Bali and Musings (2015)

(This post was written three years ago, and I had almost forgotten about it since Malaysia banned the access to Medium. Posting it here so that I can get all the other posts together on the same site.)

 The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. — G. K. Chesterton  

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. — G. K. Chesterton
 

It was a trip that marked the end and the beginning.

I had the idea of logging my time here in Bali after the second day I got here. It struck me that this was a transition moment in my life where upon my return to Malaysia, a new chapter begins. Obviously, despite knowing full well that this was coming — the reality of it hasn’t quite sunk in for me yet.

Andrew and I had planned this trip for a long time, way before I even thought to resign from my job as an environmental consultant after 2.4 years. There are many things to write about my tenure with this company, or rather — in this role, but suffice to say that after overcoming numerous learning curves (and still trying with some), it is but a job at the end of the day. It wasn’t a career. And most of all, it wasn’t my aspiration.

While I am truly grateful for the experiences and the opportunities that I was given, as well as for the people I’ve met and made friends along the way — I can’t help but to take heed of what really drives me , the very thing that gets me waking up excited in the morning and knowing at the end of the day, the work that I’m doing will bring about a positive difference to the public.

Coming back to the trip in Bali, I was hopeful to somehow receive my muse from this mystical yet beautiful place where spirituality is the axis of the local community. I embrace Christianity, but over the years I’ve allowed myself to see God beyond the confines of the church walls ; especially in nature (since I’m an environmentalist by training). And because certain parts of Bali still preserve and respect the balance between man and nature, it is refreshing to soak all the experience in before I return to the hectic city life.

So, what has being in Bali taught me so far?

First: that it’s okay to end the day early.

Yes. By that, I mean sleeping early (and also waking up early). Back home, I have difficulty sleeping before 1am. And because of that, I only get about 5 hours of sleep everyday which I feel somehow is gradually wrecking my body. My mind is no longer sharp and I often get this never-ending fatigue even during weekends. No good.

But yesterday I managed to shut my eye by 11pm, woke up at 6:30am feeling refreshed and writing this log at the veranda facing a beautiful green landscape.

Second: Life can be good, despite the crappy things that are happening around us every day. Especially when you’re physically relocated to a new, peaceful and unexplored environment. It’s no wonder people often save up to go for a holiday, where they can escape the mundane reality of life and just be without care and worry.

Is there a third lesson? Not that I could think of at the moment — except the constant reminder to treat myself better and not let circumstances or people to define me.

Well, at the time of writing — I’ve arrived at my fourth day in Bali and there are only a day or so left before we fly back to Kuala Lumpur. So far we’ve we’ve spent most of the time walking the streets of Ubud under the scorching sun, trying out the food at local eateries (which are not as cheap as Malaysia) and attending movie screenings (among other events) at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF). We did however managed to do squeeze in some touristy activities at Seminyak on our first day here (i.e. renting a scooter, going to Potato Head Beach Club and Tanah Lot).

 Potato Head Beach Club, Seminyak

Potato Head Beach Club, Seminyak

 Tanah Lot, Tabanan

Tanah Lot, Tabanan

 

On the fifth day (a day before we return home), we thought it would have been a shame if we just spend all the time we had here in the center of Ubud, so we arranged for a trip up north of Bali where we visited various old temples such as the famous Goa Gajah..

 Goa Gajah, Ubud

Goa Gajah, Ubud

… the ancient stone mural at Yeh Pulu..

 Yeh Pulu, Ubud

Yeh Pulu, Ubud

..scaled the many staircases to reach the relics at Gunung Kawi;

 Gunung Kawi, Tampaksiring

Gunung Kawi, Tampaksiring

..and then we witnessed hundreds of devotees lining up in the pool for their spiritual water cleansing at Tirta Empul Temple in Tampak Siring…

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… had a scrumptious lunch with the breathtaking view of Mount Batur volcano and its lake..

