Category Archives: books

KidsFest 2014 – Tickets on sale now

Last weekend, I brought Asher to the KidsFest 2014 preview at the British Club where he met some of the performers, including the Gruffalo’s Child – a character which he is familiar with from the Gruffalo series of children books which Rachel reads to him:

Kids meet the Gruffalo's Child
Kids meet the Gruffalo’s Child
Asher hi-five with the gruffalo's child
Asher hi-five with the gruffalo’s child
Kids meet King Henry
Kids meet King Henry
Gruffalo story book reading time
Gruffalo story book reading time
Playing games
Playing games

KidsFest debuted in Hong Kong and Singapore in 2012 and will return from 15 Jan to 9 Feb 2014 next year with nine international theatre productions adapted from best-selling children’s books.

KidsFest 2014 muffins
KidsFest 2014 muffins

The family-friendly productions will be shown at two performing venues in 2014; at DBS Arts Centre and Drama Centre Theatre.

KidsFest 2014  also see the introduction of KidsFest+ – an exclusive backstage experience on scheduled dates for selected productions where fans can interact up close with the cast over an autograph or photo session – much like the fun preview session which I brought Asher to.

Roaaarrrrrr!
Roaaarrrrrr!

“KidsFest is an exciting festival for the whole family where compelling characters are brought to life and scenes from well-loved books are enacted vividly on stage. It is a wonderful platform for family bonding and at the same time, nurtures a child’s interest in literature and language. Our aim is for KidsFest to be a staple in Singapore’s calendar of cultural events when families can look forward to a series of world-class productions,” said Mr Matthew Gregory, Executive Producer of ABA Productions Pte Ltd.

The KidsFest 2014 organisers promise each production to be an adventure for the family; with catchy music, engaging scenes and even audience participation for some. There will also be surprises thrown in for the kids along the way.

Tickets are on sale now, with prices range from S$35 to S$62.

Book them at any SISTIC outlet, official SISTIC website or call the hotline 6348 5555. For more information, visit the official KidsFest website and the official Singapore Facebook page.

Here are some of the shows to look out for in KidsFest 2014: 

Back by popular demand is of course, the well-loved Gruffalo! This charming production adapted from the award-winning picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler showcases Mouse’s adventurous journey into the ‘deep dark wood’ and his encounter with the terrifying Gruffalo. Though the use of sheer wit, learn how the quick-thinking Mouse evades danger.

Following hot on the heels of The Gruffalo’s sell out tour comes the must-watch sequel; The Gruffalo’s Child. Find out just how brave the Gruffalo’s Child is as she ventures into the ‘deep dark wood’ to find the ‘big bad mouse’, the one thing her father, The Gruffalo is afraid of.

For the history-buff, you’re in for a treat! Indulge in the drama during the Tudors dynasty at Horrible Histories Terrible Tudors starring the monarch, Henry VIII himself. Hear the legend (and the lies!), find out about the triumphs and what is so terrible during this enthralling era.

The HORRIBLE HISTORIES team also brings a fresh take into the mysterious world of ancient Egypt as they unearth the enigmatic symbols in Horrible Histories Awful Egyptians. Learn the power of the pyramids and discover the foul facts of death and decay with the meanest mummies in town – find out why the Egyptians made their mummies and how they did it!

Some other must-watch productions includes What the Lady Bird Heard, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Snow Dragon and Private Peaceful as they grace the local stage for the first time In 2014.

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[Book Review] Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Book cover
Book cover

We all have fixated views about beefcakes and supermodels don’t we?

When you hear the name Arnold Schwarzenegger, what comes to mind?

Himbo?

Dumb beefcake?

Arnold is living testament to how wrong stereotypes can be. His autography, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, tells an extraordinary story on the extraordinary success of a very smart and driven person.

Born in a broken and poor Austria after WWII, Arnold documents his journey to the United States and how he worked towards his single-minded dream to first become the top bodybuilder in the world, followed by one of the top stars in Hollywood and eventually, the mayor of California.

Was the autobiography honest?

Yes and no. I find him more candid on the earlier part of his life. The accounts read more guarded and scripted in his description on how he became a Republican and how he came to run for political office.

On a personal level, the story reads like a long apology note to his wife, in an attempt to patch up their recent divorce due to his infidelity in fathering a son with their housekeeper.

