Friday, April 28, 2017

JY Pillay, A Giant of Giants

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

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

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

The following is carried in SGX on Mr Pillay:

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

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

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

Sunday, April 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

We soon arrived at Desaru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tortoise and The Hare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Liping,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you don't feel offended by my ranting!

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

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

China has a future!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends are free to disagree, though.