Selasa, 9 Ogos 2011

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Far from toothless

Posted: 10 Aug 2011 03:30 AM PDT

The Vampire Diaries sucks in viewers with its gorgeous cast, interesting storylines and awesome cliffhangers.

EVEN though every episode of The Vampire Diaries ends with a nail-biting cliffhanger, nothing quite prepared us for what happened in the last episode of the first season. If you have yet to watch the series' first season, stop reading right now.

In that season finale, Katherine (Nina Dobrev) – the evil vampire who has been the bane of Elena's life ever since the Salvatore brothers arrived in Mystic Falls – finally puts on an actual appearance in this town. She is sexy and lethal; she is also the vampire who turned Damon and Stefan Salvatore into the living dead 150 years ago.

Throughout season one, Damon is obsessed with her until he realised that she is a selfish creature who uses love as a tool for her own gain.

From all the past events involving Stefan, Damon and Katherine, it sounds like anyone in their right mind would know that she equates trouble. So why would she pretend to be a goody two-shoes?

Well, we are finding out the reason for her presence in Mystic Falls, and also why Elena and Katherine look exactly alike.

Anyway, Katherine's first action once she gained access to her doppelgänger's home was to finger-chop the hand of Elena's uncle. This shocking revelation comes right after another "oh my" moment – the love-struck Damon (Ian Somerhalder) assuming Elena has finally come around to liking him when she kisses him on the porch of her house.

Was your jaw on the floor like mine by the end of that hour? Besides delivering these great cliffhangers, the show also knows how to kick off the new season – Katherine visits the hospitalised Caroline (Candice Accola) and kills her because she wants to send out a message to the Salvatore brothers. Has she not heard of text messaging? Much more instant and effective.

No doubt The Vampire Diaries is a soap opera that lingers too long on the romance between Elena and Stefan (Paul Wesley), with Damon sulking in the background, longing to get Elena's attention.

But with the introduction of Katherine – who pretends to be Elena from time to time – it's enough to keep the Salvatore brothers and the audience on their toes.

To quote Damon: "Doppelgänger high jinks ensue."

Katherine does not disappoint. Kudos to Dobrev for pulling off this double duty – as both the sweet teenager Elena and the sizzling hot Katherine – making the viewers believe they are indeed two different people.

Katherine proves to be a spicy addition to the show as she is a shamelessly self-serving person and always has something up her sleeve. That she always shows up in great outfits and killer shoes only makes her more likeable.

Besides Katherine, season two also introduces a pack of werewolves and a couple of powerful male witches. Somewhere in the middle of the season, the series throws in a well-dressed villain who is a real nasty piece of work with an agenda that once again puts Elena's life in danger. He is so nasty that Katherine's evil ways just pale in comparison.

An outstanding thing about the second season is how it manages to completely revamp one of its existing characters.

Caroline used to be this silly bimbo teen whose interests were boys, cheerleading and clothes. Little wonder, Damon had an easy time glamming this girl in the last season.

After Katherine kills her, Caroline is reborn as a vampire as she was fed Damon's blood. Her instinct to feed off humans is dealt with fast, but the real story is revealed later. It shows how Caroline has to keep what she is from her Sheriff mother (an anti-vampire zealot) and her boyfriend, Matt (who doesn't even know that vampires exist even though his sister was killed by one).

Again, credit goes to Accola who humanises this character, transforming her from an annoying teen to a girl with a compelling story. Thank you, The Vampire Diaries writers, because I was quite happy when I thought she died.

Unfortunately, two other characters have been a let-down. Elena's brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), can be best described as an unnecessary appendage.

This character is given more things to do this season, as he tries to protect his sister from vampires and what-not, but it's obvious that he could be absent and it wouldn't even make a difference. For one, Elena is still forever in peril.

The other annoying character is Elena's aunt, Jenna Gilbert, who is happily oblivious about the supernatural goings-on in Mystic Falls.

Why have a character like her when Elena obviously can't talk to her about anything? And when Jenna starts going out with Alaric (a vampire hunter who helps the Salvatore brothers), there's a lot of unrequired angst about the latter keeping secrets from her.

Luckily, The Vampire Diaries has the subplot of the two handsome Salvatore brothers to distract us, what with their constant conflicts with each other and their inner battle of bad vs good. Seriously, what's not to love?

The second season of The Vampire Diaries airs on 8TV every Tuesday at 9.30pm. Season One airs at 11pm on Warner TV (HyppTV Ch 162), on Wednesdays.

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Housewives face a final season

Posted: 10 Aug 2011 03:20 AM PDT

"THE only harder thing than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it," said Marc Cherry as he looked ahead to the final year of Desperate Housewives.

As ABC made official that the hit series would end after its upcoming eighth season, its creator, Cherry, joined ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee to insist the decision had been made jointly.

"I'm very aware that some shows overstay their welcome and I didn't want that to happen with Desperate Housewives," Cherry told reporters during a Sunday session of the Television Critics Association conference.

"We wanted to go out in the classiest way possible."

Desperate Housewives, a glossy prime-time soap opera with an ensemble cast including Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria, made a pop-culture and ratings splash when it premiered in 2004 but has since seen a fall-off in the ratings and viewer buzz.

Cherry said he and Lee began discussions a year ago about when the series should be shuttered.

"We made this decision together," he said, "and I feel so good about it. We can have a whole year to reflect on how lucky we've been.

"We want to make sure it has its victory lap," Lee said.

Cherry said he had put out calls to all the show's cast members in recent days and spoken to about half of them.

"It was bittersweet and lovely. There was a touch of shock, but not completely," Cherry said in describing the conversations, adding that he and the stars shared a feeling of gratitude for the experience of doing the series.

While dismissing the possibility of a Housewives spinoff, he mentioned other projects, including Hallelujah, a pilot ABC passed on this season but that's being re-worked.

But he joked that something simple and quick as a future series might be a nice change.

"Maybe two guys in a prison cell," Cherry proposed with a laugh. "I need something easier than Desperate Housewives." – AP

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Cartoon contest for children

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 04:20 PM PDT

CARTOON Network is inviting kids to take part in a contest where 50 winners will get to learn the art of animation under professional guidance. And animate their own cartoons!

Called Snaptoons Kids (Short New Asia Pacific Cartoons), the initiative allows children aged under 15 to unleash their creativity.

The winners will attend an exclusive workshop led by artists from Animasia, Malaysia's leading animation studio and the creators of Bola Kampung, the popular TV series currently on Cartoon Network (Astro Channel 616).

Created in partnership with Astro, the contest is now on until Aug 15.

"Snaptoons Kids continues Cartoon Network's commitment to developing the animation industry in Malaysia and we're looking forward to seeing the young creative talent emerging via this workshop.

