Sunday, February 21, 2016

Oath-taking in Kung-tze traditions

I was forwarded this article from Indonesia’s Jakarta Post. It shows the new speaker of the legislative council of North Sulawesi was taking his oath on Kung-tze’s (Confucious) Sishu Wujing (四书五经, Four Books, Five Scriptures). My friend was trying to say that Indonesians are now liberal and tolerant. 

I had the opportunity to be actively involved in the launching and running of two businesses (Shipping and Oil Palm Plantations) there between 2005 and 2010 (not to mention that my son-in-law is also an Indonesian, albeit principally of Chinese descent). The role required me to visit many parts of Indonesia. I must say indeed Indonesia has gone a long way and is now largely a very progressive country as far as religion and race relations are concerned. But this fact remains: mentality on religion and race is still very much parochial in nature. Like a dormant volcano, intolerance can erupt if the magma chamber is disturbed. And there are quite a number of magma chambers in Indonesia!

Indonesia is a big country. Its geography of 17,000 islands is mind-boggling and population of more than 250 million is ethnically and linguistically diverse (something 300 and 750 respectively).

I personally am of the opinion that at higher political levels, one should not try to accentuate his cultural identity. Moreover, Confucianism can hardly be said to be a religion. (The greatness of its philosophy is really another matter.) Wouldn’t the country’s Constitution be a more appropriate instrument for this new speaker to swear his allegiance on? (Has anyone heard of such a swearing-in ceremony in China, or Korea, or Japan, or Taiwan, where Kung-tze’s teachings are more “universally” revered?) 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Modern Cancer Hospital Guangzhou

I now see a daily dosage of advertisements from this hospital in the guise of testimonies from patients. You can’t possibly miss them; they are inserted between the breaking news of the day.

The first question that I ask is on the name. Is this a modern hospital for cancer? Or it is a hospital for modern cancer? This is just my tendency to split hair with many things that come out of China.

I see that the hospital is basically a commercial undertaking – a joint venture between Singapore and China investors. They even have offices in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Manila, etc to facilitate visitations.

If it is that good, do they have to advertise themselves in such a fashion?

I grew up with full faith in traditional Chinese medicine. When I was not well, Mother would take me to see Sin-seh[1] Lau, who looked very ancient to me at that time. He was kind and gentle. Mother would thank him with a small angpow. We would then head to the medical hall which we usually patronize to pick up the herbs.

The medicines were usually too bitter for youngsters like us; we usually gulped them down in one go, with fingers pressing hard against our nose. Later my second sister married into a family that ran a successful medical hall. Her husband soon started another one in town. Soon my eldest brother-in-law decided to work for him. When my second brother-in-law decided to call it quits, my eldest brother-in-law inherited his entire fit-out and inventory and relocate the business to a small town near Muar. He is still running the business now.

I remember when I was in Standard Four, I broke my leg. We were playing hide-and-see, I fell and an older boy in hot pursuit couldn’t stop in time and landed hard on my upper left ankle. I had to be immediately rushed to the local sin-seh who specialised in fractures. After making sure that the fractured parts had been correctly aligned, she tied bamboo strips around the affected area. Seeing that I was still not able to use it after a month or so, Mum sought out a “secret formula” from a fellow villager. It really did wonders. I was able to walk normally a day or two later!

Father had also kept a number of medical classics. Those by HuaTuo () and Li Shizhen (李时珍) were usually consulted.  And we literally believed all those tall tales carried in sword-fighting books – about heroes’ ability to achieve fantastic feats after accidentally consuming some outlandish flora and fauna.

However, as we entered into adulthood, we began to count more and more on western doctors. Notwithstanding, we would still stock some ginseng at home and my wife would from time to time steam it with chicken for everyone to take.

My faith in TCM began to take a beating after my visit to China as a tourist. We seemed to be taken to endless outlets that hawked Chinese traditional medicines in the most aggressive manner. Their effectiveness would usually be exaggerated beyond beliefs. The sales people donned themselves with white overalls. But they looked so sloppy!

