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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall this is a great read – recommended. The idea is clever, the book is well researched – or at least for someone like me, a general reader with some scientific background but not quite a rocket scientist, I am sufficiently sold by the quality of the plot.

What I am most impressed is how thorough Weir’s research was. When he described the several Chinese characters in the book, he made sure that their names were written in the correct order – i.e. family name followed by given name. Many writers of European heritage, in my experience, seem to struggle to grasp that simple logic that deviates from the European norm. He even aptly named the Chinese probe to the sun Taiyang Shen (which means Sun God). I was however, perplexed when he seemed to have made a mistake in chapter 19 – the character Su Bin Bao was correctly addressed as Mr Su, yet he was also subsequently written as Su Bin. That is not common practise for a Chinese name to decidedly omit the last character of a 2-character given name.

Weir clearly tried hard to create a diverse environment for his plot. The Chinese, portrayed in a balanced of good and bad (more good) were not enemies of the state for a change. A woman commands the space mission and a Hindu man holds a high position in both NASA and the plot line of this novel. In saying that, he did suffer an occasional lapse, for example, he described Mark Watney ‘screaming like a little girl’. I’m sure when under server duress and pain, little boys scream pretty pathetically too. So why couldn’t Mark Watney who is of the male sex, scream like a little boy when he was terrified?

The rational, logical dissection of Watney’s various problems and how he overcame them was very interesting for the better part of the book. However, reading the detailed technical breakdown of each situation became a little dry towards the end, when all I want to know is how the plot moves on.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Carrie

CarrieCarrie by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this novel nearly 44 years to the day it was released, the first published novel of one of the most prolific and brilliant writer of the modern world. Stephen King was in his mid twenties when he wrote this novel, but he captivates immediately in the opening scene describing a 16 year old high school student in the midst of her menstruation. As usual, King’s power of observation is simply mesmerising.

Like many of his other books, Carrie is gripping because Stephen King captures human nature with such frightening accuracy. The most devastating aspect for me in this case, was how Carrie White stood no chance in society following a inhuman upbringing by a fanatic mother. Through the inner thoughts of many participants to the disasters Stephen King ingeniously reveals how a calamity of an epic proportion is not the deed of one enormous villain, but rather, a result of the actions of numerous individuals.

The book is short and straight to the point, written in a creative, non-traditional manner of criss crossing between reports and personal accounts. For a novel that is conceived nearly half a century ago, Stephen King styled this novel creatively with courage and confidence.

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General Affairs

Justice for Justine but not for Eric nor Tamir

Justice for the Australian Justine Damond

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation flashes repeatedly a mug shot of Mohamed Noor in an orange jumpsuit, reporting an African American man being charged for the murder of an Australian woman of European descent. The public is horrified, it seems like a senseless crime. Numerous images of Justine Damond’s perfect life and beautiful smile is televised to highlight the tragedy, the waste of an otherwise joyous and productive life. Few words were written to remind the public that Noor was a police officer on duty at time of shooting.

Same Shit, not the Same Bucket

Several years ago, a 12 year old boy was seen playing with a toy gun. Hardly anything newsworthy, a kid playing with fake firearm in a park. He was shot dead. The police officers who shot him was not prosecuted. No justice for this boy. Whilst Australian Broadcasting Corporation published the news, there were emphasis on the boy’s race. Words like ‘replica gun’ instead of ‘toy gun’ were used, claiming a 12-year-old playing with fake firearms outside a city recreation centre was perceived as a threat. An image of him with the toy gun was published. Two armed police officers in car, driving by a park seeing a black boy holding a fake gun decided to shoot him twice when they are within 1.5 metres from the boy. That decision was considered a ‘reasonable one’.

Same Bucket, not the Same Shit

There is not easy way to say this. An unarmed obese man clearly incapable of running a mile without running a risk of death by heart attack was held down by chokehold then face pinned to the ground by not one but four trained and armed police officer.

The same news corporation – Australian Broadcasting Corporation, described in detail how a suspicious Eric Garner was put in that position of being a suspect. It was made clear that the four officers who treated him in an unnecessarily violent manner were in fact on duty carrying out their roles as police officers.

Conclusion?

As I watched the televised report of Mohamed Noor entering court, here in Australia, I had an inkling the manner in which the news is broadcast here is heavily bias. I searched Google for any commentary from the ABC (both Australian and American Broadcasting Corporation), then the BBC for comparison between White Cop shooting Black Civilian vs. Black Cop Shooting White Civilian. I came up with next to nothing. Then I searched Twitter and lo and behold, the chatter about Justine’s death vs Tamir vs. Eric is candid and lively. The Europeans are aware of the discrepancy and how grossly unjust the situation is. The Americans are coming to terms with it. The Australians? They don’t give a toss.

Now that is the tragedy.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Madame Bovary

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel well ahead of its time, or perhaps, it was a novel that captured a theme that transcends time.

Every now and then it is truly nourishing for an avid reader/ author to delve into the classics. In Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert captures vividly the essence of ennui expressed predominantly through the action of a 19th century housewife Emma Bovary. I found the fragments of her thoughts, her fantasies and her irresponsible ideals far too familiar in modern men and women.

It is well worth noting how Flaubert, in his debut novel expertly details the life of a woman; a protagonist of the opposite sex. He also uses Emma to test the boundaries of feminine/ masculine position in society. “…he was becoming her mistress, far more than she was his…” This was no mean feat in a time where male/female roles are clearly defined and overlaps are rare.

Like all true masterpieces, every character is well developed, multi-dimensional and flawed. There are no simplistic hero/heroine; the demise of all not caused by a single villain. One could easily re-cast the story in modern day society and the plot would be equally convincing.

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Book Reviews Mental Health Neuroscience

Review of the book The Boy Who Could See Demons (3.5*)

The Boy Who Could See DemonsThe Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars – Recommended. I found this novel creative, engaging and fast paced. Through the eyes of a 10 year old boy, and a 43 year old psychiatrist analysing him, the author brought about two very contrasting viewpoints of a brain disorder. The story is written against the backdrop of the aftermath of years of chaos in Northern Ireland, which brings to light the long-lasting destructive effects of political instability on the general population. This not only highlights the challenges faced by present day Northern Irish men and women, but it also suggest to the readers how other societies can suffer for generations after enduring war and comparable devastation.

**Warning Spoiler**
When I finished the book I pleased with the novel overall and was prepared to present a 5 star review. However, once I digested the ending, I was reminded of how infrequent it was for a disadvantaged child suffering from a serious mental condition to experience an ending as neat and as optimistic as the one presented in the book. My personal experience of public mental health system is far from the idealistic manner described by the author. In general social workers and doctors are overworked and do not have the luxury of dedicating this much time and energy to one patient. When a child loses their primary caregiver, it would be extremely lucky that he/she could have a guardian as good as the one in this story swooping in and making life all so much better. There is a sense of a ‘Hollywood’ or ‘Disney’ style ‘Happily Ever After’, which is disappointing because aside from the ending the book had presented a very realistic yet lighthearted view of an otherwise dark subject.

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General Sport & Adventure Martial Arts WMMA Women Boxing

Battle of the Sexes II: Tennis & MMA

Battle of the Sexes – Tennis

“No woman ever lived who could compete with a man on an equal basis – even a 55-year-old man… they can’t play a lick if they can’t beat a 55-year-old guy.” These are the infamous words of Bobby Riggs in 1973 before he went on to defeat his first women challenger Margaret Court. The better-known battle, however, was fought between Riggs and Billie Jean King that same year. The match had an estimated audience of 50 million in the USA and 90 million worldwide. It remains as one of the largest audiences to see a tennis match in the United States.

King’s physical win over her opposite sex did not convince men of her superior athleticism over Riggs. Speculations of Riggs deliberately losing the match to win a financially lucrative bet threw a dark cloud over the glory of her victory. Fortunately, for a man who once declared his desire to be the number one “chauvinist pig”, Riggs eventually acknowledged the legitimacy of his defeat as he said, “People said I was tanking, but Billie Jean beat me fair and square.”

Battle of the Sexes – MMA Take I

“99% of woman are too weak and lack the reflexes to do enough damage to stop 99% of men”, said the previously unknown Kristopher Zylinski. He was more commonly referred to as the Sexist Internet troll that eventually signed up to fight a female professional MMA fighter in early 2018.

 

45 years after King defeated Riggs, many men still see women as an inferior counterpart in sport. What has changed, however, is the willingness of women to step up to defend themselves. A number of women MMA fighters put their names down to go against the Zylinski, including the terrifying 6 ft. 2 tall, 236 lbs. Brazilian Fighter Gabi Garcia. Zylinski then clarified that he would only fight someone his weight class – at 160 lbs., but he would gladly take on a pro female fighter. Eventually, Tara LaRosa, an MMA veteran of 27 pro fights stepped in as the female representative of the battle.

The fight was scheduled to be live-streamed on the 6th Jan 2018, but at the 11th hour, the State Athletic Commission shut down the fight.

Battle of the Sexes – MMA Take II

Undeterred, LaRosa and Zyllinski rescheduled the match in an unknown time and location for the match. Their fight was recorded and broadcasted on 22nd Jan 2018. In contrast to King vs. Riggs, the MMA Battle of the Sexes had a live audience of one man – the videographer.

 

Zylinski – a fit, muscular young man was worn down by his female opponent. He surrendered twice, first time due to exhaustion and later due to an arm bar. He claimed that LaRosa won because she was better conditioned to fight training. He considered the experience ‘eye-opening’ and did not expect for someone with his sound fitness level he would be gassed out within 4 minutes.

Any viewers who had expected Zylinski to win probably imagined a victorious knock out. Even LaRosa admitted as much, “Yeah I was nervous as hell… I thought to God … he was going to start like, swing on me and knock me out.” The reality, however, was that Zylinski had little grasp of striking distance and struggled to even get close enough to attempt a punch. “The distance was very tough,” he explains. “You expose yourself a lot”. In his second effort to defeat her, he tried to wrestle her to the ground.

Unfortunately for Zylinski, grappling was where LaRosa was most advantageous. “My game plan… was to go to the ground immediately”. Nonetheless, she still needed to utilise her years of muscle memory, manoeuvring her opponent using her body weight instead of brute force. “Even on the ground he was stronger than me,” LaRosa conceded.

Mind, Muscle, Memory

Aside from luck and other external factors, Mind, Muscle and Memory are three main aspect of an athlete that can influence the outcome of a match. Men usually focus solely on ‘Muscle’. Undoubtedly, pound for pound, men are generally stronger and thus they decide that women will always lose.

In the battles of the sexes, from King vs. Riggs to LaRosa vs. Zylinski, the women won their tournaments via a superior mind game that drew on the wisdom of their memories. King changed her aggressive style and adopted a baseline game to counter Riggs’ defensive methods. She gained insight from the loss of Margaret Court earlier that year. Eventually, King wore Riggs down after forcing him to run far more than he was accustomed to. LaRosa observed that Zylinski “was not conditioned mentally. I know the drill, to relax, to breath regularly.”

“Sorry I could not do better,” Zylinski apologised sheepishly as he collapsed onto the mat at the end of his fight. When asked if he felt humbled by this, ‘Sexist Internet Troll’ followed the lead of his ancestor ‘Number One Chauvinist Pig’ and agreed readily.

Video footage of the match can be seen:

https://www.facebook.com/McDojoLife/videos/1532446250202313/

Battle of the Sexes discusses two types of tournament between 2 men & 2 women – Tennis, Riggs & Court and MMA, LaRosa vs Zylinski.

