Friday, August 31, 2007

Malaysia’s Fiftieth Merdeka

I'm not sure whether many people realise that three countries in Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore - celebrate their independence day in August. It's probably a historical quirk. Thailand is the odd one out (or the smartest one) as it has never been colonised. Hence there is no need for Thailand to commemorate its independence from its former political or colonial master.

Malaysia celebrated its 50th independence day on August 31 but the road to freedom was rather complex for both Malaysia and Singapore. The two countries were colonised by the British. They fought to gain independence from the British. Malaysia got its freedom from the British in 1957. Singapore remained a crown colony of the British until 1963.

Singapore's founding fathers saw merger with Malaysia in 1963 as a way to be free from British rule. It was also tempting to be part of a bigger common market as Singapore had and still has limited natural resources.

But Singapore was booted out of the Malaysian federation in just two years due to the political schism between the ruling parties in the two countries.

It's rather interesting that Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, speaking at a conference in Singapore this week with her Singapore counterpart Lim Hng Kiang, playfully asked how Singapore got its independence. She asked whether Singapore became independent from Britain or Malaysia? The audience of mainly businessmen of small and medium enterprises laughed at the loaded question.

There's no neat answer, although Singapore starting celebrating its independence upon the signing of the Separation Agreement with Malaysia in 1965.

Yes, Singapore technically became independent in 1965 when it was no longer under the control of either Britain or Malaysia. But its independence from the British was first obtained when it joined Malaysia willingly.

It's just odd that Singapore has continued to honour former British colonial figure Stamford Raffles, regardless of whether it gained its independence from Britain or Malaysia.

Pix source: AP

Here's another view on Malaysia's 50th National Day.

By Uncle Cheng

31st August marks the fifty year anniversary of the independence of Malaysia. The date is obviously an important milestone in the young nation’s history and a time for both recollection and reflection. And for me it is a particularly sentimental moment because I was born and brought up in Malaysia, then known simply as Malaya.

At the time of ‘Merdeka’ (the word means independence and is borrowed from Indonesian) I was just ten years old and attending primary five. Those were difficult times for the Chinese. Most of the Chinese did not enjoy citizenship even if they were born in Malaya and the Malays feared the Chines
e and Indians.

In the eyes of the Malays the Chinese were communist sympathisers and a communist insurrection had occurred during the British colonial era. After independence the Malay language became a compulsory subject even among the non-Malays and Chinese language education was frowned upon. The key to a professional career was in either the English or the Malay language. I had to have a private tutor to teach me the elementaries of the Chinese language.

The first prime minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman was a Malay aristocrat who managed to become a barrister after a number of unsuccessful attempts and he was probably the only important Malay leader whom the Chinese had faith in. He was a liberal western-orientated prince and always preferred compromise to confrontation.

Merdeka was proclaimed at the stroke of midnight on 31st August 1957 and the next day many Chinese were fearful of racial attacks by the Malays but fortunately
our fears proved unfounded for twelve peaceful years.

Then on May 13th 1969 the underlying racial differences between Malays and Chinese boiled to the surface in serious rioting that left many hundreds dead on the streets. Interestingly, recently declassified documents in London have suggested that the 1969 riots were staged as a coup d’etat against the old Malay aristocrats represented by the Tunku and that the rioting was a successful stratagem to transfer power to a new Malay elite which was determined further to entrench its political and economic powers.

I suppose that Malaysia has been a most fortunate ex-colonial country because in the decades since 1969 it has managed to avoid any recurrence of racial rioting. Perhaps Malaysia’s peaceful and prosperous life has something to do with the changing and shifting political balance of power in east Asia generally.

A particular turning point for Malaysia was the year 1974 when diplomatic relations were finally established between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Then came the opening up of China under Deng Xiao Ping and China’s economic liberalisation, which made Malaysia less conscious of China as a communist nation.

