Book Review: Penguins Can’t Fly by Jason Kotecki

Penguins Can't Fly by Jason Kotecki

It looks like a book for children, what with the too-cute illustrations and how it’s just the right size as a picture book for kids. But this book ‘Penguins Can’t Fly’ is quite a page-turner. Jason Kotecki is an artist, author and professional speaker who has selected 40 “rules” to include in this book, and he encourages us to break them all, and offers good reasons why this should be done too! And I’ll start by breaking a few rules myself:

“if you obey all the rules you miss all the fun” – katharine hepburn

This book might seem less-than-serious to snobbish readers, but it offers up pearls of wisdom in a most palatable manner. I won’t be able to reproduce all those pages here (some rules are not meant to be broken, unfortunately) but here are some takeaways I got from reading this book:

  1. Every single day is a holiday. It’s just that most days, what to celebrate is up to you.
  2. Pay attention to what your inner child says.
  3. Go ahead and eat dessert first – that’s what you promised yourself as a kid; that when you’re all grown-up, you’ll eat dessert before your meal. *reaches for pint of ice cream* Penguins Can't Fly by Jason Kotecki
  4. Celebrate playfulness. Dance in the rain like a child, hop into a puddle instead of skirting around it!
  5. It’s “okay to consume pizza, cake, or wine for breakfast”
  6. Mondays don’t stink – it’s your job. Change your attitude or change your job. “The REAL key to happiness (and so-called work-life balance) is not figuring out how to work less, but doing more work that matters.
  7. Should you be obsessed about being busy, or appearing to be busy, when you can proudly say “I haven’t been busy at all. I’m just taking life as it comes, enjoying it one moment at a time”? :D
  8. Question all those rules.
  9. Write your own definition of success.
  10. Worried about wrinkles? Well… “no one ever died at the age of one hundred looking like a nineteen-year-old” !!!
  11. “If a dream is realistic, it’s not really a dream. It’s a to-do. If you want to be realistic, be realistic about your fears. After all, most of the things you worry about will never happen.”
  12. Why keep the fine china locked away till there’s a special occasion? Every day is special. Think about that family member who has passed on. Wouldn’t you give just about anything to have one more dinner with that person?
  13. Fact: We will all die with stuff on our to-do list.

And these are just some of the things that Jason shares in this really cool book. You should head out to a bookstore and get a copy, or order one online. I highly recommend that you read it. :)

Penguins Can't Fly by Jason Kotecki

What was most striking for me was that point about keeping the tableware till that fine day when there’s a special occasion. What if that day never comes? What if I die before that day comes? What if the house gets burnt down together with everything in it? Sobering thought, no? Why not understand that every day is special and worth celebrating, as today is a gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed?

~

This book retails at S$26.12 (before GST) in all good bookstores :)

Review: Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set A Watchman’

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

I guess Harper Lee has led the life many aspiring novelists can only dream of – publish a book and have it sell over 30 million copies, and have (more than) enough to last a lifetime. Plus, what a lasting legacy the book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has. For sure, any other novel that she writes after this will likely pale in comparison (oops), but Harper Lee now gives us ‘Go Set A Watchman’. *wink*

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ fans can read this second book without fear. Instead of destroying your impressions about the characters, you’ll get a greater insight into what Scout and Atticus really think about racial issues. But… if you have trouble coming to terms with reading about a now-old Atticus Finch (72 years old and almost crippled by rheumatoid arthritis) and a Scout who is quite comfortable doing the unimaginable – SMOKING – then you’d best not read this book. :D

I also came to realize that I missed the character Dill / Charles Baker Harris. I love reading about the things that Dill, Scout and Jem did as kids and the part about Dill dressing up as the “Holy Ghost” in ‘Go Set A Watchman’ was laugh-out-loud-FUNNY! I’ll not spoil it for you… you can go read about it yourself.

I’m not sure if ‘Go Set A Watchman’ was indeed, as Wikipedia says, the original text that should have been published instead of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. But how different things would have been! I’m not sure if Harper Lee would still have gone on to receive “the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other literary awards and honours” as the book’s cover sleeve so proudly shares.

Free postcards at the back of the book :D

Go Set A Watchman postcards Harper Lee

My biggest disappointment in reading this book is finding out that Jem had simply keeled over and died one day. Presumably, he had a heart problem, just like his mother had. But we do get to read about Henry Clinton a.k.a. Hank. Hank is Scout’s suitor and when they are together, we get something to laugh about. From the late-night swim in the river (they were caught by spying eyes and said to have been swimming naked, when they were in fact clothed. Atticus’ response was pretty epic and super funny!) to the flashback to Scout’s schooldays when she showed up for a Commencement Dance with a pair of “false bosoms” which did not stay in place during the dance (what Hank did thereafter led to a hilarious situation in school). You’ll really have to read about these instances!

And, of course, there’s no avoiding issues about race and racial tensions in this book.

If more people are like Scout, we’d have fewer outbreaks of racism all around the world. Scout says on p179 that “They were poor, they were diseased and dirty, some were lazy and shiftless, but never in my life was I given the idea that I should despise one, should fear one, should be discourteous to one, or think that I could mistreat one and get away with it”. I would attribute this to Atticus’ not having a second marriage to a white woman and instead, employing a black woman (Calpurnia) to be the cook and also help in raising his two children.

