Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Malaysian University Admissions: Matrikulasi vs STPM

Only weeks after the announcement of a permanent end to admission quotas in higher education, Democratic Action Party Chairman Lim Kit Siang is already making a run at the last vestige of the old racially-discriminatory system: the Malay-only "matriculation centers" and the easier exam which their graduates take to secure seats in universities. Rather than trying to eliminate the schools themselves, he proposes a reform of the examination system. The Star reports:

The Education Ministry has been urged to introduce a special examination for entry into public universities instead of implementing the new cumulative grade point average system for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination. DAP national chairman Lim Kit Siang said the move to introduce a new system which would correspond with that of the matriculation system was not a good idea. The idea of matching STPM results with matriculation results would not reflect the students’ academic achievements fairly, he said yesterday.

Nanyang Siang Pau editorialized on this topic recently; I'll translate and comment on their thoughts when I get back from lab.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Asians, Smoking, and Nicotine-Free Cigarettes

Triad Business Journal reports on the first month in the market of new reduced-nicotine and nicotine-free (but full-carcinogen) cigarettes by the same company which last year released reduced-carcinogen cigarettes and later withdrew them from market due to lackluster sales:

Advertisements colored sky blue introduce Quest, which come in three versions called Quest 1, Quest 2 and Quest 3. No. 1 has 17 percent less nicotine than typical "light cigarettes" and tastes very similar; No. 2 cuts that nicotine content in half and No. 3 is billed as nicotine-free.

Also see this Wired article from last year about the source of the tobacco. Great photo caption:

David Henry Stewart
An Amish farmer takes a cell phone call as transgenic tobacco dries inside his 250-year-old barn in Holland, Pennsylvania.

(From the photo about two-thirds of the way down the page). Basically, Trone (the advertising agency) is trying very hard to market Quest as an analogue to smoking-cessation products such as Nicorettes (even duplicating the three-levels concept) without actually stating that Quest is designed to help smokers quit.

Surveyed smokers often said they didn't want to feel dependent on nicotine, but at the same time they didn't want to give up smoking: They liked the hand-to-mouth, orally fixated process. It was relaxing and something they enjoyed ... To Trone's creative research team, this was the key revelation. They concluded that Quest could be promoted on the basis of its reduced nicotine and at the same time provide a new reason for continuing to smoke. Smokers could still puff away, secure in the knowledge their decision to smoke was a choice.

If I'd had the option at the time I quit smoking, I still probably would have stuck with gum, mainly because I wanted to stop pumping carcinogens into my lungs as fast as possible. Though there's one situation where they obviously would have been useful: at a club, bar, or party. If I already had something in my mouth, friends wouldn't keep coming up and offering me another cigarette.

I predict the existence of this product might actually raise the teenage and college student smoking rate. Quest's product could tap a market that no other tobacco company would dare touch: kids who want to smoke for the image, but are too afraid of the side-effects that could accumulate over a life-time of smoking. All throughout childhood, kids have been the target of anti-smoking campaigns which point out the greatest danger of cigarettes are their addictive character: start now, and you may spend the rest of your life hooked. This kind of campaign will obviously have about zero effect when there's a non-addictive alternative product on the market.

In general, kids, especially suburbanites and university students, don't start smoking in order to take their mind off of the stress in their lives, but rather in order to look cool, especially at parties when they've already been drinking heavily. This will probably prove to be especially problematic among Asian and Asian-American youth, who, for example, have the highest 30-day smoking prevalence (i.e. had smoked one or more cigarettes within the thirty days previous to a survey) of all races in California.

Driver's Ed

Since this video will probably be accused of extreme insensitivity and political incorrectness, and the creator labelled as a sellout tool of the Evil White Oppressor who doesn't realize the harm she's doing in spreading racialized stereotypes of Asians, I felt morally compelled to post it here. Aktivists: Lighten Up. The rest of us normal Asians find it hilarious, otherwise I wouldn't have found this link forwarded to me by five separate Asian individuals.

The New, Hip Chinese Drink: Name-Brand Milk

Journalist Chi-Chu Tschang points to an Asian Wall Street Times article about increasing milk consumption in urban China. Unlike in the US, where Angry Azn Aktivists have linked the inclusion of dairy products in the Food Pyramid to a secret Evil Whitey Government campaign to nutritionally oppress People of Color, Chinese people are slowly waking up to the benefits of milk, which they have long blamed for Western body odor, and looking for ways to take advantage of those benefits for themselves:

To lure new customers, companies are hawking everything from peach-mango milk drinks to aloe-flavored yogurt. Beijing Sanyuan Foods Co. sells a "Gold Brand" version of milk that it touts as being produced by special cows whose milk contains a higher fat and protein content than regular milk. At nine yuan ($1.08) for a small carton, it is three times as expensive as regular milk. Nestle markets milk drinks beefed up with calcium or iron, while others offer malted milk aimed at kids. Dairy companies are hiring newspaper boys to drop off milk cartons with the daily paper or postmen to deliver milk with the mail.

