Pause.

Two days ago, I felt both my breath and heart pause as I noticed the subject line of one of my emails. At first glance, I thought that the email, announcing a Facebook message, was simply spam and my mouse hovered over the delete button. But curiosity set in, and before I could stop myself, I opened this message that was sent at 2 AM and was completely thrown off balance.

I have been in love once before. It was hard, fast, and all-consuming. And whenever I told someone, they would shrug it off as a petty crush and nothing more. But I felt something – I knew something was there and the pull between us was indescribable. It wasn’t some big secret either, everyone and anyone could sense our chemistry. But we both came from strict households and therefore neither of us could ever dream of pursuing an interest. But the thing is, and it has been dawning on me more and more after reading this message, we may have been the best of friends, but I certainly wasn’t treated with due respect. And I think my love for him was what masked this unacceptable behavior.

He was intelligent, quirky, quick-witted, and had a thirst for knowledge that I found enthralling. I have always been clever, but in his presence, I pushed myself even further both academically and socially, tapping into potential I did not realize I had. He was the first person I spoke to when I woke up and the last person I said good night to before I went to bed. There was never a dull moment between us because there was always something to discuss, something to debate on. But with the wit, came the subtle insults. Crass speech that I didn’t particularly care for, but despite my protests, he would use regardless. Back then, I was the type of girl who didn’t utter a single term of profanity – so I understood that not everyone would abide by my moral standards. But it wasn’t just the speech, it was the words that were thrown at me. I had never cried over someone until he walked into my life. Words – hurtful, despicable language – cloaked in jargon so sesquipedalian, that I felt both insignificant and moronic simultaneously.

We were not in a relationship. We were not lovers, nor were we anything but close friends. But under that shield of “friendship”, I was in love with him, and so I took in what I could, without any reprimands and without walking away. All this time, all these years, I didn’t see it for what it was. I’m not sure – maybe because in my head, I associated it with solid relationships? Familial, martial – relationships of that sort. But in actuality, abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, mental – can happen between anyone and at any time. Certainly between friends, most certainly between close friends.

I fell in love with him, and for seven years of my life, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. As if I was looking through a window, I witnessed my demeanor shift and change and watched as my thoughts grew darker with every interaction.  I tried to move on from him as quickly as possibly. I tried to cut ties, and when that failed, I tried to become friends again. That chemistry between us, that never died, but now looking back, neither did his behavior toward me. My thoughts were discounted and my gender was used against me more often that not – I was patronized for the beliefs I held. Sure, there was some support – some words of encouragement, but just around the corner was another belittling statement.

Last year, with the end of school, I finally was able to let go. Gone were any feelings of love and respect. Gone were the feelings of pain and seeking revenge. I simply let go, and I’ve had such a happy year where I’ve grown so much.

Fast forward to Wednesday. His message was a six paragraph long apology detailing his sorrow for acting the way he did toward me. I’ve probably read this message over 50 times in the past 48 hours, agonizing over whether I should respond or not, and if so, how? My entire life, my “busy and exciting life that I am blessed with” as he so elegantly put it, was put on pause. My thoughts were naught by his words and figuring out what the underlying meaning was. Because you see, not only was this an apology to me – it was an apology to the entire female race. Someone he was familiar with had became a sexual predator and victimized mutual friends of theirs and he was suddenly hit with the realization that his misogynistic behavior contributed to this scenario. So this six paragraph long message is also a declaration of how he will stand up for women in this fight against sexual violence. And all of that, which, don’t get me wrong, is great and everything, had me utterly confused on why I was being associated with abuse given I have never been the recipient.

But it finally hit me. It hit me just moments ago. There is no ulterior motive to his actions. From what I can gather, there was no malice laced in his words. He just happened to arrive at a conclusion that I should have seen long ago. The friendship we had – as fated as it seem to be – was toxic. He never laid a hand on me, but his words were weapons enough to bring me down and force me into my own shell. Even his lack of communication, times when he would suddenly withdraw and leave me with cryptic sayings, was in a way, a form of abuse. He would leave and then come back, play with the strings that made up me and eventually, led to my unraveling.

