Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Dear darling hubby bought me a copy!!

I didn’t read it as fast as I could have though.  As it’s the last one, I kind of drag my feet so as to enjoy it slowly.  However, that being HP, you can’t really read it one chapter per day. 

Okay, SPOILER WARNING!!

There are people who are happy with vol 7, some who are not.  Overall I am pretty satisfied with it.  The middle part where they went searching for the horcruxes was painfully slow.  I don’t know if Rowlings intended it so to make us feel the depression caused by the necklace,  but it was just all around misery for everybody and not much going on at all.  Even Hermoine doesn’t seem to do much besides loitering around, reading and making feeble attempts at cooking. 

And some more thoughts:

Neville was able to pull the Griffindor sword out from the sorting hat.  It was brilliant though the scene was a bit chaotic.  Also, I can’t help sympathizing with the goblin.  No doubt the little folks are mad with the wizards.  They can be having a cocktail party, celebrating and admiring the sword, when a fat little hand appears in the air and pulls the sword away. 

It is moving how Snape asks Harry to look at him in his dying moments.  Okay, someone has called that creepy, some have called it sweet.  His memory doesn’t reveal much that a HP fan couldn’t have guessed already.  At least, we all know that Snape is smitten with Lily back when they go to school and Lily defends him in front of James.  We didn’t know that Snape and Lily goes all the way back as childhood friends, the fact deepens his love for her but doesn’t give any surprise in what we think Snape is and will do because of is love.

I am a bit disappointed though that after his death he isn’t mentioned at all.  I want something more than Harry naming his child Severus.   Well, Snape was the headmaster right?  He still held the title at the moment of his death.  So his picture should be up on the wall in the headmaster room.  There could have been just a brief mention, that while all the headmasters were applauding, Harry saw Snape’s picture and an understanding nod passed between them.  That would be suffice, and a nice closure.  Snape would not be patting Harry on his back, but he would likely give a stiff nod for a job well done.  Harry would like have yet overcome all those years of dislike to warmly thank Snape, but would attempt to give a thank for how Snape protected him and his mom. 

One question that bugs me – When the trio camped out, they put charms around their camp.  It was mentioned that when Ron stomped out, he couldn’t make it back even had he wanted to, because with the charms he won’t be able to find the way back.  However, after Ron and Harry found the sword, they didn’t have any difficulties walking back to the tent.  Now, if it weren’t a hole, I suppose an explanation is that Harry put up the charms himself, so he was able to find the way back.  The book didn’t exactly say who did the charm, though it makes more sense that Hermione did, because Harry was in a bad shape then and didn’t even have a ward.

Also, it’s a pity that at the epilogue, things haven’t improved much for their juniors.  The house rivalry are still there, although after the battle people were not sitting in their houses but all together.  And the term “pureblood” was thrown around, which means “mudblood” and “halfblood” were too.

I really like Kreacher in the end.  It’s amazing how such a despised character turns out so loved in the end.  I imagine him staying with Harry and turning out all kinds of delicious dishes? 

Advertisements
Published in: on July 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Liquid Jade – The Story of Tea from East to West

by Beatrice Hohenegger

This book is perfectly timed for the National Tea Month in August.  Filled with digestible tidbits of interesting facts about tea, it is like the Chinese dim-sums, or the British tea cakes, or the Japanese wagashi, to nibble upon with your perfect cup of tea.

Did you know that, for example:

– Lu Yu wrote Cha Jing in 780CE; it is the world’s first authoritative and comprehensive treatise on tea and is still in print today, more than 1200 years later, not only in China but throughtout the world.

– The virgin maidens who pluck tea for the imperial palace had strictly codified rules, including not allowed to eat garlic, onion or any spices for three weeks before the harvest, least their breath contaminate the delicate scent of tea leaves.  Similarly, the porters carrying such tea used special racks so the tea box would never have to touch the ground.

– A list of appropriate occasions for drinking tea in China, according to the Ming tea manual Chashu 茶疏 by Xu Cishu 许次纾:

In idle moments
When bored with poetry
Thoughts confused
Beating time to songs
When the music stops
Living in seclusion
Enjoying Scholarly pastimes
Conversing late at night
Studying on a sunny day
In the bridal chamber
Detaining favored guests
Playing host to scholars or pretty girls
Visiting friends returned from far away
In perfect weather
When skies are overcast
Watching boats glide past on the canal
Midst trees and bamboos
When flowers bud and birds chatter
On hot days by a lotus pond
Burning incense in the courtyard
After tipsy guests have left
When the youngsters have gone out
On visits to secluded temples
When viewing springs and scenic rocks

