A Blog About An Asian Medical Student. Yes that's redundant.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What I Learned From Fiction: The David of Zur-En-Arrh

aka No One Knows What Zur En Arrh is
aka This is Way Too Nerdy for the Average Person
aka Part I and Part II

(WARNING: Bring your NERD CORE CREDENTIALS for this post. If by the time you see this symbol ^-_-^ the word 'Leonardo' has not crossed your mind FOUR TIME, turn back. You are not geek enough to understand)

We all find role models in some way or another.

Some of look up to inspirations. "Great Black Hopes" like Marcellus Gilmore Edson, Michelle Obama, and Michael Jackson.

We have mentors, our professors, supervisors, older relatives, and Kumon teachers.

We have aspirations to be like someone.

For us Asian kids, it's usually some unrelated Asian Uncle's kids who got higher marks on their MCAT and are therefore, as Asian custom dictates, have more of a right to live.

And maybe not all of us find inspiration from modelling of existing lives either. All white people are led by their king, Noam Chomsky, but they also have their sacred text "No Logo." Neither is more important, each having their own unshakable role in the lives of Liberal Arts Students everywhere.

There are those who are more moved by the Mona Lisa than the flying machine, more convinced a ninja turtle in a blue mask is more life changing than a movie depicting Forrest Gump battling Gandalf.


Somewhere we find examples of who we want to be, or what we want to create.

Normally in the formative youth years.

See, cool kids in elementary school played hockey at 6AM in a flawless plan to be the next NHL star.

Cool kids in elementary hung out after school to go to the convenience store and buy Pixie sticks, 5 cent candies, and rent VHS.

Cool kids in elementary got to hang out with girls.

I don't think I knew a girl other than She-Ra and April O'Neil.

And Raggedy Anne, but she never wanted to play. Always lying in bed lifeless.

Not alot of fun.


I got home from elementary school immediately after, to my wonderful life of multiple servings Grandma's cooking, processed foods, extracurricular math class, and...

... cartoons.

I grew up with superheroes. 

Batman, Spiderman, the X-Men

I was going to be a hero!

Captain Planet, Toxic Crusader

Environmental Medicine FTW!

Cept you know, every time I tried on the tights and spandex, my parents seemed to get a little more worried about their son's lunacy, and my chances with girls got a little more slim...

At least SOMETHING did!


Fat nerds.

Like me. 

Ah, this is why my stand up comedy never worked out...

Cause fat people can't stand up

Hah, double burn! 

I'm on FIRE

Cause fat is flammable!


(any discussion of the superhero genre must acknowledge the fatness of geeks, and now my quota has been sufficiently filled)

Cartoon characters were just the superficial representations of the characters. And as is common for me after ordering a bottomless pop at Boston Pizza - I needed to get to the bottom of it. 

That's when I developed a love for comic books. The source of all superhero fiction.

Comic books have, unbeknownst to myself until recently, have somehow shoehorned my own psyche to fit a staple of the industry - story arcs.

Since comics, though more popular thanks to the characters recently being in blockbuster movies, are still more a niche thing generally, I'll explain a bit.

Comics (typically) come out on a month to month basis. So stories can take months to finish, even years. Since the acceptance of the 'graphic novel' format (the kind you see in chapters) generally, comics are written to last six to twelve issues each, so they can be sold in easily purchasable compilation books that are the equivalent of six to twelve comics long.

This means that comic readers are used to long term story 'arcs' that take the better part of an entire year before some resolution is found.

As bashful I am to admit, growing up on superheros as a sort of role model,

I like Batman.

His story is well known.

After leaving the theatre, a young boy sees his parents killed before his eyes during a botched robbery.

Lost, young Bruce Wayne spends his entire young adult life travelling the world, training to become the greatest detective, crime fighter, and inventor the world has ever known. He returns to his home, and his family's tremendous fortune.

In order to cope with the tremendous trauma he has undergone, he dedicates his life to "the mission" - stopping crime, becoming Batman.

While he is a superhero at night, he is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne at day.

An unabashed rich genius with unlimited women at his disposal? 

Yeah, OF COURSE I'd hit that!

or try to be him.

