Wednesday, February 28, 2007

China Images

Uncle Fatso has a nice snapshot of China during Chinese New Year while he is stuck in the country for business. He obviously went to the zoo and the temple. He's obviously become quite a holy man. Yet he still managed to capture the playful side of the absolutely adorable panda.


This is rather funny, thanks to Little John and father in KL.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oscars for Infernal Affairs Remake

It didn't come as a total surprise that The Departed has won the Oscars for Best Movie. It is indeed a great movie with a heavyweight cast.

It's also a remake of the Hong Kong hit called Infernal Affairs starring Tony Leung and Andy Lau.

Nevertheless, it's a true honour for the Hong Kong movie industry. This is because most Asian movies simply ape Hollywood movies. But in this case, Hollywood has mimicked an Asian movie and reached the apex.

But I still feel that the Infernal Affairs trilogy is superior to The Departed. Tony Leung and Andy Lau have played their roles better than their counterparts in The Departed. And the Cantonese movie has shown a more intricate psychological profile of the main characters in Infernal Affairs.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has a bigger audience and American movie-goers will probably remember The Departed more than Infernal Affairs.

But there is a lesson here somewhere: Asian movie producers should aim big and should not simply copy Hollywood.

After all, Asia has plenty of interesting stories to tell.

New Malaysian First Lady?

Malaysian blogs have been agog with speculation that Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi or better known as Pak Lah has finally found a new wife although it's been in the grapevine for the last six months or so.

Susan Loone has quite an interesting synopsis of the rumour although it has yet to be established:

Malaysia-today has an interesting article on Pak Lah’s love life. It says: “Anyway, while on the subject of the Prime Minister’s wife, some say Pak Lah married Jean Danker on 22 January 2007 while others say he will be marrying her tomorrow, 22 February 2007."

Now, which one is true we do not quite know yet but she is already following Pak Lah on his overseas trips. In the trip he made to Perth to officiate his brother’s Nasi Kandar restaurant, it seems his daughter, Nori, went berserk when she found Jean in Pak Lah’s bedroom. Only after Pak Lah explained that there is nothing sinister about the whole thing because they are already married did Nori calm down and, like it or not, accept the fact that her father had remarried.

The word being spread through a whispering campaign is that, just before she died, Kak Endon had endorsed Pak Lah’s marriage to Jean.

Time will tell whether the rumour is indeed true, but we will probably never find out for sure if Badawi's late wife had indeed endorsed the union before her death from cancer last year. Did she ask Jean to take care of her husband or to marry him or both?

PS: kickdefella (who created the poster) has posted a letter to Jean Danker.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Vision 2020

This little montage is quite apt to describe the current state of world affairs.

It shows an old pix of United States President George W Bush and a more recent pix of Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz trying to watch military manoeuvres through binoculars with the lens caps still on.

Obviously, they don't have Vision 2020: They have not been able to resolve the Middle East problems despite their military might.

They are also unlike visionary Asian statesmen such as former premiers Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia who obviously can see things more clearly.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lunar New Year

By Uncle Cheng

Of all Chinese festivals the lunar new year festival is obviously the most extensively celebrated. This is despite the familiar Chinese saying that the winter solstice is the most important event in the Chinese calendar. The fact is that the new year festivities are what we look forward to rather than the winter solstice.

Allow me to share with you some thoughts on another festival drawn from my memories of distant childhood days in Malaysia.

As we all know the Chinese new year customarily lasts for fifteen days but today, on the 24th day of the 12th moon we pay homage to the kitchen god. Worship of the kitchen god has always intrigued me because from my earliest recollections in Malaysia I recall that sacrifices had to be made to the kitchen god today.

As I grew up I learnt more about the historical background of the kitchen god, which has great historic ancestry in Chinese custom dating back to well before the arrival of Confucianism and Buddhism. Indeed, the kitchen god can be traced back into Chinese antiquity and the very early days when people practised a superstitious religion called “animism”.

