Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Did You Think the Devil Would Look like the Devil?

You got to hand it to Marine Le Pen but she stands out by looking good. Unlike Trump in the USA, you don’t find anyone talking about how she’s artificially enhanced herself (Orange Tan) nor does she exaggerate things about herself (think the hair of Trump or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands). Every shot of Ms. Le Pen is well thought out. She looks elegant and when she speaks, she is well spoken and on the surface sounds exceedingly reasonable. While Ms. Le Pen is past the age of being a “sex-bomb” she could easily pass off as someone you could consider growing old with.

Unfortunately, everything that I’ve just said is precisely what makes her perhaps the most dangerous of all the demagogues who have risen to prominence on the global political stage. While people like Mr. Trump in the USA or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are larger than life characters who make outrageously outlandish statements about this and that, Ms. Le Pen is attractively normal and sane.

As much as I dislike Donald Trump, I give him credit for being able to stir passions and to get people talking. Some of my blog post have been Trump inspired and I’m not alone. While Mr. Trump may rile against the media, his very rise to the presidency has been exceedingly good for the media, especially the newspaper business, which has been facing something of a decline.

Mr. Trump had a genius for saying things that upset or emboldened people. If you consider the fact that we live in an age where people around the world are pissed off with the way things are, Mr. Trump managed to push all the right buttons by riling us up against the things we were pissed off by. I like to think of voting for Mr. Trump and his policies as going for a binge drink because you hard day. Dealing with Mr. Trump’s attempts to run the country is the hangover that you get from binge drinking.

To be fair to Mr. Trump, he is what he is. His message is vile and his delivery is just as bad as his message. You could call Mr. Trump a rabid dog that you bring home just to piss off the rest of the family. A rabid dog is obviously rabid and anyone who touches it without gloves is pretty much responsible for whatever happens to them.

Ms. Marine Le Pen is a different kettle of fish. If Mr. Trump is a rabid dog, Ms. Le Pen is the loveable pooch that you bring home because you think that she’s going to make the kids happy. Then, once you’ve brought her home, she attacks everyone who tries to visit you and pisses all over the furniture.

This is precisely something Ms. Le Pen has devoted her political life to doing. Her predecessor as President of the National Front, her father John-Marie Le Pen was one of Europe’s crazy racist politicians, who was right wing to the extreme and proudly racist (he once promised to deport France’s winning football team because they were of Arab and Negro decent).

Le Pen senior said outrageous things and he was a rabid dog. While he had an appeal to certain segments of society, the majority would never have voted for him because – well would you give the car keys to a rabid dog? The old man managed to stir strong emotions, while 22 percent of people in France had a favourable view of him, 63 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him. You’re talking about a man who was accused of torturing people during the Algerian Wars and was persecuted for assaulting someone (note – Mr. Le Pen actually got involved in the doing of awful things, unlike Mr. Trump who talks about it).

Mr. Le Pen had one fluke back in the 2002 Presidential Election, when he made it passed the first round, beating the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. The French electorate quickly came to their senses and ensured that Jacques Chirac (Not known for being the most honest of politicians) had a crushing victory.

Ms. Le Pen understood that the harsh far-right policies of the National Front made them unvoteable and has devoted her life to “De-demonizing” the party. Today’s National Front is not the “anti-Semitic” talk shop that it used to be. The “softer” image of the National Front under Ms. Le Pen has made it vote-able. In the 2011-2012 Presidential Election, she managed to come in third behind Nicholas Sarkozy and Francoise Hollande and ended up with more votes than her father did in his best showing of the 2002 election.

Today, Ms. Le Pen enters the second round of the Presidential Election with a very realistic of becoming the next French President. In 2002, when her father made it past the first round, it was a sign that the election would go to Jacques Chirac. Today, Ms. Le Pen trails her rival by a mere two percent in the polls and given that her rival is an inexperienced outsider, her chances are realistic.
How did she do it? The English comedian John Oliver says, “She has dangerously normalized the National Front.” People who would never have voted for her father because they thought he was a crazy old man, have happily voted for her. In many ways, her father was easier. He was a devil that who looked like the devil – admitting anything positive about him was an endorsement of being a racist thug.

