Make New Year resolutions and keep them – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 28 December, 2014

Make New Year resolutions and keep them
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 28, 2014, Sunday

Making goals into a reality can be easy if we know how
Many of us simply set lofty goals and attempt to tackle them without defining the strategies and structures to accomplish them.

YEAR 2015 is just around the corner. I have a feeling that other than the justification for merry-making, the New Year is an excuse to sweep unfulfilled resolutions under the carpet and begin again on a clean slate, just like pressing the reset button in a video game.

Brooding over what could have been will not change anything. Those who have not achieved what they have set out to do certainly welcome this opportunity. It allows them to let go of plans that did not pan out for the year and start afresh.

I no longer make resolutions specifically only during the New Year. Rather, I make action plans for my work and advocacy activities as and when needed. Both are goal-settings. The principles are the same – they both lead to positive outcomes, be it for ourselves or for the people around us.

Now that I am in the business of teaching participants of the Disability Equality Training workshops that I conduct to make action plans, I am in a position to see why many of us do not carry through our resolve.

We set lofty goals and attempt to tackle them without defining the strategies and structures to accomplish them.

Here I would like to share some tips from the workshops that have helped the participants make more effective and achievable actions plans.

They are adapted for making New Year resolutions.

Plan ahead. The old adage ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ still rings true. Do not wait until the very last minute to come up with a resolution. Take some time to mull it over and think it through because if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Begin with the end in mind. Being able to visualise the goal makes us understand better the direction that we have to take. This allows us to focus our energy on what needs to be done. Sometimes, there may be obstacles along the way. If we know where we are heading, we will not lose our way.

Start small. There is a tendency to cramp several resolutions into one year with over-idealistic goals. It’s better to decide on one which is achievable within the timeframe of 365 days and work on it; than having too many on the plate and not knowing which to work on first. We know our own potentials and limitations best. The goal must be realistic and viable. It’s better to be able to realise a smaller goal than to be overwhelmed by a bigger one. For bigger goals, break them into smaller components and timeframes. Looking at it in its entirety can be intimidating, while seeing them in fractions makes them appear doable. It’s like preparing for an exam. Studying one chapter a day is more effective than going through the entire book of twenty chapters at one go.

Motivation and commitment. The two are the most difficult parts in this entire process. We will somehow falter halfway when the excitement dies off. Therefore, it’s important to keep reminding ourselves the reason why we are doing what we are doing.

I found it effective to draw up a chronological plan, detailing each step to be taken leading to the goal. The plan is then pasted somewhere visible to me most of the time, like at the workstation or at places where I spend a lot of my time.

Like-minded friends. Where possible, find them. They can be strong motivating factors. Better still if they have similar resolutions to realise. It will be mutually beneficial to join forces with them to constantly push each other to reach that common goal together.

Having said all that, even the most well-laid plan can miss the mark. I am no stranger to failure in achieving the goals I set not for the lack of trying.

Sometimes, circumstances are just not in our favour. That is not the end of the world. These are valuable lessons that teach us what do not work and allow us to find other ways that do.

Goal setting and accomplishing it are skills that improve with practice and experience. Over time, when we have internalised the methods, we can move on to bigger goals with ease. I see it like baking a cake. As a novice, we follow the instructions in the recipe to the dot.
Over time, we can do it without breaking a sweat and the cake will still turn out to be as good – if not better.

Before we ring out the old year with a hearty chorus of Auld Lang Syne with family and friends, let us take stock of where we are now, the one aspect of our life that we want to change for the better and make plans to achieve it. I can assure you that by following those tips, you are already halfway there.

Here is wishing you a Happy New Year and success with your resolutions!

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Changing of the seasons – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 21 December, 2014

Changing of the seasons
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 21, 2014, Sunday

Glutinous rice balls for winter solstice
The writer remembers how his family had always heralded the Tang Chek by making ‘kueh ee’ – glutinous rice flour balls steeped in a fragrant syrup of ginger and pandan.

