Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gekko Guru

Sadly the unrestrained-greed era personified by Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie "Wall Street" is still in existence.

Below is a post from

My eyes slowly adjusted to the soft morning light on the glazed windows in my bedroom. It was Saturday and I looked forward to filling my tummy with tea and perhaps a cinnamon and raisin toast. 

Tired of the ridiculous on-going global debate about what was considered acceptable means of killing fellow human beings – using bullets or chemical weapons, I did the unthinkable and fired up FB. Bad habit I know, but for some strange reasons I felt compelled to do so, even before my tea and toast.

I stared at a title “Rich Vs Poor People Principles” listing the differences between the rich and the poor. It was compiled by a self-confessed personal development guru who became a millionaire in 2.5 years and founded the fastest growing personal development company in North America. He has written a number of books and claimed to have developed highly effective courses to make people rich by drawing from his personal made-it and lost-it-all then made-it-back again story. He wants to teach people how to make-it and remain rich using his 17-point principles.

Ploughing through the 17-point principles, I detected a slight unease growing in my gut, but I wasn’t sure if it was because of my disgust at the current global debate on use of chemical weapons or the 17-point principles mollycoddling the “Rich” at the expense of the “Poor”. Nevertheless, when I finished reading the 17th principle, I lost my appetite.

“Why are you annoyed?” the Universe started.

“Hi, good morning – I am not sure” looking up to the voice.

“I just don’t like the words and the inference in this "Gekko Guru's" 17-point principle ” I conceded.

“An……d?” One of those long “and” a consultant would use when they want to extract more information.

“It creates a ‘them’ and ‘us’ situation inferring that it is OK to be “rich folks” and by inference NOT OK to be “poor folks”. And this guru is coming from a presumptive position that to have “made-it” you ought to be a millionaire and be rich like him. I find that a little arrogant and frankly sad……….”

“Follow the 17-point principles and one will always be “poor” by their definition” the Universe interrupted.

 I did not answer - I was caught off guard. “Huh? You want to explain yourself?” finally found my balance.

 “Notice the whole premise of the personal development guru's principles are about “made it” and getting “there” and by changing ones’ actions and thoughts one would get to this future utopia for the “rich”. He has missed the true essence of the two words “made it” and “there”. These two words are about some place or event in the future. So according to the principles, once you get “there” you would have “made it” and until you do, you have not “made it” and therefore deemed “poor”.

Unfortunately there is no “there” as “there” is but an illusion of the mind. Some place in the future tucked away in some corner of your mind.

And even if you thought you got to “there”, there will be another “there”; immediately putting you back into the "not made it” condition until the next “there”. With this you will continuously not “made it”.

In short you will continuously be in a situation of being “poor” – according to the 17-point principles."

“I never thought of it this way. So how do we get there then?” I thought I would test the Universe

“You Are already there. There is not need to get anywhere”

“What do you mean? Surely you are not saying I do not have to work hard and plan ahead for my family and my career?” scratching my head.

“Work as hard as you want, make as much money as you want, plan as much as you can and care for your family in a way that is appropriate. You do what is right for you. But do it in the Know that all you ever have is “here” and “now”. Do whatever you do now and do it well and give it your best shot. Simply instill a sense of quality in everything you do, even the simplest things and infuse it with your highest sense of Being. Do it with humility and then you cannot help but Be successful.

When you do this you are already “there” - now. There is no need to try and be anywhere else but here enjoying the fruits of your success NOW. Can you see, by not recognising that you are already “there” now keeps you in a state of “lack” and “poor”.

“Whoah….wait a minute. You are confusing me.”

“What you are simply saying is, if you have not learned to be happy with what you are and have now, you will never be happy with what you are going to get” typing furiously.

”Correct and that is because……..?” challenging me.

“….because Now is all you ever going to get and as such the future “there” can only happen in the space of now.”  I saw the words typed out of my laptop but I am not sure if it came from me.

“Correct, and if you do not see it, what happens?”

“…. If I do not see it then I will continue to search because I deem myself to be “poor” continuously”

“I now see what you mean about the 17-point principles keeping you poor”

“Well done and enjoy your cinnamon toast”

I looked up to see my wonderful wife walking into the room with tea and toast.

Monday, March 17, 2014

"Kwai Lo" and Alfonso de Albuquerque

A 12-year-old village boy in Malaysia, transfixed by his history teacher's lesson, sat motionless on his rickety wooden chair. Elbows on the desk, chin on both upturned palms, he was transported back to the European Age of Expansion where control of the world was divided between Spain and Portugal. Spain took the Americas and Portugal had Asia.

The lesson was about Alfonso de Albuquerque, the great Portuguese conqueror in the sixteenth century who singlehandedly annexed India and Malaya into the Portuguese Empire. With a formidable squadron of ships he brought India under control in 1507, devastated and conquered Sultan Mahmud Shah's Malacca Sultanate in 1511 and opened the sea route to Southern China allowing the Jesuits to establish a Christian outpost in Macau. In short this swashbuckling naval commander controlled the entire sea trade route from India to China many years before the Dutch more than hundred years before the English and Americans. Commerce, Colonisation and Christianity were the three 'Cs" of King Manuel I of Portugal.

By the end of his adventures, Albuquerque amassed a treasure trove of 60 tonnes of gold; two hundred chests of precious gems stones, pearl jewellery; an assortment of antiques; trunks filled with exotic spices, sandalwood, silk and enough silver dollars to feed the entire nation of Portugal for hundreds of years.

"In today's value the treasures would be close to 3 billion US dollars!......" with this last statement the school bell rang.

History was the last lesson for the day and as his teacher packed to leave, Patrick de Cruz stared out into the bright afternoon sun, making a mental note to ask his parents to bring him to the town of Malacca in his next school holidays. He wanted to see the fort built by Albuquerque and the remnants of the colonial town situated south west of Malaysia.

This was the type of history lesson that would capture the imagination of any inquisitive 12-year-old boy.

Unfortunately the history teacher had left out one small fact, Albuquerque The Great had another name. Albuquerque was also known as Albuquerque The Terrible or the Tyrant.

In the sixteenth century Malacca was a rich bustling, cosmopolitan port, attracting hundreds of ships each year. The city was the region's center for trade in silk and porcelain from China; textiles from Gujarat and Coromandel in India; nutmeg, mace, and cloves from the Moluccas, gold and pepper from Sumatra; camphor from Borneo; sandalwood from Timor; and tin from western Malaya. Conquering the port gave the Portuguese absolute control of trade in the region, access to its great wealth and the Straits of Malacca, the only sea trade route linking the east and the west.

Immediately following the fall of Malacca, Albuquerque ordered a fort to be built - the current A Formosa, in anticipation of revolt by the deposed Sultan. He encouraged miscegenation especially with local women with or without their consent.

The current Cristang people in Malaysia are a direct result of inter-marriages between local Malays and Portuguese. Patrick is a Cristang.

To further consolidate control Albuquerque introduced a new currency and as far as gaining a foothold on all trade; Albuquerque used the fastest method - military takeover. Resenting traders were simply executed.

