My 2015 resolutions

New Year’s celebration for me this year was mellow––so mellow that I spent the first few minutes asleep, haha. I had an extremely long day, beginning with a trip to the ER on December 30 that lasted until the wee hours of December 31. (No worries, I’m okay.) Hence, I had trouble staying awake until midnight. In any case, I love mellow. One can learn to appreciate mellow after experiencing the ‘excitement’ that drama brings. So if the rest of my year will be low-key, I’ll more than welcome it.

* * * *

I’m embarrassed to draft a new set, and more so, review my previous resolutions; I failed all of them. I was consumed by my driving lessons, and I’m still nowhere near being good at it. I remember when I was parking with Tatin:

Me: *parking in reverse* Ohmygad, ohmygad, never pa ko nag-park ng ganito kasikip.
Tatin: Anong masikip?! Ang luwag-luwag!!!

True enough, there were no other cars in the parking lot, lol. (In my defense, I was referring to the narrow lane markings, lol.)

In terms of books, I read a total of 20, though I slowed down in the second half (again, the driving). I didn’t finish a book in September and October, and I only managed to read one each in November and December. The best ones I read in 2014 were: Wild, now a movie starring Reese Witherspoon; And the Mountains Echoed; and HHhH. I’m disappointed that I didn’t read any Filipino author last year. And I really must read a Murakami this year, which I’ve put off for several years now. I like the premise of his latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, so I plan to start with that.

As for my resolutions, hmmm… I do want to watch more locally produced plays. I need to write more often. Aside from pushups, I should do squats regularly. (I’m deciding whether to enroll in yoga or go back to the gym this year.) I wish to volunteer in HIV counseling, but I’m not sure if I can handle it emotionally––it’s pretty taxing. (Probably more on this later.) Avoid sedentary weekends. Learn to make art and crafts. Celebrate mellow. Love. And behave. 😀

Book review: Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck PalahniukFew novels can make me gasp out loud like I do in those soap opera revelations that leave your mouth wide open. Invisible Monsters Remix by Chuck” Palahniuk (pronounced ‘paula nick’) had that effect on me, and the author just kept it coming and coming. I found it hilarious that the novel’s revelations got me every single time, and I thank Chuck for making me realize I still have that naiveté buried in me somewhere.

After all the seriousness of books I’ve been reading this year (even The Adventurers, despite the epic quotes, had depressing themes), Monsters was a riot, even if underneath, the characters represent pop culture’s extreme social maladies. I doubt any of today’s tabloid sensations have achieved anything close to what these Monsters have accomplished: Lindsay Lohan wouldn’t dare take up the gauntlet.

It’s as if Chuck wrote the standard for which any fame whore should measure himself up against: if you can’t beat these Monsters, then you might as well shoot yourself. At least until life imitates art, it’s hilarious.

The narrator is a disfigured woman, a former model whose freak accident has now forced her to hide behind layers of veil and tulle. She is befriended by the gorgeous Brandy Alexander, and along with man candy Manus, the trio pilfer prescription drugs from stately mansions up for sale during open houses.

The ‘remix’ in the title is exactly that—Monsters was first published in 1999, and this version was released in 2012 (although this was really how Chuck had originally written it). This time, the chapters aren’t read in chronological order so at the end of each one, you are instructed to jump several chapters up… or down… then back up again, and so on. Also, based from what I’ve read, there are a few, minor changes in the end scene compared to the first book.

That’s how I originally structured this book: to be a little unknowable. Reader friends complained about how the dwindling number of pages, those physical sheets of paper you held between the thumb and index finger of your right hand, suggested when the plot of a novel was reaching its climax…

… Following the plot would mean paging forward and backward, and you’d never know where the story might end. It might all come to a head at the physical center of the book. Better yet, as you hunted for the next chapter, you’d glimpse marvelous, ridiculous scenes, and you’d wonder, “How will the story ever get there?”

A Reintroduction to Invisible Monsters

Some people may find this borderline pretentious, but be patient—it does get enjoyable at some point. In my case, the page flipping serves as a cliffhanger, like a soap opera making a grand revelation before immediately cutting to commercial. A book that forces this delayed gratification on readers (sequels not counting) works as a literally device specifically for this type of novel; I appreciate the purpose. However, I can’t the say same for the pages printed in reverse image and which requires a mirror. I haven’t read those until now.

