Sunday, January 5, 2014

Backpacker's Tale

The 2 week Christmas break finally gave me the time to travel a bit within Cuba. Travelling in a group of 6 we left school and headed to the highway leaving Havana.Being on a student's budget where every dollar counts, instead of the 5$ cab that would take us to the bus terminal in Matanzas, we joined the throng of Cubans along the highway and stuck out our arms (hitchhiker style) to passing buses and trucks(camiones) hoping to catch a ride. These means of transport would typically cost you 20-25 pesos = 1$. When in Rome, no...? An hour later, luck strikes and an air-conditioned van pulls over and about 10 of us board. Jackpot!

We reach Versailles,Matanzas around an hour and a half later and get settled into our accommodation.  Not much of a nightlife in Versailles and most stores close by 7. A bit of a walk from where we were staying found us a Rapido outlet (the government owned fast food chain) open till 4am I think and a pizza stall.

During the trip we managed to visit Las Cuevas de Bellamar ( Bellamar caves) purportedly Cuba's oldest tourist attraction. These underground caves cost us(students with a Cuban ID) 5 pesos (0.20$) to enter though I think tourists get charged 5 $ to enter. It was gorgeous! Couldn't help but marvel at the wonders of nature... The limestone caves were damp and cool so make sure to wear sneakers or flats to avoid slipping!

Having read about a river recreation center along the Canimar River from our landlord back in Havana, we decided to take a ride to the  Parque Turístico Río Canímar.
Upon reaching the entrance we saw a river cruise boat about to leave the departure point (punto nautico) and we scrambled over to to captain to see if we could board. Apparently it costs 15$ per person to make the 12km trip upstream to where all the other attractions were.(According to the captain the tourists were paying 35$per person with lunch included so he couldn't charge us less than 15 to be on the boat. ) Fahkkk..That wasn't planned for. If we spent that much just getting to the other end we wouldn't have anything left  for once we got there. The only things on this end were a restaurant and the departure point for the cruise boat, motorboats and what not.  The other end had the horse ranch, museum, restaurantS, and a few other things. The guard at the entrance had taken a liking to us for some reason and saw that we were about to leave so soon  and he said kept suggesting different activities we could carry out at this end and finally suggested something we liked.

Pedal boating anyone?

Albeit the fact that we didn't look that glamorous, it was TONS of fun. Highly recommend it! 10$ per hour. Obviously we never made it to the other end 12 km away but equipped with our life jackets and the promise that the river was safe by the security guard(lol)  we set off and covered I think at least 2km -) Isolated for the most part, we stopped at a little cove along the way, parked the boat, stripped down to our inners and dove in.  The river was clear and shallow by the bank and pretty deep in the center. These bursts of spontaneity are what memories are made of!

Gory detail; apparently that bridge is one of the infamous spots for suicide jumps in Matanzas.

Managed to squeeze in a trip to the oh-so-famous Varadero beach the day before we were to leave Matanzas. Took a bus there (of course) from Viaducto. Buses charge 5 - 10 pesos(0.50$) to make the 40 min journey to calle 54 (right in front of a Rapido outlet adjacent to the beach) while a cab driver wanted to charge us 2$ each for the same trip. According to friends, if you walk up to calle 44 the stretch of beach there offers beach chair and umbrella rentals for 2$ per hour.
 But I digress, the beach was very clean except for a FEW beer cans littering the beach here and there  and the water was really clear. Gorgeous! We left our bags unattended nearby several other tourists who were sunbathing and jumped in. I don't recommend doing that but there were only 3 of us and no one could be left out! =) On hindsight, I should've brought along my swimming goggles and a beach ball!(Salt and sand in your eyes...not pleasant!)

All in all the trip was a huge success although the seniors were super busy with pediatrics finals coming up, they told us how to get to where ever  we wanted to go and stuff to look out for. If you stick to public transport expenses would mainly come from spending money on food and accommodation.

Sporting a nais tan I start classes tomorrow (the 6th). Back to all nighters and lifeless weekends. Cheers to that!

Hope you guys had a great New Year's celebration! <3

Friday, June 14, 2013

Coming soon...

