Singing and dancing to world domination


 

 

This year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala shows off China’s power, both soft and hard.


China now intends to lead the world in just about everything.”

BY the end of the show, there was no doubt left in my mind that China is ready for world domination.

This was the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, an immensely popular national event by China Central Television that is telecast live on the eve of Chinese New Year. I watched a day later on YouTube.

The gala, which started in 1983, has all the elements of a variety show with lots of singing, dancing, acrobatics and comedy skits. This year’s edition followed the same mix and ran for more than five hours.

Thanks to livestreaming, for the first time, it hit an all-time high worldwide viewership of a billion people, according to China Global Television Network (CGTN), CCTV’s international arm.

The gala is therefore an extremely important platform for China to present itself at its best. Clearly, a great deal of planning, with no expenses spared, went into the production that showcased Chinese creativity and culture, as well as the country’s military might and technological advancements.

The result: an awesome spectacle that would have put the 2008 Beijing Games opening ceremony in the shade.

Most of the action was in CCTV’s auditorium in Beijing supported by performances staged in four provinces: Guizhou, Guangdong, Shandong and Hainan.

These four stages were outdoor and unique. Guizhou, one of China’s most diverse provinces, showed off its minority groups like the Miao and Hmong in their elaborate traditional costumes in a hi-tech setting.

The Guangdong show took place on a section of the magnificent Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge that is slated for opening the middle of this year.

Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius and Taoism, chose a citadel-like building as its backdrop. Finally, Hainan, famed for hosting several Miss World pageants, presented itself as a balmy tropical paradise.

Apart from the skits, which seemed very 1970s but obviously still very popular with the audience, the other acts were extremely elaborate and performed by what seemed like a million people, who danced in perfect precision, sang in total harmony, aided by dazzling use of LED screens and special effects.

In keeping with the joyous occasion, the venues were so brightly multi-coloured and busy, it was almost eye-watering. There was never a dull moment.

I couldn’t help comparing the show to the dance and acrobatic performances from the 1980s. That was when China started opening up and sending out performing troupes in cheap tracksuits and canvas shoes who excelled in contortions, twirling plates and bowls, balancing on ladders and chairs, and creating formations on a single bicycle in motion.

The performers were certainly well-trained and competent, but they hardly smiled and came across as rather soulless and robotic.

Well, how things have changed. The Chinese people are no longer poor, suppressed and grim. That’s long gone.

When it comes to national pride, the Chinese are beating out the Americans, who made flag and country a Hollywood staple.

When you have the likes of Jackie Chan singing a patriotic song about Chung-kuo, backed by a whole pride of stylishly clad smiling young people and footage of gorgeous scenery, modern cities and wind tur­bines, it sure does make the heart beat faster.

Over the Guangdong bridge, drones and acrobatic planes weaved magic in the night sky, while off Hainan, a flotilla of boats lit up the waters.

And when it comes to culture and heritage, China has it in spades, from Chinese opera to kung fu and wushu to traditional dances and songs.

A jaw-dropping performance featured a huge ensemble of women dressed as bodhisattvas moving in unison so fluidly they were like one body; their entire performance made more mesmerising by the play of lighting that changed their costumes from yellow, to white to fuchsia.

One of my favourite acts was singer Jay Chou performing with a blend of virtual reality magic that was beautifully choreographed and synchronised with his movements.

I was also happy that among the foreign guest artistes was my dear boy from Kazakhstan, singer extraordinaire Dimash, whom I wrote about in my April 19, 2017, column which brought me the most number of e-mails from around the world.

What I liked about this year’s gala was its restrained presentation of China’s armed forces. Usually, the stage is filled with uniformed military personnel doing formations or singing a martial song.

This time, it was a more arty performance and China’s military might subtly conveyed by a strongman doing incredible handstands.

As with previous galas, the meaning of Chinese New Year was beautifully conveyed in a heart-tugging video of people returning for and preparing for the reunion dinner that brought home the importance of family and traditions.

Except for one misstep – a dreadful segment that tried to showcase Sino-African relations that critics have savaged as “a racist blackface” skit – CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 was a truly spectacular show that fuelled nationalistic pride among China’s citizens and left the rest of the world gobsmacked. It paid homage to the nation’s rich past, revelled in a confident present and announced an ambitious future.

