Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fuck that back - I'm high on painkillers

So it is, on a gloomy Sunday morning, when I woke up to excruciating pain in my right lower back.  The same pain that started last Thursday but kind of subsided the next day.  As I painstakingly hauled myself off the bed, each movement eliciting a small yelp of pain, each move of limbs like an ageing 80-year-old grandma, I felt the world spinning, the vision blurred and stars appeared.  As I brushed my teeth, I felt myself slowly but surely crumbling to the floor, slowly to be engulfed by darkness.  That was when I knew.  I knew I couldn't move. I couldn't brush my teeth.  With the lightning speed of a crutches holding grandma, I went back to bed, trying out every possible position - left, right, center, back flat, tummy flat, curling like a foetus, trying to get comfortable and squeeze in a little bit of sleep to fight the dizziness.  None worked.  The pain persisted.  There were times when, if I hold my breathe for a moment, I can get 5 seconds of peace, of nirvana where the pain temporarily cease to exist for that magical moment and I felt normal for once.  I did that for long periods of time, to kid myself into believing all is not lost.  But, although I don't use much air when diving, I can't possibly not breathe for long.  And the pain eventually hits back with a vengeance.  A fucking mad man on a vengeance run. 
What happened?  If I had an answer, I would not be feeling so lost!
It all started on a kinda ok Thursday in the office.  I was in the office, doing my usual thing, not exerting any pressure of force.  I took the shuttle bus to lunch, still healthy and kicking and jumping.  When I finally arrived at FOOD, my hand automatically went to grasp my right lower back, by the side when the pain first hit.  I shook it off, thinking maybe just my imagination or just something that will pass.  As I walked along the food feast, all the food suddenly did not appeal to me at all as time and again, I find myself clutching tight to my right lower back.  Not the spinal cord, but the right of it.  The pain did not go away, and each step I took felt like thousand knives stabbing at me.  A friend told me to be careful as one of his friend got hospitalized for 3 days due to mysterious back pain.  I was scared.  As the day past, it seemed as if the pain would go away. I had no trouble really walking or sleeping.  As it was, I felt good enough to play tennis the next day!  I know now that people will lament the fact that I deserved it. I should have known better than to play tennis.  But I did know!  He pain was gone, I felt fine, and when I did play tennis, my movements were not restricted.  Though a little stiff, but no problems at all.
Then came Saturday, when I only felt muscle ache along my thighs and no where else!  So I thought I must be fine!  Who knew, the back pain decided to punish me for whatever reason unbeknown to me.  That was when on a Saturday night, I tossed and turned, trying to find the best position to sleep.  It started out well, but crisis happened in the middle of the night, when just by laying there, the pain stabbed me hard!  So hard it was difficult to breathe.  So hard it was difficult to sleep as pain kept me up.  I tried holding my breath, but I can only hold that many times.  Sleep came and go intermittently.  It felt like someone snapped my muscle tendons and a thousand knights were trampling on the snapped tendons like crumbling tofu.
So it is, that I'm sitting hunched by my laptop, typing this, leaving a legacy in the event that you don't hear from me.  It is Sunday, there are no X-ray facilities or any form of scanning facilities open in the country called Singapore.  I can only get more painkillers and see what the doc says.  It is the sort of pain that makes me go "Just fucking kill me and end my misery".  Exactly the same feeling I got back in Jan 2013 when I got really sick, with a fucking migraine and fainting spell.  These are the times, when you just want to fucking not feel a thing.  Like when your life fucks you up, your work destroying your mere existence, people around you hurting you left, right and center, when your heart breaks into a million pieces.  These are the times, when I go "I don't want to feel a thing".  It happened too many times in 2012.  I told myself I'm not going to let it happen this year.  Of course, any attempt is futile.  You know life plays its own games, and you have no say in any of the games and rules of life.  At least so far, I have tried to protect myself from emotional pain.  Believe me I have tried, and it is not easy.  The heart is always rebellious.  But I've tried to condition it to the frequency of my brain.  There has been near misses but no major disaster YET.  Learn to pull away when an impending disaster seems to loom. 
But physical pain?  Shit!  That really sucks.  How do you distance yourself away from physical pain? Maybe morphine helps. For those who know me, I have a pretty high tolerance level for pain.  I've cut myself deep with a knife, crushed my ankle, scrapped my chin oh too many times, and not a single tear shed.  I've always tried to hide the injuries, more out of fear than pain.  Fear of letting my parents know I've once again injured myself, and they'll get all worked up and upset.  So I tend not to tell anyone, and heal myself of the injuries, eventually.  This time, I tried and I failed.  I am scared, still am.  When the pain is so not tolerable that every single slight movement makes me cringe, I am scared.  Scared of what is happening, scared of what may happen.  When the pain is unknown, it creates another vile of secrecy and fear.  Fear of the unknown is always the most potent fear.  At one point, I almost cried in pain.  That says a lot about the agony I am in right now.  And for the first time, I told my mum I needed to see a doctor because of back pain.  I reckoned there is no way I can hide this one away, seeing that I walk like a grandma, back hunched, hand clutching the back and walking like a snail. 
The trip to the doc's earned me a haul of painkillers.  5 Types in fact.  I asked the doc "Are the painkillers strong, like really strong? Cos it fucking hurts like hell!" Ok, so I didn't use the 'F' word, nor the 'H' word, but I think I conveyed the message.  He gave me a smile and went on to put more line items in the prescription and said "These should work".  I would have liked to be shot in the back, instant gratification probably, but I'll let the medicines do their work first.  The diagnosis - Inconclusive.  Possibly muscle strain, but let's see how it heals in the next few days.  And I got myself 2 days of medical leave to rest my fucking back.  That's a plus. At least I'm not busy at my work place, so I can rest.  It will be kinda boring though, seeing that I'm like a vessel restricted in her ability to manoeuver.  Which probably means I'll be glued to the TV most of the time, watching TV series and sitcoms.  Wasting my time away. 
I just want to get better, and I have to believe that I will.  Don't worry.  A little back pain is not going to kill me.  It might murder me though...

