Many years ago, I was at a World Economic Forum session in Kuala Lumpur listening to the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia detail his country’s plans for the region.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, he was asked why the Chinese felt compelled to view much of the South China Sea as “theirs.”

The reply was so fast it seemed rehearsed: “There is a reason for the sea to be called such.”

This was swiftly followed by a comment from the back, in an American accent: “The Indian Ocean stretches down to Australia and parts of West Africa but you don’t see India claiming those waters.”

When nations begin using history to legitimise their claims – to territory or anything else – the results are generally fraught with peril because the rationale is spurious to begin with. Henry Ford is the one credited with saying: “History is bunk” and while he said a great many egregious things, I think he got that one right.

One is reminded of the cartoon, in which the first box features Donald Trump fretting about the “dangers of unchecked immigration into the US.”

And, in the next, a seriously unhappy Geronimo is agreeing, “Amen to that.”

Whether it’s the Chinese or the US, these claims are unending. When the British first proposed the creation of the state of Malaysia through the union of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, both the Philippines and Indonesia objected on the grounds, yet again, of “history.” Manila claimed “ownership” of Sabah while Jakarta insisted that Sarawak had always been part of the republic.

But the British and the Malayan leadership pit the matter directly to the people of the regions themselves and, in a referendum supervised by the United Nations, the notion of Malaysia was overwhelmingly accepted.

Despite the popular snub, Jakarta took it badly and declared a campaign of “ganyang Malaysia” (Hang Malaysia).

It took another two years of foolishness – and a coup that unseated Indonesia’s then President Sukarno – to restore amity to Southeast Asia. Even so, every eight years or so, Manila threatens to dust off its ancient claim to Sabah which leads to another fruitless round of sabre rattling from both sides.

If one takes history too seriously, you might end up with some utterly strange conclusions.

For example, did you know that present-day England was once ruled by the Romans in an unbroken stretch that lasted for 366 years (43AD to 409AD).

To put it in a modern context, that’s roughly 55 years longer than the current duration of the modern superpower known as the United States of America.

Taking that a step further, how would the people of England feel if Rome were to declare that, because of its ancient claim to England by virtue of historical antiquity, that, henceforth, all Romans and their descendants had a right to become automatic citizens of England. Sorry and all that, and I know it’s hard cheese for you chaps, but it’s history, what?

It would just about sum up the feelings of the Palestinians currently.

And don’t forget the clincher, all ye who treasure history: that the Jewish claim was rooted in no less than divinity, that the land in question was promised to them by God!


Between a bout of feeling out of sorts and the impending paranoia of a soon-to-be imposed lockdown, my blog will be halted until it resumes. I mean, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.



Things may be crashing around our heads soon – sometime between May 8-10, although the chances of that happening, while “statistically significant” are still “significantly unclear.”

These are the bromides the scientific community dishes out to reassure the great washed masses like you and me.

The plot is deathly simple. Parts of a Chinese rocket used to propel the country’s first permanent space station into orbit are now falling back, uncontrollably it seems, to earth.

The good news is the Chinese believe it will “easily” burn up upon re-entry into the atmosphere. The bad news is that no Western agency agrees. They think the debris will be the largest-ever to plummet back to Earth and could weigh several tonnes.

It’s happened before, according to Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell. The last time China launched a similar rocket, they ended up with big long rods of metal flying through the sky and damaging several buildings in the Ivory Coast. It was seen as a victory for humankind except in the Ivory Coast, where people kept glancing anxiously upwards for years. The current anxiety, reported by Ivory Coast’s news agency, anxiously, is likely to stoke anxieties to a fever pitch.

Meanwhile, the Europeans estimate that the debris will land on a strip of Earth running from southern Spain, Portugal and Italy down to Australia. You can trust the Europeans for their exactitude.

While spit-balling on an estimate, they finally agreed that “between 20% and 40% of the dry mass could survive.” That’s the equivalent of several tonnes of seriously heavy metal.

It was Einstein who came up with the definitive equation about space and it was about time too, but all this space travel is having an impact on Planet Earth.

About 150 tonnes of man-made space hardware fall back to Earth each year which is ridiculous. It’s fortunate that almost 60% of Earth is covered by ocean which, as you can imagine, must cover a mountain of excess.

