Sunday, February 17, 2019

Pientzehuang - Miraculous Traditional Chinese Medicine


I had never heard of this traditional Chinese medicine until I had my August 2016 accident.

A very caring friend rushed it to me when I was undergoing intensive observation after a flab attachment surgery. I was told that it was good for recovery after a surgery. I took a look at it and decided to put it aside – what exactly it was meant for was not clear; the dosage instruction was particularly not reassuring. There are eight capsules in one box, which presumably contained 3gm of the medicine. An adult is supposed to take 6 gm each time. How does the Math work? How many capsules should I take each time?

Some months ago, Prof Hong Hai, who was the CEO of Har Par, told me that his company had wanted to acquire the rights to make and market – like what they do for Tiger Balm – but the offer was turned down. The Chinese consider it guo-bao (national treasure) and was therefore not for sale.

But I didn’t know this bit of the medicine’s reputation that time.

The bad news was finally conveyed to me; the Singapore surgeon had to remove the flab. The sight was most ugly. The orthopedic surgeon suggested that I consider having my left foot amputated. He even introduced someone with a prosthetic leg to show me how he could live with it without disrupting routines. I was all ready for the amputation…

My son and daughter were all against it. That had to be the last resort, they insisted.

I showed a senior surgeon there about this Pientzehuang. He saw no harm in my trying it.

What’s there to lose, I told my wife. I started the course without hesitation.

Yes, it worked wonders!

I could feel some strange sensation coming from the heel-ankle area soon after taking the capsules. The mess began to granulate and soon a membrane was formed over it.

The rest is history.

Prof Wayne Morrison, A Surgeon-Artist


I finally decided to have my damaged left foot fixed by a surgeon in Melbourne.

Soon after a reckless cab driver mowed me down while my wife and I were having our usual morning walk around Singapore’s Scotts-Cairnhill area on a Sunday about two-and-a-half years ago, an ambulance rushed me to a public hospital in Singapore, since we did not carry any identification at all. The injured part was promptly dressed up, but I was not wheeled into the operating theatre until very late that evening. When the doctors opened it up again a couple of days later, infection had already set in. Part of the heel pad had to be scrapped off. I had to undergo a flab replacement surgery. But to my great disappointment, the graft failed, and it appeared that my left leg might have to be amputated.

Earlier a caring friend rushed me some Chinese medicine to take after the surgery. But the instruction was so mickey-mousy that we decided to put it aside, in order not to jeopardize the surgery. What’s there to lose anymore? I promptly took it.

Believe it or not, the medicine worked! It is Zhangzhou’s Pientzehuang. The injured part began to granulate and soon a membrane was formed. I could walk, even though the half of the heel pad that was supposed to cushion my foot when walking was already gone.

On the suggestion of some surgeons in Singapore, I consulted Prof Wayne Morrison of St Vincent Melbourne. He thought I should undergo another flab surgery, lest there would be ulcerations from time to time at the affected area.

I was also given the opportunity to consult several senior hand surgeons in Melbourne and Singapore. Some thought I could do without one; others said it might be good.

But ulceration became more frequent; this gave my wife a great deal of unhappiness. I dread another one, since the first was quite a harrowing experience in the first place. Notwithstanding, I decided to go through another one under Prof Morrison.

Prof Morrison is perhaps 75. He looks like actor Peter O’Toole.

He works like a clock – I had only to check in at the hospital at seen; by eight I was already at the operating theatre. I was awakened at noon. The operation was already over! Exactly one week later, I was discharged.

Being a student of management, I love to observe how organisations go about their work.

First the good surgeon. He is a man of few words; but he is cool and exact. The stitches on the grafted flab look the work of a Gucci expert. I noticed that there were not too many people in the operating theatre. When there was a small hiccup four days after the surgery; he knew exactly what to correct. I see that his medical technique is not very different from what I experienced in Singapore, but his skill level is certainly many notches higher. And the post-surgery attention was also quite different – no lamp needed to warm up the affected part; all the nurses had to do was to make sure that could continue to hear pulses from the grated flab. They came in waves; which was music to me and the nurses.

The standard of hospital care between my Singapore stay and St Vincent Private were more or less the same. The older nurses in Melbourne are more sure-footed, though. Passing motion in bed was the most nightmarish chore in both stays!

It will take a couple more weeks before I can go back to my routines. I am glad it is over.

And thank you, Prof Wayne Morrison!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The key to change perceptions about China: Seriously train its tourist guides!


