Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dansk Dan Danmark

Vinny from the UK dropped by Hamburg and decided that it would be fun if we drove to Scandinavia for a few days.

Anyway, here I am in Copenhagen, bashing out a quick blog entry to talk about ....not very much. Denmark, unlike Germany and much of Western Europe is dark and snowy. The temperatures have been hovering about 1 and zero - coldder than the fridge Prices of things also seem to be quite expensive too.

In spite of all of that, the  Danes, like the rest of the Scandinavians are incredibly warm and friendly people. Not sure how they manage to be warm but they are great people. The hotel we are staying in is party-central, though, instead of partying, I'm out bashing this entry and trying to make some sense of things

Anyway, tomorrow could be a very interesting day. We're planning to drive into Sweeden, that is assuming the weather holds. If not, Kobenhaven as the Danes call their capital city is a pretty city and one worth getting to know.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fat Choy Auf Deutsch

It's the eve of Chinese New Year and I'm in Germany at my mother's place celebrating with her, stepfather number 2, Tara and Christopher. It's the first time that we have celebrated Chinese New Year in nearly 2 decades. Ever since I've moved back to Singapore, it's always been about celebrating Christmas in the West and CNY in the East but somehow, this year has proved to be quite a different kettle of fish.

Anyway, I#m comming down with a cold - runny nose and teary eyes but am other than that quite content to sleep in my room in the cellar of the house and glad to catch up with Tara and Christopher. It's quite rare when all of us are gathered together and so we we're doing what we can to enjoy each other's company. Christopher has grown-up especially fast, from a small baby hug toy, he's now grown into a Japanese Manga comic character with long blonde streaky hair and quite a character too.

Weather in germany is surprisingly mild. It's a mere 4 degrees centigrade - no need for heavy coats and no snow.

Anyway, the Year of teh Doggy is about to come to a close and soon we shall be in the Year of the Piggy. The Doggy Year was a pretty darn good year for me. On the financial front, things went pretty well and I made some progress in doing decent PR projects for decent brands and I did get to bash out a few articles on some serious topics, which I hope will stand me in good stead for the years to come.

So hopefully the Piggy Year will offer plenty of the same. God Willing, there will be plenty of opportunities to grow professionally and more importantly personally. It's been a good year and it's been that way because of teh good friends that I have made in the past few years. Hopefully, the Piggy Year will be one where I get to have good meals with old friends and solidifying the bonds of friendship. Hopefully this will be a Year where I get to work towards meeting new friends and bringing the wealth of new friendships into a life that has been thus far blessed with plenty of right things.

So to all readers-Gong Hai Fat Choy-Gong Xi fa Cai - have a Happy and Prosperous New Year

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentines Day or the Day Card Makers went on the Rampage

It's Valentines Day today, a day when card makers and floorist feel that wonderful feeling of love, romance and sexual chemistry in the air. It's my favourite day of the year but also my least favourite. so,

I love the fact that its ok to look at a girl on Valentines Day and tell her that you actually like her. My problem is that I usually like just about every woman I've been associated. You could call it the part of me that is romantic, sensual and all other things that I like. Somehow, flattery seems to come off the tip of my tounge like butter dripping from hot toast. OK, I've not gone as far as to try it on the Flesh Ball but by and large my female aquaintainces are easy enough on the eye and so the sour everythings that I speak are easy.

Incidentally, my female readers should know that when I speak such words to them, I have this bad habbit of actually meaning what I say. I'm not saying and doing what I say because I want something. I actually do find the lot of you very attractive and quite beautiful.

On the other hand Valentines Day can be a chore. There are only so many floorist that you can support. There are only so many card makers, including those online whom you can give a smidgen of business to. Women, as I've discovered seem to either hide in self-indignation and take you too seroiusly and start clobbering you over the head with - "We're just friends, ya" speech if you actually tell them you like them. Or worse they actually want you to become an exclusive agent of pure flattery - which becomes a job you pay them for you to do unto them.