 Danau Batur

Danau Batur

..and ended the trip at the famed Tegallalang paddy terrace of Ubud.

 Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Ubud

Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Ubud

It was quite tiring at the end of the day but since it was going to be our final day in Bali, we decided to go all out and attend the closing party of the UWRF at Blanco Museum.

 Don Antonio Blanco Museum

Don Antonio Blanco Museum

We were treated to a nice concert of world music and great performances, and while some of the crowd were up from their seats and dancing away, I thought to myself: this is it…. after tonight, my life is going to change when I return to Malaysia. I suppose all good things eventually comes to an end, and I am truly grateful that I’m able to spend time with my husband on this holiday before the next chapter begins.

The past 6 years of my life in KL / Selangor has been one which is filled bittersweet experiences. I’m very proud to say that this place has taught me so much on what being an adult is. Not only in my personal life (i.e. finance, career, marriage and other domestic up keepings) but also in my interaction with people and my outlook in life. Suffice to say , it’s a great milestone of maturity when you are constantly aware that you are not the center of the earth and that other people’s needs, thoughts and feelings matter as well. My humble opinion is, half or most of the problems in this world is caused by people who are too self-entitled to care about the bigger picture.

It has been a long while also since l last wrote for myself. I’ve been churning out reports, assignments, dissertations and all the dry technical writings. I’m still trying to catch the flow of writing without ‘guidelines’, ‘assessment’ or ‘summary’ and while without those, it does feel liberating but it is daunting at the same time.

One wonders how a post which was intended to be a travelogue ended up being a contemplative musing. Perhaps that is what travel does to you. Getting away from the usual scene and routine of things helps to re-calibrate oneself. I suppose until next change of scene arrives (which is real soon), that’s probably all there is to write on this post.

Let's talk about growing old

I had a long chat with my friend today over coffee - one of those where you share about life and everything under the sun. One of the topic happened to be about ageing and retirement. While the both of us were not exactly near that corner of life (yet) but it was something we both had personally spared some serious thoughts on be it for ourselves or for our parents.

It reminded me of the time when I co- wrote an article for Penang Monthly about the ageing population in Penang. It was one of the most profound article which I had ever written had to be the one about the ageing population in Penang. The process of researching for this article has opened my eyes to learn so much more than I could ever thought about ageing - as it is multifaceted, and often with a heartbreaking undertone because senescence is an unforgiving phase of life that constantly reminds you that your days (which once seems infinite) are numbered. Conversations about ageing is crucial, as much as it is unavoidable - even as we try to be optimistic in this race against time.

 One for the memories. (During a birthday celebration at the Senior Citizens Association which I was invited to. I remembered it as warm and joyful celebration, almost childlike, to celebrate yet another glorious year together with their friends, although in the absence of their family members)

One for the memories. (During a birthday celebration at the Senior Citizens Association which I was invited to. I remembered it as warm and joyful celebration, almost childlike, to celebrate yet another glorious year together with their friends, although in the absence of their family members)

There's just so much that can be covered in an article which I co-authored, so I decided to publish my part here in my blog instead of letting it lay dormant and forgotten in my laptop. The first draft was a (painfully) long article (which is probably a fault on my end as I tend to be quite wordy!) but for this blog post, I will just upload one of the section which I wrote that wasn't published (and unedited, so please pardon any jarring mistakes!) in the original article, and this one is about health and well being of the ageing population. I am planning to also post another unpublished part, which is about the 'sandwich generation' sometime soon after this one.

I am not sure how many people will come across this post, but I can only hope that this can be an effort, albeit a small one, which will somehow spur some conversations among people, and inspire a more caring, kind and inclusive society wherever we are.

HEALTH AND WELL BEING AS WEALTH

Wealth comes in many forms, and it could mean differently to different people. However, it is no longer a cliché to regard health as wealth when senescence becomes a daily reality that one has to live with.

