Thursday, August 13, 2020

Hygge




In Last Tang Standing a debut novel by Lauren Ho, Andrea Tang is a thirty-three-year old M & A lawyer in Singapore.  She appears to be winning at life.  She has been ticking her tiger mother’s checklist for her, including but not limited to, coming up top in law school, presently vying for a partnership in the law firm and she is owning a property  ( well, almost : only twenty-eight more years of mortgage payments to go!)plus she has been included in the list of 40 Most Influential Lawyers Under 40 in Singapore Business Review. Andrea is a nerdy and funny woman who drinks and plays Candy Crush to relax. She writes in her journal about all the happenings in her life.


In her diary, she voices her inner thoughts  so we know she  is trying to figure things out. Since she spends most of her waking hours working,  the primary question will be : Is she practising law the way she loves the law? She is good at her work but she calls it 'indentured labour'.  In the story, Andrea is the lead associate on the VizWare acquisition project and the coininvestor, Chapel Town  is pulling out of the deal and she knows that her client , Sungguh Capital is going to blame her. She writes, 

 

It’s just ….the idea of working so hard for clients like WizWare, for guys who’d rip into me like I was beneath them,just made me, well, less than enthused.

I tried to psych myself up about putting in the hours by thinking about the financial freedom I would have once I was top of the pyramid of rats. It helped, somewhat. I needed to gain my Winner Mentality.’

 

She meets up with her mentor cum partner, Sim Mong and is told that she is now taken off the file completely even though he knows that it  is probably not even her fault. They don’t know why Chapel Town has decided to pull out of the deal. That is the reality of legal practice.

 

From her diary, you also read about her emotional life that is going through a roller coaster ride. She muses,

 

Chinese New Year is the worst time to be unattached’, writes Andrea in her diary. As a singleton, Andrea dreads the Chinese New Year annual get together meal with her aunts and relatives when she will have to face the: ‘Why Are You Still Single in Your Thirties, You Disappointment to Your Ancestors’ inquisition.

 

A cousin of hers, Linda Mei Reyes is a lawyer and her ally. As they both brace themselves to attend the lavish Chinese New Year luncheon hosted by Aunt Wei Wei for all the Singapore-based Tangs, they need to back up each other's make up stories about the 'imaginary' guys they are dating. Andrea’s dad was Aunt Wei Wei’s favourite sibling and the aunt had paid off  a lot of his debts when he passed thus Andrea has written in her diary, ‘ ….now she basically owns us, emotionally, which is how real power works.’ 


Andrea has just broken up with Ivan of five years. Ivan is the kind of guy any Chinese parent would approve of , ‘with his clean-cut looks, impeccable manners, solid career prospects, good family, and legit Chinese ancestry.’

 

Her mother wants grandchildren.

Time is running out , not just for you. I’m in my sixties, as you know. I’m not getting younger.’

Then whenever her mother telephones her from Kuala Lumpur, she will throw in more emotional blackmail such as these lines: 

Sometimes I  wake up, my heart and bones aching, and I wonder –is this how the end looks like? Dying alone, in Kuala Lumpur ---without a maid? And no grandchildren?

I’m a simple woman, with simple needs. All I ever wanted in return for the sacrifices I made for my children is their love, and grandchildren. 

She has fulfilled all the life goals on her mother’s check list for her except for getting married at the age of thirty. She is now thirty- three years old. Linda has created a profile for her and signed her up on Tinder. Valerie , another friend of hers takes her to a swanky book club party where she meets Eric Deng who looks like the perfect guy to settle down with. But she wants to stay true to herself. 


It may seem such a cliché that professionals like Andrea and Suresh, her competitor for the partnership track are re-evaluating their options before them. The thing is you do not want to be trapped in some choices that you have made and live in regrets. But do you really know what you want from life? You must not settle for less but should you settle for more than what you actually want? Perhaps it is time that Andrea needs to be honest with herself. Coming of age can happen at any age. 







 


Last Tang Standing is an enjoyable read. Its protagonist, Andrea Tang is bold, endearing, funny and a relatable character with her flaws and insecurities when you read the day to day account of her thoughts and life.  


This week, the topic for  our French conversation class was L’argent et le bonheur. Prior to our class, our French teacher had compiled a list of proverbs in French, some of which are translated from other languages. One of these proverbs is purportedly a Chinese proverb. ‘L’argent ne rachète pas la jeunesse.’ Money does not buy youth. I do not know its original version and can only think of one  Chinese proverb that is closest to it.

 

At a class gathering four years ago, a classmate from primary school brought out the autograph book that she still treasures since leaving primary school. She showed me the Chinese proverb that I had written and part of the writing is covered by  my childish drawing  in that well preserved autograph book of hers.

一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴   An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold. 

 

I was eleven years old. That was one of the Chinese proverbs we learnt in school.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Glass Ceiling

Time and time again I remind myself that everything around us is a manifestation of our mind as it is  our mind that is telling us what to believe in. Our mind plays tricks on us. As I navigate myself through the patriarchal landscape, I  find myself not winning if I do not make compromises to meet certain social expectations and it can be unsettling when I know that I cannot change the mindset of others due to deep-rooted upbringing and social conditioning.