Social order was maintained through fear and total intimidation with harsh punishments exacted on locals, sometimes unfairly. Alfonso De Albuquerque was the devil himself re-incarnated. Local Chinese called him 'Kwai Lo" the devil fellow.

By 1511 Alfonso de Albuquerque's looted treasure trove filled an entire carrack. The Flor de La Mar, a 400-ton carrack was the largest treasure ship ever assembled in the history of Portugal. Together with 4 accompanying war ships, the Flor de La Mar sailed for Portugal leaving the Malaccan economy and its treasury destitute.

As fate would have it, the armada was caught in a violent storm North East of Sumatra, in the Malacca Straits. The 9-year old Flor de La Mar broke in half and together with its treasures sank into the depths of the ocean, never to be discovered ever again. Albuquerque himself narrowly escaped with his life and made his way back to Malacca in a small one-man tub.

If victims wrote the annals of history, the story about Albuquerque might have been different. He would have been called Alfonso de Albuquerque the Kwai Lo.

"I wish my teacher had known all these" Patrick, now a teacher himself thought, as he finishes his potato & chicken curry rice typical of the Cristang cuisine.

The Flor de La Mar, now lies at the bottom of the Malacca Strait and remains a keen subject for treasure hunters from all over the world.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Columbus did not discover America

History – the science of perpetuating a myopic euro-centric opinion of past events.

At the lower end of the renown, La Rambla Mall in Barcelona, Spain is an imposing bronze statue of an Italian explorer. The 197 feet statue depicts a man with an outstretched arm pointing at the ocean towards the Americas. The Monumento a Colón was constructed in 1888 in honor of Christopher Columbus who is remembered annually in the US as the person who discovered America in 1492.

But Columbus never once set foot on North America.

He himself never claim that he landed on the continent. He simply stumbled upon the Bahamas, later Hispaniola, the modern day Haiti and colonized the islands. His mission was not to explore but to exploit the new world in search for gold, expand Spanish imperialism, proof that the world was not flat and spread Christianity.

Why then would Spain honor an Italian who turned out to be a criminal in Hispaniola arrested and brought back in chains to Spain? Perhaps the colonisation of Hispaniola by Columbus, did provide the launchpad for Spain to expand its Empire into the Americas and the Spaniards were eternally grateful. Or perhaps it was a case of close-enough-was-good-enough during 15th Century Europe when the Fraternity of Christians were looking for a hero to represent their success in the Americas.

Even disregarding the first landing in America thousands of years ago by true explorers – the ancestors of Native America from Asia via the Bering Strait – there was a motley collection of first arrivals many centuries before Columbus. Joining this list was Japanese fishermen landing in Peru, Jews escaping from Roman persecution in 1st Century and Saint Brendan the Irish Monk in 6th Century. But none of these have generated greater debate and controversy than the notion that the Chinese arrived in North America in the 5th Century.

Hui Shen -
could he have
discovered America
Joseph De Guignes, a French historian, published 'Recherches sur les Navigations des Chinois du Cote de l' Amerique' in 1761, providing evidence that an unknown Buddhist Monk named Hui Shen sailed east from the East coast of China travelling 20,000 li to reach a place called Fusang. 20,000 Li is equivalent to today’s distance between Shanghai and California across the Pacific ocean. In an 18th Century map provided by Guigneas, this place Fusang was located North Coast of California. Further supporting evidence of this journey was found in the records of a 7th Century 'Book of Liang' by Yao Silian describing an existing Bronze Age civilization in Fusang.

By 1885, a good 3 years before the statue erected at Barcelona, Edward P. Vining published his book 'An inglorious Columbus: Evidence that Hui Shan and a Party of Buddhist Monks from Afghanistan Discovered America in the fifth Century'. In his eight-hundred page book he went further and provided detail evidence of Hui Shen's journey, further re-igniting the debate started in 1761.

There are certainly no shortage of evidence refuting Columbus' purported discovery, yet despite these overwhelming evidence the annals of history still bestow the first-discovery honor on this man.

We can see why history as we now know it is both myopic and euro-centric. Perhaps it is only written for Western consumption. 

I wish my history teacher knew about this, then at least I would be spared from this lifetime myth that is still being told in schools.

We live in a small world

If we went back to basics and see each other without modern filters - we are  all the same. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The new generation of Chinese world citizens

My Aussie friend has his signal on waiting to turn right into the only parking spot. Its Saturday morning and empty spots are precious in this busy shopping centre. Without warning, from the opposite direction a Mercedes deliberately spins left into the spot stealing it from under my friend's nose.

A Chinese lady, in her 50s, steps out, locks her car and nonchalantly walks away from the crime scene. Her bling blouse that color-clashes with her skirt and handbag, is a dead giveaway of her origins - mainland China.

This lady looks like she is on a definite winner-take-all mission. Her botoxed face suggests a no-nonsense person who has no time for niceties nor pleasantries and if she could take advantage of a situation she would, regardless of ethics or social norms.

Unfortunately, this is the image embedded in the minds of many Aussies when it comes to mainland Chinese.

"Bloody rude Chinese drivers. They are always like that" muttered my friend ignoring that I am also a Chinese seated next to him.

We can understand that each country has its own social norms, which may be practiced only within that culture but there are acceptable universal standards which seem to be missing in this lady with the Mercedes. Perhaps in her own way she felt that driving a luxury car gives her divine rights to export her rudeness or the mistaken idea that wealth commands respect.

My friend's comment this morning starts me thinking about my Chinese-ness, yet again.

Well for a start I would not deploy such a cruel guerrilla tactic when it comes to finding a parking spot. Nor would I partake in a common practice of public self-massage and shouting into the mobile. When it comes to expectorating publicly that would be a definite no. I value my personal space as much as basic social politeness and certainly does not subscribe to a common mainland attitude towards traffic lights: green means go and red means go even faster.

Given the above I must be different to this general image of a mainland Chinese. Having spent the last 40 years in Australia might be the reason. Or perhaps my non-China birthplace might have something to do with it.

But the question remains, why are so many mainland Chinese today seem to be devoid of basic social politeness?

More importantly what has happened to this cultural behemoth that prides itself with 5000-years of culture? What happened to the people who gave the world the fork; gunpowder; compass; paper; printing press; money; silk; tea; porcelain; Daoism; Confucianism and even soccer? What happened to the practice of humility that has been embedded into the national psyche of Chinese people for thousands of years? I also wonder what Confucius would say about this morning's disorderly incident?

Perhaps the answer might be found in 19th century China when the Qing dynasty quivered between adopting western ideas and maintaining the traditional closed-door policy when dealing with the world.

China's last imperial dynasty the Qing dynasty, entered the 19th century rocked by internal rebellion and the incursion of foreign powers. The first hundred and ten years of the century would turn out to be the darkest years for the Middle Kingdom. The country imploded under the exploitive forces of foreign powers as well as internal political upheaval, civil war and natural disasters. By the end of the century between 20 to 50 million, mainly civilians died of starvation, opium addiction and injuries from warfare. The international status of the Middle Kingdom deteriorated from the 'Exotic, Cultured and Wealthy nation' into the 'Sick man of Asia'.

