Share This

Friday, September 30, 2011

China's Tiangong-1 completes orbit maneuver & the future missions

Tiangong-1 completes orbit maneuver CCTV News - CNTV English

09-30-2011 08:40 BJT Special Report: Tiangong I - China's first space rendezvous and docking task

Full Video: China´s first space lab module enters space CCTV News - CNTV English 

BEIJING, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- China's first space lab module Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, blasted off at 9:16 p.m. Beijing Time (1316 GMT) Thursday in a northwest desert area as the nation envisions the coming of its space station era in about ten years.

The unmanned module, carried by the Long March-2FT1 rocket, will test space docking with a spacecraft later this year, paving the way for China to operate a permanent space station around 2020 and making it the world's third country to do so.

A Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket loaded with Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Sept. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Wang Jianmin)

More than ten minutes after the blastoff, Commander-in-chief of China's manned space program Chang Wanquan announced the launch's success at the control center in Beijing.

The success of the launch, however, is just a beginning, and the real challenge is space docking, said Yang Hong, chief designer of Tiangong module series.


Unlike previous Chinese space vehicles, the Tiangong-1 has a docking facility which allows it to be connected to multiple space modules in order to assemble an experimental station in low Earth orbit.

The Tiangong-1 will orbit the Earth for about one month, awaiting the arrival of the Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft. Once the two vehicles successfully rendezvous, they will conduct the first space docking at a height of 340 kilometers above the earth's surface.

The Tiangong-1 flies at a speed of 7.8 kilometers per second in orbit, which leaves ground-based staff an error of less than 0.12 meter to control the two vehicles to dock in low gravity. China has never tried such test and could not simulate it on the ground.

After two docking tests with the Shenzhou-8, the Tiangong-1 will await Shenzhou-9, to be followed by Shenzhou-10, which will possibly carry a female astronaut, in the next two years, according to the plan for China's manned space program.

If the astronaut in the Shenzhou-10 mission succeeds with the manual space docking, China will become the third nation after the United States and Russia to master the technology.

President Hu Jintao watched the launch from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center on Thursday, two days before China's National Day, witnessing the latest endeavor of China's manned space program since 1992.

Hu told the engineers, commanders and other workers at the control center to do every job in a "more aborative and meticulous" manner to ensure the success of the country's first space docking mission.

Other members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, including Wu Bangguo, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Zhou Yongkang, were also present.

Premier Wen Jiabao went to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center to watch the launch process with He Guoqiang, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.

Chinese people were inspired by the successful launch.

"The Tiangong-1 has gone into the dark sky! We Chinese are on the way to inhabiting the vast universe," wrote Qichaoxiguanghai on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog service provider.

"I heard the news of the Tiangong-1's launch from the radio on a ship to Yangzhou," wrote microblogger Xingfufeiafei. "I am proud to share the pride that shakes the world. The pride of our nation is once again deep in my heart."


With a room of 15 cubic meters for two to three astronauts to conduct research and experiments in the future, China's first space lab module is hardly the size of any palace.

But its name Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace-1," speaks of a dream home from Chinese folklore, long envisioned as a secret place where deities reside.

Thanks to an economic boom that has continued since the end of the 1970s, the Chinese government approved and began carrying out its three-phase manned space program in January 1992.

The first phase, to send the first astronaut to space and return safely, was fulfilled by Yang Liwei in the Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003. After another two astronauts made successful extravehicular activities in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, China entered the second phase of its space program: space docking.

If the previous two steps succeed, China plans to develop and launch multiple space modules, with a goal of assembling a 60-tonne manned space station around 2020 in which Chinese astronauts will start more research projects in space.

Premier Wen said at the launch center that the breakthrough in and command of space docking technology marks a significant step forward in China's "three-phase" manned space program.

He encouraged all the participants in the program to do a good job to "win the vital battle of space docking."

The success of Thursday's launch of the Tiangong-1 also eased the pressure on China's space engineers following an unsuccessful lift-off in August when a Long March-2C rocket malfunctioned and failed to send an experimental satellite into orbit.

To acquire a new and bigger rocket capable of loading a future space station's components that will be much heavier than the Tiangong-1, research and development on a carrier rocket that burns more environmentally-friendly liquid-oxygen-kerosene fuels is in progress.

The Long March-5 and -7 carrier rockets with a payload to low Earth orbit of more than 20 tonnes will take test flight as early as 2014, said Song Zhengyu, deputy chief designer of rocket for China's manned space program.

