Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An OCBC's Recent Visit to Ancient China

My wife and I recently did a private tour of "Ancient China". Kindly access the above link if you are interested to read my "report" on the visit.

指鹿为马 (zhǐ lù wéi mǎ)

With all the 1MDB hoo-hah, I can only think of one Chinese idiom to describe the character of many of those involved in the effort to contain the truth that is surrounding this “sovereign fund”: Zhǐ lù wéi mǎ (指鹿为马).

As one who has only spent six years in Chinese school, my command of the language is pretty poor. This handicap is compounded by the fact that I was actually learning the Hokkien (how the southern Fujianese call themselves) version of Mandarin Chinese, which is hardly useful when you try to use the pinyin converters to extract the right characters from the computer. As a case in point, I took quite a while to bring out this idiom from the computer.

And I love to blame!

Many versions of pinyin converters would appear before your eyes if you typed in Chinese idioms. Most are not useful. This idiom is a case in point. As a matter of fact, when I inputted “zhi lu we ma” into one of first sites that appeared – guess what? – it actually said no match found. But when I scrolled down one of the four lists that came under ‘zhi’ in various tonal forms, this idiom was there!

Sometimes, I just wonder what the scholars in Bei-dai or Tai-dai are doing. In UK, if you are in doubt, you consult a universal standard: Oxford Dictionary!

But with Chinese, we are happy to leave this very task to me-too experts! Time to learn from the Koreans!

Coming to my contention that we have a lunch of Zhǐ lù wéi mǎ jokers in 1MDB, can I leave it to you to judge to judgment after reading the following stuff that I have extracted from Wikipedia?
Calling a deer a horse
One Chinese idiom that is derived from an incident involving Zhao Gao is "calling a deer a horse" (指鹿为马指鹿為馬zhǐ lù wéi mǎ), meaning "deliberate misrepresentation for ulterior purposes". The Records of the Grand Historian records that Zhao Gao, in an attempt to control the Qin government, devised a loyalty test for court officials using a deer and horse:
Zhao Gao was contemplating treason but was afraid the other officials would not heed his commands, so he decided to test them first. He brought a deer and presented it to the Second Emperor but called it a horse. The Second Emperor laughed and said, "Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?" Then the emperor questioned those around him. Some remained silent, while some, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Zhao Gao, said it was a horse, and others said it was a deer. Zhao Gao secretly arranged for all those who said it was a deer to be brought before the law and had them executed instantly. Thereafter the officials were all terrified of Zhao Gao. Zhao Gao gained military power as a result of that.
* * *
Zhao Gao (赵高, died 207 BC) was a Chinese politician of the Qin dynasty. Allegedly a eunuch, he served as a close aide to all three emperors of the Qin dynasty – Qin Shi HuangQin Er Shi and Ziying – and was regarded as having played an instrumental role in the downfall of the dynasty.
Zhao Gao started his career under Qin Shi Huang as a zhongche fuling (中車府令), an official in charge of managing the palace horse-drawn carriages. During this period of time, he also served as an attendant to Huhai, Qin Shi Huang's youngest son, and tutored him in the laws of the Qin Empire.
 In 210 BC, after Qin Shi Huang died in Shaqiu (沙丘; south of present-day Dapingtai Village, Guangzong CountyHebei), Zhao Gao and Li Si, the Chancellor, secretly changed the emperor's final edict, which named Fusu, the crown prince, the heir to the throne. In the falsified edict, Fusu was ordered to commit suicide while Huhai was named the new emperor. After Huhai was enthroned as Qin Er Shi, he promoted Zhao Gao to langzhongling (郎中令), an official post whose duties included managing the daily activities in the imperial palace. Zhao Gao, who was highly trusted by Qin Er Shi, instigated the emperor to exterminate his own siblings to consolidate power, and used the opportunity to eliminate his political opponents such as Meng Tian and Meng Yi. He also framed Li Si for treason and had Li and his entire family executed, after which he replaced Li as the Chancellor and monopolised state power. In 207 BC, when rebellions broke out in the lands east of Hangu Pass, Zhao Gao became worried that Qin Er Shi would blame him, so he launched a coup in Wangyi Palace (望夷宮; in Xianyang, near present-day Xi'anShaanxi) and assassinated the emperor. Following Qin Er Shi's death, Zhao Gao installed Ziying, Fusu's son, on the throne. Ziying sent Han Tan (韓談), a eunuch, to assassinate Zhao Gao.
Zhao Gao was distantly related to the royal family of the Zhao state of the Warring States period. According to the Records of the Grand Historian, Zhao Gao's parents committed crimes and were punished. His brothers were castrated; it is unclear whether Zhao Gao himself was a eunuch or not. However, Qin Shi Huang valued Zhao Gao since he was learned in criminal law. This was very useful to Qin Shi Huang since he himself was always looking for ways to control the people by laws and punishments. Zhao Gao enjoyed a steady rise in position.
When Zhao was a minor official, he committed a crime punishable by death. Meng Yi was the official in charge of sentencing and he sentenced Zhao to death and removed him from the officials list as instructed by Qin Shi Huang.Zhao was later pardoned by Qin Shi Huang and returned to his official status.
At the end of the reign of Qin Shi Huang, Zhao Gao was involved in the death of Meng Tian and his younger brother, Meng Yi. Meng Tian, a reputable general and a supporter of Qin Shi Huang's eldest son, Fusu, was stationed at the northern border, commanding more than 200,000 troops for the inconclusive campaign against the Xiongnu. Following the sudden death of Qin Shi Huang at Shaqiu, Zhao Gao and Li Si, the Chancellor, persuaded the emperor's youngest son, Huhai, to falsify the emperor's will. The fake decree forced Fusu to commit suicide and stripped Meng Tian of his command. Harbouring hatred for the entire Meng family due to his prior sentencing by Meng Yi, Zhao Gao destroyed the Meng brothers by convincing Huhai to issue a decree that forced Meng Tian to commit suicide and execute Meng Yi.
Qin Er Shi, who viewed Zhao Gao as his tutor, became the next Qin emperor.
Two years later, Zhao Gao also killed Li Si, ironically executing him via the "Five Pains" method, Li's own invention. The method consisted of having the victim's nose cut off, cutting off a hand and a foot, then the victim was castrated and finally cut in half in line with the waist. He also had Li Si's entire family exterminated.
In 207 BC, rebellions broke out in the lands east of Hangu Pass. Zhao Gao was afraid that Qin Er Shi might make him responsible for the uprisings. To preempt this, he launched a coup and assassinated Qin Er Shi, and then installed Ziying, Fusu's son, as the new emperor.
Ziying, however, knew that Zhao Gao intended to kill him afterwards to appease the rebels, so he feigned illness on the day of the coronation, which forced Zhao to arrive at his residence to persuade him to attend. The moment Zhao Gao arrived, Ziying ordered a eunuch, Han Tan, to kill Zhao. Zhao Gao's entire clan was exterminated on Ziying's order.
Alternative viewpoints[edit]
There is a conspiracy theory that Zhao Gao was a descendant of the royal family of the Zhao state, which was destroyed by the Qin state, and Zhao Gao was seeking revenge on Qin. With Zhao Gao in charge of the Qin government, it was natural that the Qin Empire collapsed in such a short time. In fact, Zhao Gao killed all the sons and daughters of Qin Shi Huang, including the Second Emperor, Huhai. In revenge, Ziying killed Zhao Gao and all of his family members. Thus Zhao Gao or his brothers have no known descendants.