As someone who believes in rehabilitation and second chances, I am content that he has seen the error of his ways and is trying to take steps towards becoming a better man. But I won’t be replying to his apology. There is no reason to – I’ve put the past behind me and his message only affirms my actions. I will never be the same person I was before I met him – that I know. But I will also never, ever put myself in a similar situation, and for that, I thank him.

– A.

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In Retrospect

After a brilliant month of traveling Asia, I arrived back home a few weeks ago with my heart torn. I encountered what everyone experiences after an enthralling vacation – post-travel depression. I just simply was not interested in immersing myself into my old routine after embarking on what turned out to be an incredibly life-changing experience. So when I finally came home, I wasn’t just reminiscing about all the good times – I began to wonder what I could do to get back into such a state where my stress level was at a minimum and life was absolutely beautiful. Everyone keeps asking me how my trip was – and rightfully so. But it is quite difficult to sum up such an experience with mere words.

“How was your adventure? How was Thailand?”

“The trip was amazing. Thailand was absolutely amazing. Given that my internship was in Thailand, there wasn’t a lot of red tape so I was able to be up close and personal with surgical procedures and witness a variety of diseases that affect the Thai children. Along with that, I was able to do a bunch of touristy things including bungee jumping, elephant riding, ATV-ing, and ziplining. But the best thing about Chiang Mai was the people – I met people from all over the world and hearing various perspectives in a program that wasn’t American-driven was absolutely refreshing – but yah, amazing!”

“Tell me more!”

“……….”

Not to say that this little blurb I repeated isn’t true. It just doesn’t sufficiently capture what I felt – am still feeling – inside. For example, I saw more in Chiang Mai than landmarks and hospital procedures – I witnessed my confidence build up as I traveled around Asia. I’m not sure if it was because I was solely on my own, but I had a fire inside of me that kept me strong. You see, I have always had self-image issues. Whether it be my body, my hair, my face, my teeth, my skin – I have never been comfortable with myself. So you would think that in a place where the humidity was at a max and my hair was completely unmanageable, I would have folded into a shell. And yet, it didn’t bother me because I was too busy enjoying myself. I ran around the hospital in my scrubs, involved myself in every touristy thing possible, and every single night, played volleyball in the pool. My fear did not inhibit me and my stress level was at an all-time low. And although my physical/eating habits were the same (except rice was a staple in breakfast, lunch, AND dinner), I lost close to 20 lbs when I finally arrived back in America.

A picture is definitely worth a 1000 words in this scenario and I hope through a combination of photos and words, I can provide a detailed, yet concise summary of my time in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. I also accumulated some traveling tips and decided to dedicate a page on my blog with my thoughts on what to bring, what to wear, etc.

  • Chiang Mai (Thailand)

I spent two weeks in Chiang Mai for my GapMedics internship. I was placed in Nakornping Hospital with my first week dedicated to the Pediatrics ward and the second in the Obs & Gyn ward. Given that c-sections are a common procedure in Thailand, I found myself in the Surgery wing a lot and was able to witness a lot more than just c-sections and sterilizations. Our work day typically began at 8 AM with an early commute to the hospital and our shadowing would end at 3 PM. After that we had free time until dinner at 7 PM, followed by global tutorials which was taught by a local RN. Given that most of us were there for only two weeks, we spent every day doing something differently. After global tutorials, we would run into the swimming pool until 10/11 PM and then go into “the white room” where we played cards and spoons until 1 AM. I ran on about 6 hours of sleep every day, but there was never a moment when I felt exhausted or lethargic.

