The Case of Two Mei Niangs

There is Sun Mei Niang in Mo Yan’s novel SANDALWOOD DEATH and there is Wu Mei Niang of the Empress of China fame.

Their similarities are that they both play Go.

No that’s not true. There are no evidence that Sun Mei Niang plays Go although we do see Wu Mei Niang playing Go in the TV drama. Oh man, they play so much Go in that drama I thought it is a Go promoting drama with its beautiful Go sets.

But that is not really what this post is about although whatever that precedes this is a sad attempt to promote Go. But really, Go is a wonderful game.

On the surface, it seems that these two women uses their beauty to get what they want in life. But the reality is that women have a much stronger sense of survival, inner strength and endurance in the face of adversity. This perhaps has its roots in maternal instinct to protect their children but whatever its roots, once this strength is unleashed, its power is enormous.

SANDALWOOD DEATH essentially is a sick novel. It is intended to make you sick. The detailed description of punishments is a treatise on the sickness of the human mind to torture and mutilate their own kind. Imagine preserving the life of the prisoner with top grade ginseng so that you can keep him living longer and you can torture him for the maximum amount of time before he finally dies.

This is nicely wrapped within the background of tail end of the Qing Dynasty and set during the Boxer Uprising. It is at once a few things: a critique of the decay of the Qing Dynasty, a critique of the exploitations of the imperialist plundering nations, a critique of the decay of family life. But it is also a portrait of the capability of human to be compassionate in the face of all these adversities.

Each of the four characters in the book represents one aspect of the society at the time. The Executioner is the representation of old China, those thousands of years of history with all its bureaucracies and corruption as well as the embodiment of culture and class of those olden dynastic times. The pride of China’s past refusing to believe that its time has long past. The Magistrate represents the present times where the people wants change but is powerless and also too weak to do anything at all. In fact it is just hot air and resorts to sex and sensual enjoyment. But there is a flame of goodness in him and will shine when the opportunity comes but himself is too weak to be the leader of the pack.

Mei Niang’s father is a fine opera singer turned revolutionary due to circumstances. The bullied citizen forced into being a Boxer rebel and finally met his terrible fate. But the Boxers themselves are superstitious bunch doomed to failure because unlike the Taiping guys, they lack proper organization and military talents, but more importantly, they are finally betrayed by their own government, which is the key difference between the Taipings and the Boxers. The Taiping’s aim is to overthrow the government. The Boxer’s aim is to drive out the imperialists with the backing of the government but is ultimately betrayed by their own kind.

Mei Niang’s husband is an incapable gentle lamb who knows nothing but has a good heart. He doesn’t even know nor believe his wife is cheating on him and is simple minded. These are the population who doesn’t know that they have been raped and thinks that their government is still protecting them, loyal to them even when the government has royally screwed them. You pity them and yet you feel they deserves it because of their laziness to think.

THE EMPRESS OF CHINA drama starring Fan Bing Bing turns out to be really good. I thought it is going to be a piece of lousy historical drama. What impresses me is how the makers of this drama series paints Wu Mei Niang as a person not as evil as what the world was made to believe. Yes the romance part is over done and all but the presentation of Wu Mei Niang as not that evil bitch is quite refreshing, just like how Cao Cao was portrayed in the series THREE KINGDOMS. Works like these are refreshing and very enjoyable.

The Cambridge History of China, a series many thought is authoritative on Chinese History at least in the English language, mentioned that in actual fact Li Shimin is not really that much into Wu Mei Niang. For instance, historical records shows that the repeated Venus sighting really happened and indeed there was a prediction of the fall of the Tang and Li Shmin actually ordered everyone that the astronomer suspected to be executed but the astronomer declined, saying that this is fated and cannot be avoided.

There are many other things where the producers took liberty to change to suit the drama but the general events are more or less correct, at least according to the official histories. This is where the problem lies.

China has a great tradition of historical records but the problem with them is at least twofold: they are written by the side that won the war and thus painting a negative image of the dynasty that was overthrown and they are written by Men, usually of strong Confucian learning. These two added together is detrimental to the image of Wu Mei Niang. For Confucian scholars, the idea of being ruled by a woman is absolutely absurd and runs against the flow of the universe. Exactly why no one knows. Did Confucius really say that or is it just merely the interpretation of followers, just like in many religions nowadays?

But one thing that needs to be pointed out is that during the reign of Wu Mei Niang, Tang China experienced a period of peace, economic prosperity and also the military was mighty and won wars that even Li Shimin himself failed. Not to mention also the blossoming of Buddhism in China. Yes, in the court things may get messy but this is politics! In politics, one cannot be a lame leader but must exert themselves but ultimately, the test of leadership is whether their subject has had a better life after taking over the leadership and not cheat their citizens of their future.

If Wu Mei Niang is a man, she will be painted favorably just like Li Shimin and gang. If Li Shimin is said to be a great emperor after killing his siblings and his siblings entire family and imprisoning his father, then I don’t see why Wu Mei Niang is seen so much more adversely as an evil devil.

Thus, two Mei Niangs. Both different paths. But both dealing with circumstances largely beyond their control but with inner strength and perseverance, carved their own path using whatever that is within their disposal for survival.

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Il Cinema Paradiso

Who can forget CINEMA PARADISO if one has watched that film even once. How can one even forget the soundtrack? No, one never forgets CINEMA PARADISO. Or at least those suckers like me.

For the same matter, who can forget BICYCLE THIEVES and not get shocked and awaken from cinematic slumber by the neorealist style if one has not been exposed to that before? Who doesn’t hate the ending when they watched it for the first time and wonders if the director has used up all his budget and thus cannot complete the story?

But once the taste of neorealist cinema is acquired, one desires for more. For many people, BICYCLE THIEVES is the introduction to this genre and then once hooked, perhaps then ROME, OPEN CITY which was said to be the first neorealist Italian film based on the short German occupation during WWII. And then if one watches UMBERTO D., who wouldn’t sympathize with the man and his dog?

But Italian films are not just about its neorealist although it is very important and influenced a whole lot of directors from Godard to Fruit Chan to Satyajit Ray to Jia Zhangke, and certainly many of our Malaysian “new wave” filmmakers. However, one of the poster child of Italian films is no other than Fellini himself.

Mention Fellini and some people will shudder and roll their eyes. What self-obsessive cinema is that! But that is only part of the story. Yes, Fellini made LA DOLCE VITA, one of the most iconic films in the history of world cinema but he also made LA STRADA. For me, Fellini’s films are superficially happy and flamboyant but I almost always feel sad after watching his films. Empty and sad.

It is the same feeling after watching THE GREAT BEAUTY. Yes, pomp and music and party and sex but at the end, it is one’s loneliness and emptiness that one has to face and fear. And what is the purpose of your short stop on earth? What is the great beauty that you are striving for, after all?

I do find Italian cinema under appreciated here in Malaysia. In fact, world cinema is under appreciated here in Malaysia. Maybe it is a world problem where people just want simple entertainment. Maybe life is too hard and too busy. But this is false. In fact, through films, I find calmness and consolation on the stuffs life throws at me.

When watching a good film, I find peace. I am finally with myself. And those absurd and silly worldly things, those egos of people and their flawed logic which they somehow want to impose on others because of some powers that they have which came with their position, is temporarily put aside, to be dealt with after I have had my alone time with my films. And then I feel happier, having refreshed my mind and heart with a good and well made film. It is indeed cinema paradiso.

I don’t know, maybe I am too conservative or old-fashioned. But things like a movie like BICYCLE THIEVES, a good fountain pen, a good game of Go and for this matter, the Chopin nocturnes that I am listening to right now while writing this at 3,00am in the morning, are things that I treasure and fear will disappear from the face of this earth, being a victim of the celebration of mediocrity that everyone seems to embrace nowadays.


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New Go Center

Hello everyone.

Just wanted to announce that we are opening a new Go teaching center in Bandar Mahkota Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. This is our third center, the other two being at Puchong and Setapak.

We are all very excited at the development of Go in Malaysia and we are seeing a lot of interest in the game, both from children as well as adults.

This new center is now open as of 1 February 2015 and is now open for registration.

I will be personally teaching a class every Sunday (except holidays) from 12.00pm to 1.30 pm. This is an adult intensive class and will be delivered in English. The objective of this class is to lay a solid foundation to a beginner and train the beginner to achieve a solid mid-kyu ranking, so that he/she can then take the next class to progress to higher levels.

The main theme will really be building a solid foundation and using the new method of teaching by Mr. Yang Yujia from Chinese Taipei, i.e. learning Go by observation. I find this method really refreshing and I feel this is the correct way to teach a beginner.

Other classes, especially tailored for children, is also available.

For more information, please visit our website :

Here are some photos from the soft launch on the 1 Feb 2015. 30784153960205-19619747123537717113315144162942779380682738299404227586

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New Year Poem

I started blogging in 2005. Looking back at my blog posts, I used to have a New Year poem posted but it seems the last one I posted was in 2008. That year, I posted a poem by Pablo Neruda whom I love and his TONIGHT I CAN WRITE THE SADDEST LINES stroked me right at the heart. But in 2008, I posted his poem LOVE SONG.

In 2007, I posted an excerpt from Wislawa Szymborska’s OUR ANCESTORS’ SHORT LIVES and the line “Life, however long, will always be short…” hits my G Spot. In 2006, again, it was a poem by Szymborska titled LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

This year, maybe I will post one by one of my all time favorite authors, Rabindranath Tagore. This poem is from Gitanjali entitled GIVE ME STRENGTH. This poem is very inspiring.



This is my prayer to thee, my lord—strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.

Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.

Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.

Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.

And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.


In this new year of 2015 and in the light of the events of 2014 both personal and national, these lines give comfort and in daily struggles, always strive for strength to raise one’s mind high above daily trifles and always stay focused on the bigger picture.


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Malaysia Economic Board Game Summit

The title to this post is only a proposal. But it is not impossible to pull off.

There are many types of board games in the world, from friendly games of animal husbandry to war games to very complex train games that takes 16 to 24 hours to complete. Besides Go which is the ultimate board game for me, I generally prefer board games based on the economic theme, basically involving investing in businesses, developing and building the business and reaping dividends whether in cash or victory points.

Another characteristic that I prefer is that the games has a luck element that the players can manage because in real life, luck really plays a big role but then again it is up to you how you manage the luck factor. Fans of Jim Collin’s GREAT BY CHOICE will probably be nodding their heads now. Luck can be in many ways, either by the dealing of cards, a roll of dice, drawing of player turn order or just simply by unintentional blocking moves of opponents. But ultimately, it is how you manage luck that keeps your head above water.


Of all the economic board games, my number one type are those in the 18xx series of train games, and of these I really like 1817 and the classic 1830 although 1830 can be really brutal. There are many 18xx games that are really well designed, such as 1846, 1844, 1856, 18Mex and 18TN. These are really magnificent games but they require a lot of investment both in time and also effort to learn. These games are similar to Go or Chess where the game rewards learning and improving. These are my ultimate economic board games.


After 18xx type games, my other top 5 economic themed board games are as follows:

1. Brass – I really, really, really like this game. A good balance of luck and strategy and very engaging throughout. Requires A LOT of planning ahead as well as short term tactical maneuvers. Brilliant game design.

2. Puerto Rico – This one has very little luck factor but the competition between players is huge. It requires you to look at market supply and demand as well as looking ahead of what your opponents are doing and then tweaking your strategy based on that.

3. Power Grid – In this game, you are a power tycoon where you bid for power plants, secure  resources to fire your power plant, build a grid and supply power and then make money from doing so. There is an auction mechanism for power plants and thus you need to know how much to auction, if at all and also there is a variable market for resources to fire your plant and the prices will go up or down, thus affecting your operating costs.

4. Wealth of Nations – You represent one country and builds and develop an economy where you produce resources to be supplied to the world. The market price is determined by supply and demand and the area to develop is very limited, i.e. the land where you can develop is scarce and therefore players strive to acquire these land and block other players.

5. Vinhos – This is a new addition which I really like. The mechanism is clean and there are a lot of things going on in this game, from observing which vineyard your opponents build, wineries and hiring of enologist that are in limited supply, to what wine to export or sell and which manager you hire etc. Is really a very engaging game to play.

There are a few others that I am looking forward to playing, particularly Arkwright and KanBan. I have quite high expectations of them.

Coming back to the idea of a Malaysia Economic Games Summit, it is a possibility where Malaysia hosts a 2 or 3 day event where players play nominated economic games and then through several rounds, a winner is announced. In fact, to make it funky, the first game that every participant must play is Monopoly. I wonder if such a summit will be fun or not.

Perhaps also in conjunction of the summit, we invite speakers to talk about economic games development, real world economics and etc etc. And then there will be economic design game pitching for funding and also booths to market economic games, effectively making this summit a platform to announce new games or projects.

Until then, this is still a dream.

p/s: more information on the games mentioned can be found at the Board Game Geek website, one of the best sites I know, whether concerning games or not.

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Some comments on Foreign Language Films – Oscar/Golden Globe

So the Oscar people have short-listed 9 films up for nomination for Best Foreign Language Films, a category which I follow closely since this is my area of interest. Not that the Oscar people’s opinion is the gold standard, many times and often it is not, but they do have a sway on the general public and the films are generally worth watching.

As in the tradition of the year’s beginning, the Golden Globe Awards people also named their nominated films for Best Foreign Language.

Here they are:

Oscar short list:

1. IDA (Poland)

2. LEVIATHAN (Russia)

3. CORN ISLAND (Georgia)

4. WILD TALES (Argentina)

5. TANGERINES (Estonia)

6. TIMBUKTU (Mauritania)

7. ACCUSED (Netherlands)


9. LIBERATOR (Venezuela)

Golden Globe Awards:

1. IDA (Poland)



4. TANGERINES (Estonia)

5. LEVIATHAN (Russia)

These two lists always overlap one another and for the past few years, the winner of the Golden Globes also wins the Oscar and since the Golden Globes comes first, it is a good indicator for the Oscar.

The strongest representation is IDA from Poland where pundits all over predicted the win. The other one with was also strongly predicted is LEVIATHAN from Russia. Here are my two cents on the films. MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.

IDA – no doubt a masterpiece standing on the shoulder of giants. The tonality of the films gives hints of past masters, Bergman comes to mind naturally. The cinematography is superb, framing subjects in ways that many will find unconventional. This Black and White film is a beautiful film to watch, literally. A personal story on the backdrop of a big event, this film is surely a winner and it won’t be a surprise that it will finally win.

LEVIATHAN – another beautifully shot movie amidst the barren landscape of a remote town in Russia. A not so subtle jab at the authoritarian state where corruption is rife and abuse of power is the norm, it is a wonder that Russia submitted this film. The story will be familiar to those who lives under oppressive regimes or has been oppressed before. But there is a story within a story where everybody wants to get a piece of you. The film’s ending may not be the cup of tea for Oscar voters but given the flow of current events, they might want to make a statement.

CORN ISLAND – I have not watched this film

WILD TALES – as its name depicts, truly wild tales. This dark comedy is an omnibus of 6 stories on the desire for human for revenge. From the first story on, it is a roller coaster ride which is both entertaining and engaging, yet also showing us the darker side of human nature and how a very small or insignificant event gives rise to events with disastrous consequences. But it also ends with how humans have the capacity to love and reconcile amidst all these craziness.

TANGERINES – An anti-war movie that may be cliché to some but is nevertheless very well executed. The lead character did a marvellous job of holding the plot together and the tension in the film is always present. The victim of all these wars are always inevitably the innocent, depicted by the guy who lost his farm and then his life through no action on his part besides just happening to be there. The reconciliation of the enemies is a little simplistic but also projects a good message. A really good film this is.

TIMBUKTU – When your country is being ruled by a bunch of extremists, your life is basically screwed. This is what happened in this movie which was based on the occupation of Timbuktu by an extremist group. The rule of law is iron fist and scenes such as the stoning scene, although not as terribly depicted as in THE STONING OF SORAYA M., still sends shivers up one’s spine.

ACCUSED – To be honest, when I saw this film being submitted, it did not even cross my mind that this film can make the short list. There are others which I felt more deserving, for instance the talkative WINTER SLEEP which I happen to like. But this Dutch movie based on a true story is engaging in its own way. It is not a bad film but I didn’t feel it belonged here but obviously others do not seem to agree with me.

FORCE MAJEURE – This is another dark comedy with a very interesting idea of challenging the manhood of husbands and will inevitably send many wives to giggle in a self reassuring way. It also depicts the fundamental difference between man and woman. The denial scene is precious and so very funny. Ultimately, this film is an investigation into this idea of manhood, the pride of manliness, whether at first it is a valid notion and if yes, how this come into the way of a relationship especially when a life-threatening event happens, and then how to regain it when lost. Production quality is top notch although the way the movie ends may not be to many people’s liking.

LIBERATOR – An ambitious film that tells the story of Simon Bolivar and his quest to liberate and unite South America, which did not finally happen. I was quite a bit perplexed on how this film got into the short list as for me personally, there is really nothing really exceptional about this film. The story is run-of-the-mill nationalistic types (turn your head to China) and although the production value is good, it does not jump out nor is it innovative in any ways. But again, it seems many others disagree with me.

GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE ANSALEM – I have not watched this film

Finally, my own prediction for the final nomination for the Oscar will be IDA, LEVIATHAN, FORCE MAJEURE, WILD TALES and TANGERINES. The nomination will be announced on January 15, 2015.

So which one will win? Most likely IDA or LEVIATHAN but I secretly hope that WILD TALES will get it.

Some other comments:

One thing that is really glaring is the absence of any East Asian films in this list. NIGHTINGALE from China is a nice movie but it is a rather common story although well told and filmed. I felt it lacked edge. Perhaps Zhang Yimou’s GOING HOME is a better choice but against the films above, it is not going to be easy.

Hong Kong’s THE GOLDEN ERA also did not get in although I was really hopeful about it. When was the last time a Hong Kong movie gets an Oscar nomination? THE GRANDMASTER made the short list last year but it is already a wonder it actually got to that stage. FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE and RAISE THE RED LANTERN were nominated before but this was in the early 90’s.

Iran’s TODAY is a good tale about a crazy day in a taxi driver’s life. The lead actor is superb and the story is well told where the sense of mystery is always present. But again, against the above, it is understandable that it did not get selected. Before the submission announcement, I thought TALES would have been submitted by Iran instead of TODAY. I really like TALES and I personally thought it is a better film.

I really like GHADI from Lebanon though. I find the film very well shot and the story is very interesting. It is sad that this film is not in the radar of many people. I thought this film deserves to be seen by more people.

Ok, that’s it for this post. Let’s see what happens in January.

Have fun watching movies. Movies are great!!


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Unforgettable Seafood

Seafood is nice but really fresh seafood is something heavenly. There are food that one always crave for or think of. Sometimes, merely thinking of them will make the stomach growl and the saliva glands active. Man is not unlike other animals, and eating is a pleasure to behold. The “Live to eat or eat to live” argument for me us pure bullshit. You eat to live and also live to eat. It is not either/or.

Mankind always fall into this foolish idea of having to choose either one and cannot live with two or more choices. This is also the reason why the world is in the mess it is now because mankind cannot seem to be able to live together in plurality and must choose only one single way, and if there are opposing ways, the tolerance level is zero.

Imposing one’s worldview or way of life on others is the biggest crime in the history of mankind. For instance, because one eats only minimally, one condemns others for spending more money to eat something that do not conform to their view. Or if one is very thrifty condemning others who spends on food. And we are not even talking about religion or politics. Don’t even start. This “holier than thou” kind of mindset is really primitive.

Anyways, the purpose of this post is not to talk about these depressing stuffs but to celebrate some really good seafood that is unforgettable for me.

The first that comes to my mind is the Tsukiji market in Tokyo. Wonderful and superbly fresh! Of course there are others like Jiro’s but the combination of the freshness and deliciousness vs price cannot be matched. It is too sad that they intend to move the market next year for the Olympics. So before they do that, fly there now.


The standard set costs about 3,500 yen and you get about 8 types of sushi. And then you can add a-la-carte. I have never tasted sushi this good and this fresh, at this price.

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The wonderful chef who keeps on asking “oishi? oishi?” in the cramped shop and then the huge line waiting outside. If you want to go here, you really need to be there really early. I reached there at 4 something in the morning and ended up only waiting about one hour. If you reach later, say at 8am, the queue can get to about 3 hours. So wake up early or don’t sleep at all.

The second one that pops into my mind is the King Crabs at Kirkenes, Norway. These are crabs at the top of the world, the arctic and they are not only huge but extremely delicious. The meat is of course fresh, and all you need is to boil it in water and then eat it with white wine and enjoying the aurora borealis dancing overhead. It is hard to imagine anything more amazing.

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We just eat the legs and they are huge with lots of meat. The freshness and natural sweetness is unbelievable.

Closer to home, of course there are some great seafood places, such as the prawns at Tg. Tualang or the various seafood places. But when I think of seafood, Tsukiji market and Kirkenes pops up invariably.

This post is actually a call to action. The call is that if you have not experienced the Tsukiji market, do so before it’s too late. The new place will never have the charms of the current place, at least not in the near future. It may be new and beautiful and organized and all but as in most things in life, real charms are not acquired through newness, nor logical organizations of things.

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