Sunday, November 30, 2008


Ballerina on a Bike by humminggirl

Because I've been so wishy-washy about looking for a car, my friends have been at me to ride a bike as an alternative to all the walking I've been doing. (Perth, being the outdoor city that it is, has an amazing network of dedicated bike paths that can take anyone almost anywhere.) And since I've become fairly more fit since I got here, everyone believes I can probably handle a bike. After all, it's supposed to be a skill that you never forget once you learn it.

However, due to my inherent pessimism (and my kinesthetic stupidity), I wasn't about to buy into that last assumption blindly when I hadn't been on a bike for almost a decade. Besides, in all things there were exceptions, and I was pretty sure that the exception would be me.

For one thing, I wasn't one of those kids who grew up with a bike. My parents were on the verge of buying me one when I was around six, at the time still blissfully ignorant of the fact that their eldest child was athletically challenged. Just to see if I was ready for a bike of my own, they borrowed my next-door neighbor's bike with training wheels, put me on it - and I ended up tipping over and hitting my head on the gutter and getting knocked out. The details of that fateful afternoon are fairly sketchy to me for obvious reasons, but I do know it warranted an emergency room visit.

Needless to say, my parents never considered giving any of us bikes ever again.

After that debacle, the next time I even got near a bike was in high school. Learning to bike as an adolescent presented one major dilemma: the absence of training wheels. You just had to hop on a two-wheeler even if you didn't know squat about keeping it upright and pray you didn't tip over and get crushed under it. And we aren't even counting the humiliation factor in. Surprisingly, I did learn to bike eventually - in the parking lot of PICC on a rented BMX. And, by some miracle, managing to do so without any memorable or remarkable spills.

Me being me, I was completely charmed by the wind on my face as I rode, the relative speed of it, and being able to indulge my inner wanderlust. I was hooked, and even not having a bike of my own could stop me. Borrowing our neighbor's BMX bike, I used to tuck my hair into a cap, dress like a boy, and ride around our subdivision almost every afternoon. I even tried to move on to an adult bike - a mistake which I paid for with some considerable embarrassment when I rode into the neighborhood tennis wall because it was too high for me to stop with dignity. Despite this minor setback, I kept at it until the end of that summer - but had to give it up once school started once again. I only got to ride again a handful of times after that, when my cousins and I would hire bikes on weekend outings with the family. I'm fairly sure that I hadn't been on a bike since college, at the latest.

Hence my understandable reluctance to get on one again - let alone make it my primary mode of getting around.

Happily enough, I've just spent my afternoon proving myself wrong and the adage right.

There's a certain symmetry between past and present to have my very first bike ride in ten years on a friend's borrowed bike in an empty parking lot. With no training wheels, of course. Just armed with a helmet (required for riding anywhere in WA) and a prayer, I wobbled my way into the first round, completely forgot my brakes, and almost ended with a spill.

I may have looked like a crazy overgrown kid to all passers-by, going round and round the parking lot with no apparent purpose or destination in mind. But it was worth looking a fool to feel the speed of it again, with the wind on my face washing over my huge grin at knowing that I could still do it.

No, I'm not ready to get out on the bike paths just yet. Fingers crossed, a few more sessions in the parking lot ought to do it. But once I get the hang of things - I'll probably be on my way to owning my very first bicycle.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Limbering Up

I've just come home from a session of Body Balance, the only fitness class at the gym I attend regularly, and am feeling so loose, strong, and limber.

Many of my friends, specially the ones who knew me in high school and before, often struggle to hide their surprise when I tell them that I dabble in something that involves having to twist and stretch and push your body into funny poses. Apart from my well-vaunted reputation for athletic stupidity, I guess it's a bit difficult to imagine someone as sturdy-looking as me can be flexible enough to do the poses.

I can't blame them for it - because none of them is probably more surprised about it than me.

I was first introduced to yoga while I was studying for our medical boards a few years ago. A few friends of mine and I were bunking in to review together during the last few weeks leading to the exam and looking for a means to diffuse the stress build up in our apartment. One of them had a friend who was a real yoga master (orange robes, flowing hair and all) who was willing to come to our little HQ once a week gratis to teach us. The rest of the week, we would all wake up really early and do the sequences together on our own until he taught us a new set. It was a strange experience at first, working through the menagerie of poses named after animals that constantly challenged my often uncooperative muscles, joints, and ligaments. But I was quickly won over.