China's progress in space technology is stunning. The Tiangong-1 will dock three spacecraft one after another, which will cost less time and money than docking experiments the U.S. and Russia did.

The space station now still functional is the International Space Station (ISS) initiated by the United States and Russia, which cooperate with other 14 nations at about 360 kilometers above the earth.

However, as the U.S. ended its space shuttle program after the Atlantis' last mission in July, the ISS is scheduled to be plunged into the ocean at the end of its life cycle around 2020, when China is expected to start its era of space station.


Zhang Shancong, deputy chief designer of the Tiangong-1, told Xinhua that the module carries special cameras which will take hyperspectral images of China's vast farmlands to detect heavy metal pollution and pesticide residue as well as plant disease.

Moreover, scientists on the ground will also conduct experiments on photonic crystal, a new material expected to revolutionize information technology, in the low-gravity environment inside the Tiangong-1 as these experiments would be extremely difficult to conduct on the earth's surface.

"China is clearly becoming a global power and its investments in areas like technology and exploration reflect this," said Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

"It is a natural result of the growth in political and economic power and is to be expected," Singer said in an interview with Xinhua conducted via email.

"What remains at question is what kind of presence China will play on the international stage, cooperative, working with international partners, or going it alone?" Singer said.

The scholar, however, can find an answer to his question from the words of Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program.

Zhou told Xinhua that China will turn its future space station into an international platform for space research and application to share space achievements with partners.

"The Chinese nation has pursued peace since ancient times," Zhou said. "China's ultimate intention with the space program is to explore space resources and make use of them for mankind's well-being."

According to Wu Ping, a spokesperson with China's manned space program, scientists from China and Germany will jointly carry out experiments on space life science at the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft.

A U.S. astronaut on the Atlantis's final mission has said China's first experimental space station will be a welcome addition to the international brotherhood.

"China being in space I think is a great thing. The more nations that get into space, the better cooperation we'll have with each," astronaut Rex Walheim said during an interview with Reuters.

So far China's Long March rocket series has successfully sent more than 20 satellites into space for the United States, Australia, Pakistan and other countries and regions.

One Chinese scientist and five international peers have also participated in Russia's Mars-500 Program, a ground-based experiment simulating a manned expedition to Mars.

Future missions await Tiangong-1

 Future missions await Tiangong-1 CCTV News - CNTV English

JIUQUAN, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- China is working on the development of a new generation of carrier rockets featuring a larger thrust to cater to the demand of building a space station, a chief rocket engineer said Thursday.

"The building of a space station requires carrier rockets with greater thrust as each capsule of the station will weigh about 20 tonnes," said Jing Muchun, chief engineer for the carrier rocket system of China's manned space program.

"We have been preparing for the launch of the space station slated for 2020," Jing told Xinhua.
The Tiangong-1, China's first space lab module, was launched into space by the Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket on Thursday evening, paving the way for a future space station.

A Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket loaded with Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Sept. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Wang Jianmin)

Jing's deputy, Song Zhengyu, said the new generation of carrier rockets, represented by the digital and poison- and pollution-free Long March-5 and Long March-7, are expected to make their first lift-offs around 2014.

Song said the technologies applied to the new generation of carrier rockets will mature by 2021 and the existing Long March-2, -3 and -4 series will be replaced sequentially.

China started developing modern carrier rockets in 1956, and the Long March rocket series has become the mainstream carriers for launching China's satellites.

The Long March rockets currently fall into four categories, namely Long March-1, -2, -3 and -4.

 Related stories/post

China Successfully Launches 1st Space Lab Module Into Orbit for Docking Tests

China Successfully Launches 1st Space Lab Module Into Orbit for Docking Tests

China Launches 1st Space Lab Module Into Orbit for Docking Tests

Thursday, September 29, 2011

China Launches Space Station Module To Night!

Rocket Fueled for China's 1st Space Lab Module Launch Thursday

China's space launch rally

China is expected to launch three additional spacecraft at a later time to connect with Tiangong 1 in space. The unmanned Shenzhou 8 mission is due to launch in early November to conduct the first docking tests between two Chinese spacecraft. The country then plans to launch the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 to robotically attach to the Tiangong 1 module.

"The main tasks of [the] Tiangong 1 spaceflight include: to provide a target vehicle for space rendezvous and docking experiment; to primarily establish a manned space test platform capable of long-term unmanned operation in space with temporary human attendance, and thus accumulate experiences for the development of the space station; to carry out space science experiments, space medical experiments and space technology experiments," Wu said.

