Date: 1st June 2015

Magazine Review: “The Pacific Age” by the Economist

Weblink of the whole passage:

Introductory video:

The Pacific Rim, perhaps the most fickle yet dynamic arc in the globe, consists of frequent interactions of big countries like the United States and China, as well as other Southeast Asian and Latin American countries.  In face of China’s profound roar and rocketing boom, the United States, feeling wary of China’s political slogan of “Chinese Dream”, steadily shifts its focus by strengthening diplomatic alliances and advocating balancing strategy to Asia.  Apart from America’s “Pivot to Asia” and China’s rise, the complexity of Asia-Pacific region can be ascribed to myriads of factors, with countries’ multilateral investment, the set-up of free-trade pact and territorial conflicts being the most apparent ones.

Starting from Japan’s “flying geese” model in 1970s, Asian industrialization has been in a full swing, if not miraculous.  By virtue of cheap labour and large quantity of factory goods, the uproar of “Four Asian Dragons” and the unprecedented speed of China’s “Opening-up” have contributed much to the manufacturing sectors.  Latin American countries, gazed with amazement, endeavoured to follow the developmental model of Asian footsteps.  Since the millennium, Asian and American economies, benefited from inextricable connectivity, have been going beyond merely manufacturing and fuelled with foreign investment.  Living thrived sevenfold in Asia and double in Latin America, which in turn, it is conceivable to witness the presence of middle class with their demand of multifarious products.  Free flow of products keep cropping up ranging from cutting-edged gadgets in the US’s Silicon Valley to Korean TV dramas under the influence of “pop culture”.  Besides, imports of (Latin) American agricultural products help quench China’s thirst for high-calorie food, in exchange pipes are built in Latin America under China’s assistance.  Additionally, under the creation of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Maritime Silk Road, China is also pouring pockets of money for port infrastructure and shipping exchanges with Southeast Asian countries.  Embarking on the economic community is the current agenda of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).  With the above commodity exchanges between Asia and America, such dense webs of interdependence further attribute to each’s potentially-promising economy.

At first glimpse, blessed with the above extending yet disentangled economic networks, the region seems prosperous.  Yet behind such rosy scenario, clamours over the formation of free-trade pact and territorial claims are aggravating.  The building blocks of commencing Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) still exist.  America opposed China’s plan for a feasibility study of FTAAP.  Instead of relying on this new pact, the United States prefers regarding its-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a highly sophisticated trans-Pacific FTA.  However vigorously pushed by the United States, China would be reluctant to accept America’s rule on some issues like state-owned enterprises and internet access.  More importantly,  stirring rivalries in Western Pacific.  Regardless of ASEAN’s treaty on settling maritime disputes in 2002, tension still sparked when Vietnam and the Philippines were claiming over control of the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal respectively, and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.  Worse still, China and the United States have been at loggerheads in the operations in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) due to divergent interpretations of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Meanwhile, in America’s perspective, China’s assertiveness over territorial claims like “nine-dash lines”, as well as its increasing military operations in East and South China Sea have jeopardized the freedom of navigation.  Thus for cementing maritime security through international law, America’s commitment in the region did not, and will not, waver.  Whereas, China is airing its grievance over the United States’s much-touted “Pivot to Asia” and its sense of its superpower status.  As a non-participant of current western-dominated system, China has been testing and challenging the American rule established since the Second World War.  Hence, due to the issues of maritime claims and security, it is no wonder that both and Asian countries’ relations turn choppy at times.

Despite America’s call for an immediate and lasting halt in recent days, China is still building spree around the disputed reefs and issued “White Paper” to enhance own navy capacities, blaming America for stirring up troubles.  No matter how they are at odds with each other in the West Pacific, yet paradoxically, one thing is certain: Both sides are bound to each other in some common grounds.  None of their economic exchanges would have been possible without mutual willingness.  In the midst of this 21st century, one of the world’s spotlights would presumably stay in the Asia-Pacific region, a region that will keep flourishing with enormous trading volumes on one hand, but is also cloaked by maritime uncertainty on the other. ♦

Date: 7th Feb, 2015

Book Review: “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green

Book information: New York: Dutton Books, 2012.  318p. 22cm

“So touching that it does really move me”, “A beautiful relationship.  Be sure to prepare a box of tissue near by your side while reading”.  Flooded with these highly praised comments, this popular bestseller has been ranked at the top wherever in bookstores or review websites.  Intrigued by the waves of popularity and seemingly emotionally-connected story, I have been patiently waiting for my library reservation, and has finally been my turn lately after several months!  With lofty anticipation before following the romance of two protagonists, I nonetheless end up being let down by the under-developed plot.

