Ahad, 6 Januari 2013

The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

Meghan Markle plays smart and sassy role in 'Suits'

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 05:09 PM PST

American actress Meghan Markle is grateful for her role on legal drama Suits because it is her most high-profile piece of work and a good ol' fashioned episodic series.

"As an actor, that sounds awful," says Markle, 31, when asked if she would consider a role on serialised shows such as Lost, as opposed to an episodic drama such as Suits.

She has certainly put in the time, having 10 years of acting under her belt. She started with being in an episode of soap drama General Hospital in 2002 and going on to bit parts in movies such as A Lot Like Love (2005) where she played a "hot girl".

She says: "The best thing is having job security, right? To be able to know that you're gonna go back to work the next week. For me, working on something such as Suits is exactly that. I know that I can go back and play.

"I've spent lots of years waiting for the right show, and now that I have it, I'm really glad that I can't get killed off," she says in a phone interview from Hong Kong recently.

Now in its second season in the United States, Suits sees Markle playing smart and sassy paralegal Rachel Zane, who has unfulfilled dreams of becoming a lawyer.

Rachel is the love interest of Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams), who is brought into a prestigious law firm, even though he never went to law school, by sharp litigator Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht).

"I've worked for many years before that and played a lot of great characters. One I loved was Amy Jessup, a junior FBI agent, on Fringe. While it was really fun to kick down doors and have all this gun training, I was happy to trade that in for how savvy Rachel Zane is – and her Manolo Blahnik shoes.

"It's a big transition but playing her has been a huge game-changer for me in my career and I'm so grateful." Suits, she says, has opened "a very big door for me".

She adds: "It's given me a level of recognisability I didn't have before this. Patrick Adams and I were in a pilot together for a different network about five years ago and it didn't get past. Now, to be able to get options for my hiatus is a huge change from hoping you get a job."

Most of all, she basks in the fact that she plays an intelligent woman because "what Rachel and I have in common is that we are both very proud of how educated we are".

She majored in theatre and international relations at Northwestern University and used to work in the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

She says unabashedly: "I like being the smart girl in the room and I always strive to be knowledgeable about current events. For Rachel, her intellectual prowess is one of the most attractive things about her, not intimidating but enviable."

She adds with pride: "Oh you know, I gotta tell you, I was such a nerd growing up, a complete bookworm. So having worked for the US Embassy, politics is something I feel I'm relatively well-read about. But I just like to be informed about all sorts of things."

Besides that, she appreciates her role for being yet another step towards colour-blind casting.

Markle, whose mother is African-American and father Dutch-Irish, says: "I'm bi-racial, I love that it's opened up. Being cast as Rachel is the perfect example – she was written as an incredibly smart girl and the dream girl.

"In the past, the dream girl could only be blonde-haired and blue-eyed. The idea that a dream girl can be opened up to a freckled-face, bi-racial girl like me says a lot about how the industry is changing and how the perception of beauty can mean anything."

And she truly felt that she was going somewhere in Hollywood when she got the role as a delivery girl in the comedy Horrible Bosses (2011), which stars Jennifer Aniston, even though it was a rather glorified walk-on role. Of her silver-screen experience, she says: "That was my moment of going: 'Wow, my life is changing.' Even though it was a small part, just from the moment at the table-read, to be sitting across Jennifer Aniston, who's like 'Hey, I'm Jen!'. They are making a sequel now, I played a Fed-Ex girl in the first, maybe someone needs a package delivered in the second." – The Straits Times Singapore

Suits Season Two begins today at 8pm on Diva Universal (Astro Ch 702).

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Win some goodies

Win some goodies

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 05:10 PM PST

NEW seasons of Suits and Downton Abbey hit television screens today! Things are heating up at Pearson Hardman as Mike Ross' ex-best friend tries to expose the secret he has been keeping all throughout the first season: His bogus law degree. Catch the second season of Suits today at 8pm.

Following that, Downton Abbey's third season opens with Crawleys and their staff getting ready for Lady Mary and Matthew's upcoming wedding.

In conjunction with the return of these series, Diva Universal is organising a contest for fans and Star2 readers. If you've been eyeing on those sleek, stylish neckties like the ones on Suits, or if you have had your heart set on those oh-so-elegant necklaces similar to those worn by the Downton Abbey ladies, here's your chance to get a hold of them!

Simply answer the questions below and stand a chance to walk away with 10 limited edition Suits and Downton Abbey goodies:

1. Name the dynamic duo in Suits

A. Harvey Specter and Louis Litt

B. Mike Ross and Harvey Specter

C. Louis Litt and Mike Ross

2. Who is the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham from Downton Abbey?

A. Lady Edith Crawley

B. Lady Mary Crawley

C. Lady Sybil Crawley

3. Which day, time and channel do the shows air in Malaysia?

Closing date for entries is Monday, Jan 28, 2013. Entries should include your full name, address and contact details. Send your entries to:

Diva Universal – The Star
c/o Arcis Communications Sdn Bhd
38-5A Jalan PJU 1/3A, Sunway Mas Commercial Centre,
47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

Related Stories:
Meghan Markle plays smart and sassy role in 'Suits'

More entertainment news from 988

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 04:13 PM PST

THIS week, 988 brings you loads more entertainment stories, interviews and of course, chart-topping hits.


Monday-Friday (Jan 7-18)

One of Asia's biggest alternative rock bands, MAYDAY, is coming to Malaysia for its "No Where World Tour" concert.

Come March 2, Putra Indoor Stadium at the Bukit Jalil National Sports Complex, will be transformed into MAYDAY's "Noah's Ark".

From today, all 988 deejays are competing to become the "captain" of MAYDAY's Noah's Ark. As the captain, the winning DJ gets to promote the concert exclusively in his or her show.

Meanwhile, the show's listeners stand to win some exclusive merchandise. Let the games begin!

The Feature

Monday-Tuesday, 9am-10am

Dread it or love it, the start of the school year is here.

Funnily enough, the ensuing grumbles may not only come from the kids but their parents as well. It brings excitement and anticipation – as well as anxiety, fear, and loathing. The prep work is no mean feat too.

Find out what some people have to say about it.

Street VIP

Wednesday-Friday, 9am-10am

One of the most popular writers in Taiwan – Hou Wen Yong – shares his views on love and relationship. Rumour has it that Ho burns all the books that he reads.

Find out if there is any truth in this in an exclusive interview with the author.

Music Gets Crazy

Monday-Friday, 1pm-4pm

In Stars Guide this week, Show Luo Zhi Xiang aka Xiao Zhu (Little Pig) wants to introduce you to his BFF and it's not Jolin Tsai.

Meanwhile, almost every "office lady" is inspired by the looks of the character played by Ariel Lin Yi Cheng in the award winning Taiwanese drama, In Time With You.

So does Lin dress similarly off-screen?

Also, the dazzling Ding Dang wants to undergo cosmetic surgery. Find out why.

Night Chat

Monday-Friday, 10pm-midnight

We're reaching the climax of Night Little Story: Postcards From Xiao Xiao (Night Ting Xiao Gu Shi: Xiao Xiao De Ming Xing Pian) after nearly six months of heartfelt sharing between two strangers.

The recipient of all the postcards, Ah Da, has now figured out the identity of the sender, Xiao Xiao, but the latter is still unaware of the receiver's identity.

What will happen next? Hear the story unfold this week.

For more information, log on to www.988.com.my. 988 is operated and owned by The Star.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Clinton to resume duties Monday following treatment for clot

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 07:12 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will resume her official duties on Monday, five days after being released from a hospital for treatment of a blood clot, the State Department said on Sunday.