As Scout’s Uncle Jack a.k.a. Dr. Finch says, “You’re color blind, Jean Louise… You always have been, you always will be. The only differences you see between one human and another are differences in looks and intelligence and character and the like. You’ve never been prodded to look at people as a race, and now that race is the burning issue of the day, you’re still unable to think racially. You see only people.” 

We definitely need more people who are color blind when it comes to race. And I do believe that this book still serves a purpose in reinforcing this point, especially when Scout begins to think that Atticus might be a racist and lashes out at him.

Dr Finch explains to Scout that “He (Atticus) was letting you break your icons one by one. He was letting you reduce him to the status of a human being”. And isn’t this what Harper Lee is trying to do for us readers too? *wink*

All in all, I think this book is a good read. Not as mindblowing-ly awesome as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has been, but it was great reading about Atticus and Jean Louise again, and the central message about racial issues remains. And perhaps some of us just need to hear it again from Harper Lee. :)

As Dr Finch says, on p264, “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.” What does your conscience say to you today about the way racial issues are playing out in your country, in the world you live in, and your response to those issues? :)

The BEST Book Sale In 2015 PLUS $50 Box Sale And FREE Books For Seniors!

sg book deals

I’m really liking the SG50 celebrations and promotions so far. This one takes the cake. Yes, yes, it’s not been very long since the previous book fair at the Singapore Expo, but this one is well worth your time.

5 Reasons Why You Should Pop By This Warehouse Sale:

  • SG50 Box Sale – Remember the $100 box sale in April? You got to choose as many books as you want, and as long as they fit into the box and could be sealed, you take them all home for just $100? Well, it’s now going for just $50!
  • Free Book for Seniors – If you are 50 years old and above, you are entitled to ONE free book of your choice. Only one book per person, so don’t get greedy! *wink* Proof of identity/age is required, so bring your IC along. :)
  • Prices as low as 50 cents – Prices are already very low each time. I can vouch for that. Read my review here: https://workingwithgrace.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/get-a-free-book-great-book-deals-at-the-book-expo-singapore/
  • Good range at great value – Everything from children’s books to personal development and finance books!
  • Over 10,000 titles available at the sale – Be prepared to spend A LOT of time at the warehouse sale. I was late for lunch with my friend previously because I lost track of time among the rows and rows of books. (>_<)

This time round, it’s not at the Expo, so take note of the location:

SG Book Deals

To keep yourself updated about the Sale, and all the promotions, ‘Like’ SG Book Deals on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/sgbookdeals

Book Review: ‘Thank You For This Moment’ by Valérie Trierweiler

Reading List

This picture above shows my “reading list” for these 2 weeks, I guess. :D I borrowed ‘Life in the Skies – Everything You Want To Know About Flying’ from the library as I thought it might be a pretty interesting read as most of the cabin crew stories we usually get to read about are sensational or scandalous. This one by Captain Lim Khoy Hing turned out to be pretty mild, and is a 249-page essay to convince you that flying is super safe and there’s really nothing to worry about. And oh, to fly with AirAsia, of course. ;)

The book ‘Thank You For This Moment by Valérie Trierweiler, however, has these words “A story of love, power and betrayal” on the cover. And if I may add, it should be “betrayals” (plural form) because that’s what it seems to be.

Thank You For This Moment by Valerie TrierWeiler

After reading its 298 pages, I’m still wondering if there is any nobler purpose to writing this book. For those who don’t know the author, she was married twice and got divorced twice as well. She was in her second marriage (with 3 children) when she fell in love with (the current French President) François Hollande who was also married and had 4 children at that time. So they each split with their respective spouses and got together, and she became First Lady. In the end, François left her for an actress named Julie Gayet.

* big sigh *

On page 286 is what I think sums up the purpose of this book:

“Before I saw the pictures of François on his way to meet his mistress, I would have staked my life on the fact that he would never betray me or abandon me – that he would never do such a thing to me, not in a million years. But he did and I still cannot get over it. I will not get over it.”

*I also find the name of the publishing house very cute – “Biteback Publishing”. Oh yes, indeed. *wink*

 “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is true. And “sometimes we are our own worst enemies” is also true. We do need to give ourselves permission to move on.

I’m sure it’s now easier for the author to move on since the book has sold many hundreds of thousands of copies.

If anything, this book teaches us all about karma (what goes around comes around) and that cheaters will never stop cheating. I don’t know why the author would compare Julie Gayer to “a snake in the grass” (p127) when the author herself had cheated on her second husband (I don’t know what happened with the first divorce).

Plus, this book just goes on and on with no chapters to divide the story. Yup, it’s one of those rare books with no chapters at all.

While some self-righteous people will say “Cheating is easy, try something more challenging like being faithful”, I’d say that the only thing we need to learn here is to avoid the cheaters. Even if someone appears to be a good catch and he is willing to leave his wife for you, don’t fall for it. He’ll leave you for someone else in a heartbeat.