This teenage fiction features Hazel Lancaster, a 16 year-old girl succumbing to thyroid cancer, and Augustus Waters, a 17 year-old osteosarcoma patient.  Falling in love after meeting each other’s eyes at the Support Group, they subsequently met each other and shared their most favourite book.  Their admiration blossomed during each of their union, therefore spicing up Hazel’s days of dreary terminal.  Later through a charity organization, Augustus fulfilled her wish to travel to Amsterdam, where they would meet face-to-face with Peter van Houten, the author of Hazel’s favourite novel “An Imperial Affliction”.  However to their astonishingly dismay, the rude, insulting behaviour of van Houten the drunker left them a huge disappointment.  Worse still, Augustus’s lethal cancer relapsed and even exacerbated after the Holland trip.  Affirming their sustaining support during this struggle, even though he unfortunately passed away at last, her love for him never wavered.

In my own perspective, the story kicked off in a hasty manner.  In just few pages, both protagonists started falling into a whirlwind romance only by eyes staring during the Support Group meeting.  It was a bit ridiculous for Hazel, only meeting Augustus for the first time, to accept his offer to visit his house until the late evening.  Most importantly, the unbalanced content placed much weight to their Amsterdam journey, but spent comparatively less pages on their solid togetherness amid Augustus’s sickness.  While he was fatally ill, what they did were just having brief chit-chats and attending pre-funeral, rather than sparing endeavour for in-depth back-ups, joining hands to overcome physical struggles all the time.  Plus, the trite content is too fast-paced and too bland, as well as lacks colourful description of each protagonist’s subtle feelings.  It would be better if the author could further add the intimating moments during which the young lovers poured their heart to each other.  Since this story was written in Hazel’s perspective, the author could also make most of several chapters to express her bliss while in love and heart-breaking days once Augustus had gone.

No matter how poignant this book the others perceived, to be frank, it has already fell short of my original expectations, and I just cannot simply turn a blind eye to reward it a thumb-up.  If you would like to glimpse over some fictions about cancer patient, instead, I would recommend “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult to all of you.  Despite not a love story, it is definitely an engrossing plot about a teenage girl who was expected to donate her kidney to her elder sister suffering leukemia.  No matter in the writing style and the content, they have already lured me to flip over it once more. ♦

Date: 5th Jan 2014

Magazine Review: “What’s gone wrong with Democracy” by the Economist

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Apart from ironical pages of “the Triumph of Vladimir Putin“, this six-page essay about democracy by “the Economist” is also worth-pondering among the magazine writings in year 2014.  At the end of 20th century, after fascism and communism were nipped into the bud as a whole, scholar Francis Fukuyama even optimistically suggested democracy will triumph as a dominant victor at last.  However, with my doubts towards his optimistic attitude, would there be waves of democratic challenges in reality?

First, countries which are adopting democracy do not necessarily connote to a bright development in economic or political aspects.  The financial doldrums in 2008 revealed flaws of western political system by the allowance to develop astonishing debts.  Countries such as Italy only focus on short-term borrowings but neglect long-term investment, thereby creating a debted democracy.  What’s more, vital elements of democracy are being ossified with merely over-emphasize of elections but not guaranteeing individual freedom and constraining the power of leaders.  In the autocratic leadership such as by Putin, election is only an illusion when the top position will falls into Putin’s grab in the end.  In the meantime, after Iraq war in 2003 and the collapse of one Egyptian regime in 2011, one is up to its neck in deepening instability; and the other is left to the Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood’s hand.  Here came an unpalatable truth that, after adopting democracy, some countries are turning matters even worse.

“The Economist” also pointed out, in countries/regions where democracy has been proudly regarded as their core value, some shortcomings or challenges are also lurking beneath the surface.  For global problems to be minimized, some national politicians are trying to hand certain power to un-elected technocrats.  Regionally, America is blanketed by debts and special privileges to the lobbyists.  Whereas in European Union, it has become the citadel for populist parties after its unsuccessful attempt to bring down democratic deficits.  Due to the sceptical feeling to the government, the vote rate slumped.  Some voters even turn to campaigns which are for fun, such as a quarter of them supported a party founded by a comedian in Italy in 2013.  All these aforementioned worrying phenomenon may increase the possibility of an unstable democratic system.