The 20th century was no different. It started with the plague in north China as well as floods wiping out more than 10-12 million people. By the time the Qing dynasty fell in the early 20th century, emerging Chinese nationalism threw the country into yet another 70 years of political, economic and social turmoil which exacted further suffering and death to millions more of its people. Internal civil war followed by the second Sino-Japanese War subjected the nation to further inhumane suffering. By mid-century a new form of government replaced China's 2000 years of continuous dynastic rule.

By the 1960s the people of China had endured almost 200 years of incessant change, turmoil, death, starvation and humiliation especially by foreign powers.  Then to add further misery and pain the entire nation was plunged into further ten years of forced cultural reform. By the time this reform ran its full course in 1976 the last remnants of ancient China together with its traditional culture, philosophy, art and values were eradicated. In this void, a cultural and social ground zero existed inhabited by rebellious youth devoid of compassion, religious beliefs, traditional philosophy and basic trust among humans.

The suffering endured by the people of China between 1800 and 1976 was unmatched by any disasters, man-made or natural, in the modern world. A nation cannot withstand such a catastrophic assault and for such a long time without having an impact on the psyche of its people.

Testimony to the resilience of the Chinese people, after 230 years of turmoil and practically closed to the world, by 1978 the Middle Kingdom finally emerged with a re-branded identity. With a more pragmatic leader the country was now ready to kick start its economy and deal with the world. This first generation of global business men and women leading the country's industrialization would now be aged between 40s and 50s. Being new global citizens these first wave of Chinese entrepreneurs had to re-learn unfamiliar international ways and universal acceptable behaviours from scratch - one mistake at a time.

This lady in her Mercedes might just be one of these off springs from the new generation.

Fortunately, with the resilience of this cultural behemoth backed by the strength of 5000 years of culture there may still be hope. From this perspective, the impact of the last two centuries would merely be a rain drop in the ocean.

"Why are the Chinese so rude?" my friend's question brings me back to reality. He has a perplexed look.

"Lets talk over coffee" as we walk into the shopping centre.

If I saw the lady in her Mercedes again I would value the opportunity to somehow let her know that there are so much to learn about this brave new world. I would ask her to go forth and be successful but do it by embracing new universal standards and be an acceptable part of this generation of world citizens.

This is what I would say to her and her children.

"Good luck - my friend. 200 years out of 5000 years is not enough to fundamentally change you. Showcase the product of 4800 years and treat the experience of the last two centuries as a software update for the new and cultured Chinese. You now represent the new generation of Chinese global citizen"

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Opium Wars - the poppy that created a new nation.

The events that led to the two Opium Wars in China had its genesis in Bengal, India. Who would have known that the poppy flower would cause an end to the 2000-year dynastic rule in China and created a new nation with a new identity.

In the 18th century, Europe’s fascination for tea, silk and porcelain from China created a one-way trade between the two regions in favor of China. Insatiable demand for tea alone by England had severely depleted the British Empire's stockpile of silver dollars. To avoid a financial meltdown the responsibility was given to the British East India Company (EIC), a joint-venture trading company backed by the Monarchy, to find a solution.

The EIC’s answer was to use opium from Bengal in lieu of paying silver dollars.

After engineering the breakup of the Indian Moghul Empire, the EIC had its first major success in India by conquering Bengal in 1757 giving them monopoly over the lucrative crop – opium.

Unlike England, the importation and use of opium was not legal in China, but this was not going to stop the EIC. The company was determined to find a way to sell the banned substance to China. With a population of 300 million, more than 20 times the size of England, the sale of opium to China represented a great opportunity to address the rapidly depleting silver dollars in the British treasury.

The only way to get around the ban was resort to smuggling. To remain respectable the company outsourced this despicable activity to a network of EIC-sponsored distributors and traders; one of the largest in-country trader was Jardine.

EIC’s opium-filled cargo ships (equipped with long range cannons) would land on Lintin, a small uninhibited island south of China (just off Guangzhou or Canton). It was from this island that local in-country distributors moved the illegal substance ashore under the watchful eye of EIC's cargo warships anchored within striking distance of the mainland.

By 1831, the value of opium smuggled into China was two-and-a-half times that of tea – quickly reversing the trade imbalance between the countries. EIC became the largest government sponsored drug trafficker and smuggler in the world.

Quite apart from the financial drain, the devastating effects of opium addiction on the Chinese
population forced the Qing Emperor to send his proven General, Lin Zexu to stop opium smuggling in southern China. Following a ruthless anti-opium campaign General Lin not only stopped smuggling activities, he drove the traffickers from Lintin island (Neilingding Island), confiscated and destroyed their stockpile of illegal drugs. EIC and Jardine Co moved further south east to another uninhibited island Hong Kong. It was here they planned their next move.

The confiscated opium and cessation of smuggling activities severely affected the fortunes of the shareholders of EIC and Jardine. As a result they sent a representative to lobby the British parliament asking for British military aid to help them recoup their losses from China.

With the support of the Monarchy and her parliament, the British sent an armada of warships, 4,000 Scottish, Irish and Indian troops and bombarded a number of seaports leading up to Canton (Guangzhou) in retribution for the "wrongs" inflicted on British smugglers by the Chinese general. The first Opium War had started without a declaration of war or warning from the British armada.

The cannons that the Chinese had were only aimed at one fixed position and were no match for the flexible and long-range cannons mounted on fast moving British warships. With superior and flexible fire power, the British successfully carried out a series of attacks on a number of Chinese cities laying to ruins each one of them. British soldiers pillaged and burned towns as they moved up the eastern seaboard and demanded “protection money” in return for immunity from further bombardment. By the time the armada reached Nanking (Nanjing) – the Emperor admitted defeat.

By 1842 the Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was signed. Amongst the list of demands by the British were retribution for the cost of waging the war; compensation for the destroyed opium and ceding Hong Kong sovereignty to the British. In addition the Chinese were to legalise opium.

Having seen the destructive force of opium on its population, the Chinese agreed to all other demands except the legalization of opium. The result was the second Opium War.

But this time the British were joined by the French and together they unleashed their joint naval and military might on the royal imperial capital itself – Beijing. When the capital fell, French and British troops looted the Summer Palace and desecrated many sacred sites within the city generally creating fear and havoc among the defenseless citizens.

As a result of the relentless bombardment, looting and senseless destruction of imperial palaces, the Emperor had no choice but agree to legalize opium. With the last bastion of resistance gone large scale opium production built by the British mushroomed in the country. Parallel to this the occupying British forces gained a stronghold on the economy by controlling Chinese customs and trade. By the end of the 19th century, China’s trade with Britain had increased to more than 60% of the country’s total trade – China sold silk, tea and porcelain to the British in exchange for opium.

It was conservatively estimated that by the end of the century, 30-40 million people were addicted to opium. Starvation, poverty and social decay followed starting a 60-year period of slow and painful death for the entire nation. To add to the suffering, seven other foreign powers joined in to carve a niche for themselves. Knowing that the country was now emasculated by mass opium addiction the USA, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Japan, Russia and France used their superior military machinery to gain territorial rights within the country.

Besieged by a decaying nation the Qing dynasty finally fell and for the first time in the 2000-year dynastic history, China stood at the precipice of being broken up into pieces and distributed among the foreign powers stationed in the country.

This was the darkest moment for the country.

But the resilience of this cultural behemoth stood the test of time. The humiliation and suffering inflicted on the Chinese for almost 100 years by foreign powers gave China the all important wake up call. The call shaped an emerging nationalism that would soon set the foundation for the birth of a new country with a new political identity.

Although the drug traffickers won the war they lost a nation by providing the needed impetus for the country to finally stand up. The poppy flower indeed has woken up this 5000-year old tiger and now it is about to pounce.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chinese Labour Corps - the forgotten contributors to WWI

"It is 1917, Chinese New Year eve, in a remote part of France. Kong squats nervously in front of his tent, cupping his tea, desperately missing his village in China. By now his children and wife would be gathered around at the table for the all-important New Year Eve dinner, which he will miss for the first time in 25 years. Unbeknown to him, Kong will never return to his village again. He is part of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC), a 145,000-strong group of Chinese labourers sent to Europe to provide non-military support to the French and British in the Western front."

History has somehow forgotten the significant role played by these Chinese civilians sent to Europe during WWI to provide labour support to the Allies freeing their military personnel for front line duties.

Despite China being half a world away from the European conflict, she agreed to send 145,000 civilians to help the French and British in the Western front. They formed the Chinese Labour Corps sent to do menial tasks. They worked at ammunition depots, unloaded ships, dug trenches, repaired roads/railroads and cleared land mines.

The journey to France from China would take 2-3 months with workers crammed in the cargo holds of freighters bound for Europe. They were rarely, if at all, allowed to leave the bowels of these transport ships until they land in France. Many of them have never left their villages let alone the country, Then thrown into a foreign land ravished by a full-scale global war and controlled by military personnel who did not speak their language, life must have been hell on earth for many.

The dynamics of War had meant that role definition for the workers were hard to define. Despite the promise of not to be placed in front lines, many Chinese laborers ended up shoulder-to-shoulder with front line troops digging trenches, clearing bodies and carting essential supplies for military personnel. Differences in language and culture created a linguistic and social nightmare driving a further wedge into an already unequal status between military personnel and these 'coolies'.

Workers were referred to by numbers - not names. Kong was number 1653. Any misdemeanors were subject to harsh military laws even though the workers were civilians and to make matters worst they were seen and often treated as cheap 'coolies' hauled from the European colonies of Asia sent to serve their colonial masters.

Those who did not perish in the line of fire were devastated by the Spanish flu epidemic, which swept Europe. By the time WW1 ended, 10,000 Chinese workers never saw their villages again, buried in remote cemeteries scattered around France.
Compliments of WWIcemeteries

One such cemetery today is in Ruminghem, a remote village situated 32kms southeast of Calais in France. On the west side of the village is a Chinese cemetery probably with more tombstones than the population of the village.

Another is in Noyellessur-Mer, an archway guarding the entrance of this cemetery with 800 graves - all Chinese.

Kong like many others was buried in Noyellessur-Mer after sustaining horrific bomb injuries. Number 1653 never made it back to see his family from Shandong.

Kong together with the rest of the fallen workers are testimony to the sacrifices of the forgotten contributors to WWI - the Chinese Labour Corps.

May they rest in peace.

Monday, January 20, 2014

WWII - the end of the colonisation era.

History has always portrayed WWII to be a Eurocentric conflict with minor skirmishes in the Asia Pacific region. But the skirmishes in Asia were far from being minor. When the War ended it exacted a global death toll of 30 million people, mostly civilians, with 14 million in China, 12 million in USSR and 4 million in Europe. The death toll alone in China ought to draw inference that something major did happen and at a level much larger than Europe.

Additionally, contrary to popular historical opinion, World War II did not start in Europe either. It started two years earlier on July 7, 1937 when imperialist Japanese troops launched a full-scale invasion of a member of the Allies, China. This was followed by Germany marching on Poland on September 1, 1939 creating the global War we know of today.

Fast forward almost 69 years, this Eurocentric slant is still the theme taught in history lessons despite the Asian front being the only conflict area in the War where all the four major western powers; USA, France, Russia and UK, backed one Ally in her efforts to defend her country. Even when the other three nations withdrew support, USA singularly continued to support China until well after the end of WWII.

Why then would historical western perspective of WWII, continue to push this Eurocentric slant knowing that the major event during this period was really in Asia not Europe?.

What was it about the impact of the Asia front during and after WWII that European nations choose not to remember?

The answer might rest within history itself. More specifically, the century old European efforts in getting a slice of the enormous benefits from trading with China.

From as early as 200 BC the only trade route to the exotic and lucrative ‘Far East’ was via the Silk Road. This was monopolized by the Arabs and Italians giving them a head start into the richness of the Middle Kingdom. But by 1500 the monopoly was shattered by the Portuguese’ discovery of a sea route to India going around the Cape of Good Hope, providing a faster alternative route for trade.

The Jesuits lead by its founder Sir Francis Xavier forged the first European maritime contact with China in 1513 to spread Christianity. They established a missionary on an uninhabited island outpost south of China (Macau). This outpost was quickly claimed by the King of Portugal as their colony heralding the harbinger for maritime colonisation of Asia by the Europeans.

Not to be outdone by the Portuguese’ commercial success trading in highly demanded items; tea, silk, porcelain, chinaware and spices other European nations soon headed for Asia to carve out their niche. With a superior naval and military machinery, the Dutch (Indonesian Archipelago), French (IndoChina), Spanish/Americans (Philippines) and English (India, Malaya, Brunei protectorate) colonized entire nations.

Encouraged by their early success these colonial masters then set their eyes on China, the ultimate price, without realising what a grave mistake that would have been. China was simply too large a nation to be colonized. Even her ancient overland conquers were absorbed by this cultural behemoth. The Mongols (13th Century) and later the Manchurians (17th Century) who ruled collectively for 368 years ended up adopting the host country's culture and names - Yuan (Mongol) and Qing (Manchu) dynasty.

Since the Portuguese’ sea faring route to Asia; Austria/Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, UK and USA all had a go at China but only managed minor successes – small outposts and special territorial rights – but none colonized the entire nation. Despite suffering humiliating defeat in 1800s and early 1900s exacted on its people by these foreign powers, the resilience of the Middle Kingdom stood her in good stead against far superior military powers.