Tiangong-1 space module to launch Thursday CCTV News - CNTV English

"It’s a big deal at several levels," said Dean Cheng, a research fellow on Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank. "If all goes according to plan this will be China's initial effort at docking, and of course docking is one of those sin qua nons for more prolonged exploration of space. They have to get this skill set down."

China had originally planned to launch the space lab module earlier, but last month, a Long March 2C rocket, which is similar to Tiangong 1's Long March 2F booster, malfunctioned shortly after liftoff and failed to reach orbit. Chinese officials temporarily halted plans for Tiangong 1 as they investigated the accident, which resulted in the loss of an experimental satellite.

Take a look at how China's first space station, called Tiangong ("Heavenly) will be assembled in orbit in this infographic.
Take a look at how China's first space station, called Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace") will be assembled in orbit in this infographic.
CREDIT: Karl Tate/ View full size image

China's growing space program

The launch of China's first space lab test module is considered an important milestone for the country and its growing space program. Chinese officials have voiced their intent to build a 60-ton manned space station by the year 2020. [Infographic: How China's First Space Station Will Work]

In addition to acting as an important test bed for these space station aspirations, Tiangong 1 will also carry medical and engineering experiments into space.

The module is expected to remain in orbit for two years, reported state news agency Xinhua.

China is only the third nation to independently launch humans into orbit, after the United States and Russia. The nation's first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, was piloted by Yang Liwei on Oct. 15, 2003. Liwei's 21-hour mission was followed by two more manned missions in 2005 and 2008.

You can follow staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. senior writer Clara Moskowitz (@ClaraMoskowitz) contributed to this report. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

 Newscribe : get free news in real time

Related posts:

China to Launch Space Station Test Module: Rehearsal for Tiangong-1 launch comprehensive and successful

China to Launch Space Station Test Module Next Week

Global data center building booms

Three Googleplexes coming to Asia/Pacific
Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

The Great Recession didn't just throw cold water on server spending, it also slammed the brakes on data center buildouts. While server spending picked up in late 2009 and shipments recovered in 2011 to their pre-recession levels, it takes a bit longer to fund data center projects. But it looks like brick-and-mortar – and sometimes container-and–prefab module – construction for glass houses is starting to pick up.

Google, which doesn't quite have as much money or power as God – yet – is one of the largest data center operators in the world, and the company told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that it would be spending more than $200m to open three data centers to bring its search engines and myriad other services closer to Internet users (the raw material at Google) in that part of the world.

The Chocolate Factory told the Journal that it planned to plunk data centers in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, with the data centers being operational within a year or two of the beginning of construction. The data centers will be located on facilities that have a combined acreage of around 20 hectares, with the actual glass houses (or containerized data centers or whatever Google does) ultimately taking up only a fraction of that space. Google has just opened up a chillerless, air-cooled data center in Belgium and another one that is located in an old paper mill and cooled by seawater in Finland. Google has six separate data centers in the United States with varying vintages of server and data center designs, located in Oregon, Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Oklahoma – and never too far from cheap electricity and fat phone lines.

As El Reg has previously reported, after a three-year hiatus, the data center construction is coming back to its pre-recession levels, with construction worldwide expected to reach $45bn in 2011, by some estimates.

To get a sense of what was going on out there in the glass houses, containers, and prefabbed units that are used to give protection from weather and people to servers, storage, and networks, London-based Datacenter Dynamics did a survey of data center operators who collective manage 100,000 faciliites worldwide with an aggregate of 7.7 million racks of gear. The survey was done in June and July of this year, and according to a report based on the survey, data center operators say they expect to add 7 per cent more to their facility count (or around 7,000 new data centers), boost racks by 15 per cent (or around 1.2 million new racks), and draw 19 per cent more juice for running this gear (or around 37 gigawatts all told). Data center investment in 2011 is estimated at around $30bn globally based on this sample, and will grow to $35bn next year.

Ranking the investment in data centers is a bit tricky. In terms of incremental growth in capacity, Turkey is the big grower, with an increase of 60 per cent in data center capacity from 2011 to 2012, followed by Brazil (up 45 per cent), Columbia (up 40 per cent), Argentina (up 36 per cent), Russia (up 29 per cent), and China (up 28 per cent). The eastern US is expected to grow by only 13 per cent, the central US by 12 per cent, and the western US by 3 per cent, according to estimates made by Datacenter Dynamics based on its survey data. The United Kingdom ranked 21st, with 5 per cent growth.