The straw that broke the camel’s back was my visit to a hospital in Guangzhou where one of my former bosses was recommended to undergo a kidney transplant surgery. The surgeon, who was said to be a senior professor, did not impress me at all. The new kidney was rejected by the body ultimately.

Coming back to this Modern Cancer Hospital, all the testimonies are simply too glowing to be genuine; they must have been supplied by the hospital. (Their English speaks volumes!) I tried to surf for reviews; there were not many really. There was none from the mainstream medical profession.

They better be good, lest truth will catch up with them ultimately.

[1] Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Before I knew Rosa, who was my son’s research cohort in Toronto, I didn’t quite know that many Taiwanese were hostile of the island returning to the fold of the motherland. We are all descendants of Yellow Emperor, right? And after all, by that time (early 2000s), China had already expressed its preparedness to accommodate “one country, many systems” type of federation. My third brother Yew Sim went to Taiwan for his university education; it was in the early 1960s then. Taiwan was synonymous with Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek then. As a school boy, I always thought that they had a mission, i.e., to recapture the mainland. And why are they talking about independence now?

Oh, we don’t consider ourselves Chinese; as a matter of fact, my father hopes to see me marrying a Japanese!” This was more or less what Rosa told me!

Of course, it was not nice for me to ask her why. She was already a medical doctor doing her sub-fellowship at one of the top neurological science centres in the world. She was young, pretty and smart. “Maybe she had not met the right calibre Chinese,” I thought.

Let’s face it; we Chinese men are not a very appealing lot to many “sophisticated” western-educated ladies. As a matter of fact, one of my nieces who grew up in Melbourne has never thought of going out with an Asian! She is tall and beautiful. She says she finds Chinese men “boring’!

I have not given much thought to the subject until I read this book: Become “Japanese” – Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation by Leo T.S. Ching.

I won’t say the book is an easy read. The substance in its original form must have come from a literature review perhaps undertaken by the author when he was doing his graduate research. But I must say the book offers me a great deal of insights into what being Taiwanese is really all about.  
Now I can understand what Rosa has said and why Tsai Ing-wen, who won the recent presidential election with a huge majority, has chosen to thank, of all countries, US and Japan in her victory speech. Tsai, who is a former university professor, is the leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Isn’t this the party of Chen Shui-bian, the disgraced ex-president of Taiwan?
DPP draws its support largely from the locally born Taiwanese, who form the majority of the population now! Kuomintang’s fraternizing with China is bad news to them now!
If I may paraphrase Ching: The early settlers (from South China, mainly Ming-nan Fujianese and Hakkas) did identify themselves very much as “Ming” Chinese. Unfortunately, under the Qing (Manchu) rule, they were left much to their own devices. The island was ceded to Japan in 1895 after China lost the Sino-Japanese War. The Republic of China (ROC) regained control of the island only in 1945. But much “damage” had already been done during after this 50 year “absence”. Even though the Taiwanese were not treated as equals, Japan did everything to “nipponise” Taiwanese whom the Japanese considered were so culturally inferior that they might need 80 years to make them “Japanese”. Much was also done by the colonial government to improve the island. At the outset of World War II, many Taiwanese, especially the elites, had already identified themselves as Japanese. Poverty and corruption were rampant in the mainland; on the other hand, everything seemed “perfect’ in Japan. Lee Teng Hui’s family were a case in point. The Stockholm syndrome[1] ran its course!
The return of Taiwan to ROC did not help much to reverse the course. After his defeat by Mao in 1949, Chiang Kai-sheik fled to Taiwan with some 2 million mainlanders. He ruled the island with an iron fist. The mainlanders did not speak the local Ming-nan dialect; there was simply little love between the two Han groups. When mainland China was still doing all the sloganeering, Taiwan was already becoming a new economic tiger. Contempt for the former was simply natural, hence the rise of DPP.
Come to think of it; if Yuan had ruled China long enough, would Chinese-ness be different? And didn’t Chinese wear pit-tails during the Machu rule?
Under a new environment, isn’t a fact that ethnocentrism will begin to fade with the emergence of second or third generations? Maybe the Jews are an exception - for obvious reasons.

