Book Reviews General Affairs

Book Review: The Happiest Man on Earth

The Happiest Man on Earth by Eddie Jaku

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“‘Shoot them!” they cried. ‘Shoot the Jewish dogs!’
What had happened to my German friends that they became murderers? How is it possible to create enemies from friends, to create such hate? Where was the Germany I had been so product to be a part of… As they loaded me onto a truck to take me away, blood mixing with the tears on my face, I stopped being proud to be German. Never again.”

Eddie Jaku was born German. First a German, then a Jew. That was how he felt as a boy growing up in a country he felt was one of the most civilized and educated cultures in the world. That was before he was captured multiple times, locked up in various camps and faced with the everyday choice of working himself to a slow death or dying instantly should he no longer be of any use to the Nazis. At the end of the war, he was reduced to a mere 28kg.

How does one reconcile with a reality that people who were once your countrymen started treating dogs better than you? “She carried a baton to beat us with and went everywhere with her big German Shepherd attack dogs. She was very kind to them, always calling them, ‘Mein liebling’. My darling.”

In the midst of endless cruelty, Jaku was offered an occasional relief from kindness shown by strangers. “They gave us no food, but when we were travelling through Czechoslovakia, women would sometimes run up alongside the train and throw bread to us.”

While it is difficult to comprehend the mindset of those everyday Germans who were once just your average colleague, school mate or neighbour suddenly viewing you as a quasi-person. Yet when I think about the recent pandemic when the same people that once viewed their neighbourhood Asian grocers as part of the community abruptly change their stance and started attacking anyone that looked remotely Oriental, it is possible that human mentality hasn’t changed. Thankfully we have marginally better laws to protect the abused and prevent the start of another genocide.

“We are still here; Hilter is down there… In my mind, this is really the best revenge, and it is the only revenge I am interested in -to be the happiest man on Earth.”

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Book Reviews General Affairs

Book Review: The End of Bias

The End of Bias: A Beginning by Jessica Nordell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was incredibly triggering for me. It is well researched and contains a vast amount of data that illustrates how unconsciously bias we are. At the same time, it also validates a great deal of my emotions and reaction to the way I have been treated by society on a daily basis.

“We also don’t like to be wrong, and we feel irked and threatened when our stereotyped predictions don’t come true.”

This is perhaps one of the bigger revelations for me. I am one who has a personality that contradicts all stereotypes of my gender, race and age. It has caused me enormous grief in my life fighting against those who keep trying to push me back into the box where they believe I belong to.

Post George Floyd, “Diversity training is now a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry.” One would expect that with so much resources thrown into teaching employees and employers how to recognise their own bias would see a change in hiring patterns.

“When the researchers analyzed actual rates of promotion in the companies following these initiatives, they found that when diversity trainings for managers were mandatory, the odds of Black women becoming managers five years later decreased by 9 percent. The odds of Asian American men and women dropped 4 to 5 percent, and the odds of White women and Black men becoming managers did not change at all.”

In my experience no amount of book reading, diversity training or well-presented data can alter a mind that does not want to change. This book may not change the world if the world refuses to bend. But it could offer a few surprising insights to those who are severely marginalized, even if they are fully aware of the bias treatment they receive on a daily basis, how to better navigate a society that refuses to see them as a regular first class citizen.

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General Affairs General Sport & Adventure

William vs. Federer

The tennis world saw the retirement of two world class players this year. Instead of lamenting their departure as “losses”, I prefer to celebrate the remarkable career that they had.

Naturally, those who are obsessed with the label of GOAT (Greatest Of All Times) would argue to crown either players or lay down their reasoning for why neither of them ought to be. Personally, I believe when that level of athleticism has been attained, be it the longest running World No. 1, the highest number of Grand Slam wins, who is crown the GOAT is simply an entirely subjective act.

The atmosphere surrounding the news break of both players, unfortunately, were quite a contrast. Roger Federer is widely regarded as a ‘faultless’ player. It will be very difficult to meet anyone who openly dislike him. I, for one, have never come across any person of any colour/ nationality/ gender, whether tennis fan or not, have anything negative to say about Federer.

On the other hand, the moment Williams announces her intention to ‘evolve’ away from tennis, millions of gloaters emerge all over social media, mercilessly rejoicing that she did not manage to attain nor surpass Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam wins. The same people who didn’t remind Federer that both Djokovic and Nadal had long beaten Federer in his Grand Slam record wins.

