Sunday, September 25, 2011

Football Diplomacy

Now THIS is how neighbouring countries should settle their differences .... in a Football Match !

Last Saturday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, a friendly match was played between government officials from Cambodia and officials from Thailand. The teams were made up of Thai and Cambodian politicians. The Cambodia team was led by premier Hun Sen while the Thai team was led by former Thai premier Somchai Wongsawat. A 50,000 strong crowd assembled to watch and support the match, which was held to showcase the improving ties between the neighbours.

In his pre-match speech, the Cambodian premier Hun Sen said that "the nightmare era" between the nations, who engaged in deadly border clashes earlier this year, was over. "Today is a historic event in Cambodia-Thailand relations," he proclaimed.

PM Hun Sen led his side to a 10-7 victory in the match. Look at the man kick ...

Hun Sen, wearing a red number "9" shirt, smiled broadly as he scored his fourth goal in the final minutes to loud cheers.

The cordial game came just a week after new Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra made her first official trip to Phnom Penh, quickly followed by a visit from her brother Thaksin, a close friend of Hun Sen. Ties between the two nations have warmed significantly since Yingluck's July election win, backed by her sibling.

Under previous Thai leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the border row, which centres around the ancient Preah Vihear temple complex, twice escalated into heavy fighting this year, prompting Phnom Penh to take the dispute to the United Nation's highest court. In July, the Hague-based International Court of Justice asked both nations to withdraw military personnel from around the temple, which both sides have heeded.

All this reminds me of another sport being used in high-profile diplomacy. Back in the 1970s, the exchange of ping-pong (table tennis) players between the USA and People's Republic of China led to the thawing of diplomatic relations. This so-called Ping Pong Diplomacy paved the way for President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972 and the much-publicised meeting with Chairman Mao Tse Tung.

Yes, indeed sports should be used more to cement ties between neighbouring nations. I say "Play on"  ....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Asian Superstitions

Growing up in a Chinese family in Malaysia, I can't help being exposed to many Chinese superstitions that some of the (usually) elder folk in the family may believe in and caution us against. I still remember a few of these superstitions and beliefs drummed into me by aunts and uncles ... and I'd invite you to share what you recall from your childhood years.

Anyway here's a dozen that I recall .... some may not be entirely accurate or even correct ... after all it HAS been a long time since I heard them and the old grey cells are getting a little bit rusty. Hehehe ...

1.  You should not point at the moon ... if you do, you risk your ear getting sliced. Yikes!

2.  You should not pee in a banana grove ... if you do, you may see ghosts and spirits.

3.  No cutting of finger or tow nails at night ... I'm not entirely sure of the repercussions. I think the clippings will either attract spirits or be stolen by spirits

4.  When lying on your stomach (e.g. while reading), you should not raise your legs ... Doing this risks  your parents' deaths. Woah ... serious this one!

5.  Pregnant women should not sit on the edge of a bed and sew ... This risks the backside of the to-be-born baby being sealed. Ouch ... not a good thing!

6.  Pregnant women cannot make use of a hammer and nail ... this risks miscarriage.

7.  A cracked mirror brings 7 years of bad luck.

8.  If you look through a "poon kee", you can see spirits.

9.  When sweeping the floor, the broom must not touch anybody as it will bring bad luck to that person (or is it to the sweeper? I forget ...)

10.  When moving to a new residence, it is advisable to cook a pot of rice and bring this with you to the new house. This ensures you will always have food to eat at the new place. Certainly not a bad thing.

11.  During meals, one should not stack up the empty plates ... Doing this, you will have no end of debts. (Aiya ... like that, how in Japanese sushi restaurants?)

12.  When eating rice, don't leave any uneaten grains on the plate ... if so, will have pock marks on face ("mopeng" is the word, I believe).

Well, these are twelve superstitions I remember being told about. Share what YOU remember. I'm sure there'll be lots more. Over to you ...

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Dark Side of the Mooncake

Today is the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongjiu Jie), also sometimes called the Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival. This is a popular harvest festival dating back over 3,000 years to the Chinese Shang Dynasty period. The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, which is sometime in September or October on the Gregorian calendar. It also corresponds with the Autumn Equinox when the moon is supposed to be at its fullest and roundest.

During this Mid-Autumn Festival period, many Chinese and Vietnamese are likely to consume a lot of delicious mooncakes.

These days, the mooncakes come in all sorts of interesting flavours ...

and shapes ...

There is also a story you might have heard about the role of mooncakes in a Chinese uprising against Mongol rulers (during the Yuan Dynasty) in the 14th century. In this tale (which I'm not sure is fully supported by historical facts), the mooncakes were used as an early form of e-mail ... the "e" being "edible" rather than "electronic" .LOL.  Anyway as group gatherings were banned, it was very difficult for the Chinese to make plans for a rebellion. So one bright chap called Liu Bowen (from Zhejiang), who was a confidant of the rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang, suggested timing the rebellion with the Mid-Autumn Festival. He applied for and got permission to distribute thousands of mooncakes to Chinese residents in the city to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Apparently the Mongols did not eat mooncakes, so inside each cake distributed was concealed a piece of paper with the message "Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month". And on the night itself, the rebellion was successful and the Mongols were overthrown. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was thus born.

Like everyone else, I like my mooncakes too. My favourites are tau sar, ling yun, single or double yolk and the ones with mixed nuts. Yummmmmmmy ...

However doctors and healthcare professionals have always been cautioning against over-indulging in mooncakes. They say that a small mooncake may contain as any calories as a bowl of rice! As mooncakes are generally made from flour, sugar and butter, one egg-yolk filled mooncake weighing about 60 g can contain up to 270 calories. That would take an averaged sized person about an hour to walk off, says a nutritionist friend of mine.

A health report from Taiwan that I read also noted that aside from moon cakes, many people also celebrate the festival by eating barbequed and processed meat, which are high in calories and sodium. Eating too much of such foods not only led to weight gain, but consuming more sodium than is recommended on a daily basis could also strain the kidneys and the cardiovascular system, the report said. Some health bureaus in China advised people to consume only moderate amounts of moon cakes and where relevant to substitute meat for vegetables such as mushrooms and green onions when having a barbeque. Pomelo, another traditional Mid-Autumn Festival food, is also recommended because of its high vitamin C content. The fruit is also known to lower cholesterol and decrease risk of heart disease.

Well, having shared all that, I must say it's only once a year and so long as we don't go overboard with stuffing our faces with mooncake, it should be fine ... tau sar, ling yun, double yolk ... here I come !!!!