Datacenter Dynamics survey
Source: Datacenter Dynamics, Industry Census 2011

But if you look at it by the amount of money that will be spent in 2012 based on what survey respondents told Datacenter Dynamics, then you get a completely different picture. The US rules, with $9.3bn in data center construction investment, followed by the UK, with $3.35bn, China ranked third, with $3.1bn in spending expected in 2012, followed by Germany, with $2.6bn, Australia with $2.45bn, and Brazil with $2.15bn. France, Italy, and Canada are close behind. ®

Newscribe : get free news in real time 

Big Four auditors under pressure

Big Four auditors under legal, EU pressure

 Authorities considering rules to break them up!

European Union flags are seen outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, in a file photo. REUTERS/Yves Herman

(Reuters) - The "Big Four" auditors face possibly their biggest shakeup since the Enron scandal as European authorities consider rules that could force them to break up, while the firms also are confronting multibillion dollar suits emerging from the subprime crisis.

The European Commission, according to a draft law seen by Reuters on Tuesday, is proposing that auditors be banned from providing consulting services to companies they audit, or even be banned altogether from consulting, a fast-growing business.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is due to publish the draft in November, targeting what he sees as a conflict of interest when auditors check the books of the same companies from which they reap lucrative consultancy fees.

Leading potentially to break-ups, a ban on consulting would be the most punitive measure yet taken by regulators against the world's largest auditors -- Deloitte DLTE.UL, PwC PWC.UL, Ernst & Young ERNY.UL and KPMG KPMG.UL.

On another front, Deloitte was sued on Monday by a trust overseeing the bankruptcy of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp and one of its units claiming a combined $7.6 billion in damages. It is one of the largest lawsuits stemming from the 2007-2009 credit crisis.

Though auditors have been successful at winning dismissals of several crisis-related lawsuits, legal experts said some legal defences used by auditors in the past may have some holes when applied to the Deloitte case.

Deloitte has said the legal claims are "utterly without merit."

The Big Four review the financial books and records of most of the world's large corporations. The firms dodged a bullet during the era of the Enron and WorldCom frauds when U.S. regulators stopped short of an outright ban on consulting.

The 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley audit industry reform laws limited the types of consulting services that auditors can provide to companies they audit, but the post-Enron laws left auditors free to pursue one another's clients for consulting work.


The EU has been considering stricter measures since auditors gave clean bills of health to many banks that suffered debilitating losses during the credit crunch.

Auditors, which are privately held, do not disclose their insurance coverage or reserves held for legal awards, though most have been able so far to absorb the legal penalties stemming from the financial crisis.

According to Audit Analytics, the Big Four auditors have been named as defendants in at least two dozen class action cases stemming from the credit crisis through July 2011.

"There is a point at which the reputational damage combined with large judgments can do significant damage to their operations," said Andrea Kim, partner at Diamond McCarthy law firm in Houston.

It is unlikely, however, that any of the Big Four firms would be allowed to fail, given their role in auditing most of the largest companies in key markets, she said.


"You can safely assume that before we reach that level, what you're more likely to see is some legislative action," she said.

Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted after the disastrous meltdown of Enron auditor Arthur Andersen, which had been the fifth of the Big Five audit firms. Sarbanes-Oxley actually helped the remaining four firms by creating more rigid requirements and auditing work for them.

"The biggest beneficiary of Sarbanes-Oxley was the Big Four," Kim said. "It's just a giant money-making enterprise."

The measure being considered in the European Union would be far more stringent. In addition to potentially forcing auditors to split off their consulting businesses, it might include a requirement that auditors be "rotated," or changed, every nine years, forcing them to give up some of their best clients.

Another element of the draft includes the introduction of "joint audits," so the Big Four would share auditing work with smaller rivals.

A ban on consulting would be especially damaging now, as the auditors have been furiously expanding their consulting business to offset slower growth in their core audit area.

"Breaking up the Big Four audit firms would make them more susceptible to be taken over by emerging Chinese firms," a UK audit official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivities involved.

Barnier's spokeswoman said he had made it clear that the audit sector displayed clear failings during the crisis, giving banks a clean bill of health just before they were rescued.

Think Twice About Paying Off Your Mortgage, Retirees!

Retirees: Think Twice About Paying Off Your Mortgage

NEW YORK (CNBC) -- The countdown to retirement is on for millions of baby boomers and, thanks to a lifetime of diligent saving, some have amassed enough wealth to pay off their mortgages and live debt free. 

Conventional wisdom says it's best to pay off your mortgage before retirement, but given the low-interest rate environment, and the need to preserve cash in an unstable economy, that strategy is no longer absolute.

"Paying off your house is one goal, but having a zero-mortgage liability is not the answer for everyone," says Jennie Fierstein, a certified financial planner (CFP) in Westborough, Mass. "If you don't have a stream of resources to replenish it, you might do yourself a disservice by taking money out of the bank to pay off your mortgage."

Retirees themselves, it seems, are equally torn as to the most prudent course of action.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 41% of U.S. households aged 60 to 69 in 2007 maintained a mortgage. Of these, 51% had sufficient assets to repay their loans.

When it pays to borrow
While most financial planners agree that owning your home free and clear during retirement is a worthy goal, Elaine Bedel, with Bedel Financial Consulting in Indianapolis, says there are times when it makes more financial sense to keep your money in the market and use the earnings to pay off your loan.

That's particularly true, she says, if you need to invest (however conservatively) for growth.

"There are a few of my clients who feel like if they don't take the risk to get the growth, they're not going to be able to meet their retirement objectives and live the lifestyle they want," says Bedel. "If you take a big chunk out of your nest egg and the income it was generating was being used to meet your mortgage payments, as well as additional living expenses, that may not be the right thing to do."

CFP Fierstein agrees, noting most retirees are advised to withdraw no more than 4% from their nest egg each year to ensure they won't outlive their income.

Thus, if you take $200,000 out of a $500,000 portfolio to pay off your house, your income based on that 4% drawdown rate would drop to $12,000 from $20,000 per year. (The $20,000, of course, would have had to help pay for your mortgage.)

"It's very dangerous to tie up all your money in your house, because your house is not going to generate
income," says Fierstein. "It's nice security, but you lose flexibility and depending on how conservatively you invest your remaining portfolio you may not have enough income to live on."

What's your rate?

When determining whether to pay off or keep your mortgage, you should also consider your interest rate.

If the average after-tax return on your investments is greater than the after-tax cost of your mortgage, it may make sense to keep your money invested, says Fierstein.

Don't forget to factor in the effect of the mortgage-interest tax deduction.

If you're in the 30% tax bracket and you're able to claim the full deduction, a 5% loan is really only costing you roughly 3.5%.

Thus, you'd only have to earn 4% on your investments to make it worth your while. (Given the low interest-rate environment, however it's nearly impossible to achieve that rate of return on more conservative, fixed-income products such as bonds and certificates of deposit.)

"It's hard to find comparable risk-free investments, so you have to be able to stomach a loss if you want to go that route," says Jean Setzfand, AARP's vice president of financial security. "You can't get a plain vanilla CD anymore, because those rates are too low."

Getting close
If you're nearing retirement but haven't yet quit, the case for keeping your mortgage and continuing to invest is more clear -- at least until you part ways with the boss.

According to a 2007 study by the Federal Reserve, directing extra money towards your low-interest mortgage loan at the expense of continued contribution to your 401(k) is a costly mistake.

Organization of the Federal Reserve SystemImage via Wikipedia
Some 38% of the U.S. households that are accelerating their mortgage payments instead of saving in a tax-deferred account, such as a 401(k) or traditional IRA, are making the "wrong choice," it concluded.

For those households, reallocating their savings towards a tax-deferred account instead would yield a mean benefit of 11 cents to 17 cents per dollar, depending on the choice of investment assets in the account. In all, the study notes, "those misallocated savings are costing U.S. households as much as $1.5 billion per year."

When to pay it off

Despite the limited scenarios in which keeping a mortgage during retirement might make sense, AARP's Setzfand and financial planners Bedel and Fierstein agree that most retirees would be better off eliminating debt (however low the interest rate) for the peace of mind it affords.

Money, after all, isn't just about the math.

"I think for the general population our guidance is still the old adage of paying off your mortgage before you retire," says Setzfand of AARP. "There isn't anything as safe as being rid of that mortgage and that burden before you hit a period of your life where you're not bringing in a paycheck."

Indeed, mortgages consume 20% to 30% of the typical household's fixed expenses.

While some maintain that using savings to pay off one's mortgage is unwise, as it leaves you less cash on hand for unexpected expenses, such as medical costs and home repairs, Anthony Webb, the research economist who authored the Center for Retirement Research study, believes that argument lacks validity.

