Saturday book club reading: Crazy Rich Asians series

Crazy rich asians
via manrepeller

Godfrey Loh, the esteemed Supreme Court justice, could not believe what he was hearing in the stall next to his in the men’s room of the Pulau Club.

“Yeah, that’s so hot. Fucky fuck! I need a close-up. Send me a close-up, pleeeease.”

What in God’s name was happening?

“Wait a minute. The pic is still downloading – Wi-Fi’s terrible in here. Oh my God…I’m looking at it now. Phwoar! So…fucking…sexy!”

Someone is looking at dirty pictures on his phone right next to me! But who is it? Sounds like a Hong Kong accent. No wonder, all the men in Hong Kong are perverts. That’s what you get from a countty when you can buy filthy magazines right in the airport!

“Looks like it’s dripping wet. It’s so beautiful I want to lick it all over! Come on, come on, I’m ready for it now!”

Is this creep actually engaging in phone sex in the next stall? Godfrey had heard enough. He emerged from the cubicle hurriedly and went over the sink, washing his hands furiously with twice the amount of soap he would normally use. He felt dirty all over just listening to that heavy breather in the stall.

“I want to slip my whole foot inside.”

He wants to do WHAT with his foot? This man should be arrested. Godfrey banged his fist against the stall door and said loudly, “You are a degenerate! A complete disgrace to this esteemed club! Take your dirty business elsewhere! Not in our toilets!”

Inside the cubicle, Eddie looked up from his phone, completely mystified. “Sorry, I have no idea what that was about. Some ranting weirdo- Singapore’s full of them. Anyway, when will this last coat dry? Stop teasing me, Carlo. I need these shoes now!”

“Just a few more days. We are waiting for this latest coat of varnish to dry, and then we’re going to add one more. Once the patina is perfect, we can overnight them to you in Singapore,” Carlo replied.

“My uncle Taksin–you know, he’s a Thai prince–I can’t wait for him to see me in these. Taksin started wearing bespoke Lobbs when he was five years old. Nobody else will appreciate them like he would,” Eddie said as he gazed longingly at the picture of his new custom-made Marini shoes. These tasseled loafers were glazed a deep lapis blue, a process that took up to four new weeks to achieve in Marni’s Rome atelier, and the shoemaker, Carlo, had been sending him teaser photos of the progress all through the month.

“I’ll send them to you on the weekend,” Carlo promised.

Eddie ended his call, pulled up his pants, flushed the toilet, and walked back to the Lookout–the casual eatery with sweeping views of the nature reserve where Singapore’s oldest and most exclusive country club was situated.

-excerpt Rich People Problems (3rd book in the series)


Fightin’ the heat, still

Halo halo

Was it always like this here? Temperature the other week reached 46 degrees Celsius. No wonder on that particular day after lunch I felt really lethargic, not from food intake, my throbbing body ready to combust, and had to lie down. I wanted to cry. A couple of days afterward, I learned about the temperature from my aunt who came to visit.

Evenings and nights though are cool and fans can be turned off. This blessed temp lasts until early morning, 7 AM. Then it’s when the temperature starts to climb, peaking at 1 or 2 PM. It’s not unusual that at 4 or 5 PM the sun is still high up.

Good thing there’s

  1. halo-halo which a neighbor makes with lotsa shaved ice, extra creamy, and loaded. The kids and I are having it almost everyday, it’s a sin.
  2. April showers that burst upon us as quickly and heavily like, well, a much needed cold shower, dissipating heat build-up.

    Soon, summer will be behind us, with that, expectedly, less heat. But that remains to be seen. This is the rest of the country.

    A Jane Austen Education

    Girl reading and coffee

    ​My second year in graduate school, I signed up for a class called Studies in the Novel…Our first two books were Madame Bovary, the novel that raised the art of fiction to a new level of cultural esteem, and The Ambassadors, Henry James’s most honored masterpiece. So far, my need to study prestigious literature was being satisfied.