Ms. Le Pen is different and more dangerous. Papa Le Pen was obviously the worst in us and in rational moments, we would never want him around us in a bar let alone in the seat of power in one of the world’s biggest economies. His daughter by contrast has made it such that we find that thinking at worst is perfectly normal.

If you look and listen carefully to Ms. Le Pen, you’ll realise that her message is essentially the same – racist, protectionist and nasty. Yet, its packaged better. You’ll never catch Ms. Le Pen saying revolting things like the Holocaust is a “mere detail of history.” But she’ll convince you, a well-educated person, that it’s perfectly normal to hate black, brown and yellow people.

The other area where Ms. Le Pen presents a danger is the fact that she has a reasonable image of competence. Mr. Trump made his inexperience in politics an electable strength and glossed over his business failures. However, once in power, the Trump administration has proven to be spectacularly incoherent.

By contrast, Ms. Le Pen has succeeded in running her party and instead of citing mad ideologues like Steve Bannon as an inspiration, Ms. Le Pen has paid tribute to credible people like the late 1988 Nobel Laureate, Maurice Allais. It makes her less frightening to a rational person, which in turn should make her terrifying.

We live in an age of instants. We like instant food, instant gratification and instant information. On one hand, we should celebrate technology and the way it makes life easier. On the other, we should worry that life isn’t encouraging us to think and analyze. Anyone with a brain cell should be able to recognize the faults of a Donald Trump. His appeal may resonate with some. He may touch us at the right moment, when we’re feeling down. However, a right-thinking person will see that Trump’s message is essentially faulty and in many ways, morally wrong. He is an obvious snake oil salesman who sells by bringing out the worst in us.

Ms. Le Pen is more frightening because she isn’t obvious. Instead of getting us to do something for the heck of it, she slowly persuades us to think that out worst qualities are actually perfectly normal.  Whether she wins or loses this election, she has already done damage by making the worst instincts in any society normal and acceptable. I can only pray that the French electorate prove more sensible than the British and American ones and reject her at the polls. A racist thug in a pretty face is still a racist thug. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Christian Beast

Last Thursday the Evil Teen decided that she wanted to watch the premier of Beauty & The Beast, which was a Disney live adaptation of its famous animated classic.

The movie had a boost of popularity thanks to a round of protest by the National Council of Churches (NCC), who had protested the movie having a “Gay Moment.” I posted something to the effect that the obsession with “Gay Moments” and “Gay Agenda’s” was a sign that Singapore has a large population of repressed homosexuals who hate themselves for being gay and therefore become extremely homophobic. My comments drew a few laughs but offended a friend of mine who admitted to being an “ex-homosexual.”

With this bit of background in mind, I went to see movie and true enough, I actually noticed the “gay moment” when one of the characters seemed to have an unhealthy devotion of his more outgoing male friend.

While, this was probably a “Gay Moment” (which someone else told me I only noticed because I was psychologically conditioned to look out for it), no rational person can say that it “promoted” the “homosexual lifestyle.” If anything, it should have been the “sensitive” homosexuals protesting about the stereotyping of the “LGBT” community as being effeminate and a group deserving of ridicule.
What’s even more interesting about the movie was the fact that it was filled with what one can call good Christian values. The so called “Gay Moment” was such a minor part to a film that was the living embodiment of Christian teaching.

The premise of the story was simple. A handsome and wealthy prince who screwed his people would not give shelter and food to an old, ugly hag who offered the one thing she had – a rose. Feeding the poor and giving shelter to the needy is right at the heart of Christian teaching. Christ tells us the parable of the widow’s mite – saying that God valued a single coin donated by an old widow than the vast riches donated by the wealthy. The teaching is simple – God doesn’t value the absolute amount but what you give from your heart.

The Prince finds damnation when he’s turned into a Beast. It’s always winter wherever he is and his only companions are his possessions (the servants got turned into possessions). The moral of this story is obvious – wealth can be a curse if all you have are possessions. When you lack love, you realise that having a lot of things is meaningless.

In the end, there is redemption. The Beast becomes tender and learns to love when he meets our heroine, Bell. This feisty young girl is cowed by his hideous appearance and sacrifices herself so that her father can have his freedom. In the end the Beast accepts that part of loving someone is learning to let them go. He recognizes that he needs to let Bell go to her father when he sees how much it torments her that she’s not able to be with her father in his hour of need. He lets her go with the full knowledge that she may never come back to him and he’ll be damned to live out his days as a Beast and even more friendless than when he was before (the talking objects become inanimate ones if he’s damned to be live out his days as a beast).

