Thursday, 11 February 2021

Exploring Chinese Culture

Painting by Annie Sun Form 6
Stemming from one of the world's oldest cultures, with thousands of years of history, contemporary Chinese media is both rich and varied, with a plethora of TV shows, movies, books and music to choose from, so you can be sure to find something suiting your tastes. So, what better way to celebrate Lunar New Year than to immerse yourself into Chinese literature, programmes and films? Below, I’ve compiled a by no means exhaustive list, but a good starting point to introduce you and help you navigate Chinese media. I hope you enjoy! (Note: Most of the TV shows and movies can be found on some form of online streaming service, such as Netflix or even Youtube and of course, Amazon is a gold mine when it comes to books)


Movies 1. Lost on Journey /人在囧途  (Rated PG)

A 2010 comedy film starring Wang Baoqiang (one of China’s most influential comedy stars), this movie tells the story of two unlikely companions, businessman Li Chengong and migrant worker Niu Geng, and their amusing attempts to navigate the “Chun Yun” - a period of travel with extremely high traffic loads as everyone tries to rush home for the Spring Festival – perfect for Chinese New Year!

2. Dying to Survive / 我不是药神  (Rated 12)

A heart-wrenching and powerful movie (and based on a true story), a pharmacist sells cheap Indian “dupe” medication to leukemia patients who cannot afford to buy the expensive German drugs - touching on important societal issues that’ll really make you think.

3. Shaolin Soccer / 少林足球  (Rated PG)

Directed by famed Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow, this movie is a sports comedy about a Shaolin monk who reunites his 5 brothers to apply their spectacular martial art skills to play football and expose the public to Shaolin kung fu.

4. Eat Drink Man Woman / 饮食男女  (Rated PG)

A comedy drama directed by Ang Lee (also director of Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), this movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film in 1995, and for good reason. Set in Taiwan, this film tells the story of master chef Mr. Chu, and his three unmarried daughters, as their family life revolves around an evening banquet prepared by Chu every Sunday.

5. The Final Master / 师父  (Rated 15)

A 2015 martial arts film, this one is different from the Hollywood blockbuster kung fu that you’re used to. Kung fu grandmaster Chen arrives in Tianjin in the hopes of opening a martial arts school but must overcome 8 others first. A riveting plot is accentuated by the realistic portrayal of martial arts fighting – a must watch if you’re interested in kung fu.


Books

1. The Three Body Problem / 三体 by Liu Cixin

Written by novelist Liu Cixin, and translated by Ken Liu, this is book is a must read for any sci-fi fans out there. Dealing with the three-body problem in orbital mechanics, Liu weaves an imaginative, yet realistic story about extraterrestrial life and human beings. A brilliant piece of Chinese literature – take it from Obama, who said the book was “wildly imaginative, really interesting”.

2. Love in a Fallen City / 倾城之恋 by Eileen Chang

As the title suggests, this novella tells of a love story during wartime Hong Kong and Shanghai. Written by Eileen Chang (whom director Ang Lee has described as the “fallen angel of Chinese literature”, any romance novel fan would find this a thrill to read.

3. A Madman’s Diary / 狂人日記 by Lu Xun

A short story by one of modern China’s most influential and greatest writers and inspired by Nikolai Gogal’s “Diary of a Madman”, Lu Xun pens the story of a “madman”, who is convinced that the people around him are potential man-eaters. An allegorical piece of work, this novel is considered to be China’s first modern short story - truly a cornerstone of Chinese literature.

4. Red Sorghum / 红高粱 by Mo Yan

Red Sorghum's plot revolves around three generations of a family between 1923 and 1976. The narrator tells the story of his family's struggles, first as distillery owners making sorghum wine and then as resistance fighters during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The novel also details civil disputes between warring Chinese groups, including rival gangs and political powers, and tells of Sino-Japanese relationships during this time. Authored by Mo Yan, who received a Nobel Prize in Literature for his works.