Clinton, 65, will sit down with assistant secretaries of state for a closed-door meeting on Monday at 9:15 a.m. (1415 GMT) at the start of a week-long schedule containing nearly a dozen meetings, including three at the White House.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech "Frontlines and Frontiers: Making Human Rights a Human Reality" at Dublin City University in Ireland December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech "Frontlines and Frontiers: Making Human Rights a Human Reality" at Dublin City University in Ireland December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The secretary was released from New York Presbyterian Hospital last Wednesday, after a stay of several days during which she was given blood thinners to treat the clot in a vein behind her right ear. She has been resting at home in New York since then.

Clinton has suffered a series of ailments over the last month, including a stomach virus and a concussion.

Her doctors have said they expect her to make a full recovery.

The State Department said Clinton has been keeping up with her work by talking to her staff and receiving memos.

Her first White House meeting this week will take place on Tuesday and include Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and national security adviser Tom Donilon, the State Department said.

She is also scheduled to meet with the ambassadors of Ireland and South Africa on Tuesday, and with Afghan President Hamid Karzai later in the week.

Clinton is expected to step down in the next few weeks. President Barack Obama has chosen Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to succeed her.

(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Philip Barbara)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Australia braces for "catastrophic" wildfire day

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 06:49 PM PST

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia was bracing on Monday for days of "catastrophic" fire and heat wave conditions, with fires already burning in five states and as a search continued for people missing after devastating wildfires in the island state of Tasmania.

Houses destroyed by a bushfire are seen in ruins in Dunalley, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Hobart, January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Kidd/Pool

Houses destroyed by a bushfire are seen in ruins in Dunalley, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Hobart, January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Kidd/Pool

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured fire-ravaged Tasmanian townships and promised emergency aid for survivors, who told of a "fireball" that engulfed communities across the thinly-populated state on Friday and Saturday.

"The trees just exploded," local man Ashley Zanol told Australian radio, recounting a wall of flames that surrounded his truck as he carted water to assist fire crews in the hard-hit township of Murdunna, largely levelled in the inferno.

Tasmanian police said around 100 people feared missing in bushfires had been accounted for and there had so far been no deaths as authorities combed through still-smouldering ruins of homes and vehicles, while evacuating local people and tourists.

Bushfires were ablaze in five of Australia's six states, with 90 fires in the most populous state New South Wales, and in mountain forests around the national capital Canberra.

Severe fire conditions were forecast for Tuesday, replicating those of 2009, when "Black Saturday" wildfires in Victoria state killed 173 people and caused $4.4 billion (2.7 billion pounds) worth of damage.

A record heat wave, which began in Western Australia on December 27 and lasted eight days, was the fiercest in more than 80 years in that state and has spread east across the nation, making it the widest-ranging heat wave in more than a decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Tuesday would bring the highest "catastrophic" bushfire temperature conditions, said fire officials, under which people are advised to flee if fire threatens, as the blaze is likely to be too fierce for fire crews to easily extinguish.

"Any fire that burns under the predicted conditions -- 40 degree (Celsius) temperatures (104 Fahrenheit), below 10 percent humidity, winds gusting over 70 kilometres an hour (43mph) -- those conditions are by any measure horrendous," said New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers.

In the Australian capital Canberra, hit by a firestorm in 2003 that destroyed hundreds of homes, authorities said they were expecting the worst conditions in the decade since, with a fifth day of searing temperatures and strong winds.

"With those winds it boosts up the fire danger significantly," the city's deputy fire chief Michael Joyce told local reporters.

Blazes sparked by weekend lightning storms were already burning in forests surrounding the sprawling lake-and-bushland city, as they did 10 years earlier.


Australia, the world's driest inhabited continent, is particularly vulnerable to bushfires, fuelled each summer by extreme heat and by what climate scientists say is creeping climate shift blamed for hotter average temperatures globally.

Authorities warned earlier in the Australian summer that much of the country faced extreme fire conditions this season, after several years of cooler conditions that had aided forest growth, but also created tinder dry fire fuel conditions.

Gillard warned all Australians to be alert as temperatures soared in coming days.

"We live in a country that is hot and dry, and where we sustain very destructive fires periodically, so there is always going to be risk," she told reporters.

"We do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."

Australia is the world's second largest wheat exporter, but it's wheat harvest was not expected to be affected by the fires and hot weather, as the vast majority of this season's winter crop had already been harvested, analysts said.

"In respect to the summer crop, the sunflowers, sorghum for example, the weather will have an impact, particularly in northern New South Wales where they had low soil moisture coming into the season," said Andrew Woodhouse, grains analyst at Advance Trading Australasia.

GrainCorp, Australia's largest listed agricultural company, said the planting window for crops like sorghum closes in mid-February, which would allow farmers to delay seeding until conditions improve.

"Farmers will be looking for rain for sure, but we will have to wait and see what happens," said GrainCorp spokesman Angus Trigg.

(Additional reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Russian Orthodox Church head urges followers to adopt children

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 04:29 PM PST

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of Russia's dominant church urged its citizens to adopt children, speaking in a Russian Orthodox Christmas address on Monday after President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law barring Americans from adopting Russian children.

Believers place lit candles during a Christmas Eve service at Kazansky Cathedral in St. Petersburg January 6, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Believers place lit candles during a Christmas Eve service at Kazansky Cathedral in St. Petersburg January 6, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Patriarch Kirill paid particular attention to the issue in a Christmas message, lending support to Putin's promises - issued along with a law that outraged liberals and child rights activists - that Russia will take care of its own.

"It is very important for our people to adopt orphans into their families, with joy and a special sense of gratitude to God, giving them not only shelter and an upbringing but also giving them their love," the Russian Orthodox Church head said.

The ban on American adoptions is part of a law Putin signed on December 28 in retaliation for U.S. legislation designed to punish Russian human rights violators, which the Kremlin chief said is poisoning relations.

Critics of the Russian legislation say Putin has held the welfare of children trapped in a crowded and troubled orphanage system hostage to political manoeuvring, reducing their chances of finding loving homes or adequate medical care.

The numbers of adoptions by Russian families are modest, with some 7,400 adoptions in 2011 compared with 3,400 adoptions of Russian children by families abroad - nearly 1,000 of those by Americans.

In signing the legislation, Putin echoed Russian lawmakers' arguments that American parents who have been accused of abusing their adopted Russian-born children have been treated too leniently by U.S. courts and law enforcement.

He also signed a decree ordering improvements in the care for orphaned Russian children and appealed to patriotism, suggesting that Russians have an obligation to care for the country's disadvantaged children.

Kirill added a religious element to that message, saying that "the Lord tells His followers that if they want to reach the Kingdom of God they must ... share their opportunities with the needy - primarily invalids, the elderly, and children."

"'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them,' says the Lord. These words from Him should ... make us all realize how important children are in the eyes of God," he said.

"And as we celebrate Christmas I would like to appeal to everyone with a request: If you can take this important step in life aimed at adopting children, supporting orphans, take this step," Kirill said. "There should be no orphans in our country."

More than 650,000 children are considered orphans in Russia, including those rejected by their living parents or taken from dysfunctional homes. Of that total, 110,000 lived in state institutions in 2011, according to government figures.

More than three-quarters of Russians consider themselves Russian Orthodox, but far fewer attend church regularly despite a resurgence of religion following the demise of the communist Soviet Union.

The Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar and celebrates Christmas on January 7.

Kirill's midnight service at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral was shown live on state television, which also showed Putin - a former KGB officer who has cultivated close ties with the church - attending a service in the southern city of Sochi.

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Nicol David retains World Series Squash Finals title

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 04:48 PM PST

LONDON: Nicol David retained her World Series Squash Finals title on Sunday with a straight games defeat of England's Laura Massaro, the player she had also defeated to clinch a seventh World Open last month.

