Lifestyle Lifestyle en 'Missing link' bolsters bold theory on dino evolution
A revised assessment of the kangaroo-sized Chilesaurus, reported in the journal Biology Letters, bolsters a theory unveiled earlier this year that threatens to upend a long-standing classification of all dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs were the monarchs of Earth for 160 million years until a space rock collided with the planet 65.5 million years ago and wiped out those confined to land.

The survivors, which could fly, are the direct ancestor of today's birds.

"Chilesaurus genuinely helps fill an evolutionary gap between two big dinosaur groups," said co-author Paul Barrett, president of Britain's Palaeontographical Society and a researcher at the Natural History Museum.

When first presented to the world in 2015, Chilesaurus – despite its penchant for plants – was lumped together with theropods, the suborder of meat-eating dinos that not only includes fleet-footed velociraptors but Tyrannosaurus rex, the ultimate carnivore.

Experts acknowledged at the time, however, that it was an awkward fit. One described the beast as "the most bizarre dinosaur ever found".

An upright posture, powerful hind legs and foreshortened front limbs were all reminiscent of theropods.

But an inverted, bird-like hip structure and flattened, leaf-shaped teeth – proof of an exclusively vegetal diet – suggested that it also shared traits with another major suborder, the Ornithischia.

Well-known ornithischians include Triceratops and the three-tonne Stegosaurus, which boasted large armoured plates along its spine and a brain the size of a walnut.

"Chilesaurus initially looked like an earlier offshoot of the theropod line, but it seemed suspicious that it had all these adaptations for eating plants," Barrett told AFP.

It lived about 150 million years ago, far earlier than the handful of theropods known to have turned away from meat, he pointed out.

Common ancestor

To verify Chilesaurus' place in the dino family tree, Barrett and Matthew Baron of the University of Cambridge analysed more than 450 anatomical features of early dinosaurs.

What they found confirmed a hunch.

"We realised that it was not a strange, early plant-eating theropod, but rather a strange plant-eating animal that was an offshoot of this other group, Ornithischia," Barrett said.

Reassigning Chilesaurus to a new family tree might seem like something only a dino lover could find exciting.

But the new affiliation has major implications.

For most of the last century, experts have agreed that theropods were more closely related to a third major evolutionary branch, the Sauropods, that included long-necked beasts such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus.

But the neither-fish-nor-foul Chilesaurus shows that the fearsome killers under the theropod umbrella shared, in fact, a greater affinity with the docile Ornithischia menagerie.

This was the bold theory that Baron and Barrett, along with other colleagues, proposed in a landmark study published last March in the journal Nature.

"Our reorganisation was putting Ornithischia and theropods much closer together, and this new animal helps cement that relationship," Barrett explained.

"Chilesaurus gives us more confidence that this rearrangement was correct because it has a combination of features found in those two groups."

The first dinosaur emerged some 228 million years ago. The new findings support the idea that theropods and ornithischians shared a common ancestor as early as 225 million years ago, not long after the dino saga began.

Ornithischia thrived for more than 100 million years, but dead-ended when the rogue rock smashed into what, today is the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

The impact probably created a massive firestorm followed by a decades-long winter that destroyed vegetation, the starting point in the dinosaurs' food chain.

Most theropods were wiped out too, although the forerunners of modern birds persevered. — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Wed, 16 Aug 2017 08:32:25 +0000 theSundaily 471547 at
Israeli firm offers 'anti-terrorism' adventure to tourists
The 20 or so Jewish tourists from South America are on an "anti-terrorism" course run by former Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank. Their targets are balloons nearby.

"The aim of the training is not to teach you how to shoot," Eitan Cohen, one of the instructors, says to the group, "but to make you understand what we do here in Israel to fight terrorism".

The tourist attraction offers an unusual option for visitors coming to see Jerusalem's holy sites or to float in the Dead Sea.

But while it may be exhilarating or instructive for some, others find it offensive, accusing the company of profiting from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and fears of "terrorism".

