“It’s Not About You…” The Unlikely “Wonder” Post About Someone Else.

Really wasn't planning on a "Wonder" post. Firstly, Rockstar and Friends have been looking out for the movie adaptation of this former Battle Of the Books book ever since they heard about it last year. (More than a little useful that the school library appears to curate BOB books, painstakingly labelled including with the year it was in the BOB, plus the kids read some of them in class too.)

Secondly, Rockstar has friends who a) ran, ran, ran to catch the movie at the cinema before we even  realised it was finally out and then were talking about it over at Big Pirate-Themed Birthday Party last weekend, and b) even had opinions about the extent to which Auggie's disfigurement as portrayed in the book was not 100% accurately captured in the movie.


Yeah, and that too. (pic from quickmeme.com)

But to my point -

Anyone remember who this is anymore?

Or Them?

Oh, COME ON. (pic from today.com)

(Can I just say Gal Gadot studied Law and was a combat trainer in the Israel Defense Forces for 2 years before making movies (I like Army because of the basic concept of a "chain of command" - it was very important during my former life in 3 banking mergers when reporting lines changed 5 times in 3 years - very hard to get something done if you don't know who your real boss is):

And she says, "You give two or three years and it's not about you. You learn discipline and respect..." (but no I don't agree with her Maxim skimpy swimsuit shoot - men's magazine is SO not the same as women's fashion skimpy shoot a la Emma Watson's, the majority of men I know don't even understand women's fashion haha))

Anyway -

Everyone's talking about him.

So, as previously intended, I won't. (The book was awesome, the movie is awesome, nothing more to say. Go watch it. There are many powerful illustrations and visuals in it)

...but also look out for her. (pic off twitter.com/emmasharkey)

*spoiler alert*

Now, I don't know how the portrayal of Miranda in the movie stacks up against Miranda in the book, but Movie Miranda is Auggie's sister Via's best friend who goes off to camp, and when she returns she's gotten too cool for her old friends. It Girl makeup, hot pink hair.

Like, who knew "fetch" could almost happen in a BOB book? 🙂 - pic from thesoedit.com

(Couldn't find a nicer pic of Miranda in the heavy eyeliner in my opinion either. Because my attitude to heavy makeup is about the same as with higher heels. Too much work when less is more - doesn't make sense. Unless you're an ancient Egyptian. Then the massive amount of blue eyeshadow totally makes sense. :D)

Miranda goes on to snag the lead part in the school stage production. Her former best friend Via, Auggie's rather neglected and incredibly selfless sister, gets the role of understudy for the part, despite her best efforts to get an actual role, with the encouragement from her new boyfriend.

Now, Via is mostly a straight-up beautiful person throughout the movie. She counsels Auggie, "It's not about you. Not everything is about you"...  I do believe when not everything is about you, not every insult or hurt or "attack" is about you either. And it increases your own resilience. (Otherwise "everything" is a personal attack and you're an angry, angry person.) Anyway here's why I especially loved Miranda in the movie:

It turns out that Miranda has put a huge effort into reinventing herself in the wake of her parents' divorce, her father's preoccupation with his new wife, and her mother's subsequent downward spiral. Sophisticated "It" Girl Look is one of several efforts to deal. (And she can't bring herself to tell her former best friend any of this. Or the fact she's gotten popular at camp pretending to be her best friend, Special Needs brother and all.)

Even as the girls continue to drift apart, Via perpetually has what Miranda wishes she did, only Via doesn't know it.

On the night of the school play Miranda, all dressed up and poised to play the lead part she has rightfully earned and worked so hard for, notices Via arriving with her family - the family she wished were her own.

Miranda is painfully aware she has no one coming to watch her shine onstage. (Oh yeah, Via's boyfriend has a part in the play as well, Miranda doesn't have a boyfriend.) What do you think Cool New "It" Girl does?


Miranda claims sickness and insists she can't perform, thereby providing Via the chance to be the centre of attention in her family for the first time.


😀 For real though, in that moment when Miranda is faced with this choice: The easy option - just go along with the big part and shine and have fun (kind of) basking in the attention of people she mostly doesn't know (and therefore can't care that much about) vs the crazy, much more difficult decision of going above and beyond, to yield for someone with a greater need, she makes the hard choice. It is in that moment that Lonely It Girl "saves" - nope, not Via but - herself. 

I can't explain exactly why, and in the movie you just see that it does, (but how on earth do you ever easily portray why it does, right?) Maybe it's because everyone is aware of the sacrifice Miranda has made.

Maybe you think what Miranda did is stupid, lead part is a chance of a lifetime, it's never coming again, she earned it fair and square and they may not even be friends later on when they go to college. Yeah maybe. But the point was not the play (and if you think the pinnacle of your life achievements is going to be lead in the high school play then um.........).

The point was what the ability to see another person's greater need and make a "lesser" sacrifice on your own part does for you, your personality, your drive and ability to perform more and better achievements like that one. Miranda was able to see that even if she went on with the lead, there was no one there to watch her (this time). She could not change that. (And yes that is sad. If it were about her, you'd feel really sorry for her, right? Like we feel sorry for what happened to her mum? But Miranda proves stronger than her mum; more valuable than anyone watching that ability/ talent onstage that evening, is Miranda's actual ability to clinch that lead in the first place. That doesn't go away just because no one is watching at the moment.)

I like to believe that ability gets stronger when you don't feel you've "arrived" because you've got the lead.There's some study that says your likelihood of achieving a goal actually diminishes, the more people you tell about it because psychologically the more you talk about it the more your unconscious mind thinks you've kinda already done it. That makes you try less hard. For the Type A in all of us - would you rather have the one lead or would you want to perpetually have more and better and keep being able to bring joy to families like Via's? It's almost like a superpower, except they don't all come with costumes. (Well, they could have pink hair...)

Also - Miranda could not fix her parents' marriage, any more than she could change the fact no one was coming to watch her be the lead. However it was in her ability (and hers alone)to place Via in a position where her family would see her onstage in the spotlight for awhile despite Auggie's constant needs, for the first time.

When you are the only person able to create such happiness and magic for several other people who live day to day with surgeries and hassle (not to mention bullying) I believe that is even more empowering for your future self than just going with the lead in this one play.

It's staking your own belief in yourself, that you are much more than just this current achievement. Because you are the lead in a play/ a banker/ a doctor and what-not for 2 weeks, 15, 40 years. But you are who you are, for your entire life.

No, it's not easy. Nothing that is worth anything is ever easy. But people make sacrifices pretty often when they grow up. They're called parents. (Can you imagine what parenting looks like if parents literally make it "All About Them"?) Spouses. And many more besides. (If everyone does not want to yield how are you going to ever raise kids/ compromise on careers, and- and - why are Hong Kong taxi drivers often so angry on the road???)

"Sacrifices" ironically are one of the "backbones" of our society, whether the more selfish Type As care to admit it or not. (Come to think of it even your spine has bits with cartilage so you can bend and move right, and can you imagine how miserable everyone who drives would be, if the roads only had angry Taxi Drivers on them? (I'm just going to get cabbie hate mail now, aren't I :P))

You are your actions.

I never really got this, for a long time... (pic from meme generator)


True beauty (and worship, I was once taught) is in sacrifice and kindness.

ps: Remember when I said Rockstar had a wager going...

Remember this?

Rockstar's wager after cramming for as respectable a grade as possible (having spent the rest of his time on things like Youtubing Megalovania on Synthesia) was that if he makes "Merit or above" he gets Thor's Hammer.

We owe him Thor's Hammer. Only, he doesn't want the hammer anymore and it wasn't a Merit. (Hasn't decided what he wants, he can take a few months researching Amazon haha).

Something interesting about his ABRSM results - he could've put in more effort on practicing sight reading and scales - and his test scores accurately reflect that (I mention because it has always mildly annoyed me that sight reading and scales can easily be practiced straight out to help your chances on the bits you can't prepare for... and he's still so chill :P).

What "saved" him however (and Rockstar, dis is payback for the chill BUAHAHAHAHA) is - get this - his aural. He got a freakin' 17/18. Turns out he does have a bit of an ear and can sing in tune. But you'd have to light a bonfire under him before he'd ever do it (sing). Otherwise rest of the time he's just making goat noises. All over the apartment, all round the mountain trail at OB, a high, bright "Beh!" sound. Amazing they didn't leave him on the mountain somewhere 😀

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Back From Camp (Or, Conquering The “Real” Fear Factor)

Partially influenced by Hamster Ninja not allowing me to tell some stories 😀

She allowed me to put this up after some persuasion though...

(Don't get me wrong, they totally yank each others' chains, and have a gadzillion long-unfolding dramas going at any one time...)

...but they spent their "last evening before camp" sitting like this for the better part of 2 hours. HN shampoo-ed and shampoo-ed Rockstar's hair, convinced he would reek when he got home (we were all surprised he didn't) 😀

After he left, HN committed to immersing herself in what she dubbed "The Only Child Experience". As in, Rockstar got to experience being an only child for 4.5 years before she came along and she never got the chance to do that, so she would like to try it, thank you very much. (Well for that matter neither one has jumped out a plane either, but anyways <shrugs>.)

So Rockstar came back from Y6 camp last Friday. As previously agreed between us, we said our goodbyes at drop-off on Tuesday, and would see each other again after camp on Friday after he took the school bus home.

He didn't even come back really skinny, he says they gave him like, 7 eggs a day (loves)

Lemme back up a bit - a year ago I was very upset when Rockstar went for Y5 camp because, among others, it hadn't occurred to me to do a little erm, "emotional vulnerability check" before he left... and so as the days wore on and I mostly couldn't see nor hear hide nor hair of him for something like 5 days and 4 nights, my head started to fill with... thoughts. (Not..... of physical injuries - I grew up with parents who were there for every taekwondo grading, but walked out of the room if I was getting pummelled, just so they didn't chew their fingers off  😀 I am an only child not by any of our choices, and willingly pushed myself, trying to fill what I felt were unspoken aspirations for the otherwise 3 children my mum had always hoped to raise (so no, I'm not naturally "competitive" for the "regular" reasons, more on that later).

Anyway, not actively separating the paranoia from the legit worries was becoming a huge... "weakness" - on my part.

Y'know, like when you get a new job in an old building in Wan Chai and the first time you're going to be working alone late in there you discover colleagues who derive enjoyment out of telling you who died violently nearby.

Epiphany I: The people who tell you there are body parts in the walls don't want to be friends <shot of the blindingly obvious> and once you get that (which is very, very important because you really need to prioritise who you spend your relatively scarce resources on and that should always be your real friends) -

Epiphany II: You will be so determined not to be afraid of zombies in the walls that they will nonetheless help you more than your real friends could. The sincerely well-meaning ones who come up to you and go, "Is it my imagination or did we never see Rockstar in any camp pictures? Hope he's ok..." (OMG! My friends think there might be a problem?! Should I be freaking out more??)

When your 8yr old has had periods of lying awake at night worrying about life expectancy and genetic history of those near and dear (I fairly frequently follow dooce.com because she has an older child who, besides reading at an astounding level for her age (but having low muscle tone she needs to work on), at one point was checking weather apps every 15 mins thereabouts - and yes HK public health system has psyche evaluations during some annual checkups, that I recall - one year everyone had a very long questionnaire and thorough interview - and it's all practically free!)..... and then you have a second child who proverbially thinks bungee-jumping is for babies (why do you need elastic?), you realise that it's very hard for someone whose child doesn't lie awake to understand someone whose child does.

If I had had only a "Hamster Ninja" child, I would've thought someone who had only a "Rockstar" child was a total fruitcake. But that is how utterly different kids' personalities can be, and so a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications among parents, education and healthcare professionals, I believe tend to be because of how different kids simply are. The "margin of error" is just naturally so wide, and I don't think it can easily be fixed anytime soon.. When I compare what Rockstar was like at that age and what HN is like, it's sometimes hard to believe they're even the same species. (Of course if you ask them, they will tell you they are not :D)

Regardless however, we all have our demons, and if they get to creep up on you, they will eat you alive and very slowly. Sometimes, they have to take a bite and start chewing before you realise that; I believe the biggest obstacle to your parenting the way you aspire to will always be what's going on in your own head. (Including caring what's going on in other people's 🙂 )

Oh look, I found a comic book adaptation imagery of "Fear" - this is from Ryan Reynolds' Green Lantern movie, where burning ambition to harness more power** leads to a well-meaning Elder Of The Universe being consumed by fear - pic from wired.com

But get this - you will never have as much motivation to chop the infected arm off than if you don't want the proverbial Office Zombie People to continue preying on your fear. (Not... that I ever understood the concept of bullying - if you're insecure, doesn't the additional having to look over your shoulder in case you pissed someone off make you even more insecure? <demon alert!> Doesn't fear of/preoccupation with possible retaliation rob you of energy you could better spend running at full steam to achieve your goals? This is a paradox of "competitiveness" - if a person truly wanted to win more than anything, surely there is a point where they must realise that to spend energy on say, cheating or intimidating a competitor is energy taken away from purely raising their own abilities.)

But back from the tangent: Then we heard Y6 Camp would be an Outward Bound Camp and we were all Yeah!! (OBS is rather comfortingly familiar - there is similar in Singapore, and in Malaysia we even met a large camp of primary schoolers from Beijing doing "Adventure Camp" in Penang last CNY. The big difference however is the Beijing kids didn't sleep in tents, they were slumming it at The Hard Rock Cafe Penang 😀 (but that might also be due to safety).. Another mum asked me how Rockstar was, and I said "He's on camp and I'm sure it's fine cos there's OB and he will be jumping off a jetty!" 

For real though, like everything else from computer education to 4m OB Jetty Jumps, kids seem to do these much younger, nowadays. During our time it was at university orientation and when HR ships the entire dealing room off to Pulau Ubin for simulated parachute jumps et al.

And then in a flash, he was home again.

Rockstar didn't have enough money to get two bandanas, so he got the hot pink one for HN. Anyone who knows Rockstar personally will attest to how much he hates the colour pink.

And therein lies the bit I have to tread carefully with. HN...... appreciates (other) gestures by her brother to be sure, but when it comes to OB bandanas, she is also fiercely determined to earn her own someday. This is a little kid who shrieks in frustration at not being able to keep up with the older kids at Ryze trampoline or Verm City climb park. Crumpling in a muscle-trembling, angry teary pile is not uncommon. S-o... that exchange did not end well and I'm not allowed to say more 😀



*Besides going to Katherine Sellery's Effective Parenting Course through the school (it was like, 30 classroom hours plus homework), I went, "Every One Dies!! It's not just older people! D'you know how many people die on the road every day? But you're not going to stop using roads, are you? (Seatbelts. Speed limits). Lemme show you this statistic on how many people die from vending machines falling on them. 150 people killed by coconuts. 24 killed by champagne corks. 100 people died from being scalded by hot tap water. 450 people die in the United States alone from falling out of beds." 

However, ultimately, the belief that there is a God who sees all and plans all is incredibly comforting and liberating for anxieties.

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Anti-Fragility. Because Happiness Takes Work And Chaos Doesn’t.

"To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you."
-Antonio Garcia Martinez, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune And Random Failure In Silicon Valley 

Off and on again in a general pursuit of inspiration when parenting the kids, I've been reading these three books:

1) Anti-fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by initially French-educated Lebanese-American intellectual Professor Nassim Taleb, 
2) Option B by Sheryl Sandberg following the devastating and unexpected loss of her husband, and
3) Chaos Monkeys by... a guy who coded the tracking of derivatives at Goldman before moving to pre-IPO Facebook (it is in itself fairly rare that a Physics PhD can write so entertainingly haha).

(That is not to say I don't try to keenly follow what the people actually trained in childhood education say - if it's one thing I learned from a former life on investment product desks, it's that you don't interrupt the "'expert' in that particular field" - credit, equity, forex, interest rate, commodity - (unless you're just excited! haha). HSBC in Singapore used to have these daily early morning "meetings", where everyone just stood in a loose circle in the middle of the room clutching mugs and the occasional satay stick to skewer a siew mai and someone from each desk/team spoke for a few minutes. It was to quickly prep everyone across teams, for the day. You'd listen and be thinking, "Now, how can I use that for my unique desk/ client/ trading/ creating needs today? How can I put together what I need, from what they know?" Not.... Do They Know What They Know :D)

Reason I also look at (seemingly) unrelated stuff for inspiration in parenting is because, with the exception of completely absentee parents, who you are or what you know cannot completely be exclusive from your parenting choices. (This whole blog is about how we show our true colours by how we parent. The good, the bad, the stuff we all want to hide (and we all have something - Google will tell you 68-81% of parents take some of their kids' Halloween candy - which just means that there's somewhere between 19-32% of parents who like to lie on surveys :D).

Yet parenting should be a teacher like no other - of us adults. We are charged with raising another human being to someday be a part of society, hopefully as a useful member. By some unwritten rule encoded in our DNA, we perpetually strive to give our children better than we ourselves received. Because y'know, otherwise we'd all be extinct <shrugs> , evolved into a bug or something :D)

Anyway. Sheryl Sandberg is Zuckerberg's choice for COO of Facebook, whom he poached from Google, then re-defining the role to fit her specifically (can't deny the beauty of tailor-made anything, because it takes into consideration unique strengths and weaknesses). I never followed her "ban bossy" campaign, but like Freakonomics authors Levitt and Dubner - 6 kids under 5 between them at the time, Levitt reeling from the loss of a 1yr old to meningitis, studying in the subsequent parental support group why parents are notoriously bad risk assessors of child safety (people go nuts about mad cow which has a pretty low probability of occurring to them, while leaving raw meat full of harmful bacteria on kitchen counters, then re-using the same kitchen rags to wipe all manner of surfaces every day) - Sandberg (and Grant) wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy while parenting two devastated children (then aged 7 and 10) through her own pain, following the unexpected death of David Goldberg.

We will always fear devastating loss. Yet eventually, after what feels like an eternity, is hopefully the compensating kindness of a newfound clarity.

And so here I am plagiarising narrating Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant:

pic from fineartamerica.com

This Timothy Chambers painting features in the chapter on raising resilient kids. Mr Chambers is legally blind and 70% deaf. As in, if he looks you in the eye, he can't see your mouth.

Now go back and look at that painting.

Now back here: Mr Chambers suffered from sometimes-paralyzing fear and nightmares when first told there was no cure for his conditions.

(How many of you went and looked at the painting again after that last line? :D)

"While they suffered an irreparable loss, my children are still fortunate... our circumstances have softened the blow... Two out of ten U.S. children of all backgrounds live in poverty..." 

Food drives and collections, like Box of Hope for eg, are a powerful visual: when you are packing the things the recipients need, you are reminded there are people, kids, worse off than you who don't have them. Pencils, toothbrushes, towels. Can you imagine needing someone to buy these things for you?

"...resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It's a lifelong project...."

Rockstar loves the "shark in the sushi tank" analogy:

Sushi connoisseurs could taste the difference if the fish arrived at the kitchen dead, not alive. Now, packing live fish in a tank for transport is not exactly cheap. Connoisseurs could however still taste the difference if you kept them alive, but packed them tightly. Finally, someone came up with the bright idea of putting a few sharks in the tank. Sure the sharks ate a few fish, but apparently somewhere in the costing trade-off between packing live fish tightly vs "free range" is a factor whereby if they get chased around by a few sharks, they taste even better. Supposedly, the increase in sales from the better-tasting sushi made out of fish that were fleeing from sharks more than offsets the loss of a few that get eaten by the sharks.

(Darn, don't you want to see what that costing spreadsheet might look like? :D)

So I told Rockstar we all need a few sharks in our tank. His response was Sure, Because Our Goal In Life Is To Be DeliciousWork Hard, You'll Taste Better.

So yes, Rockstar - you are a pink cupcake. (pic from Youtube)

Anyway. Next author - Nassim Taleb, distinguished Financial Risk Engineering Professor and prominent critic of risk management systems during the financial crisis.

I find it a little hard to read Dr Taleb lightly. Reviewers keep saying how his are some of the "smartest" books of his generation (no doubt there), how he's really funny..... Well he is funny, but it still takes some work. (Phd Monkey guy is easier to read, but Taleb is kind of the Anti-Fragility guy.)

So at risk of being the little kid who asks why the funny man surrounded by livery-ed guards isn't wearing anything, I'll say that Dr Taleb's.... is often times the writing style of an academic egghead professor (who nonetheless also likes to lift heavy weights and eat big steaks :D). He's relatively soft-spoken, and known to walk out of the room when press suggests he speak up. Something about importance of person inversely related to volume 😀 (See, you'd love him too.)

Dr Taleb has an obsession with bones - literally, there is a similar picture in his book of the indigenous women who carry baskets on their heads....

pic of Mysore woman from Wikipedia

Dr Taleb questions whether ageing really causes loss in bone density, or loss in bone density causes ageing. Up to a point, you need bone stressors, gravity, carrying stuff in your day to day. The controlled strain makes them stronger; deprive them of all stress, support near-collapsing, near-insolvent banks, and that leads to blow-ups.

That's not a typo - Bones for Banks. You might think this irrelevant, but banks are run by people who, hopefully, are useful members of society. So too, markets traded. In fact, until Spielberg becomes reality, without a real AI phenomenon that runs the Central Bank or corporates et al, we're pretty much stuck with people, their foibles, and human nature.

Anti-fragility is something we could all use. Imagine the Hydra (Taleb really does say this), that mythical multi-headed beast that grows two heads every time you chop one off.

pic from forestimel.deviantart.com

If you follow Captain America in comics, you'll notice that this is the name given to Captain America/ S.H.I.E.L.D's main adversary, the fictitious comic book terror network:

"Hail Hydra!" - pic from marvelcinematicuniverse.com

(Am I the only one who was terrified, the first time (long ago) I realised in comic books everywhere that (albeit fictitious) terrorists sported this logo....)

There are a lot of things that gain from disorder and we shouldn't always fear it. By which Dr Taleb was referring to attacks, writing "...if you can survive them, (attacks) help enormously, conditional on the person appearing to be extremely motivated...... There is a visible selection bias: ...why you instead of someone else..." 

This doesn't work for everyone though, just those who have a slight tendency (not that it's totally bad, but it's also a risk) to be too full of it. Isn't it instead possible people aren't attacking you personally because they um, don't know you exist? 😀 It is incredibly liberating to realise that you no longer want what someone else has the power to give you. The irony is when the liberating loss of value was handed to you by someone intending the opposite. Where the irresponsible pursuit of pleasure is a much more obvious known "sin", pride is probably the biggest risk. Ego is a big weakness. That's the one you don't see coming, and when you do... (not.. that you don't have a mild detached curiosity about what happens next...) that is what will set you free.

Voltaire was a well-known critic of government and Catholic Church, whom Dr Taleb refers to as a "gadfly" (don't you just love that :D). It is however extremely true of governments and large corporates (which ultimately are run by people"...when you hear a government or debt-laden corporation trying to 'reinstill confidence' you know they are fragile, hence doomed." (Because of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much syndrome haha.)

"To all my enemies: I couldn't have done it without you." No, Dr Martinez, that's not true. Yes you can. It's not enemies you need, it's epiphanies! (And not anemones!)


So, you thought immortality and Hydras were all fiction?

Nice to meet you too. - pic from futura-sciences.us

No, those aren't "heads", they're tentacles - the real life Hydra is a 1cm long predator (mostly of water lice named - get this - Cyclops, that carry some disease :D) with regenerative capabilities; it appears to never grow old, and when well-fed can produce babies (like that one growing out of its trunk) every 2 days. But someone decided to get Hugh Jackman.

Beat that, Wolverine. pic from moviepilot.com


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