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2013 MARCHMARCH 2013

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THE COCONUT TREE LITERARY MAGAZINE OF THE SOCIETY OF ENGLISH WRITERS Surprises catch us when we least expect them. Good or bad, they change the way we think about the world around us.

Thrilling story lines often incorporate

some twist to catch the reader unawares.

Our theme for this issue is 'Surprises - the good and the bad.' In this issue of the Society of English Writers - Sarawak (SOSWE) magazine [Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia], we explore what it means to be surprised, good or bad, and its implications. We learn about a surprising first year in medical school, a surprising invitation, a surprising gift, a surprising descent, and a surprising silence in Libya.

In this issue: We thank you the reader for taking time, a rare commodity today, to browse our literary magazine. Hopefully, lessons learned in each writing will bring meaning to your day. Thank you also to the

• "The Days of Cadavers and Lectures" • "Me, as Pak Pandir"

contributing authors who made this issue so

• "It's indeed a good surprise"

compelling. We have much to learn from one another.

• "Oil Slick" • "Silence of Libya"

Nancy Bronte Matheny, Editor

• Photo credits • Elected Officers

Life is full of surprises and serendipity. Being open to unexpected turns in the 1 road is an important part of success. ~ Condoleeza Rice

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THE DAYS OF CADAVERS AND LECTURES A SURPRISING FIRST YEAR AT MEDICAL SCHOOL BY DR. LOH YUNN HUA Looking back, life as a medical student in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, in the 70’s was certainly an enjoyable one , minus the exams of course. My class of 1973 - 78 started off with 120 students, but after the first year a few dropped out when they found that it was not to their liking. "Was it the cadavers?" I wondered . From dissecting frogs in biology class, we were introduced to cadavers in the first few days of medical studies. I can still recollect my first visit to the anatomy dissection room at the ground floor beneath the Dean's Office. It was a very long room lined with cadavers, dead bodies preserved in formalin. They were laid neatly in rows on both sides of the room, leaving a central avenue for us to walk. There were six of us to a body. My cadaver was a slim gentleman , in his fifties or sixties. With the help of lectures and an instruction manual, we tried to dissect, guide and help each other with the help of our roving lecturers. We had to dissect and identify every vein, artery, muscle, tendon, ligament , nerve and organ in his body.

"Usually the dissection occurred after lunch. It was hot...."

Usually the dissection occurred after lunch. It was hot. There were only ceiling fans to cool us down. Added to it was the strong smell of formalin that permeated right through our fingers, wrinkling our skin and emphasizing the whirls on our finger tips. The smell plus small pieces of tissue which stuck to our lab coats were quite difficult to remove. I could still remember these smells and sights vividly. Luckily, there was the laundry or dhobi service available at our hall of residence to wash our laboratory coats. Once, I even had a blackout during dissection. My lecturer, Dr. Gomez, had me investigated for abnormal heart rhythm. To me, this was more likely due to postural low blood pressure, since I had been standing too long. Cadavers are difficult to come by nowadays. Of course, there are those who have willed their bodies to medical research, like my American Professor of anatomy, Professor John Gunther. He was tall ,bespectacled, soft spoken, bearded, and always dressed in jeans. A few years ago, there was a scandal of body parts trading of corpses in New York. This also involved the well known BBC broadcaster, Alistair Cook who died in his nineties. (continued page 7)


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ME, AS PAK PANDIR A SURPRISING INVITATION BY CHARLES LO Recently, I attended a course on how to teach literature to secondary school students. The invited speaker was a large Malay man. He taught us many things through activities such as jigsaw reading, poster drawing, poetry

"... I had never acted in front of anyone before ....."

writing, and singing. On the final day of the course, the speaker showed us how to use miming as a means to familiarize the students with different characters in novels or short stories. Six teachers were randomly selected to take part in this activity. I was shocked when the facilitator announced that I would be the sixth person to perform in the skit. Gosh! I had never acted in front of anyone before. The facilitator gave each of us a card with the name of the character we should mime. The name on my card was Pak Pandir, a funny character who is the Malay version of Mr. Bean. Pak Pandir epitomizes the most absurd and outrageous things in the world. I could feel the blood draining from my face. "Ladies and gentlemen," announced the speaker in a deep voice. " Those holding the cards have eight minutes to think of how to mime their characters. When the time is over, each of them will act in front of you and you have to guess what character he or she is miming." "Lo, how privileged you are," said one teacher, nudging me with his elbow. "You have been quiet throughout the course. Finally we are able to see you act," chirped a young female teacher. (continued on page 8)