The company is called Caliber 3, located near the Israeli settlement of Efrat south of Jerusalem, and it began in 2003 as a training camp for professional security personnel such as police.

The instructors, including ex-soldiers who say they served in elite units, use their experience gained through Israel's various conflicts.

Since 2009, it has also become an attraction for tourists who are taught how to handle weapons, participate in paintball or learn Krav Maga, the self-defence method using boxing and martial arts developed by the Israeli military.

They pay a little over US$100 (RM429) to participate.

One programme sees the tourists stumble onto a "terrorist attack" in a simulated market with plastic fruits and wooden stalls.

Instructors are disguised, including one wearing a Palestinian-style headscarf.

Suddenly, instructors in fatigues yell at the tourists to get on the ground, then they stop a "terrorist" with a knife – not the person with the headscarf.

Cohen, 41, debriefs them and tells them to always be alert in a crowd.

He has a Rambo-like look: fatigues, sunglasses perched on his forehead, rifle slung over his shoulder and a pistol on his belt.

Caliber 3's website says he is a former sniper and member of elite police units.

"I'm going to show you the values of soldiers in the Israeli army and how we fight against terrorists," he says to the tourists, who take photos of him with Israeli flags in the background.

'Create fear'

Dan Cohen, 49, came from Caracas with his family to vacation in Israel and decided to add the training to his itinerary.

While his children play paintball nearby, he and his wife Lili listen attentively to the instructor before a crash course in handling automatic weapons and firing on a balloon stuck to a target.

"We came here thinking we were going to do something completely different," he says, adding they wanted to learn "how to shoot" and "react in a terrorist situation, God forbid".

"But what we really learned is how the soldiers make quick decisions and understand what is wrong and what is right in these situations, and how hard it is to understand."

But some Palestinians say they see the company as another insult.

Mohammed Burjieh, a 38-year-old teacher in the neighbouring village of Massara, cut off from Efrat by Israel's controversial separation wall, accuses Caliber 3 of exploiting fears over "terrorism".

"The settlers who run this company create fear (of Palestinians) among tourists so they spread it when returning to their countries," he says.

Around 25,000 tourists, mainly American, but also Chinese, Canadian and South Americans, participated in the training last year, according to the firm.

Another instructor, Yoav Fleishman, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the words "Combat Instructor", says "we are explaining to tourists the difficulties of this war, which is very different from classic warfare".

After the tourists complete the two-hour training, Cohen provides an assessment, but also a message.

"We must protect civilians while keeping our moral values," he says to applause. — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Wed, 16 Aug 2017 07:17:43 +0000 theSundaily 471507 at
A picture-perfect season
The popular reality ­photography competition ­returns with six one-hour episodes, ­featuring ­contestants from around the region who will have to undergo various ­challenges to capture stunning photo stories of popular, socially-trending and culturally-relevant subjects and interests of today.

The fourth successive ­season of Photo Face-Off will once again be helmed by Justin Mott, the show's resident chief judge.

Mott is an award-winning professional photographer who has worked for reputable publications in the US and across the world. He also runs a studio in ­Vietnam specialising in ­commercial photography and video production.

The first five one-hour ­episodes of Photo Face-Off season four will each take place in one of five countries – ­Singapore, ­Malaysia, the Philippines, ­Indonesia and Vietnam.

In every ­episode, four amateur photographers from one country will ­compete against each other.
In addition, the top two ­photographers of the episode will go up against Mott himself, for a chance to win additional prizes.

At the end of each ­episode, the judges – consisting of Mott and ­selected professional ­photographers based in the country in which the episode takes place – will select the best ­photographer, who will ­represent their country in the season's grand final.

This season, things will be spiced up during the show's 90-minute final episode, as the five ­episode winners will go head-to-head against three wild card contestants – selected amateur ­photographers from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

During the recent ­History Con 2017 at the Malaysia Agro ­Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS) in Selangor, I caught up with Mott himself.

He said that contestants this season were younger than ­previous seasons.

"Many of them are around 15 or 16 years old," Mott noted. "It is good, it is fun. It is more embarrassing to lose to them".