    Then came Emma… Emma, it turned out, was Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever, and rich,” who lived with her feeble, foolish old father on their family estate of Hartfield. Her life was impossibly narrow. Her mother had died when she was a baby; her sister, Isabella, lived in London; and the governess who had raised her had just gotten married. Mr. Woodhouse himself was too much of a hypochondriac to even venture off the estate, and his best friends, who were forever dropping by, consisted of a sad, silly spinster named Miss Bates and her elderly mother, the widow of the old clergyman.

    This was a pretty unpromising bunch of people to begin with, and then all they seemed to do was sit around and talk: about who was sick, who had had a card party the night before, who had said what to whom. Mr. Woodhouse’s idea of a big time was taking a stroll around the garden. Reading the mail was the highlight of everybody’s day, and a shopping trip to Highbury, the little village near Hartfield where the Bateses lived—and where there seemed to be a total of one store—counted for the heroine as a major event.

    Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Bates—the dull old man, the scatterbrained neighbor—were the kind of people I tuned out in real life. I’d stare past them and hurry on my way, or nod absentmindedly and think about how I needed to get my library books renewed. I certainly didn’t want to spend my time reading about them.

    Eventually, Emma’s bored disdain for the people around her led her to her very worst moment. Frank Churchill, her governess’s stepson, had come to Highbury for a visit. Frank was lively, good-looking, a little bit of a bad boy, and he played up to Emma so extravagantly that her head grew bigger than ever. It was summer, and they all decided to go on a picnic: Emma, Frank, Harriet, Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates, Mr. Elton—everyone who mattered. When they actually got there, though, Emma and Frank’s flirtation was so oppressive to everybody else that they all soon found themselves sitting around with nothing to say. So Frank devised a happy plan to have them entertain the grand young lady. “Here are seven of you,” he announced, “and she only demands from each of you either one thing very clever, . . . or two things moderately clever, . . . or three things very dull indeed.” Poor, harmless Miss Bates, who knew perfectly well how tedious everybody found her, was left feeling very self-conscious. “Oh! very well,” she exclaimed, “then I need not be uneasy. ‘Three things very dull indeed.’ That will just do for me, you know. I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan’t I?”

    And that was when Emma, carried away by Frank’s flattery and her own sense of effortless superiority, hit bottom. “Ah! ma’am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to number—only three at once.” It was a shocking piece of cruelty, all the worse for the way that its victim received it: Miss Bates, deceived by the mock ceremony of her manner, did not immediately catch her meaning; but, when it burst  on her, it could not anger, though a slight blush shewed that it could pain her.

    “Ah!—well—to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, . . . and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend.”

    And that was when I finally understood what Austen had been up to all along. Emma’s cruelty, which I was so quick to criticize, was nothing, I saw, but the mirror image of my own. The boredom and contempt that the book aroused were not signs of Austen’s ineptitude; they were the exact responses she wanted me to have. She had incited them, in order to expose them. By creating a heroine who felt exactly as I did, and who behaved precisely as I would have in her situation, she was showing me my own ugly face. I couldn’t deplore Emma’s disdain for Miss Bates, or her boredom with the whole commonplace Highbury world, without simultaneously condemning my own.
    I got it now.

    By eliminating all the big, noisy events that usually absorb our interest when we read novels—the adventures and affairs, the romances and the crises, even, at times, the plot—Austen was asking us to pay attention to the things we usually miss or don’t accord enough esteem, in novels or in life. Those small, “trivial,” everyday things, the things that happen hour by hour to the people in our lives: what your nephew said, what your friend heard, what your neighbor did. That, she was telling us, is what the fabric of our years really consists of. That is what life is really about.

    Emma was always looking in the wrong direction. Her heart was in the right place—that was what ultimately made me forgive her, and, finally, what saved her—but her busy brain led her astray. While she plotted her schemes and dreamed her dreams, her “daily happiness” was right there in front of her, in “affairs, arrangements, perplexities, and pleasures”—the hourly ordinary, in all its granular specificity.

