Friday, April 28, 2017

JY Pillay, A Giant of Giants

I came face-to-face with a giant on Wednesday when The HEAD Foundation was hosting a lecture by Prof Tan Tai Yong who is going to be the new President of Yale NUS College in a matter of days.

Physically, this giant is no different from the members of the audiences we welcome to our talks on a regular basis in terms of vintage and simplicity. But the moment he walked in, I could recognize his face!

JY Pillay is a living legend. He is perhaps most remembered for his chairmanship at Singapore Airlines. But that’s just a side dressing! His has served as the top dog in all the important ministries before becoming the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, among many, many others.

The following is carried in SGX on Mr Pillay:

Mr. Joseph Yuvaraj Pillay served as the Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation from 1985 to 1989. Mr. Pillay held a variety of positions in the government of Singapore from 1961 to 1995, rising to permanent secretary in 1972. He served in the ministries of finance, defence and national development. Mr. Pillay serves as the Chairman of Commonwealth Africa Investments Limited. He serves as the chairman of Assisi Home & Hospice. Mr. Pillay served as the Non Executive Chairman of Tiger Airways Holdings Limited until July 31, 2014. Mr. Pillay served as Non-Executive Chairman of Singapore Exchange Ltd. from November 18, 1999 to December 31, 2010. He served as Chairman of PT Tigerair Mandala. He served as the Chairman of Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance from 2002 to 2007. He served as the Chairman of Asia Converge Pte Ltd., and served as Director of Singapore Exchange IT Solutions Pte Limited, Securities Clearing and Computer Services (Pte) Limited and SEL Holdings Pte Ltd. Mr. Pillay served, in a non-executive capacity, as Chairman of the board of several government-linked companies, including: Singapore Airlines Ltd from 1972 to 1996, Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited from 1974 to 1986, Development Bank of Singapore Ltd from 1979 to 1984 and Singapore Technologies Holdings (Private) Limited from 1991 to 1994. He serves as Honorary Director of Securities Investors Association (Singapore). Mr. Pillay serves as a Director of Singapore Exchange Securities Trading Limited, Singapore Exchange Derivatives Trading Limited, The Central Depository (Pte) Limited, Singapore Exchange Derivatives Clearing Limited, SGXLink Pte Ltd., Singapore Indian Development Association (Life Trustee). He serves as a Director of Mount Alvernia Hospital, Temasek Advisory Panel of the Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited. He served as a Director of Tiger Airways Australia Pty Ltd. since July 8, 2013 until May 22, 2014. He served as a Director of Tiger Airways Holdings Limited from July 29, 2011 to July 31, 2014. He served as Non-Executive Director of Singapore Exchange Ltd. since September 2007 until December 31, 2010. He served as an Executive Director of Singapore Exchange Ltd. until September 2007. Mr. Pillay served as a Director of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited, Keppel Capital Holdings Ltd., KTB Limited (formerly known as Keppel Tatlee Bank Limited) from June 30, 2001 to June 29, 2004. Since 16 August 2001, Mr. Pillay has served as an Executive and Non-independent Director on the SGX Board. Mr. Pillay serves as a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers and of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights of the Republic of Singapore, Chairman of the Assisi Home and Hospice, Director of the Mount Alvernia Hospital, Life Trustee of Singapore Indian Development Association, member of the Investment Committee of the United Nations Pension Fund and Chairman of Commonwealth Africa Investments Limited. He serves as Member of Investment Committee of the United Nations Pension Fund, Asia-Europe Foundation and Financial Sector Development Fund Advisory Committee of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He serves as Member of Presidential Council for Minority Rights, Singapore Hospice Council. Mr. Pillay was conferred with an honorary PhD in Law from the National University of Singapore in 1996 and with a Fellowship of Imperial College in 1997. He graduated with a first-class BSc (Hons) degree from Imperial College of Science & Technology, University of London in 1956.

Can we think of someone who can equal Mr Pillay’s accomplishment in life?

Yet the Pillay I saw was so humble in his demeanour. I ushered him to one of front row seats. And I saw he diligently took notes during Prof Tan’s talk. For someone of his age who still thinks he needs to listen, how can we ever say we have learned enough!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Desaru, how pathetic a destination it can be...

My wife and I decided to spend our weekend in Desaru. We booked a night at Tunamaya. The rate was about SGD100 per night. With breakfast included, that was pretty affordable.

