Saturday, February 1, 2020

My take on the latest coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan...

Medical and health sciences are some of my weakest knowledge suits. Their technical names are too long for me to remember. But in the wake of the present coronavirus scare, I felt compelled to read a little about viruses. 

I read somewhere that the life of a virus (the literature says, technically, viruses are not alive) generally depends on the conditions of the environment it is in, as well as the type of surface it is on. Cold viruses are said to be able to survive on indoor surfaces for approximately seven days. Flu viruses, however, are active for only 24 hours. All viruses have the potential to live on hard surfaces, such as metal and plastic, longer than on fabrics and other soft surfaces. In fact, infectious flu viruses can survive on tissues for only 15 minutes. 

Viruses tend to also live longer in areas with lower temperatures, low humidity, and low sunlight.

While cold viruses can live for several days, their ability to cause infection decreases after approximately 24 hours, and after ONLY five minutes.

This set me thinking. 

Natives all over the world hunt and eat wildlife - wild boars, civet cats, bats, capybara, birds, snakes and what have you, but we don’t seem to hear outbreaks of killer diseases like SARS, Nipah Virus and coronavirus. But why the outbreaks in, respectively, Guangzhou, Port Dickson and Wuhan? 

Killer viruses may have already manifested themselves in these wild creatures when they are caught. These animals are killed when hunted down and not long after cooked with fire in open air. The process and conditions do not allow viruses to survive long, hence no transmission. Whereas in the wet markets all over East and Southeast Asia, the wildlife caught are caged in the cruelest fashion. They can be in locations for hours. If Darwin’s Theory is true, then the viruses are also keen to jump out to survive and multiply, aren’t they? 

My hypothesis is therefore this: eating wildlife per se is not a danger (but this does not mean I condone the practice), keeping them in the way it is now done by traders in East and Southeast Asia is. 

I am not a scientist; it is just a thought. Feel free to prove it is a wrong conclusion! 

A friendly match between Chinese and a Indians...

I have often heard this poser: You Chinese say you are very clever, how is it that few of you get to become CEOs or heads of large multinational corporations, universities and international institutions?

I have written on this before, but let me recollect my thoughts on this again.

Some may say this is a racist question. But I really think it is not, even though my observations may kindle a nasty discourse on the pride and honour of these two peoples.

The Chinese and Indian civilisations are almost of the same vintage. Generally speaking, before each’s reawakening in the West’s onslaught, India’s social and governing structures were basically fragmented, but nevertheless widespread; China’s were more centralised.

But there is something common in the two  languages. Both are facilitating in certain domains of development pursuit. The Subcontinent languages, which are Sanskrit-based, necessitate speed in thinking and verbalizing. Their brains have therefore evolved into one that is capable great processing speed! And being phonetic in nature, Subcontinent tongues go well with Romanized form of languages. No wonder Indians are generally great in two areas: Talking and IT! Good speaking skill is a big plus especially in the corporate world. The Chinese language does not have that advantage. Additionally, its Confucian culture places a great deal of virtue on Humility. Self effacement is so prevalent even amongst very senior thinkers and scholars. You may notice that they always begin their sentences with “I think” and “You know” in interviews and forums. And by virtue of the individuality - in terms of meaning and pronunciation - of its every written character, many Chinese tend to read English in the same manner. Their spoken sentences therefore appear disjointed and tend to weigh down by unnecessary baggage when there are verbs or adjectives which end with “ed”, both of which can be irritating to listeners. The clumsiness is also apparent in chemical nomenclature.

Maybe I can draw a contrast between two international institutions’ chief economists: The World Banks’s Justin Lin Yifu and the International Monetary Fund’s Gita Gopinath. The latter is so smooth in her deliberations in spite of her youth. The former can be very tentative in his public speeches. (I used to “sweat” for him when he spoke during his World Bank days!) I am sure both are equally distinguished world class scholars and thinkers.