The historian Li Kaiyuan (李開元) believes Zhao Gao was not a eunuch at all. He bases this in part on the fact eunuchs were not allowed to serve as chancellors, which Zhao did.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Nine Emperors God

Ceremonial boat sets record…
People love to set records – longest, biggest, tallest and other what-have-you superlatives. How about “biggest lie” or “loudest fart”? I am pretty sure many of the political leaders in our beloved country would win these records hands-down. And the runners-up will not be far behind.
And what about silliest, dumbest, craziest, stupidest? Surely Guinness can also offer some form of records to make some of the fame seekers happy. 
When The Star reported a couple days ago that the devotees of the Nine Emperors God in a town in Kedah had built a ceremonial boat and they were touting it to be the largest in Malaysia, the first thought that came to my mind is that how could they do this to their great deity! 
Wouldn't the Nine Emperors God feel insulted? 

It is a junk, no matter how big the boat is! 

China already has an aircraft carrier; it is believed to be building more. Why are these people still building a junk for the Nine Emperors God. Surely, the great deity doesn't want, or indeed need, to be propelled by monsoonal winds to go places! The great deity certainly deserves a flag ship hat befits his status. If it is not an aircraft carrier, than it has to be at least a cruiser!

Each time I turned up to join my siblings to pay respect to our forebears’ graves during Qin-ming or All Souls Day, I could see people burning paper houses, cars, credit cards, the latest smart phones and even passports. How filial these people are! 

Hopefully, traffic jams in the netherworld are not as bad as ours here. And I just wonder whether if it is wise for all these filial souls to give their long departed loved ones credit cards. Debt is the last thing you want them to incur in the other world - unless, of course, you burn sufficient paper money each month to take of it. With the amount of paper gold and silver and "Hell" money you see burnt in every of these occasions, inflation there must be pretty bad. And why burn "Hell" money, when your loved ones may actually be in nirvana, or heaven, or paradise now?. 