It is suggested that, to rectify the above flaws, appropriate checks and balances, freedom of speech and setting limits on government’s power are of paramount importance.  Majoritarianism should be put into an halt so as to prevail leaders to erode their constraints.  To balance financial budget, others including renewing laws in a fixed time, adopting pragmatic reforms and tight fiscal rules for surplus are also within government’s capacity.  Plus, to enhance civic awareness and combine technocracy and democracy, countries can refer to Finland where e-democracy is being sped up.  This could allow citizens to vote for contradictory policies or voice out their opinions by signing in the web.

In the word of Democracy, “demo” implies people, and “cracy” means power or rule in Greek.  In my opinion, democracy’s original cutting-edges, comprising the separation of powers as well as checks and balances, still outweigh the above mentioned limitations.  This political idea, if being promoted in a careful manner,  can play a significant role in preventing authoritarian ruler to monopolize power for one-man rule in general.  Through debates and regular elections, reasonable matters, albeit time-consuming, can be discussed thoroughly so as to minimize the risk of misjudgement.  Citizens’ voices would be spread and suitable policies could be implemented to win voters’ support.  After all, European Union is still upholding democracy as its ultimate entry standard, even America and western European countries have been embracing such deeply-rooted universal value.  This political avocation of “power to people” would not lose its lure, but only if it is conducted with a sense of stability and responsibility. ♦

Date: 12th Jan, 2015

Book Review: “Why Leaders Lie” by John Mearsheimer


Book information: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University, 2011.  140p. 22cm

“Why do they do it?  They think that what they are doing is for the good of the country.”  – John Mearsheimer

It is abhorrent to lie to others in daily lives.  Never would anyone like their friends or somebody close to break the credit of trust.  By the same token, no citizens are willing to be deceived by the government officials.  Nonetheless, John Mearsheimer, who is the founder of Offensive Realism and this book author, stated that the leaders do lie more to their people instead of other countries’ leaders in foreign policies, and not all lies are bad as long as national interest is secured.  

From realist perspective, rather than being processed by government branches like domestic affairs, international politics is mainly based on anarchy in realism.  Due to prevalence of anarchy, there is no authority higher than sovereign state.  To ensure own security, national interest is of utmost importance for each country’s survival, which in turn, leaders are utilizing all means for maximizing self-help, including lying.  In this book, Mearsheimer first offered narrow definitions of untruth verbal, distinguished between outright lying, spinning and concealment, as well as between strategic lies (for national interest purpose) and selfish lies (for leaders’ own political purpose).  Afterwards, five varieties of strategic lying in international politics were elaborated in details, namely inter-state lies, fear-mongering, strategic cover-ups, nationalist myths, and liberal lies.  

To commence with, by inter-state lies, leaders would acquire certain advantages or prevent other countries’ gain from their own.  Consider Khrushchev’s “missile gap” myth, he had been exaggerating USSR dominant position in ICBM, so as to pressurize America to abandon its atomic plans to Germany and not to provoke an atomic war.  Meanwhile, regardless of Hitler’s aggressive war desire, he kept deceiving other European powers about his will for maintaining peace from 1934 to 1938.  Plus, Israel hided its plans of Dimona nuclear complex in 1960s lest America’s discovery.  All these examples demonstrated that no trust could be formed among states.  Hence, the best they could do is to deceive others for triggering fear through exaggeration or hiding own original intentions.

in addition, fear-mongering is handled, often from top to bottom for national interest, to convey public about the seriousness of the menace.  Lyndon Johnson’s fictional version of Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 aimed at securing a mandate for Vietnam War.  While, Bush administration’s allegations of Iraq’s holding of mass destruction weapons, in spite of insufficient evidences, acted as an excuse to declare the second Iraqi War.  Besides, strategic cover-ups, which intent to wrap failed policies either domestically or from other states, are mostly adopted in democratic states where debates are blatant.  A vivid example was the French government’s cover up of their retreat from the Battle of Verdun during First World War, with a view to keeping morale high.  Therefore, it is patent that the leaders would like to manifest the jeopardy or blanket the flaws of crucial foreign policies through these two kinds of lies.