That mockery, to me, wasn’t the most hypocritical issue. In her career, people made fun of her colour, wardrobe choice, playing style, body type and God knows what other aspects of Serena that had entirely nothing to do with the sport. Each time she loses her cool, her flaws are amplified and criticized repeatedly. I do not believe any human being has the perfect temperament. Even the great Federer was known to have a bad temper in his earlier years. Should those angry moments be replicated and condescended over and over again, would he still be the calm and composed man he is known for later in his career?

There is no simple equation to becoming a tennis great. The amount of physical, emotional and psychological prowess of every one of them is beyond the comprehension of the average layman. While every one of us may try to use logic or tangible qualifiers to determine who the GOAT is, nothing quite beat the honour of having another world class player declare that you are the GOAT, because there are only a handful of people in this world who truly know what it takes.

In 2018, Roger Federer famously called Serena Williams “The greatest tennis player ever”. “Overall”, he clarifies. Not “Female tennis player”. He didn’t go on to explain why he thinks that. Interestingly enough, no one really asked either.

In my humble, unqualified opinion, Serena Williams triumphs Court, Graf, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and others who can be considered a GOAT of tennis by one simple reason. Tennis has been, and in many ways still is, a privileged white man’s sport. None of the other tennis greats were born as poor as Williams, none of them were treated as second class citizens in their country of birth due to no fault of them. It is not a surprise for me this significant handicap is rarely mentioned when anyone is tabulating the achievements of these athletics. Racism, combined with misogyny is a blend so disgusting that it leaves a bitter after taste no one wants to admit that they dislike Williams because they are quite simply, bigots.

No conclusions on this mindless rambling. Time poor these days with lives to raise.

Micro Stories

Micro story: Headlights

A while ago I was driving home in the dark. At a traffic light I saw a car opposite mine that did not have their night lights turned on. I hooted gently to catch the attention of the driver, then gestured to him he need to have the lights on.

I felt good about myself the rest of my journey home, thinking how I would appreciate it if someone notifies me of my errors. I arrived home, parked then got out of my car. I realised I’ve just driven home without my headlights on.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Hunted

The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This must be one of the most entertaining book I have read in a while. I couldn’t give it 5 stars since in my opinion The Hunted hasn’t really offered any novel concept in an outstanding manner.

I feel that this book is akin to a literary version of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. The plot is simplistic – a group of unrelated people meet under random circumstances and bond through a night that became unexpectedly violent and bloody. As the body count grows, the survivors develop in unexpected ways. Frank, a man with a unhappy past hides from society by living a solitary life in the middle of nowhere. His granddaughter Allie, an unremarkable privileged white girl is unceremoniously deposited into his care for two weeks. Together, they encounter Maggie, a young lady with tumultuous upbringing as she is escaping from a group of killers. Bergmoser offers sufficient insight to the history of all characters which in turn explains their behaviours under severe duress.

The biggest attraction for me is the way Bergmoser showcases fear. Each character gets the opportunity to express their points of view, even a minor one like Greg – the middle age white man trapped in an unhappy marriage and dead-end job. These points of views show us their internalised thoughts which translate to their fight or flight actions, be it courageous or cowardly.

It is noted that this book is currently being developed to a film. I do hope that the transition is down well as it has all the hallmarks of a gripping movie.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: China

China: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first Rutherfurd novel and a pleasant surprise. I feel it is difficult to write about a foreign culture, let alone one with such a tumultuous, profound and controversial history. Instead of writing about the actual historic characters, Rutherfurd chooses a safer route by creating fictitious ones that are loosely associated with several prominent figures in Chinese history. The book follows several storylines. Representing the English point of view is an opium merchant, a couple of missionaries and a brief examination of colonial lifestyle in India. An eunuch with an unusual life provides a glimpse of life within the forbidden city. We also follow the lives of a mandarin from the north and wealthy land owners of the south, allowing a somewhat harmonised view of the North/South divide in Chinese cultures. Other notable characters include a gang of pirates plus a father and son pair who went to California as labourers for the rail track construction.