In addition, space itself is increasingly congested by Earthly junk, courtesy of seven decades of exploration. If Jim Croce is to be believed, that there isn’t anything “meaner than a junkyard dog,” then only Heaven knows what manner of junkyard alien we’ve created.

As if that weren’t enough, civilians hoping to join astronauts on the July 20 inaugural flight of the New Shepard rocket system have two weeks to bid for a single seat in the spacecraft starting now, US aerospace company Blue Origin said yesterday. It’s owned by gazillionaire Jeff Bezos who, for reasons of prudence and sanity, would not “be accompanying the lucky winner” on this historic trip.

The accompanying promo gushed: “if you feel fat or overweight, this will be ideal for you” but the very fine print noted that only the “seriously rich” should apply.

It isn’t clear how science will gain from this particular trip. The rocket booster jettisons a crew capsule designed for up to six people. It reaches a height of more than 60 miles and lingers in zero-gravity space for several minutes before returning to Earth for a parachute-enabled landing.

Apart from inflating Mr Bezos’ ego, it isn’t clear how this helps climate change or benefits humankind in any way. Maybe you just had to be there.

That’s what the promo said.



Why is it that some people associate vegetarianism with virtue? It’s like, you know Jim, why, he’s a good, salad citizen.

It isn’t true at all. Indeed, the word itself comes from the Sioux vege tar which literally means “bad hunter”. This was regarded by Sitting Bull as a capital offence and generally considered bad form.

But it might have a lot to do with ethics or its lack thereof. Are vegetarians what they are because they love animals? Or are they so because they nurse a deep and malevolent hatred towards plants? Or, as vice-presidential aspirant Sarah Palin once observed: “If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?”

These are the good and searching questions that, once upon a time, kept Aristotle up at night.

Be that as it may, vegetarians have taken it a step further by inventing veganism which means the kitchen sink plus no milk or dairy products, whatsoever.

In short, No Joy At All.

The odd thing about vegetarians is that they attempt to make their meals as close to the real thing as possible, which is weird if they really wanted to forget the whole meat thing. Like they claim the Impossible burger is “impossible” to distinguish from meat. Sitting Bull would have harrumphed.

Camembert is the latest food getting the vegan treatment, landing as a cheese-free cheese made with cauliflower and hemp seeds by its American makers. But how will this faux fromage go down in France?

“Mon Dieu,” exclaimed the French bleakly. They took their dairy products seriously and were still cheesed off with Lionel Ritchie for taking a revered French product less than seriously in his hit song Hello – “Is it brie you’re looking for?”

The French were genuinely distressed by the fake Camembert and thought it was no way to make America grate again.

After fish-free sushi and meatless meat, what was next? Was nothing sacred? It seemed that nothing was, and everything suddenly appeared 50 shades of gruyere.

History will record that it a Benedictine monk named Bert Camoens who invented the cheese by accidentally sneezing on a dish of milk one sun-dappled morning in the late 18th Century.

The pollen count in Normandy was especially high on that morning, and Brother Camoens was busy so he soon forgot both the sneeze and the milk.

Three weeks later, he noticed a somewhat ripe smell in the air. Further investigation revealed the forgotten milk dish, now containing a moist, soft and creamy cheese-like substance.

A lesser man would have shuddered and dumped the whole thing in the trash. A superstitious one would have crossed himself before dumping it in the trash.

But Bro Camoens was both pious and bold. After crossing himself, he ventured a cautious taste and thought that the ambrosia would go well with strawberry jam and sourdough bread.

Napoleon the 3rd agreed and decreed that Camoens be nominated as a national treasure and the cheese to forever bear his name.

Such was the ancient and humble beginnings of the Norman cheese and it explained the intensity of the region’s rage against its vegan pretender.

It was clear that it was up to no gouda.



I hate to say this, but we do not appear to have a particularly savvy leadership.

We would like to believe that the people running the country are smarter than us, people who know what they are doing and are planning the country’s future intelligently, and with the best of intentions.

Does any Malaysian, hand on heart, think this is true in this Year of the Lord AD2021?

The country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, started superbly only to sputter to its current abysmal state.

