The Five People You Met in Heaven (Part 2)


Finally I finished the book, and this is one of the books that I will be keeping in my collection. It’s full of useful lessons that I want to remember. The first lesson was about life and death, and strangers and the actions that we make every day, which I already mentioned in the last post. So, this time, I would like to write about the last 4 people It and 4 lessons of life.

  1. The lesson of sacrifice.

We all make sacrifices. Everyday is a compromise, between different priorities in our lives. Sacrifices are not meant to anger, they are meant to inspire. When you see someone making sacrifice for others, you also want to make your own sacrifices. It can be as small as sacrificing some of your own free time to be with the people who need you, or sacrificing some of your daily pleasure, like a cup of coffee, so that another person out there in this world can survive one more day. Each small act of selflessness can make a difference and change someone’s life forever. So, don’t skimp on sacrifices, especially if you can afford it or if it does not cost you too much personally.

2. The lesson of forgiveness.

Forgive others, and forgive yourself. The past is passed, let it go and move on. You cannot change it, but by forgiving, you can change the future. Don’t hold anger and hatred in your heart, it’s like a poison that will eat you up from inside. Once you can forgive someone for their past mistake or wrongdoing to you, you will feel the burden lifted from your heart and feel much lighter. So, forgive if you could, not only for them, but most of all, for you.

3. The lesson of love.

Love is everywhere, even if you cannot see or feel it. And it can be created as needed. Love can feel the void and expand to fill in the empty space in between. And if we love a person, even though he or she is no longer around, you can still feel the love and affection lingering, and that will help you overcome loneliness. It’s a bit cheesy, yes, I know. The message is simply that, love will still be there even if the person you love is no longer around, it just changes the appearance, from physical to spiritual.

4. The last lesson: Everyone has a place in the great circle of life

This lesson is kind of a combination of all the previous lessons, and presented with a surprising twist. Life is unpredictable, and we normally don’t really understand why things happen the way they happen, until time has passed and we look back to past events, with newfound understanding and perspective. Every action you do today has some future repercussion that you may never know, but somewhere somehow you are changing someone’s life. Every decision you make will kickstart a chain effect that may change history forever. Life and death are really entwined together, and a loss of life today may lead to many lives that will be saved down the road. But it’s hard to realise that when you have little information to process, and need to make so many decisions every day. So be careful, be responsible and be conscious with your actions. Make every decision with the best intention in mind. Be kind and willing to do good. And finally, have faith and trust that things will fall into place in the best way possible, by some amazing forces of nature that are beyond our realm of understanding. In another word, God will lead the way, and we just carry out His plan faithfully. Amen.


In Order To Live – A treacherous journey to Freedom to live


Just as we were wrapping up on Crash Landing on You on Netflix, my thought came back to the book In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park, which chronicled her dangerous journey to freedom. It was a ripping read, on the same vibe as The Girl With Seven Names, which I had read and reviewed some time earlier. Yet, this story was even more tragic, as the girl had to go through even more pains and sufferings before she eventually got her freedom to live.


Unlike Hyeonseo, who had a kind of more privileged upbringing and good song bun, Yeonmi’s family was at the bottom of the caste system back in North Korea, so he life in North Korea was already very tough. She encountered everything that was the worst of what came out of the country in recluse, from hunger to coldness to fear, and she ran away for a better life, driven away by constant hunger, just like most other kids of her time. And since she did not have the resources, she had to take the more dangerous and lengthy path to freedom, going through brokers and human traffickers and suffering in their hands in order to reach the happy destination. Her pains were very vivid and hence the darkness of the the regime she tried to run away from was portrayed ever more clearly through her eyes.


It is through stories like these that the world gets to see how North Korea is really like. The K-drama series has tried their best to paint a picture of the stark difference between the North and the South, and the culture shock experienced by those Northerners who first stepped into the South, having been brainwashed their whole life of the situation of the South, where children roamed the streets starving and begging for food (actually that was what happened in the North), but it could highlight the full details. That’s why the world needs to hear from those actual escapers like Hyeonseo and Yeonmi, who had gone through hell in order to reach freedom, so that they know what life is like in the Happiest Country on Earth, and push more strongly for something to happen in order to improve their lives.


