Friday, December 30, 2016

The Year of Silly Jokes

It is nearly the end of  the Year and so I thought I would bash out my usul end of year thoughts as I am not sure when I'll have the brain power to sit before the computer to pen my thoughts into something remotely coherant.

At the time of writting, the year has been marked by two obvious facts. This has been the year for celebrities to drop dead. On Christmas day it was George Michael and in the last two days it was the mother-daughter duo of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fischer.

The other was more seroius - this has been a year of political surprises. First, there was Breixit, where the British famously decided to leave the European Union. I agree that the European Union needs to be more resposive to the needs of people living the Union itself and there are regulations that have made the EU look simply 'fucked-up.' Having said that, the EU has on the whole been a force of good and it has been the force that has made a continent that no one could concieve of a lasting to peace into a continent where nobody can imagine a war on the continent. Say what you like about the EU but it is something of a model for many regions about the world.

If the Brits can do something 'good' America proved that it could do one better - it voted for Trump as its next President. How does the world manage with an incompetent bully as the head of its only superpower is something we have to learn to live with for the next four-years. For me, I take some comfort in that I've never been dependent on American companies for a living and I bless the fact that I have the ability to stand up to White American Executives who model themselves after Mr. Trump. Trod on me and I'll knife you.

On the personal front, I celebrate another year of working 2-jobs. It has been tough but I have managed to continue working in the liquidations industry and at Bruno's Bistrot concurrently and have built up my CPF savings to a level where the prospect of being totally penniless in my old age looks a little less certain.

It has not been a year of great achievement, unlike previous years I don't have anything to talk about on the professional front. However, I like to see that fact as being a necessary phase in life - of quietly learning more skills, maintaining old networks and building new ones. Being in the liquidations industry has exposed me to more publics like government officials and bankers, which I never really did in my previous incarnations.

I also enjoy my life in the restaurant and remain closest to the colleagues that I work with. After four-years, the faces that I see on a daily and weekly basis have become like part of a cozy family, who continue to appreciate me and my little girl.

On the personal front, we lost my Mah-Mah or father's mother. She was over 90 and her passing was expected and thankfully peaceful. I remain overwhelemed by the friends who remembered me at her passing.

I've now introduced Jenny to my father and mother. Not sure how the gradparent-grandchild relationship will develop but at least the seeds have been laid. I hope the girl learns to appreciate building roots with her family.

I  hope that 2017 provides some respite from the Year of Silly Happenings and somehow new opportunities will avail themselevs when calmer heads prevail. I look forward to a calmer and wiser 2017.

Monday, December 12, 2016

When the Jobs Don't Come Back

You got to hand it to US President-Elect, Donald Trump for being able to focus attention on himself. Everything he says is – interesting and somehow, whether you like or loath him, he gets you talking about the issues that he wants to talk about. Luckily for us, there are times when the issues that he is interested in happen to matte to us. – This month, his pet topic is jobs.

Mr. Trump came to power on the premise that he would restore manufacturing jobs and he’s touted the fact that he has personally saved 1,200 jobs that Carrier, a manufacturer of air conditioners was about to ship off to Mexico. While the claim to have personally saved so many jobs is, like everything else Mr. Trump does, up to debate, Mr. Trump has a valid point – jobs are precious and every government in the world needs to work at creating them.

Jobs are valuable for the simple reason that this is usually the one source of income that we have. However, a job is usually more than just a means to make a living. It’s usually an expression of ones standing in society and human dignity is often tied up to the all-important job.

Just think back to a local election in Singapore where one of the ministers called an opposition “worthless because he had been jobless.” Unfortunately, the minister has a point. People who do not have jobs are regarded as “worthless” scoundrels who live off the rest of us. It’s particularly true for men as society still deems them the main bread winners for the family and a man who cannot earn a living to support his family is ….well, the less said the better.

When politicians like Mr. Trump tell you that they are going to get you your job back, they’re not telling you that you’re getting the chance to earn money. They’re telling you that they will restore your worth as a human being and you get your place back in society. What can be more appealing than that?

Unfortunately, the question that we all fail to ask the likes of Mr. Trump is how? How, exactly are the likes of Mr. Trump going to restore our dignity? The usual answer is that they usually find someone else to blame. Migrants are often a popular target and its especially easy when the migrants don’t look or sound like you. Hence, Mexicans get bashed in America, in the UK it’s the Poles and Pakis and over here in Singapore we blame Indian Expats, Filipino maids and Bangladeshi construction workers. The other popular one is a different country – in the old days it was Japan and today it’s China. As far as Mr. Trump is concerned, China has royally screwed America by taking away the “manufacturing jobs” that belonged to hard working white people.

I hear people in Singapore resonating with Mr. Trump. Apparently, here is a politician saying what we all think – life would be better without dark and poor people who have the unfair advantage because some snooty liberal who has never lived your harsh life has made it so.

Unfortunately, this message is economically wrong and if one were to forgive my bias of coming through, morally so.

It’s a fact of life, that countries go through different stages of economic development. Certain industries grow in certain countries because those countries happen to provide the things that those industries need. However, nothing last forever and sooner or later, the people become less willing to put up with the downside offered by the industries than they used to be and sooner or later the relationship between industry and country changes and the country something else to do and the industry finds somewhere else to go.

America used to have a strong manufacturing base. It had the people who knew what to do and it was a great market for most things. It made sense to make in America. Then, things changed. The usual story is that the Japanese and Chinese found out that they could make things better and cheaper and so the American manufactures left home and set up shop elsewhere. While, that is one side of the story, the other side of the story is that young Americans found that they would rather design and dream up things rather than make them. Why would anyone want to slog on a production line when they could make just as much, if not more designing the said things from a far more comfortable environment.

Let’s look at China itself. At first, China built itself by becoming the factory of the world. However, China has moved beyond making thing. The young do not see manufacturing as a path to prosperity but a cause of smog filled pollutants. If you look at the top fortunes in China, it’s increasingly in IT and other higher end things. While the global logistics chain runs through China, the Chinese are looking for other things to do and hopping to move the making of things out to places like Vietnam and India, which is trying to take more manufacturing from China.

Then there’s the obvious point that a wealthy China and a wealthy India are good for America and the Western world. Chinese who, a generation ago could barely afford flour in their soup, have now become good for Europe’s luxury brands and American universities. The same is true for the Indians who can now afford to buy things they couldn’t even dream of a century ago. As, was pointed out during the 1994 NAFTA debate, the best way to stop Mexican immigrants from coming in, was to create enough well-paying jobs in Mexico.  

Now, it’s easy to say all of this but how do you explain this to a 40-year old man who has spent the last 30 years of his life doing particular job and all of a sudden is kicked out of work through no fault of his own? How do you convince him that the guy is Tijuana or Guangdung, who got the job where the plant was moved to is not his enemy?

The reality is that you can’t because you’ve never felt the same pain. Losing a job that you’ve been doing most of your life all of a sudden and through no fault of yours is like being told you’ve got some fatal disease – it sucks and nobody will ever understand you because they’re not in your shoes. In this situation one is usually vulnerable to quacks. In the case of the jobless rust belt worker, the demagogue telling you he’ll punish migrants and other nations and greedy corporations to give you back your old job suddenly sounds that much more appealing.
However, life is not like that. When you get sick, you got to take medicine. When you lose your job, you got to find something else to do. Easier said than done. How do you change industries and start over again?

I think the best way usually starts with the mind. You look at the pluses and minuses of the situation and focus on the pluses. When I first started work at Bruno’s as a waiter, I took the view that I was moving in the right direction because I was getting a regular income with CPF but still had time for to earn bigger and better money when the freelance projects came in. When I got the job in liquidations, I took it as an opportunity to open a new facet of my life and to look at developing a new set of skills and meeting a new set of people (lawyers, bookkeepers, valuers etc)

You could say that I got lucky. For me, there wasn’t much of a choice. I was heading into old age with little to show (admittedly I don’t have a lot to show but I have momentum in something resembling a pension). The evil teen had entered my life and did I really want her to see me (the main male role model) being a miserable sod blaming the world and developing all sorts of addictions or did I want her to see the main male role model try and earn his crust in one way or another?

For me, it wasn’t much of a choice. It’s like I said to my favourite Northern English Twat who likes to play the “I forgot my wallet” trick, “At least I work.” (he had tried to remind me of my lowly status by asking “You still working here.”)

