The Best of A.A Gill


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This collection of the late A.A. Gill’s writing has one of his best works. I’ve read Lines in the Sand and thoroughly enjoyed it, and you will too in these honest, brutal, funny and sad stories, drawn from almost three decades of his work published primarily in The Sunday Times.

The book is divided into four sections. FOOD is his collection from when he was a restaurant critic but also includes his experience in consuming both mundane and exotic food during his travel, which he includes not only the taste but history and origin. This is the section that I most enjoy reading because like him, I have no qualms about trying local food wherever I go.

Like him, I love visiting local markets. He starts the chapter Markets with My weakness, my pleasure, is markets. Here, he describes the Mercato in Addis Ababa (which I missed going to in my last trip,) Tsukiji (who hasn’t been there?), the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul (ditto), and the dawn markets in Saigon to name a few.

His prose is lyrical, as when he describes the chicken liver served in a refugee camp cafe – The sauce is pungently hot, but still a negligee, not a shroud, for the meat.

On pomegranate – The flavour of pomegranate is ineffably sad. It’s a taste of mourning, of grief mixed wirg happy memory.

He is brutal when he says, Scotland remains the worst country in Europe to eat in if you’re paying- and one of the finest if you’re a guest. I think this is true of most European countries I’ve visited.

He’s never been asked about his last meals – apparently, this question is mostly reserved for cooks and chefs (as used to be in Singapore’s Sunday Times) – but he has this answer: if you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, Northern Italy for lunch and then alternatively southwest France and northwest France for dinner. I confess likewise, pho is the perfect breakfast to wake up to. Hot, soupy, comforting with all my favourite garnishes.

The best restaurant? Faviken, probably the most gastronomically chic, fashionable, and dribbingly mulled-over restaurant in the world. Located in Jamtland, a semi-independent state an hour’s flight from Stockholm. I won’t go as I probably can’t afford the prices.

The third section is on TELEVISION which is his review on TV shows and all things TV, including one on Sex and the City tour which he joined in NYC.  Although he had nothing pleasant to write about it, I thought the tour was fun, as I was a Big fan of SATC. I skipped reading those stories which he writes of TV shows I am not familiar. This book is 388 pages thick and I knew I couldn’t finish reading in the six weeks allowed by the library.

The final and fourth section on LIFE is both sad and funny. Funny was his experience making Pornography in LA, his one weekend attending Glastonbury with the hippies in 2004 (is it still on?) and how he ended up with his Dog Putu. Sad is the chapter on Old Age and Dying which were also collected in the other book.

AA Gill had a keen sense of observation. He wrote from the sideline, present yet not involved directly so that readers feel they are there as a spectator as well, like in the chapters Nelson Mandela and Fashion .

I missed reading the second section on AWAY , in part because I think most of the stories have already been covered in the other book. But I might come back to reading it again in future.

The blurp at the back of the book states: this is the definitive collection of a voice that was silenced too early but can still make us look at the world in new and rewarding ways.

I can’t agree more.

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Gemini Man 3D – Movie Review


I attended the movie premiere and although movies with assassins and clones are not exactly to my taste, Will Smith is one of my favourite actors and I was hopeful the violence would not be excessive. Director Lee Ang certainly provided a softer touch which I appreciated.

The movie starts with Henry (Will Smith) aiming a rifle at a speeding train. He is sent by the government to assassinate a man seated at a particular window seat, which he succeeds. This being his last job, he is looking forward to retirement, as conscience has caught up on him, but he is told the man he killed was an innocent man and not a terrorist. The reason, Gemini Laboratory is hiding a secret. And for that – his younger doppelganger is now out hunting to kill him. He later discovers his hunter is his younger clone, sent by the boss at Gemini to kill him. Young Clay Junior, as he turns out, has been made because Clay Senior, Gemini boss and Clay’s father, feels there should be more of Henrys around for such assassin jobs, but with improvement. So how could Henry kill Clay Jr?

As with such movies, there are motorbike chases, explosions, beautifully choreographed fights – I watch it in 3D and when the glass exploded, glass shards float right in front, coming straight at me. What is fascinating about the movie are not these dated special effects, but how the movie makes a young (and another younger) Will Smith? Certainly not through makeup – for you can age a person by makeup but rarely can you do the opposite.

