Saturday, 26 January 2013

Chinese New Year Preparations

We will be celebrating the Chinese New Year soon in  February. Many people are busy making preparations, cleaning their houses, baking cookies or getting their hair trimmed. I was at the hair salon yesterday. I decided to try this new place called Spazio, recommended by my new friend, Lily.  I heard that the boss, Max is good but I could not get a last minute appointment to see him so my hair was done by his hairstylist, Jeffrey instead. The place was packed.

Chinese New Year celebrations at my house is usually quiet because I spend my time at my parents or my in-laws. I am pondering whether I should celebrate it any differently this year but I think not. I look forward to a few days of respite from the the daily grind. However, New Year is usually a busy time meeting up with friends. This is something I look forward to. I also like the festive atmosphere.

I am getting worried about my dog Oreo though. She seems to be suffering from anxiety each time it starts to rain or hears loud sounds. Firecrackers will be the major problem soon. Recently, she tried to jump over the fence to the neighbour's again and chew herself out from her cage. I am at loss what to do. My cat, Toffee seems to have shifted home to be with her mother, two rows in front of our house. We drop by to see her now and then,  I think she left because she does not get along with the two male cats, Checkers and Caramel. Well, as long as she is well taken care of, I am happy.

I am feeling a bit depressed this morning. The mother of six-year-old William Yau confirmed that the body of a boy found in Port Klang yesterday is her son. My heart goes out to her and all the innocent children who get abused, tortured and killed. Life is so precious. Something is seriously wrong with this world. Let us all say prayers for him and his family, in our own way.

To  Sze, CP, KBT, KH, Cindi, Kok Piew, Teacher A, Kak Siti, Valkyrie, Micheal, Mike, Evelyn, Gan, Brother Lim, Justin  and other readers, I wish you an equally enjoyable time preparing for the coming Chinese New Year and if not celebrating,  a good time during these coming holidays.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Those Teenage Years

Just two days ago, I chatted over lunch with a lovely 21 year old girl. Lily is a university student, working temporarily to earn some pocket money during her semester break. Though it was our first conversation, she was very candid with me. Our chat touched  on her teenage years and how she handled her school life. The subject of boy-girl relationships was the core of our conversation.

I think the teenage years are years of surging hormones, discovery and experimentation. There is a strong need for acceptance from peers. Everything is new and interesting especially the opposite sex. During this time, they can be rather short-sighted and costly mistakes  made. While it is natural and healthy to have an interest in the opposite sex, I know of teenagers who have had relationships at the expense of their studies.  Lily admitted that she has regrets because she could have done much better in her studies, had she not been involved with her boyfriend whilst in school.

Lily revealed that she wanted to confide in her mother but  felt she couldn't. She thought her mother was too strict and  would object. According to her, she would also like to be able to discuss sexual issues with her mother. I totally empathise with her situation. I could not confide in my mother too when I was her age. Now, I am sitting on the other side, as a parent. I asked her what she would do differently if she were her mother.  I shared with Lily, lessons that I learned on hindsight from my teenage years.  She said that she wished she could talk to her mother in the same way, as with me.

I think there is somehow this great divide between most parents and their children. As a parent, how would you react if your 16 year old schooling daughter shares that she is thinking of being sexually intimate with a boy? Or when your 15 year old son tells you he has met a girl he has romantic feelings for and intends to start a relationship?

I face the same dilemma many parents do. There are certain behaviours which we do not condone. Yet how do we not allow these differences to come  between our  relationship with our children? How do I guide my child yet communicate my views across without sounding imposing and judgmental? Because in order to get someone to confide in us, we have to create a safe environment where they know they will not be judged. Sharing allows us to connect on a deeper level. We may then have the opportunity to teach them something that will help them navigate their lives.

As parents, we have to put our fears aside so that we can participate in our children's lives. It is a journey of discovery and experimentation too, being a parent. There is much to learn.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

HPV vaccination for cervical cancer (Part Two of Two)

There is some controversy regarding the HPV vaccination primarily because of its side effects. Minor side effects are pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and fainting. However, there have been reported cases of vaccination deaths, serious side effects such as neurological reactions, paralysis, speech problems and blindness.

"Reports from Judicial Watch of USA stated that between May 2009 and September 2010, 16 deaths after Gardasil vaccination were reported. For that timeframe, there were also 789 reports of "serious" Gardasil adverse reactions, including 213 cases of permanent disability and 25 diagnosed cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome. While it is not clear exactly what is causing so many adverse reactions, it is said that Gardasil contains genetically engineered virus-like protein particles as well as aluminum, which can affect immune function. Judge for yourselves the validity of information at

Further, according to the product information insert, it has not been evaluated for the potential to cause carcinogenicity or genotoxicity.i.e. its potential to cause cancer or to be toxic to genes. Thus, no one knows the effects of the HPV vaccine yet because from reports, clinical trials were carried out only for up to 5 years. The recommended age of vaccination in western countries is from 9 to 26 years old because 24% of females report being sexually active by age 15 years, 40% by age 16 years, and 70% by age 18 years in the United States. Does this same statistics apply in Malaysia?

