A Man Called Otto

I had read the translated book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman a couple of years ago so I was very keen to watch the film adaptation A Man Called Otto. Since Tom Hanks is one of my favourite actors, I was also curious why the ST movie critic said that he is unsuitable for his role here.

Well, my favourite actor or not, Tom Hanks is definitely successful in bringing the curmudgeon to life. Right from the opening scene, he got the group of people seated in front of me bursting into laughter. This would take place several more times throughout the film. (I was too shy to laugh out loud because I was alone but I found him funny indeed!)

Tom Hanks also succeeded in making my eyes wet many times during the film. I think this attests to his acting skills and not just a good script. (I did not laugh out loud nor did I tear up when I read the book. )

Other things I like about this film:

The characters are relatable;

The actress in the role of the gregarious new neighbour Marisol is such a delight;

Tom Hank’s son Truman who plays the young Otto in flashback scenes;

The power of family;

The serious themes (such as autism and depression) and difficult moments balanced with elements of humour and hope;

The music. (Especially Liszt’s Consolation S173 No3, as the opening reminds me that I must revisit Chopin’s Nocturne Op27 No2 soon. )

I find it hard not to like a film that manipulates the heartstrings.


Books Read in Feb 2023


1) Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

374 pages (size 10 font); 2022

A gripping story of greed, lies and dark family secrets. Provocative and compelling.

2) When I Was You by Amber Garza

356 pages; 2020

Thoroughly engrossing. A rare psychological thriller. Incredibly original. Unpredictably twisty.

3) The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson

381 pages; 2022

An endearing story about human connection, friendship and kindness to strangers. Charming and uplifting. An effective way of raising awareness on dementia.

4) Dearest Intimate by Suchen Christine Lim

391 pages (size 10 font); 2023

A multi-layered tale about love, sisterhood, spousal abuse and Cantonese opera in the lives of three generations of women. Set against Singapore’s development as a city of low-rise slum housing to modern high-rise apartment blocks.

5) The State We’re In by Adele Parks

405 pages (size 11 font); 2013

An engrossing domestic drama of love and loss.

6) The Beauty of Living Twice by Sharon Stone

237 pages (size 11 font); 2021

An amazing memoir. Honest and real. Riveting. Unique.

7) Life After Suicide by Dr Jennifer Ashton

266 pages (size 11 font); 2019

Deeply personal. Honest and affecting. Extraordinary. Heartfelt. (My eyes were wet throughout!)


8) The Stranger In My Home by Adele Parks

465 pages (size 9 font); 2016

Tightly plotted; brilliantly conceived; utterly engrossing; unputdownable. A novel with tears, laughter, lies and a crime.

9) Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

432 pages (large print); 2016

Fast-paced. Entertaining.

10) In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom

266 pages (large print); 2022

The last journey together of a couple to Dignitas, an organisation in Switzerland that empowers a person to end their own life in dignity and peace. (The husband had Alzheimer’s disease. ) Unforgettable.

11) The Other Woman’s Shoes by Adele Parks

481 pages; 2003

A mix of comedy, real life and emotional depth. Entertaining and insightful.

12) After…: The Impact of Child Abuse by Libby Moore (illustrated by Tony Husband)

58 pages; 2019

Thought- provoking.

13) Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life by Sophia Loren

318 pages; 2014

A vivid and candid memoir with riveting detail and sharp humour.

14) About Last Night by Adele Parks

421 pages (size 11 font); 2011

Friendship through thick and thin. Engaging and entertaining.


15) Someone Is Coming by T A Morton

171 pages; 2022

Fiction about history and memory and how they interact. Different and unusual. Thought-provoking.

16) Larger Than Life by Adele Parks

401 pages; 2022

A satire on modern day values — highlights society’s obsession with the trivial. A journey of self- discovery.

17) On Thin Ice by Susan Andersen

318 pages; 1995

Light suspense involving figure- skating, friendship and drugs.

