Ahad, 1 Jun 2014

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Fight for India Sikh homeland fades 30 years after temple raid

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 11:24 PM PDT

AMRITSAR, India, June 02, 2014 (AFP) - As retailer Sukhdeep Singh visits the Golden Temple in northern India, Sikhism's holiest shrine, he laments the bloodbath 30 years ago that catapulted his religion into controversy.

The military's 1984 assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar - called Operation Blue Star - was aimed at flushing out militants holed up inside demanding an independent Sikh homeland.

Thirty years later, support for such a homeland is all but dead, with Sikhs, particularly younger ones, more interested in jobs than a separate nation, according to experts.

"I regret the events of 1984," said Singh, ahead of the June 6 anniversary of the assault that killed at least 400 people.

"People don't want any more violence and bloodshed," the 31-year-old, who is based in Melbourne and was visiting his family in Amritsar in Punjab state, said.

"I think we are better off remaining with India," he added as he toured the temple and its museum, which attract scores of visitors every year.

Sikh hardliners' struggle for "Khalistan", or the land of the pure, peaked during the 1970s with demands for its creation in Punjab, between India and Pakistan.

The struggle culminated in the deadly storming of the temple, ordered by the government, which also substantially damaged the building.

The Sikh community was enraged by what it felt was desecration of the revered shrine, and later that year India's then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards.

The assassination triggered anti-Sikh riots in which some 3,000 people were killed, many of them on the streets of New Delhi. 

- 'Employment not guns' -

By the mid-1990s, demands for "Khalistan" were fading away, although the anniversary of the raid is still observed every year with protests, especially in Punjab.

"People in Punjab have moved on from 1984," said Sukhdev Sandhu, a prominent Sikh in Punjab opposed to "Khalistan".

"The movement flourished in the past because of the support from the youth but now the younger generation has different priorities," he told AFP. "They want employment not guns."

Support, however, for the independence movement still exists among the Sikh diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States.

The overseas population of Sikhs, estimated to number between 18 to 30 million, has maintained strong connections with Punjab ever since migrants first left the subcontinent in the 19th century.

The diaspora still tries to mobilise support for "Khalistan", and even provides funds to keep the separatist idea alive, said Kanwar Pal Singh, spokesman of Dal Khalsa group, which is still pushing for the homeland.

Still-simmering anger over the temple raid was evident when Kuldip Singh Brar, commander of Operation Blue Star, was attacked on a London street in 2012. A Sikh gang was found guilty of the revenge knife attack, which the commander survived.

"The aspirations of the diaspora for a Sikh country are very strong," said Singh, whose outfit publishes literature to promote the idea of "Khalistan" and organises June 6 protests.
"They feel history has been unkind to Sikhs. While Hindus got India, Muslims got Pakistan, but Sikhs missed the bus."

Singh was speaking at the Amritsar office of the outfit, adorned with posters of prominent Sikh figures, including rebel icon Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale holding a machine gun.

Bhindranwale, a dominant leader who almost ran a parallel state from within the temple complex at the height of Sikh militancy, was gunned down by Indian troops during the 1984 raid.

He tapped into widespread anger among Sikhs over their perceived discrimination by the government, which he said had refused to recognise the linguistic, cultural and religious rights of their community.

To avenge Bhindranwale's killing, Sikh nationalists based in Canada blew up an Air India flight a year later, killing 329 people. 

- Sikh prime minister -

Analysts say Punjab's geopolitical significance - the landlocked region shares borders with Pakistan and restive Kashmir - means sovereignty is almost impossible.

"Also, the Sikhs have integrated nicely with the Hindus and there is no longer any discrimination against the community," said Beer Good Gill, professor of history at Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University.

"We have had a Sikh as our prime minister for 10 years," she said referring to Manmohan Singh, who retired at the just-concluded election.

"(Besides) We have already lost hundreds of our people in mindless killings, we can't afford to lose another generation."

Gill says in her interactions with students in the last 20 years, "not even one of them had raised the bogey of Khalistan".

Sandhu said public opinion in Punjab, where the movement was strongest, turned over the years against the militants who became embroiled in deadly crime.

"They (the public) started informing police of their presence when they saw they were killing their own neighbours," said Sandhu.

"It was the beginning of the end of Khalistan. Today it's been reduced to mere tokenism.
"It only exists in pamphlets and slogans raised each year when the Blue Star anniversary is observed," he said. - AFP

Australia backs US comments on China's 'destabilising' acts

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 10:38 PM PDT

SYDNEY: Australian Defence Minister David Johnston has backed comments by his United States counterpart Chuck Hagel accusing China of "destabilising" actions in the South China Sea.

Speaking in Singapore on Saturday, Hagel accused China of a number of alleged infractions, including against the Philippines and Vietnam, the two most vocal critics of Beijing's territorial claims.

"In recent months, China has undertaken destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea," the US Secretary of Defense told the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.

In opening the forum, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged countries to respect the rule of law, in apparent reference to perceived Chinese aggression in the South and East China seas.

Johnston told the Sydney Morning Herald, in an interview from Singapore published Monday, that he supported their view.

"The US, Australia and Japan are very concerned that unilateral action is destabilising the region of the South China Sea particularly, and the East China Sea."

Asked whether he supported Hagel's comments, the Australian minister said: "I do to the extent that it is destabilisation.. in a previously very successful region that has been able to deliver enormous amounts of prosperity to countries in the Asia-Pacific.

"This instability is unwarranted and quite damaging to the future economic prospects. So I do share Secretary Hagel's concerns."

Johnston said that Australia did not take sides in territorial disputes between China and other countries, but said Canberra would attempt to persuade the Asian superpower there was "another path".

His office confirmed to AFP the remarks were correct.

China has denounced Hagel's "provocative" comments along with those of Abe. -AFP

Celebrations as India gets new state of Telangana

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 10:09 PM PDT

HYDERABAD, India: Celebrations erupted in southern India to mark the creation of the new state of Telangana on Monday at the culmination of a separatist campaign stretching back nearly six decades.

Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, who at one stage went on hunger strike as part of the push to create what is India's 29th state, was sworn in as chief minister during a morning ceremony in Hyderabad.

Residents broke into celebrations on the stroke of midnight, with a fireworks display lighting up the skies over the city.

India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Rao, promising his "complete support to the people & Government of Telangana" in a message on Twitter.

"India gets a new state! We welcome Telangana as our 29th state. Telangana will add strength to our development journey in the coming years," Modi added.

"Telangana's birth comes after years of struggle and sacrifices by several people. We pay our respects to them today."

Telangana has been created by splitting the state of Andhra Pradesh in two. Hyderabad, an IT hub, will serve as the capital of both states for the next decade.

The campaign to create a separate state in one of India's most economically deprived regions began in the late 1950s, with its champions arguing it has been neglected by successive state governments.

However wealthier coastal regions of Andhra Pradesh fiercely opposed the split, fearing that it would trigger economic upheaval.

Andhra Pradesh's chief minister resigned earlier this year on the eve of a vote by parliament to approve Telangana's creation.

The build-up to the vote was marred by chaotic scenes in parliament, with lawmakers coming to blows while one representative even squirted pepper spray at colleagues.

Analysts had seen the decision by the then Congress government to back the state's creation as a strategic move designed to increase its support in the south in a general election year.

However Congress won only two of the 42 seats in the undivided Andhra Pradesh when the election results were announced last month.

India last redrew its internal boundaries in 2000, with the creation of three new states in economically deprived areas in the north.

Critics say the bill could open a "Pandora's box" of demands for statehood by other regional groups in the ethnically diverse nation, which also has a host of separatist movements. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: World Updates

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Vazquez set to win primary for Uruguay presidential nomination

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 09:20 PM PDT

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Tabare Vazquez looked set to win his party's primary by a landslide on Sunday, clearing the way for him to run again to be president of Uruguay, the country he led between 2005 and 2010.