Rutherfurd writes with confidence, broaching on several complex subjects matters such as the use of Confucius to create order in society and China’s stubborn rejection of the international trade in contrast with the Japan that went through the Meji revolution to make up for the decades lost in matching Europe with industrialisation. The book starts off at the climax of the opium war, where the British uses the addictive concoction to tip the balance their trade deficit with China. Several Chinese officials expressed their shock in the underhandedness of this manoeuvre and in fact attempted to write to the Queen of England, appealing to her moral righteousness to stop the decay of the nation through addiction. The storylines then ended around the close of the 19th century, when China was on the cusp of a series of painful revolution that resulted in the present day superpower.

“Think of it: we want China to be open and to trade with us. When they won’t, because however foolishly they closed themselves off from the outside world, we come in and ruin them. Is that going to induce them to welcome us? Is that even going to make it possible for them to increase their trade?”

One of the prominent character expressed this perspective towards the end of his life. It makes me wonder if that is Rutherfurd’s own reflection upon the impact British trade had on old China. After the British looters pilfered and destroyed the summer palace, an eunuch expresses his angst, “For it is not wise to tell a vanquished enemy that you despise him and everything he loves. he will not forgive it. In the Celestial Empire, as I still call it, the rape and burning of our paradise and the contempt it showed will never be forgiven or forgotten. Not in a thousand years.”

This book describes the first significant conflict between China and the Western world. It puts modern day rivalry into perspective. It is apparent to me China never forgive nor have forgotten their recent humiliation. The West still has a love/hate relationship with China – there is constant criticism on China yet the West reluctantly accepts that it is dependent heavily on China for manufacturing to support their consumerism lifestyle as well as Chinese dollars in pushing forward world economy. It often causes me great frustration to explain to person of European descent, that while China is not without faults, many severe ones, Westerners are poorly placed in history to criticise China for anything at all. After all, their wealth and lifestyle that resulted in the educated masses were as a result of their relentless plundering of the rest of the world for centuries.

I applaud Rutherfurd’s endeavours to provide a balanced view. I applaud him double for the tremendous and thorough research.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is much to admire about this book and its author. The momentum and concept of the book is unique – the story flows but there isn’t any particular part of the plot that is climatic. Jena’s voice demonstrates a vague awareness of her self destructive life with only the slightest of a hint of growth towards the end of the novel. The story is littered with generous serves of sex scenes, some of them rather violent. Yet instead of being continually shocked by the graphic description, I became desensitised quickly. Jena is difficult to like and there is a near complete absence of any feel good factor. This lack of adherence to a conventional pattern is impressively bold for a debut novel.

Jena Lin is the offspring of Taiwanese migrants to Australia. A former child prodigy, Jena reflects often about her past life as a world famous violinist as she mindlessly stumbles forward in life. Like many children of migrants in Australia, she feels little loyalty to her birth country.

“It is strange to have a white man tell me to dress in a cultural uniform, put myself in a box, a box he’s created for people who look like me, this face, this skin colour and all that it means.”

“‘Great accent,’ she says.
I’m not sure whether she means I have a good Australian accent, or that I have good English for someone with my face.”

Admittedly, in these months of social isolation, I survived by reading predominantly easy to read, light hearted novels. I was deceived by the title expecting a forgettable book about a girl with a sad, lonesome life who goes on to find salvation through some twist of fate. Instead, I was highly entertained by this haunting, somewhat outlandish story that is now seared permanently into my memory. Tu writes with exceptional courage. I look forward to her next piece.

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Book Review: In the Mind Fields

In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis by Casey Schwartz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the concept, or what the book set out to achieve. Schwartz admits right from the beginning that she has never been a ‘science person’, yet she bravely tackles a very difficult subject of bridging neuroscience and psychology, in other words, the hard and software of our brains. It is a question that I have frequently considered – why there is a lack of corporation in the studies of our brain and mind, when essentially both originate from the same organ.

The writing is relatively simple for such a complex subject. Schwartz manages not to overwhelm any layman readers with too much medical or scientific jargon, so that’s definitely a plus for me. She tries to create a story based on the research journey she undertook. Unfortunately that meant a great deal of information that I feel was unnecessary, such as how she nearly missed the opportunity to meet a certain important researcher.

I finished the book somewhat unsatisfied – there is no clear outlook or in fact, much conclusion except to point out a few key persons in the field continually trying to amalgamate the two opposing fields. While this makes an easy read for anyone ever curious about the biology and psychology of our brain, I wish the book had offer a meatier content.

