We left Singapore last Thursday. 

It had to be by land crossing if we wanted to abide by a newly signed agreement between Kuala Lumpur and the Republic.  

So, we decided to drive home by way of the Tuas crossing. 

At the Malaysian checkpoint, we both had to download the My Sejahtera app and, numerous questions later, followed a pleasant, female Immigration official to the medical tent where a guy decked out in full PPE regalia sat awaiting us. The poor guy: it must have been at least 32 degrees in the shade and for all that, he was remarkably good natured. 

He took two swabs from each of us: one from the throat and the other, from deep within our noses. For each, he had to change gloves. 

No wonder Top Glove shares are rocketing. 

The official said the tests would come back in 2-3 days and we would be quarantined for the duration. For the record, the tests cost RM200 each.  

Since we’d asked for a hotel, the only one serving as a place of quarantine was a KSL Hot Springs Resort in Johore Bahru.

It turned out to be in Tebrau and the “Hot Springs” business may have been in the copywriter’s imagination. In any case, we signed some forms, paid the deposit and were promptly locked up in a room on the 9th floor. 

There was a chair placed immediately outside the door. Our meals, towels etc, were placed on said chair after which the doorbell would be rung. It was like getting to know your food, Pavlov-style. 

The two days that passed were interminable and I shudder to think how it would have been had we attempted an earlier crossing and undergone the whole two-week quarantine. 

At 11.30 am on Saturday, we received a call from the authorities telling us we’d tested negative and could leave. Even so, we had to take our temperatures and answer a series of questions on our My Sejahtera apps every day for the next two weeks. We were free to go but it was made clear to us that we would be “under surveillance” for a fortnight. 

As is her wont, Rebecca turned out to be a minor celebrity there and, after we’d signed the necessary paperwork, everyone including the cops and the immigration authorities wanted to take pictures with her. 

As is my wont, I stood off to the side and, sure enough, no one noticed! I only wonder if anyone found it ironic that everyone in the pictures was masked.  

There were about 30 of us quarantined in the hotel and while we never met, we were placed in a single WhatsApp chat group which my wife kept track of. 

One of the guys, Fahmi was back from Singapore because his father was critically sick. On his first night of quarantine, unfortunately, his father died. He had to wait another day before he was found negative and allowed to go. 

It’s nice to be home and even the traffic isn’t as irritating as it used to be. The My Sejahtera app is also a distinct improvement on the one we had to use in Singapore. It’s faster and more efficient with much more common-sensical usage. Example: in Singapore, you have to both check-in and out while it’s just one way here.  

Everything’s ok except the politics and the new government which I believe the majority of us did not vote for. That sucks big-time. 


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

One of the most eloquent passages in literature, the above introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up our present predicament: a clash of contrasts, of wisdom and folly, of health and disease, of life and death.   

How else are we to make sense of the world we are suddenly confronted with? One day, we were fretting about the usual things; the jams, the mail, the politicians; and the next, we are grimly warned not to pass Go, not to collect $200 and just stay home. 

It turns out that Vision 2020 was house arrest.  

At least, one thing hasn’t changed. We still bitch about our politicians.

More seriously, the stuff that went on in the oil markets earlier this week was frightening. Example:  Oil futures went insane with prices, at one point, dropping to a jaw-dropping minus US$40 that is to say a buyer of one of those contracts would not only have to deliver the oil when the contract comes due, he would also have to pay the buyer for the privilege. 

Markets are supposed to behave rationally, after all: it’s premised on people’s “rational expectations.” But when it starts going bonkers, then you start feeling the earth shift under your feet and nothing’s safe anymore.

It would even strain the “epoch of incredulity” condition laid down by Dickens. 

By now, it seems apparent that things will get worse before they get better. But crisis sits uneasily on people with the worst coming out in many. 

Witness the many cases of racism spreading like a rash across the US, Australia and Europe. There have been riots in South Africa and Paris and some Americans in at least three US states have taken to the streets demanding their economies be opened as per their constitutional rights; social distancing be damned. 

