Book Review: “One Day in December”by Josie Silver

A novel just in time for Christmas

What do you do when you spot The One, fall irrevocably in love in the span of 60 seconds, lose them right after, spend the next year searching for them in every bus stop in London, then finally meet them again when they’re introduced as your best friend’s new boyfriend? Thus begins One Day in December and the love story of Laurie and Jack, spanning ten years of heartbreak, choosing to be happy, loss, what-might-have-beens, and finding happiness again.

Laurie James meets, or doesn’t meet, Jack O’Mara at the bus stop on December 21, 2008. She’son an overcrowded bus, on the way home from a long shift at a hotel reception desk – a job she’s working while she’s trying to get a job as a staff writer at a magazine. She looks out the window and sees the most beautiful man sitting at the bus stop. He looks up, their eyes meet, and something shifts in the universe. But as fate would have it, Laurie’s bus pulls away just as Jack gets up. Laurie spends a year looking for “Bus Boy” throughout London, roping in her best friend Sarah to help with the search. She doesn’t find him, not until that fateful day when Sarah introduces the new boyfriend that she’s head-over-heels for. “Bus Boy” is Jack, Sarah’s boyfriend.

Romance novels live and die by their characters, and One Day passes with flying colors. Laurie and Jack are fully formed and relatable: good people who genuinely care for each other and the people around them but are deeply flawed as well. The story is told from Laurie and Jack’s alternating point of views, which gives us a lot of insight into their motivations. The downside of this is that Sarah’s characterization gets lost in the shuffle. As Laurie’s BFF and Jack’s girlfriend, Sarah becomes the ultimate example of virtue and success, and any flaws she has is told to us,not shown.

The story also benefits from the longer time span. The ten years it takes for Laurie and Jack to finally be together are caused by both circumstances and their personal choices, which makes their journey all the better for it. There’s some pining to be sure, but neither one fully depends on the other for their personal growth. Josie Silver handles their will they-won’t they with a deft hand, making sure that there are no irredeemable bad guys.

One frustration of mine with regard sto romance novels is when the characters are at the mercy of the plot, where they have no agency and every roadblock to their happily ever after is an external force. I’m happy that it wasn’t the case here.

My only major regret is that the resolution happens so quickly. Laurie and Jack were separated for so long.Surely Ms. Silver could have devoted more page time to their happily ever after? As someone who got sucked into this story, I would have appreciated a longer and more substantial final act.

All in all, One Day in December is highly recommended for believers in love at first sight. And even if you don’t,it’s still recommended for its depiction of supportive female friendships and the importance of finding your own happiness and way in life even without The One.

This review was first published as part of Fully Booked’s First Look Club. Thank you very much to Fully Booked (and Ilia!) for the opportunity 🙂

How to green up your condo

Becoming the Sustainability Manager of a property management company wasn’t something that I anticipated going into after doing coral reef ecology and fisheries-related research around the Philippines. But now that I’m here, I appreciate the opportunity (and challenge! huhu) to influence hundreds of property managers, and by extension, the hundreds of thousands of residents, office tenants, and mallgoers that they interact with on a daily basis.

Last month, I was approached by Speed to write an article on green condo living for their November issue. Speed describes itself as “the technology magazine for the fast-paced lifestyle, bringing together not only the most up-to-date tech news, interesting features, and informative columns”. November is typically their Green Technology issue, and I’d already written something on sustainable living for their 2016 issue (you can read it  here). This new article was my chance to promote sustainable property management practices to a wider audience, so OF COURSE I wrote it.

Read the full article here:

Here’s hoping a lot of condo residents read this and start supporting practices in their own buildings 🙂

Lessons from the mixing bowl

One of the things I never thought I’d actually do was learn how to bake. Sure, I love to eat delicious baked goods (who doesn’t?), but after a disastrous attempt to bake my mom a birthday cake when I was 13 years old, I’d stayed as far away from an oven as possible.

Fast forward twenty years later and surprise: baking is now something I do for *gasp* fun! No, really. I bought a small electric oven last Christmas because I wanted to eat healthier and stop frying everything. Little did I know that with the baked vegetables, fish, and chicken would come cookies, cheesecakes, and muffins. Oh, the irony of it all.