Nationalistic myth is also one of the paramount means for leaders to delude citizens’ minds by enhancing perpetual social cohesion.  During the conflict between Palestinians and Zionists in 1948, Zionists took that opportunity to remove their rivalries.  To cement people’s national identity, what the Israelis did was to create a brainwashed tale to claim that Palestinians escaped from their homeland  due to the urge of Arabic countries, but not by Zionist’s coerce.  In the meantime, liberal lies, which the devoting claim of liberal or moral norms to capture citizens’ support.  After Soviet’s murdering behaviour in Katyn Forest amidst 1940, America and Britain claimed that they would fight for the moral causes and deal with the criminals on one hand, but accused Germany to bear the blame on the other.  These two types of lying are in concordance to leaders’ desire to strengthen a viable nation-state or legitimize self behaviour by sugar-coated untruths.

Yet, negative repercussions will crop up when deceits are rife or over the top, no matter how noble the lies might seem.  To quote some examples, Khrushchev deliberately deceived about the missile sizes in 1950s, thus constituting greater armament build-ups by America.  What’s more, Eisenhower’s lie about U-2 spy planes in 1960 was at last discovered by USSR, thereby an upcoming summit with Khrushchev came to an immediate halt.  Furthermore, the more the leaders mislead the public, the more the culture of dishonesty foster in domestic politics.  Citizens will often forgive their leaders’ deception if the leader’s actions result in a success, while they will be punished for their misleading if the actions constitute failure.

First and last, this non-fiction provides systematic canvass and an engrossing glimpse of lying in International Politics.  Alluring, powerfully written and richly-informed, even though this reader-friendly book is less than two hundred pages, I am certain you will also be tempted by it. ♦

Date: 9th Dec, 2014

Book Review: “Life without Limits” by Nick Vujicic

Book information: New York : Doubleday Religion, 2010. 238p. 25cm

Nick Vujicic, an extraordinary Australian born without limbs, released this inspiring self-help book years ago, and eventually it becomes a worldwide hit.  In spite of his popularity and his uplifting figure nowadays, you would never imagined his enmeshed melancholy and the others’ teasing had prompted him to attempt suicide as a young teen.  Nevertheless, during that gloomy era of bleak emotional turmoils and uncertainty, instead of sobbing his heart out and blaming his innate body’s obstacles all the time, he had been steadily regarding God as his paramount source of strength for overcoming, preserving to live a fulfilling life not constrained by all circumstances.  Don’t be surprised to be told that he is able to take care of himself independently with swimming and surfing as his pastimes.  In a bid to cultivate optimistic affirmation and talking people into positive outlook of life, he is currently a motivational ambassador by presenting encouraging speeches and hugging people’s souls all around the globe.

In this book as his first debut, Nick spent pages on pragmatic suggestions on building trust and supporting relationship, constantly reminding us to search life goals and stretch for our accomplishments against seemingly formidable odds.  Granted, everyone does have dreams.  If you would like to be a renowned blogger, an itinerant traveller or a resourceful scholar in the future, take the plunge, sharpen your edge and go ahead with consistent tenacity.  I am sure opportunities will be knocking at our front door if we have better equipped ourselves well.  And we will get what expected for if we leap at each golden chance with confidence.  After all, don’t let anything or anyone stifle your dreams and fetter your most-wanted desire.  Just like Nick, believe in yourself, nothing is impossible.  Let yourself radiate in own unique beauty. ♦

“To achieve success you have to feel worthy of it and then take responsibility to make it happen.”

“I believe my life has no limits!  I want you to feel the same way about your life, no matter what your challenges may be.”

Date: 19th Nov, 2014

Book Review: “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley

Book information:  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.  306p. 24cm

At first glimpse, Finland, South Korea and Poland seem to have no association to each other.  However, Amanda Ripley the TIME magazine journalist, followed three American exchange students, Kim, Eric and Tom, to these countries respectively for a year.  To discover the outstanding PISA result of Finland and South Korea, as well as the great leap of Poland’s scores, this book offers a deep understanding of education through various analysis and quoting.  Not only are students interviewed in this informative book, but also other related stakeholders, including teachers and governmental education officials.

Finland’s cutting edge, most importantly, lies in high quality teachers of much calibre and acumen.  Only a handful of elite students would be granted a seat in teacher-training colleges.  Teachers are well-respected and their social status is as prestigious as doctors.  In addition, more academic studies and professional training have been taken place.  Teachers to-be are required to study for seven years comprising a compulsory Master degree, and have to be trained in the best public schools for an entire year.  Therefore, with such outstanding human resources, Finland has always enivably become the locomotive in the international scores rank.