Although there are more people in the world today are surviving past their seventh decade than any time in recorded human history – the diseases and disorders associated to ageing are numerous. Some of them include arthritis, cardiovascular disease including hypertension, respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis. Oftentimes, an individual may even live with multiple health conditions at a given time. As cellular senescence leads to ageing and the development and progression of diseases, physiological degeneration of an elderly is inevitable.

Alzheimer’s disease in particular, accounts to has high as 60 – 80% cases reported among elderly. It is also called as the disease of "The Long Goodbye" as it deteriorates the patient progressively over the length of many years, even up to 10 years or more. While the Alzheimer's Disease Foundation of Malaysia estimated that as many as 50,000 people suffers from the disease, there are also many of those who were not clinically diagnosed and therefore does not receive medical advice on proper caregiving.  Elderly with Alzheimer’s disease often struggle to remember recent events or conversations – often coupled with apathy and depression. Over the years, their communication will be further impaired, with a high tendency of making poor judgement, suffer from disorientation, and may face difficulty in swallowing and walking. Caring for elderly with Alzheimer’s disease, either by caregivers or by family members, requires an in-depth understanding of the condition and proper management which the patient requires.

It is crucial and urgent for the health systems to start preparing now to address health concerns of the elderly given the inevitable rise of the ageing population in this country. Such necessary reform is especially needed as it affects the redistributive ability of public spending in supporting consumption for the elderly. As the public sector financing of the elderly’s health consumption increases with the level of national income, the low-income and lower-middle-income countries’ spending for such matter is expected to be marginal[1]. Generally, Malaysia’s percentage of GDP on public expenditure was at an average of 4.0% between 2009 and 2013, and increased to 4.2% in 2014 (Figure 3). The rising cost of healthcare, coupled with the increasing number of non-communicable diseases (NCD), also known as chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (i.e. heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (i.e. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma) and diabetes; would add significant stress to the country’s public spending.

 Source: World Health Organization Global Health Expenditure database

Source: World Health Organization Global Health Expenditure database

Depression is also a prevalent mental health condition among the elderly (Figure 4), however not much is being spoken about this. Depression is more than just a state of emotional sadness; depression has the ability to strip away a person’s vigour and vitality - and finally, the will to live. This is especially true for elderly who had previously lived a comfortable life but now confined and institutionalised in nursing homes as they tend to display a higher risk and level of depression.

Dr Richard Ng, physician & geriatrician stated in the news that many of these cases are undiagnosed or not reported, as elderly are less likely to tell people they are depressed[2]. The depression could be triggered by several situations such as the anxiety of being alone at home, the lack of attention given by family members, loss of spouses or friends, or even the gradual loss of physical ability to perform daily activities and the deterioration in overall health. Sometimes, depression is even caused by the abnormality of chemical composition in the human brain. In a study conducted by the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Research Institute[3], the cognitive performance observed during depressive episodes were found to have potential association with biochemistry changes within the frontostriatal neuronal circuitry. Treatments are available in various forms, such as medicines (e.g. anti-depressant), psychotherapy, counselling and even electroconvulsive therapy. Family members could watch out for telling signs of depression in the elderly through their interrupted sleeping patterns (either insomnia or having too much sleep), losing interest in daily activities, extreme mood swings without a cause, changes in eating habits (i.e. having excessive appetite or none).

It is common in Asian culture to stigmatise depression as conversations on mental disorders are usually avoided and awareness on mental conditions are scarcely available among the society. Depression is often not acknowledged as a disease and typically brushed aside as harmless mood swings – which makes it all the harder for elderly who are silently suffering from depression to receive the help they need.  Families and caregiver – it is a responsibility to help the elderly age gracefully and live the rest of their lives with dignity by seeking medical help as it is treatable. Help can be sought from public mental health screening services in primary health clinics or public and private hospitals.