Many of these practices are said to be the legacy of Daoism (or Taoism). I do read Lao-tze and his teachings from time to time. I always think he is the greatest philosopher China has ever produced. But in nowhere did I see Lao-tze propagate these superstitions.

Maybe I am kurang ajar - just how my late father thought I always had been when I was young! And still am!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Despite my many attempts to turn the pictures 90 degrees anti-clockwise, they remain in this silly orientation. So much about Google's Blogger capability! I suppose you have to tilt your head 90 degree clock-wise to figure our I am trying to show then. It is the treadmill in my condo!

I hate treadmills! My wife loves them, but she is happy to oblige me by going with me for long walks around our neighbourhoods (Toorak in Melbourne and Saujana Resort in Subang) in the morning and evening instead. She is more disciplined; I always pray for rain!

We usually return to Malaysia for extended stay during two periods, when we don't have to play taxi drivers to our two grand-kids in Melbourne. The last quarter of the year is one of these windows. But this time the haze is simply impossible in the Klang Valley. It has been weeks, yet you don't see any sign of abatement. I suppose Malaysians and Singaporeans have just had to deal with an apathetic Indonesia. President Jokowi says he needs three years to fix the problem. I thought the problem had been recurring almost every year; it was only a question of the degree of the denseness of the haze we were seeing. I bet in another month's time, when the burning and smoldering is over, everything will be forgotten again. I am pretty sure if their kneah-su style, Singapore would already have figured out how much the latest bout of non-stop haze had, or would, cost their economy and the impact on health there. Many of us in Malaysia of course have the usual syiok-sendiri mentality and are content to brush this more-or-less yearly occurrence off as a "what-to-do" nuisance.

I had great admiration for Jokowi - until he had shown himself to be another Obama! Both were refreshingly solid in many ways before they got elected. Unfortunately, they just couldn't manage bureaucratic and institutional inertia and resistance or persistent opposition onslaught once they found themselves sitting behind their huge presidential desks! Obviously the neo-Conservative forces in the States are simply too formidable for Obama to tackle. As for Jokowi, it is the country's civil service, which is largely filled by zombies and self-serving bureaucrats, and the inept newbies in his cabinet that are giving him the strong head wind.  

We can criticize others, but what about our own country? Our political and economic landscape is also being clouded - by a haze of a different kind, though. All of us know what it is; but how many of us are brave enough to speak out? Before I stray farther afield and end up as a hunted, I better return to what I want to say about treadmills.

With such a high reading of haze around, I have no choice but to count on the treadmills in my condo. But I dread using the treadmills!

I bought a treadmill in the 1980s; it was made in Taiwan and not as sophisticated as the one shown in the pictures. I could count the number of times I used it with the fingers of my two hands. I soon decided to get rid of it - for a simple reason: I just couldn't bring myself to tread on it for more than 10 minutes each time! We gave it to Bee, our sister-in-law. 

Many can deal with monotony but me 1,800 seconds each time, since that's the minimum my wife says I have to do each time? Very torturing, lah! To kill time with the count-down or the count-up - depending on setting - can make me go crazy!

Don't the manufacturers of treadmills know this boredom issue, especially with older people like me?

I have a suggestion for them: All they have to do is to provide a well-positioned pocket on the panel of their treadmills to hold an iPad. This will allow me to kill time with BBC, CNN, Malaysiakini, the Malaysian Insider, and what have you. As for my wife, she can continue to enjoy her Korean dramas even in the gym.

And I don't have to pray for the rain to fall! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

我爱发明 (I love to invent!)

I asked my good friend Rocky Wong, who is an expert in power plants, why was that Chinese plants were so badly reviewed each time they were commissioned. I was alluding to a recent article I read in a pretty well-regarded magazine about the one China had built near Jakarta. (I took more than a casual interest in its development for a reason: I used to a director of the Malaysian arm of this Chinese manufacturer, which is the public listed Dongfeng Electric based in Chengdu, China. The company was trying to bid for an IPP project in the 1990s, but the pursuit came to nothing, thanks to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.) Apparently, the Indonesians are fed up with the whole project. Rocky has designed, or been involved in the preparation of, some of the biggest IPP (Independent Power Producer) projects in the region. He used to speak well of China’s power plant technology.

He gave out a hearty laugh. “It’s simple really,” he said, “the Chinese are indeed good in those 300MW or so plants; they can churn them out like sausages. They will work well in China, but not outside China.”

He continued, “While their plants are good, their basic instrumentation is really second-world. This stuff of theirs is crude. And their operating instructions – they are really a joke.”

