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.