27 Dec 2012


We attended the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I used to go every year as organist until I became an intern. It was simply not possible to play for the church when I had duties every Sunday.

This year, however, IK was on vacation, and the choir conductor remembered me. So I happily took up the job again.

Angela kindly went with me. When we arrived at 9:30 pm, she was taken aback that we were having a rehearsal first and the mass would only begin two and a half hours later. “This is the definition of midnight,” I explained.

To my pleasant surprise, despite the passage of over a decade, I still found quite a few familiar faces at the choir. My friends still regarded me highly. They expected me to play half of the songs without prior practice, including one that required transposition. Brahms was said to have done this before, but it was truly God’s grace that an amateur could manage it.

As I greeted my friends, I could not help noticing the trace of time. The same must have occurred to me as well. In fact, after I had given a talk on clinical research to a group of young Korean doctors earlier this year, they sincerely asked me about career development. It was then I suddenly realized that I was no longer considered as their peer.

There is always a time to move on.

20 Dec 2012


Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting a few young Chinese doctors at a regional symposium. I learned quite a lot about my mother country. Above all, every student is actually a member of the Communist Youth League. Previously, I thought the League was open to just a selected few who were destined to become Communists. Furthermore, all Chinese doctors I met thought us Hong Kong people overreacted during the national education scandal. “Of course it is nothing but lies,” one of them said. “The thing is we have no trouble realizing this.”

As the dinner was served, a lady cardiologist raised the issue of training and career development in China. “In some centers, the boss controls everything. If you do not get along well with him, he can easily destroy your career. One of my colleagues has very good hands and has published a few papers. But as the boss does not like him, he can now only work at the out-patient clinic and has no chance to do procedures. Surely these things don’t happen in Hong Kong, do they?” she said.

I wanted to say that I grew up lucky, but decided to switch the topic. “It is freedom,” I replied. “In Hong Kong, we at least have the freedom to choose our job. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”

13 Dec 2012


During a recent trip, I read The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. In one chapter, I was reminded of a principle of evolution that was commonly overlooked.

To many people, evolution is a process of survival of the fittest. Intuitively, this means selecting the best organisms. The species would only become stronger and stronger through natural selection. However, Deutsch pointed out that a successful animal does not necessarily fit best with the environment. Instead, the only aim is to win the better chance of reproduction, even if it means sacrifice.

He illustrated the point with an example. Say in a particular island, April is the best month for birds to build nests because of the climate and food availability. Now, although the majority of birds build their nests in April, some birds begin their work in March. The condition is not optimal in March, but the birds soon find that they can choose the best spots in March and can more easily find a mate. After a few generations, birds that build nests in March will be selected. The selection will continue to push the time of nest building forward until the disadvantage of working in cold weather balances out the benefit of having a head start. At this point, the species no longer fit best with the condition of the island, but they are nevertheless selected.

With this, I cannot help thinking how local toddlers are brought to attend seven extracurricular activities in a week.

6 Dec 2012


For some reasons, AL became unpopular among students.

Twice a week, we hold the gastroenterology teaching round in the morning. Medical students have to present all the cases. We emphasize the development of clinical sense and insist that the students should know not only the cause of hospitalization but also the treatment and progress afterwards. This is to equip students to become competent doctors.

One morning, a student repeatedly opened and closed the case record of a patient. As the starting time of the round approached, he looked increasingly agitated and began to wander around the ward like a headless chicken. When there were just five minutes left, he pointed at AL and angrily told his classmates, “She still hasn’t seen my patient!” It turned out that AL had not had time to write in the case notes yet, and the student did not know how to present the latest progress of the patient. His classmates nodded in sympathy.

It never occurred to him that he himself could assess the patient.