So, perhaps there's a way out of this dilema and I should take the path of saying this to every woman who's reading this Blog.

I think your beautiful. Your happiness is paramount to my happiness. In every moment that I spend with you, you are the only one that matters. If I had the power to, I would do everything to make each and every day of your life one of a bliss that you'll ever experience. For me, you are a part of my heart"

Have a Happy Valentines Day  

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I want to say something. I don't know how to say it.

I have a terrible confession to make. I want to say something, I want to shout it out loud and let the whole world know that I need to say something very badly but I can't. It's a terrible thing because I'm in the business of communicating, saying something is my supposed to be my natural talent.

Yet, when I think of things that are on my heart at the moment, I feel that there's a need to empty it and let my thoughts flow through my fingers. It's as if time stands still and the seconds I have to do what I need to do have become moments that I'm rushing to capture and hold onto as they rush past me.

It's like you've had one of those moments when you are in reach of something that you've wanted for a long time. You just sit there, you look at it and then you let it go because its the right thing to do and before you know it, you wish you had more time than you had.

There's a desire to shout out loud and tell the world that you've had a moment of something but the words you use will never get it right. Somehow, you'll say it in a way that goes over the top but if it were understatted, you would be left with the feeling that you should have said more.

So here it is. I'm left with a feeling of needing to say something but I can't and it's going to sit with me for a day or two.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

So Much to Do, So Little Time to Do it In

It's now a mere matter of days before I get onto a plane and fly off to Germany where I will be spending the Chinese New Year season in Germany and so the last few days have been all about trying to chat up my coalition partners and finding out what useful things I can do for them before I fly off and remain blissfuly away from phone call reach.

There's quite alot to be said about mobile phones in the sense that they help you stay in touch with people. But then again there's also alot to be said about not being reachable all the time. I love technology but there are times when I think our lives have become so dependent on technology that we forget how to live without it and become less ingenious in the way we approach things. I remember walking round London with a Singaporean friend of mine who pointed out that he enjoyed looking at all the elaborate carvings on the old buildings because he often wondered how people managed to get to the top of the building and do those carvings without the tools that we have today.

And he's right. How did people back then do all the things they did without half the tools that we have today? If there is a downside to the technology revolution, its the fact that we are unable to do things with our brains. I always look to the Indian IT revolution as an example of how not having things makes people work smarter. Indian programmers have grown-up using primative equipment and yet, somehow they've managed to solve some of the more complex IT problems that we face today. Cuba is another example. Somehow, this island, which has faced riddiculous US Sanctions for forty over years and is dennied the most basic forms of equipment and yet, the island exports medical expertise.

I am not advocating the abolition of technology. I make my living due to technology. Thanks to the Internet, I've spent the better half of a year and a half reporting on events in the region and beyond from the comfort of my bedroom. I'm not the only writer who does that. Bloomberg Columnist Andy Mukherjee once told a group of NTU Journalism students that the secret to his columns was called "Google" and "Curiosity." Alot of things that used to be time consuming in this business are no longer so.

However, we should not forget how to live without technology. We may not always have its benefits. This has been particularly true when it comes to fighting wars. The USA and Israel, two of the most technologically advanced armies in the world have been stuck in Iraq and Lebanon against a bunch of lightly armed but very dedicated people. But we need not get too far to talk about the limits of technology. Just look at the Balineese woodcarvers with their hands. To date, I've yet to meet a Singaporeans with that type of skill. It's not that Singaporeans are less intelligent. I think its because our society has reached a stage where using your hands has become somewhat less valueable and as such people with those skills don't let them shine.

