26 Jan 2012

The 100% perfect girl

Angelina asked me for a story to be used in the upcoming story-telling competition at school.

“We have made up so many stories already, why do we need to write a new one?” I asked.

“Mrs S said the stories must teach us something,” Angelina answered.

That was a serious blow. Although there was much free association in my stories, I never realized they did not have any message. Anyway, we made up another story right away.

Linda is a primary one student. She loves going to school. She pays attention in class and does her homework well.

But something annoys her. No matter how hard she tries, she always forgets some answers or makes some silly mistakes during tests. Though her test results are quite good, she wonders what it would be like to have full marks in exams.

One day, Linda sees an old lamp on the ground on her way home. The lamp is gold in color but is all covered with rust. That reminds her of the magical lamp in Aladdin. Curious, Linda picks up the lamp and rubs it with her hand.

Suddenly, a puff of smoke shoots out from the lamp and a genie in black cloak appears. “What do you wish, little miss?” asks the genie.

It gets curiouser and curiouser. Nonetheless, Linda replies, “I wish to have one hundred marks in all my tests and exams.”

With another puff of smoke the genie disappears. Linda opens her eyes and finds herself in bed. “Oh, what a silly dream.” She cleans herself, eats breakfast, and goes to school.

The math test is held that day. Linda has prepared well but is a little nervous. As she glances through the paper, she feels calmer. The first few questions are on odd numbers and even numbers, which she knows well. She picks up a pencil and starts to answer. But her pencil stops in mid-air.

The paper has already been done. Each and every question has been answered. Mrs K must have made a mistake. She looks up. However, none of her classmates seems to have problems with their papers. They are all writing vigorously. Linda looks at her paper again. She reads the questions and answers carefully and is sure that the answers are all correct. Strangely, the answers remarkably resemble her handwriting and are written by pencil. Linda uses a rubber and finds that the answers can be erased. As she puts down the rubber, however, the answer appears on the paper again. While she is still wondering what has happened, Mrs K announces that the time is up.

The next day, Linda gets full mark the first time in her life. Mrs K says she has become more careful this time and wishes her to keep up the good work. Her friends cheer for her. Linda is uneasy but also enjoys the praise. She always knows she has worked hard, but being admired in front of the class is another thing.

In the Chinese and English tests later that week, the same thing happens. Linda gets one hundred marks without even raising her pencil. When she shows her parents the test results, Daddy says, “Well done, Linda. We are so proud of you. We hope you enjoy learning.”

Soon, Linda realizes that she can easily become first in class. The lessons do not seem so interesting now. She spends every minute at home playing with her toys and stops studying. Whenever Mummy asks her to revise her schoolwork, she replies, “I know everything already.”

A few months later, it comes to the final exam. The genie does not fail her. Once again, all the correct answers appear faithfully on the exam papers. Linda effortlessly gets all subject prizes in her class, as she has always wished.

After the exam, her class teacher Mrs S brings her to the headmistress. The headmistress is a kind lady. She says Linda has done very well this year. After a little chat, she asks, “What does eight plus seven equal to?”

Linda puts up her fingers and suddenly finds that she has not used them for math for ages. She clumsily counts her fingers and answers, “Thirteen?”

The headmistress and Mrs S are a bit surprised. “How do you spell kitchen?” the headmistress asks again.

“K…” Linda utters and cannot finish. She blushes and tries hard not to cry. On the way out, Mrs S puts her hand on Linda’s shoulder and says, “Never mind. I should have told you earlier. You are just too nervous.”

That evening, Linda keeps thinking about what happened. When has she become so bad? She has enjoyed the magic so much and stopped learning. Tears come out from her eyes and she begins to cry bitterly. Daddy and Mummy rush to her room and ask her what is wrong.

Linda decides to tell the truth. “Daddy and Mummy, I am sorry. I have been cheating.” And she tells them everything since the day she met the genie.

After she has told the story, Daddy and Mummy hug her. “The important thing is never how many marks you get or how many prizes you win,” Daddy says. “Being honest and enjoying learning are much more important.”

From that day on, Linda starts to pay attention in class again. She finds the subjects are very interesting after all and is surprised how she could have missed the fun. At the next test, she is relieved to see that the paper is no longer answered. Now, she sometimes gets one hundred marks and sometimes does not, but she knows in her heart what really is important.

19 Jan 2012


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the New England Journal of Medicine. Beginning as a small publication distributed on horsebacks around Boston, the Journal has emerged as one of the most influential platforms in modern medicine. As I glanced through the history of the Journal, I was fascinated by the tremendous progress over the years, but was also amazed to find that many ‘routine’ treatments we use nowadays were not developed until rather recently. To give you an idea of my awe, I have listed some examples below:

1810s: Invention of the stethoscope
1820s: Description of polyneuropathy
1830s: Description of rhinoplasty
1840s: First uses of inhaled ether for surgical anesthesia
1850s: Pasteur identified germs as a cause of disease
1860s: Florence Nightingale established a pioneering nursing school
1870s: Development of cholera vaccine
1880s: Koch isolated tuberculosis bacillus
1890s: First X-ray image
1900s: First electrocardiogram
1910s: Discovery of syphilis treatment by arsphenamine
1920s: Discovery of penicillin
1930s: Establishment of the first blood bank
1940s: First chemotherapy for cancer
1950s: First kidney transplantation
1960s: First liver transplantation and discovery of Australian antigen
1970s: Description of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis
1980s: First description of AIDS
1990s: First hepatitis A vaccine
2000s: Development of imatinib as a targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia

As Bill Gates said, there’s a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in 2 years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years. Those who say there won’t be much more development in their fields will continue to eat their hats, I am afraid.

12 Jan 2012


During the last two trips, I surprisingly finished reading all journal articles at hand before I returned to Hong Kong. You may also be surprised if you have a look at my reading list (see http://vwswong.blogspot.com/2010/01/thursday.html). I usually keep around two dozens of articles in my cell phone and read them with Adobe during my free time. I have considered using iPad instead but realized that my reading time was unpredictable and I didn’t want to carry a bigger device all day long.

On close scrutiny, I found that the number of articles in my cell phone had been decreasing gradually. The reasons were actually pretty obvious.

First, my interest has become narrower and narrower.

Second, technological advance has facilitated my screening process. In the past, I scanned article titles and downloaded the ones of potential interest. Now, scanning is often performed in the matter of a few seconds. When the cursor goes near the title of an article, the abstract is shown on the same page. Some journals just provide a few lines summarizing the main results of the study instead. In essence, I can quickly grasp the main messages and decide not to read further if the topic is not related to my practice.

Neither sounds right.

5 Jan 2012


We visited my mother-in-law in Macau during the New Year holidays. After a lunch, my sister-in-law said I was good at educating Angelina. I was flattered. That was even better than praising my awesomeness.

What exactly did she observe?

We played ‘Plants vs zombies’ at lunch. No, not the original computer game; I only borrowed the idea. Instead, I used my hands as zombies and moved them toward Angelina. To kill the zombies, she had to do mathematical sums in time. Otherwise, the zombies would enter the house and eat everybody.

The game invariably ended with the zombies breaking past all defense and Angelina screaming at the top of her voice.