Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea – Guy Delisle

January 9, 2017 § 2 Comments

First published in the French in 2003
Translated into the English by Helge Dascher in 2005


There’s very little that I know about North Korea. And I never found myself interested in finding out much more about this “authoritarian” country. Then, about a couple of months ago, I watched a Korean TV drama, Descendants of the Sun, which had a very small side story involving a North Korean soldier and peace talks between the North and South. That intrigued me a little, because I knew nothing about the reunification attempts, but it also frustrated me to know that there’s so much to learn!

Then, by pure chance, I came across a book by Ryu Murakami, From the Fatherland, With LoveIn that book, there was a significantly bigger North Korean appearance, and again my interested was piqued. I knew then that I was keen to learn about this country that had so far eluded itself from me.

So, by no coincidence, I picked up this graphic novel at the local library. I wanted to see what a foreigner might see in this evasive country. What else can he show me about it that I have not read or gleaned from the Murakami book, and that I have not seen or felt in the Korean drama series? I was thirsty for more.

The graphic novel does read like a journal of sorts—he writes about what he encounters, his benign work days, the Friday nights that offer him a sense of what the rest of the world might be up to in this country that cuts itself off from everyone.

Truth be told, though, I was a little underwhelmed. Much like the Osamu Tezuka book, I felt like this one presented more facts than it did tell a story. Perhaps it was meant to be this way; a simple illustrated recollection of the things he saw and experienced, limited as they were, as foreigners in a country that mandated translators and guides to follow you around. Perhaps the lack of story is not his doing, but entirely in the way the country presented itself to him—there is no room to meander.

This is the first book of his that I’ve read, so I don’t really know. But judging from this book alone, I don’t feel an immediate need to rush for his next.


The Osamu Tezuka Story – Toshio Ban

January 5, 2017 § 4 Comments

First published in the Japanese in 1992
Translated into the English by Frederik L. Schodt in 2016


Being a huge fan of manga, I’ve known for some time now that Osamu Tezuka is considered the “god” of manga, especially in the land of manga, Japan. Despite this, very little is known of the man outside of his own country. That doesn’t stop me from feeling somewhat ashamed that I don’t know more of his work, but then again, because I don’t know the Japanese language (yet!), I’m very dependent on work that has been translated into English. That it has taken so many years for this tome of a biography to be finally translated and published for the English-speaking world is yet another indication of how late we are in appreciating the master of manga.

Aptly written in the form of a manga biography, it starts from when Osamu Tezuka was a very young child, ending only at his death, when he was 60 years old. And his life was indeed full of manga, anime and film. Right from the start, it seems that Tezuka has never had any other dream—all he wanted to do was make manga and anime.

There were loads of mini nuggets of information and trivia within the pages that I found very interesting. At the same time, the zeal and tenacity at which Tezuka insisted on accomplishing his almost impossible goals has left a strange feeling in me. He never wasted any time, never gave up, never left the path that he believed so strongly that he was meant to be on. As I read the book, I found myself constantly reflecting on how I’ve been working on achieving my own goals, if I had even half the kind of devotion that he had.

As I reached the last quarter of the book, I started to realise that this volume was somewhat different from the kind of manga that I’ve gotten used to. Perhaps it was Ban’s intention to draw a manga that best reflected Tezuka’s style, which is, of course, quite “old-fashioned”. Perhaps, also, because it was originally drawn way back in the early 90s, which could explain how different it is from the manga of today. So in a way, I felt like this book was a little less organic in its style and presentation.

The story itself was also a little dry. All the little details were there, of course. How he went about rushing deadlines and how his country and the world was changing. But the whole book was more of a recollection of information, more than a telling of a story. There were countless points in the book where I had hoped I could get more information, or more elaboration, or even just a little more illumination, but Ban kept to the main frame of the story, which was a little disappointing to me.

Still, it’s a book much worth reading, especially for those who are manga fans, or even just fans of Japanese culture.

It’s a great book to start the year with. I’m hoping some of that passion will rub off on me.

