Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

I sure took my time in this book, strolling with it across the continents, taking each step like a snail that has all the time in the world. Presented to me as a gift from bestie, the book came with her wishes for me – eat, pray and love.

As the title suggests, the book is divided into three areas. The “eat” part is what I like about this book and I have a feeling this is the part which resonates with many people. Just like Shakespeare’s works, it can be taken out of context and applied to almost anyone. One can read it and relate to it as though it is one’s own story. The most important lesson from here is that we are all entitled to make our lives better, even after making decisions that appear to be wrong in general. After all, each of us is responsible for our own happiness.

However, happiness does not simply drop from the ceiling into one’s lap. One joke mentioned in the book is about this exasperated statue coming to life to ask the beggar to please buy a ticket, after the beggar kneeled and begged for months to strike lottery. If one chooses to simply watch TV all day, then the most the stars in the universe can align themselves to do, is to make sure that power supply is uninterrupted.

The “pray” part is interesting at the beginning, when there is a dramatic switch from pure indulgence to total discipline, a crossover from enjoyment to hard work. The technical details of the activities in the ashram can get a little overwhelming if one is not into yoga and meditation. But the aspect that does not appeal to me is that it is too mystical. Visions and dreams are only real when they happen to you. Hearing them from another voice is just too … unbelievable? Too many of such add up together will piece into an all-too-perfect but artificial picture. It all feels too deliberate.

As for “love” part, it is kind of boring. But maybe I am not a romantic person to start with. (Laughs.) It feels like there is nothing much to tell, and perhaps in Bali, there is really nothing interesting that is worth telling. So what are being told here are the Balinese history and culture, and some trivial stuff that does not tie in with the overall theme of the search for self. (By the way, this love story is very cliché. Not my cup of coffee, definitely.)

Would I recommend this book? Yes I would. At least, read the “eat” part. It will do anyone good. In “pray”, one can gain insight about yoga and meditation and of course it does not hurt to know more about the Balinese in “love”.

P.S – Bestie, thank you for continuing to stuff reads along my way, though I take forever to complete them. LOL~

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Some pocket money, sounds good honey?

Earn some money by just participating in online surveys. Sounds familiar? Easy money at your fingertips you think? I decided to try it out and like always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Most surveys do not reward participants with cash per survey. Points have to be accumulated for redemption of vouchers. There is only one site I came across so far that rewards cash per survey but I deactivated my account after a few tries as I was always kicked out for not being eligible after a few questions. What kind of profile were they looking for I wonder?

Next, to accumulate the points will take a long time. For instance, a minimum of 500 points is required to exchange for a NTUC $10 voucher. Each survey at most gives you 150 points and that kind of survey will take about 30 minutes on average to complete. Don’t get too happy if you see the “thank you” message after 5 minutes because that would mean that you are kicked out! Yes, eligibility issue again. And for that 5 minutes spent, you may just get a pathetic 5 points or sometimes only 1.

Even after doing enough surveys and accumulating enough points, you will still need to wait for the voucher to reach you. I am still waiting for my NTUC $10 voucher redeemed on 19June2014. I have sent in a few complaints, but all they replied was that they have contacted the vendor. So to avoid being “unpaid”, my next redemption was for PayPal cash but more points are required to get the same $10 value in your PayPal account.

Hence my verdict is – it is really a waste of time. Eligibility will always be an ambiguous issue (by which you have already spent some time in answering some questions), accumulation of sufficient points will always take a long time (due to eligibility and length of surveys), and successful redemption of vouchers is not even guaranteed. Unless you really have time to waste, you are better off doing a part-time job with an hourly rate.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling

Reading this straight after the sixth book, I felt as though I was plunged deep into the middle of heated action. Hardly giving the readers any breathing space, this last book is filled with escapades, revelations and deaths. Running like hell with Harry Potter and his friends, the familiar thrill of “Goblet of Fire” came back.

There are a couple of characters in this last book making guest appearances, simply to fulfill their little (yet vital) roles and then to expire from life. One such character that has moved me much is Dobby. His sudden appearance and abrupt ending is a typical cry-out that life just isn’t fair – something that we all ought to have learnt from young. But for the “greater good” of society, we are mostly taught to believe, firmly believe that there is fairness and justice. Another example would be Mad-Eye Moody. His appearance in the beginning escape is an ironic one; him being the most experienced and skilled among them all, but yet the only one ending in a fall. Whoever said that luck is not important obviously does not appreciate randomness in destiny.

