Ahad, 22 Mei 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Beginning at the end

Posted: 22 May 2011 11:06 PM PDT

The Winchester brothers' relationship is tested to the max in the sixth season of Supernatural.

WHERE do you go after venturing along the apocalpyse route? That was the question that automatically came to mind when it was announced that Supernatural was renewed for another season – its sixth.

Eric Kripke who created the series that made its debut in 2005 has said that he mapped out the story of the Winchester brothers (played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) in a five-season story arc.

Anyone who has watched season five knows – what with the seven seals being broken, the appearances of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the brothers discovering they are actually the vessels for the Apocalypse – Kripke didn't apply any brakes to hurtle the show to its climactic finish.

Every episode in the last season built up to the plot detailing Lucifer's grand plan of wanting to walk on Earth and, ultimately, deliver it to destruction and demons. Then, at the end, through our tears and our hearts beating at a normal pace again, the series throws in an interesting piece from a totally new puzzle.

Okay, can we just say, whoa?

Supernatural is, undoubtedly, a series that isn't afraid to walk on dangerous terrains – it has been upping the ante every season. With a strong foundation based on the Winchester brothers' relationship, the series has explored from things that go bump-in-the-night, fairy tales that may be based on not-so-nice folklores, to finally going big with the Bible-old fight between angels and demons.

It doesn't pull any punches in the surprise department either; for example, in the last five years, Dean and Sam have died so many times that we've lost count and yet, when they come back, we never ever quite know where it's heading.

The latest surprise sees season six opening with Dean – get this – living the white picket fence life with his former girlfriend Lisa Braeden (Cindy Sampson) and her son.

After what happened at the end of season five, Dean kept to his promise to Sam to retire from this dangerous line of work.

In a transcript provided by AXN, Ackles, who portrays Dean, says: "It's definitely a unique colour for him, you know? Driving a pick-up truck to the construction site and having dinner and falling asleep in a normal bed.

"I think there was always a piece of Dean that wanted to make an effort to live a normal life, and Lisa was the closest thing that he had to that.

"I think that's really what he was hung up on, the idea of what she could bring him. And, you know, she's not unattractive!"

The new season opens a year after the events of season five. Dean is resigned to leading a normal life, but this doesn't mean he has forgotten all the lessons he's learned about hunting demons.

"It's interesting for a character with that kind of past to be domesticated the way he has been, it's this odd balance of normalcy with complete and utter oddity.

"He's got the white picket fence but at the same time he still has a shotgun underneath the bed, the silver amulets above the door and the Devil's trap underneath the rug," says Ackles, 33.

Well, it isn't long before he notices something is amiss in the suburbia which leads him to getting a surprise visit. And pretty soon, he's pulled into killing evil that dares to lurk in the vicinity of the people he loves. In a way, the episode is a reminder of how this series started all those years ago.

In season one, Sam was living a normal life when Dean came along to ask his younger brother to join him in the fight. This time around, it's Dean with the normal life and with the tough decision of whether he is willing to give up all that he's had for the past year and go back to hunting.

"There's definitely an inner battle between wanting to stay out of the game and wanting to live a life, wanting to be there for this woman and child that he has now become a family to, but there's also that undeniable urge to being a hunter – it's in his blood, it's what he does, it's what he has known.

"So there's that battle of wanting to protect his family and keeping them as far away from it as possible but in doing that, he's getting deeper and deeper back into it."

The series – now helmed by executive producer Sera Gamble – also acknowledges the result of the near-Apocalypse. And that is, heaven and hell are not hanging in perfect balance anymore as the angels in charge are battling each other – the good side led by the renegade angel, Castiel (Misha Collins), who helped the brothers avert the apocalypse. Thanks to the war, some of the most powerful weapons previously housed in heaven end up in the hands of men on Earth. Worse, demons and monsters from hell have made Earth their home.

"Since the end of season five, the world of the evil, the monsters and the demons has had a bit of an upturn. There are monsters turning up in areas that we shouldn't be fighting them in, and they're acting out of character, like vampires that are walking around in the day, everything's turned upside down.

"So for the first few episodes it's a lot of trying to make sense of what is going on," explains Ackles, who doubles up as a director for the episode Weekend At Bobby's in this new season.

In the end, however, the series' superstrength lies in the brothers' complex relationship. Demons and scary things are nice plot fillers but they are just tools to put the fragile relationship of the Winchesters under a microscope.

In this season, new complications arise – along with a whole new set of questions – thanks to the appareance of Dean's family members. Much credit goes to Ackles and Padalecki who've given their characters a level of cohesiveness and interaction that people can latch on to.

Ackles concludes: "I like the balance of the two characters, just as far as them playing off each other. People can say it's chemistry or whatever as actors, but I really think it is the characters that are such a good blend, because Dean's the gruff, tough guy who is also a smart arse and stuff, whereas Sam is more the straight and narrow, with his head in the game. So I think that balance is what makes it work."

> Supernatural Season Six premieres tonight on AXN Beyond HD (Channel 720) at 9.50pm. The series is aired from Mondays to Fridays.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Eight more blasts rock naval base in Karachi

Posted: 22 May 2011 08:36 PM PDT

KARACHI (Reuters) - Eight more blasts rocked the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi as 30 more troops reinforced more than 100 commandos battling a group of militants who attacked the base on Sunday night, a Reuters witness said.

"Our estimate is 10-15 terrorists are inside the base," said Naval spokesman Muhammad Yasir. "They have been confined to a building. Fighting is still going on."

Pakistani troops appeared to be engaged in a full-on assault of a building where militants have holed up after assaulting the base and destroying military aircraft.

Yasir said the explosions were likely hand grenades thrown by commandos.

(Reporting by Faisal Aziz and Kamran Haider; Editing by Chris Allbritton)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Battle with militants rages on at Pakistan's naval base

Posted: 22 May 2011 08:36 PM PDT

KARACHI(Reuters) - An overnight battle with militants at Pakistan's naval aviation base erupted again after dawn on Monday, with blasts ringing out and choppers hovering overhead as security forces launched a counter-offensive.

"The operation still continues. It is not over yet," said one security official, eight hours after a group of up to 15 militants stormed the installation with guns and grenades, killing at least five people and blowing up a military aircraft.

