One Woman's Inspiration

When Nancy invited me and Nic to join her and the rest of the Adventist Hospital staff to visit Tzu Chi Society building in Macalister Road, she had warned me.
“Bring lots of tissues.” It would be emotional.
I just didn’t know how emotional it would turn out to be.
In the end, I came home pretty humbled and yet inspired. I have written about Master Cheng Yen, the founder of this non-profit organisation, sometime before. I have friends who are volunteers in Tzu Chi. I myself contribute monthly towards Tzu Chi.
Master Cheng Yen embodies a woman with absolute strength of character, infused with a resilience that’s awe-inspiring. All this through the one video I saw of her. I can imagine seeing her in the flesh in Taiwan, if I am that fortunate to visit her country (she does not travel out of Taiwan for health reasons I believe).
4 Hours, 3 Times A Week
The first stop of our visit was the Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road. Being a Sunday, we didn’t expect that many people around. The nurses had especially come in earlier at morning to prepare for our visit. The dialysis patients turned volunteers were also there to greet us!

Visiting Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road with Adventist staff
Visiting Tzu Chi Dialysis Centre on Gottlieb Road with Adventist staff

Mr Lee, the centre manager, showed us around and explained about the dialysis machines. Every kidney patient would be hooked up to the machine for 4 hours each time, 3 times a week.
And Tzu Chi does not charge for these sessions – they are FREE.
(Under normal circumstances, each session would cost approximately RM150 to RM250 at private hospitals. In the Government hospital/general hospital, it would be cheaper but there is a long wait list.) Added to that, there are medications. So each kidney patient would need to spend at least RM2500 every month for dialysis and medicines.
For the first time, it dawned on me how magnificent our bodies really are. How each organ works to give us good health; when it breaks down, it becomes tedious, even exhausting. What our kidneys do naturally, the machine takes a good 4 hours each time.
Tzu Chi nurses and volunteers performing for us
Tzu Chi nurses and volunteers performing for us

The one thing I noticed is that the nurses were upbeat and cheerful (despite having to come in as early as 7 am on a Sunday so they could rehearse their performance for us, their guests). They beamed when they performed a song for us together with the dialysis patients/volunteers.
My little hanky rabbit!
My little hanky rabbit!

They were all smiles when they presented their gifts to us – white hankies folded to resemble cute rabbits with red eyes!
We were each presented with cute hanky rabbits!
We were each presented with cute hanky rabbits!

Mr Lee explained that these young nurses would also go beyond their call of duty – they’d drop in to visit dialysis patients after their work hours. All this without extra OT pay. And it is not a secret that they’re not paid as highly as private nurses either. But they do it with grace and cheerfulness.
What was the secret in Tzu Chi which motivated these nurses (who could work in any hospital given their dedication) to be more than they were? It was inspiring to know that there’s a deeper sense of purpose in these young nurses’ lives. It shone in their eyes. It shone in their heart. That word comes back to me – it was like staring at pure joy.
Stories of Hope and Humility
We were then whisked back to the main grey-coloured Tzu Chi building on Macalister Road. It was mid-morning but we were served a mini snack in the form of ‘ang koo kuih’ and jelly, to be downed by fragrant Chinese tea.
Snacks made with love!
Snacks made with love!

Before we drank our tea, we were taught the proper method of appreciating tea. When we sipped the tea, we had to be mindful and remember the 3 Goodness (a sip for good thoughts, a sip for good words and a sip for good deeds). The Tzu Chi staff mentioned that they were going to start their tea appreciation class soon. This class is held once a year and for free. You can call up and ask them when the next class is beginning.
Our fabulous vegetarian lunch at Tzu Chi
Our fabulous vegetarian lunch at Tzu Chi

I couldn’t help but admire the humility, tenacity and inherent mindfulness of these Tzu Chi volunteers, from the ladies dressed in demure dark blue cheongsams (very elegant!) to the men dressed in grey t-shirts or white t-shirts. When we were on the first floor watching a presentation of Tzu Chi, Sunday school for children was in session on the ground floor. In a way, this was a Sunday school with a difference because parents are enrolled with their children with the belief that good values must be taught from young but also with the direct support of the parents.
If only all vegetarian lunches were this delicious....
If only all vegetarian lunches were this delicious....