The stretches were awesome and must be experienced to be fully understood. Imagine how good you feel after one really good stretch. Multiply that great feeling by the number of muscle groups used - and that will give you a rough idea how great your body feels after a yoga work out. And as a stress-buster, the relaxation that closes each session cannot be beaten. I'd always come out of a session relaxed and centered and feeling wonderful.

The most amazing thing about it, though, was how my impossibly inflexible body actually became more pliable with every session we did. So much so that I was actually able to do my first full bridge within weeks of starting (see picture above - yes, that girl in the ratty shirt and blue jogging pants is me).

I promised myself I'd continue doing it even after the boards were over, but Real Life, as always, interfered with my good intentions. I sporadically attended classes here and there over the years - which doesn't count for much, even if it's true that your body remembers.

Body Balance is not quite as intense as yoga, but it is yoga based. This is the first time I've actually been able to do it regularly. I've been going to class two to three times a week for about three months now, and I can really see the difference it's made in my posture and my flexibility. I'm far from being capable of twisting myself into a human pretzel, but I've definitely improved a lot from baseline. And, yes, I am actually doing those back bends again!

I'm thinking of trying out a real yoga class, to get a feel of what it's like and to see if it's something I want to pursue. If that doesn't pan out, I'm quite happy with Body Balance and I highly recommend it to anyone who's starting a fitness program. It may not burn as many calories as other cardio classes, but it's really great for the body.

Okay, I'm going to take advantage of this loose and limber feeling now, get a hot shower, change into my flannel jammies, and just melt into bed. Did I already mention how amazing the post-Body Balance work out haze feels? I admit it, I'm an addict.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Smack in Mundania and Other Blah Blahs

I have a confession to make. The utterly barren landscape of my blog over the past few days cannot be accounted for the busyness of my Real Life. The fact that I've recently discovered that my parents and aunts and uncles have discovered my online sanctuary may be playing a bit of a part in it (sorry, guys, but it's true - knowing you read my blog sort of weirds me out)- but that's another story for another day.

On the contrary, for the first time in months I've been relatively free to do whatever I want with my down time without any obligations hanging over my head. My life here has settled into a routine - and I suppose that's where some of my current ennui stems from. But for some weird reason, I'm not scrambling to take advantage of this lull to explore or to do more at the moment.

So what have I been doing apart from going through my day-to-day routine? Catching up on my pulp fiction reading list, for one. Backing up my dying iPod's music files. Experimenting with making my own salad rolls. Spending entire days off (apart from going to the gym for a work out) just lying around and doing nothing. I haven't even felt like blogging!

You'd think that all this down time has given me more time for introspection and figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. But I have persevered and succeeded in avoiding that as well.

I still have no definite plans for the foreseeable future - a bit of a concern when I am going on month eleven of what was allegedly my one year "break." Thinking about the future just gives me a headache - so I've been choosing not to think about the future at all. I know, I know - wonderfully mature behavior. Obviously, I am currently embracing the identity of drifter after being a pathologic planner all of my life.

I really need to pull myself out of this pit of blahs I've suddenly fallen into and get my positive energy going again.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Different Perspectives

One of the most interesting things about living so far away from home is living and working with people from completely different cultures. And with Australia being one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, it's not hard to imagine how even my relatively limited circle of acquaintances is like a casting call for a United Colors of Benetton ad.

It's been an interesting experience.

Even the small hospital I work with is a virtual melting pot of cultures - with patients and medical staff literally coming from all over the world. As a case in point, in just my current medical team, our big boss is originally from England, one of our rotating consultants is from the Middle East, one is from Scotland. On the junior medical staff, two are from Sri Lanka, one is from India, one from Eastern Europe, and then there's the dyed-in-the-wool conservative Pinay - me!

I don't even have to stray from home to have an intelligent multi-cultural exchange - because I currently share a house with someone from Holland and another who is a genuine Aussie. This diverse mix of people has made for many interesting conversations - and has been quite an education in itself.

I guess I've always known in theory how race and culture shape who we are; but it's still an eye-opener when ideas are exchanged and I see the differences between us in a more concrete way. The food we eat, the way we think about ourselves, our jobs, the world, literally the way we approach life is under the influence of where we come from and how we have been raised.