More than 30 troops entered the PNS Mehran base in the southern city of Karachi as the battle resumed and eight blasts were heard in the space of 30 minutes.

Eleven people were wounded in the attack on one of the country's most heavily guarded military installations, where jet fuel tanks appeared to have caught fire and exploded.

"They were carrying guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and hand grenades. They hit the aircraft with an RPG," Navy spokesman Commander Salman Ali said earlier.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the raid. But Taliban militants, who have vowed to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces, have carried out several attacks since the al Qaeda leaders' death on May 2.

The assault started at approximately 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The dead included one sailor, three firefighters and an Army ranger, Yasir said.

The Karachi attack evoked memories of an assault on Pakistan's army headquarters in the town of Rawalpindi in 2009, and revived concerns that even the most well-guarded installations in the country remain vulnerable to militants.

A spokesman said one P-3C Orion, a maritime patrol aircraft, had been destroyed and that intermittent gunfire was continuing.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said earlier the militants had attacked from the rear of the base. "We have been able to confine them to one building and an operation is underway either to kill or capture them."

Media reports said the attackers had made their way in through a sewer line, but that was not confirmed. The military's goal is to capture as many of the attackers alive as possible, Pakistan television reported.

Pakistani military and paramilitary reinforcements poured in after the attack began, with four vehicles carrying about 10 troops each moving into the base.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack.

"Such a cowardly act of terror could not deter the commitment of the government and people of Pakistan to fight terrorism," Gilani said in statement.


Pakistan has faced a wave of bombings and gun assaults over the last few years, some of them claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban.

Others have been blamed on al Qaeda-linked militant groups once nurtured by the Pakistani military which have since slipped out of control.

The discovery that bin Laden was living in the garrison town of Abbottabad, not far from the Pakistan Military Academy, has revived suspicions that militants may be receiving help from some people within the security establishment.

Pakistan and the United States say the senior leadership in the country did not know bin Laden was in Abbottabad.

Washington sees nuclear-armed Pakistan as a key, if troubled, ally in the region essential to its attempts to root out militant forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"We condemn the attack and our sympathies are with the families of those injured or killed," the White House in Washington said in a statement.

On April 28, suspected militants detonated a roadside bomb in Karachi, killing four members of the navy, the third attack on the navy in a week.

The attack came two days after two bombs hit buses carrying navy personnel, killing four people and wounding 56. Taliban insurgents took responsibility for the twin attacks.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Kamran Haider and Imtiaz Shah; Writing by Chris Allbritton; Editing by John Chalmers)

(For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see: http://www.reuters.com/places/pakistan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Ivory Coast ex-rebel leader to remain PM - Ouattara

Posted: 22 May 2011 11:55 AM PDT

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara confirmed on Sunday he plans to keep former rebel leader Guillaume Soro as his prime minister and defence minister.

Ouattara was inaugurated as president on Saturday in a ceremony most Ivorians hope will end a decade of conflict and put the formerly prosperous West African nation, the world's No. 1 cocoa producer, back on the path to development.

Guillaume Soro addresses troops in the provincial capital Yamoussoukro, March 31, 2011. (REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun/Files)

He is expected to name his government and top military commanders in the coming few days.

"Guillaume Soro has done an excellent job and he will be reconstituted in his post," Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund deputy director, said in an interview on Radio France International (RFI).

Ouattara won the second round of the November presidential election against incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, U.N. certified results showed, largely because he formed a coalition with third place contestant Henri Konan Bedie -- whose party had therefore been expected to name a prime minister.

But Gbagbo refused to step down, sparking a violent power struggle that only ended when rebels allied to Ouattara -- but under the command of Soro -- ousted him in April, with French military backing.

While Bedie helped Ouattara win the vote, it was Soro's military muscle that was decisive in enabling him to take power.

Ouattara said he had consulted Bedie before the decision.

"(Former) president Bedie and I agreed to do it," he said.

At least 3,000 people were killed and more than a million displaced in the crisis, in which cocoa exports ground to a halt, banks shut and shops were ransacked.

Ouattara is widely expected to give top military posts to former rebel leaders who helped him remove Gbagbo. But analysts say his government will need to be inclusive and reach across the political spectrum to former enemies if he is to heal the bitter divisions left over from the crisis.

Ouattara wants to put Gbagbo on trial and has asked the International Criminal Court to probe allegations of serious human rights crimes, but his debt to Soro may make it difficult for him to investigate alleged abuses on the side of the rebels.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan, additional reporting by Daniel Flynn and Alexandria Sage in Paris, editing by Mark Heinrich)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Traisy draws inspiration from Pandelela to achieve her dream

Posted: 22 May 2011 05:33 PM PDT

PAROI: The biggest stars in her sport are in attendance but diver Traisy Vivien does not need a bigger inspiration than her own team-mate Pandelela Rinong as she bids to achieve a childhood dream to qualify for the London Olympics next year.

Traisy will make an early bid alongside Pandelela to qualify for the Games at the world championships in Shanghai in July in the individual 10m platform discipline.

And the 17-year-old Sarawakian gave herself a timely boost to her efforts to impress at the world meet with a steady performance en route to winning the girls' Group A 10m platform title at the national age-group championships at the Paroi Aquatic Centre in Seremban yesterday.

Traisy amassed 396 points after the fifth and final dive to clinch the gold for Sarawak ahead of two Perak divers, Jasmine Lai and Kam Ling Kar.

National back-up divers Jasmine and Ling Kar garnered 378.25 and 333.75 respectively.

Traisy is considered the second best Malaysian female diver for the platform discipline after Pandelela and is hopeful of making a stronger effort to qualify for the Olympics in her second appearance at the world championships.

"I'm happy to get a personal best score here and it is a good sign for my preparations for the world meet," she said.

"I have definitely improved a lot compared to my first outing in the world championships in Rome two years ago.

"Then, I was a bundle of nerves and finished second last in the preliminaries.

"It will be great if Pandelela and I can make the top 12 final to qualify for the London Olympics. But she is the stronger favourite after her achievement of winning the gold medal in the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year and the silver at the World Series in Moscow earlier this year.

"She is now one of the best platform divers in the world and I definitely look up to her."

Traisy took silver behind Pandelela in the 10m platform at the last SEA Games in Laos two years ago.

