The Lee Family: Our Affair with Books

Ian Dory, rock climber and ninja veteran, starts his daughter young on a climbing wall.

Photo credit: Ian Dory’s Instagram

Some parents plop their kids on a piano stool pre-preschool; others are taught to serve shuttlecocks before their first solid meal. Where I’m from? My parents shove literary material into our tiny hands during potty time.

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If there is one word synonym to the Lee Family name, it’s books.

Below are several points that epitomise the Lees’ relationship with wordy tomes:

In my early years, money was tight. A family has got to eat, but we spent the bare minimum on food. 50 cents curry puffs? No. An extra t-shirt? Absolutely not.

Books? Splash away!

“Never stinge on books” was my father’s motto.

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Most of us have longer relationships with some books than we do any romantic partner. Off my head, I name the Christy Miller series my bible and greatest influencer.

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If the Vulcan greeting is “live long and prosper”, the Lee greeting is “what’cya reading?”

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Books take precedence over human beings. If there is one remaining empty seat in the car, the books ride. Human being, take the bus. True story.

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It’s your birthday! Now, predict your birthday gift. Is it a book? Or is it, gasp, two books?!

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A looming school exam calls for a sanction on leisure reading.

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Score well in said school exams, and you will be rewarded with… wait for it… books!

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Book fairs are a big deal. Every minute there is precious. Therefore, we gorge an enormous breakfast to prep. The last thing we need is to sacrifice book time for lunch!

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We had strong opinions that MPH bookstore wrap their books to prevent browsers. How to read now?! What kind of rubbish policy is this?!!

P.S: Dear MPH, it wasn’t this way before. You changed.

P.P.S: Thank you, MPH staff, for entertaining my constant bugging.

P.P.P.S: Also, I apologise for the wasted plastic.

P.P.P.P.S: Here’s an idea to save the environment: don’t wrap your books.

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Running, cooking, throwing a punch, how to tail a suspicious looking character down a busy street- we learnt it from a book.

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Our default meeting place in church or at the mall is the library or bookstore.

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You are severely judged for your choice in genre.

P.S: I stand by the institution of Chick Lit.

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Very often, the government’s tax exemption limit for books is insufficient to cover our total literary cost.

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By age 9, I knew that my father’s “5 minutes only” before disappearing into a bookstore really meant “2 hours. Minimum”.

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The way to a Lee’s heart is …

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Fun note: My best friend practically lives in a library, I’m talking about her room. She eventually earned first class honours in english literature, and currently makes a living (a lot of money!) writing propaganda statements to cover screw ups (although she might disagree with my definition of her job).

It Only Happens In The Movies: Love- A Feeling Or A Choice?

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P.S.: Contains spoilers, fury, blatant honesty and slight profanity.

P.P.S.: If you’re here but resent my rambling, note only this: READ. THE. BOOK.

the book

I’m a chick lit junkie. Despite my resident identity as a feminist, I swoon like a fan girl at the cliches: (1) the rain kiss. (2) The airport kiss (3) The I-screwed-up kiss. And my personal favourite, (4)  the will-they-won’t-they-they-will! kiss.

I was genuinely upset finishing It Only Happens In The Movies. Not at the ending, because that was marvellous on multiple tiers.

Despite his (male love interest) Hollywood-worthy grand apology (for cheating on her), Audrey walks away. She made a choice. She can NOT be with somebody who could hurt her the way he did. The couple does NOT end up together.

And yet, it was a happy ending. Once again, Holly Bourne hits home with a pleasantly felicious finale.

No, the sorrow came latched onto the anticlimactic surge that ensue the flip of the last page; because with that bolded “THE END” concludes my journey with Audrey Winters.

The journey that had me laughing, hurting and fuming to various degrees.

Yet, I have an ugly confession: I wish Audrey’s father a gnarlier fate.

In fact, I wish I could put him in a body suit of red ants, tie him with up with ropes soaked in rat’s urine, then dye his hair green, place him in front of a starving horse, and watch as said horse take big chunks off his grassy-looking locks. I will then gift him nose hair extensions and coat his feet with black tar so every heavy-footed step he takes brings a risk of tripping over his flowing nose hair.

I cruised through the book brimming with anger at that fictional character that is a perfect personification of so many real life men in our world today.