Last but not least, similar to what I had felt after I put down The Girl With Seven Names, after finishing In Order To Live, I felt incredibly thankful. I was thankful for my life, that I was born in peace time, when my country was already out of the darkness, and I grew up and had chance to go out and see the world, and build a better life for myself and my family. I was thankful that I could still go home whenever I want, and I did not have to wait years or even decades to see my parents. And I said a silent prayer for a better, more beautiful world, a world where fewer people had to risk their lives, just simply in order to live.

If you want to know more about the ordeal of North Korean people, you can lister to Yeonmi’s speeches:

The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Part 1


First book of the year 2020 and I am glad I chose this. I have only got through 20% of it, and yet it has seemed to be a great read, full of insights and lessons, and a perfect start for a new year.

The story is about Eddie’s journey in the afterlife, right after he died a tragic death, on his birthday nonetheless. Quite shocking to start from the end, cause death is normally the end of the story, but here it’s just the beginning, and the context for things to start unfolding. And the writer made it very clear, by mentioning his death and counting it down from the first few pages of the book himself.

It’s the story about death and the afterlife, yet it has every bit of life in it that you can expect. And the lessons from it are very capable for living a good life, one that you will not regret when the inevitable comes your way. And since I have just finished the first lesson only, let’s jump right to it.

“There is no random act. Everyone is connected in one way or another. Everything you do has the potential to alter someone’s life totally. There are no strangers, just family you have yet to come to know.”

“Life and death are connected. They are two sides of a whole. There is no life without death, and death breeds life. They are balancing each other.”


That is very true indeed. The first one is a classic, and you can find it in many other places. “We are all connected in the great circle of life” – Lion King. “No life is more valuable than another, we are all equal. A stranger to you is someone’s brother and husband and father and lover.” – The Song of Achilles. “We are all part of the universe, and the universe lives in us” – Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. And the second one is even more classic, it traces back to the origin of time and space, of the universe itself, and is the center of everything in life that we know of. It’s a philosophy that is true by nature, and the cornerstone of all religions in the world. Therefore, it’s great to be reminded about it again, in the context of this book about an old man’s death and what it means to his strangers.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – An Incredible Tale of Survival


An incredible tale of survival. That’s my first and longest impression after finishing the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz. It was written in a simple manner, with little fanfare and straightforward story telling style of sort, yet it was powerful enough to keep me hooked from the beginning to the end.


The book told the story of Lale, a Jewish young man from Slovakia, who was transported to and imprisoned in Auschwitz and Birkenau, and witnessed the unfold of one of the most tragic events in human’s history. The story happened in Auschwitz and Birkenau, the most brutal concentration camp that the Nazis set up in Poland to hold and torture their enemies, most of whom were actually innocent Jews, being sent there to suffer and die for no apparent crime but their religion. The story was grim and dark, with death lurking on every page and the feeling of living on the edge for all who were placed inside the camp.


In spite of truthful, sometimes even brutal, portrayal of death, the story was also one of hope and survival. Lale never gave up hope, his hope of freedom, his hope of life outside the camp. He continued pressing on, even when there seemed to be no more hope, no more chance of survival. He never gave up. Nothing could struck him down. Not the disease. Not the guards. Not even the almost certain fate when he was sent to the block with the black wall. And what made his efforts even more outstanding was that he not only pressed on for himself, he also tried to make life a little better for as many people around him as he could, bringing them some bright sparks in the darkness of the imprisoned life, so that even though their lives might be extinguished the very next moment, at least they could feel some warmth of love and some memory of their previous lives that had been robbed from them. That’s what made his story worth telling and his efforts all the more incredible.


Another amazing aspect of Lale’s story was that love could blossom even in the most dire place of all. In a place where lives could be stopped at any moment, where death happened at every corner, most of the time for no reason, and people woke up without knowing if they would see the sunrise or sunset ever again, it was difficult to imagine a love story could be started, maintained, nurtured, protected and even survived and continued outside the camp. And it was a beautiful love story nonetheless, against all odds and all the brutality of the war. As I continued turning the pages, I kept wondering, whether Lale and Gita would survive if they had not fallen in love. Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe Lale would. He had a strong, burning desire, to get out of the camp alive and go back home. But maybe not for Gita. If not for Lale and his cunning and smart manoeuvring, probably Gita would have perished. But it did not matter and it was not important. What mattered was that they both survive, and thrived outside the camp. The bonfire of love that they built kept them warm, and also warmed the hearts of those around them, as well as all the readers.