But Chinese language is most facilitating in numeric manipulations - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Try to say 7x3=21 in both English and Chinese and you will know what I mean. No wonder Chinese are generally very fast in calculations! And by extension, smartphone applications and commercialisations? I also think Chinese as a language is also a handicap in the use of keyboard in computer applications. But this handicap is to some extent mitigated by Chinese “can do” attitude.

I do not much about other languages. I believe some tend to use too much of RAM in your brain. The Siamese language is probably a case in point. Its sentences are long; surely this also says much about Thai’s thinking process? How many of us can pronounce and remember Thai names in their full form? But surely Thais will disagree with this observation; maybe there is some great stuff in the language which I do not know.

Does above make sense? Or am I bringing up a racist issue unnecessarily?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Letter to CGTN

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a 70-year-old ethnic Chinese calling both Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur “homes”. I know some Chinese but am unable to write well in Chinese. 

I enjoy watching your News and Documentary channels. However, in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, I am dismayed to see you are still not conscious of the need to help educate the masses in cultivating better table habits. Many of the Lunar New Year celebrations shown in your broadcast still depict people using own chopsticks to enjoy common dishes. This surely is a contributing factor in the spread of diseases, isn’t it?

Maybe you want to give a thought to this matter?

Incidentally, below is what I have just posted in Facebook: 

“Bad Habits Die Hard... But High Time To help Stop Them... 

I have been watching Lunar New Year celebrations on CGTN and cannot help feeling concerned. In spite of the coronavirus outbreak, Chinese are still generally not conscious of a bad table habit: using own chopsticks/spoon to dance/swim on shared dishes! I was also surprised to see similar depictions greeting cards that had been extended around. I don’t mean to patronise, but I think it is high time they stop this practice!

They should also stop coveting the consumption of exotic/wild animals’ meat and/or organs. 

A couple of other Don’ts, which are by no means exhaustive: 
1. Spit on the floor and dispose of rubbish indiscriminately. 
2. Dig nostrils, pick ears and pluck facial hair publicly. (Touching mouth, nose and hair unnecessarily should also be avoided.)
3. “Spray” your saliva everywhere when talking! And talk when mouth is chock-full.
4. Mess up public facilities like toilets, tables in food courts and fast food outlets, waiting rooms, in total oblivion to next users’ plight or distress.
5. Wear clothes that exude sour smell due to mildew. 
6. Converse on the top of your voice even though you are just feet apart from one another!

We may have five thousand years of civilization behind us, but when it comes to social graces and etiquette, many are still behaving like infants!”

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,
Lim Yu Book

Friday, January 17, 2020

I am hooked on Quora!

I am now hooked on Quora, even though I have been blocked from contributing because of a rejoinder I made to a commentator in one of my answers. Quora is a platform that allows anyone to ask any question. I take my hat off to those who have volunteered to answer. The insights and knowledge shared were extraordinary in many cases – on history, geography and even science, technology and engineering. Of course, answers on political and social issues are basically opinions, but good answers do reflect the author’s wisdom and foresight.

However, I didn’t know that world out there is awash with China haters and bashers. Readers of my blog would notice that I have also been bashing China and Chinese a great deal. I do so because I am proud of my Chinese heritage. There is so much in Chinese culture that teaches one to practise good social etiquette, to act with humility, to be caring and benevolent, to keep to our word, and so on and so forth, I naturally take issues if fellow Chinese misbehave. But if people hurl fake news and unnecessary hatred or prejudices about China or Chinese, I also would not want to sit idly by. I am no Xi apologist, but I think he had some a great deal for his nation. So is China as a whole; it is not an evil empire, as many of China haters and bashers want us believe. Many of those who have visited or stayed in China have already testified this fact. I myself have visited China several times. I have seen it transformed. Of course, the rural areas are still poor and lacking in social graces. But urban China is a different world now. I had therefore also attempted to answer some of the questions posted in Quora until I was blocked out. It was in respect of this question “Should the USA pay to clean up China’s pollution?” that got me in trouble with Quora. I wrote that the questioner was too patronizing and said that China was certainly conscious of the need to clean up its own environment without expecting anyone, let alone the USA, to pay for it. A chap chipped in and accused me of not having been to China or the USA at all, since I did not know how polluted China was. I asked if he should do if I furnished proof, and this led to my “suspension”. Strange really! Notwithstanding, I continue to follow Quora.