What is more Christian than that? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Man hath no greater love than he who would lay down his life for his fellow man.” This is what the Beast risk when he lets her go. He has learnt to love something greater than himself.

Perhaps the only thing more Christian than learning to sacrifice for the one you love but showing love and mercy to someone who not only hates you, but tries to do you harm. He practically allows “Gaston” the show’s knave to murder him, until Bell comes back and he fights back. Then, at the point when he’s in the position to deliver Gaston’s just deserts, he shows mercy and allows him to live.

Again, Christ is very specific on this. In both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, he tells people to “love your enemies as yourself,” to “bless those who curse you.” In that very moment of giving mercy to the man who would destroy him (Christ behavior), the Beast becomes more human than the entire village of people who followed Gaston on their quest to murder the Beast because ….well that’s what Gaston told them.

It’s funny how the National Council of Churches never wanted to talk about Christian values like mercy and love. Somehow an insignificant moment of what they deemed unnatural was more important than the overwhelming theme of giving undeserving love and mercy. How funny that Christ who said far more about sheltering the poor and blessing those who sought to do you harm was something that the churches didn’t want to talk about.

What a shame that our men of God don’t want to talk about love and compassion when these are central of God’s teachings. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Killing the Golden Goose to Stay on the Yellow Brick Road

Whether you like him or loath him, you got to hand it to Donald Trump for his genius for creating great talking points. Whenever Mr. Trump’s fingers hover above the tweet button, the world’s journalist start to salivate. Mr. Trump has made “Old Media” sexy again. The “dying” newspaper has had a fresh lease of life and television is booming. By being “politically incorrect,” Mr. Trump manages to stir passions on a whole range of issues like sexism, racism, immigration, taxes and so on.

Despite the obvious signs of chaos and incompetence from the White House, Mr. Trump’s supporters continue to love him. In fairness to Mr. Trump, the reason is obvious, he’s trying to keep his promises. He’s actively tried to bully companies into keeping the old-fashioned manufacturing jobs in America and he’s actively removed bits and pieces of environmental legislation to get oil pipelines 
moving through whenever they were supposed to go to – damn the environmental consequences.

 Mr. Trump’s supporters are thankful to their man for trying to restore things to how they used to be.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump’s supporters have forgotten one basic point in life – namely the fact that change is inevitable and industries will get disrupted. In each instance of disruption people get thrown out of work as old industries die but many more people get employed in better paying jobs as new industries take their place. Think of what happened when we moved to the motor car from the horse drawn carriage. People lost jobs as grooms, stage coach makers and so on but many more people got employed in car factories.

Anyone who is gone past primary school would realise that disruption and change are part of life. Businesses and people that acknowledge disruption have a way of hanging around and thriving for a very long time.

I think of my own little nation of Singapore. We were built by a leader who was able to handle disruption. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister, started out as a loyal colonial subject. He took pride in the fact that he didn’t speak Chinese and spoke English of the English as opposed to this bastardised thing called Singlish. Mr. Lee was educated in the finest of English schools and was destined to be a glorious and grateful servant of the colonial master. However, he grew up in a time when people of colour didn’t want to be ruled by the colonial power and, more importantly, Mr. Lee quickly found out that it was not his people, the prim and proper English educated that moved things. It was the rough and ready Chinese speaking that caused revolutions. What did Mr. Lee do? He and his band learnt how to speak Mandarin and Hokkien, the language of the streets in a mere 6-months. Harry Lee became Lee Kuan Yew and the rest is history. Mr. Lee didn’t fight disruption – where possible, he tried to anticipate and prepare for it. He went into China, anticipating China’s rise and he even checked his own emails until his final days.

Singapore has thrived because we had a leader who understood that disruption was a fact of life. There are other examples.

The two examples that come to mind are Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world and Phillip Morris International, the largest cigarette company in the world Both Shell and Phillip Morris are global giants. Both are leaders in their fields, which contain vast pools of money. While oil prices took a tumble in 2014, “big oil” remains just that – “Big.” The same for Phillip Morris. The tobacco industry remains buoyant despite the vast taxes levied against cigarettes and the various limitations placed on the industry anytime soon.