With 31 percent of votes counted, Vazquez, a doctor by profession, had received about 82 percent of the votes cast to choose the candidate for the left-wing Frente Amplio bloc, election authorities said.

Vazquez's opponent, Senator Constanza Moreira, had won 18 percent of the votes. The official count tallied with earlier exit polls.

The term of President Jose Mujica, also of Frente Amplio, ends in March 2015, with the election due to be held this October. Frente Amplio - which under Mujica has pursued radical policies such as marijuana legalization - is ahead in opinion polls with around 44 percent of support.

Traditional center party the Partido Nacional has been polling around 26 percent, while the right-wing Colorado party has been scoring around 16 percent.

Pedro Bordaberry, son of ex-dictator Juan Bordaberry, was on course to be chosen as the Colorado candidate on Sunday, while Luis Lacalle Pou, also the son of an ex-president, was ahead in the primary for the Partido Nacional, official data showed.

Vazquez pursued a center-left agenda in his first term, combining social welfare reforms with conservative economic policies. Less radical in office than ex-guerrilla Mujica, Vazquez opposed Uruguay's recent legalization of abortion.

In a speech on Sunday, he pledged to tackle high inflation, lower taxes, and give extra support to social and education programs.

Less than 40 percent of voters participated in the primaries, a historic low.

(Reporting by Malena Castaldi; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Jeremy Laurence)

Thai army rulers prepare emergency economic measures

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 08:45 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The military junta running Thailand has drawn up a list of emergency measures such as price caps on fuel and loan guarantees for small firms to kick-start an economy threatened by recession after months of political turmoil.

The plans, outlined by Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong late on Sunday after a meeting with officials at economic ministries, take in longer-term measures such as the development of special economic zones on the borders with Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia.

The military toppled the remnants of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration on May 22 after months of protests that had forced government ministries to close, hurt business confidence and caused the economy to shrink.

Yingluck herself was ordered to step down two weeks before the coup when a court found her guilty of abuse of power.

As well as working to revive the economy, the military council has moved to suppress criticism of the coup and nip protests in the bud.

Yingluck, as well as prominent supporters of her and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have been briefly detained and warned against any anti-military activities.

On Sunday, the army council sent 5,700 troops and police into central Bangkok to stop anti-coup protests, which were mostly limited to small gatherings held around shopping malls.

The military has banned political gatherings of five or more people and protests that have taken place in Bangkok since the May 22 putsch have been small and brief.

On Saturday, as on the two previous days, the authorities closed normally busy roads around Victory Monument, which was becoming a focal point for opposition to the coup. The area was flooded with police and troops but no protesters turned up.


Thailand's deep political divide pits the Bangkok-based royalist establishment, dominated by the military, old-money families and the bureaucracy, against supporters of former telecommunications mogul Thaksin, who is adored by the poor in the north and northeast.

Considered the power behind Yingluck's government, Thaksin was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006 and has lived in self-imposed exile since fleeing a 2008 conviction for abuse of power.

Air Chief Marshal Prajin, who is overseeing economic matters for the junta, said 30 urgent proposals on the economy would be discussed with coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Among them, Prajin mentioned a form of price insurance for rice farmers. This would replace a costly buying scheme run under Yingluck that collapsed when her caretaker government was unable to find funding, leaving hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid for months.

The military rulers will tackle the problem of loan sharks, made worse by the hardship suffered by farmers because of the rice fiasco, and are also looking at low-cost home loans to be offered through the Government Housing Bank.

Prajin says he has told the Finance Ministry to look at a complete overhaul of the tax structure and report to him next week.

The Nation newspaper said state enterprises including Thai Airways International Pcl and the State Railway of Thailand would put investment plans to Prajin on Monday and these would also be discussed with Prayuth this week.

In a televised address on Friday, Prayuth said the military would need time to reconcile Thailand's antagonistic political forces and push through reforms, indicating there would be no general election for 15 months at least.

The United States, European Union countries and others have called for the military to restore democracy quickly, release political detainees and end censorship.

(Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

Thai oil tanker recovered, cargo taken by hijackers - authorities

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 08:05 PM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Thai oil tanker reported missing two days ago has been recovered with all of its crew members safe but pirates who hijacked the tanker took its cargo and damaged communications gear, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said on Monday.

The MT Orapin 4 lost contact with authorities after departing for Indonesia from a terminal in Singapore on Friday, prompting the IMB to send an alert shortly after.

The tanker arrived in Thailand's Sri Racha port on Sunday evening and Thai authorities will be investigating the incident, Noel Choong, the head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center, told Reuters.

Pirates raided a tanker off the coast of Malaysia in late April, taking 3 million litres of diesel.

(Reporting By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah; Editing by Paul Tait)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Greece moves to calm austerity fears as Germany suggests new bailout

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 07:32 PM PDT

ATHENS: Greece sought Sunday to calm fears of further austerity, after Germany's finance minister raised the prospect of a third rescue package for the struggling nation.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview published Sunday that "it's possible that Greece might require further aid, of a limited amount".

"It would be significantly lower than the two previous rescue packages – meaning no more than €10bil (US$13.6bil)," he told Focus magazine.

His comments fanned fears that the Greek government would be forced to impose further tough reforms including job and wage cuts in exchange for the aid.

Greece's radical leftist party Syriza, which won the European elections on an anti-austerity ticket, said Schaueble's comments pointed to "new measures" that would "exhaust people".

But the Greek finance ministry said the country had no immediate need of extra help.

"The financing needs of our country are covered as everybody knows and Eurogroup acknowledges, until the end of the first semester of 2015," it said in a statement.

"For the 2015-2016 period, our country's financing needs will depend on the results of the bank tests conducted by the European Central Bank", it added.

Greece has been rescued from bankruptcy by the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank with two bailout packages totalling €240bil (US$331bil).

In exchange, Athens was forced to undertake drastic reforms including wage, pension and job cuts to bring down its runaway public deficit.

The International Monetary Fund released the latest tranche of US$4.6bil in aid funds to Greece on Friday, after a year-long delay to ensure Athens was meeting targets set by bailout lenders.

The Fund said the Greek government had surpassed targets on closing its budget gap, but warned of a number of challenges still facing the country in fully stabilising its finances and returning to sustainable growth.

According to Schaeuble, Greece's debt, equal to 175% of GDP, will not fall to a sustainable level before 2022. – AFP

S. Korea may May PMI falls to 9-month low

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 07:07 PM PDT

SEOUL: South Korea's manufacturing activity fell to a nine-month low in May as new export orders shrank, a private-sector survey showed on Monday, adding to signs of a softening recovery in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The HSBC/Markit purchasing managers' index (PMI) of South Korea's manufacturing sector slid to a seasonally adjusted 49.5 in May from 50.2 in April, Markit Economics said in a statement.

The May reading was the lowest since 47.5 in August 2013.

A reading below 50 means activity shrank during the month. The index was just above 50 in March and April.

A sub-index for new export orders that South Korean companies received during the month fell to 49.4 in May from 49.9 in April. The May reading was its lowest since September 2013. – Reuters 

China official PMI hits 5-month high in May

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 07:00 PM PDT

BEIJING: China's factory activity expanded at the fastest pace in five months in May due to rising new orders, official data showed on Sunday, reinforcing views that the world's second largest economy is regaining momentum in the second quarter following Beijing's targeted measures to bolster growth.

The official Purchasing Managers' Index rose to 50.8 in May from April's 50.4, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Sunday, beating market expectations of 50.6.

"The PMI reading continued to improve in May, indicating that a trend of economic stabilization is becoming more evident," Zhang Liqun, a researcher at the Development Research Centre said in the statement accompanying the data.

As one of the first leading indicators gauging economic momentum, the improved reading could bode well for other May data, bolstering market expectations that the economy is regaining some strength as the government's pro-growth measures started to kick in.

