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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MCA and Gerakan, Time to Change Course!

When I joined Genting in 1977, Tan Koon Swan was already no longer there and had become a wind-cloud personality in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). But his legacy loomed large; everyone seemed to speak well of him in Genting. He was also often in the news, when the leadership in MCA was at that time in turmoil.

When I was offered to head an MCA-backed company, I jumped in without really knowing much about the party and the company. I became disillusioned within weeks and resigned. It was my shortest stint in any organisation!

I have never bothered to know much about MCA anymore. Ling Liong Sik and Ong Kah Ting were not the reformation or transformation type; but they did do some good to the Chinese community in Tunku Abdul Rahman College and University Tunku Abdul Rahman. Many, otherwise deprived of a place in the public universities and colleges, have graduated and become successful professionals and businessmen. Chua Soi Lek should have been a reasonably good leader to helm MCA and able to lend some weight in the government if not for “that” extra-marital rendezvous of his.

His successors are really a bunch of write-offs. People like Liow Tiong Lai and Wee Ka Siong cannot see beyond the trappings of ministerial offices.

Gerakan is no better also. It is all downhill after Lim Kheng Aik. Koh Soo Koon exemplified how a respectable academic could at the end of the day become an apologist for the powers that be. His successors are also a bunch of jokers, especially the leader of its youth wing, who seems to give the impression he is a moron each time he opens his mouth.

Now with MCA and Gerakan virtually wiped out in the 14th General Elections of the country, these two parties should kick out their leaders without delay.  Some of the post-election comments or opinions given by the leaders in their youth wings border on infantility. The more the open their mouths, the more their party will lose credibility. They should invite people like Robert Kuok to tell them what to do next! But you don’t really need Robert Kuok to tell them things that are pretty simple to do, right? There are plenty of wise men and women in Malaysia.

MCA and Gerakan should become COMMUNITY WELFARE organisations – MCA opens its door to all Chinese and Gerakan, to all Malaysians! They should advocate good causes and fight for their constituents’ welfare, nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Visit to the Manchu Heartland

The provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang are collectively known as Dongbei (Northeast) of China. They were once Manchu's heartland. I have always been fascinated by China's history and geography. We named our first-born Shen-yang, which is the capital of Liaoning. My wife and I decided to do a 8D7N tour of the region earlier this month. 

Only Scoot offers direct flight from Singapore to Shenyang. Since I am now a handicap, I need more leg rooms. We therefore opted for its Business Class seats. Of course, the service is a far cry from the full service airlines, but I must say it is pretty adequate and punctual.

Shenyang, Changchun and Harbin are, by any standard, huge cities. There isn't much to see really. But they do have their individual characters. Shenyang was the capital of Manchukuo where Puyi was installed emperor by Japan after the fall of the Manchu Dynasty. It was renamed "Mukden" then. Changchun, the capital of Jilin, is the dustiest of the lot. Jilin is the home of China's huge oil fields. Russian influence of Harbin is particularly pronounced, especially on its town planning and architecture. Adjacent to it is the Changbai-shan range of mountains across which is North Korea.

Our tour guide, a young and energetic man of early thirties, is an encyclopedia of Manchu history. The region was the first victims of Japan's atrocities during the Sino-Japanese War. His hatred for everything Japan borders fanaticism. 

The region is pretty clean, but if you think that Malaysian drivers are bad, you have to see how Dongbei Chinese go about with their cars. NOBODY GIVES WAY! Every inch is game for taking advantage of! I was tempted to ask my tour guide this: If there is now a war between Japan and China, how could China hope to win if its people are each for himself or herself?

Shenyang's Forbidden City
The Warlord who detained Chiang Kaishek, is one of the revered one here.

Typically China.... Bad workmanship, poor maintenance, and what-have-you

Western pretensions,
but the whole theme park is largely in a state of neglect!

Care for some dog meat?
Apparently, Dongfei people love it

Heaven's Lake at Changbai-shan - the mountain range that separates China and North Korea

A thousand-year-old tree?

Red Beach at Shenyang

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boao, An International Forum?

The Boao Forum is supposed to be China’s Davos; so it claims!

But the organisers are mostly of Third Word materials.

I was registering my attendance for their April 8-12 do.

I am half literate in Chinese. After the registration fee of USD7,500 had been paid, I was directed to a website to book my room in designated hotels. Without paying attention to the in-out dates, I promptly paid up. That’s where nightmare began. I didn’t know it was for April 9th in and April 11th out. But the conference is from April 8-12! I tried to change the dates, but there was no feature in the link for me to do. I could not do anything and decided to wait for the Lunar New Year to be over before I tried to contact the secretariat.

I wrote and they promptly replied that it could be done. BUT IT COULD NOT BE DONE! I asked a colleague to telephone them. Indeed, it could not be done on line as advised. It involved the cancellation of the existing booking and making a fresh one; even then they had to fix something before I could effect the booking. Done finally! But I am just wondering if I don’t have a colleague who could speak with them in Chinese! Isn’t this supposed to be an international do?

The next frustration: I need a visa to go to China. I thought I had everything ready – Invitation Letter, Hotel Confirmation and Air Tickets. My wife took it to the China Visa office.

Where is the chop?

What chop?

The host’s chop!

Another round of calling the secretariat…

No one answered from the English-speaking desk. I dialed again and spoke to the Chinese desk. Done!

How do those non-Chinese speaking guests cope?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Distributed Leadership – Emperor’s New Clothes?

I had read much about Leadership and Leaders since my business school days, but I had not come to know this term Distributed Leadership until I got involved with The HEAD Foundation, which is an organisation devoted to promoting good causes in Human Capital and Education in Asia, two years ago. Be that as it may, when I heard it for the first time, I could more or less figure out that the term has had something to do with a form of leadership that is distributed across the rank and file in an organisation. I was happy to leave my understanding that way.

Until I listened to a talk given by a distinguished academic in a lecture in Malaysia recently!

I can understand his rationale in promoting “distributed leadership” in schools but I am not convinced that it is something fundamentally different from those concepts that I am already quite conversant about. Neither am I convinced that it is a form that will answer schools’ need.

Principals and heads of subjects and functions constitute the leadership in schools. They have to exercise leadership in the context of policies which have been laid out by the government. There isn’t much they can do in this area.

But there are still good schools and bad schools. And you can always tell who is a good principal from one whose leadership leaves much to be desired. Ditto the heads of subjects and functions.

A good principal is one to whom everyone would look up to – from students to teachers and general staff. His or her good leadership is “written” all over the school – from upkeep to discipline to examination results. He or she knows how to delegate duties and responsibilities. School leadership is all about passion for the job, ability to motivate and traits to emulate – commonsense, exemplariness, courage, wisdom, foresight and vision and what-have-you. He or she also knows when to be firm and make difficult decisions. More often than not, reputation precedes presence, even to the bureaucrats from the ministry or department that directly supervises the school and to the parents and visitors.

This new concept argues that leadership in schools can be better exercised if it is distributed across the ranks. Certainly, but this form of leadership is only skin deep – functional, transactional or instructional rather than inspirational or transformational. It is a concept that is basically descriptive rather than prescriptive in utility.

All the leadership knowledge does not a leader make.