 

Book review: Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!

Delicious by Ruth Reichl

This is the book I was referring to in this Instagram post: it was a gift from Pam from her recent vacation in New York. When she had my book signed, Pam told Ruth about my carbonara experience, which was essentially, my first foray into cooking. Ruth then wrote a special message for me.

I’m amazed at how writers are able to write specialized messages for each book they are signing.

I’m amazed at how writers are able to write specialized messages for each book they are signing.

 

June had been slightly more hectic and stressful than usual I simply didn’t have enough time to curl up with Delicious! the entire month. And so I had to cram on the last day of June: with about 200 pages left, I proceeded to a coffee shop right after work, ordered chicken and pesto sandwich and iced soy latte, and delved into it. (Highly recommended: Spotify’s Late Night Reading playlist; the sandwich with the stale bread from Starbucks, not so much.)

Taking everything into account, including my love for Ruth’s work (Garlic and Sapphires is one of my all-time favorite books), I already loved Delicious! even before reading it.

The first few pages were enthralling, the prelude ended in dramatic fashion as a young Billie Breslin attempts to recreate her mother’s gingerbread, based solely on memory and to her surprise, her palate’s razor-sharp ability to distinguish and identify flavors. That was promising; I couldn’t wait to go on this ride.

Many years later, as a fresh graduate, Billie lands an interview in the distinguished food magazine, Delicious!—where its staff, friendly, flirtatious, and otherwise—unwittingly dare her to unleash her culinary talents, now kept under wraps due to a traumatic experience. My expectations were then set on a lighthearted romance novel—in the tradition of Confessions of a Shopaholic (which I loved)—with food as the central motif.

Unfortunately, the ride took way too many turns for my taste. The number and nature of the subplots bordered on farcical (I’d list them here but they all involve spoilers), most of them an unnecessary juggling of Wikipedia-like narrative (however written in Ruth’s elegant prose).

It’s hard for me to fault Ruth’s enthusiasm: her brightness and optimism drip on every page, which was, to be fair, refreshing versus nauseating; nerds would have a field day learning about obscure ingredients and dishes, although in my case, it was a challenge to keep myself fascinated by the many details. Overall, I feel this was more the editor’s fault than the writer’s: the former could have striven for a tighter storyline, although I do acknowledge that this wish is rather subjective.

I suppose I could be upbraided for having set such a limited expectation for the novel’s storyline; however, the problem with having a myriad of subplots is that the reader ends up disappointing himself every time the author decides to explore a different direction. Even if Ruth was successful in tightening all loose ends, my interest in them had waned by then.

I liked the book and enjoyed its heartiness; with some fine-tuning, it may have been perfect.

* * * *

First few paragraphs:

“You should have used fresh ginger!”

The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. I glanced at Aunt Melba to see if she was upset, but she was looking at me with undisguised admiration. “Why didn’t I think of that!”

“And orange peel.” I wanted her to look at me that way again.

“Any other ideas?” Aunt Melba was rooting around in the vegetable bin.

She emerged holding a large knob of ginger triumphantly over her head, then went to the counter and began to grate it, sending the mysterious tingly scent into the air. “How come you didn’t say something last year?”

“Would you have believed me?”

She swiped at the thick red curl that had fallen across her right eye and grinned ruefully. “Ask advice from a nine-year old?” She  reached out and tousled my hair. “Now that you’re ten, of course, everything’s changed.”

Book: Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail)

Tatin loaded my Kobo with lots of great titles–most of the stuff I’ve read in the last six months are courtesy of her good taste. However, when I saw Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail—a book about hiking—in my library, I was dumbfounded. We are both not the outdoorsy type; our idea of hiking is going from Bonifacio High Street Central to SM Aura. Hence I was a bit apprehensive about starting this book.

Wild Cheryl StrayedI ended up being hooked. It’s one of the best books I’ve read, not only for this year, but ever.

