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Saturday, October 11, 2008

BCBG 30% off Coat Sale!

I guess one of the silver linings to this credit crunch is that sales and special/private sales are creeping in on us way earlier this year. One of the best bargains in my opinion? The BCBG 30% off select outerwear sales. Quite a bargain at this time of the season, when it's barely cold yet. If you buy it now, you'll still have plenty of time to get your mileage out of them in the next few months!
I personally have my eye on this fabulous white coat. I've been wanting one since Devil's Wear Prada came out, but haven't bought one for fear that it will turn beige/grey all too soon. Made of wool, rayon and cashmere, it will at least be warm enough until Christmas. The double breasted design with the tie on the waist, makes it an instant classic. And isn't the trench coat like design at the back just beautiful?

Alas, even at 30% off, I still find it a bit pricey for my budget. But if you aren't as limited, I think this is quite a bargain (along with a few other of their collection). So don't miss it, because this offer only lasts til October 13th (tomorrow!).

Image Source: BCBG

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mail Bombs: Rihanna's Plaid Jacket + Alicia's Military Look

So life has been super busy with my impending move, but Mail Bombs of course take priority!
Let's go!
First Deja says, "I just love this plaid jacket Rihanna is wearing and I'm positive that its very expensive..."
"...Could you find something similar on a college girl's budget?"
So Adriana found that Rihanna is wearing this $325 L.A.M.B. Draped Collar Blazer...
..expensive, so if you'd like an alternative, go with these:
1. Aqua Women's 3/4 Sleeve Plaid Jacket, $128. 2. Priorities Green Plaid Emma Jacket, $99.
In another Rihanna Mail Bomb, Mariah says, "Rihanna recently wore this jacket to T.I.'s Myspace Music Concert..."
"...Do you know who the designer is and where I could find a similar leather jacket for a lower price?"
Stuntin is a habit for Rihanna, as Adriana found that she's wearing this $890 Mike & Chris Lambskin Nathan Jacket...

Get a similar look with these lower priced options:
1. Aqua Women's Hooded Leather Jacket, $298. 2. Theory Women's "Juna" Hooded Leather Jacket, $525. 3. Soia & Kyo Kymia Jacket, $375.
Crystal says, "The coat that Alicia Keys is rocking in the following picture is a must!"
"...I'm lovin her whole outfit, the coat, the boots, the hat.... but the coat is a must have. Can you post some more affordable versions of it (as I'm sure it must cost a fortune)?"
Mimic Alicia's Military steeze with these high and low priced coats:
1. Burberry Wool Coat, $1,495. 2. City Style Wool Captain's Coat, $91. 3. BCBGMAXAZRIA Women's Melton Luxe Military Coat, $595.
Next, Tola says, "Where can I get this dress or something similar!"
"..It is TOOO FAB!"
Adriana recommends emulating J. Lo's Dolce & Gabbana frock...
...with this $242 Guy Baxter Julia Dress...
Lastly, Devin says, "I found this belt on Christina Milian's promo pic that I absolutely loved."
"...I actually love the entire look, but I would love to know where I can get a belt like that?"
Adriana found these options:
1. Calvin Klein Black Leather Wide Belt, $33. 2. Ann Taylor Loft Obi Belt, $34. 3. Belworks Black Leather Wide Sash, $108.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ctrl BG: A Shortcut to Financial News 10/10

Wow, so much has been going on, I don't even know where to start! I guess to begin with, I'd like to thank everyone for sharing your thoughts. It has been truly fascinating to read about your opinions on this issue. It is always good to be able to hear about the other side of the coin, as my posts will reflect my own bias and I obviously do not know everything, I'm just interested.

I'm happy to announce that nothing too dramatic happened last weekend and no banks collapsed this week- at least not any American banks- yet. On the other hand, we experienced a 8 day consecutive drop in the stock market (globally), like the market has never seen since 1933.
The US stock market dropped nearly 18% this week, with the DOW breaking the 9000 mark (and very nearly the 8000 on too today). Asian and European benchmarks posted their worst week as well, while some countries, like Russia, Indonesia and Ukraine were hit so bad that they suspended trading. Basically the stock market dropped and financial journalists are starting to run out of words to describe "down." So how did this happen when the US congress just approved the bailout plan last Friday?

I've pinpointed it down to fear. Fear that this bailout plan will not work or came too late. Fear that the economy is heading for loooong recession (if we're not in one already). Fear that more companies will declare bankruptcy and they will loose all their wealth. And fear is nothing if not a self fulfilling prophecy. As a result, people have been selling off their assets or redeeming their investments in funds, forcing funds to sell off their assets to meet these redemption demands, further driving the market down. Everyone wants to get their hands on solid cash right now- just in case. Emotion is a powerful force. Logically, having just read "The Warren Buffet Way," I believe that as long as you've done your research and you believe that the firm is solid, then the market price of the firm will eventually match with the firm's true value, despite market volatility. In which case, it sounds like there should be a lot of bargains out there right now- not that I'm giving out investment advice. Just musing. Various experts in the field have been debating whether we've hit rock bottom or not and there has not been a general consensus.

So does this mean the bailout plan failed to do its job of stabilizing the economy, since the market actually got worse after it passed? It's far too early to tell (since it has not even been executed yet), but it's comforting to know that something is being done to address the heart of the problem. If you caught a cold and it keeps getting worse, wouldn't you go see a doctor and take some medicine, even though theoretically the body's immune system will naturally fight off the infection, just in case it's something worse than a cold that the body can't fight off by itself?

Though of course, we must bare in mind that the bailout plan is not a cure all (or as Buffet puts it, a "panacea"). To that end, the government has come up with many other 'cures' for the economy:
  • On Tuesday, the government announced that it will lend directly to non-financial companies through the commercial paper markets- which are short term, unsecured loans, firms use to borrow money for operational needs i.e. stocking up inventories. This will help companies finance their operational costs easier, since credit is so hard to get these days
  • The Fed will start paying interest on commercial banks' reserves, which will expand the central bank's resources and more leverage to battle the this credit market
  • On Wednesday, central banks around the world, including US, Britain and China cut their interest rates, which, made together, is supposedly a more powerful move. This is aimed to lower the cost of borrowing and put more liquidity back into the market (and of course there are a host of other effects, but this is the gist). This is one of the most powerful weapon in the US government's arsenal, but at 1.5% (after a 0.5% cut), they don't have much further to go. Any further, and they'll end up like Japan with no more room to adjust their interest rates and a decade long recession. You know the song that goes, "catch a falling star and save it for a rainy day"? I hope there aren't too many even more rainier days ahead, because it looks like we're running out of stars
  • Paulson and Bernanke met up with representatives from the rest of the G7 on Friday, to discuss the global economy and came out with a list of broad common goals. I thought those goals were a given, but I guess not.
  • They also announced on Friday that the US government will be injecting money into financial firms in exchange for equity stakes, in an attempt to recapitalize firms. At least we're getting something back. Maybe this will help Morgan Stanley, which has been under pressure this week with rumors that MUFG might be pulling out/demaind their stakes and what not.
Speaking of banks, Wells Fargo got the clear from the Fed to go ahead with its deal to buy Wachovia after Citi dropped out from the talks on Thursday to split up the deal. As one would expect, the bidder with the biggest wallet won. Still miffed at being upended out of a bargain, Citi will be seeking damage retributions from WF and Wachovia. Good luck with that.

Over at the other side of the world on a small island of 300,000 people called Iceland, the government nationalized (or rescued) their three biggest banks and closed the stock market, while their currency plummeted (the last I checked it was by a 1/3). Having out grown its Iceland's economy, the banks were struggling to stay afloat in this market with their heavy debts. Some citizens have even lost their life savings becase of this. The government is now currently waiting on a $5.4 billion loan from Russia, the only country who responded to their pleas, having been reluctant to accept anything from the IMF. Not that Russia is doing too well themselves...... I wonder if it's possible for a country to go bankrupt. What happens then? On the otherhand, if anyone is interested in visiting Iceland any time soon (I heard the nature stuff is very pretty over there), Icelandair is offering a "Winter Madness" package for 3 nights staying at the Hilton, for only $549!

October Crafts

Thanks to John for running this months Craft Club :)

Paris Fashion Week: Les Shoes

Coco Chanel famously remarked that fashion begins from the bottom up. While the bottom she referred to was the streets, for this post we're going to reinterpret it to mean the shoes (I think CC would understand and even encourage it), oui?Instead of our usual, clothes-focused show review (and because I've got a *serious* shoe itch this week), we're going to do something a little different and round-up of some of the fabulous shoes featured in last week's Spring 2009 Paris shows. The Fashion Bomb gives you:
Paris Fashion Week: Les Shoes
And who better to lead off than the House that Chanel built?
Chanel: playful and feminine, with touches of maribou, lace, sheer. A very 1940s feel, no?

Louis Vuitton: tribal and eye-catching. Shoes like these MUST be the focal point of your outfit in order to pull them off.

Givenchy: I can't take my eyes off the green metallic pump. Just fierce.

Christian Dior: What do you think of the fertility doll heels that caught everyone's eye? Hmmm...

Viktor & Rolf: One of my favorite designers, they didn't disappoint with distinctive, funky shoes.

Giambattista Valli: modern and sexy. The platform soles remind me of my beloved Marni from two seasons ago.

Christian Lacroix: full of bows and charms, like wearing treats on your feet.

Yves Saint Laurent: a bit high-concept. The ankle-strap ones are growing on me the more I look at them, though.

Dries Van Noten: another of my faves, these shoes deviate a bit from his normal minimalist style and have a bit of a tribal feel, too.

Favorites? Disappointments? Weigh in!
*Images courtesy of

Splurge of the Day: Dolce Vita Booties

Speaking of shoes, indulge with this cute pair of Dolce Vita Cher Cutout Booties...
...eye catching and dramatic, the shoe can instantly upgrade any outfit. Get yours for $172 at

Thursday Video: Kanye West Love Lockdown

Kanye debuted his video for Love Lockdown on the Ellen Degeneres show a few days ago:

I'm not sure how I feel about this song. I have a friend who plays it on repeat all day long. I'm kinda 'eh' about it, but maybe it has to grow on me?
Are y'all feeling 'Love Lockdown'?

Accessories: Designer Fashion Jewelry

Designer fashion jewelry is a great way to acquire pieces from your favorite designers at a fraction of the cost of their apparel. Another tip: it's one of my favorite ways to bring a bonafide "high" to a "high-low" outfit. Here are a few fantastic pieces from some of the fall collections:
1.Just Cavalli Amber Earrings, $120 2. Dsquared "I'm Not Too Sweet" Pendant, $195. 3. Fendi Crystal Ball Necklace, $295 4. Elizabeth & James Knuckle Ring, $155
The Fendi necklace is soooo tempting...A

Tai Chi Chuan

In the 60's Sibu most people were amazed by the great following of Master Huang's Tai Chi Chuan. In fact any one who was a student of Master Huang was rendered as some one with special martial arts. Many people thought that Tai Chi like aerobics or even the cha cha would die a natural death after the craze is over. But in fact the Tai Chi exponents continue in their endeavour to promote the martial arts far and wide.

The man who brought Tai Chi Chuan to Sibu was Huang Sheng Shyan or Wong Sing Hieng or Huang Xingxian.

His Tai Chi Chuan classes were held in his school situated at Central Road Sibu at first on just one floor of a shop house. But later his class needed more space. So they moved to a roof top venue. Both men and women were very serious in picking up the skills from him. There were also demonstrations which attracted thousands of people. And from time to time Tai Chi exponents are invited to demonstrate their skills on stage for various important occasions.