It's a pitty! Society needs all kinds of people. Whatever skill we train people in these days, we really should do it in such a way where they learn how to do it with the technology and without the technology - it would provide workers of the future with a fuller appreciation of the skill that they have.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

WB Endorses Bahrain’s Economic Reforms

Saturday, 10, February, 2007 (22, Muharram, 1428)

Tang Li, Arab News

SINGAPORE, 10 February 2007 — Bahrain’s efforts to develop a more diversified economy with greater transparency and a stronger private sector received a ringing endorsement from Juan José Daboub, managing director of the World Bank.

Daboub provided his assessment on Bahrain’s reform efforts at the end of a two-day visit where he met with Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamad Al-Khalifa, and Mohamed ibn Mubarak Al-Khalifa, deputy prime minister.

Daboub, who was leading a delegation that included World Bank executive director for the several Middle Eastern countries, Merza Hasan, and World Bank vice president of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, Daniela Gressani, praised Bahrain’s efforts to diversify its economy, improve transparency and stimulate greater investment in the private sector as well as to create greater employment opportunities.

Bahrain, like many GCC nations faces the challenge of providing employment opportunities for a growing population of young nationals and government efforts have focused on increasing productivity as well as the demand for employment of nationals through various incentives such as insurance and social protection schemes.

“As a global institution, this is an opportunity to learn from Bahrain’s experience and share what we have learnt through our work in other parts of the world,” Daboub said. “It is also an opportunity for the Kingdom to consider participating in IDA and support the development efforts in developing countries that could benefit from its experiences.”

During his meetings with the Minister of Finance Ahmed ibn Mohammed Al-Khalifa and Minister of Social Affairs Fatima Al-Balooshi, Daboub highlighted the importance of deepening structural reforms, fiscal sustainability and capacity building.

The World Bank is currently supporting Bahrain’s program for economic and social development through a Technical Cooperation Program. For the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, Bahrain represents an important partner in the region.

Recently, the IFC invested $200 million in the Ahli United Bank of Bahrain to support their regional expansion plan

“We have learned through our experience in other countries that participation, transparency and effective communication are key to the success of reform,” said Gressani. “We look forward to supporting the efforts of our partners as they move ahead with reform.”

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Trying to Yank Up Production

It's been quite a productive few days. I've finally managed to get my ticket to Hamburg paid for and will be off to Germany on the 16th of February where I will be hibernating and hopefully be able to get article churned out and published at a rate that will allow me to get my branding and financial health back to an acceptable level.

Anyway, its been a fairly ok week. Got the cheque from Polaris for the final bits of work for Arup Gupta's visit and had enough money to pay most of the remaining debt on the house water filter system and give myself enough breathing room to get by until the next cheque comes in - by which then, God Willing, I'll be able to clear the phone bill and the next hotel club membership. It's been a month that's heavy on the commitment front and low on incomming cash - but hey. I've lived and somehow working at a rate where things should start to look up - somewhere out there.

Recieved a Chinese New Year card from His Excellency, Dr Kurdi. It was pretty touching to recieve his card. Nice, made my day to know that at least one of my clients thinks enough of me on this little festival.

Dr Julian Theng launched his book - "A Long-Sighted Look at Presbyopia." He's be donating half the proceeds to charity and so I did my bit and bought a copy. Should hopefully do its intended purpose and get people knowing more about presbyopia and other eye conditions.

Have been trawling the sites of the IMF, World Bank, WTO, Asian Development Bank to get news stories. Need ways of getting published by more papers so that - guess what, the dosh factor goes up.

OK, that's it for now, better bugger off into something more lucrative

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

when T T Durai lost the plot - by PN Balji

Hot News // Monday, February 5, 2007

P N Balji
Editorial Director


HERE is a question about Mr T T Durai's National Kidney Foundation (NKF) every one of us, its employees, donors, directors, well wishers and the Government must ask: Who created this bulldozer of an organisation?

More importantly, a related question: What could we have done to put a brake on it?

No straightforward answers here because Mr Durai operated with the shrewdness of a politician, the zeal of an evangelist, the sophistication of a businessman, the smoothness of a marketeer and the killer punch of a lawyer.

