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.

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 Reviews

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 Reviews

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 Reviews

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 Reviews

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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Book Reviews

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The devil is in the details, they say. A book this size has a lot of devils, any one of which will bite you if you don’t watch out.”

Disclaimer: I read this book with the hindsight of having watch the current 7 series on telly. Regardless, the knowledge of what is to come did not diminish the pleasure of reading this masterpiece at all. In fact, it served to reiterate what a momentous effort it must have been to create an epic story of this proportion.

I feel it is unwise to label this book as ‘fantasy’. The brilliance of this novel for me lies in the variety and complexity of characters interwoven with an even more complicated plot. George R.R. Martin’s inventiveness and grasp of history, religion, language even fashion is downright mind-blowing. The schemes and battles of the seven kingdoms resembles many stories in the real world, both past and present. Who is to say that the use of advance technology that is common in one nation can be depicted as witch craft in a less developed country? Should the schemes of our G7/G8/G10 nations be told from a different point of view, it may well sound like a fantasy too.

The novel also touches upon a large number of perennial subject matters, such as ambition, greed, sibling rivalries, failure and growth, class distinction and even the psychology of unequal parental love. The stark contrast between the two (Stark) sisters – Sansa and Arya is depicted splendidly. The two girls not only represents common sibling rivalry but also symbolises the conflict of two very different females and their place in society.

There was a guilty pleasure in devouring this book within a few days when I considered the years it must have taken to write it. Now I am hungering for more.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Luminaries

The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4-4.5 star

I took up English at the age of 6 and struggled with it for the next 15 years or so. Unsurprisingly I failed English Literature countless times, yet I had gone on with life reading thousands of books written in this language. As such, I am unable to critique this book, perhaps, with some of the merit it deserve. For example, any accurate representation on the English language of the late 19th Century would have been completely lost on me. Regardless, after diligently pushing through the 800+ pages of this enormous book, I managed to finish this… sort-of masterpiece. This is my take on it.

The best part of this novel for me, is Catton’s consideration, albeit a small one, to the non Anglo-Saxon characters that form a complete backdrop to the gold rush era of New Zealand (and Australia). A token Maori appears occasionally as a supporting role. His participation in the overall mystery is small but the cultural significance of his presence quite large. The reality in those days were that the later migrants to the land of the long white cloud were profiteering from the riches of the land, whilst Te Rau is struggling to make end meet and has to advertise his role as a local guide to earn a few pennies. The Chinese, hardworking and industrious as they were in those challenging times, were rarely rewarded for that virtue but instead commonly regarded with derogatory and treated as second class.

The complexity of each character and the amount of research required to compile such an intricate plot is impressive to me. The story line involves 12 players of varying age, profession and origins. The tale unfolds through the point of view of each of them, while hard to follow at times, it adds a dimension to the book that goes beyond a simply mystery of dubious fortune, missing and murdered men. The execution is masterful, especially for a second-time novelist, I found that remarkable.

The length of the novel to me, is the imperfection, or perhaps it’s downfall. The book came into my possession for years. I had made several unsuccessful attempts to get into it prior to this one. I am glad I read it, however, the last 200 or so pages did not add much more to the novel hence resulted in a degree of boredom and frustration towards the end. If the book had been a little more concise and to the point, it may have earned itself a few more readers.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“… I advised you long ago never to use your imagination. It can only cost you your life.”

It is difficult to use common words to describe this piece of art. I struggle to fathom the state of mind of any writer who is able to conjure up a tale like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. To describe the journey I took in reading this 600+ book was ‘magical’ or ‘bizarre’ feels woefully inadequate. It simply defies the pattern and formula of modern literature, in my opinion, in a poetic and graceful manner.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is told via the point of views of a stellar cast – the placid Toru Okada, a confused teenage girl and a war veteran who had witnessed unspeakable violence in a forgotten war. Their stories are interwoven into the encounters of another string of apparently unrelated but equally intriguing characters, including a pair of sisters named Malta and Creta with seemingly supernatural powers and a mother and son named after Indian spices who helps resolve spiritual problems for the rich and privileged women of Japan.

Personally I enjoyed the journey, even though I am unable to say if I took home any new moral values or scientific learnings from this book. I gave it five stars simply because the book had me hooked from start till end without any expectations of a sound ending or a believable plot. It was in a way, meditative to read this novel.

I do not think this book is for everyone. It must certainly be approached with the broadest of open minds and even then I’d expect many to be lost in the labyrinth of nothingness.

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