Times Bookstore is Moving Out of Tampines One: Offers 20% Off Books*

Times tampines 1 moving out sale

Screengrab from Times’ facebook page

I’m guessing this might be the beginning of the end. It would be a real shame if we lose yet more bookstores. Though I suppose this is inevitable. Without the right people, ideas and plans, we might just end up with 1 bookstore chain in the near future – yes, that popular one which parents drag kids to and stock up on assessment books. 😀

After Times’ exit from Tampines One, this bookstore chain will be left with 6 outlets in Singapore: Centrepoint, Cold Storage Jelita, Marina Square, Paragon, Plaza Singapura and Waterway Point.

About two weeks ago, I met two female employees of MPH in Malaysia (who have marcomms roles) and gave them an idea that just came to me while I was looking at the titles they had at their booth. Without bothering to delve further and ask more questions and see how this idea could work for them (not me), they provided immediate objections such as “can’t be done”, “no budget”, “management won’t agree”, etc. But if they had given me 5 more seconds, or shown more enthusiasm, I could have shared with them ideas for how it could be executed with little to no budget (and might even make them money in the process), what steps to take, how to generate a ton of publicity and even how to convince that boss and other people to get on board. The reason I even bothered to speak with them was ‘cos they were attending workshop after workshop to find new ways to revive the book-selling industry. (I think I forgot to ask if MPH had sent them or if they had voluntarily come by. Haha!)

But too bad, too sad. I’m guessing they’ll look for other jobs eventually. Those positions at MPH Malaysia are mere stepping stones for them, it seems. But wouldn’t it be awesome if they could play a part in rejuvenating this (dying) business, make a name for themselves, then move on to another company?

In Singapore, there are a few main reasons why I don’t buy books at bookstores anymore. (It has nothing to do with authors sending me their books for reviews, ok? :P) And I’ll share with you what would make me return…

#1: The lack of people who are PASSIONATE about the business

Seriously. Just walk into any bookstore (Times, Popular, etc) and ask the staff for a book recommendation. You might just give them a heart attack. Some don’t read books, have not heard about best-selling titles (not obscure ones), and always have to rely on “Let me check the system” no matter what question you ask.

Don’t ask me for a book recommendation. I’ll just go on forever, invite you to my home, and make you leave with a handful of books you should read. 😀 It’s true. There was another lady at the same book table in Malaysia who had picked up a copy of a book that I was about to buy as well, we started chatting, and I eventually bought her another book PLUS gave her a copy of my book ‘Blogging For A Living’. And at that point, I didn’t even know her name. Good grief!

#2: Seriously lame marketing efforts

Are we really going to make a beeline for Times just ‘cos they’re dangling a “20% discount” offer? *yawn* Do you not know that you can get books on bookdepository.com at a much lower price, PLUS they deliver worldwide for FREE, with no minimum spending? They even give you a free bookmark with every order, for crying out loud!

The only book sales that can get me out of the house are the Books Box Sale ($50 for an entire carton of books you can handpick yourself, but which, sadly, isn’t happening this year) and the Epigram Books sale ($20 for 10 books you get to choose).

With 20% discount, I’m just going to stay put and watch more episodes of the 2018 Meteor Garden remake ok? 😛

#3: No value-add at all

What’s the difference between buying a book online and buying one from the Times bookstore near my home?

Does the one in the store come with the author’s signature? Does it have a special “limited edition” freebie? Is there an accompanying workshop? Do I get to MEET the author? Do the staff read stories to the kids who visit the store? Are there staff recommendations of books I should get, or which mothers should get, or which children aged 5 to 7 should read?

No. What I’ll get is a grumpy guy (or lady) who asks me if I’m a member, then scans the barcode off my Times app, collects payment and sends me on my way.

~

Sure. Bookstores can bank on assessment books and kids’ titles to be their cash cows for a little longer. But how sustainable this will be in the long run, I’m not sure.

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Book Review: ‘Butterfly’ by Yusra Mardini

Butterfly by Yusra Mardini

There have been a number of books written about how Syrian girls have fled their homeland because of the war and described their treacherous journeys across the sea towards freedom, peace and hopefully, a better future. In this book, ‘Butterfly’, you’ll read the story of how sisters Yusra and Sara escape Syria and make their way to Germany. The climax is when the inflatable dinghy (built for 8 passengers, but forced to carry 20) starts to sink out at sea after the engine dies. The girls, together with some of the male passengers, get into the water so as to lighten the load and keep the boat and everyone else afloat. *Though a lot of the credit has to go to Sara, Yusra is the one who eventually gets all the fame. I really would love to read Sara’s account of events. 😉

By the age of 12, Yusra has already made it into the national team, swimming for Syria. While the sisters are equally talented at swimming, Sara’s shoulder injuries mean she cannot fulfill her dreams of becoming an Olympian. But Yusra can, and she has.

