Echoes Of A Distant Past

At the beginning of the year, if you had told me that soon I will be joining nightly ‘tadarus’ (reading of the Quran) sessions on Zoom with my friends, I would have looked at you and asked “What’s this Zoom thing you’re talking about?”

But such is life, that within a few short weeks, Zoom has become a huge part of many things we do today.

Because of the Movement Control Order (MCO) that has been implemented in Malaysia since mid-March, the month of Ramadhan this year has been very quiet so far. No ‘bazaar Ramadhan’, no ‘terawih’ prayers at the mosque, non of the usual activities that accompany the month of Ramadhan. To try to break the monotony, I invited some MCKK batchmates of mine for ‘tadarus’ sessions every night via Zoom. The aim here is to get us to read the Quran, even a little, especially during this blessed month of Ramadhan.

Alhamdulillah, I am really happy to see this simple being embraced by others. Attendance has been unexpectedly decent too, with about 15-20 people tuning in every night. We wanted to keep it casual, so everyone can choose to either read half a page of the Quran, or simply listen to other people. That way, we hoped more people would be attracted to join the session, even if just to have a quick chat at the end.

So far so good.

What I didn’t anticipate was the rush of memories flooding back in, transporting me back to those years I spent the month of Ramadhan in the quaint town of Kuala Kangsar.

I entered MCKK as a Form 1 student on 13 January 1997 which was near the beginning of Ramadhan that year. Five years later, my batchmates and I left ‘Koleq’ also during Ramadhan, after sitting for our ‘Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia’ examination. So as my friends were reading the Quran on Zoom, I couldn’t help but visualise the nights standing in ‘terawih’ prayers at the Prep School ‘surau’, together with these new friends of mine who would go on to become the brothers I never had. Likewise, my mind automatically wandered to ‘iftar’ in the Carey Hall, supplemented with food and drink bought from the ‘bazaar Ramadhan’ in the area popularly known as ‘Lembah’.

Looking back at those years, I can honestly say that they made me who I am, for better or worse. Indeed, for me personally, Kuala Kangsar is the closest thing I have to a ‘kampung’, not in the physical sense of where my relatives are, but in the sense of it being a place where I return time and time again in search of peace and tranquility. Even now, despite having spent time in other peaceful places like Oxford and Cambridge, the introvert in me inevitably longs to make another short trip to Kuala Kangsar. Definitely something to do before I fly back to the United Kingdom later this year inshaAllah

I am writing these words just after concluding tonight’s ‘tadarus’ session, during which I couldn’t help but be captivated by these few verses in Surah Al-Anfal:

True believers are those whose hearts tremble with awe when God is mentioned, whose faith increases when His revelations are recited to them, who put their trust in their Lord, who keep up the prayer and give to others out of what We provide for them. Those are the ones who truly believe. They have high standing with their Lord, forgiveness, and generous provision.

Surah Al-Anfal [8:2-4]

Have a blessed Ramadhan everyone.


My Plan For The Site

I read a really interesting article entitled ‘Running a Paid Membership Program‘ by Craig Mod recently. That got me thinking about my long term plans for this site. I’m lucky enough to have a job that, while it will never make me a millionaire, is more than good enough for meeting my basic needs. So in that sense, Craig’s advice doesn’t really apply to me as I’m not intending to set up a membership program or anything for this site.

I do, however, like the idea of building an audience of like-minded people who can appreciate the sort of things I pay attention to. One really useful tip I came across in the article is to:

Start writing / making videos / producing what it is you intend to produce for members today, build up that muscle, and do it, ideally, for years before launching the program

Yes, it takes years of work to build a following, especially if you shy away from sensational news or social media spamming. I’m OK with that. I think if you look at this endeavour as a long-term project, then it enables you to stop obsessing about where you are now, and start focusing on the trajectory that you’re on. For me, this translates to the following: it doesn’t matter if only 1-2 people are reading my site daily (as is happening now), as long as I keep on producing useful articles and my readership is growing.

