I wrote a post about The Golden Chersonese for Asian Books Blog.
A paperback edition of The Golden Chersonese was published in 2010 by Monsoon Books. The text is also available free from Gutenberg.org along with various other works by Isabella Bird.
Bird traveled around the world in the late 1800s, largely unaccompanied. This volume of hers, one among a dozen published works, contains letters describing her experiences in the Malaysian Peninsula, where she traveled after stopping briefly in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore.
Reading the letters without much in the way of added historical context left me feeling somewhat adrift, but the book was worth reading for the strange feeling it gave me of traveling not just in space but in time.
See below for some notes on what makes this travelogue very much of its time and not ours.
Continue reading The Golden Chersonese by Isabella Bird
When and Why I Read The Golden Chersonese
"A nineteenth-century Englishwoman's travels in Singapore and the Malay peninsula."
Genre: travel / Southeast Asia
Date started / date finished: 09-Nov-20 to 23-Nov-20
Length: 352 pages
Originally published in: 1883/2010
Amazon link: The Golden Chersonese
Both servings of Singapore Siu Dai offer comics and brief comedy sketches that exaggerate the ironies of life on the island and lovingly poke fun at aptly named fictional characters meant to caricature the island’s people.
Though I can’t help but feel that the target audience consists of people who are familiar with acronyms like MOE (Ministry of Education) and the ubiquitous Singlish speech particle ‘lah’, there’s a glossary that explains these and other potentially opaque terms, noting whether they are Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin or Singlish.
Luckily for foreign readers, one of the entries explains the phrase ‘siu dai’, which means ‘less sugar’, the idea being that these sketches depict Singapore, warts and all.
There’s a third Siu Dai book that I haven’t yet managed to snag.
When I Read Singapore Siu Dai 1 and 2
Singapore Siu Dai 1
Date started / date finished: 17-Nov-20 to 17-Nov-20
Length: 129 pages
Originally published in: 2014
Singapore Siu Dai 2
Date started / date finished: 19-Nov-20 to 23-Nov-20
Length: 139 pages
Originally published in: 2014
This is the grandaddy of all the other books on Singlish. This paperback, containing reprints of two originally separate volumes from 1982 and 1986, contains a wealth of acronyms, onomatopoeias, words, phrases, and chants in or derived from English, Malay, and the locally spoken Chinese dialects Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew.
Continue reading The Complete Eh, Goondu! by Sylvia Toh Paik Choo
When and Why I Read The Complete Eh, Goondu!
This is a list of Singlish words and phrases with explanations, grouped into chapters.
Genre: Reference (English, Singapore)
Date started / date finished: 26-Oct-20 to 19-Nov-20
Length: 221 pages
Originally published in: 2011
Amazon link: The Complete Eh, Goondu!
Singaporean graphic designer Hang Kwong Lim struck internet gold when he transformed the names of all Singapore’s MRT stations into logos resembling those of famous local and international brands.
My first thought was “Hm, that’s interesting…” and my next thought was “Oh, I recognize some of these,” and my doom was “I think I’ll share this with my boyfriend.” The two of us proceeded to spend over three hours together on Skype puzzling them out.
Some answers were really obvious, some were less obvious, some came in a flash of uncanny insight accompanied by a feeling that was equal parts pride and utter mystification in the face of the veiled mysteries of the workings of the human mind. A few of them, I admit, we got by the simple expedient of using Google’s “search by image” feature. I only looked at answers in Facebook comments for the last two, because TBH I didn’t realize the answers were there.
Keep reading for a complete list of answers and my thoughts on this delightful excursion into the world of branding. Visit the Mothership post first if you want to work out the answers on your own!
Continue reading Singapore MRT station names as famous brand logos
Award-winning Singaporean author Catherine Lim has written many books, but this is the first one to find its way into my collection. I don’t think it’s typical; it’s a rather short novel based on a cruise she went on.
I’m not a fan of semi-fictionalized stories (like Roots) that chase two rabbits and catch neither. Memoir-type stories are interesting as accurate representations of unusual situations, whereas novels entertain by telling carefully constructed, dramatic stories. If you’re composing a memoir, you create drama by choosing what to include and what to omit, but you don’t invent things. If you’re writing a novel, you invent pretty much everything. If you switch back and forth from recording to creating, I never know whether you’re relating something that happened, or something you imagined. The result is a feeling of cognitive dissonance.
The genesis of Meet Me was, according to the author’s preface, accidental, and its publication reluctant. When Lim was on the Queen Elizabeth 2, she wanted to write satirically about the people she met. After penning her thoughts, however, she found that the ship had subverted her intentions and made her instead write unflatteringly about herself, at which point she thought maybe she wouldn’t actually publish anything about the cruise. Nevertheless, here we are. And there she is on the cover.
If you’re going to read a navel-gazing book about a female author’s mid-life crisis, read Eat, Pray, Love. There’s a reason Elizabeth Gilbert’s quest to find God or a man or whatever is one that hundreds of thousands of people have read about and/or watched. To the extent that Gilbert rewrote her own experiences by leaving out the messy or unsatisfying bits, her story became stronger as a story. When we read narrative non-fiction, we still look for narrative as well as truth.
