Thursday, January 12, 2017

China and Ballpoint

BBC carried this article in its 10 January 2016 release: Pen Power: China closer to ballpoint success. It began by saying “It [China] has sent rockets into space, produced millions of the world’s smartphones and built high-speed trains. But until now, one bit of manufacturing had perhaps unexpectedly eluded China: the ballpoint pen.

Some might see it as another China-bashing rhetoric by a western medium. I thought the article is being too polite!

China is still NOT there yet; that’s my point.

Apparently, the tip of the ballpoint requires high-precision machinery and very hard, ultra-thin steel plates. Without that ability, China’s 3000 penmakers have to import this component from abroad. The cost to the industry is actually minuscule – something like 120m yuan a year. But the symbolic implication is tremendous.

BBC spoke to Professor George Huang, head of the University of Hong Kong’s department of industrial and mechanical engineering, who explained that precision engineering was thriving only in certain sectors such as aerospace and defence where the Chinese government had placed a high priority. China simply lacks a culture of excellence in precision engineering.

Unless China can make watches like the Swiss do and medical optics like the Japanese, it still has a long way to go.

I visited the Three Gorges Dam a couple of years ago, many were held in awe by the scale of engineering there. But on closer examination of its control sites, you could straightaway conclude that notwithstanding the grandeur, China was still very much Third World in mentality and practice.


I spoke about this to my good friend Rocky Wong, a very distinguished engineer who has helped put up many big power plants in the region. He gave a hearty laugh.

“Chinese can churn out 300MW turbines like making sausages. These plants work well. But if you look at their control and instrumentation, they are really not up to scratch. And their operational manuals are horrendously compiled.

“I usually had to help address these two deficiencies if the investor was happy to settle for the Chinese power plants.”

This brings me to an experience I recently had with Chinese medicine. My principal rushed me a generous supply of Bien-tze-huang (see picture) after I had foot surgery at Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital. I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t make anything out of its English instruction. (My Chinese is half-baked.) The nurse cautioned me against taking it unless I had cleared it with my surgeon. A certain Dr Yong, who must have seen it many times before, just waved me to go ahead.

I must say, it really helped! The injured part began to “miraculously” granulate. And the wound appeared to heal quite rapidly. Later, a friend who is familiar with TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) told me that it was a form of natural antibiotics and highly sought-after for its after-surgery healing properties. It does not come cheap, though; a little box for one or two days’ use costs about USD100.

But another towering figure in Kuala Lumpur related a comment he got from some Chinese when this “bad translation” issue was brought up.

“Did you find operational manuals in Chinese for the America or German or Japanese you bought?”

No wonder! Friend, you are not able to produce things like these people yet!

Of course, quality of China-made things is better now. As much as 30% was sub-standard and ended up as throwaways soon after you bought them.

Jonathan Spence is a Yale professor who specializes in China’s Ming-Ch’ing to 1949 history. He is a prolific writer. Amongst the books that he has authored are: The Search for Modern China (1991), God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiquan (1996), Mao Zedong: A life (2006), Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-His (1998), Treason by the Book (2002), To Change China: Western Advisers in China (1980), From Ming to Ch’ing: Conquest, Religion, and Continuity in Seventeenth Century China (1981). He knows China and Chinese-ness more than many of us!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Chinese - Cockroaches?

The following article, purportedly written by a certain Dr Chan-Lui Lee of Australia, has popped up in my WhatsApp reads many times.

The subject is “Being Chinese” – Dr Lee’s concept of the simple plain truth about the Chinese. The following is his take:

Chinese people don't go about bombing, terrorizing others and causing religious hatred. We live peacefully with everyone on Earth.

“Here is the plain truth.

“#1. There are over 1 billion of us on this earth. We are like photostat copies of each other. You get rid of one, 5 magically appears (like ballot boxes). Yes, it is scary, especially for us. We acknowledge that we are replaceable, thus we are not particularly 'special'. If you think you are smart, there are a few thousand more people smarter than you. If you think you are strong, there are a few thousand people stronger than you.

“#2. We have been crawling all over this earth for far more centuries that most civilizations. Our DNA is designed for survival. We are like cockroaches. Put us anywhere on earth and we will make a colony and thrive. We survive on anything around us and make the best of it. Some keep migrating but others will stay and multiply.

