Sabtu, 21 Disember 2013

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Luxury market cooling down

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

The government's anti-corruption and frugality campaign has been cited as one of the major factors dragging down growth in the country's high-end goods market.

BEIJING: Growth in luxury spending on the Chinese mainland is expected to cool to just 2% in 2013, down from 7% last year and a staggering 30% in 2011, according to Bain and Co's annual "China Luxury Goods Market Study" published on Tuesday.

The growth in China is moderate compared with global expansion of 6%. Total luxury spending of 116 billion yuan (RM63.45bil) in the country represented just 7% of sales worldwide.

The impact of the government crackdown on graft and extravagant spending is starting to have an effect, as is evident in the precarious drop in the sales of luxury watches and men's wear, two categories that featured prominently in gift purchases.

Watches, which make up more than one-fifth of the domestic luxury market, witnessed an 11% decline in 2013. Men's wear also shifted from being a growth category in prior years to slipping 1%.

"An interesting finding is that the higher the price for watches, the higher the decline," said Bruno Lannes, a Bain partner in China and lead author of the study.

Lannes said such momentum is likely to extend into 2014.

Gifting has long been identified as a major reason for luxury purchases in China. This year's research, however, found a significant drop in gifting among first-tier city consumers.

High-end businesses are feeling the pinch as stern government measures cut deeper into revenues.

LVMH, the world's largest luxury group by sales, suffered a 6% cut in net profit in the first half of 2013.

Handbag and accessory maker Gucci's quarterly growth of 0.6% was the slowest in four years.

This is largely attributable to "a consumer environment in China that has become more negative", Jean-Marc Duplaix, chief financial officer of Gucci's parent Kering, said during a conference call in October.

Swiss watch exports to China fell 13.9% year-on-year from January to October, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Investors are therefore increasingly concerned that China's tightening on customary gifts for favours, which often involved watches, would overshadow related businesses.

Dai Qiming, who recently quit his job as a civil servant at Shanghai's Xintiandi sub-district office, said he saw a sharp decline in receiving gifts by government officials in the first half of 2013.

"Some companies used to give out high-end bags or watches to my supervisors. Nowadays, none of them dare to receive the gifts because they don't want to risk losing their jobs," said Dai.

Despite the slowdown, Chinese remain the largest luxury buyers worldwide, with purchases constituting 29% of the global market, an increase of four percentage points versus last year.

Up to two-thirds of such luxury spending occurred overseas, the study showed, as the quick take-off of outbound tourism nurtured a growing number of price-savvy Chinese customers.

A majority of them are now wising up to the considerable price differences between domestic and overseas markets, which can be up to 40% for certain items, said Qi Xiaozhai, dean of the Shanghai Commercial Economic Research Centre. This has in part squeezed the amount spent domestically, Qi noted.

One bright spot is the prolific growth in women's categories, with women's wear and shoes showing robust growth from 8% to 10%, said Lannes.

"Much of this performance stems from women's increasing sophistication and influence, which has driven men's and women's share of luxury spending in China to equal levels in 2013. This marks a rapid evolution from a starting point of over 90% spending by men in 1995," he said.

Dear Santa, all we want for Christmas is ...

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

TAIPEH: Ho ho ho! It's that time of the year again when children around the world start thinking about writing their letter to Santa Claus and wondering when Rudolph and Santa will land at their home with all their gifts.

If you haven't sent your letter yet, we would remind you that it is always a good idea to write a Christmas wish list that will make Santa and his elves smile – they have been busy with Christmas preparations over the past few weeks – and maybe even lead to some amazing Christmas gifts.

With 2013 coming to a close, it is also a time for us to look back, cheer and reflect on Taiwan's 2013. At the same time, we should look ahead and plan what we wish for Taiwan over the forthcoming 12 months in an open letter to Santa. We are not too greedy, so we only have a few requests!

Dear Santa, we know that you are extremely busy at the North Pole at the moment, making sure all your presents, including ours, are ready and wrapped for Christmas Eve. If you are planning to give away any Made-in-Taiwan foodstuff, however, we need to remind you to be extremely careful with local products due to several ongoing food scandals across the island. The food scares have been going on from the start of this year and while the government said it is doing everything it can to prevent similar cases, we have lost our confidence in Taiwanese food manufacturers. From cooking oil to milk and rice, nothing is safe here any more, so our first wish would be that the government continually updates its inspection techniques and puts more efforts into prevention.

"Caution is the eldest son of wisdom," said Victor Hugo, meaning that we must fight against impulse and whim to give more consideration into our decisions. In the meantime, Santa, please help us make our food safer by bringing more of Hugo's books to our decision makers.

We wish this advice would also apply to leaders from our former diplomatic ally, The Gambia, which cut official diplomatic ties with Taiwan on Nov 14 without prior notice. After 18 years of partnership, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh terminated our relationship for some vague reasons related to his (people's) strategic interest.

Although it is perhaps time to pause and give more considerations to the country's "flexible diplomacy" policy, we also hope that you (Santa) can remind us in the future of this diplomatic fiasco when the next generation of leaders from both countries asks us to endorse their plans for a new "strategic partnership".

As you might already notice, politicians have a very bad memory, in that they only remember what is in their interest, so our third wish this year is that nobody ever forgets the Ma-Wang conflict of September 2013. After prosecutors claimed that Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng used his influence to persuade Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu in a court case, President Ma Ying-jeou stated that Wang's act of influence-peddling was the most "shameful day" in the history of democracy and rule of law in Taiwan. Yet, if you haven't noticed, everything is back to normal at the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan's parliament) where they recently celebrated Christmas with some nice Christmas carols.

"Back to normal" also summarises the situation at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), where they have been crafting a new "China Policy" for the last eight years. The latest promises were made by leaders of the opposition party on Nov 9, when they announced their willingness to enter into political talks with mainland China and said they would finalise their preliminary conclusion in January 2014. The party hopes to convince the public that they can deal with cross-strait relations better than the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), but we believe that they might need a little help with drafting their conclusions.