Malaysia has been a truly fortunate country where peace and prosperity have grown in strength. Yet today there is a new cloud on the horizon in the shape of Islamic fundamentalism. Moslem sharia law and religious extremes are definitely on the rise and could yet threaten the present peaceful relations between the races.

Anyway, I wish my birthplace a very happy fiftieth birthday!

Pix source: The Star

An interesting insight by Janadas of ST:

The Straits Times
Divergent strains of Malayan nationalism
By Janadas Devan

TODAY is actually the 50th anniversary of Malayan, not Malaysian, independence. Malaysia as such is six years younger, having come into existence on Sept 16, 1963. But it is perfectly natural that Malaysians should forget Sept 16 and celebrate instead Aug 31 as their founding moment.

Aug 31 was the day that Malaysia's centre of gravity - peninsula Malaya - became independent. For Malayans, as opposed to Malaysians, Sept 16 was but a way-station. Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak merged with Malaya that day; Malaya did not merge with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.

It took Singaporeans a while to realise the implications of that historical and constitutional trajectory. Only in retrospect did it become clear that Aug 31, 1957 had rendered Sept 16, 1963 a secondary event in Malaysia's history - and Aug 9, 1965 an inevitability. Aug 31 instituted the first separation, though nobody in Singapore saw it that way in 1957; and Aug 9, the actual Separation, had its roots in the political calculations that led to the first, though nobody realised that till eight years later.

British territories in South-east Asia were a constitutional patchwork before World War II. While Singapore, Penang and Malacca - the Straits Settlements - were under direct colonial rule, the nine Malay States of peninsula Malaya were under indirect rule. The Straits Settlements had a British Governor, resident in Singapore, but the Malay States had a British High Commissioner. They were one and the same person, but wearing two distinct hats.

The Malay States were each headed by a Sultan. They were sovereign rulers with a treaty relationship with Britain. Constitutionally, the British High Commissioner had an advisory relationship with each. In Singapore, wearing the Governor's topi (hat), he had near-absolute powers; in Kuala Lumpur, wearing the High Commissioner's topi, he was legally on foreign soil.

The British considered changing this arrangement during the war, after the Japanese had booted them out of the territories. Ensconced in London, Sir Edward Gent, an official in the Colonial Office, dreamt of a Malayan Union that would encompass both the Malay States as well as the Straits Settlements - and at a latter date, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei too. But the British soon dropped Singapore from their plan. Demography forced their hand.

There were about 1.9 million Chinese living in peninsula Malaya at the end of the war in 1945, of whom 1.2 million were local-born. Including the 600,000 Indians, the non-Malay population exceeded the Malay population of 2.1 million. To have included Chinese-majority Singapore in the Malayan Union, the British decided, would have further alarmed Malays. Singapore was thus hived off as a separate crown colony.

Hiving it off though did not help the British gain Malay approval for the Malayan Union. Non-Malays generally liked the Union proposal, for it offered citizenship rights to all, regardless of race and creed. For the same reason, Malays objected, for the Union threatened their primacy. The abortive Union gave rise to divergent strains of Malayan nationalism.

Among Malays, it fostered Malay nationalism. The United Malays National Organisation (Umno) was founded in May 1946 to oppose the Union. Led by Datuk Onn Jaffar, then chief minister of Johor, the party mobilised Malays across the peninsula. Surprised by the ferocity of their opposition, the British jettisoned the Union and promulgated instead the Federation of Malaya in February 1948.

The Federation upheld the sovereignty of the Sultans and Malay special rights, and imposed tough citizenship requirements on non-Malays.

Only one-fifth of Chinese and Indians were given Malayan citizenship, though three-fifths of the Chinese and half the Indians resident then in Malaya were local-born. As one history of Malaysia observed, 'the term 'Malayan' was not recognised in the final Federation document, while Melayu was clearly reserved for those individuals who habitually spoke Malay, who professed Islam, and conformed to Malay custom.' Umno had triumphed - and it had triumphed by insisting on Malay, as opposed to Malayan, nationalism.