Another diver from the national elite group who competed in the two-day national age-group meet, Wendy Ng, was also a winner in girls' Group B category. Wendy amassed 434.90 points to claim the 3m springboard gold medal.

The meet saw Australian divers emerging overall winners with a total tally of 7-6-2.

The Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia secretary, Edwin Chong, said that they opened up the national championships to foreign participation on the requests from several countries.

"They are aware that the standard of Malaysian diving is now quite good. It is also good for our divers to have stiffer competition in the company of divers from five foreign countries."




1m springboard: 1. Chew Yi Wei (Sel) 436.55, 2. Darcy Taylor (Aus) 412.65, 3. Luthfi Niko (Ina) 402.10.

3m springboard: 1. Darcy Taylor (Aus) 509.70, 2. Chew Yi Wei (Sel) 457.40, 3. Luthfi Niko (Ina) 452.00.

10m platform: 1. Adrian Chan (Prk) 432.44, 2. Luthfi Niko (Ina) 383.85, 3. Andriyan (Ina) 336.45.


1m springboard: 1. Carlysle Chan (Swk) 351.05, 2. Joshua Kehagias (Aus) 349.75, 3. Muhammad Danial (Kul) 328.95.

3m springboard: 1. Joshua Kehagias (Aus) 380.35, 2. Mohd Nazreen (Kul) 372.75, 3. Carlysle Chan (Swk) 369.65.

10m platform: 1. Liam Dummer (Aus) 350.10, 2. Muhd Nazreen (Kul) 318.60, 3. Kua Chee Yeap (Prk) 316.10.


1m springboard: 1. D. Botrov (Uzb) 278.80, 2. Muhd Amin (Nse) 272.80, 3. Awang Sharuddin (Sab) 262.40.

3m springboard: 1. Ng Zheng Hao (Sel) 294.15, 2. Muhd Amin (Nse) 286.65, 3. D. Botrov (Uzb) 270.50.

10m platform: 1. Ng Zheng Hao (Sel) 264.95, 2. Awang Sharuddin (Sab) 257.00, 3. Muhd Amin (Nse) 233.90.


3m synchro: 1. Muhd Danial-Muhd Nazreen (Kul) 232.02. 2. Andriyan-Luthfi Niko (Ina) 229.44, 3. Muhd Syafiq-Adzhar Imran (Nse) 222.78.



1m springboard: 1. Kahlia Warner (Aus) 341.30, 2. A. Khomenkova (Uzb) 299.90, 3. Myra Lee (Sin) 290.25.

3m springboard: 1. Wendy Ng (Kul) 434.90, 2. Jasmine Lai (Prk) 419.15, 3. Kam Ling Kar (Prk) 411.90.

10m platform: 1. Traisy Vivien (Swk) 396.00, 2. Jasmine Lai (Prk) 378.25, 3. Kam Ling Kar (Prk) 333.75.


1m springboard: Nancy Wang (Aus) 274.55, 2. Chan Pui Man (Mac) 254.65, 3. Leong Sut Chan (Mac) 238.40.

3m springboard: 1. Nancy Wang (Aus) 335.90, 2. Wong Kay Yian (Sin) 286.25, 3. K. Amiraslanova (Uzb) 284.15.

10m platform: 1. Joey Loh (Kul) 289.40, 2. Nancy Wang (Aus) 259.20, 3. Foo En Yun (Sin) 192.30.


1m springboard: 1. Anna Irene (Aus) 272.70, 2. Georgia Sheehan (Aus) 270.35, 3. Nur Dhabitah (Kul) 270.20.

3m springboard: 1. Nur Dhabitah (Kul) 266.45, 2. Adeline Chin (Sel) 265.40, 3. Georgia Sheehan (Aus) 261.25.

10m platform: 1. Nur Dhabitah (Kul) 227.30, 2. Anna Irene (Aus) 227.10, 2. Georgia Sheehan (Aus) 213.90.


3m synchro: 1. Jasmine Lai-Kam Ling Kar (Prk) 240.26, 2. Sally Hackett-Kahlia Warner (Aus) 220.92, 3. K. Amiraslanova-A. Khomenkova (Uzb) 202.85.

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Vettel grabs fourth win in Spain

Posted: 22 May 2011 05:31 PM PDT


RED Bull's Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel took his fourth win in five races yesterday in a Spanish Grand Prix that shed its reputation for predictable processions.

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton finished second, just 0.6 seconds behind, after harrying the 23-year-old German over the closing laps in a far closer finale to a race many had forecast would be a duel between the dominant Red Bulls.

"That was crazy, crazy man, you were coming, coming, coming," Vettel told Hamilton before the podium champagne celebrations.

Hamilton's team-mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button was third, beating Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber for the final place on the podium and helped by a three-stop strategy to the others' four.

However the stewards announced some 19 minutes after the end of the race that Hamilton, Button and Webber were all under investigation for failing to slow for yellow flags.

The rest of the field, including Ferrari's fifth placed local hero Fernando Alonso and sixth placed Michael Schumacher, were lapped.

Vettel stretched his championship lead over Hamilton, the 2008 champion and only man to have beaten him so far this year, to 41 points.

Even if Vettel's 14th career victory came as no surprise it still marked the first time since 2000, when Finland's Mika Hakkinen beat Michael Schumacher to the chequered flag, that the race was won by someone other than the driver starting on pole.

At a circuit previously renowed for scant overtaking or excitement, with just 10 moves in last year's race, the new driver operated rear wings (DRS) and KERS systems transformed the landscape.

"It was pretty tough, obviously," said Vettel, whose KERS system giving a brief power boost at the push of a button was working only intermittently.

"Going into the last 10 laps it felt a bit like China, with the tyres going away," he said of a race in which he finished second after Hamilton reeled him in with better strategy.

"McLaren and Lewis especially gave us a very, very hard time."

Webber had taken his first pole of the season on Saturday, with Vettel alongside on the front row, but paid the price for a poor start with Alonso sending the 78,000 strong Circuit de Catalunya crowd into raptures by seizing the early lead.

