Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Message from Japan Spokesperson, World Food Programme

shekhar –

I grew up in Japan. I m accustomed to earthquakes. But nothing could have prepared me for this one. It was the first time I saw buildings in Tokyo actually sway back and forth.

I watched live TV coverage as the tsunami swept away entire communities. It was like a horror film, but these are real people  thousands are dead, thousands more are missing. In one city, nearly half of the population is still missing.

And now we’re gripped with the fear of radiation from nuclear power plants. It’s a real-life nightmare.

In the past, Japan has helped the World Food Programme respond to some of the worst disasters around the world. Now, when my country is coping with its own tragedy, I feel proud to stand united with Japan to help people in need.

I m deeply grateful for the outpouring of support from all over the world. Thanks to the generosity of friends like you, in just 36 hours we raised all the funds we require for our operation in Japan. Thank you.

Amid the devastation left behind by the earthquake and tsunami, transporting goods is an enormous challenge, but families remain in desperate need of emergency supplies and WFP is providing its expertise to make sure those supplies are delivered quickly.

As the lead logistics agency for the United Nations in emergency operations, WFP has decades of experience in delivering food and other relief items in the most difficult environments.

It will take a long time to recover from this disaster. But, between the heroic rescue efforts coordinated by the Japanese government and the incredible support of the international community, I know well get there.

Thank you for the role that you are playing.


Yuko Yasuda

Japan Spokesperson
World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) fights hunger worldwide, saving lives during emergencies while building a better future for the next generation. WFP is funded solely by voluntary donations.World Food Programme

Via C.G.Viola 68
Parco dei Medici
Rome, 00148

Dangerous developments in the Middle east

As the popular rebellion of the Libyan people is being crushed by Qaddafi, and the world discusses the possibility of a ‘no fly zone’ or any other support to the rebellion by the people, a dangerous development took place yesterday as Saudi forces (with support from the UAE) went into Bahrain to quell another uprising there.

Is it the fear of a rebellion in their own nations driving this ? Or is the uprising in Bahrain not a popular one ? It seems more likely that the first is true, though I am getting mixed messages on my twitter a/c from both sides. If the first is true there are lines being drawn within the Middle East with Monarchy supporting each other to stop this uprising for a more democratic form of government. That’s dangerous.

But the most dangerous issue is if the democratic uprisings in the Arab world are subverted into a Sunni/ Shia conflict.? Colonial powers over the last couple of centuries have thrived on such divisions to protect their own military and commercial interests.

What is also very noticeable is that the reaction from Western powers has been surprisingly muted. Is it because of the the US bases in Bahrain and Oil interests in Saudi ? I cannot believe that Saudi army would have gone into Bahrain without extensive consultation with the US. That and a fear of Iran would drive the Western Powers to take sides in a potential conflict between Shia and Sunni. That would lead to a world wide disaster.

And as the the US, UK and European governments move to freeze the personal assets of the Monarch’s/Dictators, we must ask the question why people Hosni Mubarak and Qaddafi were encouraged in the first place to park such disproportionate assets in these countries ? There is no sense in suddenly finding high moral ground and freezing assets when for decades these very countries have been encouraging the dictators.

Dubious and double morals I am afraid.

The Alien and Me

Suddenly my view of myself and the universe, would , in that instant be changed, re -evaluated, all the questions I asked from that moment on would be different. Context would be different,

If I came across an Alien today.

What would I say if there were words. Would I shake hands if there were hands ? Or indeed if there was form ? Or would I ignore the Alien as a mere figment of my imagination. And what is wrong with a mere figment of my imagination ? What did I impose upon myself that a figment of of my imagination could never be a figment, perhaps the most significant figment of my existence.

Why have I allowed that being without form, that being that dreams, that being that imagines, that being that continually sees life as play. Why have I allowed that being to turn into an Alien living in a cage of suppression. Knocking on my door from inside my mind.

As the knocking gets louder, pushing against the mundanity of habittuality that takes over as existence, it’s time to let the Alien out. For there is always an alien sitting inside us that is knocking at the doors of our mind with figments of imagination – but over the years we start ignoring those figments as impractical madness.

What is practical anyway ?

