Saturday, October 24, 2015
50 stories from my life", the author, former President Mr S.R Nathan described his life from his childhood till his Presidency. As most former Presidents do, Mr Nathan had written a more detailed account of his life in "An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency". Through 50 stories, Mr Nathan has helped to make the story of his life more accessible to readers young and old who may not be used to, nor have the luxury of time, to plowing through a tome.
Each chapter is no more than 5 pages long and is a wonderful read in between waiting for someone, or riding on the bus or train, or in-between TV commercials. This in no way denigrates the book nor its contents. I found every chapter absorbing as Mr Nathan describe an episode in his life. The most surprising, for me, was the account of him running away from home, and not just for a day or two in a fit of anger only to return soon after. You see, Mr Nathan was accused of stealing, thrown out of school, whence he decided, at the age of 16, to run away. That was just before the Japanese invaded Malaya. Malaya was still a British colony. You don't need a passport to travel from Singapore town/state to another state in Malaya. Mr Nathan ran away from Singapore to Muar, Johor, where he grew up as a child. Soon the Japanese occupied Malaya. How did such a runaway teenager live through the war years, become a Seaman's Welfare Officer and thence to the newly independent Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he served as Ambassador to Malaysia and later, to the US, all before he became the President of Singapore?
Pick up this book for the fascinating accounts.
Postscript: Former President, S.R. Nathan passed away on 22 August 2016 the Singapore General Hospital, with family and friends present. Mr Nathan was 92 years old. Rest in peace, Mr Nathan. A nation is grateful for your years of dedicated service to Singapore.
Monday, October 12, 2015
When you dive into the history of the game of Monopoly, you will discover that the game had its origins in Academia. Mary Pylon has traced the origins of the game right back to Abraham Lincoln. No, Abe didn't invent Monopoly but the originator of the game. Instead, Lizzie Maggie was indirectly influenced by him through his father (who worked with Abe) and later through the Economist Henry George. Lizzie Maggie eventually invented a board game called "The Landlord's Game" - the precursor to the modern game of Monopoly. But this wasn't Parker Brothers' account of how Monopoly was invented. In her book "The Monopolists", Pilon traces the development of the game from Lizzie Maggie through the many people who subsequently played and modified the game, right up to Prof Ralph Anspach, the protagonist of the book whose Anti-Monopoly game forms the counter-point to the narrative. This is one of those once-started-cannot-put-down kind of book. The narrative is rich in sub-plots through the early development of the game by word-of-mouth, about who taught whom to play the game - a history that was shown to be relevant in the latter part of the book when Prof Anspach strived to prove that Parker Brothers, and more specifically, Charles Darrow, had mis-appropriated the rights to the game. This is not to say that Parker Brothers and Charles Darrow were out-and-out crooks. They, in turn, were looking to survive in the years immediately after the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it. Eventually, they prospered but as big businesses go, they went after Prof Anspach' Anti-Monopoly invention because they deemed his game to have violated their copyright. The latter half of this book traces the battle between Parker Brothers and Prof Anspach - with the twists and turns that makes this book such an absorbing read. Ms Pilon has expertly weaved the whole story into one such that you won't be lost in the whole narrative of the historical development of this iconic board game through 100 years. Great for history buffs, rather enjoyable to those who love a good story.
Friday, November 21, 2014
This book is a collection of bite-size chapters tracing the development of the written word from the Mesopotamian period, which eventually evolved into the form of books that we are familiar with today. Thus you can read the book in any order, from front to back, cover to cover, or jump from chapter to chapter, front-forwards or in back-reverse order. Although the book has 224 pages, it is filled with 266 illustrations of which 214 are in colour. I admit I didn't count. This is what the book says and somehow, I trust these numbers.
Thumbing through the table of contents, you will see that the book begins with the world of ancient writing, including religious books such as the Hebrew Bible, ancient Buddhist texts and the Koran amongst others. The invention of the printing press and the role that Gutenburg played in the explosion of printing and the dissemination of knowledge to the masses through the printed book gave rise to the age of enlightenment.
The book also explores issues related to printing and the press, such as copyright, the genesis of the concept of royalties and the rise of the bookstore The book concludes with modern developments of the book such as the mass market printing that gave rise to distinct categories of books such as the Penguins and the paperback (discussed in a chapter), novels, encyclopedias, manga, children's books, illustrated books, and finally the virtual books, more commonly called ebooks today.
I read a couple of chapters. They aren't that long and you probably can finish a chapter in 10 to 15 minutes but come away enlightened by the nuggets of knowledge within. The illustrations heightened the reading experience.