Two other characters that leave an impression in my heart are Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape. They have lived their whole lives in regret, trying to make amendments for something they can never ever reverse. It is heart wrenching to know that they cannot let go and are constantly paying for their wrongs with every second of their breath. Letting go is perhaps one of the hardest lessons in life. Forgiving yourself is a lot tougher than to forgive others. Excuses can be made for the rest, but you alone know the bare truth and you yourself know you could have made the difference. Only that you had chosen not to. Ouch.

As with any great war, deaths are inevitable but somehow Fred’s death does not affect me much. Maybe all along I have this feeling that the Weasleys have to do some payment to the plot sooner or later, or perhaps Ron’s humour is getting too close to that of the twins as a foreshadowing of redundancy. In any case, the existence of identical twins has died right after George’s ear was blown off at the start.

The ending is great, for it is so true that failure will always accompany complacency. I lost count of the many times Harry Potter would have died at the hands of the Death Eaters if Voldemort had not insisted to finish him off personally. Voldemort has stopped breathing not because Harry is great, but because Voldemort is too full of himself. He has dug his own grave with a spade of ignorance, ignorance that is born out of complacency. I am pretty sure that many of us can relate to that in our lives, in one way or the other.

All in all, I am glad that I have accompanied Harry to the very last. My time has not been spent in vain. Farewell.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling

Dumbledore is finally dead. I have put off this book for years because I wanted to delay his death. A bit of regret on this decision though, as I believe I would have enjoyed this book much more before my 3 years of literature study. My level of appreciation for such fiction books has decreased significantly now; I am sure my peers would understand.

Anyway, Book 4 (Goblet of Fire) is still the best. Books 5 and 6 seriously pale in comparison. Maybe the increased thickness was done too deliberately (overwhelmed with triviality but not with a greater mysterious plot), or perhaps major deaths are not my idea of children’s books (yes, I know these are not, but to me, they are). When I started out on Book 1, it was mainly to transport myself into a fairytale-like realm, where all things are supposed to end well, and that goodness will always triumph over evil. By the end of Book 4, it was getting a little too serious and realistic but I still take the death as an accidental one. After Book 5, I was pretty much reluctant to carry on, but the streak of stubbornness in me couldn’t give up on the series.

So now that I am done with Book 6, one more book to go and I will be done with Harry Potter, for good.

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Wild Swans – Jung Chang

A friend recommended this book and told me another friend liked it very much too. And so I embarked on this swan journey …

Although this is an autobiography, I read it, bearing in mind that it is still a construct. A fairly easy read in chronological order, peppered with introductions of new characters as well as detailed explanations of past events in recounting mode. Many things tend to make more sense in retrospect, and this can been seen in this rearrangement of all the seemingly trivial happenings to portray a negative impact of the prevailing ideology at that time, set against the historical backdrop and breathtaking scenery of China.

I wish and I wish … my history texts in school were this interesting! If so, I would have swallowed the texts up in no time remembering all the vivid descriptions without having to memorize them consciously. The engagement of this text comes from a very personal level, and that is what makes me relate to it strongly. For me, it has a similar effect, as The Woman Warrior – by Maxine Hong Kingston – did. Perhaps for a man reader, he might be less able to understand the sufferings of the women, being discriminated in the different eras, differently but discriminated all the same. Now, don’t shoot me for that line. The keyword here is “perhaps”.

Is this a story just about women then? Definitely not so; it is also about ideology, beliefs, conditioning, education, kinship, love and freedom. All these are not isolated chapters but rather, they are all intertwined to bring readers a touching story, a story in which the characters in real life had been forbidden to breathe a word to anyone for decades.

For an ideology of a single individual to affect millions of people, the people have to believe in that ideology, and that is achieved though conditioning. In an alarming manner, the scenes painted in the story show the extent to which people can be manipulated to act upon and live by. Surely, these people had had basic analytical abilities? I believe they did, but an excellent strategy of withholding information, giving vague instructions, and instilling fear of punishment due to disobedience created a fog for these people. Not only were they unable to analyze anything, they were in constant fear of falling out of line, when the line was not even drawn explicitly.

In face of such an environment, it is heartening to read that the parents were able to be firm in providing a quality education which included concrete values with multiple areas of interests. From the depictions, it appeared that the upbringing was strict but choices of interest were left up to the children to decide. I cannot help but compare this attitude in modern times. It seems the opposite now, in the sense that children have no concrete values to abide by but also little freedom to choose their areas of interest. Which is better for the children, I wonder?