Aside from the end goal of actual baked goods to eat, the process of baking lends itself to additional valuable lessons:

1. Be patient. The typical chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for you to scoop the cookie dough onto baking sheets and refrigerating the dough for at least an hour, but best for at least 24 hours. But why? Why have cookies tomorrow when you can have them today? As it turns out, refrigerating the cookies stops them from spreading out too much and also brings out more of the flavor. More patience = more delicious cookies.

2. Learn the ropes first before trying to tweak anything. Baking is that delicious blend of science and art. Unlike dishes where you can play with the recipe on the fly, baked goods need exact recipes because each ingredient reacts with everything else. Yes, substituting 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda when you change the recipe from 1 cup of milk to 1 cup of yogurt makes an absolute difference. Once you’ve mastered the basics and the ingredients, then you can change the recipe.

I learned this lesson the hard way when I figured hey, two medium eggs were the same as one large egg, right? Wrong. What were supposed to be eight cookies merged into a single huge COOKIE. The batter was too wet and thus spread too much. The cookie tasted fine, but still. Since then, the most off-recipe thing I’ve done so far is double the vanilla extract and cinnamon because I wanted a stronger flavor. I’ll get to the recipe development stage eventually. *crosses fingers*

Continue reading “Lessons from the mixing bowl”

Movie review: “Crazy Rich Asians”

Some background before my movie review for Crazy Rich Asians:

I LOVE the Crazy Rich Asians series. I went to both signings that Fully Booked organized for Kevin Kwan: the first one in 2015 to promote China Rich Girlfriend, and the second one in 2017 for Rich People Problems.

So yes. Because of this:

  1. I’m heavily invested in this series.
  2. There will be SPOILERS in this movie review.
  3. There will be comparisons to the books.

All set? Everyone ready? Let’s do this!

Continue reading “Movie review: “Crazy Rich Asians””

Science and science communication: why we can’t win and what we can do

Times are changing and it seems like a scientist just can’t win. In the era of fake news and “alternative facts”, where people dismiss what an engineer says because he’s not a “real scientist” (regardless of the science not changing just because it was an engineer who shared it), where diseases long-thought dead are resurging thanks to parents thinking autism is a fate worse than death (and the “study” they keep bringing up that “links” autism to vaccines was disproved many, many years ago), it seems like searching for evidence and the truth is out of fashion.

The irony is that we need science (and scientists!) more than ever. We’ve got climate change, biodiversity loss, coral bleaching, and melting ice caps. We’re emptying the oceans of fish and replacing them with plastic. We’re clearing rainforests but wonder where the fresh air has gone. Stronger typhoons are battering our coastlines but we don’t have the mangroves to keep them at bay. There are areas of the deep sea where our trash got there before we did. If we want to keep living on this planet (and I’m assuming that we do, considering that we haven’t developed interstellar travel yet), we needed to start protecting it yesterday.

fish visual census
Counting fish underwater

Scientists can’t save the world on their own. Because they’re very much in the minority – in 2013, the Philippines only had 189 researchers in R&D per million people – scientists are banking on the results of their research making its way to the general public, thus educating them about pressing environmental and health issues and provoking planet-saving action along the way. If only it were that simple.

First, great scientists are not always great communicators. We are sometimes so used to talking to our peers that the idea of talking to “regular” people and using minimal jargon stumps us. I used to work as an environmental officer for an eco resort located in a protected area and it took me years to figure out how to talk to people. The first time I trained tour guides in basic biology and ecology was a harsh lesson: people are under no obligation to be interested in what you find interesting. My first attempts at writing, shooting, and editing nature videos earned me an A for effort and content but a C in actual production value and “interestingness” from my video producer husband. Over the years and after much trial and error, our team of three Biology grads learned to use used bingo games, underwater scavenger hunts, and selfie contests to make science fun. I’ve also given talks at our beach bar during Happy Hour, ruining quite a few childhoods in the process of explaining protandry in clownfish.

This is us at our 12th episode. Check the link and compare it against our first episode.