Malaya's constitutional development over the next 10 years, leading to Merdeka in August 1957, conformed to the pattern that Umno had established in opposing the Malayan Union. It agreed to more liberal citizenship provisions for non-Malays in independent Malaya than was provided for in the pre-independence federation, but only in return for constitutional guarantees of special Malay rights. Islam was declared the official religion and the primacy of Malay as the national language was emphasised.

The leading Malayan figures of the time - including Tunku Abdul Rahman - were sincere in their commitment to creating a Malayan identity that would transcend race. But they saw that ideal as a distant prospect. In the meantime, they established the new state on the basis of a modus vivendi between the three races, each led by a different political party. In practice, Malayan nationalism became predicated on the acceptance by everyone of the primacy of Malay nationalism.

Malayan nationalism remained strong, of course, an article of faith for many - and ironically, especially among Singaporeans. Though they had been excluded from the federation since 1945, most Singaporeans then thought of themselves as Malayan.

When the People's Action Party was founded in November 1954, for instance, it declared itself as 'interested in the problems of our fellow Malayans in the Federation as we are in those of Singapore'. And in 1958, after Malaya became independent, the party reiterated its determination to demonstrate to the 'three million Malays in the Federation that the one million Chinese in Singapore are ready, willing and able to be absorbed as one Malayan people, all able to speak Malay'.

It took eight years for Singaporeans to realise that Malayan nationalism, as they had conceived it, did not coincide with Malayan nationalism, as it was practised in Malaya. It took eight years for them to realise that their own Merdeka had to be achieved through Separation, not Merger.

The bilateral Singapore-Malaysia relationship over the past 50 years is rooted in this history. The leading figures in both countries - Mr Lee Kuan Yew and others in Singapore; the Tunku, Tun Abdul Razak and others in Malaysia - began with divergent conceptions of Malayan nationalism. They discovered they could not achieve their respective ideal polities without going their separate ways. Many in Malaysia today find it difficult to view Singapore other than through the prism of their own domestic racial arrangements.

The judgment of history can be ruthless in its dismissal of past sentiments, but it is inescapable. Fifty years after Aug 31, 44 years after Sept 16 and 42 years after Aug 9, Singaporeans sincerely wish Malaysians well - as a separate people.

Happy birthday, Malaysia.

Sophie's Choice
Malaysia's 50th birthday festivities clouded by worsening race relations

Celebrations galore as Malaysia turns 50
My Merdeka Message

The Meaning of Merdeka

PM Lee in KL for Malaysia's Golden Jubilee celebrations

Asia's melting pot marks 50 years

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Malaysian crime story, again

There's been another headline-grabbing crime story in Johor Baru despite the deployment of additional 400 policemen and 200 more police patrol cars in the state.

The Straits Times has a report on a regular Singaporean visitor to JB who was viciously attacked by a chopper-wielding robber. The whole episode at the Mobil petrol station next to the police station, just before the immigration checkpoint, was captured on CCTV. It took less than 30 seconds.

The report cited the victim's wife as saying that they knew of the crime situation in JB and purposely filled up at the petrol kiosk next to the police station. The story said Malaysian police have called Madam See to inform her that they had arrested two suspects.

Er, did the report say it happened next to the police station? What happened to all the new policemen and even riot police Federal Reserve Unit that were reportedly deployed to contain the crime situation in JB? Have they all gone back to the federal capital after the publicity? Were they on duty when the latest crime took place right under their nose?

Actually, I didn't see any major police presence when I was in JB last month. Maybe, they are very discrete in their operations. Maybe, they don't want to be seen as intrusive. Maybe, they were sleeping?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Businessman Engineer

An interesting read of a man who is seldom featured in the media -- Lin Yun Ling of Malaysian construction firm Gamuda Bhd. In Singapore BT's Raffles Conversation, he sounds a tad arrogant, saying things like: "We are used to doing a RM1 billion project so don't come and show us RM100 million. We will fall asleep." But I rather read an honest piece, rather than one couched in niceties.