Nobody would imagine oil or cigarettes going out of business anytime soon. Yet, Shell isn’t sitting in a shell. If anything, Shell has decided to prepare for the future. On 15 May 2015. Shell announced that it was setting up a “Green Energy Division” to invest in low carbon and renewable energies like wind. Nobody imagines oil going out of business anytime within the decade. Yet, here you have one of the major oil companies, a company that has a turn over comparable with the GDP of many countries, setting up a business that many imagine to be the antithesis of its core business.

Phillip Morris has also done something similar. In its newly relaunched website, the world’s largest tobacco company declares, “Designing a smoke-free future” and asks the provocative question of “How long will the world’s leading cigarette business be in the cigarette business?” The world’s largest cigarette company, which owns the top brands in its market, has decided to find ways to kill its golden goose to create its future.

Both international giants are trying to behave like the start-ups of Silicon Valley. How successful will they be? What Shell puts into its renewable energy business is still a drop in the ocean in its overall turnover. The cynics, which include many government officials, remain skeptical about Phillip Morris’s claim that is researching ways to make its products less harmful.

However, the fact that the international giants are trying to anticipate and prepare for disruption to their very core industries is a sign that they want to continue thriving for a very long time. Shell wants to prove they can be a player without oil. Phillip Morris is promoting a future where is doesn’t need its golden goose.

Giants take a long time to adapt because the need to do so doesn’t happen until it’s too late. However, here you have an example of two giants trying to disrupt themselves before the forces of economics do it for them. These are giants that have the foresight to acknowledge reality and prepare for it.
If huge corporate giants with huge bureaucracies can make the effort to anticipate the end of the golden goose, surely someone on an individual scale should be able to do the same. Focusing and preparing for a future without your golden goose is surely a better activity than listening to the likes of Mr. Trump and their promises of restoring a past that wasn’t quite there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

American Incompetence May be Good for the World

I’ve decided that I am going to attempt to be nice about the new US President for a change. No, I haven’t become a rabid dog of the Republican Party’s worst aspects but I think its high time that I sit back and try and say something nice about a public figure I can’t stand.

Mr. Trump has shown that he has a talent for bringing out the worst in people. He campaigned on platform of racism, homophobia, sexism and hypocrisy. While he indulged in calling every one of his opponents “corrupt,” he himself was indulging in practices that would make his opponents looks saintly (think about it, the Clinton Foundation isn’t perfect but at least some of the money goes to causes – the Trump Foundation raises money for the good cause of buying more portraits of Mr. Trump to be placed in properties owned by Mr. Trump.) Once in office, Mr. Trump has not disappointed those who despise him and those who loved him.

 In a Presidency, less than a week old, he’s already picked fights with the media over the size of the crowds at his inauguration, made moves to criminalise abortion and to increase trade protectionism by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.

Coming from a small trading nation in the Asia-Pacific region, Mr. Trump’s speed in killing the TPP has been viewed a major worry. We, the small Asia-Pacific nations are terrified at the implications. We grew our economies on American investment. Our prosperity for the most part depends on the willingness of the American consumer to buy the goods made in our part of the world. Suddenly, Mr. Trump has thrown a spanner in the works. What do we do?

While the prospect of a more protectionist America may seem gloomy, the rest of the world actually has an important opportunity to do something very important – develop independence. In just about every way, America has been the “vital” nation that underpinned everybody’s social and economic well-being. America was not only the crucial market for many companies, it was also the “policeman” of the world, ensuring that neighborhoods stayed safe. US troops have kept the ASEAN region stable and Singapore, my home remains a safe and prosperous haven for the world to do business and prosper because of it.

So, without America or American involvement in world affairs, what can the rest of us do? I believe the answer would probably be to increase trade and cooperation with other people. The Chinese for one have relished Mr. Trump’s rants about protecting America from the forces of globalization. While Mr. Trump ranted on about the size of the crowds at his inauguration, China’s President Xi Jinping was making the right noises about avoiding a trade war (nobody wins) and how globalization for all its faults has in actual fact been a force of good to the world’s most prominent investors at Davos. The comparison could not be more stark. Mr. Trump looked like a petulant child begging to the smacked while President Xi looked like a statesman.