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General Sport & Adventure

Chung Hyeon to face the tough road ahead after becoming first Korean to reach AO Semi-finals

Chung Hyeon just defeated Tennys Sandgren to become one of the youngest singles player and the first Korean to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Up next, he will be facing either Roger Federer or Tomáš Berdych. When asked which player he’d rather go against, he is undecided, or in his words “50-50”.

What the young Chung will have to face in the near future are greater challenges than either Federer or Berdych. Whilst Chung was playing Djokovic only two days ago, the commentators freely admitted that they knew next to nothing about this young fella. There were only two known aspects of his life then – (1) Chung Hyeon took up tennis due to issues with his eyesight as a child. (2) He was training in harsh conditions in Thailand just a month prior to his outstanding performance in Australian Open.

Chung vs Djokovic USA today

 

Asian Media

Now that he has written history in the textbook of the Gram Slam down under, the road he faces ahead will be tough. Mass media is never easy on the famous. In Asia, the ferocity can be twice as harsh. The pressures of fame once nearly destroyed a young athlete in China. Liu Xiang, the Olympic Hurdler created a new record and became China’s first gold medalists in the track and field event in 2004. It was an unexpected win and for a young man of 20, he won fame and fortune overnight. Within 4 years, the pressures of obtaining a second gold medal in home ground Beijing during the 2008 Olympics finally cracked him. He walked off the tracks after a false start, dashing the hopes of the most populous nation in the world.

I’d imagine as I am typing my thoughts on this blog, sports journalists around the world will be frantically searching for information about this new young gun. It won’t be long before his Wikipedia page will be completed with the names of his mum and dad, brothers and sisters, current and future partners. His iconic white glasses will be featured in fashion magazines and spectacle stores all over South Korea. The advertisements will follow along with quotations, social media and finally, the haters.

The Birth of a Star

In my opinion, Chung Hyeon has the makings of a new star. He plays with the resilience of Novak Djokovic – reaching out for the ball even when it looks like a lost point. His strategy is varied and well executed, he has areas where he can further improve to enhance his prowess. Chung has the calmness and focus of Federer, rarely showing emotions on court and never undermining his opponent. He has the humbleness the young and talented Nick Kyrgios lacks. I do hope with all my heart that Chung Hyeon will have the inner strength of Serena Williams to withstand the wrath of haters and the bigots that is coming his way.

 

 

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Lost Pages

The Lost PagesThe Lost Pages by Marija Peričić
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is easy to read, short and sweet with a strong plot and plenty of hooks that kept me going. I finished the book within a day.

I am particularly impressed by Peričić’s description of the thoughts and actions of a jealousy. It is brutally frank and must be relatable for anyone who has ever been envious of their peers. The obsessive thoughts of the protagonists are also powerful and convincing.

The concept of the book is courageous and imaginative but in some ways the bravery of the author may well be her downfall. Peričić uses two notable individuals and modifies their history in an artistic manner, giving her novel an interesting dimension. Should her two main characters be entirely fictitious with no links to Max Brod or Franz Kafka, the idea of this book would be unoriginal at best. Thus the creativity of The Lost Pages relies heavily on the manner in which Peričić interpreted and altered history.

Personally, I am very uncomfortable in her choice in modifying the integrity of Max Brod. Whilst I am not acquainted and can never befriend Brod, from all documented facts he seems to be a man who had made significant contributions to the literary world. Furthermore, he was a Jewish Czech born with a physical defect that must have made him suffered his whole life and he survived an era when his race endured so much hardship. It is difficult to justify a decision by the author to further demonise his personality simply to fuel the marketability of this novel.

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General Sport & Adventure

If You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try and Try Again

I grew up in a country where the highest point was less than 550 feet. As a child I was barely interested in walking to the nearest bus stop. While I have always been athletic, the concept of hiking through snow-capped mountains was an activity that only existed in inspirational posters and blockbuster movies.