Households "need to consider what they would do if the bad event actually happened," he writes. To wit, how they "would maintain their mortgage payments once their financial assets had been spent."

Remember, too, says Bedel, you can always take out a home equity line of credit on your paid off home, which can satisfy the need for cash reserves.

If you can't pay off your mortgage in full without depleting your nest egg, says Fierstein, at least shoot for a more manageable monthly payment.

"I strongly advocate trying to pay down your mortgage, so when you reach retirement you're not faced with a standard of living crisis," she says. "There is some wisdom to paying off a portion of your mortgage so you have minimal payments and some left over in an emergency fund."

A generation ago, retirement planners often started with the premise of a paid off home, using Social Security, company pensions, and other income sources to help their clients cover living expenses.

Today, however, with interest rates at historic lows and many retirees chasing returns to offset losses incurred during the market meltdown, a mortgage-free retirement is not necessarily the long-term goal.

Deciding what makes sense for you depends on your financial profile, interest rate, and your ability to stomach risk.

-- Written by Shelly K. Schwartz, special to CNBC

Newscribe : get free news in real time

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A man of his time, Samuel Kam

Samuel Kam: A man of his time


Having lived through wars and peace, a nanogenarian believes everyone can be useful. One just has to grab the chance to do so.

WHEN Japanese enemy planes circled the sky and dropped bombs on China’s wartime capital of Chungking in the summer of 1940, Samuel Kam, at that time a government official, sought refuge in an air raid shelter with 60 colleagues.

When incendiary bombs destroyed the shelter, Kam, then 25, found himself assigned to yet another shelter, the same one as some of the top-ranking officials in the Chinese army.

And if you think it is just in period war films that grim and gaunt war generals recite Tang dynasty poetry while waiting out the bombardments, think again.

Engineer in charge: ‘I never imagined that I would be an author,’ says Samuel Kam, 96, who wrote Through Wars And Peace. 
I recently had a long chat with Kam, now 96, at his home in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. He tells me that his eyesight is not as good as it used to be and he walks with small, careful steps with the aid of a walking stick. But when he talks, he maintains a consistent pace, breaks into laughter easily, and expresses his thoughts with an eloquence that men half his age would envy.

“I am very busy every day. I have a secretary come in to help me do some necessary things. There could be numerous phone calls to and from friends and families here and abroad, as well as friends dropping by for a visit. Of course, in old age, you don’t have the speed that you want to have. You have to do things very slowly. So although I am busy, I feel that I cannot achieve much,” he says, laughing.

Born four years after the 1911 Chinese Revolution, Kam grew up in Hong Kong, served as the governor-general’s de facto foreign affairs officer in Hainan, returned to Hong Kong and taught in a girls’ school, and then sailed 19 days on a ship to America to do a master’s degree in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley (where some lectures were conducted at night because a professor was involved in top-secret research work related to the hydrogen bomb during the day!).

He stayed on to work as a chemical engineer in the United States before a varsity mate extended an invitation to go to Singapore to help develop Lam Soon Cannery, a family business started by the friend’s father in the 1930s.

Today, Lam Soon produces many household brands – Knife cooking oil, Daisy and Naturel oil and margarine, May and Fruitale soap, Drinho beverages and Zip detergent, just to name a few.

But back in the 1950s, the company was not doing well. Initially a producer of soy sauce, it envisioned being a jack-of-all-trades and added cooking oil, laundry soap, canned food and coffee to its product repertoire.

Unfortunately, its machines were badly maintained and the unplanned layout of the factory floor resulted in a production process that was far from optimum. Besides, machine operators were untrained. Thus the company could barely keep its head above water even with the help of overdrafts.

Young Kam and his wife, Lin Kwok Fong.
“Both the technical and management aspects were in a mess. No one was even able to tell me what the product costs were.

“At this time, the main business of the company was cooking oil, but the product was of poor quality. The company marketed the oil, refined from coconut oil extracted from copra, as clear and fragrant. But in reality it was neither clear nor fragrant, and retained the copra smell,” says Kam, adding that he made many technical changes, which eventually led to the company improving its financial situation.

“Lam Soon had never had a professional engineer before and I was given the post of chief engineer, even though I was really the only engineer there!”

Lam Soon in Malaya

So that was how Kam started out in South-East Asia in 1955, where he has – barring a stint in the US as an engineer when a former boss secured him an immigrant visa – lived since. He became a Malaysian citizen in 1969.