T'ai chi ch'uan (太极拳) literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist" or "great extremes boxing". Tai Chi is based heavily on Taoism (道 'The Way') philosophy, where the concept of the "supreme ultimate" represents the harmony of Yin and Yang into a single ultimate, represented by the Yin-Yang symbol. Taoist ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao; compassion, moderation, and humility. Taoist thought focuses on non-action, spontaneity, transformation and emptiness. An emphasis is placed on the link between people and nature, and that this link lessens the need for rules and order, leading one to a better understanding of the world and one's surroundings. Therefore practising Tai Chi helps to adapt to changes in life and helps to balance the opposing forces that give existence to life. A balanced life is a healthy and ultimately a happy life.

Tai Chi Chuan is a Wu-dang-quan (internal Chinese martial art). It is a soft style martial art using internal power, which distinguishes it from that of the hard martial art styles. Tai Chi can be practiced for various reasons: health, relaxation, exercise, social, meditation, competition or as a martial art. Therefore there are many different styles and ways to practise and train. While each style shares the important foundation principles, there are differences in their approaches to training.

Modern tai chi traces its development to at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu and Sun. The oldest modern documented tradition is that of the Chen family from the 1820s, but the origins of all Tai Chi can be traced back to the Taoist monk Zhang Sanfeng at Wu Tang Shan Monastery in the 12th century.

During the early years of Tai Chi Chuan in Sibu only the older Foochows took interest in the art. In fact to day we all know that anyone of any age or health can practice Tai Chi. You only need to persevere with the practise according to the teachings and have an enquiring mind to receive the many benefits.

After so many years have passed by I realise now that Tai Chi has become a world wide phenomenon. It is as Chinese as the chrysanthemum

In the parks of China and now in the United States and Australia and New Zealand you can see a lot of people practising Tai Chi. When a large number of people are practising their Tai Chi together it is indeed a wonder to behold. The recent Olympics in Beijing show cased such an amazing performance.


Huang Xingxian (Huang Sheng Shyan) was born in Minhou County, Fujian Province, China in 1910. He started training at the age of 14 in White Crane Kung Fu (Baihe Gung Fu) and Taoist Healing (Nei Gung) under Xie Zhongxian (1852-1930). He later studied Fujian White Crane under Pan Chun-Nien, who also taught him Chinese medicine and the Literary Classics. He became a renowned fighter in his home province. He opened a martial arts school in Shanghai, and studied Taichi with Wan Lai-Sheng (China Martial Arts Champion 1938). He fought in the Chinese Army as a sergeant during WWII.

He moved to Taiwan after the war and in 1949 was so impressed by Cheng Man Ching's (Zheng Manqing 1902-1975) Taichi martial ability that he gave up White Crane to study Tai Chi under GM Cheng. After 3 years he was accepted as a disciple of Cheng's and trained under him for a further 5 years. In 1959 under the instructions of Cheng, he moved to Singapore and later Malaysia to teach and propagate the art of Tai Chi.

In 1955 GM Huang along with eight fellow students of Cheng Man-Ching represented the Shih Chung Association in the Provincial Chinese Martial Arts Tournament. GM Huang was champion in the Taiji section and runner-up in the open (all martial styles) section. Two of his own students came 2nd and 3rd in the Taiji section.

In 1970, at the age of 60, GM Huang demonstrated his abilities in Tai Chi by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler (Shuai jiao), 26 throws to 0, in a fund raising event in Kuching Malaysia.

Grandmaster Huang introduced his Tai Chi into Singapore in 1956 and started his first Tai Chi Association there in 1959. He brought his Tai Chi to Kuching (Sarawak) in 1959, Sibu in 1961, Bintang in 1962, Sarikei in 1963, Miri in 1966, Api Api (Kota Kinabalu) in 1968, Beaufort, Keningau and Tenom in 1975. He set up his Malaysian Tai Chi association in 1973. He set up his Malaysian Tai Chi association in 1973. The Association is now international with many branches throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China (Shenzhen). There are also many schools dedicated to Grandmaster Huang's art in Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

He spent all his adult life refining his martial arts skills. Slowly going from the hard external style of Kung Fu to the soft internal style of Tai Chi Chuan. In the last 10 years before he died in 1992, he refined his art even more by finally giving up on any hardness in his martial art. He firmly believed that Tai Chi should always have song as it's foundation, and not have even the smallest instance of force or hardness. (song is pronounced soong, there is no literal translation into English but it kind-of, sort-of means soft or relaxed).

Huang's exceptional skill has been praised by many tai chi and martial artists. In his book 'Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods', Robert W. Smith says "[William] Chen probably climbed higher than any of Cheng Man-Ching’s students, except the converted White Crane boxer Huang Sheng-Hsien (who after learning t’ai chi moved to Singapore and acquired some fame there...)" (p77).

You will find many videos on the internet showing GM Huang throwing people. He loved to 'push hands' and would take every opportunity to 'push hands' with people. He makes it seem so easy that it looks fake, but it is not! He had refined his 'listening' skills to such a fine degree that with the barest touch he could read someone's body, control their centre, use their own force against them and throw them; all in a split second.

He was once asked how long it would take to learn all aspects of Tai Chi and replied "300 years". Even at the age of 82 years old and recognized as a great master of Tai Chi, he still felt he had much to learn.


Grandmaster Huang stressed that the most important thing in tai chi is song (soong - soft/relaxed).

You MUST find song in all aspects of your tai chi practise, so that eventually it is also in your everyday life. You must have Ting (centred mind and body - calmness), stillness and absence of fear. Once you start to achieve song then you can introduce yi (intention/mindfulness) into your body and chi (energy) will come naturally. Song without yi is useless. Yi without song is useless. But first you must have song. To achieve song, you must be diligent and continually practise mindfully on introducing song into your body. If there is a secret, then this is it!

You must be song step by step, don't forget the upper body and just jump straight to the hip joints. Do each body part in sequence, eventually it will be internal with very little movement. When more advanced, you can concentrate on yi being in each part of body, which will bring song into all your body (beginners will not be able to do this). Do not move onto next part of body until the previous is totally song.

Use song to dissipate the force through the whole body. Tai Chi is not letting the force sink into the feet, otherwise the feet are fixed to the ground like a building. The soles of the feet are light, like floating on water. Yi is in the whole body and in the feet even when stepping. Yi spreads through the whole body and stays there.

To help achieve song, GM Huang developed an exercise he called Hun Yuan Zhan Zhuang and also the Song Shen Wu Fa (Five loosening exercises). Please go to 'lessons' in the Classes section. There you will find video, class instructions and a brief description of the exercises. Remember, you need to have personal practical lessons; reading and video can not be used to substitute for a teacher. From these exercises you can learn to introduce song into your form and push-hands practise.

Below I have extracted 13 questions answered by Grand Master Huang (from the Tenom Sabah Webpage)

Q1. Are there different schools or sects of Tai Chi?

Tai Chi embodies a comprehensive set of knowledge, developed and handed down by our learned predecessors with mystifying principles and profound philosophical learnings. The Tai Chi movements are scientific, as the principles are based on scientific fundamentals. Our predecessors developed the art for improving human health, warding off sickness, slowing down the ageing process, achieving longevity and defending oneself. All this benefits mankind and society. Good character formation is promoted. An adherent imbibed with the Tao (or philosophy as a way of life) of Tai Chi would contribute towards proper governance of the country and universal peace. Tai Chi is not a martial art meant for bragging and antagonistic purposes. A Tai Chi exponent would need to understand the principles and philosophy of Tai Chi. No one should deviate from these principles and philosophy. The movements can be developed and modified but the principles are eternal. The external forms may differ from person to person but the principles are standard and unvarying. Because of this, there is no basis for differentiation by schools. Instead, a spirit of a single family should prevail. Common interest of the art should take precedence over personal interest. An open attitude should emerge, bearing in mind the spirit of the founder and predecessors to propagate the philosophy of Tai Chi throughout the world so as to improve the health of mankind.

Q2. How should we practice Tai Chi in order to reach accuracy?

The gap between accurate and non-accurate achievement is wide. Remember the words of the old master, Wang Tsung Yueh, that the body must be naturally and vertically balanced. Bearing in mind the principles of being relaxed, rounded and awareness of the various parts of the body. During practice of the set movements, one must be careful, conscious or alert, observant and must feel where one is moving. Otherwise there is form without substance and deception to people. To achieve accuracy, the principles of Tai Chi must be followed in addition to correct methods of practising. A good master is necessary coupled with one's own constant research. The art must be learned progressively, having to be on firm ground first before advancing to the next step. Personal requirements are also important. One must be determined, confident, persevering and motivated. A secure means of livelihood and having normal environment coupled with single-mindedness, constant learning and practice, and clear understanding of the principles thoroughly - all this will lead to achievement of accuracy. This is in contrast to those who want to learn fast, who concern themselves with the external forms and who learn to practise sporadically. These hope to learn first and be corrected later not realising that it is worse than having a new person learning from scratch. Others take the principles of Tai Chi lightly or superficially and liken the art to a common exercise, drill or dance. All this has form but no substance. One's body must be likened to a perfect machine where a wrong spare part will affect the operation of the machine. The founder of Tai Chi said, "Achieving the Tao is important, acquiring the skill in the art is secondary; not learning my Tao, he is not my student." Therefore also important would be honesty and righteousness or a good moral character.

Q3. There are different forms of Tai Chi, are the principles different?

The founder created the art. But through the years, the forms of Tai Chi have differed: some have 24 basic movements while others have 37; some have 64 set movements and some have 72; while others have 108 movements or even 124. There are long sets and short sets. Movements have been large and expansive and have been small and compact. Some emphasised high postures; others opt for low ones. Some practise slowly, others practise at a faster pace. All this divergence is written by men. What is important is that the principles remain the same. Different masters with different temperaments have been following the basic principles through the ages. They have engaged in continuous research and training. They have reviewed and improved the art until the ultimate objective is achieved; where form becomes formless, limbs are no more important, brute force becomes nonexistent and stiffness has given way to being fully relaxed. Character formation has advanced to the stage of "non-self" and of non-resistance so that the whole body is used and hands are no more used as hands. Youthfulness and longevity are attained. It is easy to master correct forms, as the Qi and the principles of the art are internally harmonised. Harmonisation is also to be achieved between the upper, middle and lower parts and between the left and the right body. Even though difficult it is relatively easier to master correct forms compared to acquiring skill in the art. This is so as in training or practising there are a number of normally undetectable parts of the body that are difficult to keep under control from the aspects of speed, timing, rhythm and balance. Because of this, skill in the art is difficult to acquire. But then as the founder says, "Understanding one portion of the art would mean being enlightened on all portions or parts. Then all schools and sects become one."

Q4. Is it better to practise Tai Chi more frequently or less frequently?

There are no extremes in Tai Chi. The essence is in the training method. If the method is not correct, it is no different from ordinary drills with a lot of time spent but relatively little achievement. So it is not a question of practising more or less frequently but practising correctly. That is, the central equilibrium must be vertically maintained. Every movement must be disciplined such that the posture is vertically balanced. The principles remain unchanged; there is straightness in a curve and vice versa. There must be constant learning and practice, understanding the principles and the less obvious points. Mastery of this will produce skill naturally. There is no question therefore of practising too much or too little, but rather of practising correctly.

Q5. Is it correct to practise the art fast or to practise it slow?

