Saturday, March 30, 2013

A last glimpse of the cherry blossom season at Kudanshita.

The cherry blossoms are already disappearing with each passing day. It's been windy this week, but I think the cherry blossoms really tried to hang in there for a little longer. Although it's gotten chilly again today, the previous two days were quite warm, and I took advantage of this eye in the storm as much as I could to spend more time outside.

On Thursday night, my lovely friend Lisa brought me to Kudanshita to view some more yozakura before they disappeared for the year. We got there shortly after 6'o'clock in the evening; the cherry blossoms were scheduled to light up at six-thirty. Before the sky got too dark, I snapped a quick photo just outside the station. The flowers were so pretty and abundant, hovering over the water like snow.

We walked on the street overlooking the water near Kitanomaru Koen, and it seemed that everyone around us was also there to catch a view of the blossoms at night.

Looking up at the canopy of pink blossoms, I had an overwhelming sense of the otherworldly. It's as if this short-lived season is a temporary bridge transcending between our reality and something else out there. I felt as if I could have stayed in that intermediary state forever.

There was a one-way traffic of people traveling under the cherry blossom trees, and when we got near the end, there was a spot close to the boat rentals that seemed to be the most popular place for taking pictures. I wasn't really sure why, but in any case, I felt compelled to also take a picture here--albeit a not very good picture (oh, the disadvantages of being short). Then I decided the crowd of people taking photos made an even more interesting picture.

It was a very relaxing evening. I'm so glad I was able to catch one last glimpse of this metaphysical beauty before it floated away to someplace else, far away. Please come back again next year.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Under35 Opening Party.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the Under35 opening party hosted by BankART1929 in Yokohama. Under35 is a project series for young artists under 35 years of age, and produced in collaboration with various galleries. The opening party took place at BankART Studio NYK and exhibitions covered all three floors of the building.

I was graciously invited on the day of, and I really had no idea what to expect when I went. But as it turns out, I had such a lovely, lovely time, and met so many amazing artists both local and from abroad. It is so inspiring to be a part of such an uplifting and powerful gathering of individuals who are all passionate about art and the creative process.

I am very grateful for having been given the opportunity to attend such an event. In addition to seeing a lot of stimulating artwork and performances, I was able to converse with many different people, both young and more mature. Art really does connect people and provide a base for people to identify with one another.

And with some wine and delicious Korean food (made by the artists themselves!) on the first floor, shirasu and nihonshu on the third floor, and great company throughout the night, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thank you, fellow art lovers! It was the best first night in Yokohama.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cherry blossom season.

This week, I started my life in Japan. I'm currently staying in Yokohama, Kanagawa, and it is beautiful here. Cherry blossom season is apparently early this year, but this means that there were full blooms welcoming me upon my arrival. It is my first time being in Japan during the month of March, and I am so glad to finally be able to witness the arrival of spring here! It's very different from any of the other places I've spent spring in; there is a certain atmosphere to it, like you can feel the essence of spring in the trees, the people, the rhythm of life.

I experienced my first hanami (cherry blossom viewing) yesterday at Inokashira Koen in Kichijoji, Tokyo. There were so many people! It was a time where eating, drinking, and the cherry blossoms overhead were the only things that mattered and nothing else. I had so much fun.

Outside my door, Motomachi Koen is also abundant with cherry blossoms in full bloom. I just can't stop myself from going outside once every few hours and standing there, admiring them.

Cherry blossoms are beautiful and short-lived. The experience of standing under them is inexplicable and irreplicable; nonetheless, I captured a few pictures of them both during the daytime and at night. I can't decide which I like better: cherry blossoms under a bright, blue sky, or yozakura, cherry blossoms at night.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thank God for science.

Two days ago, I had the unfortunate experience of eating a bite of stone pot-cooked rice at a Japanese-style cafe in Hong Kong, and immediately feeling sick afterwards, which I later on found out was due to the peanut sauce mixed into the rice. Oh, allow me to clarify: I am deathly allergic to any kind of nut, and peanuts most of all.