Last but not least, our last wish goes to the family of the Army Corporal Hung Chung-Chiu who suddenly passed away on July 4. Hung was only three days away from completing his military service when he tragically died of organ failure brought on by heatstroke. He was sent to military detention for carrying a camera phone, and subjected to arduous punishment exercises, which led to his death. We wish that you can bring some comfort to his family and hope that you can help prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. Taiwan's military should seriously consider further reforms to the management of military detention.

To this end, we wish you all a Merry Christmas and thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts with The China Post this year.

Thai opposition to boycott polls

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

BANGKOK: Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party announced it would boycott snap elections in the crisis-gripped kingdom, piling further pressure on the government as protesters prepare to ramp up rallies aimed at suspending democracy.

Party members – who resigned as MPs en masse to join the demonstrations that have rocked Bangkok for weeks – voted yesterday against participating, according to Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"The Democrats think the elections will not solve the country's problems, lead to reform or regain people's faith in political parties," he said in a press conference following the meeting.

He added that the decision would not affect the "legitimacy" of the vote and the party would not "obstruct" polling.

Embattled premier Yingluck Shinawatra, who called the Feb 2 elections in an effort to cool tensions, has insisted the polls will go ahead regardless of the Democrat decision.

But the move throws Democrat backing firmly behind protesters who are calling for democracy to be paused for an unelected "people's council" to be installed to enact reforms before a future vote.

Demonstrators want to rid the country of Yingluck and the influence of her Dubai-based brother Thaksin – an ousted billionaire ex-premier who is despised by a coalition of the southern Thai poor, Bangkok middle classes and elite.

Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, with rival protests sometimes resulting in bloody unrest.

"I think if the Democrats ran in the election, we might get the most votes and be able to form a government – but then again people will be mobilised to rally against our party," former premier Abhisit added.

The boycott announcement comes a day ahead of a planned major rally by the protesters, who are led by firebrand former Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban.

Suthep, who has vowed to rid Thailand of the "Thaksin regime", has dismissed the elections, saying it will install another government allied to the divisive former premier.

He has appealed for army support, in a country which has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932. But the military has indicated it is unlikely to intervene directly this time.

The Democrats previously boycotted elections in 2006, helping to create the political uncertainty which heralded the military intervention that ousted Thaksin.

The latest boycott could lead to a similar situation, with polls "nullified" on technical grounds, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former Thai diplomat and associate professor at the Centre for South-East Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University.

But he said the party "might as well die, they would become so irrelevant" if they did not participate.

"Walking away from it, it's just bad on the part of the Democrat Party. Especially if (the) international community is now watching the Thai situation so closely," he said in comments ahead of the meeting.

Yingluck yesterday offered to set up a body to implement reforms, in the latest olive branch to opponents. — AFP

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U.S. aircraft hit by gunfire in South Sudan as conflict worsens

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 08:15 PM PST

JUBA (Reuters) - Three U.S. aircraft came under fire from unidentified forces on Saturday while trying to evacuate Americans from a spiralling conflict in South Sudan. The U.S. military said four of its members were wounded in the attacks.

Nearly a week of fighting in South Sudan threatens to drag the world's newest country into a Dinka-Nuer ethnic civil war just two years after it won independence from Sudan with strong support from successive U.S. administrations.

The U.S. aircraft came under fire while approaching the evacuation site, the military's Africa Command said in a statement. "The aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission," it added.

The statement said all of the three Osprey CV-22 aircraft involved in the mission had been damaged.

Consequently, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that any move to take power by military means would lead to an end of U.S. and international community support for South Sudan.

The United Nations mission in South Sudan said one of four U.N. helicopters sent to Youai, in Jonglei state, had come under small-arms fire on Friday. No crew or passengers were harmed.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting between Dinka loyalists of President Salva Kiir and Nuer supporters of former Vice-President Riek Machar, who was sacked in July and is accused by the government of trying to seize power.

Fighting has spread from the capital, Juba, to vital oilfields and the government said a senior army commander had defected to Machar in the oil-producing Unity State.

The German military said on Saturday it had evacuated 98 people, including Germans and other nationals, from South Sudan by air to neighbouring Uganda. The German ambassador to South Sudan was among them, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said.

A separate plane took Lieutenant-General Hans-Werner Fritz, chief of Germany's Operations Command, along with his aides and five other Germans, to Berlin, the military said.

After meeting African mediators on Friday, Kiir's government said on its Twitter feed that it was willing to hold talks with any rebel group. The United States is sending an envoy to help find a negotiated solution.

South Sudan's foreign minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told Reuters the government had given African mediators the go-ahead to meet Kiir's rivals, including Machar and his allies.

Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom, who led an East African delegation of foreign ministers in Juba aimed at mediating between the feuding sides, said the team did not manage to meet Riek Machar face to face, neither did they make phone contact.

"We are trying to contact them. We are hopeful of having both sides on the negotiating table within the space of 10 days," Tedros told Reuters.

In their meeting with Kiir, Tedros said they were also aiming to get humanitarian aid to afflicted populations unhindered.

CEASEFIRE CALL

Benjamin said Lieutenant-General Lazarus Sumbeiywo, sent to South Sudan by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, had stayed behind along with a Kenyan diplomat after the African mediators left on Saturday and would work on making contact with Machar.

Sumbeiywo was the chief mediator in the talks that led to the signing of the 2005 peace agreements with north Sudan.

"So on the side of the government ... we have established dialogue without any condition," Benjamin said. "All we say, we urge former Vice-President Riek Machar not to incite the people of South Sudan through ethnic configuration."

United Nations staff say hundreds of people have been killed across the country, which is the size of France, this week and that 40,000 civilians are sheltering at U.N. bases.

The United Nations said on Friday at least 11 Dinka civilians had been killed during an attack by about 2,000 armed youths from another ethnic group on a U.N. peacekeeping base in Jonglei state. Two Indian peacekeepers were also killed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and called on Kiir and Machar "to come to the table and find a political way out of this crisis".

"They're responsible to the people of South Sudan to end the crisis and find a political means of resolving their differences," Ban told a news conference in the Philippines.

The African Union called on Saturday for a Christmas ceasefire, and its chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma described the killings of civilians and U.N. peacekeepers as a war crime.

Reuters television footage showed several hundred government troops leaving Juba to deploy in Jonglei state.