5. Romance of the Three Kingdoms / 三国演义 by Luo Guanzhong

Known as one of one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature, and whose influence in East Asia is comparable to that of Shakespeare’s on English literature, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 14th century historical novel, set towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history and deals with military battles, intrigues, and struggles of three states to achieve dominance for almost 100 years.

TV shows

1. Meteor Garden / 流星花园  (Rated 15)

2. A Love so Beautiful / 致我们单纯的小美好  (Rated 15)

3. Love 020 / 微微一笑很倾城  (Rated 15)

4. Put your Head on my Shoulder / 致我们暖暖的小时光  (Rated 15)

5. City Still Believes in Love / 北上广依然相信爱情  (Rated 15)

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Heart of Hong Kong

Someone once told me a city is most beautiful in the morning. Today I view that as nothing but the truth. Imagine. 
5am. Middle of the Summer. Heart of Hong Kong. It’s the time of the day when most of the city still lies in slumber. If you step outside, past the threshold of your door, into the empty streets, the first thing you notice is the air. It isn’t fresh, open and dewy like you might be used to. No, Hong Kong air is smothering. It’s thick with pollution and heavy, almost suffocating. You feel it, you smell it, and if you squint, maybe you can even see it. It envelopes you in a bouldering cloud of heat that will take getting used to. Later in the day, that heat will become borderline painful, but the sun has not yet climbed above the mountains, and after a few days, you will come to view the morning air as a comforting hug.The stillness of the morning allows you to admire the city in peace. Imagine blocks and blocks of apartments, shooting high up to meet the sky. Hong Kong is a city that is built upwards, buildings clustered next to each other, streaking up and up and up. When you look over and up at them, it’s wonderful and freeing, grand and protective. In the quiet, it’s like the whole city is looking over you.

But you are not the only one awake and outside at this hour. Perhaps, to your right, there is a grand, public park. And in this park, every morning, early as it is, the elderly are practicing the subtle art of tai chi. At this time of the day, tai chi is calming and focused, preparing for a busy day ahead. The quiet is grounding. The glows of 7-11 and Circle-K, Hong Kong’s 24-hour convenience stores, greet you with their gentle presence. Coming from your left then, you can hear the rumbling rattle of rails, the tell-tale signs of Hong Kong’s trains, and perhaps you can hear the sporadic sound of the buses too, already in motion. Hong Kong’s transport system is well-worked into the city, and the trembling of the trains barely ever stop.

In less than an hour, children will be getting up to go to morning school. Citizens will be rushing to catch their trains, or to set up their morning wet markets. In under an hour, the city will be bustling and full, a cacophony of flurried activity. In a city as illustrious as Hong Kong, it’s easy to forget the calming stillness of the morning.

So, imagine a while longer. Remember the details. If you’re ever lucky enough to travel there, take it all in.

I promise you.

You will feel alive.

By Daimee Ng

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Black History Month

Untitled Portrait By Louis Dunne 
February is Black History Month in several countries. This month celebrates the progression of human rights for people of colour all across the world. Yet, people of colour are still at a disadvantage in the media and do not get the recognition they deserve. Therefore, I am going to give you some book, movie and music recommendations from various black creators that deserve much more recognition.

Books:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a fantasy heart-wrenching tale of two sisters from Ghana who are born into different fates: one a slave, and the other a slave owners' wife. The story follows their different descendants for the next 300 years and shows the emotional and societal power that their families carry from a simple act of destiny. The difference in outcomes generations down the line is a prime matter that comes up again and again in relation to this book and can be transferred into real life situations of systemic racism that we see in the world today.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This Y/A fantasy novel is about a dystopian future where magic is illegal and results in death if discovered. Zélie Adebola is the only one left in Orïsha with magic, as her friends and even her mother have been killed under the reign on the ruthless king, Maji. Zélie finally gets the chance to bring magic back to the land and destroy the monarchy, but it’ll come at a cost. Tomi Adeyemi, a Nigerian-American writer, illustrates a whimsical word of chaos that presents the reader with a strong sense of pride and warmth for what Zélie is able to overcome.

Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis

I am a person who really loves to educate myself, so I read non-fiction books like this all the time. But the thing that drew me to this was not the book itself, but the author: Angela Davis. If you don’t know her name, I advise that you get familiar with it. Davis is an American political activist, philosopher and author and is also a professor at the University of California. Davis was a prominent activist in the sixties during the American civil rights movement and was greatly influential to it. She showed, and still does, an immense amount of black pride and was even arrested in an attempt to destroy the morale of the people. Angela Davis was able to overcome these struggles and continue in the fight for freedom. This book is a powerful study by a powerful woman of the women's movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present that demonstrates how it has always been hampered by the racist and classist biases of its leaders.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo

Maya Angelo is another household name, well known for her stance as a civil rights activist. This acclaimed memoir, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. During her time as an activist, Angelo experienced numerous emotionally damaging things and she displays them all in this memoir. Maya Angelo is even more well known for her poetry and has written multiple anthologies on them, and even wrote the poems for the infamous film ‘Poetic Justice’ (another iconic film that could’ve made this list). Her way with words is what landed her a major career and respected voice during a time when it was still so difficult to be heard.

Movies:

The Color Purple (Rated 15)

This one is a bit of a cheat as it is a book adapted into a movie but ignoring that, this story follows an abused and uneducated African American woman named Celie, who struggles greatly in life to escape the trauma of the abuse of her father and many others over four decades, and identity herself away from that. We first meet Celie when she is fourteen and pregnant with her father’s second child. The movies’ excellent depiction of post-emancipation struggles and female strength, along with severe racism and the abuse of power, combine to make a seriously thrilling and impressive piece of work!

Fruitvale Station (Rated 15)

I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that this is my all-time favourite movie. Fruitvale Station is an absolute tragic rendering of the real-life story of Oscar Grant, a black man who was the victim of a police shooting by San Francisco police of New Year's Day in 2009. There’s not much I can say about this without spoiling the whole concept but trust me when I say that this movie had me quite literally heaving with raging sobs. Although it’s my favourite movie, I really can’t watch it too much because I do not have enough water in my body to cry like that so often. The fact that it’s a true story makes every minute so much more captivating yet at the same time equally dreadful.

13th (Rated 15)

Now I know none of these movies have been particularly happy-go-lucky, but this one is especially thought-provoking as it is a documentary by Ava DuVernay (also the director of “When They See Us” which is another great limited serious that would be on this list if only there were more space) full of scholars, activists and political leaders (including Angela Davis) speaking on the major issue that is the American police system and its ties to slavery. Named after the 13th Amendment, which depicts a fine line between being a prisoner and a slave, this documentary discusses many conversations including the “War of Drugs,” corrupt politicians and white supremacist groups like the KKK. It packs a mighty amount of information all under two hours!

Harriet (Rated 12A)


I first heard of this movie a couple of weeks before it came out but I wasn’t too captivated at the time. It was when I heard the song ‘Stand Up’ from the soundtrack (an item on this list) that I could absolutely not endure another day without watching the movie that released this masterpiece. As you might have guessed from the title, it is a movie adaptation of the inspiring life of Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist. She was born into slavery and managed to escaped, despite the odds. Instead of settling, she took all the courage she had and over the course of her life made about 13 trips and freed 70 slaves using the Underground Railroad. This movie is a moving piece of work that leaves us in awe at the bravery of the people who did these things.

Songs


28 songs for the 28 days of February!