So I was fascinated to read how the movie digitalise clones in this article Deepfakes: Hollywood’s quest to create the perfect digital human by Tim Bradshaw.

I enjoyed the movie and I think you would too, even if my local newspapers only awarded it 2.5 stars.

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B-Sides and Backslides: 1986-2018 by Felix Cheong


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Considering that I write poems, I rarely read poetry books, in part because I rarely understand the message or emotion the poet is trying to convey. I’ve never taken poetry in school, and my experiences of reading poetry have left me in doubt over my English language ability.

This book of poetry was selected by Heartland Book Club, which I join occasionally if the author was coming. Felix Cheong, the poet, was attending the meeting last night which I thought would be a great opportunity to hear the poet read his works, and also because we know each other, so another good reason to pick up this book.

This inspiration for this book came about as the poet was tidying up his manuscript from when he first started writing and thought to assemble some poems which had not been included in his previous books into a new collection. I like how he breaks the collection into phases from his youth to now (1986 – 2018), with a preface to each section giving us a brief history of his life which I found more engaging than the actual poetry.

To have the poet read his poetry is so much more interesting than reading them myself, as he articulated them well through his tone, pauses, and rhythm. Poems I didn’t understand before came alive following his brief introduction and I wondered why I couldn’t have appreciated them before. The book reflects his thoughts on local politics and politicians: some were in Singlish; others are written from POV of imaginative characters.

At the book club, Felix showed us how versatile poetry can be, as he recited his poem Once more, Auld Lang Syne to music accompaniment, showed us the gig where he had a duet with an opera singer for another poem he wrote. He also worked with other groups of musicians to interpret his lyrics into two different songs.

B-sides of The Beatles vinyl records often contained outlandish songs and this is what Felix hopes to do with this collection, and with it, backsliding to when he first began to write before he diversified into other writings – poetry.

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One night in Malacca


There are two things the majority of Singaporeans do when they drive across the causeway into Malaysia – to shop and eat. To Europeans visiting this part of the world, there’s nothing obviously different between the two countries except perhaps when it’s time for the bill and they are wowed by the price difference. So many foreigners may wonder why bother joining the jam to drive across just for a day. But the Finns are different. Because Estonia and Finland are much like Singapore and Malaysia, and the Finns would do what Singaporeans do, go across to Estonia for cheap entertainment.

Yesterday, we took our Finnish guests to Malacca. We felt their five-day vacation in Singapore would be too boring – for them and for us. The three hour drive was smooth, as the school holiday had just ended the week before.

Our friend Zac recommended us the Hatten Hotel, situated next to two shopping malls, with a free shuttle bus to the fame Jonker Street for local landmarks, food and souvenirs. We had a good deal at $80 per night for deluxe room (35 sq.m.) including breakfast buffet,

I love the shower, with powerful pressure and instantaneous hot water.

The king bed was sagging a little. One pillow was too high and the other too flat. I am just too particular but I slept well despite these.

After dropping off our luggages, we took the four pm shuttle to Jonker Street.

The twin rows of peranakan terrace house an interesting array of shops, restaurants, clan associations, and Chinese temples.

We stopped at a supposedly famous shop to indulge in chendol, an ice dessert of coconut milk, gula meleka, red beans and green gelatin strips which is what made dessert unique.

After this refreshing break, we arrived at the end of Jonker Street to the famous Malacca landmark.

Then it was off to dinner via taxi (bargained from RM20 down to RM15 for the 5km ride and we realised we should have Grab instead) to Auntie Lee’s nonya restaurant which although they claimed this location is the only authentic one, we found another with the same auntie logo just opposite our hotel at Megamall. The good is home cooked spicy Peranakan fare, which I didn’t find anything unique, perhaps because Mom’s Indonesian helper can make such dishes of similar standard.

After dinner, it’s shopping. We wanted to chill at the roof top bar but the haze dented our plan.

This morning, we realised this is a huge hotel when we arrived at the dining hall at breakfast. During peak hour, they can sit 1500 people. Luckily the staff were efficient and service smooth despite the initial worry when I saw the queue at the entrance.