Kids and Commercials

AJ has brought up a point that I wonder about often and am concerned at the emotional pressure on children to consume food stuffs that are really bad for them. Not only that, what about selling Chocolate as ‘the gift mothers will give you if they really love you” or ” as the gift you should get if you pass your exams”. Consider that 90 % of children (in India anyway) watching TV come from families that cannot afford to buy those chocolates. Now what are we putting into these young minds ? That a hug and love can be replaced by Chocolate that ‘Mom’ will never be able to afford. In tht child’s mind we then create a great sense of deprivation aimed at the parents, which then associates with guilt

“what did I do wrong that my mother will not buy me a particular brand of chocolates ?”

Commercials aimed at kids can be psychologically devastating, and the problem is that advertisers know this too. They create them so.

This what AJ said, that provoked this :

TV and videos: not for my baby

Think outside the box.

Babies tend to learn best through interactive activities that engage as many senses as possible. Whether you’re playing peek-a-boo or just chatting with your baby, you’re teaching skills that help develop your baby’s brain.

So how does watching TV contribute to baby’s development? The truth is, no one knows. No TV show, video, or DVD has ever been proven to help babies develop. But there is some evidence that watching – or even listening to – TV could disrupt your baby’s ability to concentrate and possibly slow her language development.

Commercials aimed at young children are remarkably effective. And half of all ad time on children’s shows is for food; mostly candy, snacks, cereal and fast food. It might not surprise you to hear there is a strong association between the amount of time spent watching TV and childhood obesity.

When it comes down to it, time spent watching TV is time that could have been spent on other, more valuable relationship building and exploration activities with your child.

America sneezes and Asia hands it a tissue : Why Davos is losing value

As there seems to be no end to the Western financial crisis, any number of conferences like Davos will not bring up answers. I say Western deliberately. It is a crisis of the Western economies caused by Western financial imprudence. Gone are the days when ‘When America sneezed and the world caught flu’. Now Asian economies have enough robust internal demand and domestic growth to ride out an economic depression in the US. To me the greatest indicator is domestic tourism. As people have more surplus income, those that take holidays and travel within their countries spread that income around and at the same time people become culturally inclusive. The boom in domestic tourism in India makes me wonder whether we need to now run a campaign called ‘Incredible India’ any more. It has not worked all these years any way as even Thailand gets more tourists every year !!

My recent travels to mainland China and Hong Kong confirmed this. In The Forbidden City at Beijing, Chinese tourists with the latest digital camera’s, baby’s and picnic baskets in tow, far outnumbered western tourists. In Hong Kong cooing and giggling mothers and daughters could not stop taking pictures of my daughter. She was surrounded by Chinese people and I realized they were all from Mainland China and had never seen an Indian child before – they just marveled at her big eyes.

(Of course there is a environmental issue in tourism that must be very carefully handled)

Back to why Davos is losing value. Because the fundamental issue with the Western Financial crises is that they can no longer afford the standards of living that they have become used to. Not only in absolute terms but also in relative terms. Because standards of living often are determined by ‘how the others live’. When I was being educated, our standard of living was mirrored by how an American family lived. Our education mirrored by American and British standards of education. Our cultural desires and aspirations too mirrored by American music, movies etc. I am sure that the rising number of billionaires in India, the incredible rise of telecom in India, the stranglehold of China on Rare Earths, that the largest search engine in the world in not Google but a Chinese co, and the huge investments China is making in resources in Africa, outbidding the US at every step etc etc, is all causing consternation.? For the West can no longer console itself by calling this a ‘rising potential market’ for it’s products. It is nothing less than a transfer of economic and therefore political power.

We are along long way from achieving those Western standards for all our people . Far from it. Because the western economies did attain a certain minimum standard of living for all, and for us in India and most of Asia, dis balanced and non inclusive growth is becoming a bottle neck. However the power of the Asian economies is rising so fast that at any negotiating table Americans and Europeans find themselves uncomfortable and unused to people who speak a slightly different economic language. Not only India and China, but now also Vietnam and Indonesia.

What is that different economic language ? That Asians have so long been living with tightened belts and higher saving/lower consumption patterns that in an economic downturn there is far far greater political manoeuvre room for the government than in the West. The political repercussions of President Obama saying that the only way now is for Americans is to forget the heady days of over consumption, and settle down to a couple of generations of lower benefits, loss of pensions, more unemployment and less goods, is political suicide.

