Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stumbling Upon

National Geography Cafe in London

I am addicted to books. I go to a bookshop looking for a specific read and I go to a bookshop even when I do not have any purchase in mind. Whenever I walk into a bookshop, I habitually browse through the shelves and pick up books at random.

I love the concept of serendipity. Somehow I have a knack in coming across books which happen to resonate with my thoughts at the time. Of course we only pick up books which resonate with our thoughts and what interest us at the time, what I meant was I literally walk right into these books. A classic example: one Sunday afternoon, my husband and I got into a heated argument about some issues  and  I was feeling very misunderstood and had to get out of the house. I drove to a shopping mall ten minutes away from my house. After having a cup of coffee at Starbucks, I decided to place an order for a book called “ Alone Together” by Sherry Turkle at the bookshop located on the first level of the shopping plaza.  When the woman was filling out the order form taking down my particulars, I turned and look to the shelf on my left. The book entitled  “ The Meaning of Wife”,  a book written by Anne Kingston was staring right at me.  How surreal!  Just as I was pondering about to what extent a wife’s loyalty lies, there it was the book to be read with a view to find some enlightenment.
How I ended up placing an order for MIT Professor Sherry Turkle’s book “Alone Together” was rather serendipitous too. For months, I had been thinking about how the virtual world where we were sharing information and pictures in could pose all kinds of possibilities as well as untruths about who we really are. I was thinking about how the internet had made communication easier  and  how  often I find an easier way out to send instant messages  instead of picking up the phone and speak to the person directly hence avoiding any possible unpleasantness of declining an invite or delivering some piece of information which would not be welcome by the recipient.  Personally I cannot live without the internet and  connectivity  is a factor  which is high up in my priorities when booking accommodation away from home.  I was inspired and wrote a short story about how a young woman posted her twin’s family photographs to make up her on line identity on facebook. Indeed prior to reading about the existence of the book written by Professor Turkle, “while we rejoice about the birth of the internet and instant messaging to enable us to stay connected, we are far from being connected at all” had been the theme running through my head hence my earlier post for my blog entitled:  Do Not Forward. Then early this year, I was catching up with books update from NY times.com and came across the review on the book by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle and prompted me to ring around books stores in town to check if the book was available in their stores however to no avail. As the title “Alone Together Why we expect from Technology and less from each other”  indicates,  Professor Turkle in her book analyzes our increased dependence on technology and the desiderata for electronic interaction.

Art House Gallery Cafe in Southampton

Red Roaster Coffee House in Brighton

In March this year, my daughter told me that she had started a music blog and the first artiste she featured in her first post contacted her through his manager via email and enquire if she would like to do a post on the artiste and she ended up preparing  some interview questions for which the artiste provided the answers. Subsequently after she had posted the article,  the artiste himself also wrote and thank her and suggest ways to improve the traffic to her blog. When my daughter wrote to me and share her excitement, I was half way through reading the novel “ I Think I love you” by Allison Pearson. The book was a romantic story about a woman as a young girl had a teenage crush for the teen idol, David Cassidy and a guy as a new college graduate who did the ghost writing for all the letters from David Cassidy to his fans.  So here I was reading a fiction about  David Cassidy’s ghostwriter who wrote beautiful letters to the fans of the teenage idol when my own daughter had received a thank you message from the artiste and his manager for posting his music on her music blog.

Early this month during my day trip to Kuala Lumpur for work, I swinged by Kinokuniya before dropping by friends’ new garden café near Sri Hartamas. During my ten minutes’ visit to the bookshop to pick up a book I had reserved, I noticed the memoir by Stephanie Staal out of the corner of my eye.  “ Reading Women” such a befitting title immediately  struck my attention and  in a blink I knew I had to get the book.  The displeasure of  appearing at the receiving end of  all the unsavoury remarks made by the appellate court judges about my clients’ case immediately vanished into thin air. I rejoiced when I read that the author turned to books when she struggled to make sense of love, life, marriage and motherhood. The sentiments struck such a chord in me that I had to devour the book with an urgency. In fact  as a working mother of two daughters who are coming of age in this decade, I have been thinking about feminism and contemporary  issues about gender roles  and at times wonder if we can truly have it all.

My colleague and I diligently make our fortnightly lunch visits to Borders at the shopping mall which is about ten to fifteen minutes drive from our office. We grab our drinks  from the Starbucks outlet located inside the bookshop and plonk ourselves at an empty table and scan through books and magazines we randomly pick up and I would carefully read through the sypnosis to see if I  wish to own them. During one of such visits in the month of March this year , the book on 'Coffee- Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate’ was amongst the books on display as we walked into the bookstore. As there was an offer to get one copy of the book for full price and the second copy with a discount of  50%, I bought two copies of the book. During my subsequent visits, I no longer saw the book  on display there. In fact last week, when a friend and I were at the same  bookshop,  I wanted to show the book to her as she recently started a café  and  had just returned from a trip down under learning about coffee beans and the art of coffee making.  I was told that there were no more copies left. I enjoy having an espresso  as much as I enjoy reading.  I need my coffee to kick start my morning and it is the cafe culture which makes France  the top destination for my travels.  In Penang, coffee shop culture is a way of life and a popular place where people gather for their drinks and food and coffee talks but the traditional coffee shops here is not of similar genre as that you find in Europe or Australia . However in the past decade, apart from Starbucks and Coffee Bean which had made inroads into this region, there are some small cafes in the inner city which I frequent as I prefer Arabic beans to Robusta beans and also espressos to kopi-o. Consequently, as a coffee and book lover, I was most delighted to stumble upon  ‘Coffee- Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate’. Another sheer coincidence indeed.

Books glorious books! 
Last but not least I would like to include another find to my collection of books which I have recently stumbled upon: Ben & Me by Cameron Gunn. As I balance my professional demeanor and  struggle to be a better person ( I am not suggesting that practicing law and being a moral person are mutually exclusive), I have chanced upon the  memoir by Cameron Gunn, a Canadian lawyer about  his  unsuccessful attempts to follow Ben Franklin’s Thirteen virtues on a self improvement journey to moral perfection From Temperance to Humility. How timely that is .

I love to read and be engaged in the thoughts of the ingenious writers and through reading I hope to get a little insight or be reminded about the psyche of the human race, its despair and its hopes. Even in this era of 24/7 communication, birth of advanced robots (the latest robot is one tasked with storing luggage in lockers for guests at a hotel in New York) , blurred gender roles and new attitudes to sex and dating, the need to belong is primitive as we are social beings and as humans we probably experience the same emotions and the same dilemmas  as our predecessors regardless of our colour and background. 

A well written fiction can galvanize or soothe one’s emotion and a well written non-fiction can rouse, stimulate and fortify or change one’s thoughts and perceptions of things. All we need is an open mind  as too often it is a matter of perception. Enough of rambling since I have all these books to devour and digest in between my work, my coffee , catching French Open on Astro television ( may not be possible as one of the televisions is not working) , writing, replying emails and  reading an engaging fiction by Marian Keyes , The Brightest Star in the Sky , a definite page turner  before I stumble upon  a new set of books . 

(1)  Alone Together Why we expect from Technology and less from each other  by MIT Professor Sherry Turkle
(2)  Ben & Me From Temperance to Humility Stumbling through Ben Franklin’s Thirteen virtues, One Unvirtuous day at a time by Cameron Gunn
(3)  Coffee- Philosophy for Everyone: Grounds for Debate
(4)  Reading Women by Stephanie Staal
(5)  The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston

A Garden Cafe in Sri Hartamas

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Flexible Friends

January month, one  Tuesday afternoon in Brighton. It was after three p.m. and the sun would be setting in another hour or so. At the bar cum cafe and brasserie called Browns, I was sipping champagne besides a group of middle aged women who were celebrating one of the women's birthday….... 

I had a wholesome and hearty breakfast  at the hotel  so I decided to skip lunch. Though the weather was a little gloomy, it was not too freezing cold to walk around under the elusive winter sun. Back home I would take the car even it is a five minutes walk. It must be the heat and humidity that makes walking far from conducive .

I caught a good rest the previous night. In fact I had  slept right through a stormy night.  After a late breakfast, I decided to take a stroll in the city centre and was eager to catch the sun which had surfaced as  midday was approaching. Along the way I had picked up a beanie from H& M store  and stockings and socks from Primark. Winter wear was not exactly what my wardrobe lacked. After walking around for more than a couple of hours or so, I walked past Browns Bar and Brasserie and the menu board on display caught my attention. Champagne, scones and sandwiches sounded luxurious and irresistible; as a foodie,my appetite was whetted. 

At Browns, after I was given a table next to the window, I sat facing outside so that I could get a good view of  the street and its passersby. After placing my order, I had a quick look around.There was a group of  women who were seated on the table next to me. One lady walked through the entrance in a huff and joined the women who were busy with their chatters. All the seats were then filled up, eight of them.  Outside Browns, there was a group of guys who stood on the paveway in front of  the restaurant. The waiter who took my orders went out to greet those guys who must be his friends and they were about to part ways; there were  hugs and kisses being exchanged amongst the guys before they went separate ways.

The same waiter came back in and a few minutes later, he brought to my table tiers of sandwiches and cakes. The food looked sumptuous. As I took pleasure in sipping my champagne, a different waiter brought a cake to the women’s table and place it in front of one of the ladies and everyone on the table started singing “ Happy Birthday” song to her. The birthday girl beamed with delight being the centre of attention.

My girlfriends and I love to get together and we do get together for birthdays and lunch regularly to catch up with one another’s life. Just like the women in Sex and the City, Mistresses and Desperate Housewives, I have a few close buddies who I  often meet up for coffee or lunch. We help one another to see the wood for the trees and what matters and what matters not. We often share experiences and anecdotes whether in a congratulatory or  self mocking way. 

Men get together for their drinks at the local pubs and watering holes.  I think they exchange banters and jokes and talk about the soccer games and matches and doubt if you would find them ventilating issues or matters which bother them. Women seemingly are more ready to air their grievances with their buddies and they like to offer one another emotional support and show solidarity when they manage to get past the issue of trusting one another.  Somehow men are less open about their inner self and have a tendency to work through their doubts on their own and tackle problems in the manner that it is either white or black. 

Incidentally, during my short taxi ride to the Brighton railway station, I had a candid chat with the woman taxi driver who told me how her husband would micro manage her affairs when his own affairs had been in a mess. She then quipped “That’s why men are from Mars and women are from Venus”. The sentiment expressed by the woman driver is shared amongst many women I know. I could not help thinking that perhaps it is very much a masculine trait to want to lead the pack and as the need to lead is so ingrained that the man starts to dictate his woman around the house instead of respecting her as an individual who should be given the free hand to manage her own affairs.

Perhaps if only men could open up a little more to one another, they might see that it would not be so bad to show their vulnerability and that it is only human to feel sad and frustrated. The older I get, I  find that there would always be unfamiliar terrains and constantly new territories to explore and there are times I find it necessary to re-think and learn about issues that I thought I  had already known or understood. May be  some of these alpha type men will be less hard on themselves  if they can recognise that success may come in different forms and their happiness should not be about achieving a goal or winning a bet or  getting bigger  pay cheque or owning their dream car or their holiday home according to some timeline they had set for themselves.  Most men do not like to show their emotion for fear that they may be viewed as weak beings so they carry on behind the façade they have carefully built to guard their true feelings. Some men harden up their exterior so much so that  they build a fort around themselves and they feel safe to retreat into their realms while the other men  operate on such high tension ropes that those who are close to them would have to thread around them.

Maybe the saying "let your hair down" only applies to women just like the question “if  you can have it all” only seems to resonate with contemporary women who find it difficult to juggle between work and home. While we lament how we wish that men would understand the psyche of the fairer sex, some of us women may not be ready to accept the reversal of roles if women were to become the breadwinners while their husbands get together for their morning coffee breaks when their children are at school. Although it is apparent that most of us women are not asking for gender role change, it may be a refreshing change if some of these men can open up to one another and offer each other some words of comfort  instead of challenging each other with pints of beer and see who has a bigger drinking capacity. Life is not a race . 

Western Road in Brighton

Silwood Street in Brighton