Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier – A Must-Read for Passionate Gamers

As an avid video gamer, this book has been an incredible read from start to finish. It is a collection of stories behind how videos games are made. The author – also the news editor at Kotaku.com where I visit on a daily basis – has interviewed hundreds of people. Some officially. Others unofficially. Some games are triumphant. Others not.

While each video games are created under very different circumstances, there are common themes within. It is art meets science where the scope, timeline, and cost is just as fluid. How much detail should be put into a video game? How large and how many maps should that be? How many times the storyline has to be rewritten? Is the game fun? Can the game afford another delay knowing that the extra time would help with the bug fixing but the company would miss the fiscal year financial target? And etc. Above all, I can feel the passion of the game developers within each game title. The various challenges they face.

This book features 10 games. Some are big-budget titles. One is very much a one-man show. Each has its own distinct ending. It is true blood, sweat, and pixels.

  1. Pillars of Eternity – I have recently discovered that I have a copy in my Steam account!
  2. Unchartered 4 – Heard about it. But I don’t have a next-gen console.
  3. Stardew Valley – Never heard of before reading this game. I have added this to my Steam wishlist.
  4. Diablo III – One of my favorite games of all time. I am still playing it. I have read this chapter twice.
  5. Halo Wars – Heard about it. But I don’t have a XBox.
  6. Dragon Age: Inquisition – I have played Dragon Age: Origin. Love it. But I read that Dragon Age 2 is a disappointment. So I have avoided Inquisition. Or BioWare in general.
  7. Shovel Knight – I have seen it featured in Steam often. Still not really into its concept.
  8. Destiny – Very interesting read. Mainly because I have planned to pre-purchase Destiny 2 (PC).
  9. The Witcher 3 – Also a very interesting read. I have purchased the first two installments but still yet to find the time to play. Who knows? One day I may play The Witcher 3.
  10. Star Wars 1313 – Never heard of. Because it was meant for consoles.

Geisha, A Life By Mineko Iwasaki

Geisha, A Life

Geisha, A Life is an eye opener. My understanding on geisha is very limited. Mostly come from that movie Memoirs of a Geisha, which ironically is a story inspired by the author of this book. But according to Mineko Iwasaki, the author of that memoirs has twisted her story so much so that it is only right that she publishes an autobiography to set things straight. Geisha, A Life is indeed an inspiring read.

So, set the record straight we shall, on what this book is not about.

… I accumulated many more hanadai than time units worked. Every night. I don’t have the exact figures, but I believe I was earning about $500,000 a year. This was a good deal of money in 1960s Japan, more than that earned by the presidents of most companies. (It is also the reason the notion that geiko perform sexual favors for their clients is so ridiculous. With this much income, why would we?)

At the age of five, Mineko was spotted as the successor of a house (and to carry that house’s surname). By then, her father has already sent some of her elder sisters to be maiko (young dancer or “woman of dance”) and eventually to be a geiko (“woman of art” – a specific term versus geisha as “artist”). Hence, her father was reluctant to give up Mineko – the youngest child – to be a successor.

My father introduced us.

She kept looking at me but addressed my father. “You know, Mr. Tanaka, I have been looking for an atotori (“one who comes after” or successor) for a long time and I have the oddest sensation that I may have just found her.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t know what an atotori was or why she needed one. But I felt the energy in her body change.

It is said that a person who has the eyes to see can penetrate to the core of a person’s character, no matter how old that person might be.

In the end, Mineko has made the decision to leave her home (at the age of five) and live in the house that groomed her to be a maiko and later on a geiko. She has gone through intensive training on dance, music, comportment, calligraphy, tea ceremony, and flower arrangement as a child prior to her debuting as a maiko.

As someone who is foreign and intrigued about Japanese culture, the amount of discipline and practice one has to endure is astonishing. The author did not seem to have taken a day off during her childhood. Everyday was a training day. And as soon as she has debuted at the age of fifteen, she did not seem to have a break at all (except when she was hospitalized).

I felt compelled to work as much as humanly possible. It was the only way I was going to become Number One. I was in and out of the house so often that the family nicknamed me “the homing pigeon”. Each night I entertained at as many ozashiki as time would allow. I didn’t get home until one or two in the morning. My schedule was in total violation of the Child Labor Laws, but I wanted to work and didn’t care.

One day I was attending a kimono fashion show at a department store. I wasn’t dressed as a maiko, so was able to let down my guard that extra little bit. I was so exhausted that I feel sound asleep on my feet. But I didn’t close my eyes. They were wide open.

In fact, this career of her has gone on till she was 29, at the height of her career before her sudden retirement. During her career, she was the very essence Japanese beauty and tradition. She has met foreign royalties and delegates. She has met many renown artists and professionals. There were many struggles and there were tears and pain. But it has always been her passion and integrity that pulled her through the challenges. Kimonos. I had no idea that kimonos can be that elaborate until I have read this book.

This book Geisha, A Life is going to inspire. More importantly, it gives a glimpse of what geisha does that may not be what you thought it was.

Drucker: A Life In Pictures By Rick Wartzman

Drucker

Whenever I show this book to my friends around me, looking at the book title, the first reaction would often be, “Who is Drucker?  Could it be Peter Drucker?”

Indeed.  This is a photo book on the life of Peter Drucker.  Drucker was an Austrian-born American whose writings contributed to the foundations of the modern business corporation.  To quote from the author:

Drucker discerned some of the major trends and events of the twentieth century before almost anyone else spotted them: the Hitler-Stalin pack, Japan’s impending rise to economic power, the shift from manufacturing to knowledge work, the increasing importance of the service factor, the fall of the Soviet Union. “Peter Drucker’s eyeballs,” Harvard University’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter once marveled, “must contain crystal balls.”

Drucker: A Life in Pictures has done a good job in painting a picture of who Drucker was.  He was a teacher and was used to give lectures in universities.  He was a management consultant, worked with Jack Welch of GE and Donald Keough of Coca-Cola as well as other other large corporations like P&G.  He was a counsel for the government and had corresponded with the White House.  He was an adviser to the social-sector.  His wife and he took a deep interest in Japan after their first visit.  His books have been published in more then 40 languages.  Druker has played a role in educating the world on the development of management.  In his mind, he was always a writer and his legacy is his writing.  Of the 39 books of his, two-thirds of these books were written after he had reached his mid-sixties.

Interviewer: If you describe your occupation, would it be “writer”?

Peter Drucker: I always say I write.

Interviewer: What, then, has inspired your books more than anything?