The European's involvement in WWII momentarily took their attention away from China and gave the Middle Kingdom breathing space for the underlying nationalism to take hold and time to find its own political identity. In the immediate aftermath of WWII a 4-year bloody civil war engulfed China giving birth to a new nation, the People's Republic of China. This revived nationalism provided a united front  and European colonisation finally buckled under the weight of its own erroneous ways. The last gasp of de-colonisation was seen when sovereignty for Hong Kong and Macau were handed back to China by the British and Portuguese respectively, ending a 400-year quest by the Europeans.

For a few hundred years prior to this, western imperialist zeal used religion, trade and military to expand their empires into Asia. As a result, many European nations through colonisation and forced cessation of territorial rights created a haven for commercial exploitation in Asia.

The events which followed after WWII evaporated the colonial masters’ rights to plunder and exploit. By 1949, China finally earned the right to self-rule yet again after more than a century of intimidation and browbeating by a lineup of foreign powers.

Although European Allies won the War they lost their prized possession - China. In essence Europe lost their self anointed right to be masters of this country.

Given this we can understand why WWII will continue to maintain its Eurocentric slant in the annals of western history. Otherwise it would open Pandora’s Box highlighting Europe's erroneous policy of dominion over the Middle Kingdom - China.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chinese and their Wolwo cars

What happens when a long established Swedish car manufacturer is brought under the control of its new Chinese owners? The result - a clash of the titans.

Since the Chinese takeover in 2010, an unnerving debate has rocked the top echelons of the Volvo Car Corporation. The two titans, China’s billionaire owner Li Shufu and the established board of Volvo headed by the CEO Hakan Samuelsson, clashed over the positioning of the company. Should Volvo maintain its “safe, solid and understated in a Swedish way” or expand into a “wannabe luxury brand” pandering to a Chinese taste for excess and bling?

This is the classic cultural clash playing before our very eyes in the commercial world.

Li Shufu believes Volvo could double its global sales by just selling into China’s new rich. China’s new ‘bling-driven’ sector wants to tout their newly acquired social status by driving large premium high powered cars. Manufacturers from Germany have been their natural choice - Audi, Mercedes and BMW tops the list. Volvo’s niche, cultivated over decades focuses on safety and understatement, sits uncomfortably amidst this “bling-driven" segment.

This polarity between Volvo's European approach to management and its new owner may have broader implications on the way we universally define ‘development’. If Li Shufu prevails in his approach and drags Volvo out of its comfort zone into China’s premium, ‘bling-driven’ market, it would join the ranks of many brands moving away from their traditional positioning. KFC in Indonesia has added packets of rice to their menu complementing their spicy chicken, Macdonalds’ “Fortune Burger” for Chinese New Year, VW’s localised Santana cars and Starbucks ‘green tea cino” are examples of the emerging sino-nised brands.

Could this be the harbinger of the sinonisation of the west?

Would western women start to go under the knife to make their faces more eastern? Would the Queen start to have soyabean milk with her tea? Would the first lady from the USA dress in the traditional cheong-sam on official engagements? And would it be considered polite to drink from a soup bowl instead of using the badly designed soup spoon during Thanksgiving dinner?

Somehow I don’t think so, at least not in my generation or even the next. But I do believe that in the next 100 years, the current western-biased definition of what is considered developed will have a sino slant.

The industrial revolution started in UK in mid-18th century was the biggest cultural export ever created by Europe. The resulting westernisation has pervaded every fibre of the world. It has influenced the way we live, work, play, think and what we consider as beautiful. In the next century there will be a reversal – Sinonisation of the west and the concept of what is considered “developed” will shift to an Asian-biased perspective. The Australian government has recognised this and in 2013 published the country’s new direction entitled “The Asian Century”. Australia has publicly announced their intention to be part of the new world – the Asian led century.

Soon our grandchildren may even find Yangzhou Fried Rice on the menu of Macdonalds in New York city replacing the BigMac, or Long-Jing teacino at one of the cafes in Venice replacing the Cappuccino and the street kids in Boston running around saying "Ni Hao" instead of "yoo!".

In the meantime we can continue to exist in the knowledge that when we drive a Volvo we feel safely conservative until Volvo’s Chinese plant in Chengdu, starts to produce a stretched and more luxurious “Bling version” of the smaller S80 sedan.

They might even badge the S80 as the S80W..... "W" for Wolwo.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Chinese and the Fork

During a Chinese banquet in Shenzhen, my American guest asked for a fork knowing he would not get too far with a pair of chopsticks. It was his first visit to China and I was responsible for introducing the many delights of the Chinese culture to him during his visit to the country.

“I am glad they invented these for us westerners” referring to the fork when it was handed to him.

Almost immediately these words reminded me of the tale of a wise old man from Lanzhou I once met many years ago. With sun-baked face and wrinkled hands, this seasoned senior citizen informed me that the Chinese used the ‘Cha’ – fork as a dining tool before the ‘Kuaizi’ – chopsticks. Hearing this was indeed counter intuitive to my understanding of the history of chopsticks. I had thought that the Chinese only ever used the chopsticks as a dining tool.

This wise old man told me that the ‘Kuaizi’ only became a dining tool during the Shang Dynasty, almost 4000 years ago. Before that the Chinese had “Cha’ – the fork, usually made out of animal bones and used by the elite class.

During an archaeological excavation in the Gansu Province, North West China, a Xia Dynasty’s three-prong fork was unearthed from the site. Similar finds were recorded in succeeding excavations from the follow up Dynasties – Shang, Zhou and the Warring States all dating back about 1500 BC. In the Shang Dynasty tomb a coarsely crafted three-prong fork made out of animal bone was found amongst other pots and containers.

In the West the first recording of the use of a fork as an eating tool only appeared almost 2,000 years later in Constantinople, during the Byzantine Empire (400 AD).

So does this mean that the Chines also invented the Fork?

If they did, it begs the question why the Chinese replaced the fork/knife with the chopsticks as an eating tool on the dining table?

Legend has it that due to the enormous population growth in ancient China, the demand for resources necessitated meals to be prepared quickly without wasting precious fuel. To facilitate quicker cooking meat/vegetables were pre-sliced into smaller pieces, making the knife and fork less relevant as a dining tool on the table. In its place a more efficient tool was used - the “Kuai’ (Quick) ‘zi’ (bamboo tool).

Confucius also played a part in the popularisation of chopsticks as an eating utensil. According to his non-aggressive philosophy, sharp tools like knives/forks represented violence and warfare and that they did not belong to the dining table. He believed joy and contentment should come with every meal and in a resource limited country abundance of food and consumption of it underpinned happiness.

So my dear American friend, in your next visit to China, try using the chopstick, it’s much faster and more efficient and above all it brings uncanny joy and contentment to your every meal.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Me: The colonial master.

Illustrations only.Not an actual representation of the colony.
Over the weekend I decided to extend the boundary of my side gate 2 metres further forward amassing an additional 4 sq metres of land I can now call 'mine'.

After completing the land grab, I sat down with a cup of green tea savouring the colonisation of the additional space with plans to stake my claim with a wisteria by the gate. In two years the wisteria would vine over the gate showering the entrance with explosions of purple flowers. I felt an uncanny connection almost immediately with this additional plot of dirt.

"Is this what colonisation feels like?" I wondered, finishing my green tea.

The British Empire and its exploits came straight to mind.

The British Empire ruled a total land size of 33.7 million sq km lording over almost 500 million people. By the late 1800s it had absolute influence over 25% of the world's population from the Americas to China and numerous countries in between. This was truly an empire on which the sun never sets, as its expanse across the globe was so widespread the sun will always be shining on one part of the empire.

My dominion over the weekend land grab gave me an insight to the motivations of the British Empire - ownership over a plot of dirt. This urge to dominate has empowered a tiny island of no more than 0.3 million sq kms to land grab an aggregated area of more than 100 times its size? Not bad for a small nation.

Of course all good things had to come to an end. After almost 250 years with the handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 the final chapter in the de-colonisation of the Empire was complete. Apart from Gibraltar and the Falklands, the legacy of the Empire can now be seen in the 14 territories of generally uninhibited islands.

Perhaps in 250 years, I might have to do the same and hand over my wisteria filled colony. But I can assure my subjects from this plot of dirt I will not exploit this land, as did the stewards of the British Empire.

The pledge to my subjects:
· I will not to kill any living organism on this plot including ants, earthworms and spiders.
· I will improve the bio eco system of this plot by enriching the soil, growing wisteria and generally turning the 4 sqms into a sanctuary for the birds and the bees.
· I will transform this parched plot of dirt into a lush green and purple paradise.

Artist's impression of the sanctuary

I now have to strive hard for my subjects and will start with buying the wisteria plant, propagating soil, fertilisers, chicken wire (for the creeping wisteria) and nails.

I never knew it is so hard to be a good colonial master.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

400 million mainland Chinese still do not speak Mandarin

It has taken more than 2,100 years for China to achieve some form of linguistic unification. But it has a long way to go yet.

My wife and I decided to eat out at a loud, oily and authentic Chinese restaurant in Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne.

An overworked Chinese waitress hurried over with a pad and pencil ready to take our order. She was no more than 20 years old, perhaps a student from China working to supplement her income. The restaurant is renown for its authentic home-cooked food and definitely not for its service.

When it comes to ordering at a Chinese restaurant, I have long given up that responsibility to my wife.  Being a Shanghai born veteran from the good old motherland, her knowledge of Chinese foods far outweighs my usual 'lap cheong fan' pork sausage rice or Hainan Chicken Rice.

My wife spoke in Mandarin (pu tong hua) the national language of mainland China, the waitress answered in Cantonese, a dialect from the Southern region of China.  I noticed the student's answers seemed slightly misaligned with my wife's questions. It became obvious, after a few more questions, the waitress did not understand my wife.

With growing frustration we pointed at the two dishes we wanted written in Chinese on the menu. Almost immediately the waitress understood and scribbled the order on her pad.

"lei huong gong lei ka?" (Are you from Hong Kong) I asked the young student in Cantonese. My Shanghai wife does not speak Cantonese.

"Hai a" (Oh yes) relieved that I could speak Cantonese.

"Ngo mm sek kong putong wa ke" (I cannot speak pu tong hua "mandarin ") placing the tea and two cups on the table and with a slight smile she scuffled off.

Obviously my wife and the waitress understood the written language on the menu, but could not communicate verbally. This juxtaposition of the Chinese language is an issue still facing China today.

The Chinese government recently launched yet another awareness program, targeting 400 million people who do not speak pu tong hua, a reminiscent of the attempt by China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified the country with one written language and mandated one spoken language, 'Mandarin' to resolve the issue of mutually unintelligible dialects used by officials in the royal court. Without a follow-up mandate to use Mandarin as the standard spoken vernacular for commoners, Mandarin remained within the royal courts or at least the language of the elite and scholars. The emergence of a new nationalism in the 1900s created the modern vernacular Chinese adopting the new national standard 'putonghua'.

However, with this linguistic unity, why in the year 2014 one Chinese from Shanghai is still unable to communicate with another Chinese from Hong Kong unless they resort to the written language?

The 150-year British rule of Hong Kong may have something to do with it. British sovereignty had isolated the territory from changes in mainland China allowing its local dialect, Cantonese, to remain as the dominant means of verbal communication ahead of English and Mandarin. Hong Kongers understand the written Chinese language, but choose to use Cantonese as the preferred verbal expression of the language. Half the population in Hong Kong are still unable to or choose not to speak Mandarin replicating the issues experienced by the court officials of emperor Qin Shi Huang. Hong Kong even have their own written vernacular Cantonese informally used by the media to reach the masses. A mainland Chinese visiting Hong Kong may not understand some of the billboards around the city. 

The linguistic unification of China started 2100 years ago is still ongoing. Give it another few more years, as China continues to flex its economic muscles, there will no doubt be compelling reasons to adopt pu tong hua. Hopefully by the next generation or two a Shanghai person would be able to order food at any Cantonese restaurant all over the world using one common language - Pu Tong Hua.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Do not mortgage your face

The USA and Brazil are the top two spots in the world for number of cosmetic surgeries performed in a year. China, with 2 million women going under the knife and the number doubling every year will soon replace USA.

Most want to enhance their looks but increasingly concerns are for those who want an entire replacement face from original into the face of their current idol.

Catch a beauty pageant in China or Korea and you will not be able to distinguish between the contestants as they all sport large eyes, western noses and sumptuous lips staring at you with a glazed, expressionless botox-face. Similarly, walk down Vietnamese town in Melbourne Australia, and every shop owners’ wife will have a familiar feign face from the work of the limited number of cosmetic surgeons operating in the suburb. You may also chance upon a "tai tai" mum looking more stunning than her teenage daughter strolling along Orchard Road in Singapore. Watch Korea's K-pop music scene and you will see walking advertisements of the country's top cosmetic surgeons.

Quite apart from making multi-millionaires out of already rich surgeons, this face-replacement fad has unintended social consequences in China. A man had successfully sued his wife for being ugly. He was granted a divorce and awarded damages on grounds his wife had deceived him into marriage. She did not reveal her face-replacement surgery undertaken a number of years before she met and then married him. He only came to know his wife’s previous looks from their first born daughter, who he claimed did not look like either of them and uncharacteristically ugly. He has now successfully added ugliness to adultery; insanity and cruelty as grounds for divorce in China.

Apart from the tendency to destroy each other, humans have another genetic flaw, judging others by their appearances. Research has shown that, most of humans form an opinion of someone within the first 5 minutes based solely on their looks and what they wear. An entire industry has emerged advising lawyers, plaintiffs and defendants on their aesthetic choices as psychologist have demonstrated convincingly that attractive defendants get lighter sentences than less appealing ones. The entertainment industry for centuries have further contributed to this genetic flaw joined by the marketing and personal health development industry.

What has gone wrong fellow humans?

So what happened to inner beauty? What happened to 'do not judge a book by its cover?' Thankfully it is still there, except that it only reveals itself with wisdom, old age or awakening.