Breakfast offers local delights like nasi lemak, wanton noodles, roti prata, egg station, porridge, breads, fruits and juices. I stuffed myself full with nasi lemak and didn’t have any room left even for the kuehs.

After breakfast, it’s more shopping (cheap cheap!!) before checking out at noon to drive home.

Just another Singaporean’s typical vacation.

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O’s Little Book of Happiness


While searching for the author Brene Brown, this book popped up and as my friend, WT, was on his way to where this library is situated at Vivocity, he helped me borrow the book. ‘Read it and tell me what you think,’ I said. His reply, ‘I read five stories and gave up. Maybe I cannot relate to the kind of happiness they describe.’ I was surprised at his response at first but after reading the book, I realise that like many people, WT might have been expecting happiness as a feeling associated with something bigger and grander, like ‘living happily ever after’ from marrying a prince, or striking lottery or becoming successful or famous. Instead, this book focuses on little, not little book but little happiness, the tiny things we often ignore or take for granted.

Contributed by forty-five authors ( my rough quick count), including many who have published, one way or another, books about happiness.  The list includes poet Mary Oliver, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, and my personal favourite O’s contributor, Martha Beck. Except for three male contributors, all the other writers are women, which might be another reason why WT does not identify with their writings.

The book is divided into seven sections which in themselves are a good reminder of what we should do to be happy, with a prelude quote which I shall share here:

  • Simple Pleasure – Each moment in time we have it all, even when we don’t. ~ Melody Beattie
  • Bliss in Action – Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling. ~ Margarate Lee Runbeck
  • The Joy of Discovery – I believe that if you’ll just stand up and go, life will open up for you, ~ Tina Turner
  • Awed and Amazed – You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.
  • Oh, What a Thrill! – All I can say about life is, Oh God, enjoy it! – Bob Newhart
  • Sharing Delight – To get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with. ~ Mark Twain
  • Come On, Get Happy – It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere. ~Agnes Repplier

The last section is really the how to be happy, if after reading the last six sections of stories and you are still not inspired. Gretchen Reynolds teaches you Pleasure 101, Dan Baker, Ph.D. gives you a quiz Could You Be Happier, Lise Funderburg tells you why you should be an optimist, Roger Housden advises on Taking a Chance on Joy,  Roxane Gay tells you to Stop Whining! because ‘complaining allows us to acknowledge the imperfect without having to take action – it lets us luxuriate in inertia.’ Brene Brown Dares to Play, Catherine Newman’s Uncrumpling My Face (I need that Frownies!), Elisabeth Gilbert tells me to Ask Away (my philosophy now for if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.) Finally, Martha Beck reminds us about the importance of the  To-Do List, or Not-to-Do list, because really, you might not live to see that day, so plan your priority.

After reading this book, I told myself I shall try to practise one section every day. Some days I remember, most days I forget. What makes it easy though, is my active yoga life which makes many of the sections easy to realise as I play and discover the little joy in my body and in my yoga community.

Last week was a happy week as the recent dry weather in Singapore caused the usually lush green tropical trees to bloom like Japanese sakura and filled me with awe. (Sharing my pleasure here.)

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I also completed a five-day Instagram Gratitude yoga challenge which required me to post a yoga pose, commenting on daily gratitude of different things, which made me happy as my heart was filled with gratitude.

 

 

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The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown


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Debbie, a woman I met on a Silkair flight from Penang to Singapore recommended me to read this author. I googled it on the library’s app and this book popped up.

The subtitle reads Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life, which is what this book is all about. The author provided ten guideposts as to how to do that and ends the guidepost chapters with how to DIG Deep:

Deliberate, Inspired, Going (take action).

To begin, she explains what wholehearted living is, which is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. To live a wholehearted life means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection, and believing that one is good enough no matter what. Courage here is not the heroic acts we often associate the word with, but ‘to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart’, even willing to risk being vulnerable. Here, she defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship. 

She reminds us that the wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance but one of consciousness and choice.

This book results from her research on shame, and how shame causes one to try to fit into society and prevents one being an authentic self. She defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. She feels the biggest obstacle to living a wholehearted life is shame, and that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, and thus keeps worthiness away because owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us. Thus she advises us to be shame-resilence by having at least one person or a small group of confidante to share our stories and to acknowledge our worthiness.