PD: The same thing that inspires tuberculosis.  This is a serious, degenerative, compulsive disorder and addiction.

Interviewer: An addiction to writing?

PD: To writing, yes.

Drucker: A Life in Pictures is perhaps one of the more unique books I have reviewed.  While written by Rick Wartzman – executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, the photographs are by Anne Fishbein, curated by Bridget Lawlor.  A majority of graphic content comes from letters and memos, certificates and handwritten notes – all of which reveal a personal insight on one aspect of Drucker that may be less familiar to the readers.  At the beginning of each chapter, there is a brief interview, which further illustrates a personal side of Drucker.  Reading through the book is like  journeying through a museum in my own pace.  A recommended read for those who wish to know more about Peter Drucker.

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 1 edition (January 15, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0071700463
ISBN-13: 978-0071700467

Neon Angel, A Memoir Of A Runaway By Cherie Currie – A Reread

I read this book ... again.

Very recently, I have imported a new Kindle from Amazon.  I looked through the Kindle eBooks on sales (I always love a good discount be it as video games via Steam or books).  I saw Neon Angel selling at a very reasonable price.  Somehow, I have a feeling that this is going to be a good book.  So I bought it online in a heartbeat.

Of course it is a good book.  I have read it three years ago.  A library copy it was.  I should have checked my website first before buying any books.  Since I have already started rereading it, why not finish the book and see how I feel about it without reading what I wrote three years ago?  Our perception is often affected by our maturity and experiences.  Would I read this any differently?

You may have watched the movie The Runaways.  If you haven’t, here is a quick introduction.

The Runaways was an American all-girl rock band formed in the 70’s.  In 1975, Cherie Curries was recruited into the band at the age of 15 as the lead vocalist.  While Cherie’s involvement with The Runaways lasted only 2 years, it would appear that she has played an important role in the band’s breakthrough and success.  Upon Cherie’s departure, guitarist Joan Jett continued to be the driving force behind the band, together with Sandy West the drummer and Lita Ford the lead guitarist.  But by 1979, the band was officially dissolved.  All four core members continued their solo careers with Sandy died of cancer in 2005.

Neon Angel is a self-biography written by Cherie Currie.  Like most autobiographies, it is hard to tell facts from fictions.  However, the emotion as described in the book appears to be genuine.  There is no bar held on the high’s and low’s that Cherie has experienced in her two years with The Runaways and the decade thereafter, dealing with the aftermath of stardom.

Raped at the age of 15 by her twin sister’s ex-boyfriend, Cherie was acted as an outcast in school, brought up in a dysfunctional family with her beloved daddy moving to another state, and later, her mother remarried and migrated to Indonesia.  Just imagine taking all these in as a 15 years old.  It would not have been easy.  Back in the 70’s – in the era of sex, drug, and rock & roll – David Bowie was Cherie’s idol.  His music was her salvation.  There was so much angst inside so much so that she was the perfect fit for a all-girl rock band as the embodiment of rage and rebellion.  She was the Cherie Bomb, the sex symbol.

The drama escalated after Cherie has joined the band.  There was constantly in-fighting within the band.  The tension between Cherie and her twin sister Marie was getting higher and higher.  Their alcoholic father did not help the situation.  There were early signs of drug use and substance abused.  And then another rape, which was much brutal than the previous one.  It seems to me that throughout her 2 years career with The Runaways and the few years after, Cherie has suffered much as a teenager.  Here are some excerpts from the book.

Something turned off inside of me that day.  Something inside of me snapped, and I stopped caring.  I never wanted to feel like that again, and so I began to learn how to shove those feeling deep, deep down inside of myself to a place where they could not hurt me anymore.  ~ After Cherie’s mother left the country refused to turn around and say goodbye.  Cherie was pinned down by a guard in the airport trying to cross the gate and catch up with her mother for one last time.

Last night I’d discovered what it felt like to be a rock star.  This morning I knew what it felt like to be a whore.  ~ Cherie’s band manager pimped her to a famous teenage idol for sex after her first big concert so as to generate publicity.  She was having a period that night.

Maybe [the doctor] was trying to be kind.  Maybe he didn’t want me to know [the sex of the unborn baby].  I knew for certain that a part of me was gone along with my unborn child.  I’d lost some vital part of myself in that hospital, and I felt instinctively that I would never get it back.  ~ This was after her abortion.  She was three months into her pregnancy while recording her album without even knowing it.

Funny, isn’t it?  After all the things that went on in the band, one of my strongest memories was such a small, quiet moment.  ~ The band was full of internal drama.  In one rare moment, lead guitarist Lita Ford complemented Cherie’s vocal performance during a recording session.

This nightmare went on for six hours.  I can’t even begin to explain what I went through.  It’s hard to tell another person some of the things that man did to me.  What I will say is that the terror, the horror, and the humiliation that he inflicted upon me were even worse than what I imagine hell to be like.  He hurt me with his fists, and with his body.  he did it again, and again, and again.  He thought nothing of hurting me.  Every time I screamed, and I cried, and I begged for mercy, and I bled or I passed out, he seemed to grow stronger, more hateful, more crazed by the lust and the sadism that fueled him.  As the night dragged on and my hellish ordeal continued into the breaking dawn, I came to the realization that this man was going to murder me as soon as he was finished torturing me.  ~ Cherie was kidnapped and brutally assaulted and raped by a man for six hours.  Eventually, the rapist was caught, trialed, and sentenced for one year in jail.

While most of the external events were out of Cherie’s control, the biggest demon turns out to be the one living within her – drug and alcohol abuse.  It has slowly destroyed her, destroyed everything that she has.  Majority of the book is a tragic recollection of a once upon a time rock & roll star and the price she has paid to get there.

Neon Angel is not without a moment of triumph.  Eventually, through persistence, Cherie Currie has emerged clean from drug.  She has constantly reinvent herself from a rock star to an actress, drug counselor for addicted teens and as a personal fitness trainer, and now a chainsaw craving artist who has her art gallery.  Looking back, would she want to change a thing?  This is answered in her afterword written years after the book was published.

Looking back on my life since that fateful day with my niece Cristina, I really see how truly blessed I am.  Many years have passed, we have orbited the sun more than 7,500 times and I have seen such extraordinary things, and had so many profound experiences that I could easily fill the pages of another book.  In the years since the Runaways I have lost some of my dearest friends, and I have reinvented myself time and time again.  But through it all, the wonderment and personal triumph that emerges from the emotional depths I have experienced leave me knowing I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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Now that you have read the book summary written in 2013, you may wish to click here to read the one that was written in 2010.

