Monthly Archives: August 2008

Tagged – Love of Literature ………..

I have been tagged … on the Love of Literature by Absolut Ginger.  Great timing, given that I’ve had the opportunity to read a number of really good books lately …… What better way to escape into other people’s lives, escape into another culture, escape into another country, escape into the world of glitz & glamour other than through reading I say ……

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?

I have my dad & my brother to thank for this. My dad used to work in the British Council & he used to bring home all sorts of books for me to read.  As for my brother’s contribution, he used to subscribe to the Reader’s Digest & I used to love the book section at the end & the short snappy articles written in the publication. Those days, the Reader’s Digest packed a good read unlike the Reader’s Digest of today which I find a bit too commercial.  Thank you for enforcing this habit in me …. it is important to feed the brain for a healthy mind!

What are some books you read as a child?

Does “Bambi” the picture book by Walt Disney count? The abridged version of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Mallory Tower series, Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene.

What is your favorite genre?

Crime fiction  but anything goes for me, really, as long as its well written with good character development…… ……. and I don’t fall asleep while reading it.  

Do you have a favorite novel?

Don’t torture me by asking for ONE favourite novel. I have many favourites…. so please bear with me!  

Recent favorites:

Some of you might be scratching my head from my list, but here they are…..

“We Need to talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver. A killing spree occurs in high school. You have the Killer. You have the Mother. The book sets you thinking whether a person is born evil or is it a result of circumstance? The narration style is very interesting as it is actually a series of letters written by the mother to the father, analysing what went wrong. And…the ending is mind blowing!

“House of Fog & Sand” by Andre Dubus III – contemporary literature. Great read. Read about how fragile life is where a simple mistake  or misstep can turn into a disaster if managed wrongly. You really feel for the characters. No right or wrong here. Just tragic.  

“Grotesque” by Natsuo Kirino – translated by Rebecca Copeland. A prostitute is killed. An office worker is murdered. Are both the murders linked? Don’t be fooled by the fact that its translated. Its a great crime read. Although some have complained that it lacks focus, I enjoyed the book immensely. The book also gives you an insight about life in Japan, how materialistic & plastic society is.

“Triptych” by Karin Slaughter. Crime fiction. Great bedtime read with unexpected twists here and there, & I mean UNexpected twists.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” – Khaled Hosseini. I chose this over the Kite Runner because the theme is closer to  heart, me being a female. The book gives you an idea what it’s like to be a woman in Afghanistan. It begs the question, when you are somebody’s daughter or when you are somebody’s wife in this part of the world, are you part of the family or just a piece of chattel or trophy to be showed off? Cried buckets.

(Disclaimer: The order of the books does not in any way reflect their ranking in my favorite list …)

Old Favorites:

Exodus by Leon Uris. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Both epic classics that do not need any introductions. Great read both these books.

When/ Where do you usually read?

Wherever and whenever I can snatch some quiet time (not necessarily a quiet place …as long as its quiet time to myself) …. so I can read even in noisy restaurants when I lunch alone, in the LRT, in bed, etc …. (if only I could read at the park while jogging …that’d be cool – ahahahahahaah!)   

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?

Actually no. Thanks to my obsessive compulsive behavior, I tend to focus on one book at a time …

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than when you read fiction?

Not at all! But that’s because the nonfiction that I pick usually has some element of action, horror, terror or mystery to it. So, it really is as exciting a read as any piece of fiction goes.

Just like the latest non fiction  I read –  “Sold” which was ghostwritten by Andrew Croft. It tells the true story of how Zana & Nadia Muhsen, 2 Birmingham teenagers were sold as child brides against their will to Yemen by their father. Suspenseful read in its own way.

I tend to shy away from super dry i.e. political autobiographies like Bill Clinton, Lee Kuan Yew in general …  The only real autobiography I have read was Mao Tze Tung’s & that was filled with drama drama drama coz apart from his political exploits, you get to read about his sexual exploits, his personal hygiene habis etc (Did you know he NEVER brushed his teeth? He washed his mouth with tea only. Theoretically, he wasn’t that far off I guess, since tea & toothpaste both have alkaline properties).