The kitchen god was a much respected and very popular god, which may explain his staying power through the centuries. He was given the friendly title “prince of the oven” (tsao wang) because he was identified with the inventor of fire. And fire of course was heaven’s greatest gift to mankind, especially because fire enabled food to be cooked. It was not long before tsao wang came to personify the domestic home.

Even to this day cooking and the kitchen are absolutely essential ingredients of Chinese culture and our belief system. Of course food is an important aspect of the cultures of many other civilisations, such as the French and the Indian, but somehow for we Chinese is much more than culture — it is part of our very existence and system of beliefs. For example during the Han dynasty the emperors used to offer the kitchen god sumptuous sacrificial devotions.

Since early days belief in the kitchen god became so embedded in the Chinese psyche that the Taoists and the Buddhists readily adopted him into their pantheons of gods. The Taoists even created their own myths which gave the kitchen god a human form for the first time. Before long statues of the kitchen god appeared and became the practice to smear the god’s lips so as to ensure that he would not make any adverse reports to heaven.

So it is that I clearly recall in Malaysia we would keep our home’s kitchen god meticulously clean on his festival. On that auspicious day knives could not be sharpened, brooms stored away and sweet offerings were made to the god of such things as melons, cakes, fruits, sticky rice, and always honey. It was with the honey that the god’s lips were smeared so that he would not talk too freely in the heavenly world and to ensure that his words would be sweet and flattering. Our hope was that he would therefore promote the good deeds of our family and forget our shortcomings.

As a child I was told that in southern China in the nineteenth century some families habitually used opium as a substitute for sugar to make the kitchen god drowsy and so ensure that when he appeared before the jade emperor he would be suitably good-humoured and tolerant. The British, who introduced opium to China, inadvertently altered this Chinese tradition!

At our home when all the offerings to the kitchen god had been made, the ritual bowing had been performed and all our prayers had been recited, a paper image of the kitchen god was set on fire so that he was sent skywards in a chariot of fire to heaven. Preparations for the lunar new year itself could only be started once the kitchen god had been ceremoniously and contentedly dispatched on his heavenly way.

Therefore dear readers it is my earnest wish that the kitchen god this year will send good messages to the jade emperor on your behalf and I wish to you all a happy and prosperous new year.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hairy Tale from Shanghai

Uncle Siam is rather tickled by this reminder pasted over every check-in counter in Shanghai's airport.

By Uncle Siam

It's only to be expected since it's hairy crab season.

It's kind of the Shanghai equivalent of the Malaysian "No durian on board" warning.

But it's hilarious. The English is a bit off. Obviously, they mean no hand-carried crabs allowed on board, rather than "no hand carry crabs".

But then again, if you look closely, they have decided not to draw the crab claws as "hands". So, these crabs really have only arms and no hands!!

The artist must have had a better command of English, and had taken the English instructions literally!! Haha

Friday, February 16, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year

Mom and dad will be away for a long time during the Chinese New Year break. They will only come home on Feb 25. I think it's like one dog year. :-(

But I'm staying with Sweet Denise, who has more time than dad to bring me out for walks. Can order her tasty Chinese New Year cookies. :-)

I don't think I'll write much without dad around.

Anyway, Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Asian Airports

Uncle Siam has sent interesting pictures of different roof designs of some airports in Asia. The airports definitely look relatively new compared to more established airports in the West.

Can readers identify the various airports? Answers will be posted soon.

Winners won't get any free airline tickets though! :-)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Updated: Dr M Hospitalised Again

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been warded again at the National Heart Institute -- the second time in less than three months.

"Doctors say he's OK. Nothing serious as the last time (November). He is still on medical check-up. It's only a bout of flu, nothing to do with the heart," second son Mokhzani was cited as saying by Bernama today.

On Nov 9 last year, Dr Mahathir, who turned 82 last December, was admitted to the same hospital following a stroke. He was discharged five days later.