3 and a ½ weeks to go before I leave Cuba for Malaysia. Extremely excited about seeing the family back home again but at the same time a melancholic feeling parting from great friends.
With 2nd years parting ways to different provinces in Cuba to continue on with their 3rd year come September, lots of hugs, photo taking, and promises to travel to visit each other are made. Thankfully I still have a year more in Havana before heading of to where ever I get sent!

Next semester will see a whole set of new faces, but for the first time ELAM will be accepting self funded students. (All students here in ELAM are on scholarship either by the Cuban government or my their respective governments) Rumor has it that we're about to see around 500 private students from Angola and Brazil. It wouldn't be such a problem except that the old students are being moved to the more run down,stuffier dorms while the new (self funded) students are going to be given our old but in better condition dorms. Students are disgruntled because this reeks of capitalistic tendencies which Cuba proclaims to try to avoid. I guess like they say; it's impossible to achieve the ''Socialist Ideal' and all they can do is aspire to it, but meanwhile some things have got to give even if it means providing better lodging to the rich kids at our expense...

I guess we'll see if this preferential treatment continues next semester since rumors are abound about the possibility that they would be given a special canteen (comedor) with a selection to choose what they want to eat from instead of the 'take it or leave it' menu we have now...

All this aside, I'm looking forward to the newbies in September. Especially now that I'm a senior =D
I really think that studying in Cuba has molded me  into a more humane person and it's challenged the way I used  to look at medicine... it's hard to put in words, but that I'll try in my next post...
Till next time, LOVE!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's been 6 months since I began my first year of my medical degree. Now in the 3rd quarter of the school year, my schedule is packed with lectures, labs, evaluations,clinic hours,P.E, studying,and trying to work out every other day!

I'm not going to lie, learning all this in Spanish isn't easy. A lot of the time it takes reading it about four or 5 times over to really understand what's going on. Usually I just read up difficult concepts in English beforehand to speed up the process. Fortunately there is a lot of additional medical literature and videos available in digital format that you can access from the schools database and from friends.

Some people back home think that since I'm here in Cuba, this Carribean hotspot, my life would be really interesting, full of parties, drinking, cigars and beach days...I wish...!

Granted the school atmosphere is a bit relaxed, if you want to do well, weekly partying and regular beach days do mess up your study schedule! Term breaks are pretty friggin awesome though =D

Anyways that's school.

On the social front, we held our annual  Asian Gala recently in school. It went pretty well albeit the really last minute rehearsals we held due to everyone's conflicting schedules! Say Opam Cuban Style? =D

My classmates this year are the best. I have a classmate from the USA who is THE most hilarious guy in our class! Love him to bits. The thing I love about chilling with him is that he has this really interesting world view and observations and we talk about the most random things. Put him together with my other really good friend from Sierra Leona and every conversation is just full of laughs!

During dinner at a recent 'girls night out' outing, a guy friend stops over and  he wants to know what we're up to, so after bowling over with laughter we tell him about the  topic of the day (guys) and he has one piece of advice. He says that guys are guys and if you want to have an actual long term relationship with a guy, (not just a one night stand, we(the girls) have to lay down the ground rules right from the beginning. Tell him what behavior you're willing to accept, and what you're not and then practice what you preach. Otherwise if he sees you're willing to put  up with his b.s he's not gonna stop. Basically a guy respects a wpman who  values herself enough to deserve the best.
 I guess to a certain degree this is true. God knows a lot of us girls put up with their nonsense coz we're afraid of losing him. Stuff like, not calling when they said they would, not opening the cab/restaurant door, and more... Ah well...that was a good night =D ( Aside from the fact that we might have come off as bitter haters =p) till the next time I have the inspiration to blog, Chaoito to whatever readers I have left <3

Oooh, for whoever is interested, I started the INSANITY workout and did it for a month but then I stoped coz my knees were getting injured from all the jumping. However, it did wonders for my cardio and now I can run a full 9km albeit not having run for the longest while=D  woohoo!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I find it really important that I reflect on happenings and try and learn from them. I can’t stand just letting things happen to me, let life pass me by, go through the motions and not make a learning moment out of everything. Hopefully you readers get what I’m trying to say.

I’ve spent the good part of my first 6 months here learning Spanish. Now after a 3 week break I’ll be beginning my pre medical studies. Having just received my 21 textbooks for the 10 subjects  to e studied, I was flipping through the chem textbook and I was like whoa! While the subject  matter wasn’t foreign, looked like form 5 level stuff, reading one page took a good 10 minutes. The language barrier is very apparent! Clearly I’ve got a long way to go. Am thanking my lucky stars that at least the content is familiar to me. However, I’m optimistic that I’ll get the Spanish down well pat before I begin my first year of medical studies come September.