Toby Lanzer, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, said via Twitter that Bor, in Jonglei state, remained tense. "We've heard clashes & seen bodies in the streets. Civilians have left town to flee for their safety," he wrote.

Information Minister Michael Makuei told Reuters an army divisional commander in Unity State, John Koang, had defected and joined Machar, who had named him the governor of the state.

Jacob Dut, a political science lecturer at the University of Juba, said most army divisions had between 10,000 and 13,000 troops, although not all were fully manned.

"Division 4 (Koang's unit) is adjacent to the border with Sudan. That means there is more military hardware and that means that this defection is a big loss," Dut said.

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Elias Biryabarema in Kampala, Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa, Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Phil Stewart and Ros Krasny in Honolulu; Missy Ryan in Washington and Andreas Kenner in Berlin; Editing by Alistair Lyon and Eric Walsh)

Car bomb kills six, wounds up to 15 outside Libya's Benghazi -sources

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 05:50 PM PST

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - A suicide bomb attack at an army base outside Benghazi in eastern Libya killed at least six people and wounded up to 15 on Sunday, medical and security sources said.

The attacker blew himself up in a car in front of the base in Barsis, some 50 km (30 miles) outside Benghazi, a security source said.

All those killed were soldiers, medical sources said, but the security source said the attacker was among those killed.

The security situation has sharply deteriorated in Libya's second-largest city in the past few months where car bombs and assassinations of army and police officers happen regularly.

Most countries closed their consulates in Benghazi after a series of attacks and some foreign airlines have stopped flying there. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in September 2012 during an Islamist assault on the consulate.

Separately, tribesmen in Jalo in the southeast brought the bodies of five soldiers to a local hospital, state news agency Lana said. The soldiers had been killed in clashes two days ago, the agency said without giving details.

Western diplomats worry the violence in Benghazi will spill over to the capital Tripoli which last month saw the worst fighting in months between militias.

Much of Libya's oil wealth is located in the east where many demand autonomy from the Tripoli government, adding to turmoil in the North African country.

The government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is struggling to control militias and tribesmen which helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 but kept their guns.

Oil exports, Libya's lifeline, have fallen to 110,000 barrels a day, a fraction of the more than 1 million bpd in July as armed militias, tribesmen and minorities have seized oilfields and ports to press for political and financial demands.

Zeidan has warned the government will be unable to pay public salaries if the protests continue.

Freed from jail, Khodorkovsky reunited with family in Berlin

Posted: 21 Dec 2013 02:35 PM PST

BERLIN/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was reunited with family members in Berlin on Saturday, a day after he was released from a decade-long jail term during which he became one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critics.

Khodorkovsky, 50, was released from a remote prison near the Arctic Circle on Friday after Putin pardoned him with the stroke of a pen. He immediately flew to Berlin, where he was joined by his relatives, including his elderly parents, Marina and Boris, on Saturday.

"My family is finally reunited and we're very, very happy to be together after the 10 years of separation," his son Pavel Khodorkovsky, who arrived from the United States, said outside the Adlon Hotel in the German capital.

"As you can imagine my father is going through a lot right now," he said.

Khodorkovsky, who had been in jail since his arrest in October 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges, was convicted twice of financial crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty.

In an excerpt from the first on-camera comment to the media since his release, Khodorkovsky told Russian magazine The New Times in an interview that his family was allowed only a handful of overnight visits during the years he was in prison.

"There was an opportunity - three days, once per quarter, during four years out of the 10 - to spend nights in the visiting room," said Khodorkovsky, who looked composed and relaxed in a black turtleneck sweater.

Kremlin critics say Khodorkovsky angered Putin by funding opposition parties, questioning state decisions on oil pipeline policy, raising corruption allegations and fashioning himself as an enlightened, Western-style post-Soviet executive.

Supporters say the former Yukos oil company chief was jailed to curb political challenges to Putin, bring his oil assets under state control and warn other tycoons to toe the line.

Yukos was bankrupted and sold off. Its main production asset now forms the core of state oil company Rosneft, which is headed by an influential Putin ally, Igor Sechin.

PUTIN'S DECISION

Putin's decision to pardon Khodorkovsky, who had been due to be released next August, was widely seen as an effort to improve Russia's image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in February in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The pardon sent Russian share prices upward briefly but economists said real reforms to Russia's economy and its justice system would be needed to remove the discount its stocks sell at compared to other emerging markets.

Putin said on Thursday that Khodorkovsky sought a pardon because his mother was ill, and his spokesman said the request meant Khodorkovsky had admitted guilt. Khodorkovsky said in a statement on Friday that although he had asked Putin for a pardon for unspecified family reasons, he did not admit guilt.

Russian media have speculated that fears of new charges that could have threatened to keep him in jail past next August could have influenced his decision to seek a pardon.

Putin's spokesman has said Khodorkovsky is free to return to Russia.

The United States and European Union welcomed Khodorkovsky's release but made clear they want to see Russia make sustained efforts to strengthen rule of law and respect for human rights.

"Putin is making efforts to revamp the battered fa├žade of his authoritarian Russia," said German opposition Greens' politician Marieluise Beck, who met Khodorkovsky on Saturday.

His release "cannot blind us to the fact that Russia is just as far away from being a state governed by the rule of law as it was before this pardon," she said in a statement.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Women recall ordeal of contracting dengue fever

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: Contracting the fatal form of dengue fever in 1991 while pregnant with her second child caused teacher Norhana Mohamed Hani to realise the importance of maintaining clean surroundings.

She suffered almost all the symptoms of dengue haemorrhagic fever, including developing a high fever and terrible back pains, as well as excreting black stools.

"I also had a low platelet count.

"The ordeal resulted in my daughter being born prematurely. She had to be put into an incubator," she said, recalling the hellish experience.

"Since then, she has been vigilant about keeping her household and surroundings free of potential Aedes breeding places in order to protect her family.

The ordeal of contracting dengue is still fresh in communications practitioner Zarra Ashikin Zainal's mind as she was discharged just yesterday from a hospital.

She spent five days there after a medical check-up when she realised she had a very high fever.

"My blood pressure was low and I shivered, feeling cold, when in fact I had a high fever," she said.

Housewife Wendy Chan, 44, suffered from dengue last year but thought it was a common fever.