The Western leaders are unable to state (or perhaps even to accept ) the truth. Till the voters in the West are able to accept these facts, all conferences like Davos will be just politcal and economic rhetoric.

Its is not that the West must now embrace China as a power, as the head of the World Economic Forum stated. It is that China must embrace the West. The rhetoric is all a little too late. The European economic doldrums can be lifted by China investing in the Euro and In Europe, not by the United States as was the case for the last 50 years.

The US does have pockets of economic resistance, fighting back. Mainly technology. Though it must be said that most new technology and high value business like Social Media and Computer technology etc does not generate high employment potential. It creates high wealth for the few, and if that is not is not invested back into the economy there is little value in it. Much of it is not. Most technology corps have moved their headquarters to tax havens, their production facilities overseas, and even their research centres abroad. They are in essence no longer US corporations.


Change in India comes from bottom of pyramid ( ‘Caste Busters’ from NY times Mag)

Hope NY times forgives me for reproducing this article without prior permission, but it is such a great article and important for those interested in India,


Published: December 30, 2010

New York Times Magazine

I came to Umred to write about a riot. A few months earlier, power blackouts that rural Indians always suffered silently triggered a violent reaction. Why? Umred was just another small town in the middle of nowhere, dusty and underwhelming. But Umred had begun to dream, townspeople told me, because of television, because of cousins with tales of call-center jobs and freedom in the city. Once Umred contracted ambition, blackouts became intolerable. A psychological revolution, a revolution in expectations, had taken place.

“Electricity is essential to ambition,” an energetic young man named Ravindra Misal explained to me, “because I need it to do my homework, I need it to listen to music if I am a dancer, I need it to listen to tapes of great speakers, I need it to surf the Internet. But I cannot, so people get angry.” Over plates of mutton and chicken, Misal and his friend Abhay offered examples of the little things that were changing in Umred: young men hunting online for wives, farmers’ sons deserting the farms to work at a bank in a nearby town, a deluge of students signing up for English classes. And beauty pageants. “I see Fashion TV on television, Miss India contests in the big cities,” Misal said. “So I thought, Why can’t we have that also?” And so he organized the first Mr. and Miss Umred Personality Contest, which seemed to be half about physical appearance and half about the communication skills that are all the rage in small-town India.

Misal embodies the type of person who will truly transform India: not an engineer or a financier, but an average person who refuses to be satisfied with the status he was born to. Umred rioted because its people had somehow acquired the courage of their own dissatisfaction. But what kind of India will they build?

The beauty contest was enough of a success for Misal to organize the second Mr. and Miss Umred Personality Contest just months later, which he invited me to attend. On plastic chairs in a gymnasium, eight women sat dressed as if for their weddings, with sequined saris in pink, green and orange, pinned with white laminated contestant number tags. The men took their inspiration from Bollywood gangster movies, leafy collars drooping over the lapels of their ill-fitting suits. Their belts, the belts of the Indian underclass, were too long for their waists, traveling all the way around their backs, such that two belts would have furnished enough leather for three men.

The pageant began with a talent contest. Some of the contenders, most of them engineers from local colleges, sang; some danced; others told jokes. All of them seemed to plagiarize television, which was their main portal to the world. The pouts were lifted from Fashion TV, the breast shimmying from Channel V, the joke timing from the Great Indian Laughter Challenge on STAR One.

After a Q. and A. session and a catwalk round, which involved men and women who were probably not allowed to have lunch with a member of the opposite sex strutting down a ramp, it was time to choose the winners. The judges whisperingly reached their verdict and came onstage. One by one, the contestants thanked them, their hands touching the judges’ feet. The two winners were announced and handed their prizes: 600 rupees each and a gold-colored tiara (including one for Mr. Umred). Two banners on the stage declaring the name of the contest were removed and, reimagined as sashes, tied around the winners’ torsos.

I realized that night as I watched Misal, dressed in a crisp white-and-purple shirt and a dark tie emblazoned with the crest of a family not his own, that he had made himself Umred’s ambassador of escape: part motivational speaker, part revivalist preacher of the gospel of ambition. When he established the Mr. and Miss Umred Personality Contest, he was not bringing a new idea to Umred so much as giving expression to an existing idea. What he understood was that the young craved an exit, and he had built a personal empire to serve that craving. Everyone knew Misal. Everyone, regardless of age, called him “sir.” To reach Nagpur or Pune or Mumbai, you had to seek his advice, learn English from his English academy, learn roller skating from his roller-skating academy, reach into his network of contacts, compete in his pageant, learn to dress and think and enunciate like him.