Khairy Jamaluddin, the Czar of the vaccination programme, is tragically long on promise and short on delivery. And what’s with these silly ads featuring them truly: “We’ve been vaccinated. Have you?”

You don’t need to go to Oxford to know what’s screaming back at you: we would if we could!

At the rate we are proceeding, it will take 15 years to vaccinate the entire country.

Why did we not begin to stock up on vaccines a year ago like Singapore? Like we have such experience with vaccine development, that we needed to “study the data?”

Let’s not delude ourselves. And when we do finally start, we begin with the high and mighty instead of the ones that matter – the medical staff, the ambulance personnel, teachers.

And why have the politicians taken over? What happened to the Science Adviser? Or the Director General of Health? Or does the Czar think that politicians inspire more confidence? If so, he knows something we don’t.

We also do not need disingenuous statements that encourage fatalism and apathy. Here, Hadi Awang’s statement – that Muslims who die of Covid would die as “martyrs” – qualifies.

How his dogmatic opinion advances the cause of science, medicine or the price of fish is beyond anyone. And what about its theological implications: what happens to non-Muslim fatalities?

As I write this, I note that tomorrow is Earth Day. Indeed, we are entering a period of increased awareness of climate change and the importance of sustainable development. Which begs the question: are our leaders thinking about new growth paths?

Not at all. The premier recently said that mineral development was the way to go for the future and that by 2030, mineral extraction would be a significant growth driver.

It does not say much for a thinking government that its only fallback option for the future is, once again, the easy way out – resource exploitation with all its attendant perils of pollution, water contamination and environmental degradation.

We already have the answer, but we refuse to accept them because they are politically unacceptable. The industries and way of the future have already been mapped out in the New Economic Model of 2009 – a far reaching document that was authorised, incidentally, by now-disgraced premier Najib Razak. But it was never even considered because the Malays felt that it might undermine their position going forward. Indeed, it wasn’t even debated.

As it perpetually is with us, we keep throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It may be time to stop and reflect, look back at the document and pick what we might use. We have to make some hard choices and stop blaming others or reach for the easy way out.

Otherwise change might be forced on us because, in the end, that is all history ever teaches.



Doctors can be such killjoys.

I remember visiting a mate of mine from university who’d just suffered a heart attack. There were other friends around, one of whom happened to be a doctor.

The thing about any illness and people over 60 is that the conversation almost invariably graduates to antioxidants.

Say the topic is cancer or Bell’s Palsy – I’m just showing of here – and, bingo, antioxidant supplements will be mentioned. It’s like bees and honey, it’s a kind of hand in hand analogy.

In that particular instance, one chap said that the way to avoid all things nasty was a supplement called CoQ10 and the others nodded knowingly as the words “powerful antioxidant” reverberated around the room.

“Nonsense,” exclaimed the doctor who proceeded to explain that all these supplements were just advertising gimmicks and mere placebos designed to enrich big pharma, with emphasis on Pharma. But he was a UK-trained paediatrician and a board-certified conspiracy theorist to boot, so we just changed the subject.

But the face of the guy advocating the supplement fell miserably: he’d been taking it for years.

Pity the poor hypochondriac. He goes to the doctor who tells him he has hypochondria. Patient: “Not that as well.”

Actually, if you consider all the nasties just waiting to get under your skin, hypochondria might be the way to go. Just think of what’s out there: bacteria, viruses, fungi, mites, pollution, chemicals, bad water, bad food, bad genes. Sheer bad luck! Then there are the syndromes, the diseases, the maladies, ailments, afflictions, complaints, sicknesses and the just plain horrors lurking around the corner, and it’s enough to drive you screaming into your local Vitacare.

In the face of such overwhelming statistical possibilities, the most logical position to take on life would be the hypochondriac’s. It seems the most rational and is eminently commonsensical besides.

It’s enough to make you appreciate the wonder of humankind’s capacity for improvement, the extent to which we’ve extended our lifespans from our Neanderthal brethren. From that perspective, being healthy and over 60 is a blessing and Dr Mahathir belongs in a museum.

Even so, the medical scepticism over supplements seems to have taken a revisionist turn since the onset of the CoVid-19 pandemic.

When it first began, all the hypochondriac-leaning literature advised us to beef up our immune system so we stocked up on things we normally would never dream of buying like zinc and Vitamin D.

I can almost hear the doctor friend of mine saying all you need for Vitamin D is a “walk in the sun.”

But now even Dr Sanjay Gupta of CNN fame advises the same.

For the true-blue Hypo though, I suppose the way to go is the way of a very rich Malaysian banker who continues to live in a private hospital 24/7.

He is there secure in the knowledge that there are capped and gowned specialists waiting alertly for any twinge, throb, pain, soreness, pang or spasm that he might experience before they spring into action armed with the best knowledge money can buy.

And if all else fails, your epitaph can always read “I told you I was sick” and you still make a point.



The ambient temperature in Malaysian is well suited to the growth of mushrooms on cow-dung after a rainstorm, apparently. But the police are now warning that these mushrooms may be hallucinogenic.

Actually they are. These fungi contain psilobycin which is a powerful hallucinogenic almost guaranteed to blow anyone’s mind and used to lend the word “magic” to a certain type of mushroom.

But they smell rank and have to be dried before use. Malaysian police say that they are crushed or liquidised and added to drinks to become the rage in wild parties across the Klang Valley.

Is this what they meant when they said we were on the cusp of a New World Odour?

The round robber known as Felonious alias Jho Low thought it was just bullshit and he had a point there. Felonious hated reading such articles because it reminded him of the wild parties he used to throw when he was the toast of the town in Hollywood.

Now he was merely toast and a wanted man in several countries. But at least he was free, he reminded himself while nibbling on caviar-encrusted crackers in between regretful sips of an ice-cold white wine.

Even so, the substantial scallywag was nothing if not practical. At his very core, Felonious was a paunchy pragmatist for be believed in looking forward and not dwelling on the past. In fact, he was all for the future and moving on.

If only the Malaysian, Singaporean, US and the Swiss police were similarly disposed, life would be so much easier, reflected the philosophical perisher and heaved a deep sigh. And with a cheerful cry of “needs must, I suppose,” he turned his attention to weightier matters like the menu he was considering for the party he was throwing tonight for certain high ranking party officials in the enclave he was officially not residing in.

“I should be so lucky,” grumbled Fearless Leader, Felonious’ one-time mentor, the Batman to Fatso’s Robin. Fearless was peeved because on Wednesday, the Inland Revenue Board had filed a bankruptcy notice against him for failing to pay RM1.69 billion in additional tax arrears between 2011 to 2017.

Lesser mortals might have turned to hallucinogenic mushrooms when confronted with such a bleak prospect. Not Fearless though: he merely complained that the authorities were plotting to “derail my political career.”

That the former leader felt he still had a political career to salvage spoke volumes about his cool and the confidence he still nurtures about his future.

He has already been sentenced to 12 years jail and fined millions by the High Court for money laundering and corruption. His appeal is now wending its way through the Court of Appeal where his principal defence appears to revolve around the High Court Judge’s competence or lack thereof. Some lawyers might argue that it isn’t necessarily the best way to win friends and influence judges.

Fearless concluded his lengthy Facebook post by saying he would “not be cowed by those attempting to persecute me.”

Watching admiringly from the side-lines, Felonious thought it wasn’t complete bull.



We’d been in Singapore since September so we weren’t surprised when Rebecca received the call last week.

We were to report to the Queenstown Community Centre at 7 pm on Wednesday for the first of our vaccinations.

We didn’t know which vaccine but a surprisingly knowledgeable Grab driver set us straight Saturday.

Driver: “You got your shots-ah?

My wife: “We will, this Wednesday. But we don’t know what we’re getting.”

Driver: “Where getting the shot?”

(He’s thumbing through his phone while continuing to drive. Unnerving, to say the least.)

Becky: “Queenstown.”

Driver: “Ah that, Pfizer only. Only four places got Moderna-one”

(Waves his phone at us as if that clinches it. We nod, dumbly, and suspect he’s right.)

He was.

The Queenstown Community Centre is many things to the neighbourhood. There is a small mosque, two tennis courts, notices announcing everything from yoga to acupuncture; numerous rooms for presumably those purposes and a large, cavernous hall that’s been set up for mass vaccination.

