Friday, April 19, 2013

Kuiku-tze (鬼谷子) - China's first behavioural scientist?

Everyone seems to know Sun-tze; surprisingly, many have not heard of Kuiku-tze. I thought Kuiku-tze was in many respects a greater strategist than Sun-tze, based on the stuff I have read, though.

Legend has it that he had been around from the Yellow Emperor period - that was more than 2000BC! - until the dying years of Zhou Dynasty (around 400BC), which means he had lived for more than one thousand years. A lot of tall tales indeed!

Some said he was practising diplomacy during Spring-Autumn period (circa 500BC), others put him slightly later, around the Warring Period. But what is attributed to Kuiku-tze may not have been from one single individual at all.

There are 14 chapters in "his" book, much of it is about negotiations, judo-style. Like Sun-tze, much of the advocacy is really commonsensical, bothering on deceptions, in essence. Some of the illustrations actually appeared quite infantile to me. Nonetheless, MBAs would love it. He must be China's first behavioural scientist!




"Oxymorons" in pictures

I don't quite know the exact meaning of oxymoron. But this was the word which came straight into my mind when I revisited these two pictures.

China: Jinan Airport

And why this? General Franco would have "finished" them off when he was alive! Leftists were  strictly no-no in a totally rightists society!

Somewhere in Spain

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Home of the Da-hong-pao (大红袍) Tea

Wuyishan in Fujian is said to be the home of China's cliff oolong tea 红袍 - literally "Big Red Robe". The couple of tea plants shown in the picture below are supposed to be the mothers of all da-hong-pao in the region, which is difficult to believe. Frankly, I don't find dah-hong-pao extraordinary, certainly not the money one has to pay for it.

Wuyishan is beautiful, but also not exceptional. The second picture below is very memorable to me, though. I was told that there was an old temple near this Da-hong-pao garden and one has to walk for roughly a kilometer or so uphill to reach it. It was not a tall order, but very disappointingly, there was nothing old about the temple. The site may be old, but Everything is actually NEW. All the statues are still being covered with plastic sheets! It was a waste of time. But on my way down, I spotted a slightly hunched 85-year-old nun scaling her way up with a walking stick. She told me that she commutes between the temple and the foothill on foot EVERYDAY! Her devotion is simply admirable; I simply had to bow and take my hat off to her.

Tracing my roots

My grandpa hailed from a village in Jingjiang (晋江) which is now a “city” in Quanzhou (泉州). I have been to Quanzhou before – when in the early 1990s, Genting’s Lim Goh Tong was asked by the then governor of Fujian to consider building an expressway from Quanhou to Fuzhou.

 I requested a party to arrange for me a private visit to Quanzhou/Jingjiang. The tour guide was a great disappointment; I didn’t know she herself had never been to the region before! The driver had been there, but he didn’t have the slightest idea what and where were the better historical sites to visit.

We took a cursory tour of Jingjiang; the city appeared “cool” and pleasant. The local restaurant where we ended for a meal was clean; and the food was pretty good.

The City of Quanzhou was totally unrecognizable to me, even though I had been there before. It is no different from most Chinese cities, despite being touted as one of the most historic cities in China. We were literally groping in the dark, guided only by my vague recollection of what I had visited before – the pagodas, the Muslim quarters, the Lao-tze hill and the Muslim quarters.

In China, the rhetoric has always been superlatives like “the most famous”, or “the biggest”, or “the oldest”. Kaiyuan Temple (開元寺) is said to be the biggest and oldest of its kind in Fujian; the Qingjing Mosque (清淨), the oldest Arab-style mosque in China, blah, blah, blah.

Unfortunately, the maritime “museum” where an ancient Song Dynasty vessel is displayed is now closed for the renovation. The woman who was manning the souvenir kiosk next to it was fast sleep on a bed complete with pillow and blanket. She did not have the slightest idea what the museum was all about. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up a couple of books on tourist attractions in Quanzhou. The books were covered with a layer of dust; I must be her first customer in years.

The leaders who are responsible for tourism and cultural relics need to "eat rattan" ( ).The concept of tourism in China is still very mickey-mousy. Most things are NICE FROM FAR, but in reality, they are FAR FROM NICE. Non-stop physical construction or renovation appears to be the prime pre-occupation of theirs. Little attention is paid to details and quality. The Kuan-Yue temple is a case in point.  Apparently, it was built to honour two great heroes – Kuan-yi (
) and Yeh-fei (), but non-discerning visitors would are likely to miss this significance. On top of this, the beggars in front of the temple behave more like ticket touts than people of are in need of humanitarian help.  
We sure have missed many other great destinations there, thanks to our "anxious-to-get-rich quick" tour guide.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Somewhere in North Island, New Zealand




            Please DON’T TRY TO BE TOO ‘KUAY LUN’!

            Dreaded to tell you know only childish behaviour.

