Broadway 2015 Part 1

This year marked my 4th visit to the Big Apple, and since sightseeing was no longer on my to-do list, I fully concentrated on catching shows, managing to squeeze in 3 musicals and 6 plays in 7 days.

I also made sure to be at the stage door every single time, and had the most unbelievable experiences!

Another amazing addition to my 40th birthday celebration ( I'm only 5 months into it )! Once again, I'm grateful for God's many blessings, which made so many wonderful events possible.

My first entry is about Al Pacino and the play he stars in, David Mamet's new work, China Doll.

Mr. Pacino is a Broadway veteran, having appeared on the Great White Way more than 10 times in the past 4 decades, and won 2 Tony Awards.

China Doll is his 3rd Broadway show in 5 years. And although I was in New York in 2011 and 2014, my timing was never quite right. So when this opportunity presented itself, I couldn't believe my good fortune and bought tickets!

I've known about Mr. Pacino since I was a kid, but became a huge fan when I was 17, after watching Scent Of A Woman. I fell in love with the film immediately, and jumped for joy when he finally won an Oscar - the only one in his long career - for the role. That speech his character makes at the end still makes me tear up after more than 20 years. And the tango he does with Gabrielle Anwar is a classic!

As expected, China Doll's ticket sales have been through the roof since previews began on October 21, generating more than a million dollars per week. I attended the November 5 performance, and the theatre was packed to capacity.

The play itself isn't fantastic, but I also admit to having a much stronger preference for musicals. Mamet structures this script primarily as a monologue, with Mr. Pacino delivering almost all the dialogue, which spans a whopping 2 hours. Aside from him, there's only one other character - an assistant, who stays silent 90 per cent of the time.

When the lights came on and Mr. Pacino appeared on stage, the audience erupted in applause and cheers, and I was awestruck. He turned 75 in April, but remains alert and fit. And his stage presence is nothing short of staggering. It was commanding, effortless, mind-blowing. My heart almost stopped!

( I saw Bruce Willis in Misery the day before, and sat in the 3rd or 4th row, compared to the 7th / 8th row for China Doll. Willis can't hold a candle to Mr. P in terms of charisma and acting ability. More on that in a later entry. )

There's been speculation about difficulties brewing in China Doll - Mr. Pacino not being able to remember his lines and being fed these via teleprompters, Bluetooth devices and a laptop embedded in the set; conflict between Mr. P and the director; Mr. P observed looking despondent in his dressing room.
I don't know how accurate these reports are, but his November 5 performance was great. He stammered on and off but the overall delivery was smooth and he appeared comfortable and confident.

Personally, I think Mamet's script isn't well-written. He focuses too much on an issue involving a private jet purchased by Mr. P's character ( Mickey Ross ), which went right over me ( something about a sales tax, which depends on the aircraft's tail number, etc. ). Ross is supposed to be a billionaire with a shady past, who's also under the spell of a much younger woman. We never see this woman, of course, which is why I wish Mamet could've included much more information about her. How did she and Ross meet? Why is he so enamoured of her? I would've liked to hear about these instead of boring stuff about a plane.

There were people around me who didn't come back after the intermission. That's their loss. At the end of the show, everyone gave Mr. Pacino a standing ovation. Not for the play itself, but for the man - a true Hollywood and Broadway legend.

There was a huge crowd at the stage door, and I was swallowed by a sea of tall people. My optimism was non-existent at that point, then I suddenly felt an urge to pray. I'm not kidding. I really started to pray quietly, asking for a miracle to happen so I could get closer. So here's what happened:

Huge crowds on both sides of the stage door and even across the road. Lots of security and I think a couple of police officers on hand.
I hardly saw anything 'cos everyone around me was a head taller.
After about 15 minutes, security moved 2 of the barricades and I managed to inch closer.
However, I was still 3rd row from the front, with hardly any space to take a photo of him.
5 minutes later, Mr. Pacino emerged, to loud cheers from the fans.
He flashed a big smile and came to my side first, signing playbills and other items proffered.
I couldn't see him but gently pushed my playbill through a space between the people in front of me.
He saw it and instead of just signing it while it was in my hand, he actually took it from me, scribbled his signature, then pushed it back through the same space so I could grab it!
( I thought that was really nice of him. :))
After a few minutes, he moved to the other side.
The crowd in front of me dispersed - a few people left, but others stayed.
A space at the front became available so I quickly moved forward.
( A big thank you to the other fans around me, who remained orderly throughout and never squashed me, then later moved aside so I could squeeze to the front. I think God put angels around me that night! )
While Mr. P walked around on the other side, I recorded a short video clip of him. Later, I realized I captured a fan shouting, "Hoo-ah!" at him, which amused everyone immensely, 'cos it's a famous quote from Scent Of A Woman. :)
He spent a long time signing, 'cos the crowd kept moving and like me, people from the back came to the front and new items were presented.
He was very patient and obliging, and never said no to anyone.

After about 5-10 minutes of signing, fans started asking him for photos, and he agreed.
He didn't take pics with everyone though, only a few here and there. I don't know whether he did this deliberately or if fans were too scared to ask?
After he was done with the other side, he came back to us! But he only went to each end of our group, and walked right past me twice.
He thought that was it, then stepped back to scan the crowd on my side again. He never stopped smiling, and looked really happy.
That's when I plucked up the courage to call out to him.
"Mr. Pacino!" He heard me and made eye contact immediately.
( I remember thinking OMG, Al Pacino - THE Al Pacino - is looking at me! This is surreal! )
"Can I please get a photo? Please please please?"
I was holding the playbill in my hands and waving it up and down. I vaguely recall hopping as well. I can't imagine how I appeared to him. I guess he could tell I was freaking out!
He stood there smiling at me for a split second, then came over.

I tend to blank out when I'm super-excited, but thank goodness this moment turned into a slo-mo sequence, and I actually remember everything.
He positioned himself right next to me on my left. We were separated by the barricade but other than that, our upper bodies were in direct contact.
My hands were shaking so badly! I've met many famous people but this was a clear indication that Mr. Pacino was the biggest star of them all, 'cos I'd never been this nervous before.
I couldn't focus properly and it took me a few seconds to frame the shot correctly.
I worried that Mr. P would change his mind and leave, but he never once complained, and patiently waited as I adjusted my phone.
( Why was I worried? 'Cos back in April 2014, I met Chris O'Dowd at the stage door after Of Mice And Men, and also had difficulty focusing. Not because I was nervous, but 'cos I was doing a selfie for the first time and wasn't used to the camera angle. Instead of waiting or helping me, he walked off after 1-2 seconds, never to return! He didn't leave a good impression. )

Another interesting point to note: I've seen a number of YouTube videos of Mr. P at the stage door. When he takes photos with fans, he moves their arms to help them focus. So why didn't he do the same with me hmm... I'm happy he didn't - gave me extra time with him haha. :)

After I finally got the shot, I said, "Thank you so much!" and he smiled and nodded.
He walked back to stand next to his car, then a lady behind me called his name, also asking for a photo.
He didn't hear her though, and I moved so she could go in front of me, in case he spotted her.
No luck. He threw his marker pen into the crowd ( you should've seen the major scramble behind me haha ), got into the SUV and left.

The photo I took with him was the last one for the night.
And on later review, it turns out not only were our arms and sides touching, our heads were too!

Judging from the other videos I've seen, I got really lucky that night. He usually goes round only once on each side, signing and taking photos at the same time before heading out, staying 5 minutes tops. On November 5, I think he hung around for 10-15 minutes, 'cos he kept going back and forth a few times. What're the odds! :)

Celebrities are very unpredictable creatures, but Mr. Pacino is such a sweetheart, and made my entire life with his kind gesture.
Thank you, sir! I will always be a loyal fan, and wish you and the China Doll team all the best for opening night.

Narcos – A Review

The standard of TV series increases with each passing year, and just when I thought 2015 had met its quota of small screen awesomeness, Netflix's Narcos comes along. And blows my mind.

I actually had zero prior knowledge about this show, but stumbled upon a rave review in People magazine, after which I checked and saw its whopping 9.1/10 rating.
I gave episode 1 a try and was instantly hooked. I'm currently at the halfway mark, but judging from the way things are going, I'll probably end up rating it a 9 or 10.

In fact, I think it's even better than Breaking Bad.

So what's the appeal?

Before I go further, it's important to emphasize that my taste in TV is very unpredictable, especially now that I have access to so many programmes from countless sources. That's probably how I finally discovered what I really like.

My list of favourites includes both mainstream and much less popular fare, the top 3 being Dexter, The Killing and House Of Cards. Narcos is so incredible that I foresee it hitting the #4 spot.

The show's premise is simple, following America's efforts to capture notorious Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar, during the Reagan administration.

Doesn't sound very interesting on paper, but the presentation of this content is absolutely riveting.

I read about Escobar when I was a teenager. There're vivid memories of my poring over Time magazine, which documented his bloody exploits in a number of feature articles. Narcos, however, delves deep into the story and spits everything at you at breakneck pace, and best of all, the writers assume the audience will keep up. If you fall off the cliff at some point, that's just too bad.

Believe me, the ride is definitely not an easy one. 50% of the dialogue requires subtitles; the number of Colombian characters will make your head spin ( not helped by the fact that quite a few of them look somewhat alike ); the cat-and-mouse games between Escobar, the Colombian and American governments, the DEA and the CIA make Game Of Thrones look like child's play.

And the cast! From Wagner Moura as Escobar, to Boyd Holbrook as DEA agent Steve Murphy and Pedro Pascal as CIA officer Javier Pena - these 3 amazing actors burn up the screen.

They're not your typical gorgeous male specimens ( though I consider Pascal extremely attractive ), but each exudes his own brand of charisma. The best reasons to watch this series, IMO.

Special mention goes to the show's stellar team of writers, who never waste a single word and consistently churn out high-octane dialogue. They generously sprinkle every episode with voiceovers by the lead character, i.e. Murphy, which Holbrook delivers in a relaxed, monotonous drawl. Many of these occur during violent scenes, causing me to wonder if the writers and / or directors orchestrated this to convey a sense of irony. I find it highly amusing. :)

The series itself is terrific, but I do have a favourite scene which is on par with something from Breaking Bad's first season ( i.e. episode 2, featuring a drug dealer's disabled uncle who communicates by ringing a little desk bell ). In the 3rd episode of Narcos, after Murphy's beloved cat is murdered as a warning, he and CIA partner, Pena, doggedly track down 2 immigration officers who revealed the former's identity to the drug cartel. The interrogation scene at the police station, where the suspects are sternly informed that "This is a gringo cat of the DEA!" is a classic! I have no idea how all the actors managed to keep a straight face. I couldn't stop laughing!

I can't confirm how historically accurate Narcos is, but I believe key events are correctly portrayed ( the car bombs were definitely in the Time magazine pieces ). I accept some degree of dramatization in every biopic as long as it's done tastefully and doesn't distort facts to the point of absurdity.

If you're game, start watching now.

What’s Up, Doc?

It's been more than 2 months since my last entry. Time for an update!

First, I finally completed the ultrasound course, which lasted almost 2 years. It's been a long and arduous process, requiring a salary cut and other sacrifices. But in the end, I have no regrets, and will continue to push on in my field of interest, which is gaining huge momentum in emergency medicine.

Second, just when I thought plans for my 40th year ( which extends till next June of course ) were pretty much finalized, 2 unexpected events occurred.

Josh Groban's Australian tour

This may not sound unusual, but there was a period where he didn't visit this region for 6 years, returning only in 2013, which is when I saw him for the very first time, after being a fan for more than a decade.

His latest release, Stages, is IMO his best yet, so when the Australian dates were announced, I made sure to purchase tickets the day public sales began.
The experience, however, was unbelievably stressful. The morning I logged on, the Sydney Opera House website couldn't handle the heavy traffic and crashed. Phone lines were engaged for a full hour. By the time I managed to launch the site, most of the good seats were gone.
Strangely, 2 were available in the 10th row, even though everything around that section was already snapped up. To this day, I have no idea how this happened, except through divine intervention. Thank you, and see you in April, Josh! :)

Hugh Jackman's Broadway To Oz tour

Another sign of divine intervention came in the form of Hugh Jackman's suddenly announced concert series, also in Australia. Why do I see God's hand in this? Because I narrowly missed Hugh's Broadway variety show in 2011 ( it started 2 weeks after I left New York argh! ), then I couldn't make it for his stint in the play, The River, which ran from Nov 2014 to Feb 2015 ( I was in New York in April 2014 - double argh! ). When he came to Singapore in May last year for the premiere of X-Men: Days Of Future Past, an Australian friend of mine who's good pals with Hugh's father helped me get tickets to the screening, but couldn't sneak me into the meet-and-greet.

I've been praying so hard for another opportunity to see him on stage, and am elated to report that I have tickets to his concert in Sydney - 11th row, right next to the stage extension woohoo! I may ask my friend for another small favour - the last one, I promise :) - so keeping my fingers crossed!

Third, a recent invitation to a local theatre company's fund-raising dinner, where I brushed shoulders with Jim Rogers, of all people! I had no idea he'd be there, and he's kinda camera shy, so no photos sorry. But it was a really cool surprise. Many thanks to A for including me. :)

A couple of worthy mentions in the entertainment department:

Rebecca Ferguson, who is my girl crush for 2015, after a mind-boggling turn in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. I'm a fan of tough female characters, but Ilsa Faust takes the cake!
MI5 was extremely enjoyable, and my earlier distaste for Tom Cruise ( after Andrew Morton's damning biography was published ) has completely dissipated. He may have bizarre religious beliefs and could be an evil megalomaniac under that million-dollar smile, but there's no denying his work ethic and savvy film choices.

The Walking Dead

Like Breaking Bad, I'm a late bloomer with this one.
I actually finished season 1 in 2010, but gave up after finding it too draggy. Started watching it all over again last week, mostly because StarHub cable has made all 5 seasons available on its Fox Play demand channel.
Maybe I've gotten older and more patient with such formats - i.e. long, protracted scenes; lots of talking and plotting; super-detailed character development. Although this isn't that different from other series I love - e.g. Dexter, The Killing, The Fall. Maybe I just don't like zombies haha.
Anyway, my opinion has changed dramatically, so the second time round, I give TWD two thumbs up. Season 6 premieres in 6 weeks and I don't know if I'll finish season 5 by then, since I can only stomach 2-3 episodes in one sitting. I think I can make it if I ignore everything else on TV. :)

p.s. Andrew Lincoln is awesome. Especially because he's British and nails that Southern accent. Amazing!
p.p.s. Was invited to a press event for The Walking Dead's season 5 promo tour in Singapore last year, but declined because I wasn't following the series at the time. Wanted to hand my passes off to other fans but wasn't allowed to do so. Hope Lincoln and co-star Norman Reedus will be back. I'll go this time for sure!

Hannibal season 3

Special mention goes to Richard Armitage for his chilling, shocking portrayal of the Red Dragon, aka Francis Dolarhyde.
The first half of season 3 was intolerably slow and downright incomprehensible, but once the Red Dragon appeared, things got much more interesting.
While the season finale was disappointing ( and the show was not renewed ), Armitage impressed me immensely. Most of us know him as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit trilogy. You know, the hero, all round good guy, etc. As Francis, he's even more frightening than Ralph Fiennes in the film version. Hope this gets him noticed so he can snag meatier roles in the future. He is one talented man.

Ally McBeal reruns

These started in August and brought back fond memories of my 20s. Ahh, to be young and carefree again. :)
It isn't on my list of favourites, but it was quite a big hit in the late 90s, with many memorable characters, catch phrases and images. E.g. John "The Biscuit" Cage, "Fish-isms", Barry White, that dancing baby.
Not to mention numerous well-known guest stars like Tony Shalhoub, Mark Feuerstein, Haley Joel Osment and Josh Groban.
And don't forget Robert Downey Jr, who played Ally's love interest in later seasons. Or James Marsden, who sang Witchcraft in one episode and melted my heart!

Calista Flockhart irritated me then with her ditzy behaviour and deliberate stammering. She still irritates me now. So I just block her out.
Almost 2 decades later, I'm able to appreciate the show a lot more. Now, I hope cable will air reruns of The Practice. All 8 seasons please. But preferably not when I'm overseas, because seasons 3-7 aren't available on DVD so I need to record them on my player at home.

Looking forward to:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Martian


And of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens!!!

I watched Episode IV when I was a tiny tot and remember the experience very well.
Really appreciate JJ Abrams' update in my milestone year. This is something truly worth celebrating!

Last but not least, my Broadway show lineup for this November:

Sylvia - starring Matthew Broderick ( aka Ferris Bueller, hero to millions of teens during the 80s. :))

The King And I - multiple Tony Award wins this year, including Best Actress in a Musical, Kelli O'Hara.

Therese Raquin - stars Keira Knightley ( Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, Atonement, Anna Karenina ). I'm a big fan of the movie, which featured Oscar Isaac and Elizabeth Olsen.

Misery - Bruce Willis' Broadway debut. It's a privilege to see this. :)

Old Times - Clive Owen, whom I loved in The International, Closer and The Knick.

A View From The Bridge - Mark Strong, aka the badass in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes reboot, and Matthew Vaughn's super-violent films ( Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service ).

China Doll - Al Pacino. Enough said.

A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder - 2014's Tony winner for Best Musical. One of the original lead actors recently returned to the show after a short hiatus, so now's the time to see the original lead cast before they scatter again!

An American In Paris - very excited about seeing Robert Fairchild, who dances like a dream.

2015's turning out to be very exhausting. But also my best year yet! Until next time... :)

Review – Jurassic World

Right, so this entry is slightly delayed, and the movie's already grossed half a billion dollars worldwide since it opened less than a week ago. But a review is definitely warranted, because not only do I consider this a momentous event, I also gave it a 10/10 rating on IMDB. Because I love it that much!

I realize there're similarities to the previous 3 Jurassic Park films - messing around with dinosaurs, well laid plans going awry, children in peril, mayhem and a significant body count. But every franchise has its own successful formula, so why change it when it clearly works?

Rest assured that I asked the same exasperating questions:

1) Why are you playing with dinosaur DNA - AGAIN?

2) Don't you know electric fences and high walls never work?

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

Despite the obvious human stupidity, I really could care less because I'm mainly interested in the dinos. Perennial favourites like the T-Rex and velociraptors are back, with the addition of a hybrid - the Indominus Rex - which proves to be a nightmare to manage. As predicted, the monster escapes and various manoeuvres are utilized to recapture it, with disastrous results.

It all sounds very rote, but the execution itself is anything but. Believe me when I say that watching Jurassic World took me right back to 1993, when I was 18 and cowering in a dark theatre for 2 hours during Jurassic Park. The sequels never reached that peak, until now.

The screenwriters tweaked the plot here and there, my personal favourite being the 4 pseudo-domesticated raptors, which later become the humans' allies in their hunt for the I-Rex. Bred in captivity and trained from infancy by raptor wrangler, Owen, they're markedly different from their Jurassic Park counterparts yet retain key traits - exceptional intelligence, a capacity for bloodthirsty violence - that keep things grounded in reality. These are my favourites among the entire dinosaur population, so heed my advice when I tell you to stay alert during every raptor scene, so you can fully appreciate the complex relationship they share with Owen. It's definitely one of the highlights of the movie!

The action sequences are also terrific, especially since they now take place on a much larger scale - i.e. the park is officially open to the public, so we have 20,000 tasty morsels for the hungry creatures to feast on. The animatronic and visual effects are spectacular, though I'm also much more appreciative of how advanced these already were 2 decades ago in the original classic.

Many kudos to director Colin Trevorrow, who's helming his first blockbuster after catching Steven Spielberg's attention with his indie flick, Safety Not Guaranteed ( which I intend to watch one of these days when I have time ). In his interview with Empire magazine, Trevorrow explained that Spielberg selected him for this important task because of his ability to handle multiple genres ( adventure, comedy, romance ). In recent years, I've noticed a trend in Hollywood where directors of low-budget movies or those with relatively short CVs are given opportunities to take on massive projects, often based on a powerful studio chief / movie star / big shot producer's gut feeling. This change in mindset has proved to be a game changer in the film industry, particularly in the blockbuster franchise department. Prime examples include Mission: Impossible 3 ( JJ Abrams ), Iron Man ( Jon Favreau ) and Thor ( Kenneth Branagh ). And the trend has continued with Captain America: The Winter Soldier ( Anthony and Joe Russo ) and The Avengers ( Joss Whedon ).

These directors bring fresh ideas to the table and invigorate the blockbuster genre. Mr. Trevorrow, welcome to the club. :)

Last but not least, the cast. For me, this is perhaps the most vital ingredient in any action-adventure film, and the selection of actors here is perfect.
The 2 boys - Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins - are extremely likable and convincing. I always marvel at how these talented children and teenagers manage to look so petrified when there isn't any real danger - it heightens the moviegoer's experience tremendously!

Bryce Dallas Howard, who excels at playing stern, standoffish women ( watch her bitchy character in 50-50 ) starts off effectively prissy then transforms into a true-blue heroine.