THE Winter Solstice Festival falls on Dec 22 this year. It is known as Tang Chek in the Penang Hokkien dialect. To the older generations of people of Chinese ethnicity, the cultural significance of this festival is equal to that of the Chinese New Year. They are both celebrated with as many elaborate rituals and feasts as possible.

In the old days, work was hard labour throughout the year and breaks were taken only for events of great importance. Winter solstice, being the first day of winter, was also considered the first day of the New Year in ancient China when people across the land laid down their tools and came together for thanksgiving and performing ancestor worship – a practice that is still observed to this day.

It was a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember to herald the Tang Chek by making glutinous rice flour balls called ‘kueh ee’. On the eve after the dining table had been cleared, we gathered around rolling bits of coloured dough between our palms into marble-sized balls. I was allowed to join in the activity when I was 10 years old.

This was one of the few times in the year the entire family got together. While our hands were busy, the elders kept us entertained with stories of how the festival was celebrated when they were our age. At the same time, they kept a close eye on the balls we churned out to ensure that they were uniform in size and shape.

The finished kueh ee were placed on a large enamel tray and covered with a towel to keep them moist. They were prepared beforehand so that the time on the next morning could be devoted to preparing and cooking the main dishes for the feast that we would partake in.

Our work done, we children were asked to wash our hands and unceremoniously ushered to bed. Sleep was the furthest thing from our minds as we eagerly anticipated the happenings of the next day. But we drifted into slumber anyway, worn out by the effort and excitement of the evening.

By the time we woke up, the delicious aroma from the kitchen was wafting throughout the house. The dishes were always the same for all festivals: ‘jiu hu char’ (stir-fried sengkuang with dried cuttlefish), stir-fried vegetables, cabbage and meat ball soup, a generous cut of roast pork and a whole poached chicken.

We never complained though as it was only during the celebration of festivals that we got to savour such spread. The only exception was the kueh ee that we made. They were steeped in a fragrant syrup of ginger and pandan and only served during the Tang Chek.

When the cooking was done, the food was first laid out before the altar in honour of the deities and our ancestors. We were each given three sticks of lit joss sticks and taught to ask for protection and pray for the health and prosperity of the family.

Having fulfilled our filial piety obligations, we were then served with a bowl of piping hot kueh ee each. Eating them, we were told, signified that we had grown another year older and that we should be more obedient to the elders, responsible in our actions and hardworking in our studies.

And then the whole family sat down together to enjoy the food and the warmth of rekindled ties. Sounds of laughter and merriment filled the house which was quiet at other times.

For us children, we were too young to understand the value of preserving family bonds.

In our minds, it was mostly about food and drinks. Feasts like this were the only time our parents were more lenient with us when we stole sips of beer from their glasses in between stuffing ourselves with all the delicious food. Imbibing the beer made us feel like adults even though it tasted horrible!

After our father’s passing, the once large family gradually broke apart. We no longer celebrate Tang Chek together anymore.

However, the significance of the day is no less diminished in me. On winter solstice 11 years ago, I received my first catechism which eventually led to my baptism as a Catholic.

I had told one of my cousins of my interest in learning more about Christianity. She found a catechist who could visit me at home to teach me. As I listened to the readings from the Bible, I experienced lightness in my soul and contentment in my heart. After years of drifting aimlessly from one religion to another, I finally found the harbour to anchor my faith.

Come winter solstice, I will still be celebrating the transition of the season and my own spiritual transformation; albeit without all the food and fanfare of yesteryear.

Rather, I will be spending the final days of the year in quiet reflection of my journey of faith so far, and perhaps share a small bowl of kueh ee with my wife – just for old times’ sake.

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When common medicines do not work any more – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 14 December, 2014

When common medicines do not work any more
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 14, 2014, Sunday

An assortment of tablets in blister packs

EVERY six months, like clockwork, I would wake up in the morning with a slight discomfort at the back of my throat. That would be the precursor indicating my day would quickly go south.