It was a really very good book, on the same vein as The Book Thief, and another worthy contribution to the collection of truthful portrayal of a painful part of history. Lale might be lucky, as he had readily agreed, but nobody can deny that he was very capable, and therefore managed to capitalise on his luck and rid on it full steam to help himself and others. He touched so many lives in the camp, with simple but meaningful actions, like sharing with them some bread, some sausages or chocolates, or telling them stories. He faced death more than once, at some points he was so close he could see its breath brushing on his face, yet he climbed out of the pit and lived to fight another day. When compared with him and his situation, I suddenly feel that my daily troubles are simply nothing, and that my problems suddenly shrink so small, and I realise that life is beautiful and every moment I am still breathing is a small miracle that I should treasure and embrace fully.


Unf*ck Yourself – Book Summary and Review


First of all, let me get one thing straight. After reading this book, I find it to be of the same vibe as so many other self help books or websites that you can find almost everywhere nowadays. There are some good tips, so novel ideas, but mostly nothing new (or probably it’s just because I have read too many of those similar materials elsewhere). I learnt something in the book, and refreshed some points that I had gone through before, and I managed to create some connections. So, in a way, it’s not total waste of time for me, and it will surely benefit those who are new to this genre. If you need some motivations to make changes in your daily life, you can just dive in, and gain something for yourself. I am pretty sure you can get something useful, and your life will at least improve a little, or at least you will feel like so.


Secondly, this is the first time I listened to a self help book instead of reading the book. I normally listened to novels, as they were longer and I did not really have to pause and take note, but this time I found the audio book and wanted to give it a try. The narrator’s voice and expression was quite interesting, and I love his accent and accentuation. So, for those lazy folks out there (like me), if you don’t want to carry the book around, go ahead and plug your head phone in, find the audio book and start enjoying it.


Now, to the summary part. Normally I don’t do this, especially for novels, as I hate spoilers and never want to become a spoiler myself. However, this is a self help book, and there is nothing to spoil there. Plus, for those who are really short of time, but still want to improve your lives, this is a baby step, a quick intro to the concepts, and if you like it, you can always go back to the original, full scale version. So, let’s dive in.

  1. Your thoughts have power
    1. Your thoughts affect your feelings, and ultimately, your actions
    2. Your thoughts can even change the structure of your brain (neuro plasticity)
    3. Positive thoughts lead to positive perception of life, and increase the likelihood of achievements
    4. Be assertive instead of narrative i.e. use I am / I do instead of I will
    5. When you think of something long and hard enough, your brain will condition to pay attention to information that can help you advance towards that goal, and tune out other distractions
  2. I am willing
    1. Willingness vs Unwillingness. Are you willing to change or Are you unwilling to continue living with the bad stuffs? Same question but different impact for different people. Ask yourself the question that spurs you most into actions
    2. Keep asserting that you are willing to change / unwilling to stay with the bad stuffs will help spur you into actions
    3. Have a goal in mind, then list out all the actions required to achieve that goal, and all the tradeoffs, sacrifices, inconveniences that you will encounter on the road to achieving that goal, then ask yourself: Are you willing?
      1. If the answer is yes, then go ahead, make the change NOW, and achieve the goal
      2. If the answer is no, then it’s not the right time yet, shelf the goal until later
    4. Repeat the same thought process every day, repeatedly, and that will drive all your actions of the day
  3. I am wired to win
    1. We are survivors, we have all been there and done that and survived until now. That means we are all winners, at least in what we set out to do.
    2. 95% of the time, our actions are driven by our unconscious minds. So we should be conscious of what to do and what to achieve, so that we can reach our goal.
  4. I’ve got this
    1. All your problems in life are solvable.
    2. If you cannot see the problem clearly, move back and back and further back, until you can see it clearly, with no emotion attached.
    3. Don’t let your problems affect other people in your life. They did not do anything to deserve that. The burden is yours, and only you can solve it.
    4. You’ve got this far in life. You can make it. Trust yourself.
    5. Solve each problem one by one. Don’t mix them up into a mess, it will become exponentially more difficult to solve.
  5. I embrace uncertainty
    1. The only certain thing in life is uncertainty, and the universe is always moving from low entropy towards high entropy and creating chaos.
    2. You know nothing and the more you learn, the more you realise that there are unknowns and uncertainties.
    3. In uncertainty lies opportunities
    4. Changes always happen, so either you embrace it, or you will be left behind
    5. Start embracing uncertainty NOW, one action at a time: meet new people, do new things, make new connections…
  6. I am not my thoughts, I am my actions
    1. Human by nature are scared of changes and want to maintain status quo. So your thoughts are more likely to direct you away from making changes in your lives.
    2. Negative thoughts hold you back, so you should ignore them and persist with your actions once you have committed to your goal and ensured that you are willing
  7. I am relentless
    1. Success does not come easy. Failures are more likely, especially for new endeavours.
    2. Fail fast, learn from mistakes, and pivot, then press on with the actions. Be persistent.
  8. I expect nothing and accept everything
    1. Unrealistic expectations, once not met, will lead to unhappiness.
    2. Life is uncertain, so expectations are more likely to be not met than met, especially high expectations of great achievements.
    3. Once you come up with the plan, take the necessary action, but do not set your expectations. In that way, you won’t be let down. Just check the result of your action, and act on it accordingly. Take it one step at a time, and you won’t be disappointed.
    4. Don’t expect things to happen the way you want them to be, they won’t. Instead, if you want something, take action to achieve it. Go for it. Say what you want. Ask for it. Don’t expect someone to read your mind and know what you want, and do it for you. That won’t happen.
  9. You are going to die
    1. You will not regret what you did, but what you did not do
    2. You only have limited time, so stop delaying, stop procrastinating, and start living your life. Do the things that make you happy and bring you nearer to your goals.
    3. Tomorrow is uncertain, so act today.

