Of Martin Luther King, civil & human rights in the United States.

Two weeks ago, the YSEALI fellows got to see Martin Luther King’s hometown in Atlanta and had the honor of attending The National Center for Civil and Human Rights yesterday. It was a moving, revelatory and hopeful experience that I will carry with me forever. We learned even more about Dr. King and what he stood for.

Photo courtesy: Center for Civil and Human Rights.

One of my favourite parts was definitely the lunch counter sits-in simulator. The sheer fortitude that nonviolent protesting requires was crazy and unbelievable. I sat down at the lunch counter simulation and put on the headphones and closed my eyes. As the voices swelled from behind, my hands began to sweat, my back stiffening against the recorded sneers. Yes, it was that real.

The Lunch Counter Sits-In Simulator.

My next favourite part is the part where I got to listen to King’s eulogy for himself (listened twice & cried twice) . It was such an ominous and heartbreaking moment. I don’t think I have ever cried in a museum before, needed so many moments alone to get myself together – yes, it was that sad. This is honestly the best museum I’ve ever been to so far. An excerpt of his eulogy:

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy tell him not to talk too long.  Every now and then I wonder what I want him to say. Tell him not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize–that isn’t important. Tell not to mention that have 300 or 400 other awards–that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.”

(click here for the full version)


The Tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King (his wife) on a brick island within a reflecting pool. He was shot dead in 1968, when he was only 39 years old. Her wife continued to fight for many causes, died when she was 78 years old and never remarried.



I’m glad I got to experience this, it puts today a little more into perspective. Till then.

Of Hitler, leadership and compromising.

Hello, everyone.

We had a Leadership and Social Action forum with two wonderful speakers today; Liz Blake who was a Senior Vice President for Habitat for Humanity and Norma Milligan from Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Liz Blake gave us the rules of leadership in leading a social action or peace challenge project that we want to tackle:

1) Only do what you can do, focus and master on only one thing;
2) Don’t hesitate to ask for support, financial aid and technical assistance;
3) ASK, always ask;
4) Learn from the NOs. Realize that this world is not entirely about you, you make mistakes but the good thing about it is you can definitely learn from the mistakes;
5) Celebrate small and large success;
6) The time is NOW, do not procrastinate.


Later that day in Ethics & Leadership class, we took a Negotiation Conflict Style Test – it determines whether you are a compromisor, competitor, collaborator, avoider and accommodator. Basically there is no best or worst negotiation style, we just have to learn on how to work with each style in different situations because apparently, the better you switch your role in negotiating in different situations, the better you are at engaging with people. For instance, the competitive style is best used when you need to act or get results quickly. Competition is critical when you are certain that something is not negotiable and immediate compliance is required.  Avoiding style, on the other hand, is best used when the value of investing time to resolve the conflict outweighs the benefit. Here is the link if you are interested to know about your conflict management style:



Did you guys know Kennesaw State University has its own Museum of History and Holocaust education – I mean, HOW COOL IS THAT? I’ve always been fascinated by the Holocaust since the day I learned what it was. I couldn’t wrap my head around on how someone could do something so awful to such a mass amount of people. I’m totally intrigued by how an ideology could influence you to fuel so much hatred to other races. And hey, we would have thought after the second World War, the Holocaust, the world would have learned from its mistakes, but guess what? Look at Palestine, Syria and the treatment of refugees, it’s 2017 and have we learned nothing?


Till then!



Of long flights, jet-lags, blooming friendship & Alabama.

The very first thing that came to my mind when I received the news that I got accepted into the 2018 Youth Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in the Kennesaw State University (KSU) was – What do you do in a 21 hours long flight? A 7 hours flight to Korea, laid over for about 45 minutes and a 14 hours flight to Atlanta. My anxiety ass definitely didn’t help but luckily, I was not alone during the long-haul flights – thank you, Tanasha and Melissa (the other delegates to the KSU).

First week, and already learned a lot from the people here, the Americans, the cultures of respective countries from other southeast asian delegates. The accommodation was super great and oh yes, we were given an iPad and free books for our assignments and assigned readings AND HAVE I TOLD YOU THE iPAD WAS FOR US TO TAKE HOME? First ever winter experience, arrived when it was -3 degrees celcius, the jet-lags were crazy, literally wanted to gouge my eyes out but finally adjusted on the 6th day and it feels so surreal to be the minority here.

The highlight of the first week is definitely the trip to Alabama to learn about civil rights movement led by Dr Martin Luther King here. The whole journey to Selma and Birmingham puts your life into perspective and shows how much we take our civil rights for granted, especially given how many have sacrificed their lives for justice and equality. I still have chills from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the conflict Bloody Sunday where the civil rights demonstrators were being attacked by the state troopers with billy clubs and tear gas. I also got the chance to meet Dianne Harris, a remarkable living history of civil rights movement in the US. To learn about this period in history from her direct, firsthand remembered accounts is a privilege I don’t take for granted. We definitely need to do more and try harder. Such a powerful and humbling experience.

Here is the link of our short trip to Selma & Birmingham Alabama, enjoy! Till then.

Top 10 Quotes From Dance Dance Dance by Murakami.


Dance Dance Dance is a haunting tale of the protagonist in finding his former lover who has cried out to him in his dream. Following the dream, he was later drawn into a surreal world full of bizarre characters and strange events. I find this book is a bit different as there were elements of mysticism, capitalism & politics which I have (yet) to find in his other books. These elements gratify the story & it added up the satisfaction even though the reading experience was a bit tedious and draggy, particularly in the earlier chapters.

I rated this book 4.5 out of 5 stars because personally Dance Dance Dance has awakened something in me as a reader – it was a charming and a teeny bit philosophical read with quotes of timeless wisdom, and also quite witty. Here are my ten favourite quotes from this book which I choose on an instinctive level because they are simply powerful and entertaining.

1.   The protagonist wondering what it feels like to belong.

“Gazing at the rain, I consider what it means to belong, to become part of something. To have someone cry for me. From someplace distant, so very distant. From, ultimately, a dream. No matter how far I reach out, no matter how fast I run, I’ll never make it.”

2.  The protagonist’ concern about capitalism.

“We live in an advanced capitalist society, after all. Waste is the name of the game, its greatest virtue. Politicians call it ‘refinements in domestic consumption.’ I call it meaningless waste.”

3.  Again, criticism on capitalism.

“Advanced capitalism has transcended itself. Not to overstate things, financial dealings have practically becoming a religious activity. The new mysticism. People worship capital, adore its aura, genuflect before Porsches and Tokyo land values. Worshipping everything their shiny Porsches symbolize.”

4.  The difference between machines and human being.

“With machines, the feeling is, well, more finite. It doesn’t go any further. With human, it’s different. The feeling is always changing. Like if you love somebody, the love is always shifting or wavering. It’s always questioning or inflating or disappearing or denying or hurting. And the thing is, you can’t do anything about it, you can’t control it. “

5.  Gotanda describing Kiki.

“The girl had – maybe not talent exactly – she had the makings of…presence. She had something. she wasn’t really beautiful. She wasn’t a born actress. But you got the feeling that if she ever got on film, she could pull the whole frame into focus. And that’s talent, you know.”

6. The protagonist on the science of human peak.

“Humans achieve their peak in different ways. But whoever you are, once you’re over the summit, it’s downhill all the way. Nothing anyone can do about it. And the worst of it is, you never know where that peak is. You think you’re still going strong, when suddenly you’ve crossed the great divide. No one can tell. Some people peak at twelve, then lead rather uneventful lives from then on. Some carry on until they die; some die at their peak. Poets and composers have lived like furies, pushing themselves to such a pitch they’re gone by thirty. Then there are those like Picasso, who kept breaking ground until well past eighty.”

7. On love.   

“People fall in love without reason, without even wanting to. You can’t predict it. That’s love.”

8. Easy regrets are useless.   

“What lasts, lasts; what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves most things. And what time can’t solve, you have to solve yourself.”

“Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regret. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.”

10.  Things are never simple.

“People have their own reason for dying. It might look simple, but it never is. It’s just like a root. What’s above ground is only a small part of it. But if you start pulling, it keeps coming and coming. The human mind dwells deep in darkness. Only the person himself knows the real reason, and maybe not even then.”

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.


 Pages: 463 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.03
My Rating: 3.92


And The Mountains Echoed (ATME) tells a story of Abdullah and his sister, Pari who lived in a small village of Shadbagh. Abdullah loved his sister so much that he would do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. And one day, something happened.

The format of ATME is completely different from Hosseini’s previous works. The book has nine chapters and each chapter tells a different story which was connected to the lives of Abdullah and Pari. It’s more like a collection of short stories. The book spanned over 50 years and it traveled from Shadbagh to Kabul, into the streets of Paris, across the sky into Greece, and California. Each chapter introduced a wide range of characters with their own secrets and stories which were masterfully portrayed by Hosseini. At first, I was annoyed with the format as each chapter was distinctly different to the following chapters, and it took me awhile to familiarize myself with the format. But later, I don’t know how Hosseini did it, but the inscrutableness of each chapter charmed me as the drama unfolded towards the end.

Many people think that this book isn’t as great as his previous books and yeah, I felt the same. Even though the stories were great, I think some parts were unnecessary as it lacked connection to the main characters, Pari and Abdullah. Some parts were somewhat prolonged and I got lost somewhere around there. But then, there was something fascinating in each story; it felt REAL, the emotions were beguiling and raw. The secrets in each story, their thoughts, their different ways in thinking about life, their behaviours and the relationships between characters – they awed me, they repeatedly broke and mended my heart. They made me think on how I should treat the people I love. They also made me think on how I should live my life.


Even though, there weren’t much details of the wars in Afghanistan in this book, Hosseini always fascinates me with his ability in interweaving fictional story with historical background. From this book, I found that the lifestyle in Afghanistan was constantly changing through different period and different place. For example, in 1950s – 1960s, the strides were made towards a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, particularly in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Meanwhile, the conservative factions were mostly located at the smaller and rural areas. Progress was halted in the 1970s as a series of coups and civil wars took place and in 1990s, when the Taliban was in power. These weren’t described in details but it gave a glimpse of the changing happened in Afghanistan.

All in all, I’m enthralled by this book. The stories, the feels and the ending – they are just perfect.

A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama


Pages: 288 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Japanese Literature
Goodreads Rating: 3.78
My Rating: 3.8


A Hundred Flowers tell a story of a family living in China during the reign of Mao Zedong. During his reign, he introduced The Hundred Flowers Campaign where all intellectuals & artists were encouraged to freely express their opinions about the Communist party. Gradually, many intellectuals, students and artists grew bolder in raising their voices and once the criticism turned directly towards the Party members and Mao himself, the Campaign was abruptly halted and all the counter-revolutionaries arrested and were sent to prisons to be ‘reeducated’ – where Sheng was one of them.

Nothing much happened in the story, really. It is a very simple story of the everyday lives of Sheng’s family members which is told from multiple POVs which brings each character into sharp focus. The alternating narrators started great, but gradually it shifted too quickly, thus it felt less engaging.There are a few dramatic moments but overall the story revolves around the thoughts and hopes of the characters.I liked it, but that’s as far as it goes. Despite the plain storyline, I appreciate her simple yet gracefully descriptive writing style. I love Tsukiyama’s serene and peaceful tone. It was moderately slow, just how I like it. Slow but sweet.


Even though there just wasn’t enough character development, Gail Tsukiyama has a way of creating characters that are inherently flawed yet lovable. One particular character of this story that I loved is Sheng’s father, Grandpa Wei. In the book, he was portrayed as a reserved and a quite man, which is completely different from his captured son, who was an outspoken and impatiently brusque. But throughout the story, readers may notice that Wei gradually has became more remarkably fragile and weary, which – until a secret was revealed – which made my heart ached. I also loved the part where Grandpa Wei went on the train trip to meet Sheng and met Tian.

Now, the encounter between Grandpa Wei and Tian sparked a question to my mind – Between national struggle and the love of your life, which one prevails? Imagine a situation where you are fighting for a cause, but your partner despise it because both of you simply do not share a similar political belief and struggle, would you leave her/him? This situation reminds me of Nelson Mandela where his first two marriages collapsed under the strain of politics. It was alleged that the separation was mainly because Mandela has always prioritized his citizens’ lives and struggle more than his wives. This situation can also be related with one of the Islamic legal maxims – A private injury may be tolerated in order to ward off the public injury. What do you guys think of this?

Alright, coming back to the review. A Hundred Flowers is a tale well told, definitely won’t be my last from Gail Tsukiyama. I strongly recommend this book to those who love a ‘quiet’ read, without the noise of the current world.

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid


                                                                                   Pages: 266 pages
                                                               Genre: Young Adult, General Fiction
                                                                           Goodreads Rating: 3.98
                                                                                   My Rating: 4.2


Hephzibah and Rebecca are twins. One beautiful, one disfigured. Trapped with their loveless parents, they dream of a normal life. But when one twin tragically dies, the other must find a way to escape. Because if she doesn’t, she’ll end up like her sister (Source: Goodreads)

Black Heart Blue is a gripping tale of twin sisters, Hephzi and Rebecca, who have been subjected to abuse and religious extremism in their own family. I like how distinctive the main characters are: Hephzi, the extroverted one, bold at the outside but most fragile at heart and then Rebecca, her twin sister, who suffered Treacher Collins Syndrome, who seemed fragile but actually was a strong-willed child in protecting her sister. They are glaringly different but they complemented each other well.

I loved how the chapters perfectly interlaced between the ‘before’ which was told from Hephzi’s perspective and the ‘after’, which was told from Rebecca’s. I loved how every chapter of this book explores every range of emotions suffered by the twin sisters. I didnt weep as I read this but I did feel suffocated at times – the cruelty and the sufferings are just too much. The author’s style of writing is SO simple, it doesn’t beautify the story but it certainly matched the atmosphere of the book which was real and horrifying.