Written by Cheryl Strayed, the book chronicles the author’s journey through the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs along the entire US West Coast, from the border of Mexico to Canada. After having lost her mother to cancer and divorced a devoted husband, she felt the sudden urge to hike the trail—on her own—to find herself and sort things out.

There were the injuries that made me flinch, especially those about her toenails falling off, but there were also the grievous moments with her dying mother. Then hike then, becomes a spiritual one but not in a religious sense; the trail is severely backbreaking that it transcends the physical. I think that’s how it connected me to this book, and to others readers, who’ve never hiked a kilometer in their lives.

While reading this book, keep the Internet and Google Maps close (I love Street View) as they add richly to the experience.

* * * *

Prologue

The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California. Moments before, I’d removed my hiking boots and the left one had fallen into those trees, first catapulting into the air when my enormous backpack toppled onto it, then skittering across the gravelly trail and flying over the edge. It bounced off of a rocky outcropping several feet beneath me before disappearing into the forest canopy below, impossible to retrieve. I let out a stunned gasp, though I’d been in the wilderness thirty-eight days and by then I’d come to know that anything could happen and that everything would. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t shocked when it did. My boot was gone. Actually gone.

I clutched its mate to my chest like a baby, though of course it was futile. What is one boot without the other boot? It is nothing. It is useless, an orphan forevermore, and I could take no mercy on it. It was a big lug of a thing, of genuine heft, a brown leather Raichle boot with a red lace and silver metal fasts. I lifted it high and threw it with all my might and watched it fall into the lush trees and out of my life.

I was alone. I was barefoot. I was twenty-six years old and an orphan too. An actual stray, a stranger had observed a couple of weeks before, when I’d told him my name and explained how very loose I was in the world. My father left my life when I was six. My mother died when I was twenty-two. In the wake of her death, my stepfather morphed from the person I considered my dad into a man I only occasionally recognized. My two siblings scattered in their grief, in spite of my efforts to hold us together, until I gave up and scattered as well.

In the years before I pitched my boot over the edge of that mountain, I’d been pitching myself over the edge too. I’d ranged and roamed and railed—from Minnesota to New York to Oregon and all across the West—until at last I found myself, bootless, in the summer of 1995, not so much loose in the world as bound to it.

It was a world I’d never been to and yet had known was there all along, one I’d staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I’d once been. A world that measured two feet wide and 2,663 miles long.

A world called the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

Book review: HHhH on WWII and historical fiction

It is possible that this was the book that President Aquino was reading when he compared the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines to the Munich Agreement in an interview with The New York Times:

“If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line?” he said. “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it — remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”

Peter Beinart, writing for The Atlantic, said it was rare “(for someone to compare) a contemporary international situation to ‘Munich’ without sounding absurd.”

“For more than half a century, ‘Munich’ has been the most abused analogy in American foreign policy. The actual Munich agreement, signed in late September 1938 by Germany, Britain, France, and Italy, gave the largely German-speaking Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia to Germany despite Czech warnings that it would leave the country defenseless and whet Hitler’s appetite for further conquest, which it did.”

* * * *

HHhh

There are many, many things which I still don’t know about World War II (including the details behind Munich) and HHhH fills in the gap with such wit, integrity, humor, and somberness. This was one of the rare books which, as I ended, made me sigh and smile as I think of this lovely tribute for all the fallen heroes of the war.

I mentioned integrity because here’s a novel wherein the author, writing as the narrator, comments on other historical novels and films, particularly their “psychological dimension, which is full of interior monologues.”

For example:

“‘That night, at an altitude of two thousand feet, the huge Halifax aircraft roared out of the sky above the winter countryside of Czechoslovakia. The four airscrews churned through the drifts of low broken cloud, flailing them back against the wet black flanks of the machine, and in the cold fuselage Jan Kubis and Josef Gabchik stared down at their homeland through the open, coffin-shaped exit hatch cut in the floor.’

“This is the opening paragraph of Alan Burgess’s novel Seven Men at Daybreak, written in 1960. And from those first lines, I know that he hasn’t written the book I want to write. I don’t know how much of their homeland Gabčík and Kubiš could see at an altitude of more than two thousand feet in that black December night. As for the image of the coffin, I’d prefer to avoid such obvious metaphors.”

