Book — Prisoners Of Our Thoughts : Victor Frankl’s Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work by Alex Pattakos, PhD

Last month, a group of friends got together to discuss Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning of Life”. It is about one man’s valiant attempt and success in surviving the horrific Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps.

Recenetly, I came across Alex Pattakos’ book on Viktor Frankl’s principles. I thought it would be a good idea to write down Dr Pattakos’ summary of the 7 Core Principles:

  1. Exercise the freedom to choose your attitude – in all situations, no matter how desperate they may appear or actually be, you always have the ultimate freedom to choose your attitude
  2.  Realise your will to meaning – commit authentically and meaningful values and goals that only you can actualise and fulfill
  3.  Detect the meaning of life’s moments – only you can answer for your own life by detecting the meaning at any given moment and assuming responsibility for wearing your unique tapestry of existence
  4.  Don’t work against yourself – avoid becoming so obsessed with or fixated on an intent or outsome that you actually work against the desired result
  5.  Look at yourself from a distance – only human beings possess the capacity to look at themselves out of some perspective or distance, including the uniquely human trait known as your “sense of humour”
  6.  Shift your focus of attention -deflect your attention from the problem situation to something else and build your coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and change
  7.  Extend beyond yourself – manifest the human spirit at  work by relating and being directed to something more than yourself

Movie : Casablanca


I was excited when I was gifted with a DVD of this movie not because it won three Academy Awards (for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay) but because I love the theme song, ‘As Time Goes By’.

Set during the Second World War, it tells of how the Americans in Germany had to escape to Casablanca in Morocco through Paris to “wait and wait and wait…”

With flashbacks, we see footage of the war, in particular how the Germans invaded France. It was at Cafe Pierre in Paris that news about the war was announced. It was also where the male and female leads declared their love for each other and the beautiful song was heard.

Much of the film takes place in Rich’s Cafie Americain in Morocco. What appealed most to me was the resident piano player, Sam, who not only played the song many times throughout the film but also sang on one occasion! The lyrics of the song are as meaningful as some of the dialogues in the movie:

You must remember this

A kiss is still a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by


When two lovers woo

They still say “I love you”

On that you can rely

No matter what the future brings

As time goes by


Moonlight and love songs, never out of date

Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate

Woman needs man

And man must have his mate

That no one can deny


It’s still the same old story

The fight for love and glory

A case of do or die

The world will always welcome lovers

As time goes by


You better believe it when I tell you what I mean

Of all the gin joints and you had to walk into mine

You played it for him,

Now you get to play it for me

As time goes by


Movie : Inside Out (28 Aug 2015)


I was at first not keen to watch a Pixar movie, but when I read the review in The Straits Times I decided I must find out for myself why it was not just a cartoon for children and why it was  given a rating of 4 stars.

The opening statement was arresting: Have you ever looked into someone and ever wondered what went inside their head?

Inside our heads, there are 5 princial emotions, personified as Fear (Purple), Sadness (Blue), Disgust (Green), Anger (Red)  and Joy (Yellow).

At first, Joy seemed to be the boss inside the head of young Riley (“a happy Riley is a well-adjusted Riley”) but slowly lost control to Sadness when she was 11 and moved with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco.

More personification are seen in Feel Island, Island of Personality, Team Happy, Dream Production, Train of Thought, Imagination Land, Honesty Island and Memory Dump.

I particularly enjoyed the wordplay peppered throughout the movie! Some examples are: “I read somewhere that an empty room is an opportunity”, “You can’t focus on what’s gone wrong; you’ve got to turn things around”, “Think of all the good things”, “Look, we all have our off days”, “Nothing else bad can happen while you are asleep”, “Think positive”, “Goodbye friendship, hello loneliness”, “Do not panic; what is important is that we stay strong”.

For most children, and those who did not get the joke, this movie is still a lot of fun! It is visually inventive, imaginative, brilliant and funny. There is wisdom in recognising that there is usually no joy without sadness, and that both are essential in growing up.

I would probably want to watch the next Pixar movie.

Movie : Amy (28 Aug 2015)


This is a moving and frank documentary that is definitely worth watching!

I was amazed at the amount of footages of videos and pictures of Amy Winehouse from her childhood and her childhood friends, and interviews with close relatives and colleagues.

