Tag Archives: review

Dong Hua Men Night Market, Beijing – NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED!

If you are going to Beijing and you have a free evening, you must go to the Dong Hua Men Night Market (address: Dong Hua Men Avenue, West of Wang Fu Jing AvenueBeijing 100005China). The stalls open from 5pm to about 11pm. The market has about a hundred food stalls that offer everything from rice and noodles to cupcakes to deep-fried starfish, grasshoppers and snakes on sticks. Locals and toursists walk around to watch other brave people devour some of the most un-imaginable food items in this market.

I went there one evening a couple of weeks ago with my parents and sister. We were all curious to see whether this place can live up to the hype built by the media and other tourists who have been here before.

I was so excited when we arrived:

We arrived just as the owners were opening their stalls so we were among the first few people they enticed to try everything. The first few items were not so bad.

Cute pastries
Insides of pigs
Lobsters, deep-fried seafood on sticks

Then, as we carried on walking, the items on sale became weirder…

Pig intestines

…and weirder…

Dried and fried lizards (?), grasshoppers and seahorses
A closer look at the grasshoppers
Some sort of lizards
Yes. Seahorses!

…and weirder…

Deep-fried breaded starfish
Snakes, millipedes, spiders, etc. on sticks

But hey, some people tried them. Here’s a picture of a man who is a lot braver than I was:

Take a bow, Sir. Take a bow!

We have had an amazing night people-watching. I definitely would recommend this place to anyone who comes to Beijing. If you feel brave, try any of their food, take a picture and post it on your blog and let me know!

Despite having a rather interesting and fun night, I went back to my hotel wearing this expression on my face:


A better way to be an Atheist?

As a person who does not believe in a deity, I often refuse to be called an Atheist due to the negative connotations that people attach to the term. I may be wrong but based on the conversations I have with other people, particularly those who are religious, athieists are often conceived of as people who hate religions and religious people because of their beliefs.

As someone who subscribes to the scientific methodology, I do not believe in any gods or spirits but I  do not hate the people who believe in a god or are members of any religion. From my experiences of being around religious people (I was raised as a Catholic and now work with Jewish people), I have seen the benefits of having a religious belief. For instance, being a follower of any religious faith gives one a sense of belonging- they often feel that they are a part of a tight-knit community that shares the same beliefs. Religions also teach people how to be kind to one another, to forgive each other and to love one another.

Positive aspects of different religions were described in greater detail by the philosopher Alain de Botton in his book, ‘Religion for Atheists’. An atheist himself, Alain was interested in how religious beliefs and teachings can help believers and non-believers alike, to live a better life. In this book, he argued that every religion has something positive to offer and that we should not shy away from adopting these beliefs into our own lives.

Here’s Alain explaining the book in more detail:


As Alain explained, this book might offend the strictly religious since it implies that it is healthy to ‘cherry-pick’ doctrines and teachings that suit one’s own personal set of belief system. Therefore, I recommend this book to anyone with an open mind. Please read this book!!!

Why I liked BBC 4’s Growing Children, Autism

Last week, BBC 4 aired a documentary wherein child psychologist Laverne Antrobus interviewed researchers in Cardiff and Nottingham Universities about recent neuroscientific research findings about Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However instead of focusing mainly on the research findings, the film centered on three cases of ASD- Tony, Jake and Michael. Tony is a teenage boy who is in the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. According to his mother, he is sensitive to a multitude of sensory inputs particularly to sound. He is very fond of youtube videos of cartoons and repeats their dialogues after watching them.  Jake is younger than Tony and is on the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. The film showed Jake exhibiting behavioural difficulties such as resistance by shouting at his mother. As it was explained in the film, Jake usually misbehaves at home after school. The third case focused on a 19 year-old Physics student, Michael, who has published a book about metaphors (it should be noted that people with ASD often struggle to understand metaphors).

Having worked with young people with Special Educational Needs for more than 6 years, I observed that professionals (teaching staff, etc.) and students still lack the basic knowledge about what Autism is. Research such as that of Tobias (2009) has also shown that this lack of basic understanding often lead to negative attitudes, and often, bullying, towards individuals with Autism. As a result, I am actively searching for books, documentaries, films and articles which I can recommend to people in order to increase their understanding of ASD. In my opinion, BBC 4’s ‘Growing Children- Autism’ is a good start for people who want to know more about ASD. Here’s why:

  • It showed the heterogeneity of ASD. Autism is a complex disorder which affects individuals differently (APA, 1994). Francesca Happe recently stated that ‘when you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism’. Books, websites and articles about Autism often define the condition as an impairment of social interaction, imagination and communication. However, in my experience of working with young people with ASD, I can say that individuals affected by the condition can interact with others, have imagination and can communicate, but sometimes not in the way that we are used to. In addition, I have never seen two people with ASD who have the exact same sensitivity; who respond in exactly the same way to stimuli and have the exact same background. Even though BBC 4’s documentary showed only three cases (4 if you include Jake’s brother Zane), it captured the differences between each cases.
  • It showed how important the families/support networks are to those with ASD. Perhaps the reason why this sticks out to me is due to my knowledge of the ‘Refrigirator Mother Theory’ which states that Autism is the result of bad parenting. Having been around families and carers of people with Autism, I can genuinely say that these families deserve more credit than they normally get. These families/care-givers are the ones who are with the people with ASD more times than teachers and psychologists. They are with them when they eat, sleep, go to the toilet, early in the morning, late at night, during the weekends and school holidays. As I’ve mentioned, the documentary showed how Jake misbehaves towards his mother when he comes home after school. This aggression is often built up at school during the day and is usually vented towards the students’ parents or caregivers- people who are at times, not very well trained at dealing with these behaviours. The documentary also showed how understanding the parents of Jake and Tony  are and how their attitudes help these individuals. It should be noted that these parents’ cases can be seen as cries for help since not all parents of people with Autism receive the help and support they need from professionals.
  • Lastly, it showed that there is a lot of things we don’t know about ASD. I am not denying the fact that Autism research has rapidly moved on over the past decades. However, we still don’t know what causes ASD, as a result, we don’t know how, if possible, to prevent the condition from occuring. I also believe that diagnosis can be improved in the future.


American Psychiatric Association (1994). DSM-IV Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Tobias, A. (2009). Supporting students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) at secondary school: a parent and student perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25, 151-165.

For more information about the programme, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lyczl

For more info about Autism, visit www.autism.org.uk

Avatar Movie and its connections to current events

James Cameron’s Avatar created so much hype over the past couple of weeks. Some called it brilliant and praised its effects, while some criticized it due to its ‘very thin’ storyline. MTV reported that the film earned $75 million; holding the top spot at the box office for two weeks in a row. After reading and hearing and watching other people’s comments about the film, I decided to watch it myself and see what the fuzz really is about.

While watching, I could not help myself notice how the film writers’ ideas were heavily influenced by the world’s issues and debates, some current and some long-standing. This blog is about my interpretation of how the writers wittingly meshed these issues into a fantasy movie.


1a. WAR

Avatar’s story mainly revolves around the humans’ ‘mission’ on Pandora- a place inhabited by creatures known as the Na’vi. This mission was originally for scientific/educational purposes as a team of researchers were investigating the biological structure of the place and the people and their way of living. However, as Pandora was discovered to have a large deposit of a precious mineral, the Corporate Heads in this assignment created a plot to drive the Na’vis off of their natural habitat.

I couldn’t help but compare this story plot to what’s going on in the MIddle East. America (humans/corporate heads in Avatar), invading Middle Eastern countries (Pandora), scaring the locals (Na’vis), in an attempt to steal their oil (precious minerals).


The human mission to Pandora in the story could be interpreted as the Western world’s attempt to impose Western culture into other countries. In the story, part of the scientists’ mission, headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), was to educate the Na’vis, and one way they did this was to teach them English. Sounds familiar?

Also, the Na’vis were often referred to by the military as ‘the natives’. From my interpretation, the military did not like the Na’vis because they are different. They d0 not speak English and they do not live their lives like ‘normal’ human beings do. Again, does this sound familiar?


The lead character Jake Sully is a paraplegic marine officer who enlisted in the mission with a hope that through driving an avatar (a genetically formed human-Na’vi hybrid), he will be able to ‘use’ his legs. Being disabled and untrained for the job, he seemed unlikely to be the one who can make the mission work. But he did, through his intelligence and recklessness.

As Dan North pointed out in his blog, Cameron’s feminist ideals are on display in the movie, making the women do as much action as the men. Also, Dr. Grace Augustine, a female scientist, is the head of the research. There is a balance between women’s and men’s roles on the film.


The rise of Science and the ever growing popularity of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in our society continues to fuel the long-standing debate between science and religion. Avatar’s writers cleverly included the importance of having a belief for the supernatural in the story.

In the story, the Na’vis are a very cohesive group of individuals who believe that a special tree (Eyra) holds very special powers similar to our idea of a ‘god’. This tree hears prayers which it sometimes answers and sometime does not. It has the power to transfer one’s spirit from a human body to an avatar’s (playing on our idea of Cartesian Dualism, and hence could spark some debate about it). Also, the Na’vis’ belief in rituals and rites of passages are also comparable to those of people who have religions.

In the end of the story, when the humans are winning the war and a lot of Na’vis are being killed, a group of thick-armored animals came to help. To this, the female character (Neytiri) said ‘Eyra heard you’ to Jake Sully, the lead character.

This scene was pivotal to the story’s conclusion because if these creatures did not arrive, all the Na’vis including Jake Sully and Neytiri would have died, and hence there would not be a happy ending.

Such a scene could make one believe in the power of divine intervention, and hence believe in Supernatural beings.


Some might argue that with the inclusion of these topics into one film, we could call it brilliant. But how many other films are there that we can think of that includes the exact same topics with even better storylines? A lot. So much hype surrounds this movie but only its brilliant special effects separates it from every other fantasy movie. After watching the film, all I said to myself was: That’s it???