Ahad, 25 Disember 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Japan urges China to help keep in check North Korea

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 08:39 PM PST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Japan urged China on Monday to shoulder a big role in ensuring that North Korea avoids volatile moves despite uncertainties created by the death of Pyongyang's leader, Kim Jong-il.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda shakes hands with China's President Hu Jintao (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 26, 2011. Noda told his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Sunday their two nations share an interest in preserving stability on the Korean peninsula after the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea's long-time leader. Japan and China agreed to start formal talks early next year on a free trade pact that would also include South Korea, Noda said on Sunday after talks that showed the deepening bonds between Asia's two biggest economies. REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also nudged Chinese President Hu Jintao to share information about developments in North Korea, where the succession of Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has fanned speculation about who will really control the secretive one-party state and its nuclear weapons programme.

"It is important that we will not let the death of the Chairman of the National Defence Commission Kim have a negative impact on the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," Noda was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Hu in Beijing.

Kim Jong-il's many titles included head of the military.

"Under these circumstance, the role of China, which is the chair country of the six-party talks and has a big influence on North Korea, is extremely important," said Noda, according to the official who brief reporters on condition that he remained anonymous.

The Japanese prime minister was the first regional leader to visit Beijing since Kim Jong-il's death was announced a week ago, putting Kim Jong-un in formal charge of North Korea, which has long relied on China for diplomatic and economic support.

China has also sought to defuse confrontation by hosting six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003. The now-stalled negotiations bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Noda also urged China to be forthcoming about what it learns about the North's transition -- something Beijing, with its intensively secretive relationship with Pyongyang, appears unlikely to do.

"I would like vigorous information sharing between Japan and China, and intend to address the situation calmly and properly," Noda was quoted as telling Hu on the second and final day of his visit to the Chinese capital.

Pyongyang has alarmed the region with two plutonium-based nuclear test blasts, a succession of military altercations, and declarations that it is developing uranium enrichment, which could open another path to assembling atomic weapons.

Constraining North Korea is especially important for Japan, which lies within range of the North's long-range missiles and wants Pyongyang to resolve the visceral issue of the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped to help train spies decades ago.

In April 2009, North Korea said it was quitting the six-party talks and reversing nuclear "disablement" steps, unhappy with implementation of an initial disarmament deal.

But Beijing is acutely wary of upsetting North Korea, especially during the current delicate transition, and has restricted its public comments about the implications of Kim's death to broad calls for stability and calm.

"Both sides agreed that preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula serves the interests of all sides," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its account of talks on Sunday between Noda and Premier Wen Jiabao.

The Chinese media did not immediately offer Beijing's account of Hu's meeting with Noda.

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Seven people shot dead in Texas apartment

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 08:18 PM PST

GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) - Police in Texas found the bodies of seven people in a Dallas-area apartment on Sunday, all shot to death and surrounded by newly unwrapped Christmas presents, authorities said.

A crime scene photographer is silhouetted against blood splattered window blinds in an apartment where seven people were shot and killed on Christmas day in Grapevine, Texas, December 25, 2011. Police in Texas found the bodies in a middle-class Dallas-area apartment on Sunday surrounded by opened Christmas presents, all of whom appeared to have been shot to death. They said the victims included four women and three men, and the shooter was among the dead. REUTERS/Darrell Byers

Police in the town of Grapevine said the dead included four women and three men, one of them the apparent gunman in what investigators believe was a murder-suicide, and that all appeared to be members of the same family.

Two handguns were recovered from the apartment, said Sergeant Robert Eberling of the Grapevine police department, who called it a "gruesome crime scene" and the worst massacre in that town's history.

A community of about 46,000 people some 20 miles northwest of central Dallas, Grapevine is known for its wine-tasting salons and was recently proclaimed by the state Senate as the "Christmas Capital of Texas" for its abundance of annual holiday-season events.

"This is obviously a terrible tragedy," Mayor William Tate said in a statement given to Reuters. "The fact that it happened on Christmas makes it even more tragic. This appears to be a family situation and anyone who has a family will be incredibly saddened by that happened."

Police responding to a 911 emergency call at around 11:30 a.m. local time found the bodies in the first-floor living room of a two-story unit in the Lincoln Vineyards apartments, police said. No one reported hearing any gunshots.

The 911 caller never spoke to police, and officers did not see the telephone when they went into the home. Eberling said he believed police had to kick in the door to enter.

The circumstances of the shooting remained unclear. However, the victims appeared to have been opening Christmas gifts when the shooting occurred, and there was no visible sign of forced entry or a struggle, police said.

"By all appearances, they're all part of the same family," Eberling said, adding that the victims were believed to have been "celebrating Christmas" when the shooting unfolded.

"It's a gruesome crime scene to say the least, with that many victims in that area suffering gunshot wounds," he said.

Two of the dead were believed to be in their 50s or 60s, while the others appeared to be young adults, about 18 to 20, according to police.

Authorities did not immediately identify the victims and did not speculate on a possible motive for the shooting.

Police said there were no survivors at the apartment when they arrived. Eberling said none had been dead for very long.

As of 7:30 p.m., about eight hours after they were found, all seven bodies remained in the apartment, and investigators were expected to continue processing the crime scene late into the night, Eberling said.

Lincoln Vineyards is a middle-income complex near Colleyville Heritage High School, one of the area's most highly regarded schools.

Several neighbors told Reuters that children frequently played in front of the apartment, and they regularly saw young adults leaving for work. They added that they did not know the residents personally.

Several apartment residents stood outside, visibly shaken, and one of them crying, while investigators gathered evidence from the crime scene.

Vanessa Barerra said the killings were especially disturbing in light of Grapevine's reputation as a place to live.

"I did research and chose to live here because of the safety and the school district," she said. "I'm glad my kids weren't here. They're with their dad."

(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman and Karen Brooks; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Bohan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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13 found dead in truck in eastern Mexico - local media

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 06:26 PM PST

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Thirteen bodies were found in an abandoned truck in eastern Mexico on Sunday, local media reported, as a turf war between drug cartels spreads far from the border with the United States.

The truck was found during a routine security patrol near the border between the eastern states of Veracruz, a major oil-producing region, and Tamaulipas, local media said, citing state officials.

Messages left at the site suggested the dead were killed in a rivalry between criminal gangs, local media said.

Violent drug cartels that have long menaced Mexico's northern border with the United States have moved into states like Veracruz as they battle rivals for control of drug routes and other criminality.

On Thursday, three American citizens were killed in Veracruz when gunmen attacked the bus in which they were travelling.

On Friday, the tortured bodies of ten people were found in Veracruz as a turf war between the Zetas gang and Gulf drug cartels intensifies.

In September, 35 bodies were dumped along a downtown highway in the Veracruz city of Boca del Rio.

More than 45,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006. (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; editing by Todd Eastham)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Surreal meal with Bob Blumer

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 11:30 PM PST

Spending a day in LA with her favourite TV chef has given a fan insights into more than just food.

FROM poaching salmon in the dishwasher to cheating death while attempting to detoxify and eat the poisonous fugu, Bob Blumer is a true bon vivant culinary adventurer and an uber competitive adrenaline junkie.

A home cook like me is always inspired after every Surreal Gourmet episode, watching the TV chef whip up easy recipes that are consistently infused with the wow factor. I find myself breathing a sigh of relief every time he triumphs over an epicurean challenge around the globe in his latest series, Glutton For Punishment,

Yes, I am a fan of Surreal Gourmet. It all started when I first caught Blumer on TV whipping up magic in his toaster mobile. Yes, even when he sported that madman scientist hairdo! When I'm not running around Kuala Lumpur on consulting engagements, I spend my time mostly in the kitchen, turning simple ingredients into delicious, gourmet-looking dishes.