Living and working with such a diverse group of people, it's inevitable for some ideas to clash every now and then. Negotiating the multicultural minefield can be a bit tricky. As a shallow example, something as simple as what to bring to a potluck lunch becomes a challenge when you have to consider that in the group you're feeding, some can't eat beef and some can't eat pork or anything not halal. In the context of the hospital, it's not difficult to imagine how carefully one must tread when dealing with complex issues like patient care and end-of-life scenarios.

I'm fast coming to learn that to navigate this kind of environment one needs a good dose of sensitivity. It also helps to have a tolerant nature and a sense of humor about the misconceptions and misguided notions others may have about you, your culture, and your race. But for me, the most important lesson of all is cultivating my willingness to learn from what is other and realizing that I am all the richer from being around people who are so different from me and what I have been used to all my life.

But apart from literally having my world opened up by all these new perspectives, what I find even more amazing is how much all of us actually have in common - in what we all value, what we dream, and what we love. It serves to remind me of what I often forget - that all of us are all part of the big, wonderful family called the human race sharing this little island in the Universe called Planet Earth.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

A Little Insanity

This is the reason why I have never worn my hair short and curly. And why I am glad I was still in pigtails and bows in 1986.

Since I've been going just a little bit insane over the past few weeks, the site where I made this photo composite of me (yes, that really is me!) was a bit of comic relief. I swear, I will have some sensible stories to tell in the near future about my life as an expat MD - it's just that today is not going to be that day. But I do have more silly photos!

These cat-eye glasses and curly look are circa 1960. I don't know why I felt compelled to try out all the short-curly haired templates - it must be a subconscious fashion wish of mine. Okay, we've already established that I don't do well with curly. But what about the bangs? Do you think the bangs could be a good idea?

If you're still not convinced that curly hair does not suit me, the next photo will probably convince you.

Dr. Clairebear in an Afro, style circa 1978. Where's the fashion police?

The following will reinforce some (evil) friends' tongue-in-cheek comments about my resemblance to Tracy (Nikki Blonski) in the movie "Hairspray."

I've always wanted to know how a flip-type hairdo would suit me. Now I do.

I have never actually considered dyeing my hair - but even if I ever did, I would obviously never be able to pull off being blonde. Isn't this 'do so early 90's?

Okay, okay - nearly done. I end with a look that was "in" a year before my mother was born - 1954. I can imagine it could also be my future spinster look in around, give or take, ten to twenty years from now.

But seriously - what do you guys think about my getting some bangs? :)

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sun Worship

In a country where the vast majority of the population lives on the coast, the birth of a beach culture is inevitable. And in my city on the water, where beautiful beaches beckon a stone's throw away from the urban jungle, there's no better way to spend a fine spring day just hinting of the summer to come.

It's hard not to get sucked into the outdoorsy lifestyle of Perth. Apart from the fact that the odd commercial hours make it nearly impossible to hide in a shopping mall the whole day, the lure of the wide open spaces is pretty hard to resist. And with the advent of the warm weather, outside is the place to be.

I was vividly reminded of this when I gave into the impulse to visit one of the more popular beaches on the first warm weekend of the season. My once-almost-deserted recovery room was crawling with people, winter-pale and eager to start on their summer tan. It was probably the most number of people I've ever seen in one place since I got here. Peaceful giving way to festive, quiet filled by the raucous noises of beach lovers happy to see the last of winter.

I never used to pay much attention to the weather reports at home except when it was to hope on a storm signal high enough to get classes canceled (so you can imagine that this was eons ago!). These days I find myself tuning in to the news just to see what the weather is going to be like - specially if it's going to be on a day off - so I can make plans for it. To go for a run along the river. To spend time just chilling and people watching on my favorite beach. Basically, just to be out.

If the forecast says a fine sunny day, don't bother looking for me at home. Chances are, I'll be somewhere outside, happy on my own little spot of sand or grass, worshiping the sun.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Taking It Outside

Clear blue skies. A cool spring breeze off the ocean. Pristine white sands. Turquoise water as far as the eye can see. A dedicated bike/pedestrian path along a low cliff overlooking it all.

For a dedicated beach lover and wanna-be-runner, there was probably no better setting for my very first outdoor run. At last.

Let me digress a bit just to give you a background about how I've finally gotten to this point - particularly because I almost didn't even allow myself to get this far.

