Movie Reviews – October 2016

The Girl On The Train

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I must first praise Emily Blunt for her stunning performance in the show – her stunning depiction of an amnesiac on the verge of breaking down left me breathless as she carried the show through with her impressive range of emotions and demeanour. However, I felt that the incoherent presentation of the movie made the already complex plot more confusing, and I was left perplexed at the sequence of events that led to the current conclusions. (The show was not presented in order of timeline) Nevertheless, if you focus enough, the show can give you a rollercoaster ride through the psychologically terrifying twist.

Watch in cinemas? If you like twisted thrillers.
Watch when digital edition available? Yes

Sausage Party

 

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I was pleasantly surprised at how much ingenuity the writers had in conceptualizing an innovative storyline from just a supermarket alone. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but the trailer doesn’t do justice to the plot and message behind the movie, which really impressed me, as I didn’t expect such a raunchy movie to carry forward the message in a fun and light-hearted manner.

As for the things that made the show R21, let’s just say that the show is pretty explicit with the action, and while I personally enjoyed the dumbness, not everyone may be able to take the sexually suggestive jokes and events. I still recommend a watch though!

Watch in cinemas? Yes!
Watch when digital edition available? Hell yes!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 

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In Chinese, I would describe the movie as 天馬行空 (describing something that’s out of this world), and Tim Burton successfully performs his magic to create an environment that is magical in a stranger, darker way (in contrast to say Harry Potter). The abilities that the children possess were pretty unorthodox – puppet control via zombie-like revival, dream projection, even a second monster mouth behind a little girl’s head – a pleasant departure from the usual mainstream shows about people with abilities.

The show shined in its silly moments of fun, such as Victor’s skeleton army battling the hollows in an amusement theme park; easily the best moment in the show. What it lacked, though, was a logical storyline, as there were many loopholes in the way the characters behaved that led me to some frustration. But if you don’t mind that and came to experience another one of Tim Burton’s worlds, you’ll definitely enjoy the splendour in this movie.

Watch in cinemas? If you like Tim Burton
Watch when digital edition available? Worth a try

Chinese Visa Application in Singapore

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Hello from the eastern lands of Fujian, China! This is the second extended trip of the year for me and I’m thankful for all the good things in life that has happened this year. But before I detail my adventures in this city, I would like to first document my Chinese Visa application process in Singapore, which wasn’t the smoothest.

Summary

Essential documents:

  • The visa application form, which should be filled in online via the website, printed out
  • A passport-sized photo of yourself
  • Your passport (to be detaine during the visa application process, about a week)
  • A colored photocopy of your passport’s photo page
  • Your long-term pass (EP, S-Pass, etc), if any
  • A photocopy of the aforementioned pass
  • A printout of your flight itinerary
  • One of the following:
    • The travel itinerary as provided by your tour group (if applicable), or
    • Printout of the booking confirmation emails for each accommodation booked
    • Either one mentioned above must contain your name!

Documents that were stated as required in the visa application website, but didn’t seem to be necessary on the point of application:

  • (For tour groups) A photocopy of the tour group inviter’s identification card
  • If you had applied for a Chinese visa before, the old passport that contains the Chinese visa (and a photocopy of the photo page of the old passport)

Tips and Tricks

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  • Approach the receptionist at the front desk to have her check your documents for completeness.
  • The visa application centre offers printing services for $1 per page – that’s just absurd.
    • Luckily, you can easily find Unimax downstairs (pictured) near the application centre, which charges at a much cheaper rate of $0.30 per page, plus photocopying services as necessary.
  • Bring cash during the passport collection as I’ve been told that NETS payment will take a much longer time.
  • I went for both application and collection on Fridays.
    • On the application day, there was little to no queue and I had my application processed immediately.
    • On the collection day, the wait was sizable, and I waited for 12 people before my turn.