“To make the plant work well, one must be able to help prepare he local parties for these two basic needs. As a consultant, I helped them source modern, but appropriate, instrumentation and translate all the operating manuals into good English or the local language, as the case may be, not the Mickey Mouse English we so often see in Chinese product brochures.”

Rocky is so spot on!

These power plants cost hundreds of millions – in whatever good hard currency terms – yet these Chinese manufacturers can compromise on basic instrumentation and are oblivious to the need of good English to sell their wares!

Rocky’s wisdom reminds me of a visit I made to the Three Gorges Dam some years ago. The engineering was indeed impressive, until you visit the control room. The façade is so third-world in terms of housekeeping. The walls and doors are rusting away in so many places! Yet this is the showpiece of the day in China those days!

Three Gorges Dam, China
Didn’t I hear that the “ultra-modern” trains that are being sold to Malaysia are still struggling to get the necessary certification to commence operation? How can this be, when these China’s Prides are already crisscrossing the country for years?

In a social occasion, an acquaintance in Sydney confided to me that his daughter was suffering from a rare disease that inflicts endless, excruciating pains to her limbs. Apparently, her only remaining useful arm is also failing. She has seen all the top medical professors and specialists in Sydney; none seemed to be able to help. I suggested that alternative medicines might help. He said he was prepared to be open-minded; however, the very mention of traditional Chinese medicine dampens any enthusiasm from him. As an intellect, he is too discerning to believe all the panaceas offered in traditional Chinese medicine, especially with the English that is written on the labels and the instruction sheet inside?  

Wisdom is a rare commodity, even with Confucian Chinese!

I tune in to CCTV’s 我爱发明 (I love to invent) programme from time to time. You can see Chinese love of inventiveness. But the way some of them went about it was really silly. Much of the process was done in a trial and error manner, totally devoid of scientific understanding. And the crudeness behind their engineering is shocking, worse than the workshops you see in the Chan Sow Lin area in the 1970s!

Despite what we saw in those mighty armoury and other military displays in the parade to commemorate its victory in the war against Japan, we really have to hold back our pride somewhat. Unless Chinese can come to grips with the finer points of engineering, everything will remain NICE FROM FAR, BUT FAR FROM NICE.

I am a basher (if there is such a word) of many things Chinese, not because I am banana, but because I think we need to get our ABCs right.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Who are really the shallow ones?

The organisers of Bersih 4 have been labelled as "shallow" by some of those who want everybody to believe everything is well and good in Malaysia now. 

I suppose they mean these activists are shallow in terms of intellect, or attitude, or knowledge, or patriotism, or the likes. Who are really shallow, the Bersih 4 organisers or these critics? I think all of us know the answer; there is therefore no point in my labouring over the matter.

However, this type of sweeping accusation does remind me of an incident I encountered some years ago while I was prospecting for land in Indonesia for large scale cultivation of oil palms for the IMC group. One of the provinces I was working on was East Kalimantan; its capital is Sararinda. I usually put up in Bumi Senyiur, hitherto the the top hotel there. One day, I saw that a mainland Chinese was having difficulty in trying to make himself understood to the reception, thanks to his Mickey-Mouse English! (Of course he couldn't speak a word of Indonesian.) I asked him in Mandarin what was his problem and offered my help. 

He was asking for a discount! 

I explained to him that such a hotel would not offer discounts in the manner he wanted. I remember because the rate was rate was quite stiff, he decided to try somewhere else. My local manager Alay Yuanda was kind enough to help him find a hotel nearby that suited his budget. 

Alay became a trusted friend of xiao-Yang, which he wanted to be called. He also bought me dinner one evening. Xiao-Yang hails from Wuhan and was trying to buy coal from Kalimantan to ship to China. He became so successful that soon he opened up mines! He even married a local woman; of course he had to become a Muslim. I believed he was already married in China, though.

Xiao-Yang remarked to me one day that although I spoke fluent English, the type of English I spoke was actually less that biao-jun (标准 or 標準), or not up to "standard". 

Whose standard??? He said his was the standard! How ironical!!! Or funny? Ignorance is bliss I suppose? And to the half-baked politicians I mentioned earlier, where everybody is shallow to them, I suppose stupidity is bliss???

If you do not attempt to see beyond the tip of your nose, you just cannot learn. Try turn on CCTV to listen to news in English; I bet you get irritated by the English spoken by their homegrown presenters. They speak English like the way they speak Mandarin! Don't blame them, though. They simply would not know that their English is bad. I suppose their teachers also taught them to speak English that way in schools and universities! And their teachers had also been taught that way by their teachers! The process thus becomes self-perpetuating (or incestuous?).And Chinglish is born!