Otherwise, I find this book pretty inspirational and enjoyable to read. This is better than a lot of self-help craps out there – at least we know Arnold walked the talk with spectacular results to show.

Arnold signing a copy of his book (picture via The Guardian)
Arnold signing a copy of his book (picture via The Guardian)

At the pinnacle of his bodybuilding career, Arnold had the perfect body both men and women would die for.

He had his fair share of beautiful women in his lifetime and eventually married Maria Shriver, a rare combination of beauty and intelligence. They had three lovely children together and a happy family.

Even before he started his Hollywood career, Arnold was already a self-made millionaire from shrewd property investments. He arrived in America dirt-poor, self-schooled himself through community colleges and worked his way up doing sales, construction and all kinds of odd jobs. This is a true story of the American Dream.

Arnold set a goal to become one of the top star in Hollywood and he achieved it by sitting out for only leading roles. Who can forget his role as the Terminator? He could have become a mediocre action star during his era who faded into obscurity now like Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme, but he rise above all through shrewd career moves.

When he entered politics, there were lots of skeptics who were happy to poke fun of him as a caricature, but look what he has achieved. He leveraged on his perceived weakness as strength, gaining ground by playing up the underdog image.

Reading Arnold’s book impressed upon me that nothing is impossible with a can-do attitude and good work ethics.

I was not a fan of Arnold before reading this book, neither am I after reading it, but I am an admirer of what he have achieved and how he went about achieving all the accomplishment he set out for himself.

Instead of reading self-help books written by self-help gurus who only became rich and famous by writing those books, Arnold wrote his book after he became rich and famous.

The book is a good read. Do check it out.

[Book Review] Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Book Cover
Book Cover

Singapore is a fast becoming a nation of widening wealth disparity. In the 2013 World Bank report, Singapore has the highest income inequality compared to the economically-developed OECD countries.

Such trends disturb me.

There seem to be two Singapore we live in – one where the mega-rich can live it up and enjoy life to the fullest at our two world-class integrated resorts and the exclusive yacht front residential at Sentosa Cove; the other where old folks scrap by for a living, collecting old cardboards and newspapers in HDB estates, living in rented one room flats.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America was written from the author’s perspective as an undercover journalist, taking on the role of a minimum wage worker in capitalist United States. The events related in the book took place between 1998 and 2000, but I believe are still very much relevant in today’s context of even widening income gaps due to globalisation.

Here is a summary of the book via Wikipedia:

Ehrenreich investigates many of the difficulties low wage workers face, including the hidden costs involved in such necessities as shelter (the poor often have to spend much more on daily hotel costs than they would pay to rent an apartment if they could afford the security deposit and first-and-last month fees) and food (e.g., the poor have to buy food that is both more expensive and less healthy than they would if they had access to refrigeration and appliances needed to cook).

Foremost, she attacks the notion that low-wage jobs require unskilled labor. The author, a journalist with a Ph.D. in cell biology, found manual labor taxing, uninteresting and degrading. She says that the work required incredible feats of stamina, focus, memory, quick thinking, and fast learning. Constant and repeated movement creates a risk of repetitive stress injury; pain must often be worked through to hold a job in a market with constant turnover; and the days are filled with degrading and uninteresting tasks (e.g. toilet-cleaning and mopping). She also details several individuals in management roles who served mainly to interfere with worker productivity, to force employees to undertake pointless tasks, and to make the entire low-wage work experience even more miserable.

She decries personality tests, questionnaires designed to weed out incompatible potential employees, and urine drug tests, increasingly common in the low wage market, arguing that they deter potential applicants and violate liberties while having little tangible positive effect on work performance.

She argues that help needed signs do not necessarily indicate a job opening; more often their purpose is to sustain a pool of applicants in fields that have notorious rapid turnover of employees. She also posits that one low-wage job is often not enough to support one person (let alone a family); with inflating housing prices and stagnant wages, this practice increasingly becomes difficult to maintain. Many of the workers encountered in the book survive by living with relatives or other persons in the same position, or even in their vehicles.

She concludes with the argument that all low-wage workers, recipients of government or charitable services like welfare, food, and health care, are not simply living off the generosity of others. Instead, she suggests, we live off their generosity:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on … she has made a great sacrifice for you …. The “working poor” … are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone. (p. 221)

The author concludes that someday, low-wage workers will rise up and demand to be treated fairly, and when that day comes everyone will be better off.

