Wednesday, December 26, 2007

St Stephan's Day aka Boxing Day

It's St Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas - the day that celebrates the first Christian Martyr. Stephan was what they would call an unfortunate Sod, a man who was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Poor bugger was stonned to death for his faith and unlike Paul who only became a Christian much later in life, nobody even remembers the day that was named after him.

Poor Stephan. How many of us have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time? Timing and place are everything. Hans Hofer, he of the Appa Guide Books and one of my early mentors, once said that the one thing that NO BUSINESS SCHOOL teaches is - CHANCE. Sometimes business is all about being at the right place at the right time and recognising that you are where you are and doing everything to grab hold of it. The flip side of that being you are in the wrong place at thew wrong time.

Stephan did the honourable thing and became a martyr. It was a risky - in his case it paid off - but think of the number of people who have lost their lives for wierd and wonderful causes that have ended up nowhere - think of the Jihadist and American troops in Iraq - each side probably thinks they've got righteousness on their side and yet each death only leads to more deaths.

Anyway, dying is a vastly overrated experience - even if living in places like Singapore is becomming so expensive that life seems no longer worth living. Had the shock of my life the other day when I took a cab and ended up paying $7 in surcharges. I've reached a stage in my life where I'd rather take the scenic rout on cabs - better to give the extra money to the cab driver than to cover the government linked company's inefficiencies (ok, that's not fair - its probably efficiencies to make money beyond their core busiess.)

But I digress. Yes, I may be a little cynical about the way life is turning out but life is ultimately still good in its own particular way. Here in Singapore, it seems that the poor are obliged to hemorage money to pay for the well to do - but life is on the whole good. Infrastructure in many ways is first rate, the city is safe, clean and green - and ultimately what else could you want in life.

So, no, don't become a martyr unless you are convinced that what you're dying for is worth it. Instead, look at what you can do to make things right when the time and situation allow for it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Something Nice Between the Abrahamic Faiths - taken from http://www.acommonword.com

A Muslim Message of Thanks and of Christmas Greetings, December 2007


In the Name of the God, the Compassionate, the Merciful May God bless Muhammad and his kin just as He has blessed Abraham and his kin


Al-Salaamu Aleikum; Peace be upon you; Pax Vobiscum


Peace be upon Jesus Christ who says: Peace is upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am resurrected (Chapter of Mary; the Holy Qur’an; 19:34).


During these joyful holidays we write to you, our Christian neighbors all over the world, in order to thank you truly for the beautiful and gracious responses that we Muslims have been receiving from the very first day we issued our invitation to come together to ‘A Common Word’ based on ‘Love of God and love of neighbor’ (see www.acommonword.com for the document and the responses).


We thank you and wish you all a joyous and peaceful Christmas Holiday Season commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ

We Muslims bear witness that: There is no god but God, without associate, and that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger, and that Jesus is His Servant, His Messenger, His Word cast to Mary, and a Spirit from Him …. (Sahih Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith al-Anbiya’)


We pray, during these blessed days, which happen to coincide with the Muslim
feast of the Hajj or Pilgrimage, commemorating the faith of the Prophet Abraham, that the New Year may bring healing and peace to our suffering world. God’s refusal to let Abraham  sacrifice his son—granting him instead a ram—is to this day a Divine warrant and a most powerful social lesson for all the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, to ever do their utmost to save, uphold and treasure every single human life and especially the lives of every single child. Indeed, it is worthy of note that this year Muslim scholars issued a historical declaration affirming the sanctity of human life—of every human life—as an essential and foundational
teaching in Islam upon which all Muslim scholars are in unanimous agreement (see details at:
www.duaatalislam.com ).

May the coming year be one in which the sanctity and dignity of human life is
upheld by all. May it be a year of humble repentance before God, and mutual
forgiveness within and between communities.


Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds..

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When the Laws are the Laws of the Laws of the Laws of the Laws

I needed to get DBS to have a look at my debit card today. Seems the magnetic strip has been wearing a little thin and a few places have had problems reading the card. Not that it's the most important thing in life but its always good to get things sorted out properly. Anyway, what should happen to me at DBS but I was told that, "Sorry, your card is a POSB card, you got to see POSB." - Oh that's a load of - DBS took over POSB decades ago and since then, the two banks have been....well the same bank with two different names.

But then again, my issues with the bank were quite trivial compared to the old man in front of me. For some reason, the bank's ATMS seemed to be in utter revolt and the poor old codger’s card was rejected and subsequently swallowed up. When he went to the bank, I actually heard them tell him....."Replacement Card will cost - S$5 to replace." I actually piped in and asked the girl why the old man had to pay $5 and all she could say was - "It's Our Policy." - I didn't stay long enough to see the outcome of this incident. I guess, they figured it was easier to get me out of the way quickly and they were right. But this incident has got me thinking. - What the heck is wrong with the general population when ...well, we see nothing wrong with getting screwed....because....it's existing policy.

Seriously, the bank screws-up and somehow, the consumer, through no fault of his own ends up paying for the bank to make right what was their mistake. Hey, that's not a bad way to go! Why is it that nobody seems to get upset about things like this? When the bank decided that it would fine people a mere $2 for having less than $500 in their bank accounts - well guess what?!?! A few people grumbled and then the bank proceeded to act as it had intended to and the consumer proceeds to get fined - all the bank could say was " Don't you know how much it cost us to maintain accounts bellow $500."

OK here you have it. You agree to lend the institution money for free (ok, better be careful, I could get sued...they do pay interest which something like 0.001% - which they lend out for at least 5%) and then they fine you for not lending them enough. Put it crudely, a roomful Nobel Prize winners could not have thought of a better way to rob people if you pumped them up with bran.

Here are only two examples of how DBS has found a way of royally screwing the consumer and to be fair, DBS is not the only Singaporean institution that engages in screwing the Singaporean consumer with a free license. But since it was DBS that I walked into, I took my points from them.

Generally speaking consumers in Singapore shrug at the way they’re getting screwed by Singapore’s big institutions. Ask a Singaporean why they put up with it and all they’ll tell you is, “What choice do we have?” This mindset is something like a cancer. Whenever the big and powerful do something, the poor just shrug and put up with. I’m sure that after writing what I have, I’m going to have more than enough people telling that I’ve acted unwisely by naming people on my blog. Why have I been unwise? Well, for one, any clown could be reading this. I could sued until what little I have in life is drained from me. And crippling me with a law suite is not the only tool in the arsenal of the powerful. My reputation could be junked quite easily and my misdeeds, those which I haven’t publicised myself, could become even more public.

But being sued and wacked out of shape won’t change the fact that the big boys are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’m more at ease with the big boys trying to slam me. What I’m dreading is well wishers asking me why I’m trying to rock the boat. I’m even resigned to the fact that I’ll hear the usual story about how Singapore’s bigger institutions need an enclosed market to give them economies of scale and how they’ve benefited the Singapore economy.

Those arguments are – crap! Its usual crap from a bunch of cowards who are unable to face-up to reality of the way things are going. Competition is on the rise and – oooppss, sorry, Singapore companies need to be in a foreign market if they want to survive. Like it or not, the government (quite ironically) realises that introducing competition in the local market is a necessary price for getting our companies into other markets.

Consumers need to stop being afraid to take action and making their protest public. Sure, the dominant market players will complain and whinge about how they’re losing money whenever they do what other businesses do – namely face competition for the consumer’s attention. Big boys need to get used to the idea that they’re only big because, we the tinny consumer allows them to be big. It’s not our obligation to protect the bottom line of big companies. In stead, it is the duty of big companies to provide products and services that we want.

Consumers who get upset and tell bullies to fuck off are actually good for bullies. When a bully meets someone who fights back, they stop being bullies and they learn to act like normal and acceptable members of society. This is a particularly important lesson for businesses to remember.