    The novel had a name for this gossipy texture of daily life, a word I stumbled upon again and again. “Many little particulars”; “I am impatient for a thousand particulars”; “She will give you all the minute particulars.” Not just particulars, but “little” particulars, “minute” particulars. Life is lived at the level of the little. In fact, I now saw, it was remarkable just how many things in the novel were “little.” “Little particulars.” “Little affairs, arrangements, perplexities, and pleasures.” Harriet Smith was “little,” always. Her friends the Martins had “a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow,” and a little gazebo in the garden, just big enough to hold a dozen people. The story took place entirely within the vicinity of Highbury, and space itself seemed contracted by the smallness of the frame. The distance between Emma’s house and Mrs. Weston’s was only half a mile, yet it was made to seem like an arduous  journey. Though Emma was over four hundred pages long, its whole scale was little, like a crowded scene inscribed upon a miniature.

    Austen’s words, quite apart from what she said with them, also struck me as ridiculous when I first heard them. I was used to stylistic brilliance that hit you over the head: Joyce’s syntactic labyrinths, Nabokov’s arcane vocabulary, Hemingway’s bleached-bone austerities. So what was I supposed to make of passages like this, near the start of the novel?

    Mr. Woodhouse was fond of society in his own way. He liked very much to have his friends come and see him; and  from various united causes, from his long residence at Hartfield, and his good nature, from his fortune, his house, and his daughter, he could command the visits of his own little circle, in a great measure, as he liked. He had not much intercourse with any families beyond that circle; his horror of late hours, and large dinner-parties, made him unfit for any acquaintance but such as would visit him on his own terms.

    No metaphors, no images, no flights of lyricism. This hardly seemed like writing at all. Aside from the slightly dated vocabulary, it was more like talking.

    But then I started to look more carefully. Mr. Woodhouse was, in the language of Austen’s day, a valetudinarian, or sort of professional invalid. No one seemed weaker, no one more powerless. And yet in just three sentences, by the subtlest of means, Austen established him as a man who used that weakness to control the world around him. There were fewer than a hundred words in that passage, and fully seventeen, nearly one in five, were pronouns that referred to him: “he,” “him,” “his.” “His” fortune, “his” house, “his” daughter—everything, as it were, was “his.” The passage started with his name, and his power was affirmed at the end of every sentence. He did things “in his own way,” “as he liked,” and “on his own terms.”

    It wasn’t the words that Austen used that created her effects, it was the way she used them, the way she grouped and  balanced them. And so it was, I saw, with her characters. A thousand authors could write novels about ordinary people, but only one of those books would be Emma. Austen’s characters came to seem so vivid, so meaningful, because she put them down on the page exactly the way she placed her words: without condescension, without apology, but with a masterful talent for arrangement. Emma was balanced by Jane Fairfax, and Miss Bates by Harriet Smith, and Mr. Martin by Mr. Elton, and all of them by one another, setting the whole story in motion and creating scenes that felt as natural as real life. It didn’t matter how small the frame was, because it contained a whole world.

    To pay attention to “minute particulars” is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes. But it is also, I realized, something more. By talking over their little daily affairs—and not just talking them over, but talking them over and over, again and again (the same story in brief, then in full, the same stories in one house, then another)—the characters in Emma were doing nothing less than attaching themselves to life. They were weaving the web of community, one strand of conversation at a time. They were creating the world, in the process of talking about it.

    Reading Emma, being asked to take the lives of characters like Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax as seriously as they did themselves—not the exciting lives of heroes and heroines, which were so  enjoyable to identify with, or the glamorous lives of celebrities, which were so much fun to read about, or the impressive lives of whatever big shots I happened to be remotely acquainted with, which made me feel so important, but the everyday lives of ordinary people, which matter for the sole reason that they are lives—made me finally begin to take my own life seriously.

    Hadn’t I always worried about the big issues—politics, social justice, the future? Didn’t I spend a lot of time arguing about them with my friends, deciding how everything should be? But ultimately, all that talk was just theoretical, no more real in the feelings it involved than Emma’s ideas for rearranging the lives of the people around her. Austen taught me a new kind of moral seriousness—taught me what moral seriousness really means. It means taking responsibility for the little world, not the big one. It means taking responsibility for yourself.