I was touched by so many things I saw that day in Tzu Chi. They believed in doing things with passion, loving-kindness and mindfulness. As a 10 million strong organisation worldwide, they are always the first to attend to any disaster area and the last to leave. Due to their strong belief in helping people, they have also come up with their own innovation such as instant rice which does not need to be cooked. In disaster areas, fuel is hard to come by so instant rice (which is now part of a range of products they sell in their Tzu Chi shop) with the addition of hot water for 20 minutes makes a nutritious and quick meal. This is also a good product for campers!
They also showed us a short video which made all of us weep once more (we wept when Mr Muck, a dialysis patient recounted his story of how he went from being a patient to actively volunteering with Tzu Chi).
The video was of an 80-year old woman who still holds onto her job as an office cleaner because she is the sole breadwinner in her family of four – her husband is blind and cannot work while her 2 grown-up children are disabled and cannot take care of themselves. She has in total 7 children but the other 5 children were also disabled and had passed away.
And yet, this old woman who rides her motorbike to work daily never once complained about her lot in life. The hunched up little old lady cheerfully goes to work, riding her old little Honda motorbike. Incredibly, after she heard how Tzu Chi gets money to help dialysis patients from recycling household wastes, she started collecting newspapers, tins and plastics to do her bit for Tzu Chi!
I was absolutely floored by this story.
Mr Lee then took over to show us via some slides about Tzu Chi’s work in Indonesia. Tzu Chi volunteers helped to clean up one of Jakarta’s dirtiest rivers and squatter areas. Together with the Indonesian Government, they built flats for the squatter families. They also helped rebuilt tsunami-hit Acheh – rebuilding schools, mosque and houses for the Achehnese.
The local religious leader of the town was so touched by the generosity of Tzu Chi that he asked for 60 pieces of Master Cheng Yen’s photo to be place in every classroom. He wanted the Muslim school children to give thanks and remember the woman who started Tzu Chi, the organisation which helped them.
This contrasts so strongly with what we know and perceive about religions. Would this happen in Malaysia? Would a Muslim religious leader ask for photos of his benefactor to be put in every classroom so that the children do not forget to be grateful each day to the woman and the organisation which helped them? While watching the video of the Muslim children sing a Bahasa Indonesian version of the Mandarin Tzu Chi song, I was terribly moved by the Indonesians’ ability to be all encompassing in their thankfulness.
All I can say is, Tzu Chi is an amazing organisation just like many of the amazing organisations out there who are helping people in their own ways.
Life is sometimes about the lessons we learn and also about the lessons we re-learn.
** You can read more about the inspiring life journey of Master Cheng Yen.
** If you want to help, you can contribute money on a monthly basis with a minimum of RM1 per month. Please contact the nearest Tzu Chi in your town/city.

Let's Not Forget Bawang

Su Ping kept telling me about this brand when I was visiting her in Hong Kong. After all, when we bunk in with friends, we also are privy to their bathroom and personal care items.
She told me about this shampoo which I didn’t really pay attention to until I got into her bathroom and saw the black bottle. And she kept telling me about it.
The thing is, it had a funny name.
It’s called Ba Wang.
Endorsed by Jackie Chan though I can’t say I like Jackie much. His movies are a bit too formulaic and lacks finesse but that’s me. I know hordes of Chan fans.
“It has herbs and all that and helps your hair grow,” enthused Su Ping. She convinced me to try it.
I did. It smelled of ginseng and all the Chinese herbs I am used to eating, rather than shampooing my hair with. But it did clean well.
When I came back, I decided to buy a bottle and try it out. I was getting sick and tired of Pantene ProB and its sickly sweet fragrance.
So this is what I bought. It wasn’t cheap at RM26.90 for 400 ml. It’s more expensive than any of the commercial shampoos in the market.