Face it this way, when you, as business stop making money from screwing the consumer, you actually remember what you’re supposed to be doing. A bank (Speaking as a former Citibank intern) is in the business of borrowing money at low interest rates and lending it at higher interest rates. If you need to get more people to lend you more money, give them an incentive to do so. When you need more people to borrow money from you, then you give them the incentive. This is obvious to most cockroaches. If you can borrow money at 0.001% or whatever the current rates of savings accounts are and then lend it out for 5% and then claim its necessary to fine the people you are borrowing from because they’re not lending you enough, then it’s a sign that something is wrong with your basic business model. When you’re machines are faulty and have inconvenienced the customer, you don’t jolly well tell the customer its their obligation to pay for your mistake.

It is as if, normal rules of business get suspended every time it comes to big institutions in Singapore and it shouldn’t be the case. Consumers need to be bold and damn the consequences when it comes to telling the institutions that they won’t accept thug like behaviour. It’s good for the consumer. It’s for the business. Look at this way, the only Singaporean company that is held up as an icon for global excellence is SIA. Why? Because SIA happens to be in an industry where being a monopoly player in Singapore’s miniscule airspace is like being a pork chop in a mosque – utterly useless. As a result, SIA constantly strives to create customer experiences in its most basic business – bringing people from point A to point B. SIA would not dare to fine the consumer for not flying enough because every other airline would gladly take those consumers away from SIA. Instead, SIA pampers their customers – and people are willing to pay for it (look at this way – it cost me less to fly BA from London to Singapore – and yet I knew many students making it a point to fly SQ back home.) Whenever any business or institution whinges about the Singapore market being too small, the only appropriate reaction is to show them the middle finger and point to SQ and how it managed to make it with competition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Right Chick

I'm in the business of creating perceptions. Although PR people are often hired to get clients publicity, the real purpose of PR is to get the client - "The Right Publicity." As my Uncle Jeffrey once said, "My job is to look pretty and your job is to make sure I look pretty." And so, PR folks the world over tend to work very hard to make their clients look pretty regardless of the situation (And it becomes especially interesting outside Singapore when journalist need the client to look ugly at times).

Anyway, one of the things that we, the PR folk often need to take into consideration is our own prettiness. For women in the business, it's all about looking glamorous at the right time. For men, its about being manly without being a total jerk.

There are accessories to looking good. Women may complain about how much simpler a man's wardrobe is, but the truth is, women have allot more tools at their disposal to make them look great then men have. Women have make-up, jewellery and a host of other things they can use to make sure they get looked at. It's reached a stage where these accessories can work miracles. Han Li has a friend with an obvious birth-mark - but once she applies make up - it's bye bye birthmark. There is simply no such equivalent for a man. Thomas, my stepfather number 2, has become a watch-freak - because, well the watch is probably the only thing a man can wear in addition to his cloths to look good.

There is however an accessory that men often over look - namely the woman at their side. I remember very clearly that when I was married to Gina, my Dad would remind me that people often formed impressions about men by the women at their side. And he's not wrong - just look at every election in the USA or the UK, where a ridiculous amount of media attention is paid to a candidate's spouse. Hillary may be the first "First Lady" to make her mark as an independent politician in her own right but nobody has forgotten how Nancy stood by Ronnie or Jacqueline Kennedy who was the glamorous face of Jack Kennedy's White House. It's no different across the Atlantic - Royalty continues to be embodied by Princes Diana, who was in truth a white woman who had the good sense to die young (had she lived....the public would never have forgiven her for being with an Arab as she was trying to get over a Paki).

Anyway, I've been fortunate in one respect. My best customers have been from communities where they prefer you to meet with them as a single guy. And so, I guess I can be a jack-ass who loves to tickle his betters by bringing the Flesh Ball to Five-Star Hotels.

I guess, its a case of who you are and how you project yourself. For me, I try to make myself reasonably presentable. I make it a point to be in a jacket whenever I visit the Saudi Embassy or GE. Most of the time, I'm just in pants or a shirt but these days, the industry seems to accept jeans and sock less shoes as long as they're decent sock less shoes (I'm in Timberlands or Docksiders).

But other than that, I am somewhat of a happy go-lucky guy. I love the thrill of creating something from nothing. I like bringing two parties together for a decent winning situation. Where I fail is in my inability to "pretend" to like people and so, I make it a point to work with people I'll enjoy working with. Somehow, the work is always more important than the woman at my side.

Which leads to an interesting observation. At my birthday celebration, two weeks ago, a friend of mine brought along three-Russian girls. Like all good Russian girls, they looked stunning - they were elegant and dressed to kill. They certainly made an impression on everyone who noticed my little entourage.

The funny thing is......they made different impressions on different people. The friend of mine who brought them along reports that the band at the Long Bar thinks much more highly of me. It's a case of - "What a man! He had that stunner with him." Hadi was quick to point out to me that if Elvira, the blond Russian I seemed to be talking to, was seen with me, I'd create a major impression.

The funny thing is, the Westerners who saw the girls also thought they looked good. However, all of them...to a man, assumed that the girls were .....paid for. To quote Luke: "You don't charm girls like those into your bed...you ask them how much."

I grew up in Western Europe, so my views of East European women is more in-line with my Western friends. The Russians were good to look at and I enjoyed the odd private moment I had with Elvira.....but at the end of the day, I've meet girls in Geylang who looked less mercenary.

Leaving aside personal feelings, perceptions are difficult to manage. As a man, do you want to be known as the stud who is always seen with a "head-turner." My male ego is certainly boosted whenever I get compliments for being around a nice looking woman.

But even that can backfire. My friend, who brought the Russian girls, is a married man, who thinks it makes him look cool when he talks about his various conquest. On his wedding day, he told a mutual friend he would run off to Europe to have fun irregardless of what his wife said. The mutual friend admitted to me that his marks didn't inspire the "You're cool" feelings but anger ...because....the girl he married is a good person. So, I guess there is obviously something known as being seen with TOO many women.

Perhaps it's just best to be with the woman who makes you feel best. I guess it's not all about glamour (most glamour people in Singapore ....live on debt) but about what a woman does for you. Ultimately Gina was not good for me because...well I didn't want to be better when I was around her. Before that, there was a Malaysian girl called Adelene who was always seen with me in public - my Caucasian friends seemed to think she looked wonderful ....but I also didn't want to be a better person. I think the only one who seemed to do it for me was Carra...she was not glamorous or dressed like a doll, but I wanted to be a better man around her.

I suppose, at the end of the day, a woman can make or break a man. A beautiful woman can create a good perception for a man. But physically beautiful women are a dime-a-dozen and ultimately a man who goes for women to create a perception about himself is going to fail, where as a man who chooses a woman who brings out the best in him succeeds. I don't know........

Friday, December 07, 2007

Late Night Last Night

Had a very late night last night. I think it had something to do with paying down a huge chunk of the phone bill and getting money back into savings. Or perhaps it could have something to do with the fact that I needed to get over a string of very traumatically bad news - one of which was a major screw-up at the Plazza Market Place in the Raffles Plazza Hotel (former Westin).

Anyway, evening started in the Billiard Room at the Raffles Hotel. Great place to eat out when you have the money and a magic card. Anyway, the evening was great. They had an oyster promotion and so I got to stuff myself with oysters. However, I didn't get particularly horny so I guess the myth about oysters is just that or perhaps its just me and I only get my kicks from peculiar things.

Was also interesting to run into BG (Ret) Leong Yue Kheong. BG Leong is the older brother of my former S3, Major (Ret) Leong Yue Weng. Very interesting chap - the guy is one of Singapore's better generals. One who was actually promoted on merit rather than on the fancies of some buraucrat that has never seen a day on the field let alone in combat. As you can tell, I do have something against civilians running the military.

After 2 and 1/2 years of National Service I've developed a healthy and obsessive distaste for Ministry of Defense Officials who tell the military what to do in areas where they have no expertise. I, for one, don't have too much of a problem with military coups - I just get a little edgy when the military people stay in power for too long and become like the civilian crooks they threw out - Nigeria and Burma being classic examples. After Iraq, I think military leaders should be legally obliged to tell Civilian politicians to stuff it whenever the civilians leadership tries to march the troops into wars with no strategic value.

Anyway, it was up to the Long Bar to listen to music and then off to Lock Stock and Barrel for the after party. Great fun, guys were on form. And then after that, it was off to visit Bijay for a very late night naan. So, as you can tell from this posting, I'm a little drained but luckily I don't have too much on my plate - a price of Christmas as they say.


