Oh yes! My very first book review

Every so often, I key in my name into Google Search to see what comes up. Every so often I am surprised by the number of “Catherine Khoo”(s) that come up. Then lo and behold, I came across on Page 9 a review. Of my book! Every author wants the lowdown on her book and I am no different. And this came from a male reviewer. I liked what Mr Ivan Chew said about my book so here it is, the unadulterated version, word for word of what he wrote. 🙂 Thank you, Ivan, for your candid comments. And yes, if you are reading this, I am very keen to work with other women on their stories …. if they would give me a chance to ….

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother’s lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life

This one came in the mail for me to review. The book, targeted at young female readers, was easy to read. The tone and style was very personable.

Book review: Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun!: a mother's lessons on love, hope, loss and the gifts of life
Cover from: catherinekhoo.wordpress.com. All Rights Reserved.

My take-away from the book:

Crap will happen to anyone and everyone, at some point. No one is immune. The difference is how we choose to carry on.

Taking risks doesn’t always mean we will come up tops. But it also doesn’t mean we will always fail.

Exercise compassion. Life is not just about ‘me’.

Not entirely the way the author described, but I think not too far from it.

The author shared selective episodes from her life, explaining how she realised that one should love and take risks in life.

Right off the start, I sensed this was a woman who did not conform to conventional thinking, even as a teenager. Her mother had forbidden her to go on dates, and that the young Catherine should only focus on her studies. But she dated the boy anyway, even initiating the courtship rather than wait for him to act. The consequence was that her studies were affected, and so did the boy’s.

Before you wonder what sort of message the author is imposing on young impressionable minds, the truth is that many of our friends (perhaps you and I) went through the same, in different degrees. There may be more ‘teen rebels’ among us than we care to acknowledge.

The key difference, I thought, was that a person like Catherine Khoo consistently applied her optimistic outlook towards life.

She wrote in another of her blog:

… I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though…I love this journey

Can we truly have a happy life just by living our dreams?

Cynics may say that there are those who have tried to do just that, and they end up being decrepit and miserable.

Perhaps in anticipation of that, the author peppers her anecdotes about seeing life optimistically.

Part of her credibility arose from her managing and growing her own business. I think it takes a feisty no-nonsense approach to do that, in addition to being a mother, a wife, and a daughter-in-law. If that’s not enough, try starting a writing scheme for teens.

I did not think the author suggests that one should one up-end our lives and gallivant halfway around the world. You get a sense that risk-taking has to be tempered with an underlying sense of responsibility first.

Still, I would not have done some of the things she did, no matter what you tell me. For example, her episode with the illegal taxi ride in a foreign country, where she almost became a victim of a robbery. If I learnt my wife/ mother/ sister did just that (accept rides from strangers), I would be very, very angry. It seemed reckless.

For the most part, I empathised with her stories. Like how she walked out on her husband one time, feeling that she was being unfairly put down by her spouse. As a husband myself, it made me reflect on my words and deeds towards my wife.

One thing I felt the book fell short was that flow of the chapters can appear to be disjointed at times — though this could be said to be the online-diary writing style. Also, I was left with the impression that there could have been a lot more interesting stuff to be told, but weren’t.

I would have wanted to read more was her trials and tribulations in starting and sustaining the Young Authors Club, for one. What went through her mind when she was asked to set up the club? Did she see a business opportunity first, or the social cause?

So, here are a few things that I would be interested in reading, perhaps in her next book:

  • Stories, as told by other woman, whom she met along the way.
  • Interesting stories of the children and teens whom she have met, through the club she set up.
  • The challenges in running a business, never mind being a businesswoman.
  • What was it really like when she “shattered the traditional Japanese male enclave when she became the only woman editor-in-chief of two Japan-based magazines published in Singapore, a position she held for seven years” (see this).

Overall, this would make a good book discussion for teens. Or among teens and parents (I guess the teens would have to be forced to attend such a session, lol).

In a practical and pragmatic society like Singapore, some parents will not agree with the premise behind her book’s title. The call to “love and live dangerously” was something that goes against conventional thinking when I was growing up, and in a way it’s still very much the covert values most of us go by.

