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  • Of all the subjects I had to take as an undergraduate, I like blood banking and haematology the least. I think it's worse than parasitology; which was merely disgusting with all the protozoa and worms and insects that want to leave their eggs in you and have their children eat you from the inside out.

    I hated looking at a blood film; it doesn't help that my smears are usually terrible and I never get the feathery ends that were the gold standard of making a good blood film. I couldn't stain it as well as my bacterial or fungal slides; I always overloaded the dye and sometimes distinguishing the red blood cells and the white blood cells were nearly impossible. That took quite a thing, let me tell you.

    I give thanks to God every time I go to the Blood Bank that I don't have to work there. My misadventures in cross matching may mean that any patients dependent on my (nonexistent) skills to ensure they get the appropriate donor blood may become unfortunate legal issues for the hospital. For all that I dislike the subject, I adore donating blood. I've done it as much as possible since my undergrad days, thanks to my Faculty being attached to a teaching hospital that has a Blood Bank. I try to do it once every three months per the guidelines, but it isn't always possible.

    The first time I donated, I actually looked at the way the nurse injected me with a local anaesthetic, watching as she inserted the large bore needle into my vein, gently probing, seeking the life sustaining stuff. There's nothing like the joy of watching the red stuff rush out of me into the gently rocking blood bag. The colour is often a dark burgundy, like the best stuff they pour in high end restaurants. The bag gets fatter and fatter until the chime goes off, informing the nurse that I no longer have nearly half a kilogram of body weight in me. Well, at least until my body replenishes it, which is daily. So as a long term weight loss programme, blood donation is a dud.

    I had an opportunity on Christmas eve to settle my bloody obligation in the final quarter of this year. For the first time, the physician who took my blood pressure reading and ticked all the right boxes to indicate that I'm a viable donor decided to be chatty. He's from Myanmar but looked Chinese at a glance until he began to speak. Out of the blue, he asked if I was celebrating Christmas.

    I said no, though I enjoyed the public holiday anyway.

    Are you a Buddhist, then? he asked, earnestly.

    I was beginning to feel puzzled by this line of questioning. I didn't think he meant anything by it; probably thought to wish me Merry Christmas or something and was frustrated that I wasn't the right audience.

    Not Buddhist either, I said. I'm Muslim.

    He looked horrified and was flustered and checked my form. Oh dear, he did not notice my name, he said. He thought that I was Chinese. He apologised profusely. I waved it away and told him not to feel bad about it and went off to lie down on the blood collection chair. A plump nurse with a no-nonsense expression on her face smoothed a blanket over my legs and did her thing.

    When I was done, the nurse who was replacing the plaster on my hand asked me for my name. I told her. She looked taken aback and admitted that she thought that I was a Chinese. I laughed and told her, no, not a drop of Chinese blood as far as I know. I had my coffee and two pieces of crackers and hopped off.

    I told this story to my Mom later. Ha, she said. It must be because you don't cover your hair. Nowadays nearly all Malay ladies cover their hair, she said. The unspoken words were: you should too.

    My instantaneous response was: nope. Not likely, possibly not gonna happen. I am too recalcitrant to bow to society's expectations and I like my hair as it is. Perhaps my lack of headscarf is the reason that I am often mistaken as a Chinese, though my skin is dark. Behind my high index glasses, my eyes do look slanted and small. They only look as large as a sugar glider's eyes when I remove my glasses and myopically tried to focus on everything beyond six inches of my nose.

    Nonetheless, I don't think it's necessary to advertise my faith or genetic heritage by my clothes. If you make the mistake and ask me, I'll just gently correct you, I won't take offense.
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