Even though I don’t have any plans for recruiting ‘members’ to this site, I really like the idea of having a place where I can post my thoughts regularly, and where people can come to read (and maybe discuss?) what I’ve written. For years I have been using RSS to follow blogs like Daring Fireball by John Gruber, by Jason Kottke, and Six Colors by Jason Snell. I guess I like the idea of a blog that is personality-driven, rather than the bland news and opinion pages I often see on newspaper websites.

In summary, my plan for the site is this: to use it as an avenue for sharing my day-to-day experiences as a doctor, researcher, and lecturer with other people who are interested in these sort of things. Hopefully someone reading the site will find something useful, funny, or uplifting that they can then use to motivate them in whatever it is they’re doing.


Keeping Fit During The Movement Control Order

I had gotten into something resembling a fitness routine prior to this Movement Control Order (MCO). I don’t have a car in Oxford, so I just cycled everywhere I needed to go. 80% of the time, this is fine—enjoyable even—given how nice some of the cycle paths are over there. The other 20% of the time, I’m huffing and puffing uphill trying to get to the John Radcliffe Hospital, or gripping my handlebars like a madman trying to prevent myself from being blown over while cycling in strong winds.

In addition to cycling, I also went to the gym 2-3 times a week. For me, this was a pleasant outcome from reading the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. For those of you who’ve never come across the book, it’s basically about how small changes make a big difference in the long run. With my gym routine, I started off doing simple cardio once a week. Truth be told, at that point that was all my body could cope with, I was pretty badly out of shape! But slowly I started to vary the routine, in addition to increasing the frequency of my gym visits. Lo and behold, after a few months, I had gone from 0 visits to the gym to going there every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday almost without fail. I even cycled to the gym during Storm Ciara, although this sounds braver (or more foolhardy) than it really was, seeing as in Oxford it was basically just stronger winds than usual.

I flew back to Malaysia around the time of the first MCO in mid-March to be with my family while continuing my DPhil work remotely. One thing I’ve found challenging is the inability to go anywhere to exercise. This has forced me to change my routine slightly. I’m doing less cardio (which may be a good thing?) and more body weight type of exercises.

I tried running around the porch. Given that one round takes me about 20m, it took me almost 250 rounds to get to 5km. To avoid wearing out only one knee, I ran clockwise for 500m before going anti-clockwise for another 500m, alternating between the two until I got to 5km. Overall, not a very fun experience! Also, my pace of 9’51″/km was very slow as I was unable to get a clear stretch of road to build up any kind of speed. I mean, I’m a pretty slow runner at the best of times, but I’m not THAT slow usually.

Calories from 5km run

So I switched to doing more body weight exercises, and that seems to be more promising. At the moment, I’m trying a new routine whereby I start off with some jumping jacks and then switch between leg, chest, shoulder, and back exercises. The whole routine takes about 10 minutes and includes things like:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Air squat
  • Prisoner squat
  • Mountain climber
  • Step in
  • Bird dog
  • Superman
  • Push up
  • Shoulder tap
  • Bridge
  • Straight arm plank
  • Elbow plank

I try to do 2 rounds each session, although towards the end I tend to get a bit wobbly from exhaustion! Haha…

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that performing the ‘Taraweeh’ prayers burns up a respectable amount of calories (see below). I’m trying to figure out if changing the type of exercise from ‘Mind & Body’ to ‘Yoga’ or ‘Fitness Gaming’ changes how it counts those calories, but I don’t have enough data to come to any conclusions just yet.

Calories from Taraweeh prayers

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, do not neglect your prayers!


Learning How To Learn

I wrote a short post on Facebook yesterday that garnered some attention (by my own measly standards), so I thought I’d expand on the post here.

First of all, let me just say that I’m always wary of giving parenting advice such as this. Why? Because to a certain extent, it implies that I’ve got it all sorted out when the reality is quite the opposite. Being a parent is a bit like building a plane while flying it, or flying a plane while building it, whichever order you prefer. Most of the time I struggle to get my kids to stop playing ‘Frogger in Toy Town’ or ‘Cricket Through the Ages’. Heck, I often end up joining them…that cricket game is hilarious!