The joy did not last however, with Alonso making his fourth pitstop with 26 laps still to go and having to finish the race on the slower, hard tyres. His Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa was one of three retirements. — Reuters

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Low-key return for champion Schiavone

Posted: 22 May 2011 05:30 PM PDT


FRANCESCA Schiavone made a low-key return to Roland Garros yesterday where, 12 months ago, she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam title.

Unlike men's champion Rafael Nadal, or fellow men's heavyweights Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, the 30-year-old Italian's opening press conference only detained the English-speaking press for two questions.

"Some of the fans said to me: 'Give us another trophy'," said Schiavone, who is getting used to making her Grand Slam mark, having also played out the longest singles match at a major at January's Australian Open.

There it took her 4 hours and 44 minutes to see off Svetlana Kuznetsova, coming through 16-14 in the final set.

Schiavone hinted that she has yet to be convinced by the French Open's policy of starting on a Sunday; the only one of the three majors not to begin on a Monday.

"There is no choice from the players. It's business or some decision from higher than us." — AFP

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Bank margins rising?

Posted: 22 May 2011 06:17 PM PDT

PETALING JAYA: The higher increase in the base lending rate (BLR, to which lending rates are pegged) compared with that of the benchmark overnight policy rate (OPR) has raised more than eyebrows among consumers.

"This is totally unacceptable,'' a reader wrote in an email to StarBiz. "Banks will be making higher margins at our expense.

"If you look back since Bank Negara cut the OPR to 2% and then increased it back to 3%, the BLR has increased at a faster pace. Back in 2008 when the OPR was 3.25%, the BLR was 6.5% but now the OPR is at 3% and the BLR is at 6.6%.

"Bank margins have expanded by 35 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of 1%). With RM900bil in total loans, this expands banks' profits by RM3.2bil at the expense of consumers.

"Also, when the SRR (statutory reserve requirement interest free deposits banks must keep with Bank Negara) was reduced from 4% to 1% of deposits, the savings were not passed on. But now that the SRR has been raised back to 3%, banks expanded BLR by five bps.

Effective May 11, the BLR went up 30bps (to 6.6%) which is higher than the OPR increase of 25 bps.

This speedier repricing of loans relative to fixed deposits may be mildly positive on bank margins in the near term but have already got some consumers up in arms.

"By our estimates, the additional 5bps increase in the BLR sufficiently compensates for the recent 100 bps increase in SRR to 3%,'' said Maybank IB, adding that this was probably an ad-hoc adjustment rather than to specifically compensate for the SRR hike.

RHB Bank principal officer Renzo Viegas said each banking institution could introduce its own BLR based on its cost structure and business strategies.

Under Bank Negara's new interest rate framework issued in 2004, this was allowed to provide more efficient pricing of financial products.

But for most banks, the OPR is a key variable in deriving the BLR.

"Assuming that cost structure and business strategies remain intact, it is therefore not surprising that with every OPR hike or contraction, the BLR will adjust in tandem with the change in OPR,'' said Renzo.

There are mixed views on regulatory intervention to prevent the rise of BLR following an increase in OPR.

"It is best that market forces determine the trajectory of interest rates,'' said Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) vice-president and head of financial institution ratings Anandakumar Jegarasasingam.

Banks are likely to experience a narrowing of net interest margins with the recent OPR hike which is concurrent with the upward movement in the SRR coupled with intense competition, said RAM Ratings head of financial institution ratings Promod Dass.

"However, banks with a large proportion of their funding base composed of low cost deposits (current and savings accounts or CASA) and a predominantly floating rate loan book will be able to better mitigate this trend,'' Promod said.

Renzo sees that for banks with a high fixed rate loan book, this may have a negative effect on margins.

For banks with high floating rate books and strong CASA to fixed deposit ratio, the OPR hike will likely improve the overall net interest margin, said Renzo.

According to Maybank IB Research, the prime beneficiaries would be Maybank and CIMB which have a lower proportion of fixed rate loans and higher CASA base.

Hwang DBS Research, in its update on Asean banks, had identified Maybank, Hong Leong and Alliance as having a higher proportion of variable rate loans and CASA.

However, higher rates may affect the repayment ability of some borrowers. "Any potential default as a result of this is likely to be manageable at this stage,'' Anandakumar said.

Analysts estimate about 55% of the total loan portfolio of banks comprises consumer loans, which include 24% to 25% in mortgages.

Besides the BLR, another indicator is the average lending rate which can vary especially in the cut-throat mortgage market.

"Five years ago, mortgage lending was BLR plus 1% or 0.6%. Since then, it is BLR minus 2.4%,'' said an analyst. "We have to look at the effective lending rate.''

"Pricing strategies deployed by banks would generally result in narrower margins,'' said Anandakumar.

However, that could result in expanded market share.

To compensate for the lower margins, banks have other strategies such as packaging lending products with lock-in periods and insurance products.

They have also made their deposit structures more attractive to ensure a supply of low-cost funding, he added.

"When all banks gravitate towards homogenous pricing across the industry to capture market share, the margins will definitely compress,'' said Renzo.

Those with strong credit risk controls and low expense base will continue to remain profitable; however, balance sheet growth does not necessarily lead to sustainable profitability growth, he cautioned.

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See the world with your heart, instead of your eyes

Posted: 22 May 2011 06:01 PM PDT

IT'S Monday and you have just reached the 32-storey building where your office is located. And the lifts are not working. Your office is on the 28th floor, so walking up is out of the question. You have a choice get all flustered up, or hop over to the nearby caf for a cup of coffee until the lifts are working again.

Life is invariably about choices. But for some of us, the option is not always there.

Certainly, we do not choose to have cancer, to be born with a disability, or to lose a job because the company went bust.

Today is Monday, so let me share a story to lift up your spirits and drive away your Monday blues.

Albert Wong is a young adult with an immense passion for life. Readers of The Star know Albert. In 1999, they rallied to his cause and raised more than RM500,000 for him to undergo treatment in Tennessee.

I have known him since he was a primary school boy. Born with Duchenne Muscular Dsytrophy, his muscles progressively become weaker as he grows older.

At first, he was able to move around with crutches, but eventually the wheelchair became a permanent fixture. And so we built ramps around the school, and ensured that his class always remained on the ground floor.

Each year, Albert would emerge top of the class, and come the prize-presentation day, the VIP would always have to come down from the stage to give him his awards. And he always got the loudest applause.