The biopic opens with Amy singing ‘Moon River’ as a teenager. I had never heard her sing this song before, and I was mesmerized.

Amy decided that “singing was always important to me but I didn’t think it would be a career” and “I don’t write unless it’s personal to me. I want my own style, and I write my own songs.”

When she first moved to her own flat upon signing the first recording contract, she happily smoked all day because she could “not do that in mum’s house”.

Her friends commented that she was “a complete force of nature’, “like a powerful man”, “with a lot of charisma” and “who likes to get people in a comfortable position and then ready to shock them”. She was “an old soul in a very young body”.

Her mother remarked, “when Amy made her mind up, she made her mind up” while Amy said that her mum was “so soft with me that I could get away with murder”. Amy also said that “my dad was never there”. Her father had an affair with another woman and her parents separated when she was 9.

Amy was on anti-depressants but she said she “didn’t think (she) knew what being depressed was. (She) thought it was just a musician thing”.

Success to Amy meant “having the freedom to work with whoever (she) wanted to work with”, she wanted people to “leave (her) alone so (she) coud do (her) music”.

She was just a charming, sweet lady who could drink anyone under the table. She had a giant laugh and was a sweetheart. But her drinking habit deteriorated to such an extent that she was advised to go to rehab. However, her father thought she didn’t need rehab. That was an opportunity lost.

Amy won 5 Grammys. There was nothing that could have prepared her for that kind of success.

She also had quite a turbulent love life. She was married for just over 2 years and she wrote in one of her songs that “I cheated myself… Love  is trouble”.

She first tried cocaine during her marriage. Later, she took heroine. She was a vey vulnerable woman, supplementing alcohol with drugs.

The most cherished segment for me was when she recorded ‘Body and Soul’ with the legendary Tony Bennett at the Abbey Road Studios! She was awed by the fact that her idol wanted to sing a duet with her! She was very nervous during the session and Tony Bennett calmed her down by saying that “the best artists I have ever met are the most nervous”. Later, he commented that “Amy is a natural true jazz singer who doesn’t like a hundred people in front of her”.

Towards the end, Amy didn’t want to perform but she had to. She wanted to escape; she felt it was like the end but she didn’t care anymore. One day, she died in her sleep. Who or what was to be blamed for her death? The answer does not come easily.

Book (Memoir) : Forbidden Love by Norma Khouri


This is a compelling book. it is not just about a powerful love story that ends in tragedy, but also an attempt to bring to the world’s attention the continuiing practice of honour killing in Jordon.

Dalis, a young Muslim girl living with her family in Amman, Jordon fell in love with Michael, a Catholic. Such a relationship is forbidden and Dalia paid for it with her life (murdered by her father, who went unpunished).

The author was forced to emigrate in order to be free to tell this true story. She has written a shocking and dramatic story about love and loss, friendship and strength, at the same time taking us into the hearts and minds of a world that is usually cloaked in mystery, where the ritualized murder of women are commonplace but hushed up.

After reading this book, I feel blessed and proud to be living in Singapore, where there is peace, law and order, and racial and religious harmony. People from different races and religious backgrounds co-exist. Inter-race or inter-faith marriages are not unheard of.

Movie — Hitman: Agent 47 (24 Aug 2015)


This is again a movie of a genre that I would normally not have bothered to watch if not for the fact that the reviews mentioned that part of it was shot on location in Singapore.

From the start, (‘The history of man is decided by war…’), I waited to see when Singapore would first be mentioned or appear. It is soon made known that the Syndicate International Headquarters (with its research facility in Salzburg) is in Singapore. It is the country the main character has decided to go because it is a place “with advanced medical facilities”. “warm weather”, “plenty of orchids” and where many languages are apoken, including Mandarin and Tamil.

The aerial view of the Marina Bay area is beautifully shot. Gardens by the Bay (in particular the Flower Dome), the ArtScienceMuseum, Singapore Flyer, Indoor Stadium, the DBS & NTUC Buildings and the Changi Airport (specifically the Arrival Hall) never looked like this when I was at these places, or even on local TV or in brochures. Robinsons Road, with many close-up shots of the MPH Bookstore, is given a fair amount of screen time, and looking somewhat better than what I see whenever I am in that area.

