It has long been said that the stock market is a barometer for the economy going forward. 

The current global conditions – the enormous printing of US money, the monetary stimuli and easing everywhere else – has made nonsense of that notion and then some.  

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the US – the most in the world – and over 30 million people are currently jobless. Recession is not just in the air, economists like Paul Krugman are saying it’s The Great Depression all over again.

The wolf is snapping at the door and it’s been the worst economic shock the world’s ever known in a century, but you don’t see that reflected in the stock exchange. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is only about 11 per cent off its all-time high which was achieved, incidentally, in February this year.

It’s, like, almost a ho-hum moment amidst the carnage and mayhem going around everywhere. Still, the US stock market lost almost 90 percent of its value between 1929 and 1932.

That is unlikely to happen this time around given the ample liquidity worldwide but that’s about it: until a vaccine comes along, no one knows anything else about the future. 

Which brings us to 2020’s Burning Question: are we going to have another four years of The World According to Trump? 

It’s astonishing that Americans not only voted him in, they still continue to support him in large numbers. 

And according to enough people to be seriously dismayed, he still has a good chance of winning re-election in November.

How on earth does he do it, this charmless, corpulent commander-in-chief?

He does not seem to have a sense of humour unlike his various predecessors. When John Kennedy was attacked for allegedly using his father’s wealth during his 1960 campaign, for example, he cracked reporters up by revealing that he’d just received a cable from his father.

Kennedy, pretending to read a wire: “Dear Jack, don’t pay for a single vote more than necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide!” 

Trump, on the other hand, is not known for using humour to deflect anything unless one is to believe that his reference to drinking bleach to prevent coronavirus was really a “sarcastic jibe” at a reporter. 

In an arena where self-deprecation and subtle promotion are appreciated, he does not care that he is vain and boorishly boastful. He seriously considers himself a “stable genius” and an expert on everything from the Taliban and the art of war to foreign policy and making deals.

And he has a lousy memory. When Obama was President, he criticised him for playing golf, once, during the Ebola crisis and, often, on the taxpayers’ dime. One person died of Ebola in the US and, over his eight years, it cost the government US$2.8 million for Obama to play golf. According to MSNBC, it’s cost over US$153 million to facilitate Trump’s golf games largely because he insists on playing on his own courses in Florida.

And there are the lies. When Twitter challenged him on fact, he turned around and screamed “free speech.” Now he wants to change the law simply because he was caught out. 

He wouldn’t win dog catcher anywhere else. 


Do you know why the ostrich wanted to cross the Federal Highway?

I can mow reveal – in the strictest confidence, mind – that said ostrich was of Roman descent and it was afraid that someone would Caesar!

It was the talk of Kuala Lumpur on that Thursday evening. An ostrich identified only as Chickaboo – Italian for “why am I always surrounded by turkeys?” – made a run for it after it leapt out of its truck near University Malaya and pelted down the Federal Highway at speeds of close to 35 kilometres an hour. It was, however, not charged for impeding traffic as it was travelling much faster than the traffic around it.

The fast, feathered fugitive then embarked on a hour-long, flightless frolic of its own. According to this newspaper, the fowl fiend was finally flummoxed and pinned down at around 4.15pm by two rescuers, identified only as the heroic Agus and Shunmugavael.

The bird had, apparently, belonged to an ostrich farm in Semenyih although no one can explain what it was doing driving a truck near University Malaya.

Agus and Shunmugavel should be considered for medals of valour in the face of overwhelming might. Ostriches are the largest and heaviest birds on the planet. They are between seven and nine feet tall and can weigh up to 350 pounds.

OK, the poor fellows cannot fly but, on the other hand, you don’t see them getting sucked into jet engines either. You have to put these things in perspective. The sinking of the Titanic, for example, was both a tragedy and a triumph – a tragedy for its passengers but a triumph for the lobsters awaiting the chef’s ministrations.

Listening to the radio then, I was struck by the number of people calling up to profess concern for the feathered fugitive There is no doubt about it: human beings generally do care about the creatures on this good earth especially when they are not eating or wearing them.

What, you might ask, will happen to Chickaboo of no last name, that defiant Italian chick with long legs and massive sprinting ability, now impossibly stuck miles away from Rome and in the green, bowels of Semenyih?

Nothing apparently. We have been told that it belonged to an altruistic farm peopled by brave but benign gentlemen with no last names – Agus and Shun, for instance – and the mighty Chickaboo will live out its speedy life, eschewing pasta, and getting used to Malaysian cuisine. 

