Dec 1, 2005

Well done, Mr. Lee!

Our dear MM does it again. Octogenarians of his like should be enjoying retirement gracefully, practising qi-gong with his dozen bodyguards and writing his third book of memoirs or something. But no, he simply refuses to go gently into the night and let the dragon take flight, but instead choosing to spout embarassing sound-bite after sound-bite for all the world to hear.

And this time in a interview over Indian national television, he has managed in no more than several sentences, refer to his own people as "relatively educated" and "not very knowledgeable". If Singaporeans are by his definition, "relatively educated" and "not very knowledgeable", then may I ask by who's design that this state of affairs came to be? I suppose the imaginative education policies of the PAP government for the past two decades has nothing to with it, right?

Even if he was referring to the intellectual level of Singaporeans when he was "being knocked about by the communists", one sudders to wonder if our respected leader still views the average Singaporean in the same light today.

It's election time now in Taiwan, escalating to a fever pitch as voting starts on Saturday. The incumbents are all town now in their campaign vehicles blaring, all bowing and shaking hands with the voters. At election time, when victory is only a matter of several hundred or thousand votes, the voter is king. But when any one party has welded power for enough time, and consolidation of the kingdom starts to take place (spelt G-R-C), the importance of the voter starts to diminish in the eyes of the ruling party and might even decay to the extent of "peasant". One sincerely hopes that this is not the case, but the evidence is overwhelming.

"He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword", goes the saying. Perhaps our dear MM (or should we call him dear M&M) should consider not exerting himself so much, then perhaps respect for his legacy would not start to melt like chocolate in the mouth.

SINGAPORE : Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's views on leadership were much sought after during his recent visits to both Dubai and New Delhi.

In a recent interview with India TV in New Delhi, he stressed the crucial factor in leadership was credibility.

He recounted he gained credibility the hard way by being knocked about by the communists and by having nasty conflicts with the communalists, and that was when the people concluded he was not a fake and was prepared to put his life on the line.

Mr Lee last visited India in 1996.

This time round, besides meeting the country's top leaders, he also addressed a memorial lecture in the name of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Ms Sonia Gandhi, President of India's Congress Party, said: "Mr Lee Kuan Yew has been a friend and well wisher of India. As a friend, he has also occasionally criticised India but we have always listened to what he has to say with great respect."

Dr Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister, said: "What is spectacular is the fact that your dynamism, your leadership and the leaders you nurtured to follow you ensured that the per capita income of your country exceeds that of your former coloniser. I salute you and the people of Singapore on this truly unique distinction."

In the interview with India TV, Mr Lee shared his views on what makes a successful leader.

Mr Lee said: "When you have an argument, is this policy right or wrong? You can have 10 brilliant arguments on your side and somebody comes in and have 12 powerful arguments demolishing your 10. At the end of the day, the relatively uneducated, not very knowledgeable public says who do I believe and they say I think I believe this man because he has delivered. A leader must get into that position, then you can implement tough policies."

And his advice to young politicians in India?

Mr Lee said: "I think the first thing they must remember is do not promise something you cannot deliver. It sounds good at election time, three years later, they become empty words. You know you couldn't produce it, you promised this, you're not credible and you lose credibility.

"You take George W Bush, he's a tough man, 911, if you saw him on television at the World Trade Centre, he took that bullhorn and he says to the firemen, I heard you and the world will hear from you.

"And he went to Afghanistan and he hit the Taleban. Now he's in trouble in Iraq, but he's not a quitter. If he has good policies out of this chaos to establish a stabilised Iraq, maybe not a full democracy, but a stabilised Iraq with a properly democratic Iraqi-elected government, his credibility will be very high, he'll go down in glory. And there's still a chance, in fact, I believe he's going to fight to create that. I think you want that kind of leader.

"Of course, his opponents say he's misled us into a wrong war but they were the people who voted for the war. Everybody believed there were weapons of mass destruction including the intelligence agencies. I would say that's leadership." - CNA/de

- Link

Oct 20, 2005

Kyoto - The thousand year old city

Just took advantage of the Taiwan National Day long weekend to take a short trip to Kyoto, a place that the Japanophile in me has long since yearned to visit. Although pretty much a modern city by any standards, Kyoto still adamantly clings to its royal past as being the capital city for a millenium, before the throne of power was shifted to Edo, or modern day Tokyo.

Kyoto station, a dazzling web of postmodern architecture

Though it wasn't really that far into autumn for watching the autumn leaves, the cool and often damp weather lent enough bleak and grey to paint the old city and its buildings in a sometimes poetic light.

Suit and kimono - Sanjusankendo

Having been to Tokyo numerous times, Kyoto is really something special. In terms of size, it's just the right size - small enough to travel around in a short amount of time, yet large enough to ensure the visitor does not run of places to go. If Tokyo is the brain of Japan, then Kyoto must be its soul.

Chawanzaka, on the road to Kiyomizudera

More photos on my Flickr site here.

Sep 20, 2005

Now before you roast your Nokia...

Spotted in a Tainan train station restroom. The sign should have read "Hand Dryer".

Time to get up and go

Finally, the big three-O has arrived and caught up with me. Nothing much to celebrate, nothing much to cry about, just the realization that there is much that should be reflected upon since the last time the tens digit of my age has shifted a notch.

  • When I was 20, in probably the most senang army unit around and only taking action when given orders. Now that I'm 30, initiative is still the essential vitamin that is missing from my system.

  • When I was 20, gatherings with friends were a weekly affair, that is if not on weekend guard duty. Now that I'm 30 and overseas, they have become an annual (or rarer) event.

  • When I was 20, I still was part of the system and largely ignorant of its existence. Now that I'm 30, it's now everywhere and the source of my apprehension of returning.

  • When I was 20, Mambo nights were still the rage but I never went to one. Now that I'm 30, I still haven't been to one.

  • When I was 20, I lived to eat. Now that I'm 30, I try to respect my body when I eat because it has started protesting.

  • When I was 20, I was single and dreamed constantly of a relationship. Now that I'm 30, I've learned the difficulty of maintaining one.

  • When I was 20, beer was a social event that I didn't enjoy. Now that I'm 30, it's just another refreshing beverage.

Just looked up Wikipedia for other significant events that took place on zis day:
Famous people born on zis day:

Aug 16, 2005

Still Singaporean?

I don't know if it's part of their in-house training or it's a recruitment pre-requisite. Your typical Sinagporean SPH reporter/journalist is either highly trained in the art of "Quoting Out Of Context 401" or has a serious case of tunnel vision.

Many thanks to lancerlord for the link!

Adios, amigo

Ibrahim Ferrer, 1927-2005

Aug 15, 2005

I'm not into poetry, but...

I chanced upon Gilbert Koh's blog today and was deeply moved by his poetry. Though I'm not much of a poetry person myself, his words are simple enough for laymen like me to understand, yet deep enough to resonate long after they are read. Highly recommended.

Among the pieces is one called "Photography". As an amateur photographer, I've yet to come across a better description of a captured moment that is the photograph.


Smile, I commanded
you obeyed
and I caught forever that
when something on your face
disguised itself
so well
as happiness.
Quiet fears and other
troubles have marred
this day
yet the years will pass
and in time this image
will be enough
to make us
that in this instant
we had been so much
happier than
we really were.
How kind and skilful,
the way time
deceives memory,
erases pain,
fills us with warm
nostalgia for
things that never

How to protest publicly plor-per-lee

Mr. Wang gives good advice to the SDP on how to stage a public protest the correct way:

The next time they stage a 4-man demonstration for some cause such as increased government transparency, they should also arrange for another 4 group of persons to stand 15 metres and demonstrate for some totally unrelated, and politically neutral cause (for example, "Be Kind to Your Pets").

They should organise both demonstrations in highly similar fashion. For example, both groups stand in the same way and behave in the same way, at the same time of the day. The only difference will be in the messages printed on their placards and T-shirts. For example, the first group's T-shirts may read "More Transparency in the CPF!" and the second group's T-shirts could read "Be Kind to Your Pets".

It will then be interesting to see the police reaction:

Aug 12, 2005

Today reporter does not know how to count

One wonders if reporting the local news has numbed the brains of our journalists at Today, that they cannot count properly? So boys and girls, let's take a look at the picture below and count how many people are there wearing white T-shirts? One...two...three...four! Four! Hahahahahaha...*thunder and lightning*.

Protesters sent packing

Ansley Ng

Police dispersed a group of six people who had gathered outside the Central Provident Fund (CPF) building yesterday after receiving several calls that a crowd had gathered at Robinson Road.

The group were protesting against a lack of transparency and accountability in three Government organisations.