 Source: National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015: Non- Communicable Diseases, Risk Factors and Other Health Problems (Volume II). Institute for Public Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia

Source: National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015: Non- Communicable Diseases, Risk Factors and Other Health Problems (Volume II). Institute for Public Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia

One way to reduce the risks of mental degenerative diseases is to allow the elderlies to engage in a daily routine of active lifestyle. “As you know, a person sitting down one whole day, only eating and sleeping, will go downhill after some time,” said Datuk Lawrence. “The bottom line is love and care. You need to provide them with love and tender care, converse with them – as they need people to talk to, and keep them busy.”

 

[1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Ageing 2015 (ST/ESA/SER.A/390).

[2] New Straits Times. 2016. “Depression among elderly increasing.” Published on August 23, 2016. Accessed on March 8, 2017. <http://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/08/167702/depression-among-elderly-increasing>

[3] Elderkin-Thompson, V., Thomas, M. A., Binesh, N., Mintz, J., Haroon, E., Dunkin, J. J., & Kumar, A. (2004). Brain metabolites and cognitive function among older depressed and healthy individuals using 2D MR spectroscopy. Neuropsychopharmacology, 29(12), 2251.

When darkness falls too soon

When I was preparing to move to London for a year - everyone was quite concerned if I had enough winter clothing with me. I was really fortunate to be given enough coats, scarfs, gloves and beanies to keep me warm and toasty through the wintry days. I really thought I was prepared to face the much anticipated end of the year in London until November came along and showed me that there is more in store: early sunsets, i.e. shorter days

I quickly realized that I was not prepared for this. I had an inkling of idea of this before I came to London but I didn't think as much about it as I had about the dropping temperature. It first started to get dark by 5:30 pm in November. Now, the sun starts to set at 4:00 pm - which meant that I only get about 9 hours of daylight (that is if I am lucky that it is not a heavy overcast day) instead of the typical 11 hours which I am used to back home. 

Not only feeling disoriented, I feel lethargic and sleepy most of the time - which I later come to know that it's due to the lack of sun exposure which contributed to the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness (so yes, these are actually sold as pills for those having difficulty sleeping). Outcome of this? I kept going to bed a few times a day! Which is frustrating of course, as time (and precious sunlight) is wasted away on my warm, cosy bed. Thankfully it is already the end of term and I have a month of Christmas break to live this sedentary lifestyle that is now forced upon me. But maybe it isn't so bad after all, now that I have a valid reason to have more than a cup of coffee a day because it would help me stay awake. I was also advised to get vitamin D to boost up my energy in this season but to my disappointment, most of the drugstores has ran out of stock this week. Guess I'll just have to feel like a sloth for a few more days until the vitamin Ds are restocked on the shelves again.

 The break of day - at least the sunrise is still normal, which comes around 7:20am.

The break of day - at least the sunrise is still normal, which comes around 7:20am.

Not only that - I wasn't prepared for the cold and dry air, especially in a room with radiator on. The radiator, while effectively keeping me warm, it has efficiently dehumidify the air as well. The air becomes so dry that it aggravates the nose and dries it out. Outcome of this? My nose became so congested to the extent I have trouble sleeping at night due of breathing difficulty due to all the mucus building up inside. What I am facing is not unusual, it is just that I am not prepared for it. I brought along with me a tiny humidifier from home but I broke it not long ago and didn't think about replacing it until now. Clearly, I have underestimated the role of my tiny humidifier which I took for granted earlier.

 Walking down the street, chasing the last sunlight at 4pm. I was going to have tea with a friend at a cafe nearby but it felt like I was going to have dinner instead with the sun setting like this.

Walking down the street, chasing the last sunlight at 4pm. I was going to have tea with a friend at a cafe nearby but it felt like I was going to have dinner instead with the sun setting like this.