If you guys remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I literally ran myself full tilt into knee trouble. Thankfully, one of the perks of working in a hospital is having physios on hand to evaluate me gratis, and after an impromptu consult, I was told what the problem was - I had almost-flat feet, with my left worse than my right. My nifty new shoes were probably not providing enough arch support for me, specially on the left. The fact that I was being TOO enthusiastic about things and escalating what I was doing almost every day without rest periods in between compounded the issue.

As a result, just a couple of weeks into my attempt at making my walking legs into running legs, I was getting symptoms of beginning runner's knee.

I was told in no uncertain terms to back off, at least until I was pain-free. I would have to go back to a lower degree of intensity in the program I was following and to take recovery days. I also had to get better arch support - or else.

Apparently, my spirit was willing, my heart and lungs were capable, but my ligaments and my feet were weak.

After being told off by the physios at work (you'd think I'd know these things being a doctor!), I had a good think about the whole running business. It was so frustrating to find out that I didn't seem to be biomechanically suited to the sport I'd chosen - after I'd already set goals for myself in it and convincing myself I could do it. Also there were, after all, a myriad other sports out there that were less impact on the knees and didn't require a person not to have flat feet - like biking and swimming - and I only had one pair of knees. I was seriously considering junking the idea altogether.

But after a few days of sulking and literally sleeping with an ice pack on my left knee, I figured I wouldn't be giving myself a fair chance if I gave up on it so quickly. So I went out and got a pair of off-the-shelf orthotics for my running shoes, (which initially felt like having golf balls under my arches but now feel great) and backed off on my treadmill work
(which meant endless workouts on the mind-blowingly boring elliptical machine for several days in lieu) until I could squat without having my left knee scream at me.

In a week, I was doing the prescribed runs on my C25K program to the letter on the days I could run - and taking full recovery days in between. I worked my way up to a full 30 minute run on the treadmill a few days ago - a little more that what I should be doing in Week 6 - but pain-free during and after. So I am being cautiously optimistic that my shoe inserts and my easing up on myself are doing the trick - and that I just may be able to continue my pursuit of this running thing after all.

To celebrate my first ever 30 minute run, I felt ready to take things outside. Hence my impulse trip to Cottesloe Beach armed with only my jogging shoes, dorky belt-bag, and one application of sunblock. (And, while off-topic, can I say again how awesome it is that I can actually commute to a beautiful beach any time I feel the urge to?)

Okay, maybe all I could work up to today was about 30 minutes of run - and a whole lot of walk (at least 5K total, I promise). Give me some time, I'm going to work my way to a solid 5K run soon and take things from there.

Nothing can take away from the reality that I actually ran along the Sunset Coast jogging path, wind cool against my face, water on one side, and open road as far as the eye can see. And I really can't imagine a better setting to discover that I can actually do something that I'd never imagined I'd ever do than this.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Boy Toy

This is Vincent - two going on three and charming as anything. Every time we are together, he makes it a point to go through my handbag and demands I give him a blow-by-blow commentary about every single thing in it. He isn't quite capable of coherent three-word sentences and can't quite pronounce my name yet, but we have managed to bond over his Megablocks and my Palm Pilot's Insaniquarium game.

And, right now, he's the closest thing I have to a steady date.

In an ironic twist of fate, it seems that my karma of being the odd single out has followed me here. I've been adopted by an awesome group of Pinoy friends, all in my general age group, great company, and who really look out for me despite my being a complete stranger to them in the beginning - and, believe me, I know just how blessed I am to have that. The only catch is - they're all paired up, three married couples - and one kid.

At the moment, I have a bit of a reprieve as another new friend has flown down from Manila recently and joined our growing circle. But her husband is coming in late November to join her - before the group sets off for some summer traveling.

Leaving me, of course, with the little charmer as my partner.

I've already asked his mother if they have any objections to betrothing him to me and allowing me to marry him once he is of age. It's more than a 20 year difference, but what's a few years in the face of true love? His parents have agreed, tongue-in-cheek, provided that I take care of all his academic expenses from Year 1 to college. The only downside is, by the time he's ready to marry me, he may already be really preparing to take care of me in my old age.

Hmmm, maybe I should offer to adopt him instead.

In the meantime, I will brush up on my three-year-old-speak, install more easy games on my Palm Pilot, and make sure I have interesting things and treats inside my purse. I may not have been born with the skill to catch the eye of grown guys - but I'm fairly sure I can keep my latest love interested in his grown up playmate!

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