I did my housemanship training in Taiping, a small town which mean ‘peace’ in Chinese. It has a small idle mining pond which my friend Mokhtar, my senior Pak Wan and I used to fish. It was before Sahak came and join us. If I remember correctly, the mining pond was located some where behind Taman Makmur. Mind you, Taman Makmur is famous for it’s pasar malam which we used to visit, queuing up to buy apam balik and well-marinated satay. It is just around Assam Kumbang (if my long-term memory is pretty much intact) next to the main road which bring you to Jalan Simpang next to petrol station.

Taiping has hardly change since independence. It has colonial trademark; very similar to Muar.  The examples of such trademark are colonial schools such as St George & King Edward, a large municipal field next to Municipal building and the most noticeable one is Taiping Lake garden which is situated just in the valley of Maxwell Hill. The lake garden is the place where Sahak and I practiced kayak; at least once in my life time.

How did Taiping withstand the test of time? I think, first and foremost, Taiping is bypassed by the old North-South trunk road. Therefore, the express buses have to stop at Simpang and seldom encroach right to the middle of the town. Now the new North-South (NS) Expressway has bypassed the town again, leaving behind car drivers who are craving for durian, to shop at the nearest Hentian Bukit Gantang stalls, thus bypassing the town and its legends.

It was during houseman time that my Surgeon, a big Punjabi man, used to have regular rounds with us around the hospital. It worked to our benefit as the round used to end up with a big feast. Menus were tosai, capati, naan and some typical Indian foodies like vadai and samoza. The food were served by a big fat Indian sister. It was the time when I really enjoyed free Indian cuisine as never before. Those days, there were only few housemen in each department. We worked, did some mistakes, laughed about them and the learning was done through apprenticeship.

We were competing with each other to make a breakthrough in our semi-professional operating skills. Those who were good would be allowed to do operation. I did my first appendicectomy with assistance from a senior nurse, SN Puziah. OT staffs were so helpful, all those years. We were like adik beradik, brother and sister.

As a young doctor, I remember attending to a young petite girl who had just skid off her motorbike and suffered from bruises and injury all over her body. As I was cleaning and did toilet and suturing, I noticed a different kind of bruises around the neck area. A senior nurse asked me whether I had noticing them. Yes I did. What are they? I asked the nurse. Later that I learned, they were love bites. I had to be excused because I was young, single and innocent at the time. The point is mat and minah rempit exist even some 20-30 years ago. It is not a new phenomenon as many used to think.

The cultural shock that we housemen found in the OT those days was people were dirty minded. They uttered dirty words freely. We, the very young ones are always been victims of some kind of sexual harassment. We learned to adapt and adopt, and at the end of the day, we became tolerant to the culture of free and easy. Now when I think about it, I can just simply think of stress management as an excuse.

I’d still remember organizing mass circumcision in Kamunting Army Camp. During our time, young housemen were already equipped with competent surgical skills to do mass circumcision. How do we make ourselves competent? We learned from a senior medical assistant, who in the beginning was reluctant to pass on the knowledge but with perseverance he was convinced to share his knowledge for the benefit of the ummah. Those days, surgeon didn’t teach us circumcision. We got to find our own guru.

A lady physician was a single, middle-age, fourty-something, strict, implosive grande dame. She cursed for any mistakes we made. To her, we were either useless or had no brain. We knew her weaknesses and we played the public relation well. To minimize her amuk, we tried as far as possible to impress her from the first day of our posting. That seemed to work well, at least for me, except on an occasion when I missed to review total white counts on an adolescent with leukemia.