Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The key to change perceptions about China: Seriously train its tourist guides!

My return journey from Wuyishan, a world heritage site famous in China for it Dahongpao tea, had to done in two flights – a Xiamen Airline flight from Wuyishan to Hong Kong and a Cathay Dragon Airline flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. The Xiamen Airline flight was not accorded apron convenience. The aircraft came to a stop somewhere in the tarmac; passengers were then ushered into two buses to go to the airport terminal for Immigration and Customs clearances.

Many of the passengers were Mainlanders. Managing the tarmac transfer must be a very frustrating task to the ground crew. Younger passengers spread out to try to take selfies and pictures of one other. Older ones tried to disembark, and some did, from the first buss when they saw that their tour guide was not amongst them. But the ground crew had to fill the first bus before they allow more passengers step down the ladder or go into the second bus. It was very much a chicken-first-and-egg-first situation! You could literally hear the ground crew’s frustrations!

This, to me, is another classic example of “There you see, all these Mainlanders!” We hear these day-in-and-day-out. But it also speaks volumes about China’s inability to exercise commonsense despite their political clout!

Don’t Chinese always pride themselves to be or civilized people? And the rest of the world are either (barbaric) or (native, but with a tinge of uncivilized connotation)?

China has not been quite successful with its soft power endeavours, even in countries where Chinese largess is an everyday necessity. I personally think Chinese don’t quite understand what is real soft power!

Soft power is not about setting up of Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese or to showcase Confucian culture to foreigners, or about handing out goodies. Soft power is about earning empathy with strangers. Only exemplary behaviours practised en masse can change perceptions, not isolated cases of good deeds. Take Japan for example, I don’t think anyone can dislike Japanese tourists, can you? Caucasian Americans, Europeans and Australians don’t quite go in organized groups like what we do in East and Southeast Asia. Of course, some can turn rowdy once they have a drink one too many. But generally, they do not lose respect.

Outbound tourists are a country’s soft-power ambassadors. In China, where millions and millions of internal tourists throng sites within China, they are also reflectors of the country’s behavioural norms. Tourism holds an important key that can help China change others’ perceptions about its people.

Seriously train the country’s tourist guides!

Train them to INSIST on a few things from their charge before they even embark on the journey:

1.     Don’t shout, Don’t jostle, Don’t spit, Don’t stare. Don’t pick nose publicly.
2.     Don’t behave like hungry ghosts in restaurants.
3.     Don’t throw rubbish anywhere they like.
4.     Don’t hog pathways at airports, public places, etc.
5.     Queue up for food, drinks, tickets, toilets, public transport, etc.
6.     Don’t climb, Don’t walk on grass, Don’t feed animals if there are signs to say so.
7.     Don’t smoke if there are no smoking signs displayed.
8.     Don’t over- or under-dress.
9.     Don’t behave like Liu Laolao (country bumpkins) in museums, palaces, etc. or towards foreigners.

 I am sure with this in place people would see Chinese as Cinderellas in no time!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Dr M, we are disappointed with you…

May 9, 2018 marked the watershed in Malaysia’s history. Barisan Nasional, of which UMNO was the shot-caller, was voted out of power. For the first time in many years, we could speak freely. We could post stuff in Twitter and Facebook without fearing being visited by the state’s cyber security apparatus. We could openly identify MO1; we could call him a kleptocrat. Hitherto, only Mahathir could do so openly.

I don’t usually comment on politics, especially the Malaysian politics. This is my first break from my own promise.

We looked up to the Grand Old Man; we worshipped him. We were prepared to forgive the excesses that he had inflicted on the country when he was the prime minister. He was going to lead us to a new plane – a plane where corruption is not to be tolerated; a plane where racial and religious prejudices are to be corrected; a plane where commonsense and wisdom will always prevail.

Dr M did not disappoint. We saw all these things coming.

We are prepared to keep an open-mind when the new government decided to abolish GST, when we all knew it is a fair form of taxation. We were also prepared to see the High-Speed Rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore shelved, although many of us welcomed it when it was signed. We were happy that the East Coast Rail project was stopped. It was said that the cost had mysteriously ballooned from about M$30 billion to M$60 billion. We all knew where the “fat” was going. We also saw millions of handbags, watches and jewelry seized and we applauded the work of Amar Singh, Police’s commercial crime director. And MO1 and Mrs MO1 have been slapped with criminal charges. So had the former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi and a couple of other senior ministers like Tengku Adnan Mansor

And the hated AG Appandi Ali, IGP Khalid Bakar, Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, Treasury Secretary Irwan Serigar, 1MDB’s Arul Kanda have either gone “underground” or being pursued by the country’s anti-corruption body. So had many other lesser mortals in the last administration.