18) And Then She Kisses Me: Stories of Love, Heartbreak and Other Unnatural Disasters

291 pages; 2013

About romance and relationships. A YA book found in Adult Fiction. Authors include Cathy Kelly and Adele Parks.

19) Young Wives’ Tales by Adele Parks

558 pages; 2007

Page- turning, tantalising read.

20) Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith

213 pages; 2020

Honest. Full of empathy. Wise.

Where The Wind Blows

Piqued with curiosity, I went to watch the Mandarin version of Where The Wind Blows (风再起时) this afternoon. (I believe the original version is in Cantonese. ) I wondered why this Hong Kong entry for the International Feature Oscar was given poor reviews in a newspaper and a local magazine.

A crime thriller about corruption in the police force in the 1960s and ’70s, the plot is complex and dense. I simply enjoyed the artistry.

A stunning production with interesting cinematography, it is a visual feast for art- house inclined audiences: the slow- motion smoky shots, details like the repeated use of poetic onscreen texts, close- ups of performances whether by a cellist or a Chinese opera performer or even props like my once- favourite Green Spot orange drink in a bottle.

I had expected to be wowed by Tony Leung (梁朝伟) because he’s one of my favourite actors and because I read articles about how he learnt to play the piano from scratch and practised up to eight hours a day. I wasn’t. But I still relished the scenes in which he plays the piano. I also watched him dance for the first time! (There are a few scenes of him dancing, sometimes with a real partner, sometimes with an imaginary partner. )

Despite Aaron Kwok (郭富城) being famous for his dancing, this was the first time I’ve seen him dance. (It was also the first time I’ve seen him act and I am pleasantly surprised. ) Now I know what I’ve been missing.

Michael Hui (许冠文)is an actor I’ve not seen on the big screen for decades. I must say he has stolen the thunder from both leads in the few scenes he appears in.

Best of all, of course, is the music! There’s swinging jazz and classical music even. I was so mesmerised that I stayed right till the end credits to find out the titles. Alas, there is no mention of the pieces by Bach, Chopin or Mendelssohn. However, Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor Op 48 No 1 is still playing in my head right now. (This is the piece I will revisit next. )

The Fabelmans

I think many people go and watch this movie largely because of Steven Spielberg. Some may want to watch a movie about movie making while others may be attracted by the idea of watching Spielberg’s memoir. (I would rather read it, if there’s such a book.) I went to watch this movie this afternoon not for either of these reasons but for the music.

Most of the score is written by John Williams, the legendary film composer of many decades of collaboration with Hollywood. Then there’s classical piano music and other music I recognise from my younger days. (Some examples: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 1 in F minor, Khulau’s Piano Sonata in A minor, Satie’s Gymnopedie No 2, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor BMV 974, Clementi’s Sonatina in C Major Op 36 No 3, Haydn’s Piano Sonata No 45 in C Major; Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, Scott Joplin’s Elite Syncopations, Burt Bacharach & Hal David ‘s Walk On By; Limbo Rock, The Greatest Show On Earth, The Magnificent Seven, Tutti Frutti and more. )

The music in this movie is extraordinary, tender, softly nuanced, beautiful and gorgeous.

I also love that the piano Michelle Williams plays on is a Steinway Grand. I wonder if she already knows how to play the piano or if she learnt for this role (which would be no mean feat as they are not easy or intermediate level pieces). Nevertheless, I’m impressed. Her hand and finger movements are incredibly accurate to the music, although the credits say they’re really played by a professional pianist called Joanne Pearce Martin. (If those were not Michelle Williams’ fingers, then I’m awed by the cinematographer and film editor. )

I hope that, after watching this movie, more non- pianists are aware why pianists keep short nails and do not like to do dishes, and why a solo performing pianist would not have sheet music.