Monday: On the first day of my pediatrics rotation, I was able to hold a patient in the NICU who was recovering for pneumonia. Given that it was my cohort’s “first day”, the tradition is to spend only a half-day at the hospital so that we could take a tour of the city center and experience some of the local cuisine with one of our program’s coordinators. I was also able to score a pair of these stylish elephant pants which brought me one step closer to becoming a legit Thai tourist! Along with our global tutorial courses, we also had an additional, one-time language course so that we could get a few Thai phrases down for our hospital placement. “Sawadee Ka” (hello/goodbye) & “Khob Khun Ka” (thank you) became frequently used phrases in the household.

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Tuesday: Tuesday was “Temple Tuesday” where we climbed up to the tallest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which had a beautiful view of all of Chiang Mai. In the hospital, we spent the first half of the day in the Hemato Clinic where we witnessed many children who were anemic. One girl had such severe anemia that her facial features were affected to the point where she had no cheekbones and a flat nose bridge.

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Wednesday: After several convincing arguments given by my fellow peds group member, I agreed to go bungee jumping on Wednesday. On the day, we also spent time in the HIV clinic where we got to palpate an enlarged liver in a 3 year old little boy.

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Thursday: Apparently Thursday nights in Thailand are similar to Thursday nights in college towns across the US – so for our first Thursday in Chiang Mai, we celebrated with a BBQ Pool Party and a trip to the local night market, which was followed by a ladyboy show and clubbing at the poppin’ club, Zoe’s. During our internship, we spent time in the PICU where a heart patient who had contracted pneumonia was rushed in as we were entered the wing. We spent the rest of the session watching as a team of ten nurses and doctors hurried to intubate and hook up the patient to several monitors.

Friday: Given that the GapMedics program is a year-long program, some of the people we started off the week with were actually finishing up their two/three week stints. So we had to say good bye to some dear friends and then hurry off on our “Hill Tribe Weekend” adventure. Below was my pediatrics group for the week with representatives from the UK, Maldives, Italy, and the US!

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Saturday: On our first full day of the “Hill Tribe Weekend”, we ended up going elephant riding, white river, rafting, waterfall sliding, and experiencing some amazing thai massages. We lived with a Thai family in an elevated bamboo hut and woke up to some of the most gorgeous sights and freshest air. We ended the night sitting on the deck and singing while watching the youngest boy try scaring the sole male member of our group. I also scored my first bracelet after bargaining with the women for 10 minutes.

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Sunday: On the last day of our “Hill Tribe Weekend” adventure we visited Tiger Kingdom where we had the option of seeing small, medium, big, and large tigers – I went for the biggest! We also ziplined before arriving back at the GapMedics household. After a quick swim, we ended the night by attending the Sunday Night Market.

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Monday: Our second Monday marked the beginning of a new placement, which for me was my stint in Obs & Gyn. Since it was a half-day to welcome in the new kids, us oldies decided to ride ATVs. Although it was supposed to be a three-hour gig, we ended up spending over four hours riding through the forest and the countryside and by the time we had finished, it was pitch dark outside. I also realized that although I was one of the few people in my group with an actual license, my skills in ATVing are subpar, evident in the fact that I rode into a cornfield -.-

Tuesday: On our second Tuesday, we decided to visit the Umbrella Factory and score some souvenirs for ourselves and our loved ones. As one would surmise from the name, this store created some beautful umbrellas. But what was special about this particular location was the artistry involved. Inside the store, you can select from a variety of items ranging from phone cases to scrolls to fans to lanterns. Really, anything or everything was there – and if it wasn’t, you had the option of bringing in an outside item. Then you venture outside where there is a row of artists, all gifted in their own way and who, for a small price, can paint you a one-of-a-kind piece of work. Below, my artist painted a scenic waterfall with two elephants on a scroll for me.

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Wednesday: Waterfall Wednesday allowed us to once again, appreciate the natural beauty of Chiang Mai. Climbing up and down the waterfalls and laughing at our antics was a reminder that sometimes it’s the simplest of things that provide us with the utmost pleasure.