Humble Beginnings

My first hike in the wilderness came about through naivety and youthful optimism. I was 25 years old travelling through South America. My fellow backpackers were experienced hikers, but deceived by my sporty physique they allowed me to tag along a 3-day hike in Torres del Paine. A 19-year old English girl who grew up in Malawi was my tent mate. She wasn’t nearly as clueless but she was a little less than hiking fit. Together, we made a magnificent ‘dumb and dumber’ pair. We got lost but with an ignorant confidence we powered through and completed the walk with only damage to our pride. Despite the hardship I found the hiking enjoyable and took it up as a hobby.

Fast-forward 11 years. I have climbed Mount Kinabalu (Malaysia) and Roraima (Venezuela). I have ventured into Everest base camp, Machu Picchu, Mount Cook National Park and ambled through the Tien-shan ranges in Kazakhstan. While I wasn’t prepared to become a technical climber, I yearned for greater heights and to push my capacity to its limit. One day, a colleague mentioned ‘Aconcagua’, one of the highest trek-able mountains in the world that was accessible to mere mortals like me. I knew immediately that the 22,840 feet summit of the Aconcagua would become the greatest climbing goal of my life.

First Aconcagua Attempt

I devised a training plan based on suggestions of seasoned climbers. Twice a month, I would ascend 3,300 feet carrying a progressively heavy backpack, starting at 26 lbs. In my last practise run, I was lugging a 45 lbs. pack in an 8-hour hike. I ran 9.5 miles and cycled 65 miles a week; on top of that I was continuing my full time job and my thrice-weekly kickboxing regime. By the time I arrive in Mendoza the meeting point the expedition, I was exhausted.

My first team was small; there were only 4 of us including the guide. The walk to Plaza Argentina base camp was thankfully uneventful. However, the other 2 climbers acclimatized faster then I did. In the few days I spent in base camp, my oxygen saturation level increased insignificantly. I struggled getting up to the first high camp. The guide realised I was the weakest link and sent me packing.

It was devastating. It wasn’t simply the notion of failure coupled with the months of manic training that crippled me with sadness. I felt that my guide was pushing for a speedy ascend and did not allow due opportunity for me to better acclimate before making such a harsh decision. My turnaround point was barely past 16,400 feet, a thousand feet shy of my personal best.

Second Aconcagua Attempt

2 years later, I returned for my second summit endeavour. This time round, scarred by the previous hectic training plan, I did little more than an occasional run and ride. On the plus side, my odds were better with a larger group of 13 climbers and 4 guides so the team could be split up in accordance to our abilities.

The walk to Plaza Argentina was again pleasantly uneventful. I tread cautiously, staying calm yet the threat of altitude sickness concerned me daily. Nonetheless I was sufficiently happy to break my personal record and focused on having a good time in the mountain.

Summit day was a treacherous 15-hour hike. Bad weather had demanded we leave the park a day earlier hence we had to cover the same distance with less time. That morning, we were yanked out of bed in the dark and spent the better part of the morning putting on the layers of clothing before peeling ourselves away from the tent. My memory of the first moments of the climb was hazy due to sleep deprivation, but I did remember people shouting from one end of our single file to the other. By the time we reach 19,600 feet, 3-4 people had given up and returned to camp. In my delirious mode I gritted my teeth and egged myself on.

In the chaos of fierce winds I could hear nothing by my own shortness of breathe. When we arrived at a bottom of an enormous slope, I felt myself shaking with cold and my extremities devoid of feeling. It was around -4°F with wind chill. In spite of 5-6 layers of merino and fleeces, a down jacket plus a raincoat, heat was seeping out too quickly. I asked a guide how high we were. He yelled through the wind, “6,100 metres!” (20,013 feet). All well, that’s good enough for me, I thought. I gave him a hand gesture that could only mean “That’s all folks”. He then gave me instructions to the nearest safety point where I would wait for help.