On the day after the pageant, Misal took me to a restaurant called Uttam, which, in the small-town Indian way, served every kind of Indian cuisine except the local cuisine. As he began to tell me his story, I learned that Misal swept into Umred not from above but from below – far below. He was born in a village called Bhiwapur, a half-hour drive from Umred. It is one of hundreds of thousands of such villages in India. His family lived in a three-room house with concrete walls, an outdoor latrine and a thatched roof. They had no land to cultivate, just a small yard with some anemic trees. His father worked as a laborer, loading foodstuffs on and off trucks. His mother was a farmhand. Neither parent advanced past fourth grade; they spoke Marathi but not Hindi. “We are daily-wages people,” Misal said, betraying elements of the old thinking that he hadn’t wholly shaken: daily wages as social identity, not economic circumstance. He grew up eating plates heaped with rice, covered with watery lentil dal, with a small dollop of chutney on the side to lend piquancy, and sometimes a thin piece of roti. From time to time, the family splurged on eggplants. They bought their clothes secondhand from the village bazaar, making them poor even by the standards of the poor. They rarely possessed more than a few hundred rupees in savings – less than $20 – almost enough for a one-way train ride to a neighboring state. Misal’s family lived in a particular area of the village, a mohalla, a ghetto. As Misal grew up, he learned that his mohalla was reserved for low-caste laboring families like his. Their caste, traditionally tasked with crushing oil seeds, stood some rungs above the untouchables, belonging instead to the bureaucratic category of “Other Backward Classes.”

He discovered his inferiority at school, noticing that the Jaiswals and Agarwals and Guptas, the children of merchants and shopkeepers, bought 2-rupee ice creams at recess, while his mohalla friends bought the 50-paise kind. He realized that when guest speakers came to the school, the children of daily-wages people were rarely chosen to introduce them. He noticed that at the wedding of a big man in Bhiwapur, he had to wait until the “guests” had eaten. “You come afterward,” he remembered being scolded. He used to watch his classmates roar into the schoolyard on the backs of their parents’ motorcycles. He did not even have the two modes of transportation below motorcycles on the Indian staircase of affluence: the bicycle and shoes. He wore no footwear until ninth grade. “Whenever I saw other people wearing expensive shoes and socks and slippers, I used to get very angry, and I felt very bad,” he said. “Why am I not getting all these things? Why only I don’t have all these things? And at that time I decided that I will earn great money, and I will remove my poverty. I considered poverty as a disease.”

This was not the old Indian orthodoxy: for Misal, the world was not illusion, maya; it was not enough simply to do one’s duty and do it well and be satisfied with what God gave. “I just believed that we all are equal human beings, so why do we have differences, as far as social status is concerned, economical status is concerned, social recognition and honor and respect?” he said. “What I used to believe every time is that if one person is getting something big, better and best, that should be my right.”

“Most Indians don’t think like that,” I interrupted.

“They don’t think like that,” he said. “They just want to compromise: it’s O.K., we’re having sufficient things; let’s be settled. But – I don’t know – right from the beginning, I had great anger of my poverty. The generations after me will not live this kind of life – that’s what I decided. I will change my destiny. I will be good. I will be rich.”

When Misal was in eighth grade, the village school held a public-speaking contest. He had never stood on a stage before. But now there he was, with hundreds of people sitting below him, watching. He spoke for five minutes; the crowd applauded three times. He discovered that night a power in himself that he had not known: to connect, to inspire, to cut into people’s hearts with his words. And, having contracted his thirst for money through its absence, he now felt the first rush of respect. “I felt that I am something different, I am something special,” he said.

Misal’s speech, which won the prize, was about the impact of television on society, and by that time a television bought by the family was having a great impact on Misal himself. He would spend hours each day watching “He-Man,” “Spider-Man” and “Batman,” piously balanced with the Hindutainment of the “Mahabharat” and “Ramayan” series. In Misal’s world, television was seen, even by parents, as a force of liberation. “TV is the very hi-fi form of everything,” Misal said. “It’s the extreme level of ideas, where they show you everything at top level, so that certainly gives you motivation. On TV you see the things of world-class standard. When you see some person on Discovery catching anaconda, you are looking at the best person in the world for catching anaconda. On TV we never see the strugglers or something like that; we see the people who have achieved what they wanted to be.”