In short:





Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 – Winterfell


I guess by now, if you are a GOT fan, you should have already watched season 8 episode 1, and if you are not, you will not even bother. Anyway, for the benefit of those rare fans who are still procrastinating and maybe waiting for the whole season to end first, SPOILERS ARE COMING!!!!


The episode mainly focused on the arrival of Daenerys at Winterfell, and the many reunions. There is no battle, but the tension is high, mainly due to the past conflicts between the houses whose members were gathering together in the same place. Therefore, it had a lot of emotions, and great room for the actors to show their different faces and sides that we hardly saw before.



Here we can see the quick change of facial expression of Arya Stark. From an eagerness and pure happiness of seeing his half brother Jon Snow, whom she had not met for many years, she sulked as he passed by her, looking straight and all business, not even noticing her in the crowd right beside him. Why are you so distant and cold, Jon Snow? The North is your home. Those people lining the road to see you are all your people. Why aren’t you at least looking at them, smiling or waving to them? You look like King Robert when they rode to Winterfell that day, the fateful day that started it all.


Well, maybe this is the reason for his tense and business like facial expression. Maybe he had anticipated this cold shoulder treatment and anger of the Northern Lords, and wanted to portray a strong leader who knew what he was doing. Really, if look can kill, Jon Snow would have died many times already. Look at Lyanna Mormont. She was really furious at his supposed betrayal. And Lord Royce was not happy at all.


Sansa is a political master by now, so she can hide her anger very well, but she also shows some hint of distrust, not in her words, but her face and the way she looked down at Dany when they first met each other. “Winterfell is yours” might be the words, but not the meaning of it. Inside, her brain might have been screaming “No, Dany, Winterfell is mine, and I will not give it to you easily like what Jon did”. Sure, there will be more tensions between these 2 women, especially after the White Walkers are dealt with and the game of thrones is on again.



And, as expected, they started clashing not so long after, when they had a big meeting with all the Northern Lords in the great hall of Winterfell. Sansa really did not trust Dany, she interrupted Dany and even rolled eyes when Dany spoke. But Dany was not so easily bullied either, and she showed Sansa she was the boss and that she came to help defend the North, in a position of power.



Anyway, I think it’s just that Jon Snow was just worried about Dany’s visit to the North, and simply did not see Arya. He was quickly warmed up when he went inside Winterfell, and saw his Stark family again. He was especially happy when he saw Bran for the first time since so many years. He felt very painful when he left for the world amidst Bran’s almost fatal incident, and could not say a proper goodbye to him as he was in a coma all the way back in the first season, so it’s understandable how happy and touching he felt when he saw Bran again. He almost burst into tears, and that made me feel very touched as well.