My return journey from Wuyishan, a world heritage site famous in China for it Dahongpao tea, had to done in two flights – a Xiamen Airline flight from Wuyishan to Hong Kong and a Cathay Dragon Airline flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. The Xiamen Airline flight was not accorded apron convenience. The aircraft came to a stop somewhere in the tarmac; passengers were then ushered into two buses to go to the airport terminal for Immigration and Customs clearances.

Many of the passengers were Mainlanders. Managing the tarmac transfer must be a very frustrating task to the ground crew. Younger passengers spread out to try to take selfies and pictures of one other. Older ones tried to disembark, and some did, from the first buss when they saw that their tour guide was not amongst them. But the ground crew had to fill the first bus before they allow more passengers step down the ladder or go into the second bus. It was very much a chicken-first-and-egg-first situation! You could literally hear the ground crew’s frustrations!

This, to me, is another classic example of “There you see, all these Mainlanders!” We hear these day-in-and-day-out. But it also speaks volumes about China’s inability to exercise commonsense despite their political clout!

Don’t Chinese always pride themselves to be or civilized people? And the rest of the world are either (barbaric) or (native, but with a tinge of uncivilized connotation)?

China has not been quite successful with its soft power endeavours, even in countries where Chinese largess is an everyday necessity. I personally think Chinese don’t quite understand what is real soft power!

Soft power is not about setting up of Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese or to showcase Confucian culture to foreigners, or about handing out goodies. Soft power is about earning empathy with strangers. Only exemplary behaviours practised en masse can change perceptions, not isolated cases of good deeds. Take Japan for example, I don’t think anyone can dislike Japanese tourists, can you? Caucasian Americans, Europeans and Australians don’t quite go in organized groups like what we do in East and Southeast Asia. Of course, some can turn rowdy once they have a drink one too many. But generally, they do not lose respect.

Outbound tourists are a country’s soft-power ambassadors. In China, where millions and millions of internal tourists throng sites within China, they are also reflectors of the country’s behavioural norms. Tourism holds an important key that can help China change others’ perceptions about its people.

Seriously train the country’s tourist guides!

Train them to INSIST on a few things from their charge before they even embark on the journey:

1.     Don’t shout, Don’t jostle, Don’t spit, Don’t stare. Don’t pick nose publicly.
2.     Don’t behave like hungry ghosts in restaurants.
3.     Don’t throw rubbish anywhere they like.
4.     Don’t hog pathways at airports, public places, etc.
5.     Queue up for food, drinks, tickets, toilets, public transport, etc.
6.     Don’t climb, Don’t walk on grass, Don’t feed animals if there are signs to say so.
7.     Don’t smoke if there are no smoking signs displayed.
8.     Don’t over- or under-dress.
9.     Don’t behave like Liu Laolao (country bumpkins) in museums, palaces, etc. or towards foreigners.

 I am sure with this in place people would see Chinese as Cinderellas in no time!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A revisit to Wuyishan

The principal of the group with which I am associated decided to hold a high-power get-together at Wuyishan. Friends from America, Canada, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia would be attending. The 12-day do was packed with programmes ranging from visiting tourist sites to being feasted by Michelin-starred chefs and entertained by world-class performers to practising meditation and getting a taste of tui-na (traditional Chinese kneading massage) to understanding Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism to taking part in a two-day discourse on East-meets-West medicine. It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience to many of us.

Saw Hwa and I visited Wuyishan in April 2013, when we decided to find our roots in China. Fujian Province was where our ancestry hailed from. Wuyishan is in Ming-bei, or north of River Ming; we are both of Ming-nan (south River Ming) heritage, i.e., we speak Ming-nan dialect which is spoken by people from Xiamen down to Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Native Taiwanese also speak Ming-nan. Many say that Ming-nan was also the court language of the Tang Dynasty which ruled China from AD 618 to 907. I believe there is merit in this claim. Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan during the era, so did the "court language", hence the large number of  terms in both Korea and Japan which are basically Ming-nan in pronunciations. Many migrated south  and ended up in Ming-nan to live. They took their dialect along. Some went further south to Chaozhou. This might be the reason why the Chaozhou dialect is quite similar to Ming-nan. To put Chaozhou in Guanzhou is a huge heritage aberration!

Wuyishan is renowned throughout China for its Dahongpao tea, besides its reputation as a UNESCO cultural and heritage site. From Kuala Lumpur, the most expedient way of getting there would be to take Xiamen Airlines to Xiamen and from there take a connecting flight direct to Wuyishan. I had to rendezvous with some of my Singapore colleagues; we decided to congregate in Hong Kong and from there we took Xiamen Airlines to Wuyishan. I flew Cathay Dragon and my colleagues from Singapore used Singapore Airlines. This was a big mistake; I will explain why.