Jobs are fluid and the sooner we expect that, the better off we’ll be. Bashing foreigners and other countries is fun … but totally unproductive and indulging in it only leaves you as poor and miserable as you were when lost your first job.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Don’t be a Prisoner of Your Own Style

As an ethnic Chinese who grew up in the Western world, Bruce Lee movies were and in many ways, still are one of the greatest forms of escapism. Bruce Lee movies were a relief from the hum drum message that you were part of a small and vulnerable minority that should be grateful to embrace the Western world. Here was a small Chinaman who could kick the crap out of bigger (often stronger) and more numerous opponents because he had the secret of “Chinese” Kung Fu.
As well as being a great fighter, Bruce Lee was a genius at selling himself as the hero of the downtrodden Chinaman. He evoked a sense of racial pride in us. The small Chinaman could win because he had an ancient Chinese secret. 

The truth was rather different. While Bruce Lee sold his “Chinese” heritage, he was in actual fact an open-minded thief who would happily adapt techniques and skills from other cultures that suited him and worked best for him. He summed things up – a punch is a punch and a kick is a kick no matter what style of fighting you practice. He was willing to experiment until he got things right. If a boxing punch worked better than a Wing Chun punch at range, he’d use a boxing punch.

The man intrigued people. American fighters like Joe Lewis (the White Karate Champion not the black boxer) and Chuck Norris who had mastered ancient Japanese martial arts like karate and Tang So-Do rushed to be his students. Why would the reigning tournament fighters of their day even bother trying to be students of a street punk who had never fought in the ring.

I think part of the reason was because Bruce Lee had a philosophy of being adaptable and of using whatever he could to kick the crap out of people who were intent on killing him. This Wing Chung man learnt Filipino Martial Arts (Eskrima) and made the nuchuks his own (nunchuks are not Chinese). While known for his one-inch punch and kicking ability, there is a video where he happily instructed his students to bite the opponent.

The man understood that fighting was like life. You need to play the cards you have rather than wish you had others. The man was short sighted and one leg was shorter than another. His build was skinny (word has it that he used to watch Mohammad Ali matches and get frustrated that he was trapped in a weak Chinese body.) Yet, he devoted himself to the study of close quarter combat (starting in Wing Chun and later on borrowing from Karate, Eskrima and Boxing). He worked with what he had – short sighted so you learn to fight close quarters; one leg shorter than the other so you get your side kick working for you. You’re skinny so you focus on speed rather than on brute force (Chuck Norris is recorded to have commented that the man never stopped moving).

Bruce Lee was also a proponent of the best technique being what worked best for you. As mentioned earlier, he started in Wing Chung, which is about close quarter combat. It suited him because it played to his strengths and not to his weaknesses. His short sight would have precluded him from being any good at Tae Kwon Do.

Human beings often take pride in being at the top of their game. The world is filled with masters of this and that. The truth is that while we do admire masters of an art, life is often broad based and constantly changing. Those who fail to change or try to hark back to a golden age often get the stuffing kicked out of them. We become as a former president of Bennet & Coleman said, “Prisoners of our own business model.”

One of my favourite examples of the need not to be trapped by your own style or your mastery of your style can be seen in the Hong Kong movie Ip Man, the Legend is Born. The most prominent scene for me is when the young Ip Man meets Leong Bik, his fellow Foushan resident in Hong Kong. The young Ip Man takes pride in the fact that he knowns “Authentic” Wing Chun. He gets the stuffing kicked out of him by Leong Bik (played by Ip Chun, son of Ip Man), who practices something that looks like Wing Chun but isn’t because it’s not in the traditional definition of what “Authentic” Wing Chun should be. The young Ip Man complains “That’s not Wing Chun” as he ends up sprawled on the floor. The old man tells him “What comes from my fist is Wing Chun” and he points out that the rules can be changed.

Have a look at the following clip:

Moral of the story – know your craft but innovate and experiment. Don’t be afraid of change. The fighters that became stuck to their craft have inevitably lost out to those who were willing to change and use what worked best for them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Controlling the Genie

The American Presidential Election is over and everyone is stunned with the victory of Mr. Donald Trump. Everyone I know, with the exception of the boss in the liquidations job (he predicts Mr. Trump will be very good for business) and friends and family from what I call the ‘crazy right’ (I won’t equate their views with Christianity), was stunned and nauseated.

Despite having a history of managerial incompetence, disdain for the working man, Donald Trump’s campaign based on racism and sexism proved to be shockingly effective. People came out to vote for him and despite a few high-profile cases, very few people actually came out to vote for him.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is merely the most successful of a brand of politicians who have played up to the worst in people. One just has to think of Marine Le Penn in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or Viktor Orban in Hungry who have campaigned against immigration and the bashing of people of another colour. While these politicians were frightening, non-of them will wield anything like the influence that Mr. Trump will now have.

The optimists amongst my associates have told me that Mr. Trump was merely playing up to his electorate and once in the Presidency, the American system of checks and balances Unfortunately, not only does Mr. Trump have the White House, the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress (admittedly, he doesn’t get along with most of Congress). They’ve also pointed out that Mr. Trump will probably be constrained by advisors who will tell him what’s what.

There are some signs of optimism. Mr. Trump’s speech was somewhat magnanimous when he promised to be a President for “all Americans.” A PR Chinese Official who was interviewed the night before on Singapore TV said of Mr. Trump, “He is a second rate, lousy businessman – but businessman all the same, so he should be pragmatic.” Well, let’s hope Mr. Trump does try and be pragmatic.

Unfortunately, the personality displayed by Mr. Trump on the campaign have shown that his ability to be pragmatic often take second place to insults to his ego and more importantly, Mr. Trump may have unleashed an emotion in the public that he will find hard to control – Anger.

Mr. Trump was very successful at appealing to an emotion that a certain group of people felt. Older, less educated White people, who felt alienated by the forces of globalization, immigration and technological change. Look at where Mr. Trump won, it was in the States that were predominantly older and depressed. Mrs. Clinton took the entire West and East Coast as well as Illinois, the home of Chicago, a large trading city.

The so called “silent” majority who voted for Mr. Trump will now expect him to deliver. While they will forgive certain promises being broken, they will expect him to provide some semblance of what he promised – namely an ideal world where simple jobs are available and you don’t have to deal with too many people who look different from you.

This is a promise that Mr. Trump will not be able to keep. America has been the centre of the forces that have made the world on the whole, a better place.

Globalisation and open borders have brought problems but on the whole, they’ve helped spur prosperity and innovation. So, the question is, how much of the door will Mr. Trump’s followers expect him to shut and when the consequences of shutting the doors come in, will they not turn on Mr. Trump.

It’s an issue Mr. Trump will now have to deal with and the rest of us will have to find a way of living with it as he struggles to balance the forces he’s unleashed. 

Monday, November 07, 2016

The White America I Know.

I had a quick coffee with a friend of mine who said that he noticed that all my Facebook posts showed that I hate the current Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. He’s right. I can’t stand Mr. Trump’s candidacy and I can’t fathom how anyone with a brain and a heart could even consider what he says seriously. The idea that he could actually be the president of what is the most benign superpower in the history of the world is not just frightening, it’s repulsive.

I’ve had people tell me that Mr. Trump would be good for America because he speaks his mind and he’s doesn’t care about political correctness. I’ve had people tell me that he’s the outsider we need to shake up the rotten system that has made America a very unequal place. More importantly, I’ve heard people tell me that he’s expressing what White America wants to hear – he is the champion for White America.

To be fair to Mr. Trump, he’s made this election entertaining. The comedians have had a field day with him. I’ve become particularly fond of watching him get lampooned by Trevor Noah and John Oliver. I also give him credit for dragging out Melania, who has all the physical attributes I am attracted to in a woman.

While, all this is very nice and very entertaining, I do believe that the Presidential election should be about something more than what my sister calls my dirty little pleasures. At the very least, a President, particularly one as venerated as the US President, should try and embody the best of a nation. To a large extent, many of the previous presidents have tried to do this. Whatever, you may think of them and the actual results of their policies, both Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton tried to be about opportunity. The Bushes sold a message of America as a force of freeing up the world from tyranny. Obama got people excited because America had looked beyond colour and elected a dark-skinned man who happens to be very intelligent.

Sure, America’s not perfect and has screwed things up for many parts of the world. However, when you look at the overall picture, America and Americans have been a force for good. When people tell me that Trump is speaking for White America, I am very offended because the America and the White America that I know is nothing like the one he’s supposedly speaking for.

I guess you could say that I hit a major jack pot when I ran into White America. The first strike was when my mother married, Lee, my first stepfather. Lee took me into his life and loved me without ever thinking whether I was his flesh and blood. Whenever we transferred, he’d make it a point that I was able to receive the same good things that my sister, his flesh and blood received. The love and affection that he provided me didn’t just end with him. He made it a point that I became part of a family – which included his parents, Grandpa Hart and Grandma Milly. I remember, Old Hart telling me, “I’m so used to thinking of you as my grandson that I forget that my son isn’t your dad.” Then, there’s my stepsister, Carol and her family. Although there’s not been a legal relationship between us for 20 odd years, she and her family continue to welcome me as part of the family.

