Tuesday, June 22, 2010

QUOTE | Two Meanings of Lost

Sort of how I've been feeling lately, so I decided to look up this quote:

Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possesion; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know here you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.

~ A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Never Forget Aung San Suu Kyi

June 19th 2010 marks Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday. Since her party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide election in 1990, she has been imprisoned or placed under house arrest by the Burmese military government -- who had also refused to recognize the results of the election.

Never forget. They want you to forget.

More: CNN & http://uscampaignforburma.org/

RIP Jose Saramago

Obituaries at The Guardian & The New York Times

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some Changes to the Template

New things are shiny and distracting for me. In case you haven't noticed, I've been playing around with the new template for this blog. It has been a while since I changed the layout. I ask indulgence as I figure my way out on the new look -- but in the event you find the layout hard to read or hurtful to the eye, please feel free to drop a note in the comments.

I'm trying for the tasteful and minimalist look.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

BOOKS | The 100 Most Celebrated Travel Books of All Time

Compiled by Worldhum [ details ]

Geek that I am, I feel the need to tick off the list. What I don't get though -- why did they include the out-of-print Freya Stark titles? When was the last time anyone saw Beyond Euphrates in the bookstores? While an out-of-print title does not in any way loses its inherent literary value -- it does mean it's less accessible. If a book is not being read, can we still consider it "significant" in the canon?

1) A Dragon Apparent, by Norman Lewis
2) A House in Bali, by Colin McPhee
3) A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (read it during my Parisian phase)
4) A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby
5) A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
6) A Turn in the South, by V.S. Naipaul
7) A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
8) A Winter in Arabia, by Freya Stark
9) Among the Russians, by Colin Thubron
10) An Area of Darkness, by V.S. Naipaul
11) Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger (half-way through. Thesiger's prose is as dry as the desert landscape he's describing)
12) Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez
13) The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton (pretty okay)
14) As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee
15) Baghdad Without a Map, by Tony Horwitz
16) Balkan Ghosts, by Robert D. Kaplan
17) Beyond Euphrates, by Freya Stark
18) The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer, by Eric Hansen
19) Bitter Lemons of Cyprus, by Lawrence Durrell
20) Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West
21) Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin
22) Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon
23) Brazilian Adventure, by Peter Fleming
24) Chasing the Sea, by Tom Bissell
25) City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple (Dalrymple is one of my favourite travel writer. He is so funny!)
26) Coasting, by Jonathan Raban
27) Coming Into the Country, by John McPhee
28) Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux
29) Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
30) Down the Nile, by Rosemary Mahoney
31) Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
32) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
33) Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
34) Facing the Congo, by Jeffrey Tayler
35) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
36) Four Corners, by Kira Salak
37) Full Circle, by Michael Palin
38) Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy
39) Golden Earth, by Norman Lewis
40) Great Plains, by Ian Frazier
41) The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux
42) Holidays in Hell, by P.J. O’Rourke
43) Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
44) Hunting Mister Heartbreak, by Jonathan Raban
45) In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson (never finished)
46) In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin (never finished the book. D.R.Y.)
47) In Siberia, by Colin Thubron
48) In Trouble Again, by Redmond O’Hanlon
49) The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
50) Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
51) Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
52) Iron and Silk, by Mark Salzman
53) Kon-Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl
54) The Lady and the Monk, by Pico Iyer
55) Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain
56) The Log From the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck
57) The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz
58) The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson
59) Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, by Suketu Mehta
60) The Motorcycle Diaries, by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
61) The Muses Are Heard, by Truman Capote
62) No Mercy, by Redmond O’Hanlon
63) Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson
64) Nothing to Declare, by Mary Morris
65) Old Glory, by Jonathan Raban
66) The Old Patagonian Express, by Paul Theroux
67) Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
68) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
69) The Pillars of Hercules, by Paul Theroux
70) The Places in Between, by Rory Stewart
71) Riding to the Tigris, by Freya Stark (pretty sure it's out of print)
72) The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald
73) The River at the Center of the World, by Simon Winchester
74) River Town, by Peter Hessler
75) Road Fever, by Tim Cahill
76) The Road to Oxiana, by Robert Byron
77) Roughing It, by Mark Twain
78) Sea and Sardinia, by D.H. Lawrence
79) Seven Years in Tibet, by Heinrich Harrer
80) The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost
81) The Size of the World, by Jeff Greenwald
82) Slowly Down the Ganges, by Eric Newby
83) The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen (maybe it's time for a re-read)
84) The Soccer War, by Ryszard Kapuscinski
85) The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin
86) Terra Incognita, by Sara Wheeler
87) Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue, by Paul Bowles
88) Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson
89) Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck
90) Travels With Myself and Another, by Martha Gellhorn
91) Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris
92) Two Towns in Provence, by M.F.K. Fisher
93) Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
94) Video Night in Kathmandu, by Pico Iyer
95) West With the Night, by Beryl Markham
96) When the Going was Good, by Evelyn Waugh
97) The World of Venice, by Jan Morris
98) The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
99) Wrong About Japan, by Peter Carey
100) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Clueless Bunny