[1] A phenomenon in which hostages become empathetic toward their captors to the point of defending and identifying themselves with the latter. Some of us may still remember the case of heiress Patricia Hearst’s abduction and indoctrination by the Symbionese Liberation Army and subsequent involvement in a bank robbery.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Is the heaven about to fall?

After seeing Machu Picchu with my own eyes, and despite the rhetoric by the local guide, I am pretty sure that it is much older than the 15th century built-date proclaimed by the Peru’s cultural and antiquity authorities.

Machu Picchu reminds me of the awesome Sphinx and the great Pyramids of Giza. We casual tourists were told that they were built circa 2,500 BC.

To me it is simply inconceivable that the Incas could have the know-how and resources to build such an outlandish estate on a mountain ridge almost 2,500 metres above sea level at that time. Ditto for the Egyptians on the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid – no matter how great or powerful Pharaoh Khafra was said to be at that time.

These two great wonders have one thing in common, i.e., nobody is able to convincingly explain how they were built. And when they were built! (By then, I had read somewhere – by a serious researcher – that the Pyramid was at least 6000 years old.)

To many people, there is only one answer: Aliens from outer space! But to me, if this was true, then these aliens would have to travel inter-galaxies to reach us. Surely what they had left behind would look much ‘modern’ than Burj Al Arab or Petronas Twin Towers, and not just megalithic ruins.

I don’t buy all these conventional theories or explanations at all.

A good friend, SS, who is a firm believer of UFOs and paranormal phenomena, suggested that I should read Preston Peet’s Ancient Aliens, Lost Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology & Hidden History. With a click on one of’s weblinks, the Kindle edition of the book came straight to my iPad.

The book is basically a compilation of essays and papers written by others. While some of the articles are pretty good, many are hearsays. However, I did emerge somewhat enlightened that (a) these structures are about 10000 years old, and (b) there might already be a civilisation that had fantastic knowledge about monolithic works and transportation.

These wonders might have been built before the Ice Age!

One thing good about Kindle is that it also introduces books of related interests or topics to you. I was hungry for more and was attracted to one by Robert Schoch: Forgotten Civilization. Schoch is a PhD in Geophysics from Yale and has been credited with “re-dating” the Sphinx. He was also not convinced that those outlandish structures like Sphinx and Machu Picchu were built in the era pronounced by the mainstream archaeologists, whom he believes many are humbugs in the first place. He began his journey in Easter Island in the Pacific where the Moais still stood erect. He went on to talk nostalgically about his work on the Sphinx. After that it was Göbekli Tepe in Southeastern Turkey that he drew upon to argue his case.

To him, they were all built well before the Ice Age, and the evidences he offered were very compelling. But by whom? His conclusion: mankind was mostly wiped out by a great cosmic phenomenon, thanks to the not-so-eternal Sun. He cited research after research to prove his conclusion. The book is thick with physics, which is difficult for a layman like to retell.

Before this, I had always been a believer in Darwinism. Homo Sapiens were said to have evolved from Homo Erectus and they spread out from Africa some 40-60,000 years ago to populate the earth and men did not begin to “civilize” until a couple of thousands years ago. This might not be the case after all!

And while it is conventionally agreed that climate change is a major concern for mankind now, Schoch argues that scientists might just be barking up the wrong tree! Yes, global warming is to some extent caused by our exploitation of the earth's natural resources. His bigger fear, however, is that we might be going into the Sun’s next cosmic tantrum which, according to his estimate, might already be overdue!

Or have I fallen into the 齐人忧天 (Qi-ren Yu-tian, or heaven-is-about-to-fall) syndrome?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Ghost?

Notice any unusual image in the picture below?

We were in Peru's part of Amazonia on the eve of this new year. Our lodge Pasada is right in the thick of the forest.