He added that this season will still be entertaining and educational, as viewers and contestants will learn something in each episode.

"I think (the reason) I am a ­little more ­honest with the ­contestants about their pictures [is] to push them to another level, Mott said. "Before they go up against me, I want to toughen them up".

At the end of the day, the pictures will be judged on colour, composition, and subject matter.

Mott said the judges all have their own views and argue about the contestants and their photographs, but ­essentially, ­picking the winning shot is based on a majority decision if there are odd number of judges, or, if there happens to be only two judges, they will simply hash things out between them.

There always is a translator on location in case contestants aren't very fluent in English, and there are experts who will teach them how to best use the various models of cameras in each challenge.

The contestants are also ­allowed to ask as many ­questions as they want before each ­challenge, so the chances of them misunderstanding the brief is remote.
These days, more and more people use their ­smartphones instead of ­conventional cameras to take pictures.

To this, Mott said: "No ­matter what device you are using, it still boils down to the basic rules of photography that you need to understand.

"You still need to tell a story; you still need to understand ­composition; you still need to understand light."

He points out that the ­smartphone is just a tool, but recommends that diehard ­photographers use a proper ­camera to get the best shots ­without getting distracted.
"If you want to take a truly good picture, you have to be present in the moment".]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 15 Aug 2017 08:58:45 +0000 S. Indra Sathiabalan 471189 at
Seeing a new perspective
The other contestants are Nurfarzaana Hanan Fareeha, 18, Andy Tan Liang Sam, 18, and Safuan Salahudin, 31.

Ng took up photography five years ago, and joined the show – her first photo ­competition experience – at the urging of her friend, Renee Bong, the ­winner of the Malaysian round for Photo Face-Off Season 3.

"I did not watch the series on TV, but caught episodes online," Ng admitted. She shot her episodes in March this year.

When asked what valuable advice she got during her stint on the show, Sheryl said: "I learned to never take criticisms to heart".

Asked about the kind of ­photos she usually takes, Ng said: "I usually take portraits (that are) dreamy and magical".

She said she was forced out of her comfort zone during show, but was able to handle the challenge.]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 15 Aug 2017 09:01:06 +0000 S. Indra Sathiabalan 471193 at
Chess legend Kasparov rolls back the years in competitive return
The 54-year-old Kasparov, whose genius has left a wide mark on the history of chess, has briefly come out of retirement "kicking and fighting" to compete this week at the Rapid and Blitz tournament in St. Louis.

It remains to be seen whether he can beat a new generation of players or if he will instead pass the torch.

In a fitting turn of events, his first encounter against compatriot Sergey Karjakin had shades of Kasparov's own breakthrough moment in 1985 when, aged 22, he defeated the legendary Russian grandmaster Anatoli Karpov to become the youngest champion in history.

This time around, it was Kasparov who represented the old guard against Karjakin the young pretender, who narrowly lost last year's world championship to Magnus Carlsen, the top-ranked player who is not in St Louis this week.

Three games of speed chase between Kasparov and Karjakin ended in a draw each time.

"I'm quite pleased. The plan was to survive to day one. I had to adjust myself to this new reality, to this atmosphere. I'm happy with these draws. I will be more aggressive tomorrow," Kasparov said.

Center of attention

Spectators were thrilled. "It was a wonderful game. Kasparov has been showing confidence, he has been very dramatic", said 33-year-old Christopher Doty, a longtime Kasparov fan who traveled here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see his hero.

"Will he win? Of course not. But if Kasparov beats these kids, it will be an embarrassment for them."

Since his March 2005 withdrawal from a tournament in Linares, Spain, Kasparov's absence from the game has left many chess fanatics feeling orphaned.

So there was considerable surprise when he agreed to play in the event in St Louis, which follows closely after the annual Sinquefield Cup competition, a major stop on the world tour, in the same city on the Mississippi River.

The years have grayed his temples, but Kasparov still exudes the aura of a winner – and the trademark gestures that defined his heyday in the 1980s and 1990s were all present on Monday.

He took off his watch, placing it to the left of the board.