After three years with Lam Soon Singapore, he moved to Malaya and played an instrumental role in setting up Lam Soon Oil and Soap Manufacturing Company. When the country gained independence in 1957, high import duty was imposed on goods and building a factory here seemed like a step in the right direction for the company. But financial and manpower constraints meant it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

“I was sent to Malaya without any budget, without manpower, and I was told to build a modern factory with minimum cost. We had to compete with the multinational Lever Brothers (later known as Unilever), which had well-established brands such as Planta and Lux.

“The company had no money; often when the machines arrived, we were not able to pay someone to install it! Creditors chased me for money all the time. It was hard work and I had a really tough time. But I was still young, in my early 40s, and I had courage,” he says.

Kam wrote his memoir especially for his grandchildren (from left) Timothy, Priscilla and Philip.
Lam Soon’s new factory, built on a three-hectare plot of land in Petaling Jaya in the late 1950s, was to have an oil mill and oil refinery, a margarine section, a soap section and a glycerine treatment plant.

“The factory that I built in Malaya had a United Nations of machinery – the best automatic soap machinery from Italy, efficient German oil press, and other machines from America, Denmark, and England, as well as locally. I sourced machines from all over the world, provided that they were economical and worked well.

“Labour in Malaya was cheap, so people asked why I thought automatic machines were necessary. But I said – you have to look ahead. And it is important to have good machines if you want good products.”

Kam believes that a technical man has to be at the helm during the start-up of such an industry. The accountants and marketing people can come and serve later, he says.

“After helping to set up Lam Soon in Malaya, I went to America to work. But my heart was always with Lam Soon and I felt that I could maybe contribute more in South-East Asia, so after a while, I decided to come back. I considered it lucky for me that I could put my skills and knowledge to good use.”

And what a contribution it turned out to be. When he returned to Lam Soon in the 1960s, cooking oil was still refined from coconut. Palm oil (from the palm fruit), now commonly used as a cooking ingredient, was not commercially used then. Insufficient local supply of copra (at one time, large quantities had to be imported from Indonesia) and an increasing supply of crude palm oil got Kam wondering whether palm oil might make a good alternative raw material.

“Malaysia produces lots of palm oil every year so I tried to find out how to turn it into cooking oil. I was also looking forward to using palm oil to produce soap. We started with palm kernel oil and moved on to producing cooking oil from palm oil. We bought a centrifugal machine from a Swedish company in the late 1960s and got a two-year exclusive use of the new technology.”

Kam during an oil palm plantation inspection in his Lam Soon days (centre).
Lam Soon built the first oil fractionation plant to manufacture cooking oil in the country and sales of the palm-based oil grew when the Malaysian Medical Association declared in a research report that refined unsaturated palm oil is beneficial to health.

“After all its early troubles, Lam Soon is a huge success today,” he says.

Kam adds that he would like to think of the switch from coconut to palm oil as a small contribution to society.

“It is a healthier alternative to coconut oil. Once the country began to know the value of palm oil, the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim) was set up to carry out research in this industry. I was one of the advisors for the research programme. Malaysia took a wise step in getting all kinds of oil experts from America, England, Holland. Palm oil is now one of the biggest pillars of the Malaysian economy.”

He retired from Lam Soon in 1982, at the age of 67, but stayed on as one of its directors until up to about five years ago.

East and West

The eldest son and second oldest of six children, Kam grew up in what he describes as a close-knit “typical Confucian family”.

“My mother was a very gentle woman and treated everyone very well. My father was a Confucian scholar and magistrate of two counties. At that time, to get ahead in life, you had to pass your examinations. He got the best private tutors for me and at a young age, I had to memorise and recite Confucian analects and the writings of Mencius for six to eight hours every day.

“At that time I didn’t even know what they meant, but because I was young, the memories are vivid and even today I am still able to recite what I learned as a boy.”

After an education in Chinese classics, he went on to a Chinese primary school where he was given a firm grounding in Chinese historical readings. Then his father, convinced of the importance of English in westernised Hong Kong, enrolled him first in the English-medium Wah Yan College, followed by King’s College.

“My father decided that I should be well-versed in the English language so I went to these two secondary schools, the best in Hong Kong at that time. The teachers at the senior classes at King’s College were all from Britain and graduates from Oxford, Cambridge, London University. So basically I got a very good English education also.”