Even though my second effort was still unfruitful I was pleased with having reached a personal record height. Furthermore I made friends in perilous circumstances. The best takeaway for me was the opportunity to experience the life of a high altitude climber. I do not envisage ever attempting Mount Everest or the likes, but through vivid imagination I can understand what it must be like for people clawing their way up to the impossible. The vista of endless white peaks was a beauty that is forever imprinted in my soul because I had earned it. The knowledge that I was stretch close to the limits of my physical and mental capacity became the ultimate reward for my life as a mountaineer. With these thoughts in mind, I dream on as I make plans for a third summit bid of Aconcagua.

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Uncategorized

Love Your Inner Child

This article was first published on Medium

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy writes in Anna Karenina, a literary piece still considered by many as the greatest book ever written.

The principle of this wisdom indicates that in order for a family to be happy, there needs to be success in all aspects of family life — physical and emotional attraction remaining constant between the mum and dad, sound household finances, good parenting, unity in values and amiable relationship with the extended family. Failing one or more leads to unhappiness. The same principle applies indirectly to the environment in which a child is nurtured. Any form of enduring unhappiness within the domestic setting generally leads to an unhappy child.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

I grew up in a uniquely unhappy family and after a lifetime of dodging bullets I have preserved into middle age with some serious scarring but overall in sound health. Writing became a form of catharsis for me and during the years I researched on the subject of childhood maltreatment for the purpose of penning a novel, I stumbled upon a study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. The study lists 10 specific types of trauma that can result in a child under the age of 18 feeling stressed or traumatised, potentially leading to chronic problems later in life:

Abuse — (1) Physical, (2) Emotional, (3) Sexual

Neglect — (4) Physical, (5) Emotional

Household Dysfunction — (6) Mental Illness, (7) Mother treated violently, (8) Substance Abuse, (9) Divorce/ Separation, (10) Incarcerated family member

Why is ACE relevant?

In this case study with 17,000 American participants, nearly 2/3 of adults reported at least one form of ACE, and almost 40% experienced 2 or more adverse experience as a child. Poor childhood tends to lead to negative impact on our health and quality of life, it is believed that those who endured 6 or more ACEs has a reduced life expectancy of 20 year. Overall, the CDC also reports an estimate $124 billion in cost associated with the mistreatment of children.

ACE is not a Blame Game

The study done by CDC was made with the intention of recognising and resolving an epidemic. Yet I feel that even with such compelling statistical study, every time the subject of childhood trauma is raised, there is often an immediate backlash of denial. Common remarks include:

· But that was such a long time ago

· Oh, just grow up!

· At least you had a home

· You need to stop blaming your parents for your problems

This unrelenting dismissal is perplexing to me, as though no one wants to believe that the purpose of conceding a dreadful past was not to point blame but to heal and work towards a better future.

What to do if you believe you have ACE?

It has been over 20 years since the study by CDC was completed and published. Yet there hadn’t been any known efforts of remedy or proposed solutions. It is possible that parents resent the notion that they could have been responsible for the detriments of their now adult children. Many adults who grew up with ACEs may also believe that as long as the adverse experiences were ‘forgotten’, they have since moved on and those bad memories have no relevance in their current life. Even more likely, the adults who endured a less-than-perfect childhood proceed to become less-than-perfect parents and everyone is none the wiser. Without a unified acknowledgement and consolidated effort to resolve the issue, society had somehow managed to sweep a chronic endemic under the carpet.

A quiz had been developed to help individuals understand the bearing ACE had in their early life. The quiz is developed to provide guidance so that a person may gain insight to their adult decisions and behaviours and seek help if necessary.

Acing the ACEs test

“Time does not heal the wounds that occur in those earliest years; time conceals them. They are not lost; they are embodied.” — Vincent J Felitti, researcher on the ACE study.

The ACE quiz is test that I wish I hadn’t Aced. As I look into my past with melancholy, the tremendous effort I had taken to seek treatment and heal myself is finally paying off and I look towards my future with relief and hope. While I am still unable to share the specifics of my dreadful journey, I continue in my little endeavours to publicize the merits of the ACE study to those children whose sufferings were never acknowledged. It is never too late to love your inner child.