Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Guangzhou Asian Games 2010

Head Bangingly Good Kabaddi (sounds best in its original Indian accent)

I decided to turn myself into an ostrich for a little while by watching the Guangzhou Asian Game to distract me from thinking about the unpleasant game they're playing in the Korean Peninsula and the water of Yellow Sea. With sport events of the Games beaming into 6 glorious Starhub channels, I can watch while bury my head deep in sands up to my eyeballs. I wish my harddrive has more space for the recordings (I can't watch all 6 channels at the same times unless I have 6 TV sets and 6 heads. I'm a man, I'm no good at multi-tasking. I'm a greenie, having 6 heads violates my principle. Oh, ditto for 6 TV sets).

Although the Games isn't taken place in Singapore, I'm actually got into more than the YOG. We've even got the souvenir while Atta visited her folks in Guangzhou just 2 weeks before the Games Opening of the XVI Asiad.

This is a first time I watched the Asiad. I didn't get to watch the Asian Games in Sydney. Only the Olympic Games. As it turns out, the Asian Game is an off-shoot of the Olympic Movement. The Asian Games is overseen by OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), whose president is the Kuwaiti government minister, and also a member of IOC.

If you think that because the Asian Games is a spin-off of the Summer Olympic Games, and has fewer participating countries (46 NOCs), therefore it's a smaller games, then you would be dead wrong. Dead I say. On top of the 26 Summer Olympic sports, it also adds another 18 sports. It's almost 3/4 larger than the Summer Olympic Games as far as the number of sports is concerned.

In these additional sports, some were previous sports in the Summer Olympic Games but have been discontinued - e.g. cricket, baseball, softball, etc. Others like squash and cue sports were never part of he Summer Olympic Games. Some are simply games that played by only Asian, and you're unlikely to have heard about it unless you live in Asia. Games like sepak takraw, and kabaddi. Some sports were in fact introduced to the Summer Games AFTER being introduced into the Asian Games. So Asian Games isn't just bigger, but trail blazer in some areas. Quite the opposite impression that I had (and I imagined many people have) when first heard about the Asian Games.

The game of Sepak Takraw is widely played in SE Asia, including Vietnam where I was born. I have to say I had never seen it played in my childhood. I must have lived a sheltered life, not! Surprisingly this 16th Asiad was the first time I've seen this game being played. It's appropriately also called kicked volleyball in the West. It's like volleyball where the ball is kicked instead of hit by hand over the net, which is 1.52m tall (1.42m for women). In soccer you sometimes see those impressive high kicks being done once in a blue moon. In sepak takraw, it's done in every spike (this is a volleyball term, don't know if this game use the same term). Players have to kick above the net, therefore higher than 1.52m; their heads are only inches from the ground as the kick are being executed. Jackie Chan would be impressed by their athleticism. Expectantly SE Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand are the strong contenders in these games. After all, the name 'sepak takraw' is derived from the languages of these 2 countries. Thailand got gold, Malaysia got silver, and Japan and S. Korea got bronze in this 16rh Asiad. You can easily find their final matches from Youtube.

What about this video clip from youtube of 'Bruce Lee' playing 'ping-pong' with a pair of nunchucks? Another twists of Tom Hanks playing 'ping-pong' in Forrest Gump for the Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 that spearheaded the Sino-US relationship. Quite spectacular special effects. Bruce Lee, incidentally, begun his meteoric rise to stardom also in early 1970s.

As I've never seen sepak takraw being played while growing up in Vietnam, can't say it brings back memory. But kabaddi brings back dollops of nostalgia, especially memories growing up in Australia! (oh, memories growing up in Vietnam too). This flashback comes from one of the many trips to the beaches (in this case, Sutherland Beach if memory serves). One could play many games on the beach (not in the water, but on the sands) - frisbee, volleyball, throwing the stick to the dog, etc. But all of these games involve bringing along something like a frisbee, ball, racket of some kind. What game could we play if we didn't bring along anything (we weren't known to be organized)? We could do wrestling, or karate, not! Besides they are not team sports that would involve the whole gang (there were more than 10 of us). We didn't want to leave anyone out. Kabaddi is the only game I could think of that met all these criteria. Also, since not all of us were born in SE Asia, we thought we would pass on this bits of culture to the outsiders.

The game proceeded merrily, as I crossed the line to the other side, Arnie and Darren tried to tackle me from both sides by leaping towards me. I leapt away to avoid having my body being reshaped into an hour-glass figure by the two incoming testosterone powered locomotives. Without my cushioned presence, the two trains had a disastrous head-on collision. Since the skins on the foreheads are quite thin, they broke easily, and blood gushed out freely. The two rushed themselves to the nearest clinic.
They each received 6 or 7 stitches. While their leaky heads were being stitched up, we struggled to explain the rule of the game to the doc, who was, of course, clueless about sepak takraw. In fact, we didn't even know the name of the game, and called it 'Woooh' because that's the sound one has to make to show that one is holding a single breath.

There're 3 forms of the game (as described in the above Wiki link). The one that being played in the Guangzhou Asian Game is the simplest, while the one the blood sport we played is somewhat more complicated than the official game and involves the rescue your own team players from the other side of the field. This was where we had problem trying to explain to the doc.

DPRK and ROK could KO in taekwondo (try to say these words quickly), kicking each other with their national sport senselessly in the friendly game in the Asiad. At least the rules are clear here and they listened to the umpires, and play fair. Unlike the 2 Korean leaders who wouldn't listen to the referees of China and USA, and the rules of the games aren't clear, and are being made up as they go. Pollies in the West are urging PRC to exert pressure on DPRK leader, who is quite recalcitrant, to play ball. The report of PRC's influence over DPRK is greatly exaggerated.

Because there're more sport events and fewer NOCs, that translates more medals for few participating member countries, you end up with country like China winning one gold medal shy of 2 centuries (in cricket terminology). This kinda of medal tally is quite unlikely in the Summer Olympiad. Unlike the YOC, the players in these Asiad are actually the same ones that appear in the Summer Olympiad, so this is like a preview of Asian athletes competing in the coming London Summer Olympiad in less than 2 years time. The 1990 Beijing Asian Games was the turning point for China to pick up her games in both the Asian Games and by proxy the Summer Olympic Games. It also prepared Beijing for the hosting of the 2008 Beijing Games. I'm looking forward to the next Asian Games, assuming I'm still living in Singapore (not too likely. But you never know).

In this XVI Asiad, the new 'sport' of chess was ushered in. Speaking of Guangzhou and mental gymnastics being described as 'sport', soon after the Asian Games closed and even before the Asian Para Games started, Guangzhou hosts another international 'sport' of the 19th World Memory Championships. As this competition was started by Tony Buzan1 in UK, most of the early champions were Brits. Recently the Germans, followed by Chinese are stealing titles from the Pommies. I assume photos of these champions are posted in casinos around the world to bar them from entries? The house rules.
[1]  I read 2 of his books some 20 years ago (or was it 30?). Can't say I put them to work fully. I wanted to enter this championships a few months ago, but I forgot to enrol.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Recipe for Oxtail Stew

Tail Waggingly Tasty

Hi Joanne, this is the recipe you've asked for. The quantity of ingredients are catered for 2 people. I usually cook 3 meals in one go (keep 2 in the freezer and reheat for subsequent meals). So just multiply the following ingredients by 3 if you want to cook 3 meals except for the water, which remains more or less the same.
It's actually a very simple recipe, just time consuming. I don't cook elaborate meals, this is what the restaurants are for.

1. Beef stock - half a cube. Experiment. Add more if you want it to be saltier.
2. Red wine - something in the range of 15 bucks. I put in 50ml, but it's up to you. Put in more if you love to tipple a drop of red.
3. Celery - one stick the length of your arm. This is the length it comes in if you get it from Cold Storage.
4. Onion - just a small one.
5. Oxtails - for each person I take the thickest and the thinnest tail sections. Cold Storage, Carrefour and Giant sometimes do specials from time to time.
6. Baby carrots - carrots like people, the smaller the sweeter. Babies and baby carrots are the sweetest. I buy Grimmway from Cold Storage. Use 1/2 bag (125 g).

1. Boil the soup base from the beef stock with about 1 litre of water.
2. Put the baby carrots, chopped celery, and onion into the soup when it boils. Pour in 50ml of red wine.
3. Fry the oxtails lightly on a pan without oil. We're not cooking the oxtail on the pan, just sear the skin a little to seal in the meat juice. Sprinkle some flour, and fry about a minute on all sides of the oxtails.
4. Put the oxtails into the soup.
5. As soon as the whole thing comes to a boil, turn it down until it's just simmering. Leave it for a minimum of 4 hours.
When does it ready? That depends how mushy you want the meat and ingredients going to be. Just fish out the oxtail and have a look. You don't want to cook until the meats fall off from the bones, and you don't want the carrots still look whole either.
We eat them with baguettes. Again, you can get nice French sticks from the 3 super/hypermarkets I mentioned above.

Bon Appetit!

Back to Food and Restaurant Reviews Page  

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Illuminati & Mercury Rising (1998)

The Meeting of Conspiracy Theory, Hollywood & Real Life NSA Recruitment

In writing the "Globalisation of Hollywood" series of diary entries, I did some research on conspiracy theory on the net. Conspiracy theory maybe a futile ground for the imagination, but the net is the fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Very fertile. You can frittering all your free time away by just exploring the conspiracy theories available on the net.

I like conspiracy theories very much because of how it fires my imagination. But I wouldn't call myself a conspiracy theorist. Most of the time, I just found myself debunking them. Not that conspiracies don't exist. They must! Conspiracies must exist the way there must be lives in another planets because the namesake astronomical size of the universe and the number of planets exist (according to the Drake Equation). But it's another ball game to say that aliens have visited earth simply because there're trillion of lives elsewhere. Conspiracies exist, but they're not anywhere as pervasive as the conspiracy theorists suggest. SETI have pointed their Big Ear radio telescope into space for decades and found only a singular blip of the Wow! signal. Could it possibly be a technical glitch? Maybe not.

Radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
Small fraction of its viewing time is given to the SETI project

The whole conspiracy theory's investigation enterprise are ruined by very loose and tenuous associations that would be construed as real links. Any kind of correlation is automatically equated with causation. The "Illuminati" Youtube video clip I watched was one such numerous example, where it suggests every organisation with a logo that contains a star or circle or an eye would qualify as links to Illuminati. The mantra "Open your mind" reverberates throughout the clip. Good idea to open our mind, but wouldn't want to open it so wide that it falls out. Don't leave your critical faculty at home especially on an internet joy ride when it's needed the most. One netizen commented that if you type "Illuminati" spells backwards, you will get to THE secret US government website, if you're lucky. Thus constitutes a proof that Illuminati is a secret organisation that has links that tie to the above mentioned secretive US government agency.

