It’s around noon on Christmas Day and it’s quiet
here in Singapore as I contemplate the screen in front of me.

It’s been years since we’ve spent Christmas in any place other than Malaysia. The last time was in 1997 when I travelled to Georgia in the United States where Rebecca, with Raisa in tow, was pursuing her PhD. We had a lovely time – the cold be damned – and we even had a Malaysian friend, whom we hadn’t seen in ages, drive eight hours from Tampa in Florida to join us for the holidays.

But the Christmas of 2020 has been quiet. We attended church like we’ve been doing since March this year, via the Internet. In the beginning it was novel in the sense that we could choose where we wanted to hear mass. We could choose Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia or – if we could wait – even the United Kingdom.

We’ve since plumped for Bishop Gregory Homeming, a thoughtful Carmelite priest from Lismore in Australia. It was convenient too: the time difference ensured that the service would be online by the time we’d breakfasted.

I suppose that’s one of the biggest triumphs of 2020: the Internet’s coming of age. Hitherto casually taken for granted, it’s insinuated itself into our daily lives in ways that would have beggared belief only a year ago.

Now it’s been stress-tested on a global scale as never before. We shop, we attend Church mass, we talk to friends all over the world, and continue to earn our daily bread through its providence.

I’ve seen Rebecca glued to the PC for meetings that have gone on all day. Thankfully, mine have been shorter.

And I’ve seen the screenshot of the Virtual Leaders Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (Apec) where 21 leaders simultaneously met at a night meet hosted by Malaysia.

Under each leader’s image was an identification: their country followed by the leader’s name. And no one seemed to see the irony of having RUS-Putin under the dour visage of the Russian autocrat.

Even the Orange One was there, at least in person if not in spirit because Twitter’s time stamps will attest to the fact that he continued to tweet wrathful denials of his loss to “Sleepy Joe.”

2020 will be remembered chiefly as the year of a virus that’s infected over 79 million worldwide and killed 1.8 million people. It’s also the year that proved the Peter Principle, where a nincompoop rose to his level of incompetence to burden the richest country in the world with the greatest spread of the disease.

And yet, there’s been no Great Depression and thanks to masking up and social distancing, there’s been no overwhelming of hospitals anywhere. More importantly, there’s been no mass deaths a la 1918.

Indeed, there’s a lot less pollution afoot with less air travel and far less traffic. Despite the Donald’s best efforts, the world’s gone greener and the oceans are cleaner.

The year witnessed a triumph for democracy at least in the United States where President Biden offers the chance for a more sensitive and tactful world.

Conversely, democracy failed abjectly in Malaysia where a legitimate government fell because of unscrupulous elements in that same government. Those same elements now lead the new Malaysian government, alas.

But this too will pass. And 2021 must surely be the Year of the Vaccine, the year when mankind will shake off a long nightmare to take our lives back with renewed promise and hope anew.

Happy New Year, folks.


Since we stay at one of its service apartments, we are allowed to use the facilities at Singapore’s Shangri-La.

And as soon as you step into its lobby there’s no mistaking the time of the year you’re in. As you head towards the gymnasium amidst the Christmastide and its inimitable carols, you almost forget there’s a pandemic about because of the normalcy of the scene: families taking photographs under the towering, bauble-bedecked tree stretching up to the roof.

There’s a smell of chocolate in the air and it’s strongest near the escalator that takes you down to the gym. The reason isn’t immediately obvious and then you get it: the tableaux of three dazzlingly white polar bears playing with presents amidst the snow and ice next to the escalator is fashioned entirely out of chocolate.

Only when you’re on the escalator do you realise why the scene isn’t completely normal: everyone’s wearing a mask.

We decided not to go back for Christmas this year after cases in Malaysia began spiking four months ago. It prompted Singapore to tighten its rules. Previously, when we went back, we only needed to quarantine for a week at our apartment when we returned. Now we had to do it for two weeks at some government facility and, being foreigners, we had to pay for the privilege.

In any case, with Malaysia under movement control and our daughter in Amsterdam it wasn’t hard decision to make.

If you had to be somewhere else during the Yuletide season, Singapore’s the place to be with some additional advantages. Like many Malaysians, both Rebecca and I have family here and my niece, for example, has kindly invited us over to her place on the 23rd.

The other is that the island republic can seriously put on a show when it comes to Christmas. Only 20% of the country is Christian but the statistic belies the spectacle the nation puts on.

Carols were already being played on radio stations by November, while glittering, trees in tinsel and twine began sprouting in shops all over the place by early December.

It’s clearly a transactional Christmas in these parts and they make no bones about it. Even before Deepavali rolled around this year, the Christmas lights began blazing along Orchard Road on November 13.

We were out for dinner two nights ago and the lights along the 2.2- kilometre road were something else. Spectacular is one word that comes to mind. Over the top are three words more.

And then there’s the Botanical Gardens where a loop-around is about 4 miles. That was too long so we just cut through diagonally. Volunteers have done a fantastic job trimming every other tree along its length in Christmas splendor. You can imagine how the gardens might look like at twilight. It gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.

Rebecca’s baked her pineapple tarts and thrown in some panettone for good measure. So, we’re all set.