Cricket Through the Ages

Secondly, I’m aware of how lucky I am to have the luxury of staying at home to look after my kids without having to worry too much about where the next meal is going to come from, how to pay the bills etc. Being in lockdown is clearly a lousy situation, it really sucks. For some people, it’s an inconvenience; for others, it’s an unmitigated disaster. I don’t want to downplay the negative aspects of a lockdown, merely to share with you some of the methods I’ve tried to make the best of this unfortunate situation.

So to re-cap, the Facebook post was about giving my kids a topic to research and present. Basically I choose a topic at random, they get half a day or so to read about it online, and then they have to prepare a short presentation about said topic.

My reason for doing this is not so much to get them to learn things, but to learn how to learn.

Kids these days are faced with a daunting challenge i.e. how to make sense of things in a world overwhelmed with information. That’s why I think one of the most important skills to acquire at an early age is how to sift through the pile of information available, in order to get to the bit of knowledge that you need. This is a lot harder than it sounds, and unless you train them to do it, it’s not going to get any easier as they grow up.

I’m being relatively flexible about how my kids research their topics. In fact, I’m kind of hoping that they make mistakes along the way because I think it’s valuable to know how you ended up making a mistake in the first place.

Because they’re new to this, my kids often end up copying down whatever is in the very first website they encounter. Often, this is Wikipedia, so in that sense, they’re not that different from many university students! Eventually, I hope to nudge them away from just using Wikipedia, but for now, I just want them to develop a sense of excitement towards independent learning…so Wikipedia it is!

One tweak I’ve made is to get them to alternate between presenting their findings in English one day ,and Bahasa Melayu on the next day. I really want to include Arabic and Mandarin in this list, but I’m not fluent in either language. Oh well, something for the dad to learn I guess! I don’t know how long they’ll be able to stick to this routine, but hopefully they will pick up some useful habits while doing it.

And now, back to ‘Cricket Through the Ages’…


Adab Perbahasan

Saya mula berkecimpung dalam arena bahas Bahasa Melayu semasa di Tingkatan 1. Hasrat asal untuk menjadi pemain ragbi tidak kesampaian kerana ibu tidak benarkan, jadi saya pun memilih untuk menyertai pasukan bahas. Alhamdulillah, rezeki saya banyak di situ, dapat jugalah mewakili sekolah lebih kurang 50 kali dalam pertandingan bahas. Penglibatan saya biasa sahaja, hanya di peringkat sekolah menengah, tidak lebih daripada itu. Mahu ke hadapan lagi pun tidak boleh kerana universiti tempat saya belajar tidak ada kelab bahas Bahasa Melayu (jangan kecam ya ‘netizen’!).

Tujuan saya menceritakan kisah sebagai pembahas adalah untuk berkongsi pengalaman paling penting yang saya pelajari sepanjang tempoh 4-5 tahun bergiat aktif dalam bidang tersebut.

Saya namakan prinsip ini ‘adaT perbahasan’, tetapi mungkin lebih elok kalau dibaca sebagai ‘adaB perbahasan’.

Saya bersyukur kerana telah dapat berkongsi arena bahas dengan ramai individu yang benar-benar hebat. Antara ‘musuh-musuh ketat’ saya dahulu adalah para pembahas daripada SEMESTI, SAINA, TKC, STAR, dan SMAP Kajang. Yang menariknya, ramai daripada mereka ini akhirnya menjadi sahabat baik saya. Ada yang sudah menjadi doktor pakar, ahli politik, jurutera, peguam, ahli perniagaan, tokoh korporat, selebriti Facebook dan sebagainya. Walaupun menjadi ‘musuh ketat’ dalam dewan bahas, tetapi hakikatnya saya tidak pernah membenci atau berdendam dengan mereka. Malah saya amat kagum dan gembira melihat masing-masing kini berjaya!