Thursday: Another Thursday meant another trip to the local night market where we witnessed a different, but equally entertaining, ladyboy show and an unforgettable night at Zoe’s. But a sweet memory for me was the aftermath of Zoe’s – after tucking respective people to bed, we ended up being the last four awake and simply proceeded to swap life stories in the white room at 2 AM.

Friday: You know, I wish I could say I had an amazing last day of my internship on Friday. However, the more remarkable moments occurred at the local cafe where we often spent our lunch time at. Speaking of lunch, did I mention that a lunch consisting of AMAZING Thai food in decent portions came out to be about a $1? And then a refreshing drink at this cafe with free wi-fi was another $1. So all in all, $2 dollars spent a day for an overall lunch meal. We also visited Zoe’s again since it was the club’s 25th Anniversary and lit lanterns at our farewell dinner.

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our favorite lunch time hangout

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Saturday: On our final day at the GapMedics house, we decided to spend the day swimming in the pool that we had fallen in love with. There was only a few of us left as most people had gone to Hill Tribe Weekend, Phuket, or another weekend adventure. One of my friends made ramen for lunch for all of us and after a few more hours of swimming, we left for the airport. I admit, I shed quite a few tears as I said good bye to people who had become some of my closest friends in a matter of weeks.


  • Sri Lanka

Because I was in Sri Lanka for quality family time than anything else, I spent many days sitting outside on the balcony with my favorite grandmother and just listening to stories of her past. During the day, my aunt and I would watch Tamil movies that had just come out and at night, when my uncle came home, we would explore parts of Colombo. On a day that my uncle was able to take off, we took a trip to Sigiriya, a World Heritage Site. It is an ancient palace that was built on top of a rock, and was selected by the king due to it being 660 ft high. And we ended up climbing all the way to the top to witness the scenery and the magnificence of the area. We also took a detour to the Dambulla Cave Temple – another World Heritage Site that has been preserved so well that you can still see the details of a 14-meter Buddha that has been carved out of the rocks.

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Sigiriya aka “Lion Rock”

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Dambulla Cave
  • Pattaya

I went to Pattaya to visit the Father Ray Foundation that my high school Leo Club has been raising funds for annually. It’s one thing to hear stories from another about a certain organization and all the astounding work you do. You can donate tens of thousands of dollars to a cause, but never really understand the impact until you visit it. That is what I was expecting when I decided and I was pleasantly surprised and how much more I gained from the experience.

On the downside, it was during this three-day period that I fell terribly ill. And let’s face it, no matter how old you may be, when you’re away from home and suddenly fall ill, that’s when you want to go home. Home where just inches away is all the medicine you can get your hands on. And if you are like me and live at home, then you immediately think of your mom who would instantly nurse you back to health. While I wish I used more of my time in Pattaya, especially at night, exploring the city, I ended up sleeping immediately after my volunteer shift was over and trying to nurse myself back to health. However, I was able to capture a video of children from the home, village, and drop-in center that the Father Ray Foundation sponsors; all dancing in celebration of new equipment.

  • Singapore

Going to Singapore was a last-minute decision and spontaneously occurred because a friend of mine who I met back in freshman year of UCLA was visiting home around the same time I was traveling. Her family was extremely welcoming and our few days together were activity-packed. As soon as I landed in one of the nicest airports I had ever witnessed, my friend whisked me off to the local beach where we spent two hours cycling around. We watched an indie movie called Bad Turn Worse and I was introduced to her childhood friends over dinner. We also visited the local museum and a beautiful botanical garden called Gardens By the Bay.

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Did you know, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’, a type of orchid, is the national flower of Singapore?

Ten different flights, four different countries (including my layovers in China), and about $4000 spent in total. But if I had the option to do it all over again, I would sign up in a heartbeat. There’s just something so cathartic about letting go and seeing the world for yourself without any ties, commitments, or distractions. I simply got a taste of it on this round, but I can say, with certainty, that parts of my heart were left in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. I know now, what I have known all along but with more fervor, that I need to do some more traveling. And if not now, when?