Dr Diane M Harper, scientist, physician, professor and the director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group in the US and a lead researcher who spent 20 years developing the vaccine for the human papilloma virus said "Duration of efficacy is key to the entire question. If duration is at least fifteen years, then vaccinating 11-year-old girls will protect them until they are 26 and will prevent some precancers, but postpone most cancers. If duration of efficacy is less than fifteen years, then no cancers are prevented, only postponed. According to her ‘data available for Gardasil shows that efficacy lasts five years; there is no data showing that it remains effective beyond five years.’ Read more at

Is it necessary to vaccinate all 13 year olds given that the protection is for a period of 5 years only?. Thereafter, there is as yet, no mention of booster shots. Even if we were to remove the short term side effects issue from the discussion, if the efficacy is only for 5 years, our daughters would be protected till 18 years old against 70% of cervical cancers.  The question is whether we expect them to be sexually active within these 5 years. And what are the longer term side effects such as carcinogenicity and gene toxicity which have not been evaluated?

Do we want to expose them  to the  risks given that within these 5 years, the vaccination may not even be necessary for them? An option is to take a cautious approach to evaluate the longer term side effects which may emerge over time. I am not  taking a stand against anyone or any organisation because we all have our own choices to make. However, it is always best to do more research and evaluate for ourselves before we commit to the vaccination. Weigh the risks against the benefits. Take away the politics, take away the consumerism, it is the safety and health of our daughters that is at stake.

For further reading:-
1. Consumer Association
2. New England Journal of Medicine

Saturday, 19 January 2013

HPV vaccination for cervical cancer (Part One of Two)

I am writing this post because of my school-going daughter. I received a letter from her school requesting the consent of parents for HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination of 13 year old girls. The Government has been providing free HPV vaccinations for the prevention of cervical cancer for 13-year-old girls after Budget 2012. Most parents in her school have consented. When I hesitated, she asked me for my reasons and I believe I owe her an explanation.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a virus that is passed on by sexual activity. It needn't be actual sexual intercourse: HPV can also be transmitted by oral-genital sex. There are more than 100 different sub-types of HPV, grouped into (i) high-risk types (may cause cancer) and (ii) low risk types (non-cancer causing). For  most people the virus clears up on its own, but for some it can cause vaginal and vulvar cancers in women and anal cancer and genital warts in men and women. Since there is no way to predict who will clear or not clear the virus, the vaccine is a very efficient way to cut down incidences of cervical cancer.

Two HPV vaccines are currently on the market: Gardasil and Cervarix.:-

Gardasil works against four HPV types. HPV 16 and 18 are responsible for around 70 per cent of cervical cancers, whereas HPV 6 and 11 are responsible for around 90 per cent of genital warts, but are not associated with cervical cancer. Anyone who is severely allergic to yeast, should not receive the vaccine. It is not for women who are pregnant.

Cervarix protects against two HPV types 16 and 18, but no others. So again, it offers in the region of 70 per cent protection against cervical cancer. Also, since both the vaccines are effective against 70%  of cervical cancers and will not block infection with all of the HPV types that can cause cervical cancer, the vaccine should not be considered a substitute for routine pap smears.

It is important for girls to get HPV vaccine before their first sexual contact -- because they have not been exposed to HPV yet. However, if a female is already infected with a type of HPV, the vaccine will not help prevent a disease resulting from that HPV type. The vaccines may not fully protect everyone, nor will it protect against diseases caused by other HPV types or against diseases not caused by HPV. They do not prevent all types of cervical cancer.  They are also not treatments for cancer and genital warts.

Tomorrow, we will look at the controversy surrounding these vaccines.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


Since I came back from India, I have been busy catching up with work and  family. With  the  New Year, there have been changes to my daughter's schooling schedule. Motherhood, as with every other role we assume in life, is what we make of it. I have met the most dedicated of mothers and also those who take it rather matter of factly. There is no right or wrong approach to parenting. It is a matter of priorities and choices. We reap what we sow.

I took a break in my career to bring up my daughter when she was born. It was a decision that took my ex-colleagues and friends by surprise. I think it was a choice that went against the grain of normal expectations. My closest friends understood but some others questioned how I could give up my potential earnings and a promising career. If you look at it solely from the financial perspective, what they say is true. Maybe, I am not that wise about money though I am a trained accountant.