Albert aced all the public examinations UPSR, PMR and SPM. In fact, he was the top disabled SPM student in 2006.

His application for a Public Service Department (PSD) scholarship was originally rejected because the officer thought that it would not be possible for a student in a wheelchair to go overseas to study if the scholarship was granted.

I recall how this officer, after the issue was sorted out, came to Albert's house to personally hand him the letter and was given an instant education on the student's ability, not his disability.

He was very touched and promised that in future, he would ensure that such applicants are not prejudged.

And so Albert went to law school, at a private college, nearby his house. By then, Albert had grown physically and his transport needs had to be customised. Not only was his wheelchair fully motorised, his parents had to invest in a van equipped with a chair lift.

Getting him in and out of the van was an adventure in itself, which is why I find it hard to lose my patience when I am caught in a big jam. I only have to think of Albert.

There is much to share about amazing Albert, and his equally incredible parents and sister, who are his key caregivers.

This year, Albert took another major step in his life journey. He is doing his masters at Universiti Malaya.

Although his application was initially rejected, he persevered. He appealed and he got his place. And the bonus is that he got to study under Azmi Sharom, a cool lecturer who writes the column, A Brave New World, in this newspaper.

Albert is pleased that UM is disabled-friendly.

More importantly, he is treated just like any other graduate student.

"Azmi gives his students a lot of leeway. He seems to trust that his students know what they're doing. He also believes that his students are mature enough to complete their tasks," says Albert.

And that's the way it should be. Whenever I am with Albert, I see his abilities.

One could talk to him for hours. He has an amazing grasp of current issues that is far superior to many people of his age who seem only to be interested in entertainment and making big bucks.

Albert wants to change the world. I believe every law firm in this country, and also the Attorney-General's Chambers, should contact him and offer him a job upon graduation.

Are you still sore over some minor work issues from last week? Are you angry that your boss has misread your intention? You have a choice to forgive and move on or to let things fester.

In The Little Prince, there is a quote, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."

And so today is Monday. Why not start off your week by seeing the world with your heart, instead of your eyes? Your colleagues and the people you meet will look very different. You will be inspired.

  • Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is blessed by very ordinary people who, through their words and actions, fill his life with many extraordinary moments.
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    How HELP University grew

    Posted: 22 May 2011 05:58 PM PDT


    jeeva@thestar .com.my

    KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Dr Paul ChanTuck Hoong never envisioned that his small shoplot education business would grow to be a multi-millionringgit venture with an international appeal.

    The co-founder and president of HELP University College decided on education after experimenting with limited success on a number of other businesses. But education was what he knew and what he was most passionate about, and that was where he made his mark.

    He decided to set up an education business given his sheer love for teaching and wanting to impart knowledge, despite not knowing how to go about running an education outfit.

    All he knew was that he wanted to make tertiary education readily available to Malaysians.

    Chan and his wife, Datin Low Kam Yoke, started HELP in 1986 with a capital of RM25,000. He was 43 then.

    The higher learning centre first started business in a small shoplot with only two classrooms and some 30 students in Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, offering the BSc Economics external programme from the University of London.

    Since then, HELP has grown into a large-scale education business operating locally and overseas with close to 14,000 students. It was listed as part of a larger group, HELP International Corp Bhd, in 2007 and has a paid-up capital of RM71mil as at the end of the financial year on Oct 31, 2010, with a turnover of RM105.2mil and net income of RM19.1mil for the year.

    While Chan, his wife and two grown kids Juliet and Adam still own some 8.62% of the company, the major shareholder of HELP International now is property developer Selangor Properties Bhd with a 51% stake.

    Selangor Properties first bought into the company in 1992 with a capital injection of RM3mil and its entry as a shareholder paved the way for HELP to re-locate to its current premises in Pusat Bandar Damansara.

    Chan, who left his teaching career in Universiti Malaya to start the education business, admitted to knowing nothing about running such a business initially.

    "But our minds were open like a parachute, which was our greatest asset," he said in an interview with StarBiz.

    An economist by training, Chan said his upbringing had limited his ability to dream big and he had to unlearn many things he had grown to know.

    "When we first started, there were no examples of how big a private university college could be. We only had public universities at that time. I didn't have the vocabulary to think about conquering the world but the digital age has enabled us to think big," he said.

    The 68-year old said setting up an education business was his calling, after having dabbled in several other businesses such as manufacturing and construction.

    The passion for learning and reading combined with the thirst for acquiring knowledge, was the perfect formula in establishing an education business.

    "I believe it takes at least 10 years to hone your skills. Whatever you do, it has to come from conviction and you need to enjoy what you are doing. We decided on education as we wanted to create access as well as the opportunity for Malaysians to enter tertiary education (back in the 80s)," said Chan.

    HELP was able to carve out its niche by offering external and twinning programmes, which worked out to be a lower-cost option for individuals seeking overseas accredited university degrees.

    Since then, it has continued to offer attractive twining courses and as HELP offered a wider range of programmes drawing in more students, HELP attained the "university college status" by the Government in 2004.

    But Chan is quick to add that success does not come without its fair share of failures or pitfalls.

    "When I was about to leave my teaching career, I was involved in several types of businesses. And I never took the trouble to really learn the businesses and thought I would succeed.

    "Even though I made a little money, I never continued so I never became an expert. I was involved in construction and made a little money but I never continued. Then, I was involved in doing oil filters and lost money but I never continued. I was involved in making rubber gloves and did not succeed but I never continued.

    "So I was more a watering can than a laser beam. But that cannot be because to succeed, you need to be driven and focused," he said.

    Chan had a difficult upbringing having to tough it out in the slums of Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, and being born into a large family.

    Until he was 10 years of age, he lived with his aunt while his father supported a family of nine on his wages as a petition writer.

    The greatest lesson Chan has learnt is having self-awareness and knowing one's limitations.

    "Self-awareness and self-questioning keeps us on alert. Many of us don't have self-awareness and that is why we can't break certain habits. After all, one's character is an accumulation of habits the way we think, act and conduct ourselves. It gives us the composite of our personality and if we develop a certain thinking or decision-making process or associate with a certain group, that is who we are," said Chan.

    He added that self-awareness is pivotal in what one does, what decisions are made and whom one associates with.