There is a surprise brief appearance of Singapore theatre actress and ex-Nominate Member of Parliament, Janice Koh Yu-Mei. It is a small role, but not an unimportant part.

I thought I recognised the staircases of the Syndicate International Headquarters as the ones at the Perfoming Arts Theatre at The Star but perhaps they were in another building, like the Marina Bay Sands Theatres.

The production unit paid attention to little details like having Singapore currency (note and coins) lying on desks. I did not recognise the location of the helipad landing but it looked like it was somewhere in the Marina area. I wonder where.

One puzzle was the red Audi used by Agent 47 in Singapore. The number plate clearly said SGE 1815 G but it was a left-hand drive! this ‘mistake’ was consistent though – from the pick-up point at Changi airport to Robinsons Road. Perhaps this is deliberate as this is a Hollywood movie, and the actors and their audiences are used to left-hand drives. The camera crew is so good that no one would have been able to tell that the red Audi was the only car with a left-hand drive whereas all the other cars (including many CityCabs and Comfort taxis) are right-hand drives.

I must say the visual effects are good. The various local departments and authorities (such as Media Development Authority, Singapore Police Force, Ministry of Defence, Changi Airport Aviation Services and Land Transport Authority) must have worked ‘overtime’ in their collaborative effort, especially where security is concerned. apparently, it is the first time that permission was given for the use of firearms on a busy road!

For all these, it deserved my $4 (admission price for senior citizens), but perhaps it is not good enough overall to warrant the full ticket price ($12?) from the general public. I wish the cinematographers of locally produced movies are able to come up with similar techniques to capture and showcase the beauty of Singapore!

7 Letters (21 Aug 2015)


This film anthology by 7 local directors has been given accolates like “… they will knock your socks off” (The Straits Times) and given a rating of 4.5 stars.

This certainly piqued my curiosity! (Other than Anthony Chen”s Ilo Ilo, I had not come across any local movie that rated above 4 stars.) With great expectations, I caught the first commercial screening. I left slightly disappointed.

Most of the stories are nothing to shout about. Only two stood out.

Eric Khoo’s reminisces the local film industry in the 50’s, and succeeded in putting across the message that people of different races and religions could co-exist and leave a legacy to the next generation. The female lead’s lengthy delivery of ‘River of Tears’ (in Malay) did not make as much an impression on me as the short snippets of simple notes played on a piano with a heavy ostinato (i.e. repetition of the same note) in the bass. The simple violin and drum accompaniment created a more apt atmosphere than the voice!

‘That Girl’ has the typical Jack Neo touch : a fair bit of dialects (Hokkien and Cantonese), some humour, a simple story. His theme, “some of our blessiings are the sacrifices of others” is told through a teenage crush. I don’t see how this ties in with the SG50 tribute about our country’s history. And it is blatantly obvious that the setting is in Malayisa! The only redeeming feature is the use of Teresa Teng’s ‘Wen Bai Yun’ (‘Ask the clouds’) at the end because it reflects the characters’ feelings well.

K. Rajagopal’s ‘The Flame’ has a better theme (‘Home is that journey back to myself’) to suit this anthology. The opening music played by trumpets is arresting and appropriate in setting the tone. This story tells of the British withdrawal from Singapore and how one couple decides to stay put instead of migrating to England.

‘Bunga Sayang’ by Royston Tan is beautifully executed. The title sone is written by Dick Lee (whom I greatly admire, as mentioned in a previous blog), and I fell in love with the song when I first heard it performed by Vocaluptuous (an A Capella group comprising of 6 members, including Dick Lee’s brother, John).

It is a gentle story of a young Chinese boy becoming friends with his elderly Malay neighbour. It also captures life in the 80’s very well, including music from the Courtesy campaign, a scene of a row of primary school boys brushing their teeth together (‘Brush Your Teeth’ campaign), the use of cassette tape recorders and even using a piece of old bar soap to bathe and wash hair.

The music used at the beginning of ‘Pineapple Town’ by Tan Pin Pin is ‘Dayong Sampan’. It is nice, but I do not see how it helps explore the theme of adoption and that “we are what we know”.