The 29-year-old Malaysian star won 11-3, 11-2, 11-9 having trailed 6-8 in the third game.

"It means a lot to start 2013 with a good win. Knowing she was in front of her home fans I knew I had to start strongly and not let her feed off the crowd," said Nicol after the final played at London's Queen's Club.

In the men's final, Egypt's Amr Shabana came from behind to beat England's Nick Matthew 4-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-6.

"I love this tournament," said 32-year-old Shabana. - AFP

Challenging task awaits Chong Wei in Seoul

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 05:44 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: It will be one of the most challenging starts for world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei when the defending men's singles champion opens his campaign in the Korean Open Super Series Premier in Seoul on Wednesday.

The 30-year-old will have to deal with the emerging forces from China but national coach Tey Seu Bock believes his charge is up to the task.

Two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan is not competing but China will be banking on Chen Long, Du Pengyu and Wang Zhengming to spoil the party for Chong Wei. Based on past encounters, all three are capable of giving Chong Wei a run for his money.

China have also fielded former world champion Chen Jin in the season opener but he is not seen as a major threat.

"It will not be easy. Chong Wei will be 31 this year (in October) while the younger players from China are performing better in every tournament. They will be out to push Chong Wei to the limit," said Seu Bock.

"But Chong Wei is an extremely determined person and we are banking on his experience to pull through. Everyone is hoping for a good start to the year. Hopefully, Chong Wei will show that he is ready for a roaring start to the season"

Chong Wei, who is playing in his first tournament since injuring his thigh during last month's Super Series Masters Finals in Shenzhen, will face Zhengming in the opening round. If all goes according to plan, he may meet Chen Jin in the semi-finals.

Chen Long and Du Pengyu are in the lower half of the draw with Malaysian Liew Daren and one of these Chinese players should make it to the final.

The other Malaysian representative is former world junior champion Zulfadli Zulkifli, who opens his campaign in the qualifying tournament tomorrow.

The Korean Open is the first of the six tournaments lined up for Chong Wei before the major one – the World Championships in Guangzhou in August. The others are the Opens in Malaysia, England, India, Indonesia and Japan.

"This is the start of my third year coaching Chong Wei. In 2011, Chong Wei did not become a world champion. Last year, he was denied the glory of becoming an Olympic champion.

"On both occasions, he lost narrowly to Lin Dan in the final. I hope to see Chong Wei make it this year as the world meet is his main target," said Seu Bock.

Kwong Beng leaves BAM and may turn pro

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 05:46 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: National men's singles player Chan Kwong Beng has quit the national badminton team at the age of 24.

Following his failure to produce any significant results, Kwong Beng said it was time to call an end to his 11-year career.

With his exit, only two shuttlers – Liew Daren and Chong Wei Feng – from his batch are left to carry the torch if world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei retires.

Kwong Beng said he made the decision after a long deliberation.

"I leave knowing that I've given my best in all those years. It is unbelievable that 11 years have gone by. I began my career as a junior at the BAM Academy. For the last few years, I worked doubly hard to make a major breakthrough. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy any outstanding results," said Kwong Beng.

When Kwong Beng began his career, he was touted as one of the brightest local stars. He was outstanding in training and was one of the favoured sparring partners of Chong Wei. When Chong Wei was preparing for last year's Olympic Games, Kwong Beng was handpicked to train with him in London.

Kwong Beng's biggest drawback was that he was his own worst enemy. He failed to translate his training form when competing and hardly had any outstanding international results to show.

Except for a semi-final finish at the Malaysia International Challenge last month, Kwong Beng was an early round casualty in the international front last year.

"I am grateful to the BAM for keeping me under their wings and giving me so many opportunities over the last 11 years. Chong Wei has been a good mentor to me and I will not forget all his pep talks and encouragements. It is just unfortunate that I did not take my chances well," said Kwong Beng

Kwong Beng, however, hopes that his peers – Daren and Wei Feng – will be more successful than him.

Daren won his first Super Series title last year at the French Open while Wei Feng reached his first Super Series semi-finals at the China Open.

"Our batch has been under tremendous pressure as we are constantly compared with Chong Wei. I am glad that Daren and Wei Feng have shown some improvements and I wish them plenty of success this year."

On his future plan, Kwong Beng said that he would turn professional.

"I am still very much into badminton. I will give it a shot as a professional player and see whether my fortunes will change for the better. Firstly though, I must find a sponsor," added Kwong Beng.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Share prices on Bursa Malaysia are expected to be firmer this week

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 06:05 PM PST

US Stocks: Analysts not certain gains could be upheld in coming weeks

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 06:02 PM PST

Japanese shares likely to extend rallies this week

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 05:59 PM PST

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Fugitive on the run

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 03:31 AM PST

Beyond the electrifying momentum, Conspiracy 365 is really a coming-of-age tale about family.

IT'S ironic that Australia's first lady of crime fiction, Gabrielle Lord, should find the occupational hazards of being a crime writer lurking within the confines of a publisher's office rather than out in the field when she's researching psychotic killers with detectives and forensic anthropologists.

"Publishers keep wanting more of the same, whereas writers often want to develop other aspects of their craft and move out of the 'marketing box' they're put in," says the Sydney-born author in an e-mail interview.

She has never bowed to those pressures though, choosing to stake her stories on a variety of criminal subjects that correspond with the current zeitgeist instead of sticking to a generic storyline that works.

Since she started writing professionally at the age of 30, Lord has tackled plots about a school kidnapping (Fortress), an iconic star caught in a big scandal (Spiking The Girl) and a series of murders by a modern day "vampire" (Death By Beauty), just to name a few.

Pushing 66 now, the grandmother of two has decided to bring her brand of crime thriller to a new generation of young readers with Conspiracy 365, a unique series of 12 novels published in 12 months.

"The series was born when Andrew Berkut, the publisher at Scholastic, met me at a café and put a proposition to me: would I be interested in writing a 12-book thriller for Young Adult readers with a book coming out monthly. I thought it was a marvelous, original idea and said 'yes!' almost on the spot," Lord shares.

Conspiracy 365 revolves around 15-year-old Callum "Cal" Ormond who is forced to become a fugitive as he tries to uncover the truth behind the death of a family member.

Cal's father had fallen gravely ill while he was researching his family's history in Ireland the previous year. Before his death, he wrote his son a letter and sent him some mysterious drawings. As the first book January opens, our young hero is told by an anonymous psychiatric patient that his father was murdered because he had uncovered the secret of the "Ormond Singularity". The man also warned Cal that he must go into hiding for exactly a year, or he will be killed.

Set in a fictional Australian city, the series kicks off on New Year's Eve and counts down, month by month, as Cal is hurled into a life on the run.

With its fast-paced plot and narratives that almost always carried from one minute to another, Conspiracy 365 has been likened to being a teenage version of the hit television series 24.

However, writing a series of 12 books that chronicled one whole month each proved to be no easy feat for Lord.

"It took almost four years of my life! The biggest challenge was to make a story so thrilling that it didn't 'sag in the middle' because the action of most thrillers is contained within a few days.

"In my adult novels, I only have to build to one denouement. With the series, I had to create 12 of them, each one building towards the final dramatic action in Book 12 of the series," says Lord who lists Charles Dickens, Alistair MacLean and Alfred Hitchcock as literary inspirations.

The page numbers of each volume in the series count down in reverse numerical order with the chapter headings indicating the days left before the end of the year, an ingenious adrenaline-pumping device that serves to remind readers of Cal's potential bleak fate.

Another approach that Lord took to sustain the electrifying momentum in the series was through extensive research, something which the author is notorious for.

She dipped into the huge data base of her past research and travelled to Ireland to chase up the story concerning the Virgin Queen and her cousin, Black Tom Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond.

Coincidentally, one of the subjects of her research is a family member.

"Black Tom Butler was actually a very distant relative. I was a Butler before I married Mr Lord," she reveals.

Strip away all the thrill and action in the series, Conspiracy 365 is really a coming-of-age tale about family.

"Underneath the fast-moving action is the real, soul story of a boy leaving his mother's house and facing dangerous challenges so that he emerges as a young man at the end of the series. It is really a rites of passage story disguised as an action thriller," says Lord.

The multi-layered theme of the series has clearly resonated well with many young readers. In Lord's native Australia, the books have sold over a million copies and have been adapted into an epic 12-part drama series.

"I was thrilled with it.The producer was very kind and invited me to watch some of the scenes being shot in Victoria. To see my characters come to life in the forms of brilliant young and not-so-young actors was very exciting," she says.

Lord is currently working on a trilogy involving the same characters in Conspiracy 365 because she enjoys writing about "younger people having extraordinary adventures". Ultimately though, her heart will always remain within the crime thriller genre.

"I love the way crime thrillers move. A crime catalyses all other action and allows characters to emerge under duress so that more is revealed about them and the crime together. Justice is done, which is satisfying as that is often not the case in the real world."

Being true to yourself

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 03:15 AM PST

A heart recognises the truth of another heart as keenly as a book lover discerns a writer's craft.

TODAY is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one." – Brad Paisley, an American singer/songwriter and musician.

Indeed. At least that is what we hope for on the first day of a new year. But when I reached into the jar and read the 365 little vignettes I had scribbled unfailingly each day in 2012, I was not impressed.

When put together, they will not make a great story mainly because I, the writer, was not true to myself.

That is paradoxical. From hindsight, how can one not be true to oneself when one is the one who knows oneself best? When I scrutinised the notes as a book reviewer might, searching deeply for the author's tone in attempt to find her soul at the moment of her writing – and I realised I sounded self-serving.

Excuses were often made for problems, and every troubled entry felt as though it was always a battle between my heart and my mind, and the latter tended to win.

In one instance: at the airport departure gate, before flying back to Sydney from Kuala Lumpur, I wanted to hug my mother. She stood quietly, but I perceived (or rather, my mind perceived) her as expressionless and emotionless. My embrace was not reciprocated; her hands dangled downward as much as, I suspected, her eyes were downcast.

My mind thought her cold but my heart understood only too well her yearning for my love. My mind scorned, but my heart helped me discern, in that fleeting moment, my own hesitation in embracing her. My mind rebuked; my heart nudged me at my own lack of warmth. My mind won, and I came home heart-wrenched and vehement. My heart coiled as I made the day's entry. It was page 273 of the book I now call 2012, which, if published, would be a mind-boggling book. My mind boggles at my heart, always placing it at a crossroads, easily pained and misled. When the heart tries to reveal the mind's shrewdness, it falls, pulling down the main thread that governs my composure and humanism.

Who wouldn't love their children? My heart emerged once again and decisively asked at page 280, a week after that heartbreaking airport fiasco. So you will read on page 281 that I called her. Then I wrote about the long chat I had with her on pages 282, 283, 284, 285.... At last, the entry in which I muse about flying home to see her this month on her birthday emerged on pages 300, 301 and so on. My heart stood guard against the nefariously sneaky, suspicious and insecure mind. It prevailed, and its prose was fluid and soothing as it engaged with heartfelt retrospectives and perspectives. My heart was writing, and in its words there was no sign of contradictions – until....

On page 362, the anxious mind snubbed the content heart, creeping out from behind bars to stir trouble and gloat over its power. In its most vicious attempt, it unleashed inexplicable angst, distressing friends and family. The mind remained uncomfortably triumphant for a few days. So, on page 362, and in place of a celebratory birthday, was a heartbreaking episode, all because the writer's feeble heart – my heart – was unable to speak the truth. And so the writer wrote in language foiled by anger and with excuses and denunciations most self-serving. The mind, with its hideous power cumulating on page 362, thundered on with self-centred righteousness, not caring to describe the feelings of others. The entry that day was truculent, spurious and unbearably painful to read. The details I must spare you, as advised by my heart while writing this week's Book Nook.

At least the heart did prevail with a little enlightenment from Daisaku Ikeda who says in his book entitled Human Revolution, "Become the master of your mind rather than let your mind master you."

My next book, 2013, will be better – I promise. It will be written in crystal clear prose revolutionised by my serene, forgiving, compromising, loving and unjudgemental heart. The story will be sublime, as it will be woven with 365 uplifting vignettes. The heart, from now on no longer timorous, will steer and guide each entry, including this one on page two, where the mind is a glitch banished by my realisation that I want to write a marvellous year-long story.

Fakery, bombast, exaggeration and self-serving biases are inevitable in our lives. It is good to write one page a day, literally, to document our ever-changing life conditions and to reflect upon the same of others. The entrenched mind will always be judgemental, but it is the heart that speaks the truth. If I am asked to describe my mother, my heart speaks only of her kindness, endurance, wisdom and perseverance, for the truth lies in the hearts of all mothers. A heart sees another heart as keenly as a book lover discerns a writer's craft. n Abby Wong begins 2013 with this thought: 'To shift one's thinking and see from another perspective is the first step to changing both oneself and one's environment.' – Daisaku Ikeda, author, poet and president of Soka Gakkai International, a movement that promotes peace worldwide.


Posted: 05 Jan 2013 03:39 PM PST

FOR the week ending Dec 30, 2012:


1. Syed Mokhtar Albukhary: A Biography by Premilla Mohanlall

2. Creating A Purposeful Life by Richard Fox

3. Unstoppable: The Incredible Power Of Faith In Action by Nick Vujicic

4. 1D: The One Direction Story by Danny White

5. The Wisdom And Teachings Of Stephen R. Covey by Stephen R. Covey

6. A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

7. Achieve Your Goals by Infinite Ideas

8. Justin Bieber: Just Getting Started by Justin Bieber

9. The Lost Empire Of Atlantis by Gavin Menzies

10. The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy


1. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

2. Life Of Pi by Yann Martel

3. The Hobbit (movie tie-in) by J.R.R. Tolkien

4. Jack Reacher: One Shot (movie tie-in) by Lee Child

5. Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L. James

6. Les Miserables (movie tie-in) by Victor Hugo

7. The Sins Of The Father by Jeffrey Archer

8. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

9. The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

10. The Perfect Present by Karen Swan

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

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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The Star Online: Nation

10,000 free return tickets

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 03:38 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: A total 10,000 free AirAsia return tickets will be offered under the carrier's 1Malaysia Integration Programme.

An AirAsia spokesperson said the offer would apply to Malaysians flying to-and-from the peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak.

The tickets are only offered to Malaysians and AirAsia is planning to give out more details to the public today.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had announced the programme on Saturday, saying the offer would last for a month.

He, however, did not reveal when the offer period would start.

According to the spokesperson, AirAsia serviced 375 flights from Sabah and Sarawak to the peninsular and vice-versa every week.

These are divided into eight airports in Sabah and Sarawak (Kota Kinabalu, Bintulu, Kuching, Labuan, Miri, Sibu, Sandakan and Tawau) and three airports in the peninsula (Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Penang).

Kuala Lumpur's trips amounted for the lion's share of the total, including 84 flights to Kota Kinabalu and 70 flights to Kuching.

AirAsia currently uses the Airbus A320 aircraft for these flights, which can seat around 180 people.

The spokesperson added that AirAsia carried more than 2.5 million passengers, including foreigners, between the peninsular and Sabah and Sarawak last year.

Consumers advised to avoid spending near Chinese New Year

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 03:36 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Smart consumers should shop early for Chinese New Year to stretch their ringgit to the maximum.