    While the day will come when Chan needs to relinquish his position within the education company, he said he would never retire from education.

    "There will always be other avenues for me to continue contributing (to the group). One aspect we are trying to build now is the (right and sustainable) culture within an organisation. It provides the climate for each individual to grow and define themselves," he added.

    It's evident that Chan's love for education has helped him build a successful and profitable business, which should continue to flourish with the right culture in place.

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    The Star Online: Nation

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    Landslide: 26 buried in rubble, 10 survivors, deputy minister clarifies

    Posted: 22 May 2011 04:34 AM PDT

    KUALA LUMPUR: There were 10 survivors in the Hulu Langat landslide tragedy among the 26 buried in the rubble, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Rosnah Shirlin clarified Sunday.

    It was previously reported that there were nine survivors, of the 25 buried, in the twin landslides at Rumah Anak-anak Yatim dan Anak-anak Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa Saturday afternoon.

    Sixteen people, mostly children, died in the tragedy.

    She said nine survivors were warded at Ampang Hospital, while one more was at Kajang Hospital being treated for head injuries and trauma.

    Rosnah, who visited survivors at their ward in Ampang Hospital, conveyed her condolences to the victims and their families, and asked them to be strong of heart.

    She said Ampang Hospital was currently the coordination centre for the crisis.

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    Landslide: Victims laid to rest
    Killer landslide hits Hulu Langat orphanage

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    Landslide: Search-and-rescue operation resumes; victims named

    Posted: 22 May 2011 04:17 AM PDT

    KUALA LUMPUR: The search-and-rescue operation resumed Sunday morning at the site of the landslides at an orphanage in Hulu Langat near here, although all 26 victims have been accounted for.

    The follow-up operation being carried out by the police and the Fire and Rescue Department is to ensure no one else was trapped in the rubble of the landslide, which hit Rumah Anak-anak Yatim dan Anak-anak Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa at the 14th mile, Jalan Felcra Semungkus, Hulu Langat, Saturday.

    A non-stop search-and-rescue operation which began shortly after the landslide struck at 2.30pm Saturday ended some 15 hours later, at 5.30pm Sunday, after the 16th body was recovered at 5.05am. Ten people were rescued from the rubble.

    A check at the scene Sunday found the situation calmer and more controlled.

    All the access roads have also been reopened to the public. However, police have cordoned off an area up to 500m from the scene with yellow tape to prevent curious onlookers from getting too close.

    "We need to monitor the area because we fear there may still be soil movement," said a policeman at the scene.

    The headmaster of the orphanage, Idris Musa, was seen in the area this morning but he declined to be interviewed.

    Two lorries of a consumer goods manufacturer provided instant noodles, snacks and drinks to rescue personnel and reporters. - Bernama

    Meanwhile, the 16 who perished in the landslide are:

    * Mohd Kamarul Amizan, 11

    * Nurahimi Rosdi, 14

    * Dzahir Haziq M. Muin, 11

    * Ahmad Lokman Hakim, 11

    * Farid Ibrahim, 34

    * Mohd Azret Azahari, eight

    * Wan Ahmad Hasril Hazim, 11

    * Zahid Assawal Zamri, 19

    * Mohd Mustakim Mamat, 12

    * Mohd Naerzein M. Nor, eight

    * Mohd Aiman Abdullah, 10

    * Shahrul Nurimran Adnan, nine

    * Mohd Zaid Azahari, 14

    * Mohd Imal Fahad, nine

    * Mohd Riezman Abdul Latif, nine

    * Mohd Hazim Sapri, 10

    The bodies of seven victims were buried at Dusun Naning Muslim cemetery around 2pm, after prayers at a nearby mosque in Pekan Batu 14, Hulu Langat.

    The other 10 bodies were claimed by their families and taken back to their respective villages.

    Six of the injured are at the Ampang Hospital, two in the intensive care unit. All of them are reported to be in stable condition.

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    Landslide: Orphanage to be demolished if deemed unsafe

    Posted: 22 May 2011 04:15 AM PDT

    KUALA LUMPUR: The orphanage where a landslide tragedy took place and claimed the lives of 16 people will be demolished if the premises are deemed unsafe, said Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung.

    He said the Public Works Department (PWD) will investigate whether Rumah Anak-anak Yatim dan Anak-anak Hidayah Madrasah Al-Taqwa in Hulu Langat was safe for oocupation.

    "We leave it to PWD to investigate and look over all technicalities, and should the orphanage be unfit for occupation, the Kajang Municipal Council (MPKj) will tear down the structure so as not create safety problems," he told reporters at the scene Sunday.

    Chor said the land where the house was built over 10 years ago was an agricultural site.

    "Back then, MPKj did not have jurisdiction over this area, so we cannot blame residents who set up homes (in the area). They have the right to build homes for themselves and their families.

    "However, landowners who now want to build houses in the area must submit their applications to the council," he said.

    Chor explained that no action could be taken as the houses were over 10 years old, and no application requirements were imposed by the council then unlike now.

    He said the ministry had issued a circular to local authorities nationwide last year on justifiying construction of houses near hillsides, whereby architects needed to comply by producing soil engineering strategies.

    Without this, he said the distance of the houses needs to be twice the height of the hill.

    "For example, if the hill is 100 feet high, then the house should be built 200 feet away," he added.

    In the 2.30pm incident Saturday, 26 people comprising orphans and orphanage staff were trapped in the landslides which collapsed on a canopy set up for a function that was scheduled for 5pm Sunday.

    Search and rescue operations recovered 16 bodies while nine other victims were saved. - Bernama

    Related Stories:
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    Rescue workers shocked by sight of bodies
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    Landslide: Remains of 16th victim recovered

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    The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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    The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

    From Hollywood to the world

    Posted: 22 May 2011 01:05 AM PDT

    More and more Hollywood movies are being tailored for overseas audiences.

    HOLLYWOOD knows pirates and robots travel well overseas. This summer, movie studios will learn if the same holds true for hung-over Americans, alien-battling cowboys and animated cars that detour from Route 66.

    And if these movies get hung up at the border, you can't say the filmmakers didn't put in the effort.

    With international moviegoers now accounting for up to two-thirds of a blockbuster's total receipts, movies are more than ever being crafted with overseas audiences in mind – from story to casting to setting. Some animated films even substitute vocal talent, characters and jokes country by country.

