Ahad, 3 Julai 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Chinese electric taxis struggle to win mass appeal

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 09:46 PM PDT

SHENZHEN (Reuters) - A pioneering electric taxi project in China's southern economic powerhouse of Shenzhen seems a success by most accounts. Riders are enthusiastic, there have been no accidents and drivers are termed "gracious," not a term usually applied to mainland drivers.

The pilot project, which could be replicated in other cities, underpins China's ambitious plans to put at least half a million electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrids on the road by 2015.

The country is already the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and other human activities that scientists say are causing global warming.

As the world's largest and fastest-growing auto market, China's carbon footprint can only grow.

To bolster China's energy security, Beijing has pronounced the electric vehicle industry a top priority, earmarking $1.5 billion annually for the next 10 years in the hope it can transform the country into one of the leading producers of clean vehicles.

But even with government support and the popular support of e-taxi customers, challenges remain for electric vehicles such as the e-taxis to gain broader acceptance and widespread use.

Charging stations are few and far between, repair shops are hard to find and the cars are costly. Even after generous government support, the Shenzhen e-taxi costs 80 percent more than the Volkswagen Santana that ordinarily cruises the streets of Shenzhen.

"The electric car is still too expensive and we ended up paying a lot more than for a (VW) Santana, even with government subsidies," said Du Jun, general manager of Pengcheng E-taxi, the taxi operator participating in the pilot project.

Local automakers, from SAIC Motor to Dongfeng Motor Group Co, have pledged massive investments in greener vehicles. Global automakers, including BMW and Nissan Motor, are also working with local governments to roll out their E-Mini and Leaf respectively.

The country's investment in the electric vehicle industry has no comparable program in the United States, although the U.S. Congress is considering a bill that would allocate $2.9 billion for a program to help develop the infrastructure for the widespread use of electric cars.

Germany's cabinet agreed on plans in May to boost the country's electric auto sector with billions of euros in subsidies, aiming to have 1 million of the cars on the road by 2020. Berlin's move will double state support for research and development to 2 billion euros through 2013.

For China to hit its EV targets however, will mean quickly winning market acceptance for an untested technology.

"I think it's going to be a very, very long time because the Chinese consumer, at the end of the day, is very pragmatic and wants a reliable car with a gasoline engine. They don't want to be the ones experimenting," said Michael Dunne, president of industry consultancy Dunne & Co. in Hong Kong.

"You're going to see government fleets buying, buses buying, not a mass movement towards electrics, definitely within the five years."


In 2009, the Chinese government picked Shenzhen, along with 12 other cities, to lead the migration to green vehicles. Shenzhen and Hangzhou are the only ones attempting to launch e-taxi fleets.

State-controlled Pengcheng E-Taxi, partly owned by BYD, a major domestic manufacturer of green vehicles, was incorporated in March 2010. Fifty e6 cabs, made by the Warren Buffett-backed automaker, hit the roads in the city three months later.

"People are really interested in the car. Over 90 percent of

customers start asking questions once they get in. And it's not just me. All my colleagues have similar experiences as well," said Zeng Xiweng, one of the company's top drivers.

Shenzhen resident Daniel Li recently took a ride in an electric taxi, one of the red cars with a wavy white band around the body that have been operating around the southern Chinese city for more than a year.

"I like the car. It's big and sturdy, pretty much like an SUV but not as noisy. It also saves me the 3 yuan fuel surcharge," the 32-year old software engineer said as he got out of the taxi. "The problem is there aren't many out there."

BYD is using the pilot project to gather market feedback and make adjustments to the vehicles before rolling out the electric car nationwide.

"We had anticipated a lot of problems early on, but that did not happen and the data we've collected are actually better than what we got in lab tests," Stella Li, senior vice president of BYD, said in an interview.

But for Du Jun of Pengcheng, the project's hurdles are apparent. The company is still sitting on a big loss that Du blames on hefty upfront investments, insufficient charging spots and the limited distance that an EV can travel per charge.

And then there's the cost. Though cheaper to operate, BYD's e6 taxi costs 179,800 yuan ($28,000) after deducting 120,000 yuan in subsidies, compared with less than 100,000 yuan for Volkswagen's Santana.

In Hangzhou, a similar green pilot programme stumbled when all the 30 of the city's electric taxis, which appeared on the streets in late January, were pulled from service in April after one cab's engine compartment caught fire. The fleet resumed operations in June.

"Taxis are definitely a smart way for people to gain the kind of practical hands-on, in-the-field experience, but it will be very closely watched," said William Russo, an industry veteran who runs the Synergistics consulting firm in Beijing.


For their part, automakers have decided that China's green-car drive is a good bet, but BYD has more at stake than others.

The company, 10 percent-owned by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has been pushing more aggressively into clean technologies, from plug-in hybrids to energy storage facilities. The company recently raised $219 million in an IPO in Shenzhen to help fund battery research.

It has sold several hundred of the F3DM plug-in hybrid in China so far, more than any other domestic automakers, and its e6 will be available in showrooms in Beijing and Shenzhen in the second half.

BYD plans to deliver 250 more e6 cabs to Pengcheng by August. It will also provide 200 of its electric buses in coming months to the city's public transportation system.

An electric sedan, jointly developed BYD and Daimler, will also be launched by 2013, Li said.

Green cars have yet to take off with ordinary consumers, though, despite consumer subsidies that Beijing started offering last year in some cities.

In Shanghai for example, a metropolitan area with a population of more than 20 million, there are only 10 registered electric cars, while the number in Hangzhou is only slightly higher at 25, according to China Business News.

"Consumers are less concerned about government interests. They are more concerned about the economics and the real practical side of what it means to own an electric vehicle," said Synergistics' Russo. "They are not going to buy an EV to save the planet. They will buy it only when it saves them money."

($1 = 6.47 yuan)

(Additional reporting by Chyen Yee Lee and Alsion Leung in Hong Kong; Editing by Matt Driskill)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Thousands of Freeport Indonesia mine workers start 7-day strike

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 09:46 PM PDT

TIMIKA, Indonesia (Reuters) - About 8,000 workers at Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc's Indonesian unit kicked off a seven-day strike on Monday, a union head said, in a move that could potentially disrupt operations.

Freeport said it was not anticipating any impact on production at the mine it claims on its website contains the world's largest single gold reserve.

Freeport's Indonesia unit runs the Grasberg mine in the remote Papua province, where a separatist insurgency and struggle over resources has lingered for decades.

The workers have called for a re-negotiation of their working contract, demanding a wage rise from $1.5 to $3 per hour, since they said other Freeport workers around the world are paid at least $15-30 per hour, a union official said.

"We see that from eight companies Freeport owned, Indonesia is the biggest contributor in terms of revenue ... We deserve something more," Virgo Solossa, the organisational head of Freeport Indonesia's Labor Union, told Reuters by telephone.

"We are not going to rally, we are just going on a strike, sitting tight doing nothing," Solossa added.

Thousands of workers marched from Timika city to Kuala Kencana, the Freeport town complex, on Monday morning, although many have yet to reach the Freeport complex since roads are being blockaded by police.

"We are not anticipating any impact to production," Freeport's Jakarta-based spokesman Ramdani Sirait said in an emailed statement, in response to a question on potential disruption to gold and copper output.