I know that my parents worry that I’ll fall in love with a stranger, get pregnant, not study, spend too much money, be a mediocre student, that I won’t be safe, that I can’t take care of myself, that I don’t go to church and lots more that only parents would worry about.  I get where they’re coming from. Hell, it’s Cuba! I’ve got to admit though, that it stings a little that they think me incapable of comporting myself well. You guys didn’t raise a fool!

Arriving here last August,I was much more naïve, having just turned 18 and thinking I was an adult.  Since then I’ve learnt so much.  You learn a lot about human nature when you share  a small room with 7 other people! I’ve become more confident in speaking to people, been introduced to new ways of thinking, new music, new cultures.  Have met 3 awesome friends from Antigua and Barbuda and from Guyana. These 3 girls have become somewhat of my sisters here in Cuba. 

I aim to excel in my pre med  studies.  With one of the Malaysian students among the top in our school, I know that our subjects being in Spanish can’t be looked upon as an insurmountable obstacle, but instead should be looked upon as a challenge. I reckon facebook time will be reduced even further. Some say pre med is the time to relax and go out to have fun.  Really?? I’m thinking that this is the time to really familiarize yourself with learning in Spanish since at least you’re dealing with familiar content.  I see students who still struggle with the language after 1 or 2 years of coming here. I’m  not planning on being one of them. 

 Went to the annual book fair last week.  Lots of good books but almost all in Spanish.  Picked up an English novel for 15 pesos, which is about RM2. Aside from the long queues to enter the different areas where books were being sold, and the hot afternoon sun burning down on me,  I had a pretty good time with my friend Kereene.  A few days later when in Havana, a complete stranger comes up to us and says 
he says he saw us at the book fair, Either he’s lying or we really stand out as tourists:/

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My first impression

A second year med student in a tiny skirt and short white shirt complete with strappy heels walks past me hurrying on her way class. A professor greets his student with a hug after meeting each other again after the two month break.  At night the uni is abuzz with activity. A student playing a guitar on a bench near the dorms beckons his friends to join him in song. There seems to have been a party every Friday night since I’ve come here, all organized by the students from different contingents and held in the nearby town of Baracoa. Hotly anticipated, a cover charge of a couple of CUC is charged and posters are pasted around the campus to attract maximum crowd.    
                Coming from Malaysia, I came to ELAM envisioning something quite different. I thought I would be surrounded by fellow nerds. I thought it’d be a dog eat dog world here, surrounded by kiasu people. Fortunately that isn’t the case. I find the people mostly friendly and ready to help if you ask. The profesors/profesoras that I’ve met seem really friendly and eager to help and are passionate about what they do. I guess this stems from the fact that since your salary is controlled by the government  and is going to be pretty miniscule whether you are a doctor or a teacher or a physicist, so you might as well get a job you love doing. Thus we see people who are for the most part doing what they like to instead of what brings in the highest salary.  
                What makes a good doctor? Is it solely a matter of scoring a string of straight A+ s? Shouldn’t you also have the ability to communicate effectively and empathise with your patient? Be compassionate and understanding?  I was quarantined while in Cuba because of a cough I was recovering from. Every morning during quarantine the doctor would come in saying Good Morning as he came to take our temps and give us our pills. Just that greeting made a world of difference. After being quarantined we had a one to one consultation with the doctor before being released. At which time I asked the doctor about my fingernail which had gotten slammed between two doors. The doctor took my finger in his hand and winced as I told him what happened. He then advised me on what to do. But I digress. The way that he responded, the way he came down to my level, the way he felt my pain, made him seem so much more accessible and human, which isn’t like anything I’ve experienced back home.  I think that’s what makes a good doctor (aside from having the knowledge to diagnose accurately) The tiny things like that DO matter!                          
I haven’t started med classes yet since I’m learning Spanish now so I’m in no position to comment on the med professors but I’ve heard from my seniors that they are really good. There are the fun ones as well as the dragons,   but that’s to be expected.  
Cuba isn’t exactly a rich country monetary wise. As a result of their resolve to maintain this scholarship program which surely puts a strain on the country’s budget, a few things surely have to give. The living quarters at the school aren’t to die for. Bunk beds with sponge mattresses (think the dish washing sponge) and a narrow double locker(top and bottom doors) for every student. The bedrooms don’t have fans and your classroom if you’re lucky has a stand fan.  Depending on which shower stall you get it may or may not provide you with sufficient privacy as the shower curtains vary in width.  (at least in my dorm) Food is provided and tolerable. Lots of carbohydrates and protein but sorely lacking enough vegetables and fruits. The mini mart in the school sells tinned food and biscuits, shampoo, nail polish, makeup and other  small luxuries(transactions only in CUC(the Cuban dollar)). A sundry-esque shop sells pillows and cutlery and more practical things(they deal in pesos)  1 CUC is about RM3.50. A large tin of Pringles is 3.50 CUC. Pretty pricey.There’s a restaurant on campus which sells sandwiches, cookies and refreshments. (El Rapido) I guess the school has been thoughtful providing all these amenities for us to make life here mas bearable. I’ll live =D