Anyway, Yun Ling sounds like a smart engineer with good business acumen. He is behind some radical ideas like the SMART system to divert flood water from the Malaysian capital. It also collects toll from motorists who choose to use the tiered tunnel to bypass congested areas.

Business Times - 18 Aug 2007

Engineer with a passion
PAULINE NG talks to Lin Yun Ling, founder MD of Malaysian construction firm Gamuda, which has a market value of RM7 billion

ALTHOUGH he is running what many perceive to be Malaysia's most aggressive construction firm, Lin Yun Ling comes across as far from combative in person. Like so many civil engineers, his passion appears to be in structures, the more imaginative and innovative the better. Numbers themselves are of less interest.

But after some three decades as Gamuda's founder managing director, the 51-year-old obviously knows a thing or two about his trade. The company he founded in 1976 with four others who are now retired has grown from its original RM100,000 to be worth more than RM7 billion (S$3.1 billion) at current market value.

Its work ranges from motorways, ports, tunnels, water treatment and sewage plants, airports, power stations, highway and bridges, hospitals, dams and hydropower and township development - big infrastructure projects where it has often played the lead role of EPC (engineering procurement construction) contractor.

Not bad for a ya kok tiak, which is Cantonese for 'Jack of all trades', as Mr Lin describes himself. Over the years, he had moved on from his sub-contractor beginnings into something far bigger so that he was ready to move again when opportunity knocked in the late 1980s and 1990s during an intense period of privatisation of major assets in Malaysia.

'We rode that wave quite well,' Mr Lin says of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's decision to privatise huge chunks of the Malaysian economy, in turn creating many opportunities for companies like Gamuda. The timing was right, but it was also what you could do.

'It can sound very common today but I remember at that time we brought in at quite a high level, professionals from design and engineering consultancy background. The game plan was to have a range of skill sets - financial consultants working with construction managers and design people. Even today we have an undoubtedly strong traffic planning team, all the specialties under one roof.'

Mr Lin is a graduate of King's College, London, and his brother is a former Bank Negara deputy governor - Lin See Yan.

His habit of thinking out of the box and looking for value and solutions in unlikely places might have resonated with Dr Mahathir, an unorthodox 'big picture' man himself. Two projects Mr Lin recalls with great pride are one of Gamuda's early concessions - the 40 km Damansara Puchong Expressway (referred locally as the LDP) - and the recently completed Smart Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur. He describes the LDP as almost 'transformational' in its impact.

'One of our earlier projects, the LDP, has to be one of the busiest motorways in the country now. When we proposed it, it wasn't even in the government roads masterplan. Puchong was the backwaters - a second class area to a lot of people - but what we did was fill up a huge mining pool, 12 million cubic metres, and connected Puchong to PJ (Petaling Jaya). Because of the transformation in Puchong, today you can see more than 20 big townships.

'Of course today people take the road for granted. but when I say transformational impact, we invested RM1.2 billion to RM1.3 billion into the capital expenditure for the entire highway. If you took 500 metres left and right of the road over 40 km and work it out, it is easily over RM20 billion of appreciation in real estate. So with RM1 billion you can leverage and create RM20 billion of wealth.'

The road now collects tolls from some 600,000 vehicles daily.

Where the LDP was an unsolicited proposal to the government, the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel Project - the Smart Tunnel - was semi-solicited.

Owing to severe flooding in the city, the government in the late 1990s and early 2000s decided that drastic measures were needed and looked to a channel to divert floodwaters out of the city.

'There was no space on the ground, so they had to go underground. We looked at it and put it to them: if you have a tunnel of that size over 10 km and are only using it once or twice a year, it is not cost-effective. Given the alignment it had to go through - underneath parts of the city where there is a lot of congestion, like the Sungei Besi road - we worked out with the installation of some floodgates and a kind of decking into it, you could create motorway lanes in two decks and still open and shut the gates as you like.'

