Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Japan Goes Crazy Over Kit Kat

Kit Kat is big in Japan. I would go so far as to say the country goes crazy over the confectionery product from Nestle.

From cheesecake to wasabi to purple sweet potato, the crispy wafer bar is available in hundreds of varieties, according to Yuji Takeuchi, marketing manager for Nestlé Japan. 

And it’s up to Yasumasa Takagi (right) to keep the fresh flavors coming. The classically-trained pastry chef has added over 50 to the Kit Kat canon so far. 

Takagi invites us into his kitchen in Tokyo to see how he creates yummy new flavor profiles for customers who are always hungry for more.


The Kit Kat first came to Japan in 1973, but the first 100 percent, truly on-brand Japanese Kit Kat arrived at the turn of the millennium, when the marketing department of Nestlé Japan, the manufacturer of Kit Kats in the country, decided to experiment with new flavors, sweetness levels and types of packaging in an effort to increase sales. 

Strawberry! A pinkish, fruity Kit Kat would have been a gamble almost anywhere else in the world, but in Japan, strawberry-flavored sweets were established beyond the status of novelties. The strawberry Kit Kat was covered in milk chocolate tinted by the addition of a finely ground powder of dehydrated strawberry juice. It was first introduced in Hokkaido – coincidentally and serendipitously – at the start of strawberry season.


Since then, the company has released almost 400 more flavors, some of them available only in particular regions of the country, which tends to encourage a sense of rareness and collectibility. Bars flavored like Okinawan sweet potatoes, the starchy, deep purple Japanese tubers, are available in Kyushu and Okinawa. The adzuki bean-sandwich bars are associated with the city of Nagoya, where the sweet, toasted snack originated in a tea shop at the turn of the 20th century and slowly made its way to cafe menus in the area. Shizuoka, where gnarly rhizomes with heart-shaped leaves have been cultivated for centuries on the Pacific Ocean, is known for its wasabi-flavored bars. 

The most popular kind of Kit Kat in Japan is the mini – a bite-size package of two ingots – and Nestlé estimates that it sells about four million of these each day. In any given year, there are about 40 flavors available, including the core flavors – plain milk chocolate, strawberry, sake, wasabi, matcha, Tokyo Banana and a dark-chocolate variety called “sweetness for adults” – plus 20 to 30 rotating new ones. 

In case you didn’t know, the Kit Kat – first produced as a crisp, four-finger chocolate wafer bar in the 1930s, in the UK by the chocolate manufacturer Rowntree’s – was self-consciously packaged as a kind of workingman’s chocolate. Meaning, it was supposed to be plain and unpretentious. 

Today, it is so much more than that and to the Japanese, it is more than just an ordinary sweet treat!

World Speech Day Ambassadors


And that is a feather in our cap.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Donald Trump Faces Lawsuits from US Businesses

US President Donald Trump is facing mounting lawsuits from a crowded clutch of businesses over his China tariff policy. 

About 3,500 US companies including Tesla Inc., Ford Motor Co., Target Corp., Walgreen Co. and Home Depot, have sued the Trump administration in the last two weeks over the imposition of tariffs on more than $300 billion in Chinese-made goods. 

Rather than "China is paying for those tariffs," as Trump had said, it is the US side primarily bearing the costs. As early as the beginning of the year, Trump's tariffs had cost American firms $46 billion since February 2018, Reuters reported. 

And a Moody's report in September 2019 showed that Trump's trade war with China has cost an estimated 0.3 percentage point in US real GDP and almost 300,000 jobs. 

Although further progress of the lawsuits remains to be seen, Trump's boastful statement that "trade wars are good and easy to win" is clearly not the case. 

Sure, China, having the second-largest economy, is also impacted from the US-initiated trade war. However, even amidst the trade war and with risks that Trump may further escalate confrontations with China, the American Chamber of Commerce survey in Shanghai revealed that 78.6 percent of polled US companies have no intention to move investment away from China, up 5.1 percentage points from last year's survey. 

The fact of the matter is that no company can afford to not do business with China – it is too gargantuan a market to ignore.