Those celebrating the occasion should pre-order their groceries and book tables at restaurant early to avoid paying exorbitant festive prices.

This will also ensure that they have a better selection at the best prices, say grocers and restaurants.

Grocers have advised consumers to make bookings for popular festive ingredients such as tiger prawns, bawal putih, sea cucumber and CNY goodies like pineapple tarts and kueh kapit, as soon as possible before prices escalate in the coming weeks.

Fresh food wholesaler Charlie Lim, 58, whose shop is in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam, said his regular customers had already booked CNY delicacies like tiger prawns, imported scallops and sea cucumbers.

"My tiger prawns are usually priced about RM70 per kilo, but I am expecting prices to go up by 10% starting next week.

"I encourage people to start buying seafood now.

"If properly frozen, most seafood can keep well for up to nine months without the taste being affected," he said.

Lim Cheng Kok, 38, who operates a seafood stall at the Taman Megah morning market, warned that the retail price for tiger prawns and bawal putih, which is RM65 and RM90 per kilo respectively, may increase by up to 30% two weeks before CNY.

He said that more than 20 regular customers have pre-ordered these items, which he keeps frozen for them to collect later.

When met at the same market, pork seller Chok Tong Chai, 60, said many customers have pre-ordered pork belly and trotters.

Meanwhile, Oriental Group of Restaurants director Justin C.K. Hor said that about 80% of tables in their restaurants have been taken up for CNY reunion dinners.

"Some people book as early as three months in advance," he said, adding that a new yee sang dish that includes ikan bilis and soft-shelled crab was on the menu this year.

506 employers charged under labour laws in 2012

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 03:32 PM PST

PUTRAJAYA: A total 506 employers in the peninsular were charged with various offences under the labour laws last year.

Peninsular Malaysia Manpower Department director-general Mohd Jeffery Joakim said 80% of them were brought to the courts for offences related to emoluments.

"Among the offences were failure to pay salary arrears, compensation and gratuity that had been ordered by the Labour Court.

"They were charged under Section 69 of the Employment Act 1955," he said here yesterday.

Mohd Jeffery said that during the period, 103 charges were made under the Workmen's Compensation Act 1952 against employers who failed to insure their foreign workers and did not report accidents to the Manpower Office.

He said five companies were charged under the Private Employment Agencies Act 1981 for operating without licence.

He also said that following checks and complaints from workers, the department had issued 461 summonses to various employers with 67% of the summonses for failing to report the hiring of foreign workers within 14 days of employment.

"Another 10% of the summonses were against bosses who did not pay salaries within the stipulated period," he said.

Mohd Jeffery said that since 2010, RM1.47mil in compounds had been collected.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Funding the dream

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 04:17 AM PST

IT takes virtually no budget to make a short film. All you need is a camera or a smartphone, and if you have neither, you can easily borrow one.

But if you have a grand idea (perhaps Avatar meets Mission: Impossible meets Titanic meets The Avengers) that requires an equally grand sum of money, here are some ways you can source for funding.


> BMW Shorties

BMW Group Malaysia is perhaps one of the first corporate giants to ride the short film wave, setting up the country's most highly anticipated competition, BMW Shorties, in 2006. Past winners like Quek Shio Chuan have gone on to bag the Best Short Film Award at the prestigious Alto Vicentino Film Festival in Italy.

Grand prize: RM75,000

Entry fee: Free

Competition period: Every September


> KL 48 Hour Film Project

The 48 Hour Film Project first started in Washington, DC, in 2001. Today, filmmakers from more than 70 cities around the globe, including Kuala Lumpur, compete to produce the best short film in just 48 hours.

Grand prize: The chance to represent Malaysia in the 48 Hour Film Project finals in Filmapalooza at Los Angeles, United States.

Entry fee: RM350

Competition period: Every October


> The Berjaya Youth Short Film Competition

Open to youths age 18 to 25, the competition is an initiative by Berjaya Group to provide young filmmakers with a platform to express their creativity.

Grand prize: RM35,000 and a Canon Digital SLR

Entry fee: Free

Competition period: Every May/June


> Aiffa 2013 Short Film Competition

Open to filmmakers from Asean, this inaugural short film competition seeks to capture the beauty and diversity of region's culture.

Grand prize: Category A: Students, RM3,000 (US$1,000); Category B: Filmmakers, RM9,000 (US$3,000)

Entry fee: Free

Competition period: July 11, 2012 to Jan 31, 2013



> Film Art And Multimedia Development Fund

In an effort to encourage the production of high-quality local films, the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) provides grants to help filmmakers produce and publish their short films.

Amount awarded: Up to RM30,000

Application period: Available all year round



> PitchIN

Have a creative idea for a short film? Why not get the public to "pitch in" some money to get it started? PitchIN is a website where project owners can propose their projects and the public can pledge to donate any sum of money.


Related Stories:
Sense of community
Short films starting to appeal to a bigger audience

Wong Kar Wai returns with new film 'The Grandmaster'

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 02:34 AM PST

BEIJING: Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's long-awaited martial arts film "The Grandmaster" was shown in public for the first time in Beijing on Sunday, after more than six years in production.

The film spans several decades of Chinese history to tell the story of legendary martial artist Yip Man, who went on to train Bruce Lee, and features lengthy battles between rival kung fu masters.

Wong is best known for his 2000 slow-burn drama "In the Mood for Love".

His new film, packed with Chinese stars including Hong Kong actor Tony Leung and Beijing-born starlet Zhang Ziyi, appears well placed to capture the local audience.

In his first press appearance to promote the film, Wong was also confident that "The Grandmaster", which runs for over two hours in its current edit and is steeped in traditional martial arts culture, would be well received abroad.

"There is no such thing as a Western or Eastern audience... the elements of cinema are the same worldwide, although their expression is different," said Wong, wearing his trademark dark glasses.

The film, set to hit Chinese cinemas on Tuesday, follows its lead character through some of China's most tumultuous recent history including the Japanese invasion in the 1930s.

It has been delayed several times, amid rumours of extensive reshooting and injured actors, but Wong shrugged off claims that the filming had taken too long.

"It felt like three years of university... we didn't want filming to end," he said.

Wong made his international breakthrough in 1994 with "Chungking Express" and was the first Chinese director to sit on the jury at Cannes.

In February he will lead the jury of the Berlin film festival, which traditionally highlights Asian cinema. - AFP

Depardieu gets Russian passport, meets Putin: Kremlin (Updates)

Posted: 06 Jan 2013 01:20 AM PST

MOSCOW:Gerard Depardieu, the French actor who says he is quitting his homeland to avoid higher taxes for the rich, has received a Russian passport and met with President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said Sunday.

Depardieu met Putin, who earlier granted him citizenship, at the Russian leader's residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Saturday, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP.

But Putin did not personally deliver the document to the actor during what was "a short meeting," Peskov said.

Depardieu "was handed his passport," Peskov said without providing detail.

National television broadcast images of the Sochi meeting featuring Depardieu and Putin hugging each other and sharing a meal at Putin's residence.

Dressed casually in a white shirt and a dark jacket, Depardieu asked the Russian strongman whether he had seen a film about the mysterious Tsarist monk Grigory Rasputin played by the French actor.

"Did you see the movie at all?" Depardieu asked in remarks translated into Russian, appearing to use the familiar form of address to speak to Putin.

The film is a France-Russia co-production about a monk who was famous for his mystical influence over Russia's last Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra and was assassinated in December 1916 by a group of discontented aristocrats.

In a separate statement, the Kremlin said "the actor is in Russia on a private visit."