I was watching CCTV' English Channel's live coverage on the 70th anniversary of China's victory against Japan the other day. The parade was certainly impressive. But before the anchors took over, it was covered by a number of local reporters. Again, I couldn't help remarking to my wife that Chinese are so very good in shooting themselves in the foot. The channel is meant for international audience, but which part of international audience would tune in to watch this parade - with the English they can hardly bear to listen???

What Al Jazeera does is different. Poach the best from BBC or CNN or CNBC; in no time you are as authoritative as these channels. 

If you are too self-centred, you will never know what has slipped past you!!! 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lack of Tolerance?

I thought I had learned to be more tolerant - until an evening recently, when I invited a couple of long-lost friends to share a meal at Sydney Chinatown's East Ocean Restaurant!

Having been involved, albeit on a peripheral basis, in the hospitality industry for many years, I am most particular about etiquette of waiters and waitresses in restaurants. I find there is a great deal many serving in Chinese restaurants can learn from their counteracts in the western settings.

The decor of to the restaurant was quite impressive by any standard. But the moment you went into the restaurant proper, you could see that the people there were really a sloppy lot - in terms of room orderliness and reception. But never mine, they are all like that, so I said to myself.

After our meal, we ordered some pancakes. I immediately lost my cool when they were served! Three pieces for ten people??? When we asked for them to be cut so that we could share, the "dumb blonde" cut each into half. Six for 10 people??? I couldn't help asking her if she had forgotten to bring her head to work. I was a little little curt in my tone. it was just me
But I suddenly notice the disapproval looks of some friends. How could I be so patronising!!!

I certainly still have a long way to go in terms of xiu-yang (休养)!

But again, why are we Chinese generally so incapable of exercising common sense? And thoughtfulness? And social etiquette? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Malaysia: What have you become?

My wife and I enjoy playing taxi driver, albeit unpaid ones, to our two grandsons in Melbourne. Apart from that, much of my time is immersed in Malaysia’s online press: The Star Online, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, and Malaysia-Chronicle. I used to read Malaysia, but have long lost respect of its principal, for his lack of credibility and made-up stories. I am simply hungry for news about Malaysia. What is going on there???
I feel sorry for many of my compatriots back home. Many are caught in the so-called middle-income trap. Life must be pretty hard for a mid-level executive who may be earning something like MYR10K a month. Really how much is left to feed one’s family after paying for your house and car, not to mention children’s school-going needs? Things aren’t cheap in the wet markets either; so are most of the goods in supermarkets and shopping malls. Many are priced even higher than those found in higher income countries!
Many will disagree with me. Look at the number of Mercedes Benzes, Porches, BMWs and even Jaguars and Bentleys in the Klang Valley, so these people will say. Sure, many of these are rewards for one’s achievements – in business or work. But many are a results of easy or free money falling on your laps – if you are a politician or in some branches of the executive and are happy to sell your soul. What do our men-in-the-street drive? Chances are a Proton or a Perodua! As for the rest – the rural and the urban poor – I suppose one just take a day at a time?
It is really quite easy to create a tyranny in our country; most of us are basically a subservient lot – either full of the zombie inertia or fear of arrest by police. We can criticize the western countries for their hypocrisy about human rights etc., but this fact remains: their systems will always have a decent check and balance mechanism to weed out any abuse of power.

Partly it is our own making; partly we are living in a system that many of our basic rights have been robbed from us. But again, this is a chicken-first-or-egg-first question. I suppose as long as race and religion are deemed more important than nationhood by the majority, we can only wobble forward!

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Sinking Feeling

Although I am fortunate to still be able to earn some honoraria here and there, I consider myself primarily a retiree. So is my wife. Being “self-funding” – meaning, we have to depend on ourselves since we are not entitled to pensions – we have to be careful with the way we manage our nest egg. The little we have is in either Melbourne or Malaysia.

Both currencies are sinking!!!

An Aussie dollar is only worth about 73 US cents today. Malaysian Ringgit is even more pathetic; it is now 3.91 Ringgit to a US dollar!

It is a loss-loss situation for me and my wife!

While it is Australia’s wish to see their currency going south, since the ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ insist this is good for the country, they got what they had wished for. But these ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ have largely lost touched with the masses. People are feeling so much poorer there today.

On the other hand, in Malaysia, the ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ here say our economic fundamentals are all great, yet the Ringgit keeps sinking. I believe all of us know the reasons; any attempt by me to explain is like my trying to tell folks how to suck eggs. (I might also run the risk of being hauled up on the account on promoting the subversion of parliamentary democracy!)