"The management calls all employees to keep working ... the company sees there is no legitimate justification for any form of strike, therefore it is unlawful because it is not due to failed negotiation nor the company's unwillingness to negotiate," Sirait said.

Freeport, which also has mines in North America, South America and the Democratic Republic of Congo, expects its copper output to fall 17 percent this year to about 1 billion pounds by weight.

(Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu in JAKARTA; Editing by Neil Chatterjee)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Royal's Quebec visit appears to be winning gamble

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 09:46 PM PDT

QUEBEC CITY (Reuters) - Anti-monarchist protesters failed to disrupt the visit of Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate to Quebec, which was the most politically sensitive portion of their Canadian royal tour.

A group estimated by local reporters at about 200 people used loudspeakers on Sunday to decry the royal family and call for sovereignty for the French-speaking province, but they were kept far away from the couple in Quebec City.

Britain's Prince William greets children at Fort Levis in Levis, Quebec July 3, 2011. Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are on a royal tour from June 30 to July 8. (REUTERS/Christinne Muschi)

The royal family's Canadian visits in recent years have often avoided stops in Quebec, where many still see as a raw wound Britain's defeat their of France in 1759 giving it sovereignty over to Canada.

Hundreds of demonstrators protested the Queen's visit to Quebec City in 1964, and groups favoring Quebec's separation from Canada had vowed to give the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a rough ride.

Despite those concerns, William and Kate chose to visit both Quebec City and Montreal as part of a nine-day tour of Canada that monarchists hope will restore flagging Canadian interest in the royal family.

Protesters at events in Montreal on Saturday were also outnumbered by well-wishers.

The couple visited a youth shelter in Quebec city before attending a ceremony honoring the "Van Doos", an infantry regiment based in the provincial capital that has done extensive duty in Afghanistan.

William, in brief remarks in French, acknowledged his weakness in speaking the language used by 83 percent of Quebec residents who would become his subjects if he becomes king as the British monarch is also Canada's head of state.

"Thank you for your patience with my accent, and I hope that we will have the chance to get to know each other over the years to come," he said.

After Quebec, the William and Kate will travel to Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories and Alberta, where they are expected to receive warm greetings as they did in earlier stops in Ottawa.

The couple will visit California after leaving Canada.

(Writing by Allan Dowd in Vancouver, Editing by Sandra Maler)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Right on target

Posted: 04 Jul 2011 02:08 AM PDT

South Korean heartthrob Lee Min Ho picks up martial arts to tackle an action-packed role in City Hunter.

IN City Hunter, apart from romancing the lady, South Korean hottie Lee Min Ho has to impress with his martial arts prowess.

Lee said he started preparing himself for the action scenes before he even received the script, undergoing several months of training in firearms and exotic martial arts. Admittedly, it is quite a physical role and involves a lot of close combat apart from athletics.

"I got to learn the Filipino martial art called Kali Arnis. It is a very swift martial art and it aims for pressure points in the body. Therefore, even one move needed much practice.

"I was worried about how it would look on TV, but many viewers have expressed that they love it, so I am very thankful," he revealed in a recent e-mail interview.

The Korean drama series is inspired by the popular Japanese manga of the same title by Tsukasa Hojo, which depicts the antics of private detective Ryo Saeba on his crusade against crime in the seedy underbelly of Tokyo.

Lee plays the dashing Dr Lee Yoon Sung, an MIT PhD holder working as an agent for the Blue House's special security team. Since the drama is based on a famous original comic book, he admitted to being a little worried about bringing it to television as well.

"However, I had many discussions with the director and my agent and I have faith in them.

"What attracted me was that although the original City Hunter work is serious, we are making it in a different style that features much action, which is what I am keen to do.

"I need full concentration to shoot the entire series. And because City Hunter runs a total of 20 episodes, I am working to stay healthy to finish shooting the series without any problems."

Lee explained that his character is one "who lives in a secluded environment that his stepfather has set up for him".

"Only after being in contact with the Korean people, he learns how to feel and struggles to realise justice in his own way. Yoon Sung's character is very complex and he encounters many different people and shares many emotions with them," Lee continued.

Are there any similarities between the Dr Lee character and himself? "Yoon Sung is not a straightforward person and is often unable to share what is on his mind, and that is quite similar to my own character.

"He is unable to freely and frankly express himself because he was raised by his stepfather, Jin Pyo, in a world where he is often alone and he has just followed the lifestyle that his stepfather had set up for him.

"Compared to Yoon Sung, I am leading a blessed life of my own."

Filming is still in progress for City Hunter, which started airing in South Korea on May 25, and Lee is glad to report a most enjoyable process.

"Now that I am midway through working on the series, my favourite scene so far is when my character has a nightmare in episode eight. The scene is very significant because of the reality of the situation that Yoon Sung is facing at that point in time. The scene expresses much of the mixed emotions he goes through.

"In Thailand, the scenes shot in the market and in the forest are the most memorable ones for me. In the market, I could feel the real life of the people in Thailand. Riding the elephant was a great experience and the sunset was just fantastic."

Kissing on the shoot

In City Hunter, Lee's character is paired with Kim Nana, a judo athlete-turned-bodyguard played by Park Min Young. Lee recounted the pros and cons of working with a friend.

"I first met Park Min Young five years ago at an advertisement shoot. After that, we acted together in drama series I Am Sam, in 2007.

"She is my friend, so initially I was worried about acting in intimate scenes with her. However, we worked it out by discussing the scenes, so being a friend worked in our favour.

"It was a kissing scene without any emotions or feelings, and it was part of an episode where we were trying to solve a case.

"We talked more about our expressions and action scenes that were to follow, rather than the kissing scene."

Lee, who has six movies and nine TV series under his belt, made his name with his breakthrough role as the rich and handsome Gu Jun Pyo in the immensely popular idol drama Boys Over Flowers, which was a hit in Asia.

Apart from the best newcomer actor award at South Korea's prestigious 45th Baeksang Awards, the role also won him the male rookie award at 2009 KBS Drama Awards as well as the best couple award with its leading lady Koo Hye Sun. Following that he won the excellence award at the 2010 MBC Drama Awards for his portrayal of an architect in romantic comedy Personal Taste, now airing on 8TV.

The dashing actor turned 24 on June 22 and admitted to feeling a bit out of sorts having to spend it on the film set instead of celebrating with his fans. "The most memorable birthdays have been the ones last year and the year before. I was very touched and surprised so many people gathered just for my celebration."

He even shared a photo of himself on his recent birthday through his personal me2day (Korean equivalent of the Twitter microblogging and social networking service) and left a note for his followers, part of which reads, "Every year, I usually spent my birthday with my fans, but I'm spending it today on set. Ah ... I feel empty. The surprise birthday party I found out about was fun, and I'm thankful for all your messages (though I haven't read them all yet). I'll try my hardest to talk to you all through City Hunter.

The actor recalled his brief visit to Malaysia two years ago, and lamented that it was a pity the time he had here went by so quickly.

Lee has a message for his Malaysian fans: "I really appreciate all the support and the love all of you have shown me. Thank you for all your interest in City Hunter! I'll do my best to make it a drama series that touches your hearts."

