Putting society before ourselves

YOU’RE welcome,” I exclaimed exasperately.

I had just given way to another driver who has been attempting to cut into the lane I was in, causing a jam behind him.

I did not get even a wave as a “thank you”.

Sitting in the traffic jam ahead of me, I reflected on how often I had made that sarcastic remark, even though I know that all these other drivers could not hear me.

I also wondered if they were at all apologetic about it, or did they think there was nothing wrong with what they had done.

There are numerous bad driving habits I can list here with regard to those I consider selfish drivers.

I am sure each and everyone of you – whether you do drive or not – have similar stories to share.

Those of us privileged enough to drive larger and newer cars often complain about how motorcycles and old beaten-up cars are a menace on the roads.

My bet is that they say the same thing of us as well.

Let us not even get started on double-and triple-parking, beating red lights, illegal U-turns and more.

I am not sure, however, how many of us are aware of the way we behave, and think that we are wrong.

But this sort of behaviour – and let us be honest, it is an anti-social behaviour – is not necessarily just found on our roads.

I have returned to Malaysia, several weeks ago, to find my childhood home now part of a “gated community”; people trying to barge into trains or lifts way before allowing those onboard to alight and blantantly littering; whether throwing things out of their car windows or in religious places.

However, all this is not necessarily a new phenomenon.

Perhaps it is further amplified because I have been away for a while and now live in a small city where people are generally kinder and more courteous to one another.

Life in big cities are different.

Things are more hectic, we are busier than ever and it is every man (or woman) for him (or herself). Right?

We have accepted this “logic” for years, but we have never really taken a step back and wondered if this is the direction we want to head towards, and if this is who we really want to be.

I say this because I truly believe that culture is shaped by the people.

This means that we need to start to look at ourselves and wonder how we have contributed to this culture of thinking of ourselves first, and why we chose to leave many of the good traditions of togetherness and community living behind.

When, for example, was the last time we had a decent chat with our neighbours, and do we trust each other enough to hand our keys over to them if we are going away?

I am not trying to be nostalgic for the past, but I do think that we need to take a hard look at ourselves and our life choices.

Already, the world – and our country is definitely not exempted – is increasingly polarised.

Just look at the politics of the United States and Europe to see how divided people are.

In Malaysia, the consequences of decades of racial politics seem to be coming together in an ugly way right now.

Domestic and regional politics aside, we are waking up almost daily to news about terror and murders across the globe – in developed countries and the less developed ones.

I often wonder how we continue to live our lives day in, day out, when there is so much fear and distrust.

Even our networks of friends cannot always be trusted – look at the number of people who have been victims to people in their trusted networks screenshooting posts they have uploaded onto social media and reporting them to the authorities.

These are big problems that we cannot, as individuals, fix – let alone soon.

What we can do, however, is to take a few minutes to look back at our own lives and see if the little things we do on a daily basis – whether it is bad driving, not saying “thank you” when someone holds the door open for us, or just greeting and checking in on our neighbours.

We need to ask ourselves if we like who we are or have become, and more pertinently, even if we have no problems with it, what are the consequences of our behaviour to society.

The unfortunate fact is that we seldom think we are in the wrong but the reality is that we are all part of the problem.

Because the fact is that no man (or woman) is an island, and we are part of a community of citizens (in our neighbourhoods, city or country) whether we like it or not.

Is this the kind of society we want to leave to our children?

If we do not do something about it now, things are only just going to get uglier – and we already spend so much time in our lives each day complaining about how ugly things are anyway.

The Star Metro, PUblished: Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Putting society before ourselves
Malaysians need to return to their roots and re-learn how to be covil with one another.
Niki is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at The University of Nottingham, UK.

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A heart attack

July 14-- If you were having a heart attack you'd know it, right? While some people experience the "Hollywood" heart attack-picture clutching your chest in agony and dropping to the ground-others have different or more subtle symptoms that can be mistaken for something a lot less serious. But a heart attack is serious, and time is muscle: The sooner doctors can restore blood flow (and oxygen) to your heart the more likely you are to survive.

For this reason, the American Heart Association advises calling 911 immediately if you have even an inkling that you might be having a heart attack. Still, many people are reluctant to do that, especially if they aren't experiencing the classic crushing chest pain.

To explain the variety possible symptoms, we asked 11 survivors to share what they felt when they had a heart attack. Understanding that there's a wide range just might save your life.
I had a throbbing pain that started in my back, then traveled up to my neck. Then my jaw started throbbing. It was a like sharp pain that was moving through my body. I actually took Advil hoping it would go away. Then my breathing got labored, like when I was giving birth. I felt like the pain was making it hard for me to catch my breath. Even after the doctors told me it was a heart attack, I was really surprised. I didn't have the classic heart pain."
-Gloria, 49
"I had a bad stomachache, like cramps, but worse. Then I felt sharp shooting pains in my chest. I thought I ate something bad and this was food poisoning, since both my stomach and chest hurt. Then I started to feel off-disoriented and nauseous. When my left arm felt numb, I immediately thought, I'm having a heart attack."
-Carole, 55
"I was doing the dishes and I suddenly had pain in both of my arms; it started in the right and then moved to the left and then both arms started to feel numb. I wanted to just lie down and see if it would go away, but my husband insisted in taking me to the hospital. He saved my life."-Cheryl, 63
"I felt like I couldn't breathe. It was the worst feeling. I was suddenly gasping for breath. It was like my lungs just shut down. Then I collapsed."
-Stan, 71
"I thought it was heartburn; I've had heartburn all my life and it didn't feel any different-just more intense. I tried taking Tums and lying down, but it wouldn't go away. Then it started getting more intense and moved from pain to more of a squeezing of my heart. My husband drove me to the hospital and I was surprised to learn it was a heart attack."
-Doris, 57
"It's crazy because I had no heart pain when I had my heart attack. Instead, I felt nausea, like I was going to throw up, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I could feel my face and back pouring with sweat. I started to feel dizzy, like I was going to pass out. My son took me to a walk-in-clinic and they called an ambulance."
-Marty, 67
"It felt like something was squeezing my chest. It wasn't pain, so much as discomfort, strong discomfort. It was like someone was squeezing tighter and tighter."
-Lily, 82
"I thought it was acid reflux. I probably wouldn't have even gone to the hospital, but then I passed out. My husband called 911."
-Rachel, 63
"I felt exhausted for over a week. Just really tired and run down. I thought I was coming down with something. I was trying to get more sleep, but still not feeling better. What finally brought me to the hospital was the shortness of breath. I have stairs in my house that I've climbed every day for 40 years, and suddenly I couldn't walk them without feeling winded."
-Joanie, 67
"I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I was going to throw up. I sat up and my left arm felt numb. Then I started to feel mild pain under my left breast. It wasn't even the pain that got me scared; it was the numbness."
-Rose, 55
"I had just dropped the kids off at school and felt a pain in my upper back between my shoulder blades. It was intense. Then I started to feel nauseous, so I sat in my car waiting for the pain to go way. Another mom saw me and she said I was sweating and looking out of sorts, not responding to her questions. She called an ambulance. I was shocked to discover it was a heart attack. I was only 46 and in good health."
-Stephanie, 50
For more great health tips, pick up a copy of Prevention magazine, visit www.prevention.com

MIDCO, Published: July 20, 2016 3:46pm
This is what a heart attack really feels like
By Prevention Magazine

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Queen Elizabeth II Award

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 − While most 20-year-olds are busy finding themselves, Calvin Woo Yoong Shen decided to find meaning in helping to boost social development in the country.

His efforts have won him the prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders Award, the only Malaysian among 60 winners from across the Commonwealth.

Woo will receive the award from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace next year.

The award is part of the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme which “celebrates the achievement of young people who are taking the lead to transform the lives of others and make a lasting difference in their communities.”

“I showed them all my programmes, which I wrote the modules for under SASTRA Education development and some of my other works with the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) and Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiatives (YSEALI),” said Woo who is currently the Strategic Transformation via Education Development’s (SASTRA) Head of Programme for Malaysia.

At SASTRA, a group that champions human capital development, Woo drafts modules for personal, career, academic and technical programmes, which his team of six teaches to underprivileged students aged between 15 and 17.

“We are sometimes invited to the schools and at times we look for schools to carry out our programmes.

“These kids can be slackers, drug addicts or just people who do bad things when they are supposed to be studying,” he said, adding that his team has to date executed the eight-month long programme at one school in Kedah and another in Kuala Lumpur.

Asked if the students took him seriously given that he is just a few years older than them, Woo said they, in fact, became accepting after knowing his age.

“I tell them my age and when I do so, they become more open with me. I am able to hear their problems and help them see opportunities to overcome them,” he said.

A country, he said, can only develop economically when the people start to pull themselves together to make a change.

“I don’t believe in just inspiring someone. I believe in inspiring action as only then we would be able to see changes that will translate positively for the nation,” Woo added.

Of his own experience in school, Woo said it was somewhat difficult for him to get along with his classmates as he was “different” from them.

Spending most of his time in the library in school and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris where he did his diploma in English language, Woo said his friends were his teachers and lecturers.

“I enjoy intellectual conversations and so my friends are mostly academicians,” he said, adding that he spent his free time playing badminton.

“I also try to make it a point to visit my family in Muar (Johor) whenever I can as my younger brother, who is 17 years old, is one of the reasons why I decided to choose this path,” he said.

Woo’s brother is a gifted child and has an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 136. But he “was unable to say ‘daddy and mummy’ until the age of seven. But his intelligence skyrocketed thereafter and since no schools would accept him, he is being home-schooled by my father who is a retired English teacher,” he said.

Woo also regarded his family as the inspiration for his wanting to help the community and nation through education.

“My eldest sister, 27, is an English teacher in Singapore while my second sister, 24, teaches piano and music therapy for students, including Down Syndrome kids,” he said.

When asked about his long term plan, Woo listed three goals: start a family, get a doctorate and start his very own socio-enterprise.

“Before I’m 30 years old, I would like to do all these but whether they are going to happen or not, it is in His (God’s) hands. My short term goal would be to study for my degree in education studies,” he said.

Woo will be meeting representatives from British High Commission tomorrow to sort out preliminary preparations to his programme which starts next month.

Malay Mail Online
Malaysian Calvin Woo wins young leadership award from Queen Elizabeth

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Me Cook? But of course!

To say food is a big part of my family is a huge understatement.

Ah Ma, my maternal grandma, can give any Nyonya restaurant a run for their money. Another aunt’s wantan mee stall is legendary in her neighbourhood, even a decade after her retirement. Closer to home, my Hakka dad is an ace at hearty Hakka dishes. And my mum is so good I wish she had her own cooking show – eat something once and she can replicate it in the kitchen.

But in every family, there is always one black sheep. Clearly, I did not inherit the cooking DNA: for most of my life, I couldn’t even properly fry a sunny side up egg.

What I did inherit, though, was the family love of eating. When I studied at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, I ate my way through nasi kandar, char kuay teow and cendol. None of my friends were surprised that, when I started out as a writer, I wrote about food (and still do, on occasion). Resigned to the fact that food would always be a spectator sport, I once even wrote a self-mocking article titled Me, cook? Never!

Then last year fate took a twist.

At the same time I bought my own apartment, a major client went through a business restructuring exercise and stopped giving me regular work. With the sudden deficit, I began worrying if I would have enough income to pay off my monthly instalments. In my panic-stricken scramble for solutions, a passing comment by a homemaker friend struck a chord: Cooking at home saves you a ton of money.

By chance, that night, I stumbled upon a youtube video of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef Junior. Watching the kids whip up haute cuisine in record time, I was mortified. Even a 10-year-old could do better than me! It was also very entertaining. I finished the entire season in two days and progressed to other cooking shows, in the process discovering that there is a host of Internet celebrity chefs who offer cooking tutorials: Laura in the Kitchen for simple-to-follow Western cooking, VahChef for demystified Indian cuisine, Alex French Guy Cooking for creative fusion … I could go on and on.

Before anyone could say “Hey what’s cooking?”, my kitchen experiments had become a full-blown love affair. I discovered that, with a little creativity, you can give leftovers a second lease of life (stale bread + ham + egg + cheese = breakfast casserole, anyone?).

I particularly enjoyed “rescuing” about-to-expire food (crush stale digestive biscuits for fruit crumble?). By the sixth month of intense cooking, I was doing more cooking than writing on some days (please don’t tell my clients), and subjecting friends to my cooking experiments every week.

There was just one last thing. I had yet to cook a meal that would please my parents. I wanted them to know that they’ve inspired me to cook but at the same time I also wanted them to know that I have worked hard to create my own cooking style. The challenge was, Dad doesn’t like spicy food (a problem because most of the cooking I do involves chilli) and both prefer Chinese food, which I struggle with.

In my last trip home, I took the plunge. I decided that a fusion dish was the answer since it utilised Western cooking methods (which is my strong point for now) and had Asian flavours (which are acceptable to their palates).

I went for baked chicken. Nothing fussy, just rub the chicken with salt and pepper, brown it in the pan, then add Chinese rice wine to deglaze the drippings – clean simple pan-Asian flavours. Not to mention easy to pull off – just pop the lot into the oven with garlic and onions. Also, I didn’t want to go out of my way to buy something I’ll only use once in my life. A trait I inherited from my mum, incidentally.

On D-day, I set to work. As I prepped my ingredients, my parents walked past without making any comment; it was as if they knew the reason for my mission.

Forty minutes later, dinner was ready. My confidence began to swell as I took the baking dish out of the oven. The chicken smelled good.

Mum stopped at the table and peered over my shoulders. “Why you only use two upper chicken thighs? Enough for three people, meh?”

I stiffened, then said truthfully, “Scared you all won’t like it.”

Mum’s lips twitched. “If don’t like, then we go out and eat lor.”

I knew she was just teasing me, but my heart skipped a beat.

And then it was time for the litmus test. Dad ate first. I watched as he chewed thoughtfully.

“How?” I demanded.

“Good flavour. Chicken a bit too soft, but it could be the type of chicken you bought. I give you 80 marks.”

Phew! But then, Dad was always generous with praise when it came to his only daughter. Mum, on the other hand …

“Please don’t be too hard on me, ya?” I pleaded half-jokingly as Mum scooped up a piece of chicken.

“Not nice also have to swallow, right?” she said wryly.

I watched with bated breath as mum ate without any expression.

“Hmm, not enough gravy.”

I nearly dropped my fork in shock. Did I hear correctly? To all of you who are unfamiliar with the Asian we-never-compliment-our-children-directly school of thought, “not enough gravy” means “I like it enough to want more gravy” which is like a freaking back-handed compliment, OK?

Her next remark pulled the rug out from under my feet. “I give you 90 marks!”

I gasped – 90 marks from my mum, the hardest taskmaster I know? The person who, after commending me for coming second in class, would gruffly say, “Good work. Next term, try for No.1”? Someone whose approval means the world to me even at this ripe old age?


I felt 10 years old again, except that this time the praise was unconditional, wholehearted and full-on. Suddenly, I understood what it means when people say that hard-earned victories are the sweetest.

I know I will continue to improve and learn and be a better cook. But if anybody were to ask me what’s the most satisfactory meal I’ve ever cooked, that first-ever baked chicken I made for Mum and Dad will be hard to beat.

The Star2, Published: JULY 30, 2016
She gets what it means to cook from the heart
Read more at http://www.star2.com/living/viewpoints/2016/07/30/she-gets-what-it-means-to-cook-from-the-heart/#iGSf9DlkJKYIPtU3.99

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Chan Oga

“EDUCATION is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” the late, great Nelson Mandela once said.

Despite being in an ocean filled with knowledge, many of us hardly share with others what we have learnt in order for them to have a more fulfilling life.

Serving the needs of people who have no access to education or basic necessities, are individuals like Chan Oga, who strives to give everyone a chance at learning a new set of skills that is practical and beneficial to communities.

After graduating with a degree in psychology, she joined Teach For Malaysia (TFM)’s Fellowship, a two-year leadership development programme that aims to successfully break the link between a child’s origin and his or her education. She became a teacher coach for the next year and a half, and is now a freelance community consultant for two social impact platforms.

“The education system shapes a country’s people. My experience with TFM showed me that we need a better system that empowers individuals to identify and grow their passion by learning things that matter, rather than one that conditions the mind to score A’s in examinations – that sadly, does not translate into economic and social independence for many,” she explained.

The 28-year-old added that training children to fit within standard moulds produces “regurgitators” and yes-men who often have no idea why they do what they do.

“It does not prepare them to be independent thinkers, problem solvers, and meaningfully contributive members of society.”

Can you share about the programmes you’re now involved with in Penang?

Kelip-Kelip is a platform where children and adults get their ideas and projects heard by like-minded individuals, and where inspiration, connection and collaborations take place.

Village School is a more hands-on school that allows people to explore things they love while learning to make things that matter. Inspired by the maker movement and the idea of resilient societies, The Village School aims to empower each individual to be their own maker with a sustainable concept. Funds collected from The Village School’s workshops are used to sponsor children with learning differences to study alongside diverse peers, unlike in schools where children are segregated based on abilities.

What’s the best thing about meeting people all the time?

Unearthing under-appreciated talents and skill sets. Every individual has something valuable to offer to society, only if we let them. The world of knowledge is so big that nothing and no one in this world can capture it all. The beauty of doing what I do is, I know people who can make furniture out of discarded pipes, grow selfsustainable gardens, code programmes that can solve everyday problems, build clay and concrete housewares, make handmade shoes, and upcycle clothes. These are skills we need for a more self-sufficient and resourceful society that does not overrely on the superficial, capitalistic economy.

What do you think is the most important trait, attitude or skill one should have to be a successful educator?

An educator must be passionate about educating and sharing knowledge. They must also be able to genuinely appreciate each student’s potential to be a contributive member of society, and be resourceful at problem-solving.

To end the interview, what’s in store for Chan Oga in the years to come?

I am exploring to set up a creative coworking space in George Town, Penang to incubate the creative talents and economy of Penang. I hope to bring Kelip-Kelip and The Village School into the co-working space too as content and networking session providers.

The mission of the co-working space is to provide a platform that grooms creative talents’ skills, products and marketability to the point that Malaysians appreciate local talents and products so much so that they no longer rely on things made in other countries. The day we have things made in Penang/Malaysia dominating retail spaces with people buying and wearing these products, and where our local creative talents are in popular demand (even more than those from overseas) is when the creative co-working space has done its part well.

The SunDaily, Last updated on 28 July 2016 - 01:50pm
A well-weaved web of knowledge ;
Chan Oga is a firm believer that everyone should have access to education.
By Jeremy Cheong

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Indonesian maids

JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rima Jayanti has not had formal training in detective work but with her sharp eye and gut instinct, her task is to spot Indonesian women at Jakarta's bustling airport in danger of being sent abroad to a life of domestic servitude.

Making her rounds, the 23-year-old quickly points out groups of women likely heading abroad to work as maids.

"We can tell from their appearance - sometimes with a bit of instinct too - who are the potential victims and where they are going," Jayanti said.

Domestic helpers going to the Middle East tend to wear an Islamic headscarf, be middle-aged and elusive when asked about their plans, she said.

Women traveling to Hong Kong or Taiwan meanwhile usually have short hair, wear sneakers and are younger.

Some 2.3 million Indonesians are working as maids in wealthier countries in Asia and the Middle East, risking abuse including the non-payment of wages and physical assault.

Jayanti is part of a small team of "maid detectives" from Jakarta-based rights group Migrant Care, tracking down potential victims of human trafficking, and offering advice to others leaving of their own free will on how to look after themselves.

They have had some small successes since they began work last year.

They rescued a woman who had been brought to the airport by a maid agent, only to discover she was about to be sent to Saudi Arabia against her will.

Women often approach a maid agent to help them secure a placement abroad and handle the paperwork. While most work within the law, some have been accused of trafficking women.

"Some women do not know where they are going and what type of job they are getting into, making them vulnerable to human trafficking," said Migrant Care's advocacy program manager Mike Verawati.

Maids make up more than a third of the six million Indonesians working abroad, attracted by promises of higher salaries. Last year, migrant workers sent home some $9.4 billion in remittances, according to official data.

But stories abound of maids being sent abroad against their will, enduring horrific abuse and living in slave-like conditions.

A Hong Kong woman was convicted last year of beating her Indonesian maid, denying her food and confiscating her passport.

Jakarta last year summoned the Saudi Arabian ambassador after two Indonesian maids were executed in the Gulf state within a week, one for killing her allegedly abusive employer.

Complaints of mistreatment of Indonesians in the Middle East and the ensuing diplomatic rows prompted Jakarta announced in May 2015 to permanently ban maids from moving to the region. Maids already working there were allowed to remain.

But groups like Migrant Care and the National Advocacy Network of Domestic Workers - two of the Indonesia's leading organizations fighting for maids' rights - have criticized the ban.

They say it restricts women's rights to employment and puts them in greater danger by driving underground an industry which already has a dark side to it.

In March, Indonesian police busted a human trafficking ring which allegedly sent up to 600 Indonesians to work as domestic helpers in the Middle East, local media reported.

A Migrant Care survey found 1,020 women interviewed at the airport between March 2015 and May this year were heading abroad to work as maids, with the majority going to the Middle East.

Most traveled on tourist or special pilgrimage visas, lured by promises of salaries of at least $300 a month.

Sri, who only gave her first name and has worked in Saudi Arabia in the past, said she was heading back in the hope of finding employment there again.

"I like working there - my work can support my family," the 40-year old said, wearing a white headscarf and traveling with 16 other women. She was spotted by the "maid detectives".

As Sri spoke, a maid agent lurked in the background, taking photos of her talking.

Officials from the foreign ministry and the government's migrants' protection agency, BNP2TKI, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they have advised domestic helpers against traveling illegally.

"Maybe one or two are leaving illegally. If they are caught, they will be punished under anti-trafficking laws," Agusdin Subiantoro, who deals with maids working abroad as deputy placement head at the BNP2TKI, said last week.

Some researchers have questioned the wisdom of the ban, noting that the government has not offered domestic helpers - often the main earner in a family - an alternative.

"The moratorium has significantly affected women's opportunity to gain income for their family," said researcher Rofi Uddarojat from Jakarta-based think-tank the Center for Indonesian Policies Studies.

For now, the Migrant Care team is helping women in any way they can.

"We try to raise their awareness before they leave, we ask them if they have a clear contract, if they know who their employers are," Verawati said.

Reuters, Published: Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:05pm EDT
Indonesian 'maid detectives' on mission to save women from trafficking

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Ossan Rental

TOKYO (AFP) - From lonely pensioners to Japanese schoolgirls with shattered dreams, Takanobu Nishimoto and his crew of middle-aged men will lend an ear to clients who would never dream of spilling their guts to a therapist or worse, their families.

Anyone in need of company can sign up to his online service to rent an "ossan" -- a man aged between 45 and 55 -- for 1,000 yen ($10) an hour.

"For me, the service is a hobby more than anything," says Nishimoto, who first came up with the concept four years ago and who now has a growing network of some 60 men across Japan.

"The initial idea was to improve the image of guys my age, people who might not be spring chickens anymore and not taken so seriously."

And while the 48-year-old professional fashion coordinator is used to renting himself out, he insists conversation is all he offers to between 30 and 40 clients a month, roughly 70 percent of whom are women.

"The people who rent me are just asking me to keep them company for an hour or two, mainly to listen to them," he tells AFP between sessions, giving the example of a woman in her 80s who would book him every week for a walk around the local park.

"I almost became like her son," he says.

Other clients include a fisherman who was sick of waiting in solitary silence for a catch, a college student with ambitions to get into show business but who lacked family support, and an awkward young employee who did not know how to behave around his direct supervisor.

Japan has struggled with problems of social isolation, most notably the phenomenon of "hikikomori" where people, often teens and young adults, refuse to leave the house or engage socially, instead opting to play video games or remain in their rooms.

- 'Express yourself' -

But the people who come to Nishimoto do not suffer from detachment from society or challenges adjusting to it.

Rather, those who use the service say it allows them to forget the expectations of their family and friends and speak freely -- an option which experts say is especially useful in Japan, where social roles can be tightly defined and expectations rigid.

"There's a different 'me' depending on whether I'm with my friends, my family, or my boyfriend," says 24-year-old Nodoka Hyodo after her session with Nishimoto.

She explains: "I create a 'me' in relation to others. Here, all that disappears because I'm talking to someone I don't know -- thanks to him, I feel like I'm understanding myself better."

Psychologist Hiroaki Enomoto stresses that in Japan there are social norms governing what can and can't be said even with close associates.

"When you come up against something new, it might be difficult to talk about this with someone because you might not necessarily have a suitable person in your existing circles," he tells AFP.

"It's difficult to know how to express yourself without bothering someone else."

But by renting an "ossan" the relationship becomes a commercial one and thus follows different rules.

In recent years, a number of agencies have been offering "rent-a-friend" services paid by the hour.

Customers can rent an agency employee as a fake friend, family member, or companion for various occasions such as weddings, funerals and parties. Some use them just to have a conversation partner to ease times of loneliness and isolation in old age.

The married Nishimoto says he has considered stopping the service several times, but found that he needed his clients just as much as they needed him.

"I never know exactly what they're going to ask for when they rent me, and of course that's a bit scary, but it's also why it's so interesting. Honestly, I've never had problems with any weird clients... I've had plenty of emotional experiences."

France 24, Published: 22 July 2016 - 07H05
Japanese 'rent men' who are paid just to listen;
"I never know exactly what they're going to ask for when they rent me, and of course that's a bit scary, but it's also why it's so interesting," said Takanobu Nishimoto of "Ossan Rental" (Old Guy Rental)
By Karyn Nishimura-Poupee

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My Name is Hasmah

THE birthday girl looked as lovely as I have always known her to be. It was hard to believe she was all of 90 years old.

Indeed, the years have been kind to Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali and I am convinced how she looks simply reflects her inner beauty, kindness and good heart.

As I sang Happy Birthday to her with family, friends and many, many admirers, I thought back to 1996, when I scored one of my proudest scoops as a journalist: an exclusive interview with her.

As the wife of the Prime Minister, she was immensely popular with the public who respected her as a doctor and admired her quiet elegance, grace and dignity.

While everyone knew her public persona, little was known about her personal life. I had covered Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad extensively and had always wanted to write about her, too. Finally, with the help of her daughter Datin Paduka Marina, our long-time columnist, I secured the interview.

It was the first she had granted to a journalist, and I was excited and nervous in equal parts: here was a chance to get never-before revealed nuggets into the lives of the Prime Minister, his wife and their family and I didn’t want to flub it.

Fortunately, I didn’t and I had enough material for a two-part series which was published in The Star on March 4 and 5, 1996.

I wrote about her early years, how she and Dr Mahathir met as medical students – a wonderful love story that has lasted 70 years – his rocky road to prime ministership, their children and her values and thoughts on various issues.

But when we touched on a few sensitive subjects, she asked me to be discreet about some of the details.

I had another coup when she granted another exclusive interview on the rather perilous and exciting holiday she and Dr Mahathir had in the Antarctica and Argentina in 2002.

I would interview her again – when Dr Mahathir retired in 2003 – which allowed me to write about her one more time.

Fast forward to late May 2016. I received an e-mail from Marina’s office asking me to save the date on July 20 for her mother’s 90th birthday. Not only that, she would be launching her own memoirs on that day.

The birthday-cum-book launch with a pretty, floral theme, held at the amazingly creative event space called the Glasshouse at Seputeh in Kuala Lumpur, was a joyous love-fest led by her close-knit family in which we, the guests, were delighted to be part of.

All of us got a copy of the hardcover memoirs titled My Name is Hasmah. I started reading it the moment I got home.

It’s immediately engaging because it’s very well designed and thought out.

There are lots of photos, listicles and whimsical illustrations (although I didn’t think the one showing a dissected frog was necessary!) that match the cheerful and accessible tone of the writing.

In her introduction, Dr Siti Hasmah explains that rather than write a full-blown “exhaustive account of every last detail of my life, I have decided instead to focus on brief recollections, moments and impressions that capture the truth of who I am”.

And who is this woman? She reveals herself in six parts: as daughter and sister, doctor, wife, mother and grandmother, prime minister’s wife and finally, as so-called retiree.

Some parts of the book are fami-liar to me as they recall my own articles on her but they are still a pleasure a read. Written in an informal and personal style, I felt as if I could “hear” her voice in those pages.

She covers much ground, inclu-ding a brief and measured foray into friendships wrecked by politics, but predictably, the most inte-resting bits are on her relationship with Dr Mahathir.

Even though I knew their beginnings, she shares more details which are touching and romantic.

Dr Siti Hasmah, the only Malay girl in her batch of medical students at the University of Malaya in Singapore, struggled with her stu-dies and she candidly shares that she “became known among my classmates as the girl who had to sit for exams every six months, repeating the subjects that I had failed ...”

But it was because she had such difficulties that Dr Mahathir step-ped in like “my knight in shining armour” to tutor her.

That was the start of their life-long love for each other, which is in Part 3 of the book, appropriately titled ‘Sayang’, meaning love in Malay.

How they dated and how Dr Ma--hathir confessed his love to her is so sweet that it could have been right out of one of my Korean dramas.

But he is, she writes, also exceedingly shy and avoids any display of affection in public. Even now, she adds, with her very poor eyesight, he will not hold her hand in public.

If Dr Mahathir is famous for his sarcastic sense of humour, Dr Siti Has--mah’s wit is a lot gentler and self-deprecating. She shares many ad--ven---tures and misadventures which are so funny, I laughed out loud.

One surprising revelation from the book is that Dr Mahathir is diabetic and asthmatic, although it is unclear whether he was so when he was prime minister.

Dr Siti Hasmah also writes about the adoption of their two youngest children, Mazhar and Maizura, in 1984 from Pakistan. It was an open secret but she asked me not to make public the details 20 years ago, possibly because the two were still young even though they already knew of their adoption.

Throughout her long and eventful life, Dr Siti Hasmah seems to have a very clear sense of self. She has her own remarkable achievements as a government doctor and advocate for causes she believes in but her most important role was that of a supporting one to her husband.

To her, the Prime Minister’s wife “was expected to be a role model, a positive influence, an inspiration to the people”.

She adds that to do that, one had to “really take a good hard look at yourself first”. And the one quality necessary to fulfil the role is humi-lity because “If you are humble, the people will accept you”.

And that is the secret to her success and why she remains much loved, no matter how the political winds blow. Her name is Hasmah. Remember that!

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Celebrating a full and well-lived life ;
Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali marks her 90th birthday with the release of her lively and delightful memoirs.
Aunty finds herself very moved by this line in the book: ‘I have osteoporosis, so if you hug me, please hug me gently.’ My Name is Hasmah is available in all major bookstores at RM80.

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Destruction of the middle classes

In nature, phase transitions describe changes in states of matter. Depending on temperature, H2O can exist as solid (ice), liquid (water) or gas (water vapour). Societal crises behave similarly. Today, our economic problems have morphed into their social and political phases.

The economic issues are well understood. Growth is flagging. Inflation is low. The attempt to boost economic activity using debt and financialisation has created a large debt overhang which is proving intractable. Productivity improvements have decreased. Growth in trade and capital flows, which underpinned rising prosperity, is slowing. Entitlement systems, which assumed strong growth and different demographics, are now compromised.

Following the economic crisis of 2008, government debt levels in many advanced economies rose as governments sought to rescue the financial system and boost demand. The cure – in the form of old-fashioned pump-priming, interest rate cuts and more unconventional monetary policies (QE and negative interest rates) – have not dealt with the underlying pathology of the problems. There are side effects, such as inflated asset values and financial system weaknesses.

The economic problems have exposed long-standing social issues. Concern about employment, especially the quality of jobs, and stagnant incomes has created a backlash against globalisation and trade. Retrenchment of social services has affected living standards.

Housing affordability has declined due, in part, to inflated property values resulting from excess liquidity. Savings and retirement plans in many countries are threatened by low interest rates on safe investments. Inequality and concentration of wealth has risen.

The problems have now entered the political phase. Policy responses place a disproportionate share of the adjustment on the less affluent and the aged. High youth unemployment and rising education costs mean diminishing opportunities for the young. The inability of governments to deliver on promises to restore growth and prosperity in return for sacrifice has also become apparent.

The rise of populist movements, and the growth of nationalism and xenophobia in many countries, reflects this dissatisfaction. Brexit is symptomatic of these pressures.

In the coming months, these same forces will inform a number of key events. It will be the background to the US Presidential election, where the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have channelled these concerns in different ways.

Italy is scheduled to hold a constitutional referendum in October 2016. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, already under increasing pressure from the anti-EU Five Star party, has threatened to resign if his reforms are rejected. A long running banking crisis also imperils the government. The EU bank regime requires the write down of debt which would result in politically damaging losses to small investors. But, if the Italian government moves to support banks directly, it will come into direct conflict with the EU.

Spain has not had a government since December 2015, after two elections as a divided electorate has failed to deliver a clear mandate. Elections are scheduled for 2017 in Germany and France, where far-right parties have tapped into discontent to increase their support. A number of Eastern European nations plan plebiscites on immigration which will exacerbate the EU’s internal divisions.

Even if they are unlikely to gain power in their own right, far-right and left political parties or movements are reshaping agendas. Ukip (which, remember, has only one elected member in the House of Commons) was influential in the EU referendum. Facing a voter backlash, mainstream political parties are being forced to alter policies on public finance, trade, immigration, international coordination and national sovereignty.

The political reaction to Brexit is revealing. There are suggestions that legal and parliamentary stratagems should be used to negate the result of the UK plebiscite.

Politicians argue that a complex question had been reduced to absurd simplicity. A simple majority of those who voted was too low a bar. Important decisions should not be for voters but left to informed elected officials and experts to avoid bad choices. There are proposals that only people who meet some minimum standard should be permitted to vote.

(For the record, 36 per cent of eligible voters voted for leaving – a level higher than the vote required in recent years to gain the most powerful political position on the planet: the US presidency.)

Independent, Published: 21 hours ago
The world's economic crises are entering a political stage – and the results could be dangerous ;
Historians found that the destruction of the middle classes was crucial to the rise of fascism, communism and militarism after the Great Depression. We must not allow history to repeat itself
By Satyajit Das
Satyajit Das is a former banker. His latest book is A Banquet of Consequences. His is also author of Extreme Money and Traders, Guns & Money.

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Hemingway Days

For the first time in its 36-year history, a competition seeking the man who most looks like literary giant Ernest Hemingway was won by a man called Hemingway.

Dave Hemingway was named the winner of the “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest on Saturday in Key West, Florida. The winner said he was not related to the late author.

The husband of celebrity cook Paula Deen – Michael Groover of Savannah, Georgia – finished in the top five for the second straight year. It was the sixth time he had participated.

The contest, which attracted 140 entrants, is the highlight event of the annual Hemingway Days festival that celebrates the author’s legacy. It was held at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a frequent hangout of Ernest Hemingway’s during his Key West residency in the 1930s.

Dave Hemingway, who won the contest in his seventh attempt, wore a wool, cream-colored turtleneck sweater similar to that favoured by the late author.

“Even though this sweater is really hot, it was part of my strategy,” he said. “And I think it worked really well.”

Like the author, Dave Hemingway said he liked to fish and drink a little. “And I like women,” he said. “I like having a good time. I do feel like Ernest because I’m in the town he lived in so many years.”

The Guardian, Last modified on Sunday 24 July 2016 21.23 BST
For him the bell tolls: Hemingway wins Florida Hemingway lookalike contest ;
- Dave Hemingway is first Hemingway to win Hemingway lookalike title
- Earnest effort by husband of cook Paula Deen leads to top-five finish

By AP (Associated Press) in Key West, Florida

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Save our tigers !

The following is not the 'paper tiger' but the story about real tigers!

There is some good news: in 2016, for the first time ever, tiger numbers worldwide have increased from about 3,200 to 3,900.

The ambitious plan to double these majestic felines was part of the Declaration of Heads of Governments during the 2010 St. Petersburg Tiger Summit in Russia, when all 13 countries with tigers agreed on a ground-breaking Global Tiger Recovery Program.

The summit also decided on July 29 to celebrate Global Tiger Day.

Closer to home, however, Malaysia’s tiger numbers are thought to have plummeted from 500 in 2003 to an all-time low of about 250-340 in 2014. In fact, last year the Malayan tiger was re-classified to the status of “Critically Endangered” from “Endangered” within IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species – this majestic creature is moving closer to the brink of extinction in the wild.

So one may ask: with such a bleak scenario, what’s there to celebrate about Global Tiger Day in Malaysia?

There is hope
The ongoing conservation story of the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex in northern Perak shows why we should strive harder than ever before to save our very own Harimau Malaya.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Malaysia) has been working here since 2007, which spans an area of some 3,000sqkm – about four times the size of Singapore! This place includes the Royal Belum State Park (the second largest “protected area” in Peninsular Malaysia) and Temenggor Forest Reserve (the second largest “forest reserve” in Peninsular Malaysia).

Back in 2008, Belum-Temenggor was identified as a priority area in our National Tiger Conservation Action Plan. But the actual status of tigers and their survival risk factors were unknown.

Over the years, WWF-Malaysia together with government partners – the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Perak State Government, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, the Perak State Parks Corporation and the Forestry Department of Perak – have been working towards saving tigers here.

There have been several major conservation initiatives here in recent years. These are: the gazettement of a critical “wildlife corridor” as Amanjaya Forest Reserve (by the Perak State Government) and the construction of a viaduct (by the Federal Government) so that wildlife can cross the East-West (Gerik-Jeli) Highway, which runs across the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex.

Several logging road access points have also been closed off by the Perak State Forestry Department to reduce encroachment, whilst the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has successfully caught several poachers here. The Perak State Parks Corporation is also starting to use state-of-the-art SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) for anti-poaching patrols within the Royal Belum State Park.

WWF-Malaysia is also currently doing scientific research on tigers in Belum-Temenggor. Every tiger has a unique stripe pattern (like our fingerprints). So, using remotely-triggered camera-traps, the number of tigers can be determined.

A total of 162 camera-traps were set in 81 locations across the Temenggor Forest Reserve, thus far capturing images of several tigers. Aside from that, the team trekked more than 1,000km looking for animal tracks and signs, to study animals that tigers prey on.

The Orang Asli are also involved. WWF-Malaysia has interviewed 459 villagers on conservation awareness. Two group discussions with 73 Orang Asli in Royal Belum State Park were held in 2016 to raise their participation in conservation efforts, discuss local issues, and to identify those interested in anti-poaching activities. A local informant/anti-poaching network and reporting system was established in January 2016.

Now or never
Tigers are revered throughout Asia and are a symbol of strength and courage. Their depiction is often used in official emblems including Malaysia’s very own Coat of Arms or Jata Negara.

Tigers are apex predators sitting on top of the food chain, hence they play an important part in regulating the entire ecosystem. Having large territories, they are also an ideal “umbrella species”, meaning that protecting tigers will also protect the entire ecosystem. Healthy forests are important for humans too, as over two billion people rely on forests for shelter, livelihoods, water supply, food, and fuel!

WWF-Malaysia stresses the urgency for on-the-ground protection against poachers and wildlife traders/traffickers, particularly within the three priority sites for tigers (Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin Forest Complexes). We again call for a thorough review of the National Tiger Conservation Action Plan.

We take this opportunity to urge other corporations to follow Maybank Foundation’s support for tigers in these trying economic times.

We also call for stronger political will and concerted efforts from all parties – government bodies, NGOs and the public – to stand united in fighting for the survival of these majestic animals. Please don’t let the Malayan tiger fade out of sight.

On this Global Tiger Day, we bid our fellow Malaysians to rally with us to save our tigers while we still can, for extinction is FOREVER.

We are running out of time, so it has to be now or never!

The Star 2, Published: July 26, 2016
We CAN save the Malayan tiger, we MUST do it now ;
July 29 is a special global day for tigers.
By Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma
Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma is the Executive Director and CEO of WWF-Malaysia

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Paper Tiger

Japan is crafting a massive spending package worth about $190 billion to bolster the economy - about double the size initially floated - but a close examination shows actual public spending will be far less than the headline number suggests.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fresh off a big election win, last week ordered his government to create a stimulus plan to revive an economy dogged by sluggish consumption and investment, despite three years of his "Abenomics" mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and promised reforms.

The package will have a headline figure of at least 20 trillion yen ($186.55 billion), three government sources told Reuters on Thursday.
But despite the startling headline figure - equal to more than 4 per cent of gross domestic product - real government spending to boost economic growth is actually in line with or smaller than previous expectations.

"Overall, it seems like a paper tiger," said Kentaro Sugiyama, senior economist at Nomura Securities.

About half of the nominal 20 trillion yen is expected to come from a combination of direct spending from both national and local governments and the Fiscal Investment and Loan Programme (FILP), about 3 trillion yen and 6 trillion yen, respectively.

The other half, government sources say, is expected to come from private sector firms that get state subsidies and lending from quasi-government financial institutions.

The package could expand during talks with Abe's ruling coalition before his cabinet approves the measures on 2 August.

"The fine print is always the same, about 2.5 trillion yen to 3.5 trillion yen of real fiscal thrust," said Jesper Koll, CEO at fund manager WisdomTree Japan.

"The creativity with which this can be spun out to generate anywhere from 8-20 trillion is truly admirable," he added.

FILP loans are financed by government bonds and must be paid back out of the recipient company's profits. Such loans are not included in budget numbers and technically don't increase Japan's debt, which is already more than twice the size of the economy,

LDP governments have a long tradition of inflating the headline figure of stimulus packages and there is even a word to describe the real spending component - "mamizu" or "fresh water".

"The 20 trillion yen headline figure is not very significant. What matters is how large the 'mamizu' portion will be," said Hidenori Suezawa, fiscal and markets analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities.

The government, which began laying the groundwork for the package as a rising yen threatened exports and worries about the global economy abounded, may have felt a need to inflate the headline figure because market expectations were high, said Hiroshi Shiraishi, a senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities.

"There is still a chance it could increase a bit further, but the bottom line ... is they are not going to issue deficit-financing bonds," Shiraishi said.

"That basically means this will not increase significantly the amount of handouts to households."

The spending is also likely to be spread over several years, reducing its immediate impact, while doubts persist over how much private investment will really rise given funds are already easy to obtain due to already rock-bottom interest rates.

Whatever the source, much of the spending looks to be targeted at infrastructure projects, such as port improvements and speeding up construction of an ultra-fast "maglev" train line from Tokyo to Osaka. One LDP lawmaker said the package likely includes a FILP loan of 3 trillion yen over three years for the maglev project.

That has some analysts wondering just how much it will contribute to long-term growth.

"What matters is whether there are policies to address the shrinking, ageing population and globalisation," SMBC Nikko Securities' Suezawa said.

"Without policies linked to the long-term growth of Japan's economy, it could have little impact and just worsen public finances."

Reuters, Tokyo, Published: July 22, 2016 Last Updated at 00:10 IST
Japan's $190-bn spending stimulus a 'paper tiger' ;
The package could expand during talks with Abe's ruling coalition before his cabinet approves the measures on 2 August

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Honesty Box

There’s something about the sight of an ordinary “honesty box” that reminds me that common decency still holds value for some amongst us.

After all, the almost daily bombardment of headlines highlighting atrocities or avarice can shake your faith in the next person. So, I’ve decided to give you a breather and describe a seemingly quaint system of sale and purchase that essentially prods us to tap our “light side”.

Honesty boxes can actually be used in various situations: from parking lots to newspaper stands to even hotel bars. From my experience in Germany so far, they are especially popular in the rural areas. Farmers often set up makeshift stalls offering fresh, homegrown produce such as seasonal fruit, vegetables, honey and flowers. The fruit and vegetables are usually neatly arranged on tables, while bunches of cut flowers are placed in buckets of water.

But, no one mans these stalls.

All you have are the produce, their prices written on notice boards, and the aforementioned honesty box into which you pay for what you take. And, your conscience.

There are practical grounds for this practice. After all, there are fewer customers in smaller towns and villages and so, it doesn’t make monetary sense for a farmer or a vendor to man a stall all day. In the bigger scheme of things, it is also a gauge of whether people still abide by social norms, and behave when not under constant surveillance.

Having personally never seen nor experienced the concept of an honesty box in Malaysia, I thought it was indeed a novelty – and an enormous leap of faith – to sell and charge for products or services based only on your faith that your customers will have the moral fibre to actually pay up.

I still recall how astonished I was when I encountered my first honesty box. We were then living in a town ringed by farmlands that grew wheat, corn and rapeseed, which for us meant meandering, scenic routes that were perfect for evening walks.

One evening, my husband and I were walking past golden wheat fields when we came to a clearing in which stood what looked like a makeshift standing post box. Hammered onto the post was a crudely written sign with an arrow pointing towards a field of sunflowers that said, “Sunflowers – 50 cents per stalk.”

“He actually trusts people not to come at night and steal ALL his sunflowers?” I asked my bemused husband, incredulously. (Just to give you perspective, we once had a rose-mad family acquaintance back in Malaysia whose philosophy was that “stolen roses grow best” and who always carried a pair of garden clippers in her car).

You see, besides grain crops, farmers also grow other plants on their plots. Depending on the seasons, they plant daffodils, sunflowers or gladioli, which they then cut and tie up in bundles and sell for a price. Or under the wider umbrella of the “honour system”, they even trust you enough to cut the flowers yourself and pay for the exact number of stalks you take.

There’s a strawberry plot near my mum-in-law’s home that during strawberry season allows visitors to gather as many strawberries as they want and then pay per kilogramme. I must add though that there is someone who mans the weighing machine. And technically you can’t monitor who’s been eating their fill on the plot itself while picking the strawberries – except for their telltale pink-stained tongues!

Given that we are dealing with humans and their foibles, it’s not always utopic though. For instance, in 2013, a German potato farmer finally caught a thief who had abused his honesty box over the course of 15 years! Having realised early that someone was robbing him blind, yet not wanting to deprive his honest customers of his produce, he had three hidden cameras installed at his stall.

The crafty thief, who’d merrily stolen kilos of spuds while paying close to nothing, always wore large sunglasses to avoid identification. However, his luck ran out and eventually the farmer got a clear shot of him and he was turned in. It was reported among others, that he’d once taken 19kg of potatoes and paid only 15 cents into the honesty box. Another time he was filmed taking 12.5kg that would have typically cost him around €10 at a regular store.

As I mentioned earlier, this honour system is neither limited to fresh produce nor to Germany. Interestingly, when I Googled “honesty boxes + Malaysia” I found a Borneo Post article published in 2013 that highlighted a fruit-n-veg stall using an honesty box in Lawas, Sarawak.

And you’d be amazed at the many articles that have been written and published on the uses and abuses of this system, with behavioural biologists weighing in on human integrity or the lack of it versus the selfish desire to appear upright and thus pay to avoid censure by your peers.

I find it heartening that despite economic uncertainty and difficulties, wariness of what is to come, and weariness of greedy politicians, there remain those for whom trust and trustworthiness are worthier currencies.

After all, isn’t honesty supposed to be the best policy?

The Star2, Published: July 25, 2016
Can you count on your customers’ honesty? ;
Overwhelmed by incessant headlines underscoring humanity's uglier side, our columnist turns her attention to honesty boxes.
By Brenda Benedict
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Bonn. She’s thrilled that a farmer recently set up shop selling sunflowers near where she lives.

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Brazil's Dance

The overwhelming news in the lead up to the 2016 Olympics has been about the rampant dysfunction of the host city, Rio de Janeiro, and for good reason. The stories are gruesome and sensationalistic, filled with the kinds of pulpy details that make a mental imprint deeply difficult to dismiss.

There have been police officers greeting people arriving at Rio’s international airport with a banner reading “Welcome to Hell,” as they fight for overtime pay. Body parts have washed onto the beaches where Olympic events are due to take place. The Zika virus is causing a few high-profile athletes to back out of participating.

Some of the stories sound like they've been pulled from a ham-handed Hollywood satire. Two skydivers fell to their deaths while attempting, with 26 others, to form the Olympic rings in an effort to hype the Games. A real jaguar, standing in for the Olympic mascot at a torch relay event, was shot dead by a police officer when it escaped its leash after the ceremonies. Or take this slogan from Rio's Olympic Organizing Committee: A Olimpiada traz mais do que so a Olimpiada. That means “The Olympics bring so much more than just the Olympics.” No kidding.

As bad as the situation is in Rio, all the clucking about its particular problems has a disturbing side-effect: It drives a narrative that the maladies of the Olympics lie with Brazil’s mangled, corrupt government and not with the Olympic system itself. In every recent Games, we've seen some version of the worst of the Olympics maladies: debt, displacement and police violence.

Rio is definitely seeing more than its share of these evils. According to a Rio watchdog group, more than 77,000 families have been compelled to move to new homes to make way for Games construction, the Rio Olympics are over budget by 51%, and, as Amnesty International is cataloging, in the last year, there has been a 135% increase in police killings, all focused on the city’s poorest areas.

Since 9/11, security imperatives have provided host cities with a rationale, and possibly a pretext, for investment in high-tech weaponry and surveillance systems. That, in turn, has added to the Games’ cost and added a reason to remove people from their homes: to create a security perimeter for the foreign dignitaries, athletes and the Games venues.

I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004, and at each site I’ve seen the negative effects. The 2004 Games in Athens brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and came in at 200% over budget. The Olympic structures now shelter communities of squatters and the homeless, and the cost overruns added to Greece's catastrophic recession.

In 2008, the Beijing Games displaced an estimated 1.5 million people and cost a then-record $30 billion. The Games' signature Bird’s Nest stadium is now a mostly empty relic. The 2012 Summer Games in London also went over budget, and put surface-to-air missiles atop residential apartment buildings. In 2014, the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, cost $51 billion − more than every other Winter Games combined. Roughly $30 billion of this was simply unaccounted for, chalked up to corruption, another common corollary of the Olympic enterprise.

After the extremes of Beijing and Sochi, the International Olympic Committee came up with its Agenda 2020, reforms that were supposed to encourage more economical Games, making them more palatable to smaller cities and governments that have to answer to taxpayers and voters, as opposed to autocracies, such as China and Russia. Any discussion of reform is welcome, but the idea that meaningful safeguards against corruption or human rights abuses have been put in place is laughable.

What every city needs to do − and I’m looking right at you Los Angeles − is just say no. Rejecting the Games is the only action that holds the potential to spur meaningful reform. Then perhaps we'll see the IOC end the practice of city-by-city bids that encourages high-stakes promises and requires the creation of massive Games infrastructure, often from scratch, every four years. Then perhaps we'll see the creation of permanent venues for the Winter and Summer Games.

L.A. is in the second phase of making a strong push to host the 2024 Games. The bid organizers maintain that their plan will follow the "no new construction" design that made the 1984 L.A. Games unusually successful, even profitable. It's worth nothing, however, that a 2012 Oxford University study found that no host city in the previous 20 years had been able to meet its budget.

Even if Angelenos are hopeful that their Games can succeed all over again, there is good reason for the city to rise up and join other cities − from Krakow to Boston − that have actively organized against hosting the Games. Such activism would have an impact well beyond saving Los Angeles from the maladies that inevitably accompany the Games. It's not too late, and it is the only act that will push the Olympics to change.

July 19,2016, 5.00 am
Just say no to the Olympics ;
It's time to end the creation of massive Games infrastructure, often from scratch, every four years
Controversial: An aerial view showing the Christ the Redeemer statue with the Maracana stadium in background in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Reuters
By Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin is sports editor of the Nation and author, most recently, of the book “Brazil's Dance With The Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.”

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Smokey Mountain

Teenager Piolo Perez swings his bat on a baseball field built atop the Philippines' most notorious trash heap, sending home run balls crashing through the shanties mushrooming on the outfield.

Inspired by a Hollywood film starring Kevin Costner about a farmer who builds a baseball diamond on his cornfield, Manila's huge landfill nicknamed Smokey Mountain has its own "Field of Dreams" to stop its youth going astray.

"If it weren't for baseball, I'd still be picking trash," Perez, a scrawny 15-year-old catcher, told AFP in between swinging at pitches in Sunday training.

Like his 60-plus teammates, Perez, used to collect recyclable materials from the truckloads of rubbish from around the nation's capital of 12 million people that is dumped on the seafront district.

But he now has a sporting scholarship thanks to a baseball and softball programme, run by a charity group and local business people.

Poverty is widespread in the Philippines, with one in four Filipinos earning a mere $1.30 a day, but the conditions at the Smokey Mountain squatter colony are especially dire.

Smokey Mountain, which got its name because of the acrid smoke that rose from decomposing waste at the rubbish dump, was officially 'closed' by the government 20 years ago. It cleared some of the land to build five-storey apartment buildings for the 15,000 'garbage gleaners' that lived and worked there.

But authorities left much of the rubbish behind, and the dumping continued illegally. New shanties sprouted and the whole area came to be known as Smokey Mountain.

Now the original grass-overgrown 20-hectare (49-acre) dump rises like a parody of the Boston Red Sox's "Green Monster" wall off third base.

The cramped and bumpy field, the size of three basketball courts, is ringed by rapidly spreading squatter shanties. Close by is a murky open sewer that empties into Manila Bay.

A home run almost always entails losing the ball to the foul-smelling water or sending it crashing through the ramshackle houses.

- Baseball team instead of gangs -

Many Smokey Mountain residents still depend on gleaning trash to make a living despite efforts by the government and civic groups to wean them away from the activity.

Baseball -- and softball for girls -- has proved a successful option for youths aged 7-18, said Marvin Navarro, community development director for the Manila branch of Junior Chamber International, a key sponsor.

"It's also a way to get them out of the negative aspects of the community such as drugs, gangs and stealing," Navarro told AFP.

Though overshadowed by basketball, baseball has deep roots in the Asian country, a US colony for nearly 50 years before winning independence in 1946.

The programmes began when civic groups looking to help out slum residents found children playing rudimentary baseball at the old dump using improvised bats and gloves fashioned out of rubber sandals and cartons.

"It was just flat land which was full of garbage, not really conducive for the sports, so talks were made... to really convert this lot into a proper sports field," Navarro said.

A government agency let the team use the lot for free, and corporate sponsors including US firms operating in the Philippines cleared the field and provided uniforms and playing equipment.

Retired baseball superstars from Japan's major league are also brought in at least once a year for free clinics to the team and its coaches, Navarro said.

- Scholarship hope -

Perez, the son of a tricycle driver, learned to play baseball at the lot when he was eight.

He was also going to school but it was a precarious existence, as he had to spend hours each day collecting plastic water bottles to raise enough money for the study fees of 50 pesos (just over a dollar) a day.

The boy, who idolises the Miami Marlins' Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, a batting and base-stealing champion, stopped collecting garbage after earning a high school sports scholarship at the Timoteo Paez Integrated School nearby.

Garry Riparip, the community's head coach, said the main challenge was convincing parents to let their children play and go to school, instead of forcing them to collect trash.

"We're trying to change their mindset, so that they will put more importance to education than earning a living from garbage. If they graduate many more opportunities will open up for them," he told AFP.

Another issue for the children is overcoming diffidence to compete against well-heeled opponents with slick uniforms and top-of-the-line equipment.

"It's intimidating at times playing against teams from wealthy schools. Our team has to share the gloves," said Rica Lacorte, 13, who plays third base for the girls' team.

Despite the odds, Smokey Mountain teams compete in the country's little league tournaments, and many of them have excelled, Riparip, 48, said.

Their under-15 girls team went to the Junior League Softball World Series in the United States in 2014.

Though they still live in the slum, 15 boys are also currently on playing scholarships with three prestigious Manila universities, he added.

Lacorte, the daughter of a taxi driver who lives at one of the tenement units, told AFP she and her parents wanted her to follow the same path.

"My parents support my softball activities. They want me to meet more friends and perhaps win a scholarship," she said.

Mail Online, Updated: 06:52 GMT, 19 July 2016
'Field of Dreams' offers baseball hope in Philippines
By Afp

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Malaysian politics

Man, oh man! This new party being proposed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has really set some alarm bells ringing.

First and foremost, I think that if anyone wants to set up a political party, that’s their right to do so.

Go ahead, knock yourself out, have fun.

My concern is what this does to the already incredibly messy and chaotic political scene of the country.

The Opposition is in disarray. Top leaders are either locked up or being dragged through the legal process.

The promising Pakatan Rakyat has torn apart with PAS suddenly rediscovering its medieval roots.

The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) is still finding its feet and I do not believe it has captured the public imagination as how the Pakatan Rakyat did all those years ago.

Plus, now with PAS dancing to its own tune (figuratively of course, because I am sure the party frowns on dancing), it looks like three-cornered fights is going to be the order of the day.

If that is the case, then Barisan Nasional will stand to gain the most.

All this mess, and that is without taking into consideration any internal politicking in the three component parties of the PH.

I am certain such politicking exists, although I have no idea what they may be, being an outsider and all. But even without such shenanigans, things do not look good for the Opposition.

And into this situation a new political party may jump in. We aren’t even sure what this party is all about. It appears to be concerned with working with the Opposition to get rid of the Barisan Nasional Government.

Yet, at the same time, its figurehead is saying that it may not go up against Umno.

I’m sorry. What?

Maybe I am missing some subtle political point here but the last time I looked, the Prime Minister, his deputy and many other ministers are from Umno.

You want to get rid of the current Government leaders but not fight against Umno?

Can this be correct or was there a total misunderstanding and the news report I read was wrong?

Furthermore, I am most curious to find out just what this new party is all about.

What is its manifesto? Is it just to fight Barisan? Or will it have other things it wants to champion?

Perhaps it is going to promise to fix the institutional disaster that we are faced with today.

A disaster that can trace its roots to the regime of Dr Mahathir.

It would be interesting if it did want to champion this, seeing as how its de facto head does not have any inclination to admit that perhaps, just perhaps, he has to bear some responsibility for the situation we and he find ourselves in today.

Also there is a possibility that this new party is going to be a Malay party. Really?

Great, that’s just what we need; another party that reinforces racial politics. I suppose since its target demographic is Umno and PAS supporters, it wants to appeal to the Malay heartland.

Even if that is the case, it is a sad state of affairs that these people seem to think that the only way they can do this is by reverting to a political norm that has in the long term caused a divisive and divided society.

And how about their potential partners? How can the PH accept a race-based party when all three parties in PH are not race-based and have spoken out against such things in the past?

Furthermore, just what exactly is the relationship going to be between this new party and the PH.

Will someone like Dr Mahathir allow himself to be merely an equal partner or will he want to dictate everything?

There is no clue whatsoever as to how this new party will fit into the existing system.

All this does is add confusion to an already depressing state of affairs. And I do not know if it is going to help or not.

Let’s be frank, the reason I keep singling out Dr Mahathir is because without him, this new party will not exist.

He has been campaigning against the Prime Minister for a long time now and you must be naïve to think that this new party, whatever it may be, will be formed if Dr Mahathir didn’t want it to happen.

But how influential is he anyway?

In the last two by-elections, there seems to be no indication that his presence can make a dent in the Umno support.

Will his party do better? Who knows?

Yet, the PH are probably hoping that the Mahathir factor can help turn that particularly Umno-centric demographic.

They obviously decided that it is worth it to partner their former enemy to do so.

The question is, what if the Mahathir factor is not a factor at all? Will it then be worth it to have him in the same team?

Only time will tell.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 20 July 2016
New party, old issues
Malaysian politics is challenging enough. Will Dr M's coalition idea make things worse?

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Yuna has been criticised

IT’s unbelievable. A friendly hug, which is more sisterly and brotherly in nature, between Malaysian singer Yuna and Grammy award winner Usher can actually become a controversy.

There was nothing sensual about it but for some people, these holier-than-thou critics, it has become an almost punishable moral crime, but luckily they are only in the minority.

The majority of her fans, who are rational people, have chosen to support her via social media but it must have hurt the US-based Yuna badly.

For one, she wears a headgear and her body is mostly covered up, even though it is well-known that her American friends have often told her it is all right to drop her fashion taste, thinking she is under some form of religious pressure.

But that does not seem to be enough for some critics, who supposedly uphold religious principles, but could in the same breath fire away profanity and curses.

Last week, Yuna, through her Instagram account, wrote: “I’ll show my appreciation whether it’s a handshake, or a hug, to my friends, this is me.”

“They call me ‘perempuan sampah’ and tell me to ‘might as well go naked’. The worst, hurtful & sexist things I’ve ever had thrown to me, were from the lips of the Malays,” Yuna added.

The hugging incident happened spontaneously while they were singing their hit song, Crush, at The Roots Picnic 2016 in Philadelphia, USA, last month.

The video was posted on Instagram and Twitter by Yuna on June 5, and her act was immediately criticised by some bloggers.

Yuna has been reported as saying that “I have some Americans telling me to take my hijab off, and I tell them no. I have some Malays tell me to take my hijab off because ‘from wearing a turban might as well take off your hijab’, I tell them no too.”

Usher could have chosen anyone to duet with him. We are talking about a huge name who has partnered with the likes of Pharrell and Justin Bieber but he has given the privilege to Yuna, who may be a nine-time Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) winner, but isn’t exactly a household name in the United States.

The collaboration has given Yuna international fame and instead of cheering and being proud of our local brand, some of us are kicking her for the most ridiculous things.

What did we expect her to do? Push Usher away, who is simply not used to Muslim etiquette but was merely hugging her without any sinister intentions?

She has signed up with Fader Label and this means she has also started working with Pharrell, whom we all know for giving us monster hits like Happy and Blurred Lines with Robin Thicke.

Her critics clearly can’t see the forest for the trees. Can Malaysians be blamed if some of us are beginning to be concerned with the new kind of intolerant religious-political culture that is taking shape in our country?

Even His Royal Highness the Sultan of Johor, in an interview, has expressed his worry that many Malaysians are becoming more Arab than the Arabs, with some female Malaysians refusing to shake his hand.

Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar said in an interview: “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.”

And of course, picking on entertainers didn’t end with Yuna. The Islamist party, PAS, threw a tantrum when it heard that Selena Gomez was putting up a concert in Shah Alam tomorrow.

The party, which was only momentarily moderate in the last general election, has gone back to its fanatical ways.

The wing’s dakwah committee chairman Hafez Sabri claimed that the American singer’s “sexy appearance” would tarnish the sanctity of the month of Syawal, which is when Muslims celebrate Hari Raya.

The state religious affairs executive council member Ahmad Yunus Hairi, who is from PAS, then ordered all mosques throughout the state to hold solat hajat (special prayers) to pray for the cancellation.

Obviously, Ahmad Yunus isn’t aware that although he may be the exco member in charge of religious affairs, it is the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) which carries more clout. Jais issued a statement late Friday to say it did not issue any notice or order for mosques to hold special prayers.

Its director Datuk Haris Kasim said any decision to cancel the show will be up to the local authorities, adding “as the people already know, the concert is set to take place on July 25.”

To top it all, the Raja Muda Selangor Tengku Amir Shah sent out a cheeky Instagram posting, on Friday night, which says “Welcome to my home town @selanagomez!” with a poster of the concert.

If PAS has its way, Malaysia will become another Taliban state. In Kelantan, its members are still dead against the revival of cinemas in that state.

Its youth wing has imposed conditions, such as gender segregation with the need to have the lights switched on while movies are going on.

So, if a husband takes his wife to the cinema, he would have to bring along their marriage certificate to prove they are married and we are not even sure if non-Muslims are exempted.

No wonder the Kelantanese prefer to just go to Golok and of course, bring back all kinds of diseases.

We need to bring back sanity and must be bold enough to stop this kind of religious-political culture, which is completely alien to Malaysia, but justified in the name of religion, as interpreted by PAS.

The Star, published: Sunday, 24 July 2016
Let sanity prevail ;
We need to stop any kind of religious-political culture from rearing its ugly head in Malaysia. We just need to be bold and say no.

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When dark clouds threaten

IMAGINE yourself looking up into the night sky and, without the aid of a telescope, being able to see the Milky Way, Saturn, Mars, two shooting stars, and the ISS (International Space Station) fly by.

“I’ve never felt so small in my life,” my niece Wei Vern wrote on Facebook on July 8. She was at Tusan Cliff, some 30 minutes from Miri town, on her way to Bintulu.

My colleague Eddie Chua shared something similar in an article which appeared in Star Metro on July 18 entitled “Mesmerised by the Milky Way”.

He was in Kudat, a town at the tip of Borneo, known for its cheap seafood, splendid beaches and pristine night skies.

Eddie was totally mesmerised by the innumerable mass of stars known as the Milky Way in the south-western sky.

He noted that in the mid-1970s and 1980s, the Milky Way could be seen anywhere in Malaysia on a clear night, but along with progress and development came artificial light and dust pollution. The twinkling stars are still there but they have “disappeared” from view.

Eddie is showing his age by mentioning the years but I can understand. For it was also in those years when my friends and I would camp at the beaches in Penang and just look up and be spellbound by the starry, starry night.

And we would always count how many shooting stars we saw on each trip.

I do not want to be naïve and think that we can reclaim developed areas in our country by reducing light pollution so that we can gaze upwards every night and realise how small we are. Considering the damage we have wreaked on our natural resources, we can only hope that pristine places like Kudat and Tusan Cliff will remain as they are.

On a more realistic level, there are still many wonders to behold in our urban settings, but we do not seem to have the time, nor the desire to do so.

For instance, the sunrises and sunsets in my neighbourhood that transform the sky into a kaleidoscope of colours. Sadly, many of us are too busy to look upwards.

I have been to many parks of late. On a walk in one of them, I noticed how empty it was despite being in a very populated and busy enclave of suburbia. The nearby malls beckon, I suppose.

Looking upwards, the majestic cloud formations with patches of blue sky amidst the billowing clouds made me think of the journey I am going through. There were dark clouds, too, some with silver linings as the sun was shone through.

Life is a journey and we cannot run away from its ups and downs. A plaque sitting on my office desk has a poem reminding me that God has not promised blue skies always, or joy without sorrow. But he has promised grace and strength for every trial.

One version of this poem I found on the Internet added a line, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”

Watching the clouds that day and seeing how they changed shapes and move where the winds carry them, I reflected that we can take the journey better when we know that all things will eventually pass.

A poem that is popular among cancer patients and caregivers entitled “What Cancer Cannot Do” goes like this:

Cancer is so limited...

It cannot cripple love.

It cannot shatter hope.

It cannot corrode faith.

It cannot eat away peace.

It cannot destroy confidence.

It cannot kill friendship.

It cannot shut out memories.

It cannot silence courage.

It cannot reduce eternal life.

It cannot conquer the spirit.

Indeed, that may be said for any major illness or crisis in life. To those starting out on similar journeys, may you find comfort from these reassuring words. Look up, and let the glory of the skies put things in perspective for you.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 24 July 2016
Drawing strength by looking up ;
When dark clouds threaten, remember the storm will pass and the sun will break through.

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Les Tontons Flingueurs

Mr Yahho visisted the Star Pitt Office, Penang, Malyasia on 21 July 2016 to watch the film of "Les Tontons Flingueurs de Georges Lautner avec Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, Francis Blanche, etc" and the following is the report:


Since the dawn of cinema, France has simultaneously and uninterruptedly produced good mainstream movies and arthouse films. Georges Lautner, who has died aged 87, unabashedly claimed that the almost 50 films he directed from 1958 to 1992 belong to the former category. Lautner's mainly cops-and-robbers movies were among the most popular films ever made in France.

"I didn't want glory or to make masterpieces but popular films that would please the greatest number," he once explained. "International recognition didn't interest me. I was passionate at what I did with my faithful team. We made the films we wanted as quickly as possible. But with time, my commercial films appear almost intellectual."

Lautner's underestimated films were never invited to Cannes until, in 2012, the festival put together a belated "Homage to Georges Lautner". His death prompted President François Hollande to declare that his films had "become part of the cinematic heritage of our country". Some of them also accrued the epithet "cult", in particular Les Tontons Flingueurs (1963), rendered variously in English as Monsieur Gangster or Crooks in Clover (literally The Killer Uncles). Barely a few weeks before Lautner died, a street in Nantes was named Rue des Tontons Flingueurs, because of one mention of a character called Lulu la Nantaise, evoked by Bernard Blier in a hilarious scene in which a group of gangsters get blotto around a kitchen table.

The scène de la cuisine is among the most celebrated in France, the dialogue of which many filmgoers know by heart, as well as other lines written by Michel Audiard, a master of witty and biting French argot. One line in the film, "Les cons ça ose tout. C'est même à ça qu'on les reconnaît" ("Idiots dare everything. That's how we recognise them"), spoken by Lino Ventura, has become part of the French lexicon, in roughly the same way that British audiences still appreciate "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" from Carry on Cleo.

Apart from a justifiably forgotten thriller, Presumed Dangerous (1990), with Robert Mitchum in a supporting role, Lautner's only English-language film was the bizarre Road to Salina (1970) starring Mimsy Farmer, Robert Walker Jr and Rita Hayworth, shot mostly in the Canary Islands. Quentin Tarantino used a song from the film in Kill Bill Volume 2.

Lautner was born in Nice, the son of a Viennese jeweller and aviator, and Marie Louise Vittore who, as Renée Saint-Cyr, was a film star, later appearing in 11 of her son's movies. At the age of seven, Lautner went to Paris when his mother started her film career, and discovered cinema. After leaving school, he began to get odd jobs in the studios. An apprenticeship as assistant director led to his first films as director.

After three lukewarm dramas, Lautner found his forte with Le Monocle Noir (The Black Monocle, 1961), freely adapted from the memoirs of Colonel Rémy, a secret agent during the second world war. Lautner turned it into a comedy-thriller starring Paul Meurisse as a spy known as "the Monocle", because he covered his one blind eye with a black monocle. Meurisse's delightfully eccentric, tongue-in-cheek performance was repeated in equally successful sequels: L'Oeil du Monocle (The Eye of the Monocle, 1962) and Le Monocle Rit Jaune (The Monocle, 1964).

Although Lautner continued to make hit parodic comedies during the 1960s, such as Les Tontons Flingueurs and Les Barbouzes (The Great Spy Chase, 1964), he occasionally strayed into drama. In fact, his favourite film was Le Septième Juré (The Seventh Juror, 1962) about a married man (Blier) who kills a girl spurning his advances. When her disreputable boyfriend is charged with the crime, he finds himself on the jury. Lautner handles the twists of the plot and the ironic ending with aplomb.

The murder melodrama Galia (1966) had a fairly profitable release in the UK and the US, mainly because of the disrobed presence of the ex-model Mireille Darc, who starred in a dozen of Lautner's films. In fact, the director tried to keep the same team from film to film: the actors Darc, Ventura, Blier, Francis Blanche and Jean Lefebvre; writer Audiard; and cinematographer Maurice Fellous.

"What interests him is to have good actors and a good writer," Fellous remarked. "He would say: 'If you make me a beautiful picture, you're going to take an hour. That's money I won't have for a better actor for the second or third role.' But he would add: 'In each of my movies, you will have one sequence to have your fun with.'"

There were plenty of sequences the cinematographer could have fun with in lively cop dramas such as Le Pacha (Pasha, 1968), in which Jean Gabin brings his dominating presence to bear as a world-weary police inspector; Il Était une Fois un Flic (Flic Story, 1971) and Flic ou Voyou (Cop or Hood, 1979), the latter the first of five Lautner films starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

One of them, Le Professionnel (The Professional, 1981) – Lautner's biggest box-office success of the 80s – was an entertaining action movie with an energetic Belmondo as a secret agent. Lautner's final feature was L'Inconnu dans la Maison (Stranger in the House, 1992) in which a subdued Belmondo plays an ageing drunken lawyer investigating a murder.

Lautner's wife, Caroline, whom he met in 1949, died almost 20 years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Alice, and son, Thomas.

• Georges Lautner, film director, born 24 January 1926; died 22 November 2013

Guardian, Last modified on Monday 2 December 2013 13.48 GMT
Georges Lautner obituary
Director of witty French comedy-thrillers

By Ronald Bergan

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GEORGE TOWN: The use of animal-based amino acid L-cysteine, which is usually used in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, should be banned by the Health Ministry.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said that L-cysteine, which is derived from human and animal sources, such as hair, feathers and hooves, is a taboo for Muslims and vegetarians.

“According to Syariah law, consuming any part of the human body is haram (forbidden) to Muslims.

“Malaysian delicacies such as bread, roti canai, roti jala, puri and pau, which are made from flour, could contain L-cysteine.

“Even though it is also present in a number of other foods, consumers are unaware of the presence of L-cysteine as it is not listed as an ingredient.

“This is because L-cysteine is regarded as a processing aid, which is not required to be labelled under the Food Act,” he said at a press conference held at the association’s office in Jalan Masjid Negeri yesterday.

Mohamed Idris said according to the 11th Schedule of the Food Regulations 1985, the use of L-cysteine was allowed in wheat flour and high-protein flour for bread-making.

“It is also used in the food industry to produce meat flavours in products such as stock cubes,” he added.

He said China was the largest L-cysteine producer in the world, producing about 7,700 tonnes of L-cysteine in 2012, 85% of which was exported to Southeast Asia, the US and Europe.

“According to a report, the major source of L-cysteine today is hog hair.

“It is estimated that hog hair is the source of 90% of the Chinese L-cysteine supply,” he said, adding that other sources were human hair, chicken feathers, duck feathers, cow horns and petroleum by-products.

Mohamed Idris urged the Ministry to impose mandatory labelling of this substance in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products for consumers to be aware of its existence.

The Star, Published: Friday, 22 July 2016
Call to forbid use of L-cysteine

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Little farm big heart

About 40 minutes away from the dense conurbation of Kuala Lumpur lies a farm. It’s hard to believe that so much fertile beauty can exist so close to the heart of the city… but it doesn’t just exist, it thrives and hums with life.

Here, birdsong fills your ears the second you get out of your car, green is the colour du jour everywhere your eyes choose to feast and your nasal passages are assailed by air so clean, it almost smells sweet.

The name of this charming hideaway? A Little Farm on the Hill (how cute is that?). The organic farm in Janda Baik, Pahang has actually been around for just over 10 years, but in the past three, architect Lisa Ngan and her husband, singer-songwriter Pete Teo, have taken over the running of it from Ngan’s parents.

The husband and wife have also given the 2.4ha farm a little bit of a facelift, terracing it to prevent nutrients from leaching out of the soil, and adding a private dining area and home-made smoker to showcase the farm’s produce.

“I’ve always really enjoyed cooking, even though I’m not trained, so initially it started off as a kind of an eating thing based in the farm. Eventually, I took over and ended up looking after the farm as well. And it was a slow process, but I think we both surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed being out of the city, because we’re actually very urban people,” says Ngan.

Teo adds that they sort of fell into the lifestyle and couldn’t be happier, even though it is worlds away from the corporate and media machines they’d grown accustomed to. “We didn’t really start out as necessarily wanting to have a full-fledged farm-to-table business. It was essentially a lifestyle choice which morphed into this. And it’s been a good thing, a fantastic decision we’ve made,” he says.

Ngan’s experience as an architect helped in the design element of the dining areas and even the farm itself, and she incorporated sustainable building material into the aesthetics. In the dining area, timber logs are in evidence and the rustic wooden building fits in seamlessly with its surroundings. “For the terracing, all the stones were gathered from here. The timber logs are from here as well – basically when cutting in the road, we had to take some trees down, so we saved them and used them,” she says.

Although blending in with nature is great in theory, it can be a hard fact to reconcile with when you’re used to everyday urban amenities. Which is why the place has also been designed with creature comforts in mind (the sparkling modern bathroom is proof positive of that). Teoh says this is a calculated move designed to appease him and Ngan, as well as city-dwellers looking for a slice of paradise without the ensuing back-to-basics that nature may command.

“A lot of it is us bringing in what we would like if we were to live here. You want a place to be neat and clean and have the comforts. You don’t want to come here and suffer – we’re not into suffering!” says Teo.

What’s on offer
The farm has organic certification and over 90 different crops in its inventory. At any given time, it generally produces between 40 and 50 different kinds of vegetables like heirloom tomatoes, brinjal, leafy Chinese vegetables, lettuce, cabbage, chayote and cucumber, to name a few.

The heirloom tomatoes, in particular, are something the couple is especially proud of; they exemplify their never-say-die philosophy. Teo says most tomatoes in Malaysia are traditionally grown via the hydroponic method, as there is bacteria in the soil that kills them otherwise. He and Ngan spent two years trying to perfect heirloom tomatoes grown in soil, before finally discovering the recipe for success: a pau steamer!

“We steam the soil with second-hand pau steamers before we cultivate it, and that solves the problem. But again, it takes a long time and is a lot of labour,” says Teo.

It is this dedication to getting things right that has attracted the attention of some of KL’s hottest restaurants, like Dewakan and Sitka, which both get their vegetables from the farm. “There are a few others, which we would like to work with, because it’s always fun to work with chefs, they’re interesting people and they want us to grow very specific things for them,” says Ngan.

The produce they grow for chefs varies and includes roses, sorrel, marigold and various herbs and vegetables, some of which traditionally require foraging. Dewakan chef Darren Teoh (a strong proponent of the locavore movement) is particularly interested in local herbs, while other chefs require specifically-sized salad leaves.

While more restaurants are trying to get in-house vegetable gardens off the ground, Ngan says this can sometimes be a pipe dream – one reason that A Little Farm on the Hill has become such an attractive option.

“Although many restaurants like the idea of growing their own vegetables and herbs, in reality, it seldom makes financial or operational sense. Growing produce with consistent quality and supply takes more expertise and dedication than most people realise. So our chef customers turn to us as a trusted outsourced supplier. We have resources at the farm to do things that would be impractical in a restaurant operation,” says Ngan.

Teo says that ultimately, the chefs at these restaurants value good produce and appreciate what the farm is capable of doing, as well as the fact that they can pop by and see for themselves how everything is grown.

“Part of the reason that chefs do this is that they want to know where it’s coming from and if it’s a trusted source. That’s an important element to sourcing organic food, because you want to know what’s gone into it,” says Teo.

The farm has also been supplying vegetables like beans, asparagus and okra to Justlife under the Enderong Farm label, continuing a long-standing working relationship initiated by Ngan’s parents.

“We have a big variety, but quite small quantities, that go to Justlife. Basically, they take whatever we send them – there’s no specific quantity. It works very well for us – it’s a good relationship,” says Ngan.

Farm realities
For all its bucolic allure, the realities of running an organic farm are often quite grim. According to Ngan, the general rule of thumb is that for every one worker in a conventional farm, three are required on an organic farm because of the volume of manual labour needed. Everything has to be done by hand – even things like weeding – because no pesticide is used.

Ngan and Teo also had a steep hill to climb in terms of learning how to grow things, as neither had any prior experience. “We’re Google farmers – we Google everything! People laugh when we say that, they think we’re joking. We’re not! When we started, we knew nothing about farming. I didn’t even know what compost was!” says Teo.

Ngan says that even though it was tough learning how to farm, it has been enjoyable. She discovered the joy of not having a deadline or pushing to get things done, because nature rules the success of the farm’s produce and there is little that she or Teo can do to either expedite things or slow them down in any way.

At the farm, crop rotation is practised, with vegetable beds rotated every 18 months. According to Teo, there is a very specific reason for this. “Different crops do different things to the soil, and use different nutrients. For example, corn uses a lot of nitrogen from the soil, so you want to plant a legume before you plant corn, because that fixes nitrogen into the soil,” he says.

Because spraying pesticide is out of the question, other remedies have to be applied instead. Like Epsom salts to address a magnesium deficiency in the soil, baking soda used as a fungicide and neem oil as a natural pesticide.

It’s not an easy process, and a large part of being first-time organic farmers is making mistakes and eventually learning from them.

“Sometimes you try all sorts of stuff, and it doesn’t work and the only solution available to you is ‘Oh, we’re gonna stop growing this for six months.’ Because obviously the pests and diseases are crop-specific, so there’s sometimes no point fighting it,” says Teo.

Learning the intricacies of running their farm has given Teo and Ngan added appreciation for full-time farmers, as they now understand how hard it is in practice.

“What we both have is a newfound respect for people who do this properly. We’re in a very lucky situation where we have an income from doing this, and we have this lovely organic farm, but the reality is that we’re not reliant on selling vegetables to making a living,” adds Ngan.

Plans for the future
Interest in A Little Farm on the Hill has skyrocketed, so much so that Teo and Ngan are making incremental expansion plans. First on their to-do list is the construction of a house for themselves on the property. At the moment, they commute daily, but have grown so fond of farm living that they want to live there permanently.

Next on the cards is accommodation for people who would like to stay in the farm’s surreal, peaceful setting. Apparently, they’ve received loads of requests for this, which is why their plan is to complete the homes (about 10) by the first quarter of next year.

“There are a lot of requests for it, and I can understand why, because being here is a totally different experience at night. Jungles are noisy places – you imagine them being quiet, but they’re not actually, with all those insects. If you look up on a clear night, you can see the entire sky filled with stars. You can see the moon,” says Teo.

The two are also planning to incorporate more community activities on the farm. Things like gardening and terrarium-building lessons. “I think that’s what we enjoy and I think that’s what the community needs – something different,” says Teo.

A Little Farm on the Hill, www.alittlefarmonthehill.com

The Star2, Published: JULY 18, 2016
People are talking about this little organic farm

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Hiking trail in a state of neglect

THE poor maintenance of the facilities at a hiking trail in Bukit Jambul, Penang, has not gone down well with those who consider it their daily haunt for fresh air and outdoor activities.

Avid hiker Wilson Moorthy, 49, said he realised a few months ago that the place was in a bad condition.

“When I asked around, others also said most of the facilities put up recently had not been maintained, causing them to be faulty or not functioning at all.

“There is no water supply in the two toilets built at the midway point of the trail.

“The water cooler is also not working and had accumulated dirt.

“This has led to hikers bringing their containers of water for others to use, but pose a danger as the containers end up being left there for days, making it easy for mosquitoes to breed,” said the businessman when met at the trail on Wednesday.

Moorthy added that there were no rubbish bins along the trail, resulting in some hikers disposing rubbish at a corner of the hill.

“This is also another contributing factor for mosquitoes to breed in the area,” he said.

He said another major worry was the protruding wires along the trail, which were dangerous as hikers could trip and fall.

Childhood buddies Mohd Sharimin Rashid and Nik Muhammad Izzuan Muhamad, both 21, and students of Universiti Sains Malaysia, who frequent the trail, were worried for the safety of hikers who in the later part of the evening.

“There are light fixtures along the trail but there are no bulbs and the wiring is protruding.

“Hikers who walk down after 7pm are at risk of losing their way,” said Mohd Sharimin, adding that the conditions of the exercise equipment there were also deteriorating.

Nik Muhammad added that until six months ago the water cooler and the toilets there had water supply.

“This is really bad. I did not bring any drinking water with me and now I’m quite thirsty.

“I would have used the water cooler if it was still working.

“It is important to have facilities that function especially in places like this, where it could mean the difference between life and death,” said the concerned student.

Moorthy, Mohd Sharimin and Nik Muhammad hoped that something could be done to upkeep the newly installed facilities.

It was reported by The Star on Jan 31, 2015, that the Penang Development Corporation had installed safety railings, two new gazebos, a two-cubicle toilet at the mid-section of the popular hiking trail and exercise equipment amongst others under a RM270,000 beautifying project.

Batu Uban assemblyman Dr T. Jayabalan when contacted yesterday, said the upkeep of the area fell under the Bukit Jambul Community Development and Security Committee (JKKK).

“They are supposed to give me feedback on the condition of the facilities for it to be maintained.

“I will look into the matter as I did not know that it was not being taken care of,” he said.

The Starmetro, Published: Friday, 15 July 2016
Irked by poor upkeep at hiking trail in Bukit Jambul

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Law dean turns novelist

Over the course of his career, law dean Simon Chesterman has written 16 books on heavy, scholarly topics such as governance and international law.

For his 17th book, he has switched gears. He is taking on the world of young adult fiction with his first novel, Raising Arcadia.

The story centres on 16-year-old girl genius Arcadia Greentree, who studies in a school which counts among its alumni members of British royalty.

With her logical mind, she is used to unravelling mysteries. But she soon discovers that her identity might itself be a mystery: Arcadia Greentree should not exist. She is, instead, part of an experiment that hopes to establish whether a person is defined by his genes or his upbringing.

Peppered with codes, puzzles and shocking twists, Raising Arcadia is the first book in a planned trilogy. Chesterman is already working on the second instalment.

The 43-year-old Australia-born dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law first came up with the idea for the book because he wanted to write something his children - a son aged 11 and daughter aged eight - would read.

One of his toughest critics yet, he says with a laugh, is his daughter.

"She doesn't mince her words. She's quite commanding actually," says Chesterman,whose wife Ming Tan is the director of Como Foundation, the philanthropy arm of Como Hotels and Resorts.

"She's on my back telling me not to have quite so many murders. She would like different crimes and - most importantly - she wants me to guarantee a happy ending at the end of the series."

The book explores a topic that has long fascinated Chesterman: the tension between nature and nurture.

As a law professor, he has seen young men and women go to university, eager to learn.

"But how much of an influence do we really have on them and how much is genetic make-up?" he says. "So that question of what shapes someone is something I could explore in this book, not in an academic sense because that's not my area of research, but in a fictional sense."

Chesterman grew up reading the works of mathematician Martin Gardner, the man behind dozens of books on puzzles, and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, who also wrote on symbolic logic.

So it is no surprise that he weaves puzzles into the story.

Arcadia's mother, for example, leaves a puzzle out for her each week - something Chesterman and his wife occasionally do for their children. Some Saturday mornings, they leave a puzzle out for their kids, who have to solve it in order to find the money to buy breakfast.

Chesterman spent six months mapping out the plot. After turning in a book on the law and practice of the United Nations in the middle of 2014, he started writing the novel in snatches of time: late at night and in the early hours of morning, on long-haul flights and train rides overseas.

"Arcadia was kind of my reward, something lighter and a bit more fun for me to write," he says.

"It was more relaxation than work, like, 'Okay, I've cleared all my e-mails. I'll treat myself to some writing.' It's probably the book I'm most excited about - except for my first."

He is now five-sixths of the way through the second book in the series, which is slated for publication this November. It will be launched at the Singapore Writers Festival.

Words have been a lifelong passion for Chesterman, who was born in Australia and did his doctorate at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

He was an avid writer in his teens, churning out two "completely unpublishable" novels. "I'm delighted this was pre-Internet, so I didn't just sort of upload them, and then live a life of regret."

As an adult, his writing tended towards the academic: opinion pieces for newspapers and books bearing titles such as One Nation Under Surveillance: A New Social Contract To Defend Freedom Without Sacrificing Liberty.

He is used to writing for a professional and scholarly audience, but fiction was a new challenge.

"The hardest thing about it is the sense of being exposed and vulnerable," he says.

With academic work, readers might disagree with the arguments presented - but a professional distance remains. Fiction, however, is much more personal.

"There's so much more readers can judge - and they might end up completely hating it."

He and his family discussed whether he should publish the book under a pseudonym, but he decided not to because "there's no shame in an adult writing - or reading - young adult fiction".

Echoing the intentions of many young adult writers, he adds: "I think there's a real space in the young adult world for what I hope is thoughtful and thought-provoking literature.

"I wanted to write something that's aimed at young people, but takes them and their concerns seriously, and treats them like adults - while also having enough in there for actual 'adults' to enjoy."

• Raising Arcadia by Simon Chesterman (Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2016, $18.60) is available from major bookstores.

Straits Times, Published: Jun 26, 2016, 5:00 am SGT
Law dean turned novelist ;
Simon Chesterman tackles young adult fiction for his debut novel as he wanted to write something his children would read
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

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To cultivate a culture where marginalised people can work

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 − These days, food delivery businesses are a dime-a-dozen. Some offer restaurant-quality meals while others capitalise on the latest health food trends − be it organic, gluten-free or even raw. But how many will offer their customers a chance to help out a refugee family?

Enter The Picha Project, a social enterprise supported by the MaGIC (Malaysia Accelerator Global Innovation Centre) Accelerator Programme, which delivers to customers traditional meals made by families from marginalised groups. The project aims to provide job opportunities to these families by creating a platform for them to cater food to the public.

The Picha Project was founded by psychology graduate Suzanne Ling, musician Kim Lim and former Le Meridien finance executive Lee Swee Lin. While none of them have a business background, they had previously worked together at Hands of Hope, a social project under UCSI University founded by Ling and Lim in 2014 to provide education assistance to children from the marginalised groups, including refugees.

Hands of Hope arranges for volunteers − up to 250 university students − to teach core subjects such as English and Maths to the children of the marginalised groups on a weekly basis. Ling said, “As we worked closely with them, we saw how they are struggling financially. Many of our students had to drop out of school and work at a young age to support their family. We wanted to do something for this community; hence, we started The Picha Project.”

The Picha Project differs from other social enterprises that also help marginalised communities as they utilise the existing cooking skills of several refugee families to create a food catering business. Lim says, “Our customers have a different kind of eating experience as they get to taste authentic traditional cuisine from different cultures and countries. We also have stories of the family who prepared the food on the meal box to create more social awareness of the issues they are facing. Customers get to have food and do good and at the same time.”

Currently, The Picha Project works with three different families from the refugee community − one from Myanmar and two from Syria. Burmese dishes such as beef stew and vegetables, as well as turmeric chicken and corn salad feel familiar yet have a unique flavour to them. Fattet Magdoos (eggplant casserole) and Yalanji (vegetarian stuffed grape leaves) are traditional must-try Syrian dishes.

Lee says, “All our cooks prepare their authentic traditional food from their homes and the Picha team will pack and deliver the food to the customers. We are also in the process of recruiting more families. We will be meeting a few more families from Palestine, Pakistan and Yemen soon.”

Some of the cooks are families that the founders were already in contact with through Hands of Hope. Others were referred to them by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) or other NGOs. Ling explains, “We identify families who can cook and are in need of a job to make ends meet. Prior to recruiting the families, we visit them at their home to understand the overall situation in the family, which includes financial background, physical needs, education of their children, etc.”

The Picha Project aims to cultivate a culture where marginalised people can work and earn their own income, rather than simply offering them direct monetary aid. Lim says, “Even though they have a background that is disadvantageous for them, we believe that through empowerment and guidance, they are able to develop into individuals who can be self-sustainable with certain competencies. It is also important for them to be able to gain confidence and believe that they can actually do something with their life.”

Working with these families, the Picha Project team had many inspiring learning experiences. Lee recalls an anecdote shared by one of the families. “Last Ramadan, they were offered some money by a kind-hearted man. However, instead of receiving the money, the father turned down the offer as he came from a culture which believes that money should be earned with hard work. So many people think that these marginalised groups are most probably lazy and prefer receiving donation, food or money from others. However, that is not the truth.”

Indeed, many of them are more than willing to work hard for a better life for their families, if only they were given an opportunity − the sort The Picha Project is providing today.

Learn more about The Picha Project at www.facebook.com/pichaproject

Yahoo News, Published: 17 June, 2016
The Picha Project delivers meals to you… made by refugee families in Malaysia
By Kenny Mah

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To solve social problems

Mastura Mohd Rashid is clear about her goal. It’s to eradicate poverty through her social enterprise, The Nasi Lemak Project.

“I want to help at least 40 families get out of poverty by 2018. And, I want to show Malaysians that social enterprise isn’t charity but a viable business. We can help (the disadvantaged) improve their lives and income while making money ourselves. Charity isn’t about just giving people stuff,” says the 26-year-old who radiates cool without having to try.

Mastura, who holds a Bachelor of Human Sciences in History and Civilisation from the International Islamic University Malaysia, worked for a year in an Oil and Gas company before leaving her nine-to-five job to focus on her social enterprise.

“When I was an undergraduate, I wanted to be a lecturer. I was quite a good student … well, until I started The Nasi Lemak Project, after which I started failing all my subjects. No, really I failed five subjects in my last semester,” she says without batting an eyelid.

“Now, what I want is to make an impact,” she says firmly.

Mastura started The Nasi Lemak Project in 2012 to promote volunteerism as a way of eradicating poverty. Their focus was the urban poor. They started by feeding the city’s poorest of the poor – the homeless.

“I wanted to create the culture of volunteerism among youth. Not one-off volunteers but those who can commit to a cause and volunteer on a long-term basis. I wanted to make volunteerism fun. So we started with street feeding because what is more fun that going out at night, right?” says Mastura frankly.

Mastura and her team would go down to the streets thrice a week not just to feed the street dwellers but to build good rapport with them. They want to help the homeless get off the streets. Her programme drew a lot of attention and she received funding which she used to start several other projects for marginalised communities.

Among them are Edu Rangers, a voluntary programme to give Maths and English lessons to children from urban poor families; Stingarden Theatre, a programme to help urban poor children master English through theatre; Pixel Garage which equips disadvantaged youth with skills in graphic design and the Unemployment Lab that prepares youth for employment by helping them with their resumes and giving them grooming lessons.

The programmes were run with the help of some 700 volunteers registered with The Nasi Lemak Project.

Last November, Mastura converted The Nasi Lemak Project into a social enterprise to make it sustainable and far-reaching. Instead of street feeding, they gave urban poor families the opportunity to earn money by making nasi lemak. Mastura and her partner Zul Imran Ishak educated the cooks on food safety and hygiene. They also emphasised the need for consistent quality control.

The families were then given a one-year contract to provide The Nasi Lemak Project with 50 to 100 packets of nasi lemak daily, which are distributed to vendors. They were also taught book-keeping and are required to save 20% of their earnings. They are currently working with five families but have identified another 15. Each family uses their own nasi lemak recipe but Mastura and Zul make sure that they quality of the food is consistent.

“Yes, I taste every batch, every day,” says Mastura, 26, gesturing with a laugh at her waistline as evidence of her stringent quality checks. She laughs at herself, adding: “Our nasi lemak is homemade and delicious. It’s authentic nasi lemak. Although each family has their own recipe, each one is really tasty and we make sure they maintain the quality.

“We want people to immediately think of The Nasi Lemak Project when they want a packet of good nasi lemak,” says Mastura who grew up in the small rural town of Benut in Pontian, Johor, with her younger brother and sister. Her parents were doctors who were more keen on serving their patients than making money.

“My parents would often only charge their patients for their medicine. So, even though we were doctors’ children, we lived a simple life. When we went on trips, we never stayed in nice, fancy hotels but in relatives’ houses.

“I once asked my father why he didn’t charge more. He explained that he couldn’t because if he did, many of the people they served would not have access to healthcare,” shares Mastura.

Her mother went even further, often sharing their houshold supplies with needy patients.

“We’d go marketing and grocery shopping but a day later, half of what we bought would go missing. My instant noodles and chocolates would disappear because my mother had given them away,” says Mastura who has been inspired and and influenced by her parents’ generosity and altruism.

“I guess I inherited some of it. This thing about not being calculative and wanting to help – I guess it’s partly them,” she says.

In its short span, The Nasi Lemak Project has won five awards, including the International Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award in 2014 and the Berbudi Berganda grant from the Agensi Innovation Malaysia. The enterprise was also part of the MaGIC (Malaysia Accelerator Global Innovation Centre) accelerator programme.

“Our aim is to start making money by 2017. By then, we will be self-sustainable and we will reinvest the money we make in our charitable programmes. Now, we need to find more outlets to carry our nasi lemak,” she says with determination.

What keeps Mastura going is seeing the positive changes in the lives of the families she works with.

“One of the ladies who we work with is moving to a better home in August. She has five children and her husband has colon cancer and can’t work. Previously, her monthly income was about RM600 and that too was inconsistent. But with The Nasi Lemak Project, her income has doubled. She can afford a better home and her husband has been getting treatment and looks better.”

The Star2, Published: July 22, 2016
This woman may know a way to solve social problems

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Changing the world

By 30, Dr Sharminithevi Paramalingam was working as a general surgeon and lecturer at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). She loved surgery and working at a teaching hospital like UMMC where training, while grueling, was second to none. But, as much as she loved her job – “to help people feel better” – Dr Shar-mi-nithevi was deeply dissatisfied.

“I enjoyed teaching and serving my patients but at the same time I felt I was in a rut. I felt as if I was nurturing only one part of me and I didn’t have the time to do a lot of the other things that I love. I love to travel, meet people and learn new things. But my routine at the hospital … where we practically work every day just didn’t allow me to do any of those things. I felt stifled and was restless,” says the 36-year-old from Petaling Jaya, frowning ever so slightly as she explains her frustrations.

Earlier this year, Dr Sharmini-thevi made the difficult decision to leave her job at the hospital. She knew it was the right thing to do especially after volunteering at a medical camp in Laos.

“A team of us went to 30 villages in Laos and treated about 3,000 villagers. I had to set up a makeshift surgical theatre in the villages and perform minor surgeries on people who had little access to such treatment. It was invigorating … a really positive experience and it assured me that I was making the right decision to leave,” shares Dr Sharminithevi.

Her parents supported her decision, fully confident that she would land on her feet regardless of the path she chose.

“My parents were trailblazers in their own ways. They were always independent and charted their own lives based on what they wanted to do. So I suppose I am a product of them. I am strong-willed and this can sometimes be troublesome,” muses the doctor.

After resigning from her job, Dr Sharminithevi travelled around Southeast Asia on her own. While on holiday, she received a message from a friend recommending that she help set up a new social enterprise that provides jobs for the homeless community in Kuala Lumpur.

The offer came out of the left field.

“I had absolutely no experience working with the homeless community and I knew next to nothing about setting up a social enterprise. But something made me apply for the position anyway,” she says with a bashful smile, still somewhat amused by her impulsiveness.

The next thing she knew, she was at a meeting with young professionals from around the globe, being briefed about social entrepreneurship.

“I was shell-shocked in the beginning, completely out of my comfort zone. But pretty soon, I began to really enjoy the challenges the task entailed. I gave my medical input and learnt about business, human resource management, managing accounts, street engagement. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity had I not left the hospital,” she shares.

In March, Dr Sharmini started work on Inclue, a social enterprise to help the homeless find employment. In four months, her team of six international fellows had to draw up a feasible and sustainable model for the social enterprise, get it off the ground and then present a plan on how it can be developed further.

“In just four months I learnt so much. I knew next to nothing about the issue of homelessness. I had a lot of preconceived notions about the homeless … that most of them were drug addicts or those with mental health issues. But all that changed within weeks. In no time, I realised that people could end up on the streets for many reasons. There were those who simply can’t pay the rent, foreigners who have been cheated and have nowhere to go … there were so many stories, all of them different and not at all what I’d imagined,” she shares.

Apart from the nuts and bolts of setting up the enterprise, Dr Sharminithevi ran medical “clinics” for the homeless people who worked with Inclue. She not only saw to their medical and physical issues but also to their emotional and psychological welfare.

The experience has been fulfilling.

Now that Inclue is up and running, Dr Sharminithevi is ready for her next adventure.

“My goal in life is to be a better person. No matter what situation I am in, I want to always have a purpose and do something good. My ultimate dream would be to work with an organisation like Doctors Without Borders, offering my expertise in areas that need emergency medical services. That would be perfect … I’d get to travel, experience new things and practise medical and help people all at once. But until that opportunity arises, I will see what opens up for me,” she says. Medicine, however, will remain her passion. No matter what she does next, it will centre around her innate desire “to heal and help”.

“My mum was a nurse and I remember tagging along with her to work at the hospital. I used to be so amazed watching the doctors and nurses performing their duties, tending to the sick and injured. My mum would also always come home and talk about her day at work. Taking care of people is a nice job to have,” she says.

The Star2, Published: July 22, 2016
This young doctor quit her job and set out to help those in need

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I watched the news

A WEBCOMIC I follow by Nick Seluk features inner conversations between two everyday characters – a heart and brain. They are aptly described as “society-influenced Brain and the impulsive, optimistic Heart”.

In one instalment, Heart and Brain are seen sitting next to each other. Heart looking a mix of frightened and sad, turns to Brain and says “The world is scaring me … Fix it!”

How piercingly true especially for 2016 thus far. There has been too much unpleasantness going on in the world. Just too much and it is scary.

Multiple shootings in the US, innocent people killed in a busy shopping area in Baghdad, people celebrating freedom intentionally killed in Nice, coups and death penalties in a knotted Turkey and the list goes on. In short, it has been a terrible year especially for those of us who routinely read the newspapers on our commutes or on social media with a teh tarik and nasi lemak.

In this day and age, we are constantly in contact with scenes of bloody war zones with minutely updates of “true” happenings. Technology takes us into the destruction all while enjoying the comforts of our living rooms. So while we watch every single attack, we are very much removed from the real destruction of it.

Surely there is an impact from the exposure to such tragedy even from a distance. How does all this affect us, our disposition, our decisions but more importantly how does it shape how we make decisions, how we vote, how we view each other and what we perceive as threats or evil.

We can also look at it from a different angle. What does good news do for us? Perhaps this explains the surge in positive quotes on news feeds and kitten videos. Conversely, a diet of bad news and constant exposure to such negative events does make us feel helpless.

So often people have told me, they do not read the papers. Not only because there is a tight control on the media but because the news is just too depressing. It is understandable, the self-preservation of protecting yourself. The truth is, unless you have a heart of stone, it would be impossible not to be affected by young lives torn apart, or a parent’s anguish carrying a dying child in his or her arms.

But such constant exposure also affects us in different ways. It can make us sensitised to news, numbing our senses because there is just too much going on all the time. A form of apathy that could also feed into a subconscious, which makes us feel helpless or makes us bitter and heightens our prejudice. Often at times, we take our cues from the news and that’s the danger.

So when we are told things like a grenade thrown into a nightclub was the work of IS, how does that affect us? What has Puchong become to many people? Perhaps now you might say, it is a dangerous place. You might also feel threatened and start building prejudices about people of a certain ethnicity and religion.

The reality is many of us do not know beyond our communities and social settings. Which means, that what we know of other areas, places, states or groups of people is actually based on news and hearsay.

It is necessary to then question what is said and the justifications behind the incidents.

We know that many things in Malaysia have a political spin and motivation behind it. Which leads to sensitive issues taking our frontage space. Race relations issues, political issues and now extremist and terrorist issues are used to inflict fear, which then clouds our judgment.

When racial issues are constantly aggravated they influence what we think on many levels, from the other race perspective which subconsciously influences our politics and later our vote. This is a dangerous precedence but of course one that is all too commonly used and familiar to political strategists and spinners, because their goal is not what is best for the country but what is best for the political parties. That is where the public then get used for the benefit of power-drunk politicians.

We live in a country where many things are curated on our behalf. Which really means, someone else is telling you what to think. So we need to be able to sieve out what is bad, what is good, what is useful based on evidence, not what others say or forwards that are passed around. Because the more we live in either bubble – of naivety or over-obsessed news junkie – we run into danger of living in constant fear or putting ourselves in constant danger. We need to then strike a balance because it is not just the media curating the news, but also the politicians feeding the stories.

There is no doubt that we are affected by news, but perhaps the key is not a full detox of news but a more informed manner in looking at what the stories are and the motivation behind what gets highlighted and what doesn’t. If not we might run the risk of Heart, which in a subsequent instalments, is seen bandaged on crutches and when Brain asks “Heart what happened”? Heart replies with sad fearful eyes “I watched the news”.

TheSunDaily, Last updated on 20 July 2016 - 09:15pm
On Pointe - The News Scares me / I watched the news
By Natalie Shobana Ambrose

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Just a simple life

RECENTLY, I was having a meal with a few orang asal from Sabah. They were discussing the difference between orang asal and orang asli with us. I supposed we West Malaysians should have been embarrassed, but at least we wanted to learn. Interestingly, they pointed out something that never occurred to me before.

"These categories – Iban, Kadazan, Dusun – they are just a mindset. They are categories that never occurred to us and were given to us when the British came," one of them explained. "When we greet each other, we never think about what category or tribe we belong to."

She continued, "When we came to the peninsula, we were surprised at how people always asked us about our tribe or category and how fixated people are about what race or creed one belongs to. It's all just a mindset," she concluded.

This led me to thinking. Of course, categories of race and creed are just a mindset, of which I have written on before, although not in these exact terms. After speaking to this girl, I was happy to find that I am not the only one who thought so.

After all, who created the constructs of race and creed but ourselves. That a certain group of people must behave in a certain way because they are of a certain race. Or that we need to behave in a certain way because we are of a certain ethnicity. Who created and dictated these terms but ourselves. And that is just a mindset.

But beyond this, isn't everything just a mindset? I would say that it is. In the 1980s and earlier, parents wanted their children to be one of the four professionals: lawyer, doctor, accountant or engineer. This is whether the child herself wanted to pursue such a career. Many people in their forties or older who are lawyers, doctors, accountants or engineers are in that profession, not because they are passionate about it, but because it was a mindset their parents had, which they acceded to whether in mutiny or not.

People like to belong. And people are a restless bunch, always looking for something to entertain themselves. Looking at how much money Nintendo has made from Pokemon Go; the herds of people running around like "zombies" (I didn't coin that phrase); the traffic accidents that game has caused; and even the job it has caused; how can one run away from the fact that so many things in our lives are mindsets?

These mindsets either appeal to us and we embrace them. Sometimes we don't find them appealing but because it is how we have always done things, we accept them or we are too lazy to think of another solution.

One morning, I was observing an old man who lives in my apartment block. As early as 5am, he goes to the rubbish bin on every floor, separating the papers, bottles and other recyclable material from the other waste. By 11am, he has a mountain of recyclable goods harnessed over his bicycle. He is a little old man, at maybe 5' 3", stooped but looking relatively healthy. I watched him get on his bike at 11.15am and head off to his destination.

At that moment, I felt sympathy for this little old man but then I hesitated. This guy has been doing this for all the time I have lived here. He doesn't complain and he doesn't seem unhappy. Perhaps this wasn't patience and endurance in his trials of life. Maybe he is actually happy.

People have dictated to me for so long what happiness is that for a moment I forgot that maybe someone could be happy in such a circumstance. No big car, no big house, no domestic helpers, just a simple life. That might be happiness.

Breaking the walls of mindsets is difficult, especially if so much of one's identity or being has been weaved into those mindsets. But after that comes freedom and perhaps some taste of happiness for ourselves too.

TheSunDaily, Last updated on 20 July 2016 - 09:10pm
Freespace - It's all about mindset
By Daniel Chandranayagam

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Why Japan is turning to risky DIY pensions

When Saori Ito went on maternity leave last year and stopped getting a regular paycheck from her cosmetics company, she became worried about her future − and wondered if this kind of anxiety is what awaits her after retirement.

The 34-year-old married mother of a one-year-old girl had doubts about the government's ability to fund retirement for Japan's growing ranks of elderly in the world's oldest population.

So she set up a private, self-managed pension account.

"How I see it is that the government won't be able to pay that much in pensions anymore, so it's telling us, 'Go take care of it yourself. We can't do it for you,'" Ito told Reuters at a Tokyo cafe.

Japan's government loosened laws on pensions in May, allowing almost all working-age Japanese to join private defined-contribution retirement plans − similar to individual retirement accounts (IRAs) in the United States that allow workers to make regular contributions to an investment fund with tax breaks.

Ito has invested half her money in foreign stocks and bonds and half in domestic stocks and bonds - she said she learned about diversifying her assets at a personal finance seminar.

That's good news for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wants Japan's risk-averse savers to pour more of the country's huge financial assets into higher-yield investments.

Despite the Bank of Japan's decision in January to slash interest rates below zero to boost investment, more than half of the $16 trillion in Japanese household assets are still either in bank deposits or cash, compared with 13.8 percent for the United States.

Boost to equities
Starting next January, 27 million Japanese, including housewives and civil servants, will be newly eligible to set up private defined-contribution pension accounts. Currently, only the self-employed and workers who don't have corporate-sponsored pension plans can set up private pension accounts.

It's already proven something of a hit with the public. Since the law reform passed parliament in May, monthly web access to the 401k Educational Society, a non-profit that promotes defined-contribution pension plans, has surged seven-fold to 42,000, said Kayo Oe, the group's chief researcher.

The change has the potential to attract as many as 9.4 million new users over time from 257,000 now, and generate an annual capital flow of up to 1 trillion yen ($9.46 billion) into the private-pension sector, according to Nomura Research Institute (NRI).

Financial institutions such as Nomura Securities Co NMHLDA.UL (8604.T), SBI Securities Co, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (8306.T), and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp (8316.T) now offer private pension plans and could benefit from a significant expansion in this market.

Around 18 percent of private-pension money was invested in domestic and foreign equities, and 39 percent in savings and deposits as of March 2015, according to the Japan Defined-Contribution Pension Plan Administration. By contrast, Japanese households during the same period invested just under 10 percent of their assets in equities and kept over 50 percent in cash and deposits, according to Bank of Japan data.

"I know the risk isn't zero," said a 37-year-old Japanese businesswoman who is applying for a private pension account. "But if I don't take a risk, my money won't increase. I need to take some level of risk and I accept that."

The woman, who works at a company in eastern Tokyo, said she plans to invest more in stocks than in debt, with a focus on foreign equities including those from emerging markets. She is new to investing, and reads blogs and articles on personal finance and attends seminars about investment to decide what assets to choose, she said.

"I'm more at ease taking care of my own money than doing nothing and leaving it all to the government," she added. "Doing nothing is much more risky."

Demographic dilemmas
Japan's demographic data reinforces her concerns.

Just over a quarter of Japan's population is aged 65 and over and that number is projected to rise to a third by 2035, according to Japanese government data.

Japan's birthrate has been declining for years and hit a record low of eight births per thousand in 2014. That means fewer workers to support the ever-expanding population of elderly: The number of people in the workforce is expected to decline by about 20 percent to 63.4 million in 2035.

Those under 40 will pay far more into the state pension scheme over their lifetimes than did their elders, according to data from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Current 70-year-olds will receive five times more in benefits than what they paid into the system. Current 20- and 30-year-olds, however, will receive only around twice the amount they will have paid the state.

This is fuelling concerns among working-age Japanese they could be left high and dry once they hit retirement.

"I can't rely on the country for my well-being. That's impossible," Yuko Narita, a 48-year-old mother and housewife, told Reuters.

Narita set up a private pension account last December, in part because she discovered she would receive just 100,000 yen per month in retirement benefits, even after working for 20 years at an insurance company, she said.

A typical retired couple today receives around 220,000 yen a month, and over 80 percent of the population thinks state retirement benefits already are not enough to live on, according to a survey by Japan Institute of Life Insurances.

"I can't live on just 100,000 yen," Narita said.

Trusting public pensions
To be sure, government pensions will remain the backbone of retirement funding. Only those who pay state pension fees are eligible to set up private pension accounts.

"The welfare ministry is in a difficult position - it will not and cannot say, 'public pensions are in trouble and you won't be receiving much,'" said Hideyuki Morito, a member of a government panel on pensions and professor of law at Keio University.

"The government needs to sustain trust in public pensions, although it's clear people will no longer be fine if all they have is public pensions," he added.
($1 = 105.7500 yen)

Reuters, Published: Tue Jul 19, 2016 8:30pm EDT
No retiree left behind: Japan turns to riskier DIY pensions
By Minami Funakoshi and Editing by Bill Tarrant

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The Samurai Maeda Toshiie Ondo Mai

STUDENTS of SMJK Phor Tay had a field time dancing together with members of different performance groups from Japan during a Cultural Exchange Programme at the school in Sungai Dua, Penang.

The Samurai Maeda Toshiie Ondo Mai, which is a group of 18 dancers from Nagoya, had roped in several students to join them as they performed the energetic and lively modern Yosakoi dance.

The remaining students in the audience clapped and cheered to the loud energetic music and enthusiastic dance, encouraging their peers to showcase their dance moves.

The Cultural Exchange Programme between Japan and SMJK Phor Tay also saw performances by the Kasurino-Kai, which performed the traditional Japanese folk dance.

The audience was also awed by a Shamisen (Japanese guitar) performance which followed.

The event on Friday opened with a Chinese orchestra performance bystudents of SMJK Phor Tay, while an impressive 24 festive drums performance by the school’s students marked the end of the 90-minute event.

An amazing diabolo performance by the school’s students also garnered huge applause several times from the audience.

School principal Chan Be Chuwelcomed the guests who comprised of representatives from the Consulate-General of Japan and officials with members of the performance groups from Japan, who were in Malaysia in conjunction with the annual Penang Bon Odori Festival 2016.

“On behalf of the school, we are delighted to have all of you here in SMJK Phor Tay to showcase one of the most famous traditional dances in Japan, the Bon dance, which is called ‘Bon Odori’ in Japanese.

“We, teachers and students of the school are honoured to be given the privilege to view the three performances. In return, we also hope that our guests will enjoy the three performances by our students.

“This cultural exchange event would certainly enable the people of our two nations, especially the young ones to better appreciate the beauty of our cultural differences particularly the performing arts. Therefore, I sincerely hope that your visit to our school will not only promote but also enhance the continuous cultural exchange efforts between our two nations,” she said in her earlier speech.

On Saturday, the Penang Bon Odori Festival 2016 was a rain-drenched affair but it did not dampen the spirit of those who attended the event at the Esplanade field.

Some 20,000 people thronged the field to enjoy the vibrant stage performances and the variety of dishes on sale at the food stalls.

Carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats, the people braved the rain to join in the gyrating music and dance performances on stage.

The festival was held here for the 20th time.

Teenagers and younger children also had a great time taking selfies with performers.

The two new mascots at the celebration this year – Mikyan, a costumed mascot from the Ehime Prefecture and Rilakkuma (Relax bear), a fictional character by the Japanese company San-X, were a major hit with children.

More than 50 booths displayed an array of Japanese, local and western food, souvenirs, Yukata, T-shirts, bags and games.

There were also performances by the Penang Japanese Association and students of SMK Sultan Abdul Halim from Kedah.

While some took part in the various games associated with the festival, others could be seen trying out the Japanese traditional costumes andtaking photos with cosplayers.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who launched the festival, said that for 20 years the festival has showcased some of the finest traditional performers from Japan and promoted cross-culture relationship between the people of Penang and Japan.

Also present at the event were state Tourism Development Committee chairman Danny Law, Japan consul- general Kiyoshi Ito, Thailand consul- general Ekajit Kraivichin, Indonesia consul-general Bapak Taufik Rodhi, Denmark honorary consul Lio Chee Yeong and France honorary consul Datuk Poh Kim Seng.

The festival culminated with adisplay of fireworks at 10pm.

The Star metro, Published: Thursday, 21 July 2016
Enriching and entertaining ;
Cultural exchange programme with Japan a big plus for students

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Voice from a political prisoner in North Korea

In April 2013, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae to 15 years’ hard labour for the crime of bringing a computer hard drive into the country from his base in China.

During his incarceration, Bae – who described himself in news reports later as a political pawn used by North Korea – suffered psychological abuse and physical ill-health. Despite his desperate conditions, he kept his faith in God and chose to see the best in the captors who kept him prisoner for over 700 days prior to his release in November 2014.

In an e-mail interview with Star2, Bae gives some insights into his time as a prisoner in the world’s most secretive country – a journey he explores in his fascinating book, Not Forgotten: The True Story Of My Imprisonment In North Korea.

When you realised you brought your hard drive into North Korea, and when officials raised the alarm, what was going through your mind?

I was really afraid of what was going to happen. I always knew there were risks going in and out of North Korea but in 17 prior visits, I never had any difficulties at customs. Once I realised I had accidentally brought the hard drive, I was terrified because I knew that my identity as missionary would surely be discovered.

Why do you think this happened?

God could have prevented me from being detained in North Korea, but he didn’t. Therefore, I believe it was God’s will for me to be detained in North Korea for his purpose to be accomplished. I was able to connect with the people and got to know the real life of ordinary citizens in North Korea.

It seems that you managed to maintain a sense of hope in the face of psychological and physical trauma – how did you sustain that mind set?

The first month and last months of detainment were extremely difficult to endure. For the first month, I was afraid that, because of my careless mistake, I had put many people in danger and I blamed myself a lot. But the Lord showed up on the third day of detainment, assuring me that no one would be harmed. I tried to live one day at a time and hoped for the best.

The last month was difficult because I knew that help was on the way. However, being harassed by a prosecutor telling me that no one was coming to the rescue, and seeing no signs of rescue, it was hard to remain positive. I started to feel bitter and felt anger towards the Government. I became depressed.

But the Lord spoke to me through Zephaniah 3:20, that he would bring me home. That gave me a hope to hold on to. Five days after, I was able to come home

Did you prepare yourself for the possibility of never again seeing your family and friends?

I realised that even if I wasn’t able to go home and be united with my family, I was grateful God used me as his instrument all these years. I realised what he meant when he said, “If you love your brothers, sisters, mother and father, spouses and children more than me, then you cannot be my disciple”. I was ready to accept whatever consequences I might face.

You wrote about connecting with the guards who kept watch over you. How would you describe the North Koreans you met?

They are ordinary people, just as you find in other countries. They have the same concerns relating to family, marriage, money issues and relationship problems with their coworkers. I saw them as real people, not as robots, although they experience a different sociopolitical system in which they have no say, and are only to follow instructions.

We need to have compassion for the ordinary people of North Korea and remember their suffering.

How did you deal with the realisation that you were a pawn in the North Korean regime’s hostility towards the United States?

I knew that it was something bigger than I could handle. No matter my behaviour, they would not let me go until the American Govern-ment met their demands. I simply had to accept it and wait to be rescued, hoping for a quick release. North Korean officials confirmed that my incarceration wouldn’t have lasted so long had I not been American.

But instead of falling into despair, I put my trust in God and the American Government. I even hoped I could play a role in developing a dialogue between the two countries to relieve tensions.

In your book, you talk about how you called on God to use you as a bridge between North Korea and the outside world. How could you hope to achieve such a thing when the leaders of North Korea see themselves as divine rulers?

Almost all the humanitarian workers working in North Korea are Christians. The North Korean Government knows that Christians around the world have been helping them: they just don’t like it when we cross the line (such as witnessing, or praying for positive change).

Despite their doctrine and crackdowns on any religious activity, I believe that more visible activities by Christians around the world in and out of North Korea will eventually open more doors. There is the example of the Pyongyang Science and Technology University that was started by Christian missionaries. More exchanges and interactions would bring down the walls and people would feel safe to open up more.

Do you think any kind of revolution, spiritual or otherwise, will manifest in the future for North Koreans?

I hope God has planted seeds in many minds there and I believe in God’s own time, He will raise many spiritual leaders from North Korea. I am still praying for a great revival to take place in the near future.

What have you been up to since your release?

I have been spending time with family and friends, and I have been planning to start an NGO focusing on North Korean refuges in South Korea. There are more than 30,000 of them now living in South Korea and the numbers are increasing by thousands every year.

I’ve spent time with families of other detainees, and I encourage them to focus on God and take it one day at a time. I believe it was God’s will for me to endure two years in North Korea, and I have gained many insights and developed compassion and a desire to help those who are forgotten and isolated from that time. I believe God can use others in similar ways to show His heart for the lost and be a blessing to them.

The Star2, Published: JULY 17, 2016
He was a political prisoner in the world’s most secretive country

Life in the Hermit Kingdom: Citizens paying their respects to the statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang. The regime’s leaders set themselves up as divine. Photo: AFP


SEOUL, South Korea − North Korea said Monday it won’t negotiate to release arrested American citizens if a former detainee doesn’t stop using what it called slanderous language about the North.

American missionary Kenneth Bae, of Lynnwood, Wash., who was freed by North Korea in 2014 along with another imprisoned American, has written a book about his detention and given media interviews in which he described the treatment he received. Bae had been serving a 15-year sentence with hard labor for alleged anti-state activities.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency described Bae as a “filthy object” and a “Judas” who betrayed the North’s humanitarian gesture. It also accused the U.S. government of supporting critics of North Korea like Bae to arouse hostility toward the North.

North Korea is extremely sensitive about any criticism of its leadership and political system. It is known to hold two other Americans for alleged espionage, subversion and other activities.

KCNA said North Korea will not hold negotiations for the release of other American detainees if Bae continues speaking ill of the North. “Then American criminals now in custody in (North Korea) will never be able to go back to the U.S.,” it said.

Analysts say North Korea often attempts to use foreign detainees to wrest concessions from other countries. In the past it has released some U.S. prisoners after high-profile Americans visited the country on their behalf. Bae was freed during a visit by the U.S. spy chief.

The United States and North Korea are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

The Seatle Times, Published: Updated June 20, 2016 at 2:08 pm
N. Korea warns freed U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae from Lynnwood to stop criticizing it

North Korea says it won't negotiate to release arrested American citizens if former detainee Kenneth Bae of Lynnwood doesn't stop using what it called slanderous language about the North.
By Associated Press

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Torrential tropical rains

We are walking in Penang’s water supply.

Just a minute earlier, our boat had been stuck yet again on the bed of the very shallow Ulu Muda River. “Turun, tolak (get down, push),” called out our boatman.

Conservationist Hymeir Kamarudin, our guide, explains, “The river used to be deeper. There were many rocks where different fishes could live. Now all we can see is this bed of sand. And the fish have retreated into smaller rivers.”

The culprit, as expected, is logging.

We are on an expedition into the great wilderness of eastern Kedah, organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWFM).

Many people may feel that deep forests like these are just for a few “crazy” adventurers or hikers. But they are also very relevant to urban hipsters too: The Greater Ulu Muda Forest Complex (or Ulu Muda for short) actually provides 96% of Kedah’s and 80% of Penang’s water supply.

It is northern Peninsular Malaysia’s largest remaining chunk of rainforest (160,000ha) and functions as a crucial water catchment area for the country’s iconic “rice bowl” (Kedah’s padi fields) as well as the industries in Penang and the Kulim Hi-Tech Park in Kedah.

Giant sponge
The term “water catchment” is often heard, but exactly what does it mean?

WWFM staffer Carell Cheong, who drove us up to Kedah from Kuala Lumpur, clarifies: All the roots and leaves of the forest act together like a giant “sponge” that, during the wet season, absorbs excess rain water. During droughts (which hit Kedah in the first few months of 2016), the sponge gradually releases water into rivers.

Without this absorbent sponge, our torrential tropical rains just rush over exposed ground, eroding soil and silting up rivers, and the overwhelming flow of water hits us as devastating floods.

Despite the forest’s crucial role in water supply and flood control, widespread logging is still going on, as reported in The Star (Ulu Muda no longer a paradise).

Nur Fazrina Mohd Ani, the WWFM Ulu Muda programme officer says, “Many of us only care about water from our kitchen taps and may not be aware of how forests provide us with good clean water.”

“It’s sad that despite its huge size and significance to our water supply, Ulu Muda is still unknown to most Malaysians, even to people in Kedah and Penang.”

Hence our trip, to take in journalists, an artist, and photographers, to increase awareness of this precious oasis.

The artist, Christine Das, asks, “How can water supply to people not be of national importance?”

Wild diversity
There is good news: most recent logging has been on the fringes of the core forest area and much beauty remains intact (and can be saved). Indeed, as our boat winds its way in, we glimpse wild elephants, white-bellied sea eagles and egrets.

Our boats dock at Earth Lodge, the ecotourism retreat here run by Hymeir.

Fazrina says, “Ulu Muda is an exclusive ecotourism spot. Not because you get luxurious hotel rooms but because it’s rare to see other tourists. And that makes it easier to spot animals.”

An Iranian-German tourist, Fariman Salahshour, who has been staying here for over a week, agrees that it’s a great place for wildlife spotting.

He rattles off a list of his sightings, which includes elephants, gibbons, a tapir and wild boars plus birds such as hornbills, bat-hawks, woodpeckers and bee-eaters. But being less touristy has a downside.

“Ulu Muda is not as well known as Taman Negara,” laments Hymeir. “And so its importance and problems don’t get so much attention.”

One of the main activities here is relaxing boat rides to various salt licks, which are called sira in Malay.

“This is where herbivores come to get their minerals,” explains Hymeir.

“In KL, people go bar hopping between Bangsar, Hartamas and Changkat. Here, the animals do salt lick hopping between places like Sira Gajah and Sira Jawa!” he says with a mischievous smile.

We visit a salt lick called Sira Keladi, which is peppered with clumps of elephant dung and footprints of deer and tapir. Even more fascinating is a salt lick combined with a hot spring called Sira Air Panas. We have to tread carefully to avoid sinking into and scalding ourselves in patches of superheated mud.

On another boat ride I spot otters playfully swimming in the river. However, it is usually difficult to see large (and usually shy and nocturnal) animals in the rainforest due to the dense foliage.

So what conservationists do is to set up “camera traps” that are triggered off by motion sensors.

That night, Hymeir shows us photos of the various animals recorded by a camera set up on a ridge near Earth Lodge. There are pangolins, elephants, tapirs, deers, wild boars and civet cats. A resident sun bear is caught repeatedly lumbering about as if the place belongs to it.

There are amazing shots of big cats: clouded leopards, golden jungle cats and marbled cats – but tigers have not been recorded by cameras set up in various locations over the past three years.

Perhaps this is due to what is captured in other photos showing unique upright apes – also known as Homo sapiens.

“These are probably poachers who sneak in from the nearby Thai border,” notes Hymeir.

Political ping-pong
However, the story of forest exploitation here is far more complicated than that.

As previous media reports show, in 2003, the Federal Government agreed to pay Kedah RM100mil annually in exchange for the state NOT logging its forests. This was after a proposal for large-scale “low impact heli-logging” in Ulu Muda was found to have negative effects in an Environmental Impact Assessment.

That was the last year of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure as Prime Minister and, subsequently, the money was never paid (Pay us to stop logging, Kedah tells Federal Govt). When PAS took over the Kedah State Government in 2008, logging accelerated as its Menteri Besar then, the late Tan Sri Azizan Abdul Razak, claimed that the state lacked other sources of income.

In the 2013 election, Datuk Paduka Mukhriz Mahathir and Barisan Nasional attacked the PAS administration for the logging and made an election pledge to halt it. Mukhriz famously said then: “To me, a tree is worth more standing than felled.”

But two years after winning the state and becoming Menteri Besar, Mukhriz told the Kedah state assembly in 2015 that the State Government had to issue logging licences as this had been approved by the previous PAS administration.

Mukhriz himself had to step down as Menteri Besar in February this year after a political crisis.

And while the political games continue, the fate of Ulu Muda hangs in the balance.

“Half of the 160,000ha here has been logged,” Hymier states.

Since 2009, there have been plans to gazette the area as a state park. But that will cover only 16% of Ulu Muda, mainly near the rivers and not the upper forest slopes that are crucial for water catchment.

Forest wonders
Next morning, I am greeted by the most amazing parade. Thousands upon thousands of flying mayflies, forming a long, wispy, grey “cloud”, are gliding over the river – and they keep going for over 30 minutes!

Today, we are going on a relaxed three-hour trek to the Gua Labua limestone cave. As we trek further in, the trees became grander. The sights grow in diversity.

Lantern bugs (so-called because they seem to be “carrying” “lanterns” in front of them), sit calmly upon a tree trunk. Weird mushrooms sprout from decaying wood. A slender orange snake slithers across our path. A lizard poses for our cameras.

Then we encounter a “bird disco arena”, an unusual clearing in the forest.

“This is where the male Argus pheasant does his dance to attract the female,” smiles Hymeir.

“This is one of the 306 species of birds sighted in Ulu Muda. We also have all 10 species of Malaysian hornbills here and in the nearby Belum-Temenggor area. In comparison, Sarawak, which is called the Land of the Hornbill, only has seven of the 10 species,” he adds.

We end the trip with some relaxing tubing, ie floating down Ulu Muda River in tyre tubes. The vista of tall trees along the banks soothes us as we drift downstream, and we splash ourselves with more of Penang’s (and Kedah’s) water supply.

Will the forest still be able to bequeath its bountiful blessings on future generations?

The Star2, Published: JUNE 4, 2016
Paradise in peril: Playing with Penang’s water supply

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DENOTING the Japanese loanword umami with English-based logic is agonising.

The dictionary offers “savoury” as an explanation but that is just like saying an ocean is deep. Scientifically, umami is the taste of glutamate and nucleotide molecules which describes even less.

Umami is the taste of life and the indicator of nourishment.

It is the experience supplied by your tongue when you imbibesubstances that will guarantee your well-being.

It is also a flavour in many foods − from tomatoes to meat − but being subtle and sublime, your tongue registers sweet, salty, sour or bitter before it.

There is something, however, that enables you to joyously relish unadulterated umami: sake.

This rice wine is Japan’s national beverage. There are severalthousand brews that range from complex to everyday fare, and you can trust Hotel Equatorial Penang to bring in the artisanal ones.

Three sake masters recently spent an evening at the hotel’s Kampachi restaurant.

They manned tables arrayed with bottles of their delicate brews for about 40 exclusive guests to sample.

The masters, Tomohiko Ohata, Toshio Taketsuru and Noriaki Harada, came with sake sommelier Shigeyuki Masaki, who specialises in sake from boutique breweries and works closely with farmers and brewers to preserve his nation’s sake heritage.

The hotel had set up the dinner so that guests who have never tried sake may systematically learn to appreciate the drink.

Nine brews flowed freely, and a glossy card on the dinner tables prepped the diners for the flavourful journey by labelling them as creamy, mellow, clean, dry, “creamy with sharp acidity”, mild, and so on.

It was a blessing that the sake masters and Masaki were present.

Delighted by guests who had never tried the drink, they diligently took them through a tasting adventure.

Sake, depending on how hot they are served, changes.

While still good at room temperature, they can make you “roar” with pleasure when taken at between 50 and 60 degree Celcius.

This is not an alcoholic beverage for you to drown your sorrows in, for sake is most memorable when matched with good food.

Kampachi’s astounding buffet spread had the perfect matches for all the nine brews.

One of the masterfully brewed sake is the Taketsuru Junmai by Taketsuru who is the 14th generation master in his family.

Masaki pointed out that this was a six-year-old sake and unlike the others, which were clear or cloudy and pale, Taketsuru Junmai has a yellow-brown hue.

Its age is reflected in its deeper, more sombre and earthy taste when the others are floral, fruity or astringent.

Paired with snow crab claws, served cold in Kampachi’s buffet, this sake yields a flavour that will make you close your eyes.

Your other senses also retreat from the world while all yourconsciousness focuses on what your tongue is reading.

The married flavour of snow crabs and Taketsuru Junmai issurreal and beyond denotation.

This event, “Kanpai! With Sake Masters”, is a yearly tradition of the hotel, and only a privileged few will get to attend.

Among those present this year were Japan’s consul-general to Penang, Kiyoshi Itoi and hotel general manager Rayner Simon.

“The sophistication of sake inspired us to keep the event exclusive.

“We don’t want a ballroom-scale revelry because we wantour guests to get up-close with the sake masters,” said the hotel sales and marketing director Rina Mariani.

To stand by for next year’sinstalment to meet sake masters, keep an eye on the dining and entertainment promotions in penang.equatorial.com.

Star Metro, Published: Wednesday, 20 July 2016
‘Kanpai’ with sake masters
By Arnold Loh

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Supporting British brands

Leopard print kitten heels and prime minister are two words I’ve never envisioned putting together.

But thanks to Theresa May and her penchant for the aforementioned shoes, it’s a combination we’ll be hearing more of in the future.

Fashion and politics have always made for strange – and intriguing – bedfellows.

As May arrived at number 10 Downing Street in central London on July 13, all eyes were on Britain’s second-ever female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher.

Under pressure to implement Brexit, May began her first day stunning observers by picking gaffe-prone Boris Johnson as her top diplomat. Where fashion was concerned, May made a wise move by supporting British brands for her all-important appearance.

“For a landmark political-and personal- moment, May stayed true to the elegant, and relatively bold by politicians standards, style which she has become known for, choosing a dress and coat by British designer Amanda Wakeley.

“She finished the look with her signature L.K Bennett leopard print kitten heels – what else?” enthused The Telegraph, which added that her footwear choice “might be read as a knowing nod to her assertion that a fierce intellect and a love for shoes are not mutually exclusive qualities.” (Besides the kitten heels, she’s been seen in thigh-high latex boots.)

May’s midnight blue coat with lime green colour block comes from Wakeley’s Spring/ Summer collection last year, but is now sold out, naturally. She wore it over a matching navy slim-fitted sleeveless dress with flashes of lime green.

May’s financier husband Philip, 58, also looked sharp. Metro UK had fun reversing gender stereotypes, focusing instead on what Philip wore.

“Theresa May’s husband steals the show in sexy navy suit as he starts new life as First Man,” crooned the British media site playfully. “Oh, and let’s not forget those shoes … Philip elongated his pins with a pair of black brogues.”

When May launched her bid for the Conservative party leadership, it was a favourite Vivienne Westwood tartan suit which she chose for the occasion.

She has also worn a Burberry trench coat to cabinet meetings.

Another successful fashion moment was last October when she took to the podium on the third day of the Conservative party conference to deliver her keynote speech.

She strode out in a navy blue dress by French designer, Roland Mouret; the striking piece from Mouret’s pre-fall 2015 collection featured an unusual asymmetric neckline and a long gold zip running down the back.

But while May may be famous for her fondness for shoes and love of colour, not every look has proved entirely successful. According to Daily Mail: “Her main sartorial mishaps are being too buttoned up – remember the blue satin number she wore to the Women Of The Future Awards in London in 2007? – or showing too much skin, as she did in a strapless dress at the -Glamour Woman Of The Year Awards.”

At 59, May – with her maturity and confidence – has a well-honed idea of what works for her.

Observes British Vogue fashion features director Sarah Harris: “I imagine that as a female prime minister, navigating a wardrobe that will please critics probably makes steering Brexit look like a doddle by comparison. She flits from colour and print to smart navy; and from trousers to skirts, with ease, looking equally good in it all, which not all women can.”

The Star2, Published: July 20, 2016
Theresa May: In the prime of her life

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Voice from the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia

ON July 12, the award on the South China Sea arbitration came out. This political anti-China farce in the disguise of law, manipulated by the United States, and acted by the former Philippine Government, eventually came to an awful end.

This award caused a storm of questions and negative comments in the international community. A lot of professionals are shocked, not to speak of how ridiculous it is to define Taiping Island as a “reef”.

As Professor Tom Zwart from the Netherlands said, “In the region (East Asia), the award will be widely regarded as the fruit of a poisonous tree, and it will fail, therefore, to garner the necessary support.”

Abraham Sofaer, former legal advisor to the US State Department, also pointed out that the arbitration had brought a lot of difficulties and anxiety, which were not good for any parties.

The US attempted to smear and “isolate” China with the arbitration, but unexpectedly received little response. China’s position of non-acceptance of and non-participation in the arbitration has won more and more support.

Even the Philippine people realised that the arbitration is a total conspiracy of the US for its own agenda. This proves again the age old saying, “a just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little support”.

Dao, a combined concept of fairness, justice, rule, trend and direction, and derived from ancient Chinese philosophy, inhabits people’s hearts. The Dao of the present world lies in peace, development and win-win cooperation, and the Dao of solving international disputes lies in fair, lawful and peaceful solutions. On the premise of peaceful settlement, international law provides the right of every state to choose the means of dispute settlement, which should be based on consent, used in good faith and in the spirit of cooperation.

China persists unswervingly in pursuing an independent foreign policy of peace; advocates the awareness about human common destiny; and opposes the Cold War mindset and zero-sum games, and the bullying of the weak by the strong.

China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion. With regard to territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China adheres to settlement through amicable consultation and negotiation by directly concerned countries, and does not accept any means of third-party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on it.

The violation of Dao by the US lies in its “imperialist mindset” and pursuit of hegemony. After World War II, the US global strategy has always been seeking the “leadership of the world”.

In 2009, the Obama administration launched the Asia Pacific Rebalance Strategy, and took the South China Sea issue as the pivot to maintain its regional hegemony and achieve strategic containment of China.

It is obvious that during the whole process of the arbitration unilaterally initiated and pushed by the Aquino III administration, the US was deeply involved in every step. Although alleging “neutrality and non-involvement”, the US manipulated behind the scene, and tried to forge a “coalition” to hype up the issue, resulting in rise of tension in the South China Sea.

The US always regards itself as “judge of the world”, but history and reality have repeatedly shown that the US has always adopted double standards. In the eyes of the US, international law is only applicable to other countries rather than itself. It only applies the law when it is consistent with its own interest and resolutely abandons it otherwise.

For instance, while advocating “the rule of law on the sea”, it has not acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

While insisting that China must accept the arbitration award, it chooses to forget the Nicaragua case in which it not only withdrew from the proceedings and refused to implement the ruling, but also revoked the declaration of accepting the compulsory jurisdiction by the International Court of Justice. While opposing militarisation in the South China Sea, it has been provocatively dispatching military aircraft and warships into the area, and even deploying aircraft carrier fleets to this region.

More and more countries have found out who is the biggest “trouble-maker” in the world. It is the US intervention that makes the world worse. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have all fallen into its trap and are left with mess in the region. As the new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte frankly said, the root of the bloodshed in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries lies in the intervention of the US.

Furthermore, just prior to the arbitration award, the UK Iraq Inquiry published its report, stating that the decision of the US and UK to start the Iraq War was based on “flawed” intelligence. Under such circumstance, who will follow such a “leader of the world”?

The violation of Dao by the former government of the Philippines lies in breaching previous commitment and causing a lot of trouble in the shelter of a superpower.

The Philippines and China had been friendly neighbours over a long history. However, in recent years, the bilateral ties were damaged by the Philippine policy of confrontation, especially the unilateral arbitration claim.

The government of Aquino III willingly acted as the pawn of the US Rebalance Strategy and took the road to confront China. It deliberately provoked the Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) incident, unilaterally initiated and pushed the arbitration, and tried to hijack other Asean countries to smear China and benefit from the unlawful arbitration award. Its intention is vicious, and its action illegal.

First, although fully aware that territorial issues are not subject to UNCLOS and that maritime delimitation disputes have been excluded from the UNCLOS compulsory dispute settlement procedures by China, the Philippines deliberately packaged the disputes as mere issues concerning the interpretation or application of UNCLOS.

Second, the arbitration infringes upon China’s right to choose the procedures and means for dispute settlement. In 2006, pursuant to Article 298 of UNCLOS, China declared to exclude from the compulsory procedures disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bays or titles, military and law enforcement activities. There are over 30 countries that have made similar declaration.

Third, the unilateral arbitration broke the bilateral agreements reached between China and the Philippines over the years to resolve relevant disputes in the South China Sea through negotiation.

Fourth, the arbitration violated the commitment jointly made by China and Asean countries, including the Philippines, in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) to resolve the relevant disputes through negotiations by states directly concerned.

The Aquino III administration thought itself clever, but how can it deceive the whole world? As Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said, the arbitration is “the worst political collusion in the framework of international politics”, and “would bring negative impacts to Asean and peace in the region”.

Rod P. Kapunan, Philippine columnist of The Standard newspaper, pointed out that “after six years of hypocrisy and deceit, this shameless stooge (here refers to Aquino III) has brought us right into the doorstep of possible armed conflict with China all because it has chosen to pursue the US-designed policy of inciting hostility with our neighbour”.

Regarding the South China Sea situation, he wrote that “the lives of the Filipinos would be sacrificed to enforce a decision that if examined closely is a US proxy war which the Philippines would serve as cannon fodder in securing its interest in this part of the globe”.

The escalation in the South China Sea will bring enormous risks to the regional and even global security. The Philippines should recognise its mistakes and return to bilateral negotiation with China.

The violation of Dao by the arbitral tribunal lies in political manipulation, unfairness and unlawfulness. The arbitration is completely a political farce under legal pretext. The establishment of this tribunal lacks legitimacy.

The arbitrators it chose lack fairness. The tribunal lacks jurisdiction, and it evidently expanded, exceeded and abused its power.

The so-called “award” is even ridiculous. Experts pointed out that all the fees of the tribunal, including the huge reimbursement to the arbitrators, are borne by the Philippines alone. This has raised a lot of concerns and problems. People are asking if the Philippines “hired the judges”.

The composition of the tribunal is a result of political manipulation. Japan and Yanai Shunji, then president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, acted as the broker.

The composition of the tribunal is quite weird: four of the five arbitrators are from Europe, the fifth one is a permanent resident in Europe, and all of them lack basic understanding of Asian culture and the South China Sea issue.

One fact could better show the play under the table. When the tribunal was established in April 2013, the first president appointed by Yanai was Chris Pinto, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat. Since Pinto’s wife is Philippine, he especially asked advice from both parties to the dispute and was recognised by the Philippines.

However, when Pinto later hinted that the tribunal might not have jurisdiction over the case, it raised deep concern of the US, Japan and the Philippines. The latter asked Yanai to find somebody to replace Pinto for a so-called “just cause”. In May 2013, Pinto was forced to resign.

The tribunal abused power for its own interest. Many experts of international law believe that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation. Just as Sofaer said, this arbitration is related to sovereignty disputes. It shouldn’t have been started, especially when a state party has declared in writing that it does not accept compulsory procedures over such disputes as maritime delimitation according to Article 298 of UNCLOS. The tribunal’s ruling “will broadly undermine the potential utility of international adjudication”.

The tribunal disregarded the fact that the essence of the subject matter of the arbitration is the issue of territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation.

It erroneously interprets the common choice of means of dispute settlement already made jointly by China and the Philippines, erroneously construes the legal effect of the relevant commitment in the DOC, deliberately circumvents the optional exceptions declaration made by China, selectively takes relevant islands and reefs out of the macro-geographical framework of the South China Sea Islands, and subjectively and speculatively interprets and applies UNCLOS.

The conduct of the tribunal and its award seriously contravene the general practice of international arbitration, completely deviate from the object and purpose of UNCLOS to promote peaceful settlement of disputes, substantially impair the integrity and authority of UNCLOS, gravely infringe upon China’s legitimate rights as a sovereign state and state party to UNCLOS, and are unjust and unlawful. It has set an extremely dangerous precedent in the history of international law.

The professional ethics of the arbitrators are widely criticised. All the Western arbitrators and expert witnesses played a shameful role as though they were chameleons.

They reversed their previous position as stated in published papers and even backtracked from their long-held views to make the case for the Philippines.

Arbitrator Alfred Soons had published his opinion that the status of islands was closely associated with demarcation and sovereignty issues.

However, when the tribunal ruled on jurisdiction and admissibility, he said the tribunal had the right to decide on the Philippines’ submissions concerning legal status and maritime entitlement of certain islands including Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) and Meiji Reef (Mischief Reef), which was entirely contradictory to his previous viewpoint.

Expert witness Clive Schofield also changed his views at the proceedings. On the same subject, using the same materials, he drew totally different conclusions in and out of the tribunal.

People must be wondering: how could they discard professional ethics to serve the interests of those who pay them?

Facts speak louder than words. The unilateral arbitration initiated by the Aquino III administration violates international law.

The tribunal has no jurisdiction over this case. The award of the tribunal is null and void. China’s position is justified and lawful.

It is time to put an end to the arbitration on the South China Sea. Consultation is the right way to settle disputes between states.

China will continue to work together with the Asean countries to implement the DOC comprehensively and effectively, promote the consultation on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, manage and control relevant disputes properly and explore maritime cooperation, in order to build the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 20 July 2016
DAO inhabits people's heart ;
Political manipulation violates combined concept of fairness, justice, rule, trend and direction.
By Buang huikang
The writer is a member of the International Law Commission of the United Nations and the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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Nelson Mandela International Day

IN November 2009 the United Nations General Assembly, during its 64th Session, adopted a resolution to designate July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day to honour the late South African president.

I was already the Malaysian High Commissioner to South Africa then, but was in New York as part of the Malaysian delegation to attend this annual assembly.

To celebrate Mandela Day yesterday, people around the world were encouraged to devote 67 minutes of their time to community service to honour the 67 long years – one minute for every year of Mandela’s public service – that Mandela had spent fighting against apartheid, for social justice and for a free and democratic country.

I vividly remember the day (as we were busy preparing to have a State Visit by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to South Africa, which then had to be cancelled) when President Jacob Zuma announced that Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, had died in the late evening on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95.

The late Mandela had been suffering from pneumonia and prolonged respiratory infection. Zuma also announced a national mourning period of 10 days.

Malaysia was well represented at the memorial service and the funeral, reflecting the close relations between the two countries.

Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Minister of the Federal Territories and Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili, Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water represented the Government at the memorial service held at Soweto’s World Cup stadium in Johannesburg – ironically the last place of his brief public appearance during the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa – while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, paid his last respects in Pretoria where Mandela’s body lay in state.

The international list of those attending the memorial service and the funeral for Nelson Mandela comprised dignitaries ranging from heads of states and government to those in business sectors, the music and fashion industries.

Dignitaries also flew to Qunu, a village in Eastern Cape province where he grew up and which was to be his final resting place, to attend the funeral.

I never had the opportunity to meet Mandela personally but the attendance at the memorial services and the funeral are testimonies of the utmost respect and high regard South Africans and the international community at large have for him.

For a man who was imprisoned and incarcerated for 27 years, including being held at the maximum security prison at Robben Island where he did hard labour at the lime quarry, Mandela did not take vengeance on his captors when he was elected as the first President of a democratic South Africa in 1994.

Instead, his message was of forgiveness, of reconciliation and not vengeance.

For South Africa, a country known as a rainbow nation that is diverse in its ethnic and racial makeup, Mandela was not only a symbol of resistance against apartheid but also the unifying and reconciliating force for South Africans who had been segregated based on the colour of their skins during that era.

Internationally, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane once described Mandela as an international icon and a symbol of hope for oppressed and marginalised people across the globe, and said that he will always be remembered for his values and dedication to the service of humanity in the fields of conflict resolution, reconciliation, the promotion and protection of the rights of children, gender equality and the uplifting of the poor.

Indeed, in my meetings with the ministers, government officials and private citizens of South Africa as well as those from other countries in the region that I visited, the late Mandela was held in the highest esteem.

He became a symbol and benchmark for citizens of other countries in the region to gauge their own leaders.

Nelson Mandela – Madiba – is gone. But his legacy remains. He will be remembered for his many contributions to promoting peace; as an activist who was fearless in his struggle against apartheid; and as a beacon of hope for those struggling for equality and justice.

The Star, Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Madiba − A symbol of unity
On Nelson Mandela International Day, we remember his 67-year struggle against apartheid, for social justice and for a free and democratic country.
By Kennedy Jawan
Currently Malaysia’s Ambassador to Spain, Kennedy Jawan was High Commissioner to South Africa from December 2008 to 2013, when he was concurrently accredited to Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Madagascar. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Turkey's coup

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had it coming. The Turkish army was never going to remain compliant while the man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire turned his neighbours into enemies and his country into a mockery of itself. But it would be a grave mistake to assume two things: that the putting down of a military coup is a momentary matter after which the Turkish army will remain obedient to its sultan; and to regard at least 161 deaths and more than 2,839 detained in isolation from the collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East.

For the weekend’s events in Istanbul and Ankara are intimately related to the breakdown of frontiers and state-belief – the assumption that Middle East nations have permanent institutions and borders – that has inflicted such wounds across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the Arab world. Instability is now as contagious as corruption in the region, especially among its potentates and dictators, a class of autocrat of which Erdogan has been a member ever since he changed the constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds.

Needless to say, Washington’s first reaction was instructive. Turks must support their “democratically elected government”. The “democracy” bit was rather hard to swallow; even more painful to recall, however, was the very same government’s reaction to the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s “democratically elected” government in Egypt in 2013 – when Washington very definitely did not ask Egypt’s people to support Morsi and quickly gave its support to a military coup far more bloody than the attempted putsch in Turkey. Had the Turkish army been successful, be sure Erdogan would have been treated as dismissively as the unfortunate Morsi.

But what do you expect when Western nations prefer stability to freedom and dignity? That’s why they are prepared to accept Iran’s troops and loyal Iraqi militiaman joining in the battle against Isis – as well as the poor 700 missing Sunnis who “disappeared” after the recapture of Fallujah – and that’s why the “Assad must go” routine has been quietly dropped. Now that Bashar al-Assad has outlived David Cameron’s premiership – and will almost certainly outlast Obama’s presidency – the regime in Damascus will look with wondering eyes at the events in Turkey this weekend.

The victorious powers in the First World War destroyed the Ottoman Empire – which was one of the purposes of the 1914-18 conflict after the Sublime Porte made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany – and the ruins of that empire were then chopped into bits by the Allies and handed over to brutal kings, vicious colonels and dictators galore. Erdogan and the bulk of the army which has decided to maintain him in power – for now – fit into this same matrix of broken states.

The warning signs were there for Erdogan – and the West – to see, if only they had recalled the experience of Pakistan. Shamelessly used by the Americans to funnel missiles, guns and cash to the “mujahedin” who were fighting the Russians, Pakistan – another “bit” chopped off an empire (the Indian one) turned into a failed state, its cities torn apart with massive bombs, its own corrupt army and intelligence service cooperating with Russia’s enemies – including the Taliban – and then infiltrated by Islamists who would eventually threaten the state itself.

When Turkey began playing the same role for the US in Syria – sending weapons to the insurgents, its corrupt intelligence service cooperating with the Islamists, fighting the state power in Syria – it, too, took the path of a failed state, its cities torn apart by massive bombs, its countryside infiltrated by the Islamists. The only difference is that Turkey also relaunched a war on its Kurds in the south-east of the country where parts of Diyabakir are now as devastated as large areas of Homs or Aleppo. Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country. It’s one thing to say sorry to Putin and patch up relations with Benjamin Netanyahu; but when you can no longer trust your army, there are more serious matters to concentrate on.

Two thousand or so arrests are quite a coup for Erdogan – rather larger, in fact, than the coup the army planned for him. But they must be just a few of the thousands of men in the Turkish officer corps who believe the Sultan of Istanbul is destroying his country. It’s not just a case of reckoning the degree of horror which Nato and the EU will have felt at these events. The real question will be the degree to which his (momentary) success will embolden Erdogan to undertake more trials, imprison more journalists, close down more newspapers, kill more Kurds and, for that matter, go on denying the 1915 Armenian genocide.

For outsiders, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the degree of fear and almost racist disgust with which Turkey regards any form of Kurdish militancy; America, Russia, Europe – the West in general – has so desomaticised the word “terrorist” that we fail to comprehend the extent to which Turks call the Kurds “terrorists” and see them as a danger to the very existence of the Turkish state; which is just how they saw the Armenians in the First World War. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk may have been a good old secular autocrat admired even by Adolf Hitler, but his struggle to unify Turkey was caused by the very factions which have always haunted the Turkish heartland – along with dark (and rational) suspicions about the plotting of Western powers against the state.

All in all, then, a far more dramatic series of events have taken place in Turkey this weekend than may at first appear. From the frontier of the EU, through Turkey and Syria and Iraq and large parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and on to Libya and – dare one mention this after Nice? – Tunisia, there is now a trail of anarchy and failed states. Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot began the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment – with help from Arthur Balfour -- but it continues to this day.

In this grim historical framework must we view the coup-that-wasn’t in Ankara. Stand by for another one in the months or years to come.

The Independent, Published: Saturday 16 July 2016
Turkey's coup may have failed – but history shows it won’t be long before another one succeeds ;
Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country – when you can no longer trust your army, there are serious issues that need to be addressed
By Robert Fisk
He is The Independent's multiple award-winning journalist on the Middle East based in Beirut.

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In airports

Penang Airport ...

GEORGE TOWN: A total of 12 flights were rescheduled at the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas after the terminal was flooded during a five-hour downpour which began at about 2.30pm.

The downpour caused the arrival hall to be flooded with water levels reaching 0.3m at about 5pm before subsiding about an hour later.

Airport senior manager Mohd Arif Jaafar said 10 incoming and two outgoing flights were affected from about 4pm onwards.

Among the affected flights were incoming AirAsia flights from Jakarta, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur (two), Saigon and Johor Baru.

Also delayed were a Firefly flight from Kota Baru and three Malindo flights from Malacca, Subang and Kuala Lumpur.

There was also traffic jam at the arrival area of the airport as water was seen overflowing at the roundabout near the terminal.

Contractor Ong Lay Hong, 53, who was at the airport to pick up his son, who was arriving back from Beijing, said he was at the airport at 4.15pm and the water level was already rising.

“The water was flowing from inside the arrival hall to the waiting area for taxis,” he said.

Travellers, among them American tourist Trisha Goulding, 29, were seen lugging their heavy luggage through the water at the arrival hall.

“It is very inconvenient to drag my luggage through this flood water,” she said.

The flooding has happened for the umpteenth time at the airport since the RM250mil expansion project was completed at the end of 2012 and despite various measures taken over the years to reduce the flooding woes.

Based on newspaper reports, the airport had been hit by flash floods, sometimes up to twice a year.

Heavy rainfall also resulted in flooding in several areas on the island including Permatang Damar Laut, Teluk Bahang and Batu Ferringhi.

Teluk Bahang residents said it was one of the worst flash floods in recent years, with about 300 houses affected by the rising waters.

Teluk Bahang Village Development and Security Com-mittee chairman Zainudin Yusoff, 54, said the area worst hit in Teluk Bahang was Kampung Nelayan, which is near a river.

He said that it had rained for about 20 hours since 9.15pm on Sunday and that the condition worsened yesterday due to high tide.

South-west district officer Ederis Mat Din said about 30 people from 10 families had been evacuated yesterday.

But it is learnt that they returned to their homes once flood waters subsided.

He also confirmed there was no death reported at press time yesterday.

State Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said heavy rainfall was recorded up to 190mm in the Teluk Bahang Dam and high tide had caused the Sungai Teluk Awak’s bank to burst.

The Meteorological Department here recorded a total rainfall of 164mm as of 8pm at the Bayan Lepas station yesterday, with the highest rainfall reading at 69.2mm at 5pm.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Penang airport floods stall 12 flights
By Crystal Chiam Shiying, Cavina Lm, and Jolynn Francis

In Turkish airports ...

PETALING JAYA: There are only 21 Malaysians still left among the 242 stranded in major airports in Turkey following a coup last week.

In a statement, Wisma Putra said 242 Malaysians had been identified and given assistance.

“Out of the 242 Malaysians, 221 have departed for their destinations while the remaining 21 will leave Turkey according to their scheduled flights,” it said here yesterday.

However, it advised Malaysians to stay vigilant, urging those who required consular assistance to contact the Malaysian embassy in Ankara or Wisma Putra’s Operation Room at 03-8887 4570.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Hamzah Rahmat said Malaysians holidaying in Turkey were still going ahead with their plans.

“So far, nothing yet, I haven’t heard of anyone cancelling,” said Hamzah, adding that he was positive that Turkey was still a destination of choice.

“After recent incidents, I believe that security in Turkey will be much tighter and it will be safer,” he said, urging airlines not to impose a fee on travellers who wished to postpone their flights over the next few days.

“If airlines or hotels impose a fee on us (for postponing the trips), we have no choice but to impose one in turn on our customers.”

He said Malaysian travellers would also not be affected by the ban on direct flights in and out of Turkey to airports in the United States.

“Malaysians usually use Middle Eastern and European transit for flights to North America,” he said.

Turkish Tourism Board public relations officer Hasan Kuruz said Malaysians should not be worried to travel there.

“Turkish people love tourists and we know how to welcome people,” he said, adding that the board would still go ahead with its promotion for the coming MATTA Fair in September.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 19 July 2016
21 Malaysians still in Turkish airports
By Hemananthani Sivanandam and Hanis Zainal

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Heavy rainfall in Penang

GEORGE TOWN: Locals and tourists are raving about Penang food once again with the latest endorsement by renowned American food writer James Oseland.

A British traveller, who wanted to be known only as Amily, said Penang deserved the tag as a food paradise for its unique fare.

“We enjoy all the food that we have tried. I can’t agree more with the comments about the food here,” said the 20-year-old who was accompanied by fellow Briton Hannah, also 20, at the Gurney Drive food court.

Hannah also gave the thumbs up to the favourite Malaysian meal – nasi lemak.

Oseland, 53, who is also a reality TV cooking show judge, is in Penang to find the best food to feature in his book.

The book will spotlight traditional home-cooked food. Oseland said it was the best way to understand one’s culture.

Administration clerk Nur Ruzaina Abdul Rahim, 24, was not surprised that Penang kept winning accolades for its food.

“It has all types of flavours and cuisines,” she added.

State Tourism Development Committee chair-man Danny Law Heng Kiang said Penang-ites should be proud of the latest recognition.

“A lot of herbs and spices such as chili, nutmeg, pepper and soy go into the cooking of our local food,” he said. “On top of that, our food is widely influenced by the cultures from the myriad races here.”

Federation of Northern Hawkers’ Associations deputy chairman Lam Tong Ying said he would get a lot of compliments for Penang’s food whenever he visited other countries.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Many raving about Penang food after writer’s approval

Penang ...

GEORGE TOWN: Thousands of motorists were caught in traffic snarls as rain continued to pelt Penang on Tuesday morning.

As at 9am, massive jams were spotted in Jalan Datuk Ismail Hashim, Jalan Mahsuri and Jalan Tun Dr Awang in Bayan Lepas.

Other major roads affected were Jalan Paya Terubong, Lebuhraya Thean Teik, and Jalan Masjid Negeri in Air Itam.

Over in town, Burma Road was also among the many roads jammed.

Waze reported that Scotland Road near Ramakrishna Ashrama was also flooded.

Penang JPAM operations officer Second Lieutenant Muhammad Aizat Abdul Ghani said in a statement at 6.15am, Tuesday that two evacuation centres had been opened – in Teluk Bahang and Teluk Kumbar – following flash floods in the island on Monday.

“The areas affected by floods were Kampung Paya, Kampung Sulup and Kampung Nelayan in Teluk Kumbar.

“Eleven victims have been evacuated to the Siber Ilmu community library in Teluk Bahang, while 19 victims were evacuated to the Dewan Gerakan Masyarakat in Teluk Kumbar,” he said.

“There were no fatalities reported,” he added.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department has forecasted continuous rain until Wednesday morning.

The Star, Published: Tuesday, 19 July 2016 | MYT 9:45 AM
Massive jams in Penang as rain continues
By Christopher Tan

See more in The Star News Video:
Tuesday, 19 July 2016 | MYT 12:19 AM
One of worst floods hit Penang's Teluk Bahang; 14 flights rescheduled

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Penang tops writer's list

GEORGE TOWN: Penang has once again topped the chart as a world food destination over other places including Bangkok and Paris with the endorsement of world-renowned food writer, James Oseland.

Oseland, 53, is an American food writer, magazine editor and reality cooking show judge who is currently in Penang until July 20 with the mission to find the best food in Penang to be featured in his upcoming book.

The journalist-turned-food writer since more than 20 years ago, said that interest in cooking had always been in him as it was the only way that made him closer to his father.

“My mom wasn’t a great cook but my dad is. Hence, by cooking, our relationship became closer as we share the same interest,” he said in an interview at The Ghouse’s residence in Jalan Makloom, here, today.

Oseland who is in Penang for the fifth time, his first being in 1982, said that even as time passed, the food quality here was still the same despite the surroundings having changed a lot with more high-rise buildings than before.

“It is wonderful how the food is being cooked; the atmosphere is simply amazing and the competition between eateries to serve the best food makes them maintain the quality.

“If I have to choose the top three places in the world as a food destination, Penang would definitely be the first, followed by Mexico City and London,” he said.

For his new book which he expects to be published in the next two and a half years, Oseland said he would focus on traditional home-cooked food as it was the best way to understand one’s culture.

“As time passes, the young generation, especially, has no interest in learning the original recipes as people tend to take food for granted. That is why I want to document these recipes to ensure that the culture will live on,” he said.

Since his first day in Penang on July 15, Oseland said that his favourite food here so far had been Penang-style nasi campur, nasi kandar and hawker food such as chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls).

While here, Oseland has also learned how to cook ‘nasi kenduri’ with Sabrina Ghouse, a local chef who cooks for weddings and other celebrations.

On how he planned to keep the food taste authentic, as Westerners and Penangites had different ways of cooking and different tastes, Oseland said he had a gift of remembering how every food tasted and knew if it was different from others.

As he will be leaving Penang in two days before heading to Kedah and then flying off to Indonesia and Timor Leste, Oseland who could speak a little bit of Bahasa Melayu said,

“Pulau Pinang sentiasa di hati” (Penang is always in my heart) and has vowed to come again after he completes his book.

New Straits Times, Published: 17 July 2016 at 10:44 PM
Penang endorsed as world's best food destination by renowned food writer
By Bernama

Read More;
Grub Street, Published: October 15, 2014 11:15 a.m.
Why James Oseland Left Saveur to Clean Chicken Coops
By Sierra Tishgart

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What ails bus industry ?

WE have never been short of proposals for road accident prevention measures over the years. In fact, after the Genting Highlands bus crash on Aug 21, 2013, an independent advisory panel to the Transport Minister was set up.

The Genting bus crash, which killed 37 including the driver, was described as the worst in the country. The panel subsequently submitted its report complete with 51 recommendations to the minister in January 2014.

How many of the recommendations have been implemented so far?

Among its recommendations is the installation of speed limiters for public service and goods vehicles. It also included the proposal for the speed limiter to be tested for functionality and performance during vehicle roadworthiness inspections. Was this ever implemented?

In December 2013, the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) encouraged public buses to be equipped with the global positioning system (GPS) to prevent them from speeding. However, the monitoring of the speed limit of their vehicles was left to the respective companies.

Six months later, in May 2014, only 112 of the 164 express bus operators in peninsular Malaysia installed the GPS devices. During the audit by SPAD, it was found that some companies only installed the GPS devices to meet licensing requirements.

In 1998, the Cabinet wanted to make it mandatory for the installation of black boxes on buses to reduce road accidents. The Road Transport Department (RTD) backed down when bus operators opposed the plan, saying that it was too expensive.

Are human lives worth less than the cost of installing the device? In fact, bus operators would not be monitored like unruly kids if they had toed the line.

Initial reports claimed that the bus went out of control owing to brake failure. Vehicles going out of control and crashing is frequently in the news these days. Has any study been done on this?

There is also the SPAD Industrial Code of Practice (SPAD ICOP), started in 2012, which has a “pre-journey safety inspection by supervisors and drivers for every journey based on a daily checklist prescribed by SPAD.

Initial investigations revealed that the Menora Tunnel accident, where a runaway bus rammed into 10 vehicles on July 10, was due to brake failure. How is the “pre-journey safety inspection” going to account for this?

Moreover, 63 summonses were issued to 25 drivers of the express bus involved in the Menora Tunnel accident between 2011 and 2015. The driver who was involved in the crash has nine summonses to his name.

Such traffic offences are supposed to be accessible online in the RTD system. Drivers would not be allowed to renew their licences and the vehicle owner to renew the road tax and permit, particularly when they have such an impressive list of traffic offences.

According to Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, the three major enforcement agencies – the police, RTD and SPAD – are not linked to a common system to share information on offenders, including drivers of commercial vehicles. Each is working on a different platform and hence there is no system to synchronise the information of traffic offenders.

The 2013 Genting Highlands crash report had highlighted this weakness so why was it not rectified? This lack of cohesion between government departments has allowed people who are unfit to operate public transport services and drivers who are not supposed to helm the steering wheel to take busloads of passengers for years.

Currently, RTD personnel are going undercover to nab errant bus drivers flouting traffic rules but this is not a permanent solution when the perennial problems involving bus companies, their drivers and the questionable road worthiness of the vehicles are not addressed.

CAP is also keen to know when SPAD will make it mandatory for the express buses and their drivers to adopt the Safety Star Grading system. This will allow commuters to decide which express bus they wish to choose, much like the grading system that we see in coffee shops.

According to SPAD’s 2014 statistics, there were 4,534 express buses, 5,158 tour buses, and 736 chartered buses operating in the country. There were 198 express bus operators, 141 chartered bus companies, and 896 tour bus businesses.

With such a big fleet of buses and number of companies, it is a ticking time bomb for another accident to happen unless the Government has the political will to rectify whatever is ailing the bus transport industry.

CAP demands the implementation of all the 51 recommendations in the 2013 Genting Highlands bus crash report to stop unnecessary and preventable deaths on the road.

Letter to The Star, Published: Monday, 18 July 2016
What ails the bus industry?
By S.M. MOHAMED IDRIS, President, Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)

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Following precedents by great powers

China’S resolve on its sovereign claim to most of the South China Sea appears to harden after an international tribunal ruled against this new superpower in Asia.

On Tuesday, the international arbitratry at the Hague backed the Philippines’ argument that there was no legal basis for Beijing’s maritime claims.

The tribunal dismissed China’s vast claims in the vital waters, known to have vast oil and gas deposits.

From the start, China has insisted that it will ignore the tribunal decision.

It has also warned that increasing pressure on the issue could turn the resource-rich waters into a “cradle of war”.

Three days following the tribunal’s ruling, China’s state media reported that China may build mobile nuclear power plants in the South China Sea.

“China will soon start assembling its first maritime nuclear power platform and is expected to build 20 floating nuclear power stations in the future, which will largely beef up the power and water supplies on the South China Sea islands,” reported Global Times on Friday, citing China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC).

The state-owned Global Times added that “marine nuclear power platforms will be used” in the islands and reefs of the Spratly chain in the internationally contested sea.

And two days before the tribunal announcement, China had enhanced its military presence under the directive of President Xi Jinping.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Tokyo should stop “hyping up and interfering” in the South China Sea issue, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Japan is not a state directly involved in the South China Sea issue, and thus should “exercise caution in its own words and deeds, and stop hyping up and interfering” in the issue, said Li.

Commenting on the decision of the tribunal in Hong Kong on Friday, a judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said the award on the South China Sea arbitration had the effect of “pouring fuel on the flame”.

Xue Hanqin, while addressing a colloquium in Hong Kong, said: “Anyone can easily tell that this award will certainly aggregate the dispute between China and the Philippines, aggregate the current military tension between China and the US and definitely aggregate tension in the region.”

Indeed, countries in this region are keeping a close watch on the situation – paying particular attention to the actions of the United States, Japan and China.

The ruling of the tribunal – the legality and decision which has been questioned by academics from the East and West, has indeed caused an unprecedented level of tension in this part of the world since the Second World War.

This is despite the repeated assurance by China that it still prefers to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea via consultation and peaceful talks among the parties laying claims to the islands – which include Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

To many analysts, the United States and Japan cannot turn away from the responsibility of instilling instability as both have in recent years provoked disputes with Beijing and challenged China’s sovereign claims to the South China Sea waters.

Indeed, China’s stand on not recognising the tribunal’s decision has won resounding support from commentators who know the history of the region.

China’s sovereignty over the islands and reefs in the South China Sea has been established in the course of history.

Until the 1930s, the United States had never regarded the South China Sea as part of the territory of the Philippines, according to professor of Political Science Peter Li of the University of Houston.

Li sees the tribunal’s award as “null and void”.

China’s rejection of and non-participation in the arbitration proceedings are in compliance with UNCLOS, which, adopted in the early 1980s, was not designed to settle territorial disputes.

Hence, arbitration over matters concerning the delineation of maritime boundaries is beyond the scope of the convention, Li opined.

The impartiality of the tribunal, headed by a Japanese, has also been questioned as it was biased from the start three years ago, he added.

The professor blamed the award for “putting regional peace at risk” as it will encourage other parties to the dispute to seek a similar approach to buttress their claims to the South China Sea.

“A worse scenario is that countries from outside the region (the US) shall impose themselves on the region, thus making a peaceful resolution of the dispute even more remote.”

And according to The Diplomat, in ignoring the verdict on the South China Sea, Beijing is following precedents by great powers as no permanent member of the UN Security Council has ever complied with a ruling by the Tribunal on an issue involving the Law of the Sea.

Graham Allison, director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, noted in his writing: “In fact, none of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have ever accepted any international court’s ruling when (in their view) it infringed their sovereignty or national security interests. Thus, when China rejects the tribunal’s decision in this case, it will be doing just what the other great powers have repeatedly done.”

The United States and Britain have criticised Beijing on this issue, but they had forgotten the precedents they have set.

In the 1980s when Nicaragua sued Washington for mining its harbours, the United States argued that the ICJ did not have the authority to hear Nicaragua’s case.

When the court ruled in favour of Nicaragua and ordered the United States to pay reparations, the United States refused, and vetoed six UN Security Council resolutions ordering it to comply with the court’s ruling, according to The Diplomat.

Just last year the tribunal ruled that Britain had violated the Law of the Sea by unilaterally establishing a Marine Protected Area in the Chagos Islands. The British government disregarded the ruling, and remains in the Marine Protected Area.

In its commentary on Friday, Xinhua said the South China Sea arbitration “is just a start key for the United States having ulterior motives to agitate the South China Sea situation to reinforce its hegemony”.

“The superpower has always been trying to turn the western Pacific Ocean into its own sphere of influence, dreaming to turn the South China Sea into the Caribbean where its warships patrol at will.”

To increase its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China’s growing economy and increasing influence, the United States has since 2009 began a rebalancing strategy to the Asia Pacific to contain China’s rise, exerts Xinhua.

The South China Sea arbitration is another plot hatched by the US government, as Alberto Encomienda, former secretary-general of Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center of the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, had said the United States has instigated his country to initiate the arbitration.

But to the credit of the Philippines, its government under a newly elected president is adopting a softer and conciliatory line towards China as it calls for more economic cooperation with Beijing.

This floats the prospects of cutting down conflict in future.

Amid all the tension, what is important is that China has issued a long white paper that essentially reiterates its aspiration to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, jointly with Asean member countries.

The Star, Published: Monday, 18 July 2016
China hardens after tribunal ruling
In ignoring the verdict on the South China Sea, Beijing is following precedents by great powers as no permanent member of the UN Security Council has ever complied with a ruling by the Arbitration Tribunal on an issue involving the Law of the Sea.
By Ho Wah Foon

MALAYSIA and Asean are perhaps best placed to negotiate on the South China Sea issue between Asean countries and China.

The recent ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in The Hague on a case brought by the Philippines against China must be viewed in the larger context of regional and global relations, mutual trust, peace and development.

The disagreement over the right to territory and resources in these waters concerns other countries as well in the region – Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – that have competing claims with China over large areas of the sea.

Indeed, access to the South China Sea’s rich maritime resources, vast oil and gas reserves and, more broadly, the nearly US$5tril worth of shipborne trade through its waterways each year makes it a regional and global concern.

Undeniably, China and the United States, arguably the two strongest powers today from all standpoints, consider the South China Sea as being of critical strategic importance. Each doesn’t want the other to exert overarching influence or control over the South China Sea.

While China had refused to participate in the international court hearings and rejected outright its ruling, the Chinese government stated its willingness “to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, including joint development in relevant maritime areas, in order to achieve win-win results and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr welcomed the court’s ruling in his country’s favour but called “on those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.”

He further said: “Claimant countries might consider entering into arrangements such as joint exploration and utilisation of resources in disputed areas that do not prejudice the parties’ claims and delimitation of boundaries in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The ruling in The Hague is regarded as legally binding but there is no mechanism to enforce it.

Malaysia’s long and mutually close and beneficial relations with China in terms of trade and cultural ties, and China being a major dialogue partner of Asean, make it eminently suited for both Malaysia and Asean to seriously engage in reaching a practical and workable agreement with China on the South China Sea issues.

It will be detrimental to all sides if the South China Sea dispute is allowed to further fester, lead to provocative and antagonistic rhetoric and posturing from within the region and beyond and, worse, result in conflict.

Clearly, inaction is not an option and time is of the essence. What can be of mutual gain to progress and prosper together must be the guiding principle going forward.

Letter to The Star, Published: Monday, 18 July 2016
Seeking consensus on South China Sea
By RUEBEN DUDLEY, Petaling Jaya

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The ties that bind

AND so we had done Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Covent Garden in London, the Big Bus tour, Borough Market, Tate Britain, Phantom Of The Opera and Mamma Mia!.

Our family vacation in Britain was coming to an end after two action-packed weeks and we were flat-out exhausted.

What else would you like to do, my sister asked her daughter on the evening of our second last day.

Well, said my niece, I haven’t spent much time alone with Auntie Shoes (that’s what she calls me). It’ll be nice to go out together, she said.

We hadn’t expected that reply. My sister and I were thinking she probably would want to squeeze in one more tourist sight.

I was touched.

How nice of you to say that, I told her. Of course, let’s go out tomorrow.

I thought I’d get H to come along, but my sister whispered to me later: She means just you and her, you know.

Which suited me fine too.

I love my niece. She’s been precious to me ever since I laid eyes on her when she was a six-month-old baby in her mother’s arms, waiting for me at the airport of the American city they live in.

Now 18, she’s finding her way in the world. Homeschooled much of her life, she hasn’t decided what college to go to or what degree to take.

She loves make-up and rock music and has been working part-time as a cashier at a burger restaurant and a noodle eatery for less than US$8 (RM31) an hour. (There was one week she worked 52 hours because, she said, other colleagues had called in sick.)

She guards her privacy and, at the two houses we rented, spent much of the time in her room when we weren’t out.

She had insisted on bringing her electric guitar along and had dismantled it so the pieces could fit into her luggage.

But when we got to Edinburgh, she had problems putting the guitar together.

Some screws didn’t fit any more, and despite searching high and low in Edinburgh city and later Hammersmith in London, where we were staying, she couldn’t find the right ones.

Why don’t they have proper hardware stores in Britain like in America, she asked, her thickly pencilled brows furrowed in frustration. I need to play my guitar, she grumbled.

But the moods passed and she could still behave like a little girl, cuddling up to me on the sofa, arms draped around me.

The next afternoon, we set off for some aunt-niece time. We chatted about her work, colleagues and what subjects she could do in college. I took her shopping at H&M.

It was one of the most special moments of my holiday.

This was our first big family vacation – my mother, H and I from Singapore, my sister’s family of four from the United States and H’s daughter from Wales.

I had spent months preparing for it and wanted to make it special for everyone.

Planning a holiday for people from different parts of the world is hard work. Many weeks were devoted to sorting out leave dates and airline tickets and, in H’s daughter’s case, getting permission to skip school.

It’s tough looking for accommodation for so many people, and not cheap either.

But, I concluded, money is something you can always earn back, but memories you can’t buy. This was not a time to stint. It was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation and it had to work.

My mother is already 80 and who knows how many more healthy years she has left. If we waited even a year, my niece would be busy with college and H’s daughter would be in secondary school and unable to skip classes.

We managed to get our acts together and so there we were, our big family of eight playing tourist and soaking in the sights.

We did almost everything together those two weeks. I loved how there were so many of us.

I’ve always wanted to be part of a big family even though I’ve seen many examples of how it isn’t necessarily as pretty as I imagined it to be.

My father had nine siblings and I wouldn’t say theirs was a happy family. It fact, it was at times a quarrelsome family marked by fights, slights, feuds and extended periods of one sibling giving another the silent treatment.

My mother had four siblings, but while ties were very cordial, they led separate lives and two of her siblings died early.

I am the second of three children, but with my brother dying young and my sister away in the United States, it is lonely – and, yes, you can still feel lonely even when you’re an adult and have your own life, career and friends.

It is a loneliness that hits you when you are at a restaurant and see tables packed with big, laughing families, or when you are alone in a hospital tending to a sick parent and streams of relatives are looking in on the patient on the next bed.

One of H’s attractions for me was how he comes from a big, happy family – he’s the youngest of nine siblings. They treat one another with courtesy and consideration, share a WhatsApp group and meet several times a year.

Isn’t it nice to have so many brothers and a sister and to get along with them, I’ve asked him. He shrugged – he doesn’t know any different.

But surely it has shaped you, I persisted. Isn’t it reassuring to know that if you are in trouble, there are so many people you can turn to and who will watch out for you? Doesn’t it make you more confident to face the world? More secure?

For two weeks, I got to experience that. We had a fantastic time on the holiday and – I know it’s corny to say this – there was a lot of love going around.

Of course, we were all aware that we were living in a suspended moment and were on our best behaviour.

We were on holiday and it helped that it was in neutral territory where everything was new and wonderful.

If we were at my sister’s place or she at ours, we would have been distracted by the demands of everyday life. But there in Britain, time was compressed and we had nothing else to do but focus on one another.

We were also conscious that every moment went into making memories, comic misadventures included, like the day we set off too late and missed a tour I had booked.

Two weeks was also just right – another week and we might have started getting on one another’s nerves.

When the last light in the house was switched off at night, it was a wonderful feeling knowing that the people closest and dearest to me were safe and under one roof.

At the back of our minds was how, because we live in different parts of the world, there is no telling if this would be the last time we saw one another. Life is unpredictable and precarious.

There were teary moments when the holiday came to an end and we had to return to our separate lives.

But we went home happier than when we arrived because we were awash with love, and we now carried shared memories that would buoy us for a long time.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 17 July 2016
The ties that bind ;
It's tough planning a vacation for eight people, but I was determined to make memories that would last a lifetime.
By Sumiko Tan

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Tony Blair's devastating Iraq

THE findings of the Chilcot Inquiry have not only provided a scathing critique of the whole chain of events and policies of Britain’s role in the Iraq war, but also revived the controversy of whether the invasion of Iraq should have taken place and how grave the consequences have been.

The inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot found that the supposed rationale for Britain co-leading the invasion was not backed up by facts.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence portraying the existence of such weapons was faulty, overhyped and presented by then Prime Minister Tony Blair “with unjustified certainty”.

There was no imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein, concluded Chilcot, and peaceful means to resolve the conflict were not exhausted.

The Chilcot report gave a picture of a messianic Blair out on a mission to get rid of Saddam Hussein and vowing to partner the United States, even if there was no proper legal justification.

The words “I will be with you, whatever” that Blair wrote to United States President George W. Bush eight months before the 2003 invasion, will surely cast a long dark shadow over him, summarising his role as a faithful blind follower. Chilcot found that the US did not take Britain’s advice seriously.

“It is an account of an intervention which went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said Chilcot.

I watched Blair on TV giving a two-hour press conference to respond. He started very nervously, and saying: “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you will ever know.”

But any expectation that Blair would apologise for leading Britain into war was dashed at question time. Even knowing what has since happened, he made clear he would still have invaded Iraq.

What then was he apologising for? The mistakes he admitted were confined to “the intelligence assessments turned out to be wrong, and the aftermath turned out to be more bloody than ever we imagined.”

Blair, who started his media performance looking nervous, ended it looking decidedly unrepentant for his main actions.

The Chilcot report did not dwell on whether the war was legal.

“We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for military action were far from satisfactory,” said Chilcot.

Many relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq condemned Blair’s role. Some called him a war criminal and said they were exploring their legal options to make him accountable.

Five years ago, there was already an initiative to make the war leaders accountable. In 2011 the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal had conducted proceedings on the roles of Bush and Blair in the Iraq war.

The five judges led by Datuk Abdul Kadir Sulaiman, a former judge in Malaysia’s Federal Court, concluded that they were both guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.

The Chilcot report also found that those who executed the war were thoroughly unprepared for its aftermath. Blair’s government had been warned of the consequences of the war, the report found, so it cannot plead ignorance.

One criticism of the Chilcot report is that it did not dwell on the consequences of the war on the people of Iraq. It thus missed the opportunity to reveal the scale and nature of the horror.

Iraq Body Count, a group specialising in counting the casualties in Iraq, has criticised the report for omitting this issue.

“For the Iraqi bereaved, who might have hoped for an investigation that finally detailed the full extent of their suffering and consequent needs, the Inquiry is as disappointing as it ever was.”

The number of civilians who died as a result of the war and its aftermath is the subject of several studies, and the estimates range from a few hundred thousand to more than a million.

According to Iraq Body Count, more than 174,000 civilians have died as direct casualties from the start of the war in 2003 to around March 2016. If combatants are included, the total deaths climb to 242,000. If the injured are included, the figures increase further.

There are also deaths caused indirectly resulting from damage to infrastructure, health services, food and water supply and transport.

A team of American, Canadian and Iraqi researchers found that from 2003 to mid-2011, around half a million people died due to the war and the indirect effects.

They had carried out a survey of 2,000 households in 100 regions of Iraq and published the results in 2013 in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Regarding the above study, the writer William Furney remarked that if such monumental loss of life occurred at the hands of a government in Africa, the International Criminal Court would prosecute.

“The tragedy of many tragedies in this case is that Bush and Blair remain untouchable and unaccountable.”

Another study, by the Physicians for Social Responsibility in 2015 found that the death toll from 10 years of the “War on Terror” since the Sept 11 attacks was at least 1.3 million, and could be as high as two million, due to the US interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The war in Iraq has also had immeasurable psychological, ideological and political effects. The Iraq war may not have started the terrorist attacks attributed to militant Islamist groups, but it certainly accelerated and magnified the process.

By creating false premises for a war on Iraq, supposedly to end terror, Bush and Blair inadvertently let loose so many unanticipated events and forces that had precisely the opposite effect.

Will Blair and Bush be held to account? Probably not, for the powerful countries have ways and are in a position to shelter their leaders. But even if courts of law do not, history will judge them, and harshly, not only for what they did to Iraq and Iraqis, but how their actions changed the world so devastatingly.

The Star, Published: Monday, 18 July 2016
Blair’s ‘mistakes’ devastated Iraq ;
Tony Blair led Britain into the Iraq war on false premises, with devastating effects on Iraqis and the world
By Martin Khor (note)

Read also his following article in The Star:
The Star, Published: Monday, 20 June 2016
A toast to the right to development

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Noble deeds

I SAW a picture quote on WhatsApp of a milkman in a rickety bicycle pouring milk for some kittens by the roadside recently. It was accompanied by the words “Some people are poor financially but so rich by heart”.

The picture was probably taken in the Indian subcontinent based on the landscape.

I have come across many caring people in Penang and elsewhere. Whenever The Star carries news of poor families struggling to cope with life, some Good Samaritans will come forward to give them a helping hand.

Some prefer to do so anonymously.

I have also come across another type of ‘rich by heart’ people. They go around feeding abandoned stray animals. In Facebook, I have seen pictures of them posing with stray dogs and cats which they have rescued from the streets.

In Jalan Kebun Bunga on Penang island, I have seen people leaving food for stray dogs near a famous temple and outside a Tamil school. I have seen hikers bringing food for stray dogs which live in the hills near the Level Five rest station.

I have also seen them bringing bananas and other fruits for wild monkeys. When the food is scattered, there will be a feeding frenzy by the primates.

Many times, I have seen neatly arranged soya beans on rocks for monkeys and probably squirrels. Such kind-hearted people. I salute them for their compassion.

But is it right to feed birds and animals in the compound of high-rise units, along roads and in the jungle?

I have noticed more pigeons and crows in Bandar Baru Air Itam where I live. It is probably because of the kind acts of people who discard leftover rice at the Lebuhraya Thean Teik-Jalan Thean Teik junction regularly. I am sure they can be considered ‘rich by heart’ too since they are mostly flat dwellers.

They go around in motorcycles but I must add though that not all who use motorcycles are poor.

I stay in a condominium and have seen pigeons perching on my bird cage and balcony railing which is used for drying clothes. The clothes are frequently soiled by bird droppings.

A woman neighbour of mine had been placing fish for stray cats at the garbage bin near my parking bay. Another person, a former bank officer, staying in the next block was also doing the same.

The food attracts strays. I have seen cats lying on top of my car after a hearty meal. I asked the man to stop doing so several times and even though he agreed each time, he could still be seen placing food for cats at another place.

He probably felt what he is doing is right no matter what others think about it.

There are more stray dogs in my condominium as I believed some kind people are placing food for them especially after sunset. The dogs move in packs and I have seen women and children cowering in fear when the ferocious animals pass by them.

The Penang Island City Council rounded up about eight strays about two years ago. But it was obvious that the dog catchers were worried of residents snapping pictures and posting them in the social media. This would surely spark an outcry among dog lovers.

But some residents who had complained about the dogs in our residents’ WhatsApp group were glad that the council came to their aid.

Monkeys are supposed to forage for food but ‘caring’ hikers have been spoiling them. It is common to see a troop of monkeys readying to pounce on hikers who carry a backpack with ruffling sounds of plastic. It’s scary.

I saw a monkey snatching a juice bottle which was carried by a woman hiker about a month ago. She was startled but decided not to retrieve it after seeing so many monkeys around her. I guess the monkeys living in the jungle near the Penang City Park and Penang Botanic Gardens have lost their instinct to forage for food.

I saw a couple on a motorcycle recently and one of them was scattering some grains to pigeons. I felt compelled to give him a piece of my mind. I did so courteously. I commended him for the noble act but told him that the bird droppings are causing a stench in the balconies of high-rise buildings nearby. I pointed out the buildings to him.

He appeared stunned and did not say anything. Maybe, he would stop doing so in future.

People think they are doing a noble deed without realising the ramifications of their actions to others. By pointing out these ‘noble acts’, I risk projecting myself as a cruel-hearted person.

I feel that if one loves dogs so much, please adopt and provide shelter for them. Let’s not do things that cause problems to our neighbours. This also applies to those staying in high-rises.

You may be praised openly for your noble deeds but will people say the same behind your back?

The Starmetro, Published: Tuesday, 12 July 2016
‘Noble deeds’ may do more harm

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Speak less, listen more

THE song by Simon and Garfunkel, Sound of Silence, has been playing in my head this past week.

The reason is that I am temporarily transported into a world of silence because my hearing aids have been sent to the service centre in Singapore for a technical glitch to be fixed.

A small whiteboard next to me has been an effective communication tool – those who speak to me write down what they want to say, and I reply the normal way. Not really fair because they are limited by the space on the whiteboard while I can talk all I want.

In the lyrics of Sound of Silence, one verse stands out:

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never shared

No one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

We talk but we do not speak. We hear but we do not listen. These words permeate all aspects of life.

At the global level, we can see how countries, religions and ideologies are in regular conflict because no one is really listening to one another.

Every country also has issues that remain unresolved because too often politicians talk, without really speaking. And in response people hear without listening.

But I shall not venture into this area and spoil the tone of this column.

My reflection is on what it means to listen in everyday situations that affect ordinary people like us.

It has been said that the reason we have two ears but one mouth is that we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.

That certainly applies at work. When your staff comes to you with a problem, do you hear him out, or is it always a one-way monologue where you are telling him what to do without really listening?

A friend shared how his head of department would never even answer a phone call when he is in conversation with his staff.

He genuinely listens, making the person he is with feel like he is the most important person in the world.

In marriage, too, listening is critical. Marital conflicts often escalate when neither partner is willing to listen.

When all the talk goes in one ear and comes out the other, issues remain unresolved.

The art and the heart of listening is most relevant for those who visit patients going through a medical journey.

The silent visitor who comes to hold your hand and just listen, provides much comfort.

Contrast that with those who offer all sorts of advice, from health foods to the alternative treatments you should consider – talking without speaking, and certainly without listening.

Clearly, listening is a skill that we should all sharpen. When we become better listeners, we improve our productivity as well as our ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. On top of that, we avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

All of these are necessary for success at the workplace and, indeed, in all of life.

As business magnate and founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, said, “Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak. Wherever I go, I try to spend as much time as possible listening to the people I meet.”

By the same token, judicious words used sparingly speak volumes. In a world where our ears are subjected to much chatter and noise, we long to hear words of comfort, encouragement, inspiration, wisdom.

May we make it a point today to speak less and listen more, in order that we may, as St Francis of Assisi prayed, be an instrument of peace – sowing love where there is hatred, and hope where there is despair.

Sunday Starters, Published: Sunday, 17 July 2016
Speak less, listen more

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Singaporean writer O Thiam Chin

Singaporean writer O Thiam Chin is an avid runner who runs one full marathon every year. It is fitting then that the 38-year-old’s circuitous route to literary success has been a long, and at times arduous, journey.

He barely scraped a pass for English in secondary school, was rejected several times when he applied for writing jobs and made short-lived forays into filmmaking and poetry writing.

Through it all, he kept on writing.

“I felt this desperate need to tell stories. I had to do it somehow, whether it was through an article, poem or anything else. Something had to come out,” he says in a recent interview.

No one would have imagined that O, who was raised by Mandarin-speaking hawker parents, would one day become one of Singapore’s leading contemporary authors.

He beat three other writers – Sebastian Sim, Balli Kaur Jaswal and Wong Souk Yee – to clinch last year’s inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

The win netted him a S$20,000 (RM60,000) cash prize and publisher Epigram Books recently published his first full-length novel, Now That It’s Over, which chronicles the unravelling of two relationships, set against the 2004 Asian Tsunami.

He researched parts of the novel while on a 2007 holiday to Phuket and wrote it between 2010 and 2014. He started work on it while on the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in the United States in 2010.

The book is a nonlinear narrative that flashes back and forth in time and features a complex relationship.

“I based the material off dynamics I’ve seen in married couples. Relationships are complex. They carry with them so much joy and pleasure, but also complications and sorrow. There are all these secrets, different expectations and interior lives that we all have,” says O, who is single.

He has penned five short story collections, of which the most recent, Love, Or Something Like Love, was up for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014. It lost to writer Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry Of Moral Panic. He also received the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2012.

Winning Singapore’s richest literary award is quite the feather in his cap, but he admits it comes with great expectations.

“Now, people know who I am, so they will read and judge my writing. All eyes are on me. They expect me to write top-notch stuff,” he says.

He used the prize money to pay his home loan and other expenses and is now living off income from freelance writing assignments and grant money from the arts council.

“It’s not really possible to survive as a full-time writer in Singapore,” he says. “I can carry on like this for one or two years at most. After the announcement, I jumped back into writing again. Then I realised this is the part that doesn’t change. Writing still goes on painstakingly and slowly for me.”

He is working on a new story collection that will have a “more fantastical bent”, due out next year.

O was first exposed to stories by his English teacher in Townsville Primary School in Ang Mo Kio. His most vivid recollection was a retelling of The Twits by acclaimed English author Roald Dahl in class.

“I was so fascinated that this story was about two ugly and detestable people, which made it even more compelling. So I went to read the book,” he says.

As a student in Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, he would be late for school because he was hooked on the radio plays broadcast at noon on the Rediffusion radio station.

Following the plays regularly, however, taught him storytelling elements such as cliffhangers and how to “carry a story forward to compel listeners to tune in, and craft it in a way to hold their attention, and keep them in suspense”.

O studied English and literature in school, but scored C6 grades for both subjects at the O-level examinations (“A lot of memorisation that killed my love for reading,” he recalls).

He took up a diploma in mechatronics (a combination of electronics and mechanical engineering) at Temasek Polytechnic, as he had no idea what to pursue then.

His National Service stint marked a turning point, as he had to travel to Pasir Laba Camp near Tuas for his military training.

The public transport rides of more than an hour to the camp gave him time to read Pulitzer and Man Booker Prize winners. He counts American writer Raymond Carver and Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto as two of his biggest literary influences.

“Carver taught me that a sentence may look deceptively simple, but it takes a lot to pare it down to what you want to convey. I try to emulate Yoshimoto in my work as her stories are sad, soulful and beautiful.”

O got a job in a telecommunications company after national service, but did not enjoy working with telephone systems and left three months later.

“After 21, 22 years of reading, I knew I wanted to do something dealing with words, so I looked for marketing communications and public relations jobs,” he says.

He eventually joined Mediacorp as a marketing and communications executive and was asked to star in an episode of Crimewatch by a show producer.

“He told me, ‘You look like a failed IT entrepreneur who lost a lot of money!’ All I did was make a call on the phone, loosen my tie and look dejected,” recalls O, mimicking the action and laughing.

In 2000, he enrolled in a part-time English language and literature course at the Singapore Institute Of Management.

“I wanted to be able to go into a text, understand and dissect it – to learn those kinds of skills,” he says.

He later started writing for magazines and online publications, and even applied to be a journalist at Singapore Press Holdings, but was rejected thrice.

Hoping to expand his repertoire, he wrote a screenplay and directed a short film about a mother who may have possibly killed her child.

“It was so terribly conceived. I think it won a merit prize at a competition and was screened at a film event, but I didn’t even go to see it. I’m my own worst critic,” he says.

He also feels the same way about his first self-published short story collection, Free-Falling Man (2005), which he wrote while holding a full-time job as a marketing communications manager.

“I’m trying to destroy any copy of it that I can find now. It was one of my first attempts at fiction writing and it was cringe-worthy.”

Such is the author’s candour and self-deprecating humour. He flashes a broad smile and often breaks out in nervous laughter when he answers questions.

Looking back on his life, he says: “I believe that sometimes, you have to fail, fail and fail. I tried fiction-writing because I had failed at almost everything else. So it sounds like it’s my concubine, right? But actually, it’s my one true love.”

The Star2, Published: July 14, 2016
Award-winning author barely passed English
By Lee Iian Xuan

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Banana Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen'

I love food. But even more than just the physical sensations and pleasures of eating, I love the rituals and narratives we develop around the acts of cooking and eating.

There is something both so personal yet inclusive about the enjoyment of good food – a sense of creating connections, of sharing an unspoken story.

Literature, in particular, has used food and eating in many ways – from American comfort food in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to Oliver Twist’s gruel to Enid Blyton’s teatime spreads.

Banana Yoshimoto’s novella Kitchen is not overtly about food, but as the title suggests, it very much revolves around how cooking, meals, and food can parallel and often even influence emotions and relationships.

“The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me.” So begins our introduction to the novel’s protagonist Mikage Sakurai, and it is only later that we realise that this seemingly simple description holds a much deeper meaning – that, essentially, Mikage not just finds both comfort and meaning in cooking and food, but that food punctuates and often even shapes the plot points of her story.

Mikage herself is described as a lover of both cooking and food, so on one level, we see her enjoyment of these in almost every part of the story. Where Yoshimoto excels, though, is using these aspects as a way to actually tell her story, in a way that may not be otherwise possible.

In fact, in a story that is often restrained in its depiction of emotions, the emphasis on the enjoyment of food seems to take on an emotive and sensorial quality.

This may, on the surface, seem to be an odd way to interpret a story that is largely about death and grief. Originally written in Japanese in 1988 and then translated into English, the story begins with Mikage grieving and trying to get over the death of her only living relative, her grandmother.

She befriends Yuichi, a young man who knew her grandmother, and gets to know his mother, Eriko.

In order to cope with her loneliness and sudden lack of family, Mikage moves in with Yuichi and Eriko for a while, and the three develop a strong bond.

When tragedy strikes Eriko, it is now Yuichi who is left to deal with grief; the rest of the story revolves around how Mikage and Yuichi each navigate their loss, both clinging to each other and isolating themselves.

These are difficult experiences to capture in writing, and Yoshimoto to her credit does not overplay the grief card – if anything, the first person narration by Mikage requires you to read between the lines to truly understand the depths of the characters’ struggles.

And yet, very little interpretation is required to understand the immediate bond that is created when Mikage spends her first night at Yuichi’s home, and volunteers to make soupy rice for Eriko and him. Or the escapism of Mikage cooking a huge dinner of all sorts of disparate dishes for Yuichi and her when she hears of Eriko’s death. Or the pure drama and delight of the novel’s climax, which – without giving too much away – centres on around a particularly delicious takeaway of katsudon.

The Star2, Published: July 3, 201
How food tells a story in Banana Yoshimoto’s ‘Kitchen’

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an emergency eye surgery

AT some point in our lives we have all known or heard about people whose lives are never quite the same again after facing something totally unexpected and which they have no control over.

We read stories about people who have had to face unexpected adversity or shocking misfortunes and feel a mixture of sympathy and admiration for their courage and fortitude in facing these giant challenges.

Some of us have actually been there ourselves and looking back, wonder how we managed to stay afloat and survive those darkest hours.

To those of us whose lives have been pretty smooth sailing so far, hearing about such things may cause us to pause a minute or two to wonder what it would be like if we had to go through that same trying situation.

But with so many other things to think about and a million other duties, we may give a little shrug and move on after making a mental note to visit, call or send a short message of comfort and encouragement.

After all, it can’t be very healthy for your mental state to wallow in morbid thoughts about things that you really don’t want to happen to you.

Three months ago when I had to undergo an emergency eye surgery I had no time to think about anything else apart from getting the surgery over and done with.

But later, in the weeks that followed there was plenty of time to think. There were in fact, considerable periods of time when I could do nothing much besides think, reflect, take stock of what had happened, and where it was all heading.

I have read that we learn so much more from experiences of pain compared to pleasure. Lying in bed those first few days, I learnt the truth of those words.

Being unable to do even simple things for myself and having to depend on someone else to bring me my meals, do my laundry and administer my medication, made me realise how significant these seemingly mundane tasks really were.

With my vision suddenly diminished I began to wonder if I would ever be able to do the things I loved – reading and writing – as freely as before.

I had to cancel certain engagements, reschedule appointments, deadlines and wrestle with doubts and fears that kept rising within me whispering that life as I knew it was over.

More fears
The fears were exaggerated to be sure and mostly unsubstantiated but nevertheless they were there.

It was more evident especially when I had to go for a second surgery and more follow-up procedures.

But it was during this time also that many things became so real to me.

I was not reading about someone else’s experience, I was going through it myself.

I remember the feeling of gladness when after a period of uncertainty, I could detect movement and colour in my operated eye.

I remember how good it felt to be able to do the simplest of household chores again and the feeling of fulfilment when I could actually write an email.

When the time came to go back to work I had to take on “smaller” jobs that didn’t require reading, writing or computer related work too much.

It was during one of these moments when I was stapling strips of paper together and feeling good about being able to contribute that I remembered the well-known phrase in theatre by Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski who said: “There are no small parts, only small actors.”

Small attitudes
Although there has been much argument about the truth of the phrase, sitting at my desk doing a seemingly meaningless task, I realised that if you thought about it, there were also no “small” jobs really, only “small” attitudes.

I remembered my inner protest and griping in school when faced with the unavoidable task of stapling hundreds of student examination scripts; a task that almost every teacher has to do at different times in the teaching year.

I remembered my thoughts during those times – why did I have to spend hours on this mundane, meaningless task when I could do something really “important”.

But now I had to eat my own words. The simple and repetitive task of cutting strips of paper meant so much to me because it was all that I was able to do at that time.

During my process of recovery I recalled also the times that I had been inwardly critical or condescending towards someone who was slower at doing a particular job in school, or who failed to understand a learning concept quickly.

Now here I was, in the same position, taking three times as long as anyone else to do the basic things.

It made me think of how it may have been like for my own students. Some of them had to take a longer time to do things, to complete an assignment, solve a problem, or grasp a learning fact, and how at times I had been impatient with them.

There must have been scores of times when I had mentally compartmentalised them as “slow” and “not very likely to succeed”.

And yet I was deeply touched and humbled when people went out of their way to be patient with my slowness and even came forward to offer help.

I realise also how important words of support, comfort and encouragement can be; how at times we need to shoulder the responsibilities of our colleagues who are suddenly unable to perform their duties.

I am extremely grateful to people who have and are continuing to help me even as I try to get back to my usual pace.

There are times of course when I wonder if things will ever be the same again but even if they aren’t, it’s okay.

Things are still blurry and hazy for now but I am confident they will keep improving.

To an extent I feel I can see things a lot more clearly now, especially those that deal with my own attitudes and perception of others.

In some ways I feel stronger. As clichéd as it may be, it is really not the things that happen to us that determine our happiness, but our responses to them.

Perhaps we need to include that more in our curriculum or classroom teaching and learning experiences.

We need to let our students know that despite their best efforts, life is not always smooth and sometimes things happen.

But it is during these times that they grow as their characters are moulded and shaped.

For now I take life one day at a time and sometimes quite literally one step at a time.

I am content if I have fulfilled what the day requires of me. But more than anything I rely completely on God’s strength for each day and rest in the assurance that I am not alone.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 3 July 2016
Seeing through different eyes
By Dr G Mallika Vasugi

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Alis in Yunaland

THERE’S a song currently getting a lot of play on radio where the word “down” is repeated over and over.

But instead of feeling down, I am uplifted listening to it. That’s because the song provides a great, bright spot amid all the bad news of late.

It’s because this single, Crush, is written and sung by our own Malaysian talent Yuna for her third United States-produced album called Chapters, and with it, she has truly made it in the ultra-competitive international music scene.

After its release in April, Crush made it to the 8th spot on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart while Chapters broke into the top 10 R&B albums and top 20 R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts.

Yuna caught my attention in 2013 with her collaboration with Adam Young on Shine Your Way, the title track of the Dreamworks animated film, The Croods.

I fell in love with her voice which is like smooth, delicious caramel that melts in your ears.

With Crush, Yuna upped the ante because she got Usher, the Grammy-award winning, mega best-selling R&B artiste, to sing with her. And that is a Very Big Deal. Their music video has chalked up close to nine million views.

If you’ve been under a rock and wondering who she is, Yuna – short for Yunalis Mat Zarai – is a 29-year-old Kedah-born UTM law graduate.

She started composing songs at 14 and like many 21st-century artistes, first found fame online.

Her 2008 debut album won four Anugerah Industri Muzik (our equivalent of the Grammy Awards), including Best New Artist and Best Song for the breathtakingly beautiful Deeper Conversation.

By 2010, she was on a roll, scoring success as a singer and a fashionista with her own boutique.

The following year, she decamped to Los Angeles and got her first big break when Pharrell Williams mentored and produced her first US record. She’s also performed on Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel’s shows, among others.

An interesting tidbit is her professional name wasn’t always Yuna.

There’s a 2006 YouTube video of her audition for a local reality show, One in a Million, where she introduced herself as Yunalis and told the judges to call her Alis.

She sang Bohemian Rhapsody because she thought she could showcase her vocal prowess. Judge Paul Moss disagreed but felt she was something special.

He was right. While the tudung-clad law student called Alis didn’t win the contest, she already showed spunk and was comfortable speaking English to the judges.

Ten years on, Alis has become Yuna, the polished, confident turban-wearing artiste who has become a bona fide international composer-singer.

Yuna’s success should be the pride of all Malaysians and it was made possible, I strongly believe, because of her English language proficiency.

Ultra-Malay nationalists may not want to sing her praises because of that but that is the undeniable truth.

In an interview with sfweekly.com in May this year, she said “I was doing music back home, but I was doing a lot of English music so it wasn’t really taking me anywhere. There wasn’t a market in Malaysia. So I really wanted to see where my English music could take me.”

Perhaps more importantly, she told MTV News, “Now that I’m here (in America), I get to really do what I want to do.”

That is yet another undeniable truth: if you want to make it internationally in entertainment, you need English. That’s how the Swedish group Abba became phenomenally successful in the 1970s and our Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh could play a Bond girl.

Indeed, part of Yuna’s success is her brilliant way with words; her fans love and relate to her heartfelt, well-crafted lyrics.

A measure of her international success is the number of covers of her songs like Fading Flower, Lullabies, Rescue, Decorate and now Crush that get on YouTube.

And let’s face it, YouTubers don’t cover songs that won’t get them likes.

One cover of Rescue is by an American church choir and it got comments about the song or Yuna “dekat” and “masuk gereja”, meaning the song or composer got close to or entered a church.

The song, as another commentator pointed out, is about being a strong woman and nothing about religion, yet such is the state of mind among some Malaysians.

It’s really not unexpected, considering the acute sensitivity about Islam and Muslims in today’s world.

And that’s another minefield a Malaysian Muslim female artiste must face. Above all, she is constantly judged by the way she dresses and interacts with the opposite sex.

On that score, Yuna has also done well and clearly that is no accident. As she told New York magazine; “By the time I got into music, I was already wearing the scarf all the time, and it’s really personal to me, my Muslim beliefs, so I decided to keep it and find a way to work around it.”

And indeed she has. From the flowy tudung, she’s created her distinctive, sharp turban look.

Since moving to the United States, she says she still meets people who don’t understand why she continues to cover up.

“People say, ‘You should let your hair out; you shouldn’t be oppressed – you’re not in Malaysia anymore. You should show your curves and be proud of it.’

“But I am proud – it’s my choice to cover up my body. I’m not oppressed – I’m free,” she’s quoted as saying by Billboard.com.

Apart from her colourful turbans, she wears high collars, long sleeves and long, flowing tops over ankle-length skirt, pants or skinny jeans that can only be described as stylishly modest.

Yet, someone still thought it fit to comment that the more international she got, the more skin she showed – which is just mind-boggling. But it hasn’t fazed Yuna who knows just how hard it is to do something different and that’s why she keeps close to her roots.

As she told MTV News, “I try to stay connected to the Malaysian fans, because they need it. I love my country, but when it comes to younger kids trying to get support to do what they want to do, it’s really tough, because they get moulded into something very early, and it’s kind of hard to break from that.

“And if they do something diffe-rent, they get criticised for it. Like me – I get criticised all the damn time for doing this. They see [my work] as a little glimmer of hope. I’m probably the first Malaysian to ever do this, really get myself into the American music industry.”

If she keeps composing and singing the way she does, there’s no way critics and naysayers can keep Yuna down, down, down, down, down.

More importantly, she is exactly the kind of inspiring antidote our young Malaysians need to counter the toxic influence of extremism like the IS.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Alis in Yunaland ;
It’s no wonder that this amazingly talented Malaysian singer-songwriter has made such an impact on the American music scene.
By June H.L. Wong

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