Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The land where the sun would not set

Every time Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Koizumi, visits the Yasukuni Shrine, the rest of East and South-East Asia cringes and criticises these visits. The reason why these people do not view these visits by Mr Koizumi favourably is that there are Class A war criminals interred in this Shrine. War criminals such as Tojo, whose militaristic conquest of Korea, China right down to Singapore, still brings back very very horrible memories, some of which are still talked about today, more than 50 years after the first incidents.

There are some who question why Japan has still got to ask for forgiveness after so many years while the German Chancellor never need to do something similar. The Germans under Hitler probably caused a lot of suffering in Europe as well. The issue, really, is not Japan per se. I would say that much of the world has embraced Japan, its way of life and its technology over the last few decades. Non-Japanese have embraced the good cars that Japan have built and continue to export, Sony is a desired brand all over the world, including China and Taiwan right down to Singapore. Indeed, Singapore has embraced Japanese investments and welcome Japanese tourists and travellers. Closer to home, one of my son's favourite food is Sushi.

So in fact, the Japanese have been forgiven a long time ago. Why then do people feel so offended by Koizumi's shrine visits? The reason is because this shrine commemorates war criminals. Last year, Prince Harry of England wore a military uniform complete with a Swastika arm-band to a costume party. He was taken to task by the public. He had to apologise for his poor sense of judgement and insensitivities. So also, what Mr Koizumi continues to do shows a lack of judgement and is deeply insensitive to many in Asia. Many who lost kith and kin during that cruel period are still alive today. If those Class A war criminals were not commemorated at Yasukuni, then I think nobody will be bothered with anyone visiting that Japanese Shrine, or any Shrine for that matter.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Cat in the Bag

Cat out of the Bag - http://www.ssqq.com/At last, the cat is out of the bag. The true object of the ongoing feud between Dr Mahathir and the Abdullah Badawi (AB) government is in fact Singapore, or to be exact, the Singapore-Johor Causeway. Dr M now says that everything will be taken off the table if AB will restore the original plan to replace the current Causeway with the so-called 'Scenic Bridge' - which really looks quite crooked from artist impressions. All this while Dr M has been engaged in the Indonesian art of shadow boxing, and wasted a lot of time and newsprint.

He has finally revealed his true intentions. This man just wouldn't go to his grave without a monument to his name. And ironically, he wants that monument to be a crooked and incomplete structure that represents everything that is wrong between Malaysia and Singapore in the past! Incredible! I'd rather not be remembered by a half-completed bridge that points to my FAILURE to get a full bridge. I'd rather not be remembered by a structure that tells volumes of the enmity I had with someone or some party or some country. I'd rather not have a half-completed bridge that testifies to blatant violations of international law and treaty. I'd rather not have a half-completed bridge at all! It is ironic that he would be the second person to want to blow up the Causeway. The first to do it was the invading Imperial Japanese army some 54-odd years ago. Does Dr M share something in common with the Emperor's Army?

One cannot begin to fathom the mind of this megalomaniac, with the kind of company that he seems to want to keep. Its a great pity seeing him destroy his own legacy in government over a crooked bridge. AB doesn't have to do much. He can stand at the sidelines and see his predecessor self-destruct. Shedding a tear or two is optional.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dell Talk

Yesterday, I met Michael Dell in the flesh. Unfortunately it wasn't up close and personal. I suppose that privilege belonged to Ms Glenda Chong of CNA (Channel News Asia), who did the interviewing of the famous IT entrepreneur who revolutionised the PC industry by innovating a successful model that got the PCs to the users in any configuration they wanted and bypassing the retailers in the process. Dell is probably one of those successful practitioners of Supply Chain Management and Customer Relationship Management models that are bandied about so often nowadays in the IT industry, and indeed in the wider business community.

Dell was speaking at the IDA Distinguished Speaker Forum at the Suntec City Convention Centre. It is probably one of the last major events there before Suntec City gives it soul and body completely over to the IMF/World Bank Meeting early next month. There was almost full attendance at the forum. While Michael Dell didn't say anything that had not already been said or written about, there is always the novelty of seeing him speak 'live' instead of just reading about him.

I had to wait more than an hour after turning up and registering for the event. The organiser (the IDA) was a kiasu lot. They sent confirmation e-mails to registrants like me with the instruction that registration will start at 2pm. Instead, it started at 2.15pm. While coffee and tea (and plain water for the health conscious) was served, you had to find your own conversation while waiting for the talk to start, which eventually it did, ONE hour later.

Question time is always an interesting time because it departs from the prepared script. You never know what will happen or even amuse you. Even the interview segment can be stage managed. There was a constant stream of people asking questions but I remember two 'questioners' very clearly. One was an RJC boy who challenged Dell on the issue of 'choice' based on what he had read elsewhere where somebody had written that choice was not necessarily a good thing. This is academia going head-on with the practitioner. Who do you think will be more convincing? Dell has built a very successful business based on choices to the consumer.

The second 'seeker' was more of a joker. This guy, who said he was from the HDB, was invited to ask his question. And all he asked Michael was for a joke! I'd imagine that every civil servant in Singapore (including those in the IDA) must have wanted to find a hole to crawl into then. What would Michael now think about the quality of government in Singapore, when all a government official would ask for in a serious forum such as this, is a joke? I almost expected the organisers to throw him out of the room, but in deference to Dell, and our foreign friends, they let him be.

Some might say the HDB joker provided some form of comic relief, but to me, he wasted people's time and kept other people from asking more weighty questions. It is not often that one can engage Dell in person. Glenda was strict with her guillotine (except that she didn't apply it to herself). She 'privileged' herself by asking the last question, after stopping the questionning by saying that Dell had to attend to other appointments. I could still see a number of raised hands, but they were to be denied. I think many of them must have left the forum cursing and swearing at the HDB joker. IDA should seriously consider banning people from the HDB from ever attending such events.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Happy 41st Birthday! Singapore - My Life, My Home

The official Logo of the National Day Parade 2006

Power to oppress

Power to oppress - http://www.sito.org/Many words have been crafted and much thought gone into what a home (or a house) means. To many in Singapore, a home is nothing but an investment which you MUST cash out at the opportune time. Memories are unimportant, permanence is shunned like the plague when compared to the obscene amount of money that can be made by disposing of the house, never mind the neighbourhood that one has become familiar with after 10 years, the place where one's children was born and grew up in, the many happy moments during visits by friends and relatives who are ever envious of the view of the sea from the house.

This mercenary approach to life and living is now increasingly being demonstrated in communities selling out their homes to developers in what are called en-bloc sales. Going by past experience, one can expect to get a windfall from such sales. The only problem is - some people living in the same development do not want to sell, but have to go along when 80% or more of the residents vote to do so.

According to some accounts that are being related in the newspapers these days, the minority are finding this oppressive and have vented their frustrations by requesting that the law increase the mandatory go-ahead percentage to 90%. I suppose this will make it that much more difficult for a successful en-bloc initiative unless the rewards are overwhelmingly attractive - which is the purpose of raising the threshold percentage.

Although I do not face the threat of an en-bloc any time soon, I sympathise with the stayers for reasons that this blog exists in the first place. Yes, some pragmatists have made the point that in landscarce Singapore, this is the only logical and rational decision, i.e. sell en-bloc to the highest bidder so that the land use can be maximised. Well, this argument, when taken to the nth degree means that we must ask Ah Meng to vacate the zoo, or at least move to some highrise development, we must ask the Koi fish, the ducks and the swans in the Botanic Gardens to move elsewhere or start paying rent at the prevailing market price, or more logically, en-bloc the Botanic Gardents so that more optimal use can be made of the extremely expensive land that the Botanic Gardents sits on - it is a stone's throw away from the busy Orchard Road belt. It is ironic that a swan and a chimpanzee have more certainty in where they live compared to a human in Singapore. (But wait, isn't it already happening? It has been reported that motorists will have to pay $1.20 per 2 hours for parking at the Botanic Gardens now).