P/s: This account was written roughly about a month after I reached Cuba. I've since discovered many more wonderful and not so wonderful things about this awesome country which I'll share in my following posts. Chao :-)    The object I'm holding in the last picture is a water heater to heat water in a pail for bathing during winter. 6 CUC. I was desperate. Will probably get electrocuted soon.                                                                                                                                                                            

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I gave up

It sucks. I gave up after just two weeks of eliminating MOST added sugar from my diet. I think I'll just eat in moderation now though. Something like limit it to two cookies a day, and no more sweetened beverages. After the two weeks I lost just over 1.5kilos which i'm happy with but doesn't meet the goal of 2.5kg! -(

I made pinwheel cookies yesterday, and then I used this calorie counter to let me know the calories in each cookie. (SO USEFUL!) Shocker as there were like 83 calories per cookie which means I basically put on all the calories I burned jogging yesterday! Hmmph. Limiting intake to 2 cookies today.(because I already ate 2 in the morning!) No more tomorrow though! So not worth it. Feels as if all that exercise went to nothing!

I've been doing this power sculpt workout dvd from the biggest loser series. It's supposed to complement the cardio you're doing on your own. Super tiring. Not to discourage any of you readers though. It  just takes some getting used to.
Level 1 - Jillian
Level 2 - Kim
Level 3 - Bob

I'm currently at the level 2 stage whereby a workout would look like this. :
Warm Up - 5min
Level 1 - 20min
Level 2 - 10 min
Cool down - 5min

I try and do this about 4 to 5 times a week. Arms and legs are definitely more toned now but as I remember from when I used to be really fit, running helps me lose weight and tone up really fast. (Just don't stick to a snails pace of a jog by amping it up once you find your runs/jogs getting easier)

I'm learning a bit of Spanish now since I'm going to be leaving for Cuba come September, but more on that in another post. Hasta luego (See you later)  =D

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 5 of the no sugar challenge!

The first 4 days were tough but I persevered. I even bought a pack of almonds to snack on in case I got sugar cravings. (Came in handy!) I went all out: 
1) replacing white rice with brown rice.
2)making a fruit +veg smoothie everyday
3) since I was feeling the 'natural vibe' I even went ahead and made my own yogurt!
4) Baked oatmeal yoghurt bread from scratch.
5) Limited snacking

But then today I messed up!

Note to self: NEVER bake pastries when on a diet (especially a no-sugar one!)

I gave in to greed and temptation and had approx 2 cinnamon rolls today. I had baked them as a Father's Day treat and convinced myself that I had to taste them. One thing led to another and I was on my way to a second piece!
Ugh! Feel so let down! 

                                                    Fall seven times, stand up eight.
                                                             - Japanese Proverb

That quote reminds me not to give up I guess! It WILL pay off. I've been very good about the sweets though. 
Went for a jog-walk with my sisters yesterday. Was too lazy at first to jog at all, but then I remembered what Noel Chelliah wrote in his blog post...(can't remember which) that if you want to lose weight you have to challenge your body and push yourself out of your comfort zone. ( His blog is awesome btw) so I did end up jogging /walking and even  threw in a couple of sprints =D 
Tomorrow I will get up and jog in the morning and hopefully be able to get back on track with my no sugar challenge!