The meta references are conversational and they are what I find funny; the author proves that such informality could be a highly effective literary device. (He even discusses what the name of the book would be, and if released differently, then it would have been his publisher’s fault—his publisher won.) I can imagine how this could irritate readers as I normally get with such ruminations (see Proust), but Binet charmed me.

Ten paragraphs and I haven’t even said what the book is about.

HHhH stands for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.”

Heinrich Himmler, who was the Chief of the German Police, was one of the persons directly responsible for the Holocaust. His deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, was a rising star in the Nazi party and partly responsible for the Final Solution to the Jewish question. He also became ‘Protector’ of what is now known as the Czech Republic.

The novel is about the assassination of Heydrich and the heroes responsible for it, primarily Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, with Josef Valčík. It is a gripping account of the events surrounding this assassination and I wish more people know their names (and thanks to this book, there will).

On a sad note, Germany’s reprisals due to the assassination were heartbreaking. As if the Holocaust wasn’t heartbreaking enough.

* * * *

First chapter

Gabčík—that’s his name—really did exist. Lying alone on a little iron bed, did he hear, from outside, beyond the shutters of a darkened apartment, the unmistakable creaking of the Prague tramways? I want to believe so. I know Prague well, so I can imagine the tram’s number (but perhaps it’s changed?), its route, and the place where Gabčík waits, thinking and listening. We are at the corner of Vyšehradská and Trojická. The number 18 tram (or the number 22) has stopped in front of the Botanical Gardens. We are, most important, in 1942. In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera implies that he feels a bit ashamed at having to name his characters. And although this shame is hardly perceptible in his novels, which are full of Tomášes, Tominas, and Terezas, we can intuit the obvious meaning: what could be more vulgar than to arbitrarily give—from a childish desire for verisimilitude or, at best, mere convenience—an invented name to an invented character? In my opinion, Kundera should have gone further: what could be more vulgar than an invented character?

So, Gabčík existed, and it was to this name that he answered (although not always). His story is as true as it is extraordinary. He and his comrades are, in my eyes, the authors of one of the greatest acts of resistance in human history, and without doubt the greatest of the Second World War. For a long time I have wanted to pay tribute to him. For a long time I have seen him, lying in his little room—shutters closed, window open—listening to the creak of the tram (going which way? I don’t know) that stops outside the Botanical Gardens. But if I put this image on paper, as I’m sneakily doing now, that won’t necessarily pay tribute to him. I am reducing this man to the ranks of a vulgar character and his actions to literature: an ignominious transformation, but what else can I do? I don’t want to drag this vision around with me all my life without having tried, at least, to give it some substance. I just hope that, however bright and blinding the veneer of fiction that covers this fabulous story, you will still be able to see through it to the historical reality that lies behind.

* * * *

More on the Munich Agreement:

Along with France and Italy, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, brokers the deal between Germany and the Czech Republic, without the latter’s consent or even prior knowledge: a Czech province, the Sudetenland, had been given to Germany.

Chapter 67

Chamberlain, on a balcony in London: “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”

Chapter 68

Krofta, the Czech foreign minister: “They have put us in this situation. Now it’s our turn; tomorrow it will be their turn.”

Chapter 70

Churchill: “You had to choose between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor. You will have war.”

World opinion has never been as significant, swift, and collective as it is now. It would be interesting how China’s bullying and vast territorial claims would play out in such a time.

Salt, Fat and Sugar: I’m officially overweight

I felt I had a mini stroke earlier—after close to two days of complete bed rest (I’ve been feverish the entire week), I decided to do a high intensity exercise. I managed to complete the seven-minute workout, but seconds later, my vision became blurry, I could hardly catch my breath, my heart was pounding like an earthquake, and my entire body felt numb. I got scared since it wasn’t like anything I’ve experienced before. I had to close my eyes, try to relax and ride it out (although I was on the brink of bringing myself to the hospital) but thankfully, I felt normal again.