As a student activist in the National University of Singapore in the early 1970s, his single-minded obsession was to make a name for himself in the establishment. The young man worked as a grassroots leader under two former Ministers, Mr S Rajaratnam and Encik Othman Wok. He did not make much progress.

Failure was not a word in his dictionary.

That's when he chanced upon the NKF. It was all altruistic. He gave his spare time, while practising as a lawyer, to the charity.

But as he spent more time there, he must have seen it as an alternative route to recognising his ambition of becoming somebody.

I got a measure of the man at one of his regular Saturday sessions with the staff in 2004. Close your eyes and you would think he was a doctor, talking about the debilitating effect of kidney failure and the treatment processes. "I am competitive and combative,'' he said, all sound and fury, at one of those Saturday sermons.

He told me after that meeting: "I am a great admirer of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I watch tapes of his speeches regularly.''

His use of movie clips to show his people how to sell NKF as a product is legendary. His master stroke was to understand a core part of the Government's philosophy that welfarism, especially medical welfarism, is a no-go in Singapore.

Mr Durai exploited that to the fullest by taking on the role of caring for kidney patients, thus taking a big burden off Government hospitals.

He understood the Singapore psyche so well that he used the opt-out strategy to get more people to will their kidneys.

And when the Government wanted to extend this drive to other organs like heart and liver, no prizes for guessing who was very supportive of that PR campaign.

But there was one tenet of the Government's ideology that he somehow missed: Succession planning.

I remember asking him once: What is your hierarchy?

His Duraiesque answer: What hierarchy?

It was this part of his style that became his Achilles heel. Operating in a lonely bubble in his spacious 12th-floor office, listening to his own voice and that of his believers and using the threat of Singapore's libel laws to silence his critics, the man thought he was untouchable.

He thought it was success that mattered in Singapore and he wanted to be remembered for that.

But today he is not remembered for helping kidney patients, for trying to make NKF a world-brand charity run like a business, but as a corporate case study of a failed company chieftain.

What a pity!

Now to try and answer the two questions raised in the initial paragraphs of this article.

On hindsight, knowing Mr Durai's habit of using the might of the law, people like key staff of the IT department who had evidence, however small, could have submitted them to the Ministry of Health for some kind of behind-the-scenes action.

The whispers against Mr Durai's NKF were many. But there was really no one, especially after he had silenced two of his critics over his first-class travel, who dared to blow the whistle.

And what about the Government?

Once the issue blew up, the Government acted fast to limit the damage. Mr Durai announced his and his top management team's resignations at a press conference with Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan present.

Mr Khaw also acted quickly to appoint a replacement to try and contain the donor backlash.

But, could this public blood-letting have been avoided in the first place?

That opportunity could have presented itself between 1999 and 2001 when the Ministry tried to appoint a representative to NKF's executive committee.

Court documents tell of how her appointment was resisted for two years and, when she was finally appointed, she was given a hard time, even being treated like a spy.

That could have been a trigger for action which, hopefully, would have led to a smoother leadership transition at NKF.

P N Balji spent six months, four of them in a part-time capacity, in NKF's corporate communications department in the first half of 2004.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lamy Tours African States to Revive Doha Round

Saturday, 3, February, 2007 (15, Muharram, 1428)

Tang Li, Arab News

SINGAPORE, 3 February 2007 — As part of the efforts to drive the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization, the WTO’s Director-General Pascal Lamy is on a tour of East Africa that began on Thursday and continued through Feb. 6.

During his tour, Lamy will meet the presidents of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya as well as government representatives, parliamentarians, civil society and business leaders in these countries.

The Doha Development Agenda, which was launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital, is meant to balance the global trading system in favor of developing countries all around the world. However, the trade negotiations have not only been met with criticism by NGO’s and civil society groups but also been held up through disagreements between the industrialized and developing worlds.