心手闲适 披咏疲倦 意绪棼乱 听歌闻曲 歌罢曲终 杜门避事 鼓琴看画 夜深共语 明窗净几 洞房阿阁 宾主款狎 佳客小姬 访友初归 风日晴和 轻阴微雨 小桥画舫 茂林修竹 课花责鸟 荷亭避暑 小院焚香 酒阑人散 儿辈斋馆 清幽寺院 名泉怪石

– German physician Dr. Summer Paulli said in 1665 “as to the virtues they attribute to it [tea], it may be admitted that it does possess them in the Orient, but it loses them in our climate, where it becomes, on the contrary, very dangerous to use.  It hastens the death of those who drink it, especially if they have passed the age of forty years.”

– Tea got a boost in England as, facing the social ills caused by gin consumption, the beverage became “the temperance reformer’s No. 1 weapon” in the crusade against alcoholism.

– The Europeans had no idea what type of plant the tea belongs to, as they had never seen a tea plant.  There were many unsuccessful attempts to bring one back to Europe. One plant fell overboard with a sudden gust of wind, one was eaten by rats; some Europeans were given boiled seeds or other plants by Chinese merchants, in an effort to protect their trade.

– Today, iced tea makes up 80% of the U.S.’s tea consumption, a trend not followed anywhere else in the world. 

– The English word “tea”, Italian , German Tee, and French thé, comes from “tay’, as pronounced in the Amoy dialect in Fukien, where the Dutch set up their trading post.  In Iran, Russia, India and Arabic countries, the word is cha or chai, as prounced in the Cantonese and Mandarin dialect, through the Arabic trrades along the silk road.  The exception is the Portuguese, who got their ch’a from Macao.  As whatever they brought back to Europe they consumed locally, the word was never exported as the Dutch did with their “tea”.

– While recent research shows that the fluoride in tea leaves prevents cavity, the poet Su Tung-p’o had written about strengthening the teeth and reducing dental diseases by rinsing his mouth with tea in 1083 CE.  

– India is the world’s largest producer of black tea, but most of the production is consumed domestically and only 20% is exported.  China exports about 35% of its production.

– Every day, 3.8 billion cups of tea are drunk around the world. 

However, as I read on, the delightful read gets heavier as the history of tea gets bloodier.  The tea tax had partially led to the independence of America.   As Britishs like to sweeten their tea, this created a huge demand for sugar.  In 1800, 30 million pounds of tea and 300 million pounds of sugar were imported to England.  Fifty years later those figures grew to 56 million pounds of tea and 1 billion pounds of sugar.  Where did the sugar came from?  The plantations in the Carribeans. Up to 70% of slave traffic supported the sugar industry. 

With the loss of its American colonies, Britain had lost access to the precious South American silver supply.  To reverse its trade deficit in its tea trade with China and not able to offer anything of interest to the Chinese, the British started promoting… opium.  During the first decade of the 19th century, 26,000,000 silver dollars were imported into the Chinese empire.  As opium consumption rose in the decade of the 1830s, 34,000,000 silver dollars were shipped out of the country to pay for the drug.  The Bengalese opium industry represented 1/6 of the GNP of British India.   Apparently, Queen Victoria never received the letter from Commissioner Lin Tse hsu:

“I have heard that the smoking of opium is very strictly forbidden by your country; that is because the harm caused by opium is clearly understood.  Sine it is not permitted to do harm to your own country, then even less should you let it be passed on to the harm of other countries… Suppose there were people from another country who carried opium for sale to England and seduced your people into buying and smoking it; certainly your honorable ruler would deeply hate it and be bitterly aroused… You would not wish to give unto others what you yourself do not want…”

Sorry Lin but the Queen doesn’t read the bible the way she should…  And the sad result was the opium war, in which the British Navy soundly defeated the Chinese army (China never developed a strong naval force as her enemies historically come over land- hence the Great Wall – but not over water) and Hong Kong became a British colony.

Meanwhile, the British suceeded in cultivating tea in India, so that they no longer have to deal with any foreign traders.  As tea growing is a labor intensive enterprise, they recruited illiterate laborers to sign off their lives into slavery condition.  These laborers, shipped from other regions, were underfed and underpaid, and suffered a very high mortality rate due to malnourishment and poor living condition.

I was so disguised when reading this dark side of history.  The irony was, I happened to be drinking a cup of tea called Her Majesty’s Tea.  It was blended for Queen Victoria using tea from Darjeerling and Assam.  Argh!! I felt like pouring the tea down the drain!!!