So I was over the moon when my entry won the grand prize in a contest organised by TLC (formerly Discovery Travel and Living Channel) as part of its rebranding exercise. Subscribers in Asia were given a chance to win a "TLC Experience of a Lifetime" from four trip options: visit New Jersey to sample Cake Boss Buddy Valastro's delicious creations at his bakery; enjoy a home-cooked feast with Surreal Gourmet's Bob Blumer at his home in Hollywood; sip tea with Bobby Chinn in the Middle East; or join host Janet Hsieh on her show, Fun Taiwan.

My choice? It was easy.

We arrived in Los Angeles (LA) a day before our scheduled meeting withBlumer. On the way to the hotel, my mobile phone suddenly rang.

"Hi, may I speak to Erna?" Recognising the voice from TV, I tried hard not to squeal in excitement. "Hi, this is your TV chef, Bob Blumer. Welcome to Los Angeles!"

We said our hellos and arranged to meet at his place at 7.30am the next day. I put down the phone and turned to my husband (my plus one for the trip), smiling from ear to ear.

Having read that Blumer lives in Hollywood Hills in the shadows of the iconic Hollywood sign, I almost jumped upon seeing the sign on our way there. The chauffer took us up a hilly, narrow road with houses of Mediterranean, English and French architecture on both sides. Tucked at the end of the road, high on a hill, was Blumer's house.

"Come on up you guys!" he greeted us from his window. We walked up a flight of stairs and it sure was surreal seeing him right in front of us. Blumer led us to his hall, which opens to a dining corner, next to which is the kitchen, which I immediately recognised from his books.

The Surreal Gourmet kitchen is equipped with a vintage gas stove and fridge, a dishwasher and an old butcher block – which Blumer calls "the centre of my kitchen universe". The century-old block was bought from a butcher in his hometown, Montreal, Canada.

Colourful collectibles and cooking paraphernalia, an avocado mandolin, unique-looking martini glasses, Barbie dolls, and a candy spice rack, which fans would surely recognise, command pride of place on his kitchen countertops and cabinets.

Blumer fixed us coffee and made tea for himself. He then took a big bag of vegetables, which he said were scraps from the farmers' market, and suggested that we feed his girls. Girls? Yes, in his garden was a chicken coop for his four hens – Yolko, Mimi, Josephine and Lucinda.

The garden is one big, tiered, beautiful compound of lush greenery. He took us around, treated us to fresh kumquats and showed us Buddha's hands, pomegranate trees, fat green limes and kaffir lime trees before we sat down to discuss what to do for the day. Armed with his latest cook book, Blumer planned the dinner menu with us before heading to the Hollywood Farmers Market to source for ingredients.

The trip to the market was indeed educational. I learnt how to spot good asparagus, tasted organic walnut oil for the first time, saw live sea urchins, found out that asiago is a type of cheese (after commenting on the unique name of the bread Blumer had bought!) and saw fava beans in abundance (they were in season then).

Blumer obviously had his chef hat on as he uttered new ideas every time he laid eyes on a different produce. "Why don't we have these squash blossoms?" he said upon seeing a lady buying beautiful golden orange-hue squash blossoms from a stall. "These wild mushrooms are going to be good sautéed!" he continued.

He kept asking for scraps from the vegetable vendors, saying they were for his hens. Aren't they lucky? Well, as he said, "Hollywood chicks get to indulge in Hollywood veggies!"

I could see why Blumer loves the market. It offers a fantastic variety of the freshest California-grown fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, free-range poultry and eggs, as well as Mexican, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and other ethnic foods.

We were done shopping in an hour and our trolley was full. We were supposed to reconvene at Blumer's place for dinner at 6.30 but he asked us to go back at 3pm instead to help him prepare the meal. Which meant more time with him! Am I lucky?

Blumer had just returned from his bicycle ride in the canyon when we arrived later that afternoon. When he is not travelling, he cycles at least 25km every day. "This is the only way I can eat and drink everything!" he explained.

We spent about two hours preparing dinner, during which many details were uncovered, like how real his Glutton For Punishment episodes are; alcohol substitutes in food; his favourite chefs; the four trash bins he has in his kitchen (for normal waste, recyclables, compost and chicken feed); his upcoming new show (World's Weirdest Restaurants), and his latest book, Glutton For Pleasure – recipes and anecdotes from his 20 years as the Surreal Gourmet, and Guinness world record-breaking and punishment-seeking glutton.

We had dinner on the roof deck. "That's the Capitol Records building, the beams you see are Morse codes spelling the word Hollywood, and over that hill is the Hollywood Bowl. Whenever there is a concert and the wind is strong, I can hear the music from over the hills," said Blumer, who was clad in a batik shirt we had brought from home.

Dinner kick-started with Green Garlic Onion Soup Shooters. It was light, very subtle and refreshing, and all the ingredients worked harmoniously. Bolanis (thin, light pancakes) with wild mushrooms and poached eggs (courtesy of his Hollywood hens) followed. "The secret to a perfectly poached egg lies in this bottle," Blumer said, holding up a bottle of white vinegar. "A dash of this is all it needs."

His famed Coconut Shrimp Lollipops were next. The shrimps, secured on bamboo skewers, had been dipped in a batter of flour, egg, coconut water and cayenne pepper, then rolled in freshlygrated coconut before they were deep fried. The verdict? The mixture of succulent shrimp, sweet fresh coconut and tropical apricot-ginger dip was perfect, leaving us wanting more.

For the next course, Blumer served us grilled Blistered Corn and Asparagus pizza. In his garden, where his BBQ set is placed, he gave us a tutorial on the different grill configurations and direct and indirect heat concepts. In less than 15 minutes, the pizza was ready. The brilliant combination of crispy, smoky crust and flavourful toppings made us melt with amore! I don't think I will look at pizzas the same way again.

The main course was the chef's signature Lamb Cupcakes – braised lamb meat served in cupcake liners with icing made of beetroot potato puree.

Earlier that day, Blumer had taken out the lamb from the freezer and happily showed us the Halal sticker on the package. He had gone sourcing for it throughout LA upon learning about our dietary requirements. The cupcakes were intensely meaty and rich and the presentation perfectly fit the Surreal Gourmet's mantra, "The first taste is with the eyes."

We had Chocolate Kiss Wontons for dessert – deep fried wonton skin filled with dollops of peanut butter, slices of ripe bananas and chocolate caramel candies. Absolutely divine!

The one day spent with Blumer has given me a new perspective not only on food, cooking and entertainment but also life in general. One key take-away for me from the Glutton for Punishment is to constantly make new challenges for yourself so you have something to strive towards. And in the process, you will inspire those around you.

I went to LA as a fan of the TV chef. Now I'm a bigger fan of Bob Blumer the person, who is full of character, down-to-earth (he has absolutely no airs) and obviously passionate about everything he does.

We remain friends after the trip. After our first meeting, I was given the chance to invade Blumer's kitchen and host a full Malaysian dinner for him and his Hollywood friends. We also met up when he was down in KL for a corporate event recently.

The surreal day in LA has indeed made 2011 a surreal year for me.

> Erna Malia Mohd Rajion is a freelance management consultant based in Kuala Lumpur.