I was curious, and so I did just that. I typed this URL http://www.itanimulli.org into the address bar, and lo and behold, I was redirected to the NSA website. This is the sort of link (both figuratively and technically) that make some wide-eyed conspiracy theorist - an oxymoron - salivates. First off, this NSA website is a public official home page that is opened to all. Sure, it's a 'secretive' government organisation, but the address is no more a secret web address than, say, the official website of CIA, which anyone can reach by typing www.cia.gov.

So typing the Illuminati backwards isn't the only way to get there. In fact, is an indirect way. So why? The answer is simple, NSA wants to direct people who type this address http://www.itanimulli.org into their website. Obviously. But why, still? Some of you may have already worked out why. For those who haven't, let me keep you in suspense a while longer before answering that question.

To begin my explanation, you need to watch Mercury Rising (1998) with Bruce Willis, and Miko Hughes.

*** spoiler alert ***

If you haven't, this is going to be spoiler.  You might want to stop reading the rest of this entry and watch the movie first.

In the story, Hughes played a 9 year old autistic boy who has an exceptional gift. A phone number appears in a puzzle book that if anyone solves the puzzle successfully, they should call this number.

An autistic boy solves the puzzle with ease, and innocently calls the number. The number is connected to, you've guessed it, NSA. The next thing you know, NSA sends its 'goons' to erase the kid who knows too much (just as the poster says. The boy is of course, the "someone").

What does he know that's so terrible that NSA would go as far as killing a 9 year old? As it turned out, anyone who can solve this puzzle would be able to crack the supposedly unbreakable code that the NSA takes years to develop. So the kid needs to be silenced to protect the unbreakable code. Whom can an autistic boy tells his "secrets" to when he has a fear of contact with anyone? And what would he tell since he has no clue that he cracks some unbreakable code? These are just 2 big glaring plot holes in the story. Never mind the sloppy writings. The whole thrilled chase starts with the calling of this number. No thrilled chase, no movie. The phone number is thus the key to the whole movie.

This Illuminati backward spelling address serves a similar function as the puzzle book phone number. That is, NSA wants to connect to specific group of people. In the case of the puzzle book phone number, NSA wants to discover who else knows how to break the code. In this case of Illuminati backward spelling web address, NSA wants these people come to their website, take an interest, and may sign up and be recruited as an agent of NSA. Anyone who works out this address http://www.itanimulli.org has 2 desirable aptitudes,

1. They like conspiracies and secrets.
2. They have the talents to "crack the secret code".

Taken only these 2 criteria, I would be qualified if I'm not too old to be a rookie. Not to mention I'm not a Yank. NSA hopes that those people who got directed to this website would look around and may take an interest in working for NSA. Looks like NSA is in a desperate drive for recruitment. One should expect this after 9/11. More agents are needed while Hollywood aren't helping with their negative portrayal of NSA.

Apart from Mercury Rising, Enemy of the State (1998) is another example, interestingly made in the same year. 1998 isn't a good year for NSA's human resource department. But Hollywood has a way of making movies with similar theme at the same time. I guess after 9/11, Hollywood wouldn't like to paint NSA in such a negative light. NSA is needed to catch the terrorists. Fear of terrorists is now greater than fear of a loss of personal freedom and privacy. Movies like Unthinkable (2010) is now being made instead.

Is this a case of Hollywood cooperating with Uncle Sam? I leave that - conspiracy or not - conclusion to you.

I hope I didn't put a dent in their recruitment effort (not that I get too many page views). Come to think of it, I may have created extra traffic/interests for them. Now please ask the snipers to take their cross-hairs or laser beams away from my head now. Thank you very much. I don't want to walk around in my helmet in public. It mess up my hairs.

Crosshair, set, shoot !

Don't know if NSA gets the idea from Mercury Rising, or the other way round. One can find out who copies whom by looking which comes first - the redirection or the movie (1998). Or it is simply a case of like minds think alike (I doubt it). The idea of reverse spellings is nothing new. In fact, when I type the reverse name of another secret organisation - Bilderberg - http://www.grebredlib.com, I was redirected to http://c.conspiracy.com. So play with the reverse names of all the 'secret' societies and organisations that are popular among conspiracy theorists like Free Masons, Trilateral Commission, CFR, Round Table, etc, and see how far the rabbit hole goes.

After you've typed that address, assuming if you're dared - next time if you think somebody is following you in a dark alley, it's very well be NSA agent who's coming to get ya! Watch your back, Jack. How do I know your name is "Jack"? Watch your back..................Boo!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

2010 Summer YOG Packed up & Left for Nanjing

How to Maximise the Olympic Gold Medals for Your Country

overcast 30 °C

The YOG finished on a Thursday, which is a little bit odd. Maybe they try to beat the weekend traffic rush?

Just finished watching the Closing Ceremony on Channel 5. The Olympic Torch's glass casing is somewhat non-descript, but its vortex of fire is a twist (pun intended) to the traditional flame. Quite neat. The gigantic floating platform where the Ceremony took place against the night time Marina Bay with the glittering city skyline as backdrop is quite nice. Attendants were all donned in red hats (no relationship to Linux) to form a sea of reds (Singaporean wear red tops when attending their Singapore NDP (National Day Party)).

Jacques Rogg can chalk up this 1st YOG as a success in terms of some of the impressive record set. A litmus test for Rogge's Olympic Movement's spin-off.

I'll wait until next week to get some bargain YOG souvenirs (I hope they're still available).
Jacques Rogge stated during the closing that some countries didn't send their best athletes. He didn't name names, of course. I won't either (not in this entry). It's quite easy peasy to figure out who they're. What are they saving the young athletes for? Rainy days? But there're quite a few rainy days during the YOG in Singapore. So they're sorry they didn't. They promised (to Jacques Rogge) that they're going to send their countries' bests in the next YOG. Promises, promises.

China's table tennis, which tends to dominate like no other sports, was upset by Japan in this YOG. Upset is what makes watching sports such delightful experience.

Aquatics (Swimming) and Gymnastics have the most medals to give away. Any country good in this sport would tend to have a high medal counts. What's more, one athlete can compete in multiple Aquatics/Gymnastics events. Aquatics (swimming) is one of those Olympic sport events where one athlete can win 5 to 8 medals. Australia, despite its small population, has high medal tally because of its strength in swimming. Thorpedo, for example, won 5 Olympic golds at the Sydney Games. What about Michael Phelps, a super fish (or freak?), won 8 Olympic golds in the Beijing Games, which is unheard of. And quite impossible in all other Olympic event (except Gymnastics to lesser extent). On the other hand, in team sports (basketball, volley ball, soccer, etc) where you have many athletes compete for many exhausting rounds just to get one medal. Doesn't seem fair, does it? While Aquatics and Gymnastics usually finishes in minutes (that's the goal).

So with country that's strong at swimming, the glory of the country (as measured by Olympic golds) are literally rested on the shoulder of a single athlete. Without Thorpedo, Australia's total medal tally ranking in the Sydney Games would slip as many as 3-5 places, depending on the 2nd best replacement. Similarly, if a mediocre swimmer was in the place of Michael Phelphs, USA's gold standing in Beijing Olympic would have also dropped by many places. What other Olympic sport where one athlete can make such a significant difference?

Both Russia and China is strong in Gymnastics. China isn't strong in swimming (but quite good in diving). In this YOG, because of the absence of some strong swimming nations (except for Australia), China gets as many 11 medals in Aquatics, accounts for more than 1/3 of its total medals tally. This gives you some ideas about the importance of Aquatics in maximising medals scooping. And why Australia is one of the top Olympic nation. Very few countries can steal this title from the Land Down Under any time soon. Australia has the longest shorelines in the world, and not surprisingly a water sport culture because of not only its expansive coastline, but most of Australia is in the tropical and sub-tropical zones, which is inviting for swimming. Canada and Russia probably have longer coastlines, but the only swimming style you can do there are freeze styles (not an Olympic event). Australia even invented the freestyle (opposite of freeze-style), aka 'The Australian Crawl'. Oh, yeah, if there's one thing this Sun Burnt Land is famous for, it's the beaches, and the sun bronzed beachcombers. Also because of this longest stretch of beautiful tropical, and subtropical beaches in the world, some of the best surfers in the world are Aussies (no fewer than Yanks).

It's actually pretty obvious that geography determines in part the kinda sport a country is good at. Like the Arctic countries of Canada and Russia are doing very well in Winter Olympics while Australia, well? Not so well. The Jamaican has a bobsled national team, but don't expect them to steal gold medals from Switzerland any time soon.

Atta's dad, born in HK, a country never known for swimming (or sport for that matters), nor did he swim before arriving in Australia. Came here in his middle age, caught the swimming bug, and have been performing morning swim ritual for the last 3 decades religiously (on the beach in all seasons. The winter morning when he swims can get down to 10 °C. Of course, the water is warmer. Probably 15-18 °C). Such is the influence of this Aussie swimming tradition. It's turning a none-sporty, albeit active person, into a sport mad (if you swim in the Sydney winter morning, you're mad in my book).
Let me throw in another anecdote. Darren and myself went to Taiwan 2 decades ago. When Darren - an avid swimmer - asked if we could swim in the Sun Moon Lake. The tour guide said we had better not as there were incident's of tourists drown here because of their swimming inexperience. Then he quickly changed his tune, "Oh! I've forgotten that you two are from Australia. Of course, you can swim here. No prob." Well, such is the reputation of Aussie swimmers. It's absolutely true, I'm not a sporting person, but I swum more often than I had with other any other sport combined. And I didn't like swimming!!! In fact, I was terrified with swimming because of the 2 near drowning experiences I had when I grew up in Vietnam (once, while I swum in the famous tourist spot of Vung Tau when I was being pulled out of the ocean by rip current. I thought I died that day. I was only 9. The 2nd time was in a refugee camp when I crossed the river. Suddenly struck by the memory of my previous drowning. My muscles all seized up. My legs were stiff as a surf board. I nearly drowned). But if I quit swimming in Australia, I may as well quit socialising and stay home (besides, I had to face my inner demon. 2 birds with 1 stone). Just about everyone I know swims. Such is the swimming culture of Australia. Probably much much more pervasive than table tennis culture in China (but China has bigger population. The quantity make up for the heat of the cultural fever).

In short, it's harder to find an Aussie who can't swim than a Filipino who can't sing (or a Japanese businessman who doesn't sing karaoke or play golf, or a Canadian who doesn't play ice hockey).