Under a three-mode operation system, the Smart Tunnel motorway is shut to traffic only during a major storm, when the automated water-tight gates to the tunnel are opened to allow flood waters to pass through.

The motorway is reopened within 48 hours. Already collecting tolls from 20,000 vehicles a day, its efficacy with floodwaters has yet to be tested since this portion was only recently completed.

Mr Lin does not for a moment doubt that the Smart Tunnel's dual function makes sense, given the flood tunnel's projected building costs of RM1.8 billion, and the tunnel's actual cost of about RM1.9 billion. 'The government only pays RM1.3 billion because we raised RM600 million on the back of the motorway revenues, so in the end it still works out cheaper for the government.'

The 30-year toll concession on the Smart Tunnel will give Gamuda a return on investment of 11 to 12 per cent, which Mr Lin describes as 'adequate, but nothing to shout about'.

He says: 'What gratifies us is that we were able to make a facility that would otherwise have been under-utilised and make it work in a cost-effective way.'

Now working on bigger things, small projects no longer interest him. 'At that time it was odd to people, but among ourselves we had a house rule: we do not go for projects less than RM1 billion, whether it is development or infrastructure.

'Today you will find only four to five projects in our order-book. Our competitors will have 20-30, but even the smallest of our four or five will still be bigger than their biggest ones.'

Mr Lin says: 'There's a Cantonese saying - whether you jaga (look after) two cows or 20 cows, the work is the same. But if your two cows are very big you can move very fast and can go very far.'

He doesn't state how far he aims to go, but indicates he derives more pleasure defending his ideas from people such as Dr Mahathir than the bottom-line or the profit performance of a project.

'Twenty years from now when I look back what I will remember won't be margins we made on a project. But I'll remember things like putting the Smart proposal to Dr Mahathir and the kind of questions he'll grill me on for two hours; but once you pass that, the project is going to move the next day. These are the things you remember.'

Mr Lin's expansion strategies are just as undefined. 'Even the growth part - if there is one - is a consequence of this passion for the creative part. By that I mean if we can come up with the creative proposals that we like doing, then that's the growth for you as a shareholder.'

But shareholders needn't worry too much - the proof of the pudding is in the company's order book, which is the envy of many. After a number of years in the corporate wilderness when construction work dried up overnight in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, Gamuda is back, big time. Analysts have projected a doubling of its profits this current fiscal year, Gamuda's new found confidence is a reflection of its success in overseas markets.

'As with most things in life, it (construction) is cyclical. Although by some measures it was a low ebb then, it was when we embarked on our overseas expansion that we discovered ourselves, our strengths, how hungry we were.

'The last time I felt like that was when I was 17 and my parents sent me to UK to study. You rediscover yourself and after seven or eight years - if I may pass judgement - I would say we are very confident.

'In India and the Middle East we have been completing very tough projects which were not as profitable as we would have liked, but we have built a very good track record there. We haven't had new work in India for more than three years now, but yesterday Indiabulls asked us to team up with them on a housing project in Mumbai.'

Overseas jobs are predicted to account for half of Gamuda's future earnings. Huge deals are being brokered in Indo-China, one recent example being the Vietnam Yenso Park project. In return for financing and constructing some of Hanoi's infrastructure - mainly its sewerage system at a total cost of some US$400 million - Gamuda will receive 500 acres of land within the city. The company plans to build a commercial centre along the lines of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, targeted at the multinational companies and expatriates in Hanoi.

'Here the project was unsolicited but we know their needs in terms of infrastructure. And we could also identify the land that we are comfortable with - it is unencumbered and nobody is staying on it, so we know they can hand it over to us immediately.'

But in the search for the different and undiscovered, Mr Lin sometimes gets it wrong. One venture that did not pay was Gamuda's investment in Dyna Plastics - a company engaged in developing energy sources to make advanced rechargeable batteries.