Monday, December 03, 2007

You can have Fun without Alcohol ....but why take the risk.

I was recently given an important sociological lesson by a Malay friend of mine who invited me to his wedding. This friend of mine is a musician and I guess after a few nights of coming to watch him perform, he felt comfortable enough to invite me to his wedding – and boy, what a wedding it was.

The Malay community in Singapore is probably one of the biggest headaches for anyone in the corporate rat-race known as Singapore. The community sticks out like a sore thumb in the rat-race that is modern Singapore. This is a community that has by and large shown itself to be disinterested in ‘bettering itself,’ in the modern economy. Former Malaysian PM, Dr Mohammed Mahatier tried to legalise them into being successful and failed. South of the causeway, the Malay community has spent the past 40-plus years frustrating Singapore’s pushy civil servants. While the Chinese and Indians struggle to make their mark, the Malays simply shrug and carry on living as they always have.

As a Chinese in Singapore, you grow-up with the idea that the Malays are simply lazy and stupid. I mean, Chinese have common sense so when the government tells them to have only two-children (threats of cutting subsidies for a third child), you only have two children or you have less. The Malays…they happily carry on producing kids – how stupid is that!

But somehow, after my friend’s wedding, I’m wondering if there’s another side to the story. Perhaps the Malay community has got something right. Chinese weddings are always a demonstration of status. Families negotiate the number of tables they get for their relatives. Relatives pull rank by making it a point of turning up late (The later you are, the more important you are). Food is admittedly spectacular but everyone buggers off once the dishes have been served – point made.

Malay weddings are by comparison, more simple affairs. They’re usually held in the void decks of housing estates and somehow in spite of the humble settings, the weddings are elaborate affairs. Suddenly people dress-up in traditional costumes and become dashing. Families gather together to cook-up a storm and washing up is done by friends and family.

The funny thing is, especially when you consider the fact that this is the Muslim Community, people sing and dance without a drop to drink. I mean, there is a saying that you can have fun without alcohol, but why take the risk? Well, the Malay community seems to have taken that risk and it’s paid off.

We live in a society that is always on the move. We turn our noses up at people who seem uninterested in the chase for the almighty dollar, euro or pound. But I wonder if we, the economically successful people realise the cost of the life we lead. Somehow, we’re always telling ourselves that we are driving ourselves on and on so that one day we can be financially free and then we’ll spend time with our loved ones. But then, when we stop working and chasing ownership of bigger and better things, we find that our loved ones have left us behind and the moments we thought we have don’t exist.

As a Chinese, a descendent of immigrants, one is ingrained with the idea that you cannot accept your situation as it is and you must strive to make yourself better – and there are definitions of better. If you are uneducated, you must make your children educated. If you live in a flat, your children must live in a house. Perhaps I shouldn’t knock this mentality – this is the mentality that has given me the good things that I enjoy.

Somehow, I seem to get a kick out of living on a knife’s edge. The people that I associate with are like me. We chase deals here and there just to get buy. One of my partners wanted me to help him sign up for a car – the tug on my heart strings was – “My daughters will feel shy if I don’t have a car.” OK, I don’t drive but my ego seems to be tied up to how much I can bill and keep within a month or even a year.

Then there is the other side. The Hindus and Buddhist believe its Karma. The Muslims are focused on things being Insh Allah or God Willing. My Algerian friends tell me they see the good fortune of the Saudi’s as being “Insh Allah,” and they tell me that when you think like this, you can accept another person without envy. The Saudi’s on the other hand tell me that they’re aware that they’re good fortune is God given and so they’re obliged to be generous to the less fortunate. (Of course it’s not as hunky-dory as that but I think they’ve got something there).

And so you have it. In Singapore it’s the Chinese who run around for material wealth and material power. Statistically speaking, the average Chinese student gets better marks and is usually much better paid in latter life than the average Malay. Simply put, the Chinese chase these things harder.

It’s not that the Chinese are harder working or that the Malays are lazy. The Malays divert their energies elsewhere like in having a nice home and a decent quality of life. In a way, the Malay attitude reminds me a Ghurkha I knew. He was proud of the fact that he had seven children. He admitted that his salary was barely enough to support all of them but he and his wife loved them dearly. I suppose the Chinese attitude would be to point out that love does not put food on the table. But I sometimes wonder if our practical attitude has left us out in the cold, a land where children barely know their parents. It’s like Neil French, former WPP World Wide Creative Director said, “Money can’t buy you a Dad.” Nor can it make you one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

17 I Had a Better Dream, Now I'm 33

I guess writing about your own birthday shows that you are really an egotistical prick with nothing better to write about. But then again, I think one of the perks about being in your 30s is that you start to realise that life is too short to worry too much about the rest of the world and to do what makes you happy. I have Vinod Shekhar, Malaysia's 16th richest man according to Forbes and sometimes magician to thank to this reminder. He always said, "The people who never liked you won't like you and those who were your friends all those years ago will still be your friends, as long as you have not changed."

Well, I suppose, now that I have reached the age of 33, I should probably reflect how much I've changed since I was 17. I like to think not that much about me has changed. Yes, I'm a little bit more jadded, or realistic in chasing what I want and don't want in life. Superficially, I've changed alot. When I was a young man, I was very insistant that I could only be involved with older women and that was pretty much true into my mid-twenties. Carra, perhaps my last true love, is six-years older. These days I'm more relaxed about being in the company of younger women - Han Li, the clossest female bit I have around me these days is 7-years younger and I don't worry that I'm developing secret pedophilic tendencies.

On the financial front, I think I've become a little more realistic. When you're 17 and living of Daddy's generosity, its easy to dream of financial figures. Somehow its nice to talk about a million or two as it were like talking about used condomes. Suddenly, when you're dependent on a few insane cases in the market....being able to keep a couple of thousand here and there in cash seems like a major achievement.

You also know you are getting old when the army seems less keen to touch you. I realised this when I ran into an army MO who insisted that I get my high-blood pressure examined. If there's an institution that reflects society, its the army. When you are 17 and you're lazy about doing regular excercise, you tend to get cocky because the army will knock you into shape. When you are in your twenties, getting pissed at 0300 and waking up to book into camp at 0600 is like ...second nature. But suddenly, in your thirties, the body starts to give off warning signs that enough is about to reach the stage of enough and somehow, you got to figure out a way to stay happy. - I'm still stubournely clinging onto the belief that I'll live out my days with not much healthy living, rich food, booze and a couple of floozies all over me....but I think there are times when even I don't get too turned on by this.

I know many would say that I've probably become a better and stronger person from the boy that I was at the age of 17. And it would be pretty sad if I was a carbon copy of who I was when I was that age.

But I like to think there are parts of me that have not changed since I was that kid. I like to think that I still see the best in people, even when they appear awful. Call it naive but I think everyone has a way of benefiting you. Its a case of looking within yourself for answers.

I also like to think that I'm still mentally curious. As long as you don't fall into a routine, you're brain will continue to work.

So, here I am at the age of 33. I had a better dream when I was 17 but I'm now in a better position to be a better dreamer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Music Lessons

It was a fairly relaxed day to day. No, I lie, I was simply down right lazy. Woke up at about 11, had lunch and by 1230, I was back in the land of snooze for at least another five hours more. Sleep is such a wonderful thing to be in that one might conclude that I'm ready to drop dead and start again.

Anyway, the lazy part was OK. I mean, what else could I say, I was fast asleep and not doing anything. But then the evening did get more productive. Went out to the Ceylon Sports Club for a few moments. A friend's brother-in-law had bought two tables for a function where the Minister of Education was the Guest of Honour. After an hour we managed to sneak out and headed for the Harry's Bar in the Esplenade where there was a wonderful band playing.

Musicians always make good company. They're always relaxed, chilled out and they get their feelings expressed on the stage. Tonight's band was especially good. The lead singer is a long haired Indian fellow who melds with his guitar. Base player and drummer were also very good. I like small bands ..the sessions are always casual and the mood seems to create music and visa-versa. Anyway, I think we need to get more people going to support our local bands. There is plenty of talent in Singapore but I think its often under-appreciated.

Latest news is our beloved Senior Minister, Goh Chok Tong has spoken about his worries about how Singapore is becomming more diverse. It's particularly true with the Chinese and Indian communities where our local Chinese and Indians end up rubbing shoulders against authentic Chinese and Indians.

With the local Chinese, we usually end up thumbing our noses at the Mainlanders, who usually come here as labourers and hookers. One of my good friends has a reached a stage where he's turned-off by the mainland Chinese accent.

The Indian community has the reverse problem, when the Indian IT workers come across from India and end up looking upon their Singaporean cousins and poorer relations.

Well, I guess there are certain truths to this. There are plenty of Mainland Chinese working as labourers and prostitutes. The Indian expats who come to Singapore tend to be better educated and better traveled than their Singapore counterparts. Why should it surprise anyone that certain tensions come about?

There is, however a good side to all of this. Local Singaporean Chinese and Indians are suddenly made to realise that they are Singaporeans rather than Chinese or Indians. Supriyo Sircar, Polaris's Regional VP puts the differences down to this - "India is simply not a reference point to Singaporean Indians." So there you have it...we the Chinese and Indians who were born in Singapore simply have no attachment to the "Motherlands," Singapore like it or not is our "Motherland," and the faster our community accepts it...the better it will be for all of us.

Singapore will have issues of "Us" and "Them." But I don't think race and religion will be the main ones. If anything, the most worrying problem for us will be a question of the haves and have nots. Take our growing economy. If you read the statistics, Singapore is back in boom town, something like the good old days of the 1980s where our economic growth rates made everyone else look like they were crawling.

But talk to people on the ground and you get a less pretty picture. Cost are rising and if you talk to enough people, it really hasn't changed all that much from 2001 when the word on everyone elses lips was about "recession." Food hawkers remain in the doulromes. So do cab drivers. Yes, business has definately picked up. I find that I can take cabs more often than I used. But the cost for the cab driver has increased to the point that he (and its usually a he) feels no better off than the days when we had a recession. OK, certain taxes like our GST have gone up. But so have other cost and for most businesses its in the area of rent. Christmas, Hari-Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali have been rolled into one and extended throughout the whole year for owners of commercial property (no prizes for guessing who is the largest landowner in Singapore).

Singapore is undoubtedly a competative place. Back in the old days Singaporeans could waltz into a job in the government or in a multi-national and leave the dirty work to migrants for poorer parts of Asia and the plum job to an expat that couldn't count from New York, Sydney or London. But these days, things are different. Yes, certain government departments that don't have an obligation to be accountable for their finances, can reserve jobs for Singaporeans. But for those in the private sector its a different story. The dirty jobs remain for the poorer cousins from poorer Asia. The plum jobs remain the property of a few barrow boys. But Midddle Management...well now, Singaporeans find themselves competing with people from India and China....people who are often overqualified for the jobs and who are hungrier for the job than your average Singaporean.

In a cruel -that's the free market- world, increased competition is good for Singaporeans. We can no longer rely on our paper qualifications when the competition has supperior qualifications and the willingness to fight harder than you do. Simply put - we the average Singaporean workers have to become smarter and hungrier for our own survival. If the Chinese and Indians can come here and make the system work for them, surely we can do the same and we can do it elsewhere too.

But while I am not against competition from foreigners, I get the feeling that it does not affect everyone in Singapore and that's morally and economically wrong. With the notable exception of SIA, Singapore's largest business enteties have simply gotten away with bullying their way in a small domestic market and the government doesn't seem to think that this is unnatural or damaging to the economy.

OK, to be fair, Singapore's economy is humming along. But isn't it a sign of complacency when market players can proudly proclaim that the market is too small for comeptition and that its necessary for them to have an iron grip on things, inculding the right to screw the consumer? The sooner someone decides that this is an unhealthy situation for the economy and does something about it - the better we shall all be.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hold On!

It's been quite a few days since I wrote anything in this blog. Nay, its been a long while since I actually wrote for the sake of writing. Put it down to a case of wanting to do something different or perhaps its a good sign for the consultancy part of my work that I'm somehow making enough money in there for me not to have the inspiration to write all sorts of articles on all sorts of stupid things.

Anyway, I've been hit by one of those crazy quandary moods and so here I am blogging, trying to inflict my personality on the rest of the world for the sake of...well having nothing better to do or perhaps just losing myself to ...well nothing in particular....but a lost heart, I suppose.

Perhaps we should start with the 11th of November or Armristice Day. This was an event that I used to take quite seriously when I lived in the UK, but have since let dissapear into the realms of insignificance. I'm trying to revive some private meaning for myself on this day but somehow it becomes more difficult as the years go by and I get more and more caught up with the perks of modern living.

It's a shame that I've started to feel that way. Armristice Day marks a day when millions of young men in Europe died in what was the world's most horrible war (WWI). While, World War II saw more casualites in absolute numbers, it has become something of a sanitised legend. We have been drawn into a world of Hollywood Romance about a pretty horrendous occasion. World War I on the other hand reminded ...bloody....messy and pretty much forgotten and in that very fact, I think we forget something very precious ..... the reality of war today is that although we are told that Wars (especially when Americans are involved) have a romantic and heroic significance, the reality remains that war is a messy, senseless act of old men sending young men to their deaths for no particular reason.

What was World War I other than a family fude between Europe's Royals? Cousin George in Britain along with his cousin Nicky in Russia couldn't hack it that Cousin William of Germany needed to march his troops accross a bit of land that they coveted for themselves. Because a couple of inbreed blue bloods couldn't settle a family quarell in a civilised manner -millions of young men spent too many years of their lives shooting at each other in trenches and not advancing at all.

Today, we have something pretty similliar. We are forgetting the fact that its young men like me, my friends and probably the children that we are having (yes, I'm now at the age of mass reproduction) who pay the price of the fantasies of a few wimps....Little Georgie who didn't have the balls to be a solider himself needs to play solider with.....other people's lives.

I believe soliders themselves are nobel people doing a sometimes necessary and always unpleasent job. I just despise politicians who don't have the balls to do the job themselves sending the boys in for the sake of it. Seriously, Iraq is like World War One ...the fantasy of a man with no balls playing with the lives of other people because....well the lives at stake are not his and those of his gang. To be fair to him, we as ordinary people have done precious little to stop the nonsense but then again....hey......its not our lives that are being lost for no good reason.

After Armristice Day on the 11th, the 12th was spent in more mundane fashion. Went and got my client interviewed twice...hip, hip, horray. Then I went home and who should I run into but Dad who was visiting the old ladies.

Actually, it was good I ran into him. For once, I took the initiative to call him and invite him out to dinner. He's looking bloody good for a man who is about to turn 60. Ended-up picking up the tab for dinner, which pissed me off imensely, because I wanted to make a change to take him out. But then again, he had alot of fun telling me to get my life sorted out. But at least this time it was done in a somewhat optimistic atmosphere. He's suddenly discovering he's happy again. Its like he working and he loves his work and that's given him the energy that he had before business went to the piglets the first time round.

My Dad has never been much of a cuddly character. I mean, my mother needs to speak to me every week, while I barely speak to the old man except on special occasions (His birthday, mine and Chinese New Year). The lack of communication seems to suit both of us just fine. And yet, just because we keep our communications to a minimum....I'm actually starting to appreciate the time I get to spend with him. I think certain gaps in life do get filled up when I hear side of the story.

Anyway, I managed to speak to Han Li in Vietnam today. Didn't get a chance to speak to Thui today but God Willing I'll get to speak to her within the month. The idea of doing a Bangkok-Hanoi trip this December actually seems quite nice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Deepavali: Diwali and the Shinning Lights.

It's in the wee hours of the Deepavali morning and tomorrow is yet another public holiday, here in the land of manufactured harmony and repackaged values. The Indian community will be busy celebrating and the rest of us will join in the fun and games because, well we just need an excuse to celebrate something and actually not go to work, school and the other places where we normally spend most of our days.

For me, Deepavali or Diwali is a wonderful time. My biggest clients outside the Saudi community are Indian and so its up to the usual sending out of greetings. This being an Indian festival, there a variety of dates. South Indians celebrate Deepavali, North Indians celebrate Diwali a day later and the Nepaleese celebrate the same festival another day later. However, its the same festival - the Festival of Lights and like Christmas in the land of the retailer and advertiser, Diwali has lost it's religious overtones and become a festival that everyone celebrates.

So, I suppose I should comment on this? Not really, I'm not as theological as I was back in my youth and for a trained anthropologist, I have remarkably low interest in symbolism other than the signs before numbers on my bank statements. Somehow, as you get older, your mind becomes more focused on basic things.

I guess, I like Diwali because there's alot of talk about light and having light in ones life. We're all interested in having light rather than dark. Thanks to the invention of electronic lights, barn owls like me are able to get things done at night and substitute our sleep paterns during the day when the normal go about their business.

Light is one of those wonderful things if it cuts through the darkness of the usual bullshit that pollutes the life we live. Take a look at the financial markets. Right now you have loads and loads of clever people comming up with all sorts of theories as to why the market is moving this way or that. Very clever people like the former CEO's of Meril Lynch and Citigroup were so clever that they managed to lose an announced US$20 billion between them by lending money to people who could not pay it back and to show how clever they really are ....they both managed to negotiate themselves a servence pay ranging in the hundreds of millions to each of them. Clearly this is clever, because you manage to get rewarded when you fail as well as when you succeed.

Of course, the ordinary people will be clouded by loads of arguments made up by the clever people. But I suppose that must be ok, since ordinary people merely put up the money for the schemes of the clever people. Really, it does not take a genious to figure out the major problems with the world economy. American's are up to their eye-balls in bad debts and have no savings. Chinese on the other hand save alot and place all the money they make in American T-Bonds - which means, Chinese savings are in actual fact subsidising American spending. Now, it looks like that cycle is not about to last and the world is definately in for some interesting economic times - no matter what the clever people out there tell you.

Its a wonderful thing to have light. It allows you to see things more clearly and when you can see more clearly, you act more clearly. Now isn't that something you should go for!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blockage Clearing Slowly

Nose is starting to get unblocked, which is nice and the incidents of smokers cough are slowly but surely subsiding. This is, I believe partly as a result of drinking lots of hot tea during the day and subsidising it with a bit of wine and beer in the evening. Nothing like a bit of alcohol to kill the booze.

Anyway, the last two-days have been about family efficiency. Spent the better part of two-days around Tara, helping her to sort out some doccuments that she needed to sort out with the powers that be and showing her the fastest way to look for cheap goodies. My sister, the perpetual Tomboy spared me hours of painful shopping trips but did take a bit of time to look for some "cool" trinkets. She now heads off to Perth for cousin Luke's wedding - this will be the first wedding in the family in quite a while - mine, as my mother has delightfuly reminded me does not count (well, to a certain extent, I guess that's true - I avoided telling people I was married).

Managed to settle a major part of the phone bill and treated myself to a Pizza at Pete's Place in the Hyatt. I think Pete's is wonderful Italian resturant. I remember the place as a kid and now that I've aged to the unkidly age of 32, I still enjoy oven baked pizzas and the fresh bread.

Having lived in Asia (if you can call Singapore Asia), I'm generally spoilt for food choices. Somehow, we on this rather diverse continent, have managed to make the most trivial of things seem tasty. As a Chinese, I take pride in the fact that we managed to uncover the gastronomic delicacies of things like chicken feet and spare parts. When it comes to food taste, I'm all for my own kind. I actually despise Chinese who move to the West and brag about how they don't eat spare parts as a sign of how they have become developed - rather like I find Muslims and Indians who don't use their hands when they eat briyani to be distasteful. For some perverse reason, I see this is a sign of low self-esteem in Asians who are so desparte to try and ape cultures that have not discovered half the wonders on offer in their own culture.

Having said all of that, I find many Western things wonderful and nowhere is this more true than in many Western cuisines. The French have set the standard for Western cooking and the Italians are another group of magicians when it comes to food. I remember one of the best memories of my last summer holidays in Europe was a family trip to Florence. Personally, I found the weather too hot to make old buildings and cathedrals interesting. But what I took home from that trip was the joy of how the Italians managed to make magic with a few herbs, red wine and cheese. There's such an incredible smell of freshness in the early morning of the Italian countryside.

Pizza dough and cheese is one of the most amazing wonders of the Italian kitchen and somehow, for $22, I was able to find alot of happy feelings over a single pizza. I think food is like sex - its best enjoyed with the tounge and the mouth. Somehow when four cheeses are put onto a bit of dough - the flavours create a magical sensation that brings the whole body to a new level of joy - the Finns will of course argue that a run in the snow after a sauna produces similar feelings.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Stuffed nose, smoker's cough and lots of green stuff

I've come down with the most horendous bug that has kept me pretty much bed ridden for the past 3-days. Somehow, I can't help but cough-up horrible green things violently and my nose has been blocked all the way up to the brain and unlike a certain law professor, I can't even tell if this is what gay sex aka buggeration by another bloke feels like.

Yes, this is the begining of something pretty crappy at a time when I think I could do with a few moments of feeling good. Managed to collect my final payment from GRID for the GE job, which means I have finally come close to reviving the savings account to the levels that it was at last year, and I can concentrate on a few other things that will, God Willing put more money in the cash bucket. Of course, the temptation to go out on a spree of booze, hookers and dubious business ventures calls out quite seductively but I thanks to this cold I don't seem to have the will or capacity to be bad as a I want to be - which is just as well - since I think the sub-prime crisis is about to get worse and having cash in hard times is an absolute must in this day and age.

Being sick is no fun. I'm stuck with having to breath through my mouth on a few occasions and I just want to get as much sleep as I can. The best form of entertainment that seems to come my way these days is observing the colour and texture of the stuff that I cough up or breath out of my nose. I think I must be pretty bugged up because I've taken quite a few dosages of flue medication and that does not seem to be kicking in. Of course, looking at your green stuff is actually pretty repulsive but facinating in a quck-doctor kind of way - I think in Chinese medical terminology, you can tell if your body is "Heaty" by the green icky stuff that comes out and my body must be near furnace point - even if I am not actually feverish.

Having said that, I've had a bit of quiet time to get things done. Been updating my facebook profile. OK, networking sites are not for everyone. I mean, I think most of the people I meet on these sites are people I already know and do business with. I've never actually meet a new contact off the net and had a successful business transaction. Same goes with getting laid. Have not meet anyone who wanted to get laid with me just because they found my profile sexy.

However, Facebook is different in an interesting way. Have managed to meet all sorts of old friends and reconnected with them. In particular its good to meet with the guys from the Old Churcharian's Club. It's been years since I left school and I think I'm in danger of sounding like one of those sad public school boys who has nothing better to do but reminice about the old days. Well....not really, these are guys who formed an important part of my life and its good to have a contact of sorts with them. One of them, I think is in Singapore and it would be worth getting in contact. - Not sure if the bugger remembers me though.

Tara comes into town later today (by which I mean 3 November). Will be good to catch-up with her. I think if last year was the year of the baby girl, this should be the year of the siblings. First Max and now Tara dropping by. It's strange to think that I'm so much older than the rest of them, but somehow that has not stopped me being or wanting to be close to them. Tara in particular, is the sibling closest to me in age and the only one that did any growing-up with me. I think she's probably the one sibling of mine who can laugh at the same people that I laugh at most of the time. OK, Gina was a bit of an exception - Christopher did most of the laughing (At age 11, he was so tickled to meet a grown-up he was taller than) - Tara was merely a frosty sister-in-law - ah the joys of soap-opera marriages.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Editorial: Lack of Accountability

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7§ion=0&article=103031&d=31&m=10&y=2007

31 October 2007

The news yesterday that the US State Department had promised immunity to Blackwater security personnel involved in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad last month is both shocking and beyond belief. But should we really be surprised, considering that the Bush administration has treated Iraq as a colony since the 2003 invasion? Not really.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been promising a thorough investigation of the deadly fiasco committed by hyped-up American mercenaries who have a long history of being trigger-happy, testosterone-driven killing machines. But it now seems that those Blackwater personnel who let loose a barrage of bullets on Sept. 16 in Nisour Square, killing innocent Iraqis as they turned and tried to flee from the square, are never going to be held accountable. The worst that can happen to them is to be fired from Blackwater — which is what happened to the Blackwater employee who killed a guard of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in a fit of drunken rage on Christmas Eve in 2004.

The Democrats have now lambasted the Bush administration for failing to hold Blackwater accountable. Sen. Patrick Leahy says, “In this administration, accountability goes by the boards.” Which is not really surprising, considering the deep ties that run between Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, and the Republican Party. He and his family have given the party more than $325,000 in political donations over the past 10 years, and have hired some high-profile former Bush administration officials to work at Blackwater. Which perhaps explains why the State Department has made Blackwater the main provider of security for its embassy staff in Iraq, and why it recently gave the company a new contract for even more security work in Iraq. According to statistics compiled by the US media, Blackwater has been involved in nearly 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, most of them from moving vehicles where they did not bother to stop and check to see how many Iraqis they had maimed or killed. In two cases, Blackwater paid compensation to the families of victims and tried to cover up the other incidents. That Blackwater has long been the most irresponsible and violent security group in Iraq has been well-known to both Iraqis and foreign journalists in the country, even though their nasty tactics became apparent to the wider world only after the bloodbath that they caused on Sept. 16.

The Iraqi Parliament is now trying to repeal Order 17, the law put in place by former US viceroy L. Paul Bremer III in 2003, which gives immunity to private security contractors. It seems doubtful, however, that they will be able to repeal the law without consent from their masters in Washington.

That private security guards in Iraq are exempt from any law in the world, allowing them to kill at will, beggars belief. Even American soldiers are subject to US military law and have been held accountable in US military courts for unlawful killings and torture committed in Iraq. Why Blackwater and its overpaid soldiers of fortune should be above US law, let alone Iraqi law, is something that the Bush administration is going to have to fix extra-quick if they want to retain even the tiniest shred of a reputation for decency.

Monday, October 29, 2007

This says it all about the World Economy

Dollar's Demise Can Be Seen Even in the Maldives: William Pesek

By William Pesek

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&sid=ahcvx7iJ4tXM&refer=home

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Bargaining while buying some trinkets in the Maldivian capital, Male, recently, I heard most unexpected words: ``You can keep your dollars.''

This tiny nation of 1,200 islands has long accepted U.S. currency out of convenience for visitors and financial sobriety. The dollar tended to do better in global markets than the local monetary unit, the rufiyaa. That may be changing and it's a bad omen for the world's reserve currency.

``My dollars aren't as popular here as they've been in the past,'' says Moyez Mahfouz, 51, who has visited the Maldives from Bahrain with his family once or twice a year for a decade. ``More and more on this trip, I'm being asked for rufiyaa.''

Why does it matter what happens in the Maldives? Its $1 billion economy is worth 1/59th of Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates's wealth and 1/27th of Sri Lanka's output. While it's an amazingly beautiful place, the Maldives is a rounding error on the global economic pie chart. Yet it may be a microcosm of a tectonic shift in finance: the demise of the dollar.

These things start out slowly, and in recent months I have had similar experiences from Mexico to Vietnam. In markets, restaurants, taxis and tourist shops that long accepted dollars, many are opting for local currency. The reason: concerns the dollar plunge that analysts have predicted for years is afoot and that the U.S. is uninterested in halting it.

Transformational Event

There's also a nascent realization that something transformational may be happening in global markets. Some states that long pegged their currencies to the dollar are scrapping the policy -- like Kuwait -- while others are quietly considering it. A survey by HSBC Holdings Plc found that twice as many Gulf businesses see benefits from dropping currency pegs to the dollar as those that see negative consequences.

Following Kuwait's May 20 move to drop its dollar peg, Gulf states are under pressure to do the same. The catalyst isn't so much anger over the Bush administration's policies, but how the dollar's slump is raising the price of imported goods. Inflation has reached record levels in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman in the last 12 months.

President George W. Bush's handiwork doesn't help, of course. In December 2004, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested Muslim countries should refuse to trade in dollars and use their economic influence to force a change in U.S. policies. The U.S. ``owes huge sums of money to the rest of the world,'' Mahathir said. ``If people do not keep giving money to the U.S., it will go bankrupt.''

`Rogue Nation'

For years now, Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at Bank of America Corp. in New York, has been warning that the U.S.'s image as a ``rogue nation'' is a key force behind the dollar's decline.

The subprime crisis doesn't help, and neither does the perception that U.S. officials -- who recently helped negotiate a bailout fund to calm credit markets -- are protecting reckless investors from losses.

``Bubbles are easier to inflate than to sustain,'' says Richard Duncan, a partner at Blackhorse Asset Management in Singapore, and author of the 2005 book ``The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures.''

It also hasn't escaped Asians that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He supports a strong dollar while the U.S. stands to gain from its decline through more-competitive exports and repayment of international debts with cheaper dollars. That's the problem with beggar-thy- neighbor policies -- the neighbors realize what's going on.

Debased Dollar

Investors such as Jim Rogers, too. ``It's the official policy of the central bank and the U.S. to debase the currency,'' Rogers, a former partner of George Soros and chairman of Beeland Interests Inc., said in Amsterdam last week.

Not that the U.S. has enough currency reserves, $44 billion, to halt a dollar crash. The real stockpiles are in Asia. China has $1.4 trillion of reserves, followed by Japan with $923 billion, Taiwan with $263 billion, South Korea with $257 billion and India with $249 billion. Were Asians to dump dollars, the U.S.'s reserve-currency status would be in jeopardy.

The rise of sovereign wealth funds adds another wrinkle. There's much chatter in markets about whether these massive, politically connected funds will shift assets from dollars to euros or other currencies. Islamic finance also gives Gulf states an alternative to dollar-denominated markets.

View From Maldives

There are many arguments against dumping the dollar. The result of diversifying revenue for oil exporters and reserves held by central banks might be a dollar rout, says Larry Hatheway, a London-based analyst at UBS AG. The ensuing jump in U.S. risk premiums and the deflationary impact on the world economy could boomerang on OPEC and central banks via a collapse in oil prices and weaker exports.

With the euro coming into its own, the dollar looking wobbly and some nations miffed by U.S. policies, a slow and steady shift may nonetheless be under way.

Not that the Maldives can tip the balance. Yet the more nations, no matter how small, that begin eschewing the dollar, the bigger the challenges facing the U.S.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Confessions of the Naan Maker

Had a wild night last night (Friday October 26-07). After sorting out my daily affairs, managed to get Azmi and Hadi, my Citibank buddies to go out and hit town together. Started off in Mortons for the Martini and stake sandwiches (lovely USDA Prime Rib and fabulous bread), then it was off to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. We've bcome quite close to the band that play there. It was also a chance to Azmi to have an SAF reunion with Eddie, the band's saxaphonist. Then we capped the evening off at the Lock, Stock and Barrell across the street. The band was fantastic - music was as always first-rate.

Anyway, the evening or by then, morning, was capped off with a visit to Bijay's work place.There was no Naan at 4am but we managed to get a tea out of him. I don't know what posessed me to push him on this but after two years, I managed to get him to admit to me that he had quick fling with Gina - or in this words "Go with her to hotel." As strange as it sounds, I'm glad he finally spat out the truth of what went on with my ex-wife. Funnily enough, I'm not at all angry - During the time he was pursuing her under my very own nose,I joked about being able to look at my father-in-law and telling him - "Can you take out what he put in" (when he found out about the abortion he asked me "Can you put back what you take out?)

A mutual friend was very upset with Bijay over his confession. The saying, "Bros before Hoe's" reflects one of the greatest social taboos I can think of between friends - You simply don't contemplate having sex with a friend's girlfriend (Gina at the time was technically still my wife and he and I are good friends).

Unfortunately for the Naan Maker, his brain and other moral senses are trapped in between his thighs. We're talking about a man who announces his size to perfect strangers. Gina, I think, must have known this. She actively used him to, in her words - "Make me jealous." She would flirt outrageously with him - so much so that she made the claim that "Had she known him before me, she would have married him instead." (Yeah, right - she had a problem explaining to her parents why she was with someone who was not Teochew when I was in the picture - I'd have liked to see her explain a Nepaleese or at least the difference between a Nepaleese and an Indian to the old man).

He was equally enamoured of her at first - "Brother, I find that woman EXCELLANT - Her face hungry for cock." - I think I must have given him my "tacit" approval - Now, as I sit back and remember facts - I did tell him that she was violent in our relationship. - I don't think he listened too much - even if he did try to assure me "I know you don't like it when I call Gina, brother - don't worry I LOVE my wife [he was married to a cash cow at the time]."

The signs that something had happened between them. She called me up a few months later offering me a number and asking me not to give it to my friends (which could only have meant him - the rest of my friends loathed her). She claimed to have helped him type out loads of doccuments for his brother's PR. Eventually, he managed to get the brunt of her abusive phone calls. When she finally decided she could never see me again (I had mistakenly sent her an MMS of a girl I had slept with), she did confess that the Naan Maker had tried to kiss her - in her words "Some people simply don't know how to take NO for an answer."

Ah well, things did work out for the best. God granted me the PPO and allowed her the honour of divorcing me. Dad had warned me to be careful - "Your girl can bite you back," he said (In one of our few father-son moments - he was getting out of his marriage around the same time Gina and I were getting ready to end things.) To be fair to Gina, she's dissapeared from my life and financial and health stresses aside, my life has been wonderfully good.

I'm not a schemer by nature, I despise under hand games and doing things like having to be unpredicatable. It's tough and I don't have the energy to play games. But when it came to Gina and her unpredictable volatility - I was forced into playing games. Towards the end, I braced myself for violent episodes so that I could collect the medical evidence that would be used against her. I got my paper work in order so that when we were called to court, getting the PPO became a formality.

She went to church and became a "Good Christian" in an effort to win me back. I went along with her to church to show that I was decent enough to try to reconcile. I think, had I known of the fling she had with the Naan Maker and a friend of his earlier on, I could have ended things much more ruthlessly. - I would have had her firmly secure in a legal (adultery) and cultural (She's from a family that takes pride in insularity - the idea of a relationship with a 'Nepalese/Indian' would be considered a slap in the face) bind.

I think, with the luxury of hindsight, I'm glad we never went down this course. I managed to get what I wanted -an end of the violence. She and her family got to save face. I'm not unhappy I learnt of this, I now have a way to ensure that the status quo of non-contact shall remain in force.

Was I using the Naan maker? Perhaps I was? Poor bugger acted on his nature and I sat there and watched as he charged head on into a rat's nest of her personality. I hope for his sake, she'll leave him alone too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When being too clever comes to the fore?

Say whatever you like about the Singapore government but it is filled with clever people. As much as the masses may like to think that things are changing, the way to the top in Singapore remains simple - study hard, get a government scholarship, work in the civil service for a few years and before you know it you will soon be asked to run for politics. When you have entered politics, all you have to do is to keep your senior colleague (usually a cabinet minister) looking good and before you know it - hey presto you're in the cabinet, earning a salary that is the envy of your counterparts in the rest of the world.

This formula has worked exceedingly well for Singapore. While other countries have gone to dogs whenever they've tried to use central planning, Singapore has succeeded brilliantly. Our Ministers and civil servants are genuinely clever people who are genuinely devoted to the betterment of Singapore. So, whatever one may say about the lack of freedoms in Singapore, or the "Nanny Mentality and super high salaries - we put up with it - no we actually quite like it because the government has done exceedingly well by us. How can you argue with an institution that has proved to be correct time after time in what its done.

However, my faith in the Singapore government and dare I say, Singaporeans has been shaken by recent debates in parliament. Yes, this is the case of section 377A - the section of the penal code that makes consensual sex between consenting homosexual adults a crime. But its also a case of other issues that were debated - namely the removal of marital rape and certain gender specific legislation.

Firstly, the way the PM handled 377A was exceedingly disappointing. As things stand, Singapore will keep 377A but not enforce it. The PM has said that we need to balance the rights of homosexuals in Singapore with the conservative values of the majority of Singaporeans. Keeping 377A but not enforcing it is the wonderfully legally ambiguous solution to make everyone happy. Sounds fair.... rather like Israel's stance over its nuclear weapons - we neither deny (so you'll think twice before trying to mess with us) nor do we admit (to stop us from having to actually submit to play by the rules everyone else is subjected to)

To be fair to the PM, ambiguity would probably would have been great if the Fags had not brought up the issue in the first place. Fags are allowed to operate quite freely in Singapore even if being a Fag is actually illegal. Had they not raised the issue, it would never have become and issue in the first place.

But now that the issue is raised, we can't for the hell of us go back to the way things were on this issue. Now that the whole nation knows that homosexuality is a criminal offence, a can of worms has been opened and the worms are crawling all over the rest of us. It's not just the Fags who are criminals. but the rest of us who deal with Fags should all get lawyers. As MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, Mr Baey Yang Keam pointed out - renting a flat to a homosexual couple could actually put one in legal danger rather in the same way that renting out a room to illegal migrant workers or prostitutes is.

Is Mr Baey exaggerating? The government seems to think so. After all the PM has said that the law won't actively be enforced. If I'm to understand it correctly, its something like the US military policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." You can be gay even if being gay is actually illegal. More importantly, for the rest of us non-Fags, we won't be prosecuted in our dealings with Fags - which is a relief for any of us working in the creative and media industries - which are incidentally industries that the government wants to promote.

What's the legal guarantee that we won't be persecuted for aiding and abetting criminals in our dealings with the Fags? The government's promise that 377A won't be enforced. Which leads to another Singaporean weakness - blind faith that the government will be good and sincere in its intentions for all eternity. Today's government may be good in its intentions towards Singaporeans but who or what guarantee do we have that some government down the future won't use a law like 377A to beat us over the head with. I am, of course speaking of a hypothetical situation. The government can easily argue that the public's tolerance for homosexuality will increase and we'll change the law by then. But then again, every argument used by the proponents of 377A has been purely hypothetical - ohh make Fags legal and the rest of us will want to have a stick up our buttocks. More importantly, as long as the hypothetical situation remains real ......we place ourselves at the mercy of the government of the day's good intentions.

My disappointment over the government’s copout over 377A was further compounded by its refusal to make marital rape a crime. As with 377A, the government has gone out of its way to fudge issues in the name of ….wait to you hear this…protecting family values. To please the “rights for rape victims” brigade, the government will make martial rape a crime but only if the woman comes forward to get a PPO against her husband. The reason given is because, according to our Minister of State for the Ministry of Law and Order is because men have been tricked into having sex and later been accused on rape.

You don’t need to watch CSI to realize that proving you have been rapped is harder than it looks. Rape victims are medically examined and the examinations they have to go through are often humiliating and degrading. So, for the life of me, I cannot understand who we’re doing anyone a favour by making a married woman who’s husband has forced himself on her to go through the extra hassle of getting a PPO. But then again, this is a conservative society and we need to protect the institution of marriage.

How nice of the Minister of State to realize that women can be as nasty and vindictive as men. I mean, we are talking about the same Minister of State who says that some crimes are not gender neutral because of certain physiological differences between men and women. So, a man who entices a married woman to leave her husband is a criminal but a woman who entices a man to leave his wife is not. Men, under Singapore law, seem to be made of exceedingly stern stuff!

I’m not sure if the learned professors who have been the biggest proponents of these views on marriage have observed the way men and women react. I’m no expert, but I’ve been around long enough to realize that women are very capable of making suckers out of men. We love pretty faces and are by nature willing to throw a relationship with a loving wife to the wind in pursuit of a pretty face. Women on the other hand tend to be calculative enough not risk a good relationship in pursuit of a good time in the sack.

I wonder what’s going on with the state of mind of people but it seems that common sense is no longer a natural part of the day. When someone ask you for something – never answer straight – it’s a sign that you’re not clever enough – just look at the people who are tinkering with our domestic laws.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stalin, Mao And … Ahmadinejad?

http://www.newsweek.com/id/57346/page/1

Conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history's greatest mass murderers.