"Last year, we launched Snaptoons for professional animators to great success and now, we want to extend it to our young audience," said Silas Hickey, creative director of Asia Pacific Animation Development, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific, Inc, the holding company of Cartoon Network.

Winners will join other budding animators at an exclusive workshop created in partnership with MDeC (Multimedia Development Corporation) and the Education Ministry. During the session the creators and artists of Bola Kampung will give the participants an in-depth introduction to storyboarding and character creation.

Two sessions will be held – one in Penang and the other in Kuala Lumpur – in October.

For a chance to take part in the workshop, Cartoon Network fans are invited to submit their entry by filling in speech bubbles in a still image from Bola Kampung. The image can be found on Astro's website (, along with the submission details.

Bola Kampung airs on Cartoon Network Astro Channel 616) during weekends at 8am. For more information on Snaptoons Kids, Snaptoons or Cartoon Network, visit, and

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Rwanda rescues baby gorilla from poachers

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 09:21 PM PDT

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan authorities have rescued a baby gorilla of the critically endangered mountain species from poachers who said they had bought it for $15,000 in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Police rescued the male mountain gorilla, aged between 8 and 12 months, on Monday night, the authorities said on Tuesday.

"The baby gorilla was found in the hands of three poachers, namely Jean Baptiste Mushebeje, Musabyimana Elia and Tuma Janvier, who are all being held in police custody in Gisenyi," the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement.

"Currently the baby's external conditions show that he is in good health."

Last month, Rwanda handed over six orphaned gorillas to the DRC after poachers smuggled them out of the country to sell as exotic pets or for consumption as bush meat.

Wildlife conservation and endangered species group WWF (World Wildlife Fund) classifies mountain gorillas as critically endangered, with about 680 surviving in the wild, all in central Africa.

However, poaching has decimated populations of the endangered primates and the Rwandan government has vowed to step up efforts to stop trafficking.

The rare mountain gorillas are found in a Ugandan national park or in the Virunga Volcano Region, which straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.

(Editing by James Macharia Gareth Jones)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Libyan TV shows footage of Khamis Gaddafi

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 08:20 PM PDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Libyan state television showed on Tuesday what it said was footage of Muammar Gaddafi's son Khamis, who rebels said last week had been killed, visiting Libyans wounded in an air attack east of Tripoli.

The Libyan government has denied rebel claims that Khamis, commander of one of Gaddafi's most loyal and best-equipped units, had been killed by a NATO air strike near Zlitan.

Still image from video footage by Libyan state television shows what it says is Muammar Gaddafi's son Khamis (L) visiting wounded Libyans in a hospital. Libyan TV said the footage was recorded on August 9, 2011, and if genuine, will be the first visual proof by Gaddafi's government that Khamis is still alive. (REUTERS/Libya TV via Reuters TV)

Libyan TV said the footage was recorded on Tuesday. If genuine, it would be the first visual proof by Gaddafi's government that Khamis Gaddafi was still alive.

Wearing a military uniform and an orange beret and bearing a striking resemblance to Khamis, a man was heard chatting to people the network said were wounded earlier on Tuesday in a NATO air strike on farmhouses near Zlitan.

The government said dozens of civilians were killed in the attack. NATO said it hit a legitimate military target and was investigating the incident.

"They bombed the house. You mean you did not expect to be bombed," Khamis could be heard asking a woman lying in a hospital bed.

(Reporting and writing by Joseph Nasr, editing by Tim Pearce)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Renewed bloodshed as NATO, Gaddafi accounts collide

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 08:20 PM PDT

MAJAR, Libya (Reuters) - In Libya's civil war, where conflicting accusations collide and dusty farmlands have become a battleground, there was little doubt about the conflict's human toll, no matter its nature or numbers.

The scene was gruesome and chaotic in the seaside town of Zlitan on Tuesday as sweaty cameramen and government officials crowded into the tiny, sweltering hospital morgue, clutching scarves and paper masks to protect against the sickening smell.

The sights, as medical workers unzipped some of the body bags lying haphazardly on the floor, were even worse: jumbled body parts coated with blood and dust; a foot stacked the wrong way against someone's corpse; the heartbreaking sight of a limp child still in diapers.

Such is the reality of the Libya conflict more than four months after Western nations began their airstrikes to help a ragtag rebel force defeat troops loyal to longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The allegations from Gaddafi's government on Tuesday that the latest NATO strikes had killed scores of civilians could further strain a campaign that has waning support and no clear end in sight.

Officials in Tripoli, hoping to show the world that NATO bombings have strayed from military targets, rushed foreign reporters onto a bus to witness the aftermath of airstrikes they said had killed 85 civilians - 33 children, 32 women, 20 men - late the night before.

"Only God knows why these people were targeted," said Faraj Mohamed, another resident of the village of Majar, where the isolated farmhouses were struck about 10 kms (six miles) south of the Mediterranean coast.

For residents like Mohamed, mindful of Italy's colonial experiment in Libya and decades of Western interest in its oil riches, the deaths were further proof that no good could come of foreign involvement here.

When reporters arrived, they saw that massive blasts had collapsed the concrete farmhouses, surrounded by high walls in the middle of stubbly, dry fields. Inside, the rubble was littered with blankets, mattresses and children's schoolbooks. There was no evidence of weaponry.

Footage later provided by government officials showed men combing through one of the bomb sites, apparently the night before, picking hands and feet and other body parts out of the rubble. The battered corpse of an infant was placed on a blanket along with the remains of another child.

But onlookers milling around the scene of the strikes the next day had confused and sometimes conflicting narratives. There were neighbors who couldn't remember the names of dead; people who became confused about the death toll; accounts of the series of strikes that were difficult to piece together.

Perhaps people didn't understand the questions posed through interpreters or in foreigners' Arabic; perhaps grieving relatives and neighbors were in shock.

Nor did reporters see more than about 30 corpses throughout the day, though they were told the rest of the bodies were brought to Tripoli or were still trapped in the rubble.

NATO, which accuses Gaddafi forces of housing military assets alongside civilians, said soldiers may have been killed in the strike it said hit a military staging ground south of Zlitan, where nearby rebels are hoping to break a long impasse against Gaddafi.

While NATO said there was no proof civilians had been killed, it is virtually impossible for the alliance to verify who is killed in such strikes.


The confusion on Tuesday was just one example of the murkiness that has characterized a conflict that NATO powers have kept at arms' length and which the Gaddafi government has sought to depict as a Western crusade against Islam.

Rebels claim regularly to seize towns that Tripoli says are firmly in its control. The government accuses NATO of choking off food and power supplies; NATO says Gaddafi is denying his people basic rights. It is often difficult for reporters to verify claims on either side.

The credibility of the rebels' leadership meanwhile has been hit by the mysterious assassination of its military chief.