When and Why I Read Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
First book I've read by this well-known Singapore novelist.
Date started / date finished: 10-Oct-20 to 11-Oct-20
Length: 210 pages
Originally published in: 1993
Amazon link: Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2
I tend to like teen novels about dystopias. I do NOT, however, like zombies. I’m really glad I checked out these books from the library rather than buying them (as I was considering doing), because, as it turns out, they’re about—guess what?—zombies.
The book series, kind of like a zombie, refuses to die. It keeps getting more and more volumes tacked on, so there must be people who enjoy this sort of thing. I decided reading the original trilogy was quite sufficient. Oh, and I’ve seen the first movie twice now. The original book trilogy, consisting of The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure contains a complete story arc.
When and Why I Read The Maze Runner
I was underwhelmed by the movie of The Maze Runner, but often novels are better than their movies. Still, I decided to borrow this one from the library before buying, like, the whole set of books, in case I don't actually like them.
Genre: young adult / fantasy
Date started / date finished: 20-Sep-20 to 22-Sep-20
Length: 375 pages
Originally published in: 2009
Amazon link: The Maze Runner
I read the Garnett translation. I was happy with it, to the extent that “happy” is the right word to describe the experience of reading what I found to be a depressing novel.
What is the BEST translation of Crime and Punishment?
I did some research on the available translations, which I have presented in a long, illustrated post on my other website, We Love Translations, called “Which translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment should I read?”
That post compares in-print translations. I count seven in-print translations of thirteen total, listed here:
||Princess Alexandra Kropotkin
||Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
||Nicolas Pasternak Slater
||Michael R. Katz
I recommend the Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment.
Buy Garnett / Wordsworth paperback from Amazon
Buy Garnett / Wordsworth ebook from Amazon
I love books. I love languages. I built welovetranslations.com.
Visit to learn more about translations of Crime of Punishment!
The word “mnemonic” has nothing to do with anything in the movie. Nothing. It’s just a weird word that makes the title sound fancy.
As an adjective, “mnemonic” means “aiding or designed to aid the memory” or “relating to the power of memory”. As a noun, it means a special word or poem that helps you recall a set of connected ideas—like “FANBOYS”, which reminds you of seven coordinating conjunctions in English: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
But the premise of Johnny Mnemonic is that the protagonist is carrying data in his head like a drug mule and doesn’t even know what it is! Moreover, he doesn’t remember much about himself; he dumped his memories to make more space to carry data. From the title, I would have guessed he had a special memory skill, but no. He just has a cybernetic upgrade that turned his brain into a (rather faulty) hard drive. He’s nothing special. Might as well be named John Doe.
William Gibson wrote the screenplay as well as the short story of the same name, so the title was his choice, nothing to do with Hollywood. Maybe he picked it because the character wishes he could remember his childhood?
Watch it on Amazon
See below for more on what the movie is like and why I didn’t particularly like it.
Continue reading Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
I didn’t particularly like Crime and Punishment… it was third-person omniscient but drifted into unreliable narrator territory because the protagonist is crazy, and you spend a lot of time watching him very closely as he goes around in circles being indecisive. I find his behavior dull at best and really frustrating at times—which is perhaps the point, but it’s unpleasant and rather drawn-out. I think I was expecting more overt philosophy, but there’s only a couple of scattered bits.
I read the Constance Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment. If you are trying to decide on a translation, check out my post over at Medium on which translation of Crime and Punishment you should read.
More on what I liked about the translation and didn’t like about the novel below.
Continue reading Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Constance Garnett
When and Why I Read Crime and Punishment
I was too tempted by the price! Bought it for 50% off SG$5.89. But according to the rules I've been trying to follow for a couple of years now, if I buy it, I can't just put it aside for another day. Last in, first out. Means I have to read it. So that's what I'm doing!
Genre: Classic Literature (Russian)
Date started / date finished: 28-Mar-20 to 05-Apr-20
Length: 485 pages
Originally published in: 1867/2000
Amazon link: Crime and Punishment
This book was printed in 1950. It’s in decent condition, although the pages are a little brownish. It has a pleasant smell, like an old library. The content as well as the paper, the fonts, and the typesetting make for a kind of armchair time-traveling experience.
Continue reading 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary
When and Why I Read 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary
My dad dug this book up out of a box in the house. The text was first was published in 1942; my copy is apparently the eighteenth printing (October 1950). I am not the least bit worried about the strength of my vocabulary, but when I opened the book at random and landed on "Seventh Day: Words About Theories", a chapter which defined and explained atheism, agnosticism, fatalism, egoism, altruism, stoicism, chauvinism, jingoism, liberalism, conservatism, and epicureanism, I decided this was perhaps not just another dime-a-dozen book about words. That the book stayed in print until at least the 1970s says something about its enduring appeal.
Genre: Reference (Language)
Date started / date finished: 23-Mar-20 to 29-Mar-20
Length: 242 pages
Originally published in: 1942/1950
Amazon link: 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary