Monday, 30 January 2012

News: Post-CNY, Book Bans and E-Publishing Hijinks

This year's Chinese New Year holidays saw me totally disconnected from the Internet, but perpetually plugged into the food and learning channels on Astro B.yond.

Didn't drive home by myself, so I hitched a ride with an uncle and got snared in that awful five-plus-hour traffic jam at the Tanjung Malim rest stop. The snarl in human and vehicular traffic combined the Saturday balik kampung rush for the long weekend and the annual CNY exodus. People were taking pictures of the mayhem with their phones.

For the ride home, I hitched a ride with my sister and brother-in-law. The whole trip took about four hours. My poor heart shrivelled several times as he floored it. I'm treating my car better so it'll be fit for next year's CNY holiday. I drive slower, but it's better for my nerves.

Hey, we all age.

So I went home and saw my review of Luis Urrea's book in the papers. In it, I wondered if the book would be banned in Arizona, which is gaining a reputation for becoming increasingly hostile to Hispanics.

Turns out that several of his non-fiction works have been affected by the plan to end allegedly biased and politically charged ethnic studies in the US state. As I see it, critics see it as an attempt to stamp out Mexican-American culture in Arizona, which has a sizeable Hispanic population. Urrea had some choice words about the issue.

"Wait a minute", this guy appears to be saying. "Nothing's set in stone yet. And it's only in Tucson." Unless the air clears over the issue, Mexican-American writers are likely to continue voicing their displeasure over the matter.

  • iBooks Author, a free, downloadable Mac OS X application for creating e-books has landed. Though the simplicity of the app is appealing, the folks at Writers Beware are urging (would-be) users to read the fine print before trying it out and submitting the output to iBooks.

    One reason is Apple's alleged attempt to fix the e-book file format used by the app. Ed Bott at ZDNet is crying foul, saying that Apple's move will hamper the application of an open standard for e-books.

    Meanwhile, the big fruit appears to be in trouble over e-book price fixing.
  • The Chicago Tribune introduces Printers Row, a new Sunday books section that the paper's subscribers can purchase at an additional US$99 per year. Featuring 24 pages of book reviews, author interviews, Chicago-focused literary news and a weekly bonus book of short fiction, the "journal" will be delivered with the Sunday paper and online beginning 26 February. Bonuses include access to member-only book events, such as the Tribune series of author conversations and discussion groups.

    Not a Trib subscriber? Buy single copies of Printers Row from Amazon at US$2.99 each.
  • E-readers and tablets spur growth in sales of children's books. Meanwhile, it's been reported that there are 21 Academy Award nominations this year for films based on kids' books. Hugo, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, has 11 nominations, followed by War Horse with six nominations. Both films are fighting for the Best Picture category. Just what we need: another boost for the YA genre.
  • From what I can read about this bit of news, Amazon's New York book-publishing arm is getting publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to sell its books under an imprint called New Harvest. The writer seems flabbergasted, partly because the books are Amazon publications, which some retailers have sworn to avoid.
  • Digital comic book startup Graphicly plans to fills a void amidst the hubbub over e-book publishing. They estimate that over 300,000 self-published creators will start selling their own comic books and graphic novels this year.
  • The story of Larry Kirshbaum, the guy fronting Amazon's publishing land grab (I'm being dramatic). And here's someone wondering if Amazon is killing or improving the book business.
  • Banned books are hot in Vietnam. At some point, these censor-happy governments should just throw their hands up and sigh, "Why bother?"
  • Book publisher Harlequin has bought Heartsong Presents Book Club, which provides its members with Christian romance novels. ...Christian romance novels? How does that even work?
  • As Nigerian authors look west for fame and recognition, they'll probably have to deal with the continent's apparent reluctance in the shift to e-books. ...No, no jokes about Nigerian e-book publishing scams, please.
  • How do those best-seller lists work? Says Paul Takushi, UC Davis Store's book promotions and marketing manager: "The creation of a best-seller list is the most nebulous thing you will ever encounter. No one really knows how it's done." There you go.
  • The Hocking-esque tale of an Oak Harbor graduate who made self-publishing magic with, a "YouTube for writers". Seems the web site helped her book get 15 million reads - before self-publishing it through's CreateSpace.
  • University e-presses are, it seems, not lightweight affairs.
  • A book reviewer's thoughts after reading a digital copy of John Burdett's Vulture Peak from online book review service NetGalley. Basically, the future is coming and there's no stopping it.
  • Next: interactive e-books, ala Steve Jackson. What if you could choose your own ending? ...No, don't think that applies to non-fiction...
  • Author and self-publishing guru Stephanie Chandler talks about "the numerous advantages of writing, self-publishing and how it can enhance one's business".

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sweeping, Colourful Yarn

It took a while, but it's finally out: the review of Luis Alberto Urrea's Queen of America. I was bummed at first to learn that it was another of those "sequel novels" but it turned out all right, even without reading the first book.

The way I wrote about the descriptions of food in the novel is a reference to the author's vivid, evocative storytelling, not about the topic. This is not a food book.

I don't know if they've modified or kept the standfirst in the print version, but I'm putting it in here.

...wait, did they uncensor the "b*****d" in my submitted copy?

Sweeping, colourful yarn
The "hummingbird's daughter" grows up and finds hope and heartbreak in a new country

first published in The Star, 29 January 2012

A controversial bill of law signed last year in the US state of Arizona, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, "bans schools from teaching classes that are designed for students of a particular ethnic group, promote resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity over treating pupils as individuals." As a result, schools in Tucson, Arizona also banned such titles as Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years and William Shakespeare's The Tempest from classrooms.

And this book I'd just finished reading, would they ban this, too? I wonder.

Queen Of America is about Teresa Urrea (1873-1906), who was revered as the "Saint of Cabora" by Mexico's indigenous Mayo and Yaqui populations.

Her popularity with the Indians and the poor made the Mexican Government nervous and, after her exile, she came to the United States and briefly stayed in Clifton, Arizona, before embarking on a managed tour across some major US cities.

After a quarrel with her minders, Urrea (known as Teresita) cancelled her tour and went home to Clifton. She reportedly died of an illness in 1906 and is buried there.

This book is the sequel to The Hummingbird's Daughter, which chronicles Teresita's early life up to the moment she was exiled from Mexico.

Both were written by Luis Alberto Urrea, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for non-fiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. Teresita, it seems, was the author's great-aunt.

In Queen Of America, Teresita and her father have fled to the United States. Trailing them are assassins, possibly hired by the Mexican regime at the time, as well as multitudes of pilgrims and people seeking healing. And reporters.

Her father, the now jobless and purposeless Tomás Urrea, is often drunk and depressed but Teresita, besieged by the sick and poor, has no patience for her dad's mood swings. Adopting a neutral position, the US Government won't accept the Urreas as citizens.

Tomas eventually puts down roots in Clifton. However, Teresita longs for more. She marries a stranger who turns out to be a bit – it was said – bonkers. Unable to go back home, she accepts an offer of a lift to San Francisco.

After healing someone there, her tour around America begins. She faces much of the same: needy people, curious Yanquis, doubting reporters, and strident critics – and finds a new love interest.

In this fictionalised retelling of her life, it's hinted that Teresita's powers are real.

The Hummingbird's DaughterQueen of America
The fictionalised story of Teresa Urrea, the "Saint of Cabora",
is told in these two books - the results of a total of over 20
years of research

Urrea blends history with fiction so well it's hard to tell whether an event is authentic or apocryphal.

You want to believe the salty correspondence between paper man Lauro Aguirre ("My Beloved Companion, You Degenerate Wretch, Tomás: Things are excellent in El Paso! Even a dissolute drunkard like yourself could be happy here.") and Tomás ("[Spanish bad word] Aguirre ... How it darkens my day whenever another letter from you arrives, you pretentious bastard.") actually happened. Spanish words in the narrative add flavour and Spanish swear words add spice. I chuckled upon spotting several of the latter – thank you, Anthony Bourdain.

Speaking of that celebrity chef, Bourdain of the descriptive prose: oh, the vivid, mouthwatering descriptions of food, of chillies rellenos "searing on the flame"; fried tortillas "awash in pico de gallo salsa and crushed avocado wedges with lime"; new things such as "los pancakes"; and even more tortillas, "lying like tawny magic carpets beneath the drooling eggs" along with "diced nopal cactus, melons, oranges, coffee, and watery milk". Don't read when hungry.

Urrea's painstakingly researched novel (six years worth; The Hummingbird's Daughter took 20) also explores Teresita's emotional tug of war between home and the heart.

Readers' hearts will break, little by little, as her hopes are dashed, raised a little, and dashed again in the rollercoaster of a life away from her father: her failed first marriage, the US tour, becoming a mother, and her father's passing.

Eventually, the novelty of her US roadshow wears off.

After the birth of her daughter, her second pregnancy and her father's death, the "queen of America" realises that she's the queen of nothing, and that everything she really wanted is everything she'd left behind. She returns home but not long afterwards, symptoms of her illness appear....

What a sweeping, frank and colourful yarn. Urrea's latest is a brave yet delicate effort that weaves his great-aunt's history into an entertaining yet touching non-hagiographic work that honours her life and times.

The new Arizona law might keep this book out of the state's schools, but at least one copy should find itself into everybody's hands.

At the risk of sounding stupid, through the flawed magic of Google Translate: Gracias por esta hermosa historia (thank you for this beautiful tale), Señor Urrea.

Queen of America
Luis Alberto Urrea
Little, Brown (2011)
491 pages
ISBN: 978-0-316-18764-0

Friday, 20 January 2012

News: John Ling's Blasphemy and Apple's E-Ducation

...Relax, it's not what you think John Ling did.

Congratulations to John, whose latest (e-)book, The Blasphemer, is making waves at Amazon. I've skimmed through it. This pulse-pounding thriller, set in the backdrop of rising Islamic militancy, revolves around the fires stoked by an author and his book - shades of Salman Rushdie, but the main character is said to be based on Taslima Nasrin. Short, bite-sized chapters, nothing complicated and- argh, there's going to be a sequel? ...Does that explain the freebies he'd been giving out?

It seems he now has another dilemma: should he make the book available to Malaysians? Help him decide. But I think he should finish the series before pondering this question. My answer would be "No, not yet."

And he's got some writers guestblogging their writing journeys at his blog. Go read, or if you want to contribute, I suppose you could give him a buzz.

  • While the publishing world trembles at the ongoing Amazon advance, Apple throws its hat into the publishing ring - but only in the education sector.

    Several news outlets reported the planned release of e-textbook publishing apps. This might be followed by strategies to place iPads or some other e-reader into the hands of school and college kids. It looks like an astute move, encouraging students to "shun costly tomes that weigh down backpacks in favor of less-expensive, interactive digital books that can be updated anywhere via the Web." Not to mention the potential profits in the US$10 billion-a-year (claims the Bloomberg report) textbook industry.

    On a slightly-related note is Penguin's Dorling Kindersley's move to offer both digital and printed editions of its titles. Penguin DK publishes children's, travel and reference titles.

    The e-book momentum seem unstoppable, but the Delaware Online says that the new e-textbook industry still has a long way to go before the "digital destruction" of the (paper) textbook industry foreseen by the late Steve Jobs. For one, they're still fairly new. The piece also said that students found Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) and some digital versions the print book "clunky and eye-straining to read". Also: "You can't highlight or underline things in the e-book. I find it more of a hassle," said a student who reportedly prefers "the tangible presence of a thick book on her lap."

    If they're going to sell e-textbooks in a big way, perhaps it's a better idea to inspire students to go and stay in school or college, as opposed to dropping out and pursue their dreams...
  • After decades, Hitler's Mein Kampf is returning to Germany... not the whole book, but excerpts in the accompanying supplement for a company's weekly publication. The German state of Bavaria, which owns copyrights to the book, is considering legal action to prevent that. The decision to publish the excerpts has also divided Jewish groups. One camp has no problem with it, as long as the excerpts "are viewed in context". The other camp, of course, is totally against its return on the printed page.

    "Everyone sees Mein Kampf 'as a sort of diabolical Nazi Bible', the publisher said, "but people haven't read it and therefore haven't seen that it is the poor-quality and confused work of a totally twisted mind."

    Which is why I believe the ban on Mein Kampf is pointless. The only people who'd most likely swallow what Hitler's got are the ones who are already drinking out of the same poisoned well he did. Has any ban stopped the hate?

    And, it seems, ordinary Germans of the time knew what the Third Reich was doing and were talking about it, according to a published World War II diary. Just a little lit titbit.
  • An e-book explosion in India. And Amanda Hocking. Because we can't seem to have enough of either.
  • "We're in Amazon's sights and they're going to kill us. And we helped them do it." At least that's the vibe I got from this article. Well, that kinda happened to Borders, didn't it?
  • How can independent bookstores compete with Amazon? By, from what I understand of this article, not competing with Amazon. And by hosting lots of poetry books and readings. "Poetry, the least profitable and most esoteric of all the genres, can save the bookstore." ...Why do the interesting pieces have elements of bias in them?
  • Online article curator Longreads publishes list of their top ten pieces of 2011 as an e-book. Wow. First, we had blooking, and now, this. Who'd be the first to define what a "Faceblook" would look like?
  • Self-published authors are not really leapfrogging towards publishing houses. With more Amanda Hocking. Honestly, there should be a law against the profligate citation of Hocking's success story to make the case for e-books and self-publishing. Still, can't blame the writers...
  • E-publishing may be cost-effective, quick and cool, but it may be a double-edged sword. Would you trust a book that can be surreptitiously updated whenever?
  • As Dickens's 200th birthday nears, The Independent asks: Where have all the book illustrators gone?
  • Flames fly in the wake of "snarky" comments of some young adult novels. Was this a long time coming?

Okay, that's all I got before I go offline for the holidays. Hope to get back to the reviewing state of mind after my return.

Happy Chinese New Year.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Source, Revealed

When I consulted am ENT specialist for the first time in years about my allergic rhinitis, I paid over RM250 for some overpriced medication - and advice to do nothing.

House dust mite,
My tormentor(s), revealed.
At long, long last
Well, almost. All I needed to do was exercise, build up my immune system. Surgery for my stuffy turbinates was not recommended.

But of course, I fell off the wagon in no time. As expected, nothing improved. My condition probably worsened.

Months after attending an immunology seminar at Pantai Medical Centre, I finally got tested for allergies last weekend. The results came in yesterday afternoon.

"...severe allergic reaction to dust mites..."

Okay, so RM450 was forked out to confirm what should've been obvious. House dust mites are among the most common causes - if not the most common cause - of allergies in the country. But in my case, "severe". At least they didn't find any food allergies listed in the common test package...

At long last, I had answers.

Knowledge is empowering.

Monday, 16 January 2012

News: E-Book Explosions and Indie Icons

No time to write extensively on some topics! Several books are being (re)published and I've had to read the softcopies. And I haven't been sleeping well, either.

As I'd previously reported, Tunku Halim's stories are being republished electronically. I'd just had a chunk of 44 Cemetary Road dropped into my mailbox, which I've had to psyche myself up to edit - that's how disturbing the stuff is.

Also, the travelogue of a cyclist who toured the "four corners" of Peninsular Malaysia as part of a duo is now in the final stages of design and checks.

I'm putting the page for manuscript solicitations up after the Chinese New Year holidays. I'm not expecting an inundated mailbox (or even a joke e-mail) within weeks of it going up, but I'd rather play it safe.

  • Happening elsewhere: e-books and e-publishing. The Czech Republic has seen rising e-book sales. Catching on to the e-buzz, some have proffered tips and thoughts on how to catch the wave.

    Meanwhile, Chinese B2C e-commerce site Dangdang expects a 20% profit margin on e-books. The company's plan to grow its e-book business is kind of ambitious, and highlights China as a plum market. But only if more publishers sign up; concerns include copyright protection short-term effects on business, and piracy.

    Speaking of which: Recently, a bunch of Chinese writers announced their intent to sue Apple for allegedly hosting pirated e-books. And, asks this article, "who owns the e-book rights to books published years before there was such a thing?"

    Still, the e-book explosion is good news for Amazon, which looks more and more the e-publishing monopoly feared by the traditional publishing sector. It seems Kindle Direct Publishing authors and publishers LOVE Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Celebrities such as James Franco and celebrity librarian Nancy Pearl are choosing to collaborate with Jeff Bezos's behemoth firm.
  • Mention e-publishing and indie comes to mind. Mention both and Amanda Hocking comes to mind. Just last week, it was the Guardian's turn to profile her. It should be noted that this member of the Kindle Million Club (authors who have sold one million or more e-books via Amazon's Kindle) had turned to traditional book publishers to relieve herself of the burden of marketing her books so she can write. With Amazon becoming a one-stop-shop for publishing, selling and lending books, one wonders if that will change.

    But Hocking hasn't dismissed traditional publishers as dinosaurs of the industry. Nor does she make her success sound like magic. "Self-publishing is great, but it's not easy," she blogged. "Most people who do it will not get rich, just like most authors signed up at Scholastic books aren't billionaires. Traditional publishers are not evil any more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble are evil. Things are changing, hopefully for the better, but it is still hard work being a writer."

    Sorry, but I think Amazon is getting evil. I'm also biased.
  • But speaking of indie publishing: A blook is being turned into a Zhang Yimou movie. The nom de plume Ai Mi penned Under the Hawthorn Tree, a tragic love story set during the Cultural Revolution - which may or may not be autobiographical. Are e-books are all about MOBI, EPUB, etc? Not really. Blogs may not resemble a books but written right, they read like books. But it's still hard work. The reception to a teacher's blook, released by MPH, was a surprise.

    So indie publishing is slowly shedding the dreaded "vanity" label as e-publishing evolves; in a saturated market, quality and integrity will make you stand out. But pitfalls abound for the aspiring Hocking. Enter Indie Beware, a watchdog site styled after Writer Beware. It's still new, but will fill up in time.
  • The Omnivore (UK) announces the Hatchet Job of the Year award for literary criticism. The Telegraph has the shortlist.
  • Another new award: The inaugural Kidwell-e Festival, taking place this summer at the Welsh village of Kidwelly, will see the UK's first literary prize for e-books and digital publishing: The £10,000 Kidwell-e Ebook Awards. It's the latest among the few literary prizes in the world for electronic books, which includes the US's EPIC eBook Awards and the Global Ebook Award.
  • Oxfam bookshops, the equivalent of Penang's Chowrasta book bazaar, are challenging the big chains in the UK. Sounds kind of sad that outlets selling new(ish) books are being challenged by what are effectively second-hand bookstores. The mentality is universal, though. Someone goes "cheap, cheap" and we all close in like predators.
  • Beijing Book Fair highlights underground literature - and the plight of private bookstores.
  • Public Enemies by Michel Houellebecq and Bernard Henri-Levy is "digested" in the Guardian. Shades of Stephen Clarke. Très bien. Also: Is Twitter the 21st-century literary salon? And are we seeing the death of literature?
  • A compelling piece on Jodi Kantor's The Obamas. Doesn't it make you want to read the book?
  • An end to "bad heir days": James Joyce's kin's "copyright dictatorship" and the posthumous power of literary estates.
  • This guy stopped reading books. Horror ensued.

...I compiled that list of stuff over a week. I tweeted most of them. Just added more text to some of the items. That ain't writing.

Monday, 9 January 2012

News: Bookstore Buzz and Tolkien's Nobel Miss

Lots of stuff last week from Publishers Weekly.

  • Some interesting news bites include the closing of feminist US bookstore True Colors in Minnesota next month. Said to be the oldest independent feminist bookstore in North America, it was opened 40 years ago elsewhere as Amazon Bookstore - and later got into a trademark tussle with Bezos's behemoth.
  • Decade-old indie bookstore The Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, Maryland has changed hands, while Kansas City almost lost a mystery-genre bookshop - and got another.
  • In a bit of a reverse situation, three-year-old online bookstore La Casa Azul to open as a brick-and-mortar shop. It "will sell new and used books, e-books, coffee, and locally-made art and gifts", and "offer literacy programs, writing classes, and author readings.
  • Finally: Be one of the 5,000 "who keep book culture alive," exhorts Dan Simon of Seven Stories Press. "Read books, talk about them. Give them as gifts."

News elsewhere: The next chapter in Spanish author Lucia Etxebarria's quit threat sparks a digital publishing debate on the future of writers - and by extension, artists - in the digital publishing era. Some writers don't think quitting is the answer to problems such as strong-arm tactics by publishers and pirates. Author and publisher Harry Freedman, for one, is not worried about e-book piracy. Why?

Meanwhile, publishers are clashing with libraries over free lending of e-books. And so, the debates continue. Also:

  • As more good times ahead are predicted for e-books, some cases are made for vanity publishing. For instance, what if the books are good? One thing about e-books, though: easy to update may also mean easy to doctor. Another area to explore, innovate and make money out of.

    But the year Borders closed - last year - was a good one for small bookshops in St Louis, USA. So no, maybe bookshops still have a little life to them. And just look at all these books coming out of Oz and around the world.

    And indie bookshops aren't entirely helpless: some are fighting back against the likes of Amazon by creating their own unique titles. Just like Silverfish Books, as they'd love to remind us.

    And somewhere in Tokyo is Dokusho no Susume, a bookstore where a real human - the owner, Katsuyoshi Shimizu - recommends books based on one's moods and interests. Who needs algorithms?

    But will Amazon's Price Check app ruin bookstore browsing for everybody? Let's hope not.
  • The emergence of local e-book portal e-Sentral is good news for local authors. Though the name sounds a little... generic.

    Elsewhere, there's fledgling web site and digital publishing company Byliner, which is publishing short pieces by some well-known names. You might have heard about Jon Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit.
  • Revenge of the paperback? A new book series attempts to revitalise the printed word.
  • JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings didn't get the Nobel (I'm assuming) literature prize because of... poor storytelling? Those who have read the book(s) will probably... agree.
  • Wow. The AP StyleGuard plug-in. Will it spell the death of editing? Not really, the piece argues.
  • Other victims of Thailand's floods: books. It's Germany's Centre for Book Preservation to the rescue in Ayutthaya.
  • Here's a hilarious excerpt from Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women. Pity we might not get the book in the bookstores here.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tight Civet, Fighting Mongoose

We all had a good laugh at the Defence Ministry's "tight Malay civets", "mongoose fights", eye-poking clothes and "skirts with exquisite" - not to mention (George W) "Bush's jacket".

But it's more than just the standard of English.

Photo of mongoose is from thebarefootmom.wordpress.comPhoto of civet is from
A mongoose (left) and a civet. Try wearing these two. Photos not mine.

For one, I would think that the employee dress code for a ministry or firm is not meant for the public. Unlike, maybe, the dress code for visitors to a ministry or firm.

The list doesn't appear properly structured, and its items don't appear organised. And word-for-word translation isn't always possible - or recommended in some cases.

The original dress code section for men, based on the copy in, looks like:

Dress code
How to dress symbolizes the personality of the officers and staff as well as the values and moral work ethics. Therefore, how to dressclean, tidy and appropriate to be standard practice is emphasized to the officers and staff. Following rules of dress while on duty in to be observed:

Dress code FOR MEN

Men's Clothing:
  1. For officers in the management and professional, "Lounge Suite" or "Bush's jacket
  2. long pants with long sleeved shirt and tie
  3. complete with Malay dress clothes and bersongkok bersamping dark.
  4. Officers in the management and professional to wear a neck strap / cap / corporate scarves every Wednesday and the officithe Ministry.
  5. long-sleeved shirts and T-shirt:
    1. collared shirts and tight Malay civet berbutang three
    2. collared shirts and tight Malay civet berbutang five
    3. hidden berbutang Nehru collar,
    4. three berbutang mandarin collar.
    5. long pants. Do not fold your sleeves. Shirts must be included in (tuck in).
    6. Nehru suits made of fabrics and colors to suit:
      1. forward berbutang
      2. hidden berbutang

Would the following be more suitable?

Dress Code
The way an officer or staff member dresses indicates his/her character, values and work ethics. Therefore, the habit of being dressed in clean and neat clothes must be inculcated among the staff. The following dress codes must be observed when on duty:

For men:
Attire for officers classified under management and professional categories:

  • Lounge suites or bush jackets with a
    • Nehru collar with concealed buttons or
    • mandarin collar with three buttons
  • Trousers with long-sleeved shirt and tie; sleeves must not be rolled up, and shirt must be tucked in
  • Baju Melayu, complete with samping, dark-coloured songkok and cekak musang collar with three (or five) buttons
  • Nehru suit of a suitable fabric and colour with exposed (or concealed) buttons
Ties/Caps/Corporate scarves must be worn on Wednesdays and during official Ministry functions or events.