Early childhood is the most intensive period of brain development during the lifespan. Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child's brain, and the first three years are the most critical in shaping the child's brain architecture. Children learn more quickly during their early years than at any other time in life. They need love and nurturing to develop a sense of trust and security that turns into confidence as they grow. Babies and young children grow, learn and develop rapidly when they receive love and affection, attention, encouragement and mental stimulation, as well as nutritious meals and good health care.

I wanted  to be closely involved in my child's development at this time. Thus, choices had to be made. We cannot always have the cake and eat it too. Something has got to give. It was not easy to survive as a single income family so we cut back on luxuries. I did not have a maid and coped on my own. I found it challenging because I really had no idea how to be a good mother. People usually consciously or unconsciously parent in the same way as their parents or if they have had  unhappy experiences, compensate for it by doing the opposite of their parents. Like many modern parents, I read up on parenting when I became pregnant.

The years spent staying home, nurturing my daughter have been the most treasured years of my life.  I have watched her develop from milestone to milestone with much pride. Motherhood is by far, the more satisfying and fulfulling job. It is a lifelong commitment and responsibility being a parent. It is a tiring, difficult, rewarding, beautiful process and I regard it a gift to have a hand in shaping the life of another human being. A gift that could so easily be taken for granted.

There are more and more women, some highly educated who have opted to be stay-at-home mothers. Besides this, there are others who have taken career breaks to attend to their parents, family or their health matters. I understand their challenges and sacrifices and I support their courage and foresight. Life is more than just about earnings, it is also about living, sharing, giving and forging bonds.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Are We Feeling Guilty Today?

Guilt is a complicated emotion. When does guilt arise? Guilt usually arises when we behave in a way that falls below our moral and ethical standards. We often experience guilt for something we did or say, or wanted to do or say but failed to.

In the overall scheme of emotions, guilt is in the general category of negative feeling states. It is a feeling we have been so familiar with that we think it is natural. Is guilt learned or is it inborn? Could it be that it has been programmed and conditioned into us since we were small children? Does a baby feel guilty when it keeps you awake through the night with its crying? Do toddlers feel guilty when they break your prized possessions? Or do they start crying only after you scold them and tell them that what they have done is wrong? Many a time, a child does not "feel guilty" until someone tells her that she has offended someone or hurt someone's so called "feelings."

Because guilt can be insidious and subtle, it is often used to manipulate others to do our bidding. Words are designed to make the victim feel shameful and bad if they do not comply. And because guilt is instilled by the people closest to us, we accept it without question when we are young. It is very common for parents to use guilt to condition their children. Irrespective of whether it is done with good intention, guilt is used. "I sacrificed so much for you, so how could you study dance instead of medicine?"As parents, are we teaching our children to comply in order to avoid feeling guilty? What real values are we teaching them in the long run?

Society and religion also imposes many standards of acceptable behaviour, thus more guilt again if we deviate. Guilt also keeps us from being honest with ourselves. Recently, my colleague told a lie in the course of work. He confessed to feeling terribly guilty and talked about this guilt for the next few hours. When I asked him why he lied, he avoided my question. I felt he was indulging in guilt to avoid facing the truth about himself.

Some people think of guilt as their voice of conscience. Thus, good people "should" feel bad, as in my colleague's case. It is said that "appropriate" guilt spurs us to learn and change from our mistakes. However, without honesty, we continue to hide our true intentions from ourselves. Without drilling down to the root cause of why we lied, how then can we hope to avoid repeating the same act? Is mere guilt helpful then towards change? Or is it the twisted need to inflict punishment on ourselves because we are not willing to change? For prolonged periods, guilt keeps us in bondage when we keep ruminating about the past.

Guilt is an emotion that has to be managed. We have to ask ourselves whether guilt is beneficial in our personal growth. Is it that we have forgotten that life is a big learning process? The guidelines set by our religions are standards that we are striving to work towards daily. Is it helpful to be wrecked with guilt when we fail to live up to that perfection?  Or is it that we cannot trust ourselves to learn the same things when we treat ourselves in a kinder and more compassionate manner? Our children too.

Before we start to feel guilty, there is always a moment when we judge ourselves to be wrong. Are we aware whose standards we are judging ourselves against? Is it our own internal barometer or have those standards been programmed by others?