The earth rotates at a constant and specific rate. Similarly, Tai Chi should not be practised too slowly or too fast but should be practised comfortably. The human body must be moved naturally otherwise there would be weaknesses. If the practice is too fast, breathing is affected resulting in uneven respiration, breathlessness and the heart pulsating too fast. If the practice is too slow, the limbs and the joints become stiff. Qi is blocked and is locally stagnant: intent or consciousness is employed but the Qi is not flowing. Internal force and Qi must be synchronised. Internally, there is the harmony of the libido, energy, Qi and spirit while externally, the mind, consciousness (or intent) and body are also harmonised and in turn both the internal and external harmonies are synchronised. Muscles must be relaxed and all parts of the body are naturally without tension. It is not possible therefore to say practising fast is correct or practising slow is correct, as this has to be based on the standard or level of achievement of the student. One must practise until the whole body is relaxed and comfortably balanced. Once there is internal and external synchronisation, then the question of slow and fast in practice is unimportant. At this stage, one gets the feeling that the upper portion of the body is like the drifting of clouds and the lower portion is like the flowing of water. Consciousness is continuous and is harmonised with movement. All parts of the body are natural and are unified. There is then no question of being fast or slow.

Q6. Is it correct to have either high or low postures in the set movements of Tai Chi?

The art of Tai Chi does not distinguish high and low postures, but is rather based on the idea of four "balances" or equilibriums:
1. balance in the magnitude of the posture or movement such as both sides of the body must have a "balanced" amount of spatial displacement when moving;
2. accuracy or precision achieved simultaneously by all parts of the body;
3. bodily balanced when moving or turning;
4. steadiness, particularly when moving.

External and internal balance or harmony must be cultivated, so there is no slanting of the central axis of the body. when hind force is invoked, the hind knee being bent will move up or straighten slightly though the height of the body remains unchanged. This is so as consciousness (or intend) and Qi would "close" centrally instead of coming up while the bent knee is used to adjust accordingly. Consciousness is used to lead the muscles in relaxing. Joints, muscles and ligaments must then be loosened, relaxed and "thrown" open but still linked. The body is then erect and comfortable. Consciousness is also used to "move" Tai Chi principles to parts of the body. Having achieved "four balances and eight steadiness", the question of high and low postures is then answered individually.

Q7. How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?

The muscles, the skeleton and the nerves are parts of the body system. When practising the movements, the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important. The centre of gravity is moved while preserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body. It is important to focus on steadiness, tranquillity, relaxation and rootedness. The movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is generated with turning movements. After a long time, the whole body is in balance. When left and right is distinguished, one is substantial and the other insubstantial along the pattern of "cross alignment". For instance, together with the distinction between top and bottom parts of the body, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial. Similarly, when the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial. This pattern of cross alignment is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other. This is similar to the "cross-roads" of the nervous system. When moving Qi, therefore, one must separate substantial from insubstantial, move the step without moving the body or moving the body and not the hand. If in moving a step, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial. If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed. It is important to follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated. A rounded grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving. All parts of the body become one system characterised by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing like that of the sea. Where with movement from one part of the sea, all parts are also moved. The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.

Q8. How could the movements be practised in order that they can be usefully applied?

Take the five loosening (or relaxing) exercises as an illustration. These exercises are based on Tai Chi principles. During practice there must be full concentration since any distraction will nullify any effects. Bear in mind the three points of non-mobility: the head which must be locked on to the body, the hands which must not move of its own volition and the soles of the feet which must be still and rooted to the ground. Consciousness (or intend) will lead the Qi along. Steps are made without affecting or moving the body. Turning movements start from the waist and hips with hands propelled from the waist and hips in accordance with the principle that all movements originate from the waist. Principles must be understood and no movements are separated from the principles. Once you make it internally you are also "through" externally. Once you are fully relaxed, you can change according to circumstances and can therefore, neutralise an oncoming force. You would have reached that position of "non-self" where the whole body is the weapon and the hands are no more used as hands. If you are not able to usefully apply your movements then you still have not understood the basics of the five relaxing exercises. If you have not mastered the essentials, then there is no point of talking about application of the movements.

Q9. What is the rationale for relaxing the abdomen and withdrawing the coccyx (or tailbone)?

Qi is stored in the Dan Tien as a result of using consciousness to sink the Qi to this point. From here Qi should circulate to the whole body. If Qi just remains in the Dan Tien, then the abdomen will have the sensation of being stuffed. Only when Qi circulates throughout the body will the abdomen be relaxed and pliable. After a time, the abdomen will acquire some "bouncy" or "springy" effect and Qi would have been circulating to the whole body. Qi can be occluded or absorbed into the backbone. The Song of the Thirteen Postures says, "If the abdomen is thoroughly relaxed, then the Qi will rise." So do not just store the Qi in the abdomen otherwise it will simply bloat. Having the coccyx withdrawn means there is no protrusion of the buttocks while making sure at the same time that the hip joints are not "sliding" forward. This must be combined with relaxing the abdomen and both requirements must be met at the same time. Otherwise, there is no rootedness while the waist is stiff resulting in vertical imbalance or disequilibrium. It is important to maintain the uprightness of the central axis of the body in order to achieve central equilibrium. A test can be made as follows to see whether all this has been done correctly all along; use one thumb to press the abdomen and release the thumb suddenly. There should be a bouncing or springy effect of the abdomen. At the same time, the seat of the buttocks behind should be very soft to the touch.

Q10. What is the true spirit of Tai Chi?

Good and famous masters of Tai Chi teach the same stuff but students will learn differently. This is because students differ in natural endowment and physical make-up. The real acquisition of the art is not in just mastering the external forms but also in mastering the principles and philosophy. The learner must be a man of reason having learnt, practised and understood the art successfully. He applies those principles and philosophy to his daily life. He will not take unfair advantage or be selfish. He is wholeheartedly devoted to Tai Chi. He shares the founder's spirit of striving for mankind to be physically and mentally healthy. This would be the true Tai Chi spirit.

Q11. How many times must we practice the set movements everyday?

The important principle is moderation. The practising technique must be correct in the first place. Some people say you must practise the whole set of movements ten times a day with one set lasting about 25 minutes. This only focuses on quantity and is wasting Qi and energy. It is contrary to the basic principles of Tai Chi, succeeding in only making you sweat and reducing weight. It is not beneficial to the development of the internal force, internal organs or generally the body internally. Grandmaster Cheng Man-Ching has said, "I practise the mobilisation of the internal force and Qi using the 37 basic movements every day. One set of movements lasts only 7 minutes." Practising too much or too little is subject to whether it is practised correctly or not. Utilising my experience and following my practising technique, students are encouraged to practise every morning and evening using about 5 minutes to practise a particular movement or posture (dividing each of them into 2 parts) over and over again. Those students who do so are likely to succeed.

Q12. Some students have been learning and practising Tai Chi for several years and are yet unstable. Why is this so?

A lot of students are using wrong learning and practising technique. Students must start with understanding the Tao of philosophy, then the principles, then using the correct method and finally putting in the effort. Students must understand the relationship of man and his surroundings, or the universe, and use the method of Qi to practice. He must be humble and persistent in his practice. Slowly, rootedness will result and the method of practising be understood. Understand the principles and be aware of the less obvious and unnoticeable aspects in slowing acquiring skill. Being rooted and having internal force can never be observed externally. They can be accomplished through correct method. In practising the movement and developing the internal force, the joints of the body must be loosened and yet linked. The whole body is relaxed and is not easily pushed over by an opponent. Substantiality is distinguished from insubstantiality. Aim to be flexible and pliable like a snake whose tail will come in to help if you attack the head, or vice versa or whose tail and head will assist when the centre is attacked. Be responsive to consciousness (or intent), then tranquillity and pliability can be achieved. It is easier to lift off a 200 catties iron rod than to lift up a 100 catties iron chain [1 cattie = 500 grams]. This illustrates the principles of thoroughly relaxed joints. Students must also understand the application of yin and yang in the movements and push hand exercises. Yin and yang principles are in Tai Chi which encompasses the universe; all movements, whether divided according to upper and lower body, right and left, front and back, internal and external, must not deviate from the principles of substantiality and insubstantiality. Moving and stillness alternate continuously; Yin does not depart from Yang and vice versa. When Yang moves, Yin also moves and vice versa. This principle must be understood when practising the set movements. The body and the character is trained together as is the acquisition of the Tao and the art. Tao is likened to yin while the art or skill is the yang. Yang is evolved from yin at yin's completion. Being relaxed, stillness and being rooted become yin components. Neutralisation of force forms the basic foundation where no strength is used. Stillness is like that of the mountain. No change is seen but it is capable of a lot of changes. The founder has said, "Tao is the basis, art is the consequential". One must therefore acquire Tao by learning not to resist, for only then will the body learn to be obedient. In attacking and defending, one must understand the method, then acquire insubstantiality and quietude. Only then will the defence be solid. Attacking will also be successful as one is naturally comfortable. In pushing hands exercise, one must learn to achieve non-resistance and stickiness. Having achieved stickiness, then one can achieve the ability to neutralise force. With adequate reserves, the neutralising ability is applied with an involuntary exertion of internal force.

Q13. How should a student relate to his teacher?

In the present day science is very advanced, affecting all aspects of human endeavour day by day. This gives rise to stress and keen competition in business, having a telling effect on the spirit. This is a common malady. This is why Tai Chi an ancient art, is popular and a common practice. It has no secrets. It is equitable to all as it discriminates against no student. But students often commit errors in practising the art. Students should bear in mind the following pointers:
1 Respect the teacher and accept the philosophy or Tao of the art;
2 Be honest and do not take unfair advantage;
3 Be conscientious and serious, think, observe and feel, or being aware during practice;
4 Progress step by step;
5 Be humble and practice constantly;
6 Follow all the principles mentioned earlier when practising by themselves.

Perhaps it is not too late for many of us to join a Tai Chi class and be part of a large group of people who make graceful moves in a clean garden in the early morning of our day.

Persatuan Tai Chi Huang Tenom Sabah
P.S. 212, Tenom, Sabah, 89908, Malaysia

Foochow Jasmine Tea and Its Benefits

Jasmine Sean Connery
What has Sean Connery got to do with my posting today? Read on.....

Jasmine tea - the fragrant tea that most Foochow drink is actually world renown. To the Foochows of Sibu having a big pot of jasmine tea in the kitchen is a usual daily practice. Most Chinese men would have a cup of tea on his writing table. This is quite a normal practice for most business men.

Unknown to many of the younger generation it perhaps this practice that has made many of the Foochow elders enjoying a long and full life.

The Kwong Ang Primary School in Sungei Merah (at that time at the top of a hill)had a big wooden bucket of tea for children in the 196o's. It was placed on a low table easily reachable by the smallest of the school chilren. When children were thirsty they helped themselves to the fragrant tea. At that time I thought that the Headmaster was a very benevolent and caring man to provide this kind of tea service. Later in life I found out that most schools in China and Taiwan provided this tea service every day. And the tea lady was very much a part of the school's caring community.
My grandfather lived a long life and his favourite drink - jasmine tea.

Here are some titbits I can share with you in this posting.

Sean Connery does not usually drink tea but if he does he would choose the Yin Hao jasmine tea which is produced by the Foochows of the Min Valley which according to experts is the best place for tea growing in the world.

According to another tea expert who wrote" I have worked hard over the pass 12 years because great jasmine is not only about great fragrance, it is a balancing art between flavor and aromatics. The trick is to have an abundance of easily identifiable jasmine florals yet not allow the tea element to get lost."

Jasmine was imported from Persia during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). They became so popular that the Imperial Court of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) used fresh jasmine flowers to perfume the emperor's bedchamber. It has been said that the soothing aromatics of fresh jasmine is a powerful "mood enhancing" aphrodisiac.

The art of enhancing the tea experience by adding other aromatics and flavors also began during the Song Dynasty. During that period, the Chinese were still drinking powdered tea (steamed, dried and ground into a fine powder) and sometimes adding other powdered spices to enhance the flavor. The use of jasmine flowers to scent and add flavor to tea became popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD) and the technique of scenting green tea with jasmine on a large scale was perfected in the southern city of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province. Fresh unopened jasmine blossoms are harvested during summer mornings--the hot and humid summer air causes the blossoms to open and release their full aromatics during the night. The blossoms are then mixed with dried green tea leaves so that the tea can absorb all the fragrances from the flowers. The flowers are removed after a night of scenting and the tea is gently roasted to remove unwanted moisture imparted from the flowers. This process is repeated until the jasmine aromatics completely impregnated the tea.

Jasmine Teas are Good For:
1. Boosting Immunity
Polyphenols have been found to increase white blood cells, the "soldiers" which fight infection in the human body. Tea extract is one of the main ingredients in a medicine now widely used with a high rate of success in China to counteract the reduction in white blood cells which accompanies radiation therapy.

A study of Jasmine tea by the Fujian Institute of Traditional Medicine and Pharmacology found that tea heightened certain functions of the white blood cells in mice. Soviet researchers say that tea helps the body excrete harmful radioactive strontium 90 before it settles in the bones. Chinese sources say tea can help absorb strontium 90 even after it has lodged in the bones.

2. Helps prevent heart disease
Research indicates that tea may work against heart attacks, strokes and thrombosis. Tea contributes to this in several ways. Firstly it does this in a general way through its role as a gentle stimulant to the heart and circulatory system. Secondly, it strengthens and keeps the blood vessel walls soft. Thirdly, there is evidence that the phenols in tea inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract, which could help decrease the cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fourthly, it may decrease the blood's tendency to form thrombi, or unwanted clots. Often several of these functions operate together against a stoke or heart attack. Strokes and thrombosis often occur because the blood vessels have lost their elasticity. Rutin has long been prescribed to keep these walls soft.

3. Fights tooth decay
Tea has turned out to be a double-barrelled threat to tooth decay for both the polyphenols (tannin) and the fluoride it contains. Polyphenols tend to reduce the formation of plaque, while fluoride strengthens tooth enamel so that it can resist decay.

4. Tea against cancer
Considerable research is being carried out on the role of tea drinking in preventing cancer. Out of 25 papers related to health presented at the Hangzhou Symposium, seven reported on research on cancer and tumors. Green tea seems to get the best results, with Lung Ching preferred. Stomach cancer, the number one cause of death in Japan, is at its lowest rate in Shizuoka prefecture along the coast southwest of Tokyo. One explanation is that Shizuoka is a tea-growing district and its inhabitants drink large amounts of green tea.

Tea has some effect against cancer because it inhibits the formation or action of cancer-causing substances. Tea may block the action of nitrosamines which can cause cancer, said Dr. Han Chi, and associate professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Hygiene under the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine. In a test of 145 types of tea, she and her colleagues rated green tea highest, with a blocking rate of 90 percent. Brick, Jasmine, oolong, and black tea followed in that order.

Another way tea may help fight cancer is through preventing cell mutation. The anti oxidation actions of the poly phenols in green tea inhibit mutation of the DNA in healthy cells, which can cause them to become cancer cells.

5. Longevity and Ageing
Long ago in China, tea was an ingredient in immortality potions favored by the Taoists, who were keen on that subject. Still today, perhaps as an echo of those beliefs, claims are made that tea drinking helps one to live to a ripe old age. While it is no magic fountain of youth, some of its benefits can be said to contribute to longevity (stimulation of bodily functions, strengthening the immune system, reducing the chance of heart disease and improving stomach functions). The fluoride in tea can strengthen bones and help ward off osteoporosis in the same way that is strengthens dental enamel.

You can savor it when you wish to capture the romance of summer moonlight, and/or you can drink it all the time with any food.
I hope you will carry on the good habit of drinking Fuzhou Jasmine Tea and enjoy a great life ahead of you. And to all the Sibu bloggers who have tea meetings with ML - enjoy your tea!! And Pau -s of course. And with mee sua also a longevity noodle may I wish you all double long life!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall Fashion: 15 Items under $150

The economy sucks, but you know you still love to shop!
Below, find 15 fall items under $150 that can rev up your wardrobe without draining your bank account:
Click to Enlarge
1.Kalare Sweater Dress, $88. 2.The Sak Ashbury Leather Small Shopper, $140. 3. Plastic Island Ruffle Detail Dress, $124. 4. Hunter Pumpkin Boots, $98. 5.Unlisted by Kenneth Cole Hand Me It, $75. 6. J.Crew Felted Wool Mini, $98. 7. Boden Leather Tote, $148. 8. Love Quotes Long Hand Knotted Fringe Scarf, $75. 9. Aqua Women's Plaid Bomber Jacket, $138. 10. MIA Women's Sloan Oxford Pump, $80. 11. Jack Check Skirt, $148. 12. Plastic Island Color Blocked Dress, $93. 13. Mayle Grand Tote, $150. 14. Charlotte Russe Tweed Tube Dress, $27. 15. Good Society Slim Leg Jeans, $109.

Mid Week Real Style: Reebok Freestyle Hi Tops

Reader Genora wrote in yesterday after seeing Adriana's fly post on Reebok Freestyle Hi-Tops, and decided to send in a picture showing us how she rocks hers:
She says, "Here's a photo of me with my fave pair on."
I'm loving the pattern and colored laces!
What do y'all think?