I mentioned that a friend of mine passed away earlier this year. I thought of her recently, and decided I was going to talk a little about her here.

Bunny was an ex-classmate, back when we were 17 and the most imminent things on our minds were trying not to fail our tests and getting enough sleep. Sometimes we even think about skipping classes and not getting caught for it. (Yes, back then we had the weight of the universe on our shoulders.)

We nicknamed her "Bunny" -- which might give you an idea of the kind of warm, fuzzy feelings we have for her. But most of all, we call her Bunny, because she can be something of a silly bunny at times. She was one of those clueless girls that you love in spite yourself, even as you keep pulling pranks on her relentlessly -- because she's so such an easy target.

A small group of us from the class stayed in touch. We went to each other's weddings, watched some of us become parents. We were there when Bunny met her boyfriend (later her husband) Wei, in the university. After graduation she joined a bank doing sales where she was paid well. A few years later, Bunny left that well-paying job to pursue a Masters in International Relations in Australia. When questioned about it, Bunny explained she didn't really know what International Relations was about -- it just sounded interesting.

After her Masters, Bunny worked as a teacher in a kindergarten for international students, before she went on to teach in one of the most prestigious all-girls school in the country. She never made as much money as her first job though.

When she talked about her somewhat dramatic career change, she explained: Back in her first job with the bank, you have sales targets, and the competition and pressure is immense. It's a very result-oriented field, and sometimes to close the deal, you may need to employ certain ethically questionable tactics. There's also the backstabbing between colleagues: the person sitting across from you might just steal your clients from under your nose. After a while, you start to wonder if you ought to do the same. She did not like the kind of person she was turning into.

"Money is not the most important thing," Bunny had said simply.

Some might argue if she had been a stronger person, she might have found a way to meet her sales targets without compromising her integrity -- I think that is missing the point. Bunny found herself changing into someone she didn't like. She had the self-awareness to stop before she truly lost herself. She knew what was important to her -- and was bold enough to walk away from the kind of income and lifestyle that many would find difficult to let go. Perhaps our Bunny was never as clueless as she pretended to be.

We loved that little silly bunny.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Questions and Answers - and Montaigne

A while ago, I was going through a period where I questioned my choices. I wondered if I should have stayed for a second year in Dubai (it would have meant more money in my bank account -- always a good thing). I wondered if I made the right choice coming back to try to "do right" by my mother. Most important of all: did I make the right choice quitting my job?

I was fretting a lot about this career uncertainty these past few months, even falling into quicksand-like moments of depression -- those mental traps that you slip into suddenly, unexpectedly -- and consumes you completely. Yet I am observing my own state of mind here and now -- and I feel fine. A little ironic perhaps, a little introspective -- but capable of a smile.

Amazing how the situation remains the same, yet our mind has such a wide spectrum of reactions.

After all the questions, there are a few things I can be sure of: Some of my friends have remarked how much better I look these days. I no longer wake up with that sense of heavy weariness that comes with waking up to a work-day. I felt stuck at my previous job. The point was getting unstuck.

So where do I go from here? Interestingly enough, I thought Montaigne might have the right idea.