It was an American, Patrick Henry who said, “Give liberty or give me death.” But methinks Mr. Henry was not referring to death by way of a citizen’s right to freely transmit disease because the Constitution allows him the freedom to assemble.   

China, it must be said, deserves praise for its handling of the outbreak and its aid to other affected countries. But it’s also getting lambasted by some Western powers which claim it must be held accountable.

It does not seem the time for recrimination. But China itself is beginning to behave weirdly. You’d think now wouldn’t be a time to flex military might in the South China Sea. But that’s what China’s doing and it’s provoking the US to do likewise. 

The world does not need any of this now. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. In the last month alone, 32 million Americans have been laid off. It is truly a time of great despair. 

Hope springs eternal, however, a light against the darkness. We see it everywhere: in the myriad kindnesses exhibited by aid providers, health care professionals, millions of volunteers anxious to make a difference throughout the world.

We will overcome for we are the world.


We came back to Singapore about a month ago. 

It was about seven in the evening when we finally pulled into our service apartment block. Waiting at the lifts, we could see out the glass doors into the swimming pool area where we both heard and saw a raucous Latin American party in full swing. 

The salsa and hip-hop continued well into the night and we marvelled at the republic’s seeming certitude. We had just arrived from Kuala Lumpur where there was, and still is, a movement control order being enforced amid a complete lockdown. 

Much has changed since then. Singapore, which used to be touted as a global model for its handling of the pandemic, got knocked off its pedestal about two weeks ago. 

Indeed, when attempting to justify the huge numbers in the United States, talk show hosts routinely engage in bromides like “Even Singapore has had to…”

It would appear that the coronavirus is the great leveller of fortunes. 

Still, Singapore tries to be different by avoiding words like lockdown or controls. No, the republic has merely instituted a “circuit breaker” and, truth be told, it’s much milder than in Malaysia. 

The basic rules of lockdown still apply. You may no longer eat at restaurants and most shops are closed except for those selling essentials. In supermarkets Xs mark the spots where people might line up while still remaining safely socially distant from one another. 

Indeed, these markings are everywhere – in subway cars and buses, even lifts. And almost everyone now works from home. 

But the numbers keep rising ominously. At the time of writing, the island’s total number of infections crossed the 4,000 mark while Thursday saw the highest number of new cases in a day (over 700). 

The rules keep tightening to keep apace of the threat. Early on, for example, we were “advised” that wearing masks might be useful. And it was “recommended.” 

Very soon, it was not just desirable but necessary on pain of financial hurt or what the republic deems to be a “fine.” And it’s a fine thing too because enforcement, like death, is inevitable: there are closed circuit televisions everywhere. 

The subways and buses still run and, masked, we can still go walking in the Botanic Gardens. The joggers, however, are still allowed to run unmasked which is puzzling as they are probably the largest droplet-emitters in the Gardens at any one time. 

But this is Singapore, and no one questions authority. Sometimes, however, it’s carried to the point of absurdity. Case in point: yesterday evening, we spotted numerous people driving solo, yet they were wearing masks.  Why on earth would anyone have to wear a mask while driving alone in an air-conditioned car? One suspects there is no such rule. 

But Singaporeans have been conditioned over years to avoid chewing gum and people called Jay, walking. Methinks they are being simply prudent and prefer to err on the side of caution. Indeed, everyone follows whatever directives the Singapore government deems fit without comment or talk-back. 

It’s like PMS, it’s simply that, period!

Which is why, I’m continually amazed to read stories in the Malaysian press that relate to the sorts of things our countrymen get up to during the MCO – golfing, arguing, even yelling at the police. And government parliamentarians have returned to the bad old days of being appointed to cushy GLC jobs…Alas, it appears that nothing has changed. 


Everything’s going to pot these days. 

The Dutch certainly thought so which explains the long lines outside those Amsterdam establishments that sell all things cannabis just before the city locked down in early March. For another thing, Mexico’s agreed to the wall separating it from the United States: with the number of Covid-19 infections in the US (450,000 and climbing), the Mexicans are even contemplating its funding.