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Christmas Day duel sees Camper lead threatened

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 04:55 AM PST

ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - Leading boats Camper and Telefonica entered the final phase of battle in the first stage of leg two of the Volvo Ocean Race with just 12 nautical miles separating them on Christmas Day after 13 days at sea.

The Spanish/New Zealand entry Camper were only just holding on, with overall leaders Telefonica making big inroads in the three hours to 1000 GMT on Sunday as the two sped towards the secret safe haven port in the Indian Ocean.

The identity of the stop-off location has been kept confidential as organisers feared an attack by pirates on the state-of-the-art boats which cost around $10 million apiece to build.

First to the port will win 24 points, with 20 going to second. Camper are three points behind Telefonica on the overall leaderboard so first place would be enough to put them in front.

Camper crew member Hamish Hooper said they were trying to concentrate on the job in hand rather than the Christmas Day festivities going on at home.

"It's Christmas Day on board Camper and unfortunately for the guys there isn't a huge amount of energy to be put into it," he said. "Not that they don't want to, they have all been up throughout the entire night frantically working our way through squall after squall in what turned out to be some very hard and bumpy conditions.

"The finish line is getting closer, and all everyone onboard Camper really cares about for Christmas is crossing it before any other boat does. Then there will be time to celebrate."

From the secret port in the Indian Ocean, the boats will be placed on an armed ship and transported to a point near Sharjah on the Northern Emirates coast. From there they will complete leg 2 into Abu Dhabi.

In all, the Volvo Ocean Race last over eight months and covers 39,000 nautical miles, visiting 10 countries.

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Eei Hui-Pei Tty sent packing by Singaporean pair

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 03:27 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian number one Chin Eei Hui-Wong Pei Tty put up an uninspiring show and were promptly sent packing in the women's doubles semi-finals of the India Open GP Gold badminton tournament in Lucknow yesterday.

The former world number two found the going tough against Singaporeans Shinta Mulia Sari and Yao Lei, losing 18-21, 15-21.

It was a far cry from their performance on Friday where they were in their element in the 21-13, 21-17 win over Vita Marissa-Nadya Melati of Indonesia.

The only good thing is that Eei Hui and Pei Tty, who were first-round casualties in last month's China and Macau Opens, managed to pick up some valuable Olympic rankings points.

They are currently 20th and need to finish in the top 16 to qualify for next year's London Olympics.

"We are a little bit disappointed because we could have played a much better game," said Eei Hui.

"Overall, we are playing better now compared to last month. Our movement and combination on court have improved too. The only problem is our inconsistency and we need to get it right before the next tournament," added Eei Hui.

The upcoming women's doubles pair of Woon Khe Wei-Vivian Hoo came close to a big upset over top seeds and world No. 5 Miyuki Maeda-Satoko Suet­suna of Japan before running out of steam.

Khe Wei-Vivian took the first game 21-18 and even caught up while trailing 10-17 in the rubber game but Miyuki-Satoko proved the more experienced pair as they won 18-21, 21-16, 21-19.

Malaysia's challenge also fizzled out in the men's doubles as Ow Yao Han-Tan Wee Kiong were no match for top seeds Naoki Kawamae-Shoji Sato of Japan, losing 14-21, 16-21.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat reached the men's singles final after a hard-fought 21-16, 15-21, 21-18 win over Hong Kong's Wong Wing Ki.

Taufik will play India's Sourah Varma in the final today.

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MNCF talk Fauzan out of calling it quits

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 03:27 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Mohd Fauzan Ahmad Lufti is back on the road, thanks to the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF).

The 25-year-old was so demoralised by his performance in the Indonesia SEA Games last month that he was thinking of calling it quits. Competing in the mountain bike cross country event, Fauzan finished a dismal 11th – a massive 12:03 behind winner Chandra Rafsanjani of Indonesia.

"I really thought of retiring but Omar Saad of MNCF coaxed me out of it," said Fauzan.

He has been included in the national team for the 10-day Tour of Langkawi from Feb 24-March 4.

Fauzan was a road cyclist before venturing into mountain biking. He took up the sport seriously on his return from a two-year doping suspension early this year. He showed his prowess and was promptly selected for the SEA Games.

Early in his career, Fauzan combined with Sayuti Zahit, Jasmin Ruslan and Thum Weng Kin to win the team pursuit gold medal in the 2005 SEA Games in Manila.

Then in 2008, he showed his class as a road cyclist by winning the black and white tiger-striped jersey as the national champion in 2008.

Fauzan will join the national team for intensive training next Sunday.

"I was supposed to join the training in Terengganu on Dec 19.

"But I was having my final examination at that time," said Fauzan, a lance corporal in the police force.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Up close and personal with Leah Goodman

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 09:09 PM PST

STICKABILITY that's the one word that comes to Leah Goodman's mind when she embarks on something, be it personal or professional.

The word, or philosophy, rather, was instilled by Goodman's mother when she was growing up in her native country of Australia. Today, it's become her recipe for success as she spearheads operations for pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Aventis in three countries Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

"Stickability is a word that my mum often used. She said that if you're starting something, you need to finish it," she tells StarBizWeek, as she reminisces about her experience with ballet when "sticking" to something could not have been more challenging!

"My parents had this rule where if I wanted to do something, such as ballet, I had to do it for two years. Even though in the second year I hated it, I still had to stick with it," the bubbly Goodman says with a laugh.

Goodman however says that she is a little bit more flexible with her kids, although the "finish what you've started" practice does seem to be a deeply-rooted family motto.

Full story in StarBizWeek today.

If you have a similar story to share e-mail us at inspired@thestar.com.my

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A marriage of convenience

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 09:02 PM PST

HAVE you ever tried shopping for a 24 carat diamond? No? Never? Me neither.

Ever since I wrote about replacing the diamond with 24 roses to celebrate my wedding anniversary, my wife's sisters-in-arms have bombarded me with messages of disbelief calling me stingy, kedekut and unloving. They could not understand how her sacrifice of staying married to a guy like me was not worth at least a carat a year. I was stumped.

How do you value a relationship? From our marriage, my wife already owns 50% of everything that I own. Well... almost. In addition, she claims that her money is her money and my money is also her money. By the rule of the law and not by choice, I am actually generous to my wife to the point of being broke.

How do you value a business relationship? As an entrepreneur, you are always in partnership with somebody. Different valuations for different partnerships.

Partnership of convenience. Partnership of necessity. Partnership of greed.

Partnership is like marriage. Exciting moments of romance. Virgin wedding nights. Painful mutual discoveries. Then zombie existence. Partners till death do you part. In heavy losses or in share of heavenly profits.

Married partnerships are basically husband and wife teams or couples of the same sex. Like Batman and Robin, one personality should be more dominating than the other. Even better if their personalities complement each other. In my case, I do all the talking and my better half do all the work. That's great team work.

There are great debates over the merits of husband and wife working together in the same company. It's a no no if both are employees. It is just too complicated for everyone in the company.

However, as owners and entrepreneurs, a husband and wife team can be quite successful. As long as the wife can soothe the guy's ego and the husband can patiently listen to the day's woes. If it works, it is just good chemistry. That's all there is to it. No magic formulas and no marriage counselling required. I have seen some entrepreneur couples end up in divorce. Great teamwork, high profile and very successful in building their business. They just drift apart as individuals or because of mid-life infidelity. When the couple becomes successful, the wife will tend to spend lavishly on herself, to keep herself looking young and well accessorised. The husband will spend lavishly on the other younger women to keep himself feeling young and well satisfied. Broken business and broken families.