A few quotes that I would like to keep reminding myself: “Family and Art will tear you in two; We’re junkies – Art is our drug, Art will tear your heart; Art is no game”; “Guilt is a wasted emotion”; “Sometimes we just can’t fix things; we can only suffer“; “You do what your heart says to you”; “Life is not like in the movies, but in the end…”

Well, I’m now eager to revisit the Beethoven and Haydn sonatas soon.

Books Read in Jan 2023


1) Old Age for Beginners by Clive Wichelow (with illustrations)

94 pages; 2021

A hilarious book that shows why old age is the BEST age!

2) What We Learned from Driving in Winter by Carissa Foo

277 pages (size 8 font); 2022

Explores how to live with tragedy with a little help from friends. Further underlying themes. A really, really good read!

3) A Cry in the Dark by Terence Ang

140 pages; 2022

A stroke survivor’s story of his journey to rediscover and reclaim his voice, his dignity, and emerge stronger. Painstakingly illustrated by his stroke-affected hand. Emotional and heartfelt. Commendable tale of strength and resilience. A must-read!

4) Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood by Hidayah Amin

177 pages; 2021 (revised edition)

Interesting anecdotes of growing up in the Yellow Mansion and the unique features in a historic neighbourhood, the evolution of a Singapore identity and how these have been preserved.

5) A Sound Celebration (A Mediacorp Publication) <听、说70

179 pages (Chinese); 2006

History of Chinese Radio Broadcasting (1936-2006) in Singapore. With a preface by SM Lee Kuan Yew and messages from 20 of Singapore’s Who’s Who. Meticulously researched. Interesting snippets. Lots of photographs.

6) Blind by Cath Weeks

307 pages; 2016

A wonderful novel about a scientific intervention and nothing that people are not capable of. Well-crafted and heart-rending. Compelling; very clever and unusual!


7) Paul Newman: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (A Memoir published posthumously)

283 pages; 2022

A five-year project. A compilation of an oral history. Insightful. Revealing. Surprising. Sometimes funny; sometimes painful; always truthful. Detailed. Moving. Introspective. Loving. Candid. Complex. Profound.

8) Ward 43: How My Father Challenged Cancer and Encountered Humanity by Sandra Choo

226 pages; 2011

Affecting and touching. A tribute to the doctors, nurses, health professionals and workers. Biggest takeaway: Love is an unspoken language known only by the heart.

9) Once Upon A Place: Singapore Memoirs (a ground-up project)

121 pages; 2022

Pleasant. Nostalgic. Enriching. An intimate journey into worlds lived, loved and lost.

10) A Letter to My Partner edited by Felix Cheong

161 pages; 2022

Eighteen stories of romance and love, heartbreak, loss and grief, trauma and pain. Intimate, raw and relatable. An inspiring read.

11) Wo(mum): Living My Life as a Warrior, Woman and Mum by Sharon Wong

130 pages; 2021

Personal and inspiring.

12) Sister Stardust by Jane Green

298 pages; 2022

Inspired by a true story about the life of a troubled icon in the singing sixties. A masterpiece.

13) The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

372 pages; 2018

An engaging mystery; intricate and twisted with dark secrets.

14) Akin by Emma Donoghue

335 pages (size 11 font); 2019

A brilliant tale of love, loss and family. A quietly moving novel.

15) Unsaid: An Asian Anthology edited by Anitha Devi Pillai

205 pages (size 11 font); 2022

A compilation of 15 short stories that reflect lived experiences across various Asian countries (including racism, biased perspectives and practices, relationships with family, friends and community, supernatural beliefs and spiritual matters).


16) Complicit by Winnie M Li

449 pages; 2022

After a long-buried, harrowing incident, a woman whose promising film career was derailed has an opportunity for revenge. A thriller about power, privilege and justice.

17) Deception by Lesley Pearse

362 pages; 2022

The story of a mother’s secrets.

18) Book Lovers by Emily Henry

534 pages (large print); 2022

A book about book lovers for people who love books. Witty banter. Romance.