The official survey showed a broad-based recovery in manufacturing activity in May, with nine out of the 13 sub-indicies pointing to improvement from the previous month.

A sub-index for new orders, a measure of foreign and domestic demand edged up to 52.3 in May from 51.2 in April, marking the highest level since last November.

The PMI data also showed export orders inched higher to 49.3 in May from 49.1 in April, though the indicator remained below the 50-level threshold that separates growth from contraction.


Beijing stepped up policy fine-tuning in recent weeks and has unveiled a slew of targeted measures this year to help shore up the economy, which has dipped to a 18-month low in the first quarter and is seen on track to post the weakest annual showing in 24 years.

"It is clear that the government has become more concerned about the continued economic slowdown and wants to further increase the strength of policy support," said Wang Tao, economist at UBS in a note to clients.

China's cabinet announced fresh easing measures on Friday to help lower funding costs and reduce operating burdens for companies to give more support for the real economy.

The measures included lowering the reserve requirement for more banks, increasing the scale of re-lending and bond financing to support smaller firms, and a further reduction of administrative fees for businesses.

China's finance ministry had also urged their local branches to quicken the pace of budget allocation to guarantee the completion of key projects and lift the slowing economy.

Those policy moves, together with the earlier steps, such as hastening construction of railways and public housing, tax cuts for smaller enterprises, have combined to give a boost to the economy, though officials and economists warned that the downside pressure still exists.

Chinese leaders have ruled out the possibility of any big fiscal stimulus to spur economic growth as they tolerate a slower growth rate while pushing ahead with structural reforms.

China has set an annual target for the economy to grow about 7.5% in 2014 and a Reuters poll found that economists expected growth of 7.3% for this year.

A preliminary HSBC/Markit PMI issued late last month showed the factory sector turning in its best performance in five months, although the reading remained below the 50-point level that suggests contraction in manufacturing activities.

All eyes now will be on the release of the final HSBC PMI at 01:45 GMT on Tuesday, which favours smaller and private companies compared with the bigger ones captured by the official PMI. – Reuters 

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Cops: More time needed to positively identify deceased suspect in toddler's murder

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 08:20 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: The police need more time to identity the man suspected of murdering a toddler's on Thursday.

Kuala Lumpur CID chief SAC Gan Kong Meng said verification of the suspect's fingerprints could not be done at the National Registration Department and the Criminal Registration Centre as it was a weekend.

"Police are still waiting for the results of the autopsy report. The media must understand that we cannot afford to make an error as it can affect our investigation," he said in a statement here Sunday night.

Gan said the police had yet to identify the real motive for the murder of the girl, aged two years and six months.

"The police investigation will cover all angles, including recorded footage of the parents and those who knew the victim's family," he added.

The toddler was found with her head severed on the banks of Sungai Klang near Kuala Lumpur Commuter Station in Jalan Hishamuddin.

Witnesses claimed they saw a man with the toddler, and when they tried to approach, the suspect fled and jumped into the river.

The body of the male suspect was found floating in Sungai Klang near Sunway toll plaza at 3pm Saturday. - Bernama

Tourism Ministry: Visit Malaysia Year 2014 promotions in China to resume

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 07:50 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR: Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 promotional programmes in China will be resumed soon, after they were put on hold since March following the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370.

Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said the promotions would be carried out soon, following positive reactions from the working visit by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to China in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"The Prime Minister's visit to China had, to a certain extent, pacified the situation and had given positive reaction, especially since we already have good relations with China, to the extent that they were willing to loan us two giant pandas.

"I was made to understand there was a memorandum of understanding signed between Malaysia and China in the tourism sector, although I was not present as I was paying my last respects to the late Sultan Azlan Shah (who passed away on Thursday)," he said.

He said this at a media conference on the cooperation between Tourism Malaysia and Sango Taxi Association, Japan here Sunday.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Nazri said Malaysia monopolised tourism promotion advertisements via taxis in seven major cities in Japan, through the close cooperation between Tourism Malaysia and taxi companies there.

He said 840 taxis in Osaka, Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Nagoya and Sapporo carried pictures of tourism products in Malaysia as well as brochures.

"Taxi drivers from Japan were brought to Malaysia in stages to see attractions in Malaysia for themselves, so that they can relay it to their passengers.

"We all know taxi drivers in Japan are noted for their honesty and manners. Not only that, the taxi medium is good for advertising purposes because taxis there operate non-stop," he said.

Also present was Sango Taxi Association president Yamane Shigetaka.

Nazri with Sango Taxi Association president Yamane Shigetaka.

Shigetaka said he was amazed at what Malaysia offered in terms of tourism and could not wait to go back to relate his experiences to his countrymen. - Bernama

Planned wedding feast for deceased cop turns into tahlil prayer session

Posted: 01 Jun 2014 07:15 AM PDT

ALOR STAR: The wedding feast planned for the late Lance Corporal Mohd Azuan Abdullah and his fiancée, Nur Faizah Muhammad Rejab on Sunday, turned into a 'tahlil' prayer session instead.

Nur Faizah's father, Muhammad Rejab Che Man, 61, said the family decided to proceed with the kenduri (feast), but turned it into a prayer session for the late Mohd Azuan at their family home in Kampung Batas Paid, Jalan Kuala Kedah here.

"I regard the deceased like my own son and hope the ties that have been nurtured between my family and his will continue, " he said.

The feast was attended by more than 1,200 guests, attended by family members of the deceased who came all the way from Johor.

Mohd Azuan's brother, Mohd Aizam, 29, said his mother, Afidah Ehsan, 52, decided to attend the feast to honour the invitation extended by Nur Faizah's family.

"We also came to present the marriage gifts from my late brother to his fiancée," he added.

Although Mohd Azuan's sudden death shocked them, Mohd Aizam said the family had accepted it fate.

However, he said, it was the family's hope that those responsible for Mohd Azuan's death be brought to justice soon.

Meanwhile, Nur Faizah said she prayed for Mohd Azuan and hoped he rest in peace.

"Today (Sunday) was supposed to be a special day for us. I surrender to God's will and have been able to accept his passing," she added.

Lance Corporal Mohd Azuan, 25, a member of the Kerian district police headquarters' Motorcycle Patrol Unit, was killed last May 26 after a car belonging to robbers rammed a motorcycle he and a colleague was on at Jalan Bagan Serai-Alor Pongsu in Perak.

The incident occurred at the 10th Mile towards Alor Pongsu, near Parit Buntar, when both policemen were in pursuit of robbery suspects in a car before another car rammed into their motorcycle from the back. - Bernama

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Mrs Hemingway

Posted: 31 May 2014 04:00 PM PDT

Who were the women that the great writer married and left? This brilliant work of fiction steeped in fact attempts to bring them into the spotlight.

FOR most book lovers, the name Ernest Hemingway would evoke the image of a great American writer whose work reflected both his personal life as well as the social events of the time (A Farewell To Arms was based on Hemingway's experience on the Italian front lines during World War I).

While Hemingway's life seems like an open book, the same can't be said about the lives of his four wives. Mixing fiction with meticulously researched facts, author Naomi Wood explores the lives of Hemingway's four wives in Mrs Hemingway.

The novel is, logically, split into four sections, one for each of the Mrs Hemingways.

Starting with Hadley (the woman celebrated in Hemingway's acclaimed A Moveable Feast), the novel opens in 1926, with Hemingway and his first wife Elizabeth Hadley Richardson – referred throughout as Hadley – living in the French resort city of Antibes.

In a rather bizarre menage-a-trois, Hemingway's lover – and Hadley's best friend – Pauline Pfeiffer (also known as Fife) lives with them. Through the opening chapters, readers get a feel of the unique set up of the relationship, with sexual tension, despair, hurt, simmering hatred and indifference threatening to tear all three – and in particular Hadley – apart.