Because I gave a financial commitment to make in Malaysia, I flew in with AUD20K in cash. Thinking that the exchange rate of 2.81 vis-à-vis Malaysian Ringgit I saw on the money changer’s board two days ago was save enough for me to make the exchange, I promptly off-loaded my Aussie dollars. To my chagrin, Ringgit plunged again yesterday; it was 3.91 to a US dollar and 2.85 to Aussie! Overnight, I felt “short-changed” for a couple of hundred Ringgit overnight!

Whose are these ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ that I have been referring?

Those who label themselves economists – by virtue of his or her degree or degrees in Economics!

Oh, low Aussie will benefit our exports – wines, tourism and commodities, blah, blah, blah – since they make us “cheap”, say these conventional ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ in Australia.

But how do this benefit men- or women-in-the-street? They simply find that everything seems to be getting more expensive! How many are fortunate to have their income adjusted upwards?

My argument is simple, unless a shift benefits the majority of the men- or women-in-the-street, all the big talks from these ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ simply do not hold much water!

Countries like Singapore, Switzerland and China have never attempted to talk down their currency. The ‘emperors-not-knowing-they-have-no-clothes-on’ there do have something on! It is productivity, productivity, and productivity that make the difference! (Remember Location, Location and Location in Property investment?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Question of Entitlement

I have been following most of the exposés on 1MDB and the denials, threats, etc by those involved since the story broke out. We also talked about them during friends and relatives’ get-togethers. I believe we all know who and what to believe. Like many concerned citizens, I also want to voice my anger.

Unfortunately, our society is still race- and religion-sensitive. The recent “run-off” at Low Yat Plaza speaks volumes how fragile race relations can be in Malaysia, even though the authorities said it was not. So perhaps it is better for a china-man like me to resign to the realities of Beautiful Malaysia!

We have seen the likes of 1MDB before. The scale of this one is simply too mind-boggling to imagine, that’s all. Chances are that there will be more in future, once this has come to pass, if we allow our institutions to continue as usual. This leads me to a reader’s comment about an event that is now unfolding in Australia.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, recently used a helicopter to travel from Melbourne to Geelong, a distance of some 80km, to attend a fund-raising function. It cost more than A$5000 of Australian taxpayers’ money. Everyone, save Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who values “mate-ship” above better judgements, opines that she should resign. The only concession she finally made was to pay back the money (albeit with an administrative penalty, of course). But she continues to wear that defiant “It’s my entitlement” look. This prompted a reader to ask in The Age: Entitlement: a new Australian value?

Entitlement is a right – if it is rightfully yours. If you are a CEO in a company, even your wife and children are entitled to certain perks prescribed in your company’s manual. If you are a minister, you get this and that, besides your pay, based on government policies. But if they are out of policies or manuals, they are not your entitlements. Period. Bishop’s helicopter ride is a case in point.

Unfortunately, in the corporate world and in many countries, entitlements are often abused. Many enjoy them in the pretext of performing company’s or public service. Damage is not far reaching if lapses are small. But if it involves billions and is really committed by people who have been entrusted to lead the nation, then I am afraid the nation will be walking down the Marcos lane. Can a culture which is devoid of the values of Shame and Remorse excel in the long run?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Singapore - Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail

The High Speed Rail that has been proposed to link Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is being touted in its official website as another “transformation” icon for the nation. I quote: to meet growing demand, catalysing economic growth and enhancing long term economic competitiveness while improving the quality of life of its people. I am really lost in all these high-powered words.

The following is a map that is provided in the website:


The stations that have been identified in the website are the terminus station in Kuala Lumpur (at Bandar Malaysia), Seremban, Melaka, Muar, Batu Pahat, Nusajaya and the final stop in Singapore.

Hold it, where is Bandar Malaysia and where is the final stop in Singapore?

Of course, with 1MDB’s notoriety now, everyone knows Bandar Malaysia. It is the “township” that will be taking shape in the hitherto RMAF’s Sungei Besi base. It is also where 1MDB’s TRX will be. But isn’t it logistically isolated from the other transportation “hubs”?

KL Central will be a couple of MRT/LRT stations away; the Bus depot at Bukit Jalil is also many roads away, so is the place where synergy is most desired in the first place: the KLIA!

Think for a moment, true, it will shorten the travelling time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur considerably for point to point travellers (at the expense of MAS, AirAsia, Firefly and all the coaches that are serving the route today), but is this our sole mission? Don’t we want it to capture a large chunk of air traffic flows that are being enjoyed solely by Changi today?

If there is a direct high speed rail link between Changi and KLIA, wouldn’t travellers from, say, Indonesia also use the latter to fly out to long-haul destinations? The train between the Changi and KLIA will be like the shuttle service between any two of the terminals in Singapore?

Singapore has given its whole-hearted support to the project. I tend to smell a rat here. Singapore’s leaders are not a dumb lot. They must have thought through things. Their national interest will always come first. Bandar Malaysia and Jurong as terminals suit them fine. Their Changi is safe!