I am not surprised that the Straits Times review did not mention Boo Junfeng’s ‘Parting’. (Perhaps this is the missing half star in their rating?) Boo says, “This is for the ones we love the the place we call home. Majulah Singapura.” I don’t see the connection between this and the story about how a man with dementia travels from Malaysia to Singapore to look for his old flame who has migrated to Australia.

The best of the short films is Kelvin Tong’s ‘Grandma’s Positioning System’ or ‘GPS’. It is a simple story with a lot of heart. It is so touching and moving that my tears started flowing and grew into a big sob. The message is simple, ‘Home is the road travelled together’, and we also see a lot of footage of old Singapore. there is even an old photograph of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his wife touring a sauce-making factory decades ago.

The icing on the cake is the original song, Precious, composed and performed by Serene Koong, a local singer-songwriter. The song is a tribute to love and to Singapore, our home. It reflects on life growing up in Singapore and how we have journeyed as a counrty. It is about that special place in our hearts for our loved ones and our country, which grows fonder each day, and which transcends the changing of times.

Concert: Songs Our Parents Love (16 Aug 2015)


Conductor Adrian Chiang chose the lively and upbeat ‘Cha-Jumbo” as the opening piece for this concert by the Philharmonic Youth Winds (PYW), which was established in 2002.

The highlight of the concert came immediately after, in the form of well-known local and international mezzo-soprano Khor Ai Ming, who has performed to many full-house concerts, even garnering a standing ovation in 2014.

Khor is without doubt the most competent of all the singers in this concert. This is not only well-demonstrated in her solo renditions of evergreens such as “Ye Lai Xiang” but also in a contemporary favourite “A Better tomorrow”with all the singers in the finale.

When she launched into the song “Unending Love” from Lin Dai’s famous black-and-white film “Unforgettable”, she brought a tear to my eye. It was a very emotional rendition and reminiscent of an earlier concert in which she sang this song as an encore, in tribute to her brother who had succumbed to cancer.

This was also one of the first songs her mother taught her, as was “Shanghai At Night”, which she sang as one of a medley including Zhou Xuan and Yao Li’s songs. (The other two are “Rose, Rose I Love You” and “Cupid’s Aarrow”).

Following this, a member of the PYW (Jiang Jun Ming) played a beautiful solo on his euphonium. Regretfully, I couldn’t recall the title of the piece,. I lamented the fact that there was no programme booklet. Money spent on the neon olight sticks (which were grossly under-used) could have been better spent!

The next to perform was a contestant at the first Singapore Idol, Jay Lim. He is a vocal trainer at a music school and has good vocal techniques and control, never lettiing himself be overwhelmed by the orchestra, even at tutti. However, his rendition of “Heaven On Earth” (“Tian Shang Ren Jian”) is nowhere near Fei Yu Qing’s version. Neither could I make out Jacky Cheung’s “Please Don’t Go” (originally a Japanese song, sung here in Cantonese), the song played on air immediately after the announcement of LKY’s passing.

Two other songs, “Love Without End” (“Ai Ni Ai Bu Wan”) by Aaron Kwok and “Kopi-O” by Eric Moo have been chosen apparently because they are upbeat and energetic tunes. Unfortunately, the singer;s enthusiasm did not come through and response from the audience was lack-lustrre.

Watching his performance live, I can better understand why Lim did not go far in the competition. It is lacking in what is generally referrred to as stage presence/charisma or X-factor.

Act 2 began well and drifted into disappointment. Marcus Huang, as guest conductor, led the PYW in a lovely medley of familiar xinyao tunes. I could make out only a few by Liang Wern Fook, Roy Loi and Eric Moo. Again, what a pity there was no programme. (Neither did the compere make any announcement regarding the songs.)

Lindy Chia and her father Xie Jin Shi, a past Talentime winner, were next. Lindy’s performance was competent but forgettable. Xie was a let-down, with his Hokkien songs, a debut performance of “Singapore River” (which was entered in a competition 28 years ago but did not win) and a medley of Liu Jia Chang’s songs. I was dissapointed that his voice was drowned by the orchestra in many places! It also occured to me that his performance would be more apt for the heartlands than a concert hall with fine acoustics. It reminded me of what superstar Jenny Tseng said in an interview after his Talentime win: “He is not cut out for entertainment.”

A father-daughter duet was further disappoiuntment, until they were joined by Khor and Lim at the finale.

