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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

Australia-ism

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.

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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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General Affairs Mental Health

The 2020 International Women’s Day Rant

This morning, a good friend of mine messaged me to tell me about her plans to go on a march to support putting an end to femicide in Mexico. Millions of women in the country will be protesting against the silence and in hope to end the machismo culture. Our brief text exchange evoked a horrific memory I’ve long suppressed – my personal brush with Australian ‘machismo’ in Colombia.

Nearly 10 years ago, I was travelling with a male friend through Latin America. We used to be partners but were travelling as platonic friends. Brad, (not his real name) and I got into an argument which escalated and he assaulted me in our guesthouse late night in a small town in Colombia. I was upset and started crying, rang downstairs to the guesthouse owners asking them to call the police. They refused, saying it’s just a regular quarrel – I should either shut up (as I was disturbing other guests) or get out. I chose the latter. Packed up my bags and took off 11:30 pm into a busy town where hotels were fully booked due to a festival.

So there I was, a lone Asian girl stranded in the middle of the Andes. A middle aged man was gathering passengers for a taxi to head to the nearby town. I asked if I could catch a ride in his taxi. He said no problem, just wait in the car while he gathers other passengers. 15 minutes passed. I saw a well dressed couple walk by. The woman apparently said something the man didn’t like. He pushed her to the wall and attempted to strangle her. Before I could react, she said something that clearly pacified him, so he left her go. The two continued walking hand in hand as though nothing happened. Given what I just experienced, I was hardly surprised.

Another 20, maybe 30 minutes passed. The taxi driver returned without any other passengers. I told him in my pidgin Spanish what happened and asked if he could help me find a place to stay tonight. He was kind enough to drive me to a safe place, and offered to pick me up the next morning to catch a flight to my next destination.

The problem was, a few days from that fateful night, Brad and I had booked and paid on 2 weeks tour in Venezuela. To see the Angel’s Fall was a huge dream of mine. So I went along with it, stuck with the asshole who assaulted me only days before, completely unapologetic and utterly unrepentant.

I survived Venezuela and Hugo Chavez was not my biggest threat. Years later, Brad got married – he somehow found a wife who is happy be the sole breadwinner while he played house husband with the children they have. I remain unmarried and child free. Whether or not I wanted marriage or children was irrelevant – I will always be negatively labelled and judged for the rest of my life. While Brad will never suffer any consequence for his action in Colombia.

This is the world we live in . This is my reality. That story about Brad is not even close to the worst story I’ve experienced.

My brief conversation with my dear friend reignited the rage in me, an anger and hatred I have tried unsuccessfully to suppress and smoother. I have a sudden urge to yell out all the unjust I’ve experienced this life, demanding the world pay heed and give me back what’s right. All that from a friendly text message about a feminist march.

Happy International Women’s Day.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The enormous list of characters is a warning sign of what is to come. As a Stephen King fan I was prepared for extra patience at the beginning to go through the back stories of all his characters. In this particular instance I did find those back stories a little too long. Once the main plot was revealed, however, I was hooked and read as much as I could over the next couple of days.

The positives for me:
I agree with most of the authors’ observations of gender roles in present day society. Even though the book is set in a small city in the USA, those behaviour transcends race and nationality. The points of views of some of the ‘bad’ characters, e.g. Don Peters the sexual predator and Frank Geary in his moments of uncontrollable violence, are written convincingly, offering an insight to how some people justifies their distasteful action in their minds. I especially like a scene where Don Peters, when witnessing another man with a drinking problem, declares how he much despise men with no impulse control.

Occasionally, the same unfairness between black and white American is touched upon, specifically with white cops shooting black civilians. The authors do not offer any solution for the either unfairness but simply describes the dilemma faced by those in the position of strength and the sorrow of those who suffers. While the phenomena of all women going to sleep provokes extreme thoughts and action in the men that stayed awake, little or no self-reflection occurs implying that little or nothing will change in that fictitious world.

The negatives for me:
The roles of the animals, insects and supernatural plant life seems unnecessary. They do not add much dimension to the plot except to create more reading for a book that is already unusually long. I am also not too persuaded by the concept of Evie Black. This complex supernatural being that is sold as a mother nature/ goddess type figure, in hindsight I can’t even be sure if she is that essential to storyline. 

I am not fond of labels and never thought of myself as a feminist or otherwise. It does not matter to me whether this book or its authors are labeled in any way advocating for women’s rights, I am simply pleased that the subject is being discussed in a book written by a well known and respected white man, will be read by many more white men and hopefully will result in some self-reflection of men of this realm. 




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Book Review: The Institute

The Institute

The Institute by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is one of my favourite Stephen King work. As usual, I found the book inaccurately classed as ‘horror’ in my local library (which worked to my benefit since this book is hot off the press). Sure, there is an aspect of paranormal as with many of King’s novels, but none of your typical aliens and beasts in this book. The true horror of King’s stories, in my opinion, usually lies in the despicable human nature of his villains, many of said nature commonly found in people around us.