There’s no doubt that China is a “must-be” in market for businesses around the world. It’s not just the number of consumers in China but their spending power is increasing. One only needs to look at where luxury items are being sold these days to understand the power of the Chinese consumer.

However, as many of us in the small Asian nations can testify to, the increasingly powerful China plays by its own rules. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas ruled against China and in favor of the Philippines. The Filipino’s found that their victory was hollow – nobody was going to enforce it on China. More recently, Singapore learnt the same lesson – we sent military vehicles from Taiwan via Hong Kong and hey presto, the said vehicles got held up in Hong Kong customs.  The Chinese hadn’t forgotten how our Prime Minister decided to crack jokes about the pollution in Beijing to an American audience. We trumpeted our “legal” rights over the terrex vehicles and the Chinese gave us the middle finger.

The realities of big power politics will become starker. The Americans like the British before them made a pretense of playing by some sort of rules. The Chinese have shown that the only laws that matter are the jungle variety. Think of what happens in the jungle when the elephants decide they’re going to throw their weight around – there’s not much anyone else can do.

The world will need to accept China’s rise and adapt to it. The most sensible way would be to trade heavily with China and to offer the Chinese the things they don’t have (clean air would be a good start), but to look for and build up alternative markets.

In Asia, the most sensible alternative would be to build up India. The Bloomberg Columnist, Andy Mukherjee argues that Japan should use its technology and wealth to invest in India – something that seems to be possible given the close ties between Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe.

However, as many business people can attest to, dealing in the India market makes dealing with the Chinese look like a walk in the park.

Still, this is something that needs to be done. The admittedly few parts of India that work, work exceedingly well and what sensible business person does not want to be in two-billion consumer markets.

Asians, Africans and even Europeans need to understand that dependence on one particular market is no longer enough. China and India are two exciting possibilities but there are others. Eastern Europe and Latin America come to mind as do places like the Middle East.
Aside from trade, America has also been the source or the inspiration of ideas and innovation. First it was manufacturing, then it was in IT. America comes up with the revolutionary ideas and the rest of the world eventually gets a share of the pie by trying to do it cheaper. This has especially been true in Asia where we’ve prospered by taking American ideas and doing them cheaper – Chinese manufacturing and Indian IT come to mind.

With Mr. Trump actively making America more isolationist, the world can no longer depend on America as the hot bed of revolutionary ideas. Innovation must come from within the various countries of the world. It’s time to build up our people at home and at world class levels.

I remember explaining the Singapore Scholarship system to an Englishman. He said that he was surprised that we sent our best to the West instead of building up our own institutions to challenge the West. Well, I guess it was easier and quicker to send someone to Cambridge in those days than to build Cambridge or Harvard, but now thanks to Mr. Trump, we need to build our Cambridge’s here.

There are some encouraging signs. Pollution in China is pushing China to do more to move away from heavy manufacturing. In fact, China’s wealth is increasingly being built Silicon Valley style – While the State Own Companies have the size, its companies like Xiaome and Alibaba that excite the world. Chinese innovations like WeChat may have yet to reach beyond the China but as the Economist pointed out, they are beating the likes to Uber and WhatApp in the products and services that they offer.

The smaller Indian Companies are also recognizing that doing things cheaper than the West will not be enough to ensure their survivability. I remember 3i-Infotech and Polaris stressed that they were “product” companies (so much so that Polaris’s service business got sold off to Virtusa and the products remain under a Company called Intellect Design Arena). Raymond, who was my main supporter at Polaris explained it this way – “Services means we think like an IT guy helping make the certain functions for the banks cheaper – Products means we think like bankers and use IT to improve banking.”

The signs of hope are there but Asians, Africans, Arabs and so on, need to effectively grow up and fly the nest provided for by the All Powerful American parent. Mr. Trump has made it clear, he’s not interested in supporting the world. It’s time that the world took the bold step and tried to support itself.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Be like an Ape In Heels

In less than a week’s time, the world will see the end of the Obama Era and welcome the Trump Era, when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the USA. Much has been said about the difference between the two men. The rabid right wing of American politics is celebrating the end of what they have termed the “worst” presidency in history, while the rest of us are left, perplexed by how the American public ended up voting for a man who found a genius in bringing out the worst in people.

