Category Archives: books

[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 omy.sg 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.

Trailer:

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 omy.sg launch Fong Fei Fei commemorative multimedia e-book《告别凤飞飞》for free download worldwide

Plugging this for omy.sg 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, omy.sg, 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 omy.sg 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 omy.sg, including various moving tributes and eulogies from her fans worldwide.

Chua Chim Kang, Editor of Lianhe Wanbao and omy.sg, 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 http://project.omy.sg/ibooks/fong-fei-fei/

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

联合晚报》和omy.sg推出本地第一本iBooks
《告别凤飞飞》电子书免费下载

台湾歌手兼主持人凤飞飞,因肺癌于2012年1月3日病逝,享年60岁。她逝世的消息,一直到2月13日才通过她的律师公布,震惊全世界华人。

《联合晚报》连日跟进凤飞飞逝世的新闻,作出特别的纪念报道和系列。双语资讯娱乐网站omy.sg特地带歌迷回顾凤飞飞过去在新加坡办演唱会的精彩录像,也整理出凤飞飞的照片集和新闻。

《告别凤飞飞》这本苹果iBooks电子书,汇集了所有凤飞飞在《联合晚报》及omy.sg的相关新闻报道、照片和录像,以及世界各地歌迷的感人悼词及对凤飞飞的思念。

《联合晚报》兼omy.sg总编辑蔡深江说:“凤飞飞在歌迷心中的地位是不可取代的,我们献上这本电子书向她致敬,收录她的歌声影像和离世的报道,让歌迷可以永远缅怀。”

此电子书可上网http://project.omy.sg/ibooks/fong-fei-fei免费下载。这是新加坡第一本iBooks电子书,并获得TS集团赞助。

为迎合全世界华人社群的阅读需要,这本《告别凤飞飞》电子书以繁体中文和简体中文两种版本推出。

高橋美起 (Takahashi Miki) 陪你來吃丼飯 Cookbook

Rachel and I bought this Chinese-translated Japanese cookbook,高橋美起陪你來吃丼飯 that boasts of many recipes for 30minutes, easy-to-cook, delicious meals.

We tried whipping up a few items from the book for a quick meal. Needless to say, Rachel was the one who did the cooking while I did the eating.

Whipping up a meal with the cookbook
Whipping up a meal with the cookbook
Japanese beef stew
Japanese beef stew
Japanese tofu
Japanese tofu
Dinner is served
Dinner is served

How did the food taste?

I am pretty sure Rachel did her best in following the recipes. While the food was palatable, they are probably not what we would want to eat on a daily basis.

Conclusion: There is really no short cut to a delicious meal. 🙂

Nonetheless, the cookbook should still come in useful for many time-starved dual-income working class families in Singapore. It is easy to read and follow with cute illustrations.

[Movie Review] The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The book was great. The movies too; both the 2009 Swedish version and the recently released 2011 US version.

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (original title in Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor – “Men Who Hate Women”) is an award-winning crime novel by Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson, the first in his Millennium Trilogy.

I have read all three books in the series and am mesmerised by the notion of a new age anti-heroine like Lisbeth Salander.

Thanks to Sony Pictures, I caught the Singapore gala premiere of the 2011 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara on 28 Dec 2011.

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo movie poster
The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo movie poster

Having watched the 2009 Swedish movie and read the original novel, it was inevitable to draw comparisons.

The main character of Lisbeth Salander is the most important and Rooney Mara (born 1985), the lead actress in this latest release brings more youthfulness to the role than Noomi Rapace (born 1979) in the Swedish version:

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander
Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

This is how Mara looks like normally:

Rooney Mara on a normal day
Rooney Mara on a normal day

This is how Mara looks like as Lisbeth Salenger. The piercings on her nipples and nose are all real:

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

The transformation is amazing isn’t it?

Daniel Craig on the other hand, is too much of a familiar face for alpha-male-type movie characters like James Bond. Somehow, he seems to lack some sensitivity playing the lead character of Mikael Blomkvist. Nonetheless, Craig has strong screen presence and is always a delight to catch on the big screen.

Comparing this latest release to the Swedish release, there are more deviations from the original novel. However, the slight changes do give the movie a faster pacing and more adrenaline pumping action comparatively.

The book loyalists would probably prefer the Swedish release for sticking strictly to the original plot but I do understand the need for different adaptations of the same plot to suit different media. My vote goes to the 2011 release.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is now showing in Singapore cinemas and is rated R21 of course, given the mature themes. Go catch it just to see Rooney Mara’s transformation. Watch out the the next two sequels too. 🙂

Movie Trailer:

Synopsis:

“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is the first movie instalment based upon “The Millennium Trilogy” series by the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson. It revolves around the tale of serial murder & corporate trickery, complicated international financial fraud and the buried evil past of a Swedish industrial family. In the movie, Mikael Blomkvist is a writer who recently loses a libel case against corrupt Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom and is sentenced to prison. Mikael Blomkvist was hired by Henrik Vanger to solve a forty-year-old mystery revolving the case of his missing great-niece. During the duration of the movie, Mikael Blomkvist accidentally gotten the help of Lisbeth Salander and both of them discover a long list of disturbing and shocking revelation involving the Vanger family.