And have things improved?  Not really in India, as the tea market is controlled by large corporations.  In fact, foreseeing India’s independence, British planters began to set up large ta plantations in Africa, and today more than half of British tea imports come from Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Chinese tea production, on the other hand, is mostly on independent, individual plantations. Not that these farmers and pluckers live in luxury, but at least they are better off.

I was amazed how the ending of this book touched on social and environmental issues, and encouraged people to buy fair trade and organic.  I heard of fair trade coffee a lot, but didn’t really think about it for tea.  This book delivered much more than I expected.  Now I am likely to drink less British tea, knowing its dark history, and be more alert to read the labels!!

Published in: on July 20, 2007 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The China Garden

by Liz Berry

Copying from Amazon.com, “Like a jewel box with hidden drawers and compartments, this finely crafted, multilayered novel holds many secrets.”  Indeed. It is fantasy, mystery, coming-of-age, romance, and more – a bit of green peace, a bit of family love.

Clare Meredith, 17 and waiting to hear the results of her school exams, goes with her widowed mother to Ravensmere, an ancient English estate, to care for its dying owner.  Somehow in the village, everybody seems to know her and expects her to save the day (a la Harry Potter style), and she starts having visions and stumbles upon a magical garden.  The story draws you in from the start and just keep getting better.  There are lot of historical and mythical references, making the story seems both real and magical at the same time.

While the plot itself is good, the character of Mark could use better development.  He was set up so negatively in the start that it’s hard for me to do a 180 switch to like him as the hero all of a sudden, and makes it hard for me to envision Clare herself doing so, without seeing her as a witless bimbo.

Published in: on July 20, 2007 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Literary Birthdays

Curious which famous authors you share birthday with? Check this out. (Thanks labmomnm for the link.)

Gosh I share birthdays with George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley.  Can’t say they are my favorite but at least two big names.  Makes me feel very special now.

Published in: on July 20, 2007 at 2:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Meet the Author – Lisa See

I was so glad to make it to Books & Books to meet Lisa See.  She wrote Snow Flower & the Secret Fan, one of my best loved books of 2006.  She was in Miami to promote her new book, Peony in Love.  I haven’t read it yet but know that it’s somewhat based on the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion, which I briefly studied in high school.

When we arrived on Sunday 4pm, we were amazed at the crowd.  I didn’t realize, but was gladly surprised, by how popular her books are.  When Lisa See came to the podium, Michael whispered that she doesn’t look Asia at all…

She talked about how she started writing about the story Peony in Love.  She was writing some publicity material for the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion, which would be performed at Lincoln Center in New York in its entirity, the whole 25 hours of it, a feat not done in over 200 years.  During her research, she found that many young girls in ancient China read the book and then fell ill and died.  She also noted that there was a short period of time in China when women were writing and publishing stories  (more details here).

She also mentioned that the book she is working on now is about two sisters from Shanghai arriving in Los Angeles Chinatown, and about her experience as a very white “Chinese” growing up in Chinatown. 

After the talk was the book signing section.  I asked her to sign my copy as addressed to: Dear BookCrosser.  And this is what she wrote:

Dear BookCrosser –
To share with your sworn sisters.
                          Lisa See

When I told pkboo she decided to do the same with her books.  Naturally that got Lisa very curious about what bookcrossing is.  So we told her how we bought multiple copies of books we like and leave them around. “Leave them where?” “Oh, everywhere -” and we started counting the places, coffee shops, Panera… even the Great Wall!

Lisa See signing book

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  

French Women Don’t Get Fat

by Mireille Guiliano

Happy Bastille Day! Perfect timing to finish the book!

I read the Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat, and can’t help comparing the two.  (Same story – happy young girls go to America, their bodies just balloon up till they revert back to their native diet.  I guess there could be a whole series on this.) The Japanese one is more organized, though the French author seems to pride herself for not laying out the book in point-by-point format.  I like the French recipe better because the ingredients are more available. The tidbit info about French food is interesting and I’d love more of that.

The idea is sound and even though I am not particularly trying to lose weight, her general suggestion for a healthier lifestyle is worth following.  I tried it this weekend at a dinner restaurant, and I found myself being disappointed with the blandness of the tomato served, and noticing other things I didn’t before.  Hmm… it’s going to be harder to find a restaurant to dine at now!

Also a few years ago I started making dinner a smaller meal.  It’s hard, with the limited lunch hour at work, to make lunch the major meal of the day, but I tried to limit my dinner to no bigger than my lunch and it really helped.