            Will get Chan Wa & Wan Hong to finish you off in Guthrie.

                                                Fellow Colleagues

Of course the English in the letter was totally ungrammatical. It was all intentional.

When this awkward letter came through the mail, I showed it to my wife, “That sick man again…”

My wife said I should just ignore it.

But I was pretty upset. At Guthrie, if you were seen to be too far ahead in your climb of the corporate ladder there, you were bound to have detractors. I could tell from the body languages. Several faces immediately raced through my mind when I received a second letter:

            Kumpulan Guthrie



Subject Guthrie Reality

Date 1-4-1988

            Please come to terms with reality:

            You aren’t that clever after all! Only Tan Sri can be fooled, but not the others.

            Another resignation to obtain Asso. Director? NO WAY!

            Please be contented with your Fat Salary. Kita have to walk the fields predawn, mosquitoes bites, count the FFB, check the barks, suffer under the sun and rain to pay people like you who did Fxxx OFF.

            If only you’re ‘ SATU SUKU ‘ as smart as Y.B. KHALID HOW, then awak boleh berbohong.

  B.P. Semua Controllers dan Pengurus HNL

Could it be Gary whose reason for a certain recommendation was questioned by me in the management committee meeting and he did not like it?

Or was it Ooi who thought I torpedoed the Sabah acquisition?

Or could it be Raymond whose performance in the aqua farm was harshly criticized by me?

Or could it be…?

I intentionally showed the letter to a number of colleagues. I would observe very closely the body language of Gary, Ooi and Raymond each time I had the opportunity to socialize with them. Everyone of them seemed to be a suspect. It could not be.

* * * * *     

I do not like to entertain telephone calls after 10:30 p.m. I always think casual callers after this time do not have much common sense in them.

Very irritatingly, my telephone at home began to ring at odd hours, sometimes well past midnight. No sooner had the receiver been taken up than the line went dead. I knew these were the antics of a coward and did not quite bother. My late mother-in-law, who had on occasions picked up the telephone, was dead worried over my safety.

Knowing that I had courted the wrath of many, I had to take some basic precautions. Mat Shah, my driver, was most helpful. He would make sure my car was securely locked even though it was in the company’s compound. I did not want to be ambushed and held responsible for some unaccountable substances in the car.

* * * * *   

But the second letter rang a bell.

Khalid How? I thought I had heard somebody cynically addressed How Wan Hong, Guthrie’s director of marketing, as Ahmad How. But I just could not recall who had said it.

Having read Kepner Tregor[1], I had no difficulty short listing the suspects.

* * * * *    

Guthrie’s internal directory was a very comprehensive document. Within minutes, by the process of elimination, I was very positive that Yeoh must be the culprit. He was not in the list of my original suspects!

I sent him the following note:


Dear Yeoh

            I am in receipt of a very pleasant April 1st surprise. I believe it must have come from a friend like you. I thought I should drop a note to say “thank you”.

            Take good care.


P/s       If you do not object, I would like to extend the surprise to How as well.

His reply confirmed my suspicion. He returned the same note to me with the following disclaimer:


I do not spring surprises nor do I like surprises (except in golf).


He was still not satisfied and therefore telephoned me. The language was outright abusive. I did not have the evidence.

A day or two later, while I was reading my papers before leaving for the office, a call came through. It was Yeoh.

The confession was genuine.

I have never revealed his identity to anybody in Guthrie. He is still a senior manager there.

* * * * *  

Yeoh was working under Dato’ Sulaiman Sujak when Guthrie absorbed me. One of the first assignments I had in Guthrie was the one on Haron Estate.

Guthrie had entered into an agreement to sell the Haron Estate – a 1,500-or-so-acre property between Shah Alam and Klang - to one of the royal families. The decision was made before the Dawn Raid[2], when Guthrie was still in the hands of Orang Putih. Due to some technicalities, the sale could not be effected in time and since then it had become a very contentious issue between the royal family and the new management at Guthrie.

I had to have the background and Yeoh was naturally the man to talk to since he was handling the file then. Yeoh is also my countryman. We therefore took to each other quite well.

After I started to walk the “corridor of power”, as some colleagues had sarcastically put it to me, Yeoh asked if I could help to place him somewhere. He had been “cold-storaged” and wanted to have a new lease of life in Guthrie, otherwise, he said he would request to leave under the premise of “constructive dismissal”. He even came by my house a number of times to discuss his position.

I was asked to spearhead Guthrie’s diversification into property development since it had now taken over High & Low which had large tracts of land all over the Klang Valley.

I discussed Yeoh’s request with Dato’ Sulaiman.

“No, I think he is not quite suitable.” That was Dato’ Sulaiman’s advice.

I left the matter at that.

Yeoh was subsequently transferred out of the head-office. I saw him a few times after that. I could detect some hostility in his attitude towards me. But I really could not believe he was the author of those two poison-pens.