But to many, the wheel of justice is too slow. There were prima facie evidences against their wrong doing. Yet, MO1 is still talking as if he is the voice of conscience. Zahid Hamidi and Hadi Awang are asking their constituents to run “amok” to save themselves.

Why can’t we just lock these people up, since they are jeopardizing internal security, say, under SOSMA? We are allowing MO1 to make all sorts of Trump-like statements. Our heartland lot must be pretty confused. How can someone like him steal? And he is stealing for the good of his constituents, what’s wrong?

In spite of all these concerns, we are prepared to let Dr M rule. Give him a chance, he has all the wisdom!

But as time progressed, we found him revisiting some of the silly projects he was trying to champion when he was last in power – another national car, the crooked bridge between Johor Bahru and Singapore, etc. He is accepting UMNO has-beens and dangerous characters to his party. Wasn’t Rahim Tamby Chik, the former chief minister of Malacca, guilty of statutory rape? Isn’t the chap up-north Shahidan Kassim also being investigated for sexual-harassing someone. Weren’t those in UMNO Sabah outright crooks or shameless mouthpieces of MO1, like Salleh Said Keruak. Yet, you want them in your Bumi Bersatu? Dr M, you talked about the evil of corruption. People devoid of good character or principle are just as bad.
Why are you not disciplining Maszlee Malik and Waytha Moorthy? Each time the former opens his mouth, he shoots himself in the foot! As for the latter, he is not inclusive, which the country can ill-afford.

There are many talented people in Malaysia. Make good use of them!

And you don’t need honorary doctorates anymore!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A revisit to Wuyishan

The principal of the group with which I am associated decided to hold a high-power get-together at Wuyishan. Friends from America, Canada, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia would be attending. The 12-day do was packed with programmes ranging from visiting tourist sites to being feasted by Michelin-starred chefs and entertained by world-class performers to practising meditation and getting a taste of tui-na (traditional Chinese kneading massage) to understanding Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism to taking part in a two-day discourse on East-meets-West medicine. It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience to many of us.

Saw Hwa and I visited Wuyishan in April 2013, when we decided to find our roots in China. Fujian Province was where our ancestry hailed from. Wuyishan is in Ming-bei, or north of River Ming; we are both of Ming-nan (south River Ming) heritage, i.e., we speak Ming-nan dialect which is spoken by people from Xiamen down to Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Native Taiwanese also speak Ming-nan. Many say that Ming-nan was also the court language of the Tang Dynasty which ruled China from AD 618 to 907. I believe there is merit in this claim. Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan during the era, so did the "court language", hence the large number of  terms in both Korea and Japan which are basically Ming-nan in pronunciations. Many migrated south  and ended up in Ming-nan to live. They took their dialect along. Some went further south to Chaozhou. This might be the reason why the Chaozhou dialect is quite similar to Ming-nan. To put Chaozhou in Guanzhou is a huge heritage aberration!

Wuyishan is renowned throughout China for its Dahongpao tea, besides its reputation as a UNESCO cultural and heritage site. From Kuala Lumpur, the most expedient way of getting there would be to take Xiamen Airlines to Xiamen and from there take a connecting flight direct to Wuyishan. I had to rendezvous with some of my Singapore colleagues; we decided to congregate in Hong Kong and from there we took Xiamen Airlines to Wuyishan. I flew Cathay Dragon and my colleagues from Singapore used Singapore Airlines. This was a big mistake; I will explain why.