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Traditional Tibetan Medicine

Traditional Tibetan medicine (TTM) is a traditional system of medicine which has been practiced for over 2500 years.  It is a natural and holistic medical science, which addresses the individual’s needs of body, mind and spirit, in an integrated way. It is one of the five major sciences, and it is called gSoba Rig-pa, the science of healing. It uses different kinds of ingredients such as herbs, trees, rocks, resins, soils, precious metals, saps etc. However, 95% of Tibetan medicine is based on herbs, and precious metals are used for the seven kinds of precious pill known as Rinchesen rilpo. If the physician is able to make the right diagnosis and administer the right medicine, then Tibetan medicine is good for all kinds of illness. However, it has been particularly successful in its treatment of chronic diseases such as rheumatism, arthritis, ulcers, chronic digestive problems, asthma, hepatitis, eczema, liver problems, sinus problems, anxiety and problems connected with the nervous system.

TTM is still practiced today although Tibetans are now in exile. The headquarters of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute are now based in Dharamsala, North India. It is here that all the Tibetan doctors now receive all their training, and it is also where the medicines are manufactured. 

The period of training before one qualifies as a Tibetan doctor is for a minimum of seven years. The first four years of training are taken up with studying the four main medical tantras, the classic of ancient Tibeten medical theory, where they have to memorize approximately forty specific chapters. One month each year is also spent collecting herbs in the Himalayas. In addition to studying the medical texts they also have to study Tibetan linguistics, grammar, poetry and have a complete understanding of basic Tibetan Buddhist teaching. In the fifth year they have to take both oral and written exams on the four medical tantras and at the end of the fifth year they take the Medicine Buddha initiation. The sixth and seventh years are spent at a branch clinic of the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute where practical training is given in pulse reading, urinalysis and dealing with patients. followed by practice under supervision.

When I was in  Mundgod, India, a kind friend brought me to consult an experienced traditional Tibetan doctor. Traditional Tibetan medicine is rarely heard of in Malaysia but as one who has much interest in alternative medicine, I decided to give it a try. Tibetan doctors employ a complex approach to diagnosis, incorporating techniques such as pulse analysis and urinalysis, and utilize behavior and dietary modification, medicines and physical therapies including Tibetan acupuncture and heat to treat illness.
On that day, the doctor palpated my pulse on both hands at the same time.  Unlike traditional Chinese medicine that is based on yin and yang, Tibetan medicine considers the balance of three principles - heat, cold and circulation - as the foundation of health. After the pulse reading, he went on to confirm his diagnosis of my health condition by interrogation. I found his diagnosis quite accurate. I was prescribed round black and brown pills to be consumed thrice a day and a powder for my cough. The way to take them is to grind the pills into a powder and mix with warm water, taken after meals.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Home Sweet Home

Nami Island, location of the filming of "Winter Sonata"

My recent trip to Korea was a trip organised by my company. I had wanted to go wihout my family because it would be quite costly but after my neighbour reminded me that our children grow up just too fast, I decided to bring my family along. I knew I would miss them if I left them behind. My daughter would be thrilled playing in the snow and it would be my family's first winter together.

It was a packaged tour that was not very well organised. The itinerary was changed without prior consultation. It certainly was not the relaxing holiday I wished for, since I had just recovered from my flu. I found the 6 am wake up calls, a bit early for a holiday. The tour guide constantly hurried us and scolded us if we do not keep to his time. We were scolded after we spent a bit "too much time" at the War Museum. We were given only 15 minutes at the War Museum but an hour at the ginseng shop.  The priority was on how much commissions the agents would earn from our purchases. On the last day, we were told to wake up at 3.30am for our flight home at 9.30am. Along the way to the airport, they dropped us at a shopping outlet to make more purchases, instead of taking us for breakfast. I was speechless.

Nevertheless, nothing could have taken away my joy at watching the falling snow. My daughter and I had a snowball fight. The beauty of Nami Island and Mount Sorak kept me captivated. Nami Island is a popular tourist spot because it is the location for the filming of the famous Korean drama, "Winter Sonata." The breathtaking scenery was well worth the trip.  I did not find Seoul particularly interesting, however.  With the exception of Korean cosmetics, most things were rather expensive.  My female colleagues went on a shopping spree. Laneige was a favourite brand. 
The Palace
Nami Island
There really is no place like home. It is so true. I am so glad to be back in the warmth of our country. It is probably because I am not used to being wrapped in  5 to 6 layers of clothing each time I walk outside. Korean winter is known to be harsh. The snow is slippery and a number of us fell down including myself and my daughter. One of my colleagues had a bad fall and  spent some RM800 on medical consultation. Some people say that  packaged tours are so hectic that we need another break just to recover.  A few of my colleagues are not feeling well after coming back. The unanimous vote is, no more winter trips for the company staff!

All in all, it was an opportunity to have a totally new experience for us. I can't say I love Korea but I enjoyed some extraordinarily beautiful scenery and the falling snow. And I am always mindful, thankful and grateful for the opportunity to travel.

Mount Sorak

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year 2013!!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year 2013. May the New Year bring you an abundance of peace, wealth and happiness!