And have you thought about the future? Like explaining to our grandchildren that 2020 was Year Zero when the fateful consumption of the bowl of bat soup in Wuhan, China, set into motion a train of events that eventually created the Great Global Toilet Paper Shortage. 

Like having to explain why so many teenagers in the 2030s are called Quarantine. You might even say a new cohort is set to become the new millennials – the Quaranteens

Things have come to a pretty pass these days with lots of people in self-isolation and, hence, bored out of their skulls. Let’s face it, a quarantine period combines the charm of a Muhyiddin Yassin press conference with all the excitement of double entry book-keeping. 

So, what’s a bored fellow to do? As Tennyson might have said: “In this lockdown, a bored man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of his mobile phone.” In short, by the time we wake up in the morning we can easily kill at least 45 minutes just going through our various WhatsApp messages. 

It is Good Friday as I write this. And truly I say, blessed is the messenger for he is humorous and shall inherit the mirth.  

It first started with easily recognisable songs with a lyrical twist. All manner of songs have been given the treatment since, ranging from Bohemian Rhapsody to our very own Alan Perera’s dig at our Woman Minister’s sexist obsessions with his classy take on Elvis Presley’s Don’t be Cruel (“Don’t be cruel / Be my Doraemon”).

Indeed, almost all the songs on The Sound of Music seem to have been used to parody the outbreak. The best may have been the twist on How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria (Corona?) with its memorable last line How Do You Stop A Whacko From Tweeting?

Then there are the jokes. I have received good, mediocre and terrible ones but have read all anyway.  I have nothing but time, duh!  A doctor-friend of mine from Ipoh, for example, sent me a particularly memorable one. It went thus: Breaking news – Spanish King tests positive for Covid-19, confined to his aircraft. Newspaper headline the next day: “The reign in Spain will stay mainly on the plane.”

Then there are “fake news” messages which are equally irritating. Example of one I believed because it seemed eminently plausible: a person did not have Covid-19 if he could hold his breath for between 10-20 seconds as this showed there was no fibrosis in the lungs. 

Earlier this week, however, the CNN doctor, the good Sanjay Gupta, rubbished this claim. He said there was no such evidence and any shortness of breath was all it took to be sufficiently alarmed. 

During the 1917 flu pandemic, the poor sods had no television, no mobiles and, as my daughter might have said, “no fun.” But this is the 21st Century, life goes on and we now have Zoom. 

Which is why we, in Singapore, are having an Easter party with our former neighbours in Malaysia via Zoom. We’ve already stocked up on the essentials. 

Like chips and beer.


My friend and former high school mate, Michael, sent me a WhatsApp message entitled “The Hoarse Whisperer on Twitter” yesterday morning. 

It got my immediate attention. 

It was clearly a play on The Horse Whisperer – the movie in which Robert Redford plays a sympathetic horse trainer – and meant to be funny. I wasn’t disappointed: it showed a guy – presumably the old HW playing Trump – delivering an Easter message in a drop-dead Donald voice. 

“Not a lot of people know this about Easter… It was the day when Jesus and the two Corinthians met the Easter Bunny and came back from the dead.”

“It’s a beautiful story and very important for the Christians  … So I’m announcing today that I’m going to bring back the economy on Easter Sunday.”

“Because let’s be honest here… He’s a good God and a tough One but we have to be honest… His record isn’t that great … He brought only one man back from the dead and that was His son and that makes Him a little biased … But we are gonna bring back the entire economy Easter Sunday.”

In truth, Easter (April 12 this year) celebrates the resurrection of the Christ which makes it the most important and the most holy date in the Christian calendar. Therefore, the rambling Trump impersonator sounds terribly outrageous and, therefore, utterly hilarious.  

Because to quote the Hoarse Whisperer, let’s be honest here. It’s in times like these when we need some serious comic relief. When you wake up in the morning to find out on CNN that Spain is turning to ice rinks to serve as makeshift morgues because the dead are piling up faster than they can be safely disposed of. 