Dewasa ini saya bimbang melihat kecenderungan masyarakat untuk berlebih-lebihan apabila ada perbezaan pendapat. Sesiapa sahaja yang tidak sehaluan, secara automatik dilabel sebagai pengkhianat, berniat jahat, ‘macai’, kurang cerdik dan sebagainya. Seharusnya kita berhujah berlandaskan ilmu dan dengan penuh adab. Malangnya kita lebih gemar sindir-menyindir, atau memarahi, berbanding cuba memahami. Saya sendiri tidak terkecuali daripada berbuat sedemikian. Malah, kalau melihat komen-komen lama saya di Facebook atau Twitter, malu juga memikirkan ketidakmatangan diri ini. Tetapi saya tidak padam komen-komen tersebut, supaya menjadi peringatan buat diri sendiri bahawa saya juga tidak sempurna dan perlu berubah ke arah yang lebih baik.

Bagaimana untuk membuat anjakan paradigma ke arah yang lebih baik? Nasihat saya, sebagai permulaan, kurangkanlah penglibatan kita semua dalam persatuan ‘Bawang Rangers’. Fikir dahulu sebelum bercakap. Berikan komen dengan cara yang sopan. Tegas pada prinsip, tetapi berhujah dengan penuh hormat. Bersangka baik terhadap orang yang berbeza pendapat. Buang ego ketika berbahas. InshaAllah, kita semua tidak rugi apa-apa dengan berbuat sedemikian.

Oleh kerana masa mencemburui saya (ayat lazim ketika berbahas), izinkan saya mengakhiri hujah dengan mendoakan agar kita semua istiqamah dalam berpesan-pesan dengan kebenaran dan kesabaran.

Wallahu a’lam. Salam Jumaat buat semua.


Should I Wear A Mask In Public All The Time?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: I am 99.9% certain that EVERYONE should wear a mask when out in public ALL THE TIME.

There are two main reasons why I am saying this: one’s medical, and the other one is cultural.


The first thing to note is the World Health Organization’s own advice on ‘When and how to use masks‘. Broadly speaking, the WHO says that you should wear a mask in the following situations:

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

Here in Malaysia, the official advice from ‘Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia’ (KKM) is similar to the one given by the WHO. I have a lot of admiration and respect for our KKM, as well as its Director-General (who I think is a national hero regardless of how much he tries to deny it!). Nothing of what I say should take away from the fact that they have done an incredible job at managing the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia. Having said that, I humbly beg to differ with regards to their advice on the use of face masks.

One of the main reasons for saying that masks are not needed for all is due to the worry of not having enough masks for healthcare providers. I fully understand that, and in a situation where the supply of masks is limited, I completely support giving it to those who need it the most. Once that is taken care of, however, we really should consider making it ‘highly recommended’ for people to wear masks in public all the time.

Of course, the science behind this is still developing. But absence of proof is not proof of absence. In other words, just because we don’t have scientific papers showing how wearing masks in public reduces COVID-19 transmission rates, doesn’t mean that masks don’t work! The main problem with saying ‘you only need to wear a mask if you’re sick’ is this: people can be asymptomatic carriers.

An asymptomatic carrier, or even a COVID-19 positive individual with very mild symptoms, may not even be aware that he/she has the infection. Here the science is stronger. We know that people can be asymptomatic carriers. We know that asymptomatic carriers can pass on the virus to other people. After all, that is the basis of our social distancing and restriction of movement efforts. So if you take into account that we can be walking around feeling perfectly well while shedding the virus, then it doesn’t really make sense to say that you only need some form of protection i.e. masks, only if you’re unwell and at risk of passing it on to others.

Medically-speaking, do face masks work all the time? Of course not. No reasonable intervention does. But even a 5%, or 10% improvement, is better than nothing. Progress, not perfection. If you’re even remotely familiar with how new medical treatments are approved, you will know that some drugs/procedures are given approval simply for showing a statistically significant, but clinically marginal, benefit over their competitors. So if I were to tell you that we have a cheap, relatively safe, readily available intervention that can help to further ‘flatten the curve’, wouldn’t you want to use it?