This was Catherine Khoo’s fourth book. It is currently available at major bookstores here, like MPH, Kinokuniya, and Times Bookshop.

Her books are also available at the NLB libraries.

Catherine also blogs at www.catherinekhoo.sg/the-meaning-of-education.


Simple Pleasures, yet so Meaningful!

Happiness is doing simple things together!

Happiness is doing simple things together!


Please feed me ... I don't bite

Please feed me … I don’t bite


Look! Birds of a feather flock together!

Look! Birds of a feather flock together!


Of course, being the biggest, I get to eat first!

Of course, being the biggest, I get to eat first!


I'm not showing off ... but look at my long neck :-)

I’m not showing off … but look at my long neck 🙂


You like my company, right? Not the bread I have in my hands ....

You like my company, right? Not the bread I have in my hands ….


How do I describe happiness? Can you see it in my face? Thank you, Pauli, for the awesome moments .... Thank you for being you! There was so much I learnt about being a mother from you.

How do I describe happiness? Can you see it in my face? Thank you, Pauli, for the awesome moments …. Thank you for being you! There was so much I learnt about being a mother from you.

This morning, Pauli and me woke up at 7:30. We were out of the house by 7:45 and where did we go? So simple, yet it gave me so much joy ….. We went to the river Torrens to feed the ducks, okay, swans and pelicans, I think. Pauli bought a huge loaf of bread for $1, we took a simple breakfast of ham and cheese toast, she with cappuccino, me with latte, and we walked in the morning sun, no, strolled, in the warmth and carefree sunlight thro the wide streets lined with 18th and 19th century buildings …. Through the new casino, and lo, and behold, amazing greenery and a river where ducks and swans share with boys practicing in their 4-man canoe. Ooh! So glorious …. I spent one whole hour feeding the ducks, the swans and the white pelicans … And felt so much at peace with nature.

Then Pauli and me walked through the streets and I landed up in the Migration Museum. Spent another hour there. Why do people migrate? For a better life! I think everyone wants to stay in their country, but sometimes they just can’t. Then I visited the State Library. You know what I love? Big, open spaces, where I can sit and just write. That’s what I love about Adelaide …. Why I travel on my own, why I need quiet coz it frees the mind to think, to rejuvenate, to travel….. Dharamsala gives me this peace too. And I realize that when a person says he is tired, it’s more mental than physical, which is why a good night’s sleep is important to rest the mind. And meditation too!

Sometimes we are so caught up with the self-inflicted pressure of “not enough time” that we fail to notice the quality of our way of way. We rush, we have a thousand and one things to do, and then there’s more work to do after we finish what we’ve done. That’s the lifestyle in Singapore …. And I am really, really tired of it. I’ve been called ‘relaxed,’ “don’t care less” and just “plain lazy.” And do I care a damn? Writing about it …. Yes, it irks me that people who don’t know any better think this of me. Frankly, I feel so helpless watching SF moan and gripe and I want to tell him, hey, take a break, but he’s so caught up in whatever he does that he doesn’t see beyond it. And so, invisible chains of “i-can’t-stop-coz-what-else-can-I-do?” mentality grips him. I’m really sorry for him …. I think I would do something about this. I admire what Raymond did …. He walked away from all the pressure …. Yes, I think the reason why I came was to get away for a while, to collect my thoughts …. 2013 is a year I feel a big change coming …. And it has to start with me. What can I do for the people I love?

Things happen for a reason. There’s a reason I came into SF’s life. There’s a reason why I am living with my sisters-in-law who act like I’m invisible. “Thank God for the difficult people in my life, that’s exactly who I don’t want to be!” I’ll add on …. “I’ll show them love and compassion so they’ll learn life is not so difficult after all!”

And how do I show them love and compassion? More than what i’ve always shown them: forgiveness. How? For the first time in my life, i’m stumped. Gotta figure out this one.

The Healing Power of Conversation … And 5 Things To Do Before I Turn 55!

