Saturday, 26 October 2013

Chinese Patriotic and Cultural Revolution Songs that I like

As mentioned in my last blog, explaining my idolization for Chairman Mao , I enjoy listening to some of Chinese patriotic songs and the songs produced during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) and I knew many of such songs in heart.  For some unknown reasons, the opening bars of these songs will always make me felt uplifted. Some of my favorites: 

The East is Red (东方红)

Sailing the sea depends on the Great Helmsman (大海航行靠舵手)

Liuyang River ( 浏阳河)

The sun is reddest, Chairman Mao is dearest (太阳最红,毛主席最亲)

Ode to the Motherland (歌唱祖国

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Explaining Chairman Mao: Why he is my idol

Eternal Glory to the Great Helmsman 

Guests that have been to my study will never fail to notice all the Cultural Revolution posters, figurines and Chairman Mao’s statues in various sizes. All too often, the next question that will pop up will be “Why do you idolize him?”

Besides him, my other idol is Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore. I constantly seek inspiration from these two great statesmen. Both possess the genius and the political will power to change the destiny of their country, even though they have to be brutal at times. To a certain extent, they are much alike. Mao likes to say that he is the incarnation of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor and many of his actions that he took throughout his rein were akin to the First Emperor of China.

Chairman Mao passed away 5 years before that I was born but world leaders who had met him said that he is a well-read person, intelligent, a skilled orator and a master strategist in domestic and international politics. I enjoyed reading his poems and selected works which were published after his death while Lee’s books are my constant reference.
Both idols have many books written about them, from various perspectives. For the Chairman, the two well know ones are by Dr Li Zishui, his personal doctor and by Jung Chang and Jon Holliday. I would suggest you to read these books and compare the facts. While Dr Li’s book remains the most intimate biography ever written about him, Jung Chang and Jon Holiday’s book were full of distorted judgments and criticized in the academic community on grounds of unreliability.
What I admire most in him is his power to mobilize the masses to his every call and constant revolution even after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, from the Let the Hundred Flower Boom campaign to the Great Leap Forward and finally the Cultural Revolution. The Chairman is also well known to use propaganda to its fullest to achieve his political aims and for the purpose of personal cult. Hundreds of millions of posters, banners, badges and his Little Red Book were printed. Patriotic and idolization songs were produced with zeal.  I do like some of the songs and will often play them at home.

Besides that, the most outstanding of Chairman Mao’s character, as his writings attest, was his readiness to take on challenge. He responded to the challenges with counter challenges, never conceding an inch. When offered or offering a challenge, Mao never showed any hesitation but rather the confidence to win. All his life, Mao was a winner, not in terms of specific political issues but rather as a man who revealed his heroic nature when he was confronted with a challenge.

Monument to the People's Heroes and Chairman Mao's  Mausoleum at the background.

People blamed him for the disaster of the Great Leap Forward but I would say that it is not all his fault. It is said that Qian Xueshen, the father of China’s long range missiles used to tell Mao about close cropping to establish bumper harvest and Mao bought his idea. The cadres at local level lied about the harvest and production.
According to his personal doctor’s biography, Mao never suggest the population to build backyard furnaces to produce steel but it was the local cadres who told the Chairman that it works. Convinced by them, the Chairman agreed for the backyard furnaces to be built across the country. As for the people’s commune, it was also the local cadres that established it and the Chairman thought that this will move China further into achieving Communism so he agreed to it. He meant good for the masses but again, it was the local cadres that messed it up.
Although Cultural Revolution is a dark period in the history of modern China and many still refused to speak about it till today, I would always argue that without the pain of the Cultural Revolution, the process of opening up of China by Deng Xiaoping will never take off so fast.
Historians argued that the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were his worst legacies even and that it killed more Chinese than the Japanese Occupation and Chinese Civil War combined. I think otherwise. He had done more good to China than harm, his contribution to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes.
Unlike Lenin and Stalin who destroyed a great and powerful Russia that prior to the October Revolution had been one of the leading world powers, Mao transformed China from a semi colony into an independent and powerful state. He brought to fruition the mighty anti-imperialist revolution began by Sun Yet Sen, compelling the world to respect the Chinese people. He united mainland China after a long period of disintegration, power struggle and civil wars. It was during Mao’s rule that China was able to become one of the main geopolitical centers of the world. I often ask this question, who is the actual father of modern China?