The picture was captured by my son-in-law when we were walking back to our rooms after the modest celebration at the dining hall. It was past 10pm, if I remember correctly. Our rooms were at the far end of the corridor which was dimly lit.

Sensing something strange, Konfir decided to take a keener look at the picture he had taken. He decided to show it to us.

Near the left wall of the corridor, and on top of my grandson's head, there seems to be an image of a "being".

I personally don't believe in the existence of ghosts. But we definitely could recall that there was no one around that time, except three of us.

To be this is a case of an optical illusion. But some of our folks have insisted otherwise.

I leave the imagination to you!

In praise of Chinese idioms

I love Chinese idioms!

In usually four characters, they can comprehensively, but with great subtlety, sum up all you want to say on an issue. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough pinyin to go to the online sources to pick up the right characters. Moreover, my Mandarin is distorted by my Hokkien tongue. For “whiteness or ”, I might begin with “p”, since I was used to pronouncing it “pai”, when the “correct pinyin should be bai. Similarly, for (country or kingdom), my first instinct was to type kuo instead of guo. Now I have also to search in Xs, Qs and Zs, all very confusing to me. It would turn out to be a tedious exercise for me! Fortunately for me, time is not an issue. I have plenty of it to kill.

The 2.6 (or is it 4) billion saga is getting more or more ridiculous by the day. We were told all along that the donation had come from the late Saudi king, a story line that was even bought by the mighty (and supposedly thorough and objective) BBC. I woke up this morning to learn that the top man in the country’s legal system is now saying the donor is the late king’s son. Is this the same son whom SarawakReport had just claimed it was the recipient of a big kickback in this whole money trail?

Isn’t this another 牛头不对马嘴 (niú tóu bù duì mǎ zuǐ) clarification?  

To a simpleton like me, this is simply a plain act of 盗食公款 (dào shí gōngkuǎn) or privately pocketing a huge chunk of money that is the people's. The mechanics is pretty simple, but this cannot possibly happen unless the entire system is compromised, which unfortunately seems to be the case. You really have to take your hat off to the genius of that young man from Wharton!

Ali Baba’s windfall was soon explained as a donation from the Saudi king. (Who else can afford that sort of figure?) The donor is longer alive. Dead men cannot talk, can they?

Even if it was donation, I am pretty sure the recipient would have by now broken many laws of the land if he had not declared it in the first place.

Then the Saudi authorities are saying that it was not a donation per se; rather, it was a private investment. What sort of investment was that?

And not to be outdone, a TV talk show in Hong Kong speculates that this was a pure money laundering exercise. I say I donate to you and later you say you return to me. Doesn't everything become clean after that? Of course you have to believe that this is not a case of 盗食公款 to buy this conspiracy theory. But does a Saudi monarch need to “clean” his money?

Hence my 牛头不对马嘴 discourse.

Corruption and ex-marital sex (not the gay variety, though) are no big deals in certain cultures. Tony Pua and Lim Kit Siang can scream until the cows come home, but little will come out of it. We as a people have once again proved to a very tolerant lot. The character (guan; ranking government officials) has two “mouths” – some say, one for the public, and the other, for himself. They can also go about Zhǐ lù wéi mǎ (指鹿为马, insisting that a dear that was presented before them is a horse).

The authorities are saying that SarawakReport is creating false news to destabilize a legitimate government. Our AG who has cleared everybody was once a Federal Court judge. Even Tong Kooi Ong is now taking a back seat. Who are we the lesser mortals to question their learned conclusion?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Hidden Hand of CIA?

Usually I prefer to stay clear of politics, especially of the Malaysian variety - for obvious reasons, lah!

But we have been finding this flier sandwiched in our copy of The Age every morning. We had seen the advertisements many times elsewhere, but we just didn't quite bother, since there were so many of these performances coming from China nowadays.

To me, they obviously have very deep pockets!

What? No, they are not from China! It is funded by CIA!!! A friend exclaimed to me.