This book, ‘Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph’ is impossibly well-written. I think a lot of the credit has to go to co-writer Josie Le Blond, whom Google tells me is a British freelance journalist in Berlin.

It seems almost incredible how a swimmer in Syria who survived a bomb blast and fled to Germany would eventually landed a Visa commercial, a sponsorship deal with Under Armour, become the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, get named in People magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World (2016) and TIME’s The 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 too!

Indeed, Yusra’s story grips the imagination such that it even has journalists spinning tales, such as one about how Yusra, with a rope around her waist, pulled a boat with 150 people to safety.

Here are a few thought-provoking parts of the book:

#1: Without Sara, would Yusra even have made it to Germany?

My hunch is that without her more decisive older sis, Yusra would not have made it all the way to Germany. But, of course, this is just my guess.

#2: If war breaks out here in Singapore, would we not be leaving our homeland just like Yusra and Sara did?

Unlike a soldier, I can’t fight. And unlike Yusra and Sara, I’m not even a good swimmer. I hope there are enough planes, buses, boats and motorized sampans to get us all out of Singapore.

#3: Why people would dehumanize or think any lesser of these folks whom we term ‘refugees’. The people at a restaurant in the island of Lesbos refused to sell them water. In Belgrade, hoteliers refused to serve customers with Syrian passports. Smugglers are also out to make a quick buck from helpless Syrian refugees, even keeping large numbers of them prisoner in Hotel Berlin. In Hungary, they are treated like vermin by the police and given food probably unfit for human consumption. They are also treated like animals when they are transported in cages.

#4: Yusra and her family and friends are a different kind of ‘refugee’. While on the run, they are “posting selfies on Instagram and chatting online with friends back home”, checking locations and getting directions.

#5: While some Europeans treated the refugees poorly, the Germans were quite the opposite, giving them a warm welcome. There are donations, housing and even monthly allowances.

#6: At the Rio Olympics, Yusra was part of the Refugee Olympic Team, or ROT for short, which seems quite an unfortunate acronym.

~

“…Steven asks me what I learned on the journey. That’s easy. I learned perspective. Back in Syria I wasted time worrying about petty things. Now I know what real problems are. My eyes have been opened.”

 

“It’s just easier to laugh than to cry. If I cry, I’ll cry alone. But if we laugh, we can do it together.”

~

This book is definitely a very good read. You’ll enjoy it though at the end, you might find yourself wondering, like I did, how much of it is fact and how much of it is embellishment. Unless the author has a phenomenal / photographic memory, it’s unlikely that a person can remember so many details from being on the run (from the war, from the police, from the bad guys, etc). And after the numerous rounds of retelling of the story to so many journalists, it’s not impossible that some things may not be entirely true / accurate anymore.

Book Review: ‘Killing It’ by Camas Davis

killing it book by camas davis

Gosh. I do love the cover of this book.

This book is like the more gung-ho alternative to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Instead of blissing out under a mango tree somewhere in Asia, the author goes to France to learn how to slaughter animals for food. Here’s a quick summary: Camas Davis lost her job as a food journalist for a magazine, and also broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years. She quickly finds herself in the bed of another man, and just as quickly, leaves him behind in Portland, Oregon and goes to France (for 7 weeks) to learn how to become a butcher. (You know, after a decade of working as a food writer, people tend to suddenly want to find out where their food originated from.) Oh, she also uses a credit card she’d found at the back of a filing cabinet to fund her trip. 😉 She later returns to America to start a business that becomes wildly successful. For a good period of time, she also finds herself straddling two relationships: one with a man, and one with a lesbian. That’s messed up in so many ways but she spares us what she calls the “lurid details” of her relationship with Jo.

“…I wanted to live in a world where I was allowed to love both Andrew and Jo in whatever way I wanted to, without consequences.”

 

“For such a long time, I was unwilling to lose one to keep the other.”

 

“I didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I didn’t want my true, disingenuous self to be exposed – the self capable of stringing Jo along for more than a year, the self capable of keeping such an enormous secret from Andrew, the self capable of pretending she was incapable of causing others pain.”

This is something I find very hard to accept. Sure, you can be bisexual, and born this way, and whatever else you want to claim. But being in two relationships at the same time and knowing you are hurting these two people yet you can’t think of anyone else but yourself is just plain selfish. No other way to put it. And the sweet guy still wanted to marry her (eventually). And the lesbian went off to start a family with another woman. (@_@)

It’s interesting how things worked out for Camas.

From getting ousted from her job and requiring unemployment checks for a long time (why doesn’t she have any savings?) to starting the Portland Meat Collective, appearing in ads for a knife company, and also receiving an American Made award from Martha Stewart, she has indeed, as the title suggests, succeeded in “Killing it”.

~

While her private life might be frowned upon by some readers (myself included), I applaud her courage in sharing what she did. More importantly, she’s shared her journey of coming to understand, and appreciate, how food is farmed. The people she has met in France have shown her that it’s possible for farmers to have total control of every stage… such as from seed to sausage. They grow their own crops, which are fed to the pigs they raise, and they kill the animals and make full use of every part, letting nothing go to waste.

After reading the book, I think that eating meat isn’t all that bad (despite what some very vocal vegans will tell you). According to the book, if the animals have had a good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook, there’s really nothing else left to be said. In fact, I’ve avoided eating foie gras for a while now, but if I have access to foie gras as it is ‘produced’ like in the book, then yes, I’ll go back to eating and enjoying it.

This book has vivid descriptions of how pigs, chickens and even rabbits are slaughtered. The author, as part of her business, also conducts workshops to teach people how to kill animals for food. If you get squeamish easily, then perhaps you might want to skip certain parts of the book. But I’d highly recommend you get a copy and confront what you’ve been avoiding for a while now if you’re a meat eater and you get your ‘supplies’ from the supermarket. An animal (perhaps bigger and heavier than you are) was (maybe) bred in unthinkable conditions, and slaughtered in what might have been cruel or inhumane ways, but what’s packaged and presented nicely to you in various cuts and forms allows you to not think about what the animal had to go through.

Get this book as it’s certainly food for thought, and it just might influence what you’ll eat or not eat from now on. 🙂

~

“I live my life in abundance. That means I always believe things will work out and they always do. You should try it sometime.” – a woman the author had met.

Book Review: ‘Kampong Boy’ by M Ravi

m ravi kampong boy

[Image from ethosbooks.com.sg]

I truly enjoyed reading this book ‘Kampong Boy’ as it gives so many insights into what makes M Ravi the man he is today. And those personality traits which characterize him as a lawyer today were formed when he was a young boy, so reading about his childhood, family life, and the journey he took to become a lawyer has been rewarding. Why is he against the death penalty? Why is he so stubborn, so persistent when fighting for those clients (pro bono, mind you) ordered to be hanged? If they are involved in the drug trade (whether as a mule or not), why shouldn’t we just hang them as per our laws?

Brought up in a Jalan Kayu kampong, Ravi was one of seven kids in the family. His father was overly fond of alcohol, a spendthrift and had even been to prison three times. To make matters worse, one day the father even robbed his young son of the money meant for school expenses. M Ravi even went to the police station to try and lodge a report but the officers wouldn’t accept it as the accused was his own father.

His family seems to be the stereotypical Indian family full of drama. There was once when Ravi’s parents were fighting and his Dad was choking his Mom. Ravi’s older brother intervened and broke their Dad’s arm! Read the book for the full details.

Ravi’s mother also suffered from depression and she eventually committed suicide. That proved devastating for Ravi, who’d moved out with his mother due to her disagreements with other members of the family. I feel for this lady I’ve never met before – she had her first child taken away from her by absolutely cruel in-laws, and right from the start, she had been forced to leave her sweetheart and marry a man she didn’t love because his parents were rich from winning the lottery. Too bad that this man would squander away those winnings.

As you can probably guess, Ravi discovered he had outstanding oratorical skills and did well in competitions in school. He was also a very determined boy. He camped outside a Tamil teacher’s flat until the latter wrote him a speech for his competition.

He had a slipped disc as a result of the hard work during his time in the Combat Engineering unit while serving NS. He eventually took up the issue with MINDEF and was given $3,000. While in the army, he also went on a hunger strike because the food for vegetarians was deemed unpalatable and not nourishing enough. He eventually got his way and the meals he wanted.

He studied History, Political Science and Sociology in NUS but also went for evening classes to study Law (University of London’s external program). While he was preparing for his Law exams, the Government announced that this degree would no longer be recognized in Singapore. That’s when Ravi decided he’ll go to the University of Cardiff in Wales for 2 years of study. On 31st May 1997, Ravi was called to the Bar. In 2000, he started his own firm.

Ravi’s a really interesting character. He got around the rules and did a firewalk when he was just 13! He’s also a dancer, with a passion for Indian classical dance. He even had a short stint as a TCS newscaster – imagine how differently his life might have turned out if he’d stayed there!

~

Lots of lawyers take up pro bono cases because of the media value – there’s lots of media and public interest in the case, or they are doing it as a show of being concerned about the people so as to pave their way into politics. I know of at least one young lawyer who took up a case and then instructed his clients to meet at a location near the Courts so they could all walk together to the hearing, and the lawyer would be photographed together with his clients for the newspapers. <- He even decided who should stand where. (@_@) *And in this case, it wasn’t even pro bono. They paid him a princely sum for him to get featured in the media. Said lawyer was even extra friendly to journalists during the breaks, chatting with everyone like old friends. Perhaps he should have gone to TCS to be an actor.

Lawyers like Ravi are probably few and far between. He had offered to pay for the funeral expenses of Vignes Mourti and even slept next to the casket together with Mourti’s family because they were so afraid that the body would be taken away to be cremated as per the official instructions and the deceased’s friends and family won’t be able to pay their last respects. [Read the book and find out what happened]

“Some people here feel that a lawyer should never get too closely involved with his clients and their kin, especially in death penalty cases where the stakes are so high. But that’s not how I’m made up. It’s especially in those cases where the stakes are so high and where human pain is at its apex that I get drawn into the life and emotional distress of these clients.” – M Ravi.

And in the death penalty case involving the Nigerian Amara Tochi, Ravi flew around the world to rally support for his client. I’m guessing he might be the only lawyer in Singapore who does such things. I’ve met one other lawyer who admitted that he does all that pro bono work hoping to get into politics. He put it in no uncertain terms that he felt he was deserving of the MP’s paycheque. Thankfully, he won’t be elected into office any time soon.

~

Ravi mentions in the book that his licence to practise law had been suspended for 1 year in October 2006, but fails to explain why. I did a quick Google search and it appears that he had been disrespectful to a judge. Not sure what had happened though I’d certainly love to hear Ravi’s explanation. In all fairness, I think that in the heat of the moment when putting forth an argument in court, certain actions might be deemed rude or disrespectful so I really won’t hold it against the guy. Perhaps in the (near) future, lawyers will be replaced by robots which will obviously not let emotions come into play, seeing as how they have none. 😀 I’m looking forward to such a day! 😀

Though when it happens, we won’t hear of gutsy lawyers such as M Ravi who, during the Falun Gong case, filed a criminal motion against Judge Shumangam. Really, read the book and find out what happened! It’s nothing short of amazing.

While this book has convinced me that activists who are against the death penalty really have a legit cause (e.g. you can easily be caught with drugs placed in your luggage by someone else, and be sentenced to hang even if you are innocent), I’m not so fond of his clients who want a repeal of section 377A of the Penal Code. One of Ravi’s clients had sex in a CityLink mall toilet with another man. They got arrested and were each fined $3,000. And yet they still wanted to “take a stand against 377A”. There’s also been another case of two gay men arrested for having sex in a coffeeshop toilet. Seriously, guys. Sex in a public toilet of all places. And coffeeshop toilets?! Aren’t there more sanitary places to demonstrate your love for each other? (@_@) I’m quite sure they wouldn’t have gotten arrested in the first place (377A or no 377A) if they hadn’t done their hanky panky business in public toilets.

*Ravi also mentioned former NMP Thio Li-Ann’s statement (from a long time ago) about how anal sex is akin to “shoving a straw up your nose to drink”. *cough cough* I actually didn’t know about this statement of hers till I read this book. Ravi, like many others, found that statement offensive. And he has my respect because he isn’t gay (or, at least, that’s what I concluded from reading this book) but would fight for gay rights or human rights in general. Some lawyers out there are fighting for ‘human rights’ but are really, ultimately, just wanting to fight for their own gay rights. In all fairness, I think Singapore offers the middle ground – we’re not as liberal as the West (no gay marriage, etc) but we don’t dish out punitive punishment like some of our neighboring countries where gay men can be publicly caned.

As I’ve written in the previous book review post, about Misdirection by Ning Cai, let’s stop making a fuss about wearing pink or white. Let’s just stick with red and move on already.

~

“While it is an established tradition in many other countries, lawyers here in Singapore are not at all comfortable with activism. But I have made it my mission and my calling card. I feel that all the advantages that have been given to me, and all the sacrifices my family made so that I could become a lawyer, can best be paid back when I involve myself in human rights activism and the cases that come out of this commitment.” – M Ravi

Book Review: ‘Misdirection’ (Book 1 of The Savant Trilogy) by Ning Cai

Misdirection by Ning Cai

I was looking forward to reading this book, ‘Misdirection’, as I’ve enjoyed the previous books by Ning Cai (and also her co-authors). Someone from the publishing house actually got in touch with me earlier on and said they’ll send a copy for me to review but in the end, they pulled a disappearing act on me, it seems. So I went to the library and borrowed a copy – NLB purchased so many copies that reservations aren’t even required! There are at least 3 copies in each library! And I’m done reading the book in just 2 days. And 1 thing I have to say is that I have a lot of respect for folks who write novels – it’s just so difficult to craft something so lengthy and keep the (modern) reader’s attention throughout.

Quick summary: Maxine Schooling wakes up from a 3-year coma to find that her parents and younger brother with Down Syndrome have been killed. She discovers that she now has a photographic memory which helps her (and the police) tremendously in tracking down a serial killer, a.k.a. ‘The Singapore Spectre’. By the end of Book 1, she still hasn’t gotten any idea of who had murdered her family members.

And this book succeeds in ‘misdirection’. It seems to sail along just fine without too many surprises and you might even guess correctly who’s the villain even though it might not be entirely obvious at the start. However, there’s still a right hook at the end to make you wonder how did I forget about this person?!