I'm sorry to say that, as careful as I have been in eating due to my numerous food allergies (mainly being nuts and various seafood), I've had a few experiences where I ended up in the hospital from eating something I would not have expected to have peanuts in it. This most recent incident was my second time going to the emergency in Hong Kong because of this, and I also had a similar sitaution in Macau almost two years ago.

I've had many different hospital experiences in my life, some when I went to the hospital for myself, other times for my mom. I've been to the emergency in Richmond when my mom slipped and hit her head when she was sick, and I've been to the palliative care ward in a hospital in Vancouver, when she was staying there before she passed away. I frequented the Children's Hospital in Vancouver for multiple surgeries when I was little, went to a hospital in Montreal when I dislocated my shoulder a few years back, went to a private hospital in Hong Kong last year for dermatology-related surgeries, and to public hospitals in Hong Kong for my allergy emergencies.

All in all, I've had my fair share of hospital experiences. I wouldn't call myself an expert at all in medicare, but in any case, I think I have a decent range of experiences--maybe enough to make a few comparisons from personal history.

Firstly, something I was really pleased about was that an ambulance ride in Hong Kong is an included service in the medical care.

Shortly after we called for the ambulance two days ago, three men carrying enormous backpacks and bright red blankets came into the cafe. Two of them were young, in their twenties, and one was middle-aged. They all wore flu masks. They unloaded some basic equipment from their packs and attached some of them onto me to check my vitals, and asked me some basic questions on what kind of pain I felt. Mainly, their primary concern was to make sure I wasn't having any trouble breathing.

I mentioned I felt like I was about to puke, and was given a plastic bag to loop around my neck which came in very useful later on. They fixed an oxygen mask on my face that I believe was connected to a portable oxygen machine later on attached to the side of the stretcher, and told me if I wanted to puke at any time, to simply remove the mask and do my business. More men brought in the stretcher and lowered it for me to climb on; then they wrapped me in a blanket, and the six of them and I (on the stretcher) proceeded to the side of the mall where we rode a staff elevator down to the ground floor to meet the ambulance parked on the side of the road outside. Not that one usually cares when they're fighting major chest pain and in the middle of a race to the hospital, but I must say I was feeling pretty important with so many people waiting on me!

They checked my vitals again nearing the end of the ambulance ride, and I was wheeled into the emergency ward when we arrived at the hospital. I wasn't exactly alert enough to be taking my time in looking around, but I could hear that there were a lot of people sitting in the emergency waiting area. They wheeled a hospital stretcher beside mine and four men, each holding a corner of the blanket I was on, hauled me onto the other stretcher on the count of three, and switched the blanket that was covering me. I was a little sad to see the ambulance men go; I think I preferred them over the hospital staff as they seemed a little friendlier and patient (or as friendly medical people/people in Hong Kong can get).

The rest of my afternoon at the hospital was generally the same as all my other experiences at hospital emergency wards. They take a look at my vitals multiple times, pester me to the point of slight annoyance about my basic information (name, address, etc.), and ask how exactly I ended up in this condition. It doesn't become annoying until about the fifth time I have to repeat the same information with an incredibly sore throat and in a barely audible voice thanks to all the puking.

The colour of the blanket wrapped around me while in the ambulance. The colour of security.

The good thing about being hospitalized in Hong Kong is that medical care here is relatively inexpensive, at least for Hong Kong residents such as myself. The ambulance service, immediate medical attention at the hospital, medication via injection, about an hour of rest afterwards in a curtained area, and medication to take home--all of this costed me just $100 HKD (about $13 CAD).

This compared to what I would have sacrificed to take an ambulance in Montreal, Canada, had any of them actually arrived, points out some big differences.