Friends in partnerships brings back fond memories. Back in the 80s, it was trendy for a group of 10 friends to invest RM10,000 each to open a pub. Since everyone loves to drink, it makes sense to open their own pub where everyone knows your name. Business was good as all the partners brought in their friends and acted like proud owners, bought drinks for everyone. Only problem was, payment was signed on 555 notebook, not on credit card slips. Soon, the pub ran out of cash and the poor hired manager was blamed for weak and irresponsible management by all the partners.

Doing business with friends have probably given me the most difficult moments. Over the years, I have lost a friend or two when I had to make a tough call. It is even more difficult when family members are involved.

On hind sight, I should have been more transparent with them. The gweilo approach of being upfront with your expectations and having clear defined roles and responsibilities will prevent any misunderstanding in the future. Nothing personal. Strictly business.

As an entrepreneur, you are always evaluating options on partnership issues. Is it better to have partners or to go it alone? If you go public, you will have to answer to hundreds or thousands of partner shareholders. Are you up to it?

If you are on your own, you only answer to yourself. This is my ideal entrepreneurship model.

But if you need financing or certain set skills, then you will have to engage in a partnership of necessity. There will be an increased element of uncertainty as now you not only have to grow the business but you have to learn how to manage other shareholder expectations. Learn to leave your ego outside when you walk into the meeting room. You are only as good as your last financial year.

Partnership of convenience is normally short term in nature. Team up, make money then split up. Until the next opportunity comes along. This partnership works particularly well if all partners have mutual trust and are contented with their fair share of spoils. In times of global and political uncertainty, this approach reduces risk in addition to a quicker turnaround return on investment.

Who would have thought that PAS and DAP will engage in a partnership of convenience? With ideologies poles apart, they have mutual distrust and like all politicians, are never contented with their fair share of spoils.

Sniffing the possibility of more success, they are now engaged in a partnership of necessity. Which makes them look like an odd couple. Throw in PKR and we now have a mish mash offering of rojak to the poor suffering voters.

With a GE 13 menu of either rojak or Barisan's nasi campur minus the beef, voters will have to make a choice. Chances are, the poor rakyat will go hungry for another 5 years. While the partners of greed continue to feast upon the wealth of the nation. Santa Claus is indeed coming to town. The season of giving has just started.

To all entrepreneurs, Merry Christmas.

The writer is an entrepreneur who hopes to shares his experience and insights with readers who want to take that giant leap into business but are not sure if they should. Email him at thtan@alliancecosmetics.com

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Building an attractive you

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 08:44 PM PST

Title: You, Inc.
Authors: Harry Bechwith and Christine K. Clifford
Publisher: Hachette Book Group

YOU are a brand. It doesn't matter if you work for someone or you've just set up shop and are hoping to make it big; you've got something to sell yourself.

This is the premise that Harry Beckwith and Christine K. Clifford explore in their book You, Inc: The Art of Selling Yourself.

"Living is selling," says the first sub-heading of the first chapter.

While most of us do have a socially inculcated dislike for salespeople (we imagine them as smooth-talking, advantage-taking individuals), we forget that all of us have been "selling" things from when we were still children.

It doesn't matter what age one is. Beckwith and Clifford write that when we were children, we created "sales pitches" to convince our parents to take us to an amusement park or to buy us a toy we've been eyeing.

And then we grow up and we use the "sales" knowledge we learned as children to write college applications and ace job interviews.

Beckwith and Clifford claim that "life is a sale" and that "the path to success at both living and selling is the same". After reading You, Inc., I'm ready to buy that concept.

The book is divided into chapters ranging from what people buy to tips and tactics on how to sell it to them. Those chapters are further divided into shorter portions and with each portion presenting only a single point, You, Inc. is an extremely easy read.

An interesting thing is that this book began as three different books.

Clifford was writing a book on sales called How to Make $1 Million in Sales ($3 Million Before Taxes).

Beckwith, meanwhile, was working on two books Seat Belts and Twin Airbag, a guidebook for those taking their first steps into the "Real World" and Who Moved My Salad Fork?, a book on manners.

This makes a lot of sense seeing as You, Inc. not only teaches how to sell; it also includes lessons on how to treat people and other seemingly small matters that could turn out to be catalysts in achieving one's goals.

Both Clifford and Beckwith are acclaimed speakers and consultants and in this book, they give lessons based on their vast experience.

One of the book's plus points is that in its early stages, it was conceived for their sons who were about to begin their careers.

With the way the book is written snippets with summations in bold it could easily be a compilation of advice from a parent to a child.

Unlike most self-help books, this one doesn't place utmost importance on goal setting.

While it recognises the importance of goals, it also reminds one that it's not just the goal reaching that's important. The lessons we learn along the way are the point of setting goals in the first place.

Of course, parts of it are common knowledge among marketing and advertising folks. "What is your story?" asks Beckwith and Clifford. "Find your story, tell it well," they summate. This is an old branding concept but what's new about what they're saying is that it doesn't just apply to products; it applies to people as well.

Especially amusing is the part on "Tricks and Shortcuts". According to the authors of You, Inc., "there are none". And that's the last we hear of that.

As someone extremely interested in absorbing new information, I like that the book touches on lifelong education. "Keep reading, keep listening, keep learning," the couple wrote.

Unlike the Asian mindset that our education has to contribute to our career, Beckwith and Clifford wrote about how education expands our minds.

While we may think that education is limited to the things we learn in classrooms, this is far from what the authors had in mind.

They write about how learning about other things outside of our fields of work can make us more attractive to potential employers, clients or colleagues.

By knowing more, we are able to strike up engaging conversations. And that makes selling a whole lot easier.

At times, I found myself recalling Sun Tzu's The Art of War, especially when I read seemingly cryptic lines like "cultivate your mastery, but cultivate the rest of you".

In this example, the quote means that while your skills may be important, your personal traits are just as important as well so work on improving them.

As intended, this book teaches how to sell, provides tips on how to survive in the "Real World" and teaches some basic etiquette "don't be late", "show up", "look people in the eye."

Some of the points mentioned did prick at my conscience and I found myself nodding along and drumming into my own head that I need to do this or make sure I do that in the future.

Although no longer a fresh graduate, the lessons given by You, Inc. are still applicable to me. For those looking to learn new things, this book is a quick and informative read.

Because the print is large and the vocabulary kept simple, it's easy to sneak read the little snippets in the book. The summations at the end of each section also make it easy to grasp the ponts within the text.

Overall, You, Inc. is a good book but it's not something that's worth re-reading. It's something that I may beg, borrow or steal but I doubt I would buy.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Pictures for posterity

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 05:32 AM PST

TO commemorate The Star's 40th anniversary in 2011, Star Publications (M) Bhd compiled some of the best photos the paper's lensmen have taken over the years in a coffee table book.

Hotshots, comprising over 200 glossy pages of arresting, intriguing and memorable images, retails for RM59.90 and is currently available at all major bookstores nationwide as well as online at magazine.mobile88.com/thestar/bookstore.

Some of the images from the book will be shared in other ways, including:

> As a creative window display at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC from Jan 4-Feb 12, 2012;

> At the Hotshots photo exhibition at Galeri Petronas, Suria KLCC, for six weeks beginning on Jan 20, 2012.

Hotshots' official partner is Canon Marketing Malaysia Sdn Bhd.

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The accidental bookseller

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 11:23 PM PST

It is a love for the rare printed words rather than commerce that drives this man.

WILLIAM Knox never set out to be a bookseller. A lawyer practising Britain for half his life, Knox devoted the last 15 years to community peace work in Sri Lanka during the conflict era.