But this movie's biggest asset is none other than Chris Pratt. I'm not familiar with his work on TV and in earlier flicks ( when he was super chubby ), but came to know of him through The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn't enjoy Guardians very much, but Owen is an absolutely perfect fit for him! Lean and muscular, with a manly swagger and handling dinosaurs like a pro, Pratt finally wins my approval. He still can't match the intensity of Kevin Spacey, Michael Fassbender and Oscar Isaac, but I fully agree that he's the closest we'll ever get to Harrison Ford, so PLEASE have an Indiana Jones remake / reboot / sequel / prequel or what-have-you, and make sure he's the lead!

I predict a box office gross of $1 billion within the next fortnight, if not sooner.

A rousing revival of a beloved tale! Make sure you catch it. :)

The Big 4-0

I've been neglecting my blog this past year, but of course, this milestone event cannot be ignored. :)

I guess this means I've officially hit "middle age" status, but unlike many women out there who view this stage of their lives with trepidation, I welcome it with open arms and a happy heart.

Growing older has never been a major problem for me - well, aside from the aching bones and faltering stamina. Why should it be, when over the past 2 decades, so many of my dreams have come true, and my life has improved immeasurably?

Granted, it wasn't always a bed of roses, but with age comes ( hopefully ) a little bit of wisdom, and with wisdom comes understanding and acceptance. Not all of my dreams have been realized, and a few probably never will be, but others remain possibilities, and those are the ones I fully intend to pursue for as long as I'm able to.

Another yardstick I use for gauging my level of contentment is asking myself whether I'm happier now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. The answer is a resounding yes.

Although there've been betrayals and regrets along the way - people who were cruel, ungrateful and reckless; bad decisions, etc. - and my life took a number of sharp detours as a result, I learned many important lessons, gained valuable insight, stopped trusting so easily, and lost interest in vying for popularity votes.

I've also developed a knack for wreaking vengeance on those who wrong me. If I don't manage to do it myself, divine intervention usually does the honour, for which I am extremely grateful. :)

But enough about the bad stuff - there's so much more worth celebrating! Family, friends, good health, financial security, the opportunity to travel and meet great people everywhere.

My original plan was to return to France this year, after falling in love with the country back in 2010. But a series of events led me to a tour of Greece, and while the trip left me mentally and physically exhausted, it turned out to be one of the most entertaining and memorable experiences I've ever had, which is rather appropriate for my milestone birthday.

Another greatly anticipated journey awaits in October, when I return to the U.S. for a conference, exploring Boston before visiting New York for the 4th time in 7 years. Broadway musicals on my must-watch list include The King And I, Gigi and An American In Paris, and star-studded plays I intend to catch have Al Pacino, Clive Owen, Keira Knightley and Sam Rockwell as headliners.

And let's not forget momentous film events! From Jurassic World and Terminator: Genisys to Mission: Impossible 5 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I mean, STAR FREAKING WARS! Turning 40 couldn't get any sweeter than this! :D

Career-wise, I have mixed feelings. 10 years ago, choosing emergency medicine was a no-brainer and I was convinced that it was the best path for me. Now, there're days where my heart sinks before a shift, and I can't move for 2 days after working overnight. My temper is short, and I often wonder why the hell I subject myself to such torture.
The practice of emergency medicine has changed so drastically this past decade, in a good way because many of the implemented measures improve patient care and safety. On the flip side, however, the well-being of the senior ED physicians is being severely compromised. And in case the powers that be are uncomfortable with my views, I'm voicing them in a purely personal capacity so you're off the hook. :)

I've spoken to many medical friends from different specialties, and like me, they all lament the quality of medical students and young doctors these days. We do encounter a few who exceed expectations, but many lack even basic clinical knowledge and skills considered appropriate for their level, or worse, display lack of insight and/or arrogance when reprimanded or counselled ( i.e. the Gen Y syndrome ).
Coupled with the huge patient loads that swamp the ED, the constant overcrowding problem, plus an increasingly elderly and sickly population, holding every junior doctor's hand and worrying about a patient dying on us takes a major toll. My worst nightmare is losing my practising certificate because an underling's oversight drags me into the fiasco just because I happened to be on duty when the incident occurred.

I fully empathize with colleagues who've left for the private sector. I wish I could follow suit, but every time a frail old man or woman grips my hand and weeps, telling me s/he has no money, no family support, and that s/he wishes s/he could die, my anger and frustration with the system dissipates, and the reason I first chose this route becomes clear again.

