Category Archives: books

[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. 🙂

[Book Review] Uncle John’s 24 Karat Gold Bathroom Reader by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute

Uncle John's 24 Karat Gold Bathroom ReaderI picked up this brilliantly titled book, Uncle John’s 24 Karat Gold Bathroom Reader by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute (24th edition) at the library a few weeks ago.

The book is part of a series of books called Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. The series has sold 4.5 million copies. Amazing.

Via Wikipedia: Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers are a series of books containing trivia and short essays on miscellaneous topics, ostensibly for reading in the bathroom. The books are credited to the Bathroom Readers’ Institute, though Uncle John is a real person, and are published by Portable Press, an imprint of Baker & Taylor. The introductions in the books, as well as brief notes in some articles, provide small pieces of information about Uncle John. The first book was published in 1988, and in 2011, the series reached its 24th release, The 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

I think the book is a superb idea! Every household should have one of this book tucked into their toilets as compulsory reading material.

Here are some fun facts I learnt from the book over the past weeks:

1. The term “action figure” was coined by Hasbro Toys to sell their range of military boys’ dolls – G.I. Joe

2. 300 years ago, a fad erupted among wealthy Brits to buy people – not to make them servants, but to have them simply wander around their hermitage as “pet hermits”

3. Shel Silverstein, the author of the children’s classic, The Giving Tree was a full-time cartoonist for Playboy magazine before he became a children’s book writer.

4. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, missed it by one letter on his business card when he called himself “Chariman of the Executive Committee”

5. Michael Jackson wrote the hit song, “Bad”, planning to sing it as a duet with Prince. Prince backed out over lyrical content. He was reportedly uncomfortable with the song’s first line, “Your butt is mine.”

If you know of someone who loves to read in the bathroom, this book will make a perfect gift. 🙂

[Movie Review] The Flowers of War (金陵十三钗)

The Flowers of War movie poster
The Flowers of War movie poster

The Flowers of War (金陵十三钗), is the latest big screen offering from international film auteur, Zhang Yimou (张艺谋). I missed the preview screening on 19 March and wanted to kick myself in the butt for that.

Thanks to the folks from Shaw, Rachel and I made time to catch the movie yesterday.

The Flowers of War boasts an international cast of acclaimed Academy Award winner Christian Bale, Ni Ni (倪妮), Zhang Xinyi, Tong Dawei, Atsuro Watabe, Shigeo Kobayashi and Cao Kefan. It is set in 1937, Nanjing, China, during the “Rape of Nanjing”, at the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

An American mortician, a group of teenage schoolgirls, and 14 flamboyant prostitutes. The most unlikely mix of people meeting during the most unfortunate of circumstances leading to one powerful story of love, war, and sacrifice.

The film is based on the novel 13 Flowers of Nanjing, by Geling Yan (严歌苓) and has received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in the 69th Golden Globe Awards, as well as numerous nominations in the Asian Film Awards.

Lead actress Ni Ni (倪妮), a former student at the Nanjing Broadcasting Institute of the Communication University of China, has also clinched the Best Newcomer Award in the Asian Film Awards for her acting debut as prostitute Yu Mo in this movie.

Rachel and I love Yan’s writings. I have written a glowing book review on her other book, The Uninvited (不速之客). Set in contemporary capitalist China, the narration explores the social ills and wide inequality between the richest and the poorest in China, seen through the eyes of Dan, a male peasant posing as a journalist for free food at media events.

It would be interesting to see Yan’s writings brought to life on the big screen by Zhang Yimou.

The movie did not disappoint. There were many nail-biting, heart-wrenching moments and I could hear audible sobs coming from all corners of the cinemas.

No words can fully capture the atrocity committed by the Japanese soldiers invading Nanking. This movie brings our the courage in humanity in the most adverse of situations among unlikely bedfellows.

Although the cast was made up of mostly new actors and actresses, all of them put up very solid performances, up against seasoned Hollywood actor, Christian Bale.

I am not going into the story line to avoid giving away the plot.

The movie is definitely worth catching, even on weekend ticket fares. It got Rachel and equally disturbed and moved at the same time to be still talking about it over dinner, two hours after watching.

An advanced warning: if you are the kind who cannot take cruelty, bring a few packets of tissue into the cinema.


The Flowers of War (Rated NC16 for Violence & Sexual Violence) has been showing in Singapore cinemas since 29 March. Go catch it before the movie ends it’s run!

I am so captivated by this movie that I am trying to locate the original book on which the movie is based on. If anyone seen it at a local bookstore, drop me a comment below or email me. Thank you very much!

Lianhe Wanbao and launch Fong Fei Fei commemorative multimedia e-book《告别凤飞飞》for free download worldwide

Plugging this for and Lianhe Wanbao. The press releases in both English and Chinese are available below:

Click to download the free Fong Fei Fei e-book on Apple iBookstore
Click to download the free Fong Fei Fei e-book on Apple iBookstore

Singapore, 8 March 2012 – The recent passing of renowned Taiwanese singer and TV host Fong Fei Fei early this year surprised and saddened the Chinese communities worldwide.

In remembrance of the well-loved diva, Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao followed up with special reports on Fong Fei Fei over the next few days; while bilingual-friendly news and entertainment portal,, showcased various videos of her concerts in Singapore, erstwhile photos of Fong Fei Fei and other online reports.

In addition, Lianhe Wanbao has launched a special commemorative e-Book on Apple iBooks. The commemorative e-book is produced by and sponsored by TS Video Group.

The e-book encompasses all Fong Fei Fei news reports, photos, videos and other resources from Lianhe Wanbao and, including various moving tributes and eulogies from her fans worldwide.

Chua Chim Kang, Editor of Lianhe Wanbao and, said: “By launching this e-Book, we seek to ‘immortalise’ Fong Fei Fei, converting her legacy into a digital format to share with her fans and the future generations to come.”

Scan with QR Code reader to download Fong Fei Fei free e-book The Fong Fei Fei e-book is the first Chinese e-book from Singapore launched on Apple iBooks. It is also the first e-book from Singapore to be launched on Apple iBooks and the first e-book launched launched under the Singapore Press Holdings group.

To cater to the reading needs of the worldwide Chinese community, the e-Book is available in two language formats – traditional and simplified Chinese.

For more information on the download, readers can use the QR code or access the website directly at

The free e-book is available in both traditional and simplified Chinese
The free e-book is available in both traditional and simplified Chinese