City Hunter airs on One HD (Astro B.yond Channel 393) at 9.05pm on Mondays and Tuesdays starting today.

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The laughing daylights

Posted: 04 Jul 2011 02:06 AM PDT

Spy comedy Chuck goes a little 007 while staying goofy.

It's quite surreal to be seated in Chuck's home – located at the Warner Bros Studio lot in Los Angeles – with his small kitchen at the back and a huge TV mounted at the opposite end.

At the centre is a cream-coloured sofa – the centrepiece of any living room, really – but it is currently occupied by the main cast and creator of the show Chuck talking to a group of international journalists about the series' third season.

Chuck is, of course, the super nerd Charles Bartowski, played by Zachary Levi, who goes through a complete transformation in the third season.

Not too long ago, Chuck was just another computer-support tech with a name tag, working at a big store called Buy More in Burbank and hanging out with his equally nerdy friends. But thanks to a computer download of highly classified material (a massive proportion, too) into his brain, he has become a bank of information for government agencies.

When an object triggers the data in his brain, he ends up as the spectator (and sometimes unwilling participant) of dangerous missions led by a grumpy NSA agent, John Casey (Adam Baldwin), and a stunning CIA agent, Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski).

To top it off, he has to keep his day job as a member of the Nerd Herd as well as keep his "super" identity a secret from his family and friends.

At the end of Season Two, another batch of data is downloaded into his brain. This time, it allows him to instantly master any number of skills – be it executing kung fu moves, playing the guitar, sword fighting, ballroom dancing or even speaking in a foreign language. You know, kind of like what Neo got to do in The Matrix – just that Chuck is not in The Matrix but in the real world.

So in a matter two seasons, Chuck's status has been elevated from a goofy sidekick stuck in the background, to that of a leading man who can take care of himself. Errm, actually, make that a goofy leading man.

If previously he did a lot of falling down and running away, Chuck 2.0 gets in the thick of things in the spy world, but very much in the spirit of the old nerdy Chuck – yes, some bumbling is involved.

"I get to be the spy world in a new way and I get to fight. Now I have, not just the ability to flash on things, but the ability to also kick some butt. But I am still the same guy," confirms Levi.

When asked about his physical preparation for the third season, his co-star, Joshua Gomez – who plays Chuck's best friend, Morgan Grimes – pipes in with, "Look at the man!"

At this interview – which took place early last year at the LA studio lot – Levi looks much taller (he's 1.93m), more dashing and leaner than he appears on the small screen. Nonetheless, he has the same amicable personality as his character, especially when he is teasing Gomez about his beard.

"If you see him without a beard, you'd be worried," Levi says.

Levi admits he has always been game to do more physical stunts, so he is up to the challenge of learning to fight even though he has a tight schedule to keep.

"Sometimes we are learning the fights the day before we shoot. But (the fight coordinators) are great, they are really able to break it down in ways that are easy for us to understand. So that's been the extent of the training. And I'm trying to eat right and work out a little bit and, you know, be somewhat capable of doing what they are asking me to do."

Season Three also features two prominent guest stars – Brandon Routh (of Superman Returns) and Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) – in recurring roles.

Routh plays Daniel Shaw, a special agent with the CIA who is sent to train Chuck to be a better spy. Shaw rubs Chuck the wrong way, not only due to his serious personality, but also because he poses the threat of coming between him and Sarah. Meanwhile Kreuk portrays Hannah, a girl Chuck meets on a plane and then later comes to work at Buy More alongside Chuck.

Co-creator Chris Fedak shares: "We went after Brandon when we wanted to introduce another spy into the mix. He was interested in doing a show that was a little bit funnier rather than a straightforward leading man-type of performance. Chuck gave him an opportunity to do something in the comedic realm, so he was a perfect fit for this season."

The reason Chuck has gone through such a 180° turnaround with its protagonist is that the series has been in perpetual danger of being cancelled. It has averted this deadly fate twice. The fourth season has just ended in the United States and received the good news of being renewed for another season, which will be its last (just 13 episodes though).

The ratings-challenged series' skill in surviving the axe is largely thanks to passionate fans who have gone out of their way to actively campaign for the show. At one point, even the Subway restaurants in the US got involved.

Levi notes: "I've always approached the entertainment business as one where you should consider the fans, their opinions and their thoughts. But, at the end of the day, you still have to have a clear vision of what you want to do and you have to stick to that, you are not going to please everyone.

"I think Bill Cosby has a great quote: 'I don't know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone.' So you can't do that, or you end up just coming out with a very muddled product.

"I think that it is always important to hear the fans and to know what they respond to. And we were very much saved, at least, in part, by the fans, you know, stepping up to the plate and saying, 'We love this show, we don't want the show to disappear. Let's go buy some sandwiches.'

"And so they did and that resonated with Subway and that resonated with NBC, and we got to stick around. Here we are because of sandwiches, which is really odd."

Gomez adds: "Yummy, yummy, sandwiches."

According to Fedak, Chuck is designed to be a pure escapist kind of show, which would reason why so many people like it.

Fedak explains: "Chuck really takes you to another world and it is a lot of fun. It is also really super emotional. For me, I watch the show and always have a good time; it always puts a smile on my face. It speaks to people and I think it provides a bit of a vacation every Monday night in the spy world."

Chuck Season Three starts tonight at 9:05pm. Catch it Monday to Thursday on AXN (Astro 701) and AXN HD (Astro 721).

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Swiss solar plane team eyes Mediterranean flight

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 05:39 PM PDT

GENEVA: The pilot at the helm of the world's most advanced solar-powered plane said Sunday he hopes to take the prototype across the Mediterranean next year before attempting a round-the-world flight in 2014.

Andre Borschberg said the plane's recent round trip to Belgium and France had encouraged the Solar Impulse team to consider flying the aircraft to Morocco in 2012.

"We'd like to be able to do flights of a duration of two days, two nights, which is a big challenge for only one person on board," he told The Associated Press by satellite linkup while flying back from Paris to the plane's home base in Payerne, Switzerland.

Last year, Borschberg completed a marathon 26-hour nonstop test to demonstrate that the 12,000 solar cells attached to its 63-meter (207-foot) wingspan can soak up enough sunlight to keep the four-engine plane airborne through the night.

The Mediterranean flights will be a major challenge for the engineers and the pilot, as the lightweight design is very sensitive to air turbulence. If the 1,200-mile (1931-kilometer) journey from Switzerland to Morocco is successful, the team will attempt to fly the prototype onward to Turkey before returning home, Borschberg said.

Meanwhile, a second, sturdier aircraft is already in the works.

The second plane will begin flight testing in 2013 in preparation for its planned circumnavigation of the globe a year later.

Again, there will be no passengers on board, Borschberg said. The ultra-efficient design of the aircraft, which has a top speed of only 75 mph (120 kph), means all additional ballast needs to be avoided.

"People understand that we are not going to fly solar and be able to transport passengers using solar energy collected by the airplane anytime soon," said Borschberg, as he circled Lake Neuchatel and the Jura mountains on the French-Swiss border before his descent to Payerne.

