The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

Do you ever wonder what life's like in North Korea?

Having previously read "Without You, There is No Us" by Suki Kim, this firsthand account of a defector  further piqued my interest of the unfamiliar. 

The book starts slowly of Lee as a young girl growing up under the DPRK regime recounting her childhood experiences under the pretense of normalcy. This provides context to the later events unravelling in her adulthood.

Interestingly enough, Lee's hometown is located in Hyesan situated across Changbai, China and separated by its ancient border, the Yalu River, providing geographical advantage for escape and cross border smuggling.

Suspenseful and riveting, the book follows Lee spending a decade in China, eluding arrest and repatriation thus the seven names.

The next section of the book details her extraordinary return, leading her own family to freedom by taking them on a perilous journey across the borders of China and Laos, where defectors struggle with bureaucracy and coercion on their way to seeking asylum. 

Lee reveals absurd facts of brainwashing, delusion and the occult of personality that the ruling Kim's have perpetuated by fear among her own people. For instance, she shares that the lines blur between the oppressor and the oppressed, with the inconceivable concept of human rights in the repressive state.

"To know that your rights are being abused, or that you are abusing someone else's, you first have to know that you have them, and what they are. But with no comparative information about societies elsewhere in the world, such awareness in North Korea cannot exist."

Lee  also provides insightful thoughts of defectors' life after escape - their assimilation to the competitive, ultra-modern South Korean society whilst coping with their new identity.

All I can say is that I admire Lee's resilience amid adversity, which reminds me of the quote:

"Courage is not the absence of fear but the acquired ability to move beyond fear" 


To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey


It's 1885, Col. Allen Forrester embarks on a reconnaissance up the uncharted Wolverine River in Alaska, leaving his young wife Sophie in the Vancouver army barracks as he makes his journey. This novel will take you on a sojourn across inhospitable terrain and improbable encounters in spirited native lands. It is told in the genre of magic realism that first captivated me with the author's Pulitzer Prize nominated debut novel, The Snow Child. More than a story of discovery is the Col. and Sophie's enduring love and faith that transcends geography and time.

This epistolary novel contains interesting references to the 19th century replete with news clippings, photographs and maps. The correspondence format is a refreshing approach to intimately immerse into the characters and their nuances.

The vast Alaskan landscape and its mythical elements all come alive in the beauty of Ivey's atmospheric writing and imagery. In its quiet unassuming moments created a compelling tale that soared. Surreal to say the least. What's your first read this 2017?

P.S: I haven't read books that thoroughly mention the Native American experience, somehow it piqued my interest on their diverse tradition and how their culture were altered under colonial influence, specially in the wake of the Colonel's navigation where this fictional story is inspired.


Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

One can never read too much WWII literature to fully grasp its painful memories.  

Come Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, I momentarily have to set this book down to reflect on the horrors of this period. The writing is raw, rich and compelling that it hurts to revel over an engrossing read knowing these actually happened in history. Told in three alternating perspective, it is a fictional account of three women loosely based on real figures, whose lives are intertwined at the event of the war. Later in the novel all the characters and the narrative will come in a satisfying full circle. 

Caroline Ferriday a New York socialite and liason to the French consulate, Herta Oberheuser an ambition driven doctor who worked at Ravensbruck, the notorious all female Nazi concentration camp and Kaisa a teenager imprisoned in Ravensbruck. Until reading this book I have not known about Ravensbruck, where political prisoners from Hitler's occupied countries, whom he considers sub human are kept for “re-education."

A thoroughly researched book, the author goes into great detail of the brutal camp life specially led  by the vile female overseers, who at that time were even barely out of their teens, were capable of inflicting torment on female prisoners. They may be less known by their male SS counterparts but nonetheless brutal and aptly described as the personification of the devil himself. It is true that any ordinary individual can yield evil when given the authority. 

After reading the book I went into full research mode of how much is known about Ravensbruck and I can't help but feel disturbed about the medical experimentation done on the women. It's unbelievable how humanity is capable of such atrocities. 

Nevertheless, I am grateful for having picked up this gem otherwise I would not have known about the Rabbits and the heroic deeds of Caroline Ferriday. Over seventy years have passed since but these kind of stories encompass generations and needs to be told time and time again so we don't forget.

