Thursday, April 3, 2008


If you want some light reading, I recommend "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris. It's a truly delightful read plus its description of the various types of chocolates makes even a non chocolate lover drool. Its line up of characters is endearing and real. They come with just a touch of rebelliousness, lightly sprinkled on. It's really about people discovering their true selves and having the courage to be themselves.

Vianne Rocher’s sensual pralines set to melt the village’s strait-laced ways, bringing on an awakening. Her almost psychic knack for knowing her customers’ deepest secrets and their private discontents; makes her a suspect for a witch. Witch or not, she unlocks their potential, freeing them from the shackles of conventions and prejudices.

Twinkling with magical dust, this fable like story is a charming tale imbued with a wicked sense of humour. A fiercely independent octogenarian ends her estrangement with her grandson, with the help of Vianne. The mousy wife finally got her courage to leave her abusive husband and start a new life.

Anouk, Vianne’s spunky child is believably adorable and street smart. Just as free-spirited as her mother, they’re also fearless in the face of opposition. She later befriends the much shunned river gypsies and stood her ground despite threats.

The local priest sees her chocolate shop as an evil temptation for his flock. All these come to a head with the final showdown on Easter Sunday when Vianne organizes a Grand Chocolate Festival. Would chocolate or church wins over the soul of the villagers?

This delightful confection not only drips with gastronomic temptations, its lush landscape instantly transports one to the mesmerizing laid-back charm of France.

This is one magical chocolate of a gem, save the calories. Do make sure you savour its quirky sorcery.

Monday, March 17, 2008

An ancient Roman City In China?

An ancient Roman city in China?

A Roman descendant in China? Inconceivable?

Cai Luoma or “Cai, the Roman”; has ruddy skin and green eyes.

Song Guorong, has wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose.

Are they descendents from the ill-fated Roman army led by Crassus that suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Parthians in 53BC?

Historians are split over the matter due to insufficient conclusive proof. Looks like the tiny village of Zhelai in Yongchang County, Northwest China’s Gansu province is tossing up more than Caesar salad.

Its ancient name, Liqian (Li-chien), is believed to be a transliteration of “Alexandria”. The theory goes that the 10,000 soldiers taken prisoners by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae eventually made their way to modern day Uzbekistan and were later enlisted by the Hun army.

It seems that these men later settled down to build the town of Liqian. One of the earliest mentions of them came possibly from the “fish-scale formation”, described in Han Dynasty history annals. In a battle between the Han empire and the Huns in Western China, a troop using the “fish-scale formation” was noted. It was a reference to the Roman “tortoise”, a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. This troop was later captured by the Chinese and was said to be the forefathers of Liqian.

In 1957, Homer Hasenflug Dubs, professor of Chinese history at Oxford University published his book entitled “A Roman City in Ancient China” asserting the above theory. He has been accused of being overly presumptuous and jumping to too many conclusions

Sceptics were doubtful as Liqian was established in 104 BC, half a century earlier than the proposed arrival of the said Roman soldiers. Moreover, the Huns themselves consist of Caucasians, Asians and Mongols. And even if they were really from the missing Roman troop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Romans as many soldiers were recruited locally since the empire covered a huge area. So anything goes.

To add to the confusion, the area where Yongchang is situated was a trade hub along the ancient Silk Road, where people of different ethnicities gather.

But then, how does one explain the presence of ancient Roman tombs in the area? Even though archaeologists have pointed out that these tombs were dated to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) and therefore had nothing to do with the Roman legions, somehow the fact that these tomb owners were of Caucasian origins can’t be disputed.

Moreover, how do you explain the fact that these residents of Zhelai obviously look more Caucasian than Asian? Could DNA help to unravel the mystery? Life sciences researcher Xie Xiaodong and bio-chemist, Ma Runlin, are among those that have collected blood samples of the villagers of Zhelai. So far, the research has yet been completed and the theory remains inconclusive.

So if these villagers are not descendents of the ancient Roman legions, who were they descended from?

And what happened to the contingent that went missing in the tragic battle?

Hmn, wonder when we would be able to solve all this mystery….

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

“Women Who Run With the Wolves”

The International Women’s Day on 8th March, a couple of days ago, got me thinking on what it means to be a woman and reminded me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run With the Wolves”.

It is a hand-book that every woman should have - a book that one could refer to now and again throughout one’s life.

Clarissa tells us how to get in touch with one’s ‘wildish’ self, our intuitive self. She wants us to unlearn years of social conditioning on how a woman should be and start becoming what a woman really is instead.