We’ve invited four friends – all Malaysians as well – for dinner on Christmas Eve which is just nice as our dining table only seats 6.

Merry Christmas everyone!


When the ever-rumpled Boris Johnson confidently announced last year that Britain would exit the European Union by the end of 2020 with a trade deal in hand and that anything else would be a “misstep of statecraft,” few people reckoned the statement would come back to bite him in the nether regions.
As things stand, Britain is on the verge of a no-deal Brexit which makes the Prime Ministerial statement a political faux pas of sorts

“Mon Dieu,” cried the French alertly. They knew their creations as well as anyone else and immediately grasped the implications of the Johnsonian misstep. Faux pas – meaning an embarrassing mistake – had been borrowed from the French. And if the Brits wanted to leave the EU, they would have to leave off their borrowed possessions as well.

It was going to be a long, cold winter. The British felt it acutely because they knew the enormous difference between the right word and the almost-right word. It was like saying “I apologise” instead of “I’m sorry” at a funeral.

The French were unrepentant as they noted that “ballet” was also from the French. It kept the English on their toes because the French knew how to put two and two together.

President Macron also insisted that “baguette” be removed from the English language. The President was insistent because the French felt a special affinity for its famous bread.

Even the Brits knew that the humble baguette was invented by one Jacques Baguette. Sitting gloomily in his kitchen one wintry afternoon in the 16th Century, the near-destitute chef was pondering the future when his eye idly fell on some water, salt, flour and yeast in that order.

A more superstitious man might have shuddered and thrown some of the salt over his left shoulder, just in case. A more practical man would have mixed the water into a stiff cognac to ward off the winter chills.
But JB was made of sterner stuff and, in a magnificent moment that screamed Eureka, he mixed the flour, water and yeast together and, with just the right pinch of salt, he created the dish that would always bear his name and forever sustain French armies marching towards surrender.

Even Marie Antoinette lost her head over a careless reference to the great inventor. When told that the French people were starving and needed food, the haughty queen replied: “Let them eat baguette.”
The President couldn’t resist rubbing it in to the English. “You will notice,” cried Macron triumphantly. “That she did not say ‘let them eat chips.”

Richard Branson was aghast that “entrepreneur” was also from the French, while musicians groaned to find out that “genre” had also been ruled out.

On the other hand, the British thought that the French could keep some of their words, thank you. Take the pretentious “avant-garde” for instance. The late, great John Lennon put it best. “Avant-garde?” he asked ironically. “Doesn’t that mean bullshit in French?”

The English thought that the French could also keep hors d’oeuvres, those bits of food served at fancy parties. Most folk could neither pronounce nor spell the word.

It wasn’t the sort of English word like “horticulture” which was a good, stout Anglo-Saxon word right up there with “major” or “Anglican.” And, unlike hors d’oeuvres, it was easy to make a sentence with horticulture.
As an example, let me famously quote Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”


When he was a child, he once read that almost 50 percent of people allow their pets to sleep with them for greater closeness. So he thought he would try it and his favourite goldfish died. It was then that his parents first had an inkling that he might not amount to much.

Apparently that insecurity never got to the child. And the certitude stayed with him even after he became President. And to his mind, that certitude was never going to be confused with being right, modest or remotely truthful.

“Sometimes you have to toot your own horn because no one else is going to do it” might well describe the guiding spirit of the Trump presidency.

He was a “very stable genius” who regularly ranked his performance “A+” and often compared himself to Abraham Lincoln in his treatment of African-Americans.

He has even managed to exaggerate hyperbole if that’s possible. “We have triumphed over evil like nobody else” or “Nobody’s read more books than me” and the notion that “I’ve got more words than anyone else.”

Who talks like that?

Donald Trump will probably go down in history as one of the weirdest leaders to have ever held elected office. We have had unelected weirdos – Kim Jong Un, for instance – and “elected” ones like Vladimir Putin. To illustrate the latter case, take this conversation between VP and his top election official just before the last Russian election was called.

Official: We have good news and bad news
VP: What’s the good news?
Official: You won.
VP: What can be bad about that?
Official: You didn’t get any votes.

Mr Trump has fired more administration officials in his tenure, had more nasty books written about him, told more lies, insulted more people and nations, and made more gaffes, blunders and missteps than any other leader in living memory. And yet he remains hugely popular having garnered 74 million votes in the November election, more than any other candidate of the 21st Century.

All except Joe Biden, that is.

And that’s the rub, and what Mr Trump is raging about now. Indeed, he has been going nuts for three weeks now.

Mr Biden’s election margin over Donald Trump widened to more than seven million votes Thursday, even as Trump and his adamant supporters persisted in claims of widespread fraud.

One month after the Nov 3 election, new local tallies from New York drove victor Biden’s total to 81.3 million votes, compared to Trump’s 74.2 million, with a total 158.4 million votes counted so far, according to data compiled by the Cook Political Report.

It looks like Mr Biden has won it hands-down: he has 306 electoral votes – more than the 270 required – amid an almost 5% victory margin.

But hell hath no fury than an egocentric scorned. And if Mr Trump really harbours any intention of a 2024 run, he should think twice about speaking when he’s angry because it could be the best speech he’d ever regret.