Saturday, March 01, 2014
Singaporeans will recognise this word. It isn't by any means the English of the Queen. Yet
this is the singular word that comes from that variant of English known as Singlish. Maybe some linguist might want to deconstruct and trace the root of this word. To the rest of us Singaporeans, we just use it in our unique eateries known as Foodcourts, but actually was, and still is, known as hawker centres.
For those foreign to this word, it means reserving a seat at a hawker centre. This is usually done by placing a packet of tissue paper on an empty seat, which in effect is saying to one and all would-be diners that the seat is taken. Well this is not the only Singlish word listed. There are others such as 'teh siu dai', 'kopi o', 'Michael Jackson' and others. Hold on, 'Michael Jackson' is Singlish? Well of course not. Its one of those lingoes that has entered Singaporean coffeeshop speech that refers to a specific concoction of drink - mixed Singapore style, of course. This 111 page book is very informative, even for an old Singaporean like me. There are pictures in all pages and words are used sparingly only to explain the word or lingo. This serves as a manual of sorts, particularly for those of us who are often bewildered by the names of various concoctions of drinks available at Singaporean heartland coffeeshops.
If you are foreign to these terms, and I don't just mean a foreigner in Singapore, this will be a good book to leaf through before you head down to the coffeeshop to demonstrate solidarity with the heartland crowd.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
This book contains a wealth of information about that part of Singapore called Seletar. It is not exactly a kampong tucked away in an obscure part of the island of Singapore. No, it is a place that is known to many British, Australian and New Zealanders who served in the their respective armed forces right up to the nd of the 1960s. And it is not too far away from the former British Naval Base, where I grew up. In that sense, Seletar is a close cousin. Whereas the Naval Base was where the ships were, Seletar was where the airplanes were. As the book points out, "the Naval Base at Sembawang and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) base in Seletar...were to serve as the frontline of British defences in the East.". Since then, Seletar Airbase has been home to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and civilian planes fly out of Seletar Airport.
Since the British finally left Singapore in the early 1970s, Seletar has been re-developed gradually. Today, it is difficult to pinpoint a particular place that is Seletar. Rather it is now south of Yishun - a satellite heartland, encompassed by Seletar Hills, Jalan Kayu, Seletar Airbase, Yio Chu Kang and Lorong Buangkok.
Given the wide expanse of land that it used to occupy, the history of the area is rich and varied - all of which are documented in this book. The book recounts the development of the land into rubber plantations in the early 1900s. Before the decade of the 1910s was over, the Bukit Sembawang Rubber Company, which owned and developed rubber plantations, including those in the Seletar area, had become the largest rubber plantation company in Singapore. Pioneers such as Lim Boon Keng, Lim Nee Soon, Tan Chay Yan, Tan Kah Kee and Song Ong Siang all made their fortune in plantations. From the late 1940s onwards, Bukit Sembawang Rubber Company began to build houses in Seletar. This set off the real estate boom in the 1950s and 1960s in that area, initially catering to the families of the British soldiers, but gradually taken up by wealthier locals. While many of these early single and double storey semi-detach houses remain today, newer houses with improved roads and amenities have followed. The book also dwells into the rich flora and fauna that dots the Seletar landscape and highlights the origin of landmark schools, roads and foods that were to make Seletar a destination.
The book contains a wide selection of reminisces of its residents. This is not surprising as it is put together by the residents of the area. These help to put live into the narrative and showcase a part of the development of Singapore as a community of peoples. I enjoyed reading the book, and the great selection of photos that accompanies the narrative has made this a must-have book on the coffee table.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
I agree with many that this is primarily a romantic fiction. I have never read Mills and Boon before, so this counts as the first real romantic fiction that I have ever read. Romeo and Juliet don't count. And what do I think about it? It is a well written story, although at times unconvincing and a tad tiring with the sexual trysts and generous number of sexual narratives. The two protagonists appear to be sex starved individuals. Every time they are together, they think only of, and eventually, have sex, whether of the vanilla or kinky flavour. But I suppose that's what readers would expect and why this book is hot. This is perhaps why it is still up there in the New York Times best seller list.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Yes, Steve Jobs was not perfect even though he demanded perfection in whatever he built. Some people who worked on the original Macintosh computer burnt out working with/for him, as the chronicler, Walter Isaacson, related in the biography of Jobs, simply titled "Steve Jobs". Isaacson is brutally frank about Mr Jobs in this book. Fortunately, Jobs left him to write whatever he thought he should, and Isaacson did just that, warts and all. It is a very fascinating account. I grew up looking envious at his Apple machines while I bought and used the more affordable IBM-compatible PCs, and wondered about the man. But he was a very private person although he did behave in ways that people either loved him or hated him. Some loved him and then hated him, but strangely never the other way around. Those are the kinds of emotions that one has to go through with him, his wife not excepted.