A talented politician, an historian, a poet and philosopher, an all-powerful dictator and energetic organizer, a skillful diplomat and utopian socialist, the head of the most populous state, resting on his laurels but at the same time an indefatigable revolutionary who sincerely attempted to refashion the of life and consciousness of millions of people – this is how Mao Zedong goes down in history. The scale of his life was too grand to be reduced to a single meaning.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

New Movement's urge to newly appointed government officials from MCA

New Movement members.

As a result from the just concluded MCA Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), the reform of the party should be back as the main agenda of the coming party election and one of the main core points in the reform should be the direction of the political principle and services of MCA’s newly appointed government officials.

The passing of the two resolutions tabled in the EGM will enable MCA members to take up the positions of state EXCO members, municipal and district councilors, village head and others and to resume services to the members of the public via positions in the government. With this new development, New movement would like to urge MCA leadership to adopt the suggestions put forward by New Movement in “ MCA POLITICAL REFORM SUGGESTIONS” to select a quality candidate who has Rakyat support:

1. A bureau, hereby referred to as “Candidates Bureau” must be set up by the party headquarters to handle matters related to the candidate selection process.

2. Candidates for the position of the position of village head, District, Municipal or City Councils or other local councils should at gather the support and obtain 300 signatures from party members and the rakyat of that particular village or division and be submitted to the Candidates Bureau before she/he can be selected to represent the party and be appointed for the position(s) mentioned above.

 New Movement would like to urge these newly appointed officials to fulfill the objective of:

1)       Turning the complaints from the people into actions that lead to changes in government policies.

2)       Serve the people based on the concept of civic rights as the main political principle.

We hope that all the newly appointed government officials from MCA will play a major role in making changes to the outdated policies to suit the current needs of the people and at the same time giving their best service to the people.

Although MCA is a pure Chinese based political party, but from the past experiences of our service centers, we are serving the people regardless of race and religion. Despite that, MCA still fights for the benefit and rights of the Chinese community with the MCA’s C for Chinese but with the change of today’s political and social landscape, the C should be changed to Civic.

However, the change from “Chinese” to “Civic” political principle will be very difficult because MCA members are still using the problems of the Chinese community as the main political principle but the implementation of civic rights political principle will make MCA walk away from its identity as a single ethnic political party and bring benefits to the party. Therefore we hope that MCA leaders will look at social problems and policy making from the perspective of civic rights to serve the needs of the changed political and social landscape in this country.

The change in this political principle is also a signal to MCA members on the need to respond to civic issues and seek strategic cooperation with other races to create solidarity and mutual benefits for all Malaysians and a Better Nation.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Confession from a friend: From millionaire to taxi driver, no thanks to lust

While waiting for Azman to fetch me after lunch at The Gardens just now, I bumped into a familiar face that I have not met for some years now. Despite his greying hairs, hunched back, wrinkles and a not so well groomed look which was a far cry for his heydays as an astute property investor and well known general insurance agent, I can still remember him. I called out to him and he recognized me instantly.

“Hey, Miss Loo, you looked great, what are you doing here, shopping?” he asked.
“What are you doing here then Sunny (not his real name)? Where have you disappeared to?” I asked him in return.
“I am working, as a taxi driver now,” he replied.
“What actually happened? You disappeared from public view, I dialed your number 2**88888 and another person picked up. A new family moved into your bungalow. Do you have time, let’s go for tea nearby!”
“Are you sure you want to have tea with a poor old man like me? I am no longer the Sunny you knew that wine and dine at JW Marriott Hotel.”
 “Come on Sunny, I am not a fair weathered friend, otherwise I would pretend I do not know you just now.”
When I knew him at a private jewelry preview lunch some years back, Sunny was on top of the world with a nice portfolio of prime properties across the region, stocks, treasury bonds and a steady passive income from his general insurance business. Above all, he was blessed with a hardworking wife that handles most of his insurance business and two teenage kids.
Though I do not like his wife whom I regard as opportunist and her manners which does not quite belongs to the group of high society ladies that I am also acquainted with but Sunny and I hit off instantly. We would talk about properties, stocks, commodities, politics, travel and almost everything under the sun during our afternoon tea sessions and occasion dinner. However, after a while, Sunny slowly disappeared. When asked, the reply will be he is busy doing business in China. Soon, Sunny became a persona nan-grata, forgotten by everyone.
We head off to Starbucks and after a few sips of iced lemon tea; he started to reveal his story to me. He was influenced by his friends to keep a mistress in China. Since Sunny is English educated and know no Mandarin, it will be helpful for his investments in China if someone can do the translation job and manage the properties for him, his friends reasoned. Besides, how can a successful man like him not having a beautiful mistress to show off?  He was introduced to a girl from Hangzhou who worked as a part time escort while still studying in a university in Shanghai. Her real background was not checked by him for at that time lust took over his senses. She became his mistress.
Soon, he bought her a house at the prime area of the old French concession in Shanghai and a Ferrari. He took her for holidays everywhere, buying and entertaining her every whims and fancy. He began to neglect his investments and his family in Malaysia.  As the months passed, he began channeling more and more money for her in China. Suspecting something amiss, his wife hired a private investigator but she did not confront him.
In return, she began to plan for her and the kids to migrate to Perth for the sake of their education, she gave the excuse. Thinking that with his wife away in Perth, it will be easier for him to be with his mistress, he consented and began selling his properties and investments for his wife to move. It is a very smart move on her side for she just took all the money that he can fork out, register all the properties in Perth under her personal name. When she finally settled down in Perth and after taking all the money that is remaining of him, she divorced him.
He did not felt any remorse for divorcing his wife. In fact he felt rejoiced for he can now concentrate on his young, beautiful and seductive mistress. Soon, the mistress began asking for even more money under the pretax of investment in China and other sorts of stories. Too blinded by lust, he just gave everytime she asked for. However, a letter of demand from the bank for payment one day just woke him up from his fantasy. It was then that he realized his bank account is negative with a few outstanding loans. When he turned to his mistress for some money back from China, she just disappeared. Never to be seen again.
Sunny is lucky that his mother have some savings from the money that he gave her during good times. With that he settled some of his loans; his bungalow was auctioned off by the bank. From a filthy rich millionaire, he is now a taxi driver, all because of lust. Anyway, Sunny's story is nothing new. For millennia, kings, heroes, politicians, millionaires, no matter who they are, became zero just because they can’t pass the test of lust. There is even a Chinese saying that 英雄难过美人关。
After listening to Sunny, on the way back, I asked myself this philosophical question: who is to blame?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Invitation to wine, 將進酒

This poem Invitation to wine could not have written by Li Bai without having been to the Hukuo Falls. 

I received an email from a reader of this blog who asked if I can kindly post the Invitation to wine poem by Li Bai with its translation in English after reading my last blog about places of interest in Shaanxi Province. It is said that Invitation to wine was Li Bai’s last poem. He died after composing this poem, drunk and drowned in the Yangtze River near today’s Anhui province while trying to embrace the moon’s reflection on the water.

將進酒       李白

Invitation to wine by Li Bai

Do you not see the Yellow River come from the sky,
Rushing into the sea and never come back?
Do you not see the mirrors bright in chambers high,
Grieve over your snow-white hair though once it was silk-black?
When hopes are won, oh! Drink your fill in high delight.
And never leave your wine cup empty in moonlight!
Heaven has made us talents; we are not made in vain.
A thousand gold coins spent, more will turn up again.
Kill a cow, cook a sheep and let us be merry.
And drink three hundred cupful of wine in high glee!
Dear friends of mine,
Cheer up, cheer up!
I invite you to wine.
Do not put down your cup!
I will sing you a song, please hear,
O hear! Lend me a willing ear!
What difference will rare and costly dishes make?
I only want to get drunk and never to wake.
How many great men were forgotten through the ages?
But great drinkers are more famous than sober sages.
The Prince of Poets feasted in his palace at will,
Drank wine at ten thousand a cask and laughed his fill.
A host should not complain of money he is short,
To drink with you I will sell things of any sort.
My fur coat worth a thousand coins of gold,
And my flower dappled horse may be sold
To buy good wine that we may drown the woes of old age.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Exploring Shaanxi: Beyond Xian & Terracotta Warriors

You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. - William Hazlitt
Mention Xian, the provincial capital of Shaanxi Province of China, the first thing that flashes in the mind of most people will be the famous Terracotta Warrior and Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Probe further, some will mention Yang Gui Fei and the palace that was built solely for her to take her bath – Huaqing Pool. And for those who have been to Xian with tour groups, they will add in Big and Small Goose Pagoda, Bell & Drum Tower. Few ventured further away where the gems of Shaanxi province are hidden.  Most people will only spend 2 or 3 days here but the adventurous ones can stay on for weeks.  Having been to Shaanxi a few times, here are some of my recommendations which are not the norm for tour groups:

Mount Hua 华山
Mt Hua is also the featured in legendary kung fu novel such as 华山论剑.
One of Taoism’s five sacred mountains and was said to be the favorite abode of hermits. About two hours’ drive away to the East of Xian, along the same route as The Terracotta Warriors and Huaqing Pool, this mountain is divided into five peaks, North, South, East and West. Ascent to the peak can be done via the cable car or by foot. If you plan to stay overnight at this place, pick the North Peak Hotel as it offers to most idyllic view of Mt. Hua.  What I did the last time was head straight to Mt Hua in the morning from Xian, explored the peaks, stayed overnight, wake up to catch the sunrise from the East Peak and then descent via foot. From there, head back to the direction of Xian to visit the Terracotta Warriors and Huaqing Pool.
At Hukuo Falls
Yellow River’s Hukou Fall黄河壶口瀑布
“Do you not see the Yellow River come from the sky?” This is the first line of Li Bai’s famous poem, Invitation to Wine (将近酒)Legend had it that Li Bai, a great Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty could not have written the first line of Invitation to Wine without having been to the Hukuo Falls. I first set my eyes upon this majestic part of the Yellow River on a cold winter morning. Though most part of the river was frozen, the water that gushes down and the roaring sound of it gave me a sense of awe and I was beyond words. How I wish I was there during summer when one can view the whole Hukou Falls that is about 30 m high and to have a true feel of what Li Bai told us of Yellow River that comes from the sky.
Hukou Falls is about 3 hours by car from Xian towards the North. In between Xian and Hukou Falls is the ancient city of Han Cheng which is the hometown of the Great Chinese Historian Sima Qian. We were supposed to tour this ancient city but cancelled it due to light snowing and headed straight to the Falls. After visiting the Hukou Falls and have our lunch by the Yellow River, we proceed to Yanan.

Inside a hall at Yangjialing Revolutionary Base in Yan'an
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Yanan, one of the sacred places of the Chinese Communist Party, besides Mt Jinggang in Jiangxi and Zunyi in Guangxi. It was in the loess caves in this place that the Red Army, led by Chairman Mao finally settled down after the disastrous Long March in 1936 and reorganizes the party that would one day rule China. For years, Chairman Mao called this place his home, living in the loess caves in Yangjaling together with other leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China had a lot to say about this place.
Besides the Yan’an Revolutionary Museum and historical sites such as Fenghuangshan, Wangjiaping and Yangjialing, another place that is a must visit in Yan’an is the Treasure Pagoda which was built during the Song Dynasty and survived till today. For an experience of living in loess cave (窰洞), check out Yang Jia Ling Cave Hotel. Returning to Xian via another road, we explored the Tomb of the Yellow Emperor.

Legend has it that the Yellow Emperor is buried here.
Tomb of the Yellow Emperor (黄帝陵)

The tomb of the Yellow Emperor is probably the best kept secret of Shaanxi Province. Located in Huang Ling County, about 3 and half hours away from Xian it is accessible via National Route 210. The story of the Yellow Emperor varies according to historians but one thing without doubt is that, we the Chinese refer ourselves as the Decadents of the Yellow Emperor and Emperor Yan (炎黄子孙). One notable VIP that made a visit here is Lian Zhan, the Chairman of the Kuomintang Party in Taiwan, signifying the shared believe that we are all of the same family. 

The mausoleums of the emperors of Han and Tang Dynasties
There are plenty of mausoleums and tombs of emperors and princes that scattered around Xian as it was the capital of the of the many dynasties of ancient China from Qin to Song before the axis of power moved east and finally settled in modern day Beijing. I did not personally visit any other mausoleums despite reading and hearing much about Qian Ling – the tomb of the first female Emperor of China, Wuzetian and also the excavated tomb of Emperor Jingdi of the Han Dynasty.

Other views of Xian at dusk:

The Big Goose Pagoda that houses the sutras brought back by Xuan Zhang from India.
The Muslim quarter in Xian.
The Drum Tower.

A hangar like atmosphere.
After visiting the Terracotta Warriors, I do not find it to be very exciting as claimed by many and written in books. To me, the whole place resembles a big hangar where the warriors are being manufactured more than an ancient excavation site that will make me awe.  

With the bust of Yang Gui Fei at Huaqing Pool, another overrated place. 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The right pairing of pots and cups for different Chinese tea

Ever wonder why the tea that we brew at home taste differently from what we sampled when we bought a particular tea from the shop? Ever drank a tea that is completely tasteless or stale? Brewing tea the right way is not as simple as what we normally thought so or what we see in restaurants.

Unbeknownst to many, the right pairing of pots and cups with the many types of Chinese tea is a very important step in bringing out the right taste and aroma of a tea besides the right water temperature. Some tea, especially the aged pu erhs and Wuyi Mountain tea may need boiling hot water while the right water temperature for Longjing is 80 degree. It is also the rule of thumb not to soak the tea for it to remain smooth to drink. Always prepare two pots of the roughly the same size and thickness.

Doing it the wrong way will just waste the tea leaves which can be very expensive depending on their age and quality. Hereby are some pictures from my collection with regards to the right teapots and cups to use for different types of Chinese tea:

Huge and thick porcelain pot and cups for flower tea such as chrysanthemum. 

Small and thin pots and cups for Wuyi Mountain tea and other Oolong tea. The smaller the better. 

Thin porcelain teacup pot like this is most suitable for Longjing tea.  

Small and aged teapot with a thick, small and narrow opening cup brings the best out of aged pu erh and liu bao.

Other cups that are suitable for pu erh,  liu bao and flower tea depending on one's preference.  

Except for the various type of tea mentioned above, different pots of various sizes can also be used, depending on the number of drinkers in each session. 

The Road Not Taken

There are many instances in life that we have to choose from one of the two roads that lay upon us and making a decision can be hard. However, I would always choose the road less traveled. It could be a very lonely road, more often than not, people will laugh at the decision, but the end result is always very rewarding. Hereby is a poem that I would like to share

The Road Not Taken    by Robert Frost ( 1874 – 1963 )

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,   
And sorry I could not travel both              
And be one traveler, long I stood            
And looked down one as far as I could  
To where it bent in the undergrowth;           

Then took the other, as just as fair,        
And having perhaps the better claim,    
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;              
Though as for that the passing there      
Had worn them really about the same,         

And both that morning equally lay          
In leaves no step had trodden black.      
Oh, I kept the first for another day!        
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back.           

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence:          
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Love or hate him, Guan Eng governs Penang well

One of the wall murals around Geogetown.

I’ve just returned from my third visit to Penang after May 5th where the Pakatan Rakyat government headed my Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng was returned to power for a second term. My first two visits were brief as I was there with other members of New Movement for MCA Change, and we didn’t actually have time for other activities, except meeting with MCA members.
I’ve heard and read so much about the famous wall murals, the many boutique hotels that was converted from pre-war houses, the rehabilitation of the infamous Sungai Pinang and some new one way streets that are supposed to ease the traffic congestion, so how can I not be there to get a feel of it myself? After all, some of these were the issues that my ex comrades in DAP and I used to demand the state government to act on.
After staying in Penang for three nights, seeing with my own eyes the changes since 2008, chatted with old friends, patronizing my favorite eateries and visited many places that were once familiar, I have to say that Guan Eng governs Penang well. Penang is a much better place now and on its way to reclaim its status as the pearl of the orient.

Tourists are back in droves. The street murals are a great hit and it brought business opportunities to the locals who set up stalls selling drinks and souvenirs. Bicycle rental shops are aplenty around the Heritage Core Area. For Rm 10.00 per day, it is a very convenient mode of transport to roam around, hopping from one wall mural, museum, temple and clan house to the other. It is fun to search for the wall murals from street to street.

The once sleepy Georgetown is back alive, a far cry from those days when I was staying in Penang. Dilapidated pre-war houses were converted into café and boutique hotels. Some would claim that the credits have to go to the previous state government and the listing of Georgetown as UNESCO World Heritage Site but I beg to differ. Without the state government’s effort in cutting the red tapes for businesses to flourish and taking the effort to organize events and others, the UNESCO listing will not necessary bring in tourists. It needs the right combination.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, museum cum boutique hotel.
At last, Gurney Drive, Jalan Kelawai and a few other streets surrounding the area are converted into one way streets to ease the notorious traffic congestions. There are protests going around, claiming that the one way streets will not ease the congestion but understanding Penangites, I dare to say that they protest for nostalgic reasons. Penangites are well known to be nostalgic and they just like what they are used to. Though I didn’t stay in Penang for long, I have to admit that I am influenced by them in this aspect. So, asking them to drive a different direction from what they are used to can create huh hah because I too, once protested the change of traffic around the Sungai Pinang area.
Another notable thing I observed in Penang is the clamping and towing of cars that parked illegally. Plenty of signboards with such warning are erected around the island. However, the difference between Penang and other places in Malaysia is that in Penang, the enforcement officers are everywhere. Seeing the tow trucks at Gurney Drive reminds me so much of Jessie Ooi and her Miss Towtruck moniker. If I am to be asked to name a place where enforcement officer really do their work round the clock, I will answer: Penang.
Love him or hate him, one cannot deny that Guan Eng governs Penang well. Well done to Guan Eng and his team. I sincerely hope that by the end of your second five year term, you will make Penang a world class city comparable to Singapore, Shanghai and Melbourne where you once lived. With your political will power, I believe this is achievable.