* * * * *

[1]           Author of “Rational Manager”, a must-read book in graduate management schools.
[2]           The celebrated Dawn Raid resulted in Guthrie coming under the control of Permodalan Nasional Berhad. The battle for control was staged in London.


Turkey amazes! It is a  Muslim country, yet wine is enjoyed there. If you are traveling with young children, beware of the TV in your hotel room. You may inadvertenly tuned into a channel that shows pornographic films!

The Turkey today is a legacy of the Ottoman conquest. The history of the land goes back much further, especially the Anatolia region, which archaeologically is one of the richest places on earth. 

Our tour guide said this was a toilet. Where is the privacy?
Sure, these are umbrellas or canopies. But there is more to it than meets the eye in their design.

Have IQ will travel...

Mr Five Percent

As Bank Pertanian’s project manager for its 26-storey head-office building, I also acted as the secretary of a tender committee formed specially for this project. The committee functioned at three levels. The chairman of the bank chaired the highest level and it required the presence of a senior representative from the Treasury to deliberate on tenders, since the bank is a statutory body. The second level was also chaired by the chairman of the bank with the GM and a few key divisional managers as members. The third level comprised the GM and a few department managers. The level to which a tender is presented depended on the size of the tender, in monetary terms.

It was a RM20 million project - considered big by the standard of the day. By the time I joined the bank, the main contract had already been awarded. However, most of the main prime cost and provisional sum items had yet to be awarded. Each of these awards was worth a few hundred thousand ringgits.

Naturally, I became the subject of many keen lobbies. My principle had always been this: Everything being equal, you put in a few good words for friends.

One day, an old friend came to visit me in my house. He enjoyed mentioning to acquaintances that he was my long lost brother. His surname was also Lim. But it was with his given name – “Yew Bin” – that he felt attached to me, since we share the same initials YB! I did not really mind since he meant no harm.

That evening, he handed me a cheque for the sum of RM8,000, drawn payable to Y B Lim.

“What’s it for?” I asked.

“For you, the Langkawi Marble contract,” he replied.

I did not want to have anything to do with it, thereby causing him some embarrassment although we did not discuss the subject any further.

* * * * *      

Months later, another friend Steven Lee, who had been a SEAP Games shooting event champion, called and after some pleasantries asked, “Wybie, do you want the RM12,500 now…?”

He went on to say that YB brother of mine had asked him to honour the 5% early, claiming that I needed the money as I was preparing to go overseas to do my MBA.

* * * * *   

I had to get to the bottom of things…
A dinner was arranged and the venue was Steven Lee’s home. My YB namesake was naturally invited, so were a number of other friends and acquaintances.

Sometime during the dinner, I raised the issue of RM12,500 payment with Steven Lee and my “brother” YB.

All hell broke loose. It was 5% here and 5% there. Langkawi Marble had actually paid out RM22,500 and not RM8,000 to one YB Lim. Even if I had kept the RM8,000, my YB namesake would still be 14,500 richer, thanks to his “connection” with me.

I called for a meeting with all the contractors the following day. Few owned up. Langkawi Marble said they did not pay. But didn’t I tell them that YB fellow had owned up on the matter? Maybe these people have their code of ethics.

* * * * *    

Some of these people must have held me in great contempt before the meeting – a very difficult 5%-man, for I had the reputation of being extremely uncompromising on contracts, as far as quality and speed of delivery were concerned.

* * * * *   

And you cannot afford to be too trusting.

I liked Wong. He was very knowledgeable about strong rooms and safe deposit boxes. He was working for a new entry into the Malaysian market. Convinced that Mosler’s vault doors offered the best value for money, I recommended to the bank to purchase them for its strong room. As for the other equipment for the strong room, we needed more time to compare the competing offerors’ prices and specifications.

Shortly after getting award from us, Wong came to say that he was leaving to work for a competitor. I wished him well.

But he had also assumed that we would award the next package to his new employer, Pernas Plessey, which happened to be partly government-owned. 

We decided on Mosler again, since it represented the best value-for-money offer. As a matter of fact it was submitted by Wong before he left for Pernas Plessey.

He called; I told him I had to disappoint him, notwithstanding the friendship which we had built up.

On one of my routine visits to Encik Bakar, the General Manager of the bank, he showed me a costing sheet. He told me it was from the chairman of Pernas Plessey.

It was a photocopy of an internal Mosler document. It showed how they had arrived at their offer. And right at the bottom of the page was written: Kick-back $10,000. No name was mentioned.  

It was easy to clear yourself, if you had not done anything wrong.

I asked for Mosler’s file. The original of this document was there. But it was without this extra line: Kick-back $10,000.

Wong must have promised that he could deliver. He obviously needed when he couldn’t.

* * * * *    

I ran into Wong a few times; he would always avoid me.

Ditto that YB Lim.

* * * * *