Down with the flu & there’s not much to do. . .

Being sick sucks. Especially in summer. While everyone else is enjoying themselves on the beach and indulging in cocktails, I’m cooped up in my flat all by my lonesome, feeling sorry for myself. Until I discovered the brilliance of Awkward. It is far from the featherbrained display we normally associate with MTV shows.

Awkward is a funny, coming of age show about a girl who struggles with her identity as well as her feelings for the 2 boys in her life. The cliched premise is overwritten by the unique nature of the characters. I finished 2 season in 2 days, and couldn’t wait for more.

The main character, Jenna, is quirky, smart, and totally weird. Bad luck follows her like a plague, which I identify with a lot. Here’s the trailer for season 2:

PS. Forgot to mention, it features an Asian that is not Annoying. That get bonus points in my book.

Bad Luck, Worse Luck.

These past few weeks have been rather depressing. It feels like all the bad luck I’ve been accumulating since birth just exploded in my face. It all started with me losing my bag at Clifton. On the one hand, I should have been more careful; on the other hand I feel like I shouldn’t /have/ to be more careful. My absent-mindedness does not entitle people to exercise their kleptomaniac tendencies and the fact that it is such a common occurrence highlights one of the biggest drawbacks of living in an otherwise beautiful city.

Replacing all my keys was a bit of a bother. Luckily I managed to get everything sorted with the help of my friends :) I was a bit wary of blogging about losing my car keys because my overly-paranoid mind kept on thinking “What if the person was trolling the internet looking for someone who’d lost her keys at Moonstruck”? Dun dun dunn.

Soon after losing my keys, my glasses broke (due to a fault that’s not entirely my own). I spent ages looking for new frames on Saturday and couldn’t find any to my liking. The problem with Asian faces is that our noses are too flat to support the frames, so I always end up in one of two situations: 1) They sit so far down my nose that I look like a granny 2) They’re so close to my eyes that my eyelashes brush against the lenses. Sigh. I attempted to superglue the frames together but I have a sneaky suspicion that the lens is too big for the frame.

Last night, I thought I’d be a good domesticated girl and finish my ironing… and it ended up a rather holey experience. I don’t know how it happened, really. I was paying attention but alas, ironing (and house chores in general) is simply not my métier. I then spent a good quarter of an hour scraping the melted material off my iron -while it was still plugged in-. Probably not the best course of action… I blame Andy Pandy for the ill advice.


Chance to win (for me, not you)

I’ve been following (somewhat religiously) this really cool, awesome, and thought-provoking blog called You Are Not So Smart. The owner of the site has since published a book (actually, I’m not sure if it’s published or if it’s still in the pipeline) but the point is, as part of his promotional strategy, he is giving away something FOR FREE. From Think Geek no less!

Not really sure what this is, or does, but it's marked $99.99 - Hell yeah, I want one (if it's free)! Hmm, wonder if the geek's included? :p

Now, I’m sure you all know how much I adore free things. They make me *happy* – more so than chocolates and smoothies (individually, not together… obviously). In order to qualify for an entry to winning this Free Thing, I have to embed his book trailer (I had no idea such a thing even existed until today but I digress) in my blog. The trailer isn’t badly made. In fact, I really appreciate how it brings up the dialogue, because the person voicing it pronounces “because” and “want” in a really obscure manner. (I’m allowed to make fun of his accent because I have one too, so nobody can call me accentist, or something.)

Anyways, not to be sidetracked, this post is dedicated to my minute chance at winning the Free Thing.

Edit: Oops, almost forgot to embed that video. *doh* Here it is:

New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has filed a lawsuit against Ernst & Young (one of the Big Four auditing firms) over the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The civil case is built on claims of professional negligence and it seeks damages equalling all the audit fees E&Y has earned from Lehman ($150m) plus an unspecified amount. While the penalty itself is of insignificant magnitude (it is less than one percent of E&Y’s global revenue and will most likely be covered by insurance), the action highlights a rather contentious issue – that of an auditor’s liability.

Deep-pocketed auditors often serve as scapegoats because there is little chance of wrangling money out of those who are truly responsible. Should the case go to trial, the jury’s behaviour will be (at best) unpredictable. Their lack of understanding of the technical nature of the case at hand, fuelled by the emotional baggage that still lingers in the aftermath of the financial crises, coupled with the outrage at having to serve jury duty in the first place does not bode well for the auditors.