Update: Dr M was discharged from the hospital on Feb 12.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


There is finally a hint that Singapore, which is starved of many natural resources, may have found a solution to overcome the sand ban by its two closest neighbours.

There is a brief mention of the so-called NewSand today in a column in the pro-government The Straits Times, which analyses the current bad blood between Singapore and its neighbours:

After all, just look at how the Republic responded to the relentless Malaysian threats to curb its water supply. It came up with Newater, which some mocked or scoffed at initially, but which is now a multi-million-dollar industry, with Singapore's know-how now sought after from Australia to the Middle East.

Perhaps next will come NewSand, a synthetic equivalent which some are already talking about as the next adversity-turned-to-advantage answer to a shortage, not just in Singapore but elsewhere too, such as in China with its can't-get-enough construction boom.

Is it said in jest? Or is there really a substitute to the crucial building block of many societies? Will there be revelation of NewSand when the Singapore Parliament sits on Monday? Four MPs will ask questions on the implications of Indonesia's decision to ban sand exports last month, according to ST today. Singapore was the biggest buyer of Indonesian sand.

Whatever the real situation or solution, a line will clearly be drawn in the sand.

Postcard from Chiang Mai

Some lovely pictures from the latest contributor to this blog -- Uncle Siam, who brought his family to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand recently. The little farmers in the top left hand pix are actually Bangkok urbanites in disguise! So cute!

Uncle Siam says the building in the bottom right hand corner is the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi, an amazing replica of a northern city of olden days.

The pictures show a peaceful and idyllic landscape despite the country's current woes following a series of headline-grabbing events in the last one year -- Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings' controversial purchase of Shin Corp from former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, street protests over the non-payment of tax by the vendor in the deal, the military coup that ousted Thaksin, Temasek's blunders in Thailand, Thai government's unhappiness over Thaksin's 'private' visit to Singapore, spying charges levelled against Singapore, and Thailand's loss of the Asean Football Championship to Singapore.

Uncle Siam and his little troopers truly enjoyed Chiang Mai and beautiful rural Thailand.

The same cannot be said about Thaksin although it is his home base. He is currently in exile.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Letter from Singapore, Part 2

By Uncle Cheng

Here are a few comparisons with Hong Kong that struck me during my recent stay in the lion city. Of course, as we all know Hong Kong compares very badly with Singapore on three important quality-of-life points — cleanliness, air pollution and preservation of heritage buildings. But what struck me quickly this time is that Singapore’s economic rebound and currency appreciation are having a big effect on Singaporean living standards. Certainly the gap with Johor Bahru (in Malaysia) is widening, and I suspect that Singapore is pulling ahead of Hong Kong on many economic fronts.

Among Singaporeans two common topics of conversation are that the economy is pulling ahead of Malaysia’s (they tend not compare themselves with Hong Kong) and the seriousness of crime in Johor Bahru. It made me recollect that here in Hong Kong there is always much talk about economic growth on the Mainland — and the problem of street crime in Shenzhen. Serious crimes are rare partly because punishments have been traditionally very severe. (though things seem to have mellowed a little under the new Chief Justice but the reverse seemed to be happening in Hong Kong)

On the question of air pollution I should add a small caveat to correct the common misconception that Singapore air is totally pure. In fact, like Malaysia, Singapore does suffer from seasonal smoke haze which the wind blows from Indonesian forest fires. But subtract the Indonesian haze and Singapore’s own air is remarkably pollution-free — unlike Hong Kong shamingly putrid air.

Believe it or not but Singapore traffic moves freely and is not gridlocked like Hong Kong’s. This is partly because Singapore pioneered many years ago an electronic pricing system to reduce traffic congestion. By comparison, the Hong Kong government’s only solution to traffic congestion seems to be to build more roads, which as we all know immediately turn into more traffic jams.

When it comes to preservation of heritage buildings the comparisons between Singapore and Hong Kong leave us totally shamed and humiliated. Through very strict laws including compulsory purchase, Singapore has preserved and renovated not just isolated historic buildings but entire streets and city blocks. The result is that the historic buildings have become a magnet for small businesses, bars, and restaurants.

While our Financial Secretary recently declared that the idea of a sales tax had been abandoned, Singapore proceeded to announce that its sales tax would be increased from 5 percent to 7 percent. I fear that Hong Kong has made a mistake. Of course, any new tax is going to be unpopular but Hong Kong urgently needs to widen its tax base. Otherwise we will be forever trapped by the colonial high land price policy on which the government relies for much of its revenue.

Singapore is also aiming to make itself more attractive to business with its plans to reduce its corporation tax, now at 20 percent compared to Hong Kong’s 17 percent, to 19 percent.

If it is any consolation there are at least two areas where Hong Kong beats Singapore hands down — one of which is fireworks. The New Year fireworks in Singapore were very low key and brief compared to the mega-spectacular that Hong Kong delivers. Perhaps the ever-careful Singapore government does not like its money to go up in smoke!

The other is even more difficult to quantify – Singapore is still a boring place.

Sophie: Must ask Uncle Cheng to come to Singapore more often and show him the more happening places as indicated in this report last year! :-)

The Straits Times
8 November 2006
Surprise! S’pore is No. 2 for nightlife and dining

In any case, Singapore is “hot”, say more than 1,500 frequent travellers and travel experts who ranked it No.2 for nightlife and dining in a global brand study.

The Global Country Brand Index was compiled by brand consultancy FutureBrand and public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

Singapore did not even make it to the top 10 last year in this category. The finding stunned nightspot operators.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dr M for Nobel Peace Prize

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize this year, according to The Star and other reports earlier this week.

Four non-governmental organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina nominated the longest-serving Malaysian leader for the coveted prize for his leadership when Malaysia provided economic, political and humanitarian support to a Bosnia-Herzegovina recovering from the trauma of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the 1992-95 civil war. The other candidates include former US Vice-President Al Gore, Finnish peace broker Martti Ahtisaari and Chinese dissident Rebiya Kadeer.

In a nomination paper signed by Dr Ganic made available to The Star, Dr Mahathir was described as the Third World’s “most illustrious contemporary” and its “most courageous advocate.” Dr Mahathir, 81, who retired from public office in 2003, launched the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to Criminalise War in December 2005 and chairs the Perdana Global Peace Organisation.

Will Dr M join the illustrious club of peace laureates? I think he should although there are other deserving candidates as well.

Dr M is eminently qualified to clinch the Nobel Peace Prize. Apart from what he had done in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he has tried to broker peace in Myanmar and southern Thailand selflessly. He has been pushing the agenda of the Third World in a peaceful manner. He has preached the policy of 'prosper-thy-neighbour' and practised it. He has not been afraid to speak out against blatant injustice such as the unprovoked invasion of Iraq and the execution of its former president Saddam Hussein.

But I somehow think the odds will be against Dr M. Why? There could be many forces that will lobby against him (or lobby for others) simply because he's too outspoken and blunt for the liking of leaders of certain developed nations. For example, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia -- the axis that effectively invaded Iraq -- would probably root for former US Vice-President Al Gore.

The powerful Jewish lobby may work against Dr M as well. Dr M was unfairly accused of being anti-Jew when he spoke about the need for Muslims to emulate Jews in 2003. He was chastised by the Western world and the Jewish community when he said: "'The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

But Dr M was merely advocating Muslims to counter Jews in a more effective manner, without resorting to violence. Read his original speech for proper context. Perhaps, one cannot even criticise anything linked to Jews or Israel. After all, it's amazing that historian David Irving was jailed for denying the existence of the Holocaust!