“#3. NOBODY cares if we succeed as individuals or not. But our families take pride in knowing we have succeeded. Yes, some will fail. We take nothing for granted. We don't expect privileges to fall on our laps. No one owes us anything.

“#4. We know we have nothing to lose if we try to succeed. Thus, we have no fear trying. That is why Chinese are addicted to gambling. We thrive on taking risks. All or nothing.

“#5. From young we are taught to count every cent. What we take for granted like money management, I have found out recently, is not something other cultures practice at home with their children. It surprised me. But truth is not all societies or cultures teach their young this set of skills because it is rude to them. Yes, most of us can count because we are forced to and the logic of money is pounded into us from the beginning of time (when mama tells us how much she has spent on our milk and diapers)

“#6. We acknowledge life cycles. We accept that wealth in a family stays for three generations (urban myth?). Thus, every 4th generation will have to work from scratch. I.e. first generation earns the money from scratch, second generation spends the money on education, third generation gets spoiled and wastes all the inheritance. Then we are back to square one. Some families hang on to their wealth a little longer than most.

“#7. It is our culture to push our next generation to do better than the last. Be smarter. Be stronger. Be faster. Be more righteous. Be more pious. Be more innovative. Be more creative. Be richer. Be everything that you can be in this lifetime.

“#8. Our society judges us by our achievements... and we have no choice but to do something worthwhile because Chinese New Year comes around every year and Chinese relatives have no qualms about asking you straight in your face - how much are you making? When was your last promotion? How big is your office? What car do you drive? Where do you stay? You have boyfriend? You have girlfriend? When are you getting married? When are you having children? When is the next child? When you getting a boy? Got maid yet? Does your company send you overseas? etc etc etc. It NEVER ENDS... so, we can't stop chasing the illusive train - we are damned to a materialistic society. If you are not Chinese, consider yourself lucky!

“#9. We have been taught from young that if you have two hands, two feet, two eyes, and a mouth, what are you doing with it? "People with no hands can do better than you !"

“#10. Ironically, the Chinese also believe in giving back to save their wretched materialistic souls. Balance is needed. The more their children succeed in life, the more our parents will give back to society as gratitude for the good fortune bestowed on their children. Yes. That is true. And that is why our society progresses forward in all conditions.

“Nobody pities us.
We accept that.

“No one owes us anything.
We know that.

“There are too many of us for charity to reach all of us.
We acknowledge that.

But that does not stop us from making a better life.
This lifetime.

“Opportunity is as we make of it.
So, pardon us if we feel obliged to make a better place for ourselves in this country we call home.
It is in our DNA to progress forward for a more comfortable life.

“But if history were to be our teacher, look around this globe.

“Every country has a Chinatown (seriously) but how many government/countries are 'taken' over by the Chinese people.

“Don't be afraid of us overwhelming your majority, we are not looking to conquer.
If we have moved away from China and Chinese governed countries, we are NOT looking for another country to administer.
Our representatives are only there to look after our collective welfare. They are duty bound.
We prefer to blend in and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
We enjoy the company of like minded people of all races.
After all, we are only passing through a small period in the history of time... so, use our skills and we can all progress forward together.”

I am not sure if what I have reproduced above is truly verbatim.

As an ethnic Chinese, I do take comfort in what Dr Lee has said. But I certainly do not our future generations to continue to behave or be seen like cockroaches!

Traditionally, 孝悌忠信礼义廉 [xiàotì zhōngxìn lǐyìliánchǐ - the Confucian thinking of filial piety, brotherly love, loyalty, truthfulness, propriety, righteousness, integrity and shamefulness] has always been the pillar of Chinese concept of virtuous conduct. My humble opinion is that we will remain cockroaches if we stick to these virtues alone. To me, it is time for us to adopt a new mindset, i.e., [gǎishàn - continuous improvement] and [chuàngxīn - innovative-ness]. They should now reign supreme in our culture.