The East African nations of Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are amongst the world’s poorest. However, in recent years, these nations, particularly Uganda, have been working with global institutions such as the World Bank and IMF to implement economic reform programs in order to improve their economies. According to the latest World Bank figures, the three East African Nations saw more than 10 percent rise in the export of goods and services and combined net inflow of foreign direct investment of $788 million. However, per capita income in Uganda, for example, has declined to around 2 percent per year since 1999 compared to a peak of 3.2 percent in the early 90’s, showing a slowdown in growth even as these neo-liberal trade policies have gone into effect in post-conflict Uganda. Nevertheless, 2 percent growth is considered relatively high for a region rife with poverty, conflict and unemployment.

The WTO’s chief will see him making the case for closer economic integration into the world trading system. On Feb. 5 in Kenya, Lamy will speak at the joint WTO-UNEP (UN Environment Program) round table on environment and trade. In a statement released by the WTO, it was noted that, “Environment is an integral part of the WTO agenda as well as an important feature of the Doha Round negotiations. Trade can play an important role in protecting the environment through the elimination of environmentally harmful subsidies, or by improving market access conditions for goods and services that are beneficial for the environment. “

Lamy declared “East African countries are fully engaged in the on-going WTO trade talks under the Doha Development Agenda. I am here to discuss how we can all work together to bring this round to a successful conclusion that will secure the developmental benefits to Africa in particular”.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Today marks the end of the first month of the New Year and its rather interesting in as much as today happens to be Gina's birthday and it would also have been my wedding anniversary. Had I stayed on the slippery path of marriage, I would be marking my 5th year of having the knot tied around my neck and I'd probably be a bit more insane than I already am, but at least I would be living the "Singapore Ideal."

It's funny how events and relationships play such an important part in shapping who we are. When asked about the people who had the greatest impact on their lives, most would say it was their parents. - "Dad is such a man's man and Mum is such a lovely lady etc etc" are the usual statements that people will make. Sometimes, especially for children of divorced parents, you'll find that they end up loathing one parent and hating the other.

For me and my siblings, we've been spared alot of bitterness that our mother might have felt towards our respective fathers. I for one have never been overtly cuddly with my Dad but that does not mean that I have a loathing for him the way some kids do. I guess, at my great age, I've come to respect the fact that my Dad just ain't the cuddly sort who needs to do things with his kids, but that doesn't mean he's unloving towards us. I'm an educated man and its thanks to him that I have to tools to get along in life. My mother, on the other hand, is more active in the life of her kids and so her presence in our lives has always seemed so much greater. Once again, I think I've come to accept my mother is the person that she is and so, today, my relationship with my parents (stepfathers and stepmother included) is at the stage that its in. Like Tara often says, "I love the patchwork nature of our family, and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world." Say what you like of my parents, but I think they've done a decent enough job with myself, Tara, Max and Christopher.

A relationship with ones parents is important but I think, as my mother always says, the relationship with ones parents is a relationship with ones past. My mother once said that although most good Chinese boys would side with their mother in a conflict between mother and wife (after all you only have one wife) - she said, "I hope you will side with your wife if you're ever in a mother versus wife situation. I'm your past, your wife is the person for your future and I hope you side with your future." It may be an ironic remark comming from my mother (she who needs to be obeyed - she does point out that she's an Iron Ox like Adolf Hitler) but one that I think is very true.

I am probably the man who I am because of the various influences in my life, which I attribute to my parents. However, if I were to look at the relationship that had the biggest affect on my life in the past six years, its my relationship with Gina, who, for all her many negatives, was my constant companion for four of those six years.

When I look back at those four years, its easy to think of the negatives. Gina was my first relationship (I only had months with the rest of them, with her, I had years), I was her first sexual partner, she was the first person to hit and scream abuse at me and I was the first person to take her to court. Like the Iraq War, our relationship was based on a false premise. I enjoyed the attention she lavished on me and the regular sex. She saw me as someone she could domesticate into being a constant companion. We were perhaps so busy playing a game of being something we were not in order to get what we wanted out of each other and when we found the reality, it was a bitter dissapointment.