I shut down my PC at almost 4am and as I lay me down to sleep, I recalled what I wrote in a commentary in June 2016 in which I described China as a shy superpower that actually tried to pretend it wasn’t one.

Not anymore. On Oct 18 last year, President Xi Jinping announced at the 19th National Communist Party Congress that China now intends to lead the world in just about everything, be it military presence, economic and development policies like the Road and Belt, technological innovations and artificial intelligence or even sports and entertainment.

Don’t believe me? Consider this then: China is the world leader in applications for inventions with 1.36 million patents and it has been the leader for seven consecutive years.

When it comes to investing in research and development, it ranked second in the world last year.

It’s all part of China’s blueprint for world domination. And that’s no song and dance!

So aunty, so what? June H.L. Wong

Aunty wished she could highlight more of the five-plus hour-long gala. If you haven’t watched it, you should check it out on YouTube. Feedback: aunty@thestar.com.my

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The American dream turned nightmare, President Trump’s first year …


A homeless man sleeps under an American flag blanket on a park bench in New York City in this file picture. As of June 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,900 homeless people, including 12,100 homeless families with 21,300 homeless children in New York – Photos AFP
A young homeless woman panhandles on the streets of Manhattan in New York City. According to a new report released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4% in 2017.

American culture and a new tax Bill are exacerbating chronic poverty by helping to widen the wealth gap.

SITTING among a jumble of his few possessions on a San Francisco sidewalk, 41-year-old “Kaels” Raybon has begun to accept the bad choices he made.

He was a drug user, and did jail time. By the time he was let out, his wife and four children – two boys and two girls – had left him. Other family members had died and he had nowhere to live. He has now spent over 15 years on the street.

America may be the land of equal opportunity – but like many other countries, there is a thin line between a life on the street and a roof over one’s head. Poverty creates its own loop; a prison record, for instance, makes it difficult to find employment.

Raybon’s voice trembles as he speaks of his children.

“Emotionally, I’m a wreck most of the time,” he admits. “I see kids and dads, and I want that too. But it’s just not in my cards.”

The children came to visit him one day, he says. He was torn. “I wanted them to stay, but at the same time I didn’t, because I have nothing to offer them.”

Raybon is among those who make up the most visible indicator of America’s worsening poverty and inequality – over half a million urban homeless. They are a stark contrast in arguably the world’s richest, most powerful and most technologically innovative country.

But homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg. Large areas outside big cities are mired in chronic poverty. The definition of poverty varies, but a commonly used measure from 2015 is an annual income of US$12,000 (RM47,500) or less.

Forty-one million Americans live in poverty – 12.7% of the country’s population. Some 46% of those live in “deep poverty” – on an annual income below US$6,000 (RM23,700).

Among them are 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children, who live in extreme poverty or on less than US$2 (RM8) per person per day.

“These are people who cannot find work … who do not qualify for any other (welfare) programmes or who may live in remote areas. They are disconnected from both the safety net and the job market,” Dr Premilla Nadasen, author and professor at Barnard College in New York City, wrote in the Washington Post newspaper on Dec 21.

Poverty is in the news again on the heels of a scathing 15-page statement released late last year by Dr Philip Alston, a tall, lean, 67-year-old New York University law professor from Melbourne, Australia, who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. A special rapporteur functions like an investigator and reports back to the UN.

Dr Alston is not known for beating about the bush. After a 15-day swing across six American states and cities, he is warning that worse is in store for America’s poor, at the wrong end of an increasingly widening wealth gap, and in an environment and official culture in which if you are down and out, it is probably your own fault.

The recent passage of the Republican Party’s tax Bill will make their lives worse, says Dr Alston. The Treasury Department has explicitly listed welfare reform as an important source of revenue in part to make up for the deficit that the tax cut is likely to trigger.

More important, however, is the culture.

“In a poor country, there are two starting points – that there are social rights, and citizens have a right to healthcare, a right to education, a right to food,” Dr Alston says at an interview in his booklined office at New York University.

“Second, the only thing standing in our way is resources; we just don’t have the money.”