Interestingly, entry fees to swimming pool is quite expensive relatively to Singapore. In fact, Daniel - a Singaporean - was outraged when he went to a local swimming pool in Sydney, Australia. It's nearly 4 times dearer compare to Singapore swimming pool (and he said the pool he swum in Singapore is better). It's supply and demand. There's no chance that Aussies stop going to the swimming pools. Charge any amount you like. It's like ciggies and boozes, the demand is elastic (in the economic jargon), and the Aussies are hooked on it. For tourists, no prob, the fine beaches are free. I am surprise as there's no public outcry about the steep entry frees are. Maybe they don't know how cheap Singapore pools admission fees are (probably subsidised by government).

You need to build a culture and tradition of a particular sport, you can't just throw money at the training program and expect that you produce the best. FIFA soccer countries are perfect examples. Many good soccer nations aren't prosperous countries, and don't have cutting-edge training institutes. Sure, Australia have the Institutes of Sports (AIS) that trains their best swimmers. Australia won many golds before the AIS was established in 1981. In fact, Australia was more dominant in swimming in the 1960's and 70's before AIS. China have sent some swimmers to train in Australia. Where else, right? If you want to learn Chinese, it's best to do it in China, right?

So how do you get a culture of a particular sport? It's down to historical reason. No silver bullet formula. Take table tennis, why are they so popular in China, my diary entry, "Ghosts on Parole" (dated 20-8-2009. About 9 paragraphs down) made an attempt at this question. And why is China so bad, I should say sucks, at soccer? In China 'soccer' should be called 'succer'. Among several seasons, the biggest reason is simply because not too many Chinese play it (outnumbered by the watchers by a million to 1). There's no soccer tradition in China (even though they invented (a form of) it. But then the Brits invented table tennis). The other is official corruption. How much of that contributes to its suckiness is hard to gauge.

The Chinese national team was doing ok in the 1920's and 30's when the country was dirt poor. But their performance has gone down hill fast in the last few decades as the country prospered (so much for the idea that money would improve a game). In fact, becoming richer would probably harm the soccer game in China as match fixing becomes rife. The Chinese soccer community has been so fed up with the Chinese national soccer team that when it was eliminated from qualifying for the World Cup in 2010 when it lost to Iraq in June 2008, a local newspaper ran only a large, bold headline, “The National Soccer Team Lost Again. We Have nothing to Say.” There was no content under the heading. This is as close as a newspaper can get being speechless. I've nothing more to say.

Chinese soccer fans are probably more embarrassed about the playing level of their National Soccer Team than not having an aircraft carrier (as of this post date). Even Thailand owns one of those babies. But China is going to build one of those military leviathan of the sea (Varyag Class) in a few years, and it's unlikely that the Chinese National Soccer Team will get their acts together in that same time frame. It's much easier to build an Blue Navy aircraft carrier than a decent National Soccer Team in China (perhaps anywhere. USA has half of the world's aircraft carrier in service, but not a good soccer team. But USA has grid iron, and China does not. And what is more, there're great deal more soccer fans than table tennis fans in China). The Chinese soccer fans have slowly learnt to live with that permanent disappointment, and started to cheer for other national teams, and enjoyed a mature game. All is not lost. When you no longer take sides, you start watching a game instead of just cheering one, and actually enjoy yourself regardless which side wins.

I remembered when I was in Bahrain, while I was on my way to the Portuguese Fort, kids were playing soccer in the 35 °C sun on dirt ground. Some with bare feet. They were obvious from not so well off families. I sweat like a pig after 15 minutes of walking. Imagine playing soccer in this weather. The sands should scorch their bare feet. They were apparently sustained by something greater. Yep, the Gulf States are reasonably good at FIFA cup given their tiny populations (1/1000th that of China). Some of these Gulf States do give China a run for their money (or the run-around in soccer fields). China had tried to throw money at soccer, and the result is quite pathetic (so 'throwing money at' should be changed to 'throwing money away'). They try to train soccer players using the same model as training program for gymnastics. The result (or the lack of it) speaks for itself. The key is turning people into sport mad in the sport of your choosing. Not an easy task. Some might say a big name, like Yao Ming, should do it. But to get a Yao Ming of soccer, you have to get many Chinese to play soccer first. Back to square one. Having said that, China isn't a strong basketball nation despite Yao Ming. But it does raise the profile of the game at least, I guess. No shortcuts. No simple solution. In defence of China's soccer though, Germany, for example, established their soccer league association back in the beginning of 19th century, while China is a Johnny-come-lately soccer nation. My goal for them is a bit lofty, I guess.

Some suggest that China is good at sports that utilise small space like table tennis, badminton, etc, and not sports that take up lots of space like soccer. Well, that might be one factor.
Let's recap, economical, cultural, geographical, historical and political factors all influence how good a particular sport a nation performs. And no country, not even China (or USA or Russia), can control everything. They can maximise its odds.

Once again, as I said in my last diary entry - "Inaugural 2010 Summer Youth Olympic Game (YOG)" - I know dilly squat about sport. But I live in a relative free country, and I can say anything I don't know much about (very fashionable and an inalienable right).

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Inaugural 2010 Summer Youth Olympic Game (YOG)

Where Future Olympians Test the Water (at an Olympic Pool and Sport Grounds)

overcast 29 °C

Singapore Olympic Youth Games 2010

When I first heard about the Youth Olympic Game to be held in Singapore, I thought I was out of touch because I had never heard of this event before. As it turned out, the reason I heard about it the first time is because this is the very 1st Summer Youth Olympic Games. The official tag line "Blazing the Trail" says it well.

Singapore Olympic Youth Games 2010

The blue haired sheila on the right is Merly - obvious from the name that it's inspired by the symbol of Singapore's Merlion. And the red haired fella on the left is Lyo, again obvious from the name that's derived from Leo, the lion constellation. Singapore in Malay is "Singa Pura" means literally "Lion City". In fact, the lion head symbol had been used as a Singapore's national identity.

YOG mascots

My guess is, the mascot was designed according to the Yin/Yang principle of Duality with a balance of male (Lyo) & female (Merly) genders, warm (reddish brown) & cool (blue) colour schemes, land (lion) and sea (mermaid) creatures, short spiky (hard) & long flowing (soft) hair styles, and the natural elements of fire (red earth) and water (blue ocean), out of the two Singapore national cultural identities. (I don't know much about the star signs for Lyo and Merly (Leo and Aquarius). I suspect it too has some astrological significance apart from the obvious relationship between Lyo's namesake, and Merly's aquatic home). Compliment to the mascot design team.

Merly, mascots of Singapore Olympic Youth Games 2010
Lyo, mascots of Singapore Olympic Youth Games 2010

The impressive thing isn't that the inaugural Youth Olympic Game (YOG) took place in Singapore, but the fact that the Sin City snatched this honour from the finalist Russia (55 to 43 votes), which is no pushover. The Ruskies had hosted a grown-up version of the Summer Olympic Game. So bravo to Singapore. Not too shabby for a tiny island state of a few millions.

The Game might as well take place in Singapore instead of Russia - especially Moscow - is a scorcher this summer (actually much of northern hemisphere). Muscovite are cooling themselves off by jumping into public fountains. The heat will push the athletes to the limits. But then, Monsoon season hits Singapore right now. There had been showers in Day 3 to 5 of the Games, putting a dampener on outdoor events like triathlon, track & field, marathon, and rowing, etc.
Last but not least, Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Posters signs, Singapore Olympic Youth Games 2010

There's no summer in Singapore, only dry and wet seasons, and we're in the dripping wet season. Well, even Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee (SYOGOC) can't organise the weather, but they can do this in Jan-Feb period when the odds of sunny days are much higher. I guess maybe the IOC is stickler for rule. Monsoon rain can dump down in buckets but doesn't last too long. Having said that, actually rain can be great for the athletes, especially when it's light showers. These are cool days (and barely above 30 °C), and a little rain can save the athletes from heat exhaustion, and saving time from pouring water over their heads. Come to think of it, these gloomy skys are great days for outdoor competition. It can dampen the outdoor spectators' spirits, though. Well, can't win them all.

I'm not a sport fan in general, but I take exception to the Olympic Game (I did watch 3/4 hour of FIFA match on TV last month. I should be awarded a gold medal for sitting through it for so long). Who can say no to synchronised swimming, for example, where the lovely ladies slapped on plenty of makeup and donned on a bun like they're going to a party. One moment, their heads bob up and down the water like ducks, and another, their lovely legs raised high above the watermark like a blooming flower. What's there not to like?

The host country may not won too many medals. Of course, they're already the biggest winner in my book/blog being the first country to host this event, which can only be described as historic.

Since the SYOGOC doesn't keep the medal table, the baton is passed to its older and more competitive parent body IOC who took up the housekeeping chore with apron and gloves. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. And here is the link: 2010 Summer Youth Olympics Medal Table

The performance of Russia shouldn't come at a surprise as they're short-listed to host this Game (China tops the tally, and it's the favourite). I hardly saw any USA competing athletes on TV. Did the IOC simply forgot to email the relevant memo to its USA counterpart? Ok, maybe the financial crisis hit the training programs as well.

The next YOG is going to be held in Nanjing. This is a city I like to visit (not because of the YOG), it's the other Jing of China, and full of history and things to see. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics marked a new era for China, and 2010 Singapore Summer Youth Olympics marked another new era for SE Asia, quietly. Sheeeeeeeeeeesh. Don't tell anyone. It's a secret...just between you and a few millions in the minority of the world.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Sydney - Day 2 - Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb

Hanging around the Coat Hanger

overcast 18 °C
Doing Bridge Climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (nicknamed The Coat Hanger by Sydneysider) is popular for birthday parties. Many climbers - some from the countryside - come to climb it to mark the special occasion. My first climb was 5 years ago for Stephen's 15th birthday. And today's occasion is for Atta's dad's big Eight Zero's birthday. We need to do something special to mark the occasion.

Apart from birthday party, the bridge climb seems to be the must-do things for tourists, going by the mug shots in the lobby of the many big time celebs from Hollywood heavies (Pierce '007' Brosnan, and Will 'MIB' Smith) to ace-list athletes (don't know any1 of them. Not a particular sport fan).
Since this isn't my first time, the novelty factor had gone, but I can still look forward to the great vista of the Sydney Harbour in the rarefied air on top of the Coat Hanger and the exercise (was told by the guide that there're 1500 steps in the whole bridge climb. Most of it are stair steps). The Sydney Harbour's panorama are one of the world's best 5 port cities (the other 4 being Victoria Harbour of HK, Bosphorous Strait of Istanbul, harbours of Cape Town, and Rio De Janeiro. Been to 3 out of 5. I consider myself lucky).