My second strike with White America, comes in the shape of my step-grandmother, Joan, mother of my stepmother, Nora (Dad’s second wife and Max’s mom). Joan, bless her soul was one of the kindest people you could find. She didn’t just take me in as her grandson but also welcomed my friend, Joe, who would drive up 5-hours from Indiana to spend the Sumer with her in Chicago. Of all the Christmas presents that I treasure the most, is the fact that she compiled a list of every email I wrote to her while I was at university.

Yes, I’ve had my run ins with what you’d call arrogant American expatriates here but thanks to my experiences of family in “White America” I know that on the average, White American’s are decent people.

Yes, it’s sometimes funny to see how untraveled many White Americans are. To many, a long-distance holiday is going to the mall in the next town. However, while they may not travel out of their home state, Americans are probably the most welcoming people on the planet, a view also echoed by veteran Saudi Journalist, Khaleed Al-Maeena (A view he echoed in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, which many Arabs were against). Lilly white American families has created plenty of programs for kids from the brown, black and yellow parts of the world to taste life in the good parts of America.

My family in “White America” has become diverse and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. There’s me from Singapore. There’s a step-nephew who married a Jewish girl and a step-niece who married a Muslim convert. A step-brother of mine, married a Chinese girl. My “White American” family isn’t a wealthy Beverly Hills living one either. They feel the pain and issues brought about by America’s economic climate. Yet, never have I heard any one of them begrudge the people from elsewhere. If anything, they respect the Mexican guys for working hard.

This is the White America that I know. So, when I look at people getting excited by Mr. Trump and his rhetoric against Mexicans, Muslims and so on, I’m stunned. I don’t understand how people outside America can cheerfully tell me that he’s speaking for “White America.”

Donald Trump isn’t speaking for White America because I know White America and he’s saying the things that I know the real White America would be offended by.

Friday, November 04, 2016

It Could Be Worse

As the American Presidential heads into the final few days, I’ve noticed a few people in cyberspace questioning the state of affairs of the world. How did the world’s “greatest” democracy come to a stage where the people are left with a choice of a dubious, power-hungry who may have compromised national security by using her private email server and an incompetent demagogue who has a history of turning business deals to shit and is currently making being a racist rapist (man goes to trial for child rape later this month) into an activity of trendy frat boys (not that he actually did any sport)?

Americans must be wondering how their system, which has been touted as the “greatest” model of government and an example of how everyone else should create a society, has been reduced to this awful choice – a case of daily scenes of the awful doing the awful. Is this, as they say, the prime example of how democracy doesn’t work?

While this year’s election has been a case of the nasty doing the nasty, the pessimists have missed the point of what makes democracy tick. The purpose of a democracy is not to produce the best leadership but to provide the most efficient and bloodless way of removing bad leadership.
When you live in a democratic system, you can get frustrated with the way things work. Good leaders with good ideas end up disappointing and only achieving a fraction of what they promise because along way during their time in office, they were either blocked or had to compromise with different parties. FDR, one of America’s greatest champions was consistently thwarted by the Supreme Court. More recently Barak Obama spent more time dealing with a Republican dominated Congress that was openly determined to screw him up because he happens to be a shade darker than them.

Democracy at times can seem like the opposite of a system that promotes meritocracy and action but are the alternatives any better? Surely, a better form of government would be a “Divine” or “Benevolent” dictatorship – a case of the ruling elite being selflessly devoted to the well-being of the people.

Dictatorships or places that are ruled by one unchallenged party can produce miracles – governments that actually function for the benefit of the people. I live in Singapore, which has all the things you’d expect in a functioning democracy (elections, courts etc) but for the most part was run by one unchallenged man – our former Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Lee and his team literally grabbed the nation by the scruff of its neck and made it into a clean, rich and green paradise.
While Singaporeans may complain about the government and the lack of any form of opposition, the efficiency of the government has performed such a good job that everyone from outside ends up looking at us and saying, “What are you complaining about?” An Austrian fellow even told me, “In Singapore, at election time should be about saying “Thank You PAP.”

The likes of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton would never exist in Singapore. The slight whiff of scandal surrounding Mrs. Clinton would never have been allowed let along Mr. Trumps “inflammatory” rhetoric. Our politicians may lack entertainment value but they all have rather clean cut records – in Singapore “boring” is a virtue.

However, as Bhutan’s former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk argued – how guarantee that your successors are as benevolent as you. King Jigme was true to his word – he abdicated in favour of his son and moved the monarch from an absolute one into a constitutional one. People cried when the king told them to choose their government rather than have him tell them what to do. Bhutan has to be the only case in the world where the King imposed democracy on the people rather than got himself overthrown or had his powers curtailed by the people.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck clearly understood that ruling and leadership are more than just about your own performance. It’s about ensuring the place gets better after you leave the scene.
Let’s look at the example of another monarchy – Thailand. Everybody acknowledges that King Bhumibol was a benevolent king. While, in theory, only a constitutional monarch with no actual power, the late King Bhumibol had so much moral authority that no politician or coup leader would even consider taking power without his blessing.

While, Thailand has draconian “les majeste” laws that make insulting the king or the royal family a criminal offence, nobody doubts that the admiration and affection for the late king was genuine. Yes, he had a good PR machine, the Thai people felt his affection for them and in return gave it to him. The King was to all practical purposes the one thing that stabilized the Thai national psyche, which has been torn by conflicts, military coups, corrupt politicians and so on.

Unfortunately, the saintly King Bhumibol is dead. The next king is the current crown prince, Prince Vajiralongkorn. Prince Vajiralongkorn has a reputation for being the total opposite of his father. While King Bhumibol was a king who used his fortune to improve the lives of his people, Prince Vajiralongkorn is known for indulging in every vice known to man and likes to grant high military ranks to his poodle. While King Bhumibol was the living example of monarchical dignity, Prince Vijaralongkorn is known for showing up at the airport sporting fake tattoos and dressed in a singlet.
Unfortunately, this is a monarchy we’re talking about. The rules of succession are clear – the throne stays in the family no matter how competent or incompetent they may be for the job. Yes, life was good when Bhumibol was king but now he’s gone and we’ve got a nut on the throne.

In more extreme circumstances, removing bad dictators can be bloody. Africa is awash with examples of rulers who should not have been around to rule. Zimbabwe is stuck with Mugabe who is living and still on the hot seat well past his sell by date. Let’s not forget that Mugabe was a hero, on the scale of Mandela, when he came into power. Then, he realized that he liked being in power and couldn’t live without it and he’s stayed on regardless of what happened to everyone else. Further north of the continent, you had Mobutu in Zaire who had to be removed by a war and the war has been going on and on and on since then.

The choice of Trump or Clinton can seem depressing. However, the fuck ups can be voted out in 4-years and the country is not going to be plunged into a civil war. The alternative of a system where a fuck up needs to be removed by force of arms is worse.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How is he my Enemy?

You have to hand it to the Americans but nobody else does showmanship the way they can. As an example of the American ability to put on a good show, one need look further than the current presidential election, where the two most reviled presidential candidates of all time have managed to make this the most watched election of all time. It’s an election where a wooden and uninspiring candidate in the shape of former first lady, Hillary Clinton has managed to have every one of her reported sins ignored by the media because her opponent is far more effective at getting free publicity.

Donald Trump, the property developer, reality TV host and now Republican Party presidential candidate has a magical ability to compel journalist to write down everything he says. His magic comes from his ability to make being downright unpleasant into something that’s almost trendy. He’s done so by stoking the fears of a group that once took being at the top of the social tree for granted (white men) by attacking everyone else, namely women, the educated and migrants.

Mr. Trump has been very good at stirring up the worst in a decent people. He’s used lies and made up facts and turned it into a jingoistic call of the average working man. The Economist described Mr. Trump as having made fact and fact checking him a form of snobbery. Mr. Trump has unfortunately been particularly successful at winding up people against one particular group – Migrants, whether they be Mexican (bunch of rapist) and Muslims (ban the lot from entering the USA).

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is merely a very successful jingoistic charlatan who has plays of the fears of the unknown. Europe (the half of the West) as seeing a rise of Far-Right Nationalist like the National Front in France. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and arguably the most powerful woman in the world has recently taken a beating in the polls because she decided to open the country up to migrants from Syria. The Japanese in the mean-time struggle with an aging population and stagnation because it seems better than opening up the country to migrants.

The arguments against migrants is simple – we’ve heard the lot before. You have things like, migrants come over here and steal jobs from hard working local people and sponge of us the hard-working tax payers. Migrants are accused of committing crimes; they’ll robe and rape you the moment you give them a chance. If a migrant works in the shit, our natives will inevitably turn up their noses and tell you that its inevitably better than what they came from. If the migrants happen to be Muslim, they’ll tell you that letting them in is like welcoming Al-Qaeda through the back door.