The Healing Power of Conversations and Five Things To Do Before I Turn 55

How did Pauli and me celebrate Chinese New Year? Never thought it would be so heartwarming, so much of an eye-opener to me. Invited Raymond and Johnny for a Chinese dinner, and yes, celebrated both their birthdays for them. Raymond said, “This is our reunion dinner,” and it made me feel so connected with them. Both did not go back home …. in fact, Johnny worked in Cha Time and he made bubble milk tea, my favourite. Raymond’s working in the rural area, he’s a nurse and loving his job, and he is going to buy alpaca and buy farmland ….

But the conversation that ensued as we sat around eating the tiramisu cake (and I must say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted! Raymond and I agreed it must be the weather, or maybe, it’s natural ingredients 🙂 ) the conversation lasted three hours …. But it’s honest-to-goodness sharing which I do not get back home. Tell you why …. Johnny’s from Hong Kong and same age as Pauli, Raymond’s 30 and reminds me of the child I could have got … Yeah, 1983, would be his age …. Three of them reminded me of when I was their age …. Full of dreams and wanting to do so many things, but worried about the future. The common factor linking them is a country that is overcrowded, that has forgotten what it is like to stop and smell the roses, coz there are no more roses and stopping is not recommended for economic growth ….. And the question on their lips but never asked, “What has gone out of the window in pursuit of material gains?” They like it here, and sometimes I think life is like a deja vu, our ancestors came out of China to seek better pastures for themselves and their children not so long ago …. Now our children are doing this for themselves.

It’s a bit different now, coz with so much gadgets (I thank the people who invented the Internet 😀 ) you can communicate so easily. And my advice to every young person who is reading my blog ….. Go out and experiment and experience! When I was your age, I had the same dreams, hopes and plans. The world is a scary place if you feel it is scary. It is a place of opportunities if you just follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to explore, for only then do you learn. More important, whatever you do, have compassion ……. Just as one famous human rights activist, I forgot her name, said, “Live simply, so others may simply live!” So simple words, yet so profound.

So I’ve made a list, 10 Things To Do Before I Turn 60. But then, that’s almost seven years away, and life is too short to plan so long. So, I’ve made a shorter one. Top priorities …. Top 5. Yes, 5!

1/ Sell 10,000 copies of my book Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! And have it translated into five languages. (5,000 per year quite do-able, considering I turn 55 in Dec 2014)

2/ Establish ( now, be very careful of the word, establish) okay, ensure, no, plant the seeds sound better, plant the Young Author Scheme and The Unique Classroom in 3 countries ….. Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. (in no particular order). Why Australia? Met the people from BBX and have this funny feeling there’s a reason why Pam came to Adelaide in 2006 and Pauli is here. This year is the 8th year my kids are here. 8 is a magical number for me! Strange too, when Pam first came, I had dinner with 2 boys from Bradford (used to be called Alexandra Lodge) their reunion dinner in Chinatown, and this year, I also had dinner with two boys who used to stay in Bradford. And Raymond came in the same year as Pam. Uncanny! And yes, my dream to nurture a Booker Prize winner …. Maybe Asian Literary Prize …. That’s more do-able.

3/ Do book tours. (Must be more specific). Okay, my imprint. I’ve decided on Witty, Wicked Women, logo www, and the first book under this is Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! …. Ooh! I love exclamation marks! Makes everything so zesty! I’m going to do workshops around this book first. I also have the Amazing Journeys Travelogue (gotta start putting it together …) Cambodia, next Dharamsala. Promised Jinpa. Why workshops? Family bonding …. Parents and children to understand one another, to communicate …. that’s really my life’s mission. I feel so happy when parents and their children are happy doing things together. Let’s see where the Amazing Journeys will lead to ….

4/ Write 3 more books.
I Can Write. So Can You! (Must finish this by mid March …)
Ordinary Lives. Extraordinary Struggles.
Tips for Mothers with Children Studying Overseas (working title only. As an afterthought, yes, would include views of their kids as well, so more balanced)

5/ This is actually the fulfillment of my father’s and brother’s dream. My father planted it in me, my brother kept it growing in me …… Do my Phd in Creative Writing. Why not? First, I want to write a novel about women and why they write …. Too broad, gotta narrow it, but yes, it has got to be a literary novel …. And research is involved, and lots of reading …. I just love it. It’s also the fulfillment of my own dream …. One I had since 13 ….. Waited 40 years to see it come true ….