    "If we have storylines that at script-stage feel too US-centric, especially with big action or science-fiction movies, we try to come up with solutions that will make the movie feel more global," says Tomas Jegeus, co-president of 20th Century Fox International Theatrical.

    Evidence of that focus has been strong so far this year as more and more theatres enter the international marketplace. The high-octane heist picture Fast Five, set in Rio de Janeiro and sporting a cast packing global appeal, currently leads the worldwide box office. Its revenues just passed the animated movie Rio, also set in Brazil.

    Both films also opened in selected international territories earlier than North America. That release pattern, once rare, is now commonplace – a concession both to piracy concerns and the importance of the global audience.

    "Studios want to make movies that integrate international flavour and in genres that transcend cultures and languages," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office division of Hollywood.com. "This is a global business and it's no longer who the stars are, but where they come from."

    This can be seen in the internationally-loaded casting of would-be summer blockbusters like Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, debuting this weekend after its high-profile premiere at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, and the Brit-heavy X-Men: First Class.

    "If you have the possibility of hiring an actor who travels well, you try to do it," says Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose movie includes two newcomers – Spanish actress Penelope Cruz and Britain's Ian McShane – in lead roles. "An actor's worldwide popularity can only help with audiences."

    Shading humour specifically to countries' cultures is also becoming a popular way to fuel box-office receipts. 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios have worked wonders dubbing voices and localising jokes for their Ice Age animated movies. Grosses from the films climbed from US$383mil for the 2002 original to the US$886mil take of Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, the third entry in the series.

    "These movies aren't based on any particular culture, so you can dub them and they become local movies in every country," says Brazilian filmmaker Carlos Saldanha, director of Rio and the Ice Age films.

    Pixar Animation will be following that formula to a degree this summer, localising Cars 2 in six different countries by subbing in a different car for a scene that takes place at a Tokyo party.

    Nascar driver Jeff Gordon provides the voice in the United States, but will be replaced in the one scene with regional favourites like Australian racer Mark Winterbottom and Spanish Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.

    "Pixar is taking a lot of care to make the movie as specific to these countries as possible," Cars 2 producer Denise Ream says. "This is Pixar's biggest movie. I like to joke that we built the world for this one."

    That kind of heavy lifting can be painful during production but prove rewarding for the bottom line. The first Cars movie, which followed its automotive characters in a distinctly American setting, did well commercially in North America. Overseas, however, audiences didn't connect with its nostalgic story, and the film failed to equal domestic grosses, a rarity for the genre.

    Cars 2 takes its characters around the world, an idea its co-writer and co-director, Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter, came up with while travelling to promote the first movie.

    "It's always done with the story in mind," Ream says, "and not just for the sake of doing it."

    Similarly, the notorious nightlife of Bangkok seemed the perfect setting for The Hangover Part II. And moving Fast Five to Rio represented part of a concerted effort to give the franchise a wider appeal beyond its American automotive roots, says David Kosse, president of Universal Pictures' international division.

    "It's not a car movie," Kosse says. "We're picking up people who haven't seen the other movies who want to see a heist movie."

    Box-office tracker Dergarabedian notes the common wisdom that epic action movies and superhero popcorn flicks have been friendly genres for foreign audiences. But he says that comedies like Hangover Part II work, too, provided the humour is broad.

    As for how the traditional international aversion to American Westerns might affect July's sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens, Dergarabedian laughs.

    "The combination of themes is precisely why it will work with foreign audiences," he says. "Plus, it stars James Bond (Daniel Craig). They've done their homework." – AP

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    Janet Jackson at Austrian AIDS bash

    Posted: 21 May 2011 08:42 PM PDT

    VIENNA (AP): Janet Jackson, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Brooke Shields joined thousands of revellers in risque attire Saturday at the Life Ball, a flamboyant Austrian fundraiser for people with HIV and AIDS.

    The trio was among a slew of celebrities who participated in a flashy opening ceremony outside Vienna's city hall that included a fashion show and live acts by Natasha Bedingfield, Holly Johnson and Natalia Kills.

    Clinton reminded partygoers - many covering private body parts with nothing more than paint, feathers or G-strings - that a large number of those infected with the virus still aren't getting access to lifesaving treatment.

    "We are here tonight because 10 million people in poor countries still need to be on the medicine and if you want to cut the infection rate, if you want to cut the death rate, we have to finish the job," he said.

    In 2002, Clinton established an initiative to facilitate access to anti-retroviral treatment and improve national health care systems in developing countries.

    Jackson recalled how in 1998, a South African AIDS activist was beaten to death by her neighbors after announcing on television that she was HIV positive. Earlier, she told reporters that every little bit helps when it comes to fighting AIDS.

    "We can't continue to let this happen," said Jackson, who is a representative of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. Brooke Shields, meanwhile, presented a 100,000 Crystal of Hope award to Anya Sarang, CEO of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice that runs projects in Russia, where those who are HIV positive are often stigmatised.

    "She is definitely an angel," Shields said of Sarang. In a video address, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called for continued action to ensure progress.

    "We need to constantly renew our commitment and measure our success not in terms of resolutions past but in the lives of future generations saved," he said. "We all have a role to play."

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    The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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    The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf


    Posted: 22 May 2011 02:43 AM PDT

    FOR week ending May 15, 2011:


    1. A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs Of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

    2. Confidence Booster Workout: 10 Steps To Beating Self-Doubt by Martin Perry

    3. No Excuses!: The Power Of Self-discipline by Brian Tracy

    4. The Power by Rhonda Byrne

    5. Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War On Secrecy by David Leigh & Luke Harding

    6. Chicken Soup For The Soul: Think Positive: 101 Inspirational Stories About Counting Your Blessings And Having A Positive Attitude by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Amy Newmark

    7. Run, Mummy, Run by Cathy Glass

    8. Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going by Han Fook Kwang et al

    9. Hospital Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

    10. Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley


    1. Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

    2. Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

    3. Kate's Wedding by Chrissie Manby

    4. Water For Elephants (movie tie-in) by Sara Gruen

    5. Something Borrowed (movie tie-in) by Emily Giffin

    6. The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

    7. The Confession by John Grisham

    8. The Tennis Party by Madeleine Wickham

    9. Worst Case by James Patterson, Michael Ledwidge

    10. The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly

    Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; www.mphonline.com.