Rants

  • I have completely no idea why the travel itinerary document has to contain my name – I could’ve easily added it myself via my own computer.
  • Took me all the trouble digging for the old passport which contained my Chinese visa 16 years ago, only to have it casually disregarded by the counter lady.
  • The working staff in the application centre have a cold attitude – but since you die die need the visa, there’s nothing much you can do.
  • The application fee is $90 for foreigners, where I could’ve done it in Malaysia for RM140 =~ $45.

I was especially frustrated as it took me much longer than expected to consolidate the necessary documents for the application when I arrived at the application centre – thus I hope this post helps for whoever requires a Chinese visa in Singapore!

Apple Watch Series 2 – A Review

The Apple Watch is an expensive productivity play toy.

This was a necessary purchase in order for me to experience the complete Apple ecosystem working in unison; or so I thought. After my stellar experiences with the paper-thin Macbook, the iPhone 7 Plus did not match my high expectations; and thus I treated the Apple Watch as a one-time luxury purchase that I would not be giving in to again. Surprisingly, the Apple Watch does have moderate value.

Warning: Long review ahead!

Design & Construction

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My Apple Watch is a Series 2 Aluminium 42mm, with a Gold body and dark brown strap. In contrast to Google and the rest of the OEMs, Apple played the safe card by restricting its watches to be strictly square in design; this allowed the Apple Watch to circumvent many display issues that are currently present in the Android Wear watches, like the Moto 360, where certain text on the screen are cropped off by the round display. Thus, you’re left with a more consistent experience but on a square face, which is a matter of personal preference – I think the Apple Watch itself is attractive and reliable enough from a design standpoint.

The Apple Watch varies in prices from S$400 – S$2000++ depending on the series and the watch body and strap materials; and my watch has already suffered a dent at the bottom left corner of the watch body. I expected a little more from Apple in terms of sturdiness, but oh well. Weight-wise, the Apple Watch is heavier than all the other watches I’ve owned, but I got used to it after a while.

The inclusion of the digital crown is one of the smartest, but ill-executed decision from the folks over at Cupertino. This provided a sense of familiarity to watch wearers and made me feel more like I’m actually tinkering around with a proper watch; however, I find the user experience a little unintuitive. The speed of the digital crown adjustment often did not match the rate of change on the elements of the screen, leading to a frustrating situation of trying to get the correct minute for my alarms. Nevertheless, it is a familiar concept on a modern device like this.

Display and Basic Use

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Having owned an LG G Watch for a week last year, I know the definition of a sunlight-illegible screen; basically, on a hot sunny afternoon in Singapore, you need an extra hand to cover the watch face to see anything at all. Impressively, the Apple Watch does not have this problem – the screen remains effective under direct sunlight, and I haven’t encountered any situations where I couldn’t read the screen, except in cases due to reflection on the glossy surface, or.. when the screen did not light up as I twisted my forearm.

One of the biggest annoyances I have with the watch is with the inconsistency of its raise to wake feature. This is especially apparent when I have a non-standard posture (such as a semi-lying position) and flicks my wrist without moving my arm. Granted, these positions are not exactly the standard use cases of looking at a watch, but it does get frustrating when I have to use the other hand to tap the screen, or to repeatedly flick your wrist in an attempt to see the time – and I do look like a retard in the process.

Also, do yourself a favour and apply a screen protector if you decide to buy the Apple Watch. Three weeks in and I already have a large scratch on the top right corner of the Ion-X Glass. 😦

As a Watch

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Unreliability aside, the Apple Watch is a fun and customizable device to own. You get a variety of watch faces, from the standard analog and digital presentations to their latest additions of Mickey and Minnie telling you the time with their hands. The colors of the watch hands or digits can be chosen from the Apple-curated color palette. The changeable shortcuts on the home screen is an intuitive feature to suit your personal needs, and I found the alarm shortcut the most useful, as it also shows the of the next alarm beside the shortcut icon.

Previous grievances about the Apple Watch centered around its sluggishness in user interface navigation. From my experience, the Apple Watch is smooth enough for normal, non-smart usage, though launching many apps takes a really long time – the amount of time it took to search for a place and navigate on the Maps app was enough for me to take out my phone and do the same. Also, there is a slight but noticeable delay between pressing the digital crown and the app returning to the home screen – not that it impacts usage, but still slightly annoying.

The home screen with the app bubbles looks nice, but is honestly difficult to navigate. Most of the time I either have no idea where my app is, or I just don’t have enough apps I want to use on the watch (more on that later).

As a Smartwatch

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The biggest strengths of the Apple Watch comes in the form of notification mirroring and Apple Pay.

I found notification mirroring especially useful when I’m occupied with things – carrying heavy objects with both hands, or when in a meeting such that I do not want to use my phone as it is an intrusive action. The notifications allow me to take a quick glance and respond if necessary, and I found the most success in this when I am in a dance rehearsal, where my phone is definitely not with, but near me. Furthermore, the ability to customize which apps on the iPhone mirror notifications to the watch is a great plus, meaning I only allow, say, non-work apps to ping me on my wrist.

However, one shortcoming of the mirroring system comes when I get spammed by chat app notifications when in the middle of doing something with the watch, like setting the alarm. The notification popup on the Apple Watch reminds me of the iOS 3 days, where the entire screen is covered by the notification and basically I have to keep swiping them up to ignore them. It gets irritating at times, and I do hope Apple can figure out a solution to intelligently make them less intrusive when I’m using the watch.

The issues aside, I’ve grown really accustomed to receiving alerts on my watch, and I feel weird whenever I’m not wearing it and need to take out my phone to check for notifications. I guess that’s the magic that Apple does.

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Apple Pay, on the other hand, just works. Double tap on the side button, and you’re ready to pay – easily a comfortable and convenient experience in payment. It’s too bad that contactless credit card payment adoption in Singapore hasn’t reached saturation point, but I can imagine Apple Pay working really well in places like Australia.

Due to the slowness of the apps mentioned above, other apps’ features are honestly not worth mentioning in the review. They are just too slow for the experience to be anything but frustrating – let’s just wait to see if Apple can fix this problem, but meanwhile, I’m happy with the Apple Watch being not as intrusive. Meanwhile, if you would like to play around with Apple Watch apps, here’s a curated list to get started.

As a Fitness Tracker and Health Monitor

Apple has been touting the fitness capabilities of the Apple Watch Series Two – with Tim Cook going as far to call the Apple Watch a device “for a healthy life”. Personally, I enjoy the passive tracking of my movement, exercises and standing times through the Activity app – they provide a non-intrusive reminder of the daily requirements for a healthy lifestyle, and the gamification factor provided by the goals and badges is a nice touch that encourages me to complete them.

The Workout app, on the other hand, doesn’t really provide a lot. It calculates the calories burnt, and.. that’s it? I’m not entirely sure how that helps, maybe a record of my daily workouts would be nice, especially to health-conscious individuals who control their calorie intake every day. I don’t really see a point in recording them, though. (This is strictly personal opinion.)

The Breathe app is a nice addition to the fitness capabilities of the watch, reminding you to practice mindfulness through focusing on your breath for small periods every day. I find the length of each breath too short to my liking, though, and there seems to be no way to customize that at the moment – only the total duration of the breathing exercise.

Battery Life

I never needed to use Power Reserve. Photo credit: apple.com

I actually think the Series 2 watch has good battery life. On long days with a reasonable amount of workout calorie counting, I can get home late at night with about 50% battery remaining. That’s far better than my expectations, but of course it would be nice to have multiple days battery life so that the watch can actually track your sleep (or act as your morning alarm) for once. For now, I try to charge it the moment I reach home, then wear it to sleep – I really love the vibrating alarm as it is non-intrusive and as I am staying with housemates in the same room.

Conclusion

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Photo credit: apple.com

So is this worth the S$600? No. That’s half the price of the 128GB iPhone 7! As of now, I believe that Apple has not found the right combination of software and hardware to provide an intuitive, integrable experience on the watch to complement one’s daily life in the Apple ecosystem. While the watch has executed certain use cases flawlessly (Apple Pay for the win), watchOS is still an immature platform that needs time to figure things out. Until then, hold your horses on this one, unless you won the lottery and have some extra cash to spare or something – and as long as you’re willing to admit that this is a luxury product that you would like to own (like a mini Rolex), you would be surprised and appreciative of the little conveniences the device brings you.

Featured photo credit: apple.com

iPhone 7 Plus Review, From an Android User

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Making the decision to switch to the Apple ecosystem wasn’t an easy one. The lack of commonality between integrated services on iOS and Android made it more difficult for things on the iPhone 7 to work like they did on Android; I had to work around certain quirks on the iOS that might seem normal to its users. Nevertheless, here’s a review from an Android user’s perspective.

Design, Construction, Display

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The first thing I noticed when holding the iPhone 7 Plus in my hand, surprisingly, was how heavy it felt. Notice that I use the word felt instead of stating a fact – I don’t think 188g counts as heavy – but the overall weight distribution of the iPhone 7 Plus made the phone slightly unbalanced when held in my hand. My previous Zenfone 2 (5.5 inches) was lighter and easier to hold with one hand, as is my friend’s Galaxy Note 7. Honestly, even if Apple had to cram many features into the phone, this is something that’s unforgivable, as we use our smartphones everyday and dealing with the flimsiness of the grip everyday isn’t the best experience I expect from Apple.

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Photo credit: apple.com

Design wise, what you get is standard fare from the iPhones; a flat phone with round edges. It can either be the basic design that you go back to everyday, or too mainstream for the hipster. I’m more for the latter, but looking at the phones in the market nowadays I don’t expect much breakthrough in design, maybe except for HTC.

Apple claims that the iPhone 7 produces a wider range of colors from its screen when compared to the previous models. Now I don’t really have a case for comparison, but the display works brilliantly; definitely much better than my previous Android phones, and Apple’s got the automatic brightness adjustment done accurately as well.

User Interface

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Basic.

The iPhone 7 Plus is fast. Like really fast. It zoomed through my application switching in a breeze, and loaded new apps with Flash-like speed; something that even top Android phones struggles with (I’m looking at you, Note 7). I have absolutely no complaints about how responsive this beast is.

However, the efficient processor is let down by iOS’ operating system design for background apps, which only lets each app occupy CPU time briefly while it is in the background. This causes many apps with notifications (instant messaging for example) to only update when the app is launched – leading to a load-on-switch behaviour that can be irritating, especially if you come from Android. Granted, this probably makes the phone speedier, but I think with the processing power available Apple should have come up with a solution to this disharmonious experience.

The other issue I have with iOS is the lack of customization of the home screen, a versatile feature Android offers and impresses. Basically you are stuck with a grid of applications with minimal customizability, with only a page for widgets; many people might prefer to have a one page overview of their calendar events upon unlock, without swiping. Heck, sometimes I just want to rearrange the position of the clock.

Camera

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Panoramic shot

I’m not even going to write much about this. I believe the iPhone 7 Plus carries arguably the best smartphone camera in the market right now. It is reliable and fast, allowing you to capture the moment with ease. It produces great pictures in almost all lighting situations.

The 2x zoom? Pretty gimmicky if you ask me. It does allow you to get clear shots or certain situations where you can’t get too close to the subject, but 2x zoom is really not a lot. Let’s just wait for Apple’s implementation of post processing of photos when it’s out.

App Store and Apps

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Wow, I didn’t know how much the Google Play Store content has improved in quality and selection.

The main drawback of the iOS app store is its limited selection of good free apps, or even paid apps with lite / ad-supported versions. I was trying to find a good Markdown app and stumbled across several expensive apps before settling on MarkLite (I’m writing this post on it), which I’m not entirely satisfied with. I would really love the ability to try apps before I buy them.

Also, data sharing between apps felt more limited than the experience on Android. Although basic data sharing is available, deeper integration is lacking – in Android I could click on a link in Gmail to have my article saved on the Pocket app.

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Still getting the hang of GarageBand..

What iOS app shines in, though, is its good selection of beautifully designed apps with an emphasis in user experience. Trello definitely works better in iOS. Many apps offering a niche feature, like Singapore Airlines or the American Express app, presents a more fluid interface. From my experience with iOS and Android development, it is indeed easier to develop on the Apple ecosystem; hardly a surprise due to the heavy segmentation on Google’s phones.


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So is the iPhone 7 worth it? If you want something that just works, yes. If you are a power user, don’t pay more to be handicapped. For me, I bought it because of the camera, my employee benefits, as well as to experience this first hand. And I wasn’t disappointed, but not impressed as well.

Ultimately, I feel that the mobile phone platforms have evolved into such an app-based ecosystem, that aside from the hardware differences (camera, look and feel), you’re getting standard fare in terms of function. So using that to decide which phone you should get should be a logically accurate method.

Blair Witch

Halfway through the movie, I exclaimed, “The people in this movie have no logical mind!”

Somewhat major spoilers follow.

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Blair Witch tells the story of a young adult whose sister was lost 20 years ago in the Black Forest to the tales of the Blair Witch, a spirit that haunts trespassers of the forest. Together with three other friends, the group ventures with two local guides into the forest in the hopes of finding the lost sister. And the group decided to film their adventures as a documentary.

… At this point, I was already exasperated – who in their rational mind would venture into a haunted forest without professional trekking equipments? But let’s go on.

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In your face. Photo credit: traileraddict

Halfway through the exploration, the local guides decided to manually imitate acts from the Blair Witch to persuade the rest to leave the area, as they themselves did not like the idea of potentially losing their minds here. Now why did they come in the first place if they were feeling uneasy? No one knows. Then the group decided to chase the locals away (as if less people would make them less susceptible to hauntings), only to realize after a few hours that they are indeed trapped in the forest.

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Let the rituals begin

This is where things start to get interesting – strange, paranormal events involving cursed stick dolls, flying tents and a giant version of the doll, presumably the witch herself. As I did not watch the 1999 classic, I won’t be able to compare the quality of the suspense and scares; but even for someone who avoids horror films at all costs, Blair Witch felt lackluster in its portrayal of the creepiness of the forest. The movie’s reliance on the lack of light and dramatic happenings (such as the flying tent) did not keep me interested; that is further aggravated by the unconvincing premise (or the lack thereof) resulting in these occurrences.

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In your face. Photo credit: traileraddict

This is the main gripe I have with the show – the types of supernatural events were not properly justified with relation to the (vaguely explained) mythology of the Blair Witch. Honestly I did not have any idea of what the Blair Witch could do except for the stick dolls and the whole you-can’t-look-at-her-directly thing, and that made the events less scary, as the show did not properly build up the suspense towards the unnatural events actually happening. This is a waste, as I thought the found footage filming that Blair Witch employs had a lot of potential. Maybe if it was shown in a VR studio, I would’ve really freaked out.


I honestly don’t think the movie is worth watching; however, fans of the original The Blair Witch Project may want to give it a go, for their better relation to the thematic elements of the sequel. Also, there’s an intriguing fan theory (spoiler rich!) explaining the events of the show that might interest the disappointed.

The SMRT Breakdowns

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Singapore MRT, from an appreciation standpoint, is like what parents are to spoilt, ungrateful kids.

The MRT deals with complaints every day from the people it serves, despite the engineers tirelessly working through the nights to make sure things don’t go haywire. Much like parents who strive really hard to make a living for the family, only to receive ungracious remarks in return from us immature kids, when we are unhappy with their seemingly overbearing concern.

As the country grows with increasing needs for better transportation options to different areas of Singapore, more train lines are built on top on existing old, possibly faulty tracks which require extensive maintenance. The sheer amount of management required mirrors our parents’ hardship in growing our slowly maturing selves and dealing with our ever-expanding needs, interests, and emotions. And they never stop. They never rest even for a day. Because it’s impossible to – imagine if the whole train service went offline for a day.

So stop venting your frustrations all the time. Spare a thought for the train company – transportation is a tough problem, especially with a network of intertwining service lines like Singapore’s. (Safety over performance, in possible contrast to Japan.) No one wants the train services to break down – and it’s uncourteous to rage on social media at even the slightest non-life-threatening incident. Imagine if your colleague complains about your work attitude on Facebook. If change is necessary, file an official complaint. Go to change.org. Or gather proper momentum through structured observations and suggestions on social media.

Think of ways to make use of the extra transportation time from possible delays. Read books or articles. Learn a language. Listen to podcasts. Write a blog. (This post is written from snippets of time on the train.) If you really hate commute, move closer to your workplace. And if you missed an interview because of the breakdown, really, you should have accommodated for the extra time from possible accidents.

Maybe the SMRT isn’t doing its best. But what it needs is official feedback and constructive criticism, instead of meaningless complaints on social media that aggravate our stressed minds every day. Let’s build a more mindful society, and ready ourselves to handle these disruptions in life.

This is an opinionated article, feel free to discuss.

Natural Eczema Remedies

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How I feel when my skin flares up. Photo credit: poughkeepsiejournal.com

I started battling eczema since 2014, and it’s been a constant tug of war with the irritating condition ever since. Eczema may be considered one of the most unfortunate skin issues to be afflicted with, simply because there is no cure – the condition can only be dealt with and managed for life. While the standard treatments such as moisturizer application is a must, I’ve found some non-medical practices to be useful – and which doesn’t involve overhauling changes to my lifestyle.

Rest

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Photo credit: kidspot.com.au

One of the most important factors in my opinion, getting enough sleep is crucial to maintaining an eczema-free lifestyle. When you sleep more, your internal organs work together to rebuild your skin; the lack of sleep prevents this process from happening, which leads to a weak skin condition that is more susceptible to flares. From my personal experience, I have found that a better rest makes my skin less itchy the next day.

Sleep also impacts the following factor:

Stress

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Photo credit: emergenetics.com

It’s easy to spiral into a state of stress in the fast paced world today, with the heavy workload from work or school for adults and students respectively. And many studies have already arrived at correlations between anxiety and eczema – the reason for you to start managing your stress. Practice mindfulness exercises, get enough rest, and find peers who bring the best out of you when you’re having a bad day.

Patience

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Photo credit: ciicmonthly.com

Eczema is a long lasting condition that is (unfortunately) likely to accompany you in your life. As such, I learned not to expect my skin inflammation to go away in a few days; even with the right treatment it may take up to several weeks for the red patches of the skin to subside. It’s important to be patient with your skin (and yourself as well).

Eczema is also actually a good indication of your overall physical health, so use that as a hint to when your body is taking a toll.

Determination & Motivation

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Photo credit: tumblr

It’s ever so tempting to just scratch the skin because of how itchy it is, even though we are fully aware of the negative repercussions of doing that. So don’t. Recognise that if you can stop scratching your skin (which requires an excruciating amount of discipline), you can do anything. That’s what’s keeping me going in the past several months.

Also, I find that eczema can affect my self esteem, especially in social situations. To counter this mentality, I started learning more skills (such as writing this blog), to prove to myself that even with a condition like this there are still many things in life I can achieve. Don’t let eczema control you, you control it.


People always say that your mind and your body are one, and that couldn’t be further than the truth – science has discovered correlations between our mental and physical health together through studies and experiments. While eczema may be a physical condition, how you view and respond to it plays a big difference in the amount that eczema can impact your life.