On the other side of the world, in South Korea, students’ intensive diligence, self-discipline and motivation have enabled them to stand out from their counterparts in the globe.  Since the public exam is highly-competitive, students have been taking tears, blood and sweat to study in a such a stressfully demanding environment to midnight.  Thanks to a fierce university entrance exam, haewon celebrity teachers in South Korea have also been striking big pots of gold, similar to Hong Kong’s private tutor kings and queens.  Consist industry of Korean students, needless to say, have prompted them to become high-flyers in the global tests.

Besides, it is no longer surprising to witness Poland’s huge improvement in student performance in recent years.  For fear of lagging behind of the others, numerous educational reforms are expedited to lay down fundamental goals of this new system.  Others incorporating the standard of students to be enhanced, funds to be provided in schools, and students’ streaming to academic or vocational classes to be delayed.

By and large, a thriving education, lies not in boosting education spending and high technology in the classes, but wholehearted dedication of highly qualified teachers, and a consistent curriculum.  After all, teachers serve as illuminating role models for sparking students’ enthusiasm towards continuous learning.  It is more suitable to set up achievable expectations and attempt to strengthen reasoning skills through a right amount of projects and homework.  However, this book also states that merely relying on schools and teachers are not enough.  Parental involvement, for example reading to their children for fun and having conversations about world affairs, is also a vital element for paving way to positive learning environment.  Only by all these culmination of elements, along with students’ certain endeavour can they delve deep into academic field and achieve better learning outcomes. ♦

Date: 15th Oct, 2014

Book Review: “China: Fragile Superpower” by Susan Shirk

Book information: 320p. 24cm.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

“A tight grip is actually a sign of a weak hand.” –  American President Bill Clinton, 1999

China is spreading profound influence in an unprecedented speed, investing huge sums of capital per second and gradually moving forward to “Xiaokang society”(a moderate society) suggested by Deng Xiaoping.  On one hand, its skyrocketing growth seems to be paving the way to a rosy future, but on the other, domestic fragility is lurking beneath the surface.  Susan Shirk, a former American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, put herself in the shoes of Chinese elites, explored in an invaluable insight of China’s motivation behind of internal affairs and the way China embroiled in a paradoxical crisis of confidence.

Watching overnight collapse of Soviet Union and her satellites in own eyes, and democracy marches in Tiananmen during 1989, in Chinese government officials’ opinions, these incidents nearly triggered an escalating brink to the regime collapse at worst.  Feared of following these alarming steps and confronting another massive protest again, for first thing, public leadership splits have to be avoided.  For another, social stability is strongly emphasized to convince public to obey to the Communist Party’s rule.  Meanwhile, it is also reflected that the back up of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is paramount to the political survival of top leaders and Party, as well as to wipe out of potential rivalries, prevent opposite movements and consolidate power.

The more prosperous the country is, the more insecure the Chinese leaders are and more hypersensitive to public opinions.  All posts in the newspapers have to be orchestrated by the Propaganda community before getting published and the web comments reviewed.  The perpetual power of press is like a double-edge sword for having control over expanding netizens in a subjective, sentimental way.  Internet information spreads like wildfire.  Users could keep abreast of current issues at the brink of their eyes, which in turn, the Chinese government can no longer bury all the affairs deep into the sand.  And the more diffident the leaders are, the more they play the governance card of “nationalism” since Jiang Zemin’s rule.    With mass media emphasizing news about Japanese whitewashed historical textbooks and Prime Minister’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, violent comments and protests would eventually break out.  Yet for the Communist party, every coin has two sides, the over-ferment waves of high-rise of sentiments would prompt the demonstrators to turn to party’s internal limitations (for example demanding freedom), thus sparking off an opposition against the government, just like the student protests in Beijing University in 2005.

Apart from Japan, Chinese people also particularly vent their anger and rage on Taiwan and the United States due to flaring national emotions.  American bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the clash of Chinese and American airplanes in South China Sea in 2001 rendered irrational xerophilia with the Chinese demonstrating around.  For national consolidation cemented, credibility established and not losing face to citizens, China would prevent Taiwan to be independent at all means using both carrots and sticks.  It has been claimed that only by reunification with Taiwan can the idea of “One China” be completed and a regime survived.   Otherwise if Taiwan got independent at last, it will post a question mark on the Chinese regime survival with the stoking up of a sequence of movements in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia at worst.