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them or check them out at the library?

All bought. Mostly from Popular Book Store in fact coz I feel they are most genuine when you buy a membership card with them, they give you 10% discount flat out. No need to wait for rebates or accumulate points, like other book retailers. Very sincere. Thank you Popular.

Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?

Fat Dragon & I feel a sense of attachment to our books, so it’s all kept in our house library.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child?

Toughie. We don’t have children so I’m not sure if the books I read as a child is relevant & exciting for the children of today.  (after all – I read the Harry Potter series, as an adult ….. )

What are you reading now?

“Out” by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Stephen Snyder.

Do you keep a TBR list?

Nope ………. I just go by what catches my eye when I browse at the bookshop. Although there’s Leo Tolstoy’s WAR & PEACE still lying unread & gathering cobwebs in the bookshelf … (I admit it is one of those snob purchases of mine …since its a ‘must read’ piece of literature) … sigh … at least literature books are cheap.

What’s next?

War & Peace????????????????????? 🙂

What books would you like to reread?

I don’t have a habit of rereading books. I like to move on to new books really … but if you really push me for an answer maybe I’d say its Leon Uris’ EXODUS. Damned good book. Such a well researched epic of a book! Feels like a History Lesson but minus the boring element. 

Who are your favorite authors?

Recent read. Khaled Hosseini. Old read. Leon Uris.

Watch out! It’s LOOKISM folks……

Wow, I think a lot of us are still a bit stunned at the shocking revelation by the ceremony’s music director Chen Qigang about the little girl who was just not pretty enough to show up to sing live at the Beijing Olympics Opening ceremony.

The little song bird Yang Pei Yi, who was slated to be a rising star, has buck teeth and a chubby face.

When interviewed by the Beijing People’s Broadcasting Station, music chief Chen said that leaders from various government agencies came to watch the opening ceremony rehearsals in the Bird’s Nest and “…a leader from the Politburo, who gave us his opinion, (said) this has to change”.

So the cuter pig tailed Lin Miaoke came into the picture. She was apparently “flawless in image, internal feelings, and expression”.  Oh, but can she sing? Not good enough obviously. Solution, get Lin Miaoke to lip sync the recording of patriotic song Ode to the Motherland  sung by Yang Pei Yi as China’s national flag was carried into the stadium, a key moment in the three hour ceremony.

In the end ….  What we heard, was the perfect voice of Yang. What we saw, was the perfect face of Lin. Problem solved. 

My two sen worth. There’s a word in the English Language for discrimination or prejudice based on appearance. It’s not widely used but can be found in major English Language dictionaries. The word is  LOOKISM.  The word may be uncommon but sadly, this form of discrimination is NOT so uncommon. Let’s see how lookism is practised as defined by Wikipedia:

  • “Researchers have found that good looking students get higher grades from their teachers than students with an ordinary appearance.
  • … attractive patients receive more personalized care from their doctors.
  • Studies have even shown that handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.
  • How much money a person earns may also be influenced by physical beauty. One study found that people low in physical attractiveness earn 5 to 10 percent less than ordinary looking people, who in turn earn 3 to 8 percent less than those who are considered good looking.”

What is beauty? Some people say beauty is all about symmetry. Some say it is youth. The media also strongly promotes beauty as being light on the scales. The whitening cream people will tell you its a fair & white complexion. The list is endless. What happened to – Inner beauty. Grace. Personality. Intelligence. Elegance. Charm. Oh well, you might as well throw it out of the window I guess. Useless, they say. Not so useless, I say.

