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Book Review: She Who Became the Sun

I loved everything about She Who Became the Sun, happy sigh. And General Ouyang? I get that he’s a eunuch and he doesn’t swing my direction, but I’m still swooning over him. Okay, so what’s this book about?

Historical Fantasy

She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy retelling of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty, expelled the Mongols, and unified China. The topic is already something I’m incredibly interested in – China’s deliciously dramatic history. Add to that the twist of Zhu being a girl? Automatic read. It does have Mulan vibes but it’s much more – think Mulan slash Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones.

Shelley Parker-Chan‘s writing is gripping from the very first sentence to the very end. One thing I especially like are her analogies – Zhongli village lying in the heat of the sun like a dead dog? Amazing. The book has many such sentences like this, which brings the atmosphere of ancient China alive for me. They way she retells and brings alive the characters: the to-be Empress Ma, General Ouyang, and of course Zhu makes these historical figures into people I won’t forget.

Women Empowerment

Exactly as the title promises, the empowerment narrative is good. As someone with Chinese heritage, I feel Shelley gets the idea so well that it hits home. Girls in the Chinese culture were just so itemized, so unimportant, so…nothing compared to boys. Boys are everything. Girls are meaningless, expendable. I lived this growing up. So I loved that in this fantasy, at least, we can show that we are not meaningless.

Women too can have mandates of heaven, lead armies, and leave a legacy of our names.

If you’re into women empowerment fantasy, check out my Nishaverse series.

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Girls – Let’s Start Investing!

“You don’t save your way to wealth, you invest your way to wealth.” Janda Becanda (The Widow Jokes Podcast) episode on cryptocurrency.

Following up on my post about financial freedom for women is this post on investing for women. What’s the idea behind investing? The quote above sums it best. Once you have stable finances (paid off your debts, set up an emergency fund, you have an active insurance) then and only then would it be a good time to start considering investing. The philosophy behind it is that the money you save up decreases in value over time due to inflation rates. Thus the best way to grow your money is by spending it on sound investments.

Sadly, most women lack confidence in investing in comparison to men. However, despite less women investing, studies actually show that the women who invest are outperforming the men who are investing.

My Approach As a Newbie

For me, I approached it this way: investing, like everything else in life, is a habit. If it’s a habit, that means everyone can learn it and manage the ropes well to benefit themselves. I started my investing attempts late 2019 and I won’t say I’m an expert – not at all. I’m still a newbie. But what I want to share are some tips on how to start investing. Because, the best time to start investing is as soon as possible – the longer the time you have, the better your chances are.

First, talk to a trusted financial advisor. Find someone who is well along their investing journey and ask them to share their basic philosophies. How do they make their decisions? What books / journals / blogs did they read? Maybe they listen to some great podcasts. Educate yourself on the topic, and make yourself more financially literate.

Educate yourself on the topic, and make yourself more financially literate.

Second, try to understand your appetite for risk. Do you like risks? Or do you prefer something safer? Would you be ready if that bit that you invested suddenly loses value during a market recession?

Third, diversify. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket. Spread out your investments into several different sectors (research beforehand never hurts). That way when one sector sinks, the others can still help balance your portfolio. This happened for me in the pandemic. Most of my stocks were bleeding except an investment I made on forex trading in 2019. Phew.

Fourth, don’t wait to invest. Start with as small as 10 USD, but get yourself into the habit of it and let time work for your favor, instead of for your demise.

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First Blood, A Poem

I finally picked up Milk and Honey (Rupi Kaur) and also Lang Leav‘s poetry collections: Love Looks Good On You. Needless to say, it was the boost I needed to start working on my second poetry collection! There are so far 60 short proses and poems in the draft, and here is one of them.

First Blood

“Have you started bleeding?”

“No…have you?”

“Of course! Last year!”

“Wow. How does it feel?”

“Oh, you know, just a bit bloody. Not too bad.”

Why hasn’t mine come yet?

Is something wrong with me?

Where could I have gotten more information

Other than the other girls’ conversations

Why was there no education

No open communication

On something so important

As our menstruation?

For more of my poetry, you can check out my first poetry collection: A Season of Poetry at the shop. Thank you for your support!

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Arranged Marriage Theme in Nisha

A lot of great reviews have flowed in for my fantasy series Nisha and its sequel, Sacred Rituals. Thank you so much to all my readers out there who have taken the time to read and review my books. One review, in particular, caught my eye. It’s Febrian’s review on Goodreads, can you can read the full review here.

Febrian wrote “believe me, Nisha, I was also wondering what it would take to get your parents to understand your life is your choice.” She highlighted the arranged marriage theme, which I would like to highlight in this post. No major spoilers for the book ahead if you haven’t read it.

Nisha and Ged Luft’s Situation

Indeed one of the running themes in Nisha is her arranged marriage to young Lord Ged Luft. Her parents, the King and Queen arranged this because the crown was running out of money, and for them, the only way to refill the crown’s coffers was to marry off Princess Nisha to the Lufts, a wealthy noble family of their Kingdom, Seis.

There are many wonderful stories in literature or in real life which depict forced arranged marriage working out very well, but not mine. As Mary, an illustrator who has read the book also said in a Mad Tea Book Club discussion, she didn’t think Nisha was a good example of arranged marriages working out well.

This is precisely the case because I have experienced arranged marriage situations, and it simply didn’t work out for me. I was THIS CLOSE to getting married to someone whom my parents had introduced. I ended the relationship because I knew I would not be happy long-term in that arrangement.

Child Bride

There is one BIG difference though, and that is the point that Nisha is underage. I was set up when I was in my mid-20s, but Nisha was set up in her teens. And this is my main point: CHILD MARRIAGE IS NOT OKAY. If you think this practice is finished, I am sad to say that it is not so.

Globally, 1 in 5 women were married before their 18th birthday. As instability increases, girls living in conflict or crisis settings become particularly vulnerable to the practice.

unicef

This is precisely what happens to Nisha. Her kingdom falls into crisis, and the answer in her parents’ mind was to marry her off to solve the problem. NO, IT DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. And if you read Nisha and Sacred Rituals, you will know why.

To read more on child bride problems, visit this article (International Women’s Health Coalition).

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Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Alright, here goes me reviewing a very hype book. By now, I’m quite aware my taste in books are somewhat different than the trendy ones – although I do get curious every now and then.

Quick Description

Our main character is a journalist named Monique Grant, who was chosen by retired Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo to write her biography. Throughout her glamorous and scandalous life, Evelyn Hugo has collected and outlived 7 husbands, including outliving a daughter. Evelyn has engineered her public image in such a way to hide unflinching truths, which she now gives to Monique. A question runs throughout the whole narrative: why Monique?

My Thoughts

I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads because I think it was so-so for me. I can understand the hype – who isn’t interested in the glitzy behind-the-scenes of Hollywood? The empowerment themes for people of color and LGBTQ are also a plus point going for this book.

However, some things didn’t sit right with me because the author does a lot of “forcing a point” through Evelyn’s story. There was not much room for the reader to arrive at their own opinions nor to disagree. The whole book feels like it’s teaching how to live life, and it had some alright lessons, but also some I disagreed with.

An example is this quote:

“When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things.”

The Seven husbands of evelyn hugo

My Kindle has automatic highlight function, and it’s showing me that 8 thousand other readers highlighted this quote. So I guess a lot of readers like it. For me though, I disagree. The statement actually contradicts itself, having stated “opportunities are given” then in the next breath “nothing is given, you have to take it.” But didn’t the text just say that opportunities are given?

The world gives so many things to us – life itself is a gift from the world. If we’re reading and breathing, we’ve already taken free clean oxygen, burned some fossil fuels, or used up some tree bark.

The world gives free air for us to breathe, soil for us to grow crops, a whole planet for us to enjoy. And from the moment we popped out of our mothers’ wombs to the moment we decompose, all we do is take from the world and emit harmful poisons to our planet. Unless we are very careful with our lifestyles and have a strong commitment to leave this earth a better place, then I assure you that both you and I are criminals in nature’s eyes. I am guilty of it myself.

Personal Bias

Obviously this book is not about relationships with nature and with our environment, it’s more about human relationships and it’s got some great lessons on that. Yet my personal bias is kicking in whenever I read narratives that are only about humans. Because the world isn’t just about humans.

We know that after the pandemic. A tiny virus slammed down our activities and plans, and we had no choice but to work around how to survive with a constantly mutating virus in the air.

Ending (Spoiler Alert!)

