Saturday, May 27, 2017

Hello, Captain, where are you taking us to?

I am sure the following type of screen is all too familiar with you. Every long haul flight will carry a running screen to give passengers his aircraft's location, altitude, ground and head or tail wind speeds, distance to destination, local time, etc, and, as you can see below, even outside air temperature. I always wonder what good does the last piece of information provide. Say, at Minus 55 - what's the significance?

But something always puzzles me. Look at the picture below. Anyone who knows a little about Geography will tell you Singapore is on the east of Melbourne. But why is that in all maps all this nature, regardless of geography, the port of embarkation is always shown on the left and the arrival port, right? Unless the aircraft is taking the longer route flying around the other side of the globe!) This eerily reminds me of MH370!

Once in a SQ flight from Singapore to Melbourne, I saw that the destination in the display was "Sydney". I informed the steward and the mistake was duly corrected. However, if there was no alert, would the captain be actually taking the aircraft to Sydney, which is about 1 thousand kilometers north of Melbourne?


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Your right of way? Or mine?

On pedestrian walkways, should you keep right or keep left?

If you are from a Commonwealth country, chances are you would keep left by habit. However, if you are from the States, or China or Europe or Philippines, it is natural that you tend to keep to the right.

Your cars are designed the opposite way, left hand drive for driving on the right side of the road, and vice versa.

Similarly, directions of elevator flows are also programmed this way. Left elevator up and right elevator down. It is simply a matter of convention.

However, things can be quite unruly in Singapore where half of the people you see every day in the CBD are, I guess, hail from foreign countries.

Although some planners of shopping complexes and MRT stations in Singapore have taken the trouble to facilitate the observance of this convention by demarcating their pedestrian passageways with directional arrows, few have bothered to follow. And on roads, it was free for all when light turns green for pedestrians!

And strangely, many elevators are programmed to go up on right and to down on left in Singapore! Maybe the engineers were trained in the “Right” hand country?

In a country like Singapore, where everybody seems to be in a hurry, temper can flare up if no one wants to give way.

I don’t mean to say that all these habits are wrong. But I think every country needs to stick to a system. And all visitors need to be advised of the practice in the country.

One of the current advisories you find in Singapore to citizens is “Be gracious”. Maybe this can be a campaign slogan.

And it might also help if leaflets stating such “norms” are handed to visitors each time they clear the Immigration counter.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Managing Long Numbers

The postal codes in Singapore are an impossibility to me. I can never commit any of it to memory. They come in six digits. My apartment at Cairnhill Road is 229664; that of my office at The Riverwalk is 058416! I understand these numbers have been carefully designed and they actually tell you where your block is.

But how many older folks like me can remember them? I boarded an airport taxi and asked to be taken to Cairnhill Plaza, where my apartment is. He insisted that I gave him the postal code, which I was unable to do so. (It was also the first time I was asked to provide the postal code.) We nearly had a bad argument. “How do you expect an old non-Singaporean to remember 6-digit postal codes?” I demanded. “It is just behind Orchard Road.”

It soon became clear that he was new to the taxi trade, having joined the service only two months earlier. But his taxi was equipped with a GPS device; why couldn’t he just punch in Cairnhill Road?

I always believe many planners do things without thinking through. The postal code system may be a case in point. (Maybe the designer for the Singapore system has a system in mind, which I am not aware of, and it was not made plain to the public.)

It is quite easy for one to remember four digits. (I suspect many Singaporeans are very good in this, since 4-D lottery is very popular here.) However, if an effort is made to split the six digits into two distinct parcels, maybe remembering them can be a lot easier. The Australian banks are very good in doing this. Typically, you remember your BSB (bank state branch) as 033-088 or 03-3088. The first two 03 is the code for the particular bank (Westpac), the next digit 3 is the code for the state (Victoria) and the last three – 088 – is for the branch. And all Australian suburbs will have their postcodes begin with the designated digit for the state (3 for Victoria, 2 for New South Wales, so on and so forth); remembering them is not a big deal, since the design basically takes into account of all these relationships.

I still see companies splashing their telephone numbers in a long big number. More thoughtful ones will have them broken into something like this: 7844-3696. Isn’t this easier to remember than 78443696?

Common sense really.

Malaysian postal codes have five digits; they are also not difficult to remember, since the first of the five digits is a state code. But there is a major flaw; a code’s coverage is simply too wide. 40150 is for much of Shah Alam, which is a city by itself!!!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Stanford in Indonesia

I had the opportunity to visit a “Stanford” in Indonesia last week. The Del Institute of Technology is nestled in a place called Sitoluama at the southern bank of Lake Toba in Sumatra. It is about 200 to 250 km from Medan, and the nearest airport (Silangit Airport) is approximately one hour’s drive away. This airport only handles regional flights.

The campus covers an area of about 14 hectares, on which some 30 buildings and facilities stand. The grounds are so well kept that they put many in the First World to shame.

Its vision and mission statement is pretty lofty; loosely translated, it is: To become a centre of excellence that plays a role in the utilization of technology for the nation’s progress.

The institute began as Del Informatics Polytechnic in 2001; it has now become a degree-awarding institute. The founder is General Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, who is still a senior minister in the Jokowi cabinet.
The institute now offers eight programmes under three faculties, namely,
o   Engineering Informatics & Electrical (Informatics Engineering, Computer Engineering, Informatics Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Informatics Engineering, Information Systems);
o   Biotechnology (Bioprocess Engineering);
o   Industrial Technology (Engineering Management).
Apparently, they look up to Indonesia’s No 1 technology university, The Bandung Institute of Technology, as their role mode. The institute has approximately 1,000 students enrolled in this full-board school. The male / female ration is approximately 1:1. 30-40% of the students are from the Lake Toba region. Altogether 70% are from North Sumatra, and 30% are from other parts of Indonesia.
The graduate employment rate is said to be almost 100%. Some of the students could even secure job offers during their internships. Even companies like SAP came to their campus to recruit.