Book Review: Ted Conover’s Newjack – A year as a prison guard in New York’s most infamous maximum security prison

Newjack book cover
Newjack book cover

Ted Conover is an American author and journalist, best known for his participatory investigations; riding the rails with tramps, traveling with Mexican undocumented workers, and of course, working at Sing Sing prison which the book, Newjack is based on.

Denied access to report on Sing Sing, New York’s maximum security jail, Conover went undercover, spending a year as a rookie office, or “newjack”.

The book is a winner of the National Book Critics Award for Non-Fiction and a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.

Enter the grimy, mundane and underrated lives of prison guards who risk potential assaults from high risk inmates on a daily basis. Conover documented his stint as a prison guard, right from the point when he sat for his entrance examination, went through boot camp to his posting at Sing Sing.

Reading much of the book reminds me of the crap experience I had going through BMT and my posting to Tuas Naval Base as a regimental police during my two and a half years serving NS (National Service or National Slavery depending on how you see it).

Of course, what Conover went through was much more intense as he had to come into daily contacts with murderers and other convicts of the worst kinds while I had just to deal with stiffening, forced regimentation. Nonetheless, that crappy feeling of serving an inescapable life-sentence of mundane existence prevails in both instances.

I won’t say I did not learn anything from my NS experience, much like Conover won’t deny that Sing Sing did enrich his worldview. However, if given a choice to do it again or extend my service for a few more years, no thanks.

Substitute the term “newjack” with “xin jiao (new bird in Hokkien)” and most Singaporean males will understand all the pain and humiliation being branded a newjack encompasses.

A prison system, similar to a military system thrives on a strict hierarchical pecking order to function. The old prison guards and long serving inmates systematically exploit and bullies the newjacks in Sing Sing, feeding off their inexperience; the “lao jiao (old bird in Hokkien)” and the regulars systematically expolit and bullies the xin jiao in  the Singapore army for the same reason.

As Conover recounts his experience of how a particularly sadistic veteran prison guard routinely picks on newjacks, chiding and shaming them at every excuse, I am reminded of a few particularly detestable lao jiao back when I was a xin jiao in Tuas Naval Base.

I still remember the names of these dickheads, but I won’t name them in full so as not to stoop to their level of low. Their surnames are Ong, Wong and Han. The first made me board a seaboat with combat boots simply because he was too lazy to go down to the sea centre himself. I could have drowned and died if I fell into the water on hindsight. The latter two enjoy ordering newbies to clean up after their meals; fold blankets for them; among other insulting tasks that rendered them handicaps in my view. If the three of you are reading this, shame on you. I always regretted not telling them these in their faces before they ORD-ed. They were shiny examples of what I vowed not to become when I became a lao jiao myself (and I didn’t).

Of course, amidst the grim and bitterness, there are always the good people. Conover recounts his odd camaraderie formed with a few inmates and the kindness extended by some of the fellow guards. These were what kept him going in an otherwise thankless job. Same for me in NS. The good guys balance the bad eggs.

Due to many of the parallels between working as a prison guard in America and serving as a forced conscript in the Singapore army, I believe Newjack will be an enjoyable read for most Singaporean males. I did.

Book Review: Dave Eggers’ What is the What

What is the What book cover
What is the What book cover

Africa seldom appears in the world news. The hardship and suffering experienced in many African states become blind spots over time to the rest of the world, sanitised to the same old stories of rogue dictators and feudal government ruling along tribal roots.

I did not know much about the civil wars in Sudan, nor how so many Sudanese suddenly got displaced from their homes and became wandering refugees. That was till I read Dave Eggers’ What is the What. One of the most heart-wrenching novel I have read in recent times, telling of such extreme misery, bringing out the best and worst in humanity.

The 2006 novel is based on the real life story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee and member of the Lost Boys of Sudan program:

Via Wikipedia: The Lost Boys of Sudan is the name given to the groups of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005), about 2.5 million killed and millions were displaced.

In 2001, as part of a program established by the United States Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 3800 Lost Boys were allowed to resettle in the United States. They are now scattered over at least 38 cities.

Valentino Achak Deng was one of the Sudanese Lost Boys who was resettled in the United States. When Deng was just a boy, the conflicts in Sudan separated him from his family, forcing him to leave his small village, joining thousands of other orphans on their long, painful walk to Ethiopia for safety. Along the walk, the boys have to hide from enemy soldiers, rebels and militias, with no one they can trust or rely on. They also have to fend off hyenas, lions, diseases and starvation. Deng was one of the lucky ones who survived to tell his story.

Yet their sufferings do not end there.

You cannot take someone away from his rural homeland, dump him into an urban landscape and expect him to adjust overnight. Facing alienation and a sense of lost once again, some turned to crime while others just sink into depression as they learn how much their lives have been short-changed right from their birth in Sudan.

After reading the book, I also watched an Emmy-nominated feature-length documentary, The Lost Boys of Sudan (2003), that follows two Sudanese refugees on their extraordinary journey from Africa to America:

Till now, I am still very inspired by the stories of the Lost Boys of Sudan, including the story of Deng, told through the book, What is the What. These boys were dealt with some of life’s worst adversities, and yet they survived. Humanity is a curious thing.

The Lost Boys’ stories make me appreciate life better and complain less.