When the stock markets swing so wildly that commentators begin making comparisons to wealth effects “not seen since the Great Depression.” When doctors make bland comparisons between Covid-19 and the Spanish flu of 1918 which, incidentally, killed 17-50 million people worldwide.

And Heaven help the poor family under quarantine! We currently stay in a serviced apartment in Singapore where we probably will be stuck until April the 14th at least.  Walking back this morning, however, we noticed a maid in front of us place some bags outside an apartment and walk away after ringing the apartment’s bell. 

The apartment’s door opened just as we were walking past, and we saw a child’s face framed by the door just before an adult grabbed the bags. The maid explained later that the family had just arrived the night before and so had to undergo a two-week quarantine period. 

That meant they had to do their own chores – bed-making, cleaning, etc – with sheets and everything else – toilet paper, for instance – supplied by the apartment’s management. They would be watched 24/7 by closed circuit television and all meals would have to be ordered. 

And they could not step out on pain of punishment. That was strict quarantine for you, and we shuddered at the thought. Not unlike jail time if you think about it. 

I’d say that family could use some laughs.

Wouldn’t you?


I still remember finishing William Golding’s Lord of the Flies way back in university and being profoundly shaken by its narrative.

The title of the novel itself is a reference to Beelzebub or the Devil and it is a story of a group of boys between 6 and 15 who get stranded on what appears to be an idyllic island without any grown-up supervision. As if to illustrate the devilish metaphor, the boys get dirtier and filthier as their savagery, their innate impulse towards immorality, become more manifest.

What the book posits is stark and ugly: at best, there is but a thin veneer of civilisation over society and it takes very little for it to be stripped away to reveal humanity’s dark, and possibly real, face.   

With Covid-19 unleashed all over the world, people are adjusting to a new normal that is honestly terrifying. The other night I watched the news on television only to see a clip that chilled me. It showed a long line of people waiting outside a store in Los Angeles.

They, men and women both, were waiting to buy guns. The US newscaster on CNN seemed just resigned and not shocked. It was like people were expecting some breakdown in law and order: a possible fraying of society that gave them the right to arm themselves to be, as the Scouts say, “prepared.”

It seemed to portend Lord of the Flies all over again.

If any nation should know better, it’s the US. One shoe-bomb was all it took for shoes to be security-screened at airports but thousands of shootings later, the US continues to fervently preach the rights of its citizens to bear arms. You’d think that would at least come with the right of its citizens not to get shot. 

The United States used to lead the world. It no longer does thanks to a dangerously incompetent President in a seemingly rudderless nation. China is the real surprise today. It is ahead of the crisis and is providing both leadership and aid to the rest of the world.

While it does the right thing, Mr Trump flails about looking for others to blame. To add insult to injury, he stokes xenophobia at home and abroad by insisting that the pandemic is caused by a “Chinese” virus.

Doesn’t that qualify as hate speech?

It seems unreal coming from a US President and the so-called Leader of the Free World. Truth be told, he barely qualifies to run a small asylum. Or perhaps we should be charitable and remember Bonaparte: “Never ascribe to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence.” In Mr Trump’s case, it took him almost four years to industriously work his way towards near-total ineptitude. 

Maybe it’s the little things that should hearten us. 

Like my daughter telling me that the neighbours in her apartment block in Amsterdam had formed a WhatsApp chat group among themselves to look after the needs of an elderly man who lived by himself. The city is now in lockdown. 

Like a Sikh gurdwara in Subang Jaya offering free food delivery to people down on their luck. And a temple in Australia offering the same. Like the countless people all over the world helping the sick, the elderly and the needy. Like the courageous healthcare professionals working around the clock to keep the wolf away from our door. 

It’s these innumerable courtesies that help keep “kind” in humankind.

And God bless the humourists for keeping things in perspective. A friend sent me a photo yesterday. It showed a beaming Jho Low. The caption read: Be like Jho. Practice social distancing!


President Donald J Trump does not seem worried about the novel coronavirus. 

He thinks it’s tweetable. 