An encore by the PYW of locally-composed songs rounded off the concert which, despite certain let-downs, was essentially worth the price of the ticket!

Movie: Mr Holmes


This movie is about Sherlock Holmes at age 93.

He is suffering from dementia and wants to write what he can before his memory is erased. There is much use of flashbacks, and this story of a man fighting his illness (that of a failing mind) is sad and gentle, yet often juxtaposed with wisse sayings disguised as humour.

There is quite a fair bit of reference to bees and wasps, since Holmes has retired to a bee farm. Yet I can’t help but wonder if these are metaphors for the different groups of people in society.

(bee=hardworking, lives in large communities, perhaps even old-fashioned, even outstanding/good;

wasp=flesh-eating, irritable, petulant, spiteful)

As early as in the opening scene, Holmes admonishes a young commuter for pointing at a wasp (mistaken for a bee). In a later scene, he reveals why “we do not like wasps”: “because one wasp can kill 400 bees”.

When asked, Holmes replies he is not afraid of bees, as bees “don’t bite because they don’t have teeth”, though he has been sstung 7816 times. He says bees are not interested in harming (you), but only wants  to protect itself. “Bees are quiet.”

Unlike the wasps, the bees always leave their stings. Once stung, a person would be in pain, but we must not let pain guide our actions.

One lesson Holmes says he has learnt is not to “say everything you think”. He chooses exile for his punishment. In searching for something to jog his memory, he would tend to his bees and he has decided to write a story before he dies.

The guilt and recrimination have taken a toll on Holmes, and he feels “Death is not so very far away as it is just on the other side of the wall. It is only to those on this side that feel so alone!”

The original and beautiful music, soothingly played by the piano and violin with a string orchestra, aptly describes the mood at the final scene.

Lunchtime Concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (30 July 2015)


The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) held a free lunchtime concert to mark the 10th anniversary of the SPH Gift of Music free community music series. The chairman of SPH, Dr Lee Boon Yang, presented a cheque of $400,000 to the Community chest, which would be shared among 20 charities to serve the elderly, the disabled as well as underprivileged children.

While in the queue awaiting the doors to be open, I saw many such groups filing past. They used a separate entrance, probably seated in a specially dedicated area in the upper levels. I did not see any of them in the foyer stalls. One, possibly a child, let out a long wail in between the first two pieces, which prompted conductor Lan Shui to remark that “that is not quite in tune”. A few unsympathetic members of the audience giggled/sniggled. The wail sounded pitiful a second time, but the subsequent ones were more like agonised howls. Eventually, this person was led out of the hall to a loud, protesting “No!” before Lan Shui resumed his introduction of the day’s soloist, violinist Ning Feng.

In his introduction to the final piece, Lan Shui produced a 100 Danish Crona with a picture of Carl Nielsen. He remarked that Austria also has a note honouring Mozart and that perhaps Singapore would one day have a local musician grace one of its currency notes, suggesting Deputy Leader/Co-chair Lynette Seah as a candidate. this brought a smile to many like me, I’m sure.

Lan Shui also urged the audience to return for the ticketed full performance the following night, as the orchestra could only play the fourth movement from Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No 3 Op 27 ‘Espansiva’ and Ning Feng could play only the first movement of Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor Op 47 as he expected the audience to have “to go back to work” after this concert. Good marketing ploy!

If this lunchtime concert was a sort of ‘rehearsal’ and any indication of the folloowing night’s performance, then it would be well to buy a ticket indeed. For now, the concert hall was (for me) one of the best places to be.

The pieces chosen contain the most beautiful melodies, some of them hauntingly familiar and well-loved tunes. The soloist displayed nifty finger-work, deft bowing strokes and technical prowess. His was also an evocative and inspiring playing; his complete mastery of the instrument made it seemed all so easy and effortless. I have the greatest admiration for violinists who can produce such clear sounds and enunciations in their playing. The hauntingly sweet melody, rich in tone, was delivered with a relaxed demeanour.

It was the first time I saw Lan Shui in action (somehow, I have only attended SSO concerts conducted by the other local associate conductors and guest conductors) and I was duly impressed. He brought out the finer nuances through his subtle hand gestures and body language. He was expressive and at one with the music, giving his all to bring out the best in his musicians.