Still, the insights gained from designing and flying an aircraft that could stay in the air indefinitely - were it not for the needs of its human pilot - are significant, Borschberg said. "There is definitely a need for the technology to reduce the energy consumption" of planes, cars and other means of transportation, he said. - AP

Online: http://www.solarimpulse.com

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New York lawmakers seek most English business signs

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 05:29 PM PDT

NEW YORK: The teeming streets of Flushing, Queens, can feel like a different country.

A booming Chinese population exists alongside a longtime Korean enclave in the New York City borough. On a recent afternoon, the sidewalks were jammed with shoppers browsing and haggling in stores offering everything from iPhones to herbal remedies. Stalls selling fragrant dumplings and tea shops did a brisk business.

Day trippers from Manhattan or the suburbs often come to eat and shop here on weekends, savoring the broad array of foods and products available. But to some, the area can feel a little too foreign.

City Councilmen Dan Halloran and Peter Koo are drafting legislation that would require store signs in the city to be mostly in English. They say police officers and firefighters need to be able to quickly identify stores.

The change also would protect consumers and allow local shops to expand outside their traditional customer base, the council members argue. But merchants say it would be an unnecessary and costly burden on small businesses and would homogenize diverse pockets of the city that cater mostly to immigrant residents.

"People must respect that this is a special area and please respect the Asian culture," said Peter Tu, executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. "They have their own life in this area. When you walk in the street, you don't feel like you are in America."

Two bills are pending in the council to change the language on store signs. One, introduced in May, would authorize inspectors with the city Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce a little-known state law that requires businesses to display their names in English. The second bill, which will be introduced later this summer, would stipulate that the sign should be at least 60 percent English. Businesses would have four years to comply, after which they'd face fines starting at $150.

"This is designed for public safety, consumer protection and to start increasing the foot traffic into the stores," Halloran said.

The law on the books - passed in 1933 and dubbed the true name bill - classifies a violation as a misdemeanor but is not enforced. Its primary intent was to protect creditors and consumers from fraud by informal stores that popped up during the Great Depression.

The president of the Flushing on the Hill Civic Association, David Kulick, said store signs provoke different concerns these days, mostly from longtime residents who find it insulting or off-putting when they can't read them.

Assemblywoman Grace Meng said she's heard many of those complaints. She started a task force on the issue last year and supports the council legislation.

"The heart of the issue is not just about an English sign," Meng said. "They don't feel like they can communicate in their own neighborhoods."

The issue has cropped up before in the district.

Similar legislation was proposed in the 1980s by former Councilwoman Julia Harrison. Her successor, John Liu, now city comptroller, commissioned a survey eight years ago and found only a small percentage of signs did not include English.

A spokesman for Liu said the legislation was probably unnecessary.

"In an ever-changing global city, this issue has surfaced for the past 100 years in different parts of New York, involving a panoply of languages from Yiddish to Spanish to Greek and now Chinese and Korean," Liu spokesman Matthew Sweeney said in a statement.

Koo, who currently represents Flushing in the council, owns five local pharmacies with signs in English and Chinese. He said he would change his own signs to comply with the law.

"This is America, right? English is the main language," Koo said. "If I go to a Spanish or Polish neighborhood I would like the sign to at least be in English so I can understand."

Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, said most stores in Flushing would have to change their signs to comply with the law because they include English but not enough of it.

Yu added that there was a misperception that local merchants don't want non-Asian customers. Many shops simply cater to Asian customers because they make the bulk of the purchases, he said.

The bills' prospects remain unclear.

Councilwoman Diana Reyna, chair of the small business committee, said in a statement it would strain relationships between immigrant entrepreneurs and the government.

Councilman Peter Vallone, chair of the public safety committee, said there are unresolved questions about how the legislation would work, such as whether the size of the lettering would matter.

The Department of Consumer Affairs referred questions to the mayor's office, which declined to comment. A police spokeswoman, Detective Cheryl Crispin, said in an email the department was "not aware of this arising as a police issue."

Meng said the bill was part of a wider strategy to encourage interaction between different groups in her district.

"My goal in bringing up this whole issue a year ago was to bridge the gap between cultures," she said. "This is not going to solve it. But it's part of the resolution." - AP

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US stocks: Pullback could be on the table this week

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 05:24 PM PDT

NEW YORK: A pullback could be on the table this week for US stocks after their best weekly performance in two years, especially if a raft of data headlined by the June jobs report doesn't bolster the argument of a strengthening economy.

Stocks rose for five straight days as the fog of the Greek debt crisis appeared to once again be lifted while better-than-anticipated economic numbers such as Friday's manufacturing data gave weight to the belief the US economy was starting to recover from a soft patch.

"What we are looking at is a market that is going to focus on the economic numbers," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners in New York.

"We had real good gains towards the end of the quarter so it wouldn't surprise me to see a little bit of profit-taking before we get those numbers out during the course of the week."

Data expected this week includes factory orders for May, the ISM services index and several indicators on the labour market, including Friday's report.

"It is a little bit early to declare victory over the mid-cycle slowdown we've had," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.

Even with the economic data on the docket this week, volume is expected to remain light due to the US market holiday on July 4, which could exacerbate swings in the market.

Aside from the additional spike in volume brought about by the final reconstitution of Russell Investments by its indexes on June 24, average weekly volume has been among the lowest of the year for several weeks.

The light volume may prove to be an advantage for the bulls, however, especially after the S&P 500 successfully bounced off the 200-day moving average, a key technical support level, and jumped back over the 50-day moving average, which represented a resistance point.

Last week the Dow Jones industrial average rose 5.4%, the S&P 500 gained 5.6% and the Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 6.2% marking their biggest weekly percentage gains since July 2009.

With Greece and the European debt crisis once again pushed to the back burner in the minds of investors, the focus has shifted to the rapidly approaching deadline for Congress to reach an agreement on the debt limit, presenting another headwind for stocks.

The US Treasury on Friday kept up the pressure on Congress to strike a deal to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a default, repeating that it would run out of legal room to borrow on Aug 2.

"The big thing on the horizon is now back to the US deficit issues," said Rick Meckler, president of LibertyView Capital Management in New York.

"The Greek (debt) situation was an appetiser for that, and I think you're going to see a lot of back and forth as people wonder how much brinkmanship is actually going to be played with the budget deficit."

Another overhang could be evident in the pre-announcement of corporate profits before earnings season begins with Alcoa Inc's earnings on July 11. The global slowdown in the second quarter may result in some disappointing outlooks. - Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Cook breaks course record at Fontainebleau

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 04:23 PM PDT

BLAINVILLE, Quebec (AP): John Cook shot a 6-under 66 on Sunday and set a tournament course record with a 21-under 195 to win the Montreal Championship by three strokes at the Fontainebleau Golf Club.

Cook, the tournament runner-up last year, erased Chien-Soon Lu's one-stroke lead and claimed the $270,000 top prize at the Champions Tour's sole Canadian stop. Cook's third win on the 50-and-over tour this season came one year after Larry Mize, last year's champion, overtook him with a 64 on the final day.

Canada's Rod Spittle shot a course one-day record 10-under 62 to finish 15 under. The Ontario native broke the mark of 63 held by four players - including Cook - and finished in a seventh-place tie, up from a tie for 49th place after two rounds.