In fewer words, I’m legit pissed at Audrey’s dad and his bitchy new wife, Jessie.

After years and years of marriage, Audrey’s ass hole dad leaves her mom for a wife “upgrade”. He discards them like yesterday’s rubbish. During the first half of the book, he convince Audrey that one “couldn’t help falling in love”. Apparently, “it’s not something you have control over” (Bourne, 2017, p131). Later, he adds salt to the wound by selling the house they live in, only because his bitchy new wife demands so.

Towards the end, Audrey’s mom end up in the hospital. In a flight of rage, she marches over to the house of the man that calls himself her dad yet really is nothing more than a sperm donor her dad’s house.

I’m cheering her on with every fibre in my being. Go, Audrey, go!

She starts by yelling at bitchy new wife. “Are you happy now, you HOME WRECKING WHORE?” (Bourne, 2017, p360)

Yes! Finally! I’ve waited 360 pages for this moment!

Bitchy New wife has the audacity to say “isn’t she (Audrey’s mum) pathetic? Hasn’t she let herself go? I’ll never let myself get like that. No wonder he left her.”

Sperm donor Audrey’s dad walks out and interrupts. So Audrey says, “I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU, I’M TALKING TO YOUR SLUT OF A WIFE.”


Bitchy New wife just stands there, “vacant, placid, and passive”. Apparently how sperm donor Audrey’s dad likes his women. (Bourne, 2017, p361)

The exchange continues, and then my favourite part. “…How can you love her, dad? A woman who doesn’t mind breaking up a marriage? Who then tries to strip that family for everything she can get?” (Bourne, 2017, p362)



And then sperm donor says, “Don’t ask me to choose between you and Jessie. Because I’ll choose her.”

He chose.

He could sell his affair as an eclipse of the heart- because love is a feeling- and “you can’t help your feelings” (Bourne, 2017, p315). Here’s news, old man: you sure as rain can “choose what to do about them”.

And “he chose. He chose to let them overwhelm him. He chose to leave (Audrey’s) Mum. He chose to leave (Audrey and her brother Dougie)”. (Bourne, 2017, p315)

He choose to forsake his marriage. To pull the rug that is stability from under two teenagers. Because, love is “a feeling and not a choice”.

on love as a choice and “the one”

Despite my love for ships and chick lit, I consider myself relatively realistic about love. I’ve never subscribed to the Disney version of relationships.

My first boyfriend donned a suit and ran through a mall with a bouquet of flowers for me. Obviously, I was touched, but “touched” summed it all. From my point of view, gestures like that were reserved for the big screen (or iPad screen)- and extremely awkward to live in real life. I know “awkward” was 90% of my inner turmoil when he scampered into TGIF, panting like a mad dog, flowers missing a petal or two. A scene like this would pen out perfectly in a Reese Witherspoon movie with I’ve Had The Time of My Life blasting in the background. But in reality, he looked so out of place in the penguin suit, I had to feign captivation.

In fact, on a later date when I received a loooong out of the blue sms (no WhatsApp then) informing me that he won’t always manage such over the top gestures- no doubt the aftereffect of his overthinking, I secretly sighted with relief. What, no more pretending to love every moment of slow dancing with you while hundreds of people stare and snicker behind our backs?

I now realise that he moulded our time to fit some cooked up fantasy, making assumptions about my love languages- forgivable since it was, after all, young love.

Yet, history repeats itself in the love language department when a later boyfriend march on with blatant disregard for mine. Ironically, one of the first things he said when we started dating was, “我知道女孩子要的是什么” (loose translation: I understand every woman’s desire).

He went on to carry all 6 shopping bags, leaving me none, despite my constant pleas- “just give me something to carry”.

“你的责任是牵我的手。” (Translation: your sole duty is to hold my hand), he replied.

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Sorry, was the eye roll too obvious? Oh, I didn’t mean to shoot that boogie in an attempt to mute my snort either, I apologise.

And after a bad breakup, he tried to win me back by cleaning my apartment- completely against my will. “Don’t do it,” I said. “I’ll clean myself.”

If he knew the first thing about me, he’ll know NOT to carry all 6 bags and NOT to clean my apartment- because it makes me feel useless.