"It was the worst paid job in my life but it's the place where I could be perfectly honest about myself and what I was doing, and still be effective in my work," says the soft-spoken gentleman who is a Quaker (a movement with Christian roots that began in England in the 17th century).

Known for their belief in non-violence and peace work, Quakers have been pivotal in founding international, non-religious relief agencies like Oxfam and the Save the Children Fund. Together with local Sri Lankans, Knox set up an NGO called Peace and Community Action.

Towards the end of his stint in Sri Lanka, cupid struck. Knox met and fell in love with a Penangite while on transit in Singapore's Changi Airport. After he and Susan got married, they moved to her hometown in 2009 and looked forward to a peaceful retirement.

Knox says that he's been a book lover all his life with a particular interest in books about the place where he lives. Not surprisingly, he comes from a rather bookish, literary background: his father was a journalist; his aunt, a Booker Prize winner; and his grandfather, a newspaper editor. Knox also spent a large part of his childhood in Asia when his father worked as a foreign correspondent in Singapore, Hong Kong and India for British newspapers like The Observer and The Telegraph.

But after settling down here, Knox discovered to his dismay that it wasn't easy finding bookshops selling a wide range of literature, both newly published and old stuff about Malaysia and Asia. He scoured used bookshops, flea markets, online bookstores and eBay to no avail.

"Personally, I like reading books on politics, history, anthropology, religion and fiction," says Knox, 63, adding that, "You'd be surprised how much you can learn about a place and its culture from fiction."

"A fiction writer tends to look for more ways to engage the readers and give flavours and insights into the place compared with writers who target a limited market in academics, for example," he explains at a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of Knox's favourite titles on Penang and Malaysia include Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain (2008, longlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize) and Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory (2005, longlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize).

As his stash of books piled up, Knox decided to set up a small bookstall at the once-a-month arts and culture-themed Little Penang Street Market so he could get rid of some books and acquire more to read. The online retail arm, penangbookshelf.com, set up in November 2010, was a natural progression for Knox.

Once he went online and became more than an amateur collector, Knox began stocking a broad range of books and now constantly picks his customers' brains to get an idea what they want to read.

"For example, I never realised British romantic novelist Barbara Cartland wrote a book called Paradise In Penang though she's probably never been within a million miles of Penang," he chuckles. "But I'm prepared to stock romantic novels – and surprisingly, it's selling quite well and I keep having to re-stock it!"

One recent acquisition, in September, was a large collection of rare Malay language books in the Jawi and Rumi scripts.

Sourcing for good titles or rare editions has turned out to be quite an adventure for Knox.

"What surprises me is how quickly books disappear off the face of the map," says Knox. "For some titles, I'm selling the only ones available on the Internet." One of the rare books he bought over eBay was a book that teaches Malay that was anglicized and written by an anonymous writer in 1930s.

Ironically, Knox finds it easier to find used books in tiptop condition overseas than in Malaysia.

"I think it has to do with the weather and humidity. Books that have been taken back to the UK or left there are normally in better condition," he explains.

To date, Knox's book collection has burgeoned to over 1,500 but only about 300 titles are posted online. He painstakingly describes each book in a few paragraphs in addition to the usual publishers' blurbs. Customers have bought books they had never even heard of because of what Knox had written.

"Writing the blurbs is very time-consuming but satisfying," he smiles. "I spent most of my life as a book buyer and I understand how much the extra touches mean to a customer. So far, I've never had a book returned yet.

"But one of the sad things about doing this business is I don't read as much as I used to," he laments. "I keep saying I must make time to read...."

Knox isn't exactly raking in money from his book business. In fact, he takes in only an average RM500 a month, minus the overhead. But that doesn't matter, Knox explains. "About a year ago, I knew nothing about books about Malaysia or Asia. It's fascinating that now, I can actually speak quite authoritatively on the subject when someone comes into my bookstore," he says. "Coming to a new country, this (The Penang Bookshelf) has also given me an identity in the community and is a great way for me to meet new people and make new friends."

One of the many Kodak moments that made it worthwhile for Knox?

"Just recently, a couple of 12, 13-year-olds came into the shop and asked me, 'Can you sell us some history books that don't tell us the type of history we can get from our history textbooks?'" Knox happily sat down with the kids and started pulling out books like readable biographies. His customers aren't just old folks who grew up in colonial times. They are basically book lovers who are looking to broaden their interest or world views.

"Besides, if the business winds up and people stop buying, at least I've got a library about Malaysia to read...."

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Visual history

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 11:14 PM PST

A book of news images taken over four decades says as much about the growth of the country as the versatility of the hotshots behind the lens.

IN news writing, words alone are often not enough to tell the whole story, no matter how erudite or eloquent the reporter. Thus the photographer comes in, with pictures that zoom in on details that are best told visually.

A good photograph immediately draws your eye to the heart of a story and adds another dimension to it, whether it's a close-up of a politician's tear-streaked face, an overhead view of a bare hill slope, the collective roar of euphoric sports fans, or a young boy's quiet courage.

Hotshots – 40 Years Of Great News Images By The Star Photographers is a collection of pictures that captures the people, events and landmarks that have made the headlines in Malaysia, and neighbouring countries.

In turn, this visual archive, selected from thousands of favourite shots by The Star's team of "hotshots" (or pixmen), "defines a nation through its growing years".

You used to be able to spot the press photographer from the sophisticated equipment strapped round his neck and arms.

Digital cameras may have lightened the load somewhat, but the challenge of capturing the precise moment that makes a newsworthy image remains unchanged.

And what stories these images tell, about the progression From Film to Digital, the birth of "North Malaysia's Bright New Daily", Newsmakers, Conflicts & Disasters, Sports, and Society & Arts!

Hotshots spreads out memorable award-winning photos and graphics, and many pictures that have never published, as a salute to The Star photographers' vision, skills and talent.

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The Star Online: Nation

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The Star Online: Nation

Christmas in Malaysia an eye-opener for foreigners

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 03:20 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Celebrating Christmas in multi-racial Malaysia has been an eye-opening experience for visitors to the country.

Indonesian Nurdin Theofilus, 50, said it was delightful to see how people in Malaysia celebrated Christmas with joy and unity, with vibrant celebrations not being marred by cost of living issues.

When met after attending a church service at the St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Bukit Nanas here Sunday, he noted that Muslim-majority Malaysia had "very tolerant and friendly people".

The businessman pointed out that everyone - Malays, Chinese, Indians, other races as well as foreigners - were so cheerful and enthusiastic while waiting for the countdown to Christmas in the Bukit Bintang tourist belt on Saturday.

"Last night if you were at Bukit Bintang, everybody there waited for the countdown...it was amazing! I can't find it (such a scene) in Indonesia. We do have celebrations but only for the Christian community," Nurdin said.

Meanwhile, a couple from Hong Kong, George and Betty Elledge, felt that Malaysia was up there in terms of celebrating Christmas "although there is no snowfall here".

"We're very much enchanted by the spectacular Christmas displays at the malls, dazzling lights, fun street performances and endless shopping promotions compared to some other countries," said Betty who has resided in Malaysia with her husband for 10 years.

The absence of a "white Christmas" did not dampen their celebration, she said, adding that they considered Malaysia their second home which allowed them to enjoy and live life in a peaceful environment.

For Dr W. John Roxborogh, 66, the festive season would include relaxing at the beach in his native New Zealand but over here, he said Malaysians appeared to prefer spending time with family and friends.