The other main reason for recommending widespread use of face masks in public has to do with destigmatizing the whole condition. If people are only told to wear face masks when they are unwell, then guess what your reaction will be when you encounter someone in public wearing a face mask? You’ll probably avoid that person like the plague, or like COVID-19, as it were.

I’ve heard many stories of healthcare workers being inadvertently exposed to the virus because one of their patients chose to withhold important travel or contact information. I don’t believe all of these cases are due to selfishness, malice, or stupidity on the part of the patient. Fear of stigma can make you do foolish things.

Look, this movement control order cannot last forever. Once it is lifted, and people try to go back to their normal lives, there is a real risk of another wave of COVID-19 infections. We can do more to ‘flatten the curve’ further by making it acceptable to wear face masks when going shopping, when at school, or when attending meetings.


If I were helping the government to implement this policy, in addition to all the economic measures that have been announced, I would certainly consider handing out washable face masks especially to the people who need it the most e.g. the urban poor who are less likely to be able to practise social distancing effectively.

Given a choice between disposable and washable face masks, I’d vote for the latter, simply because they are more practical and sustainable. In order to meet the demand for washable face masks, I think there are a few possible solutions, for example engaging local businesses to manufacture and distribute them, and even teaching people how to make their own. I mean, if Penor Prison inmates can make personal protective equipment, why can’t people make a basic face mask themselves?

Does it matter that it is made of cloth instead of whatever fancy material that medical-grade face masks are made of? Probably.

Does it matter if it is 1-ply, or 2-ply, or 3-ply? Maybe.

But remember, we should aim for progress, not perfection. Even some level of protection is better than none, given the situation.


This post was inspired by an excellent article by Ben Thompson over at Stratechery entitled ‘Unmasking Twitter‘.

I used to think that wearing face masks when you’re feeling well is a bit of a waste of time, despite my wife telling me otherwise. (Editor’s note: Kids, this is the reason why your significant other is called your better half!) I now think that we should strongly recommend the use of face masks in public all the time.

For the record, I am perfectly happy to be proven wrong by any doctor, epidemiologist, social activist, keyboard warrior, or even acik bawang Facebook. Just show me the evidence. I am only interested in getting to the truth, something that will help us win this war against COVID-19. This is not about me trying to be smarter than all the other experts. This affects all of us, and now is not the time to be dogmatic or egoistic about potential solutions.

Speaking of which, I hope you will excuse me while I figure out how to apologize to my wife and admit that she’s been right all along. Maybe I should use my Doraemon voice…


Personal Cost Of COVID-19

There have been many MANY articles written about the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more will be written before we get to the end, no doubt. Some people choose to focus on the science behind it, others talk about the effect it has on their own lives.

Here are two really good articles about the personal cost of dealing with COVID-19.

The first article is by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh entitled ‘COVID-19 And The Doctor’s Dilemma‘:

Doctors are usually both fatalistic and anxious about their family’s health. We know that bad things happen — we witness this at work every day — but also that bad things are, on the whole, unusual. Until you reach old age, that is. When members of our family fall ill, we have to wrestle with professional realism and anxiety driven by too much knowledge. I have little choice other than to think of the worst that might happen, work through my feelings about it, and then try to put it to one side. I suppose you could call this “catastrophising” but, I’m afraid to say, Covid-19 is a catastrophe, even though almost all of us, strange to say, will survive it.

Beautifully written, as is the second article, entitled ‘What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus‘, by Jessica Lustig, deputy editor of The New York Times Magazine. One of the most poignant paragraphs contains this moving detail about a sweater:

I am texting the doctor. I am texting T’s five siblings on a group chat, texting my parents and my brother, texting T’s business partner and employees and his dearest friends and mine, in loops and loops, with hearts and thankful prayer-hands emoji. He is too exhausted, too weak, to answer all the missives winging to him at all hours. “Don’t sugarcoat it for my family,” he tells me. He has asked for the gray sweater that was his father’s, that his father wore when he was alive. He will not take it off.

Stay safe everyone.


What Really Matters

These are extraordinarily challenging times for all of us.