It’s extremely efficient. At our first stop, they peruse our IDs and elicit a brief medical history. They just want to know if we have had or are being treated for cancers or any autoimmune disease. That would, apparently, rule us out.

Then they want to know about allergies, specifically, those that cause anaphylaxis or severe breathing difficulties. I reply no but I do have those that cause “hives” and they say that’s fine.

Nasty, they admit, but OK.

We’d come prepared. An hour before, we’d both taken two paracetamol (Panadol, in another word) on advice from my doctor-niece. I’d also added an antihistamine.

You can never be too careful.

We joined those in line for their shots. There were chairs in socially distanced rows so it was a comfortable wait. Our peers were mostly elderly – ourselves, in another word – and some were accompanied by their children.

In Singaporean terms, these were Heartlanders, the ones who stay in HDB apartments, the brick and mortar of the People’s Action Party.

It took about 15 minutes before my wife was called and a sympathetic attendant asked me if she needed me to hold her hand.

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “If anything, I’ll need her to hold mine!”

That got a laugh, at least. When my turn came, the nurse pointed out the potential side effects – pain at the jab-site, headache, body ache and, rarely, fever – and again went through its contra-indications.

I think she must have applied some local anaesthetic on my left arm as well because I didn’t feel a thing.

More sitting around followed. Both of us felt fine although my wife’s arm was quite sore. But her ache disappeared the next day. We both felt sleepy though and had an early night.

I didn’t get off scot free, however, The next evening. I had an allergic reaction with hives. Thankfully, I was fine on Good Friday but not without the aid of a trusty antihistamine.

You got to hand it to Singapore. When vaccines began to be first approved worldwide, the republic went about purchasing Pfizer, Moderna and even the one from China.

But only the first two have been used with the Chinese vaccine yet to be approved. The point: Singapore bought first so that it wouldn’t have to wait.

I asked the nurse how many people she’d vaccinated that day and she shrugged tiredly: “Countless.”

I believe her: officially, the republic estimates it can vaccinate 80% of its population by June.



The following is, allegedly, Lee Kuan Yew’s posthumous letter to leaders of Lilliput, an oil rich, Third World Country that sent condolences to Singapore on Lee’s death in 2015. I have edited said letter for brevity…

“..Thanks, but I have had a good innings as do most of my people. The life expectancy in Singapore is 80 years for men and 85 for women.
I have no regrets because I did my country and my people proud. Let me share some facts.

We are ranked AAA by all the credit rating agencies, the only one in Asia ranked thus. We are the world’s fourth largest financial centre and one of its five busiest ports.

Manufacturing accounts for 30% of GDP and Singapore has the world’s third highest per capita income.

Unlike Lilliput, we don’t have any oil. Nor minerals, forests, mountain or any land to talk about. But, unlike you, we’re a huge exporter of petroleum products.

Meanwhile, Lilliput, with all its oil, has been importing petrol, diesel, kerosene and engine oil for decades.

Let me shock you further. We are the largest oil-rig producer in the world! The World Bank ranks us as the easiest place to do business in. I’m sorry if I sound immodest but what can I say?

How did we do it? In two words, incorruptible leadership.

First, the quality of leadership is non-negotiable. It’s the dog that wags the tail, not the other way around.

No country develops by accident. Development is planned.

That is where it starts. It’s when you have a vision of society with the basics. Education is key, electricity and water are key, health is key, infrastructure is non-negotiable. And you have to pick the best people to do the job, the best and the brightest. No compromises!

Leaders cannot be obsessed with instant gratification. That is one of the biggest problems you, Lilliputian leaders, have.

You’re so obsessed with official perks that you forget why you were even elected!

You like presidential jets and chattered jets. What a waste!

But you’re not alone.

In 1973, I went to Ottawa for the Commonwealth meeting. The Bangladeshi Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman, arrived in his own aircraft.

I saw a parked Boeing 707 with “Bangladesh” emblazoned on it. When I left, it was still standing there, idle for eight days, getting obsolescent without earning anything.

As I left, two vans were being loaded with packages for the Bangladeshi aircraft. But Rahman had also made a pitch for aid to his country. You want aid while showing opulence to the world.