About a month ago, results of my annual physical examination arrived in my office. I never took an APE in my life, and I wouldn’t have taken one again this year, if we weren’t forced by our company. (Supposedly, there’s a new Makati ordinance that requires all employees in the city to get one.) Early this year, I had done my best to bulk up since my goal is to weigh 180lbs or about 20lbs more than my current weight then. (I’m now about 170lbs, thanks to Chocolait and milk.)

Imagine my shock when I was diagnosed as overweight and a candidate for hypertension:

APE

Every one I’ve shared this with couldn’t believe it either: I am not fat. Even my BMI is within the normal range. Anyway, fine: I won’t contest the doctor’s assessment. Besides, what’s more alarming for me is my prehypertension.

Incidentally, I was in the middle of reading Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss. It’s about how processed food are created and why they essentially should not be eaten. Even the CEOs of these companies admitted that they don’t eat their own products because of the dangers they pose to their health!

My takeaways from that book are:

  • You can’t buy anything in the grocery, especially anything that’s packed and processed.
  • Processed cheese is the worst product you can buy. This include cheese found in sauces, chips, and other snacks.
  • Water is perhaps the only acceptable beverage you can drink.
  • McDonald’s used to sell burgers treated with ammonia, a normal industry practice, but still, no thanks. This was only stopped in 2011 in the US. I don’t know how it is here in the Philippines or with other fast food joints.

After watching Super Size Me, a documentary on the dangers of fast food restaurants, it had the opposite effect on me: the minute it ended, I called McDonald’s delivery and ordered McNuggets, lol. This time however, after having finished the book, I couldn’t bear to buy my usual grocery staples: Lay’s, Doritos, Pik-Nik, Chippy, Potato Chips, V-Cut, Ding Dong, and Magnum. Instead, I started buying merienda in our canteen (though who knows what they put in there, but at least, they aren’t processed and made with ingredients you can’t pronounce.) I haven’t been to a fast food joint in a while.

Salt Sugar Fat puts the blame on the food companies for having created enticing products either through marketing or through addicting chemical properties. I agree that they are partly responsible, but I would also agree with the food industry’s stand that it wouldn’t be churning out these unhealthy products if they were not selling. I admit it’s challenging—I’ve tried eating healthy before and I found it expensive (aside from time-consuming). There are also fewer options as far as flavor is concerned. However, I’m wiling to give it a shot again, especially after seeing my health assessment.

* * * *

prologue
“The Company Jewels”

Minneapolis was having a blustery spring evening on April 8, 1999, when a long line of town cars and taxis pulled up to the office complex on South 6th Street and discharged their well-dressed passengers. These eleven men were the heads of America’s largest food companies. Among them, they controlled seven hundred thousand employees and $280 billion in annual sales. And even before their sumptuous dinner was served, they would be charting a course for their industry for years to come.

There would be no reporters at this gathering. No minutes taken, no recordings made. Rivals any other day, the CEOs and company presidents had come together for a meeting that was as secretive as it was rare. On the agenda was one item: the emerging epidemic of obesity and how to deal with it.

Pillsbury was playing host at its corporate headquarters, two glass and steel towers perched on the eastern edge of downtown. The largest falls on the Mississippi River rumbled a few blocks away, near the historic brick and iron-roller mills that, generations before, had made this city the flour-grinding capital of the world. A noisy midwestern wind gusting to 45 miles an hour buffeted the towers as the executives boarded the elevators and made their way to the thirty-first floor.

A top official at Pillsbury, fifty-five-year-old James Behnke, greeted the men as they walked in. He was anxious but also confident about the plan that he and a few other food company executives had devised to engage the CEOs on America’s growing weight problem. “We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue,” Behnke recalled. “People were starting to talk about sugar taxes, and there was a lot of pressure on food companies.” As the executives took their seats, Behnke particularly worried about how they would respond to the evening’s most delicate matter: the notion that they and their companies had played a central role in creating this health crisis. Getting the company chiefs in the same room to talk about anything, much less a sensitive issue like this, was a tricky business, so Behnke and his fellow organizers had scripted the meeting carefully, crafting a seating chart and honing the message to its barest essentials. “CEOs in the food industry are typically not technical guys, and they’re uncomfortable going to meetings where technical people talk in technical terms about technical things,” Behnke said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed. They don’t want to make commitments. They want to maintain their aloofness and autonomy.”