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Watney flawless to win by 2 shots at Aronimink

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 04:21 PM PDT

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pennsylvania (AP): Nick Watney capped off an amazing weekend at Aronimink to win the AT&T National on Sunday, moving him to No. 10 in the world and atop the PGA Tour money list for the first time in his career.

Watney closed with a 4-under 66 on a steamy afternoon in the Philadelphia suburbs, making three big par saves and three birdies on the front nine to seize control, then holding off a late charge by K.J. Choi for a two-shot victory.

And to think that with only 27 holes left in the tournament, Watney was trying to keep from getting left behind. Ten birdies, an eagle and no bogeys later, he was posing with the silver trophy of a Liberty Bell and wondering how much better he could get.

"It's a very addictive feeling to be out there and under the gun," said Watney, who had a 62-66 weekend at Aronimink. "To be able to hit good shots and putts is why I play, really."

Watney finished on 13-under 267, tying the tournament record by Tiger Woods in 2009 when it was played at Congressional. The tournament is scheduled to return to Congressional next year.

Charles Howell III earned quite a consolation prize. He played bogey-free in the final round for a 6-under 66 to tie for third with Adam Scott (68) and Jeff Overton (67). That made him eligible for the British Open in two weeks as the top finisher from the top five who wasn't already exempt.

Rickie Fowler, who shared the lead with Watney going into the final round, had another learning experience. He fell out of the hunt early with a double bogey on the second hole and closed with a 74 to tie for 13th.

"I just couldn't get anything going today," Fowler said.

Watney didn't give anyone much of a chance. He took the outright lead with a wedge into 10 feet for birdie on No. 2, and holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 fifth. Despite leaving himself in a tough spot in the bunker on the par-5 ninth, he blasted out to 2 feet for another birdie.

Even so, his biggest putts were for par.

Watney saved par from bunkers on No. 4 with a 20-foot putt, and from No. 7 with a putt from about 12 feet. His biggest par save might have been the par-3 eighth, which yielded only two birdies in the final round.

Overton had reached 9 under and was making a move, and Choi had birdied the previous to also reach 9 under. Watney's shot went over the green, and he putted up the slope to 18 feet. He made the par putt to keep his cushion.

"That was big not to drop a shot after hitting a good shot, and keep momentum heading to the back nine," Watney said.

The final challenge came from Choi, who trailed by four shots at one point.

He slowly made up ground, then closed in on Watney after the turn with a bending, downhill birdie putt on the 11th and a pair of long birdie putts on the 12th and 14th holes, the last one tying for the lead.

Momentum was with Choi, only the South Korean knew better. The par-4 15th played at 503 yards into a slight breeze, following by the par-5 16th that was reachable in two.

"When I tied him on the 14th hole, I knew that there was still a lot of holes to go, and I knew the remaining holes were more favorable to Nick Watney," Choi said. "I knew the 15th hole would be a turning point. That was a key hole, and I missed it. So I think that was the turning point of the match."

Choi pulled his shot into the left rough, then tried to hit 5-wood toward the green. The thick grass shut his club and sent the shot into a bunker, some 60 yards from the pin, and so close to the side that his legs were pressed against the edge of the bunker. Choi hit a solid shot, but it took one more hop into the rough, he chipped out to 12 feet and missed the putt.

Watney was just short of the green and lagged his putt from 75 feet to 5 feet, converting yet another important par.

On the next hole, Watney used his power to smash a drive that left him only a 7-iron to the green, and he again hit a good lag for a two-putt birdie. His seventh and final par save came from just behind the 17th green, and his chip stopped 2 feet from the cup.

Watney earned $1.116 million and became the first player this year to top $4 million on tour. His other win came at the World Golf Championship at Doral, a win defined by his clutch tee shot on the 18th hole of the famed Blue Monster. That experience has served him well.

"I'm overjoyed to be in here as the winner," Watney said. "It was a very difficult, long day. K.J. played great golf and he kept coming and coming. And that makes it even more rewarding."

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No change in prize money for Razak Cup tournament

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 04:16 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The total prize money for the Razak Cup hockey competition will remain at a paltry RM32,000 despite the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) securing a sponsor for the next three years.

Like the previous year the Division One champions will take home RM10,000 while the runners-up and the third placed teams will receive RM7,000 and RM5,000.

For the Division Two champions the winning purse is RM5,000 while the second and third placed teams get RM3,000 and RM2,000 respectively.

MHF competitions committee secretary Hashim Mohamed Yusof confirmed that there will be no increase in the prize money structure.

This year's meet will be held in Malacca from July 22-28.

A total of 16 teams will play in the Finals. The qualifying stage is currently held over five zones and will end on July 9.

The MHF will then divide the teams into the two Divisions.

The five zones in the qualifying stage are North, Central, South, East and East Malaysia.

However, the East Malaysia zone has been scrapped as Labuan and Brunei have withdrawn leaving only Sabah and Sarawak in the fray.

Both teams will play in the Finals and their request to be placed in Division Two has been accepted by the competitions committee. Each Division will have eight teams.

Meanwhile, more trouble is brewing for the Razak Cup competition over the eligibility of player rules.

Kuala Lumpur Hockey Association (KLHA) are crying foul over the release of several players who played in the qualifying stage over the weekend.

They claimed that some players who had played for other teams did not get the respective clearance and they want the matches to be declared null and void.

KLHA secretary V. Rajamanickam cited the case of Sallehin Ghani who works and plays in the KL League was given clearance by Selangor to play for the city team.

"But Sallehin was offered a higher allowance and he went to play for them without getting a release from us. They fielded him over the weekend,'' said Rajamanickam.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Back on the dude ranch

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 06:17 PM PDT

HERE are five films that define the slacker.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
Starring Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn

Also known as the movie where the comic sub-plot about a stoner surfer Jeff Spicoli (played by then-newcomer Sean Penn) and his run-ins with teachers stole the show. Who remembers that the rest of it was a realistic coming-of-age drama complete with a teen abortion?

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Starring George Carlin, Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves

This early prototype of the genre had the key ingredients: Two individuals who were too cool for school and who possessed skills – loud guitar-wrangling – that were useless in the real world, but were crucial in an alternate universe. And most importantly, the leads were goofily charming.

Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Seann William Scott

This loose-limbed road comedy about two lunkheads on an Alice-In-Wonderland quest made a virtue of how stupid it was. It was predictably loathed by critics and failed to make a deep impression at the box office. But since its release on DVD, it has become a cult classic, thanks largely to the perfect casting of Kutcher and Scott as the room-temperature-IQ heroes trapped in a world where everything suddenly stopped making sense. The genes of Harold And Kumar and The Hangover can be traced back to this film.

Knocked Up (2007)
Starring Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd

Written and directed by Judd Apatow, this is the most successful slacker-stoner comedy ever. It made more than US$200mil (RM600mil) in worldwide grosses, thanks in large part to male wish-fulfilment at work here: the average Joe played by Rogen charms his way into the bed of the successful hottie played by Heigl. Apatow has since defended the premise, saying that he was inspired by the number of attractive woman-ugly guy couples he had seen.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore

Created by Joel and Ethan Coen, the kings of the darkly comic vision, the film portrays Lebowski (Bridges) as an older man whose principles have caused him to turn his back on society's material values, becoming a slacker-stoner. Lebowski's zen-like pronouncements on the nature of reality and the iniquities of the human race have become some of the most oft-quoted movie phrases. Also, he was The Dude, man. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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Slackers rule the screen

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Slackers rule the screen

Posted: 02 Jul 2011 06:17 PM PDT

Unambitious men who make a virtue of their vices are the new movie heroes.