Auditors are commonly perceived as the watch dogs of the financial world. They recount bricks and pennies, and are paid quite handsomely for doing so. However, they are not detectives. Their primary role is not to prevent or detect fraud. Auditors are paid to express an opinion – not a guarantee – that the financials are fairly presented in all material aspects. The International Standards on Auditing (S 240) require auditors to obtain reasonable assurance (as opposed to absolute assurance) that the financial statements are free from material misstatements. I think this is the part that most people fail to recognize and accept.

The Lehman Brothers used Repo 105 to temporarily undermine its liabilities and reduce leverage long enough to ensure that the balance sheet does not look out of place to its investors. This methodology is in line with the American Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and complies with America’s Financial Accounting Standards Board. Ernst & Young has since been criticized for approving the Repo 105 transactions without examining enough transactions. In retrospect, perhaps they should have paid closer attention. However, one must keep in mind the size of Lehman Brothers and the number of transactions it processes on a daily basis. Auditors are not super-humans. With limited manpower, it is impossible to examine every transaction and scrutinize every detail.

If there is anything to be learned, it is that the accounting standards must be revised to ensure creative accounting maneuvers are kept to a minimum. The last thing we need is another Enron* debacle and the fall of a Big Four.

*Enron was an American energy, commodities, and services company that used special purpose entities to “cook the books”. Its bankruptcy also saw the demise of its auditors, Arthur Andersen, who used to be one of the Big Five audit firms.

Bargaining 101

Ever seen the advert where a Chinese man asks a store-keeper for a discount on a R1.50 lollipop? Well, that’s exactly how markets in China operate. Cash is no longer king. It’s all about negotiations and how well you can talk yourself into a cheaper deal. So if you ever plan on visiting China, keep these tips in mind before you start harassing the sales rep for discounts.

1)      Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount. Even if (in your mind) you are already getting a huge bargain, chances are you can still drive down the asking price by a significant amount. Don’t be embarrassed either. If you get yelled at, console yourself with the fact that no matter what happens, you are still infinitely better than the person in front of you who makes minimum wage selling sweatshop clothing to needy buyers.

2)      Always do your research. Have an inkling of a clue of what the market price is. Don’t compare the prices with what you would have paid back home and don’t convert the currency. (If you must, convert using purchasing power parity, not the nominal exchange rate.)

3)      Never announce your budget. Ask the sales assistant what the lowest price she is willing to give you and that will serve as a benchmark for the bargaining. Rest assured that the “lowest” price quoted to you is far from the lowest price set by the owner/manager.

4)      Examine the items. My cousin asked for a coffee table to be delivered to her home. After assembling all the pieces, she pointed out several flaws which ranged from a slightly scratched surface to some discolouration that was hardly noticeable. In the end, they only charged her the delivery and assembly fees. Obviously this tactic won’t work for everything, but it’s nice to know that if all else fails, you could set fire to the fabric and claim based on poor quality. (j/k)

5)      Buy more, pay less. As a rule of thumb, if you purchase many items, you can generally get a bigger discount than if you only purchase one. Also, tell them you’ll bring your friends and extended family there even if you don’t have any; free word-of-mouth advertising is rarely turned down.

6)      Take acting lessons. Often times, you will be up against a sales rep who is even more hard headed than you are. In which case, threaten to leave and take your business elsewhere. The more dramatic your faux exit, the better. Of course, don’t actually leave the premises if you really want to buy that fancy gadget. If the rep doesn’t stop you then it is safe to assume that she won’t lower her price any further. That’s when you know you’ve hit the mark.

7)  Finally, if you don’t speak the language, take someone who can.

Hope these tips helped :)

On laughter and pain

When we see someone slip on a banana peel or trip over her two left feet, we laugh instinctively because it is unexpected and therefore funny. The laughter is generally well accepted as it is the quickest way for the clumsy girl to get over the embarrassment of having fallen in public. She will most probably join the throe of giggles and laugh along with her spectators, communicating that it is “No big deal”. But what happens when the fall is so great that some sort of injury occurs? Do we laugh at the misfortune or do we lean towards sympathy instead?