In short, Chickaboo was born free and, much to the chagrin of red-meat lovers the world over, would never be a candidate for the cooking pots of Asia.

In short, like the sheep that gives us steel wool, Chickaboo had no natural enemies except for disease, old age and high cholesterol associated with an unvarying Malaysian diet.

It was free to roam the meadows of Semenyih and do whatever it was ostriches do when they are left free to roam the meadows in Semenyih.

I can almost hear you sigh, dear reader. Was that a sigh of contentment, of things ending up in their proper place and of happy endings fading into the sunset?

Or was that a sigh of vexation at bleeding-heart, animal-lover liberals who had risen to the top of the food chain only to become vegetarians?

Meanwhile, back at the farm in Semenyih……

This first appeared in June 2016


A Japanese aquarium, closed during the coronavirus outbreak, is asking people to make video calls to their eels so the sensitive creatures remember that humans exist and don’t pose a threat.

The Sumida Aquarium, housed in the landmark Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, has been closed since March and its animals have become used to a largely human-free environment during the two-month calm.

Indeed, the wriggling creatures seem to have forgotten all about humankind. 

This was unlike Donald J Trump, however.  And how do we know that the Donald has a good memory?

Because he’s said so repeatedly, recently again telling the press: “I have one of the greatest memories of all time.” It wasn’t clear if it was a reference to his evening with Stormy Daniels, but he made it clear that he had a memory like an elephant. Indeed, he’s often claimed that elephants frequently consulted him. 

But I digress. I was talking about forgetful eels, wasn’t I?

It seemed that the eels had started forgetting about humans altogether. Garden eels were especially skittish, apparently – they disappeared into the sand to hide every time their keepers passed by. 

To the polite Japanese, it was bad form and not very considerate at all, especially, when you considered the feelings of the keepers trying to monitor the health of said beasts. 

Previously, the eels had gotten so used to their human visitors that they frolicked about in blithe abandon in front of them quite forgetting that they were sensitive creatures by nature and quite wary of the human being.

Now, bereft of human contact, they were suddenly shy and retiring. You could say they were modest to a fault and the sharks admired them because they admired creatures who had little talent and were modest about it. 

Desperate situations require desperate remedies so Yamamoto-san, the head of the aquarium, has turned to technology for the solution. 

In a bid to reacquaint the eels with humans, the aquarium is setting up five tablets facing the tank housing the delicate creatures, with eel enthusiasts asked to connect through iPhones or iPads via the FaceTime app. The callers are then supposed to show their faces, wave, smile and talk to the eels. 

But given the tender nature of the animals, callers are asked not to shout and to always refrain from recounting how much they loved dining out on unagi.

That would, they were advised, be bad form as everyone knew that eels were sensitive, tender creatures as opposed to octopi which were tough suckers and required boiling for at least several hours to render them delicate and tender. 

In the event, the aquarium’s plea has attracted plenty of support, under the wildly original Japanese catch phrase – “When you gaze at the garden eels, the garden eels gaze back at you.” 

And it puts them at ease. When you come right down to it, show me an eel without ease and I’ll show you a creature spelled “ls.”


Malaysian counterfeiters sat up alertly on the news, prepared to spring into action making fake donkey hides faster than you could say Hee Haw.

If they could sell fake birds’ nests to China, they could do anything.

Xinhua had reported that a shortage of donkey hides used to produce the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) “ejiao” had resulted in a deluge of imitations, with around 40% likely to be fake.

Donkey-hide gelatine is made by boiling the donkey’s skin and refining the results into a tonic routinely prescribed for women suffering from anaemia, dry coughs or dizziness.

History will record that the remedy was first invented around 240 BC during the reign of Emperor Shih Hwang Ti by his first cousin Shih Hwang Ho who, coincidentally enough, had also discovered birds’ nest soup.

The good Master Hwang was ho-ho’ing his way homewards when his eye fell idly on a particularly grotty, saliva-flecked nest of a swift on a nearby tree. A lesser man might have passed by with a dry “Harrumph”, but Master Hwang was made of sterner stuff. 

He proceeded to slowly simmer the nest together with garlic, onions, eggs, dates and a dash of ginseng, to produce a dish fit for Emperor Shih that very night.

But that was then. 

This time, Master Shih was confronted by something else. His wife had been coughing dryly and seemed dizzy and anaemic all at the same time. It was then that Shih had his Eureka moment.

He had noticed that his donkey could jump higher than a building. Most men would have put that down to just having an athletic ass. A more pious man might have even been moved enough to exclaim: “Let us bray.”

What Master Shih didn’t know, at the time, was that all donkeys could jump higher than a building for the simple reason that a building could not jump at all. 

But he didn’t know that yet, so he proceeded to cook Pancakes for almost a whole day and served it to his wife the next morning.

She wasn’t too thrilled about it as Pancakes had been her favourite donkey. But the results were amazing.

His wife’s dizziness and anaemia vanished, and she commenced coughing wetly as opposed to dryly.

She died three days later of pneumonia and grief. 

But that was neither here nor there as two out of three weren’t bad and a grateful Emperor promptly named a river after his brilliant cousin. That’s why it’s called the Hwang Ho to this day. 

The demands for Shih’s product grew so intensely that by the 21st Century 5,000 tonnes of ejiao were being produced annually in China, according to industry figures. 

It needed four million donkey hides each year. But Chinese annual supply is less than 1.8 million, so donkey hide prices rose exponentially.

That, of course, grabbed the attention of Malaysian counterfeiters whose cutting-edge technologies in the manufacture of everything from fake toothpaste to fake Viagra had roused the admiration of Somalian pirates who wondered if it was more profitable to adopt made-in-Malaysia skills like fixing international football games.

The average Malaysian counterfeiter was a deeply practical man who could cook up anything because he knew the golden rule of haute cuisine: if it looked like a duck, walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it probably needed a little more time in the microwave.

And so Malaysian counterfeiters were now in a position to supply China’s insatiable demand for Shih’s invention by shrewdly adopting it from shoes fashioned out of horse leather.  

In short, you didn’t have to be Bill Gates to make money. All you needed to have was some horse’s ass.

The column was first written in January 2016.


As I write this, I realise it’s May 1 which makes it Labour Day which rules out any unemployment jokes: none of them work anyway. 

Unemployment is not a matter to be facetious about, however. In truth, it is a bitter pill to swallow for it robs a person of self-respect, his dignity and his self-worth. 

Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. 

By 2004, many of us in the industry knew that things weren’t going swimmingly in the international media. Over the last two years, a number of my colleagues in the Far Eastern Economic Review had been laid-off. Then, our only serious competitor in the region, Asiaweek shuttered and we finally began asking ourselves when the chop was coming.  

In my case, I’d been on leave but was still at home, and alone as my wife was abroad. I heard the doorbell ring and was astonished to see my immediate boss outside the gate. 

He looked as pale as I was about to look, and tried not to meet my eyes. It wasn’t any lack of work on my part, he assured me, the whole magazine was closing courtesy of the boffins in New York whose number crunching had, apparently, carried the day and sealed a very respectable magazine’s fate.  

On hindsight, it wasn’t the money aspect that bothered me. It was a whole lot of other feelings that crawled in and refused to leave: shame, self-loathing and a refusal to leave the house for fear of meeting people. 

It was wholly unreasonable, even illogical and I knew it. But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling. But my wife and my daughter were greatly supportive, and, in the end, it all worked out, as life normally does.  

Indeed, it took me about two weeks to straighten out my head and I got a job in a Singapore-based publication a month later. The retrenchment benefits didn’t hurt either. 

But my point here is that no one deserves to have the emotive fallout of sudden unemployment thrust on him. It can be emotionally crippling. 

Or maybe not. 

I mean, not everyone reacts that way. Some take it coolly, indeed, so philosophically that it can be downright perplexing.

Take my first driver Hassan. Now there’s self-confidence for you. I mean, it took me about three months to discover that he was illiterate, or as Shakespeare might have said: He aspired to “neither a reader nor a writer be.” With those street-creds, you’d have to wonder how he obtained his driving license. 

When I asked him how many previous employers he’d had, he shrugged mathematically as if to suggest its number was a Biblical “Legion” or “X” where “X” was any number greater than 25.

Life, in the world according to Hassan, was a reality teeming with myriad disappointments, one of which was sudden unemployment, which ranked right up there with gout, but wasn’t as bad as, Heaven forbid, impotence.  

It was the sort of calm sanguinity and detachment that might have impressed your average enlightened Buddhist monk. 

What happened to Hassan, you ask? To answer, allow me to indirectly quote British writer “Saki” H H Munro: 

“He was a good driver as drivers go, and as drivers go, he went.”