Nevertheless, alongside utilizing media influence to inflame the impetuous fire of patriotism at a suitable time, from my point of view, economic boom is also a pivotal means for the Communist Party to minimize people’s dissatisfaction by enabling the rich and middle class to enjoy a lavish life.  On one hand, it has been a high time for China to proudly show the world how state-of-the-art the infrastructures are, how advanced the high speed bullet trains and how splendid when 8% growth of GDP per year maintained.  However on the other hand, let us not forget the polarization between the coastal cities and inner provinces, unemployment of factory workers and unfair registration system would also likely prompt waves of grassroots’ blame to the government.  For those who would like to have an immerse grasp of the limitations of China’s domestic structures and its relationships with Japan, Taiwan and the United States up to 2007, this knowledgeable book is surely your cup of tea. ♦

Date: 16th Sept 2014

Magazine Review: “Leap of Faith” by TIME

Weblink for “Leap of Faith”:

As Scotland referendum moves nearer and nearer in each passing day, the ambiance there is also getting patently more and more jittery.  The “Yes” campaign has been singing a loud chorus of Scotland’s independence, and assuring greater autonomy for Scottish citizens.  Whereas, the opposite one is busy in raising their banners, pledging the Scots to stay with Britain and become stronger together.   However clamorous debates currently are, this issue has been sending shiver down to the British government’s spine lately.  As the supporters of “Yes” campaigns outstripped the “No” ones, the demand of Scottish independence, once being castles in the air, might ironically turn into reality at last.

For the Scottish nationalists, they are hopefully aspiring the political power to be grasped into their own hands in both local matters and foreign policy.  Once independence, they are convicted that myriads of new opportunities would be knocking at their door in a forward-looking economy.  Thanks to the abundant North Sea lucrative oil supplies, the Scots could be self-supporting for at least the next 50 years, thus rendering pockets of fortunes and wealth.  Despite the run out of endowed oil one day, it is hoped to be transited steadily to renewable energy in search of Norway’s shadow.  With such a high-spending social welfare encompassing free higher education and nursing care subsided, some optimists have also been painting the vision of Scotland upholding social democracy and a rosy future.

Yet, a broad spectrum of unknown questions are explicitly cropping up.  Britain would be in a likelihood to face great decentralization of power once the UK no longer remained united.  The issues of European Union’s membership and the British pounds adoption are arousing grave concern, too.   Scottish EU application might be rejected by some members (for instance, Spain) lest it emboldened Catalonian independence.  What’s more, if the pounds are not allowed to utilize in Scotland, it would be potentially obscure to come up with an influential currency.  Without sufficient revenues to support its own lavish domestic spending in the long term, not to mention Scotland is able to cope in an inexorably fast-changing global environment.

Nevertheless, the final say would be left to the ultimate decision of millions of Scots or the British who are residing in Scotland.  Whether their home region would break the lingering historical bond after three centuries or continue bounding to Great Britain is still unpredictable.  With the world shifting the limelight to their living area two days later, this poll is expected to be a neck and neck battle between the two sides until the last minute.  So let’s wait and see what is going to happen in a not-too-distant future. ♦

Date: 11th Sept, 2014

Book Review: “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” – Anne Frank, on 12th June 1942″

Stepping into thirteen, a diary journal, as Anne Frank’s birthday present, appeared in front of her eyes.  From that day on, it had became a basic routine for her into writing.  Perhaps at that time she might have never imagined this present, along with her unfading pen ink would become a worldwide classic and an essential historical primary source.  Under the strict rule of Nazi towards the Jews, gone were the cheerful days when she was able to attain regular lessons in school and walk outside freely.  After Holland was being fatally raided during the Second World War, the Franks were coerced to hide in Otto’s (Anne’s father) office building along with another family named the Van Daans and some Otto’s employees for escaping German persecution.  During that period of time until the families were discovered in 1944, Anne was in all her exertion to mark her detailed personal life, for example her normal living in a crowded secret annex, her close friendship and crush to Peter van Daan, and the way food and supplies delivered to their hands.