And if you want good in my books, you do NOT make me feel useless.

So what he really did, was seal his fate and proved to me that he’s NOT the one.

Which is also how I realised that Dickson was the one (do you believe in the one?). At the yardstick 2 years mark- for the sake of a tangible timeline- he knew NOT allow me any feeling of uselessness.

With regard the one, I once grasp fervently to the notion that love is a choice and not a feeling. The one is a myth fit for fairytales, I insisted. Feelings fade, but a choice endures. When I was young, mama said: “don’t fall in love. Instead, grow in love- for you may fall out of love, yet to grow out of love is an improbable feat.”

When stuck in a love triangle with that mindset, I played the familiar cards- opting choice over feeling. Today, I readily admit there were more feelings for the guy I didn’t choose (Guy 1), not because I discerned him to be the one. Rather, he (Guy 1) hit the right buttons in degrees that exceed the guy I did choose (Guy 2). He (Guy 1) fed my narcissistic complex with words and ego-boosting praises: my love language. On the other hand, “chosen guy” (Guy 2) insisted on “chivalry acts” like opening car doors, completely oblivious to the dreaded feeling of uselessness it cause me.

Yet, I picked him (Guy 2). The guy who looked better on paper- because I convinced myself that love is a choice and not a feeling. So choose the one with better terms, right?- A blunder of epic proportions.

As events have it, neither guy was right for me- my greatest mistake is the failure to recognise it. Turns out, there IS a limit when choosing to love a guy whose core personality disgust you.

Then I met Dickson.

And I didn’t need a conscious effort to fall in love, because I just did.

But despite my exciting depiction of our relationship, there ARE boring days. Here’s a snippet from my wedding speech:

Racing heartbeats, sweaty palms… I remember this warm fuzzy feeling that saturated me. I won’t lie: I fell in love. Over time, the excitement reduced, but in its place: familiarity, security and comfort. Infatuation became deliberate love. The initial high kicks in every now and then, but other than that, boring monotonous love. And I surprised myself: I adore this boring monotonous love. I WANT boring monotonous love.

Is my want for boring monotonous love with him a testament that he is the one?

I don’t know.

What I do know, is the ease in which our conversations flow; that natural sync. The mutual familiarity with body language, and how effortless we read between the other’s lines.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a previous post said “I once described our chemistry as proteins that fit perfectly with specific substrates. These proteins are called enzymes. We are enzyme and substrate. The key and lock fit perfectly. The two jigsaw puzzle pieces are apt”. Like the slices fell into place and everything just made sense.

There is a difference between a clash in opinions vs. personality. I may not agree with all his opinions, but I have zero issue with his character*. It is my personal theory that to qualify as the one, harmonious personalities are required, opinions and interest being secondary.

*I understand the difference between personality and character too. But in this context, I refer to the traits that makes him, him.

Of course, there is no perfect the one. When two individuals merge lives into one, work is inevitable- a controlled variable. The independent variable is the suitability of characters; and the dependant variable? – The amount of work required for a successful** relationship.

**Success is subjective, but for the sake of this relationship- a functional and relatively happy union.


The theme of the book is that movies are not realistic.

For a school project, Audrey interviews Jane, a relationship counsellor about her views on romance films.

The problem with romance films, she explained, is that they always finish premature. Drag it on and you will see the fights, the discontent, the jealousy, the unfaithfulness.

“The movie either ends when the couple gets together, or someone dies before you can see the relationship develop. So you only see this perfect idea of this couple. You don’t see the niggles that can become cracks and how those can become giant crevices over time” (Bourne, 2017, p312). At this point, I figured out why show ratings drop when popular ships finally transpire.

And then she addresses the trillion dollar question: is love a feeling or a choice?

“A feeling,” says Audrey- spoken like a woman in love.

Then Jane replies, “… ask any couple who’ve been married a few decades the same question? They all say it’s a choice. Every last one of them.”