Unfortunately, in direct contradiction to his emotions, Bran replied in a very cool, maybe too too manner. He is really someone else, not the Bran of yesteryear, not the Bran who climbed the tower, not the Bran who entered the cave. As Meera rightly said, Bran died in that cave, and this new Bran is no longer that boy, or as he himself as, he is even not a man anymore. He seems to be oblivious to emotions, maybe he is now just a living walking Google search engine, with vast knowledge but no emotion, a supercomputer of sort, and that really makes me feel uncomfortable every time I see him.


Haha, another very telling facial expression by Sansa Stark. It’s like a amusing smirk, and she purposely kept the truth of Bran’s transformation from Jon in her messages, to give him the unpleasant surprise. She was shocked when she met Bran again last season, so she was determined to let Jon experience it himself. It’s like, “You know nothing, Jon Snow, there have been many changes since you left Winterfell, don’t be so naive, the game has changed totally”.



Another interesting reunion was that of Sansa and Tyrion. Legally, they are still married since there has been no annulment. However, it has never been consumed, so it’s hard to say if it’s really still on. Anyway, they seem to be on quite good terms, at least he has been nice to her during their time together, and even tried to protect her and anger Joffrey in the process. She surely remembered that, especially after she experienced the worst with Petyr and then Ramsay, so she should gave him credit for that. Although they traded some harsh words due to her running away and leaving him to face the death sentence during the purple wedding and he trusting Cersei to bring her army to Winterfell to help fight the dead, I still feel there is some hope between them, and there may be a chance they may get together again when things settle.

Here we are, the most anticipated reunion. Jon and Arya have been especially close. They grew up together, and they were the closest among the Stark children. They have not seen each other for so many years, since Jon left for the Wall, but they kept thinking of each other, and those thoughts gave them more mental strength to continue overcoming very tough situations. It’s Jon and Needle that kept Arya from turning into a faceless assassin and forgetting her name. So, when they finally met each other again, there was nothing but love and warmth for each other. They have grown and they have changed, but their bond is still stronger than ever, and I really felt so happy for them that I almost moved to tears. And their last conversation made me feel a bit alarmed. “The Stark is my family”. “Please don’t forget it”. We know who Jon really is, but I still believe he will remember that he is a Stark, that Ned has raised him up as his own, and that Winterfell is his home, and when it comes to difficult decision to be made, he will keep that in mind and make the right, honourable choice.


Another interesting reunion is that of Arya and the Hound. Arya and the Hound were not on very good terms when they were last together, and Arya even left the Hound to die a slow death. However, she has changed now, and so is the Hound, and more importantly they are on the same team now, so although there was still some bitterness between them, there is also a bond that they developed through the tough time together, and they know they need each other. That’s why they were not too harsh on each other.


Right after that was the union of Arya and Gendry. They were very close and they helped each other escape death a few times. Their bond was very strong, so strong that she was determined to kill Melisandre when the red priestess took Gendry away. She must have been very happy to meet Gendry again and to know that he was still alive. Although she tried to act cool, her loving smile gave away her true feeling towards him, and although he also acted cool and did not really show much emotion, it might just be his hardened shelf (he was a blacksmith, after all), his conversation really mimicked the last conversation they had, and showed that she had a special place in his heart, so special that he still remembered their conversation after so many years. I hope both of them will survive and be together in the end, which is also a fulfilment of Robert’s wish to join his house and Ned’s together, although they may not rule together in the end.


Another touching reunion is between Jon and Samwell. Sam was one of his few friends in the Watch, and his most trusted confidant. They had a long history together, but Jon had to send Sam away for his own safety, so it was understandably very happy for him to meet Sam again and to see that he was well. Jon really cared about him, and you can see the love and joy on his face when he saw his old friend again.

Another significant reunion is that of Theon and his sister Yara. It’s an emotional, and difficult one as well. First, it was emotional because the reason why they were separated was Theon’s abandoning his sister and jumping into the water to run away from his fearsome uncle. It was actually not a bad decision, since he got to live to fight another day, yet it would have haunted him all his life as that could be the last time he saw his sister. Fortunately it was not, and that difficult decision paved the way for him to redeem himself and led to the reunion with her. But it was also painful, as it was also a farewell, like a short lived fairy tale that ended prematurely, since they had to part way again so that Theon could complete his redemption arc and returned to Winterfell, his only true home, to fight alongside his true family. That explained the pain on his face, but he made the right decision, and his sister led him go. What is dead may never die. This time, he might die, but it would be a heroic death.