The institute is a story about young children kidnapped and reared in seclusion, chosen for their special neurological functions, brain waves utilised for the ‘greater good’ of humanity. The children, under terrifying captivity, forms a unique and tenacious bond against the evil monsters who are really average adults acting very poorly due to a varying degree of denial and sociopathy.

The plot of King’s novels are mostly secondary to me. Personally I am extremely impress by how he describes the spectrum of our behaviour so acutely, in particular, at times of duress. The ‘grown ups’ of The Institute repeatedly declares how their work benefits society in vain attempt to justify their grotesque actions. Privately, many of them enjoys administering pain and exerting control over smaller and weaker beings to compensate for their unhappy existence. Such hypocrisy reminds me of so many people I know, both famous and your average nobodies.

The ending I feel is excellent. Despite the placid tone of the final chapter, it is in line with what I’d imagine would be the exact outcome in the real world. It certainly highlights the amount of faith Stephen King has with the intellect of the general public.

After racing through the hefty 550 odd pages in record time, I found myself wanting more at the end.



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Book Review- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


4.5 stars

Any aspect of Elon Musk’s colourful life would provide sufficient materials for a book – from his traumatic childhood, his migration from South Africa to Canada to the USA to his 3 marriages to 2 women. To compress the enigmatic persona of Musk alongside with the complexity of his numerous historic achievements in entrepreneurship into a readable format is quite a feat indeed. Prior to reading this book, I have only known of Elon Musk through media and the relentless ramblings of a sibling who idolises Musk, both presenting very different pictures of Musk. Ashlee Vance did his best to create a complete story through the points of view of many who had brushed shoulders with Musk.

“To the extent that the world still doubts Elon, I think it’s a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon.” – Peter Thiel, PayPal cofounder.

It has been over 5 years since Peter Thiel made that statement about the state of mind of Elon Musk. Unfortunately, public opinion hasn’t seem to have changed much. The media still jumps at every opportunity to demonise him; the general public prefers to dismiss him as a rich guy playing with big toys. I asked a group of acquaintances what they think of him – most rolled their eyes and claims disinterest, others mentioned briefly his juvenile spat with the rescue diver in the Thailand soccer boys incident. Whilst I obviously cannot speak for the true motivations of Musk, it is apparent that all his enterprises are focused on the hope of creating a better world for mankind and he seem to be genuinely devoted to his causes. Yet only a handful of people, albeit a staunchly loyal group, sing praises about his efforts.

Elon Musk is an example of the type of person I once upon a time wanted to be – someone who dares to confront the somber reality of our world and charge head on to resolve some truly difficult issues. Nothing seem to curb his aspirations, not even when the government of the strongest nation in the world stands in his way. What I admire most about Musk, however, is not his multitude of skills, his depth of intellect nor his fierce determination. It is his ability of witness, tolerate and absorb that much scums of the world and somehow still wants to try and make it a better place.

Nobody is a complete saint, especially those who tries hard to convince you of their virtues. Ashlee Vance tried to paint a 360 degrees view of Elon Musk and included some less agreeable incidents his life. However, Vance’s admiration of Musk did seep through a little, thus those unpleasant episodes are not delved into deeply enough to reveal the less angelic aspects of Musk.

I am glad I read this book – I’m not normally a fan of biographies, but Elon Musk truly is a notch above many billionaires. I believe the world can certainly do with more children/ young adults learning from his world betterment and enterprising spirit.



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Book Reviews Mental Health

Book Review: Unbearable Lightness

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“Porshe…” He cried harder. As he inhaled to say what he was leading up to say, his breath caught, making short staccato sounds. “You’re gonna die.”

Prior to this book, I knew little about Portia de Rossi. She was cast in Ally McBeal years ago as a very attractive and intelligent lawyer. She is married to Ellen DeGeneres and the two of them seem to be a rare example of Hollywood marriage gone right. I understand that anorexia is a very serious mental condition, however, reading the internalisation of a woman with this disorder is still rather confronting for me.

“I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude.”

It is disturbing to me that so many mental disorder can be attributed to the lack of self esteem or a childhood where one is unable to feel unconditional love. Portia de Rossi, in spite of having a reasonably functional family, is terrified of losing their love and affection because of her sexual orientation. She punishes her body thinking that only through extraordinary pain and suffering would she deserve the rightful success of a model and actress.

Portia’s voice behind her binge and purge pattern strangely reminded me of the thoughts of Ronda Rousey whilst struggling with a different kind of weight (and self esteem) issues. Rousey, in contrast, is a elite competitive athlete. Both women viewed food as such kind of violent sin that leads to a self destruction and a total obliteration of love in their live.