Wearing white T-shirts painted with red words and carrying placards printed with the slogan "Singaporeans spend on HDB; Whole life earnings, on CPF; Life savings but cannot withdraw when in need", protesters Monica Kumar, Yap Keng Ho, Charles Tan and Chee Siok Chin arrived at 12.30pm and stood outside the building for nearly an hour before being ordered by police to leave for being a "public nuisance".Ms Chee, the sister of opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, said the protesters did not represent any political party or group.

"We are members of a civil society," said Ms Kumar, who distributed a statement to reporters during the protest.

Using the recent National Kidney Foundation (NKF) saga as an example of how public matters are run in a non-transparent and non-accountable manner, the group called for the Government to be transparent and accountable, starting with organisations such as the CPF Board, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC).

Dr Chee arrived with a male companion 10 minutes into the protest and started selling his books just metres away from where the protest was taking place.

Both Dr Chee and the protesters told reporters they were not "connected" with each other.

"If there are no more than five of us, we don't need a permit. This is perfectly legal," said Ms Chee.

At 1.15pm, four police vans from the Neighbourhood Police Centre carrying about 40 policemen of which about 10 carried shields and batons arrived at the scene.

"You have broken the law … an offence of public nuisance. Please disperse now," an officer was heard telling Ms Chee, who at first refused to leave.

Police said they had received several calls that a crowd had gathered at Robinson Road.

After observing the activities of the six people, said the police, they ordered them to disperse.

The four protesters then moved to the side of the building but were again stopped by the police officers.

Their particulars were noted and their placards and T-shirts seized. Police have classified the case as assembly without permit, and causing public nuisance.

The case is under investigation.

Aug 9, 2005

Nagasaki, 60 years on

I turned on the NHK channel this morning, and they were broadcasting live the memorial ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nagasaki nuclear bombing. It also took me a while to dawn to the fact that Singapore gained its independence on the exact same day, twenty years after the Bockscar dropped the fateful bomb to end the Pacific World War.

Nothing like the mushroom cloud had ever been seen, not by the general public. It was a suitably awesome image for the power unleashed below. On August 6 the first atomic bomb killed an estimated 80,000 people in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. There was no quick surrender, and three days later a second bomb exploded 500 meters above the ground in Nagasaki. The blast wind, heat rays reaching several thousand degrees and radiation destroyed anything even remotely nearby, killing or injuring as many as 150,000 at the time, and more later. As opposed to the very personal images of war that had brought the pain home, the ones from Japan that were most shocking were those from a longer perspective, showing the enormity of what had occurred.

Joi Ito was invited to write an op-ed for the New York Times, an interesting perspective of what the anniversary means to young Japanese in today's context.

Happy 40th Birthday, Singapore

Happy Birthday Singapore! Turning 40 is no mean feat, and it seems that hitting middle age comes with its share of trials and tribulations. With still a third of the way to go, 2005 has already brought more than its fair share of events - things like the NKF CEO "peanuts" salary, IRs, etc. But hey, don't fret - these are all part and parcel of growing up as a nation.

What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. And stronger I hope you will become for the 4 million people that live within your tiny boundaries. 40 is when people rise into middle management, manage people and perhaps start to see things from a wider perspective. 40 is when you should have your own perspective of the world, be able to think for yourself and not be misled easily (不惑之年).

You've a lot of responsibilities, with a large family to provide for, no longer the hot-blooded runaway train of your youth. Times have changed, when in the past just bringing back the paycheck was enough to satisfy the family, but now you realize they need more than just having their material needs satisfied. They want to sit down and talk, have you listen to what they're thinking. Maybe you should take a break from work and listen to what they have to say. Making money isn't everything, you know.

I remember attending your 24th birthday at the National Stadium during Sec 2, as one little square among the hundreds in the giant placard display. Even after enduring several weeks of practice under the hot sun, I felt proud of being a Singaporean on the actual day with the fireworks display and all. The one other time I felt so strongly was when Singapore beat Selangor in a Malaysia Cup match, shouting "kelong" and "referee kayu" with my fellow breathren in the jam-packed humid spectator stands. Those were wonderful days.

You've grown since then, and so have I. You're mature enough to think for yourself now, and I hope the recent events have given you a wakeup call on what's really important to your family, not only money, not only material possessions. Stop working overtime, go home early, have dinner with them, let them talk - and listen carefully.

Happy 40th Birthday, Singapore.

Aug 8, 2005

Singapore defeats Taiwan to win "Culinary God" title

In case you haven't heard, Singapore beat Taiwan in a culinary contest at the 2005 Taipei Chinese Food Festival, to win the title of "Culinary God" (食神). Just like in the Stephen Chow (周星馳) movie, both teams pitted their culinary skills against each other to come up with an original menu, with the ingredients kept secret before the start of the contest.

Given the best local ingredients from Taiwan like Penghu crab, Yunlin black chicken, Taitung eel and Tainan lotus seeds, both teams had only four hours to prepare seven dishes. The entire process was not without its dramatic moments, with both teams racing neck and neck for each of the seven dishes. Eventually, the Singapore team won over the judges with their vegetarian white bittergourd dish to gain top honours, a great birthday present for our nation's 40th birthday

Things you can do in Taiwan (and not Singapore)

Hold an public funeral to something the government claims still exists.

Impersonate a political figure and become famous for it.

Swing your worker's hammer whenever you like and not get arrested for it.

Dance in the street without needing a permit.

Aug 7, 2005

SDP launches RadioSDP podcast

The Singapore Democratic Party has launched probably what is the first Singaporean political podcast named RadioSDP, which can be downloaded in MP3 format from their website.

The Singapore Democrats have launched RadioSDP, the first political podcast in Singapore (see announcement on the Home page). SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan has given the inaugural address, in which he highlighted the Party's manifesto as well as raise issues regarding transparency and accountability (or the lack of it), NKF, ministers' pay, minimum wage, foreign talent, etc.

The somewhat outdated lead-in music and awkward intro (reminds me strangely of one the Perfect 10 DJs) notwithstanding, CSJ sounds ernest and speaks in a controlled tone, articulating clearly what he and his party stand for.

Regardless of what Singaporeans think of him and the SDP, the significance of this event is that finally he has a chance to speak freely via the Internet, which means on his own terms, without bias or interference from government-controlled voiceboxes that have political vendettas to silence him.

Perhaps its too early to see whether the podcast will have any significant effect on changing the political climate, but maybe it's a first step toward getting more heartlanders (gosh I hate that word) to be more aware of the reason why they keep feeling a distinct pain in their rectal area. Perhaps someone had been prodding them there for far too long.

I remember around 2 years ago I was back home on a short visit and was waiting at the City Hall MRT station for some friends when one of them told me that JBJ was selling his books just outside the station. I went there and bought a book, he autographed it, and I shook his hand. It was an honour to shake the hand of one of the few Singaporeans I admired. Already well over seventy, beaten and pumulled repeatedly to the floor, but each time climbing back with a never-say-die attitude to the ideals he believed in. And now, selling his printed word to pay off his lawsuit debts.

Now, how many Davids do you know that can stand their own against such a Goliath, bent on destroying them? But here I was, shaking the hand of one of these Davids, and his stone? The words written on the very books he sells, head still held very high.

One podcast by one podcast, one book by one book. Bit by bit, it may seem a fruitless exercise, but remember, it only takes a spark to light a raging forest fire.

Aug 2, 2005

Singapore, Inc. wants a slice of Taiwanese banking pie

Flipping through the finance pages of the Taiwanese papers, one seldoms sees anything related to Singapore, so lately the news of Temasek wanting to buy a 17.5% stake in Chang Hwa Commercial Bank raised not a few eyebrows.

State-run Chang Hwa Commercial Bank's (彰銀) shares yesterday nudged up by 1.06 percent to close at NT$19.0 on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, after Singapore-based Temasek Holdings reaffirmed its intention to buy the bank's stakes last week.

To secure the support of Chang Hwa's current management, Taishin Financial Holding Co (台新金控), which became the bank's largest shareholder after winning the tender for a 22-percent stake last month, said yesterday that it would support the bank's head in retaining his post.

But faced with such an aggressive courtship by an outsider, the Taiwan government decided that it was better that one of the oldest financial institutions in Taiwan marry within the country. Probably the Taiwan government hasn't forgotten the anti-Taiwanese, pro-China rhetoric that LHL has been spewing of late. Guess money alone doesn't buy everything, does it?

Nevertheless, Singapore's government-owned Temasek Holdings Ltd, previously the most likely tender winner, reportedly offered in a letter to Chang Hwa's board members last week to buy the bank's common shares and the government's 17.5-percent stake for NT$21.5 per share, leaving Taishin Financial's triumph uncertain.

"We did receive the letter and have written back to Temasek," Chang said yesterday. He however declined to elaborate on the content of the feedback, citing confidentiality.

