I not be back again???
Note to self: Need to convince my Finance Director to go there again. Maybe we should make it a regular stop every time we drive up to Kota Bharu?? Hahahaha….coz I think it’s my Finance Director who need to chill and relax the most. Onn, you’ll be reading this right?? ;)

The Healer.

I have sinus. So does Hajar. And lately the bout of sneezing, blocked nose and itchy ears have been quite frequent and bothersome. Mom has been talking about this particular healer who can heal your sinus. With lots of success stories. Really impressive. 

Usually, I will never think twice. Never give a hoot. I never believe in all these miraculous healers. Either I am very cocky with science or there’s very little logic to it. Anything sounds too good to be true can’t be true. 

But the issue keeps cropping up every time I sneeze in front of my mom. And she made a mental note the FIRST thing she will do the next time I come back to Kota Bharu is a trip to visit the healer.

So on the first morning we were in KB, I went.  Despite my dearest husband mocking me with his flippant sleepy remark..”U really believe in miracle??” “Oh, it’s a miracle…” Perrghh…pffftt…snort!!

I went partly because that will make mom happy and quite. Partly because I was too lazy to argue. And partly because I couldn’t see any great harm resulting from somebody wiping your face reading some mantra. So I went as an obliging daughter. NOT.

The rule is not to wash your face for a few days. No cream or whatever treatment too. And of course with whatever iota of belief that I have on this healer, I naturally forgotten about the rules, and washed my face in the morning.

Me and Hajar, the patients. Mom and dad, the chaperones. We went to her house, somewhere I can’t pronounce the name. Waited for a while in the house and she came. She told us Hajar is too small. Her treatment will be too potent for her. Much to the grandma’s dismay. I can hear my mom telling herself; Ohh..cannot do if too small”. Another mental note. So instead of the treatment, she will just wash Hajar’s face with the treated water. On hindsight, thank god she is spared from the treatment.

First the healer wiped my face with her bare hand. She wiped and wiped…while mumbling something…and in between, my mind shifted from “u got to be kidding me” to “I can’t believe I’m doing this” to “keep your mind open, woman!!”

Then she started crushing some leaves….which we don’t know what it is…and not supposed to know because it’s a trade secret…and start wiping it on my face.

By this stage, I am supposed to feel some tingling feeling, and something like tiny weeny bugs are supposed to come out from my face. That bugs are the sinus bugs. Alas, all I’m feeling is real itchiness, and within minutes my face is red  and pretty warm and blotches of rashes start coming out. Then she stopped. 

By that time, my face looked like it has been molested by a hungry pervert caterpillar. And they keep saying, hmmm…maybe the thing wants to come out, but it got stuck inside, hence the rashes...aka the failure…maybe because I use too much facial wash and cream and whatever else.

Well..for somebody who  washes her face whenever she remembers....which means definitely not every day..and hardly put any cream on her face, that sounds like a load of bullshit. But I decided to zip my mouth and just smiled, coz I was cursing myself silly for agreeing to do the whole thing. I have ridicule myself enough. So won’t rub any more salt into it.  All I asked was a glass of water, and I quickly gobbled my antihistamine right away and keep my silence.

And for screwing up my face, and 2 packets of treated water as a follow up treatment, I paid her $20. And we left.

Mom and dad got quite worried with my allergic reactions.  But they believe the healer’s explanation on why it doesn’t work on me. Whole heartedly. No doubt. Too much face cream. Yeah…right. And they keep checking on me a few minutes apart.

Does my swollen face dampen their belief on the healer?? Hmmm…..definitely not. On the way home, we stopped by the market and they went out to buy some fruits and stuffs while me and my swollen face and Hajar remained  in the car. 

During that short period in the market, mom came back and told me about her conversation with a lady in the market. The lady who claimed she too can heal sinus. With a different method. And my mom subtly trying to hint to me ”U know, maybeeee….” “Yeah mom…over my dead body”

The first thing I did when I reached home is gobbled another dose of antihistamine. Then I have to bear with all the kiddos’ remarks. And the hubby’s remarks. “Ummi, ur face look like momok’s face. “Ummi, what did u do???” “Hmmmm ummi, so this healer…tell me about her” “Hmmm…u the pharmacist??? Can’t believe u did this” “Are you sure it’s not black magic ummi? I mean like seriously??” Hmmmmm…hmmm…it goes on and on till I decided to abuse my power ”Shut up. Any more comment, I will minus 2 points”.  And they stopped.

To be honest, the fact that I am writing this already make me feel dayyymmmmnnnn stupid. Errrggghhhhh!! Note to self; Learn your lesson. Next time, trust your bloody instinct woman!!!!

A visit to Deer Park in Lanchang, Pahang.

On the way to Tanjung Jara, I managed to convince Onn to detour to Lanchang. I have read good reviews about the Deer Park, and I thought it would be a good break for the kids to keep them sober throughout the long road trip.

It is more of a petting zoo. In a relatively small plot of land. Managed by somebody who obviously respect the animals and love nature.

After our trip to Singapore Zoo last year, where the animals look much more healthier and happier than their counterparts in Malaysian Zoo, a trip to any zoo in Malaysia become very difficult to justify. 

I remember we went to the petting zoo in Tambun last December end up feeling so guilty for contributing to the business. The place was so stinky and the animals look so sad and depressed. There is very little respect to the animals. And I have very little excuse left to justify the situation when the kids keep shooting me with questions why can’t our zoo be more like Singapore zoo. So as a mommy u will develop this rhetoric ability whenever u r stuck. So my only response to their nonstop comments of disgust is “Stop blaming other people. Think about what you can do to change the situation” which of course effectively put them to silence, more because they are lazy to think rather than they are thinking hard for the solution.

Anyway, back to this Deer Park. Entry is $6 for adult, and $3 for kids. There are lots of deers, some bears, snakes, different type of birds, ferret, rabbit…probably that’s it. 

But what impress me most is there’s no smell, and the place was clean. The toilets were clean too. And the animals doesn’t look depressed. You can touch the animal and feed them. Or watch the worker feed the animal. Although the thought of touching a bear does freak me out. The worker tried hard to convince me it’s OK coz they have raised the bear from small. The kids went in. I didn’t :P
Ms Maddie was so excited.  She turned into a chatterbox with no off button. Either she will be busy trying to explain about the animals to herself, or asking the workers whatever question she can think about the animals. 

Most of the time, she will not get an answer coz my 3yo can’t speak Malay and the workers can’t speak English. To be polite, they will just smile to her.

Note to self; Start teaching her Malay STAT!!!! It can be quite embarrassing to tell people you hail from Shah Alam (and not some posh western countries), and your 3yo can’t speak Malay.

After feeding the deers, she turned to me and said “I think I am a good feeder”. 

By the time we finished and came out from the park she told me “I think I will be a very good zoo keeper.” And Hajar quickly responded…”NOOO Ina, u can’t be a zoo keeper. Tok Ayah (who is my dad) won’t like that. We need to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer.”
Hmmphhh…what happen to chasing your dream???

Overall, the kids really enjoyed the park tremendously. We’ll be back ;) You can actually even arrange to camp overnight in the park. But of course, we won’t coz dearest Mr O will never entertain this kind of adventure. ..but it’s all right, I can compromise ;)