Book review: The Piano Teacher

I selected this book in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Hong Kong. This came up in The Guardian’s list of Top 10 books set in Hong Kong, and this line convinced me to read this among the choices: “Fashionable Hong Kong … the arrival of war … an engrossing and detailed historical novel.” (Yes, it had me at ‘fashionable’.)

I imagined something along the likes of In the Mood for Love and I wasn’t disappointed.

The story: Claire and her husband arrive in Hong Kong from England in 1952. For work, she applies as a piano teacher for the powerful Chen family, whose wealth and connections ensure their place in British (and later, Japanese) society.

As in Wong Kar Wai’s films, writer Janice Y.K. Lee has the talent to sensualize even the most mundane events. Consider this paragraph:

Victor and Melody Chen lived in the Mid-Levels, in an enormous white two-story house on May Road. There was a driveway, with potted plants lining the sides. Inside, there was the quiet, efficient buzz of a household staffed with plentiful servants. Claire had taken a bus, and when she arrived, she was perspiring after the walk from the road to the house. The amah had led her to a sitting room, where she found a fan blowing blessedly cool air. A houseboy adjusted the drapes so that she was properly shaded. Her blue linen skirt, just delivered from the tailor, was wrinkled, and she had on a white voile blouse that was splotched with moisture. She hoped the Chens would allow her some time to compose herself. She shifted, feeling a drop of perspiration trickle down her thigh.

I wish Ms. Lee persisted in this style and in her initial plot, which is about love in the time of war. Later, she introduces a crime element, primarily through the Crown Collection subplot involving priceless Chinese antiquities and artifacts, but it was more a distraction, both in the overall storyline and her writing style.

Coincidentally, I was reading this book when Pam referred me to the Inquirer article on the Manila Massacre. Hong Kong wasn’t spared by Japan’s atrocities during World War II, and Ms. Lee aptly paints a horrifying picture. She provides a rich and vivid history of Hong Kong during that period, and for that alone, I was completely enamored by this book.

* * * *

Excerpt from the first chapter:

May 1952

It started as an accident. The small Herend rabbit had fallen into Claire’s purse. It had been on the piano and she had been gathering up the sheet music at the end of the lesson when she knocked it off. It fell off the doily (a doily! on the Steinway!) and into her large leather bag. What had happened after that was perplexing, even to her. Locket had been staring down at the keyboard and hadn’t noticed. And then, Claire had just . . . left. It wasn’t until she was downstairs and waiting for the bus that she grasped what she had done. And then it had been too late. She went home and buried the expensive porcelain figurine under her sweaters.

Claire and her husband had moved to Hong Kong nine months ago, transferred by the government, which had posted Martin at the Department of Water Services. Churchill had ended rationing and things were starting to return to normal when they had received news of the posting. She had never dreamed of leaving England before.

Martin was an engineer, overseeing the building of the Tai Lam Cheung reservoir, so that there wouldn’t need to be so much rationing when the rains ebbed, as they did every several years. It was to hold four and a half billion gallons of water when full. Claire almost couldn’t imagine such a number, but Martin said it was barely enough for the people of Hong Kong, and he was sure that by the time they were finished, they’d have to build another. “More work for me,” he said cheerfully. He was analyzing the topography of the hills so that they could install catchwaters for when the rain came. The English government did so much for the colonies, Claire knew. They made the locals’ lives much better but they rarely appreciated it. Her mother had warned her about the Chinese before she left—an unscrupulous, conniving people who would surely try to take advantage of her innocence and goodwill.

Coming over, she had noticed it for days, the increasing wetness in the air, even more than usual. The sea breezes were stronger and the sunrays more powerful when they broke through cloud. When the P&O Canton finally pulled into Hong Kong harbor in August, she really felt she was in the tropics, hair frizzing up in curls, face always slightly damp and oily, the constant moisture under her arms and knees. When she stepped from her cabin outside, the heat assailed her like a physical blow, until she managed to find shade and fan herself.