Temasek's efforts appear to have a slim chance of success, as the Ministry of Finance is unlikely to go back on its promise that the bid winner would be granted preference over the purchase of the government's stake in the bank next year.

Jul 13, 2005

All Good No Bad

Center for Book features an insightful article by Thomas Frank on his observations on the Singaporean print media environment. The full article can be read here.

Above all markets love the country of Singapore. There was a time a few years ago when one heard this repeated so frequently that it became one of the great media clichés of the age. Singapore was an economic miracle, a land arisen from Third World to First in a handful of decades. Singapore was showing the world the way forward. Singapore had resolved it all: ethnic hatred, crime, social decay, good government. Singapore was the country with the most economic freedom in the world.

Note the word "was", Singapore is not the country with the most economic freedom in the world by a longshot. Hong Kong easily surpasses that. And if you look at it from the viewpoint of the SMEs in Singapore, economic freedom in the sense of being able to compete freely (i.e. without deep-pocketed garguantuan GLCs snatching every morsel of an already small market) is sorely lacking here.

And what the market loved best about Singapore was what was absent: Politics. The country has quite literally traded politics for wealth, with its most prominent political thinkers endlessly reminding the world that "Asian values" prioritize economic achievement over civil liberties.

If these same "Asian values" gave priority to economic achievement over civil liberties, then the lack of politics meant a lack of monitoring from political opposition, giving rise to people like our former NKF CEO Durai, a member of the elite "club" who think S$600k is mere "peanuts". Someone apparently has a little too much cash on their hands.

Jun 15, 2005

Hear the lion roar?

nathanroad gives his thoughts on how the overseas Singaporean is perceived by foreigners (Americans in his case): quiet, apolitical, content to fade into obscurity - a product of decades-long oppression of dissent and alternative views in this "Disneyland with a death penalty". Hear the lion roar? The silence is disturbingly deafening.

In the Lion City, Americans would find a more sophisticated form of dictatorship, a sort of dictatorship with a double latte. Dissent is crushed not with violence on the streets but with verdicts in the courtroom. Opposition candidates rarely garner enough votes because Singaporean law, written by PAP legislators, renders it easy for government officers to sue their own citizens for slander -- a concept laughable in genuine democracies. Understandably, most Singaporeans prefer to remain silent (or at least temper their criticisms) than risk having their lives ruined by PAP-initiated lawsuits adjudicated by PAP-appointed judges.

But intolerance for dissent silences more than just the lions in Singapore. It also renders Singaporeans invisible abroad.

Singaporeans I've met here in Los Angeles are mostly good-natured people, speaking unaccented English and enjoying successful lives. But while exemplifying the American dream, they're also a people who seem painfully ordinary and unwanting of attention -- like those desperately trying to avoid eye contact.

Jun 14, 2005

Yet Another Personality Quiz

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

Yeah, right.

Legal Guide for Bloggers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has released a legal guide for bloggers, giving an introduction on the possible legal issues that bloggers might face when publishing potentially sensitive content on their blogs. Too bad this came a bit too late for AcidFlask though.

Like all journalists and publishers, bloggers sometimes publish information that other people don't want published. You might, for example, publish something that someone considers defamatory, republish an AP news story that's under copyright, or write a lengthy piece detailing the alleged crimes of a candidate for public office.

The difference between you and the reporter at your local newspaper is that in many cases, you may not have the benefit of training or resources to help you determine whether what you're doing is legal. And on top of that, sometimes knowing the law doesn't help - in many cases it was written for traditional journalists, and the courts haven't yet decided how it applies to bloggers.

Link via BoingBoing

Jun 2, 2005

sgblogconspiracy: Agent ahmad gets a call

I was in a middle of a dream getting promoted to superscale G when it was rudely interrupted by the ringing of my mobile phone. I peered at my watch, which reported the dead of night at 3.12 am.

" you know what time is it or not?"

"This is M."

Alamak. The boss.

"I need you to get something for me, for a special occasion."

"But I've just sent this month's supply of your favourite Taiwanese por...erm...research DVDs to you, sir."

"I know, but this is different. There is to be a gathering of local Singaporean bloggers organized by our sister department - the Singapore Hideous Initiative to Nullify dissEnt, and they need something to get those darned bloggers talking, so that everything they say can be video-taped..."

"As evidence..."

"Exactly. And you know what I'm talking about, right?"

"I know just the thing, sir. Just mix it in their free drinks and it'll be sure to make them intoxicated enough to divulge every single detail for our brothers in white to catch them where we want them."

"Very good. You'll receive information on where to send the package in your e-mail."

With that, he hung up.

The next morning, after a few calls to my usual contacts I picked up my package at the neighbourhood Bin-lang (betel nut) shop. 10x strength betel-nut capsules, just the thing to numb the brain without any stained teeth. Very difficult to find, unless you know the right people, that is.

Hmm...Woodlands Regional Library...

Interesting place to hold a blogger convention.

Technorati tag:

May 26, 2005

World Trade Center

From the New York City Map, very inspirational. Even more so that the twin towers are no more:
One of the highest buildings in the world, the World Trade Center, has strange long grooves on its face...

"Those are the railroad tracks that will take you up to Heaven," an elderly homeless man eagerly explained to me while standing on the corner there.

"All the way up to the Heaven?" I wondered. "And what about gravity? It still works, doesn't it?"

"You gotta have remarkable personal ambition to overcome gravity," smiled the old man. "Everyone in this town has the ambition to go all the way up. When I was still a young fella I tried it myself, but I wasn't strong enough. I only got the first quarter of the way up, then I fell down. That's why I have a limp today. Since that time I've just been standing down here and looking up."

I looked up, too. Alas! There, at the invisible horizon, those grooves seem to converge...

"One more thing, young lady," said the old man. "If you wanna go up, you can use the elevator."

Truly, the wisdom and experience of old age is very hard to beat.

The Taiwanese "English Trap"

Driving in Taiwan can be a frustrating experience, especially if you're not familiar with the language. But even for those who are fluent in the language (myself included), there are times when logic-defying sign placements can lead to involuntary spewing of foul language.

My personal experience with Taiwanese road signs (of lack thereof) as a driver leads me to the conclusion that road planners here uses these rules to decide where to place their signs:
  1. Place directional signs to a place in one direction, but not the opposite direction. (one must drive past without seeing any sign, make a U-turn, then see sign on other side of road)
  2. Place signs to denote distance to an exit at great distances (e.g. 5km, 3km, 2km, 1km), then don't put any at the exact place to make the turning. (assume the driver is either local or has strong sixth sense)
  3. Use different English spellings for the same place, prefably on the same road. (e.g. Ilan, Yilan, Yihlan)
  4. Place English signs at random, for decorative purposes only. (since the locals can read Chinese, right?)

Take this example by RichyLi:

The left picture shows the entry to the viaduct displaying the words "ChangAn E. Rd.", but the exit (right picture) only has the Chinese characters (長安東路), no English! Chia lart siarl~

English signs an obstacle to foreign businesses

The Taiwan government has recently been trumpeting the slogan of globalisation and strengthening English language education, and hopes to "double tourist arrivals" by 2008. But according to foreigners here, too few and incoherent English signs are currently the main obstacle facing foreigners in Taiwan, and should be given more attention.

Mr. Gao, an American engineer who works in the Hsinchu Science Industrial Park, remarked that if Taiwan wants to globalize and attract more business travellers, more effort must be made to improve English signs across the island. He feels that English signs are still not widespread enough, and "pose a significant barrier to for non-Chinese speaking foreigners who wish to do independent travel or set up a business in Taiwan".

In addition, the translation systems used by different places produce inconsistent English location names, which Mr. Gao thinks is a big test to foreigners. "The Taiwanese may think that a difference of one or two letters doesn't make much difference, but to a foreigner, he might think that these are two different places." He hopes that the spelling for location names can be standardized, so that different spellings for the same place doesn't appear on the same road.

ASWJ Editor Mr. Wood thinks that as a native English speaker, requiring every country on Earth to use English might be a bit arrogant, and travelling in a place where English is not spoken can add a certain "feeling of adventure". But if Taiwan wants to develop its tourist industry and double the number of tourists, "we need more English on bus stop signs, road signs and menus", which would undoubtedly be of a great help to foreign tourists.

May 25, 2005

*! Singapore

RamblingLibrarian reports on the launch of READ! Singapore, another in a long list of campaigns by dear gahmen to (what else?) encourage heartlanders to read more.