The scene at the crowded, claustrophobic hospital morgue on Tuesday afternoon was another reminder of the toll the current conflict has taken as Libya drifts back into greater isolation and the body count rises on both sides.

In a nearby hospital room, Majar resident Ali Muftah Hamid Gafez stood by the bed of his wife, Fattiya, whose left leg had apparently been severed the night before.

"I was sitting with my friends in the house, when we suddenly heard the bomb. Then I blacked out," she whimpered, appearing frightened of the crowd of reporters assembled at the foot of her bed.

She pulled the covers up over her head, and waited for the foreigners to leave.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

At 46, Bernard Hopkins ready to face Dawson

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:41 PM PDT

NEW YORK: Bernard Hopkins is moving as fast as ever.

The 46-year-old light heavyweight champ, who won a big bout in late May, will defend his title in October, and wants to fight again in January.

Hopkins will face 29-year-old Chad Dawson in Los Angeles on Oct. 15 with his WBC belt on the line.

"I didn't want to sit," Hopkins said Tuesday after a news conference in New York. "Not at 46."

Hopkins is already thinking about what's next. He wants a rematch against undefeated Joe Calzaghe, to whom he lost in a split decision in 2008. The only problem is the Welshman retired 2 1/2 years ago.

He also would like to be the first boxing star to fight at the Barclays Center, the future Brooklyn home of the NBA's Nets.

But next up is Dawson, who's 30-1 with his lone loss coming to Jean Pascal last year. Hopkins beat Pascal in May to become the oldest fighter to win a major world championship.

"I don't see any way he can beat me," Dawson said.

Dawson described his boxing style as "laid back," and Hopkins immediately started talking about how he needed to get his opponent to fight out of character. That would make it a better bout, dialing up the buzz around Hopkins.

And, of course, that would probably increase the odds of victory for Hopkins, who readily acknowledges trying to get into Dawson's head.

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Tiger 'looks good' in PGA Championship practice round

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:37 PM PDT

JOHNS CREEK (Georgia): Tiger Woods snuck in a quick nine holes Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the PGA Championship, his first major since the Masters.

Woods, paired with Arjun Atwal at the Atlanta Athletic Club, was joined by teacher Sean Foley - who was adjusting and tweaking his star pupil's stance and swing throughout the round. Woods hasn't won a tournament since November 2009 and hasn't won a major since the U.S. Open three years ago.

Atwal, though, said the 14-time major winner was starting to regain his swing.

"He looked good," Atwal said. "He's really flushing it and got that sound again. He just needs more repetitions."

Woods was surrounded by security guards after his round and did not speak to reporters.

He returned last week from a knee injury, tying for 37th at the WGC-Bridgestone.

Woods was easy-going with the large gallery that followed him over the front nine and took mobile phone photos at nearly every turn. He smiled at a little girl walking to the seventh tee and answered, "What's up?" after she called his name. He signed autographs for eager fans following the round.

When Atwal accidentally hit Woods in the leg with an easy practice chip, he asked, "Was that the bad leg?"

"It is now," Woods responded with a smile.

Woods hurt his knee at the Masters last April, then withdrew from The Players Championship after nine holes a month later when the pain got too great. He said he wouldn't compete again until he was fully healthy. Woods started with a 68 at Bridgestone, then gradually fell from contention.

The PGA Championship is the 35-year-old Woods' final chance this year to edge closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors.

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Serena wins in 1st round at Rogers Cup

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:32 PM PDT

TORONTO: Serena Williams earned a 6-0, 6-3 first-round victory over Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko at the Rogers Cup on Tuesday.

The 13-time major winner got through the first set in 16 minutes using her speed and power, as a bewildered Bondarenko scattered across the court helplessly.

Bondarenko put up more resistance in the second, but could do little to contain Williams' imposing serve and forehand.

Canadians Stephanie Dubois and Aleksandra Wozniak also advanced with first-round victories.

Dubois earned a 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over German qualifier Kathrin Woerle to set up a second-round match against fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka, while Wozniak cruised past Israel's Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-0.

No. 10-seeded Andrea Petkovic ousted another Canadian, overcoming a rain delay lasting more than three hours before beating 17-year-old wild-card entry Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-2.

In other action Tuesday: Roberta Vinci beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-4, 6-2; China's Shuai Peng eliminated Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-1, 7-5; and Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues defeated Italy's Sara Errani 7-5, 6-1.

Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski won against Jelena Dokic after the Australian retired in the first set; Italy's Flavia Pennetta was a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Russia's Maria Kirilenko; and Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova won 6-3, 6-4 over Argentina's Gisela Dulko.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

S'pore GDP up 0.9% in Q2

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 07:03 PM PDT

SINGAPORE: The Singapore economy grew 0.9% on a year-on-year basis in the second quarter of 2011 compared with a 9.3% growth recorded in the preceding quarter.

On a seasonally-adjusted quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, the economy contracted by 6.5%, a contrast from 27.2% growth recorded in the preceding quarter.

In a statement today, the Ministry of Trade and Industry also revised 2011's growth forecast to between 5% and 6%, from its earlier forecast of between 5% and 7%.

On a year-on-year basis, the manufacturing sector contracted 5.9% in the second quarter of 2011, while on a sequential basis, the sector contracted by an annualised rate of 23.7%.

This was largely due to a decline in biomedical manufacturing output, as some companies switched to producing a different value mix of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Electronics output also declined, as global demand for semiconductor chips eased.

The construction sector grew by 1.5%, on a year-on-year basis, sustained by increases in public sector construction activities.

On a sequential basis, the sector expanded by an annualised rate of 13.4%.

The wholesale & retail trade sector experienced flat growth on a year-on-year basis, and an annualised sequential decline of 8.4%.

This largely reflected the slowdown in global trade flows during the quarter. The transport & storage sector grew by 4.1%, on account of buoyant air travel demand.

The business services sector registered a weak growth of 2.2% on a year-on-year basis, mainly due to a moderation in the real estate services segment.

Touching on the outlook for 2011, the ministry expressed concern that a double-dip recession had emerged in the United States and that the recent downgrade of US sovereign debts rating has led to financial market volatility and increased uncertainties.

The ministry, however, cautioned that Singapore's economic growth could be lower-than-expected should these situations worsen. - BERNAMA

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US stocks soar, global stocks continue rally (update)

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:49 PM PDT

NEW YORK: The Fed spoke - and financial markets rallied. The Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 429 points, its tenth-highest point gain in history and the biggest since March 2009. It was just one day after the Dow had its worst point decline since 2008.

The Federal Reserve pledged to keep its key interest rate at its record low of nearly zero through the middle of 2013. The central bank also said that it has discussed "the range of policy tools" it can use to spur the economy.

Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at BlackRock, said the Fed's decision to hold interest rates at a very low rate for two years is "unprecedented" and called it a kind of "backdoor quantitative easing." In June, the central bank finished a second round of buying Treasury securities, also known as quantitative easing, in hopes of boosting the economy.

"Markets are going to do what they would have done if the Fed went out and bought securities," Doll said. He said he expects investors will return to stocks after the broad sell-off of the least few weeks.

He expects stocks to continue to rally because a slow-growing U.S. economy won't harm corporate profits. As a whole, the companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index reap more than half their revenue overseas. What's more, companies have already cut costs significantly, have hoarded cash and squeezed more production out of workers. Even as the U.S. economy has slowed, the S&P 500 as a whole was expected to earn record profits this year.

"Corporate America has demonstrated that it can generate good growth and profits despite a weaker U.S. economy," Doll said.

The Dow rose 429.92 points, or 4 percent, to 11,239.77. On Monday, the Dow plunged 634.76 points in the first trading day after Standard & Poor's downgraded the U.S. one notch from its top AAA credit rating to AA+.

The S&P 500 rose 53.07, or 4.7 percent, to 1,172.53.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 124.83, or 5.3 percent, to 2,482.52.

At first, markets reacted much differently to the Fed's statement. Stocks fell as much as 205 points after the Fed's 2:15 p.m. EDT statement.

Gold surged more than $50 per ounce to $1,774. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note briefly touched a record low of 2.03 percent, after closing Monday at 2.34 percent.

An hour later with less than 45 minutes until the market closed, stocks rallied, gold retreated off its high and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note quickly headed higher. It was at 2.26 percent late Tuesday. A bond's yield drops when its price rises.

Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P, called it the "Big Ben turnaround," referring to Fed chair Ben Bernanke.

The industries that did best on Tuesday were the ones that fell the most on Monday. Financial stocks in the S&P 500 rose 8.2 percent after falling 10 percent Monday. Materials companies, which rely on a stronger global economy for their profits, rose 5.9 percent.

Only seven of the 500 stocks in the index had declines. All 30 stocks in the Dow rose. Bank of America Corp., which was down more than 20 percent Monday, rose 16.7 percent, the most of any stock in the Dow. Aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. was up 8 percent.

Technology company MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. led the S&P 500 higher, gaining 19.1 percent.

Boosting the stock market isn't one of the Fed's jobs, but that hasn't stopped investors from parsing every word of the statements made by the Fed and Bernanke.

The Fed's mandate is to keep prices stable and promote low unemployment, not boost stocks. But a stock dive after Fed comments has happened before. On June 3, the stock market suffered a late-day dive when Bernanke spoke at a conference. Investors said they were looking for a hint of new plans to spur economic growth. When that didn't come, all three major indexes sank.

After Bernanke outlined the plan for a second round of quantitative easing in August 2010, the S&P 500 index gained 28 percent over eight months. Investors pointed to that rebound as evidence that quantitative easing worked - and so did Bernanke. This sentiment led some people to believe that if stocks fall too far, the Fed would come to the rescue.

The Fed said in its statement Tuesday that it expects "a somewhat slower pace of recovery over coming quarters." It had said as recently as six weeks ago that temporary factors, such as the high price of gasoline this spring and Japan's March earthquake and tsunami, would end and the economy would grow at a faster pace in the second half of the year. But on Tuesday, the Fed said those factors were only part of the reason that the economy grew at its slowest pace in the first half of 2011 since the recession ended in June 2009. It now expects slower growth over the next two years.

Economists now believe there is a greater chance of a U.S. recession because the economy grew much more slowly in the first half of 2011 than previously thought. The manufacturing and services industries barely grew in July. The unemployment rate remains above 9 percent, despite the 154,000 jobs added in the private sector in July.

Economies across the globe are also struggling.

Worries are growing that Spain or Italy could become the next European country to be unable to repay its debt. High inflation in less-developed countries, which have been the world's main economic engine through the recovery, is another concern. China's inflation rose to a 37-month high in July.

Those economic concerns have pulled attention from stronger corporate earnings this spring.

Dish Network Corp. reported Tuesday that its second-quarter net income rose 30 percent to $334.8 million on stronger revenue. Among the 441 companies in the S&P 500 index that have already reported their second-quarter earnings, profits are up 12 percent from a year ago.

The housing market, though, remains weak. Homebuilder Beazer Homes USA Inc. said its loss widened last quarter after it closed on fewer homes.

Consolidated trading volume was heavy Tuesday, at 9.2 billion shares. Nearly 12 stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

On Tuesday the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 0.3 percent at 5,085.

France's CAC-40 rose 0.8 percent to 3,153.

Germany's DAX though continued to underperform its peers, trading 0.3 percent lower at 5,899.

On Wednesday global stocks continued to rally, with Asian-Pacific markets rising sharply.

Markets in Australia and New Zealand were among the first to open Wednesday and continued Tuesday's rebound.

Japanese stocks were also higher.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX200 index rose 3 percent in early trading to 4,214 points, while New Zealand's benchmark NZX50 was up almost 4 percent by midmorning.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 was up 1.4 percent to 9,073.37 in early trading. - AP

Fed pledges low rates into 2013

WASHINGTON: The Federal Reserve guaranteed super-low interest rates for two more years Tuesday - an unprecedented step to arrest the alarming decline of the stock market and the economy. Wall Street roared its approval and finished a wild day with a 429-point gain.

The rally was remarkably fast - the Dow Jones industrial average was still down for the day with less than an hour of trading to go - and enough to erase two-thirds of its decline the day before.

The Fed set its target for interest rates near zero in 2008 as a response to the financial crisis that fall. Since then, it had said only that rates would stay low for an "extended period." On Tuesday, it guaranteed them until mid-2013.

But it was also a sign that the Fed expects the economy to stay weak for two more years, longer than the Fed had previously indicated. It has already been more than two years since the end of the Great Recession.

The central bank left open the possibility of a third round of bond purchases designed to hold interest rates down and push stock prices up. The second round, announced last year, led to an extended rally for the stock market.

In an unusually volatile day of trading, the Dow finished up 429.92 points, or about 4 percent. It closed at 11,239.77. The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished up 4.7 percent, and the Nasdaq finished up 5.3 percent.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury bond briefly hit a record low, 2.03 percent. Investors have bought government bonds, driving the yields down, even after S&P stripped the United States of its top-of-the-line credit rating last week.

Low interest rates for two more years could make the stock market a better bet because bonds will return less money. That appeared to be at least part of the reason stocks rallied so much after investors had a chance to digest the Fed's statement.

Some analysts also attributed the late-day rally to wording in the Fed's statement suggesting it might take further steps to stimulate the economy in the future.

The stock rally came after two and a half weeks of almost uninterrupted declines. Those were fueled first by uncertainty about the federal debt ceiling, then by concerns that the U.S. economy is headed for a new recession and about out-of-control European debt.