True, Dr M is not the most diplomatic person. He has the tendency to exaggerate to make a point. He is sarcastic. He can be combative. He is relentless. Nevertheless, he is a true Asian voice that is sorely needed in a world dominated by Western agenda. Others may say things in a more diplomatic manner but their actions tell a different story.

In the final analysis, I think Dr M has done more good than harm as an elder statesman in this world. And he has done more good as a peace broker than many pseudo doves.

I therefore hope the Norwegian peace committee will be truly impartial in picking the peace broker of 2007.

But Dr M will probably continue to speak his mind, with or without the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hiccup in Singapore-Brunei Ties? Part 2

Singapore port operator PSA International's premature termination of its management contract of the Muara Container Terminal in Brunei seems to have created some rumblings in the neighbouring country.

Singapore's Today newspaper, which cited The Borneo Bulletin and other sources, today highlighted unhappiness among some Brunei port workers. This came shortly after PSA's decision to return Muara to the local government on Jan 24. The termination of the contract itself was rather unusual as the two countries enjoy very close political and economic ties as mentioned earlier.

Something unusual is definitely brewing in the sultanate.

Brunei port workers worried
PSA's premature exit shocks transport sector; workers fear job loss
Monday • February 5, 2007

EVEN as PSA International makes its foray into the emerging market of Vietnam, its premature exit from Brunei — where it recently cut short a 25-year deal after just six years — has sparked worries among port workers there.

Rumbles of unhappiness and confusion were heard shortly after PSA said it would hand back the running of the container port — Muara Container Terminal — to the Brunei government this April.

The Borneo Bulletin, which reportedly received calls from the terminal's workers who were worried about job losses, said the surprise move "stumped the transport sector".

"The news came as a shock to me. I didn't hear it from the company but saw it reported in a newspaper," said a worker speaking on the condition of anonymity.

There was little insight into why the relationship was cut short — at least from the Brunei side.

PSA had maintained that it has transferred operational knowledge and expertise to the Brunei Ports Department over the past six years. It has also trained port managers and workers to operate the terminal efficiently.

On Saturday, The Borneo Bulletin again lambasted the Brunei government for lack of transparency in the whole affair, saying it owes the 52 locals and 40 foreign staff an explanation.

"Can Brunei do it alone in the face of stiff worldwide competition? Is the Brunei Port Authority better than PSA, which is a world class operator?" the periodical asked.

The deal was estimated to be worth $100 million by industry sources and was the first major privatisation project by the Brunei government.

But it may not be the end game for PSA, which operates 20 ports in 11 countries, in the sultanate.

In its earlier statement, it said it looks forward to participating in future terminal operating opportunities that may be available once the longer-term vision of the Muara Port is firmed up.

When contacted by Today, a spokesperson from the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) said it was in the final stages of discussions on this second terminal. Further details will be announced in the second quarter of this year.

"Whatever the structure of Pulau Muara Besar, we will engage companies in an open tender. What happens with Muara Container Terminal and the PSA will not have any impact on BEDB's decision to develop Pulau Muara Besar, which will be focused on export-based activities in various key areas. These may include the export of halal products as well as oil and gas," he said.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dented Thai Pride

A father carries his young son to cheer for Thai football team in the Cup final against Singapore on Sunday. Photo by Narin Kruaklai of The Nation.

Thailand should have won the Asean Football Championship in Bangkok tonight, playing more aggressively than the Lions of Singapore. The home team was also aided by a very vocal and nationalistic crowd. Nearly two thousand Singapore fans didn't show up amidst possible fear of backlash arising from the bilateral tension.

There was a banner saying Thailand doesn't cheat, an obvious reference to the controversial penalty given to Singapore in the first leg of the finals last week. Was banner also referring to the state of political ties between Thailand and Singapore?

The draw in the second leg was enough for the Lions to win the cup but everyone will continue to talk about the undeserved penalty in the Singapore leg and the unforgivable walk-out by the Thai team last week.