On Monday, Liverpool triumphed 3-1 over Arsenal. 

The Gunners actually went ahead after 25 minutes – but within 3 minutes, Sadio Mane pounced after the Arsenal goalkeeper could only push out Mohamed Salah's shot. Six minutes later, Andy Robertson received the end of Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross to stab home. And then, Diogo Jota who made his Anfield bow following his move from Wolves, sealed the game when he volleyed from close-range into the bottom corner in the eighty-eighth minute. 

This EPL match showcased an all-conquering Liverpool team that are pressing and persisting – on this evidence, the Reds are in a class of their own, comprehensively outplaying their opponents with a masterclass of measured, quality-laden football. 

Arsenal return to Anfield on Thursday hoping to do better in the EFL Cup fourth round.

Japan Issues Suicide Alert

Japan’s suicides have been on a downward trend or so everybody thought. 

In the first half of this year, there was a drop in the number of suicides in Japan. And in 2019, the figure fell to a record low – a Statista 2020 report put the number at 20,169 – which non-governmental groups attributed to increasing efforts on addressing the issue. 

[Compared to 20,840 in 2018; 21,321 in 2017 and 21,897 in 2016]. 

But in August this year, Japan reported nearly 1,900 suicides, up 15 percent from the same month last year. 

On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary (previously the country’s health minister) Katsunobu Kato declared: “There has been an uptick in the number of suicide cases since July. We have to acknowledge the fact that so many people are ending their precious lives” – and even alluded that “some” people were struggling to cope during the coronavirus crisis. 

Sunday’s suicide death of popular actress Yuko Takeuchi (left) not only shocked the nation – but it follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their own lives. 

Forty-year-old Takeuchi was a household name in Japan – she played the lead in the 2018 series Miss Sherlock on the Hulu-HBO Asia network, and also had a minor part in the 1998 Japanese horror classic Ring. She had given birth to her second child in January. 

Earlier in September, another popular Japanese actress 36-year-old Sei Ashina (right) died in an apparent suicide. In July, actor Haruma Miura is also believed to have taken his own life. 

In May, reality TV show star Hana Kimura (right), 22, from the Netflix show Terrace House, also died, apparently following online abuse, making international headlines.

Those struggling to cope should seek help! Please, please do not give up, ever! 

On Sunday, Celtic clinched a clinical three-goal win against Hibernian – and remain one point behind Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers, with a game in hand. 

Callum McGregor drove home from a rasping low effort in the seventh minute, and Albian Ajeti capitalised on poor defending to slot in from close range twenty-eight minutes later. And then, a delightfully weighted through ball from midfielder David Turnbull allowed Mohamed Elyounoussi to slide in low into the net from 12 yards in the seventy-ninth minute. 

Hibs actually contributed to a very entertaining first half but couldn't get going at all after the break as Neil Lennon's men dominated possession. 

Celtic travel to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina for their Europa League qualifying play-off round clash against Fudbalski klub Sarajevo on Thursday, before visiting St Johnstone in the league on Sunday.

Monday, September 28, 2020

About Malaysians

This is so true… about Malaysians!

It was a smallish group that gathered at TTDI Kuala Lumpur on Friday for the Kelab Pidato Perdana meeting. 

Anyway, KPP meetings have no bearing on attendance – so it doesn't matter. They’re more about learning and practicing which is what KPP are all about. 

And slowly but surely, I am improving.

And Domino's Pizza this time around:

It’s lamentable to read that Barcelona have coerced Luis Suarez to leave the club. But his exit will not end his career  not by a long shot. In fact, his forced move to rival Atletico Madrid will surely benefit the latter. Immensely.

To me, nothing is going to change for the Uruguayan because he is a damn good footballer. 

In his debut at his new club against Granada on Sunday – and despite only coming on in the 70th minute – he scored twice (85, 90+3) and set up another (72). 

BTW, Club Atlético de Madrid, S.A.D. won 6-1.

Sniffer Dogs Detect Covid-19

Anyone who's been through an airport or crossed national borders would have seen detection dogs, noses diligently sniffing for illegal drugs or banned produce. Sniffer dogs have also been deployed to nose out invasive insects and/or wildlife or wildlife parts, like rhino horns and ivory. 

Now, some dogs are using their noses for a different purpose – Covid-19. 

Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country's Helsinki-Vantaa airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that aims to identify infected travellers.


The dogs can detect Covid-19 in humans five days before they develop symptoms, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman (right), the University of Helsinki professor of animal medicine who is running the trial, told Reuters news agency. 

"It's a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing", she said. “We come close to 100% sensitivity". 

For people with allergies, or fear of dogs, there's no reason to worry. The passengers will have no direct contact with the canine Covid-19 detectives. 

The test is performed from a wipe that is swiped on the passenger's skin, and placed in a beaker. In a separate booth, the dog will sniff the sample. If the dog detects Covid-19, they will make a physical sign, usually by yelping, pawing or lying down. A canine test can deliver a result within minutes. 

But while the trial has shown early promise, more research is still needed to prove the efficacy of canine testing. At the moment, passengers who take part in the trial are also instructed to take a swab to confirm the result. 

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association started working on Wednesday as part of the government-financed trial. 

If successful, the pilot scheme could help provide a more efficient method of detection that could be used in a range of scenarios – e.g. in hospitals, ports, aged care homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work. 

"We are among the pioneers", declared airport director Ulla Lettijeff of aviation company Finavia. "As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against Covid-19. We are pleased with the city of Vantaa's initiative. This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating Covid-19". 

(Note: Vantaa is the city where Helsinki’s international airport is located). 

Researchers in countries including Australia, France, Germany and the UK are reportedly working on similar projects – but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work sniffing out the coronavirus.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

33 Million Cases

The Covid-19 pandemic escalates. And the world is now saddled with 33 million cases with the death toll expected to reach one million today. 

Ninety percent of confirmed cases are found among the countries identified below:


Of the thirty-eight countries, 12 are from the Americas, 10 from Europe, 13 from Asia and 3 from Africa. A truly global scourge. 

I came across this news report – it was actually published on August 23, 2020  about a campaign that was started to get the Covid-19 restriction on bagpipes lifted! 

Scotland is the only country in the UK still outlawing the playing of the instrument in a group in the open air – even with social distancing. 

Public health officials fear the pipes, along with other woodwind and brass instruments, could create an “aerosol” of infectious particles. 

But Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association chairperson John Hughes has argued it is a “dry” mechanism with no vapour discharge. 

A MSP, Michelle Ballantyne (right) has already lodged a motion calling on the Scottish Government to “consider the current situation for pipe and silver bands” and to recognize that “piping technology means that pipes are no longer wet” – and therefore, the ban on band practice sessions should be cancelled.

I agree that we should give bagpipes a break.

The Sabah State Election Results

Sabahans have decided!

The other side won. PN 17, UMNO 14, and PBS 7 – making it a grand total of 38 seats out of the 73 in contention.

Together, they have enough to form a government but they do not have a commanding majority. 

And even if they form the state government – there is no guarantee they will last until the 15th General Election. 

It’s still going to be a rollercoaster ride for everybody.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Blue Ballpoint Pen Drawing

It's hard to believe that the ordinary ballpoint pen (left) – the most commonly used type of writing instrument – could actually conjure up beautiful illustrations. 

And that’s what artist Louis Gibiard did – he created an incredibly detailed drawing using only a ballpoint pen.


The combination of the blue ink against the white of the paper is reminiscent of traditional porcelain art from China – but the images are more wildlife oriented. This amazing piece took Gibiard over 140 hours to complete.

On Thursday, I participated in a Zoom meeting of the IJM Toastmasters Club – my third time – and where I was roped in as a speech evaluator. I was also volunteered to take part in the Table Topics session. 

Thanks to Chloe Chor for the kind invite. I’m not a stranger to this club because I've been supporting them for a good many years – and it’s good to know that post-Toastmasters, I'm still contributing my time and energy to IJM Toastmasters when called upon to do so.

My eighth Toastmasters meeting via Zoom since April 01, 2020.