Monday, June 24, 2013

Riots, Haze and Fun Times

I'm back home, after finally completed my first business assignment in my newly minted position. My butt was overheated from sticking to the office chair for too long, itching to lift off.  Jakarta was the city, not my favourite city but was glad to be going somewhere, and close enough to have my visitor drop by.

Notoriously famous for its traffic, day in day out, we experienced it going to and back from the factory.  A 20min journey takes 1H in traffic. I don't mind distance, but I fucking hate being stuck in traffic not knowing what's ahead and why. I might have been rusty in operational audits, but just like diving, it comes back slowly and surely as the days go by.  People were nice and cooperative, which for sure made the whole process much more enjoyable.  

The first week went by, pretty boring and standard stuff. Waiting for the weekend which was supposed to bring fun with a visitor coming, but as fate would have it, it was reduced down to a weekend of pretty much just watching movies and sitcoms in my hotel room alone.  Of course, I tried to force myself to sleep and catch up on sleep, but as always, sleep eludes me. Which is annoying! I'm away from home, no parents in sight, in an air-conditioned room with a big bed, and yet I still can't sleep.  Oh well, I figured Kimiko is my only solution but not happening over the weekend.

Just when I thought the week is not getting any more interesting, we were told there was a demonstration in the factory area, all roads were closed and we were advised not to go to work! Woohoo! No Monday Blues then! Yup, as fate would have it yet again, Indonesia decided to create some noise to strike against fuel price increase and coupled with our dear neighbour factory's dispute with workers, the union came out full force on Monday, blocking our way to work.  It all sounded so bloody exciting and interesting, and I could only get pictures sent in from my fellow auditee stuck in the factory showing the crowd gathered outside.  And so it was, another day spent in my hotel room, obviously working as well!