It takes a person with a very unusual disposition to endure the suffering of a public hospital ED physician in this country. It is quite possibly the most thankless specialty in the medical profession, but we all persevere. We complain a lot, but we stay put. If only the big shots and patients understood this!

So the final question is: what comes next?
Considering the local population's average life span, this could be the halfway mark of my existence. Don't worry, I contemplated my own mortality years ago when my lawyer submitted my first will, and the risk of croaking hits me each time I get into my car, cross the road or board a plane. I'm not the type to think about "my legacy". I'm not an adrenaline junkie chasing the next high. I just do my best to stay healthy, take care of my parents, invest in relationships with good people, use money wisely, and never lose faith in God. Despite all the amazing places I've visited and the celebrities I've met, I never tire of simple pleasures - a delicious bowl of laksa, an excellent book, time spent with my best friend, laughing so hard I shed tears, marveling at the beauty of nature, finding peace in prayer and feeling God's presence beside me.

I am so grateful for everything, and will endeavour to stay grateful in the years to come.

A big thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes. You made my year. :)
To another 4 awesome decades!

Daredevil ( Netflix )

This series has been on my radar since last year, and I am now digesting it at a leisurely pace.

3 episodes in, I'm still reserving judgment. It's garnered an average rating of 9.4/10 on, but I may wait till I finish the entire season before giving my verdict.

I'm no fan of comic book heroes ( my reading list leans more towards Archie, Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Sherman's Lagoon, Tintin and Asterix ). Daredevil can't quite compare with the likes of Superman, Batman and Iron Man, but I was very excited after seeing the first trailer some time back - dark, bloody, foreboding.

I'm a huge fan of dark things. I mean, Dexter is my favourite TV series, and the character ( TV and books ) is my personal hero. My mind's wired that way. :)

Early impressions of Daredevil are a little mixed so far, but I give high marks to the casting choices, especially British actor Charlie Cox in the leading role. I mostly recognize him from a small part in Stardust and more recently, as a kind-hearted church choirmaster in The Theory Of Everything. After seeing him play such sweetly benign good guys, it was shocking to learn he'd be playing Daredevil. Even more shocking to see what he's capable of through the stylishly executed trailer.

I think he's doing a terrific job, and prefer him to Ben Affleck's version in the 2003 movie ( back when most superhero flicks were light-hearted and campy ). Cox has a boyish, almost angelic, face, projects a strong screen presence, and possesses just the right degree of gravitas without coming across as stiff or pretentious. According to Empire magazine, he went through a rigorous training programme to get that ripped physique - which I appreciate, thank you! - though I can't always tell if it's really him in those complicated fight scenes ( and there're lots of them ).

What I enjoy most, however, is his voice - deep, honey-smooth, oddly reassuring and menacing at the same time, depending on the situation. The same speech pattern can comfort a damsel or child in distress yet strike fear into the hearts of hard-core criminals. Reminder to self to pay more attention to the inflections used in future episodes, so I can figure out why the effects are so drastically different!

The other inspired casting choice is Vincent D'Onofrio, whose career I've followed for many years, since his days on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I'm a huge fan of his work on that series, and was endlessly delighted by his entertaining portrayal of a super-intelligent NYPD detective with OCD tendencies and a scary ability to see through any facade.
He also has 2 of the most beautiful hands I've ever seen. :)

D'Onofrio doesn't make an appearance in Daredevil until the last 5 minutes of episode 3, just before the suspense threatens to overwhelm you. Rest assured that the buildup doesn't fall flat. D'Onofrio has a large, imposing frame, and emanates evil effortlessly. Even as an NYPD detective on Law & Order, he played a good guy but always made me edgy because he seemed to have a dark side which he kept hidden, but which you could sense if you looked closely enough.

Now that he's playing a real villain - so terrifying that a snitch violently commits suicide after revealing his identity to Daredevil - I can only imagine what twisted fun is in store.
( I repeat, my mind's wired that way. :))

Writing-wise, it doesn't come close to the exceptional standard of House Of Cards ( another Netflix product ). Episode 2 was especially draggy, featuring Daredevil's encounter with an ER nurse who treats his wounds ( I would've preferred an ER doctor, for selfish reasons haha ). The dialogue is clumsy and the acting forced. Could be the director's fault since episode 3 fares much better.

I'm hopeful that subsequent installments will improve. In the meantime, Cox and D'Onofrio are more than sufficient to keep me invested.