Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Asian Has Won Best Actor Again

Really happy that the "ex-Mr Madonna", Sean Penn, a Lithuanian-Israeli American, has won Oscar Best Actor for a second time. He last won it six years ago.

The other notable Asian American Oscar Best Actors were Paul Muni (1936 - first Asian, Ukrainian), Yul Brynner (1956 - Mongolian), John Voight (1978 - Russian), Sir Ben Kingsley (1982 - Punjabi), F. Murray Abraham (1984 - Arab-Israeli), Paul Newman (1986 - Russian-Israeli), Michael Douglas (1987 - Russian-Israeli), Daniel Day-Lewis (1989, 2007 - Lithuanian-Israeli), Russell Crowe (2000 - Maori).

In the Best Actress category, the notable names were Vivien Leigh (1939 - first Asian, from India), Cherilyn Sarkissian (1987 - Armenian) and Helen Mirren (2006 - Russian).

An Article About Bau From The Malay Mail

I wrote this article back in 2004 when I was in The Malay Mail.

It is about Bau, the Bidayuh capital, near Kuching in Sarawak.

Note: Gunung = Mountain, Sungai = River, Batang = River, Tasik = Lake.

Steeped In History.

THE name of Bau may not ring a bell in ears of West Malaysians.

Nevertheless, the small town - an hour's drive (35km) to the west of Kuching - has played an important role in the genesis of modern Sarawak.

It was here that the Sultan of Brunei's viceroys, the Datuk Patinggis (whose descendants bear the titles of Abang and Dayang), set up court before the coming of Sir James Brooke.

Bau is the urban centre of Bau District, which has more than 45,000 people, of whom 80 per cent are Bidayuhs, eight per cent Sarawak Malays (who trace their roots to the Brunei Sultanate), one per cent Ibans and 11 per cent Chinese (predominantly Hakkas).

Its winding roads and lush, green valleys are surrounded by rolling hills including pyramid-shaped Gunung Serambau and Gunung Singghi, a table-topped hill surrounded by Bidayuh hamlets.

The most popular hill, commonly called Mau San (Bau Hill) by the Chinese, and which resembles a dragon, is a mountain range that also has the Wind Cave and Fairy Cave, popular getaways for Kuchingites on weekends.

The shape of this hill has given Bau its Hakka dialect nickname Shak Lung Mung which means `the gate of the rock dragon'.

Bau is known as the `Gold Town of Sarawak' due to its rich gold ore deposits and gold-mining activities in the past centuries.

However, most gold mining operations ceased before the turn of this century as the remaining gold deposits deep underground are difficult and expensive to extract.

Bau was originally called Ulu Sarawak, meaning Upper Sarawak. Hilir Sarawak (Lower Sarawak) referred to Kuching.

In ancient times, Sarawak referred to the modern-day Kuching and Samarahan divisions.

The rest of modern-day Sarawak was part of Brunei proper. In the days of the Malacca Sultanate, Brunei was overlord of the whole of Borneo and the Philippines.

In the 1820s, Hakka Chinese settled in Bau to mine gold and antimony.

They entered Sarawak via Sambas, another vassal of the Brunei sultanate which is today part of Western Kalimantan province in Indonesia.

As early as the 1700s, the Hakkas had settled in Western Kalimantan to mine gold.

They organised themselves into several kongsis (cooperative villages), including the famous Republic of Lan Fang near Pontianak, the modern capital of Western Kalimantan.

Lan Fang was the world's only Hakka state, and did not survive Dutch colonial rule in what is now Indonesia. Just as the Sambas and Pontianak rulers, vassals of the Brunei Sultan, allowed the Chinese miners to establish kongsis in their territories, the Datuk Patinggis allowed the Chinese miners to do the same in Sarawak.

In the 1830s, the Sultan of Brunei appointed another Bruneian prince, Pengiran Indera Mahkota, to govern Sarawak and act as the Datuk Patinggi's superior.

The Datuk Patinggi resented his loss of power, and led a revolt against the Pengiran.

The Sultan of Brunei was unable to quell the rebellion of the Datuk Patinggi, which was also supported by the Sultan of Sambas, the Chinese kongsis of Bau (The 12 Kongsis) and the Bidayuhs who lived around Bau and Kuching.

Thus, he sought the assistance of a British businessman with an eye for a private colony, James Brooke.

Brooke visited Sarawak and Brunei in 1839, and was approached by Pengiran Bendahara Hashim, the uncle of the then Brunei Sultan, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II.

The Pengiran Bendahara promised that Brooke would be given Sarawak as his personal fiefdom if he quelled the revolt of the Datuk Patinggi.

The Datuk Patinggi was persuaded by Brooke to end his revolt, and was also promised the position of de facto Chief Minister to Brooke, once the Englishman was appointed Rajah of Sarawak.

Thus, Brooke pacified Sarawak, and was rewarded with the fiefdom by Sultan Omar. He became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in 1842.

Brooke and his successors, his nephew Rajah Charles Brooke and Charles son Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke, expanded Sarawak's territory at the expense of Brunei's, and shaped Sarawak's and Brunei's modern-day boundaries.

Rajah James Brooke's rule was not unchallenged. One of the most serious revolts against British rule occurred in Bau in 1857.

It was led by Kapitan Liu Shanbang, head of the 12 Kongsis of Bau.

The revolt occurred due to high taxes imposed on the kongsis by Brooke's government.

The Chinese miners were also unhappy with Brooke's monopolisation of the opium trade, which benefited the kongsis.

Brooke also tried to monopolise the production of gold and antimony in his fiefdom.

The rebellion began on February 18, 1857, and lasted about a week.

More than 600 Chinese rebels attacked Kuching and the Astana, Brooke's palace, on February 19.

Brooke escaped by swimming across the Sarawak River.

The Chinese rebels burnt down the Astana and killed five British assistants of Brooke.

Kapitan Liu's rule over Sarawak however did not last long.

He did not have the support of the native Bidayuhs, Ibans and Malays, who were mostly behind Brooke.

Brooke's nephew Charles enlisted help from the Ibans, and forced the Chinese rebels to retreat back to Bau on February 22.

Brooke's forces later attacked and killed more than 200 rebels including Liu himself.

The remaining rebels fled to Sambas, which was by now under Dutch rule.

In the 1860s, more Chinese Hakka migrants came to Bau, at the behest of the Brookes. While most of them came to mine gold, others set up shops and also became farmers.

While gold is hardly mined in Bau today, the town has made full use of its gold-mining past to attract visitors from Malaysia and abroad.

Tasik Biru, a former open-cast gold mine, is today a serene lake surrounded by lush, green hills. It is being developed as a resort.

The town's monument fountain, close to the wet market and food court, is dedicated to the industrious Hakka miners, and contains statues of three men hard at mining work.

It is topped with nine pitcher plant sculptures. The plants are abundant in the district and have become the district's emblem.

The number nine denotes Sarawak's nine original administrative divisions, which have since 2002 been increased to 11.

Bau's Bidayuh heritage is not sidelined, as the Bidayuh tribe, which is the fourth largest indigenous tribe in Sarawak after the Ibans, Melanaus and Malays, are the original inhabitants of Bau.

Bau's Civic Centre is a masterpiece of Bidayuh architecture, and has a meeting hall shaped like a Bidayuh Baruk, the tribes traditional meeting hall.

The building also incorporates the traditional designs of the Sarawak Malays and the Chinese.

The building won the Best Institutional Building Award in 1991, awarded by the Malaysian Institute of Architects.

Kapitan Liu, who is regarded as a freedom fighter who resisted British colonial rule, has a shrine dedicated to him in the suburb of Siniawan.

Siniawan, a predominantly Chinese town at the foothills of Gunung Serambau, also happens to be the Kampung of the Datuk Patinggis during their days as the viceroys of the Sultan of Brunei.

During British rule, Sir James Brooke used to take a break from his official duties here.

He had a wooden bungalow atop a nearby hill called Gunung Peninjau.

Siniawan's town centre comprises two rows of shophouses, 50 in all.

About 300 people live in the town.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Is Best Oscar Picture 2008/2009

Thanks, Yahoo.

Slumdog Millionaire is the Academy Awards champion, wrapping up its ghetto-to-glory story by winning best picture and seven other Oscars, including the directing honour for Danny Boyle.

A story of hope amid squalor in Bombay (or Mumbai), India, Slumdog Millionaire also had wins in adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing and both music Oscars, score and song.

Director Boyle offered warm gratitude to the people of Mumbai, saying they "dwarf even this guy".

The other top winners: Kate Winslet, best actress for the Holocaust-themed drama The Reader; Sean Penn, best actor for the title role of Milk; Heath Ledger, supporting actor for The Dark Knight; and Penelope Cruz, supporting actress for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Penn said in his acceptance speech: "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns."

A five-time loser at the Oscars previously, Winslet triumphed for her role as a former concentration camp guard in an affair with a teenager.

For his demented reinvention of Batman villain the Joker, Ledger became the second actor ever to win posthumously, his triumph coming 13 months after his death from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs on Oscar nominations day last year.

His Oscar was accepted by his parents and sister on behalf of his 3-year-old daughter Matilda.

"I have to say this is ever so humbling, just being amongst such wonderful people in such a wonderful industry," said his father Kim Ledger.

"We'd like to thank the academy for recognising our son's amazing work, Warner Bros., and Christopher Nolan in particular for allowing Heath the creative license to develop and explore this crazy Joker character."

Since his death, the 28-year-old Ledger has gained a mythic aura akin to James Dean, another rising star who died well before his time.

The previous posthumous Oscar recipient was Peter Finch, who won best actor for 1976's Network two months after his death.

Slumdog composer A. R. Rahman said the movie was about "optimism and the power of hope."

"All my life, I've had a choice of hate and love. I chose love, and I'm here," Rahman said.

Milk writer Dustin Lance Black offered an impassioned tribute to Milk, the pioneering gay-rights politician who was slain 30 years ago.

"If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by the churches, by the government, by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours," Black said.

The producers picked as the awards' host actor and song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman, who has been host of Broadway's Tony Awards.

Coincidentally, Jackman has an adopted Aboriginal Australian son named Oscar.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kampar, My Ancestral Home

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Kampar is a town in the state of Perak, Malaysia.

It lies within the Kinta Valley, an area once rich in tin.

Kampar was, with Ipoh, one of the world’s tin capitals during the British colonial era.

Many of Kampar’s tin mines closed in the 1980s when tin prices took a tumble and never recovered.

Kampar was a famous World War 2 battleground between the British and Japanese armies. The battle was vividly documented by Kampar-born historian Chye Kooi Loong.

Kampar is named for the Kampar Malay people, the indigenous Malay people of Sumatra’s modern-day provinces Land Riau (or Kampar), Medan, Jambi and Palembang.

The Kampar Malay people are descended from the Sultans of Johor and earlier, the kings of the Hulu Selangorian Aboriginal Malay people of Selangor.

They settled in Kampar, Perak during the heydays of the Johor Empire.

Kampar is now the site of the Tunku Abdul Rahman University’s campus.

The university is a private university owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a member party of the ruling National Front (BN) conservative coalition.

Kampar will soon have its very own hypermarket, Tesco of Britain, near the university.

Famous Kamparians include:

- Hip-hop singers, composers, producers, lyricists and film-makers Norman, Yusry and Edry Halim, better known as KRU;

- China-based singer Eric Moo;

- Historian Buyong Adil;

- Ex-Cabinet Minister Datuk Seri Aziz Shamsudin;

- Singaporean water treatment company Hyflux’s founder Olivia Lum;

- Online recruitment business Jobstreet founder Mark Chang;

- Scientist Dr Yeap Wai Kiang, best known for researching artificial intelligence technology;

- Top Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Muhammad Noor Khalid or Lat;

- Jurong Bird Park of Singapore’s executive director Wong Hon Mun;

- C. L. Hor and Ben Hor, the directors of Malaysia’s first Chinese martial arts film Kinta, filmed in 2007;

- Eu Kong Pui, founder of Chinese Malaysian herbal company Eu Yan Sang;
- Film-maker and playwright Low Ngai Yuen;

- Magazine journalist Wahti Mahidin (daughter of World War 2 hero Colonel Yeop Mahidin of Kuala Kangsar);

- Azhari Ahmad, founder of Islamic spiritual group Raihan;

- Danish-Malaysian Indian singing sisters Heidi and Saseline Sorensen or SOAP of "This Is How We Party" fame.

Kampar is famous for its food, especially Cantonese Chinese food.

Famous delicacies of Kampar include fish meatball noodles, savoury chicken biscuits, claypot rice, prawn noodles, rice noodles (chi cheung fun), mouse tail noodles, fried tofu, fried hor fun (fettucini), wantan (ravioli), glutinous rice, giant chicken rolls (min pau kai) and Cantonese pastries and puddings.

The Leong family which owns the company Wing Lok Yuen Chicken Biscuits is Malaysia’s most famous producer of the savoury biscuit.

Gua Tempurung or Coconut Shell Cave, the largest limestone cave in Peninsular Malaysia is located in Kampar and is a major tourist attraction in Perak.

The first President of China Dr Sun Yat Sen once lived in Kampar.

Ipoh Has Best Practices Police Station

The Bercham police station in Ipoh was, some years ago, honoured by the Holland-based Altus Global Alliance policing standards non-governmental organisation as the best practices police station in Asia.

Ipoh Was Malaysia's Tapioca Capital

Ipoh, my hometown, was once Malaysia's tapioca capital.

And the world's.

Ipoh's tapioca plantations were largely located in the suburb of Chemor (which means Mud in Tamil).

After the economic downturn of the 1980s, many of these plantations came to an end.

They made way for industrial and housing estates.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Oldest Flag - Indonesia

Yes, you Indonesians win hands down.

But then, the Indonesian flag is the former Malaysian flag, I mean the Johor Empire flag prior to the current indigo blue Johor flag with a red canton containing a white crescent moon and star.

Indonesia, Timor Leste, Singapore and Malaysia shared this flag.

Brunei and the Philippines were under it, too.