The quiet and slow pace of the novel allows Wood to build the tension, anger and hurt that Hadley feels towards her husband's behaviour, which includes public canoodling with her best friend. This is the recurrent theme throughout the novel, that despite each of the women believing she has tamed Hemingway, the writer remains as restless as ever, not wanting to be pinned down to any one place or woman.

Fife is seen as the more outspoken and opinionated wife of Hemingway's wives. However, despite having a voice and not being afraid to use it, Fife is far from being at peace with Hemingway.

During her marriage, the Spanish Civil War erupts and Hemingway went to Spain to cover it for American newspapers. She may have had the riches and the luxury, but it was impossible for Fife to compete with a war for her husband's attention.

For Martha Gellhorn, the third Hemingway spouse, being married to Ernest was something she came to hate. Martha's hatred of being Mrs Hemingway could stem from the fact that before she embarked on an affair and eventually into married life with Ernest from 1940-1945, she was a journalist, a career woman in her own right. However, in the sexist manner of the time, after marrying Ernest, her own career ceased to exist and she just became Mrs Hemingway, wife of a celebrated writer.

Mary Welsh, the last Mrs Hemingway, was also a journalist who succumbed to Ernest's charms. And like the women who preceded her, Mary was unable to keep Hemingway's restless nature captivated.

While it may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect, Wood blatantly paints Mary and Ernest as two volatile people, with Mary standing firm against her husband. Like all the wives before her, Mary is left wondering why Ernest decided to walk down the aisle with her.

Wood provides her own answer, in a single paragraph: "When Ernest was good he was entrancing, but when he was on the sauce he could be vile. She wondered, too, what might be her purpose here. Manage the staff? Go fishing and shooting with Ernest? No longer would she be a correspondent with her own stories and salary."

Though the novel spans almost 40 years, it is extremely easy to read. Each of the four sections provides space for each Hemingway wife to air her thoughts and feelings, which makes Mrs Hemingway read more like four novellas rather than one book.

Wood uses flashbacks effectively to illustrate just how happy each of the four women were with Hemingway.

While little hints about Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary's disillusionment about being Mrs Hemingway are scattered throughout the novel, Wood does not try to sneak in her own opinions to explain their disappointments.

All four women are equally drawn and repulsed by Hemingway, leaving each of them in a grey area, and Wood does not attempt to erase this shade of grey. This gives Mrs Hemingway a very realistic tone, with airs of tension, sadness, regret and anger filling the pages.

Mrs Hemingway may be a work of fiction that is steeped in fact, but the undertow is a study of a complex man as seen by four equally complex women who, despite knowing his flaws, were still attracted to him and remained steadfastly loyal (for as long as humanly possible) to a man they knew they could never tame.

Though the focus is on his wives, fans of Hemingway will be very pleasantly surprised with Wood's Mrs Hemingway. A brilliant read.

Related article: 'Mrs Hemingway' explores pain and passion of writer's four wives


Posted: 31 May 2014 04:00 PM PDT

Over the past few months I've noticed that an increasing number of the books I review in this column are translations. This is partially due to my own unappeasable curiosity about the rich and varied stories of the diverse inhabitants of this planet, but also because high quality translations are increasingly available.

I put this down to the fact that in this interconnected world publishers have easy access to sales figures for books published in other languages and other lands. It's a low-risk calculation for them to bank on what has been a bestseller in one country becoming a bestseller in another.

For example, here in Malaysia we see publishers like Fixi Verso translating bestselling books from safe-bet writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman into the national language, but globally we see an increasing number of translations from "foreign" languages into English.

Mai Jia, whose real name is Jiang Benhuis, as the blurb on the inside cover informs the reader, is possibly one of the most famous novelists you've never heard of. His books sell millions in his native China where they have been adapted into films and television series, but he is almost unknown outside his home country.

Some people refer to him as the Chinese Dan Brown – presumably the comparison is made on the basis of his sales, because his writing is much richer and nuanced and more literary in style. Mai Jia himself prefers to compare his writing to a blend of Kafka and Agatha Christie, which might or might not give the reader some sort of an idea what to expect.

Decoded is Mai Jia's first novel. Olivia Milburn has made a splendid and very readable translation. Originally published in China in 2005, it is Mai Jia's first book to be available in English.

A precocious youth, Mai Jia was only 17 when he joined a top-secret section of the People's Liberation Army, and in one of the uncanny symmetries of life, he stayed in the PLA for another 17 years. Much of the inspiration for his books comes from that period spent in the intelligence community.

Decoded is the story of a slightly autistic but brilliant young mathematical autodidact named Rong who, just like Mai Jia, gets recruited into a top secret section of the People's Liberation Army at a young age. Set in a period before number crunching computers, Rong's task is to crack codes. He dedicates himself single-mindedly to the task, performing his duty to the country, forsaking his original intention, which was to work with his mentor on the development of artificial intelligence.

The book starts off very spiritedly with some genealogical back story on Rong's ancestors, who are personable and charismatic characters that one would happily read about, but as soon as the story gets to Rong the author pulls back.

Apart from a very brief section near the end we only ever see Rong from a distance. Rong is so introverted that he is capable of going months, and sometimes years, without saying a word to another human being.

The story is told as if it was a piece of investigative journalism, where the narrator is trying to find out all he can about this mysterious character. The protagonist is only ever seen through other's eyes and the narrator learns about him second hand, except for one brief encounter much later in Rong's life. There are times that this journalistic effect is so real that the reader starts to wonder if this really is a novel or whether it is actually an authentic biography.

Decoded is an intelligent book that deftly skirts around the history of the time. Though literary, Mai Jia is a mainstream author, and studiously avoids getting bogged down in anything resembling politics. There is a moment early on where the reader might worry about getting bored with the mathematical elements of the story, but these are just used to establish character and are very quickly left behind to focus on the story in itself.

With Rong being so distant and hermetic it is difficult to truly empathise with him as a character. Perhaps the author's intention is for the reader to mirror Rong's own anti-social belligerence. Ultimately, it is the writing that keeps one reading and Mai Jia is very astute in his exploration of the fragility of genius.

Given his commercial viability, doubtlessly more of Mai Jia's work will be translated in the future. I will certainly be looking forward to read more from him.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Monument to WWII 'comfort women'

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

FAIRFAX: A suburb of the US capital dedicated a monument to World War II sex slaves in the latest local victory by Korean Americans in historical disputes with Japan.

After a campaign and fundraising by Korean American activists, the government centre of Fairfax County, Virginia, unveiled twin sculptures of butterflies and a plaque in honour of so-called "comfort women" – the up to 200,000 women from Korea and elsewhere forced into brothels for imperial Japan's soldiers.

On a green knoll on the government building's sprawling lawn, supporters released butterflies and sang the Korean folk anthem, Arirang.

A dancer in Korean costume cried as she glided around the plaque, which calls for "eternal peace and justice" for comfort women.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervis­ors, in a proclamation, said the monument "will serve as a lasting reminder and an affirmation to the world that all crimes against humanity, such as human trafficking, will not be condoned or tolerated".

Former comfort woman Kang Il-chul, 87, flew in from South Korea to thank the crowd, saying she would share news of the monument to the dwindling number of remaining survivors.

"The Japanese government should make a prompt apology for the comfort woman issue," Kang said.

Japan apologised to comfort women in 1993 and set up a fund to compensate survivors.

While comfort women in the Philipp­ines and elsewhere accepted the money, most South Koreans refused because the funds came primarily from private sources and not the Japanese government.

Japan's embassy in Washington said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood by Tokyo's "sincere apologies and remorse" for comfort women's "immeasurable pain and suffering" and did not want the issue to be "politicised".

Abe has said he will not revise the apology, after in the past triggering concern in South Korea over his conservative views on wartime history.

Some Japanese politicians have rejected the official line on comfort women and accused South Korea and China of keeping alive historical grievances for political gain.

Korean American activists have increasingly taken the battle over history-linked disputes to the local level in the United States.