The idea is that as dark and menacing Batman became, the more flamboyant and wild Bruce Wayne got. Why does Bruce have a black eye? The triplets accidentally knocked him over in the hot tub. He's sleeping in all day? Partying all night.


I AM Batman.


There's a long lasting nerd debate over who the true man is - Batman the vigilante, pretending to be Bruce Wayne, or is the Caped Crusader the mask of a traumatized boy who never grew up?

I relate to this duality deeply, for more reasons than I'm ready to admit.

Let's take this comparison lightly, but genuinely, for the moment.

In the context of my father's current trial, keep in mind that the seeds for what is happening on the news today have been planted for at least two years.

Under that duress, with my own perceived responsibility to my family - I keept my mouth shut.

But that burden weighs heavily. All the side story, the background information of a tremendous, impending criminal court case. How can I possibly deal with myself, while not shaming my family?

By example of what I grew up with... secret identity.

The mission was to cover my pain, hide it from those around me.

But still address the plethora of issues in my personal life.

Of course, doing it in comic book style...

The idea is that as dark and menacing my hidden life became, the more flamboyant and wild David Poon got. Why does David look like he hasn't slept all night? Oh he was online shopping for hours for a hot tub. He's still making fun of doctors? I guess that's cause he's a complete idiot medical student.

A few of you have noticed that my Facebook name is no longer David. I'll explain the reason I've chosen my particular new name a different time.

The secret identity idea continues. Under an alias, reporters can't get to me, or see my friends. My innermost thoughts are kept away before and during the trial. 

And a few choice pictures of me can remain hidden. 

Specially the nudes. 

To cope with my disillusionment of how difficult the legal life of medicine is, I cracked more jokes, performed more skits, made my stand up more harsh. People thought I was a complete nutcase, unsuited and an worthy of being in medical school. They labelled me as immature, sexist, racist - but at least, my secret is safe.

In first hand seeing medical legal issues up close, I wanted to become a lawyer. People said that I was spitting on an MD, that I shouldn't be in medicine if I wanted law. Friends mistook me as uncommitted. My desires to look at medicine from a legal perspective seen as hokey, nonsensical.

And that was fine; all that mattered was the mission.

Irrelevant of what people thought of me during the day, provided I could deal with the necessary at night - to keep a balance, as the pressures increased in one life, I needed an out in the other.

For me, it was cheap laughs, eccentric humour, and plenty of "Oh, that's just Poon" moments.

Kinda wish I had some hot tub triplets though (sigh...).

Much later on, after a story known as Infinite Crisis, Batman had a crisis of conscious.

The very fabric of both Bruce Wayne and Batman was in question, because he had almost killed another man using a gun himself. Realizing he had lost himself, he goes on a journey during the yearlong story  arc '52' retracing the steps he took to become Batman.

My entire adult life had been based on becoming a doctor. Yet that was tumultuously shaken with my families medical ills.

And I mean medical not in the typical sense, though it could be seen that way.

Mom's heart attack? In the clinic potentially from the stress of the job. My father's trial? Medico-legal issues.

My disillusionment of the very goals of my entire adult life, perhaps my entire life, made me realize I had lost myself.

Perhaps more shockingly, I forgot my family. I stopped talking to my dad. I didn't spend enough time to to raise my sister right. And my mom, where was I to care for your health. Where were the responsibilities I held so dear.

Friends, my precious friends, what did I do? Ignore all of you?? Yell at some of you??? Cry, laugh... I didn't even share what was wrong.

I couldn't.

Where was David Poon?

Robin, Batman's sidekick, describes the hero after his crisises, just before his yearlong journey:

"He lost it. In the end, he just lost it. And that's what this is all about."

And maybe that could be me.

During the span of this quest, Bruce Wayne endures isolation chamber experiments, and an intense form of mediation where he 'experiences death' while alone in a closed cave without food and water for seven days. 

One of his last excursions is to face a warrior tribe whose sole existence is to kill a person's inner demons.

"I asked them to kill mine. I asked them to cut out all the dark, fearful, paranoid urges I've allowed to corrupt my life . . . and they did. It’s over."

So after I made sure my Mom was medically stable, I had to confront my own demons.