Since I had been in Wuyishan, I decided to skip most of the attractions that had been organised for us: Heavenly Tour Peak, Tiger Roaring Rock, A Thread of Sky, Bamboo Raft Tour, Dahongpao Tea Site, Wuyi Xiangjiang Mingyuan Tea Culture Tourist Park, Zhonghua Wuyi Tea Expo Park and the Neo-Confucianism attractions. Even though I had also visited the Xiamei Village and the Dahongpao Show directed by Zhang Yi-mou at "the largest outdoor theatre in the world", I decided to join in the fun. The Xiamei Village which was a tea trading hub in the early Qing Dynasty remained ugly and largely disorganised from a tourism angle. The Dahongpao show has not changed a bit since my last visit, that was more than five years ago. No wonder the crowd was pretty thin.
With friends at Xiamei Village

The town has undergone a big make-over, though. The streets are wide and building look clean and orderly, at least from far. But you still see the town make-shift carts everywhere; they make the place look tired!



Zhang Yi-mou's Dahongpao Show
Earlier I said it was a mistake for us to rendezvous in Hong Kong using non-Chinese airlines. Going there was not a problem. Even though Cathy Dragon is a OneWorld airline and Xiamen, Skyteam, the Cathay Dragon at Kuala Lumpur International Airport was able to send our bags all the way to Wuyishan, we couldn't have that convenience on our return journey. We have to clear Immigration and Customs at Hong Kong and re-check in to catch our respective connecting flights. There was a one-hour delay in take-off by our aircraft in Wuyishan. My Singapore colleagues were resigned to the fact that they would have to put up a night in Hong Kong. And an unusual thing happened. SQ, which always prides itself with great punctuality, strangely decided to delay its departure for that flight. All ended up; save for the great anxieties we were made to bear earlier.

Wuyishan's airport is still new, but its lounge is already showing signs of fatigue! I suspect the sofas have become staff's resting pad when the lounge is not in use. The toilet exuded an unpleasant ordour. The only water basin there was not working. I asked why there was no alert; the receptionist there nonchalantly told me, "oh, it has just happened." You know she was telling a lie. Luckily there was a tap outside; but that's meant for food! Old China dies hard!

My overall take is this: Everything in China moves forward at lightening speed; but etiquette and manners crawl like snails and in circles.




Saturday, December 8, 2018

Taiwan ditches Tsai Ing-wen

I have not been to Taiwan for years. The last time I was there was in the mid-1990s when I had to accompany the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong of Genting to meet some leaders there. There was a crisis between China and Taiwan then; Tan Sri Lim wanted to play Kissinger. Of course, he couldn't do anything to help. We flew in and out the same day. Nonetheless, we did have time to share a meal of Taiwanese porridge in one of the hotels there!

When Chen Shui-bian became the country's president, I shunned Taiwan completely. I just could not understand how the people there could elect such a clown to be their president. And his vice president Annette Lu was equally obnoxious to me.

When Shen-yang (my son) suggested that we joined him for a visit to Taipei where he and his partner would be speaking in an international conference, I was not too keen at first, but being a harsh father to Shen-yang when he was young, I felt I should try to make up the wound that I had inflicted. Sure, let's go! I said to my wife.

I now hold a different opinion of Taiwan, thanks to the latest visit!

When we were there, the country was in the midst of electing new mayors to their cities. Freedom of speech is virtually absolute in Taiwan today; it is frighteningly democratic. Policies don't mean much. If you cannot deliver, you are out! Chen Shui-bian was promptly replaced by Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou. But Kuomintang lost ground in 2016 and Tsai Ing-wen was elected president. Democratic Progressive Party under her suffered massive defeats in these latest mayoral elections. She promptly resigned as the president of DPP, which means she is unlikely good for second term. Tsai is academically brilliant. And this is one example that great academics are usually not effective leaders. Politics in Taiwan moves in a pendulum fashion. Tsai is pro-Independence. But I think China should not gloat over the results!

The people of Taiwan are not embracing the Mainland anytime soon! They truly understand Realpolitik. The country's economy is not in great shape. Instead of counting on an erratic Trump, they know it is time to work with your own big brother, even though he is too patronising for your comfort.