There’s also the potential bias within the scientific community as well, wherein scientists who dedicated chunks of their time to public outreach were historically seen as being “less dedicated” and “less capable” of doing good science (see: Sagan, Carl). The annoying thing is that it’s not even true! On the flipside, in a “publish or perish” world, there’s no incentive for scientists to do outreach. How are we supposed to inspire the next generation of scientists if we’re not out there promoting how awesome science is? We can’t let Neil deGrasse Tyson do all the heavy lifting.

Scientists need to go where they’re needed. In this case, talking to fishermen underneath a tree by the roadside.

When scientists do communicate, those who do it well have to struggle against the public’s perception of what a credible scientist should look like. While a quartet of adorkable, socially awkward researchers makes for popular TV, it further cements the stereotype of the bumbling professor. A recent study showed that researchers who are physically attractive and appear friendly generated greater interest in their work, but were also seen as producing lower quality science. In comparison, researchers who are relatively plain-looking and look unapproachable were seen as producing higher quality science but generated less interest in their work. Can you please make up your minds? Their test subjects were also more interested in reading news articles featuring the work of “interesting-looking” scientists compared to those who looked “uninteresting”. I didn’t realize I needed a good headshot to accompany my research.

While communicating science in today’s environment feels like a combination of pushing a boulder up a mountain and preaching to the choir, we have to do it anyway. We owe it not just to ourselves, but to the ones who will come after us. But we have to work together!

General Public, good science is inescapable and undeniable. Don’t attack just because the science doesn’t fit your world view. As a great man once said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Attack the science if the methodology and the data used to arrive at that conclusion is wrong.

Good science is also good science, regardless of who is doing it (as long as they adhere to ethical standards, of course). While there are scientists who are admittedly weird and dorky (myself included), others climb mountains, star is musicals, play with fire, and race dragonboats. We’re a pretty diverse bunch. Judge us on how good our research is, not on whether we look good in a lab coat.

Once upon a time, I joined fun runs.

Governments, use good science to shape good policy. It’s hard, I know, but that’s the only way to do it. Fund not just the actual research, but the outreach efforts as well. You want an educated population, right?

Fellow scientists, we need to learn how to communicate better. While reaching out to the public may not be your life’s work, your life’s work depends on the support of the public. People can’t support what they don’t know about. The public are our partners in discovery, not our enemies.

Let’s also remember that we don’t have to do this on our own. There are media professionals out there who can help us craft our messages and present them in a manner that will get us the most buy-in from the public. Guide the professionals but let them do their thing.

Science shouldn’t stay cooped up in the lab and we have got to get better at setting it free.

 

Author’s note: I wrote this last year for the Asian Scientist Writing Prize. Obviously I didn’t win but I wanted to post this anyway with some minor edits.

The Northern Lights of my dreams

I’m an ocean girl at heart. Saltwater and sand will be my top destinations almost every time. One of the few destinations included in that almost? Iceland. Why do I want to visit? Let’s count them off!

  1. The road trip experience

Iceland Driving Road Trip

Scenic landscapes everywhere you look and well-maintained roads? Perfect. Now I just need to learn how to drive…

2. The road trip minus the carbon emissions

DSC01647.JPG

If you want to get more exercise, there’s always biking. I’m going to skip the leg-killing uphill climbs as there are enough flat plains to go around.

3. It’s great for whale watching!

whale watching VI

Iceland’s waters are home to lots of krill and fish, which means lots of whales and dolphins! Twenty-three species of whales and dolphins call Iceland home, though the ones most commonly seen during whale watching tours are minke whales, humpback whales, harbor porpoises, and orcas. Minkes are the most common though, and can be seen year-round.

4. Hot springs!

Iceland's Blue Lagoon

The most famous one is (of course) the Blue Lagoon. It’s so popular that you need to pre-book tickets. Of course, there are other hot springs that you can visit, whether for free or with a paid ticket.

5. Of course, the Northern Lights.

The Northern Lights - Iceland - Travel photography

If you don’t want to wait in the cold (no one enjoys being cold) and you can afford it, find a rental unit that has an outdoor hot tub.

Now, if only I can find cheap flights to Reykjavik.