This book, ‘Misdirection’, is targeted at young adults, and I have to add ‘Singaporeans’ as well. The book is simply choke-full of references that probably only SG folks will pick out. And let’s not forget the Singlish terms: “bak chew tak stamp”, “sibei expensive”, “his magic very tok kong one”, “lembek”, etc. The author also tries to incorporate lingo that younger millennials (not me) will enjoy – “savage AF”, “Netflix and chill”, etc. But would the young ones also know who ‘Teresa Teng’ is? And The Backstreet Boys? LIME Magazine? And Ning also borrows family names quite liberally, e.g. ‘Anandan’, ‘Dr Wijeysingha’, and of course ‘Schooling’.

Also, there are references to what Singaporeans will be familiar with: 100Plus isotonic drink, 938NOW, Mandai columbarium, Funan DigitaLife Mall, Razer mouse, Books Kinokuniya, Katong Shopping Centre, among others. But the main one has to be the “controversial megachurch” called “Crossfront Family Church” with an accountant in jail for siphoning off millions of dollars from church funds. *cough cough*.

I feel ‘The Savant Trilogy’ seems to be fiction rooted in reality. There are so many names, places and events that Singaporean readers will be able to relate to, so the line between fact and fiction is blurred. If that’s the case, then I’ll want it to be even more ‘realistic’.

For one, the protagonist, Maxine (or Max) Schooling, has been in a 3-year coma at the Parkway East Hospital. I did find myself wondering why no one pulled the plug during those 3 years – don’t they know we have a severe shortage of hospital beds in Singapore?! (Ok, ok, fiction book) By the way, a stay at the actual Parkway East Hospital in Singapore would cost $618 per day in their ‘Single Classic Room’ so a 3-year stay would easily cost more than a quarter-million dollars including all the other incidentals. And shouldn’t the vicious killer have returned to finish the job since he/she managed to murder everyone in Max’s family except for her?

Also, Maxine was attacked and fell into a coma sometime between 2015 and 2018 but when she wakes up and later uses her mother’s phone, it happens to be an iPhone 4 (which Apple launched in 2010) so I’m wondering why it’s not a newer model, e.g. iPhone 6 which her scientist parents would have easily been able to afford? Also, why would the horde of journalists appear at Mandai Columbarium because of her – someone who got out of a 3-year coma? We don’t really have a paparazzi culture here, and I can’t think of any journalist who would chase down a story all the way to the columbarium. Also, Snapchat was launched in 2011 but Max doesn’t know what it is because she slipped into a coma 4 years after the launch?*

*I have to admit that I’ve read this book only once, so maybe everything will get ironed out with a second reading. Pardon me if I’ve made any mistakes with this first impression from reading ‘Misdirection’.

Finally, I have to add that I feel a bit meh at the sheer number of references to actual people whether living or dead – this character looks like so-and-so, that character looks like this famous Korean singer, another character looks like a certain Korean actor, etc. Even the people who provided endorsements for the book (e.g. Neil Gaiman and Lang Leav) will find that they are mentioned within the novel. (@_@) When there are so many references to people, places and events we know, for me, it’s actually preventing me from getting lost in the book (something I enjoy, e.g. when reading the Harry Potter series which ‘transports’ me to a whole new wizarding world). That said, Ning demonstrates remarkable prowess in her use of descriptive phrases, especially regarding the weather. There are so many beautiful descriptions that just utilizing a handful in school compositions would make any English teacher very happy.

~ What I hope is not in the 2nd + 3rd book ~

I’m particularly concerned, though, about references to the LGBT community and supposed homophobic Christian churches. The Grindr app was also mentioned within the book. (If you don’t know what it is, it’s like Tinder for gays) I think that by and large, the LGBT community gets by unmolested by the rest of the population but for some reason, they can wear pink for Pink Dot but if churchgoers wear white, they’re up in arms. Can’t we just all wear red and be proud of our identity as Singaporeans?

I hope, too, that there won’t be anyone trying to flee from Singapore in a motorized sampan in the next installment. I’ve had quite enough of the CHC references, pastors dabbling in magic, and characters who apparently look like people we know.

All in all, the former ‘Magic Babe’ (now Mind Magic Mistress) managed to successfully execute a ‘misdirection’ in this 196-page book. Perhaps one day this book will be the basis for a movie and all the characters who look like famous people will be played by those same famous people. Now that would be pretty cool! 🙂

Book Review: ‘Once Upon a Time in the East’ by Xiaolu Guo

Once upon a time in the East by Xiaolu Guo

In a mere 314 pages, this book ‘Once upon a time in the East’ by Xiaolu Guo revealed to me a China that I know nothing about while giving a no holds barred account of her life. In its own (perhaps unintended) way, the book helps me understand why Chinese citizens behave the way they do. But first, here’s a quick introduction…

The author, Xiaolu Guo, was given away as a newborn but her foster parents later returned her to her grandparents due to poverty. And it might not have been a bad thing if the elderly couple’s relationship was not dysfunctional too. Her grandmother was frequently abused. After a bout of illness, the grandfather took his own life. A chance encounter with a group of students at the beach made her decide she’ll be an artist. And when she was reunited with her parents, who live in a Communist compound, Xiaolu found she has an older brother who, put simply, detested her presence. Not that it made any difference though since sons are valued and daughters are not.