And the children really do suffer. From hatred of the “mistress” to the hatred of their own dad or mom. I see this very clearly in the life of a prominent figure – dad cheated multiple times, mom becomes bitter, blogger herself becomes super wary of instances of betrayal and abandonment. Female bloggers she hates get labelled as “whores” and “sluts”. Because the father left the family when she was young, this blogger feels she has been robbed of a happy childhood. I guess this is why after getting married and becoming a mother, she’s still wearing what netizens call her ‘ridiculous kiddy outfits’.

But such is Life. We cannot choose the families we are born into. We cannot choose our parents or change the way they behave and think. But we can choose the right person to be in a relationship with. And we can definitely choose to be happy in spite of the situations we find ourselves in. :)

Get A FREE BOOK & Great Book Deals At The Book Expo Singapore

Book Expo Singapore

Here’s my haul from the Book Expo today! :) If you’d like to pop by and get some great reads at unbelievably low prices, do note that the Book Expo ends tomorrow (Sunday) at 9.30pm! Make your way down to Singapore Expo Hall 4B today or pop by from 11am tomorrow! :D

The books come tagged with stickers to denote their prices. The orange tag ones are impossibly cheap. As an avid reader, I feel super happy when I see these prices, but as an author I feel scared for the future of book publishing. (@_@)

Book Expo Singapore

The book ‘Stand Strong’ by Nick Vujicic costs something like S$20+ in Popular bookstores and elsewhere, but at the Book Expo, it has an orange tag (1 for $4, 3 for $10)!!! Where else can you find such prices?!

Book Expo Singapore

And here are a few other books which caught my eye but I didn’t buy them; just snapped pics. :)

Remember the blind lady who won the MasterChef competition one season? Here she is:

Book Expo Singapore

Just S$6 and you can bring home the hardcover edition of Christine Ha’s book. Amazing!

And, of course, there’s Gordon Ramsay:

Book Expo Singapore

His book is just a tad pricier at S$10 (green sticker).

And here’s one book with a really interesting title. LOL…

Book Expo Singapore

With over 10,000 titles to choose from, be prepared to spend quite a while in here just browsing though the huge selection of books. Also…

1) Claim your free book – You can get a book for free, with no purchase required! Just go to SG Book Deals FB page and claim the offer, and print out the email that is sent to you to exchange for a book. You can choose any book at the expo with a sticker label on it and take it home for free!

2) Fill a box with books and take it home for just S$88! Just get one of the cardboard boxes at the Expo and fill it up with books of your choice, and you get to bring the whole box home for just S$88, an impossibly good deal!

~ Happy Reading! ~

Book Review: A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer

A Kim Jong-Il Production

If, like me, you enjoyed the movie ‘The Interview’ and learning more about North Korea, you’ll like this book too. Before reading this book, I’d wondered what “production” the title was referring to. I now understand it to be “North Korea: A Kim Jong-Il Production”, i.e. what is presented to North Koreans and to the world is essentially what its leader(s) wants it to be, just a representation of an idea and not reality.

Author Benjamin Wallace describes this book as “unputdownable”, which is possibly the highest honor one can give to any book. I am inclined to agree with him, except for the fact that I’ve watched the movie which gave me more laughs. And the power of movies is also the reason why we have this book today…

Apparently, (the late) Kim Jong-Il was fascinated with movies (and especially the foreign ones) and wanting to harness the power of film for propaganda, kidnapped a famous South Korean director (Shin Sang-Ok) and his star actress (Shin’s ex-wife, Choi Eun-Hee) so he could force commission them to make movies to rival Hollywood and inspire the North Korean people too. Note too that North Korea has a history of using kidnapping as a political tool, so these two people are not the only ones who have been abducted.

And here’s an interesting nugget of information – Kim Jong-Il was given a Russian name when he was born: Yurei Ilsenovitch Kim, or in short, Yura (which I have to say sounds pretty cute. LOL) He later combined his mother’s and father’s first names, Jong-Suk and Il-Sung to get ‘Jong-Il’, and this name gave him that ‘legitimacy’ he craved as a ruler.

As for his South Korean abductees, director Shin Sang-Ok definitely got the shorter end of the stick, especially after he tried to escape but failed (read this book for all the heart-stopping action!)

Author Paul Fischer wrote that “For almost two years he (Shin) had lived in brutal, meaningless captivity” – Thrown into a solitary cell, he could not sleep until the guard gave his permission. He had to sit up at attention with his back straight and with his hands on his knees, looking straight ahead with his eyes wide open, and not moving his head and hands. Meals were likely a mixture of corn and beans, sprinkled with rice.

This came to be known as the torture position: Sitting for 16 hours a day looking at the wardens and prison bars. Choi’s description of him when they were reunited indicated the sorry state the once-famous director was in: “he had lost weight, his ankles were swollen and misshapen, his face covered in psoriasis from months spent sitting in a dark cell, and his skin riddled with sores and ringworm scars.”

Because the torture position sounds too horrible for anyone to have lived through, I’m not entirely convinced that Shin survived this daily 16-hour mental and physical torment for over 2 years. Hmm. Read this book and form your own opinion about this. However, author Paul Fischer reiterates at the end of the book that he had done all the fact-checking and corroboration of sources as is humanly possible. So… fact or fiction? You decide.