Now let’s shift the focus to the characters. Kinship and love – two very important things in life – are displayed in the characters of the mother and grandmother. Both characters – to me – represent a strong feminine voice, soft amid the chaos, yet loud in their perseverance. The kind of bursting energy and the extent of self sacrifice that can be found in both characters are really admirable. This is especially so for the mother whose self control and resilience are beyond my imagination. I feel very much for her when I read that she actually talked for hours into the tape recorder years later. How can anyone stay sane with so much emotion bottled up inside for such a long period of time? To be honest, I wouldn’t know how to survive if I were to be thrown back in time to that era.

Whenever I think of the character of the father, I feel very sad. His end has to come, not because he does not deserve happiness, but because he cannot see light in the breaking of the new dawn. He had lived all his life for his belief but was stifled by it when he realized all that he had done wholeheartedly for the greater good only resulted in inflicting harm on himself and his family. His vision of a new world never materialized, but I hope he found peace, wherever he might be.

This swan journey has been a fulfilling one for me, one in which I truly experienced the feeling of being choked by lack of freedom in life. How can happiness be found in a place where there is absolutely no freedom, not even in thoughts?

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Mysterious stranger who refuses to buy anything

Have you heard of a “mystery shopper”? It is supposed to be a freelance kind of job, whereby one will be paid on assignment basis for going undercover to check out details of particular stores, restaurants or products. Details could be prices, service levels, cleanliness and many others. Sounds fun yeah? Wait till you try it out for yourself. Evil laugh.

My friend saw this advertisement for “Mystery Shoppers” with a stated $10 per hour and so we decided to check it out. First of all, we had to attend this mandatory training course to learn all the tips and tricks of going undercover. Did we get paid for the training you ask? Fat hope. Our traveling time and training time were at no cost to our “employer”.

At the training course, we were told to install this application in our mobile phones. That application was for us to capture in the prices, pictures and comments of the items we were supposed to investigate on. Quite a modern style but our “employer” even saved money by avoiding printed forms! And we, as “employees”, had to provide our own gadgets (and battery life too).

After the training, we were told to do a test before we were eligible to take on real assignments. (yes, that meant working for free). The test consisted of ten line items to check. Not very difficult you think?

Well, if they were beauty products or groceries, I would have done them quite efficiently. But these were electronic products, with long and complicated part numbers. For example, two refrigerators may look similar but upon careful comparison, there may be a slight difference in specifications and hence they would have different part numbers (only one different character in the long part number).

Unless you have a fantastic memory, it is not likely that you can just walk around in style and note down the prices without comparing the long part numbers, character by character. It is of course doable, but at the rate of 40 cents per line item, you will need to note down the prices of 25 items to hit $10 an hour. That means you have 2.4 minutes per item, which includes hunting for the item, putting all required information into the application, and fending off helpful salespersons without rousing suspicion. Does this still sound fun to you?

Specific stores for these assignments were not stated, but we were encouraged to visit the larger stores so that the probability of the item not being in store was reduced to its minimum. Any transport reimbursement? Not at all, except for very specific rare conditions. So unless you happen to stay next block to a superstore, the $10 per hour will have to cover your transport cost and time. And even if you stay next block to a superstore, how many times can you visit the same store without being recognized as the mysterious stranger who refuses to buy anything?

Classes for art for disguise anyone?

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Who Moved My Cheese – Dr. Spencer Johnson

Some people say “things happen for a reason” while some others may feel “it’s all in God’s plan”. I think of it as chance, that I stumbled upon this very old book in the library while I was looking for other books. I saw that 7 habits too, but it felt too early (rather, too thick) for a revisit. As for this cheesy book, I couldn’t – for the life of me – recall its contents, even though I know for sure that I have read the book before. That’s how reliable my memory is. Laughs.

How inspiring can a simple story about four little mice, with four different approaches to hunt for cheese in a maze be? That’s the magic. The basic purpose of language is to communicate and simplicity in language enables the story to be reached out to a wider base of readers. One could read it at surface level and dismiss it as a story of “Four Little Mice”, or one could reflect deeper and relate the underlying meaning to his or her own life.

For someone rereading this book, I find it a pleasure to be reminded not to be like Hem. Instead, one should have courage to explore dark alleys like Haw. The most satisfying part is not to sink your teeth into that delicious piece of cheese in your hands, but it is to enjoy every second of the hunting (learning) process.

Dear friends, if you have not read this (very old) book before, I would recommend you to spare that hour (yes I finished it in less than an hour) for this short journey. By the way, I believe there are a couple of links to download an electronic version and I trust that such a task is not a problem at all to any of you.    

For now, I am considering reading this to my two little hamsters so that perhaps they may learn to behave like “Sniff” and “Scurry”, and not “Scream” and “Bite”. Otherwise, no cheese!

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