And we wonder how what triggered the Occupy Wall Street movement?

When I was reading this book, I think back about my experience doing part-time hourly wage job as a teen and all the dirty, manual grunt work I had to do as a NSF. These works were no less tedious than what I am doing now, granted that they were works with low barrier to entry, compared to my current job where specialised knowledge is needed.

Simply put, I believe a road sweeper works just as hard and contribute as much, if not more to society than a Wall Street banker, but the income disparity between the two is staggering and growing wider each day.

I find it uncomfortable and disconcerting.

Nickel Dime is a good read to discover what happens when these two worlds collide (the author has a PhD and is from a relatively affluent background, taking on menial, minimum wage jobs, typically taken by poor migrant workers).

The narrative is simple and engaging. Critics of the book deemed the author to be too pampered and believe others would have fared better than her if they went through the same experiment.

Overall, it is a good and educational read for all ages to learn more about the world we live in. I would recommend it.

[Book Review] Year of the Tiger by David Miller

Book Cover
Book Cover

David Miller is a former Straits Times journalist and I got to knew him while he was working in corporate communications after he had left Singapore Press Holdings.

He had spent ten years with the Straits Times crime desk and as a correspondent, he wrote a number of articles about the discovery of World War II tunnels on the Singapore mainland.

Year of the Tiger, inspired in part by the mystery surrounding long-forgotten war relics in Singapore, is his first novel.

The book was released last year in August and had remained on the top 10 International Bestsellers List at Kinokuniya Singapore between December 31, 2012 and August 1, 2013. Not bad for a Singapore book.

The book follows the spirit of Dan Brown‘s worldwide hit, The Da Vinci Code, and is a mixed of facts and fictions, spun into a mystery narrative.

Book Synopsis:

During the World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army under General Tomoyuki Yamashita looted untold amounts of gold and other valuables from across its occupied colonies in Southeast Asia to finance the empire’s ongoing military expansion. But when the tide of war turned against Japan in 1943, much of this treasure had to be buried in secret. Over the decades, the search for the legendary Yamshita’s Gold had been in vain, until now…

A group of foreign workers digging a tunnel under the Padang in present-day Singapore stumbles across a treasure vault and inadvertently triggers a biological booby trap. An unknown strain of anthrax is released threatening a global holocaust. It is up to Assistant Superintendent Gerald Loh of the Singapore Police Force to decipher a cryptic clue left behind with the loot to halt this deadly plague.

Year of the Tiger takes readers on a roller-coaster journey of political wrangling, murky history and secret organistions to discover the elusive cure for a seemingly unstoppable pandemic.

I like the idea and concept behind the book. Taking a narrative spin on Yamashita’s Gold is clever as the topic has always garnered keen historical interest globally. The very existence of the treasures remain debatable and is bound to get people excited to hunt it down in real life.  This will help the book reach out to an international audience instead of limiting to just Singapore readers.

With his journalistic background, David’s writing is clear and concise. Reading the book felt like reading an extended newspaper report, giving it a sense of realism that makes the story extremely believable. So much so that I find myself googling on many items in the book to find out if they were fact or fiction!

To move the story along on a broader narrative on War World II history, conspiracy theories and world crisis, less in-depth characterisation was afforded on the protagonists in the book.

Overall, the book was an enjoyable read for me. I would recommend it to history buffs, conspiracy theorists and general readers who are interested to find out more about the Japanese Occupation in Singapore.

The book is available for sale in leading bookstores as well as online via various online stores.

Visit David Miller’s own official website for updates on Year of the Tiger as well as his other books. 

Spend and Save with The Entertainer

The Entertainer book

To be able to spend and save at the same time is an oxymoron, but it is true with The Entertainer – a coupon book packed full of 1-for-1 deals and other offers with little or no catch at all. The book is packed with up to S$70,000 worth of savings in coupons and these are valid for use in an entire year.

The Entertainer Singapore retails at S$95 per copy and can be ordered online with free delivery via the official website of The Entertainer.

This concept is relatively new in Singapore and I was apprehensive at first when their PR approached me to try out the book. It catches on quickly after I got the hang of it though.