Other interesting North Korea trivia:

1) The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) was famous for its “Korean barbecue” in which a detainee was strung up by his wrists and ankles and hung over a bonfire until he confessed. Confess or be cooked! :D

2) Jong-Il had the use of many cars, his personal bulletproof train which ran on its own exclusive tracks, his own cruise ship, and even had his own ostrich farm!

3) Jong-Il allowed Shin and Choi to experience what they would call “luxury filmmaking”, in which nothing was refused them. When they needed a fan to simulate wind, Jong-Il sent them a helicopter. When they requested fake snow in the middle of spring, Jong-Il flew the entire crew to the top of Mount Paekdu. When they planned a scene with thousands of extras, Jong-Il put at their service the entire military. And when Shin needed special-effects scale models to achieve a shot of an exploding train, Jong-Il ordered an actual, functioning train to be delivered to the set, loaded to the brim with explosives.

4) Where the money came from: drug trade, insurance fraud, trading in nuclear secrets, etc (@_@)

If you’ve always been fascinated by this country because we know so little about it, and whose leaders are often described as being heroic and legendary figures, you’ll really enjoy this 339-page about North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, a dictator who led a most interesting life. Read the book for the juicy and scandalous details. :D

This hardcover edition retails at S$44.81 (before GST).

Interview with Cindy Leong, Dating and Relationship Coach

Cindy Leong relationship coach

Cindy and I are from the same business networking group, and I dare say I’ve never met a coach quite like her. She’s a dating and relationship coach, life coach and business coach rolled into one and she dishes out advice which might seem unconventional at first, but then ends up making a lot of sense. For instance, she and her husband have no qualms sharing with each other and laughing about their past relationships, as they take each (failed) relationship as a point of reference for improvement, instead of the start of reminiscence. This runs contrary to what many relationship coaches say about past relationships being a “taboo topic”.

Cindy is also a huge fan of giraffes and has a Giraffe Room at home. Interestingly, the BTO flat she now resides in with her husband is the one which he had applied for together with his ex-girlfriend. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, Cindy is happy that she did not have to wait, like every other couple who applies for a BTO flat, for the keys. They did the name change in the application, and voila, she has skipped to the head of the queue. :)

Cindy and her first book:

Cindy Leong dating relationship coach

A cozy corner in the Giraffe Room:

Cindy Leong dating and relationship coach

Cindy says she likes the giraffe because it is “cheerful, chirpy, friendly”, and I’d say that somewhat describes her too. Having said that, know that she is a coach who will give you her no-holds-barred take on what you need to get done, and I get the impression she’ll give you the ass-kicking required to accomplish your goals too. *wink*

And here are my 5 questions for Cindy:

1) Is there really a Mr / Ms Right out there for everyone, or do we just learn to accept people as they are?

You have to first be the right one to attract the right one. Usually people go to a dating agency and state their demands. But if you are a level-2 chap and you want a level-10 girl, that’s impossible! Even if a level-10 girl is attracted to you, it’s likely for the wrong reasons.

What are these levels? They are from a socially agreed-upon kind of ‘scale’. In Psychology, we call this “Mate Value”. If you date someone with a lower mate value, you feel lousy about the relationship, and you don’t feel like bringing the person out with you.

It transcends beauty/looks as it’s also about the person’s character. (Check out this article: http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1173&context=hsshonors)

For instance, if I believe my mate value is at least a 7, I won’t settle for a guy with a mate value of 1, who doesn’t work, has bad grooming, and is procrastinating all the time. Having said that, if you are a 10, and you happen to see the potential in a 7 or 8, then you might still take the chance. If a guy is generally a nice person, caring, and responsible, at about 5 or 6, but just does not have good grooming, you might still give it a go. When I first met my husband, he was just a 4 (to be very honest). Then when I got to know him better as a friend, his character is what attracts me, so that brings him to a 5 or 6. But the outward bit was still lacking. I suggested a revamp and he was open to the challenge. My point here is, it is important that he decides to make the change(s) out of his own will and motivation.

If a man is doing a revamp (or any change) just for you, he has just won himself the bullets to arm-twist you in the future. He may do it halfheartedly then when it backfires, he may blame you for how it doesn’t work. Most importantly, never go into a relationship or marriage expecting the other person to change.

2) What are the differences you’ve noticed between coaching men vs. coaching women?

Men are generally more defensive while women are more willing to spend and invest in their lives. I have to be brutally honest with the men, and give them the truth in an in-their-face manner. Most are not open to grooming sessions so I have to say something like “You tell me you are 32 years old. Can I be honest with you? You look like you are 38.” Yes, you have to just ‘give it to them’ in a straightforward manner. Only then will they wake up their ideas.

3) You conduct so many different workshops. Which is your favorite one?

The Enneagram workshop, because whatever the issue, we have to work on fixing what is internal first. For instance, a guy may be well-groomed and sweet to people but not “authentic” and doesn’t know what he wants so he still ends up in the wrong relationship. Many have to learn to be authentic.

And what is being authentic? I’ve met a lot of nice guys who are just nice but don’t portray the right image. They may be a 6 or 7 inside but portray a 2 on the outside. Others may just be 2s but portray themselves as 10s – that is simply lying and putting up a cover.