Despite her father’s job as a propaganda painter, there was often a lack of food for her, and the good stuff always went to her brother anyway. The author even resorted to trapping birds for food!

Though the family brought the grandmother to live together with them, sour mother- and daughter-in-law relations saw the elderly lady heading back to her own home and dying in her own bed.

When she was 12, the author was sexually abused by Hu Wenren, the “son of a communal farming officer”. A year or two later, the author seduced her Science teacher, Mr Lin, and the affair lasted almost two years. At age 15, she became pregnant and then went for an abortion, and the affair ended.

*Almost a decade later, the sexual predator (Hu Wenren) appeared again in her life. Read the book and find out what happened when he showed up again after so long.

Despite the intense competition, Xiaolu got accepted into the Beijing Film Academy on her second attempt at application. There were 7,100 students competing for the mere11 spots and she managed to get one of them! No such luck with relationships though. Her boyfriend, Jiang, often hit her. And her roommate, Mengmeng, tried to kill herself after she got rejected by the lecturer she had fallen in love with.

Meanwhile, Xiaolu’s father is diagnosed with terminal stage throat cancer. The author believes that cancer is so rampant in China because of the pollution in the country. Later, her mother also gets stomach cancer and passes away.

“Now my father and my mother were gone, I had been orphaned for a second time.”

Before they died, her parents had visited her, seeking to arrange a marriage for her. While matrimony might not be on the cards for her, Xiaolu secured a Chevening Scholarship and got to start a new life in Britain, learning English and becoming a published author, not bad for someone who was “illiterate until the age of eight”!

As luck would have it, she almost became blind from macular degeneration. There’s simply no such thing as sunshine without rain in this lady’s life.

Eventually, she meets the Australian, Steve, and together, they have a daughter called Moon. How the next part of her life will unfold is likely to be great content for yet another book. And I’m looking forward to it. 🙂

~

When reading this book, I often wondered how one person’s life can be so full of trials and tribulations. I do think the author has always wanted to be close to her mother. I sense a silent longing – she wants to know if her mother had given her away as a baby with cruel abandon, or whether it was with tears of anguish. Alas! Her parents wouldn’t tell her, and now they can’t either.

Definitely include this book in your “Must read” list for this year! 😉 I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Book Review: Vincent Yong’s ‘Flow: The Art of Creating AbunDance’

Vincent Yong Flow The Art of Creating AbunDance

This might be the first time I’m reading a book from the publisher Black Card Books. 😀 Since the founder of the company is Gerry Robert, the guy who wrote ‘Publish a Book & Grow Rich’, among many other titles, I’m curious about how the publisher will be helping to promote this new author, Vincent Yong, and help him “get rich” from writing this book. 😀 I’m keeping my eyes peeled. Anyway, if you’d like to get a copy of this book, ‘Flow: The Art of Creating AbunDance’, details and a special price may be found at the end of this blogpost.

According to what I’ve read, Vincent is the first person in Singapore to become a Certified Movement Analyst (CMA) and Registered Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist (RSME&T). He uses “dance and movement for learning, growing and healing purposes”. Before reading this book, I didn’t even know what “somatic” meant! And when reading the book, it became clear to me that some of the content is what you might get from undergoing life coaching. There are even visualization exercises, which do also mean that the book is likely not a substitute for attending classes.

In short, this is a book for people who are willing to dig deep.

At first, I was struck by the author’s love for alliteration, and the number of photos (of the author at about the same age, it seems). I counted 23 pictures of him in this book with just 137 pages. 😀 Interesting contrast with another book that I’ve just read and reviewed, ‘educated‘, which had no photos of the author. If you’re one of Vincent’s students, or a huge fan, you’ll certainly cherish this book!

Vincent was born with a congenital heart condition so it’s pretty amazing that he has become such an accomplished dancer. And in the book, he also shares some background about his family, such as the time when he was 11 years old and his parents got a divorce. He also lost his mother to cancer before he turned 30.

Here are a couple of gems from the book, which resonate with me:

“When you are able to give freely, you will begin to experience abundance and be able to re-source freely.”

“Focus on what you want, not what others want of you.”

And when you’re feeling “stuck”, MOVE. 😀

The book also mentions the types of flow, and that when you direct the flow in your life, you command the abundance you get.

I guess there’s only one thing in this book that I disagree with: “People who have a purpose never seem to sleep a lot.” To me, sleep is paramount. If you’re one of those people who sleep 4 hours a night, then guzzle caffeine throughout the day to keep you awake, I’m not impressed. For me, the minimum is 8 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Or else I get cranky and I can’t function well during the day. (If you’ve read Arianna Huffington‘s ‘The Sleep Revolution’, you’ll know what I mean) Also… I don’t drink coffee. 😛

And here’s one nugget from the book, which I absolutely love:

“Practise until you cannot get it wrong. It is not enough to just get it right.”