For all his dreams, Misal was just another village kid who didn’t have connections and didn’t speak English, the language of success in the India that was beginning to flourish in the 1990s. At the end of 10th grade, he enrolled himself in an English-language school in Umred, the nearest town, even though he didn’t speak English. He and the other village kids sat in the back of the classroom gathering fragments of vocabulary and grammar day by day.

He graduated and moved on to a college in Umred, choosing business as his major. But he was working numerous odd jobs after school; the strains became too much, and he failed his second-year exams. He was kicked out.

In an earlier India, that might have been his story’s end: there were no second chances then, and there were no other routes upward. Knowledge was the rampart that protected the well-born from the rest. In an earlier age, that meant confining Sanskrit learning to the priestly castes; in more recent times, it translated into massive public investment in elite colleges and universities and the neglect of basic schooling for most Indians. Even today, the quality of instruction at all but the best institutions is miserable. And so if you were like Misal, you were probably not getting a very good education to begin with, even before an unforgiving examination system cut you loose.

But the ambitions stirring below created a market for a new breed of middle-class finishing schools. They catered to young people born into the lower orders, filled with dreams but shut out by the old system. The schools were often single-room institutions, taking cash only, with dubious teaching methods. The most common subject was English. It was not the archaic English curriculum of many Indian schools and colleges, with Shakespearean sonnets memorized and not understood. It was spoken English that could be used in the workplace, language the quick and dirty way. It gave students the idioms, vocabulary and placeless accent that would render your lowly origins untraceable in a land where so much could be deduced when you opened your mouth.

Misal coated himself with one finishing-school skill after another, learning everything from desktop publishing to how to be an electrician. One of the schools sensed his talent with people and hired him as a teacher, paying him 360 rupees a month. Another school soon poached him for more than double that amount. With the finishing-school cult spreading, the company even opened a branch in Bhiwapur. Misal was sent to manage a school there. He had left the village as the boy who ate last at weddings; he returned as that loftiest of Indian creatures, a teacher and, better still, a purveyor of new-economy skills. He was earning 1,800 rupees a month. He had become a big man.

On his 21st birthday, in September 2002, he bought a motorcycle. It was the first motorized vehicle owned in the history of his family. He drove it from the showroom to his home and took his mother for a spin around the village. “She didn’t say anything,” he recalled. “She just cried. And she said, ‘Take care of the bike.’ ”

Misal told me his favorite book was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” with its tale of the writer’s poor childhood in Missouri, his contemplation of suicide and then his discovery of a talent for public speaking. “I have read that 28 times so far,” he said. “Whenever I feel nervous or depressed, I open that book.”

In 2004, Misal decided to return to Umred and become its Dale Carnegie – to start a finishing school of his own. He set up roller-skating classes and an event-management firm, but the heart of his work was a spoken-English academy. It offered 90 hours of classes over 45 days for just 1,000 rupees, the cost of a fancy meal in Mumbai. The students trickled in at first; then the trickle gathered into a gush and before long Misal was just about the most important and well-known young man in Umred.

A year after my visit to Umred, my phone buzzed with a text from Misal:

Sir, last couple of months are full of achievements 4 me. My 2 skating kids represented India in international skating comp in Belgium. It ws my greatest dream, turned into reality. I ws busy in passports, visas n other formalities. Nw im going 2 Hongkong 4 international Skating Championship as India team manager on sep 26. My life is transforming rapidly this time. My faith on my abilities raised. Its rising time 4me. My image is getting new shape. Im proving n improving at personal, social, family n financial areas nicely. At present im contributory english lecturer at 6 dif school n colleges. Im constructing my new home also.


A spiritual connection to the food we eat ?

Does food respond to our emotions ?

Science will one day tell us why ‘mothers cooking’ is better for you. Till then we all just believe it anyway. Not only because of it’s nutritional quality measurable in vitamins, minerals and enzymes, but because it is cooked with the most vital ingredient of all.

Love. As an undefined energy. That extra but most important ingredient that I call ‘life force’ and in Yoga they call ‘Prana’.