The idea for this post came from this video clip:

A girl was catapulting watermelons and one rebounded, hit her squarely in the face then shattered into pieces. I did not find the situation at all humorous. Ironic, yes – but it wasn’t the sort of irony that would make me burst out laughing for the simple fact that I couldn’t stop cringing. Unlike watching someone get face-blasted in a film, the pain this girl experienced was real. Yet, when I glanced through the first page of comments, majority of the viewers found the clip inexplicably hilarious. Some of the comments were downright sexist and brusque, saying: “That bitch deserved it”, when “the bitch” in question hadn’t done anything remotely deserving of a watermelon headshot.

I couldn’t understand why certain people find such an expressed delight in another’s pain. So, I browsed around the internet, hoping to stumble upon an explanation. Either my Google-fu wasn’t strong enough, or there simply weren’t many articles dedicated to this topic. In any event, I did find a couple of interesting view points.

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaue argued that “to feel envy is human, but to enjoy other people’s misfortune is diabolical.” Unlike instances where the subject of the pain somehow deserved the outcome, the case in point did nothing to warrant the acute payoff. The commentators had thus shifted the negativity of the situation onto the individual, which Schopenhaue regarded as one of the worst traits as it resembled cruelty. The view was that glee in another’s misfortune (in this case, pain) was more nefarious than displeasure in another’s success.

An alternative proposal attempts to lay the cause of why we laugh at the base of neurology. In cases of situational comedy, our laughter arises independent of forethought. Everything is really dependant on the brain and we can’t control the reaction to humour. Three theories exist on why we find certain things funny:

1. The incongruity theory: Humour arises when there is an improbability or inconsistency, such as the body of a joke versus the punch line.  The incongruity (the disconnect between what we anticipate and what actually happens) “tickles” the brain which then influences our perception and presents something as funny, or not.

2. The superiority theory: Laughter is engaged when we feel superior to someone who has made a mistake. It’s one of the reasons why blonde jokes are so popular – they focus on the stupidity of someone and it makes us feel better about ourselves.

3. The relief theory: When tension builds up to a peak and then dissipates, we often breathe a sigh of relief and laugh (involuntarily). According to Dr. Lisa Rosenberg, “The act of producing humour, of making a joke, gives us a mental break and increases our objectivity in the face of overwhelming stress,”

The first theory appears to explain the responses to the video clip best. The distress factor clearly wasn’t great enough to over-ride the irony. Would the reactions be different had the girl’s nose been broken by the impact? At what point will delight switch to sympathy and horror? Are shows like Jack Ass turning us into desensitized beings who no longer can relate to a stranger? Is the line of appropriateness slowly retreating back to the territory of inappropriateness? You decide.

Celebrity Sweatshops

Is it just me or is there an increasing trend in prepubescent kids attempting to make their ways into the limelight these last couple of years? Take Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus for example: one is an attention seeking publicity whore who loves singing soprano and posing for the paparazzi; the other is the daughter of famous country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. Both started paving their roads to fame in their diaper days (in Justin’s case, his mother did all dirty paving) and both seem to be quite the hit amongst teenage girls and creepy old men. But aside from all the glamour, the bling, and the wild partying – are they truly the happy campers they claim to be? Can material possessions and five million Twitter followers make up for their lost adolescence? Historical progression is leaning towards “No”.

Exhibit A: Macaulay Culkin

Then:

Now:

We all know Macaulay from the much loved blockbuster film Home Alone. He went on to star in the sequel and many others such as Richie Rich and voicing for Robot Chicken. But it wasn’t long before he started to burn out (at the age of 14) and saw his career blow up amidst drug arrests and “Jackson molestation” rumours.

Exhibit B: Lindsay Lohan

Then:

Now:

Another child-star-turned-prison-inmate: Lindsay supposedly had a complete breakdown after prison wardens ripped out her false eyelashes and hair extensions at the start of her 90 day sentence. She was released after only 23 days of jail time. One of the many upsides of being a celebrity – you somehow get treated above the law and rehab centres light up in your presence.

Lindsay and Macaulay have, by no means, exhausted the list of “child stars gone awry”. Fame has its price and it is often an exorbitant one. Children are supposed to have a carefree childhood – one that isn’t tainted by societal pressures and constant media exposure. They are not supposed to be slaving away at a career that often degenerates into nothingness. They should not be so focused on being entertainers that they forget to be children. Of course, you do get the rare few who turn out all right, but they really are the exception that proves the rule.