The story is medium-paced, it sometimes got too fast but thank God the author didnt jumble up things, unrealistically. The only issue I have with this book is the lack in depth but the shifting of the plot swifted so seamlessly, it managed to conceal the flaw. Last but not least, I loved this book and I’m certain, this is the kind of book that will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended!

Out of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys


Pages: 346 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating: 4.06
My Rating: 4.3

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-11-09-45-pmOut of The Easy tells us the story of Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950s. Josie felt that everything is going against her – ultimately, her mother who never gave a damn about her. However, Jo is blessed by having Willie, the bad ass yet the loving madame of the brothel and her great and wonderful friends. Each of the characters was vibrantly unique and it felt so alive – My favourite character is, of course Josie and the uh, ice queen, Willie.

Josie is a great character, and we can learn a lot from her – she is bold, strong and very loyal. Even when she was being tormented by her fate, she is always trying to do the right thing. Josie is by far one of the strongest female characters I have read. In this book, in order to support herself, Josie worked at a book store owned by Charlie and became acquainted with Patrick. The first quarter of the book kept on making literary references and it made me REALLY REALLY REALLY excited!!! Among the literary references were Keats’ poems, Little Women, Pride & Prejudice, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape and so many more! They even made bookish guesses and oh my, they were so relatable! 

The pacing is perfect and all the events come together so seamlessly but I didnt really like the ending, the beginning of the book was fun and intriguing but at the end, it kind of spluttered out and the flames died – I mean it ended *poof* just like that, it felt like there were too many things unresolved. Plus, I felt like the closure of the big “mystery” was a bit disappointing. But nah, despite the oh-kay-ending, I absolutely LOVED this book. Wont be my last of Sepetys. Highly recommended!


After Dark by Haruki Murakami


Pages: 244 pages
Genre: General Fiction, Japanese Literature
Goodreads Rating: 3.67
My rating: 4.2

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-42-10-amAfter Dark is set within nocturnal dark hours – from 11:56pm to 6:52am. It follows a few characters on their adventures which strangely, connected to each other during the night. it centers around two sisters, Mari and Eri, who never knew each other really well and it leads to other characters, Takahashi, a jazz trombonist, a female hotel manager and her two staffs, a Chinese prostitute who was savagely brutalized by a businessman and a Man With No Face. Like any Murakami works, it deals largely with coincidence, randomness and alienation.

The narrative is strangely interesting. It’s told from a third person view, in the role of an imaginary video camera – it felt almost like a dreamlike screenplay, complemented with a set of vivid details and a very surreal storyline. Now, the storyline – it is Murakami, so don’t expect a full blown plot, packed with actions or a dramatic plot twist. It’s just a simple story, like nothing exactly happened and no real closure.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-47-05-amIt is a well-paced story and I like how the story kept me in check with the time. I love how profoundly odd the book is and strangely, it’s the oddness that sucked me into the story. I was left guessing at every turn, not able to guess what Murakami actually intended to convey – which somewhow frustates me.

But that is the thing about Murakami is, he don’t beat the readers with explanations, instead he leaves the atmosphere of mystery until the very last page, which is oddly satisfying.

The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain


Pages: 417 pages
Genre: General Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.04
My Rating: 3.6


The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle’s suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle—her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family—described a woman who embraced life – yet there was so much they didn’t know (Source: Goodreads)

Alright, here is the thing. I have been a really BIG fan of Diane Chamberlain over the years. She has the power of creating emotional and deep-wrecked stories than anyone I’ve ever read and second, what keeps me sticking to her books is the fact that she always provide the readers with new things to learn regarding history, places & medical stuffs. Yes, if you like Jodi Picoult, Chamberlain might become your favourite author as well.

However – I am sorry, I felt a bit disappointed with this book. It is too fast paced and all things were jumbled unrealistically. Something kept on happening until my mind couldnt cope with the story anymore, it felt too much. I enjoyed the story, it was emotional and nerve-wracking, but I wish Chamberlain would have focus on the main thing, in depth, rather than trying to make it “alright I will shove all the emotional shits here” which unfortunately lacked in depth.

Now, the characters and the POV. Some of the characters didnt really click though. For example, Noelle and Sam’s feelings towards each other. Sam’s feelings towards Tara. I couldnt feel the depth, it felt dry and at times, tedious. Secondly, about the POV. I dont have any problem with different POVs in this book but something really bugged me off – Tara, how Tara is awkwardly different in her own POV and from Grace’s POV. Its like two different persons & this certainly turned me off.

Despite the disappoinments, I still loved this book. The suspense and emotions created by the author never failed to keep me at the edge of my sitting. The plot twist – there are too many predictable twists but the major one, I REALLY DIDNT SEE IT COMING. And Chamberlain also never fails to provide us with new things to be learned, although there is not much in this book – about midwifery and gestational surrogate. And this certainly WONT be my last book of Chamberlain.