Indeed, the Offender-in-Chief was reportedly furious that his chief of the Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control had warned Americans that it was no longer “if” but “when” Covid-19 would spread in the United States. 

It wouldn’t do, reflected the Donald sternly, and wondered if sacking her would send the right signal to the American people. Gloom and doom could be a disaster for the stock market which, in turn, could torpedo the US economy which was now on steroids and just what the doctor ordered. 

But the “idiot doctor” in charge of the CDC was arguing for drastic measures like quarantine and containment instead of agreeing with his calm and reasoned assessment that everything was “under control.” It was no wonder the stock markets were swooning. 

The Donald felt like swooning too: more than anyone else, the stable genius that was the Leader of the Free World, had hung his re-election hat on his country’s buoyant economy and its record-setting stock market.

You could not fault the man’s instincts. Politics 101 demands that in an emergency, always find “someone else” to blame. The instinct even pre-dated his presidency. In 2014, for example, private citizen Trump assailed the then-President for not immediately cancelling flights to and from West Africa amid the Ebola scare.  At the time, he labelled Obama a “psycho.”

The current presidential psycho now maintained that it was business as usual and even intimated that people could go to work as “many recover.” It was, in short, no big deal. 

But it was a big deal in Malaysia where there was now political uncertainty added to the mix. Political parties were changing allies faster than you could say “general election.” It wasn’t even clear if the new premier would remain at the country’s helm or if he might also succumb to Putrajaya’s never-ending obsession with musical chairs. It was like a meeting of MPs with one going: “I think we should get rid of democracy. All those in favour, raise your hand!”  

Or maybe it’s true, what Napoleon said; “In politics, stupidity isn’t a handicap.”

And if all that wasn’t enough, Covid-19 continues to loom over us like an ever-present reminder of man’s inability to foretell the future. Indeed, the speed with which it’s leaping around the globe would make anyone quail. In our case, one is reminded of the optimist who leapt off the top floor of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre declaring: “So far so good.”   

I mean, no one’s dead yet so we should count our blessings. 

We are still in uncharted-territory stage and the casualties are mounting. Airlines and hotels are being brutalised and the ringgit is beginning to resemble a latter-day rupee: it’s fallen by about five per cent year-to-date. 

The stock market is in an eight-year funk and every investor worth his salt now professes to be a long term one. He has little choice in the matter. And haltingly, oh-so-cautiously, the R-word is finally being bandied about.  

Where will it all pan out?

For that we will have to look at the word itself. The word “virus” is derived from Latin and is often used by doctors to mean: “your guess is as good as mine.” 


It isn’t a nice time for Planet Earth,

don’t you think?

Between climate change that’s getting scary and the possibility of a global pandemic courtesy of the novel coronavirus, the world seems to be quickly going to hell in a handbasket.

We are told that Jakarta is sinking and will vanish off the earth’s face in 30 years. Likewise, the ringgit – and a whole host of currencies besides –is getting that sinking feeling. So are our disposable incomes. 

It’s got a lot of people scared. I spend a lot of time in Singapore these days and people here went near berserk when the government first amped up its warnings on the infection a month ago. Stores rapidly emptied of sanitisers, face masks, rice, eggs and, especially, toilet paper. Even now, face masks are at a premium. 

Bear in mind that Singapore is one of the richest places on the planet. Now think Somalia – which is facing the same challenges – and you get a glimpse of the horrors of income inequality. 

Maybe it’s a product of my generation, people born in the 1950s and who came of age in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1970s. We did not go through the hardships of war or occupation, for example. My father did and he remembered them to the extent that he carried it around with him like a badly healed wound. When I once offered to drive him around Seremban in my wife’s new Ford Laser, for example, he declined on the grounds that it was Japanese.

So yes, while we might remember the embarrassing discomforts of bucket toilets in the 1960s, it’s a fleeting memory, not unlike a fading nightmare. I remember the genteel poverty of my family and wonder how on earth we managed to make it – all of us – to where we are now.  