Bawang shampoo - from cheap to chic
Bawang shampoo - from cheap to chic

Mr Ba Wang isn’t called Ba Wang at all. Mr Chen is the founder of this China-made shampoo and he is very rich indeed. When his shampoo business IPO-ed in China, he became super rich with his wife. That’s the China rags-to-riches story or you could call it clever marketing.
He started in 1989 with a shampoo that was just like any other shampoo (except that it has Chinese herbs) and selling for just a few yuan. But in China, everything is mass. You don’t sell 1 shampoo, you sell millions. Or billions. Mr Chen was smart enough to get Jackie Chan to endorse his products for a cool fee. And barring me, everyone loves a hero like Jackie.
Anyway, does the shampoo work? It supposedly contains ginseng, notoginseng and gingko. It’s supposed to nourish hair.
The bottle is not very fashionable, it’s almost too shameful to show! It’s old-fashioned and it’s really China packaging that peeves.
A little dollop the size of a teaspoon is good enough to wash a whole head of shoulder-length hair like mine. It foams well but I don’t want to know – all this foaming is due to something which I’d rather NOT know about. Anyway, foam doesn’t a clean head make. But I do feel my scalp is cleaner and my hair is smoother and softer, like the fur on the belly of my fat tabby.
I don’t mind the herbal fragrance. It reminds me of a Chinese medicine shop!
Here’s something else: I read that not washing your hair will, over time, result in more glossy hair. I can’t say I can live with that but you can skip shampooing daily. Washing your hair every other day is better than daily shampooing. After sometime, your scalp gets used to it and sebum production normalizes and your hair is healthier than before. I used to wash my hair every day so now I am trying to wash it just every other day to see if this tip really works!

Miss BB In The House

I got introduced to two new products recently. And I’m trying out both to see if they both work as touted.
One is the famous BB Cream from Korea.

Korean bb cream from etude house
Korean Magic BB cream from etude house

Soh Peng who came to stay a few weeks ago shared that she was a big-time user of this Korean face product. It’s a very natural-looking, non-cakey foundation-moisturizer-concealer. In fact, she admitted that Singaporeans are crazy over this facial product. She bought a whole carton of it when she travelled to Korea.
So I got intrigued. Was it really so good?
Soh Peng, bless her soul, even took me to Etude House in Queensbay Mall just to show me what it was. I wasn’t unconvinced, just a bit overwhelmed by the products in Etude House. (Other shops like The FaceShop also carry BB Creams. Even SaSa I heard. And most Korean beauty shops in all their pink and sweet-little-girl glory. Shiver! Too much pink is scary!)
The thing which I liked best was it’s an all-in-one product which I heard became popular after some Korean actress divulged that she used it and she had lovely, dewy skin. BB stands for Blemish Balm and story has it that it was a recommended formula for Korean actresses who had done laser surgery! It’s soothing and rejuvenating at the same time.
In the end, I went back to Etude House and bought one tube of Magic BB Cream (they had a 20% sale of this item) so I bought it for RM38. The easy part is, there’s no shade to choose from, unlike concealers and foundations. You only chose for your skin type – for oily skin, for normal skin or with SPF.
It’s easy to apply BB Cream. Just dot it on your face and massage in as you would your regular moisturizer. You are done in less than a minute. I’ve stopped using my ZA Concealer too and just rely on BB Cream for that quick made-up face without a made-up look or feel.
Initially my face looked whiter than my neck but after 5 to 10 minutes of application, the cream magically blends in with my skin colour! (I think that is why it is called Magic BB Cream.) It gives a smoother appearance but my T-Zone starts looking oily after 2 hours! That’s the only thing which I hate. It gives me too much of a dewy look!
I’ll have to use it for a longer period in order to really see if I like this Korean product though I think it could be very useful for travel.
Actually I also liked the Etude lip tint and wanted to buy that but Nic warned me against it. The bottle of lip tint looks like blood. You just apply it on your lips and you get this natural reddish hue, like you bit your lips very hard and the blood rushed to your lips. Ah, too many vampire series maybe!
I can see how Korean beauty products are fascinating particularly in helping create a nubile young look. I call it the Big Eye look. You know, those girls with heart-shaped faces, big eyes and long lashes and small, pink pouty lips. Oh and fair of skin. Let’s not forget that. You can re-create that Big Eye look with tinted contact lenses (my, what big irises you have).
And I will tell you more about Mr Bawang real soon too….. he’s another latest discovery!