Its residential college system and its resident teachers

play key a role in its students’ character building philosophy. Even though it is based on Christian teaching, it tolerates and respects other faiths.

I have never been to Stanford before, but my colleague CD, a Princeton-MIT alumnus exclaimed: It looks like Standord!

Friday, May 5, 2017

The "Art" of Headhunting

I have never worked in any HR role throughout my career. But I had the opportunity to interview candidates for senior positions from time to time. (I had also gone for interviews many times, for job openings, of course.) I have come to learn a few things, which I would like to share with friends.

Many organisations are happy to entrust the task of searching to headhunter firms. This has its merits, since headhunters usually have a large pool of potential candidates to tap on. But I have also come across a few who are responsible for recruiting in these firms desperately asking help from me! One glaring shortcoming in this approach: headhunters tend to go for “fit” – usually in the technical aspects. So-and-so has in many years as a hotel accountant, therefore he or she is proposed if you are looking for an accountant to work in your hospitality industry. Ditto many other similar needs. This is fine if you are looking for functional roles to fill.

However, if you are looking to fill more strategic positions in the organisation, chances are, this stereo-typing approach will land you with one who may prove to be a disaster. Technical fit is but a small aspect of such leadership considerations. Cultural fit, resourcefulness and ability to strategically problem-solved matters are in fact more important. These desired traits could only be discerned if the interviewers are discerning themselves!

Panel interviews are not helpful in these exercises. Interviewers tend to hold back difficult questions or awkward questions, since they are also do not want to look stupid to the eyes of their colleagues. In most cases, the candidate who has been recommended by the headhunter firm are accepted as a matter of course.

Ideally, the candidate should be arranged to see those-who-count in the organisation on an-one-to-one basis, in a number of situations – in office, factory, and lunch room and over dinner. It is important to put the candidate at ease and questions should not be the “do you know this or that” type. Such line of questioning questions usually does not bring out real weaknesses or inadequacies in a candidate. Rather, one should ask for the candidate’s approach if he is placed in a certain situation – knowledge wise, skill-wise, and attitude-wise. A good interview normally frames his questions deliberately - not too long but be very probing. While he listens to the candidate's response, he also looks out for the usual telltale signs – from facial expressions, hand gesture, body language, etc. - to form an overall impression.

Many interviewers are also not capable of playing a discerning listener's role. Many have the tendency to talk too much. They invariably lead their interviewee to answer what they want to hear. Remember, LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN and OBSERVE, OBSERVE, OBSERVE.

I shouldn’t be teaching bosses how to suck eggs, should I?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Can Huaren Count on China's Coattail?

I was alerted by my wife of a review of a book in The Straits Times of Singapore last week: The Rise of China and The Chinese Overseas: A Study of Beijing’s Changing Policy in Southeast Asia and Beyond by Leo Suryadinata. I lost no time in picking up a copy at Kinokuniya.

I have often admired Professor Wang Gungwu for his insightful writing about overseas Chinese and Chinese overseas. (They are quite different, more of it later.) I have not heard about Professor Suryadinata. But from the review, I could discern that they are quite like-minded in so far as the substances go.
From Wikipedia, I learned that Professor Suryadinata (Liauw Kian-Djoe or Liao Jianyu; 廖建裕) is a Chinese Indonesian sinologist. In this book, he identifies himself principally as a senior visiting fellow at Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).
Like Wang, Suryadinata took pain to define Huaqiao (, Chinese living overseas, with implication that their stay is not permanent), Huayi (华裔, descendants of people originally from China) , Huaren (, people of Chinese origin of people who are ethnically Chinese), and the various terms used by the leadership in Mainland China to describe Chinese diaspora across the world. (In place of Hua, one can also use Han ””which is the name of a dynasty Chinese commonly identify themselves with historically.) I am no China scholar; I would just use Huaren to describe someone like me – born outside China to a second-generation immigrant family; bred locally and called the birth country “home”.
The book is an easy read. The message is quite loud and clear: Don’t count on China’s coattail!
With the emergence of China as a power to be reckoned with, many Huaren tend to think we now have a big brother who can stand up to protect us in case of trouble.
Suryadinata examined many instances where Chinese appeared to have been bullied by their adopted countries’ natives. His conclusion was quite persuasive. China couldn’t do much at all. In fact, any strong stance by China usually turned counter-productive.
Suryadinata’s also spoke of the present leadership of China to court Huaren to support its One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) initiative. He thought the effort was quite misplaced.
We have often heard of this OBOR (some called it BRI (Belt & Road Initiative) since President Xi assumed power. Professor Victor Feng of the University of Macao has spoken in its favour in many academic fora. Sure, there are certainly many win-win opportunities to be had for countries under OBOR (or BRI). But the reality for Huaren in these countries is this: Don’t harbour too much hope. All the project goodies are likely to go to the powers that be in the respective countries!
This OBOR or BRI enthusiasm reminds me of a talk I attended in Singapore recently. A panel of four speakers from China spoke on “Building the Maritime Silk Road in the 21st Century”. Except for one, none of them seems to understand the sentiments of China neighbours well! Theirs is largely a conception of themselves. It’s all China’s way! The arrogance was quite disturbing, really. I couldn’t help raise my hand to register my concern about China’s lack of understanding of local sentiments in their planning. To me, the initiative is simply too China-centric. I was