Fashion Cinema: Love Jones

Who can believe that last year marked the tenth anniversary of Love Jones's release? Whether you first saw it on a date, with friends, or a special someone in your life, Love Jones became, for all of us, one of the definitive cultural statements about African-American men, women, and relationships in the 1990s.
And, unassumingly, fashion. Set at a moment when fashion was transitioning from the minimalist '90s to the label-conscious 2000s, the movie's understated, boho-urban style is also a time capsule of modern young, upwardly mobile Black fashion, not to mention an influence of today's neo-soul aesthetic.
The characters, like the movie itself, are swathed in earth tones; rich sweaters, black leather jackets, boot-cut jeans, and motorcycle boots comprise the wardrobe's signature looks. The clothes are quietly stylish, as if to contrast the flash that accompanies other movies of the decade (Belly, Boomerang) documenting the adult African-American experience. Nia Long's much-copied bob and the movie's hit soundtrack are also two of the film's legacies.
Did you have any Love Jones style back in the day?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Foochow Thread Noodles or Mien Sien

This is not a microscopic view of virus like EV71. These are the broken pieces from the long mien sien which is very brittle. More then 90 years ago when my grandmother was just a 5 year old child bride she would dry mien sien for her sister in law the wife of Mr. Lau Kah Tii the second Kang Chu of the Foochow settlement. She would collect all of the broken pieces and keep them in a tin until she had enough for a small bowl of mien sien. To her such a bowl of mien sien would be a great meal. She would have the mien sien Kang Lo or kang puang ie just mix with some lard and salt. I would dearly remember this little snippet from her.

Therefore today I would like to dedicate this posting to her memory.

So you would like to eat some mien sien? If you follow the photos in this posting you will get an idea how to get your bowl of Foochow thread noodles and how much work has been accomplished to put that bowl of mien sien in front of you.

There are many packets of mien sien here still fresh after a week even. Note the red strings used to tie the noodles. Red is an auspicious and lucky colour.

One view of the well wrapped bundles of mien sien in the shop. They are usually wrapped in twos for an auspicious symbolic packaging. Pairs means unity or harmony.

This "drug" store belongs to my cousin ( Tiong) and he is the most friendly and humble shopkeeper you can find in Miri. Foochow mien sien is found in his shop and in many other Foochow drug stores. All the noodles are guarranteed made in Sibu. And it has that special unmistakeable good taste.

This shows the unwound bundles of mien sien ready for me to portion into shorter lengths and curling them into little circles to be dried in the sun. I measured the dry noodles and they are actually about 9 feet long fully stretched!!

This is how we Foochows dry our mien sien - in little clumps or suoh jie suoh jie - getting them crispy dried to be stored in air tight containers ready for cooking any time. I happen to catch this scenario in town today at about 1 p.m. and the sun was really scorching hot. It just shows how popular mien sien is in Miri. You can find it drying even in a small lane!!

This is a small "circle" or suoh jie of dried crispy mien sien ready for the pot of boiling water. It is just enough for a small eater. Suoh Jie is Foochow for one small clump of mien sien. (ooops the colour of the photo is a little off. The noodles should be white and not yellow.)

This photo shows my Tupperware container for my noodles which at times is not enough especially when I buy too many bundles of fresh mien sien from Sibu.

This shows my mien sien tin a recycled biscuit tin from Sibu. It can last many many years of good use as long as it does not get rusty.

So how is mien sien actually made?

Read on.....

The hand made thread noodles (mien siang) are made by the Foochows in Sibu and Sarikei where the moisture in the air is just right according to the experts for the semi dried noodles. Since the beginning of the Foochow settlement these thread noodles have been made by only a handful of very trustworthy makers. Hence the history of some of the families which make this important noodles could be as long as 100 years. If they had learned the trade from their parents and grandparents in China then their history would be definitely longer.

The skill of thread noodle is usually handed from father to son and hopefully it does not stop there. Very few of these master noodle makers took in apprentices if they have sons to pass on their skills to. One master took in an apprentice and soon he became the son-in-law which was a real win-win situation.

One of the best thread noodle makers in Sibu must be Uncle Ah Chuo who operated at Brooke Drive from the 1950's until he passed away in the 1990's.

The family would get up as early as 2 a.m. to start the dough from scratch. After letting the dough rest for as long as one hour they would start kneading the dough into smaller portions and then cut into lengths good enough to string between two long bamboo sticks. These two sticks are stuck to a stand so that the noodle maker could loop the string of noodloe from one stick to another thus making a figure of eight.

When the whole length of the two sticks is complete with the string noodle the maker would hang one of the sticks onto a ledge of a wooden box and thus letting the other stick pull the string noodle downwards. the noodle maker and his wife could make up to two hundred pairs of sticks .

By eight when the sun is just warm enough the noodle maker would bring five pairs of the sticks out to the yard and stick them into five holes on the top frame of one stand (see the picture below). He would then pull the noodles slowly to as long as 10 feet and then stick the other sticks into the holes (arranged one on top of the other in the upright pole.

He has to do this very carefully so as not to break the threads. This is indeed a great skill.

He would then leave the noodles to dry in the sun. Every now and then he would use two pairs of sticks to separate the threads so that they do not stick together. This monitoring stage is usually done very tenderly and carefully.

Much has been written about mien sien . The traditional Foochow longevity wheat or thread noodles are a must for all the important Foochow occasions be it a birthday, a memorial day, a new year or a festival day. Mee sua (Hokkien) or soh mien as it is called in Foochow is one of the favourite dishes in coffee shops too throughout Sarawak and is catching up in popularity in West Malaysia.

The noodle maker in the photos is Mr. Chieng who operates a mien sien outlet in Oya Road,Sibu. He can be contacted via email : or by phone : 084-312473. Do make a call first before driving all the way to Oya Road. Business is brisk so you might be disappointed and come home empty handed.

The noodles drying in the sun are very dramatic and they look as if Zhang Yie Mou has been doing the choreography. And any moment a flying swordman and swordwoman could tumble into the noodle yard for a good sword fight!!

I can even smell the saltish floury fragrance of the mien sien drying in the sun. I only wish I am right there at this moment with my favourite neighbour Ah Chuo Moo and Ah Chuo Pah and their affectionate family.

Don't you feel that there is a lot of culture in this traditional skilled craft?

Finally after all this long day of writing here is my wish for you. May you have many years of mien sien eating. Cheers or kampei with Foochow Red Wine!! And triple dose of it in your mien sien.

Thanks to a friend Steve Ling (Going Places) who allows me to use his "NOODLE MAKING" photos.
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