But then again, it is not all doom and gloom with this season as I may have inadvertently suggested. It is also a season when people are geared up in the festive mood (donning their Christmas sweater, reindeer antlers and Santa Claus hats), the yummy Christmas goodies all stocked up in Waitrose and Sainsbury, the Christmas lighting and decorations of popular streets, public parks, buildings, etc and the Christmas carols and just being together with loved ones, family and friends. This year, December is very different from all the ones that I had. While I wished I could be home for Christmas, it isn't the most practical decision to take. I've got two essays to hand in, and the return flight to Malaysia would cause a dent in my savings. Further, how many more chances would I get to spend Christmas in UK? 

 It's nice to soak in the Christmas cheer with all these beautiful lights on the streets, parks, houses, buildings, etc. Back home, Christmas decorations are only confined within malls, purely for capitalistic gains :)

It's nice to soak in the Christmas cheer with all these beautiful lights on the streets, parks, houses, buildings, etc. Back home, Christmas decorations are only confined within malls, purely for capitalistic gains :)


Meanwhile I guess this is a good time for me to decompress from a hectic term and recollect and reflect on my thoughts, organize my lecture notes and explore London and UK. It is no doubt an intensive year in this MSc and I am glad there is this slot of time to just breath and just be. A year from now, I will look back at this moment in time and I hope that I have made many fond memories here to last a lifetime. 

Deal With It: Not Everyone Will Like What You Are Doing

I made a mistake thinking that everyone would understand or support the documentary that Andrew Han is producing. Although the idea of the documentary was birthed out from a genuine hope to preserve nature for our next generation, we've encountered many who seem to take offense for reasons unknown to us.

While their snide and cynical remarks can be discouraging (sometimes painful to hear), it has somehow put us in the spot where we rethink how much we really want to make this documentary happen even when nobody believed in what we're doing. This, plus the countless rejections for interviews, data scarcity, lack of resources, technical issues, working late nights, and even financial strain.

Many, if not all of us are fighting a battle we know nothing of. So let's be kind to each other.

Therefore, I just felt the need to put this out there: nothing worth it ever comes easy. It helps to go back to the first time we set our minds and hearts on pursuing our cause and to recall why we need to do the things we do. Hang on to that.

My sincere hope is that this post might also encourage some of my friends out there who are seeking for a glimmer of hope in a world where people are ever so ready to be critical of us. Hang on in there, it'll all get better.

Fading Cultures

Dissecting my disposition on fading cultures.

A particular culture only lives as long as there is ownership. Ownership will stay as long as there is relevance. Relevance exists where there’s value defining it. And the kind of value that we uphold defines our identity. It is a tragedy for ‘good cultures’ to fade away, but that is because inevitably, people change with time. So does culture.

But why do some of us fight so hard to prevent a certain culture from fading from our lives?
Because culture leads us back to our roots.

Because culture is a heritage passed down from our forefathers.
Because culture is our anchor of familiarity in a rapidly evolving world.
Because culture breathes character and depth into our lives.

Gender: a stereotype

There has been numerous occasions where I encountered gender stereotypes in my life.

Some are quite petty, while some are downright uncivilized. There is one though which has changed the course of my life - although not for the worse. I was lucky to have found a place to belong after being steered away from what I really wanted to do but this experience has left a lasting impression on me that will constantly serve as a reminder that I should never surrender to or advocate gender stereotype.

Although it has been more than 10 years, I still remember the day when an academician told me that urban planning is an industry dominated by men; and therefore women will almost certainly face challenges and will need to struggle to keep up in order to make it. Because of this remark and out of the lack of self-confidence, I dropped my intention to enroll in the School of Housing, Building and Planning in USM.

I look back and wish I had received as much empowerment for women as we have today. I still have a deep interest in urban planning which could have been my career path today if I had just went ahead despite what people tell me what women can or cannot do. If there’s a message from this experience; it is to never ever trade-off your passion or interest to fulfill the society’s typecast idea- that which gender should be the limit to someone’s ability to rise above challenges. And also; never be that parent, sibling, friend, mentor or partner who snuff out the dreams of someone you know just because of gender stereotype. 

(May 11, 2015)