The iconic bridge is the world's 5th longest arch bridge. The 3rd, and 4th belongs to New Gorge Bridge in W. Virginia(1977), and Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey, NY (1931); both are in USA. The 1st and 2nd are the Chaotienmen Bridge in Chongqing (2009), and Lupu Bridge in Shanghai (2003); both are in China. Like Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Lupu Bridge also provides sightseeing tour. But the climbing are more limited (only 300+ steps along the bow after a speedy transparent elevator trip). If I'm not wrong, the Bayonne Bridge was featured in the remake War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise. It looks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge without the pylons, which by the way, doesn't provide any structural function. It's just a decoration. Hell Gate Bridge, built in 1916, in New York also has stone pylons like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. With the modern cost conscious mentality and the pursuit of pure functional sleek designs, such gargoyle type extraneous decorative elements no longer appear in modern constructions. Every nuts and brick should only be there if it serves to hold up the bridge.

The climb isn't cheap (cost over $250 AUD for "the Bridge Climb" package. The guide told us this is the best climb of the three. The other two being "The Express Climb", and "The Discovery Climb"). Now you understand why people can only afford to do this on special occasions (the big time celebs of course can do it everyday. Time, however, is what they don't have). A family of 4 would set you back by a grand.

During orientation when we were explained the safety procedures and put on blue overall smocks with zippers in the back, and as many things were hung on our waist belt as a cop, we then realised where the money goes. Don't expect to bring the camera along for photos. For safety purposes, you aren't allowed to bring anything with you into the climb. They advised us to keep even our wallets, lose change and jewelleries in the lockers. You will be photographed in two set places on the bridge with their cameras.

A good guide - and Ben was - provided us with many historical titbits about the bridge and a few good yarns to get the climb even more memorable.

There're many climbs throughout the day, I believe we picked one of the best time slot, which extends from 3:15 to 7:15pm. At this time of the year, the sun sets about 6pm. So we get to see the changing sky hues of afternoon, dusk, and nightfall in this official 4 hours slot. Actually, we finished about 8pm. I believe prices vary with different time slots. As this is the best time slot, I imagine it's also the most expensive. The dawn time slot also provides good views, but you have to wake up before dawn in winter. Not an attractive proposition.

Afterwards, we went to the Blue Angel Restaurant in Paddington for dinner, which is famous for seafood, especially lobster. Not my first visit (nor last). Their lobsters sashimi is priced reasonably, but once we asked to add some spaghetti to it, we were charged an extra $10/head. The waiter pitched their famous Wagyu beef, and costs more than the lobster by weight. Since this is special occasion, we ordered 200g per head of these famed Japanese beef. Maybe I just have cheap taste, can't say I dug those beef. There's such thing as being too tender, and too fatty. Too fatty and sated rich for my taste. Give me an average Aussie lean beef any day. They also served us some complimentary ox tongues, which I'm sure is a delicacy in any cuisine. Atta didn't hear that these were ox-tongue and swore that they were Wagyu beef. In her defence, I have to say their texture and taste are oddly similar. I'll take the Laotian grilled ox-tongues over this Blue Angel's one any day. To mark this special occasion, Andy broke open a bottle of Penfold Grange - probably the only Aussie vino that was deserving to go with these foods and occasion. Since its reputation precedes it, I had high expectation of it. I'm no wine connoisseur, what a lovely drop of red! It wasn't wasted on me (for once. Maybe I just have expensive taste for red wine (and cheap taste for red meat)). None of us asked how much this bottle cost, we were afraid of the answer, and seemed down right inappropriate on the occasion.

This place is very popular with Japanese tourists, and it isn't hard to see why.

I checked off 3 items from my bucket list today - Wagyu beef, Penfold Grange, and Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. Well, the last one was already checked off 5 years ago. Still two items in one day (actually one evening) is dynamite. I still have egg nog in my bucket list remains unchecked. Believe it or nog!!!

We put back on more calories than what we lost in our bridge climb. Several times more.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sydney - Day 1 - Touch Down & the Dining List of Restaurants

Up, Upper Deck and Away! Eat, and Eateries Await!

overcast 15 °C

We popped back to Sydney to visit our folks and friends, and tend to some personal beeswax. One of those beeswax includes going back to our fave restaurants in Sydney. After 1.5 years away, We sorely missed the authentic multicultural food of Sydney, not foreign food cooked by Singaporeans, for Singaporeans, but by people originated from those countries for their fellow country men (more in my diary entry "Quests for Authenticity" dated 15-07-2009).

My nostalgic food list is long, and too long to visit them all in our short visit of less than 2 weeks. So we came up with a short list, representing the best of their national cuisine that we had tried and tested (never mind being a guinea pig in the name of science - ok, food. I'm refused to be patted. I take cash, and don't take traveller's cheques. Do they still exist?):
---> Arthur's Pizza on Oxford St in Paddington. You can walk off the heavy Italian carbo of dough and pastas by roving the Victorian terraces around the area. Keep your eyes peeled for the cast-iron lacework on the balconies. For something more racy and less lacy, head south west toward CBD on Oxford St, and you might have a gay time (if that's your thang) exploring the (sub/counter) culture of people with different sexual orientations coming out on Oxford Street in the southern end (so to speak). Leave your gaydar at home. And glance at men who really take care of themselves. Eye-popping, in-your-face homoerotica abounds (books of men in latex wrapped in plastics inside glass windows. You won't find riddles wrapped in mystery inside an enigma. Leave your imagination at home). I frequented a couple of coffee shops here.
---> Mancini's Pizza and pastas in Summerhills near the railway station. I frequented it as it was only 7 mins drive from my Burwood home.
---> Portuguese charcoal chicken on Canterbury Rd in Petersham (usually there's a queue on the weekend). Finished it off with desert across the street in Sweet Belem cafe with a strong European cappuccino (not the weak Asian and Yank version) and what else but Portuguese tarts, made by the award winning pastry chef (check out the accolades on the wall). I also adore their variety of palmiers. I'm big sucker for palmiers - a love affair lasting since my childhood in Vietnam.
I better put on a bib before continuing. I don't want my saliva to short circuit my keyboard.
---> En Casa's Spanish tapas and paella on Pitt St near Chinatown (backpacker central near Central Station), and wash it down with a swill of sangria. Their tapas impressed me so much, I add them to my cooking repertoires. Their pizzas ain't too shabby, either. Better book ahead on weekend. It gets very crowded. There had been several changes of managements, but their standard haven't slipped. Maybe they change the owners, but not the chefs? The wait staff also change frequently as they're probably backpackers from the hood moving onto another destinations. I had stayed in one of these backpacker inns once, no individual rooms or separate showers or toilets, just beds across one big rooms. Can't remember why I ended up there. But it was quite a memorable experience. Yeah...why?
---> Chicken kabab from Safari next to Westfield Burwood and washed it down with a - you've guessed it - a real strong cuppa. It's a Turkish management. Next door is a proper restaurant with belly dancing at weekend nights from time to time.
---> Yum cha - too many to mention. The most convenient for tourists would be the East Ocean in Chinatown.
---> For Cantonese styled cuisine you can try the House of Guangzhou near Chinatown. An old-timer and you can dine while enjoy photos on the wall of local celebs who posed with the lady boss when they dined here. As tourists, you won't know any of them, but surely you recognise Julio Iglesias from a distant?
---> Seafood au naturale or sashimi in the Sydney Fish Market, eating the way nature intended - with your hands, outdoor, salty sea breezes, fighting with the seagulls - and wash it down with your fave bevvies. Try out the Aussie cuisine of local fish and chips. It's a truly relaxing experience that epitomises Aussie life - its pace and its watery environs, and the oil sleek from the bobbing fishing boats.
---> For non-Cantonese Chinese food, the Inner West suburbs of Ashfield and Burwood are filled with them. Since I lived in Burwood for 8 years, and going there during this visit, I'll re-awake my sensory memory of Beijing Station just opposite Burwood Station. After get off Burwood Station, turn left, cross the street at the intersection, turn left and walk about 4 to 5 shops. It' a small joint with lousy service (lousy because it's under-staffed), but the Chinese north-eastern style food is much better than their north-eastern style services. I like and have tried 70% of their menu - a rare occurrence.
---> Strathfield the neighbouring suburb of Burwood is where you find most Korean live, and hence where you would find the largest concentration of Korean eateries there. We regularly walked over there from my apartment in Burwood to forage for Korean food. One of our regular is Alisan. The owner speaks both Korean and Mandarin (likely to be someone who lived near the Korean border in China), and is now living in our Burwood apartment block one floor up (before we left Sydney). And another tenant of note is the former Mayor of Burwood Mr. Wong who lived directly above our apartment unit. I visited his apartment unit a few times due to leakage issues. I regularly bumped into him in the lift, and whined to him about local issue and demanded satisfactions. He probably wished the lift could move faster.
--->The Indians and Sri Lankans have also moved into Strathfield in the last 3 to 4 years, thus Indian eating places also sprung up (along with Indian super marts with Bollywood CD/DVD rentals. As you walk past, you are almost certain to be stared at by the Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan from his large movie poster). There're very few Burmese restaurants in Sydney. I used to work part-time while in high school in one and only Burmese restaurant called Nay-Pe-Daws in Sydney (actually the whole of Australia). It had shut shop for some time. My Burmese cook Mr. Chang told me that there were only 35 Burmese nationals living in Australia at the time. Mr. Chang spoke to me in Mandarin, but his soft spoken, sarong wearing, fair-skinned wife, however are native Burmese, and didn't understand Chinese nor much of English. Her hubby did most of the interpreting when we spoke. I don't know how many Burmese restaurants there're now. But one is located in Strathfield. Not surprisingly because of the growth of the Indian population here. I had checked it out. It's ok. Worth trying out if you have never had Burmese (or is it Myanmarish?) food. If you like either Indian or Thai food, you want to hop onto a car/cab and get there. As Myanmar is sandwiched (can't take my head out of food yet) between India and Thailand, if you think Burmese cooking is a cross between the two, you ain't too far off the mark.
---> If you want the best, at least the most authentic Vietnamese food in Australia, naturally you need to go to the largest Vietnamese ethnic enclave in Australia, Cabramatta (affectionately nee Cabra) where I'd lived for more than 15 years. Thanh Binh and Lemongrass (used to call Saigon) in Cabra are the two of my haunts I frequented when I'm hungry while I visited my folks. You would also find many Cantonese restaurants here because most of the Vietnamese refos or boat people like yours truly who arrived in Sydney are also Cantonese speakers (depending how old we were). It's an interesting place that in stark contrast with most of Australia and if you have time, you should pop down this Outer West suburb to feel the ambiance - colours, smells, and tastes.
---> To find Laotian food (I bet majority of you haven't even heard about it), you can venture two suburbs away from Cabra in Fairfield. One of my fave joint is actually in Canley Heights - a neighbouring burb - a 5 mins drive from Cabra. Christine (HK TVB's Ada Choi lookalike both in facial bone structures as well as expressions, and reminiscent of the Old Christine in "The New Adventure of Old Christine"), took us there. Well, we put our trust in someone who came from that country. Just as Laos is neighbouring to Vietnam, their ethnic enclaves in Sydney is mirroring that like a parallel universe. I really miss their grilled ox-tongues, chili raw prawns, and spicy coleslaw. These are just 3 of my fave dishes. Like Thai, Laotians relish spicy food. But not all Laotian (nor Thai) dishes are spicy. Grilled ox-tongues, for example, isn't spicy at all (but you supposed to dip it in chili sauce. Your call). Christine eats many meals at home with chili. Canley Vale (the shopping proper of Canley Heights) also has quite a few authentic Laotian restaurants (and some look reasonably upmarket too, designed to capture the wider dining market outside the Indochinese community). You eat these small dishes with sticky rice that contains in a small, round rattan basket. You roll the - hot and steamy - sticky rice into a ball with your bare hand before eating it (if you can't stand the heat, get out of the Laotian restaurant). It's the only cuisine where playing with your food is encouraged, in fact, proper table manner. Chris's kid, Jono, is the only one not playing with the rice. Kids! They just don't do as they're told.
---> Oh, don't forget to check out the pork rolls in the many Vietnamese bread bakeries dotting around Sydney. This is as much a feature, dare I say icon, of Sydney as milk bar once was (now extinct, unfortunately, replaced by the trendier café). Some Vietnamese restaurants in Asia like HK, Singapore, Shanghai sell them in Vietnamese restaurants, and naturally at restaurant prices (In Singapore as much as $6 SGD. I winced when I saw the price). You can get the same pork rolls - with more variety (and tastier) - for fraction of the cost in Sydney Vietnamese bakeries. Don't know how much it costs now. Before I left Sydney, they cost $2.30 AUD a pop, which supplied me with a constant source of cheap, and delectable lunch. Perfect for summer or eat on the go. A far more nutritious, if not tastier alternative to hamburgers. Some now provide siumai (meatball), as well as chicken as fillings for the 'pork roll'. Their baguettes are good, legacy of the French colonial rule. But those Vietnamese bakeries are also now Australianised, selling True Blue Aussie iconic foods like Lamingtons, ANZAC biscuits, sausage rolls, meat pies, etc (at least in the Burwood's Vietnamese bakery near our apartment mentioned above. Located 2nd door from the corner of Belmore St and Burwood Rd). During Easter, they also sell cross buns. I did enjoy them. They - the Asian - tend to be light-handed when it comes to sprinkling sugar in their cake making. I also tried out their apple straddles, Danishes (aka snails - the name I ordered with), croissants, and I haven't forgotten palmiers (of course, their palmiers can't measure up to the award winning Sweet Belem's, but in terms of price and convenience, they make very good stop-gap measure). Most of their pastries/buns/cakes passed my taste tests with flying colours. Some flied higher than others. I guess it's unfair to call it a Vietnamese bakery shop. The only thing Vietnamese about it is the owner operator. The name international bakery shop to reflect its diversity of cultural foods would be more deserving. They're cultural microcosms.

Th next time when you strut down the John Street of Cabra, munch down a pork roll, as you down yourself a sugarcane juice while you watch the locals going about their business, you may forget you're in Cabra, and think you're in Saigon. This is the kinda thing that gets Pauline 'Please Explain' Hanson's knickers in a twist or panties in a knot (whichever she happened to be wearing. I don't want to visualise her in knickers/panties - but Pauline Pantsdown would love to visualise her in any kinda fashion im order to parody her). One of my open minded, and lovers of foreign culture Aussie friend spoke about Cabra in glee, "isn't it wonderful such a place exists in Sydney! We're so lucky". She's of course always a very happy and cheerful person, seeing only the bright side of life.

Yes, Australia is a Lucky Country. Many people commented to me times again and again that the same dishes with the same ingredients were cooked elsewhere, they somehow tasted different. One of Atta's uncle - who runs a chain of sushi shops in HK - had a meal in Pepper Lunch in Sydney. He said that somehow the same dishes here tasted much better. If all things are considered equal, then I guess the quality of raw ingredients make the difference. Some of the best beef, lobsters and seafood in HK is likely to be imported from Australia (Australia isn't just one on exporting ores to Asia, but also everything on the ground from high quality dairy products to meat).

He isn't the first one to make such observation (nor the last, I imagine). And by the way, the other who make such comment is also another one of Atta's uncle, who has been working in HK and Los Angeles restaurants for some 30 odd years. These are people who have sharp and discerning palate. It's their jobs. They know what they're talking about. And of course, Atta's dad, who has been working in the food import/export and restaurants business for more than 60 years (including as a chef in a 5-star Tokyo hotel's restaurant when he was young) make similar observations. He's still working. he's not a retiring kind. Well, he can out run, out swim me (someone about half his age) any day. Of course, it isn't just the meat, but the veggie here are so large and fresh. Compare to those I saw in Europe and Asia, they look so sickly and small. And so when I say it isn't easy to cook for Atta, I think you now know why - being the kid who grew up in a family of chefs and restaurateurs.
I remember vividly the first time I saw some of the veggie here just coming from Vietnam, I thought to meself that everything in Australia is reflecting the size of this land - BIG: the veggies, the fruits, the people, the serving sizes in restaurants, the cars, the soft drink bottles and the houses. Australians also have penchant for building big icons - the Big Banana, the Big Merino, Big Pineapple, etc scattering around Australia in a big way.

Ok, this short list is not so short, and I would consider mission accomplished if I manage to fulfilled (my stomach) with 1/3 of the places on the list. This is just a slice/slide show of Sydney's food scenes. Let me just take off my heavy, saliva soaked bib now that I've finished my imaginary gourmet tour de Sydney. It was quite heavy hanging on my neck. There're only a few French restaurants in Sydney, and none of them are any good (but then, I have the same impression about their food in Paris. Very odd). In terms of popularity of ethnic cooking, going by the number of restaurants (in Sydney anyway. Totally my own observations not backed by any official numbers), I would say, from the most popular to least - Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Indian. To put thing in perspective, Italian is the largest ethnic group in Australia, Greek the 2nd, and Chinese 3rd. Yes, Asian cuisines are very popular in Australia, and scale a high standard in tastes and authenticity. The raw materials are fresh and top notched. The Yanks can relate to this as Mexican and Latino food is quite popular at least in California. Of course, you can also find all kinda ethnic food imaginable outside the ones above that grab all the limelights - Egyptian, Moroccan, Greek, French, German, Singaporean, Malaysian, Nepalese, Balinese, etc. You name it, it's likely to be available. Did I mention, by George, British food (if you fancy that)? Sorry to disappoint the Brits, there're not as many Indian restaurants in Sydney as there're in London. Not bad for a country with such a small populations. What it lacks in numbers is more than made up by its diversity.

We flew with Singapore Airline for our trip back to Sydney. This is my virgin flight - not to be confused with Virgin Blues flight - on an A380-800 jumbo jet. Although it was a maiden flight for me, the A380 have been flying between Singapore and Sydney since 2007. In fact the very first flight route for A380-800 jumbo jet in the world is none other than the very flight we were on - flight SQ380 between Singapore and Sydney. Singapore Airline has been for sometimes leader in airline services (sort of explains by the fact that Changi Airport is voted the best airport in the world several years running - competing neck to neck with HKIA).

Before I left Sydney in '08, 1 time when I looked up the sky while I drove around Sydney, I saw something ginormous flying overhead. I asked myself, "Is it a plane? No, too big to be a plane. Is it a King Kong? No, not hairy enough. It's a Godzilla!" Until of course when I spotted the logo on the tail that I knew I made a poo poo; it wasn't Godzilla after all. It was in fact an A380 in motion. This big monster looked as if it was too heavy to fly. But somehow it managed to defy gravity. It was a sight to behold the first time.

Both the leg rooms, and butt rooms are slightly more than the SIA's B747 - about 10% more. A cabin right next to the seat just below the window is convenient for stowing away stuff that you need to get at during the flight (like the laptop I used to type this diary entry, extolling the virtues of this side stowage). Love it.

We marked our seats for the Upper Deck, which had far fewer seats than the Main Deck. This leads to less waiting time for food, passengers in the aisles during boarding, and most important of all, the latrines. When you've got to go, you don't need long queues. Reduce pressure mentally and bladder wise.

Behind the loos is a spiral staircase leading down to the Main Deck. For some weird reason, I imagine there's a piano at the bottom of the staircase. Maybe the piano is played by the diamonds studded fingers of Liberace. I bet very few humble jet setters like myself have seen that (the staircase, not the Liberace piano concert) in a passenger jet, until now. Chances are, it leads to the loos of the Main Deck.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Robocup - The Other World Cup, kicked off

Robotic Organisation; Drunken Head and Sober Robot

When I read stats that Singapore's annual tourist numbers is similar to Malaysia, and about 3 times that of Indonesia, I found it a little surprising. I had problem trying to arrange an itinerary for Andy when he came to Singapore for a weekend. In fact, we ended up taken him out of the country for a day to keep him busy (Diary Entry "Johor Bahru" dated 5 Oct 2009).

I was only surprise because when I thought of tourism, I had the preconceived notion of thinking only one type of tourism, i.e. sightseeing, and that isn't much of that in Singapore. But there are many types of tourism. Medical tourism, for example, where Korea, Thailand, China and Singapore (to the lesser extent) are thriving. People go to these places because their medical regulations are much less stringent than in the West. In cases where patients in the West run out of options, or desperate, they came to these countries to seek medical care as a last resort. Stem cell medicine is one such example. In the West, it's still conducting clinical trials, and it won't be another decade or so before it's approved for treatment. Such treatments are being practised in those countries right now. In other cases where the medical procedures are much less cutting edge, in fact, quite proven, but its low costs in some Asian countries lure face saving people from the West. Routine plastic surgery is one such example. China is having great expectation for its medical industry in the future. Very Great expectation.

This is a global trend in the economic structural changes in labour allocations. Decades ago where low labour costs are applied only to low labour skills. Companies in the West make use of the labour cost in unskilled or at best semi-skilled labour force in the underdeveloped/developing/emerging economies. These days the labour force in the emerging economies are becoming more and more skilled and knowledge based, with software and biotech researchers in India to highly skilled medical practitioners in Korea, Thailand and China.

Singapore isn't one such medical tourist destination, but medical research in Singapore is quite advanced. The UK medical researcher Alan Coleman who cloned Dolly the sheep came to Singapore to do research (but had since left Singapore).

One of the Singapore top tourism (which explain its high total inbound tourist numbers, at least partly) is the hosting of international events ranging from International Air Show, F1 Grand Prix, Youth Olympic Game to APEC (Singapore is its HQ), and many international conferences, symposiums, etc. FYI, Youth Olympics is being held this year in August for the first time. The only reason it hasn't held the main Summer Olympics is because she's simply doesn't have the financial clout. Singapore is chosen for international event organiser because it many assets: political neutrality, political and social stability, comprehensive infrastructures, well developed hospitality industry, centrally located geography in SE Asia, an experienced organiser of international events, an international transport hub, and last but not least, its high percentage of English speaking population (about 70%, the highest in Asia bar none). Oh, did I forget to mention clean, green and low crime.
Well, I guess it isn't a secret that Singapore is an orderly society, probably one of the most orderly in Asia, second maybe only to Japan. That orderliness and efficient organisation skills already become apparent the minute you landed and got into the airport. You can quite easily get through the airport in less than 20 minutes.

Due to this central location and thus serves as transportation hub, many tourists use it as stop-over (or lay-over - a more risque term that Yanks prefer).

The one international event that got me excited is "Robocup - The Other World Cup". This is the tag line for the sport event. I was thrilled (as thrilled as a jaded traveller can get) not because it's a 'sport', because it isn't a sport. I love the novelty. Robots playing soccer, what's there not to like? I have never known about this, let alone watching it. When I saw the ads while I was riding MRT on the weekend, it grabbed my full attention. I'm there! Try to stop me.

I was there the first day, but it did stop me with a bad case of flu for the next 3 days. I had to be confined to bed. I think a sad face is called for :-(


Many countries participate in this competition ranging from Thailand, Iran, Mexico, India, HK, China to, of course, the host country. It goes without saying that the usual suspects of the developed economies of Japan, Germany, USA, etc would also be there.

The first day (when my flu just reared its ugly head) I watched some Junior Robot Dance competition. These kids, like most kids, like stuffed toys. Except that their toys were stuffed with hard, clunky metallic robots instead of the usual soft, fluffy cottons.

This is the China South-West Team for the Junior Dance Competition.

Notice the two tigers (dressed in gold and blue) doing a split. Other robots in this team also did other pretty impressive wrap moves even for a human (one of the move was involving spins on its mechanical stomach). These moves are the more impressive for robots (one day, the reverse is true).

This team won an award for The Best Dance Choreography. Well deserved with those fancy, funky, groovy moves.

This is the Aussie Team called Robo Rockers for the Junior Dance Competition.

This is the Sweden Team (Don't know if they called themselves the Blues Brothers) for the Junior Dance Competition.

This is a Robocup Middle Size Robot League Competition playing in a 18x12m indoor field.

Kicking the ball from the sideline.

Action around the goal area.

A goal is scored by the blue team!

Blue and red teams fighting to gain control of the ball.

This is a Junior Robot Competition field, where the robots are very large compare to the field.

Humanoid Robot League Competition is very popular, for good reason. It's very packed. Photographing it was a hard task. This is the Final. I missed all the Quarter's and Semi's because of my flu. Both the red and blue teams in the final for the Humanoid Robot League were Germans. The German robots aren't the best looking, but the best technically.

A Humanoid Robot goalie. Noticed its right 'hand', it's different from other players. It's designed to block the ball. Noticed the head band, too. Very serious business.

Notice one of the Humanoid Robot has fallen to the ground. It happened frequently with their wobbly gaits (not too dissimilar from a toddler). Here's the main difference between watching a game of Humanoid robot and Human soccer. When a human soccer player falls, it's followed by a gasp or a hush from the audience. When a humanoid robot falls, audience would bust into a roar of laughter. It's quite funny to see them fall. Apart from the laughter, the animated response from the audience is as authentic as a real soccer game: cheering, clapping, and shouting. The audience anticipation is very energetic. I guess Singaporeans, like most Asians, love a soccer game. Be it metallic or flesh.

This is a competition between human and Middle Size Robot League. The human are, I guess, officials of the Robocup. This is not simply the officials having fun, winding down after the serious competitions. Not entirely. The mission statement of the Robocup is:
By 2050, a team of fully autonomous humanoid robot soccer players shall win the game, complying with the official rule of the FIFA, against the winner of the most recent World Cup.


Don't know how ambitious that statement is. Since we're a fair way from 2050, and as far as technology is concerned, 40 years is light years away. So we don't expect the robots are going to win this game this year. Not yet. This reminds me of playing chess on the computer. In the mid-or late 80's when the computer chess first appeared on the PC, I remembered how slow the computer played, and how easily I was able to beat it. I guess this is in a similar state of affair with the robot soccer players to date. But in 1997 IBM Deep Blue beat the World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov (But he accused IBM for cheating). The point is, 10 years earlier, you couldn't imagine asking a world chess champion to play against a machine at all.

A handicap is given to the robot to level the playing field.
This soccer player is wise enough to wrap himself in padding to protect himself. This is the handicap I'm talking about - the human are very nervous around the robots. You wouldn't want to run or ram into the metallic robots while playing. If you do, it's a handicap in a different sense of the word.

Can't wait until a day when the robots beat human. We can't lose because if the robots won, we triumphed in our technological progress (the brain is quicker than the foot). Don't know if I live to see the day.

The Futuristic Life of Mine
My body would have died off by then, but my head would be kept alive by immersing in a jar of formaldehyde sitting on a robotic body. My brain will send electrical signals that control its movement. When I sneeze, I'll tell it to wipe my jar dry. This way, I'll be drinking alcohol all day as well (CH2O is alcohol. I just need to top it up regularly to avoid suffocation). 2 birds with 1 stone. Finger crossed (I won't have fingers then, but my robotic arms will cross it for me).
"Exterminate! Exterminate!" The robots chanted in unison.
Some body call Dr. Who, quick!
Oh! What a delicious dilemma!
Glug, glug...

"Number 5, Can we go to liquor store?", I said.
"Yes Master," My body robot replies in a feminine voice that resembles my dearly departed wife, whom had died a long time ago. I can't even remember when. Sometimes in the 24th century, I guess. She's called Number 5 because she's the 5th robot body I've replaced.
"I'm thinking of replacing this formaldehyde with Merlot" I said.
"Merlot will obscure your vision, Master," Number 5 said.
"I don't care. I'm sick of drinking formaldehyde. Besides, reds will help me to see the world in rose coloured. Sick of it!" I fumed, "Look at my face. Don't I look sick? Merlot will make my face flushed with healthy colour."
As I admire myself from the distorted reflection from the glass jar due to the refraction of the formaldehyde, I look not too bad at all for a 305 years old man. My complexion easily let me pass myself as a very young and spunky 125 years old, gives or takes 20 years.
"Yes, Master." She replied.
"And stop calling me Master." I grunted, "Call me Maestro!"
"Yes, Maestro." Number 5 uttered it in an Italian accent.
"Very funny. Number 5. Very funny." I said.
"Wouldn't you prefer a nice bottle of Italian Chianti? It is also a red wine." Number 5 said, still in an Italian accent. The S.O.B.
"You should be a comedian. Number 5. But keep your day job. When you put the jar on my bed table at night. You can go out and work as a stand-up in a night club, How would you like that? I'll even ask Jerry Seinfeld to lend you his head for the job," I said in a sarcastic tone. "How about it, eh?" I said in an Italian voice with what I imagine is a typical Italian gesture with my robot arms. Number 5's arms are still under my control.
Number 5 always knows when to shut up.
And so we merrily moving into a liquor store on a travellator that moving at a speed of 45 km/hr.

As the formaldehyde is draining from my jar, I gasped, "Quickly, I'm suffocating! Quick!!!!"
Glug, glug.....glug, glug....
glug, glug....
I choked as I gasped for Merlot.
"Easy. Maestro. Easy" She steadied the glass jar with her - or should I say my - hands.
After a few gulps, a feeling of relaxation washed over me, "I'll try Chianti next time. The store owner recommends 2288 vintage. It costs 200 ounces of gold per litre of Merlot, but life's too short to be on the cheap all the time. I'll just have to give up smoking for 6 months to make up the shortfall."
I can't stay mad at her, this rust bucket, in oil or in grease, in bug or bug-free mode, till death do us part.
We live happily ever after. Until her batteries are dead.
Glug, glug...clink, clink...glug, glug........clink, clink, glug........
Ummmm..."you feel good, Number 5"...glug glug....

P.S. The Futuristic Life of Mine was written under the influence of alcohol (may have been Merlot), and by a hand that's not entirely under my control.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Globalization of Hollywood - Part 1

Looking at the kitschy Oriental Pearl Tower from across the Huangpu in Shanghai led me to think about Hollywood.

Nothing can alter, popularise and capture the imagination of a city than having it appeared in a pop movie. In the 50's, King Kong is clinging to the side of the Empire State Building in NY. This is one Hollywood icon embracing a city icon in the financial centre of the world in that era. Fast forward to the 2010's, we have Godzila fighting scene at the site of the Oriental Tower in Shanghai. This is one Japanese film icon embracing a city icon of the financial centre of China. Coincidentally - maybe not - these 2 movie icons also share many things: 'monster', gargantuan size, etc.

Godzilla is, I suspect, Japanese way of dealing with the tragedy of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. In a sense, US created Godzilla.

Movies in general, and Hollywood exports in particular always reflect zeitgeist of the world. Before the 1970's where globalisation hadn't quite taken hold the extent it does now, most Hollywood films looked into its navel for materials (and there's only so much you can get out of your navel). As globalisation starts, Hollywood studios looked into other navels for inspirations, and grapple with more and more global themes.

Globalisation had occurred a long time ago, to different degrees. The first globalisation grew with the Silk Road that connects the Roman Empire in the West and Chinese Han Empire in the East.

Globalisation got a further boost with the discovery of Americas. In modern time, before the Fall of Berlin Wall, the process couldn't truly be called globalisation when the sizable Communist Bloc wasn't part of it. It should better be called, semi-globalisation. We're now living in a TRULY globalised world with virtually no countries are untouched by it. All the old enemies of Cold War are turning into gay buddies and trade partners. Even Taiwan's KMT and PRC are getting along. With the signing of ECFA, the cross-straits ties are closer than ever. I think this ECFA is PRC's tool for the eventual unification of Taiwan (in political terms, not in CCP party rhetoric). The detente of PRC and KMT is more amazing than those of USA and Russia, because with the collapse of USSR, we're dealing with a 'democractic' Russia. Taiwanese government had realised that even their major political backer of USA is now hobnobbing with China, they'd better kowtowing too. In short, Uncle Sam had switched sides, and recognised PRC (instead of ROC as it did before). USA is one of the last country to switch their recognition from ROC to PRC in a domino effect. Taiwan has never been more isolated. In fact, became none-existence as a country in the eyes of the world governments. As a sign of respect, let's bow our heads for a 3 minutes silence (no peeking please).

The wars between major powers nowadays are trade wars, which is far preferably than military wars. Making money (and love), is so much better than making war.

Ok, back to Hollywood. James Bonds movies is one franchise where the enemy is usually a country. You can find out about the twin goals of Hollywood market, and US enemy by watching James Bonds movies. It's true that James Bond is a British secret agent, but can you think of a single major enemy that isn't shared by these 2 countries post WW2? These 2 countries are so similar in cultures, political ideologies, and history (at least since WW2), they're even united by their first names 'United' that UK might as well be a state of USA (as far as foreign policy us concerned). Uh oh, hope I don't step on some British toes. I think you Pommies agree, if not grudgingly.

Let's put it another way, Bond franchise shows the most important geopolitical concern of the West/UK/USA of the day. It's a English spy franchise produced by US Hollywood studio. Especially in the Cold War era, it has to express the hopes, fears, and the geopolitical concerns of USA, and Bond films delivered exactly that.

Here are a few more examples where marketing are far more important than reflecting reality. In Star Trek's franchise, there are a number of senior Japanese crew members (e.g. Mr. Sulu) serving on the USS Enterprise, and even Koreans are present in Star Trek Enterprise. There's not a Chinese in sight. In reality (of an imaginary world of The Federation), logically the chances of a Chinese serving on the Enterprise would be much higher than either Japanese or Koreans going by the proportion of Chinese in the population of the planet earth. Never mind that China is the 3rd country in history to have space walk[1] carried out by their taikonaut (first it was USSR's cosmonaut, followed by USA's astronaut. What about the ESA's Mars 500 Project (stage 3) that consists of 3 Russians, 1 French, 1 Italian, and 1 Chinese? And Chinese is launching it first space station in 2020). But the movie producers of Star Trek didn't foresee any opportunity of selling their wonderful creations into China, especially during the filming of the original Star Trek series when China was viewed as non-existent at best, and the ideological enemy as worst during the Cold War. Japan, at the time, however, is a rising industrial power like China today. Translation, big market for its films.

Lost - TV seriesFor that reason, movies with international cast like the TV drama series "Lost" (2004 - 2010) now includes Chinese as well as Koreans. No Japanese[2], but "Heroes" (2006 - 2010) more than take up that slack. Last time when I was in Japan, the TV commercial showing so much of the Japanese character Hiro in "Heroes" that I though it was an ads for a Japanese film (if I didn't know any better). Hiro does play an important role in that TV series. Look at his name (Hiro) - a veiled title role.

Unlike "Lost", the attempt of "Heroes" to reach global audience is a bit (shamelessly) transparent with its international cast (not too mention that it jumped onto the bandwagon of global success of "Lost"). The international ensemble cast of "Lost", on the other hand, fits in organically with the narratives because the characters are the passengers of an international airline flying between Sydney and Los Angeles. These 2 cities have some of the most diverse ethnic communities on earth (maybe the MOST multicultural). In fact, the story demands an ethnically diverse casting. If Hollywood includes the Chinese market, surely the Indian market would follow suit. Whenever Chinese economy is mentioned, India isn't far behind. Look at the coining of the term Chindia. Unlike "Heroes" where the Indian played an important role, there's no Indian in "Lost". Hang on, there is. Sort of. Naveen Andrews is an Indian Brit who played an Iraqi soldier Sayid Hassan Jarrah, which happens to be his most well known role in his career (so far).

"2012" (2009) is an interesting movie to study the Hollywood's reach for the global markets and issues of globalisation. For the fist time, this is a disaster movie where USA isn't ALONE the saviour of the world since WW2. But it's an international co-operative efforts that saves the world. Maybe Hollywood is sick and tired of showing Uncle Sam as the world's regular saviour. Nah, get real. It's more like the global audience is sick of Hollywood showing that. Like "Lost", the international cast and backdrop is integral to the story. The Ruskies are no longer just evil commies, but belongs to the democracy club. They're one of us now. Let paint them in a better light, shall we? More importantly, Hollywood movies are now exporting to Russia. In "2012", the Yank's family is flown to safety in the huge Russian aircraft Antonov 500. It was the cooperation between the Yank and Ruski pilots that save both the Russian and American families. The real life parallel? Instead of having a space race as in the Cold War where both countries tried to outdo each other, Russia and USA is cooperating in space program nowadays to save themselves both a lots of mullah and elbow grease. Hollywood likes the Ruskies so much, they give the Russian pilot Sasha the heroic role, who bravely and selflessly scarifies himself to save the passengers. In fact Sasha is the only TRUE hero in the movie. Bravo, Sasha! Dasvidania, Sasha!

2012 the movieThe Ark is built in Tibet because it's the Roof of the World. If they expect a Biblical flood that going to inundate the world, the highest point on Earth seems like a logical place to put it. Also, such remoteness would help to minimise security leaks (which the governments willing to kill to keep it a secret in this film. Would be a real challenge to keep it out of Julian Assange's website though). And what's more, where else in the world where one finds a large enough labour force to build this mammoth ship? Where else but the factory of the world, where they build all the iPhones, and Canon cameras in the world, and just happens to be the world's largest shipbuilder? Last but not least, the inclusion of Tibet would also add a spiritual dimension to the narrative (even if it's quite shallow. Better shallow than nothing. Just look at the movie poster. Other 2012 disaster movies got Mayan Prophecy, this one got Tibetan people. Close enough). So it's a perfect candidate. China is thus worked seamlessly into the story. Russia, however, is not. But Hollywood wants the Russian market too, and make good for all the Russian bashing done in the past. "If we can be friends in space. We can be friends on earth. Till death do us part!" Very touching...in a gay sort of way. Nice.

If there's - it should have - a message coming out of "2012", it's that many of today's global issues could only be solved by international efforts, not by any one country. The giant solar storm obviously represents global warming, and the Ark symbolises green technology. Another message is that to fund the Ark project tickets were sold to the super rich, does this a comment that the worst victims of climate change are the poorest, while the rich nations can simply pay their way out? I may be reading too much into the story...but then the writer(s) may have that intention all along.

Here's some other reasons why USA isn't the saviour of the world in this movie. If the solar storm symbolises global warming, and because USA has been dragging its feet in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, instead of showing leadership as it once were in many issues. So if this movie portrays USA as saviour, the audience who sees this symbolic link would jeer, not cheer.

The recent world's financial tsunami that was sent to the rest of the world came from the epic centre of Wall Street. Except this tsunami was created artificially, fuelled by pure greed that built on the house of cards that's the housing bubble. It produced the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, which also created by Wall Street, NOT coincidentally. In fact, both crisis were caused by the bursting of asset bubbles. The only difference was that in the 1920s, it was a stock bubble, and this time a housing bubble. It's very hard just now to hail USA as the saviour of the world. Also because of the economic tight spot is in, it has no choice but to relinquish many of the leadership roles it assumed previously when it lived in more prosperous time. Lybia is a case in point. "You Frenchies can be the head of this operation. I'm too busy saving myself".

After WW2, we lived in a bipolar world (of the West Vs Communist Bloc) much of the 2nd half of the 20th century. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we left with the unipolar world with USA being the singular superpower for the final decade of the 20th century - a coda for Uncle Sam. With the rise of the economic powers of many developing/emerging economies - especially that of the BRICS - the 21st century world is entering into a multipolar world.

During the Cold War, USA saw itself as global Messiah, saving citizen of the world from the scourge of Communism. But in this multi-polar world, and with the US economic clout on the relative decline, an international co-operations seems like a more realistic modus operandi. "2012" in particular, and Hollywood movies in general, are reflecting this New World Order. Yep, this is what globalisation should be about, not just people doing business around the world, but solving problems together, saving the world together (from terrorism, financial crises, climate change, trade protectionism, drug and human trafficking, pandemic diseases, denulearisation, meteor striking the Earth, invasion of extremely cute and cuddly but deadly ETs, etc, etc, etc). None of these problems could be tackled by any one country alone, no matter how much good will or power it has. With all this in mind, it's getting harder to buy into the idea of US exceptionalism. Of course, if the saviour happens to be Tugg Speedman in "Tropic Thunder" (2008), who saved the world from disasters similar to "2012" 6 times in the "Scorcher" franchise, I would be the first to line up for ticket.

Some directors in Hollywood - in fact the director of "2012" - defended themselves that the "pro-China" stance in their movies aren't there to capture the Chinese audience because the Chinese market is too small. Small compares to USA, which is the biggest. 2 things needs to consider even if the Chinese market is small. One, it's small, for now. The key words often associate with Chinese market are 'fast growing'. Two, China seems to indispensable to the story. But the most interesting things is the directors' reply that they don't deliberately include China into the story because the market isn't big. Well, the only conclusion one can draw is that they would HAVE reason to include China when their market is big enough. Does the director realises what he's saying? Oops! Sorry, no 2nd take!

Adding China into a movie doesn't just increase sales to China, but to all countries. Who isn't talking (or yapping) about China today? Movies about the African country of Chad likely won't sell, movies about China do. China, like USA, love her or hate her, you can't ignore her. I guess, directors, being artists at hearts, hate to be seen as selling out to the mighty Dollar (or Yuan). Big time directors have to bow to market forces too not so much because they have to pay rents or put their kids to colleges, but because they have to answer to studios who bankroll their projects. The studios in turn have to answer to shareholders (investment folks like you and me) who invest in the studios, and expect returns for their dough. Directors shouldn't need to feel embarrassed for given into the market forces. It's capitalism at work (unless you prefer Communism, then all you get to watch are propaganda movies).

If the title of saviour of the world is to be bestowed onto a country, it should be China. Hear me out. She saved the world from the Asian Currency Crisis by biting the bullet and resisted competitive currency devaluation. This hurt Chinese economy in the short term, but ultimately benefited everyone in the longer term. It was a dirty job, but somebody got to do it.