I hear these arguments and I shudder. I worry when friends of mine give these arguments credence. In a funny way, I should be a champion for people like Mr. Trump and his global brethren. Statistically, I match Mr. Trump’s audience. I am the Singaporean version of a white male displaced by globalization in America and Europe. I am the only Singaporean Chinese man with a graduate degree waiting tables in my 40s when people my age from elsewhere are taking up “plum” and glamorous jobs. I should be angry at the Indians and Pinoys who have marched in here to take the jobs that were supposed to be mine.

Yet, I don’t feel angry. I can’t bring myself to feel anger against the Filipino customer service officer at the bank or the Indian IT programmer. I can’t bring myself to feel angry at them – if anything, I get angry with the natives to speak with righteous anger against them.

I look at my blue-collar persona and the people who have made up my world in that sphere. I’ve had the usual human interactions with my Pinoy waiters and Indian cooks. I know these guys. We go through a restaurant seating together and we then have a good laugh after work is done. In some cases, I get to know their families as well.

I ask myself, how is it that people like Mr. Trump have figured out that the people like my work colleagues in my night job are the enemy? They put in their sweat and toil to ensure that people like Mr. Trump and his followers have a good meal when they come into the restaurant. They mind their own business after the service is over. I want to understand how my colleagues and friends are “my enemy.”

It extends beyond my collar persona too. I think of the days when I was a free-lancer. My clients, namely the people who were willing to take a chance on me, where inevitably from elsewhere. I ask myself, how is the Indian National Banker my enemy? If anything, the presence of the Indian National banker provided me with a business opportunity that might never have existed. The message of people like Mr. Trump fails to resonate with me because I keep looking at the people I know in my daily life and I keep asking myself, “What is it about these people that makes them my enemy?”
Let’s look on the national scale. How are Mexican immigrants picking fruit in California the enemy of local Americans? While I don’t deny Mexicans in America or Algerians in France or Turks in Germany or PRC Chinese in Singapore and Hong Kong commit crimes, anyone will tell you that on the whole, the migrants are law abiding and hard working. They perform a necessary role in comfortable society by doing the uncomfortable. 

Whenever someone looks at me and tells me that migrants are the enemy, I am tempted to grab hold of them and to get them to point to random bloke in the street who happens to look foreign and ask them how that person is my enemy.

Mr. Trump and his brethren around the world can make good speeches by talking about how certain communities are the enemy. I have yet to hear one of them point at people like my work colleagues and explain to me how they are the enemy in a compelling and sane way. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Defense of the D****

One of my favourite comic characters of all time is "Wicked Willie," a talking penis who happens to have a very close and friendly relationship with the man that he happens to be attached too. Like all good sibling relationships, Willie and Man argue, commiserate and enjoy life together.

I think of this comic strip when I'm with my guy friends because there's much truth expressed about the relationship between man and his penis. Men have a strange bond with their penises that women simply don't have with their vagina's. If you observe popular culture, you will notice that men give their pricks pet names, talk about the things that their pricks can do and generally worry about it. Most of all, we are always obsessed with the size of our prick. By contrast, women don't seem to care much for their vagina's. While boys spend their days talking about the size of their pricks, women seem to have utterly no interest in their vagina's unless they have a yeast infection, its the time of the month or when they concede to have sex.

Man as a species has been screwed by his prick on plenty of occasions. We are, as I suspect and many women might be inclined to agree," tied to our pricks to the point that we are obsessed with the size and functionality of the "wrong head." I challenge any man reading this to deny that he's never allowed the head between the legs to overrule the head on the shoulders.

I have to admit that I am guilty of letting my small head think for me. I only have to think of the countless occasions when I've agreed to do something (usually spending money I know I don't really have) because I've wanted to impress a girl that I was hoping to go to bed with.

My only defense when it comes to thinking with the small head instead of the big one, is that I am not alone. Singapore is populated by highly educated (we're talking about top 10 global university league), highly successful (head of department in MNC level) executives who have discovered a compulsive instinct to give away half their monthly salary to village girls from third world countries all because of the need for sex (The expat will proudly proclaim that the girl adores him and his p*** and then you'll realise that the only word of his language that she speaks is "you give me money now.")

One only needs to think of that wonderful retort by Judi Dench playing M in the movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." She's told by an admiral, "You don't have the balls for this." She replies, "I don't think with them."

 Men are proud of their pricks. At one stage in life, having a prick meant that you'd be king of the world. As a friend of mine says, "Sticking it into someone never sounds as bad as having someone stick it into you." We always assume that the prick gives the man to the dominant one during the sexual or that most primal of acts.

Unfortunately, technology has become such that brute power is being reduced to rubble. Men, who have the advantage in terms of brute power are being increasingly sidelined, while women who don't have an additional head to interfere with the decision process have prospered in the modern world.

Feminist are getting increasingly smug about this. They'll remind you that because they don't have dicks, women are not inclined to go for brutal combat activities like war. They don't need to show off their toys and they just get on with the business of whatever they were supposed to be getting on with.

So, you'd think that the dick is now going to go the way of the dinosaur. Whereas having a dick was once considered something to be proud of, it's now become and handicap and we, the male of the species are destined to spend the rest of our lives doing nothing much except waiting for the day when some random woman decides to have a bit of fun (apparently gladiators in Ancient Rome were occasionally used for the purpose of pleasuring Roman women of high standing.)

I don't like to believe that the dick is destined to go the way of the dinosaur. I believe that there are moments in life where dicks can do things for society and using your dick to make decisions from time to time isn't necessarily a bad thing.

This point was brought to me by a White American Jew a few weeks back when we were having drinks. We found that we had a sweet spot - we were both eyeing up the same type of women regardless of race, language or religion. At some point during the conversation, he declared that,"My dicks isn't racist."

That thought was being basic at its best. I guess you could say that this is the revenge of the average guy on a society that insist that you need to be ultra brainy and ultra good at thinking with the big head on the shoulders. There are times when the little head has a point.

Let's look at it this way, everybody has the same physical anatomy. Men have their penises and women have breast and a vagina. Sex basically involves a penis entering a vagina. The pleasure that both parties are supposed to feel during this most basic of acts comes from a host of other psychological factors.

When the big head is involved in the process of sex, people find themselves getting into all sorts of factors. For men it's usually things like; is she pretty? Does she scream loudly in bed. Women get a bit more complicated; is rich, does have a career, will he like kids etc etc.

Some of the big head's concerns are valid. For example, if a man likes kids, a woman's maternal instincts. If he's successful, it's going to be turn on because it means he can provide.

However, the big head is often prone to overthinking, which can be bad in that it stops any action. I go back to the original Wicked Willie series when man asks a half naked girl, "Do you love me or do you love me because I am a millionaire." Willie's advice is,"Who cares"

Stopping an act through overthinking is a very mild sin of the big head. The big head often has a habit of developing ideas of its own, which aren't necessarily correct or beneficial to anyone except the big head.

Let's look at the various ism's like racism, sexism, ageism and so on. These are inventions of the big head that has decided that it needs to classify people by all sorts of categories to make itself feel superior. The big head also has a habit of trying to get uppity about its own creations. Think of the Donald Trump voters who are being told that Mexicans are rapist and crooks who are stealing their jobs. This isn't true, the Mexicans in America are merely doing the jobs at the Trump supporters wouldn't do for love or money but this is not something that the big head on the shoulders of Trump supporters want to believe in so the big head keeps stroking up all sorts of funny thoughts which are ultimately not very funny when they are put into practice (it;'s funny to make racist jokes, it's less funny to be beaten up because some twat doesn't think you're good enough to be in his neighborhood because of your colour.)

The small head doesn't get complicated. It just ask if you find the woman hot and if you want to go to bed with her. At that point you act. The small head cannot not be bothered with the imaginary benefits of having an ism. It merely ask if you want something and then gets you to work towards it. Things are reduced to their most basic and life sometimes becomes much easier when things are at their most basic.

So, there are times when the small head should be allowed to dominate the decision making process. Would Brexit have taken place if the English used their small head. Hard to think of any right swinging Englishman voting to keep out good looking chicks from the rest of Europe. Hillbillies might be less inclined to vote for Trump and his wall if they understood that this was going to keep away the good looking Latina babes.

You shouldn't use the small head to do the majority of the thinking. However, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to it. There are times when following the small head can lead to interesting things.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What Should the Government Do?

The Singapore Government is generally regarded as an exceedingly efficient and effective organisation. If you ask anyone who has lived in Singapore for any length of time, they'll testify to how well thought out everything in Singapore seems to be and they will undoubtedly give credit to the one organisation that is everywhere - the government. To it's fans, the Singapore government can achieve just about everything possible.