Indeed, it would be true to say that my classmates and myself have largely availed ourselves of the opportunities afforded us, each in our own way. In my case, I have had an over achiever’s share of luck along the way and I’m grateful. 

In short, while there’s been a bad day here and there, it’s not been a bad life. 

That’s why we should pray that the economic, climatic and political speedbumps that are emerging to confront the world do not last. Let’s hope that man’s ingenuity carries the day. 

In Malaysia’s case, it is especially important. While the RM20 billion stimulus package will go a long way to alleviating the challenges of the pandemic, our political climate is far more ugly. 

Dr Mahathir Mohamad only returned to power through co-operation from stronger parties that was cemented through a promise. That is easily broken, it seems. Now he urges a unity government but one that will only work if he is to head it. It does not seem to occur to him, going on 95, that others might do it just as well, if not better.  

It is ironic that Muhyiddin Yassin, sacked by the former premier for daring to reveal a great wrong, now thinks it appropriate to partner people facing trial on charges of corruption. Taking the premise to its conclusion, it implies that his victory would grant them absolution. 

What would it mean for the AG’s Chambers? The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission? All that fledgling reform of which he was a part? 

It was George Santayana who predicted: “Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.” 

Brace up folks. It could be a rough ride. 


Meatloaf may have been ahead of his time. This current pandemic came straight out from the Bat Out of Hell! 

Nobody had batted an eye previously, but everyone knew better now. Restaurants in Manado located in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province have put a stop to selling dishes made out of bats due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We haven’t sold (bat dishes) for a week. We are worried because we’ve learnt that bats are carrying the virus,” Mr Mereyke, who owns a restaurant near Tikala Manado street, said on Feb 4.

The virus originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month. Wuhan Institute of Virology found that the new coronavirus is more than 96 per cent genetically identical to a bat virus from the Yunnan province in the south of China, according to results published in the journal Nature on Monday.

Mr Mereyke said bat meat stewed in coconut milk had been one of his best sellers, along with other bat dish variations.

Paniki (bat stew or curry), is well-loved among the Manadonese. “Bat meat indeed tastes delicious. The cooking method and the spices used are no different from other dishes, only we add coconut milk and turmeric to it,” said Mr Helpy Poluakan, a paniki enthusiast.

And here we were thinking that it was only the Chinese people who loved to eat exotic wildlife. The Indonesians do as well, apparently. They don’t really care for animal rights. Indeed, as far as they’re concerned animals only have the right to remain delicious. 

But you have to feel for the Chinese. If at one time, the only sort of influenza associated with the country was kung flu, now the global pandemic that originated out of Wuhan has the world in such a tailspin that countries have begun prosecuting citizens who spread fake news that “could inspire panic.”

Some of the Western media don’t help by dubbing the contagion “the Wuhan flu.” If that’s the criterion, then the 2009 swine flu pandemic should have been called the “American flu” because it was first detected in the United States.

Some Malaysians have pooh-poohed the outbreak pointing out that around 50-odd people die of dengue fever every year while between 5,000-8,000 people die in traffic accidents annually. But the novel coronavirus outbreak has to be taken seriously because of its potential for exponential contagion. 

To put in context, the worst pandemic in world history was the Black Death of the Middle Ages. The bubonic plague outbreak killed an estimated 100 million people worldwide. Meanwhile, the worst influenza pandemic was the Spanish flu of 1819 which killed between 20 and 80 million people. 

The present pandemic has a relatively low mortality rate (2.1%) compared, say, to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (over 40%) of 2003. Even so, if the worse came to the worst and all the planet’s 6 billion people contracted the novel coronavirus influenza, an estimated 126 million people would perish. 

Those make for grim odds. 

The good news is that it is highly unlikely and it’s largely thanks to China. The World Health Association thinks so as well. Earlier in the week, the agency lauded China’s “unprecedented response” to the outbreak adding that the measures the country took were likely to “reverse the tide” fairly quickly. Even better, a British laboratory has announced that it has come up with a potential vaccine against the virus. 

An antidote may be available in 2-3 months. 

That could be worth a shot.