Like many noblemen of his times, Michel de Montaigne had two jobs. He held a magistracy in Bordeaux for thirteen years, and he was responsible for the prosperous country estate he inherited from his father in 1568. Then in 1570, he retired as magistrate. He was thirty-seven, hardly an old man. He decided to give up his political life and retreat to a more meaningful life of introspection, reading and writing. Just like that.

Montaigne went to some length for his retreat. He converted one of the towers at his chateau into his office, and there -- set up his library with its collection of over a thousand volumes. On his 38th birthday, just because he felt like it, he had a Latin inscription painted on the wall of a side-chamber to his library. It read:

In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, anniversary of his birth, Michel de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public employments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned Virgins [the Muses], where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life now more than half run out. If the fates permit he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat; and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.

Montaigne took the advice of the ancients to heart, especially that of the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, who advised his fellow Romans to retreat from the world to better find themselves. So Montaigne retreated, and he turned his attention to observing, questioning and writing about his own experiences. He soon began working on the Essays that would seal his name in the history of literature.

I am not making claims to deathless prose. Yet, shifting one's focus to a more meditative life feels right -- more rewarding. It is still important to find gainful employment of course. One needs to live, to pay the bills -- just as Montaigne maintained his estate after he resigned from public office. But life has to be more than just politics, money, career and fame. We need to retreat -- to spend real time working inwards for something richer.

So, I have decided: I am retired. My job will support me, but is not the focus of my real life.

[Still reading Sarah Bakewell's How to Live.]

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Rachel Maddow interviews Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's new book, Medium Raw is out June 8th, 2010. [ Bloomsbury Edition | HarperCollins Edition ] Here he talks to Rachel Maddow about food (what else) and why hamburgers repulse him.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, June 04, 2010

BP Oil Disaster and what it means for America

Rachel Maddow reminds us that the BP Deepwater Disaster is more than "just" an environmental disaster. It is a diagnosis of whether the American political system and its media works.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, June 03, 2010

LIFE | 3 June 2010

Just a quick update to my friends on what has been going on with my life - and the reason (or excuse) why there hasn't been many posts.

I quit my job late last year and took a break for a few months. This is the first time in 9 years that I am without a regular income. The family has also moved to a new apartment - it's smaller, and things are all new. (Imagine coming home to an apartment where you don't really remember where the light switches are) It is an understatement to say I have been treading through unfamiliar territories the past few months.

Now I am back and trying to find new employment. I am not sure if I wish to continue in the book industry - while I still love books and always will - there comes a time when you need to step away from books as a JOB to appreciate it again.

Which now begs the question of what to do next? That's a question I keep asking myself every day. Friends tell me not to fret. Things will fall into place when it is time.

I wish I possess greater wisdom to see past this. I am asking lots of questions right now - or maybe just asking the same questions over and over with no answers. Then I was at the library yesterday and found this book on display: How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts At An Answer. It's sort of a biography on Montaigne, as he lived his life and pondered. And wrote. A lot. Right now a book about a man who kept asking himself, "How to live?" feels like the right reading material for this clueless one. I have only read some essays of Montaigne's. The Complete Works of Montaigne that I have sitting at home feels a little too daunting right now. I suspect I will be dipping in from time to time only. But then again - he took a lifetime writing it. Perhaps it's the kind of book that takes a life time to read. So, it's all good.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

POETRY | Jane Hirshfield Reading @ The 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Saturday Night Sampler - 9/27/08

Jane Hirshfield reads the following poems: "Da Capo," "Yield and Abandon," "The Bearded Woman," and "When Your Life Looks Back"

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

POETRY | When Your Life Looks Back

I was reading Amy Bloom's new collection of short stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, where she included a particular poem by Jane Hirshfield.

When Your Life Looks Back
by Jane Hirshfield

When your life looks back—
As it will, at itself, at you—what will it say?

Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.
Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.
Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.

Your life will carry you as it did always,
With ten fingers and both palms,
With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
With its filling and emptying heart,
That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
You gave it. What else could do?

Immersed in air or in water.
Immersed in hunger or anger.
Curious even when bored.
Longing even when running away.

“What will happen next?”—
the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
in the in-breaths even of weeping.
Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
No back of the world existed,
No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.

This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
Here, your life had said, its only house.
Let, your life had said, its only order.

And did you have a choice in this? You did—