Jerusalem: The Biography By Simon Sebag Montefiore

A biography on Jerusalem from 160 BC till modern day.

I did not think that I could finish reading Jerusalem: The Biography – a history book thick as a dictionary.  But I did.  All thanks to the author’s entertaining writing style in presenting the history of Jerusalem from 160 BC to present time.  For majority part of the book, it reads like George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.  History is so full of blood and gore, scandalous sex and money, politics and betrayal, and bribery of all sorts.  It is hard to imagine that within a tiny city called Jerusalem, so many times she has fallen to different rulers, her people have been massacred for so many centuries.  At times I wonder: What would God think of all these?  Religions can be such a torment to our human race.

I have always been intrigued by the history of the three monotheistic religions namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the history of Israel and her people.  I have read books written by Karen Armstrong.  My immense interest to this topic perhaps leads to my UK blogger friend Jo’s personal recommendation of this book to me.  Her review of Jerusalem: The Biography can be found in here.  As always, her write-up is not to be missed.

Reading Montefiore’s Jerusalem, in parts, very much like reading Armstrong’s Holy War.  In Karen Armstrong’s Holy War, she wrote about the crusades and their impact on today’s world.  It is a book with a history encompassing the three religions stretches from 1095 AD to present time.  From the historical viewpoint, these two books overlap.  Armstrong tackles the topic in a much greater depth and analysis while Montefiore’s ‘page-turner’ easy-to-read approach makes it more accessible to mortal readers like me.  Maybe that is the reason why I manage to finish reading Montefiore’s Jerusalem and not Armstrong’s Holy War.  Now that I have a better grasp of the history of Jerusalem, I may give Holy War another go.

Montefiore divides his book into nine parts, with a prologue and an epilogue.  On average, each chapter is no more than 10 pages in length.  There are page-turner worthy hooks built onto each chapter that lead the readers onto the following chapters.  The book starts with Judaism and Paganism that leads to Christianity and Islam – two-fifth of the book’s volume covering a time period of 160 BC to 1099.  Then the Crusade, Mamluk, Ottoman, and Empire – another two-fifth of the book until the year 1905.  The rest of the book is devoted to Zionism.

The challenge of reading a history book – to me – is that it is hard to relate to a character born and died so many years ago.  I may have a mental recollection of what Yasser Arafat or Ariel Sharon’s behavior like.  But not for most of the pivoted figures in the history of Jerusalem.  To that extend, Montefiore has done a meticulous job in supplying the readers a physical description of a character if possible – from paintings or literature – as well as juicy gossips from the past.  On top of that, the author often adds his share of opinions especially when he speculates that the written history or documentations may have been distorted or exaggerated.

Here lies the challenge.  Shall we – the readers – take in all that the author writes and accept this book as the biography of Jerusalem?  Should a biography be challenged, especially when it touches onto the materials from the Holy Books such as The Bible?

My background is only limited to Christianity.  The following excerpt intrigues me.

Pilate toyed with releasing one of these prisoners.  Some of the crowd called for Barabbas.  According to the Gospels, Barabbas was released.  The story sounds unlikely: the Romans usually executed murderous rebels.  Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion while, according to Matthew, Pilate ‘took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person’.

‘His blood be upon us and our children,’ replied the crowd.

Far from being a mealy-mouthed vacillator, the violent and obstinate Pilate had never previously felt the need to wash his hands before his blood-letting.

I am unsure if my friends of the Islam faith would too find similar debates within the book.  Fortunately, I am pretty open-minded about my religion.  I read some of these debates as alternative views with only slight discomfort at times.  All in all, Montefiore has stayed out of many sensitive topics such as the resurrection of Jesus with a simple sentence: For those who do not share this faith, the facts are impossible to verify.

The last part of the book – Zionism – that takes up one-fifth of the book’s volume is pretty dry to read.  A similar dryness that prompted me to stop reading Karen Armstrong’s Holy War.  It appears to me that as we have more means to record history, history becomes less colorful.  Or perhaps, the way of life in the past is always intriguing to look at while modern day history is more like the current affair that we read everyday.

Entertainment value aside, Jerusalem has depicted a complex background that opens up my eyes.  I enjoy reading the epilogue’s This Morning the most.  It is a vivid recount of how each of the three monotheistic religions start the day in Jerusalem.  The rabbi and the Wall, Nusseibeh and the opening of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Ansari and the gates of the Haram, and Qazaz and al-Aqsa.  It is this complex heritage that shapes Jerusalem – and by and large the world – today.  If there is one thing that I have learned from the history of this Holy City, there will be no peace till the end of time and our religious beliefs will continue to fragment drawing out more conflicts as our civilization progresses. The fact that Jerusalem is a physical location with historical sites shared by the three monotheistic religions (as well as the sects fragmented within) forces us to come face-to-face with this seemingly impossible task of reconciliation.

It is now one hour before dawn on a day in Jerusalem.  The Dome of the Rock is open: Muslims are praying.  The Wall is always open: the Jews are praying.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is open: the Christians are praying in several languages.  The sun is rising over Jerusalem, its rays marking the light Herodian stones of the Wall almost snowy – just as Josephus described it two thousand years ago – and then catching the glorious gold of the Dome of the Rock that glints back at the sun.  The divine esplanade where Heaven and Earth meet, where God meets man, is still in a realm beyond human cartography.  Only the rays of the sun can do it and finally the light falls on the most exquisite and mysterious edifice in Jerusalem.  Bathing in glowing in the sunlight, it earns it auric name.  But The Gold Gate remains locked, until the coming of the Last Days.

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN-10: 0307280500
ISBN-13: 978-0307280503

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The following excerpts have left a strong impression to me and I wish to share them with you here.  Maybe too much Shakespeare I have read in the past.  Also, these excerpts I hope can illustrate the writing style of the author.

The first excerpt is a colorful prelude of Antony and Cleopatra and the war for the world.

The Egyptian queen progressed home to Alexandria.  There Antony, in a spectacular ceremony, raised Cleopatra to ‘Queen of Kings’.  Caesarion, her son by Caesar, now thirteen years old, became her co-pharaoh, while her three children by Antony became kings of Armenia, Phoenicia and Cyrene.  In Rome, this Oriental posing appeared unRoman, unmanly and unwise.  Antony tried to justify his Eastern wassails by writing his only known work of literature titled ‘On His Drinking’ – and he wrote to Octavian, ‘Why have you changed?  Is it because I’m screwing the queen?  Does it really matter where or in whom you dip your wike?’  But it did matter.  Cleopatra was seen as fatale monstrum.  Octavian was becoming ever stronger as their partnership fell apart.  In 32 BC, the Senate revoked Antony’s imperium.  Next Octavian declared war on Cleopatra.  The two sides met in Greece: Antony and Cleopatra mustered his army and her Egyptian-Phoenician fleet.  It was a war for the world.

The second excerpt recounts the clever politics played by Herod and it has an artistic touch to Antony and Cleopatra’s demises.

Herod again prepared for death, leaving his brother Pheroras in charge and, just to be safe, having old Hyrcanus strangled.  He placed his mother and sister in Masada while Mariamme [his wife] and Alexandra [his wife’s mother] were kept in Alexandrium, another mountain fortress.  If anything happened to him, he again ordered that Mariamme was to die.  Then he sailed for the most important meeting of his life.

Octavian received him in Rhodes.  Herod handled the meeting shrewdly and frankly.  He humbly laid his diadem crown at Octavian’s feet.  Then instead of disowning Antony, he asked Octavian not to consider whose friend he had been but ‘what sort of friend I am’.  Octavian restored his crown.  Herod returned to Jerusalem in triumph, then followed Octavian down to Egypt, arriving in Alexandria just after Antony and Cleopatra had committed suicide, he by blade, she by asp.

The third excerpt Justinian and the Showgirl Empress introduces Theodora, queen to the last Latin-speaking emperor of the east.

[Justinian] did not come to power alone: his mistress Theodora was the daughter of the Blue chariot-racing team’s bear-trainer, raised among the sweaty charioteers, louche bathhouses and bloody bearpits of the Constantinople hippodrome.  Starting as a pre-pubescent burlesque showgirl, she was said to be a gymnastically gifted orgiast whose specialty was to offer all three orifices to her clients simultaneously.  Her nympho-maniacal party piece was to spread-eagle herself on stage while geese pecked grains of barley from ‘the calyx of this passion flower’.  The sexual details were no doubt exaggerated by their court historian, who must secretly have resented the sycophancy of his day job.  Whatever the truth, Justinian found her life-force irresistible and changed the law so that he could marry her.

The last excerpt illustrates one of the many bloody conflicts we have seen in the history of time.  Key words are ‘lamb stew’ and ‘hot dry air’.

Abu al-Abbas declared himself caliph and invited the Umayyads to a banquet to declare his peaceful intentions.  In the midst of the feast, the waiters drew out clubs and swords and butchered the entire family, tossing the bodies into the lamb stew.  The Slaughterer himself died soon afterwards but his brother Mansur, the Victorious, systematically murdered the Alid family and then liquidated the overmighty Abu Muslim too.  His perfumier, Jamra, later told how Mansur kept the keys of a secret storeroom which was to be open only on his death.  There his son later found a vaulted chamber filled with the bodies, each meticulously labelled, of the family of Ali from old men to infants, whom Mansur had killed, all preserved in the hot dry air.

A Day With A Perfect Stranger By David Gregory

Chancing upon this book is a story as extraordinary as the book itself.  Allow me to elaborate.

Sunday late morning, my mother-in-law, my wife, and I drove to our neighborhood Church.  The car parks both inside and outside the Church were full.  So I dropped them off hoping to find a parking lot somewhere further down the road.  It is better to have at least some of us attending the Mass, rather than all three of us returned home empty handed (without receiving the sermon and the communion that is).  I could not find a lot so I headed to the library nearby and returned the books as planned.

I had no intention to borrow any book from the library.  Since I have time to kill, I scanned through the shelves and randomly picked one.  It was A Day with a Perfect Stranger.  I do not know what prompted me to choose this book.  Perhaps it is tiny and I was looking for some bite size reading.  Onto page one, I was hooked.

I never thought I’d become the kind of woman who would be glad to leave her family.  Not that I wanted to abandon them, exactly.  I was just glad to get away for a few days.  Or longer, in case of one of them.

Maybe I should have celebrating instead of escaping.  That’s what you do with big news, isn’t it?  And we had plenty.

A few week earlier my husband, Nick, told me that he had met Jesus.  Not the usual “getting saved” kind of meeting Jesus.  I mean, met Jesus.  Literally.  At a local Italian restaurant.

I was intrigued.  It was as though God was speaking to me, “OK, I know you’ve missed Mass.  But here’s a book you can read and make up to it.”

I sat down, slowly reading one chapter by one chapter.  Unable to finish the book within half an hour, I borrowed it before heading back to the Church to pick up Cynthia and her mother.

This book may be tiny, but it is loaded with inspiration for the soul.  For those who have a religious background, may or maybe not practicing the faith at this very moment, this book calls for a self-reflection.  For those who are open-minded, there may be much to gain.  If I were the author, I would probably give this book a Paulo Coelho approach.  Take away the Christianity reference and make it more universal.  Then again, I can see that the message would not be as powerful.  Because at the bottom of it, the author wants to convey the message that Jesus is among us.  Human do not need religion to have a relationship with God.

Back to the story, Mattie was shocked that her husband has met Jesus, in a restaurant.  She could not believe it.  In fact, she wanted to run away from it.  Mattie did not believe God and she disagreed with the notion of religion.  Interestingly, this book is not about religion.  It goes directly to the crust of what religion is about: God.  On the plane, Mattie has met a perfect stranger.  Through dialogues, Mattie began to do some soul searching.  Works of art are a reflection of the creators.  Parents love their children, no matter what.  We reach out to those whom we love, and vice versa.  From the beautiful scenery of the nature, to the beautiful smiles between parents and children, are we not seeing and hearing something more profound than just a scenery or just a smile?

In summary, A Day with a Perfect Stranger is a simple yet inspirational book especially for the Christians, lapsed or not.  Soup for the soul.

Evangelizing Google+ And What The Plus! By Guy Kawasaki

It has been more than a year since I have joined the social network Google+.  Prior to that, I was pretty active in Facebook.  The decision to leave Facebook was not easy.  Because I have plenty of friends over there whom we interacted by the minute.  On top of that, I have a Twitter account.  I was used to tap onto the news of the world as often as I checked and updated the Facebook status.  When I got to try out Google+, thanks to a beta invite, immediately I have recognized something special about the then-new social network.  Something I could not pinpoint.  I have dropped Facebook almost completely except the couple of minutes I spend every other day.  And have gradually dropped Twitter.  I value my social networks.  But I do not have the time to commit to all of them out there.  There is no lukewarm commitment when it comes to building a new network.  You either in, or out.  At least for some of us who have a full time job and that social networking has no apparent benefits to our work.

So it was a clean start, with Google+.  I have struggled for half a year, trying to find my way and get more from it.  I am a persistence type, so I hang on, momentarily enjoyed the quietness due to a sudden drop of digital interaction.  Many friends whom I managed to convince did not stay in Google+ for long.  Because they could not find what they were looking for.  Fair enough.  Then something happened, that totally changed what Google+ means to me.  I began to actively interact with strangers who have similar hobbies and interests, a good sense of humor and maturity.  In return, they interact with me.  I approached Google+ with the Facebook mindset.  That did not work at all.  Google+ is a tool for you to circle interesting people, interact with strangers and develop relationship.  The growth of your network could be exponential.  It is less of a tool to add real life friends onto your existing network, which is what Facebook is for.  It is more of a tool to find new people from all over the world, beyond your real life social circles.

Guy Kawasaki – the author of What the Plus! – has accurately described what some of the major social networks are for.  That pinpoints the reason why I embrace Google+.  That is passions.

Twitter = Perceptions.

Facebook = People.

Pinterest = Pictures.

Google+ = Passions.

To further describe Google+, Kawasaki wrote:

Google+ enables you to pursue your passions with people you don’t know.  You 200 friends and family on Facebook may not share your passion for photography, but on Google+ you can have a blast with a community of photograpers.  In short, Google+ is for passions.

Do you want to enhance and expand the number of people who share your passions and interact with them via posts and comments?  If you do, focus on Google+.  If you don’t, stick with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn until Google+ reaches critical mass.  If you just want to have fun posting pictures of cool stuff, use Pinterest.

Or, you may decide you need multiple services […]  That’s OK too.

As I have mentioned, I have struggled for quite a bit during my initial journey with Google+.  I wish I had a chance to read What the Plus!  The process of getting into and getting the most out of the network could have been quickened.  Guy Kawasaki was one of the first stranger I have added into my circle.  I did not know who he is.  But he appears to consistently share interesting stuffs in his stream.  And he appears to be popular in Google+.  In fact, as of today, he has close to 3 million followers.  When McGraw-Hill the book publisher approached me for the review of this book, my first reaction was: Kawasaki writes books?  Besides having published 11 books, Kawasaki is also the former Chief Evangelist of Apple.  He acts as a curator in Google+, sharing interesting stories to the community.

For those who are new to Google+, What the Plus! has tons of relevant tips.  It shows you the basic of how circle works and it quickly gets you started by populating your personal stream with relevant stories of your passions.  Many feedback I have with friends who tried out Google+ points to the observation that in their streams, they only see posts from the few persons day in and day out – like my posts.  Because I seem to be their only friend active in Google+.  It does not have to be that way.  There are tons of people in Google+ who are way more interesting than I am, with passions more relevant to you.  All you need to do is search them out by keywords or hash tags.  Find out who are consistently churning out quality posts and circle them.  Here are a few I have randomly dreamed of as illustrations.

What the Plus! also talks about how to create an enchanting profile.  Circling new people out there is one thing.  Getting others to circle you back is another.  Without these serendipity interactions, Google+ would at best be a Twitter to you.  Or at worst, a ghost town.  I agree with Kawasaki that a well written profile – very much your social resume – is important.  I seldom circle anyone in Google+ who does not invest time in doing up a profile or do not have a good history of public posts.  Because establishing trust in Google+ is the first step in building a relationship.  I cannot circle you if you have nothing interesting to say about yourself or anything in life.

Most who are used to Facebook culture would be reluctant to post in public when they first visit Google+.  It took me a while to convince my wife Cynthia that Google+ works in a completely different way.  Her comment after a few months of using Google+?  It surprises her much that even as she posts in public, she feels that her privacy is better respected in Google+.  All her interactions do not get broadcast in a ticker form, like Facebook does.  No one has a complete picture on what she does in Google+.  Not even I.  She may have commented on some posts about learning Spanish outside my radar.  Or with someone who is not in my circle.  In Google+, it is very clear who can see what, down to the individual comment and post.

Because Google+ works differently from other social networks, to thrive and get the most out from it, eloquence in everything you do is essential.  What the Plus! gets you covered, from how to post and comment, share posts and photos, to how to respond to comments and Hangout (a video chat with up to 10 people).  As someone who has already been using Google+ for quite some time, I find the tips useful.  I have learned a few things from this book too.  What the Plus! also contains tons of resources in getting help as well as enhancing your Google+ experience.  Kawasaki publishes the links in the form of QR codes.  There is also a chapter written by guest author Lynette Young specifically targeted to the women users.

I endorse 99.9% of What the Plus!  I have one discomfort though.  Kawasaki mentioned in multiple times that we should share posts from 10 a.m. Pacific to 10 p.m. Pacific […] when the spammers in Asia are asleep (page 83).  And on post scheduling, he is willing to sacrifice the aesthetics of a post in order to avoid the spammy and insipid comments that occur when Southeast Asia is awake (page 190).

Ouch.  I am from Asia, in particularly Southeast Asia.  Hence my spirit of evangelizing this book is slightly dampened.  I suppose when you have 3 million followers, spamming could be a valid concern.  I run a website that is bombarded by hundreds and thousands of spam comments a day.  I install an add-on to deal with them.  It sounds like Guy Kawasaki is frustrated with Google’s inability to completely stem the spammers.  I sincerely hope that the situation will improve for him, and that he may recognize that Google+ has a global reach beyond the US time zones.

In summary, What the Plus! provides a good introduction to those who are serious or curious about Google+.  It is less likely that you will gain 3 million followers like Kawasaki does by reading this book.  However, reading What the Plus! will help you potentially skipping months of frustration and get you active in possibly one of the best social networks we have today – my opinion of course.

Confessions Of A Microfinance Heretic By Hugh Sinclair

The idea is beautiful.  By giving small, low-cost loans to the poor, entrepreneurial potential may be unleashed.  Profitable local businesses can lead to prosperity to the poor and to the community.  World poverty can be ended.  There are inspiring stories and photographs on how a mere $100 loan can change the life of a poor.  Royalty and celebrity alike lends support to this good course.  Money in the form of institutional and personal investment as well as donation pours into the microfinance industry.  Marketing campaigns target on our good human nature, letting us to see how poverty can be rid of one family at a time.  Would you want to help ending poverty?  And at the same time receive a return on your investment?

Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus also known as the father of microfinance once said in an interview (2011 New York Times), “I have never imagined that one day microcredit would give rise to its own breed of loan sharks.  But it has.”