To be continued,

A.

Challenge Accepted.

I believe “planning” is in my blood. It’s who I am – I am a planner. Whether it’s planning class and weekly schedules to social gatherings, I’m your gal. So it’s not really surprising when, after all these years of planning and initiative, I suddenly begin to break down. Not to say that I’m breaking down right now. But it’s been evident for a few years now – probably since my first at UCLA – that when it comes to planning, I tend to sour at the thought. Sure, in new situations – or situations that desperately need it – I still pull through and plan accordingly. But I’ve definitely seen the downsides of planning – most apparent, when people comment after an event saying that it could have been “done better” or some other negative response.

I’ve thoroughly vented about this subject before. To my close friends, my co-workers, and my family. And everyone tells me the same thing – take a step back, let others take the lead. But I’ve noticed – when I don’t take charge, everything seems to fall apart. Is that just the type of people I tend to surround myself with?

Well, speculations aside, my mother finally gave me plausible challenge – plausible meaning that there are parameters. She challenged me to not take the initiative nor actively plan any events for this Winter Break. So unless I’m being invited to something or another, I won’t make plans. Not to say that I’ll be a complete couch potato – I will contribute when necessary. I just won’t be that excited puppy who contacts everyone and makes a thread and starts throwing out ideas/dates/times and gets put out at the end. This Winter Break is truly for me to recharge. I would of course love to see my friends. But – with the quarter I went through – it’s time for them to step up.

So if I don’t see you this break, it’s definitely nothing personal. It’s simply because I’m not taking the initiative.

Best Friends

But I tend to lie when I tell someone that I will talk to them soon. Or that I will see them soon or that we will keep in touch. It is one of my biggest flaws. Bigger than being a procrastinator or a chronic liar. I know I have a big heart. Shoot, I’ll go out of my way to do something for someone, even if that means hindering my own image. But when someone is out of the picture, I tend to lose myself in the present and let them go completely. I know it’s hard. And I know that should put more effort into keeping in touch. I mean, how many times have I said that a relationship goes both ways? But perhaps, like an infant, I have somehow not mastered object permanence. When an individual is out-of-sight, he or she is literally out-of-mind. It’s a cruel notion, but it’s the truth. You have no idea how many relationships I’ve simply let go due to this. I like to say that I still have “best friends” from 4th grade. But let’s be real, they don’t know half the things that have gone on during my life. But is that entirely on me? I used to think not. And then I accepted the blame. But now I wonder, if I had still facebook messaged and texted them every weekend and come back as often as I could from LA, would it still all be alright. Or would I have been feeling as miserable as I was back then. Maybe … it’s not even about keeping in touch. Maybe this entire post is about how I need to be honest. And perhaps I cannot sleep because rather than stepping up and being honest to that one person, I’ve decided to completely cut him out of my life/avoid him. And perhaps this is what’s taking a toll on my health.

Edit: This post on Tumblr that I reblogged sums it up beautifully. To quote:

Being best friends with someone means that even when you’re apart for months, or sometimes even years, and you don’t keep up constant contact, and you both get other friends, and interests, and your personalities change, you still come back together at some point and you act like nothing has changed.

<3 A.

Urges

Once we stop giggling at the word “urges”, let’s talk about how I am fighting a constant battle. I’ve made a pact to move on. I’ll admit, I’m taking the easy way out on this one and not confronting the issue head-on, but that doesn’t mean life has been a piece of cake. Every time I’m on, all I want to do is make one ‘click’ and see what’s gone down during this timespan. But I know that if I give in, just once, then I’m back to square 1. Yes, I might still think about it every time I’m on, but if I stay strong and keep moving forward, perhaps one day, I’ll let go of it completely. Until then . . .