However, she soon developed a symptom, itchy red rashes on the palm of her hand, shortly after she was warded in the hospital.

"My doctor suspected dengue because my fever did not subside. I had to go on intravenous drips to keep me hydrated," she said.

Recalling how she continued to be tired for three to four months after recovering, she said even simple tasks like walking up the stairs were a challenge.

"We keep tilapia fish in the pond as a way to prevent the Aedes from breeding," she said.

Related stories:

Dengue deaths rising - red alert

Keep Aedes away with garlic, lemongrass, rosemary and coffee

Groups: Jail the offenders

Schools to be flushed of Aedes larvae before new term begins

Anwar fails in bid to disqualify Shafee as DPP

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

PUTRAJAYA: Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah will be the lead prosecutor in the appeal against the acquittal of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim over his sodomy charge.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the Oppo-sition Leader's bid to disqualify the prominent lawyer to act as deputy public prosecutor (DPP) had no merits.

Justice Aziah Ali, who chaired a three-man panel, ruled that the statutory declaration (SD) by former Kuala Lumpur Criminal Investigation Department chief Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim, used by Anwar to support the application, was hearsay and could not be admitted.

"We are of the opinion that the determining issue is whether the SD is admissible evidence to support the application.

"We find the allegations in SD bearing no relevance to the facts of this case," she said, adding that the SD mainly refers to Anwar's black eye incident.

"We agree that the SD is hearsay evidence as the maker is not available for cross-examination to ascertain the truth," said Justice Aziah in a unanimous decision.

Others on the panel were Court of Appeal judges Justices Rohana Yusof and Mohd Zawawi Salleh.

Justice Aziah ruled that the appointment of Shafee was in accordance to law and that the Public Prosecutor was not obliged to provide reasons in exercising his discretionary power in appointing Shafee.

"We do not find that the appointment will deprive a fair trial (to Anwar) as the appeal will be on appeal records.

"The final decision is with the court. The court will scrutinise the appeal records," she said.

She said no favourable evidence will be held from the court as there are two other senior DPPs – DPP Datuk Mohamad Hanafiah Zakaria and DPP Noorin Badaruddin – with Shafee in the team.

Anwar had contended that Shafee was not a fit and proper person to lead the prosecution team.

The court has set the prosecution's appeal against Anwar's acquittal over his sodomy charge to be heard on Feb 12 and 13.

Anwar was acquitted by the High Court on Jan 9 last year for allegedly sodomising Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, his former aide, at Desa Damansara Condominium in Bukit Damansara on June 26, 2008.

Later, Anwar said he was disappointed over the court ruling and would appeal to the Federal Court.

Malaysian workers in Sudan safe, says Petronas

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: All Malaysian employees of Petronas in South Sudan are safe and accounted for.

Petronas said in a statement here yesterday that the employees had been advised to take necessary precautions, including adhering to the curfew imposed by the South Sudanese government.

Petronas, it said, was also closely monitoring the situation and taking necessary measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the workers.

"However, Petronas is saddened to learn that a number of Sudanese oil field workers employed by two joint operating companies in South Sudan, in which Petronas has interests, have suffered fatalities and injuries," it said.

The respective managements of these two companies had begun systematic evacuation of the remaining employees from the fields, it added.

Up to 500 people had been reported killed since Sunday in clashes between military factions in South Sudan, which has been described as the world's newest country. — Bernama

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Saudi, Pakistani films out of Oscar foreign award race

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 07:15 PM PST

Oscar-winning Iranian director also fails to make cut.

NINE movies, including works by Palestinian, Danish and Hong Kong filmmakers, have been shortlisted for best foreign language Oscar, organisers announced on Dec 20.

But films left out included Saudi Arabia's first ever candidate and Pakistan's first entry in five decades, while an Oscar-winning Iranian director also failed to make the cut.

Films by Belgian, Bosnian, Cambodian, German, Hungarian and Italian directors are also on the shortlist.

The films were whittled down from a long list of 76 movies announced in October by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises Hollywood's biggest annual awards fest.

They will be reduced to five nominees next month, before nominations in all Oscar categories are announced on Jan 16. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2.

The nine shortlisted foreign language films are:

> The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium, director Felix van Groeningen.

> An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Bosnia and Herzegovina, director Danis Tanovic.

> The Missing Picture, Cambodia, director Rithy Panh.

> The Hunt, Denmark, director Thomas Vinterberg.

> Two Lives, Germany, director Georg Maas.

> The Grandmaster, Hong Kong, director Wong Kar-wai.

> The Notebook, Hungary, director Janos Szasz.

> The Great Beauty, Italy, director Paolo Sorrentino.

> Omar, Palestine, director Hany Abu-Assad.

The Saudi long-list candidate, Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour, is an avowedly feminist movie about a young girl's quest to own a bicycle in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom where women are deprived of many rights, among them driving.

Directed by Saudi Arabia's first female filmmaker and shot entirely in the Gulf state, the film won best Arabic feature award at the Dubai Film Festival last year and picked up an award in Cannes in March.

For Pakistan, Zinda Bhaag (Flee Alive) was the first Oscar entry for over 50 years. It is a comedy-thriller about three young men trying to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives through unconventional means. – AFP Relaxnews

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Mayor shot dead at Manila airport

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

MANILA: Gunmen opened fire outside the Manila international airport, killing four people including the mayor of a town in the southern Philippines, where political violence is endemic.

Terrified men and women screamed and cried while a man, apparently fatally wounded, lay face down on the pavement outside the passenger terminal in a video clip uploaded to the local GMA television network's website.

The dead included Mayor Ukol Talumpa (pic) of the southern town of Labangan, his wife, his 18-month-old grandson and a male aide, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

"I understand that was the third attempt on the life of the mayor and this time the culprits succeeded," de Lima said.

"It's extremely deplorable that even the wife, grandson and a staff (assistant) were also killed."

An airport policeman, who asked not to be named, said he was on duty about 10m away when the mayor and his party were attacked yesterday.

"I heard gunshots, so I whipped out my pistol and ran to the area. But the gunman had fled. He had an accomplice on a motorcycle," said the officer.

"People were shocked and just stood there so I could not shoot," he added.