Why I Left Goldman Sachs – Greg Smith

September 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

When you’re at a sale where books are going for RM5 each (that’s really just slightly more than USD1 at the current exchange rate…), it’s almost impossible to leave without taking more books home than you intended when you first stepped into the space. And that’s what I did. Not only did I take home more books that I thought I would, I also bought unexpected books – books that almost never call out to me.

I’ve always been quite fascinated about Wall Street. Fascinated in the way that one would be about things they completely didn’t understand. Finance not being my strong suit is an understatement. So when I got home and checked my purchases for the day, I was a little bewildered to find out that I had in fact picked this book up and put in into my shopping basket. At the same time, I thought, “What a coincidence! I’m just in the mood to read some good, non-fiction stuff!”

I don’t live in America. And I also don’t read the New York Times. So I had no idea who this Greg Smith person was, or what he had written in a op-ed in the paper that apparently drew more than 3 million readers. So I guess in a way, I was in for a little bit of a surprise.

The story flowed quite well, I have to say. I did glaze off slightly when he started explaining how derivatives worked (it’s not that I’m not interested, but I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it! I swear!), but for the most part, I quite liked how he told this story about an idealistic intern, excited to start working for his dream company, Goldman Sachs.

Maybe it was also because of the timing. He joined just before September 11 happened, and he was also there when the economic crash happened in 2008. If his story didn’t include these events, his book may not have made such an interesting read!

For me, this was an okay book. It was good in that it introduced a side of the world that I just never really got to know. It got me interested to find out more about how Wall Street functions, and it amazed me to read about just how influential it is to the world.

At the same time, it did fall short. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it simply didn’t reach far enough. I wasn’t reading enough about what was really going on. I wasn’t getting the real reason why he left Goldman Sachs. I wasn’t seeing enough of how the place had gone from being the best company to work for, to becoming the “toxic and destructive” environment he criticized it for.

I just couldn’t see the real point behind the whole thing. I always remember this phrase, “The magic is in the details”, and there was, simply put, not enough magic at all.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be – Paul Arden

May 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

One day, in the not too distant past, my sifu-of-sorts, said to me, “You’re the reserved kind, aren’t you?” I thought about it, and said, “Yeah, a little.” His response was funny. “That’s the understatement of the century!”

It was really funny to me at the time, but I’ve had time to digest his statement, and the following reaction, and perhaps there’s some truth to his words. I’m not super-reclusive, but to say that I can talk to anyone about anything under the sun is a complete exaggeration by any standards. He may be right—I am quite a reserved person.

That’s not to say that I don’t know the importance of exerting myself during times of necessity. I know how the world works—and it’s not in favour of the introverts who prefer to keep to themselves. Gone are the times when you could stay completely behind-the-scenes and still make something of yourself. Today, it’s showbiz through and through.

This Paul Arden book is a good reminder to me of that fact of today’s life. It’s about advertising yourself, and how to do it without being tacky. It’s about how you can’t care if it’s tacky. It’s about how you know it’s tacky, but you do it anyway because that’s how good you want to be.

It’s a painful reminder, to be frank. I don’t like networking, and I don’t like telling people about the things I’ve done, or plan to do. I’ve always been uncomfortable about the fact that I have to let people know how good I am, when I’m not quite sure of that myself. Just how good am I anyway? And am I even such a good judge of my own character? Am I the best person to ask?

I like working in the shadows. It doesn’t mean I don’t want appreciation—of course I do. Everyone likes being appreciated every once in a while. But it would appear that these days, to gain appreciation and recognition, one needs to work in the light, under the gaze of others.

Show your skills. Flaunt your talent. Tell the world.

It’s really not about how good you are. It’s all about how good you want to be.

Do you want to be just good enough? Or do you want to be so good, you’ll make your future self proud?

The book is not just about tooting your own horn. There are tons of other advice—good ones—on how to be better at what you do. But one thing has remained in my head: it’s about how others perceive you.

Does that spell doom for me? Maybe, maybe not.

It’s never too late to learn. The question is, do I want to?

How good do I want to be?

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much – Allison Hoover Bartlett

April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have only about 150 books sitting on my shelves today, right this moment. Of course, I still have my collection of manga that I’ve yet to display (they’re still in a huge cardboard box, the poor fellas). I’m nowhere near what people would call a “collector”, or a bibliophile.