"Christmas here is for all races where they allow Christmas caroling almost everywhere including shopping malls, compared to some other countries' so-called Christmas (celebration that is meant) only for Christians," he said.

Others spending Christmas far away from their home country missed their loved ones.

Philippine maid Richel Bagay, 35, wished that she was back in her country with her two daughters and parents.

"I feel so homesick today but my employer takes care of me well. My father was admitted to hospital last week but he's fine now," she said in between sobs.

However, the single mother said people in Malaysia were friendly, treating her as one their family members.

A check by Bernama showed that shopping complexes in the capital were crowded as people enjoyed an extended week-end in conjunction with Christmas. - Bernama

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Federal JKKKs asked to identify people eligible to receive BR1M

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 01:16 AM PST

ALOR SETAR: The Federal Village Security and Development Committees (JKKKPs) have been asked to immediately identify individuals or families who have yet to register to receive the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M).

Kedah Regional Development Authority (Keda) chairman, Datuk Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah said this was to ensure that those eligible received the aid.

"So far, I am satisfied with the commitment shown by the JKKKPs in assisting the government to distribute the forms and help those eligible to fill the forms correctly.

"The BR1M forms have been distributed since Dec 10 and so far, there have been no complaints as the JKKKPs are playing their role accordingly," he said when met at the launching of the Mara-with-the-People Carnival, at the Menara Alor Setar grounds, here.

Ahmad Bashah, who is also Kedah Umno liaison chief, said 200,000 BR1M forms had been submitted to the Kedah office of the Inland Revenue Board and 300,000 more were expected to be handed in before Jan 10, the deadline.

He said those who had not received the form, could get it from the JKKKPs, their state assemblyman's office, Umno office and the relevant agencies.

Earlier, in his speech, Ahmad Bashah urged entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the carnival to promote their products and build networking among them.

Also present were Kedah Mara director Hanafiah Lazim and Menara Alor Setar general manager Hariyati Tahir.

The three-day carnival that began on Friday, is participated by 40 Mara-guided entrepreneurs who showcased their products such as foodstuff, drinks, health products and handicraft. - Bernama

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Christians celebrate Christmas with family, friends

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 12:33 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: It may not be a white Christmas over here in Malaysia but it did not deter Malaysians and others of the Christian faith from celebrating the joyous occasion Sunday with much merry-making and prayers.

The celebration was marked with church services, the tradition of gift-giving as well as special meals with family and friends.

Multi-racial Malaysians also took to Facebook and Twitter, besides the usual phone calls to wish their Christian friends a "Merry Christmas".

Many churches in the Malaysian capital drew a sizeable congregation, as locals were joined by a number of foreigners at the Christmas Day church service.

Kuala Lumpur residents also got a welcome respite from the usual traffic crawls, thanks to people going back to their hometowns for the Christmas holidays, with Monday being a public holiday.

The national-level Christmas open house is scheduled to be held Monday at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) Tinggi Kajang in Jalan Semenyih, Kajang, Selangor.

In MALACCA, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam spent some time at a Christmas open house organised by the Portuguese community at the Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir.

His arrival at noon was received by village head Peter Thomas Gomes, who led the community in organising a modest but joyous Christmas celebration that began Saturday night that also drew many tourists to the settlement.

The 11.2ha settlement has 118 homes occupied by some 1,200 people of Portuguese descent who also took the opportunity to visit their relatives and friends.

In SARAWAK, Christmas was also celebrated by the Christians on a moderate scale but no less joyous with the tradition of holding open house and joined by people of other religions.

State Social Development Minister Tan Sri William Mawan Ikom who held an open house in Kuching, said the celebration each year showed the cordial relations among Sarawak's multi-racial and multi-religious people.

"In Sarawak, racial and religious tolerance is at a very high level. We don't have problems celebrating each other's festival like Christmas, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and others," he told reporters.

He said the people of Sarawak were fortunate as there had been no arising racial issues in the East Malaysian state.

"The strong unity among the people here has enabled the state government to give a lot of focus on raising their standard of living wherever they reside and regardless of ethnicity and religion, " he added.

In PERLIS, the weather was fine for a merry Christmas although there was no open house as the state's Christian population is very small.

However, people were taking advantage of the Christmas holidays by thronging the Sungai Batu Pahat Snake and Reptile Park to watch the Cat Carnival 2011 held there.

The two-day carnival since Saturday had various activities including a cat competition, costume contest, karaoke singing competition and poisonous snake-handling demonstrations. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Functional foods health claims

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 03:47 PM PST

The beneficial effects of functional foods must be scientifically substantiated.

A GREAT deal of attention is now given to the potential health significance of components other than nutrients that are found in foods. These bioactive components have been found to be able to serve physiological roles beyond provisions of simple nutrient requirements, and even reduce risk to chronic diseases.

Foods containing such components have been termed "functional foods".

Consumers are now more health conscious, especially in view of the increase in diet-related chronic diseases. There would certainly be a great deal of interest to see if some functional foods or ingredients can indeed help in reducing the risk of these diseases.

However, there must be adequate scientific proof that these functional foods do indeed provide beneficial health effects. All over the world, there are specific regulations that govern the types of health claims that are permitted to be made on functional foods.

I would like to share with readers two recent scientific meetings on functional foods that I participated in. The first was an International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Europe regional conference on functional foods. The second was a conference organised by Universiti Putra Malaysia.

In both meetings, I spoke on the global regulatory aspects of health claims on functional foods.

Other healthful components in food

Two main functions of food have conventionally been recognised. The primary function is to provide a variety of macro- and micro-nutrients to nourish the body. The secondary function is sensory functions, eg to provide tastes, flavours and texture to food.

There is now thought to be a third or tertiary function of food. This function pertains to regulating the physiological processes of the body, and even promoting health. In this new dimension in the relationship between food and health, this function is not performed by nutrients in foods, but rather by other components in food.

It is now generally recognised that foods do not merely provide nutrients. It has been shown that there is a large variety of bioactive or functional components in foods that are capable of promoting health. Many of these bioactive components have been shown to be able to serve physiological roles beyond those provided by "classical" nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals.

Characteristics of functional foods

To date, there is no unanimously accepted global definition of functional foods among the scientific community. Nevertheless, a generally accepted understanding is that functional foods are foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. This is by virtue of physiologically active (or bioactive) food components (functional ingredients) present in these foods.

Functional foods are similar in appearance to conventional foods and are intended to be consumed as part of a normal diet. They possess sensory characteristics including appearance, colour, texture, consistencies and flavours, and are not in the form of capsules and tablets. These are traditionally recognised as food, and are unlike herbs and other botanicals.

In recent years, the bioactive components in functional foods have been extracted, purified and added to various other food products. For example, plant sterol has been extracted from soya bean and added to milk powder. Another example is the addition of oligosaccharides such as inulin to various beverages.

In this way, the functional properties of these components are made available to the consumer through various vehicles that do not naturally possess such components.

The bioactive components have also been isolated and presented to the consumer in medicinal forms, eg capsules and tablets. In such forms, not associated with food, these products are appropriately known as nutraceuticals or health supplements.

Functional foods have featured prominently in food and nutrition scene internationally. The various regional branches of ILSI have been the main drivers of scientific activities in functional foods. There has been active research and development in function food products. Numerous conferences and other scientific meetings have been organised, and volumes have been published on the matter. Functional foods have been traded internationally and are huge businesses.