4) You’ve interviewed so many couples for your book ‘SuffeRing or ConqueRing – Happy Marriages in Singapore’. What’s the most important ingredient for a happy marriage, and do you also do marriage counselling?

It still boils down to communication and relationship management. Sometimes, problems are due to external factors such as a friend, job, boss, or mother-in-law. Communication and openness is key. For example, when the wife says “Your mom has been doing this…”, the husband should not ‘judge’ her or be offended (“Hey that’s my mom”). Instead, he can say something like “I’m sorry to know you are thinking this way. How can we solve this issue together?”

It’s important that no one’s views are discredited. Don’t demean or discredit your spouse as that usually leads to a marriage breaking down. Problems in marriages are usually caused by personality problems, and that’s where Enneagram can help.

I once helped a couple experiencing problems even after 10 years of marriage. The woman is a go-getter and the husband is the “chillax, ‎take it easy” kind. The wife often has a lot of expectations of the husband and he finds it hard to match up to her standards. She tends to get frustrated and the husband usually returns home late as a form of avoidance from possible conflicts. They were growing further and further apart. After 2 sessions of Enneagram coaching, they began to see the root of the problem. Both parties started to focus on each other’s strengths, and learnt about ways to affirm each other and work effectively as a team. The wife learnt not to impose her working styles on the husband but to use the lingo that motivates him. Their ‘near break-up’ marriage was restored.

Enneagram is about being versatile, operating in the other person’s ‘language’ and methods. And awareness of the various “types” is always the first step.

Sometimes people need help with their past baggages and require inner healing. They also have to clarify their life goals, learn how to be assertive about their view points, and fix their life before they go dating. I call this ‘Responsible Dating’. :)

5) You organize a very interesting dating event called ‘Dating In The Dark’ in which singles meet at a restaurant and dine in the dark. Any interesting stories to share?

Dating in the Dark

The feedback is usually very good. There are no shocks due to the prior screening which I do. I ensure their grooming is ok, and I handpick the people who attend. I will also meet those I don’t know first, and check if they can hold a conversation because it would be extremely awkward if they cannot talk during a date in the dark! Sometimes, I offer tips on what to wear to look presentable that day, so as to make that good impression last once the lights are switched on.

I’ll usually organize events at the more atas (high class) locations, such as the Fullerton Hotel. I do my best to push the envelope and come up with interesting events. Take my Improv Drama workshop, for example, it is one of my customer-centric events. It helps participants to be more artistic and engaging, qualities which Singaporeans tend to lack. Improv Drama offers an easy gateway to be creative and to be in touch with your emotions. Our society is not creative enough – there is definitely room for more creative expression and for people to better demonstrate their feelings.

~

Enneagram workshop

Thanks to Cindy’s recommendation, I’ve taken the Enneagram profiling test which comes with a total of 200 questions. In an upcoming post, I’ll share about the results and what I think of the coaching session with her. I do find her rates for 1-to-1 Coaching very affordable, especially if it helps you “Experience The Metamorphosis” (as in her company’s slogan). If you’re single and ready to mingle, here’s one site* you should check out:

http://www.relationshipstudio.sg/

Cindy Leong relationship coach

*There are recordings of the media interviews she has done previously. Listen to those and you may just pick up some very useful tips! :)

Blogger Interview #3: From World-Famous Magic Babe to Yoga-Loving Muggle Blogger

Ning Cai

What you think is a lovely dimple on Ning’s face is actually a scar from surgery when she was only 21 years old, when a cancerous growth had to be cut out of her cheek.

“We shouldn’t fear death, but instead fear the absence of living… I promised myself that whatever I decided to do from that moment on, I was going to make sure it radiated joy and satisfied my soul.” – Ning Cai, in ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning?’

Who is this seemingly fearless and magical being, and what’s her story?

I got to meet Ning at one of her magic workshops; a prize I’d won from purchasing and reading her book ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning?’.

Ning’s 2nd book ‘Who Is Magic Babe Ning’, and her autograph :D

Magic Babe Ning

I’ve yet to read her first book but the second one is a fantastic read and a “tell-all” as she calls it. Ning has a superb sense of humor (really, read her book!) yet suffers no fools, has dedicated over a decade to her career as an illusionist (16-hour rehearsals everyday before “The Impalement Cage” illusion, yo!) and yet she has hung up her corset and magic boots to be… a yoga teacher???

It is almost unfair that someone who looks so hot is also a really cool author and a awesome blogger – Ning used to blog for STOMP, and she now writes for TODAY. You’ll find a link to her TODAY articles at the end of this post.

So I just had to ask her a couple of questions about her experiences of dating both men and women, her marriage (it’s impossible to find any pictures of her hubby online), what she’ll do henceforth after saying goodbye to death-defying stunts, and why she would pray for her bullies!

~

All pictures in this blogpost are courtesy of Ning Cai, unless otherwise specified :)

~

1) Congratulations on getting married! How’s married life treating you so far?