Learn form the wise one, the old folk and the awaken one. Beauty is certainly not in the hands of the surgeon. Beauty is already in you, right from birth, you just momentarily forgot that it is there. Recognise and harness this beauty early in your life and you will see the futility of having to re arrange your face.

So take care humans, do not mortgage your face as it may turn out to be a non-refundable loan.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Don't be the last fool to own a diamond

Diamonds are valuable - except for the last fool who owns it.

In a suite at a five-star Hong Kong hotel one Friday morning, a row of 64 pink, blue and red diamonds lay on display, each encased in individual boxes. A line of security guards outnumbering buyers eyeing the boxes, each guard appropriately armed with weapons that would bring down any one silly enough to think the unthinkable.

Chinese buyers wonder around the array of diamonds, each knowing that they share this honour with other privileged invited guests. By mid afternoon all 64 rocks are sold to a handful of buyers for an undisclosed amount of money.

China has the unenviable privilege of being the second largest diamond market in the world after America.

For a rock that has little or no intrinsic value and is in plentiful supply, it has created a US$80 billion industry in China, enough to buy the country of Kenya and mop up all the beautiful islands of Maldives at the same time.

If there is no intrinsic value and it is not scarce, then why are diamonds so valuable?

They are valuable simply because Gerold M. Lauck, from a New York advertising agency and Henry Oppenheimer from De Beers, told us so back in 1938.

Between Gerold and Henry, they invented the intrinsic value of diamonds.

The agency created one of the most powerful campaigns in the world successfully linking the value of love to the size of a rock. De Beers monopolised global production, the supply chain and severely restricted and controlled re-sell markets.

By mid to late 1940s the scene was set to price its products to whatever level the company deemed it to be.

Diamonds are indeed forever, as once bought you will not be able to re-sell it unless of course you can find a bigger fool to buy it from you. 

History is rigged with examples of individuals, companies and governments unsuccessfully selling their diamonds. The disastrous attempt by Israel to offload their US$850 million stockpile of investment-grade diamonds in 1970s was one example. After a long a exhaustive search, they found one buyer - De Beers themselves offering a steeply discounted price. Many dealers and investors fell into hard times as a result of this re-sell void.

Dealers all around the world have an unwritten rule not to buy diamonds from the public unless it is bought back at severely reduced price. Walk down Fifth Avenue New York with a diamond under your arms trying to sell it, would be a futile exercise as a London-based consumer magazine MoneyWatch found out with their decade long test diamond experiment. The magazine tried selling their gem-quality diamond bought 10 years earlier in London and New York, but no retailer nor dealer in either cities were willing to pay cash for it. One dealer was willing to do a diamond-to-diamond swap based on the dealer's valuation and the dealer was non-other than one of De Beers' own chains.

In short when you buy a diamond, you will never be able to realise the price you paid for initially. Many have tried selling and failed. Most simply resign to keeping their diamonds and live under the illusion that they have bought a valuable piece of junk. They have fallen into a value-trap that distills their love into a size of a 1gm rock and mortgaged part of their personal value systems to the whims of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

The diamond industry will make sure you do not sell your diamonds. They want you to keep it for good. Diamonds are indeed forever as there simply isn't a re-sell market. So buy diamonds by all means - just do not be the last fool to own it. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fried rice is not spelled correctly

Isn't it time "Fried Rice" is spelled "Flied Lice?"

On a wet and cold Saturday afternoon, I chanced upon an old-time American TV series “Charlie Chan” created by Earl Derr Biggers, an American novelist and playwright in the 1930s. “Charlie Chan” was Hollywood’s perspective of the way Chinese spoke English, confusing their “Ls” and their “Rs”. Following a successful run on TV, the theme was repeated in countless films and TV shows, Fu Manchu and the long running British TV series “Mind your language” come to mind.

Notwithstanding the offensive nature of this impression of Asians, I wanted to find out if it is indeed culturally biased.

It is true that the Japanese and Korean language have no distinct English-type “L” and “R” sounds. There is however an in-between sound “Lr” or the “Rl”.

However, for mainland Chinese it’s important to note that the extent of this non-distinct sound differs depending on which part of the country they come from. For instance Northern Chinese has the same non-distinct English-type sound as Koreans and Japanese. Perhaps their proximity to each other has something to do with it. But in Southern China, the Cantonese dialect has a very clear “L” but a semi distinct "R" English-type sound. The result would be confusingly, "Flied Rice".

If we look further afield it gets even more interesting.

The French has problems with their English-type “R” confusing it with the “W”; Germans and Russians have issues with their “V” and W”; Italians with “T” and “D”; Greeks with their “G” and “K”.

Fried rice may turn out sounding like “Fwied Wice” by the French.

Warning: Do not spoil your romantic night out by asking a French to order fried rice in English.

Given that the non-distinct “L” and “R” is not culturally biased, then is this mix-up because of something else? Could it be due to the follies of the English language itself? Not being a phonetic language, learning it can be difficult for non-English speaking cultures, as so often the sound of the words are not the same way as it is spelled.

For instance the sound of “ough” in “rough” is not the same as “plough” or “cough”; the verb “bow” sounds different to the noun “bow” and worst of all the sound of “jail” is spelled “gaol”.

The English language only took on a self appointed dominance since the mid-20th century. Until then, French has been the language of diplomacy and together with German is still the official language of the current European Economic Community. Against popular beliefs the lingua franca for India/Pakistan is not English, it is Hindi or Urdu. And of course none of the Asian economies have English as their first language. According to the British Council, only 12% of the people in the world speak English as a native or as a second language. The rest gets their “Ls”, “Rs”, “Vs”, “Ws”, “Ts” and “Ds” mixed up.

So with 88% of the people in this world speaking English with mixed-up sounds, isn't it time we accept “Flied Lice” for fried rice; “WoWo” for Volvo; “Ordoves” for Hors d'oeuvre and “Cwasong” for croissant?

One day there may even be a long running TV comedy series impersonating an Englishman mis-pronouncing flied lice.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You must be mad to be married

At a bar not too far from the Family Courts in Taipei, Taiwan, I overheard a divorce lawyer slurring his words: 

“You must be mad to get married in Taiwan.”

He must have had a hard day at the divorce courts.

Just recently, a jilted wife in Taiwan filed for divorce from her adulterous husband with unintended consequences. Adultery is a criminal offence in the country and each ‘shot’ of adultery can put you in jail for 4 months. For a 5-year affair with his neighbour the husband was faced with the prospect of a 298-year jail sentence.

The country’s fault-based divorce laws sit in stark contrast with the emerging global adoption of a no-fault divorce laws where couples can get divorced without one person having to prove that the other one is "at fault" for the breakdown of their marriage. New York City in 2012 became the last State in the US to replace their fault-based divorce laws, joining a growing number of other countries.

In our global village many differences between the east and the west are being bridged with cheaper and faster technology, the affairs of the heart is one last bastion of change that is still finding strong resistance within parts of Asia.