Finally, we had the fateful reunion between Jaime and Bran. The first time they met many years ago, the action Jaime did set all the events of the Game of Thrones in motion, and started the war of the five kings. It was also the first step in Bran’s personal journey of becoming the Three Eyed Raven. It would be interesting to see what they say to each other, and whether Bran would forgive Jaime. I think he would, now that he can look back to the past with a new perspective.


Done with the reunions, now let’s take a look at Cersei. Her Golden Company army had arrived at King’s Landing. Euron Greyjoy had proven himself more than once, and now he was demanding some favor in return. Cersei refused at first, but then, realizing she was walking on thin ice, and could lose the last powerful ally, she conceded. We can see the sadness and disgust on her face as she looked back at Euron, a look of total defeat. After all, even if she was the queen, she could still not do what she wanted.

Here we can see another close up look of Cersei. This time, I felt there seemed to be a tear in her eye. And with a glass of wine in her hand, she was definitely NOT pregnant. She did not drink when she met Tyrion, so her pregnancy might be a total lie, another trick she made to keep herself on the throne a bit longer. But then what did she have then? No family. No children. No lover to share the bed, and had to share it with the last person she would want to. She looked sad and vulnerable, and maybe she was asking herself if it was really worth it or not, and how much further could she go.


Ok, back to Dany again, this time with Jorah. That was the moment right after she realized her good intention to strike a conversation with Samwell and thank him for saving Jorah had ended in the worst way ever. She looked sad and troubled, and she might even have doubt if her decision was right at that time, and whether Tyrion was right in advising her against it, but the past is the past, it cannot be changed (well, unless you are a green seer, but better not alter it too much anyway), and her look at Jorah and his look at her meant only one thing: her quest to win the hearts of the Northerners are not gonna be easy.


Another defining moment in the episode is when Cersei hired Bronn to kill her brothers, with a crossbow nonetheless. It showed how cruel and morally degraded she had become. After all, kinslayer is one of the greatest sins, and hiring the man who had the best chance of finishing the job, not just a random nameless assassin, showed how determined she was to get rid of the last family she had. She might hate Tyrion so much, since she had long blamed him for killing her children, but what about Jaime? What did Jaime do that deserved that death sentence? He just wanted to honour his words and keep his promise, something you would expect from an annointed knight. And by choosing to engage Bronn, Cersei really wanted them dead, and she also had no more belief in the value of friendship and companionship, believing that everything could be bought with a large enough bag of gold.


This was the last scene of the episode, and it looked terrifying. It’s a warning from the Night King that the war would be starting soon. Many theories had circulated on the Internet about the meaning of that symbol, how it linked to the Night King, his past and even how to defeat him, and while I really enjoyed them, I don’t think it really was. We all love the show so much that we want to give it more meanings, but sometimes we should just sit back and relax and enjoy the impressive CGI effect and not think too much of what is hidden behind.

You may wonder why I did not even mention the scene when Sam told Jon about his parentage. Well, it’s because there is nothing to tell. We have known about it for quite some time, and the producers rushed through it so fast that there was barely any impression at all. Sam kind of blurted it out due to his anger with Dany, and Jon’s reaction was quite silly. And there was barely enough time for that significant moment to sink it, as the camera already moved away. It was really disappointing, especially for such a profound secret that once revealed might have changed the power balance totally.

Finally we have come to the end of this long post, and while these are beautiful shots, I don’t think they hold much meaning or foreshadowing. It was cheesy to the max, and having Jon ride a dragon before he even knew of his secret heritage is purely for fan service only. Dany might not think much when she asked Jon to ride a dragon all by himself, but as she had said before, a dragon is not a slave, and it takes time to bond and win the trust of a dragon before you even think about climbing on his back. It does not make sense, and it’s quite foolish thing to do. Jon must have known better too. He told Dany that Northerners are not easy to win over, but he underestimated a dragon so much. He had some doubts at first, but let his guard down when Dany nudged him and his manhood ego ever slightly (“What if he doesn’t like me?” “Well then I would have enjoyed your company Jon Snow.”) Really, are you so stupid? Gambling with your life when you know there are so many things to do. You know nothing, Jon Snow. Really, it does not make sense, it’s totally illogical.