    It was like one of those astounding moments when you look around at the world and really see it for the first time, feel its presence as a reality instead of just a bunch of concepts: water really is wet, the sky really is blue, this world really is the only one we have. As Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen’s most perceptive reader, had the heroine in Mrs. Dalloway reflect, “it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.” Not because life is so perilous, but because it is so momentous.

    A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, And The Things That Really Matter, William Deresiewicz, 2011

    Moving: what it’s like when you’re an adult and with children

    Moving house is said to be especially challenging for children. In my case, it was my family moving out of the country and then from one country to another. School friends in pre-elem were not the same ones I grew up with in elementary. Friends in elementary were not the ones I graduated together with in Grade Six. Same situation in high school. But, children, it’s also said, are incredibly resilient. I guess I was. I didn’t question or wondered about moving. I took it and the consequent changes in stride. As far as I was concerned, moving was normal. It was a lifestyle. We were expats.

    Then when I hit my mid-30s I suddenly became aware of my lack of invitations to reunions and get-togethers with former schoolmates. This awareness had been triggered by having observed colleagues running off here and there to attend reunions and get-togethers with their former schoolmates. When they returned to the office, they recounted, during our breaks, how wonderful the gatherings went. I listened and responded appropriately. But inside I felt resentment building up. Good for them that they stayed in the same place all their lives and got to establish lifelong friendships that were available to them any time. An evening of fun and drinks at the usual watering hole? Hey, count me in! Sunday brunch in Tagaytay anyone? Yeah, we’re coming! Where were mine? Scattered across the globe. Inaccessible. Gradually I came to feel like the girl who’s always left behind alone. I developed panic attacks at this time. Nights, I woke up heaving from fright over what looked like an endless abyss of alone-ness. It happening to me scared me to hell. During severe attacks, I wanted to call somebody but when I took hold of my phone I realized, who? Who was I going to call?

    That’s when I finally opened a Facebook account. I’ve ignored the technology for the longest time mainly because it’s incredulous to carry a conversation with another with spectators on the sidelines (excuse me, the discussion isn’t a football game) and why don’t we just call each other or meet up? Plus I abhor the indiscriminate public posting of otherwise private images of oneself. I think it crass that someone would actually post different angles of their faces and body parts, hour after hour. Littering people’s feed with close ups of your body parts when you don’t know for sure that others would be happy to see these floating on their screens is inconsiderate. I mean, it’s the same goddamn face and body no matter where or how you turn it. And who are you to comment on my body parts, my choice of food, my choice of everyday wear, my nose, my brows, my fucking history? Maybe questions I’ll entertain but casual comments on my life? God, no! I’m sure Zuckerberg when he was still building the first version didn’t post his body parts for the entire Harvard campus to comment on. That wasn’t the intention of the invention.

    Then again that’s the magic of imventions, that when it leaves the inventor’s hand it holds the potential of becoming re-invented by it’s users. And we have to understand that these users are humans. Humans with their strange ways. Zuckerberg is now I’m sure way in over his head as to the creature his invention has and still is morphing into.

    So yes FB. I opened an account for only one reason: to reconnect with long lost school friends. I did so rather quickly. Then promptly shut down the account. I was asked why. I wrote back lengthily on privacy. I guess they took heed.

    I made connections with my best friend and also one of my classmates from primary school. Turned out they too were searching for me. They were in the country for some time already having returned permanently from abroad. We were overjoyed to see each other. I also met their partners and children. Time does fly. We talked and laughed nonstop the first time the three of us met and if not for the imescapable noise that the staff made as they were preparing to close the bar did we notice the time. We promised to see each other regularly. My panic attacks stopped then. Having a line to significant others, persons one grew up with, provides one with the emotional and mental stability going forward in life.

    So then in anticipation of moving to our own place after a few months of making a stop over at my aunt’s in order to catch our breaths from an abrupt, tumultous, and forced relocation, I talked about the move with my kids early on, usually at bedtime, one bite at a time recognizing the importance of adequate time for the facts of our reality to sink in their young minds. I also brought them along with me on various occasions to the address we were moving to. I checked in with them afterward- what do you feel? what do you think about the place? did you enjoy the ride going there? My folks didn’t do this with me. It was either pack up or stay behind. No transition whatsoever. 