Book review: Attachments

AttachmentsPretty much everyone in a corporate environment has had raised an eyebrow at the IT guys, they who lord it over your machines and computers, and most importantly, serve as vanguards to the Internet. In Attachments, two newspaper colleagues, an editor and a movie writer, negotiate the days of early Internet, using their office email to trade gossips and catch up on each other’s lives.

As is the stuff of corporate legends, one IT dude is able to read all their email exchanges.

Depending on the your prejudices, you may expect the IT guy to be the villain in this story but Rainbow Rowell immediately paints Lincoln as the ultimate sweetheart. He loves his mom, befriends old ladies, and the best part, looks hot without knowing it (!!!). That alone made me giddy over this character, haha; I imagine him as a Jamie Oliver-lookalike. So overall, he is painted as this pretty attainable, next-door type of guy. (The cons: he lives with his mother, plays Dungeons and Dragons, has little to no social life, a geek in many ways. PS: This is also the first time I’ve ever been able to relate to a male character; or at least, the first in a long time that I can remember.)

So that’s how the magic happens: Lincoln gets hooked on Jennifer and Beth’s correspondences, while he attempts to introduce himself to them in the real environment, outside the virtual confines of the Internet. It’s a fairly simple story: there’s hardly any conflict or antagonist. It’s simply about two people falling in love.

I liked this book a lot 🙂

* * * *

CHAPTER 1

From: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
To: Beth Fremont
Sent: Wed, 08/18/1999 9:06 AM
Subject: Where are you?

Would it kill you to get here before noon? I’m sitting here among the shards of my life as I know it, and you …if I know you, you just woke up. You’re probably eating oatmeal and watching Sally Jessy Raphael. E-mail me when you get in, before you do anything else. Don’t even read the comics.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Okay, I’m putting you before the comics, but make it quick. I’ve got an ongoing argument with Derek about whether For Better or For Worse is set in Canada, and today might be the day they prove me right.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> I think I’m pregnant.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> What? Why do you think you’re pregnant?

<<Jennifer to Beth>> I had three drinks last Saturday.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> I think we need to have a little talk about the birds and the bees. That’s not exactly how it happens.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Whenever I have too much to drink, I start to feel pregnant. I think it’s because I never drink, and it would just figure that the one time I decide to loosen up, I get pregnant. Three hours of weakness, and now I’m going to spend the rest of my life wrestling with the special needs of a fetal alcoholic.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> I don’t think they call them that.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Its little eyes will be too far apart, and everyone will look at me in the grocery store and whisper, “Look at that horrible lush. She couldn’t part with her Zima for nine months. It’s tragic.”

<<Beth to Jennifer>> You drink Zima?

<<Jennifer to Beth>> It’s really quite refreshing.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> You’re not pregnant.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> I am.

Normally, two days before my period, my face is broken out, and I get pre-cramps cramping. But my skin is as clear as a baby’s bottom. And instead of cramps, I feel this strangeness in my womb region. Almost a presence.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> I dare you to call Ask-A-Nurse and tell them that you’ve got a presence in your womb region.

<<Jennifer to Beth>> Given: This is not my first pregnancy scare. I will acknowledge that thinking I’m pregnant is practically a part of my monthly premenstrual regimen. But I’m telling you, this is different. I feel different. It’s like my body is telling me, “It has Begun.”

I can’t stop worrying about what happens next. First I get sick. And then I get fat. And then I die of an aneurysm in the delivery room.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> OR …and then you give birth to a beautiful child. (See how you’ve tricked me into playing along with your pregnancy fiction?)

<<Jennifer to Beth>> OR …and then I give birth to a beautiful child, whom I never see because he spends all his waking hours at the day-care center with some minimum-wage slave he thinks is his mother. Mitch and I try to eat dinner together after the baby’s in bed, but we’re both so tired all the time. I start to doze off while he tells me about his day; he’s relieved because he wasn’t up to talking anyway. He eats his sloppy joe in silence and thinks about the shapely new consumer-science teacher at the high school. She wears black pumps and nude panty hose and rayon skirts that shimmy up her thighs whenever she sits down.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> What does Mitch think? (About the Presence in your womb. Not the new consumer-science teacher.)