Now is it me, or do I sense a pattern here? When the gahmen decides on a name for a new campaign, they have recently been quite fond of the "*! Singapore" naming formula, where * denotes a verb or phrase to describe the aim of said campaign (prefably in ALL CAPS FOR EMPHASIS AND IMPACT)

Past examples include:
  • SING! Singapore
  • SWING! Singapore
  • READ! Singapore
Suggested names for other campaigns could be:
  • To encourage Singaporeans to speak up and voice their views to provide feedback for the government to formulate poilicies - SHUT UP! Singapore
  • Be more patroitic and loyal to the country - SHUT UP! Singapore
  • Be a "stayer", not a "quitter" - SHUT UP! Singapore
  • Be more creative - SHUT UP! Singapore
Ah...silence is golden.

May 24, 2005

Why Taiwan Matters

Business Wee runs an article on why Taiwan matters in the global economy (even featured my workplace somemore). It's not just home to Nono, Chen Shui Bian and berserk politicians, ok?

Why Taiwan Matters
The global economy couldn't function without it. But can it really find peace with China?

Want to find the hidden center of the global economy? Take a drive along Taiwan's Sun Yat-sen Freeway. This stretch of road is how you reach the companies that connect the vast marketplaces and digital powerhouses of the U.S. with the enormous manufacturing centers of China.

The Sun Yat-sen is as bland as any U.S. interstate, but it's the highway of globalization. Though it snakes along the whole west coast of Taiwan, the key 70-km stretch starts in Taipei's booming new Neihu district of high-tech office buildings and ends in Hsinchu, home to two of Taiwan's best universities, its top research center, and a world-renowned science park. Along the way, the Sun Yat-sen leads to some of the most important but anonymous tech outfits in the world: Asustek Computer, whose China factories spit out iPods and Mini Macs for Apple (AAPL ); and Quanta Computer, the No. 1 global maker of notebook PCs and a key supplier to Dell (DELL ) and Hewlett-Packard. You'll also find Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSM ), the biggest chip foundry on the planet, an essential partner to U.S. companies such as Qualcomm and Nvidia (NVDA ). Dozens more companies dot the Neihu-Hsinchu corridor. There's AU Optronics (AUTO ), a big supplier of liquid-crystal display panels, and Hon Hai Precision Industry, which makes everything from PC components to Sony's (SNE ) PlayStation 2, and which is a fast-rising rival to Flextronics International (FLEX ), the world's biggest contract manufacturer. Taken together, the revenues of Taiwan's 25 key tech companies should hit $122 billion this year. Taiwan's success is also China's. No one knows for sure how much of China's exports in information and communications hardware are made in Taiwanese-owned factories, but the estimates run from 40% to 80%. As many as 1 million Taiwanese live and work on the mainland. "All the manufacturing capacity in China is overlaid with the management and marketing expertise of the Taiwanese, along with all their contacts in the world," observes Russell Craig, of tech consultants Vericors Inc.

Impressive stuff. Yet for many people around the world, Taiwan evokes only one thing: the standoff between the People's Republic of China, which considers the thriving democracy as just one of its provinces, and Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who has made little secret of his dream of one day declaring Taiwan independent. This cross-strait drama is now in a tense new phase, played out with dramatic effect in recent weeks. First Beijing passed an anti-secession law authorizing an attack on Taiwan in case it moves towards independence. Taiwan responded with a massive anti-Beijing rally. Then came the shocker: The late April visit to the mainland by Lien Chan, Chen's chief political opponent and chairman of Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT). As millions of Taiwanese and Chinese watched on television, Chinese President Hu Jintao shook hands with the opposition leader at a lavish state reception in Beijing. After Lien returned to Taipei on May 3, Hu's government sweetened its PR offensive with more goodies, including a plan to ease restrictions on Chinese travel to Taiwan, lift tariffs on some Taiwanese agricultural imports -- and send two giant pandas to the Taipei Zoo. To add even more surprise, Taiwanese President Chen, despite some of his supporters' fury at Lien's visit, inserted himself into the dialogue. Chen agreed to send a message to Chinese President Hu through another opposition leader, James Soong of the People First Party, who was scheduled to start a China trip on May 5. Hu seems to be counting on his contacts with the opposition to increase pressure on Chen, forcing him to accept that the island is part of China. But that's a concession Chen's unlikely to make.

Real reconciliation thus seems a long way off. Yet any serious attempt to lower the tension would hold huge promise for the executives who run America's IT industry, which depends on Taiwan for so much of its goods. A shooting war between Taiwan and China would be catastrophic in human terms. And for the Western companies that have built their fortunes around Taiwan, the damage would be a direct hit to the global economy and the Digital Age. "It would be the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off," says a top executive at a U.S. high-tech giant. Couldn't U.S. industry develop sources of IT supply that don't involve the Taiwanese? "That's like asking, 'What's the second source for Mideast oil?' says this exec. "You might find it, but it's going to cost you." Insiders estimate that it would take a year and a half to even begin to replace the vast web of design shops and mainland factories the Taiwanese have built. "The IT model is not one built on second-sourcing," says Ken Wirt, a top executive for the handheld business of palmOne Inc.

Not that Taiwan and China aren't also extremely pragmatic. Throughout this turbulent spring Taiwan Inc. hasn't missed a step. For instance, Acer Inc., the PC maker, increased sales by 40% in March; its models are among the top five sellers in the world. Dell and Hewlett-Packard will source $10 billion and $21 billion respectively from Taiwan this year, estimates Chicago-based consulting firm THT Research, which tracks contract manufacturing. Apple is boosting its order book from Taiwan companies by 28% from a year ago, to $5 billion. Quanta on Apr. 8 announced a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to cooperate on research into the next generation of computing. Despite a cyclical downturn that has hurt profits, TSMC has embarked on a $2.6 billion ramp-up to produce more custom-designed chips than ever. Compared with a more specialized chipmaker such as Intel, "we have maybe 100 times the number of product lines," says TSMC chairman and CEO, Morris Chang. "It takes a very special expertise."

China may threaten Taiwan as No. 1 IT supplier. But for now it's Taiwanese engineers who provide ever-more-ingenious solutions to manufacturing and design conundrums. "In Taiwan, people say the U.S. understanding of outsourcing is backward," says Victor Zue, co-director of the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. "It feels more like the Taiwanese are outsourcing marketing and branding to the rest of the world."

The island's high-tech industry has had to improve its skills sharply to get where it is today. Barely a decade ago, Taiwan made components or assembled machines designed elsewhere, and was only a marginal player in more lucrative segments of the electronics industry. Today its companies are increasingly proficient at original design, and dominate manufacturing in key categories. In LCD screens the Taiwanese have passed the Japanese and rival the Koreans. Taiwan is tops in routers, notebook computers, and cable modems. The PC industry "has really consolidated around Taiwan," says John A. Antone, Hong Kong-based head of the Asia Pacific region for Intel Corp. (INTC ), which has 400 engineers at work on the island. "That's just where the best engineering is done."

How does Taiwan do it? Lower pay helps. "You look at the engineering costs in the U.S. and compare them to Taiwan's, and we are talking about one third of the cost," says Kai Hsiao, director of global procurement for greater China at HP. Visit Taiwan-owned factories on the mainland, and you will find that assembly line wages average $120 a month.

But Taiwan's advantage goes way beyond cheap labor. The island combines an entrepreneurial culture with effective government involvement. The Hsinchu-based Industrial Technology Research Institute is a collection of labs that works closely with local companies. It has 4,300 engineers striving to match the best that the West, Japan, and Korea can offer in fields such as microelectronics and optoelectronics. The government-backed Institute has alliances with scientists from MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. Companies such as TSMC and cross-town rival United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC ) have their origins in ITRI technology.

The result is one of the deepest reserves of high-tech talent in the world. It starts with figures such as Chang, who was present at the creation of Taiwanese tech. Walk into Fab 12, TSMC's multibillion-dollar facility in Hsinchu, and off to your left you'll see a giant portrait of the chairman sitting, pipe in hand, in an armchair. Surrounding him are scenes from his life -- as a child in Hong Kong, as a student at Harvard, and as TSMC chief at the company's debut on the New York Stock Exchange. But the silver-haired Chang, 73, isn't done yet. He's still working hard to beat rivals UMC in Taiwan and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC) in Shanghai. He's also pushing Taiwan's politicians to build up the island's schooling. "I wish we had a world-class university," he says.

Chang and other tech leaders blend Western values -- Chang took liberal-arts classes at Harvard before studying mechanical engineering at MIT -- with Asian culture. One minute Jonney Shih, Asustek's 52-year-old founder, will be discussing Six Sigma best practices and the next minute he'll be evoking the Changshan snake described in Sun Tzu's Art of War. When attacked at one end, the serpent counterattacks with the other. "We need that kind of fast reaction," says Shih.