Jobs was charming, selfish, and spoilt. His exacting ways resulted in highly innovative products that has made fanatics of Apple products the world over. That said, Jobs never always produced the things that became successful. And not all the things that he produced succeeded. Ultimately, his genius was to surround himself with highly creative people, such as John Lasseter of Pixar and Jonathan Ive of Apple, to work his magic through them. All the rest were bozos to him.
Unfortunately he was so driven that he failed to heed warnings about his health. Some thought that his health was permanently damaged by him running 2 very successful companies - Apple and Pixar - at the same time. But I suppose he wouldn't have had it any other way. He was not a person who listened to others easily. Unfortunately, his strict dieting habits, acquired since young, also contributed to his failing body.
Brilliant as he was, he had to battle the emotional hurt he suffered all his life from the knowledge that he was an abandoned child. One wished he had been able to overcome it, but he never did. This is perhaps the saddest part of an otherwise eventful and creative life. He had done it all. No regrets. RIP.
P.S. I still don't own any Apple product.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Mr Nathan gives some anecdotes of seamen and their families that he had helped, and described how these same people have risen in their social standing in life. This is an easy-to-read book, and absorbing in its contents, if only because it describes real situations and real people. I used to live in the Singapore Naval Base, and as a youth, have had neighbours who sailed the seas for a living. While many had fathers around every day, like mine, these others will be gone a considerable length of time. They are sailing the seas, I am told. I even wrote an essay in Primary school about my ambition - to be a sailor - without quite realizing the harsh and hard life of a sailor - people that had often to turn to others, like Mr Nathan, for help.
Why the title of the book "Why am I here?" I thought it wasn't such as great title at first. I mean, all of us would ask that question of ourselves. A book that focuses only on a few years of one's life hardly qualifies for a biography. But as it turns out, that question helped to define Mr Nathan's years of service, not only as a Seaman's Welfare Officer, but also as an Ambassador, and ultimately, the President of Singapore. Read this book to find out how exactly he learnt to ask that question.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Quite beyond these names are the accounts of the almost day-to-day issues that swirled around the conduct of the Afghanistan war during the years 2008-2009. Indeed the account rarely mentions the year, just the day and the month as events moved along. This is a fascinating study, if nothing else, into the workings of the US government White House at the very highest levels. Woodward writes it as it as he sees it - the various actors, their actions, concerns and fears, and the often swaying discussions on the Afghan war. The narrative draws out the often conflicting strategies of the military and the government towards a common objective. This "common objective" itself was deliberated over quite extensively, as described in the book.
Its a long and detailed narrative. One cannot help but feel what Woodward thought about certain people, such as Biden, whom he describes as being long-winded and and tended to be unfocused during the many strategy review meetings described in the book. General Petraeus was quoted as saying the "vice president tended to get lost in his own verbiage...". One gets the impression that Joe Biden wasn't a very lucid thinker. But he had been asked from the beginning by Obama to play the devil's advocate, be the "contrarian". This book is full of such personal observations, some of which may not be flattering at all. So if you want to know a bit more about what people thought about other people in this book, and the process by which Obama ordered a surge and set a timeframe for the eventual pullout of American troops from Afghanistan, this book would satisfy that curiosity.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
In the telling of the stories of individuals' search for truth about the innovative investment products coming out of Wall Street, Lewis points the finger straight at the ratings agencies, Standard & Poor and Moody's, for facilitating the widespread fraud that culminated in the eventual collapse of such names as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, with hallowed institutions such as AIG and Citigroup needing vast infusion of cash from the US government to stay afloat. All these are the stuff of legends now.
The Big Short relates how a few investors, would be fund managers, decided that the sub-prime mortgage market, which spawned the now notorious CDOs (Collaterised Debt Obligations), was bound to fail one day, when people start to default on their mortgage loans which they could not afford in the first place. When this would happen in a Wall Street flushed with CDOs was the great unknown. By conventional wisdom, mortgage repayments carried little risk of defaulting, so any investment product based on these mortgages would also carry little risk. And the ratings agencies gave them their stamp of approval, without understanding the complexity of the CDOs.
True enough, our protagonists were proven correct at the end, which netted them not a small sum of money. The book can be heavy going at some points as Lewis tries to explain the more technical aspects of investments in bonds. He readily admits that the subject is not simple, and this perhaps has taken the enjoyment out of reading Lewis this time around. Perseverance is needed, but at the end of it, it is still a good story.