by Dr Wong Kah Keng
“You know I’m such a fool for you
You got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger
Do you have to, do you have to
Do you have to let it linger”
Melody of the 90s ballad waved in the air of the Pret a Manger sandwich chain just a few metres away from the Malaysian embassy at Trafalgar Square. Justin was holding a tray with a Swedish meatball hot wrap and a bottle of elderflower drink while trying to decide which table to settle into. Round table with two seats facing the entrance but close to the corner, Justin thought, like an amateur holding a compass and putting feng shui principles into practice.
The date was 31st of October, Halloween day. Rather than roaming around in the laboratory all day and night like a ghost, Justin decided on impulse to dump the intensity of the Terry-Stephen saga that had gotten the better of him for the past three weeks, hopped on a train to king’s Cross St. Pancras from Whiteforest, and spent a
day of sightseeing in central London. He needed time off, a day-break, with the freedom to explore, unplanned and following instinct, be anonymous and conversation-less, mischievously hoping that he would not run into someone he knew and engaged in banal what-are-you-doing-here natter. His Android-powered smartphone was turned off on purpose, so without access to the Internet, he was fully disconnected from the entire human race digitally while immersed into a sea of strangers.
Strangers were whom he met at the Natural History and V&A Museums, purposefully avoiding the adjacent Science Museum in conjunction with his self-declared science-free-day celebration, a day free of any thoughts about science. He craved for arts instead, letting his right brain to predominate the day and ventured into the Tate, Saatchi and finally the National Portrait Gallery. He had visited some of the galleries and was still amazed by the grandeur of the baroque European paintings, ranging from the then controversial Caravaggio’s work depicting violence to the beautiful portraits with detailed nature by John Everett Millais. He embraced historical European works more than the modern arts which often seemed far-fetched, and to his personal conviction, more than the Asian arts.
He documented his journey with a new Olympus E-5 coupled with a Zuiko digital camera lens made in Japan. Justin’s tendency of using Zuiko lenses since the mid-2000s earned him nickname 水哥 in Cantonese, whose words pronounced as ‘suigor’ which figuratively means ‘rich guy’, thanks to Zachary, one of his Malaysian peers at Whiteforest who was fond of coining nicknames.
After close to 10 hours of capturing and consuming arts, it was time for inner. He settled for sandwiches at Pret a Manger due to a heavy late lunch at Partridges. While flipping through the Geek Stuff magazine which he bought at a grocery and enjoying his Scandinavian sandwich, a bunch of teenagers made loud, wailing noises at the entrance. One of them opened the door and greeted unsuspecting diners with a huge “Arghhhh!” groan. This larger-than-life boy in his late teenagehood was dressed in torn up denim jacket and cargo jeans, sporting dark-coloured eyelids and brow bone resembling a punched eye, and a red painting from the edge of his lips to the chin desperately resembling blood. They were apparently stopping by to buy God-knows-what they needed for their Halloween party at God-knows-where. A second ‘ghost’ made an entrance. She was carrying a broom, dressed in an all-black attire cleverly matched with a pointed hat and sporting a protruding prosthetic nose. By now, Justin could not resist clicking the shutter button of his camera to capture these amusing creatures.
When one of the teenagers spotted Justin’s snapping their photos in his attention-grabbing bulky camera, he started to wail and walked towards Justin in zombie-like mode, and the rest of his gang followed suit. Within a few seconds, there were six of them zombie-zoomed towards Justin.
Unflinching and confidently, Justin said, “Care to join for a family portrait?”
“Yeeesss!” replied the witch.
Snapshots of them posing with Justin’s bulky camera were taken using auto-mode, with a snapshot of Justin as the centrepiece for vampire ‘consumption’ and several other otherworldly poses with the ‘ghosts’. Out of courtesy, Justin endured a few minutes of amusing yet used-as-a-fodder photography session, before the teenagers left for their actual party. The witch dropped him an e-mail address.
When the night set in, Justin decided to do some exterior sightseeing along the River Thames before taking a train back to Whiteforest. While on the journey back that would take another 2 hours, he turned on his Android for the first time since he left to check his e-mails and found a few unread text messages and voicemails.
Hey rich bag, where on earth have you disappeared to? Tried to reach you for dinner at GBK, hope you were not kidnapped. Zac.
Being awake for the past 18 hours and a day of sightseeing, his thoughts lurched into slow motion. He flipped through the messages without replying to any while yawning at some. However, one of them unexpectedly came from Gordon, the postdoctoral researcher.
Hi Justin, hope you’ve enjoyed your day. You might want to come back and take a look at the FACS graphs. I’ve left it on your table. Gordon.
The FACS! Justin exclaimed to himself. Two days ago, he performed an initial set of experiments to see if the cells purified by Carlos were in fact behaving like cancer stem cells. The queen ant. However, the departmental FACS machine, a vital life sciences tool, was down and it was required to investigate the final result of the experiments. Gordon volunteered to run its final set of experiments using a FACS machine at a nearby research institution that he had links with, and it was agreed upon by Justin and Prof Stephen themselves.
Have we really nailed it? After experiencing numerous setbacks, ‘negative’ results labelled as the ‘false alarms’, he had since been more skeptical. But the internal sense of urgency rose. It was already twenty past midnight with another 90-minute journey into Whiteforest. Venturing into the bed or going into the lab? Justin debated. With the senses originating from his right brain being tickled the whole day, it was time to utilise his left brain. To the lab I will go.
– To be continued –
About the author:
Dr Wong Kah Keng is the Managing Editor of the Scientific Malaysian Magazine and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He can be contacted at kkwong[at]scientificmalaysian.com