Last Wednesday was one of those days. By afternoon, swallowing became painful. I was groggy. My voice turned hoarse. When my wife got back from work and heard me, she asked if I wanted to go to the clinic.

It is no fun to be unwell but I have not sought medical treatment for sore throats, coughs and colds for the longest time, not since what my urologist told me many years ago.

I was suffering from recurrent chronic urinary tract infection then. He ordered a culture and sensitivity test to identify bacteria in the urine and determine the antibiotics they are susceptible to.

The results that came back were less than favourable. Infection-causing bacteria inside me have become resistant to common antibiotics from the overuse of these drugs. Only the strongest can counter them.

I am caught in this predicament because during the initial years of my spinal cord injury, I was heavily dosed with antibiotics to treat a series of stubborn urinary tract infections, a pressure sore and an infected wound on the scrotum.

The urologist warned me against taking antibiotics and other medicine unnecessarily, especially those that are nephrotoxic (poisonous to the kidneys) since my kidney function was already impaired as well.

If I continued with the injudicious use of these drugs, I would progressively need stronger and stronger ones up to a point where treatments against infections would not work on me any more.

To reduce the occurrences of infections, I was asked to drink more water, empty my bladder with a catheter regularly and practice good hygiene at the same time – advice I have adhered to religiously till this day.

My water intake is strictly regulated to ensure I do not leak in between catheterisation as I am incontinent. I have not had a serious infection requiring treatment since except once when I underwent a study of my bladder function called a urodynamic test.

I had very strong suspicions that contaminants were unintentionally introduced into my urinary tract when I saw how the procedure was performed up close. True enough, I came down with fever and chills the next day.

After struggling with on and off bouts of fever, my wife finally dragged me to the hospital where the doctor duly prescribed antibiotics and paracetamol. The fever went away the next day.

I hope that did not lead to the development of another strain of drug-resistant bacteria in me. And luckily, the delay in getting treatment did not do any damage to my kidneys.

After that incident, I have become very mindful of medical procedures that introduce foreign objects into my body. They could cause infections even with the use of sterile equipment because somewhere along the line, it could become contaminated although all proper procedures have been observed.

Drug-resistant bacteria is not the only issue. Other micro-organisms such as viruses, fungi and parasites can and have developed resistance to existing drugs. This problem has become a health threat of global proportions as evident by the release of two major studies on the topic this year.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Antimicrobial Resistance Global Report on Surveillance 2014 and the newly-published Review on Antimicrobial Resistance is a reflection of the severity of the problem.

According to the WHO report, the problem has become so serious that common infections and minor injuries can cause death when those organisms no longer respond to drugs which they were originally sensitive to.

In the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance presented by renowned economist Jim O’Neill, it was stated that failure to tackle antimicrobial-resistant infections will cause 10 million deaths per year worldwide by 2050.

It also noted that even when antimicrobials are used appropriately and conservatively, they still contribute to the development of resistance. Excessive and unnecessary use makes it worse.

This is a very scary scenario. The thought that modern medicine may not be able to save us from simple ailments is simply difficult to comprehend. Who knew overusing medicine against bad bugs could wreak such havoc on humanity?

On the bright side, the reports also mentioned new drugs, vaccines and therapies are being developed to fight this scourge together with a call for international cooperation to monitor and deliver treatments rapidly to arrest the spread of such diseases.

In the face of this looming crisis, we need to educate ourselves on the risks and benefits of the medicine we take and be proactive when it comes to our own health.

There is a trend to take antibiotics for simple ailments like coughs and colds. Antibiotics are good against bacteria. The common cold is caused by viruses. Unless there is a corresponding bacterial infection, antibiotics are useless in treating colds.

As for me, my symptoms have progressed to coughs induced by an itchy throat, partial nasal congestion and general fatigue. With lots of rest, I will recover in due time with one less common cold virus to worry about. We cannot be infected by the same cold virus twice as our body would become immune to it after we recover.

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