She touched on many aspects of life like grieving, forgiveness, rage, humour, endurance, battle scars. Through stories, she illustrated how one should deal with these as a “Wild Woman” would.

She guides us how to navigate life’s Life/Death/Life cycle – ‘What must die, die.” Nevertheless, there is rebirth in death. One could triumph through it by drawing from such experiences. Such tensions actually create a certain energy that heals and help transform a person.

She also advocates that one should grieve for all deaths, no matter how small they are. Only with proper grieving would one be able to let go of that matter. That was why she cited the importance of tears in grieving. Tears allow one to be in touch with one’s instinctive self and have a healing effect.

Clarissa pointed out an important definition and process of forgiveness. It is not a one-off thing but rather, a multi-step process that may take years to complete. One should not be pressurized into forgiving someone a 100% all at once. It is actually natural for one to progress incrementally rather than give blanket forgiveness.

Humour, especially bawdy ones, has healing powers that goes deep within. Perhaps it is as earthly as the ‘Wildish Mother’ that nourishes our soul.

Girls were taught to be obedient and suppress their anger. However, one should rage when one needs to. It is not only appropriate to do so; it ensures that one is not cut-off from one’s intuitive self.

Be a member of the “Scar Clan” – wear one’s battle scars with pride, document them on a piece of cloth. A true woman wears them like a badge of honour.

Loss and hardship drives us closer to our instinctive nature, pushing our limits to new boundaries. Through it all, one gains endurance and learns to be more perceptive, allowing one to find insightful solutions.
The “Wild”, has a certain savage creativity that would nurture and renew the soul. As long as women return to their ‘wild’, intuitive self, they would be able to survive the trials and tribulations of life in a way a real woman would.

So the next time you feel like you’re “walking into a wall”, be a “Wild” woman and “walk through walls” instead.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

“Things Falls Apart” by Chinua Achebe

One of my fondest Literature texts is undoubtedly, “Things Fall Apart”, by African writer, Chinua Achebe.

Who could forget the story of Okonkwo, once “the greatest warrior and wrestler alive,” but whose death ironically made him an outcast.

Okonkwo was a man of contrasts; he was outwardly fierce and made a show of bravery. In truth, his whole life was ruled by fear – fear of failure and fear of being seen as weak. He believed that the only thing worth showing was strength. No doubt, he was a brave and great warrior. However, true bravery and strength is the courage to show and do what one’s heart feels is right to, and not fear what others think of him.

He resorts to anger and violence to settle all matter. And it inevitably, brought his own downfall. Although to a certain extent, his last action was justified in a way, his doom became inevitable.

Okonkwo was a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings to become a man of status in his clan. His success was certainly commendable given his disadvantaged background and his early difficulties. However, his fear of being seen as weak made him a perpetually angry and violent man. He was impatient, quick-tempered and suffered no fools.

He wasn’t sympathetic to the less successful and could be unreasonable. In the end, his eldest son, Nwoye’s sensitive soul is buoyed and eventually won over by the ‘new religion’. In all fairness, Nwoye’s conversion could not be attributed entirely to Okonkwo’s heavy-handed ways. Nwoye also questioned certain traditions; like the killing of twins and especially the innocent killing of his best friend and surrogate elder brother, Ikemefuna. Something in him snapped after these 2 significant incidents. Since he had no one else to turn to for answers; the ‘new religion’, Christianity, seemed to offer him answers for these nagging doubts and comfort his parched soul.

Despite his shortcomings, one still feels for Okonkwo and his ultimate downfall is heart-rending. He was after a responsible man who cared for his family in his own ways. What is more poignant is the tragedy that befalls him after his successful comeback from exile. It is as if the gods have played a cruel joke on him. Somehow, one feels that he deserves better.

Was his ultimate downfall the result of his own doing or his fate? This begs the question, “Does character maketh a man?” and “Can one escape one’s destiny? Was Okonkwo a victim of his circumstances or his character or both? If he had adapted better to the changes in society, would he fared better?

It is interesting to note that Chinua Achebe, a son of missionary, chose to tackle the subject of white man’s destructive nature on the traditions and unity of one’s clan. He saw clearly that while the white men brought them progress, they also exploited the natives. Through “Things Fall Apart”, we see the negative impact of the white men on the African traditions and kinship. Those who do not adapt to the changes fast enough are left high and dry. But in adapting successfully, they had also compromised and lost a little of their own culture.

However, the winds of change run through the course of history worldwide. It is as inevitable as the passage of time. Alas, no men could stop the changes that sweep through a society.

This is a book that had remained close to my heart for many years. It is poignant, realistic, honest as well as informative. Needless to say, it is also a great tale!