COMEDY has a new king. He is between 20 and 40. He toils away at a menial job so he can afford rent and pizza. He lives for video games, beer (and perhaps something a little stronger) and his girlfriend, in that order.

The chronically unambitious bloke desires nothing more out of life than a warm spot on the old sofa and a cold brew. But his peaceful domain is rocked by events – a zombie uprising, an unexpected pregnancy, a need to find a truly awesome hamburger or a car gone missing – forcing him to set off on a hero's quest.

After a series of trials that will push his wits, encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture and rock trivia (as well as his wheezing, flabby body) to their limits, our reluctant hero will save the day.

And he will emerge from the experience having learnt nothing about the value of hard work, fresh air or personal hygiene.

Your Highness is one more comedy that joins the ranks of films about underachievers who nonetheless achieve a lot by the film's conclusion.

Your Highness, a raunchy re-imagining of the sweet cult favourite Princess Bride (1987), joins other movies this year that bank on parodic, overblown versions of the average schlub, for laughs.

The badly behaved men of The Hangover Part II are an example, as are the British sci-fi geeks played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the recent sci-fi comedy Paul.

Later this year will see the release of Bridesmaids, which has the novelty of an all-women ensemble in an R-rated work punctuated by gross-out gags. It did so well in the United States, grossing more than US$10mil (RM30mil) on an estimated US$32.5mil (RM97.5mil) budget.

One producer of the project is Judd Apatow, the man chiefly responsible for the ascendency of the slacker movie in the last decade (and who is also responsible for helping to revive a key sub-category of the slacker genre, the stoner comedy, such as Pineapple Express, 2008).

Other films thick with unambitious men who make a virtue of their vices: Our Idiot Brother (starring one of the crown princes of the genre, Paul Rudd) and A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas, the third film in the series now seen as a cornerstone of the slacker-stoner canon.

The clueless buffoon is a comedy staple, but there was a time when the characters in a comedy were not 20-somethings doing their best to do nothing. Back then, the comedic leads were busy people, rooting out demons (Ghostbusters, 1984), reanimating the dead (Young Frankenstein, 1974), piloting jets (Airplane!, 1980) or striving for rock greatness (This Is Spinal Tap, 1984).

While R-rated slacker-stoner films remain a niche audience play, targeted at males mainly, aged between 18 and early 30s (though now and then, one film will break out of the R-rating ghetto, as The Hangover did in the United States), the studios still bankroll them. They are relatively cheap to make, as they tend not to feature big-name, mass appeal comedians.

Your Highness might have James Franco and Natalie Portman on board, but they are not the focus of the movie. That honour goes to much less-famous Danny McBride, a pudgy actor with a cult following.

The other gods of the slacker pantheon – Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel – are also in the same middle-tier league. Slacker comedies therefore cost less to make, typically well under US$50mil (RM150mil), compared with films starring more mainstream comedians such as Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy.

They also carry their own built-in marketing. The Apatow crew, which includes Rogen and Segel, possess credibility from his short-lived but much loved 1990s television show Freaks And Geeks.

Audiences have also come to know what to expect. They are primed to expect the formula. An Apatow product, for example, will showcase a realistic, often downbeat tone, some loose, improvised joking, drug use and just a touch of gross-out humour to balance out the sweetness. If Michael Cera is in it, it will feature a coming-of-age theme.

The Harold And Kumar franchise, on the other hand, will amplify the surrealism in keeping with the level of hallucinogens in the heroes' brains. It will also push the so-dumb-it's-almost-smart envelope much harder. Women are played as sex objects and men make funny noises from their rear ends.

Meanwhile, the British inheritors of the slacker mantle, the writers and actors Frost and Pegg, are known now as makers of smart films about dumb men who love pop culture and beer.

Their twist is to make films that are both parodies of, and homages to, other films that slackers worship. But unlike films from other purveyors of slacker product, theirs unabashedly embrace sweetness.

The stoner-slacker genre might still be mainly a "guy thing", but it is a young field and things are changing.

If the female-friendly Bridesmaids (written by Saturday Night Live cast member Kristen Wiig and fellow comedienne Annie Mumolo) is anything to go by, the genre is deepening and growing in sophistication.

After all, monster movies were considered schlocky and low-brow. And then, in 1975, Steven Spielberg released Jaws. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Vote & win!

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 02:47 AM PDT

IT'S time to exercise your right to vote — for good reads, that is. The Popular-The Star Readers Choice Awards is into its fourth year and will, once again, honour local authors and publishers – and reward you, the reader.

As in previous years, submit your selection of your top three choices in the fiction and non-fiction categories based on the lists in the entry form on the right. If you are one of 100 readers whose ranking matches the overall vote, you will receive a RM50 Popular gift voucher as well as a one-year-free-membership Popular card.

And, of course, we will also reward the authors of your choice: the top three in each category will receive cash, trophies and certificates of recognition.

To vote, fill in the entry form on the right and follow the submission instructions; forms are also available at all Popular and Harris bookstores nationwide and can be downloaded from popular.com.my and bookfestmalaysia.com.

To vote online, go to thestar.com.my (look for the rotating gallery of images under the "Multimedia" strap and keep refreshing your screen until you see the Readers' Choice Awards contest). You can also text your vote via SMS (instructions in entry form). You have until July 17, 2011, to submit your vote.

For those who haven't read all the books, you can get a 20% discount on each title at all Popular and Harris bookstores until Oct 2, 2011. If you'd like to see our previous introductions of the 20 titles in contention, go to The Star Online (thestar.com.my) and access the 365-day archives (under "More" in the blue menu bar).

The Popular-The Star Readers' Choice Awards 2011 are a precursor to BookFest@Malaysia 2011, which will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from Aug 27 to Sept 4.

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The write stuff

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 02:46 AM PDT

Thinking of becoming a best-selling author and travelling the world on a book promotion tour? With tons of hard work and a stroke of luck, it could just happen. We talked to the people in the industry for a behind-the-scenes peek.

ONE publisher appeals for more fiction writers, while another is hoping for more non-fiction writers in the Malaysian writing scene.

Well, it's all about a chain reaction, says Ezra Zaid, 27, head of his four-year-old publishing company, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

"In our country the importance of reading is still not being inculcated in homes or schools, and somewhere along the way of memorizing answers we have lost people who take pleasure in reading. If we don't encourage reading, there will be no writing, no demand for books and authors," Ezra says.

"We really need more quality writers locally and we need more fiction writers!" Ezra points out, adding, "Apart from a good command of the language, writers need to be open to criticism and be able to provide readers with something different or unique. They should bear in mind that they are competing with hundreds of books, locally and internationally, of a similar subject matter."

Ezra explains that there has to be a culture in which local writers edit their own work and present their writing in a better way, adding that "a lot of writers don't commit to that process."