Universal though lookism may be, the perception of beauty is however a harder subject to tackle. Just how do we discriminate between a beauty and a non beauty. It is not an exact science I’m afraid. It isn’t just about the pursuit of the perfect symmetry or looks. I’m sure if you throw a Twiggy like figure (when she was young) in front of Michelangelo he’d flip in his grave. After all, he is responsible for producing the sculpture of David which is a famous work on symmetry.  If stout figures were desirable during the Victorian Ages, its obviously history. Today, the complete opposite look is desirable. Stick thin figures rule bringing on the onset of eating disorders like bulimia & anorexia.  But then again, our perception of beauty is very much influenced by the media and the entertainment industry. So kudos to brandnames like Dove who have promoted advertisements featuring plus size women and ordinary day to day women.

Beauty is also culturally sensitive. A Polynesian man would view a woman with an ample figure of voluptuous proportions as beautiful, but in other cultures this very same woman could be labled ‘obese’. Or if you throw a bride in front of a tribal man in the Lao Cao region (in Vietnam) with a row of straight, WHITE teeth, he’d say – she’s not beautiful enough. Bring the charcoal – her front teeth need to be blackened. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder indeed!

I’d like to end this blog with a tribute to Little Yang Peiyi, you might not be considered pretty enough to be shown in the Olympics ceremony but hey, you’re beautiful enough in our eyes. You have a beautiful voice and you are beautiful in your own way, buck teeth and all.  Beauty is skin deep but inner beauty lasts forever.

P.S. Here’s a little glossary for those who are not too familiar with 2 expressions with the word beauty in it:

  • Beauty lies/is in the eye of the beholderLiteral meaning. It means that beauty is very much an individual opinion. Different people might have different perceptions of beauty.
  • Beauty is skin deep. – It alludes to the fact that physical beauty is superficial. Outward appearance is not as important as inner beauty.

Snobbery is alive & kicking!

I’m ‘happy’ to report that snobbery is alive and kicking. Name dropping. Flaunting of wealth. Flaunting of education. Just to name a few.

Snobs look down on people who are part of groups that they regard as inferior or flaunt their wealth in order to make others feel inferior. They say women carry the torch for snobbery dictating the likes of ‘where to live’, ‘what to wear’. ‘whom to see’. ‘what to drive’ ….. ummm, I’m not too sure about the last claim on ‘what to drive’ … but I think snobbery is non discriminating between sexes & let’s face it, its UNIVERSAL ….

Here are some accounts of snobbery which I have encountered or heard of …

Professional SNOB –  A lawyer friend has had his shirts scrutinised & ties flipped .. he’s had to suffer comments such as this “What on earth are you wearing, John Master?”. “You’re a lawyer. For God’s sake get a decent shirt”.  This same lawyer friend also preferred taking the LRT to the courts (those days when it was next to the Sultan Abdul Samad building) to avoid traffic jams. Needless to say, he received due admonishment for this blaspheme to the profession … “Hey, you’re a lawyer aren’t you – not an L.A. (legal assistant) – why on earth are you taking an LRT?”…. Sigh…. talk about job hazards – keeping up an appearance apparently is top priority in this profession. Well, today, this friend has stepped up and his SNOB friends would be proud of him as he drives a Merc & sports Hugo Bosses …. Apparently the new look is good for business. Clients are more confident of lawyers who are well dressed, hence they get more business. This is the very mantra preached in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” – Robert Kiyosaki’s and Sharon Lechter’s best selling book on how to achieve financial independence through investing, real estate, owning businesses, and the use of finance protection tactics. They say the broker who is clothed expensively and drives the flashy car gets the business, as he projects the image of success & accomplishment in his ventures. ….  So do not downplay the ‘importance’ of snobbery in life. It has an economic, and socio economic role to play. No wonder, a lot of car nappers now come cloaked in expensive clothes & they too drive expensive cars to hoodwink unsuspecting drivers leading up to a successful car nap …  

Car SNOB – A friend of ours was recounting how knowledgeable her nephew was about cars & apparently he was raving about the Proton Persona (for reasons I have forgotten) & her nephew recommended that she buy it. She then proceeded to tell me with a cringe shaped into her face,  “We are not interested in local cars like Proton….we prefer Japanese cars”.  Fat Dragon & I both drove Protons then … umm… it took us from Point A to Point B…. but yeah …. the goal of snobbery achieved… it made us feel inferior… just for a few seconds maybe …. But hey, don’t underestimate the powers of snobbery, we have changed one of our cars to a Japanese car – ahahahaahahah!   