First of all, in the case where I dislocated my shoulder in Montreal, I would have had to pay over $50 CAD just for them to pick me up and drive up the slope. My dad remembers paying the same amount in Vancouver when my mom was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. When I dislocated my shoulder (this was about five years ago), I had to trudge across my university campus to reach the first aid room. There they called the ambulance to take me to the hospital which, in fact, was located just at the top of the hill we were already on. A maximum three minute ride. The first one never came, and when someone called again for the ambulance about 45 minutes later, the coordinator had told them that she didn't know what happened with the first ambulance, but that she'll send another one regardless. That one never came either. Fortunately I only had a dislocated shoulder; although I was in enough pain to almost pass out, it was bearable. But if someone else had been me and needed more immediate medical attention, I'm pretty sure they would have died waiting for an ambulance.

I ended up calling and taking a taxi that time, by the way. The taxi driver was understanding enough to agree to the short drive.

That being said, I do think that staff in hospitals are generally friendlier in Canada and treat patients less like a business transaction. Cultural attitudes might play a role in this difference, but then again, not so much, I think. Public hospitals are always overflowing with people at the emergency in Hong Kong, and obviously you can imagine this would create quite the din in the waiting area. But it's not just the patients awaiting medical assistance, it's the staff that's loud too. You have to understand that, as a patient under pain and submitted to extended periods of time lying on a stretcher, you hear more than you see. They should really enforce that no-phones rule at hospitals. There's something very disrupting at having loud ringtones jump out at you; I remember the same, darned ringtone when I was on the stretcher two days ago, blasting within my range of hearing at least five times within an hour. I was also able to gather a lot of unnecessary information on how sick one particular colleague at the hospital was. I heard snippets of other patients' information being loudly called out between the staff. The man who helped me onto one of the stretchers picked up a call and the conversation over that call had clearly been a personal matter.

This was the emergency ward, of course, and would make a poor representation of the hospital overall. But the last time I was at this particular hospital for the same reason, it was in the middle of the night and I had been admitted to one night at the hospital so I could be under their observation. But I ended up forcefully discharging myself from the hospital, because upon being wheeled into a room on another floor that I was supposed to stay in for the night, I suddenly had an inexplicable fear of that place. It was dark, cold, and empty with beds too close in proximity with one another. No visitors were allowed to be with patients after a certain time at night, so I would have had to stay in that cold space alone for the entire night, and the staff seemed either absent or generally unsparing in their attitudes. I felt like a human experiment. So I had refused to stay. I was still charged for a night at the hospital because "all the paperwork had been done" already, but fortunately, it was inexpensive and I just took my medication and left (to my great relief).

Staff in palliative care in the Canadian hospital my mom was at were very kind. Maybe because my mom had a more serious or complicated case and was in a much graver situation, but there were many doctors who personally came in to see her and talked to and about her to me as if she was truly under their responsibility. I was very grateful for that. Most nurses were very pleasant and treated even family members like myself as people--people who were also suffering at that. Even at the emergency in Montreal when I finally did get looked at by a doctor, at least I felt like I was treated like a human being by the doctor. Maybe it was just that I was assigned a doctor who had a smile for me even when he probably had a long day already. Although, to be honest, other personnel at the hospital were less caring and I did end up waiting over three hours at the emergency, hunched over for hours waiting for them to fix my dislocated shoulder. The shoulder, in fact, relocated itself after three hours of waiting, and by the time they took me in to look at it, it had already been fixed on its own and they didn't have to do anything other than take an x-ray.

Well, the bottom line is, there are both extremely good aspects and extremely bad ones in all the medical care I've received or witnessed in both Canada and Hong Kong. The medical community is an extremely stressful and sensitive place; I most certainly am not attributing any blame for its uglier parts to anybody working in the field. I am most grateful for all the individuals who decided to dedicate their lives to working in such a stress-inducing but necessary space, and I am looking forward to even further improvements to be made in the future, for all the people who are in need in this world.

I'm so glad to be alive, and I'm sure that every person who has received medical help in the past feel the same. Thank God for science!