"When we vet a manuscript, as a publisher, we will look for further improvements in the presentation and grammar, and we need to ensure that the style is consistent with what we are looking for, so writers need to be a bit more familiar with what a publisher looks at," he says.

From his experience he says that authors can be a very proud bunch of people!

"They have a right to be proud of their work, but by being over-protective of it, they can miss out on being open to criticism, especially the constructive type that could help improve their work," he says.

In Malaysia Ezra feels that the best way for an author to make a lot of money would be to enter the Malay language market, the biggest here.

Call for non-fiction

Chong Ton Sin, 63, has been in the publishing business for 11 years; his company, SIRD (Strategic Information and Research Development Centre) is an independent scholarly publishing house. With that sort of focus, he is naturally hoping that more Malaysians will write about our culture, social issues, history, gender issues, and other local issues, as "there is a lack of good books and factually correct information on these topics."

Chong would like authors to know that they should not just send a manuscript over and expect the publisher to do all the work for them.

"Authors should learn to be professional by submitting a synopsis of the book, a content page, target readership, and a proposal on why the book should be published. Only if the proposal is interesting will the writer be asked to submit the manuscript," Chong says.

Over the years Chong has seen an increase in young writers (he means those between 25 and 40) submitting their work but, unfortunately, the standard of English is low and SIRD has rejected many a manuscript due to poor language skills, a bad style of writing and unimpressive content.

"A writer needs good language skills along with ability to tell a story in a fluid structure otherwise people will have no interest in reading their work. Even a political book can be written with humour – but facts must always be checked," he says.

Once a manuscript is accepted, Chong says that an agreement will be drawn up between publisher and author; the publisher will usually bear the production costs. Sometimes, though, a book can be really good but difficult to sell because of its subject matter, perhaps; in such a case, the publisher and author will share production costs.

Chong says that if you pick a topic that many people have written about, then you have to make it a lot better in terms of writing style and packaging. On the other hand, he says, "If you pick a difficult topic such as philosophy or personal material on a well-known person, then you have to ensure that your work is backed up with research and facts."

Research, research, research

Yvonne Lee Shu Yee, 39, was a former flight attendant with Malaysia Airlines for six years until 1995, when she quit to become a full-time housewife and mother. She is the author of three books, The Sky Is Crazy, Vanity Drive: The Vagaries Of One Woman's Vanity, and Madness Aboard. And she's a been a nominee every year in the Popular-The Star Readers' Choice Awards from their inception in 2008! How did she get started on this successful path?

Lee started writing letters to The Star first, and then began submitting articles on various topics that were – eventually, after many tries and much rejection! – published.

Along with the manuscript of her first book, The Sky Is Crazy, Lee says that she took along her portfolio of writing for newspapers and magazines when she went to meet the publishers.

"I was a first time author and that portfolio gave me a head start in my meetings with publishers who didn't know anything about me," says Lee.

Lee says that she did some research on the topic of her first book and found that there were such books written by overseas authors but none locally or even in Singapore – so choosing the right topic and finding out if it's marketable is important, before embarking on writing a book, she points out. She also found out the minimum word count required for a book to be marketable, so she developed her first book with 30 chapters in mind and about 50,000 words.

"For new authors, it pays to ask other published authors about their experience in dealing with the various publishers. You need to find out things like their history of payment, transparency in their accounting, copyright and royalty issues, and extensiveness of their distribution network," says Lee who met several publishers before finding her match with her current publisher, Marshall Cavendish.

Lee recalls being anxious after she handed over the manuscript of her first book to the publisher as she feared that her ideas could be stolen and her hard work would amount to nothing.

"Later, I learnt from a friend that I should have mailed a copy of my manuscript to myself before sending the manuscript to a publisher, and keep the envelope sealed. In the event of a court case, I would have this postmark to prove that I was the author of the manuscript that was stolen," she says.

After publishing her books, Lee says the toughest part was getting publicity, but she managed to secure a lot of interviews with the press on her own, with some arranged through her publisher.

Lee also worked at building rapport with all the bookstores to try and get her book prominently displayed and promoted.

"To be an author you really need to be thick skinned and get as much publicity as possible otherwise no one will know about your book and it won't sell," she advises.

With encouraging sales from her first book even after five years, her publisher asked Lee to come up with a sequel, and so Lee produced her third book, Madness Aboard.

"I wouldn't recommend anyone to be an author for the glamour attached to it or for an ego trip, because it's really hard work. You should really love writing, the process of doing research and you need to like crafting words," Lee advises.

Oh what a feeling!

In 2005, after nine years as a copywriter in advertising, Brian Andrew Gomez, 36, decided to quit his job and write the book that he had been toying with for sometime.

While writing his first fiction novel, Devil's Place, Gomez – a Johorean who has lived in KL for the last 16 years – says he didn't make a conscious effort to tailor his book towards the Malaysian or international market, and just wrote as it pleased him.

"What I find interesting about writing is that I write from sentence to sentence and I have no idea how the story will pan out. I am discovering the storyline as I write, and that's the fun part for me," he says.

"That's why I needed to quit my job (had saved up enough to spend eight months writing his book) and focus on writing. There were days I would stare at a blank screen until the story revealed itself, and there were days when things simply spilled out," says Gomez who is now a full time freelance copywriter who also directs commercials and does corporate videos.

Gomez had no idea that he seriously wanted to publish his book until it was completed; only then did he begin looking for a publisher.

He had no contacts and while shopping around for one he was contacted by a reputable Singaporean publisher who told him that he would love to publish his book but it was "too risky", so he was advised to self-publish it.

"Financially, it made sense to me because if I went through a publisher I would only take 40% of the profits while the rest goes to the publisher. So I decided to do it on my own," Gomez explains.

Gomez says that he had the impression that local publishers would not publish "risky" stuff but only later on – after publishing his own book – he found out that he was wrong and that they are quite brave – especially considering that in Malaysia a book can be removed from the book shelves without any reasons given, he adds.

In 2008, he took additional jobs to raise about RM10,000 to print his books. With the help of a friend who designed the cover and his girlfriend who proofread his book, he edited it himself and then went ahead with printing. Brimming with confidence, Gomez printed 3,000 copies and laid out 50 stacks of his books at his book launch.

He even organised that himself, holding it at a bar in Hartamas, KL (where he was playing the guitar); he also managed to get MPH to distribute his books so that it was available in all major bookstores.

"I remember Amir Muhammad (who attended the launch) commenting that I was very optimistic when he saw the 50 stacks – and I still am!," Gomez says with a laugh.

Since his book was launched in November 2010 Gomez is pleased to be able to say that he has managed to sell over 2,000 copies.

Citing dumb luck, Gomez says he met an Italian publisher (who was in KL looking for stories from the Asian region to be published in Italy) at Readings, a monthly gathering of writers organised by Sharon Bakar, a freelance writer, creative writing teacher and teacher-trainer.

The Italian publisher, Metropoli d'Asia, was impressed with his book and signed him on. Eight months after signing the contract, Gomez found himself touring Italy promoting his book, which had been translated into Italian.

He believes that, while writing is a different experience for different people, "If you want to write, then just do it first and don't worry whether it will be censored, or if you will get rich, because once you complete a book the feeling you get tops anything else, whether it gets published or sells thousands of copies."