When it came late Friday, the downgrade only added anxiety. On Monday, the first day of trading after it was announced, the Dow fell 634 points. Even counting Tuesday's gains, the Dow is down 11.6 percent since July 21 - almost 1,500 points.

The Fed's announcement of a two-year timeframe for any rate increase underscored a stark reality: A sluggish economy and painfully high unemployment have become chronic.

"The tone of the Fed's statement is very downbeat. They are very nervous about the economy," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "This is unprecedented for the Fed to indicate they are ready to keep rates low for two more years."

Not everyone was as impressed as investors on Wall Street appeared to be. University of Oregon economist Timothy Duy called the move "weak medicine" and said he wanted to see the Fed commit to buying more Treasury bonds.

The Fed did hold out the promise of further help down the road but did not spell out what else it might do.

The central bank's decision was approved on a 7-3 vote with three Fed regional bank presidents who have been worried about inflation objecting. It was the first time since November 1992 that as many as three Fed members have dissented from a policy statement.

Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital, said the dissent suggests that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would have trouble building consensus for another round of bond purchases.

The Fed used significantly more downbeat language to describe current economic conditions. It said so far this year the economy has grown "considerably slower" than the Fed had expected and consumer spending "has flattened out."

It also said that temporary factors, such as high energy prices and the Japan crisis, only accounted for "some of the recent weakness" in economic activity.

The more explicit time frame on the Fed's key interest rate is aimed at calming nervous investors. It offered them a clearer picture of how long they will be able to obtain ultra-cheap credit.

Bernanke didn't speak publicly after Tuesday's Fed meeting. He is expected to speak later this month at the Fed's annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Bernanke will likely address the weakening economy, the S&P downgrade and the market turmoil. - AP

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Germany calls for EU balanced budgets

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:13 PM PDT

BERLIN: Germany urged all members of the 17-nation eurozone on Tuesday to amend their constitutions as quickly as possible to require a balanced budget in a bid to avoid a repeat of the bloc's sovereign debt crisis.

The European Union should also set up a new institution to monitor the member states' competitiveness, keeping budgets and fiscal policies in check, German Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler said.

Roesler, who also serves as the economy minister, says the new body, dubbed stability council, must have the power to act if member states fail to meet certain criteria, ensuring "that their competitiveness will again be reached."

He did not elaborate on the new body's possible powers.

Germany will propose the changes at the next meeting of EU economic and finance ministers, he said.

Roesler vowed to swiftly and fully implement the decisions of the recent EU summit, including the changes to the bloc's European Fund for Southeast Europe overall bailout fund. Funded by the European Union and business donors, it provides long-term funding for micro and small businesses, as well as housing and rural finance.

However, Roesler said those "short-term measures that won't be sufficient" to fix the underlying problem, instead requiring "a new European stability pact."

"We need this new culture of stability in the context of the European Union," he said.

The European Union is in the process of overhauling its so-called Stability and Growth Pact, which was meant to ensure that all members kept their debts below 60 percent of economic output and their deficits below 3 percent. That pact was flaunted by many countries, including Germany, in the years before the crisis.

While Germany initially pushed for stricter and more automatic sanctions on countries breaking the rules, it has since backed a loosening of new proposals from the European Commission, triggering harsh criticism from countries such as the Netherlands and the European Central Bank.

The new proposals, known as the six-pack, are currently stuck at the EU level, where member states, including Germany, are resisting attempts from the European Parliament to toughen the sanction regime.

Chantal Hughes, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, said it has taken note of Roesler's "personal and interesting views." The commission, which is based in Belgium, usually oversees the economic performance of EU states and has consistently backed stricter enforcement of debt and deficit limits.

"The underlying objectives are exactly those of the six pack - so ... the quickest way to advance all this is to conclude the six pack," Hughes added.

Germany itself has adopted a constitutional amendment, the so-called "debt brake," which requires the country to run a budget surplus before interest payment within a few years.

Italy - after coming under pressure amid rising yields on its sovereign bonds - said Friday it would seek to amend its constitution to require the government to balance its budget. - AP

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Lionsgate announces 'Dirty Dancing' remake

Posted: 08 Aug 2011 11:44 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES (AP): "Dirty Dancing" is coming back to the big screen. Lionsgate says it is remaking the 1987 film that starred Jennifer Grey as a naive dance student and Patrick Swayze as her teacher and lover.

The studio said Monday that Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the original film, will direct the remake.

Ortega says he is eager to discover and cast "the next breakout triple-threats" to define dancing for a generation, the way Swayze did in the original "Dirty Dancing."

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Social ills a major theme in The Loan Shark

Posted: 08 Aug 2011 04:59 PM PDT

The Loan Shark gives an insight into the underground money-lending business.

MCA Public Service and Complaints Depart­ment Head Datuk Michael Chong plays himself in a special cameo appearance in locally-made movie The Loan Shark.

"We've read a lot in the papers on how loan sharks resort to inhumane methods of debt collection, but there are always two sides to a story. I pulled out all my files on loan sharks and money-lending issues amassed over 20 years. So, the movie is actually based on true stories," said Chong, who said his scenes are more or less like how he deals with loan shark-related issues in real life.

"In the movie, we judge neither the borrowers nor the lenders. We tried to present a balanced story. Are the ah long (loan shark in Cantonese) who resort to violence to be blamed, or are the borrowers at fault because they refuse to pay back and thus put their families in danger? This is a social problem that the movie addresses," added Chong, who hopes The Loan Shark will give the public a better picture of the underground money-lending business.

Chong attended a press conference last Wednesday to promote the movie with film director C.L. Hor, and actors Jojo Goh and Shawn Lee. The two play lovers who are also loan sharks.

Also known as Dai Yee Loong (loan shark in Cantonese), the RM1.8mil action thriller is Hor's third movie following the romantic The 3rd Generation and martial arts feature Kinta.

"I will further explore social messages and present Chinese culture and values with my next movie (another actioner, tentatively about piracy)," shared the director who is also looking forward to working with his Thai filmmaking counterparts in his next production.

Apart from Goh and Shawn, the movie also features Hong Kong stars Sam Lee, Eddie Cheung, Irene Wan, Lam Suet, Fong Hak On and Rosanne Lui.

The story is about a pair of siblings (played by Goh and Sam Lee) who go undercover to bring to justice the loan sharks who caused the death of their father. Goh spoke of how Shawn suffered his first injury (a deep cut between his brows) on the first day of shooting.

The two were filming a fight scene in a restaurant kitchen when Shawn emerged from the fracas with blood trickling down his face.

"He was chasing me and I was throwing colanders at him while running away when one of them accidentally hit him on the forehead," Goh shared animatedly.