Thailand needs a moral booster badly after a real bad year.

Singapore are Asean football champions
Singapore 1-1 Thailand (Full time)
Feb 04, 2007 AsiaOne

The Singapore Lions have won the Asean Football Championship after a tie-match in the second-leg final at the Supachalasai Stadium in Thailand.

Clearly struggling throughout the match, it did not help that Singapore were without star striker Indra Sahdan.

Thailand took the early lead with a Pipat Tonkanya goal at 35th minute of the first half. However, Singapore managed to equalised in the second half through a Mohd Khairul Amri goal at the 80th minute.

At full time the score was 1-1, giving Singapore the win with an aggregate score of 3-2. Security was tight at the sellout match in Bangkok, which comes amid growing bad blood between the two nations following a series of heated political spats.

Less than a hundred Singapore fans turned up at the stadium although about 2,000 tickets have been designated for Singapore fans.

Thai players and officials were involved in a dramatic walkout at last week's Asean championship final first leg against Singapore, where Singapore was awarded a controversial penalty.

This gave the Lions a 2-1 lead in the first-leg at the Kallang Stadium.

US Bully Tactics Again

The United States is behaving like a bully again in the international arena to placate its populist concerns.

Newspapers today reported that the Bush administration, kowtowing to a more belligerent Congress on China trade, has hauled Beijing before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over 'illegal' industrial subsidies.

In the page one article of Singapore's The Sunday Times today:
In the largest action of its kind - one that could escalate tensions between the two trading giants - Washington said China has persisted with subsidies that, under WTO rules, distort global trade.

'We are seeking to level the playing field to allow US manufacturers to compete fairly with Chinese firms,' US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said.

She added: 'The United States believes that China uses its basic tax laws and other tools to encourage exports and to discriminate against imports of a variety of American manufactured goods.'

The decision to go to the WTO is the first step in what could be an 18-month process to determine whether Beijing has contravened trade laws.

In the first instance, both sides will try to resolve the dispute through consultation. If these talks fail, the WTO will step in. If it rules in favour of the US, there could be sanctions on China's products - with huge ramifications for Beijing's exports and for ties between the two nations.

It is laughable for Uncle Sam to accuse China of contravening trade laws.

One should not neglect mentioning US has not lived up to its own words in its trade policy. The US, under President George W Bush, has continued to subsidise its corn and cotton farmers heavily. This goes against the spirit of free trade and is hypocritical as developed nations force poorer nations to remove farm subsidies in their own backyard.

Oh yes, don't forget the heavy protection for US steel industry while US trade officials scream protectionism in other countries. Did I leave anything out? Oh yes, sugar cane farmers from the Bush home state of Florida are well protected species.

The rest of the world should paraphrase Schwab and tell the US: "We are seeking to level the playing field to allow the rest of the world to compete fairly with the US."

Another example of its bully tactic is its current Free Trade Agreement discussion with Malaysia.

US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos has urged trade officials to suspend FTA talks with Malaysia until it halts a US$16 billion deal to develop gas fields in southern Iran, according to wire reports.

Malaysia has rightfully warned that it will drop FTA talks with the US if it is asked to scrap the gas deal with Iran.

The Iran issue is a separate matter from the FTA, as the US is working to sanction Iran over what it believes is an Iranian programme to develop nuclear weapons.

And the US action against Iran is highly dubious as the Muslim country has not used its capability as an overt threat against its neighbours or enemies. One should not forget the fiasco in Iraq when listening to the US.

One should not be easily swayed by US propaganda and its imperialistic design.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Singapore-Thailand Clash

Singapore's Mustafic Fahrudin scored the controversial penalty, after an unprecedented walkout by the Thai football team in the emotionally charged game in Singapore last Sunday. Singapore beat Malaysia to reach the finals. Pix source: The Straits Times

All eyes will be on the second leg of the soccer finals in Bangkok tomorrow night between Singapore and Thailand in the Asean Football Championship. Singapore is leading 2-1 following the controversial penalty and the unprecedented walk-out by the Thai football team in protest last Sunday.