You have to take your hat off to Singapore leaders’ foresight. Has anyone wondered why their MRT trains do not run a direct service between Changi and Singapore’s CBD stations? Isn’t it very easy for them to do one? Why, why, why?

My crooked mind tells me that they have an “ulterior” objective, albeit a noble one, as far as their national interest is concerned.

Taxis are a major source of employment in Singapore!

But we Malaysian are always thinking of one thing: How to turn bare lands into gold mines! Of course, many have become filthy rich because of this ability.

Maybe I am totally wrong?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Klang Valley's Property Market: A Bubble in the Making?

A friend has a bungalow in Damansara Heights; he was advised that his property is worth M$6-7 million. He is renting out for M4K a month. The yield is less than 1%.

I recently took a look at a very ordinary apartment in Section 16. The asking price was M1.5 million. How much could I get in rent? Net may be $4K a month? (Even then, tenants are hard to come by.) Yield worked out to be less than 3%.

My son’s neighbour has upgraded himself to a different neighbourhood. He put up his old house, which is a two-storey terrace house in Shah Alam’s Bukit Jelutong, for sale for more than M$1 million. It is still empty today, although it has been in the market for more than a year. But he just won’t give an inch in his asking price.

And all these asking prices are said to be supported by valuations that are acceptable to banks!

In another scene, the villas that had been built next to my apartment block in Saujana Resort were sold by the developer for more than M$4 million each. They are already about five years old; yet 70% of them have been left empty since built.

What’s happening?

Many people are still earning about M$5K a month. Everything is getting very expensive now. How many can afford houses now? Yet houses prices remain astronomically high.

There are still a lot of very cash-rich people in the country. Banks pay peanuts and the stock market is hovering at dazzling heights. Where else to put your money? In real estate, of course!

Never mind if there is no rental income; capital appreciation alone is enough to protect your investment.

So thinks everybody.

No wonder!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

From Warsaw to Moscow

My wife suggested that we should try a Western tour operator for our intended visit to European Russia. Flight Centre of Melbourne signed us up on Globus. The journey would begin in Warsaw. The coach would then take us to Vilnius, which is the capital of Lithuania, then to Riga, the capital of Latvia and after that, to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. From there we would take a cruise ferry to Helsinki, the capital of Finland before crossing the border to St Petersburg. We would then travel by Russia’s “bullet” train to Moscow.

For our return journey, we would fly via Paris, specially to take a look at Versailles, which we had missed out during the last few times we were in France.

It was such a whirlwind tour that by the time we finished in Moscow, I could hardly remember the names of the capitals of the three Baltic countries we had earlier visited! I have to take a read of my wife’s notes to write about them.


Poland’s “modern” history was a sad one. Apparently, it had always been carved out by its two strong neighbours, namely, Germany and Russia. After World War 2, while Western Europe, including ironically West Germany, was able to benefit from the Marshall Plan to rebuild, Poland was left in the cold because it had the misfortune of becoming a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Its capital, Warsaw, which is a city of 3 million today, was 85% destroyed during the war.

Queuing for social aid in Warsaw

Certainly better built and maintained than those in China

Poles are a very religious people; 95% of its population is said to be Catholic. Warsaw is a city of churches; there are more than 200 of them.

One glaring observation is the lack of entrepreneurship there. There is actually much to see in its old town, but surprisingly, few were enterprising enough to seize merchandising opportunities to thousands of tourists that mill around the Main Street and its alleys. Apart from amber, not much handicraft was on offer in a country of that many million people.

McDonald's is a rare sight, but KFC, with its "Oriental Menu" - not sure what it has to do with the Orient, tough – is everywhere.

Ice cream in Poland must be good; people seemed to be queuing for them. Food was generally so-so. There were only a few varieties of fruits available and those on display look quite pathetic actually.


The Baltic countries appear more well-to-do. Like Warsaw, each of these capitals had a fairly historic Old Town – all quite similar in terms of design and grandness about their palaces, cathedrals (which are mainly of Baroque design), town halls, monuments and buildings.

A typical Baroque

The KGB Museum in Vilnius is worth visiting. I now understand why the people in the Baltic countries are so happy to be in EU and NATO. And one has to respect their attitude towards Russia now. It is “Let bygones be bygones!” How magnanimous!

A torture chamber in KGB Museum in Vilnius
Lithuania is also predominantly Catholic. At Sauliai near the Latvia boarder, there is a Hill of Crosses. There were countless crosses planted there by devotees. They are affordably sold, generally at about €1.50 for the more ordinarily crafted ones. 