1. Slippin’ Into Darkness by WAR

2. A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

3. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

4. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday

5. Black Woman by Emanuel

6. I Can’t Breathe by H.E.R

7. 2020 Riots: How Many Times by Trey Songz

8. U Will Know" by Black Men United

9. By Any Means by Jorja Smith

10. Time's a Wastin by Erykah Badu

11. Guarding the Gates by Lauren Hill

12. Glory by Common

13. Inner City Blues (Makes me Wanna Holler) by Gil Scott-Heron

14. Baltimore by Nina Simone

15. O-o-h Child by The Five Stairsteps

16. Living For The City by Stevie Wonder

17. Stand Up by Cynthia Erivo

18. No More Auction Block For Me by Odetta

19. Redemption Song by Bob Marley

20. Strength, Courage & Wisdom by India.Arie

21. NO MORE TEARDROPS by VIC MENSA

22. Keep Ya Head Up by Tupac

23. Freedom by Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar

24. Dear Mr. President by Kiana Lede

25. Optimistic by Sound of Blackness

26. I Cry by Usher

27. I JUST WANNA LIVE by Keedron Bryant

28. Hang on in There by John Legend


This article only contained a few pieces of work that I am personally familiar with but there are so many more out there that still do not get the recognition that they so truly deserve simply because of the ingrained bias that black people deal with regarding media and their portrayal in society. I encourage you to look into these items that I have recommended but to also do your own research. Black history cannot fit itself into a month and it shouldn’t have to! We need to give artists credit where credit is due; and it’s due time for them to receive it.

By Wumi Obi 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Quarantine Reading

2021 has gotten off to a rough start with quarantine, but luckily for you, while cinemas, shops and restaurants are closed, reading is still very much open! I'm going to give you eight recommendations: of the books I've read recently, and the books I'm most planning to read in the coming weeks.

First the books I have read:

A Blade so Black ~ L. L. McKinney
This is a YA fantasy novel that is a retelling of Alice In Wonderland, but in a way that you will have never seen before! McKinney takes all the elements of the classic fairytale, but puts her own spin on it that makes it somehow not Alice in Wonderland at all. Here, Wonderland is a dream realm full of monsters called Nightmares, and Alice's job is to slay them. The world building is illustrious and incredibly creative, the characters are unique and shockingly relatable, and our main love interest is based off none other than the Mad Hatter himself, and if that doesn't intrigue you...

Nemesis ~ Brandon Reichs
This is a dystopian, sci-fi YA novel that is the first in a completed trilogy. Our main character is killed in cold blood every two years on her birthday and seeks to find out why. It's the whole 'government is keeping secrets, world is ending etc.' novel, but with shocking twists that kept me glued to the pages. If you want to get stuck into a short series, this is a great one. I'm looking to get the next books ASAP and besides, Corona Virus, world ending? It's really relevant!

The Cruel Prince Series ~ Holly Black
I mentioned this before in my last recommendation list, but I just read the second and third books of the trilogy this month...and let me tell you, I am imploring you ALL to get this series and read it. Now. This is a dark fantasy faerie YA novel, and I will admit I was a bit skeptical after reading book one for various reasons, but I am here to tell you the books get a whole lot better! Who doesn't love that? Holly Black's writing style and prose is vindictively clever and so faerie that I have been completely won over by her style and characters. Besides, this is a series you can find free to read online if you don't want to go about ordering the books at this time!

Six of Crows ~ Leigh Bardugo

I am currently reading this book, and if you've heard the countless recommendations, I am here to let you know they are all absolutely correct. A duology (two-book series), this is a fantasy heist-style YA novel set in the Amsterdam-inspired city of Ketterdam. As with most fantasy books, you spend the first couple chapters completely confused with no idea what is happening but after that? Unstoppable. The characters are all completely different but somehow I've ended up loving all of them, and I mean, it's kind of thrilling to read about a magicky troupe of teenagers carry out an illegal heist while they're trying not to kill each otherq. Plus, it's only a duology, which you can find online!

And the books I cannot wait to read:

The Project ~ Courtney Summers
This is a thriller mystery book that's being released in February, and it sounds incredibly enticing. The protagonist sets to uncover and expose what she believes are lies behind a charity project that has won the hearts of the entire New York region, and everything she knows about the world around her is upended...