Hugh Sinclair – author of this book – who has worked in the microfinance industry from ground up gives a very different account on what this industry really looks like from the inside.  He has worked at a microfinance institution that distributes loans to the poor in South America and Africa.  He has seen how high the interest rate could be (in excess of 100%).  How in real life, many of the loans go into consumption (like buying a TV).  That because the investment comes from foreign countries, the money eventually gets out of the community leaving the poor poorer.  And how operationally inefficient these institutions can be with high salaries and overheads, commercial contracts going to relatives and friends.  He has seen the misalignment between the reality and the vision and mission statements like the one illustrated below.

To help the women in […] to relieve their poverty via self-employment, providing microfinance and technical assistance, while respecting their culture and human condition.

To be a self-sufficient microfinance institution with the principal objectives of poverty alleviation and the comprehensive development of the region.

Sinclair then moved up and worked in a Dutch microcredit fund management firm.  He has seen first hand how fund coming from the investors is channeled to the microfinance institutions with little due diligence.  At times, even when the fund managers know something is wrong with the microfinance institutions, so long as there is a good profit potential, they turn a blind eyes to the issues on the ground.  What about ending poverty?  Does it really matter when the investors are getting a return?

Sinclair tried to expose these irregularities, with the help of the rating agencies, even directly to the investors.  To his surprise, not even the investors want to listen to or action when the facts are laid clear on the table.  Meanwhile, with his passion of genuinely wanting to help the poor, again and again he was fired from his jobs.  The latest resulted in a Dutch court case.

That fortnight was tense.  I hardly slept.  Should I never have embarked on this battle in the first place?  A 99 percent chance of success is also a 1 percent chance of failure.  Taking on the beast is a noble idea, but had David missed Goliath with that fateful catapult shot, the story would probably not have made it into the Bible.  Professionally the situation could also be quite unpleasant.  How would I explain this to a future employer?

With all the evidence he has gathered throughout the years, he has turned into an activist.  He has become the ‘heretic’ voice on the microfinance industry that is seemingly corrupted from the investors to the major financial institutions, from the fund managers to the microfinance institutions.  There is a clear lack of regulation.  Self regulation is oxymoron.  Sinclair’s final breakthrough is getting Times‘s attention.  An article on this very topic was published revealing the ugly side of the sector to the public.

So, what is the problem with microfinance?

The problem is neither that the entire microfinance sector is evil, nor that the basic model is fatally flawed.  It is that greed, lack of oversight, recklessness in investing other people’s money, and ill-aligned incentives have allowed large parts of the sector to ignore the actual impact they are having on actual poverty reduction.

There are a few enlightened MFIs and funds that do actually benefit the poor […] Ethical funds do exist – they’re just hard to find.  The model does work.

I enjoy reading Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic.  Part of the book reads like a diary of Sinclair’s adventure to the developing countries.  Part of the book reads like a detective story as the author gathers evidence against the entire sector.  Although majority of the book talks about what does not work in this sector, there are some heartwarming stories whereby they show that when done right, microfinance does help the poor.

Sinclair’s approach is thorough.  From the investors and the intermediaries to the poor, looking at the operational,  political, and social angles, working through the legal system, the journalists, and eventually as an activist – I truly admire the author’s courage to speak up and telling the world that something is not right about the current state of microfinance.

This book may open up your eyes, like it does to mine.

Visit the author’s microfinance site here:  http://www.microfinancetransparency.com/

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (July 9, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1609945182
ISBN-13: 978-1609945183

Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry – By Albert J. Bernstein

I knew it even before I picked this book up from McGraw-Hill.  I am an emotional vampire!  Someone who has this tendency to drain the people around me dry, emotionally.  OK.  According to the author, since vampires metaphorically speaking don’t have reflection, they can’t tell if they are indeed an emotional vampire, even after reading this book.  So, in my case, I am either paranoid – unlikely – or lucky enough to recognize my shortfalls.  In the world of psychology, everything is on a continuum.  I hope I am on the milder end of it.

Back to the main purpose of Emotional Vampires.  It is to teach you how to deal with people who drain you dry in your daily life.  Out of eleven different personality disorders according to the manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the author has picked five: Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive, and Paranoid.  They are more common and in 40 years as a psychologist and business consultant, the author has seen these five disorders constantly cause the most trouble for the most people.  At work, at home, or anywhere in between.

The purpose of this book is not to consider the morality of emotional vampires, but to teach you how to spot them in your life and give you some ideas about what to do when you find yourself under attack by the forces of darkness.

Emotional Vampires – while written with humor – is not an easy book to digest.  At least for me.  For the simple fact that if you can relate to the tactics against all five types of emotional vampires, you must be having quite a challenging day-to-day life having to face so many difficult people that drain you dry.  I can at most relate to one or two types of emotional vampires.  Moreover, I doubt all the five chapters of therapy and self-help for each vampire type would be applicable to you either.  Chances are, you may find none of the therapy tips personally relevant.  Or you may pass this book to someone whom you think has a degree of personality disorder and hope that he or she would improve.

Hence, my suggestion would be after reading the introductory chapters, jump to the part that is most relevant to you.  This book tends to describe a more severe end of the spectrum for each vampire type so as to be more encompassing.  Therefore, it can be quite depressing to read through everything at one go.

Emotional Vampires is packed with hands-on information.  It shows that the author has in-depth experience in this field.  Each section begins with a chapter describing what that particular type of vampire is.  Another chapter or two to drill down on the sub-types and how to protect yourself from them.  Next chapter on what to do when you have to live with an emotional vampire, be it as your spouse, your parent, your child, or etc.  In the event whereby through reading this book, you realize that you may be one, fear not.  There is a final chapter on therapy and self-help.

A book on psychology is often dry.  But not this one.  I have chuckled a fair bit while reading Emotional Vampires.  The following – my favorite – may have quoted out of context.  Nevertheless, it shows the lighter side of the materials.  In this excerpt, the author’s intend is to illustrate what a Daredevil is.

Women are socialized to recognize what needs to be done and to do it without being asked.  Lower-order creatures, like men, children, pets, and emotional vampires, cannot be trained to be this perceptive.  They must be given specific instructions.

If a woman sees a sock on the floor, she will pick it up and put it where it belongs.  If a man sees a sock on the floor, he will assume it is there for a reason and step on it.

Any stereotypical statement you might make about men applies to Antisocials, especially Daredevils.  They are masculinity made flesh.  As we will see shortly, Histrionics are the walking, talking personifications of feminine stereotypes.