State lawmakers in Virginia, which has a sizable Korean American community, in February voted to include the Korean term "East Sea" in textbooks for the body of water more frequently called the Sea of Japan. — AFP

Thai junta chief: Move is to allow time for political 'reforms'

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

BANGKOK: Thailand's junta chief ruled out elections for at least a year to allow time for political "reforms", and defended the recent military coup in the face of rising international alarm.

In his first televised national address on Friday after announcing the army takeover last week, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha said the new military regime planned to work towards returning the nation of 67 million people to democracy in around 15 months.

The general, who was given crucial royal endorsement on Monday, said a first phase of around three months would focus on "reconciliation" in the ferociously divided nation.

A Cabinet and new draft constitution would then be put in place to enact reforms during a second year-long phase. Only after this could elections be held.

"Stage three is a general election under an absolute democratic system that is acceptable to all sides. Laws will be modernised so that we can have good and honest people to run the country," he said.

Thailand's military seized power on May 22 – the 19th actual or attempted putsch in its modern history – and set about rounding up scores of political figures, academics and activists.

Authorities have abrogated the constitution, curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew.

Prayuth reiterated warnings against dissent in the face of near daily pockets of anti-coup protest.

He also said that restrictions on the press and social media were "necessary" because they had been used to stoke divisions in the past.

Prayuth, whose timetable echoes suggestions from the anti-Shinawatra rallies, said the coup was necessary to restore stability to the kingdom.

"Thai people, like me, have probably not been happy for nine years, but since May 22, there is happiness," said the general, who laid out broad economic plans for the country.

He said a curfew could be relaxed in certain areas in a nod to fears that it is having a further negative effect on the key tourism industry.

Thailand's economy shrank 0.6% year-on-year in January-March due to falling consumer confidence and a slump in tourism as protests put off visitors.

Prayuth noted the international alarm over the coup, but said the country needed time to find a "righteous and legitimate" path for the country's democracy.

On Friday, the United States rejected the general's election timetable.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Washington believed the best path forward was "to set a timeline for early elections and to facilitate an inclusive and transparent electoral process".

"There's no reason that they can't be held in the short term," she said.

On Thursday, the European Union's foreign affairs head, Catherine Ashton, voiced "extreme concern" over the situation in the country and said only a clear plan for a return to democracy could allow its "continuous support".

Around 300 people have now been held for periods of up to seven days. Key political figures were released this week, including former premiers Yingluck Shina­watra and Abhisit Vejjajiva as well as protest leaders. The regime has warned that those released face prosecution in military court if they continue their political activism. — AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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German artist Ilse Noor: Engraved enigma

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

German artist Ilse Noor trawls through 30 years of mystery-tinged artworks.

An incomplete sentence opens more possibilities than one with a full stop ever can.

In her latest exhibit, Enigma: Intaglio, German-born Ilse Noor attempts to show, not tell, with a mix of her more mysterious intaglio prints. The exhibition at the Project Room Fine Art gallery in Kuala Lumpur showcases 16 of the veteran artist's prints, dating back the late 1980s leading up two to pieces done this year.

One of them, Enigma, which lends its title and mood to the exhibit, is actually unfinished, admits Ilse.

"I'm usually more clear with my work, I want to round this one up more. However, the exhibition date was set, and I wasn't," she says with a small laugh. Despite its unfinished state, Enigma still captures the imagination, a teka teki (rhyming Malay riddle) tucked beneath a serene orb that dominates the upper half of the image.

The Jewel of Hang Li Po (etching and aquatint, 2014).

"The idea of the piece ... doesn't demand to be finished anyway. Sometimes, things need a little mystery to let dreams wonder," says Ilse.

Ironically, her technique of choice for the last 50 years – intaglio etching – is associated with fine detail to the point that Ilse uses a magnifying glass to etch in the fine shading lines.

While the end result is on canvas paper, Ilse's aquatint engraving requires her to use acid to etch images onto a copper plate. Its popularity among French impressionists led to the technique being called peintre-graveur (literally painter engraver), for how the painting was done through pressing the engraving onto paper rather than directly painting on the canvas. The painstaking method means Ilse takes a minimum of two weeks to finish a smaller piece, though she revealed that some pieces have taken months and even years before she feels they are complete.

The 73-year-old's longest running project, The Jewel of Hang Li Po, is also on display at the exhibition. The original sketch and four trial prints each have a date and the word "zustandsdruck" (condition of print) which marks it as a work in progress, written at its foot. A whopping 13 years in the making, the series gives audiences a unique perspective on the evolution of Ilse's work.

"I get the image for the next piece even as I'm working on one already, which keeps me moving forward. But I also have to remind myself to come back to a piece and finish it!" Ilse explains during a chat at the Project Room Fine Art gallery.

Hourglass (etching, 1994).

She notes that there is always the danger of overdoing it to a point it does not look good anymore. "It's metal, you can't paint over it like a canvas. You've got to let go and decide it's done." Shooting a look at one of her earlier pieces, Ilse admits: "And some do look overdone."

The Jewel Of Hang Li Po is a continuation of Ilse's Istana theme, a series of underwater castles based on seashells. Several other Istana pieces, including Istana Samudra (1999) and Istana Mutiara (2002) are also in the exhibit.

"I call it an Istana, but it's a shell that's been made into something else. Your fantasy is not given limits," says Ilse. She reveals that her fascination with oceanic elements began after she was comissioned to do a piece for Unesco, which lead her to experiment with studying shrimp, then shells. Ilse also acknowledges Malaysian keroncong music as an influence, saying its percussion sounded like waves and wind beating against a ship's hull.

The prints at the Enigma exhibit are all for sale, though Ilse keeps the original plates to herself. Assuring collectors, Ilse says she maintains the tradition of scratching the plate after the final edition is printed.

"If you don't, you devalue the work and you devalue yourself," says Ilse, her smile revealing a golden tooth.

Bunuhku Aku Akan Tetap Menyanyi (etching and aquatint, 1989) is one of the early pieces on show at the Enigma: Intaglio exhibition.

With each print being done by hand from start to finish, there are invariably minor differences between each finished piece, leading them to be called "multiple originals".

While a plate could be used create anywhere from 30 to 75 prints before it begins to degrade, Ilse makes it a point to only create 10 copies of the finished version.

For those interested in learning how to create their own Intaglio prints, Ilse will be hosting workshop sessions at the gallery (June 7) and her private studio in Lembah Beringin, Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor (June 14). Materials will be provided including copper plate, paper and etching tools.

IIse Noor's Enigma: Intaglio is showing at Project Room Fine Art, Lot 7, Level 4, Great Eastern Mall, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur, till June 16. The gallery opens 11am-9pm daily. Visit projectroom.com.my for more details, or e-mail info@projectroom.com.my or call 03-4257 4007 to book a place in the workshop (limited to 10 participants).

The Print Room: Body language

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Print Room's latest exhibition explores the whole notion of the human form.

Nudity. Stark, sensual, blatant. Those descriptions do come to mind when it comes to celebrating the human form. It is a complex – often forbidden – subject in some circles. Everybody has an opinion when the word "body" is mentioned in relation to photography, or through similar artful mediums.

When English photographer Paul Gadd, the director of The Print Room in Petaling Jaya in Selangor, revealed the theme of his gallery's then upcoming exhibition, he said people took it with a pinch of salt.

"We had some problems because as soon as you mentioned the word 'body', people sort of backed off, thinking nudity was involved. But that was not the case. You can represent the body however you want," explained Gadd.

And that is exactly what the gallery's latest photography exhibition called Body set out to do. When you walk into the exhibition space, you would probably pause momentarily and muse. Slowly, your perception on the whole topic will begin to take another form and you will realise that nudity is not the be all and end all, after all.