The quick reflexes of Taiwanese like Shih make all the difference. Unlike Korea, where Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. dominate, Taiwan is composed of smaller and nimbler outfits. When Taiwanese companies get too large, they tend to spin off businesses and refocus. Hence, in 2001 computer maker Acer Inc. begat consumer electronics company BenQ and LCD panel maker AU Optronics. The Hsinchu-based chip design houses spun off from UMC include MediaTek and Novatek, a designer of chips for LCDs.

Some of Taiwan's most important tech companies have also grown by acquiring technology from elsewhere. Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. (CMO) licensed LCD technology from Fujitsu Ltd. (FIJSY ) and hired top engineers to come up with the rest of the expertise it needed to become a leading LCD producer.

All these businesses excel at serving corporate customers. Eighteen months ago, after Intel had made a big bet on Centrino, the wireless Internet system for notebook PCs, the American company sought out a partner that could quickly get Centrino computers to the market. So Intel teamed up with engineers at Acer. Within three months, says Acer CEO J.T. Wang, they not only came up with a high-end Centrino notebook sold under the Acer brand but also mid-tier and even entry-level PCs using Intel's new technology.

Taiwanese companies will do just about anything to please customers. When Quanta was first working on what promised to be a hot new design for a top client, it had to work in total secrecy. Quanta executives guaranteed the U.S. customer that all work would be done in the middle of the night. They even had the assembly line draped in concealing black. Other Taiwanese companies combine discretion with an ability to handle even the smallest orders. HP's Hsiao says he places orders for as few as 10 PCs of a specialized configuration. The Taiwanese can process and ship such an order in 48 hours. "They can change direction overnight," says Hsiao.

This do-whatever-it-takes ethos has led Taiwan's businesses to move to the mainland at astonishing speed. "In 1999 we had about 300 employees" in China, says Alexander Lee, head of operations for Asustek in Suzhou, China. "Now we have more than 45,000." Issues of loyalty don't enter the equation. Acer CEO Wang recently asked his own Taiwanese suppliers if, as good citizens, they'd keep some production in Taiwan. "Their answer was: 'No way,"' he says.

The Taiwanese also play a vital role for rivals on the mainland. Liu Chuanzhi, chairman of Beijing computer company Lenovo Group Ltd. (LNVNG ), which just completed its purchase of IBM's PC division, says Lenovo sources components from Taiwanese companies. According to THT Research, Lenovo even buys notebooks from Quanta, Compal, and MiTAC. Liu says that's not the case.

Most important of all, the Taiwanese are the real developers of China's semiconductor industry. Chinese companies such as SMIC (SMI ) depend on squads of Taiwanese executives for knowhow. TSMC is still far ahead but it is starting to focus on China, too. The Taipei government has allowed TSMC to invest $900 million for its own plant in China.

In effect, Taiwan is hoping to control design and innovation while giving over much of its manufacturing to China. When U.S. companies come to Taiwan today, they say, "'This is what we want. Do you have it?"' says Billy Ho, president of MiTAC, which makes smart phones, PDAs, and servers.

Increasingly, the Taiwanese do. Two years ago, MiTAC decided to upgrade the PDAs it sells under its own brand name as well as under several different names in Europe. In discussions with the sales team, Ho recalled how, when he lived near Birmingham, England, he would get baffled by the layout of the city streets. A PDA with GPS, the satellite-controlled global positioning system often found in cars, was the answer. Today, MiTAC is No. 3 globally in PDAs, behind only Dell and HP.

The Taiwanese know they're good at such innovations. But they also know they are being squeezed on price even while they are under relentless pressure to be more creative. "Margins have come screaming out of the PC business because products have become very commoditized," says Michael Marks, CEO of Flextronics Corp. Net margins at Asustek have fallen to 6.4%, from 19% in 2001. The company's 2004 net profit of $484 million was 7% lower than what it was in 2001, although sales nearly tripled in the same period to $8 billion. Both Quanta and Compal have suffered from falling profit margins too, despite fast-rising sales.

Some analysts also wonder how long the Taiwanese will have the edge in chips. "I don't think Taiwan is in the driver's seat anymore," says James C. Mulvenon, co-author of a 2004 Rand Corporation study on Taiwan's and China's chip industries, which concludes that European and Japanese chipmakers will provide China with technology the Taiwanese refuse to share.

One way out is to find new markets. "We have to get into the next wave of products," says Ray Chen, president of Compal. "It can be TVs, cell phones, home digital media centers. We don't know yet." To do that better, Compal plans to double its R&D team. Quanta's beefing up too. In its $20 million partnership with MIT, Quanta is looking at using artificial intelligence to link digital devices that have different operating systems. Quanta boss Barry Lam also identifies autos as a promising area. As control and display systems in cars go digital, the Taiwanese can apply their expertise in making complex components for small spaces.

The other way to stay ahead for Taiwan is to create its own brands and maintain solid margins by delivering better performance and design. A leader in the branding effort is BenQ, which has its own brand of thin-screen TVs and MP3 players. Since its launch in 2001, BenQ has stressed in-house design to make its branded products stand out. Manfred Wang, who runs the BenQ design center, leads a team of 70 designers who have, among other things, come up with a PC monitor whose base can be folded up against it, taking up much less space in shipping. "Our designers are aware of the manufacturing process and that's a big advantage," says Wang, who learned his skills in Germany and once worked at Porsche.

At the heart of Taiwan's effort to reinvent itself is the government research institute, ITRI. It's into everything from new wireless networks to nanotubes that provide backlighting for displays. It's also trying to mix the hard sciences with something softer. Enter Room 131 of Block 53 on the main campus, and you'll find the Creativity Lab. The place looks more like an advertising agency than a high-tech center, with its stuffed animals and a comfy couch for a staff that includes artists, psychologists, and an anthropologist, in addition to engineers. The idea is that getting techies together with liberal arts types will help designers think more broadly, says Wen-Jean Hsueh, a PhD in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology who is the lab's head. "We know we have strong manufacturing and engineering," she says. "But we have to look beyond this."

Even this fresh effort has to build on Taiwan's engineering corps, which can't expand enough to meet all of Taiwan's needs. With so many companies expanding research and development, "we have to fight very hard to get experienced guys," says Hsiao-ping Lin, head of Faraday Technology, which specializes in chip design services. He hopes to hire Indian engineers, but adds, "in the long run, we will set up an R&D center in mainland China."

That shift to China is understandably of great concern to Taiwan's political and business leaders. But it may be inevitable. "The market here is so much more important than Taiwan's," says Lawrence Ho, the Taiwan-born owner of online music startup 8LaNetwork Inc., which has its headquarters in Beijing's trendy Jianwai Soho district. Ho also appreciates how hard his mainland employees are willing to work -- as many as 90 hours a week.

Taiwan clearly has lots to worry about, but it's also renowned for its resilience. Intel's John Antone compares Taiwan to long-distance runners who are being challenged but who are still in the lead. "As long as they're committed to run very aggressively," he says, "I don't see anyone catching them." Competitors be warned: Taiwan will do everything it can to stay in the race.

By Bruce Einhorn, with Matt Kovac in Taipei, Pete Engardio in New York, Dexter Roberts in Beijing, Frederik Balfour in Shanghai, and Cliff Edwards in San Mateo, Calif.

Whatever happened to 'smart' China?

William Stimson of the Taipei Times comments on China's delibrate effort to stem public dissent from their billion-strong populace through information control, in the process limiting the creative and intellectual potential of its people. The similarities between China's methods and that of our very own is disturbing to say the least. Makes one wonder where our ministers get their policy-making ideas from?


Whatever happened to 'smart' China?

By William Stimson

Tuesday, May 24, 2005,Page 8

Chinese are smart people. There's no doubt about it. I wondered why the European civilizations and not the Chinese discovered America, and invented the airplane, the car, the computer and almost all the rest of modern civilization.

Whatever happened to "smart China?" I've lived in Taiwan for more than two years now and I think I've found the answer -- not from Taiwan, but from China, which looms menacingly over this free little nation.

This speak volumes about how China got to be so backward and why it may well fall behind again. To give an example, a Chinese official recently rejected reconciliation with Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp, saying it must first stop opposing Beijing's policies. The actual words of the official: "The premise for communication is not opposing the central government's policies."

In other words, "We'll talk to you if you say what we want." How familiar such nonsense is to anyone living over here in Taiwan. The Chinese put it this way to us, "We'll negotiate with you over your sovereignty only if you first accept you have none."

Such wording says everything about China's backwardness because it's a veritable mirror image of the contract those governing the country have with their own people.

The way the leaders of China operate is by not giving anybody a choice. This is the subtle logic to statements such as, "We'll negotiate only after you accept our position." They mean, bluntly, "You do as we say." These are the terms used by a tyranny.