Much has been said about the contrasting character of the two men and nothing better illustrates the contrast in character between the two than in their families. Even discounting the presidency, the Obama’s are exceedingly successful professionals (he was Professor of Constitutional Law and she was a partner in a law firm) with very quiet personal lives. The Trumps by contrast are exceedingly colourful. Donald is on his third marriage as is his first wife, Ivana.

You could say that my sympathies should be with the Trump’s. Most of my friends would describe my family as being colourful. My late theology teacher once told me, “Dear boy, you collect fathers like most people collect postage stamps.” He had a point. My mother is on husband number three. I’ve also collected mothers in a similar fashion, my dad got married two years ago to his third wife. My siblings and I have not escaped the “curse” of unusual relationships. I am on marriage number two (I am also on husband number two to my wife.) and my sister has a same-sex relationship. The only one of my siblings who seems to have something resembling a “normal” relationship, is my brother Max, who got engaged to his long-term girlfriend, over the Christmas holidays.

My family is a “patch-work” family and as my sister wisely said so many years ago, “I wouldn’t swop it for anything in the world.” Despite all the various breaks and reattaching of relationships, I like to think that all of us have turned out quite alright (My sister and I used to get very impatient whenever the excuse of he/she is from divorced parents so he/she behaves like this because we were from ‘broken’ homes and were nice). Likewise, you could say the same for Eric, Donald Junior and Ivanka. Despite the very public divorce of their parents, the three eldest Trump children look like normal guys who actually had to work for a living.

While, I should have every sympathy with the patchwork nature of the Trump family, I have one very serious objection to the Trump family – his choice in wife number three, Mrs. Melania Trump.
Let’s make it clear, I have no right to be judgmental about a person’s private life as my own is far from perfect. However, when that person becomes a public figure, like the President of the Most Powerful country in the world, then it’s a different story because that person’s life story becomes a story for everyone else to emulate.

On a very personal note, I’m all for being a lad. If the Donald at the age of 70 has the means of getting a much younger woman with the “assets” that all men seem to value in a woman to want to bed him, then I’d say good for him or I think – hey, when I’m 70 and a young girl wants to jump into my bed, I’d be very happy.

But as my mother reminded me this holiday, I’m not just me anymore. There’s a teenage girl, whom I have chosen to take responsibility for. The job of father is an interesting one in that it contains two elements. There’s the basic every day element of making sure there’s some food on the table. Then, there’s the element of what you want your child to be. It’s easy job when you are father of a son – you want the little bugger to be an improved version of yourself. When you’re a father to a girl, things become a little more complicated, because you want her to be better than you and probably to end up with someone not like you (especially if you happen to be a rascal.) You want to be able to look at her and tell her to be like so and so and not like so and so.

In the case of the Obama’s, there was an exceptional role model for what every woman should want to be in the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Let’s start with the most commonly said thing about Mrs. Obama – were she not First Lady, she would be an exceedingly successful corporate lawyer in her own right. She is a graduate of Princeton University (not the easiest place to get into let alone graduate from) and Harvard Law School. By the time the young Barak Obama went to work for Sidley Austin, the sixth largest corporate law firm in America, as a Summer Associate, certain Michelle had become a full-time associate (guess who reported to who?). Mrs. Obama was also an Assistant Dean at the University of Chicago.
In the 8-years of the Obama Presidency, Mrs. Obama found herself become a champion of a variety of causes that people cared about without becoming obviously politically ambitious in the way that Hillary Clinton did. Michelle was the champion of this cause and that cause without shoving it down to the public that you were getting two for the price of one.

There were no scandals in the Obama White House. The President came back to his wife every night. Somehow, they made sure that the camera caught them giving each other loving glances. The woman also protected the family by doing what she could to keep the kids grounded – it seems Sasha Obama had to get a Summer job.

Let’s leave out the fact that Michelle always took care of her appearance. She never made it obvious to be the stuff of ones’ “wank fantasies.” Instead, she made it a point to be presentable and to ensure that any man would be proud to bring her out and present her to the people he cares about. In short, this is the woman who makes a man.

