Silly Furby Fad

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The only thing that’s been cropping up on my FB newsfeed from Thai people for the last two months is Furbies – where to get them, how to get them, oh-i-got-one, oh-it’s-so-cute.  And once they’ve got one, they post photos and videos of it constantly on FB, just like mums with their newborn babies. Furby talking, Furby sleeping, Furby dancing…

Furbies look like Mogwai from Gremlins. They speak Furbish and you can teach them how to go from baby babble to English, as they can mimic you. Furbies were really popular in 1998, I remember playing with them as a kid. So basically the Thais are just like 15 years late to the game. Watching the Furby craze take over the country is like seeing the resurgence of Tamagotchi (your electronic pet chicken in your pocket) from the nineties or the big hairdos from the eighties.

Now, I’m extremely tolerant of kids haranguing for a Furby. After all they are kids and should be forgiven as they know not what they are are doing. But grown women behaving like kids going on and on about Furbies are beyond my limited comprehension. In Thailand, a Furby is going for THB 3700 (USD 123) to THB 4200 (USD 140). Now since I measure everything against a bowl of noodles on the street which is THB 35, the cheapest Furby costs more than 100 bowls of noodles. In short, Furby costs more than three months of lunch.

The unfathomable demand for Furbies has led to a $250,000 scam and the Science Ministry warning parents of the negative impacts of the toy.

Looking at the grown women obsessing over the big-eyed Furby, I can conclude only one thing – their womb is talking. Perhaps their maternal clock is ticking and they don’t have a kid of their own, that’s why they’re so gaga over a toy that behaves like a baby. Except that the Furby can turn itself off after one minute of inactivity, which I’m sure real mothers would be quite thankful for!

“Diagnosed” with Osteopenia

Fragile label

Every year, courtesy of my company, I get a free medical check-up. Considering that we don’t get any bonuses – no, not even the 13th month bonus – a free check-up is better than nothing, I suppose. Typically these check-ups cover the basic items – blood test, urine test, EKG (cuz I’m old enough), eye exams (which I routinely have problems with), a physical and chest X-ray.

This year, the hospital they got to do the check-up was notable for two things. The two guys in charge of drawing blood were so bad at it that it hurt big-time and we’re all still severely bruised many days after. The second thing was the hospital provided a bone mineral density (BMD) test using the Alara Metriscan. This was certainly new.

I put my left hand on the platform and the machine was supposed to measure my BMD from three fingers. As the technician started pressing buttons, I protested as I saw her keying in “Caucasian”. “But I’m not Caucasian, you should be choosing Asian,” I told her very politely, thinking that perhaps she had trouble understanding the English machine. “We always set it to Caucasian,” she replied with finality.

After a few minutes, the results were ready. She wrote it on a photocopied form. T-score = -1.65. Normal is zero and a T-score of -2.5 or worse is considered osteoporosis. She continued to scrawl in Thai: กระดูกบาง or thin bones. I suddenly felt fragile like Samuel Jackson’s Mr. Glass in the movie Unbreakable. But most of all I was puzzled because milk and cheese are part of my regular diet.

Turning to Google, it turns out that “thin bones” is known as osteopenia. According to WebMD a.k.a. my 24-hour doctor, “Bones naturally become thinner as people grow older because … existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone is made. As this occurs, the bones lose minerals, heaviness (mass), and structure, making them weaker and increasing their risk of breaking. All people begin losing bone mass after they reach peak BMD at about 30 years of age.”

Things that increase the risk of osteopenia include:

  • Being white (Caucasian) or, to a lesser degree, being Asian – See, I was correct in telling the technician to put me as Asian.
  • A family history of osteoporosis – Grandma might be a culprit
  • Being thin – hah, can certainly strike this off!
  • Long-term use of corticosteroids, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone for inflammatory conditions, or anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin), or gabapentin (Neurontin) for pain or seizures – don’t know any of these
  • Eating disorders or diseases that affect the absorption of nutrients from food – my only eating disorder is eating too much and having an uncontrolled sweet tooth
  • Being inactive or bedridden for a long period of time – I sort of like exercising
  • Smoking – never
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol – allergic to it
  • Having a diet low in calcium or Vitamin D – love dairy, love the sun even more

It’s really baffling. I honestly don’t have any of the risk factors perhaps except for the genes. So I’m left with a few options:

1. Get a second opinion from a more reputable hospital (one that doesn’t try to stab you with a blunt needle). Apparently, a proper BMD test will take the readings from your arm and/or your hip. But it’s not gonna be cheap – $150.