It is difficult to summarize a practical guidebook that is so full of contents.  Instead, I am going to pick two case studies and share with you how Emotional Vampires benefits me.

Case Study #1: Bullies

I am blessed that my friends and families are not that crazy.  I don’t need to use any of the techniques I have learned to protect myself against them (in retrospect, I think I may want to pass this book to them so that they can protect themselves against me).  At work, it is a different story.  Once in a while, I come across someone who has this anger management issue.  They would yell at people in open office space.  Bang table, even swear at people.  It is impossible to please them.  Anger induces fear and that becomes their one and only modus operandi.  Because things get done when they bang table and scream at people, they continue doing so throughout their career.  If you have not met angry people at work, good for you.  For I have.

What to do about Bullies?  Yield or confront?  Either way, you’ll lose.

Bullies are angry people who have discovered, to their delight, that anger – which they would engage in anyway for its thrill value – also gets them power and control, at least in the short run.  In the long run, Bullies’ anger destroy them.  So what?  Knowing that the vampire who’s browbeating you right now will eventually get his or her comeuppance offers little comfort and no protection.

The hypnotic relationship between anger and fear has stood the test of time, and it will continue until you do something about it.  But what?

The key is to do the unexpected.

The first step is to ask for time to think.  Since Bullies are not normal people, they may want to try other ways to get you back into the battlefield, and not to go through a rational discussion.  There is a good chance that the confrontation may end right there (and you win).  If not, at least you have taken some time to plan the next course of action.

Next is to think about what you want to have happened.  Bullies won’t back down and admit that you’re right.  Would you want to be right or to effectively handle the situation?  Discard any possible outcomes that forces Bully to back down.  They won’t work.

The next step is my favorite: Get the Bully to stop yelling.  It is actually easier than it seems.  First, you should keep your voice soft.  Don’t oblige them by yelling back.  One trick is to say, “Please speak more slowly.  I’d like to understand.”  Reducing the speed will reduce the volume.  No one can yell slowly.  If you are on the phone, there is this ‘uh-huh’ rule.  We usually say ‘uh-huh’ when the other person is catching a breath.  When speaking with a Bully on the phone, stop your ‘uh-huh’.  After a while, the Bully will pause and ask, “Are you there?”  This interrupts the yelling.

Remember, whatever you do, don’t explain.  It is a form of fighting back or running away that fuels the Bullies.  Instead, ask, “What would you like me to do?”  This forces Bullies to stop and think because more often than not, clouded by all the angry emotion, they have no clue what you should do.

The last two tips are (1) don’t take criticism personally and (2) learn from criticism.  These tips aim to make you a better person and deal with the situation with a calm and rational mind.  There is a good chance that by looking from Bully’s perspective, a new solution may emerge.

Case Study #2: Obsessive-Compulsive

In the beginning of this entry, I have confessed that I am an emotional vampire.  I have gone through the checklist in the book and have scored pretty high.  Those who are close to me in real life or in the online gaming world should have no problem observing this aspect of mine.  Over the years, I am fortunate to have met great mentors and loving families who help me mature.  Have I done enough?  How useful is the therapy part of this book?  We are going to find out.

Obsessive-Compulsives see their existence as a battle against the forces of chaos.  Their weapons are hard work, adherence to rules, scrupulous attention to detail, and the capacity to delay gratification into the next life if need be.

Without Obsessive-Compulsives to do the unpleasant and painstaking tasks that make the world go, nations would fall, businesses would grind to a halt, and households would collapse into utter confusion […] Obsessive-Compulsives want to create a secure world by making everybody Obsessive-Compulsive.  Only then can they be safe from themselves.

1. Always Know Your Top Priority – Checked

The author wrote that I should think about what I’d like to have carved on my tombstone, and work toward that.  The other details will take care of themselves.  Coincidentally, the one most life changing book I have read is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of the habits is to begin with an end in mind that uses the same technique.  It is the one habit that I remember the most from that book and I use it from time to time.

2. Judge Not.  Lest Ye Be Judged – Checked

During my younger day as a manager, my supervisor – a great mentor – one day summoned me into his room.  He knew that I was a meticulous person and a competent professional.  His only criticism was on my management style.  The way that I always saw the negative attributes in people.  So he said to me, “Exploit others’ strengths, not weaknesses.”

After that day, I seek to recognize good things on people before the negative stuffs.  It helps, a lot.

3. Goof Off – Checked

The books says, I should spend a little time every day just sitting and doing nothing.  Learn to relax.  I knew those moments of I idly waiting for my wife to get off work everyday are in fact doing good to me.

Note to myself: The next time I go for a walk after lunch, stop playing with my phone.

4. Specify Products and Don’t Meddle in Process – Checked

It is true.  People with my kind of unique personality often get lost in the process.  We are famous for not seeing forests because of all the trees.  Once upon a time, my mentor said to me, “Manage the outcomes, not the process”.  That was also the defining moment when I switched out of micro-management style and have a much better life thereafter.

5. Criticize Only on Thursdays

And for the rest of the week, praise others for the things they have done right.  Only criticize on Thursdays, including the things I do.

I suppose I could pay more attention to my inner thought.  Perhaps instead of commenting while driving that “he should signal” or “he shouldn’t speed so excessively”, I should observe the better drivers on the road and say, “look, he gives way” or “look, he signals”.

6. Publicly Acknowledge at Least One Mistake per Day

And two on Thursdays.

You mean I have to admit that I am wrong?!  My friends must be laughing when reading this because I seldom do so.  Maybe I shall put an effort on this.  This seems so … hard.  But I’ll try.

Conclusion

Emotional Vampires was originally published in 2002.  Due to popular demand, the author has released a revised and expanded second edition.  This book is packed with useful tips on how to deal with people who drain you dry.  It is useful to me.  I highly recommend this book for those who wish to live a happier life.  We cannot avoid emotional vampires.  It is best to protect ourselves against them.  And if we can become a better person or help others in becoming one after reading this book, that would be a bonus.

Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: McGraw-Hill; 2 edition (May 25, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0071790950
ISBN-13: 978-0071790956

The End Of Cheap China By Shaun Rein – An Insightful Look Into China From The Inside

Before End of Cheap China is released to the Asia market, it is already banned in China.  Why would a subject on economic and cultural trends that may disrupt the world received such treatment?  My contact at Wiley is intrigued.  And she is keen to hear my view.  I too am intrigued.  The author Rein is a mixed heritage of Chinese and Jewish.  He married the granddaughter of 50 most important Chinese Communist party members in history.  Because of his business background, he gets to converse with China’s leading entrepreneurs on a regular basis.  The author practically lives and breathes in China.  End of Cheap China is largely a collection of Rein’s social, economical, and political opinions of China written in a journal style.  Because this is a still business book, at the end of each chapter, there is a short appendix catered for the business readers.  While I may not have a definite answer to why China deems the book unsuitable for her people, let’s take a look at what this book offers.