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General Affairs Mental Health


I have lived in Australia for 15 years. Prior to that, in the United Kingdom for a little over half a decade.

When I first moved to Melbourne, I felt welcomed here in contrast to my life in the UK. Initially, when asked about the infamous red-neck behaviour in Australia and I would laugh it off saying that I have many Australian friends of all colours and heritage. Racism was possibly a disease that had died off in the 90s. As I mature and my experience with the society grew a little more, I started feel the acceptance was skin deep.

Aussies like to think of themselves as welcoming and accepting. It is a good start, no doubt, certainly better than an outright rejection of any foreign culture. Imagine your typical middle class white family in the burbs. When asked how they feel about Afghan refugees, the patriarch would animatedly declare how the Afghans are great people and perhaps he’d have his Syrian neighbours over for a backyard barbie every Australia day. Until one day, his daughter starts to date a brown skin man and that fella boldly asks her father for her hand in marriage. Then things would go downhill from there. Kinda like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – a rude culture shock for both families only with a big fat unhappy ending.

Gradually as I reach middle age, I learnt to keep my composure, my mouth shut and my opinions about the lack of acceptance to myself. I would look upon at other foreigners trying hard to merge into mainstream Anglo Australia, muttering “No worries, mate” with their strong accent and patiently explaining that being fifth generation Malaysian Chinese meant that no one had been ‘born in China’ for a while, silently applauding them for their efforts and secretly hoping they would fare better than I had.

A few days ago I shouted a neighbour coffee. We hailed from the same country and by chance we also share the same surname. He was well known in this side of town for his efforts in social media to promote personal stories of local residents. That was our first meeting and from my impressions in social media he struck me as an optimistic, cheerful man who had successfully amalgamated into our suburb. He even won an award for his work with the people. I was glad to see someone else doing a better job of being accepted by mainstream Australia. Yet when we broached on the subject of racism, I was surprised at how quick he unleash his dissatisfaction to me, a stranger he’s only met several minutes before. He believed it is necessary to continue the fight to combat this inequality right down to eliminating the casual racism we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Our stakes in this fight are different – he has a family with young offspring whom he’d hope would see a better future. I, on the other hand, no longer have much faith, wish or hope for the future to be any different from today.

Nonetheless, it is difficult not to contemplate this unique blend of Australian Racism, or Australia-ism in 2020, when an underlying resentment of all things Chinese blew up in our face, followed closely by the protests about aboriginal deaths in custody set off by the death of George Floyd on the opposite side of the Pacific. Confronted by a sharp increase of hate speech on social media, it became harder to maintain my silence. Every now and then I would engage and get sucked into a spiral of angry words, then waste precious energy disengaging and walk away. Eventually I would throw in the towel again, resigning to the reality that it remains impossible to have a conversation with the nation about their racist tendencies when the denial is one big, thick steel wall.

I have no proposed solution, not even a conclusion in this blog post.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Widows

Widows by Lynda La Plante

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Widows”, a heist thriller written by Lynda La Plante in 1983 that subsequently turned into a TV drama then modified into the Hollywood movie of the same title some 35 years later.

This is a fast pace story about 3 widows who got together to re-execute a heist that also killed their husbands. The 1980s was when the concept of women empowerment first emerged and a plot like “Widows” looked to be a crowd pleaser. Led by the no-nonsense middle aged Dolly Rawkins, the team went about planning the robbery while hiding in plain sight from the police and the underworld.

“Widows” still hit a note in contemporary 2020 behaviour. Tragically many women are still dependent on their husbands, clueless about the men’s deed outside their domestic realm, often betrayed and sacrificed like a pawn. Women are still overlooked as a gender capable of complex schemes with the guts and finesse to commit a successful arm robbery. “Widows” took a far more serious undertone in comparison with a movie like “Ocean’s Eight”, however they unite in showing how womanhood tends blend into the background as a vase, a servant or simply dismissed as an silly older women who is just bitter about her lost youth. Grossly underestimated, the widows went about their plans right under the nose of men who had been chasing around in circles for the prize money.

Even without the technology of the 21st century, “Widows” is able to intrigue readers with clever tactics and plot twist. A book that is still in circulation after nearly 4 decades speaks for itself.

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