Until the next read!


15 of My Favorite Feelings

We don't often get to talk and appeciate about the small but significant things that brings us little joys in our day. So it's nice to make a rundown of 15 of my favorite feelings that I'm grateful for.

1. When you think of a witty comeback and words come out of your mouth coherently just the way you have formed the sentence in your head 
I've always struggled with my thought process being non-linear, and as a result most things that I say are an incomprehensible mishmash of garbled words that fall short on my mouth. It's a triumphant moment when I'm able to express my point exactly as it is, in a timely and sharp manner.

2. When someone rubs/strokes my back or plays with my hair
Fool proof and calming way to make sleep

3. Burying my face on my boyfriend's chest and being wafted by his scent
Nothing smells as good as the one you love.
I feel like I can write an entire post dedicated to all the wonderful fuzzy feelings my significant other gives me but I'm not the one to indulge the public in all the mush so this is just one of the many.

4. Hearing an announcement of new release from my favorite artist or author
There's more to look forward to in life!

5. Spending a day without social media or doing activities that doesn't involve staring at a screen
 There's an incredible fulfillment when you experience moments that you don't feel the need to update a status for, when the amount of 'likes' is not a validation that you had a grand time. It's better to take it offline once in a while and cherish moments that are wholly yours.

6. Christmas time
I love the holiday cheer, the tinsel adorning the town, the gathering of loved ones. Is it just me or during the holiday season people just become innately better and generous?

7. Making lists and adding a 'to do/to read'

8. Taking off my contact lens or glasses 
After spending a day having to clearly see everything, my poor vision is actually a relief because I can be selective of things I want to view.

9. Receiving mail
Be it a purchase I ordered myself online, there is an immense satisfaction of finally layingyour hands on something you anticipated to arrive. I like ordering things online it's like a gift to me from me!

10. Hair pushed back and tied up
I feel the most in control when my hair is tied in one place, with my pony tail swishing to and fro feeling like a boss.

11. People watching
Whenever I drive or walk past people, observing and eavesdropping on conversations and life's conundrums I am suddenly taken by the realization that every passerby is living a complex life as my own.

12. Writing an article that starts from a simple idea into a phrase and then slowly materializing into a cohesive story

13. Becoming preoccupied at work that you don't mind the time
I thrive in a busy environment and I want to keep my hands full and productive, that I don't seem to mind the hours that have passed.

14. Riding a bike, the wind blowing past your face

15. Going on a date
Or just doing small activities like going home together. I like building up the anticipation of finally seeing my significant other, counting down the hours until we're walking to meet each other.

I enjoyed making this list and I could go on for more! What about you, what are your favorite feelings?


Graduation Season

Today on Youtube I'm on a roll watching Harvard speeches. Listening to graduation speeches are not only made for the momentous send off but for many relevant moments in life when you need inspiration fuel for life's mileage.

Commencement remarks can either range from poignant messages or a lackluster address laden with standard cliches. Here are a few keynote speeches made by celebrities that hit home for me:

"Sometimes, your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you, too, to embrace other people's expectations, standards or values"

Attending Harvard with the intention of being taken seriously Natalie Portman recalled how she had to constantly prove herself worthy of the intellectual rigor of Harvard by taking intensive courses to counter her feeling insecurity; of not being smart enough or to be dismissed as another dumb actress alongside her Ivy League peers. What made a mark in her speech is how she urged the youth to utilize their naivete as their best asset to take risks in order to forge their own path, clumsy it may be.

"The answer to a lot of you life's questions is often in someone else's face" 

Amy Poehler imparted a lesson on humility and teamwork by noting how most of our achievement in life is done so with the help of others. No one makes it far in life without meaningful collaborations be it on sundry projects or simply surrounding yourself with people who uplift you. Truly, there is nothing like having somebody to hold your hand when you're scared to take risks, to commiserate with you in your failures or celebrate in your triumphs. 

"I'm afraid a couple of you are probably evil. That's just the odds."