19) Blood Sisters by Cate Quinn

445 pages (size 9 font); 2022

Themes include misogyny, racism, friendship, loyalty and betrayal. Multiple POVs.

20) Spare Brides by Adele Parks

440 pages (size 8 font); 2014

Emotional historical fiction. Well researched. Well developed characters. Atmospheric. About four women and their friendships, relationships, family, dreams and lives. Fascinating. Heartbreaking. Gripping.

21) The Widower by Christobel Kent

344 pages (size 9 font); 2021

A psychological thriller that is neither suspenseful nor twisty.

22) Run Time by Catherine Ryan Howard

433 pages; 2022

Weird. A supposedly psychological suspense horror about the making of a fake movie by an impersonator.


23) The Heart Keeper by Alex Dahl

404 pages; 2019

Very disappointing. Not what I expected a psychological suspense to be.


I went to watch Tar this afternoon partly because The Straits Times reviewer gave it a 5/5 rating; but mostly because it’s about a composer and conductor, Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett) renowned the world over for her interpretations of classical music.

Watching Cate Blanchett teaching a masterclass in conducting, playing the piano (J S Bach’s Prelude in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier), playing the accordion and singing are bonuses. (Her conducting an orchestra on stage is something I expected to see.)

I’ve always been envious of people who can turn a tinny, electric plink of a doorbell into a lilting piece of music or craft an accordion song spontaneously!

There are many beautiful lines from Lydia Tar and quotes from Leonard Bernstein:

Lydia Tar: Time is the thing. Time is the essential piece of interpretation.

Lydia Tar: Good music can be as ornate as a cathedral, or bare as a plotting shed.

Lydia Tar: Our home is the podium. We live out of a suitcase.

Leonard Bernstein: … we can really understand what the meaning is music is; it’s the way it makes you feel when you hear it… … we don’t have to know a lot of stuff about sharps and flats and chords and all that business in order to understand music.

Leonard Bernstein: Music is movement, always going somewhere, shifting and changing and flowing from one note to another. And that movement can tell us more about the way we feel than a million words can.

Leonard Bernstein : There’s no limit to the different kinds of feelings music can make you have. And some of those feelings are so special, and so deep, that they can’t ever be described in words.

I also discovered an interesting fact: Beethoven purportedly plagiarised from Mozart! It was mentioned that a passage (the opening of the third movement of his Fifth Symphony) was copied from Mozart’s Symphony No 40. This piqued my curiosity and I looked it up, and sure enough, this has been documented. I also discovered (not mentioned in this movie) that Beethoven also copied a few other passages from Mozart in his other works (like his Ode to Joy theme, his Eroica Symphony, and his First Symphony).

It was nice to see the insides of Julliard School of Music and a concert hall in Germany that I’ve seen on several YouTube videos. It was nice to see the musicians getting ready backstage. It was nice to see the musicians close up performing on stage. It was nice to relive the experience of being a performer on stage.

Two works that feature prominently are Mahler’s Symphony No 5 and Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

Tar the movie is an accomplishment of all of the above and also a drama about communication and miscommunication, about identity, about the complexity of relationships, about the characters’ inner and outer conflicts, about how our ambitions can lead us to make moral compromises, about bullying, about power games and more.

This complex musical/ psychological drama is indeed a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood flicks! (The references to high culture figures and music and the decent of the main character is mirrored by a decent from high culture towards low culture.) This movie has made a statement but there is so much internal tension that the viewer needs to pay attention to make connections.

The Bookstore (Jigsaw Puzzle)

I bought this 1000- piece jigsaw puzzle from Perfect Fit at City Link Mall on Christmas Eve as a gift to myself ( for Christmas/ Birthday/ New Year/ Lunar New Year). I’ve been interrupted by unforseen circumstances and just completed it this afternoon after 6 stages (over many sessions) …

Stage 1

This alone took me more than two hours!

Stage 2

This took me almost 4 hours!