He placed his pieces on the board, one by one, in a meticulous and deliberate manner. The death stare was there too – Karjakin got one from Kasparov before the battle began.

Despite making clear the tournament represents a five-day "hiatus" from his political career, Kasparov said he wasn't taking it lightly.

"I realize that it's serious. I will be the most desirable prey in the history of chess," he said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

In a clear sign that Kasparov remained the center of attention, most of the 10 other competitors took a few seconds off from their games to come and see the man once dubbed the "Beast of Baku" in action.


"It was one of my dreams to play against him," Karjakin said before their match, praising Kasparov as "one of the greatest players ever".

Kasparov's long and "unparalleled" dominance of the chess world made him "a cultural icon", said Alejandro Ramirez, a US Open champion who coaches the chess team at Saint Louis University.

"His contribution to chess theory and our understanding of the game resonate still today," said Ramirez.

Kasparov is nevertheless not expected to win the tournament, which includes four of the world's top 10 players, according to French world number two Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who beat Carlsen last week at the Sinquefield Cup.

The high-pressure, speed-chess format of the St Louis tournament, where players are forced to make their moves far more rapidly than during normal competitions, could be tough on the graying Kasparov, as he takes on much younger players who specialize in that approach.

The man himself sought to "manage expectations," quipping ahead of the game that "at the age of 54, I would have as much hope of returning to my chess form of age 40 as to my hairline of age 20"!

Still, it would be foolhardy to write him off, said Vachier-Lagrave, who played Kasparov in a friendly match – an encounter won by the Russian – and remembers "his willingness to fight on every turn".

Though the winner's purse in St Louis is a not-too-shabby US$150,000 (RM644,100), Kasparov said he would donate any winnings to promote chess in Africa. — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 15 Aug 2017 06:18:22 +0000 theSundaily 471134 at
NY goes back in time with revival of hand-painted ads
Toiling under the blazing sun of a heat wave, Justin Odaffer puts the finishing touches to a Ray-Ban ad he has spent several days painting on the facade of an East Village building in downtown Manhattan.

For the past seven years, Odaffer – who has a degree in fine art – has painted ads on walls in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for Colossal Media, which has risen from nowhere to become the leader in painted advertising.

"Basically we created a revival," says Odaffer. Without the company he works for, he believes painted ads would be hanging "by a very thin thread".

But setting up the company in 2004 was a leap of faith, admits Paul Lindahl, co-founder of Colossal, which is based in Brooklyn's hipster hub of Williamsburg.

"Technology was taking over and there was really no need for hand painting at the time. Nobody cared," says Lindahl, who comes from a family of Hungarian immigrants.

"It was expensive. It was slow," he concedes. "I didn't know if there was a future in it at that point. I just knew that I loved it".

Thirteen years later, his company has 70 employees, paints 450 to 500 murals a year in major US cities and is eyeing sales of US$24 million (RM103) in 2017.

Even though painted ads take longer and cost more, they offer advertisers a unique opportunity to set themselves apart.

Seeing painters in action can generate buzz on street corners.

"People are astonished," says Odaffer. "That's why this company has done so well. It's because people can actually watch the process".

But is it art?

That buzz carries over onto social media, fueled by photographs and videos which enhance brand visibility and advertising, says Lindahl.

"That brings value to what we do. What we realized along the way is yes, this thing takes longer than a digital ad or print ad but that's part of the benefit. It's performance art. People stop and they wonder and they're intrigued."

Chris Cockerill, general manager of the New York office for Lamar Advertising, one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in the world, agrees – even if the growth still accounts for a fraction of the overall market.

"We're seeing more around the city. It's a unique product that advertisers are asking for now. In the past, it's been something a little more difficult to sell," he says. Lamar does not work with Colossal.

Lindahl attributes the growth to multiple factors – luck, timing, the "do-in-yourself" trend and the enduring popularity of street art.

Colossal secures its own walls and real estate, which means it can sell a package to advertisers with space and the painted ad without having to depend on another advertising company.

But are commercial ads really art? Odaffer says definitely.