No less important are [ - tastefulness in selections], , [zhěngjié, xù - orderliness, cleanliness and systematic-ness], and [Qiāo – “not so loud, please”] which will go a long way in making ourselves less cockroach-like. (Pardon my Chinese!)
 Without them, we can never catch up with, let alone surpass, the Germans or the Japanese. At best, ours can only remain a mediocre civilization!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Word on Religious Zealousness

I have always said to myself that I should refrained from talking about race and religion in the forum. I am not keeping my word this time!

One of my dearest friends posted the following in our WhatsApp chat group. I lost no time in advising that our WhatsApp group was maybe a wrong audience or platform for him to help evangelise.

Who is Jesus?
In chemistry,
  He turned water to wine.
In biology,
  He was born without the normal conception;
In physics,
  He disapproved the law of gravity when He ascended into heaven;
In economics,
  He disapproved the law of diminishing return by feeding 5000 men with two fishes & 5 loaves of bread;
In medicine,
  He cured the sick and the blind without administering a single dose of drugs;
In history,
  He is the beginning and the end;
In government,
  He said that He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace;
In religion,
  He said no one comes to the Father except through Him;
So, Who is He? He is Jesus!
  The Greatest Man in History
Jesus had no servants,
  yet they called Him Master.
Had no degree,
  yet they called Him Teacher.
Had no medicines,
  yet they called Him Healer.
He had no army,
  yet kings feared Him.
He won no military battles,
  yet He conquered the world.
He committed no crime,
  yet they crucified Him.
He was buried in a tomb,
  yet He lives today.
I feel honoured to serve such a Leader who loves us.
Let's celebrate Him; He is worthy.
The eyes beholding this message shall not behold evil
The hand that will send this message shall not labor in vain,
   and The mouth saying Amen to this prayer shall smile forever.
Remain in God and seek his face always.

I am not against any religious advocacy. People who are true believers of the couple of main religions are usually men and women of high moral standards. This good friend of mine is a case in point.

But this WhatsApp chat group comprises mates some of whom are devout Buddhists and Daiosts (Taoists) . A few are free thinkers. They will not be comfortable reading it. There was already a posting by another mate which purportedly came from an organisation called ICARUS - a Geneva-based organisation called the International Coalition or the Advancement of Religious [sic] and Spirituality. This organisation is said to have bestowed "The Best Religion in the World" award on the Buddhist community. The award was voted on by an "international round table of more than 200 religious leaders from every part of the spiritual spectrum!

Being a skeptic, I googled for more information. There was simply no credible body that went by that name. (Doesn't the lack of English grammar in its very name say volumes of its bogus self?)

On another occasion, I saw a Facebook posting which proclaimed a certain religious prophet was the great man to have walked on this Earth of ours. 

All these gave me a great deal of discomfort. Sure, our religion's God and his prophet(s) are greatest to us. But shouldn't we keep it to ourselves? Religious belief is a very individual choice. It may not be good to keep insisting that your god or prophet is greater than others'. 

Indeed the ICARUS's "news release" and the above posting on Jesus can prove to be counter-productive. In the latter case, the way the author rationalises actually reflects crude logic in some of his or her lines. Does Divinity need such explanations?

A Truly Great Leader

I was deeply touched by this Facebook posting by PM Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore...

Many of my friends speak scornfully of him - for his "apparent" lack of China's stand on South China Sea, or his failure to act deeper on the thieves across the Causeway. On the latter, the verdict is "he catches small fry only lah". On the former, it is "how can he toady up to the Americans?" When Singapore's military vehicles were detained in Hong Kong en-route back from Taiwain, of course, it was "he deserves it lah!"

Having been living in Singapore for the last couple of months, I have learned to respect this man. His head-of-government visits are conducted most exemplarily. He and his wife do not travel in executive jets. His wife does not flash designer handbags, watches or diamonds. This exemplarines, even to the most skeptical eyes, was largely genuine. When I heard his speeches in a rally to celebrate Singapore's last National Day, you know he was not reading from a script that was written by any ghost writer. It was full of visions and foresight. He did succumb to fatigue his three-part speech, but he continued after the scare.

Everything works in Singapore. He says Singaporeans are NOT China Chinese, or Taiwan Chinese, or overseas Chinese. They are Chinese Singaporeans, or Singaporean Chinese, which way I put it, readers will understand what I mean!