One of the latest additions to the Hollywood scene is Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith) who, at the not-so-ripe age of 12, already has a series of film credits under his name. Maybe he feels pressured by his high status A-listed parents to follow their footsteps; maybe he is just doing what he loves; maybe he’ll become another statistic. I will never know what goes on in the head of a celeb, but what I do know is that even celebrities deserve some sort of normalcy. The way we (the collective) obsess over celebrities is definitely not healthy. More than that, it has far-reaching consequences that end up turning a perfectly sane person into one that would publicly shave off her golden locks (Britney reference in case anyone missed it).

It would take a few psychology degrees to figure out why we become so vested in the lives of celebrities and it would take an entire evolutionary cycle to stop the vesting. It is times like these that I wish parents of minor-celebrities would exert a firmer grip and keep on to their children a little bit longer, before they lose them all together.

Airplane Etiquette

I loved flying as a child. I was small enough to fit snugly in the seat of a 747 and the kiddies’ gift pack kept me entertained for hours on end. That was 10 years ago, and I had grown a bit since then. My legs now rest rather uncomfortably on the carpeted floor and my upper body is too compressed for my head to reach and settle on the head rest. (I’m only 5’3″ – for illustrative purposes, that translates to “taller than Avril Lavigne and possibly Tom Cruise”)  And of course, being of legal age, I no longer qualify for the Disney Bag Filled With Lots of Useless Stuff Like Crayons. However, what made my recent round trip to Shanghai unbearable was not the lack of freebies – but rather the lack of consideration from my fellow travellers. So, I decided to make a list of things to consider when boarding a long distance flight.

1. Smelly feet: If you know you have a history of overactive sweat glands that secrete gallons of stinky sweat, DO NOT TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES! Likewise, if you have some sort of fungal infection (down there), kindly take a trip to the pharmacist and purchase some anti-fungal cream. I had the misfortune of breathing in my neighbour’s foot odour for 12 hours and let me tell you, it was not fun.

2. Coughing and Sneezing: Everybody does it – I am not an unreasonable person who expects all sneezing to halt in my presence. I do, however, appreciate that you don’t deliberately project your germs all over my newly washed cardigan.  Did you know 40 000 droplets can be produced in one sneeze, and that they are released up to 100 mph? Nope, I bet you didn’t; ’cause if you did, you would not be spreading your ghastly diseases like butter on a bread roll.

3. Silent but violent: Some of you might be sick of seeing me write about this, but I think the situation dictates another mention of this rather sensitive topic. Farting on a plane is definitely not kosher. Anyone who attempts to sneak a silent one in (or out in this case) has no regard for the rest of us who have to suffer the indignity of inhaling the deadly flatulence. I realise that not doing so might present some discomfort, but at least the discomfort will be your own, and it will not be diffused.

4. Learn to aim: Airplane toilets are known for their compactness so there really isn’t much room for error. Missing the mark really doesn’t do well for your image or the general cleanliness of the cubicles for that matter. Besides, when you walk out of the cubicle with a shamed looked on your face, everyone will know what you did. Could you live off that shame for the rest of your life?!? I doubt it.

5. Perving over the flight attendants: They are hot – I get it. But hotness does not give you the right to push the service button every 5 minutes just so you could get one more glance at the pretty stewardess. If you’re so desperate for attention, get a wheelchair and wear a nappy; I’m sure everyone will treat you like someone special.

6. Violating personal space: Do not lean your head against my shoulder; do not extend your leg onto the aisle; and do not let your squishy bits overlap onto my seat. If Economy seats are too small, kindly get yourself a Business class ticket and enjoy the extra centimeters. No offense to the over weight folks, but if they pay the same as someone half their size, then people half their size should have their luggage limit doubled.

These are all I have at the moment. o/

More pics

Cousin & I & my “Harry Potter” glasses

Another pair:

A night’s view:

And another:

My bday :)

You’re probably wondering what this is. Well, it’s a completely self-automated robotic cooker with a bunch of pre-programmed recipes… and it really is quite tasty! I’ve always dreamed of the days where chop sueys can cook themselves =D