I took a harder look at the flyer; at bottom corner, it says: Presented by Falun Dafa Association of Australia, Victoria Branch Inc.

No wonder my friend says it is a CIA's sponsored do!

I know Falungong is very active in Melbourne. You could always spot an old lady or two meditating in front of China's consul-general's residence at Toorak once or twice a week. (My "taxi" service for my grand kids passes through the street a couple of times a day!) A banner Falun Dafa would be prominently hanged to announce their presence. They sit very upright and still, even if the weather is very foul, which happens often than not in Melbourne. You would take your hat off to them - unless you know what Falungong of Falun Dafa is all about!

Falungong in Helsinki
Falun is "Wheel of Fa" and Gung is "attainment in martial arts" or something like that. Fa is trickier to translate. It can mean law and order, but in this case, it carries a cult-like connotation, which to me is a little like "magical power". Readers may have heard of the Taiping Rebellion which took place between 1850 and 1864 in China. The leader was Hong Xiuquan who claimed that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ. His was the heavenly kingdom he wanted for China.

I would equate the founder of Falun Dafa to be something like Hong Xiuquan, (Some readers who are sympathizers of this movement may take offence with my analogy, though.)

Falun Dafa is everywhere now. The above picture was taken by me in one of the parks in Helsinki and the picture below, in Vienna. The stuff that was displayed had only one common message: Anything Mainland China does is bad!

Falungong in Vienna
I am not a great fan of China Chinese. They still have a great deal to catch up if they want to be truly First-World. But I must say that the leaders there have certainly done much to make Chinese all over the world proud. They have transformed the country from dirt-poor to a generally prosperous society within a generation.

I am just wondering what this Falun Dafa has done to save the world?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Face-to-face with China's Madoff

Surely we still remember Bernie Madoff, America's fraudster who operated a Ponzi scheme that is considered the largest financial fraud in US history? 

China has its own Madoff as well and I have just met two of its key executives!

First read the following excerpt which I took from one of Bloomberg's recent reports:

"Chinese authorities have arrested 21 suspects linked to Ezubo and its parent company, Yucheng International Holdings Group, on charges of illegally collecting funds, having allegedly conned more than 50 billion RMB ($7.6 billion) from investors, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

"According to Xinhua, Ezubo attracted investors with promises of annual interest payments of 9-14.6 percent in return for funding leasing projects, but instead used the money paid in by new investors to pay off earlier ones, in what Xinhua described as a classic Ponzi scheme.

"Yong Lei, once the director of Ezubo's risk control department and now detained, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that "95 percent of Ezubo's investment projects were fake."
The company's executives also spent large sums on personal luxuries and high-risk junk securities, Xinhua reported.

"Ding Ning, 34, president of Yucheng and the founder of Ezubo, reportedly used investors' money to buy lavish gifts for Zhang Min, the company's president, including a residential property in Singapore worth 130 million RMB ($19.8 million) and a pink diamond ring worth 12 million RMB ($1.8 million).

"In addition, Xinhua said Ding paid huge salaries to the company's employees - the company paid 800 million RMB ($121.6 million) to employees in November 2015 alone - and insisted all secretarial staff wear designer outfits and expensive jewelry to burnish the company's image of profitability.

"But tightening cash flow and unusual transactions by Ezubo triggered an investigation by Chinese authorities in December, Xinhua reported. The investigation included the use of two excavators to recover more than 80 bags full of paper accounts that had been buried six meters underground by the Ezubo's executives."

Now my experience with these two high-ranking Yucheng executives:

Two months ago a good friend asked if I would like to discuss business opportunities with one of the wealthiest investment groups from China. Why not?

He duly turned up with four ladies one day. Two of them gave me their cards, which are as above. The other two were content to stay in the background. (I later understood that they were the bodyguards to the COO!)

Sun and Helen are beauties in their own right. Helen is the younger of the two and she is the "boss". Sun speaks English, but not Helen.