This is PM Lee's Facebook post:

Picture in PM Lee's Facebook page
Walking along Changi Beach on the New Year weekend, I saw this man sitting under a tree, alone yet not alone. He looked like a foreign worker, calling home on his cellphone.

As we enjoy the festive days with friends and family, let us spare a thought for the foreign workers who have left their families behind to work in a distant land. They build our HDB flats and MRT lines, keep our roads clean and parks green, and take care of our young and elderly. They slog and save to support loved ones, but at least with the internet and cellphones they can keep in touch, and feel not quite so far away. – LHL

Monday, January 2, 2017

Pee-lot Pen

Two incidents that happened when I was young still flash through my mind often.

The first happened when I was in Standard Five.

We had the usual Physical Education class one day. All of us in the class were paired to do a routine. It was supposed to be a boy-boy or girl-girl do, but I was left as the odd boy out and another girl, the odd girl out. The PE teacher didn't think much of the oddity and instructed us to pair up. Because it involved holding hands, there was reluctance on the part of both of us to proceed. You know lah, boys and girls at that age!

This prompted HH, one of the louder boys in my class, to throw some potshots at us. What happened next was my nightmare! He was hauled up and given a stroke of the rattan by the teacher on the spot. I felt so bad about it!

Incident No 2: This happened during one of our Remove Class days. I had a "prized" Pilot pen which some classmates liked to borrow because it was great for writing. (I had painstakingly modified and polished the nib to make writing with it smooth as silk!) To my horror, I couldn't find it. The first thing I did was to report the loss to the teacher of the class, "sir, I have lost my "pee-lot" pen.

"What? Pee-lot pen? What's that?

I explained a little.

"Oh, I see; your Pilot pen! Who has taken it?" He asked the class.

CP immediately owned up.

"Did he tell you?"

"No sir."

"Next time please ask permission from your friend!"

End of the episode.

But that was the most stupid embarrassment I have caused CP! On recollection, he did ask me and I had totally forgotten!

To be wrongly accused must be quite traumatic to CP, given the fact that it had come from a classmate since primary school.

Silly me!

* * *

All of us got reconnected recently. I asked HH and CP about the respective incident. Both said they couldn't remember! But they remain so fresh in my mind.

The Sinking Feeling...

Against USD, Malaysian Ringgit has depreciated from roughly 3.25 to 4.50 over a noticeably short time. And against our neighbour Singapore, it is 2.50 to 3.10. I get very tired each time I hear a politician or an economist talking about the advantages of a weak Ringgit. Recently, none other than Vincent Tan, one of the tycoons I used to admire, also sang praises on a weak Ringgit.

When our Ringgit strengthened, the same politicians would usually attribute it to their great economic management. Now, weak Ringgit is good for our exports, blah, blah, blah. Either way, they have a good reason to croak!

Of course, anyone who has a rudimentary knowledge of economics or finance knows the score. If your country exports more than it imports, and the products and services are priced in currencies that have appreciated against ours, or if they are now enjoying a bigger overseas demand by virtue of their quotations in Ringgit, obviously the country as a whole does benefit. Ditto the individual exporters - like tycoon Tan - themselves. But how much of these extra Ringgits generated does cascade down to those who toil and sweat for people like tycoon Tan? Or from the country's Treasury?

On the other hand, the Tom, Dick, and Harry (or in our contest, the Ali, Ah Hock and Muthu) have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for everyday necessities, not to mention the bigger ticket items, most of which have to be imported, or their children's education abroad. Everyday necessities impact our lives most. Prices seem to creep up silently and endlessly. Yet, have these wage earners' salaries been adjusted upwards to reflect the reality even if they are working for people like tycoon Tan?

Weak currencies generally lower standard of living all round. People cut back spending even if they are financially quite adequate.

Currency depreciation, especially in a precipitated pace, is a sure sign that things are not right in a country. Please pull your socks up, Mr Politician! And to Mr Economist, save your academic rhetoric to less discerning students! And to Mr Tycoon, keep your mouth shut and enjoy the windfall! 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

"Remove" Class

When my eldest brother Seng told me that he was still in contact with Chin Wah after all these years, I lost no time in arranging to meet up with the latter, who was one of my closest mates in Remove Class.