Featuring the works of 11 photographers, including three South Koreans, the exhibition mostly moves away from the ubiquitous naked human form, and looks at the subject matter rather differently. The group exibition features works by Gadd, Koh Yeo Myoung, Melissa Lim, Linda Chin, Kim Do Han, Lisa Foo, Phes, Johan Hamidon, Gaithiri Siva, Shung Yen and Kwon Hyuk Min. This exhibition, which is The Print Room's first this year, challenges the whole notion of body and endeavours to depict different facets of it.

"We tried to represent the body without being too obvious and blatant about it," asserted Gadd.

What's more, all the photographs in Body were shot using film, which is the signature format of The Print Room.

Nature #3 (Phoebe)

Nature#3 by Phes

The results are both stunning and intriguing. Take for instance the series of photographs by Melissa Lim. Using light and shadow, Lim stripped away the complexities of the human body and focused instead on its simplicity. The silhouetted human frame – reminiscent of the "shower curtain scene" in the movie Psycho – is shown through a muslin sheet.

"From behind the muslin emerges a silhouette that conveys a sense of drama, emotion, freedom and mystery, allowing one's imagination to wander and ponder," said Lim.

Linda Chin, on the other hand, shot oysters for her Venus series. At first glance, they may appear as nothing more than oysters but the allusion comes across more clearly later on.

"The Venus series aims to highlight the individuality of the human body, and the position that no one should be pressured to conform to unrealistic expectations imposed by those around them," stated Chin.

Lisa Foo's series Discover The Full Body is also a highlight. Her work is printed on blocks of wood, which added the element of art installation into this exhibition space for the first time. By using liquid light, as we found out, film photographers can use different surfaces instead of paper to bring their images to life.

Gadd's own series, called RGB, referring to the three primary colours in light (red, green and blue), is a vibrant rush of photographic instinct and technique. Depicting only body outlines, Gadd added a new filter for every shot, creating new colours and giving a three dimensional sense to a two dimensional image.

Some images even looked like a steam-punk version of a Picasso painting.

The enigma of the body – seen through the eyes of these talented photographers – is too hard to resist and so is this exhibition.

Body is on at The Print Room (49, Lorong 16/9E, Section 16, Petaling Jaya, Selangor) till June 15. Open weekends from 2pm to 7pm. On weekdays, the show is open for viewing by appointment. Call 012 337 2903, log on to theprintroomkl.com or e-mail info@theprintroomkl.com.

Haafiz Shahimi plays with pyrography and burns himself into his art

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Haafiz Shahimi fires up the art scene through the scorching technique of pyrography.

Having your work called a joke is probably one of the most unpleasant things that can be experienced by an artist.

This, however, may not be the case for Haafiz Shahimi. The Kedahan from Sungai Petani is one of the few artists in the region practising pyrography: a unique printing process which involves heating up metal blocks to create artistic images.

As the story goes, he was meeting up with some friends one day when one of them made a joke about the fiery nature of his craft.

"Before this, I usually did geometric patterns," says Haafiz, 28, during an interview. "But one of my friends was joking around, and asked, 'Why don't you do a pattern of a fish?' Then it can be ikan bakar!"

"So it started from a funny thing! Later, I cut the shape of an ikan kembung out of a metal block, heated it, and printed it. And I was surprised the piece got a good response!"

Haafiz Shahimi's 'Nocturnal', oil on canvas, 2014.

Haafiz Shahimi's Nocturnal, oil on canvas, 2014.

Haafiz has his monotype pyrography works on display now at the Core Design Gallery in Subang Jaya, Selangor as part of his first solo exhibition, RAGE: Raising Awareness of Greater Existence.

Apart from his pyrographic works, the exhibition will also be showcasing his oil paintings and charcoal drawings. The show features 14 works. Many of his paintings, such as Kami Mudah Lupa and Kembali Bernafas, are brimming with bold strokes of movement, with Haafiz chanelling his background as a B-boy and silat practitioner into his art.

Some will remember him dancing or "action painting" on a canvas at the Nando's Peri-fy Your Art presentation in Kuala Lumpur back in 2012.

I met the artist for an interview in an outdoor studio in USJ, Selangor, where he was working on his exhibition. Long haired and jovial, his clothing speckled with paint, Haafiz seemed quite an animal lover, showing me some of the pet birds in the studio.

When it comes to art, however, fishes are one of his major themes. One piece, for example, features a school of fish, arranged to form a portrait of the artist. The title? Self-Fish.

Self-Fish, pyrography print, charcoal, spray paint and oil on canvas finished with 2K matte paint, 2014.

Self-Fish, pyrography print, charcoal, spray paint and oil on canvas, 2014.

"In Malay, selfish means sombong, but it's not a narcissistic thing! I just like the humour. I like that people will be wondering about it. I hope it encourages people to reflect about themselves," adds Haafiz with a chuckle.

Another piece, untitled at the time of the interview, will incorporate elements of wayang kulit. An image of a fish, done on a two-surface print through either pyrography or oils, will be illuminated, resulting in a unique double image formed through the interplay of light and shadow.

How did Haafiz get into pyrography? The same reason many people go into art to begin with: as a form of rebellion.

"I got into pyrography when I was doing my degree. I was majoring in print making at the time. There were all these conventional ways of printmaking: silkscreen, lithography, etchings, that sort of thing. But I was rebellious in those days. I liked to explore possibilities. I was seeking other ways of making visual art," explains Haafiz.

He graduated in early 2011 from UiTM in Shah Alam, Selangor.

Haafiz Shahimiâ¿TMs 'Dance of the Unleashed Spirit II', oil and charcoal on canvas, 2014.

Haafiz Shahimi's Dance of the Unleashed Spirit II, oil and charcoal on canvas, 2014.

The term "pyrography" is usually used to describe the art of decorating wood or other materials with burn marks, resulting from the controlled application of a heated object. Haafiz's methods, however, are slightly different: he cuts metal blocks into shapes with a plasma cutter, which he then heats up and presses onto a PVC canvas to create images.

The beauty of his method of pyrography, Haafiz says, is that it is a marriage of the arts and sciences.

"I was doing research about the art world. And I realised I had to push the boundaries, I had to look into other fields of knowledge. I tried combining the principles of physics with visual arts. Like the laws of thermodynamics. This printmaking works on the concept of the exchange of energy through heat," says Haafiz, adding his work had been influenced by Tokyo-born, Seattle-based artist Etsuko Ichigawa.

The challenge of pyrography, Haafiz says, is applying the precise amount of heat onto the metal blocks. Too much would burn the canvas, although this is not always a bad thing.

"The best thing is when the image you get is not like the one you were expecting. That's the accidental image! I like it when the fire 'eats' a little of the canvas. But not too much of course!" says Haafiz. "A little bit of destruction makes it more interesting."

Haafiz Shahimi's 'Kami Mudah Lupa', oil and charcoal on canvas, 2014.

Haafiz Shahimi's Kami Mudah Lupa, oil and charcoal on canvas, 2014.

As our mothers warned us, playing with fire can be dangerous, and Haafiz says he has had a few mishaps (non-serious!) in the course of his work.

"One time, I was cutting a metal block, and it fell out of my hands. It landed by my feet. If I hadn't been wearing shoes, it could have been real serious," says Haafiz.

"Another time, the metal split and hit my hands. But it's good to feel your heart beating. If you feel pain when creating something beautiful, it's all worth it."

Haafiz Shahimi's RAGE: Raising Awareness of Greater Existence will be showing at the Core Design Gallery at No. 87, Jalan SS15/2A, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor till June 27. Monday to Friday, 10am – 7pm. Saturday-Sunday, 10am-6pm. For more information, visit malaysiacontemporaryart.coredesigngallery.com or contact 03-56121168.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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Astragalus: Chinese medicinal herb enlisted in fight against allergic rhinitis

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A herb long used in traditional Chinese medicine for diabetes has been recently proven effective for allergic rhinitis, with some even touting the plant as a 'superfood'.

Take a look around you, is there someone you know who has symptoms of allergies?