The above is based on my understanding of the original text in Malay, in which I'm not fluent. It's an itch I had to scratch.

Some have suggested that this snafu is why the teaching of maths and science in English or PPSMI should not be abolished. Would teaching maths and science in English help with one's sartorial terminology?

"Ethical clothing", by the way, describes clothes that have, say, not been made in sweatshops or by screwing cotton farmers over and stuff like that.

Since then, more examples of eye-gouging English in the web sites of other ministries have been found. Perhaps not "found", but "noticed". Who knows how long those errors have been there?

No one should claim that a ministry or firm "has better things to do" than correct the grammar on their web sites. Somebody did some research and found that, apparently, sales through online portals can be negatively affected by poor spelling.

Government and corporate bodies these days are represented by their online portals as well as their front-line staff. Typos and grammatical errors are as off-putting as rude or uncaring behaviour. That's something for government bodies to consider as they move towards digitising their services.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Who's Coffee And Why Is (S)he In Love?

On Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, en route to Publika at Solaris Dutamas, you may have noticed a sign outside Eastern Nursery just after an overpass. It sounds like and odd declaration of love.

Who the hell's Coffee and why is (s)he in love?

Actually, it's just an odd name for a coffee bar tucked away in the nursery. Experience tells me good brews are to be had in places like this. Unfortunately, on the first two occasions I had a look, the place was closed.

A signpost marks the start of a path leading to a sheltered extension of a potter's barn. The signpost sports a wooden "Open/Close" sign that doesn't always mean what it says. If you can't open the café's Facebook page, open your ears. If the barista is in, there'll be music drifting out of the shelter - which I heard when I dropped by on New Year's Day.

One is also advised to show up a little after 2pm during weekends, when the café is most likely to be open.

Just when you think it's already tucked-away... it's just
like Aladdin's Adobo Shack

Established in June 2011, the Coffee In Love Café is reminiscent of those vendors' shacks in the Caribbean you might have read about. Assorted bric-a-brac here and there gives the whole décor a rundown yet quirky feel. Fake chillies, a gas lamp, old statuettes, wooden figurines and potted plants accent an interior festooned with salvaged furniture: chairs of all makes and sizes, old cabinets and kitchen cupboards, and wooden classroom desks.

The interior of Coffee in Love Café - an American Picker's
kinda place. Don't think all the items are for sale.

A water feature (in the background) are also made from recyclables: PVC pipes and paint buckets, and also serves to funnel run-off from a rain gutter. A blackboard for miscellaneous announcements was singing the owner's praises.

"Have you seen the owner?" Yes. "Is she cute?" No comment.

On a cabinet near the bar is the speaker where the music comes from. Depending on the barista and the help, you can have Latino/Spanish pop hits to jazz - good coffee house music. The whole décor adheres pretty much to the re-use and recycle principle espoused by the founders.

One of them, the supposed owner Helen, worked in the F&B business for a while. She calls herself an artist now, but opened the café to serve good coffee. "In KL it's easy to find crap coffee," she told me when I'd dropped by days ago.

Where did she learn how to make coffee? "Self-taught," she replied.

"100% Colombian Coffee" - that's what goes into every cup. They grind only as much as they need for each order. Only a few stray beans remain in the grinder's bin. This is good because coffee beans should be kept in the tin when not in use. They degrade when exposed to air.

You "like it STRONG and HARD?" Colombian beans'll do it for ya.
Ask for the Piccolo Latte (RM5). If you ask nicely, the barista may
even make you a a triple espresso - if your heart can handle it.

Like most of their hot beverages, my latte (RM7) comes with a square biscuit that tastes like a Marie's Biscuit - good for taking the bitter edge from the coffee. After a few sips, however, you won't mind a bit.

Cold water is served in re-purposed wine and spirits bottles and
glass jars that provide good photo opportunities for shutterbugs.
Brown sugar is provided but not necessary.