Russia's decision to grant citizenship to the star of Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card and the Asterix and Obelix series was the latest volley in a highly publicised row between the actor and the French government over its attempt to raise the tax rate on earnings of more than one million euros ($1.3 million) to 75 percent When Depardieu first announced he would leave the country to avoid the tax, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault branded the move "pathetic".

Earlier this week Russian television broadcast a letter in which the former Oscar nominee declared his love for Putin and called Russia a "great democracy".

The Kremlin move and the actor's subsequent comments praising Russia sparked amusement and disbelief among many in the country.

"He is impressed by our democracy - he has completely lost his marbles," wrote one Facebook user, Vladimir Sokolov.

Depardieu, who can easily earn up to two million euros per film and who has extensive business interests in France and elsewhere, will qualify for the 13 percent tax rate if he spends at least six months of the year in Russia.

The annual tax rate will go up to 30 percent on all income made locally and in other countries if he spends more than half the year abroad.

The eccentric actor has been a huge star in Russia since the Soviet era and still enjoys cult status among many movie buffs.

In a surreal twist to the saga over Depardieu's move into tax exile, cinema legend Brigitte Bardot earlier this week threatened to follow him out of France unless two elephants under threat of being put down are granted a reprieve.

The two elephants face being put down because they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis and deemed a threat to the health of other animals and visitors to the Tete d'Or Zoo in Lyon. - AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Controlling sugar levels

Posted: 05 Jan 2013 04:14 PM PST

Herbal and nutritional therapies for diabetes.

THIS is the third article on fighting diabetes. Diabetes is an impending national disaster and will consume much of our resources if we ignore the threat.

Already, one in five adults are afflicted. And the situation is getting worse.

In the first article, I explained how obese diabetics can reverse or cure their condition by reducing their weight to normal, which may include dieting, exercise, and even bariatric surgery for the morbidly obese after everything else has failed (and after adequate medical, dietary and psychological consultations).

In the second article, I explained how diabetes can be managed by a nutrient-dense, high-fibre, low saturated fat, whole-food (legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) diet combined with exercise and weight loss (if overweight).

I also shared about foods and nutrients that have been shown in scientific studies to improve insulin sensitivity. These include almonds, alpha lipoic acid, chromium, cinnamon, curcumin (turmeric), grapefruit, oatmeal, omega-3 (polyunsaturated fatty acids), vitamins D and K, and others.

Today, I would like to share some herbal and nutritional therapies that may be helpful in diabetes. For those with diabetes who are on drug treatment, these therapies may help them reduce or wean off the drugs. For those whose diabetes control is not good, these therapies may help avoid or delay the increase of drug dosage.

Remember that all drugs have multiple side-effects, while most herbal and nutritional therapies have multiple benefits, that is, even if the treatment fails to improve diabetes, there are other benefits that you can look forward to (eg some of these remedies also help normalise blood pressure).

A caveat: as with most herbal and nutritional therapies, only a few of the therapies mentioned below have undergone scientific studies to validate the claims. Most are based on traditional use, testimonials, and the clinical experience of doctors and other health practitioners I know.

With that disclaimer, and with the knowledge that these remedies are safe after being used for many years by many thousands of people, I advise those who are keen to try these therapies to do so without compromising the monitoring of diabetes (ideally by daily home blood glucose test), and without adjusting their drug doses on their own.

Let your doctor advise on that after seeing the record of your daily blood glucose. If the remedy works, the improvement can be seen as early as within one week, and it is reasonable to decide that it does not work if there are no improvements after one month of consumption.

Malaysia has a rich history of traditional medicines, and there are hundreds of herbal remedies claimed to be effective against diabetes.

I have tested some of these on my patients, and found several herbal teas and herbal juices indeed help in controlling the blood glucose in some patients. However, there are no formal studies to validate the claims made by the manufacturers of these products.

Berries: There are many berry-based fruit juices being sold. These are mostly claimed to be health-enhancing due to the high antioxidant content of berries and the other constituent fruits (eg mangosteen, pomegranate).

Many diabetics who consume these juices for the claimed health benefits also report better control of their diabetes. This has been confirmed by several doctors who have recommended these juices to their diabetic patients.

The most powerful of these berries (in terms of antioxidant power) are maqui, acai, gouji (wolfberry), and blackberries.

Probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are "good" or "friendly" bacteria that improve the health of our intestines (mainly the colon), as well as the rest of the body as a result of improved colon health.

These good bacteria actually line our intestines, making sure harmful bacteria don't get through into the body. Some of them also manufacture vitamin B (important for nerve health and managing stress), and help improve calcium absorption.

Prebiotics are food that feed the probiotics. Having abundant prebiotics will help the probiotic population grow. The gut has about 100 trillion bacteria. The percentage of good versus bad bacteria depends on the food and drugs you take.

Some raw foods contain live probiotics (eg yoghurt and other raw fermented foods) and/or prebiotics (eg insoluble fibre found in many fruits and veggies).

Note that cooking kills the probiotics.

Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria, so it is important that you replenish your gut probiotics after every course of antibiotics.

Probiotics have been known to give many health benefits – including healthy bowels; improving coeliac disease; preventing asthma, infections and allergies in children; helping in weight loss; improving skin health; and preventing recurrent yeast infections.

Recent studies have shown that probiotics can help prevent/delay type 1 diabetes (study by University of Florida, reported in May 2011 in Future Medicine), and help in the management of type 2 diabetes. Many studies have shown the benefits of probiotics for diabetics, especially the obese ones.

A 2010 multicentre, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention study on 87 obese subjects found that subjects who consumed yoghurt (containing probiotics) had significantly reduced abdominal fat, body weight, and other factors that indicated the benefits on metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

Thus, it is not surprising that many diabetics report better glucose control if they consume probiotics.

A review in Acta Diabetologica (December 2011) noted that intestinal microbiotica (ie the balance of good versus bad bacteria) is a causal factor in the development of the metabolic disorders such as diabetes. We will definitely see a bigger role for probiotics in mainstream modern medicine.

Already, many paediatricians are recommending milk formulas enriched with probiotics for growing children. There will come a time when probiotics will be officially endorsed as a daily supplement for all, as many of us health enthusiasts are already doing.

I get my probiotics through supplements, as I do not think that the yoghurt, yoghurt drinks, raw tempeh, natto, etc provide enough probiotics unless you consume lots and lots of it, like people of some other countries do as these are part of their usual meals.

Gum Arabic: Gum Arabic is the superstar of prebiotics. For many years, it has been used in the food and beverage industry, but not for its health benefits. It is the ingredient that helps keep the bubbles in your soda drink stable. Without the fizz, half the fun of drinking soda is gone (although drinking soda is certainly not good for health).

Since it is a powerful prebiotic, all the benefits of probiotics mentioned above can be expected from consuming it.

Gum Arabic is mainly produced in the arid lands of Sudan and neighbouring countries. It has been used as traditional medicine for many years, with many known health benefits. It was introduced to me by two friends, who also introduced me to the former Sudanese government minister who is the exporter.

We had a long discussion on the history and benefits of Gum Arabic. The former minister is convinced that it is the "food from heaven" ("Al Manna") mentioned in the Bible and the Quran.

My two friends had gone to Sudan with him to inspect the area that grew the Acacia trees that produced Gum Arabic (much like how latex is produced once the bark of the rubber tree is poked or cut), and to see the manufacturing process.

The gummy product is sourced from two Acacia species (A. senegal and A. seyal) and then processed to powder form. It is consumed after mixing with plain cold water. My two friends are now the importer and CEO respectively of the importing company.

My friends have first-hand knowledge of the benefits of Gum Arabic. One is a medical practitioner who runs a busy clinic. His patients with diabetes showed remarkable improvements after consuming Gum Arabic, including one man who had kidney failure, was on dialysis for many years, and had not produced any urine for the last 10 years.