Billion Dollar Whale – Billion Dollar Thief


A very good book, with lots of incredible details and revelations on the dark side of the world of the super rich, and how money really makes the world go round. When someone has too much money, especially money has not earned by himself, he will give no qualm about splurging it on all sorts of vanity stuffs. Parties. Luxury shopping trips. Gambles. Condos and mansions. Music. Movies. And the list goes on and on…


The book was written by 2 investigative journalists, so it has a very distinct writing style. It’s a colossal collection of investigative journalism output, not a novel piece or a biography volume. Therefore, it’s full of details, and often goes quite deep in how Jho Low built his schemes and stole money off from the 1MDB fund. It was not a thrilling read, but an informative one. Sometimes, a bit too informative, but it’s worth the effort to cover a scandal of that unimaginable scale.



One thing that laid bare in the book is the level of corruption in the world as a whole, and in South East Asia and Middle East in particular. Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, basically gave Jho full control of billions of public money in 1MDB without even caring where the money went and how it was spent, as long as it helped further his political plans and career. As for the Middle Eastern governments, the Saudi Arabian prince Turki easily and happily sold his name in return for the kickbacks from Jho, and the controllers of Aabar and IPIC were royal Abu Dhabi family who had no care of what really happened in the fund, as long as the luxurious properties and boats are all paid for. Back to Najib, when the fund was collapsing and the scandal was unfolding, threatening to destroy his whole political future, he became a strong man, a dictator of sort, who went all in the save it and block the truth from going out, even to the extent of threats and blackmailing and murder. Although justice has finally been served, and the truth is out in the end, it was not without suffering and only because some brave people just didn’t give up.


Another dirty truth that was revealed in the wake of the scandal is the enormous level of greed of Wall Street. “Greed is Good”, Jordan Belfort once said. But good for who. Definitely not for the taxpayers of those poor countries. At Wall Street banks, money can open doors, and executives are blinded by profits, turning their blind eyes to all moral, ethical and even legal concerns. And they have a reason to do so. It has been proven time and again that, they would be easily let off without much consequence. Maybe a fine, but it’s not their money, and in the end the profits outweigh the cost. As for the investment bankers brokering those controversial deals, it’s fat pay check, huge bonus and meteoric rise up the corporate ladder, at little risk or legal consequence, so why not go for the fun ride?



Throughout the whole incident, once again it’s shown loud and clear that “Money makes the world go round”. And when it comes to millions of dollars, the world really goes much faster, as all opposition voices are quickly silenced, and all doors are opened at a blink of an eye. It also shows that the global financial system is deeply flawed and inadequately governed. Despite all the efforts to counter money laundering or ensure compliance, there are still huge cracks that perpetrators can easily squeeze through time and again, and special pipes through which billions of dollars can flow through easily and without much resistance. It remains to be seen if those cracks will be filled and those pipes will be clogged, but as long as the whole system is not overhauled, and the decision is still driven by greed, there is not much chance for a significant improvement.


New Year's Eve At The Bank Hosted By Usher



Another dirty secret that got revealed in this saga is the vanity of Hollywood. It has long been perceived as a marvellous, mystical, mysterious world, charming and seductive yet impenetrable, but Jho Low proved otherwise. With his money, he managed to infiltrate Hollywood, and install himself among A-Listers. His luxurious, crazy parties where he basically burnt money everywhere (not literally, but the amount he spent on those parties could be more than enough to burn for a long time), attracted more and more stars and celebrities in their midst, including rich kids like Paris Hilton or superstars like Leonardo Di Caprio. That proved once again that, with enough money, nothing is beyond reach. Paris Hilton went straight from being stranger to exceptionally close with Jho Low through those champagne filled parties, generous attendance fees and expensive gifts. Same for Jamie Fox and other musicians, artists and movie starts. He could even get a supermodel, Miranda Kerr, for a girlfriend, of course at the very steep price of 8 million USD in jewelries. However, as relationships could be bought with money, they also quickly vanished soon after money was gone. And that was another sad truth about the world of Hollywood, where things came and passed quickly, and friendship was based on mutual benefit, not respect or trust or shared values.



After finishing the book, an overwhelming sadness descended on me. If it is so easy for a nobody like Jho Low, with just some connections for a start, to be able to steal billions of dollar from a government controlled public fund, what will happen to the financial system? And how many more Jho Low will we see in the future? Until now, he is still at large, nobody know where he is. Najib will soon be on trial, but the outcome is still unknown. And among all those who have benefited from the stolen money, only few have been detained or facing criminal investigation. What can deter the next Jho Low from appearing out of nowhere. And how can it be prevented? The world is still moving, money is still flowing, and a new window of opportunity for theft is opening up somewhere, waiting to be exploited.