And just on the exact same day, the country I'm stationed in gave a nice present to the country I'm from!  Suddenly everywhere on Facebook, every single post on Facebook, by every single Friend from Singapore on Facebook was about just one topic - HAZE!  I never thought I would hear that word again, not when there was nothing mentioned last year and for quite some time.  As if on que with the demonstration, the world decided one demonstration was not enough, we need more news to show the world who we are!  So it was that HAZE index rose day after day after day, quite unlike the ST index.  And there I was, staying in Indonesia, breathing in fresh air and looking into clear blue skies, while my country mates suffer in the haze.  I did give a little smirk, sorry for being insensitive, but the irony of it was not lost on me.  It is just a little funny that the clean and green city was not as clean and green at that moment.  And so it was, that facebook became so boring for 5 days.  No surprising news about someone getting married out of the blue, so someone getting pregnant suddenly.  Because all I read about was Haze, Haze and more Haze.  But you know, Singapore has nothing much going in terms of exciting news, so I guess Haze is a topic that gets all citizens riled up. That's not often, which is good in a way.  But when it happens, everyone is talking about it.

Then I started to realize, everytime something really catastrophic happened in Singapore, I seem to be distinctly out of the picture!  The time when the MRT broke down nation-wide - Not in Singapore.  The time when massive flooding occurred in lots of area of Singapore - Not in Singapore.  This time the terrible Haze - Not in Singapore (as yet).  Count myself lucky to read about the misfortunates and not witness them.  And I shall not gloat about it because I do not wish to jinx it!

There were times of uncertainty in the factory, not knowing if the workers will come out again, and we were herded out of the factory early on some days to avoid being caught in any unfortunate incidents.  I tried to snap a picture of the small crowd gathered next door on Wednesday but my auditee kept advising against it.  Even my manager.  So with a security guard escorting me, I stood like 200m away from the real action, and didn't even had a good view of the crowd.  Still at least I was allowed to look for like 10sec.  Then another thought came to me - I was more excited about the fact that there was a demonstration than the fact that I need to work!  Go figure!

And then, I had a great second week in Jakarta.  The city sucks, still sucks.  Terrible traffic, and just didn't attract me much.  Just like Manila is to me.  Well, maybe Manila is slightly better than Jakarta, but still not my favourite cities. But I had fun towards the end of my trip.  The intrepid explorer from Lostbuanbajo came, and it was nice to have someone to explore the city with, have fun and to meet again! The drunken Russian couldn't make it in time though, could have been explosive and Legen-wait for it-dary if the 3 of us got together.  I can only think of one thing - ARAK. Oh and maybe just getting high :) But I know you got my virtual hug back in Bali.  It took the domestic flight from Jakarta and was delivered safely (what I was told).  If not, put a rain check on it.

If not for intrepid explorer, I would have been banned from taking the Trans Jakarta bus or any form of transport that is NOT the Blue Bird taxi.  And I have learnt not to tell/ask for suggestions from my client or colleagues because the only answer I will get is "NO, you cannot".  Fine.  A note on Trans Jakarta bus service.  I was impressed!  They are cool!  In a city like Jakarta, this bus system is like the Apple of the computer/IT world!  Air-conditioned, nicely maintained buses that run pretty often enough along selected routes, in dedicated lanes (means only the buses are allowed).  Good for escaping the traffic! And the network is pretty impressive too!  Not to mention for a price of IDR3,500, you get to travel the entire network as long as you do not exit the gantry!  Many of the main tourists spots or city centers are connected by the buses.  It is not that difficult to navigate once you get the map, but of cos the stations are not named after the landmark or specific locations, so you have to ask for the nearest stations.  Which may not always be true, given how different Indonesians give different answers.  But way cool!  A note - the section of the bus from the driver to the middle cabin is designated for women only! So no men allowed to sit in that section.  Which apparently, we found out too late.  Yup that was the cause for the pointing, staring and mumblings for all the aunties on board.    Yes, sexual harassment apparently is a major concern - for both the men and women probably.