I also have a good story to tell. My mother (83 years old) has been on hypertensive medicines for many years (not prescribed by me!). She tried Gum Arabic, and after several weeks, her pressure is now normal without any drugs.

However, her blood pressure still goes up when she is stressed, and returns to normal when she is able to rest and forget whatever upsets her. She is now getting my aunties to take it too.

I strongly recommend everyone to try Gum Arabic. There are many benefits that are already known from the prebiotic properties that it has.

However, I suspect that it has many other constituents that are yet to be discovered.

In the next article, I will share yet more nutritional options to prevent and fight diabetes.

In the meantime, do not forget that fighting diabetes (and other chronic diseases) begins with a healthy lifestyle, a healthy diet, sufficient exercise (including building muscles), and maintaining optimum weight. I hope all of you made resolutions to improve your health in 2013. Happy New Year!

> Dr Amir Farid Isahak is a medical specialist who practises holistic, aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine. He is a qigong master and founder of SuperQigong. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are those of the writer and readers are advised to always consult expert advice before undertaking any changes to their lifestyles. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

The genes of dieting

Posted: 05 Jan 2013 04:13 PM PST

Ongoing research is pointing to the fact that our genes may contain the answers to puzzling questions like why weight gain persists in some people, and why certain diets do not work for some people.

SO much has been said and written about dieting that you could probably fill whole buildings with the amount of information and research revolving around this issue.

People have tried all sorts of diets to lose weight. Some have gone carb-free, some have tried pills, some drink diet shakes, others eat only raw food. Some people are so desperate that they have tried all of the above.

A relatively new concept in dieting is genetic profiling. A few months ago, I wrote about genetic profiling in medicine and how it can be used to predict what diseases a person is susceptible to (Secrets in your DNA, Fit4Life, Oct 28, 2012).

The mapping of the human DNA – known as genomics – has allowed scientists to understand more about how certain genes play a role in the development of diseases.

Genetic profiling tests – now available in Malaysia – can be carried out to identify whether you carry the genetic components of certain diseases, such as certain cancers, heart disease, glaucoma and blood-clotting disorders.

If you have these genetic mutations, you may be at increased risk of developing these conditions, although it is by no means a guaranteed diagnosis.

As I wrote in my article, the benefit of genetic profiling is to enable you to take early action against the development of these diseases, by changing your lifestyle and behaviour to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Fat and genes

What role can genomics play in nutrition, specifically? More research is pointing to the fact that our genes may contain the answers to puzzling questions like why weight gain persists in some people, and why certain diets do not work for some people.

First, we have to look at the idea that obesity may be a genetic condition, as opposed to being caused by an overabundance of calories that are not burned off with physical activity.

In the early 1980s, a scientist called Dr Albert Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania, United States, conducted an experiment to test the question of nature-vs-nurture when it comes to obesity. He studied a Danish registry of adoptees, which contained detailed information like the names of the adoptees' biological parents, and the heights and weights of the adoptees, their biological parents and their adoptive parents.

Out of the 540 adult adoptees he studied, all were as fat as their biological parents. On the other hand, their weight was not associated with how fat their adoptive parents were.

These findings were given weight by the fact that the subjects had been adopted when they were very young – ranging from the first month to the first year of life – and would have grown up almost entirely within the environment of their adoptive families.

Dr Stunkard was able to show that fatness – among his subjects, at least – was influenced by genetics, not family environment and upbringing.

Other experiments have shown that overweight and obese people fight an uphill battle against their own metabolism when they try to lose weight. It has been shown that even after overweight people lose weight through strict diets, they will regain the weight later.

Scientists have since figured out that the body's metabolism slows down to half its original speed when a person loses weight, causing them to be unable to burn up calories as effectively.

In thin people, on the other hand, the metabolism doubles when they gain weight, and they are unable to stay fat.

If fat is indeed inherited, and if the body's metabolism appears designed to retain fat, as suggested by these findings, does this mean that there is no point in attempting to lose weight at all?

I would certainly disagree with such a view. But a better understanding of the invisible connection between genes and obesity can help overweight people accept that it is more difficult for them to lose weight, and that conventional lifestyle changes may not work for them.

Genetic secrets

Now, the genes may hold even more secrets to help people overcome their weight problems. The science of nutrition and dietetics is combining forces with genomics to gain insights into how different people react to certain elements of their diet, such as certain food and nutrients.

As nutritional genomics (or nutrigenomics) becomes even more advanced, we may eventually be able to tailor dietetic advice to every individual based on his/her genetic profile.

An article in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald in September highlighted the case of a couple who were both overweight and unable to lose weight despite trying to eat healthily. Their dietitian, who uses genetic testing in her practice, found that the wife was sensitive to carbohydrates, according to her genotype, while the husband had a balanced genotype. So a low-carb diet was more suitable for the wife, while the husband just needed calorie modification.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that people genetically predisposed to obesity are more likely to gain weight from sugary soft drinks, compared to people without the genetic traits.

Genes predisposing people to obesity also act in the brain to influence eating behaviour, rather than directly influencing metabolism.

At the same time, the brain also has sensors that detect the presence of different macronutrients, and then send messages to the brain about satiety. Because of genetic variations, these sensors may operate differently in different people.

What this means is that obese people are more likely to overeat, and that every individual has a different response to certain macronutrients. Some people become easily full from carbohydrates, while others need protein or fibre to feel satiated.

Such findings are very helpful for people with the genetic susceptibility to obesity, as they can learn to avoid certain foods or macronutrients – or target certain nutrients – with the concrete knowledge that the action is directly linked to information from their genes.

At the end of the day, the fundamental principle of losing weight is to burn off more calories than what you eat. Nutrigenomics cannot change this principle, but it can change the way you approach it, so that you are not trying diets or methods that are just not suitable for your genes.

Nutrigenomics is becoming increasingly popular in Australia, and it is only a matter of time before the practice catches on in Malaysia, where genetic profiling is already available in some clinics.

> Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

A personality for fitness

Posted: 05 Jan 2013 04:13 PM PST

Whether you are a social butterfly, a shy guy, or an adrenaline junkie, Fit4Life has compiled a list of different exercises to go with your different personality types as you kickstart your new year's resolution towards attaining better health and fitness.

IT'S a brand new year and you're all psyched about losing those extra kilos you gained during the holidays. Besides, there is no better time to make resolutions towards attaining better health and fitness.

Never mind that you made the same resolution last year (and the year before), this time around you are serious about getting that sculpted Victoria's Secret silhouette, and you're going to do whatever it takes to get there! Naturally, such a quest would entail an arduous exercise regime, which you will follow through, come rain or shine.

But fast forward six months, and there's a 50% chance that you would have given up your new fitness regime, according to the American Council on Exercise. The lack of planning, motivation and boredom, contribute to why people fall off the fitness wagon.

To give you a little boost on your journey towards achieving better mental and physical wellness, Fit4Life has compiled a list of exercises or sports to go with your different personality types.

As exercise makes up an integral part of the health and fitness equation, it is important to engage in regular physical activity to get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and above all, to stay in tip-top shape all year long!

The Social Butterfly

Social butterflies enjoy attention, and most of the time, these vivacious folks get what they want. Friendly and easygoing by nature, the social butterfly can often be seen flittering from one group to another. Somehow, they just get along with everybody.

Dancing is a cool and interactive way for these sociable creatures to stay healthy and fit. These sparkly personalities will surely enjoy meeting new people from dance classes as well. The best part is, they can even pick up a few moves to impress their family and friends at the numerous parties and social gatherings they will be attending.

Among the long-standing trends in dance fitness is Zumba, a high-octane workout that combines salsa and Latin dance moves. It is usually performed to Latin and world music beats, and is an explosive workout intended to help you get lean. An hour of Zumba burns up to 500-600 calories.