The same goes for, "We'll talk democracy so long as you neither demand nor expect it." Such is the contract of a tyranny with its people.

Illogical though such a contract may be -- the billion-plus smart Chinese, their long and rich cultural tradition, and their large and diverse nation -- it makes perfect sense. With such stratagems as information control, for example, and the punishment of individuals who slip up in what they say or write, a handful of old men can keep over a billion energetic and smart people preoccupied.

To continue strangling that great nation and that great people, China's leaders make sure that, at least on some level, things stay in a confusing, undefined and undeveloped state. That way no one in the country has quite the time or energy to notice that the nation's leaders are robbing it blind. Whatever money, nice houses or prestigious positions those in power may be grabbing for themselves or their families, that they are indeed doing so is the least of their crimes and certainly of scant importance compared to the far greater evils they perpetrate.

The ultimate disgrace that can be stooped to by someone with a smart mind who has scratched their way to the top, is to deprive someone on the bottom who has so little to begin with and so much to offer. In doing this, China's leaders have not just robbed China, but they've robbed the world of China. How sorely the world needs China's vast intelligence, resourcefulness and imagination -- the genius of its ordinary people. When you look at all that tiny little Taiwan has achieved, you get a hint of what the vast China is capable of.

What's the use of being so smart if you don't have the sense to use that gift towards higher purposes?

I'd rather be comparatively more stupid than them any day, but have the foresight and breadth of vision to care about a government by the people, for the people and of the people -- and about mechanisms of accountability that periodically sweep the crooks out of office and therefore out of business.

The Chinese know they're big and they're smart and are convinced the future is theirs. But they could be wrong. The future does not belong to the big or to the smart, after all -- but to the free.

Blogger's last post

Journalists that casually refer to bloggers as online diarists should think again, you'll never know when that humble blog entry might end up as police evidence. Like a scene from a thriller movie, a blogger identified his killer in his last post, leading to the murderer's eventual arrest.

...Anyway today has been weird, at 3 some guy ringed the bell. I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon...

The chilling entry still remains, and it's somewhat strange yet sad to see so many posthumous comments left for the victim, which include long-lost friends and acquaintances. I wonder if they have broadband in heaven?

May 20, 2005

Ten Million Blogs Served

Joi Ito reports that Technorati has just tracked its 10 millionth blog. The link is to the founder and CEO of Technorati - David Sifry.

This weekend Technorati tracked its 10 Millionth Blog. It is a chinese blog, on, and it appears to be a blog talking about glassblowing, with some really cool pictures. Unfortunately I don't read Chinese so I can't tell what the commentary is about, but so far, the blogger has put in short biographical information in English about each glassblower profiled.

May 19, 2005

Of strikers and wooden men

Sepia Munity carries an announcement for the first Los Angeles Carrom Open, which brings me suddenly back to my JC days - countless hours spent huddled around a carrom table in a secluded corner of the school (our private hideaway), playing until the cows came home (or until our fingers were sore). As Miyagi would put it, days were the those - days we wasted without second thought, only because we were young and we knew it.

Carrom men with gu-niang strikers

The ahmad musical baton

aGentX hit yours truly with the musical baton (he got it from lancerlord, who got it from cowboy caleb, who got it from jim, so even though I haven't got my iPod yet (but got iTunes), here goes nothin':

Total volume of music files on my computer:
1.82 GB - 403 songs, 1.1 days of music

The last CD I bought was:
A Day In New York - Morelenbaum & Sakamoto

Song playing right now:
Simplesmente - Bebel Gilberto

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:
1. The Look of Love by Diana Krall
2. True by Spandau Ballet
3. Airport 10:30 by David Tao
4. Herido de Sombras by Ibrahim Ferrer
5. O Amor Em Paz by Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton:
Ah 9
The High Levels

May 18, 2005

Vanity moment

I've been Tomorrow'ed! Thanks to cowboy caleb for letting bygones be bygones...

[cowboycaleb: You see, I published this although Steve called Singapore bloggers infantile. Dun like people doesnt also cannot be mean to them, right?]

May 17, 2005

The voice of global blogging

Finally Singapore bloggers have a chance to hear the voice behind Singabloodypore - Steven McDermott is interviewed by Radio Open Source on their second pilot show featuring Global Voices. He's Irish all right, confirmed.

According to their website, Global Voices "is an international effort to diversify the conversation taking place online by involving speakers from around the world, and developing tools, institutions and relationships to help make these voices heard."

The podcast is a series of short interviews with bloggers all over the world from Iran, Nigeria, India, Scotland (Steven) talking about how their blogging experiences, and through their blogs, how their offer an alternative source of news about their respective countries as opposed to the often America-centric perspective of the likes of CNN. It also mentions, where podcasts from across the world are listed in a Yahoo-like directory. Under the Singapore directory is a lone entry of who else but mr. brown!

Interestingly, Rebecca MacKinnon of Global Voices, who was a former CNN Beijing and Tokyo bureau chief, recalls why she resigned from CNN to join Global Voices:

CNN television news is really the past, in terms of the way it is done right now. I was being told things by my bosses like "Your expertise is getting in the way of doing the kind of stories we want on CNN."

Basically they wanted me to cover my region more like a tourist, and the fact that I had been living in Asia for a decade and I had a lot of personal insights and knowledge about the region was actually too complicated, they felt, for the viewers. They'd rather I cover the place sort of with a "Gee-whiz, aren't these Japanese strange" kind of tone.

The reason why I became a foreign correspondent was because I wanted to bridge gaps. I wanted to help Americans understand what it's like to be a Japanese person or what it's like to be a Chinese person and why Chinese people react to events the way they do. That means you have to cover events not like a tourist, but as somebody who is getting inside the heads of the locals.

But I felt more and more that my job was not bridging gaps but in fact my bosses were asking me to reinforce stereotypes, which is why I eventually decided to resign from my job at CNN.

Think about that the next time you watch the world according to CNN.

May 16, 2005

Donch tell grandma how to suck eggs (or run an IR)

First, they irked the Singaporean public with their decision to set up the IRs, now they've even managed to rub the ang-mohs who are going to run the show the wrong way. The view from the ten-thousand foot pedestal is myoptic to say the least.,4574,155523,00.html?

(SINGAPORE) Too much direction and control by officials managing the bidding process for Singapore's integrated resorts (IRs) is counter-productive and could compromise the quality of the final product, says Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn.

Mr Wynn, creator of some of the best-known IRs in Las Vegas, has praise for Singapore's fundamental strengths of good governance, safety, a world-class airport and laissez-faire economic policies - as well as the choice of the Marina Bayfront site for an IR.

But he is critical of what he sees as micro-management by 'bureaucrats' on several issues leading up to the submission of bids, particularly design-related issues. 'There's an awful lot of control and direction in the documents we've received which, frankly speaking, is unsophisticated,' he told BT in an exclusive interview in Las Vegas.

'It's control and direction given by people who've never done this before. I don't think it's appropriate to tell someone: Give us an attraction that's irresistible, that will reach into India and China - but we'll tell you how to design it.'

According to Mr Wynn, for instance, the requirement to submit line drawings by Sept 30 won't serve a useful purpose. 'By definition, anything done by Sept 30 will be a partially finished product,' he said. 'Everybody will make big promises and have fancy drawings. But you can't tell from a drawing or a rendering what space moves the human spirit. You have to be in it to understand.'

Mr Wynn's resorts in Las Vegas include The Mirage, Treasure Island, The Bellagio and, most recently, the US$2.7 billion Wynn Las Vegas - billed as the world's most expensive and up-scale resort. He also has a gaming licence in Macau, where he is constructing a resort due for completion next year. His company, Wynn Resorts is among the 12 remaining bidders for one of the proposed IRs in Singapore.

Mr Wynn told BT that Singapore government officials also want to know 'exactly what the show (in the resort) will be'. But it took more than three years to create shows such as the sellout O show, currently running at The Bellagio, and Le Reve, showing at Wynn Las Vegas, he said. The creation of such shows involves intricate choreography, music and lighting effects and is often an organic process over a period of time and perfected after audience feedback 'If I'd ever tried to describe the O show on a piece of paper to someone, they'd have laughed at me,' he said.

Rather than trying to specify detailed design requirements in documents, Mr Wynn suggested that Singapore officials visit Las Vegas and see the work done in the resorts there. 'Infer from what you see what you like,' he said. 'Don't issue thunderbolts of wisdom from the top of Mount Olympus. You're talking about the people of the world and what makes them go. That's the ballpark we play in. Running the government is the ballpark they play in. Those are two different games. Both sides have to be open and flexible. 'Telling us to go get a world-class architect with no specific name is not the way to go about it. On the other hand, telling us 'show us your work' and then asking us how to create something in Singapore as best we know and in a way that's not repugnant or antithetical to the sensibilities of the city is a perfectly valid instruction.