Wine SNOB – A friend told us he was entertaining a customer at a BISTRO in Centre Point, Bandar Utama. The customer insisted on buying the wine. When shown the wine list (with prices ranging in the lesser hundreds) by the owner of the establishment, the customer frowned and said ‘Is that the best you can offer?”. “Get me your most expensive wine!”.  A thousand ringgit wine apparently was produced & till today, this friend of ours doesn’t remember what wine it was … only the price! What a laugh! For all you know the wine was not worth half the price. The price was probably inflated during the night itself…. Well that’s what wine snobbery is about. It’s all about lables  & prices.

(I had the opportunity to speak to a wine trader who travels round France to purchase boutique wines (i.e. wines from smaller, less commercialised private family owned vineyards) recently and he says that Malaysians do not really know their wines. So, they rely heavily on reviews, lables & price.  Don’t be surprised if someone tells you that a certain wine, which has received great reviews, tastes good even though it has oxidised (which is not surprising given poor storage conditions and the temperature in M’sia). But I guess you can’t blame us. Traditionally, we are not wine drinkers hence we’re not so educated in the science of tasting wine .. (for an idea what to look out for, check out this link)…. but don’t tell that to the Wine Snob… lables and the size of the price matters.)   

Travel SNOB – Fat Dragon & I have encountered more than a scoff or two when we told people that we planned to travel to Mt. Bromo, Indonesia. “Where?”. “Why are you going to Indonesia, of all places? “. But critics have been silenced when they saw pictures of our travels there. Another example is when I was asked by a friend where I thought would be a nice city to go  ….I mentioned Beijing & I received a weird look. I guess Asians expect answers like London, New York…or whatever snob place alike … but hey – I don’t think I need to defend my answer after the Olympics this year. The city can boast of a few more places of interest which have reached an iconic status i.e. the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube … but hey – I don’t wish to impose my travel preferences on you lest I be labled a snob too…..

Job SNOB – Oh, this tops the list. The snobs of society ….. do not view free lancing, home based activities  …. & being a housewife as a REAL JOB. I can attest to this being a free lancer myself and many a homemaker friend has also complained that when they are asked what they do … people just give a polite  & sympathetic smile in response when you answer “Home Maker”… More than a few ‘home makers’ have found themselves trying to justify how busy they are ferrying their children & attending to the household needs …. so, I say… RELAX. There are some of us who are not SNOBS….  we may not be the majority given that snobbery is in the pink of health but “we are out there”… ! So, I’d like to toast all freelancers & homemakers out there who dare to be different, who listen to your hearts & who sacrifice yourselves for the sake of others. Kudos to you & don’t mind those who think you are any lesser. Just think of them as being foolish enough to succumb to a weak, malicious vice …. 🙂 

Snobbery is really not all bad. It does have an economic role which is exploited by high end retailers. Mission: Target the branded snob. This group dictates a certain brand name as a ‘must have’. Then a group of ‘followers’ takes this for the gospel truth. They in turn flock to buy this ‘must have’ to keep up with the Jones.  Believe it or not, this very mechanism keeps up the purchasing interest for branded items ………………… Just take the latest I Phone for example. A consumer who lined up 2 days to be one of the first to buy the phone during its launch in Japan, said he realized that the phone has Blue Tooth limitations but he said because its an ‘IN’ thing & since everybody raves about it as a ‘must have’, he too needed to purchase one. 

Like I said, snobbery is alive, kicking & in the pink of health. A word of caution … don’t let it turn into a malicious DISEASE!  Believe me, you & I are guilty of snobbery be it consciously or unconsciously, some time or other … Just be mindful that snobbery when practised with malicious intent is damaging and hurtful. And, if you’re the recipient of snobbery, hey – don’t be victimised by it. Just sit back, take the good and laugh at the bad of it.