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    Magic moments

    Posted: 22 May 2011 02:32 AM PDT

    A nostalgic memory prompts a sweet response from a guy who knows his woman's needs.

    I ONCE went to a bookstore that was nestled between Chinatown and strip clubs.

    I was taken there by my husband, who navigated through San Francisco so wonderfully despite it being his first time there that I knew I could rely on him to pilot our lives together into the future.

    In the car we had rented, he crisscrossed the city with great ease, turning left and right without looking at a map and arriving quickly at the yellow building famously known as City Lights.

    "That was 15 years ago," I murmured one day recently in Sydney, Australia, when I was bored, "let's go back."

    But travelling that far with two young children is a feat. "You can always buy books from the Book Depository," he said teasingly, referring to the online international store even while knowing only too well that book buying was not the main reason for my desire to visit City Lights again.

    Some of the best moments I had in America took place in this bookstore. After a good meal in a Chinese restaurant on a Saturday night, I would walk over to City Lights in the rain, peruse the books and listen to the swish of cars driving by through the water on the street outside.

    Even though it had been established in 1953, and I was visiting in the 1990s, City Lights did not have the musty smell most old bookstores had.

    The shelves, neat, well-labelled and easy to browse, were not huge but big enough to keep me interested. Tall shelves were packed with intriguing books that you could take your time thumbing through in a corner; low shelves highlighted staff picks that were by no means mainstream in taste yet which remained steadily in demand through the years.

    Getting down to the basement via the creaking staircase was an adventure. Not only was it narrow, it was also maddeningly distracting making your way down it because cleverly chosen books were showcased on the left.

    A misstep or a moment of engrossment would have sent me tumbling down to the history section where, to my pleasant surprise, the books were atypically global. Suleiman the Magnificent stood next to Frederick the Great, while Churchill gazed at both. Benches abounded, and I would sit on them there in the basement, drugged by the smell of books. And my marvellous find – a collection of Dr Suess.

    Interestingly, City Lights was also a really fun place to stop by when you were on a date. The twists and turns around the stacks made – and still make – for some really cute flirting.

    Separated by shelves, my husband handed me books through the gaps in a vain attempt to subtly touch my fingers.

    I chuckled at each of his recommendations – until he handed me Naguib Mahfouz. He grinned broadly and proudly, as happiness stirred in me. I cruised through Mahfouz's Palace Walk later that night. The rain outside the window kept me company while my husband slept soundly, knowing I, too, was content.

    My yearning to go back to that store in San Francisco remained unspoken over the years. I lived on the memories of the many moments I had in City Lights – such as when, in our Australian home, light shines softly through a curtain onto our bookshelves, reminding me of what the store looked like in sunlight.

    My husband came home one day and said casually, "There is also a bookstore in San Francisco called The Booksmith. It's in a hippy area called Haight-Ashbury. Have you heard of it?"

    "No, I haven't," I replied, puzzled by what was, coming from my husband, an unusual question, for he is a man of a few words.

    "When you were a young woman, you found City Lights intriguing. Now as a mother, you will love The Booksmith for its great children section. Let's go. Let the books find you in City Lights and you find cool American story books for our children in The Booksmith," he said, handing me four e-tickets to San Francisco.

    He knew of my unspoken needs, after all, which at this stage of my life aren't many. What he did not know, however, was that while trying hard to remember the gentleness in him when he was younger, I had lost sight of the subtlety of the kindness in the older him.

    Yes, we will be off later this year to San Francisco despite it being a feat for the children to travel that far. I will find those moments in City Lights again and enjoy the new experience in The Booksmith with my children.

    Abby Wong thinks a good bookstore is like an artichoke, revealing layer upon tasty layer as you work you way through it.

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    Conference consternation

    Posted: 22 May 2011 02:30 AM PDT

    THE Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) is just four days away – it kicks off on Thursday with the Asian Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference (May 26 and 27) and ends with the Asian Children's Media Summit on May 28. In between there's the Asian Children's Publishers Symposium (May 27) and the Asian Primary and Preschool Teachers Congress (May 28).

    As you can see, the festival is for just about anyone with an interest in children's content of all kinds.

    If you think you might like to attend, it's not too late to register. You have the choice of a half-day (S$150 or RM370.50), one-day (S$200 or RM494), two-day (S$300 or RM741) or three-day (S$400 or RM988 ) pass – not cheap, I know and that's one gripe I have about this event. The cost of registration is prohibitive, especially in terms of attracting writers and illustrators who are rarely flush with cash.

    As it's an Asian festival that aims to promote the creation of material with Asian content, I suppose it's fair to suppose that Asian writers and illustrators are the ones the festival hopes to attract. If you are a Malaysian writer and wish to attend the Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference, you have to fork out RM741 – not a small sum at all. Even a one day pass costs almost RM400. Workshops cost an additional S$40 (RM98.80) each. And then you still have to pay your fare there and for accommodation!

    Compare this festival with the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF). The two times I attended the SWF (2007 and 2009), it was a completely free event. Even superstar Neil Gaiman's session was unticketed – all you needed to do was queue (for hours) to get in.

    Admission to the SWF was probably free (I'm not sure if it will be this year) because the organiser (Singapore's National Arts Council) was more successful than the Asian Festival of Children's Content organiser (the National Book Development Council of Singapore) in getting sponsors for the event's featured guests.

    I know several aspiring Malaysian writers and illustrators who will not be attending the AFCC because of the cost. I think this is a real shame and hope that the council will address the problem.

    One way I can think of to make the event more affordable is to charge per session instead of per day. At the Edinburgh Book Festival, there are unticketed sessions and also ticketed events with a range of ticket prices, depending on the popularity of the authors and illustrators featured. If the AFCC adopted this approach, potential attendees could pick and choose the sessions they are interested in according to their individual budgets.

    This would allow for more flexibility too. Right now, if you were interested in attending only a couple of sessions, if they happen to be scheduled on separate days, you would have to pay RM741. That's just nuts!

    Anyway, if you feel you can afford the registration fees, you can go to the AFCC page at afcc.com.sg/afcc.html to view the festival's full programme.

    Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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