This might be in the form of allergic rhinitis — runny and/or blocked nose, watery eyes and sneezing; food allergies — itching, rashes, and even, difficulty breathing, upon consumption of the trigger food; eczema or contact dermatitis — itchy, red skin rashes; and allergic asthma — difficulty breathing upon exposure to the allergen, among others.

There is a pretty good chance that you know one or more persons who have some form of allergy, or even have allergies yourself, as the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology estimates that one in three Malaysians suffer from some sort of allergy.

In fact, allergies are a rising medical trend both globally and locally. Experts predict that if the present trend continues, around half the country's will be affected by ailments caused by allergies by 2020.

While allergies are unlikely to be fatal for most sufferers, they do seriously affect quality of life. This is especially so for those who are allergic to substances that are commonly found in the environment, like dust mites, pet dander and pollen.

According to Croatian medical doctor and researcher Dr Silva Pecanic, the current goals of allergic rhinitis management is to improve quality of life and minimise side effects from treatment.

"There are three main methods of management. First, of course, is the allergen avoidance. But this requires a lot of education of the patient, a lot of discipline, habit changes, and is quite restrictive," she says, noting that when one family member has an allergy, the entire family usually suffers along as well.

"The other method is pharmacotherapy. Current pharmacotherapy includes nasal steroids, which have a lot of side effects like dryness, and after long-term use, leads to thinning of the nasal mucosa, making it prone to bleeding or infections. There are also a lot of side effects for antihistamines, which are often used to decrease allergy symptoms, like dryness, drowsiness, dizziness, and sometimes, trouble urinating," she says.

The third method of treatment is with leukotriene inhibitors. However, Dr Pecanic notes that the US Food and Drug Administration has updated the precautions on this group of drugs to include warnings on reported adverse neuropsychiatric side effects like agitation, aggression, problems sleeping, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

She says: "All these treatments are directed at the final symptoms — after the histamine attack. And all these patients usually change their therapy because they are never fully satisfied with their medication — changing from one antihistamine to another, and the nasal steroids and the nasal decongestants."

Regulating allergy genes

Dr Pecanic, who is currently the Regulatory Department head of the South-East European Croatian-based health supplements and non-prescription drugs company Milsing, was in town recently to speak about a new allergy treatment based on the herb Astragalus membranaceus.

Also known as huang qi, bei qi or huang hu huang qi in Chinese, the dried root of A. membranaceus has actually been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Its primary function in TCM is as an energising tonic and boosting the immune system, as well as treating diabetes.

It is this last function that led a group of researchers at the Ruder Bokovic Institute in Zagreb, Croatia, to take a deeper look at the root of this herb 14 years ago.

Milsing Product Development head and pharmacist Iva Martic shares: "During the research, they discovered that the activated root extract of A. membranaceus substantially influences some of the genes which are involved in the inflammatory reaction.

"After that, they performed a series of tests, and animal and clinical trials, to show that it does affect more than 20 genes involved in the inflammatory process."

In was at this stage in 2003 that Milsing, which develops such products commercially, got involved.

According to Martic, their research showed that the activated root extract of A. membranaceus helps to regulate the genes involved in the Th1 (Type 1 helper T cell) pathway. (See What are helper T cells?)

Increased activity of this pathway helps balances out the Th2 (Type 2 helper T cell) pathway, which is the one responsible for releasing histamine and other inflammatory chemical mediators that cause allergy symptoms.

Providing effective relief

In 2007, Dr Pecanic and her colleagues conducted a randomised, double-blind clinical trial at the University Hospital Dubrava in Zagreb. The results were published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010.

Forty-eight patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis were randomly put into two groups for the six weeks of the trial. Two-thirds of them received the activated root extract of A. membranaceus, while one-third received a placebo. No other pharmacological treatment for allergies was allowed.

According to Dr Pecanic, participants on the root extract showed significant improvement for rhinorrhoea (runny nose) after three weeks on treatment, and itching or burning eyes after six weeks, compared to those on the placebo.

In addition, subjective evaluations on treatment efficacy from patients and doctors respectively both showed an agreement that the root extract was significantly more effective than the placebo.

She adds: "There were very few adverse reactions, and all of them were actually symptoms from the allergy. The conclusion was that there were no adverse reactions related to the root extract."

While the treatment for the clinical trial was administered at the start of the allergy season, Dr Pecanic says that the treatment works best when begun a month before exposure to the allergen or allergy season (for example, spring in temperate countries when pollen starts to spread), as a preventive measure.

Patients need to take the treatment as long as there is risk of exposure to the allergen.

However, those who have perennial or constant allergies can also start the treatment at any time, as then, it will work to reduce the symptoms they are already suffering from. They would need to take a stronger dose of the root extract until their symptoms subside, whereupon they can continue with the maintenance dose until they are no longer at risk of being exposed to the allergen.

Dr Pecanic says that it takes up to about a week in such patients for the treatment to start showing effect. She adds that they can also combine the root extract with their usual pharmacologic treatments for symptom relief.

Although patients will probably have to continue taking the root extract for as long as they have allergies, which is usually lifelong, Dr Pecanic notes: "It is a natural product; it does not have side effects. And it is much better to take such products than drugs with side effects. It is safe."

'World Cup can kill you': Health experts caution fans to keep calm, eat healthy

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

As anticipation for the World Cup builds, health experts caution football fans to be careful of the physical stresses and violent reactions that can come from seeing their favourite teams lose. 

If the TV commercials piggybacking on the World Cup are to be believed, watching a football match is fun, healthy and sociable.

Slim young men and women spring up from the sofa like gazelles to celebrate a goal. If they lose, they commiserate peacefully with a rueful shrug. And, of course, they only consume alcohol and food in modest, balanced proportions. Reality, as you may have guessed, is rather different from the Never Never Land of television ads.

For hundreds of millions of fans, say experts, the World Cup will be a life-affirming fiesta, but for others, it will be unhealthy, painful or even lethal.

Statistics show that football's great parties are typically accompanied by a surge in heart attacks, suicide, depression, assaults, road accidents, binge-drinking and pigging out on artery-clogging, waistline-expanding junk food.

"The biggest risk comes from emotional stress, which builds up during the match," said Jean-Francois Toussaint, director of France's Institute of Sport Biomedical Research and Epidemiology. "The risk is naturally greater when a fan's team loses, rather than when it wins, because the cumulative stress is negative."

Investigators in the southern German city of Munich found that local hospital admissions for heart attacks or palpitations rose 266% on days when the national team were playing in the 2006 World Cup, which was hosted by the Germans.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in central England even recommended that penalty shootouts be banned "on public health grounds" after discovering that the tally of heart attacks in Britain rose by a quarter on the day England lost on kicks against historic rival Argentina in the 1998 tournament.

In the northwestern English county of Lancashire, incidents of domestic abuse rose by 38% when England's team played and lost in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups, police reported.

Hormonal cause

One of the big movers-and-shakers is hormones — and not just testosterone, found in both men and women, which is associated with aggression.

Spanish researchers were intrigued when they monitored cortisol, a stress hormone released when one's social image is under threat, among 50 male and female supporters of the national team before, during and after the 2010 final against the Netherlands.

Cortisol levels surged in the run-up to the match, particularly among the most passionate supporters, men and among younger fans, but then fell back after the 1-0 victory.

The curve highlights fears about the crushing shame of defeat on group identity, the scientists believe. Combining such hormonal drivers with the emotional rollercoaster of football can powerfully affect behaviour, say specialists.

French scientists last year calculated that fans consumed nearly a fifth more calories after their team lost, than after when it won. Intake of unhealthy saturated fats and added sugars rose by nearly half in calorie terms. The suspected reason: when a favourite team loses, people feel an identity threat and are likelier to turn to comfort food to help them cope — an exercise psychologists call "escape from self-awareness".

Winning, though, seems to provide a boost to self-control. There is no need for mood repair.