Feeling secured in recording intimate thoughts and opinions without restrictions, she had been describing the looming fear of being discovered and eventually death, the policies of anti-Semitism adopted by the Nazis and the restriction of freedom.  Night after night, it was heart-wrenching to watch the Nazi soldiers knocking at each Jew’s door, watching their families being teared apart and taken away to the concentration camps.  However regardless of those awkward plights, with the procession of an inarticulate resolve, she still conceded in having a normal life and never did she bow her head to brutal totalitarian rule.  When facing sceptical corners and tides of dreadful misfortunes, her inner strength was still glimmering with faith and fortitude, always convicting the bright light would glitter in the opposite side of the dark tunnel.  Though she didn’t survive at the end, indeed, her tough mental spirit reflected in her extraordinary writings has impressed people from different walks of life. ♦

“Where there is hope, there is life.  It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.  We’ll need to be brave to endure the many fears and hardships and the suffering yet to come.” – Anne Frank, on 6th June 1944

Date: 3rd August 2014

Magazine Review: “The Big Picture – Obesity and its costs” by the Economist

Weblink for whole passage:

Just stroll in the street and you are bound to see branches of fast food restaurants in many corners welcoming us with salty fries and sugary drinks; flip over magazines and you will sometimes see attractive advertisements telling us how tasty the burgers and junk food are.  According to this special report about “Obesity and its costs” by “the Economist” (in the issue of 15th-21st Dec 2012.  It is still worthy to read despite not being the most latest one), it is no longer a flabbergasting scenario with more and more flabby and chubby people all over the world carrying their bulky bellies.

As the saying goes, “You are what you eat”.  At first glimpse, obesity is deemed to be caused by the absorption of unbalanced energy, for instance, the excess intake of calories and inadequate expenditure.  Whether reversing the surplus lipid hinges on our unyielding will.  Yet according to this report, some external factors are not in the palm of our hands to manage.  Some people are much more vulnerable to the accumulation of body fat in adipose tissue due to their genes and biological disposition.  However, obesity has become a worrying global plight with devastating consequences, for instance increasing chance of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and cancers formation.  Acknowledging these detrimental repercussions, some obese people are trying various methods in order to slim their bodies down by all means no matter how eye-watering the bills they need to pay, thus constituting the rising popularity of drugs and medical treatments like bariatric and gastric bypass surgery.  Yet, not everyone can benefit due to the difficulties in covering the expensive amount, levelling the operations off and the reluctance to pay by insurance companies.

To tackle the underlying obesity causes, simply relying on medical treatment is no longer enough.  It is also incumbent for food companies and government to nip this worldwide epidemic in the bud.  Food companies have settled on promoting healthier and more nutritious products by cutting salt and cumbersome oil even though they won’t stop selling meaty, oily junk food.  To reduce expensive healthcare costs, on one hand, some governments like Hungary is taking the lead to impose penalties on fizzy drinks and fatty food.  On the other, exercise programmes and classes are and will be available few years later in Britain and Brazil respectively.  Nonetheless, these aforementioned actions do have their own constrains.  Some researchers remained sceptical about the ability of exercise to reverse the alarming obesity trend alone.  What adds light to the quandary is that everyone would have various interpretations about healthy and junky food products.  Furthermore, a blatant opposition has been stirred up for introducing a heavy tax in some places like New York because of the legislation failure.  Some even consider the tax is an impede to individuals’ freedom, thereby paradoxically contradicting their nation’s core value.

Undeniably, this worldwide knotty battle is still a long way to go.  Action speaks louder than words, different parties should continue confronting this obesity problem squarely and concrete measures such as should be sped up.  Most importantly, in my own opinion, it still falls on individuals to act swiftly as a first step.  After all, health and physical fitness are godsends that anything cannot be replaced, and are essential prerequisites for better quality of life.  It is never too late to mend.  But if they turn their head away to those oily fizzy food and unhealthy drinks promoted in the advertisements, no matter how hard the others tried, no one can help them. ♦

Date: 13th July, 2014

Book Review: “Flourish” by Martin Seligman

Recommended by my friend who is a social worker, this self-help book about Flourish is an extension of Seligman’s bestseller “Authentic Happiness”.  Gone were the days when Psychology was merely established to heal succumbed mental illness and sufferings.  In this recent decade, with the advent of “Positive Psychology” introduced by Seligman, living a satisfactory life is also equally advocated. Five crucial pillars (PERMA) are at the top of the agenda when accounting for one’s overall well-being and life fulfillment:

  1. Positive emotion (= happiness & life satisfaction)
  2. Engagement (= much time concentrated on that activity)
  3. Positive Relationships
  4. Meaning (= serving something you believe is bigger than yourself)
  5. Accomplishment ( = people pursue success and achievement free of coerce)

For happiness and flourish to be fostered, a blessing diary comprising 3 good things can be written each day and a gratitude visit to our friends be tried, so that we can learn how to express our gratitude and maintain a more cordial relationship with others.  Apart from enhancing individual’s spiritual health, it is suggested that, to inspire future pillars and the American soldiers with positive optimism and emotional resilience respectively, Positive Psychology can also be applied in action in wide variety of fields in education, public health, economics and politics etc.