The mid-2000 investment incurred the fury of fund managers and investors who could not see the rationale for Gamuda plonking down nearly RM69 million into an unrelated venture. Its shares were sold down sharply and a few years later when it exited the investment with nothing to show, few were surprised.

What was the reason for the uncharacteristic slip-up? 'I suppose if you know us it wouldn't be difficult to see. A lot of us are engineers and we are fascinated by - I wouldn't call it rocket science or state-of-the-art discovery - lithium ion batteries which until today are still a very hot topic.

'It's an on-going race to come up with batteries that are lithium ion based. Scientists say it is the way to go, that 60 to 70 per cent of all our fossil powered applications can eventually be replaced by lithium ion, so it is a fascination.

'At that time we were not experts in it but checked with third party sources on the people who had the technology. A lot thought he had a very good chance of making it. The lab samples that he sent had test results from people like Motorola and they were good.

'But we didn't understand at the time to translate lab samples into factory products would take a very big jump, and that's where it failed. But nevertheless by normal commercial and corporate criteria it was bad judgement.'

Mr Lin is not one to beat himself up over it. 'Just like I do not take credit over something very profitable, I consider this just one of those things. I hope I don't come across like I am financially insensitive, but after 20-30 years, a lot of things have made a lot of money for the company, so in a way I have half forgotten this, really.'

Already boasting the largest network of urban tolled-roads and biggest water treatment operations in the country, the company's order book has expanded to over RM15 billion at present. Projects in hand include its RM6 billion half share in the country's double-tracking rail project, RM1 billion worth of construction on the Doha International Airport, RM2 billion of work on the Laos Nam Theun hydropower project, and another RM7 billion-8 billion worth of property projects in Vietnam, as well as some local property developments.

Mr Lin is not the largest shareholder of the Perak-founded company, owning only 5 per cent. The state pension Employees Provident Fund holds some 9.89 per cent and Raja Eleena Raja Azlan Shah of the Perak royal family owns nearly 10 per cent. Raja Eleena is considered one of the country's richest women by virtue of her stake in Gamuda.

Mr Lin is obviously ambitious for more projects, but 'nothing small please'.

He says: 'We are used to doing a RM1 billion project so don't come and show us RM100 million. We will fall asleep.'

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Singapore, Malaysia going to court again?

Are Singapore and Malaysia going to court again to settle old scores?

According to The Straits Times last night, Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong said that if there are bilateral issues which have to be settled, they should be resolved according to international law and treaties.

Hsien Loong said if they had been easy to resolve, his predecessor, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, from whom Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took over in 2003, would already have done so.

"I do not see myself being able to do better than Mr Goh Chok Tong. And I don't think it would be easier for Prime Minister Badawi to do better than Dr Mahathir, because what Dr Mahathir could not give, Datuk Badawi cannot give," he said.

One such issue is the overlapping claim on Pedra Branca or Pulau Batu Putih to Malaysia. The case is still pending the decision of the International Court of Justice. The two countries had also gone to court over Singapore's reclamation issues.

Other unresolved issues include the price of water from Johor, the re-development of Malaysian railway land in Singapore, the use of Malaysian airspace by the Singapore Air Force, a bridge to replace the Causeway, and the release of CPF monies to West Malaysians who no longer work in Singapore.

It's sad that the two close nations, which used to be one country, could not resolve all the outstanding issues behind closed doors without going to the international court. I guess the durian diplomacy in May didn't do much to restore bilateral ties.

Latest post (8 November 2007): Malaysia to reclaim Pedra Branca?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Under siege

It's truly ironic that Malaysia has been getting more bad press than Singapore over the issue of freedom of speech. Critics have always lambasted Singapore over the lack of freedom of speech, but few bloggers have been hauled up over their writing. Even mr brown continues to write freely although the establishment took issue with his column that was printed in Today newspaper last year.