"We tried to chase them in a police van but got caught up in the traffic," he said, adding that the gunman was wearing a police cap and a blue jacket.

Talumpa, an opposition leader who was the town's former vice mayor, had defeated in the May 2013 elections the incumbent mayor who is a political ally of President Benigno Aquino.

He had earlier survived a grenade attack that injured a police bodyguard on the troubled southern region of Mindanao in September last year, and also escaped an assassination attempt in Manila in 2010, provincial officials said.

The Philippines is infamous for a brutal brand of democracy where politicians – particularly at local and provincial levels – are willing to bribe, intimidate or kill to ensure they win.

More than 60 people were killed in last May's elections, when 18,000 posts from provincial governor to town and city mayors as well as city and town executive councils were contested.

Talumpa and his party were attacked as they stepped out of the passenger terminal shortly after getting off a flight from southern Philippines, said Manila airport general Angel Honrado.

Four people were killed and four others wounded in the broad daylight shooting, he added.

Honrado said the authorities did not know the identity of the gunmen nor the motive for the attack.

In the footage obtained by GMA, which it said was taken by a bystander, spilled luggage and trolleys lay scattered on the curb on both sides of the gunned down man.

Two other people were shown crouching on the curb, while the voices of screaming men and women could be heard.

A taxi cab and four vans, all their doors open, were stopped on the driveway, with the hazard lights of one van still blinking on and off.

"This is a very unfortunate incident that did happen at Terminal 3," Honrado said.

"Government agencies are trying their best to determine the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

He appealed to other passengers who witnessed the shooting to help the police identify the suspects. — AFP

Japan’s robot astronaut begins chatting

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

TOKYO: The world's first robot astronaut has begun chatting to the Japanese commander of the International Space Station, in what was being billed as the first conversation of its kind.

Kirobo, a pint-sized android equipped with artificial intelligence and capable of learning how to respond appropriately to humans, even put a marker down for Christmas, telling Koichi Wakata he expected a visit from a certain man bearing gifts.

"Santa Claus will come to space," Kirobo, wearing a Santa hat, told Wakata as they drifted in zero gravity hundreds of kilometres above the Earth.

"What will you ask for from Santa Claus, Kirobo?" asked the Japanese astronaut.

"I want a toy rocket ... let's ask Santa Claus."

The wide-eyed and bootie-wearing Kirobo – roughly the size of a chihuahua – left Earth on a cargo-carrying rocket and reached the space station on Aug 10.

Wakata along with Mikhail Tyurin of Russia and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio joined him at the ISS in November.

"We've had some trouble before having the robot carry on the conversation smoothly," said developer Tomotaka Takahashi.

"When people develop a relationship, it is an accumulation of small bits of communication.

"Small things make it work or not work," he said.

"We've learnt important tips to develop a robot that can communicate with people more." — AFP

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Classical monsters that inspire Hollywood in Rome show

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 07:00 PM PST

Terminator 2, Indiana Jones and Star Wars filled with monstrous content.

GRIFFINS, sirens and minotaurs are on display in Rome for an exhibition on monsters of antiquity with Hollywood special effects experts still inspired by the classical creatures acting as consultants.

The show brought together 100 works including statues, frescoes and vases from museums around the world depicting fantastical creatures – all in a web of passages intended to resemble the minotaur's labyrinth.

"Monsters are part of the myths of every culture, every civilisation," said Elisabetta Setari, co-curator of the exhibition with Rita Paris, director of the National Roman Museum which is hosting the show.

"They have characterised our civilisation from the dawn of time until now," said Setari, explaining that the images of monsters are still widely used today like the medusa in luxury fashion house Versace's symbol.

The exhibits range from the Bronze Age to ancient Rome with sphinxes, gorgons, centaurs, sea dragons, hydras and a bronze chimera from the 6th century BC used on a Greek soldier's shield.

The works are on loan from 40 museums in Italy and internationally, including the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the United States.

There is a fine Greek vase with a multi-headed hydra from the 6th century BC from an Italian collection, as well as two 17th-century paintings – one with a medusa and the other with the flying horse Pegasus – to show the endurance of monstrous images through the centuries.

"Monsters are aggressive creatures. They are part animal so they have an animalistic force. Monsters in antiquity were above all protectors, for example of tombs where they appear on gravestones," she said.

Hollywood heavyweights have been involved in the exhibition, which is being accompanied by a series of lectures on the influence of classical mythology on hi-tech special effects and fantasy films today.

"If we look at Hollywood and the monsters that have inspired us we can trace them all back to classical monsters," said Scott Ross, a former business partner of George Lucas and James Cameron, who has worked on blockbusters like Terminator 2 and Titanic.

"It's sort of like the concept of music where there are only 12 notes, it's how you combine them together that makes a symphony," said Ross, speaking next to a fresco of griffins in one the exhibition's dark passageways.

Out of all the movies he has worked on, Ross said some of the ones with the most monstrous content have been Indiana Jones and Star Wars but most of all Terminator 2 which he called "a post-human vision".

"Sea dragons used to warn sailors about the dangers of the sea. Monsters today are like robots. They are warning us about post-human humans," he said.

Ross said the representation of monsters in films had transformed since the first Frankenstein by Edison Studios in 1910 when only make-up was used for effects.

"Nowadays it's computer-generated imagery to the point that you can create anything," he said, although he added that modern monsters were still "very simple".

Another consultant on the exhibition is Shane Mahan, co-founder of Legacy Effects – a special effects company that has worked on Avatar and Iron Man who also said he was inspired by ancient monsters.

"Monsters have remained with us in fairy tales but also in cinema," said Paris, co-curator of the show, explaining they came from the battle between Zeus and Typhon – the most deadly monster of Greek mythology.

"If Typhon had won, chaos would have reigned," she said. – AFP Relaxnews

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Mayor shot dead at Manila airport

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

MANILA: Gunmen opened fire outside the Manila international airport, killing four people including the mayor of a town in the southern Philippines, where political violence is endemic.

Terrified men and women screamed and cried while a man, apparently fatally wounded, lay face down on the pavement outside the passenger terminal in a video clip uploaded to the local GMA television network's website.