Like many of you, I have been following the news constantly either on traditional news websites, via RSS feeds, or through social media. A lot of it is grim, and it’s easy to slip into depression when one is faced with this onslaught of bad news.

My advice is to talk to someone. Arrange a Skype or WhatsApp call, or send a message on Slack, just do whatever it takes…but talk to someone. More importantly, talk to your loved ones! Check on them, make sure they are OK physically, mentally, and spiritually. Everybody is going through a tough time at the moment, but tough times should prompt us to focus on what really matters in life.




The 2020 iPad Pro with the new Magic Keyboard. (Sorry Apple!)

Many of us have made (and are continuing to make) the mistake of thinking that we need more stuff in life. We dream about that job promotion, the fancy new gadget, or the shiny new car. But these things are only ephemeral. In the grand scheme of things, they hardly matter. Certainly they shouldn’t matter more than the ones I’ve listed above: Family. Friends. Community.

To all the people who are still at work during this COVID-19 crisis, to the healthcare professionals, the journalists, the Foodpanda drivers, the police officers, the garbage collectors etc, you have my utmost gratitude.

To the rest of us (myself included), stay at home, wash your hands, and be kind to each other.

Bonus link for getting to the end of the article: Coronavirus: Creativity, kindness and canals offer hope amid outbreak


Be Kind

Everyone’s attention these days is rightly focused on SARS-COV-2 which causes the illness known as Covid-19. At the time of writing, there have been a total of 182,407 confirmed cases leading to 7,154 deaths, as shown in this map by the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins.

Covid-19 map

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here are 3 simple requests I have for my fellow citizens:

Get your facts right

It is said that ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes’.

That, in itself, is a lie. These days, lies travel MUCH faster than that!

I won’t even bother listing down the rumours, misconceptions, and outright fabrications that have been circulating faster than the actual virus. Suffice it is to say that if you are interested in the latest developments, then please go to official and credible sources for information. Here’s the World Health Organization website on Covid-19. And please, if you’re not sure whether something is true or not, don’t forward it to others. In fact, use this as an opportunity to educate others. Remind them that spreading unreliable information is likely to cause more harm than benefit. 

Follow experts’ advice

I’m amazed at how quickly people have become specialists in infectious diseases worldwide. Scrolling through my Facebook feed is like speed-reading The Lancet Infectious Diseases, given the amount of ‘expertise’ on display.

Sure, it’s tempting to score political points by pointing out deficiencies in how the government is handling the crisis, but this is not the time.

Sure, it’s tempting to be sarcastic and belittle our healthcare professionals for not doing enough, but try walking in their shoes (and hazmat suits) for a while and see if you can do any better. My only regret right now is that I’m away on study leave and can’t be involved with clinical care back in Malaysia.

Be kind

Last, and not least, be kind.

This is by far the MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember!

We’re all in this together. This is not something that affects only rich folks, or poor people. The virus doesn’t care what race or religion you are. It doesn’t even matter whether you are religious to begin with, for this is ultimately a test for us all. 

Can we be responsible citizens?

Can we follow simple rules for the benefit of ourselves and others?

Can we be considerate to other people in this challenging situation?

My heart goes out to my fellow citizens who don’t have the luxury of getting easy access to food, money, and healthcare. Those who have to work or else they won’t get paid their daily wage. Those who cannot take leave to look after their own children. I sincerely hope you will not be forgotten.

Until then, take care everyone.


Snow In Oxford

I love it when it snows in Oxford. There’ s a certain tranquility to it that reminds me of the lyrics to this song called ‘Daerah Ini’ by the nasheed group ‘Algebra’.

Daerah Ini

Mereka kata kau akan sayu di daerah itu

Jawab aku selalu bersama Tuhanku

Ku pasrah padaNya sehening tiupan salju

KernaNya aku rasa jitu dan mampu melebihi manusia beribu

Daerah ini daerah tenang sekalipun ada yang kata usang

Daerah ini daerah damai sekalipun sukar untuk sampai

Daerah ini daerah merdeka sekalipun ada yang memeranginya

Biarkan saja aku di daerah ini