According to a recent latest survey done by the justice ministry of Taiwan in April 2013, 82% of people said they opposed decriminalisation of adultery. Most married women surveyed in Taiwan chose to keep this law as they believe making it a criminal offense will stop their husbands cheating on them. I suspect the judiciary 
also  works on the general policy that divorce is bad and marriage is good and one way to keep people married is to make divorce hard to get by only granting divorce based on a list of state-approved reason, like adultery, insanity, or extreme cruelty.

Unfortunately “unhappiness” does not seem to be listed as a reason.

So if both were unhappy with each other in Taiwan and neither subscribes to being adulterous nor cruel then they are trapped forever. ……till death do us part?

Unless of course if you plead insanity – get yourself diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder.

Coincidentally, in 2012 the prevalence of common mental disorders has doubled over the past 20 years in Taiwan, paralleling increases in unemployment, divorce and suicide, according to the results of a study by Taiwan's top research institute, Academia Sinica. The study highlighted that being a married woman increases the risk of having a mental disorder.

Putting the results of the survey and study together, does this mean that there may be plenty of unhappy women in Taiwan wanting to get out of a marriage – and the only way out is to be mad?

Perhaps the divorce lawyer was not as drunk as I imagined him to be.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Father's Day in Australia

Father's Day with a Dragon, Ox, Rat, two Monkeys and a Rabbit.

The Australians celebrated their Father’s Day last Sunday together with the first day of Spring. It was indeed a glorious day for Melbourne. With the explosion of flowers in my garden the weekend presented itself with a brilliant sun-filled carnival atmosphere.

Holding onto the old mumpsimus that the value of a present defines the level of ones love, the retail industry offered a smorgasbord of gift ideas for the man of the day. One could not escape from the barrage of advertisements; bombarding came from air, sea and land pushing everything from TVs to monogramed torches.

Our family’s notion of not participating in a commercially driven Father’s Day sits unseemly in the lead up to a day that is meant for me (yes I am a dad).  

My daughter arrived with a home-baked flourless orange cake, garnished with manicured strips of curled orange peel, topped with clear crisp icing sugar. She is meticulous when it comes to cooking or presentation of food. Perhaps being a Monkey in the Chinese Zodiac has something to do with it.

My son, the Dragon, came with his usual smile. The Dragon does not do things, it gets things done. No doubt he would claim credit to the cake by other means. He did brew a mean cup of coffee though.

The other daughter, a Rat, the industrious international traveler had decided to add to her life experience and now in a time zone that is 17 hours behind Australia. But I am sure she will be thinking of this day missing the activities.

I then have another Monkey, lost in her own world preparing for the guaranteed sumptuous dinner for me, contributed to a busy kitchen at my place. Her flair for design and ability to up-sell a normal dinner suggests yet another Monkey in our midst.

Not too long into the afternoon, my niece, an Ox, announced her arrival with yet another cake – this time the infamous Durian cake. For the uninitiated, the Durian is the king of fruits in Asia with a smell so pungent that gets the fruit banned from hotels, airlines and even rented cars. Being an Ox, she is methodical and a voluble young woman she is contributed to the festivities on this Father’s Day.

Then the Rabbit wife, fresh from finishing her famous petite Shanghai Egg Tarts, busied herself to being the wonderful host. She made sure we had the right plates and splayd for desserts which by now had filled the entire length of the kitchen bench.

For this Father’s Day the plenitude of foods can only be matched by the decibels created by the people in my home.

I must say, spending your Father’s Day at home with all these animals as well as a Dragon, beats getting a smart HDTV and certainly more relaxing than fighting for a table in an overcrowded, expensive and not to mention pretentious restaurant.

I hope you guys had just a lovely Father’s Day as mine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Chinese speaking English

In a cafe in Vermont, an eastern suburb of Melbourne, two Aussie guys are having a conversation. They are having their Saturday afternoon caffeine shot in a local bakery cum cafe.

"When you ask them a question, they simply stare you in the eye - stupidly" one guy refers to his experience with Chinese migrants in Australia.

"You know, they cannot even speak English, they must be stupid or something. I cannot understand why they even bother to come here" his friend replies.

In another part of town a shop assistant in a Louis Vuitton store approaches a customer.

"Good afternoon - how are you?" a well-trained shop assistant would ask an open question and always start a dialogue with a greeting.

Ignoring the Australian shop assistant, the Chinese lady and her friend continues looking at a handbag. Instinctively knowing when to keep his distance, the shop assistant politely retreats keeping vigilant on the Chinese customer from afar.

He has started a course in basic conversational Chinese and after a few months is able to decipher basic words. Tuning into the conversation the shop assistant hears these words in Chinese and manage to interpret the conversation literally.

"xi huan ma?" do you like it? questions her friend. (do you like it?)
"ma ma hu hu" horse horse tiger tiger - she replies. (its ok)
"Ma shang mai la" on top of horse buy la! - getting impatient (buy it quickly)
"Wo la du zi" I am pulling belly (I am getting a tummy ache)
"Huang se hen pei ni" yellow suits you - compliments her friend (yellow suits you)

Knowing that majority of their customers are from mainland China, Louis Vuitton insist that their full time staff attends a basic Chinese conversational course. The shop assistant by now is into his 6th week of his course and he realises his level of his Chinese is not quite up to scratch but he is sure his literal translation is not wrong. However, the conversation he heard is not making sense to him, especially the part about being on top of a horse, tigers and something about pulling belly. 

But queuing in on the comment about the yellow colour he zooms into the pair and compliments the yellow handbag the Chinese lady is looking at.

"zhe ge hen piao liang. hen pei ni" this is very beautiful and it suits you. The shop assistant dredging up enough Chinese to compliment the lady's selection.

A good shop assistant would comment on the product and subtly compliments a customer's choice.

Much to the surprise of the shop assistant the lady replies "Yes, I like....."

"Try it" queuing into the Chinese customer's choice. He takes the LV bag off the shelf and straps it around the arms of the customer. He stands back and admires the A$5,000 handbag on the customer.

Then without warning the question came out of the customer's mouth:

"This make out of beef or pork?" pointing to the handbag.

Without flinching nor letting out his explosive urge to laugh the shop assistant replies:

"Its made of pork. Pork is pre-dried and re-oiled before making bag!"  The handbag is made from pigskin specially from Papua New Guinea

"Re-oiled? Waaaa!" a final smile from the Chinese customer.

"OK I buy. Also the little pig?" pointing to a purse - with a A$2,500 price tag.

With a smile on his face, the shop assistant hands the customer a receipt for $7,500, wrapping the two items with utmost care and with both hands hands the two items to the Chinese customer.

Without a word or smile, the customer walks out of the shop.

By this time the two Aussie blokes in Vermont are finishing their two cafe lattes. After paying A$7 they both walk out of the cafe accidentally brushing a Chinese student.

"Bloody stupid Chinese" staring at the young student who is tucking hungrily into a bag of chips.

Even Louis Vuitton is realising the world is changing - I hope these two blokes wake up one day.