~ Questions for Vincent ~

1) Who is this book for?

– People who feel blocked or stuck in life.
– People who need hope and inspiration.
– People looking for change and need guidance and direction.

2) What does this book aim to do?

Give guidance but allow readers to get in touch with themselves. Wisdom is within us and just needs a key to be unlocked. Flow unlocks that.

I share, through personal stories, why things work or not and what are we really looking at.

Most importantly, the deep and profound re-connection to our bodies and hearts, without which things will never be aligned or work right ‘cos we ain’t gonna be happy.

3) How to purchase this book?

Send an email to flowcreatesabundance@gmail.com. 34 USD is the retail price but SG citizens pay 34 SGD. Giving a bit of love here. Visit danspire.com for more infomation about Vincent Yong, the author.

Book Review: ‘Two Sisters’ (Into The Syrian Jihad) by Åsne Seierstad

Two Sisters by Åsne Seierstad

This book, ‘Two Sisters’, has been described as “riveting”, “gripping”, “intense and compelling”. And it’s true. It’s almost like one of those Harry Potter books which I’d get from a bookstore at the launch and then proceed to read all day and even through the night till I’m done. However, and this is one big ‘HOWEVER’, I feel strangely disappointed. Like ‘I should go ask for a refund’ kind of disappointed. Reading all 411 pages of this book, I wanted to know not just why the two sisters went to Syria but also what happened to them in the end (did they get killed or get back home safely?). The book focuses mainly on the ‘WHY’. And I’m left feeling there’s no closure. Like an itch which cannot be reached yet demands to be scratched, I want to know what happens to the two girls! Urgh! Perhaps there’ll be a sequel to this ‘true story’? 😛

Also, I only realised at the end of the book that “Ayan” and “Leila” are not the real names of the two sisters. It’s like only finding out that Harry Potter’s real name is “(name withheld) Potter” at the end, and I’ve been ‘deceived’ all along. *sigh*

In a nutshell, teenage sisters Ayan and Leila (not their real names) leave their home in Oslo, Norway, in 2013 to travel to Syria. Their father, Sadiq, decides to go after them and try to get them home. Unfortunately, he gets captured and tortured, but eventually escapes. Subsequent attempts to get his daughters home fail, but Sadiq manages to burn through lots of cash in the process. In the end, he’s broke (both financially and in spirit), his daughters are supposedly wives and mothers now, and the family is torn apart as the girls refuse to return and Sadiq can only dream of turning back time and having his life return to what it once was.

So, if you’re wondering why teenage girls would want to head to a warzone and leave their cushy lives with family behind, this book offers some clues. They *may* have naively thought that they would be “fetching water for the sick to working in refugee camps”. 😉 More importantly, you’ll put together the pieces and find out how they got radicalized. It could have started from something as simple as spending “hours on YouTube listening to clerics and preachers”. Eventually, they’d think they are saving their family members from Hell (“If you died as a martyr, you could choose seventy family members to join you in paradise.”) And as the two girls reveal to their family, once they were in Syria and married, there was no need to pay rent or water and electricity bills (the State took care of all that), houses are free, and they received monthly groceries plus money without working at all.

You might wonder why the girls’ parents were so ‘blind’ toward the obvious radicalization happening right under their noses. The girls had started wearing niqabs (causing a headache in school for their teachers and Principal), and even cut out their pictures from family albums (to prevent outsiders from seeing them uncovered)! Based on the things they were sharing on social media, their parents, teachers and friends should have been alarmed and promptly put a stop to things. But they didn’t. The mothers in the community even paid for an extremist (though they didn’t know it at that time) Koran teacher called Mustafa to come teach their kids.

In the end, before leaving, Ayan bought lots of things but didn’t pay the bills, signed up for multiple mobile subscriptions (sold the phones and SIM cards) and raised money for the trip to Syria. This refusal to pay the bills was even viewed as “economic jihad”.

Interestingly enough, when her father needed money, he had questionable ways of raising it too, such as by selling ‘fake news’ to journalists, who ended up printing what he had supplied. In return, Sadiq received thousands of Norwegian kroner.

~

 

I can’t say I didn’t raise an eyebrow or two at a certain part of the book, where a text ‘Defense of the Muslim Lands’ was referenced’…

“The unclean have duped the dull masses of Muslims by installing their wooden-headed puppets as false figureheads of states that remain under their control.”

*cough cough*

And this next portion made me think that ISIS may have done lots of questionable, if not horrific, things but they’ve at least got something right:

“Although cigarettes were not forbidden in the Koran, they were deemed haram by ISIS and looked on as a form of “slow suicide” and pure pleasure. ISIS came down hard on people smoking on the sly, even in their own homes, and flogging was the usual punishment. Selling or smuggling was worse.” (p215)

*clap clap*

By the end of the book, you’ll probably come to the realization that the initial question of “Why would someone go to Syria and join ISIS?!” has become a simpler one – “Why not?”

