Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Remarkably Unremarkable Year

It’s now close to the end of 2015 and it’s time to bash out the usual musings of the year. The immediate thought that comes to mind is the fact that I’ve got no major highlights to talk about in the way I used to, which in itself is probably the most remarkable thing.

For most of my thirties, I was actually a man without a steady job. I lived mainly on freelance work that I could pick up and I dated a few unusual women. Now that I have hit my early forties, I’ve gone from being a man with no steady job to a man working two steady jobs concurrently. The last two-years of financial stability come at a time when I’ve become a bit more stable in my personal life too.

I’m coming to the end of my second year as an insolvency executive at Wong Mann & Associates PAC. The job isn’t one that I’m naturally qualified to do in as much as I don’t have the training in accountancy and sitting in an office at a desk have never been my strong points.

However, the experience has been enriching and been a good study of human nature at its worst. I’ve met people who were decent enough to do what was needed to do to ensure those who once looked up to them would not suffer when they flattered and I also had the dubious honour of dealing with people who thought nothing of cheating those at the bottom of the ladder. In a funny way, the insolvency game is a good training ground for any potential entrepreneur – life is filled with examples of not what to do in the course of running a business.

I also continue to work at Bruno’s Bistrot in Telok Kurau. We’ve managed to build a decent relationship with a good group of customers and the revenue stream looks reasonably stable. I’m also glad to mention that my old colleague, Andy Ting, the former chef of the Pizzeria & Grill has now moved down to the Bistrot as the main chef there, so our staff meals have become exceedingly good. Andy is a passionate chef who takes great pride in his work. Each meal he prepares is a work of art.

In between working full time on both jobs, I continue to provide publicity and brand building support for Apex-Avalon, the venture between Mr. Girija Pande’s Apex Consultants and Avalon consulting. The year proved to be a good one in as much as Mr. Pande was invited onto Bloomberg and CNBC Asia to discuss Sino-Indian business relations, a topic which will provide businesses around the world with their greatest challenge and opportunities.

It was also good to reconnect with the team from Polaris. Although the project didn’t produce the desired results, reconnecting with Polaris comes at a time when the Company moves into a new phase of its existence. The products business has been hived off into a different Company and the service business looks set to prepare for new management and the development of new working cultures will hopefully lead to better things for a Company and brand that looked after me so well and opened the doors to many of the moments that have blessed my life. A friend of mine says he believes that if my moment comes it will probably be dealing with India, something which Polaris introduced me to.

On the family front, we lost my Auntie Siok Liang, wife of my mother’s cousin, Alan. Auntie Siok Liang had battled cancer for over 14-years and she took great pains to record her battle and yet my last memory of her was as someone who was joyful and happy. Somehow, whenever you were in her presence, she always made it a point to create a happy atmosphere around her. I pray that this woman who created joy despite her suffering is now at peace and her family will have comfort.

On a happier note, my Dad married his long time girlfriend, Judy. It’s nice to have another stepmother and its good to know that my father has a companion in life who loves and accepts him. I believe my stepmother will ensure that my father will enjoy his twilight years.

Just as my father settles down, it looks like the decision I made to get Huong to become my life partner all those years ago has proven to be a wise one.  The woman has a knack for creating opportunities out of nothing and to her credit she’s constantly reminded me that success comes from working with other people.
Our most precious “project” remains a 16-year old girl…our daughter (yes, legally she’s mine) Ngyuen Thu Thuy, who now goes by the name of Jennifer Tang or simply Jenny. Now, I get called “Daddy” whenever she wants something. She’s a smart girl and although she hates to admit it, quite likes having Daddy around.

For me, fatherhood to a teenager has been challenging. She’s going through a phase where she wants her freedom and to set her own rules. In many ways, she’s a grown woman but yet she remains a child. Not sure how I can convince her that school isn’t an invention of parents to screw up their kids. I’ve told her that I don’t intend to be an eighty year old man struggling at McDonalds to feed a grown daughter.