There is, however, an exception. That failure lies in its ability to produce "world-class" people. While we may be the perpetual "Asia-Pac" and "Global" hub for huge corporations, we have yet to produce a Nobel Prize winner, a readable author, a noteworthy film director, actors who can be watched outside MediaCorp's direction and an Olympic Athlete. At best, we only seem able to brag about the people from elsewhere who want to live here. Much as I might get "flamed" by the online crowd, the truth of the matter is that we need the so called expats to come here and run the show.

This issue has been bugging the heck out of the Singapore Government. In its usual fashion, the government has convened the usual gathering of experts and set up an array of programs to throw various sums of money at any aspiring artiste or athlete. The closest we came to getting "world class" winners was when we hired a few young ladies from China, who promptly won a few bronze medals and a silver (against their fellow Chinese who stayed with the motherland) and once they collected the money, they went home to China. The government got to bask in some glory and the public had a field day bitching about how we, the tax paying public, were being screwed by our government that was being screwed by ungrateful bitches from China (for the record, in Singapore it's acceptable to be screwed by White People but totally unacceptable to be screwed by anyone darker than a shade of pink.)

This happy scenario has changed recently thanks to Mr. Joseph Schooling, who won our first-ever gold medal at the recently concluded Rio Olympic Games. Not only did Mr. Schooling win the gold, he did it in style by beating the greatest swimmer ever (Michael Phelps) and breaking the Olympic Record. The government was quick to jump on Mr. Schooling's success and the gold was celebrated by a full house of parliament.

As usual, the online media had a field day bitching about how the government had nothing to do with Mr. Schooling's success and that somehow it was a shame for the rest of us to get involved with celebrating this new champion. The government, in its efforts to do the right thing by the people is now scrambling to do what it can do to make more champions.

Let's take a step back and ask ourselves if this is actually necessary. Why is the government on a mission to produce Olympic champions or artiste or even Nobel prize winners? Is this even the business of the government.

I don't believe it is the business of any government to get into the business of trying to help produce Olympic Champions or any form of artiste or Nobel Prize winners. If you study the track record of governments trying to select "winners," you'll find that they are very bad at doing so. Sure, the Soviet Union and it's Satellite states produced plenty of Olympic Champions but the human costs were high - one only has to look at the cancer and sex change statistics of the old East Germany which came from athletes who had been pumped up with steroids beyond any healthy level. The Soviet Union did produce plenty of artiste, but all of them made it a point to defect the moment they had the chance and all of them took the first chance they could to hit back at the state that screwed them.

If you take Joseph Schooling as an example, you will realise that he's the product of success despite the state. His story echoes plenty of the success stories of other professional athletes in the West and of artiste who made it big - his parents had faith that he had a particular talent and took the socio-economic risk of downgrading their home to be able to send him to the USA so that he could get the training he needed (think of Leopold Mozart who gave up everything to ensure Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could become the Mozart or how Mike Agasi who drilled tennis into young Andre).

The Schoolings took the risk that young Joseph would succeed and thankfully they're faith has been repaid. The state has given Joseph enough prize money to make up for the money his parents spent and nobody should deny Joseph a penny of the endorsement deal that he's just signed with Nike.

However, the key point here is that the Schooling family took a risk. There was nothing to guarantee that young Joseph would ever achieve the success that he's just achieved. The nature of professional sports or art or science is that only the very few succeed. Most of the people in these fields struggle just to have a glimpse of the "Middle Time." We all look at the massive million dollar salaries that movie stars make but nobody looks at the fact that every waiter in LA is an "actor" waiting tables while waiting for his or her big break.

The truth of the matter is that you got to be something of a risk taker if you want to be in sport or an artiste. You got to have hunger to succeed in fields where the odds of basic survival are non existent. 
Entrepreneurship is about believing and creating things that are unlikely to come to pass.

Governments, including the Singapore government are by their very nature designed to work for the masses. Governments measure success by the "overall" statistic and not by any particular record or instance of brilliance. Governments will always talk about GDP figures rather than individual fortunes. The success of an education system is based on literacy rates and not on individual prizes.  
The Singapore Government has done a brilliant job at this and to deviate from this approach would be damaging to society. It's like asking a lion to adapt a vegetarian diet. 

Alternatively, Singaporeans should ask themselves if they are prepared to pay the costs of less equality. In the USA, you have the best universities in the world. You have more Nobel Prize winners and you have more great contemporary artiste than anywhere else. Yet, you have a school system (especially in the inner cities) where kids can't read after nine years of formal education. We have less brilliance than the USA but all but our most mentally impaired can communicate in more than one language and even the most dense can count. 

To a certain extent, the government can play a part by building infrastructure (more labs, more swimming pools etc etc). New Zealand does a brilliant job in ensuring that the All Blacks will never be lacking in basic facilities. However, beyond that, its not the job of government to "nurture" winners in sport, art or science. At the most, governments can help create a culture where risk taking is less frowned upon but other than that, governments should stick to do what they do best. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Value in Leaving.....

Perhaps it was purely a coincidence but on the very evening that Singapore was celebrating it's first ever gold medal in the Olympics, I had a conversation with a young lady who mentioned that while Donald Trump may not have put things very eloquently, he had a point when he discussed immigration. Her point was simple, if a person is really valuable, a country would not let him go - the Mexicans who are leaving to America were the drug dealers and rapist.

I bit my lip because she was young and trying to the plaything of a friend of mine. However, its something we should look at especially in light of Singapore's first ever gold medal winner. Mr. Joseph Schooling at the age of 21 is the living example of what every person in the world should be - mobile.

Let me state for the record that I am often guilty of parochial xenophobia. While I spent a good portion of my life as an expat kid (thanks to my stepfather's job), I've returned to Singapore, the land of my birth, wondering and refusing to understand local sentiments about race and geographical treatments. Contrary to what my fellow Asians might believe, being someone's colony is something to be proud of.

Having said all of that, I actually believe that migration and mobility are actually good for the human condition. Staying in one place and mixing only with your own kind is unnatural and bad for you. Whatever, I may have said about the expatriate community, you have to give them points for getting out of their homelands to raise themselves up the corporate ladder. Moving shows that you have enough ambition to want to change your life. As a friend of mine often reminded me, "You can't blame the Ang Moh's (local Hokkien slang for red heads - reference to Caucasians in general) for wanting to move here. Would you rather stay and be an ordinary person or move to somewhere, where the people worship you?"

If I respect people at the higher end of the social scale for "moving" from their homeland in the expatriate class, I have nothing but admiration for the poor and unwashed masses who come in from poor, underdeveloped countries to wealthier nations to do shit work so that they can do right by their loved ones. It takes guts to move to place where you have nothing and are most likely to be spat on as part of a sport by the natives. It's tough enough going to work everyday to make a living. Now, imagine doing it when you are far away from every emotional support that you've ever had.

Migrants develop a certain sturdiness to them because they don't really have a choice. It's called "Make or break." They do the lousiest jobs that the natives would rather not do and contrary to what Donald Trump would tell you, they end up using less social services because they simply don't want to get into the radar of the authorities.

I don't deny that there are migrants who commit crimes (rape, murder, robbery etc) and I don't deny that because they are vulnerable, migrants can be easy prey for criminals, the migrant community throughout the world will usually be harder working and more law abiding than the locals.  

When I lived in the UK, the "Pakis," "Niggers" and "Rastas" were too busy doing things like running corner shops and driving mini-cabs, while the White Anglo-Saxon got drunk and begged you for small change. Walk down my old haunt in Soho and you'd find that the guy asking you for spare change was inevitably a native of the absent colour.

Now that I've moved to Singapore, I notice something similar. In the restaurant, I work alongside Pinoys, Koreans and Taiwanese, who simply want to earn their coin by working. By contrast, I have met too many local born Singaporeans who have simply decided that there's far more pride in asking for treats than in being seen to make a living in a lowly job.

The guys who move are the guys who make things happen in the country they move to. They are the guys who form better people-to-people ties between nations and cultures. Put it simply, every Indian expat and Indian worker who comes to Singapore, becomes a link between Singapore and India, a market that Singapore will need to be in.

I think of my friends in the Indian Expat community. There's Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon who is building "made in Asia" management talent. There's also Suresh Shankar of Crayon Data, who set up a data analytics firm in Singapore that got bought out by IBM and now, he's building another firm that will revolutionize how we choose things.

People like these gentlemen, have shown that the world is a big place. You don't need to be limited by geography for some antiquated vision of nationalism. Suresh for example, is taking advantage of Singapore's legal infrastructure and global reputation for stability and combining it with the large talent pool that is available in India. Modern technology allows you to do make the most of what various countries have to offer.

Which brings us back to Mr. Schooling, who was born here and raised here. This is home for him. Yet to further his ambitions, he had to be sent for further education in the USA, where he had access to the coaches and the facilities to bring him to where he is today.