Published in: on July 14, 2007 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Year of Meats

by Ruth L. Ozeki

When documentarian Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job producing My American Wife!, a Japanese television show straaing “authentic American housewives preparing beef dishes, she discovers some unsavory truths about love, fertility, and a hormone called DES.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Akiko Uerno, wife of the show’s adveristing executive, finds her life irreccably changed by the show.

I signed up for this Bookcrossing bookring because of my interest in the “unsavory truth about meat”, but this novel, the debute of Ruth Ozeki, delivered much more than I expected.   The characters are rich, authentic and colorful, the plot original and exciting.  It feels like a ride into unknown territory.  You don’t quite know what the next turn will lead you, but you are always in for a pleasant surprise as you move from one scenery into the next.  Ozeki is really defted with her pen; she captures a scene like a camera lens, so vividly that you can “see” it.  Especially outstanding is the scene about the young girl on wheelchair. 

It’s amazing how Ozeki can write a fiction on a subject as serious as agribusiness exploitation and managed it so entertainingly.  There was not a moment that the story felt preachy or dry, even though the message comes through loud and clear. 

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sold

by Zana Muhsen with Andrew Crofts

This is a true story about about two teenaged girls born and raised in Birmingham and sold to be brides in North Yemen.  They thought they were going on a holiday but once they arrived, the holiday turned into a living nightmare when they were forced to sleep with strangers who were their husbands, to live in primitive conditions with no running water or electricity, and suffered beatings from their inlaws. 

The story itself is heart wrenching, although I wish that the writing could be better.  I don’t mean dressing up the story or making up facts to make it more exciting, but right now it feels like the writer simply transcribed Zana’s words without much organization and editing.

Naturally, after finishing the book, I couldn’t help wondering what happens to Zana’s sister, Nadia. For anyone interested, here are some sites:
http://membres.lycos.fr/nadia1/A-nadial.htm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4385270,00.html

After reading the updates, I wonder if Nadia is just too attached to her children to leave, or if she has gone to be happy with the life she has.  Afterall, she has spent more time in Yemen than in England, and should she return, she may be as unaccustomed to life in England as a new immigrant may be.  Could it be that she choose to stay because the unfamiliar Western world is too intimidating to her? Was it brainwashing, or did she make the choice herself?  Or maybe she was threatened that terrible things may happen to her children.   In some way, we cannot make the assumption that if we hard a way of life, other must hate it too.  There are certainly people who give up modern comforts to live in unbearably primitive regions, for an array of reasons.   Perhaps we will never know the answer. 

Zana is a very lucky girl to be able to get out, and her life in Yemen could have been a lot worse.  I feel sorry for Nadia, and more so for those whose stories we will never know and who have nowhere to turn.

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Spiritual Literacy

Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life

by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

I received this via a bookring on Bookcrossing.  This 600-page hardcover book looks rather intimidating, and I almost considered just giving up and sending it on…  However, as there are a lot of short quotes from writers of all religious background, it is not as hard and slow to go through as I feared. 

If I start writing down all the gems I find in this book, I may be in trouble for copyright infringement.  This is a good book to keep as a PC, to ocassionally leaf through, whenever you feel frizzled.  I don’t know how the authors collected all the wisdom, but I am glad they did and gather them in one volume.

(ETA: Yicks! I did copy down a lot… but hey it’s a 600-page tome!)

And here are some of the lines I like:

“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred… There is no place to hide, and so we are found.”  – Terry Tempest Williams   

“Not only persons call for service; their things do, too… Objects have thier own personalities that ask for attention… Treating things as if thjey had souls, carefully, with good manners – that’s quality service…” – James Hillman

“I am not a good shopper… I get my purchase home and immediately have second thoughts… Once when I was in the grip of such a litany of doubts, Fred said, ‘Stop, you are hurting its feelings.  Nothing is perfect.’ ” – Mary Ann Brussat

“Boredom is lack of attention.  Take yourself off automatic pilot and you enter a whole new world of wonders.” – Frederic Brussat

“The Hopis say that we all began together; that each race went on a journey to learn its own road to power, and changed; that now is the time for us to return, to put the pieces of the puzzle back together, to make the circle whole.” – Starhawk

“When we plant a tree, we are planting ourselves.  Releasing dilphins back to the wild we are ourselves returning home.  Composting leftovers, we are being reborn as irises and apples…we can know the acitivity of the world as not separate from who we are but rather of what we are.” – Joan Halifax

“I saw that if I belonged here, it was not because anything here belonged to me.  A man might own a whole country and be a stranger in it.  If I belonged in this place it was because I belonged to it.  ANd I began to understand that so long as I did not know the place fully, or even adequately, I belonged to it only paritally.” – Wendell Berry