But I do love my books. It doesn’t take anyone much to learn that fact about me – I wear this particular love on my sleeve.

I had bought this book under the impression that it was a novel, based on a true story. It’s been on my shelves for nearly two years now, and even when my sister picked it up, she didn’t let me in on the fact that I was wrong about this little detail – it is actually not a fiction piece.

At times, though, it really does read like one. How can I realistically believe that someone would be so desperate to own books – books they probably cannot finish reading in this lifetime and the next – that they would be willing to resort to “taking”? And yet, the author does such a wonderful job at letting me know that I’m not the only one in disbelief – she’s constantly in the same state.

And even more odd is the feeling I get reading about this urge to own books. While I don’t understand how he can convince himself that he’s right to take what’s not rightfully his (in his mind, it actually is rightfully his), I can somehow understand why he wants to have those books in his possession in the first place.

Again, I’m no collector – of anything. I simply don’t collect. But I know what it feels like to walk into a space full of books, and feel like I’m doing myself and the universe a disservice if I leave empty-handed. I know what it’s like, this feeling of owing it to myself to take something home.

But, you know, maybe there’s really something to this that I cannot fathom. And I have decided it doesn’t matter.

The difference between a person who appreciates books, even loves them, and a collector is not only degrees of affection, I realised. For the former, the bookshelf is a kind of memoir: there are my childhood books, my college books, my favourite novels, my inexplicable choices. Many matchmaking and social networking websites offer a place for members to list what they’re reading for just this reason: books can reveal a lot about a person. This is particularly true of the collector, for whom the bookshelf is a reflection not just of what he has read but profoundly of who he is: “Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they can come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them,” wrote cultural critic Walter Benjamin.

On Love and Death – Patrick Süskind

January 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

What St Augustine says of time is equally true of love. The less we think about it, the more self-evident it seems, but if we begin reflecting on the subject we find ourselves in deep trouble.

This is how the book starts. And I must say, it’s a great start.

It’s a very thin book, this one. So thin in fact that I finished it in one go, and nearly didn’t know what hit me when I was done.

You see, despite this being an essay of sorts, it read like a jigsaw puzzle of little nuggets of stories, all fitting together just nicely. I’ve never read Süskind before this, though I’ve been meaning to track down Perfume for quite some time now, and after reading this little thing, I’m convinced that I need to put more effort in getting the book somehow.

I’ve got love in my life, I do. But I don’t think about it, not in a navel-gazing way anyway. Halfway through the book, I was almost forced to examine the different relationships I’ve had in my life, and see them from a completely different perspective.

Do we need love in our lives? And is this love really what we think it is?

… love is regarded as the best and most beautiful thing that a human being can give and experience, and […] it is supposed to make us capable of the greatest and highest that we can achieve.

And I rethink the relationship I’m in now, and I wonder if that’s true. I remember a time when I was single, and writing something every single day. I would sit at my desk, pencil in hand, and just disappear into some world unknown to me – only to regain consciousness two hours later with a finished essay/composition/short story in hand.

It’s stuff from years ago, and today when I read them I know I can do much better. But the thing is, I don’t sit and write anymore. I don’t disappear into the wilderness, I don’t “lose myself” to imagination and creativity.

And I wonder if it’s to do with age catching up with me, or if it’s because there’s someone else sharing my time and life.

[Eros] is frenzied, it sees – and names – the divine in the beauty of the beloved, it ultimately urges the lover towards creativity, and it seeks and finds immortality, in this case in the writer’s work.

It seems complex, a little confusing maybe. But I believe in this Eros. I believe that it’s nuts, it makes gods of simple people, and it makes people do the most unbelievable things.

A considerable amount of stupidity is evident in love and infatuation.

How true.

Merdeka! British Rule and The Struggle for Independence in Malaya 1945-1957 – Khong Kim Hoong

October 2, 2010 § 2 Comments

It has been quite a while since I’ve read non-fiction for leisure. I had initially picked this book from the library as a reference point for the job I’m doing right now. The contents, however, weren’t quite what I had expected it to be, and so was of little use for what I had intended. But I came to a point in the book where history became real for me, and it was like re-living the past. And from there onwards, it was just like going on a journey.

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