Since I had been in Wuyishan, I decided to skip most of the attractions that had been organised for us: Heavenly Tour Peak, Tiger Roaring Rock, A Thread of Sky, Bamboo Raft Tour, Dahongpao Tea Site, Wuyi Xiangjiang Mingyuan Tea Culture Tourist Park, Zhonghua Wuyi Tea Expo Park and the Neo-Confucianism attractions. Even though I had also visited the Xiamei Village and the Dahongpao Show directed by Zhang Yi-mou at "the largest outdoor theatre in the world", I decided to join in the fun. The Xiamei Village which was a tea trading hub in the early Qing Dynasty remained ugly and largely disorganised from a tourism angle. The Dahongpao show has not changed a bit since my last visit, that was more than five years ago. No wonder the crowd was pretty thin.
With friends at Xiamei Village

The town has undergone a big make-over, though. The streets are wide and building look clean and orderly, at least from far. But you still see the town make-shift carts everywhere; they make the place look tired!

Zhang Yi-mou's Dahongpao Show
Earlier I said it was a mistake for us to rendezvous in Hong Kong using non-Chinese airlines. Going there was not a problem. Even though Cathy Dragon is a OneWorld airline and Xiamen, Skyteam, the Cathay Dragon at Kuala Lumpur International Airport was able to send our bags all the way to Wuyishan, we couldn't have that convenience on our return journey. We have to clear Immigration and Customs at Hong Kong and re-check in to catch our respective connecting flights. There was a one-hour delay in take-off by our aircraft in Wuyishan. My Singapore colleagues were resigned to the fact that they would have to put up a night in Hong Kong. And an unusual thing happened. SQ, which always prides itself with great punctuality, strangely decided to delay its departure for that flight. All ended up; save for the great anxieties we were made to bear earlier.

Wuyishan's airport is still new, but its lounge is already showing signs of fatigue! I suspect the sofas have become staff's resting pad when the lounge is not in use. The toilet exuded an unpleasant ordour. The only water basin there was not working. I asked why there was no alert; the receptionist there nonchalantly told me, "oh, it has just happened." You know she was telling a lie. Luckily there was a tap outside; but that's meant for food! Old China dies hard!

My overall take is this: Everything in China moves forward at lightening speed; but etiquette and manners crawl like snails and in circles.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Taiwan ditches Tsai Ing-wen

I have not been to Taiwan for years. The last time I was there was in the mid-1990s when I had to accompany the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong of Genting to meet some leaders there. There was a crisis between China and Taiwan then; Tan Sri Lim wanted to play Kissinger. Of course, he couldn't do anything to help. We flew in and out the same day. Nonetheless, we did have time to share a meal of Taiwanese porridge in one of the hotels there!

When Chen Shui-bian became the country's president, I shunned Taiwan completely. I just could not understand how the people there could elect such a clown to be their president. And his vice president Annette Lu was equally obnoxious to me.

When Shen-yang (my son) suggested that we joined him for a visit to Taipei where he and his partner would be speaking in an international conference, I was not too keen at first, but being a harsh father to Shen-yang when he was young, I felt I should try to make up the wound that I had inflicted. Sure, let's go! I said to my wife.

I now hold a different opinion of Taiwan, thanks to the latest visit!

When we were there, the country was in the midst of electing new mayors to their cities. Freedom of speech is virtually absolute in Taiwan today; it is frighteningly democratic. Policies don't mean much. If you cannot deliver, you are out! Chen Shui-bian was promptly replaced by Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou. But Kuomintang lost ground in 2016 and Tsai Ing-wen was elected president. Democratic Progressive Party under her suffered massive defeats in these latest mayoral elections. She promptly resigned as the president of DPP, which means she is unlikely good for second term. Tsai is academically brilliant. And this is one example that great academics are usually not effective leaders. Politics in Taiwan moves in a pendulum fashion. Tsai is pro-Independence. But I think China should not gloat over the results!

The people of Taiwan are not embracing the Mainland anytime soon! They truly understand Realpolitik. The country's economy is not in great shape. Instead of counting on an erratic Trump, they know it is time to work with your own big brother, even though he is too patronising for your comfort.

Perfect co-existence in Taoyuan Airport...
Unlike many of our Mainland kin, Taiwanese by and large conduct themselves with a very high level of etiquette. The exhortations of Chiang Kai-shek have largely been forgotten. Today Taiwanese speak not only Mandarin, they are also at home with Mingan diaclect (similar to Fujian's Xiamen variety). They don't harbour hostility towards Japanese, for Japan had indeed been quite benevolent to the island when it was under its occupation. Mainland China therefore doesn't mean much to them, save for the investment opportunities they used to take advantage when China first opened up, and the large number of Mainland Chinese tourists that have been pouring in after it after China became rich. Be that as it may, Taiwanese are still steep in Confucianism in culture. Our driver-cum-tour guide says Taiwan can boast to be No 1 in these three things; most number of motorcycles, most number of temples and most number of 7-Elevens. A cursory look convinced me that he was not wrong!

The visit was not without disappointment, though. Saw Hwa and I thought we should revisit Sun-moon Lake. We tried the high speed train. The ride was perfect. But I just could not believe that the resort had degenerated so much. It looks more like a third-world holiday spot to me.

7-Elevens are everywhere
Taiwan is No 1 in temple counts...
So it is also No 1 in motorcycles...

Labour shortage in Sun-Moon Lake; only paper bowls and cups are offered.
Time to get rid of this  sheriff! A life-size statue in Grand Hyatt

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What Technology should not be...

Singapore’s Grand Park City Hall is a 10-storey boutique hotel coveniently at the corner of Hill-Coleman Streets. It is undergoing renovation to turn into a chic hotel.

The revoation (they call it transformation) is far from complete; of course, you will see teething problems, which there are many. But the most frustrating thing I found during my recent stay there is the control in the room.

It is supposed to be a smart control – you can regulate the temperature, fan speed, draw the blinds, and turn on and off the lights in the room, among others.

Look at the gadget in the picture below!

 It is the size of a mobile phone, positioned about a foot or so from the edge of the bed. To turn on and off the master switch that controls the lights, you have to perform so many operations. I am almost 70 and even though I am quite IT-savvy, it still took me a couple of minutes to effect the command. When you are tired and feel like going to sleep immediately, or you have just woken from the wrong side of the bed and trying to turn on and off the room lights, you feel like giving it a big punch, which I actually did one time.

The only saving grace is the touch-sensitive table lamp near it.

Technology should make your life easier, not more difficult!

There are so many teething issues – there is no directional indicator from the car park to the hotel; when you exit the lift, you do not know which wing of the building you have to turn to find your room; no body answers your call when you diall front desk or concierge, even though it keeps saying “your call is important to us, blah, blah, blah”; the shower pressure is pathetic; and the ultra-modern table clock is totally user-unfriendly! My unhappiness was to some extent mitigated by the people manning the reception and concierge desks and the breakfast place. They are a great lot.

The manager should be sent to do a "How to equip yourself with commonsense" course!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shaolin Martial Arts

To viewers in East and Southeast Asia, there is nothing unfamiliar about the following picture. Most people would be able to attribute it to the Shaolin's school of martial arts, especially if you are of Chinese descent. 

The Shaolin school of martial arts has been around for about 1500 years. It encompasses discipline, perseverance, hardship, simplicity, humility and many virtues that are beyond most of us. Many of its gallant acts are legendary. I have visited one of its schools in Henan. You see kids clad in thin robes, some as young as five years old, practising - in rigid formations and under the watchful eyes of their seniors - Shaolin kungfu in the early hours of winter mornings. I actually felt for them. How could their parents allow them to endure such a training regime, I always ask myself. 

And we sure love to watch when they show off their skills on stage!

But to the more conservatives minds in the West, the boys in the picture can look pretty intimidating – the skinheads, the bare shoulders, the peasant-type grey and earth-colour robes, and the bring-it-on gestures. They evoke glimpses of boxers during the dying days of the Manchu era in China, where foreigners were the principal targets. Would they want to send the children to learn Shaolin kungfu the way they send their children to Taekwondo or Karate schools in their neighbourhoods?

Maybe it is time for the masters of the Shaolin schools of martial arts should do a re-think.

Why are Taekwondo and Karate schools doing seemingly so well in the West?

My two grandsons in Melbourne have been attending Taekwondo classes near their home even before they started school. Both are wearing black belt now. I used to take them to their classes - twice a week, and or three-quarters of an hour each session. The sessions were more for basic self-defence exercises than anything else. These martial arts schools or studios do have classes for those who want to pick up the more combative skills.

Everyone is happy and does not feel intimidated in any way.

To make Shaolin gain better acceptance outside East Asian communities, the first thing they should do is to do away with the "uniform" they are usually identified with, especially of the yellow colour variety. (The Yellow Peril fear!) The rest can follow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

MCA and Gerakan, Time to Change Course!