Our bodies react to the ‘life force’ that can be created or destroyed, increased or diminished in food depending on how it is grown, prepared,cooked and served. And the final arbiter is us, as we add or diminish ‘life force’ to our food by the attitude with which we consume it. Like the very idea of Prasadum. Food offered in love and humility and accepted in love and humility. Does a prayer then, actually change the essential nature of the food we eat, and how it is assimilated in our body ?

I wish there were diet books on how our changing life styles and loss of humility generally are leading to attitudes of food consumption that are proving to be cruel to our bodies. There has been so much written about the benefits of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ with analysis of the benefit of Olive Oil etc, but no one seems to point to the family system and attitudes to eating and cooking that could be positively effecting the health of people that still follow traditional relationship between family and food in those parts of the world.

I am often aghast at the amount of manufactured food we waste. And I use the word ‘manufacture’ deliberately because I notice a much higher degree of propensity to waste in packaged foods.

Ask a Modern urban child how they emotionally connect to their food and you will find a very probable first connection to something out of a packet, and then to he fridge (if they are lucky), or the farthest back in the chain would be the supermarket/grocery shop. Very few have had an emotional connection to the process of growing something from the soil, or really connect to soil as anything but mud dust or dirt over which concrete roads or apartments need to be built. Nor is there any sense of nurture associated with the growing of crops or plants. People who live off the land or forests develop harmonious relationships that lead to respect and commitment to environment and nature. Bread grown off wheat ground and baked at home not only tastes different, but is more respected, not wasted. Vegetables bought at the local ‘farmer’s market’ and washed and cut at home tend not to be wasted. How often have I been to homes where people speak with pride of the fact that the food being served is organic, or bought personally at the local farmers market. Its creates an attitude of respect and reverence to the food as it is served. While urban dustbins are full of half eaten Pizza’s and other packaged foods bought at supermarkets.

So while in a world headed to massive food shortages there is a great argument towards large scale corporate farming, packaging and distribution systems over long distances of ‘manufactured’ foods, and while there is a completely different argument at moments of famine or serious shortages caused by large scale movements of displaced people, I wonder if these systems are long term solutions at all. Whether the further we distance ourselves from the source, the less we respect and therefore continue to waste and destroy our environment.

“If doing something makes you worried, then it must be a wrong thing. If it makes you happy, then you must have done the right thing.”

An inspiring and motivational true story of a Taiwanese woman who sells vegetables……and donates generously to help the poor……
Wed, Dec 01, 2010 Reader’s Digest

The generous vegetable seller
by Esther Liang

After the morning hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at Taitung county’s Central Market quietens as every stall shuts for the day and their owners return to the comfort of their homes. A lone lamp shines on a vegetable stall. With head bowed, Ms Chen Shu-chu silently sorts out the vegetable leaves as she waits for the occasional afternoon customer. Decades of hard work have caused the fingers on her right hand to curl and joints to swell; her feet have deformed slightly.

Ms Chen leads her life with a daily routine. Waking up at three in the morning, she makes her way to the vegetable wholesaler and sets up her stall, which she tends till seven or eight in the evening. Being the first to arrive and last to leave, the other stall owners have fondly given her the title of “market manager”. In the dark and damp market, Ms Chen, nearing her 60s, holds the stall her father left her dearly. Yuan-Jin Vegetables is her everything. With her vegetables selling at “a bundle for NT$30 (S$1.30), three bundles for NT$50”, she earns only marginal profit.

Yet, her frugality has allowed her to donate about NT$10 million towards various charitable causes, including helping schools, orphanages and poor children. The selfless generosity of a woman with such humble income has placed her under the international spotlight. In March, Forbes magazine named her one of 48 outstanding philanthropists from the Asia-Pacific region. A month later, Time magazine selected the year’s top 100 influential people and she emerged under the Heroes of Philanthropy category. Fellow Taiwanese and Oscar- winning director Lee Ang wrote her entry personally. “Money is worthy only if given to those in need,” he quoted Ms Chen. He also wrote: “Amazing, but of all she has given away, her greatest gift is leading by example.”

Despite the honour of receiving the Time award in New York, gaining global recognition, and a personal meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou, all Ms Chen really cares about is her vegetable stall. If not for President Ma and the Foreign Minister personally convincing her to go, she would not have agreed to visit New York, as she felt that “this is not a competition and I did not win anything”. Amid the frenzy of applying for a passport and preparing for the visit, her main concern was that her regular customers would not get their vegetables.

