Monday, August 17, 2009

Wholesale Therapy

Big news today: Costco opened its first Australian warehouse in Melbourne today! That’s right, the American institution of purchasing stuff in packs of 50 right off the shipping pallet, all under an expansive industrial roof, has finally reached across the Pacific to this corner of the world. I know they have locations in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, but as arguably the most Americanized countries in the Asia-Pacific region, it is high time for Australia to finally have a Costco.

For people who are not familiar with Costco, it is a completely different shopping experience than any other place. The biggest difference is that it has done away with the whole pretense of presentation: aisles are flanked not by shelves, but by pallets on which items on offer are shipped. The whole place is a steel-and-concrete warehouse; there’s no pop Muzak playing in the background and no shop assistants helping you trying on the shirt you want to buy. What you see is what you get. Items range from clothes to diapers, from groceries to pet food, from toiletries to cleaning supplies. You won’t find fifty varieties of canned tuna, but what you do find comes in packs of thirty. Want to get some toothpaste? There are packs of five on sale. Toilet paper? How about the packs of fifty? Want some apples? They have 10-lb bags. The big draw is that, per item, the prices are usually quite a bit lower than what one can find in retail shops. Obviously, you don’t go to Costco to pick up some bread and milk, because you will invariably come out with a hundred other things and $300 poorer. It is a boon for budget-conscious and well-disciplined people, heaven on earth for hoarders, but a giant sink hole for the impulsive shopper.

Now, Australians, or rather Melbournians, at least for now, will be able to stock up on a year’s supply of toilet paper and laundry detergent in just one trip. Apparently, there was a two-hour wait for the checkout today. People everywhere just love a bargain.

I wonder when they will open one up in Sydney.

Thirty-roll packs of toilet paper on sale at the Livermore, California, Costco. I had this picture taken to show my friends in Australia because I didn’t think they would ever see such a sight.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Graveyard Shift

For the next four weeks, I will live the vampire lifestyle, or at least keep the same hours. I am assigned to do the graveyard shift: from 10:30 pm to 8:30 am the next morning. The shift started in the middle of the first week and goes for seven nights straight. I then have seven days off, followed by another block of seven nights, then I have five days off before starting back on regular schedule. So, in four weeks, I will actually be working for fourteen days.

So during the fourteen days when I will be working, my sleep cycle will be upside down and turned completely around. Having done night shifts during my emergency term, I now have a bit of experience on how to ensure I have a good day of sleep in between my shifts. I have made my room into a bat cave: windows are shut, blinds are closed, heavy curtains ensure that as little light as possible leaks in, add eye shades from long-haul flights, and my brain will think it’s the middle of the night even during high noon. I set the radio to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company, similar to NPR in the States) to serve as background noise. Ear plugs are handy for when the neighbors decide to rev up their cars. For the first couple of shifts, Phenergan just makes the quality of the sleep a little bit better without me feeling groggy when I wake up in the evening.

I actually think doing the graveyard shift allows me to have time for other things. I can wake up in the late afternoon or early evening and still have time to go to the gym, visit friends, and leisurely cook my meals before I start my shift. The downside is that, the weekend, when everyone is out, is the middle of the week for me and I have to follow the same sleep routine. It does not matter how gorgeous the day is or how inviting the beach may be, I have to go straight home for bed after my shift.

To push my sleep schedule back, last night I stayed up until 5:30 am before dragging myself to bed. I had a decent day of sleep today, so tonight I will start pretty fresh. But I know it will be a struggle by 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. But that’s when my good friend joe will come to my rescue – a couple cups of it, and I can stay awake at least until sunrise. Then it’s pretty much smooth sailing to the end of the shift. Unless, of course, if the arrest pager goes off.

Okay, my shift is about to start; think positive: no arrests tonight, no arrests tonight…

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Juicy Juice

The house I am renting this year has a few huge orange trees in the back. And now they are all fully laden with ripe oranges and mandarines. Everyday, a dozen or so of them drop from the trees. As my housemate is not big on citrus fruit, I now find myself with more oranges piling up than I can shake a stick at. I have to get through them in a more efficient way than simply eating them. I can eat until I get sick and still wouldn’t make a dent in the pile. Besides giving them away, juicing them would be the most efficient way of consuming the mountains of oranges before they become part of the compost pile.

Ah, drinking freshly made orange juice is one of the simple pleasures in life (I know, I don’t ask for much). I can’t drink the stuff from the supermarket anymore. Even the “not from concentrate” version tastes “preserved.” One and half liters of the juice wouldn’t even last me two days. I am drinking so much of it that I am sure I pee vitamin C every day. But here’s the good news: no scurvies for me!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Clothes Lines

For most Americans, the image of freshly laundered clothes hanging in the breeze, soaking up the warmth of the sun, evokes the feeling of a quaint bygone era. Today, the crude imitation of “fresh spring breeze” scent that comes from a dryer sheet would be about as close as most people get when it comes to drying their clothes outside. In the US, not only are clothes dryers part of the standard household appliances, in many parts of the country where home owners associations rule with an iron fist, clothes lines in the backyard are actually illegal. They somehow have come to be associated with poverty, are considered eye sores, and thus, have a negative impact on property values. People throughout the country have to fight tooth and nail the get the “right to dry” law passed.