Marriage for me, was a lonely experience. It was a case of my only friend being my wife. She had very few friends of her own and those that I met, I had very little in common with. She loathed my "Wierd" friends and family - they were either eccentric, belonging to a dissaproved class or race and so on. Female associates were especially dispicable in her eyes. Everyone I know tells me that the years that I was with her were years that were lost. My family believe that she was the reason why I could never hold a steady job (her demands for attention were so overwhelming that they clashed with the attention I could have given to work) - while her family blamed my inability to hold a steady job to her frustrations. My friends and family saw her as being worse than a stumbling block - to quote my mother - "If you have children with her, they'll be more backwards than your grandparents."

But the negatives of the relationship should not obscure the fact that for what it was worth, I did have feelings of affection for Gina. She did blackmail me into the marrige - a case of "I'll abort the baby if you ROM." But I was in actual fact quite willing to walk into the blackmail. At the time, I actually felt - "Well, if it works, it works, if it does not so be it," and I actually felt that there was something worth going for in the relationship - perhaps you could call it confusing love with lust but I was actually frightened of walking out on her and not having her in life. It took two very intensive and very draining years for me to realise that it was no point holding onto something that was going less than nowhere. Perhaps I was never really in-love with Gina the way I was with Carra, but I still have alot of affection for her and as I've said of my current relationship with Han Li, there are things about Gina that I am genuinely attracted to.

I also had genuine affection for my out-laws. My mother-in-law was simple, uneducated but treated me well. When I came to stay, she ensured that I had good food and I was a welcome fixture at family events. My father-in-law, as I've mentioned before, is a man that I grew to have respect for. The man may only have had a Secondary Two education but he managed to put two children through to school by selling a low-margin comodity like eggs. I often try to look back and find out what he did in his egg business that I could apply to my own. As the marriage wore on, I had the secret hope that I could maintain a decent relationship with them even after Gina was no longer a part of my life - I admit I often had this dream that Gina would get so insane that she'd end up in a asylum long and I'd have to raise the kids on my own and bring them over to her folks from time to time (Call this a Wuthering Heights fixation, but I always saw myself as a young widower trying to raise the kids without a mother figure)

The marriage also helped me to look at issues in an interesting light. On a personal front, I appreciate the fact that some have the need for stability. Some have the need for variety. My need for variety and independence and challenge overcomes the need I have for stability. I'm not saying that I don't need stability. Living at home provides me with a stability to do things I could otherwise not do. However, I've come to appreciate that my strengths are best appreciated when I work as a rogue rather than as part of an agency. Somehow, whenever I have become part of an agency, the worst in me comes out.

 BANG PR was a good learning experience and steady income was appreciated in 2005. But I could never fit into the corporate culture. I could never understand the need to take on more work than I was assigned to (hell, they were not increasing my money!) And I never appreciated the value of savings and ended up drinking away too many nights at CU (hey, if you run out of money, you just got to wait for the next pay day.) Last year, I cut down on the drinks and made a point of trying to have a  cash pile.

I think, thanks to the marriage, I also learnt that the main point in life is not to ask the question of "How did you end up here," but "What are you going to do about it?" I'm still learning to ask myself that question - I still end up in more than my fair share of lousy situations. It took three years for me to stop looking back at how I ended up in my situation to actually doing something about it and moving on with life. The PPO was the first bout of relief that I had in two years. Writing the series of articles in the media on the topic of husband abuse under the name of Terrence Ang was thereputic in as much as it allowed me to get my side of the story out to as many people as I needed to and getting onto the front page of Today made me feel that I had extracted something out of the marriage.

Those were wasted years but its not how I lived them that counts. It's now a case of what do I do from here that counts. The last year has been good, this year could be better and on this day, Insh Allah, I shall be able to build something for myself on the foundation that was badly damaged.