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IT'S INDEED A GOOD SURPRISE A SURPRISING GIFT BY JENNIE SOH One evening, a few days before Chinese New Year, my husband brought some flowers home. I thought it was so sweet for him to buy me flowers and asked, “Are they for me?” He turned and said to me, “They're for the house!” I was a bit annoyed, if only he had said, “Yes, dear!” and my day would have been happy! Sometimes I do wonder why a romantic person like me is married to such an unromantic husband like him. But then, throughout 35 years of marriage, I realized that romance will never replace the caring gestures from him all of these years. Last year, due to so much stress worrying about my mum and brother, both cancer patients, I was negatively affected, both physically and spiritually. I kept on saying to myself that I cannot afford to get sick because I need to take care of them. I did not realize that stress and worry could tear me apart.

I got fevers and headaches all of the time, and feared getting cancer. I lost much

weight and had dark circles under my eyes, due to sleepless nights, and did not go out for almost a month.

"... my husband drove a brand new Proton and handed the keys to me and said...."

I kept on saying that I needed to be strong. The thought of my late brother leaving us suddenly added more worry to me. This is one surprise that turns our family a sad event that will always remain in our heart. I prayed so hard every night and one fine morning, I heard a loud clear voice saying, “GET UP NOW, YOU ARE NOT SICK!” So I did and told my husband that I need fresh air and need to go out. My husband happily submitted to my request. The voice was right, I definitely felt better. Now, I am back to my normal self. The day after I got up, my husband drove a brand new Proton and handed the keys to me and said, “This is yours!”. This was indeed a good surprise, and I wondered why. Later I found out that his friends had encouraged him to give his wife what she wanted, after I had complained that I always received second hand things. I found out more when he realized that material things cannot be given when a person is sick, or half dead, or even dead. The new car definitely resurrected me back to life and this was the best surprise gift, beyond my expectations. Many times we take for granted that surprises are always good, and sometimes blessings do come in disguise. (continued on page 10)


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OIL SLICK A SURPRISING DESCENT BY FLORENCE ENAU I was driving on the Miri-By-Pass after my appointment with the skin specialist at the General Hospital Miri. It was about 4:30pm on a Thursday afternoon. I was on my way home driving west toward Pujut Road. Just before the new Shell Petrol station the driver in front of me signaled to turn right into the petrol station. I put my foot on the brake to slow down, but I just slid half way off the road to my left. I could hear the crunch of gravel as the left side of my car left the road. I was finally able to stop.

"...I could hear the crunch of gravel....

I had just missed hitting the car in front of me. I got the car back on the road again, but looked closely at the road and saw that there was a swath of oil about two feet wide on the road. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw several cars behind me had stopped – They had seen me go off the road. I drove on, but drove in the middle of the road for the oil slick extended all the way to Pujut Road. I was just so thankful that I was alright and had not gotten into an accident. I had errands to do so I drove on to GK Supermarket and called the police to report the oil slick on the road. I just hoped that there was no accidents because of the oil on the road.


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SILENCE OF LIBYA A SURPRISING SILENCE BY NANCY BRONTE MATHENY The silence of the landscape was deafening. There, perched atop a tall outcrop in the Jebel Akdar range (Green Mountain) just before the Saharan desert, I sat viewing the stark contrast between high desert and sky. In shades of tan, the Saharan panorama posed in striking opposition to the royal blue of the noon sky. I had climbed to Chafagi Aamer (Red Church), an ancient Roman church in ruin from the Second Century. Slowed by an older woman of the group in need of assistance, who later stayed behind, I was one of the last to reach the peak, as the other members of the Archaeological Society of Tripoli had already begun their descent. The silence atop that peak held a certain holiness to it. Nothing could be heard but the sound of one’s own breath. To imagine the experience of early Christian believers lingered in my mind. Their connection to their Creator was complete with such savage beauty. The silence was only broken by the voice of Joan, the interim American Ambassador in a country tipping on revolution. She was one of two others who had remained atop the peak. But the silence I held in my hand for that fleeting moment in time was sacred, while in awe of the unspoiled beauty before me.