When I joined Genting in 1977, Tan Koon Swan was already no longer there and had become a wind-cloud personality in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). But his legacy loomed large; everyone seemed to speak well of him in Genting. He was also often in the news, when the leadership in MCA was at that time in turmoil.

When I was offered to head an MCA-backed company, I jumped in without really knowing much about the party and the company. I became disillusioned within weeks and resigned. It was my shortest stint in any organisation!

I have never bothered to know much about MCA anymore. Ling Liong Sik and Ong Kah Ting were not the reformation or transformation type; but they did do some good to the Chinese community in Tunku Abdul Rahman College and University Tunku Abdul Rahman. Many, otherwise deprived of a place in the public universities and colleges, have graduated and become successful professionals and businessmen. Chua Soi Lek should have been a reasonably good leader to helm MCA and able to lend some weight in the government if not for “that” extra-marital rendezvous of his.

His successors are really a bunch of write-offs. People like Liow Tiong Lai and Wee Ka Siong cannot see beyond the trappings of ministerial offices.

Gerakan is no better also. It is all downhill after Lim Kheng Aik. Koh Soo Koon exemplified how a respectable academic could at the end of the day become an apologist for the powers that be. His successors are also a bunch of jokers, especially the leader of its youth wing, who seems to give the impression he is a moron each time he opens his mouth.

Now with MCA and Gerakan virtually wiped out in the 14th General Elections of the country, these two parties should kick out their leaders without delay.  Some of the post-election comments or opinions given by the leaders in their youth wings border on infantility. The more the open their mouths, the more their party will lose credibility. They should invite people like Robert Kuok to tell them what to do next! But you don’t really need Robert Kuok to tell them things that are pretty simple to do, right? There are plenty of wise men and women in Malaysia.

MCA and Gerakan should become COMMUNITY WELFARE organisations – MCA opens its door to all Chinese and Gerakan, to all Malaysians! They should advocate good causes and fight for their constituents’ welfare, nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Visit to the Manchu Heartland

The provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang are collectively known as Dongbei (Northeast) of China. They were once Manchu's heartland. I have always been fascinated by China's history and geography. We named our first-born Shen-yang, which is the capital of Liaoning. My wife and I decided to do a 8D7N tour of the region earlier this month. 

Only Scoot offers direct flight from Singapore to Shenyang. Since I am now a handicap, I need more leg rooms. We therefore opted for its Business Class seats. Of course, the service is a far cry from the full service airlines, but I must say it is pretty adequate and punctual.

Shenyang, Changchun and Harbin are, by any standard, huge cities. There isn't much to see really. But they do have their individual characters. Shenyang was the capital of Manchukuo where Puyi was installed emperor by Japan after the fall of the Manchu Dynasty. It was renamed "Mukden" then. Changchun, the capital of Jilin, is the dustiest of the lot. Jilin is the home of China's huge oil fields. Russian influence of Harbin is particularly pronounced, especially on its town planning and architecture. Adjacent to it is the Changbai-shan range of mountains across which is North Korea.

Our tour guide, a young and energetic man of early thirties, is an encyclopedia of Manchu history. The region was the first victims of Japan's atrocities during the Sino-Japanese War. His hatred for everything Japan borders fanaticism. 

The region is pretty clean, but if you think that Malaysian drivers are bad, you have to see how Dongbei Chinese go about with their cars. NOBODY GIVES WAY! Every inch is game for taking advantage of! I was tempted to ask my tour guide this: If there is now a war between Japan and China, how could China hope to win if its people are each for himself or herself?

Shenyang's Forbidden City
The Warlord who detained Chiang Kaishek, is one of the revered one here.

Typically China.... Bad workmanship, poor maintenance, and what-have-you

Western pretensions,
but the whole theme park is largely in a state of neglect!

Care for some dog meat?
Apparently, Dongfei people love it

Heaven's Lake at Changbai-shan - the mountain range that separates China and North Korea

A thousand-year-old tree?

Red Beach at Shenyang

Friday, March 16, 2018

From Analysis to Paralysis

For the past two years I have to deal with academics, some of whom are actually quite world renowned. Many have reinforced this very prejudice of mine: inability to add one plus one.

Of course, I am just dramatizing with this metaphor. What I am trying to say is simply this: They don’t seem to be able to do simple things! They get too bogged down by the ghosts they see in everything.

I was trying to be polite when I allowed an academic to take a look at a concept that I was working on. Being trained by people from the University of Hard-knocks, my approach has always been this: Firm up your objectives and formulate a broad-based strategy to achieve them. Do things incrementally and tweak as one goes along.

This academic wanted me to satisfy him with DETAILS, DETAILS, and DETAILS. Obviously despite his credentials, he has not fully understood the Carl von Clausewitz who, in his classic On War, simply argues that the moment you step into the battlefield, things are unlikely to work out the way you have planned on paper. You need to be vigilant and act and react according to situations. No wonder it is often said that business school professors are not entrepreneurial materials!

I wrote him off without any reservation! (How arrogant I can be!)

The Star Cruises, one of the world’s leading cruise lines, was founded by the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong of the Genting fame. I played a small part in its inception. I was posted to Athens to pursue a casino licence and we were almost on the edge of clinching one when the incumbent government was voted out of the office. He decided to pull out of the race. An offer came through: two one-year old luxury ships for only half of the actual cost. He bought them without going through all the feasibility studies. The rest is history. Today the Star Cruises also controls the Norwegian Cruise Lines, if I am not mistaken.

Too much analysis will only lead to paralysis! How wise the saying is!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Boao, An International Forum?

The Boao Forum is supposed to be China’s Davos; so it claims!

But the organisers are mostly of Third Word materials.

I was registering my attendance for their April 8-12 do.

I am half literate in Chinese. After the registration fee of USD7,500 had been paid, I was directed to a website keys@boaoforum.org to book my room in designated hotels. Without paying attention to the in-out dates, I promptly paid up. That’s where nightmare began. I didn’t know it was for April 9th in and April 11th out. But the conference is from April 8-12! I tried to change the dates, but there was no feature in the link for me to do. I could not do anything and decided to wait for the Lunar New Year to be over before I tried to contact the secretariat.

I wrote and they promptly replied that it could be done. BUT IT COULD NOT BE DONE! I asked a colleague to telephone them. Indeed, it could not be done on line as advised. It involved the cancellation of the existing booking and making a fresh one; even then they had to fix something before I could effect the booking. Done finally! But I am just wondering if I don’t have a colleague who could speak with them in Chinese! Isn’t this supposed to be an international do?

The next frustration: I need a visa to go to China. I thought I had everything ready – Invitation Letter, Hotel Confirmation and Air Tickets. My wife took it to the China Visa office.

Where is the chop?

What chop?

The host’s chop!

Another round of calling the secretariat…

No one answered from the English-speaking desk. I dialed again and spoke to the Chinese desk. Done!

How do those non-Chinese speaking guests cope?

Friday, March 9, 2018

Distributed Leadership – Emperor’s New Clothes?

I had read much about Leadership and Leaders since my business school days, but I had not come to know this term Distributed Leadership until I got involved with The HEAD Foundation, which is an organisation devoted to promoting good causes in Human Capital and Education in Asia, two years ago. Be that as it may, when I heard it for the first time, I could more or less figure out that the term has had something to do with a form of leadership that is distributed across the rank and file in an organisation. I was happy to leave my understanding that way.

Until I listened to a talk given by a distinguished academic in a lecture in Malaysia recently!

I can understand his rationale in promoting “distributed leadership” in schools but I am not convinced that it is something fundamentally different from those concepts that I am already quite conversant about. Neither am I convinced that it is a form that will answer schools’ need.

Principals and heads of subjects and functions constitute the leadership in schools. They have to exercise leadership in the context of policies which have been laid out by the government. There isn’t much they can do in this area.

But there are still good schools and bad schools. And you can always tell who is a good principal from one whose leadership leaves much to be desired. Ditto the heads of subjects and functions.

A good principal is one to whom everyone would look up to – from students to teachers and general staff. His or her good leadership is “written” all over the school – from upkeep to discipline to examination results. He or she knows how to delegate duties and responsibilities. School leadership is all about passion for the job, ability to motivate and traits to emulate – commonsense, exemplariness, courage, wisdom, foresight and vision and what-have-you. He or she also knows when to be firm and make difficult decisions. More often than not, reputation precedes presence, even to the bureaucrats from the ministry or department that directly supervises the school and to the parents and visitors.

This new concept argues that leadership in schools can be better exercised if it is distributed across the ranks. Certainly, but this form of leadership is only skin deep – functional, transactional or instructional rather than inspirational or transformational. It is a concept that is basically descriptive rather than prescriptive in utility.

All the leadership knowledge does not a leader make.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Aren't you tired of Facebook?

Facebook is addictive; many would unconsciously go to its pages the moment one’s smartphone is turned on.

I suppose all of us are just curious to see what our friends are doing!

But to see a 70-year-old man’s latest profile photo – if he does it one time too often?

Certainly not your cup of tea, right?

I just couldn’t hold back when this 70-year-old friend of mine posted his latest – a picture of himself with a cowboy hat and some hippie-type flowers in the background. “Hello, so-and-so; the photo does not look good on you. You look like a Bollywood star.” He didn’t take the hint and prompted posted a new one!

A woman friend is no longer a Sweet Young Thing that she might have once been long long time ago. But just the same, you see a new profile each time you scroll down your Facebook pages. I wonder what does her husband think!

Another friend is a keen hasher. He uploads tons of his cross-country run photos, many with Sweet Young Things in them. You really cannot tell the difference between those he posted months ago and those that he has just uploaded. This friend also posts pictures he takes during those social events and festive celebrations he attends, again tons of them, but not one with or of his wife in them. Strange man, really. Ditto the sun-rise pictures of the beaches near he now lives.

And a few would post pictures of the food they had in whatever eatery they happened to be patronizing. You can understand if the food is something special; but many of those shown are in fact of the char-kwe-teow type varieties, which you can find in every corner of food courts in East and Southeast Asia.

I do appreciate friends’ sharing of their special occasions, or meeting up with old lost-lost pals, or the things they saw or experienced during their recent tours, or their alerts on products, happenings and new knowledge, etc. But certainly not of the aforesaid nature.

Be that as it may, I really shouldn’t be so opinionated. Maybe this is a way to keep us mentally active?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Be warned of this conman: Purva Pius

I posted something on Sarawak’s head hunter a long time ago and until today, I still keep receiving this type of scam messages asking me to contact a certain Dr Purva Pius. He is certainly a bloody con-man trying to lure unsuspecting people to respond. The name Sharon Sim is just being used as a convenient bait. Invocation of GOD must also be thought to be a powerful weapon for this Purva Pius conman. Be warned of this conman, friends!

This is the message that keeps coming to me:

URGENT LOAN has left a new comment on your post "Sarawak Head Hunter":

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Book on Nantah (Nanyang University)

I picked up this book because one of my older brothers, like the author, also graduated from Nantah – the endearing name for Nanyang University. Also like the author, my brother went on to become a somebody, in spite of the prestige, or the lack of it, of this alma mater of theirs.

Immediately upon his graduation, my brother was denied re-entry to Singapore. I know my brother was not politically active; how did he earned the wrath of the government was totally beyond him. I suppose the paranoia was for real then; every shadow was a ghost. He had to start his career on a low base, whereas graduates from recognized universities, like me, were considerably higher. But his perseverance paid off; he soon shot past me and went on to achieve great heights in the business world.

The book is very well written, and packed with facts to back up the author’s contentions. However, I couldn’t help sensing that the author was still angry when he wrote this book. His biases, despite his claim to the contrary, are evident all over the book. There were many villains in his Nantah story, but the one that surprises me most is Prof Wang Gungwu – someone whom I admire greatly for his great scholarship. I think Prof Wang has been painted quite unfairly. His recommendations were made in the reality of the time – when Singapore was already embarking on a journey of no return, as far as Chinese schools were concerned. But the book did draw out the Machiavellian nature of many. Hope they can sleep well after reading the book.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Age with grace

If there is any fault I could find with my eldest brother, who passed away a year ago, it was his overly solicitous love towards his siblings, nephews and nieces. He would stand up to offer his seat each time we ran into him, regardless of situation. I would always tell him, “Ko (older brother), don’t do it; you are an elder!) I am a bit of a Confucianist; we give way to elders, not the other way around! But despite repeated reminders, he would still do the same. I suppose habits are hard to change. He was well loved by all of us; we still miss him dearly.

I got reconnected with a long-lost friend, thanks to WhatsApp. He has no pretensions. I like his care-free nature. But as I began to see his exhibiting the same solicitous tendency, I felt disappointed. His stock took a deep dive in my prejudiced mind. 

I always believe at our age, we need to conduct ourselves with dignity. We are naturally concerned about our friends’ well-being. But we shouldn’t make our friend uncomfortable for our being too intruding!

When my nephews and nieces and, for that matter, younger colleagues, called us “you guys”, I would at the first opportune time advise them not to drop that habit, which I suppose is pretty “standard” amongst millennials.

Many a time, I see old couples arguing over trivia incessantly. Aren’t there no better things to talk to each other? My wife understands me perfectly. No waste time on issues that are irrelevant.

When you want to propose something in a gathering to discuss serious matters, make sure you have thought through it, lest you lose respect. You can offer opposing views, but there should be lessons or wisdom in your postulations. And if an opinion has already been rejected and explanation given, do not try to bring it up again. Friends will lose their patience with you in no time.

This bags another advice: Don’t stop learning and reading! Many friends have regressed intellectually; as they age, they don’t bother to read any more! If you don’t read, you don’t learn. Learning is a life-long task or exercise that keeps us mentally healthy. Devoid of it, you soon become infantile in your reasoning and worldviews. Wonder why many of us are accepting fake news and internet rubbish without questions? We simply have lost our ability to discern!

As we age, let’s try not to dress sloppily or appear disheveled too. I am sure your spouse and your children will feel good if you carry yourself well.

Stay healthy physically and MENTALLY!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Revamp of one's head, not facilities...

My attention was drawn to a news article in Singapore's Straits Times. It reads: KL airport to undergo ‘total revamp’ to stem drop in rankings.

The managing director of Malaysian Airport Holdings Berhad, which operates the airport, was quoting as saying that work on a total revamp of passenger facilities at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is necessary to stem its rapid drop in international rankings.

I am aghast with your proposed approach to solving this problem, Mr Managing Director!

Of course, all new brooms sweep clean. But under your watch you have allowed the floor to accumulate dirt. No sooner, the floor would be dirty again. Another new broom?

The facilities at KLIA 1 are actually at par with the best in the world, even compared to the much touted World No 1, the Changi Airport. But unlike Changi Airport, many things are not quite right in KLIA under the carpet. 

The toilets and the trains between the main and satellite terminals are just the more visible symptoms. Ditto the ages that we have to wait for your baggage to come out of the carousel after your arrival. And don't count on those priority tags!

Mr Managing Director, the problem with KLIA is with your maintenance culture, or the lack of it, and, likely, also the attitude of your managers and supervisors.

I shuttle between Melbourne and Singapore. I fly Malaysia Airlines because its business class is cheaper compared to Singapore Airlines or Qantas. Also, since I am usually not in a hurry, a stopover in KLIA allows me to relax in MAS's very friendly lounges there. But the last two trips have made me change my mind about MAS and the management of KLIA! More about my unpleasant experience with MAS later; let me talk about KLIA first.

During my last September trip, the connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur arrived late, and I had to sprint to the  boarding gate upon my arrival at KLIA. If not for my Business Class ticket, I would have missed the flight.  But I had to content flying without the luggage which I had already checked in the Singapore end. I was told that flight control was the problem in KLIA, hence the late arrival of the aircraft. The same happened for my trip last month - non arrival of the "connecting"flight from Kuala Lumpur, again,  something to do with flight control there. MAS had to book us on SQ to fly direct to Melbourne. I heard it is also the same problem: something to do with flight controls KLIA. Where is the economics if they have to do this? 

To play safe, MAS usually offers a fairly long connecting time at KLIA for my Melbourne to Singapore journey. MAS’s flights out of Melbourne are usually punctual. If I travel Singapore Airlines, they would be able to put me in an earlier flight, but not MAS. Why, apparently, KLIA is not able to do it!

You don’t need to be a McKinsey genius to see what can be done for KLIA 1 and KLIA 2. All that the Mr Managing Director needs is to do is to walk around more often and maybe fly out to Singapore and Hong Kong from time to time to see what these airports are doing. There is no point going to Kennedy, or Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle; they are not great places to learn, really. But maybe it is not politically correct to learn from fellow Asians?

KLIA needs a total revamp, not on its facilities, but of the mindset of its top bosses like this Mr Managing Director.