But I think Quora’s Moderation Team should try to nip fake news and bigotry at their buds.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Whirlwind Tour of America

My wife and I have just returned from our almost month-long tour across the United States of America, including a side visit to the Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada. I have been to the States a couple of times before, but my visits were mainly business-related and, therefore, I did not have the opportunity to explore beyond city precincts. Saw Hwa had visited the West Coast before, but that was also many years ago.

This was indeed a whirlwind tour; by the time we ended at Los Angeles, we had forgotten the names of many of the places we visited! In the wake of the trade war between China and the United States, I was a little apprehensive before we embarked on the journey, especially so when we had signed up with Cosmos, where we knew most of our fellow travelers would be Caucasians. And we thought Donald Trump’s rhetoric might also create some degree of hostility from his countrymen towards yellow-skinned fellows like me. Our fears proved to be unnecessary. The people we ran into were generally very nice. One lady even offered her travel card to purchase subway tickets in one of the New York stations, when she saw we were hesitant about how to go about getting them from the machine. Safe for an incident, though!

The incident came from an unexpected quarter.

That was in New York and before we began our tour. We were on a hop-on-and-hop-off bus when a Caucasian lady, together with her partner, apparently a little clumsy, lost her seating priority to some Asian women. When she began to complain to the tour guide about “the f**king Asians”, I shouted at her, right in front of all the tourists there, "You racist, watch your language!". I gave her a nasty stare. She and her partner, to my satisfaction, remained quiet after that. 

Indeed, America is declining. The country as a whole looks tired. Of course, the monuments in Washington DC, the iconic architectural works in New York and Chicago, the national parks, and great mansions in California remain awe-inspiring. But they are falling behind in areas of infrastructure. The subway in New York is a case in point. Homelessness in San Francisco is particularly too glaring to miss. Even our tour coach is lacking in many respects. And surprise, surprise, even though Cosmos is a member of the global tour group, it is not as good - in terms of equipment and organisation - as its sibling Globus in Europe, which we have traveled with before.  

Central Park, Manhattan

No longer welcoming!
Niagara Falls

Washington DC

Grand Canyon
Somewhere in Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park
Where is Donald Trump?
Another National Park
With fellow travelers from the UK at Hollywood: Maria and David

Yet another...

Yet another
Feeding squirrel at Pebble Beach

Admiring Pebble Beach Golf Course
A new Genting in Las Vegas

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Jakarta's "New" International Airport

When I was helping Singapore’s IMC Pan Asia Alliance to develop its palm oil business in Indonesia, I had to travel to the country often. I even stationed myself in Jakarta for a couple of months. We were facilitated with an apartment near our office at Kuningan, one of the up-market precincts in Jakarta. Jakarta’s international airport was not great, but adequate. The traffic to and fro could be nightmarish, though. It could take hours.

I didn’t know their new international airport was ready when I flew in a couple of weeks ago. It is actually not a new airport but a new terminal arising out of organic needs. 

The distance from the gate to the Immigration hall seems endless. Fortunately, being amongst the first to disembark - thanks to my B class ticket - I was offered a ride in one of the carriages stationed halfway along the route.

Everything is confusing once you step out! 

Traffic was quite chaotic. On seeing some vehicles bearing top hotels’ logos, I asked if there was one from Grand Hyatt. Yes, but the fare was totally exorbitant. I decided to book a limo at Blue Bird’s booth. The receptionists were very courteous, but the system seemed silly. Those who came after me got driven off first. They apologized and smiled a lot but were quite clueless.