“… They get up every single morning and make a conscious decision to stay with the person they’re with. On the good days, that choice is easier. On the bad days, they really have to fight the feeling in them to make the opposite choice. To leave. To find someone else. To walk away***.” (Bourne, 2017, p314)

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*** In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed (sequel to famed Eat, Pray, Love), she presented an analogy of Greeks vs Romans. “The perfect Greek lover is erotic; the perfect Hebrew lover is faithful. Passion is Greek; fidelity is Hebrew” (Gilbert, 2010, p306). A Greek remains in a marriage for love, a Hebrew stays out of duty and religious/moral convictions. With that in mind, 2 people remaining in marriage might not be a sufficient datum as to the health of their relationship.

20 years old Chow Ping insisted that love is a choice. 27 years old Chow Ping says, love is a Kit Kat ice cream. Eat through the sweet, fluffy joy to meet the cold hard centre- the Kit Kat chocolate wafer. Yet, the chocolate wafer’s texture does nothing to cheat its taste- more sweetness.

Different textures, same sweetness.

Love- a choice AND a feeling- both equally sweet.

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Bourne, H. (2017). It only happens in the movies. London, UK: Usborne Publishing Ltd.

Gilbert, E. (2010). New York, NY: Penguin Group.

44 Days of 4 Bars: Weighting the Tetra Stripes


In the collaborated book, Two Sides of the Moon, renowned astronaut and top gun David Scott cited the massive responsibility of a space mission commander. He remarked of the Apollo 15 mission:

I was the one who would have to make the decision to abort the (launch) mission… This was one of the riskiest times of the entire mission and one for which it had been particularly difficult to train… It was a matter of split-second decision making and very precise reflexes under conditions which were often extremely difficult to replicate in a simulator. (Scott & Leonov, 2004, p283)

I recall a paragraph in this book describing the superiors’ concern over the pilots’ inability to make “correct” (by their standards) abort calls during training. I fail to locate this passage, yet remember the skyrocket- pun not intended- cost that follows each aborted launch. Though the quoted figure is buried deep within the 415 pages of the paperback page-turner, reports that “every launch cancelled after fuel tanking has begun can cost as much as $1.2 million dollars”.

Which is, in durian land context, over RM5 million.

Unfortunately, the incurred cost following a rejected Airbus 320 takeoff beats me, though not for lack of effort (dear google, you have failed this clingy dependant).

In retrospect, the financial considerations of an Airbus 320 commander can never outweigh that of a command-service-lunar-module-Saturn V rocket chief. On the other hand, there is no price on human life, despite Patrick J. Adams’ very convincing portrayal on Suits.

Regardless, at 21 years old, this insight gradually gave me an appreciation for the much parroted expression: the weight of the 4 bars.

capt sully: fly by wire & highest duty
Left: Fly By Wire; Right: Highest Duty

When I was a geeky young cadet, the events on the Hudson unfold like the plot of a movie. Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger- not to be confused with TVB Triumph in The Skies’ Captain BJ Chong- pulled a feat that amazed not just the aviation industry, but the entire world.

Hong Kong TVB’s representation of an Asian Captain Sully.

We know the tale. US Airways Flight 1549 played bumper car with a flock of migrating Canadian geese. The dual engine flameout. The glide. The miracle ditching on the Hudson.

Both engines warped, melted in on themselves and then completely surrendered to gravity. And yet not one life was lost in what could have been one of the worst aircraft failures in modern history. (Langewiesche, 2009)

William Langewiesche- a pilot with 10,000 hours under his belt- details the events with profound meticulousness in his book, Fly By Wire. He dissects every aspect; from geese to aircraft, her flight path, and the aftermath, in a thrilling and vivid depiction.

But what truly fascinates me is Captain Sully’s journey- the deep pool of life experiences that gave him the headspace and skillset of a man that landed on the Hudson river. In fact, I love how he phrased it in his autobiography, Highest Duty– “Flight 1549 wasn’t just a five-minute journey. My entire life led me safely to that river” (Sullenberger, 2009, p16).

On top of superb flying skills (honed primarily by West Point and countless flight time), he possess one attribute essential to his miraculous feat: his appreciation for human life.

I paid only RM10 for Highest Duty during my annual Big Bad Wolf shopping spree- score! Over coffee (too young for anything stronger then), this book gave me front row seats of life through his eyes.

Early in life, Captain Sully lost his father to suicide. Later, his wife Lorrie* suffered from infertility. Then, the brutal murder of 28 years old Kitty Genovese aided his resolve to never be a mere bystander.