Life is indeed what we make of it ….. It’s good to build castles in the air, because it’s where they should be. Now put foundations under them! Look out, world! Life begins at 53!

The Bustle without the pressure

Adelaide’s Central Market @ 8:45: The bustle without the pressure

This is life! Suddenly the pressure of meeting deadlines, of expectations, is gone. It’s like the log that’s pressing on my heart, nailing me down, has been lifted. It’s scary, but that’s how I feel. I think it’s also because I have space to breathe …. Some quiet, where I can think and be myself. It’s like this invisible shroud of anxiety, goal-meeting, and xenophobia that envelopes me just magically disappears. Perhaps it’s also this joy of being with Pauli again … She resembles me most, if I may say so, the forever Pollyanna, level-headed, with dreams that well are larger than life, but isn’t it said that dreams come a size too big that we could fit into it? Pauli, oh Pauli, never lose sight of your dream …. Look at your challenges, then face it squarely and follow your heart. You can never go wrong if you believe in yourself!

I watched Hope Springs yesterday on the plane, and cried my heart out. Always loved Meryl Streep. But it’s not her, but the message in the movie. It’s about two people drifting apart, after 34 years of marriage. It’s about a woman taking things into her own hands because she wants to grow old with the man she loves …. And she summed up enough courage to see a marriage counsellor. She listened to her feelings and did what she had to do to win her husband back. Then I watched English Vinglish and cried even more. This was about a woman who couldn’t speak English and her husband and kids felt embarrassed being with her in social situations. She decided to do something and lo and behold, she learnt more than just English! I think it was the respect she earned that mattered a whole lot to her.

Perhaps … I use the word perhaps all too often 🙂 perhaps, this applies to me too! I think the times when the kids were young were the times we really were planning and discussing as one family. Yes, my in-laws were great, but boy, I listened too much to their opinions that mine got stifled. And why did I stifle my own? Because I heard too many stories about feuding mothers-daughters-in-law that I decided peace in the family was crucial. And when there was a difference in opinion between SF and me, I gave in coz I don’t want my girls to see us arguing.

But everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it? If I didn’t live with my in-laws, I might not have been able to have my three girls grow up so family-oriented, I might not be able to doggedly pursue my love for the written word and SF might not be able to doggedly pursue his own business.

So here I am, at the crossroads of my life again. I faced in at 44, when everything turned topsy-turvy and I had to rebuild. From the ashes (well not exactly, it’s a metaphor for opinions and views and beliefs being shattered and new ones created!) … From the ashes I built my Eco-system, of which I am ready to take on the world. I learnt to adapt, hey, just remembered something I read on the plane, came from this documentary about species that survived in the Amazon many thousands of years ago …. Said by none other but Charles Darwin, “It’s not the strongest, nor the most intelligent of species, that will survive. It’s the one most adaptable to change.”

So yes, that’s my answer to my own question. And I also remember these words: Ten Tiny Words of Power: if it is to be, it is up to me! Hey, what’s keeping me? Haven’t I always explored the roads less travelled? Yes, it’s a metaphor, but it also literally means that to me. The Unique Classroom. My classroom is the world. The right for every child to dream and write. It started from me. Where do I want to go? Adelaide? Yes, why not? Penang? Goa? Yes, what’s stopping me? As it’s said, “if you have built castles in the air, that’s where it should be. Now put foundations under them!”

And what other foundations will I lay? Taking care of the less fortunate. It means a lot to me. Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Jesus Christ ….. Isn’t this the message of love and peace? I think I’ve already started this and I want to continue doing this with The Unique Classroom. Writing from The Heart.

And yes, giving a voice to women too! Or shall I say women of my age, whose children have grown up, and husbands too caught up in running the wheel of “work is Life” that they lost their voice? Ah! I will do my speaking tours with my book! Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! The title! The message! This is getting so amazingly awesome!

So, yes, the message is clear. Let me spend the next 10 years doing this. Get my licensing off the ground this year, start my PhD next year, and establish a network of centers with a core message: Education begins with the heart!

So there! Didn’t I begin this by saying I need quiet to think? Yes, life is great! Live it! Love It! There’s so much to be happy for!