In Australia, that stigma associated with clothes lines in the backyard never seemed to have existed. Clothes lines like this one in the backyard of the house I am renting are not only a standard fixture in almost all single homes in Australia, they often are placed right in the middle of the open yard as the most prominent feature. Neighbors don’t grumble about having to look at your skivvies flapping in the wind; no one hyperventilates over being mistaken for living in a poor house because of the clothes line in the back.

Being the stingy greenie that I am, I absolutely embrace the clothes line for saving me money and being good to the environment. Yes, it takes longer to hang the clothes up on a line than simply throwing them into the dryer and push a button. But I look at it as part of my morning stretches. Yes, the weather dictates when I can do my laundry. If it rains on my day off, I just wait until the next dry day; I have plenty of underwear and socks. Worse comes to worst, if I really need to do laundry when it is raining, I hang them up on a foldable drying rack under the patio cover. On nice sunny weekends, my morning sometimes starts with the ritual of me standing out in the yard under the warm sun, with blades of grass between my toes, pinning the wet laundry up on the spinning rack. I then go out to do whatever for the day, not having to worry about my clothes getting wrinkled for sitting in the dryer all day. In the afternoon before the sun sets, the clothes are ready to be taken down. The wind has done the ironing for most of the clothes. And that smell of fresh air and sun soaked into the clothes just feels so – natural.

I just heard the washing machine buzz. Better go hang them up.

A bee visiting the flowers in the yard

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I’m Still Alive!

Yeah, I am still here. It has been over six months after the last entry on my blog; now I am back.

Short summary of what happened in the last six months. I worked. Okay, you are all caught up now. Here is a little more detail if you are interested.

My first term was in vascular surgery – arguably the busiest term in the whole hospital, so it wasn’t exactly a way to ease into this back-to-full-time-work-and-trying-to-be-a-doctor internship thing. Having been thrown into the deep end, I basically spent the whole ten weeks trying to keep my head above water. Fortunately for me, I was in a team of incredibly good registrars and resident. So despite the hectic days, I felt like I was very well supported. The hours were grueling – by non-North American standards – from sixty-five to seventy-five hours per week. I felt like I only came home to sleep. So I spent the time that I had off either cycling along the beach or up the mountain or going to the beach with a book.

During that time a half dozen or so blog entries gathered in my computer and I never got around to finishing them. The perfectionist in me just would not allow myself to put them online without editing. And so in my computer they languished – half done, clumsy, and not fit to see the light of day.

My second term was in emergency. I had a blast! The work was interesting; the team was good to work with, mostly; one of the consultants has the ability to make interns feel like the most inadequate person in the world. I always stuttered when I handed patients over to that consultant. The hours were awesome: each week consisted of four ten-hour shifts and three days off. Having come from vascular surgery, forty hours per week felt like a holiday. So I treated my days off like holidays: biking, going to the beach, reading non-medical books, going to the gym (and sauna), going to Sydney, etc. My blog continued to sit idle. It had already been a couple of months, my unfinished entries were still waiting to be edited, but they were getting lower and lower on my priority list. I figured: who reads it anyway?

I was in the States last month on my annual leave. A couple of friends I saw mentioned that they hadn’t seen anything new on my blog. I even got emailed from some random person asking about it. So apparently people do read it.

All right, now that I have left my blog static long enough to have lost all three of my readers, I am going to give it another go.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Beginning

It is barely six o'clock, but I am wide awake. Today is the first day of a week of orientation for the batch of new interns. The mix of nervous energy, expectation, and anticipation swirl around my head as I head to the auditorium of the hospital. It is exactly the same feeling as the first day of medical school four years ago. We gather in the foyer, introduce ourselves to one another, and make the obligatory "Hi, where are you from? What uni did you go to? What made you come to Wollongong?..." small talk. There's a buzz of energy in the room; I can feel the excitement in the air. After all these years of putting our noses to the grindstone, it really is exciting that we are finally going to take the first real step toward a lifelong career, and for me, a second career. I am finally going to have a real job and a regular income again. The cynic in me knows that, as time goes by and as we go through the trials and tribulations of post-graduate training, the enthusiasm and idealism we have today will seem naive sometimes. But today, I feel like my whole life is laid out before me and the possibilities endless. Today, I feel like an adult again.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In the Nick of Time

After a somewhat tense and suspense-filled two days, I logged onto my email this morning for the nth time to check my visa status.

It turned out that the only sure way to get things moving was to get on the phone. So, for example, when things like the person assigned to your case got moved to a different section of the Department of Immigration and your file ended up sitting on a desk without anyone looking at it for a month happen, you can get someone to maybe give a sideway glance at the big pile of paper with your name on it. And when they call you back saying that they can't process your paperwork because of some technicality, you can get the hospital sponsor to call them back and tell them to stop being ridiculous. After a bit of back-and-forth like that, I was finally promised that my visa would be finalized yesterday afternoon.

This morning, I logged onto my email, only to find that the notification for my visa's approval in the spam folder. Maybe it was the word "approved" in the subject line or that the text of the email sounded too much like one of those get-rich-quick come-ons, the email filter had decided that it was too good to be true.

That must be the best piece of spam I have ever got.