Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.


E-readers aren’t sexy (but still awesome)


I recently came back from a brief, two-week trip in East Asia which included stops in Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo. It was loads of fun! But I made the mistake of bringing a book that I didn’t really like and it made all the waiting in airports super painful.

I know, First World Problems, right?

Well, I really felt sorry for myself because I could have brought my Kindle and bought any other, better, book on the fly.

On a side note, I’d like to congratulate my cousin L. on buying his very first Kindle and welcome him to the weird club of e-reader readers. L. bought the Kindle because he had always wanted one and found out that it qualifies for same-day shipping with Amazon Prime. A fan of new and shiny objects with touch screens, he opted for the Kindle Paperwhite with a built-in light.

I was a little surprised L. bought an e-reader because he’s an early adopter and unlike other portable devices, the e-reader never got its sexy back. It’s more or less still a bonified etch and sketch. Newer versions of Kindles and Kobos have added a fancy light and other high(er) tech upgrades like uh, page numbers and less flickering when turning pages.

In fact, e-readers haven’t even been sexy enough to replace books — which some people argue are unsexy in their own right.


Alas, I’m still a big believer in e-readers and, after all these years, I STILL use my Kindle Keyboard. Yes, it’s got a KEYBOARD and no touchscreen. Isn’t it beautiful?



I can buy books and read them while in bed – without even getting dressed. Also, I can travel with a dozen Russian novels in my back pocket.

So, welcome to the club L. Feel proud because now you can read Fifty Shades on the subway without getting weird looks. (No really, don’t do it.)

P.S. For all you other Kindle owners, check out Buzzfeed’s article on “21 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Your Kindle.


Pollution travel without a purpose

VISITSUNNYCHERNOBYLI thought it’d be really fun to read Andrew Blackwell’s pollution travel book during my one month trip through Asia.

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places does what it sets out to do. Blackwell chronicles his trips to some of the grossest places of the world that most people don’t want to think about. First stop is Chernobyl, the site of the disastrous nuclear power plant meltdown.

I didn’t love Sunny Chernobyl — in fact, I didn’t even finish it. For one, Blackwell never makes his point. He’s promoting pollution travel but I just couldn’t figure out why. The book doesn’t take on an environmental stance. In places like Chernobyl, he even argues that wilderness is now thriving because all the humans have moved out. But Blackwell makes it very clear that this was a manmade catastrophe for the local ecosystem.

Oil Fields in Cold Lake Alberta

Oil Fields in Cold Lake Alberta

The book confused me but it also didn’t give me enough. I wanted to learn so much more about each of the polluted sights which also includes the Canadian oil sands and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a possibly mythical patch of garbage floating somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

A while back, I read Stupid to the Last Drop, an in-depth expose of the Canadian oil sands. And I much preferred it over Blackwell’s book. Yes, Sunny Chernobyl is more entertaining and I appreciated the humour but I just wanted Blackwell to take a side.

Photo credits: &


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Tina & Farah’s Montreal Weekend Photo Essay

I had the great pleasure of visiting my friend Tina in Montreal. Tina and I have been friends since university and she moved to Montreal last year to work a tres sexy job in the clean energy sector.

Day 1: I get into Montreal after a ridiculously long bus ride from Toronto. Tina takes me to the gorgeous Hotel Nelligan rooftop patio where we dreamt about living in one of these fancy condos in Old Montreal:

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Day 2: Tina uses her magic powers to get us seats at L’Avenue brunch where they bring us real maple syrup in a can. Why does Quebec eat real maple syrup while the rest of Canada eats Aunt Jemima? I’d take the real stuff any day.


Tina’s brunch at L’Avenue + maple syrup in a can

We spent the after going through super dusty thrift stores on St. Denis. Oh and they never taught us the French word for thrift stores in fourth grade. It’s “les fripperies”. Someone should teach a “Hipster French” class complete with mime workshops.

Unfortunately, les fripperies leads to les allergies so we took an obligatory caffeine break at Flocon Espresso. It smelled SO good here that I wished my room could smell like coffee every day. Maybe I can spray my boyfriend in coffee scented cologne.


Tina enjoys fine dining but when I mentioned that I just really, really, really want to go to St. Hubert’s, she had to oblige. St. Hubert’s makes Swiss Chalet look like garbage. All the classiest people drink cocktails at chain chicken restaurants, I swear:

IMG_0014       IMG_0019

Day 3: We go to the Biodome to watch penguins only to discover that they were more interested in watching us.

We also went up to Montreal Tower which is scarily built on a slant and seemingly held up with wires. Here’s Montreal Tower:


Montreal Biodome & Tower.

Here’s us going up the tower:


Scary ride up Montreal Tower

We also watched the craziest show in the newly built Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. They spent $48 million dollars building this thing! Part one of the show is very artistic while part two is more educational. Unfortunately, lots of people slept through part two. One man was heard snoring while his son was curled up napping.

Here’s how part one starts:


Beginning of Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium Show

After that, you are hurled into asteroids while travelling faster than the speed of light. The best part is that you get watch lying down on giant beanbag chairs.

Day 4: Horrible Greyhound trip back to Toronto.

An overall beautiful weekend in Montreal. Conclusion: Farah should visit Tina more often and every Broken Penguin blog post should feature penguin videos.

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