 

Despite technology advancement and modern progress, the world is still constantly battling with bigotry, sexism, racism, gender inequality and all kinds of prejudices. I have recently read Marie Antoinette's World click, the historical non-fiction written by Will Bashor. One reviewer on France Booktours wrote in her review,  ‘While Marie Antoinette was very much not the Queen she should have been, the attacks on her as a woman are still a difficult read and a sign that we have not come very far as a society in understanding that women having power is not in and of itself something to be feared and derided.’click

 




Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 a novel by Korean script writer, Cho Nam Joo  has created a female character that resonates with not just any  Korean woman but many women around the world. The story is narrated from the perspective of the psychiatrist who has been treating  Jiyoung  based on her and her  husband Jung Daehyun’s accounts. In the story, Jiyoung suffers post-natal and childcare depression. 

 

Jiyoung  was born on 1 April 1982 into a typical patriarchal family in Seoul. Her mother apologises to her mother-in-law for having a girl as she  already gave birth to her elder sister, Eunyoung two years earlier.

 

Jiyoung’s earliest childhood memory is of sneaking her brother’s formula. She must have been six or seven then. It was just formula, but it was tasty she would sit by her mother when she was making it for her brother, lick her finger, and pick up the little bits that spilled on the floor. Her mother would sometimes lean Jiyoung’s head back, tell her to open wide, and pour a spoonful of that rich, sweet, nutty powder in her mouth.’

 

But  her grandmother who lives with them does not allow her to eat the brother’s formula. She admonishes Jiyoung by smacking her on her back so hard that the milk powder will explode from her mouth and nose if she is ever caught getting a spoonful of it. Throughout her childhood and adolescence and even after graduating and securing a job, she faces deep-rooted gender discrimination at every stage . After getting married to  Jung Daehyun, for the first celebration of his father’s birthday, family elders who are among the guests ask if they have ‘good news’ and they are not convinced when told that they are not planning to have children as yet. These relatives will not have it, they are convinced that the problem is her ‘She’s too old…. She’s too skinny … Her hands are cold…. She must have bad circulation ….The zit on her chin is a sign of an unhealthy uterus….’ They tell Daehyun’s mother to get her herbal medicine for fertility. Such conversations are unbearable. Jiyoung is upset by lack of input from Daehyun when his family treats her like she has big physical issue when it is not the case. Her feelings are dismissed by Daehyun as an overreaction and when he apologises for what has happened, she meekly accepts his apology as if she has done something wrong. He tells her that the only way to stop the family from nagging and bugging them about having a child will be to have the child since they will eventually have one child, they might as well have a child to avoid the lectures since they are not getting any younger and having a child is the  natural next  step after marriage . But she feels that the way Daehyun has said it, he has made it sound like “ Let’s try the Norwegian mackerel.” or, “ Let’s do a puzzle of Klimt’s the Kiss.” Having a child is not a  decision as casual as how her husband makes it out to sound like to her. Though she agonises and thinks about the things that she will have to give up, they have a child. After deliberating, they conclude that  one of them will be a stay-at-home parent and Jiyoung will be that parent even though her work appears to bring in more income and more stable. It is more common for husbands to work and wives to raise the children and run the home. ‘ In 2014, around the time Kim Jiyoung left the company, one in five married women in Korea quit their job because of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth  and childcare, or  the education of their young children.’

 

Jiyoung quits her job  a few weeks before her due date and gives birth to a baby girl, Jiwon.  She has enjoyed working at the marketing agency and while working at the marketing agency, she had always wanted to be a news reporter. Though one-year-old Jiwon has started going to daycare, as much as she  wants to, she finds it unrealistic to consider attending journalism classes which are held in the evening. 

Daehyun first detects his wife’s  abnormal behaviour when she speaks and sounds like her mother.  Gradually she  begins to assume  the mannerism of different people  as she becomes different people from time to time, some are living, others are dead. Perhaps the event that has triggered her madness was when she was called a mum-roach. One afternoon, Jiyoung  had picked up Jiwon from daycare and on their way home, the baby had fallen asleep  in her pushchair.  Jiyoung stopped by the park and enjoyed coffee in the park for the first time in a long while.Some male office workers were  drinking coffee on the next bench. She couldn’t help feeling envious looking at them, then she overheard the guys  saying :

I wish I could live off my husband’s paycheque …bum around and get coffee …mum-roaches got it real cushy …no way I’m marrying a Korean woman.’

 

Jiyoung is mortified and realises that she cannot win even when she has been playing by the rules. Jiyoung's story  is relatable and it tugs at the heart of women around the world. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 was published in 2016 and it has since been translated from Korean language into more than a dozen languages.  The book has been translated into English by Jamie Chang. The book has also been made into a Korean film . 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Quel bel horizon

In my wildest dream, I could never dream that I have a long lost uncle who owns a vineyard or runs a bed and breakfast place in France but I can spend a day getting lost in a story where the protagonist gets the opportunity of a lifetime to run to France to experience a life completely different from where she comes from. Thus when I get a chance to review a fiction that has the adventure of a lifetime in picturesque Provence, I have to read it. Life is fiction and it can be magical if you allow yourself to take a giant leap from your comfort zone. I do believe in fairytale-like stories. 

A Book Review 
Falling for Provence by Paulita Kincer