By that time, my parent's divorce was finalized, and the news of the accusations made against my father was made public in Saskatchewan.

I went to go see him.

Keeping the details of that meeting naturally to myself, this opening catharsis allowed me to start the path of rebuilding myself, finding what made David Poon work, what didn't.

My adventures didn't throw me towards sealed caves to be reborn or isolation chambers, but I got to go travelling around the world, publish something, made it to the Rhodes Scholarship finals a couple of times.

A few girls here and there. Even lived with one for a few months.

Things seemed pretty good!


The full quote after the warrior killed Bruce Wayne's inner demons is:

"I asked them to kill mine. I asked them to cut out all the dark, fearful, paranoid urges I've allowed to corrupt my life . . . and they did. It’s over. Batman is gone."

What happens if one side is taken away...

the other compensates.

That's the set up of my favourite Batman story arc - Batman RIP. That story is exactly what it sounds like. The last case before the death of Batman.

As it turns out, Batman/Bruce Wayne was under psychological attack for a long time, by an enemy known as the Black Hand.

Not like that time I stole the ball during an NBA match.


The Black Hand was led by Dr. Hurt, the doctor who conducted the isolation experiment on Batman. He knew all of his secrets, and later used that to wipe Batman's mind clean so to later defeat him, by using a trigger phrase.

It was the perfect time to attack, as Batman was nonexistant, and Bruce Wayne was overcompensating - he was in love! Batman in love!

A man in love is already ludicrous. But BATMAN? The MANLIEST MAN?!?!?

That's how you know he was crazy.

For me, it was a time period where I absconded myself of responsibility to my family. Where I just stopped thinking about the trial, Mom's health, my sister's schoolwork. Just lived to be fancy free, forgetting everything that I perceived to be too difficult, holding me back from my happiness. 


The trigger phrase for Batman was "Zur-En-Arrh." Once he heard that phrased uttered, his mind was wiped, forgetting both Batman and Bruce Wayne. 

The pressures built enough in my family life, and I was desperately trying to find some happiness in the darkness, that I pulled the trigger, and took personal leave from medical school. 

Longtime comic readers will know that Batman is a master of preparation. 

Bruce Wayne's description of Batman in Batman RIP:

"Batman thinks of everything. Obvious variations aside, there's only one human body... 206 bones, five major organs, 60, 000 miles of blood vessels. All it takes is time. Days. Months. Years, spent memorizing the finite ways there are to hurt and break a man. Preparing for all of them."

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh is a character that Bruce Wayne describes as a 'back up human operating system.' In the event he was under psychological attack, when everything he thought was true was false, he had one safeguard. A personality that combined the confidence of Bruce Wayne with the efficiency of Batman, streamlined to complete the mission, kept in check by the beauty of imagination as well as the practicality of rational. 

The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, adorned in a hand stitched costume of purple and yellow scraps, is self described as Batman without Bruce Wayne. His mind,

"... seems so much... faster now. Clearer. Simpler. Like a streamlined engine, a silver bullet..."

A running joke between my sister and I for the past few months has been in calling me the 'David of Zur-En-Arrh.' The eccentricities of modern David, with a newfound appreciation and dedication towards my family and my medical career. It's also a great deal more clear. 

It wasn't medicine that destroyed my family. There were obviously other reasons. I wanted to be a doctor - I just needed some time. 

I hadn't rejected my family - I was within my reason to be confused.

I hadn't lost my mind - I was just lost. 

My mind became simpler, for the better - forget other distractions, focus on what was important. The people I love. Accolades, being liked, hell, even being popular for some jokes were fun - but they weren't priorities. 

My medical school, my career in environmental medicine. My family. My friends. 

Those are the priorities. 

There couldn't be a Batman of Zur-En-Arrh forever. He needed to find balance again. Yet he was able to defeat the Black Hand.


Batman since gave his life to save the world. After his supposed death, there was a comic released to honour him, titled "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"

It was a requiem for the closing of a chapter in his life. To honour one life ending, allowing a peaceful transition for what came next.

That's what inspired the title when I wrote, "Whatever Happened to David Poon?"

Right now, the current six month story arc is titled "The Return of Bruce Wayne."


I wonder where my story takes me next?

- David

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