Stage 3

This took me 5.5 hours!

Stage 4

This took another 2.5 hours.

Stage 5

It took 7.5 hours to reach this stage.

Stage 6

Another 4 hours to complete the puzzle!

All in all, I spent almost 26 hours (more than a week in total) to complete this puzzle, but I had so much fun! I’m reluctant to dismantle it, but I have to because I can’t frame it up as there is no more wall space to hang it. Well, I can always do it again!

Books Read in December 2022


1) A Nation’s Scandal by Balvinder Sandhu

254 pages; 2021

The stories behind the bombshell cases that rocked Singapore — how they were discovered, the law- enforcement process that followed and what happened after the scandals ended. (Egs: Fraudsters, Cheats, Schemes, Vandalism, Drugs, Murder, Online Infamy)

2) Biographic Bowie by Liz Flavell

93 pages; 2018

The life, work and legacy of David Bowie (8 Jan 1947 – 10 Jan 2016) — facts, dates, thoughts, habits and achievements.

3) The Nazis Knew My Name by Magda Hellinger and Maya Lee with David Brewster

274 pages; 2021

The remarkable story of survival and courage in Auschwitz. A must- read for anyone interested in the Holocaust.

4) Boldly Go by William Shatner

235 pages; 2022

Reflections on a life of awe and wonder — the interconnectivity of all things, our fragile bond with nature, and the joy that comes from exploration. Entertaining, informative, insightful and inspiring.


5) Lucie Yi is Not a Romantic by Lauren Ho

374 pages; 2022

About relationships, friendships, family, lifestyles, upbringing, romance and coparenting. Clever and quite humorous.

6) The Bad Daughter by Joy Fielding

350 pages; 2018

A gripping edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller of family intrigue and dark secrets. Explores the deadly differences between the lies we want to believe and the truths we wish to know.

7) Just My Luck by Adele Parks

374 pages; 2020

A riveting story about friendship, money and betrayal.

8) The Longest Shortcut by Anil David

135 pages; 2020

The road from crime and imprisonment to self-worth. Impactful and mind-blowing. Journey of redemption. Lessons about parenting, leadership and hope.

9) The Image of You by Adele Parks

461 pages; 2017

Addictive. Brilliant. Clever. Dazzling. Entertaining. A delicious read: A study in sibling relationships, in rivalry and love, with a twist.

10) The Last Survivor by Frank Krake (Translated from Dutch by Haico Kaashoek)

315 pages; 2018

The miraculous true story of the Holocaust survivor who survived three concentration camps. Gripping. Incredible. Inspiring.


11) Into the Dark by Fiona Cummins

324 pages; 2022

A dark and gripping thriller about revenge, greed, ambition and the true cost of friendship. Intriguing start but became contrived; not engrossing enough.

12) One Little Lie by Sam Carrington

366 pages (size 8 font); 2018

A thriller about the price of love and unthinkable things we do to protect our children. An arresting and captivating opening that fizzles out with too many characters and details. A let-down from an author I like.

13) The Right Sort of Girl by Anita Rai

339 pages; 2022

An honest autobiography. Some parts more interesting than others. About immigration struggles, racism, patriarchy, gender stereotypes and discrimination. A brave and mature perspective. Insightful.

14) The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

436 pages; 2017

A compelling psychological thriller that I liked and then didn’t like because it started out with great promise then fell flat.

15) Bossypants by Tina Fey

250 pages; 2011

A collection of autobiographical essays. Honest. Intimate. Written with a sense of humour.

16) Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

297 pages; 2021

A memoir of an undocumented childhood. An okay read; like a YA book.