When asked about the daring love scene he shared with Goh in the movie (a more revealing version of the film, meant for European markets), Shawn said in jest: "These are some of the sacrifices we make in the name of art."

Shawn, who is well known in the local kung fu scene as Malaysia's seven-time national martial arts champion, has also featured in other actioners like the country's first martial arts movie Kinta and action comedy I Love Wing Chun, now playing in cinemas.

The Loan Shark is playing in local cinemas.

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When a star wanes

Posted: 08 Aug 2011 04:57 PM PDT

Nicolas Cage is still a marquee name, but for how long?

THESE are hard times for fans of Nicolas Cage, who first grabbed the audience's attention with his strong screen presence in romantic comedies Peggy Sue Got Married in 1986 and Moonstruck in 1987. The strapping twentysomething was able to more than hold his own against veteran actresses Kathleen Turner and Cher, who played his romantic interests in the movies.

For the next eight years, he charmed us with a series of comedies such as It Could Happen To You and art house fare like Wild At Heart, in which he played multi-layered, tortured characters.

In 1995, he capped the early part of his career by winning an Oscar for best actor for his role as a suicidal alcoholic in the low-budget art house film Leaving Las Vegas.

Between then and now, Cage has opted to do many more mainstream movies than the artsy and offbeat films that helped him gain credibility and fans, prompting some critics and fellow actors to label him a sell-out. Still, he gave us multi-dimensional heroes with flaws in several memorable action movies the likes of The Rock, Con Air and National Treasure.

And in the relatively smaller-budget art house movie he made in 2002, Adaptation, he almost snagged the Oscar for Best Actor again.

The ennui for me began last year, when I didn't really know what to make of his supporting role as Big Daddy, the father of Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, the one where he burned to death at the hands of the baddies.

He then pretty much walked through The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a CGI-laden fantasy movie that featured bad cliché-ridden dialogue and worse acting all round. As Balthazar Blake, an ageless sorcerer, he looked tired and worn out, and was easily upstaged by Alfred Molina as Maxim Horvath, his evil fellow disciple of Merlin.

The disappointment continued this year with yet another foray into the fantasy genre. Season Of The Witch featured just as cheesy dialogue and typical action scenes in films about knights and demons which are able to possess the dead.

His latest, Drive Angry, about a father breaking out of hell to rescue his granddaughter who is going to be sacrificed by a cult leader, is a showcase of another underwhelming performance by the actor who was once regarded as a living great.

Four dud characters in a row is a bit hard to accept for an actor of Cage's calibre. After all, before this horrific streak came along, he had done quite well in 2009 with Knowing and Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. His competent performances explained why audiences paid to watch him in action, especially in his turn as a coke-snorting detective with a nice streak of luck in Bad Lieutenant.

Fellow actor Robert De Niro recently seemed to be losing his touch, with forgettable supporting roles in Limitless and Meet The Parents franchise.

The Academy Award-winning actor who made Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) among other classics, has been panned for taking on roles that required little to do apart from indulging in his famous scowl.

But De Niro is already 67 years old, a full 20 years senior to Cage. At 47 in 1990, De Niro was still winning fans over with his role as a mobster in the critically acclaimed hit Goodfellas and as a patient who came out of a catatonic state after decades only to lapse back into it again in the poignant Awakenings.

De Niro also went on to make many more good movies such as playing a psychopath in Cape Fear and as the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It is way too early for Cage to be strolling onto his movies.

It doesn't help that in his personal life, Cage is also courting controversy. His short-lived marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, the king of rock 'n' roll's daughter, was an interesting snippet in 2002. But his marriage in 2004 at the age of 40 to then-20-year-old Alice Kim smacked of cradle-snatching, although most of us, as with the rest of the Hallyu-wave-smitten world, understand how charming the Koreans can be.

Sometime back in April, a "heavily intoxicated" Cage banged on parked cars and shouted at police officers after getting into an argument with his wife over the location of the house they were renting. He eventually escaped official prosecution, but the court of public opinion is not quite in his favour.

Cage's almost indiscriminate choice of projects has been attributed to some of his financial troubles with the US Inland Revenue Service, to which he still owes millions of dollars. But the problem goes much deeper than that. Cage is no stranger to low-budget movies and offbeat characters. In the past, he had been able to make himself stand out from the rest of the cast with an onscreen intensity that is second to none regardless of the quality of the cinematography or the co-stars.

In his last four outings, however, he looks out of place, especially in Kick-Ass, where Hit-Girl Chloe Moretz was the scene-stealer. I actually felt relieved when Cage's character died.

His next movie is something I am looking forward to with trepidation – I am still a fan, but I am not sure if I would be willing to pay to watch him if he continues to put in lacklustre performances that have me wishing his characters would just die.

Cage's reputation is already assured for posterity with his current body of work, but there are surely many more good years in him. It would be such a shame if the last two years are not just a blip, but an indicator of what to expect from him from here on.

In this column, writer Hau Boon Lai ponders the lives, loves and liberties of celebrities.

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The Star Online: Nation

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RMAF to close Sungai Besi base from Nov 30

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 08:34 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is set to close the Sungai Besi air base from Nov 30 and it will only be operational for helicopters.

RMAF chief Tan Sri Rodzali Daud said aircraft operations would be relocated to other RMAF airports and air bases.

"This is to enable 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) to start preparing the groundwork for the 1Malaysia people's housing project," he told reporters after presenting a RM2,500 cheque to runner Suwaibah Muhammad Nasir, who will take part in a gruelling run across the Sahara desert, at the RMAF Museum here Tuesday.

Government-owned strategic development company, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the master developer for Bandar Malaysia, signed the sale and purchase agreement with the federal land commissioner for the transfer of 196.6ha of Sungai Besi airport land to 1MDB in June.

On the RMAF museum and mosque, Rodzali said the RMAF wished to keep the assets even after the Sungai Besi air base ceased operation.

"However, we are still in discussion with 1MDB on relocation of assets, infrastructure and existing facilities from the air base such as logistics, squadrons, accommodation and officer mess to new bases in Subang and Sendayan as well as Kuantan.

"What is most important at the moment is to create and build a command and control system at the new base in Subang to enable the operations here to be transferred there," he said, adding that he expected the entire development and transfer would be completed in 2016.

He said the RMAF Subang air base would operate as the command and control centre while the proposed Sendayan air base would be for flight training and Kuantan would house other assets. - Bernama

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Hammer may have been weapon in brutal murders of woman, boy

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 07:16 AM PDT

SHAH ALAM: A hammer is believed to be among the weapons used in the murders of a woman who was dismembered and a boy, in Taman Kosas, Ampang, Selangor, on Wednesday, Selangor police revealed.

State police chief Datuk Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah said Tuesday that injuries on the victims had the marks of hammer blows.

Autopsy experts were analysing the bodies before announcing the cause of death of the two victims, he told reporters here.