Common examples of functional foods

Soya beans contain a number of phytochemicals, and several of these have been studied for their anticarcinogenic activity. Isoflavones have been studied for their oestrogen properties and in relation to lowering blood cholesterol. Soya protein and phytosterols have been demonstrated to lower blood cholesterol.

High soya intake is associated with lowered risk for breast cancer and prostate cancer, whereas high soya and/or isoflavone intake has been reported to be positively associated with bone mineral density.

Flavonoids are a diverse group of polyphenol compounds found in various plant foods. The most important flavonoids in tea are flavanols and flavonols, eg catechins, many of which have been studied for their antioxidant properties.

The possible effects of these bioactive compounds in lowering risk for cardiovascular disease have been investigated, eg via lowering of blood cholesterol and blood pressure, protection against LDL cholesterol oxidation and reduction in platelet aggregation.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (including cabbage, kailan and cauliflower) contain glucosinolates which are capable of being converted to a variety of hydrolysis products including isothiocyanates and indoles. These compounds have been studied for their capability in reducing risk to some cancers.

Another group of bioactive compounds found in many fruits and vegetables is carotenoids. Carotenoids give the bright orange colour to these plant foods. Lycopene in tomato and papaya is an example of a carotenoid. It is not converted into vitamin A but may possess other physiological properties, eg as antioxidants.

Several undigestible carbohydrates have been demonstrated to be able to impart beneficial effects on human health. As dietary fibre, these carbohydrates have lower energy value (

Several studies have also demonstrated the ability of several dietary fibres to lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and to improve calcium bioavailability and immune function. Several examples of these are the non-digestible oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, eg oligofructose, inulin, polydextrose, resistant starch.

Related to gut health is the role of another group of functional components, namely probiotics. Common examples of these beneficial bacteria are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria that have been demonstrated to improve gut health and possibly reduce the incidence of colon cancers. Probiotics are now added to yoghurt, fermented milk and milk drinks.

Health claims on functional foods

The term "functional foods" is currently not used in any of the relevant regulatory or legal systems. The approach by regulatory agencies towards these foods is therefore focused on health claims and their scientific substantiation.

There have been major worldwide regulatory developments in health claims, specifically "other function claims" and "disease risk reduction claims".

Other function claim describe specific beneficial effects of the consumption of a food bioactive or functional constituent in improving or modifying a physiological function, eg plant sterols help in lowering blood cholesterol.

Reduction of disease risk claims relate to the consumption of a food or food constituent to the reduced risk of developing a disease or health-related condition, eg soya protein reduces risk to heart disease.

In Malaysia, the term functional food is also not used. Nevertheless, other function claims for bioactive components are permitted in the current food regulations. A "positive list" approach is adopted by the authorities, meaning only claims on this list are permitted to be made by a food product. A total of 29 "other function claims" for food components (non-nutrients) are permitted (as of December 2010)*.

A large number of these bioactive components with approved function claims are non-digestible carbohydrates or dietary fibres. These include inulin, galactooligosaccharide (GOS), fructooligosaccharide (FOS), GOS:FOS (90:10) mixture, oligofructose-inulin mixture, beta-glucan, polydextrose, resistant dextrin and High Amylose Maize Resistant Starch.

Other components include sialic acid, isomaltulose, soya protein, plant sterols/sterol esters, a patented cooking oil blend, Bifidobacterium, lutein, docosahexaenoic acid/arachidonic acid.

Some of the permitted function claims include reducing or lowering cholesterol; maintaining a good intestinal environment; increasing intestinal bifidobacteria; lowering rise in blood glucose; improving intestinal immune system of babies; contributing to visual development.

For each of the approved function claims, specific conditions are required. One condition that is required for all claims is that a minimum amount of the relevant "food component" must be present. Additional labelling requirements may be required for some components, eg caution for some population groups. In some cases, the claim is restricted to selected foods.

It is to be noted that disease reduction claims are not permitted in Malaysia. A clear distinction is to be made between function claims and disease risk reduction claims. Two examples of function claims would be that beta-glucan from oat helps lower blood cholesterol and that calcium is important for bone and teeth formation.

Disease risk reduction claims for these two components, which are not permitted in Malaysia, would be: beta-glucan from oat helps reduce risk to heart disease and calcium reduces risk to osteoporosis.

All of the function claims related to bioactive food components have resulted from applications from the food industry. Indeed, there is continuing interest among the food industry to apply for new function claims. A framework has been established by the Food Safety and Quality Division of the Health Ministry to review applications.

More research on local functional ingredients

It can be noted that only a few of the permitted functional ingredients with health claims in Malaysia are of local origin. There is actually a rich flora and fauna in the country which are potential sources of a large variety of functional foods or bioactive components that may be beneficial in promoting health.

However, the safety and health benefits of these local ingredients should be clearly demonstrated before being marketed to the consumer.

Marketing of functional foods often runs ahead of scientific substantiation. There are various claims of beneficial effects of specific ingredients or foods without proper scientific proof. To be accepted in the world market, intended claims must be scientifically substantiated.

The local scientific community could carry out research on this topic, to gather the required scientific data to support efforts to develop and market these functional foods and ingredients. Collaborations between the industry and academia will be most essential for the future development and advancement of local functional foods.

Advice to consumers

Some functional foods and ingredients may indeed possess beneficial effects on health. Consumers should indeed consume a variety of foods (particularly plant foods) so as to obtain a variety of nutrients as well as functional ingredients.

It must, however, be emphasised that these foods alone are not going to prevent chronic diseases. Functional foods must be consumed as part of a daily diet. There is no such thing as a magic bullet or super food to prevent or cure chronic diseases; indeed, foods do not cure diseases.

The best advice for consumers is to:

·Enjoy a variety of foods;

·Eat balanced meals;

·Eat in moderation, and

·Be physically active!

*Details of all the health claims permitted by the Food Safety and Quality Division of the Ministry of Health Malaysia can be viewed from:


> Dr Tee E Siong pens his thoughts as a nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in the research and public health arena. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my.

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No spark, but a relationship?

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 03:46 PM PST

We all talk about chemistry or spark in a romance, but what is it and by what is it defined?

I ANSWER viewer questions for Fox 26 each week on my segments, "Mind, Body, Soul with Mary Jo".

I didn't have time to answer this letter from Jane, so I decided to write the answer in my blog.

"Dear Mary Jo,

When you are starting to date someone and you enjoy their company, but do not have any real desire for them ... how do you know if you should give it time to grow?

Is it foolish to date where there is no 'spark', hoping that will come with time? (In my experience, it has never grown, if not there to begin with).

How much time is fair to avoid hurting the other person if you know they are into you, but you don't return the same level of attraction?

Thank you, Jane."

The answer to these types of questions is difficult, and there are no right or wrong answers. Some of the best marriages I have ever seen were arranged, and some of the worse relationships I have ever seen consisted of people who had an abundance of spark, but nothing else in common.

We all talk about chemistry or spark, but what is it and by what is it defined?

For some, chemistry means the other person is "cute" or "hot"; for others, it may mean they are an intellect and share career interests.

Dating usually implies that you are meeting people you want to see again.

I cannot imagine getting dressed and ready to go to a play or an event with someone for whom I felt no interest or with whom I didn't want to be.

As you read my answer you may think of other things that would be helpful to share with Jane.

Your comments are appreciated, so long as you consider "helping and encouraging her," because she is stuck right now, and trying to do the right thing.

Dear Jane,

I want to thank you for trusting me with your question and I am hoping I can offer things to think about and question within yourself, to help you find your answers.