Another staple dance workout you will find in most commercial gyms is Step Aerobics. It uses an elevated platform in its routine. The platform's height can be tailored to suit individual needs by inserting risers under the step.

Also an excellent fat-burner, Step Aerobics burns about 500 calories in an hour. Other benefits of this workout include helping to boost coordination skills, and providing flexibility training to enhance joint movements.

The Adrenaline Junkie

Do you get a kick out of running mile upon mile, week after week? Do you crave the sweaty satisfaction that follows a prolonged bout of physical activity? If your answer is yes, chances are, you are probably an adrenaline junkie.

These restless folks regularly seek out thrilling pursuits or activities to get an adrenaline rush. Runners, in particular, have been known to be addicted to the 'runner's high', a term used to describe the feeling of euphoria that is induced by a vigorous workout.

These adrenaline junkies can take things up a notch by participating in activities like marathon running. Incidentally, the sport is becoming a popular trend in Malaysia, with many websites and blogs now dedicated to documenting all the latest happenings on the local marathon-running scene.

The thing about marathons is that, because it is usually done in droves, you will likely meet other like-minded exercise enthusiasts along the way. As marathoners often train together, this also means that your view about the sport will be wrapped up in nice thoughts about new friends and a hearty protein shake afterwards.

This positive reinforcement will likely promote a sense of heightened self-sufficiency when it comes to maintaining a regular exercise schedule in the long run.

The best part about marathon running? It's FREE. Plus, you will be the proud owner of some serious bragging rights once you complete that ultra-marathon.

Needless to say, there are about as many overweight marathon runners as there are flying pigs. An hour of running burns roughly 500-600 calories. Just make sure you have proper footwear to ensure your runs are comfortable and injury-free.

The Daredevil

A more extreme version of the adrenaline junkie, these daredevils regularly dally with danger in highly-challenging stunts simply for the heck of it. Never mind that they might break a bone or two while attempting some crazy feat.

To satiate their thirst for thrills, the restless daredevil can take on Parkour, a training discipline that uses the human body to get from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible.

Parkour practitioners, called traceurs, are known for their ability to navigate from rooftop to rooftop, make death-defying jumps with safe landings, and scale-mounting obstacles like walls, fence and boulders.

There is a growing community of Parkour practitioners on the local front. These ballsy folks turn urban environments into training grounds to challenge the limits of their bodies and minds.

However, due to the dangerous nature of Parkour, it is important to consider the risk factors involved in any movement you intend to perform. A novice practitioner should always start small before graduating to a more difficult movement (eg practise jumping off a knee-high ledge before aiming for a waist-high one).

The Homebody

Home is where the heart is for these reserved folk. The homebody prefers their couch to huge venues or social hangouts any day. But just because you love your couch doesn't mean you have to look like a couch potato. Your road to fitness can begin anywhere, even from the centre of your living room.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to splurge on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer to get a good workout. Home fitness videos are a nifty alternative for those who do not have access to the gym, or those who simply prefer to exercise at home.

There is an abundance of available home fitness videos to choose from, ranging from dance aerobics to more intense exercise programmes such as Insanity or the P90X. These home-based workouts provide an avenue for the homely to stay healthy.

The only downside to working out alone is that there is no one to watch for your form. Exercises that are done incorrectly can often lead to muscle strains or injury.

Luckily, we now have Lord Google at our fingertips. So be sure to look up any new exercise regimes or movements you are unfamiliar with before you start.

The Shy Guy

Unlike the homebody, while these shy fellows have no problem leaving the house, they clam up whenever they find themselves in a large crowd or among unfamiliar faces.

For the shy and de-conditioned fitness novice, we recommend group fitness classes such as indoor cycling. While there is no real need for verbal interaction in these classes, they create an opportunity for those unacquainted with human contact to mingle and to potentially make new friends.

Such classes promote a sense of togetherness, as fellow participants strive towards the mutual goal of improved health and fitness. Having a lead cycling instructor to guide and cheer you on is also a great motivator.

The good thing about cycling in a comfortable indoor studio is that any risk of getting run over by a truck or being eaten up by a bear (depending on your location) is removed.

In Malaysia, indoor cycling offers a safe respite from the sun, which makes exercising outdoors a rather unappealing prospect for some.

The Kiasu (Competitive) People

A little friendly rivalry can be healthy, especially when you are trying out a new fitness programme. After all, there is nothing like getting a little push from your workout buddies when you feel like throwing in the towel.

For those who enjoy a challenge, we reckon that CrossFit – a strength and conditioning programme that utilises a short-duration, high-intensity protocol – may be just the thing for you.

The programme, aimed at providing "athlete-training" for the masses using constantly varied functional movements, has emerged as a superstar in the fitness world since its beginnings in the 2000s.

For the CrossFit enthusiast, much of the excitement lies in competing to be at the top of the scoreboard at the gym's daily timed workout challenges or WODs (Workouts-of-the-Day) in a perpetual quest to get fitter, faster and stronger.

Obviously, he who trains like an athlete will look like one too. As CrossFit disciples will tell you, you can expect to make significant gains in strength over a short period of time with this gruelling programme.

The downside? Your hands will soon be as callused as a sailor's from performing one too many power-lifting movements like the "clean-and-jerk", swinging heavy kettlebells and doing multiple pull-ups.

The Angry

Whether it is dealing with a rogue boss or a nitpicking in-law, we've all had those moments when we feel our inner-Hulk flare dangerously close to the surface, threatening to burst out of our clothes and to start smashing.

But surely there is a more positive way to deal with anger than to run amok in your boxers. Uncontrolled anger can take a toll on both your health and relationships. Channel your inner-Hulk into martial arts such as muay thai or boxing instead.

Muay thai and angry folks seem almost a match made in anger-management heaven. Besides helping to deal with one's aggression, the sport also hones physical capacities like strength, agility and stamina. The sport's rigorous training also jacks up the body's metabolism and burns off roughly 600-700 calories in a typical one-hour session.

Similarly, boxing also helps build strength, speed and endurance, and is an effective fat-buster, burning over 500 calories an hour when sparring with a partner. Both sports will come in handy if you ever need to save the world from whiny super-villains.

The Clean Freak

While many exercisers take a sweat-soaked shirt as a sign of an effective workout session, others balk at the thought of getting down and dirty. If breaking a sweat isn't your thing, you can still get a good workout while keeping cool with exercises like swimming.

Swimming is a good cardiovascular workout that also has muscle-toning benefits. An easy swim burns roughly 500 calories an hour, while a more vigorous effort can help torch almost 700. Because water is about 800 times denser than air, each movement you make underwater is like a mini resistance workout for your entire body.

Each kick, push and pull that you muster while you swim works the core, hips, arms, shoulders and glutes.

Because you become virtually weightless when submerged underwater, there is little or no impact on the joints when you move. This means that you can swim just about as often as you like without risking injury. You certainly can't say the same for running or CrossFit.

Can't swim? Don't sweat it. Water gyms that utilise underwater gym equipment such as treadmills, bicycles and elliptical trainers are becoming increasingly popular on our shores. The low injury risk from exercising underwater makes the regime suitable even for those unaccustomed to physical activity, or are slightly on the chubby side.

Whatever your preferences, whether you are a raving CrossFitter hell-bent on kicking your competitor's butt or the shy guy who never could find the courage to talk to that cute girl at the gym, it is important to find an exercise regime that you really like doing.

Keep experimenting with different activities until you find something that you really enjoy. You can even try mixing things up for variety. As regular exercise has been proven to help you live longer and better, it only makes sense that you do something that you really like over the life-long course of your fitness journey.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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