He said more than 100 people have been interviewed and statements taken from 40 witnesses so far, in relation to the case.

Police have also recorded statements from a man said to be the husband of the murdered woman.

"The man said the woman disappeared after July 29. He realised this as the woman had not returned home."

Body parts of the woman were found in several plastic bags along with the dead boy in an unoccupied apartment. - Bernama

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PAS Youth supports church raid

Posted: 09 Aug 2011 06:48 AM PDT

SHAH ALAM: The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) used its prerogative to raid a function at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church last week, PAS Youth said, adding the movement backed the action.

PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan said it supported the Jais action on the principle that the department was keeping the akhlak (conduct) of the Muslims in check.

"Basically, the role of Jais is to protect the sanctity of Islam.

"There should not be any doubt on the action it took. Instead, it should be supported," Nasrudin said after meeting Selangor executive councillor Datuk Dr Hasan Ali at his office here Tuesday.

Saying Dr Hasan had shown him strong "evidence" that led to the raid, Nasrudin said he was satisfied with the explanation given by the state exco member.

Urging critics not to be prejudiced, Nasrudin said Jais was merely carrying out its duty.

Related Stories:
Don't politicise Jais church raid'
PAS wants to hear from Jais and church before offering a solution
PAS to help resolve Jais church raid controversy
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Hasan must explain and show proof of his allegation, says PAS
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Church raid uproar

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Bigger bounty from BookFest 2011

Posted: 08 Aug 2011 07:10 PM PDT

THE first time BookFest@Malaysia opened its doors to the public in 2006, the organisers waited with bated breath to see whether the response would live up to their expectations. They need not have worried; 320,000 people visited, it was a roaring success, and they decided to do it again the next year.

Now in its sixth consecutive year, the annual event organised by Popular Book Company (M) Sdn Bhd, is back with this year's theme "One Book, One World".

"I've travelled to countries where book fairs are held – China, Singapore, Thailand, Britain or the United States – and the sheer diversity of books is something which I find really special. Reading is something universal and a book can open up a whole new world to the reader. That is why this year, we decided that we would go with this theme," says executive director Lim Lee Ngoh, who has been in the book industry for 25 years.

The BookFest has grown in leaps and bounds, from catering more to readers of Chinese books to where it stands today, with equal space dedicated to the newly-named English and Chinese Pavilions this year. Also new this year is the Lifestyle Pavilion occupying a floor of its own where stationery, music and multimedia products are housed.

Last year, a record turnout of 600,000 people visited the BookFest at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, an estimated 40% of which were visitors from outside Klang Valley. While the turnout was extremely encouraging, it was clear that the space allocated was no longer sufficient for the enthusiastic crowd, say Lim.

"On some days, particularly during a public holiday and weekend, we had people waiting at the entrance because they couldn't enter the hall. There were just too many people inside," she relates.

Therefore, steps have been taken this year to meet the demand and enhance the BookFest experience.

"We work very hard to improve the BookFest each year. This time around, we are taking a big step in expanding its scale, both in terms of number of titles and space, to provide customers with more variety and comfort.

"It's a turning point for us, it's a new leaf, a new page; the Lifestyle Pavilion has more than doubled in area, and the English and Chinese books will be divided into two distinct sections. In total, the space occupied will be 125,000 sq ft (11,613 sq m), a 25% increase from last year," Lim says.

With 618 booths (including the 119 booths at the Lifestyle Pavilion), over 60,000 different book titles and even better deals (including daily specials) up for grabs this year, the BookFest is book heaven for book lovers.

Not all books at the fest will be available in bookstores, so if you're a keen collector, it would be advisable to check out the event. With books organised by genre and subject – fiction, teens' fiction, non-fiction, children's books, academic references, professional, self-help, health, art and craft, travel and so on – this year's BookFest will also feature "100 Most Meaningful Books of All Time", "Best Asian Writing" and about 50 titles from the "Oprah's Book Club" at the Popular Pavilion.

"We worked with local vendors and made trips to Britain, the United States and Canada to select books to highlight in the 100 Most Meaningful Books of All Time. To add character to the browsing and shopping experience at the BookFest, we have also created concept themes like the Silver Screen at the Fiction section, Cafe de Popular at the Cookbook section and Dinoland at the Children's section," says Lim.

And it's not just about books at the BookFest.

Throughout the nine-day event, there will be author appearances, talks and autograph signing sessions. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad will be present at the launch of the Chinese edition of his bestselling memoir, A Doctor In The House. And if you've always wanted to meet writers like Amir Muhammad, Anas Zubedy, Patrick Teoh, Russell Lee and Shamini Flint, just to name a few, here's your chance.

Lim says that cookbooks have always had a loyal following and at the BookFest, so an entire section will be dedicated to it. For fans of cooking demonstrations, the Cook-Out Day at the English Pavilion will feature cooking demonstrations on Sept 3. (At the Chinese Pavilion, another series of demonstrations will be held two day earlier, on Sept 1.)

There will also be colouring competition for the kids, quiz shows and the Readers' Choice Awards featuring local writers and publishers.

On your way to the Lifestyle Pavilion upstairs, check out the Discover and Learn exhibition on the same floor and find out how the world's tallest pencil, currently located in Subang Jaya, Selangor, and standing at an impressive 19.75m, was constructed, and how eco-friendly paper is made from palm fibre. At the Buy and Win contest at Lifestyle Pavilion, a total amount of RM27,000 worth of gift vouchers will be given out.

"Like last year, we are also going to have a charity drive this year – the One Care, One Hope Charity Campaign. Part of the proceeds from sales of Malaysian actress Lee Sinje's bilingual book, The Rosy Bag Of Little Yellow Flower, and Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao's Joyful Dover tote bag will be donated to Hope Education Foundation and Qing Ping Le Old Folks' Home," says Lim, adding that they are very excited that Liao will be present for the first time at the event as they have been trying to get him to come to the BookFest every year, ever since it started!

From being largely a bilingual BookFest this year (there is a small section dedicated to Malay books), Lim predicts that, given the rate at which the Malay readership is increasing, there will come a time where it will be equally trilingual.

"Most of the book fairs around the world has books only in one language. In Malaysia, we are able to have multi-lingual book fairs and this is something we are very proud of. It's a very unique positioning," she says.

Lim hopes that the BookFest continues to grow and that they would eventually be able to bring in authors from the West to come to Malaysia.

"Currently we have local authors and international authors from countries like China, Singapore and Taiwan. It is difficult to get the Western authors. Many think that the market here is too small. But we hope that in the future we will be able to convince them to visit," she says.

She believes that the Singapore-born company, having been around since 1984 in Malaysia and now boasting 67 outlets in the country, has gathered enough experience, knowledge and goodwill in its 27 years here to be in a good position to organise successful large-scale events like this BookFest. A lot of work goes into it; the first meeting to discuss preparations for the BookFest was held six months ago, in February. Lim says she is proud of her team and glad that customers have put their trust in Popular and believed in their cause.