1998, Rein was in Changchun, a city at the northeast China.  Back in those days, everything in China was cheap.  For US$20, according to his observation during that trip, you could have some ‘fun’ with a girl in your hotel room.  A girl with a physical outlook that could qualify to be on the cover of Teen Vogue magazine.  Such scene is now unseen of in China.  Why so?  Here is his view on this matter.

China’s economy and job market have seen dramatic changes in the past decade and a half.  As more attractive, better-paying job opportunities increased, pretty young girls took advantage of better options, and the pool of prostitutes got uglier as a result.  The uglification of China prostitutes is part of a boarder trend that is the subject of this book, The End of Cheap China.

It is hard to understand China without an appreciation of Chinese modern history.  Through his personal interaction with his mother-in-law, the author recounts the events and impact of Cultural Revolution (66-76).  Many in China still remember the pain and suffering.  Yes, to the Chinese people, free speech is great but not if it threatens stability.  According to Rein, Chinese people support the central government.  What they often protest against are the local officials who are given the flexibility to implement the policies set by the central government.  In this complex political landscape, the author examines the root of corruption that is often found at the local level.  Local officials in China are poorly paid, not allowed to travel or retire to the private sector once they have reached a certain rank.  This leads to local officials being more susceptible to accepting bribes.

Officially, prostitution is illegal in mainland China.  But why is it practiced openly?  Again, this points to the political makeup of the country.

For ordinary Chinese people, vices like drugs and violence are intolerable due to the immediate impact on their every lives, but often they will tolerate prostitution as long as it is kept behind closed doors and distant.  Here we see the divide in thinking between levels of government: Local officials and people confront prostitution pragmatically, whereas the central government upholds a more morality-based approach.

To examine the economic trends, Rein visited Laura furniture factory in Shanghai.  There are 10,000 workers on the working floor and the environment appears decent.  Because of the high demand in Chinese skilled workers, the factory (and many others) is facing the challenge of keeping the workers.  This drives up workers’ salary and in turn drives up business cost.  The factory could pass the cost back to American consumers and Laura may have to consider moving the factory to countries such as Vietnam or Indonesia in order to cut cost.  However, this is not desirable because the skill of Chinese workers and infrastructure of China cannot be met by these countries today.  What should Laura do?  Rein’s advice to the factory’s manager is that instead of exporting all the furniture to America, create a market share in China.  Leverage on China’s domestic market to sustain or even grow the business.  In fact, that is what the current trend is: Market the products back to China consumers.  Branding then becomes the next challenge because these foreign brands are going to compete with the local household brands.

You may have heard that because of China’s one-child policy and Chinese’s desire to have sons, this leads to an imbalance to the gender ratio.  In the past, for practical reasons, when many were farmers, sons were preferred.  In the past decade and a half, the role of Chinese women has changed.  Take Laura furniture factory as an example, women are paid more because of the skill involved in, say, sewing the sofas.  Men are paid lesser comparatively because labor type of work is less valued.  Moving away from the factory and into the cities, the same pattern is observed.  Women are flavored in the service industry, especially on the consumer sales.  More often than not, wives earn much more than husbands.  This has an implication to the social trend within China.

The empowerment of women is one of the great developments of modern Chinese society.  Women are becoming the key drivers of spending; they are beacons of optimism in the country, and a major force behind China’s transition towards becoming one of the biggest markets in the world.

When it comes to food, foreign brands seem to do well in China due to local food-supply problem.  The recent baby formula episode is a good example of why Chinese people are especially careful on food consumption.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is considered as ‘healthy’ because many Chinese trust that the food from these foreign brands is safe to eat.  While on the topic of food, the author observes that China import over $15b in food products from America in 2011, up from $6.7b in 2006.  This trend will continue to go up.  What is the implication to the world?

I suppose for those who are outside China, we often wonder: Is China really doing well?  The author examines the topic of real estate from various angles – the policy flaw in terms of favoring the commercial zone as it is easier to obtain construction loans compare to residential and Chinese’s preference to hold tangible asset rather than stocks.  The author also examines GDP in China and he argues that unlike Japan, China’s infrastructure spending is more efficient and it helps to jump start the economy growth in the cities.  On the education front, Shaun highlights the classroom overcrowding issue (imagine a class size of 1,500) as well as the fact that the Chinese education system is not producing enough creative thinkers.

The topic interests me most is on China’s foreign policy.  Because of the need for natural resources, China has been actively expanding the influence to countries like Africa and Pakistan.  Different cultures adopt different policies when investing overseas.  When Chinese companies financially takes over a foreign company, the existing management team is often left intact.  Yet, not all countries trust China’s non-interference approach.  Some countries do not welcome China’s money.  Some struggle to accept China’s financial help.  Now I know why as a Chinese, I bond well with Pakistanis here in Singapore.  They seem to have a good impression of Chinese people, thanks to China’s friendly investment in Pakistan.

End of Cheap China is a good read, for those who wish to learn more about China from the inside.  The journal writing style makes it easy to follow.  Because the content of this book is filled with the author’s criticisms and opinions, it could get a bit disoriented.  This book at times appears to be written for the Western businessmen who are investing in China.  In other chapters, the author seems to address to the US government, to the Chinese government, to other governments, or to the Chinese people in China, on what they should or should not do.  Each target audience – I would presume – has different agenda and potentially conflicting interests.  It is unclear if Rein’s goal is to advocate a win-win situation.  Personally I would prefer a straightforward journalistic approach such as Nothing to Envy (a book on North Korea).  Having said that, End of Cheap China is also a business book and it is packed with action items for those who are doing business in China.

I do not know how a book get banned in China.  I admire the author’s boldness in analyzing China at the ground level, talking to commoners in China as well as to the Chinese billionaires.  To be fair, some of his criticisms go beyond China and are directed towards America.  Maybe it is the book title.  Or the prologue when he was approached by a young prostitute in 1998.  Maybe it is his account of Cultural Revolution.  My question to the writer would be: If he was to know the ban, which bits would he rewrite or censor, if at all?

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 27, 2012)
ISBN-10: 111817206X
ISBN-13: 978-1118172063