No lawsuits and police reports have been filed against bloggers in Singapore since 2005. Two years ago, some netizens were brought to court under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments. I can't recall whether any blogger in Singapore has been charged in court for posting social and political commentaries.

But bloggers in Malaysia have been facing greater censures of late. Rocky's Bru and Jeff Ooi are still facing a lawsuit, young activist Nathaniel Tan was recently hauled up by the police for questioning over a posting, and Raja Petra Kamarudin has been the subject of a police report that charged that his political website malaysia-today had insulted the king and Islam. The Star has an interesting article on the impact of the bloggers on the Malaysian political scene.

Why are bloggers in Malaysia facing greater wrath of the political establishment? Are Malaysian bloggers more influential in society than Singapore bloggers? Or are bloggers in Singapore more responsible? Or is there greater tolerance in Singapore?

There are no clear answers. But there are many other questions on the hazy new world order.

Additional reading:
Kenny Sia

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Birthday Singapore!

Pix source: The Straits Times' National Day Special, which has many impressive pictures.

Singapore turns 42 today. It's another day of impressive celebrations with military-like precision. Everything appeared to happen on schedule, based on what we saw from our apartment and on TV.

The fighter jets roared past Marina Bay effortlessly, government leaders came on time in their pristine white, and the beautiful fireworks were well timed. Even the performances by the school kids went without any obvious glitch. Kit Chan's voice was stunning and moving.

But there was one flaw, as usual. Many Singaporeans still appeared to have difficulty in singing the national anthem, Majulah Singapura.

Singapore adopted the Malay song as its national anthem after it was booted out of Malaysia and became an independent nation in 1965. While Malay was more widely used then, it is no longer the lingua franca of Singapore today. Three quarters of Singaporeans are Chinese who are more comfortable with English and Mandarin. Even many Malays in Singapore are more conversant in English.

It's sad to see many Singaporeans still struggling with their national song. It's highly questionable whether they know the meaning of the lyrics even if they can sing or hum along. Some, including members of the ruling party, just stood stoically when the national anthem was played.

The solution is not to teach all Singaporeans to sing the Malay song. It's perhaps better to come up with a new national anthem in English. More people will be able to sing the song and appreciate it.

After all, many Singaporeans probably understood what Kit Chan sang tonight.

Additional reading:
Mr Wang Says So
Aaron Ng

Singapore Flyer

Mom noticed that some capsules are already installed at the Singapore Flyer, which will be the tallest ferris wheel in the world when it is completed by next March. Mom took the pix but it's not so clear with her mobile phone. Grandma had borrowed our camera.

You can see a live pix on the project developer's website.

We can't wait to try the ferris wheel but I'm sure the developer will bar dogs like me from boarding it although I'm very sweet and nice. And mom and dad will always pick up my poop. :-)

Singapore is not exactly the most pet-friendly place in the world. :-(

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Some colourful images of actors at a Beijing opera by Uncle Fatso.

It's always fascinating to see how disguise is so prevalent in Asian art and culture. It's almost impossible to see the real face of the actors with all the make-up. In other Asian countries, masks play a big role in the art scene.

This is perhaps a sign of how Asians generally do not show their real self in public to help maintain harmony in society, unlike the more confrontational Westerners who generally like to impose their will on others.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Long marriages

Two of Asia's longest-serving leaders also have long-lasting marriages. Former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary yesterday. Another leader with a long marriage is former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew, who's been married to Kwa Geok Choo for 56 years.

Dr Mahathir and Kuan Yew were the longest-serving leaders of their countries respectively. Dr Mahathir served 22 years before stepping down in 2003. Kuan Yew served 31 years and stepped down in 1990. Former Indonesian strongman Suharto ruled for 31 years as well.

While Suharto and Dr Mahathir are both rather frail now, Kuan Yew still looks fit and sharp as ever.

Check out the Pioneers of Singapore series by the EDB Society/The Straits Times with Kuan Yew today. I'm still trying to watch the entire webcast.