Thanks Grace! Yes, it’s been really super. I think I totally lucked out because I married my soulmate, who totally gets me and loves me for all that I am. For years I hadn’t had it easy in the relationship department since I’d put my career first and there wasn’t any space or time for anyone, especially with my crazy performing and traveling schedule. I’d also been accused of being a workaholic commitment-phobe in the past, and there may be some truth in it… until I met the One who completed me. Then it all made sense why past relationships just could’t work out before.

I’m blessed with an amazing, albeit super shy, spouse with a very understanding family. My in-laws are amazing. There’s none of that nightmarish stuff you often read about in women magazines. LOL. So yes, I’m very, very happily married!

2) Career plans now that you’ve relinquished the role of Magic Babe Ning?

My parents were actually very relieved that I finally hung up my show boots! They’ve witnessed most of my death-defying escape feats like “The Impalement Cage”, my first major escapology act in 2008, which was endorsed by the Singapore Tourism Board as part of the inaugural Singapore River Festival. It saw me having just 90 seconds to escape death from a cage of falling spikes while I was blindfolded, chained up, shackled and bound, with only a paperclip to pick the locks with!

The Impalement Cage

The last escape act my folks witnessed was during the closing weekend of the Singapore Night Festival in 2013. “Ultimate Inversion” had me hanging upside-down from 75 feet in the air, way above the iconic domed roof of the National Museum of Singapore, from a length of burning rope, strapped up in 2 straitjackets and with no safety net.

Ultimate Inversion

[Photo credit: https://thelongnwindingroad.wordpress.com/]

Hanging from just regular inversion boots, the escape act was legitimately dangerous and my parents were totally freaked out (my poor mother almost had a meltdown)… so yep, they are in fact extremely elated that I’m (finally) using my Bachelor’s degree in Communications now that I’m freelancing as a writer for TODAY, working on my new website (NingThing.com launches late June 2015) and writing my third book!

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Grace: One of the metal chains snapped during the ‘Ultimate Inversion’ – you can find the heart-stopping footage on YouTube, and also read the details in Ning’s book. And that’s not all. Ning had a couple of accidents related to the ‘360 Sawing’ illusion. One time, the box fell with her in it, and her body weight landed on her left hand, injuring it quite badly though no bones were broken. Another time, she landed on her head. I am beginning to suspect that she was born with nine lives. 

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3) If you could have one special power or real magical ability (no illusions here), what would it be?

The ability to propagate world peace. When people ask me about my religion, I always tell them that it’s Humanity, and Love is my philosophy. I think I’ve mellowed a lot over the ten years I was in showbiz, which initially hardened me. And now I’m at this point in life where I’m more comfortable being just Ning without the mask of Magic Babe, and I completely believe that Peace inspired by Compassion is what we really need in our world today, not religious extremists who ruthlessly spread fear and hate.

4) I loved reading your book and meeting you ‘cos you have such a lovely, positive vibe going on. Where does that positivity come from?

Awwwww, thanks Grace! Many people assumed that because I chose an artist’s path, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Since you’ve read my book, you know that’s definitely not the case. But I equate my earlier struggles to the classic metamorphosis of a butterfly.

After you’ve been through much like I personally have – dire poverty where you almost couldn’t finish your basic poly education because of the lack of tuition funds, a cancerous growth that leaves a permanent scar on your face at 21, bullying from jealous backstabbing peers, and dealing with your own rage and disappointments – you realise your personal growth flourishes when you overcome these adversities that serve to make you a stronger, better, more resilient human being.

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“Your personal growth flourishes when you overcome these adversities that serve to make you a stronger, better, more resilient human being.”

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I try to work on cultivating my spiritual growth too. While spending a month in Thailand for my 200-hour yoga teacher training course last year, I rediscovered meditation and realised how good it is for the soul. Often, people in today’s modern world get way too sucked into the illusion of “life”… but they are merely existing, not really living. When you’re in touch with yourself, connected with the Universe/ God, you develop a higher level of awareness and loving-kindness, pointing to the important realisation that we are all connected and we should try to be that spark of positive energy which, like a lit candle, doesn’t diminish when you share and spread your light.

5) In your own words, you have “fancied both men and women” and dated both. What is the difference between dating a man vs dating a woman? Do women really ‘understand’ women more than men do? Or does it all boil down to that person’s personality / character?

Yes, to me, love is love. It transcends race, religion, skin color, age, weight, height, salary, OCD, you name it… I don’t need everyone to agree with my point of view that you can’t choose who you fall in love with (FYI we’re talking about consenting adults here), but since recorded history, there’s been all kinds of romantic relationships and it was only because of religion that it has been judged quite recently.

I’ve dated some truly awesome people – black men, white men, Asian people – all based on their personalities (okay, sometimes their good looks, I can be a bit shallow that way) and you shouldn’t stereotype. I mean, I’ve had boyfriends who are better at picking out clothes than I am, dated jocks who read books (yes, that is SUCH a turn on) and take care of their skin, also wonderful SNAGs* who cook the most delicious Japanese food for me (sexiest thing ever)… then there are the butch women who have an endearing cutesy side. So it’s really all about the person!

[*SNAG: Sensitive New Age Guy]

I believe people should figure out what they want for themselves and not allow society or oppressive religious leaders to dictate their love lives. Some people are born lefties in a right-handed world. The minorities didn’t choose to be different on purpose (do you know how difficult it is to use scissors?!) but sometimes, it is just so and one should accept it.