Undergoing iLASIK – The Actual Day

If you ask me whether I was nervous on the day of my iLASIK surgery, I can tell you I wasn’t.
Not because I was pretending to be fearless.
Not because of the half a tablet of Valium they gave me. (Never taken Valium before. It’s supposed to calm me down.)
In fact, it was work which took my mind off the surgery. I was rushing some last minute stuff for a client that Monday morning so I really didn’t have time to even think about iLASIK! (A tip if you are ever going for any elective surgery – do something else so you won’t sit around twiddling your thumbs and worry!)
I was scheduled for my elective eye surgery on Monday afternoon about 2.30pm but I had to be there an hour earlier to do some final eye check-up, settle my surgery bill (yes, that is very important – it costs RM2988 per eye) and get briefed and sign an agreement. Even though we are their website design firm, I still paid my bill because let’s face it, business is business.
It is an elective surgery so the agreement was a must. I had to understand that I didn’t HAVE TO undergo iLASIK; there were other options available to me – glasses, contact lenses etc. I understood what iLASIK was about and chose to do it. And then I signed the agreement. Immediately after, I was given half a tablet of Valium and 2 Paracetamol to gulp down. It was supposed to keep me away from pre-surgery jitters.
As I mentioned before, there are 2 parts to the iLASIK procedure. Both parts are done using laser.
Going Into Surgery
For the first part, I was brought to a smaller room where I was asked to lie down. The nurse from Sabah (I’ve forgotten her name now) was chatty enough. She talked as she worked. First she disinfects my eyes and places ice-cold packs on my eyes to numb them.
She lets me hug a pillow and covers me with a thick blanket so I look like a beached whale on the chair (like the type dentists use so you are horizontal!). After 5 minutes or so, she puts some eye drops into my eyes (which could be the anesthetic methinks). I am still awake. I hear her chatting away. She tells me that she’ll talk me through the procedure but I don’t have to answer or nod.
At this point, Dr Tah takes over. The endearing part of this is hearing Dr Tah say that he’ll say a prayer for me. Adventist is a Christian hospital so they start surgery with a prayer. I find that so sweet and endearing! Suddenly Dr Tah and his nurses don’t seem so unfamiliar. If a person can say a prayer for you, it grows a bond between strangers which humanizes the business transaction. No matter who we are, we still look to the Divine for guidance, strength and assistance.
After the short prayer, Dr Tah asks me to look at the red light in front of my eye. He and his team work on each eye individually, covering one eye up with a cotton gauze. I believe they also put a retainer over my eye so I would not blink. I didn’t feel pain; just mild pressure on my eye ball. At this point, Dr Tah was using the computer-guided IntraLase Femtosecond laser to create the corneal flap for each eye. Creating these flaps take mere seconds. And really, I didn’t feel a thing. The good thing was, I was awake throughout the procedure and the nurses told me what was going on every step of the way. This greatly reduces anxiety even though I was thinking, hey I should be worrying, why am I not worried?
When it was over, I got up but everything was blurry. Like someone misted the whole room. The nurse held me as I was guided to the surgery room (a few steps away) where I was again asked to lie down. Again, she gave me a pillow to hug and pulled a warm blanket over me. (The surgery room is cold.)

ilasik surgery
That's me getting prepped for surgery.

This was the actual part where Dr Tah would fold aside the corneal flaps and use a computer-driven excimer laser or cold laser to correct my short-sightedness and astigmatism by re-shaping my corneas.
For this second step, the nurse covered up my left eye. Dr Tah was going to work on my right eye first. My right eye has less severe short-sightedness so the laser time for this eye was much shorter – I think it was 20 seconds.
ilasik laser eye surgery penang malaysia
Looking like a beached whale before surgery - I was hugging a pillow!

My corneal flap was lifted aside. When Dr Tah did this, I was momentarily blinded.
Once the flap is lifted and pushed aside (imagine opening up a can of sardines. You use the can opener to go all around the top of the tin but not to the point of breaking the circle. Then you use a fork to push aside the top of the can so yeah, this is as close to what I can describe about the flap!), I again can see the red light above me and heard this mechanical tick-tick-tick sound. I was indescribably calm. Maybe the Valium was taking effect!
laser eye surgery adventist vision centre
That's my eye, upside down

Angine the nurse again walked me through the procedure calmly and confidently. The laser will be re-shaping my right cornea. She tells me that it will take 20 seconds and that I’m doing fine and that I’ve reached the halfway mark of 10 seconds and soon it will be over. Once the laser stops, I smell a faint burnt smell which is most likely the smell of laser on my cornea! It’s like the smell of burnt hair. Dr Tah then gently puts back the corneal flap, smoothing it out.
dr raymond tah of adventist vision centre
Dr Tah is about to begin on the other eye now.