Oasis ~ Eilís Barrett
Now this book is the absolute reflection of COVID, and how perfect! A virus that will drive the world to extinction? Sounds familiar. A dystopian YA thriller by an Irish TEENAGE author, (Yay!) a city has been walled off from the outside world called Oasis, government imposing their vision of the perfect society, but for protagonist Quincy, something else is stirring...

The Midnight Library ~ Matt Haig
I've only heard of this book very recently, but I am incredibly intrigued and plan to get it very soon! Sci-fi/fantasy, this book seems like one that will leave you thinking about it...and yourself, for long after closing the pages. Between life and death there is a library, full of the different lives one would lead if they would have made different choices. For protagonist Nora, this means she can undo every wrong in her life. But as she traverses between the books and begins putting herself in danger, she has to answer the ultimate question: What is the best way to live?

Here also is a picture of my reading journal that I started this year, and the books I plan to read: some because they have been sitting on my shelf for too long, some recommendations, and way too many I've been indoctrinated into reading because of booktok!

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Christmas Book for Teens - Our Recommendations!

 In November, we decided to do our own bookathon challenge to reading ten books in that month with some friends, though the majority of us failed spectacularly! We haven't had much time to read this year, but as Christmas is coming up, for our love of reading, we've decided to compile a list of Christmasy books...and also some of our favorites for you. Since we can't go out this year to celebrate, why not stay in with a good book and some hot chocolate?
Here are our top Christmas/holiday-themed,favourite book recommendations for you to read, or buy for a friend:

S.T.A.G.S. ~ M.A. Bennett A thrilling mystery set in the modern day with some medieval flourishes, this is the first book of a (currently!) three-book YA series. A genre unique to its own and full with twists and turns, main character Greer is invited to spend the holiday weekend at the illustrious and ancient Longcross Hall, which soon turns deadly. Not very Christmasy, I'll admit, but there are many many holiday elements here, and the book is, of course, fantastic! 

The Hazel Wood ~ Melissa Albert What better genre to read during the holiday season than fairytale retellings, and dark retellings at that! The Hazel Wood is a YA dark fantasy tale, and its sequel The Night Country is easily the best book I (Daimee) have read all year. The language is exquisite, and one almost feels that magic is real when reading it! Soulful, fierce and stunning, the book follows Alice Proserpine and her trail of bad luck. When her grandmother, famous author of a book of fairytales, dies on her estate, the Hazel Wood, and her mother is stolen away, Alice must venture to the place she has been told to stay away from all her life, braving whatever monsters lie in her path. P.S. if you like dark fairytales, here are a few more:

To Kill A Kingdom ~ Alexandra Christo (Little Mermaid) 

Heartless ~ Marissa Meyer (Alice in Wonderland) 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely ~ Brigid Kemmerer (Beauty and the Beast) 

Cinderella is Dead ~ Kallyn Bayron (Cinderella) 

Dorothy Must Die ~ Danielle Paige (Wizard of Oz) 

 Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index ~ Julie Israel This is a fantastic coming-of-age contemporary novel. Shockingly real, full of feels and scarily relatable, even sprinkled with a bit of romance, this book is a perfect Christmas gift. If you're looking for a lighter, warm and moving book to curl up on the couch and read, this is it! The book follows Juniper, struggling to deal with the death of her older sister, and eventually coming to terms with forging her own happiness. 

 Mistletoe and Murder ~ Robin Stevens - You an't get much more Christmasy than a Christmas murder mystery! Although this is the 5th book in the series Murder Most Unladylike, one doesn't really need to read the rest to understand what's happening! It was also the first book of the series I (Daimee) read myself. The series follows schoolgirls Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong in the discovery and denouement of various murders. Quite a simple read, but a very fun one nonetheless, and if you're looking for something relatively quick and striking with no strings attached, this is it! 