    Another way to transition kids is through stories which children naturally love. At my favorite bookshop in the City which I purposely visited at the time, I searched for appropriate story books to give my eldest daughter and, what’d you know, I found one. Or, it found me.

    Little farm in the ozarks

    …starting in a new school…Rose Wilder…has moved…with her parents…to begin a new life in the Missouri Ozarks. Rose feels out of place as the new girl in her class…

    The story’s setting is so like ours.

    Little farm in the ozarks

    On our first night in our new house, we watched anew Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro. We paid attention that time to similarities with our own. The kids identified plenty and were amazed of the fact. “Hey, that’s just like our new house! We did arrive by car, too! The sisters are also from the city!” “And those two girls are just like you two, brave,” I added. 

    My neighbor Totoro

    The exercise helped eased them into a night of fitful sleep. As for me, I was by then bone tired from managing the move that I snoozed right away as soon as my head touched the pillow. In the morning, I got disoriented and momentarily wondered what I was doing in an unfamiliar room. But that’s already the start of another story.

    75th anniversary: The Little Prince

    The Little Prince
    One of Saint Exupery’s original watercolor illustrations for The Little Prince on exhibit at The Morgan Library in NYC. Image:

    Saint-Exupéry, a commercial pilot who never mastered English and penned his masterwork in French, wrote The Little Prince not in Paris but in New York City and Long Island, where he arrived in 1940 after the Nazi invasion of France.
    In April of 1943, shortly after the book came out, 43-year-old Saint-Exupéry shoved his Little Prince manuscripts and drawings in a brown paper bag, handing it to his friend Silvia Hamilton — “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he told her, “but this is all I have.” — and departed for Algiers as a military pilot with the Free French Air Force. He was eight years over the age limit for pilots in such squadrons, so he petitioned relentlessly for exemption until it was finally granted by General Dwight Eisenhower. On July 31, 1944, he left on a reconnaissance mission, never to return. He was 44 years old when he perished — a biographical detail that lends eerie poignancy to the fact that, perched atop his little planet, the Little Prince watched the sun set exactly 44 times.

    Parts of his plane were found years later. A fisherman near Marseilles caught Saint-Exupéry’s silver bracelet in his net. Along with the author’s name, that of his wife, and his American publisher’s address, the inscription read “NYC USA.”

    (John Philips, LIFE photojournalist) When I asked Saint-Ex how the Little Prince had entered his life, he told me that one day he looked down on what he thought was a blank sheet and saw a small childlike figure. “I asked him who he was, ” Saint-Ex said. “I’m the Little Prince,” was the reply.

    All in the cards

    So is it really any wonder that you choose the paths seldom taken? It was all in the cards, the house of cards, the condemned tenements of cards in which you grew up. And now, now that all has fluttered down to the ground, upset by the swinging pendulum of a wrecking ball which may be only the brass counterweight of a grandfather clock, now that all the bricks and latthe and plaster and cards have fallen and burned along with the trash and pretzels, now that the ash has blown away, you can finally see. The smoke has cleared and there is room now for other dreams. Ashes to ashes, dusk to dusk.

    And so time passes, passes by, passes over, passes away and through and pass the butter, please. Sometimes time passes by so fast…you can’t even see those seconds make their little streaks of reentry into your heart.

    – Excerpt from Trainsong by Jan Kerouac

    Woman looking out the window

    Books: The Rosie Project

    The Rosie ProjectIs this another diet book? By some crazy inexplicable reason, I associated Rosie with Roseanne Barr. You know, as in weight loss project. The subject held no appeal for me because for the longest time I’ve been trying to gain weight. Nonetheless I flipped a couple of pages before going back to the opening sentence. I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem.


    Wasn’t it a weight problem? Confused, I didn’t bother digging in. I shut the book and promptly put it back on the shelf.

    Just recently, I needed to think about something and I do this by reading magazines or books. On one level, I’m reading. On another, the act of reading oils up my thinking. I remembered that I’ve an unfinished book– I always finish reading my books however long it takes. What was it? The weight loss project. Or was that a wife problem? There’s only one way to find out. I went and brought the book down.