“Home is somewhere you can close a door and open your heart.” – Theo Pelletier

“I wonder if a tree knows when someone’s hand is on its body.  Does it feel a little warm, like an exchange of electricity?  This act of reaching out is a small gesture, but it is filled with great intention.  I am simply trying to say hello across the barriers of form and language.  I beleive the hands communicate this intention most honestly.” – Stephanie Kaza

“Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness.” – David Augsburger

“A weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What is loved reveals its loveliness.” – Bonnie Friedman

“Like the spider, we must return again and again to rebuild our webs by bringing together the threads of our lives and uniting them to the divine center within.  Without such work, our lives become disconnected, unpeaceful and broken.” – Edward Hays

“When we clean up after ourselves, whether it’s a spilled jar, a broken chair, a disorganized study, or a death, we can see and reflect upon our own life and perhaps envision a new way that won’t be so broken, so violent, so unconscious.  By cleaning up our own homes we take responsibility for ourselves and for preserving what we love.” – Brenda Peterson

“Consider a jigsaw puzzle.  each piece has its place and no other piece can fit that place.  Yet no one piece makes sense on its own.  Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence.  And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle.  Once a piece is in its proper place, its separateness is surrendered.  We know a piece is in its place when it blends with the whole and disappears.” – Rabbi Rami Shapiro

“It’s easy to criticize others and make them feel unwanted.  What takes effort and skill is picking them up and making them feel good.” – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

“He was not feeling great or rotten; he was just not feeling.  He realized he had to really concentrate to figure out what day of the week it was.  And then he woke up: ‘You have got to own your own days and name them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you.'” – – Mary Ann Brussat

“A friend’s son was in the first grade of school, and his teacher asked the calss, ‘What is the color of apples?’ Most of the children answered red. A few said green. Kvein, my friend’s son, raised his hand and said white.  The teacher tried to explain that apples could be red, green, or sometimes golden, but never white.  Kevin was quite insistent and finally said, ‘Look inside.'” – Joseph Goldstein

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Growth means evolving and waking up, not remaining asleep in the illusion of the learned self.” – Brenda Schaffer

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a fiesta.” – Eduardo Galeano

“There is only one valid way to partake of the universe – whether the partaking is of food and water, the love of another, or indeed, a pill.  That way is characterized by reverence – a reverence born of a felt sense of participation in the universe, of a kinship with all others and with matter.” – Larry Dossey

“Husband: I’m going to work hard, and someday we are going to be rich.
Wife: We are already rich, dear, for we have each other. Someday maybe we’ll have money.” – Anthony de Mello

“A boy an dhis father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone.  The boy said to his father, ‘Do you think if I use all my strength, I can move this rock?’ HIs father answered, ‘If you use all your strength, I am sure you can do it.’  THe boy began to push the rock, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, ‘You were wrong, I can’t do it.’ ‘No son, You didnt use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.” – David Wolpe

“Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for, because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.” – Peter Marshall

“The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two sides of the same existence.  WIthout one, the other cannot be.  When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in transformation. ” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Obsessive Traveller

by David Dale

This book is a pure delight! I kept reading passages to share with my husband.  Some of my favorites:

(on cuisines from different countries) “The English don’t see any point in trying. The Americans try very hard… The fundamental culinary principle here is: nothing succeeds like excess.”

(on different tour guides) “Let’s Go tells you how to avoid bad drugs and where to find a hamburger in countries that don’t serve them.”

(on the search for a White Christmas for a guy born on the wrong hemisphere) “Manhattan does a highly satisfying real Christmas, but there is one vital detail to remember: you can’t call it Christmas.  You must wish people only “happy holidays” or “compliments of the season” to avoid making the arrogant assumption that Christianity is any more important than the other religions followed by large segments of the city’s population.”

“In 1756 M. Boulangerm who sold very good soup in his Dining Room in Paris, put up a board outside which said Venite ad me; vos qui stomacho laboratis et ego restaurabo vos (Come to me, those with laboured stomachs and I will restore you).  M. Boulanger’s soup became known as a restaurant (restorative) and the word came to be applied to the establishment itself and finally to any Dining Room which provided high quality food.”

Rather than a travelogue in chronological manner, Dale compares notes on various topics (waiters, museums, public transportation, etc.) drawn from his extensive travel (mostly to Europe and U.S.)  It is an interesting perspective to read a travel book by an Australian writer, and I definitely hope for a chance to read more of Dale’s work.

Published in: on July 5, 2007 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment