An update

It seems I have a couple of friends who refused to join Facebook and I found out that they are not alone and there are many others. Most updates on what is happening in my life and my thoughts etc. are on Facebook but understanding that Facebook is not for everyone, I will write something on this beloved blog of mine.

Job:

I am still working at the media company, working on this channel that plays award-winning and critically acclaimed films. That is one part of the job which I enjoyed the most and of course there are other projects that are happening as well. Managing this channel is one of the most interesting thing that I have done since I love films and the opportunity to program for this channel is really a dream come true.

Besides acquiring films via film markets, we have also started this program called the South East Asia Director Focus. It is a show where directors are interviewed on their career and work and this interview will accompany their films that will be showed on the channel. It is in the third season now. Here are some pictures:

This is by far the most interesting project that I have done. Do you recognize these faces?

Go:

The Go Academy that we started earlier is still going strong and the students are increasing. It was not easy to run this and try not to lose too much money but every time I see a student improving, I feel very happy inside. Also, I am still teaching Go at the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College and this semester we have 240 students and in total we have taught more than 1,000 students. And of course, I am still publishing my Go books with a revision coming up next year.

 

 

Puppies!!

My puppies have grown very big now and they are so adorable :)

 

Boardgames:

At one point in time, we were obsessed with the 18xx series of stock market train game. Recently, we are crazy over Dominion, a card game, or more correctly a deck building game. It is quite amazing. You start with just 10 cards and you build your deck and try to gain as many points as possible. The cards combination is endless and very repayable, each time a different game. And it plays really fast. We gather quite often to play boardgames and not just Dominion but others such as the classic Puerto Rico even Scrabble!

 

There are many others such as travels and there are many over the past few months, most notably the trip to Japan. The rest are mostly work related travels such as to the Fajr Film Festival in Tehran, Busan International Films Festival, Hong Kong Filmart and the Bucheon Fantastic Film Festival. Here are some photos from the very memorable Japan trip mainly to Kyoto, Osaka and Okayama.

 

Basically it is quite ok these few months and hopefully it will be better as time passes. I am aging and there is not much time left. It is best spent doing things you enjoy and be with people you love. Sometimes it is not easy but if there are efforts put in, the reward will come.

Until next time, see ya!

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Foreign Language Films

So the Oscars nomination list is out. The Oscars used to be a pretty big deal but its pull is getting lesser and lesser nowadays, but I doubt it will become a Miss Universe pageant thing.

Astro’s A-List channel actually has some pretty good titles coming up this first half year. Just have a look at a partial list of titles programmed for the coming few months:

  1. SON OF SAUL (Hungary)
  2. MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (China)
  3. MUSTANG (France/Turkish)
  4. RAMS (Iceland)
  5. LABYRINTH OF LIES (Germany)
  6. THE HIGH SUN (Croatia)
  7. MASAAN (India)
  8. YOUTH (Italy)
  9. THE SECOND MOTHER (Brazil)
  10. LAMB (Ethiopia)
  11. JIA ZHANGKE, A GUY FROM FENYANG (Brazil/Mandarin)
  12. THE PRESIDENT (Georgia/France/UK/Germany)
  13. THE CLUB (Chile)
  14. BABAI (Kosovo)
  15. GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Austria)

And for South East Asian films:

  1. CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Thailand)
  2. THE MISSING PICTURE (Cambodia)
  3. TAKLUB (The Philippines)
  4. NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (The Philippines)
  5. DREAM LAND (Cambodia)
  6. FAERYVILLE (Singapore)
  7. A COPY OF MY MIND (Indonesia)
  8. WHAT WE DON’T TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE (Indonesia)
  9. VAKANSI YANG JANGGAL DAN PENYAKIT LAINNYA (Indonesia)
  10. SNAP (Thailand)

Film enthusiasts will  be able to enjoy these in the coming months.

And this is just a partial list of the titles and more great titles are getting added every month. And for only RM15.90 per month for 8 new films every month, it is a bloody good deal.

cemetary

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10 Films You May Have Missed on A-List

It’s the new year. 2016 is now here and I have been blogging for the past 11 years. Happy new year.

FOUR IN THE MORNING

The hour from night to day.
The hour from side to side.
The hour for those past thirty.

The hour swept clean to the crowing of cocks.
The hour when earth betrays us.
The hour when wind blows from extinguished stars.
The hour of and-what-if-nothing-remains-after-us.

The hollow hour.
Blank, empty.
The very pit of all other hours.

No one feels good at four in the morning.
If ants feel good at four in the morning
–three cheers for the ants. And let five o’clock come
if we’re to go on living.

– Wislawa Szymborska

I read somewhere that the body is weakest in between 3.00 a.m. and 4.00 a.m. and it is between this time that death while sleeping happens. But yes, if you can make it past 4.00 a.m. everynight, one still won’t feel very good but 5.00 a.m. is a good time to wake up.

Anyways, here is a list of the ten films that you may have missed which were shown on Astro’s A-List channel (Channel 456). This is not my top 10 films for 2015, just the 10 films that I thought you could have watched on that channel. My top ten is yet to come and some cannot be included here because of hold-backs etc. which prevented it from showing on other windows.

  1. TANGERINES (Zaza Urushadze)
  2. TOKYO FAMILY (Yoji Yamada)
  3. SOMBOON (Krissada Tipchaimeta)
  4. WINTER SLEEP (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  5. HAN GONG-JU (Lee Su-jin)
  6. LEVIATHAN (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
  7. WILD TALES (Damian Szifron)
  8. NUOC (Minh Nguyen-Vo)
  9. AN (Naomi Kawase)
  10. TALES (Rakhshan Bani-Eternad)

Each one of this films is worth every minute of your time. All of them has a very strong story which is very well told in their own ways.

Watching them, one feels like having read a really good book and often, one feels transported into that world. It also leave a dent intellectually, challenging you to explore both your heart and your mind. Most important of all, these films asks what it means to live in the world now.

TANGERINES talks about war and its devastating effect on the livelihood of people but more than that, it also tells how two enemies can finally see eye to eye and found respect for each other under the roof of a small house with the watchful eye of a tangerine farmer.

TOKYO FAMILY is Yoji Yamada’s remake of Ozu’s TOKYO STORY, with family and filial piety at its core. There is a lot of resemblance especially in terms of composition but to compare the two directly is missing the point. You got to watch it yourself to know.

SOMBOON is a docu-feature which is a real story of how a man cared for his dying wife, day-in, day-out. You will see first hand the trial and tribulations, the emotional flare-ups and frustrations but at its core, you will see what it really means when you say ” I do”.

WINTER SLEEP is a long family drama, sort of. But is is really about searching for who you really are versus who you appear to be. The lead character is a confident, wealthy owner of a holiday resort but through a series of intense conversation with his young wife and family, we get to see who he really is, and also see him discover it himself.

HAN GONG-JU tells the story of a girl who is gang-raped, led by the son of a powerful official. Every moment after the event is a horrible reminder of that act. How does one even recover from such thing? Very well directed by a first time helmer and the acting is superb.

LEVIATHAN is set in a small town in Russia and how powerful people and corrupt officials can wreck people’s life. Greed and lust in broad daylight no thanks to a corrupt regime. And this applies to everywhere. Don’t we see it everyday where we live how corrupt officials destroys life?

WILD TALES is actually six short films with revenge tying them together. And it is electrifying! What an amazing film from start to finish. It is engaging and entertaining. This dark comedy examines the desire for human to take revenge and the law into their own hands but the final short gives a glimpse on what is really happening in the human heart.

NUOC is set in the future where climate change has devastated many places and turned land into sea and sea into land, thus destroying livelihood and all. But this film is more than just another cautionary tale of climate change. It is really about how climate changes the landscape but how the landscape of the heart cannot be changed, both love for each other and for the motherland.

AN is one of my favourites for the year. Heart-warming, well directed and acted. A superb film not really about dorayaki and its red bean paste but really about our misconception and prejudices and how people overcome these misconceptions and prejudices and go beyond the surface to really know a person and who he or she really is and what they live and fight for.

TALES is perhaps the best Persian film I watched this year. Like WILD TALES, it is made up of several short stories but the way it is connected is different. Each of the short stories is actually a continuation of the director’s previous feature length film, i.e. the characters and stories flows from these previous films but by itself they still makes sense. The common theme is the examination of relationships between people and this is very effectively done. This film got me glued to the screen for a long time.

Watch these films if you can.

I will probably write about the top 10 films I watched this year on all media, but I will focus on theatrical releases and right now I can tell you the number one film and it is IP MAN 3.

 

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South East Asian Cinema – Some Recent Films

Tilman Baumgartel wrote a book called SOUTHEAST ASIAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA published by the Hong Kong University Press in 2012. In the same year, Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications published a book called GLIMPSES OF FREEDOM, INDEPENDENT CINEMA IN SOUTHEAST ASIA edited by May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay that features essays by an eclectic group of writers.

Much has happened since then. Whilst many of the directors mentioned in the books are still making films, there is an upcoming group of directors from this region that is making their mark in Southeast Asian cinema and especially so in festivals.

Yes, Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz, Brillante Mendoza, Eric Khoo, Riri Riza, and heck, even Amir Muhammad are still making films, there is a group of new directors particularly in The Philippines and Indonesia that is making their rounds in festivals.

In this post, I would like to talk about a few recent films from this region.

Before I get into the films themselves, this is what I feel about Malaysian “independent” cinema at the moment:

Malaysian “independent” cinema: Many people separate recent Malaysian independent cinema into Yasmin Ahmad period and before and post Yasmin Ahmad after her untimely demise in the year 2009. After her death, to many people, Malaysian cinema felt like it died with her.

(note: the word “independent” is very sensitive and some directors/films mentioned here are not exactly independent. Maybe what I really mean is Malaysian cinema minus those local films with very, very long and stupid names, if you know what I mean)

I wrote about The Malaysian New Wave back in 2008 (I left the industry in late 2008 and just recently got back mid of last year). Most of these “New Wave” directors are still making films but unfortunately there seems to be no successor in sight although there are many attempts.

Young directors like Nik Amir Mustapha are trying to make a mark with the very promising first feature KIL in 2013 and followed up with TERBAIK DARI LANGIT in 2014 which did not live up to expectations although it also travelled to festivals and Chris Chong made the excellent KARAOKE in 2009 which went to Cannes in 2009 and got itself nominated for the Golden Camera but have not made another film since then. Another director Chiu Keng Guan who started with WOO HOO in 2010 and made the box office hit THE JOURNEY is one who aspires to make films for Malaysians reminiscent of the late Yasmin Ahmad but his film has yet to enjoy much critical acclaim despite being box office hits. His upcoming film OLA BOLA is slated for release on 28 January 2016 and we await anxiously for that film.

The lack of Indian directors in Malaysia is also another noticeable vacuum. Deepak Menon who made the critically acclaimed CHEMMAN CHAALAI in 2005 but has not been heard since after he made the equally successful CHALANGGAI in 2007. Daven Raghavan made the excellent HIS FATHER AND HIS CELLULOID in 2002 and recently made the Malay language CCTV in 2015 but unfortunately CCTV did not gross well in the cinemas nor travelled much in festivals. However, recently Shanjhey Perumal who won the BMW Shorties for his work MACHAI in 2009, made JAGAT which is a Tamil language film which I found very promising although the box office potential is rather perilous. JAGAT is due for release in Malaysian cinemas in December 2015.

In summary, since the so called “New Wave” or “Little Cinema” directors, and after Yasmin Ahmad, there did not seem to emerge a new batch of directors with a strong voice that is consistently making films that travels and gets awarded in major film festivals. There are new directors of course, such as Charlotte Lim who has immense potential. But until these new directors make a bigger wave and make films consistently, we still have to look at the “old” “new wave”, so to speak.

In The Philippines, Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza are both still making films and they are still really good. Lav Diaz’s FROM WHAT IS BEFORE (2014) and NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (2013) are sweeping awards all over the world, with NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY being nominated for Un Certain Regard in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Brillante Mendoza’s TAKLUB (2105) was also nominated for the Un Certain Regard in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and it is not his first time in Cannes, having won Best Director in the 2009 edition of the Cannes Film Festival for his film KINATAY.

The Filipino directors are really carving a name for themselves, not far away from Thailand who has poster boy Apitchatpong Weerasethakul winning the Palm d’Or for UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES in the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and again nominated for the Un Certain Regard in for his CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR in 2015. Thailand has a long history of successes in international festivals. Even Singapore has gotten the Golden Camera for ILO ILO in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

This is not to say that festival wins are everything but it does say something when your film gets a major award at a top international film festival especially so in the so-called big three of Berlin, Cannes and Venice. The key is winning, not merely nominated although getting nominated is no small feat and is an achievement in itself. But all directors wants a win at at least one of the big three, no matter what their mouth says. I have a caveat here in case people misunderstand me. A film that doesn’t win awards does not mean the film is not good. We all know how this works, so don’t bitch.

Okay, back to some recent films from this region. You may google the titles. Some of the titles below you will be able to watch on Astro A-List channel 456 accompanied by interviews with the director hosted by renown film critic and historian En. Hassan Muthalib.

SWAP (2015) by Remton Zuasola. Philippines. Remton is a very interesting director, not only because of his personality but also his storytelling method. He is known for his one-take technique and has a very strong voice. Watching SWAP is like watching a very well-choreographed stage play. Surely a director to look out for from the Philippines.

JAGAT (2015) by Shanjhey Perumal. Malaysia. As mentioned above, Shanjhey is the most interesting new director coming out of Malaysia right now, in my opinion. This film is a great effort to tell the story of ethnic Indians in Malaysia and is full of visual subtext although the general story is very apparent. I hope he keeps making films consistently.

A COPY OF MY MIND (2015) by Joko Anwar. Indonesia. Joko’s personal philosophy is very well mirrored in this film. Social justice and injustice, of dreams and hope but ultimately what it means to live in a system of corrupt politicians, a capitalist society mostly devoid of morality. This is part of the intended trilogy, the next being A COPY OF MY SOUL. Can’t wait to watch that.

SNAP (2015) by Kongdej Jaturaransamee. Thailand. Kongdej has a commercial touch to his films, or at least his recent films, important stories told in a way that is “commercial” in execution. In this new world of social media, we are not who and what we really are. Our social world and our real world can be really different. In a way, our online life is sort of like Second Life but what is really going on in the real world?

2030 (2014) by Minh Nguyen-Vo. Vietnam. What does it mean to live in a place that is victim to climate change. The human instinct to cling to our land even it is submerged in water. And what does love mean in this situation? Is love as fickle as climate change or is love a universal feeling no matter how the world changes? How to live and die, and love when the world that we know no longer exist.

DREAM LAND (2015) by Steve Chen. Cambodia. We see how Cambodia comes out into the capitalist world. The old world is nowhere to be found and a kingdom so ancient, with Angkor Wat and all is now no more. All you see are new developments, new houses. New condominiums. A relationship is waning and the feelings of the past is not so sure anymore. Everything seems to be in the line of fire. How does one deal with this changing landscape, both externally and also in the heart? A refreshing film.

There are many more films to talk about, such as 7 LETTERS from Singapore, Mouly Surya’s WHAT THEY DON’T TALK ABOUT WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT LOVE, Yosep Anggi’s PECULIAR VACATION AND OTHER ILLNESSES, Apichatpong’s CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR, Brillante Mendoza’s TAKLUB, MEN WHO SAVE THE WORLD by Liew Seng Tat, THE MISSING PICTURE by Rithy Panh and such.

Actually, South East Asia is a very rich place full of stories and talent. It is an exciting place to be and this is true not just of now but has been an exciting place to be for centuries. Let’s watch some South East Asian films!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 : http://nworldbmc.weebly.com

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.

*******

GIVE ME STRENGTH

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.

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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.

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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)

8. FORCE MAJEURE (Sweden)

9. LIBERATOR (Venezuela)

Golden Globe Awards:

1. IDA (Poland)

2. FORCE MAJEURE (Sweden)

3. GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE ANSALEM (Israel)

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.

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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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Mahler’s 3rd Symphony: Why It’s Awesome

So the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony today and tomorrow. It is Mahler’s longest symphony and one of the longest in the symphonic repertoire. So make sure your bladders are empty and prepare for the next 100 minutes of awesomeness.

The singular thing that is interesting about the 3rd symphony is how Mahler structured it as part of his world-view, in fact not just world-view but how he looks at existence. In the 19th century, the science of evolution was really a hot topic and put into the mix people like Nietzsche, Wagner and Schopenhauer, it is really a big pot of intellectual stew.

The symphony is presented in two parts, Part 1 is the first movement whilst Part 2 consists of 5 movements as follows:

Part 1:

1. Pan Awakes. Summer Marches In

Part 2:

2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me

3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me

4. What Mankind Tells Me

5. What the Angels Tell Me

6. What Love Tells Me

From the above structure, you can see how Mahler is presenting the upwards movement from the beginning of inanimate nature when Pan Awakes and then the flowers, then the Animals, then Mankind, Angels and finally Love. Initially, Mahler wrote What God Tells Me but then finally changed in to What Love Tells Me because he views God through Love.

For a conductor to be able to present this work convincingly, he must look at this symphony in this manner, i.e. a progression and not treat each and every movement separately. Also, the first movement is clearly in its own separate part and the first movement is wild! The second part is tender and soft. It is almost like Part 1 is the Old Testament and Part 2 is the New Testament. So if the conductor tries to smoothen out Part 1 so that it is rounder and nice and be more in tune with Part 2, then he is making a big mistake.

Let’s see if the conductor tonight makes this mistake or not. But tonite we have Edo de Waart and he is not foreign to Mahler’s work having recorded for instance the box set with the Netherlands Radio Symphonic, although it is not a particularly inspiring set.

That aside, another interesting note about the Third Symphony is how Mahler almost called it My Happy Science.

From the above program you will notice that there is movement titled What Mankind Tells Me and this is a song setting on Nietzsche’s “Midnight Song” from his Also sprach Zarathustra. There are many associations made between Mahler and Nietzsche but there is a stark contrast between Mahler’s world view and Nietzsche’s world view.

For Nietzsche, it is a Godless world and the heavenly kingdom does not exist and what exists is only earthly kingdom. God is essentially dead and mankind has to be on their own and has to be strong, so strong he becomes an overman, or superman, and controls his own fate.

For Mahler, it is the opposite. As you can see from the progression, Mankind ascends into Heavenly Kingdom, God expressed through Love. In fact, this love is for all mankind and he almost called his work My Happy Science as opposed to Nietzsche’s The Happy Science (or The Gay Science).

In some aspects of it, Mahler’s view is that one finds happiness in love. For him God and Love is synonymous. In fact, like Schopenhauer, to him all love roots in compassion. To quote Schopenhauer,

“It means that we cannot be completely happy as long as there are others who are unhappy”

And for a Mahayana Buddhist, this rings true for a Boddhisatva, for how can one attain Nirvana whilst there are so many others that are still suffering? And as such, the Boddisatva postpones his/her attainment of Nirvana and comes back to the world to help others.

That’s all I wanted to say and to all of you attending the concert tonight and tomorrow, enjoy!!

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Some Films & Music

So here it is, the street of Fellini La Dolce Vita. I wasn’t able to re-enact any scenes there and it was also raining quite a bit but here is the plaque.

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Anyone who follows some movie news, or interested in films would have known that THE GREAT BEAUTY won the best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscar. The competition from Cambodia THE MISSING PICTURE and from Palestine OMAR are both really strong titles as well but then it seems the nostalgic ways of the Italians won the night, something of a statement, almost escapist in nature, over-riding very real events and issues that are happening in the world right now.

I watched THE GREAT BEAUTY twice and that is a 6-hour investment of my time. And it was worth it, of course. Indeed, it is reminiscent of our dear Fellini and of course LA DOLCE VITA and Marcello Mastroianni’s presence cannot be ignored but THE GREAT BEAUTY is so much more than that. In fact, calling it an “update” as I have read other reviews of LA DOLCE VITA borders on insult, in my opinion. LA DOLCE VITA did not go this deep, this introspective. Anyways, there are loads of reviews on the internet, so there is no need one from me here.

The other really good film is WINTER SLEEP which won the Palm d’Or at Cannes this year. And it is another 3 hour plus film. But you will not feel that 3 hours have passed. This is another really magnificent film. It is 3 hours of almost pure dialogue and ice covered land and of course Schubert’s piano sonata playing just at the right places adds a layer of mood, reflection, sometimes melancholic but it gives a sense of peace and laid-backness to the film.

At certain points, one is reminded of Richard Linklater or Woody Allen where the characters in the movie talks and talks, argues, debate etc on the topics of life and death, of civic consciousness, of evil, philosophy, etc and eventually talks about the inner feelings of the character itself and opens up a huge can of worm and the characters changes through the dialogues and transform themselves into something else.

It is quite funny that one will be interested in other people babbling on screen for three hours but yet, every minute of it seems interesting. I love movies like this, and therefore may be biased but if you enjoy BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE SUNRISE, MANHATTAN, ANNIE HALL types of movies, and then go deeper, then there is a chance that you will like this film.

On the other hand, if you like more action oriented films, mystery/crime types of films, you can try BLACK COAL, THIN ICE by Chinese director Diao Yinan whom you may know for being the screen writer for the fun film SHOWER and then directed NIGHT TRAIN which got nominated in the same year for Un Certain Regard in Cannes together with BLIND MOUNTAIN. Both superb films back in 2007.

BLACK COAL, THIN ICE won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year seeing off THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL which I feel is really funky and fun but I agree BLACK COAL, THIN ICE is more deserving. It also sees off Alain Resnais final film LIFE OF RILEY, another really funky film where the use of stage play techniques is used in combination of the feature film format which I found quite interesting. Others include Yoji Yamada’s THE LITTLE HOUSE which is a warm film set during world war two which is quite nice to watch but I personally do not feel is much to really shout about in terms of originality but Yamada san is classic in his storytelling and you will feel warm in your heart watching this film.

So there you have some nice films that you may want to explore a bit amidst quite silly Hollywood titles now that is really very dumbed down and not remarkable at all. But popcorn movies they are, so go with just those expectations, even when you watch LUCY, which is nice but is really nothing to the films above. But it is not bad for a weekend of fun without much need to invest intellect nor too much time.

On the music front, isn’t it nice that the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is going to play Mahler’s 3rd Symphony this coming 11 and 12 October? Mahler is KING!!! Mahler RULES!!

And the best is yet to come because Maestro Benjamin Zander will be back with the MPO for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony coming March 2015. WHAT??? BENJAMIN ZANDER?? WOW!!! Is he that guy that did the Ted Talk on classical music? YES! Is he the guy who came here in 2002 and played Mahler’s 9th and brought me to tears? Yes! Is this the Benjamin Zander that I also hosted with the Malaysian Mahlerites back then? Hell Yes! And here is from the maestro’s site itself: http://benjaminzander.com/journal/detail.php?id=7  Scroll down to read about our magical encounter with Ben who is nothing but truly inspiring and amazing.

It is truly wonderful. Great Movies, Great Music. Enjoyed with people you love. And these are the things that makes living a bit bearable, some of the reasons why life is worth living.

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New Way To Teach Go to Beginners

During the World Youth Go Championship (WYGC) that the Malaysia Weiqi Association organized last month, (http://wygc2014.weiqi.org.my), Mr. Yang Yu Jia from the Ing Chang-Ki Wei-Ch’i Educational gave a talk on the new way to teach Go to beginners. I find this idea quite good compared to how we traditionally teach Go, at least at the beginning stage. Basically, the idea is to learn how to watch Go, i.e. how to understand what is going on in a game of Go without one having to be really good at it.

I have hung on to this concept actually from my earlier days of learning Go although Mr Yang said it much better and in a lot more depth. I remember in my earlier days, I took Go lessons from Cornel Burzo and one of the thing that stuck with me was his comment “Try to understand what is happening on the board” and in line with this, as we review the game, he explained to me what is happening, what is the story, what both sides tries to accomplish and how the opponent try to counter it and instead force his own strategy to win.

Those lessons are very valuable to me and it was that time that I try to understand what is going on although I am far from being a competent player. Every move must have some meaning to it, if not, why play the move right? And this meaning must be in the context of the game strategy, its use and effect on the board and its relationship with other stones on the board.

In my lessons in TAR UC, I have often tried to do the same, running like a mad man from the computer to the projector screen trying to explain to the class what is going on in the game and what each player tries to do and the meaning of their moves. I find teaching this way, in a visual manner, very interesting and helpful to the student to think of the game as a full board game with the aim to surround territory.

The traditional way of teaching Go starts with explaining on how to capture stones and because this being the earliest lessons, the danger is to plant into the mind of the student that Go is all about capturing and killing stones. In fact, this is very evident in the way the student plays the game, even up to reasonably high level where their whole and only focus is to capture and kill opponent stones. I have revised the beginner book a bit to reflect Mr. Yangs method. essentially, his very first ideas is to teach the students to draw lines, i.e. the relationship between stones and the board. By being able to draw these lines and understanding these lines, the student will be able to start to see the reasons why stones are played in a certain way.

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For instance, in the diagram above, if one draws lines between the stones and to the edge of the board, one can see that the two black stones on the bottom right is securing the bottom right corner while the single black stone on the top left is making a claim on the upper left corner territory.

The solid red line means that the connection is very secure and this is usually the case when there are no gaps (i.e both stones stick together next to each other) or if there is only one single gap in between them. Any farther than that, the line is drawn as a dotted line indicating that the connection is still not very secure although the relationship and intent is there.

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In the diagram above, you will notice that the black stones at the top left corner has secured the territory in a solid manner but the white stones have laid out a framework on the right side. Both sides have played four stones but you will notice that white has more potential to get more territories because it has laid a larger framework. Yes, the framework is a series of dotted lines which means that it is not solid but because the framework is large, the potential to convert them into a bigger territory is extremely high.

Framework is like building a house. The larger the framework means that the house has a larger foundation size and thus becomes a larger house. And because Go is a game that surrounds territories, the more territories you surround, the higher the chances you will win.

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There is also the idea of breaking up the opponent’s framework line so as to prevent the opponent from turning the framework into real territory. How to break them and at which point to play to break them is also explained. All in all, I find this method of teaching the very first few lessons very fascinating compared to the traditional way of starting to teach from the liberty point of view, i.e. a stone has four liberties and take away four liberties the stone is captured.

Of course teaching liberties of stone is very important because that is how Go is played on the tactical level but I agree to not teach that in the first few lessons.

Don’t forget that these students normally know nothing at all about Go and we do not want to give them the impression that Go is all about capturing stones but instead teach them how to understand the game by just observing it.

There are a whole lot more to Mr. Yang’s lessons and in fact he has published several books to explain it. I hope everyone interested in Go education will take a look at them.

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Scotland and Whisky

Those who knew me long enough would know that I love whisky. It’s whisky, not whiskey. But nowadays, it does’t really matter much because great whiskies now come from everywhere and not just Scotland.

I tried Kavalan recently. Kavalan is from Taiwan. At first, everything about it puts me off. Kavalan?? What kind of name? Taiwan?? Taiwan for circuit boards is fine but whisky??? But tasting it is a different story. Kavalan is amazing stuffs! Amazing stuffs as in if you like that kind of notes. Fruity, vanilla, sweetness….. but if you are hardcore Lagavulin type of guys, well……. I tasted the Solist Vinho Barrique (I think they meant Soloist), Solist ex-Bourbon Cask, Port Cask Concertmaster and their standard bottling. All single malts. And they are really good stuffs. And they are expensive.

Now, if you like those sweet smell good fruity vanilla kind of of whiskies, you will do very well with a good bottle of Glengoyne. I finished a whole bottle of Glengoyne 17 years. Marvellous expression and unfortunately has been discontinued and now replaced by the 18 year old. Or the Auchentoshan Three Wood is also an exceptional whisky, if you like this kind of taste. Both Glengoyne and Auchentoshan is not below Kavalan in any sense and they are cheaper. But if you like it, of course you can try the Kavalan. Of the four, I like the Solist ex-Bourbon Cask the best.

And Kavalan whiskies have no age statement. The uniqueness of Taiwan and the hot weather resulted in the whiskies aging much much faster. But let the taste guide you. Not what they write on the labels.

Actually, me and my wife visited Scotland back in March this year. It is almost like a pilgrimage for me. It was part of our Europe trip where the main agenda was to see the Aurora Borealis in Kirkenes, Norway. Spectacular experience there! But that is for another post. Wow, Kirkenes!! We did not go all the way round Scotland, just the Highland Speyside area and we based ourselves in Aberdeen. The fact that the International Jazz Festival is happening there is also a bonus. Scotland is a beautiful country. Really nice landscape. And everywhere we go, the guys seems to look forward to the referendum for independence because they have decided to want to split but the results of the referendum yesterday seems to say otherwise. So be it for better or for worse.

Macallan is really a nice place to visit and they are really friendly. Glenfiddich too. But after some time, all the tours felt the same. They take you through the whole process of making whiskies and take you around to see how it is actually done. We went into the special Warehouse number 8 at Glenfiddich which is where they store their most precious stuffs. I saw the Solera vat. And I was thinking to myself, maybe 15 years later I will be drinking these.

And it takes so long for whiskies to be made. 12 years, 15 years, 18 years, 21 years…. wow, imagine the time.

Then there is this place called the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburg. Nice place to visit. There is where they have the largest whisky collection in the world. tasted the 21 Year Old Pulteney there and it was absolute liquid gold. Bought some bottles there. There was a blind tasting of a whisky and they served Ardbeg and I surprised everyone by guessing that correctly. But they do not know my favorite dram is an Ardbeg. The guide then paid more attention to me after that. Haha. Our guide there is actually a Malaysian but he is now there permanently. His parents migrated there.

So Scotland….. wonderful place to go, not only for whiskies but the people and also its so beautiful. Next time I go, I will go to the islands. My favorite dram is one smoky Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Ardbeg is really amazing. I want to visit them. And I have a small plot of land at Laphroaig too.

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