“In the US, it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “There’s no such thing as social rights. If people are living in abysmal conditions, it’s their fault because we have equality of opportunity.

“Secondly, it’s not a resource problem. We just found US$1.5trillion (RM6trillion) to give to the super rich. The money would have been there to eliminate poverty if there had been any political will. But there isn’t.”

The US$1.5trillion refers to the Republicans’ tax Bill, passed just before Christmas that will bring the middle class some relief but inevitably, analysts say, end up benefiting the wealthy disproportionately.

America’s wealth gap has been steadily widening. On average in 1981, the top 1% of adult Americans earned 27 times more than the bottom 50%. Today, they earn 81 times more.

Meanwhile, since the 1970s, the safety net has been considerably diminished, Dr Nadasen wrote in the Post recently. “Labour regulations protecting workers have been rolled back, and funding for education and public programmes has declined. The poor have been the hardest hit.”

She added: “The shredding of the safety net led to a rise in poverty. The United States has the highest child poverty rates – 25% in the world.

In the course of his tour, Dr Alston saw houses in rural areas of Alabama surrounded by pools of sewage. “The state health department had no idea how many households exist in these conditions, nor did they have any plan to find out, or devise a plan to do something about it,” he says in his statement.

He could not help noticing that most of the area’s residents were black. But while racial divisions are not far below the surface, it would be misleading to assume that poverty is generally worse in the Native American and African American minorities. It cuts across all ethnicities. There are eight million more poor white people than black people.

Like Rudy Damian, 53, who as a teenager ended up homeless in San Francisco after taking drugs and alcohol and being involved in crime – a common pattern contributing to broken families and financial ruin.

He has several missing teeth – dental care is not covered by most health insurance and the poor, at best, can go only to hospital emergency rooms where invariably a tooth is simply extracted.

Damian says he is sober now, and even works part-time as a security guard, but still can’t afford to rent a home. He calls his sister and his 94-year-old mother sometimes, but they avoid talking about his life. “They are disappointed by my lifestyle,” he says. “I was just a loner. I was the youngest when my father died, I decided to leave (home), and that isolation has lasted throughout my life.”

Fragmentation of families and the weakening of community support contribute to the isolation of homeless people in particular. But there is more.

“Caricatured narratives” drive the debate on poverty and homelessness in America, according to Dr Alston. The rich are seen as “industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success”. The poor are “wasters, losers and scammers”.

“As long as you have the mindset that we’re all on our own, it becomes possible that when my own brother falls off the cliff, I’m able to say, ‘Well, he had the same opportunities as me. He’s failed, he has to cope with it,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to do something.’”

In Los Angeles, he found that the objective for the local authorities was to raise the standard of Skid Row, an area less than a square kilometre but containing many hundred homeless, to that of a Syrian refugee camp.

“One of the richest countries in the world, and we’re aiming to meet the standards of a Syrian refugee camp for a large population in one of our richest cities,” he says. “It is sort of stunning.”

Sources: The Straits Times/Asia News Network, by Nirmal Ghosh who is The Straits Times ’US Bureau Chief.

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Penang-lang fearing the death of a dialect


Like most Penangites who are proud of their heritage, the writer is troubled that Hokkien isn’t spoken as much as it used to be.

IF there’s one clear feature that separates Penangites from the rest of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, it is the distinct northern-accented Hokkien.

It doesn’t matter whether we are in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru, London or Timbuktu but we can pick up a Penangite whenever we hear this northern style dialect with its rich sprinkling of Malay words that denotes its nyonya-baba linguistic roots.

But each time I return to Penang, I can feel the linguistic changes that are taking place. Whether we realise it or not, Penang Hokkien is slowly disappearing.

Mandarin is quickly taking over this unique Penang Hokkien dialect and for sure, English is also being affected in daily conversations.

Penangites are fiercely proud of their Hokkien as it is entirely different from the one spoken in Singapore, Taiwan or Xiamen in China.

As older Penangites, perhaps we can be a little snooty, as we sometimes dismiss the Hokkien spoken elsewhere as somewhat crass and unrefined.

Only the Hokkien spoken by the Chinese community in Medan closely mirrors that of Penang Hokkien, presumably because of the proximity between Penang and the Indonesian city.

Whether rightly or wrongly, or plainly out of ignorance, Penangites feel the sing-song delivery sounds better.

Words such as balai (police station), balu (just now), bangku (stool), batu (stone), cilaka/celaka (damn it), campur (to mix), jamban (toilet), gatai/gatal (itchy) gili/geli (creepy), sabun (soap) and kesian (pity), are an integral part of the Penang Hokkien dialect.

If the person is not from Penang, then he or she has to be from Kedah, Perlis or Taiping.

Even Penangites of other racial groups can easily speak, or at least understand Hokkien. My fellow moderation advocate, Anas Zubedy, speaks excellent Hokkien. So do my colleagues executive editor Dorairaj Nadason and sports editor R. Manogaran.

But the daily use of the dialect is rapidly being replaced by Mandarin. Go to most coffeeshops today and the hawkers or helpers are likely to tell you the price of food in Mandarin.

I am feeling a little uncomfortable because I am a very parochial and sentimental Penangite. It doesn’t help that I do not speak Mandarin.

Although I am a Cantonese, Hokkien is the spoken language in my family home and the changes that are taking place do have an effect.

Even most of the Penang state government leaders are not from Penang. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was born in Johor and grew up in Melaka.

Senior state exco member Chow Kon Yeow is from Kuala Lumpur but he studied in Universiti Sains Malaysia. Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy is Sitiawan-born but he spent most of his time in Selangor.

Exceptions are the children of the late Karpal Singh – state exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh Deo – and other state assemblymen.

The Penang Monthly bulletin, in its May issue, dramatically headlined the situation “Penang Hokkien on life support.”

In an interview with Penang Monthly, the Penang Hokkien Language Association secretary Ooi Kee How was quoted as saying that “people think there’s no benefit in learning or speaking Hokkien, which is not true. Yes, you can survive if you do not speak Hokkien; you can get by with speaking only one language your entire life.”

“But the thing is, something will diminish. Our creativity, our cultural identity, will decline. A lot of innovations will disappear, because different languages shape the way we think differently.”

And what has brought about the decline of the Penang Hokkien? It’s a combination of factors. For one, a whole generation of Penangites have been educated in Chinese schools, at least at the primary level.

This is unlike the older generation of Penangites like me, who are now in the 50s, who attended schools using English as a medium of instruction. In the absence of Mandarin, we spoke mainly Hokkien and English but people in their 30s and 40s find it more comfortable conversing in Mandarin – and for sure, not English.

Then there is this huge impact of Chinese TV shows, especially over Astro. They are entirely in Mandarin, with shows from mainland China and Taiwan, and in Hokkien, which is spoken in a manner more similar to those used in Melaka and Johor.

It is no surprise that the sales staff at malls also expect the Chinese community to speak in Mandarin, and understandably they will begin the conversation in Mandarin – because you are expected to know the language.

There is also the impact of China as the new economic powerhouse of Asia, if not, the world. Mandarin has taken over the dominant spot as a language with economic value, and certainly prestige. That is the reality but it may well be at the expense of a rich heritage.

Catherine Churchman, a lecturer in Asian Studies, in the School of Languages and Cultures in Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who studied the Taiwanese and Penang Hokkien dialects, reportedly said: “Penangites have become increasingly used to hearing Taiwanese Hokkien, but the Taiwanese are not used to hearing Penang Hokkien.

“Simply replacing Malay loan words with the Taiwanese equivalents does not turn Penang Hokkien into Taiwanese Hokkien either. The grammatical structure of Penang Hokkien is different.”

Fearful of the danger of Penang Hokkien dying, Penang Monthly further quoted Churchman as saying “languages often die the same way, and one of the reasons is simply the existence of a generation gap.”

That melodious Penang Hokkien may not be heard, decades from now, if this frightening trend continues.

On The Beat by Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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CNY 2017, Xi spreads love, inspires nation …


– The President’s latest appeal for diligence and hard work has sparked heated discussion and spread inspiration and confidence across the …

中國國家主席習近平2017年新年賀詞(Chinese President Xi Jinping 2017 New Year Address)

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/o4jS9hLiHUQ

President Xi Jinping (pic) struck a warm tone with his annual Spring Festival greeting calling on the whole nation to love their family and friends.