They then cover my right eye and work on my left eye. This left eye of mine has more severe short-sightedness plus a good dose of astigmatism so it takes 34 seconds to laser the cornea. Finally the corneal flap is placed back and smoothed out.
See the tracking on my eye?
See the tracking on my eye?

(Did you know that your friends and family can view your surgery as it happens? It’s scarier for the people viewing the surgery than for the one undergoing it. You can also request from AVC to view the surgery just to put your fears to rest that it is fast and pain-less.)
And in less than 20 minutes, it’s over! I was ready to go home by 3.30pm!
Nic, me and Dr Raymond Tah, post-surgery
Nic, me and Dr Raymond Tah, post-surgery

When I get up from my horizontal position, the first thing I am asked to look at is the wall clock. While my vision was still blurry, I could actually read the numbers on the clock!
The nurse then led me out of the surgery room and put eye drops in each eye before taping plastic eye shields over my eyes.
Putting eye shields on
Putting eye shields on

She gave me 2 different types of eye drops to use 4 times a day (Pred Forte and Zymar), to be followed by Refresh Plus eye lubricants for the next 7 days. And also paracetamol just in case.
Medication, eye drops and eye lubricant for me to use post-surgery
Medication, eye drops and eye lubricant for me to use post-surgery

I was also told to go home and sleep for 3 hours with the eye shields on. I was instructed to wear the eye shields at night while sleeping for the next 3 days. I looked like Ultraman with the shields on!
Wearing eye shields and looking really odd
Wearing eye shields and looking really odd

I was scheduled to come in the next day to check my eyes. Then, a follow-up check a week later. The third checkup will be in a month’s time.
When I woke up from my 3-hour nap, I could see clearly!
And yes, I could drive and work immediately the next day though I had to go out with sunglasses (glare isn’t so good for eyes just operated on).
My 3rd check-up will be at the end of this month. So far, I’ve felt so blessed to be able to enjoy clarity after years of wearing glasses. It was a bit sentimental when I threw out my last pair of contact lenses soaking in saline. I emptied out the saline bottle. I packed up my glasses, keeping them as a memento.
Advice and Some Final Two Cents
This is an elective surgery. You choose to do it or you can choose not to. It won’t kill you to wear glasses either. It’s really up to you. If you always felt you could do better without glasses or contacts, then perhaps iLASIK is for you.
I also understand many people may be fearful of going blind (yikes) or having complications. That is why you must do your research first and get to know the facts. You must talk to people who have done it. You must go to a reputable service provider. I was like that initially. I was really scared and worried but the more you know, the less afraid you become.
And please, price should be your last concern. I know people who told me that I could get it cheaply done for less than RM4K but hell, these are my eyes!
You may not even be going to Adventist Vision Centre and this is certainly NOT a post telling you to do it there. I am telling you how the experience feels like, what I know and what I have done. But try to get the iLASIK procedure where available as it is used by the US Army and NASA astronauts. iLASIK is also about Custom Wavefront 3D mapping of the eyes where it creates a personalised treatment for your eyes.
I am presently quite happy with my 20/20 vision. I use the Refresh Plus eye drops whenever I feel my eyes getting dry (especially in air-cond areas or when I wake up in the morning). I see halos around lights at night (which I am told, will lessen over time). I need to be careful while washing my face in the first few days and I am advised not to rub my eyes.
Have healthy expectations regarding your vision.
You won’t have supersonic eyesight but you will be able to see clearly.
And you can finally throw away your glasses!