During the financial meltdown of 2008, having a growth engine the size of China would at least help to stabilise the crisis from sliding into something similar to the Great Depression. No matter how you look at it, the world is better off in 2008 with China doing what it did. To expect Hollywood to portray a communist state as a saviour of the world in their movies, get a grip of reality! It's already making a great concession by not painting China as a evil commie as Hollywood had been doing throughout the Cold War. So the closest thing would be having a movie that shows everyone is trying to save the world in a joint effort (even if the way they go about it is anything but honourable).

Last but not least, China saved the world when they adopted the One-Child policy some 30 years ago. People in the West view the policy being very draconian to the Chinese. The condom-banning Catholics[3] find this policy inconceivable (pun fully intended). Yes, it's very tough for the Chinese, but it benefits the rest of the world. This is Chinese sacrifice to the world. With world's population reaching 7 billion this year, the exponential growth of the population is unsustainable. With increasing population and therefore more competitions for resources, things are becoming more expensive, wars become more common place. And with more people living on earth, more greenhouses gases will be produced, and with greater deforestation due to more people demanding timbers, this is double whammy for the global warming. No one single policy any country had done so far to reduce greenhouse gases more than the One-Child policy. Sure, China is doing this to save China. With the world more globalise than ever, and China makes up 1/5 of the world population, any positive impact on China will have positive impact on the world, and vice versa. According to statistician, if China didn't enforce the One-Child Policy in the last 30 years, there would be extra 450 million mouths to feed (about 20 times the population of my 2nd home of Australia). There would be 450 million people demanding crude oil (no, you don't need to drive to use crude oil. The largest consumption for crude oil is in the production of food), timbers, everything. These 450 million babies will grow up and have babies.

Some scientists are suggesting that with population reaching tens of billion (which won't take long), wars, famine, global warming will eventually kill billions on earth, thus bringing balance back to earth. Nature is always cruel (watch some nature documentary if you aren't convinced), and destruction is usually the natural course to restore balance. When we're strangling our mother earth with unsustainable population, the earth will be choked to death, and take us with it. Human is like strangler fig tree that lives by killing its host - the mother earth. After all, we can't live without the earth. Well, we can live outside earth by colonising space, but it will take a long time to get there. It's a question of race against time between the successful colonisation of space and the total depletion of the earth's natural resources. OR, we can slow down population growth to buy more time. Even better, reverse it. But this isn't a good solution either, because this implies the greying of population. But a less bad solution. Well, no easy solutions.

Of course, at times, Uncle Sam is a reluctant saviour. At other times, USA jumped into the role with both feet. You know what they say, with great power comes great responsibility. And being the most powerful country, Uncle Sam is simply expected to take up that baton/torch/stick/M-16. Now, China is expected, at least from US point of view, to share that baton (if not simply hand it over). Like US of A, China doesn't really like the extra weight of responsibility. And China has been using its status as a developing economy - as true as that is - to dodge that bullet. Having said that, China does provide the largest UN peacekeeping force. And China is probably, no definitely, the ONLY developing country who sends financial and technical aids to other developing countries.

Ok, I'm talking about common responsibility, not national self-interests. But with globalisation getting so cozy (like the 3 sumo wrestlers in the Mitsubishi truck TV commercials in Sydney), the line between common responsibility, and national interests are increasingly blurred. Especially with all these forming of economic, and geopolitical blocs, if one falls, the whole domino effect will transpire. E.g. this is the reason why EU is so concerned about the Greek debt crisis. Greece has a small economy, and a small country in any sense of the word. What people are concerned is the contagion effect. Nothing more fearful than the contagion of fear. Anything happens in the world is everybody's business in the globalised world.

It isn't the weight of responsibility that China wants to shake off. China has always minding its own business. Its ancient history shows that. Even in the recent history, during the Mao Era, China closed itself off completely for 3 decades. Since the Opening-Up Policy in 1978, China's foreign policy is taking the non-interference stance. It's a step up from total isolationism to non-interference. But be careful what you wish for, Uncle Sam; China may take up that role one day - not today - and you may not like what you ask for. Actually, China is already doing that in the UN by voting on resolutions as P5 member , and ended up cheesing off the Capitol Hill. Abstention Vote was what PRC used to do during the quiet , isolated Mao Era. When Washington asked Beijing to take up the world leadership role, it means to play ball with them. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Well, PRC is too blind to get those subtle signals. Selective blindness, I think that's what it is. I sometimes miss those signals too when I don't like what I see. If you know what I mean...nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

In the bipolar Cold War where USA is the sole leader of the West, and the brief unipolar world of the 1990s when USA was the sole superpower of the world, in both cases, this encouraged Hollywood to stick the formula of a singular hero(ine) saving the world. With the multipolar world of the 21st century, Hollywood answered the call with "Lost" and "Heroes". The latter TV series is titled "Heroes", plural. Not "Hero". The heroes/heroines all have to cooperate to save themselves. Similarly, "Lost" has many heroes/leaders, each exert their influences and have their followers. At the end, they all have to work together for the common goal.

Not surprisingly, it's cinematic movies that blazed a trail for the TV Land. Look at some of the big budget, popular franchises that started in the zero hour of the 21st century: "X-Men" (2000), "Ice Age" (2002), "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (2003), "The Incredible" (2004), "Fantastic Four" (2005), "Madagascar" (2005), "The Watchmen" (2009), "The Expendables" (2010), "The A-Team" (2010), "Super 8" (2011), "The Smurfs" (2011), "The Avengers" (2012), "Chronicle" (2012), "Rise of the Guardians" (2012), etc. These all have multiple heroes that confront with conflicts among themselves. There're many more movies produced than the above list suggests as they're franchises with many sequels. "Harry Potter", "Kung Fu Panda", and similar franchises also fall - albeit more loosely - into this category.

These (super)heroes/(super)heroines need to overcome their differences to achieve the common goals. The UN is increasingly playing an important role as an arena to resolve international conflicts. "The Expendables" is an interesting example in that it's both directed and acted by the slight speech slurring Sylvester 'Sly' Stallone (try to say the last 6 word phrase really quickly without slurring). He's best remembered in "Rambo", and "Rocky" franchises where he played the typical singular American hero who saves the day in the pre-21st century. This is especially true in "Rambo" where he's pretty much a one-man army. But in "Expendables", he's working in the 21st century mode of operation (or military ops). Instead of Team America, Hollywood is reflecting Global Village with many Chieftains.

It's also probably true that the movies with multiple heroes tend to be complex with intricate interactions between characters, and Hollywood didn't think the audience was sophisticated enough before, thus too risky to make them until now.

Majority of those multi-heroes franchises have PG rating, I think that's good to prepare our kids for the 21st century Global Village. A team player. An change in emphasis from competition to cooperation.

Putting geopolitics asides, the bottom lines is that increasingly the foreign markets and revenues for Hollywood movies are greater than the domestic markets (as I pointed out in painfully great length that geopolitics and market shares are the same thing. So can't really say "putting geopolitics asides").

What I meant is, let look at market shares figures alone, at this point, it's about 65/35 split. If - no when - the trends continues, it won't take long to see 90% of their revenues coming from overseas. And the largest single export market for Hollywood would be China (despite piracy). In fact, many predict China would be the biggest movie market by 2020. So if Hollywood isn't making movies for foreign markets, they're not into the business of making money.

For some studios or films, their very success already 100% depending on worldwide markets.

Having said that, America consists of 35% minority, but it was the overseas audience, not domestic audience that causes Hollywood to put minority American faces into their movies. This is understandable, because Hollywood don't have to please the local minority audience because they rather watch Hollywood than foreign movies, in general. In a sense, the globalisation of Hollywood films is simply given its domestic multicultural audience a louder voice.

Hollywood always has worldwide markets. It's just in the last decade or so, the acceleration of an increase in foreign markets due to the rapid rise of many developing economies are unprecedented.

This is why we accuse of Hollywood doing its bid in the American cultural imperialism. For those people who are yelling that this rise of American penetration into more worldwide markets equates to the ever rise of American cultural imperialism. Think about this. Notable Americana like American Graffiti (1973), On the Waterfront (1954), The Grapes of Wrath (1940) are unlikely to be made today. To ensure successful worldwide markets, Hollywood will make movies that are appeal to the different cultures of the world.

Better yet, instead of injecting cultural themes that appeals to specific country, why not make something that appeal to all cultures. There's such a thing. Make movies that contain universal values, rather than American values. In a sense, the success of Hollywood over movies of other countries is because Hollywood's knack of turning out movies that have universal appeal due to its universal values.

Take Mulan(1998), which is based on a Chinese story. If it was made by Chinese, it would be about filial piety. People of other culture wouldn't understand it. If it implies absolute obedience to your parents, some audience of the West would find it distasteful. Indeed, the Confucian idea of filial piety does demand obedience (although not too much in the story of Mulan). Hollywood looks at it from the angle of a daughter's love for his father and her country. This is a indeed a universal values that people all over the world can relate to. Much simpler and more powerful idea than filial piety.

Indeed, globalisation of Hollywood implies the universalising of cultural values. Despite all the cultural differences among peoples, we all share some universal values that bind us all together.

And Hollywood has always been doing that. Before, it was Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Ali Baba, today it's Kungfu Panda. It's Americanised version of imported stories from somewhere else.

So with the globalisation of Hollywood, Hollywood could no longer just sell American values, but universal values that shared by all. With globalisation (and Hollywood's adaption to it), American cultural imperialism is on the decline because most of us were already very Americanised in the 2nd half the 20th century. The success of Hollywood is that they're not only telling their own stories, but other people's stories as well. And they're telling more and more of other people's stories. The question of American cultural imperialism is a mixed picture at best.

[1] I'm talking about doing space walk independently as many countries who has no space flight ability have sent their countrymen to do space walk in international joint ventures up in space station.

[2] "Lost" adds a Japanese into the international cast in Season 6, soon after I wrote this diary entry, just trying to make me eat my own words. Good one. Get Lost! But also thanks! For adding weight to my argument.

"Lost" is an apt title. The characters are a bunch of LOST souls before the plane crash. After they get LOST in the island, they FOUND themselves. Remember the song "Amazing Grace"?
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Amazing, isn't it? Hope I didn't spoil for those who hasn't watched it.
"Lost & Found" may be a more accurate title, but then it gives away too much, thus its mystery is LOST.

[3] Ok, the Pope lifted the ban in Nov 2010. Better late than never. We need fewer people. Not more.