*To be absolutely frank, my regard for Lorrie exceeds that of her husband- which speak volumes. That woman is one heck a ball of fire. Like, somebody dipped her in a tub of saturated determination, and that’s all she emits since. She struggled with body image and infertility. But instead of wallowing in a realm of self-pity, she used her experience to empower other women and change lives. Literally, as an outdoors fitness instructor heading a group she calls “Fit and Fabulous… Outdoors!”. She is vocal about her struggles, and definitely not shy with encouragement. Captain Sully says of his wife, “I’ve learned a great deal about the power of optimism and acceptance (from her), and about the responsibilities all of us have to carve a path to our own happiness,” (Sullenberger, 2009, p170). I secretly suspect that Captain Sully would have failed his Hudson plight if not for the major role she played in the man he is.

I pour through tales from his young days. His ambition for the great blue yonder. The military. Civilian life. Marrying Lorrie. Their impasse for kids. Eventualities that shaped his utmost esteem for human life. Events that click his decision into detent on January 15, 2009.

Why did (military) pilots wait too long before ejecting from planes that were about to crash? Why did they spend extra seconds trying to fix the unfixable?  The answer is that many doomed pilots feared retribution if they lost multimillion-dollar jets. And so they remained determined to try to save the airplane, often with disastrous results… I know about the concept of “goal sacrificing”… by attempting a water landing, I would sacrifice the “airplane goal” (trying not to destroy an aircraft valued at $60 million) for the goal of saving lives. (Sullenberger, 2009, p229-230)

His stance on human life made me explore my own perspective.

When we were in our late teens, my best friend, Jo’s dad passed away. One day after the funeral, I showed up on her doorstep with a large Winnie The Pooh soft toy- she loves that yellow, pudgy bear- and helium balloons on which I wrote “He cares about the sparrows, what more you?” (with reference to Matthew 10:29).

That was the first, in my young life, when I fully comprehend that death is inevitable.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to peak Mount Everest alongside Nepalese mountaineer Tenzing Norgay (who is sadly overshadowed by Hillary) is extremely critical of the controversial David Sharp incident, where a climber was left to die in the deeps of cold near Everest’s peak. Hikers passed him by in pursuit of the glorious summit, offering no help to the dying man. Edmund Hillary said “human life is far more important than just getting to the top of the mountain”.

The coveted summit in sight after days of endless torture; a dying man to my side, gasping his last breaths- what would I do?

really, what’s in a command?
The tangible fruit of perspiration.

The regard for financial incurrence? The appreciation for human life? The reverent respect for flight safety?

Today marks the 44th day since I earned my 4 bars.

At the narcissistically-loaded epaulette donning “ceremony”, the DFO (Director of Flight Ops) emboldened me with these words: make decisions as if your mother sits among the passengers.

-Which is phenomenal advice, if not for its stark contrast to my adopted philosophy: look out for number one.

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P.S.: Spoiler alert for Startrek: Discovery! Spoiler alert!

In Startrek: Discovery’s 4th episode, Michael receives a package that contains the will and final testament of her deceased captain. The smiling figure of Captain Georgiou’s hologram says: “… I imagine you have your own command now, the captain of your own ship…” The Malaysian accent is heavy, missing only the lahs.

“…Keep your eyes and heart open. Always…” She continues.

And finally, “take good care. But more importantly, take good care of those in your care.

A monumental thank you to the pillars that propped my bare sanity

David Wong (are all tops guns named David?)- the very epitome of a walking and breathing command cheat-sheet. His relentless WhatsApp messages and ever ready guidance are the reasons I survived the ordeal (in every sense of the english word) that is command training.

My family, Jo, Zel, and Gloria for their bountiful prayers and constant words of encouragement.

My SILF (Shoulders I Like French) for playing yellow sun to my wannabe-Supergirl.

My A25 Batch mates who go the extra mile to aid my strive, despite their  enigmatic obsession with balls, and all things πr3.

My Heavenly Father for His renewed mercies and unending grace.


Langewiesche, W. (2009). Fly by wire. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Scott, D. & Leonov, A. (2004). Two sides of the moon. London, UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.

Sullenberger, C. (2009). Highest Duty. New York, NY: Haper Collins Publishers.