Monday, June 11, 2012

Swimming Against The Tide Of Opinion. I-Chiro Sushi Bar, One Utama, PJ.

(no pork served)

The foodie world was recently abuzz with the opening of a Japanese Ramen Shop. Everyone was singing high praises about it and I was intrigued. The unending accolade made out the Ramen Shop to be the elusive spring to cleanse my past sin of eating unworthy Ramen. KL has quite a fair number of Ramen Shops. Right at my door step is Marutama Ramen and Hokkaido Santouka, both reasonably good with it's own fans and detractors.

My curiosity was satiated one hot, sunny afternoon with it's thick and full bodied, almost al dente noodles, but here is where the compliments end. The broth was too salty and muddled and the pork slices insipid. They served the most shameless, thick skinned gyoza in town with it's skin thicker than the face of most Malaysian Politicians but thankfully less pock marked than our most politically incorrect Minister. The eggs were overcooked with the whites as hard as marbles (not referring to the anatomical marbles which are much softer in comparison) with the yolk more powdery than a Geisha's face. A repeat visit a week later did not reveal much improvement to their offerings.

I pitied my dining companion who paid for the meal for committing and act of senseless fiduciary self immolation, just like the Communist Government who probably laughed gleefully at the charred bodies recalling the amount of money saved from bullets and incarceration.

One afternoon, we ventured beyond the hype and visited a small little Sushi bar hidden right at the back of Isetan One Utama. I-Chiro, as with most sushi bars, has almost a clinical approach to it's interior with a sushi counter and a few smaller tables for those who prefer some privacy. Patrons use ipads located at the side of the table to select their food and do their ordering. It was a novel experience but most importantly their food did not disappoint. All the cuts were fresh and flavorful and came beautifully plated.

Service was top notched and the price was slightly on the high side compared to chain Sushi joints, about RM 180 (including taxes) for a lunch for two but worth every penny.

As for the all the hype? Of course one is entitled to their opinion and especially for food, there is no right and wrong opinion. But probably as with any promises made by politicians regarding transforming the society, the bigger the hype, the lesser the chance of it succeeding. Maybe they needed the hype to convince themselves in the first place and to those who succumb to the hype, the only outcome is disappointment.

I did not bring my camera there that day and decided to use my Mobile and tested if I could do a post with it. You can view it below.

I-Chiro Sushi Bar
Level 2
Isetan Eat Paradise
One Utama

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Love In The Time Of Viraemia. A Thank You Note to Sungai Buluh Hospital and the Selangor State Health Department.

A view from Sungai Buluh Hospital's ID Clinic. -taken with Hisptamatic for iphone-


“I have been admitted to the hospital,” I croaked weakly into my phone. I had just fainted at work, with a buzzing sound in my left ear and intermittent weakness on the right side of my arm and leg. I could hardly stand up, my head spinning around as if I had too many shots of Tequila. This was in 2007, and I had called Adam. 

“What? What happened?” Adam asked anxiously.

“The Doctors think I have had some kind of stroke and they are arranging for an emergency MRI now.”

“Oh My God! Where are you?”

“Sunway Hospital.”

“I’m coming now!”

Adam was the only person I called throughout my stay at Sunway. He came immediately as promised, relieved my apartment keys from my Driver, and came back with my cellphone chargers, two half read books I had left on my bedside table, my sarong and undergarments, my beloved Spiderman T’s, my plush Egyptian Cotton bath sheet, a bottle of Anteus and toiletries from my bathroom. In short, everything I needed to survive an ordeal in the Hospital. All this happened while I was having my 2 hour long MRI, without me having to tell him anything. It was done instinctively because I never told him anything that personal about my life before.

What would you do if life just dealt you lemons? -Vegepai, taken with Canon 550D-

I was discharged after 3 days, after being prodded, poked, scanned, echoed, referred by the Neurologist to the Ophthalmologist, the Cardiologist and the Rheumatologist. I had vasculitis of my cerebral arteries, but nobody could tell me why. Blood Pressure was borderline, Biochemistry was normal and all the tests were normal except for a through the roof Rheumatoid Factor levels.

Me and Adam, our friendship can be labeled as dysfunctional. One which blossomed amidst Hospital stays and trying circumstances. A friendship that grew stronger under the cold, bright glow of fluorescent tubes, pungent disinfectant, flurry of white uniforms and a constant reminder of our impermanence amidst disease, death and decay. Life slows down lying on a hospital bed. We opened up to one another undistracted by the barrage of calls and emails which will assail us other wise. We talked about our failures, our hopes, our dreams and snuck out after removing the infusion pump that propelled a steady dose of heparin into my circulation to have some clandestine nicotine beyond the hospital compound.

Sesame Covered Kuih Bakul from Gu Yue Tien -taken with Canon 500d-

Paradise Lost.

A year before, in 2006, he had called me up after a night of binge drinking complaining of severe abdominal pain and asked me whom he should consult. I dropped whatever I was doing and drove him to the nearest clinic. His stomach was very tender and the Doctor noted that his Blood Pressure was slightly lower. He immediately referred him to the hospital, and being in Kepong an unfamiliar terrain for me, I opted for Sungai Buluh Hospital as it is the nearest.

Armed with a letter to the Emergency Room Physician, I drove up to the Emergency Unit of the then spanking new hospital. A Medical Assistant manning the counter outside the ER read the letter, without as much as glancing at Adam, refused to register Adam at the ER and directed us to the Outpatient’s Department. He said the case was not an emergency, despite a letter written by a Doctor with more than 30 years experience running a successful practice saying otherwise.

We drove off to the Outpatient’s Clinic, dropped Adam off at the entrance with his fiancee and tried searching for an available parking space. At the registration counter, Adam was looking very pale and had cold sweats. The Nurse at the counter looked at the referral letter and looked at him. She was shocked. She told us that Adam was way too sick and is about to collapse soon. She quickly got a wheelchair for us and said that he must be seen immediately at the ER.

Sunrise along the East Coast highway -taken with Canon 550D-

Cerberus was there again, guarding the gates of Hades. Again he glanced at the letter and as Adam’s fiancee, Eve, tried to remove a wheelchair from the entrance to wheel it to the car, she was reprimanded. Cerberus said wait. He has not finished reading the letter. Eve shouted back saying that Adam was very sick. I asked Cerberus politely if it was Adam or the letter that was in risk of suffering from impending circulatory collapse, that he was spending too much time reading the same letter he had read just 20 minutes ago, and suggested that he descended from his mini throne to examine Adam instead.

Cerberus got mad, and started barking. Disgusted and extremely worried for Adam, we decided to speed off immediately to PJ for treatment at a Private Facility. There were enough F bombs in my car that afternoon to nuke an entire episode of Hell’s Kitchen. At the Private Hospital, Adam was immediately infused with some colloid expanders and a diagnosis of Bleeding Peptic Ulcer was made. He was transfused with 4 pints of blood and an Endoscope done two days later confirmed the diagnosis.

I contacted the Hospital to lodge a complaint and made a call to the State Medical Services Department. Persnickety Me followed up with a fax plus a copy of the referral letter. Dr Ang, the Deputy Director of State health Services then, promised that she would keep me followed up but the promise was not kept.  We carried on with our routine forever filled with a bitter memory of Sungai Buluh Hospital. There is nothing more exasperating than to be on the verge of death, arriving at the door for treatment and refused entry, knowing that all the resources that can make you fell better immediately was just 10 feet away. A pity, really because the structure was impressive and the surroundings green and pristine. As in big Acronyms and promises of transformation, all the best intentions are thwarted by unwilling foot soldiers. 

Oriental Building, my favourite Art-Deco Building in KL -Taken with Olympus EPL-2-

The Humans.

I have known Adam for 13 years and ours was not a friendship at first sight. He was everything I wasn’t. Loud, verbose and extremely sociable with a penchant for women and wine. That was until he found Eve, a no nonsense disciplinarian who managed to tame Adam's excesses. He and his business partners were thinking of expanding in 2005, and I was approached to write a proposal for them to obtain further funding for their fledging business but was told outright he wold not be able to pay me outright. I obliged not because I liked him, but I needed some distraction from my ailing mother and messed up personal life. Writing Business Proposals was not how I earned a living anyway.

When I relocated to KL in late 2006, he looked me up, bringing along a thick wad of cash to repay me. I refused it saying that the work done was gratis and I have already forgotten about it. He insisted and said that business had been extremely good since the cash injection and asked me if I wanted a share in the company instead. I again refused and laughed and told him to donate the money to my favourite charity. It was during his stay in the hospital that I truly got to know him and Eve and became firm friends, meeting up whenever time allowed.

Adam and Eve got married in 2008. I was not invited to the wedding, because he knows I hated big crowds, the fuss and ceremony. Instead, he threw a small dinner for me and introduced me to his parents and in laws. The following years have been good to them. They shifted to an envied post code and drove around in a German marquee, had a daughter in 2009 and moved up the middle class dream.

Turbot from Millisime -taken with Canon 550D-

The Villain.

“Can you come tonight? I have something to discuss with you.”

“Drats. I have a long day. Can we talk over the phone? Otherwise, it has to be very late,” I replied tersely distracted by my ringing mobile phone. 

“OK. Whenever you are free. Please drop by. It’s regarding Eve.”

Eve was pregnant with their second child in 2011 and Adam sounded strained. I grudgingly cancelled everything for the afternoon and evening. The effort took more than 30 phone calls, 2 hours and a bad headache. 

When I arrived, their home was abnormally quiet and still. The evening traffic and it’s occasional honking downstairs seemed loud against the background hum of air conditioning. These sounds have never been associated with their home, which is usually filled with voices murmuring and laughter plus the sound of TV playing in the background. Eve was sitting in a corner hugging their daughter. She did not look at me when I entered the living room. My heart sank. This had to be bad.

Adam handed me a piece of paper. It was Eve’s lab report.

Flower outside Cilantro Deli -taken with Canon 550D-


My eyes must scanned through that sheet about a million times, each time wishing that I have misread and hoping for a miracle, for 3 magical alphabets to appear before the word reactive. The elusive Monosyllable. NON. I felt giddy. I couldn’t say a thing. 

The roar of an avalanche followed by a chilling calm.

It took me about 5 minutes to regain my composure. Let’s do a repeat test and a Western Blot to confirm the diagnosis, I said. Sometimes, pregnancy itself causes a false positive ELISA.

Eve was referred by her Gynaecologist to Sungai Buluh Hospital. My heart sank. Bitter memories of our virginal experience there resurfaced. I called Eve’s Gynaecologist immediately but I was reassured that Sungai Buluh's Infectious Diseases Team was the best in town and it would be in Eve’s best interested to be seen there.

L'Aveline from Les Deux Garçons -taken with Olympus EPL-2-

Paradise Regained.

Not wishing to delay treatment for the baby who was in Eve’s womb, we rushed to Sungai Buluh Hospital to make an appointment. It was a trip made grudgingly under duress.

The Infectious Diseases  Clinic (ID Clinic) was busting its seams when we arrived. There were matronly aunts with anti-gravity coiffure and thin bald young men with shaven heads. Screaming kids watched over by their harassed mother accompanied their grand fathers in wheelchair. The air was thick with hope, expectation, fear and acceptance.

Every patient at the clinic was seeking a cure for the travesty of having their health violated by microorganisms. Tuberculosis and Leprosy bacteria with it’s fortress like walls. The HIV virus, which is composed of simple strands of protein. It hardly can be hardly classified as a living organism but is able to trick the host’s cells into producing more strands of viral proteins. The perfect enemy which kills its host as it commits a defiant hara kiri.

Mushroom Sandwich from Cilantro Deli -taken with Canon 550D-

We were expecting the nurses manning the clinic to be sullen and curt, but were instead greeted courteously with a smile at the counter. The Nurse said that Eve would be seen immediately because of her pregnancy. We were prepared for a long wait. Cellular network coverage was sparse. I was temporarily disconnected from the internet and the outside world.

The generally despondent mood of clinic was elevated by the calm nurses directing the patients around the maze of consultation rooms, blood drawing rooms and treatment rooms. One nurse in particular stood out, she spoke with a lisp and probably had some palate repair surgery before. She noticed that Eve was pregnant and asked if Eve was tired or hungry and wanted to have a quick lunch at the canteen. She would watch out for Eve’s queue number and hold it until Eve comes back.

I was extremely touched by this little gesture of empathy. Whatever misgivings I had about Sungai Buluh Hospital vanished and paradise has been regained.

Details from a flower at Lancang R and R on East Coast Highway -taken with Canon 550D-

Angels and Archangels.

We finally got to see Dr. Maslisa, the infectious diseases specialist at about 1:45 PM. She had been working through lunch and I had foolishly arranged a meeting with clients at 3 PM and was a bit irritated by then. She was what we envisioned as an angel sent from heaven to give us hope in an otherwise calamitous landscape wreaked with fear, desperation and hopelessness. 

Calm, knowledgeable and courteous she was empathic to my friends and went into great detail about what the disease was all about, and prepared us for what to expect. She emphasized on the importance of keeping a disciplined dosing schedule and which side effects to anticipate. She consoled my friends and prepared them for what will be a long journey and reassured that the current cocktail of anti retroviral drugs were very effective and that they would be looking forward to many, many years ahead with proper medication and monitoring.

Bearing in mind that it was well past lunch hour, we really appreciated her dedication to her vocation. Vast knowledge alone does not make a great doctor. She also had a very special gift, the ability to put patients at ease and also able to convey all the important messages firmly yet instill hope and exude warmth and empathy.

Bread selection from Millisime -Taken with Canon 550D-

We have met a very special doctor that day and received excellent and dignified treatment from the staff at the ID clinic. I wrote an email to thank the Hospital Director and included the Selangor State Director of Health Services as a recipient of the mail. Within 2 hours, I got a personal reply from Dr Azman Abu Bakar, the State Director himself, thanking me for the feedback.

There was a great transformation at Sungai Buluh Hospital and I am sure it is due to the efforts of both the administrative and clinical staff, and it wasn’t surprising at all, seeing that the State Director himself leads by example.

Malaysia’s leaders are looking for a way to transform the country, and if they wish to remain true to their objective, they should just look at Sungai Buluh Hospital and the Selangor Health Department. Forget about big acronyms, forget about appeasing the fat cats and warlords with cash. What we really need is a big dose of empathy and encouragement, plus leaders who are really committed to improving the services and are really dedicated to their resolve of putting the welfare of others before themselves.

Salmon Sandwich from Cilantro Deli -taken with Olympus EPL-2-

This story does not have a happy ending yet. Adam has been tested positive and their first daughter who was breast fed until Eve got pregnant has also been tested positive. The newborn is currently on antivirals pending confirmatory tests. I had explained in the previous that I have been very busy, too busy to blog. This is the reason.

It is not easy keeping so many appointments with the doctors. Not that I can be of much help, but I just want to be there when they get their test results, to be there during times of recrimination and anger. I try to console and encourage and try to remind them to honor appointments made with the Doctors despite their exacting schedule and also lethargy from the side effects of their medication which includes nausea and vertigo. I am sure millions of other people would be capable of doing more than what I did for a them as a friend.

Flying Dragon Fish Yee Sang from Gu Yue Tien -taken with Canon 550D-
A Digression.

I am not a perfect friend, nor do I pretend to be one. I have too many eccentricities and hang ups to function as one. Those who know me will know that I have more vices than virtues and impatience is one of them. I have also blogged a few months back that I have decided to drop some friends due their inability to respect my time, being limited enough as it is. There is a little piece at TMI that caught my attention. I disagree with the views of the author because I am one of those who with a little bit of contemplation, would remove contacts from my BB, twitter, email and social networking sites. I am ruthless at that. 

First of all I do not take my “friends” at social networking sites seriously, unless I have had a meaningful conversation or met them personally. And if I  decide to delete or unfriend you, it is usually because I feel you are an irredeemable failure at being a friend. 

One should never work at being a friend, it should be natural and effortless. It should be accepting your friend’s faults and not just tolerating them. I can’t accept time wasters. Get on with life and grow up. As for hating my enemies because you are my friend, don’t insult me. I can fight my own battles. That is not a sign of friendship. At best, it is psychotic. But in most cases, it is just drawing attention to yourself and to the fact that you have nothing better to offer at being a friend. 

Seared Scallop from Opika. -taken with Olympus EPL-2-

The world out there is filled with deluded people who think they make good friends and should never be dumped. What they really need is to take a good look at themselves in the mirror and give themselves a good reality check. Somebody unfriends you on Facebook and it's the end of the world? Call up other friends to ask for advice? Act like a kindergarten kid who complains to teacher that little Thomas doesn't want to be friends with her? Life is too good to you. Hey, there are Billions of people out there who have much bigger problems, and if you are that desirable as friend, it's their loss and not yours. Somebody does not want to befriend you because you acted like an ass wipe and couldn't muster a proper apology? Fine. Go around whining about  how uncommunicative people are nowadays and not being able to talk about problems.

The good “old fashioned” way of talking over a problem only works when there is a semblance of friendship to salvage and not to satisfy a bruised ego. To talk to a fifty year old about basic courtesies like respecting other people’s privacy and time? You are right that it is too much work. That is not working on friendship. It’s psychological counseling. Go get professional help.

All of us have different notions of friendship and sometimes when these notions collide, it is time to call it a day. For instance, some friends would require you to divulge all your information about yourself to them. They would not understand why some friends get to know your birthday or your office address and others don’t. It took Adam 6 years before I was comfortable enough to allow him into my house and knowing me for 6 months doesn’t accord you that privilege. To me that is my prerogative and it’s my own personal decision. We are just sharing a dining table and not my bed and friends should respect the boundaries I set until I feel that it is time for them to be privy to certain personal details about my life. Friendship should never be based on presumptions, and certainly not on notions of friendship based on sitcoms and TV shows.

I have absolutely no regrets for deleting people from my BBM and Twitter timeline when they cross a certain threshold. Can't get the drift and still want to whine? Fine. I tried to be subtle, now I'll say it out loud if you are really that dense. “Sod off, and go waste some other people’s time.” I have better things to do with mine.

Eggplant Salad from Erawan. -taken with Canon 550D-

Love in the time of viraemia.

Until today, I have not tried to discover where the infection was from. It must have been sometime between the conception of their first daughter until the second pregnancy. Adam and Eve passed their prenuptial blood test and Eve tested negative while conceiving their first. It does not matter to me because whatever it is, their life has changed forever. It is heart wrenching for me as a bystander to watch the unfolding events and how the virus has affected their child and totaly turned their life upside down.

My leisure time used to be filled with literary books but now it is filled with books on immunology and virology. There is no more time for lazy afternoons filled with magical realism. Instead it is filled up by dealing with facts to arm myself with enough knowledge to understand what is going on in my friends' body as they try to stave off the virus. Thanks to our recent encounters with healthcare providers at both the Infectious Diseases Clinic and Paediatrics Clinic of Sungai Buluh Hospital, I know that they are in good hands and for this I am forever grateful.

Homeless man along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman -taken with Canon 550d-
Malaysia is filled with people who will fight for the dignity of an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent supernatural being. Where are the voices for those at the finges of society? The homeless, the infirm, the oppressed and those infected by HIV?

I have over written as usual, and to those who read this post to its completion, I thank you for you indulgence in listening to me rant. I would just like to end this with a note on the title of the post.

One book struck my mind when these events unfolded. Love in the time of Cholera by Marquez. This is a breathtakingly complex book and dissects love with passion and insight, right down to the core. Love is always described as eternal. What happens when the promise of eternal love is confronted with the finiteness of human life, when it is confronted with age, disease and death? It is a very relevant book as more people are inflicted with the HIV virus by the day. 

Adam and Eve remains a loving couple despite their tribulation and I could imagine them holding hands and sailing up and down the Magdelena River against the backdrop of a magnificent sunset. Just like an aging Florentino and Fermina did, discovering their love after 51 years, 5 months and 4 days, and doomed to stay onboard a ship forever after being quarantined aboard as people infected by Cholera.

Note: The characters and events are non fictional, but I have taken some liberties as needed to protect their identity.

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Unless stated otherwise, all the posts and food here is paid for by the Paranoid Android. He dose not receive any financial compensation for posting in this blog. The views expressed here are an opinion and as usual, taste is subjective and varies among people, time and mood as well! Please feel free to contact me at humanist dot philo at gmail dot com. Unless otherwise stated, the photos here belong to the owner of this blog. You are free to use it for any non commercial purpose. As courtesy, just drop me an email and credit the photo to the blog. Thanks for dropping by!

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