I didn’t realise that the new terminal is such a beast until I checked in to fly back the next day!

The terminal is massive. I dare say not much thought has been put in to design the terminal.

It is totally LINEAR.

I had no issues with the check-in arrangements. But one must walk past many many shops, kiosks and eateries before one reaches the Immigration hall. And after clearing Immigration, another long journey begins. I flew MAS and it offers its B class passengers to use a lounge which is located at almost one end of the terminal. The linearity was shocking; all the gates are on one side. From one end to the other, the new terminal must be more than a kilometer long.

And the local products are expensive! A modest box of Indonesia’s very popular “thousand-layered” cake costs something like USD20!

One thing, Indonesians are generally very patient; they don’t seem to complain.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dr Leon Comber, A Living Legend

My late eldest brother Yew Seng often talked about his boss Leon Comber when he was alive. They were both in Heinemann Singapore, Comber the managing director, and my late brother, the general manager there. And it was from him that I learned that author Han Su-yin was one-time Comber’s wife. I also came across a preface written by him in one of the books about the ambush of General Henry Gurney at Frasers Hill.

One day two years ago or so Saw Hwa and were invited by Barry Clarke, who is the CEO of Routledge Asia, to his home for dinner. There we were introduced to two other guests: Comber and his friend Lee Su Ying. Comber was very generous with his knowledge; that evening I came to realise that he was an extraordinary man.

Despite his age and condition, he would make it a point whenever possible to attend the talks that we held at The HEAD Foundation. His direct involvement as a colonial officer before, during and after World War II and the Malayan Emergency of 1948-60 fascinated me. He was kind enough to accept a lunch invitation to answer whatever my fellow directors had wanted to know about some of the legendary figures during these periods of our history. His first-hand knowledge was truly awesome. I believe being a senior Special Branch officer then, he must have known the secrets of everyone. (Robert Kuok also mentioned him in his memoir.)

During World War II, he serves as a British officer in the Indian Army. He was among those who landed at Morib and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese forces. After the war, he became the head of the Special Branch in Johor. Comber saw the writing on the wall when he was summoned and be dressed down by the British High Commissioner to Malaya Field Marshal Gerald Templer about the writing of Han Su-yin, whom he married in 1952. (They divorced in 1958.) He left for a very distinguished publishing career after that.

Comber speaks fluent Cantonese. He is now a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asia Studies (ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute).

A couple of months ago, after hearing that he had been hospitalised in Melbourne, I visited him. He is now being looked after in an aged care home there. I paid him a visit and learning that he loved Chinese food, I arranged to take him out to share a meal at a restaurant nearby a week later.

Dr Comber was born in 1921, which makes him 98 today. Although a little hard on walking, his memory is still superb.

Below are his publications. The last two titles were written when he was 96. At his age, he still wants to publish more. He puts all of us to shame!

·        Chinese Ancestor Worship in Malaya (1954).
·        Chinese Temples in Singapore (1958).
·        Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Survey of the Triad Society from 1800 to 1900 (1959).
·        Favourite Chinese Stories (1967; 1975; 1988).
·        The Strange Cases of Magistrate Pao: Chinese Tales of Crime and Detection. Translated from the Chinese and Retold by Leon Comber [with] Illustrations by Lo Koon-chiu (1970; 1972; 2010).
·        The Golden Treasure Box: Favourite Stories From the Orient (1979).
·        Malaya's Secret Police 1945-1960: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency (2008).
·        The Triads: Chinese Secret Societies in 1950s Malaya and Singapore (2009).
·        Through the Bamboo Window: Chinese Life and Culture in 1950s Malaya and Singapore (2009).
·        Singapore Correspondent: Political Dispatches from Singapore, 1958-1962 (2012).
·        Templer and the Road to Malaysian independence: The Man and His Time (2015).
·        Dalley and the Malayan Security Service, 1945-48: MI5 vs. MSS (2018).