It’s easy to raise a daughter with Michelle Obama as First Lady. You can just say be like her – smart, beautiful and happy. She’s got enough in life to be with a man for the sake of love. She’s with Barak Obama because she wants to be with him not because he’s the source of her fortune.
Different story with the current Mrs. Trump. I have to confess, she is the stuff of “wank fantasies,” in as much as she’s good a well-endowed chest and a “come f** me look that appeals to men in a “wow, here’s an easy lay,” way.

But here’s the problem with fantasies, particularly “wank” ones – if there’s nothing beyond the “come f** me” looks, the reality is rather disappointing. I ask every male reader to think back to the time they’ve lost all interest (including doing the deed) with the girl you admired from afar, then got turned off when you finally spoke to her.

Apparently, the current Mrs. Trump worked as a model and there have been plenty of her half nude photos going around the place. During the campaign, Mr. Trump said that there was nothing to be ashamed about. He’s right, she looks nice on the covers of a “Man’s Magazine.”

However, her inability to come up with anything original to say during the presidential campaign leads one to ask – do you want her off the pages of the mens mags? It’s all very well to have a tart that the lads will be jealous of but there has to be more to the woman by your side when you are arguably the most powerful man in the democratic world. American elections are brutal on the spouses of presidential candidates because we want to know who the guy we’re trusting our lives to has as a bedrock of emotional and intellectual safety, not because we want to jack off over her. Nancy protected Ronald and took care of the finer touches in the White House, Both Michelle and Hillary were smart enough to challenge their husbands intellectually. Barbara and Laura Bush provided stable homes for the family. Hard to see Melania providing any of the above.

Perhaps Mrs. Trump does offer something to Mr. Trump that we’re not aware of. However, even that doesn’t seem likely. Mrs. Trump is not moving into the White House, while daughter Ivanka and husband are moving to DC. It’s most likely that Mr. Trump will use daughter as the woman by his side rather than wife, which really doesn’t say her much about the wife.

Now that Melania is going to be the First Lady, I suspect that father’s of teenage girls are going to be in for a tough time. Try telling her that going to school is important. Try telling her that its important to achieve things on her own? Why bother when all you have to do to ensure you have a lifestyle few could dream about is to look good enough to get onto the cover of a wank mag and hope that one of the reading wankers old enough to be your grandpa but with plenty of money will marry you. The main role model has done precisely that.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The World’s Biggest Shopping Mall – Boring Sia….

The Evil Teen and I just returned from a holiday in Germany, where she got to meet her new grandma, auntie and uncle. It was her first experience of life in Europe and as things would have it, she ended up getting a bonus experience of the Middle East when we had a 20-hour layover in Dubai.
Personally, I like Dubai in as much as it’s as close as I’ve gotten to the Middle East region since I worked for the Saudi’s in 2006. I like hearing the sound of the Arabic language and there’s something special about seeing people wearing their traditional robes amongst the ultra-modernity of an airport. 

I don’t feel alien when I deal with the Middle East and dropping the various Arabic terms for the Almighty in everyday conversation come fairly naturally.  I believe that if anything decent is going to happen to me, it will probably involve the Middle East and Arabs (the group that will do me a good term is likely to be Indian).

You should say Dubai fits nicely into my world view. It’s easily the most “open” place in the Middle East. When I first went to Dubai in 1994 to visit my stepdad who was living there, everybody outside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC consisting of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman) needed a visa if they were to move beyond the baggage claim in the airport. The GCC has remained fairly closed to the outside world. In 2006, the Saudi government even insisted that those traveling on United Nations passports had to apply for a visa before entering Saudi soil.

So, my first experience of the new Dubai on this recent trip was a wonderful change. Dubai has become the shinning exception of openness in a region known for being closed. They have a “smart gate” system, where people from certain countries (namely those countries that may produce tourist) may waltz in and out of the city as and when they feel like it. Thankfully, Singapore is on that list and so, instead of spending my day in the airport, I actually had the chance to visit Dubai properly. The immigration officer, who was a UAE National, was the friendliest one I’ve encountered – ever. So, much so that I believe that the USA needs to send its immigration officers to Dubai for training.

The day was spent in the Dubai Mall, which is attached to the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Mall is probably an expression of Dubai’s ambitions. This four-story mall is the world’s largest by gross area, covering an area of some 500,000 square meters and doesn’t include the hotel complex next to it. There’s an ice rink and a four-story high aquarium that has proudly been named as an “underwater zoo.” Despite the various economic calamities, the Mall has seen a steady increase of visitors since it opened in 2009. The mall even has its own train station (I actually had to double check that the stop for the Dubai Mall was called – Dubai Mall.)