The dead included Mayor Ukol Talumpa (pic) of the southern town of Labangan, his wife, his 18-month-old grandson and a male aide, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

"I understand that was the third attempt on the life of the mayor and this time the culprits succeeded," de Lima said.

"It's extremely deplorable that even the wife, grandson and a staff (assistant) were also killed."

An airport policeman, who asked not to be named, said he was on duty about 10m away when the mayor and his party were attacked yesterday.

"I heard gunshots, so I whipped out my pistol and ran to the area. But the gunman had fled. He had an accomplice on a motorcycle," said the officer.

"People were shocked and just stood there so I could not shoot," he added.

"We tried to chase them in a police van but got caught up in the traffic," he said, adding that the gunman was wearing a police cap and a blue jacket.

Talumpa, an opposition leader who was the town's former vice mayor, had defeated in the May 2013 elections the incumbent mayor who is a political ally of President Benigno Aquino.

He had earlier survived a grenade attack that injured a police bodyguard on the troubled southern region of Mindanao in September last year, and also escaped an assassination attempt in Manila in 2010, provincial officials said.

The Philippines is infamous for a brutal brand of democracy where politicians – particularly at local and provincial levels – are willing to bribe, intimidate or kill to ensure they win.

More than 60 people were killed in last May's elections, when 18,000 posts from provincial governor to town and city mayors as well as city and town executive councils were contested.

Talumpa and his party were attacked as they stepped out of the passenger terminal shortly after getting off a flight from southern Philippines, said Manila airport general Angel Honrado.

Four people were killed and four others wounded in the broad daylight shooting, he added.

Honrado said the authorities did not know the identity of the gunmen nor the motive for the attack.

In the footage obtained by GMA, which it said was taken by a bystander, spilled luggage and trolleys lay scattered on the curb on both sides of the gunned down man.

Two other people were shown crouching on the curb, while the voices of screaming men and women could be heard.

A taxi cab and four vans, all their doors open, were stopped on the driveway, with the hazard lights of one van still blinking on and off.

"This is a very unfortunate incident that did happen at Terminal 3," Honrado said.

"Government agencies are trying their best to determine the perpetrators and bring them to justice."

He appealed to other passengers who witnessed the shooting to help the police identify the suspects. — AFP

Japan’s robot astronaut begins chatting

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

TOKYO: The world's first robot astronaut has begun chatting to the Japanese commander of the International Space Station, in what was being billed as the first conversation of its kind.

Kirobo, a pint-sized android equipped with artificial intelligence and capable of learning how to respond appropriately to humans, even put a marker down for Christmas, telling Koichi Wakata he expected a visit from a certain man bearing gifts.

"Santa Claus will come to space," Kirobo, wearing a Santa hat, told Wakata as they drifted in zero gravity hundreds of kilometres above the Earth.

"What will you ask for from Santa Claus, Kirobo?" asked the Japanese astronaut.

"I want a toy rocket ... let's ask Santa Claus."

The wide-eyed and bootie-wearing Kirobo – roughly the size of a chihuahua – left Earth on a cargo-carrying rocket and reached the space station on Aug 10.

Wakata along with Mikhail Tyurin of Russia and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio joined him at the ISS in November.

"We've had some trouble before having the robot carry on the conversation smoothly," said developer Tomotaka Takahashi.

"When people develop a relationship, it is an accumulation of small bits of communication.

"Small things make it work or not work," he said.

"We've learnt important tips to develop a robot that can communicate with people more." — AFP

Driver charged with murdering friend’s wife

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

A FORKLIFT-DRIVER has been charged with the murder of Jasvinder Kaur, 33, whose decapitated body was found floating in Whampoa River on Dec 12.

The accused was identified in court as 25-year-old Gursharan Singh, whom police had previously said was a friend of Jasvinder's husband Harvinder Singh. All three are Indian nationals.

Gursharan is accused of causing the death of Jasvinder at a residence in Balestier Road, together with an "unknown male person" between Dec 10 and Dec 12.

The police on Thursday had also said that they were now looking for Harvinder to help in their investigations.

The husband had left Singapore 30 minutes before Jasvinder's body was found – without her head and hands – and reported to the police by a jogger and cleaner at about 7.30am last week.

The senior logistics coordinator left by bus through Woodlands Checkpoint, but it is not known if he is in Malaysia. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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2,000 extra steps a day cuts cardiovascular risk by 8%

Posted: 20 Dec 2013 06:55 PM PST

The diabetes prone said to benefit.

PEOPLE with a glucose-tolerance problem – a driver of diabetes and cardiovascular disease – can cut the risk of heart attack or stroke by simply walking an additional 2,000 steps per day, a study said on Dec 20.

The experiment gathered more than 9,300 adults in 40 countries with so-called impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) who had also been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or were considered at risk from it.

They all received a "lifestyle modification programme", advising them of the benefits of reducing body weight and dietary fat and doing regular exercise.

They were also issued with pedometers, which clocked up how many paces they walked each week, both at the start of the experiment and 12 months later.

Volunteers who added 2,000 steps – around 20 minutes of moderate walking – to their existing daily schedule reduced the cardiovascular risk by 8% by the time of the study ended, six years later.

The study, published in The Lancet, said IGT affects about 344 million people, or 7.9% of the world's adult population – a tally expected to rise to 472 million (8.4%) by 2030.

"People with IGT have a greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease", study leader Thomas Yates from the University of Leicester, central England, said in a press release.

"While several studies have suggested that physical activity is beneficially linked to health in those with IGT, this is the first study to specifically quantify the extent to which change in walking behaviour can modify the risk." – AFP Relaxnews

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The magic of Christmas

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

Is Santa Claus real? Or is he just a man in a red suit? What would you tell the little ones when they ask?

CHRISTMAS celebrations are steeped in traditions passed from generation to generation. Santa Claus is probably part of children's favourite Christmas memories because he brings presents on a reindeer sleigh for those who have been good all year long. A few families share how they celebrate Christmas and what it means to them.

Spirit of giving

WHEN Tristan turned six, his friends told him Santa did not exist.