"I believe that the reading habit is not something that happens automatically; it has to be nurtured and encouraged. We have a responsibility to promote reading and the BookFest contributes to this mission.

"It's many months of planning and preparation, and it takes a lot of time, energy and focus. Without the support of our customers, we couldn't have expanded the BookFest and grown so much in the last years. We have grown from strength to strength and we hope to continue to evolve and improve," she says.

Star Publications (M) Bhd is the BookFest@Malaysia 2011 media partner.

BookFest@Malaysia 2011 will be held from Aug 27 to Sept 4 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from 10am-10pm daily.

Admission to the BookFest is with purchase of the BookFest catalogue (which comes with an extra edition for the Lifestyle Pavilion this year) for RM2.50 per entry or RM10 for multiple entries over the nine days. They are available at all Popular and Harris bookstore outlets now or at the BookFest entrance. Entrance is free for students 18 years old and below and for senior citizens aged 60 and above.

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Fortune smiles on Susan Conley

Posted: 08 Aug 2011 07:09 PM PDT

SHE wrote a memoir about living in Beijing as an expat. So what? Lots of expats living in Asian countries do that. They write tongue-in-cheek about experiences foreign to them but quite normal to us living on this side of the world.

Often, the writing is clichéd, giving a highly exoticised view of our world, when in fact our countries are often as modern, if not more so, than their home countries. Our fashion and technology move faster, our culture is growing in tandem, and our infrastructure reaching world class.

So what makes Susan Conley's recently released book, The Foremost Good Fortune, any different? Is it just another foreigner talking about assimilating into our culture while making snide and slightly condescending observations, disguised as humour, about our idiosyncrasies?

Actually, no. For one thing, Conley, 43, has a fluid, writing style that catches the nuances of living in Asia effortlessly. Her writing becomes the vessel through which you see her world, with neither prejudice nor preconceptions marring the view. It is simply her, observing her environment and bringing the reader along for the ride.

For another, she punctuates each experience with a lot of soul, making the readers feel her homesickness as she tries to rally her children to face a world just as unknown to her.

The words she chooses are lyrical and powerful, probably influenced by her love of and experience with poetry. She studied poetry in college (Middlebury College) and graduate school (San Diego State University) in America and was a poetry and literature professor at Emerson College in Boston.

She admits poetry informs all her writing, making it more concrete and image-based. It also makes her more willing to be open to the use of metaphors.

"I was very married to poetry for a number of years. I am grateful for the time I spent with poems, learning concision and distillation, and I am now equally glad to be trying the longer narrative forms," she says in an e-mail interview.

In 2007, she went to China to live for two and a half years – husband Tony Kieffer, a fluent Mandarin speaker, had been asked to work with China's state-owned banks – and that was about the amount of time it took her to write the book. It was written in real time, so there was no benefit of hindsight.

It started out as a travelogue, about what happens when you take two small kids, aged four and six, to live in Beijing who do not speak the language or know one friend. Conley got about 100 pages of that written – and then was diagnosed with cancer. That, of course, shifted the book's focus to also include the theme of disease.

The foreign city that welcomed her family soon became home. Conley loved the juxtaposition of old and new, ancient and post-modern. "I would often wake up in Beijing and take a walk downtown to a hutong (narrow alleyway) and feel like I had stepped back in time. But then, I would explore a new uber-mall the next day and feel like I had flashed forward to another century," she says.

"My family and I confronted cancer in China and so that made Beijing a difficult place to be for a while. but I do not equate cancer and Beijing now, and I think our door is open wide to the idea of living in China again."

Conley and her family just spent three weeks travelling in China in June, seeing old friends and connecting the dots of their old life there. Conley feels it is important for her sons, Aidan and Thorne (now aged eight and 10 respectively), who have so many great memories of Beijing.

Now that the book is out and Conley has put cancer behind her, she has gone back to working on a novel that was started before her family moved to Beijing. She wrote an initial draft of this novel before she began writing the memoir, so she has had to keep shifting between fiction and memoir and back again.

An important difference between the two forms is voice, says Conley.

"The voice of a memoir is consistent and discrete, once the writer lands on the 'right' voice for their project. But fiction is polyphonic and calls much more on the imagination and on the balancing of several interwoven stories at once.

"It's worth mentioning that the poetry I studied in college and graduate school has also come into play in both my fiction and my memoir. Poetry has served me well, as it has grounded all my writing in image," says Conley.

"(In writing), what has probably been my driving impulse is an urge to convey a very woman-centric look at the humanity of people, especially of children. I am so moved by and respectful of writers who seem to be able to offer you a glimpse of an entire world they have offered up in the pages of one single book. It is the power of story to allow us to transcend our own lives and enter into the lives of others in an act of deep communication and empathy," she says.

She is finishing a draft of that novel right now. It will come out with Knopf with a targeted publication date of January 2013.

Conley calls herself a morning writer. In her home (in Maine, in American's north-east), she wakes up early in the morning and sifts through the most important thoughts for her writing in the coming day: perhaps a certain character needs more developing, or a scene needs more background detail to provide important context for neighbouring scenes, or a passage needs more dialogue.

She is a big student of dialogue. "I believe it can do a lot of work for a writer when it is used well," she says.

She goes over these early morning thoughts and then she feeds her sons breakfast and takes them to school. "And if the writing gods are with me, I am able to go straight back to my small writing studio in my attic and begin to work on the ideas hatched earlier that morning," she says.

Another project that's close to her heart is The Telling Room, which she co-founded in 2004. It is a creative writing lab, essentially a creative writing centre for kids of all ages that she started with two writer friends in downtown Portland, Maine's biggest city.

Now that she is back in the United States, she is very much involved in The Telling Room again. "Our mission is to honour the act of simple storytelling and to get the kids in our community writing. I believe that if kids can be inspired by wonderful, nurturing teachers who are actual writers themselves, then light bulbs might go off in the children's heads," she says.

"I have found that when you ask kids to write their stories – the story of how they immigrated to the United States or how they learned how to hula hoop or how their grandmother died – you offer these students a chance to write themselves into 'being'. The kids often achieve an emotional literacy that they weren't even aiming for. It is a wonderful by-product of writing.

"I believe so many kids want to tell the stories of their life, but they haven't been asked, or their story hasn't been listened to or valued while they told it," she says.

The centre has surpassed her original goals, and now she and her team have made a series of new goals for it to reach even more kids and offer even more innovative writing workshop programming.

Her own kids will probably have intriguing tales of their own to tell about their sojourn in this part of the world....

The Foremost Good Fortune is available in all major Malaysian bookstores nationwide.

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