    After the first three pages…what was I thinking to have concluded that the Project had anything to do with weight?! Roseanne Barr has nothing to with the story. None at all.

    The Rosie Project is about

    Genetics professor Don Tillman whose life unexpectedly turns upside down when he embarks on the Wife Project – prospects are required to fill up a 16-page compatibility questionnaire – for him to filter out a suitable mate.

    When a psychology PhD student-slash-bartender by night named Rosie walks into his office, Don knew she’s all wrong—dyed hair, sloppy, smokes, and habitually late. But then again, something is right about her too . . . Don just can’t recognize it at first.

    As the Wife Project takes a back burner to Rosie’s project of identifying her biological father – the Father Project – Don finds himself breaking his self-imposed rules and routines in ways that are both uncomfortable and exciting.

    When the Father Project takes them from their native Melbourne to New York City, and Don’s career is threatened by his allegiance to Rosie, Don must face the toughest puzzle of all—himself. Don must confront his long-held notions of what it means to love and connect with people and what it truly means to open up and trust someone.

    Quietly hilarious, like you’re being privately entertained by someone blessed with deadpan humor. Like this one, the first time Don proposed to Rosie:

    “If I find a partner, which seems increasingly unlikely, I wouldn’t want a sexual relationship with anyone else. But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.

    “Tell me something I don’t know”, said Rosie, for no obvious reason.

    I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. Ah . . .

    “The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

    It was annoying that the first thing that occurred to me was related to sex. As a psychology graduate, Rosie may have made some sort of Freudian interpretation.

    But she looked at me and shook her head. Then she laughed.

    Who tells of insects’ private parts on proposal day? Only our anti-hero, Don. Although a guy friend tells me, I’d know I’m in serious trouble when I don’t think about sex as often as the next person does. Ha ha.

    The author, Graeme Simsion, a data modeller by profession, explains that while it is not explicitly mentioned in the book, 40-year old Don exhibits signs of Asperger’s syndrome although apparently he’s in the high-functioning end of the spectrum. On top of easily churning in 300-plus pages of research proposal on “Presence of Genetic Markers for Autism in High-Achieving Individuals”, Don is an excellent cook, an aikido expert, concocts best-selling cocktails, could out-dance anybody in Dancing with the Stars, and holder of a special O-1 USA Visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. Plus, as Rosie tells him, with just a change of eyeglasses and haircut, Don resembles Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. 

    Graeme is brilliant in that he explores profound (Bill Gates called this book that) themes (Don’s Asperger, Don’s couple friend’s open marriage, among others) with understated humor and in a surprisingly wholesome way.

    News is that there’s a movie being planned by Sony Pictures!

    And there is a sequel. The Rosie Effect, which brings readers back to Don and Rosie this time in New York City as they are about to embark on having their own family.

    The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse

    When the zombie apocalypse comes there will be no more take out, no more brightly lit aisles of foods just waiting to be plucked off the shelves. No more trips down to the local farmers’ market. No more microwaved meals in front of the TV or intimate dinner parties. No, when the undead rise, eating will be hard, and doing it successfully will become an art.

    What’s inside her suitcase?

    She packed couture evening dresses, lawn blouses and linen riding skirts, cotton shirts and fur coats, sweaters and scarves, canvas and leather boots. Beneath layers of lacy petticoats she hid guns, cameras, and film, and wrapped up many pairs of binoculars and pistols as gifts for the more important sheikhs. She carried hats, veils, parasols, lavender soap, Egyptian cigarettes in a silver case, insect powder, maps, books, a Wedgwood dinner service, silver candlesticks and hairbrushes, crystal glasses, linen and blankets, folding tables, and a comfortable chair—as well as her travelling canvas bed and bath. She took two tents, one for Fattuh to put up the moment they pitched camp, so that she had a table to write on, the other with her bath, to be filled with hot water once there was a fire, and her bed, to be made up with the muslin sleeping bag laid out under the blankets.

    – on Gertrude Bell’s 1909 journey to the Middle East, from Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations by Georgina Howell.