"He got really upset. One day he just came home and asked: 'Is there really a Santa?' I wasn't prepared for that at all. I didn't know how to say, 'No, he doesn't exist', because that sounded so blunt. I had to quickly think up an explanation," says mother-of-four Sasha Joanne Wee, 36.

That was a year ago, and the former accountant decided there was no two ways about it – honesty is the best policy.

"I told him Santa exists. He was St Nicholas and he used to give to the poor. He was the one who started the spirit of giving. After he was gone, his spirit lived on. Everybody remembered what he did and that's how he remained alive during Christmas."

Thankfully, Tristan accepted that explanation (though he did tell his younger brother and sister, aged five and four, that Santa was dead). For a lot of kids who grew up believing in Santa, it is surprising to find out he is not real.

"My parents told me about Santa very early on. It was a matter-of-fact kind of thing, and he was just like a character in stories. It's the same for my husband. But I believe that for some people, what they remember about Christmas is the whole magic of Santa. There is no right or wrong, just what's best for the family," says Sasha. While Sasha prefers to go easy with the truth, her husband, Sheldon Wee, feels that it's only logical to cap magic to a certain age.

According to the 37-year-old entrepreneur, parents should keep it real.

"Children grow really fast these days and they're very smart. You can't hide them from bad words and bad movies because they are going to find out on their own. When your child questions the existence of Santa, it's always best to be honest and open. There's no need to hide anything because he's going to find out you're lying to him and he's not going to come to you the next time."

The message you should be sharing with your children is that Christmas isn't about Santa coming to visit; it's about the spirit of giving, adds Sheldon.

Countdown to Christmas

CHRISTMAS is the holiday the Jeremiah children look forward to the most.

Their excitement and anticipation start as soon as their family tree goes up. Michelle Long and her husband Raphael Sidney Jeremiah involve their children in the festive preparations; from decorating the Christmas tree to baking cookies and wrapping presents.

Hannah (left) and Aiden (far right) look forward to Christmas all year round with mum and dad, Michelle Long and Raphael Jeremiah 

Hannah and Aiden look forward to Christmas all year round with mum and dad, Michelle Long and Raphael Jeremiah.

Long and Jeremiah have explained to their children, five-year-old Hannah Marissa and two-year-old Aiden Zachary that Christmas is celebrated to observe the birth of Jesus Christ. Curious Hannah, however, cheekily questioned her mother recently, "How many times is Jesus born, then, mummy?" remembering that she has celebrated Christmas a few times with her family.

"We had to explain to her, that just like her birthday, Jesus has a birthday each year too," laughs her mother, who was quite tickled by her child's curiosity.

Both Aiden and Hannah believe that if they are good all year, Santa will leave them presents on Christmas Eve.

"If I am naughty, Santa won't come and visit. Santa also says I should be thankful and happy with any gift I receive. I shouldn't demand for this and that," says Hannah who is hoping to find Monster High dolls in her stocking this Christmas. Hannah is also curious about how Santa will come into their house, since it doesn't have a chimney.

Each year, her parents come up with creative answers. "We give her interesting answers because we think both Hannah and Aiden are too young to know the truth about Santa," says Long. "As long as they have fun with the idea and it doesn't cause them any harm, it's OK for them to still believe in the existence of Father Christmas.

"When they are older, they learn to figure things out on their own. For now, they are just too precious for us to tell them the truth," explains Long.

Hannah and Aidenare taught that Christmas is about giving, receiving and sharing.

They bake gingerbread cookies and distribute them to their friends and family. This year, the family distributed party bags to refugee children there.

Let the magic last

SHELDON'S aunt, Deirdre Theseira and her family, are happy to keep Santa well and alive.

The youngest two in her family, Miguel and Manuel Gomes, aged 12 and eight, are strong Santa supporters. Each Christmas Eve, the brothers would leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa. The reindeer, too, will get a carrot.

Come Christmas morning, there will only be crumbs and an empty glass left behind. And at the foot of the boys' beds would be Santa's gifts for them, taken off a wish list mailed to the North Pole.

Favourite day: The Gomes children loves Christmas celebrations. 

The Gomes children love Christmas celebrations. They would leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa each Christmas Eve.

"We started this tradition from the time my kids were born. We never really explained it. On Christmas Eve, we would just say that you have to go to sleep otherwise Santa won't come. If you've been good, Santa will come and bring you a present at night," explains Theseira, 47.

"There were a few times when we saw costumed Santas at different malls and my kids had asked why there were so many of them. My answer was: Well, Santa is really busy and those are his helpers, just like the elves."

She tells her children, "The day you stop believing in Santa, is the day the magic stops. Santa won't be coming by anymore after that."

But no matter how hard parents try, children eventually grow up and discover that Santa doesn't slide down the chimney.

Theseira's eldest, Tatianna, 15, was about 11 when she came to realise that Santa's gifts were probably from her mother.

"I remember I used to like reading this series of books. One day, my mum asked me which books I had and which ones I didn't. And on Christmas morning, I received the ones I didn't have, supposedly from Santa. That's when the realisation hit," Tatianna recalls.

"I was a bit disappointed. But after a while, the thought of a sleigh flying couldn't be real and I used to always wonder how Santa came into the house because we didn't have a chimney. So I just accepted that."

Tatianna still receives presents for Christmas, just not from "Santa" anymore.

"Compared to when I was younger, the excitement I'd feel about Christmas is very different. I used to have a tough time going to sleep on Christmas Eve. I used to try peeking to see if I could catch Santa. When I woke up I would quickly go to the end of my bed to see what Santa has given me. I would take everything and lay it out on my bed and then go running to my mummy and daddy saying: 'Look what Santa brought me!' I guess that's one of the childhood experiences I miss most. I think I would've liked it if I could still believe in Santa."

Tatianna has since kept the "secret" to herself. "I still feel that sense of magic when it comes to Santa. Whenever my brothers talk about Santa, there's like this special light in their eyes, and I didn't want to spoil it for them."

Theseira says: "My parents did Santa for us as children. It's something I've just passed down to my own children. I think it's a nice aspect of Christmas, that you're getting a surprise from Santa. If you've been bad, you obviously don't get what you ask for. So it also serves as a form of motivation to get them to be good the whole year, or make promises of wanting to be good.