Our other favourite mysteries: 

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder ~ Holly Jackson 

Mirror Mirror ~ Cara Delevingne 

 Last Bus to Everland ~ Sophie Cameron 

Everyone has that ONE depressing novel that tears them apart but they keep going back to, and this is ours. A stunningly moving, whimsical read about fantasy, longing and a sense of belonging, this book is absolutely beautiful. For all those out there who love to daydream and fantasize about imaginary worlds and could-be's, there is no better book for you. Especially this year, with everything that's been going on, we've all been retreating into our own heads for some peace and hope, and we just know that you will be able to relate to and love this book as much as we do. (Although perhaps dont read this one on Christmas day, or you'll spend your day crying instead of having fun!) 

 I am Number Four ~ Pittacus Lore If you're looking for a good series to start, this is a great one. Sci-fi, thrilling and full of quick action, this is the first in a series called The Lorien Legacies following teenager John with shocking supernatural powers from another universe who is dubbed as Four. When his fellow survivors One, Two and Three are slowly killed off, he knows he is next... 

One of Us is Lying ~ Karen M. McManus Okay, this is possibly one of the best books ever. A YA suspense/mystery novel, the novel starts with five teenagers in detention, who could not be more different. But only four leave alive. They are then each accused of the murder of Simon, the school gossip with incriminating secrets against each of them and everyone else in the school. Quick, tightly plotted, brilliantly written, and packed with a shocking twist, this book is one you can't put down! 

The Cruel Prince ~ Holly Black If you're getting into the land of faeirie, this is one of the best books ever. There are very mixed opinions about this book and its trilogy, but as far as fantasy fae books go, if you're into that genre (which we 100% are!) then this is an absolute must-read. Faerie is a genre that is much bigger than people realise, and this is a great place to start and get stuck in! Other one that's great for a slightly younger audience is The 13 Treasures trilogy by Michelle Harrison. 

And Finally, some dystopian reads besides the classic Hunger Games and Divergent...and most of these are series' so get reading: 

Delirium ~ Lauren Oliver 

Shatter Me ~ Tahereh Mafi 

Flawed ~ Cecelia Ahern 

Red Queen ~ Victoria Aveyard 

Classic recommendations by Tirzah H-E: The ultimate one all must read at Christmas is...(drumroll)...A Christmas Carol. Then, if you're in the mood for more Dickens, head to Great Expectations. While we're on the subject of novels with the word great in the title, pick up The Great Gatsby. Then, of course, if you're just looking for a really really great classic that you can really get into to, obviously Jane Austen, I would say personally say Emma, Sense and Sensibility and/or, of course, Pride and Prejudice. Or else, if not Austen (or once you're done them) Wuthering Heights and/or Jane Eyre, each by one of two of the Brontës. Finally, I would say Little Women, it's not a technically 'a Christmas story' but Christmas happens during it so. Just note that the book was published in two volumes, unlike the recent (and very good) film adaptation. 

Daime, Tirzah and Poppy

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Our Hive of Activity had no thought for Vanishing Bees

 ‘Why did all the bees go away, Mama?’ she asks me in her tiny, scared voice.

I could tell her we didn’t know. But the truth is, we did. We just didn’t want to. We turned a blind eye even though it was unfolding right before us. The fear of changing drove us to abandon ourselves and our fellow humans because it was easier than facing the reality. The giants who ran the world were invincible. They kept taking.

By the time we saw the truth, we were powerless. Trapped in a monster of our own making. We’d gone too far, pushed her to the limit and now she was angry. That was when we realised just how small we really were.

She fought with storms, heat and ice so violent that we were left with nothing but a wasteland. Hurricanes. Floods. We didn’t stand a chance. Darkness closed in and left me alone with all my pain, because now I can feel so much. Grief for all I lost, but anger too, at the lies we were fed and with myself because I swallowed them. Those who told the truth, screamed it, begged us to listen had their cries fall on deaf ears. My deaf ears. My shame.

I know the answer, but I can’t bring myself to say it. I can’t face seeing the disappointment in her eyes.

Why did the bees go away? Because we didn’t do anything while we had the chance. And now we’ve paid for it. Dearly.

By Tirzah Hutchinson-Edgar
Published in The Sunday Times

13 Decembetr 2020