Oct 29, 2007 Issue

At a meeting with reporters last week, President Bush said that "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon." These were not the barbs of some neoconservative crank or sidelined politician looking for publicity. This was the president of the United States, invoking the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism." For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

When the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatami was elected president in Iran, American conservatives pointed out that he was just a figurehead. Real power, they said (correctly), especially control of the military and police, was wielded by the unelected "Supreme Leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Now that Ahmadinejad is president, they claim his finger is on the button. (Oh wait, Iran doesn't have a nuclear button yet and won't for at least three to eight years, according to the CIA, by which point Ahmadinejad may not be president anymore. But these are just facts.)

In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can't be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a "residual rationality," he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history's greatest mass murderers.

If I had to choose whom to describe as a madman, North Korea's Kim Jong Il or Ahmadinejad, I do not think there is really any contest. A decade ago Kim Jong Il allowed a famine to kill 2 million of his own people, forcing the others to survive by eating grass, while he imported gallons of expensive French wine. He has sold nuclear technology to other rogue states and threatened his neighbors with test-firings of rockets and missiles. Yet the United States will be participating in international relief efforts to Pyongyang worth billions of dollars.

We're on a path to irreversible confrontation with a country we know almost nothing about. The United States government has had no diplomats in Iran for almost 30 years. American officials have barely met with any senior Iranian politicians or officials. We have no contact with the country's vibrant civil society. Iran is a black hole to us—just as Iraq had become in 2003.

The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush's representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that "the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance to make the final concessions that we asked for." Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, "looked down and rustled his papers." No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They're mad.

Last year, the Princeton scholar, Bernard Lewis, a close adviser to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal predicting that on Aug. 22, 2006, President Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, "is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to 'the farthest mosque,' usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world" (my emphasis). This would all be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

© Newsweek, Inc

Monday, October 22, 2007

Queer Sense

I don't like Faggots. Perhaps I'm just a typical uncaring heterosexual male but I've had enough dealings with homosexuals to find them as group to be self-centred, bitchy, shallow, uncaring and self-absorbed. Perhaps it could be something to do with the fact that I spent my formative years in a male-dominated boring school, followed by the army but I am most comfortable with my fellow men and least comfortable with women (particularly the glamour girls) and homosexuals - at least the glamour girls are good to look at. One of the most painful moments in life was having lunch at BANG Pr when I had to endure the prattle of a Fag and a gang of women obsessed with the latest fashion.

However, I've been disturbed by some of the comments in recent days about the homosexual community in Singapore. These comments from "Conservative" Singaporeans begging the government to keep section 377A of the legal code show a lack of rationality and a desire to celebrate prejudices backed by ignorance. There has been no attempt by these “Conservative” folks to sit down and present a clear and rational case for keeping the State involved in the bedroom. For readers outside Singapore, 377A is the part of the penal code that makes homosexuality a crime! Reading the sentiments expressed, I fear that we are seeing the ugly emotions that brought us the Salem Witch hunts, Auschwitz and Hotel Rwanda.

And I'm sad to say that the government seems to be pandering to this. This government, which has been known to "Do what's Right rather than what’s Popular”, has decided to indulge the prejudices of the ignorant. One Minister of State has declared that Singapore must be diverse and not divisive and since 377A is a divisive issue, it will be ignored. The Prime Minister has gone as far as to point out that we should keep 377A because that’s what the majority of people (who are conservative) want but they won’t prosecute homosexuals. This is a cheap cop-out coming from a government that prides itself in being “strong” in the face of public opinion. Iran’s President was more ingenious in dealing with the question – he merely denied that homosexuality existed in Iran.

Let’s get straight to the point – the state should have no business in the bedroom. Sex is a fact of human existence. As long as it remains an act between consenting adults, it should remain just that. The only time the state and the legal process should ever get involved is when one of the parties is coerced or unable to provide consent (as with children). There is a clear distinction between sex and rape.

But then again, when it comes to homosexuality, people are likely to come-up with all sorts of arguments as to why the State should get involved.

Let’s start with the fact that homosexuality is “Not Natural.” As a heterosexual man, I can spend a good portion of my brainpower on any given day imagining the pleasure I’d get out of a vagina and the number of vagina’s I could enjoy. The penis on the other hand does not capture my imagination and the only penis that seems to interest me is the one attached in between my thighs. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how any man in his right mind could find the penis of another man more attractive than a woman’s vagina. To me, this is natural.

But what about the guy who has no interest in the vagina but gets excited by penises? I find this turn on to be unnatural. But then again, my obsession with the vagina and lack of interest in penis is also unnatural to the other guy. Face it, we all find different things sexy. Even between heterosexuals there are differences. I find a woman’s feet very attractive and erogenous. However, I once had a partner who found her feet to be horrible and didn’t want me touching them – so that was that. What’s natural and wonderful could easily be unnatural and repulsive to another. As long as both parties keep their preferences to themselves, who’s to say the other is wrong?

Can homosexuals help it? A few heterosexual women I know have admitted to wanting to “convert” the “hunky” beefcakes in the gym who are unfortunately for them, only interested in the other beefcakes. Leaving that aside, there are plenty of arguments on the nature and nurture side of the debate to indicate that homosexuality is not an abomination of nature as some would have us believe. Women is brothels for example are likely to enjoy lesbian relationships – given the abuse they face from men, why should that be surprising? The latest study into the subject of homosexuality indicates that a gene, which some people inherit, causes it. Either way, homosexuality is not a disease that someone can cure by going for hormone therapy.

The second argument against the legalisation of homosexuality in Singapore is centred on the question of values and the family. The family as the “Conservatives” have been quick to point out that in Asian societies, the family is the most important unit. A family is of course, defined as a man (papa), woman (mama) and several kids. Any deviation from this definition somehow ruins the family.

This mindset reflects shallow thinking. You don’t have to be a social scientist to realise that a family is more than just a man, woman and several kids – it is about a network of relationships where each individual has certain roles and responsibilities. Sexuality only comes into the fore because the man needs to get turned on by the woman to want to make her pregnant to produce the kids. Other than that, family units are primarily about performing certain roles and responsibilities and homosexuals have proven no less capable than heterosexuals at performing these family roles. I know a gay man who contributes more to his mother than I do.

Furthermore, in a world filled with rising divorce rates, domestic abuse and children being abandoned by parents, homosexuality is a minor issue in discussions about the family. Shouldn’t the family brigade show it is actually concerned about the family unit by concentrating its efforts on solving serious family issues than on denying consenting homosexual adults the right to form a family unit?

Perhaps one of the most pressing issues when it comes to homosexuality is HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. The “Moral Majority” is under the impression that the “homosexual” lifestyle promoted by things like “Gay Pride Parades” leads to increase in this terrible disease. What the “Moral Majority” seems to forget is that the days when HIV/AIDS was a purely homosexual disease are long gone. Even in Singapore, the most likely person to contact HIV is a young heterosexual male. More shockingly, the biggest increase of HIV in woman comes from loyal married women. The continual linkage of HIV as a homosexual condition is irresponsible and reckless.

Another fallacy that the moral majority (who seem to tolerate prostitution amongst other things) seem to be saying is the fact that legalising homosexuality will promote it? I could be blind but I fail to see how this will happen?

Is there a rational reason to keep 377A? How can it benefit Singapore? The moral majority have gone on about maintaining the moral and religious fibber. But so far they’ve only shown a few misguided examples of the morals of keeping this law. Non of them has shown Singaporeans a clear rationale for keeping a law. The government even goes as far to say that they won’t enforce the law but they’ll keep it.

What is the point of having a law but not enforcing it? Or is it a case where the government knows it cannot enforce the law? And if it cannot enforce the law, why keep the law?

In a day and age where Singapore claims to need talent from all over the world, why do we insist on keeping a law that will put off people from coming. Why should a talent from say San Francisco relocate to Singapore because his sexuality will criminalized? No point saying – “Under our law, we won’t prosecute you but you’re still a criminal because of your sexuality.” Let’s get the state out of people’s bedroom and move onto a brighter future instead of letting our prejudices hold us back.