Dating should be fun and it allows you to get to know people in an intimate setting. Like any relationship, it should be done as honestly as possible. When you are transparent, you allow the other person to know you, and free yourself from trying to be what you aren't.

If you pretend to like this guy and keep it going when you really aren't interested, that is deception.

Being honest doesn't have to be mean, something as simple as, "I think you are a really neat person (if he is), but I have some things I need to work out in my own head right now, and I need to take a break from seeing you anymore."

Of course that is my script ... you can change it however you wish as long as you stay honest with your own part (spark happens; it's not something anyone is to blame for or feel badly about).

You also asked if spark ever comes when it isn't there initially.

There is no one answer to that question, Jane. In a healthy marriage, couples may experience their spark growing and dimming only to repeat this cycle.

A relationship also grows, but with dating, there has to be something there to keep you wanting to continue the dates.

That leads us to the last portion of your question. When the other person does feel a spark and you don't, how long should you continue the relationship?

This is where you have to become very honest with yourself by asking yourself these questions.

What am I afraid of if I let this one go? What specifically (write them down) makes this person void of spark?

What specific combination makes me feel a spark? Many women who like bad boys were raised with dads who didn't treat their mums very nice. These women may say they would never marry or date a guy like their dad, but the unfinished business in their heads attracts them to a bad boy like a moth to a flame.

Many mums who were bored with their partners couldn't hide their boredom from their daughters.

When their daughters meet nice guys, they get cast aside due to the daughters' fear they will end up bored like their mothers were.

Chemistry is the sum total of what we grew up with, what we saw mentored in our own homes and our personal wiring. When it attracts, it is strong, and there is a spark.

Can a relationship grow to spark? Yes.

Will it ever feel as intense as a natural first meeting spark? No, probably not.

Can you build a healthy marriage or life with someone you don't feel that spark for? YES.

Is it easy? NO, but then again, creating a healthy marriage takes work, and I doubt anyone would say it was easy.

I could not say that about life in general as life is about learning all aspects of one's self and some of those are painful.

Good luck, Jane. – HealthNewsDigest.com

> Mary Jo Rapini is a relationship counsellor in the US.

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The earlier, the better

Posted: 24 Dec 2011 03:45 PM PST

Monitoring outcomes in breast cancer.

BREAST cancer is the most common cancer in women in Malaysia, and one third of women with breast cancer are aged 40-49 years old. This is the age when a career woman would be at the height of her career, and a woman at this age would have children who are still in school.

It is devastating for any woman to be told that she has breast cancer. The family dynamics is disturbed, and her role as a wife, a daughter and a mother is threatened.

As a breast surgeon, every time I have to break the bad news to a woman, the usual reaction I get is, "Am I going to die?"

Well, the good news is, breast cancer is the most curable cancer if detected and treated early. Five-year survival rates of more than 90% are achievable when diagnosed in the first stage. Even in the second stage, cure rates of over 80% are possible with the newer treatments available.

Treatment of breast cancer involves a multidisciplinary team approach. The surgeon, pathologist and radiologist are the main team to diagnose the breast cancer, through a process of "triple assessment", which involves a clinical examination, mammogram and ultrasound, and a biopsy of the breast lump.

After that, the treatment team involves the surgeon and the oncologist, together with the pathologist who is required to report on the breast specimen (and axillary lymph nodes) that is removed. Throughout this process, a breast care nurse to coordinate the woman's appointments, and to navigate her through the healthcare system is also important.

A plastic surgeon is also an important member of the team if a woman needs a mastectomy and wants to consider an immediate breast reconstruction. Counseling and help in decision-making is essential at this point. But how many women in Malaysia will have access to this "multidisciplinary" management? Shortage of specialist manpower in the Health Ministry is a perpetual problem.

Another common question is, "How much will it cost?"

For those with insurance or who are well-to-do, they can get almost immediate access to a surgeon in a private hospital. Although the Health Ministry provides treatment for breast cancer to all Malaysian citizens practically free of charge, most women do have problems getting an early appointment to see a surgeon in a government hospital.

Although most of the large general hospitals will have a breast clinic with facilities for mammogram and biopsy the same day, the waiting time to get to this clinic can take a month or so. However, it is important to emphasise to women that the same treatment that will cost thousands of ringgit in the private sector is available in government hospitals at minimal cost.

Most women seem to think that the more they pay, the higher the chance of cure. This need not be true, because although there may be some delay, eventually the woman with breast cancer will receive the care that is needed.

The ultimate outcome of any treatment is survival, that is, the time interval between diagnosis and death. In breast cancer, the two most important determinants of this outcome is stage at diagnosis and optimal treatment.

Optimal treatment means access to quality care as well as timely care. Whether the delays which are associated with a busy government hospital will impact on survival should be studied, although studies overseas have shown that a delay of three months or less will not have an impact on survival.

Survival in breast cancer is measured in terms of five- and 10-year survival, hence it will take some time to be able to prospectively measure how well the healthcare system is performing.

An early indicator of performance is to measure the delay in instituting treatment, ie the time taken from the first patient visit to the first treatment, whether surgery or chemotherapy.

This "systems delay" does not take into account patient delay, that is, the time taken by the patient to present to a doctor after first finding a lump in her breast.

To measure outcome from breast cancer treatment, a study called the Healthcare Performance and Management Report System (HPRMS) was started in Jan 2011 with support from Roche Malaysia, and involves the Health Ministry, universities as well as private hospitals. The indices measured in this study are:

1. Stage of breast cancer at diagnosis.

2. The time taken from the first time a woman visits the clinic to diagnosis, and from diagnosis to the first treatment, whether surgery or chemotherapy.

3. Five-year survival rate of breast cancer.

Besides these indices, the HPRMS also measures the pathological features of breast cancer, that is, size, grade of cancer (which is different from the stage at diagnosis), lymph node involvement, and also important biomarkers that will determine the type of treatment, such as the oestrogen receptor (ER) status, the progesterone receptor (PR) status and the human epidermal receptor 2 (HER2) status.

No two woman will have exactly the same combination of these pathological features. These features will determine the prognosis, that is, the chance of cure.

A woman with a 1cm Grade 1 breast cancer with no lymph nodes involved will have a much better chance of cure than a woman who has a 5cm Grade 3 cancer which has spread to 10 lymph nodes.

In the same way, a woman who has ER positive, PR positive and HER2 negative status will have a better prognosis than those who are ER and PR negative and HER2 positive.

The HPRMS also records the type of treatment the woman receives. For example, a woman who is node positive should have chemotherapy, those who are ER or PR positive should be given hormonal therapy, and those who are HER2 positive should have access to herceptin (an anti-HER2 drug).

Optimal treatment will lead to the best outcome. Hence, the HPRMS also measures access to optimal care, timeliness of optimal care, as well as patient compliance to treatment.

A six-monthly report will be generated by the HPRMS study to look at the early indices such as patient delay and systems delay. It will also look at the adequacy of pathology reporting, since the pathological features will have an impact on the type of treatment given.

Ultimately, over time, the goal of the HPRMS will be to:

1. Reduce the number of patients presenting with advanced late stage disease.

2. Improve access to optimal care, as well as timeliness of care.

3. Reduce mortality from breast cancer.

It is important that we monitor the results of treatment, not only in breast cancer, but also in other cancers. Only if we measure the performance indicators that are considered important in outcomes will we be able to determine if our breast cancer survival is equal to other countries.

If we find that our five-year survival (adjusted for stage) is lower than that seen in other countries, we should then review our treatment strategies and look towards improving access to quality optimal care and timeliness of care.

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