Life is an amazing journey. You shouldn’t be forced to use some bossy person’s “official” and “approved” road map. Follow your heart. I know for a fact that it’s the world’s best GPS. ;)

6) What’s your take on plastic surgery purely for cosmetic / vanity reasons, and have you gone under the knife before, apart from surgery due to cancer?

Yep. Back in 2011 just before my 9-month-long backpacking journey around the world, I got my sinuses fixed. It’s not a “nose job” because the shape of my nose never changed, but it definitely helped me breathe better because I was suffering from sleep apnea and would jerk awake in the middle of the night suddenly, when my body realised I hadn’t been breathing and my brain was lacking oxygen! My family was there for me when I did that 1- day surgery, and they knew I’ve had a serious sinus problem since I was a kid.

As for plastic surgery, I honestly think it’s the individual’s choice really. I’d personally not want to change the face my parents gave me, because I see them when I look into the mirror. But I do believe that every child born with a cleft lip should go for surgery now since it’s more readily available. It would truly help their self esteem, besides gaining a much better chance of getting the job they want when they’re older! Same goes for burn victims. I know of people who have gone for various implants (calf implants for guys, butt implants for the ladies) and they felt a lot more confident about themselves after. I really think that it’s none of my business, so I don’t judge. I’m just happy that they’re happy with the new “improved” versions of themselves.

7) Have you ever won the lottery? :D

You’re asking this because of my successful Singapore Pools 4D prediction in 2009, aren’t you?! OMG, after JC and I accomplished the never-done-before stunt in Singapore, we had not only locals calling us for lottery numbers, but people from China and Nigeria constantly hounding us to help them win money! No kidding. These crazy punters just could not accept the fact that it was all a psychological illusion.

Aside from that particular 4D ticket that was purchased (we decided on the number together but it was JC who physically went to buy it), I’ve never gambled. Not even when I’m in Vegas! It’s my pet peeve really. I can’t respect a man who has a gambling issue because it’s a sad mental illness when they can’t stop themselves and turn illogically superstitious and needlessly abusive towards their family.

Sometimes it’s so senseless! In 2012 when I was based in Genting Highlands for a month, performing my illusion shows every night, I’d see people being wheeled out of the casino so often, it was not funny. I think that’s why the hotel windows are all sealed shut, so nobody can do anything silly. Sometimes these people are strapped down and screaming because they had squandered away their entire fortune at the tables. The saddest time was when over a late supper with the cast, we all witnessed an old lady being carried out on the stretcher, with an oxygen mask over her frail, lifeless face. I hope she didn’t lose her life savings. Gambling is just one of those things that one shouldn’t get started on.

8) You’ve written about your encounters with bullies in school and at work. How, specifically, do you deal with peer jealousy, people who dislike you for no reason other than your apparent success? Has yoga and meditation changed your perspective towards these bullies and antagonistic people?

When I was in primary school, a particular classmate who disliked me for some reason was trying to “steal” my best friend and she even used a pin to stab multiple holes all over my kite (I’d always been more inclined towards the arts and had spent an afternoon fashioning a large owl kite, which our form teacher complimented in class, and it was prominently placed on our wall-length noticeboard at the back of the classroom along with everyone else’s). I’d noticed her relentlessly stabbing holes into my artwork so I got up from my chair to approach her. The girl was so absorbed in destroying my kite that it was only when I cleared my throat politely, that she jumped up and walked away without an apology. She later tried to frame me when a classmate lost something, but I was proven innocent when the teacher searched everyone’s belongings. But I prayed for her. I wasn’t sure exactly why she had so much aggression and angst, especially when she came from a wealthy family with equestrian lessons every weekend and she seemed to have everything – a pretty face, deep dimples on both cheeks, a perpetual healthy tan, the newest pretty things, expensive stationery, the works.

I decided not to let anger consume me, and simply allow karma to fix things. Sometimes that’s just the best way. Defend yourself when you have to, but don’t allow yourself to get mad because the anger would only destroy you from the inside. Let things be and have faith that the Universe/ God will handle it. And meanwhile, try to cultivate patience. It’s not easy, I’m still working on that every day!

Magic Babe Ning

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Read Ning’s articles on TODAY here: http://www.todayonline.com/authors/ning-cai

Look out for her new website NingThing.com (to be launched in late-June 2015) :)

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I’ve definitely learnt a thing or two from Ning via this interview. Yes, especially that bit about praying for one’s haters – it sounds more difficult than escaping from ‘The Impalement Cage’ but that’s what I, and a lot of other people, have to learn, I suppose.

And if you’re wondering about how I select bloggers to be featured in this series, well, let’s just say you cannot pay to get featured here. It’s my way of supporting the blogger community by featuring those individuals I find highly inspiring. And the way Ning juggles her portfolio of passions is just amazing – from becoming a high achiever in the world of magic to leaving at the peak of her career, leaving Singapore and going backpacking for 9 months, to pursuing her love for writing by authoring books and crafting commentaries.

I guess that’s the way life should be.

It’s not about studying hard in school, getting an iron-ricebowl-job, sticking in said job till retirement, and wondering where all those years have gone.