'And if someone does something that's offensive, you reject it, plain and simple. But you don't tell an expert how to do an expert's job. You ask.'

Mr Wynn said he accepts the rules governing the bidding for IRs. But according to him: 'The question is, do the rules interfere with the creative process? The question is, can we keep the promise to Singapore? There's a very definite agenda on the table here: We want to change Singapore's tourism profile from 5 per cent of GDP to closer to 15. Ultimately, this is not between me and the government, it's between me and the public'.

May 13, 2005


collision detection muses on the snobbery of iPods. Now your iPod is not just an MP3 player,'s "a piece of existential performance art".

THE BLINDING WHITE cords flowing out of my sublimely waxed ears say it all: I'm in no mood for talking, and my income bracket makes cumbersome CDs so unnecessary, so Second Wave. With thousands of songs from my iPod at my polished fingertips, I can now walk through life effortlessly, angelically, shielded by the anodized aluminum of my futuristic listening device. I can strut with confidence and disinterest past those in my chosen path. I'm cut off from your dirty world by my ear buds and their enhanced sound and noise-suppression features. I'm a creature of advertising, a walking cliche with 25-minute skip protection and Volkswagen dreams. Shit, my profile even resembles the faceless, platonic form in the billboard.

May 10, 2005

Le fabuleux destin d'Amy Lin

What a difference a baby makes.

I've never paid much attention to the saying that "having a baby in a family livens up things", until she popped up in our lives a fortnight ago, all 2700-plus grams of tiny her. Great things come in little packages, and she was one mini parcel of joy that brought smiles to everyone that laid eyes on her angelic little face.

One little cry, and the whole family would scramble to her in emergency mode, only to crowd around her to watch her slumber peacefully with 101 different expressions as she played about in dreamland.

May I present my niece, Amy Lin Yi-Chieh.

Apr 22, 2005

Cloning an impossible dream

The latest issue of Newsweek covers an interesting article called The Singapore Clones, about our neighbors Malaysia, Indonesia and even Taiwan wanting to emulate the "success" of that Goliath of a State Investment Vehicle (hence abbreviated as SIV for convenience) - Temasek Holdings.

One wonders were these countries have given the idea serious thought. Taiwan in particular, where the private sector has always been fiercely independent and competitive, might not see much or any success with such an experiment. Unlike Singapore, the Taiwanese generally view their government and its officials as incompetent, scandal-ridden and/or too busy looking after their self-interests to bother with the well-being of the country, its citizens and local companies.

The upside of this scenario is that this forces companies (especially the SMEs) to rely on themselves, rather than the government, to ensure their businesses succeed. That, I feel, is the way entrepreneurship is born. Not something that can be taught in a classroom or shouted out in meaningless national slogans, like our mandarins sitting in air-conditioned rooms see it.

If my government cannot help me, I'll help myself. That's the Taiwan way.
If my government cannot help me, how? Sure die one lah!!! Singapore way.

The article in full below:

The Singapore Clones

Temasek started as a novel experiment in state-run investing, but now its success is inspiring copycats.

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
Newsweek International

March 21 issue - If copying is the most sincere form of flattery, Singapore should be red in the face. Its Temasek Holdings was once a novel experiment: a state investment fund that molded renowned brands, like Singapore Airlines and SingTel. In recent years, as Temasek began to invest abroad, it was at first greeted by neighbors like Malaysia and Indonesia as an unwelcome foreign intrusion. But now several Asian states, including these detractors, are more or less openly trying to copy the Temasek model.

At a time when much of the world is questioning the free-market ideal, the appeal of a quasi-public investment vehicle is clear. It gives Asian political leaders a proven mechanism for directing investment and shaping national industrial champions. Taiwan has plans to consolidate some $31 billion in state shares into a holding company modeled on Temasek. Indonesia is considering a similar idea to reorganize and improve the efficiency of some of its state giants, like the oil and gas company Pertamina. And while Malaysia would never admit to following the lead of its neighbor and rival, economists say the recently reorganized Khazanah, the national investment agency, looks like a carbon copy of Temasek in its early days.

Singapore created Temasek in 1974 with the idea of nurturing strategic industries and channeling investments to support economic and social goals. Temasek has since grown into a giant with $56 billion in assets, controlling roughly a third of the Singapore stock market. But after returns began to slow at home, from an annual average of 18 percent down to just 3 percent in the last decade, Temasek began to diversify regionwide. Its move into the Indonesia bank sector provoked attacks from the political opposition, and the ambitions of SingTel (64 percent owned by Temasek) in Malaysia were once quashed because of security concerns. Still this has not slowed the advance of Temasek. In 2002 a new executive director, Ho Ching (the wife of the current prime minister), vowed to refocus on profits over social goals. That has meant further investments in Asia, including more than $1 billion last year in India alone.

Each copycat is following Temasek in its own way. For Taiwan the priority appears to be on exerting some influence on national champions, like Mega Financial, Taiwan's second largest financial company, as they begin to seek out higher profits abroad. Jakarta's aims hark back to the Temasek of 30 years ago, hoping to raise the returns of state firms in order to create a larger pool of capital for social projects at home. But matching Temasek's successes won't be easy. "The Temasek model cannot be transported everywhere, but the fact that many governments are moving toward big public companies shows they believe you cannot leave it all to the market," says Dominique Dwor-Frecaut, an economist at Barclays Capital.

While the Singaporeans nurtured blue-chip companies over decades, Indonesia and Malaysia are hoping to adapt the model to clean up operations. Khazanah has already taken more than $61 billion worth of national assets, including car manufacturer Proton and conglomerate Sime Darby. The problem: while the government is diluting its ownership, it appears to be retaining management control, partly defeating the purpose of creating a strong private sector.

It is hard for any big nation to match the focus of a small city-state like Singapore. Temasek can restructure (read: cut jobs) easily in a quiet political culture. Indonesia and Malaysia are much more populous and unruly. "In that context they have to figure out what it means to set up an equivalent of Temasek and which sectors they will want to support and how they will carry out the intervention," says Dwor-Frecaut. "I don't think Temasek [in its current form] can be translated 100 percent in places like Malaysia and Indonesia." In Taiwan, the private sector is already strong, but it's not clear the new agency can achieve its goal—speeding further privatization—given that strong unions still rule the state sector. "Singapore has been very good in redirecting its economy through Temasek," says Chris Hunt, Macquarie Securities' head of research in Taiwan. "But I just don't see it happening here to anywhere near the same extent."

Temasek also has a complicated legacy in Singapore. Last year the combined profits of its companies more than doubled, but some say it has held back the emergence of a truly private sector. Consider that Temasek created Singapore Airlines, which has set up its own discount airline, Tiger, which has inspired new startups like JetAir Asia—in which Temasek also has taken a stake. It's hard to tell where Temasek ends and the "private sector" begins. Perhaps so long as it works, it doesn't matter.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Apr 19, 2005

Of Singaporeans and Mongrels

I don't know about other "quitters", but this is perhaps the biggest reason why I choose not to return in the near future.

Not because FTs are taking our jobs.
Not because they are wasting our tax dollars on copulating cows.
Not because the IRAS cannot hire better IT subcontractors.

It's because I don't feel respected as a citizen of this country, by my own government.

I used to joke to my Taiwanese friends that the only thing useful about being a Singaporean is the passport (The Taiwanese need a visa for almost every country on Earth, poor things). Now perhaps, it probably IS the only thing of any value. But don't take my word for it.

Tigerprawn2 sums it up well in this post below.


When I heard on the radio this afternoon the government's decision to build casinos and IRs in Singapore, I was disappointed and sad. Not because the casinos will be built (in fact, I understand the economic benefits the IRs would bring and welcome the decision). I was disappointed because Singaporeans are not allowed entry into the casinos unless they pay an entrance fee of S$100 per day or an annual fee of S$2,000.

And in case you are thinking that my disappointment lies in the high entrance fee, it is not. I am disappointed because the entrance or annual fee requirement only applies to Singaporeans and not foreigners. Is the message here that foreigners enjoy higher rights than Singaporeans on our own Singapore soil? It does not help that my Malaysian friend immediately seized the opportunity to poke fun at me claiming superiority that he can enter freely the 2 casinos to be built on Singapore soil while I as a Singaporean am not allowed to enter unless I pay.

For the first time in my life, I felt almost like a second class citizen on my own homeland! The immediate scenario that rushes to my mind is pre-World War Two Shanghai in the 30's and 40's - there was a garden built on the Bund in Shanghai on Chinese soil but for the enjoyment of foreigners only with a signage at the gates "DOGS AND CHINESE NOT ALLOWED". Well, in this present case I suppose I should feel much better because as a Singaporean I would be allowed entry if I pay the entrance or annual fees but presumably a dog would not be able to pay an entrance or annual fee so technically there is no
way a dog can gain entry; so at least Singaporeans are one class above dogs.