You could say that the Dubai Mall is a microcosm of Dubai itself, which is pretty much Singapore on steroids. I come from Singapore, which is practically a giant shopping mall of a nation and it’s got to say something when someone coming from Singapore is actually impressed by shopping mall.
If one takes the Dubai Mall as an extension of Dubai itself, you’ll end saluting the Al-Maktum family of Dubai for creating prosperity without oil in a region where oil is pretty much the only economic activity around.

How did they do it? Well, for a start, Dubai is exceedingly open to foreigners. If you hang around the Dubai Mall, you’ll realise that its exceedingly cosmopolitan. The work is done by Filipino’s and Indians with a sprinkling of Caucasians from the West. The customers come from all over the place. You’ll see Westerners mingling with Indians and Orientals in the shops. Apart from the men and women in Thobe and Abaya’s, the only sign that you’re in the Middle East are the odd announcements in Arabic and the call to prayer.

The Dubai Mall provides a home away from home for the well to do. Well to do visitors at the Burj and the adjoining hotel come to shop at the mall. Likewise, visitors at the mall can visit the Burj and stay in the hotel. Dubai as a nation tries to be pretty much the same to the neighborhood. Two of the largest investors are Saudis and Iranians, who also treat Dubai as the place to go to for fun or the things they can’t do at home.

The mall isn’t cheap either. I guess you could call it a case of prosperity breading prosperity. Well to do tourist and shoppers are supposed to spend money to keep the local economy ticking. Cheap back packers need to visit. I changed 70 Euros thinking I’d had more than enough and ended up worrying that I might end the day without – when I heard the price of a travel adaptor, the Evil Teen decided that we could do without charging our phones….

There’s much to like about the Dubai and the Dubai Mall. It’s capitalism at its best and everyone around the place is happy making money. You’re not going to get an Arab Spring in Dubai because as far as Dubai is concerned, it’s already summer.

And yet, I can’t get the feeling that there’s something lacking in Dubai in the same way that there’s something lacking in Singapore. I think of my first encounter with my former editor-in-chief, Mr. Khaleed Al-Maeena, who told me, “You in Singapore, stop being an ape to the West and start respecting your own culture.” I probably say those words were most apt when it comes to Dubai. Nearly every brand known to man is in Dubai. Short of starting an Islamist plot against the government, you can probably do pretty much what you want. Yet, and yet, I’m do ask myself – what is there especially unique to Dubai. I often ask the same question about Singapore.

In Singapore, the answer for most people is to head to the food court and to grab a prata or a plate of char kway teow – which are incidentally not unique to Singapore, you can get it in Malaysia too but these are things that remind you that there is perhaps something in Singapore that isn’t an imitation of somewhere else.

In Dubai, I didn’t get anything that was authentic to Dubai or the Arab world’s culture. There was a food court with plenty of burgers or fried chicken but I didn’t see “Kapsa Rice” or “hamoor” (fish unique to the Arab/Persian Gulf waters). One can only take so much of shopping and big brands (and that’s coming from someone who spent a good portion of his life building brands). In the words of the Evil Teen, after we couldn’t find a local version of the kway teow – “Borings – sia”

I understand the drive to modernity and I applaud places like Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore for prospering in tough regions. These places have made it by being open to the world – you could say they true meritocracies.

Yet, there’s something missing when the drive to modernity comes at the expense of your own soul so to speak. Hong Kong has a special culture. Wan Chai is as much a part of Hong Kong as the Peak. I feel a sense of culture when I speak Cantonese to people from Hong Kong. Apart from street food, Singapore has that special version of English – Singlish.

To be fair, I didn’t have a chance to get to know Dubai the way I know Singapore and to a lesser extent, Hong Kong. So, I hope Dubai, in its hyper drive to modernity remembers that it needs to keep something of itself. The thobes and abayas are probably the greatest relief I see on the streets of Dubai – it’s a sign that people In Dubai and the rest of the Middle East keep their culture and show that their culture can exist alongside the “international” global order. Contrary to what Donald Trump will tell you, you can be unique and global at the same time.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Year of Silly Jokes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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