I have been to Desaru about three times, but over a thirty-year span. The first was after the state government's intention to privatize it and I was asked by a potential investor to help look into its potential; that was in the late 1980s. I couldn't quite remember the best route there. I have therefore to count on the GPS I bought in Singapore for the car I am being loaned to go there. But it has lately gone a little crazy. The screen would go black for unknown reasons - just as you needed it most many a time. And it did after I cleared the Causeway.

The sound guided me on. I could vaguely remember the Pasir Gudang Road. We passed Penawar, which is the town before Desaru. I could also remember a little. It looked as if time had stood still there since the last time I visited.

We soon arrived at Desaru.

The staff at Tunamaya were courteous enough. But the whole property did look somewhat tired. The roof of the reception block, which guests have to walk past before entering their rooms, is most pathetic. We can't the management spruce it up a little with, say, potted plants? Because they tend to stain, mat-finished floor tiles are the worst for corridors for resort-type hotels. And this is exactly what they have done it with their floors in Tunamaya! Why Tunamaya as a name? Nobody in the hotel could give me an answer for that too!

But never mine about the hotel. It is pretty clean and adequate in terms of facilities. The beach looks good, but as usual with most of Malaysia's beaches, it was littered with empty plastic bags and bottles here and there.

But I asked myself, why was Desaru and its environs so quiet on an weekend like this?

Does one go to a seaside resort for its beaches only? Our sun is so burning hot. An hour or so would drive guests back to the air condition comfort of their hotel rooms! Why then are places like Penang and Langkawi popular?

Indeed, people don't just travel all the way to enjoy beaches!

There must be history, culture, shopping, sports, other scenic sights, etc to make a trip wholesome and memorable for visitors. There are definitely a few in the surrounding areas for Desaru to capitalize on. But the tolled highway from Johor Bahru's Pasir Gudang to Desaru, insultingly really a single-carriage two-lane road, keeps all the fishing villages, mangrove forests, aquaculture and vegetable farms, and other ways of rural life away from the convenient reach of holiday makers. There isn't much to visit in the immediate neighborhoods of the resort!

Our bureaucrats in Johor Tourism need to have common sense. Take a trip to Thailand or Singapore to see how people do things. Let's don't waste money on half-hearted projects like Fishermen's Museum or tourist souvenir shops - if there is hardly anything in them to interest visitors! 

I usually take some pictures when I visit a place. I came back without even a single shot. This speaks volumes of Desaru as a destination!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tortoise and The Hare

Two recent talks I attended kindle my desire to share this piece with friends.

The first was given by retired professor Michael Heng on the need for Cultural-Intellectual Rejuvenation in Asia at the HEAD Foundation and the second, which was a dialogue organised by SMU (Singapore Management University) in collaboration with Stratagem Group on China’s new Belt & Road initiatives at Carlton Hotel, Singapore.

Michael was a long-lost friend; we got reconnected only quite recently, thanks to WhatsApp. He and I were classmates in our Junior high school days. I left for Kuala Lumpur and later Penang to do my upper secondary; he continued his at High School Muar. We met again at the University of Malaya – he did Science and I, Engineering. After a teaching stint in Malaysia, he left for UK to do his master’s and the Netherlands for his PhD. He has held academic positions in many countries – the Netherlands of course, but also Australia, Taiwan, China and Singapore, amongst others. He has also worked with one of the most eminent scholars of the day, the venerated Prof Wang Gungwu of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

But Asia is such a huge and diverse continent; when he accepted my invitation to speak, what I actually had in mind was simply this: If China wants to lead the world, it has to go through some form of rejuvenation, culturally and intellectually. Or a form of Renaissance really. Michael spoke much more than China. 

Sure, not every would agree with this. Present in the audience were some very distinguished scholars and thinkers. But there was one voice that made me very uncomfortable. A young man who hails from China and who has spent many good years stood up to opine in Mandarin that what Michael had lectured and what we had been discussing were no longer relevant! Under President Xi, he seemed to say, China was already on its way to be No 1 in the world. The arrogance was disturbing! Unfortunately, we did not have time to debate with him.

The keynote address in the dialogue at Carlton Hotel was delivered by a Chinese bureaucrat. He gave the impression that he had just woken from a deep slumber. He was just parroting China’s official lines on the Belt & Road initiative. There was hardly any soul in his speech. Of the four panelists, except for a certain Dr Xu, who apparently is a director at Beijing’s National Institute of International Strategy, the others are not unlike the Chinese scholars and thinkers you see in CCTV’s Dialogue programmes – officious, shallow and what-have-you. The substance of what had been given by one of them appeared to be a complete regurgitation of what he had learned in his MBA classes.

The kay-por (Fujian Ming-nan slang, meaning ‘busy-body’) lost no time in writing to this Dr Xu.

Dear Liping,

I did introduce myself to you at the end of the session. I am the head of The HEAD Foundation ( but I am giving you this feedback in my personal capacity.

Most bureaucrats from China tend to parrot your government's line. The chap who was giving the keynote address is a typical example. Moreover, he spoke with little conviction!

The danger I see with China is its sense of 'self-exultation'. Many of your thinkers and policy makers are really quite ignorant of your neighbours' true feelings. You cited the flag incident in Indonesia. If I may help explain:

The more educated natives in Southeast and South Asia during the Second World War saw the Japanese as liberators!!! The Japanese were able to win their empathy and hearts even during that short period of occupation. Chinese on the other hand were largely aligned with the colonial powers then. They had always been perceived as economic exploiters by the locals. That feeling persists today.

China does not know how to project soft power even today. It is too self-centric in its dealings with the world. Chinese officials are generally poor communicators. I live in three cities - Melbourne where I call 'home', Kuala Lumpur where I have a second home and Singapore where my office is. There was this Beijing-based Australia journalist called John Gannault who kept bashing China unnecessarily. I wrote to Ambassador Fu Yin to alert her. You know what, I didn't even receive an acknowledgement from her office! Your tourists are swarming the world, but your government has made little effort to teach them social etiquette. You protested each time a Japanese prime minister visited Yasukuni Shrine but people in the West would ask, "What's the big deal?". Look at the way the Jews tell their Holocaust stories; they can
 teach the Chinese a lesson or two in Public Relations! (Do check out museums and see for yourself!)

Chinese museums and historical sights are generally poorly maintained; the English translations found there (even in Beijing) are atrocious! I feel embarrassed to be a Chinese!!!

But your Silk Road initiative is indeed visionary. President Xi is a great leader. But China and he need much more in terms of true philosophy instead of strategy, strategy and strategy to succeed. (The speaker from Cosco was just regurgitating what he had learned in his MBA classes!)

Incidentally, Prof Victor Feng of the University of Macao is going around to help explain China's BRI to the world. My question is: How many of you have heard of his good work?

Hope you don't feel offended by my ranting!

Kind regards,
Lim /YuBook
And this reply came promptly from him:

My Respected MR. Lim,
                       Thank you very much for your constructive comments to our presentations yesterday in Carlton Hotel. Indeed, I appreciate your frankness
and your honesty. Although China is already the world's second largest economy, we still have a lot of shortcomings. To our neigbours including Malaysia,
 Indonesia and Singapore, China should more listen to their voices, pay attention to how they feel. So, we have a lot of work to do in the near future.
                       I am looking forward to hearing your more voices and making more cooperation between us for promoting mutual understanding China-
                      Tomorrow morning, I will leave Singapore to Beijing, I hope we can meet in Beijing or Singapore in the near future.
Best Regards,
Xu Liping/Director of Center of South East Asia Studies, National Institute of International Strategy, CASS, Beijing, China.

China has a future!!!

The latest issue of The Economist runs an article entitled China and America: Tortoise v hare. The leader reads: Is China challenging the United States for global leadership? 

The tortoise will win the race, isn’t this what the fable has taught us?
Forever the tortoise?

I beg to differ somewhat, though. This is not a great outcome in my eyes.

Of course, with Trump’s “I know better than you” sense of superiority, the hare will lose. But if China’s win is a result of America’s complacency, this is not good for China!

Another animal besides the tortoise would have won the race if it could participate!

To me, China must shed off that heavy cultural and intellectual shell if it wants to lead the world! Notwithstanding the hare’s arrogance or stupidity, it should transform itself complete with a new mindset - culturally and intellectually, I repeat - to speed forward. 

Unless China can produce a Rolex or Mercedes totally on its own, it is still not "THERE" yet, let alone to lead the world. 

Friends are free to disagree, though.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From Deity Worshiping to Christianity

I finally got reconnected with another long lost junior high school buddy of mine.

Leng Hong and I went separate ways after Form Three. I left for Kuala Lumpur and he, Singapore - for his senior high school as well as to seek medical treatment.