Tension is running high, amidst the controversial win and the strained bilateral ties between the two countries. Bilateral ties had been strained by a series of events in the last one year -- Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings' purchase of national asset Shin Corp from former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, street protests over the non-payment of tax by the vendor in the deal, the military coup that ousted Thaksin, Temasek's blunders in Thailand, Thai unhappiness over Thaksin's 'private' visit to Singapore, and spying charges levelled against Singapore.

Against this backdrop, security will be stepped up considerably at the Bangkok stadium, which will host at least 2,000 Singapore fans. The two sides will do their utmost to help avert a clash of their fans. A clash of the fans would be an unfortunate and unforgettable personification of the clash between the two countries.

It would be extremely unfortunate if bilateral dealings affect people-to-people relationship. It will truly be sad if football saga does imitate real life, as captured in this tongue-in-cheek article in Bangkok newspaper The Nation today.

Football saga imitates real life
Singapore's dodgy soccer win fires talk of eavesdropping, use of foreign nominees

Even Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont was curious to know whether Temasek United Football Club had used underhand tactics to win the first leg of the Asean Football Championship. The Thai national team lost 2-1 to the Temasek team in a highly emotionally charged atmosphere.

"Were we cheated?" the PM asked reporters yesterday. He had missed the match broadcast from Singapore on Wednesday night.

The latest clash between Thailand and Singapore has turned into a political issue. It comes hot on the heels of deteriorating relations, with the Kingdom suspecting that Singapore is now able to listen in on its calls because the former prime minister sold control of ShinSat, the sole national satellite company, and the country's biggest mobile-phone firm (AIS) last year to Temasek Holdings, a state investment firm in the city-state.

Army chief and coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin voiced concern that Thai military information was no longer secure because control of key telecommunications firms had been lost with the controversial Shin deal.

"You pick up the phone and it goes to Singapore," he reportedly remarked. The military installed government is also afraid that the sale of ShinSat might enhance Singapore's capacity to eavesdrop on calls here. Premier Surayud said they were looking into whether Thailand may be able to buy back control of the firm or if a new satellite needs to be launched.

The joke going around the Thai team is that their game plan might have been "discovered" by their opponents prior to the match.

After all, how come the Singaporeans knew that Thai star Kiatisak Senamuang would be absent from the game? And how did the Singaporeans players know just to mark Thai midfielder Dassakorn Thonglao, who became the most frequently fouled play by his opponents? Mmm ......

Well, the loss was not entirely attributed to Malaysian referee C Ravichandran's decision to award that hotly disputed penalty to Singapore with just nine minutes remaining.

Was the referee, like Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former Malaysian leader, just trying to drive a wedge further between Thailand and Singapore, knowing the penalty would drive us nuts?

A more deserving question may be how the Singaporeans managed to respond so well to our game plan.

But, what's done is done. The Thai team lost and Thai football fans are now left hoping their team can win the second leg on their home turf - on Sunday.

Looking around the pitch though, the Thai national team won't enjoy a huge advantage in the second leg as the physique of the Singaporeans suggests they're in a different league.

Although the title of the tournament described it as a competition for the Asean region, the appearance of some Singaporean players conjured up an image of nominees - as they seem to come from all over the world.

Take the Caucasian-looking guy with the pierced-nose - the tall Mustafic Fahrudin, who scored their winning goal. Fahrudin, formerly Serbian, rewarded his adopted country handsomely with victory from the penalty spot. In fact, Fahrudin is far from the only nationalised player for Singapore. Exceptional skill was not the factor that made Precious Emuejeraye stand out from the crowd. Emuejeraye is black, originally from Nigeria, and towered over everyone on the pitch. Daniel Bennett is not Singapore-born either - but another imported player from the UK wearing Singaporean colours. A fourth - Si Jia Yi - was once Chinese, but is now Singaporean.