17) Lying Beside You by Michael Robotham

390 pages; 2022

Suspense. Dark secrets. #3 in a series. (I didn’t know; need to read the first two to better appreciate this. )

18) Exit Stage Left by Nick Duerden

366 pages; 2022

A collection of interviews that reveal the aftereffects of pop-stardom. (Drug addiction, bankruptcy, depression, divorce; optimism, a genuine love of the craft, humility and hope. )

12.24 Xiao Han Meet-and-Greet

The first time I attended a talk by Xiao Han was on Mother’s Day (14 May) five years ago because the book club I belonged to promoted it. I chanced upon today’s session because I happened to scroll through Facebook posts, which I do only sporadically. It was an interesting 90 minutes of sharing from one of the best- known lyricists in the region. (Xiao Han has penned lyrics to more than 400 songs for singers like Tanya Chua [Darwin], JJLin [伟大的渺小], Stefanie Sun, Fish Leong, Na Ying, Wang Yuan, Rainie Yang, Lee Hom Wang, Gary Cao [寂寞先生], Jolin Tsai, A-mei [坏的好人], Sandy Lam [纸飞机] and Korean boy band EXO.)

Holder of a PhD (2002) in virology, Xiao Han did research work on the coronavirus before she left A*star in 2008 to write full time. Besides being a lyricist, Xiao Han is also a newspaper columnist (Lianhe Zaobao and Xin Min) and a teacher (in lyric-writing). To date, she has published seven books (also available as e-books on Google): 眼泪是胶囊(2011)、无指幸福(2013)、回不去的候车站(2015)、辛好我不是满分女生(2017)、穿校服的老师(2019)、整人中学(2021) and 食荒人(2022) which she is promoting today.

I have read all her books and reviewed them in previous posts. What she shared today makes the session really interesting and I get a better perspective of her inspirations and motivations for writing them.

In the Question-and-Answer session, Xiao Han shared that she completed the first draft of her latest book on 6 August 2019 and the second draft on 21 February 2021. The book was available on the shelves in bookstores on 1 August 2022. She also shared that she gets her inspirations from original Chinese classics like Dream of the Red Chamber(红楼梦), blogs and posts on social media. She further expounded on the processes and differences between writing lyrics and writing books, how words are tools and the purpose they serve. (For example, while a song containing 200 words could take her up to 3 years to write, (such as the lyrics to a Tanya Chua song), she wrote a book [无指幸福] in 55 days. )

Xiao declined to say when her next song or book will be available (due to some non- disclosure clause in the contracts), but reiterated that we human beings are all on earth to serve. It is imperative that we understand there is always the need to balance commercialism and personal conviction.

Avatar: The Way of Water

I’m not fond of science fiction or fantasy, but I watched Avatar: The Way of Water this morning mainly because a friend went to considerable length to get complimentary tickets. (I watched the first Avatar (2009) movie on DVD and didn’t enjoy it, but this friend said I must watch it in a theatre to like it; so I was curious enough to utilise the free ticket. )

My interest was piqued in the first ten minutes or so. It waned over the next three hours. It was only perhaps in the last five minutes or so that the initial level of interest resurfaced.

I must be among the minority who wonder why the themes of peace, harmony, happiness, family, kinship, betrayal, enmity, avarice, greed, lust for power and their consequences could not have been conveyed more succinctly.

There has been much hype about the spectacular visual effects. Alas, these were lost on me because I had to shut my eyes whenever land, sea or flying creatures appeared. (Which was PLENTY!) I was assured that there would be no snakes (the animal I fear the most ) but I was equally put off by creatures that resembled tortoises, octopuses (especially their tentacles) and dragons. So much so that I couldn’t really appreciate the beauty of the landscapes. In fact, I thought some visuals looked more gorgeous in the trailers on YouTube.

However, I must say that I was not at any point lulled off to slumber. This is because of the exciting and energetic music. I heard some unique instrumentation which brought new textures and interesting elements together with excellent voices and expert use of tribal- sounding vocabulary and percussion in combination with a traditional orchestra. These make for some breathtaking musical moments.

It had been quite an experience watching a movie in a genre I would not even deign to read, but I’ll definitely not be watching the sequel!