<<Jennifer to Beth>> He thinks I should take a pregnancy test.

<<Beth to Jennifer>> Good man. Perhaps a common-sensical kind of guy like Mitch would have been better off with that home ec teacher. (She’d never make sloppy joes for dinner.) But I guess he’s stuck with you, especially now that there’s a special-needs child on the way.

Book review: Heads in Beds

Heads in BedsThis was a breeze to read—it only took me two days! That’s how entertained I was by this book.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality is written by Jacob Tomsky, a front desk agent (I’m more used to ‘officer’) for a New York hotel. Here, he writes about his experiences going up the career ladder, from being a valet to manager—with a few gossips and a lot of tips to boot.

Among his two cents: You can always get your minibar charges waived off. That ‘film which you may have in fact fapped on? You can dispute that as well. I’ve always wondered about how people manage to get their rooms upgraded—a surefire way to do so is by greasing the palm of your FDA. He gets pretty adamant about this tip: for Jacob, the FDA wields the real power in improving your hotel experience, not the concierge.

This does make sense, for as he points out, it’s front desk that’s behind the computer upon your check in, but I struggle with the idea of giving them money on your arrival. Wouldn’t they find it offensive over here in Asia? The tipping culture here is not as rigid as in the U.S. where those in the service industry demand them. I’ve had hotel experiences, wherein staff refused my gratuity. I find it an arrogant display to just start handing cash to front desk. (Also, I’ve never seen anyone do it, unless they were extremely discreet about it.) So I guess, this depends on the country’s tipping culture.

In the end though, just be nice. It may not get you a stunning view, an upgrade, or a complimentary wine, but it’s the right thing to do.

 Chapter One

I am standing on St. Charles Avenue, uptown New Orleans, a few months out of college and a few weeks into summer. It’s already extremely hot in the full sun. Which is where I have to stand: in the sun. Next to the valet box. All day.

I took a valet-parking job at Copeland’s restaurant to shake off my college-loan laziness, to climb out of the educational womb and stand on my own two feet as a moneymaking, career-pursuing adult. Educated in the useless and inapplicable field of philosophy, I quickly deduced that my degree looked slightly comical on my already light-on-the-work-experience résumé. Perhaps it was even off-putting. To a certain eye, hell, it probably made me look like a prick. But I had to start somewhere. So I started at the bottom.

This job is not good enough. Why not? First of all, I’m parking cars. Second, we have to turn in all our tips. I imagined I’d get off the first night with a pocketful of ones to take to the French Quarter, not that you need much money in New Orleans. As it turned out, however, attached to the valet box that houses the car keys, like a wooden tumor, is a separate slot for us to jimmy in our folded tips. All of them. Attached to that box, like a human tumor, is the shift boss, back in the shade at a vacant umbrella table, sipping a noontime drink that most definitely contains alcohol. It also has chipped ice and is sweating in his hand, sweating in a much different way than I am sweating.

A lunch customer hands me his ticket. I find his keys easily in the box and take off at an impressive run. His car is not easy to find: the valet company has not rented a nearby lot to service the restaurant, and so we, certainly unbeknownst to the clients, just drive around the area and try to parallel park the vehicles as close to Copeland’s as possible. Once the vehicle has been parked, it’s up to the valet to draw a silly treasure map on the back of the ticket so another valet can locate it. My co-worker Chip draws every treasure map like this: #*. Every single one. And finding the car is never easy. But I bring it back and slide up to the curb, holding the door open, the car’s AC pouring like ice water on my feet, and receive a neatly folded bill from the customer.

“It’s damn hot out here, son. This is for you running like that.”

It’s a twenty-dollar bill. Chip, now back and posted by the valet box, holds a salute against his brow, trying like hell to make out the bill. I walk up to the tip tumor and start to wiggle it in when Chip says, “No. No! What are you doing, Tommy? Don’t you keep a dollar handy to swap it out with? Please don’t put that twenty in there. Please. It’s for you. That dude told you it was for you.”

“Actually, it’s for Copeland’s Valet Parking Corporation,” the human tumor says, setting his drink down wet on the valet box.