Love should reach to every family and bring warmth to all Chinese like a spring breeze blowing across the nation, he said on Thursday in his speech ahead of the Lunar New Year.

“The Chinese people have always valued love and high morality,” Xi told his audience at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, which included senior government officials, military officers, renowned artists and ethnic community leaders.

He urged people not to neglect their family, comrades and loved ones, no matter how busy they are with their work. Love means not being hypocritical, not selfish and not outrageous, he said.

“A short greeting of ‘welcome home for Spring Festival’ would warm the hearts of millions of Chinese people,” he said.

Xi went on to wish all Chinese, including ethnic groups, those in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and those living abroad, an auspicious Year of the Rooster, an animal that symbolises good fortune.

China’s economic growth has remained one of the strongest in the world, and people’s livelihoods have continuously been improved, the president said, before calling on the nation to “roll up our sleeves to work harder”.

Xi said he hopes the people “not only have great dreams, but also show a hardworking spirit to fulfil those dreams”. He added, “The progresses in China’s development are achieved thanks to Chinese people’s diligent work.”

Jin Yanlei, a geography teacher in Dongying, Shandong province, said,

“President Xi has told us to roll up our sleeves to work harder, which I think is important not only for ourselves, but also for the nation, especially at a time when the global economy is sluggish.” — China Daily/The Star/Asia News Network

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Entrepreneurship is not a job but providing a solution


Coming up with a winning idea

Entrepreneurship is not a job. It’s about providing a solution, and pulling people and resources together to make that change. Workable business ideas are all about solving problems.

Q: I’m an engineering student in Portugal, but I feel I really was born to be an entrepreneur. I started creating logos for companies when I was about 15. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and I’m always trying to think of new ways to start businesses. I want to follow my passion — but it’s tough when you have a great business idea, and no support. How do I find the right path? — João Bandeira, PortugalJoão, it’s always heartening to hear a young would-be entrepreneur talk about passion being a key driver in his life. The most successful entrepreneurs share that indescribable desire to change the world and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

And while it can be a struggle in the early days to find one project to pour all your enthusiasm into, just remember that successful entrepreneurs always manage to come up with an idea that’s right for them, and they make it work.

Your question reminds me of the origins of Ring — a wildly successful business that I have invested in.

For years, founder Jamie Siminoff had attempted to come up with a winning business idea — he even turned his garage in California into a lab for prototypes. As he worked there, though, Jamie was annoyed that he couldn’t hear the front doorbell.

One day he decided to fix this problem — he created a program to link the doorbell to his smartphone so that he could answer the door remotely with a video call. It was a great solution.

Jamie’s wife loved the idea as well: When Jamie was away, she could always see who was at the front door, and she felt safer.

Later, Jamie invited friends around to check out his other inventions, but the only thing anybody cared about was the doorbell!

He soon realised that this was the best business idea he ever had, and Ring was born. Just like that, the hours of searching for a winning idea were over.

João, the fact that you are constantly thinking of new businesses to start is a hugely valuable asset. Being proactive is a good thing, but I would strike a note of caution about the idea search.

I recently joined a host of fellow entrepreneurs in Los Angeles for Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural “Business Is an Adventure” event, and the topic of generating business ideas came up in a panel. Sean Rad, the CEO and founder of the dating app Tinder, made a great point.

“Entrepreneurship is not a job — it is a reaction to you wanting to solve a problem,” he said. “You have to wake up and say: ‘I am passionate about making a change, and I am passionate about pulling together people and resources… Not wake up and say: ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’ because I think you’ll kind of be lost… you’ll be looking for a problem instead of finding a problem looking for a solution.”

It’s a shrewd observation, and one that underlies the success of many companies, including Tinder.

In our daily lives, we all come across problems, annoyances or frustrations that we would love to see solved. Luckily, entrepreneurs are perfectly placed to solve those problems.

Interestingly enough, that’s how Virgin Atlantic began. After one particularly terrible experience as a passenger with an unscrupulous airline, I decided there must be a better way to fly. The next day, our team was on the phone with Boeing asking if they had any second-hand 747s that they were willing to sell.

Thankfully, they didn’t laugh and hang up — and the first Virgin airline was born.

So keep in mind that generating ideas is a great strength, but make sure that you’re spending your time and energy searching for solutions, not problems. That’s the best way to approach workable business ideas. Become a passionate problem-solver, and you’re half-way to being a successful entrepreneur.

Also keep in mind that once a great idea has been sparked, getting it off the ground can feel like a daunting task for anyone — especially if you have nobody there to support you, as you point out. I would advise you to take advantage of the connectivity offered by the Internet. Plenty of resources, networks and fellow entrepreneurs are just a click away.

Additionally, getting a mentor who can point you in the right direction and share his experiences is one of the best things you could ever do. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just ask. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

By Richard Branson

Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.

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The iron lady of the last survivors of Japanese occupation in WWII Part 4


>
The Last Survivors: Yap Chwee Lan
How Japan Forced Women Into Sexual Slavery

AT the age of 15, girls were pretending to be boys during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, but Yap Chwee Lan was bravely rescuing the people of Kampung Baru, Johor, all because she could speak Japanese.

“Every night, about seven or eight young girls from the neighbourhood would come to my house to sleep because they felt safer there. They knew I could speak Japanese,” recalled Yap, now 90.

“The Japanese soldiers would come knocking on our door to ask for young girls and I’d respond in Japanese, ‘ Why do you need women? You need housekeepers?’. They were shocked I could speak Japanese.”

Yap learnt the language from her former Japanese employer, who was a hairdresser in Johor. The then 13- yearold picked up the language quickly, and was even treated well by his family.

Yap’s fluency in their language granted her favour in the eyes of the Japanese, and this ordinary girl found herself holding extraordinary power – the ability to save people.

She managed to save those who lived in her town, Kampung Baru, Johor, by identifying them – in Japanese – to the soldiers who would have killed them on suspicion of aiding the resistance.

And we were there to capture her experiences as the R. AGE crew brought her around Johor to film at locations that hold significant memories during the Occupation. This is for The Last Survivors, an interactive online documentary project that aims to raise awareness to youths about the importance of preserving Malaysian World War II stories.

Listening to her stories when he was growing up, one of Yap’s grandson Sebastian Chew, 18, is glad he didn’t have to experience WWII and the Occupation as he thinks it will haunt him throughout his life.

“I can’t imagine going through everything – from the bombings, hiding, living in fear and when the Japanese made the people dig their own graves in one of the fields and killed them. I don’t know how my grandma did it,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s important for young people to know about these war stories so they can prevent anything of this sort from happening in the future. It’s cruel and heartbreaking.”

In her teenage years, Yap, whose father passed away when she was seven years old, had to work because her family was living in poverty.

She got married when she was 15, and lived with her husband Chiew Seng Leung at his laundry shop, Kedai Dobi Shanghai, in Johor Baru. Twenty days after their wedding, the Japanese started bombing Singapore.

Japanese fighter jets, based in Johor, would fly across to Singapore twice a day to bomb the neighbouring country. As the Japanese was attacking Singapore, lots of people walked over to Johor for safety. Yap and her family evacuated to Tampoi.

“We packed food and clothes, and placed them on my husband’s bicycle. As we were walking to Tampoi, we were stopped by a soldier because he wanted our bicycle. I told him in Japanese that it was ours and he let us through,” said Yap.

“The soldiers would leave you alone if they knew you could speak Japanese because it was like you were one of them. They’ll have more respect for you.”

Once they were in Tampoi, they sought refuge in a temple along with about 50 other refugees, but soldiers came looking for comfort women. Yap not only told them there were none, but also said she was part Japanese, hoping they wouldn’t come back.

But the next day, the Japanese returned. This time, they were with their general.

Yet, Yap wasn’t afraid. “Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. He was impressed that I could speak Japanese and praised me, saying it was good because I could help the Japanese soldiers,” she said. He proceeded to ask Yap if they had enough food and made sure they did by sending them rice, sugar and flour so they could cook.

He also offered her a job in Singapore as a liaison officer between the Japanese and the locals. She took the job after the island was invaded, but later learned that the Singaporeans she had liaised with were all eventually killed.

The distance was too much for Yap to handle as well, as she didn’t know if her family was well and alive. She returned to Johor one week later, and things were unfortunately similar to what was happening in Singapore.

Chiew’s boss had been arrested, along with a bunch of other people.

“There were black flags all along the streets,” Yap recalled. “It meant everybody was to stay home, because the Japanese would arrest anyone on sight.”

Those who were arrested were taken to a house in Jalan Abdul Samad, behind what is now the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, to be held before being taken to Dataran Bandaraya, where they would be executed.

“When I got to the house, the people were kneeling on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs with thick wire as the Japanese soldiers pointed bayonets at them,” said Yap.

“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people.”

“I said, ‘ Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identi- fied them, they were freed.”

The rest, whom she couldn’t identify, weren’t so lucky. Her mother’s friend’s son was one of the unlucky ones.

“I didn’t see him there, I was devastated when I found out. His mother was crying in the street,” said Yap, recalling the horrors of wartime Malaya.

Those remained were brought to the field. They were asked to dig holes in the ground, sit at the edge of the holes and were shot with machine guns. As the bodies fell in, those who were merely injured were kicked into those holes they had dug themselves and buried alive together with the dead.

While a great number of people died during the Occupation, many more owe their lives to Yap.

Her family, though, remained safe, thanks to Yap.

“Before I went to Singapore, the Japanese general gave me a permit for my family,” she said. “He told me, ‘ If anybody disturbs your family, ask them to report to one of my officers’.”

Today, Yap and her family still live in Johor, where some of the survivors’ descendants still recognise her.

“I was walking around town and suddenly someone called out, ‘ Ah Ma!’. They told their kids that I saved their grandfather or grandmother,” Yap said with a laugh.

By VIVIENNE WONG The Star

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Last man standing in Penang under the Kempeitai during WWII Part 3


Working under the Kempeitai in Penang during WWII haunts James Jeremiah to this day.

While filming an episode of Jeremiah brought the crew back to the Wesley Methodist Church in Penang, where he would hear the screams of those torutured there by the Japanese. He had not been back to the church in over 70 years. — HAFrIZ IQBAL/ r. AGE

STARING out to sea on Fort Cornwallis, James Jeremiah cuts a lonely figure.

“Before the fighting started, we were so excited to shoot the Japanese. We had never seen war; we had only seen it in the movies,” said Jeremiah. “But the first time I heard a real bomb, I was scared to death.”

That was at the old Bayan Lepas Airport, where Jeremiah witnessed the beginning of the Japanese invasion of Penang. He was 18 at the time, and a member of the Eurasian “E” company of Penang, a volunteer force similar to the British Home Guard.

“We thought the Japanese would fly in from Batu Maung in the south, but they came in through Tanjung Bungah and Batu Ferringhi. I think they knew we were focused on the south.”

The tactic worked. The volunteers mistook the Japanese planes for British fighters, a mistake that almost cost them their lives.

“They turned out to be Japanese Zero fighters. They starting bombing and machine gunning us. Shrapnel was flying everywhere. I cannot even describe the fear we had in our hearts.”

Although they were trained to some extent, the Volunteer Forces ( VF) were not hardened military men.

After the bombing, it was only a matter of time before Japanese ground troops arrived.

Even then, the volunteer forces regrouped at their headquarters on Peel Avenue, and did their best to maintain order.

With the British gone and the Japanese at their doorstep, people were looting ruined houses and bodies were strewn everywhere from the bombing.

“We carried the dead bodies away, assisted the wounded and stopped all looters.

“It’s no joke when you’re in that situation – we just didn’t know what to do,” said Jeremiah.

Things quickly got worse when the Japanese arrived. The Volunteer Forces were rounded up, and the Europeans and fairskinned Eurasians were sent to Singapore to be held as prisoners of war.

“My father had rather dark skin, which I inherited. I think it saved my life!” said Jeremiah.

The remaining VF members were used by the Japanese as guides. Jeremiah’s work ethic as a guide caught the eye of a member of the Kempeitai, the feared Japanese military police.

“Colonel Watanabe took me to his office and asked what work I could do, so I said anything. He asked me to make tea, coffee, polish his boots – things like that.”

The Kempeitai office was located in the Wesley Methodist Church on Jalan Burma. Although he was a mere office boy, the experience was terrifying.

He still lives on Penang island today, a mere 20 minutes from the church – but he has never gone back to the church in over 70 years, until he brought R. AGE there last month to shoot an episode of The Last Survivors ( rage. com. my/ lastsurvivors).

“I used to see people being arrested. I don’t know how, but they were ‘ interrogated’. I used to hear screams, cries… I couldn’t take it,” he said in the video, which is part of a series documenting the stories of Malaysia’s WWII survivors.

Although the brutality of the Kempeitai has haunted many, including Jeremiah, not all the Japanese were cruel overlords.

Watanabe was educated in the United States, and he saved Jeremiah’s life a few times.

The Japanese would hold “trials” at public spaces – including Padang Kota Lama next to Fort Cornwallis – where their local informants would expose other locals who were working against the Japanese.

“( The informants) wore hoods when they pointed people out. The minute they point at you, you’re finished, gone,” said Jeremiah. “The Japanese would round up the public so the informants could point people out.”

Jeremiah thanks Watanabe for saving him from attending the trials, where he believes he could easily have been singled out for execution. “Watanabe protected me. I was so lucky, he was very good to me.”

Some of the informants flaunted their special privilege with the Japanese, according to Jeremiah.

“They would say ‘ don’t mess with us’, so we kept quiet. I remember a famous Eurasian doctor, Doctor J. E. Smith, who was done in by them and, I think, beheaded.”

Even with Watanabe’s protection, the atrocities being committed at the Kempeitai office was too much for Jeremiah to bear, and he asked to be transfered to the railways. The colonel relunctantly agreed.

Watanabe continued showing kindness to Jeremiah even after he started work as a locomotive driver, putting in a good word to his new boss and General Yamashita himself, the mastermind behind the invasion of Malaya. Yamashita had defeated the combined Australian, British and Indian force of 130,000 soldiers with just 30,000 troops.

“Yamashita was riding the train along with Tadashi Suzuki ( an infamous samurai sword- wielding executioner), but I couldn’t understand what they were saying as it was in Japanese,” said Jeremiah. “They noticed that my new boss’ boots were shining, and Watanabe said I was the one who polished them.”

The general made a lasting impression on young Jeremiah, who said the very sight of him made everyone afraid.

“He was very fierce and very dynamic, though very big and chubby. Everyone was afraid. I didn’t dare look him in the eye.”

While many struggled for food during the Occupation, Jeremiah said he was lucky to be paid in both “banana money” – the Japanese currency – and food.

“I used to get about 30 dollars a week, sometimes more. I saved the bread for my parents and if I wanted an egg, I’d ask Watanabe.”

Had he been caught smuggling eggs, the colonel would have beheaded him.

The horrors of the Occupation were a far cry from his pre- war days.

Jeremiah was rotated around a few places, including Fort Auchry ( now a Malaysian army camp), Fort Cornwallis and Batu Maung.

He remembers watching the Europeans and Eurasians boarding ships at Swettenham Pier heading to Singapore, where they believed they would be safe. Winston Churchill had insisted Singapore would not fall.

He was also posted at Batu Maung, a British fort which the Japanese turned into a torture chamber.

He brought the Last Survivors crew there during filming. The original fort remains, but the land is now a privately owned museumcum- theme park, with plastic “ghosts” hanging everywhere and a paintball field attached.

“Everything has changed,” said Jeremiah with a laugh. “I don’t remember any of this being here!”

Jeremiah spent the rest of the war as a locomotive driver. After the war, he worked at the Batu Ferringhi reservoir, where he would retire as a superintendent.

While he experienced many horrors during the war, something beautiful did come out of it. He met his late wife, a former Miss Thailand, during his time on the railways.

“I travelled all the way to Bangkok after the war to find her,” said Jeremiah with a wide smile.

“All I had was her name, as her letters never had a return address.”

Though he lives on, happily surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Jeremiah said young Malaysians need to find out about their grandparents’ experiences.

“War is something that hurts everyone – it’s not like what you see in the movies. They should find out; they need to be told what happened.”

Today, he has outlived all 18 members of the “E” Company, all five of his siblings, and one of his children.

“All my friends and colleagues are now gone. I am the last survivor.”

By Natasha Venner-Pack, The Star

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