All Is Well

Why hello there – it’s been a while hasn’t it? You know, I’m starting to think that I have commitment issues. I mean, why else would I struggle at keeping up an online for a least a year? Or maybe I’m just easily distracted? I started “blogging” with WordPress mid-January of 2009. Well we’re in mid-January of 2012 and I’m still not comfortable expressing my every thought online. Which is smart, I suppose. But at the same time, I want to share. Is that being selfish? I have so much I want to say on a daily basis, but I tend to hold back 75% of those thoughts due to embarrassment or shyness or external circumstances. Which is why I don’t just simply delete these blogs I have. I want people to hear what I’ve got to say. I want them to offer me advice, criticism, solace, and comfort. I want I want I want – jeez, I’m so vain & selfish – I’m glad I was placed in the right staff.

If you thought I thought a lot back in 2009, well, then I went through a major thinking spree starting summer of last year. A lot has gone down since my senior year of high school until now. In fact, a lot has gone down between last summer and now. At the beginning of the summer, I was confused about what I wanted to do in life and if I was living life to its fullest. This may have been a result of turning 20 and experiencing a quarter-life crisis. But since kindergarten, I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician. Now, fifteen years later, I’m standing here, not ready for medical school and shying away from the MCAT. What did that mean? Last summer, I thought that meant I just wasn’t ready to graduate aka leave school – so I decided to follow up on a passion that had just developed and pursue a double major in Neuroscience. I spent a good part of fall quarter last year convincing myself (and everyone around me) that I would be staying at UCLA for five years and come out with a double major and minor. But now, I’ve only been through the first week of winter quarter and I already want out. Not only do I want out, but I want out NOW.

I don’t know where this sudden apathy of school came about – it may have something to do with my very spontaneous trip to Sri Lanka during winter break. But being there made me realize how much more time I wanted to spend with family. Now I’m not saying that my mother is suddenly not suffocating at all or that I want to come home every weekend from UCLA – but I do think the key to understanding myself is understanding my family. My family, my culture, my background, and what not. I’ve already decided that I’m going back to Sri Lanka in August. And if that means having to pay for the entire trip myself, then so be it.

It’s ironic – the more time I want to spend with my family, the less time I want to spend with friends. There was a period in high school where I wanted to simply live with my friends and never see my family again. It’s funny how my mother’s words tend to always have some truth in them. I’m not saying that I’ve suddenly distanced myself away from them. It’s more … I’ve stopped caring. No, that sounds bad – when I say “stopped caring”, I mean, I’ve stopping working at trying to make these friendships work. I understand that all relationships require work from both ends. But that’s the key phrase, “both ends”. A relationship where one person is putting in all this effort – or it seems like he or she is investing a lot, well then, that’s not really a friendship is it? That’s just work. And as much as it sucks knowing that some friendships that I naively thought would last well after marriage and kids, are about to burn out, I also have met some amazing people this year that give me certainty that there are more people like that in the world, ready to be met.

<3 A.

Who knows you best?

So in Education 150 today (RA class), we were talking about self-discovery and being able to better understand ourselves in order to understand others. We ran out of time to actually do this activity, but there were a bunch of questions on a slide that geared towards describing yourself to someone else. One of the questions was “Who knows you best?” Now while my instructors were giving us an example by doing the activity between themselves, I was pondering on who I would say knows me the best. Would I say my mom? Probably not, because she only hears what she wants to hear and therefore only knows a part of me. My sister? Ha – up until this year, my sister and I were at each other’s throats constantly because of my parents’ ostentatiously display of favoritism towards her. My friends? Probably not – which makes me go into those best friend groups. D’FAT? To be honest, they could have POTENTIALLY been the people who knew me the best, but this year we have grown too far apart. PAACKS? I would say definitely, and you know, it might get there – but because of high school and all of its demands, I couldn’t really hang out with them as much and therefore, they weren’t part of my life during some of the hard times I went through. What about some of those other individuals? Maybe, but I feel like I still have to change myself in some way.

So it’s led me to the conclusion that there isn’t that one person out there who knows me best. Not even inside and out, but just, knows/gets me. And this thought makes me very sad.

<3 A.