"The silence atop that peak held a certain holiness to it...."

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THE DAYS OF CADAVERS AND LECTURES (continued from page 2) As medical students, we each had to buy a skeleton so that when we read our anatomy notes, we could simultaneously hold the bone in our hand, and identify structures. These included the marks and impressions made by the various attachments to the bones, like muscles, tendons, and holes made by blood vessels that went through the bones. I bought my skeleton from a Senior for a hundred dollars. I kept it in a long rectangular paper box below my bed in Fourth College. Luckily, my roommate, a pretty Arts student from Ipoh, did not object or have sleepless nights. I called him "Johnny," and regarded him as a friend. Sometimes, I even dozed off holding the bone in my hand. No irreverence meant. I read that in one American faculty of medicine, the students held a memorial and thanksgiving service to those who had donated their bodies for them to study, a noble deed indeed. When we die, our bodies are still useful for research, study, and saving lives, as in organ donation. Being a cash-strapped medical student living in a small room, I sold off my skeleton after first year. I wonder where it is now since the skeleton can survive for a long time, as proven by archaeological excavations. Nowadays, medical students can study anatomy using virtual reality, or use preserved plastinated specimens which can be used all over again. In the latter case, the veins, arteries, nerves, etc., are already separated from their surrounding structures. They are, therefore, easily identifiable. There was a German doctor who preserved himself this way, and is included in an international travelling exhibition of similarly preserved individuals, in various poses. I remember seeing a photo of an American who had himself and his pet dog preserved together side -by-side. Truly, friends to the end! Anatomy also refers to the microscopic molecular structure, or cells, of which our body is made up. Therefore, there is histology, where we have to peer into our microscope to look at cells, stained beautifully with different chemicals. It was like looking at a piece of fabric with so many interesting colours and motifs. Some stains like the one for treponema pallidium, that causes syphilis and yaws, are even fluorescent, like psychedelic lights. During the first year as medical students, we studied the normal human body. Besides the structure or anatomy, we had to study the functions or physiology of the various systems like the nervous, digestive, and breathing systems, etc. My lecturer was a slim, small, dynamic Asian lady, Margaret Duncan. She was well dressed, her hair in a bun. Our professor of physiology was Professor Raman who taught us about asthma. Another important subject in first year was biochemistry, or the study of chemical reactions that take place in the human body, to produce energy, digest food, and remove waste products. I had a busy time memorizing all of those long chemical cycles and equations. But life in first year was not all studies!


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THE DAYS OF CADAVERS AND LECTURES (continued from page 7) In the beginning, we had orientation by our Seniors. A Senior asked me for the name of the white coat he was wearing. I had the common sense to reply "house coat," since I had thought he was a Houseman or Intern. This evoked plenty of laughs from the surrounding "know-it-all" Seniors. It's actually just called "lab" or "laboratory coat." Then there was the Miss Anatomy arm wrestling contests, the water fights, getting up very early in the morning for orientation, and singing college songs in the cold, dark mornings. My first year as a medical student was bittersweet, but fun. It was the first time I had left home. Kuching at that time was just a kampung. It was culture shock seeing the many cars and shopping malls. I enjoyed taking the bus, passing through old Bangsar and going to Petaling Street and Globe Silk Store at Jalan Tunku Rahman to shop. As Petula Clark's hit song Downtown said, "When you're alone, and life is getting you down, you can always go downtown!" Well, that certainly helped me to survive my first year as a medical student at the University of Malaysia in 1973!