Here is a summary of the ten guideposts, of which I find the first four to be most useful to me and I have elaborated a little:

  1. Cultivating Authenticity – letting go of what people think.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. To do this means to cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercise compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and, nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough.

2. Cultivating Self-compassion – letting go of perfectionism

Here, she explains that perfectionism is not the same as striving to do your best nor self-improvement. Perfectionism is about trying to earn approval and acceptance, and other-focused. Thus one needs to understand the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism.

3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit – Letting go of numbing and powerlessness

Resilient people are resourceful and have good problem-solving skill; more likely to seek help; do something that will manage their feelings and to cope; have social support; are connected to others.

4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy – Letting go of  Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

A joyful person is one who practices gratitude, by keeping gratitude journals, doing daily gratitude meditation, etc. Here she also explains the difference between happiness and joyfulness. Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude, neither of which is constant. Both come and go.

Addressing scarcity doesn’t mean searching for abundance but choosing a mind-set of sufficiency. Sufficiency isn’t an amount but an experience that knowing that there is enough and that we are enough.

5. Cultivating intuition and trusting Faith – Letting go of the need for certainty

6. Cultivating Creativity – letting go of comparison

7. Cultivating Play and Rest -Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

8. Cultivating Calm and stillness – letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle

9. Cultivating Meaningful Work – Letting go of self-doubt and ‘supposed to’

10. Cultivating laughter, song and dance – letting go of being cool and ‘always in control.’

The author shares her personal experience and anecdotes as well as recommends many books by other authors, and specially mentioned The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

After reading the book, I am happy to note that I am already practising many of the guideposts listed and on my way to leading a wholehearted life. Something I also found useful in the book is under Guidepost #3 where she listed this daily intention setting of vowel check AEIOUY:

A- Abstinent (eg : from computer, cigarette, social media for me?)

E – Exercise

I – What have I done for myself today?

O- what have I done for Others today?

U – Am I holding on to Unexpected emotions today?

Y – Yeah! What is something good that’s happened today?

So as I am writing this, I did a quick check and found

A – guilty on social media

E – 1.5 hours of yoga

I – rested

O – I am a mother, no running away from doing things for my sons, but I also helped a fellow yoga mate on her poses.

U – Letting go of disappointment now…

Y – This is hard but I shall try. AS a writer,  I’ve not written daily which I am kind of disappointed with this lack of discipline. So finishing the book and writing this review is a Yayy!! for me.

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Where to Go from Here by James E Birren and Linda Feldman


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I read this book to prepare for the GAB workshop I am co-facilitating in September at Bishan Library. James Birren started the Guided Autobiography (GAB) programme in the US. I attended the session organised by this library two years ago and found it very beneficial. In the workshop, different themes like branching points, money, family, death and spirituality are explored to help the participants reminisce and reflect their past to see how these themes have shaped their values and lives.

This book explains why writing out our stories benefits us in planning for the future, especially when the majority of us suffer from losses like that of youth, physical fitness and career in our later years.

This book also gives some guidelines as to how to go about writing your history. The themes are included with sensitising questions to prompt your memory.

So why should you do GAB? Here are the reasons as listed in the book :

  • Take an inventory of one’s life
  • Appreciate yourself
  • Understand the uniqueness of your particular predicament in life
  • Realise all that you’ve been through and accomplished
  • Fresh view of your worth
  • Discover the wisdom of how you managed to come so far
  • Develop a sense of direction in your life while taking with you the best of your past.

Writing your life story and telling it in a group is the best way of getting rid of out-of-date models which we might have been using in our roles as workers or parents. Once you do that, you can release the power you have to create a second-fifty landscape you would like to live in.

The book also reminds us that sometimes you have to experience a good time from your past to understand what you’re missing now, as you pick your races carefully, set more attainable goals and feel satisfied if you overcome the odds you once created for yourself.

So if you’re over 50 and live in Singapore, do come to the preview by registering via the link below.

https://www.nlb.gov.sg/golibrary2/e/toyl-celebrating-life-share-your-life-story-through-guided-autobiography-preview-77087207

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