Really not much was exchanged; I could see that they were not very interested or curious in things. Seeing that I was basically dealing with dumb blondes, I was happy to show them the door after an hour or so. 

I now see that they are not dumb at all; maybe I was not the right target for them, that's all.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Internet Medicine

Internet Medicine

Day-in-day-out, you are bombarded – in your mailbox or WhatsApp – with health advisories by well-intentioned friends. Many are anxious to share new cures with you. But did they bother to check out before they hit the forward button? I suspect not many.

A case in point is a recent “sure can cure cancer” formula I received on WhatsApp. Apparently, pure potato juice can do the job. Why waste money on all other forms of treatment!

As usual, it started with the typical conspiracy theory rhetoric: the pharmaceutical giants do not want you to know this fact, blah, blah, blah. It went on to quote the findings of a Japanese-sounding researcher to lend authority to the formula.

Is he saying all the oncologists are all frauds?

No sooner, a response came through: My wife tried it. It didn’t work!

Out of curiosity, I surfed the Net to see if there is any truth in the claim.

No scientific evidence; more of a quackery is what I read.

This has also just come through:

Oh Zika (mosquito inflicted disease that is gripping South America today) is coming our way. We have dengue problem, right? Clove sticking on freshly-cut lemon halves will make the aedes mosquito go away.

Are you prepared to count on this advisory totally???

On the demise of a former lecturer...

My mobile’s WhatsApp beeped non-stop yesterday. One of our Class of 73’s lecturers had passed away. Our WhatsApp administrator asked if he should send a wreath on behalf of the class. Virtually everyone active in the loop responded with a resounding yes.

Would anyone say no? Obviously no, right? This is basic courtesy and decency!

During our time in Engineering at the University of Malaya, there was no streaming in the first two years. Everybody had to do the same subjects. It was only in Year 3 that we branched off into Civil, Electrical and Mechanical. Even then, there were a couple of common subjects, one of which is Engineering Management. It was taught by this lecturer.

This lecturer was himself an alumnus of the faculty; he might be one of the first to graduate from the faculty. He went on to become the dean during our final year.

Why then am I writing all this?

In life you had good teachers; you also had bad teachers. Many were also very ordinary. I can’t say this lecturer was exceptional; if I can remember correctly, he was only so-so as a teacher.

But the outpour surprised me!

I attribute this to a couple of symptoms.

One is old-aged born-again empathy. All of us are in the wrong half of our 60s. Many of us no longer have an office to go. We also don’t’ get to meet new faces. With the advent of social media like WhatsApp, we find reconnections with old friends and people we used to know as easy as ABC, especially we have so much time to kill. Ex-school and university mates are the best sources of our nostalgia and empathy. Urge to response becomes instantaneous.

Two is the herd or me-too mentality. You don’t want to feel left-out, or give others in the circle the impression that you are indifferent or don’t care. People might think that you are an ungrateful student, or one who is not aligned with the good values of the rest.

The second syndrome reminds me of how Kim Jong Un controls and minds and souls of the millions in North Korea. The way the masses there act in unison to “demonstrate” the outpour of their emotions is to many of us most incredible. But you can see for yourself they actually do so with great spontaneity. Pretension has evolved into part of their culture? If you don’t do it, you will be dead!

I am still not finished with my u-mates’ responses to this lecturer’s demise yet.

Our chat group’s administrator is also our class’s coordinator for our social events. Some requested that he helped to convey condolences to the lecturer’s family. He was quite blunt: I do it on behalf of the class; if you want separate messages, please do so yourself directly.

He couldn’t be more right in attitude!

Be that as it may, it is always good to offer one’s condolences to the family of the demised if you knew him or her. However, do ask ourselves this question: Is that family’s loss really a heartfelt experience to you? If the answer is no, then I suggest we don’t overboard to act like the masses in North Korea which, in my opinion, is really an act of pretension.

But to those who genuinely felt the loss of this teacher, let me say that this message of mine is not aimed at any of you!