I have been using coupons from the book for almost a month now and have been spending and saving quite a fair bit, particularly for dining.

In fact, I tore out a stack of coupons and carry them with me daily, not wanting to miss out any opportunity to enjoy a great deal!

Here is a summary of some of my recorded expenses:

Venue Pax Bill (S$) Saving (S$) Coupon Used
Lunch at The Marmalade Pantry @ Stables 4 pax 61.2 61.2 2 x 1-for-1 main course
Dinner at Canopy 4 pax 100.05 100.05 2 x 1-for-1 main course
Dinner at The Tasting Room 2 pax 25.8 25.8 1 x 1-for-1 main course
Dinner at Pizzeria L’Operetta 2 pax 30.6 30.6 1 x 1-for-1 main course
Dinner at Spruce 4 pax 68.27 68.27 2 x 1-for-1 main course
Snack at Saybons 2 pax 3.9 3.9 1 x 1-for-1 main course
Lunch at Old Hong Kong Kitchen 2 pax 32.8 5.5 1 x 1-for-1 main course
Lunch at Old Hong Kong Teahouse 2 pax 24 24 1 x 1-for-1 main course
S$346.62 S$258.12

I spent a total of S$346.62 dining, but at the same time, saved S$258.12!

The amount I saved in a month is already more than twice the price of the book! I feel good sharing the coupon with my parents and my friends, letting them enjoy the deals when we dine together.

Here are some photo evidence of the meals I enjoyed using The Entertainer:

Salmon steak at Spruce
Salmon steak at Spruce
Baked snapper at Spruce
Baked snapper at Spruce
Beef short-ribs at Spruce
Beef short-ribs at Spruce
Me with my wife and son, having a great dinner at Spruce
Me with my wife and son, having a great dinner at Spruce
One-for-one cup soup at Saybons
One-for-one cup soup at Saybons
Pizza 1 at Pizzeria L'Operetta
Pizza 1 at Pizzeria L’Operetta
Pizza 2 at Pizzeria L'Operetta
Pizza 2 at Pizzeria L’Operetta
Asher watching our pizzas being made on-the-spot at Pizzeria L'Operetta
Asher watching our pizzas being made on-the-spot at Pizzeria L’Operetta
Barbecue Seafood Platter at Canopy
Barbecue Seafood Platter at Canopy
We got another one of this seafood platter for FREE
We got another one of this seafood platter for FREE
Beef stew at Canopy
Beef stew at Canopy
Seafood linguini at The Marmalade Pantry @ Stables
Seafood linguini at The Marmalade Pantry @ Stables
Wagyu burger at The Marmalade Pantry @ Stables
Wagyu burger at The Marmalade Pantry @ Stables
Mushroom risotto
Mushroom risotto
Grilled mackerel at The Tasting Room
Grilled mackerel at The Tasting Room
Orange duck confit at The Tasting Room
Orange duck confit at The Tasting Room

Here are some tips I have on using the coupons and getting the best deals out of The Entertainer:

– Buy the book early in the year. The earlier you buy, the longer you can use the coupons as each edition is published and renewed with new coupons annually.

– Call to make reservation as well as check that the restaurant/shop honours the coupon before heading now as not all service staff may be familiar with The Entertainer.

– For the 1-f0r-1 dining deals, the lower cost item is free. Hence go for items that are closely priced to get the best deal.

– Be careful when using two or more dining coupons. The cheapest items are the free ones. For instance, if you and your wife are visiting a restaurant with your friend and his wife, using two coupons, you may mistakenly assume that the cheaper item you or your wife ordered is free. This is incorrect. If the the items that your friend and his wife ordered are cheaper, those two will be free and your friend will end up paying more for your share.

That’s it! There is no hidden catch at all.

If you are comfortable with the above and will like to start defraying some of  your dining, travel and lifestyle expenses. Do visit The Entertainer’s official website to learn more or even purchase the book directly. 