Meanwhile, I generally travelled by commercial aircraft and helped preserve Singapore’s Third World status for many years.

I understand that Lilliput leaders are very religious.

The Muslims pray five times a day, go for haj often, fast during Ramadan and mention the name of Allah to punctuate sentences. But clerics seem obsessed with judging others and punishing “immorality” rather than decrying dishonesty, fraud or theft. There seems more importance on form rather than substance. The Christians take communion, pay tithes and hold regular prayer sessions.

Yet, you loot your state treasury without compunction, inflate contracts recklessly, and watch — without conscience — as your citizens struggle with reckless development, water disruptions and potholes.

I died an agnostic. I neither denied nor accepted that there was a God although two of my brothers were Christians.

I was never a churchgoer. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying you should not believe in God. I only wonder: how can you believe in God and fail so woefully in what the Bible and the Qu’ran teaches about loving your neighbour, caring for the needy and showing responsibility as a leader?

On a final note, I appreciate that you are mourning my death. But you too can become great by putting your citizens’ welfare above yours. Lilliput can also produce a Lee.

I went to my grave happy. Will you go to yours fulfilled?”

With apologies (for edits) and thanks to the anonymous messenger who posted the idea on social media.


For sincere advice and the correct time, call any number at 3 am. – Comedian Steve Martin

You may have been unaware of it but the planet celebrated World Sleep Day sometime last week.

Shakespeare called it “tired Nature’s sweet restorer” and you can’t argue with that: it pretty much sums up the condition. In addition, you get the best of both worlds: you’re alive and unconscious at the same time. In fact, it’s the best way to achieve that impossible dream.

Some people actually achieve things when sleeping or in the twilight world between half-sleep and wakefulness. Paul McCartney got the tune for Yesterday in such a state while John Lennon’s Across the Universe – words, chords, the whole song – came to him in a dream.

On another level, the German chemist August Kekule was dozing in front of his fire when he imagined a snake eating its own tail. Waking up, he realised that he’d visualised the hexagon structure of benzene which set out the study of hydrocarbons for the future.

The amount of sleep required by most people is usually five minutes more. Indeed, the writer Mark Twain claimed he never exercised except for “resting and sleeping.” He lived until he was 75.

Women frequently complain that their husbands snore while asleep. Indeed, there is a Jewish proverb that goes “the person that snores will fall asleep first.”

My wife insists it’s true, the Jewish proverb, I mean. Still, I suppose it could be worse. I’ve heard that some women have actually invested in an anti-snoring device that’s fool-proof. I think it’s called a Taser.

Some people have no trouble sleeping; they can doze off at a drop of a hat. That is a truly admirable quality, I suppose, unless you are a leader.

The former US President was one such fellow, frequently interrupting his sound slumber with a quick nap. Nero may have fiddled but the Donald snored. In fairness, however, he was careful and issued strict instructions that he was to be awakened in the event of a national emergency, even during a Cabinet meeting.

On the other hand, there are those who have trouble sleeping like Fearless Leader, Malaysia’s ex. It wasn’t that his trouble was talking in his sleep, it was Gopal Sri Ram interrupting in his sleep.

Which, by way of a circuitous route, brings us to World Sleep Day. That the United Nations saw it fit to name a day after it merely underscores its importance. Indeed, sleep is so fundamental a human need that millions have gone into researching it with sleep laboratories, dream research, even short cuts to induce sleep.

You can purchase slumber-inducing aids these days. And it doesn’t cost much at all.

These “auditory triggers” provoke a relaxing euphoric trance-like state, a kind of semi-cerebral, semi-auditory sensation for those who are receptive. And people use it to relax and fall asleep more easily.

The most popular are tapes of the sea; the rhythmic sounds of waves breaking amidst rolling surf seems to have a universally soporific effect on human beings even, curiously enough, those who live in land-locked countries and who may have never beheld the sea before.

But the latest rage is a video of Florida native Isabelle Pontbriand, a self-described “sleep actress” whose video describing taking the viewer through a Covid-19 vaccination registration in soft, gentle tones is guaranteed to bore anyone into comatose insensibility.

Which is why it’s effective and she’s successful.

In short, sleep’s essential. Life, on the other hand, is what happens to you when you can’t sleep.