Yet another morsel of thought

First things first (I’m the realest! Eheh), I’m back in Malaysia! Been here for about 3 days now, and aside from the pests and the humid, humid weather, all has been good. I’ve been prepping for Mount Kinabalu too, which a group of friends and I will attempt to conquer (hah, conquer, hah) in about 10 days! Pretty excited about it. Pray for good weather and good health and stamina, please!

Anyway, the point of this entry is to share a random thought that’s a bit too long for Twitter, and Facebook has fallen out of favour with me (just with respect to wordy blocks of text, not photos).

Have you ever realized how often we take the people closest to us for granted? Your best friend/siblings/parents/whoever else who is close to you is almost always the object of your unwarranted outbursts of emotion. We don’t even stop to think if we are hurting their feelings, because those people have feelings too!

“That’s just how it is” or “Oh, I never mean it, but they’re unfortunately always there when I’m upset” are never good enough excuses. Heck, no excuse will ever be good enough to warrant you hurling verbal abuse at the people who care most about you, all because you happen to be in a lousy mood.

Get it together, both you and I (assuming you sometimes take people for granted, the way I do). It’s not terribly difficult to filter what exits your mouth. What has been said can never be taken back.

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Picture of a sleeping kitteh to lighten the mood :D

Throwback: Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

You’d think being done with medical school (for now) and only working till 12.30pm would mean that I have more time to myself, but oh boy, how untrue that is. Somehow, there’s always something else to do, on top of reading up on new admissions to the hospital where I’m doing my clerkship. I wish I had a little more time to myself, to curl up with a book and pay no heed to everything else, but hey, being occupied isn’t so bad.

Rambles aside, I have time today, and it being Thursday, I thought I’d do a Throwback Thursday here (#tbt for you hip folks), and write (and show you pictures) of a trip I made on May 1, 2014. To my Facebook friends, there will be a considerable amount of repetition of my captions from the album I uploaded to Facebook, and for that I apologize.

It took me almost 3 years living in Krakow and a visiting friend to finally make a trip to what is arguably one of the most historically significant places on Earth: the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. Long post ahead!

Us at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My friends and I at the camp

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is actually a network of Nazi concentration camps near the Polish town of Auschwitz, or in Polish, Oswiecim. History being a weak point for me, I may have some facts wrong, but I believe that this camp was spread over 3 sections, and we visited 2 of them, the first of which our guide referred to as Auschwitz, and the second, Birkenau.

We traveled from Krakow to Auschwitz by bus (we simply bought a bus ticket from the conductor and spent about 1.5-2 hours on board) and arrived around noon, where we bought our tickets and stated our preferred language, then waited for the tour guides to group all of us English speakers together. Each group comprised 10-15 people, and each person was given a headset so that we could always hear what the tour guide was saying.

My first impression of the place was how pretty and serene it looked, which in my mind, stood in stark contrast to the obvious horrors which took place back in the 1940s. I just couldn’t shake off that difference the entire time I was there. How could a place which looks so nice in spring bear so much heartache all year round?

Auschwitz concentration camp

 

As we began the tour and entered the camp, we were greeted by gates that bore the words “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which means “Work Frees You” in German. How terribly deceiving! Many who passed under those words would, very literally, work to their deaths. I suppose, in a morbid way, they were freed of their physical suffering.

"Arbeit Macht Frei" - German for "Work frees you."

We were then led through hallways and large rooms which once housed kitchens and workplaces, but are now filled with glass displays, all aiming to depict the history that is written in their walls. From uniforms to food rations, from children’s clothes to pots and pans, from broken suitcases to torn shoes – everything on display pointed to the kind of treatment the victims received from the dreadful moment they reached camp.

Those victims all went to camp willingly (at least initially, when no one was aware of the nature of the camps), duped into leaving their countries and towns in hopes of a new and better life. The false prospect of better employment was so well-spun that people would often sell their property and gather enough money in hopes that they could buy one of the lands in Auschwitz to farm. It didn’t matter that they were packed into small train carriages and made to travel long distances, for they were promised warm food and a hot bath upon arrival, and hope of a much better life.

When they did eventually reach Auschwitz, they would be given uniforms – a set each which were to be their only clothes from that point on; some were also given shoes, many others hard wooden clogs – and directed to the showers, where they would be blasted with cold water to “rid them of any impurities”, and then tattooed with serial numbers, which marked the beginning of their imprisonment.

Of course, that only happened if they weren’t sent to the gas chambers. In the beginning, Auschwitz was only intended to be a labour camp, not one where people were killed. But the numbers grew so greatly that they decided that the only solution was to eliminate the useless ones (a bit more on that later when we reach Birkenau), which included the elderly, the lame, those who lacked manual skills, and many women and children. The Nazis, being occupied with the idea of creating a master Aryan race, had a preference for blue eyed blonde girls. Many other little girls were sent to their deaths upon arrival simply because the colour of their hair wasn’t “right”.

Nazi-issued uniforms for the camp prisoners

Nazi-issued uniforms for the camp prisoners

And what became of their belongings? They were confiscated, every single article. I cannot even begin to describe the piles and piles of reading glasses, pots, pans, labelled suitcases, shoes of every size, shaving brushes, clothes for the young and the old, combs, hair brushes, vanity items, and the most heartbreaking of all, human hair.

There was an entire block of just human hair! Piles and piles of them, all shaved off the heads of the women who were gassed at camp. Even recalling it now sends shivers down my back. And those I saw were just that which happened to be at camp when it all went south for the Nazis. They used to salvage women’s hair and send it to factories to be spun into fabric. Waste not, want not, yeah? Can you imagine how much more hair must have been obtained the entire time the camp was up and running? The horror!

Old glasses

Old shaving brushes

"Starvation" sculpture at Auschwitz

A sculpture titled “Starvation” in one of the hallways at Auschwitz

Those who survived the initial selection were put to work immediately. Most started off with serious hard labour – digging trenches, burying their fellow travelers, etc. Some skilled workers were given other tasks, including a certain Wilhelm Brasse, who was a trained photographer of Austrian-Polish descent. He photographed almost every member of the concentration camp, and in an interview with our tour guide, he said “Do not think I kept these photos for the future generation – I kept them because they were my work.” He survived World War II, and passed away at a ripe old age of 94, refusing to take another photo ever again.

Portraits of the Auschwitz prisoners

Among the many portraits of the prisoners which survived WWII

 

Auschwitz, being built with the initial intention of only being a slave labour camp, only had a small gas chamber. It was an unassuming little building which used to be painted white inside and out to resemble a bathing area. It was yet another trick by the Nazis to ensure compliance among the victims – the Nazi guards told the 1000+ victims that they had to strip down and be sardined in that tiny space to receive their nice, warm bath.

The tiny space would be their death bed. Because it was so small and there were way too many people, many of them would die standing, arms linked in the final moment when they realized that they were being gassed to death.

 

The gas chamber at Auschwitz

The gas chamber at Auschwitz, now blackened by time. Next to the lights are little holes where the soldiers could drop Cyclone B pellets into the hall, then shut those holes tight until everyone was dead.

The crematorium at Auschwitz

The crematorium, also very small, right next to the gas chamber.

 

After that, we were taken by a shuttle bus to Birkenau, which is a lot larger than Auschwitz (if you want numbers, you’ll have to look it up yourself). There is a train track that runs right down the middle of the camp, and it is on those tracks that trains carrying hundreds of people from 23 different countries, all crammed into spaces so small that they could barely sit, transported them to their fate.

Train carriage in Auschwitz

 

If you look at the picture below, you will notice a long building at the far end of the picture. That is the entrace to the Birkenau camp. Running down the middle are the aforementioned train tracks, and midway through that, the train would stop, and everyone would alight. Some others got off the train before they passed through the entrance, opting to walk into it instead. One woman who was travelling with her mother asked her elderly mother to stay on the train, saying that she would meet her once they were inside. She never saw her mother again.

Once inside, they were asked to segregate themselves into groups of men and women and made to line up, thus beginning the selection process. At the front of the line was the camp doctor, who would give every person an all-over, and then point them either to the left or to the right. If he gestured to his right, the victim would be headed down the so-called “pathway to heaven”, meaning he would have to walk his way to the gas chamber, and he wouldn’t even know until it is too late. If the doctor thought you were fit for work, and you had a skill that they needed, you would be sent the other way to hard labour.

It’s amazing how well the deception was executed. No one ever rebelled, no one suspected anything because they were all promised a good life at the end of the arduous journey. And even if they had their suspicions, they were already so worn down from the journey to the camp that they wouldn’t be able to physically fight back.

Birkenau concentration camp

Birkenau War Memorial

The Auschwitz-Birkenau War Memorial.

At the very end of the tracks was a large empty area which now houses the Auschwitz-Birkenau War Memorial. It is made in a rather abstract manner, intended to cause the observer to deduce for themselves the chimney of the crematorium, the fallen victims, the gas chambers, all of which are regrettably not well photographed here. At the foot of the memorial are several plaques in the languages that were thought to have been spoken by the prisoners, then. There is a solitary plaque in English simply because it is an international language.

The plaques read:

“For ever let this place be

A cry of despair

And a warning to humanity

Where the Nazis murdered

About one and a half

Million

Men, women, and children

Mainly

Jews

From various countries of Europe

Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945″

 

There were 3 crematoriums in Birkenau and an underground gas chamber, and again, the victims were told that it was a shower area. Mothers were even assured that the water will not be too hot for their infants to bear, so that those women would take their innocent babies with them to their deaths.

When the Nazis realized that the war was ending, they burnt down much of Birkenau, and much of the camp which was still under construction was left unfinished. Many buildings weren’t well destroyed, however, because it seems the soldiers at camp were rushing to get away from it.

Ruins of the a crematorium

One of the crematoriums, or what is left of it

Sleeping quarters in the concentration camp

Sleeping quarters at the concentration camp. 4 to 5 people were made to sleep on each level, that’s on all 3 levels. The bottom-most level was the worst, with feces and rats all over the floor. There was absolutely no heating, even in the bitter Polish winters.

Communal latrines

At the concentration camps, the prisoners were only allowed to defecate at fixed times throughout the day. They were all brought in groups into communal latrines such as this one, ordered to sit, and then minutes later ordered to stand and leave. There was no way of cleaning yourself, and many would go on to urinate all over their living quarters. Clearly, the Nazis did not consider hygiene an important aspect for the prisoners.


As I left the camp, I realized how difficult it is to walk away untouched by everything I saw. As bright and beautiful as the day was when we were there, there was still an eerie, heavy gloom looming over the place. It’s almost as if its past still clings to it like a stubborn stain, a reminder of how inhumane the human race is capable of being.

And yet, I saw that as difficult as it is, it is possible to leave thinking of Auschwitz as just another museum of sorts. What you take away from it depends a lot on how much of it you allow to reach your deepest recesses. I have so much more to say about this, but my word count is already over 2000, and I think it’s high time I stopped writing. I have this to say, that while I regret what has happened at that camp, I am thankful for the chance to have walked those grounds. The difference to just reading about it is immense.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana


Independence and Your Average Young Adult

Another rambling post (yay for rambling posts!), for which I decided to give a deceptively proper title.

A Facebook status that I read about half an hour ago is the instigator. The author of that status claimed that among the disadvantages of studying abroad was the fact that such students would have to learn to be independent, what with being away from their family and comfort zones, etc.

Perhaps I should have just left a reply on that status, but I thought I’d share my annoyance with all of you; why on earth is independence a disadvantage? An inconvenience at times – undoubtedly so – but I fail to understand how it is a con of studying abroad!

I have been abroad, a full day’s flight away from my homeland, for 3 years now (with trips home during the summer, of course) and in that time, I have learned, and still am learning, what it means to be responsible for your person, your actions, and your belongings. Because what happens when you are barely 20 years old in a land where people speak a foreign language, without your parents who were the ones who overlooked everything you did prior to this shift, is that you teach yourself to make decisions at the drop of a hat – when to see the doctor, how to deal with your landlord, how to get your electronics fixed, how to be mindful of your finances. Heck, I’ve even missed a connecting flight in Germany, panicked internally while figuring out who to approach and finally, by the grace of God had someone behind the Lufthansa counter who spoke to me kindly and pulled some strings.

Not for one second do I think any of the troubles I’ve had to face without my parents dictating every step I should take as a setback. If anything, the lack of an ever-present figure to depend on has helped me mature in the ways I view what my parents would call the “real world”. I need to point out that my parents, being loving and caring and all that good jazz, have been available many a time to give me mostly helpful advice, and it is here that I would say guided independence is an essential part of maturing (so make sure you have a wise adult to guide to turn to).

Independence on its own can be incredibly detrimental to one’s development, in that you would probably mess up even more than you might have if you had someone to nudge you back in the right direction every now and then. However, being entirely led by hand without the option of making your own choices is not going to help you grow, although it may make you an incredibly good follower.

Sure, it’s pleasant to stay within your comfort zone, sheltered from the elements! Even I would much rather have my dad around to take my laptop to the shop to get it fixed when it’s broken, or help me obtain documents when I need them instead of going through the headache of it all on my own. Let him do all the work, since he knows how to do it best, right? But one day, we will all lose that guiding hand that’s just pulling us along the right path, and if we have zero experience dealing with things on our own (with that guiding hand standing on the sidelines like a good coach), I imagine we would be rather lost when that happens.

Independence is not all sunshine and roses. With great power comes great responsibility, yes? But it is essential. I’m not saying that everyone should study abroad – that is clearly impossible – and to be fair, studying locally (wherever you are) brings many benefits with it. And yet, even if you are a student in your homeland, you could take steps towards learning to be an independent and responsible adult. If you think that you would rather stay home and avoid learning how to do things without your folks around, then you have my best wishes when out of the blue, life decides to drop a hurricane smack in the middle of your path.

I admit that I still have a long way to go, but I suppose that I believe, it is better to have young adults walking around with at least a vague idea of how to handle even the simplest of issues, than those who would crumble without someone else to lift the load entirely off their shoulders.

May/June Update!

Heeeelllo! I’ve been away, and super busy with school for the longest time ever, and hurrah! I’m finally done with 3rd year! Or at least, I hope I am. We’re still waiting for a couple more test results, and if I pass those, then I’m truly done with this whirlwind of tests/exams that was the 3rd year. I really want to bore you with the details on how often we had them, but I’ll spare you. On to a list of things that have happened since I last wrote here! In no chronological order, of course.

  • A friend got baptized! :D I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was for her. I’m so glad she made the decision to be baptized, and I’m so excited for what her relationship with Christ holds for her future! She has been a believer for 5 years now and she finally decided that she wanted to properly make a public declaration of it. Her story of how and why she was drawn to Christianity is really an insight into how much our lives can demonstrate the love of Christ more than we could possibly verbalize. We went down to a lovely little lake for the baptism, and though the dark clouds threatened to pour on us, it held back until the entire event was over. Praise God for that, and for her. Can you tell how happy I am for her? It’s amazing.
The lake where she was baptized: Zalew Bagry, Krakow, Poland

The lake where she was baptized: Zalew Bagry, Krakow, Poland

  • I visited Auschwitz. I think I’ll write a separate post on this (I’ve written it!), so for now I’ll just say that wow, I’m glad I went. It’s horrible to think how many soldiers were forced to commit crimes of humanity, and also how many more willingly committed them. And most of them got off with nary a punishment!
  • I made kaya. That’s a kind of coconut milk and egg jam, for those of you that aren’t familiar with Malaysian cuisine. I got a bit overzealous and made it a tad too thick, but it tasted exactly like the kaya I looove so much back home! Score 1 for Jing!
  • The kids at church are growing up so fast, and I wish they wouldn’t! It’s so painfully bittersweet to see the little changes in their vocabulary, the things they talk about, they way they behave, and of course, their height. Kids grow up way too quickly.
  • The first batch of Malaysians in Krakow will be graduating this week! Frankly, I’m only excited for the few I’m actually close to, because they have been such massive influences to me. They’ve never said it aloud, but just through observation, they’ve encouraged me to really seek God first in everything I do, because nothing else comes above Him, not even my exams. And I’m so grateful for that. It’s so easy to think that studies must come first, but no, He’s always the top priority, because without Him, I wouldn’t even be where I am. They will definitely be missed so very much!

