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Travis Clemens At the end of chapter 3 he writes about graduating from primary school. He describes this day at length. He tells how he did not want to leave the school building, and was incredibly sad when he went home, because it meant the end of his schooling.

He describes his sadness further, and I had trouble believing that this is not him as an adult embellishing this part of his life: He went to a private spot on the beach and watched the waves for hours. Then that night he cannot sleep, and it seems like this is going to be a defining moment in his life. He asks why is life so unfair? why does life have to be so complicated? and what is the purpose of being born if you can only be poor?

I feel like that question, "why does life have to be so complicated" is authentic, but most of the other details seem almost made up. I wonder if the author didn't revise his life story to create a moment when the stakes (education) became clear, so that later, when he has the chance to learn from Austin Coates, it will seem like he is finally meeting this conflict and solving his problem.

Travis Clemens There is a fabulous comeuppance story. So Kok Seng is working on Orchard Road, in a provisoner's stall, when the third son of the proprietor is stealing money from the stall and from his parents. The third brother has fallen in with gangsters, and he goes out with them every night, and buys them drinks and treats their girlfriends. What is incredible is that his parents never cotton on to him being the one stealing all their money. It's easy fro him to do, but the madam blames her stepchildren instead of her own son. This reminds me of Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter, because Adelaine and her siblings are similarly, always the subject of terrible suspicion by their stepmother.

Anyway, at the end of Chinese Cinderella, the stepmom ends up impoverished, and the same thing happens to the madam who owns the provisioner's stall!

The two portraits of these rapacious women are different, because in the case of Adelaine Yen Mah's stepmother, the father is also rendered in a critical tone, whereas the master of the provisioner's stall is flat like scenery and subservient to the madam.

Travis Clemens Something else interesting is how he is commanded to keep his learning about self-defence at the monastery secret. In Kung-Fu movies, the Shaolin monks will be hidden in some faraway secret abbey, but this monastery is in Singapore, right off a main road. It's pretty clear that the secrecy is not meant to keep people away. The abbot commands Kok Seng, to first never abuse his knowledge of self-defence to hurt others, then never lose his temper or start a fight, then to keep it secret, finally he commands Kok Seng to not be proud of what he learns, and refuse to be taunted or drawn into a fight.

So when the abbot commands him to keep his knowledge secret, it seems like this is pretty obviously just another way for the abbot to prevent Kok Seng from getting in a fight and hurting someone. Secrecy is not an end in and of itself.

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