Had Mr. Schooling not left Singapore and stayed here for the sake of being Singaporean etc etc, its unlikely he'd be able to do what he did for Singapore. He left Singapore and ended up bringing the type of value to Singapore that we had not been able to achieve despite the millions spent on trying to import talent from elsewhere.

Let's ditch ideas about what constitutes a good citizen based on birth. Let's look at what people do by their sweat and let's give people credit for taking chances in moving out of their comfort zone. Let's salute people like Mr. Schooling's parents who understood that opportunities are global and sent their son overseas so that he could win us glory on the international stage. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

A thought for National Day

It's Singapore's birthday today. As a nation, we will be getting together to celebrate 51-years since we were booted out of the Federation of Malaysia.

It's going to be quite a celebration and I believe it's something worth celebrating. Although I have my complaints, the nation I've chosen to call home for the last decade and a half has gotten much right despite the odds. It's worth remembering that we are celebrating an accident of history. The man who is credited for creating Singapore as a successful independent nation, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, started his political career by campaigning very hard for us to be a state within the Federation of Malaysia. Mr. Lee started out by arguing passionately that Singapore was too small to survive on its own and yet his greatest of success was proving that very idea wrong.

Perhaps it took fatherhood to make me realize it but Singapore has gotten the key things right. We may not be the hippest place around but we've got the basics right. We are what a nation should be. We are rich, clean and green. As a father of a teenage girl, I can't stop thanking my lucky stars that I live in a city where safety exists - I don't worry that something will happen to my little girl if goes out at night (not that she does - these days smart phones keep the kids at home).

Singapore is a great place to be in so many ways. As someone who was born in Singapore but raised in a small town in Southern England, I also found myself in a unique position in terms of East-West relations. I may have looked exotic in a sea of blonde and red heads but I was amazingly un-exotic in almost every other respect. I sometimes wonder if my classmates were disappointed that I wasn't a bit more exotic. I spoke English at home and my Dad didn't run a take away or a laundry mat. My Dad also shelled out for school fees that most ordinary English people won't have paid and he did so with money made in Singapore rather than through the generosity of some NGO that the school was running charity drives for so that we could help people in the third world.

If I look back at my life in the West, I think the most amazing thing that being born a Singaporean gave me, was a feeling that living in the West wasn't better than living where I came from. My parents sent me to England because they felt this was where I'd get the best education rather than we needed to move there because life was so much better there.

I do acknowledge the good in Singapore through the eyes of my wife, who comes from rural Vietnam and has experienced hunger (defined as not having enough food on the table). This place is paradise to her.

While there's much to be grateful for, I do think there are areas of Singapore that need to be changed. One of my pet peeves remains how we treat people who have come from developing Asia. Yes, Singapore isn't the worst place for people to be but there is something wrong when everyone in a well to do society doesn't seem to think its dreadful for people work at the princely rate of S$18 a day (12-hours) and not get paid for several months because ....hey its apparently better than what they're getting back home.

I recently felt this through a new friendship I've made with a Bangladeshi worker, who's trying to collect money owed to his brother his previous employer, who had been wound up by an order of court. I remembered agreeing to meet this worker in person. A few my colleagues were actually worried that something might happen to me.

Well, I did meet the man, who insisted on buying me tea. We spoke about his life in Singapore and he asked if I could help his brother find another job in Singapore. He was so touched that I actually came down to meet with him.

I find this unusual for a normal society. What do we have against treating other people like people, especially when they do all the hard work that we won't do.

I know people who feel differently, but as we celebrate years of incredible success, I do think that we need to find a way of remembering the people who did the hard lifting. 


Friday, August 05, 2016

Falling in love with your profession

I've been thinking of a way of making one of my biggest weaknesses on my CV into something of a strength, namely the fact that I've never really worked for a multinational (the closest being an internship in Citibank and two weeks at RappCollins) or the government (the exception being two and a half years in National Service and three months as a school teacher.)

I've thought of it and its tough because I live in a society where anyone with a brain cell would have made it a point of serving in either of these entities by the time they reach my age - the grand old age of 42 (well not quite until November) and they would be established in their careers. Normal people my age would be able to call themselves an "Industry" person.

Since I've not reached that stage in life, I think the approach should be to avoid it altogether and be grateful for what's not taken place. This is not to say that I don't have a skill that makes me marketable. I believe that more than a decade in PR and meeting the most socially diverse range of people I could ever imagine (street walker and jail birds to ambassadors and central bankers), I have enough people management skill to get me through most jobs.

What I mean by the blessing of not having "multinational" or "government" work experience, lies in the fact that I've never had the luxury of falling in love with a particular profession to the extent that I see everything in life through the prism of my chosen profession, which I believe is one of biggest failings of many working professionals. We become so involved in the "industry" where we build our "careers" than define our "lives."

I like to think that I've never fallen into that world view and I like to think that I've managed to stay human and therefore grounded. I think it was my Uncle Jeffrey, who was also one many bosses, who would drum it into me that I was my own best judge of what was newsworthy.

Too many PR and Comms people get obsessed with the fact that they are PR and Comms people. They spend so much time with a client or product that it becomes the centre of their lives and they expect everything to evolve around it. This becomes very worrying when they pitch to the press and discover that the press won't write the story as they think it should be written. Erm, sad fact of life - the press isn't paid to write the story you want them to write. If they did, the client wouldn't need you, the persuasive PR person - they'd get the ad sales people to take care of things.

We forget that we're also consumers of the media as well as the people who plant the stories in the media. We are part of the process of news creation and to be effective at that, we need to know the people what people watch and read and want to watch and read.

Being obsessed with your profession isn't limited to the PR field. In the restaurant game, you get to chefs who forget that they exist for the customer's taste buds. Yes, the customer likes your cooking and eating at your restaurant but they need to taste something that they like to taste. A good chef instinctively knows what appeals to the pallets of the customers because ...well, he or she inevitably someone who eats the food as well as cooks it.

At the end of the day, we're all human beings with the same needs. We live in the same ecosystem doing our part within that said eco-system. Unfortunately too many of us become so obsessed with our part of the system that we forget that we are part of the larger system.

If you fall in love with your part of the system, you tend to lose sight of the larger picture and ironically, you lose sight of the value that your part of the system contributes to the wider system. Advertising people used to be accused to being obsessed with winning awards (among themselves) that they forgot that their industry was merely a part of the larger business cycle. Today, agencies are struggling to find relevance and revenue.

Remembering your insignificance can be a blessing because it makes you more aware of everything else. You become aware of what the other sides of you think and do, which makes you more effective. I write for the press because it makes me more effective at pitching stories to them. I eat at the restaurant I work at because it makes me see things from the customers view. I am a consumer as much as a producer, which actually enhances things. -

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Goodbye to the Land of Banana Regulations and Dreams of Significance

June 23 2016 was a day that sent the global markets into turmoil thanks to the British Public taking the decision to leave the European Union in a referendum. The once almighty British Pound took a massive tumble and other financial markets followed suite.

My Facebook page became filled with comments from friends in the UK. The younger ones, who were mainly my sister's friends who had grown up seeing me as an older brother, were horrified that the country had descended into a racist mess, though a few of them celebrated their "Independence." Of my British friends who are in business, like Terry O'Connor, the CEO of Courts were mainly disappointed, though there were exceptions, most notably Neil French, the former Global Creative Head of the WPP Group.

There is no doubt that the after effects of "Brexit" are going to be felt around the world for sometime to come and there's going to be plenty of discussions on the internet. So, what's going to happen.

Firstly, its clear that the European Union ("EU") has an issue. While I believe the common goals of the EU are on the whole good, it should be clear to everyone that whatever benefits of being in the EU are, they have either not been felt by the man on the ground or at least not communicated. When the "Brexit" vote became clear, there was talk sufficient chatter going around that the French, the Dutch and others would follow and demand an exit to the union.

The key issue was of course, the issue of immigration. The key supporters of the exit vote in the UK were white working class people who had been cut out from traditional jobs. As one of my favourite English boys used to say, "When I was unemployed, I blamed it on the Poles." Its all very well to talk about your export market and being part of the largest trading block in the world when you are trader in the City of London moving billions around with a click of mouse button. It's something different altogether when you are from a working class suburb and you've been out of work for the last year because all the jobs you used to be able to do are now taken by people who are different from you and willing to work harder and for less.

The second point that the EU needs to look at is the issue of excessive regulation. As one Dutch guy said, "They even have laws governing what type of bananas can be sold." Such regulations lead to the issue of sovereignty and more importantly what does the EU want to be. Is it a super trading block or a super national state?

When the EU was started as the European Economic Community (EEC), there was one overriding aim - to prevent another war from breaking out in Europe through closer integration. World War 1 and 2 were partly built on a "Franco-German Rivalry" (Bismark vs Napoleon III), so the founders of the EEC reasoned that if the French and Germans stopped fighting and trading, they'd get used to the idea of being prosperous by working together, they would never go to war.