That feeling ensured that he still has no regrets publishing his book, even though Gomez says he isn't rich – yet – from sales of Devil's Place and that after using up all his savings travelling during the eight months he spent writing his book and then covering production and publicity costs, he had to go back to work to make a living.

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Interest in conflict

Posted: 03 Jul 2011 02:26 AM PDT

Journalist-filmmaker Zan Azlee has a penchant for making documentaries in war zones ... and for Patani-style nasi kerabu.

SOME years ago, Zan Azlee was this long-haired young guy that I knew from his short films that were screened at Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia's regular short-film showcases. The short films he made with his friends were whimsical comedies, with a touch of Kevin Smith's slacker absurdism.

He also made a few documentaries with intriguing subjcect matter, such as R.A.H.M.A.N., which is about the strange belief that the first letter in the name of Malaysia's successive prime ministers follow those initials. (You can now watch R.A.H.M.A.N. on YouTube.)

Now, Zan has turned into an intrepid, tough-as-nails, hardened journalist-filmmaker who has gone to some of the world's most dangerous conflict zones, dodging bullets and landmines, tracking down terrorists and George W. Bush with equal fervour.

Well, not really. But he is still a gutsy journalist-filmmaker who has gone to some war zones and conflict hotspots to get his stories on film.

When we met last week for this interview, I said I still remember him as that long-haired, small-time filmmaker who made comedic short films and interesting documentaries.

"Small-time, huh? I carry a big stick, you know!" the 33-year-old laughed.

That's Zan, never without a smile or a laugh, always a riot to hang out with. It might be a little difficult then, to imagine him in the company of war journalists because he is such an amiable and likeable guy (he would probably say he's too damn good-looking, too). Yet, while he doesn't have the scars to prove it (and hopefully never will!), Zan does have a book and a film to showcase his 2008 adventures in strife-torn Patani, Thailand.

Patani was involved in the South Thailand separatist campaign along with two other provinces, Narathiwat and Yala. There were daily reports of bombings and shootings, and the hotel where Zan stayed had earlier been the target of a bomb attack.

The book, Operation Nasi Kerabu: Finding Patani In An Islamic Insurgency, details the making of his documentary, The Life And Times Of An Islamic Insurgency, which, in 2009, was unceremoniously held back just two days before it was scheduled to be shown on Ntv7. The film was, however, screened at the Islam Today Arts And Culture Festival at the University of California and at the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in KL last year. The book was launched at the KL Alternative Book Fest last month.

If it sounds like he became a war journalist overnight, in reality it isn't so. Zan has been a journalist since 2000, working in print and broadcast and on the Internet.

"I've always wanted to make documentaries and even went to study broadcast journalism in the UK right after Sept 11. Just imagine the body searches I had to go through at the airport!" he laughs.

His hero is Sean Langan, the documentary filmmaker for the BBC and Channel 4 UK, and he also likes the "comedy war journalism" by Chris Ayres and Kim Baker. It shows in Zan's debut as an author. Amidst all the serious observations about the conflict in Patani are bursts of comedic moments seamlessly worked into the proceedings.

Even so, it wasn't really a laughing matter going into Patani by boat across a river. In the book, Zan wrote about how he had expected to hear constant gunshots and explosions when he got there because exaggerated news reports had scared him half out of his wits.

"Yes, I was scared!" says Zan. "You try going to a town known for random bomb blasts and sniper shootings! And there were soldiers everywhere! It didn't help that my 'fixer' put me up in a hotel that was a prime target for terrorist bombings!

"But having a fixer definitely helped to ease my nervousness, compared to when I went to Beirut like a headless chicken not knowing anything in 2007."

Zan says he chose to go to Patani because the people there are Malay Muslims and he feels a certain kinship with them.

Once he arrived there, he found that the impression from those news reports that had left him quaking in his shoes was not quite accurate.

"It is not as tense as what the media makes it out to be," says Zan. "People are still going about their normal lives even though there is a threat. And that is exactly what I want to show in my book and film, the normalcy of life in abnormal situations."

But it was still rather tense for a visitor like him, encountering military checkpoints, soldiers and Humvees everywhere he went with Tuwaedaniya Meringing, or Daniya, his fixer.

"When I was driving around with Daniya, he would get calls saying that a shooting had just occurred somewhere," says Zan.

"One time, I was interviewing a primary school teacher on the school's premises when a group of armed soldiers interrupted us to inspect the classrooms, which were filled with students."

Apart from the surprising discovery that Patani nasi kerabu (herbed rice served with a variety of accompaniments) is different and tastier than our local version (hence the title of the book), Zan was also surprised by how much Malay history and culture there was there.

"Because the locals feel that they are being oppressed and their culture being taken away from them, they put in a lot of effort to preserve and propagate it," says Zan. "I also admire the resilience of the people there in dealing with the conflict and violence. The civilians actually ignore it all and just go on living."

"Images of motorcycles with seats open and parked in the middle of the road (required by law so the authorities can detect motorcycle bombs) all around town is another thing that has stayed fresh in my mind. It was like a whole new rempit trend!" he laughs.

There was also another important thing that Zan learned, and this came from his fixer, Daniya, who is also a seasoned journalist.

"Have you heard of the term 'peace journalism'?" Daniya asked him one day. "Peace journalism is a method whereby the media, or journalists in particular, write stories in order to promote peace and avoid conflict."

Peace journalism is, in fact, something Zan had always believed in even before he learned of the term. His approach to stories has always been to make them as simple and accessible as possible, mostly for the benefit of the youth because he feels they are indifferent to social issues and current affairs.

"I like to think that my humour can (make his stories accessible)," says Zan. "I also want to show positive elements when it comes to war and conflict, such as hope, resilience, happiness and faith. I'm not too interested in showing violence and its effects because there's just too much of it in the media already."

Today, Zan is constantly busy with projects, from writing, producing or directing shows for Astro and AXN to doing commissioned work for news channel Al-Jazeera. He is also a correspondent for Metropolis TV, a Dutch TV documentary series on the VPRO channel, and VJ Movement, a Dutch-based video-journalism news agency.

Apart from his regular column for an online news portal, he also produces short, non-fiction videos for his website, Fatbidin.tv (part of his company Fat Bidin Media).

"Currently, I have a few series on the site," says Zan. "We The People is a series of videos about the common folk in Malaysia and what their lives are about; The P1 Net Show is a reality series about the goings-on of the company P1 Wimax; BMX Malaysia is a series about the sport of BMX in Malaysia; and Fat Bidin Presents is where I serialise all my feature documentaries."

Another one of his journalistic "activities" is his marriage to a fellow journalist, Ntv7 news anchor Jasmine Abu Bakar. They now have a baby girl. But domestication is not going to stop Zan from going into war zones again, it seems. Next stop: Afghanistan in September.

"I want to make a documentary film about a KLite, me, travelling in Afghanistan," says Zan. "And I definitely want to write a book about it, too."

Operation Nasi Kerabu: Finding Patani In An Islamic Insurgency, published by ZI Publications, is available at all major bookstores and comes with a DVD of the documentary, The Life And Times Of An Islamic Insurgency. You can follow the further adventures of Zan Azlee at fatbidin.com.

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