Kam was then awarded a scholarship to study at the prestigious University of Hong Kong, but his father continued to arrange for private tutoring in Chinese literature, foreseeing the possibility of his eventually taking up a job on the Mainland.

“The university is ranked among the best in the world and even back then was very expensive. If I didn’t to get that scholarship, I don’t think my father could have afforded to send me there,” says Kam, adding that Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics were his favourite subjects in secondary school.

He reminisces that his life would probably have turned out very different if he hadn’t gone to the University of Hong Kong because he would have likely pursued his education in mainland China.

The combination of a Chinese and English education has served him very well in his life and Kam says that he owes eternal gratitude to his father for having the foresight to provide him with an education that straddled the best of east and west.

“The combination was a great advantage to me. If I only had the English education, I could have never worked in Lam Soon. And without the Confucian education, I could hardly have worked in China during the war.”

A book is born

Blessed with an impressive capacity for recollecting his younger days, Kam was struck by an urge to write it all down after he retired.

“I felt that I had gone through a very turbulent world. I have travelled throughout the whole world and I moved from one place to another all the time. I wanted to write a book, especially so that my descendants – like my son Paul and my three grandchildren – could read it. I wanted to write about my experiences, my sentiments and feelings about the dramatic changes in the world,” he says.

His friends were always captivated whenever he regaled them with snippets of his life.

“They found it really interesting and told me: ‘You must write, you must put all these down in black and white.’ They encouraged me, so I sat down and started to write seriously. I never imagined that I would be an author. I may say that I’m a good engineer, but not a good writer although I like to read literature. But I found that once I started writing, I had many things to write,” he says.

Originally, he wrote his memoir in Chinese by hand, in prose and verse. Then he got someone to help type out the manuscript.

Kam took about five years to complete A Memoir At 90: Life In A Tumultous Century and it was published in 2007. He hopes to use it as a medium to introduce his life to young people and those who are interested in how the world has changed, especially now that China is coming up as a world power.

“I started very slowly but as time passed, I gained momentum. Towards the end, I even sacrificed my time for exercise to finish writing the book. I never kept a diary so I had to write everything from memory.”

People who read his memoir were astonished that despite having to go many decades back in time, Kam was able to recall many minute details.

“People are very surprised at my good memory. When I think about a part of my life, the event comes to me immediately. It’s like a movie. Maybe it is in the genes; my sisters and brothers also have good memories. Sometimes I wonder about my friends who have very poor memories – I cannot understand how this can be!

“My memory is not that good now and I have problems remembering names. But I can remember events very well. As a result, my mind is always busy. I find that I use up lots of energy just by thinking!

“And when you grow older, you always think of the past,” he adds. Memories of his wife, Lin Kwok Fong, whom he married in 1944, remain clear. She died in 1993 after a stroke.

In his book, he writes: “My wife of 50 years left without so much as a goodbye... When I was having lunch at home the day after Kwok Fong’s passing, I sat at the table for a long time with tears streaming down my face. It dawned on me that I would never have my wife sit beside me again.”

For Kam, a typical day now starts at six in the morning. He does some simple exercises even while in bed and then takes a morning walk. Meals are kept simple, and after lunch he has an afternoon nap, a habit he has cultivated for the last 50 years.

“Nowadays, being an old man, my life is very simple. In my younger days I played golf, practised tai chi, and watched movies. Now, I cannot have these any more, so listening to classical music before I go to bed is the only amusement I have.”

Beethoven is one of his all-time favourites.

“I didn’t like classical music when I was young, but now I find it the most beautiful kind of music because it harmonises one’s emotions,” he says, adding that he has been a regular patron of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra since it started.

Kam has also been active in social work involving drug rehabilitation and scholarships for tertiary education.

With almost a hundred years behind him, are there any words of wisdom he would like to share?

“Life is never a straight path. But even when you are down, you must not give up. You must struggle to overcome. I believe there is always a way and I also believe that any man can be a useful person,” he says.

The tricky bit is finding out what you are good in and trying to develop it.

“Of course, people are born with different levels of intelligence, but I think everybody is given a few opportunities in his life. And when an opportunity comes along, you must recognise it as one and grab it.”

He has certainly done well with the opportunities that came his way. Perhaps, more importantly, he has helped create many opportunities for others.

An English edition of Samuel Kam’s memoir, titled Through Wars And Peace, will be available in bookstores next week. The book was translated from A Memoir At 90 by Sarah Yip, who also added more background information on certain topics to cater to an English readership.