Before The iLASIK Experience

I finally went for my iLASIK 2 weeks ago. Did it at our client’s place.
I only found time recently to blog about this. Me being me, I don’t like half-hearted posts. I like to give as much detail and backstory so in case you are thinking of undergoing the same experience as I did, at least you can take heart that someone did it and someone told the actual story and someone was not paid to tell the story (that is why I don’t do paid reviews. If someone paid me to review something, I’ll only have good things to say about it. If I paid with my own money, I can say the good and the bad. I can say as much or as little as I want.)
Two Monday afternoons ago specifically. I should mark 21 June down as the day I could see everything clearly without glasses.
I wrote about 2 options for my vision sometime last year.
But at the back of my mind, I had always wanted to do iLASIK.
I’ve always wanted to wake up to clear vision and ditch the glasses/contact lenses. I’ve been shortsighted since I was 11 and was immediately made to wear glasses as I was squinting at the blackboard in class. My first pair of glasses were huge and powder pink.
I thought I was finally free of glasses when I discovered contact lenses when I was 19 (and could afford to buy them on my own).
But contact lenses were always a problem for me too.
Travelling meant packing extra pairs of lenses, you know, for those Just In Case scenarios. Also, travelling with bottles of lens solutions and contact casings. And of course, that pair of glasses just in case! It’s bloody hard being vain! (If you wear glasses and contact lenses, you will know what I am talking about.)
And don’t even talk about waking up early.
Because putting on lenses at 6am can be such a torture. The eyes are bleary and won’t cooperate. It also (sometimes) means red eyes because of a lack of oxygen. And if travelling by plane, the cabin air made it worse. More drying out.
Though I was fortunate NOT to get dry eyes while wearing contact lenses. My sisters do. So do many friends who wear contacts.
And I “trained” myself to wear the lenses for more than 12 hours per day without much issue. My lenses never did pop out accidentally, unlike my sister’s. (Once we were in Bukit Tinggi shopping mall and her left lens popped out of her eye. We headed direct for Guardian to buy a bottle of saline to rinse the lens before popping it right back in!)
Lenses were a big step from glasses. At least, I could swim while wearing contact lenses. I learnt to live with a life of contact lenses and multi-purpose solutions.
I had to.
I mean, what else was there for a shortsighted person?
Then last year, we were approached by Adventist Vision Centre to help them with their website. Actually they never had a website to begin with. They had a page within the Adventist Hospital website. Which really didn’t help to help them sell their vision correction services. Which until then I had no idea what it really was about.
As with all clients whom we write content for, we conduct research on our own as well as talk to them about what they offer. From our initial conversations, I discovered that not all laser eye surgery are the same. Yes, they all come under the laser surgery but you’d be quite surprised to know that some centres use microkeratome or blade to create the corneal flap. In Adventist, they use the Intralase which is a type of laser to create the corneal flap which is more accurate and with less lasik complications. You can read about it all if you want over at their iLASIK technology page.
So I was feeling quite convinced when I decided early this year to undergo the iLASIK surgery under the deft hands of Dr Raymond Tah and his team.
First Step: Getting Eyes Assessed
My eyes had to be assessed first because not everyone’s eyes are suitable for iLASIK. As I had been wearing contact lenses, I was requested to go without contacts for 7 days so that my eyes could normalize. So for 7 days, I was wearing my glasses. Initially it was odd as I find wearing glasses cumbersome. I would sweat and the glasses would slide off the bridge of my nose.
In the end, I wore my glasses for 10 days. When the day of my full assessment arrived, I was quite happy to go in that morning for a slew of testing which would last about 3 hours. Johan, their optometrist, checked my eyes, scanned them and all that and announced triumphantly that yes, my eyes were good for surgery!
Many people I spoke to had very high power – some 1,000, some 900, some 600 plus. Mine was “just” 450! Technically the higher your power, the more dramatic it would be as you’d go from being a totally blind bat (sans glasses) to absolute clarity (sans glasses).
It really is life-changing.
I’ve had friends who’d done the elective eye surgery years ago. Reason? Motherhood! Two of them grumbled that when they woke up to feed their babies at night, they had to find their glasses and put them on while they breastfed their babies. Another friend told me her husband gave it as a gift for her birthday so she didn’t have to squint all the time! And they wondered why they didn’t do it earlier.
Angine, one of the kind and patient nurses I spoke to, told me she was so amazed and inspired by her vision change (she did hers some few years ago when the centre first opened) that she decided to work at Adventist Vision Centre.
So I told Nazira that I wanted to schedule my surgery as soon as possible. Partly I was really sick of wearing my glasses! I was there on a Thursday for my eye assessment (which will set you back RM110) so they scheduled me for my iLASIK surgery on the following Monday afternoon.
Tomorrow – the part where I get my eyes zapped with laser!