Wait... I seem to recall a scene in the classic Bruce Lee cult movie "Fists of Fury" involving the aforesaid Shanghai Bund garden with the signage where a dog on leash was allowed entry into the garden when accompanying its foreign non-Chinese owner on a walk. So it remains unclear still whether a dog accompanying its foreign non Singaporean owner would be allowed entry into the casinos though I am assuming that the general rule is that dogs are not allowed in Casinos. For the time being, I am contented to just assume that. The other scenario that comes to my mind is british colonial days Hong Kong where the Hong Kong Turf Club and horse betting is only open to British citizens and foreigners whereas the local Chinese in Hong Kong are not allowed entry.

The first thought that comes to mind is what and how am I going to tell my foreign friends in explanation when they ask me why I as a Singaporean am not allowed into a casino on Singapore soil unless I pay while they as foreigners have free entry.

Do I reply that it is because the majority of Singaporeans are such imbeciles who lack the maturity, self-control and better judgment to refrain from becoming gambling addicts hence the need for the government to restrict the entry rights of Singaporeans? Which at least in my mind does not make sense because as rightfully pointed out, 30 years ago it may be right to not allow a casino in Singapore but 30 years later today where Singaporeans make some 4 million trips overseas annually and are well exposed to casinos and gambling worldwide, we are not a country of uneducated illiterate mountain turtle pheasants who will self-destruct once stepping into the casino.

So, what am I going to tell my foreign friends when they ask?

Yes, not allowing Singaporeans entry into the casinos unless they pay an entrance or annual fee will to some degree discourage and/or deter Singaporeans from entering the casinos and to that effect
reduce the possibility of gambling addictions amongst Singaporeans.

Even so, most Singaporeans today who will want to enter the casino to gamble will be able to afford the S$100 entry fee. So it is
not so much an issue of money. If an entry fee is to be imposed why is it not across the board applying to Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans as well? To draw such a line allowing free access and
entry to foreigners while "penalising" Singaporeans does nothing to the decreasing morale and feelings of the people, the Singapore people who make up and constitute Singapore.

It is one thing when there are no casinos on Singapore soil, but when casinos will be built on Singapore soil, why subject Singaporeans to a different set of stricter restrictions and control? Are Singaporeans such an inferior breed to foreigners that they need to be put on a leash if they want to play on a playground built on Singapore soil while foreigners can play freely in that playground anytime?

Already these few years nationalism has been low considering the increasing numbers of Singaporeans who leave Singapore, the "quitters". And there is rising unhappiness amongs Singaporeans with the foreign talents in Singapore who enjoy better salaries, treatment and live a better life in Singapore than most Singaporeans do. At least for myself, I really do not need such discrimination now on Singapore soil to make me feel worse than I already do like a second class citizen not just in Singapore but on earth, because anyone else on earth whether an Eskimo or African or Mongolian, so long as he or she is NOT a Singaporean, can enter the casinos to be built in Singapore freely while I, as a Singaporean am not allowed entry unless I pay.

Suppose when the Hong Kong Disney Land is completed, the Chinese government announces that Hong Kongers are not allowed entry into the Hong Kong Disney Land unless they pay a much higher entrance fee than foreigners for fear that they will become Disney Land addicts and start neglecting work and eventually leading to breakdown in society. Does this make sense? And if gambling is such an evil to be guarded against like how opium nearly destroyed China in the 19th Century and the majority of Singaporeans are naive halfwits who will become addicts as soon as they step into a casino, then obviously we should really question whether Singapore is truly ready for one.

Did I hear correctly that the IR (with the casinos) will change the skyline of Singapore? And this is the "new" Singapore that I as a Singaporean have to give my everything jointly with other fellow Singaporeans to build? A new Singapore where my rights are restricted one class below foreigners? Sure, maybe if this were really 30 or 40 years ago where the majority of Singaporeans were still not so educated and exposed internationally to the outside world as we are today, this kind of class system may be needed and may work.

But 30 years on today, the circumstances for that justification no longer exists. So while the Hong Kongers will certainly be very proud of their Hong Kong Disney Land when it is completed and will no doubt speak proudly of it to the world, the changed skyline of the new Singapore in the future featuring the new IR and casinos will only remain a constant reminder of my second class status as a Singaporean compared to foreigners in Singapore. Let's not even talk about being proud of it, I would not even want to talk or mention it to anyone in the world because it is a personal Singaporean embarrassment.

My personal feelings is that while such a discriminating system may do some good in the short term, in the long term it will only serve to further erode what little nationalism and patriotism Singaporeans have left towards Singapore. Which is more important? To further reduce the possibility of the 2% of Singaporeans who are prone to become casino addicts or the building of stronger nationalism and unity in hard times so that the people of Singapore can stand together as one to pull and push through to better times? In any case, it is also my humble opinion that probably a very large majority of that 2% of Singaporeans who are prone to becoming casino addicts will be able to afford the S$100 entrance fee and will still set foot in the casino anyway; and hence will become casino addicts anyway whether or not there is an entrance or annual fee for Singaporeans only.

Crap(s) in Singapore

Yes, they've finally gone and done it, as expected. After all the hoo-hah and pseudo we-care-about-your-views smoke-bomb, the powers that be have sent an all too clear message for the populace to hear:

"It's about the money, stupid. YOUR money."

SMS your minister and tell us your views. Each SMS cost 30 cents per minute. Give us your views, then shut up.

Lure of tourism ends Singapore casino ban
By Wayne Arnold
The New York Times

Singapore said on Monday that it would legalize casinos to allow the construction of two Las Vegas-style resorts, overruling public opposition in an effort to promote tourism.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that the cabinet had decided to lift the city-state's ban on casino gambling, ending a year of uncharacteristically vigorous public debate in a country that has been governed by the same party since 1965.

Singapore plans to award licenses this year to build the two casinos. It estimates that this will translate into roughly $3 billion in investment.

The hope is that introducing casinos will let Singapore fend off increasing competition for tourists from mainland China. China is one of the largest and fastest-growing sources of tourist arrivals in Singapore, but competition is mounting, particularly from Thailand.

More broadly, however, the casinos are part of a longstanding effort to reorient the economy in Singapore toward higher "value-added" service industries like tourism and biosciences as it loses manufacturing competitiveness to China.

There is no shortage of investors willing to share in the new wager by Singapore. Nineteen gaming consortia, including Harrah's Entertainment, MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands, responded to a government request for plans.

International casino operators are eager to expand in Asia, where rising incomes are letting billions of people spend more than ever on wagering. Harrah's, owner of Caesars, has enlisted the architect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Freedom Tower that is to stand on the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, to design one of its proposed resorts.

Singapore business leaders praised the move to lift the ban.

"The government is prepared to give these folks the ability to invest their money and create tourism attractions that will get Singapore tourism back on track," said Philip Overmyer, executive director of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.

Tourism accounts for at least 5 percent of the economy in Singapore, a number that economists say understates the importance of the industry to the part of its economy that is not involved with foreign trade.

Despite its long and colorful history as a regional trading center, Singapore is short on conventional tourist sites like ancient temples or historic quarters. Many of its most colorful ethnic neighborhoods were nearly depopulated after Singapore became independent in the 1960s as part of a "slum clearance" program and stand today only as drab restorations.

Singapore has succeeded in turning itself into a regional hub for air travel, but tourists are spending less time on average in Singapore, using it instead as a staging ground for forays around Southeast Asia.

"They feel they have to act to give people a reason to stop here or stay a little bit longer," said David Cohen, director of Asian economic forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore.

The government plans to have two separate casino resorts, one on an underused theme park island off the southern coast.

The second resort will be near the main convention center, an area bristling with business hotels and near the distinctive Esplanade performing arts center that Singapore built in 2002 in a bid to become a cultural hub.

Harrah's is bidding to build both sites as part of a venture with a local government-controlled company, Keppel. Other bidders are Kerzner International, Wynn Resorts and the Australian casino operator Tabcorp Holdings.

Economist said the casino was likely to bring direct, tangible results. A report by Merrill Lynch estimated that a single casino would cost roughly $2 billion to build and would generate about $2.1 billion a year in revenue, about a third of it from foreign tourists. The project would help the construction and tourism industries, it predicted, including shops and hotels. It would contribute $865,000 a year to government tax revenue.

Singaporeans are no strangers to gambling. The government runs a national lottery as well as off-track betting on horse racing. Widespread illegal gambling on soccer matches prompted the government in 1999 to get into that business as well.
More coverage by agentX here.