That objective has long been fulfilled. Within a generation, the European continent has gone from nobody being able to conceive of lasting peace on the continent to nobody being able to conceive of a war between two European states. For Germany, the EEC and EU has been a salvation - it has allowed Germany to transform from being a militant aggressor to the benign sugar daddy of the continent.

However, while people are happy to trade with each other, it becomes a different story when you talk about imposing culture from elsewhere. As HSBC's brilliant "World's local bank" campaign proved, the more global we become, the more attached we become to things we are familiar with. EU regulations on cheese, bananas and chocolates only made people more attached to their "local" items.

Ironically, this point is best illustrated by the UK itself. The UK or Great Britain is not one country but four that have become one superstate united by a common language, a common currency, common laws, a common sovereign and an increasingly common culture. The superstate known as the United Kingdom has existed far longer than the EU, where people have had longer to live side by side in each other's different kingdoms. Yet, despite everything, the Scots still see themselves as Scottish, the Welsh as Welsh and so on. The Scots have even gone as far as to demand various referendums to get out of the UK. If you look at the "Brexit" campaign, you'll note that the same arguments were used in the Scottish independence referendum.

The EU needs to sell itself better to the man in the street and it needs to do some internal soul searching about what it wants to be. The problem remains, the EU was a project conceived by the people at the top with very little input by the people from the bottom. Somehow, the bottom needs to be persuaded to follow the top.

Britain will survive as it always has. The British found a way of surviving without their Empire. Instead of being number one in the world, they managed to become very successful being being the best friend of the new number one (the Americans). At the same time the British joined the EU and became a fairly active member.

While nobody doubts that the UK will continue to survive, the question remains, "Will Britain be a significant player on the global stage." The British might want to take a look at Japan.

Japan was an incredible success story. At one stage, when world looked to Japan as a new economic leader. Two decades later, the Japan is now a buzzword for stagnation. While still prosperous in many ways, it is clear to the rest of the world that Japan doesn't really lead anything at all. I remember one of my favourite journalist saying that it was lucky that former Prime Minister, Juichiro Koizumi use to visit the Yakasuni Shrine because it was the only way people really cared about what went on in Japan.

The British have certain advantages that Japan doesn't have. The English language remains the world language and the British have been far more open to the outside world than the Japanese.

However, there are several issues. Firstly, one of the key reasons for rejecting EU membership was immigration. A few people who were interviewed had argued that they objected to the EU's liberal policies on accepting Muslim migrants from places like Syria but were perfectly fine with the more educated ones from Europe. Unfortunately, rejecting EU membership means not only keeping out Syrian refugees but the well educated ones from Western Europe.

The British have been very successful of being the middle man between great powers. One of the reasons why the City of London has become the world's financial centre was because American banks looking to establish a base in EU could do it in London. Likewise, European banks that wanted to be in an English speaking country, they merely had to cross the channel.

Britain was the English speaking gateway into the world's largest trading block. It was the ideal place for the Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, Chinese, Indians and so on to start a venture in the EU.

Without EU membership, Britain loses the very thing that made it relevant to foreign investors. For sure, Britain will still get foreign investment but it's not likely to be what it used to be. Furthermore, Britain will now enter trade negotiations on its own rather than as part of a big block. It won't make a difference it you are dealing with Singapore. However, size helps when you deal with China, India and the other large markets.

Britain will survive Brexit but it will have to get used to doing so as a lesser player on the global stage. As long as her people can get used to being part of a normal nation, that may be no bad thing.

Friday, June 17, 2016

If You are Gay - Jolly Well be Gay

I’ve been fortunate in life. One of the strangest blessings I’ve had, has been to enjoy a very lucky sense of timing. When the tragedy in New Zealand struck my army batch, I was in Singapore waiting to get deployed. When the Admiral Duncan in Soho was blown up, I had the good fortune of visiting the countryside and we only realized something was wrong was when I noticed that the entire Soho region (where I was living) had been cornered off by the police.

I described myself as lucky because I’ve managed to be close enough to events to know and feel what was going on but I’ve never been close enough to getting killed or traumatized. In the case of the Admiral Duncan bombing back in 1999, I only saw the gruesome pictures on the front page of the Times, even though I lived a five minute walk from the street where the Admiral Duncan was on.

I remember the Admiral Duncan because, like the recent shooting in Orlando, this was a crime targeted at the “LGBT” Community. A part from the location and the killing (nail bomb versus shooter), the main difference between the Admiral Duncan incident and the Orlando shooting was the fact that back in those days, ISIS didn’t exist and it wasn’t cool for nut jobs to murder in the name of Islam.

I guess, that last fact made things easier in the Admiral Duncan incident. Politicians had nothing to exploit except grief and shock at this most senseless and barbarous of acts. There was no bogeyman in the shape of militant ISIS supporters for the likes of Donald Trump to exploit. Lawrence Kong and his fellow “men of God” also didn’t have much to say about the killing of the LGBT.

Unfortunately things have changed. Donald Trump has decided that there’s more profit in playing up the worst in an intrinsically decent but frightened people. ISIS declare that they speak for Islam, contrary to the opinion of the billion people who actually follow Islam. So much noise is being made about this and nobody is looking at the real issues.

The first issue is the fact that a mentally unstable person had easy access to military grade hardware and the means to inflict massive casualties.  Yes, despite the horrors of this massacre, America will not change its gun laws. The ever powerful gun lobby continues to pressure politicians from all sides of the aisle. Ads about how guns don’t kill people are being posted all over the internet. Arguments about how this shooting may have been stopped if an ordinary person had the means of shooting the shooter are already being used.

These arguments have been used again and again and again by the National Riffle Association (NRA) and they’ve been proved wrong by every incident of gun violence. Think about it, checks at airports got tighter after September 11, 2011. When a man was caught with a bomb in his shoes, it became almost mandatory for people to take off their shoes before going through an airport scanner. By contrast, America remains unable to stop people who have no business holding military grade hardware getting hold of that hardware despite the numerous shootings.

Something has got to give and it would reflect badly on a nation that has been the engine of the world’s innovations in the last two centuries, if innocent people get gunned down because unstable people had access to fire arms.

Surely someone has to realise that you cannot argue that it is a violation of constitutional rights to insist that someone has to wait 45 days to purchase a handgun but its not a violation of rights to make a woman wait 45 days to have an abortion.

The second issue that needs to be looked at is the issue of acceptance or getting people to accept themselves. Reports that Mr. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter was himself a homosexual, reminds me of what a homosexual acquaintance of mine told me after the Admiral Duncan was blown to bits – “Bet you that was done by a queen.”

While, I don’t believe Islam was responsible for the Orlando shooting, I do believe that Islam, like the other Abrahamic faiths, needs to find a way of adapting to the acceptance of the LGBT community. Like it or not, homosexuals and lesbians are a part of society and while I am hardly a champion of gay rights, I do believe in the words of Singapore’s most famous homophobe, Professor Thio Li-Ann, ”Homosexuals are only titled to the rights that everyone else has,” – which should mean that they’re entitled to live in peace like the rest of us.

I’m not about to join “Pink Dot” and take part in Gay pride events and I don’t think I’d be overjoyed if any of my kids announced to me that they were gay.

But while I may not be a champion of gay rights, I do believe that gay people should be gay and not be taught that they are dirty or evil. If a person is gay, they should be encouraged to accept that as who they are and not to think of it as evil. Science has shown that you cannot turn gay people straight (though Fleshball claimed she could) and like it or not, homosexuality and same sex unions are part of human history.
I remember discussing the issues of gay rights with a gay friend. I mentioned that from what I’ve seen, the biggest homophobes are usually the biggest homosexuals. He agreed. He told me that he used think it was a sport to beat up gay people until he realized that he himself is gay.

I believe Omar Mateen was brought up to be a good Muslim, who believed that being gay was a sin. Unfortunately, he himself was gay and that enraged him to point of being unstable. I don’t believe that Omar Mateen is the first homosexual who got enraged to the point of being a danger to himself and to others. Unfortunately, nobody has really done a study on it because everyone believes that you can avoid the topic of a person’s sexuality by ignoring it.

Yes, there should be certain boundaries in society for people to live in peace. However, we should generally encourage people to be who they are and not to think of who they are as something evil and to be destroyed.

I think of Girija Pande, the Chairman of Apex-Avalon, who once said that he believed that one of the greatest strengths of the Chinese people was the ability to live and let live. He argued that this helped Singapore achieve the racial and religious harmony. It’s something we should think about whenever we think of the LGBT community around the world.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Views on the Champ and the Troll

I've been lucky that the late boxing legend, Mohammad Ali died around the same time that Alice Fong, Singapore's most famous online celebrity (the woman who got caught dressing down a deaf mute at a food court - for more on Alice's moment of fame -click here Both characters happened to be perfect examples of one of my favourite topics - heart or the lack of it.

Let's start with the late boxing legend. Mohammad Ali was without the "Greatest" boxer to walk the planet. He didn't have the best boxing record (The only heavy weight to ever retire undefeated in Rocky Marciano) nor was he the hardest hitter in the game (Both Mike Tyson and George Foreman come to mind in terms of having raw punching power). He did, however, have plenty of "heart" and this was the very thing that made him transcend the sport. For many of us around the world, boxing was synonymous with Mohammad Ali.

Ali wasn't afraid of challenges. He took on opponents who were bigger and stronger (think of George Foreman) and he was willing to give it his all. His two key fights that we all remember are "The Thrilla in Manila" (Against Joe Louise) and "The Rumble in the Jungle" (against a very young, very fit and very hard hitting George Foreman) because he had opponents who were willing to go the distance with him. In the case of the Thrilla in Manila, we had two men who were giving everything they had. In the Rumble in the Jungle, it was a case of Mohammad Ali taking punishment and pain from a far more powerful hitter and then winning against all odds.

The man had courage and passion and we loved him for it. Despite the odds, he refused to be cowed and for the most part he got away with it. In his final fight against Larry Holmes, it was clear that Ali was outclassed. The body had simply taken too much punishment over the years to carry on. However, Ali refused to go down and take an easy count. His pride and courage remained even when his body was no longer able to carry on. This refusal to give up affected his opponent too. Towards the end, you could see Larry Holmes crying with every punch he threw and he felt no elation in his victory. Somehow, Ali could still win when he wasn't winning.

We, the adoring public loved Ali because he had a heart to stand up and take the punches that life threw at him. He simply wasn't afraid to live.

At the opposite extreme, we have Alice Fong, who flies of the handle over small issues and can't see what the fuss is about.

I don't think she's wrong to be upset over the mistake that was made and in her defense, she would probably have been foul to the coffee shop staff even if he wasn't a deaf mute. Speaking as someone who does wait tables, I accept that service staff do make mistakes and customers have a right to address it.

However, while addressing an issue is acceptable and even commendable, it is unacceptable to fly off and hurl verbal abuse at people, particularly those who happen to be in a vulnerable position.

You find that people who do that, often have self-esteem issues and are secretly terrified of the world, hence in an effort to prove their superiority, end up going over the top with people whom they perceive as being lower than them.

While the actions of Ms. Fong are bad in themselves, what's worse is that she seems unable to see why everyone is getting upset. She's "appologised" but somehow, somewhere in there still needs to try and justify herself and her actions (Oh, the guy wasn't wearing a tag to show that he was deaf - erm are you saying that you wouldn't have gone of on him if you knew he was?). She's even gone as far as to threaten to sue people who write nasty things about her for that incident.

We revile Ms. Alice Fong for the very same reason why we adored Mohammad Ali - she lacks the heart that Mr. Ali had in abundance. While the champ fought and beat people stronger than him, Ms. Fong thinks its OK to fight with people smaller than herself.

Seriously, we need more Mohammad Ali's and less Alice Fongs. How do create a system where those with courage can succeed and those without get pushed into the garbage bags of history?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"Excuse me, can you tell me if she's a horrible person or nice person who doesn't have the muscles in her face to smile."

Two of my least favourite customers decided to patronise the Bistrot tonight. As anyone can probably guess, these two ladies in question happen to be Singaporean Chinese graduate working professionals from well to do families - or should I say the unfortunate aspiration of what every in Singapore tries to be.

I don't know what it is, but when I see them, I end up blessing the fact that I've had an unconventional life, sheltered from the need to ever be part of this group. Both ladies think they're very beautiful and they strut around expecting normal people to agree. Unfortunately, the only people who might be inclined to agree are Caucasians (who are notoriously bad at looking at beauty in Asian women beyond the obvious private parts) and local Tamils who are so desperate to be part of the majority racial group. The ladies in question are the living embodiment of what an Irish school master called,"Beauty is skin deep but ugliness goes down to the bone."

What I dislike most about the two ladies in question is the fact that they literally spit on anyone who isn't deemed to be "in their class." One of them thought she was being generous when she invited the previous chef to drink with her and then proceed to empty out her friends empty wine glasses into a cup just for him. The ugliness of the character involved became so obvious at one stage that an Indian National customer asked loudly enough if they young lady was either a horrible person or a very person who lacked the facial muscles to smile. A former colleague from Italy got the shock of her life when one of the sisters of this young lady slammed a glass and demanded that it get filled with water.

In fairness to these two young ladies, Singapore is filled with uppity little things that think it's acceptable to treat those lower than themselves like shit. You'd imagine that after 50-years of miraculous economic growth and prosperity and exposure of everything that the world has to offer, that you'd get a population that had a better outlook on life.

It's probably my blessing in life that I ended up working in a restaurant. It opened my eyes to the realities on the ground. After a certain time, you'll realise that the problem in Singapore is not that we're letting too many foreigners, but we're not exposing the shit to the realities of life.

I have soft spot for Filipinos, and it has nothing to do with bar girls. Fact of the matter remains, our entire service sector would collapse without this community. They work hard, put up with lots of crap and still manage to smile and they do it for criminally low amounts of money. I think of Rafe, my back up guy at the Bistrot. He runs the show. He knows how to work the systems and he knows where is where and what it what. The same is true of Joey, his counterpart at the busier Pizzeria and Grill. Both these guys often double up as the dishwasher, kitchen help, cleaning boy and if they are truly unlucky, baby sitter of Mama Ka-Ni-Na.

I also have a high degree of enthusiasm for PRC Chinese. I think of the guy who used to come in an insist on ordering "Nieu Pai" (steak) and it always had to be the best (read - most expensive) and paid in cash.

I don't see why anyone should ever complain about PRC Chinese and the way they pay in cash. Give me the PRC Chinese who insist on buying the best and priciest in cash over the twat from the North of England with his silly Singaporean Chinese girlfriend who would always try and pull of the "I forgot my wallet" trick at the end of the evening.

While tipping isn't exactly great in Singapore, I appreciated Norwegians or at least my favourite couple, who would tip me exceedingly generously from time-to-time. My other group of regular tippers are Sikh (and I don't wear the Kara to work).

In the four years I've worked in a restaurant, I've come across enough of particular nationalities to be able to form fairly accurate stereotypes. Unfortunately, the least pleasent ends up being the well to do local people, who shouldn't be.

I guess you can say that paying customers, have a right to expect certain things from the people they pay. I think it's called a "Service Level Agreement," or SLA in professional jargon. In a restaurant, you expect your server to be fairly attentive and pleasent when the food is brought to you. In a professional service firm, you expect the guy on the other side to know what he's talking about and to be attentive to your needs.

However, I believe that there is a line between good service and abuse. In the case of the restaurant, the ladies cross that line. Come on, if you want to appreciate the man who put his heart and soul into preparing a tasty meal for you, do it from the heart and not in a way that shows the world that his you're pet dog.

If you want to be demanding, you should also reward well. One can argue that I'm being an ass for complaining about two ladies when I worked for the Saudi government, an organisation that's known for getting most value out of you. Difference here is that the Saudi's took care of basic needs (Shangri-La) and rewarded people for a job well done.

Did it occur to them that my Filipino guys would have enjoyed a tip, no matter how small, for putting their heart and soul into serving them? Nope, what they wanted  was simple, a cheap meal with a mandatory 10 percent discount and wine without corkage.

Needless to say, they get away with it because, some of the right people cannot see beyond a ladies private parts. My restaurant owner considers them "good customers" with spending power and encourage other so called "Good spenders." He's French Caucasian with a strange fetish for angry faces. Hence, he's willing to wave corkage charges for cheap people as opposed to other "regular" customers who actually spend money on good food and don't go out of their way to make people who happen to be a darker shade of pink to try and feel bad.

Here again, lies an important lesson. Why you indulge self-centred brats, you make bratism an accepted form of behaviour. Hence, we have an island filled with Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's who refuse to work but expect to be fed for free. I think of Singapore Chinese Graduates complaining about PRC Chinese women stealing men in the same way I think about Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's complaining about foreign workers - the foreign workers work while the Pundeks and Ka-Ni-Na's do not. Likewise, when you have to look at the persistent scowl on our well to do graduate working professional Singaporean Chinese ladies, you'll understand that paying the price for a PRC hooker is actually more pleasent, at least the PRC girl speaks one language well, dress appealingly and most importantly - smiles despite doing a crappy job.

Here in lies the lesson - developing facial muscles to smile is actually worth the effort. You can make people want to help you rather than avoid you.