WhatsApp is doing wonders. I recently lost my eldest brother. Cedric has tracked down Leng Hong and he whatsapped me to say that Leng Hong would be coming with him for the wake.

Leng Hong I remembered was a pinweight. But the Leng Hong today is a big man. He also goes by a Christian name now - Peter. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to reminisce with him long, since I had to leave these two old buddies early to fetch my son who was flying in from Kuala Lumpur.

Although Peter was in physique one of the smallest in the class, his demeanor gave the impression he was well-connected in the “adults’ world”. No one dared to bully him. But he was really a caring friend. I used to cycle with him to while away our time around our very sleepy town – Muar in Johor.

We met up for dinner with his wife at East Coast's Jumbo. We were also joined by Cedric and wife and my daughter Monica who was in transit in Singapore to pay last respect to her beloved uncle.  

The first thing I asked Peter was about the hole in his heart.

“The Lord has healed me!"

But wasn't he a very staunch deity worshiper?

"Yes, I was, but that’s history."

He showed me a photography of himself taken many many years ago. He was not shy to say that he looked like a drug addict. All of us had to agree; indeed, he looked like one in that picture.

This is his story:

In my earlier days in Singapore, I tried many things, including owning and running a temple. Devotees came to my temple to ask for “divine” favours. For each of these consultation sessions, he had to recite incantations to call upon a particular deity to “enter” the medium. Once in trance, the medium would dispense favours – 4Ds (a form of gambling), or issues that bothered the devotees (health, marriage, fortune, and what-have-you).

I finally met my wife. She took me to church. My health improved and my businesses started to grow.

* * *

I see that Peter is a wealthy man today. He has passed his business to his son and is going places with his wife. He owns properties in Melbourne, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, I believe, amongst others.

“Do you still believe in all the medium stuff?” I asked.

“Sure, I do.”

“How do you reconcile this with your present devotion to Christianity?”

“The medium stuff is for real. Devils are roaming everywhere all the time. When you recite incantations, a passing devil will “enter” the medium and took it upon itself to masquerade the deity you wish to call upon. You think you are talking to your deity. No, no, no. You are talking to an opportunistic devil. But not all devils are bad.

“You see mediums in their trance would do all sort of self-inflicting acts – chopping, cutting, piercing, etc,, and blood oozes out everywhere, right? Yet there were few signs of injury when the trance stops. He looks all normal after that, right? 

"These are certainly no play-play acts; the devil has actually taken possession of the medium's body.

“But the Lord reigns supreme. He could send all these devils scurrying for cover. He is therefore the only one we should worship!”

I couldn’t help asking, “I thought there is only one devil in Christianity. Isn’t that Satan?”

Peter corrected himself, “No, no; the devils I am talking are actually angels.”

I suppose he meant “spirits”, but never mind, I really do not want to know all these. He has his logic, though.

Before we parted, Mrs Lee said to me, “Do go to church.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some kind of sickos?

My letter to the CEO of Malaysia Airlines and the reply I got...

20 February 2017

Mr Peter Bellew
CEO Malaysia Airlines Berhad
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
64000 Sepang

Dear Sir

I thought I should give up writing complaints to Malaysia Airlines’ CEOs since they had always been answered by the lesser mortals there without really bothering to find out what I had written. (Their answers were usually lifted from, I believe, standard templates.) Nonetheless, I still use Malaysia Airlines for a couple of simple reasons: (a) I live in three cities – Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore – and your airline offers the most convenient schedules, (b) your departures and arrivals are generally quite punctual, and (c) your cabin crew are quite service-conscious. (But honestly your food is deteriorating.)

However, an incident on my arrival in Changi Airport on Saturday, 18 February evening prompts me to write to check whether you are in fact no different from your predecessors.

I was travelling with my wife on MH148/MH609 from Melbourne to Singapore (transiting in Kuala Lumpur) on that date. At the Melbourne airport, the lady at the Business/Platinum Card check-in counter was most careful; she took pain to stick “Platinum” and “Priority” labels on the three bags my wife and I checked in, even though she said the “Platinum” ones alone would do. She assured me that it was their procedure also to alert receiving airports of all “Platinum” bag arrivals.

At Changi arrival hall, two of the three bags promptly came out first. What happened to the third bag? It emerged with the last lot of the flight’s arrivals! My question: What’s the use of giving priority to two and I still have to wait for the last one like everybody else? As a matter of fact, it did pose anxiety since we had some important stuff in that bag!