However, as among Asian-Americans in the US, there is a significant barrier: high levels of lactose intolerance. Instead of blaming the Western media for deceiving poor innocent Chinese people into thinking they need to drink milk for their health, Chinese dairy companies have come up with an unusual marketing strategy: infect everyone with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

To build up a taste and tolerance for milk, Chinese companies are selling yogurt-based drinks, which some people find easier to digest. One of the most successful campaigns has been waged by former auto repairman-turned-dairy king Miao Changqing ... when he inherited a small dairy plant as part of a land-purchasing deal to expand his auto-repair shop in 1995, he spotted a niche: a dairy-based drink that could complement banquet food. After doing research, his team came up with "Miaoshi," a slightly sweet yogurt drink, with a thicker consistency than milk, packaged in a fancy white-and-green carton.
It wasn't an easy sell. Mr. Miao plied his friends with the beverage when they ate out together and gave away free cartons to diners at local restaurants. Most were incredulous. "What? Drink milk at the dinner table? No way, no way," he recalls them saying. But a few adventurous diners ventured to taste it, and soon Miaoshi took off -- boosted by the company's claims that it helps offset the effects of alcohol. Today, Mr. Miao's Miaoshi Dairy Corp. is among the country's top producers of yogurt drinks, with revenue totaling about 200 million yuan a year. Competitors have piled in with their versions.

Hopefully this will be effective in countering the growing problem of osteoporosis, as well as promoting more growth among the present generation of youth. Also, note that China isn't the only country where manufacturers are trying to turn milk drinking into a hip phenomenon: Dr. Pepper also plans to bring several milk-based drinks to market, and use a weblog to promote them.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Yao Ming's Translator

Washington Times interviewed Yao Ming's translator Colin Pine. Interestingly enough, he's a US-born white guy (picture --- he's the shorter one in the black shirt), not an immigrant as I was expecting.

The sudden fame is largely the result of some advice he heeded from the brother of one of his Chinese-American college roommates. Unsure of his plans after graduation, Pine asked about going abroad, specifically to Asia. Soon after that conversation, Pine was on a plane to Taiwan, where he spent three years absorbing the culture and language. "I had a lot of Chinese friends in college," Pine said. "The people and culture [in Taiwan] were great. I fell in love with it."

Interesting. Perhaps the Rockets didn't hire an immigrant, or let Yao supply his own (probably Shanghai Sharks and PRC government-approved) translator, because they wanted someone with fluent English who could interact well with the American media. Not to mention:

Since [Pine's hiring], the two have become fast friends. Pine lives with Yao and his parents at their house west of downtown Houston. He eats dinner with them after each home game and whenever the Rockets are not traveling. He teaches Yao about American culture and coaches him in English, which Pine says Yao strives to speak without help.

Didn't realize that Yao's parents had moved to the US. Pine seems to have a sweet deal going for himself --- and I wouldn't be surprised if Yao's fame and popularity rub off on him. He'll have an interesting life and get to meet lots of women. Pine also sounds like he might have been one of the type who would have been accused by Asian-American guys of having an "Asian fetish," especially during university days. ABCs: well, you could have had his job, if you studied Chinese harder.

School Integration in Malaysia: Twinning

Finally, a small, workable suggestion on promoting better relations among youth of different races. The Star reports:

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has called on schools with a predominant racial group of students to embark on "twinning programmes" with schools which have as its student majority a different racial group.
Citing this as one way to build better racial relations between students, the Deputy Prime Minister said such a linkage could be in the form of sporting and camping activities, especially during the long school holidays.
“We can bring together 20 Malay, 20 Chinese and 20 Indian students from different schools and then split them up so that each team will have all the races fighting for the victory of their team,'' he said yesterday at a hotel near here during his keynote address at a public forum on 'Vision 2020 Revisited: Continuing with the Next Lap'.

Sounds like an effective and low-cost first step.

Unique Visitors

Well, the statistics are in, and for the first time in this weblog's on-and-off 8-month history (about 4 months on and 4 months off), we've surpassed both 1100 unique visitors in a single month and 500 unique visitors in a single week. Furthermore, this appears to be only 25% due to blatant attempts to get bigger fish to link to me, or the fact that a single post I wrote seven months ago has propelled me to #3 on Yahoo for "Malay sex massage." Thank you all.

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