The ending is controversial, as the whole book tries to be. And here is one point where I do agree with the author. Yes, I honestly believe that individuals in their right mind should be able to exercise their right-to-die. Done properly, it can be a meaningful and relieving experience for everyone. Take the case of Betsy, who was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.

“Dying is easy, try living in this body.”

Betsy (VOX.Com)

So all in all, I thought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was so-so. If you like scandalous, empowering, well-rounded tragedy narratives, try the classic Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

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The Girl Proposed, Twice!

This is a blog post for all of you girls, ladies, women out there who have heard over and over again that you have to wait for a guy to take the lead on your relationship. First of all, let me just say that I can’t remember how many thousands of times I’ve been told this.

Girls shouldn’t take the shot first. Girls should wait. Wait for the right guy, he will come.

I am sure that for some people, this is the truth. This is what happened in your lives, and it worked out perfectly well. That’s fine, I’m very happy for you. But then this post is probably not for you.

This post is for other girls who questioned those sayings and advice. Girls who thought why do I have to wait? In fact, what am I waiting for anyway?

I’ll share with you that I’m on my second marriage now (after the tragic death of my first husband), and in both relationships, it was me who took the shot first. As in, I was the one who proposed. BOTH TIMES. Oh, it wasn’t anything romantic like me getting down on one knee in front of the guys.

My Two Marriage Proposals

With Oky, my first husband, it went somewhat like this: “Hey, let’s get married.” If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. He just smiled shyly and nodded. That’s Oky for you, sweet kind soul that he was. I was 29, he was 39.

With Cung, who had heard tales of my craziness and was (should have been) more prepared…it went somewhat like this: “Let’s sign some papers.” Cung is more cunning though, so he managed to stall it off a little bit, which was arguably for the better. We eventually had a little avocado-themed wedding. I was 33, a recently widowed young woman; Cung was 45.

In both relationships, the girl proposed! Indeed I decided to just go with it and forget about “traditional roles” because I knew it was what I wanted, at that time. There have been a couple times before Oky in which I almost got married (twice, in fact), but I called both of them off because it didn’t feel right. As much as I cared about them, I knew I wouldn’t be able to last more than a couple years with the lifestyle that we would have.

So what am I saying? I guess I’m saying that in my experience, there is no “timeline”. Sometimes things can happen quickly, too quick. And sometimes things happen too slowly for your taste. What’s important is to make sure that it feels right, and to be looking out for yourself first and foremost. Look out for your needs, wants, dreams, goals. Once you know that, then you will be able to ascertain which ones you are willing to compromise, and which ones you will not be willing to compromise.

When that is in place, then I would go for it.

For extra reading, here is a fun article on gender roles in relationships.

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Movie Review : In the Heights

One of the most exciting composers/creators of the music industry at this time is surely Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is currently most known for the hit musical Hamilton which retells the story of the American revolutionary via rap and involves a diverse cast and crew.

Miranda’s first musical was In the Heights, which premiered off-Broadway in 2007. At that time, nobody knew who he was. The New York Times published, “his name was a household name only in his household.” Since then, he has received much recognition and awards through his song “See the Line Where the Sky Meets the Sea” in Disney’s Moana, his role in the revival of Mary Poppins, and eventually Hamilton.

One of the best movie-musical to date

In the Heights was very recently produced into a movie-musical, and I must say it is THE BEST movie-musical up to date. It brings the genre up to another level. It is both movie and musical, and the final product here is a sum far greater than each of its parts.

What struck me most and left me breathless was how the movie was able to get out of the box of cinematography to create unforgettable, magical moments. The two most mesmerizing scenes were Benny and Nina’s dreamy duet “When the Sun Goes Down” and Abuela Claudia’s showstopper subway solo “Paciencia y Fe”. I mean, I’m a huge believer in the power of old ladies. Anthropologist Frances Bowden Affandy once told me that she believed old ladies are the apex of human evolution. They carry so many memories and wisdom in their minds and bodies, that it is no wonder old ladies as often seen as powerful witches. Yet, I have to say, I never see musical solos of glorified old ladies. Here, In the Heights pulled it off with hair-chilling choreography.

Motifs that hit home

The immigrants’ theme is a leitmotif with Miranda, as he himself is also an immigrant. This show focused on Latino-Americans’ lives and values: work hard, save up, make a better future for yourself than where you came from. This is always touching for me. There is one line where Nina’s father says what made me cry:

“This is where you become greater than me. Not because of some fancy degree, but because you can see a future I cannot.”

In the heights

This hit me personally because you know what? My father never said that to me. Never ever. Many times I share my dreams, my work, my passions. But for him, it didn’t matter. All that mattered to him was that I was not living the life girls should live, according to him. He saw one future for me, and that was that. It didn’t matter that I saw a thousand possible futures for myself. It took a long time for me to learn to distrust his figure of authority, and instead go with my guts.

This is why I love In the Heights and Miranda, because all of his work has a strong angle of women empowerment. From Elisa Hamilton to Nina, he always writes women alongside men in the narrative.

The music? Was there any doubt from the beginning? Never.

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Women in Theatre – Podcast Episode 7

About the same time I established the Bandung Philharmonic in 2016, I heard exciting news of a West Side Story production in Jakarta by a community theatre: Jakarta Performing Arts Community. I’m a thespian (musical nerd), and Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story has always been a favorite. So imagine my excitement.

To give some context, please know that theatre in Indonesia is still barely a scene. Cut that landscape by half when you’re talking about musical theatre. Now West Side Story is a HUGE production. The Jets, the Sharks, the choreography, the love and the deaths…it’s insane. When I watched the production at the Graha Bakti Budaya theatre, I was honestly impressed!

Fonnyta Amran during the Last 5 Years rehearsal

I remembered thinking who was the director that dared put on such a difficult show in Indonesia? When they called her on stage, it was this tiny figure of a lady, a head shorter than everyone else. Her name was Fonnyta Amran. And this was her first production as a director.

Whoa. I need to keep tabs on this person, I thought. I’d love to work together with them one day and support from the music side, or through other ways. Fast forward to 2021, and I interviewed Fonnyta for this very podcast episode on women in theatre. Not only that, we’re working together on The Last 5 Years, an off-Broadway musical by Jason Robert Brown.

In this podcast, you will hear someone speaking about their true love. And you will want to see this current show we’re working together on. Support women in theatre and buy your tickets now on Kiostix!

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Financial Freedom for Women

Everyone covets this. And if you’re not thinking about it, you should be, starting right now. It’s not about being greedy, it’s not about being ambitious, it’s about being self-sufficient and independent in this century. Interestingly, women think much less about financial freedom than men. Obviously, traditional gender roles in society play into this, but ladies hear me: DON’T FALL INTO THIS TRAP.

Don’t think that you’ll be safe as long as you have a husband that can support you, or as long as you have your parents’ wealth waiting as inheritance, or as long as you have a son that can work hard and will pay for you when you get old. If this is the case for you and your husband, father, son, are kind to you, then you are VERY LUCKY. You are not the norm. Statistically, there are much more women that are being abused by the men in their lives, and this includes financial abuse.

You can only get out of abusive relationships if you have your own money.

It’s a long haul towards financial freedom and independence, but it’s not impossible. There are women all around the world that have achieved financial security and are now supporting their families instead of being supported by them.

So how would you start on your journey of financial freedom?

  1. Make a habit of writing down all your expenses and income. Track everything very clearly, so you know exactly what you spend money on, why you are spending that money, and in turn where your money is coming from.
  2. Once you are in the habit of tracking your money, then see if there is a way for you to spend less and start saving more. Say you get an allowance from your husband every month. Can you open a separate bank account and save 20% of this routinely?
  3. If your expenses are so tight that everything is already essential, then try to look for opportunities to pick up another source of side income. Can you pick up a part-time job somewhere? It can be anything. There are all kinds of opportunities for those willing to learn and work hard. When you have secured a part-time additional income, then save that money away religiously.
  4. After you have to build a sizable enough savings from your side income, then start looking for ways to grow that pot of money. Money sitting in your bank account will only depreciate in value, so this is now the time to spend it! But spend it with the goal of more returns in mind. How? Stocks are a great place to start. Deposits in trusted co-ops are also good options. Or take some courses on entrepreneurship and small business, and start your own small business.

Of course, all of this is easy for me to write. In reality, it needs the discipline to write down all your finances. You need self-management to be able to curb expenditure and save more. You need the courage to look for a side job and to do it and be good at it. After all of that, you need to be able to take risks in spending the money. No, none of this is easy.

But take it from me, someone who started my journey of financial freedom 3 years ago: it’s worth it. Nothing tastes as sweet as independence.

Visit here to see more resources on financial literacy for women!