I feel like I’m leaving out some other things here, but I think this’ll do. It’s long enough as it is, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m becoming less and less willing to share some of the more personal details of my life online. But who knows, I might change my mind tomorrow.

Till next time, toodles!

Made to Worship

I truthfully do not have the time to sit down and write a proper post, but I’ve been feeling rather strongly about this for a while, so I thought I’d get it out anyway. If this turns out to be more ramble-y than usual, well, you’ve been warned.

Like the title says, I do think that we were all made to worship something, someone, anything. Think about it. Your heart is always wandering, looking for something to cling on to and to think about every waking moment. That thing or person is what’s most important to you. It is what you are idolizing and worshiping.

I know it seems strange because for the most part, I believe we’re accustomed to the idea that we can only worship a higher being, so to speak, and we simply wouldn’t naturally associate worship with a fellow human, a thing, an activity, etc. But we can. And the reason for this is because to worship is very simply, the act of adoring or admiring something to a great extent.

If you’re thinking “Nahh, I worship nothing”, think again. Really search yourself to know what is it that you long for the most. What would make you think “I cannot live without that!” It could easily be ambition, individualism (!!! this is something else I feel strongly about, too, but that’s for another time), your partner, a goal, your smartphone, someone you look up to, alcohol. Anything at all. I think you get where I’m going with this.

Why it is important to know where your worship is directed is because that is normally where your sense of worth is. That is where you base your identity in. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want my identity to be based in wealth, for example, because that is fickle and I may one day end up being dirt-poor, and then what would I do with myself?

Personally, I find myself prioritizing my dreams and goals over a lot of other things. And I’ve had to catch myself many times and remember to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It’s so easy to get carried away in the sense of worth that I get from a job well done. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been blessed with a mind that works well enough, but that’s a gift from God. A gift that has no power or eternity in it. It is the Giver who holds eternity in His hands, and therefore, it is the Giver whom we should seek.

Throwing in a story from the Bible (since we’re already headed that way), Isaac was Abraham’s gift. He was Abraham’s hope for the future – his heir and his pride. But when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, what did he do? He got up early the next morning to sacrifice his beloved son (and we know God didn’t let that happen because He doesn’t ask for child sacrifice). But this in itself was a display of how much more important the Lord meant to Abraham than his son meant to him. The way I see it, Abraham saw the difference between the gift and the Giver, and he chose to place his faith in the Giver. He knew that God had given him Isaac as a blessing and that he had to trust God to know what He was doing. And it turned out fine.

Abraham worshiped the Giver and not the gift.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live that way. Having my plans fulfilled my way but without God in it doesn’t sound like a fabulous plan in the long run.

It’s A Beautiful Day

I fall in love with Krakow every autumn and spring. It’s almost impossible not to.

Ladybug in Spring

A ladybug flew right into me while I was biking, and proceeded to settle in my scarf <3

I concede that Krakow is in no way the most enchanting city in Europe. But it is rather charming in its own way. There’s something about the way the city breathes and moves that lifts your mood and carries you with it through all its changes across the year. Like a kindly old grandfather taking a child by the hand and saying, look! Look at all that is good, as he spins tales of old all through the trees and flowers.

I suppose it is possible to feel this way about wherever you are, if you look at it with open eyes and an eager heart. Krakow’s simply just where that is for me, right now.

And so I hold on to the hope that I will continue to fall in love with this wondrous place again and again, for as long as I can. And in the winter, let her envelope me in her cold white sheets that I’ve come to find warmth in.

March Quickie!

I haven’t blogged in over a month now, and I suddenly realized that it’s one day from the end of March! So here’s a quick recap of some parts of my March in classic point form (because I like posts in point forms).