This is NOT the first time I have experienced this pseudo priority promise. A couple of months ago, in Malaysia Airlines’ home airport KLIA1, my bags which carried the “Platinum” labels also came out amongst the last ones.

On the recent flight we flew to Melbourne (Thursday, February 9, MH129), you might also want to know that the aircraft forgot to carry Australia’s arrival forms. They were only distributed at the arrival gate at Melbourne! Just imagine the anxiety of the passengers!

Once in a flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, I wanted to find something to buy in your inflight duty-free sales. But there was no Temptation magazine; one of the crew members said Kuala Lumpur had forgotten to put it in that new aircraft!

I can only conclude that you do have many fundamental problems in your own backyard, i.e., MAS’s SOP in KLIA1.

There are also many many more; in fact, your cabin crew are quite casual about the need to draw up windows when the plane is gearing for landing. Our MH148 flight in the Business Class cabin is a case in point.

Yours truly,
LIM/Yu Book

* * * * *
This is the reply I get from the airline on my mailbox:

Date : 28/02/2017

Case reference : GTS00154615

Dear   Lim Yu Book

Thank you for your compliment on the exceptional service you experienced with Malaysia Airlines.

Your kind and encouraging words have always been a source of inspiration for us to serve you well.  We are truly delighted to show you the Malaysian Hospitality.

We look forward to your continued support.

Yours sincerely,

Mohd Asmawi Alias
Customer Care
Malaysia Airlines

* * * * *

Some kind of joke? Where did I in the letter compliment MAS? And "exceptional service'? Or they don't understand English at all? Or these people some kind of sickos?

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Fake Advisory, but...

I am getting a little annoyed!

This is the latest fake advisory I received from a friend on WhatsApp. There is so much of this stuff around now. Can't she see that it is a fake through and through?

Consuming banana and egg kills???

I have been doing for years! I am still alive!

I forwarded it to a few friends and tell them to be wary of stuff like this.

One friend says he sees it differently. "Can't you see it is all about manhood?"

He is absolutely right! But at that state, it is certainly not dangerous, don't you agree?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unconventional Wisdom

My neighbor in Singapore is a devout Buddhist. There is also a large painting of Kuan-ying, the Goddess of Mercy, in her very tastefully furnished home.

Mrs Cheong lives with her husband; they have a Filipino maid. She is perhaps in her 70s, and her husband, 80s. Mr Cheong is always immaculately and stylishly dressed. In his suspenders, he looks stately! I see that they are a wealthy couple – this upmarket condominium of theirs in Singapore, a house in California, investments in China and Papua New Guinea, etc. Their daughter and Canadian husband live in the adjacent block.

Usually people living in condominiums don’t quite care about their neighbours. Mr Cheong is different. One day I struck a casual conversation with him on the ground floor lobby and hearing that I also hailed from Malaysia, he immediately invited me to join him for his family’s lunch gathering which he was about to host at an expensive restaurant in Orchard Road’s Paragon. I was in shorts, but he insisted it was completely fine. He is very knowledgeable; we had many things in common.

From then on, my wife and I got invited to their beautiful home from time to time.

Mrs Cheong believes in yīnguǒ bàoyìng (因果报应), a Buddhist-Chinese cause-and-effect concept in explaining the fortunes and misfortunes of all living beings. To her, every life is a reincarnation of a previous one. Your present good or bad fortune is a result of how you conducted yourself in the previous life. It is not dissimilar to karma in Hindu belief. “Look at those poor children in Africa, have they done anything since birth to deserve those sufferings?” She asks. 
Yīnguǒ is not about this life. It is about your next life! I don’t want my next life to be like that, hence my determination to do good in this life!”
 Can you argue with her on that? Mr & Mrs Cheong are a loving couple. But apparently, he was a Casanova when he was younger. She amused us with tales of his infidelity with him laughing them off embarrassingly in front of us. “I had to spend months on end overseas. My husband had a tendency to stray. He had even brought back women to stay in this very apartment. They knew I knew; but I didn’t say a word. One woman was bold enough to try to plot to make him leave me. I knew he would come to his senses and he did. “People are always talking about revenge or how to spite their husbands or their lovers when it comes to things like this. I don’t do such things. “And many wives lose their husbands, why? “They forget to also love their husband’s parents! “They grumble if their husband is partial to his own parents. How can they do that? You should also love them the way you love your parents!” How wise this lady is!