Yes, Ning has definitely kept her promise to herself – the one made after that cancer scare: to do what radiated joy and satisfied her soul.

Food for thought: Is what you are doing today causing you to radiate joy and does it satisfy your soul? :) If it doesn’t, then what should you be doing instead?

Book Review: FISH Omnibus by Stephen C Lundin

Fish Omnibus by Stephen C Lundin

This is the only reading material I packed in my luggage for my trip to Japan. Comprising 3 books in 1 edition, it made for a fantastic read while on the plane and trains.

I’d highly recommend this book to employers / managers who want to inspire / motivate their teams, and to individuals who want to rediscover a passion for their jobs. :)

Here are 12 things I learnt from reading Fish Omnibus:

1) Choose Your Attitude

In the way that you do your work, strive to be world famous. Trust that whatever happens, you’ll be all right. Keep on learning and growing.

2) PLAY at Work

Have a good time, in a respectful manner. Lighten up! Leaders have to play along, on top of telling employees to play.

3) Make Their Day

Look for as many ways as possible to create great memories for your customers.

4) Be PRESENT

5) Do the exact opposite of what the rest of the industry is doing

6) Focus on customer enthusiasm

7) Happiness: Get outside yourself and serve others

Focus on what you can give, not what you can get. Take time to be there for people. Do something nice for someone else.

8) When somebody asks how you are, say “PERFECT”

An exercise: Close your eyes and picture the perfect __(insert occupation)__, then open your eyes and BE that person.

9) Do what you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

10) Coach and be coachable

11) Full Life = Work Life + The Rest Of Life

12) Over 12 weeks, do these:

  1. Count your blessings, and swim in a sea of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal.
  2. Set GOALS.
  3. Find 50 ways to play.
  4. Have some fun. Pick 5 from the 50 ways and implement 1 each day.
  5. Intend to make someone’s day.
  6. Random acts of kindness.
  7. Why can’t we just be where we are?
  8. Say “How Fascinating!” whenever you mess up. Just don’t sit around and be anxious. Don’t sweat the small stuff – thoughts cannot be controlled but we can choose not to dwell on them.
  9. Pick 5 attitudes you would like to see more of in your life. Assume that attitude, like an actor takes on a role.
  10. Post up your attitude for all to see.
  11. Set a world record. If you can find a small-enough pond, you can be a big fish.
  12. Live each moment fully. Find something to wear that reminds you of this commitment.

Know clearly what you are trying to create and find the vision to communicate your goals. Remember: Demonstrate honesty and authenticity in our conversations about the way we work and who we are being at work.

Book Review: ‘Yes Please’ by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler Yes Please

Intriguing title aside, I really do judge books by their covers, and this one is eye-catching in a flashing-neon-light way. :D And its 329 pages make for a really good read.

I don’t know what possessed Amy to write this book while going through a divorce, but I’m glad she did. Her larger-than-life character leaps out at you from between those pages and her irreverent good humor is a welcome breath of fresh air (e.g. she jokes about wanting to tell prolific authors to tie their many books around their ankles and jump into a lake, simply because she finds writing to be such hard work).

She’s so honest, funny, and irresistibly witty that this book might be close to being labelled “unputdownable” (an honor reserved for only the best page-turners).

And why, you might ask, is this book titled ‘Yes Please’? She explains:

It’s called Yes Please because it is the constant struggle and often the right answer. Saying “yes” doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying “please” doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission.

Make of it what you will. Or buy this book and read it ;)

And here’s another example of her good humor… if you get the joke:

Yes Please Amy Poehler

I have read (and relished) but have not reviewed Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ here. Perhaps I should do that as many female authors like to refer to Sheryl’s book.

Also, here’s what Amy thinks her 90-year-old self would say:

Yes Please Amy Poehler

Sound advice, though…

“Relax and let her win. Who cares?” – Well, yes and no. If something is just a petty squabble, then as that hit song goes… let it go. But if there’s something else at stake, then perhaps it demands to be dealt with more severely. Also, I like that bit about “Forgive your parents for what they never gave you” – your parents may have gotten a divorce (like what Amy is getting) and left you insecure and angry, or perhaps they never gave you the good looks, money or privileges that your friends have, but that’s no reason to become a bitter person. ;)

On Saying Sorry: “…this doesn’t mean I am a pushover. It doesn’t mean I am afraid of conflict or don’t know how to stand up for myself. I am getting to a place right in the middle where I feel good about exactly how much I apologize.”

I agree. In fact, on yesterday’s episode of Talking Point on TV, one interviewee shared that it’s nicer to be the one to apologize first, even if you are the victim of cyber-bullying. Stand on higher moral ground, and see if your bully will follow but don’t hold your breath hoping it will happen soon. :D [You can watch Talking Point on Toggle if you’ve missed the episode]

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Nuggets of wisdom from people Amy admires:

1) Louis CK: “Divorce is always good news because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce”

2) Gavin de Becker: “no” should be the “end of the discussion, not the beginning of a negotiation”

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“The only way we will survive is by being kind. The only way we can get by in this world is through the help we receive from others.” – Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler Yes Please

Get this hardcover edition at just S$23.32 before GST at your nearest bookstore :)