  • I celebrated my 22nd birthday this month! :D It seems like after my 20th birthday, I just feel perpetually old. It’s slightly ridiculous, but ah well. I see every birthday as a chance to be actively reminded of just how blessed I am to have people who love love loooove me and whom I love, too! It’s a great thing, you know. As Oscar Wilde said, “Who, being loved, is poor?
The Twin wrote this for me. It's to the tune of the oh-so-popular "Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?" Here are the words: Do you wanna draw a stickman? Could also be a fat man Because it's your birthday now And also mine And stickmen seem just right I'm not sure what I'm writing I just know I am And I think it sounds alright! So do you wanna draw a stickman? Way funner than building snowmen ... or so I say

The Twin wrote this for me. It’s to the tune of the oh-so-popular “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?”
Here are the words:
Do you wanna draw a stickman?
Could also be a fat man
Because it’s your birthday now
And also mine
And stickmen seem just right
I’m not sure what I’m writing
I just know I am
And I think it sounds alright!
So do you wanna draw a stickman?
Way funner than building snowmen … or so I say

This is just one of the photos I took of the things my friends made/got me for my birthday! Lotsa love for them <3

This is just one of the photos I took of the things my friends made/got me for my birthday! Lotsa love for them <3 * There were some other things too, but I like this photo best (and based on Instagram, you guys did, too!)

 

  • This one’s a quick shoutout to a friend (who I know reads every post here) who came from Warsaw to Krakow and paid me a visit, among other things. Thanks!
  • I’ve been much too busy. Exams, tests, the usual. Pray for sustenance, please! It does drain you out a little, all that reading and memorizing and stuffing facts in my noggin’. Some days I just want to give up, but it’s those days that remind me to seek rest in God and work from within His peace and rest.
  • Not proud of this, but I failed my first anything in 3 years? More or less. I’m not sure how best to react to it, but to acknowledge that it was a weakness on my end that I need to correct. Definitely not proud of it. Surprisingly, I’m not upset by it, either. And no, I don’t want to hear any of the “you’re in medical school, failing’s normal” talk. I decided long ago that that has no place with me if I want to excel.
  • I realized that I like “girly” things a lot more now *blushblush* (that was unwarranted, sorry). For the unacquainted, I’m not a typical girly girl who walks around with makeup and skirts and what-have-you. I suppose, now you could say I’m growing slowly into it? I still enjoy my jeans tons, but makeup brushes and fragrances, anyone? (Jeans are still in first place, though)
  • MH370. Need I say more? If you’re unaware, it’s the number of the Malaysian Airlines flight that went missing on March 8, 2014. It’s all terribly heartbreaking. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Malaysia announced that they firmly believe that the plane crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean and that all on board were assumed dead. I think most of us are hoping for a miracle, or at least, some form of definitive answer to all the questions surrounding the disappearance of the plane. I’ve been primarily upset that people persist in spreading rumours about the people aboard that flight and what may have happened to it. Just do keep the families of those on board that flight in your prayers. I believe they need it most.
  • need caffeine. Meaning coffee. Even theophylline (meaning tea), doesn’t cut it well enough. I ran out of Nescafe (the only coffee powder I know how to work with) last weekend, and then I kept forgetting to pick it up when I go past grocery stores. Also, small kiosks and grocery stores do not stock Nescafe in Krakow, so I had to visit a proper hypermarket. Three days without caffeine was difficult, what with the lack of sleep.
  • Spring is here! Quite properly, too. We had mildly erratic weather, but now it seems like Mr Sun’s here to stay! I wish I had a picture of the pretty white flowers blooming all over to show you, but I don’t! I hope I will soon! My camera needs to go for a walk!
  • With regards to spring being here, I think I’m developing hay fever for the first time. Self-diagnosing here, but I’m pretty sure I have allergic rhinitis to all the pollen being stirred up by the billowing winds. Why I’ve never developed hay fever my first two springs in Poland is beyond me.

That’s about it, I think. I hope you’ll all keep well! Here’s a bonus pic of me reacting to a toy cat a couple of friends surprised me with. God bless you loads and loads :)

Me reacting to cat soft toy