Just when it couldn't get any better, on our last day, the factory closed as there was a planned demonstration of 3,000 protestors in the area.  I had hoped for the demonstration to come out more often during the week so I can skip going to the factory, but they decided Friday is the day they like best!  So we had a meeting in a cafe near our hotel.  But luckily that did not hinder our journey to the airport. Just when we were about to head home, the fucking PSI jumped to 400 that day.  And when I got off the airport, the second I stepped into the world's best airport, the stench hit me hard!  Even the world's best airport couldn't do anything.  And I thought to myself - Fuck, should have gone to Bali instead.  But unfortunately, Bali and Flores have to wait.  But I'll go back.  Hopefully soon enough.  I need my dose of the sea. Ah, maybe Bali not so soon.  But Flores maybe, for my rescue.

And of course, I remembered I had to come back for my powerboat course! Which I just completed.  2 day of intense theory lesson (which was as dry as paper), and a fun practical day out in the sea!  That was fun! The instructor gave us each a minute to speed across the water at full speed and the rush of air and smell of the sea was exhilarating!  And now, I have been certified as having completed my course.  Next step - take the fucking theory which only has a 50% passing rate, and you have to get 26 our of 30 questions correct!  Like the instructor said - Singapore has the highest criteria in the world because we always want to be number 1.  Yea right.  Damn it!  I now get 1 month to study for my theory.  So I need to start speaking marine.  No time to slack, have to get it right.  Practical comes after I tackle my theory.  Say, I haven't studied for years!  I think I can restart my brain.  Hopefully. After theory comes practical and I will become a certified skipper! When I get a boat, it will have a sundeck.  There is naked beach, and there is naked sundeck.  On my sundeck, it will be nude-tanning only.  Only Hunks Need Apply, Strict Conditions Apply.  Bikini babes are To Be Considered only.

Lo and behold, I am fucking tired again after I came back.  Alas, the week of good sleep was only temporary.  Solutions, Solutions, Solutions.  Maybe I do need Kimiko.  

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Of Baking and Me

The baking spirit within has been reignited, like a dormant volcano erupting.  Once, I was so passionate about baking that I baked very often - Cheesecakes (oreo, original, Japanese), Kaya Cake, Mango Cake, Muffins, Banana Bread, Choc Chip Cookies (my signature) etc.. I have books of recipes tucked in my cupboard.  Then, all of a sudden, that passionate died down and I kind of stopped baking, except for the choc chip cookies which I still baked once a year, until recent years when I stopped. 
Now, I'm back! With a vengeance. Kinda.  The problem with me stopping baking is because I don't eat what I bake, so if there's no occasion or anyone to give the baked goods to, no use baking.  It is with renewed passion and a drive that I have started to bake again, this time only trying Nonya cakes.  It is a do or die, no room for failure attitude that I have to take, for this is something I must master hopefully to perfection or at least reasonably good standards.  Bengawan Solo? I don't dare to dream now, but hopefully good enough for the mass public.  Of course, I have guinea pigs who have volunteered themselves to try out the results.
So far, I have tried 3 different baked goods:
Tapioca Cake
The Tapioca Cake, which was a success!! I'm happy with the results.  But this is a very labour intensive process.  Had to manually grate 1kg of tapioca using a hand held grater.  30mins of pure grit and muscle to whittle down the tough tapioca into strands.  But I'm happy that the taste is good.

Pandan Cake

 Second attempt at Pandan Cake.  The first attempt was too sweet and too wet.  Taste was ok but not up to standard.  Second time - Better!  The colour is more realistic, and drier texture.  Sweetness ok but not sweet enough for the kids.  Next time, work harder on getting it fluffier.
Ondeh Ondeh
Ondeh Ondeh - A small devilish ball of flour + sweet potato puree with a burst of melted Gula Melaka within.  I love this.  Relatively easy to make but hard to master that burst of melted sugar when you bite into these in your mouth.  I still have yet to master it entirely.  There is a burst but only a small burst, and at times, the liquid sugar just flows out instead.  Need to grasp the correct proportion of sugar and dough mix to make the experience a little better.
Nice to be baking again.  Gets me into the zone when I'm in the 'baking' mode, where I just concentrate on getting the ingredients right and nothing else.  Then slump into my chair and wait...
Next week, what should I make?