Some additional facts on The Entertainer:

· The Entertainer was founded in 2001 by Founder and CEO, Donna Bennet in Dubai

· The Entertainer books provide ‘buy one get one free’ incentive vouchers from well-known merchants across Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia

· It provides consumers with over 660 ‘one for one’ vouchers for some of the best restaurants, cafes, nightspots, attractions, spas and beauty and hotel accommodation

· The Entertainer books bring together incentive vouchers from over 4,000 merchants, distributing their offers across 21 books in 14 destinations

· Singapore is the first Asia market to start distributing the Entertainer book

[Book Review] Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-la book cover
Lost in Shangri-La book cover

Here’s a great book which I picked up at the Los Angeles International Airport earlier this year – Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La.

The book is based on the true story of three survivors of a horrible plane crash in then Dutch New Guinea during WWII.

Zuckoff’s writing is easy to read and gives a layer of romanticism to an otherwise dark period.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the three white survivors coming in contact with native New Guineans for the first time. The latter is cut off from the rest of the world, living in their own Shangri-La. They were at a lost as to how to react to intruders in their land.

On hindsight, following interviews with the natives after over five decades, Zuckoff was able to furbish details on the culture clashes and misinterpretations that occur during the encounter.

The narrative reads pretty much like a cheesy straight-to-video B-grade movie. The difference was that everything was real, making the book very addictive to read.

Picture of one of the survivor with a native New Guinean
Picture of one of the survivor, Corporal Margaret Hastings with a native New Guinean

I finished reading the book in about two days, hooked on every page. If you like Indiana Jones type adventure, but in the real world setting, do pick up Lost in Shangri-La.

About the Book

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane named the Gremlin Special for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island’s uncharted jungle.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers survived – WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to disease, parasites, and poisonous snakes in the wet jungle climate, the trio was caught between man-eating headhunters and the enemy Japanese. With nothing to sustain them but a handful of candy and their own fortitude, they endured a harrowing trek down the mountainside – straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.

[Book Review] Boomsday by Christopher Buckley

Boomsday book cover

Boomsday is a 2007 novel by Christopher Buckley, which is a political satire about the rivalry between squandering Baby Boomers and younger generations of Americans who do not want to pay high taxes for their elders’ retirement.

The author of the book is the same guy who wrote the sharp, witty Thank You For Smoking which satires the tabacco industry and their lobbyists. The book was adapted into a movie in 2005. This was what drawn me to Boomsday; I had enjoyed the movie adaption of Thank You for Smoking immensely and was looking for the same brand of acid humour on American society and politics.

Boomsday is referred in the book as the day that a majority of the Baby Boomers would begin retiring, thrusting the United States into economic trouble and the raising of taxes to compensate for Social Security.

Plot synopsis (via wikipeda):

Cassandra Devine, “a morally superior twenty-nine-year-old PR chick” and moonlit angry blogger, incites generational warfare when she proposes that the financially nonviable Baby Boomers be given incentives (free Botox, no estate tax) to kill themselves at 70. The proposal, meant only as a catalyst for debate on the issue, catches the approval of millions of citizens, chief among them an ambitious presidential candidate, Senator Randolph Jepperson.

With the aide of public relations guru Terry Tucker, Devine and Jepperson attempt to ride “Voluntary Transitioning” all the way to the White House, over the objections of the Religious Right and the Baby Boomers, deeply offended by the demonstrations taking place on the golf courses of their retirement resorts.

I see parallel between the book’s fictional political landscape and the sea of political changes sweeping across the Middle East the US and Asia, including Singapore.

The ruling party in the book is like the old rich, old elite who are in too deep into old political habits and self-interest to connect with the real world sufferings of their electorates (i.e. the Republicans in the US or the PAP in Singapore).

This create the perfect opportunity for a young, brash fresh-faced political newbie like Cassandra Devine (Nicole Seah in Singapore) and an old elite firebrand (Tan Jee Say in Singapore) who wants to break away from the establishment to rise up and challenge the ruling party.

Utilising new media channels like blogs and relying more on word-of-mouth than conventional rallying methods, Devine and Jepperson were able to attract the votes of politically apathetic young voters under 30s and get them to take an interest in politics.

Ironically though, the author, Buckley’s political leaning is towards the Republican and the book is essentially a satire on America’s Social Security (welfare) system which the political left had fought hard for.

In real life, there has been a drought of charismatic figures from the political right, whether in the US or Singapore.

Nonetheless, the book is still a very fun read with acid sharp humour on every page. If political satire is your kind of thing, this is a great book to pick up at the bookstore. 🙂