One thing led quickly to another; Chin Wah initiated a WhatsApp group for this “Remove to Form Three” fraternity and soon Choon Chee decided to sponsor a reunion in Tapah/Kampar where he has established a string of successful businesses there. Many of us have not seen each other since 1964!

Thiam Soon flew in from Perth with his wife Jan. Swee Seng postponed his medical just to attend from Melbourne. From Penang, we had Huee Hong; from Selangor, Chieu Hiong and wife (who is also my cousin), Buang Leng and wife, How Hock and wife, Mang Siang, wife and daughter, Kok Siew and Lee Chun; from Malacca, Chew Perng; from Batu Pahat, Chu Chin and wife; from Segamat, Boon Huat and wife; from Terengganu, Meng Dong; from Singapore, Chin Wah and wife, and me and Hwa; and from our home town Muar, Ge Lek, Keng Hua and family and Chuan Huat.


Of my Old Boys fraternities, this is the dearest to me. The four years we spent together was most nostalgic to me. Hwa could not understand why, until she saw how we behaved during the 3D2N do.

My first two years were spent in a village school. There were only two classrooms for six different “years”. The teacher had to butterfly between his charges. (And there were only two teachers for the school!) Although the lessons were taught in Mandarin, we conversed only in Hokkien (Fujianese). My father decided to send me to one of the Chung Hwa primary schools in Muar for my Standard Three. I remember I cried to my mother that I wanted to return to my old school. I just couldn’t handle Mandarin!

Fortunately, I had a great class teacher. She soon helped me to overcome my handicap. No sooner, I also emerged as the No 1 student in her class and from the 13th Class, I hopped to the top class. Although it was a big school, every teacher and student seemed to know me, thanks partly to my academic “halo” and my very extraordinary simple name in Chinese characters. I was walking on air!

After passing the compulsory Standard Six examinations, we had a choice: Either go to Chung Hwa High School to continue our education in Chinese medium, or enroll into Remove Class. It was apparent to all parents that employment opportunities for Chinese school leavers were poor. The choice was obvious.

There were two Remove classes, Remove A for those who scored A in the Standard Six exam and Remove B for those who obtained B. For those who did not make the grade, this option was closed to them.

Muar was a big district, but only two schools offered Remove Class: High School for boys and Sultan Abu Bakar School for girls. Students therefore came from every corner of the district. (But the majority was those from the three Chung Hwa primary schools in town.)

Everyone in my Remove A class was more-or-less a top student from our respective schools! After Remove, we were supposed to go into the mainstream. Alas, we continued to be segregated. High School’s feeder school then was Sultan Ismail School. Our Remove A became Form 1E, since there were four classes streaming in from Sultan Ismail School. And in Form 3, another two classes were streamed in from one of the Malay schools nearby, we had to suffer the indignation of becoming the “G” class! Family friends must be wondering if I had been so good in my primary school days, how could I land myself in “G” class in high school!

Those from Sultan Ismail School were very elitist to us. They spoke perfect English. A few came to school in chauffeur-driven cars. Most of us, like me, cycled to school. (My home was ten kilometres from school; fortunately, Muar was geographically flat within that radius.) We simply were too low-end to mix with them. The concept of Remove Class was for the system to prepare us sufficiently in language so that we could join the mainstream without difficulty. It was supposed to be one year; in reality, our “Remove” experience lasted four years!

Hokkien continued to be our lingua franca. Few read English papers. Save for English Literature which was a subject then, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and the likes were of little interest to us. Instead, Chinese “sword-fighting” series, which could run into tens of volumes, were our favourite reads. Many of us gathered during weekends to visit our mates on bicycles. Before school, since some had to catch public buses from the corners of the district, they usually arrived early. We played football in the public grounds at "Tanjong" (the scenic walk next to the Muar River). We were indeed a world unto ourselves. Camaraderie ran deep. We even get to know one another’s parents and siblings.

I can’t speak for others. But I really developed a huge inferiority complex during these formative years. I was amongst the first to leave the flock. I went to the Technical Institute in Kuala Lumpur after completing my Form 3 exam (Lower Certificate of Education).

But we were not a lost cause. Most stayed on to do their Forms 4 and 5 there. (By then, they were already “full-fledged” High School boys.) And for those who went on to do their Sixth Form there, most ended up in university.