Review: Paulo Coelho’s ‘Adultery’ and Lauren Manning’s ‘Unmeasured Strength’

Book Review Singapore

Completed reading 2 of the books I got at the recent Books Warehouse Sale, which is still ON till this Sunday by the way. I’m not sure how YOU pick out books (maybe read a chapter first?) but I chose these two simply because one was written by “Paulo Coelho” and the other was also a “New York Times Bestseller”. Turns out I hit literary gold with them. 😀 And yes, these are available for the box sale for S$50. So you can stuff a box full of books (maybe 20+ titles?) and each copy will only cost about S$2 or less. It’s ridiculously cheap. As an author myself, my heart bleeds a little. As a reader, I’m over the moon.

Anyway…

Here’s my (short) review of the two books:

Adultery by Paulo Coelho

It’s quite interesting how a male author writes from the point of view of a married woman committing adultery. Strangely enough, it’s rather convincing. I think this book might speak to many people. How come some people seem to have it all (an awesome spouse and I mean nothing sexual by this, a beautiful family, a great career, etc) and yet feel “depressed” or sad without having a legit reason to feel that way? And how many can resist the urge of keeping BOTH a stable, loving relationship AND a thrilling, sexually-satisfying affair by the side? Variety is the spice of life, no? And what causes women to lose their senses when they think they’re in love with a guy (whom, on hindsight, appears to be the kind you should flee from, and not run towards)? How can you live with the guilt of having NOT confessed to your husband about the affair you were involved in, simply because he seems to know (and he seemingly says so) and tells you he still loves you the same? After ten years of marriage, how does one keep the spark (or dying embers) alive? Are couples simply staying together for the sake of the children, and nothing else? This book makes readers think, question, and also face up to their own myriad temptations, desires, fears, and expectations. A short book but it’s a thought-provoking one, for sure.

Also, did you note that there are three cherries on the cover? Cute. 😉 Two are ‘facing’ each other, with a third party off to the side.

Unmeasured Strength by Lauren Manning

I didn’t actually pay much attention to the cover picture when I picked out this book. But if you’ll look closely, you’ll see that Lauren’s left hand is hidden behind her back, and there’s uneven coloration of her skin. The fact that she’s in a red dress and heels doesn’t seem out of the ordinary until you read her story and realize that this woman nearly lost her life during the Sept 11 terror attacks. She suffered burns on 82% of her body. And it took many years, an immeasurable amount of pain and equal parts courage for her to get her life back on track. This book made me cry… and cry again. It’s not just a recollection of what happened during that fateful day, it’s also her memoir. She got married once, and got divorced when the first marriage didn’t work out. And when she finally found Greg, the marriage wasn’t going as smoothly as they’d wanted. A heated quarrel, and a neighbor’s (unrelated) phonecall stopped Greg from being in the same building that morning. A situation involving missing keys at their weekend home caused Lauren to head to her office later than usual, hence she had not yet taken the lift up to her office when the terrorists struck. If she had been upstairs, she’d most certainly have perished like the 658 colleagues in her company who died that day. If Greg had also been at an event he wanted to go to, their ten-month-old child would have become an orphan.

Likewise, she recounts an incident from her childhood in which she was ahead of her sister running (accidentally) into a wasp nest. She got stung everywhere but some calamine lotion managed to do the trick. Her sister didn’t get even a single sting. Later on, it was discovered that her sister was highly allergic to bee stings, and if Lauren had not pushed ahead of her sister (to show who’s the eldest, i.e. the ‘boss’), Gigi might have been in serious trouble.

What I take away from this book is that when God’s hand is over your life, it doesn’t mean there will be no suffering. In fact, there might be tons of it. You might be stung from head to toe, but it means your sister’s life is spared and your family remains intact. It might also mean that you get burnt beyond recognition, yet you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reconnect with family and long-lost-yet-treasured friends. Lauren once thought she had it all and could do it all. Then the terrorists struck and she almost lost it all. Only after that could she truly begin to understand what it means to have it all. Her husband’s love for her is really commendable. Lauren herself writes that other men might have bolted, but Greg remained steadfast.

I’ve always wanted to ask God why good people suffer while bad people seem to thrive. But now I am beginning to understand. Sometimes that suffering happens for one’s own good, for God’s purpose in your life to be fulfilled. Without going through all that unimaginable and horrific pain and suffering, and not witnessing Greg’s steadfast presence and committed love through it all, Lauren’s (second) marriage might not be as strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended in divorce, assuming the terrorist attack on 9/11 never happened. Indeed, everything happens for a reason and it’s only by looking back that we can begin to connect the dots.

Read this book, but prepare some tissue first.