Really, without a significant shift, another Jho Low, another 1MDB, and another financial scandal is not a question of if, but just a question of when, and where.

Some more scandalous photos of Jho Low’s luxurious parties and billionaire lifestyle, the billions that he had but did not earn by himself. (All photo credits belong to the owners, and are not mine).

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The Girl With Seven Names – A thrilling escape story

It’s a thrilling story, with a lot of twists and turns. Although the ending is more or less known, I was still hooked from the first to the last page. Hyenseo’s journey was incredible, interesting and captivating. And I was really happy for her when I closed the book and put it back on the shelf.

The first part about her childhood in the hermit North Korea was quite relatable to me, as I came from Vietnam, another communist country with quite similar path and history. However, the situation between both countries are vastly different now, and I feel deeply grateful that our leaders took the unprecedented steps to open it up and welcome growth, investment and prosperity. Otherwise, who knows we may end up worse than North Korea, and I may not live until this day to read this book and write these lines.

I am sure there are a lot of other even more harrowing stories of North Korean escapees. In fact, there are thousands who try to escape the terror and starvation every year. But this story is intriguing due to it’s less than traditional path that the girl took to leave to South Korea, and the events on the way. It was a great mixture of chance, situation, luck, bravery, grit and sheer determination that led her not only to her own happy ending but also her family’s. And it makes me believe that there are miracles in life, and the end of suffering will be happiness.

It was a great read, the whole thing unfolds like an amazing adventure story, so dramatic it was unreal, and it would make for a wonderful movie, an eye opener for those who never experienced something like that before.

Happy Piggie New Year

For many Asians, the new year will only begin with the passing of the lunar calendar, and the period between the the Gregorian new year and the lunar new year is kind of a limbo state where we officially start the new year but our minds and hearts are still rooting for another passing a bit later, and the preparation and longing for that even exceeds that of the earlier one.

Now that the new year is finally upon us, let’s see what it will bring for all those Rats like me. Looking at the horoscope and planning for the new year has become a habit, a good luck activity and a harbinger of hope that I enjoy doing for the past couple of years, aiding in some ways by the so many big size readings displayed everywhere in the weeks leading to the Lunar New Year. So here they are:

There are some common themes for a Rat like me this coming new year.

1. Career wise, I should he striving for a boost in my career. It should be a time for a push forward, either in breadth (taking on a bigger project or a bigger role with more responsibility) or in depth (taking on a tough, challenging project that is new and hard but fun, potentially in a new domain or area of expertise)

2. Health wise, I should pay more attention this year. During the limbo period, I have taken the first step by signing myself up for the gym again after stopping it for so many years. Now is the time to utilize it and make sure I have a healthy dose of exercise on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Time to sweat and smile and repeat. A healthy mind needs a healthy body too. Maybe a few runs for this year as a bonus, why not? And of course, some mindful minutes every day to relax, balance, clear my mind and tune my thoughts so that I can think more clearly and be more aware of my body and soul.

3. Family wise, I should not let number 1 above supersede this, but continue striking a balance. Last year started on a bleak note with unbalanced schedule and lots of time not at home, and was getting better and more balanced going forward. I’d better keep that in consideration at all times, and plan each day such that there is always time for my family. It’s not easy, but it can be done. It’s just the matter of priorities and importance. And let’s spend more time on trips and travel and holidays this year, shall we? We had an amazing trip to Japan last year, so there is no reason to stop there.

4. Wealth wise, I should continue the momentum set last year, spending, saving and investing wisely. Last year I managed to ride on the tidal wave of the US market and made a handsome profit, but this year will be more difficult. Many analyses I have come across recently are quite bleak, so I should study more and think twice before putting my money into anything this time. Maybe I should take on a more conservative and balanced stance and reduce the risk, keep more emergency cash and only invest the amount that I can set aside for the medium to long term in order to ride out the market fluctuations this time. And also a more prudent and disciplined budgeting and spending, to utilise my income and put the money where it’s most benefiting (remember, spending is not bad, but there is bad spending where the money spent doesn’t end up giving you any ratification or improvement of your life).

Ok, let’s stop here. Quite a big challenge to psyche myself up for the year of Pig. And hopefully, with careful planning and diligent execution, the happy piggie will smile at me and I will enter my Rat year next year with a stronger standing than where I am right now.

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