These players were influential in providing the backbone for their team's performance. Temasek Holdings has been accused by some of using Thai nominees to acquire control of Shin Corp on behalf of foreigners. And when it comes to football, the Singaporean team has shown the world it can use foreign "nominees" to improve its playing strength.

There is nothing wrong with this. But the next challenge for Temasek is how to truly nationalise Shin Corp without being caught using local nominees. Or… maybe that's just sour grapes.

Barking up the Wrong Tree

It's not fair for Johor's chief minister Ghani Othman and Malay newspapers in Malaysia to suggest that the massive flooding at the southern town of Kota Tinggi was partly due to Singapore's reclamation works.

He reportedly said that the land reclamation has narrowed the river mouth of Sungai Johor, causing the massive destruction in Kota Tinggi. He was cited by New Straits Times as saying that the narrowing of the river mouth had slowed the discharge of excess rain water into the Johor Straits (infographics from NST).

Singapore's strong response was swift like the flash floods. But the Singapore government merely rebutted the allegation, without giving any reason for the flood due possibly to diplomatic reasons.

The primary reason that caused Sungei Johor to overflow must have been the state of the river itself. It's no secret that rivers in the state are heavily polluted and clogged, making them incapable to discharge sudden surge in rain water efficiently into the open seas, with or without reclamation works by Singapore.

In fact, the five rivers in the state are the main cause of pollutants and toxic discharge into the stale Straits of Johor -- the narrow strip of water separating Malaysia and Singapore. The pollution in the straits is compounded by the land-based causeway, which blocks the natural flow of water in the straits.

Building an overhead bridge to replace the causeway will help water circulate more freely in the straits. But Malaysia and Johor must first step up efforts to clean up the rivers and relocate industries and squatters along the dirty rivers, instead of pointing the finger at its southern neighbour.

Hazy New World Order

Walk-With-Us_Bloggers_Paul.jpgUnited Malaysian Bloggers. More pix on Screenshots

I have restrained from talking about the defamation lawsuit by editors of New Straits Times against two well-known Malaysian bloggers -- Rocky and Jeff Ooi. This is because the news has been reported widely, while any commentary on the case during the court proceeding will be seen as subjudice, whether it's in the print media or in cyberspace.

Without commenting on the merit of the case, the defamation lawsuit definitely has had a chilling effect on bloggers, especially in Malaysia. It will also have effects on many online commentators elsewhere, including Sophie's World in Singapore, that comment frequently on events in Malaysia. Bloggers will now have to think very hard before typing the next word or pressing the post button for the next entry in their online diary.

The case has raised a lot of questions about individual online diaries called web logs, or more commonly known as blogs. Bloggers enjoy no immunity from the law but should bloggers be held in the same high standards as print media? How can bloggers express themselves freely in their online diary without the constant fear or threat of lawsuits? Will more bloggers hide behind the veil of anonymity? Will bloggers practise greater self-censorship? Will bloggers restrict readership or access to their web log? Should we all go back to the old-fashioned physical diary? How should aggrieved parties seek redress? How do aggrieved parties handle extra-territorial cases? How can governments counter the views in cyberspace that are often at odds with the establishment?

I don't have the answers, but I firmly believe that a heavy-handed and an overly legalistic approach towards bloggers is definitely not the answer.

One soft approach has been adopted by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party, which ironically had not tolerated dissent well in the past. According to The Straits Times today, PAP has quietly started "counter-insurgency" against its online critics. This is done through party members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and putting up postings anonymously. That is the right approach. It's healthier to have an exchange of views rather than an exchange of lawyers' letters.

Whatever the outcome of the defamation case in Malaysia, there will be endless debate on the general role of old media and the new media.

There will be more questions than answers as we all move towards the New World Order.