Yet, in her own way, she admits that I’ve been good for her life and in her own way, she does what she can to look out for me. My family, especially my mom has come to accept that there is an instant granddaughter and want to make bring her into the family. I guess there’s nothing more to ask for.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Problem with Peace

The recent Paris bombings have reminded me of a friend of mine who once made the point that in ones daily work life, it’s often the “client” who is the most dangerous person. His line of thinking was simple – we spend so much time focusing on the opposition that we forget that the people who are supposed to be our backers don’t always have our interest at heart.

I think this friends remarks because nothing has been more true when it comes to the long and elusive search for anything resembling a peace plan. Both the democratically elected Israeli officials and the autocratic Arab leaders on the other side have worked hard to avoid it. Why have they done so when poll after poll has shown that what their people want is peace?

The reason is simple – making peace takes courage and peace makers die. What’s more important is that the peace makers are always killed by their own people. The late Anwar Sadat of Egypt was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood not long after he became the first leader in the Arab World to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The late Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who didn’t like the fact that Rabin had returned land that Israel had taken by military force in order to secure peace.

We have to remember that war and violence may be horrible and costly but there are beneficiaries. The beneficiaries are more often than not, the people with power and money. In the Middle East, Israel remains a convenient bogyman for leaders in the Arab World as at allows the leaders of the Arab world to blame social issues faced in the Arab World on something else other than the failings of government.

Much as my fundamentalist Christian friends may beg to differ, the same is true on the Israeli end. Peace, as far as most Israeli leaders are concerned, is very bad. If you look at Israeli society, you’ll find that Israel is the best living example of “totemism” at work. People identify themselves by what they are not. The “common enemy” is the nation’s best friend because this gives the nation shared values.

Think of it this way – in 2002 and 2006, the late Saudi King Abdullah provided a brilliant solution to the problems of the region. Israel would have to give up its occupied territories and return to its I966 Borders in return for diplomatic recognition by all 22 members of the Arab League. Both Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Nethanyahu (who has built a career shredding the Oslo Peace Process) described the plan as a “Non-Starter.”

Why did they do that? Well, a part of it is due to who were their backers. Mr. Nethanyahu has built his career on the premises that it is impossible to make peace with the Arab world. This has won him allies on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum and more importantly, it allows him to control the religious right in the USA, which provides American funding for the Israeli establishment.

Then you have to look at the fact that much of the Israeli “myth” has been built on the fact that Israel is a plucky bastion of sanity in an insane region. As far as most Westerners are concerned, Israel is an oasis in a desert filled with nasty Arab Muslims who have an irrational hatred of Israel. Imagine what would happen to that core myth if the said Arabs started behaving like nice peace loving people.

Let’s put it this way, the pain and misery of the Middle Eastern conflict makes people happy. Terrorist groups like IS and Al Qaeda are happy because it gives them a “just cause” to fight for. Right wing anti-migrant parties in the West are happy because it gives them something to talk about and makes them relevant to voters. Security forces love conflict because governments throw money at them. Politicians who never served a day in the military want the conflicts to go on because they can pretend to be men at someone elses expense. Movie makers love conflict because it gives them powerful stories to sell tickets and banks love conflict because they loan money to high browning customers who will pay whatever interest rates you charge them.

If one follows the money trail, it is very clear that peace is very bad and war is very good. Therefore, politicians and the people who count tend to talk peace but do very little about brining it about because peace would screw up a working system.

However, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once said, “We must think differently, look at things in a different way. Peace requires a world of new concepts, new definitions.”

Mr. Rabin, a former military man, was right. He had the courage to understand that Israel would only get peace if it returned land it had taken by military force. He had the courage to ignore the “Zionist” nut jobs in AIPAC. He took decisions for Israel rather than for Zionist lobby groups and he could give the Israeli public what it needed.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rabin’s assassination by the very people he was trying to protect (Jewish migrants to Israel), taught every player in the Middle East conflict a lesson – the fact that trying to change the status quo had a personal cost.

For a brief moment, the Middle East had hope. That was thanks to the likes of Mr. Rabin who had the courage to go down the path regardless of the personal cost. The world is a poor place without the likes of Mr. Rabin. May he rest in peace.