Ms Chen has become a celebrity in Taitung county. The local authorities decorated her stall with congratulatory posters and banners hailing her as the Pride of Taitung and the Model of Philanthropy. There are fans who turn up at the stall with a vegetable basket and a camera, hoping for a picture with Ms Chen. Despite all the attention, she remains humble. “I have done nothing extraordinary and anyone who wants to can do it.

There are many other charitable people; we just don’t know about them,” she said. Ms Chen, who is unmarried, added: “I do not place great importance on money. When I donate to help others, I feel at peace and happy, and I can sleep well at night.” She also feels for the poor, having experienced hardship in her younger days.

Born in 1950, Ms Chen lost her mother after completing her primary-school education. Her mother was admitted to hospital because of difficulties in labour and the family had to pay an insurance of NT$5,000 before medical attention could be granted. Ms Chen saw her father asking their neighbours for money, but it was too late to save her mother. The eldest daughter in the family, Ms Chen had to grow up overnight. She gave up her studies and dedicated her life to helping at the vegetable stall. When she was 18, her younger brother fell sick and the illness dragged on for over a year, gradually depleting the family’s savings. Doctors suggested that the family send her brother to Taiwan National University Hospital, but they could not afford the fees. Mr Huang Shun-zhong, a teacher at Ren-ai Primary School, started a donation drive. Unfortunately, her brother could not be saved.

After experiencing the kindness bestowed upon her family, Ms Chen made up her mind to help the poor once she was able. When her father died 17 years ago, Ms Chen, a devoted Buddhist, generously donated NT$1 million to Fo Guang Shan Monastery. In 2000, she donated NT$1 million to her alma mater, Ren-ai Primary School, to set up an Emergency Relief Fund to help poor children obtain financial help. Assisting in the setting up and maintenance of the fund is Mr Li Guo-rong, who teaches Ms Chen’s nephew.

In 2001, Mr Li had a plan to build a library for the school and estimated the cost to be between NT$4 million and NT$5 million. When he approached Ms Chen, in the hope that she might contribute NT$50,000, Li was shocked when she said she would fund the entire project. The school was sceptical, but Ms Chen was determined. In May 2005, the two-storey library was completed and named Chen Shu-chu Library in honour of the “Vegetable Market heroine” alumnus. She had donated NT$4.5 million. (more…)

Independent Film Making

I get so many people writing in about their desire to make films independently that I am going to publish their letters so as to start a discussion group. Its wonderful how many people from different walks of life are now wanting to express themselves through the medium of film. I guess part of that is because technology has made it so much easier to shoot, edit do the sound and upload the film for people to watch. Gone are the days when, like I did, needed to wait 12 years to convince someone to give me an expensive camera, expensive stock and make Masoom. Yup, 12 long years of trying to convince people I could direct.

Now when people come to me to ask for advice on how to make a film, the answer is simple. Go make one. You have all the tools. Unless you want a theatrical release which is a completely different story. Then your film turns into a project and a business proposal. Do you really want that burden ?

But if someone, anyone wants to share their experience in making/attempting to make an independent film, please do write in ….

An accident on London Streets

This picture has a peculiar story. I was rushing by Piccadilly in London not sure what was happening and just clicked on it. A very large man standing next to me looked at me accusingly

” what the fuck did you shoot that for”

I looked carefully and realized it was an accident. Mumbled an apology and left. I had obviously upset his sensibilities and it was understandable. As I was a bit away he shouted

” You shit head”

I thought about a confrontation. Decided I would do so, and went back to him.

” Do you watch TV ??” I said.

“what business is it of yours, but yes”

“and you watch video’s of Afghan kids dying on the streets, and Iraqi civilians with their limbs blown off, and every where else that your troops have caused death and destruction and your media has gleefully put them on your TV and you watch them. But it’s not OK for me to shoot something in the street of London that may have been an accident ? Why ?”

I wish I could send him this picture to compare mine to the ones media shows.

I was being unreasonable I knew, but was angry. I was actually angry at all the the hype being given to the new Wiki leaks about what the US and British troops did. Like the world did not know all this was going on ? What kind of naivety is that ?