Hill of Crosses
Among the three Baltic capitals, Riga appears most prosperous. Estonia is the only one that is predominantly Lutheran. Its capital Thallin is a major seaport.


I have visited Finland in the early 1990s. But I just couldn’t discern anything familiar!

In the home of Nokia, I found my laptop just couldn’t connect up with the Internet in RaddisonBlu. And Kone is supposed to be the world leader in lifts, in Raddisonblu, it also did not function well! I thought the Finns are a very exact lot?

Falungong has also come to Finland, thanks to Finnair!

Watch out, China, Falungong is coming!

Vikings plant tree differently!
Finnair is one of the few airlines in Europe that understands the potentials of Chinese market. It flies to Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Xi’an and Helsinki has become the natural hub for Chinese travellers. Chinese are everywhere in Helsinki! No wonder you see Falungong!


Our tour director gave us the impression that crossing the Russian boarder could turn out to be a traumatic experience. We were only one coach behind another when we reached the crossing. Sure, the guards looked formidable. And the checkpoint took ages for them to clear the first load of passengers. But when it came to our turn, it was no big deal at all. But we were certainly fleeced by the money changer there. We were short-changed by at least 10% by the “official” exchangers there!

The entire city of Petersburg is magnificent! Every building is an architectural feat, let alone the great palaces and cathedrals. How could a city like St Petersburg be possible?

If one cares to think a little about the Russians, maybe it is not that hard to understand. Tsarist Russia was a feudalistic world in the absolute sense. Besides the Tsars and Tsarinas (incidentally, these titles were derived from the word Cesar), his or her courtiers and ministers, the archbishops and his clergies, and the rich merchants (many of whom are said to be Jews), the rest were largely serfs. They were exploited to their bones to pay for these excesses. No wonder Communism could come easy to the masses there! I should also not forget to mention that apparently, most of the designs and art works were carried out by Italians, Germans and even Scots – commissioned by the Tsar or Tsarina, of course, with their good tastes!

Grandeur exceeding that of Versailles
Jews in new Russia


Moscow looks more austere, even though it is older and has been the capital since the 12th Century. Moscow is now the biggest city in Europe. Everything is also exceedingly big in Moscow, for obvious reasons, given the ruling class’s perceived superiority during the Soviet era. Nonetheless, I was particularly impressed by their war museums which have been so meticulously built and maintained. Of course, its Red Square and Kremlin are certainly not to be missed. They are indeed sights to behold.
One of the most iconic buildings in Moscow: Nice from Far, but Far from Nice (inside!)

And the much talked-about subway stations of Moscow

There is no sign of hardship in spite of the West’s economic sanctions. Supermarkets are well-stocked and certainly not like the fake fronts one heard or read about in North Korea.

However, my first impression of Russia was lousy. Its drivers are worse than Malaysia’s; many are very reckless. People are generally not very friendly. Maybe all these are also understandable. Both had to do with Russia’s immediate past.

Many Russians have become very rich under Putin. These nouveau riches now have a chance to drive the latest models including those expensive marques from Germany. It is time to show off! The mistrust amongst citizens instilled during the Soviet era still looms large; hence the reason for the lack of warmth to strangers?

Both Napoleon and Hitler’s armies reached Moscow. But neither was able to conquer Russia. There are many explanations, among them: the impossible winter conditions of Moscow and the perseverance of the Russian people. Our visit to St Catherine’s Palace in Moscow gave me a slightly different twist to these two conventional views, though.

There must be tens of thousands of tourists pouring into St Catherine every day. But guess what? There is only one little booth to do the ticketing. And there is absolutely no concept of crowd management; everyone is left to do what he or she thinks fit. Fortunately, Western tourists have better etiquette than we Orientals. They are happy to queue for their turn. Even then, it took a long time before we could gain entry into the palace (which is really worth the wait, though). This scene is repeated in most of the tourist destinations in Russia. It would be totally chaotic if this is Asia! Perhaps you can some conclusion on the easy intrusion but the impossible conquest of the country by an invading army? Only the Japanese have officially won a war against them!

This is the first time we were travelling with a Western tour group. Our tour director Colleen was most knowledgeable about the history and geography of our destinations. The coach was a beautiful new Mercedes Benz – very spacious and comfortable. The driver played safe most of the time. Everything was executed punctually. Of course, Globus charges much more than what we have been paying to tour organisers in Malaysia and Singapore.

Spotless! Why can't ours be like this?
A little footnote on the “bullet” train from St Petersburg to Moscow: In a hitherto classless society, there are actually four ticket classes in this train: First, Business, Premium Economy and Economy. Lenin would roll in his grave. (But wasn’t he the top pig in George Orwell’s Animal Farm?)

Certainly not classless!