"It's still the same process as other street art," he said, adding that many of the painters started out in some form of street art.

"I see nothing wrong with it," says graffiti artist BG 183, a member of the oldest New York graffiti collective that is still active, Tats Cru.

"The quality of the painting has improved a lot," says Cockerill. "It stands out better than it has in the past. It makes them (advertisers) feel like it's more of a hip-looking kind of ad". — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Tue, 15 Aug 2017 04:41:27 +0000 theSundaily 471109 at
Seven new products unveiled on Acer Day
Besides Malaysia, the event covered 13 other territories including China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

In conjunction with the event, Acer Malaysia unveiled seven new gaming and lifestyle products to the Malaysian market.

Present at the launch were Acer Malaysia's product director Johnson Seet; products, sales and marketing general manager Chan Weng Hong; product manager Jeffrey Lai; as well as Acer Taiwan's IT Mobile Division director Karen Chiang.

Two of the most celebrated products unveiled at the event were the gaming-centric Predator Helios 300 and Acer Nitro 5.

The Predator Helios 300 is a gaming laptop that features the all-new AeroBlade 3D Fan for cooling, an overclockable Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, 7th Gen Intel Core i7 (7700HQ) desktop processor, 8GB DDR4 RAM, as well as 256 GB SSD and 1TB HDD for storage.

It is also fitted with a 15.6in panel, and is priced at RM5,999.

The Acer Nitro 5 comes in two configurations underneath its matte black chassis. The Core i5 model with GTX1050 graphics is priced at RM3,299 while the Core i7 version with GTX1050Ti graphics is priced at RM4,699.

The lineup also includes new colours and screen sizes for the Acer Swift 3 laptop, the 2-in-1 Acer Switch 5, the convertible Acer One 10, and two new all-in-one desktops – the Acer Aspire U27 and Aspire Z24.

The Acer Swift 3 – which now comes in stellar blue and salmon pink colours, as well as a new 15.6in option – is priced between RM3,399 and RM3,899.

The new Switch 5, available with either a i5 processor paired with Windows 10 Home or a i7 processor paired with Windows 10 Pro, is priced at RM3,999 and RM4,999 respectively.

Powered by Intel Atom x5 processor, the Acer One 10 is priced at RM1,099.

Finally, the 27in Acer Aspire U27 and 23.8in Aspire Z24 all-in-one desktops are priced at RM6,499 and RM4,699 respectively.

All products mentioned are available now, except for the Swift 3, which will be available anytime soon.

The event that day also saw the launch of the Acer Day Be Cool Everyday campaign, which runs from now till Sept 30.

For customers who purchase select Acer products worth RM2,999 and below, they will receive RM50 shopping vouchers. For purchases of select products worth between RM3,000 to RM3,999, they will receive a copy of Microsoft Office 365, whereas select purchases worth over RM4,000 will receive a 1TB Hard Disk Drive.

For more, visit the Acer Day website.]]>
Lifestyle Mon, 14 Aug 2017 08:52:22 +0000 theSundaily 470886 at
Handy phone for guests
BHR is the first hotel group in Malaysia to provide such a service. Aptly named Handy smartphone, it allows BHR in-house guests to make unlimited local and international calls, as well as access to unlimited data.

Guests can also download their favourite apps on the phone or use it as a wireless hotspot to connect all their other smart devices.

This means guests can install their favourite social network, messaging, games, and any app that they can find in the Google Play store onto the Handy smartphone.

Their accounts, setting, and preferences will be kept on the phone only as long as they are a room guest of BHR.

These Android-based phones run the latest Android Nougat 7.0 version of the mobile operating system with a bespoke interface.

The interface gives users easy access to maps, information on local attractions, activities, and happenings.

Guests can also buy tickets to shows, theme parks, tours, attractions and more, directly from the Handy smartphone.

The Handy smartphone also features a customised Berjaya Hotels & Resorts phone cover that is unique to BHR.

Guests will find the Handy smartphone resting on its proprietary charging dock in ther rooms. When using the smartphone for the first time, guests go through a simple registration process to customise the Handy phones to their interests and preferences.