The brew? Kicks like a mule, their Piccolo Latte in particular. With less milk than the latte, you can better feel the strength and, perhaps, the quality of the brew. I wasn't doing too well on the taste department then because I'd scalded my tongue.

I got out my writing materials and tried to fill a few pages. Though it looked like a good place to get creative, the warm, humid weather saps much of that impulse in no time - not that it's a bad thing. Coffee in Love is more of a place where people can chill and get caffeinated after lunch.

The atmosphere will lull aspiring Hemingways and W Somerset
Maughams into a tropical torpor no amount of caffeine can jolt.

Few things beat sipping a steamy brew of Colombian Supremo beans in a warm, humid shack, surrounded by earthy sights and smells and with music to match. And a barista who says he likes coffee and half-jokingly greets you "Good morning!" when you arrive because, I guess, the day doesn't really start without a good cuppa.

Slanty art shot of the counter. You'll most probably find these two
at the Café on weekends, when it opens from 2pm-ish to 6pm.

So you'll forgive a lot of things about this weird little corner. Electric fans provide air conditioning when there's no breeze. There may be mosquitoes about. Rain will make it nice and cool, albeit quite damp. Damp air's no good for my lungs, but a great excuse for another warm beverage. Good coffee itself is already hard to come by, so don't complain about the latte art.

Though they had some in the beginning, food is very occasionally served here. The tiny place looks like it can only accommodate about twenty patrons at a time. And they only open during lunch on weekdays and after lunch on weekends and close at around six in the evening.

But with prices from RM3++ to RM10, it's damn good value for several good beverages (you're probably begging for a thrashing if you want them iced). And there's wi-fi.

It's been open seven months, but quite a few people have found it already (Facebook is fantastic that way). The Coffee In Love Café Facebook page has all the updates, and they announce their café openings there, too.

I had no reason to stay until they close, so I got up to leave and ask for the bill. They got P1 wi-fi and update their clientèle on a social network, but Coffee in Love's cash register is a Milo can on a pulley - so old-school, it's Jurassic - so you don't get a printed receipt. This is by far the greenest and coolest (style, not temperature) café I've been to.

Coffee in Love Café
c/o Eastern Nursery
132KV, SGBT - TNB 8-10
Jalan 1/70A, Taman Sri Hartamas
50480 Kuala Lumpur


Monday, 2 January 2012

News: Publishers, Privacy and Memoirs

This list is a bit late, but my thought processes are borked and I can't think straight enough to write coherently.

  • Print On Demand: A collaborative and real-time history of Occupy Wall Street, written by those who were there. Now, history is written by its characters, not historians.
  • Community appeal saves a second-hand book shop in the UK. Maybe there's hope out there.
  • An all-women comic book team kicks back against sexism in comics with their Bayou Arcana anthology.
  • Komputing koach Kim Komando asks, "Got a dream for 2012? Why not publish a book?" The last time I saw her, she was on TV, demonstrating WordPerfect, Compuserve Prodigy and Lotus 1-2-3 on an Amazing Discoveries infomercial. Yes, it was that long ago.
  • Will the UK's Leveson inquiry give rise to a privacy law that impacts memoirs? Particularly those with details that friends, colleagues and relatives may object to?
  • Michael Korda says most Hollywood memoirs are dull, overrated and probably ghostwritten.
  • Ooh, publisher Melville House has come up with their HybridBook™. Instead of CDs, I think, you get a URL. Do some things stay the same the more they change?
  • What's coming in 2012 for the book publishing sector. Hopefully, not a variant of the so-called Mayan apocalypse.
  • The story of Sixty-Eight Publishers, set up by and mainly for Czechs in exile.
  • And for laughs: the diary of failed Doomsday prophet Harold Camping.

Also: Paul Callan (The Dulang Washer, 2011) is working on a new novel, and we're converting an e-book collection of Tunku Halim's scary stories. The second book in Tuttu Dutta-Yean's The Jugra Chronicles is scheduled for this year.

I'm also putting together a page for manuscript submissions. The company appears to have no official online portal for submissions, save a phone number and an e-mail address. So, I'm making one.