Comedian and writer Mindy Kaling is probably the most unlikely person you have in mind relishing advice before an elite set of graduates from Harvard Law School. Acknowledging her lack of in-depth knowledge of the law whatsoever Mindy pokes fun at only knowing the law by 'loving to sue' and how the graduates may help her sort out the details of her pre-nup and divorce proceedings in the future. Although it was mostly a stream of jokes and hilarious quotes from Mindy she mentioned the law's significance by touching base on her parent's immigration to the U.S and for many other movements to be done on the rights of immigrants. 


Film Review: The Age of Adaline

Having a penchant for nostalgia I knew I just had to watch the movie when I first viewed its trailer. I thoroughly enjoy watching films that have magical realism as its central theme and with that I was intrigued how a plot that delves with the hapless tale of eternal youth would unravel.

The film follows 29 year old Adaline Bowman who figures in a road accident but by some coincidental instances and a few amps of lightning bolts later she lives to 107 years old. 

The film aims to narrate a timeless tale but falls short on delivering a compelling plot. The potential of Adaline traversing through decades would be an interesting point to explore. Blake's sophisticated touch and well mannered portrayal of Adaline made her all the more charming and endearing but somehow her character lacks personality I felt like it could have been developed more given that her character was able to live for almost a century. Certainly her age old wisdom cannot just be deduced to a party game of Trivia Pursuit, a scene where Adaline much to everyone's surprise scores all of the question with ease.  

If there is anything notable and apparent of Adaline going through the motion of each decade it's her impeccable sense of style.  Nevertheless, the movie is just as visually appealing and enthralling as the exquisite costume designs that perfectly captured each era. 

7.5 out of 10 stars


Demi in Manila

We were almost close to missing Demi's concert. The series of unfortunate events began to roll out on the day we were scheduled to fly to Manila which happened to be on the same day of the concert with at least 4 hours interval. Having checked in two hours earlier I didn't encounter any problem on my end except my companion, Sabrina didn't arrive till the check-in counter closed. Waiting at the boarding lounge, morose and anxious about having to fly alone I fretted for my companion missing her flight and having to book another ticket. Alas she came after much convincing from the ground crew to let her through. 

We arrived in Manila at 6 pm because our flight was an hour delayed. With that we happily proceeded to the taxi stand thinking we could just hail a cab and breeze our way through traffic. NOT. The taxi lane had a long and winding wait and we only had 1 hour till showtime. Needless to say we got on a cab and I asked the driver to floor it. We made it to the Arena just in time her opening act began. Lesson learned never fly on the same day you're expected to attend an event.

The arena was filled with frenzied teenagers clamoring and eager for the pop star (count me in!). She belted out tracks from her latest eponymous album and crooned acoustic renditions of throwback hits such as Get Back (the first Demi song I liked circa high school days), Don't Forget/Catch Me. Showing of her vocal prowess she went above and beyond her notes sustaining the crowd's energy evident in the audience's intensified shrieks. 

Demi always brought with her a striking stage presence and a beguiling warmth that made her instantly likable to the audience. Showing candid moments, in between tracks she pointed out to a 5-year old girl in the crowd who was wearing her merchandise shirt gushing to her "Sorry I get easily distracted". She wasn't big on theatrics her production didn't have over the top pyrotechnics, stunts or added frills proving gimmickry as unnecessary. Demi's set composed only of 2 back-up singers, a 4-man band and featuring her powerful voice, no more no less. With Demi's infectious energy and amazing vocals it was everything I hoped for and more. 
Like most of her concerts Demi asked us to turn our flashlights on and hold our phones up as she introduced her R&B ballad My Love is Like a Star. 

Demi segued to each track clocking in at 9:40 pm speeding through the whole 75 minutes. That would have been the shortest concert I have attended, from what I heard from avid concert goers concerts usually stretch on for 2 hours but I guess that's just how Demi's set list goes. Nevertheless taking all the fuss to see Demi Lovato in concert in order to finally cross my bucket list is a great fulfillment itself. In one of her ad lib Demi said she never expected this side of the world to enjoy her music, I too never expected to be at the same venue watching her perform. 

To this day whenever I listen to her songs I still could not believe seeing and listening to her live. She sounds amazing as she is on record. And so I thank you Demi for giving me an experience of a lifetime.

Photo credits to Sab



Where'd You Go, Bernadette


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