Month: November 2014

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Bees

Title: The Secret Life of Bees
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 110 minutes

Plot
Based on Sue Monk Kidd’s novel of the same title, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming-of-age journey for Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), who was trapped between her father’s ruthlessness and guilt for having accidentally killed her mother. Escaping her hometown with her stand-in-mother Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), Lily found solace in a pink house inhabited by three beekeeping sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo).

He Said
This was the first time I watched a movie blind, with no knowledge of premise or plot. I’m not sure I liked this, as I didn’t know what to expect as I was watching. Some scenes were hard to follow (possibly a result of the movie being unable to provide backstories from the novel). While an enjoyable movie, overall I felt the story wasn’t as well-fleshed as it could have been and it lacked depth in characterization. I thought they would focus more on the social/race issues of the 1960’s, but it turned out to mostly be a teenage girl’s coming of age story.

She Said
While not as poignant or powerful as the book, the film was a fine effort. Most notable is Sophie Okonedo’s performance in her supporting role as May, a simple-minded, innocent, and lovable “Calendar sister”. August, on the other hand, was disappointing. While she was my favorite character in the book (whom I secretly wish would come to life and be my best friend), she rather paled in the movie with a much more limited screen time. Dakota Fanning delivered a believable performance as a girl looking to be loved. Overall, the movie was reasonably paced, had touching moments, but the true gem could only be found in the book.

We Say
A suitable family drama for a Sunday evening. But if you’re looking to be inspired, moved, and empowered, grab the paperback!

How to Start Your Work Day

They say the most important meal is breakfast. Likewise, the first ten minutes of your work day is crucial in determining how productive and efficient your day will be.

You get into your office, turn on your computer, open up your favorite web browser, and check your email. Right? Wrong. That is the worst possible way to begin your work day. You want to start by being proactive, not reactive. Checking your email will simply initiate a domino effect of responding to others’ requests that may or may not align with what’s most important and urgent to you.

So how exactly should we start our work day? By taking a page from world renowned chefs. Every accomplished chefs engage in a concept known as mise-en-place, which means “everything in its place”. Chefs spend more time planning than cooking. They study recipes, think through the tools and equipment they will need, assemble all the ingredients in the right proportion, and evaluate their action plan for the entire meal. All this takes place before cooking begins.

How do we adapt this concept with our own work space that may or may not involve a kitchen? We begin our day by envisioning its end. Visualize your most perfect work day. What tasks would you have accomplished in order to feel a great sense of achievement and satisfaction? This will help us determine what’s most important and urgent. Next, create a plan of attack. Break down all the complex tasks into specific actions. For example, “put together presentation” could be broken down into, “gather data, review the market/literature, draft slides, incorporate images into presentation”, etc. With these specific actions planned out, we won’t be stuck at a lost for what to do next. Much like well planned chefs won’t be interrupting their cooking to find key ingredients.

Once your specific tasks are planned, start with the tasks that require the most mental energy. Research has shown that we have less willpower as the day progresses. This concept is known as ego depletion. So when our resources are at maximum capacity, engage in difficult tasks. When our willpower starts depleting, engage in simple tasks that don’t require a lot of mental capacity.

We Say
Start your morning with a simple routine to ensure your best foot is out the door. Once you get to your office, engage in a brief planning session to ensure your day is the most productive it can be. Before you leave the office, reflect back on what you have achieved and give yourself a pat on the back. Often times, we get lost in our mountain of to-do’s that we forget to reward ourselves for the tasks we managed to cross off.

Book Review: Steve Jobs

Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Genre: Biography
Length: 656 pages

About
Jobs agreed to have a biography written about him so he could inform his children of why he was such an absent father. For a man who was extremely sensitive about his image, the project also assured him that his biography would be truthful. Indeed, he and his family urged for truth – for a portrayal that reflected the dichotomies that existed in him. He was cruel, yet brilliant. He was visionary, but also hypocritical. He viewed himself as an artist and allowed the stereotypical temperaments of an artist to manifest. To the world, Jobs was an astonishing individual who provided a perfect case study for business schools, technologists, and inventors.

He Said
Steve Jobs is one of the most iconic figures of the 20th & 21st centuries. Whether you love or hate Apple, Jobs most likely influenced your life in one way or another. Jobs does an impeccable job at detailing, without filters or biases, the fascinating “true story” behind all of the technological advancements and how Apple became one of the most valuable companies in the world. I really enjoyed learning about how the iPod, iPhone, and iPad came to be. The chapters on Pixar were a surprising bonus as I didn’t know Jobs had such an involvement in my favorite animated production studio. The biography was well-written and structured and shows the culmination of lots of research.

She Said
Uncensored. Poignant. The book painted a clear image of Jobs as a selfish jerk and… an innovative genius. Jobs left behind a legacy of not just a revolutionized digital world that meets both the demands of art and technology, but also a proven science of a “great company”. He built Apple (and Pixar) on a collaborative and cutting-edge platform that won’t settle for less than best. As a person, Jobs left lots to be desired. He seemingly had no social filter and would speak his mind even to hurt people at will. Indeed, the book contained many details that would delight Pixar and Apple fans.