The book is a short and easy read, but tilts heavily on her downfall and in my opinion not quite enough on her recovery. I would have liked to read more about how she defeated or tamed those voices in her head. Nonetheless, in a superficial world where a severe condition such as an eating disorder can be dissed and mocked as a ‘first world problem’, it is incredibly brave of Portia de Rossi to write and publish such intimate details of her journey. 5 stars for courage.






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Book Review: Empress Orchi

Empress Orchid (Empress Orchid, #1)

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“My sorrow for Hsien Feng and my country was beyond expression.”

This is a unique work of fiction. Empress Orchid defies all popular sentiments of Empress Dowager Cixi by depicting her as an almost regular woman who was driven to what she did through mere necessity. Initially, she applied for the position to become one of the many wives of Emperor Hsien Feng only to prevent her uncle from selling her. She acquired the art of seduction to please her Emperor to avoid being left in isolation her whole life. She ousted the men in power after Emperor Hsien Feng’s death to prevent them from killing her first. Creative as this point of view may be, it is utterly unconvincing that Orchid could be innocent and helpless to her circumstances yet able to climb up to the absolute top of China in an era when a woman’s opinion did not matter.

I have no doubt Empress Cixi was not born a scheming and malicious person. However, I cannot be sold on the idea that she survived and thrived without actively scheming to pre-empt her opponents, taking them down ruthlessly. Nonetheless, I am grateful that Anchee Min is able to present this enigmatic character in a different light, even if its sole purpose was to oppose the conventions of Chinese blaming the downfall of it’s Imperial Dynasty on one woman.

“This was my first time entering the heavenly ground after the foreigners has assaulted it. Lord Elgin was three hours late. He entered with two thousand men in a display of pomp. He rode in a crimson palanquin borne by sixteen men, knowing that this privilege was reserved only for the Emperor of China. I made an effort to be gracious, although I was disgusted beyond description. I bowed slightly and shook Elgin’s hands in the Chinese style. I struggled and succeeded in keeping my emotions from spilling.”

Through this book I also gained a very personal insight to the humiliation felt by the Manchurians and Chinese alike at the cusp of foreign invasion. Emperor Hsien Feng was slowly but surely losing the North of the country to the Russians. The looting of the Summer Palace by the British and French forces in 1860 devastate the Emperor so much his health deteriorated rapidly after. Like many rulers before him, they viewed non-Chinese as inferior and barbaric. To have them taking their country bit by bit is not merely mortifying, but leaves behind a painful mark that will not be erased for generations after.

Fast-forward 159 years later, China had risen in the contemporary era able to swallow up whole most nations in this world and go head to head with the present day superpower. Whilst there is much criticism on Chinese (and American) behaviour, only when one peeks into the past will they be able to comprehend China’s thirst for showing the world what it is capable of.

The book flows reasonably well, especially considering the challenges of describing ancient Chinese philosophy, practises and customs in English. I hope this book provokes interest in the understanding of the stupendous fall and rise of China over the past century and a half.




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Book Review: My Fight Your Fight Ronda Rousey

My Fight / Your Fight

My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book was surprisingly easy to read, especially considering that I read it post downfall of Ronda Rousey’s UFC career.

Ronda Rousey, a stupendous athlete known for her outspokenness, confidence and incredible martial arts prowess wrote and published this autobiography, subtitled “The Undefeated UFC Champion” right before her subsequent devastating back-to-back losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes. The book is broken down into small easy-to-digest morsels, arranged loosely in a chronological manner from her childhood to the climax of her UFC career. I was once perhaps, 1/200th of the athlete that Ronda Rousey was, hence I could relate to the sufferings she endured as a woman athlete – from something that seem mundane like wardrobe malfunction in a fight to weight and body image issues. Unlike Rousey, losses in matches was something that came like second nature to me. Thus I had first imaged it will be hard for me to go indepth into the mindset of a winner, albeit a deserving one, right before she suffered crushing losses.

Like many other Rousey fans/critics, I am unimpressed by the manner in which she handles her losses. It isn’t simply because she avoids talking about it, but that she never particularly acknowledges and give due respect to the sufferings her opponents may have to endured before taking her position. However, this book reminded me why Ronda Rousey is Ronda Rousey, what she did for women in combat sports and why I believe, despite the subsequent events, she is worthy of the glory she earned.

What I had not expect was how it gave me insight to why she remains a sore loser, nearly 4 years after she was knocked out by Holly Holm right before my eyes here in Melbourne. Before I’d even flip to page 1, there it was, those words that haunted me for a bit:

“For Mom and Dad, I hope you’re proud of me.”

When a human being defies so much of history and social expectations and dominates in an arena never dominated by any other person of the same gender before, she would stand on top of the world and utters how she hopes her parents are proud of her.

On that same note, I hope that whatever she chooses for now or in future that Ronda Rousey will feel enough pride for Ronda Rousey and never require the validation of any other human being, genetically related or not.





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