2. Do the ostrich and ignore it. After all, how can they measure the BMD in my entire body from just three fingers? Plus I type so much and play the piano, so the bone density in my fingers must be definitely screwed up. And, more importantly, many consumer websites are saying that osteopenia was “invented” by pharmaceutical companies who want to push their calcium pills. Apparently, they are also the ones providing these small portable machines to measure BMD, at least in the U.S.

Being the enlightened or should it be foolhardy consumer, I shan’t fall for such tricks. Besides I now have the perfect excuse to eat more ice-cream – I need the calcium!

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How not to do draw blood: Look at the bruising we’re still nursing more than five days after the medical check-up.

An Unequal Music – Vikram Seth

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To sustain my new year resolution to read more books this year, I have to find a source of books. Now Bangkok is not the best place to be looking for English books. Bookshops tend to stock only the mass-market thrillers. You could get a more eclectic selection at Kinokuniya but it’d cost you an arm and a leg, plus the additional books would take up more space in my little apartment. Unlike in Singapore where the libraries are veritable troves of information, the very small and very few libraries in Bangkok have a rather sad collection of English books. Alternatively I could buy e-books and read them on my iPad, but it gets heavy after a while.

So thanks to another friend who’s working overseas and has been surviving by borrowing books from other expat friends, I came up with the brilliant idea of borrowing books from my Aussie boss! I told him that I’ve always preferred the classic authors (or in his words, dead people) as I find most contemporary writers to be too self-serving in their writing. Just think of Eat, Pray, Love – that was one book I had to put down after five pages (and I usually try to finish a book once I’ve started it no matter how bad it is) because I was about to puke from the author’s navel-gazing me-me-me writing. Compare that to Ernest Hemingway who sketches a picture and dissects a situation with the most economical and incisive of words.

So he’s taken upon himself the mission of introducing me to good writers who are still alive. An Unequal Music was the first book from his library. He said he chose it because I love and play music. Plus it’s set in England, so what’s not to like?

I looked at the name and I wrinkled my nose at him. We have an Indian colleague who writes in the most convoluted “Inglish” ever. You can cut down his writing to half the original length to no discernible loss of meaning. But nonetheless, I gave it a try.

The beautiful story’s about quartets, fugue and lots of Bach. It’s about a man and a woman finding and losing each other, and finding and losing each other again through a deep love for the music they both share. It made me realise that the Bach I was forced to play for piano exams had stories of love and loss behind them. I used to hate fugues with a vengeance because Bach seemed to have composed them to be played by two people instead of two hands controlled by a single brain. But Vikram Seth made the fugues seem so romantic and mysterious that I actually ferreted out my Bach music and played them again.

All in all, a poignantly evocative read that leaves you with a wistfulness akin to the sun setting on a particularly good day.

OB Markers – My Straits Times Story

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This was my first book of 2013, and the first book to start off my new year resolution to read more. Sad to say, it was very tough going because the writing was repetitive and long-winded. Which was a surprise, since one would expect the editing to be a lot tighter given that it’s a book about the newsroom. There were typos from the first page, and the convoluted sentences were difficult to follow.

In fact, it sounds like an old grandfather recounting war stories – which is exactly what the book is about. And once you’ve resigned yourself to this idea, you can be quite forgiving when the book rambles on and on.

Read the book not for its style but its content. Cheong Yip Seng basically survived to tell of his time in Straits Times. Forty years is a long time, especially with a government that is always so edgy and jumpy with the press. There are lots of juicy tidbits that would entertain those who are not in the newsroom, while for those who were, the book helps to confirm in hindsight what had happened.

Given that there are rumours that the powers-that-be have handled down their imperial edict against any reprint of the book, OB Markers is certainly worth buying and keeping.