The Handy smartphone can then be used as a regular smartphone, which guests can take wherever they go.

For security and convenience reasons, the Handy smartphone has a tracking app and a direct connection to the hotel. This means, as long as guests have the phone, they will never get lost.

The Handy smartphone can also be disabled remotely in case of theft.

Upon checkout, the Handy phone is reset, and all the guest users' apps and personal data will be wiped clean leaving the phone ready for the next guest.

With the introduction of Handy, guests of BHR from foreign countries need not worry about staying connected and making the most of their trip – all at no extra cost to them.

"We are proud to be the first hotel group in Malaysia to provide Handy services to our hotel guests," said Hanley Chew, the chief executive officer of Berjaya Hotels & Resorts.

"With this feature, our in-house guests do not have to buy a local SIM card to stay connected with their families and friends aboard."

He said the Handy smartphone will add convenience and, at the same time, cost savings for BHR hotel guests, as well as make their stay a more pleasant one.

The various hotels under the group can also create personalised messages and offers to their guests, and that will create even more added value during their stay.
The 14 BHR properties that will be offering this Handy smartphone service by the end of September this year include local BHR properties ANSA Kuala Lumpur, Berjaya Penang Hotel, Berjaya Waterfront Hotel, Berjaya Langkawi Resort, Berjaya Tioman Resort, The Taaras Beach & Spa Resort and Redang Island Resort.

BHR properties abroad offering this Handy service include Berjaya Makati Hotel, Berjaya Colombo Hotel, Berjaya Eden Park Hotel London, The Castleton Hotel London, Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort & Casino, and Berjaya Praslin Resort.]]>
Lifestyle Mon, 14 Aug 2017 08:46:28 +0000 Azizul Rahman Ismail 470881 at
Los Angeles tests cooling pavement paint to beat heat
In Los Angeles, where summer temperatures regularly surpass 100°F (38 °C), workers are coating streets in special gray treatments in a bid to do just that.

The City of Angels, home to four million people, is the first major city to test the technology.

Normal black asphalt absorbs 80 to 95% of sunlight, while the gray "cool pavement" reflects it – dramatically lowering ground temperature and reducing urban street heat, advocates of the method say.

During a demonstration of the technique, Jeff Luzar – sales director at GuardTop, which markets the product – showed how applying the paint could drop street temperatures by about 12°F after just one coat.

Los Angeles is the first city in California to test the treatment on a public road, after initial trials on parking lots, according to Greg Spotts, assistant director of the city's Bureau of Street Services.

"We're hoping to inspire other cities to experiment with different ways to reduce the heat island effect," he said. "And we're hoping to get manufacturers to come up with some new products".

"Potentially there could be a huge market for cool pavement products, and in fact, it's part of a much larger economic trend where solutions for climate change could be the next great investments for the future," Spotts added.

The city will also monitor how Angelenos react to the newfangled asphalt – and how quickly the notoriously thick LA traffic dirties the gray coating.

'Right approach'

George Ban-Weiss, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California, said cool pavements show promise in reducing heat, but "may have some environmental penalties".

"Recent and current research is working out whether the environmental benefits of cool pavements outweigh those penalties," Ban-Weiss told AFP.

Still, "the city of Los Angeles is taking the right approach and installing and assessing several cool pavement test sections before committing to widespread adoption," he said.

Ban-Weiss noted that heat mitigation strategies like planting trees along streets and using cool roofing materials were more "no-brainer" remedies.

Alan Barreca, an environmental science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the pavement cooling technology could be more equitable than current methods like air conditioning.

"Not everyone has the resources to use air conditioning, so there's concern that some low-income families will suffer," he said. "That bothers me on a moral dimension. The pavement would provide benefits to everyone".

"It can protect people who have to be outdoors," he added.

Plus, he added, "lower temperatures – due to the pavement – mean less reliance on air conditioning. So, that means less greenhouse gases". — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Mon, 14 Aug 2017 03:50:54 +0000 theSundaily 470785 at
Book gives voice to Vietnam's strangled anger over war
Not any more.

"The Sympathizer," by Vietnamese-American academic Viet Thanh Nguyen, has ended that silence.

An excoriating tragi-comic novel, a bestseller in the US, it not only dismantles the Hollywood myth of the conflict but turns it inside out.

Told from the perspective of an American-educated Viet Cong double agent, its sweeping arc – and bravura takedown of the legendary film "Apocalypse Now" – won Nguyen the 2016 Pulitzer and a pile of other top prizes.

The judges of the Dublin Literary Award – one of the few it didn't win – described it as "the masterpiece on Vietnam that the world has been waiting for".

Nguyen, who escaped his homeland in his mother's arms after the fall of Saigon in 1975, is not the type to have his head turned by critics comparing his debut novel to such classics as "Catch 22" and "The Invisible Man".

"All Vietnamese people are apparently proud of me now even if they haven't read the book, or whether they agree with it. The Pulitzer trumps everything," he told AFP in Paris, where he is working on a new book.

"I'm happy that they're proud. I'm glad I can give them something, yet I find it a little bit sad that they feel their experiences are so little known that the validation of a literary prize matters so much."

'Humanising the Vietnamese'

Having tried to "humanise" ordinary Vietnamese people in his acclaimed short stories, Nguyen chose to unleash their strangled anger towards the Americans, French colonialism and their own leaders in his novel.

Just to live, "I had turned my anger down to a pilot light", said Nguyen. "I turned it up for 'The Sympathizer', and that was unnerving for many Americans.

"We Asians are supposed to be the model minority. We are the nice people. We are not supposed to get upset.

"I have had some hate mail from veterans, which is OK. I'm trying to force everybody to reconsider everything they know about the Vietnam War."

But Nguyen, who grew up between a refugee camp and the shop his parents slaved to set up in California, is an equal opportunities satirist.

While he eviscerates a barely-disguised Francis Ford Coppola on the Philippine set of his iconic film, the Vietnamese do not emerge smelling of roses either.

"If I had only criticised the communists or the Americans I would have been fine," Nguyen said.

For his Vietnamese characters are not only human "they are also inhuman, capable of doing terrible things. Some terrible things happen in the book, as they did in Vietnam. Nothing I wrote about did not happen.

'Everybody did wrong'

"Everybody did something wrong, everybody deserves to be offended."

Nguyen said he was "anxious" about how the Vietnamese translation would be received. "I wonder even how my own family will react to this depiction of Vietnamese complexity and contradictions", he said.

That it has taken this long for a Vietnamese writer to take on the war and its legacy is no surprise to him.

"Vietnamese people do anything to avoid conflict. There is a very big temptation not to talk about the war. The Communist Party control the narrative and if you try to get another perspective in there you are censored or exiled."

In America, Vietnamese writers are up against Hollywood, he said, "the unofficial propaganda of the United States. These movies cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Are you going to go up in front of that with your puny little novel?"

Americans also "like to think that they know something about Vietnam. But it is only ever their experiences we see," he insisted.

So Nguyen, a professor of English and ethnicity, decided to turn US attitudes on race to his advantage.

"As a minority you are expected to write about your 'minority experience'. So I decided to give them that, but done my way, a way neither Americans nor Vietnamese people have seen before."

His big challenge was to find a character who could cross the lines. And in coming up with an ambivalent Communist mole in the South Vietnamese army, the unwanted son of a French colonial Catholic priest and his maid, Nguyen found his man.

Smart, sarcastic, yet desperate to be accepted and to please, the spy agrees to become an advisor on the set of "Apocalypse Now".

"The Movie," the character observes at one point in the book, "was just a sequel to our war and a prequel to the next one that America was destined to wage.

"Killing the extras was either a re-enactment of what had happened to us natives or a dress rehearsal for the next such episode, with the Movie the local anaesthetic applied to the American mind. — AFP]]>
Lifestyle Fri, 11 Aug 2017 03:40:57 +0000 theSundaily 470001 at