Regardless of some unfamiliar psychology terms and references, what I appreciate this non-fiction most are myriads of in-depth interviews and discussions from schools, post-traumatic patients and government departments written for each topic.  Plus, the attachment of personality test in the Appendix aims to enable us to get known with our personal merits and unique character strengths.  Last but by no means least, hope everyone, after reading this book, also have a comprehensive grasp of the true meaning of happiness and live a flourish life to the fullest! ♦

Date: 3rd June, 2014

Book Review: “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games, a deadly fight in Capitol recorded by live TV once a year, could be synonymous to fame and fortune for only one winner, but bloody death for losers by fierce killings among the contestants.  Barbarous though the game seemed, one boy and one girl ranging from 12 to 18 years old in each of the twelve district were required to participate in it annually.  Stepping forward to replace younger sister Primrose’s seat, Katniss voluntarily joined the Hunger Games on behalf of District 12, along with a selected male representative named Peeta whom she owned a favour to.

With the hope of being the ultimate winner in the Game, Katniss had to be in a sustained endeavour to rise to all starvation and dehydration plight in the huge forest; and worse still, she need to kill other contestants despite her unwillingness to perform such a dehumanized action.  Being saved by Peeta, forming an alliance with Rue from District 11, being let go by Thresh did add much colour to this dramatic plot.  Alongside urging for survival, after Peeta’s confession of his long-time crush towards her, on one hand, she had been frustrating whether his love was a reality or just a mere means to raise audience’s interest and capture more sponsors.  On the other hand, she was on the horns of a dilemma about whom her heart turned – Peeta or her best friend Gale.

Being the breadwinner of her family and maintaining her “star-crossed lover” facade with Peeta, Katniss was a strong, daring character who was against all odds to solve her own difficulties, took charge of her lives independently, and never let any tears flow in the face of unknown challenges.  At the same time, her genuine care and kindness in place of brutal killings impressed me much such as by decorating Rue’s body with flowers gently and healing Peeta’s infected wounds with medication.  This complete mixture of nerve-racking race, enthralling plot, thrilling actions, in-depth feeling and engaging affection does spark off an irresistible page-turning effect in this fiction.  I simply couldn’t put down it and wish to immediately flip over Book Two “Catching Fire” to figure out what happened between Katniss and Peeta.  No wonder this incredibly compelling fiction has already become in vogue nowadays and even being put into the big silver screen! ♦

Date: 4th April, 2014

Book Review: “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick

North Korea has been a communist closed state and I have been wondering what the ordinary lives of their citizens are.  After reading a well-known non-fiction called ‘Nothing to Envy’ by an American journalist, it does familiarize me with North Korea’s development and reveal those brutalities happened inside the territory, for instance, hard labour was used to punish the unpatriotic ones.  What even more spine-shivering is that people snubbed and didn’t have faith to each other, even to their family members through strict monitoring and frequent reporting to the Party.  Worse still, the lethal famine occurred in mid-1990s placed them into an awkward plight and constituted a menace to myriads of innocents lives.  Cruel though the fact was, being the breadwinners in the entire family, they still had to meekly accept it by leading a hand-to-mouth life through different means.  After a spate of mishaps, some of the North Koreans were trying to escape to South Korea or cross through the river to China, although being treated harshly, they still arrived to either of them save and sound.  

Commoners in both North and South Korea, wear the same traditional costumes in special occasions, and even have relatives in the other side, but still separated by the 38th parallel line due to ideological differences from 1950s to nowadays.  So pathetic the condition is that the government in the North is still mesmerised by the immediate feeling of rising superiority in recent nuclear development, yet ironically in fact, its strength is only a drop in the ocean.  Behind those high speed rockets are the heart-tearing scenic of starving population.  Heading towards modernization?  It will only if pigs fly and sun rises from the west.  What the original citizens urgently wish is just 3 simple meals a day, but how long do they have to wait for such a seemingly ‘basic item’ come true?  ♦


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