We Say
When it comes to Jobs, he commands “the best”; therefore it is not surprising that he chose Isaacson to compose his biography. Isaacson wrote a truly candid, insightful, and detailed piece that does its best to present the multifaceted sides of Jobs and his intelligence, which led to so many innovations. A must-read for anyone with a curiosity towards the man responsible for Apple and Pixar. It allows the reader to see Jobs as a person, exposing his genius and flaws.

Travels: New York City

There is no city more “American” than NYC: New York City, New York. As one of the largest, busiest, and most populated city in the US, it is bustling with diverse culture, business, and history. It is visually so iconic and recognizable because of the countless films and TV series that take place in this city. The fantastical lives on screen conjure nostalgia for the “real deal”. Indeed, there is just so much to see and do in the “Big Apple”! We’ve been here 3 times and still have more places we want to explore in future visits! For now, these are some of our favorite places in New York:

Statue of Liberty

NYC represents the melting pot of culture that is the very bloodline of the US. The Statue of Liberty is a stunning representation of the freedom, hopes, and dreams so many immigrants have when they choose to make the US their home. A short and scenic ferry ride to Staten Island allows you to see the statue up close and you get a gorgeous view of all the skyscrapers and classic architecture.

9/11 Memorial

When you think New York City, there is an automatic association of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial is a beautiful and haunting sight that allows visitors to remember those whose lives were so sadly cut short for a senseless act of terrorism. The large constructed “water falls” reminds visitors of the night Twin Towers which once stood. We didn’t visit the Museum, but we hear it preserves the many stories of the people whose tomorrow’s were stolen as well as a portion of America’s history that will never be forgotten. Behind the memorial stands One World Trade Center, which opened for business yesterday (11/3). The building is exactly 1776 feet tall, to commemorate America’s year of independence.

Central Park

A visit to New York City is incomplete without strolling through Central Park. This place also holds a special place in our heart as we traveled there the day after Thanh proposed. That is why Nhi’s sister painted the above canvas for our wedding. We were hopeful of catching Autumn colors, but unfortunately, the park remained entirely green. We strongly recommend taking a bike tour that would allow you to take in the entire park without exhausting all your time. The bike tour does allow you to take as many stops as you want, so be sure to take a picture in front of the Friends fountain!

Times Square

Considered the “heart” of NYC, Times Square is truly a must-see extravaganza, especially at night. It may be midnight but the bright lights, crowds, and bustling businesses will make you question the time. Truly epitomizing a city that never sleeps, Times Square is home to several broadcast television networks and showcases the latest advertisements. Tourists flock here day and night and it is the location for the annual New Years Countdown featuring a certain “ball drop” to celebrate the New Year. Surrounded by big stores and big lights, Times Square puts you at a walking distance to some of its most sought-after offerings – Broadway & shopping!

Ladurée

We had to visit this French luxury bakery known for its macarons that are flown straight from Paris. It is a rather petite shop with small arrays of delicacies. The decor of the shop, the packaging, and the appearances of the pastries were exquisite. Despite the high-end price (each macaroon was $4), we found the taste to be just average; our eyes feasted more than our stomachs.

Asian Dining

There are plenty of Asian dining options among Chinatown and Koreatown. In terms of cleanliness and aroma, Koreatown wins by a wide margin. As for food, it depends on your preference. We love Kang Suh Restaurant although it is rather pricey. The BBQ is mouthwateringly delicious. We also like their lunch boxes, which are more reasonably priced. And the squid side dish is to die for. Koreatown’s bakeries look cozy, inviting, and absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the actual taste leaves lots to be desired. If you’re in the mood for a nice, authentic Vietnamese dinner, we recommend Chinatown’s Nha Trang One (not to be mistaken with Nha Trang Centre). Their canh chua (tamarind based soup) is the best we’ve tasted. We also love their soft shell crabs. Lastly, enjoy a family meal of all-you-can-eat hot pot at 99 Favor Taste. (Really? Favor and not Flavor? A serious typo!)

Carlton Hotel

Carlton is located near Koreatown, which makes it extremely convenient for those who live to eat. :) The decor is very elegant and classy with many hidden charms. Aside from a very pleasant stay, Nhi left with more decor inspirations for our future home. :) Room service here is also very good. Their French fries are the best we’ve had. (Their steak was fine, but not extraordinary.)

5th Avenue

(Photos taken the day after Thanh proposed.)

Located in the upper side of Manhattan, “5th Avenue” is the dreamland of high-end shopaholics. Even if your budget doesn’t allow for any purchases, everyone can afford to window shop. You are near Central Park and also sprinkled among all of the window fronts and stores are gorgeous, historic architecture. For more “affordable” shopping, check out the stores on 7th Avenue, including “the largest store in the world”: an 8-story worth of Macy’s spanning an entire block!

We Say
New York City is a nice place to visit for its grandeur. But, it’s not one for habitat. Having lived in Minnesota for a good many years, Nhi believes in being nice to strangers. Well, most New Yorkers don’t tend to share that belief.

In this city, cars and taxis are not the ideal mode of transportation. You will not only pay a premium just to park (if you can find a spot) and will waste much of your precious NYC minutes stuck in traffic. Become very familiar with the MTA (New York’s public transportation system); nowadays your smartphone makes navigation a cinch! Because there’s just an overwhelming amount of potential sight seeing, we recommend lumping multiple nearby destinations in each of your planned outing so you’re not wasting too much back-and-forth travel time. Most important will be to have comfortable footwear – we walked well over 5 miles one day!