"I don't feel like I'm deceiving my kids. I think when they do eventually uncover the truth, they aren't going to be angry at me, because that's the magic of Christmas. There are so many horrible things happening in the world these days, I think parents will go to any extent just to hold on to a tiny bit of magic, even if it's just for Christmas."

'The ghost of Christmas'

AMIDST the festivities, Sharon Bright is determined her sons Shawn Sanjay Raj, nine, and Shane Shanjeev Raj, three, learn the true meaning of Christmas.

"To my sons, Christmas really is about gifts, toys and cookies. It's a little easier with my elder son since he learns from his teachers and friends in school," says Bright.

But they have also been attending Sunday school and know about its religious meaning.

"The boys have also been taught to pray and think of the less fortunate on this special day," she says.

But Bright also encourages her younger son to believe in a little magic.

Sharon Bright with her two boys, Shawn (L) and Shane 

Sharon Bright with her two boys, Shawn (left) and Shane, to whom Christmas is all about gifts, toys and cookies.

"I don't see any harm for my boys to grow up with some made up stories. Shane is only three and I want his growing years to be memorable."

While Shawn is well aware that Santa is just a myth, Shane believes that Santa is really the ghost of Christmas.

"Shane's explanation is that Santa is all white and since bad children don't get presents, he must be a ghost!" she shares. Both boys agree presents is the highlight of Christmas and they usually write up lists of things they want.

"This year, my eldest son Shawn, slipped me a note telling me what he wants for Christmas is a Samsung S4, complete with smiley faces and a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, his request is going to receive a rather large 'No' note in return," exclaims the cheeky mother.

"We all really look forward to Christmas. I enjoy the day off and being surrounded by my family and children," says Bright.

Is Santa real?

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

Before you respond, consider your child's question carefully.

WHEN your child comes to you questioning if Santa is real and asking you, the parent, to confirm – one way or the other – I suggest taking a step back and a deep breath before responding.

Begin by asking your child why they're asking this question in the first place.

Did they hear something from another child at school?

Or did they determine on their own that "Santa's job" is seemingly impossible?

If they've thought about it long enough and critically enough to determine on their own that Santa might not be real then it might be time to explain to them that they're, in fact, correct.

Don't forget to put a silver lining on it; something like, Santa is able to personify the spirit of Christmas; the joy, happiness, love, selfless giving, empathy and more that encompass the whole idea of Christmas, and when you think about it that way Santa is simply the face of Christmas.

If, on the other hand, your child explains to you that another child from school just happened to claim loudly that Santa isn't real then your child still likely believes in Santa and is looking to you for answers; if this is the case, I suggest letting them know that not everyone believes in the same things, and that's perfectly OK, but that if your child believes Santa exists then nobody can take that belief away from them.

With seven kids of my own ranging in age from one year old to 27 years old, I have kids who believe, and kids who now know better.

It can be fun to get your older kids involved in keeping the idea of Santa alive and real for the younger kids in your family.

Include your older children in the shopping, the wrapping of presents and more while your younger kids still believe he exists.

Tackling the "Is Santa Real" question is tricky and not the easiest subject to tiptoe around.

Remember to be sensitive, understanding and even creative in your response!

Additionally, it's important to keep in mind there's no one-way to handle this sensitive issue, and different techniques will likely work for different families.

Happy holidays!

Sincerely,

Daddy Nickell – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Robert Nickell, aka Daddy Nickell, father of seven, offers his five cents' worth of advice to expectant and new parents. Daddy Nickell is the founder of Daddyscrubs.com, delivery room duds and daddy gear for dads, and the Daddyscrubs.com blog where he covers topics about parenting and the latest baby and kids' gear, all from a dad's perspective.

Beyond mummy duties

Posted: 19 Dec 2013 08:00 AM PST

Finding an outlet in blogging.

AFTER my daughter was born, all I wanted was to be a stay-at-home mum. I imagined I'd spend my days pushing my daughter in a stroller, scrapbooking our family memories as she napped in the afternoon, and then I'd prepare a pictorial-worthy family meal every night.

It didn't exactly happen that way.

I did eventually leave my full-time job when my daughter was four and my son was one. I was ready.

But what happened the next six months shocked me – I was miserable. The reality of spending most days waiting for a child to fall asleep or wake up, and the stark loneliness of staying home with two small kids, wasn't what I imagined, but I didn't dare tell a soul.

Are you kidding? After all the dreaming, planning and sacrifice, I couldn't acknowledge I was two "Dora the Explorers" shy of a total breakdown. That's about the time I came across this thing called a blog and decided I would start one of my own. I had been a journalism major in college and always loved to write and tell stories. I had my own blog, and a local newspaper asked me to blog for them.

After the kids went to bed, I'd stay up late writing, making videos and connecting with other mums online. Blogging was just the spark I needed to keep me from leaping into the waiting arms of a deep depression.

I love my kids. It wasn't being a mum that was causing me to spiral, it was the lack of connection to the "pre-mum me" and to other people. I'm a social person and I needed to spend time being creative and then share that part of me. I discovered that being a mum was just like anything else. I couldn't rely on other people to flip that happy switch. Once, I took it on myself to find what made me feel balanced and content – ta da! I was happy.

Blogging is undeniably dominated by women – mostly mums – and here's why: Our blog is all ours. Mums rightly spend most of their days pouring their energy into everyone else's needs; the kids, the boss, the husband.

But a blog is our own space and we can make it look, say and be anything we want, and that's empowering.

I believe the Internet and Etsy, blogs, message boards and Twitter have been revolutionary for women, especially mums. Through online networks, a stay-at-home mum can sell her handmade scarves internationally, or a working mum can take night classes online to help her career.

Or, as in my case, she can write on her blog and become a columnist, writer and local TV host, all while her kids are asleep or in school.

For some mums, it might be volunteering at a women's shelter or selling Avon. Whatever the spark is, I encourage mums to stay connected and keep pursuing their passion. It helps keep you sane and secure. When I started blogging, I didn't know I would eventually become a single mum. Now I have turned my passion into a full-time career. I just kept moving towards what I loved to do, working hard and taking every opportunity that came my way.

That's a good recipe for success, either in a career or as a mum. – The Orange County Register/ McClatchy Tribune Information Services.

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