ME, AS PAK PANDIR (continued from page 3) I could only answer them with a wry, bitter smile. As a quiet, introverted person, I found it too humiliating to bring the character to life through silly gestures. I did not want to become a laughing stock. I was beside myself with fear and panic! Soon the miming show began. All five teachers before me could present their roles with no problem. They sent everyone into fits of laughter with their actions. I could not imagine myself acting like a fool as they did: crying like a baby, sashaying around like a proud evil queen, hobbling sideways like a crab, loping like a buck, or lumbering like the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. When it was my turn, everyone grinned at me, expecting me to make a fool of myself in front of them. Their stares petrified me and I stood motionless at the center of the room. "C'mon, Lo, start miming now," prompted the speaker. "I can't," said I, looking pleadingly at the man. "I don't know how to delve into my character." " I have given you eight minutes to think of how to act. I'm sure you can do it," said the speaker, oblivious to the mercy-seeking expression on my face. "Unleash your inner talent now." "I can't," I replied . " I don't know the character on my card well." "Are you sure?" asked the speaker, looking at me in disbelief. "Yes! I am." I said, trying to sound firm. I knew that my reason was not convincing. Pak Pandir is a household name in Malaysia.


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ME, AS PAK PANDIR (continued from page 8) "Don't chicken out, Lo," persuaded the speaker." Teachers are supposed to be good actors." Sensing that the facilitator was actually taunting me, I said adamantly: " I really can't do it. I mean what I say. " Every participant in the room fell silent. The speaker stared at me for a few seconds and said, "Okay, you may go back to your seat now. Give me your card." I gave him the card and returned to my seat. Dozens of eyes were following me. I tried to feign an air of nonchalance. "Okay, everyone," the speaker said in a raised voice."I will act on behalf of Lo. Sometimes we need to offer someone a helping hand. With that, he started his miming. He cocked his head jerkily from left to right and put an 'air hat' on it. Then, he acted as if he had tripped over something and fell. He struggled up comically, pretended to pick up a stone and tossed it into what seemed like an imaginary sea. Everyone except me laughed and clapped his or her hands. A few female teachers doubled over with laughter. When he had finished, he bowed chivalrously. "Who am I?" asked the speaker. "You are Pak Pandir!" shouted one lady. "What a genius acting!" shouted another lady, in a voice full of admiration. The speaker looked very pleased and bowed a few more times. The room was filled with cheers and clapping and he soaked up the adulation smugly. "Ladies and gentlemen," said the speaker. "What is the moral of this activity?" "Be confident to assume new roles and responsibilities," opined one lady. "Yes," said the speaker. "We can teach our students to be positive when taking up new roles. What else?" "We can help uncover hidden talents. Our students will become more creative," said one male teacher. "You're right," said the speaker."We can help our students to tap into their creativity." "I like what we did just now. It encourages mutual learning. I am sure my students will enjoy it," remarked another teacher. "Yes," said the speaker, " the activity enables the students to identify the personality traits of different characters in literary texts. As a teacher, you should tailor your activities in such a way that they are student-centered. To make the students grasp the concept of your teaching, you have to act first.


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ME, AS PAK PANDIR (continued from page 9) Remember, do not let your character confine your creativity. As the fore-runners of education, we should be proactive, innovative, resourceful and brave when facing challenges." The course came to an end on a high note. Many participants shook hands with the speaker. I did not shake hands with the man because I was not happy with what he had said in his closing speech. He seemed to be hinting that I was not positive enough. Mmm, did he really mean that? Was I, in fact, too negative?

IT'S INDEED A GOOD SURPRISE (continued from page 4) Good or bad surprises depend on how we deal with surprises. We can be overwhelmed, or we can be shocked. I am shocked over my brother’s sudden announcement of his cancer. He died within two months. This was a bad surprise! I was overwhelmed by my husband’s sudden generosity after 35 years of marriage. This was a good surprise. Whatever it is, I have to learn to accept the facts of life!


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Photo / Quotation Credits: Title


Surprised girl

License purchased at; Image 57472243

Condoleeza Rice quote

Moncour, M. (2013). Laura Moncur's motivational quotes: Condoleeza Rice. The quotations page.

Medical laboratory glass equipment still

License purchased at;

life on blue purple

Image 110901125

Pak Pandir

Proton automobile

Jennie Soh

Slippery when wet

License purchased at; Image 115821274

Chafagi Aamer (The Red Church), near

Nancy Bronte Matheny

Mizda, Libya

SOCIETY OF ENGLISH WRITERS - SARAWAK - ELECTED OFFICERS President Luke Bong Secretary Jennie Soh Treasurer Siong Teck Yian Auditor Datin Juriah Abdullah Committee Members: Datin Juriah Abdullah, Bharathi Anand, Florence Enau, Helena Henry

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