Under these circumstances, how can people in Singapore be happy and contented at all?

p.s. If the previous 100% consent for en-bloc to proceed worked against people who wanted to cash out, and the current 80% consent made it too easy for stayers to lose their homes, then 90% consent sounds just about right, I think. This is the percentage that stayers are proposing that the en-bloc target be revised to. This looks fair to me.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Living with dinosaurs of transport

Transport has gone to the dogs - http://www12.ocn.ne.jp/~pastawu/The impending rise in the fares of buses and trains, albeit by an average of 2 cents, has set tongues wagging and pens sliding across paper (or in today's case keyboard clacking). This increase comes on the heels of a more substantial rise in the prices of taxi services just two weeks ago and gives one the feeling that cost of living is rising in Singapore, albeit on the heels of rising oil prices, something that is beyond the control of even the Singapore government. However, the LTA has seen fit to jump into the bandwagon by planning to increase the ERP charges in the name of optimizing the usage of roads, whatever that means. This will have a direct effect on raising yet again the cost of all classes of transportation, including taxis, and squeezing yet further the scarcity of taxis in certain parts of Singapore. I have the feeling that LTA sees itself as Gods of the road in Singapore, which it may very well be, but then the Gods can be crazy. It seems that mr brown has hit the nail on the head in his commentary in Today a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, that same article also cut short his column in the same paper. There are some parties who refuse to acknowledge the fact of rising cost of living.

So the island now is abuzz about transport costs, a perennial issue. People are complaining that there is no real competition, so prices rise in unison among the transport providers. Even taxis, where more operators exist, sing the same tune when it comes to pricing their taxi services. There is nothing much you can do about this if providers do not see it in their interest to compete on price. Must we accept this? Is there no other alternative?

Well, actually, there is. Private car owners can use them to ferry passengers and charge for the service. Since these private car owners do not have to pay a monthly rental fee to an operator, they can charge lower prices for their services. This will benefit consumers, as it will force erstwhile organised taxi operators to match the price or provide a premium service at prices they currently charge or go out of business. This is how a free market is supposed to work. But in Singapore, this is a pipe dream. Is the government doing all it can to improve transportation, especially cost-wise? The answer obviously is no. It is more interested in maintaining the status quo and occasionaly tweaking it because it has an interest in sustaining a system that it created (which of course must be ideal, otherwise it wouldn't have been created in the first place?).

Asking the LTA to think out of the box is like asking a dog to give up dog food - impossible. This is somewhat like the malady that a famous Harvard don called the innovation dilemma in the book of the same name.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Prosper thy neighbour

Pak Lah - http://www.islamonline.net/Bloomberg reported that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has plans to compete with Singapore by making Johor a major growth engine for his country. This news originated from the New Straits Times. Calling it the Super-Corridor project (after its namesake Multi-media Super Corridor, a project begun and completed under his predecessor, Dr Mahathir Mohammad), the M'sia PM wants Johor to prosper as in its glory years through local equity and foreign investments. Why am I blogging this here, where it is all about Singapore life and times? Whatever happens in Johor will affect Singapore life. Even though the M'sia PM calls this competition for Singapore, it will instead prosper Singapore. Suddenly, a close neighbour (the only thing that separates these two lands is a bridge over a very narrow water straits) has virtually expanded Singapore's space in drawing tourist traffic to Singapore without Singapore having to lift a finger. Any development such as envisaged in Johor will drive tourist traffic to Singapore, either directly or through spillovers from Johor. So thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister.

This goes to show that there need not be bitter and acrimonious rivalry between Johor and Singapore. If at all, there can only be fierce but friendly competition which will benefit parties on both sides of the Causeway. This is so unlike the policies of Dr Mahathir, where it seems that he is hell-bent on bullying Singapore. In fact, Dr M seems to be in enmity with not only Singapore, but the US and Europe. He blames the conflict in the Middle East, currently raging between the Hizbollah and Israel, squarely on the US and Europe. Well, we have to ask - by Europe, does he also include Turkey? By US, does he also include the large numbers of Chinese and other migrants of non-European origin that have set up home in the US? Clearly, his view is simplistic and certainly not worthy of a person who has held high office in a major Southeast Asia nation in the recent past. I'd rather prefer Abdullah Badawi's approach to relations with Singapore. So it is not surprising that Dr M has provoked bad relations with Mr Abdullah B and his government.

I was right. I am still right. Dr M is a megalomaniac.