Sex, too, is an area that can be hugely affected by football mania. Last year, doctors in Catalonia, Spain, reported that local births rose by 16% nine months after Andres Iniesta scored a last-minute goal against Chelsea to give Barcelona a berth in the 2009 Champions League final. The infants have been dubbed the Iniesta Generation by the Spanish press.

In the 2010 World Cup, British health watchdogs enlisted the help of Beer Goggles Johnny to advise fans heading to South Africa. The cartoon character cautioned that being drunk alters perception of risk and of other people. Booze literally magnifies another person's attractiveness, and sex without a condom could lead to HIV and other diseases. "No glove, No love," Beer Goggles Johnny said sagely. – AFP Relaxnews

'I have Tourette's, it doesn't have me': Overcoming mysterious, misunderstood syndrome

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Athletes with Tourette Syndrome inspire, as well as compete in their respective sports.

He stands in the batter's box, his head on a swivel, jerking in every direction. He looks at the umpire longer than the pitcher, holds the bat in one hand and punches himself in the ribs with the other.

Somehow, fighting the full-blown episode of his Tourette Syndrome, Kellen Webster sees the pitch he wants and plows it up the middle for a single. And his father doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he does both.

"He was doing what he loved and, selfishly, I was inspired," a tearful Todd Webster said of the experience in 2012, the summer before Kellen's junior year at Bothell High School, Washington, United States. "I tell people all the time that it was the worst thing I've ever seen, but at the same time, the best thing I've ever seen him do. It was very uplifting."

Leyton Thommasen's tics are much more subtle, and many who watch him tend goal for the Kennedy Catholic soccer team have no clue that he, too, has Tourette's. His is a milder form, yet like Kellen, he has overcome obstacles to excel athletically and academically.

Together, they epitomise the motto splashed across the Tourette Syndrome Association website: "I have Tourette's, but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me." They inspire family and friends, most awed by their accomplishments. They refuse to let Tourette's stand in their way and hope their stories will motivate others to compete.

'An itch that won't go away'

Imagine an itch that won't go away. One so insistent and irritating, you can't suppress the urge to scratch it. Now imagine that itch inside your head. That's how Leyton describes his Tourette's. "I can't scratch it by hand," he said. So, Leyton twitches his head for relief — sometimes even on the soccer field — and it feels like a good fingernails-down-your-back scratch, at least for the moment.

Kellen's eyes grow wide at hearing Leyton's depiction. "That's exactly what it feels like, having that itch, and the only way you can try to make it go away is to move it," he said.

Both 18-year-olds also suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), often sidekicks of Tourette's.

Kellen's Tourette's was diagnosed at age five, when he began making loud humming noises — head movements are rare and his only tic seems to be elongated eye blinks. His condition has improved drastically over the past year, through medications and a new behavioural treatment, although a back injury prevented him from playing basketball and baseball as a senior at Bothell High this year.

Leyton was about the same age when he displayed a verbal tic — a frequent clearing of his throat — and a preschool teacher once told his parents he was too disruptive to be in class.

But it was just last spring that Mark and Denise Thommasen sought an official diagnosis for what they had already surmised — that Leyton already controls on his own.

Just as Tourette's varies in severity, so parents find different ways to deal with it, according to Dr Geoffrey Wiegand, a clinical psychologist at Children's Hospital in Seattle who specialises in Tourette's and OCD.

"Nobody wants their child to have anything wrong," he said, noting some parents might not notice subtle tics. "A lot of people will say, 'They'll grow out of it', and a lot of times that's the kind of advice paediatricians are giving parents."

As many as 30% actually do grow out of it, according to Dr Wiegand. "The unfortunate thing is we don't know which 30% that's going to be," he said.

An Oprah moment

Denise's OMG moment came while watching Oprah when Leyton was in seventh grade. He'd gone through myriad maladies — from hearing loss (he once wore hearing aids) to peanut allergies to being hot all the time. It always seemed like one little thing after another. Denise never considered Tourette's, until she watched an Oprah show featuring a boy who displayed many of Leyton's characteristics.

"I watched that show, and it just hit me, oh my God, he has Tourette's," she said.

Mark wasn't buying it, although he now admits he was in denial. "In the back of my mind, everything added up," he said.

Leyton thrived in school and sports, especially soccer, and for the most part controlled his tics — although his neck and hand movements were particularly bad as he reached puberty, when Tourette's tends to peak. "You would have thought he was a third-base coach with all the tics he was doing," Mark said.

But none of them, including Leyton, thought he needed any outside help. Only when he struggled a bit in a Spanish class last year, did they decide to seek an official diagnosis. Students with disorders like Tourette's often receive special considerations for taking tests, like additional time. But once afforded that opportunity, Leyton turned it down.

"He decided he didn't want to be treated any different," Mark said. "He wanted to be like the rest of the kids."

Leyton, a B-plus student who will attend and play soccer for Pacific University in Oregon, shrugs off his disorders and is genuinely more annoyed by his mother's overprotective nature (she is a self-proclaimed mama bear) than the fact he has Tourette's. "I honestly don't care," he said. "I'm one of those people who likes to block things out."

Shrugging it off

For a while, the Websters thought their son's Tourette's might be mild, too. Most of Kellen's verbal tics quieted down until he reached junior high, and then some mild medication helped.

His Tourette's flared up occasionally, but he sailed through his sophomore year in high school as a starter in basketball and baseball. A six-foot-three guard, Kellen flew onto the college recruiting radar by hitting eight three-pointers at the 4A state tournament, one shy of the record.

Then the wheels fell off that summer as his Tourette's raged. His head nearly spun like a top, and he punched himself black and blue. He clapped and clucked and barked, and during one baseball game, his mouth stuck open.

His parents had a neurologist on speed dial and Kellen tried multiple medications. He began working with Dr Wiegand and became one of the first in the state to learn Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention for Tics (CBIT), which ultimately worked wonders.

Kellen was able to play basketball — sometimes sinking three-pointers with his head turned away from the hoop — until he suffered three concussions, his balance a casualty of his meds. He returned for baseball, but quit batting partway through the season for safety reasons — he might get beaned not watching the ball.

His team, the Cougars, reached the regional tournament, when Kellen selflessly told his coaches the team had a better chance with someone else at shortstop as his condition flared again. They lost to Kentwood by a run. 

While Leyton's Tourette's hasn't affected his athletic abilities, Kellen wishes he could say the same thing.

Tics have never made Leyton miss a soccer ball and he is among the top goalkeepers in the state. And he has a role model in Tim Howard, goalkeeper for the US National Soccer Team who has Tourette's.

Kellen's coaches say he could play at least Division II baseball and/or basketball, when his condition is under control.

Dr Wiegand said he believes sports can be therapeutic for Tourette's patients, especially those with depression, like Kellen. "Physical activity and social activity are really the two anecdotes to depression," he said. "And for those not doing well in school, it gives them another area of their life where they can excel and base their self-esteem."

But Kellen admits one reason he didn't push returning to the baseball team this spring, if his back allowed, was the fear his symptoms would rear again. "I don't want to sound overdramatic, but it was kind of scarring," he said of the struggles. "I didn't really want to risk it."

Yet, he asks for no one's pity. "It was hard for me to have the game taken away from me like that, with what I have, but my dad always says it will make me a better person, because everyone's going to face adversity, and I face it a lot, which I think will make me a better person," he said.

A month ago, Kellen thought he'd give up baseball and basketball to attend Washington State University, but he recently reconsidered and might pursue both at Bellevue College. "I missed it," he said.

About Tourette's

Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder characterised by repetitive involuntary movements and vocalisations called tics. The disorder is named for Dr Georges Gilles de la Tourette, a French neurologist who, in 1885, first described the condition in an 86-year-old French woman. Males are affected about three to four times more often than females. Most people with the condition experience their worst tic symptoms in their early teens. – The Seattle Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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