Perfect co-existence in Taoyuan Airport...
Unlike many of our Mainland kin, Taiwanese by and large conduct themselves with a very high level of etiquette. The exhortations of Chiang Kai-shek have largely been forgotten. Today Taiwanese speak not only Mandarin, they are also at home with Mingan diaclect (similar to Fujian's Xiamen variety). They don't harbour hostility towards Japanese, for Japan had indeed been quite benevolent to the island when it was under its occupation. Mainland China therefore doesn't mean much to them, save for the investment opportunities they used to take advantage when China first opened up, and the large number of Mainland Chinese tourists that have been pouring in after it after China became rich. Be that as it may, Taiwanese are still steep in Confucianism in culture. Our driver-cum-tour guide says Taiwan can boast to be No 1 in these three things; most number of motorcycles, most number of temples and most number of 7-Elevens. A cursory look convinced me that he was not wrong!

The visit was not without disappointment, though. Saw Hwa and I thought we should revisit Sun-moon Lake. We tried the high speed train. The ride was perfect. But I just could not believe that the resort had degenerated so much. It looks more like a third-world holiday spot to me.


7-Elevens are everywhere
Taiwan is No 1 in temple counts...
So it is also No 1 in motorcycles...


Labour shortage in Sun-Moon Lake; only paper bowls and cups are offered.
Time to get rid of this  sheriff! A life-size statue in Grand Hyatt


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What Technology should not be...


Singapore’s Grand Park City Hall is a 10-storey boutique hotel coveniently at the corner of Hill-Coleman Streets. It is undergoing renovation to turn into a chic hotel.

The revoation (they call it transformation) is far from complete; of course, you will see teething problems, which there are many. But the most frustrating thing I found during my recent stay there is the control in the room.

It is supposed to be a smart control – you can regulate the temperature, fan speed, draw the blinds, and turn on and off the lights in the room, among others.

Look at the gadget in the picture below!


 It is the size of a mobile phone, positioned about a foot or so from the edge of the bed. To turn on and off the master switch that controls the lights, you have to perform so many operations. I am almost 70 and even though I am quite IT-savvy, it still took me a couple of minutes to effect the command. When you are tired and feel like going to sleep immediately, or you have just woken from the wrong side of the bed and trying to turn on and off the room lights, you feel like giving it a big punch, which I actually did one time.

The only saving grace is the touch-sensitive table lamp near it.

Technology should make your life easier, not more difficult!

There are so many teething issues – there is no directional indicator from the car park to the hotel; when you exit the lift, you do not know which wing of the building you have to turn to find your room; no body answers your call when you diall front desk or concierge, even though it keeps saying “your call is important to us, blah, blah, blah”; the shower pressure is pathetic; and the ultra-modern table clock is totally user-unfriendly! My unhappiness was to some extent mitigated by the people manning the reception and concierge desks and the breakfast place. They are a great lot.

The manager should be sent to do a "How to equip yourself with commonsense" course!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shaolin Martial Arts

To viewers in East and Southeast Asia, there is nothing unfamiliar about the following picture. Most people would be able to attribute it to the Shaolin's school of martial arts, especially if you are of Chinese descent. 

The Shaolin school of martial arts has been around for about 1500 years. It encompasses discipline, perseverance, hardship, simplicity, humility and many virtues that are beyond most of us. Many of its gallant acts are legendary. I have visited one of its schools in Henan. You see kids clad in thin robes, some as young as five years old, practising - in rigid formations and under the watchful eyes of their seniors - Shaolin kungfu in the early hours of winter mornings. I actually felt for them. How could their parents allow them to endure such a training regime, I always ask myself. 

And we sure love to watch when they show off their skills on stage!

But to the more conservatives minds in the West, the boys in the picture can look pretty intimidating – the skinheads, the bare shoulders, the peasant-type grey and earth-colour robes, and the bring-it-on gestures. They evoke glimpses of boxers during the dying days of the Manchu era in China, where foreigners were the principal targets. Would they want to send the children to learn Shaolin kungfu the way they send their children to Taekwondo or Karate schools in their neighbourhoods?

Maybe it is time for the masters of the Shaolin schools of martial arts should do a re-think.

Why are Taekwondo and Karate schools doing seemingly so well in the West?

My two grandsons in Melbourne have been attending Taekwondo classes near their home even before they started school. Both are wearing black belt now. I used to take them to their classes - twice a week, and or three-quarters of an hour each session. The sessions were more for basic self-defence exercises than anything else. These martial arts schools or studios do have classes for those who want to pick up the more combative skills.

Everyone is happy and does not feel intimidated in any way.

To make Shaolin gain better acceptance outside East Asian communities, the first thing they should do is to do away with the "uniform" they are usually identified with, especially of the yellow colour variety. (The Yellow Peril fear!) The rest can follow.